Later that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boats, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the winds ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith? And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
2 Corinthians 5:16–17
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
Spirit of God, descend upon us now. Let your words be proclaimed; let our hearts find peace in you. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be good and pleasing in your sight. Oh God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen
Well. Here we are. Here I am. Your new pastor. Let me just say that I am excited and honored to be here. I’m also a bit nervous and anxious. When the District Superintendent called to tell me that I was going to be at Greenville First United Methodist, I said, “Awesome! Who is gonna be the senior pastor?” She laughed and said, “well, you are!”
I couldn’t believe it because for the past 9 months, I had actually taken a break from the church and worked at Lemuria bookstore in Jackson, Mississippi. I’m sure I will talk about that time in my life more, in another sermon, or story, or you can come ask me about it, but the short version is: I needed a break and a sabbatical to clear my mind. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. And now, after a year of rest, I’m here; in the midst of this community. So let me tell you a bit more about myself personally.
I was born and raised in the United Methodist Church, in a small town called Pelahatchie. My home church, Shiloh United Methodist Church, is actually one of the only active churches that still have a camp meeting every summer. 10 days of revival, out in nature, under an open-air tabernacle. Some of my most cherished memories as a child took place at Shiloh. I know well the feeling of sawdust on my knees as I prayed to Jesus to live in my heart.
I am also an only child; however, I do have a few people in my life that I think of as my siblings, but they are not blood. My parents, Larry and Melinda, and I are very close. I am so glad they are here with me this week, and I’m sure they will be around often. I am also close to the family I grew up around in Pelahatchie and the Shiloh community.
I am a huge fan of Mississippi State and Duke University. I went to college at State and grad school at Duke. I’m really glad to be on highway 82 so that I can just go due east to the promised land in Starkville for the big games.
I am single by choice. In my life, I’ve gotten to do amazing things, and I have been able to serve God on trips and in missional opportunities that I would not otherwise have been able to if I was married. The single life can be lonely sometimes, however, I do have family and friends who love me and as a single man, I know I am just as complete and whole as anyone else.
I am also very involved in the Methodist Church, both on a conference and a general conference level. In Mississippi, I am part of the Peace with Justice committee through the board of church and society. On a global level, I am one of 21 board of directors for the General Commission on Religion and Race and I serve as the executive secretary. This is an official agency of the United Methodist Church that seeks for racial equity, reconciliation, and racial justice in the United Methodist Church. That means that there will be times when I have to go to meetings, but that is okay. It is a part of my ministry, and our shared ministry here at First United Methodist Church. The ministry I do on these committees and boards are ministries that seek to make the church and the world a better place. These spaces and the relationships I have with people across the globe help me to be a better person, pastor, and Christian.
I am sure there are things I’m leaving out; however, ask me questions! I look forward to getting to meet you all, and to be in ministry in this city. I am excited about the opportunities before us. The way I approach ministry is through authentic relationships, spiritual formation, and community involvement; all the while, working towards justice and peace in my own life, the lives of those in the church, and in the lives if all those around the community. As Bishop Ken Carder once told me, “when you are appointed to a church, you are also appointed to the community around you. Get to know them. Love them. Be with them.”
I want to get to know your passions. I want to get to know your stories. Why is it that you are committed to this church? What do you want to see? Who are you and what is your role in the community? These are all questions I hope we can answer together.
This all leads me to our gospel passage of the day. It is a story I’ve loved since I was a child. Jesus, having been in the midst of ministry, wanted to retreat and get to the other side of the Sea. As he was sleeping in the boat, a storm came, tossed the boat about, and the disciples were afraid and scared for their lives. All the people on the boat feared the sea because ancient Hebrew and Jewish thought was that the sea was where all the bad and evil things lived. Ghosts. Demons. They also believed that God was the only one who could control the sea. So when they woke Jesus up and he stepped out and rebuked the sea, and it became peaceful, he was making the statement that, “I am God! I have power over evil, sin, death and all the scary things in life. I have power over the greatest fears you have in the sea and all things within it.” The disciples, who had seen Jesus do miracles before, were still astounded that the sea obeyed his command and new that he was truly God. It was a sight I wish I could have witnessed first hand.
I know there are times in my life, and I know there are times in your life when the storms are raging. Even as I’ve been here, I’ve heard of those who are ill and of those who have died in the community, and the storms of life that happen to us everyday. My questions to you are, What is it that makes you afraid? What are those storms raging in your life?
We’ve already prayed for Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston whose congregants and friends are in the midst of a storm caused by prejudice, hatred and racism. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be attacked in my own church as I was praying. It is devastating and has left my heart broken for my many black brothers and sisters who are affected by racism in their every day lives.
Our communities around the country are in storms of poverty, violence, and inequity. Storms are raging and it seems that everything is out of control and that we are on a sinking ship, bound to fall into a deep abyss of evil and scary things. And this is precisely the point that we, like the disciples, need to go to Jesus. Sweet, sweet, Jesus. Jesus, the healer of the sick. The lover of the unloveable. God’s ultimate love made flesh. The Christ who can look into a storm and say, PEACE. Be still. And that storm is still. Jesus didn’t rebuke the disciples when they awoke him. He rebuked the storm they were going through. It was an example of Jesus’s deep love for people. It is that love of Christ that we, as Christians carry with us. It is that love that drives us to be Christ-like and to help those in our midst who are in their own storms. Yes, we have our own storms, but we can’t ask for Christ’s peace, and then not extend the peace we are given to others.
I believe one of our duties as Christians is to be the peace of Christ everywhere we go. That is one thing I bring with me in this new beginning that we are faced with at First United Methodist Church of Greenville. The church itself has weathered some storms. I know this gorgeous sanctuary in years past has been filled to the brim with many people. I know that for whatever reasons, attendance has gone down quite a bit over the past years. That is just not a reality here in Greenville, but a reality in most of our mainline churches across the country. Together, however, I want us to work together to make this church that boat that has experienced the calming peace of Christ. In a world that seems to be swirled in a raging storm, on the verge of sinking into a deep abyss, I hope that we can work together to be the place where people come to find the peace and love of Christ in their broken and stormy lives. I hope that we can go out into the community and tell people, “you know what. I serve this God who can bring you deep and great joy. Why don’t you come see what it is all about?”
I can’t do this by myself. I know I’m a young whippersnapper, and I know you expect me to help grow the church, and I am excited about the future; however, I cannot do it alone. Just like it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to raise a church. I can guarantee you that I will mess up and fall and stumble along the way; so I need you to walk along side me!
I will not do everything right, and I ask you now for your grace. But I also ask you for your honesty. Tell me when I’ve messed up. I don’t like criticism, but it is necessary if this partnership is going to be successful.
As Paul says in our Corinthians passage today, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
This Christ who brought peace in the midst of the storm is also the Christ who is at the center of this new creation. I do believe that we are recreating ourselves as we begin our ministry together at First United Methodist Church; and the only way to do that is with Christ in our center. Christ, the one who conquered death and rose from the oppressive clenches of the grave. The Christ who redeemed and saved us on a hill called Calvary. That is the Christ who calmed the storm, who brings peace, and who is in the midst of our new beginning.
So let us walk together. Let us love together. Let us be peace together. Let us learn together. But most importantly, let us be Christ-like with each other, and with the world around us. Let us seek for peace in our midst, and let us be that beacon of peace and justice in Greenville, Mississippi.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. AMEN.