Made Like Him, Like Him We Rise

It’s at the heart of who we are as human beings. “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” perhaps Charles Wesley’s most famous hymn, was sung yesterday by millions of Christians around the world. But this is this phrase of the hymn that got to me on Easter, “Made Like Him, Like Him We Rise.”

It was a week ago, the Monday of Holy Week, when we first heard the news that stopped us in our tracks. I was at the Iowa Conference Center when someone said, “Notre Dame Cathedral is on fire!” I wept when I saw the live footage of the fire online. “No, no! Not Notre Dame! Not during Holy Week! Please, God, protect the people, and spare the cathedral.”

Notre Dame “Our Lady” Cathedral is much more than a church. It is the heartbeat of Paris as well as of the Catholic Church and Christians worldwide. Just outside the cathedral is Point Zero, where a small plaque marks the exact geographic center of Paris. The construction of Notre Dame on a small island in the Seine River began in 1163 a.d. and was completed in 1345 a.d., almost two hundred years later. It is the epitome of Gothic architecture. 30,000 people visit Notre Dame Cathedral every single day, which adds up to 13 million visitors every year.

I have a deep spiritual connection with Notre Dame because I stayed in Paris for a week in November 2001 as part of a renewal leave. It was a tender time in my life and ministry, and because my hotel was very close to the cathedral, I was in the sanctuary every day praying. I also had the opportunity to attend a worship service and a Sunday afternoon recital on the magnificent organ, which has 8,000 pipes and, thanks be to God, was not destroyed and can be restored.     

My heart joined the hearts of thousands of people who gathered around the cathedral to watch, wait, pray, and sing hymns. France is considered to be a secular society, yet the traditions of the church run deep in the hearts of French citizens. As I followed the progress of the fire and kept hearing people say, “We will rebuild,” I couldn’t help but sing to myself, “Made like him, like him we rise.” The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus has inspired countless people through the centuries to practice resurrection in their own lives, including ensuring that Notre Dame will rise again. The pictures and stories have left indelible marks on all of us. 

  • Four hundred firefighters battled the blaze for nine hours, with no deaths and only one serious injury.
  • Most of the cathedral is stone, which is imperviousness to fire, but the roof and spire that was added in the 19th century were made of wood and burned quickly.
  • In the battle to save priceless relics, including the Crown of Thorns believed to have been worn by Jesus on the cross, members of the church and other volunteers formed a human chain. The person at the front of the line, who was most at risk, was Father Jean-Marc Fournier, Chaplain of the Paris Fire Department.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron vowed that Notre Dame Cathedral will be rebuilt in five years, and as of the time of this posting, over a billion dollars has been pledged toward the reconstruction. Despite backlash that the money raised might be better used to help the poor and homeless in France, there is also sentiment that the cathedral is a symbol of hope not only in France but around the world and should be rebuilt. 
  • The scene in Paris reminded me and I am sure, many others, of September 11, 2001. Last week, both One World Trade Center and the spire of the Empire State Building in New York City were lit up in blue, white, and red, in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in France. 

Notre Dame Cathedral will rise again. Made like Him, like Him we rise. Out of sorrow will come hope, out of death resurrection.

But something else happened a week ago that brought the same words to my lips. On Sunday, April 14, Tiger Woods won the Masters Golf Tournament, one of four “major” golf tournaments during the course of the year. This was the fifth time Woods won the winner’s “green jacket” at the Masters, but it had been eleven years since he had last won a major.

In November 2009, Tiger Woods’ life imploded. After Tiger had been injured in a car accident near his Florida home, it was reported that he had been having serial affairs with many women. Woods eventually released a statement that he had not been true to his values and let his family down. He lost his sponsors, announced he was taking an “indefinite break” from golf, entered inpatient therapy, and was divorced from his wife. In 2017 Woods had his fourth back surgery and was also arrested for reckless driving and DUI. Toxicology reports showed five different drugs in his system. 

After almost ten years of turmoil, Tiger’s determination not to give up on golf and work diligently on his personal and professional life culminated when he persevered in a tight battle and won the Masters. What a beautiful sight to see Tiger hugging his mother and his two children. When most people would have given up and retreated into obscurity, but Tiger kept working, practicing, and learning. 

After Woods’ 2019 debut at the Farmers Insurance Open in January, he said this about tying for 20th place, “It’s really hard to have mind, body, and soul come together at the same time.” It finally happened on April 14, when Tiger experienced resurrection. He never gave up or lost faith in himself, despite many dangers, toils, and snares. Made like Him, like Him we rise. 

What does it take to rebuild a cathedral, a life, a reputation, a relationship, or a denomination? What does it take to rebuild trust, hope, or love? I am convinced that we human beings were created to rise: to rise from the ashes of disappointment, disillusionment, and despair. Our hope is in the One who loved us so much that he took upon himself the sins of the world, died on a cross, was buried, and on the third day rose from the dead.

Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia! 

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

The Table of the Lord

One of the joys of serving in a worldwide church is that I have the opportunity to meet and learn from pastors and laity around the world. Seven years ago, I met Pastor Max Maregmen at the 2012 General Conference in Tampa. We were in the same legislative committee and had many stimulating conversations, including around human sexuality.

Max and I have kept in touch over the past seven years, and Gary and I have helped to support some of his ministries. As soon as I knew that I was attending a meeting in the Philippines, we arranged to extend our trip to visit Davao City, a large city on the southern Philippines island of Mindanao where Max is the pastor of First UMC.

Max and his wife Myrna met us at the airport in Davao City with the church van because their car stopped working last year, and they don’t have money to fix it. Throughout our time in the Philippines, we met a number of United Methodist pastors, many of whom live and serve with minimal salaries and parsonages that are not always adequate to support their families. In addition, they do not always have designated vacation or days off. Nevertheless, like clergy the world over, pastors in the Philippines view their ministry as a call from God, not merely a job. Their passion for training and equipping laity and sharing the love of Jesus with everyone they encounter is an inspiration.

On our first day in Davao City, we visited Cathedral UMC, a “flagship” church in the heart of the city that is pastored by a young woman, Theresa Barrientos. Theresa, who has a one-year-old child, is like so many of the young Filipino clergy that we met last week: intelligent, deeply committed to Christ and the church, and learning how to navigate the “unwritten” practices that are unique to local churches. Theresa explained that many of those who attend church at Cathedral are transient. The congregation has vital ministries to their neighborhood, but, like other churches, struggles with upkeep of a large building.

We spent that evening at First UMC, which has a large recreation area/gym and also a school, for which Pastor Max serves as chaplain. We participated in the weekly prayer service, where twenty or so members gathered in the sanctuary to share their joys and concerns. Prayer undergirds the lives of Christians in the Philippines as well as disciples around the world. The prayer requests were heartfelt, faith-filled, and hopeful. I was especially touched by a prayer for a loved one who had been killed. Knowing that Davao City is under a travel advisory for terrorist activity, it reminded me of the courage that many Christians around the world demonstrate as they stand up against evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.

I was also moved by the prayers specifically directed the pregnant and nursing mothers in the congregation, knowing that not all Filipinos have access the health care that they need. As I shared words of hope and encouragement to those who were present, I also confessed to God my own wealth and luxury in the midst of the poverty in so many parts of the world. After the prayer service, others joined us for a feast of traditional Filipino food. It was truly the table of the Lord, filled with exotic, strange, and wonderful food for mind, body, and spirit.

The next day, we took a twenty-minute ferry ride to nearby Samal Island where First UMC has another worshipping community, the Babak Mission. Cathedral UMC also has two worship sites on the island. The ferry docked at Island Garden City, where a Korean Methodist Church (not UMC) was started sixteen years ago. Eight years ago, church leaders decided to close the church and sell the building to First UMC, Davao City. It is now called the Babak Mission.

The associate pastor of Davao City First UMC, Warren Alfeche, has been the residential pastor of the Babak Mission for the past three years. Warren is a provisional elder and may be ordained as a full elder at the upcoming annual conference. In addition, Julievee Tapic is a UM deaconess and the head teacher for a kindergarten class of thirty children that the operates out of the church. She leads other ministries in the congregation as well.

Davao City First UMC financially supports Warren and Julievee, and once a month, parishioners take the ferry to the island to worship with their sister church. An average of 30-35 adults and 20 children attend worship at Barak Mission. There are four public school teachers in the church, and 80% of the parishioners are fishermen.

The Barak Mission is focused on outreach at Island Garden City, where many people make a living by fishing and most are very poor. A primary ministry is to the sea gypsies, who are the poorest of the poor and originally lived in floating houses. Many of the gypsies are indigenous people from the southern islands of Mindanao who found their way to Samal Island to avoid being killed by ISIS.

On Sundays, church folks often go to the gypsy homes with clothes, sleepers for the babies, bread, and rice. They also bring gifts at Christmas. Most of the sea gypsies are uneducated and do not have legal ID’s. The children have no birth certificates, do not always know their birth dates, and beg for their food. One of the ministries at the Barak Mission is to facilitate registering these children with the government. There are other ministries as well.

  • Once a month, church members pick up garbage and plastic from the beaches.
  • They plant trees on a regular basis.
  • Pastor Warren majored in local governance in college and is collaborating with the city government to ensure that the poorest of the poor are not forgotten.
  • They are initiating a job training program.
  • The church is sponsoring an upcoming benefit concert, where 80% of the proceeds will go to help “out of school youth,” those teenagers who are not going to school. The other 20% will support ministries of the church, especially music. The concert is a show of solidarity by reaching out into the neighborhoods and making a difference in the community.
  • Pastor Warren hopes to make the ministry of the Barak Mission an advanced special of The United Methodist Church.

Walking with Warren and Julievee through the gypsy area along the shore, we sought a deeper understanding of the way of life in Island Garden City on Samal Island. The challenges of their ministry are tremendous. Yet, just as in other areas of the Philippines that we visited, The United Methodist Church is committed to living in solidarity with the poor, sharing Christ’s love through word and deed, and growing churches that are committed to embodying the love of Jesus for all people.

As Pastor Warren, Deaconess Julievee, Pastor Max, Gary, and I sat outside the church and enjoyed conversation over fresh coconut juice, I could not help but reflect again, “This is the table of the Lord, open to everyone. Whether it is in Des Moines, Iowa, or 8,000 miles away in the Philippines, whether it is filipino pandesal or sourdough bread, whether it is coconut or grape juice, this is the heavenly banquet: the bread of life and the cup of salvation for all. Thanks be to God!”