Just in Time for Lent


It’s common tradition to burn the previous year’s palm branches from Palm Sunday to use on Ash Wednesday. I would like to suggest instead that we use the ashes of what’s left of the United Methodist Church for our service next Wednesday.

Because frankly, not much is left. The Traditionalist Plan which passed General Conference on Tuesday effectively dismantled the denomination for those who believe that LGBTQ persons are worthy of weddings and ordination.

However, I can’t think of a better church season to enter at this point than Lent. After the shock and disappointment of General Conference, we enter into forty days of fasting and prayer.

Like the ancient children of Israel, we walk into the wilderness, not sure exactly where we’re headed, but following a rogue cloud in the daylight and a fiery pillar at night.

Like Jesus, we enter the desert, where we encounter Satan, who is eager to sell us a false dream.

Like Paul, we are thrown into prison, where we can do nothing but sing and pray, while the earth shakes beneath us.

And so, in the words of our Methodist liturgy, let me beckon you to the church next Wednesday at 6:30 pm for a service of ashes:

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church,

to observe a holy Lent:

by self-examination and repentance;

by prayer, fasting, and self-denial;

and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.

To make a right beginning of repentance,

and as a mark of our mortal nature,

let us now kneel before our Creator and Redeemer.

For Such a Time as This

There is no better time than now to be a member of a church, to be part of a faith community.


Because the times in which we live … frankly, they suck.  We live in a time of perpetual crisis — hurricanes, fire, threat of war, mass migration, and political instability. We careen between chaos and insecurity. We are finding it harder and harder to feel optimistic about the future.

I believe that the Church exists for such times as these. The People of God are uniquely equipped to endure, persist, and remain filled with hope, even in times of distress.

This Sunday, we celebrate Back to School/Church Sunday, and I hope you will indeed come back to church, if you have been missing lately. I think you know that being with other people of faith makes you stronger and wiser. If these days and months have been troubling to your soul, then come back to church and follow the way of Jesus with us.

The people of Kessler Park UMC are not escapists; we don’t retreat into our sanctuary in order to hide from the world’s realities. No, we gather to be reminded of the reality of the Kingdom of God, which surrounds us. We come to be reoriented to the truth that God is at work in our world, despite all appearances. And we are challenged to join God in this work — a work that increasingly demands our active participation.

Our schedule of programming this fall is also meant to encourage involvement — not just in the church, but in our world. Here’s what it looks like:

Sunday schedule
9:30 am   Chancel Choir rehearsal
9:45 am   Sunday School for all ages: Beginning this fall, children in the nursery will also be following Sunday School curriculum. Plus we are launching a brand-new adult Sunday School class, led by John Ogren.
11:00 am   Worship
4:00 pm   Methodist Youth Fellowship, Youth Room
4:00 pm   Worship at The Meridian: Weekly half-hour worship with Holy Communion at The Meridian at Kessler Park, 2522 Fort Worth Ave. If you are interested in being a volunteer, contact the church office.
5:00 pm   Pastor’s Bible Study, Conference Room: A freewheeling, loosely-organized conversation about the Scripture text which Wes will be preaching about the following Sunday. Bring your own Bible and lots of questions!
6:00 pm   Fellowship in the Chapel
6:30 pm   Real Life Faith with Rev. Magruder, Chapel: This class will investigate the intersection of faith and community, and take a hard look at the issues which confront us in the light of Scripture, faith tradition, reason, and experience. Topics will change each month: September — Islam; October — Immigration; November — Race and Religion; December — Israel and Palestine.

Wednesday schedule
5:00 pm   Children’s Choir rehearsal
5:45 pm   Dinner served, Fellowship Hall: If you or your group would like to prepare dinner as a fundraiser, please contact the church office.
6:30 pm   Kids of Character
                 Youth Time, Youth Room
                 Lay Christian Pastoral Care Giving, Fellowship Hall: New class led by Mike Smith and Ken Kelley on pastoral caregiving for the layperson, defined as “the mutual concern of Christians for each other and for those persons in the world for whom God loves.”
                 Social Justice Team, Chapel: New class led by Susan Baxley and Rev. Wes Magruder, which will lead to the formation of a Social Justice team at the church. Learn the difference between mercy and advocacy as we address injustice and inequality.
                  Kessler Ringers rehearsal, Sanctuary

Graduating Words

As I look forward to Matt Bell’s graduation from Perkins School of Theology this weekend and Mallory's high school graduation next week, I am reminded of my own graduation ceremonies, and have begun to wonder about the efficacy of those commencement speakers, some of whom manage to stir up a great bit of controversy.

Just this week, Senator John Cornyn was dis-invited from speaking at the Texas Southern University graduation because of the fear of protests. That was a likely possibility given the reaction that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos received when she addressed the graduates of Bethune-Cookman University. A large number of students booed and turned their backs as she spoke.

My own commencement ceremony at SMU was memorable for a controversial, but apolitical reason, too. Perkins grads have to attend two different commencements. The first one is the proper SMU ceremony, which takes place in Moody Coliseum at 9 am in the morning. The second one recognizes only seminary grads, and takes place in the sanctuary at Highland Park United Methodist Church at 2 pm.

The event at Moody Coliseum was an utter disaster. The celebrated graduation speaker, whose name I have forgotten, spoke so long that the restless grads finally broke into spontaneous applause to force him off the stage! Unfortunately, I don’t remember a thing he said, except that I wished he was finished saying it.

My high school commencement speaker was Dallas Cowboys assistant coach Gene Stallings, which I remember being sort of exciting at the time. Again, I don’t remember a thing he said; it does not strike me as being particularly motivating or inspiring. Incidentally, Coach Stallings was about to embark on his own “graduation” of sorts. The year after he spoke to my Allen High School class of 1985, he took over his first and only head coaching job with the St. Louis Cardinals. In four seasons, he never managed a winning season. So much for inspiring pep talks!

I have never been asked to be a commencement speaker myself, but I have preached one baccalaureate sermon. In my first year as the pastor of Valley View United Methodist Church, I was invited by the pastor of the local Baptist Church to preach, since a good number of the graduating seniors were members of my church.

I actually do remember that sermon quite well. I used the story of Jacob wrestling the angel, and told the students that they would likely encounter a great deal of “wrestling” with God in college, but to keep hanging on, like Jacob did.

I also have a vivid memory of the Baptist preacher showing some discomfort. He must not have been happy with the end of the sermon, because he came up afterward and added an extended — and impromptu — altar call! I guess he wanted to make sure the Methodist kids were all saved before they went off to college and wrestled with God …

I’ve sat through enough commencements now to realize that they’re a lot like weddings — nobody cares about what is said during the ceremony; the only thing that matters is the status of the participants at the end of the ceremony.

But of course, I have my own graduating high school senior this year. And so I have been pondering what I might say if I were asked to address her group of peers, or any other group about to “commence” a new phase of life.

It might go something like this:

“May God give you the grace never to sell yourself short;
grace to risk something big for something good;
grace to remember that the world is now too dangerous for anything but truth
and too small for anything but love.
So may God take your mind and think through it;
may God take your voice and sing through it;
and may God take your heart and set it on fire!”