Built On Faith

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 7:24-27.

How is it possible that in a couple of weeks Joshua will be ten months old? There were days when I thought he would never grow out of newborn diapers…and nowadays he will not stop growing!

It is good that he grows; Joshua is doing what he is supposed to do. Time is a gift, not an enemy.

Joshua’s new favorite pastime (new favorite pastime…is that a thing?) is “pulling up” – one step closer to cruising – and then to standing on his own – and then to walking! Joshua will pull up to stand on just about anything; unfortunately his choices of “pulling up” foundations are not always the sure-est, which leads to a quick departure back to the ground. Arriving back on the ground does not deter this kid. Though there may be a few tears, moments later he gets back up again.

As we mature in faith, the foundations of our faith shift, strengthen, and endure testing. Through times of trial and doubt we question our faith. Does what we believe hold? Does what we believe satisfy? Is what we believe well with our souls? Through times of health and hope our faith is confirmed, and as a result, we affirm our faith. We recognize it as our source of strength, our fount of wisdom, our well of comfort, and, perhaps most importantly, our legacy.

A signature teaching of my dear friend and fellow ministry mischief-maker, Rev. Melissa Cooper, is that faith is caught more than it is taught. Faith is caught as we live life with others – and as they live life with us – co-witnessing how we act and react to every day situations. When the going gets tough, how do we sustain? When we get knocked down, how and when do we get back up again? In our daily interactions, do we speak first of our joys or of our complaints? In our daily investments, do we think first of our neighbors or of ourselves? Each of these actions and decisions are actions and decisions guided and rooted in our faith. Therefore, it is vital that we have a sure foundation of faith so that as we pull ourselves up to the next opportunity or through the next trial, our foundation is sure – with Christ as our cornerstone and our friends in faith as encouragers at our sides.

Join us this Sunday at 11am as our Gravity Youth share with us about how they Built on Faith through their service with Metro Atlanta Project this summer. We will hear from each of the participants, view a slideshow of their experiences, and sing some of the music they sang in their nightly worship services. I look forward to worshipping with you on Sunday!

Prayer: “He’s coming on the clouds; kings and kingdoms will bow down. And every chain will break, as broken hearts declare his praise. For who can stop the Lord Almighty? Our God is the Lion, the Lion of Judah. He’s roaring with power and fighting our battles. And every knee will bow before him. Our God is the Lamb, the Lamb that was slain. For the sins of the world, his blood breaks the chains. And every knee will bow before the Lion and the Lamb. Every knew will bow before him.”* Amen.

* “The Lion and the Lamb,” Bethel Music, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9ujBoud26k

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‘G’ is for Generative

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 6:1-14.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We know this statement as The Golden Rule. It is based upon the words of Jesus found in both the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7 and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6.

In studying Scripture I frequently employ the practice of lectio divina, which is a sacred listening to the text. A lectio divina practice includes:

  1. Reading a Scripture passage.
  2. Pausing in silence (one to three minutes).
  3. Rereading the same Scripture passage, listening for any word or phrase that lingers with you after the second reading.
  4. Journaling on why you think that word or phrase lingers with you.
  5. Closing in prayer.

After completing lectio divinaon the passages that give us The Golden Rule, I am caught by the word do. Such a small word. Such a short word.

Such a powerful word.

Do.

Act. Create. Execute. Initiate. Move. Produce. Serve.

Do.

Jesus does not call us to wait for someone else to do. Jesus calls us to do, and not just once, but consistently.

In our Scripture passage for this week, the little child did in offering his small lunch to Jesus. His gift became the catalyst that fed the multitude. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, doubted asking, “But what are [five barley loaves and two fish] among so many people” (Jn 6:9)? It appears Andrew sought a bigger solution – a bigger repository – from which to produce a meal. And here is this child – what he could, he gave – what he could, he did.

And there was not just enough. There was more than enough. This is the abundance of the Kingdom of God. This is the abundance that Jesus welcomes us to create with him when we become doers with heads, hearts, and hands united in serving others.

Join us this Sunday as we commission the school supplies collected for A Gift for Teaching that will help students and teachers in Seminole County have a successful 2018-2019 school year. We will also gather for a special time of prayer and blessing for the students, families, and teachers in our church family. See you in worship!

Prayer: “Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices, who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices; who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.”* Amen.

*”Now Thank We All Our God,” The United Methodist Hymnal 102.

‘Check’ None

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Romans 1:16-17 and Luke 10:29-37.

A week ago while out running errands I stopped at a local alterations place to pick up a blouse that needed mending. On the way out of the store, I saw a young woman – maybe high school or early college – sitting at an outdoor table with her face in her hands. Her shoulders were up by her ears. She was quiet or perhaps striving to stifle cries.

And what did I do?

I walked right on by…

I know well the story of the Good Samaritan. And I like to think that I am the Samaritan…but in this moment I was the Levite. This young woman was in need and I did not stop. The rest of my errands took precedence.

Friends, I got it wrong. And so, I ask for forgiveness.

It is a challenge to put feet to our faith. It is a challenge to live the words of Scripture that we read in our daily study and hear proclaimed in worship. It is a challenge, but it is not a challenge that we cannot fulfill. It takes practice. And the more that we put feet to our faith, the more consistent our behavior becomes.

The invitation to put feet to our faith is not a one and done. It is an invitation before us each moment of each day. It is a challenge, but it is not a challenge that we cannot fulfill. It takes practice. And the more that we put feet to our faith, the more invitations we will receive to do it again.

Last Sunday before Morningsong I had to privilege to share with a guest to that service what United Methodists believe about Holy Communion – specifically the transformation we believe occurs through praying that the bread and the cup be for us the body and blood of Christ that we may be for the world the body of Christ redeemed by his blood. By receiving the grace of the sacrament we believe we are transformed by that grace so much so that we – because of and with God’s grace – will transform the world to God’s glory. Our transformation will be noticed by others – it will witness to them – and through God’s Holy Spirit working through us – our witness may stir up a curiosity in them to seek what is different about us…that it might become what is different for them.

I am confident of humanity’s deep need for God’s grace. I am confident that humanity’s transformation by grace is what caused the Samaritan to stop on that Jericho road. I am confident and hopeful God’s grace will hold me accountable and remind me to stop when the next invitation comes my way.

Be sure to join Rev. Kate Ling and members of the Quest Sunday School Class as they lead worship on these Scripture texts this week. Thank you, friends, for your leadership in worship and service to the TUMC Family!

Prayer: “I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus – no turning back, no turning back.”* Amen.

*“I Have Decided to Follow Jesus, The Faith We Sing 2129.

Joined Together

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ephesians 2:11-22.

When I think about unity I picture a massive dining room table – one where anyone and everyone can gather, sit down, and share a meal. There was a commercial last summer about the “biggest back yard barbeque” where the table went on and on; as more people arrived, more tables were added. There was always room. There was always space. Everyone was welcome. What they brought was gratefully received and added to the spread. And there was laughter. And there was joy.

This idea is why Andrew and I have a massive dining room table.

In the Gospel of Luke Jesus shares the Parable of the Great Dinner. Jesus said, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his [servant] to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the [servant] returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his [servant], ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room’” (Lk 14:16-22).

The image of there still being room, of inviting others to come in, and most importantly, inviting folks – as I have heard described – that no one else wants or no one else sees – is the reason why Andrew and I have a massive dining room table…and is the reason why I think the tables in churches should be even bigger. Our tables remind us that Christ’s table was not just for the healthy, the financially sustainable, the intelligent, the talented, and the successful. Christ’s table is for all people. And thank God for that because as much as I would like to think of myself among the healthy, the financially sustainable, the intelligent, the talented, and the successful, I am among the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. And Christ welcomes me – welcomes us – welcomes all so that “[his] house may be filled” (Lk 14:23).

When you think about unity, what image do you see? And what feelings accompany that image? Take time to reflect on that question and your response this week – and share your image with someone you cherish.

Prayer: “Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed, for I am thy God and will still give thee aid; I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.”* Amen.

*“How Firm A Foundation,” The United Methodist Hymnal 529.

 

 

Jesus Said What!? ~ Sell What You Have

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 10:17-22.

If you ever visit the parsonage, watch your step just inside the front door. Why, you may ask? Because there is always a pile of donations by the front door.

Always. Ask Andrew.

While serving New Horizon in Haines City/Davenport I was introduced to “31bags” – not the company, but the concept. Ladies in the church told me that on the first day of the month they went around their homes and placed one item in the bag for everyday of the month – so 28, 29, 30, or 31 items depending on the month and the year. Once the items were collected they would place their 31bag in a closet. If they returned to the bag during the month to take hold of a particular item, they would keep that item. All undisturbed items were donated by the month’s end. And on the first of the next month they would repeat the process.

Why did the ladies do this?

  • To de-clutter.
  • To simplify.
  • To help their families so that their loved ones would not have to de-clutter and simplify later.

The practice of de-cluttering and simplifying feels natural to me. If I cannot use something, maybe someone else can. And if I am not using something, do I need to hang onto it? Itinerancy also helps with the discernment to keep or to donate; on more than one occasion I have asked myself in a store – “do I like this enough to move it?” – and more often than not, I leave whatever it is on the shelf.

Donating items and clearing out what is not being used is also a spiritual practice for me. These acts are acts of stewardship. I am making room – physical, spiritual, emotional – for what is really important. I feel like letting go of stuff here – on this side of eternity – further prepares me for what awaits in the fullness of eternity. Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Mt 6:19-20).

I do not want to be bogged down. And I do not think there is “baggage check” where we are going. It is like the wonderfully poignant Polk County bumper sticker reads, “Ye who dies with the most toys…still dies.”

Take a look around your home. Are there places you could de-clutter and areas you could simplify? Is this the time for you to create your own 31bag? These are big tasks and they can quickly become overwhelming, but doing a little bit at a time is better than doing nothing at all. It’s for you. For your family. For your stewardship. For your preparation for eternity.

Prayer: “Take my will, and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine. Take my heart, it is thine own; it shall be thy royal throne. Take my love, my Lord, I pour at thy feet its treasure-store. Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee.”* Amen.

*”Take My Life, and Let It Be,” The United Methodist Hymnal 399.

 

Jesus Said What!? ~ Let Him Who Has No Sword Buy One

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 22:35-38.

The Tuskawilla UMC paraments – the cloths on the altar and the pulpit – are now green signifying we are in a period of “ordinary time” in the church year. (Ordinary Time technically started the first Sunday after Pentecost back in May…but the red or Pentecost paraments are my favorite and I like to enjoy them for more than just one Sunday.)

The Ordinary Time that follows after Pentecost is known as Kingdomtide. This period continues until the Season of Advent begins. During Ordinary Time we study Scripture texts that encourage us to mature in our daily expressions of faith so that we become more holy and whole persons.

To seal our Ordinary Time intention – to mature in our daily expressions of faith so that we become more holy and whole persons – I offer this blessing from one of my mentors and colleagues, Rev. Jan Richardson.

“Blessing the Ordinary”

from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons

(Orlando: Wanton Gospeller Press, 2015)

Let these words lay themselves like a blessing upon your heard, your shoulders,

as if like hands they could pass on to you what you most need for this day,

as if they could anoint you not merely for the path ahead

but for this ordinary moment that opens itself to you –

opens itself like another hand that unfurls itself, that reaches out to gather these words in the bowl of its palm.

You may think this blessing lives within these words,

but I tell you it lives in the opening and in the reaching;

it lives in the ache where this blessing begins;

it lives in the hollow made by the place where the hands of this blessing meet.

See you in worship on Sunday, friends! May sweet blessings be upon you and bring our hands to meeting throughout this Ordinary Time.

Jesus Said What!? ~ Fear Him Who Has The Power To Cast You Into Hell

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 12:4-12.

One of the first concepts a student of Scripture interpretation learns is how the sacred texts we have came to be. The stories present in our sacred texts existed first as oral tradition – stories told around campfires, as friends worked in the fields, as mothers tucked their children into bed.

These stories were told to keep the faith alive and fresh in God’s people – so the young would learn and the old would not forget. Moses spoke specifically of the royal law – “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” when the following words were shared, and I believe they are applicable to the whole of our sacred text – “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deut 6:4-9).

At a later time writers inspired and guided by God’s Holy Spirit captured on paper – or scrolls – these oral traditions. The scrolls circulated through faith communities and were further committed to the heads, hearts, and hands of God’s people.

The formation of the Synoptic Gospels – synopticmeaning same or similarlike the word synonym– is of particular interest because unlike other biblical texts, we have access not only to the particular gospel text, but also to its sources. The earliest gospel we have is the Gospel of Mark; it serves as the source document for both Matthew and Luke. They share many stories in common, with Matthew and Luke often adding additional details or descriptions to concise Markan accounts. Additionally Matthew and Luke have stories they share that Mark does not have, which some scholars attribute to Q– short for Quelle, which is German for Source– and they have independent material (called Mand L) that neither of the other Synoptics share. All of these sources – Mark, Q, M and L – provide us with the gospels we cherish today.

The presence of these shared or common sources between the Gospels is why students of Scripture interpretation may experience déjà vu…didn’t I read this already? In fact, you probably did. So…is it worth reading again? In fact, yes it is – for a number of reasons. Among them are

  1. The meaning of Scripture grows in depth and meaning as our life experiences change. As we age, as we experience more, how Scripture guides and resonates with us changes to ensure our grounding and growth in the faith.
  2. Certain sayings of Jesus are not always “attached” or “linked” – if you will – with the same stories or circumstances across the gospels. Remember, the gospels are not “eyewitness accounts.” As such, it is important to read the sayings of Jesus in context with surrounding material because the surrounding material will shape and yield different and deeper learnings. Sometimes the contexts are the same, and that agreement between the gospel writers adds greater emphasis and importance to the Jesus saying. At other times the contexts are different, which reveals the individual gospel writer’s specific message to his intended audience.

So as you read and study Scripture, stay alert and resist temptations to slip into “auto pilot” or “auto reader mode” when you read a passage that sounds familiar. If you experience déjà vu while reading Scripture, then invite that feeling to guide you into a greater state of presence and awareness as you study. Scripture is a gift. That we are able to hold it in our hands is a gift. That we are able to read it in our heart language and dialogue about it freely is a gift.

Treasure Scripture. Keep these words in your heart. Share these words with your family and friends. Live in response to Scripture through the actions of your head, hearts, and hands.

Prayer: “Thy love divine hath led us in the past; in this free land with thee our lot is cast; be thou our ruler, guardian, guide, and stay, thy Word our law, thy paths our chosen way.”* Amen.

*”God of the Ages,” The United Methodist Hymnal 698.