A year ago, Abbi, Noah, and I were on a long-needed vacation. We traveled from Princeton, Ky., our previous home just a few miles away from the Land Between to the Lakes, to Chincoteague Island, Va., and visit Abbi’s family.
It was a trip that was about more than just a rest from labors. We spent that time discussing whether we would look into moving to my home state of West Virginia. The reason was quite simple for us. Noah had just been diagnosed with autism. The diagnosis simply confirmed what we already knew and the challenges of raising him away from family support and access to sufficient therapy options were weighing on us. At the same time, though, I felt a nagging desire to come back home to a place that I love and seemed to always break my heart.
Throughout the trip, as we discussed our options, we couldn’t help but to notice a phenomenon: We were surrounded by West Virginians. Now, this isn’t something completely unusual. I, perhaps like many of you, have a tendency of running into West Virginians anywhere and everywhere. For instance, both times I have gone to Israel have included interactions with people with West Virginia connections. On this trip, however, it seemed like every time we got into the car, we ended up being behind someone from West Virginian. It was like a sign from God!
All kidding aside, the next year would include a lot of prayer, discussions, and reflection to get us to this moment that we find ourselves in today. This is a day of celebration not just of a new appointment, but of a homecoming for me. I never imagined that I would come home to stay when I left in 2003 for a reporting position with The Shelby Star in Shelby, N.C. I definitely never imagined that if I did return it would be to serve as a pastor. God has a sense of humor.
Yet, here I am and here we are. I couldn’t be more excited to be with you as we begin this new adventure together. We have been praying for you and looking forward to this day for a long time. We cannot wait to see what God will do in each of us through this time together. At the same time, Huntington is already becoming home for us as we have spent the week learning the community. For me, I’ve been a little bit of a historian and tour guide for Abbi and Noah – showing them the sites, including where I would routinely get pinned during the WSAZ Tournament – as they make this their home. And, yes, I purchased a Marshall hat.
As we begin this time, my thoughts have often turned to those who are not here, such as my grandfather: Papaw. He is no longer with us having died in 2016. I can promise you, if he was alive, there would have been nothing that would have kept him from being here to see his “Big Boy” come home. It would have thrilled him to no end. As I have prepared for this day, my thoughts have turned to him and a common refrain he would say to me. Whether I was leaving the house, his hospital room, or hanging up on the phone, he would often say these two words to me: Be good.
It is a simple phrase, but a word with encouragement and hope. I’ve been thinking about what that phrase means, as it relates to our time together, not just as I think about him, but as I reflect upon our passage from Galatians 6:7-10. It comes as a concluding word to Paul’s great letter and offers a clarion call for the church then and today. We must always look for opportunities to respond to our faith in Jesus Christ by doing good.
An encouragement that comes after Paul has spent the majority of his letter to an unknown community where he has both defended his apostleship and called the church to reach out to all people. He has overcome challenges that claim Paul’s words are not from God, because he sought to welcome people that were considered unworthy of faith and love, the Gentiles. He has expressed what it means to live out the fruits of the Spirit.
When he comes to this final point it is building upon a common theme that we are led by the Spirit to respond to God’s grace. Too often in our lives today we see grace as a gift just for us. We see it as this private thing that saves us from our sin. That is true, but that is not the end of the story. It is only one part of the message. We limit grace to simply being about personal salvation. God’s grace calls us outward to sow acts of love. Because we have been forgiven by God, it calls us into a new life where we become partners in God’s work to redeem the world and bring forth God’s kingdom of grace and love.
Grace calls us to be mindful of how we live and our actions in the world. Paul uses the terminology of sowing and reaping – planting and harvesting – to focus on the implications of our actions. How we live in response to God’s grace matters. If we live for the flesh, we desire to live for ourselves. What we are doing is taking faith and God’s grace and making it into something we can use for our own advantage at our convenience. For the rest of the time, we are more interested in doing what we want, living how we want, and saying what we want. In doing so, Paul writes we are truly corrupting our souls, our communities, and our witness in Christ’s love.
The Christ-like life is to sow seeds of goodness, because of the promise of eternal life. When we plant seeds of goodness – acts of love – it has eternal consequences that impacts the lives of others and ultimately our own. It is the Christ-like response of taking every opportunity to be people of hope, peace, joy, and love and finding ways to share God’s grace with our words, actions, and deeds. It is the act of making our corner of the world a better place by not seeing faith as something that calls us out of the world for our own protection, but calls us into our community and world to be the hands and feet of Christ. To truly sow seeds of goodness and love to all the people we meet.
We should never grow tired, Paul says, of finding opportunities to do good and of sow seeds of love. Our very presence in the world comes with opportunities to be a witness of the most amazing story that God is love. We have moments that come before us to share acts of grace and goodness that make a lasting difference in the lives of the people around us. In doing so, we give witness of how God’s grace is there for all people.
What is truly amazing about God’s love is that he uses you, me, this church, and all who seek to love the Lord to sow seeds of goodness by our words, actions, and deeds. We are the very vessels God uses to change the world and to share the story of hope in the world.
The opportunities are all around us. We don’t have to look very hard to find the places before us that can be opportunities to share God’s love with others.
They exist, as Paul writes, within the family of faith. There are opportunities here at Beverly Hills UMC. This is a place of love. That doesn’t mean we don’t argue. It doesn’t mean we will not disagree with one another on certain things. We are human and disagreement comes with the territory of sharing life with one another. It doesn’t mean we are always happy. What it means is that we can love one another in spite of the things that can often keep people apart. That is what I’ve heard already about you. It is what we have already witnessed. This is a house of love and grace. My prayer is that this only continues to grow and be lived into by how we encourage one another, hold each other accountable, and treat each other with the same love and care that we would hope to be shown towards ourselves.
Sowing seeds of goodness and love does not end with ourselves. God calls us to go beyond the walls of Beverly Hills and into the community. That is what we do each Sunday when we leave this place. We are sent into the Beverly Hills community, throughout Huntington, and around Cabell County to be missionaries of God’s grace and love to a community that needs to know God loves them, and so do we.
Throughout Huntington, there are endless opportunities to share God’s love. Let me ask you this: What group of people, what section of our community, perhaps where in our backyard are the places that break your heart? When you find the places that break your heart, you have found the places that you have a passion for and a desire to share acts of love towards. A passion to share the greatest hope we can ever hear: God loves you and so do we.
There are endless opportunities to do good by sharing love. My hope is that we will always be on the look for the places where God is sending us out into the community to be Christ’s hands and feet and sowing seeds of love.
Let us never grow tired of being used by God nor grow weary of seeking opportunities to do good by sharing love in the world. There will be challenges along the way. We will put up roadblocks that will prevent us from seeing the opportunities before us to do good. We’ll say we are too tired. We’ll say we are too old. We’ll say we are too young, too poor, too inexperienced, or even too new to try to share love.
That’s never the case. We are never too tired to be a witness of love. We are never too old to share God’s love with someone. We are never too young to share God’s love. Never too poor. Never too inexperienced. Never too new. Even the smallest expression of God’s love can change someone’s world. The opportunities and possibilities for us to partner with God to share God’s love with all the people we meet are endless.
My friends, and yes, I truly call you my friends, we have received the greatest gift in the world. We are God’s beloved. We have been shaped by God’s grace and forgiven. Let us never pretend to believe this gift is only for ourselves. Let us be bold. Let us be people who are willing to go wherever God desires to sow seeds of goodness through acts of love.
That is my prayer for you, for me, and for our church as we begin this new season together. Let us be bold enough to not only claim the goodness of God’s grace, but to be witnesses of God’s love every day.