The Plan

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ephesians 3:1-12

This Sunday the Tuskawilla Community will celebrate Epiphany – the 12th day of Christmas – the end of Christmastide.

(Disclaimer: Yes, Sunday, January 4 is only the 10th day after Christmas, but it’s okay.  We will sing Christmas and Epiphany hymns this week!)

On Epiphany we remember the magi coming to the Christ child bearing exquisite and expense gifts. On this final moment of Jesus’ nativity we begin to hear the laments that will wail from Golgotha. He will not wear a crown of gold, but a crown of thorns. His body will not be sweetened with frankincense and myrrh, but prepared for a borrowed grave.

As the carol sings the magi “traverse(d) afar, field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star.” They journeyed from the East and had obstacles – some easy and some not so easy – to overcome on their quest to see what lay under the Bethlehem star. The magi did not give up. The magi did not turn back. The magi journeyed so that they, too, might worship the newborn King.

2014 closes in a little more than a day. Each day is part of a year long journey where we, too, face our own fields, fountains, moors, and mountains. Fields are be those spaces where we feel rooted or grow or harvest. Fountains are those spaces where we are cleansed, refreshed, purified, and made new. Moors are those spaces where the ground is not so smooth, where the vegetation is overgrown so visual confirmation of sure-footing is obscured, and where stinky, sticky mud can bog us down. Mountains are those spaces of trial and of triumph; mountains are those spaces where we draw close to God and then re-enter our routine landscapes.

I am looking forward to 2015 through reflective eyes gazing on 2014. I can identify my fields, my fountains, my moors, and my mountains. I am thankful for each moment of my journey, not because they have helped move me closer to the Christ child, but because each of these moments were Epiphanies where Christ found me. Jesus planted me in and harvested me from the fields, washed me in the fountains, unstuck me from the moors, and met me on the mountains. With each moment I was drawn closer to the Bethlehem star, but not withheld from worshipping the Christ until I finally arrived. I worshipped as I walked. This year has been a moving meditation.

I invite you to reflect upon your 2014. What are your field, fountain, moor, and mountain moments? How have you worshipped as you have walked? What have you learned? How will you invite Christ to continue shaping you from the path of 2014 as you journey into 2015? Perhaps these reflections will lead you in discernment of what you will resolve for your relationship with Christ in the coming year.

As I reflect I resolve to lean into hope rather than worry. I resolve to claim positivity and release negativity. I resolve to further breathe into the inclusive nature of Epiphany – that Christ came for all people – that Christ seeks each one of us – that Christ our Lord makes us one and is Lord of all.

What will you resolve? What will you apply from your traversing in 2014 that will help you with your Christ-led meditation in 2015?

Prayer: “O God, you made of one blood all nations, and by a star in the East, revealed to all peoples him whose name is Emmanuel. Enable us who know your presence with us so to proclaim his unsearchable riches that all may come to his light and bow before the brightness of his rising, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.”*

*”Epiphany,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 255.

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An Unusual Gift

Scripture ~ Luke 2:1-20

Merry Christmas One and All! This week we celebrate the gift of our Savior to the world. Christ is the greatest gift to ever be received.

As I prepare the gifts I will give this year during Christmastide, I am aware of an unusual gift I will also give. Shortly after Christmas I will donate my hair to Beautiful Lengths, which is a partnership program between Pantene and the American Cancer Society.  The goal of Beautiful Lengths is to “help women grow long, strong beautiful hair and to provide the funds to turn this hair into free, real-hair wigs for women with cancer.”

I have donated my hair several times throughout my life. I remember my donation cut in 2012.  At that time my hairdresser shared space with a colleague and she was doing a trial wedding hairdo for her client that day. Wesley brushed my hair, gathered it in a rubber band, and raised the scissors to my about-to-be-cut ponytail and Wesley’s colleague’s client screamed, “NO!!!!!!!” So I had to opportunity to share with her why my hair would be 14 inches shorter than when I arrived.

Another joy of donating hair is mailing it at the post office. The postal worker asks the standard question – are you shipping anything fragile or hazardous – and replying that I am shipping human hair always draws a smile or two…

This donation to Beautiful Lengths is especially dear to me this year as several of my dear friends are bravely walking the path to recovery from breast cancer. These women and their families have faced this disease head on with strength and grace and spirits that will not be burdened by this disease. I dedicate my gift of hair in honor of Bena, Shelly, and Jennifer. You ladies are inspirations to me and I thank God daily for your continued health and healing.

In this season of gift giving God teaches us that in giving we receive. God also teaches us to be surprised by gifts – those we receive and those we give. God may be calling you to give in usual ways, but do not limit God if God calls you to give unusually. In my experience the unusual reveals the extraordinary.  Christ’s incarnation in a humble stable was quite unusual and that was just the beginning of a extraordinary life that would gift and save us one and all.

Following the example of our God, may we give unusually.  May we give extraordinarily.  May we give.

Prayer: “What can I give him, poor as I am?  If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; yet what I can I give him: give my heart.”* Amen.

*”In the Bleak Midwinter,” The United Methodist Hymnal 221.

Prepare for Salvation

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 1:46-55

This week I welcome Rev. Dora Thomas, Associate Pastor serving First UMC Ovideo as the guest preacher with the Tuskawilla Community. Dora and I both attended seminary at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, though we attended different years. She graduated in May 2014 and when she was appointed in July to First Ovideo a mutual friend of ours connected the two of us saying we were two gals cut from the same bolt of cloth – how right our friend is! Thank you, Dora, for sharing your gifts at Tuskawilla this Sunday!

Dora’s text for this week is Mary’s Song – known as the Magnificat. Magnificat is a Latin word that means my soul magnifies. Mary’s Song captures the world-changing aspects of the impending Savior’s birth. The powerful will be humbled. The hungry will be filled. The Savior’s mercy will benefit Israel as in accordance to the promise made to Abraham. The Savior will bring blessing from generation to generation. God is about to do an incredible thing that will alter history from this point forward…and God chooses to involve humanity in it.

God invites Mary, meek and mild, to be part of this incarnation. Mary shares the excitement and anticipation of the incarnation with her cousin, Elizabeth. The advent of the incarnation connects the women together in a deeper way than even their shared bloodline and fosters community between them.

Reflecting on the Magnificat and Mary’s visit to Elizabeth that precedes her song Pastor Michael Bennett says, “God gives Mary and Elizabeth two things they each lacked: community and connection. God removes their isolation and helps them to understand themselves more fully as part of something larger than their individual destinies.” Hope is birthed in each of the women as they carry God-given children. Over time hope grows alongside the children and anticipation builds for what will be. And when the children are born the celebration and welcome is not just for these two nuclear families, but for the family of God, which spans the globe.

As members of God’s family we are all involved in something larger than ourselves. What happens to one member of God’s family happens to all of us. As the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it” (I Cor 12:26). We are active participants in the Incarnation and Salvation stories that our God continues to write.

Often I hear people say that they want to be involved in something that matters. Our faith, our faith heritage, living our faith all matters. And it does not just matter because it affects our personal lives. It matters because it affects our lives and the lives of our neighbors – those who know the old old story and those who are hearing this story for the first time. Perhaps God is calling you to be a herald of good tidings for someone this year. Invite them to worship on Sunday. Invite them to one of our Christmas Eve Services (5pm and 7pm). Invite them to dinner. Invite them to coffee. Invite them to hear and receive the story of how God has changed and will continue changing the world through the incarnation of Jesus. Connect with someone. Create community. Tell the story, and in so doing, magnify the Lord.

Prayer: “Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord! Unnumbered blessings give my spirit voice; tender to me the promise of God’s word; in God my Savior shall my heart rejoice. Tell out, my soul, the greatness of God’s name! Make known God’s might, who wondrous deeds has done; God’s mercy sure, from age to age the same; God’s holy name, the Lord, the mighty One. Tell out, my soul, the greatness of God’s might! Powers and dominions lay their glory by; proud hearts and stubborn wills are put to flight, the hungry fed, the humble lifted high. Tell out, my soul, the glories of God’s word! Firm is the promise and God’s mercy sure. Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord to children’s children forevermore!”* Amen.

*”Tell Out, My Soul,” The United Methodist Hymnal 200.

Prepare For Song: The Promise of Light

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 9:2 and John 1:5

This Sunday the Tuskawilla Community will celebrate the coming of the Christ child with two of my favorite symbols – music and light. Music is a very important part of my life. My mother has always been singing to me. She helped me get involved with music programs in school and church from a very young age. I happily played my part in many a bathrobe nativity – I made those sheep ears look good. As I grew up I helped other children fill the roles in those beloved nativities. Through the years children would sing and do sing the story of God’s entrance into the world. With Christ’s incarnation God’s love became physical and dwelt among us.

The Tuskawilla Choir will offer a cantata this week entitled The Promise of Light. This cantata walks tenderly the path from Advent to Christmastide, from preparation to incarnation, from people who walk in darkness to people who have seen a great light. As far as I know there will not be any bathrobed sheep running around though I would welcome them! The morning promises to be full of music and narrations that speak to humanity’s experience with darkness and God’s promise of light that will save all people.

As we pass through the middle of the Advent Season I am all the more ready for the glory of Christ’s light to be revealed. Spending so many years in church music programs and now pastoring churches has shown me the best seat in the house on Christmas Eve. I know that all good Methodists think that the back of the Sanctuary is where it is at…but anyone in the choir loft will tell you that the front is the place to be.

During the singing of Silent Night light floods the darkened Sanctuary. Light shines on each and every face. Features that were once obscure are now easily seen and most often the expression on each face is joy…joy that I trust is there because of Jesus. From my viewpoint I am able to see all of that joy as the light travels its way left to right front to back. Then together we lift the light, which I believe is symbolic of how Christ lifts all of us out of darkness. Surrounded by music and light we welcome our newborn King.

There are still a couple of weeks until we will lift that light in welcome. In the meantime I will wait. I will listen to music. I will sing as the choir leads me. And I will lean into the promise that our Lord is coming and will lead us out of darkness.

Prayer: “O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thy justice here; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”* Amen.

*”O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” The United Methodist Hymnal 211.

Prepare For Salve

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 40:1-11

I’m coming home, I’m coming home.

Tell the world I’m coming home.

Let the rain wash away all the pain of yesterday.  

I know my kingdom awaits and they’ve forgiving my mistakes.

I’m coming home, I’m coming home.  Tell the world I’m coming.  

Hauntingly, but persistently, Skylar Grey sings these words.  In this video as one chorus ends another begins, almost as if Grey is marching as she sings.

Our Scripture for this week is famously captured in these recitatives of Handel’s Messiah: Comfort Ye, Every Valley Shall Be Extended, And the Glory of the Lord, And Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion, and He Shall Feed His Flock.  This Scripture tells the story of a people estranged from their homes, estranged from their true selves, estranged from their God that is coming home.  They do not have to find their way through the wilderness unaccompanied.  No, the Lord is coming to pave a way through the desert.  All the people have to do is walk.

Making our way through the wilderness is a faithful pilgrimage and legacy of God’s people.  After their liberation from Egypt God’s people made their way through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land.  After the conclusion of the exile God’s people made their way through the wilderness back towards Jerusalem, the seat of the Lord, the home of the temple, the place where the Lord would be revealed and revealed in glory.

This passage calls us to prepare the way so that our Lord will make the way so that we will follow the way.  Who, other than our God, can lift valleys and make mountains low?  Who, other than our God, can level uneven ground and make smooth rough places?  God alone does these things, but God in us and through us prepares the way.

Andrew loves woodworking. When he moves into the finishing process he sands and stains, sands and stains, sands and stains.  The sanding opens up the pores of the wood to receive the stain…but why then would you sand the stain off!?  To open up the stain to receive more of the stain.  Together the layers of stain enhance and increase the vibrant color of the wood.  Together the layers of stain help any completed project stand the test of time.

We cannot lift a valley, but we can lift a stone.  We cannot make a mountain low, but we can clear away gravel.  We can plumb what is catawampus and perhaps even use sandpaper with a discerning mind.  Engaging in these acts opens us up to release those things that hold us back and receive our Lord who will move us forward.  Engaging in these acts will strengthen us as we stand the test of time, secure in the knowledge that our Lord is coming and we are coming home.

As we serve perhaps we will sing along with Grey.  Persistently yes – with each chorus representing another step forward along the way.  But not hauntingly.  Assuredly.  Yes, assuredly.  We are coming home.  And our Lord, like a shepherd, will lead us.

Prayer: “Mountains and valleys will have to be made plain; open new highways, new highways for the Lord.  He is now coming closer, so come all and see, and open the doorways as wide as can be.”* Amen.

*”All Earth Is Waiting,” The United Methodist Hymnal 210.