Upbuilding: We Remember

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Thessalonians 2:9-13

This Sunday the Tuskawilla community celebrates All Saints Sunday.  In worship we will remember, we will name, we will celebrate the lives and new lives of church members and loved ones that have gone onto glory since All Saints Sunday 2013.  All Saints Sunday is an incredibly powerful and incredibly emotional time.  We honor while we continue to grieve.  We grieve and lean into our faith.  We rest in peace that passes all understanding and we claim the assurance that in Christ’s final victory we will worship with our loved ones again.

This All Saints Sunday is especially tender as I will remember Andrew’s brother, Josh, in worship.  Josh passed away from congestive heart failure at the age of 29 last December.  Josh was a decorated veteran, serving our country as a Marine and later in the Army as a sharpshooter.  Josh originally enlisted as a cook in the Marines…but that all changed on the day it was the cooks’ turn on the firing range.  Josh made an incredible shot without a scope…from cook to sharpshooter with one shot.  Josh served on numerous tours; as soon as he returned home he asked to be redeployed.  He was committed to the mission, committed to his fellow soldiers, committed to peace.

Josh received an honorable discharge in 2012.  The war, the tours, they changed him.  I believe he suffered from post traumatic stress, though I am not sure he was ever formally diagnosed.  He lived like a vagabond following his discharge – seeking what would be next for him.  He had his future at his fingertips.  Eventually he made his way home, after a year or more on the road, and that is where he died.  We celebrated his life at The National Cemetery in Bushnell in January.

A few weeks ago, knowing that All Saints Sunday was nearing, I asked Andrew if he would like to visit Josh.  He immediately said yes, sharing that Halloween was Josh’s favorite holiday.  Andrew and Josh and Halloween…that’s a serious combination for mischief…the stories Andrew’s mother could tell.  So on Monday we headed to Bushnell with a  pumpkin in tow for Josh.  We entered the cemetery – such hallowed ground – and made our way to Josh’s interment space.  We approached it together and then I wandered away to give Andrew space with his brother.  They shared a conversation – I’m not sure what about.  When I made my way back to them Andrew pointed out that Josh is the youngest person on that row of the columbarium; he is surrounded by World War II, Korea, and Vietnam veterans.  His life ended far too soon.  Andrew shook his head and the tears began to flow.

As Andrew paced away I took the opportunity to talk with Josh.  I leaned in and thanked him for loving Andrew.  I promised that we would always look after his beloved daughter.  I told him that we remember him often, that we laugh, that we cry.  I told him that we miss him.  I leaned in and kissed his columbarium marker and as I did a tear slid off my face and onto the marble.  It was present for only a moment and then dried…and I received that sign as God’s assurance that in his coming Kingdom there will be no more crying, no more tears.  We will be together before our God.  Together. United.  Whole.

We miss you Josh.  We love you.  You are not forgotten.  Your memory, your service, your sacrifice lives on in us.  We will tell your story.  And we will celebrate your life with our lives.

Thanks be to God for the saints.  Thanks be to God for the promise that we will be united again.

Prayer: “For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.  Alleluia, Alleluia!  O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold, fight as the saints who nobly fought of old, and win with them the victor’s crown of gold.  Alleluia, Alleluia!  And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long, steals on the ear the distant triumph song, and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.  Alleluia, Alleluia!”* Amen.

*”For All the Saints,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 711.

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Upbuilding: Determined to Share

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Thessalonians 2:1-8

This year I am participating in a new mentoring program initiative at a local high school.  This program matches students in the local high school to volunteers in the community that want to come alongside these students and support them in their educational success.

I have met with my mentee three times so far.  For the first two meetings we talked sports – I talked about football and my mentee is continuing my education about basketball – I may understand it eventually!  We talked a little about our families and what we want to be when we grow up.  The conversations skimmed the surface, which is normal.  We were getting to know one another.

This week the conversation increased in depth.  My mentee shared a goal with me, but my mentee’s heart was not happy.  It was downcast.  The goal was before my mentee and the path to achieve that goal presented itself like walking across broken glass on hot coals up a mountain both ways without shoes.  So, we circled the wagons.  We strategized.  We came up with a plan.  We even role played the conversations that would need to happen and possible outcomes that could result depending on what was shared in those conversations.  And slowly but surely my mentee’s downcast heart became hopeful.  The frown on my mentee’s face started to turn up at the corners.

I cannot wait to see my mentee this next week and follow up on the progress towards his goal.

I am confident that my mentee and I were able to share in that conversation because we had intentionally laid the ground work of getting to know one another.  Sharing about ourselves took time.  A relationship had to be built.  Trust had to be established.  Showing up incarnated my commitment, incarnated my care, incarnated my investment in his success.  I am in my mentee’s corner.  I will hold him accountable.  I will celebrate his successes and I will help craft plans for greater acheivements so his goals will become his reality.

I also have a goal of understanding basketball by the end of all of this.  I am pretty sure my mentee will make that part of my reality.

This mentee/mentor relationship is not a one way street.  Just because I am the mentor does not mean that I am not being guided, and learning, and being formed and transformed by the conversations shared with and insights gained from this intelligent mentee.  We are both giving.  We are both receiving.  We are both committed to sharing about ourselves, learning about one another, and learning together.

Sharing ourselves with others is a way to share Christ with them – to love our neighbors, to serve our neighbors, to care for them, to comfort them, the challenge them, to congratulate them.  This is what living life is about.  This is the life that Paul lived with the Thessalonians.  He was a mentor to and a companion of the Thessalonians.  He was also a mentee of the Thessalonians.  They lived life together.  He was dedicated to sharing with the Thessalonians and rejoiced over the sharing the Thessalonians did with him.  Together, they incarnated that “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Mt 18:20).  Christ is there with them.  Christ is here with us.

As I was leaving our mentoring time this past week my mentee asked where I was headed.  “Back to my office.”  “Where is your office?”  “At a church.  That’s where I work.  I pastor a church.”  “What!?  You’re a pastor??”  “Yes, I am.”  “Could…could we talk about that sometime?”  “You bet.  You just let me know.”

Where two are gathered…

Amen.

Prayer: “Draw us in the Spirit’s tether, for when humbly in thy name, two or three are met together thou are in the midst of them.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Touch we now thy garment’s hem.  All our meal and all our living make us sacraments of thee, that by caring, helping, giving, we may true disciples be.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!   We will serve thee faithfully.”* Amen.

*”Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 632.

Upbuilding: Coming Alive

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Thessalonians 1:1-10

This week the Tuskawilla community begins a new sermon series entitled Upbuilding.  In this series we will study texts from I Thessalonians.  The Thessalonians were an exemplar community – they received God’s Word, they were convinced that true salvation is grounded in Christ, and they lived their faith outwardly.  Other early Christian communities set the Christians at Thessalonica as their example.  Paul did not write to the Thessalonians to respond to an erupting issue; he wrote to praise them.  Paul sought to build up the Thessalonians so that their work would continue inspiring, encouraging, and upbuilding others.

 

Earlier this week I was in a meeting – don’t you just love meetings?  And in said meeting I was asked to take the minutes – don’t you just love meeting where you take the minutes?  For a good portion of the meeting it was business as usual – input on this budget item, update on this ministry action, report on this project, type type type.  But then a shift.  The committee began to dream about something entirely new – not new in the way that it has never been done before but new in the way that we are intentionally sculpting this new dream by bringing in the experience of others.  I got caught up in the moment…I had to remind myself to keep taking notes when I really wanted to just bask in the beauty of this dream!  We briefly brainstormed the best practices that certain persons, certain groups, and certain churches could bring to the table as we dream something new.  No one person or group or church does everything well; we do somethings well, but not everything well.  So what if we gather all of the tasks, ministries, and gifts that individually we do well and gift that wellness of best practices to a new dream?

It’s not often that I get really excited in a meeting, but all of this made me really really excited!

So before I could lose the great thoughts I returned to my typing!

Gathering these best practices is a way is a way this leadership team can upbuild a new ministry.  It’s the way this leadership team and those who work with us can invest in our neighbors and invest in strengthening God’s Kingdom on earth.  And why are we doing this?  Not so someone will write an epistle about us.  We do it because it brings God joy – and what brings God joy brings us joy.

The Thessalonians modeled faith and perseverance as best practices.  This is what we read in our Scripture text this week.  This is what Paul praises in his thanksgiving over them.  If someone were to name your best practices that you could offer as a gift to another person or another community, what would they identify?  What are those best practices that you would like to cultivate?  God is already singing your thanksgiving because you are God’s chosen and beloved.  In offering your best practices to use in the Kingdom God will shift from singing general thanksgivings to singing specific thanksgivings of you.

Prayer: “Come, thou almighty King, help us thy name to sing, help us to praise!  Father all glorious, o’er all victorious, come and reign over us, Ancient of Days!  Come, thou incarnate Word, gird on thy mighty sword, our prayer attend!  Come, and thy people bless, and give thy word success; Spirit of holiness, on us descend.  Come, holy Comforter, thy sacred witness bear in this glad hour.  Thou who almighty art, now rule in every heart, and ne’er from us depart, Spirit of power!  To thee, great One in Three, eternal praises be, hence, evermore.  Thy sovereign majesty may we in glory see, and to eternity love and adore!”* Amen.

*”Come, Thou Almighty King,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 61.

 

Help! I Need Somebody!

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 86:1-10, 15-17

“Help!  I need somebody!” – words thought by pastors when they decide to be on vacation over a weekend.  I am thrilled that my dear friend, Rev. Corey Jones, is my somebody this week!  He will be leading the Tuskawilla Community in worship and offering a sermon on Psalm 86.  Thanks Corey!

This Psalm is a prayer of David.  David – the beloved King of Israel.  David – a person the Lord called righteous.  David – a leader.  David – a conqueror.  David – a susceptible human to all of the temptations of the world.

In this Psalm we hear David pleading before the Lord, “Listen closely…save your servant…have mercy…make your servant happy…come back to me…show me a sign of your goodness” – words that would come because some action has happened where David needs saving, needs God’s attention, needs God’s companionship, needs God’s justice.  What was the event?  Well the Psalm does not tell us directly…but if we think back through David’s life we can recall moments where David would be in need of God’s reckoning righteousness.

David was a leader and David was by no means perfect.  God used David.  God redeemed David.  God led David.  God accompanied David.  God responded to David’s, “Help!  I need somebody!”

But the somebody was not just anybody.  The somebody was God. Here in lies deep theological truth.  Humans are incapable of saving themselves – ourselves.  The 4th Century theologian Pelagius was deemed a heretic because he denied the need of divine help in performing good works.  Pelagius believed that humans could secure their own salvation through good works.  Not so, my friend.  Not so.  We cannot do it – and David was well aware of this.

David also knew that it would not be worth his time or energy to cry out to another god as some of his neighbors did in the Ancient Near East.  David affirms, “My Lord! There is no one like you among the gods!  There is nothing that can compare to your works!”  So David will not waste breath calling out to a god like, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Those who pour out gold from a bag and weigh silver with a balance hire a metalworker; then he makes a god. They bow down; they worship; they carry the idol on their shoulders and support it; they set it down, and it stands still, unable to move from its place. If one cries out to it, it doesn’t answer. It can’t save people from their distress” (Isa 46:6-7).  David calls out to the God who will answer and answer swiftly.  This is the God who saves.  This is the God who reckons righteousness that is corrective and life-giving.  This is the God to be praised.  

What gods do we seek to save us, but they remain silent and life-draining?  Money?  Gambling?  Substance abuse?  Reckless activities and relationships?  Over-eating?  Sloth?  Gossip?  Lying?  Theft?  Self-hate?  And possibly more?  These gods do not respond.  These gods do not save.  And we may not be able to turn away from these gods on our own.  Those are the moments when we need God’s help, when we add our voices to the cry of David, “Help!  I need you, God!”

God listens.  God responds.  God is there.  And God brings us to one another when we are in need.

Prayer: “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!  O what a foretaste of glory divine!  Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.  Perfect submission, all is at rest; I in my Savior am happy and blest, watching and waiting, looking above, filled with his goodness, lost in his love.  This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long; this is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.”* Amen.

*”Blessed Assurance,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 369.

Stewardship Is Room in the Chariot

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

Emails.  I read a lot of emails.  I send a lot of emails.  I take great joy in deleting emails once tasks are completed.

I have a friend who regularly sends me emails and while they subject current tasks they typically end with a question not about what I am doing, but how I am.

Earlier this week the question was, “You doing ok?”  And I said no.  Because I did not think I was doing ok.  It was late in my work week and I felt like little had been accomplished.  I was tired.  I was sore.  I felt like I was standing at the base of Kilimanjaro and being asked to get up to the summit barefoot, through the snow, without a guide, without any rigging, and without a nap.  Did I feel okay?  No.  I felt defeated.  There was so much to do…how on earth would it get done?

It was one of those moments where the weight of responsibility was so great that I was stunned into inactivity.  I did not know where to begin.

I sent my response to my friend and turned in for the night.

The next day I received another email from my friend.  “How are you feeling today?  Can we meet up to check in?”  And so we did.  And my dear friend helped me refocus my gaze.  Yes, there is still a lot to be done, but I am not standing at the base of Kilimanjaro.  I am somewhere up the mountain…and I am wearing the most fabulous pair of mountain hiking stilettos!  And most importantly – yes, even more important than the shoes – I am not alone for my friend is with me.

I am not alone.  Thanks be to God.

I was in need and my friend came alongside.  This friend, other friends, Andrew, my family, my colleagues, and the congregation I serve have all come alongside.  When I have felt defeated they have been my strength.  When I have been a wanderer they have led be home.  It is not always easy for me to ask for help.  I am not the quickest to admit that I need help.    It is in these moments that I am most grateful for the friends and family that become leaders and come alongside.  They become my guides.  They light my way.  They show me love.  They affirm that I am many things, but alone is not one of them.

Who has checked in with you this week?  Who has come alongside?  Who have you checked in with this week?  Who have you come alongside?  There is still time.  There is always time.  When we make time for one another, we affirm that we as God’s children may be many things, but alone is not one of them.

Thanks be to God.

Prayer: “Draw us in the Spirit’s tether, for when humbly in thy name, two or three are met together, thou art in the midst of them.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Touch we now thy garment’s hem.  As disciples used to gather in the name of Christ to sup, then with thanks to God the Father break the bread and bless the cup: Alleluia!  Alleluia!  So now bind our friendship up.  All our meals and all our living make us sacraments of thee, that by caring, helping, giving, we may true disciples be.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  We will serve thee faithfully.”*  Amen.

*”Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether,” The United Methodist Church, 632.