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
Rio Texas Annual Conference 2019
With Pastor Paul Harris
Every year, lay and clergy delegates from the churches of the Rio Texas Annual Conference gather for worship, learning, and business in a 3-1/2 day conference. This year the conference was held in Corpus Christi, Tx from June 5-8. Joyce Schupp served as Lay Delegate from Hunt UMC.
The conference is an event and a conversation. Conferencing is a practice started by John Wesley in England to provide annual conversation and evaluation of ministry among the pastors of the people called Methodists. Conferencing continues today as delegates gather to enter into conversation with the resident Bishop and each other in setting priorities and budgets for shared ministries.
The conference is the connection of United Methodist churches and the ministries they share together in the south and central Texas areas. The conference includes clergy persons Methodists call ordained Elders and Deacons (servings as local church pastors and church staff specialists), Licensed Local Pastors, clergy serving in Extension Ministries, and retired persons from each of these clergy groups.
This year’s Conference Highlights included the election of Lay and clergy delegates from the Rio Texas Annual Conference to serve at the General Conference 2020 (global church conference) and at the South Central Jurisdictional Conference 2020 (regional conference which establishes conference boundaries and elects bishops to be assigned in the jurisdiction).
We also experienced several very meaningful and spirit-filled worship services opening the conference, honoring in memorial pastors and family members who passed since the last conference, a celebration of retirement for pastors and spouses who elected to retire this year, and the commissioning and ordination of new clergy into the Annual Conference.
For the most part, this conference was very similar to other Annual Conferences I have attended in 19 years as a pastor and 15 years as a Lay Delegate. But there was also something very different about this Conference.
We celebrated our “connection - the shared ministry of disaster recovery, border ministry, transforming communities, new church starts and revitalized churches, fresh expressions of ministries, a new non-profit lease of Mt Wesley, and much more. New items but similar successes in the connection.
And then there was an undercurrent of change and the evidence of new construction within the leadership of the Annual Conference. A much younger delegate group was elected to serve at the 2020 general and jurisdiction conferences. And leadership expressing moderation and inclusion.
I am encouraged in the outcome of the Annual Conference. And I give thanks for the opportunity to serve under appointment for another year in West Kerr County and as pastor of Hunt UMC.
Along the Way
It is summer time in the Texas Hill Country. And some folks are bringing their children to camps along the North Fork or South Fork of the Guadalupe River near us in Hunt, Texas. As schools conclude and graduates make their way across stages, families gather to celebrate family and rites of passage. In all the travel, coming and going, I ask for safe travel mercies and blessings Along the Way.
This week I will travel to Corpus Christi for the Annual Conference of the Rio Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church. With pastor colleagues and lay delegates from churches across our geographical area of South and Central Texas, we shall arrive in Corpus Christi Wednesday and stay through Saturday (and some longer). I enjoy the time in Conference with colleagues and friends and the week always goes by too quickly.
This year, I ask for each of you to join me in prayer for our Annual Conference. We may still be a year away from a potential fracturing of the United Methodist Church, but this year I expect we will be on edge in our words and actions with one another. We all are going to feel the emotion of outcomes from the 2019 General Conference and the subsequent association gatherings.
The Wesley Covenant Association, UM Next, UM Forward - all tribal groups within our UMC connection continue to fine tune next steps on how to either split up or stay together in some fashion. Some expect that Annual Conferences may soon have the option on where to align if some new connectional system is adopted in 2020.
Lots of questions remain. And so we go to Conference with one another. Conference is indeed an event, but more importantly, it is a conversation. I pray that the conversations we hold together will find blessing in the sight of our Lord. I pray that our conversations will yield some form of unity in the midst of separation.
And I hope and pray that whatever the UMC becomes in the future, it will be more about living a life with Christ in which all are included than about arguing over exclusive rules and penalties for not following those rules.
In need of your prayer,
Along the Way
The day after Easter is always a day off for me when I give thanks for the laity of the church. Many persons giving their time and talent to enhance the community experience. Here it goes:
For Deblynne who prepared and published the worship bulletins and received and placed the flowers. For Ettie Mae and Rhonda cleaning and helping Eugene fold bulletins. For Judy C and Laura H who prepared the altar. For Barbara and Jim who prepared the communion elements. For Sonny and Sue Dale and Barbara and Dave who served at communion. For Larry and Glenn who ushered. For Connie and Missy who prepared and led our choral music. For Cheryl and her Lay Leadership in worship.
For Pete who set up and stayed over at the Pavilion Saturday. For the Praise Team who got up very early to lead our Easter sunrise music: Chris, Dan, Bill, Ron & Judy C, Becky, Laura, Jere, Phil, Geoff, and Dave. For Ross reading scripture and Brother John preaching at sunrise. For Judy T and Ross who helped serve communion at sunrise. For Larry greeting and handing out bulletins.
For the Egg Hunt and Kite Flying Team: Tuesday Evening Women’s Bible Study for loading the eggs; for Emily, Molly, Laura, Judy T, Susi and Ron, Cindy G and Cindy F, Jerry, and Adams grandkids for hosting a great gathering of children on Saturday.
For the guys cooking and serving Sunday breakfast: Patrick, Sam, Doug, Ron, and Bill. For others who prepared food: Geoff and Pete.
For Judy C who wrote our liturgy for Good Friday. And to all who participated in the readings: Cheryl, Patrick, Laura, Larry, and Joyce.
Our ushers informed me that 156 attended Easter Sunrise and 112 were in worship at the 11 am Sanctuary Resurrection Service. Estimated 65 for Sunday breakfast and 33 at Good Friday worship.
I also give thanks for all of the visiting families who make their way to Hunt and the home away from home for Easter. It was great to see so many with us bringing generations back to church at their Hill Country church home.
And to give thanks now for the opportunity to be your pastor and friend.
Along the Way
Author: Paul E Harris
Journal posts from a pastor and spiritual friend