Pastor’s Message – October 22, 2019

Planning to Climb Together
A Worship Series in Preparation for 2020
No matter how much I prepare for worship on Sunday mornings, I know there will always be surprises, distractions, puzzlements, and delights in the hour we spend together.  This is especially true during the children’s moments.
Some of their stories of fun happenings are predictable.  A ball game.  A birthday party.   A trip to Gigi/Mimi/Dee/JJ’s house.  Yet there is always that one moment where a child says something that makes me want to rewrite the whole sermon, a moment where surprise makes us pause.  This past Sunday, it came from a visiting friend, and grandchild of FUMC member, named Asa.
I went outside to get the newspaper, and there was FOG!
The conversation then turned to how many of them had seen the fog, what the fog looked like, whether they liked fog.  It’s a miracle we ever made it to lunch.  I loved the way Asa celebrated the fog, a reaction many of us adults don’t have.  Fog is mysterious.  It slows us down and hinders our immediate vision.  If we could choose today’s weather, I doubt fog would be at the top of the list.
Any time we begin planning for a new year with our annual stewardship campaign, it’s a lot like a foggy day.  We are planning for something we can’t fully see, but should the unknown keep us from ordering the finances and gifts of God’s Church?  Absolutely not.  Like Asa’s reaction to the fog, planning for a new year is something to celebrate.
This Sunday we will embark on a four-week series around our stewardship campaign, Planning to Climb Together.  We are preparing for a mountain climb which is the year 2020 in the life of FUMC of West Point.  I am excited to explore with you what Scripture teaches us about giving and ordering together.
And may we never forget that, in Scripture, behind the clouds was always the glory of God.  I think it’s time we all think like Asa, don’t you?
                                                                                                                                                                                                           all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian
Lectionary Texts for Sunday, October 27, 2019
Joel 2:23-32
Psalm 65
2 Timothy 4: 6-8,16-18
Luke 18: 9-14

Pastor’s Message – October 15, 2019

The Ways We Pray
For the past two weeks, I haven’t really felt like “me.”  My rhythms and rituals have been out of order because I had to spend more time on finishing my doctoral thesis.  I visited less and stayed up later.  My blog has been on sabbatical.  I had to postpone meals with friends.  No matter how thoroughly I planned and worked over the past three years in the doctoral program, there was still much to do at the last minute.
On Friday afternoon, as I proofread a hard copy of the 136-page thesis one more time, I began to feel a weight lift.  I knew the time had come to surrender all the writing and research to the Lord, make those final revisions, and click “send.”  But surrender is a lot easier said than done when you’re letting go of something so close to your heart, isn’t it?  Even though I was ready to turn the thesis in, I also struggled with letting it go.  I needed some help in seeking the Lord’s help!
Then I remembered my prayer beads, which were handmade by FUMC member, Gracy Taylor.  I quickly retrieved the beads from my bedroom and took them to the reading table.  As I finished reading a page, I put them under the beads.  One by one, until all 136 were stacked upside down, the pages rested under the cross and beads of prayer surrounding it.  By the time I returned to the computer, made the changes, and clicked “send,” there was no struggle with surrender.  I’d left it all in prayer under the weight of the cross.
The ways we pray sometimes change depend on circumstances.  For years I’ve easily prayed about my doctoral work in conversation with the Lord.  Yet in the final stretch, I needed a tangible guide to help me with the difficult prayer of surrender.  Not only did the beads remind of the power of Jesus Christ.  They also reminded me of the community of faith praying with me.  When I go on campus in November to defend the thesis, I plan to carry those same beads to remind me of the One in whom I’ve put my trust.
What are the ways you pray?  I would love to hear more about how you converse with the Lord and the rituals that help you in prayer.
                                                                                                     all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian
Lectionary Texts for Sunday, October 20, 2019
Jeremiah 31:27-34
Psalm 119:97-104
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

Pastor’s Message – October 8, 2019

A Truck on the Altar
This past Sunday’s 11 AM worship service was unusual.  There were many empty pews and the smallest attendance I can remember in the past few years!  I found out afterwards that there were many reasons for the absences, mostly because of travels.  While we always want to see growth in the church and welcome more people each week, sometimes a smaller gathering reveals God’s glory in a different way.
For me, that moment happened in the children’s moments on Sunday.  I had planned to serve the children Holy Communion and explain the basics of what the Sacrament meant.  My young friend, Collier, was the only child who came forward that day.  After he  shared what he did that was fun last week (he saw cowboys, horses, and cows!), we went to the Communion table as I had planned.  He received the bread, and we said our prayer as we normally do.  It wasn’t until after the prayer that I noticed something.  Collier had brought a toy truck with him.  When I asked him to come to the table, without prompting he had laid the truck on the altar to free up his hands for Holy Communion.  After he’d eaten and we prayed, he picked the truck back up again and headed out for children’s church.
Are we as quick to lay down our toy trucks as Collier was when Jesus calls us to his table?  Or do we keep our hands so full of trinket worries that we struggle to receive his grace?

One verse of the beloved hymn, “Rock of Ages,” says, “Nothing in my hands I bring/Simply to thy cross I cling.”  Jesus calls us each and everyday to empty our hands so we can cling to the love of the cross.  Will we follow the example of our little brother and do so effortlessly?

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian

Lectionary Texts for Sunday, October 13, 2019
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
Psalm 66:1-12
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

Pastor’s Message – September 30, 2019

Twenty – Nine Hymns, One Prayer

This upcoming Sunday we will share in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, as is our monthly tradition at First UMC. In last year’s Confirmation class, when we talked about worship, one of the students said, “I wish we had Communion more than once a month.”

I wholeheartedly agree, as did John Wesley. He even preached a well-known sermon titled, “The Duty of Constant Communion,” four years before his death – at the age of 84. We should take note that in the last years of his life, this father of Methodism was so focused on articulating for the Church what Holy Communion means for us.

This Sunday we will observe World Communion Sunday, a time to remember that the body and blood of our Lord is not only for us as individuals bur for the redemption of the whole world. My hope and prayer for all of us is that we never lose our holy and reverent fear of the Sacrament and what it means for us.

One of the best ways to dig deeper into our faith is in our hands every Sunday morning. The United Methodist Hymnal is more than a book of songs. If we look through it carefully, we’ll see how well-ordered it is with songs familiar and new. Beginning on page 612, there are twenty-nine hymns and one prayer in the category, “Holy Communion.” I would encourage you to take a moment in the near future to flip through these 30 pages and pause with a hymn you don’t know. Take a moment to read that hymn slowly. If you can read music, sing along (and join the choir!). If you don’t read music, invent your own tune. These songs both old and new are sure to express something about Holy Communion we haven’t experienced yet.

I look forward to seeing you at the Lord’s table on Sunday – a table set for the whole world, whom he loved deeply enough to give his life.

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian

Lectionary Texts for Sunday, October 6, 2019
Lamentations 1:1-6
Psalm 137
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

Pastor’s Message – September 24, 2019

The Gospel According to Downton Abbey

The new Downton Abbey film, which I look forward to seeing this week, has me reflecting on some favorite moments from the PBS series.

During the second season, set during World War I, the Crawley family transforms Downton into a hospital. Beds and injured soldiers fill rooms once resplendent with gold. The Crawley family changes their century-old traditions to accommodate the healing of those injured in war. After the war ends and the family returns to their traditions, newfound peace seems present. However, war still dominates the conversation. The house may look like it did before the war, but the people are not the same – except for the Dowager Countess, played by Dame Maggie Smith.

Lady Sybil, her justice-loving granddaughter, notices that the Countess talks lovingly of life before the war and calls her out on it.

“Granny, do you really want for things to be the way they were before the war?”

Without hesitation or exclamation, the Countess answers, “Of course I do.”

The family exchanges quick glances that convey the same message: the Countess wishes for something that cannot be. Downton’s rooms may look like they always did, but they are not the same because of the wounded who have lived in them.

During our current worship series I’ve occasionally referred to an old order of worship that a friend of mine found recently. It was saved by someone who visited our church in February of 1963. It has been fun to learn from this piece of history. Some things are the same in our church, but so much has changed because of the time passed and the people who have passed through our pews.

It’s human nature for us to long for feelings of times past, but we set ourselves up for disappointment if we try to live in the past. While Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, the ways the church shares his good news may change so as to reach more people. Let us give thanks for what has been, and let us walk into the future unafraid of how we change for the better!

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian

Lectionary Texts for Sunday, September 29, 2019
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

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!

Facebook: First UMC of West Point, MS
Instagram: @fumcwestpoint
Starkville District website:

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