Vital Elements of Worship: Wash Your Hands

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 1:4-11.

During my hospital chaplaincy internship I encountered (and sometimes endured) a variety of different experiences. From late night pages to the Emergency Room to early morning chats with Food Service employees, from wandering the halls of the ICU *literally* watching the eyes of Jesus follow me to watching life-flight helicopters transport persons from one hospital to another. I learned so much about humility and humanity. I learned when it was better to speak and better to remain silent. I experienced joy and sorrow and pink eye.

That’s right. Pink eye.

My brother had pink eye several times growing up, but I eluded its havoc until my chaplaincy internship. I remember sitting in urgent care and asking the physician how I contracted pink eye; I consider myself a generally healthy person. “Probably,” he said, “because you touched a door handle at the hospital and then touched your face. The person that touched the handle before you likely had germs on their hands that developed into conjunctivitis for you.

How kind.

By the end of my internship I knew the location of every automatic door in the hospitals. I opened doors with my hips and elbows like a champ! Having come out of “the valley of the shadow of pink eye” I was not taking any chances on a repeat visit.

As I think back on this experience, I am struck by the fact that perhaps I would not have contracted pink eye if someone else had taken the time to wash their hands. Hospitals have hand sanitizers and sinks all over! And yet maybe someone thought they would skip that stop at the sink or dispenser just that once…

And then God – as God usually does – turned this situation on me – and I began to think about all of the times that I “skip a stop” or activity or gesture that would make the path of the person coming behind me easier. It could be picking up a piece of trash so that someone else does not have to see it or do it. It could be stopping to write a quick note or text message to someone that has been on my heart. It could be taking the time to complete a chore that needs to be done that is not necessarily on my plate, but on the plate of someone I love.

If I take time for these small, simple gestures I believe God’s care and generosity shows through my action. And if we each took time – made time – for small, simple gestures so that God’s care and generosity shows through all of us – what a wonderful world it would be.

What might those small, simple actions be for you this week? In his teaching with the Early Methodists John Wesley established Three General Rules to guide the life and practice of faith for the people called Methodist. Wesley invited people to consider how (if) their thoughts, words, and/or deeds upheld the following:

  1. Do no harm.
  2. Do good.
  3. Attend upon the ordinances of God through prayer, the searching of Holy Scripture, and receiving the sacraments.

I invite you to take time this week to consider how your thoughts, words, and deeds uphold Wesley’s General Rules. How are your decisions leading you to do no harm, do good, and attend upon the ordinances of God? How are you creating space for the necessary and needful stops along the way to make the path easier for persons coming after you?

How many times have you washed your hands today? (*wink*) 

Prayer: “I am thine, O Lord, I have heard thy voice, and it told thy love to me; but I long to rise in the arms of faith and be closer drawn to thee. Consecrate me now to thy service, Lord, by the power of grace divine; let my soul look up with a steadfast hope, and my will be lost in thine. Draw me nearer, nearer, blessed Lord, to the cross where thou hast died. Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer, blessed Lord, to thy precious, bleeding side.”* Amen.

*”I Am Thine, O Lord,” The United Methodist Hymnal 419.

 

Vital Elements of Worship: Breathing in Grace, Breathing Out Praise

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 150.
Questions.
I am answering a lot of questions these days.
How are you feeling? Have you been sick? What has your experience been like? Do you need anything? How can I help?
Questions…that are hard to answer because I do not like (prefer) talking about myself.
Answering these questions draws me out of my comfort zone. It is important for me to share. And I feel and experience great care when I hear these (your) questions. Thank you, friends, for your care of me.
My biggest adjustment in starting my gestational journey is rest. I need to rest much more frequently than I have in recent memory…and I am finding that some attempts to rest are completely futile. I lie awake – uncomfortable, curious, nervous, and sore. In the quiet and in the stillness I ebb and flow between feelings of chaos and order. With God and Andrew, we are experiencing a huge time of creation! This is a (our!) Genesis Moment.
In Creation, there was order and chaos. In Creation, God spoke and it was so. In Creation, God spoke and said it was – we are – all is good. In Creation God breathed God’s life-giving Spirit into us, eternally solidifying our connection. In Creation, God worked and rested.
Rest is not a sign of weakness. Rest is not a sign of inadequacy. Rest is a way – God’s way – our way of recharging, recentering, and reinvigorating our work in and for the Kingdom. If we work without ceasing, our work becomes our idol. If we work without ceasing, we do not offer our best selves or services to God and neighbor. If we work without ceasing, we cut ourselves off from what God seeks to offer us in the midst of rest.
I do not like (prefer) to rest, but I am learning the value of rest. I do not like that my production levels are not equivalent to the past, but on those days I just remind myself that I fortified a central nervous system in the last 12 hours!
I do like that in my rest I am reminded of God’s life-giving breath falling afresh upon me as my breath nourishes the life of my and Andrew’s son. In those moments of rest I ask God to relieve feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. I ask God to help me be and to breathe deeply.
Prayer: “Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew, that I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do.”* Amen.
*”Breathe on Me, Breath of God,” The United Methodist Hymnal 420.

Vital Elements of Worship: Passionate Worship

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 6:1-8.

I grew up attending a church that offered strictly traditional worship services until I was in middle school…that was when – what some called – the “hootin’-nanny” service debuted! Guitars, drums, and clapping, oh my!

I was so excited for this new service as I had been to summer camp for the first time months before and they, too, had guitars, drums, and clapping as a highlight in their worship experience. It was there at summer camp that, for the first time, I “felt” something in worship. Surely it had to be encouraged by those bass drum beats.

My mother gave me permission to attend the new service, though she was not too happy it was scheduled while Sunday School was offered. I went. I was ready. I wanted to “feel” something again.

And after a few weeks, I went back to Sunday School…because the feeling did not come. I continued to worship with my parents in the traditional service. And I sat in my quiet time with God – though I doubt I called it that then – wondering why I had lost “the feeling.”

I remember it was Easter – and Easter was (is) a big deal at my home church. Huge choir, bell choir, brass, and pipe organ – all 72 registers of pipe organ glory! For as long as I can remember the recessional on Easter has been Widor’s Toccata No. 5 – a truly incredible piece. Mr. Corl began to play. About midway through the piece the sound shifts into some quieter pipes; the sound is not as forward, as prominent, and then the piece begins to build towards the finale! As Mr. Corl began his crescendos, I began to have “that feeling” again. What? How could this be possible? I had it first with guitars and drums and clapping…pipe organ is about the farthest thing from guitars, drums and clapping. And yet I was swept up in the feeling – of being in the true presence of Almighty God.

I was 11…almost 12. I remember going home and pondering why the feeling had come in two different settings, two different worship styles, same me in both places, same God in both places…

It was not till many many years later that I realized it was not the same me in both places. I had matured in my faith – it might have been small, but the maturity was there.

In that maturity I changed.

And in my changing I began to learn that I do not worship – I am not called to worship – because I hope or aim to experience some kind of feeling out of being there. I worship because I have been and continue to be invited into the presence of Almighty God – this is pure grace. And it is an incredible privilege to be able to live and serve and have the resources in a country where I am free to worship as I do – this is a great gift.

As I continue maturing in my life of faith I find that experiencing “that feeling” is directly connected to my awareness of being in God’s presence while in worship. In the quiet moments when I am wholly in the presence of God – not thinking about what is next or what just happened or what I will eat (for some reason I think about eating a lot these days…) – and I just am with my God – I am overcome with emotions of assurance, safety, and love.

Do I experience this feeling each time I worship? No. Does that discourage me from worshipping? No. I am committed to coming into God’s presence through worship and – with God’s help – perfecting my being present in God’s presence.

I encourage you to find your way of being present with God just as you are in worship. Give thanks for the grace that invites you to come. Be grateful to be in a country and with the resources that allow you to come. And give yourself the permission, grant yourself the freedom from to-do lists, distractions, despairs, and maybe even thoughts about what you will next eat to worship – truly worship – in the presence of Almighty God.

Prayer: “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus of the Nazarene, and wonder how he could love me, a sinner, condemned, unclean. How marvelous! How wonderful! And my song shall ever be! How marvelous! How wonderful is my Savior’s love for me!”* Amen.

*“I Stand Amazed in the Presence,” The United Methodist Hymnal 371.

Parable of the Dragnet

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:47-51.

The summer of 2004 Andrew served as a lake interpreter at a Boy Scout camp in the Boundary Waters area of Northern Minnesota. He spent the summer taking different scout troops on 10 to 14 day paddle trips…and loved every minute of it.

I also think he wanted to have a summer where he did not have shower the.entire.summer.

And he did not…for 81 days…

He knew to shower before he boarded the flight home to see me.

Smart guy.

In regaling me with stories about his summer on the water, he would laugh the heartiest about the groups that showed up to the base with food to take with them on the water – canned food, snacks, MREs and more! And Andrew…being the stingy interpreter he was…would not let them take any food! None of it!

Why? Because if the boys were not paddling canoes, they were carrying canoes along with everything else they needed for their daily use and campsites. Andrew learned after his first trip that summer that if the scouts could not (literally) carry the weight brought with them, then he would have to carry it…and he did not sign up for that. So while inspecting the scout packs before departure, Andrew would make them pile up all their food to be left behind. They would spend the next 10 to 14 days on the water…and they would fish!

Some boys were fishing experts while others had a steep learning curve. They fished with rods and cast nets. Sometimes they caught fish…other times they caught whatever was in the lake that day…a coffee carafe was the most interesting item!

What I found most encouraging – after I recovered from the thought of Andrew denying the boys access to all the food they brought with them! – was how the boys applied themselves to the work and task of fishing. Fishing was essential for survival on their trip. If one scout had a hot line in the water and another scout was struggling, they took care of one another. Everyone ate. Everyone enjoyed his experience. They learned the value of teamwork, hard work, and being their brothers’ keeper.

The Kingdom of God is like…

This week we celebrate Pentecost – the birth of the Church – in the Christian year. On the day of Pentecost a great gathering of God’s people were gathered together in one place. The Holy Spirit descended and together God’s people worshipped. And from their worship many were convicted to repent and be baptized. And in response – in ownership – of their baptism they served together, ate together, affirmed their commitment to God by caring for and keeping their sisters and brothers together.

Together.

I truly believe that God intends us all to be together. And that when we are all together as the Church – worshipping, serving, sharing, affirming – we not only have enough; we have and are more than enough. To be the Church is hard work. From time to time we may have to leave things behind that we desperately want to bring forward with us so that we can make room to learn new skills, be adventurous in new areas, and blossom further into the people that God desires us to be.

I hope such great hope for the Church, for The United Methodist Church, and for Tuskawilla. God is bigger than all our challenges and God is so so faithful. God asks for our faithfulness. God asks for us to fish even when we are scared…even when we do not know how…even when we think we know a better way. God will and is taking care of us. We are the Church. We are God’s Church. And God is leading us into God’s preferred future.

Please plan to join us for a Congregational Meeting following our 11am Worship Service this Sunday, June 4 to receive an update about the work and continued work of your Tuskawilla UMC Leadership Team. We will meet in the Sanctuary immediately following the Benediction.

Prayer: “Wind who makes all winds that blow, gusts that bend the sapling low, gales that heave the sea in waves, stirrings in the mind’s deep caves: Aim your breath with steady power on your church, this day, this hour. Raise, renew the life we’ve lost, Spirit God of Pentecost.” Amen.*

*“Wind Who Makes All Winds That Blow,” The United Methodist Hymnal 538.

Parable of the Merchant

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:45-46.

When I was in elementary school a sure sign of summer was that my mother and aunt would pile my brother, my cousin, and me in the backseat of either the Oldsmobile or the Bonneville and we would head for the beach. Anna Maria was a family favorite; beach, shade, and a playground with a really fast slide.

Days at the beach included time in the water, walks in the sand, regimented slathering of sunscreen, exploring the playground and eating special beach foods – like Pringles and Fig Newtons…I did not know it was possible to eat these foods at other times than at the beach! But the activity I looked forward to most was hunting for seashells.

And not just any seashells – specifically corkscrew or auger shaped shells – once their snail inhabitant had vacated, of course!

These shells are not typically atop the sand. They are deep within the beach and must be unearthed, taking time and patience. Some days at the beach I would not find a single corkscrew; others I would come home with an entire cupful! Each find increased my delight and fed my hunger to find more. Though other shells were readily available on the beach – that was the one I wanted; that was the one I sought. I would disregard all others for that certain shell.

The merchant in our parable for this week is in search of fine pearls, but in finding one precious pearl, the focused and determined merchant sells everything to possess that one pearl.

Our lives are full of many pearls…or things that would like us to consider them pearls. But God sets before us the pearl – the Kingdom of God – for us to seek and take hold of and thereby not be distracted by other items, people, or activities. God places within us a desire to seek the Kingdom and some days we may see it and others wonder where, in fact, it is or if we are privy to participate in it. I assure you that we are in the midst of the Kingdom, even on the days when we feel we are in a fog or a haze. Says the writer of Hebrews, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Says the author of the Fourth Gospel, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (Jn 20:29).

Some days we seek the pearl and other days it is in our grasp; as with the life of faith – it is about the journey as well as the destination.

Prayer: “Crown him with many crowns, the Lamb upon his throne, Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own. Awake, my soul, and sing of him who died for thee, and hail him as thy matchless King through all eternity.”* Amen.

*“Crown Him With Many Crowns,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 327.

Parable of the Treasure

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:44.

One day while in Nepal (it still stuns me that I am able to say that phrase!) Andrew and I decided to visit Nagarcot, which is in the western-most end of the Everest region. We called our faithful driver, Ramesh, and set out early for the 40 kilometer journey from Kathmandu.

It was truly incredible to watch the landscape change as we ascended out of the bowl of the Kathmandu valley. Geographically, Kathmandu is in a valley; it is in a physical dip in the landscape between the mountains that sits gingerly atop an active fault line. But the lusciousness that the word “valley” evokes is hard to find amongst all the construction and industry. In a very real way, one must leave the valley to find the valley.

The farther we drove, the more the air quality improved. Trash disappeared, or was much less visible. Brown and gray turned to green and I was so excited to see green! “Wait,” Ramesh said, “Just wait.”

Out of the valley we turned off the paved road for a rocky one to led us up to Nagarcot. After driving upward for a couple kilometers Ramesh pulled the car over, which was a feat in itself because there was nowhere to pull the car to – the choices were towards the rock face or the cliff.

He chose the rock face.

“Now look.”

And we followed Ramesh’s gesture to look at that same field we passed earlier but this time we saw it from above. What I thought was green was actually a field of gold. Little golden flowers sitting atop green stems that bloom in direct daylight and close up again at dusk.

It was truly hidden treasure in a field.

I was amazed that field had been left untouched so the flowers could grow. Land is at such a premium in Nepal, though not many people own; they squat. Ramesh said this field on the rock face had been in the same family for many generations – meaning the same family had lived on that rock face for many generations – and though development was important, it was not vital. What was vital was leaving the land as untouched by human hands as possible so the livestock could graze, and the water could seep into the earth, and the flowers could greet them as if to say “good morning” on their way to work and “good night” on their way home.

Our parable for this week says the finder bought the field, not what the finder did with the field once purchased. Yes, I believe that we are invited to have a hand in bringing about the Kingdom of God, but we do not have to develop it from the ground up. The Kingdom of God is – just like the field is – full of beauty and wonder. It is something to behold and respect. It is something to care for and nurture. And it is a place to be surprised by what we might discover there – and because we are there – what we might discover in ourselves.

Join Samantha Aupperlee and Alex Lilly this Sunday as they offer their leadership in word and song on this parable in both our Morningsong and 11am worship services. Thank you, dear friends, for sharing your gifts with our church family.

Prayer: “In all the world around me I see his loving care, and though my heart grows weary, I never will despair. I know that he is leading through all the stormy blast; the day of his appearing will come at last. He lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today! He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way. He lives, he lives, salvation to impart! You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.”* Amen. 

*”He Lives,” The United Methodist Hymnal 310.

Parable of the Yeast

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:33.

The seasons of Lent and Easter have been a “proofing” period for the TUMC Leadership Team in the discernment of God’s vision for Tuskawilla’s future.

Proofing refers to the final rise that dough undertakes before it is baked. The ingredients are together. Their active ingredients – the yeast, sugar, and salt – catalyzed chemical reactions for the dough to rise. The dough has space to rest. The baker kneads the dough, to ensure its desired texture and consistency. And then the dough rises one final time before baking.

The TUMC Leadership Team met in early Lent to share their hearts on our church’s strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities. They believe

  • Our congregation’s greatest strength is our family-friendly feel.
  • Our congregation’s greatest weakness (growth area) is how we value and to express the value of each person in relationship with our church family, especially our children and youth.
  • Our congregation’s greatest opportunity is to connect in service with our neighbors, especially the schools that are next-door neighbors with the church.

Since that meeting in February, I have lived with our named strength, weakness, and opportunity. They are with me as I shop for groceries and walk in our neighborhood, as I travel to district and conference events, as I watch the transformation of our church campus and dream about the future. They are with me as we continue to be God’s people in what seems to be never-ending seasons of change and flux.

And the longer they are with me, the more they speak to me that this is exactly who we are and exactly the path we need to pursue as a congregation in this time.

God brought us together. God continues God’s work with us and in us. God is leading us into God’s preferred future.

God calls us to be faithful. God calls us to follow. And like the woman in this week’s parable, together with God we will make the bread of life that will nourish this part of God’s world.

The Leadership Team gathers this coming Tuesday, May 16 to finalize the first phase of our action plan to further enhance our congregational strength, improve our congregational weakness, and pursue our congregational opportunity. Please mark your calendars and plan to attend a Congregational Meeting following worship on Sunday, June 4 to hear and discuss the first phase of our action as a church family.

The Leadership Team deeply appreciates your prayers and support during this time of discernment. And we look forward with joy, hope, and faithfulness to what God will reveal in our future.

Prayer: “The care the eagle gives her young, safe in her lofty nest, is like the tender love of God for us made manifest. As when the time to venture comes, she stirs them out to flight, so we are pressed to boldly try, to strive for daring height. And if we flutter helplessly, as fledgling eagles fall, beneath us lift God’s mighty wings to bear us one and all.”* Amen.

*”The Care the Eagle Gives Her Young,” The United Methodist Hymnal 118.