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“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” We heard these words from Isaiah 11 in worship together this past Sunday. We listened as the prophet painted for us a picture of the kingdom of heaven, God’s vision of peace for all of creation.

This past week has not been a peaceful one in our world. Not only are there conflicts raging in the Middle East and unrest fomenting in Hong Kong, but there is division and anger in our own country. When a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, passed down its decision not to indict the police officer who shot Michael Brown, there were tears and protests all over the country. We have been surrounded this week by evidence of our own mistrust and dividedness.

Regardless of how you feel about all of these conflicts in our world, we cannot help but see how easy it is for human beings to draw into our camps and label “the other” as our enemy. Tragedies like the one in Ferguson unearth our divisions and make us face the truth about our human nature: it is easier to hate than to love. It is easier for us to deal with people as stereotypes than as children of God.

Sometimes I get very cynical about us human beings. When I read the headlines, I can get deeply discouraged. I tell myself that we as a human race have made no progress at all. As we have been reading through the Old Testament together this fall, it seems that we human beings keep running into the same problems over and over again. Are we any closer to the kingdom of God? Have we learned anything at all?

Then, in the midst of these questions and doubts, I see a sign of hope. I don’t know if you saw it, but there’s a photo that went viral this week. It’s a picture of a 12-year-old African-American boy hugging a white police officer. The boy, Devonte Hart, was part of a peaceful protest and was holding up a sign that said, “Free Hugs.” The police officer, Sgt. Bret Barnum, saw that Devonte was crying and motioned for him to come closer. They hugged.

I think this photograph went viral because it is a much needed sign of hope. The boy and the police officer represent who all of us want to be. They show what Love can do in the midst of anger and brokenness and division. “And a little child shall lead them.”

The good news of Advent and Christmas is that God is coming into the world. Into the midst of this very world that we live in–right into our brokenness and our mess and our conflict–God comes. Watch for signs of hope! Be open to Love in our midst! Lead the way to reconciliation! The kingdom of God is drawing near!


All Saints Day

If you have children in your household or if you work with children on a regular basis—or, heck, if you happen to bump into a child this week—then you know the big news: Halloween is this Friday! Kids are planning their costumes, talking about their favorite candies and looking forward to all the parties. In my family, we’re down to only one trick-or-treater, but she’s had her costume for several weeks now. And thanks to our church’s Trunk-or-Treat tradition, she’ll be able to wear her costume twice and get twice as much candy!

Halloween in a huge festival in our culture. Did you know that $1.9 billion worth of candy is sold in the United States at Halloween? (That’s not counting all those healthy neighbors who give out apples and raisins.) But in all the hubbub around Halloween, we sometimes forget how the festival came into being.

The candy and costumes get all of our attention, but the truth is that there is another, older celebration—an actual “holy day”—that Christians have celebrated on November 1 for hundreds of years: All Saints Day. The name “Halloween” comes from “All Hallows Eve,” but for many years it was All Saints Day that got more attention. Even today in many cultures, November 1 is celebrated much more than Halloween as families gather to worship and to visit the gravesides of loved ones.

All Saints Day is a holy day, one that invites the church into a special time of reflection and remembrance. In our congregation we celebrate All Saints Sunday on the first Sunday of November every year. We name aloud those members of our congregation who have passed away in the past year, and we thank God for their lives and ministry among us. And we are reminded that, when we gather for worship as the people of God, we are surrounded by what the writer of Hebrews calls “a great cloud of witnesses,” saints of every age and time who have gone before us.

So, All Saints is a time to remember the believers who have gone before us. But there’s more. All Saints is also a time to remember that we are called to be saints. Here and now. I know, most of us balk at that idea. We would never claim the word “saints” for ourselves. “To be a saint,” we tell ourselves, “you have to be really, really good. Holy. Almost perfect. I know my flaws and my sins all too well. I could never be a saint.”

But if you go back to some of the Apostle Paul’s letters, he is constantly calling people “saints.” He addresses 2 Corinthians “To the church of God that is in Corinth, including all the saints throughout Achaia.” He calls the Philippians “saints in Christ Jesus.” He addresses his letter to the Romans to “all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints.” And in the final words of the Bible, John of Patmos pronounces   this benediction: “May the grace of Jesus Christ be with all the saints.”

That’s you and me. We are called to be saints. We are saints. Not because we are perfect or holy. Not because we do all the right things. Not because we come to church and go to Bible study and tithe and serve food to the hungry. No, we are saints because Jesus Christ has saved us. We are saints because God loves us. We are saints because we are forgiven and redeemed people.

So, in case no one has ever told you before, you are a saint! It is a name given to you by a loving a gracious God. May each of us do all we can to embrace the name and grow into it every day. Happy All Saints Day!


As I sit down to write this article, I find myself at a loss for words. Originally, I had planned to focus my writing on stewardship and reminding everyone that this Sunday is our Pledge Sunday. That, of course, is vitally important to our life together, and I trust that each of you is already planning how you will participate. But the events and the emotions of this past weekend are weighing heavily on my heart, and I feel compelled to give them my full attention.

On Sunday morning, whether you were here at 508 Franklin Road or on the All-Church Retreat at Beersheba Springs, you heard the story of the Israelites’ exile as it is told in 2 Kings. If you were not able to be in worship on Sunday, we found ourselves in the biblical story at the moment when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and took most of the Israelites captive. The Temple was destroyed and the city was ransacked. It was a time of devastation and grief.

We had planned well in advance to hear the story of the exile this Sunday, but we did not realize how painful that story would end up being for us as a congregation. As most of you know, one of our beloved church members, Mike Keeton, passed away suddenly while at the retreat. I cannot begin to put into words the shock and grief that we all feel in the wake of this tragedy. We decided to cancel all the plans we’d made for Saturday night and simply gather in the chapel at Beersheba for prayer. We just needed to be together and bring all that we were feeling into the presence of God and one another.

Then, as we gathered for worship on Sunday, we heard the story of the exile and silently reflected on our own experiences of God in the midst of loss. Each of us in worship was invited to ask ourselves the question, “Where is God when we are ‘in exile,’ when we find ourselves in places we did not expect or want to be?” Then we sang together the song “I Believe,” by Mark Miller, whose lyrics come from an inscription on a cellar wall in Germany, where Jews were hiding from the Nazis: “I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining. I believe in love even when I don’t feel it. I believe in God even when God is silent.”

On Monday morning, I received an email from Elizabeth Cannady with this picture attached. Her son Connor, who is six, had drawn it during worship on the mountain. Wow. A word from God, through the hand of a child.

I cannot tell you how many ways I have seen God at work over the past few days in the body of Christ that is our congregation: people who were the courageous first responders when Mike became ill, people who drove his family to the hospital, people who met with the youth and cared for them, people who cared for the first responders in the hours afterwards, people who stepped up to make food for the family, people who have reached out to the staff and offered support. The list goes on and on. God is with us, my friends. Together we are a sign of hope and light—to one another and to the world—and I am deeply blessed to be part of the body of Christ that is Christ United Methodist Church.


On the fourth Sunday of every month, one of us on the pastoral staff helps to lead a service of worship at Riverbend prison. Either John, Mark or I will drive out to Cockrill Bend Boulevard early in the morning to be with the Riverbend congregation of Christ United Methodist Church. We pray, read scripture and share communion together, and every time I go I am blessed. This past Sunday was no exception. As I pulled into the driveway of Riverbend at about 7:15 a.m., I looked to my left and saw through the mist a whole flock of deer grazing in the lush green grass. It was a beautiful scene that took my breath away. I stopped my car just to look at them, silent and peaceful as they stood there together. Some of them serenely looked back at me, unafraid.

Something about those deer reminded me of God’s silent, strong presence. It’s as if they were keeping watch. The concrete walls and barbed wire fences of the prison did not scare them or keep them away. They didn’t even seem to notice them. They seemed to feel just at home on that lawn as they would anywhere on earth. There they stood, almost in solidarity with those inside the walls, keeping watch and standing close.

After the other volunteers and I got through security, we made our way across the prison yard toward the chapel. Toward the bottom of the hill, I saw three cats—no, four!—running and playing inside the barbed wire fence. Apparently, there’s a family of cats that has decided to make their home inside the walls of Riverbend! They were skipping and jumping and chasing like they were the happiest kittens in the world. They didn’t see the walls either. They didn’t notice the fence. They just seemed happy to have a lot of people around and some green grass to jump in. I later learned from some of our brothers there that these little cats have brought a spark of humanity back into the hearts of many who walk across that quad every day.

A flock of deer. A family of cats. It’s amazing what God can use to get into the hearts of people. On Sunday, October 5, at 4:00, we will host a Blessing of the Animals service out at the pavilion. Many of you have animals in your family, and you know firsthand how you experience God’s love, comfort and companionship through them. Before I became a dog-owner, I used to misunderstand the attachment that people had with their pets. Now I get it. Boy, do I get it.

And as I have been re-reading my way through the scriptures this fall, I have been amazed at how many times animals are mentioned. They are an integral part of the story, and we are meant to be good stewards of them and of all the earth. In return we get to experience a unique kind of companionship—a love that is not afraid of our walls or turned away by our barbed wire.

I hope you’ll come to the pavilion on Sunday afternoon, even if you don’t have an animal to bring with you. Let’s join together in thanking God for the beauty and wonder of God’s creatures, and let’s recommit ourselves to being good stewards of all of creation!


Most folks in our congregation could tell you what our mission statement is. The guiding principle of our church is (say it with me): “We are about relationships: with God, with one another and with God’s hurting world.” You know it. I know it. The children and the youth know it. But one of the things I love about this congregation and about our mission statement is that it’s not just printed on posters around the building. It’s not just a tag-line at the end of every official email. It is lived out in hundreds of different ways   every week. Let me tell you about just a few of the ways I’ve seen relationships at work over the past few days.

If you were in worship at 11:00 this past Sunday, you may have met Chester, a church member who had just been released from Riverbend Maximum Security prison on Monday. Chester’s regular mentor was unable to pick him up that morning, so another loving church member volunteered. He picked Chester up, took him to breakfast, and brought him to church to pick out some clothes. Later in the week, another church member took him to navigate the Social Security office and get his identification cards. When I saw Chester on Sunday and complimented his sport coat, he said that another church member, one who had also been an inmate at RMSI at one time, had taken him to do some shopping. After church, Chester and a whole group of people went out to lunch together, a spontaneous celebration!

During the Sunday School hour I met with the Inquirers Class in the Library. This was our third week together, and I have really enjoyed getting to know these new friends. Apparently, they have enjoyed getting to know each other as well, because one of the couples in the class invited everyone over for chili after the class wraps up! They too are about relationships as they become a new and important part of this congregation.

On Sunday afternoon I came back to the church to drop Tate off for youth choir and to prepare for our Disciple Bible Study class. I had an hour to prepare, so I decided to sit outside and enjoy the beautiful weather. While outside, I ran into two of our church members who lead small groups with the youth. Neither of them is the parent of a teenager. They are both young adults, and yet they choose every Sunday evening to come to the church and be loving, supportive mentors in the lives of young people.

I left the playground and headed into Disciple class, where I sat with a diverse group of adults, many of whom did not know each other before the study started. In the course of two hours we laughed and cried together, and we struggled over some of the deepest questions of life: the nature of God, human nature, sin, temptation, repentance, grace. As we wrapped up, I had to run upstairs to get Tate so that Paul and Doug could turn out the lights and go home, but I left a group of classmates hanging out in the classroom, sharing stories and hugs and life together.

I am amazed at the way God is building relationships in this place. We live in a county, in a city, where it’s easy to feel isolated. People don’t always know their neighbors. They don’t always have a place to belong. What we have here at Christ UMC is what Martin Luther King, Jr., called a “beloved community,” and it is worth sharing with others.

This is just a gentle reminder, then, to be aware and mindful of others in our community. Reach out and offer kindness to others. Invite them to church. Or when you’re here on Sundays, introduce yourself to someone new. Invite someone to sit at your table on Wednesday night. Bring someone with you to Sunday School. Stand at the coffee pot on Sunday morning and make new connections. Together, let’s continue to “draw the circle” of relationships wider still!


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