“Faith > Fear,” My Final Sermon at Northaven

Text/Video of my final sermon at Northaven UMC, Dallas.


June 24, 2018

Mark 4: 37-40


“Gale-force winds arose, and waves crashed against the boat so that the boat was swamped. But Jesus was in the rear of the boat, sleeping on a pillow. They woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?”
He got up and gave orders to the wind, and he said to the lake, “Silence! Be still!” The wind settled down and there was a great calm. Jesus asked them, “Why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith yet?”” 
———————

So,  my office stuff is all moved.

Maria, Chris Wilmoth and me moved out just about everything yesterday…over to a corner of my new office at The Woods. One of the things my recent family moves have taught me is: don’t take needless old junk with you. So, I culled through my old cards, letters, and sermons this past week. And I found that the nature of card-writing changed over my ministry. Many of the cards for my time at Highland Pak were for doing what now feels like relatively minor things….


“Thank you for teaching the 2×2 Sunday School class…”


“Thank you for doing the invocation at our committee meeting….”

But when I came to Northaven, I found that the tenor of the cards changed, in truly noticeable way…

“Thank you for being there when I was in surgery…”
“Thank you and thank Northaven…because I am back in church for the first time in decades…I’d given up on church…but I’m back…thank you.”
“Thank you for talking with me about that deep issue in my family…”

The cards are beautiful. And it was a blessing for me to go through them.
And, based on what I saw in the Atrium, it was good that went through the cards…because I got a feeling there are more on the way for me to keep….to replace the perfunctory ones I threw away.
So, let me say a “thank you.” Thank YOU for everything too.
Thank you for loving and tolerating me, and my many flaws and weaknesses. I apologize for the things I have failed to do….

…The visits and calls I failed to make.
…The administrative details some of you fear have been falling through the cracks.
I’m sorry for anybody who feels harmed by anything I failed to do here.

And I’ll say what I’ve said before that from the first moment I got here, and on every Sunday since, I’ve been aware of what an incredibly honor and privilege it has been to be your pastor.
While going through my stuff, I found my very last sermon at Highland Park UMC in Dallas. It was on my very last Sunday, and they allowed me to preach the sanctuary services. And at the end of that sermon, I shared with them lyrics of a favorite Tracy Chapman song of mine. You remember her, right?
“Fast Car?”

Anyway *my* personal favorite Tracy Chapman song is called “All That You Have Is Your Soul.”
And it goes something like this:

“Don’t be tempted by the shiny apple


Don’t you eat of the bitter fruit.


Hunger only for a taste of justice


Hunger only for a world of truth


‘Cause all that you have is your soul.”

The story I told them, in the year 2001, and will now tell you is that when I first interviews the senior pastor at Highland Park, who would soon be my boss (Leighton Farrell) I was walking back to my apartment at Boaz Hall, SMU…and this song popped into my head:
“Hunger only for a taste of justice
…Hunger only for a world of truth…
‘Cause all that you have is your soul.”

I was just about to go to work for the literally the largest Methodist Church at the time, and one of the wealthiest and most powerful in the nation.
And *this* was the song that popped into my head.

When song lyrics pop into my head, I almost always try to listen to them, because they are often a message from God. So, I typed out the lyrics. I taped them on my desk. They stayed there ten years. I put them on my desk at Northaven for many years too, until they wore down and were illegible.

“Hunger only for a taste of justice…
Hunger only for a world of truth
…‘Cause all that you have is your soul.”

This is one of the touchtone songs of my life, truth be told. And Tracy Chapman might have meant it about record deals, the music business, etc….

But for me, it has always helped me answer the question:
“Will I be true to what I really believe about God, Jesus, the Bible, and our faith”
“Will I be true to what I really believe about our United Methodist Church?”
”Will I be true to what I really believe about our nation and social justice?”

Please understand, I have made *plenty* of compromises with my values over the years. Way more than I’m truly comfortable with. I’m am, most definitely, a hypocrite. (Guess what? So are you…) But I give thanks to God that God loves us all despite our hypocrisies.

But I’ve also watched colleagues who have often accepted appointments where they have believed they could not speak their minds or express their true hearts. Friends, you may not know this, but there are many United Methodist pastors who are in that boat. Who make compromises with their own souls for the sake of their job.

I have been very wary of this for my entire career. I have seen how those compromises often weigh on them, and on the way their children see them.

I have tried to keep this thought in my head at all times:
“All that you have is your soul.

And it’s true for *you* too, right? Each of you, individually.
The world is full of moments in time where we might need or want to make compromises. And sometimes we tell ourselves that we are most “adult” when we make them. But that’s not really true.

I mean, Tracy Chapman, or her Mom, didn’t make this up, right. It’s Biblical, you know?
JESUS said that.

“What does it profit someone,” Jesus said, “if they should gain the whole world, but lose their soul?”

People have often wondered why I ever ended up here at Northaven. It seemed like an odd jump: From associated at *huge,* wealthy, megachurch…to senior pastor at very edgy, very progressive Methodists church.

But the truth is, my progressive theology was already pretty well formed, even as I went to Highland Park. And it continued while I was there. It helped me this week to go back and be reminded of this. I found lots of old papers stuffed in a filing cabinet here at church.

My own papers reminded me that I went to my first Peace March back in the late 1980s. I did my first TV interview in support of racial harmony and understanding ( it aired on Channel😎 in 1987).

I found an editorial I wrote 1993 in support of abortion rights. In fact, all through my time at HP, I was on the Planned Parenthood Religious Advisory Council.
And perhaps most interesting of all, the very first time I spoke up in solidarity with LGBTQ persons in public was also 1993.

In fact, it was speaking in support of gay and lesbian *clergy,* and it was at a meeting of clergy in Denton. We had been asked to come together to vote on a definition of “self avowed practicing homosexual.”
I found it disgusting that we were going to codify that, that we were going to “define” the word “practicing.” As a straight man, nobody had ever asked me about my sexual “practice” in similarly explicit tones.
So, I rose to oppose the motion. I had only been ordained elder for a year. I was an associate. There was clearly risk in me saying anything. I was 28 or 29 years old.

I rose and said something like this: “Well, it’s just silly for us to try and kick out the gay and lesbian clergy among us in the North Texas…because we all know that there are gay and lesbian clergy serving in the North Texas Conference. And they serve faithfully and well, even if they never come out of the closet…”
You could have heard a pin drop. Nobody said a word.

The truth is, I was bluffing.
I didn’t know a single “out” gay or lesbian clergy. I knew several that I was positive were closeted, but we’d never talked about it. I just knew that, mathematically, there MUST be some…right?
To my knowledge, there were only a few other people who spoke out against the motion that day.
One of them, it will not surprise you, was John Thornburg.
 One of them, it will not surprise you, was Bill McElvaney.

One of you, you might be interested to learn, was Jack Soper….Marti’s husband.

It was after that meeting that I first felt the sting of standing up for your beliefs. As the meeting ended, some of my clergy friends looked the other way and refused to talk to me. And about two weeks later, my District Superintendent (a fine man, now gone from this world…) pulled me aside and told me how disappointed he was in what I had said. And! He told me my BISHOP was upset with what I had said. (That Bishop is, of course, no longer our Bishop either…)

It hurt…all of that hurt. And, it had me fearful, as I went home and told Dennise, “What if I just screwed up my ministry for the rest of my days? Dear God…what have I done.”

But I remembered the song….
“Hunger only for a taste of justice…
Hunger only for a world of truth..
‘Cause all that you have is your soul.”

I tell you all this not to brag. I tell you because it was really helpful to *me* to re-remember it myself…especially this week, as I was preparing to leave this progressive, forward leaning pulpit for the last time.
At various places along our journey together, I’ve heard folks tell me that I turned much more progressive once I got here.

And I’ve heard others claim that *I* forced Northaven to become far more progressive.
I don’t think either is true.
Northaven didn’t turn me into a theological progressive, and as I said, it was helpful to me to recall that this week as I packed. And, frankly, comforting.
And I certainly didn’t turn Northaven into flaming liberals…I mean, read the history book…
It was just a good match.

But the moment I came here, I knew something. I knew, the moment I first stepped in Northaven’s pulpit that *because* of Northaven’s reputation in the community and in Methodist circles, I knew that some ministry doors were likely closed to me forever.

I knew I’d never be the pastor of a big steeple church. I knew I’d probably never serve a lot of suburban churches…maybe even like the one I grew up in. And I was OK with that, because, “All that you have is your soul.”

So it is that I’m going to a church that’s quite different than Northaven, culturally, socially, and theologically. They are more racially diverse, and that is interesting. They have two very difference styles of worship.
And I believe I can and will love th

em, and I hope and pray they will love me.
But I’ll be clear with you, because some of you, and many community friends, have asked about this next point. And I was *very* clear with my District Superintendent about it:
I’ve got seventeen years of very clearly held positions out there…on the internet…in newspaper clippings and blogs. I have no desire to take back any of it. I don’t intend to apologize for any of it. In fact, I look forward to future conversations as they come up, and time presents itself. I can love, and serve, and be in ministry with anybody. I can be patient and respect different views. But nothing about my own will change. Because “All that you have is your soul.”

Further I’ll still be on the internet and social media, probably more than many think is helpful. That will not change. But understand this, and don’t take it personally, in the future, I’m not likely to respond to your posts.

And we will be here in Dallas. We will be deeply involved with our Dallas musician friends, our political friends, our social activists friends we’ve met over the years. We will be heavily involved in our East Dallas neighborhood, District 14, and elsewhere in the city.

None of that will change either.
 I’ll be around….just not here.

We’ve done some great ministry here. And very soon, it will be time to close the door on this era of Northaven’s life and move to the next.

You’ve heard me say on many occasions that I’ve been concerned we are too tied to our past. This is view that both myself and your former pastor, John Thornburg share…and we’ve talked about it many times.
But, before Northaven looks forward, there is one more look back to make, it seems to me. I will note that we have an historical timeline upstairs that ends in the year 2005. Twelve years ago.
I would suggest, as an act of looking back one final time, that you update that timeline through this year, and then take that as a symbol of your turning and looking forward.

Frankly, there’s a very selfish reason I hope you do….have you *seen* that picture of me? I’m about 85 pounds heavier than I am now. I’d be nice to have something a bit newer.
And it would be nice for us all to remember some of the real successes of this era of we have been in together.

Things we should celebrate, and these are not my successes, these are your successes. These are the successes of our era:
1. The Celebration Garden. Soon after the timeline ends, the Garden was constructed. It’s now finished. I’m so pleased that the ministry of the Celebration Garden Committee…including several who are now Northaven Saints…finished that garden. Special thanks to Tom and Dotti Timmins…and Paul Terrell and Jennie Delphenis…who continue as garden trustees today.

2. The 2nd Community. Although it’s now on indefinite hiatus, that ministry was profound in Dallas…bringing together interfaith leaders and more importantly actuals interfaith PEOPLE for dialogue. Friends: there are now several other interfaith groups in Dallas and almost all of them got inspiration from our 2nd Community.

3. The Medical Clinics in San Juan and San Pablo. We should joyfully and proudly remember the clinics we helped ODIM Guatemala to build in those two towns. The clinic in San Pablo especially is truly a marvelous building that a brings hope and healing to hundreds and hundreds of Guatemalan people.

4. Same Sex Marriage: Specifically, the wedding of George and Jack downtown. It was almost assuredly the very first same sex wedding in the State of Texas, and was performed by your own Judge Dennise Garcia.

5. The Vote to Perform Same Sex Weddings. The congregation voted by more than 98 percent in favor of doing weddings.

6. Congregation Beth El Binah. We should celebrate, as we celebrated in the past, the Jewish synagogue that meets in our building. It’s a beautiful ongoing relationship with them.

7. My Arrest at the White House. This is perhaps a selfish one. You may recall, I was arrested with 113 other clergy protesting President Obama’s inaction on immigration, and defending the Dreamer Families. The issue then was the deportation of parents, leaving children without their parents in *this* country. Ironically, now it’s children being intentionally left in this country!

8. Special Events like: Frank Schaefer, Mark Miller, Sister Helen Prejean, Bishop Talbert…or Bishop Oliveto….we should remember those.

9. Our “Stand With our Muslim Brothers and Sisters” Event…that drew dozens of clergy from around the city, and a packed house of about 300 people. It was one of the very first events in the city to support Muslims from the attacks on their right to worship.

9. Protests: There have been a LOT of them lately. More than I can ever recall in any two year period…and larger ones than ever. And many of you have been attending. Among our younger generations, especially, you have been in the streets a lot the past few years…and that deserves to be noted. At every Dallas protest for the past few years there have been between 5-25 of you present. That’s a decent sized Sunday School class! This is an extremely unusual historical time we are in….and that should be remembered.
OK. Those are my suggestions.

And then, once you’ve decided on which of these you might want to highlight….add them to timeline…and then get ready to turn the page.

Get ready to not look back, but look forward. Get ready for an incredible NEW era with Marti Soper.
For all these things I have mentioned here. you will do MANY more. Many more INCREDIBLY things. As we said last week, the seeds of that ministry are being sewn even now, and they will grow and blossom into something amazing.

Back to souls for a moment.
Not only do we as individuals have a soul, but our nation has one too. And right now, our nation’s soul is being tested like never before in our lifetimes.

These pictures were taken by some of my clergy friends yesterday, along the border. They are of young children, leaving the border detention centers, and being transported away.My friends tell me that they couldn’t stop the busses from leaving…but that they did stand in front of the busses until the police moved them away. And they placed their hands on the side of the buses as they watched these dear children who WE have ripped from their parents. And you see this one picture, of a small child holding his hands up on the windows of the bus.
I still cannot believe or imagine that this is truly happening in our nation.
Our soul is being tested. And remember, more than being right politically…it’s important to literally save this nation’s soul.

 

Which brings me to the well-titled book “The Soul of America” by John Meachum. It’s what I’m reading now. And I commend it to you highly.

It’s common for people these days to say “This is not who we are as a nation.” But friends, the hard truth is that it is. In every historical era, we have struggled to move forward as a people.
I know it’s strange for your preacher to commend a history book to you. But it helps provide perspective. It helps remind us that we have been in very bleak times before…
The Civil War….
The McCarthy Years…
Civil Rights…
Women’s Sufferage…

And all along the way, it took people living out their faith in Jesus, working alongside many other people of good will, to save the nation’s soul from racism, facism…zenophobia…fear of immigrants…fear of women’s equality.

And MANY TIMES the nation has been in peril before.
That’s the history lesson for you to take. Read that book and remember that our nation has a soul worth saviing.
And then, remember today’s Gospel lesson as the final world:

“He got up and gave orders to the wind, and he said to the lake, “Silence! Be still!” The wind settled down and there was a great calm. Jesus asked them, “Why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith yet?”

Don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid….don’t be afraid of storming seas….
Remember that we talked about this very scripture a few weeks back, and I told you about a friend who might have recently lost her job and livelihood. It was very touch and go.

And she told me, “Eric, a minister friend once told me, that Jesus could calm the storm because he didn’t listen to the howling of the wind.”
I think that’s true.
Don’t be afraid…and whatever you do, don’t listen the the howling of the wind. The wind IS howling. But don’t focus on that.

Don’t be afraid of immigration policies that violate our United Methodist beliefs
Don’t be afraid of a pastoral change….or Northaven’s future
Don’t be afraid of the struggles in your personal life too.
Remember, I got those words tattooed on my arm!
And I did it because I’m too often afraid. Time and time again in our seventeen years together, I have reminded you of how often this message repeats in the Bible:

Fear not…say the angels…
Fear not…says God…
Fear not…says Jesus…
Over and over and over…
Because our tendency is to believe that fear might win.
But God tells us that FAITH is greater than FEAR.

FAITH > FEAR.

Can I close with this?
It’s something I’m even more proud of than anything I’ve done here at Northaven in seventeen years. It’s that amazing young woman I call “The Divine Miss M.”
She recently went to New Zealand with the University of Arkansas, and did all sorts of crazy things. She went paragliding. She climbed mountains.
And! She went bungie jumping!
(video starts)
Here’s the video….that’s the place that INVENTED bungie jumping!!!
Can I tell you…I am SO proud she did this.
She was worried. She kept texting with us all day of the jump:
“What if I throw up?”
“What if I get a black eye?”
“I don’t think I can do it…”
And we didn’t tell her she HAD to do it. We just said, “You can do it if you want, and I think you’ll regret it if you don’t…”
So she did it. Isn’t that video amazing?!
Believing that faith is greater than fear is like bungie jumping.
It’s believing that there’s gonna be a cord and the the cord is gonna hold! The cord is gonna catch you!!
You can overcome your fears…..you can take that leap into your future, and into Northaven’s.
Don’t be afraid. All that you have is your soul, and if you follow the leading of your soul and God’s direction, all shall be well.

Faith is greater than fear. And God will always provide the cord.
Amen and God bless you all.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He is Senior Pastor of The Woods United Methodist Church in Grand Prairie, Texas. For seventeen years, he was pastor at Northaven UMC in Dallas, Texas. Eric is an avid blogger and published author. Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy.

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