Can you remember when God carried you through something very difficult?
Every week, members of New World United Methodist Church come around a table at a local family shelter for an evening of fellowship, prayer and creating art. Residents in the shelter are there for many different reasons – job losses, deaths in the family, fleeing domestic violence, unexpected illnesses or other expenses.
Art brings people together. The act of creating art has a powerful way of bringing about calm, healing and empowerment. We choose to create art with residents of a local shelter because many of the families are in desperate need of space for calm, connection, dignity and love.
Each week we have a different project and a different theme. In the picture, we are creating very special prayer beads, “ebenezer beads.” You might recognize the word “ebenezer” from the hymn “Come, Thou Font of Every Blessing.” My favorite verse goes like this:
Here I raise my Ebenezer
Here there by Thy help I come
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
What in the world is an ebenezer, you ask, and why are we raising one? The Hebrew word literally means “stone of help.” The song is a reference to the book of 1 Samuel:
Samuel took a stone and set it up . . . and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” 1 Samuel 7:12
In the story, Samuel is raising a special monument in gratitude for God’s faithfulness as the Israelites defeated the powerful Philistines. Samuel wants to make sure that all who come to this place remember what God has done for God’s people. We are called to remember.
In our prayer bead project, each participant was invited to include a few handmade beads made the week before. As they pray with their beads, these special beads serve as a reminder that God will faithfully bring each family through life’s difficult times of transition.
May we all remember that God is faithful.
Prayer: Dear God, we remember the times in our life when you brought us through difficult circumstances and we thank you. We pray for people in our community who are experiencing homelessness. Lead us to be messengers of your mercy, love and grace. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
I’m grateful to God, whom I serve with a good conscience as my ancestors did. I constantly remember you in my prayers day and night. When I remember your tears, I long to see you so that I can be filled with happiness.I’m reminded of your authentic faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice. I’m sure that this faith is also inside you.Because of this, I’m reminding you to revive God’s gift that is in you through the laying on of my hands.God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled.
2 Timothy 1:3-7
Remember a time you went through something difficult. How did God bring you through that? How can you thank God for God’s faithfulness?
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”
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-