Heritage: Builders of the Faith

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Psalm 127

This Sunday at Reeves we begin our Heritage series.  I felt led to share this series because the congregation is just about half and half.

  • Half the people have been here for years!  Their children – and some even their grandchildren – have grown up in this congregation.  They know the stories, they know the people, they are and continue the story!
  • Half the people are new – joining the church within the last few years.  They have heard bits and pieces of the story, and now as members of the story, I think it’s important they hear the whole story so the story will continue.

(And as a companion for this period of the journey, I reckon I should know the stories!)

So we celebrate Heritage at Reeves – looking at who this congregation is, looking at where we have been, and anticipating – alongside God – where we are going.

Psalm 127 speaks of the spiritual construction of houses while Deuteronomy 6:4-9 speaks of the spiritual instruction that takes place in the houses.

I remember when I was in the sixth grade my parents sold our home on the southside of town to build a new home on the northside of town.  For 6 long months (I think it was 6…it felt like 6…years…) I slept on the couch in the two-bedroom apartment our family rented.

My big brother got the bedroom…but I got the closet!

Hah!  Priorities folks…priorities!

During that time of transition from one house to another I felt very out of place…like I was in everyone’s way.  Since I slept on the couch, if people were watching TV and I wanted to go to sleep, someone had to move…either they ended their program-viewing early or I curled up under the dining room table. I didn’t have a space that was mine to order – from where things went to what went on in there.  I was completely dependent on someone else…someone over me had the say and final word…and I didn’t like it.

Yet as I read these passages…I become more aware that nothing in this world is mine to order solely on my own…and if I attempted, it would all be in vain.  What is mine to order is mine because God gifted me that ability, that opportunity, that responsibility.

Like the lyrics from Casting Crowns, “Not because of who I am, but because of what you’ve done.  Not because of what I’ve done, but because of who you are.”

God creates the space.  God gifts the space.  God invites me into the space.  To God be the glory.

And if I feel out of place in that space…well…I think that is an indicator I need to get back to the business of proper spiritual instruction.

Proverbs 14:1 and 11 read, “The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands…The house of the wicked is destroyed, but the tent of the upright flourishes.”  The wise person builds if she does so pursing the heart of her Creator; God will make her dwelling flourish.

God will make your dwelling flourish.  Invite God to order and craft your space.

Prayer: “Happy are they whose hopes rely on Israel’s God, who made the sky and earth and seas, with all their train; whose truth forever stands secure, who saves the oppressed and feed the poor, for none shall find God’s promise vain.” Amen.*

*from “I’ll Praise My Maker While I’ve Breath” from The United Methodist Hymnal Book of Worship, 60.  

Marinate: Harvest Time

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:8-9, 23

Reeves’ concludes our Marinate sermon series this week.  I think it’s been a great exercise – and somewhat of a challenge – to work with the same text over a four-week period.  A couple times when I started my sermonizing process I felt like there was not much “sermonizing water” left for me to wring out of this text…and then as God always does…God works in amazing ways by breathing life into texts that truly speak to me and the congregation I serve.  That breath – I believe it’s the same breath of creativity that has been inspiring since creation.  The true work then – the hard work – is being attentive to that breath, to allow it to lead, to sit with it.  In essence, to allow God’s creative breath to marinate over me and the text.

It’s harvest time!  For three weeks we have been anticipating sustainable growth from the seeds that were sown, but each week the seeds encountered some obstacle:

  • Birds gobbling them up
  • Shallow rooting because of the rocks and scorching heat from the sun
  • Deprived of nutrients because of the thorns

But finally…the seeds have grown.  They have produced a bountiful harvest.  A harvest that is uncommon – perhaps unheard of!- by 1st Century Galilean standards.  This is no ordinary harvest or a harvest that a human could bring about.  This is a harvest inspired by God’s breath, a harvest cultivated by Jesus Christ, and a harvest that evidences the goodness and in-breaking of God’s Kingdom on earth.

I am reminded that it takes time for seeds to grow.  From seed to sprout to harvest – it does not usually happen overnight – although I’m sure that God could make it so.  I know there are days where I pine (see what I did there?!) that it were so.  That God would go ahead and bring everything to completion, everything to harvest.  But there is gift in the time that it takes seeds to come to harvest.  There is comfort in that space to grow, explore, question, discern, doubt, and decide.  It takes time and I feel that God has built that into the system.  If God wanted us to assent to everything immediately, then God would have made it so.  If God wanted immediate harvest, God could have it.  There wouldn’t be choice or free will.  But there is and God graces us with time to come to harvest.

So enjoy the time.  Embrace the gift.  God will lead you to harvest.

And you will be bountiful.

Prayer: “Even so, Lord, quickly come, bring thy final harvest home; gather thou thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin, there forever purified, in thy presence to abide; come with all thine angels, come, raise the glorious harvest home.”*

* from “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” from The United Methodist Hymnal, 694.


Marinate: Among the Thorns

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:7, 22

Yesterday I had the opportunity to gather with a small group of fellow clergy in the Orlando area to discern and brainstorm and craft liturgy for some of our Annual Conference worship services.

(For folks reading this that are not familiar with Annual Conference – it is the annual gathering of United Methodist clergy and lay persons across the Florida Conference, which spans from Key West to the time change line west of Tallahassee, to do the work of the church.  We have plenary business and voting sessions that are punctuated, enhanced, grounded, interpreted, and appreciated through the worship services that precede and follow them.)

Our over-arching desire yesterday was to have the liturgy truly be the work of the people.  Often in liturgy the leader or the one provides a bulk of the speaking and naming of what we are celebrating or offering petitions for while the people or the all have brief admissions.  We want to flip that as much as we can – so the people – the all – have a greater presence in leading the liturgy.

Once we established this structure our focus shifted to the subjects of the liturgy.  Quite simply, we ain’t finished yet.  (Pretty confident we will refrain from using the word ain’t in the liturgy, but I find it fitting presently.)  As Christians, as United Methodists, we are constantly becoming.  As John Wesley would say, we are going onto perfection.  We are not there yet.  We are unfinished.  We are imperfect.  But through God’s grace, leading, and provision each day we are working out our salvation to reclaim the image of God in which we were created.

We paused to draw images into our mind that illustrate our unfinished state:

  • Hunger
  • Poverty
  • Access to quality healthcare and education
  • Struggles with conflict resolution and peace making
  • Judgment, prejudice, and hate
  • Premeditated acts of evil instead of intentional acts of kindness

Our meeting dismissed with each of the team member’s receiving our writing assignments and setting dates of when we would regather.

Our meeting dismissed an hour before the bombs exploded at and near the Boston Marathon finish line.

I drove home to check on one of my four-legged-children that did not have a very good weekend – she ate something she should not have eaten! – and shortly thereafter received a call from a friend of mine asking if I had heard from another friend who was attending the Boston Marathon as the cheerleading section for a runner.  I said no…and immediately my heart sank.  What had happened?  Bombings, he said.

Like a moth to the flame I watched the news coverage from afternoon till late night.  I waited anxiously to hear from my friend Sarah.  She texted around 11pm that she was home and all in her party were safe.  She was shaken but okay.

I give God incredible thanks for her protection and cry out in raging anguish for those who were injured and lost their lives in this senseless act of violence.  I have the utmost respect for the first responders and runners that headed into rather than away from the smoke.  God bless you and keep you always.

It is sadly ironic that hours before the liturgy team was brainstorming specific examples of where we, as an unfinished people, are still in need of God’s grace…and this horrific example came barreling towards us…

My God, we are unfinished.  When will we as a species acknowledge the unfinished-ness and brokenness and instead of amplifying it act in such a way to heal it?  When will we say “NO!” to the bombings and massacres and violence and hate?  When will we truly come alongside the persons who think and scheme and enact these horrors so that they can be healed, we can be healed, and then these evils won’t happen again?  When will the systemic evil be transformed?

My God, I confess to you that I am in the thorns this week.  I am struggling to grow in faith and trust of your word alongside tragic events that seek to choke out my joy.  Lord I recognize that the thorns must grow up alongside healthy seeds because if we remove one we will surely damage the other.  I am unsatisfied with this reality because it appears that the thorns are winning.  With each act of violence and hate and apathy to change or heal the first two, it seems like the thorns are the victor.  In these dark and thorny spaces, God of goodness and God of light, assure me that though sorrow may last for the night joy comes in the morning.  Your joy is coming.  Your goodness will prevail.  Strengthen me to be an instrument of your will and a bringer of your peace.  Deliver me – deliver us – from the thorns.

Prayer: “Can you hear the voice of the children softly pleading for silence in their shattered world?  Angry guns preach a gospel full of hate, blood of the innocent on their hands. Crying Jesus, ‘Help me to feel the sun again upon my face? For when darkness clears, I know you’re near, bringing peace again.'”* Merciful God, hear this the prayer of the children and the agonizing confession that we have failed…as evidenced by our offering this prayer yet again. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Bring your peace. Amen.

*from The Prayer of the Children by Kurt Bestor

Marinate: On the Rocks

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21

My first memory of the phrase “on the rocks” is as a six or seven-year-old.  My brother and I were out to dinner with our grandparents – Nonnie and Gramps – and Gramps ordered whiskey on the rocks.  I remember asking him why on earth he would want to drink anything that was on the rocks!?! I distinctly remember from the tender age of two that I was not to put anything in my mouth that had at one time been on the ground; so, he should know better!  He then enlightened me so as to explain that “rocks” where ice cubes…but why call them “rocks” when they are ice cubes???

(Yes…I was that child who asked questions…about everything…)

(Oh who am I kidding?  I am still that child…21 years later!)

In other news, when my director of worship arts received this sermon title he had visions of fancy beverage glasses adorning the worship space; however, that may generate some discussion before, during, and after the worship service that we are not yet prepared to address…

(Tucking that idea away for later…)

In Scene Two of the Parable of the Sower our gaze shifts to the seed that falls upon the rocks.  The seeds quickly take root but then whither under the scorching heat.

Being a Florida native I know a thing or two about scorching heat.  In Florida the season of Spring lasts about…oh…three or four hours and then it’s SUMMER!  (In 2013 this event occurred last Thursday…)  The heat cranks up and the new seeds or plants that have been added to the landscape have a very brief and stiff learning curve – they either start to thrive or in a few days time they are dead as a doornail, as my Nonnie would say.

It’s easy to pick out the ones that quickly lose the fight – once green and vibrant now brown and lifeless.  But more interesting to watch are the seeds that become plants that adapt to the harsh conditions; they adapt and conquer.  Some plants grow parallel to tree trunks, finding shelter and protection from the elements in the tree’s shade.  Other plants skirt along the ground for hundreds of feet to find water and then begin their growth assent once assured that their wellspring is near and plentiful.  Still other plants fortify their root systems above ground if the earth is too dense (or shallow) for their roots to be underground.  These seeds and later plants acknowledge their circumstances and then do like Tim Gunn.  They make it work! *snap*

We cannot always control the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  What we can control is how we will react while in them.  In this portion of the parable the seeds represent people who hear the word of God and the soil is various circumstances we will encounter where our harvest of God’s word will be tested.  How will we react to harsh circumstances?  Will our faith and trust in God’s word whither?  Be scorched?  Or will we adapt and continue to thrive and produce fruit in the midst of hardship?

While on the rocks, I think God wants us to adapt and make it work.  And with God’s help, we surely can.

Cheers! *clink-clink*

Prayer: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.  On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.”*  O Lord, when I find myself on the rocks, lead me towards faith, lead me towards trust, lead me towards Christ.  Amen.

* from “My Hope Is Built,” The United Methodist Hymnal Book of Worship, 368.

Marinate: On the Path

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:1-4, 18-19

At Reeves we begin a new sermon series this week entitled Marinate.  In this series we will dually marinate on the spiritual discipline of meditation through reflections offered by the great 20th Century theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer as we marinate on the same passage of Scripture for four consecutive Sundays.

This is one item on my #sermonizerbucketlist – to preach four consecutive Sundays on the same text.  This round is with the Parable of the Sower.  The PotS lends itself to “four scenes” if you will – so we will marinate on a different scene each week.

The other variation of this item on my #sermonizerbucketlist is to preach four consecutive Sundays on the same text to show a variety of exegetical methodologies that can yield a variety of sermons without going the “scene” route.

I know I know…I’m a nerd…but I think I’m a pretty #awesomenerd.

Now…to the text.

As I marinate on this text I definitely resonate with the experience of having the evil one come in and mar God’s truth that is planted in my heart.  My greatest resonance is with doubt, which may sound surprising because of my vocation…

But doubt is present – not ever-present – but present.  And when that doubt takes hold, it snatches all the good growth of God’s truth in my heart.

There is blessing amid the snatching.  The blessing is that a remnant remains – a faithful remnant at that – a true testament to God’s goodness and faithfulness.

The growth may be gone, but I believe the seed remains.  

I do not believe that the evil one or temptation or sin is able to take away what God gives because the evil one, temptation, and sin are not of God.  They are derivative; they are a privation.  They cause darkness – but darkness cannot drive out light – most especially the light that God’s truth is for us.

There’s a story told about a conversation shared between John Wesley and his Moravian mentor, Peter Böhler.  Wesley continually struggled with having faith and then doubting – how would he manage?  And Böhler turned to him and said, “Preach faith until you have it, and because you have it, preach faith.”

So what’s the answer to doubt?  I believe trusting.

And how do we cultivate trust?  I believe by growing in our faith.

And how do we grow in our faith?  I believe by immersing ourselves in the study of God’s word and the worship of our Savior.

In other words…we marinate.

Reflection: How have you experienced God’s truths being snatched from your heart?  Can you identify the snatcher(s).  How can you guard your heart from the snatcher(s) in the future?

Prayer: God says to us, “My child, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. Let your eyes look directly forwards, and your gaze be straight before you.  Keep straight the path of your feet, and all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.”*  Help us hear you, O God.  Guide us.  Guard us.  Amen.

*Proverbs 4:20-27