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May Everything We Do Be Done in Love in 2024 (and beyond)

 

Finding Our Way Home

Advent is a gift from God to us. It is a time of preparation, anticipation, and expectation, not unlike the long 450-year period between the closing remarks of the prophet Malachi, and the moment the angels brought the wonderful news of the world’s Savior to a band of shepherds outside Bethlehem.

God has such a great sense of humor! Here the people were awaiting some superhero dropping from the sky to save them, or at least some sort of king or mighty military leader who would equip them and lead them into glorious victory over their oppressors, when God did the completely unexpected. While people were watching the front gate of the royal palace, God entered our lives through the back door of history, as a vulnerable baby born in a barn! I am afraid that quite often we rob ourselves of the anticipation and excitement of waiting for Christmas when we get so caught up in the busyness of the season. Our family enjoys the tradition of an Advent calendar, where, beginning December 1, we open one little door, window, or frame to reveal an image of Christmas underneath it, until, finally, December 24 arrives, Christmas Eve, when the biggest window can be opened, and a manger scene is displayed. Yes, most people count the days until Christmas, but it is often only in terms of how many shopping days are left. Every year it seems that the first harbingers of Christmas come earlier and earlier, and every year more and more people find that the joy and true spirit of the Advent and Christmas season eludes them.

Advent begins Sunday, December 3. We will begin the season with celebrating Holy Communion on that first Sunday in Advent. The theme for this year’s Advent and Christmas season is Finding Our Way Home. Everyone will most likely have a different definition of home and the places where we belong. Some people may find home not in physical spaces, but instead in belonging to a community that accepts us for what God created us to be. Advent and Christmas are a sort of homecoming: God found a new home among us in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ! The dwelling places where we find Christ today can be in our mangers, surrounded by parents, shepherds, and a variety of animals, but also through the movement of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes those dwelling places can take us by surprise, and sometimes those dwelling places will be where we experience the most comfort and joy, the places where we truly belong in creation. Each Sunday during Advent and Christmas we will explore a different aspect dealing with homecoming:

December 3: The End of the World as We Know It

December 10: Where the Wild Things Are

December 17: Coming Home

December 24: (Morning Service) Pitching the Tent

December 24: (Christmas Eve Service at 5:30 p.m.) At Home in the World

December 31: God’s Reign Coming About

I look forward to this season of Advent. I look forward to the unexpected moments when we can simply take a deep breath and have time to prepare our hearts, anticipate, and expect the unexpected.

I pray for a restful and peaceful season of Advent, and I wish all of us the best of a blessed Christmas.

Pastor Daniel Hofmann

 

 

Who is Coming to Dinner at Your House?

It seems only appropriate that as you read the November issue of our church newsletter we talk about hospitality and Thanksgiving.

As a family we made a conscious decision years ago to always keep open spaces around the Thanksgiving table for guests God laid on our hearts.

Over the years these may have been recently widowed women and men, or persons we knew would be alone because they had no family nearby, or simply people who had no place set for them around anybody’s dinner table.

This year, my wife and I have been invited to sit at our daughter’s table, and she is contemplating who else she might want to invite in her neighborhood and community.

I was struck by something Jesus said to a man who had invited him for dinner.

When you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14.13-14)

If I understand Jesus correctly, then the blessing is based not upon how spiritual or “good” of a person we are, but based upon the fact that people gather around the table who cannot repay us in any form, shape, or whatever.

Jesus asks us to get out of our comfort zone and interact with people who are often “invisible” to us. If we truly desire to look at one another the way God sees us, then we begin to see one another not from the perspective of “what’s in it for me if I interact with this person,” but instead appreciate one another as God incarnate, God among us.

Keep looking up: God is here and now!

May you be blessed as you will be blessing someone else this Thanksgiving!

 

Pastor Daniel Hofmann

 

 

 

 

A Half Century of Offering Christ to Our Community

On October 29, 2023, Reed City UMC will celebrate a half century of ministry in its present building and location. As a congregation, our history reaches back much further to 1867, but this year we are focusing on the past 50 years, 1973-2023. During this relatively brief span of 50 years momentous events took place in the life of the Reed City UMC as well as in the world at large. Here is just a glimpse of what happened in the world in 1973. Gasoline was 40 cents a gallon, and a dozen eggs could be had for 45 cents. By October of that year, OPEC will drastically reduce the production of crude oil, increasing the price by 200%.

 

In Paris, France, the United States ends its involvement in the Vietnam War by signing a peace treaty, ending almost 20 years of hostilities.

Roe vs. Wade makes abortion an US constitutional right.

Oglala Lakota Native Americans and members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) began their occupation of Wounded Knee in South Dakota that February, highlighting the continuing discrimination against the first peoples in America.

Britain, Ireland, and Denmark join the European Union.

NASA launches the Mariner 10 Mercury probe spacecraft.

The Sears Tower in Chicago is completed in May of 1973.

 

So much for a few of the events that were happening in the United States and the rest of the world in the year the Reed City UMC moved into its new location and building.

The Reverend Forrest E. Mohr was serving in Reed City during the building and dedication of our present church facility, and since then, 8 pastors have served you during this half century of worship and ministry.

 

We are at present putting together a PowerPoint presentation for a ‘show-and-tell’ time during and after our celebration on the 29th of October.

We will share stories and memories of all the great things God has done in our midst and through our presence in this community.

And, … we will re-dedicate our beautiful church facility and ourselves as a congregation to making a difference in Reed City and beyond in the next half century!

Just imagine, what will the next 50 years bring?

 

Excited to celebrate and discover God’s goodness together with you,

 

Pastor Daniel

 

 

For Whom the Bell Tolls

I have been thinking about the importance of bells lately. And when I write bells, I mean church bells specifically. Those of us familiar with world literature might recall Ernest Hemingway publishing his novel For Whom the Bells Toll in 1940, describing the dark and brutal days of the Spanish Civil War that became one of several preludes to World War II. Hemingway borrowed the title for his novel from John Donne, an English writer and poet living from 1572-1631. Donne’s famous poem by that title describes the interconnectedness of each human being with the larger community.

 

When I think about bells, I think of them in terms of life. For most of my growing up years we literally lived in the shadow of a bell tower. The daily tolling of bells was a familiar and comforting part and rhythm of my life, and it is during Sunday mornings that I really do miss hearing the sound of bells ringing. The first bells calling the faithful to start their weekly walk to worship God were the bells of the Roman Catholic Church in town, followed an hour later by the Protestant faith community, and later still the much smaller United Methodist chapel.

 

Sunday mornings were transformed by the symphony of centuries old as well as relatively newer cast bells from the various churches. The familiar everyday rhythm stopped for the duration of a Sunday morning, and whether people actually made it to their respective church service or simply paused from the ordinary hustle and bustle in their homes, was what mattered most. Church bells were the invitation to cease our usual pace and simply pause, reflect, and find peace even for just a few minutes before the relentless pursuits of life reclaimed each individual person.

 

Church bells rang in each New Year’s Day, joyously helped celebrate annually the National Day of Independence, rang victoriously all over the land when World War II finally ended in Europe on May 8, 1945, and a single, somber bell would toll on the occasion of a national or international tragedy.

 

We don’t hear bells much these days. Pastor and author Brian Zahnd wrote in one of his blogs that “the sound of secularism is the silence of the church bell.” This made me think about our church bells here at the United Methodist Church of Reed City. What would it take to get them ringing again, drawing people to pause, reflect, and connect with God?

 

While we are living in this world of care

Many the burdens that we have to bear

But there’s a prayer bell at the Lord’s right hand

Give it a ring and He will understand

 

Prayer bells of heaven oh how sweetly they ring

Bearing a message unto Jesus our king

When you are burdened down with sorrows and care

Ring on and on for God will answer your prayer             (Prayer Bells of Heaven, 1937, by W. W. Ward)

 

I am interested in your thoughts about ringing the church bells again. We are celebrating our 50th anniversary at our current location, after all. You can phone me, e-mail me, or drop by and share your insights with me.

May the blessed peace of Christ surround you.

Pastor Daniel Hofmann

 

CONSTANTLY UNDER CONSTRUCTION

The signs of serious construction are everywhere these days in our fair county, and while the ongoing construction is a major nuisance for many businesses and residents, they are a necessary nuisance that will help improve the roads in our county considerably.

 

To be honest, the construction didn’t bother me nearly as much when it was centered on someone else’s street or road, but now that it has come to the street I live on, my perspective has slightly changed. Other than in the beginning of my professional career (and that on a different continent!), I never did have to commute before I accepted my appointment to the Reed City and Brooks Corners Methodist Circuit. As I write this month’s article, the repaving of US-10 is fully under way, and I can see the traffic backups from my office window. But I can put up with this temporary inconvenience, because driving on the sections that have already been completed, the experience is like night and day. So we take the detours and go out of our way to go places. And all the while humming the mantra, “This too shall pass.”

 

This construction business got me thinking about the church. While the physical structure may remain the same for decades, the people who make up a church are constantly under construction. People come and people go due to changes in life situations, employment, etc. We here in the Reed City congregation most definitely have had our share of transitions lately, what with people moving away to be closer to family, or losing friends and neighbors to death. But as the people of God we do not remain stagnant, ever. God is constantly creating something new in us, with us, and through us.

 

For example: How do we build a church that is viable and adapted to the needs of the next generation? How do we build bridges now that span the philosophical and cultural divide that exists between generations? Several studies show that in many contemporary churches there are as many as 10 different generations present, a generation denoting separate age groups. Think, for example, of the differences that exist between junior high and senior high youths; between 18 -34 and 35–49-year-olds; between pre-retirement age and post-retirement people. I think you get the idea.

 

So how do we build the necessary bridges that will enable the United Methodist Church of Reed City to deliver the timeless message of Jesus Christ to each new generation? I believe we can build these needed bridges by being open to God’s Spirit to de-construct and re-construct us as God’s people again and again.

 

The church being constantly under construction: a lot of food for thought. What do you think? Drop me a note, write an email, or let’s get together and share ideas.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Daniel Hofmann

 

One Thing is Needful Perhaps you have by now heard the news that the long-awaited and oft-postponed General Conference of the United Methodist Church will take place April 23-May3, 2024, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

What I want to focus on in this article is the question, “what will General Conference 2024 mean for the people of the Reed City UMC, and also what it does not mean for us.

Let’s talk first about what the General Conference (GC) of the United Methodist Church is: General Conference is the top policy-making body of The United Methodist Church. The assembly meets at the beginning of each quadrennium to consider revisions to church law, as well as adopt resolutions on current moral, social, public policy and economic issues. It also approves plans and budgets for church-wide programs for the next four years. The odyssey leading up to the 2024 General Conference began in 2016. This GC was the regularly scheduled conference that takes place every four years. That GC reached an impasse over the human sexuality issues, and the Council of Bishops was tasked with finding a way out of the protracted situation. A special General Conference dealing solely with the issues surrounding human sexuality was the proposed and agreed upon for 2019. Among the thornier issues were ordination of LGBTQ clergy and how to resolve issues when a clergy violates the UMC’s stances on human sexuality by, for example, performing a same-sex marriage.

Several different proposals were offered up for consideration, and when the elected members voted, The Traditional Plan was passed, which meant that our current statements about homosexuality, same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ persons would not fundamentally change. For an explanation of those current statements, click here: http://ee.umc.org/what-we-believe/homosexuality-full-book-ofdiscipline-statements .

We did not all leave as one happy family but were ready to do more battle at the regularly scheduled full General Conference in May of 2020.

And then COVID-19 walked onto the world’s stage, and everything pretty much was put on hold. In the meantime, though, lots of big and small steps have been taken to move beyond the impass of our denomination, such as the formation of at least one new Methodist denomination, and the introduction of a new paragraph in the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline, the Disaffiliation Paragraph. This time-limited paragraph gave local congregations the opportunity to leave the United Methodist Church and either join the newly formed Global Methodist Church, or join with another denomination.

To date, 60 out of 721 United Methodist congregations in the Michigan Conference have voted to leave (disaffiliate) the Michigan Conference, and the majority of congregations chose to become independent congregations, that is to say, with no affiliation to any particular denomination.

So what does any of this mean for us here in the Reed City United Methodist Church? Here is, first of all, what it does NOT mean.

We do not need to decide whether the Reed City Church should remain a vital part of the United Methodist Church or leave the denomination and affiliate with another yet to be formed alternate Methodist denomination, or none at all.

We do not need to decide whether or not Reed City UMC would be agreeable for its Pastor to conduct same-gender unions.

These three statements on what we do not need to act upon right now won't simply go away, and there will be a time and place to answer them in depth later on.

Here is what I believe what all of this means for us right now:

“Only one thing is needful,” Jesus said when asked to settle a dispute between two sisters, Mary and Martha (Luke 10:42). That one thing needful was to simply sit at the feet of Jesus and to listen to what he spoke. This is not an argument about whether or not someone takes the Bible literally. This is about whether we take the Bible seriously. What is God saying to the church about being the body of Christ? Do we truly believe that all people created by the one God are welcome to enter a house of worship?

Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors. This has been the slogan of the United Methodist Church since 2001. Is this slogan also true for the Reed City United Methodist Church?

What is open about our hearts, our minds, our doors? Is everybody welcome here, regardless of ethnic, economic, or educational background, creed, gender, or legal status? Do we tolerate self-appointed gate keepers who decide whether or not a person desiring to be a part of this worshiping community is acceptable or unacceptable?

The one thing needful for us to do NOW is to answer honestly and truthfully these difficult questions of how we define being a welcoming church. We owe this honest and deliberate conversation to those who are already part of this congregation, and (perhaps even more importantly) to those who have not yet affiliated with us but are waiting on the sidelines, wanting to know whether they, their friends, or their sons and daughters are welcome to worship in this congregation.

May we right now commit ourselves to lean into the guidance of the Holy Spirit? May we together discern right now the question of who is welcome in our congregation to worship God, praise God, and receive forgiveness for all that separates us from each other and from complete reconciliation with our Creator?

Let us take the time to sort these important matters out and commit ourselves to truly say “welcome” to whosoever might choose to walk through our sanctuary doors. Let us pay attention to what Jesus said to Mary and Martha in Luke 10:42, “Only one thing is needful,” and discover together what that one thing is. Yours in Christ,

Pastor Daniel Hofmann

 

MAKING THE MOST OF OUR TIME

A quick look at my day planner reminded me that it was high time to write this month’s newsletter column. I had a deadline looming, so to speak.

The funny thing about the word “deadline” is that it did not originate in the newspaper world but has its origin in the American Civil War.

Congressional Records first mention the word in 1864. It states that the guards at the notoriously brutal Confederate military prison at Andersonville drew a line on the ground around the perimeter of the compound, a uniform seventeen feet inside the prison walls. Any prisoner crossing over that line was presumed to be trying to reach the wall in order to escape and was summarily shot. This boundary was known succinctly as "the dead line."

 

This looming “deadline” to write my monthly column got me thinking about time management in general. As a United Methodist I am well aware of our spiritual father’s admonishment to “not trifle away time.”

In his “Rules for a Preacher’s Conduct.” John Wesley gave a number of practical guidelines: “Be diligent. Never be unemployed: never be triflingly employed. Never trifle away time: neither spend any more time at any place than is strictly necessary.”

 

These guidelines are certainly not applicable to clergy only, but hold true for all of us.

I am thinking here specifically of a passage in Paul’s letters to the Ephesians, where the following words literally jump off the page and beg to be applied in our daily lives: “Don't waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness. Expose these things for the sham they are. It's a scandal when people waste their lives on things they must do in the darkness where no one will see. Rip the cover off those frauds and see how attractive they look in the light of Christ.

Wake up from your sleep,

Climb out of your coffins;

Christ will show you the light!

So watch your step.

Use your head.

Make the most of every chance you get.

These are desperate times!”                     (Ephesians 5.11-16, The Message)

 

Neither Christ, nor Paul, nor John Wesley ever understood church as something to be “played” with, but as an organism that was alive and kicking, being busy in the pursuit of making the Kingdom of God a reality on earth.

May this column about deadlines and not wasting our time encourage us once again to not be content with merely playing church, but go out there and BE THE CHURCH!

 

In the awesome name of our risen Savior,

Pastor Daniel Hofmann

 

The Natural State of Being

This month’s ‘Pastor’s Column’ comes to you by way of Pastor Tim Carson, the Senior Pastor at The Estero Church in Estero, Florida. His blog was shared with the Leadership Team at the February meeting, and I felt that Pastor Tim’s words were very timely then and, perhaps even more so, these days. May you be as blessed by these words as I am.

The Lenten season offers many opportunities for reflection, evaluation, and furthering direction. As we know, in our own United Methodist denomination, there is much seeking of direction as we are reflecting on the future of our collective churches. No matter which way we look at it, there is plenty of frustration and anxiety about the tomorrows.

We read and hear news of denominational turmoil around our country. There’s a lot of sadness and anger in wondering how our beloved United Methodist Church became so “untied.” Yet, some congregations are joyful in their decisions, feeling that they can best support their mission in service by aligning with the Global UMC. Others look forward to the more enveloping inclusiveness of a progressive church, or a different denomination entirely. And those in the middle of it all? They’re looking to understand a measure of “spaciousness” (as described by our own Bishop, David Bard), embracing our Wesleyan heritage with a loving and inclusive appreciation of what brings us together in Christian faith.

These are difficult times. There are no simple answers, but we can look to scripture for support. Paul tells us (Philippians 4:47), “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Anxiety is a natural thing. It comes from processing circumstances of uncertainty and unfamiliarity. It comes from concern over leaving a comfortable place for something new. It can also come in facing a lot of work and stepping into a place we’re not sure of with people we may not know. Decisions rarely come without some experience of anxiety. That’s not wrong, it just “is.”

The good news: Paul gives us a solid “out” for our worry! He’s urging us to transfer our anxiety with faith— turning it over directly to God and leaving it with Him. What a gift! An unconditional one, at that! Imagine yourself sitting at the kitchen table with Jesus, and as you’re talking with Him, you’re writing down your worries on pieces of paper and passing them across the table to him. He waits patiently for you to let go of your grip on them, and smiles as you turn them over to him, each and every last one. “There!” He says, “I’m so glad you trusted me with these. They’re mine now. Finished. Done. No worries! Be happy!” Can you imagine your feelings at that moment? Whew! An overwhelming feeling of…peace, beyond understanding? God’s peace—to fill your heart and still your mind in Jesus!

Perhaps Lent offers us an opportunity to sit across the table with Christ, to let go of our worries, trusting that God has us firmly in his care. Again, Paul’s words, from Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him…”

Preparing for the 40 Days of Lent

6 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. 9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, “Here I am.” Isaiah 58:6-9 (NRSV)

We are a couple of weeks away from the start of the season of Lent (Ash Wednesday, February 22, 2023). Lent is a word that comes to us from an Old Germanic word meaning “longing.” Just as people long for Spring after a hard dreary winter, so the spirit longs for renewal and life in communion with God.

Lent is the gateway we must walk through if we want to understand the events of Holy Week and Easter. There is no Easter without the cross, and there is no cross without us being prepared to carry it.

Jesus offers us companionship on our personal journey through Lent. We begin the 40 Days of Lent with Ash Wednesday on February 22nd . This year we will move beyond our beautiful sanctuary and extend an invitation to our larger community. We will offer each person the traditional sign of the cross on their forehead as they drive by our church between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. on their way to work or school. The sign of the cross with ashes signify that we are committing ourselves to spend the next 40 days in a significant manner. Alternatively, I will offer an Ash Wednesday service at the Brooks Corners UMC at 6 p.m. that same evening.

For many Christians today, Lent is a season of preparation and conversion: We acknowledge the ways we have turned away from God in our lives and we focus on turning our hearts and minds back toward God. For some this means giving up something for Lent as a form of fasting. We can deprive ourselves of some small pleasure or indulgence and offer that sacrifice up to God. Or we might give up a bad habit as a way of positively turning our life back towards what God wants for us.

An experience of want, however temporary, can help us to appreciate the true abundance in our lives. And a small positive change can have a big impact that lasts beyond the 40 days of Lent.

I invite you think about what you might want to give up this year. Perhaps the words from the Prophet Isaiah at the beginning of this column can be a good starting point for us to examine our motives and expand beyond giving something up for Lent and seek out ways in which we can be a light shining in the darkness and a beacon of hope for those struggling with injustice and issues of poverty and hunger.

As you prepare for your forty-day journey through Lent, I wish you a deep and lasting experience of God’s Grace and Love that will extend far beyond Lent and Easter.

I am privileged to share this journey together with you.

Pastor Daniel Hofmann

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