It’s no secret that one of my favorite spiritual practices is to integrate art and faith – including the art and imagery of photography. Lent, the reflective, somber season of preparation before Easter’s arrival, is a perfect time to pause and be thoughtful.
How is God at work in your daily life? Show us through a photo.
Beginning on Wednesday, you are invited to participate alongside me in a Lenten photo challenge:
How it works: Each day is assigned a different word. The words are intentionally open-ended, open to your interpretation. Take a photo that makes you think of the day’s word. You can explain it or not, that’s up to you. You can participate every day, or just when a particular word speaks to you. Just post the photo with the hashtag “NWUMCLent” on your social media of choice so we can find it and share it.
It is my hope and prayer that you will pause, reflect and grow a bit closer to God in the journey.
Bonus: The theme of our Lenten sermon series at New World UMC is “Giving Up.” (I preach on 3/8, 3/15 and 4/12 if you want to show up in real life!) Rev. Leslie Byrd and I will be creating daily devotionals to go with each photo challenge word. I’ll post them here too – so feel free to follow this blog for a daily Lenten devotional to bless your day!
In 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.
Holy and loving God, the one who is rich in mercy,
So often we feel heavy laden with the weight of all that feels wrong in our life. We worry about our future, we worry about the suffering around us, we worry about our health and our finances and our relationships. We carry the load of this stress on our shoulders, often feeling alone in our struggles. Often feeling too proud to ask for help.
Yet you, God, are our burden lifter.
When we feel overwhelmed with stress and worry, when the baggage that comes with living this messy life feels like too much to carry, you gently whisper to us:
“Cast all your anxiety – cast all your cares – on me. I love you, my child, let me share the load.”
We lift up this morning the people who are struggling to hear your whispers of hope.
We pray for our brothers and sisters who are trapped in broken systems of injustice. We pray for our kindred who are mourning the loss of a loved one. We pray for children who have lost their parents, no matter their age. We pray for your whispers of hope and your arms of love to bring comfort and peace.
We do not need to be anxious about anything, but with our prayers we can bring our requests to you and you are faithful to mercifully help us with our burdens.
We pray that through all of our past, present and future suffering, we can remember that you call us to acts of mercy. As you are our burden lifter, you call us as your children to help others in need. Grant us the courage and wisdom to walk boldly and mercifully so that, in all we do, you may be glorified.
We pray this in the name of the One who carried our sins to the cross, Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray, saying, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name…
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.
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.
Love each other
9 “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
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.)
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?
In 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.
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.
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.
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
4 Therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God.2 Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, 3 and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. 4 You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.
7 God has given his grace to each one of us measured out by the gift that is given by Christ.8 That’s why scripture says, When he climbed up to the heights, he captured prisoners, and he gave gifts to people.
9 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.
Sermon: You Give Love a Bad Name
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 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?”
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.2 Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, 3 and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. 4 You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 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.”
7 Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God. 8 The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him. 10 This is love: it is not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins.
11 Dear friends, if God loved us this way, we also ought to love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. If we love each other, God remains in us and his love is made perfect in us. 13 This is how we know we remain in him and he remains in us, because he has given us a measure of his Spirit. 14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the savior of the world. 15 If any of us confess that Jesus is God’s Son, God remains in us and we remain in God. 16 We have known and have believed the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them. 17 This is how love has been perfected in us, so that we can have confidence on the Judgment Day, because we are exactly the same as God is in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love because God first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God” and hate their brothers or sisters are liars. After all, those who don’t love their brothers or sisters whom they have seen can hardly love God whom they have not seen! 21 This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.
What’s Love Got to Do With It
Key point: Love has everything to do with it; Following God means sharing Christian love that is honest, hopeful and humble.
A few months ago I posted on my Facebook wall, “What are your unpopular opinions?”
It started a long thread of comments about what people liked and disliked – a surprising number of people didn’t seem to think pizza was all that. I also noticed that we use the word “hate” too easily. My unpopular opinion was that I hate musicals – which prompted an unexpectedly strong reaction and so many people telling me I just haven’t seen the right ones…it’s just not my thing. But we use “hate” loosely, as in, I hate traffic, I hate certain collegiate rival football teams to my alma mater (but I wouldn’t dare say that in front of a crowd!), I hate roaches! (shudder)
“Love” is a funny word too, isn’t it? I use that word to describe my love for a lot of things – coffee, English toffee, TexMex food, Chick-Fil-A waffle fries.
I love Jesus and my church.
I love a lot of people, of course (with a special shout out to my parents, husband and 4 kids)
But I also say love the shows “This is Us” and “The Office.”
We use this word to describe things we like a lot, we use the word easily and take it lightly.
Love is a word that’s hard to define. It’s slippery. It’s easier to explain the effects of how it feels to be loved than to try to explain what it is.
Love has everything to do with what it means to be a follower of Jesus, yet sometimes we make it too complicated. We mess it up.
In the next few messages, we will deepen our understanding of characteristics of the biblical love mentioned in the passage I just read.
We are called to give and receive love in all directions – we love UP when we love God, we love IN community when we love one another, and we love OUT when we offer that love to the world. We’ll look at the obstacles that keep us from loving well, and hopefully be sent from this place equipped to love just a little bit better.
What are some characteristics of biblical love? 3 H’s Honest, Hopeful & Humble
This Christian love we are talking about is HONEST.
Matthew 5:23-24 “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift.”
When we disagree with someone, we have a lot of options nowadays, don’t we? The easiest option could be just to walk away from that relationship altogether. We can vent online or to our other friends, we can get busy and ignore each other. But if we look at this line in Matthew, then we are challenged that to love one another, we cannot just go about carrying on grudges. Intimately tied to our love for God, we have to make things right and settle our differences with each other before we honor God.
Honest, genuine love for our sisters and brothers is determined to set things right, but reconciliation is hard, vulnerable work.
Norman Vincent Peale used to tell a story was about an African boy who gave his missionary teacher an unusually beautiful seashell as a Christmas gift. The boy had walked a great distance, over rough terrain, to the only place on the coast where these particular shells could be found. The teacher was touched. “You’ve traveled so far to bring me such a wonderful present,” she said. The boy looked puzzled, then his eyes widened with excitement: “Oh, teacher,” he explained, “long walk part of gift.”
One of the greatest gifts we can give each other is taking the “long walk” of reconciliation. It may be tempting to just let differences slide, ignore the problem and hope it goes away. But, the problem is that the problems are still there under the surface. Think of love in Christian relationships like car maintenance – you can choose to ignore the transmission problem or neglect getting an oil change and the car will probably keep going, but eventually it will deteriorate. Or like nourishing a garden – if we don’t take care of our relationships, pulling out the weeds of disagreement and dealing with them, eventually the whole garden suffers.
Life makes it difficult to love well – we get too tired, too busy or too proud to love well. But fear is the primary thing that keeps us from love.
1 Corinthians 13:7 “Love puts up will all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.”
We live in a culture with a 24 hour, 7 day a week news cycle of doom and gloom, conflict and division. It is hard to hear a story without the narrative of “us vs. them.” We are bombarded with messages telling us to fear people who are different, warning us about whichever-group-thinks-differently-than-you and all of the bad things that could happen if the “bad guys” get their way. The news reports want us to live in fear, but “there is no fear in love, perfect love casts out fear.” Which brings us to the second H:
In addition to being honest, Christian love is full of HOPE.
Augustine once said, “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”
The problem with putting other people in categories, making them issues, is we lose sight on their God-given humanity. God’s love is a love of hope. When you hope in others, you see them as God sees them. You cannot help but realize that everyone (yes everyone!) is worthy of God’s love.
No matter our differences and no matter the circumstances, if we can grow to a place where we are seeing the wonderful in one another, that is a love full of hope.
The third H – Christian love is a love full of Humility.
Philippians 2:5-8 “Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
We know that Jesus modeled humility when he died on the cross. He also recruited unlikely disciples from humble positions and associated with the lowest of the low. It’s beautiful to consider that, although we are unworthy of God’s love, God loves us anyway.
When we disagree with one another, which happens, a model of Christian love is to remember that we are all beloved children of God, even when we disagree.
With humility as our guide, we can look past the faults of others, look past our differences of opinions, quit casting people away into categories and issues, and care for one another.
What keeps us from love?
The opposite of these three H’s honest, hopeful and humble? Deceitful, doubtful and proud. When we live from a place of deceit, doubt, pride and fear, we struggle – it’s pretty much impossible – to create love, empathy, compassion or care for one another. While the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control, the fruit of fear is distrust, suspicion, slander, resentment, grudges, murder and violence.
God’s love is a love for all directions.
We are called to both give and receive God’s love, love one another, and even love ourselves.
As we close this first message on love, I want to end with this video about what it means to follow Jesus.
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.
As 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.
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.
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….
This is her daughter 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.
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.
Good 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.
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.
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.