About Wil Posey

I'm a husband and newly minted United Methodist pastor.

Annual Conference Update

One of my favorite moments at Annual Conference is the opening of the clergy session, which for us was this past Thursday morning.  That session of our Annual Conference gathering is limited to clergy–ordained as well as provisional elders and deacons, and licensed local pastors.  There’s always some work we do in those hours that pertains specifically to clergy.  It’s not the work part that makes it one of my favorite moments; though, I do believe in the work and think it’s good.  I love standing during the opening hymn and looking around at the faces of all my sisters and brothers, my co-laborers in God’s vineyard.

There’s nearly a thousand of us.  I don’t know anywhere close to everyone, but I know a bunch.  And there are several with whom I’m close friends, and we’ve walked through the ups and downs of life and ministry together.  I love looking out at that sea of faces because I know these are men and women who’ve given their lives in service to God and the church, and my heart swells with pride and gratitude to get to be part of that covenant community.

One of my other favorite moments comes in opening worship, which was yesterday (Friday morning).  That’s when all of us are together–clergy and lay delegates.  We sing an old song Methodists have been singing at Annual Conference for generations: “And Are We Yet Alive.”  It used to be that Methodist clergy were out on horseback in the frontier, riding through rain and snow, often alone, persevering in difficult and sometimes dangerous situations all to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.  So when they gathered together and sang “And Are We Yet Alive” they really meant it!  It was a gift to all be together, some for the first time in the whole year.

When we sing that opening song, I look around again (like I do in the clergy session), and my heart again swells with pride and gratitude.  I remember my place in God’s church and God’s call on my life.  I know that when are together we come from so many different experiences: churches that are anywhere from thriving to barely surviving, and everywhere in between.  The same is true for every person.  And we give thanks to God that we are together, a snapshot of United Methodism in Western North Carolina.  In those moments, I give thanks for First United Methodist Church in Murphy.  And my heart swells with pride and gratitude that I am part of that body and that we are part of this bigger body.

At Annual Conference, we are about the work of The United Methodist Church in Western North Carolina.  Today we’ll continue casting ballots for elections to Jurisdictional Conference, hearing reports, voting on petitions, and listening for how God might be leading us–our conference and our churches–to fresh and invigorating visions of Christ’s mission.  We have lots of work to do–it’s important, and I believe in it.  I’m going to share some links below that you can use if you’d like to follow along and stay up to date on what’s going on at your Annual Conference.  Esther Manchester, your AC Delegate, and I will find ways to share with you what’s taken/taking place at AC once we return.

Sunday, Annual Conference will conclude with closing worship.  I’ll miss being at First Murphy on that morning, though I know you will have a wonderful worship service!  It will be a gift for you to be together, just as you are every Sunday, to look around and see each other’s face.  “Glory and thanks to Jesus give, for his almighty grace!”  (“And Are We Yet Alive” v. 1).

Updates

  • For all things Annual Conference click this link.  You can find summaries of each day’s work, reports, etc.  You can also find a live stream link to watch AC proceedings if you’d like.
  • One of the cool, new things our conference communications team has published this year is a magazine that tells some powerful stories of faith and ministry taking place across the conference.  I encourage you to give it a read here.  It includes a story about Riley Howell, the UNCC student (and United Methodist) who sacrifices his life to save others during the recent shooting at their campus.
  • The Clergy have elected all of our delegates to General Conference 2020 as well as Jurisdictional Conference 2020, and the Laity have elected their full slate of delegates to General Conference 2020 as well.  They still have to elect delegates to JC.  Here is the list of delegates.
  • Some of the petitions we will vote on today are related to the 2019 called Special Session of General Conference and the Judicial Council decision that followed its passing of the “Traditional Plan.”  Follow this link, and you can read about the Judicial Council’s decision to uphold some parts of the “Traditional Plan” while ruling other parts unconstitutional.

 

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Psalm 32 and the Prodigal Son

Every Sunday in worship we read at least three passages of from the Bible–something from the Old Testament, something from the New (other than a gospel), and something from one of the four Gospels.  We also try to incorporate a psalm as often as possible, usually as our Call to Worship.  That’s a lot of Scripture reading!

Maybe you wonder, Why?  Why not just focus on one passage from the Bible?  Keep it simple.  Dig deep.  And how on earth do we come up with these four Bible passages, anyway?  Sometimes they seem connected, and other times we scratch our heads and wonder what gives.

Let me offer a little bit on what that is all about, and also share one example from this week’s set of readings that I hope shows why/how that can be important:

The readings we use each week are given to us (the Church) by the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL or Lectionary).  The Lectionary is a 3-year cycle of scheduled of Scripture readings for every Sunday in the year (and special holy days).  Each Sunday there is a reading from the Old Testament, a Psalm, the New Testament (e.g. from one of Paul’s letters), and one of the four Gospels.  The three years are called Year A, B, and C.  If a church follows this 3-year cycle, by the end you will have heard nearly 75% of the Bible in worship.

The idea of using a Lectionary has been around for a while.  In fact, when Jesus stood up to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah in Luke 4, he was handed Isaiah most likely because a reading from Isaiah was prescribed for that day.  Our RCL came to us in 1994 and was a collaborative work of leaders in Roman Catholic and Protestant churches.  If you want to know more about the Lectionary, follow this link.

We use the Lectionary to guide our readings and worship planning for Sunday mornings.  Others use the Lectionary to guide their personal devotional readings.  One of my professors in seminary suggested that following the Lectionary ensures a “healthy diet of Scripture”.  That is, you don’t just turn to what you know (and miss out on what you don’t) and you get a balanced look at God’s saving work throughout the Bible.  It also helps us see how the Old and New Testaments go together.

Whenever I prepare for a sermon, I consider how the primary passage I’ll be preaching from goes together with the other Lectionary readings.  I think about this as the passage’s “Lectionary context”.  Those connections don’t always make it into the sermon in an explicit way.  Sometimes they come out through allusions or borrowing language from one story to illuminate another.

Sometimes one passage (like the Psalm) is used as a Call to Worship to help set up the story and movement of worship.  The same professor who talked about a “healthy diet of Scripture” also suggested we think about worship as a story–as our way of living in the story of the Bible, and our way of letting God’s words in the Bible live in the story of our lives.  When planning worship, he suggested we think about how someone from that Sunday’s Bible reading might call us to worship if he or she were given the microphone.  Or how might they lead us in prayer?  How would they urge us to respond to God’s word?

rembrandts-return-of-the-prodigal-son.jpg

Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son”

As an example, think about two passages we’ll use this Sunday: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 (the parable of the prodigal son and his brother) and Psalm 32.  Try reading the passage from Luke and then the Psalm.  Go ahead, give it a try.

Can you hear the voice of the younger brother?

Psalm 32:1 “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”  This is a psalm about the joy of forgiveness.  Do you think the younger brother had some thoughts about that?!  Here he comes home after blowing off his father and burning through all of his inheritance.  He practiced his speech all the way home–“I am not worthy,” “treat me like one of your hired hands”.  He expected judgment, but what he got was compassion and a welcome home party!  Do you think he might know a thing or two about the happiness of the whose sin is forgiven?

Psalm 32:3 “While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.”  This is where he’d come from–a place where he had no home, no money, no food, no food, and most clearly no friends.  Out there with the pigs, his body was wasting away and so was his hope.

Psalm 32:5 “Then I acknowledged my sin to you…and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”  Jesus’ parable says the younger brother “came to himself.”  Maybe he wasn’t thinking with words like repentance and contrition, but he’d found rock bottom and he was desperate to get out.  So he went home.  He remembered “the way [he] should go” (Ps. 32:8).

Psalm 32:6, 8 “Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you…I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go.”  Can you imagine how the younger son had some hard won lessons he wanted to share with others?  Maybe you’ve had adults or friends try to guide you in life saying something like, “Don’t make the same mistakes I did.”  The younger son could say that, and he could also say, “But when you do, I hope you come to your senses and know that when you come home to God, you’ll find compassion and forgiveness running down the driveway to meet you.”

This is more than just interesting to me.  It helps me imagine how the story might keep going past Luke 15:32.  It helps me as I think about the “younger brothers” I know, and the “older brothers” too.  Reading the psalm is like sitting with the younger brother himself, not as a character in the story, but as a brother I can know who both warns and encourages me on the journey of faith.  It makes me want to celebrate what God is doing in the lives of others.  How does it move you?

This Sunday we’ll use portions of Psalm 32 as our Call to Worship.  Maybe you’ll hear the voice of the younger son calling you in, saying, “Hey, come join the celebration!”  Maybe this will help you live into God’s story, and God’s story to live in you.

Next Steps after General Conference

Dear First Murphy,

The Called Special Session of The UMC’s General Conference came to a close on Tuesday evening.  The exclusive focus of the Conference was to find a way forward through our denomination’s apparent impasse when it comes to deeply convicted and divergent views on human sexuality.  At the end of the Conference, the body voted 438-384 to pass the Traditional Plan.  The Traditional Plan reaffirms the denomination’s current language around homosexuality–including the prohibitions against same-sex marriage and the ordination of “self-avowed practicing” gay or lesbian pastors, and also statements affirming the sacred worth of all persons, including those of the LGBTQ community.  The Traditional Plan added to our Book of Discipline stronger measures of accountability and punishment for those who would break these guidelines.

Some received the outcome with celebration and relief.  Others are deeply grieved and discouraged.  The vote–and, in truth, the entire General Conference–showed that the people of The United Methodist Church are not of one mind on this matter (and plenty of others).

Portions of the Traditional Plan were ruled unconstitutional (in relation to the UMC’s constitution) by our Judicial Council, so the full implications of the General Conference’s decision are not yet known.  The Judicial Council will take up this matter more fully (and finally) at their next meeting on April 23-25.

Weeks ago, at our congregation’s information session and in a recent Facebook post, I shared that we would have a follow-up meeting to share the outcome of General Conference.  Just today (Wednesday) I learned of two opportunities that I encourage you to participate in, along with a third that was already on our calendar:

  • Friday, March 1 at 2pm Bishop Paul Leeland (our Bishop in Western NC) along with two of our other delegates to GC will deliver a video message to the conference  addressing what happened and what’s next.  I plan to show that video message in First Murphy’s Fellowship Hall.  I invite you to arrive at least 10 minutes early, so we can begin that time in fellowship and prayer.  If you aren’t able to be there in person, the video will be available on our conference website: http://www.wnccumc.net
  • Sunday, March 3 at 2pm Bishop Leeland will lead a conversation along with worship and holy communion at Hendersonville UMC.  This event will be live streamed and I plan to show that live stream also in First Murphy’s Fellowship Hall.  Again if you can arrive at 1:50, we’ll begin with a little fellowship and prayer before it gets underway.  If you aren’t able to attend in person, you can also follow the live stream here: https://www.facebook.com/umcblueridge/
  • Saturday, March 16 from 10am-12pm Bishops McCleskey and Kammerer will be at First Murphy to lead a conversational forum in response to General Conference.

I will also be working with our church leadership to determine a good strategy to keep our congregation informed and involved, more than likely including me leading a session just for our congregation.

So while we still do not know the implications of the work of General Conference, and won’t for at least a little while, there are some things I believe are important, which I want to share with you below:

  • The vote to pass the Traditional Plan was far from a landslide and showed that we are a denomination that is not of one mind when it comes to the matter of human sexuality.  Our global denomination passed the Traditional Plan, while the majority of U.S. delegates (along with the majority of the Council of Bishops and Commission on a Way Forward) favored the One Church Plan.  My observations are that we too, as a congregation, are not of the same mind on this matter (and likely many others).  What do we make of that?
  • Church is sometimes messy and even ugly.  If you’ve read the New Testament, you know that isn’t new for us.  In the thick of disagreements, even when we might have good intentions, people get hurt.  I said in last Sunday’s sermon, the people who have the ability to hurt us the most are often our family.  Some have been hurt badly enough by church that they’ve left or at least keep it at arms length.  So for times and ways the church (and I / we) have hurt others or made them feel unloved, I am sorry.  I believe a life of faith is one that includes ongoing repentance–turning toward God and toward one another in reconciliation.
  • Church is sometimes beautiful and even holy.  In the midst of General Conference there were moments of holiness–in worship, in reconnection with friends, in expressions of humility and love for God and the church.  For all our warts and baggage, the church is still a means of grace in the world.  It is a place of belonging, hope, transformation, and service.
  • Through experiences in the church, I have come to know and respect people who think very differently about human sexuality.  I know people on all points on the spectrum that there are deeply committed followers of Christ who have dedicated their life to the church and are serious students of Scripture who seek to live it out in real ways.  Judgment and contempt toward those who think differently only harms the body.  A better way might be what Bishop Carter (former District Superintendent of our district) calls “convicted humility“–which says, “At our best, we hold deep convictions.  And at our best, we hold them with humility.”
  • To those who are glad for the passing of the Traditional Plan, as your pastor and fellow pilgrim in faith, I want to say I love you.  In some settings, people holding this opinion have been unfairly labeled unloving and narrow-minded.  But that misses the sincerity of heart and studied faith.  I am grateful that you are part of the body of First Murphy and for the witness of your faith.
  • To those who belong to or have a loved one in the LGBTQ community, as your pastor and fellow pilgrim in faith, I want to say I love you.  I understand there can be some real pain and disappointment at this outcome.  I am sorry.  Without question, you are of sacred worth.  Along with all people.  I am grateful that you are part of the body of First Murphy and for the witness of your faith.
  • To the whole church, as your pastor and fellow pilgrim in faith (do you know what’s coming?) I want to say I love you.  I am grateful that you are part of the body of First Murphy and for the witness of your faith.  I’m thankful to be serving a congregation that shows a spirit that rises above and resists the easy temptation to divide into camps.  I hear so often that we’re a family, and we are!  Some may have your pew, but in the living room of life I’ve seen us get up, move around, mingle, serve, celebrate, laugh, and care for one another.  Thanks be to God!
  • While we do not know the implications of the outcome of General Conference, I believe First Murphy will keep being First Murphy.  I said early on when I came to First Murphy that I expect to spend a lot of time just saying, Wow!  And I have, and I still am.  We are a congregation full of life and vitality, worshipping God in spirit and truth, serving our neighbors with selflessness and generosity.  Our mission and who we are stay the same.

So what’s next?  I understand there’s uncertainty in some places about what comes next for The UMC.  That’s sometimes the case when we don’t know everything.  It’s more comfortable when we have a clearly charted plan, and know every turn from here to there.  In moments when it’s hard to know all of what comes next, faith teaches us to take the next right step with Jesus.  This Sunday’s gospel lesson from Luke 9, the transfiguration, shows the next right step is coming down from the mountain, with Jesus,   and ministering to the community.  So what’s next?  One step, with Jesus, in ministry to others.  Then another.  Then another.

I thank God for the privilege of being here in ministry with you, and hope you know you are in my prayers.  Reach out to me any time if you have questions or want to talk.

Peace be with you,

Pastor Wil

A Word about the 2019 Special Session of The UMC General Conference

st louis

Dear First Murphy and Friends,

Today, Saturday, 2/23, marks the beginning of The UMC’s Special Session of General Conference.  I’ve already been seeing how The United Methodist Church is making various headlines, so I figured it was time I sit down and pull together an account of what’s going on.

While online and print news sources will be covering General Conference and may offer valuable perspectives, I want to encourage you follow reporting that comes from The United Methodist Church and those that are at the Conference.  UMC reporting and posts from delegates will include significance and nuance that is easily lost by writers who are not as familiar with The UMC–her theology, organization, and, mostly, people.

Some of what I share here may be familiar to you, and for others it may be new.  And for others, you’re somewhere in between.  With that in mind, I’ve tried to put together a post that you can bounce around in, looking for the bolded heading that speaks to what you’re looking for.  I’ll try to cover: What is General Conference, and why this one; What are the proposals; How can I stay informed; and What’s next.  **Wherever you start, I hope you’ll bookmark some of the links under How can I stay informed.

One thing I want to note here at the beginning: General Conference will begin with a day dedicated to prayer.  From 9am-3:30pm, the 864 delegates and countless other alternate delegates, volunteers, and observers will be praying for 1) this special session of General Conference and 2) increased effectiveness in fulfilling the Church’s mission.  Before you go further, would you pause and join those at General Conference in a few minutes of prayer?  In my own prayers, I’ve also prayed for the delegates representing Western North Carolina’s Annual Conference (to which we belong), as well as their families.  You might even remember Jesus’ prayer for his followers, “That they may be one, as we are one” (John 17:22).

Thank you!

What is General Conference, and why this one?

General Conference is the decision-making body of The United Methodist Church.  It is comprised of representatives (delegates) from every part of our global denomination.  General Conference usually meets every 4 years and does the work of governing the denomination and working to increase our effectiveness in ministry.  After each meeting, there is a new edition of our Book of Discipline, which contains our doctrines, theological heritage, teachings, and ways we order the life of our denomination and local churches.

This 4-day Special Session was called for in 2016 in order to receive and act on proposals of the Commission on a Way Forward.  This Commission is a 32-member group made up of clergy, lay members, and bishops, representing the global and theological diversity of our denomination.  The Commission was formed in order to help the denomination find a way forward through our apparent impasse around differing opinions and theological understandings regarding same-sex weddings and the ordination of gay or lesbian clergy.  You can find a summary and links to their full report here.

Currently the The United Methodist Church prohibits both the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” and the marriage of same-sex couples, and considers the practice of homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.”  In the years since The UMC officially adopted these statements (beginning in 1972), there has been growing tension around the difference in conviction and opinion around these matters.  Some within the denomination have expressed their intention to leave The UMC depending on the outcome of General Conference; others have already left.

This General Conference hopes to resolve this impasse, and chart a path forward that recognizes differing theological understandings while also maintaining as much unity as possible.  To that end, the Commission submitted 3 proposals:

What are the proposals?

Below are very brief summaries of each plan.  You can find a larger overview here, or read the full report and detailed plan here.

The One Church Plan.  This plan removes the restrictive language around homosexuality from the Book of Discipline and allows annual conferences to make decisions about ordination, churches decide whether or not to allow same-sex weddings and their preference for clergy, and pastors choose whom they marry.  There are protections for pastors and churches to follow their consciences and varying theological understandings in these matters.

The Traditional* Plan.  This plan upholds the current position of The UMC and adds further measures of accountability for pastors, churches, and annual conferences who might violate the Book of Discipline on this matter.  It also includes provisions for pastors, churches, and annual conferences to exit the denomination if their conscience and theological understandings do not allow them to follow these guidelines.  (*What is being presented at General Conference is actually a slightly modified plan from that which is in the Commission’s report in order to meet certain requirements of the church’s constitution.)

The Connectional Conference Plan.  This plan creates three “conferences” that are determined by theological understanding around this matter: a traditional, progressive, and unity conference.  Every clergy, local church, and annual conference would choose which conference with which to affiliate.  This plan includes the most constitutional changes and reconfiguration for The UMC.

In addition to these 3 plans submitted by the Commission on a Way Forward, there are many other plans that have been put forward by groups within The UMC which the Conference will be looking at.

How can I stay informed?

Several news outlets have already picked up on what’s going on in The UMC.  Some of these offer valuable perspectives and can help us who are sort of on the inside consider how others see the church.  I find this point particularly sobering.  Plenty of people are turned off by organized religion because they’ve been burned or worn out by rancor and argument.  I get that.  I think lots of our delegates do too.  So much of what I’ve heard and read around this General Conference is the hope that even in disagreement we might give people a glimpse of a church that’s learning to live into a “more excellent way” of love.

So while you’ll likely be able to read about what’s going on in a variety of ways, I encourage you to follow these sources:

  • The United Methodist News  will provide daily updates and articles, as well as archived information on the Commission and this General Conference.
  • The UMC homepage includes lots of information as well as ways you can follow the Conference via livestream.
  • Praying our Way Forward is an initiate designed to cover the conference with prayer, and they offer ways for you to join in.
  • First Murphy’s facebook page where I will share blog posts offering perspectives from delegates and others who are attending General Conference.

What’s next?

We expect the Conference to come to some resolution by its conclusion on 2/26.  While no one can know what that will be, we’ll make sure to communicate outcomes and opportunities to interpret and reflect on what they mean.

On Saturday, March 16, from 10am-12pm, retired Bishops Kammerer and McCleskey will be at Murphy First UMC leading a conversational panel to interpret the outcome of General Conference.

Last thing

Before closing out of this page, I want to ask you to pause again for prayer, not only for General Conference, and for God’s wisdom and heart to be shown there, but for our own openness to God’s wisdom and heart to be shown in us.

You know, the church is no stranger to division and argument.  We’ve been at it for one thing or another since the beginning.  Just read the New Testament; consider it “Exhibit A”.  That’s kind of the way it is with family, though.  We can only hope that we are learning to be the sort of family that bears with one another in love and humility, and that such a witness might give hope to the world.

Thank you for your prayers, and for your prayerful engagement with this season.

How to build a parsonage

I’ve always loved the idea of a “barn raising”.  The whole community gets together and does their part in helping a family build their barn.  Some people heave parts of the building into place.  Other people are cheering on from the sides.  I imagine still others are making sure there is enough food on hand for everyone, and that someone is watching all the kids.

I’ve always loved that idea because I love how it’s such a powerful view of what genuine community looks like.  We’re not exactly raising a barn, but something like that…

Before I ever arrived at Murphy First United Methodist Church, the wheels were well into motion for building a new parsonage.  In the United Methodist world, lots of churches have parsonages where their pastor’s family lives.  Maintaining a parsonage is part of the bigger picture of “itinerancy” (our denomination’s practice of moving pastors around from time to time in order to match the right pastor with the right church for the sake of ministry).

To make this happen, Murphy FUMC formed a Parsonage Committee that studied requirements by our denomination’s Book of Discipline, found a lot and selected a house plan, made arrangements with builders and banks, planned details of the house, and consulted with the District and Annual Conference offices.  They’ve been to countless meetings and signed lots of forms. In short, they’ve done a ton of work, and still are!

It takes all that work and more to build a parsonage.  At the end of the day, the church is building not just a house, but a home, and one that will be lived in by pastor’s families for decades.  There’ll be birthdays and holidays.  Kids will grow up there, and married couples will grow older there.  Special meals and everyday meals shared around the table.  A place for gathering and fellowship, and growing in God’s grace.  What a gift!

This past Sunday (1/6/19), we invited the congregation to visit the under-construction parsonage to write blessings and Bible verses on the still-exposed frame.  The reason for doing this is summed up by one of the Bible verses that was written on the wall: “For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God” (Hebrews 3:4).  This parsonage is built with blocks and lumber, shingles, wiring, and plumbing.  But more than that it’s been built by God.

Through this process, I have been seeing how God builds homes through a community of generosity and love.

Isn’t that the hope for every home?  For your home?  That the structure of your family is framed in generosity, where there’s always enough room and time, and even when there isn’t, you make it so by sacrificing some of your own.  That your home is a place where other people can peer in and say, “Oh, that’s what God’s love looks like–it’s patient and kind, it doesn’t keep a record of wrongs, it’s full of joy.”

And it takes a community.  People freely sharing their lives with one another.  Helping each other.  Sacrificing for one another.  Sharing each other’s joys and burdens.  Playing and laughing together.  And a community that embodies Jesus’ teaching that we love one another.

I’m deeply grateful for the way that this parsonage is being built by the whole church.  And our family is grateful and blessed to be the first one to live in this special home.  I wonder how we can get help from God and build all of our homes in the same way–as a community of generosity and love?

I want to share with you the pictures of the blessings and verses that were written on the walls.  Soon they’ll be covered up by insulation and drywall.  But these kinds of blessings don’t usually stay covered up; they’ll come to life, through the grace of God, for everyone who walks through these doors.  Because God is the builder.

If the writing is too small to read, you can click on one photo and then scroll through the pictures like a slide show.

 

Windows in the World

Yesterday was World Communion Sunday, a day I’ll bet was hardly noticed by most of the world.  Google didn’t make an animated graphic on their homepage, and it lacked the meme-potential and social media appeal of something like National Dog Day.  But for the churches that took notice, I hope it was a powerful experience of celebrating the communion shared by God’s people throughout the world.

In my sermon, I talked some about John 3:16-17 and God’s love for the world.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

I tried to think about how these verses are a window into the heart of God.  When we peer into God’s heart we find 1) that the starting place for God is love, 2) God’s love is for the whole world, and 3) God’s mission is to save the world through Jesus.  None of this is all that surprising when we remember God made the whole world along with everyone and everything in it.  Of course God loves the world!

As much as we often think about John 3:16 as a verse about me and my decision to believe in Jesus–and that’s there, for sure–it’s more-so about God and God’s love for the world.  See I’ve come to believe that whenever we peer into the heart of God, we find another window into the world God loves so much.

I was thinking a lot about windows this past week and weekend.  I’ve learned about a Jewish tradition that says a place of worship should have 12 windows, with at least one of them facing toward Jerusalem.  The tradition favors clear glass over stained, advising that the purpose of the windows is to keep the congregation outwardly focused.  The tradition of windows comes from Daniel praying in his upper chamber, looking out an open window that was facing toward Jerusalem–that is, in the direction of his heart’s longing.

I was thinking about that, along with all the lovely stained glass windows in our sanctuary and the beautiful photographs of the church building.  I shared that with all those windows and photos, this is by far my favorite:

Murphy FUMC 1954

It is my favorite view because it looks out from the church steps into the world and reminds us of the direction of God’s longing and love.

We live in a world full of windows.

A few years back, Lea and I traveled to Chennai, India to visit a group of orphans and vulnerable children our church supported through ZOE.  Lea has powerfully told the story of our trip and what God is doing in India through photography.  One of the of the most inspiring photos she took, and which hangs in my office is this one:

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I remember her taking it as we were leaving one of the group meetings.  This group was meeting in a church, and I can’t help but notice how the window reminds me of a stained glass window, sans the glass panes.  The frame is there, but the rest is open.  The window is filled by these boys.

I am particularly captured by the boy on the left.  I do not remember his name or his story.  I could fill in some details with general information I know about other kids in India who are in ZOE: he is orphaned or maybe has one living parent; no longer attends school because it’s all he can do to keep himself fed; without help he has little to no hope of escaping desperate poverty; he is vulnerable to illness, exploitation, and child slavery.  I wonder about all these things.  I wonder his name and what he is doing now.

It is interesting for me being on the outside.  Usually I’m on the inside of a church looking out of the window.  Now the roles are reversed.  He is on the inside, experiencing profound life-change, and belonging to a family of steadfast love and devotion.  I am on the outside, watching it all unfold.

His eyes and expression seem to be an invitation in, to come and see what God is doing through him.  As if he’s saying, “Watch me” or “Remember me” or “See what God will do.”  On World Communion Sunday, I remember and celebrate all that God is doing through ZOE, how children are discovering a future of hope and abundant life.  It makes me hopeful for these boys.

Stained glass windows are for the purpose of helping tell the story of our faith.  This window, this boy, helps tell the story of our faith.  It is a story about a God who loved the world so much that God didn’t just pine away at the window sill, rather, in Jesus, God climbed out of the window and into the world in order to love the world and bring us all home.  

When we were in India, we met the program directors, Jabez and his wife Ligi.  They are people who’ve learned to follow Jesus’ lead of climbing out of the window and into the world in order to love these kids.  Every Sunday morning, hear a benediction, sing a response, turn and then walk through the doorframe (or is it a window frame?) out into the world.

We live in a world full of windows that are colored by the lives of the people and the world God loves so very much.  World Communion Sunday was about more than people all over the world receiving a piece of bread and dipping it in a cup of grape juice or wine on the same day.  Our communion is about belonging to one another.  It was a celebration of kinship and connectedness.  It was a chance to peer into and through the heart of God, to give thanks for God’s love and God’s mission to bring us all home.

 

Wow! Thank You!

Ann Lamott wrote a book about how our three most essential prayers are Help, Thanks, and Wow.  After being at Murphy FUMC for almost two months now, I kind of think she’s right.

I have had a tremendous amount of fun with our series of Home Gatherings, and I am so grateful for the folks who have been willing to host them.  All said and done, we had 8 Gatherings with 103 people participating.  Wow–that’s wonderful!  Thank you to everyone who hosted and participated!

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The Home Gatherings were simple.  They were a time for me to get to know as many people as possible, and to listen for what God’s been doing in their lives and the life of FUMC.  I always asked the same questions:

  • What is your name?  What brought you to First Murphy?  and What keeps you coming back?
  • Tell a story about when you saw First Murphy at its best.  What was going on?  Who was there?  What was it like?
  • What are you proudest of right now at First Murphy?
  • How has God made a difference in your life through the church?
  • How has God made a difference in the community through the church?
  • What are we already really good at, that God might want us to do even better?

The Gatherings weren’t strategic planning sessions where we devised a 5-point vision for First Murphy for the next three years.  Instead, it was a time for storytelling.  I love a good story.  And everyone has one!  You are living one now.

I was blessed to hear so many stories about what God has done and is doing in your lives and in this congregation.  I have tried to retell some of them in my sermons on Sunday mornings.  There was the story about how a high school student lost everything in a house fire, and by the time one a teacher (who is also a member) called the church, one of our UMW circles was already busy buying clothes and supplies for the student.  Then there was the story about how another student had to complete a descriptive writing assignment on the subject of “Home”, and she brought a photograph of First Murphy.  I loved how one person said that when she was sick, her beside was surrounded by cards from the church, and it was like getting a big hug.

Of course, you told lots of funny stories too!  Stories about sitting in the same pew, about fun times in MYF or Alpha, about the hilarity and hazards of decorating for Christmas.  You know, the sorts of stories a family tells when they’re all gathered around in the living room.

Family.  Home.  That’s how every group described First Murphy–from folks who’ve been here 50 years to those who’ve just recently moved to town.  That’s how the New Testament writers described church too.  They said we are all God’s children, not by birthright or because of our own effort, but because we’ve been adopted by his grace, and made into brothers and sisters with one another.  That’s a beautiful kind of family.

In our Home Gatherings, after celebrating what God has done and is doing, we started to dream about what God will do in you and in this congregation.  This is an exciting time to be at First Murphy!  I know I’m still new, but I’ve learned more than enough to see what a special community this is–rich in gifts, experience, heart, and love.  This church has been blessed by years of wise and faithful pastoral and lay leadership, and I am beyond grateful for their ministry!

It was a gift for me to get to hear your stories, and I want you to hear the some of the stories that you may have missed or haven’t heard before.  So for the next few weeks, I’ll try to echo back to you the wonderful things I’ve heard from this church.  And I’ll invite you to join me in paying attention to and celebrate what God has done and is doing in First Murphy, and to dream about what God will do as together we try to keep up with the Spirit.

 

Therefore Go

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Two weeks ago in a sermon, I asked everyone where they thought Jesus might tend to hang out in Murphy, NC.  We livestream our services and they are broadcast on the radio, so I was a bit nervous that no one would answer back.  We are United Methodists, after all.  Typically we don’t talk in worship unless it’s during the passing of the peace or the words in the bulletin are in bold.  But the list the congregation gave me is long.

People said Jesus might tend to hang out at:

  • the jail
  • Wal-Mart
  • schools
  • First United Methodist Church
  • Chevelle’s and The Daily Grind
  • the park and out in nature
  • Industrial Opportunities Inc.
  • the homeless shelter

And the list went on.

I asked the question because the great commission is for Jesus’ disciples to go.  Of course, it’s important that we invite people to come to worship with us on Sunday.  But the great commission is for us to go.

I shared this line from A River Runs Through It where Paul, one of the main characters, says, “Nobody’s put in a good days fishing unless he’s left a few flies hanging in the trees. You can’t catch fish if you don’t dare go where they are.”  Or another way to think of that: you can’t share the good news of Jesus with people if you don’t dare go where people are.

We often ask the question, “What does God want us to do?”  I think a better question is, “Where does God want us to be?”  And even better than that, “Who does God want us to be with?”

I have a list of places in Murphy where people are, and where Jesus has gone on before us.  Jesus is up to something here, and I want us–First United Methodist Church–to be part of it.  So I/we have this list of places.

When do you want to go?  If you’re already hanging out in these places, I’d love to come with you.

Wil

Coming up Sunday

Hi, First Murphy!

One of the things I love about preaching is that is forces me to pray over, live in, and wrestle with a passage of scripture for a while before standing up on Sunday morning and talking about what God might have to say to us through that passage.  This Sunday I’m preaching from Matthew 28:16-20.  I hope you might spend some time with that story before worship this Sunday, and we can wonder together about what God might have to say to us.

 

During worship and in the bulletin, we’ll talk about some upcoming opportunities for you to sign up for a Home Gathering, where I can get to know you, hear some of your story, and talk about where you see God leading us to do even more for God’s kingdom.  Whether you’ve been here 2 weeks or 20 years, I hope you’ll sign up for one of these Gatherings.

If you can’t be here in person, and want to watch online, you can do so on our church Youtube channel.

See you Sunday!

Peace,

Pastor Wil

See You In Worship

Hi, First Murphy!

I haven’t had a new post here in a few weeks, but wanted to share this quick message with you before worship tomorrow morning:

If you are unable to be with us in worship in person, I hope you’ll join us for worship via our live stream by clicking here.

Also, I hear there’s lunch after worship!

See you tomorrow.

Pastor Wil