On Peace

My sermon for Homecoming at McFarland UMC on August 26, 2018.

Primary scripture: John 14:27

Gracious God, open our ears that we may hear your truth, open our eyes that we may see your kingdom, and open our hearts and minds that we might know the cries of our brothers and sisters who are hungry, and hurting, and sometimes even dying without the knowledge of your love for them. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts together be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Peace.

What a concept.

Our world today is full of turmoil and angst. We are filled with fear… fear of the unknown, fear of those that are unlike us, fear of those who mean to cause us harm… or at least that’s what THEY tell us… whoever THEY are.

In the midst of all the things that cause us anxiety, peace is hard to find.

In fact, peace is a precious commodity to us in a world that has been anxious for the past 17 years following the attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Since that day, our world has pretty much been turned upside down.

We can’t travel with the relative freedom that we were accustomed to.

Air travel has become a tremendous inconvenience while we are all treated like potential terrorists.

We have been conditioned to fear… everything.

And the consequences of this Fear Everything All the Time 24/7/365  mentality has turned us into the most paranoid, most skittish bunch of folks in the history of our nation.

As a consequence, we are the most divided that we have been in my lifetime. We are suspicious of folks that are unlike us and we are contemptuous toward those who don’t share our beliefs.

We live in a world where peace is illusive and seemingly out of our reach.

And it is in this world that we currently inhabit that we desperately need to hear the message of peace that Jesus is sharing with his disciples in our passage from John this morning.:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27, NRSV)

Jesus is speaking to his Disciples and the others who were “hangers on” to the inner circle as they were gathered together for the meal that we celebrate in the sacrament of Holy Communion. He is trying to prepare them for the events that will begin to take place in just a few hours… events that will lead to his arrest, crucifixion, death and burial within the next 24 hours.

He knows what is about to happen to him… and he knows what is about to happen to them as well. Their Leader, their Rabbi, their friend, the one that held such an attraction to them that they would leave their former lives behind to follow an itinerant Rabbi into an unknown future is about to be tried as an enemy of the people, sentenced to death, and killed by the leaders of the very people that he was trying to save. In 24 hours, their lives would be placed in jeopardy as well and everything that they have known for the past 3 years would be placed into doubt as they tried to make sense of what had happened.

There had to be questions as Jesus shared what theologians refer to as “the farewell discourse” with them. He was assuring them that he was the way, the truth, and the life. He told them that he would be leaving them and returning to the Father… and in his place, there would be another, The Sprit of Truth, the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, who would guide and direct them in the mission that would be set before them… a mission to spread the Gospel, the Good News, that the God of all creation loves unconditionally and invites his creation to love unconditionally as well. “Be known by how you love one another,” he said.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27, NRSV)

The events of that night transpired and the disciples reacted just as Jesus had thought they would. They scattered for a time and worked their way back to the room where they had last spent time with their master. Only this time the doors and windows were barred and locked and the disciples trembled in fear for their lives and their safety, not at all sure of what to make of what had happened. That’s where they were when the women went to tend to the body of Jesus on Easter morning. That’s where they were when the women returned to tell them of the stone being rolled away from the tomb. And that’s where they were, trembling in fear, not sure what to make of all of the events of the past few days when Jesus appeared to them saying “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 

His last words to them before his arrest were words of peace. His first words to them following the resurrection were words of peace.

The peace that Jesus is speaking of is not peace as in the cessation of hostilities in a war, but the inner peace that comes through trusting in and leaning on God’s promises for us. This is the peace that Paul speaks of in his letter to the church at Philippi, the “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Phil 4:7, NRSV). It is a stillness and calming quietness that we experience in the very depth of our souls that allows us to “be still and know” that God is God, that we are not, and that informs us that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” (Julian of Norwich).

As followers of Christ, we are called to be people of peace… people in peace with others, seeking to bring peace and spiritual blessing to ourselves and others with the help of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, who is present with us in the absence of Jesus, who has ascended to the Father. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, is a spirit of peace and tranquility in our lives that we can share with others, as the Spirit gives us strength and power to do so.

As followers of Christ, we must allow the Holy Spirit to inhabit our lives, granting us peace so that we may be bearers of God’s grace and peace to all humanity and to all of creation. We cannot let the uncertainties and the discordant nature of society infect us and tear us away from our calling to bear witness to God’s love and grace. We must instead, look to God to per fect’ us in his love so that we may be molded and made into the people that God calls us to be… beacons of hope, ambassadors of grace and joy to this community here in Rossville.

The only problem is that peace is counterintuitive. Chaos is part of our human nature, not that we love it, but that we become so accustomed to it that the peace of God seems foreign to us. And it IS foreign, because it is so radically different to us. But Jesus reminded us in the Beatitudes that “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons (and daughters) of God” (Matt 5:9, NRSV).

My friends, we are called to seek the peace of God, a peace that we cannot find on our own – we must trust in God, a peace that brings a calm, serene spirit to our souls in the midst of chaos. Once we have that peace, we are to share it with all of creation… without prejudice and without reservation.

The God of all creation. The first person of the Trinity of God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit has given us the ability to live out this contentment, this peace, this stillness in our souls as an alternative to the chaos that surrounds us. It is God’s gift to us… if we just accept it, fully place our trust in God and turn away from the attitude that we are in control.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27, NRSV)

It is God’s gift to us for the taking.

Do we trust in God?

Or do we love, and loathe the familiar chaos?

The choice is ours.

Which do you choose?

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

The McFarland Free Store

This morning, I had the opportunity to experience my first Free Store at McFarland UMC. Now, you need to understand that the Free Store collects donated clothing and personal care items for those in need. I understand from Vicki Riddle, the co-ordinator and driving force behind the free store, that folks start arriving around 7:30 a.m. to be first in line to shop at the free store which opens at 9:15 or so.

We gathered in the Sanctuary at 9:00. After instructions from Vicki about the process (everyone registering is given a number and a few groups at a time are allowed to shop based on a first-come first-served basis), I gave a devotion based upon the Parable of the Prodigal Son, a devotion that was designed to reassure folks that they are a beloved child of God, no matter what they might have been told by others. Once we prayed, folks moved from the Sanctuary to the Hospitality space and the hallway to wait for their turn to shop. Coffee, cookies, and snacks were available while folks waited their turn. It was a pleasure to talk and pray with some of the clients. It was also a pleasure to talk with some of the volunteers that make this ministry happen.

The Free Store clientele reminds me of the clientele that we saw at the Tri-State Food Pantry during my time at Sand Mountain, people who just needed a hand-up and not a hand-out. There were folks who got the limit of what they could get and there were folks who just got what little they needed. Everyone who came had a chance to get something that they needed.

As I watched the morning unfold, I got to see the church be the church. People of different backgrounds reached out to their neighbors in need to provide a bit of comfort and a bit of respect for them as children containing the image of the living God within them. And, as I watched the church be the church, my heart was strangely warmed to see that my folks “get it.” Once again, I am so blessed to be their pastor.

Settling In

My first Sunday in this new appointment to McFarland UMC (101 E Gordon Ave., Rossville, GA) was July 1. I started moving into the office on June 20, but then Charlene and I took a leisurely trip to/from Saratoga Springs, NY to visit our daughter, Monica. After a couple of weeks of introduction, I will be starting a new sermon series following the Revised Common Lectionary readings in Ephesians that I’m calling “No Longer Strangers.” The texts and rough topics for this series are:

July 15        Ephesians 1:3-14     All in the Family
July 22        Ephesians 2:11-22   Aliens No More
July 29        Ephesians 3:14-21   God’s Powerful Love
August 5     Ephesians 4:1-16     Bound Together
August 12   Ephesians 4:25-5:2  Making Peace
August 19   Ephesians 5:15-20   Overflow

Paul’s letter to the Church at Ephesus is an interesting, and controversial, text.  However,  it is an important text dealing with how we, as the church, relate to each other and to the community in which we serve.  As we approach this first series together, I would invite you to read the entire letter to the Ephesians in one sitting.  It won’t take you more than a half hour.  Read to get a feeling of the gist of this letter.  If you have a copy of The Message by Eugene Peterson, read that since it will provide you with an overview of the letter.  Then set it aside for time.  Next, take your study Bible and read the text for this week. Note what you find that resonates with you.  Read it again.  Set it aside for a bit, then read it a third time, paying attention to the things that call to you in the text.  Once you do all of this preparation, you will be ready to engage the text in worship on Sunday morning.

As we enter into this 3rd week together, I look forward to engaging further with you.  Visitation with the shut-ins begins this week and I look forward to meeting all of you, hearing your stories, and establishing a vision for McFarland for the years to come.

I’m so thankful to be your pastor.  I am so thankful for the reception that you have given to me as we get to know each other.  My prayer is that we will seek and conform to God’s will for this community and our place in it.  Please pray for me as I pray for each one of you.

Blessings,
Wayne

Stranger in a Strange Land

First Sermon at McFarland UMC
July 1, 2018
1 Peter 2:1-12

Gracious God, open our ears that we may hear your truth, open our eyes that we may see your kingdom, and open our hearts and minds that we might know the cries of our brothers and sisters who are hungry, and hurting, and sometimes even dying without the knowledge of your love for them. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts together be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

This past week, my wife, Charlene, and I traveled to upper New York state to visit our daughter in Saratoga Springs, NY, where she is the Assistant Stage Manager for Opera Saratoga. It was a 970 mile one-way trip and it took us 2 days to get there from here. We left last Thursday and arrived in Saratoga Springs on Friday evening. We spent a couple of days there in Saratoga Springs and then meandered back home via Hyde Park, the home and presidential library of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, we then traveled west from there to Binghamton, NY on a scenic route that took us across the southern end of the Catskill Mountains; we travelled from there to Gettysburg where we visited the site of that great Civil War battle (which unfolded 155 years ago this week) – a battle that pitted brother against brother in a nation that was severely divided; from there we spent the night in Staunton, VA before making the final trek home on Wednesday. While we were making this journey, we also took advantage of visiting quilt shops along the way so that Charlene could participate in the “Row by Row” experience – I’ll let Charlene fill you in on those details after church, I was just along for the ride. 🙂 As we traveled, especially above the Mason Dixon Line, we had the feeling of being strangers in a strange land. The voices we heard had a different resonance and speed and people thought we talked funny, the sweet tea at Cracker Barrel restaurants in Pennsylvania and New York just wasn’t quite right, and things were just… different. But, especially in the quilt shops, we found that there were common bonds and common experiences as Charlene and the shop owners shared their love of the craft of quilting. And through that sharing, we found that we really weren’t strangers after all, that the things that we held in common were far stronger than the things that separated us.

Today, I stand before you as a stranger in a strange land. I say that because today I come before you as your newly appointed pastor as you continue to miss Ginger who is doing the same thing in a new location herself. I don’t know you and you don’t know me. But that will change as we get to know one another in the weeks and months to come. The reception from you has been wonderful. The folks that I have met have been gracious and welcoming in every way. Just like we found commonality as we traveled last week, I am certain that we will find commonality here at McFarland UMC. But, I must admit that I’m a little nervous about this morning. This Sunday marks the first time in 10 years that I haven’t had my relationships at Sand Mountain UMC to lean on. Yes, we had been paired with Rising Fawn for 5 years and then with Wildwood for the last 2 years, but Sand Mountain has provided part of the foundation that I needed to be successful… and I will miss them. If for no other reason that they already know and appreciate my strengths, they know and forgive my weaknesses, they know and have come to appreciate my quirky sense of humor, and they know what a genuinely humble person that I am. (And the folks at Sand Mountain told me that you wouldn’t laugh at that, too). But I am looking forward to getting to know you, to hear your stories, to see your passions at work and then sharing this journey that we are all on together to spread the Gospel, the Good News, of Jesus Christ to a world that is in desperate need of Good News, in desperate need of the light of Christ, and in desperate need of the love and grace of God expressed through the church, and that is all of us together as the body of Christ.
Today’s lesson from 1 Peter is part of a letter that is generally thought now to be written by a follower of the apostle Peter around the year 90 CE. It is written from Rome to the churches in the five provinces of Asia Minor: Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. In this letter, the author is writing to churches that are under stress in a hostile environment. He is writing to remind them of who they are and, more importantly, whose they are. He reminds them that they are called to grow in their faith and in their discipleship – to seek the “pure, spiritual milk” (1 Peter 2:2) that will lead to growth toward salvation when we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good.
The author reminds us that Jesus is the cornerstone of who we are as people of faith and that “whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (1 Peter 2:7b). He reminds us that, as followers of the resurrected Christ, we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation – as the church, the body of Christ, not as any sovereign, worldly nation. The author reminds us that, in Christ, we are more than what our citizenship gains us in a particular country, we are citizens of the kingdom of God, a kingdom that transcends an earthly allegiance and exemplifies the very principles that Jesus Christ himself extolled as being bound up in love of God and love of neighbor.
As the church, we are called to live into an existence that is not an easy one for us to live without the constant strength and power given to us from God. We are called to carry the light of Christ, the love of God for all of humanity and the grace of God into a world that is shaped by fear and haunted by darkness. We are called to care for the widow, the orphan, and yes, the immigrant in ways that reflect God’s love for us, a love that was extended to us when God “became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood” in the person of Jesus, the Christ, as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message transliteration of John 1:14.
The fear and the darkness of this world are real. But the light that is Jesus Christ, the light that we, as followers of Christ, carry with us burns bright and can lead us and others out of the darkness and into life… and to freedom as the chains that bind us are broken so that the hungry are fed, the thirsty receive drink, the tired and the weary receive rest, and this broken world receives healing from the very source of creation itself.
Each and every person walking the face of this earth is created in the very image of God; the life giving breath of God breathed into the first human being is carried by each and every one of us. Our task is to grow in our faith in order to let that image shine forth in us, so that as others look at us, they will see the image of Jesus himself.
It’s not an easy task. It’s not a task that we can accomplish on our own. But it is a task that we can accomplish when we lean on God and serve God through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. It is a task that we can accomplish with the help and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, given to us at Pentecost to be our helper and our guide into the presence of the living God.
Our task is before us. It is a task that each of us, individually, must seek out and it is a task that can only be accomplished when we work together as the church, the Body of Christ, to bring the kingdom of God to earth. It starts with prayer and it ends in us taking action, whatever the Spirit determines that action may be, to see that all of God’s children are loved and embraced, and empowered to live in and through the very Christ who came so that we may have life and have it abundantly. It is a task that is not conditioned by age or gender for God gives us the strength to do what we can to be the people that God calls us to be.
We are all strangers in a foreign land. A foreign land where we are tasked with sharing the love of God with every person that we meet. Over the weeks and months ahead, it will be my privilege to be your servant leader in this time and place. There will be challenges, there will be struggles, but if we walk with the Holy Spirit as our Guide, the challenges, the struggles, and the difficulties won’t matter because God is with us.
Thanks be to God. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A Fresh Start

I can’t believe that it has been a few years (yes, years) since I shared thoughts on this blog. A blog that is the third iteration of my attempt at blogging. The first, “TnRambler’s Ramblings” was probably the most successful, starting at blogspot and then moving to WordPress a few years later. For some reason, I chose to delete it and the second attempt before reconsidering to start this blog with its fits and starts. I guess that I came to the conclusion that I either had nothing to say, or that no one wanted to hear what I had to say. I’ll let you make your own determination.

I provide this brief history to tell you that I have decided to resume blogging. Some things are changing in my life as I head into a fresh start, of sorts. After serving ten years at Sand Mountain United Methodist Church (along with various stints of serving a second church on the charge – the current one being Wildwood UMC), I am projected to be appointed  to McFarland United Methodist Church in Rossville, Georgia when Bishop Taylor fixes the appointments next week at the Holston Annual Conference.  It is a time of fresh settings, fresh ideas, and fresh opportunities… and perhaps, a time for a fresh look at sharing my thoughts via this blog.

I cannot say anything about fresh starts without sharing my thanks to the people of Sand Mountain/Wildwood who have nurtured me and formed me as a pastor during my time with them. We have shared laughter and tears as we have shared in the task of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” They have tolerated me and, more importantly, loved me into being the pastor that God has called me to be in this time and place. While I will no longer be their pastor after June 19, I will continue to be their friend. They will always be in my prayers.

I am excited and a bit nervous about what lies ahead. Change is hard, yet I know that God is going with me to this new appointment. I look forward to ministry in Rossville with the people of McFarland UMC. I look forward to meeting and getting to know them and their stories. I look forward to exploring new and fresh ways of sharing “the old, old story” with them and the Rossville community.  And, I look forward to the fresh start and the opportunities that it will bring.

Stay tuned.