I am a United Methodist Pastor. And today it is more difficult to be a moderate (some would call me a centrist) in our denomination.
This week included a major international conference of United Methodist delegates called into session in St. Louis to consider A WAY FORWARD for the denomination regarding the church laws on human sexuality. A very close vote yielded legislation for the larger UMC connection that keeps current language in our Book of Discipline. It prohibits same gender weddings in UM churches and prohibits ordination of LGBTQIA+ persons.
Some would now consider the vote to have settled the matter. In fact, the vote 53% - 47%, most likely makes life in the connection very uncertain for the foreseeable future.
I feel the pain of friends and colleagues, of parishioners, who had hoped that UMC legislation would allow more contextual and regional interpretation of this issue. In other words, many hoped for a solution of BOTH / AND. That solution would have allowed progressive churches and pastors to move forward with same gender church weddings and progressive annual conferences to approve ordination of LGBTQIA+ persons into the clergy of the UMC. At the same time, traditionalist churches and pastors in the USA and overseas could retain the practice of heterosexual marriage and ordination according to their interpretation of scripture.
I must admit. I am a pragmatist. While loyal to the denomination and its legislative process and its Book of Discipline, I also believe that we can find ways to seek BOTH / AND instead of EITHER / OR. I wait to see what other leading centrists decide to do in light of the UMC General Conference of 2019.
My efforts to prepare for this Sunday and preaching on the Transfiguration of Jesus (Luke 9:28-36) have been difficult. I long to make the mountain-top journey with Jesus and to experience the brilliance of the glory of God. And yet, I know that the work of my calling leads me back down the mountain into the valleys and level ground of life in a local community.
I pray that God's love and mercy shall continue to travel in all directions and impact all of God's people. And I ask you to be kind to one another in the coming days.
Grace and Peace
Along the Way
It is 6:00 pm on a Thursday night in September and the bells are ringing at Hunt United Methodist Church. Beyond the bells I hear the sounds of young men and old men and women visiting over a table meal and sharing bible study. I hear the sounds of children playing and creating in the students room. I hear the little ones in the nursery crying because they are missing mom or dad. And I hear the parents speaking together or listening to computer audio in the computer lab. These parents come to this place because they choose to better their English speaking skills with other learning adults.
It is a new kind of Thursday evening at Hunt United Methodist Church. We have our ongoing outreach ministry with young men from 3H Pathways Ranch who worship with us on Sunday and come on Thursday night with staff and Pastor Roy to be treated to home made meals and bible study with men and women of this church who love them - just because.
And now we have begun an additional outreach ministry in our community offering Adult English learning classes with a citizenship learning group. Led by the seasoned ESL Team from Hunt School who now make their home here on Thursday evenings. Church members helping in the nursery. Church members helping by dropping off snacks and drinks. And Lisa and her team who have worked closely with our Wesley Nurse and church staff to make the office classroom complex ready for our neighbors.
I hear the sound of love. As all these sounds are ringing out, there are people in the sanctuary praying this week during our week long 168 prayer challenge. I am overwhelmed in the Spirit of God. To say that God is good is an understatement. God is making a statement in truth - that all of God’s people are welcome here.
Now to get up and check out the bible study and the games outside and the computer lab and the nutrition class and all that God is making possible in this Hill Country church on a Thursday night.
Gloria a Dios! Glory be to God!
Need your help today! Want to be a part of this week’s sermon? The topic is Sacred Spaces, Holy Places and I am continuing in the Psalms - Psalm 48.
As you can see, I am sitting at my favorite place to write, the breakfast table in the @HuntUMC parsonage. I have the map of Texas laid out before me. As I ponder the roads traveled and the sacred spaces, holy places encountered, I wonder can sacred geography really be mapped?
Maybe distance and direction are the keys to travel mapping? And maybe there are other factors?
For example, places where God was encountered in a special way. Spaces created by friends who stopped time and spoke truth through prayer that changed everything. Local churches who raised you up in the ways of Jesus and sent you with blessings. Congregations who nurtured you and your family along the way. Events or weekends of spiritual growth that provided clarity, purpose, and direction.
What do you say? Any special places you would like to mention? Any sacred spaces to be remembered with a stack of standing-stones?
My list is too long for this post or for this sermon. But one thing I know for sure today, the sacred conversation that I am blessed to share each week with so many folk I love dearly causes me to wonder and ponder the majesty and mystery of GodWithUs.
Be blessed today friends. Enjoy each moment along the way.
Along the Way
Evangelism is the theme for this week’s sermon. So I pulled this out from one of my favorites to reread...
John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Movement, as described by Albert Outler in his book “Evangelism in the Wesleyan Spirit”, 1971, became an effective pastor and one who began to reach persons in his field preaching ONLY AFTER UNDERGOING THIS TRANSFORMATION:
1. When his dominant emotion changed from passion for truth to compassion for people.
2. When his expression as a harsh zealot of God’s judgment changed to a winsome witness of God’s grace.
3. When his faith was assured in and through the newfound faith of those who now heard the gospel.
4. When arrogance transformed into humility.
O Lord, may our voice in the Methodist Movement be one of compassion. May our hope in the resurrection be proclaimed as an evangel’s invitation. May we truly reflect our roots - evangelical, catholic, and reformed. And may our goal be the lives of our neighbors, transformed in your grace.
Along the Way
Pastor Paul Harris
Remember the song by Johnny Lee, "Looking for Love (in all the wrong places)"? I wonder today, as a society - where are we looking for the love?
Here is an invitation to search the Holy Scriptures for the love you and I most desperately need - the Love of God.
It is the Christian season following Easter in which believers in Christ celebrate the appearances of Jesus, resurrected from the tomb and yet to be ascended to the holy seat of Lord and Savior.
In the gospels accounts we read of those appearances (Matthew 28:9-10; Luke 24:13-35, 24:36-53; John 20:11-18, 20:19-29, 21:1-14).
From the appearances of Jesus to the disciples after the resurrection, we claim that a transformation of death and life has occurred in Jesus. From the dead, Jesus is raised to new life! And new life comes with forgiveness for all who believe.
The resurrection miracle is proof of God's action in the world. God sent his son in love to redeem and reconcile with the message, "Repent and believe in the gospel of Jesus!" So we shout Alleuia! Jesus is Alive! And we celebrate a risen Savior who comes along side in conversation with encouragement and direction.
This week we celebrate the ongoing connection of God through Christ Jesus. This connection is established and sustained in the love of God. Take a look at John 15 and 1st John 4 and read more about the connecting love of God.
"We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the savior of the world. If any of us confess that Jesus is the Son of God, then God remains in us and we remain in God." (1 John 4:14-15)
I am blessed to offer Christ as the source of love in which we will never be disappointed. And I hope that you will choose to follow Christ - come along the Way with us at Hunt United Methodist Church.
Grace and Peace
Along the Way
Pastor Paul Harris
So, I wonder about the awakening word. And by that awakening word, I mean the speaking of one’s name sounded deep into the recesses of one’s soul. Jesus said to her “Mary” - and in that sounding, the gift of new life was spoken into the heart and mind of this faithful woman. And that new life awakened her in such a way that she became the first witness of the resurrected Christ.
- from my Easter Sermon for 2018
Friends, my prayer today is that each person who is open to lingering at the cross and tomb of Jesus will hear their awakening word spoken into the depths of their soul - your soul and mine - that word of new life made possible by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
And with new life, may we together live toward a world transformation which begins with each person’s witness - in Christ - so that others might hear their name spoken with the care, compassion, and mercy of the Lord of All.
John 13:34 “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
Matthew 27:39-40 “Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”
(Scripture is silent here as it was the Sabbath. I imagine in my own heart remembering what Jesus taught: from John 15:4 “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.”
John 20:11-16 “But Mary while weeping stooped into the tomb of Jesus and she saw... two angels who said to her, ‘Woman why do you weep?’ And then she turned around and saw Jesus (not knowing him at first)... (as she looked away) he said her name, ‘Mary’... She turned around to him (and recognized him) and said “Teacher.”
Much love and many blessings!
Your friend Along the Way
INVITATION TO OBSERVE A SEASON OF HOLY LENT
Early Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord's passion and resurrection; and it became the custom of the Church that before the Easter celebration there should be a forty-day season of spiritual preparation.
During this season, converts to Christianity were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when persons who had been separated from their community of faith were reconciled in penitence and forgiveness. Restoring the community of faith became both an individual practice in faith and a corporate act of responsible stewardship and community building.
The whole congregation was reminded of the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the need we all have to renew our faith and grow in grace.
I invite you friends, in the custom of the Church, to observe a holy Lent: by spiritual self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's Holy Word.
Each Sunday celebration during this season is a day apart and is intended to be a reminder of the celebration of Easter that awaits us after this time of preparation. So we will be singing songs of celebration and hope. We will be considering our role in the divine-human relationship as we share the series Made for a Miracle by Mike Slaughter.
Join us this Sunday February 18 at either 8:30 am or 11:00 am worship and hear the first sermon "YOU AND I ARE MADE FOR A MIRACLE."
Along the Way
Pastor Paul Harris
Happy New Year! A wondrous phrase we use in our culture to express enthusiasm, joy, hope, longing, and so much more in just three words. So what will make this a happy year?
I have hope that the celebration of Christ's birth will make this year different for many people. I have hope that this year will be made more happy for many persons because God is actively transforming the world through each word shared. So, words shared must be important! In just three words, we express so much. I wonder, what other words shared might make big differences in the lives of all people?
Part of my vocation is to share words each week from Holy Scripture. As a preaching pastor, I have a weekly opportunity and challenge to express in holy words what the Lord is leading me to say to the people of Hunt United Methodist Church along with its friends and neighbors. But that is just one day a week on Sunday or on other special occasions. What about the other days of the week? What words are important to share on those days?
I believe that is the key to having a happy new year. Using the words that the Holy Spirit gives us to say to build community and to encourage shared ministry, each of us get to participate in that grand adventure - a journey of words selected and shared for the benefit of the community.
So have a happy new year! And do that in the name of Jesus Christ with the power of the Holy Spirit of God using holy words that enrich the lives of others!
Along the Way with Pastor Paul
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
Author: Paul E Harris
Journal posts from a pastor and spiritual friend