The Gospel According to Showtunes: I Know Where I’ve Been

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Proverbs 22:8

This week the Reeves community welcomes several musical guests to worship.  The first is Ms. Delicia Egerton – the director of the Orlando Community Center Children’s Choir.  She will sing our showtune feature for this week – I Know Where I’ve Been from the musical Hairspray.  The second is the Cross and Flame Youth Choir from Trinity United Methodist Church in Homewood, AL.  They will sing several anthems throughout the worship service.  I am so excited to have these talented folks join us this week!!!

An additional treat is that my middle school orchestra teacher – Mrs. Jodi Haskins – is a chaperone with the youth choir from Trinity UMC.  I have not seen her in person in years!  Mrs. Haskins – along with my other music teachers and directors – helped to grow my love for music – a love that I have had since infancy.  She and they taught me music appreciation, instrument fundamentals, and the technicals of music theory.  As I reflect upon the Scripture passage for this week a certain technical of music theory comes to mind – leading tones.

A “leading tone” is a note or pitch that resolves or leads to a note one half-step higher or lower that the original tone.  For example, in a C-major scale the notes are C D E F G A B C;  a leading tone in this scale is the B that resolves in the C.

(Please forgive this over-simplistic theory lesson – but we do not need to go too technical.)

What I appreciate about leading tones is that they are going somewhere.  They are somewhat volatile, reactive pitches.  There is energy behind them.  Anticipation is created within them.  Anticipation can quickly become angst if the leading tone is not resolved.  Progress needs to be made.  Move the piece of music forward.  Follow the leading tone through the next phase of the song.

This week’s Scripture passage contains a leading tone and the leading tone is within the word “will.”  “Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail.”  That will indicates that present circumstances are going somewhere.  That will is somewhat volatile and reactive.  There is energy behind it.  Anticipation is created within it.  And anticipation quickly becomes angst if the will is left too long to resolve.  Progress needs to be made.

God says sowers of injustice will reap calamity and that the rod of anger will fail.  Our God is trustworthy.  Our God is the guarantor of promises made.  Our God…does not work alone.  We are caught up in that will with God.  We are instruments of God’s peace with justice in the world.  We are partnered with God in leading tone moments – in our own lives, in our community, and in the Kingdom.

What are leading tone moments?  They are those moments where you come to a fork in the road and resolution is necessary.  Which way will I turn?  What decision will I make?  What outcome will that bring?  It is God’s desire that our leading tone moments further God’s justice in the world, that our decisions give life and reflect the one who created us.

We are all working, living, serving towards our ultimate resolution – the time of complete resurrection.  Every moment until that time, then, is a leading tone moment, where we can act with God’s help to more fully bring about the Kingdom or not.  What leading tone moments are you currently experiencing?  How does God want you to resolve?  What resolution will you bring to the Kingdom?

Prayer: “Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day; earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away; change and decay in all around I see; O Thou who changes not, abide with me.  I need thy presence every passing hour.  What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?  Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?  Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.  I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless; ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.  Where is death’s sting?  Where, grave, thy victory?  I triumph still, if thou abide with me.”* Amen.

*”Abide with Me,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 700.

 

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The Gospel According to Showtunes: Freak Flag

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 1:4-10

This passage of Scripture shares the call of the prophet Jeremiah.  God calls Jeremiah to live a life set apart  and to lead God’s people through proclamation, guidance, and accountability.  Jeremiah resisted, but God convinced him, and Jeremiah lived his life in the service of his Lord.

As I read Jeremiah’s call story, I am drawn to the memory of my own.  I have known since the age of 11 that God called me – and calls me still – to live a life set apart and to lead God’s people through proclamation, guidance, and accountability.  I cannot recall any moments where I resisted in the manner of Jeremiah, but that does not mean that I have not faced my share of hardships…and it does not mean that I do not continue to face hardships.  I receive criticisms on my age and my gender.  My intellect and work ethic are questioned.  I am looked down upon and it is God who helps me keep on standing when my knees buckle.

Some folks think that only ministers, pastors, and priests are called by God.  Not true.  So not true.  We all participate in the ministry of all believers, which means we are all called and set apart by God to do a specific task or many specific tasks in the Kingdom.  Some flavors of set apartness lead persons into lives of ordained clergy and other flavors of set apartness lead persons into lives of awesome servant leadership without having a formal title in the church.

But wait…we all bear a formal title.  Actually we have several formal titles from God.

Child of God.  Disciple.  Beloved.

All of these calls – clergy / laity / children of God / disciples / beloved – are worthy and honorable and necessary in the Kingdom.

We can try to offer excuses to God as to why we are not fit to serve or worthy of God’s call, but if we gaze into our Scripture passage for this week we learn that God has an answer to each of our objections.  We could follow in the footsteps of Jonah and flee from God’s call with an excursion on our own, but I know I would rather follow God’s will – no matter how trying it may seem to me – smelling fresh and clean than smelling like l’eau de poisson.

How awesome it is that our mighty and powerful God, who could and is able to do all the work and service needed in this world, is so generous in inviting us to join the work?  When we call on God, we want an answer…and that’s a two way street, my friends.  When God calls on us we should not send God to voicemail or hit “ignore” or receive the message and never respond.  God calls and God wants an answer.  The unknown of that call – the where will I be sent, what will I be asked to do, how will I make this work, why did God pick me – will be answered in time.  Our initial and quick answer to God’s call should be in trust and in faith.

“I am with you to deliver you,” God said to Jeremiah.

God affirms those words to us as well.

And we should say, “Here I am, send me.”

Prayer: “Standing on the promises that cannot fail, when the howling storms of doubt and fear assail, by the living Word of God I shall prevail, standing on the promises of God.  Standing on the promises I cannot fall, listening every moment to the Spirit’s call, resting in my Savior as my all in all, standing on the promises of God.  Standing, standing, standing on the promises of God my Savior; standing, standing, I’m standing on the promises of God.”* Amen.

*”Standing on the Promises,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 374.

 

The Gospel According to Showtunes: He Lives In You

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I John 4:11-17

Emotions are running high in my life.  I am sad.  I am excited.  I am nervous.  I am exhilarated.

I am moving this summer…the seventh move in seven years for Andrew and me.  In the next six weeks I will say goodbye to the Reeves UMC congregation that has nurtured, challenged, affirmed, and stretched me and my pastoral identity over the past two years and say hello to the congregation of Tuskawilla UMC.

It is a very strange place to be.

I am transitioning in service from one local church to another.  My family is also transitioning to another residence as well.  So our current parsonage is bespeckled with boxes and packing peanuts and bubble wrap, which is fine until you are walking around in the dark and your foot finds the bubble wrap!  I’ll just say that you wake up really quick!  There are signs of this move all over the place: in my emotions, in my vocation, in my home.  With all this transition some days I am struggling to identify a leg on which to stand.

And then I received a birthday present from my dear friend Lillian.  She bought me a globe.  It is small, about the size of a large grapefruit and it sits atop this brilliant silver stand.  The colors of the globe are muted; the water is dark and the countries are colored in greens, yellows, and peaches.  As much as I cherish this globe, I cherish her reason for giving it to me even more.  She wanted the globe to be a sign and an assurance that God is with me wherever my travels and transitions take me.  Though my appointments may change and though I may move out of one house and into another, my residence and my home is with God.

The concept of Emmanuel – God with us is one we usually hear during the seasons of Advent and Christmas, but let’s not confine Emmanuel to those brief seasons.  God with us is our blessing and assurance each and everyday.  People say that the only thing constant in life is change.  Change is not the only constant; God is a constant – the constant – and with God as my constant I know that God will guide me, ground me, and grow me through any change I may face.

I conclude this post with a benediction that my friend and mentor Jenny would offer at the end of the worship services she led.  Remember this blessing (and hearing her voice in my head) are such a gift this evening.  It is said that this blessing is a riff on what is inscribed on the breastplate of St. Patrick.  I hope you enjoy.

Prayer: God go before you to guide you.  God go behind you to protect you.  God go beneath you to support you.  God go beside you to befriend you.  Be not afraid.  And let the blessing of Almighty God, The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, descend upon you, settle in around you, and make its home in you.  Be not afraid.  Go in peace.  Amen.

The Gospel According to Showtunes: No One Is Alone

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Kings 17:8-24

I write this blog post on the eve of my birthday.  Tomorrow I will be 29…and I’m thinking around this time 29 years ago my mother entered into her labor of me.  I was a healthy baby – 9lbs 6oz if I remember correctly what I have been told – so my mother worked hard!  As I age I find myself thinking more of my mother than myself on my birthday.  That day is what it is because of how she labored for what God created.

I was a mild-mannered child, save the colic I had for what seemed like eternity!  And then very quickly into my teenage and young adulthood years I found my own opinions that I expressed with my own voice.  I am not sure that I was ever shy in sharing an opinion – though I have reigned that in a bit nowadays.  Sometimes I would say things and my mother would look at me with a face of, “Where in the world did you get that trait?!”  Certainly not from her, but she claimed me and loved me and claims me and loves me still.

Even when I say things that are the complete opposite of what she believes.

Even when I say things that push her outside her comfort zone.

She claims me.  She loves me.  That is the greatest gift of motherhood a child could ever receive.

Every Sunday night my mother sends me an email and they all start out with variations on this theme:

Dear Sarah, I hope your service went well this morning.  I hope those gathered heard God’s word and felt God’s presence.  I prayed for you and your leadership as you served.

Her prayers, her sincerity, her consistent messages – they are pure gift.  They remind me that no matter how old I get, I am still her little girl.  The little girl that she had to tape bows to my head for pictures because my hair was so few and so fine – you would never believe that if you saw my hair now!  The little girl that she had to coax to wear tights to church.  The little girl who acted tough in public but she would hold as I cried at night.  That happened when I was a child.  That still happens now.

My sweet mother is someone who comes alongside those who are in need and she serves diligently.  She serves not seeking recognition but because she knows in her heart that it is the right thing to do.  In Matthew 6:2-4 Jesus says, “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.  But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  My mother does not sound a trumpet.  She gives wholeheartedly.  She serves silently.

She is my example and my hero.

I give thanks that my mother is always there to remind me that I am not alone.  Her companionship is a gift that I will treasure always and it is a gift that I seek to share with all of my family, friends, and the people that I serve.  Our relationship is balanced: I learn from her, she learns from me; I say crazy things and she laughs.  See?  Balanced!  I celebrate her this week as I enter my 29th year of life.

I love you, Mom.  So very much.

Prayer: “For our mothers, who have given us life and love, that we may show them reverence and love, we pray to the Lord…  For mothers who have lost a child through death, that their faith may give them hope, and their family and friends support and console them, we pray to the Lord…  For women, though without children of their own, who like mothers have nurtured and cared for us, we pray to the Lord…  For mothers, who have been unable to be a source of strength, who have not responded to their children and have not sustained their families, we pray to the Lord…  Loving God, as a mother gives life and nourishment to her children, so you watch over your Church.  Bless these women, that they may be strengthened as Christian mothers.  Let the example of their faith and love shine forth.  Grant that we, their sons and daughters, may honor them always with a spirit of profound respect.  Grant this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.”*

*”A Prayer for Mother’s Day,” The United Methodist Book of Worship, 438.

The Gospel According to Showtunes: Defying Gravity

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Chronicles 15:1-12

This week at Reeves we begin a new sermon series – I am so excited!!! – entitled The Gospel According to Showtunes!  Each week we will explore a Scripture passage alongside a showtune and examine where there is harmony and dissonance.  Applying showtunes as an interpretative lens to Scripture will be a challenge, but it will also have its benefits.

Among the benefits is hearing the showtunes in worship.  It’s gonna be awesome!

This week we Defy Gravity in partnership with Wicked and the story of King Asa from II Chronicles.  Asa is of the house of David.  He is a ruler in the Southern Kingdom – a kingdom that is presently pockmarked with idols.  God’s people have strayed once again.  Their praises seek to please static gods in the Ancient Near East rather than the mighty, dynamic, saving God that delivered them through the Sea of Reeds from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.  Asa receives a word from the Lord from God’s messenger Azariah.  Azariah reminds Asa and calls to the people, “The Lord is with you, while you are with him.  If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you abandon him, he will abandon you” (II Chron 15:2).  The people’s idolatry is a sign of their sin and abandonment.  In order to redirect their attention, to redirect their worship, service, and reverence Asa must remove those items that skew the people’s vision.  The idols and Asherah poles – they have got to go.

At this point in the story…it looks like it’s Asa against the world.  What is he going to do?

I’m a huge fan of Harry Potter.  I was a little late to the Harry Potter party – but escaping into JKRowling’s England helped me write my commissioning and ordination papers.  Thank you, Harry.  “Always.”

In the first book of the series, Professor Dumbledore – Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – is in the midst of awarding house points at the end of term banquet.  Whichever of the four houses of Hogwarts – Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, Slytherin – has the most points (awarded for good deeds and write answers, deducted for misbehavior) at the end of the year wins the coveted House Cup.  At the beginning of the banquet Gryffindor – Harry’s house – was in last place, but because of a series of event (read the books folks) Gryffindor is now tied with Slytherin for first place.  Has their ever been a tie for House Cup Champion?  Students and staff in the Great Hall wait with baited breath…and Dumbledore says, “There are all kinds of courage.  It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to your enemies, but just as much to stand up to your friends” (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone 17.197).  And then Dumbledore awards 10 points to Neville Longbottom – the most unlikely person to ever earn House Cup Points – because he stood up to his friends.  Gryffindor wins!

Asa would be rewarded 10 points…probably more.  He stood up to his friends.  He stood up to his family members.  He removed the idols.  He tore down the Asherah poles.  He sought the Lord.  He did not succumb to peer pressure and leave things the way they were.  He knew what was right and he went after it.  And if you know anything about Wicked – Asa’s acts helped him to Defy Gravity!

Where is God calling you to stand up?  It could be to enemies.  It could be to friends.  What conviction has God given you?  How is God calling you, shaping you, to become an advocate?  Sit with these questions for a while…and then act.  Fly high.  Defy Gravity.

Prayer: “The care the eagle gives her young, safe in her lofty nest, is like the tender love of God for us made manifest.  As when the time to venture comes, she stirs them out to flight, so we are pressed to boldly try, to strive for daring height.  And if we flutter helplessly, as fledgling eagles fall, beneath us lift God’s mighty wings to bear us, one and all.”* Amen.

*”The Care the Eagle Gives Her Young,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 118.