Today is the first Sunday in Lent. The season began on Wednesday. It was an odd day with Ash Wednesday (the sacred day) along with Valentine’s Day (the secular day.) In between the two services, another mass shooting in a high school in Parkland, Florida. I am still saddened by yet another shooting. A couple of days ago I wrote a blog sharing my dismay and grief.
Today in worship as I rewrote my sermon in the last couple of days, I am aware that embracing the tempted Jesus meant believing that no matter what, like Jesus, we are all called to face the adversary, Satan, and stand up and say not today, not in this place and time. The Dalai Lama has said “For as long as space endures, and for as long as living beings remain, Until then may I, too, abide to dispel the misery of the world.”
So in worship today, we baptized an adult and called her beloved. We confessed our sins. We heard the gospel of Jesus’ baptism, temptation and call to proclaim that God’s kingdom is at hand. And we focused on what it means to to believe and trust God is with us no matter what. You can find the service video link here.
This story by Brian Andreas was shared in my facebook memories from four years ago
In the midst of all that is, I pray for love and courage and moments of play to strengthen me and you to believe that God’s kingdom is at hand and we are part of it.
Today we finished up our sermon series “The Character of a Methodist.” Sunday was filled with moments: an update on missions and an invitation to participate, two children who shared why camp changed their lives and faith and every person who came to worship (or received a bulletin in the mail) was given a Valentine. On top of that, it is for many Christians, Transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany before Lent begins.
We did it all and more in worship. I used the Mass Mutual “The Unsung” commercial from last weeks Super Bowl. It was shown at least half an hour before the kickoff, so many didn’t see it. It’s long for a commercial (two minutes) but for me speaks to what “loving our neighbors as ourselves” looks like. You can find the commercial here. I recommend watching it, even if you don’t care to watch First UMC service today.
Loving God first with heart, soul, mind and strength is what we are challenged to do as followers of Christ. Loving God is made real in the fullness of the law, which is completed in loving one’s neighbor the same way one loves one’s self. Sometimes I shudder to really think that through: how I treat others, how I love others is a witness, a statement of how I really think, believe, love and live out my faith in God. The final worship service (and others in this series) can be found on the church’s website through this link.
As the season of Lent looms in the next few days, my prayer is that all of us might truly love God and that love be made real in everything we say and do.
Yesterday we continued our sermon series based on John Wesley’s essay “The Character of a Methodist.”
Jesus said we are called to “Love the LORD our God with all our hearts, with all our souls, all our minds and all our strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.” This series is focusing on each one of those statements and this week we looked at how we love God with our minds. Personally I think this can tricky. One the one hand we think ourselves into a state of anxiety and uncertainty. Or we can dismiss what we think and focus only on the heart and spirit. I think we are called to dedicate our minds to do the will of God.
You can find the link to the worship service here.
During the sermon I shared this prayer from St. Anselm in the 10th century as one way to focus our minds on seeking God and learning from God.
O Lord my God,
Teach my heart this day where and how to see you,
Where and how to find you.
You have made me and remade me,
And you have bestowed on me
All the good things I possess,
And still I do not know you.
I have not yet done that
For which I was made.
Teach me to seek you,
For I cannot seek you
Unless you teach me,
Or find you
Unless you show yourself to me.
Let me seek you in my desire,
Let me desire you in my seeking.
Let me find you by loving you,
Let me love you when I find you.
Yesterday’s worship service was good for my soul in so many ways. In both the 8:15 and 11:00 service I listened to Trevor Stewart play viola and in the latter service the Chapman Stick. I first heard him on a Saturday at the Old Town Farmer’s Market and promptly bought his CD. The choir sang beautifully, but also, some of my favorite hymns were sung.
I have loved the hymn “It is Well With My Soul” for so long. The words written by Horatio Spafford after several tragic events in his life, he lost a son, his livelihood in the Great Chicago Fire and then his four daughters on ship crossing the Atlantic to Europe. It is said he penned the words to this song near the spot where his daughters drowned on his way to meet his grieving wife. This is one of my favorite renditions of that hymn. In worship, we ended the service with this hymn.
Our sermon series is focusing on how DO we love God with all our hearts and all our souls and all our minds and all our strength and our neighbor as ourselves? This service was looking at our soul work and how is it we can find peace in our souls.
I used this great quote from John Wesley that I received this last week at the Order’s and Fellowship meeting.
“Whether you like it or not, read and pray daily. It is for your life: There is no other way; else you will be a trifler all your days….do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow.”
A link to yesterday’s worship service can be found here
How is it with your soul today? How will it be with your soul this week? I pray it will be well with your soul and that through your life, your heart and your spirit God’s grace and love is made real in the world.
Today at First United Methodist Church we celebrate the Visitation of the Magi or the Feast of Epiphany. In many other churches, particularly those who attend worship on the actual day, January 6, today was the baptism of Jesus. We will celebrate that next week.
This morning, was another moment to breathe and to immerse ourselves in the incarnation, Emmanuel, God-with-us. The story in Matthew 2 is a complex and deeper story then we often believe. The Christmas season and Epiphany are no just sentimental stories that are cute and sweet.
At the heart of them is a God who enters a world filled with violence and hatred and pain. God comes in Christ not when the world ready or perfect, but when the world is broken and needs grace. In worship today, we focused on Epiphany not only as a festival, but as a season where God’s light is there for all. You can watch our worship service in its entirety here: Downtown Alive
As with most Epiphany services, I ended the sermon with Howard Thurman’s poem:
May these words come true this year! A blessed Epiphany!
In a world that seems to have gone mad, we, I look for hope. After last week’s mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, I was grief stricken, devastated. I felt like I should write something, but I had no words. I guess, I just weary of one more horrific, violent act and they seem to come faster and faster and faster.
Sunday, November 12 as confirmation Sunday at First United Methodist Church had been on the calendar since mid-summer. There was no way I could or would change what our six confirmands had been praying, studying and preparing for all these weeks. And yet, I did have concern that we were not addressing what was happening in the world. But then again, I was not going to hijack this service.
I have pretty much done confirmation Sunday the same way most of my ministry. Those who are being confirmed, choose the hymns/choruses/music and write their own statement of belief (which becomes the proclamation of the word.) They lead worship and are baptized if they have not been, anointed and brought into full membership. Each class is asked if they would like the sacrament of Holy Communion as part of the service and in all my years, not one class has said no. They then serve the congregation as their first act of ministry as full members.
You can view the entire service through this link. I believe if you watch it, you will be blessed by this wonderful group of youth. Their ages range from eighth grade through eleventh grade. They have wonderful minds, deep spirits and a love of God and neighbor. I was deeply blessed to work with them with my associate Pastor Rebecca Goltry Mohr, our interim youth director Joe Mohr, our children’s ministry director Patricia Tristan, El Mesias pastor Pastor Sergio Tristan and their mentors Corey Godbey, Nancy McKellar and Nancy Herrin.
The willingness of these young people to place their faith in God, to become members of a church and to offer their gifts is a testament to hope and I believe a sign that God is at work transforming the world. It doesn’t take away from the pain or grief or horror that is often made manifest in the world, but yesterday reminded me that there are more good people doing loving than things, than bad people doing evil. I will hold on to that faith That God is at work and that love will triumph over hate. These confirmands renewed that faith and that hope. I am blessed by their witness.
Each year I am moved by All Saints Sunday, which for many Protestants is celebrated on the first Sunday of November. Names are read, candles lit and we remember. This year at First United Methodist Church we lit thirty three candles for each member that had died since November 1, 2016. Thirty three….members, that does not include all the family members and friends and others that have died and affected our congregation. We light a thirty fourth candles to include all those others, plus those who have suffered pregnancy losses.
Here is the link to today’s worship service. The music was wonderful, the candles beautiful, just being together to remember powerful.
Every year as I light candles I remember ALL those saints who have gone before, those family members and friends whom I still miss. I will continue to pray for those currently walking the fresh valley of grief, those who are transitioning from this life to next. Life is good, but sometimes it is hard and filled with ups and downs.
On this day, I grateful for all the saints, for that great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us, and the comfort and grace of God that goes with us on journey.