“I have an affection for a great city. I feel safe in the neighborhood of man, and enjoy the sweet security of the streets." -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Monday, March 28, 2011

Woman at the Well

You know, It is amazing what happens when the timing and situation are right. A woman has gone to the well to gather water in the middle of the day. The middle of the day to avoid the crowd of other women. To avoid the chattiness and conversation that ensues around the well in the morning and evening. Most women to go the well in the morning and evening, not in the heat of the day, but this particular woman has chosen the heat and solitude over the looks and shameful conversation of women who were probably at one time her friends. At the well she hopes to see no one. She hopes that this will be a quick trip, there and back, no one to make eye contact with or exchange a greeting.

As she approaches the well she sees a man. Oh great she thinks, “Just what I need.” The man is tired, sweaty, and in desperate need for some water. So, he asks her for a drink. She looks at him confused. It is obvious that he is a Jewish man. She is a Samaritan woman. They should not talk. She expected him to ignore her. Let her go about her business. Alone. But rather, he asks her for a drink. So she responds. Confused she says, “Why do you want a drink from me. You know we should not share things in common. I am a Samaritan and you are a Jew. Are you sure you want something to drink from me?”

His response is surprising and perhaps even more confusing than his request. “If you knew who was talking to you then you would have asked for living water.” She is perplexed. “What do you mean?” she asked. “You not no bucket and that well is really deep. There is no way you can gather water from this well without a bucket or something. Who do you think you are? Do you think you are better than our ancestor Jacob who built this well for us? How do you plan on getting this living water?”

And so Christ, looks at this woman, tired from the journey in the noonday heat and he beings to explain. Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life."

The first summer I worked at Blue Lake each day during our break a few of the counselors would quickly grab our bathing suites, eave camp and drive a few miles down a dirt road to a place called Blue Springs. Deep in the Conechah National Forrest is a natural spring of water… cold water, which felt so good during those hot summer days. At Blue Springs there was a large oak tree. Someone had nailed a few 2x4’s to the trunk to aid in climbing this great tree. Almost every afternoon I would climb the tree, shimmy my way out onto one of its largest branches, grab onto the rope tied to a branch from the top, then swing out on the rope letting go at the right time and falling into the cold water below. When my feet hit the water for the first time each day my breath was taken away by the unexpected cold water. Once in the spring I could feel the water moving, gushing up all around me.

Living water moves. It ebbs and flows. It creates waves and washes over rocks, people, sand, and other objects. It is not stagnate. It does not stand still.

I am not sure how man of you have ever been white water rafting. The first time I went I was in the 7th grade. My mother and I took a trip to North Carolina. My mother is all about adventures, and for her this qualified as an adventure. We loaded the buss from the Nantahala Outdoor center and drove it a few miles down the river. When we got out of the boat, I looked at the rushing water below. Although I was familiar with the gulf coast waves we see in places like Gulf Shores and Destin this was not familiar. The waves were not methodical. They did not come ever few seconds. You could not anticipate the next “big one.” Rather they were irregular, rough, and untimed. The waves came and went as they pleased, bumping over rocks, rushing over tree stumps, and knocking the breath out of you if you dared get in their way. The water was alive.

When Christ encounters this woman at the well he offers her something that she does not understand. Water that is living. Water from which she will never be thirsty again. Water that gives eternal life. The Messiah explains to her the situation of her life. The husbands that she has had. The shame that she encounters day in and day out because the man she is living with sees her unworthy or unfit to marry. It is a shameful existence. It is why she comes to the well in the middle of the hot hot day.

She does not understand our Lord. How can you offer me water that will permanently quench my thirst? Water that will give me eternal life? Water that will allow me to never come to this well again in the middle of the hot day…in the noon day heat. Water that cure my shame. My sorrow. My regret.” She does not understand, then it clicks.

I spent Friday and Saturday with our confirmation class at the 4H center in Shelby County. Watching our sixth graders participate in the low ropes course was quite entertaining. Their instructor was wonderful. A person trained in team building and low ropes guided our group through the entire course… directing them and giving them help as they needed it. There were a few that required simple team building then there was one challenge, in particular, that required thinking outside of the box.

This was the challenge. They were instructed to get on a log suspended from the trees by cables that swung back and forth. Once on the log, they had to sing “Twinkle, twinkle little star” without their feet touching the ground. So they first sit facing forward. It does not work. Many of them fall off the log backward feet in the air, including one of their fearless leaders Wayne Lambert. Then they try to sit with legs on either side of the log. This does not work either. Then the instructor tells them to think about the words he has used to instruct them. He had never told them they had to actually “sit” on the log. They start to talk among themselves… then the light bulb goes off. They realize they have been going about this the wrong way. One of the girls demonstrates what the whole group is supposed to do by sitting on the ground and propping their legs up on the log. The only thing that had to be on the log was their feet. They easily sing “Twinkle, twinkle, little star.”

The same is true about the story we have read this morning. The woman questions Jesus over and over again. She does not understand that he is the Son of God. She does not get that he is the messiah. She does not understand the that water she is being offered is not water from Jacob’s well but rather the Spirit of God. Water that quenches her shame. Water that gives eternal life. Water that hope in a situation that seems hopeless. She finally understands what Jesus means by living water.

And then she does something remarkable. She shares what she has learned. She leaves her jar at the well. She forgets about why she has come to that place, and she goes and shares that she has, in fact, met the Messiah. She becomes so overwhelmed with the message, the hope, and the forgiveness. She shares that she an encountered the living God who has offered her living water. The message is clear. She is transformed. She is no longer ashamed but rather she run back to the village telling those who’s words and stares once hurt the message she has encountered. She says, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?"

Yes, he can. Those that she tells leave the village and go quickly to Jacob’s well. They, too, want to meet this man. This Messiah. The Savior. They go to the well because she was bold enough to share the message of hope with others. Even those who knew her shame. Who knew her life. Even those who whispered behind her back and who’s stares hurt to her face. She tells others about the Messiah.

This past week at our Lenten Lunches, we were challenged by Russ Dunman of the River Region United Way to share our faith. We were challenged to share the gospel…especially during this Lenten season. He challenged us to not necessarily give up something during this season, but rather to take on something. Something that we are often to hesitant to do. We were challenged to be like the woman at the well. To share our encounter with the Messiah with joy, excitement, and without hesitation.

It is often difficult to be like to the woman at the well. To understand that God gives us Living water. Flowing through our hearts and minds. To understand that in a life where the only thing certain is death that we are given eternal life. Often the message of Jesus is as foreign to us as it was to the woman at the well, but once God penetrates our hearts, once the living water of baptism and the spirit flows within us we cannot help but share what we have experienced with others. Once we are reminded of the grace we received at our baptism. One we come to the fount and touch the waters of baptism we receive the living water. The grace of God flows through us, over us, and within us. The grace of God covers us.

It is my hope that as we journey to the cross through this season of Lent, we will be reminded of the conversation that takes place at Jacob’s well. We will be reminded of the love, the grace, and the flowing water that Jesus offers all of us. It is my hope that we will be reminded of the woman at the well. And that we will share that living water with others. Following the service, I invite you to come to the font. To touch the water and to be reminded of the living water that Christ offers all of us.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Up On the Mountain

Matthew 4:1-11

Last Wednesday we came into this place, to this beautiful sanctuary, gathered here as a community of faith, joined with one another and worshipped as we entered into the season of repentance—the season the Lent. Together with our brothers and sisters we began a journey—a journey to the cross—to Golgotha. Many of us have vowed to give up things during this time that often separate us from the faith. For many of this us this may be chocolates, meat, technology, cokes, or television. Over the next forty days we will be tempted to take part in some of those things in which we enjoy the rest of the year. But when we are tempted we can remember that we are not alone.

As we journey to the cross with Christ, we know that Christ has also encountered temptation. And like Christ overcame death, Christ also overcame Satan during that time in the wilderness. Journey with me, if you will, to that place, to the wilderness, to the isolation of the desert where Christ was for forty days. Forty days of solitude and loneness. Forty days without his family, his disciples, his friends. For forty days, he left his ministry. For forty days he left those who needed healing, loving, and redeeming—those who needed to hear the Gospel. For forty days he prayed, he communed with God, he communed with our Creator. For forty days, he worshipped, not even letting food or water interrupt his time with our Lord. For forty days he remembered why he had been sent to this earth. At the end of these forty days weak and tired, Christ encounters the Devil. With barely enough strength to talk, the Devil tempts our Lord three times.

Temptation is not something specific to Christ. We have all experienced temptation, but this one was different. Face to face he comes into contact with the Devil. Face to face he encounters the evil one. Face to face he is temped.

In the first temptation, he is offered food. And after forty days without food and water, many of us would jump at the chance for nourishment. Yet, unlike us, Christ holds fast and is strong. He does not yield to the temptation. In the second temptation, Christ is offered the easy way out. It seems that through out his ministry he is telling people that he is the Son of God, but few seem to believe. Yet by jumping off this pinnacle, it would indeed show that he is the son of man. Christ, though, does not take the easy road, but instead chooses to continue to heal, to love, to preach, and to pray that others would come to know him as the Lord. In the third temptation, the Devil offers power, all the kingdoms of the world. It may seem funny to hear Christ, who is the Son of God, being offered earthly kingdoms. We all too often know what it is like to be tempted by the desire of power and authority. And so perhaps Christ resists this temptation just for us, to show us the possibility to not bow down, that power and authority are not just givens in the world.

We have all been tempted, and through our temptation we have all fallen short. This is not new news to us as human beings who often give into our human nature. And we also know that our temptations have consequences. It seems that gambling has taken center stage in our local news. WSFA, the Adversities, the Mobile-Press Register, and the Birmingham News, have all reported on the horrors of the greed in our state. This issue has harmed and divided our state. The United Methodist church is very clear about where we stand on this issue and we have seen the result of greed in our own communities. It is the need for power, for wealth, and for social standing that has placed our state in the national news. It is the temptation that drives us toward power and wealth. While some of our state’s leaders await trial, temptation continues to loom in all of our lives. It is something that, regardless of where we go or what we do, we cannot escape. It is always in our lives. Temptation surrounds us.

The political figures and those in the business world are not the only ones subject to temptation. All of us have been tempted. All of us have fallen short. All of us need to know that we have been saved by God through grace alone. It is the power of the Messiah that allowed Christ to reject the temptation offered to him in the wilderness and it the power of God in our own lives that gives us the courage, the faith, and the assurance to stand up to temptation in whatever form it presents itself… be it in lives held in jeopardy by gambling or by the tempting pleasures of eating a bite of meat, giving into the piece of chocolate, or parousing facebook for just a few minuets. Like Christ, all of us face temptation.

Following years of Apartied in South Africa, a man who had been imprisoned for 27 years was elected President of the new democratic South Africa. Nelson Mandela was the first political authority of African descent to rule over the country. For years the National Party which was composed of white men and women known and Afrikaners controlled the country’s political and economical environment, oppressing all who disagreed with their views. Arrested, charged, and convicted for national sabotage, Nelson expected to spend the rest of his life imprisoned by the National Party. In prison Mandela preformed hard labor in lime quarries and was allowed one visitor and one letter every six months. Life seemed grim, but the world was changing and in 1990 he was released from prison. Following years of hatred, violence, racial persecution, animosity, and economic inequality it would have been easy for Mandela to further divide the country, by simply reversing the roles, by seeking revenge on those who harmed him, his family, and his nation. The temptation was great for Mandela to give those who harmed him a taste of their own medicine. To show them what it is like to be persecuted, harmed, and unjustly treated. Payback would have been easy. But Nelson Mandela did not do that. Instead, Mandela looked that temptation in the face, and like Christ so often teaches us, offered love. He offered peace. He offered equality to those that had not offered it to him. He united the country by making sure those in his cabinet, in the police force, and people in his army were of both African and European descent. Life was different and it was certainly not easy but for the first time in South African history, power was not something you achieved by the color of your skin but rather through your accomplishments and hard work.

Following years of violence and hatred, it would have been easy for Mandela to offer the same to those who persecuted him. Yet, as history tells us, this is not what he did. He looked temptation straight in the face and with the smile that the whole world saw time and time again through the news media turned temptation down. He choose justice rather than retribution. He did not fall to temptation. He did not give others a taste of their own medicine, but under his leadership, South Africa became a well-respected country with economic stability. And because Mandela did not do what was typically expected, he became a world leader and inspiration and was awarded the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize.

It is often difficult to look temptation in the face and turn the other face. Yet, when we do this the rewards are great. When Jesus found himself alone in the wilderness. Satan offered him food, glory, and power at his weakest moment. And Jesus, our messiah, the savior of the world looked the devil and temptation straight in the face, knowing that he had been sent to this earth for a purpose—to love, to heal, to teach, and to save.

During the next forty days, we will journey with Christ to the cross, to Golgotha; we will hear him teach his disciples about love, grace, and forgiveness. We will hear him to proclaim that he is the Son of God. We will see some believe and other lack faith to comprehend that he is infact the Messiah. I invite you to open your minds and hearts to this message. To see the healing, to understand the grace, and to experience the love. To see the courage of standing up to the Evil One and the compassion of carrying his cross to the hill of Calvary. To know that although Christ was tempted, Christ looked the devil in the face, and turned around. Saying “no” I will not give into the need for food, glory, or power.

Throughout life we encounter many temptations, some more obvious than others. Yet, when we follow the teaching of our Messiah, the outcome is always for our benefit. Although this is often difficult in the world in which we live, in a world that values power, seeks revenge, we can look to the cross knowing that through our temptations there is one who walks beside us in this life. There is one who gives us the courage to say “no,” and there is one who offers love and forgiveness, even when we stumble. It is from our Savior that we find our strength, even when it seems most difficult.

So I invite you to journey with me for the next fourty days. Keep your eyes focused on the cross. Hear the words of our Lord that contain our Salvation. And know that through this journey during next forty days and through all phases of life, there is one who walks with us. One who has overcome temptation and the world, who has overcome sin and death, who has overcome hatred and injustice. And that one, our Messiah has called us to be people who seek after the cross, and who offer love and grace to others as it has been offered to us.

God of mercy, Your word was the sure defense of Jesus in his time of testing. Minister to us in the wilderness of our temptation, that we who have been set free from sin by Christ may serve you well into life everlasting. Amen.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Ok, you probably do not want to get me started on books that talk about only men needing adventure. There are plenty out there, but in my humble opinion, adventure is something that we all crave. It is something that we need. It is the reason we go to the lake for the weekend and try our hand at fishing or travel to Europe. We need the bustle of city streets or the challenge of swimming across Blue Lake. We need adventure in its various forms, fashions, challenges, failures, and rewards. Adventure is the reason people start their own business, renovate their homes, or move to new places. Recently I have been craving this adventure. I am not sure if I need to take off for a camping trip for the weekend or go to the city. You would think my recent trips to Boston and NYC would suffice, but no. It is the process. It is the craving we have in our inner being to transform and explore. So, all people need adventure. Not just men. Not just women. All of us. I would like to think it is a way we have been created.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Country Road... take me home.

You know, it is not everyday that someone asks me to do a funeral for one of their loved ones. Today was a special day. A wonderful family in my church asked me to do the funeral for their grandmother, a woman they loved dearly. I was honored to be asked to do this. As I found out more about the day, I realized we would be going to "my neck of the woods" near Greenville, Alabama. As I left the suburban area of Prattville following my close friends, I soon realized we were getting close to the middle of nowhere.
The middle of nowhere is a wonderful place, regardless of where it might be. My family is from the middle of nowhere, a small farm called Pine Flat halfway between Greenville and Camden, Alabama. This middle of nowhere looked very similar to my middle of nowhere...and it warmed my heart. Following the service, lunch was provided by a wonderful group of ladies in the fellowship hall of a small Church of Christ. Deviled eggs, meatloaf, ham, casseroles, green beans, lima beans, cornbread, potato salad, mashed potatoes, and did I mention deviled eggs filled the room. It was a wonderful time of fellowship, togetherness, and remembrance. Thanks be to God.

Monday, February 7, 2011

On the move...

One of my hobbies is running. I am not saying that I am fast, or competitive, or really all that committed, but I do enjoy it. I started this hobby at some point following college. I enjoyed running while I was an intern at the Wesley Foundation at Auburn University. I loved my rout through campus and the "loveliest village on the plains." I ran a good bit in graduate school and loved finding new places to run through the city of Atlanta... love love love Freedom Parkway! Now I run in Prattville. I am having a hard time finding new routs. There are some necessary things I need for a good running path.

1. Sidewalks... I know it is best to run on the road but I like the option of not paying attention to traffic.
2. A safe area. Now there are probably very few "unsafe" areas in my small community but I like a place where I see people. Where if I fall and hurt my knee and scream someone pays attention. I also like a well lit area.
3. A variety of scenery. I like to be entertained... what can I say?

If you have any thoughts please message me or leave a comment.

Also, am I the only one who things this has been the longest winter we have had in a long time? I am over winter. Sunday afternoon gave me a glimpse of spring. It was beautiful and I ran for 3 miles through my neighborhood. I am beyond tired of the cold, rainy, gloomy weather. Spring, can you please hurry up! Please!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Gift of Water

Matthew 3:13-17

Each year, many children and adults come to this font to be baptized. They have the water sprinkled or poured over their heads. If they are infants, unable to answer for themselves, their parents reaffirm their faith, proclaiming their belief in Jesus Christ. We, as a community of faith promise to encourage them, strengthen them, and support them in the faith. This is not simply an individual act, but rather it is a communal act.

I remember the first time I baptized a child at that font. It was a joyous occasion for the family, but also for me personally as it was the first time I had baptized a child, ever. As a said the prayer of blessing over the water, saying the words “Pour out your Holy Spirit to bless this gift of water and the child that receives it. To wash away his sin and clothe him in righteousness throughout his life, that in dying and being raised with Christ he may share in Christ’s final victory.” I felt as if the spirit of God entered this sanctuary, covering this child, and strengthening his parents. It was a moment I will remember for the rest of my life. A few weeks later, his parents sent me a picture along with his birth announcement. Like a proud parent, or in my case, minister, that picture hangs on my refrigerator, reminding me of the way that God’s spirit covered both of us that day. I am sure when he is a teenager, or college student, or adult we will run into each other, and each time I will remind him that he was, the first child I baptized. With great joy, and perhaps a little bit of pride, I will tell him about that day. I would be surprised if after a few times he will be interested in the story, but for me it will be a cherished memory, a remarkable story.

Baptism is often difficult to understand, or explain. Various traditions have different opinions, theological stances, and interpretations about this holy act. As United Methodist we believe baptism is a sacrament; meaning God uses common elements, in this case water, as a mean of divine grace. For our church, baptism is the act of God through the grace of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit.

As the water pours over the person, the Spirit of the Lord descends upon them. They become part of the community of faith. It is by water and the spirit that we are all baptized. It is by water and the spirit that we are integrated into the community of faith. It is by water and that spirit that we are all called children of the Almighty God.

Unlike the Methodist church, many traditions simply baptize because it is in the Matthew passage that we read this morning. In this passage, we see how Christ began his ministry. This is how it all started. It is the story of Christ going from a small child, Mary’s little baby boy, to an adult. It is here we see this transformation- the spirit of God descending upon the Messiah, affirming Christ, and declaring Jesus as God’s only Son. It is indeed a remarkable story. And so like Christ, we respond as well…offering ourselves, and our children for baptism, for transformation and incorporation into the Body of Christ. Knowing, that it is not something that we do, rather it is something that God does. God’s spirit ascends on us, covering us, loving us, and affirming us.

When I worked as an intern at First United Methodist in College Park, baptisms were an especially exciting time in the life of the congregation. The congregation at College Park is comprised of mostly older adults with few young families and children. When I was there we confirmed three teenagers, and that was cause for a great celebration since they had not had a confirmation class in over five years. It makes me very thankful for all of the young people we confirm each year. Funerals, at College Park, are much more frequent than baptisms, so when there is a baptism it is also cause for a great celebration. One Sunday, while I was there, we baptized one of the few babies in the congregation. To hear that community of older adults promising to raise this child in the faith brought tears to my eyes. They proclaimed the words we often say “With God’s help we will proclaim the god news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround this child with a community of love and forgiveness, that he may grow in his trust of God and be found faithful in his service to others. We will pray for him, that he may be a true disciple who walks in the way that leads to life eternal.” When they spoke these words, words they rarely had the opportunity to speak, they meant what they said. They took the responsibility very seriously. The words that were infrequently spoken, were said with great great conviction. They made a promise to God, to the child, and to his parents, and they were serious about the promise. With those words, the spirit of the Lord came upon the child and his community of faith. It was a remarkable worship service in which all who were there encountered the Divine.

When we, this United Methodist community of faith, respond during baptism with the same words spoken in Untied Methodist congregations in Cameroon, Chattanooga, Chicago, or College Park we each live out those words differently even thought they have the same meaning. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, tells us that we have each been given different gifts[1] and we are called to use those gifts for the Kingdom of God… to lead all of God’s children in the “way that leads to live eternal.”

When I was a child Miss Sue Ellen Autry took that promise very seriously as my two years old Sunday school teacher. Each Sunday she showed up to “teach” a group of two year olds about Jesus’ love for them. Although I did not understand Christ love for me at that point in my life, I was certain Miss Sue Ellen loved me and that was enough at the age of two. When I was three Miss Rhonda helped me find my voice and a microphone as I bolted out the words “If I were a bell I would ring, ring ding a ling I would ring, but a bell I will never be because I am happy you see just being me.” She took the promise she made at my baptism very seriously. When I was in the sixth grade John and Josephine Foshee took their promise very seriously as they lead about twenty 12 year old in confirmation, showing us that faith could be cool and fun integrating bands that we listened to at home like Phish or Dave Matthews into their weekly lessons. As a high school student I went on various mission trips with my youth group. Brad Norris, a contractor from my home church, took his promise very seriously as he helped high school students with construction in a third world country. As an adult, many of you have taken that promise seriously as you continue to affirm my call to ministry. The promises we make carry a great deal of weight. In their own way each of these people helped “lead me in the way that leads to life eternal.”

When we all make this promise, it is important for us to think about they way we are going to help lead the child “in the way that leads to life eternal.” Some of you have the gift of teaching, so when you say ”We will surround this child with a community of love and forgiveness, that he may grow in his trust of God, you are promising that child, his or her parents, and God that you will teach that child. You will teach them in vacation bible school, or Sunday school, or in a bible study when they are an adult. If you have the gift of administration you are promising to make sure that their playground is safe, their youth room is a place of growth, or that their Sunday school classroom is easily accessible when they become an older adult. If you have the gift of song you are promising to teach their 4-year-old choir, lead them in a youth praise band, or lead as an example in making a joyful noise during worship. If you have the gift of service and outreach you are promising to help them make cards for soldiers overseas, or support them in planning a college mission trip, or visiting them in the nursing home. If you have the gift of care and compassion you are promising to encourage them when they when they fall, love them when they do wrong, and support them when they grieve. If you have the gift of diligent prayer, you are promising to pray for them at all times and through all parts of their life.

Regardless of your gifts, you are making a promise to raise them in the “way that leads to life eternal” and this does not simply apply when they are a child but as they grow and mature in the faith. It is a promise we make to that child and we remember the promises that were made to us when we were baptized. It is a promise we make to the parents and we remember people who supported and encouraged us along our journey of faith. It is a promise we make to the Lord, vowing to care for our Creator’s children. It is a remarkable promise we all make.

Christ began his ministry on this earth by first being baptized. When we are baptized we are incorporated into the body of Christ, into the community of faith. It is here we begin our journey of faith… the journey of love and understanding of our Lord. This journey is not always an easy path. There are often challenges when our faith is questioned, but through those who have promised to support, encourage, and lead us in the way to life eternal our faith remains solid. It remains our foundation. As I look out into this congregation, I am reminded of the promise that I, with you, made to that precious little boy I baptized about a year ago. And with that promise I am reminded of my promise to all of you. When we vow to raise a child in the way that leads to life eternal, it is not just to that specific child, but rather it to the enter Body of Christ. The words we say certainly carry a great deal of weight. They are reassuring, comforting, and at the same time challenging.

I will always remember the first child I baptized, I will always remember hearing you say those words. Words of challenge, comfort, and reassurance. That day, that precious boy was incorporated into the Body of Christ, that day he became part of the community of faith. That day he began the journey. The journey that leads to life eternal. Let us remember the words that we so frequently proclaim” With God’s help we will proclaim the god news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround this child with a community of love and forgiveness that they may grow in their trust of God and be found faithful in their service to others. We will pray for them, that they may be a true disciple who walks in the way that leads to life eternal.” Knowing that with those words we person begins their journey and we fulfill a promise. Knowing that through the water and the spirit the individual is brought into the Body of Christ. God’s grace covers them. God transforms them, and they are given into our care. Let us go forth from here sharing in the promise, rejoicing in the spirit, and being cleansed by the water.

[1] 1 Corinthians 12:4-11

The Word Became Flesh

John 1:1-14

The day after Christmas is often anti-climatic. Rarely to people look forward to the 26th. Toys have been opened, dinner has been eaten, and surprises are no longer surprises. Secrets that have been kept for weeks and weeks have been revealed…. and most of all Santa is resting. Within an hour, there were no longer presents under the tree at my mother’s house. The present I bought weeks ago in Atlanta for my mother had been opened. Steve opened his presents, including some of my grandfather’s cuff links and even Liza, my dog, had opened her stocking and seemed to be enjoying her new toy. Soon we would eat baked cheese grits, bacon, and apricot scones. The time of excitement is Christmas morning, this is what children have been looking forward to for weeks and weeks. The rest of the day, for most of us, is spent watching children play… and, if you are lucky, taking a nap. Rarely is today, the 26th of December exciting. On December 26th, life attempts to go back to normal.

But, for whatever reason, this is always more difficult that it seems. It is hard for life to go back to normal. After all, we have been watching Christmas commercials since Halloween. Following Thanksgiving we entered the season of Advent: Children’s programs, choir cantata’s, missions festivals, and worship services prepared our lives and our hearts for our savior to enter. We sang “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” over and over. We read our advent devotionals; we worshiped together on Christmas Eve, taking communion. We sang JOY TO THE WORLD OUR LORD IS COME with excitement lifting our candles knowing that our savior had been born. After weeks and weeks of waiting, weeks of advent. After weeks of preparing our hearts for the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ has been born. God is here! Our Savior sleeps in a manger. Mary looks at her precious baby boy with wonder. Joseph, the proud earthly papa, gazes at the child with pride. Our Lord has come to this earth. After all of this it is very difficult for life to go back to normal.

We almost feel bad, for taking down the decorations, for taking down the tree. And if you are anything like me, you wait until the very end to take down the nativity set. It often sometimes seems like we take Jesus out of the world as quickly as he entered on Christmas Eve. We briefly celebrate the incarnation, then move to celebrate with friends and family, then nap, then wrap everything up, gently placing the ornaments in their boxes, hauling the tree to the curb, and placing the wreath back in the attic. But even if this is our tendency, it does not have to be the reality.

Now, do not hear me say that you need to keep your Christmas decorations our all year long. That is not the point. Indeed your neighbors will mind if your 10,000 light blinking nativity set is ablaze in May. Your tree will eventually become a fire hazard, and leaving decoration our all yearlong makes them less special when they go out next year. BUT life is different.

Our world is different because “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.” The incarnation IS real. God has become human. Love has come to this earth. “the Word has become flesh.” God is among us. God works with us. God taught us. God is given for us, for our salvation. That precious baby, God in the flesh, has come to this earth with a mission. Because of that… life is different. We have a new reason to rejoice. We have a new reason to serve. Because God loved, us, we now turn and love our neighbor. The birth of Christ comes into all aspects of our life...it becomes the theme of our world…the reason we love. The reason we worship. Christ becomes the reason we serve. Like Christ was born in an ordinary stable, in an ordinary manger, to two ordinary people, we find the Messiah in the ordinary places. We find Christ, “The Word who has become flesh is found in the most common of places.”One of my professors at Emory University tells this story about the incarnation. Dr Thomas Long states,

“A few years ago a church located in a large city decided to turn its gymnasium into a night shelter for homeless people. Every winter there were reports that some of these people, condemned to sleep out in the open, had frozen to death, and so the church made the warmth and safety of its building available without charge. Each evening during the winter, volunteers from the church would spend the night in the shelter, providing food, clothing, and lodging for as many of the homeless as the building would hold. Almost without exception, the volunteers reported that the experience of spending the night with these people from the streets had been far more than an act of dutiful charity. The volunteers had found their own faith strengthened, their own reliance upon the grace of Christ reinforced by the experience. Several months after the shelter was opened, one of the pastors of the church was being interviewed on a radio talk program. The interviewer was an opinionated fundamentalist whose biases were quite strong. It became clear during the interview that he felt that the church ought to stick to the business of preaching the old-time gospel and stay away from meddlesome activities like shelters for homeless people. "Now just tell me," he jeered at one point, "where is Jesus in all this?" For a moment the pastor considered silently how to respond, then said calmly, "You just have to be there…”

The incarnation is real, even after the lights go up, even after the presents are unwrapped, the incarnation continues to live among us. The incarnation continues with us, through the New Year. Even into places and times where the 10,000 light decorations would be frowned upon. The incarnation is real. The word has become flesh, and God dwells among us!

As people of faith we find it in different places, both past and present. We see God at work in our lives. We see our Lord moving among us, through us, and within us. This year I received a very unique and special present from my mother. These were the words, it contained. “Women are included in all provisions of the Discipline referring to the ministry.” The present I unwrapped on Christmas morning was a Book of Discipline from 1956, the year our General Conference voted to allow the ordination of women. As I opened it with tears in my eyes, I knew it would be a book I would value for the rest of my life. The incarnation was at work during that General Conference almost 55 years ago. The incarnation was at work in the ordinary place, the Alpha Chi Omega hall at Auburn University when called me to go into ministry. The incarnation was at work when you received me with open arms, continuing to affirm my call to ministry. God is found in our ordinary places. The word has become flesh!

It was in a stable in Bethlehem that God, in Jesus Christ came to this earth. It was a manger rather than a throne. It was a peasant girl, rather than royalty. The visitors where Sheppard’s rather dignitaries and persons of power.

God rarely makes a grand entrance. God does not require our pomp and circumstance to enter into our world, to bring light to our darkness. God is found in the normal. In a stable. In a gymnasium. In a sorority dorm. In Prattville, Alabama. God is found in our ordinary. You do not have to look far to see that the word has actually become flesh. To see that God is present among us.

A few weeks ago, as a community of faith, we gathered one Sunday evening in the beginning of Advent for an Advent Missions festival. We gathered together and participated in different services projects that allowed over 700 people, 700 people, to know that our church cares for them. To know that God loves them. In places like Epworth 101, Sunday school class rooms, and Pratt Hall, the incarnation was truly at work. God was at work in us. God was at work among us. God was at work through us. Jesus Christ uses our ordinary for the extraordinary.

The incarnation calls us to continuing seeking God even after the tree is placed away, even after the presents are unwrapped, even after the food is eaten, even after the candles from worship services are extinguished, the incarnation beckons us to find Christ in all places. In the ordinary. In our homes, in our places of work, in our school, in our stores, even in our gymnasiums.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

The word has become flesh, and God dwells among us. Let us seek our Lord, who was, who is, and who is to come in all places, through all people, and in all circumstances.