Blogs

Invisible Things

By Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

Victorian poet Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) wrote a poem titled “Who has Seen the Wind?”* It goes like this:

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by

During this week when we consider the wind and flame that came on the day of Pentecost, it is clear that a mighty wind can do great things, even though it is invisible. The Spirit of God is indeed the most powerful force in all of the universe and beyond, making a strong case that such invisible things are everlasting and are the source of creation. 

II Corinthians 4:18 says “The things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Hebrews 11:3 notes, “The universe was created by the Word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”  When we see the beauty of creation and marvel at the power of Jesus’ resurrection and eternal life, we can truly affirm with the poet that though we cannot see it, “the wind is passing by.”

Yet we cannot ignore the other invisible spirits at work in this world.  Ephesians 6:12 reminds us “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  Just as there is the Holy Spirit, there are invisible powers of evil that cause great sadness and destruction. There’s that kind of wind as well.

As I ponder the recent revelation of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a young, black jogger in Atlanta, and the even more recent murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, the evil spirit of racism is clearly alive and prevalent in this country. In recent years it seems to be increasing at an alarming rate, as we hear about these crimes. There is invisible evil in the hearts and souls of people that gets acted out in violent ways.

Film-maker and United Church of Christ pastor, Rev. Otis Moss III was featured in a recent issue of Religion News Service (May 20, 2019) speaking about this invisible enemy:

“As we are all sheltering in place to recognize the invisible enemy of COVID-19, there is also an invisible enemy that affects our behavior, being racism, privilege, the inability for the heart to be compassionate to people who are different but not deficient.”

Jesus spoke about this when he said, “Out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 11:19)

We are all “infected” with sin as we collaborate with the spiritual forces of evil.  It starts in the heart, and then it is lived out in behaviors that wreak havoc in the world.  We so quickly rush to excuse ourselves for our sins and find ways to blame someone else, or try to minimize its influence on our lives. Temptation and the resulting sin is real and is like “a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (I Peter 5:8).

All sin needs to be opposed with the overcoming power of the Holy Spirit.  In memory of Ahmaud Arbery, whose death took months to uncover, and the recent death of George Floyd, I would like to shine a light on the sin of racism.

Racism, this invisible enemy, is something we need to address for the health and wholeness of all of humanity. It is right here in our hearts, our neighborhoods, and our annual conference. It must be addressed by people who have white privilege. Think about these questions:

Do you consider yourself better than people of color? 

When do you separate yourself from people who are different from you? 

Does your local church reflect the Acts 2 diversity of creation?

Do you support political views that favor the rich and the majority culture? 

Do you make friends only with white people?

Do you support only businesses that are owned by people who look like you?

Do you sit silently when they are making inappropriate racial remarks? 

These are important questions for white people to consider and then do something about.  It is not enough to just think about it if things are ever going to change.

Dismantling racism is a long journey and not something that is “once and done.”  We need to be committed to doing battle with this invisible enemy.  As we do, we build a church and a world where everyone is beloved and cherished, and no one of any race or ethnicity is seen as “less than” or deserving of harm, oppression or death because of the color of their skin.

(*In public domain)

Republished from The Bishop’s Blog.

The Uncertain Devotion

David Piltz, CLM

By the Rev. David Piltz

Uncertainty is part of life. It can be the cause of our fears, worries and concerns.

It is a principle in science that challenges us to explain how the universe and our bodies work. It is a principle of economics that can create great wealth or incredible poverty. Uncertainty is also part of what it means to have faith.

In Hebrews 11:1 (NRSV) we read, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Faith is based on the uncertainty of not seeing but also on the certainty of who is God. God is in control, even in these trying times in which we mere mortals are trying to be in control and messing with things. We tend to always want to control and tell God to move aside. We tend to forget that our purpose in this world is to follow God.

But the best part of God is that God is always there with us as we stray and struggle. Right now, in this global pandemic God is here with us–all of us. Those who are suffering, those who are scared, those who are helping. In times like these we will never be able to fully understand the why; but what is certain is understanding our purpose: to follow God!

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Getting back to spiritual basics

By the Rev. Linda “Lin” George
South District Resource Assistant, Local Pastor and
Grove UMC Pastor of Congregational Care and Community Outreach

When life gets chaotic, we all know that getting back to basics is important.

We try to get more sleep, eat healthy food, remember to take our vitamins, get some exercise, go outside every day. Maybe we spend time with family and friends, count our blessings, look for opportunities to smile, listen to music, even dance in the kitchen, make sure we have some kind of plant growing and sleep under our favorite down comforter.

But we know we need more than a fluffy comforter (or other grown-up blankie) at times like this, when things that we could never have imagined become reality, turn our lives upside down and shake us at the very core of our being.

At one particularly distressing time in my life, the mailman hand-delivered a certified letter to me. At the same time, in the same stack of mail, he handed me an envelope from the Billy Graham ministry.

Now, I like to sort out my junk mail and put it in the recycling as soon as I get it. So already knowing the contents of the certified letter, I tossed it, unopened, onto the kitchen counter. And I threw the Billy Graham “junk” mail into the recycling bin.

But as I walked away from the trash can, the Holy Spirit put a thought into my mind. I can still remember the exact words that I heard silently, yet loud and clear, in my mind. “Sometimes there is scripture in those mailings.” 

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Our life planning must start with God

Gordon Hendrickson

By the Rev. Gordon Hendrickson
Eastern PA Conference Coordinator of Congregational Development

By the Last week for Palm Sunday, we looked at how to overcome the fear or anxiety of death.  We have no control over this aspect of life.  I was just reading Philippians where Paul says he would rather be in heaven with Jesus; but if God still has work for him to do, then he will stay and do it.  Life is about living for what Christ wants us to be doing to build His kingdom. 

Oftentimes we are so absorbed in living life that we forget why we are here.  I say this about the church, too.  We are so busy doing church that we forget why we exist as a church. 

As my wife Karen and I plan for our retirement, we have to balance what we want to do with our time and the finances to enable this to happen.  How much time do we want to work or not to work?  How much time do we want to play—go on extended vacations or stay in Florida for extended periods of time?  How much time do we want with kids and grandkids?  When do we downsize and sell our home here in PA? At some point health issues may change any of the above. 

Young families have to do the same planning, too.  How much money do we need to live? Where should we live?  Are we making enough, or do we have to look for part-time jobs to supplement our income? Or maybe we need to accept a transfer for a better paying job. 

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Fear Not: God Is in Control

Gordon Hendrickson

By the Rev. Gordon Hendrickson
Eastern PA Conference Coordinator of Congregational Development

On Palm Sunday it seems strange not going to a worship service. But in many ways it might be better. I get to watch several Palm Sunday worship services online.  But nothing beats being in worship all together. 

The story about Passion Sunday or Palm Sunday reminds us that Jesus knew his life was about to end.  It wasn’t going to be an easy death but involve the torture of his body and soul even before he arrived at Golgatha to be nailed and hung from the cross.  It was a surreal time for Jesus and his disciples.  His disciples had in mind Jesus becoming King and restoring Israel as a nation in charge of the nations in the world. 

The new world order was about to happen. They argued among themselves as to who would have what power in the new order.  Who would have guessed the new world order had nothing to do with the political realm but with the spiritual realm.  Something mind boggling for the Jews, because to them salvation was from the sovereign nation of Israel.  For them, faith, nation and ethnicity were all one.  

Today, we are living in another surreal time. What will happen to me, my family, my friends, my job, my family. And the list goes on.  Our focus has to move from the mountain of what-ifs and refocus on Christ.  Jesus in Matthew 6: 25 tells us to not worry about our lives. He asks us why we worry. “Don’t you trust God and know that He will take care of you? Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself.” 

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