“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
Did you know that there are expert consultants in sand castle building?
In 2011, I took a youth group to the beach and we hired a sand castle expert teach us how to make elaborate sand castles. His team brought buckets, shovels and special carving tools. We learned special techniques to make elaborate spires and the like. Naturally, we broke into small groups and had a friendly competition on which group could make the best castle.
Our creations were gone before the end of the day. Most sand castles are not quite as elaborate, but the act of making something and molding the wet sand is like no other. No matter if you spend hours working on an elaborate sand fortress, or you are just trying to build something as quickly as possible before your toddler smashes it, eventually sand castles are meant to fall.
You shouldn’t get emotionally attached to a sand castle. We definitely couldn’t live in one.
As the scripture reminds us, we don’t even want to build our foundation on the shifting sand. In the same way, there are many things in our life that are not permanent after all. But God remains faithful and our faith is a solid foundation. More than ever, we can remember to build our foundation on the Solid Rock that is found in God alone. As we face struggles of any kind, we can rely on the foundation of our faith to keep us strong.
May you find joy in this April Fool’s Day as you walk in wisdom.
Prayer: God, thank you for being our firm foundation. Every new day we remember that we can count on you. May we find joy in this day you have made. Amen.
Scriptures: Matthew 7:24-27, 22:23-33 and 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Reflection Questions: In what way is your faith helping you today? Where can you find support and peace today?
“The kingdom, Jesus taught, is right here — present yet hidden, immanent yet transcendent. It is at hand — among us and beyond us, now and not-yet. The kingdom of heaven, he said, belongs to the poor, the meek, the peacemakers, the merciful, and those who hunger and thirst for God. It advances not through power and might, but through missions of mercy, kindness, and humility. In this kingdom, many who are last will be first and many who are first will be last. The rich don’t usually get it, Jesus said, but children always do. This is a kingdom whose savior arrives not on a warhorse, but a donkey, not through triumph and conquest, but through death and resurrection. This kingdom is the only kingdom that will last.”
– Rachel Held Evans Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again
What does it mean to hunger for God?
When I was working in youth ministry, one of my favorite events to lead was the World Vision 30 Hour Famine. During this event, students and brave adults fast for 30 hours, drinking only juice at mealtimes and skipping out on a dinner, snacks, breakfast and lunch. While fasting, we would play games, learn facts about world hunger, do service projects, and experience first-hand how going without food affects your mental and physical abilities. We developed empathy for the world’s hungry.
After 30 hours, we relished the opportunity to break our fast with communion followed by dinner. Nothing tastes sweeter than a generous helping of communion bread when you long to be fed.
In my privileged life, I have never really had to worry about whether I would eat again. The practice of fasting helped me to appreciate the sense of being empty, longing for nourishment and being filled.
Fasting from food helped me realize my deep hunger. I longed to be nourished with real food, not empty calories.
In the spiritual life, we long for real connection, not shallow faith.
I pray that, in the same way I anticipated that first bite of communion bread, I can also long to be filled with the spirit of God.
Dear God, we thank you for being a God who meets our needs faithfully. Teach us to be people who hunger and thirst for you. Amen.
Suggested Reading: Isaiah 58:1-12
Shout loudly; don’t hold back; raise your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their crime, to the house of Jacob their sins. 2 They seek me day after day, desiring knowledge of my ways like a nation that acted righteously, that didn’t abandon their God. They ask me for righteous judgments, wanting to be close to God. 3 “Why do we fast and you don’t see; why afflict ourselves and you don’t notice?” Yet on your fast day you do whatever you want, and oppress all your workers. 4 You quarrel and brawl, and then you fast; you hit each other violently with your fists. You shouldn’t fast as you are doing today if you want to make your voice heard on high. 5 Is this the kind of fast I choose, a day of self-affliction, of bending one’s head like a reed and of lying down in mourning clothing and ashes? Is this what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 Isn’t this the fast I choose: releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke, setting free the mistreated, and breaking every yoke? 7 Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry and bringing the homeless poor into your house, covering the naked when you see them, and not hiding from your own family? 8 Then your light will break out like the dawn, and you will be healed quickly. Your own righteousness will walk before you, and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard. 9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and God will say, “I’m here.” If you remove the yoke from among you, the finger-pointing, the wicked speech; 10 if you open your heart to the hungry, and provide abundantly for those who are afflicted, your light will shine in the darkness, and your gloom will be like the noon. 11 The Lord will guide you continually and provide for you, even in parched places. He will rescue your bones. You will be like a watered garden, like a spring of water that won’t run dry. 12 They will rebuild ancient ruins on your account; the foundations of generations past you will restore. You will be called Mender of Broken Walls, Restorer of Livable Streets. (Source: Biblegateway.com)
“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly – that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”
– Anne Lamott
Where were you when you last received news that brought you to tears?
Last December I got a phone call with news that rocked my world. What I learned was that my dad has cancer, and his future is uncertain. While we are always hopeful, finding out that someone I love is facing a battle for his life has shifted my priorities and helped me to realize what is important versus what is “urgent.” While I would never ask for this kind of news, it’s a blessing to have a reminder of what in life is most important – and the answer is your relationships with people, friends, family, and not work, busy-ness and achievement.
No matter what news you may receive, may you be blessed with learning to dance in a beautiful, life-honoring way. Life is beautiful, complicated and messy. It is full of news – good and bad. And the best news of all is that we have a God who walks alongside and dances with us no matter our circumstances.
God of Good News, thank you for the blessings you give abundantly, for dancing with us throughout life. Thank you for the people and relationships who fill our lives with love. Amen.
Suggested Reading – Romans 1:8-17:
8 First of all, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because the news about your faithfulness is being spread throughout the whole world.9 I serve God in my spirit by preaching the good news about God’s Son, and God is my witness that I continually mention you10 in all my prayers. I’m always asking that somehow, by God’s will, I might succeed in visiting you at last.11 I really want to see you to pass along some spiritual gift to you so that you can be strengthened.12 What I mean is that we can mutually encourage each other while I am with you. We can be encouraged by the faithfulness we find in each other, both your faithfulness and mine.
13 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I planned to visit you many times, although I have been prevented from coming until now. I want to harvest some fruit among you, just as I have done among the other Gentiles.14 I have a responsibility both to Greeks and to those who don’t speak Greek, both to the wise and to the foolish.
15 That’s why I’m ready to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.16 I’m not ashamed of the gospel: it is God’s own power for salvation to all who have faith in God, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.17 God’s righteousness is being revealed in the gospel, from faithfulness for faith, as it is written, The righteous person will live by faith. (Source: BibleGateway.com)
Sermon preached at New World United Methodist Church, Sunday, April 29, 2019 as the first of the “This is My Story” sermon series. Scripture reading is Deuteronomy 6:1-12.
Who has seen the new Avengers Endgame movie? Anyone seen it more than once?
I saw it late Thursday with my family & I have to warn you, I am really terrible about saying “spoiler alert” after I’ve already given things away. For example, on Good Friday I actually did say something like “Don’t worry! Jesus comes back on Sunday, spoiler alert…” but this time I promise, no spoilers.
But this movie is kind of a big deal, isn’t it? The grand finale after 22 movies and 11 years in the making…It’s not the kind of series you can just binge watch over a weekend. It’s too big for that.
This morning we are talking about an even bigger story.
At the end of January, I led what I thought was New World’s first adult mission trip to the country of Haiti. I was thrilled to be able to share our story about the great things God was able to do while we were in the village of Mellier – I even got to share the stories alongside Anna L. and Linda C.
What I learned in the weeks that followed my mission trip report was that this was not the first time New World UMC had sent people on a mission to Haiti. Apparently New World and First UMC Arlington made a joint trip there. Darlus S. shared that her late husband Herb made a great scrapbook from his trip there in 1985. (show book)
It has been fascinating to read through Herb’s diary of the church’s mission trip. It’s almost like a time capsule, looking at the pictures and the typewritten pages (on an actual typewriter!) I recognized a couple of the names, but the faces have changed over the years.
It’s intriguing to look at these pictures. We stayed at the same guest house near Port-au-Prince, and Haiti hasn’t changed all that much during the last 34 years. It’s not like the people in the photos are all that familiar to me – I’m not looking at it and saying, “wow! That was some crazy hair I had back then!”
The scrapbook isn’t my history – yet it is my history because it is part of the story that makes New World United Methodist Church. What happened here in 1985 isn’t my history in one sense, but in another, it is my history because I am part of the church. Same thing with the wall of photos of former senior and associate pastors – the leaders who came before me are not my personal history, but they become part of the story of all of us together.
When we are part of something bigger than ourselves, the story of that larger thing becomes our story. Your family history is your history. What happened to your parents and grandparents matters to you, in a way it explains how you have become who you are.
You’re an American. Although we weren’t there when the Declaration of Independence was signed, it’s still part of our collective history. We were not alive during the Civil War, but it is still part of collective history. The story of our culture is part of what explains who we are.
Another story you are a part of is the story of humanity. It’s a story that began perfectly as God created the first humans is God’s own image.
As people of faith, we are part of a much larger story, the story of God’s work from the beginning and throughout all of Scripture. We are people entrenched in our history as we find it written in the Book. The history of God’s people is our history. The story of our faith is part of what explains who we are.
This morning we are going through an overview of all of Scripture as One Big Story. So often we get tripped up in the details or we get our different Bible stories confused. It’s a beautiful story of God’s continual wooing us – it’s a story that is still being written.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and all that lives in it. God is holy and perfect, and when God created all of this, God declared that the creation was all good. When God created humanity, in fact, God declared that humans were very Good. In the story, the first humans were called Adam and Eve and they lived in a garden where they walked with God. It was a very promising beginning full of wholeness and connection with God.
But, it’s a story that quickly included sin as Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden. You weren’t there when Adam and Eve sinned, but their story is your story. This tendency to sin, to miss the mark when it comes to following God faithfully, is part of the story of all of humanity. In fact, that’s the rhythm we continue to repeat. God redeems us, we try our best, we rebel, and we drift away.
Eventually, humanity falls so far away from God that it becomes time for a clean start. Our ancestor Noah builds an ark, stocks it with animals of all kinds and keeps them safe through a flood of, well, biblical proportion.
The rainbow reminds us that God promises not to do that again.
In fact, God has many important promises for God’s people. God promises our ancestor Abraham that his descendants will number more than the stars in the sky. All of our Jewish, Muslim and Christian siblings trace their history to this promise.
In time, God’s chosen people, our ancestors, the Israelites, fall into slavery, but God protects them from Egyptian pharaohs and frees us.
God, working through a faithful leader Moses, shares 10 commandments with humanity, hoping God’s people will remember to follow God alone and to love one another.
Being God’s chosen people isn’t always easy. Our ancestors wandered through the wilderness for generations. Although we whined and complained quite a bit, God faithfully provided for us with quail and manna from heaven. God proves to be faithful again and again.
When the wandering is over, our people safely cross into a land flowing with milk and honey, the promised land.
As our crowds grew and eventual squabbles erupted, God provided special leaders to judge our disagreements. This worked for a while…until it didn’t.
We couldn’t help but notice our neighbors all had kings, so we wanted to have a king too. God appointed many kings through the years – some would leave great legacies like David and Solomon, others would be devastating leaders.
Prophets like Jeremiah, Micah and Isaiah received visions from God about our future and about the future arrival of the Messiah.
It was a future that came true in the form of Emmanuel, God with us. It has been said: “When Jesus came into the world as a human, he took on the story of humanity.
Though He never committed a sin of any kind, Jesus shared in our story by becoming human. By being one of us, He experienced everything we experience, except for the guilt that comes from sin. He experienced unkind people, stress, sadness, bad weather – all the things that are part of living in a sin-filled world. Hebrews 4:15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” Jesus willingly experienced everything we experience. He did not make Himself immune to feeling pain. He might have had allergies or gotten a cold like many of us have suffered lately. He went through everything willingly. The story of humanity became Jesus’ story in every way.”
Jesus was baptized so he could identify with us in every way. In our baptism, we are personally drawn into this story that is larger than ourselves. Because we have received the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in our baptism, we belong to the story of Jesus.
Jesus, our God with Us, performed many miracles while he walked among us. He healed our brokenness and taught us about the kingdom of God through telling stories of his own.
God is always making promises to God’s people, and we remember the promises every time we participate in part of the story known as communion. “Do this in remembrance of me”
Through his crucifixion and most significantly his resurrection, we are connected to the story of God’s victory over sin and death. We remember that in our story the worst thing is never the last thing!
And the beautiful thing is that God’s story is still being written. We are the church, God’s spirit is our companion, and we are walking in God’s storyline. Sometimes we sin, we fall short of God’s design for our lives, but God is always wooing us back into relationship.
And that is the most beautiful promise of all. As we live in the already-not-yet part of the story, we know that God will bring about a new heaven and a new earth. We will be restored to that very good, whole and connected relationship with our creator once again.
Our Scripture today reminds us of the one big story’s importance:
4 Israel, listen! Our God is the Lord! Only the Lord!
5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength.6 These words that I am commanding you today must always be on your minds.7 Recite them to your children. Talk about them when you are sitting around your house and when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are getting up.
The Israelites knew what we often forget – our faith history is deeply significant. The story of our faith shapes us and forms us as human beings.
Let us be a people who shares the stories again and again – with our children, with others as we are out and about and always.
We are never to forget our history – and we are not to forget that the story is still alive and being written today.
May we be a community who walks in the storyline of God.
To God the great author be the glory! AMEN.
With Gratitude to Michael Novelli for his work “Shaped by the Story: Discover the Art of Bible Storying”
What is a pilgrimage, you ask? Pilgrimage is an intentional, meaningful journey to a spiritual place. It is retreat, renewal, prayer and worship. It is time away to process and reflect, to reconnect to God and to refill one’s soul. I will be joining fellow pilgrims from around the U.S. and U.K. for a week of spiritual community on the tiny island of Iona, Scotland. The organization leading our trip is the Missional Wisdom Foundation.
Preparing for pilgrimage in my external life looks a lot like making sure childcare is arranged, planning details ahead of time for work, looking ahead to make sure preparations are being made for Mother’s Day, a prom, a graduation, a confirmation. What are all the deadlines and responsibilities that need to be covered during the next couple of weeks? What must I do and what can I delegate? Do I have enough wool socks? Do I need to bring both walking sticks or will one suffice? When will I get to watch the next Game of Thrones episode? Who is taking me to the airport anyway?
Preparing for pilgrimage in my internal life looks a lot like curiosity about what I will encounter. The questions abound: Who will be my fellow pilgrims? Where will I see God? Will I feel God’s presence along the way? What will change within me? How will my renewed perspective impact me? I am praying for God’s spirit to open my heart and mind that I might be renewed.
As my life has moved and is moving through so many transitions and changes, I am full of gratitude for this time apart as a pilgrim.
Our adventure has begun, and already we started practicing our abilities to have humor and flexibility! Our 5:30am flight was delayed an hour, requiring us to change connecting flights to Port-au-Prince. This adds a few more hours in Miami as we travel to tonight’s destination, the Methodist Guest House in Pétion-Ville.
Allow me to introduce you to our team (going left to right in the photo above):
Linda is a retired schoolteacher and avid traveler. A member of New World UMC, she is known for her calm presence, sweet energy, and for being a yoga teacher. This is her first trip to Haiti.
Barbara is a member of Central UMC in Waco. While serving at the United Methodist UMCOR mission Sager Brown Depot, she learned about our trip from retired NWUMC deacon, Gordon Johnson. Barbara’s love for Haiti runs deep – she’s lived there for months as a missionary and she jumped at an opportunity to return. We joke that we’ll have to watch her closely to make sure she doesn’t “accidentally” get left behind when we return.
Keith represents Water to Life, our partner organization, and is a member of Keller UMC. Keith led my trip to Haiti in October 2017. Water to Life works to build long-term, sustainable relationships with the communities it serves. When we enter the village of Mellier tomorrow, the fruit of this will be evident when people warmly welcome their “Mr. Keith.”
I’m the fourth one in the picture, Erin, associate pastor at New World UMC. (Photo credit goes to my dear husband Dennis who woke up to drive me to DFW airport at 4am.) This is my second trip to Haiti. I am excited about giving hugs to the sweet people in Mellier. It is my hope that this mission trip marks just the beginning of a long-term connection between our congregation and Haiti.
Anna is also a member of New World. She has been to Haiti twice on medical mission trips. A great story about Anna’s connection on our team: when Anna met Barbara at our pretrip meeting, they both sensed the other looked familiar. The ladies went through all the possible ways they could have met. It turns out that Anna met Barbara many years ago while volunteering at Sager-Brown Depot. It was Barbara’s love for Haiti that inspired Anna to follow God’s call on her heart to serve in Haiti, too.
In about 20 hours, our mission team meets at the DFW Airport. We meet at 3:25am to give plenty of time to divide up team supplies and get checked in. We fly to Miami first, the Port Au Prince.
Between now and then, my to do list is long:
Pack my own luggage
Pack team supplies
Make sure Lucas gets to wave at the garbage men (it’s Thursday and he’s 3)
Remember to take anti-malarial medicine
Pick up about 8 things from a store – tarps, clothesline, markers, hand sanitizer, a big bag of candy (“bon bons”) to pass out to the kids in Mellier…
Fill out trip insurance information
Check in for flight
Send team email with gate information and remind them to remember their passports
Go to bank to get cash to pay our Haitian team
Work up a plan to complete our fundraising
Greet kids when they get home from school
Hopefully have a family dinner
Spend time with Dennis
Spend time wondering what I may have forgot (might as well add this to list since I’m doing it anyway)
It’s a lot. I’m excited and a little daunted.
So, in the quiet of my home this morning, I start with the most important task I have to do today, I pray (feel free to join in from wherever you are):
Holy and gracious God, we thank you and praise you for this opportunity to travel to Haiti. We know that you are already there. We ask for your safety as we travel, we ask to be made aware of your presence. As we rush to get all of the details completed, calm our spirits and remind us that you have got this all in your hands. We commend this trip to you, we ask for your blessing. May we as your servants share your love with others, and may we receive your love through the hospitality of strangers. In Christ’s name we pray, amen.
During Advent this year (Dec. 2-25) we are having an Advent Photo Challenge! You are invited to participate for any of the topics. Each day I will also send out an accompanying short devotional on the day’s topic. Feel free to share it. Be blessed, Erin
4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
6Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. –Philippians 4:4-9
The painting featured with this post is one I made while serving as a mentor for Texas Youth Academy a few years ago. To be honest, I didn’t love the art project. The instructions were to paint the realistic looking heart as a starting point, and then we went our own direction from there. The canvas itself was still useful, so I am pretty sure I’ve painted over this image and created something new.
That is one of the beautiful things about a life of faith. No matter our starting point, God is not finished with us yet. We have the opportunity to forever be made new, always growing and transforming. Your heart can be transformed.
May you have the peace of God today knowing that you are a work of art in the hands of the ultimate Creator God. Be made new today.
Thank you for being a God who constantly makes me anew. May I dwell on all the things that are lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy today, trusting that you are faithful to give me a clean heart. Amen.
This is the pastoral prayer I gave on Sunday (Father’s Day) in response to current crises along our borders. I offer this as a prayer to share with people of faith everywhere, for truly we should lament the suffering of others, and ask for mercy for the silent ways we unwittingly cause harm. Based on Psalm 130:
Out of the depths we cry to you, O GOD.
God, hear our voice!
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of our supplications!
This morning we are celebrating the love that fathers have for their children, and the never-ending love you have for us, your children.
We remember the special times we may have had with fathers in our midst – our earthly fathers and people who have come alongside to serve as role models and guides to us.
We struggle in our hearts and in our churches to know the truth of what is happening to other fathers and mothers and their children along the borders of our country: Open our hearts to the voices of the world.
We confess that too often the church has been little more than a silent witness to evil deeds: We have prayed without protest, and without action for justice. As we remain silent, we have been made complicit in the cries of the hurting. Lord, have mercy upon us.
We wait for God, our souls waits, and in God’s word we hope;
In the midst of our lament we may give thanks – for pastors and laity who have raised courageous voices; for humanitarian groups who have come to the aid of others, for people who continue to bear witness to the Gospel under intense pressure and fear, for public officials who have challenged unjust policies risking reputation and career. The Gospel witness has not been completely silenced, and we are grateful.
Our soul waits for God more than those who watch for the morning, More than those who watch for the morning, we wait.
Today we call for humility and courage to accept the futility of our current path. Today we cry out for creativity to seek new paths of peacemaking and hospitality.
O People, hope in GOD!
May we join protest to prayer, support ministries of compassion, and cast off the fear that has made us feel helpless in the face of injustice. May we return again to the way of Jesus. May heartbreak end and cries be transformed to the harmonies of justice and the melodies of peace.
For with GOD there is steadfast love, and great power to redeem.
For this we yearn, for this we pray, and toward this end we rededicate ourselves as children of a loving God who gives food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, and welcome to the stranger.
O GOD, redeem your People from all iniquities, as we pray for your kingdom to come on earth as it heaven praying as Jesus taught, saying, “Our Father….”.