Light in the Darkness

Light in the Darkness

This evening, we gather in the midst of darkness.

It wasn’t that long ago that the sun set over the horizon of the community. That moment called an end to a festive day of preparations and celebrations, while extinguishing the light that had allowed us to see where we were going and move about freely. As the sun went down, a familiar darkness consumed the sky and reminded us of the evening’s chill.

We gather in the midst of a darkness that is not just about the realities of the night’s sky. We gather in the midst of a darkness that is as much about the metaphorical realities we face than about the physical realities. In the midst of that darkness, we have gathered, looking for hope. Continue reading “Light in the Darkness”

The Nativity: Mary

The Nativity: Mary

Today, we will conclude our sermon series looking at the characters that make up the Nativity of Jesus Christ. Throughout Advent, we’ve focused on how each of these characters help us to prepare our hearts for Christmas. We’ve saved the most beloved and important of the characters, outside of Jesus, for last. Her name is Mary.

Mary’s role is central to the entire Christmas story. We do not give her, in the Protestant tradition, enough attention and respect. She deserves more of our time and reflection, because she is theotokos. This is what the early church called her. Theotokos is a Greek word that means “God bearer.” There is no better word to describe Mary. That is her contribution to the Christmas story. She was the one who gave birth to the incarnate Son of God. She was the one chosen by God to give life to the One who offers true life and hope into the world.

But, who is she? Why did God choose her? What are we to make of her life and her connection to Christ? These are all questions that, perhaps, we’ve wrestled with before and are ones important for us to consider as we think about Mary, her life, and how she enables us to encounter the peace, hope, joy, and love found in the Christ child. Continue reading “The Nativity: Mary”

The Nativity: Joseph

The Nativity: Joseph

Perhaps like many of you, we took time over the Thanksgiving weekend to decorate our home for the Christmas season. It began with my usual decorating the outside walkways with candy canes. It continued with putting up my beloved Christmas village. We put up our tree with ornaments we’ve collected over the years, and we put up our Nativity set.

We have several Nativity sets in our home and in my office. My favorite is actually the one that is not the most appealing. It is one that currently sits in my office. It is a small painted set that I got at a White Elephant Christmas party years ago. When it came to me and my turn to trade it or keep it, I actually went against the custom of trading and kept the set. Why? Because at the time I didn’t have a Nativity set of my own and it was quirky enough that I felt it and I would be a good match.

Nativity sets, no matter what they are or look like, are treasured decorations each Advent and Christmas season. They combine all the elements of the Christmas story from Matthew and Luke to give us an artistic rendering of the scene. The descriptions we have from Scripture do not take place with all the characters – Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, shepherds, angels, and the Magi –being there together at the same time. So, there is artistic liberty taking place in many of our sets, and we can appreciate how they invite us to see things that are present within the stories that lead up to Jesus’ birth.

Throughout the Advent season, we are going to take a look at some of the characters that appear in our Nativity sets. We’ll share about their lives, how they came to be part of the story, and how they shape our understanding of Jesus’ birth and what it means for us today. Our journey beginswith the least known of the characters involved with Jesus’ birth Joseph. Continue reading “The Nativity: Joseph”

A New Beginning

A New Beginning

It is hard to believe that in a few short weeks we will be greeted by the year 2020. Many of us are already thinking about the coming year and, perhaps, who should greet us into the year. I recently saw a photo shared on social media advocating for Barbara Walters to host the celebrations in Times Square. Why? So that she can announce at 12:01 a.m., “I’m Barbara Walters, and this is 2020.”

When I think of 2020, though, my mind goes to visionary concepts that focused on 2020 being the ideal year to set a long-term goal. I can remember hearing leaders talk, especially on infrastructure needs, about projects that needed to be in place by 2020. Now, at least in my hometown in Beckley, we are seeing some of those long-term visions lived out, as the city has opened up its long-desired bypass around the original bypass.

Today, though, is a good day to talk about vision – the picture that God paints for us of a near or distant future – and purpose – of how we live that out. We do so, though, realizing that preparing for the coming year may have us a little on edge. That is because we might feel some anxiety going into 2020. We will participate in an election, both on the state and federal level, that has the potential to further our partisan divisions, which is already tearing us apart from one another. As the United Methodist Church, we will approach General Conference in 2020 knowing that there will be major decisions made about the future of our denomination. There are other anxieties, as well, which we will all face. Continue reading “A New Beginning”

Grace for All

Grace for All

Throughout my ministry, I’ve been blessed with mentors who have helped me to understand my role and the life of a pastor. These have been friends, colleagues, and mentors, both inside and outside the Wesleyan tradition, who have taken me under their arms, and helped me to see something I might not have on my own. They gave me the necessary wisdom I needed to care and serve God and others.

No matter your career of choice, we can probably all think of a mentor or friend who has helped us to navigate our jobs or the challenges of life. We need those friends to help us, to inspire us, and to keep us focus on what is before us.

That is exactly what Paul is doing in our text, this morning, from 1 Timothy 1:12-17. We’re jumping into this letter that is equal parts fascinating and controversial. It is a difficult letter to read, because we struggle with both its content and context. 1 Timothy, along with 2 Timothy and Titus, make up what we call the Pastoral Epistles. These books are a collection of letters where Paul writes the two individuals who made up the next generation of church leaders to encourage them in their ministry. Continue reading “Grace for All”

A Living Faith

A Living Faith

Wednesday is coming! For students, teachers, and school officials, it marks the beginning of a new school year. Noah has been looking forward to this day since the middle of May when school ended for the Caldwell County Kindergarten. He is ready for school to begin.

Personally, I am ready for a season of normality. I’m also ready to live into our usual family tradition of dropping off Noah at school and quickly running to a restaurant that he will not eat at for breakfast. Suggestions are more than welcome on where we should go Wednesday.

While there is excitement and joy for a new year and the possibilities that it will bring, I cannot help but admit that I have some anxiety about this school year. It is the same anxiety I have felt for several school years and will probably always have. Will Noah receive the care he needs from his teachers and school therapists to thrive? Will other students respect him and recognize that he, too, is a child of God and a person of worth? What will we do if this doesn’t work out?

Those questions weigh heavily on my mind. Even though we have always had a good working relationship with his school, his therapists, and his support systems, I have that fear. Even though I have seen him thrive at every school he has been at and treated with kindness by his peers, I have that fear. Why? Because, as we all do when we are faced with an unknown, we are more focused on the negative possibilities than on what has carried us before and what will lead us moving forward. When life gets difficult, both in our homes and in the life of the church, it is easy to get discouraged, throw up our hands, and say, “I’ve had enough” or “nothing will ever get better.”

Ever feel that way? Maybe that sounds familiar to you with where you are in your faith or the how you see the church this morning? When we come to these moments, what can we do? Should we just give up and say, “Faith shouldn’t be this hard, and it’s hard for me, and I don’t like it, so I quit.” Or should we claim a way that reminds us who we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going? Continue reading “A Living Faith”