About edsundaywinters

I am Pastor of Greensboro United Church of Christ in Greensboro, Vermont.

Keep Micah in Christmas

December is here. That means Christmas is here. Of course, between now and Christmas, there is Advent. Advent may, at times, feel like what we do while we wait for Christmas, a sort of spiritual twiddling of the thumbs or a kind of contemplative doodling.

We need more from Advent than merely filling space or marking time. Like each of our days and all of our seasons, it is an opportunity for us to deepen our connection with God and what God is doing in the world. In that regard, this time before Christmas may be more important than our celebration of the day itself.

“Christ is born,” is the Christmas acclamation. What difference does it make in my life, that Christ has been born is an Advent question. What impact does the birth of Christ have on my life, my community, in my world? Does that birth move my thoughts, actions, hopes and dreams closer to God’s vision for God’s creation?

Arriving at Christmas without asking some questions and examining our motivation leaves us open to sentimentalizing or worse, belittling Christmas. If we make no attempt or see no need to reconnect our lives to God’s vision for them, it is easy for us to conclude that Christmas is just about God loving us.

On the 4th Sunday of Advent, worshipers in many churches may hear Micah 5:1-5. Christians have long read this passage in anticipation of Christmas because we hear in its mention of Bethlehem and a woman giving birth, a reference to the birth of Christ. To get at the heart of what God wants for and from Christmas, we need to start reading a chapter earlier.

Micah 4:34 speaks of God’s purpose for Christmas and vision for God’s creation as well as any two verses of scripture. It reads “… they shall bent their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall sit under their own vines and under their own Fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.’

Jesus echoes the heart of Micah’s words when he speaks about the Kingdom of God. He is thinking of that time and place when God gets what God wants. He teaches his disciples to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. With that prayer, he is teaching his disciples and us to live for, work for and pray for a life on earth where we all have a place to call home, enough to eat and no reason to be afraid

Through the centuries, many Christians have resigned such visions to the afterlife, thinking such a vision of life together impossible this side of heaven. Such a view leaves Christmas present sandwiched between a long ago birth and the future return of Christ. Understanding Christmas in this way allows us to celebrate a historical event and anticipate a future one without engaging the radical implications of Christ’s birth in our present day. It may leave us wondering if a child has been born at all.

Anyone who has children knows that the birth of a child changes everything. Nothing is ever the same after she is born. Yet, whether by our acquiescence, apathy or accommodation, we abide a system that allows a few to have more than they can use while too many do not have what they need, we are acting as if Christ has not been born. We surrender to a view of the world where there are too few fig trees and not enough vines for us all. That is neither the world God created nor the Christmas God wants for any of us.

Advent, at least in part, is a time to discover what it will look like for us to live together in a world where Christ has been born.

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Good Morning, Vermont!

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The new pastor is here! Patti and I arrived in Greensboro full of excitement, anticipation and gratitude. Thanksgiving was a most appropriate season for us to move to Greensboro and to begin serving as pastor of Greensboro United Church of Christ. We are most grateful for those you of who worked so diligently to make the parsonage ready for our arrival. You did a wonderful job. For the many ways you have made us feel welcomed into this community and this church, we thank you.

As I listen to stories about the important work of reflection and self-examination that the congregation has done during the interim time, I am grateful for the ministry of Rev. Rona Kinsley.  Her time here in Greensboro will be a benefit to our congregation for many years to come.

We had our first small group meeting yesterday. We will have two more before this week is finished and there are more opportunities in the following week. The purpose of these meetings is to give me an opportunity to get to know you. If you have not signed up for one already, I hope you will do so in the fellowship hall this Sunday. I am grateful for your willingness to help me get to know you in these small group settings.

Already, we have celebrated the first Sunday of Advent. We are making our way to Bethlehem. In our lives, we are making room for the one for whom there was no room on that long-ago night. As the last few weeks have clearly demonstrated, we live busy and crowded lives. Making room is necessary work. We need to make room, space, time and silence.  There is a child on the way.  God is coming to us, Emmanuel.

Christmas will be here before you know it. While I don’t know all that you have to do to get ready for that day, I hope that you are getting ready to experience again the wonder of God’s presence with you and love for you.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity experience that love and that presence with you.

Joy & peace,

Ed

 

Thank You, First Baptist Church of Jefferson City.

Today the messengers to the annual meeting of the Tennessee Baptist Convention voted to not seat the messengers sent to the meeting by the First Baptist Church of Jefferson City, Tennessee. The overwhelming majority of TBC messengers voted to not seat the messengers from Jefferson City because their church recently called a woman to serve as their pastor.  My personal interest is that I could very well still be opposed to the idea of women pastors if it had not been for the life and witness of a Tennessee Baptist Convention employee.

I enrolled at Roane State Community College for my sophomore year of College. My dad had passed away that summer and staying close to home seemed like a good idea. Before classes started, I had already been introduced to Windie Wilson. She was the BSU Director at the Baptist Student Union at Roane State, a ministry of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. My home church, First Baptist Church of Rockwood, was without a pastor during this time. Somewhere between December and May of that academic year, I realized that the way I thought and felt about women being ministers had changed. I never had any sense that changing my views on women in ministry was Windie’s intention. She was just doing what God had given her to do in that season of her life. She was leading the BSU, doing Bible studies, organizing events, planning mission trips, listening to and loving students. By the time we were packing our bags to head out to our various summer mission assignments, I realized that what Windie had been doing was being my pastor.  Looking back, I am really glad my mind was changed. If it had not been, I might never have married Reverend Patti Sunday-Winters.

Today, I give thanks for all the Tennessee Baptists who had a hand shaping and enriching my journey. At the same time, I pray for the day when all Tennessee Baptists come to understand that God really does mean for our “. . .sons and daughters to prophesy,” and that there really is “. . .no longer male or female: for all of (us) are one in Christ Jesus.” In the meantime, I celebrate the life and witness of First Baptist Church of Jefferson City. The Kingdom of God and all of God’s creation will be better when more of us know what you know. Yes, God does call women to preach and lead churches. Yes, women can tell the story of Jesus in a way that is edifying and formative for those seeking to follow Christ. Yes, women have a voice that ought to be heard, believed and followed. First Baptist Church of Jefferson City, for having the courage and the wisdom to demonstrate the depth, the height and breadth of God’s love, thank you.

A Prayer of Thanksgiving: First Baptist Church of Phenix City

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Last Sunday, I preached for the final time as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Phenix City.  This week, as we transition to a new place of service, I have had time to reflect and to recall the many reasons for which I am thankful to have shared life and ministry with the people of First Baptist.

For an Alabama church willing to call a Tennessean to serve as pastor and decorate the tables at the welcome reception with orange and white,

For a church willing to welcome everyone,

For Country’s, Minnie’s, Chef Lee’s, Ed’s and El Vaquero,

For Bobby, Barbara, Julia, Daniel W, Ben and singers who always sing with heart, soul and voice.

For all the work that so many did to make the parsonage a wonderful place for Patti, Huck, Chloe and I to call home,

For faithful people who always seemed to be there when church was happening,

For merciful folks with loyalties to and love for Alabama, Auburn and Georgia who shared the pain of Tennessee football losses with me.

For the backpacks of food that are packed and delivered each week to help 35 students at Phenix City Elementary have a little extra,

For all the hours of effort and being together to make “The Holy Smoke Barbeque” happen,

For kids, chaperones and weeks spent at PassportKids,

For the sounds and sights that Bryan, Daniel B., Chris and Jeremy brought to us,

For Advent, Christmas Eve, Ash Wednesday, Lent, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and other special times of worship,

For gifts of food, plants and Diet Coke,

For the times of sharing communion around the Lord’s table and all the other times that the table spoke to us through creative and thoughtful displays,

For baby dedications and baptisms,

For time with Bubba and the youth from Panama City to the Smoky Mountains and lots of cool places in between,

For those who prepared and those who shared breakfast before Sunday School,

For Wednesday mornings at Jack Hughston,

For ministry to families experiencing a housing crisis through partnership with Valley Interfaith Promise,

For special occasions that caused people to mysteriously start singing “Rocky Top.”

For all the times of being witness to amazing outcomes when individuals who were willing to offer what they were able to do in service to God and others,

For being included in family birthday and holiday celebrations,

For church members who became friends,

For every time we gathered in worship to profess our faith in a God who loves us dearly and who always will,

For the future of First Baptist and the promise that it holds,

For these and many other reasons, I am grateful to have served alongside the people of First Baptist to tell the story of a God who loves us all. Amen.

Rush, Reminder & Revival

Monday was my first Martin Luther King Jr. day in Alabama. There was a march this morning. It ended in front of Franchise Missionary Baptist Church here in Phenix City. Before any marchers could be seen from the church, three police officers on motorcycles came into view. The officers were leading the march with their blue lights flashing. I imagine that the same thing was true for parades and marches all over the country today. There were police officers at the front leading the way. While it may be routine now for law enforcement to lead such parades and make sure that they come off in an orderly fashion, such has not always been the case. Their efforts to do so on this day gave me a rush, a reminder and a revival.

The rush was a feeling like the one I get when I see something good and pleasing. It was like the feeling I get when I see a friend or family member that I have not seen in a long time. It may have even approached that feeling I get when I watch a young daughter or son seeing a parent for the first time after a deployment overseas serving our country. The news we hear so often is not good news. Even when we hear good news, there seem to be detractors who try to convince us that it is not as good as we think it is or not good at all. It is possible for us to start thinking that good acts or good words are no longer possible in today’s world. However, good does still happen. I saw it happen as people marched to celebrate progress made and to advocate for even more. I heard it from choirs singing and from a sixth-grader reciting Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

The reminder was embodied in the message of the man the day commemorates. Dr. King’s aim in life was not to have a day named after him. His aim was not solely to lead a movement that would achieve civil rights for African-Americans. His focus was larger than that and more profound. Dr. King was a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His concern was for the human race. Like Jesus, he was particularly concerned for those who were poor. He worked on behalf of people, black and white, who suffered in a social and economic system that kept the American dream just out of their reach.

The revival starts when I am mindful of those folks who still live somewhere beyond both the fruits of the American dream and the embrace of Jesus’ just and merciful kingdom. Not just in our country, but in our world there are those who scrape by with inadequate food, water and health care. Jesus had something to say about them. When we see them and give them food, water and treatment, we see Jesus and give him food, water and treatment.

One time a lawyer ask Jesus a question, “Who is my neighbor?” The question still serves as an effective way to shape and form our lives in the image of Christ for the sake of others. Jesus told the lawyer a story about a man who fell among thieves. They beat him and left him to die. A priest, a Levite and a Samaritan passed by where he was laying wounded. One of them stopped to help. Jesus asked the lawyer, “Who was a neighbor to this man?”

“Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ answer forces us to rethink our own answer. Jesus’ answer cuts across boundaries. Human labels and categories do not determine who our neighbor is, at least not as Jesus understands neighbor. Jesus’ approach is simpler. Is the person a person? Is the person created in the image of God? Then the person is a neighbor. Answering the “who is my neighbor?” question is easy for Jesus. The question that is more difficult to answer is implied in the conclusion of Jesus’ story. Will you be a neighbor? Will you be a neighbor to someone different from you?

Dr. King marched to make the neighborhood larger for us all and to show us that there is room for each of us in that neighborhood. I believe he learned about being a neighbor from reading the stories that Jesus told. The Kingdom of God comes near when we recognize the hungering, thirsting, needy Christ in the face of our neighbor. We step into the Kingdom, if for just a moment, when choose to be a neighbor to the person in front us who needs the love and mercy of God.

#PrayingforBoston

Did you find yourself praying for Boston this week? While you were praying for Boston, did you think of Newtown?  As you were thinking of Newtown, did you remember Virginia Tech?  When you were remembering Virginia Tech, did Aurora, Columbine or 9/11 come to mind?

If you found yourself praying, you were not alone. When the news comes that another death-filled event has occurred, instinctively we grieve and we pray for those who have been impacted by the tragic violence. When our prayers are finished and our tears have all been shed, the questions start. Why did this happen?  The explanations, many and varied as they are, are never enough to make what has happened make sense. Somehow someone became hateful enough, angry enough, or mentally deranged enough to think that violence was a good idea. Yes, we can all see that now, but why? As elusive as an answer to the why question is, the answer to the question of whether or not something like this will happen again is painfully obvious. Yes, it will happen.

Our question becomes more pressing once we acknowledge that it could happen again. Our question then becomes: “Could it happen to us? Could it happen to people we know and love?”  Of course, it can happen again and it can happen to us.

Can anything be done to prevent such violence? We would like to think so. We would like to think that law enforcement agencies could be more effective in their task. We would like to think that the people who work in the fields of security and intelligence could make us more secure and better identify potential threats. We would like to think that ordinary citizens would be more diligent in noticing out-of-place strangers doing the unexpected in places where they would not ordinarily be. We would like to think that our political leaders would make reasonable and good laws that would enhance our safety and security. We would like to think all these things and yet we know that a determined person meaning to do evil is not easy to stop.

In light of such sobering reality, what do we expect of people of faith? What do we expect of followers of Jesus Christ? What can we do in the face of evil? We can do what Christ has called us to do, we can love. When violence becomes more and more senseless, we love. When evil seems to surround us like the darkness of the darkest night, we love. When tragedy after tragedy pushes us toward despair, we love. We love because it is what Christ has called us to do.  We love not because it makes sense in a logical, pragmatic way. It does not. We love not because love works in a mechanical or formulaic way. It does not always consistently produce a desired outcome and at times it can seem to produce no results at all.

However, love does work. It works on us. When we love instead of hate we resist becoming the evil that so frightens us. When we forgive instead of letting retribution and revenge take root in our souls we resist becoming the despair and bitterness that nurtures so much of the violence we see in the world. When we show mercy instead of demanding an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth, we resist becoming blind to the possibility of new day, a new heaven, and new earth.

We know that we are not living in the world God meant to create. The God who has saved us is the same God who is still reclaiming, reconciling, recreating and redeeming God’s creation. When we love, we join our lives with God who is making all things new.  The agony of the Jesus’ prayer in the garden the night before his crucifixion makes clear the difficulty of choosing to love. The empty tomb on Easter morning makes clear that love is our only hope.