The following is a transcript from a video I streamed earlier this evening via Facebook Live. Contained in this article are helpful links, practical advice, and updated information for how Peace Tree is addressing COVID-19 concerns in our community. Please contact us if you have any questions or concerns. God bless!
+Peace and Love from Pastor Kris
Hey friends, I hope everyone is having a blessed day today! It is March, Friday the 13th in the year of our Lord 2020, and I wanted to take a moment to share some information about Peace Tree and what our congregation is doing to address recent COVID-19 / coronavirus concerns.
We’ve recently received word from Bishop McAlilly, the resident bishop of the Nashville Episcopal area, advising churches across West Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, and Western Kentucky to consider suspending worship and other large gatherings for at least two weeks in order to slow the rate of transmission of the coronavirus.
So, after consulting with several of our church leaders and office staff, we’ve decided to suspend our Sunday morning large group worship services at Peace Tree for March 15th and the 22nd. Following this period of time, we’ll regroup and decide on whether to hold future in-person worship services on a week to week basis.
Even though we will not be gathering as a large group for worship on the 15th and 22nd, a small group of worship leaders will meet with me on Sunday mornings to broadcast a worship experience online via our Facebook Live video stream. We hope you’ll participate in this online worship service by asking questions in the Comments section, Liking and Sharing the video to your profile, and sending us Prayer Requests through Messenger or the form on our website.
The easiest ways to access this live stream is to visit our church website, peacetree.church, and click on the box that says Worship Online. You can also log onto Facebook and search for Peace Tree UMC. If you’re on our Facebook page at 10AM Central Time on Sunday morning, you’ll be notified that the Live Stream is in progress.
For my friends who live in other states, and even for local friends whose churches don’t offer a live stream service, we invite you worship with us on Sundays at 10:00AM Central Time. Leave a comment on the video to let us know where you’re watching from.
As we continue to respond to the situation, please know that office hours at our Shelby Drive location may change in the upcoming weeks. We encourage you to call ahead if you plan to stop by office. The best number to use is 901-286-5532.
If you do come by the office, please know that we have several hand sanitizing stations throughout the church building as well as flyers from the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization with helpful information for the public.
We’re encouraging everyone in their everyday lives to practice “social distancing” by not shaking hands with your friends & co-workers. Instead you may simply smile, nod, and wave to your neighbor as you greet them.
Since we won’t be meeting in person for the next couple of weeks, we won’t be passing an offering plate. However, if you’d like to support the work and ministry of Peace Tree, you can make a donation to the church from your smart phone by texting the word PEACE to 77977 or by visiting the website peacetree.church/give.
Not only are we suspending our Large Group in-person worship services, but we’re also asking Small Group leaders and their participants to suspend their in-person meetings for the next two weeks.
This includes our Sunday school classes, UMW Circles, House Groups, and our various monthly gatherings. If you’re a member of one these groups, please reach out to your hosts and leaders to see if there are ways to share prayer concerns, conversation, and other interactions via group text, email, or video chats & online hangouts.
We’ve also been in touch with outside groups who utilize our church facilities, specifically our gym. We’re here to support them in their decisions, and each group leader is communicating with their members letting them know whether their regularly scheduled events are still being held or if they’re being cancelled.
There is no outbreak of the Coronavirus in the Memphis area, and right now there are only two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Shelby County. We’re trying our best to take responsible steps and to do what we deem necessary in order to keep our church family and community members safe from the potential spread of this disease.
You may already know that the symptoms of COVID-19 range from mild to severe and include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Older adults and individuals with underlying medical conditions are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, and since the age of our church family spans a wide range from a newborn only a couple of months old to someone who is over 90 years old, we want to ensure everyone’s safety and prevent unnecessary risks for our older church members.
We’re continuing to monitor the situation, staying up to date with announcements from the CDC, the Shelby County Health Department, and the Memphis Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Just earlier today, President Trump held a press conference declaring a national emergency. As I understand it, certain federal regulations will be put on a temporary hold to allow hospitals to make decisions that are swift and in their patients’ best interest. The government is also partnering with the private sector to make testing kits for this virus more readily available at drive thru testing locations. You can learn more about these protocols at coronavirus.gov.
We will keep the lines of communication open with you, sharing information through your small group leaders, social media posts, email blasts, text message groups, and newsletters which we will mail to our home-centered church members.
If you have any concerns or questions, you can message me directly over Facebook and Instagram. You can also email me at email@example.com, and you can reach our office staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remain vigilant, practice healthy habits, and be kind to one another. Stay safe and God bless!
This morning, Pastor Kris joined with local pastors to pray for the town of Collierville and the city of Germantown as we observed the National Day of Prayer. Prayers were lifted up for parents, first responders, those serving in the military, young people, teachers, elected officials, local pastors, and local business leaders. The 9:30 a.m. observance was held at Central Church with singing led by The Orchard Church. The Noonday observance was held in front of Germantown's City Hall, and several lay people participated by leading prayer.
It truly was a blessing to see neighbors, government officials, and faith communities come together for a single purpose. Below, you can read the prayer that Pastor Kris shared, and at the bottom of the post you'll find some snapshots of the ceremonies. We hope that you will be in prayer today for all Americans as well as our neighbors in countries near and far.
"A Prayer for our Neighbors and for Those in Need"
God of all peoples, we thank you for your presence with us today. We approach your throne this morning as a community which is made up of many different people. We look to the future excitedly, and at the same time we hold onto our traditions and remember our heritage. We preach tolerance and inclusion; however, we tend to favor our own tribes, customs, and ways of living.
As human beings, we often put our own needs ahead of others — our access to housing, food, education, and security. And yet, your Son taught us to die to self. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus called his disciples to deny themselves, to take up their cross, and to follow him. Later, the apostle Paul wrote, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
Father Almighty, help us to look past our own selfish ambitions. Challenge us to put the needs of others above our own. Encourage us to not only read the Bible but to follow the example of your Son, our Messiah, in how he lived his life.
Send us your hungry so that we may feed them. Send us your thirsty so that we may offer them a cup of cool water. Send us the stranger so that they may be fully seen, fully known, and fully loved. Send us those who are shivering so that we may clothe them. Send us out to visit those who are sick and in prison so that they may know that they are not forgotten.
Gives us eyes to see and ears to hear, so that when we encounter a neighbor who is in need, we may see them as a beloved child God. And help us to understand that when we serve the least in our midst, we are in fact serving Christ.
Who is my neighbor, Lord? Your Son taught us to look in unexpected places. Is it the church leader from my local congregation? The lay leader from my Sunday school class? Lord Jesus, what about the person who practices a different religion from me, the one who comes from a different country of origin, the one who speaks a tongue other than English as their primary language?
Yes, this is my personal Samaritan, the one who shows me mercy, the one who would pull me out of a ditch, bandage my wounds, and restore me to health. Humble me, Lord, so that I may see this person as my neighbor, that I might lay down my own prejudices and biases to see all people as my neighbors.
Mold us into your likeness, so that others would no longer see us, but would see you living through us. Fill us with your Holy Spirit so that our cups would run over. And use us to build up your Kingdom here on earth as it is in Heaven.
May we love our neighbors as you first loved us, so that others would know who we are and whose we are.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This morning, Pastor Kris joined with local pastors to pray for the town of Collierville and the city of Germantown as we observed the National Day of Prayer. Prayers were lifted up for parents, first responders, those serving in the military, young people, teachers, elected officials, local pastors, those struggling with addiction, and local business leaders. The 9:00 a.m. observance was held on the steps of Collierville's Town Hall with singing led by The Orchard Church. The Noonday observance was held in front of Germantown's City Hall, and several lay people participated by leading prayer.
It truly was a blessing to see neighbors, government officials, and faith communities come together for a single purpose. Below, you can read the two prayers that Pastor Kris shared, and at the bottom of the post you'll find the Facebook Live video that was live streamed by Germantown Baptist Church. We hope that you will be in prayer today for all Americans as well as our neighbors in countries near and far.
“Love Thy Neighbor”
God of all nations, you have so richly blessed this community. We give thanks for all the ways you provide for us and for our neighbors. We confess that we do not always put others’ needs above our own, that in this world of “me first,” we often neglect those around us. Lord give us eyes to see and ears to hear.
From an early age we learn to do unto others as we would have them do to us, and yet you’ve set the bar so much higher. You sent your Son into the world to love us unconditionally. He gave his life to serve as the atoning sacrifice for our sin, and before he left, he instructed his disciples to love one another as he loved them. We recognize that our wants and desires are no longer the standard; your good and perfect love is the standard, Lord, and we strive to model our lives after the example of your Son, Jesus Christ.
His message and challenge still rings in our ears: to love others as Jesus loves us, to see others the way God sees them. May the things that break your heart also break our hearts. May we laugh with sisters and brothers who laugh and weep with those who weep. Allow us to see our neighbors as people who have been created in the Image of God. Give us the strength to stand against racism, sexism, injustice, and prejudice in any form that it may present itself.
There are so many people in this wonderful town of varying ages, genders, creeds, and ethnicities, and all have sacred worth. May we no longer dismiss someone for being different from ourselves, for being too young or too old, for being “the other gender,” for having a skin tone that differs from our own, or for originating from another country. Help us realize that everyone has a seat at your table, that the Body of Christ is made up of many individual members and no two are the same.
Again, we thank you for this beautiful town and its people, and we praise you this glorious morning. Forgive us when we sin; soften our hearts - mold us and put us to what you will. Fill our cups, Lord, and use us as ambassadors of your holy Kingdom. Guide us to those who are in need, especially the widow and the orphan, the foreigner and the stranger, the invisible and the untouchable. Enable us to see our neighbors as you see them, and by your Spirit, help us to love one another as you first loved us.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
"A Prayer for Families"
God of grace and God of glory, we give you thanks for this beautiful day that you have blessed us with. We especially thank you for the great city of Germantown and the many families that make up this community. Because of our fallen nature, we have not always been the loving neighbors and caring citizens that you call us to be; but, by your Spirit, we are able to walk a closer walk with your Son, taking up our cross to live our lives as a forgiven people.
This afternoon, we humbly approach your throne and ask that you bless the families of this community. Fill each home with your unconditional love. Call each mother and father to lead their families with boldness, with grace, and with wisdom. Bless each child as they discover and explore this world. Watch over families as they welcome children into this world at Methodist Le Bonheur Hospital. Care for each mother and her family in the Women’s Pavilion.
Expand our understanding of “Family,” Lord. Help us to see the widow and widower in our neighborhood as part of our extended family. Encourage us to show hospitality to those who are moving into this city from other towns, states, and countries. Guide our conversations and discourse so that we may build each other up and work towards common goals.
Attend to the needs of grandparents who have stepped into the role of parent or guardian. Assist husbands and wives who struggle with infertility. Guide those who are fostering children in need, and advocate for those who seek to adopt. Lord, you have adopted each of us into your family through the justifying grace of Jesus Christ. We thank you for grafting us into your family tree, and we pray that we inherit the family traits of righteousness, purity, and kindness.
Again, we thank you for this National Day of Prayer and for this opportunity to gather as the people of Germantown. May we continue to conform ourselves to the example of Jesus Christ, our brother, the firstborn, your only begotten Son, who laid down his life so that me may truly live.
In his name we pray. Amen.
Peace Tree is part of the United Methodist Church, and we are connected regionally to other UMC congregations in Middle Tennessee, West Tennessee, and Western Kentucky. Our area is being challenged by the planned gathering of white supremacists and associated hate groups in Murfreesboro and Shelbyville on October 28, 2017. The following is a letter written by Bishop Bill McAlilly to local churches. You can read the original post on Bishop McAlilly's blog HERE.
Dear United Methodist Family,
The same hate groups that devastated the Charlottesville, Virginia community just a few weeks ago are now targeting our Tennessee Conference by planning to gather in Murfreesboro and Shelbyville on October 28, 2017 to spread the vitriolic evil of racism. As United Methodists, we must remember and recommit ourselves to the ideals of our United Methodist social witness.
Within our Social Principles we understand racism as sin and contrary to the fundamental recognition that “our primary identity is as children of God.” “Racism … plagues and hinders our relationship with Christ, inasmuch as it is antithetical to the gospel itself.” I call on all of us to renew our personal and collective commitment to stand against racism and the violence born from it.
Some have inquired as to our possible response to the racist protests being planned. We are encouraging people to work within the interfaith partnerships already formed. The Shelbyville First United Methodist Church and the Shelbyville Church of the Nazarene will be sponsoring a prayer vigil on Thursday, October 26, 2017.
The Rutherford County Interfaith Council and the City of Murfreesboro encourage individuals to consult the #Murfreesboroloves Facebook community. Individuals who seek to publicly counter-protest in the Shelbyville area should consult the Shelbyville Times Gazette for information on where to legally gather. For more information, please feel free to call the Stones River District Superintendent, Rev. Max Mayo, at (615) 893-5886.
I call upon all United Methodists to join in praying for our communities as well as discovering creative ways to live our baptismal vow to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.
Bishop Bill McAlilly
Also, I invite you to read and reflect on Reverend Paul Purdue’s sermon, Blessed Are the Peacemakers – Being Mistaken for the Children of God preached Sunday, October 8, 2017 in the aftermath of the shooting in Las Vegas. You will find a link to this message below:
Rev. Paul Purdue: Blessed are the peacemakers – Being mistaken for the Children of God
Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who have been affected by Hurricane Harvey. No amount of emergency preparation could have readied the Lone Star State for the sheer volume of rain and flooding that has drenched the Texas coast. Many have reported that the damage caused by this storm has gone far beyond any sort of "worse-case scenario" that they had imagined. While we in the Mid-South are now experiencing the remnants of this storm, many are asking how we can help. We'd like to offer several ways that Memphians and Mid-South residents can support the victims of Hurricane Harvey.
We are still several weeks away before churches, schools, and other organizations can host disaster recovery teams. The best immediate response we recommend is to donate directly to organizations that are already on the ground providing relief. We suggest making a donation to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) which has a 4-star rating on Charity Navigator. You can also give to our sister churches in the Rio Texas Conference (www.riotexas.org). 100% of the money donated to disaster recovery through these organizations goes directly to the people who need it the most; it never pays for staff or administration since those positions are supported by church offerings and apportionments.
Another way we can make an impact from afar is to assemble Cleaning Buckets. United Methodist Churches from across Tennessee and Western Kentucky are filling up an 18-wheeler with hundreds of cleaning buckets to assist Texans in the recovery efforts. There are several locations that are collecting buckets and other items in the upcoming week. Please drop off completed buckets or items from this list at Mellow Mushroom Germantown on Monday, September 4th from 7:00-9:00. You can also drop off items at the Collierville UMC Ministry Center weekdays during business hours. If you live in Bartlett, Lakeland, or Cordova, you can drop off your cleaning buckets at St. Paul UMC (call them at 901-387-0007 for drop off times). The truck is leaving from Nashville on Monday, September 11th and will be stopping in Lakeland to load up donations from the Memphis Metro area.
Scroll down to see two videos: one showing you how to assemble a cleaning bucket, and the other is how you can assemble a health kit (we recorded this video approximately one year ago when Louisiana was experiencing catastrophic flooding). We'll receive more info about team training and recovery teams that will journey down to Texas. Email us today if you'd like to be notified of updates and news regarding these recovery teams.
Let's all continue to pray for Texas and all those affected by Harvey. Pray for the safety of the military, police, firefighters, EMTs, and everyday people who are giving their time, energy, and resources to rescue people who've been left stranded and helpless. And pray for families and individuals who have lost everything in the floods. Even during these dark times, we know that God is with our brothers & sisters, and we trust that God will offer healing and redemption to those in need.
+Peace and Love from Pastor Kris
This morning, Pastor Kris joined with our local pastors to pray for the town of Collierville and its citizens as we observed the National Day of Prayer. Prayers were lifted up for single parents, first responders, those serving in the military, young people, teachers, elected officials, local pastors, and the unemployed. We were also led in singing by the Central Church praise choir. It was a blessing to see everyone come together as one town worshiping God. Below, you can read the prayer that Pastor Kris shared, and at the bottom of the post you'll find the Facebook Live video that was shared by the Town of Collierville. We hope that you will be in prayer today for all people in this great land and for all of our neighbors in countries near and far.
God of all nations, we turn to you this day in worship and prayer as your children. We know your character, and we have seen how you look favorably upon the youngest in society.
You protected Moses when he was but a babe floating down the Nile in a basket made of reeds. You chose David, the young shepherd boy to lead your people, Israel. Your angel came to Mary, a young virgin, and asked her to be the mother of the Messiah. And from the Gospel of Luke, we see how Jesus Christ as a teenager grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and all the people.
Christ himself said, "Let the little children come to me." So on this day, we ask that you would watch over the young people in the town of Collierville. Bless them as they study, and learn, and explore the world around them. Guide them as they grow and develop into young adults. Place good role models and upstanding examples in their lives. And watch over all the parents and adults of our town, for we know that these young people look to us and take in all that we say and do.
May we not look down on Collierville's teenagers and young people simply because they are young. But may we learn from them, may we listen to them, and may we build them up and direct them towards your perfect plan for a prosperous future full of hope and peace.
Dear God, bless the families of this great town and bless our young people. Watch over them and fill their homes with your good and perfect love and the power of your holy presence. We ask all of this in the mighty name of Jesus, who was born as a baby in Bethlehem, who fled to Egypt as a young child, who conversed with teachers in the Temple as a teenager, and who was baptized in the Jordan as a young adult. It is in His name that we pray for all of our youth. Amen.
It’s 8 am on Monday morning, our team’s first day at Centenary United Methodist for programming. Most of us did not get enough sleep due to first day jitters. The start of the day did not go as planned at first. We arrived at the church to find that we were locked out and the alarm system was set off. At times, I felt like I was going to burst from the anticipation of meeting the kids. The community was ready to start camp as well with families arriving up to an hour early!
Our team and the volunteers began to see the impact of Project Transformation from the start. Project Transformation’s discipline policy includes a set of rules known as the "Five Be’s." Be a Leader. Be a Learner. Be a Listener. Be a Friend. Be Responsible. Though these rules were set for the kids to learn, I saw every team member embody them. Adara took initiative every minute of every day to meet the needs of Young Artists, always with a smile on her face . Tanner was our leader, friend, and listener when we felt overwhelmed, frustrated, or confused. He provided laughter and encouragement whenever the environment was tense. Jasmine brought fresh ideas for classroom management through "air fives" and the energy we needed for Harambe. Cameisha was a listener and friend not only to me but to every volunteer that came to help in the reading program. Jakeno embraced his responsibility and the impact he had on the kids from his own neighborhood. Shyquel displayed grace and humility to every child of her group, even when they did not listen. Regan lead her Red Rockets with a listening ear and showed them the importance of how they each could be individual leaders within the group.
We were all learners in some sort of way. We learned to find our "teacher voice" and to adapt our skills to meet the needs of our community. One big way we were learners is by implementing a new buddy system with our kids. To aid in developing our older kids into responsible leaders, we pair an older kid with a younger kid. The younger kid has someone to look up to while the older kid gains a sense of responsibility. They are able to be a friend, be responsible, and be a leader. Our team was beginning to form our unique community at Centenary United Methodist.
Project Transformation is bringing people from all different backgrounds with diverse gifts to learn how to serve and develop children to their best potential. Some volunteers come from the suburbs with teaching experience. Some come from the city who had experience with the kids prior to Project Transformation. Our team embodies diversity coming from the inner city, the suburbs, other states, different majors, different upbringings, and different strengths. Already I have been encouraged by the conversations I have had with each of my fellow interns, volunteers, and church members. We are learning what it means for the children to become first and how Project Transformation is at work for the Kingdom of God. Love is at the core of every interaction. Grace, patience, and laughter is an everyday necessity. Despite our differences and the challenges of the first week of programming, our team continues to celebrate our diversity, cultivate leadership, learn how to serve our community, and how developing literacy empowers the kids to be who they were created to be.
Rachel Younger is a member of Peace Tree's Loeb St. House Group and she also assists with worship at our Sunday morning Large Group gatherings. Last summer, Rachel served as an intern with Project Transformation following her graduation from Union University. This post originally appeared on the Project Transformation Tennessee blog on June 22, 2016 and is republished with Rachel's permission. Contact us today to learn more about Project Transformation and how you can attend a volunteer training meeting on May 1 at our mother church.
Last weekend, the Guatemalan Mobile Consulate returned to the Memphis area to assist Guatemalan citizens who are living and working in the United States. Consulate officials helped individuals process updates to their documentation including passport renewals, birth certificate applications for children who have dual-citizenship, marriage licenses, certificates of death for loved ones who had passed away, and government-issued identification cards.
Trinity United Methodist Church (Midtown) served as the host site for this event, with Iglesia Metodista Unida "El Redentor" acting as the liaison with the Consular General in Atlanta and Peace Tree UMC coordinating volunteers for the two-day event. Volunteers came from the three churches mentioned above as well as from the following groups & organizations: Collierville UMC, Emmanuel UMC (Memphis), St. Paul UMC (Lakeland), Trinity Baptist Church (Cordova), Teach for America, Latino Memphis, University of Memphis Spanish Department, Sigma Chi Fraternity (EK Chapter), and the Congregational Health Network from Methodist Healthcare. By the end of the weekend we had helped serve 929 neighbors, and Christians of all ages from varying socio-economic levels and different cultural backgrounds had come together to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.
The Guatemalan Consulate hopes to return to Memphis for another visit in 2017. So if you'd like to work alongside all these amazing people, then please Contact us today. Reverend Luz Campos is the pastor of El Redentor, and below you can read her letter to the volunteers. With her permission and with light editing, we share it with you now:
It was 5:30 p.m. on Friday, March 24th when we realized that there were already some cars in the parking lot with people waiting for the line to start. When we returned at 2:00 a.m. the line was very long; men and women with children in their arms prepared to spend the night waiting in line in order to receive assistance from the Guatemalan Mobile Consulate.
Unfortunately, during the early hours of Saturday the 24th, a storm with strong winds and heavy rain approached Midtown. But no one moved from their place in line. Thanks to the compassion of Rev. Jonathan Bratt Carle and for Rev. Goyo de la Cruz who coordinated the details of opening the Education Center at Trinity UMC, at 4 o'clock in the morning we were able to allow people to enter. Everyone was obviously soaked but thankful for the shelter.
The church housed between 400 to 500 adults plus children that Saturday morning. And at 8:00 a.m. the officials from the consulate arrived to assist the Guatemalan community. Everyone was very grateful because the volunteers from Trinity UMC had shared water, fruit, and cookies. There was even a group of volunteers who took care of the children. We are also very grateful to our neighbors from the Vollintine Evergreen Community Association for their support in allowing us to park along the streets of their neighborhood throughout the weekend.
There is a Latino saying that says “Union Makes Force" (La Unión hace la Fuerza). It is true! The union of three churches (Trinity UMC, Peace Tree, and Iglesia Metodista Unida “El Redentor”) and many volunteers made it possible for us to be the hands and feet of God in this journey.
Thank you brothers and sisters! And to all the volunteers, thank you for working so hard to serve our neighbors. They were very satisfied, not only because they were able to carry out their official consulate business, but also because they met people who truly love God. They encountered people who exemplify the love of God burning in their hearts by serving others. So once again, "Thank You."
Rev. Luz Campos
Iglesia Metodista Unida "El Redentor"
Pastor Kris preached "Live Together / Follow Christ" on the Sunday following the 2016 presidential election. Below is his sermon manuscript, and you can watch the full sermon in the video below. The Scriptural focus for this sermon is Luke 5:1-11. Please share your thoughts and reflections in the Comments section.
Here we are for the fourth time in this place to worship God, but what marks this Sunday as different from earlier Preview Services is that the presidential election has taken place in our country merely 5 days ago. And I'd be a horrible preacher if I didn't address this moment in our country's history.
So on this day, as I address two of Peace Tree's core values (Live Together and Follow Christ), I do so knowing that some people sitting in this movie theater voted for Trump and others voted for Clinton. Some voted for a 3rd party candidate and some wrote in Mickey Mouse or wrote in Harambe.
But here we are...together, singing our praises to God, hearing the story of Jesus calling his first disciples to follow him, and we are all members of the same human family.
It's probably safe to say that there are as many different opinions about this country and its priorities and the steps we need to take as there are people sitting in this room. So we have one of two choices to make today and everyday, and here they are: do we choose to turn our backs on our neighbors who are different than us? Do we hate those who disagree with us? Do we say, "I'll go it alone?" OR do we say that we choose to live together, that we embrace each other as brother and sister, and that we claim one another as family.
Jesus never held public office as an elected official, but he was called the King of the Jews. And as the King of the Jews (a.k.a the Son of God and the Son of Man), he addressed economic disparity, accepted people from other cultures, disrupted the establishment, was branded a radical and a religious zealot, and he taught a new way. But by doing all of this, he put a target on his back.
Ultimately, the people of Israel were given a chance to vote on Jesus. They could vote to free Christ during the Jewish feast of Passover, but instead they chose to free another prisoner, and thus, the Son of God was crucified. But in Jesus' sacrifice, in taking on our sin, and in demonstrating God's great love for humanity, Christ gave us all a path to citizenship in God's Kingdom.
So when we say that at Peace Tree we Live Together and Follow Christ, we do so claiming our shared inheritance in Christ. We don't focus on the things the world focuses on: the spectrum of ages, the differences in income, the number of cultures represented here today. Instead we rally around Christ and his mission in saving this world and pointing people to God.
When we look at this morning's passage from the Gospel of Luke, we see Peter putting into practice the core value of Live Together. Peter does not work alone; he has fishing partners that we find out are the brothers James and John. Not only that, but when the fish that Jesus instructs them to catch becomes too great to haul in, they're able to signal another boat for help. In their day and time, you needed a community to get by, to live and to eat. Friends and neighbors looked out for each other, and here we see them working alongside one another.
But what amazes me most about this invitation to follow Christ, is that Peter, James, and John drop everything (and I mean everything!) in order to follow Jesus. They leave behind their livelihoods, their families, and now this insurmountable catch of fish that may have possibly met their quota for the rest of the year, all in order to follow Christ! How many of us would walk away from our careers, and our families, and from financial stability to follow a divisive figure who was performing miracles and claimed that he spoke directly to God?
Some of you are thinking, "This is nice and all, learning about Peter and James and John from 2000 years ago, but we're scared right now, today on Nov 13, 2016. And I get it; some people are fearful for their community, others are scared that the country will not come together - that we won't be the UNITED States, and for others there is uncertainty about the future when it comes to wars being fought, and when it boils down to the stock market, or healthcare and national security."
So let me offer a word from Ricky James, a friend and pastor in Mississippi, who shared this post on his Facebook page Wednesday morning:
"At around 3:00 a.m. this morning my five year old climbed in our bed. He said he was afraid of the dark. This is a common occurrence these days as he wakes up in the middle of the night, alone in a dark room, and seeks the solace of his parent’s bed. Normally I’m annoyed at this because he wakes me up.
This morning I was already awake. I had just watched the acceptance speech of President-Elect Trump. On social media I saw the full spectrum of emotions: joy, astonishment, anger, and fear. It was that last emotion that had kept me up. I thought of all the people I knew who were afraid because of what had just occurred. I was pondering fear and it was keeping me awake.
I know many people who voted for Secretary Clinton and were now afraid at what this election means. They are afraid for what this means for people in vulnerable situations because of their race, gender, status, and a myriad of other identifiers. They are afraid that many of their rights are now in jeopardy. Some are afraid for their lives. This fear is real.
I know many people who voted for President-Elect Trump who were afraid. They were afraid of rising healthcare costs, of the loss of jobs in their community, of a deep belief that their own sense of self-worth was slipping away. They were afraid that the country they saw around them was fundamentally different than the world they grew up in. They were afraid of what the world would look like tomorrow. This fear is real.
I can’t pretend that fear isn’t real. And I don’t presume to tell anyone today that they shouldn’t be afraid. As a pastor I’ve sat with many people who were experiencing moments of great fear. I often see two responses to such fear. Option one: find someone to blame and lash out. Option two: surround yourself with people you love and trust to hold you in the dark. I try my best to steer people to the second option.
All I can offer is the good advice that came to me this morning at 3:00 a.m. from my five year old: it’s ok to be afraid of the dark; and you don’t have to face it alone."
Friends, we have two options, and I hope we all choose to seek the embrace of our Heavenly Father and to surround ourselves with people we love and trust. The first disciples chose this; they chose to live together. They needed each other as they followed Christ and learned from him, they needed each other during the dark days of the crucifixion, and they needed each other still as they formed a beloved community and planted the first Christian church in Jerusalem. They lived together as they followed Christ.
Look again to today's passage; Jesus says to you and to his first disciples the same thing that the angels spoke to the shepherds in the fields at Christmas, "Do not be afraid." These are actually the first words that Jesus speaks to them after performing his fishing miracle. So pause for a moment and consider the power in that statement: Do - not - be - afraid! Do not fear.
The first disciples cast aside anxiety, and worry, and the stability of a steady job, and they all followed Christ. They chose not to fear when they chose to follow Jesus, and they made this choice together as one group who cared for others.
Friends, we are not alone. We have each other. And even if the person you're sitting next to is of a different gender or a different age, whether they are single or married, with children or without, voted for the same candidate as you did or for a different person, they are still your sister and brother in Christ, and they are made in the Image of God.
Living together doesn't mean we pretend we're all the same and that we'll never disagree on issues. It means that we must recognize how we are all wonderfully made by a good, good Father, and that many different people with different gifts make up the Body of Christ just as different disciples from various backgrounds and professions and education levels with varying levels of faith made up Jesus' original Twelve. 'Different' is beautiful in the Family of God.
The great author, Harper Lee, said it best in her famous work, To Kill a Mockingbird, "You can choose your friends but you sho' can't choose your family, an' they're still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge 'em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don't."
Today, I pray that we acknowledge our great human family. I pray that we choose to Live Together just as the first disciples chose to live together. And I pray that we won't be afraid to leave everything behind in order to Follow Christ.
Every year, the Guatemalan Consulate in Atlanta sends a mobile unit to Memphis to assist Guatemalans living and working in the United States with updates to their documents as well as applications for birth certificates, wedding licenses, and other important papers. 1,665 people from across Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Missouri were assisted this year, but more than 500 people were not seen due to time constraints. Peace Tree’s Susan Lawhon and Jennie Dickerson organized and led the many volunteers needed to make this event possible. In our latest blog post, Jennie shares what this event means to her and why she signs up every year to volunteer.
One of the things I love about Peace Tree is that we are a “doing” church. We meet people where they are, whether it's the Blessing of the Animals at Suggs Park, a neighborhood event on the Collierville Town Square, or the annual Guatemalan Consulate Visit to Memphis.
Last weekend, Peace Tree joined our United Methodist family at Asbury UMC and Iglesia Metodista Unida El Redentor to assist the local Guatemalan population file some tedious government paperwork. More than 1,600 people stood in line for hours to get updated government identification cards, birth certificates, passports and more. Volunteers (Spanish-speaking or not) helped make the process as smooth as possible by directing traffic, making copies of documents, answering questions, and keeping children entertained while parents spoke to consulate officials.
The Guatemalan Consulate Visit is my favorite volunteer event of the year. To me, it epitomizes how we ought to live as Christians. We don't have to speak the same language or be from the same place to walk alongside each other and make this life a little easier. It’s faith in action and an opportunity to show grace and love to each other. This is what it means to “love thy neighbor,” and every year I'm grateful for this opportunity to do so.
Follow the journey of a new church as we answer the call to reach people in Collierville, Memphis, and the Mid-South.