Pastor’s Message – September 17, 2019

Needing a Break From Ourselves

Last weekend I was visiting with my parents and telling them about my favorite new album, The Highwomen. I’ve talked about this country, all-female “supergroup” in a sermon and on my blog, but now the whole album is available, and I can’t quit listening to it. I told my mom that one particular song made me think of her. The title is “ My Name Can’t Be Mama Today.” I wish that song had been around when my sister and I were growing up – because there were likely days when my mom needed a break from being mama. Then I realized she may STILL need a break from being mama to two adults!

I’m not a perfect woman, Lord, I don’t wish it all away
But my name can’t be mama today.

No matter how much we love our roles as parents, siblings, children, in our various vocations, etc., none of us are perfect. We likely all have moments where we want a break from ourselves and need space for a deep breath. One of the problems we face as human beings is that we all have a breaking point where all the pressures and obligations collide. It’s hard for us to admit when we need help, and help can be hard to find.

Jesus, being fully human, frequently took breaks from his care-giving, table-turning ministry. I especially love Mark 6:45 where Jesus “makes the disciples get into a boat” before he retreats to a mountain to pray. He has to be Jesus everyday, but he knew he needed time with his Father to be Jesus.

We may not be able to take “breaks” from who we are all the time. If Jesus needed breaks and found space to receive from his Father, so do we. Let us help one another set aside that time so that we can be all God has called us to be!

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian

Lectionary Texts for Sunday, September 22, 2019
Jeremiah 8:18-9:1
Psalm 79:1-9
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Luke 16: 1-13

Pastor’s Message – September 10, 2019

Insight From Isaac (And the Acorn)

A few years ago, when Isaac the dog and I were out for a walk, he began to limp in an odd way. I knelt down to look at his paws. I couldn’t see anything wrong, so I told him to shake it off and come along. He tried. But then he stopped again and lifted his front left paw off of the ground. He looked up at me with a face that said, “The problem is this paw. Look again.”

I removed my earbuds and knelt again next to the lifted paw. I carefully looked between each toe. I spread the pads of his paws and scraped away the dirt. And there it was. Tucked into the crevices of his paw was a small sphere with a torn edge: an acorn.

I carefully removed the acorn and placed his paw back on the ground. He hesitantly put his weight back on it. Realizing all four were back in working order, he took off with tail wagging, dragging his surgeon behind him. I know that was his bow-wow way of saying, “Thanks.”

We all have acorns in our soul. They’re not all necessarily dangerous, but they slow us down. If we ignore them for too long, the jagged edges dig into our hearts and can cause long-term damage. Anger. Jealousy. Resentment. Buried dreams. We human beings are not as quick as Isaac was to admit our need for help. We would rather limp with the acorn than leap with the aid.

In his beloved book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, the late author Brennan Manning wrote, “The New Testament depicts another picture of the victorious life … Jesus on Calvary. The biblical image of the victorious life reads more like the victorious limp.”

I love that phrase, “the victorious limp,” because it reminds us of our deep need for grace. An undeserved gift. The help we receive when we can no longer help ourselves. An admission that we need help extracting the acorns that dig at our heels. The church should be a place where we help one another do exactly that. The question is will be humble enough to receive the help when we need it? Sometimes we limp, and sometimes we walk, but together we can make progress on the journey of discipleship.

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian

Lectionary Texts for September 15, 2019
Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
Psalm 14
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10

Pastor’s Message – September 4, 2019

Healthy Connections

In March of 2017, the Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health at the University of Pittsburgh conducted a study on the relationship between social media use and depression. Not surprisingly, there were some connections between the two. Social media is supposed to be an outlet for connection, but sometimes we may feel more isolated with excessive social media use.

I love this quotation from Holly Shakya, a professor at the University of California in San Diego, from a National Public Radio interview about these studies:
Where we want to be cautious … is when the sound of a voice or a cup of coffee with a friend is replaced with ‘likes’ on a post.

A few years ago, I realized that I had allowed Facebook and its “likes” to replace face-to-face time with church members, so I made a decision to use that social media outlet only to keep up with friends and family who live far away. When we set up our church’s Facebook page, the goal was not to replace face-to-face interaction but to use the site as an invitation for that interaction. If there’s one place that should fight against our society’s increasing loneliness and isolation, it’s the Church. Here at First UMC of West Point, we can be such a place of healthy connections through the building of relationships.

Our church’s website, Facebook page, and Instagram account, contain snip-its of past events and previews of future events. I would encourage you to bookmark and follow all of these not as a substitute for church but a complement. While you’re at it, bookmark our district’s website for opportunities in the larger Methodist community. Let’s connect healthily and wholly with one another for God’s glory!

Website: www.fumcwestpoint.com
Facebook: First UMC of West Point, MS
Instagram: @fumcwestpoint
Starkville District website: www.starkvilledistrictumc.org

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian

Lectionary Texts for Sunday, September 8, 2019
Jeremiah 18:1-11
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

Pastor’s Message – August 27, 2019

SIMPLIFY: A Worship Series on Keeping Stewardship
Sacred and Simple

Back in the early 2000s, there was a reality TV show that I never watched but whose title intrigued me. The Simple Life followed two wealthy, young women as they lived and worked in places far different from the life that was their privileged “norm.” There were a number of problems with the show, but it was a “success” in TV ratings at the time. One problem was the way they defined “simple.”

Simplicity often gets a bad rap in media and a consumerist culture. As in the reality show, simplicity gets caricatured and stereotyped. In a world that constantly tells us we need more apps on our phones and a greater variety of activities on our calendars and a larger amount of money in the bank, it can be difficult to simplify our lives. Yet as followers of Jesus Christ, we believe in a gospel message that is quite simple: love God and neighbor as Christ first, sacrificially loved us.

Stewardship is the living out of that love. Jesus set an example for us on a dark night long ago when he took up a towel, knelt, and washed his disciples’ feet. Being his stewards is a sacred and simple life that revolves not around our privileged norms but around his humble power.

Every fall we devote some time to talking about how to live that love out financially in our church. While we will still engage in some of these traditions around stewardship, our worship services leading up to Commitment Sunday on November 17 will invite us to consider the simplicity and sacredness of being Jesus’ stewards.

May we also open our eyes to ways in which we can simplify our own lives with our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. Life is complex, but Christ offers us a simple command to help us navigate those complexities: follow me. Let us follow him these next few months onto our knees, hands plunged in buckets, hearts washed clean by his blood.

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian

Lectionary Texts for September 1, 2019
Jeremiah 2:4-13
Psalm 81:1, 10-16
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14

Pastor’s Message – August 20, 2019

Mixed Fruit Wonder

When I was eating at the Waffle House in West Point recently, I asked them to hold the toast on my “order over medium plate, steamed.” They did, but I did not ask them to hold the jelly, too. Right in the center of the plate was a plastic container of mixed fruit jelly. It was in one of those containers where you peeled back the “lid” to reveal about two teaspoons worth of jello-like sugar. This small packet of sugary goodness brought back wonderful memories of eating at Waffle House on the way to the beach when I was a child. I would get so excited to see what kind of jelly they would give me to go with the toast. Grape was my first choice, but mixed fruit was the one I thought was so cool. I wondered how many “fruits” were in that little plastic rectangle and how they could fit so many into such a small space. I wondered if grape and strawberry, which came in their own containers, were part of the mixed fruit. Unable to read the fine print of ingredients, I had no idea real fruit wasn’t in the list.

This is the kind of wonder we have as children. This is the kind of wonder we adults so often leave to children. As we so often cast aside small packets of jelly, we can easily become dismissive of the small things that are trying to reveal deep truths about God to us.

This Sunday we will conclude a month of celebrating ministry WITH youth and children. I hope you have recaptured some of the joy and awe of younger years in the remembrance that we are all God’s children, working together across generations. Let us continue to keep our eyes open to the “little wonders” through which God longs to speak to us.

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian

Lectionary Texts for Sunday, August 25, 2019
Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

Pastor’s Message – August 13, 2019

The Ministry of Tenderness

Last Wednesday, ICE officials carried out an immigration enforcement operation in seven different businesses across Mississippi. Word of the raids and the 680 persons detained quickly spread through local, statewide, and national media.

Bishop James E. Swanson, Sr., our episcopal leader in The Mississippi Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, issued a letter after the raids that included these powerful statements:

I’m not concerned with your personal political stances and thoughts on implications related to U.S. immigration, but I am concerned about the well-being and stability of families. Specifically, I am concerned about the children who suffered a sudden and traumatic separation from their families on what was for many, the first day of school here in Mississippi.

Reactions to the raids have reminded us of how divided we easily become in our opinions when we talk about subjects like immigration reform. Sometimes we become so engulfed in emotions, stances, politics, and issues that we forget our first priority as the Church is to the ministry of tenderness. Tending to one another without labeling as “the other.” Practicing gentleness. Caring with the love of a heart pierced on the cross. Tenderness grows from hearts that extend mercy because they know how desperately they need mercy. What I heard in Bishop Swanson’s pastoral letter was a call back to tenderness, a call to truly see the children and families and what they experienced.

With the call to see is the call to respond.

On our church’s Facebook page is a link to Bishop Swanson’s letter, along with tangible ways you can help as the Holy Spirit leads. I also have a longer reflection on the raids posted on my personal blog at www.darianduckworth.com/musings. As we continue to celebrate ministry with youth and children in worship this month, let us remember to pray for the young people beyond our church walls such as these frightened, young children of immigrants who need the tenderness we as the body of Christ can offer.

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian

Lectionary Texts for Sunday, August 18, 2019
Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12:49-56

Annual Conference Report

ANNUAL CONFERENCE REPORT

I wanted to give everyone an update on what happened at the Annual Conference in June and felt that this would be an ideal forum. In addition, I will be available to speak to each adult Sunday school class.

The conference started with a very compelling sermon by Rev. Jessica Moffatt from FUMC Tulsa. She was absolutely penetrating while speaking calmly and quietly. There were many sermons in the days that followed.

The second day we elected delegates to the 2020 General Conference. There were 20+ candidates for six positions and they had to receive a certain percentage of the vote to be elected. It was a long and grueling process as we voted again and again to elect a bunch of lay delegates and separately the clergy elected their delegates. It reminded me of the “Holy Club” John Wesley formed at Oxford that was noted for its structure, order and discipline. It was how we earned the name “Methodist”. We continue to earn that name.

The delegates elected by both the laity and the clergy were overwhelmingly supporters of the “traditional plan”. This was hurtful to delegates who believe the church should adopt a more open position towards gay marriage and gay clergy.

There were countless committee reports and financial updates….we are in good shape.

There was an update on charitable donations which was extremely heartening. We gave… $1 million to African University, 60,000 nets to end malaria, storm relief efforts, supported senior living in Mississippi, operated several camps and during the conference we put together 15,000+ health kits.

Ordination of new ministers and a memorial service for those ministers who had passed away in the prior year were celebrated.

Finally, there was an update on churches that were disaffiliating with the Methodist Church. There are 7 churches (which we approved for disaffiliation). These churches now go through a process that requires them to continue supporting their financial obligations to the church and to prior and current employees.

It was an honor to be your representative.

Bill Maclean, Lay Member of Annual Conference

Pastor’s Message – July 30, 2019

August Worship Series
Going Back & Looking Forward: Celebrating Youth And Children

Do you enjoy advance planning as much as I do? Often on my monthly prayer retreat, I’ll set aside some time to focus on planning worship, one of my favorite responsibilities as a pastor. Time after time, the Holy Spirit reveals a basic path for the upcoming church season with Scripture lessons and themes. The planner in me is especially thankful when the Spirt offers guidance for many months ahead!

However, Proverbs 16:9 is a verse to which I cling when the planning all seems to come together: “The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps.” We may make our plans, but as disciples of Jesus Christ we trust that those plans may not always play out in the way we imagine. Months ago, I made plans for a worship series that would begin in August with Scriptures. Then, one day last month, I realized through conversations with some of you and with the Lord that God was directing those plans a different way: celebrating ministry with our youth and children. When I shared how the Holy Spirit was leading me with our choir director, Rachel Wood, she told me that the Spirit had been leading her to ask youth and children to provide special music in August!

To say I’m excited about our worship services in August is an understatement. As our youth, children, teachers, and parents go back to school, we will look forward with expectancy to what God has in store. Remember that for the next four Sundays in the month of August we will only have one worship service at 11AM. Plan to be a part of the Holy Spirit’s direction at FUMC of West Point!

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian

Lectionary Texts for Sunday, August 4, 2019
Hosea 11:1-11
Psalm 107:1-9
Colossians 3:1-11
Luke 12:13-21

Pastor’s Message – July 23, 2019

The Gospel of Stronger

At the 2013 Boston marathon, a man named Jeff Bauman lost both of his legs when bombs exploded near the finish line. His story of injury and recovery is the subject of the film, Stronger, and one scene shows the changing of Jeff’s dressings for the first time. The film’s director situates the camera behind Jeff’s left shoulder, with his girlfriend at his side. An off-screen nurse warns him that this is the most painful part and tells him they can stop at any time. Another off-screen voice explains what he is doing with each minor movement of bandage removed from skin. Someone else gently tells Jeff he can look if he wants, but he doesn’t have to do so. He screams in pain. There is a pause, and another voice asks if he wants to stop. Another tells him how good he is doing. When they complete the dressing removal from one leg, there is great rejoicing and praise for Jeff’s endurance, words of reassurance that they’re almost done. The unbinding of Jeff’s wounds reminds us that healing has to be slow–and involves many voices, many hands, many eyes.

Unbind him, and let him go. ~ John 11:44

When Jesus commanded onlookers to unbind the resurrected Lazarus, the unbinding takes time so as not to further hurt the one who has been bound. So it is with not only our physical injuries but also the hurts we carry in spirit and soul. So it is when our communities experience the damages of natural disaster. Recovery can be as painful as, or more painful than, the actual injury. Just as Jeff could not heal by himself, we need the body of Jesus Christ.
What a relief to know that the unbinding is not the end of the story. Neither is the binding is the end of the story. The end of the story is healing. The end of the story is restoration. The end of the story is a strength uncovered only in the unbinding.

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian

Lectionary Texts for Sunday, July 28, 2019
Hosea 1:2-10

Psalm 85

Colossians 2:6-15

Luke 11:1-13

Pastor’s Message – July 19, 2019

Traveling With One Another

This past Sunday before worship, I spoke to one of our members who had recently returned from travels. I knew about these travels because she’d posted photos on Instagram. I told her how much I had enjoyed seeing the sights they had seen (especially the food!). She had traveled places I’d never been, and the bright, beautiful photos transported me there.

I had a similar experience with such photographs a few months ago when visiting with a friend. She recalled seeing some photos that I posted over a year ago from a fall vacation I took to rural Connecticut. She told me something similar to what I had said on Sunday: though she had not been there in person, the photos took her to that place of peace, quiet, and rest.

We read a lot these days about how social media makes us more envious of each other. We covet our neighbor’s vacation as we scroll through photos of feet in the sand and videos on water crashing the shoreline. I understand that perspective but beg to differ as well. Sharing pieces of our lives through photographs can serve as invitations to celebrate God’s beauty in each other’s lives. A photograph shares a story, and we must not be jealous of someone else’s story. Instead, let us give thanks for the various ways in which God manifests his goodness in ALL our lives.

Here is an exercise in gratitude for us to try this week: If you are on social media, take some time to look at someone else’s vacation pictures. Perhaps make a comment on how grateful you are that they took that trip, and how wonderful it looked. If you are not on social media, take some time to look through some old photographs of a vacation you or a friend took. Say a prayer of thanksgiving for what God taught you in that time.

all good things to each of you,

Pastor Darian

Lectionary Texts for Sunday, July 21, 2019

Amos 8:1-12                                                                                                                                                                                                          Psalm 52                                                                                                                                                                                                              Colossians 1:15-28                                                                                                                                                                                               Luke 10:38-42