Strong and Courageous: With Boldness

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Joshua 1:1-9

This Sunday at Reeves we begin our Stewardship Series – the theme is “The Year of the Joshua Prayer.” Each Sunday throughout this series we will focus on a different aspect of the United Methodist membership vow:

As members of this congregation will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness?

We begin this week with prayer and center on our theme of “The Year of the Joshua Prayer” by studying the opening passage of Joshua. I imagine (thanks to Cecil B. DeMille) Joshua standing on a hillside and gazing into a valley – the threshold of the Promised Land. But he doesn’t have to wait any longer – no more wandering, no more hoping, no more delay. He and the people of Israel have arrived. God’s words are true. They are delivered. Now “be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

//

I think throughout our lives we have “progressive promised lands” – as in we hope for one and then when we achieve it we hope for the next. I think my first progressive promised land was the transition from a bike with training wheels to a good ole two-wheeler – nothing holding me back. Other PPLs along my way:

  • from reading chapter-less books to chapter books (and now sometimes I wish this trend would reverse!?!)
  • from elementary school to middle school
  • from middle school to high school
  • to turning 16!!!
  • to turning 18!!!
  • from high school to college
  • to turning 21!!! (wait…there’s stuff after you turn 21??? I learned that too)
  • to marrying my best friend and true love Andrew
  • from college to graduate school
  • from graduate school to commissioning as a provisional elder in The UMC
  • from commissioning to my first appointment
  • to ordination as a full connection elder in The UMC…

That last one – ordination as an elder in full connection has been my promised land since really my commissioning in 2010. I worked toward it. I served toward it. I prayed toward it. And this time last year I submitted my application…and November of last year I was told that my journey would continue, but not yet as a full connection elder.

I felt like my promised land had been snatched away. I felt like I had been told to go wander in the wilderness for another year. I was on the mountain. I could see into the Promised Land, if only I could walk down the valley…

Instead I had other places to walk. I walked steep hills of self-reflection. I wandered towards glassy seas of mirrors and took very long and very hard looks. First I saw only what I didn’t want to see, what I didn’t want to acknowledge. And after a while God helped me see beyond – to the beauty, to the transformation, to the benefit of the additional time in the wilderness.

//

The longer I serve in full-time ministry the more I am convinced of the movements and stirrings of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit led me in discerning this passage for selection for week one of Reeves’ Stewardship Series. The Spirit led me in setting Reeves’ Stewardship month as September. And as it happens, this Sunday we will begin the stewardship series studying this passage from Joshua, and I will submit my application a second time for consideration as an elder in full connection.

I am headed back up the mountain. I am gazing down the valley towards the promised land. I am hopeful, but hope is not my only strategy. I have served, prayed, wept, worked, and celebrated along the way. I have shared this year with family, friends, and colleagues that have supported me, screamed with me, dried my tears, and cheered me onward. I am so thankful for you.

I believe I am ready. I believe I am prepared. And I believe that if I have to walk in the wilderness another year, then God will lead me back to this valley in promised time.

Prayer: “On Jordan’s stormy bands I stand and cast a wishful eye to Canaan’s fair and happy land, where my possessions lie. When I shall reach that happy place, I’ll be forever blest, for I shall see my Father’s face, and in his bosom rest. I am bound for the promised land, I am bound for the promised land; oh, who will come and go with me? I am bound for the promised land.”* Amen.

*”On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 724.

 

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Mayhem and Foolishness: Happens To Us All

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ecclesiastes 9:1-10 CEB

Ecclesiastes is a portion of Scripture that finds its home among the Wisdom Literature. Neighbors to Ecclesiastes in the Wisdom Literature are texts like Proverbs and Job in the Hebrew Bible and Wisdom of Solomon and Ben Sira in the Apocrypha.  The kinds of literature can vary across Wisdom Literature texts. For example, the verses in Proverbs are primarily aphorisms whereas verses in Job include poetic verse and prose.

At a quick glance this passage from Ecclesiastes appears to be all prose…but sandwiched in the middle of the prose is this little gem, “Whoever is among the living can be certain about this. A living dog is definitely better off than a dead lion” (Ecc 9:4).

The writer of Ecclesiastes says this as if the wind blew this thought into his mind, down to his lips, and out of his mouth, and then moves right on with the next thought. He keeps going and I’m like…what?? Thinking that I’m not alone in the world of trying to understand this aphorism, I thought I would turn to the scholarly experts for some help in interpreting this phrase.

First let’s think about the words and/or emotions that the words lion and dog evoke.  When I think about lions I think of stately, regal creatures; pride; king of the jungle; and noble.  And when I think of dog…well, first I think of my four-legged children.  They are so cute!

Lilah       Sam

Samson                           and                           Delilah

Yet, in literature…and in Scripture…dogs are not so favorable creatures.  They find company among the bottom dwellers and scavengers.  In his commentary on Ecclesiastes William P. Brown writes, “The dog was typically associated with filth and even death in ancient Near Eastern culture” and the term dog “was frequently a term of contempt in biblical tradition and remains so in English.”*

The writer of Ecclesiastes uses these animal images in this aphorism as symbols to point to bigger categories of what Brown calls “opposing reputations”:

  • intelligence and folly
  • might and weakness
  • majesty and lowliness**

The writer of Ecclesiastes believes that reputation is of utmost importance, particularly the reputation that continues about you in the world even when you are no longer in it.  If that’s the case, then we all want to be lions right?!  But return to the aphorism – the lion isn’t alive…it’s dead…so in this instance the living dog – the lowly scavenger – has the upperhand on the lion carcass.

I think in this somewhat crude aphorism the writer of Ecclesiastes is trying to say that the living have an advantage over the dead.  Yes, the living need to be aware of our limits and come to grips with our mortality, but we cannot live as people that are constantly dreading the events that await us.  Death is part of God’s creation and death has been part of God’s creation since the beginning.  Ecclesiastes has no knowledge of eternal life so he writes as though this is the only life we have, so let’s make the most of it.  Let’s attend to opportunities that arise.  Let’s live life to the fullest.  Let’s experience and experiment, but not recklessly.  It’s possible that through the course of our lives that those that start off as dogs could become lions and vice versa.  What is most important is that we are present in the moment, that we make most of what our God has given us, and find delight in it.

When I think about my four-legged children I definitely do not think of filth or death.  But when I consider their lives I see an example of true simplicity.  They live in the moment – whether they are on a walk, or hunting lizards in the backyard, or chowing down on a bacon-flavored treat.  They are present.  They are vibrant.  They seek the most out of their day…and if they seek too much out of their day too soon in the day, they take a nap!  Ahhhh…that’s the life.  And I think Ecclesiastes would agree.

Prayer: “There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody; there’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.  From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”*** Amen.

*Brown, William P. Interpretation: Ecclesiastes (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2000), 92.

** Ibid.

***”Hymn of Promise,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 707.

Mayhem and Foolishness: Recalculating

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 9:1-20

I grew up in a household where my mother always left a light on if she knew we were coming home after dark.  That way we could unlock the door, make our way safely into house, and unload whatever we were carrying without stepping on a feline friend or catching our feet on a piece of furniture.

Thanks Mom!  I appreciated that!

Sadly, I have yet to apply that practice to my own life.  If I arrive home and it’s already dark the front room of my house – which is so pleasant and inviting during daytime hours – becomes a void of doom!  I have to walk to the center of the house to find a light to turn on because our house was built in the 1950’s and there isn’t a central ceiling fixture in the front room.  Some days I traverse this expanse with ease.  Other days…it’s a wonder I am not caught up in traction in a local hospital with a broken arm, leg, or neck!

Everything changes when I come in contact with a light source.  I know with certainty the where the furniture is, where our four-legged children are, what my relation is to everything else.  I don’t have to guess.  I don’t have to wonder.

I know.

Until the time of Saul’s conversion he presented himself as one walking with sure and certain footing, but in reality he was stumbling and fumbling through life like me in my living room.  And then he experienced and came into contact with the light – the light of Christ.  He was illuminated.  His surroundings were illuminated.  He saw – truly saw.

God revealing Godself in a visible way is known in theological parlance as a theophany.  As we read Scripture we see many instances of theophany:

1. God walking with Adam and Eve in Eden

2. Jacob wrestling with God

3. Moses and the Burning Bush

4. The Incarnation of Christ

5. Jesus’ resurrection appearances

When God shows up in each of these stories, God shows up in a very dramatic way!  But that’s not God’s sole modus operandi.  We read in I Kings 19 that the prophet Elijah experienced all sorts of drama – a whirlwind, earthquake, and fire!  But God wasn’t found in any of these.  God was found in the still, small voice.

The learnings this offers:

1. Our God is uncontainable.  Our God can show up and reveal Godself however God determines.  When we attempt to limit how God reveals Godself or determine the time when God reveals Godself, we too narrowly focus our own vision and may miss what God is doing right before our eyes.

2. Theophanies, encounters with God, how persons come into relationship with God are not one-size-fits-all!  Yes, you may have a very dramatic story along the lines of Saul or Moses where God took your breath away…or knocked the breath out of you.  “I was headed for destruction.  God intervened in a mighty way and saved my life!”  Or your experience may be more intimate and measured and steady.  “I was raised in the faith; this is the life I have always known and I am thankful for it.”  Neither experience is better than the other.  Neither experience is more valid than the other.  Both are expressions of how our God meets us, heals us, claims us, transforms us.

God invites each and everyone of us into the light so that we can cease stumbling through life.  In God’s light there is purpose and direction.  In God’s light we can share in the clear vision of Saul, the vision that Christ gave to us in the Greatest Commandment and Great Commission.  In God’s light we can identify the moment of our initial theophany and then train our eyes to seek other places that God is revealing Godself in our lives to lead us further.

Prayer: “Open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me; place in my hands the wonderful key that shall unclasp and set me free.  Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see.  Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!”*  Amen.

* “Open My Eyes, That I May See,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 454.

Mayhem and Foolishness: The Neked Truth

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 39:1-18

In Florida we are quickly approaching the beginning of the school year…which for some means that summer is over…even though we all know in Florida that summer REALLY isn’t over until…uhhhh…Valentine’s Day? And then it usually kicks back up around the beginning of March.

You think I’m joking? Come visit…you’ll see…

Before we get all serious about life since we are heading back to school and settling into a more routine work schedule, I thought we would share in some fun with a sermon series on some of the Mayhem and Foolishness going on in Scripture.

This week: Streakers. Yes, my friends, streakers.

Join us in worship on Sunday to hear all about the Joseph running around Egypt without any clothes.

For the purpose of this blog, I turn my attention to another streaker in Scripture.  “What Sarah?!  More than one streaker in Scripture?!”  Yes!  Yes there is!  This streaker was King of Israel!  This streaker was none other than David – first, humble shepherd boy and player of the lyre, then slayer of Goliath, then uniting force of Israel, and now neked (pronounced neck-ed) and dancing before the Ark of the Covenant.

II Samuel 6 recounts how David brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem.  “David and all the house of Israel were danging before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals” (II Sam 6:5).  In verse 14 we read, “David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod.” An ephod is a linen garment worn by priests during worship as an official vestment; it fits over the head and is rectangular in shape, hanging down the front and back of the body.  Michal, daughter of Saul was not pleased with David’s choice of clothing saying in verse 20, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before  the eyes of his servants’ maids, as any vulgar fellow might shamelessly uncover himself!”  Michal was not pleased with David’s behavior or his choice of fine but meager garment.  She felt that he was completely undignified.

When I was in college I served my home church as their Children’s Ministry Intern.  We offered a weekly children and family service called Firehouse and a regular song during that service was entitled “Undignified.”  The song sang

I will dance I will sing to be mad for my king
nothing Lord is hindering the passion in my soul

And I’ll become even more undignified than this
some would say its foolishness

It was a very simple song.  Had some “na na na heys!” in there, too.  The kids loved it…as did the adults…well…at least this adult.  And whether we knew it or not, this song was about King David – dancing before the Lord – undignified, unashamed, wholly caught up in the moment, wholly caught up in the Lord.  

I think sometimes our clothes hold us back.  Not meaning they are too small and constricting so we’re uncomfortable – although I have been known not to purchase a dress or blouse if I can’t raise my arms completely over head.  Clothes hold us back because if we dress a certain way then we feel we have to act a certain way.  Like our clothes determine our behavior.  That’s not always a bad thing – dress professionally – act professionally.  But what if the clothes we wear when we come before the Lord withhold us from becoming undignified, becoming unashamed and giving the Lord all we have?

And what if it’s not just our clothes holding us back?  What if it’s our titles, the positions we hold in our professional lives, among our friends, in the church?  What if it’s pride or our fear of what other people will think of us that keep us from being undignified before the Lord?

It’s time to strip all that away.  It’s time to claim freedom.

By no means am I endorsing streaking in church.  Once in college a streaker ran though a convocation service…it was…yeah…I don’t want to qualify it.  But he was fully committed to what he was doing, even to the moment of getting caught.  Are we willing to have that same fervor in our worship of the Lord?  Fully committed to what we are doing, even to the moment when our neighbor looks over and says, “what in the world are you doing?!”

Humans may say it’s foolishness.

God receives it as true, unhindered, unrestrained worship.

Prayer: “Lord God, your love has called us here, as we, by love, for love were made; your living likeness still we bear, though marred, dishonored, disobeyed; we come, with all our heart and mind, your call to hear, your love to find.  We come with self-inflicted pains of broken trust and chosen wrong, half-free, half-bound by inner chains, by social forces swept along, by powers and systems close confined, yet seeking hope for humankind.  Lord God, in Christ you call our name, and then receive us as your own; not through some merit, right, or claim, but by your gracious love alone; we strain to glimpse your mercy seat, and find you kneeling at our feet.”*  Amen.

*”Lord God, Your Love Has Called Us Here,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 579.