What would Jesus do?

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

WWJD?

Do you remember that acronym from several years ago?

It popped up on billboards, advertising, bracelets, tee shirts.

It was so common, it became cliched.

At a fundamental level, though, the acronym points our attention to a very important question:

What would Jesus do in these days?

Would Jesus wear a mask?

There are all sorts of doctrinal and metaphysical perspectives that might argue Jesus wouldn’t need a mask.

He is the Christ. The Great Physician. The Savior.

But he was also a human who faced temptation, hunger, death.

In the wilderness, Matthew’s gospel tells us about three temptations Jesus faced: to use his divine power to sate his hunger; to grasp worldly power.

But the temptation that seems most salient to our own times is the second:

‘If you are the Son of God,’ Satan dares him, ‘then throw yourself off the highest point of the Temple.

‘Scripture says you will be rescued by angels!’ (my paraphrase).

Jesus refuses, declaring that he will not test God’s faithfulness in such a reckless and daring manner.

Jesus chooses to live as humans live – with the limitations, frustrations and challenges of life.

He doesn’t elevate himself or hold himself separate from the human condition.

What he does do is show us how to love each other, how to take care of those who are pushed to the outside, how to be connected together in one body by sharing in his very body and in his very blood.

Jesus underscores this by telling his listeners of the two greatest commandments: to love God with all our being and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

He even expands the definition of ‘neighbor’ to include those we distrust, those who aren’t ‘us.’ 

If we are are to do what Jesus would do, we will continue to wear a mask, to maintain physical distance, get vaccinated, wash our hands, and await the decline of the deadly scourge of coronavirus (which will surely come).

We find ourselves in one huge, unimagined, pandemic wilderness.

But God-in-Christ is with us in it, and we are in this together.

A prayer for the struggling soul

Each week as we begin our ministry staff meeting, Senior Pastor Valarie Englert asks us, “How’s your soul?”

I missed this week’s meeting because I was helping move my 86-year-old mother into an assisted living facility.

But if I had been there to respond, my answer would have been – and still is – that my soul is struggling.

Struggling with guilt over not being able to adequately care for my mom.

Struggling with finding any semblance of a safe, normal work and personal life in the middle of a pandemic now at 10 months and counting.

Struggling to recognize and understand a country torn asunder by continuing, systemic racial strife.

Struggling to comprehend what I’m watching as a mob carrying American and “Jesus” flags storms and vandalizes the very seat of our democracy, with several people losing their lives in the process.

Struggling with what to do, knowing full well the answer – pray.

But what should I pray?

Throughout my church and spiritual life, I’ve known some very powerful prayer warriors. Living saints who knew exactly what words to pray and when to pray them.

And even though I know God listens regardless, I’ve always been jealous of their ability to pray so eloquently.

With that in mind, I’ve been struggling to find the right words to pray.

I may have found them this morning.

In “A Prayer for the Struggling Soul,” Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer Jolene Underwood offers comforting words for seeking God’s blessings in times of struggle, and scriptures assuring us of God’s grace.

I share them here with the knowledge that I’m not the only one struggling, and with the hope that you might find them comforting as well.

God bless …

Goodbye, farewell and amen

Ring a bell?

If not, two things are certain: 

  • you’re young 
  • you need to find and watch the final episode of the TV series M*A*S*H

First aired on February 28, 1983, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” chronicles the final days of the fictitious 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital as the Korean War comes to an end.

It remains one of the most-watched series episodes in TV history. 

As my wife Marcy and I enjoyed watching it again a few nights ago on MeTV, I was struck by the significance of the title.

Not just to an all-time great TV show, but also to the troubled times in which we live. 

Goodbye, farewell and amen. 

More than eight months into a global pandemic with no end in sight, it’s time to say goodbye to our lives, indeed our world, as we know them. 

There will be a new normal. We are becoming a new church

“Behold, I am doing a new thing …” – Isaiah 43:19 (ESV) 

We will, for example, worship in our Sanctuary again. 

But we will also continue to worship and study and teach in cyberspace. 

Answering God’s call beyond our walls in a manner we never previously imagined.

Goodbye, farewell and amen.

It’s time to bid farewell to partisan politics and racial divisiveness. 

To set aside our differences and love one another as brothers and sisters. 

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.– 1 John 4:7 (NRSV) 

Republicans and Democrats.

Blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians.

Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists.

Doesn’t matter. We’re all human.

We’re all children of God. Loved by God.

Worthy of God’s love, are we not also worthy of love from one another?

Regardless of our differences? 

Goodbye, farewell and amen.

Last but certainly not least, it’s time to say amen.

To assert our faith. To pray. 

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.– 1Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NRSV) 

 Pray for our church.

Pray for our families.

Pray for our brothers and sisters.

Pray for our world.

Pray. 

Goodbye, farewell and amen.

Focus on Him

Dr. Eldred Marshall, Artist-in-Residence, Associate Director of Music Ministries

For all of my 20s, Election Day results meant the difference between employment and unemployment.

Be it the fate of my internship or my positions as a senior aide, or desire to maintain my reputation as a campaign manager, the unpredictability made me anxious.

Further, the incessant data analysis, poll watching, get-out-the-vote efforts, fundraisers, news media stories, speeches and writing drained me by the weekend before Election Day.
 
I say this as a preface to tell you that I totally empathize with everyone’s Election Day anxiety.
 
However, I would like to bring God into this landscape, as He reminds us what is truly important in times like these.
 
…He removes kings and raises up kings…

– Daniel 2:21 (NKJV) 

Election results are predetermined.

He already knows who won, and He has already accounted for these people in His plan.

He just doesn’t clue us in to the future because that’s “grown folks’ business.”

Focus on Him, not some man or woman.

“The king’s heart is a waterway in the hand of the LORD; He directs it where He pleases.”

– Proverbs 21:1 (Berean Study Bible)


To put this into the US context, every president, House Speaker, Supreme Court justice, and every other official is under the watchful eye of God.

Pray for them.

Communicate with them, and do not hide your light while doing so.
 
“Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of righteousness.”

– Isaiah 41:10 (KJV)


There is nothing to fear about a future led by your political opponent.

In fact: 

“Cursed is the person who trusts in humankind…” 

– Jeremiah 17:5 (LEB)


And in my view, “humankind” includes human governmental systems.

Instead, choose God.

He will grant you the strength and the courage needed to be an advocate for justice and righteousness.
 
Irrespective of what happens on Tuesday and beyond, let us all be on the forefront of bringing unity and humanity back into our sphere.

There is more that unites us than divides us.
 
In the midst of the rumors of post-election violence, let’s be unequivocal advocates for peace.
 
There is much work for us to do as Christians to repair our society, regardless of who temporarily resides in the White House.

Let’s do it together, in the name of our Lord, Savior, and Eternal King, Jesus Christ.

Holy moments

Rev. Caroline Noll, Associate Pastor

It takes a lot of focus and self-control for me to live in the present moment.

This is not new for me.

As a kid I wondered what I would be when I grew up.

In college I dreamed of the life I would have once I graduated.

When we lived in the Houston area I longed for the day when we would move back here, closer to family.

Now I’m wondering what my life will be like when I retire one day.

I’m nowhere near that, but it’s nice to imagine traveling to far off places at a leisurely pace.

Daydreams.

I could argue that I’m a planner.

The other side of that coin could be a mental break from current stresses.

But holy and sacred moments are never future events.

They are always now.

Right here. In this moment.

God comes so close to us. And we come so close to God.

And in that moment, even if only for a moment, there is light and love and peace and hope.

Sometimes holy and sacred moments happen observing my kids.

Putting down all my distractions and important grown-up work and entering the world as they see it to experience it with them.

To take joy in their joy.

To see their excitement and their wonder.

Sometimes holy and sacred moments happen in reading and stillness and reflection that would never happen if I sat down just to check my messages and start planning first.

Sometimes holy moments happen outdoors when the leaves or the sky or the air fill me with awe.

Sometimes holy moments happen in conversation with one another, when I stop talking and really listen to another.

Or when someone does that for me.

I have loved Luke 12:22-34 for a long time.

“… do not worry …”

And the disciples are doing just that, worrying about the future.

Do you notice the examples Jesus sites to bring them back from that edge?

Birds. Flowers. Small things. Common things.

Things we might not notice.

Right here in the present moment under our nose.

And Jesus names them holy, sacred, of beauty and worth.

The list of stresses in this present day may be long.

We might be ready for another day.

But God is here in this day, waiting to meet us.

As the deer

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

In the daily lectionary this week, one of the morning Psalms (there are two morning Psalms and two evening Psalms for each day) was a particularly beautiful one, Psalm 42.

It begins:

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.


These opening verses may be familiar to you; they are the words to a hymn that our congregation has sung many times, and it is a favorite of many (me included).

As I read these words this week, I let the psalmist speak for me:

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

When shall I come and behold the face of God?

My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, ‘Where is your God?

The seemingly endless pandemic, the state of our country and the divisions that have opened into chasms have made my soul very thirsty for God and for the divine healing presence.

One of the great beauties of scripture is that it can speak for us when we struggle for words, when it becomes difficult to describe the turmoil rumbling around in our very bodies, when the future seems so cloudy and uncertain.

I am grateful for the words of the psalmist.

Then I encountered verse 4:

These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival … 

…and all of the sadness of the last six months washed over me in an instant.

miss terribly gathering in our sanctuary every week.

I miss the sharing of Holy Communion, the singing of hymns, the shared, spoken-aloud prayer concerns.

I miss seeing you all face-to-face each Sunday morning, and the warm greetings of folks I pass in the hallway as I speed toward the sacristy to don my robe and stole with fellow worship leaders.

I miss those few moments on the chancel as I await the start of the prelude.

I miss the way the light comes through the stained glass windows just so, and the gathering of our children with Pastor Caroline on the chancel steps.

I miss the singing, bell playing, and uke strumming of all of our choirs.

I miss so much, and I know you do, too.

Yet even in the midst of such sudden, unimaginable change, we manage to come together every week to worship virtually.

There is a sense of togetherness as the worship service streams over our devices.

It must be a God-thing, because I cannot imagine anyone or anything but God’s Spirit who is able to infuse cyberspace with a sense of the Holy.

I am thankful that the psalmist reminds us of God’s faithfulness, no matter what:

Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts; all your waves and your billows have gone over me. 

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.


This, too, shall pass. All of this. The pandemic. The strife. The deep divide.

And God is with us, and will remain with us and all creation for eternity.

The love of our God in Christ will pull us ever deeper into the very heart of God’s Kingdom – we just need to say “yes” and allow God to have God’s own loving, grace-filled way.

In God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, our souls rest, and our thirst is quenched.

May God’s peace be with you today, tomorrow and every day.

Where is the blessing?

Dr. Eldred Marshall, Artist-in-Residence, Associate Director of Music Ministries

I feel like I’m finally coming off this constant background hum of a low-grade depression that has bedeviled me since March. Six months.

I’m not going to mince words. This was a rough spring and summer for me.

Six months without concerts, in-person church service, our wonderful Chancel Choir, the talented Pure Joy! Youth Choir, or a congregation to lead in rousing hymns of the faith has affected my psyche more than I ever admitted publicly.

Furthermore, recording for church online worship affected me just as much, as I’m uber-perfectionist, camera shy, and I have a long-standing phobia against recording.

(I’m more of a “you have to be there” artist.)

To top it off, I’ve had to take news and social media in highly regulated doses because it’s just too much.

For me, this has been one long, never-ending night.

Listening around the community, it’s clear I’m not alone.

Every single one of you has a similar tale of struggle, and how this period has forced you to do things that you didn’t have to, or want to, do before.

For some of us, it goes even deeper, as the ‘loss’ is physical as well as spiritual and emotional.

I take heart in this passage from Psalm 30:5: 

… weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. 

One thing that has begun to quicken my soul day-to-day is the question, “Where is the blessing in this day?” I ask myself that, among other questions internally.

These questions allow me to see past the outward dourness and the social instability, and I begin to accept the fact that God’s ‘morning’ may not look like the morning I want or envision.

For example, I hate recording. But what are the benefits of this process? I have begun to discover some of them.

One is that I get to interact with you in real-time during the prelude and postlude of our online worship, instead of hoping and praying while I’m playing that you like what I do. From this, I get to know what you like, what you’re feeling, and which pieces/songs to shelve away.

In the end, I’m confident we will reopen, life will move on, and there will be plenty of outward expressions of joy.

In the meantime, I’m learning to embrace the small joys and to take pleasure in them.

What have I got to lose?

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

– Matthew 16:24


My message this past Sunday – “More Than Just a Checklist” – was a capstone to our recently-completed worship series on the “3 Simple Rules” of the Methodist movement.

The text – Matthew 16:21-26 – shared how Jesus prepared his disciples for his suffering, crucifixion and raising from the dead.

How these things were necessary.

And how they, too, would need to “take up their cross” and follow him.

To lose their lives for his sake in order to find them. 

In spite of a deadly pandemic, racial strife and polarized politics, we live privileged lives in comparison to most.

Especially those of us who are white. 

So today, I ask all of us to consider: 

How am I taking up my cross this week? 

What privilege am I prepared to lose to gain life in Christ? 

What am I nailing to my cross?

What have I got to lose?

An invitation

Rev. Caroline Noll, Associate Pastor, Pastor for Children and Families

I have a vague memory of taking the SAT on a Saturday at Richardson High School.

Mostly I remember the hallway. Tan linoleum floor. Lockers and fluorescent lights.

There were quite a few students from my own school there that day, and we poured out of the various classroom doorways after the verbal portion of the test at the end of the day.

“Oh my goodness! I’ve never even heard of some of those words!” we exclaimed. “Draconian? What in the world is draconian?”

I don’t recall her exact words, but I do remember my childhood friend, Shelly, very nonchalantly rattling off the definition as if was a word 17-year-olds used regularly.

Not this 17-year-old.

When I went home, my mom of course knew what it was. And then later that week, the news anchor had the gall to use the word on the evening news!

Suddenly, the word was everywhere.

Have you had that experience?

You learn a new word or idea or thought, and suddenly you hear it and see it everywhere!

The book you’ve been enjoying or the TV show you’ve been binge watching suddenly has an anecdote or quote for every conversation!

The words and thoughts that fill our minds and our time are coincidentally and amazingly suited for each occasion we encounter.

But it’s not coincidence, is it?

The things we surround ourselves with, spend time with, they matter.

They shape us and mold us. Words, songs, shows, people, places.

They become a part of us, sometimes by invitation and with awareness, but always permeating.

So what does this have to do with the gospel? Is this just some moralistic lesson to do good?

I believe it’s an invitation. Not from me, but from our creator God who has hope and faith and love in us and for us.

God who came in Jesus to love us fully and show us the way. The Holy Spirit who prompts us with this invitation all the time, everywhere.

An invitation to take the time to stay in love with God because you are loved by God.

To spend time in prayer, whether that’s breathing or silence or reading or speaking or writing or singing!

To worship, online, in your homes, in creation.

To connect with those in your world who see you in part as God sees you, and who encourage you and listen to you as you do for them.

To read the words of scripture that you might encounter the living Word.

God is with us. We are not alone. May you see and know God’s presence everywhere.

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