In pm's words
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December 8, 2016, 12:00 AM

the one where God failed marketing 101 - Thank God.

Mid-Week Advent Sermon from December 7, 2016

Text: Matthew 3: 1-12

Grace and peace to y’all this evening. Welcome to the second of our Wednesday Evening Advent Services. I continue to pray that these intentional breaks within our week allow you to better focus and open yourselves to God’s presence in your life as we wait in expectant hope during this season.

Whenever I think of Advent – and the wait leading into Christmas – I have to be honest, there’s a pretty important figure within our faith that I usually zip right past. It’s not that this individual is ‘bad’ or not ‘relevant.’ Far from it, in fact his is a voice that we at times most desperately need to hear.

I wonder at times if the reason why I at times ‘skip’ past him is because God didn’t take a marketing 101 course in college. This person is of course – John the Baptist.

Let’s take a look at our gospel from this past Sunday. Would someone please read Matthew 3: 1-12.

Now, from a marketing standpoint, God got it all wrong. All so very wrong. I took communications and marketing classes at Newberry and while I wouldn’t say I’m an ‘expert’ (far from it), I do at least know the ‘basics.’

First – you make your message easily discoverable. Today that’s pretty easy. You’ve got blanket ad campaigns that target radio, print (though not as much as before), TV, web, and social media realms. If you want someone to really hear your pitch – you go to where they are – in all the places they are.

God kind of messed that up. When we are introduced to John the Baptist we find out that he’s ‘outside’ where most people are. People have to go to him to hear his words. Sure, others I’m certain came because of word-of-mouth, but I hazard a guess that they came when their friends said, “Hey – come listen to this dude… he’s kind of nutty.”

That leads right into that second ‘no-no.’ The actual look of your messenger. If you want people to listen or at least be initially intrigued, you present them with an attractive and clean medium to present your product through. You get the best-looking men and women you can find to hawk your product. Straight teeth, good hair, fit body, nice clothes, broad smile. I’m sure God could’ve found someone that didn’t have disheveled hair, presumably ill-fitting and ‘tacky’ clothing, and whose diet consisted of bugs and wild honey.

This is the guy that is shouting your message?

Oh, I almost forgot – the way you present your views is another thing. We read that the Baptist here is shouting his – God’s – message. Sure, the message might be good – but, who here has ever been that convicted by a street preacher? Seriously? Yelling at me usually isn’t going to get me to actually listen to you, it’s just going to make move that much quicker past you. Now, if you get a voice like Morgan Freeman’s? There’s a voice I can listen to all day. Perhaps even a Scarlett Johannsen? Yep, I might not care at all about what you’re trying to push on me, but if it’s the voice of Black Widow? You can guarantee that you’ve got my attention.

From a marketing perspective, there is so much that God got wrong in using John the Baptist. He proclaims his message from outside the place where his audience is located, he presents himself in a way that most people – then and now – would scoff and raise their nose at, and his delivery isn’t the most subtle.

We live in a world, and always have, where people are ‘tricked’ into a product or message. Their wares are packaged behind a slick presentation, through beautiful people, and offered in soothing, sexy, emotional or other shiny ways. All to make you feel better. To feel empowered. To move you.

But, you know what – most times the ad is remembered, but the product is lost. Have y’all seen those Matthew McConaughey ads? I still barely know what they are advertising, but I remember them because they are so odd and beautifully shot.

We have so many ads that bombard us every day – especially during this time of year. They get us to feel ‘less’ than of ourselves in order that we might buy into their services and products. Yet, most of those ads are completely forgotten within days and months, only to be ‘remembered’ over by the next flashy ad.

Yet, for as much as God may have gotten wrong about John the Baptist in the marketing department. One thing can’t be overlooked. It’s a message we still hear today.

And that message? Prepare. God’s coming. Repent. Turn towards God.

It’s a message that still speaks to us, especially during this season of Advent.

A message that comes from an odd individual and from a place outside the comfort of everyday life. That message is spoken through words of care and grace about a God who comes to be in relationship with the entire world. A God who cares so much that he came to be one of us to know what life was like and to lead us to new life through death and resurrection.

Hear the message of Advent. Share the message of Advent. Live out the message of Advent.

God is coming to be with us. God comes to us and we celebrate that during Advent. God’s avenues, mediums, and individuals surprise us relentlessly. They make us squirm and think. They stretch us to places we didn’t think possible.

Perhaps we don’t need a slick messenger, but a hearty message itself. Amen.

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December 5, 2016, 12:00 AM

the one where God turns it upside down

Sermon from December 4, 2016

Text: Isaiah 11: 1-10

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior to Come who is Jesus the Christ – will y’all pray with me? Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

Whenever I hear this particular part of Isaiah I always think of Dr. Venkman from the original Ghostbusters movie – ‘human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!’ Of course, Bill Murray’s character in that film was adding on to the ‘trouble and terribleness’ of ‘biblical proportions’ that his friends were outlying to the mayor of New York City about what was and could possibly happen soon.

I think we like to believe that is what the ‘end times’ will be like. It makes sense right? Blow it all up and start over? Literally wipe the slate clean. We’ve seen so much devastation the past few weeks in our little corner of the country because of wildfires. We are in shock with the amount of devastation that has been wreaked across places that we know so well.

For Thanksgiving, my family and I went to Brevard, NC with Erin’s parents. Just far enough away from those fires to be safe, but close enough to feel the effects. The sight and smell of smoke and ash was everywhere. It was surreal. When I think back on it – yeah, I can see that ‘coming time’ to be sort of like that.

Yet, during the season of Advent we are continually reminded that what God has in store is different than what has ever and will ever be done. The end will indeed be surreal and crazy. We might not be able to comprehend it, but not because of the utter chaos and destruction. Instead, it will be the world flipped over.

When all seems lost, a shoot will rise. From the stump – the cut down and dead – life will spring forth. That life and that light will be the messiah according to Isaiah’s words, vision, and prophesy.

And that messiah will not be like who you think it would be. An individual who will be anointed with and will rest in God’s spirit. When we think of ‘anointing’ during our current time, we like to think of it solely as ‘protection.’ When we talk about someone being ‘anointed and directed by God’ we usually mean that they’ve been kept safe in their life and possibly that they’re pretty successful.

As we read this part of Isaiah, we discover that those are not the ‘outcomes’ of this one having the spirit of God resting upon him.

In fact, the things that this one will do probably won’t bring about safety and any sort of worldly success. I’m sure Isaiah was thinking – this guy – whoever he is; is going to be pushed out and set off somewhere because it doesn’t seem like he’ll ‘fit in’ with the rest of the world.

He’ll judge not by sight or hearing, but with righteousness, equity, and faithfulness.

That’s not something I see going on in the world today. Those are things that scare us. Dealing, working, and dare I say judging someone in those regards brings fear and unknown into our hearts.

Because righteousness isn’t fair – it’s right and just. Fair is giving everyone equal share, treating folks the same – no matter what. Righteousness is giving of what you have so that others are lifted up. Righteousness is letting others speak while you listen. Righteousness is offering up yourself so that another might live more fully.

The one that Isaiah foretells will do that.

As Christians, we look to that Isaiah text and see immediately the one who we wait for in celebration and wait for in expectant hope.

Advent is a weird season. It’s short in length, but powerful in its message. For during Advent we wait for two things – we wait in anticipation for the celebration of that first ‘Advent’ that first time that God came to be with us in the Word made flesh – the incarnation.

We wait for that joyous celebration where we get to cry out to the world – GOD’S HERE! GOD HAS COME! SEE WHAT THE LORD HAS DONE! We wait and proclaim and we celebrate that day. Throughout Advent we are bursting at the seams to shout in joyous chorus about what God has done. It’s what makes Advent so difficult to ‘get’ through at times. We want to already be there – especially in a year like this one. We want to be celebrating something in joy.

But, Advent has a second ‘waiting’ period as well. And that I think is the part of Isaiah’s vision that hasn’t come about yet – but, is still a work in progress. For during Advent, not only do we await the celebration of that first Advent, but we wait in expectant hope for the second Advent as well – the time when the Lord returns.

That’s the one that we get scared of – because we don’t know what it’ll be like or when it’ll come. Yet, Isaiah this morning is full of crazy, outlandish, and dare I say joyous and comforting visions.

Imagine a world where the wolf lies with the lamb? The lion shall eat straw like the ox? Letting your young children stick their hand in a pit of poisonous snakes and not be worried.

Seriously – can y’all imagine that? I can’t. That seems so foolish. So, crazy. So far out there. So, unimaginable. So far and distant from the world we live in.

The biggest surprise of all in that whole vision is that stuck in the middle of these outlandish and foolish visions of the world is that line, “And a little child will lead them.”

Not only will the world literally flip over, but the one to show us the way is a child? Not someone with experience. Not someone with years of learning. Not someone with strength in the most literal of sense. Not someone with extensive knowledge of the operations and machinations of the world, but a child.

I think what stresses many, including myself, about this vision of God’s kingdom that Isaiah proclaims is that we just aren’t there. In fact, it feels like we are so very far from that vision. We continue to hear and see destruction – destruction of the natural world – and humanity’s willingness to be a part of it. Destruction of one another. It still feels like we have been and will live in a world where a lion won’t eat straw, but will devour the ox.

And yet, speaking about that destruction that the wildfires caused in North Carolina – something I heard on the radio this week brought me even a little bit of hope in that. A hope that I think we can look to especially in this season of Advent.

There was an interview with a local fire chief who stated that he was ‘amazed’ that the fire mostly consumed the underbrush, but the trees – those trees that he so lovingly gazed upon his entire life were still there. Still strong. Still alive.

A shoot shall rise out from the stump. Hope remains.

Advent. It surprises us all the time. Whenever things seem most lost and gone – that’s when God shoots forth.

Advent is a season of hope, waiting for and having faith in that expectant hope. Amen.

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December 1, 2016, 12:00 AM

December 2016 Newsletter

Grace and peace y’all!

It’s December! Wow! We’ve been doing this pastor and people thing for a little over a year and a half. Time sure does fly doesn’t it?

I really do love this time of year. I think I like it for reasons that are a bit different than what everybody else enjoys during this time as we approach the end of the year.

Sure, I enjoy the music, the lights, the cooler weather. I enjoy the movies (Elf is still my favorite movie from this time of year) and I even enjoy that jolly ol’ fat guy too. I love the aspect of spending time with friends and family, giving of ourselves to help those in need, having our hearts grow to bursting to care for those around us. Sometimes you just can’t help, but be caught up in all of this.

However, as much as I enjoy this time of year and what it leads to, it’s not all that stuff I listed that really stokes the flames of my soul. What I love about this time of year is that we are in the season of Advent. A time where amid the hustle and bustle of the world around us, we get to pause. In the midst of the world screaming at us (since October mind you) that Christmas is coming and we better be ready; we get to wait.

Now, anyone who has children, works with children, or has seen a child knows that ‘waiting’ is not one of our strong suits as creations of God. We don’t like to wait. We live in an age where we are instantly gratified in all sorts of ways. We can immediately download, stream, or acquire an item at the push of a button. We now have the ability to literally print objects we need (or don’t need). It’s a good time to be alive.

But, in Advent the message we hear is to wait. To be patient. Though, I think we misinterpret what God is telling us in how we are supposed to wait. It isn’t so much that we ‘wait’ like we tell our children or our parents told us – wait, be quiet, don’t move. No, that isn’t what God means by being patient during this season.

Patience means preparation. Patience means slowing down. Patience means living in joy for what is to come, what has come, and what is here in the birth of Christ our Lord.

So, as I wait, I don’t just sit on my hands and wait in anticipation. I’m invited – we are invited – into service and a life lived in faith for those around us – now more than ever.

Yes, Advent is my favorite time of the year because God tells me – tells us – slow down, I’m coming to see you. Be prepared. It’s going to be awesome.

December 1, 2016, 12:00 AM

the one about the waiting room

Mid-Week Advent Sermon - Nov. 30, 2016

Text: Isaiah 2: 1-5

Grace and peace to you this evening as we begin our Advent Wednesday Evening Services. During this Advent, we will look at a different text from our readings from the previous Sunday. Allowing us to take a greater pause with further contemplation in how God continues to speak to us during this time and place.

At this time during the middle of the week we get to take an intentional break during the busyness of our lives. Our hectic schedules, our need to be ‘caught up’ in our purchasing, our cards, our traditions, and more. During Advent this year, we purposefully seat ourselves in the waiting room.

In many ways, that is what Advent is; a waiting room. A place in which we reside as we wait for the good news to come. Sitting in the waiting room – most times – isn’t all that fun. Especially as we are racked with anxiety and worry about what is going on beyond those doors. Perhaps a friend is in labor, a spouse is in surgery, a child is testing or interviewing. Being in the waiting room doesn’t ease our worries and burdens.

Yet, the surprise of the waiting room is that God is there present with us. Calling to us and inviting us to see God at work in new and marvelous ways. Ways we wouldn’t expect, ways that we don’t anticipate, ways that we thought God wouldn’t possibly be involved or interested in.

This evening, we hear of that first surprise as it is told to us through the words of Isaiah.

As Christians, we look at this text and are surprised by the fact that God apparently dwells in this lofty place atop a mountain. Insert all your own thoughts about the ‘wise man’ on the mountain.

Yet, we remember that the first surprise that we encounter during this season of Advent – as we wait in expectant hope – is that God has come down from the mountain on high. God has come to dwell with us in the Word made flesh; in Christ our Lord.

As Christians, we envision that stream not going to a mountain, but to Christ himself. And when we get there, we are surprised again.

When I talk to people and they ask, “pastor, what will it be like to be in front of God on that day? To sit at the table prepared by Jesus?”

My response is that someone will probably ask Jesus, “Which one of us was right?”

I imagine that Jesus’ response will be surprising, I like to think that Jesus’ answer would be something along the lines of, “Some of you were a little right, some of you were a little wrong – but, you’re all here now and that’s what matters.”

We come to Jesus and the thing we do – according to Isaiah’s vision – is that we sit and learn. We learn the ways of God. We learn new things. We learn old things. To me, that’s pretty surprising.

Especially in light of what that ‘learning’ teaches us through this vision. Weapons of war beaten down into tools for the community. No longer will we rise up against one another, and we won’t learn war anymore.

Most of all, we come to learn from God.

Learning is an interesting activity. Learning is a practice where we may be forced to acknowledge that the answers we know might be wrong. That’s scary. That’s unnerving.

The surprise of Advent is that it’s true. The answers we know just might be and are wrong. You talk to anyone during the time before Jesus’ birth about who and what the messiah would be like and I imagine that they’d all agree that whoever the messiah would be, that person wouldn’t be a baby born to country parents out of wedlock.

We’ve been taught from the earliest of times that if someone wrongs you – especially on such large scales that deal with nations and armies – you retaliate. We see retaliation as the best and most effective course to take.

Yet, Isaiah tells of a vision where weapons of war – swords and spears – are beaten down into plowshares and pruning hooks. Today, what might those weapons of war – guns, bombs, tanks, and planes – be ‘beaten down’ into? What sorts of tools of community and life might we be visioning for today; that God might bring about in the ending of war? What does that kingdom of God look like for us? We may – we might – have an inkling of what it could look like, but God’s vision is perhaps even greater than what we could ever imagine.

This advent season – and every Advent – we hear of these end times. Times envisioned by Isaiah, by John, by Jesus, and others and we always approach them with fear and trepidation. It’s understandable because of the language that is used and the ‘unknown’ that comes along with it.

Yet, during Advent that sense of dread is replaced by hope. And that, my sisters and brothers is probably the biggest surprise. That the ‘end’ that is to come is one of hope and presence. We get to come sit and learn at the feet of our Lord. Learning war no more.

Learning something else. Something different. Learning God’s ways so that we might walk in that path with and towards Jesus.

This is the season of Advent. This season full of surprise – let us walk in the light of the Lord. Amen.

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November 28, 2016, 12:00 AM

the one to begin a new year...

Sermon from Nov. 27, 2016

Text - Matthew 24: 36-44

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior to Come who is Jesus the Christ – will y’all pray with me? Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, we come to this new church year, and if you’ve been paying attention these last few weeks to the Gospel readings we’ve had – the message hasn’t changed much from Our Lord. Signs, signs of signs, and more pointing to a day that will come and is coming. There will be hard times, times will not be fun, and so much more.

These last few weeks we’ve heard quite a few ‘apocalyptic’ messages from our Lord.

But, there’s something I’ve always noticed about what Jesus calls for us during these times leading up to that time of the Advent – second coming – that we don’t know when it will occur.

If you listen to a lot of the folks around the world today who profess to ‘know’ that hour, or foresee it’s coming in the signs of the world – their advice and warning is – you better get right with Jesus. You better proclaim to know him. You better shout to the world and those around you that you mean it – or else!

Sound about right?

Yet, as we look at what Jesus says in our Gospel reading this morning – we do get a dire message, but what we should be doing leading up to this coming time is not quite the same as what we hear out in the world.

After Jesus’ warnings he tells a small parable about two men in the field and two women grinding grain. One is taken, one is left. Yet, those individuals weren’t doing anything special they were doing their work. Continuing in their labor of the world. One would assume that one from each of those pairs was continuing to follow into what Christ has proclaimed.

I noticed something as I read this text this year. Nowhere does Jesus say which person you’d want to be. Are we to prepare in some way to be the person ‘taken’ or the person ‘left?’ It’s like Jesus has been intentionally ambiguous here.

We live in a world where the dominant message is – you don’t want to be left behind – yet Jesus’ message in this particular part of Matthew’s gospel seems to lean towards not wanting to be taken. Those during Noah’s age were taken by the waters of the flood. A thief comes in the night not to keep things ‘safe,’ but to take what doesn’t belong to them.

Maybe we want to be the ones left? It seems it would match with the intent of Jesus’ words here? Kinda throws a wrench in that whole fictional series, Left Behind, right?

However, no matter where you align yourself in that conversation – whether you want to be ‘taken’ or ‘left,’ I don’t believe that Jesus wants that to be the dominant conversation. If that is the focus of our discussions, we’ve lost the whole point to what Jesus is getting at.

As I hear this message that Jesus proclaims to and for us this morning, one word stands out to me – Stay alert, be prepared, watch (depending on your own translation the words and phrases will vary slightly, but their meaning remains virtually the same).

And, yet I think we still miss-hear what Jesus is trying to tell us. When we hear ‘stay alert’ or ‘watch’ I think we feel we need to be like a sentry. Someone who looks out from the guard posts so that they can see the ‘bad’ coming to warn everyone else. Don’t get me wrong – that is a good job to have. It helps keep us safe – everyone safe – from the ‘evil’ to come. But, when we hear that that is all we should do – we lose sight of the actual life that Jesus has called us into.

Yet, in the few verses we hear this morning and the season of the church year we newly venture into this morning – I believe that action takes on a slightly different meaning. It isn’t so much that we ‘stand guard’ and ‘watch vigilantly’ only straining our eyes into the distance – and also making sure that others around us do as we do.

I don’t think that’s what Jesus means.

We are to ‘stay alert’ and ‘be prepared,’ but that requires and expects more than just standing around and shouting that ‘the end is coming!’ In fact, I’d hazard a guess that it doesn’t mean that at all, but instead it means living into the faithful witness that Jesus calls us into.

Living into that life where others and all are loved and cared for. Bearing witness to the grace and radical welcome of inviting those different than us into our lives. Seeking to hear others so that our own voice, our own life, our own community as a whole can be that much more full.

We come boldly into the season of Advent and we hear this message from Jesus that is of warning and is full of gloom and doom. Within that message we don’t get the ‘full’ story. In fact, the only thing we know for certain is that we won’t know when that time – this coming Advent – will come about.

In the knowledge of ‘not knowing’ we are to be prepared, to stay alert, and to watch.

My hope and prayer for us at this time and always is that we do heed this warning from Jesus. Live into the life that we have been called into. That we live into this new and renewed life that we have been gifted by God through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus – the Word of God.

Bearing witness through our words and our actions.

Caring for those around us, loving all – especially the ones we don’t agree with, the ones we don’t like, and the ones who seek harm. Living into the foolishness of the cross for the sake of the life of the world.

My hope and prayer for all of us – is that we remember that Christ dwells with us in the midst of the struggles of our lives and our world. God does not abandon us. We may not know when that day or hour will come. We may certainly not enjoy that time when it is here – whenever that may be. But, we remember and have faith that God is continually with us.

We began our worship this morning – and will begin each Sunday during Advent – singing O Come, o come Emmanuel.

Emmanuel – God with us.

That is the message that we cry out as we enter this Advent season. God is coming. God has come. God is with us. Share that message. Be prepared for that Advent.

In Christ, through Christ, because of Christ – Emmanuel – God with us. Now and always. Let us remember that promise and presence as we live into this life. Amen.

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November 21, 2016, 12:00 AM

the one where Jesus remembers...

Sermon from Nov. 20, 2016 - Christ the King Sunday

Text: Luke 23: 33-43

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord and savior Jesus who is the Christ, will y’all pray with me? Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer, amen!

Well, we’ve come to the end of another church year. Next week we dive head first into Advent as we prepare our hearts and minds for the journey to come. The journey that reminds us of the expectant hope that is in God made incarnate – of God made flesh in Jesus Christ.

But, before we walk that path to expectant hope, we sit at the crest of one church year to the next and read this story. We read the story that is the penultimate story that makes the birth of Jesus important. We read and hear these words from Luke, as Jesus is nailed to a tree – a cross of wood – between two criminals.

Jesus is surrounded by those who mock, scorn, ridicule, and cast heavy doses of sarcastic comments against him. We hear those around Jesus hurl insults at him saying, “If he is who he says he is, surely he can save himself!” or, “If you are the Christ – save yourself and us!”

Before all these sayings, Jesus prays to God, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

This is the story that ends our church year as we move forward into the next.

It has always made me wonder how strong and full of faith someone must be to forgive another in the midst of being in utter pain at the hands of those being forgiven. Think about that for a moment. Jesus is nailed to the cross and hoisted up above those gathering around him. Those throwing jabs, insults, and more upon him and he says, “forgive them.” Imagine how hard that would be to say to those causing harm and hardship directly to you in the midst of them actually doing it. As each fleeting breath escapes his body, Jesus has to push himself up to utter these words. That’s incredible. That’s powerful.

This sort of strength comes not just from Jesus as well. It also comes to us from the other criminal on the cross next to him. The first criminal is one that I think many of us would probably act like. Given the situation and the last breaths we would be savoring, I think most of us would try to lift ourselves up to say, “If you are who say you are – save yourself and us!”

To me, it is exceptional that the other criminal on the cross uses his apparent last breaths to speak up for Jesus. And it isn’t just a few words, but deep and powerful thoughts.

That’s some faith. Faith that begins here in this story. Here in this story where we find Jesus on the cross praying for those around him and a criminal whose only request is, “Remember me…”

This is our king. This is Christ the King Sunday. A day that others would think would be full of pomp and circumstance. Crazy ribbons, blaring trumpets, impassioned speeches of grandeur, and so much more. When I think of the arrival of ‘kings’ I remember my favorite Disney movie, Aladdin where pretending to be royalty Aladdin comes marching into the town of Agrabah on the back of an elephant surrounded by troupes of dancers, trumpeters, acrobats, herds of animals, balloons, festivities, and more. That is the celebration of a king that we hope for.

Yet, here – on Christ the King Sunday we don’t get that. Our king, the world’s king, the King of Kings, is shown on a cross, nailed, and in the process of dying. Ridiculed and insulted. And yet, he prays for those around him and the important and powerful response he gives to the one who says, “Remember me…”

I think that that is incredibly powerful. To know that even at the end of his earthly life – before he is to be the first fruits of the resurrection, Jesus is in prayer and is listening to someone in need. Not in prayer for himself, not in prayer that the pain might go away, not even in prayer that those causing him harm and pain might ‘meet their doom’ (you know we’ve prayed that one from time to time). No, Jesus is in prayer – praying for those who wish to do him harm. Here is Jesus living into what he has asked his disciples to do, namely to forgive those who sin against them and pray for those who persecute them. Wow.

Jesus again is leading by example.

This week as I and other pastors gathered to talk about and prepare for this Sunday, one of my colleagues mentioned that you know who a king is by what they do. It’s why we have the phrase, “It’s good to be the king.” We know who a king is by what he does (and gets to do).

And, it is with that in mind that I think of what it means for us to have Christ as our king. What does Christ do that tells us what and who a king is.

I love the exchange between Jesus and the criminals to his left and right. I love it because of Jesus’ response to the one who asks, “Jesus, remember me.”

Jesus’ answer can be summed up in two simple yet powerful words.

I will.

I will remember you. You will be remembered. I will always remember you.

I think that is incredibly important to hear during this day. For today we have many who say that Jesus will ‘remember’ you only if you believe in him (in a particular way) – that you say it out loud. This other criminal doesn’t say, “I believe in you.” Or “I know you.” He simply states, “remember me.”

On this Christ the King Sunday we remember a king who is different from all other kings, we celebrate the King of Kings who cares about those around him. We have faith in the King who prays for those – even those who speak ill of him and cause harm and pain against him and against those who believe in him. We have a king who remembers.

The one on the cross who dies to show the world the victory of God over sin and death so that the created ones of God might be victors over it too turns to those around him and says, “I will remember you. I do remember you. You are mine.”

So, even when we’re in the midst of our own perils and deaths. Living through our own pains and hardships, when we cry out in prayer to God and say, “Remember me Lord… remember me.” God responds to us and says, “I do remember you. Know that now. Know that I remember you.”

Know that God remembers us all, and in that remembrance, we have faith in what God has done for each of us – for the entire world – in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Where in that remembrance, Jesus has pulled us all with him so we too are gifted that new life that comes in Christ our King.

A part of all our calls as servants of Christ is that we are sent to proclaim that remembrance. We are sent into the world to care for those in need. Coming alongside those around us to offer care, support, and prayer. Where in the midst of all of that service when people say, “thank-you” and then ask, “why?” we can say with utter confidence – Because God cares and Christ remembers.

Where we – especially at this time of year on the cusp of Advent – turn to those around us and offer care and service because it is what Christ calls us to do. Where we continue to gather from our abundance to help those in need – whether it is filling a shoe box, purchasing a gift for someone we don’t know, or giving an animal to a family and community in need in the world. We do this, not just because it is ‘good’ to do this (because it is). We do this, not because it ‘makes us feel good’ (and it does). But, we do this because we proclaim that Christ remembers us all, and we get to live out that remembrance.

We remember that as we celebrate Christ the King – we celebrate a King who prays and who remembers. We celebrate and have faith in a king who just doesn’t pray and remember for just those who act or believe in a certain way. Where Jesus remembers all of us. In that remembrance, we go out and proclaim that message to those around us.

Christ the King Sunday – the day we celebrate the King the world doesn’t deserve, but desperately needs. Christ prays and remembers. To each of us. For each of us. All of us. You. Me. Even the ones who speak so harshly against him and others. Christ prays, Christ remembers.

It’s good to have that King. Amen!

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November 14, 2016, 7:40 AM

the one about opportunity...

Sermon from November 13, 2016

Texts: Psalm 98, Luke 21: 5-19

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, amen!

Wow, what a bunch of lessons to read after an election of great magnitude in this country, right? What words to hear from Jesus’ lips this morning about the ‘signs’ to come. Earthquakes, wars, famines, and more. None of this sounds good. Jesus is speaking about an apocalypse that is to come.

First, I want to make something absolutely clear – this was the assigned text for this day. I didn’t pick it. It comes up at this time every three years. But, I think it is a needed text for us to hear.

For many, they say that the end times are here because Mr. Donald Trump has been elected. Yet, on the opposite side many would have said the apocalypse would be at hand if Senator Hillary Clinton was elected. We place so much into those we elect that we forget that this little text is trotted out whenever someone we personally don’t agree with is lifted-up by others.

Look what Jesus is saying about Obama! Or Bush! Or Kennedy! Or Nixon! Or Lincoln!

We do this every time. And we survive. Things incrementally change for the better. We stand up when things go ways that we cannot. We continue and always pray for God’s guidance amidst the roaring sea.

And that my brothers and sisters is what I wanted to focus on this morning. I think the one text today that would get over-shadowed amidst all these other ‘fun’ choices would be our Psalm, particularly verses 7 and 8.

Let’s look at those verses again…

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy…

I don’t know about y’all, but have you ever seen or heard a sea roar? Have you been a part of a river that ‘clapped’ its hands? For us as creations of God – those aren’t fun times. It was just over a year ago, that this area and closer to Columbia experienced those ‘clapping’ floods. The waters clapping and slapping up against homes, businesses, and over the tops of cars. Seas roar and rivers clap when things are stirred up. When we feel like we are being figuratively and literally tossed from side-to-side.

Yet, in that moment we know that God is present. God is present in the churning, in the tumult, in the stirring. God is present in the waves and God is present at our side. God is present within us.

God is here.

The thing that I’ve heard the most from all those who voted – is that they didn’t feel good about it. Whether they held their noses to vote or not – we can all look out among the country and world say, “Things aren’t really that great.”

There’s a lot of hurt. There’s a lot of worry. There’s a lot of angst. There’s a lot of anger.

Some of it is greatly justified. Some of it is the unwillingness to move – in either direction – because of stubbornness. There are those who incite and participate in violence which brings more cause and worry.

Yet, no candidate is going to bring peace. No candidate is going to solve all our ills. No candidate is going to be able to live into all of his or her promises. No candidate is going to ‘solve’ this all.

But, God is.

God working amongst and in us will. God continues to surround us, calling us to rejoice in the words of Psalm 98. Calling us to remember that what’s on the other side of the churning and stirring is what is at hand and what we look forward to.

Within the scary words of Jesus that we hear this morning, we are called to do something.

One of the things that I’ve heard and read during these past few days is those who say, “Y’all just pray. Just pray that God is in control. That God’s got this.”

And, on face value I truly love that. We should be praying. We really should. Praying that God is in control – not in a feeble ‘boy, I sure hope so.’ But, praying in the ‘I know that God is in control – even if I can’t always see it.” Praying in such a way where we acknowledge that God just might not be working in the ways that we hope. But, that God is truly in the midst of this. Because in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus God has declared that God is present with us.

But, on a broader view, what I get so worried about as a pastor and a leader of a faith community is that many will just pray, but won’t be moved to act. Where we don’t acknowledge God’s action and grace in us and moving through us to bring about God’s Word to the world in such a desperate need to hear it.

After Jesus outlines the ‘terribleness’ that is to come, Jesus turns to his disciples and to us and says this, ‘you will be given an opportunity to testify.’ Jesus’ words will be in you; Jesus’ words will spill forth from your mouth. Your faith will lead you in action and words.

So, how is it that we testify to the gospel of Christ? How do we testify – how do we make witness – to the words, deeds, and faith of Christ who leads us?

We continue to love. We continue to share. We continue to proclaim. We continue to point. We continue to invite.

As we quickly approach the Advent season – that season of expectant hope in the coming of God into the world – we get to live into that testimony.

We get to put together boxes full of fun, love, and needed items for children through Operation Christmas Child. Today, we heard from Lynn Cary about a new ministry we get to participate in – helping those in need throughout the world to help better care and support their families and communities through the ELCA Good Gifts Fair. Soon we will begin the Angel Tree Ministry in our community of Newberry to help bring a bit of joy to some of the most in need near us.

And yet, there are still more opportunities to testify and live out this life of faith through love, care, and grace that are not just confined to this specific time as we approach the coming season. We provide food and time to the Manna House – who is always in need of loving donations through our abundance of food. We help in donating to Interfaith Community Services to provide needed financial assistance to some of the most underprivileged and unnoticed members of our community. We provide skills, funds, and more to places like the Free Medical Clinic so that those who cannot afford medical care are provided and cared for.

Then there are those ministries that are sometimes overlooked, yet continually provide those moments of warmth and grace – our knitters who make beautiful prayer shawls and caps for newborns, our card care ministry that sends notes of love to those who cannot be here throughout the week and to those who are going through difficult times, our bereavement meals team who help a family not have to worry about food during their most desperate hour, our Sunday school teachers who provide guidance and love to those forming in their faith, and so much more.

Then there are those ministries that we don’t even know about, but we feel a call and a pull to say something – anything – to provide care to those who need it most. Especially to those who feel so threatened and fear for their future now. There are those opportunities within our community – that are not attached specifically to this community of faith – where we too get to live into and live out our faith in caring for others.

No candidate is going to stop that. No candidate is going prevent us from living into the faith that we know, the gospel that we proclaim, and the life that Jesus calls us into.

That life of faith that we are given an opportunity to live out and in which we get to live into through our testimony is what provides me hope. It provides me hope in a world and in a country that is so divided.

I know that God breaks down all those walls. I know the Christ crosses those lines in bringing people together. I know that the Holy Spirit guides our actions and words to be with one another.


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November 7, 2016, 12:00 AM

the one about those blessings...

Sermon from November 6, 2016 - All Saints Sunday

Text: Luke 6: 20-31

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, I’ll tell you what. This is always a difficult text to preach on. It’s a difficult text because it is so abrupt. There’s little room for interpretation, there is no embellishment from Jesus.

Blessed are you who are poor. Blessed are you who are hungry. Blessed are you who weep.

When we hear these words spoken by Jesus, we hope for the version of those blessings that we read in Matthew’s Gospel. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Those are the blessings that feel like they are directed at me.

I’ve felt poor in spirit – sometimes struggling to see where God is at work in a world seemingly filled with terribleness. I don’t think I’ve ever been truly poor; not ever having to choose between food or a bill or even between staying home to care for family or work to earn even a meager amount more. I continue to hunger and thirst for righteousness; to shine the light on injustice and to be present with those who suffer at the callous hands of others. I don’t think I’ve ever been truly hungry. I’ve never been placed into a situation in my life where the food that others couldn’t finish would fill me – for a short period. And, I don’t know if I’ve truly wept. I’ve lost friends and family and that pain is real, but looking at what we lift this day – as I look at those candles – I’ve not felt that sort of pain. The pain of losing a spouse, of losing a parent, of losing a child. Even when I weep for them – when I weep for y’all – it isn’t the same. It doesn’t come close.

Jesus lays blessings upon them.

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

After those blessings? We receive woes from our Lord. Woe indeed.

Those are the areas where I feel convicted and punched in the gut by our Lord today.

Woe to you who are rich. I may not be ‘rich’ by some standards, but I am – and I’ll hazard a guess many of y’all – are doing alright. We’re doing pretty good compared to some of our sisters and brothers around the world. Woe to you who are full now. Man, I’ve got food… in fact I have so much food that I can’t eat it all, a lot of it goes to waste. Woe to you who are laughing now. For a glimmer of a moment, there was raucous laughter and rejoicing on Wednesday night as the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. Even when you were a curmudgeon and didn’t watch that series out of spite (raise hand), you couldn’t help, but chuckle and smile at that good story 108 years in the making.

What am I – what are we – to do when we see ourselves more in those woes than we do in those blessings?

Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t stop right there. Thankfully after these blessings and woes – Jesus continues.

The words of Jesus that we read this morning are important words to hear. They are important words to hold on to. They are important words to live into. Especially, in light of what will transpire this coming Tuesday.

But, Jesus’ words aren’t directed at us to ‘feel better’ because of the way an election shakes out. Jesus’ words and life are given to us to live into and follow all the days of our lives. How true are these words for us to hear and follow every day. When we’re cut off in traffic, when we mourn change in our community, when we battle with what our brain and our emotions tell us…

If only we take Jesus’ heed and listen.

Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Do to others as you would have them to do to you.

Those are the hardest things that Jesus proclaims. It’s so easy to not do those things. It’s so easy to do the opposite of what Jesus calls us into. Jesus invites his disciples – Jesus invites us – to shower radical love, blessing, forgiveness, generosity, and trust even to our enemies and to outsiders.

Living into those words of our Lord just might help us see the humanity and the beautiful face of Christ in each of our sisters and brothers around our community and world. Where we see in each person we encounter the very face of Christ, knowing that they too are blessed, that they too are called, that they too are a brother and a sister. Where we embrace one another as saints in the kingdom of God.

And what we celebrate today is that we don’t do that alone. We don’t struggle alone. We don’t persevere alone. We don’t weep alone. We don’t laugh alone.

We do all of this within the great community of saints. We lift up today – specifically – those who have died this past year, but we continue to lift up this day and all days those who are no longer with us. The community of saints surrounds us this day. Not only those who have come before us and rest fully with our God in their death, but we are surrounded by the saints who fill these pews, who have filled the pews, and who will sit here as well. We are surrounded by those around the world who pray for the Body of Christ, who pray for the kingdom of God.

We do all of this together. We hear blessings, and we hear woes – together. We come to this table and feast on this meal – together. We remember fully this day that no matter what – not one thing separates us from the love of Christ in Jesus our Lord. Not even death.

And sometimes, we have to do that together, because there are days when someone else has to sing on our behalf, pray on our behalf, to hold us up, to move us forward. Within our grief – within our weeping – sometimes we need the help of those around us. And, because we are a community of faith, called together by God, we do that. We do that. We continually remember that in this life of faith it isn’t about me and mine. It is so much more about you and y’all. Making sure those outside of us are cared for, knowing that someone is caring for me as well.

No matter if you hear Jesus laying blessings on you or even hear Jesus’ woes directed your way – Jesus’ call is still to all of us.

Love. Bless. Forgive. Be generous. Trust.

Be radical and abundant in all of that – to everyone. To all the saints – those who have gone before us and those who live this life with us still. Amen.

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October 31, 2016, 8:00 AM

the one about dwelling...

Sermon from October 30, 2016

Text: John 8: 31-36 and Jeremiah 31: 31-34

Grace and peace to y’all from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

It’s always around this time that I get a little nervous. I get nervous because we come to this day – this Reformation Sunday – and it is pretty special to us as Christians who identify as Lutherans. I get nervous because I continually think – how can I preach this text and this day that isn’t just the ‘same old same old’ that we’ve all heard for years.

Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, we should steer away from the thought that Lutherans ‘fixed’ the church. That this isn’t a day that we celebrate because we’ve ‘finished’ the Reformation. This isn’t a day that we pat our selves on the back with a ‘job well done.’ Why? Because each of those actions are ‘final’ in our minds. It makes us think that we don’t have anything left to do.

But, we have so much left to do. Our reading from Jeremiah this morning paints a wonderful image of what life can and will be like in the future. A day where no one has to say, “Know the Lord.” For all will know God. God’s law will be written on their hearts and God’s love will be shown through God’s choosing to not remember our sin anymore.

We haven’t quite made it there yet. But, Jesus’ action on the cross has brought us to the brink of that life.

But, God is still at work.

We are still at work. We are still a work in progress.

And why are we still at work? Look at our gospel reading.

Who is Jesus speaking to? He’s speaking to those who already believed into him. I think that’s pretty important. Jesus here isn’t just speaking to those passing by, curious strangers to this odd man who gathers crowds around him. Jesus isn’t speaking to those who have deliberately spoken out against him and have tried to make him stumble in his words.

No, Jesus is speaking to those who have heard him. Jesus is speaking to those who have begun to know him. Folks, Jesus is speaking to those like us.

And, I think the response these believers give is on the one hand a little sad (for people that are so history minded) and also pretty close to how we respond to God’s word.

It is funny that these believers have pretty short memories. They’ve never been slaves to anyone? Yet, they live in their land that is not ruled by them, but by an occupying force. The believers are from a line of people that have – unfortunately – been one to have been under the thumb of quite a few occupiers in their shared history. Romans, Egyptians, and Babylonians just to name a few.

I believe that the response they give is close to how we respond to God’s word as well. We rely – many times – on our own self. We don’t like to think that we are captured by anyone or anything. We’re smarter than that, we’re better than that to be ‘tricked’ into something along those lines. You can’t pull one over on us. Don’t tell us what we don’t want to hear.

We don’t like to think that we are slaves to sin. Yet, we want Sunday worship to be crisp in tidy in time because we’ve got to make sure we get home for the 1pm start of our team’s game. We feel the pride of cutting the cord, but don’t notice the massive amount of content we consume from other sources. We claim we are taking care of ourselves because we might drink a diet coke, yet are blinded to the double cheeseburger – with bacon – in our hands.

We are blind to our own prejudices against other because, ‘well – I have a friend whose different from me – so I can’t be.’

We tend to respond defiantly – just as the believers in our gospel this morning – to Jesus’ words.

And those words? Abide. Abide in him. Abide in the word. Abide in the one who is in and with God.

Abide, abide, abide. Remain. Dwell. Live.

On this Reformation Sunday, we are reminded again and again not only by what Luther shined a light upon, but on what Jesus has given to us. To remain in this word. To dwell in his light. To live with and for God.

Not to make excuses or have short-memories. Dwell in God. Recognize that we have, do, and will screw up. It’s going to happen.

Abide in the word.

That is what we celebrate on Reformation Sunday. Luther almost 500 years ago (499 to be exact) called the church proper to again abide in this word. To read it, to know it, to understand it.

Not necessarily to always memorize chapter and verse (though, it is nice to know scripture that well), but to know the text enough that we begin to know who and how God loves, acts, and desires from us.

To come into a situation and be able to say, “In the word that I know – in the word that I abide in – I know that this isn’t right. This isn’t how we are supposed to act.”

Or even, to know that word and abide in that relationship with God so well and so deep that we can say, “This is where God is at work. I have faith that God is in this action, speaking to us in this way, walking with us towards the cross.”

This morning our Reformation Sunday celebration is a little different as well. Today, we get to celebrate the continued faith formation of two young women in our congregation. Today we get to celebrate with them as they say, “yes” to the faith that has formed them, continues to form them, and to live into this Word. Saying ‘yes’ to the promises that their parents and this congregation made for them when they were baptized here in this place.

When we really think about that, it’s kind of scary. We are saying and these young women are confirming – you’ve been taught, you’ve asked questions, you’re ready to walk this life of faith with us.

It’s scary because you’re probably thinking, “Do I really know enough? Have I really learned it all? Am I really ready to do this?”

It’s scary.

But, I want to tell you something. Those questions that roam in your mind that you might think are ‘bad’ thoughts or are signs that you’re not ready. I’ll tell you a secret – those same questions bounce around in my head too. Your parents ask those questions. Those other adults who’ve journeyed this life of faith longer than you have asked those questions. Even I as your pastor still ask those questions. I still at times doubt if I’m ‘smart’ enough, if I know ‘enough,’ if I’m really ‘ready.’

I really do.

What we remember on this Reformation and on this day of celebration of the affirmation of your and our baptisms is that we are still a work in progress. The Reformation was not a ‘final’ word in our journey of faith. Confirmation is not graduation. We still have work to do.

You don’t become ‘complete’ after your classes and this formal instruction time has ended. You’ve been given a good overview and outlook of Christian basics, discipleship, who Jesus is, our Lutheran beliefs, and even a small taste of other traditions in the church and faiths in the world. Your formation hasn’t ended - just as the formation of everyone here this day has not ended.

Each of you have been blessed with gifts to this community of faith and to all who you will encounter in your life. A love of learning and faith. You both have been two of the most active participants in our classes these past two years – and I don’t think it’s only because you get a piece of candy.

You both have shown me – in small and great ways – how much you love this Word and how you hope and strive to live into this faith. Your care for those around you, your desire to participate in the community of faith, your ability to question the world around us, the deep thinking you each take as you process these words and God’s Word.

Yet, this is a continual journey – a journey we’re on for the entirety of our lives. A journey where there will be ups and downs, there will be joys and struggles, there will be doubts and questions, there will be life and death. Through it all – whether you’re being confirmed today or remembering your confirmation from 10 – 20 – 50 years ago – God is still at work in you. Continually forming you to abide, dwell, to live into the Word of God, the Word made flesh, the Lord of our Life, Jesus who is our Christ.

This life of faith and continued formation is not something that we tackle alone, but we do so with one another. We pray for one another – we encourage one another – we serve with and for one another. We point out to others where injustice is and we lift up where love reigns. We help and study with one another as we – together – abide in the words of our Lord. We come together – as one – praising God in our own unique ways.

This is what the Reformation is. A call to continually abide and dwell in the Word that God has given us – not just the words we read in our scriptures, but the Word that has been given to us. The Word of God that has been made one of us.

Together – all of us – we live into, for, and with our Lord Jesus who is the Christ. Amen.


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October 31, 2016, 7:43 AM

November Newsletter Article

Grace and peace to y’all!

So, it seems (for the moment) that God has turned down the thermostat and brought in some cool weather for us. This type of cool weather is amazing. What I love most about the change in temperature is that it usually brings with it the change of seasons and some other welcome items that haven’t been around in a year. For me, that mostly means all the pumpkin spice foods I can handle.

The one thing that jumps out to me the most when I come to this time of year is the changing colors of the leaves. I think it’s beautiful and wonderful (and I know many, many, many agree with me on that). This year I’ve begun to think a bit on what those trees might be thinking as the leaves change and what that means.

For months, trees have been decked out in brilliant colors of green. Signs of health and well-being in the plant world as green signifies being full of life. Yet, when the seasons begin to change to autumn, those colors are replaced by yellows, reds, oranges, and browns. Usually colors that are assigned to being sick and leading to death. When the colors are done with their change, the leaves fall and what is left behind is a barren and ‘dead’ looking object. Something that once was full of life now seems like it is ready to be plucked from the ground and to be replaced.

Yet, we know that isn’t the case.

Though the trees have undergone a dramatic change, life still resides within them. As Christians, we can say that God is still present with them. Though they may appear cold and alone, God has never left their side. Still tending to them and caring for them in the ways that they need. God is preparing them still for the new thing that will soon take place.

Eventually autumn turns to winter and winter back to spring. Life bursts forth again and all of creation shouts, claps, and dances in joy. Throughout it all, they were never alone and they were never dead. Though, throughout the change they probably thought they were.

I write this small thought because Redeemer herself is approaching a change that a few have expressed concern about. For those that haven’t heard, the Inspiring Worship team moved forward with a change regarding the Christmas Eve Services this year. This year we will have a 4pm and 7pm service. We will not be having an 11pm service. The 4pm service will be directed more intentionally at families with young children while the 7pm service will be the same in its tone and structure to the usual 11pm traditional service.

This is a change from the history and tradition of Redeemer. But, I don’t think it is a change just for the sake of change. The Inspiring Worship team talked at length over this and prayed heavily upon it.

Christmas Day is on Sunday (next year Christmas Eve will be on Sunday), so from the standpoint of those leading and participating in Christmas Eve services, this was not an ‘unwelcome’ change for this year.

Attendance has also been a concern at the 11pm service as well. Perhaps, moving to a 7pm service will reach and speak to even more people that otherwise wouldn’t have come.

Most importantly, this was never decided as a permanent change. It was decided that if the team thought about trying this out – this would be the year to do that.

This change may be joyous news to some, it might bring sadness to others, and still some more might think, “Well, I was going to go at whatever time it was held.” No matter where you fall into that spectrum here’s the ultimate truth – God is present with you in that. Whether you cry out in joy or cry out in despair – God is with you. I think that is something for all of us to keep in mind as we approach any type of change in our lives.

What the Inspiring Worship team will need during this time is constructive feedback. Whether you agree or disagree with the Christmas Eve service time change, the team welcomes your input. However, there are some caveats to how that input should be brought forth.

In cordial and constructive ways. Never anonymous.

Any community of faith thrives and grows when all are participating in the life of the community. Participating in that life will at times bring disagreements. However, holding those thoughts in, speaking in ways that would not be considered kind, or leaving unsigned notes does more harm than good. Whether you agree or disagree with this change, tell the members of Inspiring Worship. All of them welcome your input.

I end this month’s message with this: As Thanksgiving approaches – I’m thankful to be a part of a community of faith that does care about the life of the community. I’m thankful to be a part of some wonderful conversations about a whole range of topics. I’m thankful that we can talk about issues – both within the church and outside it – in ways that bring us closer together and are done with respect and honor throughout.

Most importantly – I’m thankful for every one of you.

 - pm

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