Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Looking Forward to Spring

I've lived in Alaska for almost 8 years now but the changing of the seasons still fascinate me. Until we moved up in 2008, I had lived all my life in the Philippines where the only seasons are wet (rainy) and dry (summer). We had none of the changing of the colors and the subsequent shedding of leaves in autumn. We didn't have snow and winter although the temperatures did get a relatively cooler. One could say that we lived in an eternal hybrid season of spring and summer. 

One of the things that I continue to marvel about, because I've never seen it before coming to Alaska, is the budding of the trees. After "dying" in the fall and remaining "dead" all winter, the trees are beginning to show signs of new life, of resurrection, if you may. So fascinated am I with this cycle of death and new life that I have probably written an article or preached a sermon about it every year for the past 8 years! It is such a great metaphor for our lives as Christian disciples, individually and corporately as communities of faith.


Science tells us that the shedding of leaves is necessary for a tree's continued existence, to survive the cold and dark winter and thrive again in the future spring and summer. As the temperatures drop and the sunlight decreases, the trees adapt by cutting off "food supply" to the leaves. The stems and trunks would likely survive the freezing temperatures but not the leaves. The shedding of leaves is a survival mechanism. Winter, to a tree, is a season of survival that precedes a season of growth and new life.


This past weekend East Anchorage United Methodist Church celebrated their 50th anniversary. 50 years of life and ministry! I was honored to be invited to preach at their anniversary service on Sunday and join them in celebrating the myriad of ways in the past 50 years that they have lived out their mission: "In the name of Jesus Christ, Carry the light!"

On June 5th, East Anchorage UMC will be celebrating their final worship service as a congregation. Early this year, seeing the "temperatures drop and the sunlight decreasing" in their life as a congregation, they voted to discontinue. This action of discontinuance will be formalized by a vote at Annual Conference. In some ways, it is a necessary shedding of leaves, a necessary winter, a necessary dying, so that new life might emerge.


Last week, on the days leading to EAUMC's anniversary celebration, I spent time with key people, "walking the neighborhood" and looking at demographics and maps. It was a great time of deep conversation, dreaming and discerning what God is calling us to birth in this neighborhood in East Anchorage. And the dreaming and discerning goes on...


I look forward to the day when buds will again emerge. I look forward to the new thing that God is going birth in this space and place. And I am excited and look forward to the ways that the Spirit of God may be calling you and me to be part of that!


Your fellow disciple,

Carlo

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Keeping Sabbath

Sunday, April 10th was an exceptionally busy and stressful day for me. It was emotionally charged, mentally draining and spiritually challenging. I will not go into details...

In the midst of the busyness, my iPhone chimed. Wanting a break from the craziness, I took a look. It was Facebook reminding me of a memory from a year ago. For non-Facebook users, they have a new feature where they remind you of "memories" - posts that you made on the exact, same date in the past. Facebook was telling me that on that very day a year ago, I had posted this picture with the following caption:

"Lord, on this day-off, deliver me from the guilt that comes from doing nothing. Thank you for a day that I can 'simply be' and be away from the pressure to 'always do'. Amen."

It was a great reminder to pause, to breathe, to be still and know that God is God! This Facebook memory got me through the day, allowing me to respond to its most trying moments with grace.

How important it is for us to be reminded often that God is God and we are not! And it is in moments of Sabbath, of pause and being still that this takes root in us.

Our theme for this year's Annual Conference session is Keeping Sabbath. It is in recognition of our constant need for times of pause and reflection. Patrick Scriven, Director of Communications and Young People's Ministries of the PNW Conference, writes about this beautifully in this article:

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We live in a busy, fast-paced world. Our days are often scheduled from the moment we wake till the time we collapse in our beds with too few breaks along the way. Work, commitments to our family, the overlapping lives of friends, and the church compete for our time. It’s easy to lose ourselves in this swiftly moving river of modern life.

This isn’t what God intends for us.

As Christians we inherit a story of creation where God rests after six long days bringing what is into being. The Sabbath, this seventh day of rest and remembrance comes to us not just as an example, or a suggestion; it is a command to mark how truly important it is (Exodus 20:8-11). 

We need Sabbath.

Our theme for Annual Conference 2016 is Keeping Sabbath: Resting, Rejoicing, Returning. The order of these three “R” words is important. 
  • In the resting we stop, mark a break, take a stand against a world that keeps saying “go faster,” and find an opportunity to let go of what we don’t truly need. In the cessation of our activity we create space for reflection on what we have just experienced, integration of these things into the memories we carry with us, and listening for what God is calling us toward tomorrow.
  • Well-rested like birds in the shade of a large mustard tree (Mark 4:31-32), we find ourselves rejoicing in song and prayer acknowledging the many gifts we have received. Where we previously saw only scarcity, and were sometimes laden with anxiety, we can now begin to see that God has provided all we need for the work that is truly before us.
  • After Sabbath, we make the choice again of returning to the mission fields God has called us to. Where we entered our Sabbath time going through the motions, we now find ourselves renewed and ready to continue the work of calling people together to transform our communities and the world with the love Jesus Christ incarnated for us.
The 2016 Annual Conference Sessions draw to a close a busy quadrennium. As it is in any other year, we will have work that we will need to do together when we gather. But we are working to incorporate moments where we can keep Sabbath together: resting, rejoicing and returning as disciples on the path together.

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May we be intentional about making and keeping Sabbath a part of of our lives. In doing so, may we be liberated and empowered by the truth that God is God and we are not.

Your fellow disciple,
Carlo

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

What is our Faithful Response?

When the disciples brought the dilemma of having a hungry crowd of more than 5,000 people to Jesus, he said: "You give them something to eat." They had hoped that Jesus would agree with their proposal to "send them away and let them look for food". Yet instead, Jesus said, "Feed them." And they did.

This was not the case for hungry farmers in the town of Kidapawan in Southern Philippines this past weekend. Last Saturday, April 1, 2016, more than 6,000 farmers and their families took to the streets to ask government for food support. The El Nino phenomenon has brought about a severe drought to the country, so bad that even farmers are asking for food assistance. Sources say they tried to request food through the "proper" channels prescribed by government. Their pleas were unheard, dismissed for technicalities. So they took to the streets.

Instead of giving them food, they were violently dispersed and "sent away". Instead of feeding them, the farmers were shot at, killing three among their ranks and injuring many.

Through this ordeal, United Methodists in the town of Kidapawan and surrounding areas stood by the embattled farmers and their families. They opened up Spottswood Methodist Center, where the UMC Davao Episcopal Area office and residence are located, as a sanctuary for the peasants to find shelter, to rest and to be fed. Sadly, this act by our fellow United Methodists has been misconstrued by the government as an act of supporting "rebels". Our UMC Bishop in the area has received threats of lawsuits and legal action as a result of this ministry of justice and compassion. Spottswood Methodist Center is now under surveillance by the Philippine National Police and the military and entry to the center is being closely regulated, even for our own United Methodist constituents. Access to food supplies is still being denied.

To speak to this, Bishop Ciriaco Francisco of the UMC Davao Episcopal Area has issued the following pastoral statement:

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PASTORAL STATEMENT
“Out of the depths I cry to you, LORD.” (Psalm 130:1b)
Nights are neither quiet nor peaceful for hungry and poor ones. When they cry out for food, this is also a cry for justice. The poor in our midst remind us that God’s abundant life is still a promise to be fulfilled—when farmers are left without adequate sustenance and pushed toward the brink of starvation, injustice has prevailed.
It is never a sin when poor farmers demand for food, but it is a sin to deny them food. And when  the might of bullets and guns are used against the poor in their rightful demand for their basic  needs, a monstrous violation of what is decent, upright, and just has been committed. Three  people’s lives have been snuffed off the face of this earth in their simple plea for “bread;” entire communities of men, women and children ache in hunger, mourning and desolation, as their cries for food were answered through the barrel of a gun. As bullets rained upon them and pierced their bodies, the gathered crowd sought only the fulfilment of a simple prayer: rice for their families.
The flagrant and vicious use of live munitions to disperse the poor farmers on April 1, 2016 is abominable. No justification exists for this murderous and terror-inducing act by the Philippine National Police.
The shooting of the poor farmers that claimed the lives of three people on April 1 during their protest is condemnable. There is no justification for this murderous act of some concerned members of the PNP.
Likewise, the church asserts not only its right to protect the vulnerable ones, it is an imperative of our faith to are for the weak and the poor specially during the crucial moments when they are being beleaguered by the powerful and the mighty.
By offering our sanctuary, we are not just being hospitable to our farmers and hungry ones, but we are making them as one amongst us. When we welcome them in our “home”, our sanctuary, we do not only give our best, but we share with them our deep kinship. By offering them our sanctuaries, we recognize their suffering and hopes, their struggles and aspirations.
I am humbled by the capacity of the poor to claim their rights and defend their dignity. They are without “connections” to the corridors of power, but has never given up their HOPE.
I am thankful to the people’s organizations, institutions and ecumenical community here and abroad who expressed their solidarity. My prayer is that you will keep us in your thoughts and that you will stand with the poor farmers until they have seen the fulfillment of their aspirations. The church can only fulfill its mission as long as it stands with the poor and side with Justice.
I call on our church members. Let this response of our church to give sanctuary to the poor strengthen our unity. We must not let the enemies of life divide us, but let the peace that is built on compassion and understanding lead us to where our hearts should be- Justice, Peace and Truth. In the Service of Christ,
Bishop Ciriaco Q. Francisco
Resident Bishop, Davao Episcopal Area
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My heart is broken for what is happening in Kidapawan. I am proud of our United Methodist sisters and brothers in the Philippines and I stand in prayer and solidarity with them and their faithful response to go beyond hospitality to being Christ's incarnate presence among the poor and the marginalized. I pray for peace with justice.

What is our faithful response to the evil and injustice that is happening in our communities and societies? What are similar issues in our own towns, cities and communities where God calls us to provide faithful witness on behalf of those on the edges. Will our action or inaction be part of the movement that further oppresses those in the margins? Or will we take part in the movement of grace that welcomes everyone?

I know what Jesus would have done and what he did.

What about us? What is our faithful response?

Your fellow disciple,
Carlo