On Thirty-Eight

 

Juan Staff Color
©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!!

In Memoriam IX

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Dear Garrett,

Our youngest, Lucas, is the same age that you were when you took your leaving. It’s hard to believe that time has gone so fast. Hard to believe that life has moved on, things have changed, and yet some things, like your absence, remain the same. You never had the opportunity to meet Lucas, but I suspect that if you all would have been 6 together you all would have had much in common. Especially the trouble making part!

In the last few years, I’ve thought much about my calling. You know how much I’ve struggled with that over the years. Yet each time I think about it, each time I doubt it, I remember that faithful day when your leaving made me a pastor. As a trusted mentor told me recently, in your leaving I experienced the worst day of my pastoral life. In other words, no matter what happens in pastoral life, the worst has already come. If that day did not end my pastoral life, then nothing can . . .

I can still remember that faithful day. Your whininess, your refusal to do what we asked, your hard-headedness, and your assurance that something was wrong. I often think if it would have made a difference if you would have agreed to open your mouth.

I can still remember that faithful day. Reality settling in, you were not coming back. We were going to get used to life without you. You were leaving.

I can still remember that faithful day. Eucharist shared, tears shed, life scattered.  The reality of your leaving becoming permanent. New life arising from our pain.

I can still remember that faithful day. Questions emerging, faith questioned, reality interrogated, and truth heartbreaking.

Although I constantly question, I am committed to this pastoral life. You have called me to it. You have shaped me into it and you have visited me in it. It does not matter where I am, Alexandria, Ragley, Baton Rouge, or Shreveport. You continue to push me into this life, proclaiming, reflecting, hearing, and serving. At each step of the way I can hear your voice calling, your eyes sharing, your presence comforting. At each moment gratitude emerging for this call, for the ways that God shows up even when God seems absent. At each moment making a decision to keep at this calling, even when it seems unbearable.

I could not imagine losing our Lucas. I could not have imagined losing you. Yet nightmare became reality and grace became our salvation. At each step of the way your leaving becoming sealed into our life together, your presence sealed in our communal memory, your story reminding us of our identity.

I’m thankful that you continue to companion and bring clarity. I am thankful that the scars of loss have become signposts to a resurrecting future. I am thankful that your visitations and your story continue to bring life and stir our spiritual imaginations.

You are still missed, still remembered, still present . . . see you at the great feast.

Peace & Love, Juan+

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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, VIII

Appropriate Attire: GC 2016


This morning Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey of the Louisiana Area preached on Matthew 22:1-14. She called us to put on the garment of grace that’s available to all. She called us to stop drawing a line in the midst of the conference floor and instead to join together to be agents of God’s transformation in the world. She called us to be open to reversal, to be willing to join the feast!

Those late-comers – the fit and misfit, the ones from the edge of town, the ones from the other side of the tracks, from el barrio, the ones who spoke a different language, the poor, the prostitutes – yea those – were provided appropriate attire when they arrived. 

Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, Louisiana Area

So the God that we serve is the God who provides us for the way that leads to life. No trickery, smoke and mirrors, or special knowledge. The challenge is our willingness to take on Christ, our willingness to put on a common identity in the midst of our differences. Our willingness to join the party!

I’m wondering how we do this?

At this General Conference we tried to live into a model of conferencing that was centered on conversations (Rule #44). This model was rejected by this General Conference after much debate about how we guide our legislative life. Yet I believe that if we are to put on the garment of grace that we must begin by gathering together, sharing our stories, our hopes, our fears and our brokenness, our need for forgiveness, and our hunger for new life. The local church, our districts, and our Annual Conferences might be the best equipped communities to practice this way of living life together, this way of trying on Christ, again and again.

I also wonder if a second key aspect is the going out, as Matthew 12:4 (The Voice Bible) reminds us:


I wonder how often we let others know about the banquet? Do we see our life together as a feast worthy of inviting others to? What does this feast look like, how are we celebrating together? How are we flourishing?

This could just turn the world upside down. This is what it means to be people of the cross, people of the resurrection, Easter people! 

People who are ready for a reversal- a world that is turned upside down. A world that is transformed. A world where all God’s people experience an abundant life in Christ.  
Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, Louisiana Area

I am thankful for the Bishop’s challenge this morning. I think her challenge is not only for General Conferece but a challenge to all of us as members of the community of disciples. We taking seriously our calling to be agents of God’s love in the world. We agents of the reversal, the healing of the communities we live in, we agents of our shared growth in love, we agents of the grace given to us.

I am ready to go to the party, ready to put on the robe of righteousness, would you join me? Let’s go!