DEVOTIONALS

June 4, 2020

GIFT OF TEARS
by Rev. Emily Sanford

 

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 Common English Bible (CEB)

No healing, only grief;
my heart is broken
Listen to the weeping of my people
all across the land:
“Isn’t the Lord in Zion?
Is her king no longer there?”
Why then did they anger me with their images,
with pointless foreign gods?
“The harvest is past,
the summer has ended,
yet we aren’t saved.”
Because my people are crushed,
I am crushed;
darkness and despair overwhelm me.
What to do with God’s people.

Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then have my people
not been restored to health?
If only my head were a spring of water,
and my eyes a fountain of tears,
I would weep day and night
for the wounds of my people.

Grief. Lament. Rage. Sorrow. We are experiencing the whole range of emotions and physical manifestations of the layers of losses in our lives and the world right now. We are surrounded by images of police brutality, vivid reminders of systemic racism and injustice, and the continuing threat of COVID-19. While some aspects of our lives are slowly resuming, we find ourselves in a strange and lonely place in between. We grieve change, whether the loss of a loved one, the loss of our routine, the loss of independence or certain abilities, or face-to-face interactions. In the midst of all of these transitions, perhaps tears are a necessary part of the healing journey. Tears can blur things, but they can also be cleansing as they allow us to release stress, anxiety, frustration, and joy. They can connect us, bring us together in the midst of pain, and lead us to share compassion with others.

Just as the weeping prophet Jeremiah cries out to God, may we bring all of our sorrow to the one who binds up the broken-hearted, the Great Physician who reminds us that there is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole and heal the sin-sick soul. That when we feel discouraged and think our work is in vain, the Holy Spirit revives our souls again. By his wounds, we are healed, and Christ, the ultimate healer, bandages our hearts and mends our broken souls and broken world.

With tears welling up in my own eyes, I grieve the pain in our world right now. I grieve leaving a place where I have laughed and cried and loved and dreamed for the past twelve years. Yet I know that the best is yet to come for me and Galloway and the whole world as Christ is making all things new. My profound gratitude outweighs my grief. Thank you for your faithfulness to the living God, and the pastoral identity you’ve helped me discover in this place. I am grateful for the gift and permission of tears, to be present with the many feelings and grief at this moment, and to bear witness to the suffering around me so that we might be empowered by the Spirit to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

Out of the womb of our tears may hope be born, and may our intentional goodbyes gift us with the opportunity and space for the next invitation of hello as God’s Spirit guides us into a new chapter. Those who sow in tears will reap in hope.

May 27, 2020

Number 93
by Meg Hanes, Children & Family Director

For years, my car has been “labeled” with the number 93 on its windshield so that teachers know who was supposed to get in my car when I picked Katie Margaret and Chris up in carpool. Last week, as I was driving home from picking up the last of their belongings from school, I realized that I didn’t need that number 93 anymore; that it would actually become someone else’s carpool number next year because both of the children were now in middle school. However, it was several days later before I got up the courage to take that number off my windshield, even though it was completely unnecessary now. As I began to pull the number off my windshield, I noticed some tape remained on the windshield. So, I went back and worked on those pesky little pieces of tape that just didn’t want to come off. A wave of emotions came over me as I picked at those pieces. Why was it so hard for me to take that simple number off my car, and why was I so emotional about freeing up the corner of my windshield? Removing labels in our lives can be scary, especially if they have defined our lives for such a long time. We worry that nothing will fill the spot that old label once held or that what fills that spot might be harder to deal with than the label we had removed. We fear that we might become more exposed; that people might not like what they see once we remove that label. And what if the label doesn’t come off completely? What if pieces remain? The uncertainty of making that change, of removing that label, can be overwhelming. By removing that carpool number, I was in fact removing the label that told everyone that I was the mom of an elementary student and replacing it with the label indicating I was now a full-fledged middle school mom, and that change is scary. But in Deuteronomy 31:8, we are reminded that “the Lord himself goes before you and will be with you,” and we should not be afraid or discouraged. Over the past few months, we have seen labels change. Moms and dads have become teachers, and many people have gone from being technologically challenged to “techie” experts. For some, those labels are temporary, but for others, those labels will have a lasting effect. That is no accident. The Lord has a plan laid out for all of us and goes ahead of us to secure the way. So, friends, as some labels disappear and new ones take their place, may we all take comfort in knowing that the Father is there with us and will guide us every step of the way.

May 19, 2020

Tragedy and Hope
By Dr. Martha Cain, Galloway Member

I wonder if a lot of people in the world right now might be feeling that God has abandoned us. This pandemic is creating such fear and suffering, such chaos and loss. It feels like, “Oh, my God, how can this be happening?”

But it’s moments like this that can awaken us. Think about it. When tragedy strikes, once we get over the initial shock, we begin to examine our lives and try to make sense of what’s happening We question how we got where we are, and may even reconsider how we’re choosing to live. Most of us do the courageous work of wrestling with God. And we find that somehow, when we do face the challenges of our lives, even though we’re afraid and uncertain of the outcome, we’re given a way through. We find connection with an inner power and strength that carry us forward.

Jesus gave us the blueprint, the roadmap for dealing with challenge and adversity. No matter what He faced, He was able to live from a place of inner peace, instead of fear and insecurity. He didn’t let the cares of the world or His human reactions to what He experienced define who He was. Instead, He lived His life centered on the deep awareness that He was One with God, that His divine purpose was to bring hope and healing to the world, and that His life provided guidance for how each of us might become a powerful, creative force for good, no matter the circumstance.

It’s daunting to realize that we…you and I…are made in the likeness and image of this Holy Man. Jesus represents the potential of each of us. In John 14:12 He says, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.”

We’ve been training for this all our life. I invite you to consider ways you’re connecting with, and sharing, even the tiniest bit of God’s peace and grace during these difficult times. We’re far more resilient and powerful than we realize. Though we’re all hurting, let’s join together, use the resources we’ve been given, and create a future with hope. “Fear not, I am with you. Be not dismayed, I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” ~ Isaiah 41:10

May 14, 2020

DEVOTION
by Rev. Don Fortenberry

 We all know that COVID-19 is a defining, or perhaps the defining event of our lifetimes. National news outlets, those engaged in news analysis, local channels and much of our conversations with friends and family are occupied with the impact of the virus on our personal and corporate lives. Unlike events such as 9-11 or Kennedy’s assassination, we can’t pinpoint a specific date when our lives were deeply affected or changed by the event. It crept upon us silently at first, gathering momentum until it turned our routine lives upside down. In the midst of this experience, the age-old question arises, “How then shall we live?”

 This situation is a heavy load. It’s very easy to be overwhelmed by its immense impact. We could become paralyzed and retreat into our own worlds. But we can take comfort in the first place that the God that was crucified, who shared the distress of that which God created, asks us to share that distress so that we affirm our oneness with people everywhere

 These words of the prophet Jeremiah could echo the heart of God:
 “My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick. Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land: ‘Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King not in her?’….For the hurt of my…people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my…people not been restored? O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my…people!

So the question becomes, “What sustains us?” We might express various answers such as belief that God is finally in control or that human ingenuity will finally win out. But these answers have a distant ring that, even when true, provide minimal sustenance on a day in, day out basis. “How then shall we live?” asks us to decide how we will order our lives in the here and now.

Kaye called to my attention a passage from a sermon by William Sloane Coffin, former minister of Riverside Church in New York: ”In Jesus’ words and deeds we see the transparent power of God at work, empowering the weak…healing the hurt, taking upon himself the…suffering of the world. And just as Christ’s knowledge still lights our path, and his faith lives on in our hearts, so his tasks have now fallen to our hands. Our hands are important.”

“What sustains us?” at the moment are the works of our hands, specifically caring for each other and for people around the globe. It includes working to maintain community, for being sure others do not feel neglected, for providing lifelines to each other and to others who might otherwise be overcome with fear in a threatening world.

What sustains is overcoming fear with love and love in ministry to each other and, in whatever way we can, to the larger circle of human beings that constitute the human family. As has been said often, “Love is a verb.”

So thank you for allowing me to be part of this time with you who have been such an important part of my life. Thank you for helping to sustain each other and any beyond the choir to any who need to be sure they are loved.

But let us remember that we are finally sustained by God in the words of Isaiah:
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is an everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth….He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless…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. (Isaiah 40, selected verses).

Amen. God bless you all.

May 7, 020

DEVOTION
by Nora Frances McRae

I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord. Psalm 122: 1

When did I first hear this? Was it at Sunday School when I was young, as an affirmation of presence at church? Maybe my mother quoted it with urgency to my sisters and me as an exhortation as we, a family who habitually ran late, frantically got dressed for church on Sunday mornings. However imprinted on me, these words keep echoing in my head these days. How glad we would be now to go to the House of the Lord, our church- Galloway.

These familiar words from the Psalms are attributed to David. We love the words, but to what “House of the Lord” did David refer? If we can stop and remember, it was not David, but his son Solomon who finally built the temple, the House of the Lord. David, blessed as he was by God despite his flaws, was denied seeing the fulfillment of the dream of the temple restored. The restoration of the temple in Jerusalem took time and patience. Somehow David managed to sing his songs, while living with the expectation of a better day when he or his progeny could sing songs in the House of the Lord. For David, that day never came, but still he sang his songs.

We will return to Galloway. Like David, we must sing our songs in hope and expectation for now. We will sing them with more joy than ever when we and our children return.

 

May 2, 2020

DEVOTION
by Chuck Sampson

Be calm. God awaits you at the door.
Gabriel García MárquezLove in the Time of Cholera

Now the visits take place from my mother’s room via FaceTime courtesy of Bertina, the beloved activity coordinator at the nursing home where my mother has lived for the past three years. In the early days of the quarantine, however, I would visit my mom by standing outside the glass entrance to the nursing home.  Thanks to Lisa, the gold-hearted receptionist, Mom could talk to me on Lisa’s cell phone and waive at me on the other side of the glass door.

These conversations would be brief, but mercifully laced with humor. There she would sit in her sunglasses, hairpiece slightly askew, with her signature Styrofoam cup of coffee. This is the look that’s earned her the moniker “Hollywood” by the staff. In one five-minute visit, Mom somehow disconnected us twice before accidentally initiating a three-way conversation with Lisa’s sister. No one in this tangle could figure out how it happened, so we waited while Lisa patiently worked to reconnect us. In the silence that followed, Mom demonstrated the art-form she’s perfected of mouthing words and gesturing, which left me clueless just as it has for all of my 60 years; if I didn’t know better, I’d swear she’s signaling me to bunt the runner over to second.

What finally became clear was that she wanted everyone in the family to know that she misses us and loves us. I assured her that everyone loves her back. Then she smiled and hugged herself as a gesture meant to be a hug from her to me. We said good-bye.

There’s always a feeling of insufficiency in the moments that follow these visits – a sense that somehow what just happened wasn’t enough. The longing for renewal and healing, the hope for fulfillment of what might have been, still remains.

When Jesus said he’d be with us when two or three gather in his name (Matthew 18:20), he didn’t stipulate how that gathering needed to occur; nor did he say that these gatherings would fix the circumstances we want so desperately to correct. He said that two or three is all it takes; gathering in his name is sufficient. So I can believe, however imperfectly, that he’s with my mom and me. And if that’s true, then he’s with you and your loved ones. He’s with us. And in ways that I have yet to fully understand, that’s enough.

Love in the time of the Virus.

April 23, 2020

DEVOTION

By Edwin Sherrard

Recently, Mrs. Jane Baird blessed me with the gift of a copy of "The Pilgrim's Progress."  A poem (below) from Bunyan's allegory is the inspiration for this meditation.

"Grace and the Cross"

"Thus far did I come laden with my sin,
Nor could aught ease the grief that I was in,
Till I came hither; What a place is this!
Must here be the beginning of my bliss?
Must here the burden fall from off my back?
Must here the strings that bind it to me crack?
Blest cross! blest sepulcher! blest rather be
The Man that there was put to shame for me!"

Song of Christian after viewing the Cross
"The Pilgrim's Progress" by John Bunyan
"The Works of John Bunyan"
Nathan Whiting Publisher, 1831

Pilgrim Christian had repented and converted some time ago. But he still backpacked the burden of his sin: guilt and gnawing remorse. The Heavenly Father had forgiven him. But Christian could not forgive himself!

The Cross is for every Pilgrim, not for God. An act of mercy. Not an act for appeasement of Heaven's wrath. It is a gift of sacrificial Divine Grace---the Father's lovingkindness.

April 14, 2020

Meditation for Good Friday

Rev. Dr. T. W. Lewis, retired UM elder

                “. . . ; let it be unto me according to your word.” (Lk.1:38) So the young maiden answered the enigmatic pronouncement of the angel. Mary’s response to the task given her by the heavenly messenger is like that made by any who answer the call of God. It is made without understanding ones capacity to endure the task, as well as the promise of a sword that could pierce the heart. Scripture records scant evidence of how often her faith was tested over the next thirty years. But on that dark Friday it surely came. (Lk.23:32-33)

Mary’s son stood in a line of prophetic voices that discerned God’s word addressing both religious infidelities and political injustices.   Good Friday reminds us that Jesus was executed by the combined forces of religion and politics, and that fraudulent voices continue to use church and state to obscure reality in God’s creation, whether it be against natural science’s warnings about the growth of CO2 ‘s in the atmosphere or the findings of medical science regarding sexual orientation.

The connection between the Annunciation and Good Friday is a reminder the Spirit of God calls to all who would answer, “. . .; let it be unto me according to your word.”

Prayer: O God, , we beseech thee, that through our obedience thou wilt make your Son’s obedience known to all people; through the same Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen

April 9, 2020

DEVOTION

Rev. Ed King, retired Methodist elder

Out of the depths have I cried unto thee O Lord. Lord, hear my voice. -- Psalm 130: 1

Will Easter ever come? Will this Lent ever end? As children, we sometimes wondered would Christmas ever come. This past Christmas we had never heard of coronavirus.

Galloway UM Church has cancelled in-person congregational worship services. This includes the weekly Wednesday noon Eucharist and prayer service. We have prayers for the ill and those in grief. For the second week of Lent, I added prayers for the people of China and the plague they now faced.

In my directed meditation in these services, I have mentioned that I am often amazed at how appropriate the lectionary prayers and scriptures were as used by most Christian churches through the world. John and Charles Wesley and the early Methodists in England also knew the words of the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England. The Episcopal Church uses these in a contemporary wording. The third week of Lent we had no chapel Eucharist service here but I noted the suggested prayer:

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities, which may happen, to the body, and from all evil thoughts, which may assault and hurt the soul… Amen.

Our bodies… our souls. Defend us, especially from all evil thoughts. These thoughts for many now are that there is no defense, that we are assaulted, that God is not here. That does hurt the soul. On his deathbed John Wesley said, “God is with us.”

April 2, 2020

DEVOTION

by Rev. Lori Galambos Till
Director of 1 Campus 1 Community and the Wellspring Living-Learning Community
at Millsaps College and who is being appointed in June as our Pastor to Church and Society

We received ‘star words’ at the beginning of this year when Rev. Emily Sanford preached on Epiphany. There is nothing magical about the words, but we each got a different one. It is a word to ponder, to pray, to meditate for the year. My word is “Welcome”. As I meandered through prayer, wondering how to pray when we are all having such vastly different experiences during this pandemic, I felt invited to welcome this time, whatever it brings. Welcome new ways of connecting with people, new ways of working, and new ways of being still, new ways of being generous and open handed, new ways of being family, new ways of loving the earth, and new ways of relating to God. And I also feel challenged to allow myself to welcome all my feelings and not run from them. I do not know what it means for you to welcome this season of pandemic. Maybe it sounds repulsive, but perhaps God has some surprising gifts for us in this wilderness. The wilderness is a place of miracles. To welcome the wilderness of pandemic may also be an invitation to welcome miracles. Miracles are never what we expect them to be. God’s provision in the wilderness for the Israelites was called manna, which literally means, “What is it?” May you be open to welcoming this season with God?

March 26, 2020

DEVOTION

by Rev. Elizabeth Henry, Millsaps College
Thriving in Ministry Program Director, Associate Chaplain for Wesleyan Student Ministries

A few weeks ago, I sat in the small black box theater at Belhaven University as students performed “The Women of Lockerbie,” a play based on the true story of one of the first instances of modern terrorism—the bombing of an international commercial flight. The shrapnel of the plane rained down on the small town of Lockerbie, Scotland, changing the lives of the people there forever. The locals worked together to collect the remains of those killed in the attack, and the women of the town continued to work for years collecting and lovingly cleaning the belongings of those killed so that they could return them to the families who would never have the closure of burying their loved ones. In the play, one of the women explains their devotion to this ministry saying, “When evil comes into the world, it is the job of the witness to turn it into love.”
The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in our world may not be evil, but it is certainly a source of great fear, pain, and suffering. It not only threatens the physical health of many, but it is also disrupting the social, financial, and emotional wellbeing of many more. We find ourselves in shock, hardly able to process the statistics and warnings and news stories that are constantly raining down upon us. And yet, as we witness this great pain in the world, we are invited to turn it into love. As Christian witnesses, it is our job to turn it into love.

In this present moment we can turn the pain to love by staying home and honoring social distancing guidelines to avoid spreading disease to vulnerable neighbors. We can share physical and financial resources with those suffering from lack of access to necessities. We can reach out via phone and internet to those feeling cutoff and lonely. We can pray for one another in the midst of it all. We can love one another well, even as God loves us. We are not alone. Ours is a God skilled at turning pain to love.

March 19, 2020

DEVOTION

by Mike Hicks, Executive Director of the Untied Methodist Foundation

Romans 1:11
For I long to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift, to strengthen and establish you;
Amplified Bible (AMP) Copyright © 2015 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, CA 90631. All rights reserved.

I have always enjoyed the many books by David McCullough. He is an excellent writer for someone, who loves to read about history. His book on John Adams is one of the best I have ever read. I recently read, THE PIONEERS: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West, published by Simon & Schuster. I really thought I was going to be reading about the west as we think about it in movies and television. It was actually about pioneers moving into what is now Ohio.

The time of the migration was a long and dangerous journey from the known into the unknown. People perished from drought, flood, disease and altercations with Native Americans. Some made return journeys to the east, but most never saw their family or friends in the east again. Postal service was non-existent for many years.

We are in a new world in the midst of COVID-19. Social distancing and isolation are our new norm. I never would have believed that Belk would close its doors for a season or public schools would be shuttered for an extended period. And what about our churches? No gatherings for weeks. I can begin to relate to Paul’s desire to see the people of the church in Rome face to face. But he did do the next best thing.

We have an advantage over the western pioneers and Paul. We can mail cards and letters to family and friends. We can even speak with them by phone. We also can talk and see them almost face to face with a variety of electronic helps.

I encourage you to use our longing for contact to become action. Send notes of encouragement. Call someone and chat. Join in worship electronically. Use the tools we have to share spiritual gifts and encouragement. Strengthen one another in this time of anxiety.