Pastor’s Message – May 7, 2019

Giving Thanks For AnnaBeth

Nearly two years ago, the Staff-Parish Relations Committee took a leap of faith in the hiring of a full-time Director of Youth and Children’s Ministries. And oh the rewards we have reaped! We were so blessed to have an applicant as qualified as AnnaBeth Harrison practically dropped in our laps.
There is no doubt that the hand of God was in the process: blessing our church, our youth program, and our children’s ministries.

When AnnaBeth arrived, we had an average of five or six students at United Methodist Youth Fellowship. We have had 20+ students at several functions lately. And have you visited with one of our youth? They are leading Bible studies and continue to grow under AnnaBeth’s (and Oliver’s) leadership, in addition to the other adults now involved. These students are the future of First UMC, and we can all be proud of the ministries we now have in place.

Has AnnaBeth ever asked you to do something? We find it nearly impossible to refuse when we see all she is doing. But every single time, we walk away knowing we were the ones receiving the blessing.

We knew when AnnaBeth joined the staff of FUMC that she and Oliver would only be in our area for a couple of years, and that time has flown by. Oliver has already moved to his new job at Duke Air Force Base in Florida, and AnnaBeth will join him permanently on May 23.

Her last Sunday with us will be May 19, and we welcome you to show your appreciation to her in whatever way the Holy Spirit leads you before she leaves. We thought it appropriate for the youth and children to honor her with special events, but the gifts don’t have to stop there. Please feel free to reach out to her as the Lord directs you.

At the luncheon for our high school seniors, AnnaBeth had assembled a slideshow that concluded with this verse: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged, for the Lord God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

Go forth in God’s strength and courage, AnnaBeth and Oliver, and we wish you many blessings wherever you go.

Robin McCormick                                               Rev. Darian Duckworth                                                                                                     Chair of Staff-Parish Relations                        Pastor

Pastor’s Message – April 30, 2019

What Draws Us To Church

My dog, Isaac, is not normally a fan of church. He seems to know that it’s the place I most often go when I leave him at home, especially on Sundays. However, on his morning walks, the churches on Broad Street frequently draw him with their springtime scents. When my dad walks Isaac, he prefers sniffing the flowers at the Presbyterian church. Last week, he walked past our church to investigate the sign at the Baptist church. This morning, he walked right up to the door of the Christian church. And yes, he does occasionally stop by the courtyard of our church to ensure all is in order!

Different congregations have different offerings that draw us humans into their fellowships, too. Every church has its own unique “scent” formed by the Spirit’s work there. At the same time, every church should have the same basic aroma of the love of Jesus Christ.

Our first priority as First United Methodist Church of West Point should always be to draw people to the love of Jesus Christ: not to ourselves, but to Him who works with and in us. I invite you this week to spend some time with two verses of Scripture, followed by two questions. Please spend some time with the verses before you answer the questions. I would love to hear your responses.

In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life. ~ 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 (The Message)

1. What has drawn you to this congregation?

2. What will you do to help draw more people into the “exquisite fragrance” of Christ’s love in this fellowship of believers?

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian

Pastor’s Message – April 9, 2019

Between Sundays: Walking Holy Week with the Passion

It’s easy to focus on the Sundays.

Here as we enter the most sacred week of the Christian year, many of us can quickly identify the next two Sundays. On April 14, we wave palm branches and shout, “Hosanna!” to the Son of David. On April 21, we celebrate that Christ our Lord has risen from the grave. What joyful celebrations they are, but when we ignore the events of the week between those Sundays, we have only bookends without the pages of the Church’s great story.

During Holy Week here at First UMC of West Point, we will have the opportunity to hear that whole story. The Passion narrative in Luke’s gospel encompasses 91 verses of Scripture, but we will not read them all at once. We will hear some verses on Passion/Palm Sunday, some at the Holy Thursday service, and some at Good Friday’s Reading of the Passion. We will spread them out not only as a traditional readings but also in the Stripping of the Altar on Holy Thursday and the Tenebrae of Good Friday.

It’s easy to focus on the Sundays, but this year would you focus also on Holy Week? Our Holy Thursday service will be at 6PM on April 18 and the Good Friday service will be at 12 noon. Whether or not you are able to attend these services, I encourage you to set aside time to read the Passion Narrative throughout the week. It is a story that deserves our time and attention. It is a story that changes us. The whole story is our story of holiness through Jesus Christ our Lord. I look forward to a Holy Week of worship with you.

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian

Lectionary Texts for April 14, 2019
Liturgy of the Palms                                                                                                                                                                                          Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29                                                                                                                                                                                                    Luke 19:28-40

Liturgy of the Passion                                                                                                                                                                                                  Isaiah 50:4-9a                                                                                                                                                                                                              Psalm 31:9-16                                                                                                                                                                                                               Philippians 2:5-11                                                                                                                                                                                                        Luke 22:14-23:56

 

Pastor’s Message – April 2, 2019

Prodigal Playlist

A few years ago, while assembling a playlist for my yoga classes, a song by the late Rich Mullins,“Growing Young,” kept coming to mind. It is a first-person, modern interpretation of the prodigal son, and the song set the theme for the playlist I was assembling. We all need a prodigal playlist: songs that called us back to our Father’s house, no matter how far we’ve wandered.

In a 1994 live recording of the song, Rich Mullins strums the guitar alongside his best friend and co-writer, Beaker. He introduces the song as one that was written quickly and easily for two reasons: it was their testimony, and it was the story of the lost son:
And when I thought that I was all alone
It was your voice I heard calling me back home
And I wonder now Lord
What it was that made me wait so long
And what kept You waiting for me all that time
Was Your love stronger than my foolish pride
Will You take me back now, take me back and let me be Your child

Rich Mullins and Beaker are not the only ones whose testimonies are those of prodigal sons. Whether or not we’ve spent our inheritance and lived with pigs, we’ve all fallen prey to foolish pride. We’ve all heard a voice calling us home that we ignore. We all live by a prodigal playlist. Every saint has been a prodigal. But every prodigal can also be transformed into a saint through God’s grace.

In the last minute of the video, Rich Mullins looks directly into the camera, smiles, and sings,
We’ve sinned and grown old
But our Father still waits
And he watches down the road
To see the crying boy come running back to his arms.

So, dear friends, let us smile not just at the thought of running to God. Let us smile through our tears as we actually run to him right now–and “grow young” as his beloved children.

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian

Lectionary Texts for April 7, 2019
Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126
Philippians 3:4b-14
John 12:1-8

Pastor’s Message – March 26, 2019

Finding “The Way”

Seven years ago, I took up an unusual practice during the Lenten season: adventure. I wanted to spend more time in creation and engaged in outdoor activities, especially hiking. Only a couple of weeks in, the physical exertion of hiking combined with the adrenaline rush of a snake encounter led me to an afternoon of sitting on the couch. I figured that if my body didn’t feel like going on a physical adventure, I’d take my mind on the mental adventure of watching a movie.

And what a trip it was.

The Way is the story of a man whose son dies while hiking El Camino de Santiago in Spain. The man flies there to retrieve his son’s body and finds himself inspired to finish the 700-km trek that his son began. Along “the way,” he carries his son’s ashes and meets a diverse group of fellow pilgrims–all broken people in search of “something.”

Even though the story begins with the death of a young man, we discover that until his final breaths he was driven by a passion to live life to the fullest capacity. His father had not embraced life with the same zeal that his son had. But in his son’s death, he took on a passion for life–and life more abundant.

As we approach Calvary, we remember another man who died at far too young of an age. In the death of that Nazarene carpenter, we received a new life, too. As Jesus Christ walked “the way” of suffering for us, we are called to complete the journey that he started towards a heavenly kingdom. As the father in this story carried his son’s ashes with him, we carry Christ with us. The difference is that the one we carry with us is very much alive and desires for us to live. We are all called to complete the adventures that Christ began. Will you take up your backpack and follow “the way, the truth, and the life” to the cross and beyond?
all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian

Lectionary Texts for Sunday, March 31, 2019
Joshua 5:9-12
Psalm 32
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Luke 15:11-32

Pastor’s Message – March 12, 2019

The Ordering of Worship

In our second confirmation session this year, one of the subjects we covered was the Reformation. After a brief introduction to Martin Luther, we talked about how the Reformation brought about much-needed changes in the Church. An exercise in the their workbooks then asked the students to make three statements of “how the church needs to change” today.

Here are a few of their suggested changes:
Cushions for the backs of the pews
More mission trips
To wear whatever I want to church
A food eating contest
Sing more songs from K-LOVE
Water coolers for each pew so no one will get thirsty
Offering Communion more than once a month
Better pencils for the pews

I love the contributions of our youth and children because there is a deeper truth behind every answer they offer to questions. After we made a long list of the confirmands’ suggested changes, I pointed out to them that most of those changes revolved around making people feel comfortable and at home in the worship service. They spoke with passion about wanting to make their church a better place.

Lent is a season where we prayerfully ponder change and seek to order our lives around the worship of God Almighty. All voices, regardless of age, matter to that order. May we all have ears to hear the voice of the Lord, and may we act on his voice out of love for God and each other.

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian

Lectionary Texts for Sunday, March 17, 2019
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17 – 4:1
Luke 13:31-35

Pastor’s Message – February 19, 2019

Holy Conferencing

Last month many of us attended an informational session and follow-up conversation on the Special Called Session of General Conference. I am grateful for your interest and participation that springs from a love for Christ’s Church. This upcoming Sunday, February 24, the day after General Conference begins in St. Louis, we will have suggested prayers available in the library for you to take home and offer in your time with God. We have taken time to learn and to converse, but now is the time to pray.

Since the time of John Wesley, the phrase, “holy conferencing,” has described the way we United Methodists conduct business matters of the Church: setting time apart to step away from daily tasks in order to converse with the Holy Spirit and with one another for the sake of the Church. A conference is not only an event that we attend. The Church’s roots are in relationship.

Holy conferencing doesn’t occur solely on international or denominational levels. Last week, as we bid farewell too soon and too suddenly to our friends, Suzanne Brasfield and Ray Millard, holy conferencing happened here in our community. We offered prayers, presence, and plenty of food. We planned worship services that celebrated their lives. We ordered our schedules around comfort, love, and support. The church’s roots are in relationship.

Relationship with God and neighbor are at the heart of The United Methodist Church. Let us pray that our holy conferencing strengthen those relationships. And let us remember that all of our conferencing is not by might, not by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord.

all good things to each of you,

Pastor Darian

Lectionary Texts for February 24, 2019

Genesis 45:3-11, 15

Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40

1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50

Luke 6:27-38

* New email address: Pastor Darian’s email address has changed to darianduck@icloud.com.

Pastor’s Message – February 12, 2019

Praying the Perimeter

This past week, Isaac the dog joined me in out-of-town travels. It had been a while since he’d been on a road trip and an even longer time since he stayed in a hotel. When we reached our destination after nearly three hours in the car, I had one focus: check in and settle into our room. Isaac had a different focus: walk around the building’s perimeter. Every time we returned from an outing in the car, he wanted to walk it again … and again….

12 Then Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the ark of the Lord. 13 The seven priests carrying the seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the Lord passed on, blowing the trumpets continually. The armed men went before them, and the rear guard came after the ark of the Lord, while the trumpets blew continually. 14 On the second day they marched around the city once and then returned to the camp. They did this for six days.

15 On the seventh day they rose early, at dawn, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times. It was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times. (Joshua 6:12-15)

When we pray about the walls in our lives that need to come down, we may feel as if we’re walking in circles. We may become discouraged with the repetitive words and pleas. We get in a hurry to move on to what’s next in our lives. Yet God calls us like Joshua to press on in faith, trusting his power will bring the victory.

Let us try to slow down our conversations with God. Let us try to pray not only on-the-go or in-the-moment. Let us take the time to pray the perimeter of Jerichos in our lives. Let us rise, march, return, and like Isaac, sniff, in rituals of prayer so that the walls do indeed crumble as God builds us into his new creation.

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian

Lectionary Texts for Sunday, February 17, 2019
Jeremiah 17:5-10
Psalm 1
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Luke 6:17-26

Pastor’s Message – January 23, 2019

If I Had Sneezed…

Ten years before a gunman shot and killed him, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., almost died of a stab wound. He was only 29 years old and signing books when a woman approached him, carrying a sharp letter opener. King would survive the attack with surgery and a long recovery, but the blade would narrowly miss his aorta. An article in The New York Times described the close call as, “if he had merely sneezed, he would have died.”

Dr. King would receive many letters wishing him a speedy recovery, but one particular letter from a ninth grader especially resonated with him. She wrote:

I read in the paper of your misfortune and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.*

When King delivered what would be his final address on April 3, 1968, famously known for its finale on a “mountaintop,” he recalled the incident and this young woman’s good wishes. He shared her gratitude that he did not sneeze. He describes all of the opportunities he would have missed if he had sneezed. He describes all the progress he would not have witnessed in the Civil Rights era if he had sneezed. He recalls a decade of hard work he would have never known, and might not have happened, had he sneezed.

As I read this story in The Washington Post, I was struck by the way Dr. King looked back on a traumatic, near-death experience with only gratitude. He could have expressed anger at the woman who’d tried to kill him. He could have remembered the stabbing with lament. Instead, he focused on God’s goodness in keeping him from sneezing one night in 1958. Some of the last words he ever spoke to a crowd were not of hate but of thanksgiving.

We read daily of the world’s “misfortune and suffering.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his anonymous ninth grade fan remind us the power of a heavenly perspective. That perspective is thanksgiving. May we all walk into today knowing this is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

all good things to each of you,

Pastor Darian

* This story comes from an article that appeared in The Washington Post on January 21, 2019. The title is, “Martin Luther King, Jr., was stabbed by a deranged woman. At 29, he almost died.”

Pastor’s Message – January 8, 2019

Fire And Water: A Worship Series on the Sacrament of Holy Baptism

Dearly Beloved Friends,
A blessed New Year to each of you! I pray your holidays were full of manifestations of God’s grace and glory.
We spent much time in the fall of 2018 learning about Holy Communion, and we will begin 2019 by devoting our worship hour to the second sacrament of The United Methodist Church: Holy Baptism.
It likely that many of us have questions and strong opinions about baptism. Some of us were baptized as infants and don’t remember the experience. Others were baptized by immersion as adults and have vivid memories of the moment. Some of us were baptized in the UMC, while others have heritages in Baptist, Presbyterian, Catholic, and non-denominational traditions, to name a few. We always bring our experiences to our study of Scripture, but our experiences should never limit what Scripture can teach us. Baptism is a rich topic that carries us back to the creation story and sustains us in the final chapters of Revelation. I look forward to delving into this mystery of God’s grace with you.

all good things to each of you,

Pastor Darian

Lectionary Texts for Sunday, January 13, 2019

Isaiah 43:1-7

Psalm 29

Acts 8:14-17

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22