Thanks to the People called “Methodist”

•March 23, 2017 • 1 Comment

Today at one of my churches, the Wellston United Methodist Church, we said goodbye to one of our own.  She had been President of our United Methodist Women for more than 25 years, and occupied the same space in the pew of our sanctuary for as long as most folks could remember.

We loved her.  She was kind of a crusty saint, but she was one of ours.  So, early this morning, or perhaps even late last night, in kitchens all over this area, Methodists fixed food for the family to eat.  And this morning they brought it to the church – meat loaf, chicken, deviled eggs, potato salad, along with an infinite variety of dessert – cakes, pies, puddings.

This morning the Methodists were there early.  Because the service was at 10:00 a.m. with the meal for the family around 11 or so after they came back from the cemetery.

The funeral was lovely, and the meal even lovelier.  Because there is something that happens at a meal after a funeral.  Everyone gets a chance to catch up with one another, retell the family stories, and marvel at how old everyone has gotten.

At the meal, everyone was patient.  The family as they ate and visited with one another.  The folks who prepared the food and then were going to clean up afterward.  All took the time it needed.  Because that’s what you do when you say “Goodbye.”

And when the family left, the good folks called Methodists cleaned up the kitchen, took out the trash, went back to their jobs.  And the family went home to hopefully rest a bit.

Some of the same folks who so faithfully helped make all the magic happen today were back at the church this evening.  Almost 12 hours later.  And they practiced anthems for Sunday.  And you could see the fatigue on many of their faces.  It was an incredibly long day, but that’s what you do when you say “Goodbye.”  Especially if you’re a Methodist.

So tonight, at the end of this very long day, I am especially grateful for the people called “Methodists.”  Because each day they make a difference in the lives of the people of their community of faith.  And that influence, that love, that incredible grace, flows out to the communities in which they serve.

Thank you, kind folks, for your grace, your great love, and your untiring patience.  Jesus and John Wesley are proud of you tonight.  As am I. open_hearts_logo

Another Ash Wednesday

•February 27, 2017 • 2 Comments

I am not really sure why I am fascinated with Ash Wednesday.  I did not grow up in a faith tradition where we celebrated this important day in the life of the church.  I was introduced more fully to the meaning of this day when I began attending a img_0098United Methodist Church.

Every year, my thoughts are captivated by this day in the church’s life.  There are so many important symbols – our kneeling at the rail to receive the ashes, the prayers of repentance, the practices of Lent (either taking on or giving up something), and t
he consideration of our own mortality.  For me, it is the burning of the palm leaves from Palm Sunday of the year before which provokes my spirit.  There is just something so incredibly rhythmic about this cycle.  “Sunday’s Palms Are Wednesday’s Ashes” as the hymn title goes.

This year there have burn bans in Oklahoma.  And with the Oklahoma winds, we have to pick a day when there is little or no wind.  That in itself img_0099requires some planning.  This morning I burned those palm leaves out of the driveway of the United Methodist parsonage in Wellston.  In full view of the passersby on the highway.  With lots of smoke and flame and cars slowing down trying to figure out what I was doing – a grown man setting fire to something in an old baby bathtub, right in front of the house.

After all the leaves are burned and I move the old tub, there are always a few palm leaves which seem to escape the burning.  Maybe they are not quite ready to take their img_0101place in the greater scheme of things spiritual.

I know some folks like that.  Folks who cannot quite grasp the ultimate significance of the lives they are living on this earth.  Folks who are not aware of the depths to which the witness of their lives affects others.  Not quite ready to take their place in the greater scheme of things spiritual.  Folks like me.  Folks like you.

May this Ash Wednesday and this Lenten season move us closer to God.  May it move us closer to each other.

In The Midst of Advent

•December 17, 2016 • 1 Comment

peace

We’ve had a lot going on in our life lately. Everyone does.  It can be seen in the faces of folks who are driving in the lanes next to you.  Or those who are checking you out at the grocery store.  Or those who will circle the parking lot six times to find a parking space closer to the entrance of the store.

You see it especially in the hospitals and the care facilities right now.  Especially in a season where everyone is looking to be joyful and bright, and you are just trying to figure out if your loved one will live the night, it’s tough.

I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals and care facilities lately.  Fortunately, I have managed to stay out of them as a patient, although at times it seems like it would not take much health change to put me there.  I see the stress in the faces of others, and I hear in their hushed voices in the hallways their concerns and worry for their loved ones.

I know some folks whose grief cannot adequately be expressed during this season.  Some have lost children to death this year, and now have had to say good bye to a parent as well.  Still others have seen their spouse go into the hospital time and time again, and worry if they will survive the year.

I know of others who are struggling to pay their bills. They are trying to be responsible budgeters, but the unexpected expenses of life are catching up to them.

I know of others who are struggling with their addictions, and trying to understand the consequences of their actions as they are caught in the grip of something that is greater than themselves.

Then, when you add car troubles, family troubles, relationship troubles, and cold weather, it can get exhausting.

It was into a time very much like this that Jesus came to us.  The government was in trouble, lives were unstable, and folks were tired. It was at a time like this when an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph, who was trying to figure out his next move in life when his beloved announced to him that she was pregnant, and the child was not his.  And not only this, but this child was to be the Holy One of God who had come to save the world.  And the angel didn’t really tell Joseph what to do.  But the angel did say, “Don’t be afraid.”

Is that enough when folks are afraid?  To hear a divine voice tell us not to be afraid?  I know it is a central theme of our Holy Scriptures.  “Don’t be afraid.”  More than 100 times this phrase is used in our English translations.  And every time this phrase is used, there is a promise from God.  “I’ll help you.”  “I’m with you.”  “I’m here to save you.”  ‘It’s me.  Don’t be afraid.”

Consider how you can let your fear go during this time.  I am trying to do the same.  I am spending some time in prayer.  I’m listening to beautiful music.  I am reading books and stories that build up.  I’m baking bread for communion.  I’m practicing my part for the cantata.  I’m breathing as often as necessary.  And I’m giving thanks for all those people in my life – present, past, and even future – who will give meaning to my days.  It’s bringing me to a place of peace.

Making A Difference in Your Part of the World

•July 26, 2016 • 2 Comments

I’ve pretty much tried to stay off Facebook and Twitter during this presidential campaign, but most especially during the Republican and Democratic conventions.  I know that all of the rhetoric about each party / candidate is just part of the process, but truthfully, this year, I have a hard time with the meanness.

I am not interested in debating which candidate is best for the country.  I believe it is your right to vote for the candidate of your choice.  I plan on doing the same.  But I have realized that the openness of social media has allowed us the opportunity to bring out both our best and worst sides.

In times of national and world crises, or even local ones, this allows us the opportunity to get word out very quickly.  We can use this information to support folks who are in need, and genuinely be the hands and feet of Jesus when someone is hurting. But it seems like we want to blame someone, anyone.  Yet when that becomes our focus, our intent, then we likely end up doing more harm than good.  At the very least, we let ourselves off the hook.

I realize that I look at life very simply, and that the issues facing our country and our world are quite complex.  But what if we, especially in the midst of all the political rhetoric flying about, did something to make the world better?

If a student in your local school is having trouble reading, offer to listen to them, to help them learn to read.  If someone in your neighborhood is having trouble keeping their yard mowed, mow it for them.  If your neighbor is having a hard time, bring them a little food and a little compassion.  If your community is struggling, consider what you can do that will make things better.  If the sign welcoming folks to town is needing repainting, offer to your city office to repaint it.  If the elderly person on your block is needing groceries, offer to take them.  Or pick up for them.  If young parents are getting overwhelmed with all the responsibilities of taking care of their children, offer to help.  Maybe you can wash their dishes or clean their house or do their laundry.  Or sit and hold their newly crawling baby.

Every one of us has something we can do that will make the world better.  And if we can do something to make the world better, then we need to do it.  Today would be a good time to start.

Our Common Ashes

•February 9, 2016 • 1 Comment

They are in an old Hiland cottage cheese container.  So old that the lettering has worn off and the expiration date is many years past.  I use it to hold the ashes after they are burned each year. Since I tend to use a lot less ashes than the amount of palm leaves burned, there is a bit of a surplus each year.  So much so that the container now has the ashes from five different congregations from all over Oklahoma.

I know that I get a bit reflective during Lent, maybe a bit too much so.  I also know that most of us can use a little reflecting on the course of our life over the years.  As I get older, maybe I reflect a bit more.

So I thought a bit this morning as I burned the ashes for Wednesday night’s services.  I had to think fast because the winds have been pretty strong in Oklahoma these past couple of days, and I had to pay attention.

I thought about these past five congregations I have served:  First United Methodist, Edmond; First United Methodist, Cherokee; Newcastle United Methodist; and now Luther and Wellston United Methodist Churches.  Each congregation having had both joys and challenges.  In each of these places, there are folks who are dear to us.

Yet even with all the differences in locations, resources, needs, and gifts of each of these churches, we have a lot in common.  Not only does our faith and common heritage connect us, we also have similar concerns.  We all want to have lives of purpose, of strength, lives spilled over with so much love and memory that we can hardly catalog it all in our minds.

And it is symbolized for me in the mingling of all these ashes.  On Wednesday evening, I doubt that I, nor anyone else, will be able to tell which batch of ashes are placed on our heads.  That’s a good thing, a God thing, if you will.  Because during Lent we could all use a reminder of our common yearnings and our common heritage.

Blessings to you all during this holy time.   IMG_0524

Back From The Edge

•January 25, 2016 • Leave a Comment

This week’s Gospel reading from the Gospel of Luke (Luke 4:21-30) is one with which I identify.  I can go to the edges pretty easily in my life.  Maybe I might not do that in a physical way, but I can go to the edges of existence in my mind.  I might imagine in a split second a scenario that is not real, and will not likely ever happen.  I know all the reasons for this kind of thinking, or at least some of the significant ones in my life. Sometimes when I have anticipated the best, some of the worst things have happened.

But is that enough reason to keep going there?  Why does my mind play these tricks on me?  Is there something within me that is so broken or so strange that I can go there so easily?

What I do know is that I can take a step toward the irrational.  And when I do, I have to step back from the precipice, from the edge.  I am still in the process of learning how to do this, but I can say that I don’t get as close to the edge as I have been.  I can and do step back.  I may not be as courageous as Jesus and as able to pass through the crowd unharmed, but I can step back.

Jesus took a big risk in speaking to his hometown congregation about what he believed as he read to them from the book of Isaiah.  And they got mad.  They all went to the edge – with their anger, their frustration, their inability to change things.  But Jesus passed through the midst of the crowd – unharmed.

Is the Gospel lesson this week only about facing up to what is before us?  Is it about our shortcomings, our fears?  Yes, and even more.

It is about knowing that we can go to the edge and come away unharmed.  Passing through the midst of all the dangerous thoughts and irrational ideas that tumble through our mind.  Because we are loved by God – in every moment, irrational or rational, in every circumstance, whether it is a peaceful place or a wild place.  We are loved by God.

And that is enough.

04ato_c(Image from Misioneros Del Sagrado Corazón en el Perú.)

Objects of Prayer

•November 23, 2015 • 1 Comment

Today, as I was getting dressed, I pulled a pair of socks out of the drawer.  They are not my socks, but a pair that I borrowed from my late wife’s dad several months ago when my socks and shoes were very wet.  As I put them on, I thought about Mel and what he is going through now.  He is in declining health, and he is having to say goodbye to the one he loves.  She is entering hospice care today, and her time with us in this world is drawing to a close.

And I have this cap.  It belongs to my brother in law.  We traded caps with each other a few years ago.  He is a long time member of the Baptist Church, and has a heart for one of the particular missions of that church called World Changers.  Apparently believing that he needed a little Methodist influence, I took him a cap from my church.  And he gave me a World Changers cap.

And I have these shoes.  Two pairs. They are hand-me-downs from our oldest grandson.  They are incredibly comfortable tennis shoes.  Named after basketball players like Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant.  I like them because they are comfortable.  And I didn’t have to pay for them.

So, today, I am wearing all these items.  I am praying for Mel as I wear his socks.  He needs my prayers, all our prayers, as he faces the next few days and weeks.  It is my privilege to pray for him.

And I am praying for my brother-in-law.  Some changes are happening in their lives and he, along with his family, are in my daily prayers. But today, as I wear his cap, I am praying each time I see the cap on my head.

I pray for our grandchildren along with all our family every day.  But today, as I wear the shoes, I am praying for the one who was kind enough to share his shoes with me.  He’s old enough now that he is having to make some decisions in his life, and some of those decisions are not easy to make. So today, I pray for him.

The obnoxious part of me wants to insert a little note here like a televangelist saying that if you want me to pray for you, please send your object to me along with a small donation.  But the truth is this:  If you need my prayers, let me know.  I am honored to pray on your behalf.  My prayers are not any more powerful than anyone else’s prayers, but when I pray for folks I like to spend some time thinking about them and what they are going through currently.

For a great many years, folks have prayed for me in my times of need.  It is my honor to think of others in the changing times of their lives.  IMG_1345