I was recently invited to accompany the Rev. Charles Maynard, development office for Holston Conference Camp and Retreat Ministries, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Bishop Francis Asbury’s Episcopal visit through Holston territory and into North Carolina. It was a cold day when a group of six departed First United Methodist Church of Newport on Dec. 1. We traveled comfortably in a car, but I thought of how Asbury had braved the weather on horseback.
It was an informative, inspiring pilgrimage that ended in Memorial Chapel at Lake Junaluska. We used the same Communion Ritual that Bishops Asbury and William McKendree used with their companions in 1810. I was captured by this sentence at the ritual's beginning: “The elder shall choose a fit person to pass basins in which an offering shall be collected for the poor.” We still use this practice today – when we invite communion participants to bring offerings to the chancel rail while the elder reads scripture relating to the poor. By demonstrating a deep concern and passion for working with the poor, Asbury was being true to our Wesleyan teachings and emphasis on active social justice.
I've noticed that the lectionary’s Advent texts also demonstrate God's concern for the poor. On the second Sunday of Advent, Isaiah 11:4 reads: “But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth.” Another verse, Isaiah 11:12, reads: “And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel.”
We also see emphasis on God’s tremendous concern for the poor in Mary’s Magnifcat in Luke 1:46-53:
And Mary said, my soul doth magnify the Lord, and, my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. He hath shown strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
For me, the overall theme for Advent is hope. People caught in the grip of poverty, oppression, and despair can survive through the currency of hope – and I suspect even more people are in need of this currency since the economic changes of fall 2008. If God and Jesus are concerned about the poor, then perhaps the Church that Jesus died to establish should also have a deep desire to struggle with the poor.
As we approach the celebration of Christmas, let us ponder a mission point that we United Methodists may have neglected: How should Advent change our view of the poor and outcast among us? And then, if we can have a Merry Christmas, may it be so.
- "Holston hikers mark 200th anniversary of Francis Asbury's journey through Smokies" (The Call, 12/13/10)