Terrorism…what is it exactly?

I was kept awake for part of last night- not (miraculously!) because of my 2 year old who doesn’t like to sleep, but because of the many thoughts I’ve been having about the world lately.  In particular, another mass shooting- this time, at a church.  Naturally, this once again led to discussions around gun control, mental illness, and a broken society around our country.  But it also has led to another discussion about what exactly “terrorism” is.  Does terrorism have a religion?  A cause?  A color?  A gender?  A certain group?  A particular agenda?  These are all questions people are asking.

After the Las Vegas shooting, I was struggling to understand how this man who killed dozens of innocent people was not being defined as a “terrorist.”  So, like I usually do, I called my mom to ask her what she thought.  Her words have stuck with me.  All political speak aside, simply put, terrorism is anything that invokes fear in masses of people.  It doesn’t matter if the person or group committing the act of violence is white, black, brown, male, female, rich, poor….if they are causing fear throughout a nation, in families, in places of worship, in movie theaters, shopping malls, concerts….it is terrorism.

Because of terrorism, I’ve had several conversations with church members this week about how we can keep people safe in our worship on Sunday mornings.  A church that hopes to practice “Open hearts, open minds, open doors,” is having to have conversations around which doors and when to lock them before or during worship time because of fear- fear that while we are worshiping a peaceful, loving, and merciful God, that someone could come in and take us out.  It’s happened before, and probably will happen again.

Because of terrorism, I had to have a conversation with my husband about what we would do as a family if an active shooter came into church on a Sunday morning.  How would we get to Xavier?  What would he do?  What would I do?  As a pastor, how would I handle the fear and anxiety of myself and my people, and possibly grief and loss on a massive scale?

Because of terrorism, I have daily thoughts about what I would do if, while grocery shopping at Walmart with my son, there was an active shooter situation.  How would I keep Xavier safe?  What would we do? How would we survive?  And how would we deal with the trauma afterward?

Because of terrorism, I think about how I will have to raise my child in a fearful world, where guns are available to just about anyone, and that includes just about anyone with evil intentions for any reason.  Because of terrorism, I will have to teach my son to be very aware of his surroundings, and that he isn’t even safe walking on a sidewalk or enjoying a meal on an outside patio in a busy city for fear of someone barreling through with a vehicle with intent to kill.  I am fearful for the world he is growing up in.

That’s what terrorism is.  That’s what terrorism does.  Let’s not fool ourselves or get tangled up in semantics about what it is and what it is not, who is defined as a terrorist and who is not.  Terrorism makes people fearful to live their everyday lives.  Let’s name it for what it is.

As a pastor and a Jesus follower, I know that I am supposed to be about hope, love, forgiveness, and peace.  And I am.  But I have to admit that it’s getting harder and harder to preach this message some weeks.  But I’ll keep doing it anyway, until I can fully believe it for myself.  Because if I don’t keep believing and preaching it, terrorism has won.  After all, we worship and serve a God who brings life out of death, hope out of despair, and beauty out of the ugliness.  May this God help us to live our lives without fear, to find joy and hope in the beautiful things in our lives, and to be agents of hope and peace in this dark and broken world.

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Beautiful Feet (and thoughts on Charlottesville)

Rev. Jill Howard

“Beautiful Feet,” August 13, 2017

Romans 10:5-15

5 Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” 6 But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say?

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

14 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

 

Hi, my name is Jill, and I am addicted to shoes!  It’s true.  One look at my closet will reveal that perhaps I have a shoe problem.  But I recently stumbled upon a journal of research in personality that says that 90% of your personality could be revealed by your choice of footwear.  Either they are onto something, or someone just needed a good excuse to buy more shoes.  I’ll go with that explanation.

Anyway, the study revealed that people who wear colorful sneakers tend to be emotionally stable.  High top shoes are popular with people who tend to be introverted, agreeable, and conscientious.  If you have well-kept high fashion shoes, you tend to be worried about relationships.  If you like wearing biker style boots, you may be more tough and aggressive.

And finally, women, if you like wearing your stiletto heels, you may have a vivid personality, a desire for attention, high self-confidence, and probably excessive body aches and muscle fatigue.  If these findings are true, then I must have multiple personalities!  The study didn’t say anything about people who have each kind of shoe in their closet!

Whether you agree with these findings about footwear or not, I think we might agree that footwear sends a message, just as much as the clothing you wear, and just as much as the cross around your neck, or the prayer shawl or yarmulke worn by a Jewish person, or a hijab worn by a Muslim woman.  These are examples of religious badges or symbols that remind us and tell others that we are part of a particular group.  These are faith badges should send a positive message.  And since our feet carry our bodies out into the world, they, too should be bearers of good news.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul declares, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Have you ever really looked at feet? Feet are strange, and flappy looking appendages.  Xavier loves looking at his toes and thinks they are funny. It takes a lot of literary imagination to describe such bulbous buniony creations as “beautiful.” I guess that’s where a good pair of shoes comes in.

But Paul didn’t need a shoe personality study in order to encourage the Roman Christians to carry the good news.  Christians, says Paul, should have feet that reveal the good news of Jesus Christ and the saving grace of God to the rest of the world.  He’s not just talking about feet of course, but the way we present ourselves through our attitudes, our words, our actions, and through the telling of our stories.  Each of these are the faith badges we wear, as visible as the shoes on our feet or the cross around our neck.

In fact, research has shown that people see these faith badges or symbols a signs of reliability.  An anthropologist named Richard Sosis and his colleagues gathered a variety of pictures of people wearing a variety of religious symbols, and mixed them with pictures of people without religious symbols.  A diverse group of university students looked at the stack of photos and rated each of the faces for trustworthiness.  They also played a game in which they entrusted money to the ones they perceived as being honorable.

The result was that people wearing Christian badges prompted powerful feelings of trust.  If a person was wearing a cross, it doubled the money that non-Christians were willing to offer someone in the trust game.  And other studies show that the same is true for ANY religious symbol.  Whether you are a Muslim, Jew, or a Hindu, the outer sign of your faith commitment is going to improve the way people see you (Homiletics).

Religious badges certainly tell a story. Let’s take a look at some common ones. Jews wear yarmulkes as a sign of recognition that someone is above them at all times, especially while in prayer.  It is the Jewish tradition that the head should be covered as a reminder of God’s presence and as a symbol of being a part of the Jewish faith.

Muslim women wear the hijab (which is Arabic for “cover”) for a variety of reasons.  Some wear the hijab because they believe that God has instructed women to wear it as a means of fulfilling the commandment for modesty. For these women, wearing hijab is a personal choice that is made after puberty and is intended to reflect one’s personal devotion to God. While some Muslim women do not perceive the hijab to be obligatory to their faith, other Muslim women wear the hijab as a means of visibly expressing their Muslim or cultural identity.  Most Muslim women agree that it is a woman’s choice to wear the hijab or not.  It is her choice how she expresses her faith or cultural identity.

In the Hindu tradition, the religious badge of the Bindi expresses the tradition that all people have a third inner eye; the two physical eyes are used for seeing the external world, while the third focuses inward toward God.  The red dot signifies piety as well as serving as a constant reminder to keep God at the center of one’s thoughts. The red bindi also signifies marriage and social status.  Bindis of all colors are also worn by women of all ages as a simple fashion accessory in today’s South Asian culture.

And finally, the cross of Christianity tells a story- our story of a loving Savior who shows us the ultimate example of sacrificial love, mercy, and forgiveness.  We have to make sure that the faith badge of our choosing includes and tells the story of our own relationship with God.  We have to be willing to bring it from the inside to the outside so that others can clearly see what Jesus means to us.  In Paul’s terms, our beautiful feet better be ready to bring the good news.

But what happens when religious badges or symbols become something to fear or turn into signs of evil?  Yesterday, in Charlottesville, VA, we witnessed people carrying Nazi flags, signs condemning blacks and Jews, and people acting out in horrible and violent ways.  Let’s be clear.  Carrying the Nazi flag is evil.  That flag is a symbol of an evil, failed state that brutally killed more than six million Jews and countless Romani people, homosexuals and others judged to be inferior (Bishop Michael McKee).  When I stood on the grounds of Auschwitz several years ago, I felt as if evil continued to seep through the earth and buildings of that place.  Those who sacrificed their lives in World War II attempted to defeat that evil.

Let’s be clear.  Our country witnessed the evil, sin, and hatred of racism and intolerance in Charolottesville yesterday- and some of those who gathered did so in the “name of Jesus and under the cross of Christ.”  This is Matthew Heimbach (picture shown)- the lead organizer in yesterday’s deadly “Unite the Right” rally.  This 26 year old calls Indiana home and calls himself a Christian. Here is one of the MANY reasons that we, who profess the cross of Jesus, MUST stand against those who corrupt and twist its message into words and acts of hatred.

In times such as these, we need to pick our symbols carefully and intentionally.  We need to consider the shoes we wear, so that our feet will indeed be beautiful feet that carry the real Jesus, the real cross, the message of grace and truth out into the world.

Late last night, Bishop Trimble of Indiana sent out a response to the horrors unfolding in Charlottesville.  In it, he says,

For the world to get anything from us (as people who follow Christ), we must be honest and truthful. We cannot avoid naming or calling out what is evil in its purest form ever manifested. Naming hate, injustice, and the sin of “-ism” is the only way for us to tackle the forces that would divide us and that would have any one of us believe that there is less opportunity to reach our highest God-given potential because of one group of people or another.

Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just Mercy, said in an interview earlier this year, “In faith perspectives, to get to salvation — at least in the Christian tradition — you have to repent. There is no redemption without acknowledgment of sin. It’s not bad to repent. It’s cleansing. It’s necessary. It’s ultimately liberating to acknowledge where we were and where we want to go. We haven’t done that collectively.”

As our communities continue to wrestle with senseless acts of violence, as well as a recent rise in snakes that many thought to be dead and gone or at least they lied dormant in their appearance for years – it is the Church who can help unite and break down barriers and free those who are chained by society or by their own views, born in the falsity, that any human being is less than another.

So as the Body of Christ, I implore each of you to join me in living Truth by:

  1. Sharing this in your congregation, communities, mission fields, workplaces, at your dinner tables, and beyond in the days ahead;
  2. Recommitting to the vows that we took for our membership as United Methodists and at our baptisms, where the question is- Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
  3. Being living examples of the peace of which we are praying for in every corner of the world.
  4. Remembering that we are all united in Christ, who crosses all boundaries of race, ethnicity, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, religion, etc.

So today may we not be afraid to speak out against sin and injustice, racism and oppression in whatever form they present themselves.  In a world where so often the feet that bring us the news are ugly and evil, let’s put on our shoes of courage, tolerance, truth, and justice, and show the world our beautiful feet.  We might need to begin with repentance.

We might need to spend a lot of time in prayer.  We might need to begin with a reminder that for those of us called to live the gospel message in times such as this, that the world needs the church and we need the world, because neither of us can survive without the other.  And the world is in deep need of beautiful feet to carry the message of love, tolerance, and mercy for all persons.

Shane Claiborne, a Christian activist, author, and founder of a modern monastic community in Philadelphia, shares an inspiring story about his time with Mother Teresa in Calcutta.  He noticed that when Mother Teresa took her shoes off for daily prayer, that her feet were knobby and deformed. He eventually asked someone what was wrong with Mother Teresa’s feet. The person explained that Mother Teresa and her sisters relied on donations for everything, including their shoes. When a load of donated shoes would come in, Mother Teresa consistently chose the worst pair of shoes for herself.

In sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to the poor, broken, and hurting, Mother Teresa’s feet literally became a symbol of sacrificial love and healing.  These were beautiful feet.

MOTHER TERESA OF CALCUTTA - BARE FEET

What transforms feet into things of beauty is not a pedicure, or a $200 pair of sneakers or high heels.  What transforms them is the message they carry.  When feet are involved in the mission of bringing the good news to all people, Jew and Greek, rich and poor, male and female, black and white,  then they become beautiful feet, no matter what kind of shoes you prefer or what they might say about your personality.

I guess Marilyn Monroe had it right when she said, “Give a girl the right pair of shoes, and she can conquer the world!”  So, what kind of shoes will you choose to put on?  What message will you carry out into the world?  May we pray for the strength and courage that God gives each of us to get out there and show the world some beautiful feet.  Amen.

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As one season comes to an end…

Dear Xavier,

19 months…that is how long we have had this special relationship that only a mother and child can have.  19 months of middle of the night feedings, early mornings, and late night snacks.  19 months of snuggles, laughter, mixed with exhaustion, frustration and hard moments.  19 months of remembering those early weeks when I wanted to give up, but you challenged me to continue.  19 months of giving thanks that we have shared in this special time together.  19 months of you looking to me for nourishment, warmth, safety, and security in this special way.  19 months of nursing.

I never thought we would make it this far.  Those first few weeks were the hardest of my life.  We couldn’t quite get it right all the time, you cried, I cried, we were so tired, you were so hungry, I was just trying to provide for you.  But when we finally got the hang of this nursing thing, away we went- 2 peas in a pod, 2 dancers who finally learned the steps, mother and son sharing in what we were meant to do.  We looked forward to our special time whether 2 am or 2 pm, whether for 5 minutes or 2 hours.  And now that this season is coming to an end, I give thanks.  Looking back on it all, I wouldn’t have traded these countless hours for anything else in the world.

I feel sad, happy, accomplished, free, nostalgic, and a bit hesitant in knowing that we will have to learn and find new ways to bond-  all the while knowing that you may not remember all of those countless hours we spent together- but I believe that in the depth of your soul, you will remember what we shared, and together, we will carry this in our hearts and into the next season of our lives.  I love you, Xavier.

Love, Baba

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A Prayer for the End of Nursing: Rev. Rachel Wrenn

O Lord, you have searched me
and known me.

You knew the moment when that sweet baby skin
first touched my chest
when that sweet little mouth
gaped like a fish
when that shocking moment of connection was made:
Mother. Child. One.
You knew.

You knew the struggles, and the pain.
The mostly sleepless nights
The one- (two-) (three-) (three-thirty-) a.m. wake-up calls.
The disconcerting, disorientating, barely-functioning
delirium/delusion/hallucination/exasperation/rage…
And still
the sweet baby skin and the gaping little mouth
the instant peace and the murmuring suckling.
You knew.

You knew the feeling of miracle
that awesome moment of realization
that exactly what they need
is exactly what I have in me
and everything that is me
(milk, body, heart, arms)
is given freely to sustain and nurture their life
—and then that awe-full moment of recognition
of deeper appreciation
for the words “this is my body,
given for you.”
This is my body, given for them.
You knew.

You knew the rhythms and the hours
of nursing and pumping
of sleeping and snuggling
of crying and impatience and the frantic, shaky, waving tiny hands
as the shirt gets caught
or the store clerk goes too slow
or a hundred other impediments leap up
between the present moment and MILKRIGHTNOW!
You knew.

You knew the feeling of panic
the counting of bags in the freezer
of hours between pumpings
of ounces in the bottle
of months/weeks/days
until this all could be DONE
secretly knowing how hard it would be
for it all to end.
You knew.

You knew the feeling of gratitude
for those rosy lips, parted in sleep
for that instant smile when we’ve been apart
for the feeling of expansion
of my heart
of my life
of yet another way I will live out my vocation as your child
by stewarding and tending and nurturing my own child;
the awesomeness of being part of your Creation—
quite literally.
You knew.

You knew the twinge
the first twinge
that first moment when they start to pull away
when the solids that were rejected
or tasted and then used as hair gel
become interesting, delicious, good
and the sessions of sleepy suckling snuggling
start to lessen.
You knew.

And you know now
The feeling of wrenching
of tearing
of separateness
because it all is done.
The sadness, the mourning, the loss
interwoven with the relief, the joy, the pride
the cords of reassurance and the embroidery of gratitude
that we made it this far in the breastfeeding marathon
that I gave them this much
that this experience of oneness, of miracle, of struggle
of sleepy suckling snuggling
will live on in my body
as they once lived in my body:
nourished, cherished, cradled
in a safe place of sweet memory and thanksgiving
You know.

And so:
give me comfort
give me peace
give me reassurance
that though this type of sustenance is through
my hands, my body, my heart, my spirit will still be needed
to feed
to quench
to tend
to care
for them.

Just as you do for me.

You knit me together in my mother’s womb:
knit my heart together now.

Amen.

Posted in Clergy women, Parenthood | 2 Comments

What did the pastor do now? (Family Friendly Worship Space)

“But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” -Luke 18:16

When I started ministry at my current congregation last summer, the youth director and I had a dream- a space in the sanctuary where kids and families, along with the older people in the church, could gather in worship and spend time together.  On Easter Sunday, after removing (gasp!) a few pews, that dream became a reality: The Family Friendly Worship Space.

You may have seen different versions of this being done at churches- I’ve seen them called “Praygrounds,” among other things.  Well, this is our version.  Each week, our youth/children’s director puts out coloring and activity sheets that relate to the sermon I am preaching, along with the children’s bibles open to the scripture of the week.  We also have activity bags filled with a variety of things for the children to do during worship, and we have other toys and quiet activities around the space as well.  I think it has potential to evolve and include more in the future.

We have found that the kids and their families enjoy going to the space and are engaging in worship more because of it.  We still offer children’s church following the children’s sermon, but some still choose to stay in the family friendly space instead.  We have especially found that families with kids who are visiting family/parents for the weekend are excited to see that there is a place for their kids to go in the sanctuary where they feel comfortable and welcomed.  I even had someone tell me that this space “softens” the sanctuary and makes it more warm and inviting.  Success!

There has been some push back on this of course.  It’s near the front of the church, off to the side, and some say it’s distracting.  And it has to do with that scary word, CHANGE, again.  I get it.  But any church that wants more young families and children needs to be open to this kind of new way of thinking about how we invite children to worship.  We need to be okay with a little noise, perhaps a little chaos from time to time if we are serious about making church an intergenerational and welcoming community.  I think that the days of sending our kids off during the worship service may be nearing their end.  This is an alternative for those who want children to engage in worship and to be a part of the worshiping community.

For me, this little space is a glimpse of the Kingdom.  Would you try it at your church?

Family Friendly Worship Space Q & A

Where is the Family Friendly Worship Space?

-down by the piano in the sanctuary

What is there?

-tables for coloring, Bibles to read, and activities for children

-the Busy Bags

-toys for younger children

-places for children to sit with their parents

-other items for babies, moms and dads, and their needs

Who may use it?

-anyone from ages 0-100!

Why a family friendly worship space?

-We want children to be an active part of worship! This means that they will have the chance to read the Bible story that is being presented, do a coloring activity, and listen to the worship service, music, and preaching.

-We want to be welcoming to families with young children and give them a space of their own where parents and children can be in worship together

-We want to offer an alternative to children’s church, should the child not want to participate for any reason

-Would you rather our children color and reflect on a Bible story or play on their iPhone during church? This gives them a better alternative for our worship time together…

Won’t it be distracting?

-Maybe- but you may be surprised at how the children will learn and play quietly in church- they want to be active worship participants

-If you find yourself distracted, please feel free to sit somewhere else where you feel that you will not be!

-We say we are a church who wants young families and children- so we must adjust our mindset to welcome the sights and sounds of children in worship– Jesus says of the little children, “Let them come to me. Do not hinder them.”

We look forward to sharing the Family Friendly Worship space with you! Try it for yourself and invite children and families to participate!

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An Xavier Update

For those of you who have been following our saga of Xavier’s never-ending illnesses, here is an update for you. After countless trips to the doctor and one hospital stay, a few blood tests from Riley revealed that X has a low count of “mannose-binding lectin” in his blood. This means that he is more susceptible to illnesses, which explains why he was so sick for months at a time. Daycare kept hammering him with germs, and he caught them all…and he just couldn’t ever recover!

So we currently have him at home with a wonderful nanny who comes during the week, and he has been WELL since February! And he’s been almost a completely different kid. Much happier and much stronger. He is very chatty and learns new words every week, and we are working on his walking with First Steps physical therapy. We are moving to Indianapolis at the end of June, which means that Corey and I are able to co-parent better than we are able to at this time.

Thanks for your caring thoughts and prayers!

Jill, Corey, and X

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A Post-Election Thought and Prayer

I know it’s been awhile since I’ve blogged!  Since my last post, Corey and I have moved, I started a new pastoral appointment, Corey has started a new job, we are deep into this whole parenting an infant thing, and we’ve been doing a crazy balancing act ever since!  Please forgive me!  I did want to break my silence and share a letter that I will read to my congregation on Sunday morning in the post-election madness that our nation is feeling and experiencing.  I hope you will find it helpful and hopeful. Peace to you and yours.

Dear Friends of Asbury UMC,

As your pastor, I feel the need to address the divisions and uneasiness many feel as a result of the election this past week.  Regardless of your political views, there is no getting around the fact that this election has caused deep division and fear for many in our country.  Regardless of your political views, there is no getting around the fact that people of different colors, religions, sexual orientations, and genders are being taunted, bullied, and threatened, and feel unwelcome in their own country.  I have friends with black children who have been targets of racial threats.  I have seen stories of Muslim college students fearing for their lives.   I saw an article about a school where someone posted “whites only” and “colored only” signs above water fountains.  I have seen photos of graffiti in Bloomington, IN glorifying racism and white supremacy in the name of our president elect, complete with swastikas and KKK images.  In Columbus, Indiana, a Hispanic pastor’s children were told by other students to “go back home, and go build that wall.”  Because of the election result, some feel that they have been given a platform in which to treat others as “less than.”  Regardless of who your vote went to, I hope we can all agree that this is unacceptable, and it is not okay.  We can’t deny the fact that our culture has seen a shift over the past few months, and has worsened over the last week.    Therefore, we as Christians must speak out against bullying, injustice, racism, sexism, and xenophobia in all its forms.

This is not about politics.  This is about treating human beings with dignity and respect.  We, as followers of Christ, who loved and welcomed all, should not stand by and be silent.  We as United Methodist state in our Social Creed that:

We commit ourselves to the rights of men, women, children, youth, young adults, the aging, and people with disabilities; to improvement of the quality of life; and to the rights and dignity of all persons.

We believe in the right and duty of persons to work for the glory of God and the good of themselves and others and in the protection of their welfare in so doing; in the rights to property as a trust from God, collective bargaining, and responsible consumption; and in the elimination of economic and social distress.

We dedicate ourselves to peace throughout the world, to the rule of justice and law among nations, and to individual freedom for all people of the world.

We believe in the present and final triumph of God’s Word in human affairs and gladly accept our commission to manifest the life of the gospel in the world. Amen.

As Christians, we are a people of hope and peace.  So as we move forward together, may we spread hope and peace, that we might be the healing hands of Jesus in the midst of this uncertain time in which we find ourselves.  Let us pray:  (prayer by Rev. Jessica Stenstrom and the UM Book of Worship #442)

Come and fill our hearts with your peace

You alone O God are holy

Come and fill our hearts with your peace

Alleuiah

If you celebrate this morning, I pray with you and for you

If you mourn this morning, I pray with you and for you

If you’re excited for the changes that’s coming, I pray with you and for you

If you’re filled with anxiety and fear over potential changes, I pray with you and for you

If you have felt harmed by the political rhetoric, by divisions among friends and family – I pray with you and for you hoping today begins healing.

Whether you are thrilled or devastated – the good news is this God is still God. Neither candidate would be the solution to all the problems, pain and division of our world. God is the only solution.

My prayer for us this morning is that we would be the people of God living out life in the ways Jesus modeled by feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and poor, offering hope to the broken-hearted.

Through our faith in God, we know that love has the power to overcome hate and division – light shines through pain and darkness. Let us choose love and choose light.

Almighty God, you rule all the peoples of the earth.

Inspire the minds of all women and men to whom you have committed the responsibility of government and leadership in the nations of the world.

Give to them the vision of truth and justice, that by their counsel all nations and peoples may work together.

Give to the people of our country zeal for justice and strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will.

Forgive our shortcomings as a nation; purify our hearts to see and love the truth.

We pray all these things through Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

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“Goodbye (God Be With You)”

Philippians 1:1-11: From Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus.
To all those in Philippi who are God’s people in Christ Jesus, along with your supervisors and servants.
2 May the grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
3 I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers. 4 I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it’s always a prayer full of joy. 5 I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed it until now. 6 I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus. 7 I have good reason to think this way about all of you because I keep you in my heart. You are all my partners in God’s grace, both during my time in prison and in the defense and support of the gospel. 8 God is my witness that I feel affection for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.
9 This is my prayer: that your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight. 10 I pray this so that you will be able to decide what really matters and so you will be sincere and blameless on the day of Christ. 11 I pray that you will then be filled with the fruit of righteousness, which comes from Jesus Christ, in order to give glory and praise to God.
From Pastor Jill Howard, servant of Christ, appointed here by Bishop Mike Coyner in 2008- to the members and friends of Morgantown United Methodist Church, who are God’s people in Jesus Christ:

Dear Friends,

I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers. I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it’s always a prayer full of joy. I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in ministry of the gospel from the time I started here 4 years ago and until now. I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to continue the jobs of ministry here- the jobs of worship, fellowship, prayer, learning, serving, reaching, and loving. I have good reason to think this way about all of you because I keep you in my heart. My prayer for you is that your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight as you continue on in this place. I pray this so that you will be able to decide what is truly important and what is petty enough to let go. I pray that you will be filled with the fruit of righteousness, patience, hope, peace, compassion, and joy, which comes from Jesus Christ, in order to give glory and praise to God.

Four years ago, I was at my parsonage in Terre Haute one March evening eating a blizzard from Dairy Queen, when I got a phone call from the DS- THE phone call. We were moving to a little place called Morgantown, he said. Having known Pastor Roy, I knew of Morgantown, but not too much about it- just that it was a small town in south central Indiana. This came as a shock to me because the last news I heard about my new appointment was that I was being considered for another associate pastor position at a larger church. So Morgantown, IN was the last place on my radar! I asked the DS, “What part about ‘don’t send me to a rural congregation didn’t you all understand?’” He assured me that I would be well-accepted and told me some of the wonderful things about the congregation. I thought to myself, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” And my mind was put at ease from the moment I met with the PPR committee on that first night 4 years ago. And the rest is history. Looking back, it’s hard to believe how fast 4 years have gone by, and how much ministry we have done together. Today I want to share with you some of the highlights of my time with you.

Learning. We have learned a lot from each other. You all have taught me the joys, quirks, and sometimes drawbacks of small town life. I have never lived in a small town, but you have shown me the ins and outs of what it’s about. I’ve driven some of the most rural little roads, and my Subaru has seen what the backwoods really look like. Corey and I survived hitting our first deer, and have dodged several more since then. We have also learned a lot about our faith together. My first small group study here was on the book, What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still be a Christian. In this class we wrestled with everything from evolution to creation, to sexuality and how we read and understand the Bible. This class was followed by others such as Christianity and World Religions, Making Sense of the Bible, Becoming a Disciple, and the a study on the Apostle Paul. I fondly remember a Tuesday morning study for women during Advent where we learned together about the women of the Christmas stories in the Gospel of Luke. And I also have fond memories of our Wednesday morning Bible study at the Senior Center where we read through and studied the entire Gospel of Luke together. All 24 chapters of it!

One of my passions as a pastor is teaching and journeying with people as we explore our faith. I enjoy asking and hearing the tough questions and wrestling with them together. We had some eye opening discussions, lightbulb moments, and prayerful times of learning that will stay with me forever. I want to say thank you for these sacred moments.

2) Worship. We have worshiped well. We have heard and been a part of beautiful music together. Either from the choir, special music, or Brian and Debbie on the organ and piano, we have lifted our voices and thoughts to God through song. You’ve allowed me to share my passion of singing with you. You all have been supportive of the creative things I’ve tried, such as the Pentecost where we released red balloons throughout the sanctuary. I have never seen happier faces on people in worship than I did that morning! Or the times that I have invited you forward to kneel in front of the cross and reflect upon its paradoxical beauty and sadness. We have been a part of healing worship times, celebratory, challenging, prayerful, and Spirit filled. We have prayed for one another, and we have praised God together. May you always remember this sacred space as a place where we come to experience God, and expect that God will show up for worship, whether you are prepared to meet God or not!

3) Fellowship. This includes all of the good food we have had together! From ladies’ luncheons to pitch-in dinners, and the wonderful Christmas meal, you all sure know what it means to hang out and have fun together. There is a reason why Jesus shared meals with so many different kinds of people. As one of my seminary professors said, “Jesus loved meals so much that he became one.” Being at a table together over a meal is a good and sacred thing. It is where we are our true selves and experience the riches of life together. Fellowship at this church means that all are welcomed and all are loved. I’ve never seen a church who cherished their fellowship time after worship as much as you all do. I hope you keep that spirit alive for a long time to come, and invites others to be a part of it. Anyone who attends fellowship hour as a first time visitor usually comes back. Why? Because they have shared in conversation with you over some good food and fellowship. Jesus meets us at the table, and we are to extend that invitation to others to come as they are.

4) Love for the community. This is a congregation who is proud to be part of the community. We open our building for a number of different people and things, and we serve the community in many ways. We get involved in things like Col. Vawter Day and the Memorial Day parade, we have scouting troops that meet here, aerobics, and people who make sure the Food Pantry is a vital ministry and service for people in this town. Vacation Bible School reaches out to children and youth, and we can be proud of the fact that we are an open, affirming, and inclusive church. We have done mission projects that have helped youth, senior citizens, the homeless, the hungry, and even IGA shoppers. I hope that you will keep thinking of ways to reach out to the community and bring them the light of Jesus Christ. And not just that, but that you will invite people in this community to experience what it means to have a relationship with Christ and his followers in a wonderful place such as this. We need Jesus both inside the church and outside of it. The world is our parish. Let’s make it so.

5) You have allowed me to be a part of your lives. I have shared joyous occasions with you from birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, positive medical test results, and births of children or grandchildren. I have sat beside you in hospitals or prayed with you before a surgery. I have helped plan funerals for your loved ones. I have prayed with you for a variety of reasons. I’ve had intimate conversations with many of you, wrestling over life’s challenges or difficult questions about faith. We’ve explored next steps together in life’s journey. You have let me into your lives, and for that I will be forever grateful. One of the most rewarding things about being a pastor is that I get to experience the many seasons of life with people, from the baptism of a baby, weddings, and when life is coming to an end. Pastors are invited into those sacred spaces and times, and it is a holy opportunity and calling. I have been privileged to share these times and spaces with each of you.

6) And finally, I have loved the unique oasis that makes this church special in so many ways. I hope you realize how rare it is to find a small town church such as this with a range of theological and political views such as this, and how much you love each other and do ministry together anyway. I love that you have welcomed people into this congregation who have not been able to find a warm welcome in other churches in this area, and I love that some of you disagree with each other, and probably even me, yet this is the place you come to learn about and experience a relationship with Jesus Christ. You have been able to keep your focus on a shaping a loving community and staying the course in disciple making. Keep on making the main thing the main thing. Create space for people who are different from you and who do not think like you do. Keep working on ways to invite a wide range and variety of persons into the fold, and be creative in how you might reach out to youth and families, too. There are rich possibilities here for multi-generational ministries and sacred spaces for children and families. Take advantage of those possibilities!

Many years ago when I was leaving my youth ministry position at St. Luke’s in Indianapolis and heading off to seminary in Atlanta, my dear friend and colleague said to me, “We are saying goodbye, but goodbye really means, ‘God be with you.’” And I have never forgotten this. So today, as we say goodbye, we are really saying, “God be with you,” and I will add, “till we meet again.” “God be with you till we meet again.” The apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians with affection, prayers, and thanksgiving long ago. He said to them, I know these wonderful things about you are true (and will continue to be true) because I keep you in my heart. And these words are words that I know are true today. I keep you, the people of Morgantown United Methodist, in my heart. And may his prayer to the Philippians long ago be my prayer for you this day:
That your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight as you continue on in this place. I pray this so that you will be able to decide what is truly important and what is petty enough to let go. I pray that you will be filled with the fruit of righteousness, patience, hope, peace, and joy, which comes from Jesus Christ, in order to give glory and praise to God.

God be with you. And blessings on the journey.

In Christ,
Pastor Jill

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