Dear Friends, “In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to me, ‘Flee like a bird to the mountains, for look, the wicked bend the bow, they have … Continue reading A Pastoral Message for Pentecost
On Father’s Day I was challenged and honored to preach on Jesus’ encounter with the Demoniac. A man oppressed by a legion of evil spirits. Jesus came off a boat into the area of the Geresenes, and immediately the encounter brought new life to the man. The power of our Heavenly Father, God Almighty was made manifest through Jesus Christ. In this sermon, I explore what that means for us today.
Scripture: Matthew 5:1-19
The Gerasene Demoniac
5 They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes.2 When He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him, 3 and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; 4 because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones. 6 Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him; 7 and shouting with a loud voice, he *said, “[a]What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!” 8 For He had been saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9 And He was asking him, “What is your name?” And he *said to Him, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10 And he began to implore Him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now there was a large herd of swine feeding [b]nearby on the mountain. 12 The demons implored Him, saying, “Send us into the swine so that we may enter them.” 13 Jesus gave them permission. And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea.
14 Their herdsmen ran away and reported it in the city and in the country. And the people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 They *came to Jesus and *observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the “legion”; and they became frightened. 16 Those who had seen it described to them how it had happened to the demon-possessed man, and all about the swine. 17 And they began to implore Him to leave their region. 18 As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might [c]accompany Him.19 And He did not let him, but He *said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them [d]what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.”
Today, I worshipped quietly at a funeral service for a well loved member of our community. The music was beautiful, and I was glad to see so many wonderful people there to remember her presence and impact among so many. I was reminded that we’re born, we live our lives with family, our friends and our communities, and live out our faith in a world where we are interconnected – often in a winding and confusing but ultimately good way. We are fragile though, and we age and see and experience the lives of those who’ve entered the world after us who bring change and renewal. Then, inevitably (unless you’re like the prophet Elijah) we exit to return to our Creator, God, and those who remain feel the deep sadness of loss, but also the bittersweet memories that can be full of goodness and great joy. I still feel the pain of losing my Grandmother Nancy Sampson, and my Great-Grandmother Alice more recently as well. The electric grip of loss still affects me years after these losses. A few years ago, my wife remembered the life of her sister, who passed much too young, but left a deep and lasting impression on us all. Also very confusing, but essentially part of being human.
When I returned to the office at Trinity today, I prayed for many people and made a few calls to visit with folks from our churches in the next week, but when I sat down at my computer, some immediate news hit me pretty hard. I think that news, with the aid of technology always on, has begun to pang life with a constant stream of grief as we become reminded of the evils our world continues to face. We haven’t made it yet. This particular story, of at reporter and her camera man, being shot live on air hit me deep in the spirit as many stories lately have, and I walked out to the alter and stood in front of the cross, felt a shiver go down my body and soul, and I spent a moment without words sharing my deep sorrow with God.
In that moment, I knew God felt the same, but more so than I did, and it heightened my mourning over our inability to love one another. It confirmed for me that God is deeply invested in us and that our work to make “Thy Kingdom Come, on Earth as it is in Heaven,” is a mission worthy of continual and constant emphasis – and that the Good News – “euangelion” – The Gospel, needs fresh testimony among all people who are being pinged by the same reminders of evil in the world that we are. By actively promoting the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and proclaiming a Kingdom where peace is possible inwardly, through right relationship with God, and through that inner spiritual transformation in the Holy Spirit, we bond together to form this amazing Kingdom without any geographical center, initiated by baptism in water, and through discipleship we’re slowly made whole. This is the mega-polis where Justice and Peace are practiced (rather than merely preached, or politicized), and we are reminded that the depths of our selfishness and ability to self-destruct are temporary, and through grace and self-sacrifice, God will cap this age with the re-arrival of perfection in our affairs. God will destroy evil once and for all.
All that and more. I surrender to this future reality, and I pledge to work towards it in my own life and to be more and more like Christ in His ultimate self-sacrifice on the cross. So at the altar, now, I recommit myself, and I will pray Wesley’s Covenant Prayer because I can’t think of a better one for these times. If you’d like to pray this with me, I would be honored and humbled:
“I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed by you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine, and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”
In all this, in God’s plan, I will not be afraid. I will continue to celebrate what is good, I’ll mourn and feel these losses knowing that it is temporary, and I’ll actively seek to represent God’s joy and goodness when some desire to bring evil to us all. Strengthen your people, Lord. Remind us of Your Presence. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. Amen, and Amen, and Amen.
It has now been over a month since Amanda, Ransom, Bella and I moved from the hot suburbs of Bluffton and Hilton Head and packed our things for Ridgeville, Givhans, and the Lebanon community.
First things first, we have so many people to thank on so many different fronts that it would be impossible to name you all. At Saint Andrew, our parting was bittersweet, but it was clear that we would remain in touch through the connection of the Methodist church, and we are so grateful for the encouragement as we entered transition.
When we arrived, the people of our three churches met us at our new parsonage and have been an incredibly welcoming presence. If all visitors to our churches are welcomed with arms as open as we have been welcomed, we have a bright future ahead as the Ridgeville charge makes disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world! The parsonage was completely remodeled from the time we visited months prior, and it was like a new home. Folks from all three churches were there to help us get our luggage in and visited with us as we determined where all our “stuff” needed to go. Afterwards, as we began opening boxes, the food and sweet tea brought to us by congregants helped us continue the charge, even as our first Sunday of worship was about to arrive and we would be traveling to all three churches and experiencing the Holy Spirit move in each.
We are now getting our bearings, and have visited Summerville, SC almost every third day. That’s where Target and Walmart and Harris Teeter (and Thrift Stores) are located…so we’ve done a lot of that. We found a coffee shop that we like thanks to some good folks that work nearby who suggested it to us. It is Coastal Coffee Roasters, which reminds me a lot of The Corner Perk in Bluffton. Coffee is roasted there on the spot, they have great drinks, and even use nitrous to spice of their cold brew iced coffees (which have an incredibly high caffeine content) – Good stuff.
And back to Ridgeville and Givhans, we’re not too far from Vaughn’s General Store, and there is a great pizza place in town called Christina’s. We actually got the internet for the first time at the parsonage, so our cellular data use has plummeted, and we were recommended to (and did) move from AT&T to Verizon (an ongoing process) because the signal out here in the country wasn’t strong enough…oh, and we got a home phone…never thought I’d do that again.
The only challenge we have come up against is that our house, which had originally been ready to sign and sell, is now back on the market due to a mortgage lender error in our first deal. If you know anyone searching for a house in the Bluffton area, we have a 4 bedroom home that needs a good owner. That link sends you to a tropical music 3D tour – so exciting. We loved that home but need to sell it as soon as folks need it. All in God’s hands and timing.
So here we are, getting to know some of the greatest people in the world, preparing for God’s will as we serve and love the people of this new area, and experiencing a new and exciting way of life. I’ve included a few photos, including my biscotti pic from the amazing Ice Cream Social that all three churches participated in (and home made ice cream floweth…ed.” It was amazing. God is good. This adventure suits us, as hard as it was to move, even with the little bits of stress, we are being blessed and hopefully will be a blessing to others. Pray for us as we discover God’s will and act out the mission He has for us!
To you all, blessings and peace,
Dan, Amanda, Ransom and Bella
A poet! Do not prize the love of people around,
It soon will pass — the glorifying hum —
And come a court of fools and laughing of cold crowd —
But you must always stay firm, morose and calm.
You’re king: live lonesome. Along the freedom’s road,
Stride there, to where just shows your free mind,
While modernizing fruits of thoughts, beloved,
And not demanding you to be awarded.
Awards inside of you. You are your highest court;
Severely then all, you value your effort.
Well, are you satisfied, oh, my severe artist?
You’re satisfied. Then let the mob condemn your verse,
Spit at the altar, where your fire burns,
And toss your brass tripod with somewhat childish wildness.
Translated by Yevgeny Bonver, January, 2000
Edited by Dmitry Karshtedt, August, 2000
Before You Were Born
by Daniel Griswold
I promised myself that I would record everything when my first son, Ransom, came into the world. I’ve become so wrapped up in the wonder, and immense life changes of fatherhood, however, and have not kept that promise and this is my moment to rectify, in a small way, that transgression against myself and my family. This blog will be more personal than previous blogs, and there are many people in here that I am incredibly thankful for. There are those I know I will forget (likely due to “Father’s brain” or some human frailty, but I am so thankful to you as well. So, so thankful. So Ransom, this is how I remember your genesis.
August 2013, Amanda (your mom), started acting a bit funny. I can’t say exactly what tipped me off, but I began to feel like something was up. Maybe she looked at me differently a few times. Then, one day she came down the stairs of our home on a sunny day and said, “Guess what?” She looked serious but smiley and expecting something from me. I think I responded, “Are…you…pregnant?” (Background information – Amanda had tricked me into believing a baby was on the way on a prior April Fool’s day, and it was not funny to me, so I didn’t think she’d do it a second time. Totally ruined that day for me.) This time it was different. She said, “I think so.” She had the test, and I was pretty excited about the whole prospect but also worried now. Could it be a mistake. So we tested a few more times and guess what – you were on the way!
The next few months are a blur, but here are a few details. You vacationed with us at Lake Junaleska in the Kilgore summer home. We walked around the lake and talked about our future with you and pondered how different life was going to be. We also worried a bit about money (births are expensive), but we kept having to lean in on God’s provision. If you were coming, God would give us a way to support you in the way you would need it. When we came back we got some loans out and paid for a midwife group in Savannah, GA that friends had mentioned was amazing. We wanted you to start out right and with lots of care. The birthing center did all your checkups, we took lessons on how to know when you were coming and what to do, Amanda’s mom came and spent a bit more than a month and a half with us as we prepared, and our church family at Saint Andrew By-The-Sea UMC in Hilton Head became more and more excited!
I’m not going to lie. I wanted you to be a boy, and my wish came true. I’ve wanted to name you Ransom since I was in High School. I met a young man in New York with that name, and I thought it was amazing. Your middle name Kelly, is my mom’s name, but I’d met guys who had it as their name, and I thought it was cool. It means Warrior. Ransom means to “Redeem”. You are a Redeeming Warrior in my book. I’m glad your mom liked it too. If you had been a girl you’d have been Gwenfair, but perhaps that’ll be next. I also prayed you would be good looking. I think that is a tradition my grandma passed on. I remember her telling me she prayed for that and it came true of all her kids and grandkids. Seems vain, but I thought – why not? Overall, though, I prayed that you would be a great man of God full of faith and wisdom and compassion and justice. I hope this comes true.
So what did we do waiting for you? We kept exercising until Amanda couldn’t. Running slowed and then you became so big that we had to chill a bit. That was okay because we bought lots of ice cream. I gained 15 lbs waiting for you (stress weight). I wanted you to be healthy, I wanted to meet you, and everyone we talked to asked how you were doing. As far as I could tell, you were doing good, and the doctors confirmed it. Our church launched a second campus, I played guitar a bit and helped lead up some new initiatives, but I slowly realized, as you were coming that I couldn’t do as much.
I let go of a few things in preparation to take care of you. Lots of hobbies, writing, and some things that felt good to drop for a while. I’d been doing some things for five years or more and it felt refreshing to reset for you. All I wanted to do was see you and hang out with you. The church was so loving and generous and we were blessed by their support as their gifts stocked you up on diapers, cute outfits and lots of gear we now use all the time. Oh, and toys…and books! So glad we can read to you all the amazing books full of rhymes, stories, and prayers. I hope you really like to read.
The time started coming, and it became harder to wait. Amanda’s mom was there so she helped out so much as it became harder for Amanda to move around the house and get around town. She kept both of you safe and kept you both company when I was working at the church. And as time came to your date, we prepared a kit to take down to Savannah (about 30 minutes from our house). We thought you would be born in late February, but you didn’t think you needed to yet. Each day we anticipated and thought, “Is this the day?” We visited the midwives and they thought we had more time. It wasn’t until March 16th (much later than we’d thought), and one day before we would have to have some help, at 42 weeks, you started to give signs you were ready.
Contractions began around 8 PM on March 15th and we timed them. They were long and were becoming more regular. We called the midwife center at about 9:30 PM, and they told us to meet them at 11 PM there. Nancy was your midwife, and she was wonderful. All of us drove down a little road dividing a marsh leading from Bluffton, SC to Savannah, GA in the middle of the night. It was the day before Saint Patrick’s Day, so the roads were busy and it was dark. We were very careful that we protected both of you by driving safely. I remember worrying that the contractions would stop, and it would be a false alarm, but it wasn’t. Nancy took the readings and guess what, you were on your way! But it wasn’t easy.
Very soon, a strange heart issue appeared. It was minor, but after a contraction your heartbeat slowed when it should have sped up. Because of that Nancy made the call. We would have to go from the midwife center to the hospital. Nancy packed her stuff, and we packed ours and we drove over to Memorial Hospital about 8 minutes away. The next 20 hours were amazing.
Over the course of your birth, we had a two midwives (Nancy and Jill), a Doula named Erin, and several nurses. There was a lot of waiting, and your mom was incredible (if you’d been there, you would never ever disrespect your mom, and I think I’ll hold you to that in the future). at 8:08 PM on March 16th you were born with the help of nurses, Jill the midwife, Erin our doula, your grandma Frankie, and myself. I’ll never forget being with you when you were born. Again – respect your mom. Forever.
That night we were exhausted. We didn’t know what we were doing, but I was proud. I called your Grandma and Grandpa and Great Grandma and Great Grandma Griswold in New Hampshire and in Texas, respectively, to give them the news. A baby boy named Ransom (“Handsome Ransom” as per Jill Whitfield, our midwife) would sleep in the basinet we’d prepared for you next to our bed.
You were tiny, soft, and not as loud as I’d expected. Your eyes were dark blue, and you had little tufts of brown fine hair. Your hands were wrinkly, and you slept a lot (which we were thankful for). And after a doctor checked you over, we took you home (after a call to AAA to replace a flat tire – that’s another story).
Now you are almost 5 months, and you’re giggling and laughing and playing with a strong grip and I’m pretty sure you’re going to be somewhat athletic. You’re smart and like to see everything that’s going on, and you’re already an extravert. Ask anyone at the church that’s held you. You’re awesome and we love you incredibly. We feel this when we creep into your room and watch you sleep. We’re so glad you’re here.
I’ll try and keep you updated as you grow and we figure all this stuff out as your new parents. May God keep us all in His hands.
1 Samuel 1:27–28
“I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD.”
In reading Matthew 12, there are two verses that have bothered my soul. Jesus goes around performing miracles and refuting critics who are plotting to kill him and he amazes the crowd constantly. In the midst of this, in verses 38 and 39, someone states, “Teacher, we want you to show us a sign.” Jesus responds quickly and doesn’t perform a miracle on demand. In paraphrase, he says, “Come on people, you’re being terrible, you’ve turned away from God. Your only sign will be the sign of the prophet Jonah.”
Jonah sat in the belly of a large sea creature for three days, and Jesus is foreshadowing his future death and resurrection. He refuses to give into being the entertainment and centerpiece of the story. Yes, Jesus is the Son of God. Yes, he has done many miracles. But he is about to do something so much more important than make y’all say, “Wow.” Lastly, he’s going to rise from the belly of death and open the doors to a greater work of our father. That’s big stuff.
I was once like a member of the crowd calling out for more signs and miracles. In fact, I still like to ask God to show me he is real. I have hardly ever received a moment like Gideon, who asked God to place dew on a fleece in the book of Judges in order to determine God’s purpose and agency. I’ve had to build a trust with Him over time, and have had to mature beyond the need for “mountaintop” experiences every Sunday and every retreat to remain engaged with God.
As a child, I thought of church and altar calls (a minister calling those who seek repentance and a filling of the holy spirit to come forward and receive God’s presence, forgiveness and otherworldly touch) as an end in religion, and I fully expected to see miracles to prove my faith.
I wanted to see with my own eyes the physical and scientific reality of the God who created the universe. I didn’t want to trust the testimony of the millennia, because I’m new, the world is new, and certainly things have changed. The spirit behind my curiosity was, “God, show me something now.” Much like a sports fan saying a prayer for his team to win the current game, I wanted to have a story that would change my life.
I didn’t understand that that story had already been lived out. And in this scene, returning to Matthew chapter 12, we have a crowd that wanted an immediate sign, and Jesus said, something bigger than you can imagine is coming. Have patience; just wait.
How many walked away that day saying, “Man, Jesus was a disappointment”? He called them bad people; he didn’t create matter from nothing to prove his claims as a prophet; and he passed the buck to a future event. How can he be trusted?
Today we have the story of the gospel, we have the testimony of the apostles recorded for our discernment, the traditions of the church passed down and, even better, the living holy spirit working among us and binding us as believers in Christ, who calls us into ministry as the people of God.
God’s love has already been shown, and yet we still want a further sign. We are simply impatient to wait to see what God is about to do.
In this season of Lent, perhaps we can take a breath and remember that our time is not God’s time. The miracle we are looking for may be soon to come — it may have already occurred and we refuse to trust in it. As a community of faith, let us spend time in prayer and contemplation, giving God a place to do something even better than what we are asking for.
I’m extremely interested in the study of the human desire, over the ages, to have justice and of people seeking hope in what the ancient Egyptians called Ma’at (a balance between the powerful and powerless).
The 20th century writer and philosopher Thomas Merton cautions that “hope in man must not be naive.” He advocated non-violence. This concept seems so utopian that it could never be achieved within the context of human time, perhaps not even in the 100 (if we’re lucky) years we have to live on this earth.
His writing pushes readers to play with the concept of timelessness or eternity and what can be achieved by moving forward with “truth” — no matter what the immediate results prove. “Do not depend on the hope of results,” he argues. He says Christians are working on a timetable that is dependent on God and that we must suffer as Christ did, taking on the yoke of the savior, that yoke of evil.
Despite this, in the immediate context of our current world, I couldn’t help but think of how one goes about changing the politics of the world through non-violence — considering the current crisis in Ukraine, various conflicts in North Korea, flare-ups in Africa and even local violence I see on the news in Savannah and our Lowcountry each year.
There sometimes seems to be a stage that the powerful begin to stand on, and there becomes a distinct separation from the ordinary — a hedge away from regular people. If “the realism of non-violence must be made evident by humility and self-restraint, which clearly show frankness and open-mindedness and invite the adversary to serious and reasonable discussion,” then the stage has to be torn down, or everyone must be brought onto the stage so that listening, discussion and a middle ground can be found.
Should we use the threat of power and violence to raise us to that stage, and make peace then — and by those means?
Merton calls on us to say, “No!” We must not allow ourselves to take that stage, because that would make our ideal of non-violence a pharisaic ideal.
“The basis of pharisaism is division,” he states, and the basis of non-violence is the humbleness and oneness of the entire human race. The only real solution is to do the work of God in faith and have hope that through the generations, the kingdom of God will eventually come.
This is a timetable of patience, and is not dependent on immediate gratification. Though this is a hard ideal and the ways to live it out are diverse — from those who write in their home’s chambers, to the marches of Martin Luther King Jr. and those who non-violently struck the same chord for justice — there are endless battles that can be won on the level of ordinary streets.
Do we have the patience? How long will we wait until the earth is made new?
With each action we take and each word we say, with every moment we listen and by how we distribute and give of what we have in our possession, we push against walls that separate human from human, people from people and nation from nation.
A great hope is that all people will unite one day and accomplish great things. It always starts small in the hearts of a few.
What big things do you want to see accomplished? What steps can we take to make it so? How much patience will it take to bring about? And lastly, will we do what is necessary long enough to make it so?
I think we can make this happen.
Thomas Merton, a somewhat mystical Catholic monk I’ve been prone to read, has impressed me with his strong commitment to silence. In an age of action and commotion, is this a call worth heeding? Can we be quiet in the storms of life?
Like nervous electrons, we like to keep moving in constant circles, only thinking of our being in terms of action and what we have been doing recently. This constant motion and outside analysis cannot bring peace with one’s self, and we become distanced from what we truly are (whatever that might be). I love this quote in a book of his essential writings: “When we are quiet, not just for a few minutes, but for an hour or several hours, we may become uneasily aware of the presence within us of a disturbing stranger, the self that is both ‘I’ and someone else.” Merton’s concept of the stranger is an eerie ghost to most of us who have taken too little time to seek inward, into the center of our being, where silence is the only communication and the key to self-discovery.
This silence is not easy for a generation that has put action and outer self-satisfaction above all else. We prize our rewards for hard work as our homes fill with items of our conquests here and there. We’re not used to quiet stillness. It is scary, like a horror movie, we might accidentally reflect, accidentally be silent for a minute, and we become disturbed by the stirrings of what is within us, perhaps lying dormant until that time when we’re listening and processing what it might be.
I’ve been reminded by Merton that the actions we must take before we help the world are the actions that are, as he says, “non-actions” and “the quiet of worship, the reverent peace of prayer, the adoration in which the entire ego-self silences and abases itself in the presence of the Invisible God,” this way we would receive “his one word of love.” And if we lived without this “one word,” we would be cursed to live within a life of illusion, like the electron, the ever-spinning slave promoting the goals of a world that is hell-bent on action, instead of the heavenward non-actions of contemplation and prayer.
So, as the world spins (and it does not stop for anyone), when will we make time to disengage and hear what heaven is really calling out to us? There is a real danger that even the best and most righteous follower of God, whose entire life has been devoted to doing good works, and whose energy has been poured outward, may find that the superhuman effort didn’t bring the rewards they’d hoped for — something was missing. If we just take the time listening, whispering, contemplating the word of God, and seeking the will of our creator, we may find ourselves rejuvenated and more alive.
Don’t let busyness take hold of you. Say “no” to some good things, say “no” to all evil things, and say “yes” to being enveloped by God’s love. Be continually transformed by the moments of grace and appreciate that God is everywhere; you are never alone. This moment is your moment: Close your eyes, be still, listen and know, “You are loved.”
Read more (here).
I’ve begun to learn this on the guitar. Great Hymn – and so celebratory!