|Karen E. Ziel, Minister of Faith Formation|
This week's author is Karen Ziel, Minister of Christian Education for the Connecticut Conference, UCC.
From there Jesus and his followers went through Galilee, but he didn't want anyone to know it. This was because he was teaching his disciples, "The Human One will be delivered into human hands. They will kill him. Three days after he is killed he will rise up." But they didn't understand this kind of talk, and they were afraid to ask him.
They entered Capernaum. When they had come into a house, he asked them, "What were you arguing about during the journey?" They didn't respond, since on the way they had been debating with each other about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be least of all and the servant of all." Jesus reached for a little child, placed him among the Twelve, and embraced him. Then he said, "Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me isn't actually welcoming me but rather the one who sent me."
I have to admit my peers in Christian education and faith formation are perhaps among those who most often cite the most familiar verse of this passage in the context of the faith community. We are perhaps even guilty of leaving off the end of the verse and quoting the first part, "Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me;" stopping at the colon rather than quoting through to the end.
It becomes the standard we bear as we plead for more funding in faith formation. It becomes our rallying cry as we plead for additional volunteers to lead or guide or teach. It becomes our mantra as we seek equality in our church's acceptance of, affirmation with, inclusion of, and participation with the children in our midst. It is our plea for justice on their behalf.
As I further reflected on the whole passage this week and what it means to me, the words of wisdom shared by a certain 9--year-old boy came to mind. I have carried his words with me in each church I have served and in my heart until this day. Today, I believe he's almost 30.
His proclamation came in the context of the opening of another church school year. The church I was serving at the time was using the Whole People of God curriculum. The curriculum writers had chosen a theme for the first fall unit that year which invited us to explore this very same lectionary cycle of readings. Their unit theme: "Turn the World Upside Down!"
Yet Dana protested that day as his church schoolteacher invited her students to think about what the theme might mean. Dana's sudden and loud exclamation stopped the class and teacher and challenged our assumptions. Unable to help himself, Dana cried out, "But I don't want my world turned upside down!" Perhaps he voiced the most human of sentiments, what his classmates and perhaps teacher were unwilling to say. We don't want to hear that Jesus came to challenge our thinking and teach us to follow God in new and unexpected ways. When Dana's teacher reported his outcry to me, I couldn't help myself: "Out of the mouths of babes", I quoted. (Mt. 21:16 -- I have to confess to a certain linguistic curiosity.)
As my heart recalled this episode in my ministry, I thought, Dana is right! Dana had simply spoken aloud all our concern, our fears in following Jesus' way. I don't want my world turned upside down! The disciples didn't either. They had their own assumptions about what it meant to follow Jesus, and so do we.
If we don't challenge ourselves and our thinking to read and re-read these often-quoted texts or the often overused single verse quoted out of full context, we miss an opportunity to continue to grow in knowledge and understanding of the true depth of Jesus' brief time among his followers. The lessons are truly profound.
I know my flaws. My own humanity often gets in the way of a depth of understanding as it did for the twelve. I wonder aloud in my time of prayer, "How long, O God, will your daughter continue to misunderstand?" Yet if I am present, as I read Scripture; if I listen with the ear of my heart I'll mine the depths of familiar passages and continue to hear the echoes of God's beloved children sharing their wisdom with me and enabling me to grow.
O Holy God, your immense love provides us an immeasurable patience and we are grateful. We are quick to jump to conclusions, eager to get what's coming to us. We don't want our thinking or our assumptions challenged. We cry out, "I don't want my world turned upside down." Be with us even as you challenge us and open the ears of our hearts to the wisdom of your Son. Challenge us and inspire us even as you transform our lives. Amen.
with joy the birth of John Gregory "Jack" Rosenthal, born to the Rev. Kristen Kleiman, pastor of the First Congregational Church UCC of Bristol, and her husband Stu Rosenthal, on September 16;
the Rev. William K. Dunlap, pastor of the First Congregational Church UCC of Norwich, who is recovering following bypass surgery last week;
the friends and family of Glen Doherty, Sean Smith, Christopher Stevens, and Tyrone Woods, who were killed at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11; and
all those celebrating Rosh Hoshanah today.
Archelaus Terrentine, father of the Rev. Shannon Rye Wall, pastor of the South Britain Congregational Church UCC, who is recovering from a stroke;
those grieving, injured, homeless, deprived of livelihood, or otherwise affected by the earthquakes in southwest China on September 7;
the friends and family of the Rev. Carl L. Christensen, who recently retired from the Ivoryton Congregational Church UCC, who died on August 21;
the Rev. Stephen Camp, senior pastor of Faith Congregational Church UCC in Hartford, who is recovering from severe injuries suffered in a fall;
the Rev. Carl F. Schultz, Jr., pastor emeritus of First Church of Christ Congregational UCC in Glastonbury, doing well recovering from a broken hip;
the Conference Minister Search Committee as they consider candidates;
the Rev. Dr. Barry Cass, the staff, members, and friends of the Somers Congregational United Church of Christ, which lost its 170-year-old meetinghouse to a devastating fire the night of January 1-2;
the Rev. Alison Buttrick-Patton, the lay leadership, staff, members, friends, and community of the Saugatuck Congregational Church UCC, which suffered severe damage from a substantial fire on the night of November 20;
the Conference's partners in the Kyung-Ki Presbytery and their communities on the Korean peninsula;
the Conference's partners working for peace in Colombia amidst violence;
the leaders of this nation, that they may meet the challenges of the day with insight, wisdom, and compassion;
this nation, that it may continue its difficult work to end the practices of racism;
those suffering due to the ongoing financial woes of the nation, be they struggling to meet an unaffordable mortgage, seeking employment, or working to find just resolutions; and
those serving or living in war or conflict zones around the world, or where terrorists have struck.
To be added to the prayer list, please send an email to Rev. Eric Anderson at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Haddam Neck Cong'l Church
PT The Rev. James A. Simpson
MM Mr. Robert Cohen
First Cong'l Church of Haddam
P The Rev. Michael L. Malone
CE Ms. Nancy Soneson
Hadlyme Cong'l Church of UCC
PT The Rev. Ann L. Crites Outka
Dunbar United Church of Christ
P The Rev. George Manukas
Mt. Carmel Cong'l Church
P The Rev. Douglas J. House
CE Ms. Karen Baranski
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The Spirit Calendar: September 17, 2012 by Karen E. Ziel, Minister of Faith Formation