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Sermon transcript for February 22, 2015

Now Is the Time
Mark 1:9-15--First Sunday in Lent
Belmont UMC—February 22, 2015
Ken Edwards, preaching

Here we are on the first Sunday of Lent and most of us have had quite a week dealing with ice, snow and cold. Some of us have had some time on our hands to ponder what the Lenten journey means to us. Some of us missed coming on Ash Wednesday for worship and we found guides to use at home and ways to honor that special day that reminds us of our humanity, our frailty and our deep need for God. Some of us are just glad to be able to get out of the house and be here in the fellowship of friends in faith.

This first Sunday of Lent begins with the story of Jesus’ baptism and then being forced into the wilderness by the Spirit. There he is tempted by Satan, he was among wild animals and the angels came to minister to him. As usual, Mark does not give us a lot of details. But Jesus comes out of this 40 day experience to say, “Now is the time! Here comes the kingdom! Change your hearts and lives and trust the good news.”    

“Now is the time!” The announcement is about the coming of the kingdom of God. The announcement is often translated, “The time is fulfilled,” and I recall a seminary professor saying that the word “fulfill” comes from a word that means “to fill up” as in “to fill up with meaning.” What does it mean for us to fill the time of Lent with meaning? How will be mark the time of Lent so it is meaningful?

The wilderness becomes a metaphor for Lent, our 40 days to journey in faith toward Easter. And how shall we choose to experience this time in the wilderness of Lent?

We might think of all spiritual practices as ways of emptying our lives to make space for God. Shane Claiborne wrote in his blog that he heard a priest say something like this, “During Lent we choose to be a stick in the mud or a flute. A stick in the mud is full of itself, but a flute empties itself so it can make beautiful music.”

As I prepared for Lent I began to think about Lent in this way: it is a time of emptying, a time of laying aside, and a time of ceasing.  It is also a time of filling, a time of picking up new things, and a time of embracing newness.

We make space for God in our lives as we engage the spiritual practices of our faith. We might decide to fast one meal a week and the time that we would have spent eating could be used for study, prayer, and meditation. I recall hearing Reverend Pat Barrett saying Lent is a time of becoming vacant for God.

Some of you will decide to give up or lay aside something for Lent. I’ve heard some folks who are giving up colas, chocolates, breads, desserts and even Facebook. Some have said they will give up ice and snow for Lent. It is about laying aside something that is special or something that takes up a big space in our lives but it also about making a space for God to be welcomed in.

Now is the time to change our hearts! Fitness experts tell us that we need to do something new and different to jar our bodies into a new response. I like to walk and run but my body needs something new to awaken it physically so I get on the bike, do some yoga or do strength training. Our spiritual lives need some new, soul jarring practices that awaken us to be fully available and open to what God has for us.

A few years ago I read Marva Dawn’s book, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, because I thought Sabbath keeping would be a soul jarring practice for a person like me, who was raised with a strong work ethic. She reminds us that the word Sabbath literally means “ceasing.” In her words, Sabbath is to cease from work, “but also from the need to accomplish and be productive, from the worry and tension that accompany our modern criterion of efficiency, from our efforts to be in control of our lives as if we were God, from our possessiveness and our enculturation, and finally, from the humdrum and meaninglessness that result when life is pursued without the Lord at the center of it all.” (p. 3)    

Marva Dawn reminds us that Sabbath is not merely ceasing work, but it is embracing. Practicing Sabbath allows us to embrace intentionality, time, values, our calling, peace, wholeness, and the world itself. Taking time away from our compelling schedules allows us to be attentive to the momentary experiences of grace that we might miss otherwise. Ceasing during Lent will make space in our lives for God and in that practice we are enabled to see what God is doing all around us. We might try a little Sabbath keeping to change our hearts.

In the scripture the wilderness is usually an untamed place of struggle. We picture Jacob, at Peniel, wrestling with God and wrestling with the truth about his self. We picture Elijah, who after defeating the prophets of Baal, runs for his life. Ahab and Jezebel have a contract out on his life. He almost gives up but an angel comes to him and feeds him and he journeys for 40 days and 40 nights until he reaches Mt. Horeb, and there he encounters God in the silence. We picture Jesus, in the wilderness among the wild animals, encountering Satan--those voices that entice us to take the easy road and the road to power and self aggrandizement.

Now is the time for the kingdom to come. The kingdom is for everyone. We find ourselves and our church at a crucial time in its history and its life. It is an important time and one in which I believe the Spirit is moving among us. For us at Belmont I encourage us to use the season of Lent as a time for deep prayer and discernment—a time to truly make space in our hearts for God.

One of the gifts Bishop Rueben Job gave the church before his recent death was his contribution to a book, written for the church, Finding Our Way, Love and Law in the United Methodist Church. He sent me several versions of this chapter to me to read as he prayed his way through the writing. The book focuses on the United Methodist Church’s struggle to find unity around the issue of sexual orientation and same-gender relationships.

Rueben’s chapter, “Trust God,” invites the church to find its way through honest prayer--prayer that doesn’t try to tell God what to do, but truly listens. Rueben believed that God wants to do a new thing in the church but we must make space in our hearts for that to happen. As we have found our way over the years to make changes, like ordaining women and overcoming our racism, so may we find our way again. This well loved and respected Bishop believed that Belmont had the potential for leading the way for the rest of the church, and so do I.

This is what he wrote about his beloved church community, Belmont UMC. “This congregation is in many ways like others in the denomination we love and serve. There are similar tensions and questions, but in most cases there is always an honest, robust, gentle, and protracted time of prayer, study, and reflection before any issue is considered ready for decision. Our congregation is extreme in its diversity and equally extreme in its love and welcome for all who gather for worship, study, prayer, reflection, food and community and then are sent out into the world to give themselves for others.” (p. 102)

Rueben used this writing to invite the church to a time of ceasing, but also to a time of honest and humble prayer. He modeled this way for us and during this season of Lent I hear him inviting us to live into it, as well.  

Now is the time for good news! In the wilderness of Lent we do come to terms with some of the truth about ourselves. We see ourselves as God sees us and sometimes this is painful and troubling, because we discover the things of our lives that we need to lay aside in order to continue the journey with God. But there is good news because the most important aspect of our identity is that we are children of God, always loved and always forgiven.

And we do not make this journey alone, but with the God who loves us and meets us everyday and gives us strength. And in the wilderness of this Lenten season we will meet God. Now is the time!


Music Ministry


Music Ministry Mission Statement

The music ministry of Belmont United Methodist Church strives to glorify God through music in all gatherings and presentations.
The music programs at Belmont offer opportunity for:

- Education
- Spiritual Growth
- Fellowship
- Participation in ministry
- Stewardship of gifts and talents
- Outreach

All choirs are voluntary, and everyone is welcome and encouraged to participate, regardless of experience. All participants strive for excellence, dignity, reverence and integrity in all musical endeavors.

For additional information regarding the Belmont Music Ministry, contact: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , Director of Music Ministries
383-0832 ext. 29, or click on these links:

Adult choirs
Youth choirs
Children's choirs

Music News

Upcoming music events

February 15 - Nashville Children’s Choir concert, 3:00 p.m. in the sanctuary

March 1 - Reginald Smith Jr and Deron Johnson in concert, 3:00 p.m. in the sanctuary

April 13 - Lipscomb University choir/orchestra concert, 7:30 p.m. in the sanctuary

April 26 - Sanctuary Choir concert, 3:00 p.m. in the sanctuary

Belmont UMC's Pipe Organ Specs


To view or download the organ specs, click here
(Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)


Sermon transcript for February 15, 2015

On the Mountain
Transfiguration Sunday--Mark 9:2-9
Belmont UMC—February 15, 2015
Ken Edwards, preaching

The Celtic spiritual tradition gives us the concept of thin places—places that give us an opening into the magnificence and wonder of the other. There is a Celtic saying that heaven and earth are only three apart but in the thin places that distance is even smaller. “A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God.”  (“Where Can I Touch the Edge of Heaven,” by Sylvia Maddox,

Rags could not tell me the story of his vision. Every time he tried he became too emotional. His real name was Ragsdale, but everyone had called him Rags since he was a little boy. Rags and his wife, Edna, lived in white framed, neat as a pin, farm house about mile from our parsonage. We loved Rags and Edna and ate dinner with them regularly. They had one son who was away at college and they loved him more than anything on the planet.

Rags could be a little peculiar about things. He believed that the safest place in a thunder storm was his pickup truck and he and Edna would run to the truck at the slightest hint of thunder. I can recall driving by and seeing them huddled together in the cab of the truck.

Rags always kept a harmonica in his front shirt pocket. On Sundays he was apt to get out of his pew and join the pianist in playing a hymn—especially one of the old favorites like “I’ll Fly Away.”  Rags had a heart condition and I would always worry when he played and his face turned beat red and he became a little winded. His heart condition was part of his story.

Rags tried to tell me about his vision for two years but he would break down and cry so hard that Edna worried it would make him sick. “When you’re ready,” I told him.
One day we were sitting on the front porch of the house and he told me about the day of his heart attack and how he’d gone into cardiac arrest in the emergency room. Through buckets of tears he told me about the light that he saw and the river of God and his mother and father waiting for him on the other side. He said it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. While he was having this glorious vision doctors were working to revive him. By the time he finished telling it I had begun to cry with him.

Rags said, “That’s my rags to riches story.” For him this vision was so real that it had changed his life and defined the way he lived. It had given him a certainty and a hope we all long for.

Frederick Buechner describes his own experience as he writes of surprising tears that came to him in a Presbyterian church one day, tears that came after a passionate search to know God and put a face with the mystery that seemed to seek him out. That face was the face of Christ. He writes, “I wanted learn more about those tears and the object of that astonishment. I wanted to know, and be known by, people who knew greatly more about Christ than I did, were greatly closer to him than I was, greatly more aware of what they were about and of what he was about in them.”  (Listening to Your Life, pp. 30-31)

Jesus took three of his disciples up a high mountain to be by themselves, apart from the others. It was not unusual for Jesus to retreat to a quiet place to pray, but on this day something quite remarkable happened. Jesus was changed in front of them and his clothes became extraordinarily white and there appeared with him 2 prominent characters in Hebrew history, Moses and Elijah, persons who had had their own mountain top experiences with God.

The experience was surprising and terrifying for the disciples. Peter says, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make 3 shrines—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” The next sentence is quite human. “He said this because he didn’t know how to respond, for the three of them were terrified.” (verses 5-6; CEB) Peter feels a need to speak, to fill the void, to distract them from their fear, to take control of the situation, to make sense of what has happening, or . . .  How like us to feel a need to control that which we cannot explain!

When I was 18 years old I had an experience of spiritual renewal. I was a college student at the time in the early months of my freshman year. There was a place on the college campus where I would go to get away and be alone. There was one hill on campus and on top of that hill was a deserted old brick house. In front of the house was a huge old oak tree that appeared to have weathered many storms. I’d sit on the steps of the house and read and reflect. One sunny, warm day as I was sitting on the steps, I looked down the hill. The limbs from the tree formed a shadow in the shape of the cross and a wonderful sense of peace and assurance flooded me. It was quite stunning and I sat there for a long time basking in the sense that God was very much with me.

I share this story so that you will pause and remember those times when you were surprised by a sense of God’s presence. Those experiences can be filled with wonder and awe or they can be a bit unsettling as well.

When I shared my experience on the hillside with my friends, they all wanted to know what the experience meant. Was it a sign? What are you supposed to do with the experience? Their questions puzzled me. I had been so caught up in the wonder and awe of the experience it had not occurred to me to look for a reason and try to define the experience in any way. When I look back on that day I’m grateful to have moments when I sense God’s reassuring presence and that alone is good enough for me. I suspect our best response to those moments of surprising grace is one of awe and wonder.

Peter’s words on the mountain remind me of something my seminary history professor said once. He said that most of the great spiritual awakenings began among the laity. The clergy and the theologians always came along later and tried to tidy everything up. We seem to have a need to explain these theophanies, to codify them, to control them, to tone them down. Like Peter we fill the silence and the wonder with our talk, because we find the silence disconcerting. Or maybe we are afraid of where they will call us; maybe we know that the Transfiguration story means that the journey to Lent is near.

I remember a Father’s Day weekend when the three sons went with me to Six Flags in Atlanta. It was our youngest son’s first time at a big amusement park. He had been on small rides at the county fair but he’s never seen a roller coaster like the one we boarded as our first ride that day. As the cars made their slow grinding ascent up the first mountainous hill, he said, “But Dad, it’s so slow.”  I replied, “Just wait.” Again he said, “But Dad, it is slow.” I said, “Wait!” He was frustrated by the ascent. But at the top of the hill, the brakes were released and we felt like we were flying downward. I looked over at the little boy’s face to see the look of joy and fear.

We have been making the slow, but steady ascent up the mountain of the Transfiguration, and we are reluctant because we know on the other side of the mountain is the journey to Lent, a journey that can be one of joy and wonder and maybe a little fear—especially if we allow the Lenten journey to speak to us of a closer walk with God.

The Continental Divide is the great watershed divide where all the waters on the west flow toward the Pacific Ocean and the waters on the east flow toward the Atlantic Ocean. The Mount of Transfiguration is that great divide, after which, the activities of Jesus and the disciples flow toward Jerusalem, the cross, and the resurrection. After today we begin our descent to begin the journey of Lent.

In the Gospel story Peter’s suggestion of building shrines is silenced by a cloud and a clear voice from the cloud. The voice is the same voice we heard at the beginning of Epiphany at the baptism of Jesus. The voice says, “This is my son, my beloved, listen to him!” This mountain top experience is about Jesus, about listening to him, about focusing on who he is and what he is saying to us about God.

Today we spend a little time on the mountain with Jesus. Today we hear a clear voice that bids us to “Listen to him.” On Wednesday night we will gather here to begin our journey through Lent. On Wednesday we will be reminded that we are human, and always will be, and God is God, and always will be. On that journey we will be invited to trust God and God’s leading. On that journey, during a time when many voices will compete for our allegiance and following, we will be invited to listen to Jesus! As we listen, we may find ourselves entering a thin place between heaven and earth and we will be filled with wonder and awe!


Adult choirs

Sanctuary Choir

This is the primary choir for 10:30 a.m. Sunday worship. In addition, they present several musical programs each year and sing for other various church events. No audition is required for membership and rehearsals are every Wednesday 7:15-9:00 p.m year-round. Childcare is provided.

Belmont's Sanctuary Choir has released Song in the Night, a CD collection of worshipful music from various cultures. All selections on the recording have been performed in Belmont worship services. The CDs are $10 each, and you can place your order now by downloading and filling out the order form posted here. Please return your order form to the church office or e-mail in your order to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Bell choirs

Carillon Ringers - A group of intermediate/advanced handbell ringers with music reading abilities. They rehearse on Sunday 5:30-7:00 p.m. August-early May.

Celebration Ringers - A group of beginning/intermediate handbell ringers who rehearse on Thursdays 1:00-2:00 p.m.



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