Pastor’s Corner – March

Gleanings…                                                                                                                     March 2021

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30 NRSV

If ever there was a time that we needed to hear these words, it is now.  Not only are we tired, we are tired of being tired.  We have given this condition a name: COVID fatigue.  All in all, we are tired of having to deal with the restrictions on where we can go, what we can do, and who we can see.  Yes, we know that there is good science behind these limitations on personal freedom, but that does not mean that we want to live this way forever.  When is it all going to end?

Though we apply this scenario to our time and situation, I expect that the Israelites in Egypt fumed in like manner.  Every time a foreign power dominated the people of Israel and Judea, there were grumbles against those who were in charge and responsible for leading the people.

The more history we read, the more instances we see of people being sick and tired of being sick and tired.  So, why are we (a very generic “we”) grumbling, fighting with one another, and seeking to impose our way upon others?  What have we not understood from history?

If we look to the life of Jesus as it is shown to us through the Gospels, we encounter one who paid little attention to the occupation forces.  Disease was a constant reality in their lives.  Issues of  power, position, and possessions caused many to ignore the call to love God and love their neighbor.  To these, Jesus offers an alternative way to live that is focused on thinking less of self and more of others.

In Matthew’s gospel (quoted above) we read Jesus’ call to a lifestyle that benefits the follower by removing the isolation that comes with self-direction.  Instead of rebelling against the limitations being imposed by other forces, the people were asked to submit to the loving care of God who, more than any other power, wants his creation to know his love expressed in his care for all.  This same truth applies to us today.

Few, if any, are comfortable with being told what to do all the time.  We prefer to be encouraged to do the right thing, but that implies that all will respond by doing the right thing.  Maybe that is why we have laws and mandates that we must obey.

Our Lenten journey last year was made with the anticipation that life would soon return to “normal.”  That we are still struggling with moving beyond a period of isolation and reflection causes many to think that they have a better way.  Yet, the pandemic refuses to abate and we face a continuing struggle of knowing what is the best course of action to take.

How about taking Jesus up on his offer to give us rest?  Doesn’t that sound nice?  Sure, there will be some things that we won’t be permitted to do, but releasing the worry and the constant struggling will give us so much peace, it might actually be worth it.

So, here is my invitation: how about joining me in caring more about others—their needs, hurts, pains, griefs, and struggles—and less about what I am, or not, permitted to do.  God knows what we need and it has already been given.  Maybe living with that truth will be the assurance others are looking for, that they are not alone or forgotten, that we will come through this better together than separate.  May we be God’s gift of peace to all.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.  Amen. 

Pastor Braxton ><>

Lent

Lent

Book of Worship #320

Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday.  Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lencten, which means “spring.”  The season is a preparation for celebrating Easter.  Historically, Lent began as a period of fasting and preparation for baptism by converts and then became a time for penance by all Christians.  The First Sunday describes Jesus’ temptation by Satan; and the Sixth Sunday (Passion/Palm Sunday), Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his subsequent passion and death.  Because Sundays are always little Easters, the penitential spirit of Lent should be tempered with joyful expectation of the Resurrection.

The Great Three Days—sometimes called the Triduum or Pasch—from sunset Holy Thursday through sunset Easter Day are the climax of Lent (and of the whole Christian year) and a bridge into the Easter Season.  These days proclaim the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection.  During these days, the community journeys with Jesus from the upper room, to the cross, to the tomb, and to the garden.  They should be seen as a great unified service beginning with a service of Holy Communion on Holy Thursday and concluding with the services of Easter Day.  These services may be connected with a prayer vigil lasting from Holy Thursday evening (or Good Friday) until the first service of Easter and may be accompanied by fasting.

Pastor’s Corner – February

Gleanings…

If the purpose of a journey is to travel from one place to another, what is our destination when we travel through any time of disruption?  Disasters, both those created by human action (or lack thereof) and those of natural origin, have the effect of forcing those affected into making decisions and taking actions that few are prepared for.  One problem with surviving any disaster is we begin to think that we can make it through anything only to have to relearn that we are neither all powerful nor all knowing.

We have been on a journey since COVID-19 grew to afflict much of the world.  The impact of this virus upon the people of the world has created panic, fear, uncertainty, rumor, speculation, misinformation, and a frantic search for anything to help us fight against its effect.  Given that we have never experienced this strain of novel coronavirus, we have scrambled to find anything that would offer a cure, relief from the suffering, and a way to prevent it from infecting more people.  We have also struggled with how we can protect ourselves against infection.

Where are we now after a year on this journey?  Some are grieving the sudden death of one or more loved ones who succumbed to the effect of COVID-19 upon their systems.  Some have survived with varying conditions on their health both physical and mental.  Some remain isolated hoping to lessen the chances that they will become infected.  And some by choice or necessity are taking their chances—some availing themselves of the best practices for limiting exposure and some not—and going out into society to do what they feel is essential for themselves and their families however they are constituted.

Though there are now vaccines available, there is considerable distress over the limited amounts, various schedules for administering available doses, and unanswered questions of effectiveness, length of protection, and any long-term effects.  Added to these unknowns are the assertions of some that all of this was manufactured to further some unidentified purpose or agenda by parties unknown.  In other words, some are spreading far more fear than help resulting in some being afraid to do anything.  Who should we believe when there are so many sources of information and limited means for verification?

While I do not have answers to these questions, I do have hope.  As I write this article, the sky is grey, the temperature is in the thirties, and the wind makes being outdoors very uncomfortable.  Yet, the bare and lifeless appearing trees and plants are preparing for spring, and the sun continues to shine above the clouds and warm the earth.  Birds found some of the bread that I broke up and threw into the back yard and carried it to a protected perch for eating.  Our Father continues to watch over all of creation and, I am assured, will continue to do so.

As followers of Jesus, we have the responsibility to love our neighbor as we would ask that we be loved.  Having received that love, we can understand the needs of those around us.  With the calm assurance that the Spirit gives us, we can relieve the anxieties of those who are struggling to find help in these trying times.  The brokenness that shows itself in our fear of being worthy of God’s care can be healed by the knowledge of God’s persistent efforts to show us compassion, consolation, mercy, and forgiveness.  These are often expressed through the loving presence of another who has traveled that same road.

Thus, we have hope.  All that can beset us is no match for the overwhelming love of God.  We are never alone.  We are never forgotten.  We are not cut off from God’s presence.  We are never denied God’s love because of who we are, where we came from, what we look like, or how we came to be.  This journey is but the latest iteration of travels from one place to another that have been part of every person’s life throughout history.

I pray, as we all do, that this journey will soon come to an end so that we can move past the chaos of these days.  My hope is that we will all find strength in our faith to persist in doing what offers help, hope, and healing to all.  May God’s love guide our efforts to care for those around us.  May our lives proclaim peace.

Pastor Braxton ><>

Pastor’s Corner – January

Gleanings…

Here we are at the beginning of another calendar year.  Happy New Year!  Before the year 2020 came along, I would not have expected much change to come with a new year, but all that has changed.  I am not sure if it is a sign, but the calendars that TVA sends to every household within ten miles of a nuclear facility had at least two errors.  Hopefully, we will be able to make it without January 29 and May 29 (just kidding).

So, let me ask: How much do we depend upon others to order our lives?  Who decides what you do with your time, your resources, and your gifts?  Most, if not all, of us would like to believe that we control these things.  They are, after all, our resources, but I expect that the truth is a little closer to “no one.”

Yes, I believe that we allow last-minute guesses (Guilty!) and unthought-out actions (Guilty, again!) to determine how and where we use our time and talent.  This does not always present a problem as not everything has to be done intentionally, but what about the rest of the time?  I have a wealth of resources to help me—calendars on paper and electronic, to-do lists, sticky notes—but they are only effective when I remember to use them.  (I don’t know whether they offer any help for those of us who need a reminder to enter an appointment or schedule an activity.)

I expect that what needs to happen is to set aside a bit of time to look at the coming year.  What do we absolutely need to have happen this year?  What would be nice if we could get around to it?  What do we consider to be essential for personal and relational development?  What improvements do we need to make in our lives?  Then, with these items before us, consider ranking them in importance and setting up times when we will best be able to accomplish them.  Write it down.  Post it somewhere that you will see it every day.  Looks good, doesn’t it?  Now, what about the rest of your time?

All of us have something that we are really good at doing.  If it is not how you earn a living, what about a favorite hobby?  God has given all of us gifts to use; some are even useful for earning a living.  But that is not the only way we can use them.  Whatever gift or talent we have can be used to help others.  Educating others, manual tasks that build or repair, creative activities (arts, cooking/baking, music, sewing), growing food and ornamentals, team and individual sports, and the list goes on, are ways that we can use our time to bless and benefit ourselves and others.

Let me also suggest that the church is an excellent place for you to use and hone your talents.  The church (body of believers) can always use people who like to lead, teach, and help.  There is always need when it comes to building and maintaining communities.  How about checking with your committee and council leaders to learn where your help can be best used?  2021 does not need to be a repeat of any prior year.  Let’s see what we can do to make it one we will remember for all the best reasons.

Blessings,

Pastor Braxton ><>

Pastor’s Corner – October

Gleanings…

So, what have we learned about ourselves over the last six months?  Maybe this: Though we may not like to go without some things and certain activities, we can persevere through.  I am told by those who experienced the absence of supplies, services, and mobility during WWII, that we have had it very easy.  We may grumble and we may fume over the unfairness of it all, but all in all, we are doing very well.

What have we learned about our neighbors over the last six months?  For the most part, they are little different from us.  Some have followed the guidelines passed on to us from our government and some have not.  Some remain kind and caring while some react with varying degrees of displeasure even to the point of acts of violence.  To understand why would require a great deal of investigation into histories and backgrounds, and that is probably more than most of us want to know.

What have we learned about our church over the last six months?  Despite not being open to in-person worship or gatherings beyond family groups, it remains a symbol of our connection to God.  We take pride in it when we hear or read its name.  We are thankful for its presence and impact upon our lives when we drive by.  We give thanks for all that it has meant in our lives and we look with anticipation to how it will be part of our future.

At the same time, it has resisted our efforts to bend it to our will.  We have desired a place of safety from the coronavirus; it has not protected us.  We have wanted it to be a symbol of our independence; it has offered us no such standing.  Instead it calls us to release our hold on self-direction and walk in the way of our Lord.  Instead of our personal wisdom, it calls us to listen to the one who has our greatest good at his heart.

So, what have we learned about God over these last six months?  Personally, that God has the intention of blessing us at every point in our lives.  When our kicking and struggling are quieted, when our mouths cease protesting, when our hands change from clenched to open, when our breath slows and is evident only in a sigh, God steps in to comfort and reassure us.  When our needs rise from our hearts, God hears and gives us what is best though it may not be what we thought we needed.  In this we are reassured that God remains the one who loves us, heals us, helps us, forgives us, and strengthens us to go into the world, to those who are hurting as we are, crying as we are, and seeking answers as we are.

There we bear witness to grace and mercy beyond measuring.  There we point to the one who has been help when we could not accomplish it ourselves, healing for all of our hurts, and the source of hope that we will make it to the other side.

This Sunday is World Communion Sunday and a perfect time to remember that we are all in this together, wherever we live on this planet we call earth.  May our worship be praise to God for the mercy we have known.

O Come, let us Adore Him!

Pastor Braxton  ><>

We are actively reaching out to help!

RECENT OUTREACH

Donated:

  • Bethel Bible Village  –  Cleaning supplies and gift cards.
  • Christmas Boxes for needy 
  • Hosanna House
  • Ronald McDonald House wish list
  • Regency House  –  birdbaths and birdseed
  • John Calvin Apartments  –  birdseed and storage container
  • Society of St. Andrew
  • Holston Home for Children

Monthly donations

  • Fellowship of Christian Athletes
  • Big Ridge School  –  bananas for children in after school program
  • Mustard Tree Ministry
  • Red Bank UMC Food Pantry

Pastor’s Corner – August

Gleanings…

How many times have you walked through your house/apartment and looked at some electrical device that uses a battery only to find that it has stopped working? Is there no way to stay ahead of this problem? The short answer is, of course, “Yes.” One response would be to create a list of all battery driven devices organized by the type of battery required, create a schedule based upon how long the particular type of battery lasts, and preemptively change them all before the batteries quit delivering power. Is this type of action really necessary? The answer depends on how critical the battery-operated device is for meeting your requirements/expectations. If it is important enough, you will do what you must do.

This is true not just for battery-operated devices, but for other things that you depend upon. Internal combustion engines require regular, periodic service and maintenance. If you grow and/or raise your own food, you must provide nurturing care to gardens and livestock. Children require a loving, nurturing environment in which to grow and flourish. Attention to health needs, social and emotional needs, regular hugs and kisses, and educational challenges enable young people to develop the skills necessary to adapt to changes in their worlds. An alliteration from my Lay Speaker training illustrates the core concept of my ramblings: Prior preparation prevents poor performance.

No one can say that they were adequately prepared for the current pandemic and the changes that it has forced upon how we live. We are all scrambling to find ways to live according to our normal patterns while seeking to avoid becoming infected with a virus we do not understand and cannot control. Some days are better than others. Some days take us down and leave us crying for help and comfort. We never know ahead of time what will be the outcome of any particular day. Now, having made such a absolute statement let me say that it is only partially true.

Remember the earlier alliteration? If one’s preparation has included prayer (another “P” word), usually at the beginning of the day, one can know that God will be with them no matter what the events of the day may throw at them. The Bible affirms what we know in our hearts to be true: God will never leave us or forsake us, neither forget us nor cast us aside; God will be with us through it all. That truth gives us assurance (a.k.a., hope) so that we can walk forward into each day knowing that we will have God’s help for any and every situation that we will face. But, to have this hope, we need to make sure that we are always prepared.

Thankfully, God has provided for our need by giving us the Holy Spirit to let us know there is help and healing available. This Holy Spirit nudges, whispers, and gives us sudden visions of God at work all around us. This Holy Spirit asks us to call for help and trust that we will receive it when we need it. This Holy Spirit is then our prayer partner communicating what we do not know how to say to our God who knows every groan and responds with tender compassion to every need.

I do not know when we will be on the other side of this pandemic. I do not know what new ways of living and relating will come from our current trials and those to come. One thing I do know and that is we will never have to worry whether there will be love to heal us, nurture us, and support us going forward. All that is required on our part is to stay connected to the one who is able to meet every need. O, Lord, may it be so.

In the love of Christ,

Pastor Braxton ><>

Pastor’s Corner – June

Gleanings…

Talk about a strange year, 2020 is one for the record books! Here it is the first of June and we have no plans for a gathering in any form. There are no in-person worship services, no choir practices, no scheduled VBS, no in-person Annual Conference. General Conference and the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference have been rescheduled for next year so we will keep Bishop Dindy Taylor for another year as she has postponed her retirement. We will get a new District Superintendent (Rev. Reed Shell) to fill the Rev. Randy Martin’s position in the Scenic South District, but we won’t have a farewell gathering. Some congregations will receive new pastors but will have to wait to meet her or him until gatherings can resume. And all this because of a virus.

You are feeling this, too, aren’t you? Family gatherings have been limited or halted out of concern for those who are more susceptible to the ravages of the virus. Many are limiting or curtailing trips to those necessary for health reasons. You may be going without a vacation trip, a weekend outing, or even dinner out with friends. Those with children at home have had to adjust to new schedules for work and play. Adjusting to anything new requires patience and perseverance, both of which can seem to be in short supply these days. We’re not sure we like all of the changes we have been forced to make. There is, however, a bright side to all of this.

With travel limited, we have spent more time with significant others: spouses, partners, children and grandchildren in the home. With previous schedules thrown out the door, we have played games, watched movies, and eaten meals together again. Some are rediscovering the joys of crafts, gardening, reading, and sitting quietly to watch the sun set in a clear sky. The environment appears to be responding positively to the reduction of pollutants from vehicles not grinding out the miles every day to work and back. And we may realize more benefits when we are able to look back on them at some point down the road. For now, though, we take what we can get and give thanks. And pray.

Many still suffer from the loss of jobs (reliable income and self-worth), compromised health, and the ability to be with those in need. Until a vaccine is developed to protect us against this virus, we remain fearful for our future. We cannot be sure that we won’t be open to infection at an unexpected time regardless of where we are or what precautions we have taken. And all of this causes us to worry to the point where we might begin to lose hope. But that is one thing we should never lose.

Sunday, May 31, was the day we celebrate Pentecost and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon all people. The giving of a new helper, advocate, intercessor, companion—the functions of the Holy Spirit go on—enables us to have direct contact with God who, more than anything, desires our good. Because God loves us, we never need to fear for God is with us through every trial caused by natural or human forces. With the help and comfort of the Holy Spirit, we can rest assured that we will always have access to the healing, help, and hope that we need. No matter what.

We are struggling as a loving family because of the violence occurring in protests of the deaths of two African Americans, one in Georgia and one in Minnesota, that have the taint of racism. Anything that does not align with our definitions of fair (righteousness, justified) can, and sometimes should, lead us to protest. One difficulty is with maintaining a proper response when we may feel that we are not being heard, respected, or valued. Actions can get out hand and violence can flare up to consume even the most peaceful person. Dealing with frustrations brought on by limitations in freedom due to the coronavirus, can be difficult even if the cause is a closed movie theater. This is a far greater problem that we have been living with for far too long.

We, who profess to be disciples of Jesus, have the responsibility to be a loving, caring, and peaceful response in our world, our communities, and our homes. What we show to the world reflects our heritage as children of God. May we join together in prayer for all who feel trapped by injustice. May we do our utmost to be compassionate, merciful, helpful, kind, and loving after the model of our Lord. May we work for an end to discrimination of any type that lifts one up by pushing another down. When one hurts, all of us hurt and the great collective we are tired of hurting. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. Amen.

In Christ,

Braxton ><>

Pastor’s Corner – May

Gleanings…

As I look at the calendar, I see that we have had a whole month apart from each other. Phone calls, video conferences, text messages, and emails have not filled the need inside of us for meeting face to face, sharing smiles and hugs. Though there are efforts underway to restore much daily activity with stores reopening and restaurants providing limited seating for meals, many churches remain closed to protect the health of their congregations. The churches in the Holston Conference will remain closed for all group activity until our Bishop and District Superintendents determine it to be safe to reopen. In the meantime, we will continue to fellowship through the portals that are open to us.

So, of the changes that we have made to how we live, what will we hold on to as we move forward from this time? For one, I believe we will all be a little more conscious of our habits regarding good hygiene. I also believe we will cherish the time we get to spend with those we love more. With no meetings to attend, evenings have become an opportunity to sit with Lyndie and enjoy just being together. Getting to spend time together never grows old and our forced separations at church in the name of social distancing have given us plenty of time at home to focus on each other. I believe I want to hold on to that.

The lack of meetings has also taught me that we do a real good job of communication using the tools that we have adopted during this time. Maybe we want to take time to honestly determine which meetings should remain face to face and which ones can continue to meet over the internet.

I particularly like the efforts we have made to share beauty, joy, laughter, and love through weekly emails. Through these emails we have been able to see a bit more of the lives of our members. Pictures of gardens, walking/hiking trails, pets, families, special trips, and poetry have opened us up to some of the beauty around us that we too often take for granted. Can we expand the reach of these to encourage others by their presence on our website or Facebook page?

Posting recordings of our abbreviated worship services on Youtube and Facebook has enabled us to participate when we cannot be together. An unexpected benefit has been that some of our members who are unable to attend on Sunday mornings have been able to feel included in our times for prayer, singing, scripture reading, and the sermon. We are also able to expand our reach to members who have moved away. Some are taking these worship services and passing them on to others. We are reaching more people through these online resources than we were having in Sunday worship. One way or another, we will continue to post our worship services so that our outreach may grow.

Our forced separation has also taught us a very important lesson: we should never take for granted any opportunity to tell each other how much we love them. Our journey through separation has taught us that we do not know what each day will hold. Our response should always be to take joy in every opportunity we have to share the love God has placed in us with those whom God places in our paths.

We will be gathering together soon and at that time, I hope we will take time to evaluate the changes we have undergone to see which ones have been valuable for us, and which ones we do not want to keep. We should always be open to learning new things just as we should remember the lessons we have received throughout our lives. “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matthew 13:52). In this way, we will honor and bless God for walking with us through these days.

In the love of Jesus,

Pastor Braxton ><>

1. Day Brighteners from Fairview

During this time our members have been sharing “day brighteners” for all to enjoy.

What a beautiful day I’ve had! First, one of my sons dropped by as far
    as my driveway to deliver a couple of item that I needed and that he had,
    so I got a wave and kisses thrown from one of my Ooltewah grandsons.

    Next, a call from Braxton checking on the old folks. Yep, we are still here
    and hanging on as best as we know how.

    I had a pretty severe case of cabin fever so I decided to go over to Greenway
    farm and walk a couple of miles if there weren’t too many people around.
    Very un-crowded for such a nice day so I hit the trails. I bumped (not
    literally) into Kathy and Terry Worley being led around by a furry beast of
    some kind. We had a nice chat at a safe distance from each other.

    Finally, later today I had a driveway visit from another Ooltewah grandson
    who came by to pick up a couple of item that I had for his dad. He sped
    away in his topless BMW, enjoying the bright sunshine. I looked out my
    window and got a big wave from him.

    My point is that we should all thank God for all of these small blessings that
    we receive every day and  don’t even think about them until they are
    missing from our daily lives as we go through troubled times like we are now.

    Praying that we all get back together soon,
    Bill S.