A sermon on John 20:19–31. Preached by Darryl W. Stephens at Otterbein UMC, Lancaster, PA, April 11, 2021.
Thomas was not present with the other disciples when the resurrected Jesus greeted them. Thomas doubted their story. We may share his doubt. How do we testify to someone else’s experience? (Hint: I wore my red stole to represent the Holy Spirit in our midst.)
Sermon time index 30:50–50:25.
Also at Otterbein UMC, I spoke about the ministry of the deacon, February 21, 2021. Viewing index 12:24–16:34.
This week, many communities and institutions in the US are observing the one year anniversary of life upended by COVID-19. For teachers in higher education, this anniversary is yet another reminder that trauma-informed pedagogy is essential to healthy life and learning in the classroom.
How different our world and outlook compared to this depiction of “Bright Future” by Norman Rockwell circa 1955! Both of these images were published online, March 9, 2021.
Special issue on Trauma-Informed Pedagogies in the Religious Studies Classroom, Spotlight on Teaching, Religious Studies News. March 9, 2021.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, . . . “Be still, and know that I am God!” . . . the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Psalm 46, NRSV
A colleague in ministry called me recently. A phone call! Not a Zoom session, not a scheduled meeting, not an email or text. It was a spontaneous human connection. Her unexpected intrusion into my Monday morning was a welcome reminder that God is with us, a very present help in time of trouble.
We talked about the challenges of life since COVID. We shared what was weighing on our hearts—the difficulties of social distancing, disrupted activities, and stresses on family life. As we talked, I looked out the window of my home office and took notice of in incoming squall. Huge, puffy snowflakes were coming down, quickly and silently covering everything in view, adding to the layers of whiteness I had shoveled only a few days before. The words of the psalmist echoed, though the earth should change . . . .
“I like the snow,” I remarked to my friend as we each stared out our respective windows in wonderment. Snow was upending plans for work and school, adding to our chores for the day. Yet, the disruption seemed to validate the world as it has become. Here was a visible, tangible affirmation of the long winter of COVID we have experienced for nearly a full year. The weather mirrored our reality. God is in the midst of the city.
“Be still, and know that I am God!” Even as God’s battle cry resounds across the earth, we await the cessation of wars. Our troubles are not over. Loved ones continue to die. The nations are in an uproar. Life with COVID has seemed an unendurably long Lent. Would that this wilderness experience last only forty days! Yet, during this season of preparation, we will not fear.God is our refuge and strength. Friends, during this COVID Lent—no matter how many days it may last— the God of Jacob is our refuge. We can be assured of God’s steadfastness even as we lament, grieve, repent, hope, and celebrate. God is big enough to encompass the full range of our human experiences and emotions. The Psalms attest to this. And through worship, liturgy, rituals, and sacraments, the church provides us means to connect with God in all seasons of life. No matter the mode of technology or social distancing, God is with us. God is our refuge and strength.
This post originally appeared in the weekly newsletter of the Penn Central Conference of the United Church of Christ, March 10, 2021.
Bearing Witness in the Kin-dom: Living into the Church’s Moral Witness through Radical Discipleship is the #1 New Release in Methodist Christianity on Amazon, as of March 9, 2021.
Imagine God’s Justice and Lead with Compassion
Love. Justice. Solidarity. Living as siblings in the “kin-dom” of God requires bold faith. Women in the United Methodist tradition have courageously led ministries in race relations, creation care, substance abuse, sexual orientation and inclusion, poverty, relationships with indigenous nations, and other concerns. However, The United Methodist Church and its predecessors have a sometimes-uneven history of resisting the evil and violence that damage the world. This book explores this history, empowering us to imagine God’s justice and to lead with compassion. Together, we bear witness to God’s gracious presence in ways that make a material difference to all of creation, all persons, especially victims of injustice and those who are most vulnerable. This is the moral witness of the church.
Bearing Witness in the Kin-dom: Living into the Church’s Moral Witness through Radical Discipleship is the 2021 Spiritual Growth Study for United Methodist Women. Also available in Spanish and Korean. See details.
Jesus was a migrant. Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt with their infant son to escape political persecution. Similar stories happen today. Families with boys named Jesús flee poverty, war, and persecution to find sanctuary across national borders. What does our faith say about this?
Politics is divisive, particularly at the intersection of racism and immigration. We acknowledged that many people harbor a common fear: How are immigrants going to change us, our culture and society? One participant remarked, “Immigration policy can be racism at its boldest.” Perhaps because of widespread divisiveness and fear, we came with a shared desire to hear real stories.
In the third of a series of workshops on the theme “Becoming an Antiracist Community,” the Orders of Deacons of the Peninsula-Delaware and Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conferences discussed “The Racial Politics of Immigration: Dreamer Story Sharing,” February 20, 2021.
Our workshop proceeded from head to heart to action. We sought to learn from the bible, Social Principles, resolutions of The United Methodist Church, and US law and policies. We heard from a “dreamer”—a young woman born abroad, seeking refuge in the United States. And we were challenged to put our faith into action.
The US is a country of immigrants. Today, over 44 million people in the United States were born beyond US borders. The Rev. Carlos S. Reyes Rodríguez shared this statistic and other information about US and worldwide immigration as he invited us to consider the politics of immigration in light of our faith. (Powerpoint Slides)
The Dream Act was a particular focus of conversation. According to the National Immigration Law Center, “On June 15, 2012, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it would not deport certain undocumented youth who came to the United States as children. Under a directive from the DHS secretary, these youth may be granted a type of temporary permission to stay in the U.S. called ‘deferred action.’ The Obama administration called this program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.” This program has been in flux during the past four years under two different administrations.
The political became personal when we heard from B, a student at Delaware State University. DSU is one of only five public schools in the US that has scholarships for undocumented immigrants to attend. B shared about growing up in the US as an immigrant. Her parents brought her to the US when she was three years old. She did not learn she was undocumented until she was ten or eleven, after being chosen for the youth olympic soccer team. It was then that her parents told her that her olympic dream was impossible.
B also told us about growing up with nightmares about the border crossing. She experienced hostility in school as early as first grade, encountering racism from teachers. Teachers told her not to speak Spanish in school; when she spoke to a classmate who could not speak English, she was sent to the principal’s office and subsequently expelled.
B shared many other experiences of life in the US for an immigrant, stories better heard directly from her and others. She is preparing to graduate from college this year and hopes to go to law school.
Carlos asked, How has faith and community played a role in her life? B answered,
“My parents are very religious. This has helped me because I feel God has been with me every step of the way.”
—B, an undocumented immigrant, a DREAMer
Information and statistics informed our heads; B informed our hearts and moved us to action. B’s personal story moved us in ways that statistics of millions of dreamers could not. Her perseverance, courage, and witness prompted us to consider how we might put faith into action.
Each of us will bear witness to B’s reality in different ways. I invite you to listen to the story of a dreamer, to bear witness to the immigrants in your community, to welcome the stranger. How will you be motivated to put your faith into action?
If you feel called to a lifetime ministry of love, justice, and service, consider exploring the several avenues of diakonia available in The United Methodist Church: deaconess, home missioner, and deacon.
Bearing witness is not about immediately trying to fix things. It is not another version of the white savior complex. Rather, bearing witness involves attentive presence and deep listening by those with relatively greater social power. When we talk about peace with justice, we cannot skip immediately to the comfort of peace. The path to justice disrupts unjust structures. Antiracism work does not allow us to remain comfortable. Bearing witness to antiracism is a necessary aspect of the work of justice.
In this interview, I share about bearing witness as a spiritual discipline of attentive presence with our neighbors. Social justice work is something we have to train to do well. It is a spiritual discipline.
February 10, 2021. Grandview United Methodist Church announced final plans to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church today. With a 90% affirmative vote by the congregation’s membership, the church leadership celebrated its anticipated new beginning through a 30 minute worship service livestreamed. Grandview Church Lancaster will become an independent congregation and launch a new denomination, Grandview Methodist Connection. The process of disaffiliation will be completed with payment of $607,000 to the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the UMC, due by March 31, 2021.
The Rev. Khristi Lauren Adams, author of “Parable of the Brown Girl: The Sacred Lives of Girls of Color,” and
Emily Jones, United Methodist Women executive for racial justice.
In this episode we’ll discuss why working for justice is part of our biblical faith, why the declaration that Black lives matter is controversial in the 21st Century, and ways to build community within the body of Christ.
Bearing Witness in the Kin-dom: Living Into the Church’s Moral Witness through Radical Discipleship by Darryl W. Stephens
2021 Spiritual Growth Mission Study
In Jesus’ own words, he came to bring good news to the poor, release the captives, restore sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free. What is the responsibility of the church to follow Christ’s example in word and deed? While these times might feel particularly turbulent, society has always confronted the church with challenging issues where she has had to discern how God was calling her. The church’s track record in these moments is far from perfect. The purpose of this study is to help the church and its members discern our call and bear witness to the will of God for a more just world.
Lancaster Theological Seminary faculty will study the effects of trauma on learning and develop ways to better teach students who have experienced trauma in their lives. The graduate school of theology has received a one-year $5,000 grant from the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion for this project. Read more.
“Trauma-informed Classroom Teaching at Lancaster Theological Seminary” is a twelve-month, strategic initiative funded by the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning. Grant period spans May 2021 through May 2022.