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Holy Week Music

I love the hymns that we get to sing in church. We are so fortunate to have so many wonderful hymns and songs that describe God and our lives of discipleship. The music for Holy Week is no exception. Holy Week tells us of the final days of Jesus’ life, leading up to his crucifixion, and these hymns help us to explore our understanding of these events and even our role in them.

The hymn, “Ah Holy Jesus” by Johann Heermann reminds us of the consequences of our sin – “Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee! ‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee; I crucified thee.” The hymn also personalizes Jesus’ birth, life, and death – it was for us that Jesus came to earth and then suffered and died – “For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation, thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation; thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion, for my salvation.”

The hymn, “O Love Divine, What Hast Thou Done” by Charles Wesley has some similar themes – emphasizing how God has done this for us out of God’s great love for us. I really like how Wesley even called God “Love” in this hymn, emphasizing how the events we remember this week are from God’s love for us. “O Love divine, what has thou done! The immortal God hath died for me! The Father’s coeternal Son bore all my sins upon the tree. The immortal God hath died for me! My Lord, my Love, is crucified!” Verse 2 of this hymn reminds us how we are reconciled to God through this work of Jesus – “Is crucified for me and you, to bring us rebels back to God. Believe, believe the record true, ye all are bought with Jesus’ blood. Pardon for all flows from his side: My Lord, my Love, is crucified!”

The final hymn I want to highlight is “What Wondrous Love Is This”. This hymn again emphasizes the amazing and incredible love God has for us an individuals and as a collective humanity. Just read these great words!

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul,
what wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul,
what wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, that caused the Lord of life
to lay aside his crown for my soul, for my soul,
to lay aside his crown for my soul.

To God and to the Lamb I will sing, I will sing,
to God and to the Lamb, I will sing;
to God and to the Lamb who is the great I AM,
while millions join the theme I will sing, I will sing;
while millions join the theme I will sing.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
and when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on;
and when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be,
and through eternity I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
and through eternity I’ll sing on.

I invite to read these words and pray them as we contemplate God’s great love for us this week!

Serenity Prayer

Holy Week and Easter are approaching rapidly, and it is a busy season for me. I start to get more anxious as I am triple-checking my plans and making sure I have everything in place that I need for worship. During these busy times, it is easy for me to become so focused on my to-do list that I forget to spend time with God. But in these busy times, it is more important than ever that we spend time with God, letting God calm our hearts and fill us with peace. One prayer that always helps me is the Serenity Prayer.

I first remember praying this prayer at my grandmother’s house. The prayer was cross-stitched and framed, and it hung beside the bed I slept in. For years, I wasn’t sure what serenity meant. But I like the prayer, and I tried to memorize a bit of it every time I visited. Now, this prayer has become an important part of my faith life, re-orienting me to God whenever I am anxious or stressed.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a picture of that cross-stitched prayer. I chose instead a picture that always calms my soul. So, may we pray:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Amen.”

I’m sharing a picture that I took one year at the beach. There is something about seeing the sun rise over the ocean that reminds of me of this serenity prayer and calms my weary soul.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

On this day when we wear green and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, I want to share with you a prayer attributed to St. Patrick that is found in our United Methodist Book of Worship:

Christ be with us, Christ before us, Christ behind us,
Christ in us, Christ beneath us, Christ above us,
Christ on our right, Christ on our left,
Christ where we lie, Christ where we sit, Christ where we arise,
Christ in the heart of every one who thinks of us,
Christ in every eye that sees us,
Christ in every ear that hears us.
Salvation is of the Lord,
Salvation is of the Christ,
May your salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.

(SAINT PATRICK, IRELAND, 5TH CENT., ALT.)

I love how this prayer reminds us that Christ is indeed ever with us – surrounding us and going with us wherever we are. It is a powerful reminder of Jesus’ promise to us at the end of Matthew’s Gospel that he will be with us always.

This prayer also reminds us that others should be able to see and hear Christ within us. Our lives of faithful discipleship ideally reflect and reveal Christ to others. We can help others see how God is with them – surrounding them and going with them.

If you want to learn more about St. Patrick, check out this article from the United Methodist News Service. – https://www.umnews.org/en/news/what-st-patrick-can-teach-united-methodists – Learning from the saints of our faith is great way for us to grow in our faith, too, and to find inspiration and strength for our discipleship.

Praying for Ukraine

My heart is heavy today as I follow the news of Russia’s renewed invasion of Ukraine. This egregious act by Russian President Putin reminds us of how too many people in our world live with war and the threat of violence. We lament to God and cry out – why, Lord, why? How long until hearts of violence are turned to hearts to love? How long until weapons of war, weapons of death and destruction, will be beaten and turned into plowshares and instruments of peace and sustenance? How long until our Prince of Peace comes to set all things to right?

As United Methodists, we remember our siblings in Christ who are in Ukraine. We remember the churches in Lviv, in Kharkiv, in Lugansk, in Kiev, and all over Ukraine.

We also remember those Russians who don’t want their relatives and fellow citizens to die in a senseless and needless war.

We pray for Ukrainian President Zelenksy as he leads his people in this difficult and dangerous time.

Let us pray this prayer for peace from the Methodist Church in the United Kingdom:

Prayer for peace in Ukraine

Holy and Gracious God

We pray for the people of the Ukraine and the people of Russia; for their countries and their leaders.

We pray for all those who are afraid; that your everlasting arms hold them in this time of great fear.

We pray for all those who have the power over life and death; that they will choose for all people life, and life in all its fullness.

We pray for those who choose war; that they will remember that you direct your people to turn our swords into ploughshares and seek for peace.

We pray for leaders on the world stage; that they are inspired by the wisdom and courage of Christ.

Above all, Lord, today we pray for peace for Ukraine.

And we ask this in the name of your blessed Son.

Lord have mercy.

Amen

https://www.methodist.org.uk/our-faith/prayer/prayer-for-peace-in-ukraine/?fbclid=IwAR1d4fRADn_eGtjIxnuo3ceSwTLl0Rjo9ZwdQ33hg8SZQmhistih5ByLnG0

God with us

During the Advent season, that 40-day season of preparation for Christmas, we are reminded that God is our Emmanuel – God is with us. This is one of main things we celebrate every year – that God loves us so much that God came to be with us in the person of Jesus.

We also celebrate the fact that God is still with us. Jesus promises us at the end of Matthew’s Gospel that he will be with us always. The Holy Spirit is God’s ongoing, enduring presence with us.

But what does this mean in our day to day lives? How do we know that God is with us? How do we get a sense of God’s presence? These are questions that people have asked me, and these are questions that I have asked myself. Sometimes, it can be hard to be aware of how God is with us. Sometimes, we may struggle to see God’s presence.

This past week, I was doing some devotional reading, and I found something that I think helps us meditate on what it means that God is with us and how that can look in our everyday lives. I am quoting here from the 20th century Christian mystic, Howard Thurman. This is No. 24 “God is With Me” from his book Meditations of the Heart (Beacon Press, Boston, 1953. pg. 48).

God is with me, in the sense that He is the Creator and the Sustainer of life. This is a part of my general thought and experience. There is something so big and vast about God as Creator and Sustainer of all of life that it is hard for me to feel that I am included.

God is with me. All around me are certain expressions of orderliness, of beauty, of wonder and delight. The regularity of sunrise and sunset, the fragile loveliness of a wisp of cloud fringed with silver, the wonder of day dawning and the delight of companionship – all these are His handiwork.

God is with me. Again and again I am stirred by some experience of tenderness, some simple act of gratuitous kindness moving from one man to another, some quiet deed of courage, wisdom or sacrifice or some striking movement of unstudied joy that bursts forth in the contagion of merry laughter. I know God is with me.

God is with me. Always there is the persistent need for some deep inner assurance, some whisper in my heart, some stirring of the spirit within me – that renews, re-creates and steadies. Then whatever betides of light or shadow, I can look out on life with quiet eyes.

God is with me.”

I encourage us to meditate on these wise words as we seek to know God’s presence with us. I also encourage you to buy Thurman’s book! It has many more wonderful passages on Christian living and faithful discipleship.

New Year

This is a little late in coming, but Happy New Year!

The new year certainly has started off with a bang here in the Scottsville/Esmont area – two snowstorms within a couple of weeks! Now, I honestly love snow, and I enjoy seeing the beauty of the landscape covered with snow. But, I know that for many people in our area, the first snow was not a thing of beauty. I am grateful for the linemen and all of the crews who worked hard to clear the trees and restore power, and my prayers are with those still trying to recover from those many days without electricity.

I also am grateful that we have the ability to pre-record our worship services, so that even in bad weather, we can still worship together online. If you haven’t been able to participate in in-person worship the last few weeks, I encourage you to check out our YouTube channel – Southern Albemarle Charge (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-lZ2P33SFyNSWb12t40a-w).

As we begin this new year, we are making a push for small groups in our charge. Small groups are an excellent way to deepen our discipleship. They give us an opportunity to more deeply explore passages of the Bible and to ask questions and contemplate different interpretations of Scripture. They provide us with support as we walk as disciples of God. We are compiling results from a small group survey to figure out what groups would be best to offer and when. I hope everyone will find a way to engage in a small group.

Finally, I want to share a good devotional resource with you. For several years, I have received daily email devotions from the Henri Nouwen Society – https://henrinouwen.org/read-nouwen/free-daily-meditation/. These free devotions have greatly enriched my understanding of God and our life as disciples. Nouwen was an excellent thinker and theologian and was definitely filled with the Spirit of God.

If you use other daily devotions, let me know! I always enjoy checking out new material.

As we journey through this week, may the love of God fill us and strengthen us!

Prayers for School

Public schools started in August, but we are starting to hear reports of kids testing positive for Covid and close contacts having to quarantine. Our preschool here at Scottsville UMC is beginning this week. So, this is a good time for us to pause and say a prayer for the students and teachers and everyone working at our schools.

Let us prayer:

Holy Lord, thank you for this school year in Albemarle, in Fluvanna, in Buckingham, and at Scottsville UMC Preschool. Thank you for this time for the kids to grow and learn. Bless them in their learning. Bless them in their play. Through their work may they grow in wisdom and kindness. Thank you, too, for the teachers, the staff and administration, the custodial staff, nutrition services, bus drivers, and all who work to make school possible. Bless their work and strengthen them for their jobs. Ease any anxious hearts of parents. We pray, especially, for a safe and healthy school year. We pray for those who are sick with Covid, that they will be safely healed. We pray for those who are in quarantine. We pray for all who have to stay at home – for their health and that their learning will not be disrupted. Hear our prayers, O Lord. Amen.

Introduction Part III

Dear Friends in Christ,

Here are a few last things about myself using the story pages as inspiration:

My Favorite Christian Season: I love the Easter season! I also love Pentecost Sunday, because I don’t think we celebrate the Holy Spirit enough.

Most Memorable/Meaningful Thing: Baptizing my two daughters

One Surprising Blessing: How God has continually guided me to opportunities to grow in my faith and in my love of God, others, and myself.

Hobbies: Reading – I love to read! I also enjoy playing games with my family, and I am a fan of the Washington Nationals and Washington Capitals.

I look forward to getting to know each of you better. This month in ministry with you at Scottsville and Mount Zion has been wonderful. I am so excited about our future together and what God is calling us to do!

In Christ,

Laura

Introduction Part II

Dear Friends in Christ,

Here is hopefully some more interesting information about myself to help you get to know me better. 😊

My Favorite Potluck Dish: This is really hard to decide, and I am excited to taste your food. But one dish I enjoyed as a kid was scalloped potatoes, perhaps because potlucks would be the only time that I’d get to eat it!

My Fondest Church Memory: One of my fondest childhood memories in church is being the acolyte for Communion Sunday. At my home church, the acolyte helped the pastor serve Communion, and I always wanted to be assigned that Sunday. I have always loved Communion, and it was really special to me to be able to serve the church in that way.

Most Awkward Moment: I have had several. One that sticks out in my memory is when I wished everyone a “Merry Christmas” from the pulpit on Easter Sunday!

In Christ,

Pastor Laura

Our Journey Begins/Introduction Part I…

Dear Friends in Christ,

My family and I are so excited to be in Scottsville! Both Scottsville and Mount Zion UMCs have been extremely welcoming, and we are enjoying meeting everybody.

The town of Scottsville itself is really neat. The Fourth of July parade was so much fun, and then we ate our way through the Farmer’s Market. The kids have had fun playing on the playgrounds in Scottsville and Esmont and going to library. We know that we will love living here!

I thought that to kick things off on this blog, I’d share a little about myself.

My Church: My home church is Luray United Methodist Church in Luray, VA. I’ve also either attended or worked at several other churches – Williamsburg UMC, Pyatigorsk UMC, Bethesda UMC, Wesley UMC in Vienna, and Del Ray UMC. I then served Page UMC for 8 years as their pastor. I feel blessed I now get to add 2 more churches to this list!

My Favorite Hymn: I have too many favorites to choose from! A few that I love are It Is Well, O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing, Hymn of Promise, Pass It On, Stand By Me, As the Deer, and Trading My Sorrows.

My Favorite Scripture Verse: John 13:34-35 – I had this verse shown when I was ordained.

I will share more in future posts. For now, may the peace of Christ fill you and sustain you.

In Christ,

Pastor Laura