Hope That Sustains Us

3.17.2021

Recently I joined my two brothers to clear out my parent’s home to sell their house. My mother Gloria died this past October, and my father Jake has moved into the Meridian at Westwood. When I was growing up, my family moved from house to house. My parent’s last house was not the home in which I was raised. Yet, in each of these houses, my mother put familiar paintings, etchings, and photographs on the walls. The recent process of packing up these pictures was not easy, but the process brought back many good memories.


I still heard my mother speaking to me through words written in her bible and through notes written by her throughout her home. For example, my mother had a wooden plaque on her desk with her name on the front and the following words written by Martin Luther taped on the back of the plaque: “This life therefore is not righteousness but growth in righteousness; not health but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it; the process is not yet finished but it is going on; this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.” There is a lot of grace in these words.


We are heading towards Easter, the day when we affirm that the crucified one, the despised and rejected one, the one who took the form of a humble servant, is the one whom God has glorified above all else. Jesus was glorified when he was raised up on the cross, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. He wants to share his glory with us—that is, he wants us to shine with his love, light, goodness and grace so that we reach our full, glorious potential. “All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.” This is our hope that sustains us.


In Christ,

Scott

Realizing Who We Are

2.25.21

This past Sunday, we began our confirmation class. My wife Elizabeth and I led our first discussion with them on the identity and attributes of God. My goal is for our confirmands to realize that God created them, that God redeemed them, and that God sustains them. I want them to realize that God loves them unconditional beyond measure and came to us in Jesus Christ to demonstrate this love. My prayer is that they will respond to God’s love by becoming faithful followers of Jesus Christ.


When God called the prophet Jeremiah, God said to him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (Jeremiah 1:5). When commenting on this passage, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “God wanted to assure Jeremiah that God’s call to be a prophet was no divine afterthought, that it was part of God’s plan for all eternity. It says that each one of us is part of the divine plan and as such totally irreplaceable and unique. We (some of us) might look like accidents, but we are not accidents to God.” I pray that our confirmands will hear these words about themselves so that they will know the deep commitment God has had with each of them since before their birth. I pray that they will be able to affirm what the Psalmist says “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works” (Psalm 139:14).


Keep our confirmation class in your prayers that they will realize these truths about themselves.


In Christ, Scott

Hallowed Be Thy Name

2.17.21

Back in 2017, the musician Bruce Springsteen did a solo show on Broadway where he played some of his songs and told the stories behind them. You can listen to this show on his album Springsteen on Broadway. Near the end of the show, Springsteen introduced his final song Born to Run, and he began talking about going back and standing in the shadows of his old church building where he was raised. And then he says that the words of a benediction came to back to him. And then Springsteen began to recite the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, who are in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.


This is a prayer that people who go to church know and it is a prayer that people who don’t go to church know. People say this prayer on Sundays. People pray this prayer during a crisis. People pray this prayer at night, in the morning. When his disciples asked Jesus how to pray, Jesus taught them the Lord’s Prayer. During the Sundays of Lent, we will explore the Lord’s Prayer.


Our sermon series during Lent is called Hallowed. Each Sunday we will talk about a different part of this prayer. Because here is the point of this series: God forms us through the Lord’s Prayer to become more like Christ. God gives us this prayer so that we can become more like Jesus. But what do we mean when we say the Lord’s Prayer? How does praying the Lord’s Prayer change us?


For example, what do we mean when we pray, “Hallowed be thy name”? Hallowed means “holy.” And holy is one of the attributes of God. Holy is an attribute of God on the moral level: God is fully good, and God is completely just. But holiness is not just an attribute of God on the moral level. It is an attribute also about God’s very nature: God fills all creation, and God transcends creation. God is infinite in power and glory. God is eternal. Even though God revealed God’s self to us in the person of Jesus Christ, there is lots about God that is beyond our comprehension. God is not us.


When you read the Bible, you see that God’s presence could fill people with fear. That’s why in the Old Testament, the temple—the building that signified God’s presence with Israel—had barriers to keep people from getting too physically close to God, because getting physically close to God was like approaching a downed, hot powerline or, as one commentator, “a blast furnace.” Physically approaching God could be dangerous, not because God wants to hurt people, but because God is holy—infinite and mighty.


Here is another thing. Objects and even people were set apart for God’s good purposes, and that made them holy. The clothes the priests wore in the temple, the lamp that lit up the sanctuary, all these became “holy” and couldn’t be used for everyday purposes, because they were set apart for God.


God wants to make us holy. In Leviticus 19:1, God says to the people of Israel: “You must be holy, because I, the LORD your God, am holy.” This part of Leviticus contains instructions on how the Israelites are to live so that they will represent God well in this world. The Israelites are to live in ways that set them apart, ways that make them different from the way the world is.


Today, we are also God’s people through Christ Jesus. Many of these rules in Leviticus no longer apply to us: rules like eating certain foods or wearing certain clothes. But the moral rules in Leviticus—the rules about loving our neighbor as ourself and rules about treating others fairly (read Leviticus 19:1-18) still apply to us, because as followers of Jesus, we are to live in ways that are different from the world’s way of living. We are to live in ways that give glory to God. As followers of Jesus, we are set apart for God’s good purposes, to love as God loves. We are to be holy as God is holy.


Of course, we can’t be holy in the sense of becoming infinite and eternal as God is. But we can embody more and more God’s love and grace. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he told them to say, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” Our names matter. Our names are about our identity, and praying “Hallowed be thy name” means that we want God’s identity to be glorified and honored.


The opposite of making something holy is to profane it, to treat it with disrespect. We don’t want to profane God’s name. We don’t want God’s name to be treated cheaply, as too many do whenever people use God’s name as a cuss word. We want God to be loved and respected throughout the world. That’s why we pray, “Hallowed by thy name.”


Thus, we have to ask ourselves, “What am I doing to honor God? Am I living in such a way that I am treating God’s name with respect? Or am I acting in ways that discredits God’s name or even bring shame to God? In a recent episode of his podcast The Bible for Normal People, the Old Testament scholar Peter Enns compared bringing shame to God to children bringing shame to their parents. You know how kids embarrass their parents at times. When they are toddlers, they can throw tantrums in the aisle of the supermarket, screaming and refusing to get up. You’ve seen parents embarrassed, haven’t you? As children grow older, parents at times are called to the principal’s office because their child did something bad. That’s embarrassing for a parent. Imagine how parents feel when they see a mugshot of their adult child on the front page of the newspaper.


Now, God doesn’t get embarrassed. God is beyond being embarressed because God never worries about losing face. God is God. But God’s still heart breaks whenever we act in undignified ways. Therefore, when we pray to God, “Hallowed be thy name,” we are not just asking God to do something. We are committing ourselves to do something, to act in ways that bring honor to God.


So how are you honoring God’s name? I heard an interview with the church historian Justo Gonzalez in which Dr. Gonzalez pointed out how praying the Lord’s Prayer changes us. It forms us, because as we pray this prayer, we have to ask ourselves, “Am I doing the things for which I am prayer?” I mean, what’s the point of praying “Hallowed be thy name” and then acting in ways that dishonor God? Whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we make the commitment to live a certain way, to put our lives in line with the request that we are making.


When we ask God to do those things that bring God glory and honor, we, too, agree to do the best we can to represent God well. Thus, God changes us as we pray the Lord’s prayer.

THE BLESSING OF LOSING

02.03.2021


I have been reflecting on the experience of losing. Football players lose conference playoff games. Politicians lose elections. Investors lose money when the stock market tanks. Our world believes that losing is tragic. But I have been reflecting on how losing can be a blessing.


Think of people in the Bible who have experienced loss. Zechariah was serving in the temple when the angel Gabriel appeared to him and announced that Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son, John. Zechariah had doubts and asked for a sign, and Zechariah’s ability to speak was taken from him. Zechariah lost his voice and remained mute until John was born (Luke 1:8-20).


Or consider Paul. Paul was a persecutor of Christians, traveling with his entourage to Damascus to arrest even more Christians. There on the road, the living, resurrected Jesus appeared to Paul, and Paul was blinded by the light. Paul lost his ability to see until Ananias came to him and laid hands on him (Acts 9.1-19).


Zechariah lost his voice; Paul lost his eyesight; but losses lasted only for a season. Their loss was not a curse, because during their time of loss, they were able to reflect on their encounter with God and on the ways that they had resisted God. They were able to repent of their wrongs. Their loss became a blessing because it led them to turn to God and rely on God. God was not punishing Zechariah and Paul when God took away Zechariah’s voice and Paul’s sight. No, God was giving them space and time to reflect and to change their hearts and lives. They lost their voice and sight for a season, but they gained their lives for eternity.


Much on which we depend will not last. None of us can take our possessions with us when we die. Things that the world values—things such as social status, financial wealth, physical health, career achievements—all pass away. We cannot take these things with us into eternity. If our ultimate happiness and security depends on the things of this world, then woe to us! The things of this world will not save us, because they pass away. In the end, we lose all of it. Only God’s grace can save.


That’s why Jesus says that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God “Matthew 19:25). When we are rich with money or with health or with talents or with privileges, it is easy to push God out of the way and rely on ourselves and on what we can do. We, then, deceive ourselves into thinking that we are ultimately responsible for our own salvation and don’t need God.


But when we suffer loss, we may finally realize the fleeting nature of the things of this world. We may finally gain the humility to turn to God and rely on God’s grace. Zechariah’s and Paul’s loss led them to change their lives and to embrace God’s grace. Their loss did not lead to misery. It led to joy!


When people lose something that this world considers valuable and essential, then, perhaps, this is the beginning of their salvation.


--Scott

UNITY, NOT DIVISION

1.28.2021

When we practice our faith, we rightly ask, “How are we to live? How does God intend for us to be? What will our actions and attitudes be when we are at our best? These questions are aspirational. These questions reveal our goals and clarify our longing for how we want to be when we are fully freed from the destructive pull of sin.


I was encouraged as I listened to President Joe Biden’s inauguration address because he expressed his desire to work with all people and serve as president for both those who voted for him and those who voted against him. Biden’s speech was aspirational. He talked about us being led by our nature's better angels to treat one another with dignity and respect and to disagree with one another in charitable ways. He said, “Together, we shall write an American story of hope, not fear. Of unity, not division. Of light, not darkness. A story of decency and dignity, love and healing, greatness and goodness.” This is an aspirational speech! This is not describing how we often are but expressing how we may be with God’s grace. My prayer for President Biden and all of us is for God to help us live into these ideals so that these aspirations become lived realities.


The book of 1st and 2nd Chronicles is aspirational literature. The writer of Chronicles retells King David's story and of David’s descendants, the successive kings of Judah. As the Old Testament scholar Bernard Anderson points out, the Chronicler is guided by faith in the covenant that God made with David—the irrevocable covenant that God would bless the world through Jerusalem’s throne and temple. The Chronicler retells King David's story from 1st and 2nd Samuel, but he chooses not to include any of David’s flaws or sins. He wants to portray David as the ideal king, the kind of ruler the world needs, the kind of person we all should aspire to be. Sadly, we too often fail to live into our ideals. As Paul says in Romans 7:19, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” At times David failed to be his best.


However, the good news is that God proved faithful to the covenant that God made with David. God blessed the world through David’s descendant Jesus Christ, and Jesus fully lived in a sin-free, flawless way. Jesus showed us how human life looks when we are at our best. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus “breaks the power of canceled sin,” and he empowers us to live into our ideals. We keep striving with God’s grace to be the best we can be, and confidently, we say with Paul, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, called this moving onto Christian perfection, which for him meant maturing in Christian love. United Methodism is an aspirational faith.


Therefore, we refrain from cynically dismissing aspirations to become better. We believe that people can be transformed. We willingly give others the benefit of the doubt. We work at building bridges. We respond with grace. And when we do this, we live into being the people whom God calls us to be. With God’s grace, our aspirations will then become lived lives.


In Christ, Scott

ENACTING GRACE DURING UGLY TIMES

January 13, 2021

I’ve been troubled by protests in our nation that have turned violent and ugly such as we recently witnessed in our capital. We have the right to protest what we believe to be unfair, but as followers of Jesus, we are never given permission to dehumanize and hate those with whom we disagree.


Scripture shows us how we are to live, especially during turbulent, polarized times. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:45, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.” Paul gave us these instructions while he was in prison, suffering from the violent, ugly actions of others!


We are in error whenever we feel “letting our gentleness be known” is a sign of weakness and passivity. The word “gentleness” is a translation of the Greek word epieikes which does not mean being a wimp. Epieikes means practicing forbearance, remaining calm in tough situations rather than reacting with high emotions. One of my teachers Frank Thielman defines epieikes as “an attitude of kindness where the normal or expected response is retaliation.” In other words, we choose to be gracious when others expect us to be ugly.


Likewise, Paul lists with the fruit of the Spirit another word that we often translate as “gentleness” (Galatians 5:23). This is the Greek word prautes, which is an excellence of character that the Holy Sprit cultivates within followers of Jesus. Often the word prautes is translated as “meek.” It is the same word that Jesus uses in his Sermon on the Mount when he says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).


We also are in error whenever we feel being “meek” means being weak or being a doormat. Practicing prautes means choosing to be humble rather than arrogant. It means refusing to push others out of the way so that we can get to the front of the line. It means that we refrain from oppressing others.


As we follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit grows gentleness and meekness within us so that we shine light in our troubled world. Let’s not respond to unfairness and injustice by letting our passions control us, leading us to act in ugly, even cruel ways. This may be hard work, but with God’s grace and help, it is doable.


In Christ, Scott

IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY


December 8, 2020

This season of the Covid-19 pandemic and social distancing has reminded me of the importance of Christian community.


God never intended for us to walk the journey of faith by ourselves. Instead, God joins us with brothers and sisters in Christ. Together, we help and encourage one another to grow in our relationship with Christ. John Wesley said that there is no holiness but social holiness, which means that the Christian faith cannot be a solitary religion, because there is no growing in grace apart from our connection with fellow believers.


One of the wisdom books in the Bible, Ecclesiastes, affirms the support we get from others. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone. Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Not only are we strengthened through the support we receive from fellow believers, we, in turn, become a source of strength for them.


I experienced this recently through the cards that many of you sent me and my family, letting us know that you are praying for us after my mother Gloria’s death. Your letters have encouraged me during a time of grief, and God has used these letters to assure me and my family that we are not alone. I am grateful for all your prayers.


In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray “our Father,” not “my father.” Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we affirm our connection to one another. I grieve that Covid-19 has kept many of us apart from one another physically, but I rejoice in how we have maintained connection through other means.


During this time of social distancing, if you have slipped out of the habit of connecting with fellow believers, I encourage you to reach out to your sisters and brothers in Christ. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “ Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Christian community is a means of grace.


In Christ, Scott

PRAYER OF TEILHARD DE CHARDIN

November 30, 2020

Patient Trust

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.

We should like to skip the intermediate stages.

We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.


And yet it is the law of all progress

that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—

and that it may take a very long time.


And so I think it is with you;

your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,

let them shape themselves, without undue haste.

Don’t try to force them on,

as though you could be today what time

(that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will)

will make of you tomorrow.


Only God could say what this new spirit

gradually forming within you will be.

Give Our Lord the benefit of believing

that his hand is leading you,

and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself

in suspense and incomplete.


—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ excerpted from Hearts on Fire

VITAL CONGREGATION

November 9, 2020

We are in the process of discerning how to adapt our congregation’s ministry in our Covid-19 world. We recognize that we will have to do ministry differently than the ways we did ministry at the beginning of this year.


Yet we also affirm that our mission as Trinity UMC has not changed. God is still calling us to be and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of this world. In our past, we developed deep and strong disciples of Jesus through ministries such as the Walk to Emmaus and the Disciple Bible Study. I am confident that God will continue to guide us to make disciples of Jesus in ways that are effective in today’s world.


At the beginning of the year, we worked with my friend and coach Rev. Bill Kierce to discern our vision for the future. We held town hall meetings where many of you were able to share your ideas on how we are to grow in ministry. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, we put our work on hold as we responded to this pandemic. I am glad to inform you that we are now working again with Bill Kierce to discern what God is calling us to do. We have a visioning team made up of Bosco Bostick, Tristan Cruz-Richardson, Ranae Curtis, Amy Klugh, Marie Marshall, Laura Pennington, LaTreva Pounds, and Michael Simon along with some of our staff—Matt Hull, Melissa Johnson, MaKenzie Johnson, Paula Roane and myself. We have begun meeting with Bill, and we are in the process of discerning what God is calling us to do next Trinity to do next to make disciples of Jesus.


Our goal is to be a VITAL congregation. A VITAL congregation contains the following five elements:

1. Vibrant Worship. (People experience God and are transformed through our worship).

2. Intentional Faith Development (People grow into being disciples of Jesus Christ).

3. Transformational Leadership (People develop as servant, Christ like leaders).

4. Authentic Community (People support and encourage one another in love).

5. Lasting impact (Trinity UMC makes a difference for Christ in our community).


We are discerning our next best step in each of these 5 areas. Please keep our visioning team and our work in your prayers. I will keep you informed with what we discern.


In Christ, Scott

HELPING HANDS

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, affirmed the importance of service, the act of stepping forward to help others in Jesus’ name.


This past Sunday, we’ve started our stewardship emphasis. Our sermon series is called Cultivating Generosity. We are talking about how God grows us to be as generous as Jesus Christ is. Stewards manage what belongs to someone else. All that we have and all that we are is a trust from God. We are caretakers and managers of all that God has entrusted for this brief season of our earthly lives.


During our stewardship emphasis, we often focus on being stewards of our financial resources. But we are stewards of more than just our money. We are stewards of all our lives, including our time and talents. Giving your time in service to others is an act of stewardship. I am grateful for all the ways that you have given your time to serve Trinity UMC.


The Acts of the Apostles tells the story of some of the growing pains in the early church. Acts chapter 6:1-6 tells what happened when certain widows were neglected during the daily service of food distribution. No one was trying to hurt anyone, but sometimes, in a growing church, important tasks can get overlooked. When the 12 apostles became aware of this problem, they immediately called together a meeting of church leaders, and they came up with a solution: they appointed seven people to be deacons, to be those tasked with the responsibility of service and to make sure that the widows received what they needed. The apostles laid hands on these 7 people, prayed for them, and commissioned them to be deacons (a word that means “servants”).


This tells me that God gives us opportunities to serve and that service is an important practice for followers of Jesus. At Trinity, we have many opportunities to serve. We have a disaster recovery team that works to help people recover from Hurricane Sally. We have a security team that makes sure people remain safe when we gather at the church for worship or when people come to eat lunch at our Daily Bread ministry. We always need more servants to help with these ministries. If you are willing to serve (and I ask that you prayerfully consider this), will you contact our coordinator for Disaster and Safety ministries, Barry Ratcliffe, at disaster@trinityfwb.org. or at safety@trinityfwb.org.


In Christ, Scott

WESLEY'S GUIDANCE ON HOW TO VOTE

September 30, 2020

We are in the midst of a very polarized election. Both conservatives and progressives feel troubled over things happening in our nation, although we disagree about what things should trouble us. It is so easy to let the divisions of this world divide us in the church, but this is a temptation we must resist. Can we find common ground to unite us?


I will make the following affirmation: God is still God, and Jesus Christ is still risen from the dead, and the Holy Spirit is still indwelling and empowering God’s people. Therefore, we remain people of faith, hope, and love—always! Our calling is not to place our ultimate trust in the political systems of this world, but to place our ultimate trust in Jesus Christ. The political leaders and systems of this world will not usher in the kingdom of God. God alone ushers in the kingdom of God. Thankfully, at times our political leaders say and do things that align with God’s will; they do the kinds of things that God wants to bless. But tragically, at other times, our political leaders say and do things that oppose God’s will. We must be careful not to equate the kingdoms of this world with the kingdom of God.


Still, God gives us a mandate in scripture. Jeremiah tells the Israelites living in Babylonian exile: “Build houses and settle down; cultivate gardens and eat what they produce. Get married and have children; then help your sons find wives and your daughters find husbands in order that they too may have children. Increase in number there so that you don’t dwindle away. Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because your future depends on its welfare” (Jeremiah 29:5-7). We are called to promote the wellbeing of the city, county, state, and country in which we live. We are called to pray for these places. We are called to pray for all our elected officials. Remember, 1st Timothy 2:1-4 says, “First of all, then, I ask that requests, prayers, petitions, and thanksgiving be made for all people. Pray for kings and everyone who is in authority so that we can live a quiet and peaceful life in complete godliness and dignity. This is right and it pleases God our savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” We are called to work for the common good regardless of what political party or person holds office.


Someone shared with me the following quote from John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. This quote is helping me during this unseemly election season. John Wesley wrote in his journal on October 4, 1774: “I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them 1). To vote without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy, 2). To speak no evil of the person they voted against, and 3). To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.” This is good advice, especially now. We must resist the temptation to demonize those who hold political views that are different from ours. When we “take care that our spirits are not sharpened against those that voted on the other side,” we will then be acting as the children of light that God declares us to be, truly offering healing, help and hope to our world.

TRANSFORMATION & TRANSACTIONS

August 26, 2020

There is a big difference between transactional relationships and transformative relationships.


A transactional relationship is a relationship where I give something to you, and then I expect something in return. I don’t have to change. I simply pay you for something, and then I receive from you the service for which I paid. Compare this with a transformational relationship. A transformational relationship is one that changes me. When I join in relationship with you, I don’ receive a product. I become a different person.


Our relationship with God is transformational, not transactional! We don’t receive God’s grace by paying God. We don’t give something to God and then expect to get something in return. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works so that no one may boast.” God’s grace changes us. It makes us new creations. This is why Paul says in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” We don’t barter with God. Instead, we receive God’s grace to be transformed, to be born again.


Think about the difference between participating in a potluck dinner and going to a restaurant.


The pastor J.R. Briggs compares church to participating in a potluck dinner. At a potluck dinner, everyone brings something to share with others. Everyone has something to contribute. Everyone gives and receives. Someone brings deviled eggs. Someone brings pecan pie. Others bring casseroles, broccoli salad, fried chicken, and green beans. All these different offerings complement one another. Even when people bring the same dish, the dish is cooked differently. To participate in a potluck you have to be transformed, because you have to learn to cook. You have to grow and develop your cooking skills, so you have something to contribute as well as receive. That’s how a healthy church is. It is transformational!


Briggs contrasts this with the image of someone going to a restaurant where they expect others to do all the cooking and to serve them. That’s how some people approach church, as a transactional relationship rather than a transformational one. Some people come to church, thinking it is restaurant. They sit back and expect to be served: “You meet my needs as I define my needs. You serve me the food I want and don’t expect me to change. Don’t expect me to become different.” That’s an unhealthy church. It has nothing to do with God’s kingdom!


I am so grateful that God relates to us in a transformative way rather than a transactional way, because we cannot earn God’s grace! I am so grateful that I am connected with brothers and sisters through the church in a transformative way, in a way that makes me a better person. A foundation of our faith is realizing that our relationship with God and the church is transformative and not transactional.

HEALING OF TRAUMA

August 12, 2020

Right after participating in an online workshop called Helping People Heal through Trauma, I reread Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts 2:14-36. The workshop defined trauma as “an event or experience that leaves an individual overwhelmed with intense fear, hopelessness, and horror.” When I reread Peter’s sermon, it struck me that Peter himself had recently experienced trauma only a short time before he preached.


Pentecost happened a little over 50 days after Jesus’ crucifixion. On Good Friday, Peter had witnessed the betrayal, torture and death of his friend and lord, Jesus. Peter, himself, had denied that he even knew Jesus. Peter must have felt overwhelmed and hopeless, horrified at what had happened .I know that Peter also witnessed the resurrected Jesus on Easter, and I know that he spent time with the resurrected Jesus and experienced his reconciling love. But, I don’t want to diminish the experience of trauma that Peter must have felt when he witnessed the violent death of Jesus.


In his sermon, Peter identifies Jesus twice as the crucified one! He says in verse 36, “Let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Peter won’t let us forget the fact the one whom God highly exalted is also the one who was shamefully executed. The American theologian James H. Cone compares the cross of Christ to the lynching tree—a lynching, a traumatic act of violence. Jesus didn’t just take on our sufferings. Jesus took on our traumas!


Mark 14:27 tells us that after Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane, the disciples scattered. The scattering of the disciples reminds me of how the people of Israel were scattered after the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 587 BCE. The people of Israel ended up as exiles and refugees in Babylon, Persia, Egypt and many other nations. Imagine how traumatic this catastrophe was those who went into exile! This diaspora or dispersion of the Jewish people among the nations led to them gradually speaking other languages. This is why Jews spoke different languages when they gathered together in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost in Acts 2.


Behind the story of Pentecost lays the trauma of crucifixion and the trauma of exile. Yet, notice how God begins to heal the trauma. The crucified one has now become the resurrected one, the one who is now exalted to the right hand of God. The Jewish people, who had once been scattered into different language groups because of the horror of the Babylonian, are now united through the Holy Spirit, each able to hear the gospel proclaimed in their own native language. God exalts the one who suffered; God joins those who were scattered. God begins to heal the effects of trauma; and, Peter, who on Good Friday cowardly denied three times that he even knew Jesus, now boldly preaches a sermon that leads 3,000 people to turn to Jesus.


Let this give hope to those of you who are experiencing trauma. The Covid-19 pandemic has been traumatic for many. Yet, Jesus has suffered with us, which means that Jesus has empathy for us and is willing to help (Hebrews 4:15-16). And the Holy Spirit unites people who were once scattered, empowering even those who had experienced the trauma of slavery to prophesy and speak for God (Acts 2:18)!

MIRACLE OF COMMUNICATION

July 26, 2020

Pentecost celebrates a gift. God poured out the Holy Spirit on the church as pure gift. The giving of the Holy Spirit is not dependent on our effort to do right, otherwise the Spirit would not be a gift. God gladly the Spirit, because the Spirit equips us to go to others and communicate with them the saving work of what God did for us in Jesus Christ.


For the Jewish people, Pentecost celebrates when God at Mt. Sinai gave them the Teachings or the Law (the Torah). God communicated to Israel the nature and character of God. God’s giving of the Torah was pure gift—because God chose to enter into a covenant relationship with Israel not because Israel earned it, but because God chose to love them and use them as blessing to this world.


When God gave the Torah and when God poured out the Holy Spirit on the church, God communicated. God wants people to know God and to be able to respond to God.


When the Holy Spirit came upon the believers in Acts 2, they began to speak in other languages (tongues) as the Spirit gave them ability. Then people from other nations who were staying in Jerusalem heard the good news of Christ proclaimed in their own native languages (dialects).


Luke, the writer of Acts, uses both the words tongues and dialects when describing this miracle of communication. The dictionary says that the word dialect means “a particular form of a language which is peculiar to a specific region or social group.” Having lived in Germany, I am fluent in German, but can’t understand the Schwabisch dialect of southern Germany or the Swiss dialect! When people speak the same language, they still may not understand each other because they speak different dialects!


Think of how people belong to different culture and ethnic groups all around us on Racetrack Road. Think of how people come from different places to be here in Fort Walton Beach. Think of how people come out of different contexts and have different life stories. The same words may have different meanings to different people! Communication can be tough.


Yet, God still wants us to communicate the love of Jesus Christ to all people around us. Through the Holy Spirit, God gives us the ability to communicate Christ. Communication begins with us listening to and learning from the people around us. My prayer is that God will teach us how to listen, learn, and communicate in our new era of Covid-19.


I came across the following quote in Celtic Daily Prayer: “I have said that were it mine to build a city, the first stone I should lay there would be the foundation stone of the church. But if it were mine to preach the first sermon in that church, I should choose as the text: ‘I saw no church therein.’ I should tell the people that the great use of the church is to help people to do without it.”


In other words, the church is not a place to shelter from the world. The church is the place to be equipped and empowered by the Holy Spirit to go out into the world and communicate the good news of Jesus in dialects and ways that others will understand. We pray for God to lead us to do this.

SHINING LIGHT

June 22, 2020

During a time of crisis and uncertainty, I feel the Holy Spirit pulling my heart to refocus on the basics of what we believe. What are the basics of our Christian faith? What do we believe fundamentally, above all else? How will this guide us in what we do during this time of trouble and grief?


I participated recently in an online worship service where one of the leaders read words from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. She read from Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible called The Message. I share these words with you. These are Jesus’ words to us: “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage. Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-14).


As I listened to these words, I felt my heart energized. I remembered my purpose—our purpose as Christ’s holy church! Even now, especially now, in our polarized world, we are called to be salt and light. This purpose has not changed. It is needed now in our world so divided by racial tensions and disagreements on how we are to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.


I read a letter in the magazine The Christian Century (June 17, 2020) in which a man named Josh Heikkila wrote the following: “It seems that as Christians we need to listen more deeply to the people with whom we disagree, and then be willing to be more gracious and generous in our response.” This seems to me what it means to be salt and light.


I read those words right after I had read words from the editor of The Christian Century, Peter Marty, who wrote, “We in the church ought to retrieve a deeper meaning to the word conspiracy. John Courtney Murray liked to use the term to describe the beautiful collaboration among people who are filled with the spirit of God. The root of the word conspire means ‘breathe together.’ We might think of the Pentecost story as a true conspiracy: not some evil design or sinister gathering, but a consensus for good. The coronavirus is giving us all a fresh reason to band together and breathe goodness into a chaotic world.”

Banding together and breathing goodness into a chaotic world energizes me. This is what I want us Trinity UMC to do. This is what God is calling us to do.


I am looking forward to meeting with you again on Sunday, June 28 when we resume in-person worship. We are making adjustments in how we meet together in order to mitigate the spread of the Covid-19 virus. I am confident that you will be gracious and generous in your response. Our online worship will also continue even after we resume in-person, and I continue to give thanks for our online worship.


Above all I give thanks to our being able to pray together again in person, because the world needs us to breathe goodness into our chaotic world more than ever.

FAITHFUL LIVING DURING TOUGH TIMES

May 27, 2020

I recently began reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters & Papers from Prison. Bonhoeffer was a German pastor during World War 2. He ended up in prison because of the work he did for the resistance against Hitler. While in prison, Bonhoeffer thought hard about how to live out his Christian faith during this time of loss and cultural collapse. I am now turning to Bonhoeffer’s writings for guidance on how to live the Christian faith during this time of the Covid-19 pandemic.


Bonhoeffer wrote about how Christians are to continue to live responsibly, no matter what our outward circumstances are like. While under arrest at the military prison in Tegel, Bonhoeffer quoted the Austrian songwriter Hugo Wolf who sang, “Over night, over night, come joy and sorrow, and before you know it, both leave you and go to the Lord, to say how you have borne them.“


In life, we experience both times of joy and times of sorrow. We are responsible to God to live faithfully during both these times. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 6:44-45). Times of sunshine and times of rain come our way. Therefore, regardless of whether it rains or shines, we, who follow Jesus, continue to live responsibly, which means we continue put our faith into action through the practice of love.


Remembering these words of Jesus helps me not to give into self-pity or to complain during tough times, times such as today with all the uncertainty surrounding this pandemic. When Job’s wife told him to curse God and die, Job responded by saying, “You are speaking foolishly. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” (Job 2:9-10) Our true character is not revealed in how we carry ourselves during good times. Our true character is revealed in how we make it through bad times. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 5:3-5, “We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”


During his time in prison, Bonhoeffer focused on what he could do to live responsibly for future generations, not on what he could not do. Bonhoeffer wrote, “What we cannot do, we must now simply let go of and limit ourselves to what we can and should do, that is, be... strong in trust in God in the midst of our suffering.” Even in prison, Bonhoeffer still rejoiced at the wedding of his niece Renate to his good friend and fellow pastor Eberhard Bethge. He wrote a sermon celebrating their union because a wedding is an affirmation of faith in the good future that God promises despite our outward predicaments.


Bonhoeffer’s attitude reminds me of a quote that is supposedly attributed to Martin Luther, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree." This time of pandemic and social distancing will end. Our call now is to continue to live faithfully even as we wait for God’s coming salvation.

PRAYING IN A PANDEMIC

May 13, 2020

How do we pray during times like these?


One of the appropriate forms of prayer during this season of quarantining are prayers of lament. The Book of Lamentations, Israel’s great song of grief over the destruction of Jerusalem begins with these words: “How lonely sits the city, that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations!” (Lamentations 1:1)


It is appropriate to express our grief to God in prayer. We don’t even have to use words. We can simply lift our sad hearts to God in silence.


The Book of Lamentation ends with a call for God to act. Lamentations 5:21 says, “Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may be restored; renew our days as of old.” Prayers of lament lead into prayers for help. The World Council of Churches has called for a worldwide day of prayer for Thursday, May 14, stating that on this day, we can “implore God to lift this pandemic off us and the entire world, to rescue us all from this adversity.” I encourage you to participate in this day through prayer and fasting.


Another way we pray is when we lift our requests to God. If we don’t know what words to use, that’s okay, because we are promised that “when we do not know how to pray as we ought, the Holy Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26). Sometimes, the best we can do is sit silently with God. If we need words to help us pray, a simple prayer is always, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” We can pray these words over and over again.


God’s last word to us is not a word of death, but a word of life. The latter chapters of the Book of Isaiah are addressed to those who are lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem. To those who grieve, the prophet announces that God “has sent [the prophet] to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1). The prophet even proclaims, “They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations” (Isaiah 61:4). God promises full restoration. The prayer at the end of the Book of Lamentations is answered in Isaiah 61:4.


Jesus Christ, when he began his public ministry, told us that these verses in Isaiah are ultimately fulfilled in his ministry (Luke 4:14-21). Therefore, our job as the church is to continue to proclaim the good news that Jesus Christ gives life and freedom even as we wait for Christ to fully manifest his saving work. Even when our church building is closed, our church is never closed! You are Christ’s church now, and you still proclaim the good news of Christ’s rescue through your words and actions and attitudes even now.


We are in a time of waiting, a time of lamentation as we wait for this pandemic to recede. But as we wait, we are also receiving God’s promises. God’s rescue has come, is here, and will come. Even as we wait for God’s rescue to fully manifest itself, we experience God’s rescue now in many ways. How have you seen God’s glory at work in your life even now? When we reflect on these signs of God’s faithfulness, “when we count our blessings, naming them one by one, ” we are led to prayers of thanksgiving and praise.


Following these practices helps us do what the Apostle Paul calls us to do in Romans 12:12, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer,” which is a healthy practice, especially now during this pandemic. Our Bishop David Graves shared this scripture verse recently with the pastors of our Annual Conference.

DO NOT HARM

May 6, 2020

Dear Friends, When John Wesley started Methodism, he gave us three simple rules to follow: 1). Do no harm, 2). Do good, and 3). Stay in love with God. These three rules guide us in how we are to be the church.


Particularly, we don’t want to cause harm in the way we respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. The reason we currently have ceased on-site worship at Trinity is because we do not want to spread the Coronavirus. We want to keep you safe. I give thanks to God that we have been able to grow our online worship service. I am grateful for how so many of you are connecting with us through social media. I am grateful for how our youth and children’s ministries are continuing online. I am grateful for the new people who are joining us. I am grateful that our Daily Bread ministry continues to provide meals to the hungry. Thank you for your continued giving that makes our ministries possible.


People ask, “When will onsite worship resume at Trinity?” My honest answer is, “I don’t know.” We will follow directions from our Bishop David Graves and from our government leaders, such as our Governor Ron DeSantis. We will follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how we can meet together safely. The CDC has recommended a 3 phase reopening plan. We are currently in phase 1 of our reopening plan, the time when our office is closed and when we are asking vulnerable people to shelter in place. We are now avoiding meeting in groups of more than 10. Phase 2 is when we will begin meeting in groups of 50 or less with precautions to mitigate any possible spread of the Coronavirus. We are not yet in phase 2.


We have formed a Covid-19 taskforce to discern answers to the question of when and how we will resume worship in person. The members of our taskforce are: Candy Broxson, Karen Gornto, LaTreva Pounds, Carol Overstreet, Barry Ratcliffe, Michael Simon, and Gail Widener. They will work with our worship staff (Matt Hull, Shannon Hull, Melissa Johnson, Paula Roane and Lisa Simon and me) to prayerfully discern the right time and right procedures to have in place to resume worship onsite.


Even though our office is closed, all our staff are able and willing to speak with you and to be in ministry with you. We ask that you call or email us to make an appointment with the appropriate staff member.


In Christ, Scott

CHANGES

April 28, 2020

Dear Friends,


Our Bishop David Graves and the leadership of our Annual Conference have requested that we not have onsite worship through at least May 17. At this time, I am unable to give you a date on when we will resume onsite worship. When we join together again for on campus worship, changes will be made in how we gather. We will adapt to safety guidelines in order to mitigate any spread of Covid-19. We are currently putting together a team to help us think through what changes we are to make.


I miss not being able to worship with you in person, but I am grateful for all those who have contributed to our online worship, especially Matt Hull who has edited and produced each worship service. As you noticed, we include a 5 minute countdown at the beginning of each service. The purpose of this countdown is to give you the opportunity to notify friends and invite them to watch the service with you. New people have joined our online worship because they have been invited to join us during the 5 minute countdown. Even after we begin worshiping together in person, we will continue our online worship.


Change is a part of life. The people of ancient Israel changed their religious practices when they were exiled in Babylon. They adjusted to worshiping without the temple in Jerusalem. After the temple was destroyed, the ancient Israelites developed synagogue worship. They also began to put together the sacred writings that would become our Bible. The changes that the ancient Israelites enacted in exile shaped the way we worship God today.


Change is inevitable. What encourages me when change happens is that we are always accompanied by the same gracious God who never changes. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”


The Book of Lamentations was written as a response to the loss that the Israelites experienced when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and exiled many of its leading people. To lament is to express our grief to God. The Book of Lamentations is an appropriate book to study at this time of sorrow and uncertainty, because we are also in a time of lamenting and waiting.


Besides expressing deep sorrow, the Book of Lamentations also expresses hope in the faithfulness of God. Lamentations 3:19-23 says, “The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”


These verses inspired the poet Thomas O. Chisholm to write the words of the familiar hymn: “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father; there is not shadow of turning with thee; thou changest not; thy compassions, they fail not; as thou hast been, thou forever wilt be. Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed thy hand hath provided. Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”


Change will happen. I don’t yet know what the future will be, and no one else knows except for God. I do know, however, that God remains faithful. I also know that our mission will remain unchanged. We will continue to be a place of unconditional love, offering the healing, help and hope of Christ in our city, our nation, and our world.


My prayer is that during this season of not being able to worship in person, God will grow our faith so that together we will pray, “Great is thy faithfulness.”


In Christ, Scott

WHEN JESUS SEEMS HIDDEN

April 15, 2020

I reread recently the story of Jesus joining two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus. On the evening of the first Easter, two disciples walked to the town of Emmaus. As they journeyed, the two were full of grief. They discussed Jesus’ death and the how some of the women disciples had found Jesus’ tomb empty that morning and saw angels who had told them that Jesus was alive. As these two walked and discussed what had happened, Jesus himself joined them. As I reread this passage, I was struck again at how, at first, Jesus’ identity was kept hidden from these two disciples. Luke says in 23:15-16 that, “Jesus himself arrived and joined them on their journey. They were prevented from recognizing him.”


They were prevented from recognizing him. Isn’t that we sometimes experience Christ’s presence with us?


God is with us always. Jesus promises to be with us always. Jesus says in Matthew 28:20, “Look, I myself with be with you every day until the end of this present age.” Still, we don’t always see Jesus in the same way we see our family and friends.


When Shannon Hull and I filmed our Easter Sunrise service with our cameras pointing out over the bay, our hope was to video the sun as it rose. But it was a cloudy morning, and we couldn’t see the sun. The sun was hidden by the cloud, until Shannon began singing Because He Lives. Then, as Shannon sang, the sun peaked through the clouds, and we got a glimpse of the bright, orange ball of the sun, proving that the sun was already in the sky, already with us. The sun had risen. We just couldn’t see the sun because it had been hid from us by clouds. C. S. Lewis once wrote, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” Even when we couldn’t see the sun because it was hid by clouds, we could still see everything else that morning because the sun had already risen.


This reminded me of a mission trip I took to Costa Rica. On our mission team’s day off, we traveled to Paos Volcano National Park, a tropical rain forest with a deck that overlooked a volcanic crater. This crater was supposedly a beautiful sight with steam came up out of the earth. I had seen pictures of this volcano and I wanted to see it for myself. When we arrived at the park, we followed the signs to the volcano. We arrived at the deck that overlooked the volcano. But it was a cloudy day, and all we saw were the clouds below. The clouds covered the volcanic crater with mists. We could not see the crater. It was hid from my eyes. But we were told by trustworthy people that the crater was there. There was evidence all around me that the crater was there, even if we could not see it with our own eyes that morning. My not being able to see the crater did not mean that it did not exist.


Isn’t this how we experience Christ? Sometimes, Christ seems hidden from us. When that happens, we keep trusting in him. We keep looking for his handprints and for his footprints. Even when we don’t see Christ, we see signs of his presence all around us. We believe Christ rose from the dead in the same way we believe that the sun rises every morning, even when we don’t see the sun because of clouds. Whenever Christ seems hidden, we watch and wait. We watch for his appearing, “more than the night watch waits for morning; yes, more than the night watch waits for morning” (Psalm 130:6).

Redeeming the Times

Living into our Governor’s stay at home order has not been easy. We all are suffering, even if we are suffering at different levels. I find myself feeling restless and troubled, wishing I could go about and connect with others. I am experiencing grief and the anxiety that comes with uncertainty.


I feel as though I am under house arrest. So I find comfort in the Apostle Paul who spent time during his ministry under house arrest and in prison. While in prison, Paul wrote some of his letters, including his Letter to the Colossians. In Colossians 4:1-3, Paul writes, “Keep on praying and guard your prayers with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray for us also. Pray that God would open a door for the word so we can preach the mystery of Christ—which is why I’m in chains. Pray that I might be able to make it as clear as I ought to when I preach.” Even while confined in prison, Paul sees opportunities to communicate the Gospel. Paul sees opportunities to win others to Christ. Let this be our prayer, too.


In another one of his prison letters, in Ephesians 5:15-16, Paul writes, “So be careful to live your life wisely, not foolishly. Take advantage of every opportunity because these are evil times.” I love how the King James Version translates the words “take advantage of every opportunity” as “redeeming the time.” Are we redeeming the time during these troubling days of home confinement? Are we being a good steward of these different kinds of days? During this time of social distancing, it is as though we are practicing an extended Sabbath. We have suspended our normal rhythms and habits of life. So what is the best way for us to use this new time?


That is a great question I invite you to explore.


As you explore this question, be compassionate to yourself and to others. We are all going through grief. During times of grief, even trauma, it may be hard to focus. We may be frustrated, especially when we feel helpless and disconnected from our normal routines and relationships. We want to do something, but we often don’t know what to do. How can we redeem the time while not condemning ourselves and others?


Words written by Sister Joyce Rupp in her book Praying Our Goodbyes has helped me during this pandemic. Rupp writes about how Jesus in John’s Gospel refutes the idea that a man born blind was born this way because of his sins or the sins of his parents. She also notes how in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus refutes the idea that a group of people whom Pilate slaughtered as well a group people killed by a collapsing tower were worse sinners than others. Rupp writes, “In each of these circumstances Jesus goes on to point out the necessity of repenting of one’s sinfulness and suggests that instances such as these can be invitations for a change of heart or for inner conversion. In doing this, he implies that suffering can be an opportunity for us to reflect on our life, the kind of persons we are, how we relate to others, what we value, but Jesus flatly refuses to uphold the traditional theory that suffering is sent as a punishment for one’s sins.” What a way to redeem the time, by reflecting on the kinds of questions that Rupp lifts up!


These are troubling days. Our leaders are doing their best trying to figure out how to respond in ways that do the least harm. And we are all figuring out how to live into this new reality. We may feel as though we are under house arrest, but God still gives us the opportunities. God is giving us the opportunity to redeem this time.

Information Overload

April 1, 2020

At times during this Covid-19 pandemic, I have felt overwhelmed with information. Medical experts share information on how this virus spreads. Church experts share information on how pastors are to respond to social distancing. Counselors share information on how families are to get along while being cooped up together. Business consultants share information on how folks can work at home. It is hard to turn on the TV or open up email without being flooded with lots of information.


I am grateful for all who are sharing their knowledge and opinions, but I am reminded that we are not saved by information. In his book A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, Edwin Friedman criticizes a fallacy in our culture that says that if we just collect enough data and if we consult the rights experts, then we can solve all our problems; we can then be saved. But sometimes, we will never have adequate information. Sometimes, experts will be wrong. Sometimes, the mystery of life can’t be reduced to something we can understand.


The Christian faith proclaims that we are not saved by information. We are saved by a relationship with the living God who comes to us in Jesus Christ. The early church struggled against a false teaching called Gnosticism. Gnosticism says that people are saved by getting the right information about God. But this is wrong! True Christianity says we are saved by grace through faith. We are saved as a gift from God who loves us, claims us, and redeems us through Jesus Christ. Our main goal is not to get more information in our heads. Our main goal is to connect our hearts to Jesus. We are saved not because we have figured everything out about God. We are saved because God chooses to rescue us.


Of course, information has its place. God has given us brains to learn. Acquiring proper information helps us live wise and fruitful lives. God wants us to know the right things. But, it is also okay at times to turn off sources of information. It is okay to turn off the TV, disconnect from social media, and put brackets around the advice of so-called experts. It is okay to sit in quiet and trust in God. In John 15:4, Jesus says, “Abide in me as I abide in you,” because it is about maintaining a relationship more than it is about getting information.


What my heart longs for more than information is community. I miss connecting and worshipping with you all in person. I grieve this practice of social distancing. So let’s work together to maintain our connection and to build our relationships with one another, because it is not information that will save us. It’s God’s grace that comes to us through each other.

Overcoming Catastrophe

March 23, 2020

As a response to Covid-19 virus, I began reading Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love. Julian was a medieval mystic, living from 1342-1416 in England during a bubonic plague pandemic. Julian herself became sick almost to the point of death, and during her illness, she had a profound series of visions of Christ’s suffering and love.


One vision was of her soul being a fine city with Christ in the middle of the city. Christ tells her, “You will not be overcome.” Julian reflects on his words and then adds, “You will not be overcome, were said very insistently and strongly, for certainty and strength against every tribulation which may come. He did not say: You will not be assailed, you will not be belaboured, you will not be disquieted, but he said: You will not be overcome.”


“You will not be overcome” echoes scripture. Jesus said in John 16:30, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart;I have overcome the world.”


What a word of hope! That we will overcome means that we won’t be defeated. It means that the last word given to us will always be God’s word of life. We live with hope. We have hope even during this time of uncertainty that comes with the Covid-19 pandemic.


Yesterday, I listened to Krista Tippett interview the writer Rebecca Solnit on the On Being podcast. Solnit said, “People in [our] culture love certainty so much. And they seem to love certainty more than hope.” Even in Bible days, the disciples wanted certainty. They asked Jesus questions, and often, Jesus didn’t answer their questions in the ways that they wanted. For example, the disciples once asked Jesus, “Tell us, when will these things happen? What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” And Jesus answered, “Nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the heavenly angels and not the Son. Only the Father knows.” It is as though Jesus is more concerned with giving us hope than with giving us certainty. Hope is a component of faith, and faith means we live with trust, not certitude. We trust that God will act in God’s good time to make all things well. I can’t give you certitude, but I can point the reason to have hope: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Christ will prove faithful to us, and even now, Christ says, “You will not be overcome.”


The proper posture for hope is to “watch and wait.” “Stay awake,” Jesus says, “for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” Watching and waiting is not a passive activity. We watch and wait by praying. We watch and wait while doing simple acts of grace and compassion, such as calling on our neighbors (especially the elderly and those who are self-isolating) to make sure they are okay and to let them know that we love them. But we don’t do any activity out of a frantic worry. We don’t rush into anything out of a sense of fear. We remain calm, trusting in the faithfulness of Christ, who tells us, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart;I have overcome the world.”

Season of Lent


March 17, 2020

Dear Friends,


We are still in the season of Lent. We began Lent on Ash Wednesday, just four weeks ago. At our Ash Wednesday service, we talked about the prophet Joel’s defining moment. The people of Israel had been hit by a plague of locusts. They were an agriculture based society, and their farms and fields had been stripped bare by swarming locusts. As you can imagine, this was a national catastrophe. And the prophet Joel responded to this time of chaos by calling the people of Israel to repent. That is, the people of Israel were called to change their hearts and lives, to turn from wrong ways of living and embrace God’s way of living.


Now, let me be clear. Joel did not say that the Israelites caused the plague of locusts. Sometimes natural disasters happen that are nobody’s fault, and sometimes, even the best people have a hard time figuring out what to do when disasters happen. Yet, when they faced this disaster of the locust, the prophet Joel called the people of Israel to repent. When the prophet Joel and the Israelites faced a defining moment, they chose to turn to God and to recommit themselves to God. In the face of disaster, they were not without choice. And they chose to humble themselves before God and to seek God’s will and follow God’s teachings.


This encourages me, even as we as a nation and church discern how we are to respond to the Covid-19 virus. We are people who still have a choice. We can choose to turn to God. We can choose to trust in God. We can choose to recommit our lives to God. This is a defining moment for us.


This past Sunday, our president called for a National Day of Prayer. We are to pray for God’s protection and strength for ourselves and for our country. But prayer is more than just asking God for help. Prayer also involves our repentance, our acknowledging to God where we have fallen short of being the people we are meant to be. It also involves our asking God for forgiveness and asking God for grace to live more faithfully.


We are still in Lent, and in a way, our whole nation is now observing Lent. We are being called to give things up and to make sacrifices. In the past, God proved faithful to the people of Israel, and God will continue prove faithful to us in the future. Now, we are given a time to reflect on our priorities and refocus on God.


Our goal as a church is to continue to provide you with resources to help you connect with God. Today, I ask you, “How is God calling you to refocus on God through your prayers? How is God calling you to change your priorities?


The ashes we placed on our foreheads at the beginning of Lent were to remind us of our mortality. The news of the Corona virus also reminds us of our mortality. The awareness of our mortality is nothing new. It is a part of being human. Genesis 3:19 says that we are from dust and from dust we shall return. The church throughout its history had to deal with plagues and illness, and throughout its history, the church used these times to step forward in ministry with the sick and the vulnerable.


We still hope, because death is never God’s last word to us, because “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us and will give life to our mortal bodies also even after we die” (Romans 8:11). One of our affirmations of faith is “Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restored our life. Christ will come again in glory.” Even in the face of death, we remain Easter people, people who are confident in God’s power to give life.


So even as we struggle with this pandemic, we are still heading towards Easter, the wonderful celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection and the celebration that God gives life. Especially now, during this Lent—during this time of uncertainty—we are still called to affirm the power of Christ’s resurrection and the power of God to give life.


So how can we share that life with others, even now? Even when we can’t see them in person? Perhaps there is a neighbor, a friend that you can reach out to with a phone call to share hope and life. Perhaps, if you are young and able, you can run errands at the supermarket for someone who has to self-quarantine. We don’t yet know what will happen in the next few weeks. We know that we are still in Lent. We know we are in a season when we give up things, and we know we are in a season of repentance. And best of all, we know the promise of Psalm 34:17, “When the righteous cry out, the Lord listens: he delivers them from all their troubles.”


So even though won’t be having onsite worship here at Trinity through the end of March, we will still be able to worship through online communication and through other resources that we will provide for you. We will keep you informed of our plans.


Keep checking our Facebook page and our emails to find out what will happen. I will post weekly messages on our website under “Pastor’s Blog.” Keep remembering what Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27).


In Christ, Scott