Jesus Said What!? ~ You Must Hate Your Parents, Spouse, Siblings and Children

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 10:32-39.

Some Bible verses are hard to stomach and this week’s passage is among them. This text is troublesome. In truth it causes me to cringe. Much like Jacob wrestled with a man in the night and limped away forever marked in the morning, folks have wrestled and continue to wrestle with this text – biblical scholars, pastors, disciples, and seekers. We thought Jesus’ intent was to draw all people together and to draw all people together to himself. And yet this passage seems to tell a different story…

When we read passages like this one it is important to remember our tools for exegesis – meaning our tools for studying Scripture:

  1. Read and study Scripture in context meaning in relationship to the passages immediately before it and after it. This also means reading the given passage alongside other passages of the same topic in order to gain deeper understanding of the concept. Resources like a Bible Dictionary and Concordance are helpful in this sort of study. Hardcopies of these resources are available in the Church Library and electronic versions are available for free online.
  2. Beware “sound bite theology.” Have you ever been in a conversation with someone that has said, “Well the Bible says…” and then that person zeros in on one verse to make a (his or her) point and in order to shut down any further conversation? (I admit – I have done this!) More often than not when someone deploys this strategy that person takes a scripture verse out of context or that person “reads into the text” – known as eisegesis – in order for Scripture to say what he or she wants rather than what the text says. In these instances I encourage you
    1. To honor your conversation partner,
    2. To respect their opinion even if you disagree with it, and then
    3. To attend to your own study of the text to further develop your personal interpretation and application of it.
  3. Do not hesitate to use one of the most theologically sound statements available to you – “I don’t know!” There are passages of Scripture that are difficult and in our attempts to make them less difficult we sometimes dig ourselves into even deeper holes…and then backfill dirt on top of ourselves. (I have also done this one more than one occasion!) Sometimes we question the value of Scripture – or our desire to know more of it or about it – when we come across passages like this one that make our hearts ache. Saying “I don’t know” to a Scripture like this does not defeat it…but it may relieve our anxiety to explain it. And hopefully we will be encouraged to learn more about it through personal study and conversation with friends. “I don’t know…but let’s find out together.”

Reading the whole of Scripture paints us the fullest picture of our God and of his Christ. In some moments our hearts will be sweetly touched and in others they will feel achingly raw. We are better and our faith is deeper by having the presence of both kinds of Scriptures and the experiences they bring. In this way Scripture remains relevant in our lives. Scripture speaks to life. Scripture speaks life. And I am so grateful.

Prayer: “When peace like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul. It is well (it is well), with my soul (with my soul), it is well, it is well with my soul.”* Amen.

*“It Is Well with My Soul,” The United Methodist Hymnal 377.

 

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Jesus Said What!? ~ Whoever Divorces and Marries Another Commits Adultery

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 10:1-12.

Our Scripture text for this Sunday mentions adultery – the act of engaging in a relationship with someone that is not your spouse. In biblical times adultery concerned physical actions. I believe in our present time adultery concerns physical actions as well as emotional and psychological actions. Technology was not on the “biblical times relationship radar;” however, in the present day, some people cannot conceive of their “relationship radar” without technology. Some people would not have their relationships without technology! Technology can help or hinder relationships; technology can bring couples together or it can tear them apart.

In John 8 the Pharisees bring a woman before Jesus who had been caught in adultery. According to the Law of Moses the woman should be stoned and so the teachers of the Law wait with baited breath to see what Jesus will do. Curiously Jesus decides to draw in the sand as the Pharisees continue their questioning. When Jesus speaks he astounds them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” and then he returns to his scripting in the sand (Jn 8:7).

(I can’t wait to ask Jesus what he wrote…)

The Pharisees left Jesus. When Jesus looked up again only the woman remained. None were there to condemn her and neither would Jesus. With great freedom and forgiveness Jesus says, “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again” (Jn 8:11).

Once again Jesus shows incredible grace. The Pharisees expect Jesus to take a bite out of her – to apply retributive justice by taking a stone in his grasp…and Jesus surprises them by restoring her.

Perhaps Jesus surprises us, too.

Jesus recognizes her humanity. He acknowledges her sin but affirms that sin is not what defines her. She is made in the image of God. Her worth is sealed in the image of God. Forgiveness makes her new and so Jesus sends her forth to not sin again.

I pray that this witness of Scripture leads us to loosening our grips and laying down our stones. I pray that God redeems our proclivity to condemn so we would be people of greater compassion that join Jesus in affirming the worth of all our sisters and brothers. God’s intention is that we build up and draw together – that we create and nurture, not destroy.

When we are caught in sin – however we are caught in sin! – Jesus forgives us. He does not take up stones against us. This is good news. And in his name he sends us on our way to tell of his good news and sin no more.

Prayer: “Fairest Lord Jesus, ruler of all nature, O thou of God and man the Son, thee will I cherish, thee will I honor, thou, my soul’s glory, joy, and crown.”* Amen.

*”Fairest Lord Jesus,” The United Methodist Hymnal 189.

Jesus Said What!? ~ Let The Dead Bury Their Dead

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 9:57-62.

This Sunday the Tuskawilla UMC Family begins a new sermon series entitled Jesus Said What!? In this series we will study words of Jesus that are possibly lesser known to us and definitely a shock to our system. When I think of Jesus’ words, I think of words that are kind and hospitable; many of the passages we will study over the next two months are “a completely different animal” as my Gramps would say.

Let us remember that the words we have in Scripture circled for generations in oral tradition before they were written down. This fact troubles some folks; they question the truth of Scripture because it is a re-creation of these moments rather than an up-to-the-minute breaking-news account. In our world of 24-hour news media that provides instant gratification when we hunger for headlines, it is at times hard to accept how the Scripture we hold so dear came to be and came to us.

I believe the Bible is true because Scripture contains the word of God. Scripture reveals the actions of the Triune God as truth and is the foundation of our knowledge of God. Scripture proclaims Jesus as the Word of God – who was made incarnate in the world – in order to serve, teach, love and save humanity. Scripture is the means by which we encounter the Holy Spirit, who guides us in our service to others; service is our appropriate response to what the self-revealing God has done for us. Scripture proclaims that, through the mercy of God and the salvific death of Christ, humanity’s broken relationship with God is reconciled and restored.

The Holy Spirit’s movement in the lives of the biblical writers inspired and guided their writing. The Bible does not claim to be inerrant or require literal interpretation at all times; it is a human construction – inspired by the Holy Spirit – and it expresses the word of God in a variety of literary forms. I believe Scripture is not meant to function as a science textbook; it tells its readers the Who and the Why, not necessarily always the When and the How. Just as the Holy Spirit spoke to and guided the writers of Scripture I believe the Holy Spirit speaks to us through Scripture and shepherds us in interacting with Scripture in fresh ways.

Scripture continues to be relevant and true for us today. It serves as our primary source for theological reflection and study as we grow in our knowledge and love of God. It connects us to the history and faith of God’s people. It reveals to us the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as individuals and as the Church. It informs our response in service to the world in the manner of Christ.

Prayer: “I can hear my Savior calling, I can hear my Savior calling, I can hear my Savior calling, “Take thy cross and follow, follow me.” Where he leads me I will follow, where he leads me I will follow, where he leads me I will follow; I’ll go with him, with him all the way. “.* Amen.

*“Where He Leads Me,” The United Methodist Hymnal 338.

 

Memorial Day Sunday Hymn Sing

Scripture ~ Psalm 72.

When I was a girl, Memorial Day signaled the start of summer. School would be out soon if it was not already. We would eat more meals of hamburgers and hotdogs from the grill. Long days of sunshine and riding bikes into the evening hours until the mosquitoes literally chased us inside were in my grasp.

Memorial Day took on a new meaning my senior year of high school. My brother, Charlie, enlisted in the United States Army and deployed to Kuwait. There he served as a fueler and he patrolled the oil lines headed into the war zone. I thought of and prayed for him every day he was away. I wanted to eat burgers and hot dogs with him on Memorial Day, not wish he was there…

My appreciation for Memorial Day deepened a great deal when we learned of the death of Andrew’s beloved Josh. I will never forget driving into the National Cemetery in Bushnell and seeing each grave decorated with an American Flag. Josh loved this country. He gave his life for it. Duty. Honor. Brotherhood. Those values were the foundation of his life.

When Andrew and I found out we would be parents – like many – we began discussing names. It was not until the day we learned that we would have a son that I looked at Andrew and said we should name him Joshua. I will never forget the way that Andrew‘s face lit up. I asked him if it would be painful for him to call our son Joshua and Andrew said no because he wants our son to hold dear all of the things that his beloved Josh held dear. And so when we look at our Joshua we remember his namesake. We remember duty, honor, brotherhood and sisterhood. We remember and we give thanks.

As you celebrate Memorial Day this coming week, I invite you to reflect on how the celebration of this holiday has changed for you. How has the meaning of this day deepened? Is there someone that God is calling you to connect with on this day? What values ground your life and how do they give shape to the service that you offer to your neighbors?

Prayer: “Almighty God, before whom stand the living and the dead, we your children, whose mortal life is but a hand’s breadth, give thanks to you:

For all those through whom you have blessed our pilgrimage, whose lives that have empowered us, whose influence is a healing grace, we lift up thankful hearts.

For the dear friends and family members whose faces we see no more, but whose love is with us for ever, we lift up thankful hearts.

For the teachers and companions of our childhood and youth, and for the members of our household of faith who worship you now in heaven, we lift up thankful hearts.

For those who sacrificed themselves, our brothers and sisters who have given their lives for the sake of others, we lift up thankful hearts.

That we may hold them all in continual remembrance, and ever think of them as with you in that city whose gates are not shut by day and where there is no night, we lift up thankful hearts.

That we may now be dedicated to working for a world where labor is rewarded, fear dispelled, and the nations made one, O Lord, save your people and bless your heritage. Day by day we magnify you, and worship your name, for ever and ever. Amen.”*

*”Memorial Day,” The United Methodist Book of Worship 440.

Join us in worship for one service at 11am this Sunday at Tuskawilla UMC. Our choir will lead us through a guided hymn sing celebrating American Hymn Writers.

 

Church Behind the Scenes

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 2:1-12.

Some years ago I heard this piece of truth: if your dreams do not scare you, then your dreams are not big enough.

I tend to avoid things that scare me: roller coasters, water chestnuts, flats on Sundays… so it is a bit counterintuitive for me to run towards and hold fast to something that scares me.

I am a planner. I do not like surprises. I like expectations – both what to expect and what is expected of me. While the unknown and the future holds a certain intrigue – a certain mystique – it scares me.

On Pentecost we celebrate the birth of the church – the day we received the gift of God’s Holy Spirit as well as the invitation to worship, gather, and serve as part of God’s dream that is both seen and unseen. As we are the church together God reveals more of God’s dream – God’s big, grace-filled, freeing, heart-capturing dream. We have the opportunity to take hold of God’s dream and very quickly it takes hold of us and draws us towards a future we cannot fully see but can fully trust.

It can be scary…but a relationship with God draws us into such a greater world. In God’s world we matter and what we do matters. Sometimes we can see how what we do fits into God’s larger dream. And sometimes we serve not knowing exactly how our offering fits into God’s big dream and so we trust that God uses our offerings to God’s good and God’s glory.

As scary as all of this is…God has so captured me that I cannot do anything but pursue God’s dream. I know some of the steps, but not all of them. And I continue walking. I continue trusting. I continue dreaming. And when I am scared I know I am not alone…and that I am right on track.

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 Methodists Hymnal, 538.

 

The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss ~ Horton Hears A Who

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Romans 8:18-25.

One of my favorite moments of liturgy in our weekly 11 o’clock worship services is when I sit with the children of our church and sing Jesus Loves Me. They sing sweetly with smiles full of promise and hope. They sing confidently – even if they are still learning the words. I hear some pretty inventive and entertaining refrains from time to time! This is a beautiful ritual we share with the children of our church each week; it communicates that we value our children. Jesus loves them and so do we.

Recently I preached at Westminster Winter Park, which is the home of one of TUMC’s long time members named Grace. I always look forward to visiting with her and listening to stories of TUMC in the early days. She always asks how she can pray for the church. And she assures me that even though she is not able to attend as often anymore that our church is never far from her heart.

The day I preached the Westminster Tower Ringers – a chime choir – offered their spring concert in the worship service. I played bells and chimes during high school and college – Andrew and I met in that bell choir! – so those instruments and that music will always hold a very special place in my heart. Their final piece in worship that day was Jesus Loves Me.

The chime choir began chiming. Sitting in the midst of the congregation I listened as the music washed over us. As the sound of the chiming rose in the air, so did the quiet singing of the congregation. A congregation full of the Greatest Generation singing a song I am sure many of them learned as children – the same ages as those in the TUMC Family…

Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus love me. The Bible tells me so.

Romans 8:19 reads, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” We are God’s children for we have received God’s Spirit. And it is incumbent upon us to raise up the generations of God’s children – all of God’s children. We do so by speaking and singing God’s truth. That Jesus loves them – loves us. That Scripture is trustworthy and true. That by God’s gift of grace we are a part of God’s eternal promise.

Give thanks for God’s children in your life. And trust that whatever your age or ability that God can and does use you as part of God’s plan. The way you serve God may be changing…it may be different than it once was. However your service to God changes, ensure that you continue serving God! In doing so you offer encouragement and an example for all generations.

You reveal the presence of God’s children in creation. You reveal the presence of God’s children to one another.

You reveal the presence of God’s children to me.

Prayer: “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus 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.

The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss ~ How The Grinch Stole Christmas

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 19:1-10.

If you had the opportunity to eat lunch with Jesus, what would you discuss?

(*I would probably start with “why can’t we end sentences with prepositions!? I spent too much time devising a way to ask this question without ending the question with a preposition! … and then I would segue to a much deeper, more reflective topic… I hope!)

I asked this question on social media this week. The answers – like the song from my childhood Sunday School days – were deep and wide. Some wanted to know about certain biblical figures, teaching methods, and characters we meet in Scripture. Others said they would sit in the silence of the sacred moment to listen…hoping that moment would last a lifetime. Still others said they would ask Jesus what he wanted them to do next.

One person wondered if he would know Jesus was his lunch partner before the breaking of the bread!?

(I smiled…I like when bigger kids (*ahem* – adults) overhear the Children’s Moment.)

One response from my informal poll continues to linger with me – much like a word or phrase in the sacred listening of Scripture practiced in Lectio Divina. A friend – that said on the day we met, “you are a pastor and a girl; how cool is that!?” (And it is very cool, if I do say so myself!) wrote, “Did you ever think you wouldn’t do it?”

Did you ever think you wouldn’t do it?

When I first read this question, my mind immediately jumped to Jesus’ death and resurrection. But as I reflect on it further, I realize that Jesus could have backed out at any moment.

I tried; they didn’t follow, so I’m done… 

No…I do not feel like teaching today…

You want me to heal you!?…

Ummm no…I do not associate with folks like that…

Leave heaven for earth? For them? Now why would I want to go and do that?…

Ever thought about that?

No? Me neither.

(Thank you, Patricia.)

The Gospels share a common theme – Jesus’ pursuit of us in and because of love. There is no place he would not and did not go. There is not one thing he did not do. Folks heaped ridicule and scorn upon him until eventually they heaped Jesus up on the cross…

There was that moment in the garden where Jesus asked if the cup might be passed from him…it was the cup he shared – received and gave – again and again at countless meals throughout his life. If he passed that Gethsemane cup, how might that change the efficacy of all the other cups he shared in and because of love throughout his ministry – including the cup shared with wee Zacchaeus after he descended from the sycamore-fig tree?

If you had the opportunity to eat lunch with Jesus, what would you discuss? What cup would you receive from him? And what cup would you share?

Prayer: “As Christ breaks bread, and bids us share, each proud division ends. The love that made us, makes us one, and strangers now are friends, and strangers now are friends.”* Amen.

*”I Come With Joy,” The United Methodist Hymnal 617.