Just Walk Across The Room: Matthew Party

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 5:27-32

This past weekend I had the privilege of celebrating two important events:

1. Andrew’s 29th Birthday!  We went to the beach early in the morning so he could work out with his Cross-Fit buddies in a Beach-Work-Out-Of-The-Day.  They ran relay races, completed calisthenics in the wave break area, and competed in tug-of-war!  Andrew dominated the tug-of-war.  He’s the KING!

What did I do during all of this?  Sat under the umbrella and read a book.  I do yoga people!

2. We left the beach and trekked up the Florida Eastern Seaboard to Jacksonville to celebrate his aunt and uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary.  It was a surprise party!!  Aunt Vivian and Uncle James were completed surprised and amazed to be surrounded by family and friends from all over the state and from all moments of their life together as a couple.  We hugged, we laughed, we ate so much food.  Everything a party should be.

Before we shared cake at the anniversary party my sister-in-law, Vivian – named for her Aunt Vivian – and my mother-in-law Dale offered toasts to the happy couple.  Both were sincere and full of love.  Collectively we all shed a few happy tears.

Dale’s toast, however, stilled my breath in my chest.  You see, Dale’s father died at a very young age leaving his wife and four children behind.  Dale’s mother soon became very ill and lost both her hearing and her eyesight.  She died at a young age as well.  The two oldest children – Vivian and Jimmy were already out of the house, working full-time.  Vivian married the love of her life, James.  After seven months of marriage their mother died, leaving the two youngest children, Dale and Glenn, without parents and without a home.  In those days there wasn’t really a proper foster-care system in place, meaning that Dale and Glenn would have been left to the streets.

Well Vivian, she wasn’t having any of that.

She took in her sister and brother and raised them.  She did not go to college so that she could ensure her younger siblings had everything they needed for school and meals and clothing.  She sacrificed her personal dreams so that her siblings would be able to achieve their dreams.

Dale looked at her sister in the eye and thanked her for taking her in.  Without that gift neither she nor her husband, nor her three kids, nor her daughter-in-law (me) nor her son-in-law would be in that place, in this family, today.

I was standing next to Andrew.  By the end of her toast I was holding him close.

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Vivian sacrificed or gave up what she had in mind for her life to follow a new path that opened doors for her, for her family, and for her faith.  I cannot help but think of her – and James – when I consider the text for this week.  Matthew, also called Levi, sacrificed the life he had come to know to follow a new path – the path of Christ – and following that path surely opened doors for him, for his family, and for his faith.

I am sure that he experienced some internal struggle as he considered how he would negotiate the relationships he had before knowing Christ with the relationships he has now that he knows Christ. So instead of going all “United Methodist” and establishing a committee to figure out what to do next, he hosted a party.  At first this might not seem like the best decision, but it worked.  He got everyone together – from his past and in his present – to celebrate the transformation he had experienced at the hands of Christ’s forgiveness.

Established friends and new friends – together – celebrating, connecting, communicating, collaborating.  The party was an opportunity for people to gather, to rub elbows, to meet new friends, to start new relationships, to listen and respond to the leading of the Spirit, to point to where God is already present, to walk across the room.

I can always find a reason to celebrate…and celebrations are always better with friends.  So plan one, host one, invite the people important in your life, growing and potential believers alike!  Celebrate and talk!  Talk and celebrate!  If someone asks you why you are celebrating, share like Dale did – from the heart – about the difference someone made in your life, whether that person was God or someone in whom you feel God’s presence.  That witness is powerful.  That witness is life-giving.  To someone hearing you, that witness could be eye-opening and even life-saving.

Have a Matthew Party.  And walk across the room.

Prayer: “O use me, Lord, use even me, just as thou wilt, and when, and where, until thy blessed face I see, thy rest, thy joy, thy glory share.”*  Amen.

*”Lord, Speak to Me,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 463.

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Just Walk Across The Room: Evangelism Pointers

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 17:11-19

Consider This Part 1: How do you like to be thanked?

Even though I’m a pastor and I’m in front of a congregation 48 Sundays a year plus additional services as requested and scheduled, I don’t prefer to be the center of attention.  I’m not the “pull me in front of tons of people and have them fall all over me” kinda girl.  And the thought of people giving me a standing ovation makes my face turn the color of cherry taffy.

I like to be thanked in a handwritten card, handshake, or hug.  I like to be thanked through eye contact and sincere conversation.

Nothing extravagant.  Simply authentic to the person with whom I am in relationship.

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Consider This Part 2: How do you express thanks to others?  Do you express thanks to others?  How could you begin to express thanks to others?

Are you hindered from expressing gratitude because you do not know what that person would like?  What if you started expressing gratitude by the means you like?  Perhaps that would open up conversation so you could learn how your neighbor, friend, family member, or colleague likes to experience and receive gratitude.

//

In our text this week a person once infirm returns to extend gratitude to Jesus for a received healing.  But how does he express his gratitude to Jesus?  This man doesn’t raise his voice.  This man doesn’t surround himself and Jesus with a big crowd.  This man doesn’t rent a first century sky-writer aircraft so his thanks can be written among the clouds spanning the entire Galilean countryside.

(Yes, I know…sky-writer aircraft came later…just go with me on this!)

This man walked up to Jesus, shouted “Praise God!,” fell at Jesus’ feet, and thanked him.  Scripture does not indicate the length of this conversation or transcribe the text for us.  As Jesus is quick to ask where the other nine are who were healed I imagine in my mind that the words of gratitude the man shared are brief yet poignant.

This man could have gone on about his life and started living his life – back with his family, his friends, his trade, his church – since those suffering leprosy were exiled from social, economic, and religious life.  But he chose to make the time to return to Jesus and express his gratitude.  Jesus receives this man’s thanks and the two depart – Jesus continuing towards Jerusalem and this man back to the life he thought he had surely lost because of his infirmity.

What do you think would be the first words out of his mouth upon returning to his life-pre-leprosy?  Would he talk about the weather?  How the burlap industry is bustling??  If his family should keep their investment in goats or move to llamas???

No!

I think the first words out of his mouth would be about how Jesus healed him!  How meeting Jesus restored him to health and life!  How encountering Jesus ensured his faith that he had not been forgotten by God and that he was not being punished by God!

And by telling that story, my friends, this man – once sick and exiled but now healed and restored – continues to express gratitude to his Savior Jesus.

//

Consider This Part 3: What stories of gratitude do we have to share about how Jesus has healed us?  Have we shared those stories with our Jesus?  Who else can we share these stories with that together we may all grow in our faith?

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 mother’s arms has blessed us on our way with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.”  Amen.*

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

Just Walk Across The Room: Before and After

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 19:1-10

This week lay and clergy delegates of the Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church will descend on Lakeland for our Annual Conference.  In year’s past Annual Conference has been the corporate, if you will, business meeting of the church.  While the conference will use this time to conduct the business of the church, we are also making a tangible turn this year to have a greater focus on ministry celebration under our theme of Becoming Disciples.

This year I had the opportunity to serve on the Annual Conference Worship Design Team and write liturgy for the worship services.  From opening to closing worship we focused our liturgical eyes on becoming and in being a people that are becoming, we recognize both who and where we have been and who and where we are headed, but have not yet arrived.

(Caution: Annual Conference Spoiler!!!)

This is the Call to Worship for the Opening Worship Service on Thursday:

Our God who is perfect invites us to this space
We who are imperfect humbly respond and rejoice.
We come broken…
Seeking to be made whole.
We come unfinished…
Seeking to be brought to Christian perfection.
We recognize this time of holy conferencing as a moment in our journey of Christian service.
We celebrate the ministry of all believers gathered in this space and beyond.
We are children of God who come to be renewed in our call.
Refresh us, revive us, O God, in this time of becoming.

Who and where we have been.  Who and where we are headed.

Becoming.

//

In our Scripture passage this week Zaccheaus is on the path to becoming.  Who and where has he been?  Greedy, cheating, thieving tax collector.  Who and where is he headed?  Honesty, restitution, reconciliation, aware of Christ’s saving power.

Luke 19 is the only time we hear of wee Zaccheaus.  Jesus tells us that he came “to seek out and save the lost” – Zaccheaus fits that description – and then the story ends (Lk 19:10).  We don’t know for sure if Zaccheaus went on to do what he shouted from the top of the sycamore tree, but I believe he did.  Saying that he would repay those he cheated was a public affirmation as well as confession – that he was leaving who he was – his before – and becoming more of the person Christ desired him to be  after Christ changed his entire world.

We are all on this path of becoming – recognizing who and where we were before and how we are becoming after Christ’s impact – and continued impact – on our lives.  These paths lead us in telling our stories to others as we “walk across the room.”  Our own stories of becoming are ways for us to connect with others that are questioning or discerning their stories.  And our own stories of becoming are a humble reminder that we are not there yet.  That we still have work to do.  That we are going onto perfection.

That we are becoming.

(And…Annual Conference Spoiler #2!!)

Prayer:  In creation God pronounced humanity good, and together with all creation, very good.  Shortly after creation humanity disobeyed God’s will through our sin.  Humanity fell from the image in which we are created – the Image of God.  Our God did not leave us fallen.  God immediately set us on a path towards recovering our created image, a path of becoming.  Together with Scriptural witnesses we continue our becoming.

Like Joshua we become as we declare that for our houses – our individual residences, our local churches, our annual conference – we will serve The Lord.
Like Ezekiel we become as we anticipate God rattling our dry bones into revitalized life.
Like the woman bent double we become as Christ enables us to stand.
Like Lazarus we become as Christ raises us up to return to service.
Like Judas we become as we hear Jesus call us friend even though we betray and flee.
Like the women at the empty tomb we become as we will run from this place, in a manner of continual becoming, as witnesses of our Jesus who gifts eternal life.
Like Stephen we become as we face great risk to defend the name and ministry of our Christ.
Like Lydia we become as The Lord opens our hearts and leads us in hospitality.
Like Peter we become as we await our commission, “feed my lambs, care for my sheep, feed my sheep.”
And as we continue becoming disciples we more heartily and humbly proclaim, “Yes Lord. You know I do. You know I will.”

Amen.

Just Walk Across The Room: Roles

Sunday’s Scripture ~ First Corinthians 9:19-23

This past Tuesday I completed my volunteering in a first grade class at the neighboring elementary school to Reeves.  This class of 17 six and seven year old taught me each time I visited them about true joy, hardwork, striving for excellence, and perseverance.  I am thankful that after 180 days these precious children will enjoy a great summer (although it’s very soggy today…six days into the 2013 Hurricane Season and Tropical Storm Andrea is just dumping precipitation on the Sunshine Rainy State).  I will miss these students and treasure the lessons they taught me.

At the beginning of each week the first graders would select jobs or roles they would serve in their classroom family for the week.  Roles ranged from doorholder to caboose to messenger to weather reporter to librarian to substitute, to teacher helper to day-of-the-week friend, to number-of-school-days-friend, and more!  There were 17 first graders and therefore 17 roles to fill.

The students took great responsibility in their roles.  They were always quick to jump up and perform or live into their role.  If they were a little slow to get up sometimes the substitute would move to stand in…or step on the toes of the student that was to be in that particular role.  When this happened, it didn’t go over well, because that role belonged to that particular student.  He or she took pride in completing it, serving his or her classmates in that way.

In the Scripture passage this week Paul talks about the role he played in “walking across the room” so that others would grow in their relationship with Christ.  Essentially he became all things to all people.  He adjusted or modified himself in order to meet people where they were and nurture them in their relationship with Christ.

Somedays he was prophet.  Somedays he was teacher.  Somedays he was pastor.  Somedays he was companion.  Somedays he was mentor.  Paul was attuned to the Spirit, which led him in the role he was to play at each time, and place, and community.

As we continue to read Scripture we can also identify times where Paul possibly pushed the role he was meant to live into a bit far and the situation became reactive by either escalating to argument or dissolving into frustration.  This is Scriptural evidence that we are called to only play the role set before us as led by the Spirit in each time, place, and community when we venture to walk across the room.

I hope as I – as we, the children of God – walk across the room we do so with discerning minds, connected to the Spirit so we know what role it is we are to engage in that space.  And I hope that I – we – do so in the passion of the first graders I spent three hours a week with for the past 20 weeks – excited, ready to work hard, to show what we know, and not let anyone take our place.

Let’s know our role.  And let’s walk across the room.

Prayer: “I, the Lord of snow and rain, I have born my peoples pain.  I have wept for love of them, they turn away.  I will break their hearts of stone, give them hearts for love alone.  I will speak my word to them,  Whom shall I send?  Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord?  I have heard You calling in the night.  I will go Lord, if You lead me.  I will hold Your people in my heart.”*  Amen.

*”Here I Am, Lord” from The United Methodist Hymnal, 593.