Calling: Yours, Mine, and Ours

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Proverbs 3:5-6.

This Sunday at South Shore UMC we kick off our Total Request Live Summer Series, featuring Scripture, sermon topic, and song requests from members of the congregation. I am delighted by the responses I have received and look forward to this time of worship with our congregation.

This week’s sermon will be co-preached by myself and the Reverend Rachel Paul Hartman, who joins South Shore’s staff and church fellowship for the next year as her secondary appointment. Rachel is a provisional deacon in our Annual Conference serving in extension ministry as a Clinical Pastoral Education Resident at Tampa General Hospital. Each deacon that serves in extension ministry – meaning in a setting beyond the local church – is asked to locate and secure a secondary appointment where he or she may serve in direct connection with a local congregation. Pastor Rachel connected with me and through the work of the Episcopal Office, the Office of Clergy Excellence, and the Gulf Central District Office, Pastor Rachel is now connected to South Shore in service and relationship for the next year.

During the sermon this week Pastor Rachel will reflect on her call story while I reflect on the topic of trust – where it begins, how it is fostered between persons, and how we can build trust with God. For the purposes of time – unless y’all are really pining for a 57 minute sermon – any takers? – I will share my call story on this platform and briefly touch on the unique callings of God’s people in service to our Lord and Creator.

I first experienced my call to the ministry in July of 1996 in the chapel at Warren W. Willis United Methodist Camp. I was eleven years old and could not wait to be at camp. Each night, the mid-high camp would retreat into the chapel to worship and hear a message. Having grown up in the church all my life – all eleven years! – I thought that nothing could be said to me in chapel that I would not have already heard or considered. However, this week was different. As the band exited the stage that first night, I remember waiting for the pastor to take the floor. I recall thinking,

Hmm…where is he?  Doesn’t he know that he should be up there now? What’s taking so long…Hey…why is that woman stepping up to the microphone? Is that a Bible in her hands? Perhaps she is only reading the scripture lesson…no…she’s still talking…I don’t think she’s going to sit down…wow…I didn’t know that a woman could do that.

From that point on, I was completely engaged. For the duration of the week, I sat in chapel absorbing everything that left her lips as if I had never heard the stories before because her leadership revealed a new opportunity – a new path – a new calling that I did not think was available to me.

Friday night at camp came much too soon. That night in chapel, the pastor led us in a service of Holy Communion. After I received the elements, I prayed at the altar. My prayer began from sheer frustration and escalated to anger:

“Alright God…I don’t know what is going on. You place this woman before me; yet, I didn’t have the time to explore my options with her. What am I supposed to do now? I am leaving tomorrow, and I don’t know what I’m to do with all of this!” 

I began to sob, and as I looked up to brush away my tears, I caught the eye of the pastor. She smiled and nodded at me with peace in her eyes. I returned to my prayer with that sense of peace and said, “Whatever your will Lord, send me.” The strangest warmth overcame me within my heart, which served as my affirmation that I had made the right choice. I left camp affirmed that I was meant to serve. How and to what capacity was yet to be determined…

That night eleven-year-old Sarah experienced an internal call. For the next fourteen years I engaged in service with God’s people inside and outside of the church to both explore my call and to witness if others experienced God’s call in me as I experienced it myself. Volunteer positions led to staff positions led to attending seminary at Candler School of Theology at Emory University led to submitting commissioning paperwork that led to my commissioning as a provisional elder in The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church in 2010. I was then appointed to my first congregation. In 2014 I was ordained elder in full connection.

And the rest, they say, is history.

And yet it is still very much present. Because I am daily – daily – engaged in the work of articulating my call to love God’s people and to love God’s church and to love God’s people in God’s church. I am daily engaged in connecting with folks to witness if they experience God’s call in me as I experience it in myself. Because the day that witness is interrupted, or dare I say ends, then I need to be aware of it – and retire.

As I discerned and discern my call, I continue to feel called to serve God and God’s people as an ordained elder. As Pastor Rachel discerned and discerns her call, she continues to feel called to serve God and God’s people as an ordained deacon.

There are two ordination orders within The United Methodist Church: Deacons and Elders. These orders are equally important in their service to the Church; however, they function in different ways so that those who are called to ministry have the opportunity to serve, lead, and nurture the Church in the way that God calls them. Equipped with their gifts and graces for ministry as revealed to them by the Holy Spirit, Deacons and Elders in The United Methodist Church purposefully engage in loving acts of service for the people of The United Methodist Church and the world. Additionally, they empower others to live into the call God has placed on all lives – as we all participate and are called to the ministry of all believers – in order to further of the Kingdom of God in present and glimpse the Kingdom of God to come.

Deacons are called to Word, Service, Justice and Compassion. Deacons assist Elders with Sacrament and Order. Elders are called to Service, Word, Sacrament, and to perpetuate the Order of The United Methodist Church.

Quick! To The United Methodist Glossary (a highly abbreviated version)

  • Word – interpreting and proclaiming Scripture
  • Service – serving God’s people
  • Justice – to seek and demand justice for the marginalized, named in Scripture as the orphan, the widow, and the alien
  • Compassion – to embody and call others to care, kindheartedness, and generosity
  • Sacrament – the interpretation and stewardship of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion
  • Order – the administration, organization, and supervision of God’s people at each level of ministry

The United Methodist Church celebrates the ministry of all believers. We believe laypersons as well as ordained persons are called by God and gifted to lead God’s people. As the Holy Spirit stirs our hearts and enlivens us with God’s creative breath to serve, so we breathe back to God the gifts of “love, prayer, praise, and thanksgiving,” these four being “the breath of every soul which is truly born of God.”* As laity and clergy are yoked together in the service of our Lord, we incarnate the covenant that unites us as faithful hearers and doers of the Word.

I am excited for our church to meet Pastor Rachel this Sunday. And anticipate with great joy how her words will further inspire us to reflect upon and pursue God’s calling for South Shore – yours, mine, and ours.

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.

*“The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God,” John Wesley, John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology, ed. Albert C. Outler and Richard P. Heitzenrater (Nashville: Abdingdon Press, 1991), I.8.

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

More Than Just A Cup

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 10:40-42.

This week South Shore UMC made two unexpected and very special deliveries to our partners at Restore, a ministry of Riverview First UMC. We received additional items from our July Replenish Restore food drive and SSUMC’s Backpacks On A Mission Leadership identified donations from their stock to gift to persons experiencing financial hardship and food insecurities during this time.

I am so grateful for the generosity of this church family. We live in our actions what Jesus said in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats:

“‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat…’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me'” (Mt 25:35a, 37a, and 40). 

As we unloaded our vehicles with the donated items, the Restore volunteers became overwhelmed with emotion. We heard words of gratitude. We heard words of thanksgiving.

We heard words of hope.

One of the leaders shared with us, “We were running low on food this morning. We opened knowing that we might run out before our pantry hours conclude for the day. And then you arrived.”

Friends, the food that we share with those experiencing need and loss in our community through Restore is so much more than just food. It is tangible hope. It is physical comfort.

It is assurance of belovedness.

South Shore UMC will host our July Replenish Restore on July 1, 2020 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the SSUMC Portico. We welcome the following donations – in paper bags – please:

Canned Beans and Dry Beans

Peanut Butter or other Nut Butters

Rolled Oats

Whole Grain, Low-Sugar Cold Cereals

Canned Fruit (in juice)

Canned Vegetables (no or low-sodium)

Canned Soups and Stews (low-sodium)

Canned Tuna (in water)

Canned Chicken

Nuts and Dried Fruits

Whole Grain Pasta

Pasta Sauce (low-sodium)

Unsweetened Applesauce

Boxed Macaroni and Cheese

SSUMC’s 2020 Virtual Vacation Bible School – Knights of the North Tower – will also host Mission: Restore during VBS Week to collect food items as their mission project. Well done, SSKids and SSKidsLeadership!

When we shared news with Restore Leadership that we anticipate two deliveries to the pantry in July, you would have thought it was Christmas morning. Because friends, what we give is so much more than just food.

It is tangible hope. It is physical comfort.

It is assurance of belovedness.

Well done, good and faithful servants.

Prayer: “You satisfy the hungry heart with gift of finest wheat. Come, give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat. As when the shepherd calls his sheep, they know and heed his voice, so when you call your family, Lord, we follow and rejoice. … You give yourself to us, O Lord; then selfless let us be, to serve each other in your name in truth and charity. You satisfy the hungry heart with gift of finest wheat. Come, give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat.”* Amen.

*”You Satisfy the Hungry Heart,” The United Methodist Church 629.

 

 

God Hears

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 21: 8-21.

This week at South Shore UMC it is my privilege to welcome Rev. Dr. W. Alan Smith in worship leadership. Alan is Emeritus Professor of Religion at Florida Southern College. He retired from Florida Southern in 2015, following 28 years on the faculty of Religion and Philosophy. Alan is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and has pastored congregations in the Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama-Northwest Florida, Pacific Southwest, and Florida regions. He has lectured in England, Scotland, and Finland as well as at numerous universities in the U.S. His academic credentials include advanced degrees from the Florida State University, Vanderbilt Divinity School, and the Claremont School of Theology, from which he earned the Ph.D. degree. He is the author of two books and numerous articles in academic journals. Alan is married to Dee Smith, the father of Nate and Skye, and the grandfather of Logan and Asher (who joined the family this May!)

While at Florida Southern I took a number of courses with Alan, and Andrew was one of Skye’s dance partners while they were in high school together. It is my delight that he will share with our congregation.

This Sunday he will share a message based on the story of Hagar and Ishmael. I know that through it you will be blessed.

Last week my next door neighbor and I were outside enjoying the evening air with our kids.

(Also known as welcoming Mila and Joshua to run off as.much.energy.as.possible.)

He thanked me for watching their dog while he and his family went on vacation. Innocently, I asked about their trip. And I watched as my easy-going neighbor’s face crumbled…and tears began to fall. He spoke with love of his aging parents whom they visited. He spoke of wanting to help them more and the tension of living so far away. He shared with me stories of his youth, of learning hard lessons, and how learning those hard lessons shape the lessons he shares with his daughters.

All the while he shared, he wept.

His driveway became holy ground.

When he finished his story, I gently took hold of his shoulder, once again made eye contact, and offered an assurance of God’s peace and God’s presence. My neighbor is culturally and nominally religious. My neighbor knows my vocation and respects my work. That night, through God’s grace – through God’s knowing – I was honored to be both neighbor and pastor. The sacredness of those moments I will treasure. And I will not soon forget.

My friends, when we experience hardship and loss, when we are angry and sacred, when we feel anxious and fearful, my friends – God knows. God knows. God sees. God hears. And God walks alongside. God is faithful in God’s covenant to us. God is faithful in holding us accountable to God’s covenant. Our God is – was, is, and forever will be.

Holy moments, like this one with my neighbor, are experiences available to all of us. It is through intentional development of our relationship with God that God helps us identify and engage these holy moments.

I believe that through this intentional development of our relationship with God that we experience a sacred shift. Yes, God knows. And then and through, we will know, too.

Prayer: “I need thee every hour, in joy or pain; come quickly and abide, or life is vain. I need thee, O I need thee; every hour I need thee; O bless me now, my Savior, I come to thee.”* Amen.

*”I Need Thee Every Hour,” The United Methodist Hymnal 397.

God’s Purpose

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 6:25-34.

This Sunday’s worship service is provided to Florida United Methodist Churches as a gift from our Appointive Cabinet. Throughout the worship service we will hear from each of the district superintendents, the director of Latino/Latina ministries, the assistant to the bishop, and our episcopal leader, Bishop Ken Carter. They will share with you greetings and words of hope.

When we encounter a circumstance that causes us worry, we have a number of options available to us:

  1. We can deny there is anything to worry about.
  2. We can avoid what is causing us to worry.
  3. We can repress the worrying feelings.
  4. We can obsess about the worrying feelings and/or worrisome circumstance.

While these options are available to us, I do not believe they are part of God’s preferred future for us. Jesus tells us specifically in Matthew 6 to not worry and to seek instead the Kingdom of God. This instruction has been and remains a guiding light for me during this season. When I am overwhelmed with concern, when I feel paralyzed by circumstances beyond my control, when I find myself grieving the time missed with family, friends, and church family, I am grateful that God’s Spirit returns my attention to seeking the Kingdom of God – be it through time spent in prayer, writing a note, sending a text, singing a song, or reading Scripture. In a season that, at times, has felt so purposeless – where I have found myself hollering what is the point!? – these practices that draw me away from worry ground me in God’s purpose for me.

Seeking the Kingdom – that is and will always be the point.

And I trust that these practices can and do ground you, too.

In times of worry, I find that I often turn to poetry for pause and reflection. Thomas Troeger is a favorite poet of mine and he offers these verses in response to Jesus’ instruction to not worry and to seek first the Kingdom of God.

Let us pray.

Seek for the kingdom with all your powers! Live by your faith, not the fear in your bone. Think on the raven, consider the flowers: all that is living is cherished and known.

More than the beauty that brightens the field, more than the wings that are flashing in flight, Jesus in dying and rising revealed we are encompassed by love and by light.

Seek then the kingdom discerning its signs: peace that defuses the weapons of death, justice defeating oppression’s designs, healing that strengthens our pulse and our breath.

Seek for the kingdom with body and mind. Seek it by action and strenuous thought. Seek, and in seeking by grace you will find wonders surpassing the wonder you sought.* Amen.

*”Seek for the Kingdom with All of Your Powers” by Thomas Troeger in Borrowed Light (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994) 177.

 

Lord, Prepare Us: Attend Upon the Ordinances of God

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 6:43-47.

My seminary education introduced me to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. Surprisingly, I was not seated in a ‘theology and the arts’ seminar for this introduction. I was seated in my systematic theology seminar, a course focused on the foundations and rationales of Christian doctrines. I was awestruck.

I still am.

And I hope to see Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre live one day.

This is Ailey’s interpretation – really Ailey’s incarnation! – of the spiritual “Fix Me, Jesus.” There are two dancers on the stage. Their movement anchors to light emanating from center stage. I interpret her movement as the movements of humanity. I interpret his movement as the gentle presence of the Holy Spirit guiding humanity back to the light of Christ.

When she veers, he straightens. When she is low, he lifts. Sometimes they mirror one another. At other times their movement is independent, yet very much in sync.

Near the beginning of the dance the Spirit figure lowers his hand to hover over the human figure’s head and rapidly taps the air. I interpret the “tapping” as the Spirit enlivening and making the human figure aware of the Spirit’s very real presence. That is the moment our relationship with God begins.

As the dance continues the interaction and partnering between the figures increases. This is our growth in relationship with God, through high points and low points, which are all transformative points.

Near the end of the dance the human figure includes this tapping gesture in her movement. I believe her gesturing signifies that the one led by the Spirit is now stepping – dancing – into the role to lead others. The original partnership with the Spirit will not end. In fact, as the dance grows, so does the strength of the connection and the witness of the incarnation.

May this video be a wellspring of reflection for you – for us – this week. May the text of this spiritual be our prayer and our solemn desire.

Prayer: Fix me, Jesus. Fix me. Amen.

 

Lord, Prepare Us: Do Good

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 6:32-38.

Much of my days are currently spent planning for in-person worship to resume. I make plans. I throw out plans. I change plans. I consult on plans.

My eyes cross over plans.

And, if I am honest, all the planning is with an aching.

I rejoice that we will – at some point – be back to worshipping together. Even so, I ache because it will not be worship as we knew it. I ache because I wonder if we will ever worship like that again.

If I am not planning, then I am reflecting on how I can and how I am making this ‘new’ normal actually normal. I am seeking the extraordinary in the ordinary. I am seeking the holy in the routine. I am, as Barbara Brown Taylor would say, pausing and giving thanks to God for the gift and presence of God’s altars in the world – be they a dining room table, a warm embrace, a thunderstorm, a blooming flower, and more.

Recently I shared a conversation with Hal and Donna Pierce. We talked about our admiration for authors that make reflections on the life of faith so real and so tangible. Their words do not require a dictionary or an array of interpretive tools. Their words read like a conversation with a beloved friend; each time you pick up where you left off – with ease and comfort and encouragement.

We share in common a love for Pastor Fred Craddock. I recommended Barbara Brown Taylor and the late Rachel Held Evans to their reading. And before the subject changed, I added Nadia Bolz-Weber to the list with an amusing caution because a healthy comfort with profanity is a major pre-requisite before reading her books.

My best friend came across this social media posting from Bolz-Weber, and it resonated deeply with me. It speaks to identifying the realness and tangibleness of our faith in the midst of pandemic. She identifies the extraordinary. She lifts up the holy. Praise God for these, God’s altars, in the world. May you recognize these and others. May God speak to you through them. May God encourage and strengthen us in the planning, in the aching, and in this and every day before us.

Let us pray.

(Copied from St. Thomas Episcopal Church – Saint Petersburg, Florida’s Facebook Page)

The Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, Lutheran pastor and author (and now podcaster – The Confessional) offered this reflection yesterday which our Deacon, the Rev. Martha Goodwill, shares with us.

I do not know when we can gather together again in worship, Lord.

So, for now I just ask that:

When I sing along in my kitchen to each song on Stevie Wonder’s Songs in The Key of Life Album, that it be counted as praise. (Happy 70thBirthday, SW!)

And that when I read the news and my heart tightens in my chest, may it be counted as a Kyrie.

And that when my eyes brighten in a smile behind my mask as I thank the cashier may it be counted as passing the peace.

And that when I water my plants and wash my dishes and take a shower may it be counted as remembering my baptism.

And that when the tears come and my shoulders shake and my breathing falters, may it be counted as prayer.

And that when I stumble upon a Tabitha Brown video and hear her grace and love of you may it be counted as a hearing a homily.

And that as I sit at that table in my apartment, and eat one more homemade meal, slowly, joyfully, with nothing else demanding my time or attention, may it be counted as communion.

Amen.

-Nadia Bolz-Weber

 

Lord, Prepare Us: Do No Harm

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 6:27-31.

Growing up in United Methodist Youth Fellowship, one of the first songs I learned to sing and play on guitar was Sanctuary:

Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary

Pure and holy – tried and true. 

With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living

Sanctuary, for you.

It was a song that called us to prayer. It was a song that centered us in focus. It was a song that united us in response – as a sanctuary people, Lord lead us in creating and living sanctuary for others.

In my years of service at Tuskawilla UMC the youth taught me a second verse to Sanctuary:

Lord, teach your people to stop their fighting

Start uniting – live as one.

Let’s get together, and live forever

Loving always through your son. 

It was a song that called us to prayer. It was a song that centered us in focus. It was a song that united us in response – as a sanctuary people, Lord lead us in creating and living sanctuary for others.

Again. Then. Still. Now.

Always.

This week South Shore UMC will begin a three-week sermon series exploring what it means for us to be a sanctuary together – called to prayer, centered in focus, and united in response – both as a congregation and as a community of faith in our facility – as we to return to in-person worship and gatherings, following timeline recommendations from our Annual Conference Leadership and public health officials. We will use portions of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain, found in the Gospel of Luke, and John Wesley’s General Rules to frame our teaching and guide our understanding. The sermons during this series will have very practical and very contextual remarks pertaining to our life together at South Shore. A copy of each sermon during this series will be emailed to persons in our church database each Monday so that folks can revisit the policies and procedures introduced during worship.

I invite you to please continue in prayer – for one another, for our church, and for our leaders in the denomination, public health, and government as together we all continue discerning the next best steps that support the wellbeing and health of all people. I look forward to this time together with you in virtual worship and learning in the coming weeks.

Prayer: “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come; ’tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”* Amen.

*”Amazing Grace,” The United Methodist Hymnal 378.

‘Empty’ Does Not Mean ‘Over’: Chair

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 14:15-24.

The wonderful folks of Tuskawilla UMC introduced me to a new beloved anthem. It is a cherished song that the choir and soloists alike sang as part of celebrations of life called “Untitled Hymn” by artist Chris Rice. It has since been called “Come to Jesus” as that is a repeated refrain throughout the song.

It is a bittersweet melody. It is a song of comfort and of sorrow. For it is, in a way, a musical representation of Ecclesiastes 3:1-11, whose refrain is “there is a time for (this) and a time for (that).” In “Untitled Hymn” Chris Rice explores some of the most fragile moments of our human experience and offers to hearers an invitation of what to do when it is “time.”

You may listen to a recording of the song by following the link contained here.

The last time I heard “Untitled Hymn” sung in worship, it was sung by my dear family friend, Alex Lilly, for his beloved Grandmere, at her celebration of life. I am grateful this Sunday at the South Shore UMC Family will hear this anthem sung by our wonderful Chelsea Hemenway as we celebrate Holy Communion.

“Untitled Hymn” has six verses. Each verse contains its own invitation of what to do when it is “time.” Below are six scripture passages offered for your reading and reflection as we prepare for worship this Sunday:

ComeCome to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. – Matthew 11:28-30

SingO sing to the Lord a new song;
    sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
    tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvelous works among all the peoples.
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
    he is to be revered above all gods. – Psalm 96:1-4

FallSo have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. – Matthew 10:26-31

CryIn my distress I called upon the Lord;
    to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice,
    and my cry to him reached his ears…

He reached down from on high, he took me;
    he drew me out of mighty waters.
He delivered me from my strong enemy,
    and from those who hated me;
    for they were too mighty for me.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity;
    but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a broad place;
    he delivered me, because he delighted in me. – Psalm 18:6, 16-19

DancePraise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
    his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel be glad in its Maker;
    let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.
Let them praise his name with dancing,
    making melody to him with tambourine and lyre. – Psalm 149:1-3

FlyBut we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. – I Thessalonians 4:13-18

The last word of each verse in “Untitled Hymn” is the same. Live. “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’”

I believe. May it be so with you. Live, my friends. Live with Jesus. 

Prayer: “I’m so glad I learned to trust Thee. Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend. And I know that Thou art with me. Wilt be with me to the end. Jesus, Jesus, how I trust him. How I’ve proved him o’er and o’er. Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus. Oh for grace to trust him more.”* Amen.

*”Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus,” The United Methodist Hymnal 462.  

‘Empty’ Does Not Mean ‘Over’ ~ Bucket

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 4:4-29a, 36.

As this pandemic experience continues, I feel like my ‘bucket’ becomes all the more empty…all the more dry. The days trudge on…time ticks on…and even in the midst of so much same…the enormity of the ‘new same’ is weighing on my heart. I think it is weighing on all our hearts.

Yesterday as evening was making its way into night, my phone rang. It way my best friend calling…and she asked me to look outside. And there she was. Having driven over from Lakeland. To see me for my birthday. By merely connecting my eyes with hers – in person – face to face – I think I filled up my ‘bucket’ with own tears.

Happy tears.

My bucket remains full.

Her small gesture moved mountains of funk out of my life. It dispelled the gloomy fog that has been hanging low for some time. Becky and I are big Harry Potter fans; yesterday she was my patronus, chasing all my dementors away! Her visit – along with this fresh ‘spring-fall’ air! – ushered in a fresh wind in my spirit. I am so grateful.

And so today, with my ‘bucket’ full – I choose gratitude. To feel it. To share it. To mean it. Becky’s visit reminded me that when we show up for people that we show out our care for them. That we value them. That we treasure them. That they are important to us. That they have made an impact on our lives.

Remembering these truths and speaking these truths in love to others, that is how God fills our buckets and uses us to fill the buckets of others.

Friends, you are valuable. I treasure you. You are important to me. I am grateful for the impact you have made on my life.

Prayer: “This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet. This is my Father’s world: why should my heart be sad? The Lord is King; let the heavens ring! God reigns; let the earth be glad!”* Amen.

*”This Is My Father’s World,” The United Methodist Hymnal 144.

‘Empty’ Does Not Mean ‘Over’: Nets

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 5:1-11.

One summer afternoon when I was six I went fishing off of my Nonnie and Gramps’ dock. They lived on a canal of the Indian River on Merritt Island. I had my yellow Snoopy and Woodstock fishing pole. I was unstoppable.

Well, at least I thought I was. Others in my family may have had doubts.

They kept the doubts to themselves.

And I was successful…sorta?

I did catch a fish…but as I was reeling it in…I caught a pelican! Or rather a pelican caught my fish…that was still attached…to my yellow Snoopy and Woodstock fishing pole.

After a few traumatizing moments of me shrieking and of my father and my Gramps catching the pelican in order to retrieve my fishing pole, all was well again.

And we let the pelican keep the fish.

Sometimes fishing leads us to more than we bargained. I think this is true in life and in the life of faith. What we might have thought was a one time service or a random reading of Scripture or a casual conversation about belief turns out to be God sweeping us off our feet like that pelican swept my fish – and fishing pole – clean out of my hands in mid air. And we are caught. We are suspended. We are stunned.

Waiting.

Waiting for the Spirit that swept us up to point us in the direction we are now to go.

In this current season I have been swept up in the processes of ‘making church digital’ – of finding ways to connect with faith and feel connected to our faith family when we cannot gather in person. I will be the first to admit – this is so much harder than what we normally do. For many this emphasis on making church digital was coming down the pipe but had not yet arrived. Well, now it is flushed out of the pipe. It is here and it is not going away.

And so – as one swept by God – I am waiting for how and where God will shape this new advent in ministry – not just for this season – but for our continued movement into the future.

Think of a time where God has swept you off your feet. What were the circumstances? How did you feel? What was the outcome? And, perhaps most importantly, what did you learn? Share your answers with someone this week.

I look forward to worshipping with you on Sunday!

Prayer: “Lord, you have come to the lakeshore looking neither for wealthy nor wise ones; you only ask me to follow humbly. O Lord with your eyes you have searched me, and while smiling have spoken my name; now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me; by your side I will seek other seas.”* Amen.

*”Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore,” The United Methodist Hymnal 344.