a Spiritual Journey in Real Life
What do trains have to do with Advent? "Waitin' on the train?" is one of those wise old sayings used to ask someone what they are up to or why they are waiting. Keep reading for more on Advent and waiting.
Last week in Sunday worship, we used a model train set re-railer section as an illustration of what Advent is like in our lives. The model train folks know that the re-railer section of track inserted at the beginning of the home stretch straight-a-way helps the train realign all the wheels of the carriages which follow the engine. This realignment process allows for a successful venture around the loop again.
Advent is the four weeks preceding Christmas in the Christian calendar. Advent is important to the annual observance of the birth of Jesus. You might say that Christmas is just not the same unless we prepare for it with Advent. So why do we observe this season? So that our minds, bodies, and souls can be realigned in the purposes of the Almighty God. So that we can be readjusted in our purposes in the ministries of Jesus. Advent is a time for us to make a way for the Holy Spirit of God to enter or re-enter our lives and direct us in the way of living that brings glory to God.
Advent is also thought to be a time of waiting. Many of the scriptures we read in worship during this season speak of not knowing the hour or day that Jesus will return to Earth to unite heaven and earth in the full glory of God. We do wait as we live in the present time referred to as NOW and we wait for the future time referred to as THE NOT YET. Jesus has indeed come into the world to usher in the kingdom of God. But God's work in the world is not yet complete. Just as we wait on God, we are called to be about the ministries of Jesus in the present time to be a part of God's redemption plan for the world. You might say God is waiting on us too as the world lives into the future God intends for humankind.
So, waiting on the Lord is not a spectator sport. We are called into action to prepare the way of the Lord as God-With-Us re-enters this world to realign and redirect God's people. Waiting takes patience. Waiting on the train is something we may do from time to time. But action is also required. And that can be emphasized with another train saying, "Laying the track is important work!" Advent calls us to prepare our hearts for receiving the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Along the Way with Pastor Paul Harris
This weekend we celebrate Christ the King Sunday and prepare for the beginning of Advent. It is a time of transition. It is a time of thanksgiving! It can be a season of great joy.
Recently, I awakened from sleep, and I felt joyous rest. Incredible joy came through a dream with incredible news! Dreams are not uncommon in my family. I have them often. But remembering in detail the message or scene of the dream is something that I give my full attention. I arise and write down what I remember.
Can this dream be real? Can it be true? Please keep reading and then you decide what seems to be truth.
In this dream I walked along side several friends and colleagues who have experienced dis-ease in one form or another. Several have advanced stage cancer. The news I received in the message from all who make the journey is this: Each was healed and each shouted a pronouncement of victory! A feeling of joy!
In this dream, I had a long conversation with one friend who has faced physical struggles this year. We compared notes of what it is like to be in need of physical healing. My friend reminded me of some wisdom learned along the way - healing is a gift "unwrapped" in various ways and at various times.
Now fully awake and recording the memory, the reality of the dream seems to be tested. You see, what I dreamed was that all these friends and colleagues who face or have faced serious dis-ease were now fully renewed and made well.
The dilemma of this dream and of life with dis-ease is this -> victory does not always come in the form of life but often comes in death. Is victory possible even in death?
Remember the overwhelming theme of this dream is JOY. My friends in the dream conveyed the hope of life now and life beyond death and each spoke of a healing of the mind that convinced them of JOY in the midst of dis-ease. What a witness? Thank you friends!
As we await the coming of the Lord, victorious and full of glory, we are reminded that we live in a world corrupted with dis-ease and dis-connection. HOW DO WE EXPERIENCE JOY in the midst of our earthly context?
I believe that the JOY is the assurance of peace in the midst of death. I believe JOY is the understanding of something seemed impossible that now is fully realized in life. I believe JOY comes through a relationship with the living God. I believe that Jesus Christ is God Incarnate. I believe that JOY is found in waiting and trusting in the Lord.
Come to us Lord and make the message of JOY complete through your grace, we pray.
Along the Way
Pastor Paul Harris
I believe friends that we are called to step into a void of leadership in the days we now experience. Obedience to the will of God and the invitation of Jesus Christ to follow in the Way - we must choose our response in faith.
What will our choice be in serving the Lord? How will we respond?
Coffee time is a starting place for today. And for that matter, most days. As I sit here at the breakfast table listening to my Amazon Echo play music by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band there are other sounds of community developing.
The rooster across the Way is sounding off and begging a reply from BotheDog. Laura is in the kitchen finalizing some green side dishes for this weekend. Another sip of coffee and a glance at the weather app on my phone, then thoughts and prayers for family traveling and gathering.
Mom will celebrate 90 years this weekend and we are hosting the party. Sister and brother and nieces and nephews along with G-children will gather to wish Anabel a happy birthday! Family is part of my community.
Community is also new friends in West Kerr County here in Hunt, Texas. It is an amazing place with its natural Hill Country beauty. The people here have welcomed us and opened their homes to dinner partys, group gatherings, lunch time conversation and pastoral visits. We feel very fortunate to be here.
When I begin to feel community developing in a fresh and exciting spirit, I am also compelled to consider those yet to come and the welcome that may await them.
A parable of Jesus in Matthew 22 speaks about the kingdom of heaven and a grand wedding feast given by the king in honor of his son. The invitation is sent by personal messenger across the kingdom - Come, the table is prepared! But the invited do not attend - they are busy with life and distractions, with travel and business, and some openly reject the invitation and kill the messengers.
Friends, Community is what is developing in the realm of God’s heaven and earth. Do we hear the invitation? Can we respond? Will we respond? Will we be party to the feast? Will we be party to the wedding? For Christ, the Son, has come as Union from God the Father to renew the relationship with God’s people,
It begins with coffee. It moves in the day in prayers of gratitude. It welcomes family into our home. It compels this pastor to preach: Come, the Table is prepared. It is love. It is peace. It is hope. It is that which comes as community develops in the invitation of the Lord.
Grace and Peace
Along the Way
Pastor Paul Harris
This image is from a previous family excursion to Ruidoso, New Mexico around Thanksgiving. It is one of my favorites. It brings me to a peaceful place.
Today, after the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas, I join colleagues in ministry who are writing words of comfort, words of challenge, words of peace, words that may bring communities of faith closer to a place of peace.
Mass shootings make no sense. Why would someone be so mad, so angry, so upset, so out of control, so evil? Why do innocents suffer? Why is this part of our current society? Why?
This past Sunday at Hunt United Methodist Church we began a month long discernment of what grace is doing in our lives and what difference we can make together through God's grace in our community and in our world. That was yesterday. This is today. And the question remains. Is the grace of God now in our world? Or has it gone missing? If so, why?
I am confident in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. I have faith that peace is an outcome of grace. Peace comes into my soul when I see community gathered to celebrate at the Lord's Supper. Peace comes into my soul when I hear the sounds of heart-felt conversation between divergent opinions related to matters of the future. Peace comes into my soul when I experience the goodness of God's creation even in the midst of natural environmental disasters occurring at the intersection of populations and earthquakes, hurricanes, and forest fires.
Grace and peace are part of our language when we speak of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Grace and peace are words of blessing in our coming and going. Grace and peace is said to share acts of mercy, acts of compassion, acts of hope.
In the midst of violence and a seeming lack of peace like I feel today, I am reminded of peace-filled spaces. A beautiful sunrise in the mountains has a way of restoring hope in the midst of darkness. For light is the expected outcome of a sunrise just as peace is my expected outcome from grace.
Is God's grace with us today? Most definitely! Grace is what holds us together on days like today. Grace is what God provided when our Lord suffered and died for the world. Grace is what led Jesus from the grave and into God's vision of a new day. Grace is God with us in this very moment when chaos and evil seem to be gaining the upper hand.
Grace and peace be with you my soul friend. What difference is grace doing in your life and in mine? Today, let it be enough to bring peace.
Along the Way with Pastor Paul Harris
Ruidoso, NM is a family favorite get-a-way destination. Laura and I look forward to a few days away in mid November with my parents. The elevation and the proximity to Sierra Blanca provide refreshment and renewal. The scheduled routines give way to whatever the day brings: a day hike, time at our favorite coffee shop, picnics in wooded park areas, dominoes around the condo, or a drive in the mountains.
The first day of Fall makes me think of times past on wilderness outings, on scouting camp outs, with family on vacation to the mountains. The season changes and with it a mindset. At least for this pastor, seasons are a big deal. Growing up in South Texas, the seasonal change in weather is insignificant during most years. But every once in a while, a colder or wetter than normal season comes along.
Just as there are weather seasons, we can also expect seasons of the soul. Extra dry times when distance from God or neighbor seems extended. Extra savory times when the taste of bread and wine draw us into communion and community.
I pray for you today my soul friend. And in that prayer may we be united in grace and called with hope to a season of joy and waiting. As we wait on the coming and going of Christ among us, let us be renewed in the love of God given freely in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
In the blessings of this day, with much love and many thanks, I give thanks for you and ask blessings to be with your families.
Along the Way
Come Build Community With Us!
A powerful moment in the gathered community is shown in this photo. Our Communion Servers at the 8:30 am worship service receive of the Lord's Table, then serve others who come to receive in God's grace in Jesus Christ.
As pastor I am set-apart to preside in the "administration" of the sacrament by leading the Great Thanksgiving, by praying and consecrating the bread and juice, and then by serving the servers. It is my role to facilitate Communion and to equip the laity to serve in the mission and ministry of Jesus.
What happens when the community shares in the Lord's Supper is an outcome of the communion they share. The grace of Christ transforms Communion into Community. The group becomes one with Christ and one with the world redeemed by Christ.
We want you to come and share at the table of the Lord with us. We want you to be a part of this communion and this community! The table is open for all who seek to love Jesus and who choose to live in peace with one another.
This week Sep 17, we will be reading from the gospel story found in Matthew 18: 21-35. It is a story about forgiveness. We hear Jesus teaching that forgiveness works much like what I have described above with communion and community. In receiving forgiveness in Christ, we are empowered to forgive others and ourselves in the grace and mercy of God.
Christ creates community from communion when we choose to live in peace with one another. Christ provides forgiveness to us when we choose to forgive others. Just as we are called to serve from the grace we receive at the table of the Lord, we are also given the opportunity to receive forgiveness in the process of forgiving others.
I believe our community is made stronger in the communion we share. I am confident that we also will be made more like Christ when we practice forgiveness.
Come and Build Community With Us!
Much love and many blessings!
Along the Way with Pastor Paul
For family and friends in the midst of flooding, our prayers are with you!
Michael Paul and Jessica Harris and their children Hannah and Nathan are safe from the rising water of Hurricane Harvey and subsequent rainfall in the Houston area.
It seems like just a few weeks ago, they were here in Hunt visiting on their summer break. We laughed and played and prayed together. It was a fun time. Now their lives are lived moment to moment with uncertainty waiting at each turn. This is the situation for so many who are now safe yet understandably insecure.
What can we do to help? We can give financially to relief agencies like:
UMCOR - www.umcor.org
Rio Texas United Methodist Conference Disaster Team - www.riotexas.org/harvey
Texas Conference United Methodist Disaster Team - www.txcumc.org
We can also offer Prayers and Loving Conversation, with encouragement and promises to come when the time is right to help in the clean up and the recovery.
A friend of ours Kirk Cowell shared a Facebook post today that tells the story of how important prayers and loving support can be in times like this one. Kirk and his family evacuated from their home southwest of Houston to be with family in North Texas. Now instead of wind damage, they are anticipating the flooding of their home from rising rivers and bayous in that area.
Kirk said this:
There's a lot to process for those of us affected by the flooding. Losing so much at once is a tremendous grief, compounded by the reality that so many friends are dealing with the same enormous loss. Then there's the stress of all the things that need to be figured out at some point. Where will we live now? Where will the kids go to school? Then there's the salvage and disposal work, the forms to fill out, the necessary shopping. That's a lot to think about.
It's also freeing, in a way. We own one car, some phones, a laptop, three iPads, one Kindle, and about three changes of clothes per person. I'm pretty sure that's all. We might get a few things from the house, but it won't be much. That stuff is going to be gone. I used to have hundreds of books. Now I'll have a few autographed books and the Bible my grandparents gave me on my 12th birthday--and that's only if they stay dry in the home of the friend who retrieved them for me, and that's a mighty big "if" right now.
Most of all, I have been amazed at the kindness of friends and acquaintances, who have overwhelmed us with their expressions of love and offers to help. We are brought to tears again and again by the messages we receive.
This is going to be hard. I know that. And we are going to fall apart every now and then. The kids are learning some hard lessons. But I am reminded of these words of scripture: "Many waters cannot quench love, nor can rivers drown it." Thanks for showing your love to us.
Rev Kirk Cowell
Giving thanks for the faithfulness of God and the compassion of God's people -
Along the Way
Pastor Paul Harris
WOW, did you see the solar eclipse on Monday? It was amazing to see. What was really cool was to be with Geri Griffin's family and friends during the eclipse. Standing outside the church as we gathered for Geri's funeral service, Jan & Jim Anderson and their children and grandchildren welcomed one another with hugs and shared the special glasses for eclipse viewing.
Sure, the eclipse was something special. But what made it so much more memorable was to see this family come together in joy and peace with awe and wonder of life's grand adventure.
Adventure - a word we use to describe our earthly existence and the unknown and uncertain journey of life. It is also a word we use in speaking about the journey yet to come into the heavenly host. No one really knows what that journey shall be like; and yet, we Jesus followers claim the certain hope of resurrection from the dead into life everlasting with God.
As Jesus received in baptism a beloved child of God, we believe that Jesus received Geri Griffin in grace and peace as she begins a new adventure.
John 14: 1-4 gives us a clue about the journey and the destination when Jesus says,
“Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. You know the way to the place I’m going.”
We pray in the journey, we pray for the destination, and we pray for all that is known and unknown - Much love and many blessings!
Along the Way with Pastor Paul
Have you noticed trimming of the iconic tree at Hunt United Methodist Church? Sure enough! With work in progress, a work crew is diligently and carefully trimming branches today. Hired by our church trustees and coordinated by Bill Furbush, the crew is taking care of this tree and providing for many years of continued and healthy growth.
Churches can need healthy trimming too. I seem to recall several Scriptures that speak about the need:
JOHN 15: 1-5 offers this saying from Jesus, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches."
SO - what does tree trimming at Hunt United Methodist Church have to do with your life or mine? The necessary action to keep this living organism healthy, the tree, so also is needed in our spiritual lives. To remain centered in Christ and fruitful in ministry together, we need some careful and diligent care so that our lives can grow and multiply the faithfulness of God within us.
This Sunday August 20, we will be reading from the Apostle Paul's letter to the Romans. In chapter 11, Paul speaks about God's salvation plan for Jews and Gentiles alike. He proposes a process by which God will welcome God's people and offer opportunities for ALL people to be included in the salvation. As you read this text, you will hear words like "grafting" and "holy roots" and "branches" - tree language which represents a life language of God's faithfulness among all of God's people.
The point today my friends, we have an opportunity to recognize parts of our lives and parts of our ministry as a community of faith that need some Tender Loving Care. We need a trimming - because as the Scriptures teach us New Growth comes from God's work to make a way among us.
Caring for the faithful and welcoming the newcomer, that is what seems to be rising among us as an important work of ministry. And by the way, the special parking spaces under the tree are now much safer to use.
Along the Way