The Coming King: Pilgrimage

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 2:1-5

Believe it or not – even though I am a native Floridian – I have hiked my fair share of mountains both domestically and abroad.  I have hiked in Georgia, North Carolina, Maryland, Tennessee, West Virginia, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, and Maine domestically.  I have hiked in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Austria, Switzerland, and Germany abroad.  These haven’t been major backpacking trips, although I would love to train for and complete one of those adventures – or more than one!  These hikes have been day trips – up and down the mountain, volcano, or glacier – depending on where I was – in eight hours or less.

Now…growing up in Florida has a lot of advantages.  Close to the beach.  Grew up hearing the sonic boom as our astronauts returned to Cape Canavral.  On the cool and clear mornings you can smell the salt water even if you are in the middle of the state.  Open-toed and open-heeled footwear is acceptable 365 days a year.  Owning one sweater is all that’s necessary.  Winter lasts about nine-and-a-half days.

Like I said – lots of advantages.

Big disadvantage – it’s flat…we think a 30-degree incline for 30 feet is a mountain!  So you can only imagine when I approached that first mountain…and every subsequent mountain…my reaction was something like, “you expect me to hike up that?!”

My calves are aching just at the thought of it.

Those hikes were hard freaking work.  In the words of Kid President – who alludes to a poem by the great Robert Frost – “‘Two roads diverged in the woods (or on the mountain for me) and I took the road less traveled’ and it hurt man!  Really bad!  Rocks, thorns, and glass…my pants broke!  Not cool, Robert Frost!”  Those ascents were such struggles.  I felt dizzy.  I felt faint.  I wanted to quit.  I thought because I had hiked a mountain before that hiking now would be easier – not so.  Each ascent was a new experience.  Each ascent was a new challenge full of obstacles shared yet unique between all the mountains.

Equally shared and unique was what I saw and felt at the summit – freedom and stillness.  I could see for miles.  I could breathe deeply.  I could feel the pressure in my ears build and release, build and release.  Never have I seen skies more blue – and I’m a Floridian – we know a thing or two about blue skies.  Never have I felt more accomplished.  Never have I felt more refreshed.  I think the opportunity to see anew, to feel accomplished, to be refreshed is what entices me to take these hikes when the occasions arise.

I wonder if these same opportunities – to see anew, to feel accomplished following a great struggle, to be refreshed – is what God had in mind for humanity when God used Isaiah as God’s mouthpiece to beckon humanity toward Zion.  It wouldn’t be an easy journey.  The people – us – you and me – would and do have to leave our ways and practices that have become home yet separate us from home with God.  We have to leave our sin, our deceit, our idolatry behind and that we can begin moving towards God.  That’s a struggle in and of itself.  But that action simply moves us to the base of Zion…we still have to climb it.

Any 90s kids (or their parents who had to watch it – I know mine did!) remember that show called Nickelodeon Guts where the final challenge facing the contestants was climbing The Crag – a mountain chock-full of disasters lying in wait to snare the unsuspecting player?  Yeah…our God is not doing that.  God doesn’t place obstacles before us as we make our climb.  We are our own obstacles.  What seems like a treacherous mountain climb could indeed be an easy stroll.  I believe that’s the way God desires it.  The struggle and overcoming obstacles comes in through those moments where we have to confront our sin, peel it away, and walk away from it and onward towards God.  That’s the work we have to do.  That’s the work God invites us to do and God doesn’t leave us alone in doing it.

An advantage of climbing God’s mountain is that you can do it right where you are.  I can climb it right where I am.  During this Advent Season in preparation for the birth of the Savior I’ll be working on my ascent.  I hope you’ll be a fellow hiker on the trail.

Prayer: “Come, we that love The Lord, and let our joys be known; join in a song with sweet accord, join in a song of sweet accord and thus surround the throne and thus surround the throne.  Then let our songs abound, and every tear be dry; we’re marching through Emmanuel’s ground, we’re marching through Emmanuel’s ground, to fairer world’s on high, to fairer worlds on high.  We’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion; we’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God.”* Amen.

*”Marching to Zion,” The United Methodist Church, 733.

Plot From The Plain: Firm Foundation

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 6:46-49

This Sunday Reeves’ concludes our sermon series Plot From The Plain that subjected the texts of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain from the latter part of Luke 6.  Our passage for this week focuses on Jesus’ prescription for sturdy foundation formation…and I can’t help but be propelled back to my Vacation Bible School days and sing…

The wise man built his house upon the rock.  The wise man built his house upon the rock.  The wise man built his house upon the rock and the rain came a tumblin’ down.  The rains came down and the floods came up.  The rains came down and the floods came up.  The rains came down and the floods came up and the house on the rock stood firm. 

The foolish man built his house upon the sand.  The foolish man built his house upon the sand.  The foolish man built his house upon the sand and the rain came a tumblin’ down.  The rains came down and the floods came up.  The rains came down and the floods came up.  The rains came down and the floods came up and the house on the sand went SMASH!

That song – though somewhat juvenile and not as inclusive as I would like it to be at this point in my life – is very true to the teaching of Jesus.  For our foundations to withstand the trials of life they must be built on firm support…and if not…SMASH.

As I reflect on this Scripture – and the upcoming celebration of Thanksgiving – I am reminded of those persons that have helped create a firm foundation on Christ in my life and I would like to share a bit about them with you.

(Note: names have not been changed so I can properly celebrate these people!)

One – my sweet mama who read me Bible stories every night as a child, who continues to pray for me and my ministry every single day, and who has an infectious desire to keep exploring, deepening, questioning, and expanding her relationship with the God she loves – the God she taught me to love.

Two – my beloved Andrew who is my constant support, strength, and security.  His belief in me is unfailing.  He truly is my hero.

Three – my Becky, Melissa, and Melanie – these incredibly strong women speak truth into my life, they call me on my stuff in good times and in times when I need an adjustment, and constantly peel back the veil from my eyes so I truly embrace and celebrate my own gifts and accomplishments.

Four – my Sara(h)s and Dan – amazing friends from my Candler days.  Though we live and serve in different parts of the country, they are my covenant family and we share the timeless gift of picking up right where we left off.

Five – my clergy mentors Tim, Jenn, Lisa, and Riley – your wisdom is pure gift.  You allow me to ask questions, you give me the space to try on something new and then to digest the process.  You have dried my tears and made me laugh till my ribs ache.  Your presence has and continues to shape me so much.

Six – my dear friend Lisa who has opened my eyes and deepened the love in my heart for the development, resourcing, and true connection within and beyond the beloved inclusive community.  Thank you for being my guide and including me.

Seven – the United Methodist congregations that have had hands in my formation ~ First UMC Lakeland, FL; Northside UMC Atlanta, GA; Inman UMC Fayetteville, GA; New Horizon Church Haines City, FL; Reeves UMC Orlando FL; St. Luke’s UMC Orlando, FL.

Eight – the incredible camping and retreat ministries of the Warren W. Willis United Methodist Camp and Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park, FL – both as a participant and a leader

Nine – a shout out to John Wesley.  Yes.

Ten – a place to honor those that will help firm and form my foundation in Christ in the days, weeks, and years ahead.

Relfection: Who are those persons in your life that have helped strengthen your foundation?  Who are those persons you could seek out to either firm up your foundation or aid them in firming theirs?  This is our work in the Kingdom – so it is also our joy.

Prayer: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.  I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly trust in Jesus’ name.  On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.”*

*”My Hope Is Built,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 368.

 

 

Taking The Narrow Path

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Timothy 4:2-8

This weekend the Reeves’ congregation will celebrate Laity Sunday – one of four Sundays a year where the laity of the church serve in leadership roles throughout the entire service of worship – including the sermon!  Ross – Reeves’ lay leader – will be offering the sermon.  He has selected the passage for this week so I will be offering my own musings on the same passage.

Make sure you come on Sunday to hear his interpretation of this passage!

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This letter is the second correspondence that Paul sends to Timothy.  It is a letter of encouragement and direction for this young minister or pastor in his work with a fledgling Christian community.  Some scholars have interpreted that I Timothy is written to define or describe a faithful congregation whereas II Timothy is written to define or describe a faithful minister.  What is interesting about this “distinction” between these correspondences is this – Paul desires – and I would say God desires – all people at one and the same time to be both faithful congregants and faithful ministers.  You do not have to be a professional minister or have ministry as your chosen profession to be a minister.  We are all ministers.  We are all charged with caring for, leading, guiding, holding accountable, and interpreting Scripture for one another as well as ourselves.

So we need to listen up.  Paul is writing to us.  And then our actions in response are the evidence as to whether or not we have listened.

Here in this text – as in his other letters – Paul encourages “constant vigilance!” (any Harry Potter fans out there?  Think Mad-Eye Moody) against the persecutions the Christians are enduring and perseverance in the face of combating ideologies and theologies that are in the community.  Paul encourages strength so that the people will remain strong in self and strong for one another that they will not be swayed by half-truths and whole-lies.

Paul is assured that living a life in the world and not of the world will lead humanity towards happiness.  John Wesley believed the love of God led to true happiness whereas the love of the world led to elusive happiness.  The world is fleeting; therefore, love of the world would also be fleeting.  Our God is alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last, everlasting to everlasting.  Our God is eternal; therefore, love of God would also be eternal and the happiness that results from loving God would be eternal.

Our reward for loving God and not the world is “the crown of righteousness.”  It is available not just for one but for all.  In order to receive it we have to work for it.  As Wesley would say we have to work out our salvation for it – through works of mercy and works of piety.  Works of piety include individual and corporate prayer, searching and studying the Scripture, and receiving the Lord’s Supper.  Works of mercy are those works where we do good, such as living simply so our resources are available to aid others; visiting the sick, lonely, or imprisoned; advocating for the needs of others and helping to bring about change.

Working out our salvation leads us along the narrow path.  There will be moments of ease.  There will be moments of difficulty.  There will be moments of comfort and moments that make our skin crawl.  There will even be moments of triumph and moments where we want to just give up.  But we have to keep persevering.  We have to keep moving forward that we – like Paul – will carry out our ministry fully.

Prayer: “Thou hast promised to receive us, poor and sinful though we be; thou hast mercy to relieve us, grace to cleanse and power to free.  Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!  We will early tun to thee.  Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!  We will early turn to thee.  Early let us seek thy favor, early let us do thy will; blessed Lord and only Savior, with thy love our bosoms fill.  Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!  Thou hast loved us, love us still.  Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!  Thou hast loved us, love us still.”*

* “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 381.

Plot From The Plain: Known

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 6:43-45

This past week I had the privilege to attend a conference on clergy finances. I know – exhilarating topic – but it turned into a conference on clergy health as a whole – personal health, financial health, and spiritual health. Some of the information was new, some of the information was an expansion on knowledge garnered at other times, and some of the information was reiterations of previous lessons.

I admit – in one of the reiterations of previous lessons sessions I initially checked out. What was the subject of that session? Boundaries. I’ve been hearing about boundaries it seems like forever. Boundaries are not walls between myself and others. Boundaries are the means by which I am responsible for myself and accountable to others with whom I am in relationship. Boundaries keep me safe; they state was is acceptable behavior and what is not. Boundaries enable me to stay true and in awareness of my feelings, choices, limits, gifts, loves, and values. I am by no means perfect with boundaries, but as a Wesleyan I believe that I am going onto perfection. I am learning, I am growing, I am holding myself accountable, and I am being held accountable.

As I sat in the session on boundaries I felt the convicting presence of the Holy Spirit settle on my heart as the speaker shared from hers. The lessons that convicted me are these:

1. Setting boundaries and then letting them slip to the back of my mind or out of my mind completely is not acceptable. My boundaries must stay current and fresh in my mind. I must be aware of them at all times so that if my behavior walks too closely to the line or crosses the line I will know in that moment rather than in hindsight.

2. The specific aim of the session was to explore boundaries as it relates to technology – emails, text messages, tweets, status updates, picture uploads, pins, blogs and whatever else is out there as far as social media. The convicting question was this – is the self that you are portraying in and through these media your true self?

Wow.

And as that relates to our Scripture passage this week – is the self you are portraying in and through these media who you want to be known as? Is this self how you want to be known? I believe those are two different but correlative questions.

And again I say…wow.

There is so much that is lost in translation when we connect through technology – context, tone, inflection, sarcasm, emotion, and more. And then there is also so much that can be gained – boldness, passive aggression, outright anger, and more.

There are some things we say via technology that we would never say in person…there are somethings I have said via these electronic means that I would never say in person. I am not perfect, but I am going onto perfection.

When I say these things – is that how I want to be known? Do I want what I say through these forums to conflict with how I am known in person? Or do I want it to be a seamless transition from one to the other?

I don’t want to be a good tree in the flesh that produces rancid fruit experienced in electronic life.

The facilitator joked, “This is my boundary: if whatever I am about to post I would not say in person to my mother or to Jesus, then I will not post it.” The room laughed. I laughed. And then that Spirit of conviction became a Spirit of peace. Jesus knows all my thoughts – Jesus knows my heart on my brightest and on my gloomiest days. Jesus knows and Jesus redeems so that others will know and experience my heart, my true self, as Jesus does.

After this experience I don’t think I’ll be scoffing at reiterations of previous lessons anymore. God knew that I needed this lesson. It went straight to my heart. It led me to take a good long look in the mirror – some of it I liked and some of it God is continuing to work on, work in, and work out. God’s grace is in the boundaries. God’s redemption is in the boundaries.

I’ll be in the boundaries.

Prayer: “Come, all of you, come, bearers of burden, come forward, I will give you rest; don’t wait for long; all of you who are weary, come to me, the Christ Jesus The Lord of all, the Savior, King of humankind. Come, all of you, come trouble-minded, come forward, I will give you peace, the peaceful mind; all of you who are hungry, come to me, receive bread and the water of life, provided by Jesus your Lord.”* Amen.

*”Come, All of You,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 350.