Pastor's E-Letter

Pastor's E-Letter

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Pastor's E-Letter 2/28/20

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One of my favorite places in Brevard County is Rockledge Gardens. I love visiting their Farmer’s Market on the weekends and wandering through their expansive collection of flowers, vegetables, and foliage. In each detail of their careful landscaping, I sense care and I find delight.

When I visit Rockledge Gardens, I am especially struck by how lush everything always is. As I read the selected Scripture passages for the beginning of Lent this week, I got stuck on the lush garden imagery of Genesis 1-3. Adam and Eve are placed in a garden of abundance- everything they could ever want! They have all they need, and then some. Yet the serpent is still able to tempt them away from this abundance and into scarcity, suffering, and pain. Despite its beautiful, careful creation, the garden is not enough for Adam and Eve’s fallible human hearts.

The beginning of Lent is marked by this passage because in the 40 Days of Lent we are confronted with our own sinfulness. In the lush beauty of gardens and the abundance of our lives, we would much rather choose disobedience, competition, and scarcity. We are manipulated by the whispers of the world, asked to forgo what God has called us to for “forbidden fruit.” Whether we like to admit it for the other 325 days of the year, Lent calls us to our brokenness, mortality, and fallibility. We are dust; we are human. Instead of a soothing garden, we are forced into a wilderness of our own making, instructed to reflect and repent.

This wilderness of our lives is also why the first week of the Gospel readings in Lent is Matthew 4. Jesus has just left the height of love and abundance in his baptism. He has been called, claimed, and is named the Son of God. The Spirit then immediately leads him into the wilderness to be tempted for 40 days. This passage is highly symbolic! In the heights of our lives, we are often tempted to forget our identity. Jesus spends 40 days, just like the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the desert.

However, the story changes. In the end, he is not tempted by the Devil’s crafty use of Scripture. Jesus, grounded in the love and identity that God has given him, says no to power, prestige, and religious superiority. This, amidst the nothingness of the desert wilderness. This image, of Jesus refusing Satan’s crafty words, is meant to contrast with Adam and Eve’s fallibility amid abundance. How much of our lives are filled with temptation because we live in such excess?

The landscape of both of these moments is significant and is the basis of our remembrance in Lent. For 40 days, we will fast and pray to examine ourselves and our lives. As we journey through the “Landscape of Lent” throughout our sermon series, we will be reminded that there is much in the “landscape” of our lives that need tending to and examining. We often do this examination through disciplines, and denial, just as Jesus did in the wilderness. We give up chocolate, take on other good habits, or add more prayer to our lives. These things are meant to get to the root of our sinfulness and help us see our interior landscape as it truly is.

If you’re still struggling with what to give up or take on this Lenten season, we’ll have an opportunity for you to think about it in worship. It is never too late to begin this self-examination process! Additionally, if you’re desiring to take something on, don’t forget about our Lenten Journey series as we examine the Scripture passages from Sunday morning, with an eye towards a specific spiritual discipline each week.

Each moment of Lent invites us into the quiet reflection of the wilderness, following after Jesus. It contains the task to remember our dust and to be thankful. I hope you’ll join us as we journey through this season together.

Peace,

Pastor Allee

Posted by Allee Willcox with

Pastor's E-Letter 2/21/20

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Who is the kindest person you know? Think about them for a moment. What is it that makes them stand out as kind? I’ve asked that question in a couple of different settings over the last couple of weeks after reading from Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” Again and again, people have described kind people as those who intentionally give their time to others, who go out of their way to care, to express concern. Kind people are those who “see” others, who notice and treat others with respect, dignity, even honor. Kind people are people who care when others are taken advantage of and work to right wrongs. Kind people are humble people – humble before God and others. They know they don’t have all the answers in life. They simply do their best to love and care and express compassion. 

In some ways, this verse from Micah lies at the heart of all that we have talked about over the last 5 weeks. Being a good neighbor, working to build healthy communities, serving as ambassadors for Christ in his ministry of reconciliation, all flow out of kindness and love that truly values others as Christ values them. Seeking to dismantle the walls that divide us, things like race, gender, class, different abilities, religion, and culture is work that must always be done with a great degree of humility, kindness and ultimately love. Jesus was clear that this kind of love and kindness is not only reserved for those we love, but for those with whom we have the greatest disagreement and struggle. Jesus even went so far as saying, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) I know what you are thinking. Sometimes I wish he hadn’t said it too. But he did. And it wasn’t just an off-handed suggestion. He meant it. 

So, what does that mean in real, practical terms? This week, we will be thinking about just that. A couple of years ago, Rob Tucker and I preached a message entitled “Respect. Everyone. Always.” This week in worship, as we close out our “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” message series, we will revisit this very important topic. In the midst of what is shaping up to be a particularly contentious election year (how do you like that for understatement?) and amid the ongoing discussion in the UM Church over issues of inclusion and the future of the UM Church, the question remains, how do we express love and kindness to our neighbors with whom we may have deep disagreement? How do we reach out to one another rather than avoid, disconnect or demonize? How do we seek to “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God?” 

I don’t have all the answers by any means. But I’m clear that Jesus wants us to wrestle with these questions and, fortunately, scripture offers us guidance in this. This week we will be exploring the above scriptures, along with Ephesians 4:25-5:2 and numerous other passages. I’m also reminded of the words of Fred Rogers who said, “There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.” How amazingly counter-cultural his words seem in a world where kindness, at times, seems in short supply. What a witness it would be for us, as the church of Jesus Christ, to start a counter-cultural revolution of kindness, humility, and love as our answer to the question, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” Who wouldn’t want to live in that kind of neighborhood? 

See you in worship Sunday!

Grace and Peace,
Annette

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