Prepare for the Sculptor

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 64:1-9

This Sunday Christians are invited to shout “Happy New Year!” as we enter the Season of Advent, which is the beginning of the Christian Year. During the Season of Advent we prepare for the coming of the Christ Child. We prepare our homes with decorations. We prepare our stomachs to eat tasty food! We prepare our budgets so that we remain faithful stewards throughout this and every season, striving to live within and not beyond our means. We prepare our hearts by joining God on an introspective journey. Is my heart ready to receive the Christ child? Are other things – idols, ideas, grievances, jealousies – squatting in his rightful place? The Season of Advent invites us to dwell in the midst of this question and rightfully order our internal house so that we are ready to receive our King.

As I prepare to welcome the Christ child I am struck by these words from the Isaiah contained within this week’s text, “We are all the work of your hand” (Isa 64:8). We are all the product – the creation – of God’s sculpting. We are all God’s children, but not all of us have access to the same resources – education, medicine, nutrition, shelter, fresh water – as others, simply because of where and to whom we were born.

During Advent I commit to pray daily for my brothers and sisters in Africa who are impacted by malaria. Malaria is caused by a parasite, which is transmitted to humans through the bite of the female anopheles mosquito. This mosquito flies and feeds at night. When an infected mosquito bites a person, the parasite enters the bloodstream and heads for the liver, where it multiplies. It then re-enters the bloodstream, attacking red blood cells. Typically, someone with malaria experiences a high fever, chills, joint pain and headaches. Left untreated, symptoms eventually advance to organ failure.

Malaria is a global health problem, with over 200 million infections and killing more than 600,000 people every year. Every 60 seconds a child dies of malaria. Malaria disproportionately affects young children and pregnant women. The people of The United Methodist Church – and furthermore people everywhere! – have the unique opportunity to put discipleship into action to make a difference in the lives of our global neighbors.

Making a difference requires an integrated strategy to fight malaria. As a life-saving ministry, Imagine No Malaria aims to empower the people of Africa to overcome malaria’s burden. INM fights malaria with a comprehensive model that includes prevention (insecticide-treated bed nets, draining standing water, residential spraying), treatment (Rapid Diagnostic Tests, geographic-specific medication), education (what malaria is and why you must protect your family), and communication (UMC radio stations and mobile technology spreading information about malaria).

We are all the work of God’s hand. We all deserve healthy lives. If we work together, then we can make healthy lives – that seem like only a dream to our brothers and sisters in malaria-stricken lands – a reality.

I invite you to join me in praying for our brothers and sisters in Africa. And if you feel so led, please consider adding your financial support to help end malaria. A gift of $10 saves a life by providing prevention, treatment, education, and communication. A gift of $10 gifts life. I am inviting the Tuskawilla congregation to support this global health initiative through daily prayer and the gift of $1/day for a total of $25 during the Season of Advent. I invite you as well!  Gifts can be made by visiting ImagineFlorida. Please join us in prayer and giving during this season as we celebrate Christ’s gift to the world and join him in gifting health to our global community.

November 30 – For those longing to make a difference

December 1 – In celebration of our connection to our sisters and brothers all over the world

December 2 – For inspiration to join Jesus in his mission to love and to heal

December 3 – For boldness to act and respond like Jesus

December 4 – To dream of a world with no more malaria

December 5 – For our imaginations and resources to create such a place

December 6 – In gratitude of our God who offers life

December 7 – For discernment for how God will lead us to offer his abundant life to others

December 8 – For our healing

December 9 – For those who long to be healed

December 10 – For our sight to focus on God’s vision

December 11 – For those with sight who cannot see past sadness and sickness

December 12 – For knowledge that will become a resource to conquer fear

December 13 – For those with many resources and fearful viewpoints to be opened and transformed

December 14 – For our stewardship to be a blessing to others

December 15 – For those with money and solely practice self-centered spending

December 16 – In gratefulness of our God who unites people of all ages, races, and nations

December 17 – For those who do not believe that what happens to one will happen to all

December 18 – For God’s mercy and compassion as we become better neighbors in our global community

December 19 – For empathy as we learn the plight of God’s people devastated by malaria

December 20 – To participate in joyful giving and big-hearted involvement

December 21 – For the parents who nurse ailing children

December 22 – For the children who nurse ailing parents

December 23 – For the communities that claim God’s hope despite their crippling by a curable disease

December 24 – For the gifts of the doctors, nurses, scientists, and faith leaders committed to the health and wholeness of all

December 25 – In celebration of all that has been stewarded to eradicate malaria.

Barnyard Brawl

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 25:31-46

This past week I had the privilege to attend the Imprint Retreat that the Florida Annual Conference of The UMC hosts at one of our conference camp and retreat centers annually. This retreat experience is unique in that it focuses on social justice issues and engages middle schoolers and high schoolers in dialogue about these issues. This year’s theme was “Love is…” Together with 550+ students and adult leaders we learned that we accomplish more through conversation together than through tugging ourselves apart, that open mindedness helps foster community, and while physical, emotional, and mental borders scar our lands, God calls us to love and in so doing we tear down these borders, heal the scars, and build up people.

Following worship on Saturday evening each church (I was in attendance with Andrew’s youth group) was dismissed to our church meeting place to create an artistic reflection of the night’s message. Together our group constructed ribbon chandeliers. On one side of the ribbons we were invited to write a confession – a moment where we have failed at tearing down the borders, healing the scars, and building up people – and on the other side we were invited to write a hope or dream for the church.

The church I serve is in a suburban area. Weekly if not daily I drive through suburban and urban areas and the number of persons experiencing homelessness is on the rise. These persons ask for money on the corners of busy intersections, strolling through traffic, approaching people at gas stations or in parking lots. The need continues to grow.

I do not usually give money to these persons when I pass them because I do not have a practice of keeping cash on my person. I give to my church and I know that the money I give to my church is being stewarded to care for all of God’s people as God leads us. Knowing that I give to the church comforts me when I see these neighbors experiencing homelessness.

But…recently I have noticed that I am choosing not even to acknowledge these folks as I pass them. I look across the street. I gaze down at my lap. I close my eyes behind my sunglasses. I scroll through my phone. I do not acknowledge them. I choose not to acknowledge them. Is this because I am using my giving to the church as a crutch? “Oh I give to the church so I can just look at the church, which is comfortable for me and pleasant and known and not visibly in pain?” What in the world am I doing? Or more importantly and appropriately, what in the world am I not doing?

I made my confession. I confessed hiding behind the church and not looking into the sadness of the world. I confessed not seeing my Christ in the hurt of my neighbors. Gazing into the need gives the need a face – humanizes it – so that it is not so easily forgotten, not so easily overlooked. Forgive me, Lord.

I turned the ribbon over and wrote out my dream for the church…a dream that is wide enough to include all God’s people with positions to lead and serve and be seen and heard in the church. A way for this dream to come to fruition is by people looking into the eyes of others – all others – beholding Christ within them, and becoming a neighbor. This is the first step to tearing down borders, healing scars, and becoming the beloved community.

Jesus said, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Mt 25:34-36). Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world for you looked at me. You looked at me in the faces of my sisters and brothers in need. You looked at me.

Send me, Lord. To see. To serve.

Prayer: “Lead us forward into freedom; from despair your world release, that redeemed from war and hatred, all may come and go in peace. Show us how through care and goodness fear will die and hope increase, fear will die and hope increase.  You, Creator God, have written your great name on humankind; for our growing in your likeness bring the life of Christ to mind, that by our response and service earth its destiny may find, earth its destiny may find.”* Amen.

*”For the Healing of the Nations,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 428.

Upbuilding: Destined For Salvation

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Thessalonians 5:1-11

Ever have those days where you just cannot wake up?  Either where you hit snooze on the alarm clock again and again and again or where you do get up and you do not really feel like you are fully functioning?  It has been overcast in my neck of the woods the past few days. Overcast and dreary with a few light showers. I am thankful for the rain – we risk brushfires without it – but I miss the sunshine. I need it to wake up!  Also, I am not fully adjusted to this time change…it is dark so early that my body is ready for sleep as soon as the sun sets…makes the equation of Sarah + evening meetings all the more entertaining!

What do we do when we need to wake up again through out the day?  We find a pick me up. A cup of coffee. A soda. A snack. I do my best to fit in time on my yoga mat. It seems that the most productive time of my day immediately follows my practice. My head is clear. My brain is focused. My movements are swift, discerned, and efficient. I am so thankful to have that time and thankful to serve in a vocation that recognizes the importance of health of body, mind, and spirit.

Additionally – transitioning in and out some of the poses – that will really wake you up!  Ha!  (If you’re curious, complete an Internet search on scorpion yoga pose.)

In our Scripture passage for this week Paul rouses the Thessalonians to awaken from their slumbers. They are not sleeping the days away; rather, Paul is guarding them from lulling into the slumber of sin. He makes clear that it is God who does the waking, and in waking us sets us on the path of salvation. John Wesley says that God stirs the hearts of individuals through the power of the Holy Spirit. That stirring leads us to take a good long look in the mirror. We look. We are convicted of our sins – both of commission and omission – and God’s grace leads us to and through the moment of repentance. God’s grace redeems us. We are made new.

And then what?  Are we awake permanently?  No longer susceptible to sin? I wish…or maybe I don’t. God’s grace wakes us up and then God’s grace holds us accountable to our behavior throughout our lives.  God reawakens us when our behavior is not becoming of the gospel. God reawakens us when God is ready to lead us in new directions. God reawakens us so we can learn the lessons of the past in order to sculpt a better future. I want this sort of accountability. I want this sort of relationship with God. And by God’s grace I have it.

Each yoga class ends with the closing pose of savasana or corpse pose. This is a pose where the yogi lies flat on his or her mat with limbs comfortably outstretched leaving space between the legs and between the arms and the torso. In savasana breathing is no longer calculated. Every tension in the body is released. The mind is calmed and the yogi begins to drift in that presence. Corpse pose represents the death of the practice. The practice is over. It is past. All the accomplishments. All the failures. All the focus. All the confusion. Done. The yogi lays in the stillness until the instructor guides the yogi into fetal pose, which represents the birth and beginning of something new. A reawakening. The body and mind are rested while they both bear the lasting impact of the practice. Eventually the yogi returns to seated position with hands drawn to prayer at heart center. Gratitude is expressed for all that has been because it shapes who the yogi is and hope is named for who the yogi will become.

Awake I am ready to explore, feel, savor, and welcome. Awake I am ready to create, to employ the gifts God gives to me and to creation to serve my neighbor. Awake I see the best evidences of God’s grace and forgiveness in the faces of my neighbors.

I won’t be hitting the snooze button on any of that.

Church, it is time wake up!

Prayer: “Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up all you sleepers. Stand up, stand up, stand up all you dreamers. Hands up, hands up, hands up all believers. Take up your cross, carry it on. All that you reveal, with light in us, will come to life and start breathing. Here we stand our hearts are yours, Lord. Not our will, but yours be done, Lord.”* Amen.

*”Wake Up,” All Sons and Daughters, 2012. Enjoy the video here.

Upbuilding: Caught Up Together

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Thessalonians 4:13-18

One of the first gifts Andrew ever gave me was – wait for it – a mixed tape.  That’s right – legend…ary.  Legendary.  It contained music from his favorite band – which is now one of my favorite bands – Great Big Sea.  The mixed tape included GBS’s rendition of It’s The End Of The World As We Know It.  The only words of the song that I can understand to this day – in R.E.M.’s or GBS’s version – beyond the chorus are breathing down your neck!

Pretty much sums it up – when life is a struggle it feels like the world is breathing down your neck and that the end is coming sooner rather than later.

These past few months I have felt like I have barely been keeping the tip of my nose out of the water much less my head.  I keep saying, “Just a few more tasks…just a few more days…”  I wonder if that was what Jesus was thinking as he approached the cross.  In no way am I saying that my recent journey is in the same league as the path to Calvary, but in our own worlds, in our own minds, in my own perspective it sometimes feels that way.

As I wonder in my end of the world feelings the wise words of two friends come to mind:

1 – How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.

2 – Everything is better in three days.

The first aphorism is a testament to keep on keeping on.  Even when it feels like you are not / I am not making progress, turns out we are. And the second aphorism is an allusion to the resurrection.  At a very very minimum, the cross teaches us that everything is better in three days.

The Thessalonians bring their concerns about the end of the world to Paul.  They believe that the end of the world is at hand. They question the fate of those who have already died.  They wonder – we wonder – what is the reassurance of our faith as we wait for Christ to come?

The cross looked like the end of the world and the grave appeared to seal our demise, but then Jesus busted that grave wide open.  Jesus released from our slavery to sin and death.  Freedom reigns.  Life wins.  Freedom and life in Christ always wins.

And that, my friends, should make us all feel fine.

What do we do on the days when we don’t feel fine?  On the days when it feels like the world is caving in?  I find comfort in first naming that I feel overwhelmed and then I take a break to gather my thoughts – or as my friend Lee would say – get all my putty in a pile.  I inhale.  I exhale.  I get to a place where I feel safe – a place where I feel like I can start again.  This may be a mental transition, but it could also be a physical transition.  And I find a friend.  God has blessed me with so many seasoned and new friends that I am not without someone to hold my hand, to come alongside, and to assure that everything will be okay.  Then, I start working again.  Sometimes the best way for me to begin working again is for me is to make a to-do list so I can check items off as I complete them…and more than once the top item on my to-do list is “make a to-do list!”  Whatever it takes friends – whatever it takes.  As I work I am able to take one bite at a time.  As I work I know that things around me are improving.  I am improving.  Christ is improving me.

Do not be discouraged, my friends.  Chin up.  Keep moving forward.  In steps, in crawls, in leaps, in breaths.  Keep moving forward.  Even when it feels like it the world is not ending.  Everything will be better in three days.

Prayer: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.  I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.  When darkness veils his lovely face, I rest on his unchanging grace.  In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.  His oath, his covenant, his blood support me in the whelming flood.  When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay.  When he shall come with trumpet sound, O may I then in him be found!  Dressed in his righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne!  On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.”* Amen.

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