Who Sustains Who?

“If a root is holy, the branches will be holy too. If some of the branches were broken off, and you were a wild olive branch, and you were grafted in among the other branches and shared the root that produces the rich oil of the olive tree, then don’t brag like you’re better than the other branches. If you do brag, be careful: it’s not you that sustains the root, but it’s the root that sustains you.
– Romans 11:16-18

When you’re repeatedly told how special and beloved you are, sometimes it’s hard to stay humble about it. Isn’t that true for us as Christians? We read in scripture that we’re righteous, we’re God’s beloved children, we’re to be a good example for others to follow.

So it’s hard to stay humble when we’re praised so often. But this passage cautions us against becoming too boastful about the faith we have in Jesus, especially towards those who have yet to discover that faith.

The last line in this passage really stood out for me as I read it this week: “it’s not you that sustains the root, but it’s the root that sustains you.” Sounds simple enough, but do we live it?

I know I often feel as if God and the church really need me. Without me, how will God’s work be accomplished? That’s thinking about it backwards, as if I sustain God, the branch sustaining the root. But if that’s true, then I’m more important and more powerful than God! And obviously, I’m not.

But sometimes we need that gentle reminder. We might not ever say that we’re sustaining God, but we may act like it with busyness and anxiety about church activities. God’s mission will die out if we don’t sustain the ministry!

But it won’t. God doesn’t need us to sustain it all. But we surely need God to sustain us. As we’re tired and worn down, or confused about which way to go next, it’s God the root who provides nourishment and strength for continued growth. We branches don’t sustain the root. The root sustains us!

 

Peace,

Pastor Erik

Back to School Prayers

I’m always glad for a new school year. Since my office windows face Trinity West Elementary School, I get to enjoy seeing buses and cars go by twice a day, energetic children running around, and a full parking lot by 8 am as teachers prepare to welcome students.

A new school year is exciting! But it can also be overwhelming. Teachers spend the final weeks preparing lessons and decorating their rooms. Children worry if they’ll like their teacher, or if kids in their class will like them. Parents and guardians manage the details like getting out the door on time, coordinating who’s dropping the kids off today, making sure lunches are packed (and not forgotten at home!), all while caring for their child’s emotional needs in the anxiety of the new year. And administrators often take on the stress of the teachers and families, knowing it’s their role to help make these new beginnings go as smoothly as possible!

Most of the schools in our area have their first day of classes this week. If you have not already, take time to include our area schools in your prayers. Pray for teachers, staff, and administrators. Pray for parents and guardians. Pray for children and youth returning to the classroom. Pray for them by name if you know them. If you haven’t heard, there’s a new principal at Trinity West: Mrs. Carol Lee. While she’s not new to the district, I invite you to specifically pray for her as she transitions into her new position.

Then, let these people know you’re praying for them! Send them a text, email, or hand-written note of encouragement. Make specific offers to provide assistance in this first week of the year, like making dinner for the family, or helping teachers or students collect and organize supplies and papers. This is more helpful than the open-ended, “Let me know if you need anything!” It’s okay if they decline; they’ll appreciate the offer nonetheless.

If you are one of these people, know that I am praying for you as your pastor. I’m praying by name for the teachers in our congregation and for families with children and youth. And I’m praying for everyone at our neighbor school across the street, as well as those in other schools and districts. I hope and pray that this year you’ll be blessed with opportunities to learn and grow, to teach, to develop relationships, and to give your best in service to God!

Peace,

Pastor Erik

A Pastoral Response to Charlottesville

In worship on Sunday, we joyfully celebrated the sacrament of baptism at Avery United Methodist church. As we do at every baptism, we asked the parents and sponsors to respond affirmatively to the following questions:

“Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?”

“Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?”

“Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?”

Evil powers present themselves in a variety of forms. In our nation last week, evil once again presented itself in the form of white nationalism and white supremacy. And while our laws protect the freedom to express our opinions, there is a limit to what is acceptable within the bounds of American ideals, and more importantly Christian belief and practice.

The idea that one group of people is superior to, better than, or even more important than another group is very openly being expressed in this nation right now, from the highest places of power all the way down to the smallest communities. This idea is entirely un-American and un-Christian. As Christians, we must resist such ideas and expressions without reserve. It is no longer acceptable to stand by silently while these forms of evil continue to fester, and eventually gain legitimacy and power to the point where they gain a national audience with a public rally as they did last week.

In response, it is tempting for the American and/or Christian to avoid the conflict and take the lukewarm political position of defending or denouncing “all sides.” It’s even more tempting to remain silent, becoming a passive observer of someone else’s struggle. There are times such avoidance may be acceptable. But let me be clear: this is absolutely NOT one of those times.

In the demonstrations in Charlottesville which led to violence and loss of life, there is clearly a side fighting for good and a side fighting for evil. To say otherwise, or to say nothing, is to give legitimacy to beliefs that are anti-American and more importantly, anti-Christian.

Declaring that white nationalism is evil and must be stopped at all costs is not a political statement. It is a theological statement rooted in our Christian belief that all persons are created by God and have equal sacred worth. It’s rooted in the Bible we so dearly love, which consistently teaches us to welcome those unlike us, consider others as better than ourselves, choose love over hate, defend the cause of those without power, and live compassionately in the example of Jesus. As the writer of Romans 12:9 implores, “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” White nationalism (and the racism it’s fueled by) is entirely evil. Hate it. God is good and loving. Cling to God.

You may agree with all of this. I hope you do. But it’s not enough to nod your head in agreement. We MUST go further than passive agreement or nervous avoidance. This is one of those moments when we are called not only to believe the right things, but to live them out.

So I implore you: in social media and other places where you have the ability to influence others, speak out as clearly and forcefully as possible. In private conversations and social settings, don’t be afraid to call this out for what it is: evil and sinful and lacking any redemptive value. You have the capability to influence others around you, even simply by lending your voice to the side of justice and love. Will you remain silent as hate grows, or will you take up your cross and make a difference with your Christian witness?

I know it’s easier and safer to stay silent. I know because far too many times in the past I’ve chosen that option too. But our silence is what allows the space for hateful voices to speak up. Instead, be courageous! Resist evil as publicly and loudly as you can, and let the power of God swiftly defeat the powers of evil.

 

And though this world, with devils filled,

should threaten to undo us,

we will not fear, for God hath willed

his truth to triumph through us.

Martin Luther, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”

 

Peace,

Pastor Erik