Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Memories that Provoke Renewed Thought

I don't know about you, but there are days when my "memories" on Facebook can take me back on a trip down memory lane, remind me of some good times, bring up the loss of a loved one, remind me even why I joined in the first place (I was a professor at a local university and I joined Facebook to get to know my students), ETC. Sometimes those memories show up and they cause me to pause.

Like today.  A picture and a statement came up and it was one of those "cause for a pause" moments. 

It took me back.  It took me back to Buffalo, MN, to Christ the King Retreat Center where we had our FUMSDRL/HOF retreat with Terry Hershey that summer.  It was the summer that I did SOULfeast one week and then went directly into the retreat for week 2.  It was crazy on one hand, but it proved with time that God was working in the soil of my soul.

I wandered around that beautiful place and took many photographs.  I had many thoughts.  I had great conversations with lots of wonderful people that week.  Some of those folks I will see next week as we gather in NC for this year's FUMSDRL/HOF retreat with Jane Vennard.  Other folks won't be there, but I will meet new ones.  There were some conversations that week that rooted deep.

As I looked at the photograph today, I remembered standing there in the spot, contemplating the scene that was in front of me.  I remembered the curiosity, the sense of adventure, and the feeling that somehow, this was my path.  Not the literal path in the picture, but the one I wrote about, the one I shared again today on Facebook.  The one I share here.

Do I understand it fully? No.  Do I know where it's going?  No.  Do I need to?  No.  Not according to Thomas Merton and others.  I will follow what I can clearly see daily.  I will continue living into who and what I am created to be.  I will learn, listen, and follow the guidance of the One Voice who leads and guides me (Psalm 23).

taken July 25, 2014 at Christ the King Retreat Center
Here are the words I wrote on July 25, 2014 to accompany the picture above:

When faced with an overgrown path between yourself and a destination, look closely for the hidden worn path of travelers gone before and follow their steps. If no such step or opening exists, it may be time to forge the path for others.~d

Blessings on your path and your journey,


P.S.  We met that year in 2014 as a Board prior to the retreat.  I wrote several blog posts from my time there, but here is one that I wrote a few days earlier on 7/22/14 to seeing this scene and writing this picture. 

Follow the trails of the wise ones...

Christ Is Our Peace-- last week's sermon, reflections, and links

This past Sunday I was able to round out getting back into the pulpit for year 4 of ministry and year 4 in the Holston Georgia Parish as I preached at Fort Oglethorpe UMC and Simpson UMC.  It was good to be back in those faith communities to worship with this on Sunday.

The sermon was from Ephesians 2:11-22, with the focus verse being 14: "Christ is our peace."

As I prepared for the sermon, I ran across a hymn written by Richard Garland, a retired United Methodist pastor and a hymn writer.  His hymn, "Christ Is Our Peace" was perfect for the sermon, so I included it.  I knew I would want to include it in this blog post, so I wrote and asked permission to include the lyrics.  He graciously agreed, requesting that I included copyright information.  I have added that to the sermon notes below.  I have also added several links to Discipleship Ministries, where you can read about him and his hymns.

As usual, what you read below is not necessarily exactly what was shared in full at one or either church.  I share with the hope that you might experience Christ as your peace.

“Christ Is Our Peace”
Ephesians 2:11-22 (CEB)
July 22, 2018 (9th Sunday after Pentecost)
Fort Oglethorpe UMC, Simpson UMC

11 So remember that once you were Gentiles by physical descent, who were called “uncircumcised” by Jews who are physically circumcised. 12 At that time you were without Christ. You were aliens rather than citizens of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of God’s promise. In this world you had no hope and no God. 13 But now, thanks to Christ Jesus, you who once were so far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14 Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. 15 He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. 16 He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God.
17 When he came, he announced the good news of peace to you who were far away from God and to those who were near. 18 We both have access to the Father through Christ by the one Spirit. 19 So now you are no longer strangers and aliens. Rather, you are fellow citizens with God’s people, and you belong to God’s household. 20 As God’s household, you are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 The whole building is joined together in him, and it grows up into a temple that is dedicated to the Lord.22 Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit.
There are several passages in Scripture where Christ comes into situations that aren’t peaceful and in those situations of chaos or fear, what Jesus says to those in his midst is a word of peace.

Two examples:

Mark 4:38-40 (NRSV)-- “...Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 

John 20:19 (CEB)—“That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.”

In a world filled with stress, difficulties, death, loss of any kind, how are we to understand that Christ doesn’t just speak peace into our lives, but that Christ IS our peace, as it states in verse 14? What does that mean for us?

Looking back at the passage, some of the key words that stand out to me are: reconciliation, no longer strangers and aliens, citizens, joined together. 

Christ IS our peace, verse 14.  And, Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit, verse 22.

This passage reminds us of who and whose we are, recognizing the joy, freedom, and responsibility that comes with being someone through whom Christ is bringing peace, wholeness, and healing into the world.  And it isn’t just us individually.  As we gather to worship corporately, we come together in community to share on a larger scale.

Speaking of coming together in community—there is a part of worship called the “Passing of the Peace”.  Because of today’s sermon, “Christ Is Our Peace”, it’s a good time to briefly talk about what the “passing of the peace” means.   

The passing of the peace has been around for centuries.  You may have noticed the greetings in the letters of Paul: “grace and peace”.  And as mentioned previously in the sermon, Jesus shared the word of peace with his disciples.

“The Passing of the Peace is a time when all, including the pastor, exchange signs and words of peace and reconciliation with one another.  This  is  more formal  than the welcome /  greeting above.  It  may be viewed as an act of seeking and granting forgiveness.”               

“The Passing of the Peace is a sign of reconciliation and blessing which is based on New Testament Christian practice (Romans 16:16 and at least 4 other verses advise, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.”) These days, we are a bit shy about kissing, and some are even hesitant to shake hands, especially if they’ve got a cold.  Nevertheless, the act is significant, whether we shake hands, bump elbow, hold up a hippie “peace-V”, or simply look one another in the eye as we greet each other.  It is far more than a chance to say “Hi.” In sharing the words like “The peace of Christ be with you,” and hearing the response “And also with you,” we are reminded that we are all in this together; we are all God’s children who “forgive as we are forgiven.”  We have the power and the charge to bless others with Christ’s peace every moment of every day, but it’s not easy.  In worship, we practice sharing that important, life-giving act.”

When you “pass the peace” of Christ, therefore, what do you say? 

You can simply say: “Peace of Christ.”  or “Christ’s peace.”  Or you can elaborate: “The peace of Christ be with you.”   The response is “and also with you”.

You typically pass the peace to those nearby you, on your pew, in front of you or behind you. If there is a need to share reconciliation with someone, do it.

This is a brief teaching on passing of the peace.  “Chuck Knows Church” has an episode on this, #69-- Passing of the Peace.
 Richard Garland, a United Methodist pastor and hymn writer, wrote a hymn in 2014 entitled, “Christ Is Our Peace”.  I found it on the Discipleship Ministries website.  He currently lives in Rhode Island these days, is active in the Emmaus community, and still fills in as pulpit supply.

“Christ Is Our Peace”, Copyright F. Richard Garland, 2014. Used by permission.

1--Christ is our peace, the source of hope and healing, who brings us near, that love may reconcile.  He breaks down walls that separate and break us.  He challenges conventions that defile.

2--His covenant calls us to love each other.  His presence seeks discipleship and peace.  In fellowship with saints of every nation our dwelling place in Christ will bring release.

3--Christ welcomes all: no one is seen as stranger.  The alien is neighbor and our friend.  The walls we build are broken by his great love.  His unity will all our schisms end.

What a powerful hymn from today’s passage. 

Hope, healing, reconciling love. Walls broken down that separate us.  Conventions challenged.

We are called to love each other.  How are we doing?  How are we living into our our covenant relationship of discipleship with Christ?

No one is seen as stranger because Christ welcomes all.  Are we modeling this example of Christ?  Do we welcome all into our daily lives?  What about our faith community?  Are all welcome here?  Is there anyone who is not welcome here? Christ IS our peace and has broken down the walls by his great love.  There is unity and reconciliation in Christ.

It is up to us, as followers and disciples of Christ to do the hard work of growing in our own faith so that we can continue to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. 

As you have heard today’s passage, the words from the hymn, and other teachings, how does this peace of Christ strike you today? 

This peace of Christ, the reconciliation and unity is the foundation of our individual faith journey, our own faith community, our parish, and the community where we are physically structured. If we aren’t allowing the peace of Christ to live in us, to flow from us, then how will it flow and shine from us to others?

I don’t know about you, but for me, this is challenge is real.  To allow the peace of Christ to live in me, to flow from me, to remember that the walls are already broken down and that there are NO strangers or aliens, that Christ welcomes all.  My goal continues to be to love God and love others as I love myself and to live, love, and lead like Jesus.

In closing, I share these words from Bishop Rueben Job with you: “Peace, hope, calm, and joy are the fruits of placing our confidence in God.  May these gifts be yours in abundance.” (A Guide to Prayer For All Who Walk With God, 268)


Please share any feedback about the sermon, the hymn or anything else that struck you.

Blessings on your journey, 


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Counting God's Blessings-- last week's sermon

This past Sunday was my first Sunday back in the pulpit after my hip replacement surgery on June 25th.  It was a blessing to be back in worship!  I took two Sundays off for healing and I continue to take time off from the office, meetings, and visitation.  I was at one church only this past week, Flintstone UMC.  I was able to navigate the area around the pulpit because there are few stairs.  I sat up there and had my walker nearby.  I preached from the pulpit.  I did not go down from that area at all nor did I walk around. Being able to worship in community was truly a blessing on Sunday.

The sermon, "Counting God's Blessings" was based on Ephesians 1:3-14.

The opening hymn was "Blessings" by Laura Story. It was new to most people, so we sat and listened. Though not new to me, it was good to sit and absorb, singing along some, and allowing the words to soak in.

Here is the sermon from Sunday, recognizing that there were some things likely added and/or left out in the moment.

At the end of this post I will add some links for further information on some things I mention in the sermon.

“Counting God’s Blessings”
Ephesians 1:3-14 (CEB)
July 15, 2018 (8th Sunday after Pentecost)
Flintstone UMC

Bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing that comes from heaven. God chose us in Christ to be holy and blameless in God’s presence before the creation of the world. God destined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ because of his love. This was according to his goodwill and plan and to honor his glorious grace that he has given to us freely through the Son whom he loves. We have been ransomed through his Son’s blood, and we have forgiveness for our failures based on his overflowing grace, which he poured over us with wisdom and understanding. God revealed his hidden design to us, which is according to his goodwill and the plan that he intended to accomplish through his Son. 10 This is what God planned for the climax of all times: to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth. 11 We have also received an inheritance in Christ. We were destined by the plan of God, who accomplishes everything according to his design. 12 We are called to be an honor to God’s glory because we were the first to hope in Christ. 13 You too heard the word of truth in Christ, which is the good news of your salvation. You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit because you believed in Christ. 14 The Holy Spirit is the down payment on our inheritance, which is applied toward our redemption as God’s own people, resulting in the honor of God’s glory.
In the first verse of this passage we hear “bless”, “blessed”, and “blessing”.  That’s three times in one verse that we hear a version of the word.  Then, throughout the rest of the passage, the ways we are blessed, the blessings are outlined for us.  Among those blessings are: adopted children, redemption/ransomed, forgiveness, inheritance, sealed with the Holy Spirit.  Do you count these things as blessings in your life?  If so, great!  These truly are blessings that we don’t want to ignore or forget.  We want to remember who and whose we are, especially when we come together to worship as a community.  If today these blessings are touching you for the first time, allow them to fall upon you like a gentle rain.  Re-read the passage and be thankful for the blessings mentioned in it.

This passage focuses on God’s actions to and for us, as a gift.  It allows us to celebrate who and whose we are, God’s children.  As we recognize that we are God’s redeemed, adopted, and forgiven children, there is much to celebrate, is there not?!?!  And if we are celebrating who and whose we are, then there is a joy within us, flowing, as we return worship and praise to God, our Creator.

Though this passage in itself contains enough blessings, if I were to ask you to take a moment and count the blessings you’ve experienced this past week, what comes to mind? [Take a moment of silence.]

One of the books I’m working through currently is Embracing Soul Care: Making Space for What Matters Most by Stephen Smith.  This week, I read a chapter on “Beloved Others”.  The author wrote: “Each of us is beloved of God.  Helping others claim and realize their own belovedness is a privilege and sacred responsibility.” (59)  This is why we need community.  In community, among many of the things we do for one another, is that we remind each other who and whose we are.  We point one another back to the Creator, back to the teachings of Jesus, and remind each other that we are beloved children of God.

This past week we went to see the documentary of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood after one of my PT sessions.  I had heard so much about it through social media that I wanted to go see it. 

Who grew up on Mr. Rogers?  Who has seen the documentary? 

Except for being slightly uncomfortable because of my hip, it was a very moving and powerful time.

I had not realized growing up all that I was learning while watching the show.  I didn’t realize how radical Fred Rogers was in showing love, God’s love, to all people.  I also didn’t realize that I was learning at a young age about the benefits of silence as a spiritual practice and God’s blessing.  In the documentary, it talked about how Mr. Rogers incorporated silence into his shows. One scene showed him stacking cups.  He looked up and smiled once, but kept stacking the cups.  Another example was when he got an egg timer out to show folks just how long a minute actually was. He considered silence a gift.

I want to be like Fred Rogers.  There are so many of God’s blessings that I see in him and what he stood for.  Primarily, I want to help people know that God loves them, just the way they are.  I want people to know that they are loved by God.  His biblical message was love neighbor and love others.  He had a way of helping others know they were beloved, from the cellist, to the mailman, to the young man in the wheelchair, to all the children in the audiences, to the graduating classes, Fred Rogers’ message was the same (though he might edit the words to fit the person or the situation): “It’s you I like”

It’s you I like,
It’s not the things you wear,
It’s not the way you do your hair
But it’s you I like
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you
Not the things that hide you,
Not your toys
They’re just beside you.
But it’s you I like
Every part of you.
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new.
I hope that you’ll remember
Even when you’re feeling blue
That it’s you I like,
It’s you yourself
It’s you.
It’s you I like.

In the book I’m reading that I mentioned earlier, the author states, “When we are told that we are the beloved, we learn to recognize the voice of love that speaks into our hearts. It tells us who we are apart from what we have done or accomplished.  This is joy to our hearts because we all long to know our true selves apart from the many masks we wear throughout our lives.” (60)

Now THAT’S a blessing! To recognize God’s voice, the voice of love that speaks into our hearts, that tells us who we are, apart from what we have done or accomplished.  God did that for Jesus in Mark 1:11 (ESV)—“And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Just as God did that for the son, God does that for us and we can do it for one another. We can remind one another of God’s love.

Think for a moment.  Who in your life has helped you remember God’s blessings, God’s love? Who comes to mind? [Allow a few seconds of silence.]

When we focus on God’s blessings, it doesn’t mean that the difficult times, days, or situations disappear.  We still must go through them. What changes is our frame of mind, our responses, our very being, our focus.  As these things change, we change.  As we change, we grow.   As we grow, we impact the lives of others around us.

Do we celebrate the joy of living as God’s children?  Today’s passage reminds us that we are adopted as God’s children, that we have an inheritance. What joy!  What a blessing!

Once we realize that we truly are beloved, adopted children of God, blessed with an inheritance in Christ, what do we do with that truth?

If we follow the example of Mr. Rogers, we share it with every person with whom we come in contact, no matter who, no matter where, no matter what, no matter when.  We want them to know that THEY MATTER.

YOU MATTER.  Do you believe that?

Look around you this morning.  This gift of mattering to God doesn’t start and stop with us individually.  We are connected to one another in community. Yet, there are some people who don’t understand that they matter.  They don’t quite get it. 

How can you and I share the hope and joy of God’s blessings so that others know that they too are richly blessed, adopted, graced, and have an inheritance of love in Jesus Christ?

Imagine God working in and through each of us to share the love and light of Jesus Christ with each and every person, including those we’ve given up on or see as hopeless or unworthy. 

What would it look like to live out 1 John 4:19 which reminds us that, “We love because [God] first loved us.”?

What would the ripple effect of God’s blessings be in our congregation, in our community, in our schools, in our work places, in our families?

May God show us the way.


Here are some video clips that are also seen in the documentary.

The first one is Jeff in his wheelchair and "It's You I Like".

This next video is an entire episode, "Mr. Rogers talks about Love". If you go to 25.56 you see the portion they showed in the documentary when the police officer Mr. Clemmons came by.

This is actually the 2nd time Mr. Clemmons joined Fred in the kiddie pool, the first time being 24 years earlier, at a time when there were folks against mixed swimming.  This was a radical move on Mr. Rogers' part.  He often showed radical love.

If you haven't seen the documentary that's out yet, I recommend it.  Here is a trailer for the documentary.

Blessings on your journey,