PictureLent ~ Reflect

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Our very own Pastor Kate is preaching this week! I hope you will join her in worship on Sunday and to receive the Scripture and message that God has prepared in her to share with each of you.

This week’s #picturelent focus word is Reflect. If you are reading along with the #picturelent devotions you will observe a reflective tone throughout: (1) of Jesus reflecting on Hebrew Bible Scriptures and (2) of how we are called to reflect Jesus’ love through our service in the world.

This reflective tone causes me to pause. I often think about how I am reflecting  Jesus’ love through service to, for, and with my neighbors. But reflecting on these Scripture texts has drawn my attention to something I have known for some time, but I have not had at the forefront of my mind: Jesus was not always the first person to offer the lessons he taught. His lessons are steeped in the Hebrew faith tradition. Some he taught verbatim scroll to people and others he expounded upon to bring a new interpretation. These lessons were passed down generation to generation and Jesus’ endorsement – God’s own Son saying “Yes! This! Do and keep doing this!” – of these lessons reinforce their importance and life-givingness.

I am convinced that we are able to care for others after the example of Christ through responsible stewardship of our resources that leads us to responsible living in the world. Whether time, talents, prayers, or passions, when we order them properly – offering first to God and then to neighbor – God’s blessings abound for the whole community. These lessons in stewardship were not advents with Jesus; Judeo-Christian lessons of stewardship were appropriated from Egyptian culture where the first fruits of all harvests were offered to Pharaoh, who was considered a deity. Instead of offering first fruits to Pharaoh we offer them to God. And then the remaining fruits are available for us to steward and share.

As I reflect on this interaction of Jesus reflecting on texts and then people reflecting his love through service, my mind comes to my friend Holly. She is my primary yoga teacher, the one responsible for walking with me and leading me through the wide world of yoga. Holly is a strong woman of faith and she is deeply committed to sharing the compassion she experiences in her relationship with Christ with others. When structuring the class schedule at her yoga studio she intentionally and purposefully dedicated her Sunday class as a Give class. Participants do not pay for this class; rather, they offer themselves in their practice and, in appreciation of that practice, participants offer a donation that Holly then gifts to a local philanthropy. Why does she do this? Because it is an expression of her understanding Scripture and an outpouring of her commitment to serve others after the example of Christ. Holly’s commitment to serve others after the example of Christ has even benefited the Tuskawilla Community as she gave the offerings from January’s Give classes in support of our support of the Conference Imagine No Malaria Campaign.

This is one example of a person’s understanding of Scripture nourishing her care and compassion for her neighbors. To incarnate this sort of understanding requires an exposure to God’s Word and time intentionally given to studying the connection between reading God’s word and living it out. To incarnate this sort of understanding requires reflection.

If you look in our mosquito net in the Narthex, you will see Firefly Yoga covering a few of the mosquitoes representing Holly and Firefly’s support of Imagine No Malaria. If you are committed to being one of TUMC’s 100 families to commit to the campaign, please write your name over a mosquito and hang it in the net as a sign of your support!

Bearing in mind the dual nature of reflections in this post, consider these questions: What is the subject of your recent reflections? What reflections are you showing in the world? Thinking on your activity in the world, what do they reflect as your source? What do they say about what you have been studying?

Prayer: “Blessed Jesus, at thy word we are gathered all to hear thee; let our hearts and souls be stirred now to seek and love and fear thee, by thy teachings sweet and holy, drawn from earth to love thee solely!”* Amen.

*”Blessed Jesus, at Thy Word,” The United Methodist Hymnal 596.

PictureLent ~ Reveal

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Colossians 1:15-17

This week we celebrate Ash Wednesday and cross the liturgical threshold into Lent. During this 40 day season we remember the time that Jesus spent in the wilderness. There he was tempted. There he defended his faith. “No, I will not test the Lord my God. No, I will not bow down and worship any other.”

Jesus fasted while in the wilderness. Surely hungry, the tempter suggests Jesus turn stones into loaves of bread. But Jesus resists. He does not want to break his spiritual focus. He does not want to give into the appetites of the flesh at the expense of the appetites of his faith – to seek God and only God, and to trust God to provide for his needs.

Many folks join Jesus in the wilderness during Lent by choosing to “give something up” so that one of their resources – be it time, energy, money, or others – might be channelled into either their relationship with God or into strengthening their service to others, which brings glory to God. Similarly other folks “add something on” during the Lenten season with the hopes that they will accomplish the same goal.

I have done both – given something up and added something on. It’s hard work for me to make sure these Lenten disciplines do not follow suit of my New Year’s Resolutions, which are usually a vague memory by the time Ash Wednesday comes to pass.

This year, for the second time, I am giving up wheat and flour and all related substances, as an extended mediation on Jesus’ defense to the tempter, “humans do not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

I am adding on the disciplines of several daily readings and prayers:

(1) Conference Social Justice devotions – these devotions will subject social justice passions and concerns throughout our annual conference. The purpose of these devotions is to raise awareness about these passions and concerns and to begin to create space for dialogue as to how Florida United Methodists can go about responding to them. You may access these devotions by visiting www.willtheyknow.com.

(2) Imagine No Malaria witnesses – these witnesses will lift up testimonies from the global neighborhood about the struggle with malaria. Remember that TUMC is seeking 100 giving units to give $65 between the seasons of Advent and Lent ($1/day) for a total of $6500 to benefit the annual conference’s support of the Imagine No Malaria Campaign. If your family is committed to being one of these giving units, please write your name on a mosquito and place it in the mosquito net in the Narthex gathering area beginning this Sunday. These devotions will be posted to the TUMC Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/TuskawillaUMC.

(3) #Picturelent devotions – these devotions and family activities have been written by clergy throughout the Florida Conference for the purpose of engaging families in creatively picturing their way through Lent. Each week of Lent will have a focus word that we are invited to focus into our camera lenses – phone, digital, or film! – to capture what Lent looks like to each of us. You may register to receive these devotions by visiting www.picturelent.com

(4) Continuing participation in our Church Family Prayer Focus. We will strengthen the ties that bind our congregation together by praying for one another, by praying for the folks we meet in our daily lives, and by praying for the folks God is sending our way. These names can be found printed weekly in your Sunday bulletin. If you do not receive a bulletin, you may call the church office to receive the list of families for the week.

That sounds like (and looks like!) quite an undertaking, but I am hopeful for this experience. To fulfill these “additions to” I will have to create time by cutting out some other activities, which I will draw me towards greater holiness.

During this season I am anxious to see how Jesus will be revealed as “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). How will you experience Lent? What do you plan to give up? What do you plan to add on? Prepare yourself for this journey. It will be long. It will lead us to some uncomfortable places. But ultimately, this journey is leading us to life eternal and the first step is the one across the threshold of Ash Wednesday.

Rev. Melissa Cooper will lead the Tuskawilla Community in worship this week. I hope you will enjoy your time with her and share the warmth of our hospitality with her.

Prayer: “O God our deliverer, you led your people of old through the wilderness and brought them to the promised land. Guide now the people of your church, that, following our Savior, we may walk through the wilderness of this world toward the glory of the world to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen.”*

*”Lent,” The United Methodist Hymnal 268.

Commanded to Love: Our Neighbors As Ourselves

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 12:31 and James 2:1-8

Newton’s first law of motion states that an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

When I was growing up my family would attend a department picnic hosted by one of my mother’s coworkers at her home around the Fourth of July. Her home was on a lake and many party attendees would bring boats or jet skis to enjoy the day on the water. After lunch the jet ski pilots would offer rides on the lake to the little tykes…and my eight-year-old self was raring to go! Personal flotation device fastened and arms secure around the driver, we were off bounding over the lake wake one after the other…until I wasn’t. We hit a certain wake and the jet ski and driver continued on in one direction while I sailed off in another. I hit the water so hard it knocked the wind out of me. Praise the Lord for that PFD – it kept me on the surface. The driver circled back around and coaxed me out of the water and back onto the jet ski. He asked if I wanted another lap around the lake. I asked for my mother on the dock.

An object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. That unbalanced force in the case of Sarah and the jet ski ride was that unpredictable wave; it literally threw me off course. That unbalanced force in the case of Christians loving our neighbors as ourselves can be any number of things like pride, laziness, discomfort, prejudice, apathy, refusal, selfishness, or defiance. These unbalanced forces can thwart us from ever loving our neighbors as ourselves or, as was the case with me and the jet ski, can throw us off course midway.

I find that when I am intentional about loving my neighbor – which I best express through actively and consistently serving my neighbor and supporting the church financially so that its mission of serving neighbors locally, nationally and internationally continues – I am less likely to be thrown off course by some unbalanced force. That happening of loving and serving my neighbor becomes a habit. Studies show that habits are learned and developed over time. Once habits are learned and developed they are difficult to modify or change. So why not develop some habits for good? For the good of ourselves? For the good of our God? For the good of our neighbors? For the good of God’s Kingdom?

Consider this week how you are intentionally loving your neighbors. How are you serving them? Reflecting on Newton’s first law of motion missiologists Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch say, “Once momentum is lost, its recovery can be slow and arduous. This betrays a clear and simple principle governing movement and inertia. That is, a body in motion tends to stay in motion – and a body at rest tends to stay at rest. We think it no different for the life of a Christian. A life of action, movement, energy, and strive is the best.”*

It’s time to get moving and stay moving. God’s love will and does lead us in service.

Prayer:”Where charity and love prevail, there God is ever found; brought here together by Christ’s love, by love are we thus bound. Forgive we now each other’s faults as we our faults confess; and let us love each other well in Christian holiness. Let strife among us be unknown, let all contention cease; be Christ the glory that we seek, be our his holy peace. Let us recall that in our midst dwells God’s begotten Son; as members of his body joined, we are in him made one.”** Amen.

*The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church, 179-180.

**”Where Charity and Love Prevail,” The United Methodist Church 549.

Commanded to Love: With All Our Strength

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 12:30 and I Peter 4:11

Andrew knows a thing or two about strength. For more than half his life Andrew has been invested in competitive weightlifting. He was a high school state champion weightlifter. He lifted in college and again in seminary, competing frequently with athletes across the southeastern United States. He continues training and weightlifting at a local crossfit box with the hopes of one day competing at the Olympics. I believe that Andrew can do it. If I know anything about my partner of 14 years and spouse of 8 years it is that if he puts his mind to something, he can make the thought reality.

Through experiencing life with Andrew I have learned a thing or two about strength as well. The most striking lesson seems a bit counterintuitive: a person builds strength by tearing muscle. The intent is not to rip the muscle sinew from sinew, but to create space within the muscle for further development and further endurance. By stretching, training, testing, and stabilizing, muscles are strengthened, which allows them to perform at a higher level of efficiency for a greater period of time for an increased return on what they seek to accomplish.

I believe our spiritual strength is built up through a similar process. We may not submit ourselves to bench presses or back squats to build up our spiritual muscles, but there are days where it feels like life’s crushing loads are on our chests or that the weight of the world rests on our shoulders. We struggle to stand up. We struggle to move forward. We are strained and pulled and under duress. We tear, but we do not break.

In the midst of these struggles, space is created – spaces of doubt, spaces of fear, spaces of loss, spaces of regret. In that space our faith wavers and wanders. In that space God meets us in love and assurance. In that space God invites us to trust where we have not seen so that we will grow to be people “who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (Jn 20:29). In that space God turns our mourning into dancing, removes our sackcloths and clothes us with joy so that our souls will praise our God and not be silent (Ps 30:11-12). In that space we are stretched, trained, tested, and stabilized. In that space God strengthens us so that we that in everything we do – including how we persevere in times of trial – God may be glorified.

It is hard work to build up strength. It takes time. It takes commitment. It takes a willing and humble spirit to first admit that you have the capacity to grow and that there is more work to be done. Then you have to submit yourself to the work, which some days will be easy as a summer’s breeze and other days as grueling as swimming through concrete. Building up this strength helps us endure and overcome life’s struggles, not to our own glory, but to be evidence of God’s glory. Like the Corinthians, “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” because God is the source of our strength (II Cor 4:8-9).

God’s strength is in our muscles, our beings, our bones. God furnishes strength in trials so that in triumphs we know who to praise. To the God of perfect strength be all the glory now and forevermore.

Prayer: “Out of the depths I cry to you; O Lord, now hear me calling. Incline your ear to my distress in spite of my rebelling. Do not regard my sinful deeds. Send me the grace my spirit needs; without it I am nothing. All things you send are full of grace; you crown our lives with favor. All our good works are done in vain without our Lord and Savior. We praise the God who gives us faith and saves us from the grip of death; our lives are in God’s keeping.”* Amen.

*”Out of the Depths I Cry to You,” The United Methodist Church, 515.