Pastor’s Message – November 19, 2019

Three Years and 136 Pages Later
(a longer version of this reflection is on my website,
Two months after moving to West Point, I began the Doctor of Ministry program at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology with a desire to study hospice care. With God’s help and your support, I was able to develop, run, and analyze a research project.  On November 7, I had the privilege of carrying three years of work, compiled into 136 pages, into a conference room in Atlanta for the oral defense.
It was not an easy walk into the room, not because I was nervous, but because I’d had the “brilliant” idea to wear two-inch high heels. In my defense, no pun intended, I thought the heels were one-inch when I bought them! Thankfully we sat down for the majority of the time together. Truth be told, I did feel two inches higher when our time together ended in approval, and not because of the shoes.
As we wrapped up, one committee member had asked me, “What have you learned about yourself?”
I responded, “I am more in love with the church.”
Receiving a degree does not necessarily or solely move us up a hierarchy. It can also move us into a deeper understanding of where we presently are. Everything I’ve studied and experienced has caused me to love God’s Church, and especially this congregation, more. The tools of academia have tuned my heart to sing God’s praise in the community of faith I’m leading right here and right now.
Though the degree I’ve obtained may say “Doctor of Ministry,” I prefer to identify as a Doctor of the heart—which is the church. And for as long as you and the Lord see fit, First UMC of West Point is the heart to which this doctor wants to tend. Know how grateful I am for you!
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          all good things to each of you,
Pastor (Dr.) Darian

Pastor’s Message – November 12, 2019

Reaching the Mountain
Be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.
~ Isaiah 65:18
Over the past month in worship, we have planned to climb the mountain of the Lord together. Truth be told, there are actually two mountains we have reached. One is the mountain of the Lord, which we will talk more about in worship on Sunday as we study Isaiah 65. The other is the year 2020 here at First United Methodist Church of West Point. Now is the time for you to become an active part of what God is doing on his holy mountain. As we ready ourselves for Commitment Sunday, November 17, over the next few days, would you do the following with me?
1. Prayerfully read over our 2020 budgets that are included in this newsletter.
2. Ask the Lord what He desires for you to commit financially, and fill out the commitment card you will receive in the mail this week.
3. Bring your completed card to worship on Sunday, and place it on the altar as we sing our hymn of invitation. Kneel and pray while you’re there. If you have children in your family, perhaps let them carry the card!
Remember that you can change your pledged amount at any time. All we’re asking right now is that you make a commitment and thus become an active part of God’s plan for our mountain climb together. If you won’t be here on Sunday, you can bring your card by the church office at any time.
I am so excited for what is in store on the Lord’s mountain. Let’s climb!
all good things to each of you,
Pastor (Dr.) Darian

Stewardship Message – November 5, 2019

                                                  Tis the Season of Harvest and Beyond!
             Now that the air is becoming “crispy” and cooler, all nature prepares and engages in the change of the seasons!  The colorful tress, plants bearing fruits and seeds, migrating birds and butterflies, busy animals getting ready for winter, “slanting sunlight”, brilliant blue skies (and even the cooler rains) are just a few of the signs and glories of autumn.
We 2-legged natural creatures also exhibit fall changes in our activities at school, work, church, and home.  The harvest season is definitely a “busy people season” even if one is not a farmer!  We “take stock” of our year.  We plan and make decisions. We vote and pay some taxes.  We share and celebrate traditions.  We pray prayers of thanksgiving, hope and peace for the future.
As United Methodists, we honor and remember our saints of passed  family and friends. We make pledges to support and continue (or begin) our Christian efforts in this life to provide caring and love in so many ways.
And last, but not least, the FUMC choirs begin learning and practicing Christmas music in early fall!  Have any of you heard us humming or singing to ourselves songs of Advent?  Are there any of you out there who would like to share your gift of voice with your church family to praise Jesus and the Holy Spirit during this season of harvest and upcoming Advent?  We are blessed with a talented, kind and encouraging director who appreciates all of our “joyful voices and noises.”  Believe me…this is a stewardship with many (intangible and blessed) benefits, for every season!  Tis a wonderful season to prepare and share because you care.Your friend and (noisy) choir member,
Mary Carr Ecklund

P.S. This is an invitation to sing with us if only for this wonderful season!

Stewardship Message – October 29, 2019

Preparing to Climb

Eighteen years ago, a group of young teenage boys and a handful of adults decided they wanted to climb a mountain.  They’d never climbed a 2+ miles high mountain before. In fact, they’d never seen the mountain they had decided to climb, but it was an outdoor challenge that each one of them were compelled to accomplish.  In a brief article it is impossible to fully articulate all the good that happened because of their decision.

Preparation began over a year in advance.  Trip planning to and from New Mexico had to be done.  Money had to be saved.  Doctor visits for physicals had to be completed.  Maps and trails had to be studied and a route plan had to be decided.  Hikes through the wilderness had to be practiced each month to get the team physically and mentally prepared.  To be honest much of the preparation took sacrifice, and each person in the group had to do many things he didn’t really want to do to prepare for the climb.

But what started as individual sacrifice ended with team accomplishment.  The people on that climb, to this very day, carry with them a sense of gratitude and wisdom for what we accomplished as a team, through planning and preparing for the climb.  Going through the entire process together made all the difference.

I was reminded of this group this past Sunday when Pastor Darian focused on our stewardship campaign theme of “planning to climb together.”  What are we preparing for anyway?

What mountain are we planning to climb?  I think the mountain top is eternal life with our Father, don’t you?

How do we prepare?  I think Jesus showed us how.  We believe in him, and we serve others as he served us.  In church we like to call that stewardship.  We take what God has given us and we share it with others.  And as a church, when we do it together, it makes all the difference.

Prepare to climb?  Absolutely!

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