Amy Jones,
Agape Coordinator
Dear God, we come to worship you today. 
We come to pray, and listen.
You always hear us. 
Help us to hear you. Amen
Acts 26:4-8

4 ‘All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, a life spent from the beginning among my own people and in Jerusalem. 5They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I have belonged to the strictest sect of our religion and lived as a Pharisee. 6And now I stand here on trial on account of my hope in the promise made by God to our ancestors, 7a promise that our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship day and night. It is for this hope, your Excellency, that I am accused by Jews! 8Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?
I saw a quote from Nadia Bolz-Weber, the now-famous Lutheran pastor, that read, “People don’t leave Christianity because they stop believing in the teachings of Jesus. People leave Christianity because they believe the teachings of Jesus so much, they can’t stomach being part of an institution that claims to be about that and clearly isn’t.” 

I hadn’t articulated it in so few words, but this was something I felt in my body as I watched a friend get commissioned in the United Methodist Church this past week. In the UMC, commissioning is an acknowledgment that a candidate for ordained ministry has satisfied all of the educational requirements for ordained ministry and their call has been affirmed by both lay and clergy members of the conference. It will be at least two years before my friend can apply for ordination, whereupon the successful examination of the fruits of her ministry, she can be ordained.

This is a process I know a little too well. When I went through the commissioning process I was living in the Virginia Annual Conference, but a member of the Upper New York Annual Conference, the result of which was satisfying the requirements of two different regional bodies ahead of ordination. When I worked at Drew University Theological School I coached UM students through this same process, in annual conferences around the country. Still, I have a nagging conscience about what exactly we are doing as a church.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a strong understanding of the theology of ordination. I know the doctrines of my church (and several others!). But, I have also seen really gifted pastors be excluded from ordination because they did not speak English well enough to articulate their thoughts. I have seen outstanding examples of Holy Spirit-inspired preaching ousted from the church because the candidate identified as gay. I’ve watched as potential clergy literally aged out of the process (mandatory retirement is at age 72 in the UMC). Is this the body of Christ? Where you can be too gay, too old, or too monolingual to be a gifted leader?

When I think about this, Paul’s rhetorical question echoes in my ears, “Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?” What kind of God couldn’t raise the dead?! Why is the resurrection so incredible? It isn’t even the most talked about thing in the gospels! The fact is, it isn’t amazing at all. Nature is defied every single day.

What is absolutely incredible is how people respond to the resurrection of Jesus. Paul says he was the most Jewish Jew anyone had met - just ask his friends! That didn’t mean he understood the magnitude of God’s love and power. Even Paul, a man who understood his own tradition inside and outside, had something more to learn about God. Even Paul, someone who never doubted his own faith, could be stretched a little further.

When Paul met Christ (he literally met the risen Christ), he instantly had an experience that caused him to know that the institution of his faith didn’t match the experience of his faith. This did not make Paul faith-less. He simply worked to change the institution. This got him into a lot of trouble but he could not have integrity in his faith without changing the way he expressed it.

I pray daily that we are not so devoted to institutions that we lose sight of the things that ground our faith. The architecture of our faith can never be more important than the expression of our faith.
God of new understandings, make us humble enough to know when we are wrong and courageous enough to make change. Teach us to repent when we have gone astray, and energize us for the journey ahead. Amen.
Amy Jones
Amy Jones, Agape Coordinator
Amy Jones our Agape Coordinator is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church. In this tradition, deacons are ordained clergy who bridge the ministry of the church with the needs of the world, and vice versa. In more than 15 years of ministry, she has worked in churches, in children and family ministry, higher education, and nonprofits. In each setting, her focus has been on matching the resources of the church with the needs of the world. Agape Community Kitchen is exactly the type of work she was called to do. 

Amy can be reached by email at:
The Presbyterian Church in Westfield continues to burn as a light in the darkness as our community weathers this fearsome storm of illness. Our reach of care continues to extend far beyond our immediate borders. You can help us make a real impact in the lives of others by joining in our work through your time, your talents, and also in the fruits of your labors.
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