Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Hope of the Season

Advent is a time of preparation...John the Baptist's task was to prepare the way of Jesus, the Savior. In Matthew 3:1-12 (take time to read it now), we remember what that truly means: to repent, for the kingdom of God has drawn near."

So, we turn our hearts back to God, again, in light of Christ's coming into this world. And we hope that our repentance, in fact, means something. We hope that leaning back into God's love and grace offers us a life of meaning, more so than what we turn from.

Vinita Hampton Wright of Loyola Press shares this word about Advent:

"A driving dynamic of Advent is hope. If we had nothing to hope for,
there would be no point to this season. The original hope was for a
child to be born who would bring justice and peace to the world and
who would heal the rift between humanity and God. But that larger
hope is filled with smaller ones—daily hopes that can shape us as people.

"Some hopes will shape our relationships. The Christ Child grew to be a
man who embodied forgiveness and generosity. A life of hope sees
the good in others, is patient with their shortcomings, and tenaciously
envisions them at their best.

"Some hopes will shape our work. The promised Messiah proclaimed
God’s realm of justice and mercy. No matter what jobs we do or work
positions we hold, as hopeful people we maintain fairness and integrity
as short-term and long-term goals. We make our work matter for the
common good.

"Some hopes will shape our character. Jesus exemplified hope that cultivates
true freedom. A hopeful person cannot continue in anxiety, grasping,
need for control, and habitual anger.

"How is hope visible in your life?"

We carry a hope that is full of life, one that impacts how we live, how we handle things in our life, and how we relate to others. It is a visible thing that we carry around through our interactions and our work.

Personally, I hope that the fact I am trying to return back to God in some way has a meaningful impact on how I carry myself. I want my repentance to mean something worthwhile, because it's HARD. It is hard to give up the superfluous meaning of Christmas that we learn from our culture. It is hard to give up the pressure that comes with the season. For some of you, it may be hard to be without loved ones who have passed away during this time. Returning to God is costly; you give your hope in one thing and turn it back to God. And it is worthwhile.

One of the themes of Matthew 3:1-12 is wilderness. John the Baptist is preaching in the wilderness, and he dresses and eats like a wild man. But verses 5 and 6 give us license to think that the harshest wilderness is within us. This gospel tells us that people went out to John to confess their sins. This is something that we all deal with...we sin, we see sin, and we want it out of our life. And this sermon he is preaching does not tell of what God did in the past, but what God is doing now. Us modern readers tend to place scriptures' "now" in "the past," but God's activity never stops. God keeps doing the same things (albeit in different ways). Nor is this sermon about what God is going to do some day. The Kingdom of God is at hand. 

And it is God that is at work. John the Baptist's sermon points beyond himself and to God. It is God that turns us around. It is God that hopes with us. It is God who transforms us. It is God who changes things.

Our hope is in God, who is with us, even when we try to save ourselves. Thanks be to God.


Merciful God, you sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation. Give us grace to heed their words and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

*From the United Methodist Book of Worship, 250.

In Christ,

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

In A Word: Watch

Advent is here! This is the season in the Christian calendar where we wait with hopeful expectation for the birth of Christ, and it is my favorite one of them all. Christians observe the seasons of Christmas, Lent, Easter, and the Sundays after Pentecost, also called "Kingdomtide" or "Ordinary Time."

We begin with Matthew 25: 36-44, which encourages us to "watch out" for Christ's coming. Take a moment to read that as we begin the season of Advent together.

Until I became a pastor, I had no clue that this season was my favorite one. Now, I am reflecting on why that is the case for me. Why is Advent so meaningful to me? I love to be excited, and waiting builds the anticipation and energy for me. Advent is a time of waiting, and it is a hopeful, expectant waiting. For me, Advent is a metaphor for life with Christ. All my life, I want to hopefully wait for Christ to burst onto the scene, bringing about peace, joy, and love. I want to pursue Christ, to find Christ in the world.

Where this metaphor falls short, is that Christ is already here. We are no longer waiting for Christ, but expecting Christ to be here with us...and he is. We are no longer unsure if the prophecies are true, that God would send a savior to the world. It has happened. And it keeps happening, over and over again.

This season, Advent comes at a tenuous time for Americans. Coming off the heels of a divisive presidential election, we could use some hope, love, joy, and peace. We need this reminder that God breaks through this world, and all of the things that divide it, and gives us a Savior.

This Thanksgiving, we have so much to be thankful for...our freedom in this country and through Christ, our friends, family, health, and the gift of life.

At the same time, this is not a perfect world full of perfect people. We need Christ. Many people seek hope, joy, peace, and love in the form of justice. Right now, thousands of people are standing with the Sioux Tribe of Standing Rock in North Dakota to seek justice. Many Christians have gone to preservation to stand with the tribe, who face the depletion of their water supply through the proposed Dakota State Pipeline. So, on this Thanksgiving, as we have much to be thankful for, do not forget that these Native Americans, and their friends, are fighting for their life. We need Christ in this world.

And the good news is that Christ has come. Not to make everything perfect, but to stand with us. Even as many stand with the Sioux tribe. Christ has come to show us this sort of love...a love that seeks hope, joy, and peace. As God has loved us by providing us with Christ, offering us salvation through relationship, we, too, may share in love with others.

So, we watch out for Christ...we follow Christ, letting God lead us into those places that need hope, joy, peace, and love.


O God, whose will is justice for the poor and peace for the afflicted, let your urgent voice pierce our hardened hearts and announce the dawn of your kingdom. Before the advent of the One who baptizes with the fire of the Holy Spirit, let our complacency give way to conversion, may oppression give way to justice, and from conflict may there be acceptance of one another in Christ. We ask this through the One whose coming is certain, whose day draws near: your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

*Adapted from the United Methodist Book of Worship, 252.

In Christ,


Tuesday, November 15, 2016


This Sunday, we enter into our 3rd week of our focus on stewardship. Using the book "Earn. Save. Give.," this week's focus is on saving.

I have learned a lot about stewardship from the parable of the talents found in Matthew 25" 14-30. I invite you to read that parable, too. (Stop reading this for a moment, if you wish, to do so.)

Everything we have is a gift from God. Everything: the car you drive, the place you live, the job you have, the jobs you've had, the family you were born into, the friends you have, the shoes you are wearing...everything!

One of the dictionary definitions of a steward is “a person who manages another’s property or financial affairs.” In the parable of the talents, a man asks 3 servants to steward his property. Each one responds to this request according to their character. Two servants increase their master’s investment, bringing him greater wealth and honor, and the master rewards them. But one servant acts foolishly and hides the master’s money. He is rebuked and punished. The little he was entrusted with is taken back, and he is abandoned.

Stewardship takes the idea that everything we have is a gift. If all that I am and all that I have is from God, then how should I care for and use it? Psalm 24:1 says, “[t]he earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.” Therefore, I ought to consider why God gave me what I have and use it to those ends. We have been given body, knowledge, resources and relationships, not to squander as we wish, but to glorify God. “For in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

So I invite you to consider how you use what God has given you for the glory of God. For example, I have shoes to wear, and I wear them outside to run and walk, enjoying God's creation. I have a car to drive to someone's house to be with them and share time with them. How do you spend money so that it honors God? How do I steward friendships? How do I take care of the body God gave me? How do I use knowledge and education in the best way possible?

Here is the good news: everything you do can honor God, because everything you have is God's. God is asking you to steward all you have, to manage all that you have. What a gift it is to glorify God!


Almighty God, we thank you for all the gifts You have given us: our lives, our loved ones, all that we have and all that we are. Most of all, we thank You for Jesus, your Son and our Redeemer, who came among us to show us the way to eternal life. Jesus was the perfect steward of your gifts, showing that complete trust in You is necessary. May the offerings of our time, our talents, and our material resources be made in the same spirit of sacrifice that Jesus taught us by His life and death for us. Amen.

In Christ,


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Prayers for Election Day

Last night, I attended a prayer service for our country here in Tallahassee. We prayed for unity, that Christ remains our leader, and for the officials we elect in various offices across our country, state, and county. I was once again reminded of the power of prayer. This has been an intense, divisive, and challenging year for us in this country. It has caused me much anxiety, stress, and worry. That all went away as we prayed together to God.

We read John 17: 20-23 together:

 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in usso that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

We read Ephesians 4: 1-5 together:

(Paul writing) "I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

and we prayed together:

Out of gratitude for your many gifts, O God, and trusting in your abiding faithfulness…

We pray for our president elect, that they will lead our country with strength and compassion; that they may represent the very best of the United States around the globe; that they may be committed to justice and peace, and bringing our nation together to address our challenges.

Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray for our governors and legislators, that they will be responsive to their whole constituency and enact laws that ensure the wellbeing of all the people they represent.

Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray for all others elected to public office, that their service to their people would be just and beyond reproach; that where ever they serve in local government, schools, or law enforcement, they would treat all people with dignity and serve the common good.

Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray for our nation, our cities, and our neighborhoods, that together we can create a place where all people are respected and safe, where difference of opinion does not lead to violence, and where our combined creativity heals brokenness of all kinds.

Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray also that regardless of the outcome of this Election Day, we would remember that we are called by Christ to care for our neighbor, pursue peace and work for justice in our communities.  Inspire us to work together, across divisions and difference, to create beloved community where ever we can.

Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray all of these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

We concluded with a prayer that our very own Bishop Carter wrote 8 years ago. I sent this prayer out to the congregation here at Gray Memorial, and offer it once more:

Creator of us all:
you are the source of every blessing,
the judge of every nation
and the hope of earth and heaven:

We pray to you on the eve of this important and historic election.

We call to mind the best that is within us:
That we live under God,
that we are indivisible,
that liberty and justice extend to all.

We acknowledge the sin that runs through our history as a nation:
The displacement of native peoples, racial injustice,
economic inequity, regional separation.

And yet we profess a deep and abiding gratitude
for the goodness of ordinary people who have made sacrifices,
who have sought opportunities,
who have journeyed to this land as immigrants
strengthening its promise in successive generations,
who have found freedom on these shores,
and defended this freedom at tremendous cost.

Be with us in the days that are near.
Remind us that your ways are not our ways,
that your power and might transcend
the plans of every nation,
that you are not mocked.

Let those who follow your Son Jesus Christ be a peaceable people
in the midst of division.

Send your Spirit of peace, justice and freedom upon us,
break down the walls of political partisanship,
and make us one.

Give us wisdom to walk in your ways,
courage to speak in your name,
and humility to trust in your providence.



With hope, joy, peace, and love, through faith in Christ,



Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Earn. Save. Give.: Wisdom

The month of November begins our focus, here at Gray Memorial UMC, on stewardship. To help guide us through this important focus, we will be using Jim Harnish's book "Earn. Save. Give." This is a resource that seeks to uncover and contextualize John Wesley's concept of stewardship: “Gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.” (John Wesley, The Use of Money, 1744). This concept guided John Wesley's life; he was a great steward of what God had given him. This led him to be very generous with his money; he died with almost nothing to his name.

Harnish begins his book with a statement: "we don't need more money, we need more wisdom," and highlights the book of Proverbs 3:


"Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not rely on your own insight.
 In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths."


"Happy are those who find wisdom,
    and those who get understanding,
 for her income is better than silver,
    and her revenue better than gold."

From these words from Scripture, I think we can understand how Harnish can say it's not about how much money we have, but how wise we are. It is wise to trust God with what we have. Wisdom is more valuable than silver or gold. This reminds of me of the stories of squandering money we hear from those who win the lottery. Folks get tied up in greed by over-investing their money, gambling it away, or by being such a target with their wealth that it gets stolen away. Wisdom is more valuable than silver or gold.

This is good news for anyone! Stewardship is not about how much money you give, but how wise you are with your resources (that goes beyond finances, by the way---your time and talents are also resources we must be wise with, for example).

I love the Christian concept of stewardship. God has asked us from the beginning of creation to be good stewards of what we have: "And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it" (Genesis 2:15). God has asked us to be thankful for what we have, and understand that it comes from God. That means we can trust God with what we have. We can be generous with our resources because they are not really ours, because they can serve a greater purpose than serving ourselves, because we can offer them up in such a way that gives honor and glory to God. It is wise to do so: I believe that taking care of what you have, giving generously, and honoring God all help us to remain thankful and joyful. This strengthens our walk with Christ as we trust God with what we have.


Oh Lord, giver of life and source of our freedom, we are reminded that Yours is “the earth in its fullness; the world and those who dwell in it.” We know that it is from your hand that we have received all we have and are and will be. Gracious and loving God, we understand that you call us to be the stewards of Your gifts, the caretakers of all you have entrusted to us. Help us always to use your gifts wisely and teach us to share them generously. May our faithful stewardship bear witness to the love of Christ in our lives. We pray this with grateful hearts in Jesus’ name. Amen.

In Christ,