This is Memorial Day weekend in the USA. While we remember armed forces personnel fallen in the line of duty to this country, many families also gather this weekend to celebrate ancestors and heritage. In Laura's family, there is a place that holds special significance in the history of Texas and its settlement. A very rural community in Milam County is marked by a Methodist Church and a cemetery. It is called Friendship.
On the first Saturday in June, descendants of early settlers to this area gather to remember their family members and have a memorial church service. A large pot-luck meal follows the worship service in the attached Fellowship Hall. From the porch of the hall, you can see the cemetery.
The cemetery is where the stories are told. On my first trip to Friendship over 40 years ago, my mother-n-law Loyce McCarson Ogle walked me through the cemetery with a printed guide and her childhood memories. Cousins, uncles and aunts, a brother shot down in the Korean conflict, her mother's lineage (which is important) in this cemetery containing now as many as ten (10) generations from those original settlers. Each family has its own unique stories. The one common denominator - a group of people who called themselves Methodist and a persevering faith in God and love for their neighbors.
Laura and I hope to make the drive to walk the grounds this Memorial. We won't be able to join the family reunion but we will make our pilgrimage to an important place of our history.
Along the Way
That's A Bunch of HallelujahsRead Now
After posting this photo of the first page of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's 'Messiah' on my social media platform, the best response received so far is "That's a bunch of Hallelujahs!"
The Sanctuary Choir at Manchaca UMC will sing this chorus on Easter Sunday as will many choirs across the mainline protestant church community. I wonder how many languages it will be shared in this Easter and in how many locations. Rendered in English as Praise the Lord, this term hallelujah originates from the Hebrew and is found in psalms that we still read today. Early Christians used the term to shout out or express with great joy their love for the risen Christ. So to say "That's a bunch of hallelujahs" is not far from the true meaning.
Singing this kind of praise hymn requires some practice. And living this kind of joy requires a great blessing - GRACE. On Easter Sunday this year, I will do my very best to sing the bass part of this great piece of music with a fantastic group of singers. I will do it with great joy! And I will be able to do so because of the great love of God made known in Jesus of Nazareth. Praise the Lord! Hallelujah!
Come and join us in worship during Holy Week at Manchaca UMC. The sounds of Lots of hallelujahs will be waiting for you. The grace of God is yours already.
Along the Way
WHAT ARE WE PLANTING?Read Now
It seems that while all the trees in our area are doing their thing, as in full pollen onslaught, thoughts of spring and new plant growth come to mind. In this season of Lent, we are invited to not only work into our faith through disciplined practices, we also make room for new growth in our spiritual lives. That new growth comes in the grace of God in our relationship with the risen Christ. That new growth also requires our involvement in the pruning, cultivating, or planting process.
Several springs ago when the pandemic began and we were all asked to stay home and keep "safe" distance from others, my household took on a backyard raised bed garden. I planted squash among other things. It grew and produced with abundance in that space and in that time. We had squash in every dinner meal for months! That vegetable garden and our back porch provided a place for conversation, hard work, and visible produce. We loved it.
So I wonder now what we are about in the planting stages of our faith as disciples of Jesus? In a recent conversation, I was reminded of the importance of gardeners - both those that produce food and those who cultivate faith. Thanks and blessings go to both. I would like to say more about those who tend to the gardens of faith.
I wonder who it is that is being called to teach and coach and mentor our younger disciples and families in this faith community. Particularly the mentoring. Teaching someone about gardening is one thing, but teaching someone while gardening with them is another thing. So it is with our faith in Christ. Many have been called to preach and teach about Jesus. But fewer are those that I can count in my life that actually taught me to know Christ while working with me, being with me, listening to me, loving me.
It well may be that one thing we can do in our church community is to spend more time together in the gardens of life. Building relationships was so important during the pandemic while we clustered with our families and small groups. Building relationships is also important now as we begin to vision new leaders, new paths, and new harvests for our churches.
Let me invite you to consider your mentoring gifts this season of Lent. Let me encourage you to invite another into your faith space to share your experience. Let me suggest that planting may be the most important work we are called to in these days. More soon on the harvest and those who are called to work as servants for Christ.
Along the Way
A Gentle ReminderRead Now
A gentle reminder is always welcome. At least that's what I tell myself. A colleague who lives near the church from which I serve recently pointed out that she often uses the spiritual labyrinth located on this church campus. I wondered aloud when the last time I had been in that space. It is the season of Lent and I invite you as I remind myself, this labyrinth is a wonderful space for contemplation and prayer.
The tree that fell across part of the labyrinth after the early February ice-storm has been cut and placed in pieces adjacent to the labyrinth. After this gentle reminder to utilize this space more often, I began to wonder if we should use some of that firewood to host an Easter Saturday evening vigil - "Ashes to Fire." That made me look in one of my liturgical resources for a service of worship to be offered. I wonder if you would join me? I wonder what we could do together to make a prayer walk meaningful for you and your family?
Saturday April 8th at 6:30 pm:
In a time of prayer, persons of the community are invited to wait together around the labyrinth at Manchaca United Methodist Church. This space can be used to walk the labyrinth, pray in silence, and wonder together around a small vigil fire.
LENT - At The IntersectionRead Now
At the intersection of Menchaca Road and FM 1626, you will find the church campus of Manchaca UMC. This intersection has been "Under Construction" since I moved here in June 2022. It is now February 2023. There has been progress made toward a wider road with better lighting and traffic control. Slow progress according to most opinions. Many in this church wonder if it will ever be completed.
When I inquire of our plans for the time after the construction ends, most answers are vague. It has taken so long, we have forgotten the previous plan. A Pandemic and a c contractor who had a hard time finding crews. Long delays have caused apathy: out there and in here too. I look at this intersection in the middle of my day with a cup of hot tea and the protection of an inside office. There are so many people driving through this intersection. I wonder where they all came from and where it is that they are going. I guess they could ask the same of us in the church.
When I get in these wondering moods, the best thing to do is walk next door to the neighboring restaurant. Many times over the last 8 months, I have encountered the road construction crews on their lunch hour. I quietly eavesdrop to hear the stories of working men and women as they quickly consume some food before returning to their work - out there on the road.
This intersection seems to have something to say today to us in this church. At least I think it is speaking to me. Oh I know what it is... It is Lent, at the intersection of Christ's love for all people and the call to be the church - out there on the road. During the season of Lent this year, we are utilizing the Adam Hamilton book entitled "Jesus and the Outsiders, Outcasts, and Outlaws." It uses the gospel of Luke as the basis for a small group study and series of preaching and teaching about disciples - out there on the road.
I invite you inside with us on Sundays at Manchaca UMC as we seek to be those disciples who are called out there into the world for the remaining days of the week. Come along with us as we read sections of the gospel of Luke each day beginning on February 22 and concluding on April 9. Prepare your hearts and minds for the intersections of life. Study with us. Rejoin your small group. Let us help you re-connect with others who want to learn together.
On the road and at the intersection,
Along the Way
The WeddingRead Now
What joy we experienced this month! Laura and I and many of our family traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia for the wedding of Rebecca Rainbow and Benjamin Harris. I was honored to officiate my son’s wedding! Pictured here at the rehearsal, I stand with two wonderful young souls who are so very dear to me.
As I mentioned to those gathered to witness this ceremony and all of the wedding party, Rebecca and Ben now count on “us” more than ever for continued encouragement and prayer. The wedding ceremony brings together two souls and so many more who fly standby in this marriage as saints, family, friends, listeners, walk along siders, and confidants. “We” are committed to them. In terms of commitment, I now have a daughter-n-love to care for as I do my son. His mother and I could not be more pleased with their marriage. I have to tell you now, the Austin to Richmond airways will see much more of our business. We hope to return in the autumn to check in with Ben and Rebecca and help with the grape harvest. Rebecca is a winemaker at a boutique winery near Monticello. Who knows, that trip might be my spiritual formation and Continuing Education for the year. Commitment to this couple shall be a lifelong endeavor.
Commitment seems to be the common thread here expressed in the joy I feel as a proud father and pastor. The energy enlivens my commitment to Christ and to the Church. I remember my baptism and give thanks. Adelante! Forward!
In service for Christ,
A Direction to CommitmentRead Now
Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year! In this last week of the 2022 calendar year, we are celebrating the 12 days of Christmas at the Harris house. Each day is a mini-celebration! It's also my birthday week, so you can see how easy it is for me to claim the whole week as a celebration. This Sunday, JANUARY 1st, we will have ONE WORSHIP SERVICE AT 10 AM. We will gather in the Sanctuary and share the story of the Magi and their search for the baby King.
(Read Matthew 2:1-12.) Come and join in worship with us!
In the story from Matthew, we read about the Magi who are nameless. Only later and from other christian traditions do their names appear: Balthazar, Casper, and Melchior. They brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It is not clear exactly when they showed up in Bethlehem. Matthew implies sometime after the birth of Jesus and sometime before Herod ordered all male children under age two to be killed. One thing is clear, God's light in Christ was a guide for them in their journey. And the direction of their travel was keenly directed by the light of a special star.
For me the message of the Wise Men has many nuances, none so inviting as the invitation to a direction for commitment. They had to make a large investment in their journey. Time, energy, resources. We hear about their gifts, but what about their entourage? After all they were nobility. Would they have been just three men traveling on camels? I don't think so. I bet there were baggage handlers, animal caretakers, tent crews, waterboys, star chart assistants, and a security detail. I believe they and their trail partners were fully committed to finding what they saw in their mystic revelation as something new. They were seekers of something new to be found in an unknown baby king. They came from the nations surrounding Judah. Part of the story is that they probably came from Babylon, Persia, and maybe even India. From the east they traveled following a star making a very long journey in search of Christ. They were committed. They were directed.
After the twelve days of Christmas, we celebrate Epiphany on January 6th. A manifestation of a divine being (Christ) to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi. Epiphanies are triggered by a new piece of information causing a new understanding of some previous knowledge. If you make the leap with me here, let's go to Isaiah 60:1-6 and read about the prophet's vision of the restoration of Israel. "Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn." "A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord." A vision of redemption is the prophet's hope. And we Christians claim that redemption in Jesus Christ, the Light of God.
Direction and Commitment are words I will use in my faith journey into a new year. I hope you find a sudden and striking manifestation, an epiphany of God's love and grace this new year. The direction we seek is provided. The commitment we make is up to each of us Along the Way.
The Glory of the LordRead Now
Are you ready for Christmas Eve worship services? We are hoping to welcome you home along with many other persons on December 24th as we make ready for in-person and online worship experiences at Manchaca UMC. This year, we offer services at 3:00 pm, 5:00 pm, and 7:00 pm. Consider this a personal invitation to you and your family to come join us in the Sanctuary for a wonderful celebration of the birth of Jesus.
Many "C"hristian churches are offering similar worship services. Why come? I believe it is a great time to be available for an experience of the glory of the Lord. You might ask, what is the glory of the Lord? Luke's gospel narrative of the birth of Jesus places Mary (birth mother) and Joseph (earth father) in Bethlehem, a village just south of Jerusalem during the seasonal census, registration, and taxation event sponsored by the Roman Empire. Joseph's family of origin traced back to King David who grew up in this area. And so Joseph returned and brought a very pregnant Mary with him. (See Luke 2:1-7)
While Mary is giving birth to Jesus somewhere in Bethlehem (the house of bread), there is a brilliant flash of light and the voice of an angel of the Lord that "visits" some shepherds in the fields nearby. The message of Jesus' arrival and this important birth is announced. That is the main thing. That's why we come together in worship on Christmas Eve and tell this story - GOD is with us in the birth of Jesus! (See Luke 2: 8-14)
But I also like to share this story because of its unexpected recipients - the shepherds.
They were considered unclean, they were not welcome in polite social circles in the city, they were despised by those in power. And the glory of the Lord was made known directly to them. Just think, the brilliant light and the messenger of God did not show up in the big city church with the fancy sanctuary. God's direct message was not reserved for those in power, either religious or political. The glory of the Lord was made known in a field just outside a village to a bunch of no-bodies. Luke's gospel story sets the stage for God to be made known through the visits of the Angel, first to Zechariah, then to Mary (on both accounts making the promise of a son), and then in a THIRD VISIT to a bunch of shepherds.
Back to the glory of God. If you want to read more about the Exodus of the people of Israel who God rescued from slavery in Egypt, look to the book we call Exodus in the Hebrew Scripture (some call it the Old Testament) and find these places where the glory of the Lord is made known: Exodus 14:17-18, 16:10, 24:17, 40:34-35. And then in the story of Solomon's Temple find the glory of the Lord showing up again (1 Kings 8:9-21). In each case, God's presence is made real to those persons in the story. In the deliverance of a people through the wilderness years, in the daily presence of the pillar of fire, and in the cloud that came into the tabernacle, the glory of the Lord appeared in such a way that those experiencing it were fully aware of the power and majesty of God.
That is what happened on the third visit of the angel of the Lord in Luke's gospel narrative. The glory of the Lord appeared to them. We tell the story and often skim over the spectacle of the shepherds in the field. Who they were... are were not. And the glory of God, you would think someone more important would have been chosen to receive the message. If you are still with me, just think - the glory of the Lord could show up in our lives too!
Even unexpectedly, most importantly unexpectedly and in the least likely location. It does not have to be in the fancy sanctuary. It could be wherever we are gathered this year. Standing beside a friend laying in the hospital with a viral infection. At the end of the longest line on the last day of shopping. In an out of the way, back street cafe with a someone who is hungry. In videos or photos sent by family unable to gather for the holidays.
The message comes in the glory of the Lord. The message is that God is with us in Jesus! That is the story we will share on Christmas Eve. We would love for you to be a part of that night with our church family.
Along the Way
The Everlasting LightRead Now
Anticipating the Joy of Christmas in this season of Advent for our family includes decorations of light on trees. These three photos show the Christmas trees outside my office at Manchaca UMC, on our breakfast nook bench, and out front of our home. Various size trees with various light sources. There is no magical formula for the rightness of the decoration. The things that are represented are the everlasting (in the greenery of the tree) and the light (white, multi-colored, flashing, not flashing, you choose) of this season. Everlasting light is the message to be conveyed!
We could stop right there and everybody would love the photos and the trees and the lights and all that we do to busy ourselves in this special season. Or, we can keep reading.
On Christmas Eve, the church will read scripture readings that are shared in the story of Jesus coming into our world as the Everlasting Light. As Christians, we reach into the Hebrew Scripture for a word about everlasting and light. In the prophet Isaiah, ninth chapter, we hear a word of hope and promise for the people of Galilee of one to come and restore their people:
"But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time, he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in the darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them light has shined." (Isaiah 9:1-2)
Light as opposed to darkness, joy instead of oppression, peace instead of war. These are the things of which the prophet speaks. These are the hopeful promises of a prophet speaking truth to those who would hear. The people of the 8th century before Jesus needed to hear such words. The people of the first century in the same area also needed to hear these words. I think these words are timeless and I think we need to hear them again for each of us today.
For a child has been born for us, a son is given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time onward and forevermore." (Isaiah 9:6-7)
The Prince of Peace as referred to in Isaiah the prophet is a term that continues in this story of everlasting light, hope and promise, peace and joy. For the one we claim as Savior is Christ the Lord, Jesus - the Incarnation of God with us, Emmanuel - born to Mary in a manger in Bethlehem.
We will also share the gospel story from Luke 2 in which a great light appears to shepherds in the fields. That part of the story I will save for Christmas Eve. Join us at Manchaca UMC at one of THREE worship services: 3:00 pm, 5:00 pm, or 7:00 pm. Hear the story again and make it your own. Light the candles of love with us in our candlelight service and celebrate the everlasting presence of God in Jesus.
Merry Christmas EVE
Happy ThanksgivingRead Now
When our family gathers for Thanksgiving, you can be sure there will be a feast! For years, Laura and I along with Ben would go to Kerrville to my parents house for Thanksgiving. And as the photo here shows, oftentimes I would assist by carving the wonderfully cooked turkey. These days, we go to the DuBose Family Farm where my sister-n-law Kerry and her family host a large gathering of family and friends for this special meal. I am looking forward to it with great anticipation.
And then there is the family blessing said at holiday meals. Who is going to say it? One of the preachers of the family? All of us together? The youngest? So many biblical traditions come to mind with the Passover meal and the liturgy the family uses to tell the story of God's saving act in Egypt. I can imagine your family has some traditions as well in how you give thanks and how you share the storytelling of God's love and mercy.
The recommended bible verses for this Thanksgiving Day come from John 6:25-35. In that section of scripture we hear Jesus in conversation with those who seek him after the feeding miracle. They have come seeking additional signs as to the true identity of Jesus. Is he the One, the Messiah? Is the wait over after all these years? They wonder, are we saved again, at last, forever? Jesus replies and teaches them by using the imagery of believing, working, coming, and seeing which all imply a relationship with God in Jesus, the Christ.
Jesus says to them, "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me , not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you."
Okay Jesus, (can you hear the murmurs... what's that mean?) What must we do to perform the works of God? And Jesus said, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." And the people responded, "What sign are you going to give us then? So that we may see it and believe (in) you?" (Keep reading the scripture for the rest of this story.) The conversation continues with Jesus finally declaring that "I am the bread of life."
Our Thanksgiving meal tends to focus on the turkey. What about the bread, the real bread, the gift of God in the lives of God's people. Are we just celebrating a day with families as a result of Puritan storytelling and that first hard season along the shores of a new land?
My hope this year as we celebrate in the family feast will be to remember that just as the manna in the wilderness was like bread from heaven, the gift of God which has come down from heaven indeed is Jesus, the bread of life. And as we tell our family story, let us include the stories of how God has saved and continues to save God's people.
Author: Paul E Harris
Journal posts from a pastor and spiritual friend