Rev. Manuel P. Cruz, Jr. – Senior Pastor
Journeying with Pastor Manny
Last Sunday I started a sermon series on our life together as a journey of relationships. The idea of doing this has long been percolating in my mind. As my conviction grows both deeper and stronger that the warp and woof of our life needs to be genuine relationships with God, humanity, and all of creation, I have decided that it’s about time to refocus the pulpit as God’s power to help us enrich and transform our relationship journeys with our Giver and all that is given us.
We are shaped by an over-consumeristic, hyper-individualistic, and chronically narcissistic society. Inevitably, this pattern is woven intricately in the very fabric of our faith community.as we think, act, and interrelate. But we can radically reshape our way of thinking and living by reorienting our hearts to the true purpose of life and living as God intends it to be. From Genesis to Revelation, life’s purpose is clear: God intends the flourishing of all creations in joy! This means that the Soul of the universe is concerned with the well-being of every individual and the common good of the whole planet. When this purpose is realized every moment—in small and large measures—there is both abundant life as Jesus promises and immense joy as the psalmist proclaims.
But to make this happen in the here and now of our relationship of relationships, we need to rethink our fundamental understanding of our relationship with God, human and non-human, and the earth. This is “Relationships 101”. I am gladly inviting you to be part of this sermon series as we journey together in and toward more mutually life-affirming, -giving, and –inspiring relationships. In this pulpit journey, we will be encountering various friends and companions—Bible characters, Christian history figures, mystics and saints, real people, groaning animals, and hurting natural environment. We will also meet faceless people and even brothers and sisters we are not attracted to.
Don’t be surprised if you will also meet the person sitting in the pews next to you. Of course, in all of these colorful encounters in our multi-layered relationships journey, we will always find this unsettling yet humorous Presence, the One who cares for us more than we care for ourselves, the One whose joy is larger than the vast universe this One has created—the God of genuine relationships.
This is going to be an exciting journey of relationships. I hope you enjoy the ride.
Rev. Manuel P. Cruz. Jr
JOURNEYING WITH PASTOR MANNY
On Sunday, April 26, we joyfully received ten new members (full and preparatory membership) in our church. Enfolding the Tisseras, the Nonezes, Noemi Bernasol, and Cheryl Gero in our community of faith calls us not only to celebrate God’s faithfulness in making disciples of Christ through our local church, but also to recommit ourselves to our mission as faithful disciples of Christ. I find the following ten guidelines for our daily ministry from The United Methodist Primer a good reminder as we do ministries with our new brothers and sisters in Jesus:
Realize that you are not alone. God’s grace will sustain you.
- Be sensitive to the needs of others. Try to put yourself in their place. How might you feel if you were in their situation? What might you do to respond to their needs?
- Consider yourself on call in terms of those who need you. Make yourself available. At the same time, don’t wait to be asked. Many people who desperately need friendship and help are hesitant to make their needs known.
- Recognize that you do not have all the answers. You may not change the situation at hand, but you have the compassion and understanding to share.
- As you minister with and to others, be willing to deal with the unexpected. Remain flexible. There may well be surprises no one can predict.
- Be willing to accept failure. Everything may not turn out just the way you want it to. You will need to learn to live with an awareness of the incomplete and unfinished.
- Be willing to accept people as they are, with all their failures and shortcomings.
- Be willing to tackle one small part of a big problem, realizing that you may not be able to transform the entire situation.
- Know that ministry involves both giving and receiving. How often I have tried to lend support to someone facing crisis only to find that I came away strengthened by the one I had come to help. In ministering, I was ministered to.
- Keep your eyes fixed on Christ. Mother Teresa of Calcutta asked that people pray for her so that she would not lose sight of Christ even while ministering to the poor. That is the secret of sharing our gifts and lives with others.
To be a transformed and transforming church means that we never cease to learn new life-giving truths about being and doing as the church in relation to one another, our community, the world, and all of God’s creation. In learning, the Church is shaped to listen to and learn from one another, from various disciplines, the local and global world, and even from people of other faiths. In doing, the church is empowered to preach the gospel and lead peoples to know the truth that challenges them to be participants in God’s liberating activity. Let us give our warmest welcome, love, and support to the new members of our church family, Community UMC!
Rev. Manuel P. Cruz, Jr.___________________ iChester E. Custer, The United Methodist Primer 2001 Revised Edition (Nashville, TN: Discipleship Resources 2001), 76-77.
LENTEN JOURNEY WITH PASTOR MANNY
For New Testament theologians, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem was a confrontation between the kingdom of Caesar and the kingdom of God. The two processions that entered the city of Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday, namely Pilate’s procession and Jesus’ procession, provides a contrast between the pompous display of domination and violence on the one side, and the radical proclamation of love and compassion on the other side. The former was death-dealing, the latter was life-giving. Borg and Crossan explain that Caesar’s empire offered a domination system that was oppressive, while Jesus’s commonwealth brought an alternative life of common good to all. At the end of their commentary on Palm Sunday, Borg and Crossan ask us these two important questions: “Which procession are we in? Which procession do we want to be in?”
These are the same questions that we need to ask more seriously and ponder more deeply as we begin our journey through this Holy Week. But to me they are not just simple religious questions that call us to choose the obvious system we want to be in. They are political questions that confront us to change our way of thinking, doing, dwelling, and relating as Christians and as a Church into something that radically resembles the self-giving life of Jesus. Though our collective consciousness and lives are deeply entrenched in the tensions between the dominating system of this world and the persuasive realm of God, we can always resist the power of this world by re-imagining and re-appropriating Christ’s example of love, grace, and compassion in our relationship with those who are like us, those who differ from us, and all those who are part of God’s creation. One contemplative activity in solitude or small groups that we can do during this sacred week is to unfold the said Palm Sunday questions into particular ones that can guide us in our journey to the cross of Jesus. We can critically ask and reflect on the following questions: What does it mean to be in the community of Jesus? What are the characteristics of a transformed life, Church, community, world, and planet? How can we change our self-centered understanding of the poor, the marginalized, and the excluded in light of the gospel of Jesus, the cross of Calvary, and the resurrection of the Christ? What new life-giving models and habits can we engender to promote a life of humility, justice, empathy, kindness, non-violence, peace, respect, mutuality, interdependence, tolerance, acceptance, contentment, hope, joy, and love in our community? What can we do together to have a continual transforming change in the way we relate and dwell with all of humanity and non-human life?
Gary Dorrien shares his powerful prayer to guide us in finding open-minded answers to our Triumphal Entry questions: “Holy and loving God, make us passionate for peace cultivating relationships and communities that support the flourishing of life and opposing the vicious cycles of structural and personal violence that ravage the world. Give us courage especially to resist the idolatrous nationalisms that sanctify killing and destruction”.
JOURNEYING WITH PASTOR MANNY
As we begin our journey through Lent, I am inviting you to contemplate with me on the spiritual discipline of repentance. Biblically understood as a change of heart and mind towards God, the concept of repentance reveals different layers of meaning. First of all, repentance is to recognize that we are all beloved children of God. It is to reaffirm that the true personhood of all human beings can be defined only in terms of being God’s beloved. As Jesus understood most intimately his relationship with God, so we need to be deeply aware that God loves us just as we are. Our constant acceptance of God’s love leads us then to a humble recognition that we have all sinned against each other no matter how we have been trying to live peacefully with humankind and non-human creations. In the intricate web of human relationship where we are all part of the complex interlocking of good and evil, repentance calls us to a continual humble recognition of our complicity in the suffering of humanity and our planet. God’s forgiveness is the third layer of repentance that we commonly claim in the process of repentance. It is a full recognition that we have received total forgiveness from all our transgressions by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. By receiving God’s forgiveness, we are fully restored to our true personhood. In effect, we let our hearts be creatively transformed as we begin to right our wrongs and will the well-being of others. Restitution in whatever forms is a necessary component of genuine repentance. But a flourishing repentant life requires more than a changed heart and restorative act. It compels us to persistently seek a new liberating vision of humanity and our relationship with the whole of God’s creation. This new vision prompts us to live out progressively the alternative models of Jesus in our way of thinking, living, relating, and dwelling. True repentance is our constant surrender to be affected humbly and empathetically by the lives of others so that all may live justly, peacefully, meaningfully, and creatively in a world of colorful difference and multiplicity.
As we journey through Lent, I would like to ask you to pray with me, “Loving, forgiving, and recreating God, sustain us as we let ourselves “die a little” every day. Help us to be affected by the travails and sufferings of our neighbors and the whole earth as you lead us to the cross of Jesus. Enlarge our hearts for an inclusively shared celebration and joyful experience of Christ’s resurrection by being a blessing to all of your creation. Amen.”