A mid-week Homily for Lent
March 18, 2020
Rev. Paul Harris
Greetings Friends and Neighbors,
You may be watching a Facebook Live broadcast today at www.facebook.com/HuntUMC or you may be reading this text on my Journal page available on my website www.pauleharris2017.com or on the home page of Hunt United Methodist Church at www.huntumc.org
Welcome to a time of uncertainty! I demand security in my life to function well. It is part of who I am. So the fluctuations and variables introduced into our conversation today brings anxiety. There is Good News for me and for you!
I speak today about a spiritual discipline referred to as SIMPLICITY. And one of my favorite authors and teachers on this discipline is Richard J. Foster. This morning, I re-read the chapter on Simplicity in his book Celebration of Discipline.
Foster says that the “Christian Discipline of simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle. Simplicity begins in an inward focus and unity. Thomas Kelly is quoted as coining the phrase to describe this inward focus – it is The Divine Center.”
In my words, when we practice a spiritual centering that helps us focus mind, body, and soul in obedience to God and in alignment with the teaching of Jesus Christ – we are given the capacity to trust God completely for all things, for all time. But sometimes, I need to be reminded. Especially when something like a new and much unknown virus threatens my security. I can imagine you may have similar feelings.
I believe that a heightened need for security in these frightening times can lead to an irrational desire for objects, assets, and stockpiles. We covet things when we get scared. We want to be assured that our supplies will be available and in abundance.
Before corona virus, a life in simplicity had been emphasized in the voice of Marie Kondo. Younger generations were leading all of us toward the notion that de-cluttering our lives could lead to a more simple life. And a more simple life could lead us to new ways to share community and life. Now, this concept in simplicity seems inadequate. How is my giving away material goods and possessions going to provide more security in my life? Simplicity – no thanks!
I wonder, what do we need to survive this time of self-quarantine, homebound isolation, social distancing, travel restrictions, and so on…? I asked myself this morning: What is essential for my physical well-being and my spiritual health? And beyond that – what does my congregation need from me, their pastor? What do my aging parents now in a locked down senior living center require? How will it be provided? If not careful, a simple focus can be quickly overcome by ALL that screams at us in light of the worldwide health scare. How do we maintain a discipline of Simplicity in these days?
Richard Foster says, “Covetousness we call ambition. Hoarding we call prudence. Greed we call industry.” Please Lord, do not allow me to act in these ways. Lead me on the path of simplicity. I pray.
Foster’s chapter on simplicity yielded some important insight as I re-read it this morning.
First, Simplicity sets us free to receive the provision of God as a gift that is NOT ours to keep, and that can be freely shared with others. Secondly, the Bible speaks about simplicity throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and in the New Testament. The concept of the Jubilee Year in fact called the people of Israel on occasion to return land rights to original owners lost in debt. Jesus taught that a disciple could not follow both God and mammon. Foster says, “Jesus challenged the rich young ruler not just to have an inner attitude of detachment from his possessions but literally to get rid of his possessions if he wanted to experience the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19)
DO NOT COVET. A strong command given in the Torah that disciplined a wandering people to respect one another and the needs of the community.
Certainly Foster suggests that God intends that we should have adequate material provision. So what do we make of the simplicity called for when it comes to material goods and our false understanding of scarcity?
What is enough? Why are people in their fear buying up all of the toilet paper on the shelves of our grocery stores? Maybe it has something to do with our fear of supply interruptions? Or just a basic fear of whether or not the financial crisis will worsen and cause companies to go out of business and folks to lose their jobs?
Everybody breathe… Let us take a pause…
Security is one of my strongest needs, both physically and spiritually. I don’t think I am alone on this. The days we now live can lead me to be anxious. And yet, as a pastor, I am called to be a no-anxious presence in my faith community. The practice of this spiritual discipline called Simplicity is made easier and certainly makes more sense in terms of the words of Jesus when he said,
(Matthew 6:25-33 CEB)
25 “Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than they are? 27 Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? 28 And why do you worry about clothes? Notice how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. 29 But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. 30 If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you, you people of weak faith? 31 Therefore, don’t worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’ 32 Gentiles long for all these things. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
The central point for the discipline simplicity is to FIRST seek the kingdom of God and the righteousness of his kingdom. First things first friends. What do we need to thrive in the days ahead?
I say to myself and I say to you, Let us follow best practices for individual and community health. AND in terms of spiritual health, DO NOT WORRY. Help others to discover this spiritual practice by enacting it in your own life. I will do my best to be non-anxious. I will do my best with God’s help.
God loves you and so do I.
More soon on the details of this practice, stay tuned…
Along the Way
Pastor Paul Harris
Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, Richard Foster, Harper & Row Publishers, 1978.
Simplicity, Wendy J. Miller, in the Series Holy Living Spiritual Practices for Building a Life of Faith, Elaine A. Heath, General Editor, Simplicity, Wendy J. Miller, Abingdon Press, 2019.
UPDATE 1:45 PM MARCH 17, 2020
After consultation this morning with our Methodist Healthcare Ministries (Wesley Nurse) partners and with guidance from protocols issued by CDC, Kerr County, and City of Kerrville, and Rio Texas Conference UMC, and because we often exceed 50 persons in our worship gatherings and coffee hour, we are:
SUSPENDING ALL ACTIVITIES AT HUNT UMC UNTIL APRIL 6th
THIS INCLUDES FACE TO FACE SUNDAY WORSHIP AND FELLOWSHIP ACTIVITIES
for MARCH 22, MARCH 29, and APRIL 5
In the interim, we are offering virtual worship experiences via Facebook Live
We encourage you to participate from home and invite your friends to participate from their homes; Sunday March 22nd LIVE at 8:30 am.
Times for LIVE broadcasts for subsequent weeks shall be posted in future updates.
The video can be accessed at any time either LIVE or later.
Your worship planning team and this pastor are working out details for offering this worship experience utilizing volunteers from the music staff and team members. We will keep the number of us in the sanctuary to less than 10 persons at any one time and use personnel safety precautions in the video production.
WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW:
1. Help us notify others in our faith community of this news, especially those in your small groups who may not monitor email.
2. Alert the Church Office staff by telephone (830) 238-4360 before dropping by the office. Let us know how we can continue to be of service and help us keep each other safe.
3. Watch for email newsletter.
4. Monitor Hunt UMC webpage at www.huntumc.org
5. Reach the pastor at email: firstname.lastname@example.org
WAYS TO WORSHIP WHILE YOU WASH YOUR HANDS
see attached .pdf format document
CARE FOR ONE ANOTHER
BUILD COMMUNITY IN NEW WAYS
Update March 17, 2020
Rev. Paul Harris
Weekly Briefing from Pastor Paul
March 12, 2020
I write today to inform our faith community and its partners of steps being taken to provide for the health and safety of Hunt UMC, its members and partners, and outside groups using facilities.
For worship services, we are continuing the gathering and worship at 8:30 and 11:00 am on Sunday morning. This will be a week to week decision. We are taking steps to provide extra cleaning of surfaces this week and going forward. Doors will be propped open for entry. We are suspending Passing of the Peace and Sharing of the Bread and Cup (at 8:30) for this week. We may find alternatives for weeks to come.
Our guidance on handling of food by Hunt UMC (or outside groups using Hunt UMC Fellowship Hall) is to limit meal sharing to "served food only." This will impact our Coffee Bar this Sunday. Patrick Fitzgerald is organizing servers to handle coffee and goodies at the fellowship time. This will impact our end of month brunch buffet. We will either change the way we serve or suspend that event. More to come on that. Outside groups using our facilities are advised to follow CDC protocols and to have gloved servers handle food service.
We are providing a means by which you can participate in worship gatherings from home. Bill Booker, Hunt UMC Communications, is sending out instructions today on what to do to connect.
If you feel sick, please stay home. If you choose to stay at home for your protection, we understand. We will be increasing our email traffic with opportunities to build community.
Scripture readings for this week March 15:
Much love and many blessings!
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
Author: Paul E Harris
Journal posts from a pastor and spiritual friend