Shepherd’s Field / Bethlehem
Scripture Luke 2: 8-12

This year Christmas came early for me. I’ll really never look at the birth of Jesus the same again.
The experience of touching the silver star in the grotto of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem will always be in my memory. But I want to take you briefly to the nearby Shepherd’s field, a hilly, open area east of Bethlehem.
Honestly, I never thought a lot about the Shepherds that Christmas night until this trip. As I stood 2,500 feet above sea level and looked down on the city of Bethlehem, it all started to make sense. It was easy, for example, to imagine flocks of sheep grazing on the slopes.
I could also imagine just how startled the shepherds must have been when the angel of the Lord roused them from their routine sheep watching. “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news,” we all remember from the Gospel of Luke.
Today a Franciscan Chapel marks where the Angel appeared. The chapel was designed to look like the shepherds’ tent.
It reminds me how the lowly shepherds were chosen to spread the word of Jesus’ birth instead of royalty located less than six miles away in Jerusalem. It wouldn’t have taken the shepherds long – less than three football fields away – to walk to the birth site to see what they were told.
As Ref. Sumner so often did throughout our stay, he added something special. At Shepherd’s field we sang O little Town of Bethlehem. For a brief moment it was Christmas in July.

Baptism site/experience
Scripture Luke 3: 21-22

This month, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Israel. If you asked me 5 years ago, I never would have thought I’d be telling you about this trip today. To start, I would like to say that fear for our safety, expressed by family and friends, could not have been more wrong. At no time did we ever feel unsafe, or even unwelcome. The people we met on our day tours, as well as the people we met as we wandered down the streets at night, could not have been more inviting and kind to us. In fact, two people invited me and my family to stay in their homes the next time we travel to Israel. Talk about hospitality!

As for our tour guide, Leo was amazing. He often used his catch phrase “Hubba Hubba” (which means HURRY UP; LET’S GO!), and he took every opportunity, each time we passed the soccer stadium near Tel Aviv, to point out the fact that the US soccer team lost to Israel in some tournament, 7-0. Leo had a vast knowledge of every sight we visited and provided insight on archaeological finds, combined with the personal experiences that can only come from growing up in such an amazing holy land.

Now for the real purpose of the trip: a walk through the Bible, and the chance to walk where Jesus walked. The tour included the manger in Bethlehem and a beautiful church marking the site where Jesus was born. We saw the upper room where the disciples were served the Last Supper. We say the dungeon where Jesus was held while imprisoned before He was crucified, and we sat in the garden surrounding the tomb, where He was laid to rest. These are only a few of the incredible places we visited, and each and every one touched my heart.

Two of my most memorable moments were the sense of peace and warmth that filled by body and soul after being immersed in the Jordan River by Reverend Sumner. They say that men aren’t supposed to cry, but I can assure you – tears were shed. Another favorite experience was the ability to cleanse my soul and leave all worries, doubts and sadness in the garden tomb as I exited. We were encouraged to leave everything in that tomb that was broken, and to start afresh. Words really can’t express the feelings you have when you encounter these sites, and different places impacted all of us differently. It was an emotional and spiritual journey that has changed my life, and I think the journey has changed the lives of many of my fellow travelers, as well.

For everyone who says “I want to take that trip someday,” I encourage you to make sure that someday comes soon. This trip will change your life for the better just by the experience, so do it now – because you’ll want to feel like I do as long as you can.

“Down to the River to Pray”

Sea of Galilee
Scripture Luke 8: 22-25

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Mount of Olives/ Gethsemane
Scripture Mark 14:26-28

Today I share my eyewitness insights and reflections based on the prevalence of the Mount of Olives in the Bible—mentioned 14 times—and the Garden of Gethsemane, the place where one of Jesus’ great agonies took place. My text is Mark 14: 26-28 that describes Jesus’ fateful journey there. He was most often coming from the east as he came from his home territory of the Galilee. Often we suspect that he stopped at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany. Then he would go over a rise, and he would be either in the Garden, or at the Mount of Olives. The Mount is historical because it was and is believed that the Messiah ascended into heaven from there, (Christians believe that according to Luke 50:24: 50-51) and Jews believe that the Messiah will return there. Thousands of graves are on that mountain, waiting for a Messiah. But off to a side is the Garden of Gethsemane, gethsemane meaning “Olive press.” Olives are a staple food in Israel, and olive oil enriches the lives of many across the world. We remember that Jesus was often looking for a place to get away from the crowds that surrounded him. This was not only such a place, but Jesus must have had a heavy heart when he went there with his disciples. People new to the Holy Land learned that olive tree roots continue to live, some for more than 2000 years. At least one of the trees there today was there in the time of Jesus. But there was a new insight our guide gave us: at the far corner of the garden there is a cave, and it had been there a long time. Some suspect that the disciples gathered at the mouth of the cave at the edge of the garden, about a distance from the main doors of our sanctuary to our front window.  Jesus, this time, was going to cross that span of olive trees alone, to a bolder that he knew was there. Then he prayed, during which time his voice would cry out, with his hopes to be spared the death that was awaiting him. Today we call it “being truly present.” That, it appears, is what Jesus wanted from his disciples. But they couldn’t do it. Sleep overcame them. Certainly no one but Jesus knew the gravity of that night. But our Holy Land travelers, having our time in the garden, and in the church of the Agony where it is believed the rock still is, had time to reflection on what Jesus was carrying: not a cross this time, but the knowledge of impending torture and death. Today as we see a crown of thorns, or a crucifix, think also about the mental anguish our Lord went through in that place, where his prayers were so fervent, that drops of blood dripped from his forehead to the stone below.

St. Peter of Gallinctu/ Garden Tomb
Scripture John 19:38-42

These are my reflections based on our visit to St. Peter of Gallicantu/ Garden Tomb from the Gospel of John Chapter 19:38-42.
I learned many new and wonderful things on this Pilgrimage. On the day we started to follow the steps of Jesus we visited the place that is said to be (/Ki-uh-fis) Caiaphas’ palace where Jesus spent his last night. I have read and grieved for all the torture Jesus went through however I did not know about him being lowered into a pit. We visited this pit below the Church that now stands there. Down into the caverns we went until we reached the pit that Jesus was lowered into. As I stared up at the hole in the ceiling, I imagined him being lowered into this dark cold and dreary dungeon I was overwhelmed with even more grief imagining him spending the night here and for what he went through for us! I broke down. Another pilgrim happened to see me weeping and told me later that she felt my soul touch hers.
Moving forward to the day we were to visit the Garden Tomb in which Jesus was laid I was trying to prepare myself for I thought it would be just as difficult to see. As I walked into the tomb my breath was taken away, but instead of feeling grief, I felt relief. I looked around at the empty tomb and a feeling of Peace just fell over me. I remember saying as I looked around “It is finished.” I was able to let go of all the grief and mourning I have done for many years focusing on all the torture that he endured. My grief was now replaced with Peace and the Amazing Love Jesus has for us. I now focus on the Joy of his resurrection and the sweetness of Jesus.

The Primacy of Peter
Scripture John 21:15-17

In our lives we search for peace. This site on the Sea of Galilee is a place of peace. The first time I visited this area I was struck with the sense that heaven had touched earth (called a thin place). It took my breath away. There is nothing grand here. There is a very small church and inside it is a huge rock called Mensa Christi. This spot is where Jesus met with the disciples for the final time after his resurrection. He saw Peter and some of the others fishing on the sea and Peter swam quickly to see his Master. They cooked fish and ate a final meal together.

Just days before, Peter had denied knowing Jesus on the night of the arrest – three times! I imagine that Peter was consumed with guilt and sorrow. Jesus took him aside and asked him three times, “Do you love me?” as recorded in John 21. Three times Jesus forgave Peter and charged him to go take care of his people. What a sense of peace must have come over Peter at that time. There is a statue depicting this event in a garden adjacent to the church.

This site is the only one where people can go and wade in the Sea of Galilee. I was particularly moved the time our daughter, Jenny, went with us while she was a seminary student. This time I got to share it with my son Matt, and his wife, Vicki. It is such a joy to stand in that water where Jesus walked and ministered to so many. There are also several large rocks in the shape of hearts – no one knows if there are natural or were carved – but they have so much meaning to a pilgrim visiting the area.

This time there was a mass being offered in Spanish in the garden and the singing fell over us. There is a sense of calm and peace at the Primacy of St. Peter, contrasted with the busyness of Jerusalem and other places we visited. Our guide, Leo, shared my love of this as a favorite place on our journey.

Nebi Samuel
Scripture 1 Samuel 25:1a

Honestly, picking 1 thing to talk about when we had 8 straight days of travelling from one living testimony to the next was pretty tough, but, in the end, picking this one sums up not only the trip, but, our mission, in my opinion.
Samuel is considered a great prophet by the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim churches. Seeing his tomb in Arimathea (yes, THAT Arimathea!) was awe inspiring because we could SEE Nazareth and Bethlehem from there, and, on the other side of the building, we could SEE Jerusalem. Seeing that the distances are much closer together than we thought really has me itching to teach some of these stories soon so I can share just how close things are and how the walking times is measured in minutes and hours, not days.
As I’d mentioned, all three religions look to this prophet, so, guess what, there’s THREE churches at this site … a synagogue, mosque, and church. What amazes me most about this is that these three churches are thriving and all doing well, with the leaders and parishioners working together in harmony. While we were at the site we saw a bunch of kids learning the torah under the watchful eye of their rabbi.
I walked away from that site thinking that THIS is what harmony looks like and should be. I’ll close with an observation from our tour guide, Leo … he’d pointed out the 4 different “sections” of old Jerusalem a couple days before and mentioned that “when there’s peace in Jerusalem, there’ll be peace in the world.” …

Safety in Israel/Palestine
Scripture Deuteronomy 6: 4-6

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07-14-19 NEIGHBORS

LUKE 10:26-37 JULY 14, 2019



Everyone is kin to someone. The nature of birth gives us parents and children, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, some kissing and some almost unknown. These, normally, are our most special people. Of all the people on this planet, we love them most. “Blood is thicker than water” the old saying goes and is proven every time a child who seems to hate his/her sibling takes on the bully who would dare to pick on their brother/sister. Parents provide for and protect their children. Husbands die for wives and children. Mothers heroically save their families from the flames of their burning home. Children take elderly parents into their homes and put them in the middle of their lives. If our family member is in trouble, we will drop everything to help, to heal, to save that loved one. That is so right. It is what we should do. Such love if of God. God has given us families – long before we had a vocation. They are our work for God. Raising children, loving spouses, caring for parents is to serve God.
We also have friends and neighbors. Through time and the sharing of joys and sorrows…through giving and receiving support from one another, some friends and neighbors become as close or closer than our blood relatives. We would be greatly wrong if we did not love, minister to, and show compassion for these people. Not only would we be callous for not returning their acts of kindness, we would be proving ourselves to be no friend at all. A friend fills the need of that one who asks. In the very next chapter of Luke, Jesus poses a question, “if a friend called you in the middle of the night needing help, would you not rise and do whatever you could?” The answer is “Of course, I would!”
From the very beginning, Christians have been characterized by the way in which disciples love one another. We can grow to call the congregation our church family; our sisters and brothers through Christ. Often this is more than rhetoric. Like Jesus, who was told his mother and brothers were seeking him, we can say that those, who share our community of faith, are our mothers and brothers and sisters. Congregations have within them such love. I bet that many of you are like my friend whose wife recently died and could not say enough about the outpouring of love and concern for her and him from the members of his church. Called into the church, we are called “to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice – to bear one another’s burdens”. Would any deny that such love is right and should be shown?
Yet, listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 5:43, “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say ‘If you love only those who love you what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same…but love your enemies…and your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, for God is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Heavenly Father is merciful.’”
I have found that non-Christians all about us love their families and friends. My father-in-law found himself suddenly being divorced and alone. His boss, who never attended church, was the one who most supported him through this most difficult time in his life. A member in Ormond Beach who was in worship every Sunday, died suddenly without any family. The people who came to the church, arranged, paid for and attended her services, were the people who frequented the bar where she spent much time between Sundays. Christians have no monopoly on human kindness or loving those who love them.
What Jesus adds to the natural humanity of the world is a different definition of neighbor. He broadens the circle. Behind the religious man’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” was the statement Jesus quotes in Matthew, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy”. There was, and still is, dispute among believers as to the extent of ‘neighbor” as it is found in the Old Testament law (Leviticus 19:17-19 but see also 13-16) and the New Testament teachings. General agreement, at the time of Jesus, defined “neighbor” as “fellow Jews” and the Jews would have nothing to do with Samaritans and Gentiles. However, many made “neighbor” even more narrow and the circle for whom one needed to show love smaller. Pharisees excluded non-Pharisees, Essenes hated the Sons of Darkness (those not of their sect), one rabbinic saying ruled that heretics, informers and renegades should be pushed into the ditch not pulled out; and widely circulated was the philosophy that it was acceptable to hate personal enemies, thus, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemies.
The Good Samaritan is about a non-Jew, a heretic and an enemy. The enemy becomes the one who shows who is a neighbor and what it is to be a child of God. Our neighbor, as shown in the care given the man who fell among robbers, is anyone in need, even our enemy. Our neighbor is the person we encounter along our life’s journey that has trouble and needs our help. Our neighbor is the one others ignore. Our neighbor is the family member, the friend the brother or sister in faith, the jerk who lives next door who goes ballistic if you happen to mow one inch of her lawn, the HOA Nazi always nit-picking, the opponent at work, the ALT members on the far right and the activists on the far left, the people whom our government would label as “our enemies”. Our neighbor is the woman, man, child who appears before us with needs, whether it is the need of love and respect or the need for food or security. We do not have to define our neighbor. Life reveals our neighbor to us. We will come upon them and be given the opportunity to show them the love that God bestows on the just and the unjust, Jew and Gentile, saints and sinners.
Jesus models the Good Samaritan in Luke. He is on his journey to Jerusalem to fulfill his destiny. Along the way people keep popping into his life. He’s coming into town and a Roman centurion asks him to come heal his slave who is ill and close to death – read Roman enemy and a slave who is below the lowest. Another time, he tries to escape the crowds by crossing the sea of Galilee and bumps into the Gerasene demonic. A prostitute anoints his feet with ointment, bathes them with her tears and dries them with her hair. Everybody is outraged; Jesus defends her and forgives her. He is rejected at a Samaritan village. His disciples want to command fire to come down and consume them. Jesus rebukes the disciples and leads them to another Samaritan village. He sees Zacchaeus, a hated tax collector up a tree, calls him down and goes home with him and eats lunch at his house during which he pronounces that salvation has come to him. In all these cases, Jesus stops to heal and help. The people are not seen as friend nor foe, just people with needs.
Who is a neighbor according to Jesus? The one who needs mercy and the one who shows mercy. But mercy appears in the other saying of Jesus, the one about loving your enemy: “Be merciful even as your Heavenly Father is merciful.” Merciful extends even to the ungrateful and selfish, to those beyond the ones who love us and who do us good, beyond those from whom we have hope of response. Sometimes we can change a life or make friends by loving our enemy but the reason for our reaching out has a higher source – that is what God does for our heavenly Father is merciful. George Buttrick, the great Presbyterian preacher of the mid-20th century and one of my preaching professors wrote, “Ture neighborliness is not curious to know where its boundaries run; it cares as little for boundaries as the sun and rain care for the contour lines on our maps. It seeks not limits but opportunities.”
This is Jesus’ story, his life, and his commandment, “Go and do likewise!”

07-07-19 Youth Mission Sunday

3 of our Graduated Seniors gave our sermon this year …

Jordan Alves


As some of you may already know. Our youth group this past week was in Memphis Tennessee with the Memphis Youth Mission working around the city. To say that this was the furthest from a stereotypical mission would be an understatement. When you think of a mission trip what comes to your mind? (Pause) “hard labor, giving food to the homeless, or working at a soup kitchen.” Its for a good reason. It’s what’s commonly done during mission trips. And for the most part had been done during the previous ones to Asheville and Raleigh I went on. By no means are these forms of mission work bad, but highlighting the nature of them it makes it more apparent how different this years mission trip was. For starters Memphis is a minority majority city which meant a race that is a minority in America, that being African Americans, was the majority in Memphis. This unfortunately, combined with the fact that Memphis has been crippled by loss of industry and the 1800s yellow fever plague left the city with a large amount of poverty expressing itself in small pockets all over the city. And what truly separated this mission trip from prior ones was of course, the actual mission work done. One of our youth leaders Vance Stiles said many of the locations would be striving for was to solve the causes not just treat the symptoms. I wasnt fully able to grasp at that goal until our second day where we visited the HUB hospitality center. There we met Mac, an African American in his late twenties to his early thirties who was one of the main workers there. After a few jokes were cracked he gave us a tour of the entire facility and talked about what work they do at the HUB. It slowly started to become more apparent. The only real handout the Hub had was free coffee. They were mainly focused of providing services such as counseling, lawyer set ups, phone use, iPad and internet use, and other services that helped the homeless get back on their feet. The HUB would also connect people with other shelters, soup kitchens, and more depending on their needs as well as hosting a Work Local lottery program that allowed those picked to work different labor jobs for $50 a day as long as they had some form of ID. Alongside that, the HUB provided temporary HUB IDs that would provide some identification in case they were caught on the streets by police as well as receive and hold onto any important documents mailed to the HUB for those that needed it. The final part of the tour was where the idea of “fixing the causes not treating the symptoms” became most clear. Mac went on a bit of a tangent about what the HUB aims to accomplish and what it doesnt. Mac explained “when you are just handing out peanut butter and jellies on the street, all you really accomplish is feeling better about yourself”. He knew that although a lot of organizations in Memphis and in the world were doing good work, they were not making much progress towards solving the problem. The HUB was the opposite. People like Mac focus on doing what to others seems like the impossible, solving homelessness instead of just putting a bandaid on it. My time at the HUB and what I learned there stuck with me for the rest of the week as I thought about the ways we often simply “put a bandaid” on problems we have or see instead of really trying to fix them. Ending homelessness may seem impossible to many but to people like Mac, it’s their daily job. Ending homelessness may appear as an insurmountable goal, but that is all the more reason to strive for it. And that’s exactly why it was written in Matthew 19:26 “with God all things are possible”.
Im sure mac is fully aware of what is capable through God and now My hope is that you can all think of an issue you might have or an issue you see in your community and work towards solving it at its roots. Thank you.

Caylee Coleman

Good morning. As said earlier by Jordan, this year’s mission trip was to Memphis, Tennessee. Instead of painting you a detailed day by day depiction of what we did, I have decided to tell you what the word Memphis means to me. As we all know Memphis starts with an “m”. That first M stands for Myfa, which commonly gets mistaken for Mifa. Myfa stands for Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association. Their mission is to support the independence of vulnerable seniors and families in crisis through high-impact programs. Those programs can range anywhere from finding someone a bed in a pinch until a permanent one is found to one freshly cooked meal sent to your doorstep. Each meal is completed with a marinated chicken breast, steamed broccoli, mashed potatoes, one piece of whole wheat bread, and a single 2% milk. The group and I took route 28 on that Monday morning to drop off those exact meals. That is where we learned not only how grateful people were for their hot meals, but also little tidbits here and there. People genuinely were eager to share these things with us because it was important to talk, even if the talk was in fact nonsense. The first of the two examples would be a lady who walked with a crutch instead of a cane, she happily invited us into her home which smelled sweet. She proclaimed happily to those who brought in her meal in, that her home was from the 1920’s and that as much as she could keep original, she did. Or that another man had stopped us on his porch to tell us that someone was trying to buy out the world’s largest bass pro shop, which if you hadn’t know is actually in Memphis, and in buying out the shop they’d in turn make it a casino for gambling and other shenanigans as he put it.
The E stands for everyone loves coffee. Mrs. Denise would wake up and brew her iced coffee before she could even function, The Manna House would have already brewed barrels of the brown liquid and Hospitality Hub, who mind you has their OWN brand of coffee, would have already had it posted up by the front door. After this week I am thoroughly convinced that Memphis’s backbone IS coffee. However, the most impressive thing about the stuff is when these people get their hands on it, the mood in the entire community changes. This week id like to share a Prayer I heard about coffee with all of you.
C: “ Lord may you bless the coffee “
A: “And may you make it hot”
C: “Lord may you bless the sugar”
A: “And make it sweet”
C: “And lord may you bless the creamer”
A: “And may you let the sweetness take away the bitterness of the world”
The second M stands for the Manna House. The prayer we just said could be heard the Tuesday morning as we stood hand and hand on the side of the brightly colored house; Other chants hung in the air as the poor and the homeless pilled in to congregate in the back heard such as “don’t be a dope, get your socks and soap” I’d like to take a moment to explain that chant, Tuesdays are socks and soap days. Which means if asked you could receive a pair of fresh, clean socks and a bar of soap. Manna’s mission is so simple that is actually so beautiful. Manna’s mission is Hospitality. Hospitality includes basic services such as clothing, hygiene items, showers and serving coffee or other beverages. I am sorry to keep raving on about Manna House, but the place is painted head to toe and it feels like a home.
P stands for the power of prayer. Wednesday morning our group of 15, that is including out group leaders Edward and Vance, pilled into the small Episcopel church on a busy road. Those on their way to work, those off the streets, and the regulars also pilled in. There is a beautiful stained glass of sister Constantine in the back of the church. If you don’t know who she is, which I seriously doubt you would know, here is a brief history lesson. Memphis had 2 different outbreaks of the yellow fever, during the second outbreak sister Constantine returned to Memphis while on a pilgrimage to help those in need in spite of her own health. When she returned, she put forth all of her efforts and prayed to help as many people as she could, that is until she had in fact died from yellow fever 7 months before the outbreak had ended. Now ill bring you back to that day. The sermon was focused on two things, the first being to not forget the stranger, and the other is to remember the better angle. To which was a silent nod to sister Constantine and all her efforts during the Yellow fever. I think that she is a figure that we should all try to be like and remember.
H is for none other than HOT. I could lie to you all and say that the weather was perfect, cool crisp air every day but that would be a lie, and we all know that Presbyterians DON’T lie. The air was hot and muggy, your skin would feel slick and yet sticky, but the funny part is that the locals would complain, forgetting that on the 4th of July in Florida, there was a heat index of 110 degrees. It was hot, but we were glad to be there.
I is for independence. Depending on whether or not you were awake enough for the first sermon you may or may not have heard him speak on the independence of homeless people. Did you know that finding a home isn’t the problem, but keeping them in is? Some prefer street life over breaking the poverty cycle. The reason why is than once someone is placed in a home rules are set up to try and reestablish those people in society. The problem with that is, well one rule. At night guests are not permitted to stay. That being said people become lonely and prefer street life because they’ll always have company. Loneliness is the ultimate corruption of independence.
Lastly id like to leave you with S, Someone PLEASE tip the band. You may have noticed our manager on stage. If you are still confused, I am talking about the 5-gallon bucket labeled tips. Wednesday afternoon our group strolled down the famous Belle street. Music flooded the air as a band played “Shake your body down to the ground” by the Jacksons, however they didn’t sing the intended lyrics. “$5s, $10s, $20s tip the band. Someone PLEASE tip the band” This bucket will be used in our offertory today, so you will see it around later on.
And that spell Memphis. However, I have some other points id like to leave you all with just because they didn’t fit into the word Memphis. The first is that because we were such a small group, we often held hands when joining in prayer, I have never squeezed hands when saying amen but I’m almost certain that because of Vance, our group leader, my whole group squeezes when saying amen. The second is if anything I said up here confused you or you have more question about what I’ve said, to please ask any of us we would be happy to tell you more about our trip and what we did, and the third and last thing is the passage I found one late night when I was goofing around flipping through the bible. I thought id share it with everyone this morning just because I thought it was so fitting for the trip, I also implore everyone to join hands much like we did this trip and pray with me after, feel free to squeeze. Isiah Chapter 32 lines 16-18 “The lords justice will dwell in the desert, his righteousness live in the fertile field. The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effects will be quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, and in undisturbed places of rest”
God may you relate that passage to everyone here today and those who need peace most in their lives in Memphis. May you watch over each one of us and love all your children with the upmost affection. In your holy name we pray, Amen.

Sam Bookhardt

This year, as I’m sure you’ve heard, our youth group went to Memphis Tennessee for our, and my last, mission trip. I have been on 6 out of the 7 mission trips since my 6th grade year and all of them in different states so I mean it when I say this one was particularly special. Our group participated in numerous different activities around the city as we sought to serve the community, learn about its history, and discover how god is present in both Memphis, and us. The theme that the organization we were with focused on this past week was bringing the worlds of abundance and scarcity together. As we learned, this is best achieved through the act of being generous. However, generosity never comes without sacrifice and I had the opportunity to learn more about this sacrifice through the many different locations I visited this week in Memphis. Now let me give you a little background on Memphis for anyone who has never had the chance to visit. Memphis used to be a trade and industry center due to its strategic location along the Mississippi River, and also hosted a large African American population following the civil war. The thing that stood out to me most about Memphis however was how diverse the city was in its lower and higher income areas. Often, I’ve found that major cities have obvious areas where you can delineate between the higher and lower income parts of the city as was the case with Raleigh which our group visited last year. This was not evident in Memphis as you could walk 2 blocks in downtown from a major tourist area and find an entire skyscraper that had been abandoned or someone on the streets panhandling for change. There was scarcity all over Memphis but fortunately enough, there were those willing to sacrifice what they had to share their abundance. The first place I visited in Memphis was the Manna House. The Manna House provided showers, clean clothes, hygiene products, and coffee in the mornings for those in need. During my time at the Manna House I helped in the back where I would get hygiene products and clothes as requested by those who stopped by. The House is run entirely by volunteers who donate their time and resources everyday to serve those in need. Later in the week we participated in a church service at St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral and following the service, helped to serve breakfast to the homeless and low-income community of Memphis. This time, the church sacrificed its resources to provide a necessity for those who have less. The theme of those with abundance sharing their time and service with those living lives of scarcity was a recurring them at a majority of the sites I visited this week. This theme is not new to me from the many past mission trips I have been on. But what I did discover this week was one of the ways God ties into the theme of generosity. During our evening program with Memphis Youth Mission we read a passage from Matthew about the laborers in the vineyard. In this passage a landowner hires people to work in his vineyard at different times throughout the day and in the evening pays all of the the same 1 day wage, upsetting those who had been working since morning and felt they deserve more than those who started working in the late afternoon. The landowner responds to their complaints saying “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” At the beginning of the passage Jesus claims that the Kingdom of Heaven is just like this parable. When I first read this passage I had thought it somewhat unfair that those working longer had earned the same amount as those who had hardly worked long at all. Yet as I thought more about it I realized that this passage was not about the unfairness of the situation but the generosity of God. God, like the landowner, did not care when the people came to him, but rewarded them all equally. Whether you are someone who has served as a faithful Christian all your life or someone who found God late in life, he accepted you into his kingdom regardless. This was often the case in the sites I visited this week. At the Manna House, all those who showed up that morning would pray before getting coffee and showers. At St. Mary’s, those getting breakfast would attend the morning worship service before they got their food. And sure there were some who showed up only for the food or the opportunity to get a shower. But, most of the time, the people using the services at the Manna House, and at St. Mary’s, the ones who lived lives of scarcity, the ones who relied on those around them with more, to share their abundance. They were the ones who had found God, who have seen his generosity in him and in others. Despite the world constantly being against them, these people had found God and worshiped him as deeply as a lifelong devoted Christian. The way I saw God integrated into this community despite the poverty found all over Memphis is what made my last mission trip stand out to me from all the rest. So now I ask all of you, when have you seen or received generosity? In what ways can you sacrifice your abundance and be generous towards others? And how has God been generous in your life?