Winter Remains While Spring Arrives by PASTOR JEFF WILLIAMS Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist Church With the ice still glistening on the evergreens, prairie grass, bare branches and power lines, spring has not exactly burst upon the scene. There is no clean break it seems between the seasons. Spring breaks are alluring where we can make the change, usually to warmer weather, within a day. But the return home reminds us of the slower changes that are underway within us. In our human time and relationships we don’t just turn our backs on the past and only move ahead. Expecting something new (job, home, relationship) can come with some pretty intense pressure. “Out with the old and in with the new” sets us up for disappointment if we expect a sudden revolution and get instead a slower reformation. Author and educator, Parker Palmer, has observed that we act our way into new ways of believing. That’s why I like the spiritual practices of the church like worship, baptism, open communion, prayer, funerals, fasting, service, reflection and Sabbath. They are reliable practices—in my United Methodist tradition we call them “means of grace”—that shape our expectations and relieve our spirit-mind-body existence of unhealthy anxiety. I like the wise affirmation Renita Weems, author and pastor, makes in her book, Listening for God: “I learned to trust the winter months of faith, when it’s difficult to remember why one ever bothered to believe. I stopped being so hard on myself and demanding that, as a wife, scholar, and writer, I should always feel excited about what I was doing, or that I should, as a mother and a minister, always sparkle with alertness and insight. This was hard to accept in a culture where, at the first sign of dullness or tedium or monotony, it’s all right to give up, walk away, or try something new in hopes of finding new meaning, new thrills, new satisfaction.” May God bless and transform all your seasons and changes with grace.
Pastor Jeff Williams
Keep Standing… Still Standing by PASTOR JEFF WILLIAMS Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist Church So, how’s it going with your New Year’s Resolutions? Do you still stand by them? With the help of some wise advisers to consider a life of movement or training, rather than simple exercise, I am trying to work out three times a week at the YMCA. I achieved that goal the first two weeks and worked out two days last week. The odds are not good that we will keep our resolutions, whether they are tied to the new year or some other reference point. However, two positive factors involved in keeping resolutions are: 1) having small, measurable goals, and 2) going public with them to seek the support of friends. Pursuing general goals in isolation—get in shape, lose weight, improve finances—does not help us stand up to the pressure of daily demands on our time and attention. Standing is a sign and act of perseverance. Years ago I attended the funeral for the child of a former member. The pastor led us in an encouraging two-part act of faith that still resounds within me. Early in the service as we entered the fullness of grief for the loss of this child, he asked us to turn to the person next to us and say, “Keep standing.” Later in the service as we entered into the comfort of Scripture, song and prayer, he asked us to turn again and say to one another, “Still standing.” The blend of encouraging one another and affirming our ability to stand was remarkable. It was a modern day reference to Saint Paul’s affirmation, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God,” Romans 5:1-2. May you be resolved to stand in grace together with others in 2011. God bless you.
Move with your fire by PASTOR JEFF WILLIAMS Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist Church In the early days of the Tennessee Valley Project, a dilapidated log homestead had to be abandoned to make room for a lake behind the dam. A new home on the hillside had already been built for the cabin’s family, but they refused to move. The day of the flooding arrived and as the bulldozers were brought in, the family brought out their shotguns. A social worker was called in as a last-ditch effort to talk with the family. After hearing them repeat their refusal to move, the social worker pleaded with them, “Help me to explain to the authorities why you won’t move in to your beautiful new home.” “See that fire over there?” the man asked, pointing to a blazing fire in the primitive hearth of the log cottage. “My grandpa built that fire over a hundred years ago,” the man explained. “He never let it go out, for he had no matches and it was a long way to a neighbor’s. Then my pa tended the fire, and since he died, I’ve tended it. None of us ever let it die, and I ain’t a-goin’ to move away now and let grandpa’s fire go out!” This gave the social worker an idea and she arranged for a large apple butter kettle to be delivered. She explained that the family could scoop up the live coals and carry them to the new home, pour them out, and add fresh kindling. With that possibility the family agreed to move. But they wouldn’t budge—until they could take with them the fire of their ancestors (by Leonard Sweet, “A Cup of Coffee at the SoulCafe”). We get attached to places. And when we further attach relationships and activities with those places, they become even more important and we feel even more threatened by potential moves. When change is proposed or chosen by someone else, we can’t imagine leaving our current location. How will we function in a new place? What a graceful, creative invitation to think that we can take what is most important with us! The ability to move our fire and add fresh kindling in a new location means we can respond […]
A window lets the light shine through by PASTOR JEFF WILLIAMS Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist Church One of my favorite classic Far Side cartoons has a young man looking down, book in hand, leaning against a door at the Midvale School for the Gifted. He is pushing on the door and the sign just above his hand reads “PULL.” Sometimes doors can be quite formidable for us. They may represent barriers or boundaries that we struggle to open or understand, let alone pass through. The writer of Colossians asks directly for help finding a door to share good news: “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ, for which I am in prison” (Colossians 4:2-3). Making assumptions about doors and how they do or do not open, we sometimes forget the obvious opportunity to pray for God to open a door for the Word—that is, prepare the way by providing “windows of opportunity” for the gospel (New Interpreter’s Bible). Sometimes opening a door starts with a window. The Wolverine World Wide Family YMCA in Belmont has a small, lovely chapel. Many people are surprised that there is such a room in the facility. Offering a reminder that the organization’s mission is to put Christian principles into practice helps a little. Until Good Friday, April 2, the chapel was separated from the nautilus machines, drinking fountains, and long hallway leading to the locker rooms by a solid wooden door. People hesitated to open the door for fear of interrupting people who might be inside; you also could not tell if anyone was in there. So, we decided to start the process of opening up the chapel by putting in a window with the YMCA logo. At the dedication we recognized that the chapel window now would reveal the light and people on both sides of the door, seeking spiritual, mental and physical strength. Now we could see each other getting better. An invitation was made to devote time on both sides of the door. If doors are frustrating your spiritual journey, consider putting in a window first […]
Throwing snow into spring by PASTOR JEFF WILLIAMS Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist Church Robert Falcon Scott, a British explorer, made two expeditions to the South Pole in 1901-1904 and 1911-1912. On one occasion, the weather conditions were such that a white haze blended with the unbroken whiteness of the snow and no horizon was visible. Wherever they looked, there was simply one unbroken whiteness. There was no point on which they could direct their course as they drove their sledges forward. Before long, they were coming upon their own tracks. Thinking that they were going forward, they were in fact only going around in a great circle. To solve the problem, they began throwing snowballs ahead of them in the direction of true south so that they had something to fix their eyes on. Without some vision of the future, how is it possible to direct one’s course in a rational way? In practice we do what Scott did; we have projects, literally things we throw forward, long- or short-term projects, and we measure our progress by the degree of success we have in reaching our self-set targets. But where do these projects lead in the end? Scott had a compass to tell him in which direction to throw the snowballs. Without a compass, how do we know whether our success in reaching our targets is in fact progress or regress? (Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society). In the northern hemisphere, Easter is celebrated in the spring, and in Michigan it is a time of unmistakable change from the snow of winter. The winter view is broken by sunshine, melting snow, puddles, mud, returning birds, new buds and a greening of the landscape. We are refreshed by the change of weather. The struggle of Scott’s expedition was against an unchanging landscape, and loss of depth perception and direction. Thankfully God blesses us and the world with a sense of the future. Prophets are the ones called on to announce such a vision: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope,” (Jeremiah 29:11). As Christians, we are entering the final stage of Lent, a time […]