Home » Archives for Merianna Harrelson

Author: Merianna Harrelson

I am the Interim Pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship and Director of Ministrieslab providing tools and resources to churches, clergy, and lay people to meet need. I am always looking for a good cup of coffee and a great book to read.

A New Hope

Yesterday, New Hope Christian Fellowship called me to be their pastor and I said a wholehearted YES!

A New Hope…started a journey and ongoing battle between the dark side and the Jedi. A journey that has continued onto this generation in the form of new characters, missing story pieces, and a bond of love for Star Wars between parents and children. Perhaps new hope does just this, unites us, challenges us, and invites us to participate in a greater story.

Anew hope…If there has ever been a time that our world and our church needs anew hope, doesn’t it seem like now? As a millennial, I have certainly found myself in periods of church hopping and church knocking and church blocking. All of these stages and phases indications of my desire to find a place to serve where my experiences match the need surrounding a community, but I know so many other people who are looking for communities of faith to belong to. People to gather to worship with. People to gather around the table and eat with. People to call when life is so overwhelming that you know you can’t do it on your own.

People looking for a new hope. Thanks be to God for the community of faith called New Hope Christian Fellowship who are dedicated to learning, growing, and ministering to the community together. What a joy it is to be called Pastor by you!

 

“Do not resist an evildoer.”

This week’s gospel’s lesson is not an easy one:

5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’

5:39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also;

5:40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well;

5:41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.

5:42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

This is as an important lesson to us as modern day disciples as it was to Jesus’ disciples. Jesus was trying to prepare his disciples for the resistance they would certainly meet as they followed him. Bringing the kingdom of God here on earth was not going to be met without tension and conflict.

And as I read these words in preparation for our weekly chapel service at Transitions with ministrieslab, I knew I had no words, no divine inspiration to offer to a people group who had experienced so much systemic discrimination.

And so I didn’t.

I read God’s word, the word of Jesus to his disciples aloud, begging the Holy Spirit to let these words and truths find a home within my soul and mind and then I listened. I listened to story after story from this makeshift, ever-changing congregation who shared of the times they had encountered people at gun point and had not attacked or responded in kind. I listened to stories of domestic abuse and wondered with the person whether it was wrong to leave that relationship when the gospel says to turn the other cheek. I listened to stories of loved ones stuck in cycles of abuse and heard the hope for their future in the words of their significant others. I heard stories of regret and resurrection lives changed because they finally learned to turn the other cheek and love the very people they didn’t want to talk to, eat with, or be associated with.

I heard God’s voice again and again in the voices of God’s people. God’s people in a group room crowded with too many chairs in a homeless shelter on a rainy Wednesday morning singing “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine,” and I knew this is what we must do.

We must not resist evildoers, but love them, really and truly love them, not merely tolerate them.

We must give generously to anyone who begs from us without judging them for how they might use what we give.

We must turn the other cheek, again and again, as Jesus did, even unto death.

This is the word of the Lord to his disciples.

Clergy, beware of eisegesis!

Clergy, beware of eisegesis,

disguising as prophetic preaching,

reaffirming your long held beliefs,

tempting as the apple from the tree,

reassuring you, you are right.

 

 

Clergy, beware of eisegesis,

propaganda for the American people,

endorsement for political parties,

violation of the Johnson Amendment.

 

Clergy, beware of eisegesis,

the people of God in desperate need,

of hope and healing and change,

left with nothing,

but your words

rather than God’s words

burning their lips

blinding their sight

transforming.

 

Like His Brothers and Sisters: A Sermon on Hebrews 2:14-18

I grew up in a small, private school, which means there was no mistaking whose family I was a part of. I had four siblings who had gone before me, three brothers and one sister who all told me who was the best teacher to have in each grade and what classes I should take. Inevitably at some point in the school year, I would get a comment from a teacher that I was “just like my brother” or “just like my sister.”

I can remember distinctly as I was looking at colleges wanting to cross every college my siblings had been to off my list because you get to a point where you just want to be your own person not such and such’s brother or sister. It didn’t happen that way. I chose Furman where my grandfather, my aunt, my uncle, my cousin, and two of my brothers attended because sometimes even when we want to step out, we have to acknowledge that there’s a reason we are like our brothers or our sister, because we actually are.

Our passage today is part of the readings in the lectionary for The Presentation of the Lord in which Jesus is presented in the temple 40 days after his birth. Now, it might seem odd in our baptist tradition that we would even mention this holiday or feast day called Candlemas, but this is significant because it has been 40 days since we celebrated the birth of Jesus. 40 days, the same number of days that the people of God wandered in the desert. 40 days, the same number of days that it rained while Noah was on the ark. 40 days, the same number of days that Jesus will be tempted by the Deceiver in the desert. 40 days, a signal that of a time of trial and tribulation.

What have your last 40 days been like?

Not only is the number of days significant here, but the fact that Jesus was indeed presented in the temple, something that Jewish families would have done regardless of whether their child was the son of God or not. This is a tradition and ritual that reminds us of the very humanity of Jesus. The fact that Jesus as a baby did the things that babies did at that time. Jesus was like us.

Hear now this reminder of Jesus’s humanity from the book of Hebrews chapter 2, verse 14.

2:14 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,

2:15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.

2:16 For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham.

2:17 Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.

2:18 Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

I don’t know about you, but this week, I needed to be reminded that Jesus suffered just like his brothers and sisters that is to say you and me. I needed to mark this 40 day journey passed the birth of Jesus in which we all celebrated with hopeful hearts with this reminder that although Jesus was born with angelic declarations, he also suffered whispers and plots of death from the political leader of the time. He and his family had to flee for safety because of these whispered plans. I needed to be reminded that Jesus wasn’t born into a time where there was a guarantee of safety, comfort, or ease.

Jesus was born like us.

The problem is that so many of us have accepted the truth that we’ve heard somewhere or another that life is supposed to be easy. That for some reason or another if we are suffering than we are doing something wrong, not living the way we are supposed to be living or living for ourselves and not for Jesus. Somewhere we have picked up on the idea that to be a follower of Jesus means to be blessed without trials and tribulations, but our understanding of being blessed is to have an easy comfortable life.

I can’t find that in God’s word. What I find is this reminder that the son of God came and walked the earth as a child, as a teacher, and as a messiah and in all of those things there was suffering. There was suffering of being persecuted with words and ostracized by religious leaders. There was suffering and temptation in the desert hungry, tired, and thirsty. There was suffering from the weight of responsibility of teaching and leading. There was suffering in betrayal of his closest confidants, his disciples.

There was suffering in all aspects of Jesus’ life, so then to be a follower of Christ is not to be without pain and suffering. But I’m not talking about the pain and suffering that we share in our community of faith during a time of prayer. I am talking about the pain and suffering that finds you in the night. The pain and suffering that crucifies you, leaving you only able to cry as Jesus cried from the cross, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.”  If you are suffering right now, it does not, absolutely does not mean that you are not following Christ. In fact, if you are suffering, it might mean you are closer to walking in Jesus’ footsteps than you have ever been before.

It took my until two years after I had graduated college and I was in an apartment in Germany alone depending on the hospitality of strangers that I realized even though I was like my brothers and sisters, I didn’t have to follow in their footsteps or in the footsteps of my parents or in the footsteps of the community of faith who raised me and who believed that women shouldn’t be preachers. It took me being across an ocean alone to realize that all the times that I followed in my family’s footsteps, believing wholeheartedly that that is what I was supposed to do, I was missing an opportunity to be who God created me to be.

When I stepped out of that path of certainty and stepped into the wilderness that God was calling me to, I truly didn’t think there would be a community of faith who would want me to preach or walk beside them in their suffering and in their pain and also in their joy and hope because the path was so very foreign to me. But here we are trying to be Christ followers together.

I’ve lived my whole life in fear…fear of doing the wrong thing, fear of saying the wrong thing. Fear of disappointing my family, my community of faith, my friends. Fear  of falling outside the will of God, this mystical concept that I couldn’t ever seem to grab hold of, but others saw so clearly. Fear of alienation. Fear of being alone. Is this where you are? Do you feel like you are wandering a foreign lonely path? Fear brings death not life. In order to  live, we must let fear die.

God is with you, just as God was with God’s son as he walked and ministered, stopping on his journey to see people in need and meet those needs. You are not alone for Creator God sent God’s son to this earth to share flesh and blood, trials and temptations, pain and suffering, hopes and fears, with you. Creator God sent God’s son to earth to free you from the temptation of believing you are not good enough, you are not strong enough, you are not smart enough. You have the freedom of a new path, not one that is absent of suffering, but one that follows in the footsteps of Jesus who knows that very suffering and can offer you the strength you need on this journey.

This is the word of the Lord.

A Case of Privilege: A Pastoral Confession

There were reasons to believe that one of my students need to be referred for testing to be considered for additional resources. There were trainings engrained in my mind that told me as a third grade teacher part of my responsibility was to catch these types of situations to give students the best opportunity to access their potential and their abilities.

And so I did what teachers did and scheduled a parent teacher conference. I knew that there was something that had happened to my student during his mother’s pregnancy. I knew that the symptoms I was seeing were textbook examples of fetal alcohol syndrome or a drug-related infiltration from mother to child.

I knew.

She filled out the paperwork and when the question asked, “Was your pregnancy normal?” she checked yes. As I watched her glide over the form, my eyes bore through the little check she had just made. As I tried to keep my demeanor welcoming, my anger flashed. How could she say she had a normal pregnancy? There is absolutely no way that her child was not exposed to some kind of drugs or alcohol. It’s just not possible. She’s lying because she doesn’t want to confess to what she did while she was pregnant. 

I knew I was right. I knew she was wrong.

I told colleagues my righteous indignation flaring. How could we do what was best for her child if she didn’t answer honestly? How could we get anywhere if she lied to us, the very people trying to help her child?

And suddenly I was sitting in a chair at Transitions Homeless Shelter across from a woman who was pregnant. A woman who was pregnant and homeless. A woman who was pregnant and starving. A woman who was pregnant with no healthcare, no access to birth control, and with very limited access to prenatal care. A woman so consumed with the exhaustion of survival of finding food every day or finding a place to sleep each night that she could not even consider what was best for the child growing within.

My God, forgive me. I confessed.

My privilege was so blinding in that first year of teaching that I couldn’t imagine a woman who was pregnant who didn’t know any other community, but a community with alcohol and drugs. I couldn’t imagine a woman, a mom who didn’t know how to best care for her body while she was sustaining another life. I couldn’t imagine a woman who couldn’t read or research to find out about what her body needed to help her child. I couldn’t imagine a woman so scared of losing her child that she filling out of form in front of mandatory reporter overwhelmed her with anxiety. I couldn’t imagine because of my vast amount of privilege.

Instead of peace, I offered her anxiety. Instead of hope, I offered condemnation. Instead of scaffolded learning, I offered her resentment and belittlement calling her ill-informed. Instead of love, I offered her disdain.

Thanks be to God for second chances, years later.

But, Is There Childcare?

Ben’s no longer an infant. He’s not quite a toddler. We’re in this strange phase of development some have termed pre-toddler for the ages of 12-18. He just moved up classes at his drop-in nursery where there are ramps to run up and slides to slide down. There are toy doors to open and close and close and open and open and close, perhaps one of his favorite past times right now.

As a mother, I’ve hit the stage where I don’t have a baby. I don’t have an infant. There’s a stark difference in the conversations I have in passing. It’s no longer, “Is he sleeping? Are y’all sleeping?” Instead it’s “Is he walking? Is he talking?” The questions indicating that no more and more each day he is developing characteristics that will last him into adulthood. But the strange phenomenon is that the more adult-like his characteristics become, the less people think about his needs.

“As I am invited to participate in communities desiring to shape and mold the future of the church, my question still remain. “Is there childcare?” A shocking question that reveals assumptions that childcare is something for parents to “take care of” not something to plan for in order to ensure that the voices of young parents and young professionals are wanted. We inherently understand that the future of the church lies in the hands and feet of these young professionals and their children. We just don’t understand their needs enough to care to meet those needs instead we criticize these young families saying, “They just don’t come,” or “You can’t count on them.” 

Perhaps this missing demographic is missing because your community of faith isn’t considering how to set the table, provide the infrastructure for the lives they lead. The day in and day out routine of changing diapers, filling sippy cups, and finding high chairs. The strain and pull asking all they have. Perhaps what these families need is someone to think ahead for them, someone to want them at the table so strongly that they have already planned to take care of their children.

Are we planning for a church that has been or a church that will be?

New Shoes

I take my first awkward steps like a fresh born fawn fumbling and uncertain.  How can the cyclical pattern of running, which I had done for so many miles feel like translating a line of foreign prose? It’s the breathable mesh and supportive, synthetic upper materials that actually exists in these shoes unlike the others that were now road worn.

As I tried to find my footing, I couldn’t for the life of me remember how I ran. Was it heel, toe, heel toe, toe heel, toe heel, heel toe, toe heel? Every combination felt wrong. I know how to do this, I reminded myself. I’ve been running for years. I’ve broken in new shoes over and over again. It will fall into place, won’t it?

And as I let go of trying to overanalyze and identify the problem, I realized the pain in my right ankle, left knee, and right hamstring were absent. They had been present for every run for the last three weeks in growing intensity, but I didn’t feel any of them anymore. The Infinity Wave cushioning in the heel combined with the SmoothRide engineering was working to alleviate and realign my body.

I rounded the corner to home.

There it is…my stride.

My pace sped up.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I whizzed through the stop sign.

On Being Curious

I watched as Ben went through his book wagon to find the book that matched the character of his favorite show. I was astounded at the way he pointed to Curious George and looked at me with a smile on his face. I’m so curious to know what is going on in his head as he is interacting in new and different ways every day.

And as I watch him, I’m overwhelmed with the realization that we aren’t curious about each other. We are shocked. We are frustrated. We are dumbfounded. We are disheartened. We are disillusioned, but we are not curious. We don’t want to know how the people on the other side came to the conclusions they did. We do not want to know “their” reasoning or “their” understanding. We want to retreat to the safety of our communities: the ones who believe the same thing we do.

But I’m curious. How could we have been living in such distinctive, distant, disconnected realities and still be neighbors? How could we have been so sure that others saw the world as we did only to find out that we were wrong as our reality shattered to pieces around us?

Real change cannot occur until we recognize the vast privilege that blinds us to reality.

If you are interested in real, systemic change, you have to be curious enough to sit and wonder. You have to be curious enough to cross the street to your neighbor, the one who didn’t vote as you did. You have to be curious enough to understand the disconnect before offering solutions.

Thanks be to God for little reminders from mini humans looking for a good book to read.

I will sit with you…

I will sit with you

in the fear and uncertainty

of what the future holds.

 

I will sit with-

the anger

the bitterness

the humiliation

the fatigue –

I will sit with you as

you see the journey through.

 

I will sit with you

as the light of Truth

blinds you

and heals you

and makes you Whole.

 

And once Whole,

I’ll offer you a hand up

to stand up

to speak out

to go on

watching and waiting

for others

sitting alone

eyes covered

knees drawn

to sit beside.

Seeds of Hope

Yesterday, I made butternut squash soup because sometimes when I don’t know what to do, I just have to create something, anything, participating in the creation process and begging Creator God to breathe life into the dustiness of humanity. It’s a recipe I’ve made over and over again over the past year fiddling and tweaking with just the right amount of half and half to add to make it creamy, but not so creamy it’s too rich.

As I went through the motions of peeling and chopping the butternut squash, I stopped myself from dumping the seeds into the trash because I remember one of my friends told me that she cleaned the seeds added a little olive oil, salt, and pepper and roasted the seeds to add to the top of the soup or a salad or just to have on hand for a little snack. So, I went through the messy process of cleaning the seeds, washing and rinsing the innards of the butternut squash off the seeds. I dried them off and then tried unsuccessful to hold onto the slippery seeds wondering why she had made it sound so easy when it was really requiring a lot of effort to get those seeds to the point of being able to put in the oven.

And I then I thought, this is exactly what I feel like right now in the midst of the last week, the first week in a reality that I’m finding it hard to gain footing in. I feel like I chasing down slippery seeds of hope, trying to grasp them and catch them before they go down the drain or onto the floor.

Because what I know is that these seeds of hope can be planted or roasted to provide sprouts of change or nourishment or fellowship or something transformative that can ground us to community and to love. I know this can happen because I’ve seen it. I’ve tasted these seeds of hope and change and fellowship and communion and I know they are good.

But it’s going to take some wrestling to get the innards of hate and dissension washed off from these seeds of hope. It’s going to take getting our hands dirty. It’s going to take planting those in dirt and watering and waiting for them to sprout them or dousing them in olive oil and salt and pepper and enjoying the sustenance they provide around the table.

It’s going to take work, time, and energy. Don’t lose heart. Seeds of hope lead to seeds of change and new life.