One of my favorite stories in Scripture (and let's face it, they are all my favorite stories), starts like this: "There was a man who had two sons..."
Perhaps you have heard this story before? It's about a man...well...who had two sons, and one of them decided that he didn't want to live at home any more. Honestly though, when you think about it, isn't that the way its supposed to be? After all, we read scripture that says: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh."
It seems as though we were meant to take off and fly on our own...to leave the nest. But that's not really what happened in this story. Not only did the boy want to leave his family, he told his father, "Give me my share of the estate."
In other words...I want my inheritance now...even though you're not dead yet, dad.
So, the boy went off on his own, and did life his own way. He partied, spent time with women, drank, and spend all of his money. He squandered it.
Did you know that the word "prodigal" actually means wasteful?
Growing up, I always thought that it meant the "returning" son. But when I got to seminary, and I actually looked up the definition for myself, I was floored. Jesus, telling this story, wanted people to focus on the fact that the son was wasteful. He took everything his father had given him and he had wasted it...he spent it on extravagant living, and then when his choices finally caught up with him, he found himself eating pig slop. mmmmmm....
My favorite line in this story comes next: "When he came to his senses..."
This is a moment of realization. A moment where the boy has a "come to Jesus" moment, and he says, what the junk am I doing here? This is not how life is supposed to be. I thought life would be better than this.
Be honest with yourself...have you ever had to come to your senses? Have you ever had a "Come to Jesus" moment? I know I have...a few times.
But the best part of the story is that the boy decided it was time to go home.
Growing up in South Texas, specifically in Corpus Christi, Homecoming was an important event, and living in Llano, I am beginning to see that it is an important event here too. Mums and garters, tuxedos and boutonniere's, beautiful evening gowns...oh...and football! Can't forget that one!
It really is a big party. Traditionally reunions happen, people get together and celebrate accomplishments and really just enjoy each other's company. It is really just a big party to celebrate being alive and being home.
And when the boy gets home, that's exactly what happens. The fattened calf is slaughtered, the great wine is brought out, the feast is on. No more pig slop for the boy.
As long as we have breath in our lungs, my brothers and sisters, it is never too late to come home. It is never too late to come to our senses; to have come to Jesus moment. After all, that is what Jesus wants: for us to come to him.
Let us pray;
Father, we realize there are things we have done that make it seem like you are dead to us; that we do not fully believe in the power of the Holy Spirit living within us. We know that we have failed you in our love and we have tried to do it our own way.
Help us, Lord, to "come to our senses" and to make the decision to return to you. We know that you love us, and you are ready to welcome us home.
In Jesus Name,
Be honest with yourself,
That title made you feel a little uneasy. It's not exactly a title that you were expecting in this week's "From the Pastor." Well, just hold on, I'll get there, I promise.
This last Saturday, I had the honor of walking with a family through a difficult time as they laid their father to rest next to their mother in the Llano City Cemetery. It was a small family from out of town who wanted a Methodist pastor to lead a small graveside funeral service. So, being the Methodist pastor in town, I was given the opportunity to minister to a family in their time of grief.
As per my usual, I arrived at the Cemetery about 15 minutes early in order to collect my thoughts and prepare myself to bring the peace of Christ into the situation. As a pastor, it can be real easy to just walk in to a situation and think you have all the answers, but you and I both know that is not the case. It is important to center ourselves and to focus on what we are really there for, to represent the church and to lead people in worship of the risen Christ; to point everyone to him and preach the Good News.
As I was walking from my truck to the graveside, it hit me: The Cemetery is so peaceful.
I thought about all the people who have gone before us, those who had lived full lives, and even those like my sister who is buried there, who didn't, but are now fully alive in Christ Jesus. I thought about my salvation and how one day, while my body may be buried in a place like that, my soul will be with Christ and I will be fully known and will know Jesus fully, and that peace just washed over me.
During the service I read these words:
There was a Saturday, much like this one, over 2000 years ago, where 11 of Jesus disciples were sitting in the upper room, wondering if they were next. They had seen all the events of the days leading up to Jesus' crucifixion, and I can only imagine the questions that were being asked; namely, why did he have to die?
When we come into contact with death, it makes us feel uneasy. It makes us feel pain and sorrow. But I am reminded of Psalm 30: 5 which says, 'For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.'"
I think it is real easy sometimes for us to forget why Jesus had to come in the first place. As humans, we have to come to understand that we are broken; we are sinners in need of God's grace, but that when we receive that grace, and allow Jesus into our heart, we no longer have to fear death, or the cemetery. In fact, it can become quite a peaceful place. It can become a place that is just another stop on this journey called life as we pass from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant.
Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans that there is NOTHING that can separate us from the love of God. NOTHING.
So, let us life as people who are prepared to die, but also people who are fully alive in Christ!
Let us pray,
God of all creation, you are good and your love endures forever. Help us to live as people to die, but people who are also fully alive in Christ. Give us peace, O Lord, and help us to be a light shining in the darkness. Help us to be people who, in the midst of death, see eternal life and to be people who proclaim the Good news that Jesus died for us to make us whole.
We ask all these things in the strong name of Jesus, Our Lord,
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 37-39)
This last Friday, I got to do something I haven't been able to do in a while: I got to go to a live sporting event!
HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL IS BACK!
....and Oh, was it glorious. Not only did the Llano Yellow Jackets win, but it was just a fun game to watch all around. If it's one thing you'll learn about me, it's that I love football. I don't care what level: High school, College, Professional, or even Youth League. I love to watch the game. It's more than just hard hitting defense, or fast running offense, but when you get into the weeds of it, it's like a chess game.
Every player on the field has to play their part. The offensive linemen have to block, the receivers have to run their routes, and the quarterback has to know where everyone is supposed to be. The best teams move as one unit, everyone knowing their place, knowing their assignment, and knowing the play.
As I was sitting at the game on Friday with our new youth pastor, Ashleigh, and her husband Jordan, we talked about all the cool stuff going on in Llano and in our lives. At one point, our conversation turned to Llano and what we see God doing here; that there is a sense of "Unity" that we have not felt anywhere else.
I cannot speak for the other Churches in the community, but I just feel like God is up to something big in this little town. I feel that there is a sense of Unity in the Spirit; that the churches of this community aren't in ministry to compete, but are in ministry to save souls...it's a team effort.
I am reminded of Paul's first letter to the people in Corinth where he says in Chapter 12, beginning in verse 12:
"Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we are all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body -- whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free -- and we were all given the same Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many."
See, we can be from different backgrounds, different denominations, different understandings of Baptism and Communion, and yet, God's Spirit is still the same, no matter what Church we call our "Home Church."
It is my prayer that every single church in the town of Llano continue to put Christ first in all things. In our decision making, in our invitations, and in our cooperation with each other!
And just like a well coached football team, I pray we work together for the common goal; making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!
Almighty and Gracious God,
You are Good, and your Love endures forever. We give you praise for all that you have done, all that you are doing, and all that you will do with YOUR church in Llano. We ask for continued protection for all of our churches as we continue to meet out of faith, even in the midst of this pandemic. We ask that you help us to be of one Spirit as we work to bring people to you. Help us to build relationships with our brothers and sisters of other denominations and backgrounds. Help us all to be your CHURCH in Llano.
In The Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!
Many of you know I started out ministry as a youth pastor. If I am honest, somewhere in the back of my mind I always knew I was going to go through the Ordination process to become an elder, but I think there was a small....OK...really big part of me...that tried to run from God for so long. I guess you can say that Youth Ministry was the "gateway" for me into what I am doing now. That doesn't diminish the role of a youth pastor, only to say that I believe many of the lessons I learned as a youth pastor have brought me to the place I am today.
In my previous appointment, one of my students always seemed to have a hard time saying the word "pastor;" it always came out "pasture." And so, of course being in youth ministry, it stuck. Now, on my table in my office I have a nice "pasture" with a Donkey and a Cross, and a blanket with my newly coined name embroidered on it. What started as a joke, turned into something special.
Living in Texas, especially in the Hill Country, there are some pretty beautiful pastures. There is nothing better than the Texas Hill Country in the Springtime; flowers blooming cows in the pastures, and and lots of green grass. To me, it is one of the most peaceful things in the world.
As a Pastor, I believe it is my calling to bring the peace of Christ with me wherever I go. There are many stories about Jesus when he would enter the room and he would say something like, "Peace be with you." (Luke 24:36)
There have been many times when I have been invited into a situation where there hasn't been any peace. Deaths, family disputes, tragedies, the list goes on...
And yet, I have been called to bring the peace of Christ with me; to enter in to a moment, walk along side a family and minister.
When Christ came to this world, the world was not at peace (kinda like now). The Romans ruled the known world with an iron fist, there were famines, wars, and life was difficult for many reasons. And yet, Christ entered in, not as a conquering hero, but as a baby. He did things a lot differently then everyone else.
Where winds would rage, Jesus calmed the storm. Where people were filled with demons, Jesus drew them out and cast them away. Where people were sick with leprosy, Jesus would touch them and make them clean.
Peace...Like a Peaceful Pasture.
I hope this week, you experience the peace that passes all understanding.
Let us Pray...
Oh God, you are Good, and your love endures forever. Help us to feel your peace around us, and help us to bring your peace with us into every situation. Calm our hearts, heal our bodies, and wash our lands. Help us to put you first in everything we do.
In Jesus' name,
The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name's sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD