“Witness Trees”

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The following post is based on some reflections after my first few months here at Weller UMC.  Most of this text was contained in my first pastor’s report to our annual charge conference, which was held on 24 September.

One of the joys of being appointed to a historic church like Weller is recalling the long track record this church has serving the local community in the name of Jesus Christ.  I thought about this after a recent tour of the Gettysburg National Military Park where I learned about “witness trees.”  As our guide explained it, these are the trees that were present at the time of the battle and are still standing today, thus their designation as “witness trees.”  We know about them from traditions handed down by those who were present at the time and from photographs taken in the days that followed.  There are only a handful of these “witness trees” remaining now; so few, in fact, that the park service does not like to identify them for fear they might be vandalized.

I like to think of Weller UMC, and our other historic churches, as “witness trees” for Jesus Christ.  Planted by faithful followers years ago, we were watered and nurtured by generations of disciples past who lived into the vision of God’s Kingdom.  Like the “witness trees,” we go through seasons of steady growth and periods of drought and even contraction.  But whether we experience times of plenty or times of want, we look with hope to the one God who “turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water” (Psalm 107:35).

Unlike those ancient trees at Gettysburg, however, we do not try to keep our existence a secret.  As the Church of Jesus Christ, we cannot.  Because as witnesses to the transforming love of God in our own lives, we have a charge to keep by sharing the Good News of God’s love for all Creation that is demonstrated in the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In all we do, we seek to bear witness to the One who bore our sins upon another tree.  That tree, the Cross of Christ, itself bore witness to the steadfast love God extends to all people and the new life that comes through faith in Him who loves us beyond all measure.

Weller continues to be a “witness tree” for Jesus Christ in Thurmont and beyond.  .  Our joyful worship services give glory to God and our music program for all ages enriches our lives as we praise our Lord and Savior.  Our Vacation Bible School reached 25 young people with the love of God in Christ this summer.  Our people give of their time, money and other resources to several local charities that help the least, last and lost of Frederick County.

All of this is well and good, but it is our love for God and our passion to serve others in the name of Jesus Christ that keeps this “witness tree” going and growing.

I look forward to the days to come and all God has in store for us as we journey along the Way of discipleship, serving together in God’s very good Creation.

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“Find a Way”

Although a lot of the news we see on TV and read online seems to be bad news, there are some stories that inspire us.  Last week, for instance, we witnessed one of those inspiring moments when 64 year old swimmer Diana Nyad completed a 110 mile swim from Havanna, Cuba, to Key West in Florida in just under 53 hours.  She did this without the protection of a shark cage, making this a first-of-its-kind accomplishment.  The journey was truly grueling.  Video showed a shaky, almost disoriented Nyad, staggering ashore at the end of the swim—a clear indication of the toll this physical exertion took on her body.  But despite the physical agony and emotional stress, she accomplished something no one else had been able to do.

Nor was this her first attempt.  Nyad had tried the same feat on four previous occasions, the first when she was 28 years old.  But none of those succeeded.

So what kept her going through this ordeal?  In an interview after her swim she said: “…my thought was, ‘everything you come up against say’ — and this is why people are relating to my story — all of us suffer heartache. All of us suffer difficulties in our lives. And if you say to yourself ‘find a way,’ you’ll make it through.”[1]

Nyad’s persistence in pursuit of her dream is the story of our life in Christ.  All of us have setbacks in life.  All of us suffer pain and loss.  Each of us may have unrealized hopes and dreams.  But when we place our trust in God, God helps us “find a way” through the shark-infested waters of life to new possibilities.  God gave us the Holy Spirit to help guide us.  God also surrounds with other disciples so that we can journey together, helping each other out along the way.

The life of Christian discipleship is often compared to a race; but it’s a marathon, not a sprint.  The writer of the letter to the Hebrews knew this well when he remarked: “let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).  When we stay the course and approach our discipleship with the discipline and persistence of the runner (or swimmer), Christ will help us to find the way into God’s great future for us.

Who is helping you “find the way?”


[1] “Diana Nyad on Epic Swim: My mantra was ‘Find a Way,” CBS This Morning, article on internet, http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505263_162-57601044/diana-nyad-on-epic-swim-my-mantra-was-find-a-way/, accessed 09 Sep 2013.