Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Joyful Obedience

This week, we conclude our 3 week preaching series about Holy Communion, with a sermon focused on the phrase "Joyful Obedience." This phrase is uttered as we pray for the pardon of our sins before we come and receive the Lord's Supper; we say it as we approach the Table. In order to illustrate what joyful obedience looks like, we will take a close look at the story of the Good Samaritan. I, for one, have never looked at it from this angle, and I am excited to see what we may discover together.

I encourage you you to read this parable in Luke 10:25-37, and think about the innkeeper and "joyful obedience." See where God may lead you...

The historical accuracy of the following story hasn't been confirmed, although it has been cited in several scholarly studies, of which I will not bore you with. Whether this truly happened or not (I believe it certainly could have), it brings up a good point for us to chew on as we approach the Table together on Sunday, and think about how what we say and do matters to us, and to God.

During the US civil war Abraham Lincoln met with a group of ministers for a prayer breakfast. Lincoln was not a church-goer but was a man of deep, if at times unorthodox, faith. At one point one of the ministers said, “Mr President, let us pray that God is on our side”. Lincoln’s response showed far greater insight, “No, gentlemen, let us pray that we are on God’s side.”

Yes, religion has its "wars," its controversies, issues, disagreements, points of disunity, disjointment (is that a word?), disfigurement...its "sides." We do not always agree on the ways in which we are to love God and neighbor. We do not always agree on the ways in which to live and love. So, we have our sides. We have our ways. All the while, we may believe that God is on our side and not the other. Although I do not believe that this language of "sides" is very helpful, Lincoln's story here brings up a good point: that what we say and do, how we live and love, does actually matter. We have the opportunity to do these things, to live our lives, not out of side-picking, but out of obedience to God.

But we also pray for God to "free us for joyful obedience..." This phrase is one of my favorite pieces of liturgy. It stands out for me because it is so peculiar to me. How in the world can I obey out of joy??? Obedience usually comes from a sense of obligation and duty...these are not quite the joyful attitudes that this prayer of confession calls for.

When I was a child, like most, I wanted to spend my time after school playing with my friends outside or upstairs with the video games. That brought me joy. It was a huge drag to stop playing and to come to the kitchen to help with dinner. My brother and I each had our jobs: one would set the table and one would help either clear the mess made as dinner was prepared or with the food itself (this was usually me). So when I was called inside or downstairs, it was not with joy, but out of a sense of obligation.

As the years went by, I did find joy in helping with dinner, no matter what it took me from. It brought me joy to spend a little bit of "extra" time with my mom, to talk about my day, to listen and be with her, and to help contribute to a special time we had as a family at our dinner table. Sure, part of this change for me was because I was growing up, learning about what was really important in life. But I also believe that this shift in attitude happened for me because I was not focusing on the job, but on the time spent with my mom.

The same can be in our lives as Christians. I don't think I am alone in saying that I struggle in my walk with God (so I/we confess before we approach the Table). When I struggle the most is when I see what I think God wants me to do (pray, do my morning devotions, serve when it's my "time off"...) as tasks to accomplish, as jobs to do...there is this heavy wait of obligation over my head. When my walk is actually going somewhere with God is when God and I agree that my spiritual life, my life of walking with God, does in fact bring me more joy than I could have ever dreamed. Joy is possible out of these things. Joy may come from obedience.

Prayer of Confession*

Merciful God,
we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.
We have failed to be an obedient church.
We have not done your will,
   we have broken your law,
   we have rebelled against your love,
   we have not loved our neighbors,
   and we have not heard the cry of the needy.
Forgive us, we pray.
Free us for joyful obedience,
      through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Hear the good news: You are are forgiven, you are free.

United Methodist Hymnal, 12.

In Christ,


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

What We Say and Do: Communion---Pour Out Your Holy Spirit


This week at Gray we continue our preaching series, focusing on Communion, focusing on what we say and do in relation to the Holy Spirit. The prayer "pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here,
and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ,
that we may be for the world the body of Christ."

A few Sundays ago we, along with many Christian churches across the world, celebrated Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the so-called "birth" of the Church. In the text that contains the Day of Pentecost, Acts 2, Peter addresses the crowd by citing Joel 2: "God declares,
that I (God) will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh." The same type of language finds its way into our liturgy as we receive Communion together: "Pour out your Holy Spirit...." What we say and what we do as we worship God, as we live our lives, matters. You are playing a part in the grand drama of God. You are a part of God's story, and God is a part of yours.

Acts is a fascinating book that tells a story, too. It tells the story of the spread of the gospel, the spread of Jesus followers, amazing sermons, stories of people's lives being changed by this good news of salvation through Jesus Christ bring offered to them, and the formation of this community of followers.

Speeches and sermons in the book of Acts follow a certain pattern that may help us think about what life with God means; what the outpouring of the Holy Spirit actually looks like. You will find that speakers in Acts do a great job of telling a story as they share the gospel. The flow in these speeches/sermons looks a little like this, with Acts 2 as an example:

a.) What Jesus did 

By the power of God he did miracles and wonders and signs (v. 22); he did the impossible; he brought life where otherwise there would only be death

b.) What you did

this man...you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law (v. 23)

c.) What God did

But God raised him up, having freed him from death (v. 24); God did not intervene in the human attempt to kill Jesus; God did not prevent the Cross but changed its meaning and its effect; God raised Jesus up from the dead

d.) What we are doing now

 This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses (v.32); we share in the power to have new life through Jesus Christ

e.) What you can do

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “...what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ (v. 37); the message is not only what has happened, but what might happen if we allow this good news to take root in our lives

When we invoke the Holy Spirit at the time when we receive Holy Communion, we are asking God to make us part the story of God unfolding in this life. We are asking that God be part of our story, our lives. We are asking for the elements of the meal to be more than bread and juice, but to change us from the inside out. God has done that. God is doing that. God can keep doing that. 

Will you let the Holy Spirit be poured into your life? 


O God, the Holy Spirit,
 Come to us, and among us;
 Come as the wind, and cleanse us;
 Come as the fire, and burn;
 Come as the dew, and refresh;
Convict, convert, and consecrate
 Many hearts and lives
 To our great good
 And to Your greater glory;
And this we ask for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.

*United Methodist Hymnal, 335.

In Christ, 


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

What We Say and Do: Communion

As I look back at my call to ministry, many experiences and opportunities helped to shape me and bring to me where I am today. One of those moments I recall was at my home church in Orlando, St. Luke's UMC, during a Communion service. This was a Youth Sunday, where young people led every aspect of the service. I got to help serve Communion that day. I got to see each person's face as they received the elements of the Lord's Supper with their faith community. I got to say to the gathered people that morning, "this is the cup of salvation, poured out for you." I fought to keep back tears that morning, and serving in this way to a congregation I pastor here at Gray Memorial still has the same impact on me. It moves me.

One thing that I do when I hand someone the bread of life, the symbolic body of Christ, is look them in the face and say their name. I do this not only because our congregation is small enough to remember everyone's name, but because I think this is what Jesus does for us (if there is a visitor who's name I do not know, I ask them). Jesus calls us all by name to the Table of the Lord. He knows your doubts, your fears, your sins, your talents, gifts, and graces...Jesus knows you and calls you. The meal is for you, not for same faceless, nameless person. 

So for the next 3 weeks, I will be preaching about Communion in a series called "What We Say and Do." We will look upon Luke 22: 7-20 when Jesus spent time with his disciples, giving them the bread and wine that symbolized all that he came to do during his life and ministry. This sermon series comes on the heels of the celebration of Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit came upon the followers of Jesus and gave birth to our Church. We discovered on Pentecost Sunday that the Holy Spirit seeks to provide teaching, clarity, and understanding to what Jesus said and did in his ministry. The Holy Spirit with the Church means that what we say and do does really matter. It tells the story of history and helps to bring Jesus' life and ministry into the present day. As we at Gray Memorial move towards receiving Communion more frequently together (1st and 3rd Sundays), I pray that we truly encounter the living God through this holy practice. I pray that the Holy Spirit is with us in a way that we receive fresh clarity on how what we do matters. I pray that Jesus is alive for you and your life.


Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
such a joy as none can move,
such a love as none can part,
such a heart as joys in love. * Amen.

*"Come, My Way, My Truth, My Life," United Methodist Hymnal 164

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Pentecost: Believe in Me

This upcoming Sunday is Pentecost Sunday. On this day, we remember the Holy Spirit coming over followers of Jesus, thus empowering them to be the Church. God was revealed in a most unusual and powerful way that day, and so we come together to be renewed and refreshed by such a witness to God's presence in the world.

For as much as we, the Church, confess to believe in the Holy Spirit, there is still so much mystery wrapped around just what the Holy Spirit is. Jesus gives us a clue in John 14 calling the Holy Spirit the "advocate" or the "helper," but still the mystery remains.

This is completely frustrating to me. One of the most challenging aspects of being a Christ-follower, for me, is all of the mystery wrapped around it. A question that has helped me live with this mystery of the Holy Spirit, however, is not "what does the Holy Spirit do?" or "what does it mean for the Church to have the Holy Spirit?"

I turn to the The Rev. Dr. Hal Brady, a retired United Methodist elder, for some ideas in a sermon he gave on Pentecost Sunday in 2013  (you can view his entire sermon manuscript by clicking the link here). Brady points out that:

---Pentecost means that Jesus is forever present!

---Pentecost means the church community is empowered! Initially, we see this empowerment in the community "coming together." Next, we see this empowerment in the community "going public."

---Pentecost means that there are certain languages that everybody understands!

Pentecost means that Jesus is forever present. The late Dr. Albert Outler, a Methodist theologian and scholar, expressed this beautifully when he said, "Pentecost's consequence was that Jesus became alive again, and powerful, and forever thereafter present, wherever two or three are gathered in His name." Then he said, "Jesus was no longer a has been." What does it mean to you that Jesus is not a "has been"? For me, it means that Jesus was not simply a historical figure (no one can deny that a man named Jesus from Nazareth lived and was crucified), but a figure that transcends death and sets me free. It means that I can live with the peace, love, hope, and joy that I can't really get from anything else. Jesus "has been" a great prophet and minister, and Jesus today is still with us as.

Pentecost means the church community is empowered! We are not simply a place for people to be, but a people becoming connected to God in ways that can change our lives and change the world. The Church is more than a place to come, but a platform for God to be known in the world. I see the Holy Spirit empowering the Church to help stop malaria in Africa. I see the Church being empowered to serve the under privileged in my community. I see the Church being empowered to change the lives of people who were once lost, but now have been found through the expression of God's love in community. Yes, the Church "comes together," to worship God and share in Christian love and fellowship. There is power and meaning in the gathering of Christ followers. But the Church has also "gone public." The Church, at its best, is the hope of the world because of this.

Pentecost means that there are certain "languages" that everybody understands. I put quotes around that word because much of the language that is understood in this way is not spoken, but seen and felt. When someone helps you and you know they care about you. When someone sits next to you in your darkest hour, not speaking a word. When someone smiles at you.

But there are also ways that the Holy Spirit bridges the gap between you and someone that is different than you. Brady shares this story:

There was a little Christian lady from my hometown named Ethel Young. Every Sunday for 25 years Miss Ethel went to the City County Jail to teach the prisoners their Sunday School lesson. It didn't matter to her whether these prisoners had committed a major or a minor crime, whether they were black, white or whatever. Every Sunday for 25 years she was faithfully there.

Then one Sunday Miss Ethel had to miss because she was ill. During her illness she received many get well cards, the kind you and I might receive or send. Because we were friends, Miss Ethel showed me one of the cards she had received. When I opened it, there written in the messiest handwriting I have ever seen were these words: "We miss you very much." Signed, "Yours boys at the City County Jail."

So, this Pentecost Sunday, you don't have to be confused because you don't know how to exactly explain who or what the Holy Spirit is. Think about what the Holy Spirit means to you, and how you know that the Holy Spirit is part of your life with God.

In Christ,



Lord, as at that first Pentecost, we ask that you do it again. Let your Holy Spirit so fill us as individuals and churches that we may be empowered anew to become your instruments of healing and hope and transformation in a world of desperate need. So bind our faith and works together in a new wholeness that we may make a profound difference and bring glory to your Holy Name. Amen.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Rewriting Your Story: Mother's Day

This Sunday at Gray, Nick Quinton will be joining us and sharing the message. He is going to begin his role as Pastor at Lake Jackson UMC on July 1. He is a friend of mine that I met through serving on the Board of Directors at FSU Wesley. He also teaches at Trinity UMC downtown, as well as at FSU. He will be with you while I am out of town in Orlando with my family. I still haven't met my new nephew, who is now 1 month old! I look forward to being with my family, but will miss you all this weekend.

Sunday is Mother's Day! The last 6 weeks, we have been looking at how God has rewritten our story, how our lives have been changed by God. Without a doubt my mom has changed my life. She has been a constant comfort for me. She is one of the first people I go to when something significant happens in my life. She is funny, beautiful, caring, and I consider her a friend. She reminds me, by her actions, that God loves me.

I offer you this Mother's Day poem in appreciation for my mom, and all you moms, grandmas, and great grandmas, and care takers out there!

Hundreds of stars in the pretty sky,
Hundreds of shells on the shore together,
Hundreds of birds that go singing by,
Hundreds of lambs in the sunny weather.
Hundreds of dewdrops to greet the dawn,
Hundreds of bees in the purple clover,
Hundreds of butterflies on the lawn,
But only one mother the world wide over 

by George Cooper

Moms are one of a kind. In our beautiful world that God has created, they stand out. Thank you for all  that you do, and may God bless you and keep you, and make His face to shine on you and through you.

Now, to those of us who are not moms, Mother's Day can still be a special day for us. Some of your moms are gone. Some of us are male. Some have never known their biological mother. Some do not have children yet. Some do not want children and don't ever plan on being a mother. Still, Mother's Day can be an occasion for you to give thanks to God for all of the mothers out there. The world needs moms who love, care,and  provide; who comfort, guide, and protect; who nurture, laugh, and counsel. And there are millions of them doing these things, and more.

Moms change lives. Mine certainly did.


Loving God, as a mother gives life and nourishment to her children, so you watch over your Church.
Bless these women, that they may be strengthened as Christian mothers.
Let the example of their faith and love shine forth.
Grant that we, their sons and daughters, may honor them and love them always with a spirit of profound respect and appreciation.
Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

*adapted from Book of Blessings, U.S.A. as found in the United Methodist Book of Worship

In Christ,