Category Archives: Sermon

Before PokémonGo, Jesus Said “Go” — Matthew 28:18-20 (Wed Night Reflection)

Last year a game released for mobile phone and tablet users that has taking over the mobile gaming industry. In 2013 Candy Crush’s candy matching game took the lead as the most played mobile game, but it was quickly pushed aside over the past year by users in search of elusive little pocket monsters for collection and battle. It was July of 2016 that Niantic released PokémonGo…and changed the mobile game industry. As opposed to Candy Crush type games that you can just sit and play, PokémonGo was designed to get folks out and about. Landmarks, Museums, Churches (like HIUMC), and other places of interest were marked as either Pokestops (where gear to play can be collected) or Gyms (where battles are held). In addition to catching Pokemon in the wild, eggs can be hatched through walking with the game app opened up. The game was designed to get folks active while playing a game.
I will tell you that I was initially opposed to (mostly out of ignorance and judgment) and not interested in playing the game. That is until one day when I was sitting in my office at St. Paul’s. I noticed a car driving through the church parking lot, going back and forth at one point just a matter of feet. I went out to see if the young man driving the car needed some kind of help. He replied, “No, I just needed to catch the Bulbasaur in your parking lot.” After seeing the initial look of confusion on my face, he explained he was playing PokemonGo.
It was then that I decided if young people were going to be coming around the church doing that kind of thing, I needed to know more about the game, so I began playing…then Joshua started playing…and Anita, watching the fun we were having, started playing too…though the newness and excitement of Island life has curbed our playing a good bit…
However, Niantic was not the first to try and get a generation to get up off their rear-ends and get moving in the world around them. It was said before computerized technology was even thought of. It happened almost two thousand years ago. You see, before Pokémon said “Go,” Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
You know, each of the Gospel authors offers Jesus’ commission to make disciples in a different way…seeking to connect with their particular audience in a way that was needed. Most of the time we consider that the Gospel of Matthew was written for a primarily Jewish audience, particularly in light of the way it continually points to ways that Jesus said or did different things in order that the Scriptures might be fulfilled, however, part of me wants to consider that Matthew had modern day Christians in mind as he penned his understanding and experience of Christ’s presence in the world.
Why? Because somehow over the years since Jesus, something happened, even within our Wesleyan heritage. Somehow we have come to the point of thinking that all we have to do to fulfill the Great Commission is sit within the four walls of a given sanctuary and wait for folks to drop in and visit. We might even do a thing or two to try and attract new visitors to our church—special events, a different kind of music, a new pastor, catchy slogans on the marquee, ads in the local paper; or even Facebook posts and tweets. There’s nothing really wrong with any of those things, particularly the new pastor ;), however they all seem to be based on things that could be accomplished sitting in these pews or the recliners in our living room. They are all initiatives that potentially involve us waiting for folks to drop in on us, for folks to come to us.
The words of Jesus, in response, say to us, “Get up off your posterior and go out those doors…make disciples of all you meet…without regard to nationality, ethnicity, political ideologies, language, social or economic status, physical, emotional, or mental disability, or any other factor”…”Go,” Jesus says, “Go…Baptize them into the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…then sit with them, work with them, and teach them…teach them as I have taught you….”
“Go,” Jesus says.
“Why,” we might ask.
Because, as 2nd Peter 3:9 suggests,
God intends to “catch us all.”
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

1) Why do you think when Jesus says “Go,” we have a tendency to stay put and wait for folks to come to us?
2) Do we take seriously that God asks us to go into ALL the world…meaning we reach out making disciples of folks who aren’t necessarily like us?
a. What causes us to hesitate to do that?
3) How can we begin to “go into all the world” right here on Harkers Island?

Seaside With Jesus: Kingdom Reality

Today we begin a new series. Many, if not most, of you have lived by the sea your whole lives…or at least by the sound. Other than a vacation now and then, I haven’t. Yet, for most of my life, I have been I have been connected to one who chose to settle by the sea…one who lived, taught, and even walked across the sea. For those of you who have looked online at some of the sermons from St. Paul’s, you have noticed that I tend to preach sermon series’s. And while I, being honest with you, may at some time revisit some of those series with you here at Harkers Island, as I began praying and reflecting on where to begin a series here, God led me seaside…as so we begin today, and will at least through the rest of this month and next, be Seaside with Jesus—examining the life, actions, and teaching of Jesus at times when He found Himself near the water.
They are possibly the most popular and feared words of any family trip—well, after the “I’ve got to go to the bathroom,” that is said way too often out in the middle of nowhere. They are said over and over and over again. What is it? “Are we there yet?” If you have children, or even a spouse, at times, you can count on hearing those words on almost any trip you take. “Are we there yet?” “No.” “How much further?” “15 minutes less than the last time you asked.” Any of that sound familiar?
They weren’t on a family trip, in fact they had done some travelling over the generations, and they were happy to be settled. Yet, even as they settled, there was a tendency to ask, “Are we there yet?” However, as they called out to their Father, it often sounded more like, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” Or, “How long, O Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their ravages, my life from the lions!” Maybe even, “How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?” The list could go on and on of the times the People of God would cry out to Him and say, “Are we there yet? Have we arrived at the time You are going to intervene and lift us above everyone else?” “Is it time for God’s Kingdom to be made fully known?”
Now, when we take those trips as a family, and we announce that we are almost there, or that we have arrived, one of two things happen. Either, everyone is excited, maybe even with a “yay” or two; or, as has happened frequently with Davey, when he was younger, and, now, with Joshua, we drive for hours and hours, with choruses of “are we there yet’s” and sometime in the five minutes (or less) before we actually arrive, they have fallen asleep.
When John the Baptizer arrived on the scene there were many who probably began asking once again, “Are we there yet? Is the Kingdom here?” thinking that in John something new was happening. John’s comments were a way of saying “not yet, but we’re almost there, “I baptize you with water, for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals.” John’s words would have been heard as “it’s not here yet, but we are getting close.”
Then enters Jesus. Jesus comes before John at the Jordan River and his baptized…not because He needed to be baptized, but in order that through our baptism we might be connected to joined to Him. When Jesus rises from the waters a voice is heard by those around, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” After, His baptism Jesus is led out into the wilderness where he undergoes a time of preparation for the work before Him…in the midst of that time of preparation Jesus faces and overcomes temptation.
Jesus then left his hometown of Nazareth and settled by the sea, in Capernaum. There he began his ministry with these words we heard earlier, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Other translators will actually translate Jesus’ words here as, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Hear that again, “the kingdom of heaven has come near,” “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
How much time do we still spend longing for the Kingdom of God? How often do we continue to wonder “how long?” How many times have we asked, “Are we there yet?” We want to know when God is going to finally bring His rule to bear? If you think we are not waiting, drive up to Beaufort and get your groceries at Food Lion…or go shopping at Walmart and get in the longest line possible. While you are standing there scan magazines—especially the tabloid type magazines. If I were a betting man, and I’m not, I would wager you that you couldn’t go a month without one or more of those racks holding a story in which someone has figured out when the end of the world is coming and Jesus is going to return. Why? Because folks eat it up—we all want to know when God’s Kingdom is finally going to be here. We all want to know when we are going to get there.
And while we’re feeding those publications, we are missing the point of what Jesus said. Jesus said, “the kingdom has come near…the kingdom is at hand.” Jesus did not say, “wait around another two thousand or so years and watch for the God’s Kingdom to start breaking in.” He said, “it is at hand.” Jesus is saying, “the kingdom is here. I am here. Look at me. You see me…you see what I am about…you see the Kingdom of God…on earth as in heaven.”
In April, when we found out that we were going to be appointed to serve here at Harkers Island…everyone was excited. We were going to a church at the beach. At the beach. We knew what to expect…or at least thought we did. We vacationed down the road at Atlantic Beach every summer. We spent Thanksgivings at Kitty Hawk. We were at Myrtle Beach when we got the call. We know what the beach is supposed to be like. A month later we drove onto Harkers Island to meet the SPRC committee. We had arrived at the beach. However, as we drove on to the island, you could sense Joshua’s disappointment growing. Where were the miles (or at least 3.2 square miles) of sandy beach? Where were all the beachy businesses like Wings with their cheap souvenirs and hermit crabs? Where were the miniature golf courses and amusement parks and resorts full of swimming pools? It was not at all what he was expecting.
You know, that feeling of confusion is not that far off from what John the Baptizer and his followers experienced. They heard Jesus say that the Kingdom was at hand. They knew what the Kingdom was supposed to look like. Jesus, the Messiah, was supposed to come in and drive Caesar and all his cronies to their knees and lift Israel and all the Jews up. But that wasn’t happening. In fact those that were supposed to be upended in John’s mind, were still in command…they had even imprisoned him. So John, from his prison cell, sent some of his followers to question Jesus. “Are we there yet,” they asked, “‘are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’” John and his crowd thought, “there must be some mistake…we’ve missed a turn or something. This isn’t at all what we were expecting.”
Jesus’ response? The Kingdom has arrived. The Kingdom is here. The Kingdom is at hand. Jesus says, “‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.’” “Go tell John that you have seen that the Kingdom of God is taking over and ridding the world of the kingdom of suffering, darkness, and death.” In other words, “Go tell John that the Kingdom has come near, the Kingdom is at hand, the Kingdom is here. Yes, it has arrived.”
Joshua, as we made our way down Cape Lookout Drive, past the church, and on to Shell Point, where he could see the lighthouse, where we could see the birds on Bird Island, where we could walk the Sound Trail, and more than anything, when he found a crab’s claw (that stayed in my car’s door handle for about three weeks), fell in love with Harkers Island and never wanted to leave.
Those who walked daily with Jesus began to see the Kingdom reality amongst them…that God’s Kingdom had broken through from Heaven into this world in ways that they could see, in ways that were far better than what they had originally hoped for: hungry being fed, sick being healed, blind seeing, lame walking, the dead living, and, consider the significance of Jesus’ words, the poor having the gospel proclaimed…the Kingdom’s reality is found with the poor, the outcast, the foreigner, those that the world would reject, ostracize, and even persecute, are welcomed and offered hope—this was their crab’s claw.
Yet, just as we had to leave Harkers Island in May because the time of our moving in had not yet arrived, so to was the full arrival of God’s Kingdom yet to come. Just as we have finally moved into the parsonage, there will come that day when the Kingdom of God is revealed in ways that will cause all the world to see…as this earth and heaven as it is melt away, and the New Heaven and New Earth come together in New Jerusalem, when God makes His home amongst us, walking with us as He did at the beginning of Creation…that day when every tear will be wiped away because death will be no more…then the Kingdom will have fully arrived. Amen?
Yet that’s not all there is—for that would mean that we just sit and wait for its arrival…that we sit in our pews here at church and kick back in our recliners and just wait for the sky to turn to fire…right?
Absolutely not! For, my brothers and sisters, God’s Kingdom broke into this world in Jesus…through Him we see glimpses of what it means to live in the Kingdom of God. Remember His Baptism…remember that we have been joined to Him and to one another through our Baptism. As Paul would tell us, we are the living Body of Christ. We are the living presence of Christ in this World. What He did, we are to do. Through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, we are to be the ones through whom the world catches glimpses of God’s Kingdom. We are to be the ones to reveal that the Kingdom of God has come near, that the Kingdom of God is at hand, that the Kingdom of God is here. When we feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, we reveal the Kingdom. When help the blind to see and the deaf to hear (and remember, not all blindness and deafness revolve around our eyes and our ears), we reveal the Kingdom. When we help cleanse the drugs from an addicts life, we reveal the Kingdom. When we offer hope and light to those for whom depression has set in, we offer life to the dead, Kingdom living to those dwelling in Sheol. And when we embrace the outcast, when we welcome those that society rejects, when we love with God’s Divine Love flowing through us to all we encounter, we declare that the Kingdom has arrived—that the Kingdom is a reality today!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit—Amen!

Oreos and Cigarettes – Romans 7:15-25a

Do you ever have a hard time figuring yourself out? I have those times. We have cookies in the house so that if Joshua wants some cookies there will be some. It just so happens that often we keep my favorite kind on hand, the golden, double-stuff Oreos. I will see them and think to myself, “No, you do not need to eat any of those cookies.” A little while later, there will be a craving for something sweet. “No, you do not need any of those cookies.” I’ll fix myself a cup of coffee. “Well, maybe just two or three of those cookies wouldn’t be so bad…it’s not like I’m going to eat them every day.” So I quietly open the package, like if I hide the fact that I’m doing it from everyone else in the house, I’m hiding it from myself, and get out two or three. I dip them in my coffee and enjoy them. Then I look and I am out of cookies and still have a good bit of coffee left. “Well, maybe a couple of more won’t hurt.” And it keeps going on until I look down and a whole row of those cookies are gone. I have done exactly what I was bound and determined I wasn’t going to do.
It doesn’t have to be cookies, or a 5 lb Hersey bar, or anything we eat too much of. There are so many other ways we find ourselves doing the things we don’t want to do. It might be shopping when we know we have enough stuff and don’t really have the money to spend on more. It might be sitting in front of the television binge watching our favorite shows when we know there is work to be done. It might mean clicking on the links to websites that we know we shouldn’t be visiting—that no one should be visiting. It is saying something hurtful or hateful when we know we ought to speak words of kindness and love, or at least keep our mouths shut. It might mean another intimate encounter with that person who is not our spouse. Each of us, if we examine ourselves, will find our Oreo cookies.
When we give into the temptation and do whatever it is that we had set out in our minds and hearts not to do, there is a tendency for guilt to overwhelm us, and for us to develop an attitude of self-condemnation. We might even begin to feel ourselves unworthy of God’s love and unusable by God. When that happens, we might spend time struggling to try and understand ourselves and why we do what we do. The thing is, when it happens…when we find ourselves doing the things we do not want to do…and not doing the things we want to do…we are in good company.
Hear again these words from Paul…words from probably the most successful evangelist of history: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” Scholars have long debated just what Paul was referring to as part of his struggle in this passage…the point is, Paul struggled with the same struggle in which we often find ourselves.
Encouraged yet—realizing you are not alone in the struggle? Or do you find it discouraging—realizing that it is a struggle that has been going on, most likely, since Eve and Adam bit into the flesh of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil? It can go either way. Sometimes it is good to know that we are not alone in our struggles—that our brothers and sisters in Christ, especially those that we would look up to, have to walk the same path and face the same struggles we have. At other times, it could be discouraging, because we are looking for that one person who can help us straighten out the mess that we find ourselves caught up in—that cycle of doing and not doing—and we figure if there’s anywhere to find the solution, it would be here…and then we find Paul, apparently caught up in the same web of failure that from which we seem to be struggling to free ourselves. We may come to the point of Paul, crying out, “Wretched man (wretched woman) that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” It can seem really frustrating—there is no solution to be found in Paul.
The thing is, though, Paul does reveal the solution to us.
Paul says that the Law is good in that our sin reveals that we need the law to show us that we have fallen out of line with the will of God. The problem, though, comes when we try to use the Law as the basis for our relationship with God…because for every law within the Law we can claim that we are living obediently, there are a number of others that will reveal just how far we are from reaching perfection through obedience…meaning no matter how zealous we are for the Law of God, no matter how determined we are that we are going to live completely obedient lives…the harder we try, the more we are going to fail.
I started smoking when I was fourteen years old. It was submission to peer pressure. One of my friends who could drive picked me up, along with several of our other friends, and we were heading, I believe, to watch the Durham Bulls play. On the way, one of the folks in the car pulled out a pack of cigarettes and began passing them around…everyone was lighting up. I knew I shouldn’t. I had begged my grandfather for years to quit and he finally had…I knew it wouldn’t be good for my body, especially with my history of asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia…but I didn’t want to be the only one in the car not smoking, so I took one and lit up. After that it became an act of rebellion, at first in secret, and then openly…and then it became an addiction.
After about ten years of smoking, I decided it was time to quit. I would make an attempt to quit…throwing away brand new packs figuring the money it cost me would be enough to convince me to stay stopped. I was determined…and I might last a day or two…even a week or two…at one time even three months. Then something would come along and stress me out, and I would bum a cigarette off a friend until I could get by the store to buy some more. I found myself doing the very thing I did not want to do…not because I wanted to, but, as it turns out, as Paul points out, because of the sin that was dwelling in me.
Where was that sin…oh, it was in so many places…as it is in each of us when we do those things we know we should not do, those things we say we do not want to do…those times when we give in to the temptation, to the addiction, and fall into the same old trap.
First the sin was in the fact that I was doing something that harmed my body, which, Scripture reminds us, is the temple of God, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.
Secondly, the sin was that I was worshipping an idol. Did anyone catch when I would fall back into the pattern of smoking? It was when I was stressed…it was when life became hard. When the going gets tough, the faithful should get going to their knees before God…but for me, when the going got tough, I would turn to Winston.
Finally, the sin of my attempts to quit, and the reason for the failed attempts, was that I was depending upon my own strength to change…to do what was right…and we are not strong enough on our own…because then we find ourselves doing the things we do not want to do, and doing the very things we hate.
The solution lies in the response of Paul’s rhetorical questions: “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” “Who will rescue us from our failed attempts at doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong?” “Who will redeem us from our sin-filled lives?”
“Thanks be to God,” Paul writes, “through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
It is through Christ and Christ alone that we find true freedom from the quandary of doing the unwanted and not doing the wanted.
It is through Christ that we find forgiveness of all sin.
It is through Christ that we find that we are made right with God—we don’t earn God’s love through obedience, that love is freely offered to us in the midst of our sin.
It is through Christ, and the indwelling of His Holy Spirit, that we find freedom from the sin that would try to bind us.
This October it will be 23 years since my last cigarette. Is the temptation still there? Yes. Is the craving still there, at times, especially at stressful times? Yes. So, what’s the difference? Why have I not picked up a pack in almost 23 years? It is because in October of 1994, I made a decision. I decided I would no longer try to quit on my own. I did not turn to a pill or a patch for the strength to do what is right, I turned to Jesus…my battle with doing what I did not want to do was won, the victory was claimed, when I turned to the One who has already defeated both sin and its penalty, when I turned to the source of all strength, when I turned to the source of all hope, when I turned to the source of all life.
The solution to understanding ourselves, to breaking of out of the cycle of doing what we do not want to do, is to stop trying to do it ourselves, and surrender our lives and our attempts to Jesus—that we too may join Paul in saying, “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit! Amen.

Stepping Stones (Harkers Island Intro) – Psalm 119:105-112

The pastor of a new appointment and two of the church members are out on the river fishing in their boat. Twelve o’clock rolls around, and one of the members notices a nice spot on the bank to have lunch. He turns to the others and says, “That looks like a nice spot for lunch. What do you say we have eat over there?”

The other member agrees, and so does the pastor. The first member stands up in the boat, steps out onto the river and walks over to the bank. The pastor looks on with amazement, and thinks to himself, if this member is holy enough to walk on water, surely he can.

The other member stands up, picks up the picnic basket, steps out of the boat, and walks over to the bank and sits with the first member. Again, the pastor thinks, if his members are holy enough to walk on water, surely he can.

The pastor stands up, steps out of the boat, and sinks into the water. The first member turns to the second and says, “Think we should have told him where the stepping stones are?”

 It’s important to know where the stepping stones are, because if we don’t, or if we forget where they are, we may find ourselves sinking to the bottom, fast.

The same is true for God’s people.  God watched his people, Israel, repeatedly forget where the stones were.  God had shown them the stones—He had brought them out of slavery in Egypt and gave the Law to Moses.  God didn’t offer the Law to be some kind of killjoy, or to place some unbearable burden upon them.  God gave them the Law that they might have the kind of life that He knew they could and should have.  God gave them the Law to offer them stepping stones on how to live in relationship to Him and with one another.  In this morning’s reading, the Psalmist recalls that God’s Word was to help them get where they needed to go—the psalmist didn’t see God’s Word as stepping stones, though, but as a light: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  God’s Word is that which shows God’s people how to live in the darkness.

However, the people kept losing track of God’s Word—as John put it, “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.”[i]  In other words, continuing our illustration today, God’s people, either out of ignorance or intentionally, kept missing the stepping stones, and found themselves sinking deeper and deeper in sin. 

However, God did not abandon His people to sink into darkness of sin and death, lost forever.  God decided to make the stepping stones a lot clearer.  He began by calling the prophets to confront the people with their sin, and call them into the light, and they still struggled to find the stepping stones rather than sinking.  So God, Himself, came as the Water Walker, as the “Word of God made Flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ to reveal once and for all where the stepping stones were in a way that they could never be missed.  Jesus, through His birth, life, death, and resurrection, revealed to the those who walked with Him, and all God’s people who have followed since, just where the stepping stones are that will lead to the life that God wants and desires for us—the life, the enteral life, that He created us to live in.

Yet God did not stop with Jesus…though it was the perfect revelation of the stepping stones of life, God knew we would still need to be reminded where the stepping stones lie—He knew we were a people who forget.  Jesus even acknowledges our forgetfulness and God’s faithfulness, once more from the Gospel of John: “…the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”[ii]

God, out of His grace, continues to place stepping stones for us to travel upon—to reach the lives that God desires for us—He gives us His Word, the Bible, that reveals how God desires us to lead our lives—each stone perfectly revealed as we look through God’s written Word to the Word made Flesh, Jesus.

God also, through the sending of the Holy Spirit also gave birth to the church, and so God offers us this gathered community as a stepping stones to guide us down His path.

Within the Church, we find that God has also placed the stepping stones of Sunday School, Bible Study, Missions and Outreach, and Christian Fellowship—just to name a few—that offer to carry us over the waters of this world, to carry us over the waters of sin that would seek to drown us, and help us walk to shore, to the fully realized life eternal that God has offers to us the moment we surrender our lives to the Lordship of Jesus.  Praise be to God that He has and continues to place stepping stones before us that we might successfully navigate the river of life to the shoreline.

 That new pastor needed to know where the stepping stones were so that he could cross the water and join the church members.  In fact, every new minister coming into a new church needs to know where the stepping stones are—because if the pastor does not know where the stepping stones are, he or she may never be able to get to where, we, as part of the Body of Christ, need to go.  Without the stepping stones, the pastor can sink.  The same can be said for the congregation.  If the pastor does not let the congregation know the stepping stones that he or she knows amount, then the church may struggle and sink, never getting to where God is calling them to reveal His Kingdom in this world.

 A big part of learning where the stepping stones are involves simply getting to know one another—knowing the history behind us, the present situation, and the hopes for the future of one another.  In a few conversations, I have already started trying to learn the stepping stones here at Harkers Island.  I stress, I have only started.  Over the next year, I hope to meet and talk with each of you individually, so I have a long way to go.  I have talked with a few of you in the week I have been here—and already seen the God’s grace at work in this church through those who sought to help my dad and I find the front of the truck, and more importantly, the response of this congregation to my mom’s unexpected hospitalization.  In those conversations, I have shared a little of my history, but this morning I would like to share some of that with the rest of you, and fill in a few more details of who I am and how I came to be here.

 I was raised in the southern part of Granville county, just northeast of Raleigh, in a small town called Butner, a town which in my childhood, was not a lot larger than Harkers Island.  It has grown tremendously over the years, as a result of the federal prison and other institutions, alongside becoming a bedroom community for Raleigh and Durham. 

I received my initial call to the ministry while attending a Conference Youth event in the summer after my junior year, so when I graduated from South Granville High in 1987, I went to Methodist College (now Methodist University) where I earned degrees in Philosophy, English, and Religion.  However, while in college, I chose to ignore the stepping stones that God placed before me, and decided to walk my own path, choosing to walk away from my calling and live my life my way.

What happens when we try to live our lives our own way, rather than God’s way?  We begin to sink…and I did.  Yet God will continue to place stones in our path that will lead us back to Him.  While running from my call I spent a little over two years working in day care for a national chain of child care facilities.  I began as a teacher and ended up as assistant director for one of their centers in Chapel Hill.  It was there that I met Anita, a newly single mom who had left a severely abusive marriage, and who had a daughter named Natalie that stayed in trouble constantly, resulting in many conversations between mom and the assistant director.  We began dating, and our first unofficial date was to her oldest son, Ben’s, Christmas program at school—eleven months later, we were married in October of 1993.  In the meantime, due to health reasons, I had left the day care and had began working as a health care technician at Murdoch Center, a facility for severe and profound developmentally disabled adults.  A year or so after that, I began working on my teaching degree in special education at North Carolina Central while teaching at Murdoch.

God had begun placing stepping stones in my life, trying to get me back where He intended as I returned to my home church and Anita and I began raising Ben and Natalie in church.  There, to shorten part of the story, God began calling me back to the ministry once more.

It was in 1995 that I finally surrendered to God’s calling to the ministry and one week after our son, Davey, was born, I entered seminary at Duke Divinity School.  In December of 1995, I received my first appointment—to Salem United Methodist Church in northern Granville County and began my full agricultural indoctrination amongst the tobacco farmers.  I graduated from Duke in 1999 and traded in the tobacco fields for the cotton and peanut fields of Northampton County, to serve the Rich Square Woodland Charge.  In 2001, I was ordained an Elder in the United Methodist Church and, moved 12 miles northward in Northampton County, to serve a four congregations, know as the Milwaukee Charge.  In 2004, God decided that I needed to leave the rural setting and learn to pastor a city church (though thankfully not a big city), and for the last thirteen years I served as pastor of St. Paul’s in Burlington, NC.  This past Monday, I left Burlington, to serve God with each of you here at Harkers Island.  And while I have always felt closest to God while vacationing at the beach, I look forward to learning from y’all what it means to actually live a coastal, island life, as we grow together in serving Christ here.

 A little about my family—Anita was born in Raleigh and grew up in Durham, graduating from Northern High School.  Her oldest son, Ben, is 34, and lives in Lenoir.  Natalie just turned 28 and lives in Burlington.  Davey, who spent the better part of this past week helping us settle in, graduated from Methodist University last month.  He had to leave yesterday, as he is a church musician and currently plays for two different congregations in the Fayetteville area, while also working at a running specialty store.  Our grandson, Joshua, is eight years old and has lived with us since the day he came home from the hospital.  Joshua loves to play both baseball and football, and will hopefully move from flag-football which he played in Burlington, to contact football with the Beaufort-Down East Raiders.  He will start the third grade this fall.

We are all, at least those of us who have taken up residence on Harkers Island, Duke Basketball fans.  That sports unity ends there, though, because when it comes to the NFL and NASCAR, we become a house divided. 

These are just a few of the stepping stones in your pastor’s life to help you know a little about me…and as our Staff Parish committee begins setting up visit schedules over the next year, I look forward to learning the stepping stones in each of your lives and in the life of Harkers Island UMC—learning the past, the present, and hopes for the future—as we strive to discern God’s will and calling together.

 My brothers and sisters, Anita, Joshua, and I look forward with great anticipation to hopefully many fruitful years of ministry working side by side with each of you as we travel the stepping stones that God has laid before us through His Word, a path revealed to us through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, a journey continually enabled by the power of God’s Holy Spirit poured out upon us.

 In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[i] John 3:19

[ii] John 14:26