You are Still Here Among Us – A Pastoral Prayer

20140213-213246.jpgIn the wake of this weekend’s tragic mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, there are few adequate words that can be offered. My soul aches. This is simply too much suffering. May this pastoral prayer bring you comfort and peace today…and may we all be moved to action.

Gracious and loving God, God of all blessings,

Each morning, whether we notice or not, you bring us new blessings. From the morning sunrise, the food on our tables, the roof over our heads, the security of gathering in this place… you give to us so generously. For each new day you have made, we have the opportunity to rejoice and be glad in it.

We confess that, all too often, we neglect to notice the blessings of the day. Instead, we focus on our fears and worries. We fret about the world we live in, discouraged by an overwhelming amount of pain, division and suffering. In our personal lives, we each know people who are hurting and lost. In this moment, we lift up the burdens that have been bearing down on our hearts and minds…(pause for silent prayer)

When we hear news reports, our souls hurt even more. This day in particular we lament and mourn lives lost in acts of senseless violence. We pray for peace and comfort. Wrap your arms around us as we try to process all of the utter brokenness around us.

In the midst of all of this, you are still here among us.

We praise you for the ways you hear our calls of lament. We cherish that you are a God who understands human suffering, a God who wept among humanity. We are assured in the knowledge that you love each of us infinitely. In the midst of this overwhelm, you steadily remain here for us to cast all of our fears and anxieties on you. Thank you for carrying our burdens.

As your followers, we fervently pray that you will lead us to be messengers of hope, grace and joy. Instead of focusing on our worries, help us to focus on your faithfulness. Fill us with a renewed sense of faith, an assurance of your care, and the courage to speak out against injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.

We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

The Power of Love

This is the third of a three part series called “I Want to Know What Love Is” on agape love. This particular sermon was delivered on Sunday, March 3, 2019, the first Sunday following the United Methodist Called General Conference 2019. Other parts of the series include What’s Love Got to Do With It and You Give Love a Bad Name.

power of love

Scripture reading:

John 15:9-17

Love each other

“As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete. 12 This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because everything I heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit and so that your fruit could last. As a result, whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. 17 I give you these commandments so that you can love each other.

The Power of Love

hugging people

Who needs hugs?

Now, I think because I have shared a couple of times that, while in Haiti I’ve had to adjust to that different culture’s concept for personal space (in that they have none), people have got the impression that I’m not a big hugger. To be fair, I am not one to be proactive about hugging, but we all need hugs.

What kind of hugger are you? (Here is where I demonstrate different hugs with a brave volunteer – a reluctant hug, awkward side hug, back pat, big I haven’t seen you in a while, this hug is lasting long enough that I feel uncomfortable hug, etc.)

hug needs

Interesting “facts” – the average person craves a hug 13 times a day. The average hug lasts 3 seconds, and yet, the amount of seconds a hug needs to be to have medical healing properties is 20 seconds. We physically need hugs.

On Tuesday, Connor McMains (remember him? former organist on staff) asked me if New World UMC was doing anything in response to the General Conference vote. To be honest, that night my boys had soccer games and what I really needed was to regroup and be with my family.

On Wednesday, though, I was able to come up to the church in the evening since my daughter started confirmation class. I used this to focus on serving people when words just aren’t enough – I offered up free hugs to anybody here.

What I observed on Wednesday – some were ready for great big hugs. They needed them, they held on, we might have even cried together. Other hugs were frankly a little awkward. Some people were glad to give and receive hugs, they felt comfortable with them. With others – a quick little awkward side hug was stretching their comfort zone. I think at least one person didn’t want a hug at all…I didn’t take it personally and I won’t name names. (smile)

But there we were – a church family just trying our best to show love to one another, to share God’s love, but we each came to the space with our own spectrum of unwritten rules on what was okay and what wasn’t. 

No one has ever confused legislative action with a hug, have they? 

love cubesIn case you were wondering, this was a really hard week to be a United Methodist Pastor. I was talking to my husband Dennis about it – and I pretty much came to the conclusion that this was the toughest week yet. I’ve wept, I’ve spent a lot of time exercising and trying to eat right, I’ve lost sleep and have had trouble concentrating…I’ve needed to care for my soul a lot this week.

In case you missed it – last weekend through Tuesday, a special meeting called General Conference met in St. Louis, Missouri with some 860 representatives from United Methodism around the world. Unlike other denominations, the United Methodist Church is a global church. It was started around the same time as the United States was founded, so its structure is kind of like our U.S. government. About every four years the General Conference meets to, among other things, decide what we are all going to agree our denomination is about.

This particular conference was called to make a decision about whether or not the rules should be changed on if people can be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation. With such a wide range of countries and cultures represented, it is challenging to agree on what is the right answer.

In the end, around 53% of this global gathering selected the traditionalist plan, effectively keeping the rules and language the same as it has been since 1972. It remains to be seen in April if the plan will be ruled as constitutional (by the UMC constitution, not the US one) and nothing changes until January 2020.

In the meantime, no one “won” the General Conference. With so much division and disunity, everyone walked away hurting. While some faithful United Methodists are pleased with the vote results, other faithful United Methodists are devastated. We have long been a denomination that is filled with different and deeply-rooted beliefs – like most families, we are a denomination filled with different opinions and diverse ideas. Unfortunately, we seem to have had a huge family feud with the whole world watching, and the future of our denomination seems unclear.

As a lifelong United Methodist – the niece of two United Methodist Pastors – I like many of you, deeply love the United Methodist Church. This week I hardly recognize her, and I can hardly articulate how painful this is.

But, as I said earlier this week: General Conference is NOT the church. We are the church.

When Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, he made reference to the church as the Body of Christ. “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it…” Paul also said other things, and I don’t always agree with him.

As an ordained clergy woman, I can identify with how it feels to have Bible verses pointed out to tell me that I shouldn’t be in ordained ministry. I am thankful that men and women along the way evolved in their thinking and recognized that even I could be good enough to be ordained.  I stand here before you, wearing a clergy collar as an outward symbol of my credentials, precariously perched on the shoulders of the advocates and trailblazers before me.

General Conference’s vote not only hurt the people present in the convention center, it caused further harm to our brothers and sisters in Christ who identify as LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, plus). This isn’t a far off issue. I’m not asking anyone to raise their hands in here if you are affected: We are talking about people in this room, plus the literal brothers and sisters, parents, children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins of people in this room. People who have been baptized and confirmed in our midst, people who sat next to me in seminary classes, people who have heard God’s call on their lives and now hear from their church home “we think you’re sacred, but no, you are not good enough.”

Our future is uncertain – has it ever been certain? –  but God’s faithfulness can be counted on. We are a resurrection people, and I’m hanging on to the truth that resurrection means the worst thing will never be the last thing. My prayer is that we can all stick things out together and can be the church to people who are hurting right now.

stained glass eye

Where do these unwritten codes of behavior come from?

For me, I can think of so many different forces that have shaped my worldview:

  •  my family of origin – I’m sure that my concept of personal space and how to express love primarily came from my family.  I’m thankful they taught me that “anything boys can do, girls can do,” and I wonder where I would be today if it wasn’t for that encouragement.
  •  my faith formation – raised in the particular United Methodist congregations I attended, influenced by attending a Southern Baptist University, and making my home church Church Under the Bridge in Waco shaped how I view who is okay to hug and who isn’t (hint: we all are worthy of hugs!)
  •  my education – my family taught me to value education, and I know my thinking has been shaped and transformed through my education through seminary
  •  my culture/language – how I learned to speak taught me what words were okay, which ones built people up and which tore people down
  •  the country or nation-state we live in, politics, and media have shaped and formed my worldview
  •  many of us have been shaped by trauma, fear, insecurity
  •  just being the age I am has shaped me into becoming a pastor who thinks it is acceptable to have a sermon series based on 80s music because, well, it’s totally rad, like for sure! (smile)

Through all of these influences, different for each one of us, we all come to this place with a different worldview. We might sit here and wonder, how on earth could someone think differently than me on this issue? Can’t they see what is so clear?

The answer is probably no – we can’t see, we can’t automatically understand where the other is coming from. And our viewpoints are constantly evolving – my theology isn’t the same as it was 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 20…..

But I do know you each to be faithful people.

And just like last week, we are a diverse group of faithful people who are just doing our best to love God, love neighbor and make disciples of Jesus Christ. No matter how much we may disagree with one another on this, I have no doubt that, should a natural disaster strike or someone be in need, we would all pitch in together to help one another, serving side by side just like we always have.

Sometimes people will say, I see why you picked that verse this week…Which brings us to our scripture reading for today – one that was set up way before General Conference.

chalk heart

Today’s scripture reading includes a commandment to love each other, just as Christ has loved us. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.

We are continuing to talk about agape love, the unconditional love that is honest, hopeful and humble.

Such agape love is first and foremost interested in the good of the other person. It never attempts to squelch the best out of another. In fact, so great is this love for others that it follows the very pattern Christ modeled for us – care and concern for others, even to the point that we will lay aside our very lives for our friends.

Now, it is rare in this day and age that we have to love all the way to death, Christians are not persecuted now the way they were in the years immediately following Jesus’ death and resurrection. But I do think there is an important message for us even today, and that is that we must be willing to set aside our agendas, our opinions, in order to work in unity as the body of Christ; that we love others enough that we are willing to lay down our own beliefs, have the courage to speak up, or even risk our credentials in order to love our friends.

In the body of Christ, if one part suffers, all suffer with it.

At a time when life seems to be scattering more and more, we know what it means to have friends. And here, as Christ is speaking to his disciples, he knows that he is about to leave them, so he is proclaiming to them a new relationship. At the very time when those disciples are feeling the least secure and will soon abandon him, Christ calls them his friends, bringing them to a new level of discipleship, and even community, as he calls us to emulate him, the pure embodiment of love.

So what does it mean for us today to be Christ’s friends? It means that we live as a community, united in Christ’s love. We show solidarity in suffering, we share our spiritual gifts for mutual up-building; we confront conflict not with hostility but with reconciliation. We don’t focus on our differences, but rather celebrate our unity as friends in the body of Christ.

We have within us the power of love, a love that can transform and make things new. A love that overcomes disagreements and shows mercy.

Choosing to love is not the easy path. We have a “love your enemy” faith, and it is perhaps the hardest and most difficult path.

And while we’re busy arguing, the world looks at us and wonders what’s so great about God because Christ’s church – the United Methodist Church in our case – is just as ineffective as every other institution in the world. And the truth of the matter is, that’s because you can’t legislate for love. But God, through Jesus, can command love, calling it out of his disciples, his followers, his friends.

My hope is that, when we disagree, we can take the time to listen and try to understand one another instead of making someone out to be our enemy. I struggle with this too.

We have an opportunity to be something far, far greater than any other human institution because we are not a human institution, we are the friends of Christ; his very body. So let’s do what Christ did; let’s demonstrate the power of love to help and heal one another.

And maybe even hug often.

I close today with a song that has been weighing in my heart all week. Last night I was able to see The Brilliance play this live at Kessler Theater. I invite you to reflect on the words of the song as we prepare our hearts and minds for communion, Christ’s ultimate demonstration of how the power of love can bring us all together.

(See https://www.ignitermedia.com/products/8416-brother for music video)

Amen.

images used with permission from istockphoto and igniter media, scripture from biblegateway.com 

You Give Love a Bad Name

This is part two of a three part message series called I Want to Know What Love Is. It was preached originally on the same weekend as United Methodist Special General Conference 2019. See What’s Love Got to Do With It and The Power of Love for the rest of the series.

Our scripture reading:

Ephesians 4:1-16 CEB

Unity of the body of Christ

Therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.

God has given his grace to each one of us measured out by the gift that is given by Christ. That’s why scripture says, When he climbed up to the heights, he captured prisoners, and he gave gifts to people.

What does the phrase “he climbed up” mean if it doesn’t mean that he had first gone down into the lower regions, the earth? 10 The one who went down is the same one who climbed up above all the heavens so that he might fill everything.

11 He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. 12 His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ 13 until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we aren’t supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. 15 Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ, 16 who is the head. The whole body grows from him, as it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments. The body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does its part.

May God add a blessing to the hearing, understanding and living of this Holy word. Amen.

you give love a bad name.jpg

Sermon: You Give Love a Bad Name

 

ROADTRIP STORY:

Have you ever been on a family road trip? How did that go?

Many of you know that I am a mom of 4 children – at one point it was just the three children. In the summer of 2011, my oldest children were 10, 8 and 5, and I had an unexpectedly open summer schedule.

It seemed like the perfect time to create a road trip that would knock a few things off of my bucket list like seeing The Grand Canyon.

The perfect 2 week road trip was mapped out.  We mapped out the perfect route – first west through New Mexico & Arizona, then up through Nevada & Utah, to Washington State….We came back swinging by Yellowstone Park’s Old Faithful… and the Rockies in Colorado.

Small hiccup in the plan, my husband Dennis had a mandatory graduate school orientation, meaning it would just be my mom, three kids and myself for the adventure. (We brought “flat daddy” along). We also had to switch to a smaller car without the three rows of separation…

Well (sigh) sometimes road trips look great on paper…but reality might be a different experience!

A few things I learned while having 5 people on the road for two weeks, with three of the people being kids:

  • Not every hotel has a swimming pool, but they all should.
  • There are only so many kid appropriate Redbox rentals in the American West.
  • Traveling with small children – you need more snacks than you think you need & nobody is at their best when they’re hungry.
  • Driving with a car full of whining, fighting, and crankiness is no fun at all.
  • Those little dots on the maps in the American West are not really towns, they might just be a couple of houses. There are no places to use the restroom or buy snacks there. I think they just put them there so you’re not scared of being so far between rest stops.
  • Over two weeks is a LONG time to be in close quarters with anybody at all – even the people you love the very most.

Somehow, we survived the adventure and we still love each other. I’m not proud of this, but there may have been moments along that route when I gave the empty threats like “do I need to pull this car over?” and “do I need to leave you all out here by the road if you can’t all stop fighting?!”

Almost 10 years later, I still get flashbacks to that trip if the kids start to argue in the car…But we’re family, so we know we’re going to stick together, right? For the record, I was never going to really leave them there – but I bet I did pull the car over a few times.

Which brings me to this great quote I heard in a podcast recently:

claudia rankine.png

CLAUDIA RANKINE QUOTE: Poet, essayist and playwright Claudia Rankine said, “I spend a lot of time thinking about, how can I say this so that we can stay in this car together, and yet explore the things I want to explore with you?”[1]

I love this metaphor! Rankine was referring to hard conversations about race relations, but it’s a question that speaks to all sorts of conflicts and division between people.

We live steeped in a culture that constantly tries to put people in one camp or the other, dividing us into our own little factions and groups. We are divided politically and socially, but we even disagree about things like Little League games or whether toilet paper is supposed to go over or under the roll.

While we disagree about many things, it doesn’t have to become an ugly fight.

“How can I say this so that we can stay in this car together, and yet explore the things I want to explore with you?”

As the Body of Christ, this is a question worth pondering before we speak to each other and especially before we speak about each other. As we may have vastly different life experiences and vastly different understandings, how can we speak to one another in a way that creates unity, in a manner that increases understanding, one that keeps us together?

Every community of people has disagreements, every church has disagreements. Change is hard, especially within the walls of a community we hold so closely in our heart. I can’t tell you how many complaints I hear if we make a change from the “way things always have been.” What are some from year’s past that you can remember having here at New World? (carpet color? Worship times?)

I confess, it might not be 100% coincidental that this sermon title was assigned to this week of the series…

This weekend, 864 representatives from the global UMC are having a called general conference to decide the denomination’s official stance on whether a church building or a clergyperson can perform same sex marriages, and on the full inclusion of our LGBTQ siblings’ ordination as clergy. This is a conference that may end up with a fight. While we do not yet know the outcome, the decision is one that will impact our global denomination in ways we cannot yet see.

As you might guess, I am connected to a LOT of United Methodists through social media. I estimate that 70% or so of my FB connections are tied to The United Methodist Church in some way. It has been a tough few weeks for me to even look at what people are love and respect deeply are posting and commenting. I’ve hidden my FB icon on my phone so I don’t easily click on it.

Our culture loves a good fight, doesn’t it?

The problem is, when Christians fight, all the world sees is the fight. It doesn’t usually happen on a big, global denominational level, we fight among ourselves about all sorts of things. We all probably know people who have left because of something or someone, perhaps a change that upset them.

No matter the final vote, there will be people who will decide they cannot take anymore, they will make the decision to exit the denominational car, so to speak. It’s hard to watch.

At the local level, here in our local church, there is no requirement that we fight too. We can choose the long road of unity, we can choose to “stay in the car.”

As Christians, we are called to be people of love. When the disagreements happen, especially in very public ways, we “give love a bad name.” We miss out on the opportunity to share the witness of a God who loves all.

This all brings us to our scripture reading for this message. This is a letter to a church that was having disagreements too, the young Christian church at Ephesus (churches have been disagreeing about theology for as long as there have been churches.)

In this short passage from Ephesians, the theme is unity and oneness. I’m going to repeat the first few verses & invite you to count with me the number of times Paul uses the word “one” : Therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.

“One” is used seven times. In the chapters right before this, the writer is talking about our identity in Christ, like last week’s reminder that we are all made in the image of God, we all matter to God.

This is an important lesson for any Body of Christians. In the church, even if we know we should connect to one another, we selfishly pursue our own agendas. Whether it’s politics, religion, whether toilet paper goes over or under…We make other Christians (ones who disagree with our positions) the “bad guys.” When we do this, we are participating in the tearing apart of Christ’s body.

It’s worth pointing out that we are not required to all have the same opinions on things. We are however, called to watch how we conduct ourselves and accept each other with love.

Now, more than ever, an important question to consider: how can we witness to the world that we can be one, that we can give “Love” a good name?

This is where we come back to the idea of agape love. Remember, God’s agape love is freely given, offered without condition. Do you remember the 3 H’s about agape we covered last Sunday – It is a love that is honest, hopeful & humble. It is a love that is looking for the good in other people.

In the Gospel of John, Christ paints a beautiful picture of what it looks like to abide in his presence in love. He says, “I am the true fine, and my Father is the gardener…Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a person remains in me and I in them, they will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…”

Jesus explains to his followers in this beautiful image of love and charity, friendship and community, that just as a branch cannot bear fruit by itself, his disciples cannot love one another, much less bring others to faith, apart from the abiding love of Christ.

 For some reason, we seem to live as if we were sent in this world to compete with one another, to quarrel and fight. Jesus did not choose us to live a life reflective of the world; Christ did not call us to bring the division of the world into our churches. Rather we are to represent Christ in the world. Jesus chose us, first to come to him and then go out to the world. And that must be the daily pattern and rhythm to our lives.

As friends of Christ, Christians, we are called to a commitment of solidarity toward unity as we witness in a broken and divided world. We are to live in such a way that we show what is meant by loving one another. We are not sent out to argue people into Christianity, nor to threaten them into it, but to attract them into it through our love; so to live that its fruits may be so wonderful others will desire them for themselves.

We have to figure out ways to have difficult conversations but work through our differences. We have to set aside our own pride and personal agendas in order to work hand-in-hand to reach out to the world.

When Christians focus more on the differences than what unites us, we are not reflecting the love of Christ, we are not bearing fruit. While we are busy arguing, the world looks at us and wonders, what’s so great about God because Christ’s church seems just as ineffective as every other institution in the world.

When we are divided over differences of opinions, love must prevail.

Christ has come so that we will bear fruit that will last, whether in terms of a single life changed because we loved somebody as Jesus loved us, or in terms of a single decision we had to make or tasks we had to perform, through which the world became a different and better place.

Love makes both the lover and the beloved more like Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, I want to be more like Jesus. I think we all do. I want to love like Christ loved.

I want to affirm that you are worthy of receiving that love too. You are a worthy, precious child of God. When I say that, I am saying that to each and every one of you.

You are a worthy, precious child of God.

I am tired of the fighting and the division. I’m tired of having to try and defend a church that looks less and less like the body of Christ and more and more like the divided world around us.

New World, it is my deepest prayer that we can be countercultural in the best ways imaginable. That we can be a community of faith who loves God and loves neighbors unconditionally. That we can give love a good name by how we love one another.

CLOSE IN PRAYER/CUE FOR BAND

Let us pray:

God of deep and abiding love, God of all people,

We confess that there are moments when we fail to love you with our whole hearts, and when we fail to show grace to one another as your children of God. Forgive us for failing to see the harm we inflict when we use the excuse of “speaking the truth in love” to really mean “telling others what they are doing wrong.” Instead, lead us to treat one another with grace and love, especially those with whom we disagree.

This weekend, we pray for our global church, the delegates at General Conference, and for the decisions being made. We recognize and lament that decisions made have the potential to cause deep harm to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We pray that your Holy Spirit fills the conversations and decision making, and we trust that you are still God.

No matter the outcome, we pray to be a community that loves you with our whole hearts, people who share your love with all of our neighbors, and to “give love a good name” as your representatives.

We pray to be worthy of the name “Christ follower.”

In the name of Jesus Christ we pray, amen.

[1] https://onbeing.org/programs/claudia-rankine-how-can-i-say-this-so-we-can-stay-in-this-car-together-jan2019/?utm_source=The+Upper+Room+%E2%80%94+Engage+With+Us&utm_campaign=a796217e55-AcademyBulletin_2.12.19&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_0542d9a4cf-a796217e55-204260781

Whatever it Takes – A Sermon on Haiti & Mission

Upon returning from our mission trip to Haiti, members of the New World team shared a message about how God has worked through mission. Enjoy.

Let us pray:

God of Living Water,

Open our hearts and minds this morning that we may hear your Word for us. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

haiti mapAs many of you know, Anna Lee, Linda Connor and I spend this last week on a mission trip in Haiti. We partnered with the Methodist Church of Haiti and an organization called Water to Life to bring 100 water filters to the rural village of Mellier, population 2500. This morning we are going to share about our mission trip as we close our 5 week series on a Balanced Life. Our hope is that, by telling you our story, you too will be inspired by what God is doing in the world through God’s people. It’s my hope that when you hear our story, perhaps the Holy Spirit will whisper onto your heart to do whatever it takes, to step out in mission or service to others in some way, too.

First, an overview of our trip:

Our work team consisted of 5 Americans – Anna, Linda, Barbara Hickerson of Central UMC Waco and Keith Bierley from FUMC Keller. We also had two Haitian translators, Caz and Lamaire.

Haiti team

Several other Haitians from the local church and community joined our team as outreach recruiters finding families to receive filters, night time security, water carriers and cooks.

We stayed on the second story balcony of the Methodist Church in Mellier. The building pictured here was constructed by American and Haitian mission teams since the 2010 earthquake toppled the original church building.

mellier church

Our mission was to bring 100 water filters to the people of Mellier. BUT, what I learned is that an even greater mission was that we were called to practice being fully present for others. To love and to be loved. The way we did this best was through spending time with lots and lots of children.

The children LOVED to have their photos taken. And they LOVED to see the photos and videos we took of them.

This was my second time to visit the same village, and the biggest blessing was being able to see some of the people I connected with the first time. This is my friend Nadege….

nadege

 

This is her daughter Guetchaina….

guetchaina

One of the most remarkable gifts of returning to the same village is that the relationships have grown deeper over time. I firmly believe this is a healthier way to be in mission partnership with others than just coming in once for a short term trip.

I now would like to invite Anna Lee to share about her experience.

ANNA:

I wanted to share with you how I came to go to Haiti in the first place because it is intertwined with how I came to New World. 

 In 2014, after my daughter graduated from High School, I decided I would go on an “adult” mission trip for the first time since I had always been involved with youth trips. I ended up going to Sager Brown, UMCOR Depot in Baldwin, LA.  While there I had two instrumental encounters. The first was meeting Candy and Gordon who were there with the Central Texas Conference. I have worked with Sheri Lucas for years and she had invited me to New World since she knew I was looking for a new church home. However, I just had not got around to visiting. After Gordon gave me his card, I knew God was nudging me again. I remember saying to myself, “Ok, God, I hear you, I will go visit” and the rest is history. 

 The second person I met was the woman who was hosting the teams arriving at the depot. Exactly what Gordon and Candy have been doing these last couple of years at Sager Brown, in Illinois, and in Nashville. I was on a fact finding mission about the VIM program through the UMC and while we were talking, she mentioned she had lived and worked in Haiti. Until that time, I had never considered going to Haiti, but the seed was planted. After I got home, I continued to do more research and came across HPUMC’s clinic in, of all places, Haiti… “Ok, God, I guess I am going to Haiti.”

 Fast forward to the “pre-trip” meeting for our trip. I am looking at Barbara from Waco and trying to figure out where I knew her from. Then she mentioned Sager Brown and I knew she was the one I had talked to 4 years earlier. I never would have thought I would end up going to Haiti with her.  

 Why I continue to go back to Haiti?  I can’t honestly tell you other than I continue to feel that nudge to serve in whatever capacity is needed. I don’t know where it will lead or how it will all end. The water filters are undoubtedly lifesavers, but I learned the program involves so much more. It is all about building a stronger community where neighbors share their filters with others until they can get their own and start to look at how they can positively impact the environment. 

haiti team w kids

Linda:

linda and studentGood morning!  For those of you who do not know me, my name is Linda Connor.   I’m a charter member of this church and I’m proud to tell you that my dad, Rev. Dewitt Seago was our first associate pastor.  This was my first time to visit Haiti and it will always have a very special place in my heart. I truly hope it will not be my last time to be a part of this very special mission. Every evening after a wonderful supper cooked by Dina and her staff we had a devotional time. Pastor Erin would always start us with a prayer and then ask us to tell where we saw God at work that day. So I want to tell you about one of the God moments I had.   While playing with the kids outside the church close to the school I looked up to see a high school age boy motioning me to come to see him and saying “Madam, madam!”  He was in the doorway of one of the classrooms. He wanted me to help him with some sentences he had written in English on the chalkboard.  The God given talent of being a former first grade school teacher went into high gear. We worked on everything from biology to sentence structure with the smallest pieces of chalk you have ever seen. His English was quite good.  Barbara came in and since she spoke Creole, we understood some things he didn’t know how to say in English.  By the time Pastor Erin arrived he was pantomiming what he wanted to get across because we had gone to the limit of Barbara’s Creole. It was such a fun moment.  This young man’s name is Samendji and he is 17 years old. He told me he wants to be a translator. At that moment, I felt God had brought me to Mellier to help Samendji.  That is just one of the many God moments I had while on this trip to Haiti.  Thank you!!

Erin: This brings us to our Scripture reading for the day. As a mission team, we studied this passage both before our trip in a pre-trip orientation meeting and on the trip near the end. Once you have been inside buildings with roofs like this bakery (point), the story takes on a new imagery.

bakery in mellier

The story of Jesus healing the paralytic is found in Matthew, Mark and Luke. In the story we have a cast of characters – Jesus, the crowd, the four friends, the paralytic and the teachers of the law/Pharisees. When you hear this story, who do you relate to most?

As we studied this passage, we talked about how we all have times being in these different roles. We want to be the four friends willing to do whatever it takes to help someone in need. Sometimes we are like the paralytic, in need of having both our sins and our physical ailments healed.

Often, we are the crowd, standing in the space, observing from the sidelines.

Tragically, we are often playing the role of the Pharisees, judging and questioning the motives of someone who does ministry differently than us or who doesn’t follow the same rules and traditions.

Whoever you find yourself to be in the story, there are a few things we have in common.

We are the body of Christ. When one part suffers, we all suffer. When we extend ourselves and our resources to others, when we help others flourish, it helps the whole body. It helps us to release our grip on stuff, loosens our grip on self-sufficiency and selfishness. It helps others by relieving their neediness, offering provision, teaching us all to both give and receive love.

Most importantly, as we strive to be Christ’s disciples, when we do whatever it takes to help others, we are more like Christ.

In a few moments, we will move to the sacrament of communion. Like we say in the communion liturgy:

“Holy are you, and blessed is your son jesus Christ. Your spirit anointed him to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind. You healed the sick, fed the hungry and ate with sinners….”

My challenge for each of you is to pray deeply for ways God may be calling you to serve others. I challenge you to find ways to get out of your comfort zone, to be in relationship with people you serve, even dare to receive help from others. Let us build up the body of Christ by seeing Christ in others.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

Haiti Mission – Day 3

Our morning started with a Methodist worship service – 2 beautiful hours of singing, praying and listening in French and Creole. Our sermon was on the body of Christ – what a beautiful setting to be reminded that ALL of God’s children are valued in the Body of Christ.

About 200 people filled the pews today. A surprise before worship was the chirping of of a baby chick inside the church:

After a lunch of Mamba peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, we headed out in a “tap tap” (a Haitian style taxi) to see a little more of Haiti:

I’ll post videos of Haitians driving when I get to a space with more internet capabilities.

It’s evening now – time for bucket showers and nighttime devotional time. Tomorrow we begin our water filter program with VBS-type time in the afternoon.

God is alive and at work – so evident in the deeply moving worship, infectious laughter and community of hospitality. We thank you for your continued prayers and support!

If you are reading this and want to support the ministry of bringing clean water to Haiti, please consider donating to through this link.

Haiti Mission – Getting settled in Mellier

My family has a couple of traditions during mealtime. We always say grace (at home it’s usually a silly one) and then we each share our highs, lows and something we are looking forward to. We brought that tradition to dinner here in Haiti tonight, so I thought I’d share a few highlights from our day:

Today, my high was getting reunited with some special Haitian friends, Rodny and Nadege:

I also spent about an hour with children sitting on and around me watching videos on my cellphone (they especially loved videos of baby Lucas singing). It was a gift to be present with these children…even if it was for a lot longer than I expected. Sometimes we need to be reminded God calls us into times of “being” instead of “doing” all the time.

My only low for the day was that it took a while to get our water set up, but it did lead to some cool moments of drawing water from a cistern – new skill for my resume:

I am looking forward to going to church in the morning, especially after hearing the choir rehearsal tonight:

We have been able to go on a few walks around the village, here are some of the sights and people we have met along the way:

Tomorrow is our church and Sabbath day, Monday we begin water filter work.

Stay tuned for more!

(Photo credits to Anna Lee and Linda Connor too – if some of the photos don’t post due to spotty internet, I’ll edit the post later…)

Haiti Mission: Day One – Travel Day

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.

And here we go!

-written from seat 27B on AA flight 1042-

Haiti Mission: Day 0

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.

Click here to contribute to the Haiti mission

We Need Each Other – a sermon on Social Holiness

Therefore, as God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other. As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other. 14 And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 The peace of Christ must control your hearts—a peace into which you were called in one body. And be thankful people. 16 The word of Christ must live in you richly. Teach and warn each other with all wisdom by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.

Sermon: We Need Each Other – on Social Holiness

 “Haiti has been devastated by an earthquake and people in and around Port au Prince are in desperate need of help. We have a plane full of supplies ready to leave Dallas Love Field at 2PM today. We are looking for any volunteers who can get to the airport with their passport on time. We can get anyone who is available to Haiti at no charge, the plane is ready to go, although we don’t have any information yet on how or when you will be able to return. Is there anyone here willing to go?”

The date I heard this announcement was January 13, 2010, the day after a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas. This was the lunch announcement made at the SMU Perkins School of Youth Ministry to a room full of United Methodist youth workers.

Would you have volunteered to go help? 

I didn’t get on a plane to Haiti that day (although I did go in 2017 and will go again this year) but how remarkable is it that one of the few places they thought to announce this mission need was to the highest concentration of United Methodists gathered together in Dallas that day. It makes sense when you consider that the UMC has a rich heritage of responding quickly and working together to alleviate suffering, especially for the world’s poor.

This morning we are concluding our Back to Grace series on United Methodism. In week one we looked at the Wesleyan concepts of prevenient, justifying and sanctifying grace. Last week we talked about personal holiness & for those who heard my sermon, you were challenged to pick 1 or 2 personal faith practices and “just do it.” How’s that going so far?

Today we are learning about the Wesleyan concept of social holiness. Social holiness is the combination of acts we do as a faith community to grow closer to God, and is often found at the intersection of faith and good works, service and justice. This morning we will look at how we grow in social holiness both inside and outside of the church, including a look at the global United Methodist Church, and most importantly, we will look at why social holiness is critical.

First, we will look at the role the local church plays in nurturing our social holiness.

What is the purpose of a church?

A quote from the Book of Discipline:

“Finally, we emphasize the nurturing and serving function of Christian fellowship in the Church. The personal experience of faith is nourished by the worshiping community.”

If we look at today’s Scripture reading, we are told to “Be tolerant with one another and forgive one another…we were called in the one body. We are to teach one another in wisdom.” There is an emphasis on the one another and the working together as one body. As Christians, we believe that faith isn’t something you get to have all on your own. Wesley once said that no one can be a solitary Christian, we must be in community to grow in our faith. As the sermon title says – we need each other.

Consider the sacrament of baptism.

In our baptismal vows, here’s a question the faith community is asked:

 Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life
and include these persons now before you in your care?

And how do we respond?

With God’s help we will proclaim the good news
and live according to the example of Christ.
We will surround these persons
with a community of love and forgiveness,
that they may grow in their trust of God,
and be found faithful in their service to others.
We will pray for them,
that they may be true disciples
who walk in the way that leads to life.

When anyone is baptized, we promise as a faith community to nurture not only the baptized, but also one another. We need each other to grow in our faith.

We also nurture each other in the faith when we sing in worship.

Now, I don’t know about your typical week, but in my week, there are no other places besides during worship when I am being asked to sing. As we sing together, we connect with one another in praise and we also learn the basics of our faith. Like memorizing Scripture, the act of singing writes what we believe on our hearts. It lifts our spirits. We need each other to sing.

We need each other in small groups. As John Wesley was beginning the renewal movement we now know as Methodism, they began by forming small Methodist societies and class meetings. The purpose of these small groups was so they could encourage each other in holiness, and a distinct way they grew in their faith as a small group was to give to the poor, visit the imprisoned, and to work for justice and peace. Similarly, in our local church, we meet in small groups and grow in our faith. We spur one another on as we discuss our faith, even disagreeing from time to time. Ideally, if we have done the nurturing work right at the local church level, our natural response will be to find ways in our small groups to love and serve our neighbors.

A beautiful feature of United Methodism is that social holiness extends way beyond the local church – we are connected to other United Methodist churches around the globe.

Even this past week, we showed a bit of this connection in our city by participating in the Back to Grace multi-UMC event. Many from New World were there last Sunday night as The Way led worship and Rev. Felicia Hopkins of FUMC Abilene preached on grace. In fact, I’m excited to share that the churches represented raised over $1000 each for Arlington Urban Ministries and the UTA Wesley Foundation.

Consider the global impact of our Church. Unique to church denominations, all United Methodist Churches are connected. This culture of reaching out to the world is a rich part of Methodism’s DNA and makes us a witness and force for peace and justice around the world.

A beautiful example of how we as a connectional church model this sense of social holiness is UMCOR. A quick story: In 2013, a chemical fertilizer plant in West, Texas exploded – many of you may even have heard the explosion if you lived in South Arlington/Mansfield at the time. At this disaster, as with almost every disaster around the globe, many first responders were on the scene to assist people in need. Laraine Waughtal from the UM Central Texas Conference and members of our conference’s early response team were there early among the American Red Cross, United Way and FEMA’s first responders. Laraine reported that, as a trailer pulled up full of supplies with the United Methodist cross and flame symbol on the side, a trailer from UMCOR, she could hear the other first responders say, “Oh thank God! The Methodists are here! Now we can begin to get things done.” UMCOR is known throughout the world as the United Methodist Church at its finest – quick to respond to those in need and willing to stay until the long-term recovery is complete.

Beyond disaster relief and recovery, the worldwide United Methodist Church has a long history of concern for social justice. Wesley and the early Methodists expressed their opposition to societal brokenness such as slavery, smuggling, inhumane prison conditions, alcohol abuse, and child labor. We are known as a denomination involved with people’s lives, with political and social struggles. As part of our global connection, we are still engaged in speaking out against injustice and working in social justice work today.

From The Book of Resolutions of The UMC: The United Methodist Church believes God’s love for the world is an active and engaged love, a love seeking justice and liberty. We cannot just be observers. So we care enough about people’s lives to risk interpreting God’s love, to take a stand, to call each of us into a response, no matter how controversial or complex. The church helps us think and act out a faith perspective, not just responding to all the other ‘mind-makers-up’ that exist in our society.”

As we take a closer look at today’s passage (text is in bulletin), I want you to see the action words. We are to: teach, warn, sing and do. In fact, Verse 17 says “And whatever you DO, in word or deed, DO everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” The life of Christ is a life of action. We are called to be in mission and service to the world.

Wesley said, “The Gospel of Christ knows no religion but social, no holiness but social holiness. You cannot be holy except as you are engaged in making the world a better place. You do not become holy by keeping yourself pure and clean from the world but by plunging into ministry on behalf of the world’s hurting ones.”

Why don’t we get it right?

John Wesley also struggled with the same question – why don’t we get it right?

At age 86, near the end of John Wesley’s life, most people would have considered him a resounding success. Around the age of 35 he had begun a movement that had spread throughout the British Empire and, by the end of his life it had grown to be the largest church in America. He was widely published and well respected.

But at 86, he was contemplating the significance of his life’s work. A question he asked himself was, “if the Methodist movement he had begun was so successful, as it was, why wasn’t the world a better place?”  For John Wesley, the measure of the success of a minister, of a church, of a spiritual movement, of Methodism, wasn’t the number of members who joined the church or the size/number of buildings they had. The true measure of success was whether the world was a better place, a more just place, a more compassionate place.

We have work to do, my friends. We need to heal the world, make it a better place.

We can think of the church as a body.

As today’s scripture says, “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” The Greek word for bind in this verse is the same word as “ligament,” like the part of the body that holds us together. Think like a human body – When we as a faith community are in great shape, bound together in love, when we are doing social holiness right and taking care of ourselves…

We as the Body of Christ can do amazing things.

When our body is out of whack, the binding of love is replaced by distrust or personal agendas, distracted by politics and division and trying to prove others wrong, we become immobilized, powerless.

(Perhaps worse – when we sit idly and don’t exercise the body at all – there’s no inspiration in that!)

It’s easy to be like John Wesley was – contemplating our progress and wondering why the world is not yet a better place. The work of justice and reconciliation, the work of transforming the world, the work of God….it’s slow work. It takes time, and we need everyone to work alongside each other in order to make an impact.

But please take a moment with me and imagine what our future could be like if we committed to getting social holiness right. If we, as the Body of Christ, work together to grow in discipleship and work together to be a force for change in the world, if we connect with one another and have the courage to stand up against the world’s injustices and brokenness – we have (with the help of God’s spirit working in us) the potential to be a force that brings God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven. We have the potential to truly make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

We need each other to make transformation happen.

Remember the Haiti announcement at the beginning of this sermon?

Raise your hand if you went on that trip (should be no hands). I didn’t go then either.

But raise your hand if you’ve been on an international mission trip? (keep your hands up)

An out of state mission trip? Any mission trip? (keep your hands raised)

Now raise your hand if you have been engaged in mission work locally – you’ve volunteered, handed out a manna bag, collected donations?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever contributed to the offering at church (hopefully all hands are raised)

This is social holiness – all of us working together to transform the world. God will call each of us in different ways to use our gifts and resources, time and talents for God’s service.

It is my deepest prayer that each of us will Listen to that call.

That we will Have the courage to respond. To get our hands dirty.

It is my prayer that transformation will happen and God’s reign will be on earth, and that we will move forward with passion and excitement as we trust in the slow work of God!

Amen.


Things to consider:

  • Where is God calling you to be in service?
  • Are you giving your fullest to God? If not, why not?
  • Who do you need to connect with in order to be held accountable in your discipleship?

Giving credit where credit is due: The Scripture passage used was from the Common English Bible. Several quotes in this sermon were from umc.org. Quote from Laraine Waughtal found in Vance Morton’s post “UMCOR – the Methodist Connection at it’s Best” on ctcumc.org. Story about John Wesley at age 86 found in sermon “Social Holiness: Our Wesleyan DNA”  by Rev. Dean Snyder.