A Prayer for June 28, 2015

Gracious God,  as we gather together this morning, some are dejected, some are celebrating, some are confused and some wonder what is happening to the world that we have known.

It seems that all that we have held dear is in flux, that things and people that we don’t understand are somehow gaining an upper hand.  Some of us are frightened and agitated.

Yet, you, O God, are in control.

When situations occur that we don’t understand or that we disagree with, it is easy to lash out in anger and fear, yet you call us to react with love.

It is easy to react with language of persecution, until it is called to our attention that some of our brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering from real persecution and sometimes even dying for their faith as they proclaim Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life.  We grieve with them and for them and for their families and in the light of real persecution, we see how pathetic our concerns are.

Holy One, help us to love as you have loved us.  Help us to live our lives as if you make a difference in ours.  Help us to see your image in everyone that we meet and help them to see you in us.

We pray for our leaders, that they will lead in humility and not hypocrisy.  That they would avoid inciting fear in order to gain votes.

We pray for our nation and all of her people.  We pray that instead of finding things that divide us, that we may seek those concerns that bring us together: that we might take better care of the earth that you have given us and not rape and pillage nature in the vain pursuit of profit; that we might seek to care for those in poverty, especially those who are working hard yet still fighting to keep their heads above water as they struggle to provide for their families; that we might welcome the immigrant as Scripture so often challenges us to do.

We pray for our active duty and reserve military, our veterans, and their families and we pray that all of our leaders will tread carefully before committing our troops to battle, and then may we as a nation live up to our promise and moral obligation to these men and women to help them transition from the horrors of war back into civilian life, an obligation that we have failed to keep to our sorrow and shame.

We pray for the sick and those who care for them, for those who mourn, and for those who struggle with addiction, rejection, and all things that devalue life.

We pray that our witness may be strong and that in all things that we will seek to live by the words that we proclaim when we state that you, Jesus, are our Lord and Savior.

O God, you are our help in times of trouble and times of confusion.  Hold us in your strong arms and guide us and direct us as we seek to discern your will for us and our community.  Most of all, empower us to do all that we are called to do in a spirit of humility and love.

We ask all of these things in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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Sunday Morning Coming Down

 

Week 2 of my annual sojourn to Emory University for the Course of Study is complete. I want to thank Steve Galyon for preaching for me today and Mike Feely for preaching for me next Sunday.  It is a nice change of pace to enjoy Sunday as Sabbath instead of work.

 

I am going to admit something that will probably come back to haunt me, but today is a day that I have “skipped” church.  I’ve spent time in my devotions and I had every intention of heading out to worship this morning, but there was something about just another cup of coffee as I sat in the silence of the room that was just so appealing.

 

 

So, I have listened to some folksy-bluegrassy-gospel music in the background while I have been reading, washing clothes and just relaxing.  So there.  I admit it.  And maybe I won’t have a whole lot of credibility the next time I give someone a sideward glance when they offer an excuse for missing worship, but this morning this is what I needed.  Sometimes it is necessary for us to just rest in the arms of the one who gave his life for us “while we were yet sinners.”

See you in a couple of weeks.

 

 

 

 

Transfiguration Sunday 2013 Sermon

 

The following sermon was preached at Rising Fawn and Sand Mountain United Methodist Churches on February 10, 2013.

Gracious God, open our ears that we may hear your truth, open our eyes that we may see your kingdom, open our hearts and minds that we may know the cries of our brothers and sisters who are hungry and hurting and dying without the knowledge of your love for them.  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts together be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

 

 

We’ve been to the mountaintop, we’ve seen the glory of our God, He is here, in the valley low, he’s here, I feel it in my bones, our God, He is here, we are the body of our God…

So goes the chorus of Mountaintop, one of the songs introduced to our youth this year by the worship band at Resurrection 2013, The City Harmonic.

Many of us have had them, those mountaintop experiences, those times when we felt like we were on top of the world, really happy, confident that we knew all the answers, could solve any problem that came up. Or we felt that we were really close to God, really in tune with God’s plan for us. In those moments we were excited and alive, and everything seemed new.

The moment might have come at some exciting event in your life: graduation, baptism, your first kiss, your first day on your first job, your wedding, the birth of a child, even catching your very first fish. It might have been something really spiritual, like a week at church camp or a church retreat. Or it might have been something of a smaller, quieter nature, like a very intimate conversation with your father or mother when you felt that they honestly understood what you were saying and why you felt the way you did.

As I prepared my sermon for today, I looked back on a mountaintop experience for me, it occurred in the spring of 2006 at the Holston Conference licensing school at Buffalo Mountain Camp.  Here’s what I wrote on a blog that I used to keep about that experience.

The first weekend of the Holston Conference Local Pastor’s Licensing School has come and gone…and all I can say is WOW!

From the time that we arrived on Thursday until we left on Sunday afternoon, we were in the presence of the Holy Spirit as we shared laughter, tears, prayer and worship together. Our instructors, facilitators and leaders were great.

The educational sessions were inspiring and full of information for us to process. The worship was spirit filled and spirit led. The fellowship and camaraderie was beyond anything that I would have imagined. We formed bonds that will help to sustain us not only through the school, but through our ministry as well.

Saturday night closed with a very emotional worship service where many of us shared testimony, joys and concerns. But most of all, we shared community. Following the service, we stayed up for several hours of late night conversation and fellowship. We were experiencing a high that we didn’t want to end.

On Sunday morning, we gathered together to de-construct and evaluate the weekend, get our assignments for the next weekend and worship. We opened and closed the weekend with communion. We came as strangers with a common calling and we left as a community in the truest sense of the word.

We call these “mountaintop experiences,” and oh how we hate to come down off that mountain! We want to hang on to that moment for as long as we can. “Let’s just stay right here and let the rest of the world go by for a while,” we say. But to freeze that one moment in time shuts off the possibility of the next moment.

In the Gospel reading for today we hear the writer of Luke give his version of the event which we call “The Transfiguration of Jesus.” Matthew and Mark also contain an account of this strange occurrence, with some minor variations in the telling. It’s one of those rare moments we were just talking about, one of those mountaintop experiences of life, which somehow defy adequate description and challenge us to stretch our concept of reality to the point that we usually wind up asking the question, “Did this really happen?” Events such as the Transfiguration somehow connect us with the mystery of creation and eternity.

For Jesus it was a time of confirmation and affirmation of his ministry. For Peter, James, and John it was a brief glimpse of the transcendent, a peek at the reality that lies just beyond everyday life.

But notice that Jesus quickly led the disciples back down off that mountaintop – in spite of Peter’s desire to pitch a tent and camp there for a long while. Jesus led them back into the daily routine of teaching and preaching and caring for the broken and hurting people of the world they lived in, back to the reality of life in the valley.

And here’s the thing, the same Jesus who leads us to those spiritual high places also leads us to care for the hurting, broken-hearted children; to minister to the homeless; to bind up the wounds of a broken world, or simply to tend to the needs of a brother or sister. When you experience the mountaintop, don’t forget the valley below. Jesus is there in the valley in that foul-smelling nursing home; Jesus is there in the valley of fears and the tears of everyday life; Jesus is there in the valley of the joy of the birth of a child; Jesus is there in the valley of the aching loneliness of the shut-in. Jesus is there at the repeated failures of his followers.

Perhaps you have heard the story of the preacher who moved to his new Church. This particular church didn’t have a lawn mower so he was looking for someone to either mow the lawn or sell him a used lawnmower. One day he saw a young man going by pushing a lawnmower. So the preacher asked him, “Hey, looking for a job?” The young man said, “Sure.” It turned out that he was mowing yards and trying to earn enough money to buy a bicycle. This preacher was kind of young and didn’t mind mowing the yard so he told the young man, “Look, I’ve got a 10 speed bicycle that I never ride any more. What do you say we trade the bicycle for the lawnmower.”

Well, the young man was ecstatic. They swapped and the young man took off on the bicycle. He rode around the block and came back to see the preacher standing in the same place wiping sweat off his brow. The preacher waved the boy over and said, “Hey, I’ve pulled on the rope a half a dozen times and this lawn mower just won’t start.”

The young man said, “Preacher, I hate to tell you this but it’s a special kind of lawnmower. You have to cuss it to get it to start.”

The preacher looked at him and said, “Well, I’ve been in the ministry so long I don’t think I can remember how to cuss.”

The young man grinned and said, “Pull on the rope some more and it’ll come back to you.”

The point is this, we ought not stay on the mountaintop so long that we forget what it is like to be in the crowd, we shouldn’t forget what it is like to pull on a stubborn lawn mower. I know from personal experience, that mowing a lawn is a sure way to keep your feet firmly in the valley.

But Peter needed the mountaintop. We all do. It’s there that he learned he needed to listen to Jesus. God himself helped Peter understand this. We all have had those moments or we wouldn’t be here, moments when we learned we needed to listen to Jesus. But let me tell you a wonderful little secret. Peter did not go up the mountain to find God. God brought Peter up that mountain. God revealed himself to Peter. We don’t find God up on mountains. God finds us.

In the book, Unconditional Love, Father John Powell tells of a young man, Tommy, a student in his college class, The Theology of Faith. Tommy turns out to be the “atheist in residence” in the course. He constantly objected to, smirked at, or whined about the possibility of an unconditionally loving Father-God.

At the end of the course he asked in a slightly cynical tone: “Do you think I’ll ever find God?” Powell decided on a little shock therapy. “No!” he said. “Oh,” Tommy responded, “I thought that was the product you were pushing.” I let him get five steps from the door and then called out: “Tommy! I don’t think you’ll ever find him but I’m absolutely certain he will find you!” He shrugged a little and left my class and my life.

Later, I heard a report that Tom had graduated, and I was duly grateful. Then a sad report, Tommy had a terminal illness. Before I could search him out, he came to see me.

“Tommy, I’ve thought about you so often. I hear you are sick.”

“O yes, very sick.”… “Can you talk about it?”

“Sure. What would you like to know?”

“What’s it like to be only 24 and dying?”

“Well, it could be worse.” “Like what?”

“Well, like being 50 and having no values or ideals, like being 50 and thinking that booze, and making money are the real ‘biggies’ in life.”

“But what I really came to see you about,” Tom said, “is something you said to me on the last day of class. I asked you if you thought I would ever find God and you said, ‘No!’ which surprised me. Then you said, ‘But he will find you.’ I thought about that a lot, even though my search for God was not at all intense at that time.

“One day I woke up, and decided to spend what time I had doing something more profitable. I thought about you and your class, and remembered something else you said: ‘The essential sadness is to go through life without living. But it would be almost equally sad to go through life and leave this world without ever telling those you loved that you had loved them.’ So I began with the hardest one, my dad.

“He was reading the newspaper when I approached him. ‘Dad?’ ‘Yes, what?’ he asked without lowering the newspaper. ‘Dad, I would like to talk with you.’ ‘Well, talk.’ ‘I mean, it’s really important.’ The newspaper came down three slow inches. ‘What is it?’ ‘Dad, I love you. I just wanted you to know that. ’ The newspaper fluttered to the floor. Then my father did two things I could not remember him ever doing before. He cried, and he hugged me. It felt so good to be close to my father, to see his tears, to feel his hug, to hear him say that he loved me.

“It was easier with my mother and little brother. We shared things we had been keeping secret for so many years.

“Then one day I turned around, and God was there. Apparently, God does things in his own way and at his own hour.

“But the important thing is that he was there. He found me. You were right. He found me even after I stopped looking for him.”

On the mountain of Transfiguration God reveals himself to us. He finds us. Reveals to us his plan. It’s found in Jesus. We are to listen to him. Have you come to a place in your life where you have listened? Listened to his parables, learned from his teachings, watched his miracles, felt his sacrificial love? If you haven’t you need to go up. Experience the mountaintop.

If you have already listened to his parables, learned from his teachings, watched his miracles, felt his sacrificial love, then you have been there. You’ve been to the mountaintop, you’ve seen the glory of our God, and you’ve experienced that glory for yourself.  For many of you it may have been a long time ago that these things happened. But if you have experienced the mountaintop…don’t forget the valley below.

In the name of the  Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

Good News in the Ashes

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday.  The first day of the season of Lent.  A time when we, as followers of Christ, examine ourselves and see how pitiful we are in following the One whom we claim to follow.

I think that we do ourselves a disservice if we just look at the Lenten disciplines as a way of seeing how short we are from the goal because we are approaching Lent from the standpoint of what can we do to draw closer to Christ.  We fall short because how we follow Christ is not the objective.  The truth of the matter is that we can never even come close to the goal of following Christ if we lean only upon our merits and our own efforts.

When we lean on our own merits and the good things that we have done, we fall into the trap of idolizing ourselves.  When we lean solely upon God and accept his movement toward us, then we are putting ourselves in a position to be the people that God through Christ calls us to be.  We foul things up when we put ourselves in the mix.  We get it right when we live into what God has done, and is continuing to do, for us.

I will be part of the congregation at Grace Episcopal Church tomorrow morning to worship and to receive the imposition of the ashes.  I will lead the service at Rising Fawn UMC at 7:00 p.m. following a spartan meal at 6:00 as part of our usual Wednesday night activities.  If you are in the area, I invite you to join us as I invite the congregation to “observe a holy lent: by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.” (United Methodist Book of Worship, p.322)