What the Cross Means to Me

30 04 2014

By Ron Harmon, Council of Twelve Apostles

This same Spirit calls us anew in this defining moment of history to live into a radical new vision of God’s future, where the hungry are fed, poverty eliminated, and every man, woman, and child has the opportunity to become fully who God created them to be in loving community.

This same Spirit calls us anew in this defining moment of history to live into a radical new vision of God’s future, where the hungry are fed, poverty eliminated, and every man, woman, and child has the opportunity to become fully who God created them to be in loving community.

I find it interesting that the symbol of the cross has become the symbol for those who claim to be Christ’s followers. You might think the early believers would have wanted to distance themselves from that horrific event. This of course is the perspective of a 21st-century believer who has to see and experience human suffering only from a distance.

For me the cross represents the almost-incomprehensible paradox of despair and hope. First-century believers were no strangers to suffering, and I believe the cross represented the worst of what humans can do to one another in the name of self interest and the best of a God whose unbelievable restraint and love point toward a radically different future.

The intersection of wood beams in the cross reminds me of the daily opportunities I have to see and accept the status quo or be disturbed and live into an alternative vision for our world. For me the cross is highly disruptive, challenging, and even scandalous in its call to adopt a new consciousness. It challenges a world that values power, control, and “sensible” approaches to the most perplexing problems.

I find myself at times a willing participant in that order, and other times deeply disturbed that I have not done more on behalf of those who yearn for tomorrow to be different than today.

Most important, for me the cross represents the resurrected Christ and the continuing, promised presence of the Holy Spirit that has sustained Christ’s followers throughout the centuries.

This same Spirit calls us anew in this defining moment of history to live into a radical new vision of God’s future, where the hungry are fed, poverty eliminated, and every man, woman, and child has the opportunity to become fully who God created them to be in loving community.

Like all symbols the cross also has been misused throughout history. In times past it was used to represent the very things it sought to eradicate: love of power, oppression, suffering, and despair. Even today some who claim the name of Christ use it to cause division and promote fear instead of inclusion and hope.

I believe we are called in our time to reclaim the cross as the symbol of radical love and inclusion in a world often characterized by fear and separation. I pray daily that I may have courage to be such a disciple.





Sign of Humility, Symbol of Service

28 04 2014

By Lu Mountenay, Independence, Missouri, USA

This is an excerpt from one of the entries appearing each day in the Daily Bread blog. Visit http://CofChristDailyBread.wordpress.com to subscribe for free.

Community of Christ publishes a wonderful series of bulletin covers for Sunday services. Each cover has a picture and a scripture reflection that follows the Revised Common Lectionary. However, for Maundy Thursday, worship planners need to create their own bulletin or go to a Christian bookstore, which is what I did one year.

I met the clerk’s blank stare when I asked for Maundy Thursday bulletin covers. “We have only Sunday bulletins.” I tried to explain, but again, “We don’t have Monday or Thursday bulletins, only Sundays!”
I thought I was in the twilight zone. Thinking the clerk must be new, I looked around on my own, in vain, while the clerk watched with unmasked amusement and pity. So I thanked her and left.

What is Maundy Thursday? The Thursday part is easy, but Maundy? It comes from the Latin “mandatum” or mandate. A mandate is something we must do, a commandment.

The observance and symbolic reenactment of washing feet at the Lord’s Supper helps us remember Christ’s “new commandment.” We do as he has done. He took on the role of servant to his disciples and washed their feet. He showed them a sign of humility and a symbol of his message of service—a way to show “love for one another.”

Good hosts in the Jewish world provide guests the opportunity to wash before a meal. After traveling dusty roads to celebrate the Passover meal, this was a welcome respite. Jesus went one step further and did the washing himself. Jesus, Lord and Teacher of this gathering, did the opposite of what we might expect from hosts in high positions. We would not expect a president, prime minister, or head of state to attend to the personal needs of guests at a formal dinner. However, that is exactly what Christ did.

He gave us an example of how to express love. He gave us a mandate, a new commandment to love one another as he loves us.





Blessings amid Deep Sorrow

25 04 2014

By Connie Lane Lindeen,
Burnsville, Minnesota, USA

Recently, I was reflecting on an experience early in my ministry with a young couple who had lost their only child in a tragic daycare accident. He was 11 months old.

I hadn’t met this couple until the night before their child’s memorial, when they called me to officiate. With deep concern I traveled to the family’s home, praying God’s Spirit would guide me in comforting them. As I drove, sorrow and panic filled my heart. How could I comfort this family? And, how could I be ready to offer meaningful ministry for a service only a few hours away?

I knew about the pain of loss, yet I had never lost my child. What I did know was that God deeply cared about this couple, felt their pain, and wanted them to be assured of God’s unconditional love for them and their child. I also knew I needed to rely on God to be my guide.

As I visited David and Tara, it became apparent they had no church affiliation. Yet they had a deep faith and trust in God. Their hearts ached, but they were filled with gratitude that God had given them Aaron, even for a short time. They cherished the joy he had brought into their lives.

What did concern them was that Aaron had never been baptized. Had they erred in not having Aaron baptized? Was that hurting him now?

I assured them Aaron was precious to God, and God would not want to punish their son. I told them Jesus had counseled us that children were like the kingdom of God, and that we needed to be more like children (tender, precious, forgiving, compassionate—my words).

I shared further that it was not our practice as a faith community to baptize small children because we believe they are precious in God’s sight and free of sin (or separation from God). I read them a scripture.

“Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”—Luke 18:16 NRSV

They seemed relieved and at peace, trusting that Aaron was now in God’s loving arms. In Tara and David’s sorrow, it was obvious they, too, were being held and comforted by a loving and compassionate God. This grieving family, so full of grace and love, ministered to me.

That night as I drove home I still was concerned about what thoughts I could put together for Aaron’s memorial. My heart filled with gratitude and wonder. Hadn’t I just witnessed God’s amazing love?

Through tears I thanked God for this beautiful family, for being so available to us, and being so present with David and Tara when they needed assurance of God’s love.

Amid deep sorrow God had abundantly blessed all of us.





Sacrifice and Blessing

23 04 2014

By Rita Bitota,
Lemba, Democratic Republic of Congo

My congregation sits not far from Camp Kabila, a police camp, where we chose to focus our witnessing efforts. In this camp, a group of women grows vegetables to be sold at markets. They work on land owned by the police.

These women have built sheds from sheet-metal roofing and boards. Some even use tents.

The church decided to organize a Bible study. We decided to print invitations for door-to-door evangelism. In addition to those who lived at the camp, we called anyone we met along the way to receive the word of God. This included:

  • Young people we met at the camp entrance, smoking hemp cigarettes. Some blew their smoke right in our faces.
  • A group of snake catchers, who were surrounded by a crowd that watched them grab and play with the snakes. This didn’t keep us from witnessing for Jesus Christ or handing out invitations.
  • A pregnant woman with whom we had the opportunity to share God’s word. She was working in the garden behind her house.

For our task, we split into teams of at least two people. I was paired with Elder Monique Bidima. When we got home, my partner and I had headaches from the stress of everything seen. We reported to our pastor, and then the three of us prayed together. Our work was fruitful. Women from the camp now come to our church.

About 8:30 p.m., two months after our work in Camp Kabila, I heard someone knocking at my door. It was the pregnant woman we had invited to join us. She had her premature baby with her, wrapped up. She had been transferred to a bigger hospital, better equipped to help her and the baby. She wanted me to go with her.

A week later, I was at a Sunday service, and the congregation’s leadership team was on a missionary trip in Bas Congo (a western province). All members with vehicles had gone on that trip. When it came time for the sermon, some church greeters brought my daughter to me because she had a high temperature. While waiting for the service to end, I asked someone to get some medicine. Before it came, my daughter started convulsing.

I took her outside and was reminded of our evangelism in Camp Kabila and how I had spoken of Christ’s love. Before taking her to the hospital, I prayed: “Lord Jesus Christ, I have told others about you. May I be found in your good graces. Help me now. My daughter is sick and struggling to live.”

We went to the main street and a Jeep stopped and took us to the pediatric hospital. When we got there about 11:30 a.m., my child was examined, treated, and watched over. By 5:00 p.m. she was well enough to be released. What a blessing!

Witnessing for Jesus Christ is an essential practice for every child of God, but it requires sacrifice. It holds great blessings for us, for he promised to be with us to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19–22). His continual presence is a great blessing for us in any challenge. Whatever the circumstance, whatever the place, may we have the courage to witness for Jesus Christ. It’s a sacrifice and a blessing.





The Gift

21 04 2014

By Pam Evans,
Integrated Communications

The author with her father and brother.

The author with her father and brother.

 

It was a gift I never thought I’d receive. The gift was peace, and I thank God for it every day. You see, my father, by his own choice, had been estranged from his children for 15 years. I never thought I’d see him again, and I feared I’d forever be stuck holding a big bag of painful emotions.

Then in January 2013 I received a message that my father probably would not live through the night. He’d faced many health issues, and over the years family members would update me.

When I would learn he was ill and in a hospital, I would travel there to pray. I would just sit in my car, pray, and then leave. On this particular night, I gathered up three of my grandchildren and told them we were going to have a prayer circle. We all got into the car, and I drove us to the hospital.

As I parked the car to pray, something felt different. I turned the car off, stepped outside, and said, “Come on, you’re going to meet your great-grandfather.”

We entered the hospital. I ushered the kids into a restroom to shine them up. Then we searched for the Intensive Care Unit.

We found it, but there was a locked double door. A sign said to push the button and wait for personnel. I just stood there, thoughts running through my mind. “What was I doing here? Would I be welcomed? Would I be turned away? What would I say?”

As I stood and contemplated my next move, one of the kids made it for me, pushing the button. A voice came over a speaker. “May I help you?”

“Uh-er-um yes, ma’am. I am here to see my father,” and I gave his name. The lock clicked, and the doors opened automatically. I could feel panic rise as we walked to the nurse’s station.

The nurse at the counter said, “Your father is in room number four, but I would warn you that he is non-responsive, on life support. He is intubated and ventilated, and with many other tubes and machines attached, it is kind of an overwhelming sight.”

We entered his hospital room. There was my father. Suddenly it didn’t feel so many years had separated us. Sitting at his bedside was a gentleman, holding his hand and praying. I did not recognize him. He walked to us, extended his hand, and said, “Hi, I’m Jeff, Bob’s friend.”

I said, “Hi, I’m Pam, his daughter, and these are his great-grandchildren.”

Jeff replied, “Welcome, can we pray?”

Whew, what a warm welcome and a relief! My father was non-responsive, but I still introduced the grandchildren. My 5-year-old grandson took his hand and said, “It will be OK, Papa.”

A nurse entered the room and asked if I realized my father would be seeing Jesus that night. I said I truly believed that is why I was there. God had brought this reunion together. Never before had I gotten out of my car and entered a hospital. Instead I would sadly think about my father leaving this life without reconciliation.

I phoned my husband to let him know where I was and asked if he would come to say his good-byes to my father and take the children home. I wanted to stay with my father and pray. For hours I held his hand, talking about all the years and about forgiveness.

I watched his vitals for about eight hours. They were up and down, and sometimes he didn’t have a blood pressure or a steady heartbeat. But by a little after 2:00 a.m., his vitals had been steady and his blood pressure normal for an hour. He seemed to be improving. Jeff and I were on each side of his bed holding one of his hands and praying.

I suggested to Jeff that because father’s condition was improving, we both go home and sleep a few hours. I would have to get the kids ready for school and would return at 9:00 a.m.

Jeff agreed. I let the nurse know of our plans, and we exchanged phone numbers. As I drove away I began getting lost in thought about spending that time with my father. What a blessing that was!

My cell phone rang at 2:15 a.m., and I fumbled through my handbag to find it. It was Jeff, calling from the hospital with the words, “Your father is gone.”

What? He had just seemed a little better!

In conversations with family members over the following days I learned my father had confided he was trying to find a path to reconciliation with his children. He had said that he just wanted to live long enough to see one of his children again.

Thank you, God, for allowing us the opportunity of spending the time we both so desperately wanted. Thank you for the words of forgiveness and for bringing us peace.





Sumbra’s Story

18 04 2014

By Sumbra Raika, Orissa, India,
as told to Wayne Rowe, World Hunger-Tangible Love Team member

world hunger 5 cobMy story starts in 1965. I was 23 years old, and my family members were Hindus. We worshiped Hindu gods. I lived with my father, mother, wife, and one child.

Unfortunately, we lost that child to disease. Because we suffered a lot from different diseases we made sacrifices to the gods to ask them to make our family better. Sacrifices included whatever food we had, any animals, and even crops in the fields.

I learned about Christianity from some visitors to our community, and they said we didn’t need to make sacrifices. We could pray to God and to Jesus Christ, and we would be healed. So I decided to become a Christian. The three visitors to our community were from Community of Christ.

Becoming a Christian caused a big problem in my family. Of the 40 households in the village, only a few became Christians. My wife and I removed all the Hindu worship items from our house, and this angered the rest of the village. When we became Christians we entered a different caste and were not acceptable to the community. We were told to leave, going to the top of a mountain. I tried to work the land on the mountain for crops, but it was very difficult.

My father and son died about the same time. My wife found all this very difficult to cope with and became very ill. I decided to take her to the Community of Christ congregation many miles away and ask the ministers there to pray for her.

I couldn’t bear to lose another family member. The Community of Christ congregation prayed hard for her, and by the grace of God, she was healed. The church leaders asked me to go back to the village that had thrown me out to see if I could persuade more residents to become Christians. I told them there would be trouble, but I would do it.

When I returned I started to tell about Christ, and my father-in-law was not happy. He threatened to kill me if I continued to talk about Christianity. So I began to pray to God. I said, “God, if you can change my father-in-law’s mind then I will be able to continue working for you in the village. But if you don’t then I probably will be killed.”

Though my father-in-law threatened me, I continued preaching and teaching. Eventually, four more people became Christians. This meant there was a place for my wife and me to stay while we were there. This made the village leaders very angry.

At that time, my father-in-law went into the jungle, and a snake bit him. He thought this happened because the Hindu gods were angry about what I was doing. The priests said he needed to sacrifice a water buffalo. This was a big problem because my father-in-law didn’t have the money to do this.

I told him he didn’t have to make the sacrifice. I said I would pray for him and take him to the hospital. So we carried him 19 kilometers over the mountains to get there. We prayed all along the journey. The hospital staff treated him well, and he healed within one week.

He then said: “My son, you have helped me a lot, and because of your faith I will also become a Christian.”

Then others in the village started to persecute him, too. During the next few years they gave us great trouble. But over time, the whole community became Christian.

After this, I started to spread the gospel to neighboring villages, even though I wasn’t a priesthood member. I went to Antarba, Buriguda, Chudangpur, Badakui, Gumiguda, Gilakuta, Kesiriguda, Jedaguda, and Bunipadan.

I have little education, but I can read. So I taught from the Bible. People heard the message and knew it was true. They all became Community of Christ communities.

Though they became Christians, I worried that some were drinking wine and smoking cigarettes. I told them they should respect their bodies and stop doing these things. They eventually changed their ways.





Resurrection: A Way of Life

16 04 2014

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin, Spiritual Formation Ministries

There is always hope. This message is at the heart of Christianity. This is the essence of our story.

Whatever injustice we face, whatever hardship we bear, whatever we must release that keeps us from becoming who we are called to become, there is the promise of new life.

Knowing this can get us through seemingly dark and desolate times. But to live new life is a challenge and blessing of its own.

Many may not be aware that in the liturgical year, Easter is not just one Sunday, but seven! Whatever the historic reasons for this may be, it reminds me that resurrection is not a once-a-year event, but an ongoing activity. It is a process we are called into for longer than an egg hunt and a good sermon on Easter morning.

It is easy to imagine resurrection in an abstract way. We can see all around us the ways that death yields new life. It is different—and its own kind of terror—to imagine ourselves living in this new life of hope.

My mom preached an Easter sermon I will never forget. She confessed she didn’t know if she was ready to peer into the empty tomb. What would that mean? What would that require? With some things, once we know them, we can never return to life as usual.

Her observation struck me because I had never heard resurrection mentioned with timidity. It had always been about celebration and good news! It is all of those things and the door to deeper life. It is the invitation to keep walking forward into the fullness of what is possible. It is saying with conviction, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back…” (“I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,” Community of Christ Sings 499, S. Sundar Singh).

Sometimes it is easier to live death than new life, to imagine ourselves as defeated rather than living in the new thing God is inviting us to join. This can be true in our spiritual lives, our congregational lives, and our relationships. Living new life inherently is about transformation, which involves vulnerability and courage. It also involves the full promise of God’s vision for us, permeating the reality of our lives and beckoning our faithful response.

The journey of Lent was an opportunity to shed ourselves of things that distract and distance us from God and others—things that serve as barriers and excuses to living Christ’s mission.

May this Easter season remind us this is not the time to pick those things up again, but to move forward, embodying resurrection hope in a world aching for fuller life.