Compelling Faith Evensong

The image above is from the movie Oliver Twist and he draws the long string…

 “The other thing that comes to mind about compelling content is that….. it leaves me thirsting for more. There’s something about compelling content that drives me to subscribe, join or bookmark because I’ve had a taste of something I’d like a second helping of.”

I know this reaction for myself.

  • When I read a book from a new author that I enjoy I immediately look for more information on the author to see what else they’ve written. I got all of Ellin Hildebrand’s, Sophia Kinsella and Madeline Wickham’s book, and I realized that Sophia and Madeline were the same person, she just wrote under these pseudonyms.
  • When I see someone tweet something that grabs my attention or makes me think – I check out their other tweets or when a news source like huffpost religion or the New York Times post an article I usually read it
  • When I watch a TV show that entertains me, makes me laugh or gives me something to think about – I put it on our “list”
  • When I read a blog post that informs me, teaches me or stretches my mind – like Bishop Ken Carter’s blog that’s currently doing a 6 part series on Fresh Expressions – I bookmark it, to check back to read next week’s installment.

What is the definition of compelling? com·pel·ling kəmˈpeliNG/


  1. evoking interest, attention, or admiration in a powerfully irresistible way.

“his eyes were strangely compelling”

synonyms: enthrallingcaptivatinggrippingrivetingspellbinding, mesmerizing,absorbingirresistible

“a compelling performance”

  • not able to be refuted; inspiring conviction.

“compelling evidence”

synonyms: convincingpersuasivecogentirresistiblepowerfulstrongweighty,plausiblecrediblesoundvalidtellingconclusiveirrefutable,unanswerable

“a compelling argument”

  • not able to be resisted; overwhelming.

“the temptation to give up was compelling”

What makes a compelling story?

What makes you trust the storyteller?

What gives someone a compelling faith story that leaves you wanting more?

Is it the integrity of the story teller?  Is it the way that the storyteller tells the story?  Building up anticipation?

I would wager it has more to do with nonverbal – the sincerity, the vulnerability, the body language, the raw emotion, the honesty.  I would also guess that you have to trust this person.  It doesn’t mean you have to know the person, it just means you have to buy what they’re selling.

As we were giving out free cake today at Santa Fe College, I went into the coffee shop to buy an iced drink as I do.  Two of the co-workers had just gotten our free cake and they were trying to talk their other co-worker into getting a piece.  He said, “I don’t trust free cake.”  They said that we were a church.  He answered, “I don’t trust free cake, especially from a church.”  As he was taking my order and I didn’t tell him I was the pastor of the sketchy church giving out free cake.

Some synonyms for “compelling” are convincing, persuasive, irresistible, strong, credible, valid…I bet if he works that same shift every week and if he sees us and gets to know us and we share stories for a period of time, he will find us more “credible.”

I know I highlight this multiple times a week, but when we share stories, lives together, then that’s when the real change happens.

I know some of you know all about my second brain surgery in 2013 that left me without the ability to speak for three weeks.  I typed a text to Mike a few weeks after the surgery, “The quickness with which I speak comes back?” and it took me 20 minutes to even type that.  Thankfully, my speech has returned for the most part.  When I’m tired, y’all have been great about doing charades to understand what I mean.  I still don’t have the fine motor skills in my right hand, but I can deal with that!  I have to go back to get an MRI and meet with my oncologist every 3 months.  I’m due for that next Wednesday.  Mike and I know the rhythm so well, that we start getting tense when it comes close.  I was diagnosed with a oligodendroglioma when I was 30.  Enoch turned 3 in the two weeks when I first was diagnosed and the first surgery.  Evy was 1.  They don’t remember me not having this diagnosis.  I’ve been brutally honest on my blog that I don’t write very much on any more.  I created the  blog so that I could update everyone about the medical aspects and what my head space was at the time, so I didn’t have to repeat it all the time, and also so I can LIVE my life.  The fullness of it.  I claim the end of John 10:10 “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” and I claim the last verses the song “In Christ Alone.”

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.

You don’t have to have had brain surgery to have a compelling story of faith.  Trust me.

The best stories are from the heart, when you peel back the layers and are vulnerable.  Being real with people is the highest compliment you can pay, because no one likes to be bs-ed.  No one likes to be made a fool of, but when you drop the masks and you KNOW and RECOGNIZE that you don’t have any control of the situation that’s where God’s love steps in and makes a way.  That’s where the trust comes and the faith.  It’s okay to yell at God.  And it’s okay to cry out.  May scriptures come to you in the midst.  May songs come to you in the midst.  May a friend lift you up in the midst.  May you have the courage to be vulnerable and may people’s responses be more than enough…may they lift you up with the grace and mercy of God.

You see, you’ve been invited into the greatest story ever told.  You have your own story of redemption.  You have your own story of the mountaintops and valleys.  You just have to tell it.  God will give you a story.  God will give you the boldness, the tenacity, and the courage to speak it.  Don’t be afraid.  If you’re not a great speaker.  Many people in the Bible and throughout time have had that same problem!  God will give you the words.  God will guide and lead you in all that you do and say.  Tell the story.  Last Easter, we painted the 34th Street Wall with the words of the last song Jake is going to sing tonight.  #BecauseHeLives  Tell the story.  You will have a compelling one, indeed.  The world is hungry for a life-giving, life-tranforming story.


Song During Communion

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Determination to Love

Mark 2:1-12

When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people[a] came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay.When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? 10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” 12 And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

This morning we’re going to look at people who went the extra mile or went the distance, like the song from Hercules, to help or intercede for their friend.  These are the kinds of friends that you want to surround yourself with while you’re in college and grad school.  You’ve met a lot of people so far.  You’re still feeling each other out.  You’re still finding your groove.  May God give you the wisdom and discernment to know and cultivate relationships whether it be late night sessions hanging out in someone’s room in a residence hall or whether it is late night runs to taco bell.

I lived in a small town during my high school years.  The nearest movie theater was an hour away.  I hate to admit it, but when I was in high school the first DVD’s came out.  So we were starving for cultural references in rural South Carolina.  On many a road trip to the movies we would pack up to 15 people in my mom’s minivan.

I visualize that image when I read this passage.  The crowd that was gathered was packed in like a concert with One Direction or The Who or if the Spice Girls finally do a reunion concert.  It was beyond claustrophobic.  Saying it was hard to get in, may be an understatement.  Seeing Jesus was like an ancient day rock star.  The word was already out.  It started with the leper.  Mark says it this way in Mark 1:40-45, “A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ 45But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.”  It reminds me of Acts 4:20 that says, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

He couldn’t help but spread the good news!  He didn’t even have to say it; the people could see he was made clean.  Matthew says it this way in chapter 11, “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”

If you had been in their place, what would you have done if you had arrived at the house and seen all those people crowded and overflowing out into the street?  Would you sit back and wait for the crowd to leave?  Would you think – let’s just go home.  We’ll never get in.  We’ll try again the next time he’s in town.  You know that feeling that you get in your gut where you’re about to give up…when the road is getting all kinds of hard, and no one would blame you if you gave up.

Choices Albus Dumbledore quote

As Albus Dumbledore says to Harry in the Chamber of Secrets, “It is our choices that show what we truly are far more than our abilities.”  It is the choices we make, the determination and the commitment when it gets hard, when the mountain is steep and the valley low that really determines your character and what you’re made of.

I was watching the Today Show when they were celebrating the summer Olympics being a year away.  They were interviewing athletes that have been training daily just to prepare for the trials.  They don’t even know yet if they’ll make the Olympic team.  What kind of perseverance and determination and motivation, it would take someone to get up early in the morning every day and push themselves harder and faster…wow.  You’ve got to have something within you AND around you that spurs you on.  The four friends had that determination.  The thing that spurred them on and gave them the strength to keep going was their faith.

So where is this located in Jesus ministry?  It’s still pretty early.  He’s been preaching for about a year.  Luke 4 tells us that when Jesus went back to Nazareth, after his baptism and temptation in the wilderness, he was so thoroughly rejected by the people with whom he grew up that he left Nazareth and made Capernaum, which was a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee, his home base for the three years of his public ministry.

Okay, so now we know where he was and how he got there, and we know why the word had spread.  Let’s talk more about the crowd.  Another section only in Mark, “So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them.” The people were, whether they knew it or not, there to worship God and hear God, in the person of Jesus, “speak the word.”  Maybe they were curious about the crowd or what all the fuss was about, much like the crowd in Life of Brian listening to Jesus preach the sermon on the mount.  Maybe they had heard about his healing of the leper and they wanted to see this Jesus, this healer.  Maybe they just wanted to see a spectacle, a magic show.  Maybe they saw a crowd and like students drawn to a fight in school or to a speech, they were curious.

While the crowd struggled to get closer to Jesus, these four men came bringing a paralyzed man on a stretcher.  A friend recently visited Capernaum, he said that his group included a couple of people in wheelchairs and he noticed that even today, Capernaum is not an easy place in which to maneuver if you are disabled.  The roads are not paved smoothly, stairs and vertical rises make it difficult to get around, and you really have to rely on your friends to help you travel there if you can’t walk.

This wasn’t an easy task.  It’s not like they thought – oh, cool a crowd – let’s jump up on the roof, lower him through and call it a day.  They had to go the distance to carry him into the house. In Palestine, the roofs were flat.  They would be used for rest and quiet, for drying clothes and storing things.  In 1 Kings 17, we read about Elijah living on the roof.  In Acts 10, Peter is up on the roof praying.  So generally there were stairs going up along an outside wall. Although they were determined, and possibly had outside stairs, they weren’t the Avengers.  This wasn’t easy.

They actually had to tear up the roof to let him down.  To me, there’s something really powerful about them having to actually dig through and get dirty to help make this miracle happen.  According to some scholars, the roof was usually made of beams about 3 feet apart.  These beams would be filled with twigs, then packed with clay and covered with dirt.

If you have ever worked with drywall or insulation, particularly taking it down, you know that there’s small particles and dust everywhere.  A big mess.  So as you can probably imagine, as these four are pulling away chunks of clay, bits of dirt, and dried leaves are falling all over those below.

And the people who stood in the room, who most likely had some small rubble or debris dropped on their heads were doubtfully very thrilled and the men had to know this when they concocted their plan.  They risked a lot because they had faith in who Jesus is and what a tremendous impact he could have on the life of their friend.

I wonder what Jesus was doing during this creation of a skylight in his home?  Does he stop speaking the word or does he just continue going just like the preacher tries to do when a baby starts crying during church?  Does he stop and watch maybe with an amused look on his face, or does he began to shake his head and chuckle to himself at the enthusiasm or boldness of these guys?

How would you feel if you were in the crowd?  You’re sitting there during a leisurely but exhilarating afternoon listening to Jesus, when all of a sudden some crazy guys start tearing open the roof over your head and get you all dirty.  You waited and maneuvered a while to get your spot in the house, and here these people are skipping all the steps to get to the front or to the top I should say.  It reminds of the story of the prodigal son.  You go into it focusing on the prodigal, but the elder brother as just as distant from the father.  At Gator Wesley, we don’t want insiders or outsiders.  All of us are prodigals and older brothers.  All of us are at times, crowd, friends, and paralytic and that’s only natural.  Some of us don’t want to rock the boat, to rock the happy equilibrium.  Some of us are in need of healing.  We need a community to surround us to lead us back to Jesus the Great Physician, to the one who gave it all.

These four men weren’t thinking of themselves.  They did not need a miracle for themselves, but they had a friend who did.  They went to a whole lot of trouble to get him the help that he needed.  Because he was important to them and they cared about him.

Friends are determined to work for the others’ good.  At our Leadership Retreat this past week we looked at Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 13.  Erin Wagner spoke up and said when she was on staff at Branches this summer, they encouraged them to say their name instead of love, so I will do that and the words will be on the screen.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

If we all lived like that the campuses we serve would be transformed.  The whole world would change.  To actually put into practice what we proclaim…

I think sometimes we see the obstacles and how much it will cost us or offend other people, and we go ahead and decide what’s not going to work and who’s not going to respond and what and why something can’t be done.  And we’re defeated or excused out before we even start.  Before we even get off the ground.  Or get up the steps carrying our friend.  We decide that we know best and it totally won’t work.

I’m not saying that God doesn’t want us to use our brains or that we should not reason out the situation first, but I am saying, that sometimes the impossible is made possible.  God does work miracles.  Bring the dead to life.  Give sight to the blind.  Heal the leper.  So in continuation of that, God calls us to also envision the possibilities to see the dusting of miracles around our community and world.  God’s work is done by people who believe in the power of God, who do what they can, relying on God to supply the rest.

And you know, this really boils down to faith.  And faith is so important to this story, both as the motivation of these men that empowered their determination and as the starter for Jesus’ healing of the paralytic.  Four short words in verse 5, “Jesus saw their faith.”  Most people would say, “You can’t ‘see’ faith.  Faith isn’t in the physical, visible realm.”  But it is.  And Jesus saw the faith of these four men.  There faith was evident.  It shone through their actions.

These four friends had the faith to believe that Jesus would welcome them and that Jesus could change their friend’s life.  What a gamble.  They took a bold step of faith to make sure their friend had a chance for healing.

Their friend couldn’t walk – so they carried him.

The crowd blocked their path and access to Jesus – they went around or by passed them.

The roof was in the way – they ripped a hole in it.

They are people on a mission.  They were determined.  Spiritually and physically they were determined.

Verse 5 says, “when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  They had faith, Jesus saw it, and did the miracle/worked the healing that they had faith would take place.

Do we have that kind of spiritual determination?  We all have people we know, friends, neighbors, co-workers, family members who are in need of healing.  What are we doing to be present with that?  Sometimes we need to intercede, whether by prayer, through encouragement, or by our actions.

Are we determined?  Willing to go that extra mile?  Endure the climb when it burns and our lungs are about to explode?

Jesus commends the man’s friends for their faith.  It was their faith that brought the man to a place of forgiveness.  I wonder, if the salvation of the people around me depended on my faith and my direct actions, how much more seriously and intentionally I would take my time with God and the Christian community and to what extent would I live out my faith?

Sometimes it means doing what one writer calls, “getting your hands dirty in other people’s lives.”

James said, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if a person claims to have faith but has no deeds?…Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:14-16).

God loves us so much that God took extreme measures to provide an opportunity for healing for each one of us.  God loves us so much that God came and dwelt among us showing us and providing us with that healing.  God loves us so much that God draws us to God’s self, guiding us and leading us.

As the body of Christ today, we’ve got to be people who are spiritually determined, who truly care, who show God’s love to the world.  In Romans 12:15, Paul wrote, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with them that weep.”  In other words, we are to care for one another.  To love one another.  To truly empathize and connect with the other.  This connection means that we move outside of the box of our own concerns and problems and become open and present to the needs of the other, the community around us.

I’ll leave you with these words from Lawrence Kushner writes, “We understand that ordinary people are messengers of the Most High.  They go about their tasks in holy anonymity.  Often, even unknown to themselves.  Yet, if they had not been there, if they had no said what they said or did what they did, it would not be the way it is now.  We would not be the way we are now.  Never forget that you too yourself may be a messenger.”

PS – I’ve been listening to an Ellie Holcomb CD on my drive to South Carolina and some of the songs totally fit with wins I was trying to get across in the sermon.

Love Never Fails –

Love Broke Through –

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Community Redux

Colossians 3:12-15

12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.

Philippians 4:8-9

8Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

I’ve preached on these two texts from weddings to Love Campaign to almost anything because I think they are THAT important.  I wish I could blow them up big and put them on the walls here where we worship or in the college room, where we do much of our life together.  In fact, I may put them on the wall in the kitchen in the Upper Room, our residential hospitality staff.  I want us to be evermindful of all of the words we use – whether to build up or tear down; our actions – whether they are loving and full of the grace and love of God or if they’re from the darkness of the world with its jealousies and deceit; lastly our meditations of the heart – what we input into our bodies whether that’s good, nourishing, and sustaining things or it’s candy that when you eat it, you may get a momentary high, but you are sure to crash eventually.

I’m preaching on these scriptures because we’re continuing our Animate series and this week’s lesson is Doug Paggit talking about Community:  An Unexpected Family.

What are some of the communities to which you belong?

Developing real, authentic, hard, and messy community is definitely NOT a spectator sport.

Community changes YOU.  I’ve often quoted my campus minister, Risher Brabham, at his retirement lunch saying, “The only way I could have lived this life is through community.”  I truly believe that.

Stanley Hauerwas writes these words, “Saints cannot exist without a community, as they require like all of us, nurturing by a people who, while often unfaithful, preserve the habits necessary to the learn the story of God.”  The story of God.  What are the habits of God?  If you are a runner and your running partner is faster than you, won’t you work that much harder?  Or if you’re in a big race like the Imagine No Malaria run at  this year’s Florida Annual Conference, I watched Ryan practice and push himself harder because of the trash talking, yes, because he was with people that pushed him harder.  Won’t you push yourself more to develop holy habits if you surround yourself with a faithful community?  As Hebrews 10:24-25 says,

24And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Community surrounds us and pushes us harder for the Gospel, to live our lives as the hands and feet of Christ.

Louise Erdrich writes these pull no punches words, “Life will break you.  Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning.  You have to love.  You have to feel.  It is the reason you are here on this earth.  You are here to risk your heart.  You are here to be swallowed up.”  We’re here to protect your heart as much as we can protect it.

You do not have to walk this road alone.  You don’t have to be an island.  As the Tenth Avenue North song says, “No man is an island, we can be found // No man is an island, let your guard down // You don’t have to fight me, I am for you // We’re not meant to live this life alone”  You don’t have to do it all on your own.  We can be fellow sojourners.

Kurt Vonnegut says it’s a different way but it’s the same theme verse, “What should young people do with their lives today?  Many things obviously, but the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”

It has to be intentional.  You don’t just stumble upon community, no matter what the people in charge may lead you to believe.  Community is created and nurtured and watered and pruned and…..Community is not easy.  It takes work.  It gets messy.  It gets realer than any Real World or reality tv show.  It takes practice and it takes trust.  And yes, it takes sometimes being uncomfortable when someone calls you out in love and accountability.

It doesn’t have to be cookie cutter people either.  We’re not looking for Stepford Wives clones.  The beauty of community is that we’re all DIFFERENT but we’re all UNITED with one goal in mind.  I love this quote by Frida Kahlo, you know the lady with the eyebrows, “I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feel bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do….Well, I hope that you are out there and read this and know that yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.”

I have on my wall at my house this picture that says, “Family is like chocolate with a few nuts sprinkled in.”  We’re a cast of characters.  I’m leaving after church, to spend until Friday morning with my family.  Pray that  we don’t stress each other out and we don’t yell or spew forth stuff that we would only say to a family member because we know that they will love us anyway.  You see, in community like a family, we have to be aware of our words of venom wound sometimes.  It’s hard to unhear something.  We must be aware of our words and our actions, when we hang up on someone, how does that make the person feel?  We have to be intentionally loving in both word and deed.  So may God button my lip when I speak a bad word about someone.  May God put lead in my feet when I want to walk across the room to give someone a piece of my mind.  You see, in community we’re not all in the valley’s or the mountaintop’s at the same time.  It’s a hodge podge always.  That’s the point of being a family, a community, a body.

What do you bring with you to the community?  Do you bring the gift of hospitality and welcoming people?  Do you bring the gift of conversation and an even-keel spirit?  Do you bring the gift of exhortation and teaching?  Do you bring the heart for justice, longing to bring the community to bear witness in the suffering of this world?

Romans 12:5-8 (NRSV)

so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

We’re going to go on this journey together as a community of faith.  We need each other.  We can’t do this alone.  We lift up joys and concerns, we support each other.  More than that, we need the community to share the love of Christ.  You see we can use each of our gifts to make our Gospel message stronger.  Our collective strengths, cover our collective weaknesses, like the web of the finger, if you cover them with the strength of your fingers….We are STRONGER TOGEHER.  I’ll close with this quote from Jean Vanier, “One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn’t as individuals.  When we pool our strength and share the work and responsibility, we can welcome many people, even those in deep distress, and perhaps help them find self-confidence and inner healing.”


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Celebration of Life – Carmen Degenito

Celebration of Life
Carmen Degenito

Prelude                                                                                                                                             Mike Jeter
Friends, we have gathered here to praise God
and to witness our faith as we celebrate the life of Carmen Degenito.
We come together in grief, acknowledging our human loss.
May God grant us grace, that in pain we may find comfort,
in sorrow hope, in death resurrection.

The Word of Grace
Jesus said, I am the resurrection and I am life.
Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live,
and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.
I died, and behold I am alive for evermore,
and I hold the keys of hell and death.
Because I live, you shall live also.

Opening Hymn                                                           How Great Thou Art                                        UMH 77

Leader: The Lord be with you.
All: And also with you.
Leader: Let us pray.
All: O God, who gave us birth, you are ever more ready to hear than we are to pray. You know our needs before we ask, and our ignorance in asking. Give to us now your grace, that as we shrink before the mystery of death, we may see the light of eternity. Speak to us once more your solemn message of life and of death. Help us to live as those who are prepared to die. And when our days here are accomplished, enable us to die as those who go forth to live, so that living or dying, our life may be in you, and that nothing in life or in death will be able to separate us from your great love in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Old Testament Lesson Isaiah 40:28-31
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
New Testament Lesson Romans 8:35-39
8 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Psalm 139:1-18
1O LORD, you have searched me and known me. 2You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. 3You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. 4Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely. 5You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it. 7Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? 8If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. 9If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, 10even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. 11If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” 12even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you. 13For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. 15My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. 17How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! 18I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.
Hymn of Promise                                                       Shout to the Lord
*Gospel Lesson John 14:1-4, 18-19, 25-27
14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
Carmen was born in Red Bank, New Jersey on April 24, 1940. In his last weeks, Carmen shared personal stories with me, bits and pieces, that hinted to the person he was. The “black sheep” of the family, the girl from South Carolina who wrote letters to him and said she loved him, how his mom died when he was little and he had a strained relationship with his stepmother… Carmen told few details from his life prior to Gainesville. He would always start his stories with when I came to Gainesville in 1985. Ryan, Brad, Mike, Enoch and Evy gave him one last birthday party. Though he always said he didn’t like sweet things, only healthy things. He got a full piece of cake, ice cream and vanilla pudding. He said it was the only birthday party he ever had outside of childhood. We did it up! With balloons, flowers, hand-made cards from his beloved students and Enoch and Evy. He had a heart for working with students!
He worked at a sorority house. He worked at the BCM. He worked as a parking lot attendant at UUMC. Pam Petersen remembers, “When we owned the shopping center we had a life guard’s chair for the parking attendants. After we hired Carmen, he came into the office and said “Pamela (he’s one of two people outside of my family who called me that) I guess I can’t be a parking guard after all.” We let him sit in a regular seat and eventually someone stole the life guard seat anyway.”
He had definite views on things. He was grounded in his convictions. He was a card carrying member of the Republican Party and he kept the Christmas card George and Laura Bush sent him in his treasured possessions. He prided himself on being self-sufficient and independent and he always wanted to give back. He walked into my office one day with one of those internet scams printed out where you send them some money and you get millions. He had made an appointment with me the day before at church, and he sincerely wanted to give a large chunk of it, if not all, to Gator Wesley. Kelly Haskins tells this story, “One time, Carmen came into the college room pouring sweat. He was lugging two of if the reusable grocery bags full to the brim of sweet potatoes. They must’ve weighed 50 lbs! He explained that someone (I couldn’t catch who) had an overabundance, and were giving them out. He immediately thought of Wesley, and insisted that Angielina and I make them as a part of Wesley lunch. He had carried them for miles to make sure that he could donate to his church.”

He cared deeply about others. He was really passionate on behalf of the least of these. Serena Minton remembers, “I have so many endearing memories of Carmen, but one of my favorites was a time when Carmen displayed how much he cares for others. When the bishop came to Wesley for a meet and greet, during the Q&A session, Carmen stood up, and began talking about the PBS special he had seen the night before. The special was on child abuse and human trafficking, and Carmen was so concerned that he challenged the bishop on his plan to combat this tragedy. The bishop recovered well, but I’ll never forget his righteous anger at the injustices he had just become aware of. We’ll miss you, Carmen.” He loved people and cared deeply about the world!

He kept memento’s and cards that were meaningful to him and they are displayed on the altar. Carmen’s room at Haven had all the cards, verses, and sayings taped up all over from all of his friends and family – especially the Schaeffer’s and the Keith’s. Nancy Shaeffer told me just this morning that he had given her the beautiful butterfly pin she’s wearing in the last year. Carmen would not hesitate to give the shirt off his back of he could. He was such a caring and compassionate individual.

Carmen knew where the free food was. Gordon Green says he would see him on Monday night’s, “At the International Friendship dinner, Carmen would join us for our small-group Gospel study. He would open his humongous large-print Bible and follow along–sometimes with the aid of a magnifying glass. Carmen found great comfort in studying the Word with fellow believers.” He would go every Thursday to First UMC for lunch and then Zane, a student who cared very much for Carmen would take him to Publix. Sylvia Rotela says, “I remember seeing Carmen at the Jewish temple every Friday at Hillel. He would go there to listen to the Hebrew songs and go up to get blessings from the Rabbi. Afterward he would go down stairs to eat the free dinner. Shabbat shalom!”

Matt Watson shared, “My favorite memory of him was the first time I had to take him to Ward’s market. I got to have a full conversation with him, and it helped me look past his demanding side and realize he was actually an interesting and loving person.” Oh, Carmen could be demanding. Anybody that spent 5 minutes with him would know that he had to have things in a particular way and he was very opinionated. He would tell 6-7 students to turn the air up on Sunday mornings and if it was still blowing to cold, he would put the hat part of his signature hoodie and pull the strings just to show how cold it was. You always knew where you stood with Carmen and he was nothing if not authentic and transparent. Dan Wunderlich said that when he announced his engagement to Kara during worship, Carmen went up to Kara after the service, “Are you sure?” But he was also sincere and genuine. Kelly Haskins says, “In the summer after my junior year, we had a karaoke night. It was packed with students and, of course, Carmen came. I got up to sing, had fun, and sat back down. After the event, we were cleaning up and Carmen, with such earnest emotion, rushed up to me and told me that I had such a nice singing voice, how he had greatly enjoyed it, and that I should really sing more often. The punchline to this story is that at the time, I had been singing regularly in the Wesley worship band for 3 years! Lol thanks Carmen!”

He always would talk to those sitting around him at worship. Meredith used to sit beside him every Sunday that she was here. She graduated the December before he died. Ali writes, “If I’ve learned anything from working at a church, it’s that you make friends with unlikely people. One of those friends, Carmen (the older man on the left in the gray hoodie) passed away this morning. I met Carmen before anyone else at Gator Wesley. My first Sunday I sat in front of him, when he preceded to ask me about 10 minutes worth of questions about my life, my plans, and my dreams. Almost every Sunday since, he’s asked me about the stories I’ve done and the people I’ve met. Although he was confused about what I was doing (he was fairly convinced my dream was to be a TV anchor or a talk show host), he kept listening. Every week he told me how he prayed for me. His last Sunday before he entered assisted care, he told me that I was going to go out and change the world. I didn’t know that was going to be the last time I saw him not in a hospital bed. While Carmen never realized it, the love he has shown all of the students at Gator Wesley has been unending. Although he was stubborn and cantankerous, he was a good man. Gator Wesley became his family. Wesley is much larger than this photo taken on Easter, but it’s nice to see Carmen with his home. Everyone deserves a Carmen in their life. I’m glad that I met mine.”


Carmen smiled and waved to students at the student apartment where he lived. He touched countless lives. He wanted his life to mean something. He was so concerned, that I started to tell him that the students were his legacy. The students are his legacy. He would light up when “the students” were mentioned. The hospice social worker saw it and I did too. He only wanted to see “the students” at the end. So we piled into his room on a Sunday after church two weeks ago. Four of the students went with me and Ryan to see him the Wednesday before he died. Megan Becker, a rising sophomore was there and said, “I am glad that I was able to see Carmen last Wednesday after small groups. I really enjoyed getting to know Carmen this last year, he was such a nice man and he will truly be missed.” That Wednesday night we shared the Lord’s Prayer, Carmen’s favorite prayer, and he was able to say some of it with us. That was the last smile I saw on his face, when he noticed the 4 students we brought.

The students are his legacy. I’ll never forget when this semester, I had finished my sermon and Carmen stood up quick as I’ve ever seen him and said, “Gator Wesley IS going to change the world!” I’m so glad I got to hear and see that. You see Carmen was a deeply spiritual person and a follower of Jesus Christ. He had been raised in the Catholic Church, but he didn’t like what he called the “rules” or what he thought was the earning of salvation. He struggled with the concept of grace. Don’t we all do that? He was just honest enough to say it out loud. He joined the baptism class my first year here and he would read the Bible and all of the handouts and he wanted a copy of the Baptism service in the Book of Worship and so on and so on. He wanted to be prepared and he was excited about the United Methodist Church that I haven’t seen. I would tell him over and over again and again, any time he came up to me after the service, and in his last few weeks. You’re a child of God. You were made in your mother’s womb. God’s grace was given to every one of us. You don’t have to earn it. There’s nothing you can do to earn it. It’s a gift. I would say it over and over again. Chelsea Kowal says it was meaningful to her, “To see his face light up in a group when he was told that God loves him no matter what.” “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen?
Wendy Alexander shares, “Jim and I first met Carmen at University Methodist Church over 30 years ago when we were college students. I remember leading a Bible Study as a student and his comments were profound and also very touching. He loved John Wesley and being a Methodist. He also loved college students and being a part of University UMC. He stated that he had no family alive and that UUMC was his only family. I never forgot that, so after we were married, we started inviting Carmen to our house 2-3 times a year (for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and horse races). He especially looked forward to watching the Kentucky Derby every year at our house and the homemade meal that Jim would make. He had “his spot” on the couch and enjoyed being “waited on”. As most of you know Carmen could be very particular, so we finally perfected his choice of beverage which was 1/3 warm water, 1/3 caffeine free diet coke, and 1/3 dry red wine. We were so glad that he was able to watch the Kentucky Derby one last time at our house this May. Carmen will be missed by all who knew him and will remain in our hearts. His other last request was to listen to “Dream” by Frank Sinatra. He had the biggest smile on his face while listening to the song, and requested to hear it about 5 times.”
We will listen to that song now. Thank you God for the life, legacy and faith of Carmen Degenito. Amen.

Song of Thanksgiving                                            My Hope is Built                               UMH 368

Prayer of Thanksgiving and Lord’s Prayer
God of love, we thank you
for all with which you have blessed us
even to this day:
for the gift of joy in days of health and strength
and for the gifts of your abiding presence and promise
in days of pain and grief.
We praise you for home and friends,
and for our baptism and place in your Church
with all who have faithfully lived and died.
Above all else we thank you for Jesus,
who knew our griefs,
who died our death and rose for our sake,
and who lives and prays for us.
And as he taught us, so now we pray. [LORD’S PRAYER]. Amen.

Song of Hope                                                          Joy to the World                                           UMH 246

Dismissal with Blessing 
*Hear now the Benediction
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of God’s Son Jesus Christ our Lord. And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.


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The First Sunday of Advent


Call to Worship:

Leader: Come, Lord Jesus!

People: Today we begin the journey of Advent. Let us pray that we may be ready and able to welcome the Christ child into our lives again.

Leader: May the keeping of Advent be upon our hearts and lives.

People: Come, Lord Jesus!

Leader: May this Advent wreath constantly remind us to prepare for Christ’s coming.

People: Come, Lord Jesus!

Leader: The first candle is the candle of HOPE. It was hope that gave people the courage to go on, and it was hope that directed their prayers toward a Messiah.

People: Because of our trust in what God has already done for us, we are bold to hope for what he will yet do with us.

(Light the first Advent candle)

Leader: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

People: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” May our lights so shine before others that they will give glory to our Father in heaven! Amen.

Scripture: Mark 13:24-37

24“But in those days, after that suffering,

the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

26Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.35Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Mike has never been to me parent’s house in Aiken. From Florida, Aiken is not near anything so you spend the last two hours of the trip on one back road or another. My parents prefer Highway 16 right outside of Savannah up through small towns in Georgia going around Augusta, but I prefer going through the small towns in South Carolina and thinking of what life was like pre-World War. It’s full of pot holes and towns I’ve never heard of before and at the condition of the roads and obvious distress of the towns and the closed up shops on Main Street, Mike said it was downright depressing. I on the other hand, wonder what people DO there, how to people make a living, what will happen to all of those tiny United Methodist Churches in 10-20 years? It’s like that James Taylor song on Disney’s Cars “Your Town.” ( The land that time forgot. We stopped at a gas station after a particularly long stretch and the lady behind the cash register informed me that they had no bathroom, but we could find one two gas stations ahead but going the other way there’s nothing but woods. Never have I seen more gas stations without name brands. El Cheapo, Korner Stop with a K instead of a C…. Then I start thinking of a world like Divergent or the Hunger Games or the Zombie Apocalypse, we can go to a place like this where no one will bother us, and I vow to start learning how to grow plants, or maybe I’ll just take Shannon with me. These are my musings, when I see crumbling downtown’s. As we drove to Marion, SC, where my great aunt and uncle and first cousins live, we noticed the strip bar had closed. Mike made the comment, “You know times are tough, when the strip bars close.”

Times are tough. People are hurting. Are you going to offer them lottery tickets and Black Friday deals, that won’t last? Or the wellspring of hope that never runs dry? Those towns may never be what it was back in the day, a long time ago, because the world has changed so much, but the people in the towns, our brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, still have a hope, because they don’t know the hour or the day, it may come as a thief in the night, but if they put their hope and trust in Jesus, it will all eventually be alright because we’re a resurrection people.

We watched the movie, “We Bought a Zoo” with Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson over the break. It’s a true story about a dad, Ben, that’s just lost his wife, who has a son in high school and a daughter in elementary school. His son gets expelled for doing disturbing drawings and basically screaming out for his father to give him attention. His daughter is making her own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, where she writes on the bag with a sharpie PBJ and the J is backwards. He asks his daughter, “Am I doing anything right?” He puts his daughter to bed and picks up his son’s drawing book because he’s fallen asleep with it, and looks through the drawings for himself. As he’s getting ready for bed, he looks at the massive amounts of pill bottles from his wife’s battles with cancer, a picture of the two of them, and her earrings and Lucy, his daughter, walks in and says the neighbors were being loud. The neighbors are throwing a party and celebrating, perhaps Thanksgiving. She says, and this is heartbreaking, “Their Happy is Too Loud.” He hugs his daughter and begins looking for a new house the next morning. He wants everything “new.” He wants to start over. So long story short, he buys a zoo. Their – the rest of the world – happy is too loud. Have you ever felt that way? When you’re grieving, when you’re struggling, when you can’t get out of the bed in the morning? Have you ever wanted to plug up your ears and crawl under the covers and block out the world? You don’t want to check facebook and twitter especially – to see the faces that your “friends” want you to see.

We need to be real with people. We need to let the world see and know that Jesus doesn’t whitewash anything. He doesn’t say it’s going to be easy. He actually says it will be hard. As Christians as we journey towards the baby in the manger, the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, we have to be HOPE sharers. Each one of us needs to be a little hope beacon.

We live in a hurting world that needs HOPE all the more. I don’t have to tell y’all this because we’re inundated with news about our world going to heck in a hand basket. Ferguson, Isis, Grace Marketplace here in Gainesville – it reminds me of a quote by Archbishop Oscar Romero, “I also try to live these four weeks of Advent, this time of preparation for the Nativity, with an attitude of joyful hope and at the same time try to clothe myself in the virtues that the Word of God highlights: first, poverty and hunger for God, second, vigilance and faith; third, Christian presence and action in the world.”

A baby will come. Don’t forget that. As we travel through Advent, know that we’re not getting a safe Jesus that Ricky Bobby prays to, but a new world order. It reminds me of the song Bill Wolf wrote, “A Baby Will Come.” The lyrics are as follows:

The kings of this world
Have torn it apart
But we can take heart
A baby will come

To the hungry and meek
To those who grieve
To the broken in need
A baby will come

We have known pain
We’ve felt death’s sting
God help us believe
This baby will come

The angel appeared
Said do not fear
For peace is here
A baby has come

The advent of life
Let hope arise
We’ve our Savior and Christ
The baby has come

We’ve waited so long
God for Your mighty arm
May our doubts ever calm
For the baby has come

The proud will be low
The humble will know
They’re valued and loved
For the baby has come

Cause the kings of this world
Won’t have the last word
That God is Yours
For the baby has come

We don’t know everyone’s stories and we can’t assume things about people because we don’t know what struggles they’re going through. We can’t judge on the outside because we may miss what God wants us to see on the inside. Injustice and brokenness is nothing new, but God will have the last word and we have hope that it will be so.

Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

We’re a people of hope. The South Carolina motto is Dum spiro spero, “While I breathe, I hope” and the people of Christ should be radiating the hope that comes from knowing that God will never leave nor forsake us. If we have hope built on nothing less than Christ’s abundant grace and salvation, it will see us through whenever Jesus returns. We do need to keep alert, living our faith out loud every day, being agents of hope as well as agents of change bringing God’s kingdom to earth. It can happen and it will happen, if we believe what we say we do.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 says this, “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”

Whether we’re Black Friday shoppers or freedom fighters, grieving and hurting people, joyous, high on the mountain top, God goes with us every step of the way, and that is the Good News. Giving us the hope we need at the time when we most need it.

So back to the movie, “We Bought a Zoo, our reluctant hero, Ben, has maxed out all of his credit cards and has spent all of his father’s inheritance and spent all of his wife’s “Circus Money.” He got naively into the zoo business true, and as he entered his darkest hour, hope came from an unlikely source, the lady at Home Depot working the cash register. She sees the name on his maxed out (Lucy, his daughter, says it won’t work) credit card Rosemoor Animal Park, and she says she’s coming to the grand opening of the zoo because she remembers spending summers there as a child and she’ll bring her whole family. Fast forward a few clips and Ben cuts the ribbon officially opening the zoo, but no people come. Dylan senses something is wrong, so he runs ahead and there’s a tree down blocking the way. On the other side of the tree, cars are lined up as far as the eye can see, and the Home Depot lady is there with her family. Just that one word of hope kept his spirit going. You never know who needs that word of hope. You never know who needs reminding of the HOPE of a Savior who comes as Emmanuel – one with us – and lived and breathed and walked among us. Zechariah prays in Luke 1:78-79, “78By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, 79to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” May we continue to come toward, to draw near the hope of Jesus as we journey through this Advent season.


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Getting Back

I’ve not used this as a blog much anymore since the second surgery and I say I will start using it again, but it doesn’t ever happen. But that stops tonight. Because this is the place that I process. This is the place where I don’t read anything back over. Unedited. Semi-uncensored. Real. Raw. I started this blog before my first brain surgery. I would read back over my post, but that would break my cardinal rule! =0)

I didn’t understand at the time the ramifications “brain tumor” would have on my life. Some would say I was in denial. But I’ve processed things at my own pace, along and along. I didn’t look up what type of tumor I had until the December after I had the first surgery in June. When the tumor increased in grade, I didn’t process it (what with the radiation, chemo, speech, occupational, and physical therapy) until a transatlantic flight to the Ukraine. Still then, I didn’t share it with anyone until March. That the movie “Stuck in Love” let me know I want to see Enoch and Evy go to college. That’s the age group I spend my life working with so I will hope beyond hope that I get to see it happen.

Evy asked me on Tuesday if I would be around when she is a grown up and I said honestly, “I hope so.”

I’ve been hesitant to share openly, honestly and vulnerably on here because this is a public forum whether I post these blogs on facebook or twitter or not. I began working a new job two years ago and I didn’t want them to judge me as weak, broken, or not enough, especially after the second surgery at the end of the first year I was here. I KNOW that’s not what most people thought, but that’s how I felt. I tell my students all the time don’t wear masks, don’t hide who you are, and I feel like I’ve had a mask on here. I don’t mind posting sermons or speaking gigs, but I’m hesitant to share the day to day because it’s filled with all of the challenges and I feel like if I don’t write them down and just shake them off or zip past them than I’m not dwelling on them, but as my mom reminded me this past week, what a wonderful testimony of what God can do. I’ve received my share of challenges, but God’s grace and love and peace and strength is ever sufficient for all my needs. Mom often hears the Mother Teresa quote, “I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.” I do not even begin to think of myself as Mother Teresa, I’m not that saintly and I like tv shows too much, but I can do the best I can to be as authentic as I can be. Sharing the good times and the bad, the mountain tops and the valleys.

PS – I did the title based off an old Silers Bald song.


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We are chosen for something.

Our first scripture is from Matthew 25:14-30 (NRSV)

14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents,[a] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Let us start with a definition of “talent.” tal•ent
1. natural aptitude or skill. “he possesses more talent than any other player”
synonyms: flair, aptitude, facility, gift, knack, technique, touch, bent, ability,expertise, capacity, faculty;
2. a former weight and unit of currency, used especially by the ancient Romans and Greeks.

A talent is a large sum of money, equal to the wages of a day laborer for fifteen years. Precisely as a result of the wide circulation of this story, “talent” came into the English language in the Middle Ages as a term for God-given abilities, “gifts and graces.” The talents in this story refer to money; the differing abilities of the recipients are referred to in other terms. Isn’t it fascinating that just from this biblical passage that we get the first definition of talent when it means the second one. Strange.

Our second scripture is from 2 Timothy 1:6-14 (NRSV),

6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7 for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
8 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher,[a] 12 and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 13 Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

God doesn’t choose us simply for the sake of choosing; being chosen doesn’t mean that you’re better than others. When God chooses us, we’re chosen FOR something.

I posted on my facebook an article from Relevant called “So You Have No Idea What Your ‘Calling’ Is.” Here’s an excerpt from the article. “One of the biggest things was that the millennial generation, their unique challenges notwithstanding, could change the world. The first time I heard this I was inspired, but what started as inspiration began to build into anxiety. Words like “calling” and “vocation” sound great until you realize you don’t know yours. There is just no way around this. Patience and perseverance have to become defining attributes of our journey to find our calling. Sure, there are the people out there who knew they were going to be missionaries from the first time they saw a map (and even they have to wait and prepare), but for the vast majority of us, it takes more time. We have to learn new things, grow up, build community, work at Starbucks, drop out of Grad school or take our first graphic design class before we start to have an idea of what we want to do. We have to consider our talents and passions and seek out wisdom. And when we do start to figure it out, we may have to come to terms with the fact that our place in the process might look a little bit more like making someone’s day by brewing an incredible cup of coffee rather than revolutionizing the whole industry through fair-trade initiatives.”

I’m here to tell you, you CAN and WILL change the world. Don’t be paralyzed by the idea of that. Let that wash over you like a wave washing over you in the ocean. You see the God that knit you together in your mother’s womb and knows when you sit and when you rise is calling you forth to share YOUR gift to the world. Don’t start comparing yourself to others because that only sets you up for dissatisfaction, envy, failure, frustration and it’s unhealthy. We are each given a part to play.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – Start at beginning – 3:22

So we’re each given skills and abilities and choices. No one is talentless. Everyone gets their own moment to shine even Neville Longbottom.

The second scripture is 1 Corinthians 12:1, 4-11 (NRSV) says, 1 “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”

Everyone has been given gifts spiritual and otherwise. Ask God to help you see and know your specific gifts, those that you bring to a world full of darkness. Take a spiritual gift survey. Take one of the many on buzzfeed just for fun and find out what Superhero you are. Or ask someone that you trust: a teacher, a parent, a grandparent, a friend. Ask them.

This quote is from The Legend of Bagger Vance, a favorite of mine. It’s a quote that Bagger, played by Will Smith, tells Harley the young kid that is serving as the assistant caddy.

“Inside each and every one of us is one true authentic swing. Something that we were born with. Something that’s ours and ours alone. Something that can’t be taught to you or learned. Something that got to be remembered. Over time the world can rob us of that swing. It can be buried inside us in the woulda, coulda, shoulda’s. Some people forget what their swing was like.”

Our true authentic swing. We have to be given eyes to see and know. When those around you are telling you and God’s leading you, you CAN move mountains. God is faithful and true and the Holy Spirit can guide and lead us in our gifts and graces as the Spirit moves us to CLAIM our gifts.

1:19 – 2:14 – “Legend of Bagger Vance”

This next clip admittedly is from a kid’s movie, The Rise of the Guardians. It asks the question, “What is your center?” What are the things that make you – YOU? What makes me Narcie? What makes her…? What makes him…?

Rise of the Guardians – “What is your center?”

So Santa’s outside can be intimidating, but his center is full of wonder. – Rise of the Guardians – Jack’s Center

What makes you – YOU? What is your center? Jack’s center is fun. I would say mischief making, like my 7 year old Enoch. What is your center? Why did God place you on this earth in this particular time, in this particular place? Not in a braggy, self-centered kind of way. Too much self-love is a detriment and can lead you on the path of destruction. Not to mention getting your head through the door.

If you’re on the other end of the spectrum, if it feels like you’re not worthy or good enough. If you’re feeling like the kid from Polar Express, that God forgot you when God gave out the gifts, you’re not alone. All of us struggle with doubt and fear and dark nights of the soul.

Sudha Khristmukti’s “More Than Enough” is a poem that speaks to this.

“Something is better than nothing,” I say to myself.

Still another voice persists:

“Will my gift, which appears so meager, count amidst this sea of other offerings?” I ache with doubt. And yet I saw how my leaking faucet filled a bucket last night. One drop at a time. More isn’t always the most, and less isn’t always the least. Approachability. Availability. Dependability. Listening ears, understanding heart. Words of encouragement, being present when it matters most. Selflessness and the gift of self. If the smallest act to even one life becomes significant enough, it might just make a world of difference. The endless possibilities lie with the One who can use the whole of what we think is merely a mite, a part. Here and now, if we simply present whatever we are, whatever we can, and whatever we have, somehow it would be more than enough, more than worthwhile.”

God is going to be with you every step of the way. The great God of the universe is going to be with you every step of the way. Do you realize the power in that? Or are you still in the mire and muck that holds you back? The baggage that weighs you down?

– 2:15 – to the end – “Legend of Bagger Vance”

Even when God doesn’t seem like it, even if you’re hoarse from crying out, God is there.

This expresses the dark night of the soul that Henri Nouwen often writes about. “My Garden of Gethsemane” by Naomi Faw –

“In the dark night of my soul I long for someone’s comfort and no one comes. There is no one to call. I imagine Jesus in the Garden praying until sweat became blood and even the disciples would not wake. This night is my garden. When will help come? Where is grace? Will I be able to take one more step? The dark night passes and no one came. Or, perhaps Christ was here all along leading me into the dawn.”

Christ was here all along leading me into the dawn.

I promise you that if you ask God, seek God with all of your heart, God will answer you. If not, come see me, and we’ll pray together and ask God to help you to see, know, and feel God’s great love for you. These are familiar words from Frederick Buechner in Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” You don’t have to figure everything out now. It’s not a snap your fingers sort of thing. It’s a journey. It’s a process. There’s no pressure but as Mother Teresa says, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” We can all do small things throughout the day, throughout our lives with great love.

You were made for a purpose. If it’s clean water. Get educated. More than 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes. If it’s world hunger. Know your facts. Every 5 seconds a child dies from hunger. You can make a difference. You weren’t put here in this particular time, in this particular place, with your God given gifts and graces by mistake. Go, ye, therefore and change the world for Jesus.

Let your light shine. Your stars that you were given represent the gifts and graces you have been given as well as a tangible reminder of the hopes, dreams, and passions as you envision your gifts being used to bring about the kingdom of God. To help you see that you’re enough. Help you see you’re worthy to approach the throne of grace with confidence. You see these stars symbolize our lights shining collectively in the world. When you claim your gifts for God, it makes the light brighter, stronger, more full. These are not gifts to hoard; they are gifts to share with the world. Like “This Little Light of Mine” says, don’t be hiding your light under a bushel because the world wants and needs to see your light.

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Filed under Bagger Vance, calling, Chosen Series, God, Harry Potter, Rise of the Guardians, Vocation