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
The Headlines tear us in different directions. The news of the day seems to provide a constant barrage of information which tends to divide us as a people. Choose one side or the other. Join our way because it is the "right" way.
I can say that this season of Lent has been a long and tiresome journey. I do not want to feel this way. And yet I do. And so what is next?
Hold on friends! Sunday is coming! And it is Easter Sunday! May the next three days be a season in itself for us as we make the final steps with Jesus along the Way. Soon we will feast at the Table. Soon we will lament the actions of the mob (and our own actions of disobedience). Soon we will wait in the Sabbath. And then... then, we shall experience resurrection as we hear the words of the first witness Mary when she recognizes the risen Lord (John 20:1-18).
If you are wondering about your own capacity to follow Jesus or wonder about our collective will as a people to follow Jesus, then I invite you to continue reading. Take a look at the scripture reading below. Listen to the sermon provided from the Wednesday service www.pauleharris2017.com/sermons and pray for the strength to continue in the journey of faith.
At last night's Wednesday evening Lent service of worship, the last of this season, we examined our discipleship and our willingness to follow Jesus. We shared the reading from the gospel of Luke 9:57-62:
Would-Be Followers of Jesus57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus[m] said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
In all three of these encounters, would-be followers of Jesus preface their response to follow with question or need to prioritize something ahead of Jesus: location, position, and family. Jesus tells each - follow me to the kingdom. Do they follow?
The text does not specify the final response. We do not know if each chooses to follow. We know that Jesus had set his face to Jerusalem and was steadily walking ahead into the kingdom work he came to share on earth. Jesus was resolute in his direction. He was obedient to the Father, the Lord God Almighty.
I give thanks today for each of you who reads this note. I ask that Jesus would grant in the grace of God a means by which we can follow the Way of the Lord. I hope that each of us will make a decision to continue the discipleship path. And I long for Sunday.
Hold on friends, Sunday is coming. And it is Easter!
Along the Way
As new life springs forth in the Texas Hill Country, the signs of Easter are near. A recent road trip to Boerne and Fredericksburg included a side trip on the Willow City Loop. This is a great place to drive an old country road with an up close and very personal view of Texas bluebonnets.
The best part of the day was turning over my shoulder to see my mother leaning out of the backseat with her head and shoulder fully outside of the car. She was "experiencing" God's creative beauty and soaking in it all.
I wonder if that image will ever leave my conscious memory? I hope not. Because as these special days with my aging parents will not last forever, I have a hope that this kind of memory will last forever.
It seemed as if a slice of heaven had been transported to that drive and that view of the bluebonnets. A resurrection moment to say the least.
Thank you Lord, for special days in your creative beauty.
Along the Way
The Source of Promise
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Philippians 3:17 – 4:1
“Humans are meant for stargazing.” Now that is a statement that I can agree with. When Todd and Jennifer Pick introduce this week’s scripture readings in our UMC Discipleship series “With All Your Heart,” they invite us all to gaze upward and outward into the majestic creation of a very generous God.
The Picks suggest that while looking upward, we aspire to be the people God created us to be. Looking upward we long to know the source of our promise and to find that guiding star along the way of our faith journey.
Now I am not an expert stargazer. Some of you are certainly much more qualified to name the constellations and to recognize the ancient patterns in the sky. But this I know, when I look up into the brilliance of our galaxy – I see God.
This summer, Laura and I will join my brother and sister-n-law in a week-long Harris Grands Camp as adult chaperones and guides for Sydney, Landon, Luna, Hannah, Layla, and Nathan. Our great-nieces and nephews are a lot of fun when they are gathered together. And for a week without their parents, my brother, their grand-daddy, encourages them to be adventurous.
My camp assignment among others for this summer is to bring them closer to the stars in the sky. I believe that is my brother’s code for ‘do your preacher thing in a way that brings them to know more of God.’ So, I began to think about an adventurous experience with God for six children under the age of nine. And of course, utilizing a large blanket, a dark sky, and some stories of promise from old uncle Pop.
That is my context in approaching today’s scripture readings. What does our family have to say about God? And more to the point, what do we have to say about the promise of God in our children and grandchildren?
So join me in the preparation as we examine the readings for today. And join us Sunday in worship at Hunt United Methodist Church.
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
Author: Paul E Harris
Journal posts from a pastor and spiritual friend