Racism is Sin

SGPUMC web Aug 26, 2017
George R Martzen

Racism is Sin

The resurgence of hate speech and racist motivated groups in our society are reminders that we have work to do as a nation, as a church and as a human race. The alarming clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the likelihood of more to come, demonstrate, sadly, that racism against African Americans was not washed away by the blood of the Civil War 160 years ago. And while we have moved away from the old exclusionary laws against Japanese and Chinese, along with racist attitudes against toward Latinos and others, we are still a nation that harbors white supremacist groups. We have a long ways to go before the fulfillment of the dream in which children can grow up in “a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin.”

And Methodism, one of North America’s largest Christian movements, is right in the middle of the racist fermentation. Methodists haven’t always agreed with each other on how to name racism. But we are on good footing if we recall how our founder, John Wesley, viewed the racism of slavery. A priest in the Church of England, he personally witnessed some of the worst of slavery during his years as a missionary in Georgia in the 1730s. He opposed slavery, not just the violence of the slave trade, but in principle: “Long and serious reflections upon the nature and consequences of slavery have convinced me, that it is a violation both of justice and religion” (John Wesley, Thoughts upon Slavery, 1774). Slavery was obviously harmful for the enslaved person, but it also destroyed the character and society of the slave master as well. Wesley was part of the growing English abolitionist movement, which would include William Wilberforce, a Member of Parliament. Wesley corresponded with him in him until 1791, encouraging him to oppose the “execrable villany” of slavery, in the hope that “even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away” (John Wesley’s Letters – February 24,1791).

England did ban the slave trade in 1807, but in America it continued to flourish with the demand for slaves. Methodist opposition to African slavery was not clear-cut. In 1784 the founding meeting of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore, stated that slavery was “contrary to the Golden Law of God.” Unfortunately, many church leaders kept slaves anyway, especially in southern states where farming depended on cheap labor. In 1844 southern Methodist conferences split from the denomination over the issue of slavery, a schism that was not mended until 1939.

Since then, our views have been more clear-cut. The United Methodist Social Principals call racism a sin in both its personal and institutional manifestation, being “antithetical to the gospel, opposing… Therefore, we recognize racism as sin and affirm the ultimate and temporal worth of all persons. We rejoice in the gifts that particular ethnic histories and cultures bring to our total life” (The United Methodist Social Principles: Social Community).

But even naming racism for what it is only begins to get rid of it. We must also find the way forward. One way to move forward is by taking seriously our weekly worship gatherings, to confess our sins and our complicity with racism, and to take seriously what it means to be the body of Christ. When the church sees itself as the body of Christ there is the possibility of unity in diversity. No one is more or less valuable because of skin color, ethnicity or gender. The ethos that we seek to embody in our gatherings and wherever we go is the self-giving love of Jesus Christ. In that there is no room for racism.


Easter has been the most significant event in the Christian calendar for nearly 2000 years.

The holiday comes with lots of fun activities and traditions, including stories of Easter egg hunts, bunnies and chocolate eggs. However, the central Christian message of Easter is that Jesus Christ rose victorious from the dead. The event of Jesus’ resurrection is so central to the confessions of the early Church that even today, 2000 years later, most Christians continue to worship on Sunday, the weekly anniversary of that resurrection.

The background of Easter is a story of great expectation, intrigue and treachery.   Jesus of Nazareth became known throughout Roman occupied Palestine for his compassion, authentic preaching and miracles, as well as his prophetic challenge to the leaders of his people. By his life and testimony he was recognized by many as the Messiah, the Jewish term for a divinely appointed king. But he was tragically betrayed by one of his own disciples, falsely accused, tried, and then handed over to the civil authorities as a criminal. On a gloomy Friday he was executed by a method the Romans used to crush insurrections, crucifixion. As a result most of his disciples fled in fear.

However, three days later, by Jewish reckoning, Jesus rose from the dead. Some of his followers found his tomb empty. Soon others reported various encounters, seeing him, conversing with him and even eating with him. Just as important they discovered even in his physical absence a new capacity and fervor share the good news of the kingdom of God that Jesus had spoken of.

His disciples spread the news of his life, death and resurrection through the network of Jewish synagogues, but many refused to accept the claims. The Jesus movement soon spread west into Greek and Latin speaking communities, as well as toward the east, south and north. As Christianity spread it took on the diverse flavors the cultures where it was planted, but held together by a common witness to the resurrection, as expressed in the faithful witness:

“Christ is risen.

          He is risen indeed. Alleluia!”

At Sage Granada Park United Methodist Church we seek to continue this witness through word and action, not only on Easter Sunday, but throughout the year. Come join us at 9:30 on Sunday morning, our weekly anniversary of the resurrection of Jesus.

Lent, Fasting, and the Longer Days

2017 March E-Thymes

“Lent, Fasting, and the Longer Days”

by Rev. George Martzen

Ready for warmer weather?

Spring begins this year on March 20 with the vernal equinox.  That’s the magic day that happens twice a year when the sun passes over the equator, making it spring in one hemisphere and autumn in the other.  Here in North America we are slowly moving away from the long nights of mid-December back to the warmer sunny days of spring, while southern hemisphere countries like Australia are slipping into fall weather.

Overlapping the natural season of spring is the church season of Lent, a 40 day period which begins before the equinox but concludes well into spring with the holy day of Easter.

We rightly associate Lent with spiritual disciplines like fasting, prayer, acts of charity and penance.  Historically that was especially expected of baptismal candidates and those who may have slipped away from the faith, in order to be received into the fellowship on Easter morning.  Various European traditions developed over the centuries that prohibited the eating especially of fatty things like meat, eggs and milk during Lent.  That led to other interesting traditions to help people supposedly get rid of the excess food in their household before Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of the Lenten fast.

The English tradition of Shrove Tuesday is a pancake dinner the night before Ash Wednesday to consume the remaining eggs, milk and other “rich foods” in the household before the austerity of Lent.   Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) and Carnival (from carne – meat) and similar variations are celebrated in many countries from France and Italy to South America and New Orleans. They may involve more excesses than just eating up the remaining eggs and fat.  So we tend to picture the Lenten season in terms of a contrast between shameless excesses and austere self-denial.  While protestant Christians, including Methodists, have been less inclined to follow these traditions, we still may consider fasting from chocolate, sweets, alcohol, fast food or certain social networks.  Even so, it’s not very easy to fast if your friends and family members are not fasting.

I suggest a slightly different approach, based on the meaning of the word “Lenten.”  The word probably derives from an older Germanic word that simply means “lengthen.” Lent is essentially about the lengthening of the days as we approach spring. With new seedlings sprouting, dormant trees awakening and bright flowers blooming, our senses are also reviving after the winter darkness.  So we should fast from foods or activities that hinder our wellbeing, so we can put more of ourselves into that which helps us to flourish.   As the days lengthen consider fasts that promote spiritual, physical and social health.  That may include reducing prepared foods in order to feast on fresh vegetables from the garden, or limiting TV or social networking to give more time for conversation or letter writing.

Isaiah 58 also talks about fasting as socially redemptive. “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice… Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”  So whatever you do this Lent, let your days be lengthened as you cut back on foods and activities that limit your wellbeing, and make time for what is important.   Make time for our Ash Wednesday service, at 7 p.m. on March 1, pick up your Lenten devotional and commit this season to God.


Blessed Holy Days!

Welcome to Sage Granada Park United Methodist Church.

We have entered a high holy time of the year, with Advent leading up to Christmas and the Epiphany, the manifestation of God’s presence in Emmanuel. There are several key activities to look forward to as we celebrate what God is doing in our world.

• Christmas Eve: Saturday, December 24, 5 p.m.
• Christmas Day: Sunday, December 25, 9:30 a.m.
• New Year’s Day (We celebrate as Epiphany Sunday): Sunday, January 1, 2017, 9:30 a.m.
• Baptism of the Lord: Sunday January 8, 9:30 a.m.

At Sage Granada Park, our essential purpose is to live out God’s hospitality. As scripture says, “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you” (Romans 15:7). Sage Granada Park United Methodist Church has expressed God’s hospitality through its diverse history.

The church history begins with two different strands of Christian faith from the early part of the 20 the century who formed to welcome people in Jesus’ name. The seeds of the Granada Park church were already growing in 1923 with a small Sunday School meeting at Freemont School to meet the spiritual needs of the neighborhood. It grew, and together with others, they became officially Granada Park Community Methodist Church on Easter Sunday, 1924.

A few years later in the early 1930s Rev Jutaro Yokoi and his wife Minnie Sage purchased a bus and began picking up children from the farm lands around El Monte to have a weekly Sunday School. By God’s grace, their efforts paid off. Even the challenges of World War II and the incarceration of many Japanese Americans did stop the ministry. However, Sage Methodist Church had to be uprooted on several occasions, moving from El Monte to Monterey Park and eventually to Alhambra.

When the two churches, Sage and Granada Park, merged in 1998, it was a mutual expression of God’s hospitality. Today Sage Granada Park United Methodist Church is a multi-cultural and inclusive church united by God’s love and hospitality as expressed in Jesus Christ. Our location is a community center full of activity.

We worship in English every Sunday morning at 9:30, with fellowship time afterward. The Church of India follows at 11 am with Gujarati worship. Childcare is available during the worship times, along with Sunday School for children and youth. During the week there are two Bible studies, Boys and Cub Scouts, a ukulele group, interfaith meetings under the Center for Pacific Asian Theology, a Chinese choir, our own choir, a dance group, the Alhambra Center for the Performing Arts, and a PFLAG group.

In addition Sage Granada Park United Methodist church is home to a preschool and Japanese school. Granada Park United Methodist Nursery School and Kindergarten has full day, half day and summer programs. Sage Granada Park United Methodist Language School holds Japanese classes on Saturday mornings for children though teenagers. We are also partners with the Kodomo No Ie, the Japanese school that meets at First United Methodist Church in San Gabriel.

Hymns are chimed daily from our bell tower are reminders that we are here as an expression of God’s immense love for the world. Come and share in the unfolding movement of God’s hospitality.

Rev George Martzen