What motivates you? If you’re answer is, “That depends,” I think that’s a fair response. There are times when competition pushes us to try hard, sacrifice more, dig deeper and there are times when too much competition motivates us to quit. There are times when proving someone wrong is a driving force (“Don’t tell me ‘I can’t’”) and times when we’re defeated by their negativity (“He’s right. I can’t.”).
We’re thinking of military veterans these days. We’re remembering the end of World War I. No soldier carried every single fallen soldier off the battlefield, but plenty of soldiers carried one or two. Only Jesus can carry the weight of the world, but his people can carry the weight of a child or a few of God’s children. Be refreshed by his Spirit and by the invitation to do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.
Florence. Pittsburgh. Tallahassee. Thousand Oaks. And those are just the cities I can recall from the past month. Devastatingly, Thousand Oaks was the 307th mass shooting of 2018 and it occurred on the 311th day of the year. Each city will have a painful scar that comes from such events. Each city, as Florence has experienced, will also have the grace of coming together and holding one another up through tragedy.
So begins Psalm 84 and so we heard in the sanctuary yesterday as the choir offered a beautiful rendition of the Brahms setting. Sitting in a lovely space dedicated to worship, hearing those notes, knowing the saints we were preparing to remember, I was moved.
Yesterday was All Saints Day. Sunday is All Saints Sunday. Reminiscent of Holy Saturday (the day between Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday and his victory over the grave on Easter), today we’re in between.
Of course, we’re always in between, especially those in the midst of grief. We’re in between the joys and difficulties of lives shared, the sadness of lives ended, and the hope of the life to come.
It takes a vital church to have a day like we had yesterday. Any morning that leaves you reflecting on how bright the future is because of how bright the present is, including how impressive are our children, is a good morning. Any evening that has children telling parents, “That was fun” and asking “Can we do that again next year?” and adults have side conversations about “When we do this next time…” is a good evening for the church.
This Sunday begins a three-week series on Stewardship. This is a time of the year when added emphasis is given to stewardship. I hesitate to call it “Stewardship Season” in case that implies other seasons when stewardship is not a focal point. Can you imagine if we said it’s “Discipleship Season” and meant that the rest of the year we aren’t interested in discipleship? Every day, disciples are called to be stewards – caretakers of that which God has shared with us.
As promised in yesterday’s sermon, you can read my 2015 sermon that focused on divorce by clicking here. Yesterday we heard a sermon on most of the same verses, but the focus was more on the joining than the dividing. It’s not that all concern about divorce ended in 2015, but that Jesus seems to address the concern about divorce by raising the seriousness with which he takes the joining. Both are serious, of course. I’ve never discussed marriage with anyone who divorced casually. No, everyone I’ve talked with who has divorced has acknowledged the painful toll that it took on everyone involved.
I marveled at the large crowd at yesterday’s prayer service at the County Building. That the service was planned at 2 p.m. yesterday, announced after 2:30 and by 5:30 there was a strong crowd of people ready to stand together and pray is the result of both people wanting an outlet for our heavy hearts and of the growing interconnectedness facilitated by Helping Florence Flourish. People rose above what often puts us into factions and united around a common purpose: a prayerful response to an awful community tragedy.
As we heard in yesterday’s gospel reading (Mark 9:38-50), Jesus challenges his disciples about their resistance to someone outside their group doing good in his name, warned them about putting a hurdle between a child and him, told them to cut off their hands and feet and tear out their eyes if those cause them to stumble, and cautioned that not practicing self-discipline can lead to an unquenchable fire. He concluded, for them “be at peace with one another.” The transition is startling.
In the epistle lesson for this Sunday (James 5:13-20), James asks a question that is never without an affirmative response. “Are any among you sick?,” he asks. Tell me a single day, a single hour when there is no one among us who is sick. This week alone our congregation remembered the lives of three of our church family, all of whom died after a sickness. Family of our church family have died. We have had several people experience hospitalizations for their physical needs. We know of too many people with on-going sicknesses. Those that come to mind are the ones dealing with physical sickness, unless you are caring for or experiencing mental illness, then the ongoing challenges of that kind of sickness aren’t lost on you. There are spiritual sicknesses, too. Yes, James, there are people among us who are sick.
Rev. Cattenhead’s sermon yesterday invited us to be friends of God. My sermon reflected on Jesus’ frequent call to humility. I think the two concepts dovetail nicely.
Jesus returned to the subject of humility because the disciples were arguing over who was the greatest (Mark 9:30-37). It tells us something about humanity that people who had spent time learning from and watching Jesus continued to be influenced by worldly rankings within their band of brothers.
What a difference a week makes. I didn’t have to write this Words from Will early because there is no threat to our church or home right now. Skies are blue, wind is calm, even the rising waters won’t directly impact most of our homes. They are impacting our lives, however. Our hearts ache for the lives lost and disrupted because of the flooding. Our spirits are encouraged by the courageous and generous service others provide.
I trust you’re doing okay today. Florence, for the most part, was spared devastation. If you need some assistance, however, please let us know. If you don’t, you know others do. The worst of the flooding is yet to come. Continue to pray, but also consider giving financially. Maybe a good way to look at it is the think about the money you might have spent evacuating this storm, but didn’t have to. Could you give a portion of that to assist those who will be dealing with the storm’s aftermath for some time? If you want to give through Central, note the gift is for UMCOR and we’ll contribute the money to their efforts to help. They have already awarded our Annual Conference a $10,000 emergency grant to get relief support in motion.
The Words from Will are usually written the day of or the day before they are published. The exceptions to that are when I’m away for a period of time or when the weather threatens to make publishing them difficult. I want you to know that in case this email comes out in the aftermath of a destructive Hurricane Frances. As I write this on Tuesday, I have no idea if Friday will be beautiful with everyone enjoying electricity and the start of a nice weekend or a mess with trees down and flooded areas and power outages.
The healing stories in yesterday’s gospel reading (Mark 7:24-37) demonstrate both the abundant mercy of Jesus and of others who care. In both stories, it was other people who brought the needs of the afflicted to Jesus. As it turns out, in Mark’s gospel there are two healings that occur as the result of Jesus initiating contact with the afflicted, four that happen after the afflicted persons ask Jesus for help, and seven that occur because others brought the need before Jesus on behalf of someone else.
There is a difference between being happy (as in joyful) and being satisfied. I’m satisfied when I’ve worked in the yard and it looks good after my efforts. I’m happy when a hummingbird appears seemingly out of nowhere and enjoys the nectar in my yard. I’m satisfied when my team wins. I’m happy when my child or a child I’ve worked with takes what she’s been learning and uses it well in the right moment, a combination of effort and grace. I’m satisfied when I have enough and am capable enough. I’m happy when I realize the grace and salvation that mean I don’t have to be it all or do it all.