From Wreck to Restoration: We Commit Sin

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 2:4-13.

A congregant once said to me, “Pastor, I’ve never heard a preacher talk about sin as much as you do!”

I remember laughing as he said this…and then I was quite struck as his words washed over me. If pastors are not talking about sin, then how will people in our congregations know how to talk about sin? How will people in the world know how to talk about sin?

Barbara Brown Taylor, one of my favorite authors, advises that we need language about sin as much as we need language about salvation. In her book, Speaking of Sin, she writes,

Abandoning the language of sin will not make sin go away. Human beings will continue to experience alienation, deformation, damnation, and death no matter what we call them. Abandoning the language will simply leave us speechless before them, and increase our denial of their presence in our lives. Ironically, it will also weaken the language of grace, since the full impact of forgiveness cannot be felt apart form the full impact of what has been forgiven.*

It is not easy to talk about sin. Why dwell on the bad stuff, especially when God has promised to forgive the bad stuff and absolve us of it? I believe we need to talk about our sin, not so we carry the guilt and shame of it with us always, but so that we know the weight of our sin, and therefore the magnanimity of God’s amazing grace.

An essential component of John Wesley’s Class and Band structure was to have members of the bands sit before one another and answer the question, “How is it with your soul?” In responding to this question the band members would share where they excelled, struggled, and out right failed in their lives – personal, professional, and of faith – since the last band gathering. (Wesley would say the life of faith pervades all spheres of life.) It was not enough for band members to say that they sinned; they would have to name the sin specifically and articulate how that sin had harmed God, their neighbors, and themselves. Some might consider this method a severe form of behavior modification, but it worked for the Early Methodists and it continues to work for many today that participate in a covenant or accountability group.

Developing a language to discuss sin draws us into intentional thinking about our sinful acts as well as their consequences and repercussions. From this sort of reflection I am led to

  1. Repent of my sin and seek forgiveness and reconciliation and
  2. Make note of the circumstances, my actions, and my reactions, so that my behavior will be different the next time I encounter the same or similar circumstances.

I talk about sin and I talk about my sin as a way of letting people around me know that I am  a safe place to talk about sin. And maybe one day, if they would like, we could talk about their sin together. And when that conversation begins it will most surely end with the affirmation that our God forgives our sin, that Jesus removes the guilt of sin, that the Holy Spirit breaks the power sin has over us, so that we will indeed live as the forgiven and the redeemed.

Prayer: “In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine, a wondrous beauty I see, for ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died, to pardon and sanctify me. So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.”** Amen.

*Barbara Brown Taylor, Speaking of Sin 4.

**”The Old Rugged Cross,” The United Methodist Hymnal 504.

From Wreck to Restoration: We Are Called

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 1:4-10.

This Sunday the Tuskawilla Family begins a new six-week sermon series – From Wreck to Restoration – as we study texts from the book of Jeremiah. We begin our study with the prophet’s call story.

Earlier this week I had the privilege to spend time with my sweet sister-in-law, Vivian and nephew, Jacob. Jacob is 11 months old and such a joyful little boy. And with his age comes a bit more suspicion about people he is not familiar. Upon seeing Andrew and me, Jacob was cautious and gave us the look of “I think I know you…but my mama better stay right close.”

We spent the afternoon playing with toys and swimming. Andrew took Jacob to the piano for a lesson and I watched as Jacob visibly eased into comfort with Andrew. It was not necessary for Vivian to be in Jacob’s line of sight; Jacob knew he was okay.

Me on the other hand – Jacob’s unfamiliarity lingered – and that was okay. I remained near. I spoke kindly. I smiled. And just before Andrew and I left to come home, while Jacob was playing on the floor and I sat nearby, he crawled into my lap and wrapped his arms around me in tHe best Jacob-size hug.

It won my greatest hug of the day award.

In that moment, Jacob knew me. I was (am) a safe place for him. I was (am) someone that loves him. With me – with Andrew and me – our nephew will always have a family and be at home.

The book of Jeremiah – like all our prophetic texts – tells the story of God’s people being anxious, suspicious, and hesitant in returning to God. They are in exile in Babylon. They hope God has not forgotten them. They wonder if God will forgive them. The prophets affirm that God is with them and that God knows them…but I can imagine the people of Israel and Judah looked suspiciously at the prophets just like Jacob looked at me early Monday afternoon.

The people’s suspicion was okay. And God remained. Through the prophets God spoke words of kindness and affirmation. Through the prophets God communicated a message of hope and salvation. The people would return. And no matter what, they were (we are) God’s children and God was (is) their (our) God.

God wants each of us to let down our guards, to suntended our hesitation, and to climb into God’s arms. God wants to and does hold us close – most especially in the moments when we experience exile. We are members of God’s family. With God we have our home and God is always welcoming us home.

I encourage you to draw near to God. In doing so we move from wreck to restoration.

Prayer: “Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning. Born of the one light, Eden saw play. Praise with elation, praise every morning, God’s re-creation of the new day.”* Amen

*”Morning Has Broken,” The United Methodist Hymnal 145.

Remembering September 11

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 51:1-10, Micah 4:1-5, and Matthew 18:21-35.

I will never forget. I was sitting in my 11th grade AP Literature class when our principal all called over the intercom system, “Teachers, please turn on your class televisions. A plane has just hit the World Trade Center in New York City.”

My class sat in silent horror as we watched the smoke rise from the building. We could not take our eyes away from the screen – the North Tower, the South Tower, the Pentagon, the field in Pennsylvania. Initially all students were kept in our third period classes; eventually the school board determined that the schools were secure and we could continue through our class schedule. But it really was not “continuing.” Students migrated silently between classes. From one room to the next we entered, sat in our desks, and watched the news.

I had so many questions. My fears mounted. As I reflect 15 years later, I continue to have many questions and in returning my thoughts to this day, my fears are stirred up afresh.

After 9/11 life seemed to come back to normal – whatever “normal” was – until my brother drove home from his Army base in Virginia one afternoon to hug me and my family. He was saying “goodbye.” He would deploy to Kuwait headed for Iraq in the next 36 hours. And all the 9/11 terror came crashing back down, but now it was not in New York or the Nation’s Capital or Pennsylvania. Those places were all very far away. Now the terror was too close to home…in fact it was in my home and taking my brother – that I would holler at because his music was too loud coming through the wall between our bedrooms and because he somehow managed to get water on every surface in the bathroom after showering – half way around the world into the very face of danger.

The house was too quiet without him. And although I prefer a dry bathroom, what I would have given to have slipped on water left on the floor.

Charlie served his country well. And Charlie came home. Many did not.

Brave men and women served our country – served our fellow country men and women well on 9/11 – people they knew and people they did not know. We were united. We were all Americans.

We are all Americans.

Some of those men and women that served on 9/11 came home. Many did not.

Countless lives were lost – unnecessarily lost. And to this day it is hard for me to recall what happened, to look at images from that day, to hear recordings of people calling for help and reporting the horrors they faced. I do not want to remember. I do not want those feelings to return.

But…

It is crucially important to remember that human beings are capable of this sort of behavior and activity. We remember by seeing these images, listening to the cries for help, and committing ourselves to behaviors that will not lead us to this sort of activity again.

Says the Psalmist, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (Ps 51:10).

Says the Prophet Micah, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths” (Micah 4:2).

Says Peter to our Lord Jesus, “‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times'” (Mt 18:21-22).

May these verses guide our prayerful desire to craft behaviors that lead to peace rather than destruction, to unity rather than division, to love rather than fear our neighbors.

May we take time this week to remember 9/11, even if it makes us uncomfortable…dare I say especially if it makes us uncomfortable. God is communicating something to us in these moments. May we never forget and with God’s help we will not return to behaviors that led to activities that resulted in the terror of this day 15 years ago.

Prayer: “O Lord, open my eyes that I may see the needs of others; open my ears that I may hear their cries; open my heart so that they need not be without succor; let me not be afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong, nor afraid to defend the poor because of the anger of the rich. Show me where love and hope and faith are needed, and use me to bring them to those places. And so open my eyes and my ears that I may this coming day be able to do some work of peace for thee. Amen.”*

*”For Courage to Do Justice,” The United Methodist Hymnal 456.

Faithful Living

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16.

When I read the words “Let mutual love continue” I immediately think of Mr. Bill Gill. Bill is a member of Gray Memorial UMC in Tallahassee and I had the privilege of meeting Bill during my interview for membership as a provisional elder in the Florida Annual Conference in January 2010.

It was one of those damp, cold January days. I flew in from Atlanta the day before, ventured to Polk County for a quick siesta, and then after receiving thorough instructions about driving my mother’s brand new car to my interview, I drove to the Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park. I was invited to come for lunch; my interview would start at 1pm. I remember being too nervous to eat and standing awkwardly at the back of the dining hall, quaking in my stilettos, seeking a friendly face. Bill’s gaze caught mine and his wise, kind eyes assured me that everything, in fact, was going to be okay.

Bill looked in on me throughout the afternoon. He was caring and comforting. And as a prelude to the news that I would be commissioned that year at Annual Conference, he smiled and said, “We have much to expect from you. God is doing great things in you and I am going to enjoy watching it all unfold.”

When it came time for my ordination interviews Bill sought me out again – this time a friendly and familiar face. Bill and I always seem to find one another at Annual Conference without planning it – God keeps seeing fit to draw us together. He asks about my appointment. He asks about my family. And he shares the great things going on at his church, which one of my friends happens to serve.

(Sometimes Bill says that Jack is up to something…and that is when I assure Bill that pastors are always up to something…)

Whenever we are together Bill humbles me with his encouragement. “We have much to expect from you. God is doing great things in you and I enjoy watching it all unfold.” And now his encouragement includes this phrase followed by a hug, “I am so proud of you.”

I feel, know, and treasure Bill’s love in my life. He showed me hospitality as a stranger and in him I have found such a generous friend. The relationship I have with him and the care I continue to receive from him has shaped and continues to shape the relationships I have with others. As I said in my sermon last week, “small acts have expansive consequences.”* Bill’s small act of sharing love in my life continues to live beyond both of us from that moment we shared on a Tuesday afternoon that last week of January in 2010. That love, which is Christ’s beautiful love, is living on in me and I know it is living on in him.

Thank you, Bill. Thanks be to God for you. May Christ’s mutual love always continue in you and through you. May Christ’s mutual love continue in and through all of us.

Prayer: “Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you. Neighbors are rich and poor, neighbors are black and white, neighbors are near and far away. These are the ones we should serve, these are the ones we should love, all these are neighbors to us and you. Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you.”** Amen.

*Craddock, F. B. (1990). Interpretation–Luke. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 171.

**”Jesu, Jesu,” The United Methodist Hymnal 432.

 

Jesus Sees You

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 13:10-17.

Earlier this week I taught a yoga class that included a student with a broken big toe. He was anxious – to participate, to not harm his toe further, to not be a distraction to the other students, and to feel like he accomplished what he wanted to accomplish by the end of class.

The good news about yoga is that every pose – every.single.pose. – can be modified to each individual student. Poses can increase in challenge or comfort. Poses can be completed standing, kneeling, or sitting. So no poses on your feet – no problem.

He did not leave. He did not sit out. He practiced.

He did not feel cast to the side. He felt seen. He felt heard. He felt comforted. He felt accomplished. He felt included.

Before leaving class he thanked me for taking such special care of him in class and then asked me to suggest what other classes he might take that would accommodate and guide him through his recovery. I shared with him that it would be the pleasure of any teacher in the studio to lead him through a class at his ability level. It is on the teacher to meet the students where they are, to listen, to guide, and, most of all, to see.

When I feel seen, my self worth soars. When I feel seen, I am affirmed that I matter and that my contributions matter. And that feeling motivates me to see and affirm others.

As we head into the Fall months at Tuskawilla UMC we will have increased opportunities to see and connect with folks in our church family as well as see and connect with folks in our community. I love to watch our church during the Greeting Time on Sundays…I am convinced that our church family would greet one another for at least 20 minutes if we did not draw the congregation’s attention forward in the service. No one stands alone. No one is without a hand to shake or a smile to receive. It is truly extraordinary to behold and warms my heart so. We take time to see one another every Sunday. We take time to see one another as Jesus sees us.

In that same spirit I look forward to seeing our Bible Study groups resume, to seeing Scout Troops return to our campus, to seeing our Morningsong Worship Service begin on Sunday, September 11 at 8:30am, and yes, even to seeing the arrival of our little orange friends because their presence means we will soon see many of our community members on the church campus. I celebrate how our church sees both the Class Athlete Afterschool Program and the students of the Arbor School of Central Florida and has welcomed them to meet on our campus. I am amazed by the number of families our Friday Afternoon Food Bank sees and serves twice a month; their commitment to nourish the body and the soul is deeply inspiring.

The Tuskawilla Family understands well what it means to see one another and to meet our neighbors where they are. Through our ministries and witness we comfort and we challenge; we see, hear, and include God’s people. Through this behavior we add our hands to building God’s Kingdom.

Jesus sees us. When we serve one another well, we serve him well and he is so pleased.

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. Breathe on me, Breath of God, until my heart is pure, until with thee I will one will, to do and to endure.”* Amen.

*”Breathe on Me, Breath of God,” The United Methodist Hymnal 420.

Why the Holy Spirit Power Is Needed For Church Renewal

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ephesians 3:20-21.

This Sunday the Tuskawilla UMC Community will be joined in worship by Rev. Aldo Martin. Aldo is one of the Florida Conference leaders of Methodists United In Prayer, a ministry team that serves to affirm and strengthen the relationships of care and service held between The Methodist Church in Cuba and The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. Methodists United In Prayer focus their ministry efforts on the following priorities in both The Methodist Church in Cuba and The Florida Annual Conference Churches:

  • To pray for one another and develop a common study of Scriptures.
  • To engage in the interchange of peoples of Cuba and Florida Conferences work teams, preachers, laity, caravans, study teams, professors, teachers and choirs.
  • To respond to the priorities of the Methodist Church in Cuba.
  • To build relationships between the Florida Conference and the Methodist Church in Cuba for mutual support and encouragement.
  • To enable the training of pastors and lay people for the equipping of Cuban disciples.
  • To mutually share the history, current events, culture and spirituality of both Conferences.*

Bishop Ken Carter visited Cuba in 2013 to participate in the 130th Celebration of Methodism in Cuba and he was overwhelmed by what he saw. In an email he sent to Florida Conference Churches upon his arrival home he shared, ““The Cuban Methodists have discovered how to form new communities of Christian disciples…and how to call forth the gifts of a younger generation.” This evidence – this occurrence – speaks incredibly to the Holy Spirit’s power in the Cuban Methodist Church. For many decades the Cuban Methodist Church struggled under Communist regime and as a Protestant denomination in a predominantly Roman Catholic society. Methodist pastors and missionaries fled because they were threatened with physical harm or imprisonment. It seemed that hope was dwindling for the Methodist Church in Cuba. It seemed that God’s Spirit was being pushed out, when in fact, God’s Spirit was and is growing stronger day by day.

Our Scripture text this week teaches that with God’s power we are able to accomplish abundantly more than we can ask for imagine. I truly believe that what God has done and is doing in and through the Methodist Church in Cuba – in and through the Florida Conference United Methodist Churches – in and through each one of us – would not be possible apart from God. God gives what we need and gives what we do not know we need. God guides and provides. Our God is surprising. Our God works in all times and places. And our God will not be driven out of anywhere. As we are reminded in John’s Gospel, God’s light “shines in the darkness, and the darkness [does] not overcome it” (Jn 1:5).

I look forward to hearing from Rev. Martin this Sunday and then joining with him and others for conversation following the service in Room 16 to explore how Tuskawilla UMC can grow in our relationship with our sister church in Cuba – La Lima – as well as explore future service opportunities with them. I look forward to worshipping with you.

Prayer: “When the poor ones who have nothing share with strangers, when the thirsty water give unto us all, when the crippled in their weakness strengthen others, then we know that God still goes that road with us, then we know that God still goes that road with us.” Amen.**

*http://flumc-missions.org/muip-covenant.html

**”When the Poor Ones,” The United Methodist Hymnal 434.

 

Awaken Orlando – Gravity Youth Sunday

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 11:38-44.

This Sunday Tuskawilla UMC’s Gravity Youth Group will lead our worship experience. They will share about their summer mission trip – Awaken Orlando – through music, personal testimonies, and a picture slideshow. Shrell Chamberlain, TUMC’s Youth Director, will offer the sermon. Our youth are looking forward to this time in worship with our church family.

John 11 tells the story of Jesus’ dear friend, Lazarus. Lazarus became ill and later died. Jesus wept for love of Lazarus and rather than letting death have the final word, Jesus went to Lazarus to awaken him. Jesus went to Lazarus to call him back to life.

When I think about how our youth served on the mission trip, I know they joined Jesus in the work of awakening. They saw need and they answered with service. They saw want for relationship and made and strengthened friendships. They saw places and people crying for hope and became living hope. With fearlessness they stepped into new and different circumstances with new and different people and they served beautifully. I am so so proud of them.

When Lazarus emerged from the tomb, having been awakened by Jesus, Jesus said, “Unbind him and let him go” (Jn 11:44). When Jesus wakes us up – when we become aware of our sin, of our separation from God and intentionally return to God – Jesus says to us, “Unbind him. Unbind her. Let them go.” Unhindered by what was and looking with great anticipation towards what is, the world is ours for the taking. What will we do? What decisions will we make? Will we return to sin, which leads to darkness and death, or will we walk with God on the path that leads to life?

As our youth reminisce about their mission trip I have heard their reminiscing lead to requesting. “When will we return to the Memory Care Center? When will we return to Community Food and Outreach? When will we return to Matthew’s Hope? When and where can we serve more?” These requests are evidence of the rooting of our youth’s awakening. They do not want to go back to sleep. They do not want to go into darkness. They have seen, been a part of, and contributed to the goodness of light and life with God, and they want to continue walking down that path. This mission trip released them to serve and they are ready to continue their response.

Thank you, Gravity Youth, for your service on your mission trip. Thank you for the many ways you represented Jesus, your families, and Tuskawilla UMC during your mission trip. And thank you for the learnings you will share with us this Sunday. I cannot wait to reminisce with you and respond to your requests for future opportunities to serve!

Prayer: Lord, “I could just sit; I could just sit and wait for all your goodness hope to feel your presence. And I could just stay; I could just stay right where I am and hope to feel you, hope to feel something again. And I could hold on; I could hold on to who I am and never let you change me from the inside. And I could be safe; I could be safe here in your arms and never leave home, never let these walls down. But you have called me higher. You have called me deeper and I’ll go where you will lead me, Lord. You have called me higher. You have called me deeper and I’ll go where you lead me, Lord, where you lead me, Lord.”* Amen.

*”Called Me Higher” Lyrics by All Sons & Daughters.