Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Guest Post: "Accepting Lent"

I did not grow up in a congregation that gave any attention to Lent.  Easter just seemed – to my childhood mind – to happen without any rhyme or reason. Sometimes it came in March, sometimes in April.  I couldn’t understand why the church couldn’t get it straight, Christmas came every year on December 25, why couldn’t Easter get a regular date?

As I grew, and my world view enlarged beyond family and church family – who did not observe Lent – I became aware of people, all of whom seemed to be Catholic, who talked about giving things up “for Lent.”  Once again confusion reigned.  I couldn’t get the connection between church and not eating chocolate…my Christian Education had not involved proclamation of any commandments prohibiting a basic food group!

My college years led me to worship in different types churches (yes, I was a church nerd in college, mailed home the bulletin from the worship service I attended each week).  I became drawn to churches that moved through the liturgical year: Advent, Epiphany, Christmas, Lent, Eastertide, Pentecost...Advent, Epiphany….  The story of the faith began to organize in my mind:  Preparation/ Advent, Celebration of God’s gift of God’s very self/Christmas, Illumination/Epiphany, Preparation/Lent, Celebration of the Resurrection/Eastertide, Empowerment/Pentecost. As the cycle moved in that order, year after year, it gave focus to growing discipleship. I began to see that those things in my faith that were celebrated, that brought illumination and that brought empowerment, those things were best recognized and embraced when punctuated with periods of preparation.

I began to understand that Lent brought value in its emphasis on preparation, but as a seminary student I began to embrace the truth that Lent is a gift.  At a midweek Lenten service in a downtown Richmond church, the guest preacher was a nationally known speaker, William Sloan Coffin.  I attended because of the “big name,” but left moved by his message. His scripture was the story of the woman with the issue of the blood who tried to reach out, anonymously, to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment to be healed (Mark 5:25-34).  Jesus was in a crowd, she did touch his hem, she was healed, and then Jesus asked, “Who touched me?”  His disciples were astounded by the question, a crowd had been touching him, yet he asked about one person?!?  Rev. Coffin asked, ”Why – among all the people touching him – was only one person transformed?”  He suggested that in that crowd it was only the woman who wanted a life changing connection with Jesus.  The others wanted to be close, to be part of the excitement, but they didn’t want to change their lives.  They knew what to expect in their old lives, they knew what was expected of them.  Fear and doubts of the change Christ promised prevented them from making a connection.  Coffin ended the sermon with an admonition I have never forgotten, “What shall we give up for Lent?  Let’s give up our fears and doubts!”  Coffin’s admonition transformed Lent for me, it was more than a season of preparation for the next big holy day, it became the gift of a season of preparation for the big, holy thing that God was working to accomplish through me – if I would just give up my fears and doubts and trust where God was leading. 

I confess that I need more than Lent’s 40 days to focus on giving up my fears and doubts and opening myself up to God’s new thing, this is an ongoing task!  Yet, I am thankful for the season of Lent, it is a gift of focused discipline in which a few more fears and doubts are pried loose and space is opened to God’s gracious mercy.  I didn’t grow up with Lent, but it now nourishes my soul.

P.S.  Something else I learned in seminary:  Easter does come the same time every year!  It is always the first Sunday, after the first full moon, after the vernal equinox.  (As established by the Council of Nicaea in 325.)

Jane is one of the Associate Pastors at Sardis. She is a native of Mecklenburg County, grew up on a farm and has milked a cow!  She is married to Mark, a Chicago native, who works for Bank of America.  They have two children; a  son, Peter, who has completed his Master’s degree in Structural Engineering and is working with a Structural Engineering firm (Arup) in Houston, TX, and a daughter, Lydia, will graduate in May from NC State with a major in social work

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Guest Post: "The Roman Centurion"

Of all the characters in the Crucifixion story, the Roman centurion, who stood at the base of the cross, is the one that intrigues me the most. He was a Roman centurion, a man used to having power; he may even have been over other men in the Roman Army. This had most likely not been his first crucifixion. Therefore, he was no stranger to death.

As he stood at the foot of the cross, he witnessed many unusual events that would have shown this Roman crucifixion to be different.  The man who had been brought to him had already suffered a tremendous amount. The prisoner’s criminal charge that was nailed to the cross was unique:
This is Jesus of Nazareth,
The King of the Jews.

This was a statement that came from the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, himself.  Pilate felt that Jesus was innocent of the charges the Jewish religious leaders had brought against him. Yet, Pilate insists that this charge be used.

Another unusual event happened at the crucifixion-darkness came upon the earth at mid-day. The Roman centurion heard the words from the cross that spoke of who Christ was even in the moments leading to his death. From looking after the care of his mother, to “It is finished.”  and the words asking his Father to forgive them, which would have included the Roman centurion.

These events led to his statement of faith- “This was the Son of God.” His statement would have made the Jewish religious leaders there angry and also the other Romans.

What is it that brought us to faith?  What was it that drew us to Christ?  Can we renew that commitment during these days of Lent?  Can we declare in front of everyone that “This is the Son of God”?

Let this season of Lent be a time of renewing your faith and declaring your faith anew in the Son of God.

Renda Brinson is the Director of Christian Education. She lives in Matthews with her husband, Earl and dog, Daisy. Renda has four grown sons, and six grandchildren. If you enjoy her writing, you should check out her blog at

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Guest Post: "Calling to Ministry"

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. -2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (NIV)-

My personal call to the ministry was gradual, clear, and fitting. I learned from my parents that caring for others is important, both to those who need that personal touch and expression of Christ’s love, and to those who grow spiritually by allowing Christ to use them in that way. As a young child, I remember going on hospital, nursing home, and home pastoral visitations with my father, and witnessing the joy on the faces of those we saw, when they were met with a smile a soft touch, kind words, and prayers.

The community of the church has always been important to me. People love to love. Yes, while at church, we learn about our faith, but between the worship services, Sunday school classes, and meetings, we have the opportunity to share our faith through getting to know one another, telling our stories, listening to others share their life experiences, a hand shake, or a hug.

In our eleven o’clock worship service this past Sunday, Rev. Betty Meadows shared stories of “Tangible Christianity.” Nothing has overwhelmingly impressed me in the showing of Christ’s love than the experiences that I have witnessed when the outpouring of Christ’s love is shown by the church, the people of God’s Kingdom, in a time of need. It’s contagious. I have found that opportunities that I have had to meet a specific need for someone brought me perhaps as much joy as the person in need. The path on which God has lead me has landed me here at Sardis Presbyterian Church, where I have been embraced by the people of this church with compassion and love. The joy is all mine to share in ministry, for all of the days that God allows, and grow in faith with the Kingdom of God at Sardis. The hymn below, is one of the oldest American Hymns that is still in use today, and is even included in the new Presbyterian Hymnal, called Glory to God. It refers to the people of God in three ways: Thy Kingdom, the church, and Zion. It is said to be inspired by Psalm 137. 

HYMN: I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord” (text: Timothy Dwight; music The Universal Psalmist, 1763) 

1. I love Thy Kingdom, Lord, The House of Thine abode,
The Church our blest Redeemer saved With his own precious blood.

2. I love Thy church, O God; Her walls before Thee stand,
Dear as the apple of Thine eye, and graven on Thy hand.

3. For her my tears shall fall, For her my prayers ascend;
To her my cares and toils be given, Till toils and cares shall end.

4. Beyond my highest joy I prize her heavenly ways,
Her sweet communion, solemn vows, Her hymns of love and praise.

5. Sure as Thy truth shall last, To Zion shall be given
The brightest glories earth can yield, and brighter bliss of heav’n

God calls us all to the ministry! While the church building may not be where the vast majority of the God’s Kingdom goes to work every day, He has called us all to be disciples of the ministry. In the “Great Commission” found in Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV), Jesus charges us all to “go 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. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” I remember after every worship service that my father preached, he would paraphrase this verse, along with Matthew 5:16 in his charge and blessing to the congregation: “You are already in the world as you are going about your daily lives, so as you are going, share your faith and what God has done for you, and let your light shine before others that they may see your good works and Glorify the Father in Heaven.”

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ - Matthew 25:34 (NIV)-

Jared Daugherty is the Minister of Music here at Sardis. Sharing in worship by encouraging others to glorify God through song brings Jared great joy and peace. It is Jared's goal to inspire other to open their souls to experience for themselves, and create an experience for the listener, that is unique, true, emotionally stirring, thought provoking, and spiritual.