Rev. Manuel P. Cruz, Jr. – Senior Pastor
Journeying With Pastor Manny
Can we draw together the circle wide in the way we imagine and live out the Sacrament of Communion? Can we include all human and animals, the trees and the flowers, the mountains and the seas, the land and the skies in the breaking of the bread of love, compassion, and justice? As we proclaim the mystery of our faith, ‘Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again”, and partake of the bread and the cup on World Communion Sunday, I would like us to enlarge our vision of the Table of the Lord imagining not only the 25, 000 miles long Communion table set before the universal church but the whole planet filled with “green pastures and quiet waters” being enjoyed by all peoples and all of life on earth. Revisiting The Earth Charter is a compelling reminder to us of the theological and ethical vision of the Holy Communion that we, the Church of the Trinity, need to be increasingly mindful of, deeply contemplate, and intentionally embodied in our distressed and desecrated planet. Process/Relational theologian, Leslie A. Murray summarizes the principles of The Earth Charter, which include the following:
- Striving to build free, just, participatory, sustainable, and peaceful societies
- Protecting and restoring the integrity of the Earth’s ecosystems, with special concerns for biodiversity
- Treating all living beings with compassion
- Adopting patterns of consumption, production, and reproduction that safeguard the regenerative capacities of the Earth, human rights, and the well-being of the community
- Ensuring that economic activities promote human development in an equitable and sustainable manner
- The eradication of poverty as a socio-economic-ethical-ecological imperative
- Honoring and defending “the right of all persons, without discrimination, to an environment supportive of their dignity, bodily health, and spiritual well-being’
- The establishment of access to information, which means inclusive participation, truthfulness, and accountability in governance
- The affirmation and promotion of gender equality as prerequisite for sustainable development
- Making an integral part of formal education as well as lifelong learning all knowledge, values, and skills needed to build just and sustainable communities
- The creation of a culture of peace and cooperation
God’s deepest desire for all of planetary life including the most “invisible” of all creatures is its full enjoyment in communion, friendship, and love. When we sing together the hymn “One Bread, One Body” while partaking and sharing the bread and the cup, we and all creatures, both earthly and heavenly, are transfigured into one body of God – fully and eternally alive.
 Leslie A. Murray, Handbook of Process Theology, Jay McDaniel and Donna Bowman, eds. (St. Louis, Missouri: Chalice Press,) 224-225.
Journeying with Pastor Manny
Feasting on African, Jamaican, Guyanese, Haitian, and American food and desserts with parishioners and new friends in between the three ethnically diverse worship experiences I had last Sunday was, to me, the most delicious and delightful way to celebrate Easter. Behind the different colorful shared meals that I enjoyed last Easter Sunday, I see an abundance of beautiful stories of resurrection in the lives of my parishioners. To mention some of them would surely warm and inspire our hearts: the super-miraculous healing of Allison from blindness, Phillip’s astonishing restoration from multiple brain surgeries, Jessica’s amazing deliverance from the bondage of substance abuse, Eileen’s courageous journey from her forced retirement challenges to being a foster mother of baby Noah, the youth of Roselle and Community UMCs joyfully doing their monthly joint activity, and men and women of CUMC faithfully keeping the church’s unique tradition of putting up an Easter lily cross at the sanctuary altar.
As the center of our faith, the resurrection of Jesus provides us the way to liberate ourselves from our everyday bondage and to live out a transformed life. Walter Brueggemann, a foremost Old Testament theologian, emphasizes that the resurrection of Jesus is not the final paragraph in the history of our faith; it is an ongoing story of God’s liberating and transforming love as connected in the life and ministries of Jesus in the Gospels. In the power of the Parakletos or the Spirit of Christ, the life-restoring resurrection of Jesus continues to take place in our daily lives. We live in a world of self-centeredness, hostilities, and sufferings. In order to maintain and promote a just, peaceful, and loving relationship with God, human, and all of God’s creation, we need to make the resurrection of Jesus our dominant vision, image, and example in life. As a faithful church of the Risen Lord, we need to passionately fill our lives and communities with more healings, miracles, meal fellowships, peace and justice-making deeds, and all acts of kindness and mercy. Perhaps a vision of a multi-ethnic shared meal fellowship in the near future of our congregation, Roselle church, and the HIM group would make our communal Resurrection experience more excitingly colorful and flavorful.
Journeying with Pastor Manny
Our Lenten journey is a good time to contemplate deeply into many possibilities of thinking and living differently for the sake of life’s flourishing and the earth’s common good. However as saints and mystics remind us, our new way of knowing and living entails constant self-emptying. While our past continues to influence our present becoming, we can choose to empty a space in our hearts where hope-filled future penetrates and grace-laden present recreates our new way of being, thinking, and living. In emptying our hearts encumbered with adorned self, we humbly release all our negativities and uncertainties to our Parent-Lover-Friend. We strive to, as Father Henri J.M. Nouwen suggests, “step over” or leave behind relentlessly our hurts, fears, guilt, anger, insecurities, prejudices, envy, arrogance, addiction, and other self-centered ways as a persistent spiritual discipline of surrendering ourselves to God. This leads us to a re-centering of our hearts to God. The empty space that we make in our hearts becomes a new home where God lovingly dwells with us in the newness of life that our Redeemer continually recreates with us. Thus our abandonment of old selves turns into our embrace of new selves in God. As we dare to empty ourselves like the example of Jesus of Nazareth, we expect a breaking in of life-giving newness in our way of knowing, feeling, living, loving, and sharing with each other in, what Pope Francis calls, our “common home”.
Rev. Manuel P. Cruz, Jr.
Journeying with Pastor Manny:
“Reclaiming Our Life’s True Purpose”
Pastor Ernest Hess discovers that one of the best seller devotional Christian books, Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life, never quoted Luke 4: 14-21.[i] This is unexpected because if there is one single purpose in life that we need to faithfully live out, it must be the same purpose Jesus proclaims and exemplifies in this core Gospel text. Jesus declares his purpose or mission statement in the synagogue at the beginning of his public ministry by quoting Isaiah 61:1-2 and 58:6. His announcement in Luke 4:14-21 gives us a clear understanding of his incarnation. This is how the Message Bible describes Jesus’s disclosure of his life’s purpose: “God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the burdened and battered free, to announce, ‘This is God’s year to act!’”
Since the rise of Latin American liberation theology in the early 1970s, we have realized that the central purpose of our church is to bring about justice, mercy, peace, and goodwill to the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, the wounded, and the downtrodden. Liberation theologies put Luke 14: 18-19 to the very heart of our church mission. I am inviting you now to reclaim these crucial verses as our overarching biblical conviction in doing our church ministries for 2016 and beyond. As we prepare for our rescheduled church planning meeting tentatively on the second Saturday of February, let me ask you to ponder the following meditation questions:
- In light of your faith journey, what do you consider your most important purpose in life?
- As a local church, what are some of God’s purposes that we have not translated into intentional ministries in the past on the basis of Luke 4: 14-21?
- What are the roles of the Holy Spirit in the life and public ministry of Jesus? What about in our lives? Can we say that our hearts are fully open to the filling and working of the Holy Spirit? How do we let the Holy Spirit work freely in our life, family, church, and community?
- What do you think we can do together to re/vitalize our ministry of mercy, justice, peace, and reconciliation and make them more intentional as a faithful response to Luke 4:18-21. What innovative ministry projects and activities can you suggest to recreate our purposeful response to Luke 4:18-21?
- Are you willing to offer yourself in our church and community and take “calculated risks” to realize our life’s true purpose which is Luke 4:18-19?
May the Spirit of God continually warm, empower, and bless us as we reclaim our life’s true purpose in Jesus.
[i] [i] Ernest Hess, Feasting on the Word Year C, Volume 1, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press 2009), 289.