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Sermon transcript for September 28, 2014

This Generous Gift
2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Belmont UMC—September 28, 2014
Ken Edwards, preaching

By now you know that our theme for this years giving campaign is Joy in Giving. Thanks to Madison Henry for her story and witness of finding joy in giving this morning. I want to encourage all of us to share stories of those times when we have experience deep gladness through giving, through service, through acts of kindness. If you are chairing a committee during this month or in a small group gathering, you might want to use that as a centering moment, inviting others to share their stories. Or you can email me a memory. I’d love to read it.

As I was making notes for this sermon I recalled a warm, sunny Saturday when a group of people from the church I was serving were working on a Habitat House. I was outside on a step ladder painting trim, some folks were inside installing cabinets, and a young couple was under the house putting insulation in the crawl space. I had the better job. The young man stuck his head out of the crawl space and looked at me. He was covered in dirt and perspiration. He said, “I’ve never been more dirty, or more tired or more happy.” There was a profound sense of joy in knowing that we were making a difference in someone’s life.  There is great deep gladness in knowing that your gifts make a difference.

Ms. Gladys lived in a small white framed house across the street from the church. She would come over to the church one day a week and make the sanctuary look beautiful. We had Bibles and two kinds of hymnals in the pew racks and she would arrange every rack so it looked uniform from the back of the room. She would ask me to come out and look when she was finished and she would smile and make a broad sweeping gesture with her hand, and asked, “How does it look?”  She was a kind and uncomplicated person who took great joy in simple things.

And she loved giving money to the church. She didn’t have a lot and sometimes she seemed to exemplify that story of Jesus watching people bring their gifts to the temple. There were lots of people bringing large sums of money, but Jesus pointed out the widow who put it a small sum because her gift was all she had.

One Sunday Ms. Gladys brought me a small paper bag and said, “I brought you a little something.” I assumed it was something she had baked because she was always doing that, so it put it on top of my filing cabinet and out of the sight of my small children. I knew if they found it there would nothing left to share when church was over. After worship I opened the bag and found several rolls of paper towels. Inside each roll was a $100 bill. There was a note, “I’ve been saving this for the capital fund.”

On Monday morning I went to her house and I thanked her for the generous gift. We sat her kitchen table and drank coffee and I finally asked her, “Do you mind if I asked how you managed to save so much money?”

She said, “Well I decided to wait another year to have my house painted. The church needs the money more than I do.”  Her house needed to be painted. I walked around her house that day and looked it over.

On Sunday I was teaching the young adult Sunday School Class and I said to these fine young folks, “How would you like to paint a house?” They loved Ms. Gladys and so I knew they would do it. They were so enthusiastic. Some volunteered to buy the paint. Some, who confessed to being lousy painters, offered to prepare a lunch.

When I told Ms. Gladys about our plan it was obvious she was more comfortable giving than receiving, but I assured her that this class was thrilled with the opportunity to something back. The next Saturday we gathered at Ms. Gladys’ house and we painted everything. She baked a big cake for us and we set up tables under a shade tree and shared a meal together. There was much laughter and joy all around.  

Where were you when you experienced joy in giving? How do you experience this kind of joy through giving to and through the church?

The scripture lesson from Second Corinthians and Paul is encouraging the church in Corinth to give to the struggling Christians in Jerusalem. I’m not sure all of his fundraising methods are effective, but he reminds the church that “God loves a cheerful giver.” I suspect that most of us know that but Paul felt a need to remind the Corinthians. We find joy in giving, in serving, in all that we can do to make a difference in the world around us.

I’ve often said that I have regretted some of the purchases I’ve made over the years. There have been instances of buyers’ remorse. And some of those purchases have found their way into garage sales and donations to Goodwill. But I can recall ever regretting a gift shared. There’s been no givers’ remorse.

The giving campaign supports the ministries of our church over the next year. Our Finance Committee will be projecting a budget based on our generosity and the more we give the more the church can accomplish for God’s purposes in the world. People are not clamoring to serve on the Finance Committee, but the work they do enables ministry to happen and John Pearce, our Chairperson, and others on the committee foster that spirit.
Believe or not, those meetings can be very spiritual and positive as we consider ways to give birth to new possibilities.

I have to confess that I spent 8 years as the president of our Conference’s Council on Finance and Administration. When elected to that position I told the Council that I wasn’t sure I owned a calculator and I didn’t balance my own checkbook, but I would bring an emphasis on ministry to the Council. They didn’t impeach me but they let me lead in that spirit.

The first year we met for the budgeting process we handed out notebooks filled with budget requests—requests representing all the ministries of the Tennessee Conference. I said, “The requests in this book represent a lot of dollars and over the next two days we will look at a lot of numbers and we will calculate percentages and we have detailed spreadsheets to consider, but I want you to begin today by reflecting on things that you’ve experienced through the Conference or through the church that you can’t put a price tag on.”

There was a time of silence. Then one Council member shared about the baby her family had adopted from Miriam’s Promise. Another said he was fearful and uncertain when he went to college but he found a nurturing environment at the Wesley Foundation on his college campus. Another said he gave his life to Christ at a Conference camp. Each had something to share.

I asked, “What did those experiences cost you?”

They agreed, “That’s the wrong question. You can’t put a price tag on a life changing experience.”

James Hudnut-Beumler, former dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School has written extensively on fundraising. In one of his books he suggests that we often ask the wrong question in churches. We asked, “How much will that cost?” He suggests asking, “What is it worth to you?” What is this church worth to you? I think that question leads directly to the joy we find in giving.

It kind of reminds me of those American Express Commercials. “Disney Vacation--$3,500. Time spent with family—priceless.”

Someone could calculate how much we paid for the paint for Ms. Gladys’ house but the experience was worth far more than we could imagine.

We knew how much it cost to build that Habitat House but watching the keys being handed over to the new owner was priceless.

Our youngest son was in the Open Door Singers and the Youth Handbell Choir here at Belmont. Gayle Sullivan could tell us how much the sheet music cost or how much the music ministry budget was, but no one could put a price tag on his experience. He told us that he did not want in choir when we arrived here at Belmont over 7 years ago and that December he said, “Dad, you’re going to love this piece we are singing in Feast of Lights—it’s so awesome.”

I know what it cost to send him to South Africa and Swaziland for a Volunteer in Mission event in 2009. Those two weeks were life changing for him. Every essay he wrote for college entrance exams was about how those two weeks changed him. We cannot put a price on that life changing experience—it was worth far more than we could imagine.  

So over the next few weeks let’s reflect on what the church is worth to you. Because that is where we connect to the joy in giving. What is your story?


Sermon transcript for September 21, 2014

The Problem with God
Matthew 20:1-16
Belmont UMC—September 21, 2014
Ken Edwards, preaching

Let me begin today with a parable from my imagination. When I was a teenager I often worked for Mr. Ellis who managed my Uncle’s farm. Mr. Ellis was a small man, who always wore overalls and his face sported stubble of beard. He was rather quiet and usually had a wad of chewing tobacco in his mouth. Working with him meant long quiet days of hard labor. He had called me in the heat of late summer and asked me to help pick up hay. I was 15 years old and he was paying $10 for the 6 days and for me at that time it seemed like a lot of money.

Early on Monday morning my Granddad drove me to farm. The mowers and bailers had been there. No one else showed up to help so Mr. Ellis and I worked all day. I would hoist the bales of hay up to Mr. Ellis on the wagon and he would stack them. It’s hard work and by the end of the day my hands were blistered and my neck was sunburned. That night I dropped in bed was quickly asleep.

The next day, couple of other people showed up, poor folks in old Chevy that clanged and smoked when they pulled into the farmyard.  They were the kind of simple, country folks I grew up with—they worked hard and kept to themselves.

Two days later a immigrant family came by; the man and woman helped while one older child kept an eye on a toddler.

Another man who was somehow related to Mr. Ellis showed up on Friday. We were close to being finished, closer to payday, closer to my $60.  We always ended work at noon on Saturday—famers went to town on Saturdays. About 11 AM that day a couple of guys showed up to work—too late. They worked the hour that was left anyway.

At noon we quit work. Mr. Ellis went in his house and came out on the porch with money. The people lined up. The guy who came on Friday, the new arrivals, and the immigrant family were in front of me, and I heard each exclaim, “Wow, $60, thanks.” I was excited. I must be getting a bonus. But then came my turn and Mr. Ellis counted out 6, ten dollar bills. “What’s this?”  

“This is what we agreed on.”

“But those other people!”

“Do you begrudge my generosity? Those other people probably need the money more than you, boy.”

“It’s unfair!” (angry tears filled my eyes). I left with granddad and I did not speak on way home. At home I slammed the door of my room and threw the money on the floor. I did not go into town with friends. I pouted and sulked.” So this is just a parable, but it is a way of putting my self (ourselves) right into the story. How do we feel?

This sounds like Jesus’ parable about vineyard workers. Some worked 12 houis, some 9, some 6, some 3, and some 1 hour. All same wage—20 cents. The ones who worked all day grumbled and complained.  The vineyard owner said, “Don’t I have a right to do what I want with what belongs to me?

Jesus taught in parables. Barbara Brown Taylor says that some parables are like cod liver oil. We suspect they are good for us, but they are still hard to swallow.

In this story we have a problem with God. We are bothered by God’s generosity, God’s unwillingness to play by our rules, God’s failure to follow the link between work done and rewards given. Why, it’s the American way!!

Jonah had a similar problem with God. He fled from God because God wanted him to go to preach to Ninevites. Ninevah was the capital of Assyria, whose armies had destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Jonah ran because he had a sense that God would save the Assyrians if they repented. “That’s why I fled to Tarshish; for I knew that you were a gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love.” Jonah grumbled about the generosity of God.

The older brother in Luke’s parable of the Prodigal Son had a problem with his father. His younger brother had taken his inheritance and squandered it on reckless living, then he came home, to be greeted by an unreasonably generous father. He gave him a new robe, sandals, a ring, and he killed the fatted calf to throw a homecoming party for the younger son. The older brother came in from working in fields and asked, “What’s all the revelry?”  He was so angry he would not even go in the house. He said, “I’ve been here working all these years and you never even gave me a goat that I might have a party with my friends.” That’s unfair. I deserve (I’ve earned) more.

Why is God so unfair, so generous with latecomers and sinners? The first people to hear this parable had known Jesus or had been followers of the Way from beginning, and these recent converts, mostly Gentiles, some former pagans, had come along to claim their place in the church.

The context of this parable is this: Peter had said to Jesus,  “We’ve left home and livelihoods to follow you. What will we receive for our efforts?” This was followed by the Mother of James and John who asked that her sons be seated at the right and left of Jesus. Jesus offered Peter a place in his coming kingdom (the same offer he made to a thief hanging on the cross next to him—a definite latecomer), and then he told this parable. Is Jesus saying to the disciples and to us, “You will be rewarded, and so will everyone who follows.”

We are here because of the extravagant grace of God. God’s grace is extended to all of us, whether we’ve been here for 30 years or 30 minutes. While some of us might think it only fair to create a special place for latecomers, that we should be rewarded for our years of service, there should be some hierarchy or points system in the kingdom. God chooses to be equally generous to all.

The economy of God’s grace is not the same as our economy. God is extravagant with grace. Everyone is the recipient of God’s unreasonable generosity. This is not based on a trickle down economy or hierarchical divisions.

This may be a matter of where we are standing in the line or in the order of things.
Those at the front of the line feel favored, entitled. We hurry to get in line and we don’t like to have anyone break in front of us. When I was a child, I went to a day camp where we enjoyed swimming, crafts, games, and the canteen. We’d run to the canteen to get our popsicle snack. We’d run and we would push to be first in line. I liked being at the front. One day our counselor handed out the popsicles from the back of the line and we yelled, “Hey, that’s not fair!” “I’m not trying to be fair; I’m trying to hand out popsicles!”

I stood in line at the Big Box store one day, and the lady in front me turned to me and said, “You are supposed to get in front of me.”

“No, that’s fine, I’m not in a hurry (I felt uncomfortable with her offer of kindness.)

She said, “Look, I’m committed to doing acts of kindness, and you are my first act of kindness today—work with me here.”

As I was leaving, I turned to her and said, “What a great way to begin my day; may God bless you for your kindness.”

In those times of my life, when I’ve been in the back of the line or been the last to show up in the vineyard—meaning I have done nothing to earn or expect the love of God and God has said, “Hey, come up here to the front.”  I don’t gloat, “Hey, look at me.” I feel deep humility and profound gratitude.

The truth is, that is all the time and everyday. We will never earn or deserve the incredible grace of God. It is a gift from God. Like those latecomers, and all of us (including reckless younger brothers and Ninevites), God gifts us with love and grace we will never deserve. God is always saying, “Move to the front of the line.”

Could this parable be about radical hospitality? Was Jesus saying to the disciples, “Go out to the marketplace and invite laborers to join you, and say to them, ‘It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have done, or how late you arrive, God will reward you with more than you could ever earn or deserve. Come and join us as we labor in God’s vineyard.’”

This parable is not about us, but it is about God, who offers us the unreasonable and extravagant gift of love. So we can fold our arms and pout and throw our money on the floor and yell that God is not fair. Or we can throw a party and celebrate in the presence of one who loves all of us extravagantly, generously, even unreasonably.


Sermon transcript for September 14, 2014

Matthew 18:21-35
Belmont UMC—September 14, 2014
Ken Edwards, preaching

It was a bright sunny day in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, when a Federal Building was bombed, killing 168 persons. Among them was Julie Welch. Julie’s father, Bud, was devastated and he was angry. He said, “At first, I wanted Timothy McVeigh not even to have a trial, but just to die. But then I saw that I would only contribute to the circle of violence that helped produce Timothy McVeigh.” And so Bud began a journey toward forgiveness.

It’s hard to imagine forgiving such a horrific act. I recall being in a church service not long after the attacks of September 11, 2001 and hearing a clergy friend offer prayers of forgiveness for the attackers. I knew that this was theologically correct and it was what Jesus would have wanted us to do, but my heart was not there yet.

Bud Welch had friends who encouraged him on his path toward forgiveness. It was process within him that had begun in hatred but ended in forgiveness. He found Timothy McVeigh’s father and visited him. He saw Timothy McVeigh’s graduation photo on the mantel. He looked at the picture and he cried, realizing that here was another father on the verge of losing a child, a father with whom he had a kinship through grief. Sympathy and compassion were evoked in him. At first revenge and payback seemed the normal response but at last forgiveness became possible. (Pulpit Resource, Vol. 42, No. 3, Year A, pp. 47-48)

The text today is about forgiveness and it ends a section in the Gospel of Matthew that focuses on relationships in the community, and through this section we hear a call to be in right relationship with each other and to do all we can to foster the bonds of love.

The disciple, Peter, has been listening to Jesus and he wants Jesus to be a little more specific. So he asks Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive 7 times?” (v. 21)

There ought to be a limit to how many wrongs must be forgiven. Right? And in a world in which we are taught over and over again to get even, to settle the score, Jesus gives us a story about forgiveness. He is telling us today that the church, that Belmont and other churches like us, are to be communities that embrace and model the spiritual practice of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not easy and it is often elusive. I have to confess that it’s easier for me to preach about forgiveness than to actually practice it.

Over the years we have watched what happens when people are unable to forgive another. There was an older man in one our churches who was angry all the time about something that happened, or he perceived it to have happened, several decades earlier. He did not leave the church. He stayed on to allow his angry persona to punish others. Over the years, the church members simply ignored him. Sadly, he had allowed his life to be defined by unforgiveness and it had taken a toll on his physical and emotional health.

When Kathryn and I first married we became a very young parsonage couple, serving two small churches in Montgomery County. We had some interesting neighbors, an eclectic mix of folks who had moved out our way, to the country, for extra land and for peace and quiet.

We enjoyed the neighborhood children and it wasn’t unusual for them to knock on our door for a visit. We especially adored the little girl next door named Gabi. Gabi had befriended the little girl who moved in next to their house. One day they got into a spat over something minor and they each ran home to tell their mothers. Within the hour the children were ready to apologize and get on with the business of playing together. But the mothers had called each other and exchanged some angry words. The little girls were not allowed to play together and the families remained divided the rest of our time there. We encouraged reconciliation but no one was ready. Children are better at forgiveness than adults.

Jesus tells Peter that he is to forgive, not 7 times, but 77 times, meaning, “Peter, quit trying to keep count.” And Jesus answers Peter’s question with a story about a king who wants to settle accounts with his servants. One servant who is brought before him owes an enormous sum, 10,000 talents--equal to about 1.5 billion dollars in today’s money. There is no way the servant can pay this amount so the king forgives or releases the servant from the debt.

But the servant learns little from this generous act of forgiveness. The servant finds one of his fellow servants who owed him a small sum and he threatens him, violently grabbing him by the throat and has him thrown into prison.

From this parable I am reminded that I have learned to forgive by being on the receiving end of forgiveness. I suspect if you have spent time being my friend, my parent, my spouse, my child, my sibling, or my co-worker, you have probably had to forgive me at some point along the way. I fail, I forget, I falter, I change my mind, and I make many mistakes.

I am keenly aware of how many times I’ve been forgiven. I am keenly aware of the gracious gift of God’s forgiveness in my life. If I am able to forgive another person, that forgiveness is deeply rooted in profound gratitude for the forgiveness of God and of others. And I must never take that for granted.

And in a few moments, we will pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Jesus modeled this forgiveness. He offered it unilaterally to almost everyone he encountered. He did not wait for an apology or for pleading and begging. He said, “You are forgiven.” And from the cross he offered the greatest model of forgiveness, forgiving those who would put him to death.

And if I am able to forgive, forgiveness is a gift from God. I may not find the strength in myself to do so, but God can give me strength and set me on the journey toward forgiveness.

Our friend, Bishop Rueben Job, grows weaker these days and he is unable to stand here and address us but his words will continue to teach us and make live more like Christ.

Hear these words Rueben has given us:  “Forgiveness is a life-and-death matter because forgiveness lies at the very heart of Christian belief and practice. To remove forgiveness from our theology and practice is to tear the heart out of any hope of faithful Christian discipleship, and to drive a stake through the heart of Christian community. . . .

Forgiveness is not only a preposterous gift; it is unbelievably difficult and costly. To offer forgiveness to our national enemy today will most likely be branded as unpatriotic and to extend forgiveness to another is often branded as being soft and unrealistic. But the forgiveness Jesus taught is neither soft nor unpatriotic. But it is extremely costly and laden with a mother load of grace for those who practice it.” (When You Pray, pp.189-191)

The parable reminds us that the root meaning of the word “forgive” is a word that means “release” or “let go.” The king released the servant from his debt.  It suggests letting go of something we have held onto for a long time. What is it that we hold so tightly but we need to release? We have all been wounded, abandoned, abused, and betrayed. We all need God’s grace.

I want to invite us to join in a spiritual practice this morning. I invite us to close our eyes, if we will. Clench our fists as tightly as we can. Imagine that in our clinched hands we hold onto something we have refused to let go. What is it? See it. Is it a broken relationship, anger, hatred, a deep woundedness, resentment? Let’s spend a moment being honest about our lives and what we hold so tightly.

Let’s now ask God to help us be on the journey toward forgiveness. Let’s ask God to help us let go of that which we hold so tightly. Slowly begin to open your hands as you pray and visualize releasing what is held in your hand.

This exercise does allow us to instantly experience forgiveness, but it sets us on a journey, a slow journey sometimes, a costly journey sometimes, but one that allows us to experience, in the words of Rueben Job, “the mother load of grace.”


Sermon transcript for August 31, 2014

Get Going    
Heather Harriss
August 31, 2014

Moses was taking care of the flock of sheep for his father in law, Jethro.  Moses led the flock out to the edge of the desert, out to the place they called God’s mountain.

The Lord’s messenger appeared to him in a flame of fire in the middle of a bush.  Moses saw that the bush was in flames, but it didn’t burn up.  Moses said to himself, “My day just got more interesting!”

When God saw that he had Moses’ attention, God called out from the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
Moses responded, “I’m here.”
God said, “Don’t come any closer! Take off your sandals you are standing on Holy Ground.  I am the God of your father and mother, of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob, Leah and Rachel.  Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God.

Then the Lord said, “I’ve seen my people oppressed in Egypt, I’ve heard their cry of injustice, I know about their pain. I’ve come down to rescue them from the Egyptians to take them out of that land and bring them to a good and broad land, a land that’s full of milk and honey.  A place where the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites all live.

“So Get Going.  I’m sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites out of Egypt.”
Moses said to God, “Who am I to go to Pharaoh and to bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
God said, “I will be with you.”
“But” Moses said to God, “When I come to the Israelites and they ask me to tell them the name of the God who has sent me to them, what am I supposed to say?”
God said to Moses, “I am who I am” So say to the Israelites, “I Am has sent me to you.”

God tantalizes Moses with this glimpse of divine presence, giving him a moment of glory shining through the driest and most barren of deserts.  However, by the conclusion Moses has more questions than answers.  He has been given a job that he has no idea how to do, he turns back to his sheep stunned by this very unexpected turn of events.

When I worked as a hospital chaplain the first thing we did when we arrived for our shift was to get report from the chaplain that was leaving.  He told me that during the night a young woman had been brought to the emergency department, she had attempted suicide, but she had survived the night.  The nursing staff thought she would be regaining consciousness this morning and they wanted a chaplain to be with her when she woke up.

Taking a deep breath, I started to her unit, the long brightly lit hallways like walking to the edge of the desert. At the nurses station they still don’t know anything about the young woman, no family has yet been identified.  Stepping into her room the clicking and beeping of the machines is in sharp contrast to her stillness. Tucked into the sheets, she sleeps on.  I put my hand on hers and slow my nervous breathing to match her steady breath in and out. As I stand, I silently pray asking, “What am I going to say? What has happened in her life that led to this?” “Who am I to be standing here?”

Her eyes open and meet mine, a spark of wonder flies between us, with surprise and delight we smile at each other awash with amazement.
A pause.  
“What should I say?”
“What should I do?”
“I’m Heather, I’m one of the chaplains here at the hospital.”
She whispers, “I am…” her throat too sore to finish,

We gaze at each other, my hand in hers, she drifts back to sleep. I leave her room having shared a moment of God’s glory.  In the midst of being inadequate to the task, in the thick of pain and despair, into our hopelessness God speaks and says, “I Am.”

We are having a summer marked by pain and despair.  Wars, border disputes, oppression and retaliation.  Our ears ring with reports from the Ukraine, Russia, Iraq, Syria and ISIS, Palestine and Israel, and more. In our own country we are reeling from the events in Ferguson, Missouri stunned by the depth of racism that continues to exist in our nation. We are overwhelmed, paralyzed by fear, by guilt by having no idea what to do. Like Moses we wonder, “Who am I to go?”
We are saddened by the death of Robin Williams, reminded that the ravages of mental illness are just as debilitating and lethal as those of physical illness. In the face of such overwhelming loss and endless needs, we seek order in the chaos.  We attempt to quantify needs, match resources, narrow the focus and find ourselves at the edge of the desert, where the flame of fire in the middle of a bush reminds us suffering is suffering.
God says to Moses, “I’ve seen my people oppressed in Egypt.  I’ve heard their cry of injustice because of their slave masters.  I know about their pain.” Seeing the injustice, seeing the pain, what does God do?  God says, I’ve come down to rescue them, to take them out of that land and bring them to a good and broad land, a land that’s full of milk and honey, a place where the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hiites and the Jebusites all live.  And how is God going to do this?  He says to Moses, “Get Going.”  

Moses does not want to get going.  We like Moses have unlimited reasons to not get going.  We’re tired, weary, too busy, We’re afraid,  doing just fine, thank you very much.  We’re judgmental, we don’t have an opinion, we’re angry, sad.  too shy, too overbearing, too loud, too timid…it’s pretty easy to keep going with these.  But to each of our protests, God says, “I will be with you.” And Moses says, and we say, “But…”
God says, “I Am.”
Get Going.
If we want a place where the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites the Perizzites the Hittites all live, you can substitute here the groups of people you feel it will be the biggest challenge to live together, it is time to get going.

Recently as a church we went through a very lengthy and involved strategic planning process.  A huge effort was made to get input from as many individuals and ministries as possible to help us discern as a faith community what God is calling us to do now.  As a staff member, I have a confession to make.  I was counting on ONE clear purpose to emerge.  I wanted one initiative towards which we would put all of our collective prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.  I thought this made perfect sense, it is logical, other churches do this to great effect.  I was praying that we were going to get clarity on the one ministry Belmont is called to in this time and place.  

This was not the outcome!  Guess what, the process to discern our strategic plan revealed, not only is Belmont not called to focus on one ministry, we are called to be engaged in many varied and diverse ministries, and we are a congregation that is also called to start new ministries.  In the collective wisdom of this body, our strategic plan has provided us with the map we need to be the church in this time and in this place.
We are amazingly blessed here at Belmont, because you need to look no further than the person beside you to learn a new way to get going.  In our community of faith, we have members who are making a difference in the world, in countries in Africa; Congo and Malawi; in Mexico. In our community through tutoring programs, Project Transformation, the SEE Program, Our ministries of nurture, Homebound Visitors, Care Partners Faith Companions and the Alzheimer’s Dementia Caregivers Support group. Ministries of transportation, of fellowship and hospitality and welcome.  Sitting beside you is someone who advocates for positive change in our local systems and in our global community.  In front of you is a Sunday school teacher, a choir director, a partner in ministry to our youth.  Behind you is a greeter, a collector an usher, a preparer, a storyteller.

In the crackle and hiss of a burning bush God speaks to us and says, “I Am.” In the chaos of revolution when we hear the steady beat for justice, we hear God say, “I Am” In the embrace of another in a time of grief, God sighs, “I Am.”

Like Moses, when we experience the mystery of God’s presence, at the edge of the desert, God tells us to get going, to enter into the fray.  When we worry that we are inadequate to the enormous task before us, God says, “I will be with you.” We are God’s people, rescued from the wilderness, let us have eyes that see flaming bushes, ears that hear, “I Am.” And hearts and minds ready to get going.

May it be so, AMEN



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