Practicing Resurrection

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BY REV. REBECCA CRAVER | 

In our churches, we have lots of practices. We practice our faith, prayer disciplines, choir anthems, and so much more. Almost 9 years ago a friend introduced to me to the poet Wendell Berry and his poem, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” It woke me up to a practice of faith that I had missed or at the very least not given much time to develop in my Christian discipleship: practicing resurrection.

Resurrection is something we celebrate, proclaim and claim as part of our faith every day, however, it can be the last thing on our list of possible responses to meet the challenges of the day. I have been wondering over the last few years if resurrection is indeed what we, as churches, are being called into. Most of us know of congregations that are struggling with declining numbers in worship, fewer children and families getting connected, and simple discouragement because what once worked doesn’t seem to be working any longer.

We have more experience than we think we do. Think back, how often have you come up against a new and unexpected challenge and figured out how to meet it?

From my perspective, we seem to be living through a historical pivot point where God is doing some major renovations to the Body of Christ. Just like putting a new kitchen in your home shakes up the whole house and your daily routine, God’s renovation is shaking us up as well. I believe the practice of resurrection has some potential to help us through the transformation process. That first Easter morning no one saw it coming, except Jesus.

Image of cross at Easter

A cross in front of Olivet Moravian Church is adorned with a white cloth on Easter, signifying Christ’s resurrection. | Photo by Andrew David Cox

“The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.” Luke 24:5-9

I find it challenging to imagine what it was like for the women at Jesus’ tomb. I wonder if questions such as these were going through their minds: “How could something so implausible and impossible as resurrection have happened?”, “What in the world are we supposed to do with this new information?”, and “What does it even look like to practice resurrection?”

Here are a few ideas from the poem “Manifesto” by Wendell Berry: “So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute. Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing. Take all that you have and be poor. Love someone who does not deserve it.”

We have more experience than we think we do. Think back, how often have you come up against a new and unexpected challenge and figured out how to meet it? With the help and support of family, friends, and faith, we have found ways to thrive even in times of change, upheaval and sorrow. So let’s take the lessons we have learned in our daily lives and use them in our churches.

The Moravian seal or emblem, in all its forms, encourages us to follow Christ no matter the challenge or change we face. | Seals: Moravian emblem on Tanzanian cloth (top left), 2018 Southern Province Synod logo (bottom left), standard seal commonly seen in North America (middle), painted seal at Friedland Moravian Church (top right), stained-glass seal at Clemmons Moravian Church (bottom right). | Photos and graphic by Andrew David Cox

Here in Edmonton, Alberta Canada, our congregations have been setting aside time to talk together about our future(s). We are participating in a series called, “Food, Faith, and Future.” This is one way we are seeking to practice resurrection. We come to these conversations from our various contexts to listen for and imagine together how God’s renovation may be leading us into the future. For some of us, it seems like the writing is on the wall and the future of our congregational ministry may be coming to an end. For other congregations, there are different challenges to their ministries. However, each of our congregations still recognizes that God is working in us and through us for the Kin(g)dom of God. So whatever the future holds in terms of our institutional presence, our call to ministry and service continues.

As a pastor in Edmonton, I have great hope that these conversations on how our ministry might continue will bear fruit for the Kin(g)dom. We are not people of the tomb, it is not the place we stay, but the pivot point that sends us out again in search of a life with Jesus leading us on the way. We are sent to practice resurrection, indeed!

“Food, Faith, and Future” in action in Edmonton, Canada at an April 2018 meeting. | Photos by the Rev. Rebecca Craver


Sources

“Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” The Country of Marriage, by Wendell Berry, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973.

WBP, Julie. “Poem of the Day – Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” BookPeople, BookPeople, 5 Apr. 2011, bookpeopleblog.com/2011/04/05/poem-of-the-day-manifesto-the-mad-farmer-liberation-front/.


About the Author

 

Rebecca Craver is a pastor in the Northern Province, serving Edmonton Moravian Church. She serves on the Healthier Congregations Task Force and is a co-creator of the “Create in Me” worship series in The Moravian Magazine and an upcoming podcast.

Contact Rebecca at RevRebeccaCraver@Gmail.com or call office number (780) 439-1063


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Trust and Power

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BY THE REV. CORY L. KEMP |

Photo of woman praying

We talk about living our faith on a regular basis. What does that look like to you? Asking myself what living my faith looks like brought me to the following, familiar passage:

“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” -Matthew 7:7-8

Faith is an active verb. Taking faithful action, by asking, searching, knocking on the door, co-creates a result that is linked with God’s answer of giving, finding, and the door opening for us.

But in between those paired actions and responses something else, something important, is going on that encourages that co-creative relationship with God that builds a faithful, fruitful life of discipleship.

What is this special something? It is the recognition that to move forward we first must trust God’s power in us.

If you know how to drive stick shift cars, you know this lesson.

Photo of car with stick shift

While recently preparing to teach a class on communication as spiritual practice, I remembered a rerun of an Army Wives episode. The family tradition between mother and daughter in this program is to pass on the legacy of being able to shift like a trucker in less than a day.

Daughter is skeptical, mom is persistent.

Before getting in the car, mom shares that the clutch is about trust, the accelerator about power. As her hands make the familiar foot movements, she explains that to move forward you have to trust.

She then draws her daughter’s hands into her own, lifting them to join in the fluid motions of trust supporting power.

And, indeed, the daughter was shifting like a trucker before they sat down to dinner that evening.

Faith is so very much about that willingness to take action, trusting that God’s power will guide us to seeing the next moment of truth, be it the giving, the finding or the door opening.

But, faith is more.

Faith is an ongoing series of asking, seeking, knocking, sometimes constant, always consistently showing God’s action and willing support for us to live abundantly. It is about acknowledging, with deep, abiding gratitude, what God has already entrusted to us by virtue of God’s power in us. In you, and in me.

My thought is that most of us are willing to take that first step; and we are delighted when it is clear that God has heard and answered us in a way we understand. Faith becomes daunting if we get stuck in the fear of what comes next.

False modesty doesn’t create the kind of results God has been credited with through generations of women and men who have used their faith to create lasting change, community and hope in the world. God loves to work through people.

Top view of feet of people standing in a circle. Runners standing in a huddle with their feet together.

But do we love God working through us?

William Sloane Coffin once wrote that faithfulness is more demanding than success. It is. Rather than being defined as a reachable goal, faith is more akin to a lifestyle choice, a way of being and becoming.

And I believe that is the absolute best part of actively living faith as a verb.

Choosing faith means you and I are always standing in trust and power. Reminding ourselves of that makes it a whole lot easier to harmonize our choices and our actions with God’s choices and actions on our behalf. Knowing that, believing that, acting from that, means we are less likely to allow doubt or fear to keep us stuck in first gear.

There is nothing wrong with being in first gear; sometimes that is simply where we are, and God is with us there too.

But it is really satisfying to get the harmony and rhythm of trusting, of letting that trust in yourself and God support your next step forward. And the one after that. And the one after that.

You get the idea.


 

Cory Kimp

The Rev. Cory L. Kemp is founder and faith mentor with Broad Plains Faith Coaching. Cory, employing her signature Handcrafted Faith program, supports ordained and lay women leaders in visualizing, understanding and strengthening their beliefs, so that they may know, love and serve God and their communities with generosity, wisdom and joy.


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Living Faith Small Group Ministry: Part Five

In the previous installments of this blog (part 1, 2, 3, 4,), I’ve written about our need for a greater focus on spiritual growth in our churches. I’ve discussed the key components of Living Faith that facilitate spiritual growth. One thing I haven’t discussed is the center of all of these discussions–not the ‘how to’ of spiritual growth, but the ‘what exactly is’ spiritual growth. It’s time for a good examination of spiritual growth to discover what we’re hoping to achieve.

We should start by considering what isn’t spiritual growth—

  • Spiritual growth or maturity isn’t eloquence in speaking about faith. This is true whether that speech is a sermon, a prayer, comments in a discussion, dynamic teaching, or encouragement offered to another person. Jesus talked about people who pray publicly, and his words were not very affirming. He might offer the same comments about prayers than impress us today. The person praying might be moving and ‘spot on,’ but that doesn’t mean the person is in touch with God. It simply means that the person does well talking about being in touch with God.
  • Spiritual growth doesn’t equate with a high level of commitment. Sometimes it’s said of a person that he or she will do anything he or she is asked, or that the person gives generously. These are great practices, but they don’t reflect the spiritual condition of the person. The person might be head-over-heels in love with Christ, but a high level of commitment to doing good doesn’t prove this. There are a lot of other incentives for deep involvement in church activities such as guilt relief, recognition, influence, or approval. None of these will bring a person closer to God or instill Christ’s image in them.
  • Talents don’t prove this either. A singer might be able to amaze a crowd. A youth leader might be able to draw young people like bees to honey. An officer on a church board might be able to motivate the congregation or manage the work of a board in impressive ways. But none of these abilities demonstrates spiritual maturity and growth.
  • Spiritual gifts don’t guarantee spiritual growth. They receive a lot of attention in the New Testament, and they are emphasized in some denominations, much less so in the Moravian Church. Some see them as a litmus test of godliness, but nothing supports this conviction.

But enough about what spiritual growth/maturity/life isn’t. It’s time to think about what it is—

  • Galatians 5 is a good place to start. Paul writes about the fruit of the spirit. That’s always intrigued me. I read the names of the fruit, but what does that look like in a person’s life? I have not grown tired of pondering this question about people, and about myself.
  • Fruit, not fruits. There are nine names given to the spirit’s fruit in Galatians, but fruit is singular. It’s like they come as a set. If you have a basket on the table with an assortment of fruit in it, you don’t talk about how nice the fruits look. You talk about the fruit. The Galatians 5 passage is like a prism that refracts the light of spiritual fruit into 9 colors that enables us to understand it better. But it’s one fruit. It’s one image of Christ that is revealed in different ways depending on the situation. Can you imagine having love without gentleness, or patience without peace, or joy without self-control? Of course not, because it’s one fruit–the fruit of the spirit. We can’t focus on achieving one or the other like it was a New Year’s resolution. Instead, we focus on Christ, and the fruit of Christlikeness begins to develop in us.
  • Philippians 4:4-9. Before you read further, read these verses. Go ahead, I’m serious. Just don’t forget to come back and finish reading this post.

The word, fruit, isn’t included in these verses, but its imprint can be seen all over it. It talks about a frame of mind which allows for and fosters spiritual growth and maturity.

By now you’d be right to wonder what this has to do with Living Faith which we’ve been developing. The goal or focus of Living Faith is this spiritual fruit/growth/maturity. This model of church life makes this kind of vibrant spiritual life possible. Spiritual life doesn’t happen because we decide to pray more or serve more. It happens when we help each other discover God’s work in our lives.

That’s the point of Living Faith. Even the most dedicated introvert (like me) needs fellowship with others to grow toward Christ. No one does this alone. Even monks living in solitude depend on the sense of fellowship they have with those who live that same disciplined life.

If you want to have a deeper spiritual life, work at it with others who are also focused on the same thing. Living Faith can guide you in that. Gradually, you’ll find the fruit developing in your life that Paul discusses out of his own experience.

Questions? Or want to learn more about Living Faith? Contact Tim Byerly at tlbyerly1971(AT)gmail.com.

The Rev. Tim Byerly is the Special Project Manager for Living Faith Small Group Ministry under the Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM)

Tim Byerly

Living Faith Small Group Ministry: Part Four

This is 4th post in our series about Living Faith, a model of congregational life being designed by the Board of Cooperative Ministries of the Moravian Church, Southern Province. You can read the first post (click here)second post (click here), and third post (click here) at the preceding links. I’ve been writing about the need we have in our churches for a more focused approach to spiritual growth. Much of this has centered on the key components that make Living Faith an effective model to generate spiritual growth in the people of our churches. I hope you have found this interesting. We’ve gotten some response from some readers, and we would like to hear from a lot more. Your feedback and questions are welcome.

In my last post, I promised that I would write this time about the final key component that makes Living Faith succeed as a model of church life. I also wrote that this final component is the hardest for us to embrace, so here it goes.

In my last post I referred to Luke 10 as a good example of how Jesus worked with his disciples and how they are guided toward spiritual maturity and trained for outreach. When the time came, they didn’t go out as a single group. They divided into groups of two.

A similar thing happened in Acts 8. However, this time it was forced on them by persecution. In Luke 10 the disciples were ‘scattered’ by Jesus’ direction. In Acts 8 they were scattered by necessity following the death of Stephen. No doubt they mourned Stephen’s death and mourned the loss of fellowship they had with each other. But the rest of Acts 8 gives an example of the benefit of this forced dispersal. Phillip goes to Samaria and shares his faith there. Soon he finds himself in a remote area where he encounters the man from Ethiopia and shares his faith with him. And he is just one of those who left Jerusalem to escape persecution. Lots of others did the same thing.

It would have been nice to stay as one joyful, thriving community in Jerusalem; and they might have if given the choice. But the plan was to “go to all the world.” The persecution made clear that the time to start this had arrived. The cocoon phase of the church had ended.

When we discover a community, large or small, which nurtures us, we cling to it. Groups have formed and provided such blessing that they lasted for years. Often this is wonderful for a while. Then it stops being wonderful and begins to become inward. The members of the group find the group loving and accepting, and they sometimes wonder why others don’t join. They don’t see the barrier than has developed naturally around the group. Sometimes they begin to find it less beneficial even for themselves as the dynamics change.

Living Faith seeks to avoid this hardening of the wall around the group by periodically birthing new groups. When a group is begun, members are asked to agree to a covenant. A part of that covenant is to be open to the possibility of birthing a new group or helping to birth a new group after several months. This time period varies depending on the dynamics of the group. Not everyone will agree or be able to help birth a new group, but each group member is asked to consider doing so.

Those who have been part of close knit groups will recognize how hard it would be to depart from the blessings of such a group. You look around the circle of dear friends who have shared so much together, and its hard to imagine losing that. But that’s the way the church thrives, and that’s the way the church avoids stagnation and decline. Often when the church has plateaued or become corrupt or has become identified with empty ritual, some type of upheaval was needed to clear the way for fresh life. That’s true in congregations, in small fellowships, and in denominations. Birthing new groups helps to provide this renewal that prevents stagnation.

Moravians of the Renewed Church were regularly changing residence to other parts of the world, and we admire them for that. If we feel that way about the way they followed Christ, why do we find change in our own church routines so difficult?

One of the richest Moravian practices of the 18th century was the prayer bands–small groups that met frequently to encourage each other in their spiritual journeys. They became transformative and invaluable to the vitality of the Moravian Church. And members of these bands were sometimes shuffled or re-organized to make them more effective.

There is a lot of detail about how this works in Living Faith that I’m not including here. But birthing new groups is vital to the effectiveness of Living Faith and to the vitality of our churches.

A popular dish in coastal North Carolina is the blue crab. It’s especially sought after when it’s a soft shell blue crab. The fisherman (sometimes woman) catches the crab in a pot (more like a cage than a cooking pot) and watches for the crabs that are ready to moult (sometimes spelled molt). These crabs, called peelers, have grown and no longer fit comfortably in their shells. The peelers are set aside in a tank with flowing salt water. When the crab sheds its shell, it is chilled and sent to market before the new shell hardens. These softshell crabs are a delicacy. If the crab lives, it develops a new, slightly larger shell so it can grow larger.

This moulting is necessary to allow the crab to keep growing. If it didn’t do this, it could not thrive. As important as our groups are where we find fellowship, maybe they, too, need a transformative cycle built into their routine.

Questions? Or want to learn more about Living Faith? Contact Tim Byerly at tlbyerly1971(AT)gmail.com.

The Rev. Tim Byerly is the Special Project Manager for Living Faith Small Group Ministry under the Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM)

Tim Byerly

Living Faith Small Group Ministry: Part Three

This is the third post in this blog. In the first post, I shared my view that opportunities for spiritual growth are one of three foundational assignments which God has given to the Church along with outreach and worship. I suggested that our Church needs a more concerted focus on spiritual growth opportunities for our members because much of what we do in our churches doesn’t achieve this objective.

In the second post, I wrote about the key elements that make spiritual growth possible. These key elements are incorporated into Living Faith, a model of congregational life which is being developed by the Board of Cooperative Ministries. In introducing this model I mentioned that a group that focuses on spiritual growth must be small to allow all members to share. I stated that there must be confidentiality within such a group. And I wrote about accountability for personal daily devotions and attendance in group gatherings. This post continues this discussion of the components that make spiritual growth possible.

In addition to small size, confidentiality, and accountability, there are a few other key components that a Living Faith group needs to allow spiritual growth to happen.

Leadership. Ideally, the group leader has had previous experience in a group focused on spiritual growth. That person helps the group remain faithful to its covenant. The leader keeps the group on track so that the group’s discussions don’t drift into conversations about theology, society, politics, sports or a host of other topics that are enjoyable but not consistent with the group’s purpose. The leader also guides the group as it explores the study materials that are covered. Keep in mind the leader is not an expert or teacher. The leader discovers new things about faith along with the other group members. The leader’s task is not to enforce rules but to encourage the group to stay on track. Basically, the leader has become familiar with the Living Faith model and seeks to follow this model with the group.

There are two other key components to Living Faith groups. The first of these is described in the rest of this post. I’ll save the last one until the next post. It’s the hardest one.

Outreach. In my first post I mentioned that there are three foundational assignments which God has given to the Church. They are to provide opportunities for spiritual growth, outreach into the world, and worship. In Living Faith, outreach is an outgrowth of the small group experience that produces spiritual growth. This follows in a general way the model that we find Jesus using in Luke 10 with 70 disciples. If we see that passage as a summary of an extended period of preparation, we find that he spent time training them in the context of their community. They then went out, working together on their various outreach efforts. Afterward, they came back together to celebrate and reflect on what they had done. Imagine the bonding and the growth they experienced as their community developed through sharing with each other and then through serving others.

Living Faith groups undertake outreach as groups. This can vary widely, but each group discerns God’s leading toward a specific type of outreach and then pursues it together. In Luke 10 the disciples went in groups of two, whereas Living Faith groups serve as slightly larger groups. Just as the fellowship of the group binds its members together as it focuses on spiritual growth, so the bonds that develop through outreach are no less powerful.

Initially a group develops its small community through talking and sharing. In outreach the group develops unity through doing. Both are important. Both are found in Jesus’ method of training his followers. Henri Nouwen in Spiritual Direction-Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith suggests that this experience of community and outreach are two of three disciplines–along with solitude–to which Christians are called. “These are the three disciplines we are called to practice on the long journey home: (1) solitude or communion with God in prayer [a form of worship; although Nouwen is focused on solitary worship rather than corporate worship (my comment)]; (2) recognizing and gathering together in community; and (3) ministry or compassion in the world.” The second and third of Nouwen’s disciplines match these components of Living Faith which provide a balance of being faith and doing faith. This makes our faith whole.

A lot of people have undertaken outreach together which led them to live their faith journeys alongside others. Those experiences cemented those friendships. What was the outreach project that brought you close to someone who remains a close friend now?

Next time I’ll write about the hardest component of a Living Faith group.

Questions? Or want to learn more about Living Faith? Contact Tim Byerly at tlbyerly1971(AT)gmail.com.

The Rev. Tim Byerly is the Special Project Manager for Living Faith Small Group Ministry under the Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM)

Tim Byerly

 

Living Faith Small Group Ministry: Part Two

This is the second in a series of posts that share the development of a project which I’ve been working on since June of 2015. (Read Part One here.) The Board of Cooperative Ministries has sponsored and overseen this work. I didn’t think it would ever have a name, but finally we found one that rang true for those involved in this process. We now call it Living Faith.

This blog starts with my comments regarding the development of a model of church life that we believe can invigorate our congregations. You may find that some of my comments ring true for you, while others might have you objecting out loud. I hope you share both in response to this blog.

In my first post, I suggested that much of what we do in our congregations focuses on things other than what we need to enable our members to experience spiritual growth. These are important things, but they are designed to achieve objectives other than spiritual growth. If you look back at that post, I write about Sunday School classes and the good that they do. I mentioned that Bible studies also serve an important purpose but often lack the elements that they need in order to enable participants to experience significant spiritual growth. They may learn about spiritual maturity, but they don’t necessarily experience it. This probably raised questions in the minds of many readers as to what factors do I think are needed to make spiritual growth possible. That’s what this post is about.

A key element that helps to make this happen is face-to-face interaction on a regular basis in which we share our spiritual journeys with each other. In Living Faith, this involves sharing our responses to two questions while a few are gathered together:

  • In what ways has God moved in your life since we last met?
  • In what ways has God been silent in your life since we last met?

This makes two things necessary:

1) One is that the group must be smaller than many Sunday School and Bible study classes that exist in many of our churches. If there is a group of seven or more, time just doesn’t allow meaningful responses to these questions by each participant. Smaller than seven is actually preferable.

2) The second thing that becomes necessary in order to respond honestly to these two simple questions is an agreement that things shared must be kept in the strictest confidence. Most of our gatherings in church are not understood to be in confidence. They are good groups, but they aren’t seen as places of confidentiality. This is not to suggest that people must share deep, intimate secrets in such a setting in order to achieve spiritual maturity; but some level of privacy is needed in order to develop close relationships and accountability.

Speaking of accountability, in addition to face-to-face interaction on a regular basis, another element that is essential to spiritual growth is attendance at the weekly to bi-weekly Living Faith group’s gatherings and also personal daily devotional practices. Group members don’t confront each other but encourage each other to remain committed to these parts of their group covenant. This binds the group members together in a way that few other things can do.

Many Moravians have participated in a Gemeinschaft group. This movement began in the Southern Province of the Moravian Church, but it has been used beyond Southern Province churches by many who have found it beneficial. Those who read this and who have participated in such a group will notice some of the similarities between Gemeinschaft and Living Faith. (I should point out that there are significant differences, too.) Most have found that the experience of sharing their faith journey in regular gatherings develops strong, long-lasting relationships. That group becomes an important faith community for them.

The development of one’s faith is not meant to be pursued in solitude. It is intended to be found in the fellowship of others who are seeking the same walk of faith toward spiritual maturity in Christ. That’s what Living Faith is all about.

When has ongoing fellowship in the faith with others enabled you to move closer to Christ. Anyone care to share?

Questions? Or want to learn more about Living Faith? Contact Tim Byerly at tlbyerly1971(AT)gmail.com.

The Rev. Tim Byerly is the Special Project Manager for Living Faith Small Group Ministry under the Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM)

Tim Byerly