Trent@Montreat: A Week of Renewal

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Union Presbyterian Seminary 2014 graduates– Jay Atkinson, Mandy Hill Newman, and Allysen Schaaf

One of the greatest gifts that an individual can take away when they leave seminary is a cohort of great friends and colleagues. Searching for a call and then figuring out how to make everything you learned (and didn’t!) over the last several years make sense can be stressful, scary, and disheartening when approached alone. I am grateful for my friends and colleagues, and am continually inspired by the stories that my mentors share about their own cohorts that have lasted ten, twenty, thirty and even sixty years post-seminary.

One of the greatest gifts that an individual can take away when they leave seminary is a cohort of great friends and colleagues. Searching for a call and then figuring out how to make everything you learned (and didn’t!) over the last several years make sense can be stressful, scary, and disheartening when approached alone. I am grateful for my friends and colleagues, and am continually inspired by the stories that my mentors share about their own cohorts that have lasted ten, twenty, thirty and even sixty years post-seminary.

The draw-back of these groups is that as young and inexperienced pastors, we rarely have the answer and look to more experienced, and more likely to have an answer, pastors. This spring, Union Presbyterian Seminary and Second Presbyterian Church (Roanoke, VA) in conjunction with NEXT Church and Macedonian Ministries, hosted the first ever “Trent@Montreat” event to help foster these relationships between younger and the more experienced pastors.

“The Kittye Susan Trent Symposium assists newly ordained pastors who show promise for one day leading larger congregations. The symposium assists the pastors in continuing to bridge the gap between seminary and congregation, exploring ways to put important theory into effective practice.”
-Second Presbyterian Church-

When registering for the event, participants were given the opportunity to chose one of several “tracks” which they would participate in for the duration of the gathering. Options included discussions surrounding pastoral care, preaching, mission, church conflict, staffing, and Christian Education among others. Each group was led by an experienced congregational leader who has experience and a passion for the topic. While groups met twice daily for roughly two hours each time, leaders also took time during “mini-notes” or preaching during worship to expound on their topic for all participants who may or may not be part of the smaller group. Time was also set aside purely for fellowship and even sharing funny, sometimes unbelievable stories of what participants have encountered in their first few years of ministry.

I have participated in a few gatherings over the last few years, designed to reach out to new ministers in hopes of addressing the retention rate that shows only 1 of 5 pastors staying in ministry beyond five years. Discussions and readings have been assigned, papers have been written, and I have watched young pastors tire out. I myself have left confused and anxious, wondering where I belonged in this mess– especially as a “validated” minister who does not serve any single congregation. I have been looked at as if I did not know “what it is really like” and left behind when day long discussions focused on the struggles of session meetings, something that I have not yet encountered and really do have nothing to add. This is not to say that these programs are bad, but they have not yet met my own needs as a young pastor.

I registered for Trent in hopes that I might find even just a portion of the week useful, figuring that would match everything else I have experienced. I signed up for “Leadership in Times of Conflict” led by Rev. Ernie Thompson, a pastor who has weathered the storm and is excited to help young pastors explore conflict before they find themselves caught in the thunder and rain. My hope was that this discussion would by guided by things I have seen in churches where I have visited, and be better prepared when I am called to a church at a later point. Our small group of four was made up of myself, a church administrator (with a seminary degree), a not-yet ordained youth pastor, and a solo pastor. After our introductions, I already knew that this was going to be a different experience and one where I felt like I belonged. Our open discussion about what we have seen, and what Ernie has seen, left me feeling more prepared and confident when it comes to addressing any future conflict in churches, but also conflict in my own personal life. What I had to say was welcomed and my experience (or lack-thereof) added to the discussion rather than taking away or blocking me out.

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Union Presbyterian Seminary alumni gather on Lookout Mountain following an afternoon hike during Trent@Montreat– (L to R) Jordan Davis (M. Div. 2014), Christopher Tweel (M. Div. 2014), Dan Commerford (M. Div. 2011), Jim Lunde (M. Div. 2011)

The opportunities provided for fellowship, and those that we created on our own, gave me an opportunity to sit back and relax with other young adults with a similar background but very different experience. We laughed until we cried, climbed mountains and relaxed, and even had the opportunity to spend informal time with conference leaders and hear more about their own ministry and the good, bad, and crazy things they have encountered.

Statistics say that new pastors rarely become one of these experienced pastors. Statistics show that the decline of membership in all denominations is not only stressing congregational leaders out, but it also leaves most seminary graduates in a position where they (we) have to find and/or create a ministry opportunity that is rarely addressed in conferences for “young pastors”. These conferences can regularly leave non-traditional leaders in a lonely and confusing place and feeling as if they (we) don’t “fit in” with ordained pastors serving congregations. “Trent@Montreat” offers a place for all congregational leaders who are seeking to both hear and share stories of ministry in different contexts while addressing a topic that each individual chooses to discuss, based on their own needs in ministry. Space is created so that every participant might feel like they belong and their call matters and makes a difference in the Church.

This was only the first time that this form of “The Trent Symposium” has taken place, but I heard comments throughout the week that we all hope this happens again… and soon. The friends we have made and the groups we have formed may or may not last for the decades modeled by our leaders, but they nourished and renewed us in that time and space in a way that will hopefully last for several weeks and months to come.

20160420_200936Union Presbyterian Seminary alumni gathered from all over the country
to both lead and attend Trent@Montreat!


Learn more about “The Trent Symposium” and “Trent@Montreat” as well as the sponsors of this inaugural event:
Montreat Conference Center
Union Presbyterian Seminary’s Leadership Institute
Second Presbyterian Church, Roanoke
NEXT Church
Macedonian Ministries

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

Renewing and Reshaping Through Evangelism

Roughly 125 years ago, 42 individuals in Eastern North Carolina had a vision for the rural town of Rocky Mount, that this town and its people were “specially constituted for missionary purposes.” Over the course of the following years, eight Presbyterian Congregations came into existence. Today, the five remaining congregations are located in the heart of downtown (First Presbyterian) and nestled in the neighborhoods throughout the city (West Haven, Bethlehem, Mt. Pisgah, and Morton Memorial Presbyterian Churches).

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Rev. Dr. John Vest encourages members of New Hope Presbytery and Rocky Mount, NC area congregations to think more critically about God and their personal beliefs.

At their origination , each of these congregation was strategically placed so that people throughout the town would be able to travel to and find community with one of the eight congregations. In a world where commuting is now less of a concern, the five congregations in Rocky Mount are seeking to both renew and reclaim their role in the community in new and relevant ways. Rev. Dan Davis regularly encourages the congregation at Bethlehem Presbyterian Church to think critically about the way in which they welcome visitors into the fold. Rev. Mary Harris Todd (M.Div., 1988), pastor at Morton Memorial Presbyterian Church, has developed and leads a weekly music class for young children in the community. Members of West Haven Presbyterian Church regularly combine worship and other activities with the Disciples of Christ Church just down the road. Rev. Raymond Privott of Mt. Pisgah Presbyterian Church is active in the local community and government, keeping the needs of the community well within his focus.

Over the last several months I have had the privilege of worshiping and fellowshipping with these congregations. Their stories are both heartbreaking and uplifting, each one inspiring when so many say that there is no hope. Our discussions have been the start of what we all pray will be a great movement of God’s love throughout the community. Each congregation, at the urging of Rev. Mary Harris Todd, has begun to explore their story in the light of Evangelism– what have they done and where they feel called to go. A few weeks ago, four of the pastors sat down to discuss this–

Union recently gathered with individuals from all over the Rocky Mount, NC and New Hope Presbytery area to share part of our story and hear their own stories. This video was shared and those gathered were invited to discuss their thoughts on evangelism with those at their table before Dr. John Vest shared some of his own thoughts. These moments of laughter and storytelling among friends and colleagues offered a new way for many to see “the E word” (as Dr. Vest jokingly refers to evangelism) as well as see how easy sharing our own thoughts and beliefs can be.

Union Presbyterian Seminary is striving to be “For The Church in The World” and our relationship with these congregations, as well as each of yours, is one way we are doing this. The addition of Evangelism in our curriculum for students, in our continuing education opportunities for congregational leaders and lay people alike, and in our culture is empowering each individual to seek to live out our call to ministry in a new way.

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We do not yet know where we will go or what will occur as we explore Evangelism throughout the community of Rocky Mount and these congregations, but we do know that God will be working through each person involved and God’s love will be shared and felt. We pray that this relationship will empower and inspire each congregation as well as those of us at Union Presbyterian Seminary so that we can continue to build other similar relationships in the future.


Union Presbyterian Seminary would like to thank those who served on the planning committee for our dinner at Rose Hill in Nashville, NC– Mayo Boddie, Wicky Thorpe, Ed Roberson, Richard Anderson, and Rev. Peter Bynum.

If you are interested in learning more about what we are doing with evangelism at Union Presbyterian Seminary, please visit http://www.upsem.edu/evangelism and register for our upcoming continuing education opportunity, “Start with Good News”.

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If you feel called to support the Evangelism program at Union Presbyterian Seminary, please visit http://www.upsem.edu/giving/ and note in your “Donor Designated” gift  that your gift is for “Evangelism”. We thank you in advance for your support!

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

“Who am I that I could hinder God?”

Nicole Childress Ball, Church Relations Officer

This week’s lectionary reading invites us to consider how our stories of God’s work in our lives have an incredible impact on another. In Acts 11:1-18 we read about God’s Spirit moving through the lives of Cornelius, Simon called Peter, and Gentiles in the land of Caesarea. When Peter is asked about his involvement with the “uncircumcised” in Caesarea, he answers with a profound question back to those apostles and believers from the in-crowd:

“And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit’. If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” –Acts 11:16-17 (NRSV).

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Campbell Memorial Presbtyerian Church, Vinton Va.

                I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Campbell Memorial Presbyterian Church in Vinton, Virginia this past Sunday. We fellowshipped together, worshiped together and ate together. It was a beautiful day of mutual sharing of the good works of our respective institutions.

I was particularly moved by the witness of this congregation in the life of the small town of Vinton. Having discerned a call to serve those often neglected in our modern society, they have begun a feeding program for local Veterans with distribution help from a local community center. John’s Pantry offers non-perishable staples in paper grocery bags to Veterans who present to the community center in need, regardless of their branch of military or years in service. Financial contributions are given from the very pockets and check-books of the members of Campbell Memorial and volunteers divide duties between clipping coupons, shopping, organizing and packing paper bags full of goods. Here is a short excerpt from their organizer, member Lynne Kilburn, on the church’s social media page:

“My church, Campbell Memorial Presbyterian, located on Hardy Road in Vinton, is starting our first ever Food Pantry. Our Food Pantry is for Veterans only. Such a great way for us to give back to so many that have given so much to each of us and for this country. Starting out, we will be providing food items only, but hope to expand to other items, such as toothpaste, tooth brushes, deodorant, etc. If you know of a Veteran in need, or would like to donate to our Pantry, please message me. These days with so much controversy regarding different organizations and what they receive versus what they spend on their cause, why not donate to a cause that I can promise you goes 100% to our Veterans! Campbell’s is so much more than soup – in this case it’s Campbell Memorial sharing the love! Thank you to all of our Veterans and God bless each of you!

Who was I that I would hinder God? Peter proclaims. Who are we to hinder the power of our stories of God’s love in the lives of others? I believe we are called to share our stories, our experiences, our truth, about God’s amazing love and mercies. This is the Good News! That God is alive and working even where we might least expect it.

I am grateful for the stories shared during worship at Campbell Memorial Presbyterian Church. Stories of God’s goodness and blessing on this small gathering of believers in the town of Vinton. Stories of transformation because several gathered together around a dream to change the community around them. Stories of care towards the hungry and outcast. Stories which inspire me to share God’s love through my own stories.

What stories do you have to share?

Unbinding our Generosity: A Reflection on Stewardship, pt 2

41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
John 11: 41-44

How often do you think of stewardship when you think of Lazarus? I honestly didn’t make the connection until this week but in the light of “Stewardship: Preaching and Teaching Generosity“, I am beginning to see the connection.

As I mentioned in the first reflection on this continuing education opportunity, we started this week thinking about the congregational leader serving as the main building block for generosity through their presence, conversation, and initiative– the congregational leader serves as a model of generosity for all those observing them. In this particular text, Jesus’ prayer does just that! He prays, not for his sake, but for the sake of the crowd– so that they might know and believe. Jesus was generous in the prayer and generous in the modeling of belief.

unboundReflecting on this second part of the course during which we have taken time to explore this text and so many others, looking at and seeking to understand every side of the conversation, my thoughts have landed on the final words– “Unbind him, and let him go.” Our group explored this phrase, wondering what the importance is of having “them” (either Mary and Martha, or the people who had gathered) do the unbinding rather than Jesus doing it himself. One idea that came up, and that sat with me the most, is that this physical action aided in their learning. By unbinding Lazarus, freeing his limbs so that he might move freely, and by being unbound likely by loved ones and friends and given that freedom all of those gathered experienced the result of freeing, unbinding generosity.

The morning following this discussion the question was asked “What binds your generosity?” What is preventing us from feeling as if we can give freely, move in ministry freely? What has skewed our perception of what really is?

Early in this course, the statement was made, “When we know how much is enough, there will always be enough.” As a young adult trying to “make space” for life to happen, this sunk in deeply and of course looked heavily on the financial end of things. I sat down and made a list of the expenses that my husband and I can expect each month and learned what “enough” is for us. I learned that we can’t afford to truly tithe at 10% yet, but we can give. That amount might (will hopefully) increase next year, and the next, and so on but for now what we can do is enough. We have been intentional about how much and to whom we give regularly, and we know that we can do a little more if a need arises. By sitting down and looking at what we need, and what we have, I feel unbound in a way. I feel like I can give more freely of my finances.

Finances are not the only thing binding us though! Generosity is not always about writing a check. I think it can be very easy to figure out what binds us financially and how much is “enough” to do what we need to do when it comes to paying our monthly bills. When it comes to working with our congregations, they might only need a simple reminder about figuring out the financial binds and what is enough. What we, and our congregations, might struggle with more is discerning what binds us in our lives– what stands in the way of us tapping into our financial resources.

Turning to the responses I received from friends throughout the week to my question of “What encourages you and deters you from giving to an organization through your finances, time and energy?” Several people mentioned that they are deterred when they do not know where their gift will go, or when gifts are misused (too much going to the processing rather than the purpose, over-paid/ under-paid staff, etc). We can find ourselves and our generosity bound by our perceptions of what is occurring at the other end of our gift, and by our expectations of how those gifts could and should be used.

As we begin to think about how we can help ourselves and our parishioners becomes unbound, our intentionality, openness, and honesty can be a great asset. I think that one of our greatest faults as congregational leaders is that we feel that we cannot, or should not, speak openly about generosity. It seems that we think that we might be intruding if we speak about money or about the importance of volunteering of time and energy. However, if we speak openly about what God is doing with these gifts of finances, time, and energy and share stories of how we have experienced God in the life and ministry of our churches and organizations, we might loosen those concerns that bind. When we are honest about our struggles, our binders, but share that through those struggles we still share what we can, we might loosen those binders.

So many times, checks are written and time is given because we might feel guilty or even think “if we say yes, they will leave us alone.” As Rev. Laura Mendenhall said in our discussion, “You can raise money off of guilt, but guilt doesn’t produce generosity.” When we care for our parishioners in such a way that we sit and hear their stories and begin to learn what binds them, we can help to untie those binds. We can help to remove the guilt aspect and nurture the generosity that lies within because of God’s own generosity. When we allow others to hear our own stories and hear what binds us, whether in conversation or from the pulpit, we not only encourage them but we also can become unbound through their assistance.

DSCN3637Generosity is about give and take. Generosity is about sharing stories and learning from others. Generosity is not only about writing a check every Sunday, but about building relationships. When open, honest relationships are present we become unbound and are able to live and give more freely of all of our resources. Enough truly is enough, no matter how much or how little that might be.

What is binding your generosity today?
What binds those whom you are called to love and care for?
How are you, and your congregation, untying the binders for one another?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer


For more information about this continuing education opportunity, as well as many others offered through the Union Presbyterian Seminary Leadership Institute, please check us out online!

Photos included in this reflection are from Union’s 2012 Ghana Travel Seminar where I experienced this unbinding generosity of multiple lives, as well as my own, in a new way.

The Grounding of Generosity: A Reflection on Stewardship, Pt 1

16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

1 John 3: 16-17

Union Presbyterian Seminary, Service Day Photo credit: David K. Swager
Union Presbyterian Seminary, Service Day
Photo credit: David K. Swager

Stewardship. Giving. Campaigns. Budgets. Fiscal years. Volunteer organization. Time and Talents.

These words, and many others, tend to make congregational leaders– institutional leaders in general– cringe.   These are the words that make me cringe when individuals ask my advice or opinion, words that make me want to remind them of my age and lack of experience in ministry (who EVER wants to do that!?) Thankfully when the topic of stewardship came up not once, but twice, this past weekend, I was able to tell the congregations to “stay tuned” because I would be taking part in a Continuing Education event about stewardship this week. With that in mind, I offer this two part reflection as a follow-up to Nicole’s post last week.

Union Presbyterian Seminary’s Leadership Institute is beginning to wrap up the academic year, but the final offerings are just as important as those that occurred last September (check out the remaining events here!) This week I have been able to take part in a course entitled “Stewardship: Preaching and Teaching Generosity” led by Revs. Laura and Chuck Mendenhall (MA, 1971 and M. Div., 1973 respectively). The first portion of this course has focused on the Pastor of a congregation as one of the main building blocks for generosity in the Church in the areas of pastoral presence, pastoral conversation, and pastoral initiative. The first portion of the course encouraged those in attendance to reflect on their own ministry to see where they have seen generosity present and how we can encourage generosity in the future. Further, it asked the question “in an era when there isn’t enough, how do we practice, nurture, teach, and preach generosity?”

The first thing that I want say here is what I did tell the members at Cann Memorial Presbyterian Church (Elizabeth City, NC) during our lunch time conversation this past Sunday– stewardship (generosity in the frame of this course) is not only about finances, but includes our time and talents– our life and energy– as well. This reflection is written and shared in that light.

As we began to think about generosity during our ConEd course this week, we took time to think about the most, least, and average givers whom we have met along the way, discussing why each level of giving might occur. As I thought about my own giving to the Church and other organizations, I decided to reach out to some friends to hear what they had to say– friends who are not in ministry. I asked what encouraged them or deterred them from giving (to the Church or any other institution). In light of reading Diana Butler Bass’s “Grounded” (check out my recent post here), I honestly wasn’t that surprised to find out that most people give when it is to something they can connect with, something that has a clear and established purposed beyond a “general fund”.

As human beings, as relational individuals, we seek to connect. We tend to seek to know God in one another’s presence, in nature, and in the world around us (locally and worldwide). We are encouraged to give when those connections are already taking place in our own life and when we see an opportunity for them to take place in the world and lives around us because of our gift. When we see the Holy Spirit moving through our gift of energy and finances, we are able to experience God’s gift to us in a new and incredible way.

As congregational leaders (pastors, elders, deacons, teachers, etc), we are called to develop relationships with one another and with the members of the congregation, and to help one another see other relationships that have developed within the congregation, the community, and the world – not through our own actions but through God’s love and grace, God’s ultimate generosity. We are expected to share how we see God’s generosity in our own lives, as well as how we return that generosity even through something as simple as making sure that we ourselves put our name on the volunteer sign-up sheet or a check in the offering plate and also making it be known WHY we do this. As congregational leaders, we are looked to and expected to be the building blocks, the models, of returning God’s generosity to the Church.

The Scripture verses above kept coming to mind throughout our discussions this week. Our generosity, giving of our life’s energy and our finances, is one of the many ways that God’s love can be and is shared with our neighbors- our sisters and brothers in Christ. Our generosity in the we build relationships, the way we preach and teach, and most importantly– our generosity in the way we live our daily lives– is what good stewardship is built on. When we seek to share God’s love and grace in each of our gifts of our life and finances, we just might change the perception of those awful words– campaign, fundraising, giving, budgets– and our Church will transform and grow in ways we might never expect.

How do you preach and teach generosity in your own ministry setting?
Please share your stories so that we all might learn from you!

 

Stay tuned for “A Reflection on Stewardship, Pt 2”, coming later this week!

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

To Be Good Stewards: A Resource for the Church

Nicole Childress Ball, Church Relations Officer

Stewardship, at its root, is understood as an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources. As people of faith, we might understand stewardship as a mutual relationship: between ourselves and God and between one another in community. With our gifts of time, talents, and resources of all types, we profess what it is that God has done and we trust what God will continue to do in our lives and in the life of the Church.

As Church Relations Officers, we strive to embody stewardship through our building of relationship with congregations on behalf of Union Presbyterian Seminary. We profess that God is working in amazing ways through Union Presbyterian Seminary; therefore, we work hard to bring you good tidings of great joy about the ways in which we see God at work!

Similarly, we believe God is continuing to work out in the community. Therefore, our role in visiting is multi-purposed: we strive to be good listeners to hear from churches as well as strive to be good stewards of the resources at the Seminary.

image1One resource we are proud to produce, annually, is the Sprunt Lecture series held each spring. The Sprunt Lectures began in 1911 through a generous gift by James Sprunt of Wilmington, NC, to bring speakers of outstanding quality to the seminary to discuss aspects of Christian thought and work.

These lecture are offered without charge and are open to all who seek to dive into theological matters which pertain to our current landscape as Christians!

This year, the Sprunt Lectures will be held May 9-11, 2016. We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Baylor University, as well as the Helen H.P. Manson Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis Emerita at Princeton Theological Seminary. She will lecture on “Why We Need Paul’s Letter to the Romans…NOW”.

“The letters of the Apostle Paul, first written and read over two millennia ago, sometimes strike contemporary readers as hopelessly remote and abstract,” said Gaventa. “But these lectures will focus on their urgency for the real human beings of the 21st century as well as of the first century.”

Moreover, we welcome alum Rev. Gary W. Charles (D.Min.’80) as our Sprunt Preacher. Rev. Charles has served in pastorates in North Carolina and Virginia. He is currently pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Ga. In keeping with Dr. Gaventa’s focus on the apostle Paul’s writing, worship and preaching from Rev. Charles will center on Paul’s letter to the Romans.

It is our hope that you would consider sending a group or individuals from your congregation to worship and study alongside leaders and lay-folk alike over this three-day event held on the campus of Union Presbyterian Seminary and Ginter Park Presbyterian Church.

Registration for the event can be found here. Optional continental breakfasts will be offered Tuesday and Wednesday for cost.

All reservations and payments must be received by April 22nd, 2016! Register today!

“Living Out Of The Tomb”

Nicole Childress Ball, Church Relations Officer

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I had the distinct pleasure of resting in a comfortable pew at First Presbyterian Church, Richmond to hear our Seminary President, Dr. Brian K. Blount, preach an inspiring Easter sermon! I encourage you to take a listen here if you have not already done so. It was a beautiful service filled with the Spirit!

While I enjoyed a Sunday of sabbath from work, my colleague in Church Relations, Rev. Jordan Davis, was invited to preach her first Easter Sunday at a combined service for Hebron Presbyterian Church and Oak Hill Presbyterian Church, both located in Oxford, North Carolina. Rev. Davis has preached before this joint congregation earlier in the Lenten season and she was thrilled to return and return as their Easter preacher. I share her message of hope with you today!

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Rev. Jordan B. Davis, photo credit to Salem Presbytery

Living Out of the Tomb” -Luke 24: 1-12
Easter Sunday, Hebron and Oak Hill Presbyterian Churches

This has been a long forty days. I feel honored by the fact that I can mark both the beginning and the end of them with you. At the start of Lent I prayed that each of us would be able to name our temptations and begin changing our relationship with them. I prayed that as we each travelled through our own wilderness during this Lenten season, we could lean on God and know that we are never, and were never, alone in the journey.

Now, at the close of this journey, I pray that each one of you felt the presence of God in your day to day life and in the moments when you might have felt that you were in the middle of the wilderness or being tempted by something that moved your focus away from God.

The incredible thing about this journey that we have been on, the thing that might have been hard to understand or remember at the start of the journey or during, is that we were all in this together. Each one of you remained in my thoughts and prayers as I remembered my time with you in February and looked forward to being with you again today. Each one of us, whether we always knew or recognized it or not, always had someone by our side– we were always accompanied by the thoughts and prayers of others sitting with us today and those who are not, but most importantly God was with us.

THAT is what we celebrate today! GOD IS WITH US! Christ has risen and remains with us!

This morning, after a long forty days that only seemed to get longer and longer during this past week, we have left the wilderness where we felt lost and alone at times, we have left the upper room where we were renewed with the life-giving gift of Christ that we could not yet fully understand, we have come down the hill with the shadow of the cross lingering behind, and we have arrived at the EMPTY tomb where Christ once laid.

THIS is what it all led up to. THIS is what prophets spoke of and Christ kept trying to explain to the Disciples and all those that gathered near. THIS is what we celebrate!

The wilderness did not overcome Christ. Satan was not able to tempt Christ. The nay-sayers and the politicians could not stop Christ. The doubt of the Disciples did not slow Christ. The flogging, the thorns, the nails, and the cross– the sins of all of the world past, present, and future– might have seemed to take the life out of Christ, but this morning we arrive at the tomb and find that not even the sin of the world or death can bury Christ. It is Easter morning and the tomb is empty! It is Easter morning and Christ lives– we have been forgiven!

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He isn’t here, but has been raised. Remember what he told you while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” (v5b-7)

The tomb is empty and the story is just beginning as the women run and tell what they saw to the apostles. A new journey begins. The story has just been told for the first time. The women- Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and others- are the first to live out of the tomb. They remembered what was said all along, and though they were initially frightened, they believed and shared the good news!

That is what it means to live out of the tomb. Having been on this journey together- resisting temptations that pull our focus from God, wandering through our wilderness, sitting on the hillside listening to Jesus teaching (even if we don’t understand right away), eating at the table and praying in the garden, grieving on the hillside in the shadow of the cross, and finding the empty tomb- having done all of this together and leaving together to share the story, THAT is living out of the tomb!

That is what the women did, that is what the disciples will eventually do. That is what WE are called to do. We are called to share the story of the journey and not just the good news, but the GREAT news, of the empty tomb!

So how will we live out of the tomb?

How will you share your story? How will you tell others what you have seen?

Shout it from the hill top where the cross stood, shout it from the mountain top where Moses received the commandments from God. Shout it from this sanctuary and shout it from the middle of the lake. Let the world know that through every step of this journey you were never alone. Let the world know that not just in your celebrations, but in every single struggle, God was WITH you. Let your neighbor know, let the cashier at the grocery store know that at some point along the way God was with you through them. Celebrate that God has been with them, through you!

The tomb is empty and Christ is raised. God’s Word remains– it could not be buried.

No matter what happens, no matter where we go, no matter who we are with– God’s Word remains with us. Christ remains with us.

Just as the women ran from the tomb to share what they had seen, we are called to run and share what WE have seen.

So, on this Easter morning as we stand at the tomb digesting the events of the past 40 days, what have you seen? How have you experienced God? Who has reminded you that God has been and will be with you? Where do you see that God’s Word is still living and active in your life and around the world?

I wish I could promise that now that we have found the empty tomb, everything will be fine. I wish I could say that the wilderness is only in the past and only the light of Christ is ahead. I can’t do that though. But I can remind, with every ounce my being, that no matter what we encounter now we can KNOW and BELIEVE that we are not alone. We can SEE and FEEL that God remains with us.

So go– leave the empty tomb, running as fast as you can and share with the world what you have seen! Share what you have experienced, thought, and felt. Share that despite the efforts of so many, the tomb is empty and CHRIST IS RISEN!