This week is a week of Spiritual Renewal. Lots of silence. Some sound teaching. A bit of sharing in conversation around meals. And plenty of worship in the rhythm of the day.
in preparing for preaching during Lent and Easter, I find it helpful to retreat into a space of quiet abundance. I am not out on the trail, but instead at a Spiritual Renewal Center attending a Five Day Academy sponsored by the Rio Texas Academy for Spiritual Formation.
Being still is hard work. But necessary to my health and effectiveness as a pastor. I have colleagues and new friends here Along the Way sharing a common question: How to Lead in Difficult Times?
We know how current leaders lead. Well some of them. The rhetoric of public discourse has disintegrated into insult and bombast. Division and partisan politics rule our public experience. It does not inspire me in any way.
But how should spiritual leaders be leading? One answer is with the love of God. That is the source of hope that will bring us to a different space and time. “Our love informs and guides how we go about peaceful resistance in standing against evil, deceit, self interest, prejudice, oppression... With what source of love are we leading ?
My prayer today is that God’s love, in the grace of Jesus, might lead me so that I might lead others.
May peace be with you.
along the Way
A few nights ago I was out in the back yard with BotheDog. This photo is what I captured on my phone camera. It really was amazing. A matter of perspective you might say. Because what was a jet trail in the foreground appeared to be a streak across the moon.
An important lesson here might be to always go outside with your dog when he needs to go. Another lesson, and the point of this post, is to always consider perspective.
Perspective: a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.
in this new year one of my goals is to be attentive to the perspective of my listening audience. As a preacher, am I in tune with the views of the community in which I live and work? What about the perspective of those persons I have yet to meet and who I know little about? I desire to proclaim the truth of the message of Jesus. Can I or will I be heard in the way that I choose to hear?
It all gets a bit fuzzy at times, that is, our perspective. Clarity may only be realized when we seek to know more of the other person’s view. I hope to listen better so that I can see better this year. I pray that will help me communicate better. I pray that the good news of Jesus might be heard more because of it.
Along the Way
A Christmas Greeting from Pastor Paul and Laura Harris
We give thanks for each of you as we share the blessing of living and working among you in Hunt, TX. What a place this is to reside and abide in the redemptive mission of God. These 2-1/2 years in West Kerr County have been for us the best of times. We look forward to many more years with you! As we celebrate together in this season of Advent and Christmas, please know how much we love and care for you and for this church and for this community.
The evidence of God's faithfulness is all around us - the hope, peace, joy, and love we celebrate during Advent are manifested in the coming of our Lord Jesus. Whether accepting Christ for the first time or receiving a newborn attitude in Christ, receive your Lord! Claim in faith the grace given in Christ and share that love with all you meet this season and in the days and years to come.
When Jesus was asked - "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" Jesus said, "The most important one is 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:28-31)
My prayer for this congregation is that together we might Love God, Follow Jesus, and Be in Ministry with our Neighbor. Praise be to God from whom all blessings come!
On behalf of the Harris family, including our son Benjamin, and our parents Rev. Boyd and Anabel Harris, we wish for you a very Merry Christmas and a joyous New Year!
Pastor Paul & Laura
Greetings! Welcome to the season of Advent, a time of preparation for our readiness to receive the coming of the Lord. We prepare for Emmanuel, God is with us, as God's in-breaking into our world is celebrated each year at Christmas. As we long for the incarnation presence of the Christ, we celebrate four Sundays of Advent with themes of hope, peace, joy, and love. As I will not be preaching on the third Sunday of December, I offer here one of my previous Advent 3 sermons. On December 15th at 10:30 am, I will be singing with the Hunt Community Choir as Hunt UMC presents A Celebration of Carols. Join us for the season. Join us on December 15th at 10:30 am in worship. Emmanuel!
Rev. Paul Harris
Year A – Advent 3 Sermon
“God Sees, Even When We Can’t”
A Story from Along the Way: The Map, The Messenger, The Way
In the brilliance of early August in the mountains, our group made camp near one of the lakes just below the Truches Peaks. It was a worthy prize for several days of uphill hiking at an altitude between 10,000 and 13,000 feet above sea level. We stayed there for several days of summit day-hikes, lake fishing, and story-telling. It was beautiful. It seemed as if time was standing still and the world had been put “on-hold” for a moment of peace and light. You might say this was one of my favorite places and one of my favorite times.
As this camp was the furthest outbound camp on that year’s venture into the Pecos Wilderness, the new day meant it was time to move on - Along the Way. So, we headed up for some ridge hiking in the full sunlight of a cloudless day. We walked along the ridge that distinguishes the beginnings of the Pecos River and the Rio Grande River. It was a great day for hiking. God’s good creation was on full display. The majesty and wonder of that experience keeps me going with just a thought and a memory of the group, the trail, the beauty of all that was around me.
Our trail itinerary called for us to walk a certain distance along the ridge and then turn downhill toward our next camp. As I recall, we stopped for a snack, we took some photos, we hiked some distance more and then a trail appeared to our right. So those in the lead, discussed the merit of the trail and made the turn. It wasn’t long before some began to feel that we made a wrong turn. We seemed to be headed back in the direction we had traveled but at a lower altitude. So Rule One came into play. Rule One is that anyone in the group can call for a break and all hikers stop.
Our discussion of the direction of travel took some time. Packs began to come off. Some ventured just far enough away for a quick necessity-stop. My friend Mart took out the trail map and his compass. As he and others began to examine the Wilderness Map, there was some commotion from the person in our group located furthest down the trail. “Hey! There is another hiker coming up the trail.” Sure enough, as our group was there wondering if we had chosen the correct path, a lone hiker made his way up to our group. We all saw him as he turned just below us on the last switchback.
The lone hiker was a man about my age, maybe early to mid-50s. He had all the right gear. He was dressed properly for the trail. You know one notices stuff like that when assessing a stranger coming up in the wilderness. The man quietly made his way to where the largest part of our group was gathered around the map. The man said, “Hi, how is going?”
Immediately, the women in our group said in chorus, “We are LOST.” Not so loudly, the map-tenders invited the man closer and asked, “Where are we on this map?” A bit of a discussion ensued, the man asked of our destination, and then he commented on his travel plan. “Yes, I’ve made my way up this trail to find my way to the ridge. I came from a camp just below where you all were camped. I have been watching you from a distance.”
As our eyes converged on the man and then as we searched each other’s eyes for the answer to the question – how weird is this? – the man put his finger on the map and said, “Here! This is where we are! You may have turned off the ridge just a bit too soon. I suggest you make your way back up the hill and hike on another half-mile or so. I bet you will find the trail you seek.”
When a lone hiker makes his way among you in the wilderness and locates your position so that you are no longer lost, one would think that the group would have said okay and put packs back on. But NO! The map-tenders wanted verification. Yes, I was among those who asked, “Are you sure?”
After all, this man was a stranger. He seemed to have no more knowledge than we did on that day. HOW COULD WE TRUST HIM? And where was this guy from anyway? He had been watching us from a distance? The one among our group with the lowest threshold for embarrassment began to ask more of the lone hiker. He was from Texas, like us. He was out for an eight-day trip, like us. He had walked up that day because he saw us stopped and it looked as if we might need direction. He gave us more information to make us feel better about his credentials for assessing whether we were lost. (laugh) The conversation lightened up, the map was folded up, the packs began to be heaved back up on shoulders, the call came for “All Ready?”
When we made it back up to the ridge, we went one way and the lone hiker went another. We said thank you and sent blessings with him for his journey. And I wondered, who is this Messenger that was sent to us this day?
Friends, sometimes we find ourselves lost in the Wilderness. And the Lord Almighty has a way of sending the message. YOU ARE LOST? TURN AROUND! GO IN THE OTHER DIRECTION! It is way too easy to stray from the ridge path and turn off into what seems to be the correct direction of travel. Without the Messenger, the map did us no good that day. The surroundings were too similar between the trail we took and the trail we needed. Our perceptions were incorrect. Our egos almost led us back to place we started instead of the place we wanted to go.
I share this story on this 3rd Sunday of Advent as a way of saying to all of us: IT IS OKAY TO STOP AND ASK FOR DIRECTIONS. And if you are in the wilderness, a lone hiker has been dispatched to the intersection of your despair with Good News and re-direction.
From our Gospel Reading today, Matthew 11:2-11, John the Baptist wondered about Jesus: Are you the one? As I have been in the wilderness pointing toward the time of salvation and coming of the Messiah, is it you that the Lord has sent?
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see. The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”
Today, I invite you to join with us in asking the question: Are We on the Path We Need? Are we walking in the direction that leads us to salvation? Are we listening to the messengers God has placed in our midst? How Can We be Certain?
Friends, Along the Way of my faith journey, I have found that the paths worth walking are the paths that show evidence of God’s beauty. The camps worth staying at were places where good news was shared. But most importantly and to the point of this story, I have found that the paths that continue to call me are the ones on which Jesus is already at work healing, loving, feeding, being with God’s people. These are the signs we seek. These are the trail-markers we need to avoid getting lost in the wilderness.
Glory be to God for sending the One who comes into the world to reconcile the world and its people – to God and to each other. In these days that seem to me to be like days in the wilderness, may the certainty of Jesus Christ guide us Along the Way.
Coming Soon - Advent
But first, there is The Reign of Christ Sunday on November 24th. A Christian Celebration since 1925 recognizing that God in Christ has come, is coming, shall come again in the majestic glory of ruler of all. All...
A conversation yesterday after worship service with a friend:
Friend: “What if... Jesus is already here changing and making things new?”
Friend: “But is that even possible?”
Friend: “Are we Living these days as the last or the first days?”
My hope in Christ Jesus is that the brilliant glory of God shine into your life and mine with the promise of new life, transformed life, redeemed life... in and among this life, now and forever.
Along the Way
Pastor Paul Harris
One of my favorite Sundays of the Christian calendar is All Saints Sunday. The Sunday of or following All Saints Day is an important day in the life of the local congregation and the connection we call Methodism.
"All Saints Day is an opportunity to give thanks for all those who have gone before us in the faith."
See the link provided here for more information:
I give thanks and remember many persons from the Methodist congregations across the former Southwest Texas Annual Conference and now Rio Texas Annual Conference. I am connected with them in the way in which I was spiritually formed and nurtured in faith while observing the witness of the faithful ahead of me.
November 3, I will hang bells on the cross at Hunt UMC in honor of some of the saints in my life. I hope you do likewise wherever you worship this Sunday.
Along the Way
Soon on the Guadalupe River, we shall again observe the bronzing of the cypress trees. The summer heat of August is beginning to flinch and the cooler mornings of September slip into our presence. And then its October and the leaves of this area begin their own transformation. If it is anything like what we experienced last year, it will be a grand show. And in one paragraph, my mind has jumped through three months.
So it is in the Hill Country of Texas, in a cozy part of West Kerr County, where most folks are in their retirement years. And yet where does the time go? Most in my congregation are ready to admit that they are busier now than ever.
So it is... for this working pastor who sometimes forgets the importance of this very moment in life. Don't get me wrong, I do not claim to be too busy. I do have a full schedule and I like it that way. But I hope that I have learned Along the Way the value of time and the benefit of a calling in vocational ministry "to be with" each experience in each moment of my day.
I want to speak a word of truth here to all who read: The present moment and what we make of it can bring glory to God. In our labor, we each have the choice to make in faith of what our responses will be to the stimulus around us.
This month at Hunt UMC we are making Choices in Faith as we Walk with Elijah the Prophet. In five sermons, we are examining the stories of Elijah from 1 Kings, chapters 16-21, and 2 Kings, chapters 1 & 2. We are stepping into the challenges of living obediently and faithfully.
Sept 1 - Walking with Elijah: The Voice of the Prophet
Sept 8 - Walking with Elijah: Calling Down Fire
Sept 15 - Walking with Elijah: A Prayer for Perseverance
Sept 22 - Walking with Elijah: Defeating Discouragement
Sept 29 - Walking with Elijah: Life in the Whirlwind
Join us on Sundays at either 8:30 or 11:00 worship. Be our guest! COme along for the walk and see what truths the scripture speaks for you.
Along the Way
In a quick visit to Rockport-Fulton this week, I noticed a new construction project. Among the recovery efforts from Hurricane Harvey over the last two years, I imagine the folks living here have seen some things rebuilt and others not. For this pastor who went to high school here and then moved away, this construction project has special meaning.
The old Paws and Taws community building was used for meetings, Gatherings, dances, prom nights, and so much more. Our graduating class of 1978 had danced here. Laura and I went to prom here. I think I wore a lime green leisure suit. Lots of memories!
To see something new being constructed in the same location - well, it’s just very good to see! Congratulations to this community for the progress made in two years. And to all who have lived daily in the storm’s aftermath, your perseverance is showing!
Along the Way
I often pray for family, community, church, and neighbor. And by neighbor I mean anyone and everyone to whom the Lord calls me to serve. In praying for Neighbor today, an overwhelming sense of urgency came upon me. It was not peaceful. It felt the opposite of what I have come to know as peace.
I was visiting with my parents yesterday and my 94 year old Dad told me about an article he just read in National Geographic about world migration. He said, son the world is on the move. Did you know about this? I replied, well yes Dad. Are you speaking of the migration on our continent? He said, not just that son - all over the world! God’s people are moving!
My Dad may have said something profound. He has been known to do that from time to time. The article sure impressed upon him a sense of urgency as to the plight of so many.
Here’s the deal... those migrating are someone’s neighbor. Are they mine or yours to care for? That seems to be one of the primary questions of our day. And what does it mean to care, to offer hospitality, to provide safety, to welcome, to make a way? Countries across the globe are struggling with these questions. Our country is divided on the matter.
Neighbors, whether those with sameness or those with otherness, are all created in the image of God. Neighbors are people with families and dreams and lives filled with wonder and questions. Who am I to discard a neighbor, to turn a blind eye, to walk by, to actively engage with hostility? So many questions. One answer.
Matthew 25 is a place to seek counsel.
The urgency I feel this morning is not going away anytime soon. The world is on the move.
Along the Way
For the second time, Laura and I were invited to Grand Camp with my brother and sister-n-law and five of their grandchildren. As it was the second time, several things can be said. We passed the first year test! And we love our great nieces and great nephew and the precious time shared during a week "at camp."
I place those words in quotations because they can mean different things. Camping can be used loosely to describe this year's outing. It was in a cabin in the woods near a lake with a dam and a cold river stream. However, the cabin was a very nice three bedroom rental house with a fully furnished kitchen. No tents. No cooking over an open fire, with the exception of the camp fire night. Dutch oven cobbler. Steaks and taters. Home made ice cream.
We ate. We played. We laughed. We hiked. We went swimming - numerous times. It was hot! Did I say, we ate! I hope to be invited to Grand Camp next year. It was fun. And it was with family. It is an exhausting week. And it is Sabbath rest!
Blessings to you all my friends as you take your Sabbath rest this summer. May the peace of Christ guide every step.
Along the Way
Author: Paul E Harris
Journal posts from a pastor and spiritual friend