Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Coming Soon: Stay Tuned!

Have you ever been watching a great TV show, and suddenly it ends on a cliffhanger? The dual feeling of disappointment that it's over and resolved and the anticipation for what happens next resounds suddenly out of the sound of a gasp or the throwing up of our hands. Our minds begin to wander and wonder about the possibilities of what is to come for the characters, the story, and how we may feel about it.

Or what about the feeling you get after a trailer/preview for a movie? You see the characters on screen again, you remember the plot that surely will tie up loose ends and take the story further. You begin to anticipate the continuation, or the beginning, the end, of a story, a journey, a life...

Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent, the season of the Church in which the birth of Christ is anticipated. The Church does not simply wait to celebrate Christmas, but prepares itself for the breaking in of God in flesh with us in a newborn baby. It is kind of like a movie trailer or preview. Advent provides the means to prepare, to anticipate, to wait...

I love the season of Advent because it is counter-cultural to wait. It seems nowadays, with the world at our fingertips, we have become impatient; we have lost the beauty in preparing, anticipating, for waiting. The season of Advent allows me to build up my excitement for Christmas! The words that we reflect on in the Church--hope, love, joy, peace, Christ--help me to wait well. This kind of waiting does not yield questions (like the ones I used to utter in the car on road trips) "are we there yet?" "why is it taking so long?" "can't you go any faster?" No, Advent yields questions like "what beauty lies in waiting?" "how is God preparing me to receive Christ" or "what will I do once Christ is here?"

The gospel lesson this week is Mark 13:24-37. Take a moment to read it...

The passage talks about the second coming of Christ; when Jesus will come again in all of his power and glory. In a preview scene of the coming of Christ, a fig tree's branch becomes tender and puts forth it leaves, and summer breaks through...

This passage is not about Jesus being born at Christmas, but it is about God coming into this world in a new way. We are waiting for that day, and we can anticipate, prepare, and wait for that day just like we wait for Christmas in Advent. In this way, our life is an Advent as we purposefully wait for Christ to come again. And the best of all is that God is with us...we have this hope.


Come thou long-expected Jesus,
Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

*Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus, United Methodist Hymnal, 196.

In Christ,


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Christ is King

Happy (early) Thanksgiving! Recently I was having a brief conversation with someone here at the church, and we were reflecting on how Thanksgiving does not get much publicity. We want to rush straight towards Christmas. In our stores, and even our churches and homes, it's already beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

#SaveThanksgiving is a trend I am seeing online-maybe there is hope yet!

Thanksgiving is a great holiday. The gospels, especially the gospel of Luke, share quite a bit about Jesus also joining people around tables to share a meal. There are at least 8 occasions in Luke alone! (5:27-32, 7:36-50, 9:10-17, 10:38-42 [implied], 11:37-52, 14:1-24, 19:1-10 [implied], 22:14-38, 24:28-32, 24:36-43)

He ate with tax collectors, sinners, followers, crowds, pharisees, lawyers, apostles, and many others who were guests at these tables.

Jesus recognized the power and influence of gathering around a table for a meal and a conversation. These were not simply occasions to fill the belly, but to fill souls. He offered himself at these tables in different ways--for healing, guiding, teaching, leading, and simply to be a guest in someone's house. So as you gather around your tables of thanksgiving, know that you are doing one of the things that Jesus loved to do, and thought it was important to do!

This Sunday in the life of the church, also known as the liturgy, we Christians observe Christ the King Sunday. This image of Jesus Christ as King does not really match up well with him dining at tables in other people's homes, does it? When I picture a King eating, it is at some banquet hall in a palace, not at a wooden table next to someone else's porch or living room. In Jesus Christ, we have a complete picture of what a King is: he lays down his life for those who loves, he works for peace and justice in the world, and he calls his people to model his behavior, so that we may find life and purpose here. So, that's why he eats with people in their own homes and places. That is why he died on a cross. And that is why he has the heart, and the authority, to ask us to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22: 37-39).

Our gospel focus will be Matthew 25: 31-46. Take a moment to read it...

The lesson begins in a grand way: the Son of Man will come and judge the nations on his throne with the angels surrounding. Everyone will be there, and the Son of Man will begin the final judgement. This sort of imagery and language was quite similar to what those gathered have heard. It echoes some of the psalms and passages in Ezekiel and Daniel.

But then Jesus starts saying things they have never heard before. He begins talking about who will come into the Kingdom of God, and it won't be the righteous that they expect. It will be those who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and visited the lonely. Jesus says that when you do these things for God, God will welcome you. These are the "least of these" that Jesus speaks of. They are the people in need around you. They are your neighbors. When you see them, Jesus posits, you see the face of God. "But when did we do this for you?" they asked. "You did it for me, when you did it for those in need." Christ is the King. Amen.


Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love,
show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you.

Neighbors are rich and poor,
varied in color and race,
neighbors are near and far away.

These are the ones we should serve,
these are the ones we should love;
all these are neighbors to us and you.


*The United Methodist Hymnal, 432.

In Christ,


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Filling Stations

Here at GMUMC, we are wrapping up a sermon series about what it means to be the C/church. This week, we are learning from Matthew 25:1-13, the parable of the ten bridesmaids. Take time to read it...read it here

One of the messages of this parable is about timeliness, and what we are to do while we wait. And we hate to wait. Whether its on the phone for the next customer service representative, in our cars as we slow to 20mph through a school zone, to endure a slow internet connection, or at the doctor's office for our never-on-time appointment, waiting is hard.

Jesus is teaching about the kingdom of God. It will be like this...ten bridesmaids wait for the wedding, but the foolish ones ran out of oil for their lamps, while the wise ones were prepared for the delay.

Jesus is teaching us to embrace the waiting, not by twiddling our thumbs, but actively "filling our lamps." We become filling stations of oil for our lamps. The wise bridesmaids also keep their light shining for their community around them. They provide the light by which others may actively wait.

As a metaphor, these bridesmaids model active discipleship as the waiting continues for the coming fullness of the kingdom of God. To be like them is to shed light on the kingdom that is already here, although not fully here. We are able to pursue God by following Jesus--seeking God through studying the scriptures, loving our neighbor with acts of mercy and justice, and worshiping God with our life. We can't do that without being filled. That is something we can do! We can be prepared for the kingdom by being ready to be filled by God through prayer, worship, service, by pursuing God now, not just waiting for Jesus to come again. This is the essence of life of discipleship, and it actually makes a difference in the world. By our light, others may see God at work in the world.

Let's face it, waiting is awful. When I have to wait, I get anxious. I start thinking about what could go wrong, about what I may have forgotten. I get distracted, worried, and over time I may even lose hope in what I am waiting for. Jesus tells us through this parable that it doesn't have to be this way as we "wait" on God. We can be prepared, and share our light with the world. We can live our life in hopeful anticipation that God will use us and prepare us.

Fill yourself up. Let your light shine. Have hope. Be at peace.


O let me feel thee near me!
The world is ever near;
I see the sights that dazzle,
the tempting sounds I hear;
my foes are ever near me,
around me and within;
but Jesus, draw thou nearer,
and shield my soul from sin.

*O Jesus, I Have Promised, The United Methodist Hymnal Number 396

In Christ,


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Accidental Saints

This image represents the communion of saints. It seems to me that this may represent heaven, but doesn't it also look like a hopeful vision about life on earth?

Bob Ross was a painter. He had a TV show on PBS called "The Joy of Painting." His specialty was painting mountainous landscapes full of trees. Oftentimes, he would make a mistake and turn it into a tree, a bird, or another part of the landscapes. He called these mistakes "happy accidents."

Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran (ELCA) minister in Denver, the founding pastor of House of All Sinners and Saints. She is awesome, not just because of her cool haircut and beautiful tattoos. She preaches and teaches an amazing theology of sainthood. One of her books is called "Accidental Saints." If you can get passed her language (she is brutally and beautifully honest), it is a great book.

As we approach All Saints Sunday, I'd like to share some of what she says with you in the book and reflect with you about what makes someone a "saint." 

But first, let's start with scripture (always a good idea, right!?).    

The word for "saint" translated from the Greek is "ἅγιος" (hagios). It derives from the verb ἁγιάζω (hagiazo), which means "to set apart", "to sanctify", or "to make holy." The word is used 229 times in the New Testament! 

Second, let's look at how the Church thinks about saints in a traditional sense. Officially, Christians believe that all people who are "in Christ" are saints. All believers are saints. Cool, huh!? Whether living or in heaven, your faith in Christ makes you a saint. But what about Saint Augustine and all of them? What's different about them? Well, the Catholic Church "venerates" or "honors" or "canonizes" some saints over others over and above as exemplary followers of Christ. 

Protestants (like Methodists or Baptists or Presbyterians or... Lutherans!....) are all over the map about what it means to be a saint--but it comes down to believing in Christ and modelling Christ-like behavior and Scripture...and it doesn't matter if you are alive or in heaven. 

OK, back to Nadia. Her book is amazing. Here are some things she says:

“Never once did Jesus scan the room for the best example of  holy living and send that person out to tell others about him. He always sent stumblers and sinners. I find that comforting.” 

“Sometimes the fact that there is nothing about you that makes you the right person to do something is exactly what God is looking for.” 

“it has been my experience that what makes us the saints of  God is not our ability to be saintly but rather God’s ability to work through sinners.” 

― Nadia Bolz-Weber, Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People

So, if you STILL don't think you're a saint...consider those people in your life, you WOULD consider one. Were they perfect? Were they the best Christian ever? Did they fall short? Did they get angry? Were they a sinner? Did they love God? Did they follow Jesus?...

Like a "happy accident" in one Bob Ross's paintings, saints are accidental. They are not perfect, but they are known and created by a God who loves them. You are part of God's picture. I think God tries or hopes really hard for a relationship with all of us. All 7 billion of us happy accidents. When we try back, we become saints. And by the way, God does not make mistakes ;)

*The church's one foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord;
we are his new creation by water and the Word;
from heaven he came and sought us that we might ever be
his living servant people, by his own death set free. 

Thank you, Jesus. May it be. Let it be. Amen.

*United Methodist Hymnal, 547.

In Christ, 


Monday, October 23, 2017

Lawyer Up

Ten Commandments, illustrative wood relief,
from a Catholic Church in southern Poland, 
from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

If Christianity were a table or a chair, something that needed "legs" to stand on, the words that were spoken by Jesus in Matthew 22: 37-40 could be one of them. As the religious leaders attempted to piece together a case for Jesus' arrest, Jesus was tested several times. He was questioned about paying taxes to the emperor, about his future resurrection, and then about the law. "Which commandment is the greatest?" a lawyer asks Jesus (lawyers were experts in religious law and also teachers of it). He answers confidently and succinctly: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment." But he wasn't done yet: "And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” These are the legs in which the entire law (stemming from the Ten Commandments) stands on.

This year marks the 500th year of the Protestant Reformation. The movement of reform began around this time in 1517, when Martin Luther hung a list of 95 theses (originally called the “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences) on the door of the Wittenburg Castle church in Germany. Martin Luther was an aspiring lawyer. After enrolling in law school, he was changed by a dramatic encounter with God during a storm. This is an interesting story for another time, but suffice it to say that this proved to be a moment in his life where he was changed. He left law school, sold all of his books, and entered a monastery and began his studies of theology and philosophy.

Back to these theses: they contained a template for discussion and debate, written in a rather tame and academic form. The foundations of the theses centered around 2 propositions standing in opposition to the Catholic Church, which sparked the reform of it: "that the Bible is the central religious authority and that humans may reach salvation only by their faith and not by their deeds" (Martin Luther, 95 theses). The Catholic Church gave much authority to their leadership and did not believe in salvation by faith alone.

The book of James (2:14-16) makes the claim that "faith without works is dead," a motif that John Wesley (the "father of Methodism) would adapt as well. In his sermon "On Faith," Wesley asks the question: "But what is the faith which is properly saving; which brings eternal salvation to all those that keep it to the end?" He answers, saying: "It is such a divine conviction of God, and the things of God, as, even in its infant state, enables every one that possesses it to "fear God and work righteousness."

It is faith that saves us, and the response to such a faith is how we work towards holiness and righteousness. It is not our work that saves us, but our faith, but how we live in the world and treat one another is evidence of that faith in God.

Love God, Love Neighbor. 

When we love God, we will inevitably love our neighbor, for our faith is not quiet, but shows up in the way we behave, in our character, and how we love our neighbor.

In this 500th year of challenging the church to elevate the authority of Scripture as well as the role of our faith in our salvation, let us continue to love God by loving neighbor.


Teach me thy patience; still with thee
in closer, dearer company,
in work that keeps faith sweet and strong,
in trust that triumphs over wrong

*"O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee," verse 3, United Methodist Hymnal, 430

In Christ,


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Testing Jesus

Have you ever put Jesus to the test? I mean really...who doesn't?

Towards the end of the book of Matthew, the gospel records instances in which the religious authorities wanted to test Jesus. He had been travelling around the region of Galilee, preaching the good news of the coming of the Kingdom of God on hillsides, dinner tables, and living rooms. He was not the first person to do this. The gospels tell of a previous prophet who preached the same thing-John the Baptist, who announced that the son of God would come. That is where Jesus is unique in his message-he claimed to be the son of God. In hindsight, Christians believe that he was right. But I wonder if we would have believed him then. 

So, they tested him. The religious authorities wanted to provide ample evidence that Jesus was rebellious towards the Roman government. Since Jesus had built a large following in his years of ministry and teaching, his claim to be the son of God was not enough to arrest him, according to the authorities. They feared that a riot would occur. But, if they could prove that he was a potentially dangerous, rebellious man, they could arrest him.

So, they tested him by asking him a simple question: "Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” He answered: “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” He was aware of their ploy. 

Jesus knows when we put him to the test (even if we do not know it ourselves). At the end of this passage, it says "When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away." Jesus' awareness surprised them! Has Jesus ever surprised you in that way? 

Sometimes, when I struggle to find the presence of God in my life, I ask God to just give me a sign, and the discernment to know that it was God. Perhaps you have asked God something similar. Maybe that is testing God...and maybe we will be amazed by God, who is always aware of what we are doing, and sticks with us anyway...


His name is Wonderful 
Jesus my Lord 
He is the mighty King 
Master of ev'rything 
His name is Wonderful 
Jesus my Lord 
He's the Great Shepherd 
The rock of all ages 
Almighty God is He 
Bow down before Him 
Love and adore Him 
His name is Wonderful 
Jesus my Lord

In Christ, 


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Responding in Relief of Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey has devastated millions of people since last Friday in southeast Texas and the surrounding areas. My heart aches for those that have been it its path. Some areas have endured 40 inches of rain, and the storm is still hovering. Since last Friday, Harvey has been disastrous, pouring rain, blowing wind, sending entire cities scattering for survival, leaving their homes behind. Still others have been faced with enduring the storm head on, staying in their homes while the rains and winds slam down.

You may be thinking: what can I do to help? As always, I encourage you to pray. Right now. Pray for the victims. Pray for those providing relief. Pray for and end to the rain, the wind, the flooding, the destruction. The following is a prayer that Scott Jones, resident Bishop of the Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, has prayed. Let it guide you...

Oh God, we need your help,
We need the rain to end, the
floodwaters to recede, the damaging
winds to stop. We need fortitude to
cope with this disaster. We need love
to share with our neighbors. We need
strength to endure. Lord, we know
storms come in our world, and
we are asking for your help in getting
through it, repairing the damage and
rebuilding our lives. We pray for
ourselves, our friends, and all those
affected by Hurricane Harvey and its
aftermath. Give us the willingness
and strength to be your agents in
responding to this disaster.


May this prayer guide you to further action as well. At times like this, I am so very thankful for our United Methodist connection. UMCOR, the disaster relief branch of the denomination, often provide some of the first relief efforts in the world to disasters such as this. A donation now would be timely, you can do so here: UMCOR Hurricane Harvery Disaster Reponse.

UMCOR has also encouraged us to respond in other ways here: 5 Things You Can Do

As the Lord guides you in your response, may we ban together as brothers and sisters during this extremely difficult time.

In Christ,


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Encountering God

Yesterday, the United States experienced a beautiful natural phenomenon: a total solar eclipse. Millions gathered in their yards, in public parks, beaches, lakes, and other places outdoors, to look through solar-filtered lenses on  glasses and telescopes, towards the sky. I myself watched from the top of a parking garage here at a local school where there were powerful telescopes capturing this awe-striking event. Tallahassee experienced about 87% totality. It was cloudy, too, so we did not experience a true total solar eclipse, but what I saw still took my breath away.

On top of the deck at Tallahassee Community College, the excitement began to rush through my veins as I waited in line for my solar glasses. I finally got up to the front, put them on, looked up, and was amazed at what I saw. I quickly got in another line, as the clouds rolled by, to look at the sun and moon collide through a telescope. In the line, a fellow observer and I struck up a conversation, and they said to me "We needed a day like today." I looked through the telescope as the words echoed through my eardrums.

They were absolutely right. Let's be honest, life in the U.S. has been difficult lately. We endured a heated election season, and have been divided politically as sharply as I have ever experienced (I'm only 29, but I venture to guess even others would agree with me). Even in my own Christian denomination, the United Methodist Church, we are divided along issues of human sexuality, among other things. I needed a day like yesterday. A day in which nearly every American was unified in their curiosity, their amazement, their wonder, of something bigger than themselves, bigger than the things that divide us.

A total solar eclipse is a very scientific thing that happens. The sun, moon, and earth form a perfect line for this to occur. Think of the detail. Think of the perfection. This is a rare occurrence, in part, because, related to the earth's orbit around the sun, the moon's is titled. Everything must be aligned for this to happen, and it is rare. On top of that, only a portion of the inhabitants of earth get to see this event, since the moon's shadow does not cover the whole earth. And it happened for us. We needed a day like yesterday. Not to prove of some blessing, but to remind us that we are small, that we are part of something greater, and that there is far more that we have in common as a people that we let on.

I think the U.S. had a collective encounter with God yesterday. Whether you knew it or not, God showed you something yesterday. What it is for you, personally, I don't know. To look up and the sun and moon colliding in some perfect unity with earth, had to make you feel something, to experience something, to wonder...

God of the heavens and of earth,
of sun, and moon, and sky,
You have created all that we can see,
and all that we cannot see.
We gathered in common awe and amazement
to experience something beautiful, something
quite wonderful.
As millions looked skyward, we were reminded
of just how amazing you are.
May yesterday's blessing fill us today
May your love be like an eclipse in our
very heart and soul.
We may not be able to fully explain it,
but we know it, feel it, and are changed by it.
May your grace and mercy fill us once again,
bringing all together in perfect unity.
In your Son Jesus' name we pray, Amen.


Photos from across the U.S. and from the ISS of the eclipse yesterday, August 21st, 2017.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Women in the Bible: Encountering God

Our next 3 weeks will be exploring some stories of women in the Bible who encountered God in some way. We begin with the story of Sarah and Hagar.

Sarah and Hagar had a difficult relationship, to say the least. Read Genesis 16-18 to explore some for yourself...

Their encounters with God come on the heels of God's continuing encounter with Abraham. God promises Abraham 3 things: land, descendants, and blessing in Genesis 12, 15, and 18. Sarah and Hagar's encounters with God help to fulfill the promise of descendants, but that that's not all their story is good for! When Sarah (Sarai at that point) was barren, she suggested that Abraham (Abram at that point) have a child with Hagar, her handmaiden. The plan worked, and Ishmael was born. But God promised to Sarah that she and Abraham would have a son, too, and they did! While they were very old, Isaac was born unto them (Genesis 21).

This family, although it could be considered broken and fragmented, was a fulfillment to God's promise. In Genesis 12, a messenger of God promises Hagar that she will have a child named Ishmael, and in Genesis 18, messengers tell Sarah that she will do the same. They both heard directly from God, who spoke to them. We may not think that this type of communication happens anymore, but I believe that God speaks to us through the people and events around us. Sarah and Hagar remind me of that.

What I love most about these stories of women in the Bible is that they are so different from each other. They are not all about the opportunity to survive by having baby boys, but they are stories of family, love, faith, courage, and strength. These stories encourage me to honor my own story with God. I hope they do the same for you.


We've a story to tell to the nations,
that shall turn their hearts to the right,
a story of truth and mercy,
a story of peace and light,
a story of peace and light.

For the darkness shall turn to dawning,
and the dawning to noonday bright;
and Christ's great kingdom shall come on earth,
the kingdom of love and light.

*The United Methodist Hymnal, 569.

In Christ,


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Women in the Bible: Strength

                                                Rebekah, pregnant with twins Esau and Jacob

What does it mean to show strength? In today's world, strength is often thought of as the ability to move heavy things, to be in control of people and situations, or to dominate. If you responded with these answers, of course you would be correct; it'd be hard to argue with you. In a conversation I recently had with someone struggling with a death in their family, they indicated that they "must remain strong for their family." What that meant to them was to not cry in front of them, to show some control over themselves, and even the situation. The truth is, though, that we are not in control. There are certain things we simply cannot manipulate or change. Strength, in these moments, means to trust in God and in yourself, even in the hardest of times. Strength does not always mean these things.

In Rebekah's story, found in Genesis 24-27 (I invite you to read it...), she shows a different kind of strength. Her's is not a dominating or controlling kind of strength, but one that showed love. When you read the story, though, you can see that the love that she showed towards Jacob caused some major complications for the family. Jacob and Esau were twins, born of Rebekah and Isaac.

                                                    Esau and Jacob, wrestling

In the ancient near east, the custom was that the firstborn son was to inherit the family's wealth. You can see why having twins would complicate things. This inheritance, this "blessing," was very fickle. The text even says that Jacob and Esau grappled in the womb, tugging and pushing each other back so that one could be born first. To complicate things even more, Isaac and Rebekah favored each of the boys: Isaac initially followed custom and planned to give his "blessing" to Esau, who was technically born first.

                                                                    Esau sells birthright
                                                                    Isaac blesses Jacob
                                                         Jacob receives Isaac's blessing after tricking him

                                  Jacob, prompted by Rebekah, tricks Isaac into giving him the birthright

Rebekah, though, favored Jacob. Jacob ended up "stealing" Esau's birthright and his blessing. Talk about a family feud. They both jockeyed for power and strength. The point is not that Rebekah was really the strong one, it is that showing strength does not mean that there will not be trials, heartache, confusion, and fear. She was strong in the midst of those things. After the theft of his birthright and blessing, Esau planned to kill his brother Jacob. Rebekah then told Jacob: "Now therefore, my son, obey my voice; flee at once to my brother Laban in Haran, and stay with him a while, until your brother’s fury turns away— until your brother’s anger against you turns away, and he forgets what you have done to him; then I will send, and bring you back from there. Why should I lose both of you in one day?” (Gen, 27: 43-45). Her strength provided her hope that one day the twins would be reconciled (they were, eventually). Her strength provided her the courage to continue loving and protecting Jacob. It didn't clean up the mess, it didn't make things perfect, but her strength was a, unwavering trust and hope for the future.


God of great and God of small,
God of one and God of all,
God of weak and God of strong,
God to whom all things belong: alleluia, alleluia, praise be to your name.

*God of Great and God of Small, Worship and Song, 3033

In Christ,


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Women in the Bible: Justice

Continuing our summer sermon series "women in the Bible," this week we explore the theme of justice with Rizpah and the Queen of Sheba. Rizpah's story can be found in 2 Samuel 3: 6-11 and 21: 1-14, and the Queen of Sheba's in 1 Kings 10: 1-13 (2 Chronicles 9:1-12 provides a parallel telling of her story). Both of these women, in very different ways, sought justice.

One of the reasons I love this sermon series so much is that I am becoming familiar with powerful and inspirational characters in the Bible that I believe we can relate with on some level. Initially, I am struck with frustration that I did not learn much about these women growing up in church. When I get past that feeling, I am freed up to soak in the wonderful stories. 

Rizpah and the Queen of Sheba are a few of these characters. These women were not part of my religious upbringing; I did not learn about them until seminary, and really until this sermon series. I am thankful for this opportunity to do that with you! 

I invite you to read the story of Rizpah, which is cited above...(really, go ahead, read it...)

So, she was a concubine of Saul's. Not much power, not much voice, not much influence in her world. This is an ongoing theme not only for women, but throughout scripture. God uses people like this to show us something quite often, if we would only have the courage and open mind to listen to their story. Rizpah does not even speak in these passages. She has no words. She is simply a political pawn without power, status, or significance. But, she faces her grief with such courage for justice, that even king David takes notice. Both of the men that were in positions to protect and provide for Rizpah died. She was left alone. Later on, as David was rising in power, he had to atone for the sins of Saul to the Gibeonites, who asked for the slaughter of some of Saul's relatives. Among them were 2 of Rizpah's sons. He showed no signs of concern for Rizpah at all, and simply handed them over to be killed. How devastating is that? Heartbroken, Rizpah could have felt helpless, that there was nothing for her to do. She had lost any hope for security and protection now. And now she was faced with the desecration of her son's bodies. But she had other ideas; she would not allow that to happen. She was not allowed to move them or bury them, but she tried her best to protect them. So, she went to the place the bodies were kept, put a cloth over them, and stayed there. Imagine her protecting them from vultures, predators, putting herself in danger to protect them. This was a vigil, and a risky one at that. No matter how dangerous and gruesome this vigil was, she held it.She honored her sons and protected them from further humiliation. Eventually, David heard of this, and granted these sons a decent burial. This was all against a backdrop of a devastating famine. When David did this, the famine was over, signaling God's desire for mercy over vengeance.

The Queen of Sheba pursues justice in a different way. Using her power and influence, she reminds King Solomon. The queen had heard of King Solomon's fame and wisdom, but had to go see for herself. So she goes and visits her and is impressed, saying “The report was true that I heard in my own land of your accomplishments and of your wisdom, but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes saw it. Not even half of the greatness of your wisdom had been told to me; you far surpass the report that I had heard. Happy are your people! Happy are these your servants, who continually attend you and hear your wisdom! Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and set you on his throne as king for the Lord your God. Because your God loved Israel and would establish them forever, he has made you king over them, that you may execute justice and righteousness.” 

What a scene this must have been! The queen did not adhere to the same religion that Solomon did, but affirms his leadership through God, encouraging him to use his role for justice and righteousness. 

Whether we have power and influence or not, we always have the ability to encourage others to lead in this way, through a God that is just. 


O God, our help in ages past, 
our hope for years to come, 
our shelter from the stormy blast, 
and our eternal home. 

Under the shadow of thy throne, 
still may we dwell secure; 
sufficient is thine arm alone, 
and our defense is sure. 

Before the hills in order stood, 
or earth received her frame, 
from everlasting, thou art God, 
to endless years the same. 

A thousand ages, in thy sight, 
are like an evening gone; 
short as the watch that ends the night, 
before the rising sun. 

Time, like an ever rolling stream, 
bears all who breathe away; 
they fly forgotten, as a dream 
dies at the opening day. 

O God, our help in ages past, 
our hope for years to come; 
be thou our guide while life shall last, 
and our eternal home. 

*O God, Our Help in Ages Past, United Methodist Hymnal, 117.

In Christ, 


Lynn Japinga's Preaching the Women of the Old Testament heavily influenced this blog post 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Women in the Bible: Faith

Here at Gray Memorial UMC, we are embarking on a sermon series focusing on women in the Bible. We began with the stories of Rahab (Joshua 2 and 6), Ruth and Naomi, and Esther (who each have books in the Bible devoted to their story.) These women show incredible faith and courage in God, in themselves, and in their causes for justice. We continue the theme of "faith" this week by considering some of the stories of women in the New Testament: the woman at the well (John 4), the woman who touched Jesus' cloak (Luke 8), and Mary Magdalene. Each of these women shows their faith in Jesus in their own ways.

Each of these women shows us that faith is not a quiet, pious endeavor. Rather, faith is what prompts your actions and your reactions. The woman at the well's claim that "I know the Messiah is coming" is only the beginning for her. She then took her experience and shared it with her community. She put her faith into action. It is quite meaningful how this was such a counter-cultural experience. Women were not valued in the ancient near east. Moreover, this experience crossed racial divides as Jews and Samaritans just didn't get along. On this Independence Day, I come to this story very thankful to be an American. I have freedoms and opportunities that folks across the world just don't have. But I am also reminded that my nationality is only a portion of my identity. My full identity is in Christ, as it was for this woman, whose life was changed by Jesus.

I also learn from the woman who touched Jesus' cloak. I learn from her to have hope, and to dare to reach out for Jesus, even if I might look foolish. Can you imagine watching someone reach for just a touch of someone's jacket? How weird would that be!? This woman did not care about the way she looked, but hoped that her act would in fact heal her. Nowadays, this may look like praying in a public place, or risking your image in order to pursue God in some way. This woman teaches me to have an undignified faith in the hope that Jesus offers.

Mary Magdalene also shares this kind of faith. After Jesus died and was placed in the tomb, she went there, only to find the door open and the cave empty. Mary Magdalene was the first person Jesus encountered after his resurrection, scripture says. It led Mary back into town to share with Jesus' other followers. How foolish she must have looked and sounded. To be speaking of how Jesus was raised up from the dead, after most of them just witnessed his devastating and tortuous crucifixion, must have sounded like foolishness. But Mary had the faith that led to this action, becoming the first preacher of the resurrection anyone ever heard. Millions have tried to shred her reputation by claiming, without any biblical evidence of it, that Mary was a prostitute, but her story remains one of the most powerful ones in the Bible. Her reputation may have taken a hit, but that's the type of risk that is often involved with being faithful to Jesus. Your life will change, your image will change, your actions will change. You may look foolish, people may try and discredit you, and your life will be a series of questionable decisions...but, as the apostle puts it in Galatians 5:1, "for freedom Christ has set us free."


Let us plead for faith alone,
faith which by our works is shown;
God it is who justifies,
only faith the grace applies.

*United Methodist Hymnal, 385.

In Christ, Jack

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Bridges: Connecting God to the World

Seven Mile Bridge, Florida Keys

As our very own Bishop Carter of the Florida Conference of the UMC has said, "A bridge can be a beautiful thing. Jesus is the bridge between God and humanity.” And Florida is full of them. Our gospel text this week, Matthew 9:35-10:23, speaks to this, and encourages followers of Christ to build bridges to the community, where the people God loves are. Jesus encourages us to go into the world, spreading the love of God through acts of compassion, mercy, and justice. He calls us to be a bridge.

Bishop Carter explains that in some places there are bridges, we just need to use them. In other locations, there is an old bridge that needs repair. In others, there is no bridge at all. We may be called to build a new bridge, to repair an old bridge, or to simply use an existing bridge.

This imagery is great! Bridges are available to us, and in Florida there are PLENTY, to help us get to where we need to go, to help us cross terrain that would be impossible (or at least very inconvenient) to cross otherwise, and oftentimes provide beautiful views.

We are called to be these bridges. We are called to connect God to the world. Of course God could arbitrarily do this alone, but God is in the business of building relationships and connection with God and each other. Bridges are needed to do this.

Bridges connect gaps; where there is a gap in your community, you are called by God to bridge it! Where you see a need, God is with you to help you attend to it. Building bridges seems like a difficult thing to do, and it is (think of all the planning, designing, and labor it takes), but it starts with identifying the gap or the need. Here at Gray Memorial UMC, we identified a need to connect some of the elderly population in our community. It has taken a network of people calling, visiting, and providing for some of their needs. It began by seeing a disconnect, and knowing that God has called us to repair an old bridge.

In the gospel text, Jesus promises us that this will not be easy. It would be easier not to build the bridge. To stay where you are. Discomfort and fear are prerequisites for fulfilling the mission of God, who does not call us to do the comfortable, but to the "new thing" that God is doing (Isaiah 43).


Hope of the world, afoot on dusty highways,
showing to wandering souls the path of light,
walk thou beside us lest the tempting byways
lure us away from thee to endless night.

*Hope of the World, United Methodist Hymnal, 178.

In Christ,


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Trinity: A Full Picture of God

The doctrine of the Trinity is most likely the most difficult teachings of the Christian church. When one talks about it, one falls dangerously close to the heresy (mis-teaching, false teaching) of "tri-theism," that is a teaching or belief in 3 gods, not one. No matter how carefully you speak of the doctrine of the Trinity, you will inevitably elevate one aspect of it over the others. This is all to say: how God can be 3 in 1 is a big ole mystery (sort of like how Jesus can be both fully human AND fully divine, but I digress).

Contrary to the way we may think doctrines are created, the core beliefs of Christianity were not thought up of in a some kind of think-tank by old white men with robes on. Many of them were a response to controversy, criticism, and exploitation of those who followed Jesus Christ. Some 200 years after Jesus' "great commission," Matthew 28: 16-20, those who were following Jesus Christ, worshiping and serving God, under stress and the face of questions and challenges, "were sweating it out to say with clarity just why they were living a life that looked foolish to others, caring for widows and orphans, suffering persecution...all of it for the wild notion that the Spirit had gathered them into the life of God.." (Thomas G. Long, Feasting on the Word).

Saint Augustine helps out: he thinks of the nature of God like a tree. The root is wood, the trunk is wood, and the branches are wood. The tree is one substance but three different entities. To extend the metaphor, think about what a tree provides: leaves, fruit, shade, a forest...

The Trinity provides us a complete picture of God (and it is appropriate that we cannot fully understand how it works out). Going back to the "great commission," Jesus asks his followers to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What if we did not have a teaching that points us to these three aspects of God? What if we only baptized in the name of the Father? We'd be missing out on the work and person of Jesus Christ! We'd be missing out on the ongoing activity of the Holy Spirit! What if we only baptized in the name of Jesus Christ? We'd be missing out on the creative maker of heaven and earth, the part of God that is larger than life and logic. We'd miss out on the Holy Spirit (again), the ongoing presence of God with us, today. And what if we only baptized in the name of the Holy Spirit? Again, we'd be missing out on the awesomeness and creative work of God, and the redemptive life of Jesus Christ (Stephen P. Eason, Feasting on the Word).

Shirley Guthrie puts it this way in her book Christian Doctrine: "The same God who is God over us as God the Father and Creator, and God with and for us as the incarnate Word and Son, is also God in and among us as God the Holy Spirit."

The great commission tells us that we cannot go forth into the world, without all of that, without all of God. Whether we understand it or not (remember the apostle Paul encourages us by saying in Philippians 4:7 that the peace of God is "the peace that passes understanding), God has fully immersed us God's presence. That full presence is expressed through the teaching of the Trinity.


Everlasting God,
You have revealed yourself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
and ever live and reign in the perfect unity of love.
Grant that we may always hold firmly and joyfully to this faith,
and, living in praise of your divine majesty,
may finally be one in you;
who are three persons in one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

*The United Methodist Book of Worship, 412.

In Christ,


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Pentecost: Flowing into All the World

Sunday is the Day of Pentecost. On this day, Christians remember how the Holy Spirit came upon a diverse group of folks gathered together (Acts 2:1-21). Images of Pentecost are dominated by fire and wind. Acts 2 tells us that these are apt images and symbols: "And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them..." These elements, wind and fire, are appropriate images for the Day of Pentecost...

...But in our gospel reading this week, John 7: 37-39, Jesus offers us another element: water.  "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, 'Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.'" Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive..."

...And still, we are offered another element to consider for this Day of Pentecost: earth. Psalm 104: 24-35 speaks of how God's presence and God's glory fills the earth and "When you send forth your spirit, they (the things of the earth) are created; and you renew the face of the ground."

God's Spirit is everywhere: it fills all of the earth, even into our own hearts. It blows like the wind, flows like water, and dances with power like the wind.  It is no mistake that these various passages in the Bible describe the Holy Spirit in these different ways. Earth, water, wind, fire are the four basic elements here on earth...they make up everything we can experience through our senses, just like the Holy Spirit can be understood as the way in which we can experience God in our lives.

It's great to have the traditional images of wind and fire representing the Day of Pentecost, but let's be honest: too much fire and you'll get burned, too much wind and your get blown away or parched. Including earth and water as metaphors for the Holy Spirit helps me to have a more holistic understanding of the Holy Spirit. It reminds me that God is not only present in the fiery passion in my heart or in the wind that moves me, but in the water that nourishes me and flows out of me and in the ground I stand on.


Holy Spirit, Truth divine,
dawn upon this soul of mine;
Word of God and inward light,
wake my spirit, clear my sight.

Holy Spirit, Love divine,
glow within this heart of mine;
kindle every high desire;
perish self in thy pure fire.

Holy Spirit, Power divine,
fill and nerve this will of mine;
grant that I may strongly live,
bravely bear, and nobly strive.

Holy Spirit, Right divine,
King within my conscience reign;
be my Lord, and I shall be
firmly bound, forever free

*Holy Spirit, Truth Divine, The United Methodist Hymnal, #465

In Christ,


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Becoming One in Ministry

Our gospel passage this week, John 17: 1-11, Jesus prays for those he is about to leave on this earth. He prays for protection "so that they may be one, as we are one." Earlier in John 16, Jesus promises the disciples that there will be a another advocate, that the Holy Spirit will come to defend and protect them and his followers. Here, he names the purpose of this protection: so that we may be one with each other as God and Jesus Christ are one. Our prayer during the time in which we receive Holy Communion in the United Methodist Church asks God "by your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world. Jesus prays for us to be protected, so that we can become one with each other, and do ministry in the world. This is how people know the love of Jesus: that someone loved them and showed them God's love. This is how God's love spreads like wildfire, and I can guess that this is how you got "burned up" in it. 

One of my favorite authors/theologians/Christians/people is Barbara Brown Taylor. Hers is a faith that drew her to pastoral ministry in the Episcopal Church, away from pastoral ministry as she wrestled with God, to the classroom to teach, as she found herself through God again by writing books, speaking, and preaching around the world. I had the pleasure of meeting her as she taught at Candler School of Theology, the seminary I graduated from. In one of the sermons that she has preached, she talks about the role ministry has in the Church. In a world, a Church, of argument, division, and certainty, ministry plays a vital role as we seek unity with God and each other. This may seem obvious, that churches do ministry, but the role of practicing your faith, of actively living out the love that God has shown you, is not so obvious: 

"Practice offers us a way through the belief wars that are tearing God's kin-dom apart. Since Christian faith was born during a time of great uncertainty when human ideas about who God was and what it meant to be in covenant with God were in at least as much flux as they are now, Christian tradition has long offered its followers ways to act even when we don't know what to think. Ancient practices of communion, confession, charity, and prayer have kept the gospel alive during long periods of intellectual and institutional upheaval in the church. When Christians cannot agree on the historical Jesus, they can still feed the hungry and give the thirsty something to drink. When they cannot agree on how to read the Bible, they can still welcome strangers and visit those in need. Too often, I think, we insist on deciding what we think before we will decide how we act, when it's entirely possible that faith was meant to work the other way around. Trust the practice, and the practice will teach you what you need to know. Lay hands on the sick, clothing the naked, pray for the enemy, and come near. Do these things, and eventually you may discover what to think about them. Do not do them, and what you think doesn't really matter. Reason can only act on the experience it has available to it after all. The practice of faith is how we gain the experience to say a single sentence about faith that's true. This offers us a way of living life, and not simply a way of thinking about it."

Our kin-dom---our being one together through the God who loved us first, in who's name we do ministry. Our kin-dom is at risk, friends. There is so much division in this world, in this Church. Our kin-dom with each other is being torn apart. Being one with God and each other is not about believing the right things or saying the right words, it is about ministry. It is about loving-action. What we do has more power over what we say, or what we believe. For instance, telling someone that God loves them is great, but sitting on the phone or the couch or the bench with them as they share their heart may actually have the power to be the very presence of God with them. And this can unite us. 

I'll close with some of the most famous words that John Wesley ever said (he preached these words in a time of great division and argument, like there ever wasn't a time like that): "Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?" (Sermon 39, Catholic Spirit)


Make us one, Lord, make us one;
Holy Spirit make us one.
Let your love flow so the world will know we are one in you.

*"Make Us One," The Faith We Sing, 2224.

In Christ, 


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Becoming One with Each Other

Growing up, I always had to share things with my twin brother, Charlie. We shared a room, toys, games, and attention. He was always by my side, and I mean that quite literally. Apart from school, we were always together...at home, at the dentist, the doctor...everywhere!

Nowadays, he is always by my side, in a figurative sense. I know that I can always call on him. We talk almost every day on the phone, and at least through text messages. We share things with each other, like what is going on in our life, an article that interests us, or an experience that we may laugh or think about together. We don't share a room or toys any more, but we do share life together.

In John 15:14-21, Jesus tells the disciples, as he is saying goodbye to them and giving them his final words, that another advocate is coming alongside them. This is the Holy Spirit, the presence of God with us. The Greek word for this is paraclete. This word means "one who has been called to our side," one who has been called to defend us and stand up for us. This is different than a warm and comforting Spirit, although certainly God is with us in a personal way like that as well. In this way, as the advocate or paraclete, we can be sure that God is actively on our side, defending and being with us.

The advocate is not simply a personal feeling of God with you, although it is that. The Holy Spirit is a force on the move...think of a lawyer defending their client, a detective searching for the truth in mysteries. And Jesus says in this passage, that God is sending another advocate. Of course, the first one is Jesus himself. In the same way, Jesus is not only a calming presence with you, but a force on the move. Think of him sharing meals with outcasts and sinners, flipping tables in the Temple, healing, preaching, teaching...Jesus was and is also a force on the move.

Another word play for you, that may help clarify the meaning of this passage. What confuses me is what Jesus means by saying "in you.." What does it mean when Jesus says "I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you"? A quick look at the Greek meaning of this phrase reveals that it can also mean "among you." I will be among you." This also takes some of the emphasis away from the personalized "warm and fuzzy" Holy Spirit and the individualized perception of the Holy Spirit being" you."  God is with us. 
God with

The title of this upcoming sermon on Sunday is "Becoming One with Each Other." This title is an attempt to reflect the corporate sense of God being with us. When we receive Holy Communion together, as I bless the elements of bread and wine, I will pray that God makes us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, "one with each other." Just as we receive Communion together, God is among us, together.


Of all the Spirit's gifts to me,
I pray that I may never cease
to take and treasure most these
three: love, joy, and peace.

The Spirit shows me love's the root
of every gift sent from above,
of every flower, of every fruit,
that God is love

The Spirit shows if I possess a
love no evil can destroy,
however great is my distress,
then this is joy

Though what's ahead is mystery,
and life itself is ours on lease,
each day the Spirit says to me
"Go forth in peace!"

We go in peace but made aware that,
in a needy world like this, our clearest
purpose is to share love, joy, and peace.

*United Methodist Hymnal, 336

In Christ,


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Becoming One With Christ

Every time we come to receive Holy Communion together here at GMUMC, we hear some familiar words. We United Methodists call these words the "Great Thanksgiving." Part of the liturgy sounds like this:

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,
redeemed by his blood.

By your Spirit make us one with Christ,
      one with each other,
      and one in ministry to all the world,
      until Christ comes in final victory
       and we feast at his heavenly banquet.

This is called the "epiclesis," or the invoking of the Holy Spirit. The pastor is asking God to be present in our action of receiving the bread and wine, in the bread and wine itself, and to be transformed by this action.

The next sermon series is called "Becoming," becoming one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world. I believe that worshiping God can truly transform us into these kinds of people. When we worship together, through singing songs, receiving Holy Communion, engaging with Scripture, serving others, we can become these things.

John 14: 1-14 may sound familiar to those of us who have attended a Christian funeral. Go ahead and take a look at this passage...Some of Jesus' most famous words of hope and comfort are spoken, here: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

This chapter, John 14, is part of Jesus' final words and actions with his disciples. He had just washed their feet, and commanded them to love one another. In an act of complete servitude and humility, he bends over with a wash cloth and basin of water, and wipes his friends' feet clean. Here is the good news: becoming one in Christ is not something we do. It is not our work! It is not our burden! It is God’s work. It is something that God in Christ does for us. Christ has reached out to touch us, wipe us clean, and be with us. I don't know about you, but I can trust a person who would do this for me. I can depend on someone like this.

We have received the invitation to be One with Christ, to trust him, and lean on him.

There is a word is Sanskrit "saranam" that is roughly translated to refuge, safe place, protection, or place of rest in English.


Jesus, Savior, Lord, lo, to thee I fly;
 Saranam, Saranam, Saranam;
 thou the Rock, my refuge that’s  higher than I:
 Saranam, Saranam, Saranam.
In thy tent give me a dwelling place,
 and beneath thy wings may I find sheltering grace;
 O lift on me the sunshine of thy face:
 Saranam, Saranam, Saranam.

*United Methodist Hymnal, 523.

In Christ,


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Awakening to the Table

Image result for road to emmaus

When I think about Jesus and Holy Communion, my mind immediately goes to the scriptures in the Bible that describe the institution of the meal (Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-26; and Luke 22:7-23). The words are very familiar to me: "He took bread, gave thanks to God, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take, eat. This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And after the supper was over he took a glass of wine, gave thanks to God, gave it to his disciples and said, “Drink from this, all of you. This is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you. Drink this in remembrance of me.”

But what about the stories of Jesus and the disciples feeding the multitudes? Jesus took some food, gave thanks to God, and everyone, thousands of people, ate that day. And Sunday's gospel text, Luke 24: 13-35, is as much about Holy Communion as any text in the New Testament. Read it for yourself!

I love the way my denomination, the United Methodist Church, approaches Communion. We believe that it is available to anyone who earnestly seeks Jesus. There is no prerequisite, no boxes to check off, no feeling that Jesus is not for you. Our liturgy also takes the shape of this encounter the disciples had with Jesus on the road to Emmaus: "Traveling the road to Emmaus, the disciples are joined by the risen Christ. Jesus interprets the Scriptures to them and then eats with them. It is in the breaking, blessing, and sharing of bread that the disciples’ eyes are opened and they recognize Jesus."

So we may encounter Jesus, just like his disciples did. The risen Jesus, who died for you, did so that you may have this relationship with him.

Jesus told his disciples to "do this" in remembrance of him. He was not only referring to breaking and giving the bread and cup in this way, but also the "taking and blessing or giving thanks to God for what the church has received and continues to receive from God in creation, redemption, and sanctification." Communion invites us to a life of gratitude to God.

These quotes have been taken from E. Byron Anderson in "The Meaning of Holy Communion in the United Methodist Church." Here is one more that talks more about the meaning of Holy Communion:

"In taking and blessing (thanksgiving), we prepare the table and ourselves to share the gift God provides to us in Jesus Christ. On the one hand, this is as simple as setting the table as we would for any meal. On the other hand, this preparation involves the preparation of our hearts and minds, so that we may know that Christ is present with us in our sharing of the bread and cup with one another. In breaking and giving (communion) we are confronted with the practical necessity of breaking the bread in order to share it with one another. We are reminded that, as Jesus broke the bread in anticipation of the breaking of his body for the world, Jesus continues to offer his broken body to us for our healing and the healing of the world (E. Byron Anderson, The Meaning of Holy Communion in the United Methodist Church. Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 2014, pages 10-12).

The holy meal of Communion thanks God for Jesus, and thanks Jesus for what he did to save us. It recognizes the present need to turn to God in a broken world, for hope, healing, and nourishment. And it also anticipates the future, the time when Jesus would come again and all will be made right, where we will forever be with God.


Unseal the volume of thy grace,
apply the gospel word;
open our eyes to see thy face,
our hearts to know the Lord.

*O Thou Who This Mysterious Bread," United Methodist Hymnal, 613

In Christ,


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Awakening to Baptism

John 10: 1-10 is not a story about baptism. No one is being dunked in a river, sprinkled on the head, or being blessed in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There are no crowds, no water, and no preacher...

At first glance, this story has nothing to do with baptism. Go ahead and read it...see what I mean?

Except, baptism is not all about the water, the crowds, or a preacher baptizing. Baptism is also about identity. In baptism, you are acknowledging that you are a child of God; that God is with you all your life, cleansing you of sin and claiming you as beloved. In baptism,you claim that you are who you were meant to be. 

Baptism is not only an event, however; it is not simply something that happened in the past. Baptism is a way of life. 

Mark Stamm, in his new booklet, The Meaning of Baptism in the United Methodist Church (Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 2017), writes that in the Pentecost story, the author of Acts says “And that day about three thousand persons were added” (Acts 2:41, NRSV) to the community of Christians through baptism. Stamm goes on to observe:

When I recount this story to my students, I often pause here and facetiously say, “And then they all went home and said, ‘what a wonderful and transforming religious experience that was!’” When they’re paying attention, they protest, saying, “That’s not what happened at all,” and they are correct. Those first Christians became a new community, one that “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts. 2:42). Theirs was a community in which the work of the Spirit was manifest. They cared for one another, sharing their lives on multiple levels, and that sharing overflowed, drawing others into their fellowship. The remainder of Acts provides the continued narrative of that overflow and by the grace of God received in baptism, we continue writing new chapters.

New chapters. We are characters in God's story of love, mercy, and compassion. So how are you continuing God's story through your life? How does your identity as a child of God continue the work of God in your close relationships, your community, in your church family, and in the world? If "God draws us beyond preoccupation with our own needs and destiny, and gives us a place in God’s ongoing project of blessing the world and calling it to justice and love (Stamm, again)," then our baptism empowers us and invites to think beyond ourselves, just like God does. We are children of God. 

In this passage, John 10: 1-10, the shepherd seeks to hold all of the sheep together, regardless of color or physical condition, as one community. This is not your perfect flock. They are not all soft, white, beautiful sheep. Some are blind, wounded, crippled, or lame. But they aren't seen that way, because they are together. Their identity is through their shepherd, who holds them all together. So it is with us and with God through Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. 

If you read this, and are not baptized, but want to be, or are interested in a conversation, my email is jack.ladd@flumc.org. I'd love to talk with you.

*Credit to the Discipleship Ministries of the UMC (https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar)


Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary's mount out-poured,
there where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.
Grace, grace, God's grace,
grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
grace, grace, God's grace,
grace that is greater than all our sin!

*"Grace Greater than Our Sin," United Methodist Hymnal, 365

In Christ,


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Awakening to Ministry

John 20: 19-31 picks up right where we left off, where Mary went running to tell of the resurrection to the disciples, who were are holed up in a room behind locked doors. No one can get in, not even those who are so nervous, so threatened, by the way the crowds loved Jesus, that they might come after his followers, too.

The disciples are bereaved over the death of Jesus and maybe over their own failure to stand with him to the end, but now this woman, Mary Magdalene, is making the most incredible claim that has ever been made, a claim that would undo their sense of failure and inadequacy, their loss of hope. All might be made right after all; all might be healed. Could it be? Could it actually be so? Is it true?

There in that room, gathered in fear and confusion, they lock the doors, and wait. And then Jesus shows up. What are his first words? "Peace be with you." No fear. No scolding. No turmoil. No doubt. Only peace. We say these words to each other during our worship services. We extend the peace that Jesus offers to us. And then--as the gospel of John's Pentecost--Jesus breathes the gift of the Holy Spirit into the disciples.

It is their commissioning to go out and be peace and love and justice for the world. Just as God sent Jesus, so Jesus sends them into the world that God loves so well. O. Wesley Allen hears in this breath the echo of Genesis and "God's breathing life into creatures at the beginning of the world (Gen. 2:7)." On Easter, Allen says, God in effect recreates through resurrection not just a few followers long ago, but all of us as well (New Proclamation Year A 2008).

During the next 3 weeks, I am going to be preaching a series called "Awakening." This first sermon will be focused on how we awaken to ministry. We learn how to minister from Jesus, who literally met the disciples right where they were in that room. Mary Magdalene, the disciples, and especially Thomas, all wanted more evidence that Jesus was actually risen from the dead when he appeared to them. Jesus does not scold them, but is patient and provides what they needed to believe. We can do the same for anyone seeking Jesus, or looking for someone to share Jesus with.


Everliving God,
your eternal Christ once dwelt on earth,
   confined by time and space.
Give us faith to discern in every time and place
   the presence among us
   of him who is head over all things and fills all,
even Jesus Christ our ascended Lord. Amen.

*United Methodist Hymnal, 323.

In Christ,


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Giving Up Death

As the season of Lent draws to a close and Holy Week is upon us, again I find myself in a happy, comfortable, familiar place, because I know that Easter is right around the corner. I have a habit of not letting these feelings last for very long, once I identify them as such. When I am comfortable, I tend to be more laid back and let things fall through the cracks. I don't pay as much attention as when I am uncomfortable, looking for a way back to the peace that I crave. This creates a sort of cycle, as you can imagine.

On the one hand, I know that Sunday is Easter. This gives me peace, hope, and joy! On the other hand, I remember that this week is Holy Week, where Jesus was headed to the cross. I remember that Christians in Egypt have been killed during a worship service on Palm Sunday this week. I remember that many in our world suffer and die for their faith. Indeed, we need Jesus to save us from all of this.

Easter becomes cheap when we do not consider what it took for Jesus to rise again. He had to die, and he did. If you have ever experienced the death of a loved one, you have a glimpse of what Holy Week is all about. The pain, confusion, heartbreak, and grief of loss sometimes feel like a pit of emptiness and despair. Christians find their way out of that hole through the healing power of time and hope that death is not the end. It wasn't for Jesus, and it will not be for us.

On Thursday evening here at Gray Memorial UMC (2201 Old Bainbridge Road), we will have the stations of the cross displayed. These images will help you walk through these final moments of Jesus' life. You will find that he prayed, was betrayed, arrested, put on trial, condemned, crucified, and buried. Although they are tough images to look at, they remind me of the price of salvation; of what Jesus went through so that we could have a relationship with God. However confusing it is that Jesus died for us, the peace and assurance that I am saved because of it makes all the difference.

So, in these few days before Easter, I invite you to read the story of holy week (Matthew 26:30–27:66, Mark 14:26–15:47, Luke 22:39–23:56, and John 18:1–19:42). I don't blame you if you read this narrative while you cling to the knowledge of how it ends! We follow Jesus here and now, knowing that Jesus rose again on the third day after he died.


God of such unwavering love,
how do I "celebrate" the passion and death of Jesus?
I often want to look the other way  and not watch,
not stay with Jesus in his suffering.
Give me the strength to see his love with honesty and compassion,
and to feel deeply your own forgiveness and mercy for me.
Help me to understand how to "celebrate" this week.
I want be able to bring my weaknesses and imperfections with me
as I journey with Jesus this week, so aware of his love. Amen.

In Christ,