From the Pastor – November 2023

“O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good: for his steadfast love endures forever.”
Psalm 107:1 NRSV

It was the Saturday evening prior to Thanksgiving Day in 1999 and my home church served as the host congregation for the Central District Youth Fellowship. That’s a fancy way to say we were having a “youth rally.” Youth representing various congregations from the Central Conference’s then forty-four churches assembled for business, worship, and the ever-important refreshments which followed. Yours truly functioned as the speaker for the evening and I remember well some of the remarks I shared from Luke 17 which includes the story of Jesus healing ten lepers. Being so close to Thanksgiving, I knew it would be logical to make a few statements concerning gratitude and everything we had for which to give thanks. This was only two months removed from Hurricane Floyd and the devastation created by its flooding, so I was well-aware of a few stories which could be included. What I did that night hardly constituted “preaching” and the notes (which I have to this day) were far from a developed sermon. At this point, I was a college student without any plans for vocational ministry, so it really didn’t matter all that much to me. However, it did matter to someone and that someone was my home pastor. His words went something like, “That was really good! How about you share it tomorrow morning in worship?” By this, he meant in lieu of his sermon. Anytime Thanksgiving rolls around, I can’t help but think about this memory from twenty-four years ago. It makes me smile, but also grateful for God’s grace. Somehow, he took my feeble efforts and did something that may have blessed someone that evening and the next morning. Little did I know how God’s calling would develop in my life with the two years which followed.

I share this memory because Thanksgiving is upon us once again. Many of the fields have given up their harvest, a chill fills the air in the early morning, and, a few days ago, I observed a shopper picking out a Thanksgiving turkey. This time of the year always brings with it a good feeling and memories of time well-spent with family. It also serves as a reminder for all of us that we have much for which to be thankful. For some, that may seem like utter folly because so much about our lives and our world is far from perfect. A few essential groceries will set you back about one hundred dollars. Our elected officials in Washington get along about as well as children on a pre-school playground. And, let’s not forget, the friction between Israel and Hamas which has received much television time in the past couple of weeks. These, and other experiences like them, serve as reminders that we live in a broken world. However, in the words of a Christian hymn penned by Maltbie Babcock, “This is my Father’s world…” For this reminder, we rejoice knowing we are not alone in the facing of uncertain times. The gifts of God’s presence, power, and peace are still very much available for all of us. Sometimes, we just need to be still in order to experience them. It is in such stillness that we rediscover how good God has been to each of us. Such rediscovery creates the opportunity for the counting of personal blessings and, in this counting, we find reason after reason to give thanks. It is this which creates the “attitude of gratitude” or a disposition toward thanksgiving. Such a disposition is one of the keystones for being a Christian. You and I can’t or shouldn’t enjoy blessings without expressing our appreciation to the One “from whom all blessings flow.”

This week, I commented to a parishioner that it seems like the final quarter of the calendar year is full. This is true not only of this year, but every year. Now, after the events of 2020, I am by no means complaining. In fact, I am a little more grateful. I am grateful because of what God is doing in and through Little Rock. The dream for UPWARD football and cheerleading is coming to fruition on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. Several of our senior members recently pulled together in order to sponsor a yard sale. We have loyal Sunday school teachers who are committed to discipling the youngest to the oldest. We have teams of men and women who work hard preparing quality meals on Wednesday evenings. Some of you are devout in sending cards to those who are homebound or are hurting. Others of you are fervent in your prayers on behalf of others. Those who are gifted in music are working away in their rehearsal of this year’s Christmas cantata. Space will not allow me the opportunity to recount all of the ways in which God is using Little Rock to make a difference. But, in these remaining lines, I can tell you how. It is because of people like YOU! For this, I say, “Thank You!” Thank you for who you are in Christ. Thank you for your willingness to be used of God. Thank you for allowing your faith to move into action. Thank you for your generosity with your time and resources. Thank you for your desire to learn and grow deeper into Christ. Thank you and continue your good work!

Blessed Beyond Measure,

The Reverend Kelley Smart