Abuelo

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In my life, I’ve only had one Abuelo. My other grandfather died about seven years before I was born so my only recollection, my only experience with a grandfather, was with Juan Ramón.

Abuelo was an interesting man. He could understand English because when he was in grade school Spanish was outlawed. He was interested in politics, religion, and music. For as long as I remember he would go out in the evenings to gather with a group of guys to sing. He was an old-school singer who remembered serenades and singing in the corners of the barrio.

He was also a storyteller. About his growing up on the farm and his leaving home around 14 to go into the city to earn a living. With only an eighth-grade education he left home, moved to the city, and worked as a sales clerk.

He was a gentle man, a compassionate and loving man. One of those people who would give the shirt off his back to anyone.  I guess he had the ability to connect, he knew hard work, determination, and family. His life story made him fearful of risktaking and comfortable with stability.

Growing up he would visit us weekly. We were always the “gitanos” the ones in the family who were nomadic, who were constantly on the move. Yet until we moved to the United States in 1992 Abuelo and Abuela would drive to where we were and spent time with us on Sunday afternoons. Abuelo would watch lucha libre (wrestling) and before he went home he would give us two dollars.

On my birthday he would call and sing to me. I was his oldest grandchild and even though I was far away he made sure that we stayed connected. His call and his singing always reminded me of home, it reminded me that no matter the moves and the new experiences there was this place, far away, that will always be there.

Abuelo was a tinkerer and a “collector” (today we might call him a bit of hoarder). He would dumpster dive before dumpster diving was cool. He could fix anything. As a child, I would go into his shop and it seemed like another world. There were old radios, contraptions of all kinds, old toys, and his tape measures which my sister and I managed to break more than once! I always wondered how Abuelo would find such amazing things!

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Abuelo taking his first “selfie.”

He told me about his life. About leaving home at 14 and going to the city. About renting an apartment from his uncle and sending money home. He told me about meeting my grandmother and about his work at a quarry and his decision to expand his house, brick by brick.

He joined the communion of saints on early this morning. Though I am heartbroken I am glad. After 93 years he got sick, tired, and disheartened all it took was Hurricane Maria and its aftermath. He had never seen anything like it, after over 100 days he still did not have power.

Abuelo taught me to be present and enjoy life. He taught me to remember the ‘little guy” and to welcome all. He taught me to tell stories and to be interested in what was happening in the world around me. In the end, he taught me to be gentle, kind, compassionate, and humble.

I’ll miss you Abuelo, I’ll see you at the great feast!

 

 

 

 

 

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Christianity, Politics, & #givegrace

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Politics & Religion

I am sure that you have heard the old adage to never speak about politics and religion. Often political seasons come and go and the church remains silent. When issues come up that hit the nerve of congregants the pastor is asked to address them, when addressed there are always those that do not want the church to become political or be political.

In some ways, it would be easier to follow the adage. Not talking about so-called political things stops the pastor from getting into trouble, from upsetting people, and might provide a political free oasis in the midst of all the chatter.

This week we begin a series of sermons that will hopefully provide some helpful context for how Christian people can and should discuss politics. Its purpose is dialogue, the learning of some shared language that will hopefully shape our community towards a different way to speak about difficult subjects.

What is the relationship between politics and God’s kingdom? What does it look like for us to engage one another and our neighbors and friends in political discussions based upon our faith in Jesus Christ? How can we model civil discourse in such a polarized political landscape? What are some key values that should drive our political decisions?

I invite you to become part of this important conversation in the next three weeks!

#givegrace

This coming Sunday we will gather for a preview of our #givegrace campaign. We will celebrate the many that have become members of our body in the last year and the many ways that we have made an impact in the lives of the people around us. I ask you to begin praying for the way that God is inviting you to invest in our congregation so that others can experience Grace in 2017.

We have a generous congregation and I know that each of you will response in gratitude to grace received through your financial investment in God’s kingdom through our congregation. All of us together making sure that others are welcomed, loved, and sent to serve!

Can’t wait for the weekend!

On Thirty-Eight

 

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©Amber Dent – AMD Photography & Design
A year goes by so fast! As I scroll through my Facebook feed I am amazed. Scrolling through my birthday messages is like taking a stroll through memory lane. People from all seasons of my life, all coming together.

I especially enjoy the many greetings from parishioners past and present. It reminds me of how real the body of Christ is, and how important it has been in my life. Being pastor is an honor and a privilege and I have been blessed by all the communities of faith that have called me pastor. I sometimes wish that they could meet each other!

My heart is filled with gratitude for my life with Shannon and the kids. The kids are growing so quickly, the fruits of our formation becoming evident. In the last year, we have laughed much, cried, explored, and rooted.

The friends have sustained us like they always have. They have provided spaces for rooting, conversation, and growth. They have also helped us discover new things and connected us with others. I am blessed!

My prayer for this next year is for a more balanced life. For better rhythms of work, play, and rest. For more time with those that I love. For more time for prayer, silence, writing, and play.  For rooting more deeply in the Shreveport community.

I also pray for continued growth in our life as Grace Community. For continued engagement in the community, to welcome others as Christ welcomes, to grow in our love of God, neighbor, and self, and to serve in the places that each of us live, work, and play.

So . . . bring it on 39th year!

Blessings & Warnings: Matthew 19

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Then the little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray.

Matthew 19:13

One of the joys of ministry is the honor to bless. Over the years I’ve blessed couples, jewelry, backpacks, keys, cars, cattle, fields, homes, bread, wine, and oil. But nothing compares to the joy of blessing children!

I love when parents bring their children to me so that I can bless them. Making the sign of the cross on their forehead as I ask for God’s Spirit to come down. I want the parents to know that God loves their child. I want the child to know, over time, that I am their pastor, that we are their church, and that God cares.

In itinerant ministry, we often do not see these children grow up. But these days with social media it is wonderful to see the growing faces of the many children that I have pastored during the years. The many foreheads that I’ve outlined with the sign of Christ, the many prayers said at table with them, and the waters of baptism that had been poured out.

One of my prayers as I continue my work among you is that I get the opportunity to see our children grow up. Experiencing the first blessing soon after birth, the blessing at baptism, the weekly blessing when the parents bring them to me at the door of the church or at the communion station. The blessing of little hands holding bread for the first time, new bibles given and faith confirmed. The blessing of entrance into High School and driving for the first time. The blessing of graduation and leaving home.

Blessing as the continuation and incarnation of the ministry of Jesus!

After speaking to us about being like children, Jesus encounters one like many of us. We know from scripture that he was a young man and that he “had many possessions.” He wants to be “good,” he wants to make sure that Jesus is pleased with him. Jesus turns the question upside down: Does he want to be good (only God is truly good)? or does he want to “enter into life?”

When Jesus mentions that keeping the commandments enter us into life, the young man says, “I’ve kept all of these, what do I still lack?”

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Matthew 19:21-22

So often we have so much available to us that we lean on our possessions, our financial resources, our security, and our position in society as the measure of the good life. As the measure of our standing before God, as the measure of how blessed we are.

Today Jesus reminds us that if we are to be like children, to be truly blessed, we must submit ourselves, recognize our inability to keep the commandments (especially the one about loving our neighbor), and our desperate need for divine Grace.

This submission might push us to ask questions of what real life is like. What is true flourishing? What really matters? What grounds us? Where does our help come from? Have we gone away?

These are scary questions, questions that make us uncomfortable, and questions that might send us away grieving since they require us to let go of everything that gets in the way of following Jesus. Everything that gets in the way of our being like children, wholly dependent on God.

This passage is one of the most difficult in the gospels, especially for citizens of the most prosperous nation in the world. So being “good” is actually impossible, and it truly does not save us. Thinking that because we have not killed anyone, cheated on our spouse, or robbed a bank we are somehow ok, is not enough either.

We find ourselves like the disciples, wondering who can be saved then? It is good to know that “[f]or mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26

We can turn back and join the community of disciples. The community of those who help one another remember to be like like children. The community of those struggling to follow Jesus. The community that knows and proclaim that all things are possible for God!

Mountain Sermon: Matthew 5

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Matthew 5 is the beginning of what we have traditionally called the Sermon on the Mount. In this sermon, Jesus gives us a picture of what it means to be a follower of God’s kingdom, a follower of his teaching, a disciple.

It begins with the beatitudes, a series of statements that should turn our understanding of the kingdom upside down.

Blessed are the spiritually poor—the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Blessed are those who mourn—they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek and gentle—they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness—they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful—they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are those who are pure in heart—they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers—they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness—the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

And blessed are you, blessed are all of you, when people persecute you or denigrate you or despise you or tell lies about you on My account. 12 But when this happens, rejoice. Be glad. Remember that God’s prophets have been persecuted in the past. And know that in heaven, you have a great reward. (VOICE)

Jesus continues to push us, prod us, and challenge us. He reminds us to be salt and light in the world. To make a difference, to live out our love for God and neighbor in obvious ways. In ways, that might seem foolish to those that observe us.

Let your light shine everywhere you go, that you may illumine creation, so men and women everywhere may see your good actions, may see creation at its fullest, may see your devotion to Me, and may turn and praise your Father in heaven because of it. (VOICE)

These are the chapters in the story of Jesus that forced me to do a self-examination. These are also the chapters that challenge me as pastor and preacher for they are hard to read, hard to preach, and even harder to live. It would be so much easier to ignore, to speak of the gospel in a different way, in a more palatable way.

I often wonder if we take these admonitions seriously? Do we believe that God has called us to live this way, that the Holy Spirit does indeed help us to be disciples, love bearers, space-makers in the world?

I look forward to hearing from all of you that are taking this journey. What do you think? What does following Jesus mean to you? How does the story of Jesus so far help challenge and inspire you?

What has been surprising so far?

I’m thankful for the church. It is that body that I am grafted to and it is that body that helps me live into the demands of discipleship.

Keep on reading . . . it gets better!!