Strong and Courageous: SundayServe

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 3:31-35

This Sunday the churches within the East Central District of the Florida Conference of The UMC will be set loose on our local communities to engage in acts of service for our neighbors through an event entitled SundayServe.  The Reeves congregation will meet for a brief service of worship at 10am and then we will be dismissed to our service opportunities.

  • Some will spend their morning through early afternoon packing food with Stop Hunger Now.
  • Others will be leading hymn-sings at local retirement and nursing homes.
  • Others will be picking up trash and recycling along motorways and shorelines
  • Others will be cleaning and sprucing up partnering non-profit facilities
  • And these are just a few of the options!

Reeves celebrates that folks from around our local neighborhood – including a neighboring UMC about 5 miles away – as well as the partnering organizations that use the Reeves facility throughout the month will join our members this coming Saturday to complete the exterior painting of our property and begin painting the interior walls.  This is such a gift to the Reeves congregation – because trust me – we have LOTS of walls to paint.

My heart is warmed by the idea of SundayServe because participating in it brings the people called Methodist back to our roots – and even more than that – it brings the people called Christian back to our roots.

(1) The Early Methodists were always where the people were – and trust me – that wasn’t every often in a church structure.  It was in the fields, the streets, the prisons, the hospitals, the horse stalls, and more than likely a couple of joints where someone could partake in a festive adult beverage.  Meeting the people where they were led to the explosion of the Methodist movement.  That ministers and lay leaders in the church went directly to the people first met a physical need so they could then address spiritual needs.

Now this physical need doesn’t mean that they always brought something to the people they sought…I doubt a “new friend coffee mug” was given at the end of their meeting.  The physical need that was met was the desire to be included, the confirmation that as they were presently was all that was required to be included, to join.

And isn’t that what we all still crave today?  Yet…we seem so comfortable in our pews.  I would venture to say that we have felt included – that we felt we were and are enough to join the assembly in which we find ourselves today…so why don’t we more readily share that confirmation and invitation with others?

(2) In the Scripture passage for this week Jesus is seated among a mixed crowd.  He alerted that his brother and mother have arrived and want to speak with him.  Now if I were Jesus my gut reaction would be to politely excuse myself from the group to attend to my family.  But Jesus’ response is the opposite of that – just another example of Jesus being Lord in a Kingdom that is upsidedown from what we would expect.

Jesus asks, “Who is my family?  My mother?  My brother?  Who are my kin?”  These aren’t rhetorical questions and he quickly provides the answer.  Jesus looks at the crowd around him and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers.  Whoever does the will of God is my brother, sister, and mother” (Mk 3:35).

And what is the will of God?

  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.

(pause so that can resonate)

This Sunday the people of Reeves will have the opportunity to serve our neighbors as if we are serving Jesus.  It will be a humbling day, but also a day of great proclamation – that we are true to our Methodist roots, that we are true to our Christian heritage and will boldly live its legacy, and by taking the servant’s towel and wrapping it around our waists, we tell our neighbors – our family – that they are worthy and are welcome with us.

Prayer: “The voice of God is calling it summons in our day; Isaiah heard in Zion, and we now hear God say: ‘Whom shall I send to succor my people in their need?  Whom shall I send to loosen the bonds of shame and greed?’ ‘I hear my people crying in slum and mine and mill; no field or mart is silent, no city street is still. I see my people falling in darkness and despair. Whom shall I send to shatter the fetters which they bear?’ 3. We heed, O Lord, your summons, and answer: Here are we! Send us upon your errand, let us your servants be. Our strength is dust and ashes, our years a passing hour; but you can use our weakness to magnify your power.”* Amen.

*”The Voice of God is Calling” from The United Methodist Hymnal, 436.

Strong and Courageous: Witness StN

Sunday’s Scripture ~ This Sunday Reeves welcomes Sarah Rosenberg and the message she will share with us.  Sarah is a case manager for the state and school board and spends her summers as a facilitator at Renewed Hope Missions – a United Methodist Volunteers In Mission site in the Dominican Republic.

This Sunday the Reeves’ family will also have the opportunity to hear the witness of our 2013 Mission Team that traveled to serve a week with Renewed Hope Missions.  While our mission team was across a portion of the Atlantic Ocean serving as the hands and feet of our Lord Jesus Christ, I was across a portion – granted a larger portion! – of the Pacific Ocean serving alongside some of the fabulous youth and adult volunteers of St. Luke’s UMC Orlando with Surfing The Nations, based in Wahiawa, Hawaii.

Crew

The Team – everyone is smiling and Dawn and me.

From January 2011 to July 2012 this group of students and adults have been building wooden hollow-core surfboards from strips of poplar to finished boards.  They studied Scripture as they built, exchanged vlogs with the Surfing The Nations’ staff and children in their program, and studied the area of Hawaii where we traveled in July 2012 to deliver these boards.

Most people when they conceive of Hawaii think of pristine beaches, extravagant hotels, and little umbrellas in their drinks…little do people know that at some points just across the street from those pristine beaches, multi-billion dollar hotels, and umbrella-ed drinks are brothers and sisters that live in extreme economic duress – at it’s height – 28% of the population living under the poverty line.

In Hawaii.

A couple of days during our trip we served the people in Waianae.  In Waianae it is commonplace for people to live in tent villages on the beaches.  You can obtain a permit to sleep on the beach in the same place for 6 days and then you have to move to another spot and obtain a new permit.  This “ensures” that someone isn’t staying somewhere too long.

Grooves mark the walking paths of these our homeless neighbors as they tread up and down the beaches, seeking community, seeking companionship, seeking access to a bathroom and a spot to draw near to a fire pit at night.

Those “fortunate” enough to have housing live in converted military hangers.  What used to house planes now house people.  Large families – sometimes up to 17 people – live in 15’15’ rooms which are no more than 4 walls and beds for sleeping.  Everything else occurs in the common areas – eating, job training, tutoring.  Families do not control turning on or off the lights or the air conditioning, which is furnished by big industrial fans that coax the warm Hawaiian air into circulation.  Bathroom facilities are reminiscent of gym class in middle school.  Food is served cafeteria style at set times during the day; if you miss meal time, you miss that meal.

Surfing the Nations has a wonderful relationship with the people in Waianae.  Weekly they travel to these converted military bases and collect the children, youth, and young adults that live there to take them to the beach – for worship, for fellowship, for swimming, and for surfing.  They have a commitment to sharing the love and lessons of Christ with these children and families as well as a commitment to teach them water safety and perhaps a skill that will help them transition out of poverty.  It is for these children – and all the children that Surfing the Nations serves – that we made these boards.  Surfing the Nations never has enough boards – especially boards that will “stand up” to being used again and again by novice surfers.  The wooden boards were up for the challenge and will surely stand the tests of time and use.

Surf

All Seven Boards

Unwrapping these boards for the children in Waianae was like every Christmas I have ever experienced all in one.  These beautiful children of God that have hardly anything to call their own knew from that day forward that these boards had been created especially for them – prayed over, celebrated over, cried over – that these children would feel the presence of God alongside them as they surf.

Towards the end of our trip we assisted with feeding over 700 familes – that’s 3500 people – in a weekly feeding program that Surfing The Nations supports called Feeding the Nations.  We arrived in the morning to a paved space beneath an overpass of one of Honolulu’s busiest highways and set up a supermarket of sorts from the ground up – tables, shelves, organized food – for the families to come and receive.  We provided food for hungry people for five hours and then completely took the supermarket apart, returning the space to an empty paved space once again.

FtNA view of the FtN Supermarket.  The volunteers are in orange.

The families we served were primarily Polynesian, Micronesian, and American Samoan.  Most sobering of this experience was the realization that poverty is the great equalizer.  Neighbors came through the lines with faces and stories that they had never been afforded any opportunity in life to bring themselves out of poverty.  These neighbors stood next to others that had faces and stories of having been afforded the opportunities and yet here they were.  As one of my friends on the trip said, “It was a hard day of holding back tears, but a good day, too.”  Good because God’s people came to receive and God’s people were able to give – and give abundantly.

That’s the Kingdom of God.  That’s a brief witness I wanted to share.  And if you’re interested, I would love to share with you more.

If I ever return to Hawaii, it won’t be for the pristine beaches – but for the pristine faces of new friends that I hold most dear in my heart.

I hope to worship with you on Sunday so we can all hear the witness of the 2013 Mission Team!  See you in worship!

Prayer: “All who love and serve your city, all who bear its daily stress, all who cry for peace and justice, all who curse and all who bless: In your day of loss and sorrow, in your day of helpless strife, honor, peace, and love retreating, seek the Lord, who is your life.”* Amen.

*”All Who Love and Serve Your City,” The United Methodist Hmynal, 433.

Strong and Courageous: Gift The Generations

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 71:18

The focus of our Scripture passage this week is investment – both our investment in others as well as our investment in doing God’s work.  “Even to old age and grey hairs!” we need to be about the business of doing God’s work.

I confess – I have grey hairs – but I’m nowhere near done because God is nowhere near done.

Where do we learn about investment?  I think – and have experienced firsthand – fabulous instruction about investment from people who have invested in me.

I serve as a volunteer in the youth ministry program that Andrew directs.  This past Sunday that church held a commissioning dinner for the adult volunteers that would be working with all “students” in the church this coming year – from bottles and diapers to true “old age and grey hairs.”  It was shared in that  training that one of the greatest gifts a teacher can give to a student is not information about the teacher’s respective subject matter, but knowing the names of his or her respective students.

One of my favorite YouTube videos is a poetic piece done in the spoken-word style subjecting Jesus’ conversation with the Woman at the Well in John 4.  You can watch the video by clicking here.  The refrain of this spoken-work declares, “to be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known.”

We are known by others because others invested in us.  We are loved by others through the same action – because others invested in us.

Weekly I have the privilege of investing in elementary students at the neighboring school to Reeves where I serve as a helper and mentor in a first grade classroom.  Weekly I have the privilege of investing in high school students as a volunteer in the youth ministry program that Andrew directs.  Weekly I have the privilege of investing in the community of faith that gathers at Reeves as I trust God to do what God does and make something out of the sermons I offer.  And I am convinced that I am able to do this sort of investment because of the folks that are investing in me, like:

  • My sweet mother who sends me an email every Sunday night to say that she prayed for me that morning, that she hopes I had a good day, and that she loves me.
  • My incredible partner in life, Andrew, who is a wonderful sounding board; cheerleader; and fount of strength, “thatta girl”s, keep goings, and true passion
  • Friends and colleagues that send completely unexpected yet completely intentional calls, emails, texts, and carrier pigeons (I’m sure the carrier pigeons are on their way…) to encourage, to console, to celebrate what’s going on.
  • The teachers in my life – spanning the secular, sacred, and social realms that took the time – and still take the time – to know my name and check up on me.

In the days that await me – until I achieve “old age and grey hairs” I want to display this kind of investment to others.  This is a vital gift that God invites and commissions me to offer to the present and coming generations.

Reflection: Who invested in you?  In whom can you invest?  What is your timeline to begin this investment?

Prayer: “We will work with each other, we will work side by side.  We will work with each other, we will work side by side, and we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride.   And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”* Amen.

*”They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love” from The Faith We Sing, 2223.

Strong and Courageous: Vacancy in the Chariot

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 41:37-44 and I Samuel 18:1-16

One of my all time favorite movies is “Remember the Titans.” The movie is based on a true story and set on the threshold of integration in the school system.  In a town where there was once the white high school and the black high school there is now the high school. Folks were going to have to come together – students, teachers, parents, coaches – folks that were once set apart due to their pigment were now all together.

And at first tensions were high.

“Remember the Titans” subjects the high school’s football team and how they found unity in their diversity, which led them to a championship football season. Their unity brought together the school as well as the community – their unity made what was once broken newly whole.

But in order for this to be possible there had to be dialogue and compromise. Students, coaches, and parents that had very rigid understandings of how things should be and what should be done and who should be in charge had an immediate decision to make: adapt and join the dialogue to make the needed compromises or be very unhappy…because that’s just the way it was. There was no going back. There was only going forward.

This scenario was met with resistance at first, but slowly the community came around and rallied behind their players. Foes became friends and increasingly acknowledged the incredible gifts one another brought to the team.

And they won – not just the game or the season.  They won the fullness of life that God has to offer when folks put aside those things that seek to separate and embrace those things that unite us as one people before our God.

//

In our Scripture passages this week we read two examples of leadership.  In the case of Pharaoh and Joseph in the Genesis passage we read of adaptations that led to dialogue that led to compromises that led to everyone succeeding.  In the case of Saul and David in the I Samuel passage we read of stubbornness and jealousy.

Which leadership scenario would you prefer?

I think I’d rather hang out in Pharaoh’s boardroom…

Pharaoh made room for and welcomed other persons to share in the leadership of the kingdom and it was to his benefit.  With Joseph at his side Egypt was at it’s best.  Joseph knew that Pharaoh was pharaoh, but the king didn’t wear that on his sleeve 24/7.  His leadership was a model for other leaders and he wanted those other leaders to engage those practices, not be paralyzed on the sidelines.

This is an important model for our own leadership styles no matter the context or venue that we engage them.  Whether at home, in the classroom, in the Sanctuary, in the coffee shop, on the production line, or the soccer field our leadership style should inspire and invite other leaders to partner with us.  In this way we will share the responsibility of leadership and get more work done than a single person could ever manage alone.

//

The young men of T.C. Williams High School led that community in partnered leadership.  They found unity in diversity and altered the face of their community.  If God’s people scattered across the globe engaged this same sort of practice, imagine the Kingdom work that God would bring about with us as helpmates in the kingdom…

Just imagine…now let’s make it reality.

Prayer “A charge to keep I have, a God to glorify, a never ending soul to save, and fit it for the sky.  To serve the present age, my calling to fulfill; O may it all my powers engage to do my Master’s will!”*  Amen.

* “A Charge to Keep I Have,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 413.