Courage to Believe: Building Endurance

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Third Sunday of Lent – March 24, 2019

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

“But with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”

runI once read a time-management related weblog where I encountered an article about the danger of wasting time. The author’s premise was this: the worst kind of time-wasting trap that we can fall into is not goofing off. It is doing fake work. When we are goofing off, we know you are goofing off. However, when we are doing fake work, we are doing things that seem like real work, except for the fact that they aren’t. So, for example, when I should be writing my sermon and I am instead filing papers on my desk, re-shelving my books, and checking e-mail and Facebook, I may be in my office, I may feel like I am working. If you were to peek through my window, I may even look like I am working, but I am not working. What I am doing is using fake work to assuage my conscience because what I am really doing is avoiding what truly needs to be done. I do it all the time. The reason the bushes at my house are pruned is because I do it when I really should be raking the leaves, and so on.

Which brings me to Lent, this wondrous forty-day season of the Christian liturgical year that should, if nothing else, save us from “fake piety.” It is a chance to allow God to change our wrong-headed and self-centered desires, so that our lives will follow our hearts in a more faithful direction. Lent is, in the broadest sense, about the admission that in order for us to embrace the life for which we were created, that we need God. As much as we sometimes hate to admit it, we are in need of God’s guidance, God’s grace, God’s redemption, and God’s forgiveness. In order to be kingdom people, there are things we need to make certain we do, and there are things we need to make certain we avoid. Lent is a time for us to remember this, and to make the necessary adjustments to our hearts and minds, knowing that as Jesus teaches, where our hearts are, there we will find our priorities and our desires.

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Courage to Believe: Conformed and Transformed

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Second Sunday in Lent – March 17, 2019

Philippians 3:17-4:1

On Friday, my youngest daughter Claire, my ten-year-old, was not feeling well, so I kept her home from school. She was not terribly sick, so we decided to go for a drive in the country in the area where, a half-decade before she was born, I served my second pastoral appointment, a three-congregation circuit of churches called the Prince George Charge, located just east of Hopewell.

I was able to show her the outside of the two of the churches and the parsonage, the first church home we had lived in, and the inside of Salem United Methodist Church in Burrowsville. For some reason, it was important to me that Claire see this part of the history of her family of origin, and I was surprised by the number of memories this little trip brought back to me. When we moved there, Ellen, our oldest, had just turned one and had been walking for only a few months. It was in that home that she learned to speak, the first home where she was able to really experience the arrival of Santa and the Easter Bunny. It was the house where we used a yardstick to make marks on the wall as Ellen grew and grew.

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Back Down The Mountain

Screen Shot 1.pngTransfiguration Sunday – March 3, 2019 – Luke 9:28-43a

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In 2016, the global gathering of United Methodist lay and clergy delegates known as the General Conference gathered in Oregon for their quadrennial meeting. While dealing with the business of the denomination, they reached an impasse on matters regarding the marriage and ordination to ministry of LGBTQ persons. The result was twofold: a special, called meeting of the General Conference was scheduled for February 2019, and the Council of Bishops created a task force to work towards a resolution to this issue, a task force called the Commission on A Way Forward.

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A Pastoral Letter to the People of Reveille United Methodist Church

Screen ShotFebruary 27, 2019

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

By now, you have certainly learned that the General Conference, the highest decision-making body of the United Methodist Church, passed on Tuesday legislation known as the Traditional Plan. This plan reinforces existing restrictions against same-gender weddings by United Methodist clergy and prohibitions against the ordination of LGBTQ persons. These prohibitions against marriage and ordination have existed in our denomination since 1972. However, as a result of the passing of the Traditional Plan, the penalties for clergy who violate these rules are now swifter and more punitive than before.

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Why Church? — We Are the People of Eternal Life

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Seventh Sunday After the Epiphany—February 24, 2019 

1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50

“This is the greatest moral question now before our people…. Resolved, that the time has now come when the church, through its press and pulpit, its individual and organized agencies, should speak out in strong language and stronger action in favor of the total removal of this great evil.”1

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Why Church? The Church is a Place of Hope

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Sixth Sunday After the Epiphany – February 17, 2019

1 Corinthians 15:12-20

Screen Shot 1On Sunday, June 16, 2013, I had just finished attending a district United Methodist Annual Conference orientation session in Charlottesville and was halfway home to the parsonage in Crozet, driving through the tiny village of Ivy, when my phone rang. It was my wife Tracy who informed me that I needed to come directly home, that her father had called with devastating news, and that she needed to immediately leave for Baltimore.

The news was that Tracy’s mother Nancy Crittenden was in Maryland attending a bridal shower for one of her great-nieces when she tripped on a step, lost her balance, and injured her head so severely that she was airlifted to the trauma center of the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, where the following Wednesday afternoon, she would succumb to her injury less than an hour after life support was removed. She was sixty-five years old.

On that day, Tracy would remain with her father Jon, and I drove back to Virginia to pick up my two daughters Ellen and Claire from another family in our church, drive them to the parsonage, sit them on the couch in the front room beneath the picture window and break their hearts with the kind of news they had never heard before about a member of their family.

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Why Church? The More Excellent Way

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Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany (Year C) – February 3, 2019

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

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Monument Methodist Church, Richmond, Virginia, November, 1950

It was on a frigid night in late-February of 2019 when the fire ignited that would almost entirely burn Reveille United Methodist Church in Richmond, Virginia to the ground. The enormous fire started in the heating system and quickly spread through all three worship spaces and the education wing. By the time the first responders arrived, the building was engulfed in what would later be described as the largest church fire in Richmond’s history, perhaps one of the most significant fires in the area since the city burned near the end of the Civil War.

The fire was so profound and burned at such a high temperature that news crews were forced to stand on the opposite side of Cary Street, which was closed for a mile in both directions. Fire Companies were called from Richmond, Henrico, Chesterfield, and Hanover. Yet by the light of day, it was evident just how devastating the fire had been, and just how little there was left. The sanctuary windows, including the stained glass nativity window, were all gone, blown out when the roof collapsed.

The organ pipes were twisted, melted in the intense heat, the bellows filled with soot. In a desperate attempt to stop the fire from spreading to Malvern Manor next door, the fire companies had to pull their engines through the historic boxwoods so that they could set up their defenses in the Reveille Garden. The water dripping from the ceiling of the chapel was already beginning to freeze into icicles as a morning breeze blew through what was once the the tall windows that filled the worship space with natural light.

For most of its history, Reveille United Methodist Church had been breathtakingly beautiful. Yet now it stood in ruins, a husk of its former self surrounded by early morning frost and a mile of yellow police tape, the elegant signature brickwork in a pattern of Flemish bond covered in scorch marks and soot. They would call it a miracle that somehow no one was killed or injured.

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Baptized in Permanent Purple Ink

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Baptism of the Lord Sunday – January 13, 2019
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Just down the road from my house, adjacent to a laundromat, there is a corner convenience store, the kind that sells gasoline and a little bit of everything inside at exorbitant prices, including colorfully constructed glass contraptions that are labeled in large block letters as TOBACCO PIPE, an obvious lie if I ever heard one.

screen shot 2From time to time when I stop there, to fill up my car or to get a snack or something to drink, I will see a man I do not know personally, a man around my age, standing near the cash registers scratching lottery tickets. When I see him, he is always wearing a an open black shirt with black trousers and black shoes, and as I see him, I can tell something about him that I suspect most people could not: that he is a priest. I know this because I have shirts like his, the black shirt has the short, narrow, standing collar that clergy shirts have, and the placket covering the buttons. I know he is a priest because I can see in his breast pocket the tip of the white clerical tab collar that he has removed to conceal, as much as possible, who he is.

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Take the Long Way Home

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Reveille United Methodist Church
Epiphany Sunday – January 6, 2019
Matthew 2:1-12

King Herod was a paranoid and dangerous man, who even some in his own day thought was mentally unstable. Herod banished his first wife and three-year-old son in order to marry another woman and increase his political power. As Herod grew older, he became more and more paranoid, more and more afraid that someone was plotting to take his power from him, which led to Herod eventually executing his wife, mother-in-law, son-in-law, brother-in-law, and three sons. It was said in his own day that it was better to be Herod’s sow than his son.

So we can imagine how Herod must have thought and felt when he somehow heard this rumor that a new king had been born in his land, and we can imagine why Matthew tells us that “all Jerusalem was frightened with him.” They knew Herod did not receive bad news well.

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