On Nov. 3, 2009 the Council of Bishops approved a pastoral letter to be read in all the churches, God's Renewed Creation: A Call to Hope and Action.
The letter is the product of years of study, consultation and listening to the Church around the world. It is the bishops' response to a mandate of the 2004 General Conference that the bishops issue a statement to the Church similar to In Defense of Creation in 1987.
The letter is a call for the church to reclaim our hope for the renewal of God's creation and to take action to participate in God's purposes for creation. It shows the interrelationship of the proliferation of nuclear weapons, global poverty, and ecological degradation as threats to planet earth, and it also indicates the theological and missional perspective of the Church in response to these threats. In Defense of Creation was a call for the elimination of nuclear weapons. This letter places that call in the context of our awareness of the larger threats to God's creation.
In addition to the letter is a foundation document to be studied by congregations. A study guide is being developed so that congregations can have group study of the foundation document in Lent of 2010. A Web site and other resources will also be announced in the future.
I am asking every pastor to read the letter to their congregations on the First Sunday of Advent, Nov. 29, and to make plans to study the foundation document. They can be found now at www.bishops.umc.org. Alternative dates can be chosen, but the letter should be read as soon as possible.
There are two versions of the letter. There is a briefer version of the letter suitable for reading in a Sunday Service. There is a longer version which has litanies included so that the reading of the letter can be a liturgical act. The liturgical version could be read immediately following the sermon.
The First Sunday of Advent is an appropriate Sunday because of its theme. The main theme of this Sunday is the second coming of Jesus Christ which inaugurates God's consummation of the divine purposes for all of creation. The prescribed readings are Jeremiah 33:14-16, I Thessalonians 3:9-13, and Luke 21:25-36.
Jeremiah prophesies the coming of the Messiah to execute justice and righteousness. His coming includes securing the safety of God's people. In light of the New Testament, e.g. Romans 4:13, God's promises to Israel include the "world," or the entire cosmos, a new heaven and a new earth.
I Thessalonians summons us to the way of holiness as preparation for the coming of the Lord Jesus, who is the Messiah.
Luke 21 is Jesus' own promise that he has an ultimate future as the Son of Man who will appear at the end of the age.
The final coming of Jesus Christ is the great hope for the world. It is not only Christ’s own coming at the end of history, but also the coming of the Holy Spirit in fullness to complete God's purposes for the creation. The salvation which will appear is not only the resurrection of the dead, but also a renewed creation, a new heaven and a new earth.
While only God can consummate God's purposes, who we become and what we do now is used by God in accomplishing God's purposes. In the Methodist heritage and in Eastern Orthodoxy, our cooperation with God is called "synergy." It is working together to accomplish God's will for all creation. God has chosen to fulfill God's plan for creation by working together with us, as creatures who bear the image of God.
In our pastoral letter, we are identifying the urgent challenges facing us today as we live in hope and action as disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
I shall be in prayer for all of our churches as we listen to God's call as the pastoral letter is read and as we study God's Renewed Creation: A Call to Hope and Action.