The One of Peace

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This weekend we begin again. This beginning is called Advent, the four-week season before Christmas. It is a season of waiting, of expectation, and of hope. A season that calls us to examination, to pay attention, and to stay awake.

Advent reminds us that we are still waiting. Jesus promised that he would return to restore all things, to renew all things, that a new creation would be made known at the end of time. Each year before we celebrate Jesus’ first coming, we first rehearse our hope for his second coming. We rehearse that salvation has not reached its fullness, has not been completed, creation still groaning, humanity still groaning, for God’s final and eternal reign of peace.

The theme and sermon rhythms for this season were finalized in August. Our scriptural companion will be the Gospel according to Luke. In August as I was completing my focus statement for the sermons that are coming I realize that peace, peacemaking, and peacekeeping, were the central point of connection. I looked forward to bringing a word about the one that we wait for, the prince of peace.

This was before Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, Bamako, and Minneapolis. Before terror seem to hit too close to home. Before we were once again reminded of the peace-less reality that many in our world suffer every day.

But it was also after. After many other conflicts, wars, and rumors of war. After other acts of violence, abuse, and oppression. After we have found ourselves in a cycle of being victims and perpetrators. After years of “peace on earth” intonations.

So we begin again, we say: “O Come, O Come, God with Us!” We begin again, we look around, take a deep breath, and pay attention. We begin again, hoping that heaven comes crashing down on earth once and for all, swords turning to plowshares, tears to joy, mourning to dancing, violence to compassion,  enmity to fraternity, kingdom to kin-dom, and civilized world to common humanity.

Let us come together this weekend to re-member the one of peace. Let us come together to remember that “when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Luke 21:28

Leading Others to Abundance

Sermon Slide - Week 1

This morning we struggled together with what it means to live abundantly. Only once we begin to live this way are we going to be able to lead others into that abundance. At the cornerstone of this abundance is Christ in whom “we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28, NRSV)

It is Christ and Christ’s Spirit that allows us to look at the world through the lenses of the grace that has forgiven, restored, and transformed us. This grace is truly abundant, overflowing, spilling out, more than we need or deserve. It is both overwhelming and humbling.

Out of this abundance of grace, we encounter the other–neighbor, friend, and foe–and are able to extend that same openness, that same space, and that same love. This grace also allows us to be grace-filled in the midst of disappointment, difference, position, or preference.

When we find ourselves growing in anxiety, fear, anger, frustration, and despair towards others and ourselves we must ask if we are rooting ourselves in scarcity. What is at the core of those emotional responses? Why are we tempted to respond in ways that do not model the way of Jesus in how we respond, treat, and engage? How can we center ourselves, listen to the other, and graciously express our opinion, a point of view, or frustration?

Asking ourselves this questions begins to make room for abundance to guide us. Our eyes begin to be opened to our continual need for grace and we begin to seek others, to hear their stories, and attempt to live life alongside them so that we can better walk together. We might still disagree, we might still see situations differently, we might still struggle but living alongside provides for a redemptive position, for a space where mutual respect and acknowledgement of our identity as God’s child can guide us into life together.

This week I invite you to live out of the grace given to you. I ask you to pay attention to what God might be up to around you, to the ways that you can be a participant in leading others into abundant life in Christ. This participation pushes us beyond our comfort zones into the healing, exorcising, feeding, and restoration of all people. Into living our baptismal promise:

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you
to resist evil, injustice, and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves?

Baptismal Covenant I, The United Methodist Hymnal

Into sharing the excitement of a God whose holiness–whose abundance–led to God becoming one of us so that we could know love. This way of engagement, this way of life, this way of faith could be our biggest witness to God’s amazing grace in our city and beyond!

“Since you are all set apart by God, made holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a holy way of life: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”

Colossians 3:12, The Voice Bible

I can hear it now: “Grace Community, a community of abundance . . .” I cannot wait to see you next weekend as we continue to do talk together about Quality Control: What Shreveport Needs from Us.

On Thirty-Seven


I come from a long line of survivors,
thrivers, perseverers,
and life-warriors.

I come from surprise,
the ellipsis of life together,
from rainy weather,
and joyful cries.

I come from rhythm,
from fast talk,
slow walks,
and “stayin’ with’em.”

I come from mystery,
attuned to awe, wonder,
pruned stories, made to answer,
and students of history.

I come from dreamers,
seers of another way,
ears to another whisper,
and justice screamers.

I come from lovers,
of all people, no matter the stories,
from mourners of the heartbreaks,
and pointers to the peace that hovers.

I come from thirty-seven,
from years of being companioned,
shaped by community and solitude,
and hopeful for earthly heaven.

In Memoriam VIII

EightDear Garrett,

Eight . . . eight is the number of years since your leaving. So much life happens in eight years, so much grief outpoured, so much thinking and reflecting done. Eight is long enough to notice that time has gone by but when it comes to death, eight might as well be one. Such is the finality of death, such is the promise of eternal life.

Recently I told your story, our story again. This time around a dinner table as we gathered to say goodbye (for now) to Papa Gene. Death stimulates our longing for stories, death begs for re-membering, death begs for the balm that stories bring. So I told our story, your story again.

I know that I am not alone, that the many you touched in life are often telling your story, somehow still trying to make sense of it, trying to find healing for what is now a scar that will never go away.

In the last year, I’ve been constantly reflecting on scars. On how the pastoral life leaves you marked, the longer you live it, the more marked you become. This scarring is varied and unique to each person and place. In some ways it could be seen as the rings of a tree, a sign of age, perseverance, and new life.

At times it’s our baptismal mark that gets tender, these are the moments when it seems like God has come visiting. Babies being born, couples making covenant, people gathering around crumbs, and oil on foreheads for healing, all making our baptismal mark active, tender, and strong.

Then there are the marks of disappointment, trials, and heartbreaks. Those events, encounters, and seasons that make you question yourself, your call, and the ministry of the church. These scars are incarnate examples of the difficulty of discipleship but also of the power of God to work in us and through us in spite of our scars.

Eight . . . eight is the number of years healing, hearing, and heading into my continuing call. My re-membering guides my way, my scars, keeps me humble, and your leaving continues to inspire me to be a spirit-stirrer, space-maker, and gatherer of people.

I’m still marked . . . you are still missed . . . I’ll see you at the great feast!

Peace & Love, Juan+

Be a hero, Donate Life! If you want to know G’s story click here.

Here are the previous yearly notes: In Memoriam, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII.

One Year at Grace Community

It’s really hard to believe that a year has gone by!

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Arriving at a new appointment is always difficult. Pastoral work is relational and relationships take time. Guiding a congregation like Grace Community requires the pastor to guide a group of people, connecting with them as individuals yet ministering alongside them as a community. It requires investing relationally while at the same time keeping the health and mission of the whole at the center of pastoral time, effort, and energy. Learning this balance takes time and I am thankful that now that I’ve had the honor to walk through a calendar year I’ll be able to focus on deepening my pastoral competencies, no longer focusing on experiencing everything as new.

Each day in the last year I’ve learned something new. Pastoral work is rooted in a particular community. This requires every pastor to make their curing of souls incarnate to that place at that time and to be nimble enough to leave room for the shifting hungers and needs of the mission field. Each day I’ve asked myself, how does my understanding of my task as a curer of souls, as a spiritual director, preacher, teacher, and leader, need adjustment in light of these particular people called Grace Community?

I look forward to this next year of life together. We are a unique community as we continue to find ways to tell the story of God’s redeeming love to all people in ways that they can truly hear it, in their language, where they are, good news of great joy! I think we are uniquely positioned to become a shining light in the city of Shreveport and beyond!

There are three specific gifts that I see in us that I pray will guide our future:

  1. A desire to mature spiritually – seekers becoming servants has been our mission from day one, this means that maturing spiritually (becoming a servant) is at the forefront of our identity.
  2. A desire to make spaces for reconciling conversations – our diversity across the theological, social, and political spectrum positions us uniquely in this city to have “courageous conversations” about the many issues that divide us today as we continue to make space for all people.
  3. A desire to invite others to our shared work – this is what some have called “relational evangelism” but is truly about being so excited for God’s work in our lives through our community that we want others to experience the same: Christ through grace restoring lives!

I look forward to many more years of shared life (decades?). I look forward to continue leading you as I preach/teach, empower our staff and lay leaders for ministry, and lead strategically through relationships across our denomination and community. These three tasks are at the forefront of my role as your pastoral leader into our gifted and fruitful future.

Thankful for the past year and looking forward to many more!

Peace, Juan+