It is hard to believe that this Thursday is Thanksgiving. I am looking forward to some time with family, including great food. This time of year is extremely sacred to me, because it will mark four years since my mother died. This season is not sad for me, but it is one that is set apart as holy and special. I give thanks for not only my mom’s life, but also for the many people who have made my life better because of their incredible legacy.
I remember holidays gone by and am caught up in a sea of emotions. I think of Thanksgiving in the house in which I was raised, and am immediately swept away with visions of my big family laughing and sharing crazy stories. I remember that I was a part of the wonderful custom of maintaining the importance of family and friends. The lessons I learned from past holidays are traditions that I continue to share with my family today. I hug those closest to me and remind them that they are loved more than they could ever imagine.
Today, I am grateful for a life filled with people who love me and continue to care for me. I wish only the most incredible blessings to everyone as we all take time out of our chaotic schedules to remember to give thanks to friends, family, and our Creator. May the joy of this season wash over you and leave you with a hope that you never dreamed possible. May you lay aside your disagreements and share in the fact that we are all God’s children.
And I can’t let a Thanksgiving season go without saying, “I miss you mom, and I know that your spirit is with me every day. I continue to raise my children in the light of the love that you gave me. I know that when I share the feast with the family on Thursday, you will be in the room with all of us, smiling that we all are together sharing a moment of joy. I love you and thank you for the gift of life.”
Yesterday my youngest son, my wife, and I packed the car and headed to Dallas. We will be there attending the National Hemophilia Foundation’s annual conference. I am looking forward to seeing old friends and learning information that could prove useful to the daily maintenance of both of my son’s bleeding disorders. I am excited that my youngest will get to meet and spend time with children his age that live around the country. Each participant is affected in some way with chronic bleeding and the many complications that can occur.
Already, I have been blessed with several opportunities to visit with good friends who have had a profound influence in my life. Conversations moved from the outrageous (no one laugh at that idea) to the profound. All things came back to the fact that I am a blessed man for having known these incredible people. When I speak with them, I see the movement of God in their lives that challenge and encourage me to love bolder, live wiser. They are amazing people.
While I have enjoyed the first few days of our journey, I really miss my “big stinky boy” being with us. We see a word, or hear a song and think of him. His absence speaks loudly without a word spoken. Life happens, and while he is not with us, I think of him and offer a prayer up for his safety and his peace of mind.
I miss “MacDonald the older” the most, simply because he gets my quirky personality. He is my son after all. He understands (or should I say tolerates) my strange approach to life. I never dreamed that anyone would be able to handle that kind of craziness, but he does. It is an amazing thing.
Today, I am most thankful for the opportunities to visit with friends who make the world a better place, because they are a part of my world, and my vocabulary. May God be with us all as we journey forward through life’s ups and downs. May we surge onward with the confidence of the children of God. Praise be to God.
This last Sunday I stood before my congregation and made the announcement that I am moving and will be the pastor of another church in the New Mexico Annual Conference. Words seemed to fail me as I stood before this incredible body of believers who have loved me through wonderful times as well as very trying times. No matter how I attempt to convey my deep love for this unique group of people, I am still speechless. Anyone who knows me will testify that I am not one to be without words. As a matter of fact, I tend to use too many words.
Perhaps this difficulty with expressing the bond that is shared with my faith community stems from the reason the church exists in the first place. Jesus called us in to a deep and everlasting covenant with not only God, but with one another. This pledge that we take to become a part of the body is interwoven with the fabric of the Holy Spirit. It binds us to each other as we who are many, and with different talents, lift up one voice to our Creator. When one member leaves the body, the fabric must redirect itself, but until then there is a feeling of loss and grief. We stand in hope that God will restore the tapestry of the body and create something better, kinder, more loving than that which was before.
To all of the members of the body of First United Methodist Church of Truth or Consequences, I am reminded of Paul’s words, “I thank my God every time I remember you” (Phil. 1:3 NRSV). You are a living testament to the power of God when the Holy Spirit is set loose in the church of God. When I was excited about ministry, you walked beside me and shared the many blessings that we all were given. When I struggled, you took my hand and walked through the darkness with me.
We saw our church become a vital force in our community offering a place to those of all walks of life. We became the true place to express our mission of being a people who are “Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Open Doors.” Thank you for teaching me how to be a better pastor. But most of all, thank you for teaching me how to be a better human being.
My church has claimed the four weeks before Advent as a Season of Thanksgiving. With that said, I had a very small encounter today that left me with a feeling of absolute gratitude. I visited my five year old son at school and was overwhelmed by the fact that he said that I made his day. I knew at that moment that I was very blessed. I made my son’s day by showing up and being present in his life.
When I taught in the public school system, one of the most satisfying parts of my job occurred when I was visited by old students. More often than not, the conversation always came back to the importance of the choir program in their lives and how being a part of such a group made a difference. There was nothing greater than to hear that, for a moment in their lives, the worries of the day were replaced with a willingness to surrender to the act of creating something that was bigger than who they were as individual people. That was the joy of teaching.
I call the experiences of my former students “encounters with the sacred.” There is an incredible sense of belonging to a community where one is welcomed and encouraged to share talents and ideas that will further the development of the self. Awareness of the soul comes in the state of practicing the idea of love. That is our common bond that crosses rivers of hate and shame. Our love for each other invites us to be more than who we are. We are motivated to grow and live beyond our wildest dreams.
The situation with my son made me start to wonder about all of the other “little” things I could do to share in an attitude of gratitude. In all honesty, the most important thing that we all crave is the acknowledgement that our lives matter. It is the love for each other that will carry on long after we leave this planet. The concept of love is so important that Jesus himself spoke of it as the greatest of commandments.
I appreciated the hug that I received and the absolute joy that “MacDonald the Younger” felt as I visited his class. These will be memories that I will remember many years from now. How blessed we are as humans to possess a soul which thrives and celebrates the legacy that we leave with each other. We are hotwired for relationships. Love is in the fabric of who we are.
In the spirit of whose we are, let us continue the journey of thanksgiving. The psalmist even said that “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall always be on my lips” (Ps. 34:1 NRSV). Let us be ever mindful of the faithfulness of our God. It is within God’s continuing acts of love that I know that I am so much more than I ever thought that I would be. The good news is that I am not everything that I will be.
This week my sermon is based on 1 Corinthians 1:1-9. I am always drawn to Paul’s opening statements, particularly “I thank to my God always for you” (1 Cor. 1:4 NRSV). While the phrase is wonderful and is great when referring to those people to whom I enjoy the company of their presence, I must admit I fall short of being able to make this proclamation of joy when I deal with those I find challenging. In fact, many times I lack the ability to feel “thankful” for difficult people. (I hope I am not the only one who struggles with this issue).
This is where faith comes into the picture. When asked directly which commandment is the greatest, Jesus said something like this, “Look. Let me sum up every commandment you have ever been given. Love God, and love each other. If you do these two basic things, you will follow every other thing God has asked you to do.” In other words, love must be a verb as well as a noun. We are called into action to worship the Divine.
This action word of which I speak challenges us to connect with something bigger than ourselves. We are to represent God, even when we don’t feel like it. This includes embodying the nature of Christ to those people whom we would rather not speak to as well as those people whom we do not like. I know this is easier said than done, but why not attempt to do what the Master said?
As we put the verb into action our understanding of the noun will grow. The verb moves us to extravagantly worship the noun which is the creator of the universe. Will you be the one in which the love of God, through your deeds, transforms the world, or will you be content to let the one to whom we give praise remain contained without purpose and then make the choice to simply sit back and do nothing? The choice is yours. Say yes to the verb, and then do it. Love each other and in the middle of what you do, the presence of God will fill you with peace.
I was reminded of my calling to ministry this week. The husband of one of my parishioners died this past week and my attention was drawn to helping her family come to terms with such a great loss. Most of my days were filled with how I might be of service to the extended members of the body of Christ. In the middle of the chaos of death, I found that there is a sense of peace that passes all that I could ever hope to understand.
There is an acute awareness of life. I refer to family that comes together and shrouds one another in tears and in love. While many of the members of this group were very different than each other, there was one underlying sentiment to which all seemed to agree. The patriarch of the family will be greatly missed. And the age old question of “What does life look like without him?” became the focal point of the week.
I was very appreciative for the church family which rallied around to deliver food to nourish both the body and the spirit. There is a strong statement about our community of faith as we hold each other up and face the ultimate situations which bring us to our knees. We do these things together.
I am grateful for my church which allows me to be a part of the holiest of moments in life. This is one of the many reasons I am compelled to be a pastor. It is to testify to the awareness that God is present in life and in death. In our context we believe that there is hope in a life after death.
I share spaces with people which are sacred. This is my calling. This is my honor and joy.