Al Gore’s Gift

Gilliam_7244_B&WFnl_webProofAlbert Gore, a friend and former parishioner at First Church Austin, died a few years ago here in Austin.  A month or so later a gift from Al arrived in my mailbox.  It seems that when his family went through his personal effects, they came across a folder of clippings, articles and lesson ideas he had saved.  And there among the words of Reinhold Niebuhr and Fred Buechner was a sermon I had preached at First Church Austin in 1989.

Wow!  I was moved to tears.  I’d long felt blessed to have known him; but, for me, this was a message from the other side.  To have made even a small contribution and somehow help even one person along their life journey—what a blessing.  What a gift.

I’ve pondered hard what I might say to you in my concluding days here at Faith UMC.  I’m reminded of a story.

Years ago, in my former life, I managed a radio station.  The King Ranch, owners of the station, hired a consultant, a 60’s A.M. radio legend, to come in and help us boost our ratings.  One Monday morning our consultant arrived and called a meeting of the entire staff.  They all came loaded for bear.

Seems that everyone had something to say about what wasn’t working and what was wrong with the other people that worked there.  The fact that we were already number one in our market and business was good didn’t seem to matter.

After listening patiently for over an hour, he stood up and said, “Follow me.”  He led us all out the back door of the radio station and into the parking lot, gathering us around his car.  Opening the door he sat down, turned on the power, and tuned his radio to our station.  “Can everybody hear that?” he asked.  He turned it up louder.  Then over the top of it he shouted, “Folks, this is what we’re about here.  The people in this community who want and need what we have to offer don’t know anything about what goes on behind the scenes here and probably wouldn’t care if they did.  Now, I care about your problems and will work with you to resolve them.  But let’s don’t forget what we’re about and why we’re here.” It was an important lesson for me.

Faith UMC, like every church, faces challenges. Changes in staff are a challenge and will be again forever (Jesus himself lost one of the twelve).  And of course the world around us has felt nothing like the Garden of Eden for quite awhile.

As I move (again!) and start over myself, I want to leave you with the words of Jesus, a few key lines in his Sermon on the Mount:

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’  For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But strive first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” –Matthew 6.31-33

I don’t think Jesus is saying we should not strive.  He’s saying keep focused on what we’re really about and what people really need: the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness.  He’s also saying don’t be anxious.  Trust God.  It’ll be okay.

I want to thank you all for being such gracious hosts to me and for the honor of serving in this ministry at your side.  And, as I felt such joy in receiving Al Gore’s gift that day, if even one thing I have done here has helped one person come closer to the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, then I will feel fulfilled in having served here.

All good things to you in Christ,

David Gilliam

P.S.  Be not anxious.  All will be well.  All will be well.

God Sings for You

“In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity.

In our doubt, there is believing; in our life, eternity.

In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory

Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”

—Hymn of Promise (UMH 707) by Natalie Sleeth

Promise Fulfilled (DJG 2005)

Promise Fulfilled (DJG 2005)

To my way of thinking, even more so in my heart, Natalie Sleeth’s “Hymn of Promise” was one of the best new Christian songs of the past century.  It offers a stellar melody and the lyrics are pure Easter faith.  So why bring this up now?  Because this song expresses a faith that speaks most poignantly to life in the midst of winter’s dark and cold, in those places seemingly frozen by doubt and worry and hopelessness.  Things looking bleak to you?  Feel like there’s no way forward or if there is a path it leads to a Jerusalem where rejection and pain and death await?  If that resonates in your soul, then incline your ear to God’s song and turn up the volume.  Trust your life journey to the God who raised up Jesus from the dead.  Think the promise of springtime and new life is some cruel joke?  Go look out your window, friend; listen to the trees and the flowers.

This hymn of promise is not really original to Natalie Sleeth.  The words she expresses in her poetry spring from the bulb of the Christian New Testament.  Christ’s death on the cross was not the end, but rather a new beginning.  In the life of Christ God’s time—eternal time—became part of our time.  The opposite of doubt is not scientific proof, but rather it is trust—faith—in God, trusting in something God alone can see.

In 1 John 4 we read, “God is love … there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear….  We love, because God first loved us.”  So it all comes back around to love.  The Bible is a love-letter from God, the Hymn of Promise a love song.  Yes, the flowers die in autumn as the cold and dark plunges us into winter.  Yes, war and famine and earthquake and disease and death come knocking at every door.  But we need not be afraid and we need not despair nor live without hope.  God is love and God is with us and God loves us and God promises to raise us up, just as with Jesus.  We can faith that; we can trust that.  Need to see a sign, perhaps?  Go look out your window—watch and wait.  Better still look deep within the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Incline your ears to the good news, the gospel song of love God sings for you.

Mail Waiting To Be Sent

0085515-R1-022-9AYou yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all people; and you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”            2 Corinthians 3.2-3

When Jesus came into the world a star shone bright over Bethlehem, God’s sign to all, I am here and I have good news.  Come and I will share it with you.  Seeing that star, wise men and women have been able to find their way to God.

Now, if Christ has truly come at Faith Church, as we celebrated at Christmas, one would think that such a star hovers over God’s sanctuary at 2701 South Lamar.  It’s hard to tell these days since we have so filled the sky with lights of our own devising.  We rarely see many stars anymore, even when we bother to look up.  We flood the world with our lit up business towers and stadium lights, lights in trees and shopping malls, lights on cars and SoCo bars, now seemingly more numerous than God’s heavenly lights.  So, if the light of Christ is shining here, and I believe it is, it should come as no surprise that Austin folk may not notice it in all the glare.

What to do?  Perhaps, like that star God sent to guide the Magi, God would have us be stars for Austin, signs for other people, telling the world, “Over here, this way, I’m here and I have good news.  Come and I will share it with you.”

Or, to put it the way Paul did in one of his letters to the Methodists in Corinth: “you yourselves are our letter of recommendation . . . to be read by all people . . . you are a letter from Christ….”  And as Jesus reminded us in Matthew, we’re not meant to be lights kept hidden under bushels.  We’re not mail waiting to be sent, unopened, and never read.  We’re letters from Christ, birthday cards, sympathy notes, and dinner invitations.  We’re sent by Christ direct mail to every zip code and P.O. box.  And since God doesn’t send junk mail, we’re all going First Class.  So click on “Send,” friend, trust God with the journey and never worry that some mailer-daemon will declare you undeliverable.

Ready to go?  How about inviting a friend to church this Sunday.  Jesus didn’t send snail mail or any other kind of mail.  Jesus went out and invited people in person.  The essential thing is not the word written with ink but the Spirit of the living God working though you, not lines on paper or email, but a love letter you send from your heart.  God sends us into the world to be letters from Christ, greeting cards and party invitations, to be known and read by all, marked First Class / Express Mail.  What’re you waiting for?

A fellow postal worker for the Lord,

David Gilliam