May Sermons

May 26, 2019
Sunday was an amazing (albeit hot) day full of blessings! After service, the cemetery committee and Holly Springs UMC had the privilege of dedicating the Memorial Garden in Rev. Dr. James Thurman's name. The Thurman's were there in addition to many members of our own community. Jimmy's two grandsons were there to finally see their work completed. While it was Zack who did the project, his brother, Will, was also "manual labor." The whole family was delighted and overwhelmed with gratitude. I heard, more than once, 'Jimmy would have been pleased.' 

During our worship service we heard John 14:23-29 which is part of Christ' farewell discourse. In this bit of exposition Christ imparts the significance of keeping his words and assures the disciples that he is sending the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to them to lead them and remind them of everything he has said.

Christ wants us to keep his words. What does this mean to you? Does this mean that you feel a call on your heart to love your neighbor? As I approach the end of my time at Holly Springs UMC, I am most moved by the love of neighbor you all show to the community within the walls of HSUMC and the community beyond the walls of HSUMC. From the very beginning it has been made crystal clear to me that you all care about one another. 

At Christmas time, you fill hundreds of boxes of gifts for children from poorer communities within the Appalachian area. By the way, this touches incoming Pastor Chase's heart very much because this area is a part of his story. During November you all spend hours crafting items to be sold so proceeds can go towards missions that are close to your heart and rooted nearby geographically. You all eagerly invite neighbors to come to lunches at no cost to them. And, more than once, you all have put people's names in the Needs Box so we can do something for them, and we have! When Becky found out through the mail man that the local Elementary school was in need, we all responded! It was a beautiful display of empathy and love to see the blue bin overflowing with items for small school children. At Easter we filled Easter baskets for foster children. You all are always looking for ways to serve the community and it's a lovely thing! 

You all love your neighbor. You do. You live into Christ's words and I can only imagine how pleased God is with you all. Thank you for your big hearts and love of God. It is a pleasing thing to God indeed. 

Have a blessed week. Amen.
May 19, 2019
Sunday this week we read Acts 11:1-18. This story is nothing short of amazing. Peter comes to a group of apostles and believers and tells them the Gentiles he was just with (and had dinner with!) are believers in Jesus Christ. At first, the church leaders criticized Peter! How could you eat with uncircumcised men! Purity laws were still purity laws as far as they were concerned and entering a Gentiles home meant you were dirty. What was Peter thinking?!?!

Well first when we're talking about Acts we must keep in mind that Acts is all about witnessing to the transformative work of God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s about God at work in unusual and mysterious ways! It begins with Jesus telling the disciples “You will receive power when the HS has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses.” When the disciples have gathered for Pentecost, the Holy Spirit does descend upon them and suddenly they begin speaking other languages. Soon after, Peter is freed from imprisonment by an angel. Saul is blinded by a light and hears the voice of Jesus in Chapter 9. Paul and Peter are raising people from the dead. Indeed the Holy Spirit is at work and the disciples are witnessing to the ends of the earth. 

But this whole idea of whether or not Jews could accept Gentiles was a big deal! And the church leaders had their reasons for not thinking this was a great idea. After all, it was perfectly clear because it said so in Scripture! Genesis 17:10 
10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 

That's all the reason they needed. God said it so therefore if they're not circumcised then they're out of the club. Here's the thing about God though. God is constantly breaking down barriers and disturbing social norms. And, then there's the little fact that Jesus left the Holy Spirit as a gift. 

So, Peter walks the Jews through his encounter, step by step. The emphasis of Peter's story is not himself. He continually points to the triune God as author. "I saw a vision." "The spirit told me.." "The Holy Spirit fell upon them." "If God gave them the same gift then who am I to hinder God?" God is the speaker and manager here! Peter is simply the messenger. 

I am amazed with this story that the church leaders ultimately believe Peter. I wonder if we would believe Peter if he came to us and shared this story with us. My hope is that we would but I don't know. We're a skeptical lot. And with good reason! We're bombarded with falsehoods and too many opinions on a daily basis, so how are we to discern the work of the Holy Spirit? 

Well, for starters, I think we can get quiet. Jesus escaped frequently to be alone with God in prayer. The more time we spend communing with God, the better able we'll be to discern what is God's voice and what is our own. Secondly, I think we can put ourselves out in nature and just listen. Listening and witnessing God's magnificent creation is giving glory to God and a wonderful way of turning our ear to the mighty voice of God. Third, trusting people I think is a big one. If someone tells you they are hurting or lonely or angry - believe them. I don't mean set out with the intention of changing them, but be a presence of peace for them. Sit with people in their discomfort and you will come to know the voice of God. 

We can still discern the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is still wild and loose in this world. The spirit is doing things and breaking down social barriers just like it was then. Thank God it is! We need the spirt at work in this world. Listen to it! Follow it! Let it challenge you and change you!

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen! 
May 12, 2019

Yesterday we celebrated mothers and people of valor! I found an incredible prayer online originally written by Amy Young. I will include it here: 

"We pray for you if you are like Tamar, struggling with infertility, or a miscarriage.
We pray for you if you are like Rachel, counting the women among your family and friends who year by year and month by month get pregnant, while you wait.
We pray for you if you are like Naomi, and have known the bitter sting of a child's death.
We pray for you if you are like Joseph and Benjamin, and your Mom has died.
We pray for you if your relationship with your Mom was marked by trauma, abuse, or abandonment, or she just couldn't parent you the way you needed.
We pray for you if  you've been like Moses' mother and put a child up for adoption, trusting another family to love your child into adulthood.
We pray for you if you've been like Pharaoh's daughter, called to love children who are not yours by birth.
We pray for you if you, like many, are watching (or have watched) your mother age, and disappear into the long goodbye of dementia.
We pray for you if you, like Mary, are pregnant for the very first time and waiting breathlessly for the miracle of your first child.
We pray for you if your children have turned away from you, painfully closing the door on relationship, leaving you holding your broken heart in your hands. And like Hagar, now you are mothering alone.
We pray for you if motherhood is your greatest joy and toughest struggle all rolled into one.
We pray for you if you are watching your child battle substance abuse, a public legal situation, mental illness, or another situation which you can merely watch unfold.
We pray for you if you like so many women before you do not wish to be a mother, are not married, or in so many other ways do not fit into societal norms.
We pray for you if you see yourself reflected in all, or none of these stories.
This mother's day, wherever and whoever you are, we walk with you. You are loved. You are seen. You are worthy. And may you know the deep love without end of our big, wild, beautiful God who is the very best example of a parent that we know."

I adapted it for our context but what I love about it is that it acknowledges the sometimes complicated relationships we have with women and mothers. Of course, I know Mother's Day is not a liturgical holiday but it's a worthy day to lift up nonetheless. 

Yesterday we reflected on Acts 9:36-43. I love so many things about this passage. Tabitha, aka Dorcas, is a leader in her community. She was a business owner, took good care of her employees, and was a model of discipleship. I spent a long time talking about her work ethic and what it meant that the room was full of people touched by the fruit of her work. 

Then, quite naturally, I segued into talking about Rachel Held Evans. Rachel, who grew up evangelical, was a prolific Christian writer. She died last week at the young age of 37, leaving behind two young children, a husband, a library of thought provoking Christian writing, and a community of believers that she established. The reason I thought about Rachel is because Rachel provided as much for her community as Dorcas. If Peter had entered the room where Rachel lie, newly deceased, I would have shown Peter Rachel's words. Like the widows who don't know how they will clothe themselves after losing Dorcas, I wonder how I will clothe myself with words of grace and faith that Rachel provided. Both are profound losses for communities of faith. 

Dorcas was a woman of valor, like Ruth before her and the woman of Proverbs 31 before Ruth. Rachel Held Evans dissected what it meant to be a woman of valor in relation to the woman of Proverbs 31. What Rachel points out is that Ruth is also named a woman of valor - BEFORE she marries Boaz, BEFORE she gives birth. The Proverbs 31 the woman is lifted up as being of valor and has the roles of homemaker, wife, and mother. What Rachel connects is that it is because of noble character that these women have the honor of being "women of valor" NOT because of their roles. Does that shift something for you mentally? It does for me! 

It is the way in which we fill our roles that matters, not the roles themselves. For example, the first thing lifted up about Dorcas is that she did good works and acts of charity. After this, we find out she is an entrepreneur. Regardless of her role as "business owner" she is a disciple. AND - extra cool thing - this is the only time in the New Testament that we have the feminine form of the word disciple! 

I think this is good news for all of us. It doesn't matter what your paying job is in life. It is how we conduct ourselves that sets us apart. Are you loving? Are you faithful? Do you help people? Do you feed people that are hungry? Do you donate your money and resources to those in need? This is what makes us people with noble character, people of valor - disciples of Christ! 

Peace be with you, friends. I look forward to worshipping with you next Sunday. Amen.

May 5, 2019
As you all know, I was not worshipping with you yesterday. Instead, I was at my old home church, Glenn Memorial UMC in Atlanta, watching graduating seniors speak of their faith journeys and time in youth at Glenn. Each graduating senior, John, Grace, and Kelly all had unique speeches and hit on different aspects of what church has meant for them. I'd like to share some of my reflections on their reflections.

My 17-yr-old, John, spoke first. John's reflection centered on the community he has felt from the beginning at Glenn. John has been a part of youth since 6th grade. (Glenn's youth group begins at 6th grade and goes through 12th.) Through the experiences of youth retreats and choir practices, John grew to feel accepted and embraced by the youth group. Before long he was participating in all Glenn youth had to offer - choir tours, mission trips, plays, and musicals. All of these experiences further lifted John's affection for the youth group and his friends within. John remarked that he always felt accepted by others in the group and is sad that his time has come to an end in youth. He encouraged the young Glenn youth to keep coming so that they could pass it on one day, too.

Grace spoke next and her reflection centered on feeling accepted and being encouraged to grow and flourish. I have watched Grace for years and can attest to the fact that she has indeed flourished. She described herself as once being a wallflower and acquiescing to others. Over the years she has embraced her gifts (she can sing and play the ukulele like nobody's business) and shared them with the church community. We have all benefited from having her embrace her talents! Grace will be pursuing her musical talents in college. She attributes much of her personal growth to the environment of Glenn youth and the space of loving acceptance she found there. 

Kelly also spoke of acceptance and her developing faith. It is because of Glenn youth activities she grew to realize having faith means embodying that faith all week long. She said she use to think if you went to church on Sunday you were good for the week (lol, who still feels that way?), but she has realized giving of yourself and being kind are ways we carry our faith all week long. 

It was a small senior group this year so the youth minister, Blair Setnor, allowed graduating Candler interns to also speak about their time at Glenn. Connor Bell had the most beautiful description of Glenn youth. He described the experience of Glenn youth as a holy reminder. While within this community, each youth is reminded that they are enough, that they are loved, and accepted how they are. As difficult as being young is, the holy reminder of Glenn youth is precious and necessary in these young lives. Connor teared up (which got us all teary) and said he'd never seen anything like Glenn youth and attributes it to the leadership of Blair. Blair, the fearless youth minister (and one of my dear friends).

Glenn youth is special but what these kids spoke of is necessary in all of our lives, no matter our ages. We all need a space that is accepting, nonjudgmental, loving, and full of Christ's presence in others. Spaces like this help us continue the walk of discipleship and help us flourish. 

You know - I'll tell you something so personal here - my son John does not believe in "Christ." I don't push him on this. I'm going to let him own his faith journey. He is trying to differentiate himself from me and figure out who he is. As a person myself who struggled with faith and who never benefited from someone telling me what I HAD to believe, I encourage his questioning because I want him to own the journey. But, I put "Christ" in quotes because I don't think John gets it yet. He does know Christ. He knows Christ in others. We all carry Christ and imitate him. What John may not have the words for yet is Christ has shaped him and guided him for a long time. When he gets out there in college he will realize how he has been fundamentally shaped by the holy reminder of Glenn youth and how all of that - the people, the acceptance, the love, the safety - is Christ. He's analytical, discerning, curious, and bright. I don't need to panic about his proclaimed faith because I know he is held by the family of believers that have shaped him and his heart. 

We all need to know we are held by our church community, by safe loving spaces. The spaces we create, the doors we open for others, are us imitating Christ. Our faith is not a stagnant thing. Not only do we need to feed our own faith regularly, but we need to constantly imitate, too. The imitating shouldn't feel like work either. The imitating is one of those fruits of the spirit; do it because it feels good and right. Those youth that spoke yesterday are so good. They will go out in the world, shaped by Christ's church, and be voices we need. 

Anyway, those are my ramblings on Glenn Youth Sunday. My prayer this week for you all: may you all be filled with the presence of Christ in others, may your faith be renewed, your spirit be lifted to imitate Christ and foster loving community! 
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