A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

I'm Thankful for…Sharing Hope!

During this Thanksgiving week, I'm thankful for…Sharing Hope!  Recently, the Family and Children First Council of Fairfield County presented Sharing Hope with a Firefly award for it's work in helping to eliminate local poverty. Sharing Hope began this past Spring. It's mission is to eliminate local poverty through the building of relationships among people of a variety of economic levels.

Training is provided to help people understand the culture of poverty. Dinner meetings are held twice a month which includes large group training and break out sessions. It's one of the few programs where people who live in poverty and people who are have stable financial environments are able to build relationships and learn from each other. Most programs seek to do something for the poor. This is a program that does something with the poor.

Those who are living in poverty have greatly benefited from the program. They have experienced an increase in their monthly incomes and they no longer rely on cash assistance. One of the participants has been able to get a driver's license and another person is making plans to return to school. More people will be participating in 2014.

Our church hosts the meetings at our Crossroads facility and several of our members are involved in the program. Thank you, Lancaster: First United Methodist Church for being an important community partner in helping to eliminate local poverty one family at a time.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sermon (November 24) by Rev Cheryl Foulk - "First Place"

The celebration of Advent and  Christmas, and  Lent and Easter are holy days and seasons in the church that go back for many centuries.
There was a new recognition added to the church calendar in 1925 through the Catholic Church. The last Sunday before Advent was designated as Christ the King Sunday.  This was done in response to governments  who were seen as abusing their power and to life being lived with little thought of God.

 This  day is a world wide recognition that above all leaders and states is the  rule of Christ.  In the twentieth century, monuments were erected  (like this  statue of Christ in Rio de Janeiro) to commemorate  that Christ is indeed over all.  A contemporary song expresses the theme of this Sunday:

 Above all powers, above all kings
Above all nature and all created things
Above all wisdom and the ways of man
 You were here, before the world began
Above all kingdoms, above all thrones
Above all wonders the world has ever known
Above all wealth and treasures of the earth
There's no way to measure what you're worth” 

By Paul Baloche                                and Lenny LeBlanc
In the U.S., a king is not a familiar figure to us.  There are 26 countries in the world that are still headed by kings, queens, emperors, sheikhs, or princes.   We do not live under the ruler ship of a monarch.  However  we do have some interest in kings:
  -Our fascination with British royalty and baby Prince George
  -The Burger king guy  
- the king of rock and roll                
Elvis Presley  was given the title of king because of his popularity. In the mid-70's I worked with a woman  named Linda who adored Elvis. He was doing a show at the Charlotte Coliseum. She had never seen him perform live and  I offered to  give her a ride to the concert which was several hours away. She bought a new outfit and had her hair done in a magnificent  bouffant.  I brought her to the arena  , and returned to pick her up after the concert. For her it was one of the best nights of her life. She had maneuvered her way  to the stage and had touched his shoe. Her intention had been to take his boot off but she had been unsuccessful.
 Linda had polio as a child and consequently had spent time in a hospital. She had listened to Elvis on the radio during her illness and felt that it was his music that gave her hope. Elvis was at the top of her list, and for that one evening, life could not be better.We may have folks we idolize but our understanding of kings in our time is limited…
Let's look at what we can discover  about  Jesus  being a king.
In the Old Testament, kings are described as being like shepherds. A shepherd is to care for his flock, to know them by name, to lead them in the right  direction, to  protect them from those who would harm them. Likewise, the king is to put the welfare of the  people above his own.
Jesus calls himself the Good shepherd. He cared for the hungry, the hurting, those who felt isolated from God. His heart was always  concerned with his flock.

Jesus spoke  a lot about God's kingdom in his teachings. At the ending of his ministry, he is publicly proclaimed  as being the king of the Jewish people. In the last week of his life,Jesus enters into Jerusalem, and weeps for the city. He is accused of coming into Jerusalem to lead a rebellion against the ruling Roman government. He is tried and convicted. The Roman soldiers dressed him in a robe ,put a crown of thorns on his head and mocked him.
The sign above his head on the cross read “King of the Jews.”  A king that is defeated and is killed is not our expectation.

The story of Jesus being a king of course doesn't end there.
 In the letters of the New Testament and the Book of Revelation, we have wonderful  descriptions of the risen Jesus who is  now “king of all kings and lord of all lords.”
 He suffered a cruel death and yet his love rules over all creation. In Colossians, he is described as showing us what God is like ( the invisible is now  visible) and of holding all things together. He is making all things new. He is bringing peace, and restoration.  He is king not for his own glory but he is king in order to bring all people to God.  He is at the very center of everything. He reconciles all things thru death on the cross.
Some years ago  a pastor in Scotland traveled to the Queen’s Highland castle in order to lead the Sunday service at the chapel. He was uncomfortable about how to act around royalty, unsure what to say in her presence. He arrived but there was no one to meet him.
He was taking his suitcase from the car when a woman came into view wearing a tweed jacket, with a scarf tied around her head, and walking three corgis. It was Queen Elizabeth herself!  She apologized that no one had welcomed him   and called for the absent doorman. That evening he joined them for a pleasant supper and  he saw royalty in a new light.
It is almost beyond belief that we have the privilege daily to be in the presence of our king  who gave all so that we might have abundant life.

What is the kingdom of God like?  Jesus shared many stories to describe his kingdom. He  taught that  the kingdom is like the love extended by a father to his son when the son leaves home and takes his inheritance. When the son has nothing left , he returns home and is greeted by  a joyful banquet  hosted by his father who offers forgiveness and love.
Kingdom is like a shepherd who  goes out to find one missing sheep and doesn't give up until it is found. 
Kingdom is like a man who had a party and extends his invitation to all who want to come.  The kingdom is a place where  servants are honored. It is a place of surprises: the last shall be first.
 In the Kingdom, there is justice ; the widows, and poor and children are not forgotten.  It is a kingdom where the king offers not condemnation but forgiveness, not despair but hope, not brokenness but wholeness. It is a kingdom that may seem small like a mustard seed, but grows everyday into a mighty tree.
It is a good day to think about the qualities of our Lord, all the names of honor. It is imperative that we consider Christ being our king. When I hear the news of the world, and become concerned about all the troubles near and far, all the uncertainties, I rejoice that there is One who holds all things together: all space, all time.
When I look ahead to Thanksgiving week, I know that when we offer our thanks that underneath all the blessings of life is the great love of God for us and for this world . We see this so clearly in the way Jesus lived.
A question that needs to be asked: Who has power over us? 
Who influences our lives?  Is Christ in first place?
N.T. Wright,  British pastor and scholar wrote in his book Simply Jesus : “We want someone to save our souls, not rule our world.”  He was acknowledging that there are other kingdoms that can pull for our devotion. They may offer prestige  and security, status and honor but that is not what the kingdom of God is about.
 We make a choice over who we follow and whose guidance we live by.
We invite  Christ to be a part of all areas of our lives as we claim him as king.
But this is the amazing thing about King Jesus.  He will only be recognized as king when  others see his love, compassion, and mercy in us. The kingdom becomes visible thru us and our actions.
Our  hearts change, and our community changes -  God continues to work within creation. We are part of God’s kingdom  happening here  and  now.
There is a carol sung often at Christmas concerning a king who looks out from his castle one cold night . He sees a  man struggling to gather fire wood. He asks his page who the man is and where he lives. Together the king and the page travel to the man's house bringing food and drink.  As they  hike thru the deepening snow, the night becomes more bitter.  The page says that he cannot go on.   The king tells the boy to walk in his footsteps  and he will be able to make it.   He walks in the master's steps and together they bring a blessing.
Whose footsteps are you following?  Who reigns in your heart?
May Christ the king hold first place. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Worship Preview - December 8

Sunday, December 8 - (9:00 & 10:30 Services); Wednesday, December  (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Peace…Strength to Hold On"

Features - 2nd Sunday of Advent

Scripture - Isaiah 40:1-5 & Matthew 3:11-12

Theme - Reordering our lives with the focus on Jesus in preparation for Christmas and the coming year should include attention for those things that make us both receivers and givers of peace.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Sunday Worship Preview - November 24

Sunday, November 24 - (9:00 & 10:30 Services) & Note: Our November 27 Gathering Worship Will Not Be Held Due to the Holiday. Wednesday Worship Resumes on December 4  (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "First Place"

Features - Christ the King Sunday; Thanksgiving Sunday; & Holy Baptism

Scripture - Colossians 1:11-20 & John 6:25-35

Theme - On this Thanksgiving Sunday, we remember who should be in first place in our lives. Christ is King and has blessed us in many ways. Happy Thanksgiving! 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dave's Deep Thoughts - Remembering JFK

Here's Pastor Dave McDowell's weekly devotional that he sends out to members of his church. Dave is my brother and serves as the Music Minister at Stewartstown UMC in PA.

Sometimes, things change over long periods of time.
Sometimes, they change in a moment.

We had just returned from our afternoon trip to the cafeteria.
That's what we did in 1st grade.

At 1:45pm every day,
Miss Trout's 1st grade class lined up
and marched to the cafeteria where for a nickel,
one could have the choice of white or chocolate milk.
(That was one of the easiest choices a 1st grader could ever make.)

After a wonderful five minutes of ingesting chocolate milk,
the class would march back to our 1st grade room,
 the last room at the end of the hallway on the right.

The windows offered a wonderful view of the countryside.
It was very easy for an 1st grader's eyes to wander to the outside,
 especially during reading.

I remember the weather that day.
It was a typical late November day temperature,
about 55 degrees, but unusually foggy that day.
I remember that we weren't able to go outside for recess that day.
The weather seemed to foreshadow what we were about to learn.

It wasn't very long following milk break
that I found myself back at my seat.....
 3rd row, 2nd seat from the window.

There are many things that a 1st grader hopes for,
one of which is that you are never seated
next to the girl who pees in her pants.
I must have been the most unlucky 6 year old in the world.
She sat in the 3rd row, 3rd seat from the window.

But it wasn't my next door neighbor's urinary habits
that I remember that day,
Friday, November 22, 1963.

The clock read 2:05pm when the principal walked in the room.
Usually, it meant someone's parent was in the office
needing to pick them up early from school.

But today was different.
I had never seen that look on the principal's face.
Although a 1st grader would not have had the vocabulary to describe that look,
everyone in the room knew something was wrong,
very wrong.

Fifty years later, this 56 year old
would use the vocabulary word, devastated,
to describe our principal.

It was the five words that she spoke
that changed our world...

The president has been killed.

She said more.
I wasn't sure where Dallas was
but I knew it didn't matter.

As a 1st grader,
 I didn't have the resources
to understand the impact of such an event,
but as a 1st grader I knew that the world was going to be very different,
especially during the next few days.

After she said those five awful words,
we prayed.

Not individually.
We prayed as a class.

That was not unusual in 1963.
We prayed every morning
right after we said the Pledge of Allegiance.
Praying as a class was a natural thing.

Another reminder of how the world has changed in fifty years.

I am not sure what we did for the last 60 minutes of school,
but for Miss Trout,
it had to be the longest hour of her teaching career.

The bus ride home was completely quiet,
Another confirmation that the world had changed.

I remember the black and white television was on constantly
throughout the weekend.
All THREE stations were carrying the unfolding events.
I had never before seen Walter Cronkite cry.

For this fifty-something year old,
those "where were you" moments include
the first step by man onto the moon's surface,
the assasinations of MLK & Bobby Kennedy,
the space shuttle explosion,
the twin towers falling.

Life is peppered with those moments,
some are shared by a nation and a world,
others are much more personal.

Those moments change and shape us.

The moment you say, "I do,"
the birth of a child,
the death of a loved one,
the news that the cancer has progressed.

For a Christian,
there is that moment that stands above all other moments,
the moment when one's heart is converted to God's heart.

Sometimes, the change happens in a moment.
Sometimes, the change occurs over time.

The older one gets,
the more one realizes the significance of each life changing moment,
none more important than the day
you become friends with God.

Most people, especially nice people,
 don't realize that they are in rebellion to God
until they realize the need for His mercy and grace.
And that's when life changes forever.

If you are old enough,
you might be asked the "Where were you then?" question this week.

Take time to be sure you know where you were
when you became friends with God,
so that your "where were you"
also gives you the assurance of
"where you will be."

In can happen,
in a moment.
Just don't wait until it is too late.

"And Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteous,
and he was called the friend of God."
                                                 James 2:23

Scripture Commentary for November 24

Sermon (November 24) – “First Place”

Colossians 1:11-20

This letter to the church at Colossae beautifully describes how Christ is the beloved Son who establishes God's  kingdom. Being part of the kingdom leads to this hymn of thanksgiving.

Colossians is one of four letters written by the Apostle Paul while he was in prison. He was probably in a prison in Ephesus at the time. Paul was worried that the new church in Colossae would not be prepared for what it means to be a faithful church. Paul does two things to help them since he can’t be with them. He writes this letter and he prays for them.

Paul wants them to know that by living out their faith, they will experience fullness of life (v. 11.)

Notice that Paul writes in v. 12 that we are to give thanks. Being grateful is one of the common themes in this letter. Why? Because when we are grateful to God, this means we are aware of what God has done for us through Christ and what this means about who we are.

Verses 15-20 is a beautiful hymn/poem to help the Colossians celebrate the supremacy of Jesus Christ. This is appropriate for Christ the King Sunday!

John 6:25-35

Jesus has feed a crowd of thousands with a boy's small lunch of fish and bread. Now Jesus is talking with the crowd about the food that does not perish. He shares that he is the true Bread of Life.

What does this text teach us about who Jesus is? 1) v. 27 – He is the one upon whom the father has set his seal. Jesus is living out who God is through this wilderness feeding which reminds us of the wilderness feedings in the story of the Exodus. 2) v. 28 – By participating in this feeding, there is an expectation that the people who have been fed have a responsibility to form a new community by believing in Jesus as the one who has been sent by God.

V. 34 – This is a good prayer for us to help us remember our need to allow God to nourish our deepest hunger, not just physically, but also spiritually!

V. 35 – This is one of the seven “I am” statements that we find in the Gospel of John.  “I am the bread of life.” “I am the light of the world,” “I am the good shepherd,” etc.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Blind Side -Encountering Highly Judgmental Christians

Football teams covet big and strong left tackles to protect their quarterback from 6'6, 280 pound defensive ends whose purpose in life is to blow up every single play. They like to approach from the blind side of the right-handed QB which is why you need an awesome left tackle.

Sometimes pastors need one of these highly coveted and well paid left tackles when they go about their ministry. Every so often we go back in the pocket to set up for a pass and WHAM!, we get hit from the blind side. We didn't see it coming. I'm not talking about NFL defensive lineman. I'm talking about highly judgmental Christians.

Fortunately, these blind side encounters only happen to me about three or four times a year, but when they do, you find yourself staring up into the sky and asking, What just hit me? Here's an experience that comes to mind.

It was around 10 pm on a Saturday night and I was about ready to go to bed. I got a call at the house that so and so was in the hospital which was about an hour drive away. It was a critical situation. No problem. Most pastors are more than willing to do what is necessary during times such as this or to at least arrange for someone to be there with the family.

When I made it to the hospital room late that night, the family was there with their loved one. I shared some scripture and offered a prayer. As I was leaving the hospital room and heading for the elevator door, a family member pulled me aside and said, You do know that his blood is on your hands. He isn't saved and he's a member of your church. What are you going to do about it?

I asked him, Why would you think he's not saved? His response was, He just isn't. I know he isn't. And he's going to go to hell because of you. I felt my blood pressure rising to unprecedented levels. I was being blind sided. Knowing that this man was under stress because of his relative's condition, I knew how important it was to not escalate the situation. As he continued to defiantly stare me down, I tried to bring some calm to the situation by letting him know that I would visit again. He offered no good-bye, no thank you for making the effort to visit them at such a late hour. He just stared me down as I made my way onto the elevator. 

Recently, our church received a highly judgmental email from someone in the community regarding one of our ministry events. After discussing how to respond to this person, I sent an email that was polite, courteous, and answered the person's question in what I thought was a very gracious manner. In return, I received another highly judgmental response from this person. 

We are taught in seminary to not take things personally. People say harsh things out of stress or out of misplaced anger or for other unknown reasons. That was some of the best pieces of pastoral advice I ever received. 

Over the years, I have discovered that it's not a 300 pound left tackle that we need. We just need to remember that the presence of the Holy Spirit is always with us. When those blind side hits come and they will come, remember that you're not alone. God is with you. And as tempting as it might be, don't try to be a defensive end and return the favor. That's not who you are.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sermon (November 17) - "Faith Trek"

     I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that you are familiar with this short video clip. Let’s watch it because it just never gets old.

     Those opening words were spoken by Admiral James T. Kirk of the starship, Enterprise. I love how dramatic he sounds. “To seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

     Even if you’re not that much into space exploration and the whole Star Trek craze, how can you not want to be on that spaceship with James T. Kirk?

     I think it was around this time last year that Penny began to say to me, “Guess what movie is coming out on May 17th?” She would ask me this same question every week. And I would have to answer, “Star Trek Into Darkness.”

     Now, the truth is, it’s not that Penny is the biggest Trekkie fan in the world. I just think she likes these more recent Star Trek movies because of actor, Chris Pine who plays James T. Kirk.

     Here’s a picture of Chris Pine in the new movie, Star Trek Into Darkness. He’s the handsome looking guy in the middle. He’s the new James T. Kirk.

     Penny doesn’t realize it, but the producer of this new Star Trek movie first asked me to play the part of Kirk. So here I am.

     As you can see, I was extremely excited to be asked to try out for the movie. It was hard to contain my enthusiasm. They took several pictures and this ended up being the best one.

     Here’s the actor Chris Pine again.

     Here he is using his communicator as Admiral Kirk. He looks OK in this scene, I guess. So they asked me to do this same scene. And well… I’ll let you be the judge.

     The camera guy kept telling me to not use the communicator to send text messages, but that’s my preferred mode of communication. I’m looking pretty intense there.

     Here’s a picture from a scene in the movie with actor Chris Pine and the actor who plays Spock.

     Yeah, I admit Chris Pine looks good in this scene, but it seemed kind of boring to me so I decided to put some action into the scene.

     I kept asking for a phaser gun and they finally gave me one so I used it in this scene even though there weren’t any bad people in this scene.

     So the next scene that they asked Pine and me to do was a scene with the beautiful actress, Alice Eve. So here’s Chris trying to pull off the macho look.

     They tell me that he’s kind of a heart throb. Now here’s me in the same exact scene.

     I went with a more natural look that would look much better on the big screen.

     And believe it or not, we did this scene in one take. I kid you not. I’m not bragging, but I am comfortable in front of a camera.

      And then of course, we all know that Spock and Kirk are the main characters in Star Trek. So, here’s Chris Pine in one of the scenes with Spock.

     You know, I looked at that scene and to me, they just look way too serious. I mean, these guys were buddies, right? So here’s me in this same scene with Spock.

     I thought it was funny too, but the actor who plays Spock didn’t think it was as funny as I did. It was a tough choice, but in the end, they finally made the decision to go with Chris Pine. But at least, I had my fifteen minutes of fame.

     By the way, I’m curious how many Star Trek fans are here today. Raise your hand high if you’re a big Star Trek fan? 

     The way we resonate with that dramatic opening Star Trek theme song about “seeking out new life and new civilizations and going boldly where no man has gone before” is similar to how God’s people must have resonated when the Prophet Isaiah spoke his dramatic words to the people of Israel.

     Sounding a little like James T. Kirk, Isaiah says, “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth.”  Isaiah was speaking to a whole nation of people who after returning home from the Babylonian exile after several years, still find their homes and gardens in ruins, the city in rubble, and the rebuilding of their Temple nowhere near the beauty and splendor of the former one.

     The people of Israel were still without hope and they were stuck in a mindset that their best days were behind them. They had given up believing that God would be able to give them a new future. They were left only with their memories of the good old days.

     This past summer, I was speaking with someone whose mother had passed away. It had been several months since her death and I asked how he was doing. He said that he still feels the pain of grief because he still misses her.

     Since he lived in the house next to her, he was always able to see a light in the living room of the house where she would read at night before going to bed. And he said, “It was so strange to look at mom’s house from my window at night and now only see darkness.”

     He went on to say, “Ever since she’s been gone, I think about all of the good times I had growing up in that house and how it was filled with so much laughter and so many good memories. It’s been really difficult to adjust over these past several months,” he said.

     My heart went on to him as he shared his grief and heavy heart with me.

     The people of Israel were living during a time when the present looked bleak and the good memories from the past were becoming more and more distant as the years went by. Nostalgia over the good ole days will only take you so far.

     It’s in this context of hopelessness and a longing for the good ole days, that Isaiah speaks a word about something the people of Israel hadn’t thought about for quite some time. Isaiah speaks about a future that is filled with hope.

     And this is no empty hope. This hope is rooted in the words of the Lord who spoke them through the prophet Isaiah.

     The Lord is inviting the people of Israel to experience a new faith trek. They have been dwelling in the past long enough. It’s now time for them to boldly go into a new future, a future that is filled with hope.

     My sense is that there are many of us here today who are looking for a new challenge and who are ready to follow God into a new future. Do you want to be a faith Trekkie? Are you ready to let go of the past and begin a new journey with God?

     James T. Kirk describes the Star Trek exploration as seeking out new life and new civilizations and going boldly where no man has gone before. Isaiah describes it a little differently. He says that it’s about God creating new heavens and a new earth.

     Sound exciting? Well, here is what is involved in this new faith trek according to Captain Isaiah.

     First of all, this faith trek involves a letting go of the past. Isaiah says that the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.  That may sound too difficult to do because it seems like the past is all we have.

     The problem with the past is that it’s in the past! The other problem is that dwelling on the past and the things we can’t change can prevent us from moving forward in life.

     Isaiah spoke his word to the people at just the right time. They were so focused on the good ole’ days before their exile and the despair of their present situation, that they were now stuck and going nowhere. And that’s not a good place to be.

     I thought it was interesting how much media coverage there was in the weeks leading up to the birth of William and Kate’s baby in England this past summer. Even though England has so much incredible history, all of the focus this past summer was on the future of the country and the birth of that royal baby.

     What part of the past is God calling you to let go so that you can move into the future God has in mind for you? It might be a negative personal experience, a broken relationship, a long held grudge, or a maybe it’s a disappointment that has been difficult to overcome. God invites us to let go of our past.

     A second thing that this faith trek involves is accepting our new identity in God. Isaiah shares these words of the Lord to the people of Israel. The Lord says, “Be glad and rejoice forever for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.”

     What a great identity the Lord gives to us. God sees us as a people of joy and as a people of delight.

     And here’s a third important part of our faith trek journey. And this is just as important as the first two things. We are called to live into God’s preferred future.

     Back to Captain Isaiah, or rather, Prophet Isaiah. In addition to telling the Israelites to let go of their past and claim their new identity, he also paints a picture of the preferred future that the Lord has in mind for them.

     And this picture includes things that the Israelites have been missing for a long time like the building of houses, plentiful vineyards, safety and security, and blessings. Isaiah even goes so far as to say that the Lord’s preferred future includes harmony in the animal kingdom where the lion and the lamb shall feed together in peace.

     Now, on one level, the Israelites began to experience some of these things as they continued to get settled after their many years in Babylonian exile. But on another level, we also know that God’s ultimate preferred future will be even more glorious when God creates new heavens and a new earth. This is the ultimate hope of our faith, that this world will receive a total makeover and God will make it all new again.

     The Lord wants the people of Israel to begin living with this beautiful and hope-filled future in mind. Just think what a difference it would make if we would all live in such a way that anticipates this future reality for our world.

     Instead of cynicism or negativity, the Lord wants us to approach each day with the end result in mind and the end result is a world that is filled with peace, justice, harmony, an abundance of resources for everyone, compassion, friendship, and safety.

     And if all of this seems just too good to be true and unrealistic, let’s remember that this faith trek we are called to take is like no other. This faith trek isn’t about us trying to remake the world on our own strength. We can try, but we will be very disappointed.  No, this trek is about what God can do in and through us. Nothing is impossible with God.

     So how about it? Are you up for the journey? Are you ready to be a faith trekkie? Are you ready to let go of the past? Have you claimed the new identity  that God has for you that you are a joy and a delight? And are you ready to live in God’s preferred future that will be beyond our wildest imagination? Are you ready to embark on a faith trek?

     There’s one more thing that I wanted to share with you about my conversation with the person I mentioned to you earlier in the sermon, the man who was still grieving the loss of his mother.

     As I mentioned, he said that it’s been difficult to look out his window at night and see nothing but darkness in the house where his mother once lived. I could see the sadness and the heaviness in his eyes as he was sharing all of this with me.

     But then he said to me, “But not too long ago, a new family moved into mom’s house. I got a chance to meet them. They are a very nice family with two teenagers. I took them a chocolate pie that mom used to make and gave it to them as a house warming gift. I explained to them that I used to live there and had many, many happy memories in this house.”

     He said they thanked him for the warm welcome. And the wife said, “When we were looking for homes in the area, this one really stood out for us because we could sense that there had been a lot of love here.”

     And after sharing all of this with me, he said, “And now, when I look down from my window at the house where mom lived, I’m glad to see that there’s a light in the house again and that this new family can call it home like I once did.”

     In the midst of our brokenness, disappointments, and despair, Isaiah speaks a word of hope to us. He reminds us that our faith journey is never over.

     God promises to be with us throughout all of our experiences in life. And we are invited once again to boldly go where no man has gone before. We are called to let go of our past, accept our new identity in Christ, and live into God’s preferred future.

      If you would like to be part of this faith trek, I invite you to simply hold out your hands right there in front of you, bow your heads and close your eyes, and join me in prayer.

     Let us pray. God of new beginnings, just as you offered a word of hope to the people of Israel so long ago, you offer a word of hope to us this morning. In the midst of our pain and brokenness, you invite us to boldly follow you into your preferred future that is beyond our wildest imagination.

     As we hold out our hands, we know that your hand is reaching out to us. You want to bring healing to those places in our lives where we have felt empty. You want to give us hope where we have only known despair and disappointment. 

     Thank you for coming close to us today. And thank you for new beginnings and new adventures. In the name of the One who has promised to create new heavens and a new earth, we want you to know that we’re ready to make this faith trek, to be your people, and to place our trust in you. In Jesus’ name, we offer this prayer. Amen.