Pastor Ryan Edwardson
December is upon us, as is the winter season with its dropping temperatures, fresh snow, particularly blue skies, short days, bowls of soup, cups of hot chocolate, and plans to visit home and family. The winter season also brings the Advent season, when we await the birth of Christ into the world. As we begin our period of waiting, I invite you to reflect on this meditation from United Methodist Discipleship Ministries:
“In the United States, Christmastime and thoughts of home just go together. “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” and “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays,” are two of the most popular holiday songs, year after year. Christmas movies and television shows regularly feature stories of people going to their family home or extended family home over the holidays. Among the rituals we create for this darkest time of the year in the Northern hemisphere, perhaps the majority of them are associated with either going home or doing special things at home-- whether lighting candles and having a time of family prayer during Advent, or decorating a Christmas tree, or caroling through a neighborhood, or hosting festive “open house” parties for friends, neighbors, and colleagues. It’s all about home.
Advent and Christmas Season are about another kind of homecoming, the homecoming of Christ to redeem and renew us, this earth, and all creation till “heaven and nature sing” with joy eternally. The Scriptures the church uses for Advent focus first on the final fulfillment, and later on the beginning of that fulfillment in Jesus. As they seek God’s joyous desire, they also make plain just how far from it we have been and challenge us with just how far we have to go, ourselves, to begin to live into it.”
During the Advent season our worship will focus on the theme of homecoming; both Christ’s initial coming and Christ’s eventual and ultimate homecoming. As we engage the scriptures this season presents to us we will reflect on ways God leads us toward making our hearts, our lives, our families, our communities, and our world more like the home Christ’s ultimate homecoming will make it to be.
As we enter November, let me take a minute to remember October. I’m in no hurry for October to end in part because it went by so fast, and also because our church marks October as “Pastor Appreciation Month.” I had never even heard of Pastor Appreciation Month until becoming a pastor and suddenly receiving gifts various gifts and cards in October. I consumed more cake, pie, and ice cream in October than the month of birthday, September. Between the gifts, gratitude of congregations, and deserts, October stands as the month I am most grateful to serve two churches, because I am gifted with all the signs of gratitude twice!
Though I’ve said some thank you’s from the pulpit, there is more thanking to be had. You all are in a fairly tough spot having a pastor serving two churches 60 miles apart. It would be impossible for this arrangement without lots of help, guidance, and patience from the two congregations. I sometimes point out that the time zone difference is what makes leading both services possible, but what makes serving Escanaba First and Menominee First possible is the congregations themselves. You all do so much to make this appointment possible.
Receiving authentic gratitude for being your pastor builds me up. Most people, including me, are predisposed and conditioned to see their flaws rather than their gifts. I get caught up on all the work I haven’t gotten done without thinking about all that has been accomplished. Your gratitude and appreciation make it a little harder to focus on my shortcomings. Feeling genuinely appreciated opens my eyes to all that God is doing in our congregation. Continue being grateful towards all you encounter, because a genuine thank you can really alter one’s perspective.
As November begins, so does Thanksgiving. Though a national holiday rather than a church holiday, we can learn something from the season: a posture of gratitude. If you are grateful for your less than perfect pastor, than how grateful are you for your perfect God? As we think of all that God has done and is doing, our initial response can always be thank you, thank you, thank you.
Over the past several weeks we have all followed the news regarding hurricanes Harvey and Irma. On news broadcasts we have seen photos and videos recording the extensive damage that heavy rains heavy winds can cause. Moreover, we have witnessed the devastating damage that ongoing flooding. Over a six day stretch Hurricane Harvey poured an estimated 27 trillion gallons of rain over Texas and Louisiana in the form of 51 inches of rain. For perspective, that is the most rainfall by landfall tropical storm ever recorded in the continental United States. The subsequent flooding has caused an estimated 75 billion dollars worth of damage. During Hurricane Harvey and the subsequent flooding over 72,000 people were rescued. Harvey was shortly followed by Irma, which ravaged the Caribbean and Florida. Beyond the storms a magnitude 7.1 magnitude earthquake shook Mexico City and the surrounding area, leveling more than 40 buildings, leading to over 230 deaths.
Natural disaster has overwhelmed as of late. I can remember no time when there has been this many back to back to back. I have been moved by our church’s desire to help. Several people have asked what we can do to help. Many of you have offered your prayers and your resources to people you’ve never met. Over the past couple of weeks many of you have designated offerings towards the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). UMCOR exists exactly because the United Methodist church is committed to relief efforts in times of need. It is so important that we have built it into the structure of our denominational church. Apportionment dollars cover the overhead costs of UMCOR, meaning that all donations we are currently making and will continue to make go directly to relief efforts. Times of disaster are difficult, but I have been moved by the compassion and generosity displayed by people everywhere and within our church.
...I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God- what is good and acceptable and perfect...
Throughout the summer and soon into the early fall (some say that the end of summer in the Upper Peninsula coincides with the conclusion of the U.P. State Fair, I am working my hardest to deny this notion and soaking up any bit of summer that may remain), our worship services have focused on Paul’s letter to the Romans. We have toiled, listened, and read carefully the good news the Apostle sends to the Church in Rome. For us who have worked through almost the entire letter of Romans, chapter 12 provides a payoff: In light of what God has done in Christ, this is what we are called to do. Paul has offered the “what”, the “so what,” and here the “now what.
The above excerpt stands as a personal favorite scripture of mine and numerous other Christians. Here Paul exhorts us to, “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” Be transformed by the renewing of your minds, that is the “now what,” the implication of the letter up to this point. We were sinners condemned and enslaved to death (Romans 3). By grace we have been reconciled with God through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ our Lord (Romans 5). This is the hope in which we stand, and nothing, no power, nor height nor depth can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8). God’s promises to his chosen people Israel are fulfilled in Jesus (Romans 9-11). The result of all of this is Paul’s call for us to not be conformed to the ways and patterns of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
Transformation is no small thing. “Trans” means to change, so transform means to change form. We are called to be transformed into a new creation as a result of the Gospel. This transformation affects every aspect of our lives: what we buy, what we eat, how we speak, what we believe, and how we relate to one another. I exhort you to be mindful of all the ways that the patterns of the world attempt to co-opt you, and to not be formed by the world, but by the renewing of your minds through Jesus our Lord.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, I invite you to consider the following segment of scripture, Romans 8:18-25
18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Recently many of us were able to to worship together in God’s creation at JW Wells Park. What a marvelous opportunity for member of Menominee First UMC and Escanaba First UMC to gather together, praise God, and share in food and fellowship. Summer is in full swing, meaning that many of us have had the opportunity to spend more time outside enjoying the beauty of creation: camping, working in gardens, gathering around a bonfire, fishing, picking strawberries, going down to the park, taking the boat out, walking the dog, and so much more.
Paul’s passage above speaks to the cosmic scale of future hope of new creation. The glory to come is so big, so all-encompassing that all creation itself yearns with hope for what is to come. The hope is bigger than ourselves, for there is nowhere that God’s grace cannot reach.
We who have the firstfruits of the Spirit also wait with anxious patience along with creation. Having the seen the firstfruits we see glimpses. We see the work of the Spirit now. We experience redemption now. The joy of hope overwhelms us now. Having seen, felt, and experienced the glory to come, we now wait for hope in its fullness, when all shall be well, all shall be glory, and all shall be peace.
Earlier in June was my first experience at an Annual Conference, and what an experience it was. The very first thing that took place after registration on was a 5k that raised funds for hurricane relief in Haiti. If you look at the conference’s official report from that day, there is a picture of the start of the race, and I may or may not be sticking my tongue out in aforementioned picture.
The first worship session included a memorial for clergy, clergy spouses, and laypeople. As each name was spoken, a strip of cloth was woven into a loom, representing their having been woven into the great cloud of witnesses. The theme of our worship together throughout the conference was from scarcity to abundance, which focused on Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand. During his sermon, recently elected Bishop David Bard challenged listeners to focus on what we have rather than what we are missing. In a later worship session, a speaker highlighted that for God, enough is abundance. “What do you have? Five Loaves and Two Fish? God can work with that.” Enough is abundance for our God.
We can benefit from hearing that enough is abundance during this time of transition for our Conference. As you may know, the conference of which our church is a member, the Detroit Annual Conference, is forming a new Conference with the West Michigan Conference. The most significant orders of legislative business revolved around the two Annual Conferences within the state becoming a new conference. Between the two conferences there are twelve districts and twelve District Superintendents to oversee them, but in the new conference there will be nine districts with nine District Superintendents. There are many policies and procedures that the two conferences perform similarly but not identically that will need to be smoothed out, which will certainly happen over time. Despite those concerns, the two conferences voted to become the Michigan Annual Conference beginning in 2019.
God can work with that.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trJouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.”
The passage above comes from one of my favorite pieces of scripture: Psalm 46, which was read at my wedding one year ago. I think back to to then and all the changes that have happened in just this one year. I’m still adjusting to a new place, a new role, and a new marriage. I can’t recall ever having performed so many firsts in such a short period of time. And that’s just my experience, not to speak of all the shifts and changes in all of your lives. Annual Conference is taking place early this month, which will entail more change. The Detroit Conference and the Western Michigan Conference are becoming one, and this is the first time that both conferences will fully share one Annual Conference meeting. Annual Conference is taking place in Traverse City for the first time. One of the subjects on the table will be that of redistricting, drawing new boundaries for many of the districts in the state.
Oh how the world constantly shifts and changes, and oh the many ways in which our lives change: the children we watched grow up in the church our now graduating, people move to and from town, time never stops flowing forward. Sometimes it feels as the Psalmist describes: the earth changes, the mountains shake and tremble, the sea roars and foams with change. The givens that we expect to always be the same, the mountains that have always in the same place, are shifting and changing. What then are we to do? How do we cope? Well, there is one constant that never changes: “God is our refuge and strength.” That does not change, and never will.
March Services Adult Sermon Childrens sermon 03-01-17 service 03-01-17 ash wed complete service of Ash Wednesday 03-05-17 sermon 03-05-17 children's sermon 03-05-17 03-12-17 sermon 03-12-17 childrens talk 03-12-17 03-19-17 sermon 03-19-17 03-26-17 sermon 03-28-17
February Services Adult Sermon Childrens sermon 02-05-17 sermon 02-05-17 childrens sermon 02-05-17 02-12-17 sermon 02-12-17 childrens sermon 02-12-17 02-19-17 sermon 02-19-17 childrens sermon 02-19-17 02-26-17 sermon 02-26-17 childrens sermon 02-26-17
January services Adult Sermon Childrens sermon 01-01-17 sermon (Phil) 01-01-17
01-08-17 sermon (vic) 01-08-17 childrens sermon 01-08 01-15-17 sermon 01-15-17 childrens sermon 01-15-17 01-22-17 sermon 01-22-17 childrens sermon 01-22-17