PictureLent ~ Return

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 21:12-17

This Sunday we begin the final part of our pilgrimage to Golgotha. We celebrate Palm Sunday – a day that rings loud with shouts of Hosanna, a day that is alive with the waving of palm branches, a day that is colorful with garments showering the ground to make smooth the way of the King.

Palm Sunday – at its root – is a day when we celebrate Jesus showing up. Jesus travelled non-stop during his ministry. In fact he said of his own ministry, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Mt 8:20). This statement speaks to Jesus’ lack of personal possessions – perhaps even speaks to his poverty – but it also sheds light on what was of important to our Lord. He valued people. He valued being with and serving people. For Jesus, it was people over possessions any day. When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, he was going to – as we say in the South – stay for a spell. People gathered to hear him preach. People gathered to see him go toe-to-toe with the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees. People gathered to be near him, to celebrate that the one they had heard stories about was close enough to tell the stories himself.

I wonder if Jesus were to show up today if we would take notice? Would there be a parade? Would there be a potluck? Would we even turn our heads?

These questions are what draw me to Holy Week like a magnet to a piece of iron. This week is full of stories and Scriptures that I have heard for decades and even though I have heard them for decades, I am not jaded by them. I will not allow myself to be jaded by them. I want Jesus to show up on Palm Sunday and I want to take notice. I want to take notice of everything. I want to wave a palm branch like Mr. and Mrs. Hermany taught me in Kids Choir 25 years ago – tap tap shaaaaaake! I want to actively and attentively listen as Jesus teaches in parables, answers questions about what is to come,  and schools the ornery Pharisees. I want to smell the bread that is broken and served at The Last Supper. I want to stand watch at his trial. I want to lean in as he carries his cross. I want to weep with the Marys. And come Easter Sunday I want to look into that borrowed grave and see that he is not there.

My friends, Holy Week is coming – and much like other moments in our faith lives – we will get out of it what we put into it. If we approach walking the final days of Christ’s life with a ho-hum been there, done that, got and gave away the t-shirt attitude, then we limit how we can experience these old, old stories in fresh and exciting ways. If we open ourselves, if we prepare ourselves, if we humble ourselves, God is ready to focus our eyes to see what God has prepared for us to see in living this week alongside our Messiah.

Palm Sunday is coming. Christ will show up. Will we meet him there?

Holy Week Opportunities at TUMC – 3925 Red Bug Lake Road – Casselberry

  • Saturday, March 28: Pancake Breakfast benefitting Imagine No Malaria at 8am in the Fellowship Hall and Easter Egg Hunt at 9:15am across the Church Campus
  • Sunday, March 29: Palm Sunday – Sunday School for all ages at 9:30am, Worship at 11am
  • Monday, March 30 – Tuesday, March 31 – Wednesday, April 1 – Prayer Stations available from 5pm-7pm in the Sanctuary Courtyard
  • Thursday, April 2 – Maundy Thursday Healing Service at 7pm in the Sanctuary
  • Friday, April 3 – Good Friday Service featuring the Tenebrae Cantata at 7pm in the Sanctuary
  • Easter Sunday, April 5 – Worship at 8am, Sunday School for all ages at 9:30am, Worship at 11am

Prayer: “All glory, laud, and honor, to thee, Redeemer, King, to whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring. Thou art the King of Israel, thou David’s royal Son, who in the Lord’s name comest, the King and Blessed One. To thee, before thy passion, they sang their hymns of praise; to thee, now high exalted, our melody we raise. Thou didst accept their praises; accept the prayers we bring, who in all good delightest, thou good and gracious King. All glory, laud, and honor, to thee, Redeemer, King, to whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring.”* Amen.

*”All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 280.

PictureLent ~ Replace

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Galatians 2:19-21

Every active United Methodist clergy person in the East Central District of our Annual Conference (and some other districts, too) participates in a Clergy Peer Group. These groups meet monthly September through April. We meet for the purposes of walking alongside one another in our ministry offering support, guidance and companionship. We also study a book each semester. This semester we are reading Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home by Richard Foster. This text explores the “spiritual movements of prayer” and “helps [readers] understand, experience, and practice the many forms of prayer.”*

One of the chapters I read recently describes Unceasing Prayer. Foster quotes Kallistos, a Byzantine spiritual writer, when defining this sort of prayer: “Unceasing prayer consists in an unceasing invocation of the name of God.”** Foster then quotes St. Francis saying, “[Unceasing prayer] seemed not so much a [human] praying as prayer itself made [human].”**

The Apostle Paul encourages us in I Thessalonians 5:17 to “Pray without ceasing,” but how exactly is that done? It is accomplished with mindfulness and with practice. Foster observes that Christians over the centuries desiring to live into this direction from Paul have settled on what is called aspiratory prayer or breath prayer. Writes Foster, “The idea [of breath prayer] has its roots in the Psalms, where a repeated phrase reminds us of an entire Psalm, for example, O Lord, you have searched me and known me (Ps 139:1). As a result, the concept arose of a short, simple prayer of petition that can be spoken in one breath.”***

The most famous of the breath prayers is the Jesus Prayer: Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. It is a prayer that can be inhaled and exhaled on a single breath. It is a prayer that can be repeated again and again in its entirety or in pieces. I like to pray the prayer in its entirety and then continue the prayer by removing phrases one at a time:

Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.

Jesus Christ, Son of God.

Jesus Christ.

I find that when I engage prayers like this one I become calmer and I become more attentive, not to my surroundings, but to God. I am focused. I am primed to receive.

This week our #PictureLent theme is Replace. As we journey deeper into the season of Lent we become more aware of what awaits us and awaits our Christ. We know that Good Friday is coming…but even more importantly, Easter is coming. On the cross Jesus replaced humanity; he took our place. He took our punishment for sin. He took our shame. He took our death and defeated it.

Mindful of what is still to come in the Lenten season – not only spiritually in my walk with Christ, but also schedually (yes, schedually) in the life of the church – I am in need of more moments of quiet and centering and reflection. I often spend my devotional time listening to music and this past week I was introduced to “Here’s My Heart” by I Am They. This song is a breath prayer repeating again and again “Here’s my heart, Lord. Speak what is true.” This song petitions God to speak into our inner most beings the heavenly truth that can and will replace the lies, fears, and doubts that have come to dwell within us.

I am guilty – at times – when praying the Jesus Prayer of focusing on the word sinner. I believe – I am convicted – that we need to recognize and take responsibility for our sins. But we are not the sins. We are ones who receive the truth of mercy. God’s mercy reminds us of our sacred worth. God’s mercy reminds us that we are made in God’s image. God’s mercy nurtures us daily in activities and decisions that lead us in recovering the image in which we are made. God’s mercy plants the seeds that move from our head to our heart. God’s mercy breeds assurance, which opens us further.

Which leads me again in my offering: Here’s my heart, Lord. Speak what is true.

Speak what is true.

Prayer: “What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul, what wondrous love is this, O my soul! What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul, to bear the dreadful curse for my soul. What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul, what wondrous love is this, O my soul! What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of life to lay aside his crown for my soul, for my soul, to lay aside his crown for my soul.”**** Amen.

* from the Prayer dustcover

** Prayer 119.

*** Prayer 122.

**** “What Wondrous Love Is This,” The United Methodist Church 292.

PictureLent ~ Remember

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 23:39-43

I have returned! My pilgrimage through Nepal has concluded…and thanks to Turkish Airways was extended a few extra days. Many thanks to Rev. Melissa Cooper and Rev. Kate Ling for preaching for me while I was away and to Rev. Tom Love for serving as a pastor-on-call. Many thanks also to Tuskawilla’s wonderful staff and leadership teams for their service while I was away. I am so grateful to be home and to have returned to our wonderful community. I am refreshed despite the jet lag and altitude sickness. I know that the vineyard was well-tended while I took my Sabbath. I’ve got my stilettos…I’m headed back to work!

In Nepal, education is not public nor is it compulsory. Families have to pay for their children to attend school, and many do. What makes it different from primary and secondary education in the States is that each individual school is able to set their own calendars and the times of their school days. So one school may be in session from 5:30am-12:30pm and another from 9am-4pm and another from 12:30pm-7:30pm.

Could you imagine trying to balance multiple children through this kind of scheduling? Ack!

Since the schools have such random schedules at any given point throughout the day you see school-age children just wandering through town – and let me tell you – they love Westerners. They associate Westerners with sweets. They will see Westerners walking up the road or sitting in a park or strolling around a stupa and will run with great glee towards them and squeak “sweets sweets sweets!” They are after chocolate or hard candy or gum – whatever you may have. And then after receiving what they want, they laugh and run off.

I was a less-than-favorable Westerner to the Nepali children. I’m not a big sweets person – unless it’s my Mom’s cream cheese pound cake, my mother-in-law’s Mexican wedding cake cookies, or my best friend Becky’s peanut butter cup cookies. For me bacon and cheese grits > sweets.

Nepali children associate or remember sweets when they see Westerners. They ask – and pretty much if they do not ask me or others like me – they receive! My friend I was visiting in Nepal shared with me that many aid agencies across the country encourage visitors to give the children toothbrushes when they ask for sweets. Nepali children receive so many sweets that their overall dental health is abysmal. The benefit of a sweet lasts a few moments, whereas the benefit of a toothbrush can literally last a lifetime.

Take note in the conversation that the criminal shares with Jesus that he asks for the toothbrush and not the sweet. The sweet would have been “Hey Jesus, get me off this cross!” The toothbrush is “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42). This criminal saw Jesus and turned his attention to the Kingdom. Perhaps it was his first ever thought of God’s Kingdom. Perhaps he was reminded in that moment – once again – regardless of his past – Jesus and God’s Kingdom would be his present and future.

When Christians encounter difficulties in life we often turn to Jesus because we remember that Jesus is our God, our Messiah, our Savior, our Helpmate, our Friend. We turn to Jesus and follow his teaching, “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Mt 7:7-8). But for what do we ask? What is our request? The sweet? The temporary benefit? “Lord, get me out off this mess! Get me off this cross!” and then we revert to our life as usual instead of Christ’s life in us being our usual? Or do we ask for the toothbrush? Do we ask for the Kingdom? Do we ask for strength in tribulation? For our feet to continue following the narrow instead of the wide path? For peace with our neighbors? For enemies to become friends? For the healing of the nations? For abounding hope? For everlasting peace?

I know the Kingdom will indeed be sweet. I have tasted. I have seen. And I will taste and will continue to see. But I do not want the effects of the Kingdom to be temporary. I want them to be my present and my future. I want the Kingdom to pervade my lifetime and usher me beyond this time. Jesus, I look to you and remember. Remember me when you come into your Kingdom.

Prayer: “Alas! and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die? Would he devote that sacred head for sinners such as I? Was it for crimes that I have done, he groaned upon the tree? Amazing pity! Grace unknown! And love beyond degree. Well might the sun in darkness hide, and shut its glories in, when God, the mighty maker, died for his own creature’s sin. Thus might I hide my blushing face while his dear cross appears; dissolve my heart in thankfulness and melt mine eyes to tears. But drops of tears can ne’er repay the debt of love I owe. Here, Lord, I give myself away, ’tis all that I can do.”* Amen.

*”Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed,” The United Methodist Hymnal 294.

PictureLent ~ Reject

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Proverbs 31:8-9

This week’s #PictureLent theme is Reject. When we marinate on the word reject during the season of Lent, our minds might move to several characters in Jesus’ passion narrative:

  • The chief priests rejected Jesus as they opposed his interpretation of the Scripture and stirred the masses to rebel against him.
  • Judas rejected Jesus as he betrayed Jesus to the chief priests and temple guards for 30 pieces of silver.
  • Peter rejected Jesus as he denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed.

Why did they reject Jesus? I think because of fear. Jesus represented a new world – of interpretation, of leadership, of Lordship. Perhaps the chief priests, Judas, and Peter rejected Jesus because Jesus was leading to a place where they might not have wanted to go or might have been afraid to go. Perhaps they rejected Jesus so they could stay where they were and remain with what was familiar.

We all have moments in our lives where we can identify how we have aligned ourselves with the behavior of the chief priests, Judas, and Peter rather than with Jesus. When we read a teaching of Jesus and it grates against what we wish Jesus had said but did not actually say. When we succumb to our greed for personal gain. When we wilt to fear in hopes to secure temporary safety.

One of the churches I served during seminary had this beautiful rotunda prayer chapel commissioned while I was on staff. At the center of the room was an altar surrounded by a railing that gave a nod to the crown of thorns. On the floor encircling the altar and leading into and out of the chapel was a meandering path of stones. Families from the church were invited to write their names on the stones to contribute to the path surrounding the altar.

I believe these stones are incredibly symbolic. They represent God’s people being drawn towards Christ and being led to places where we might be uncomfortable but will definitely meet Christ – at the table under the shadow of the cross. The stones’ meandering path represent when God’s people are drawn close to Christ as well as when we are farther away from Christ. We are still on the path, just perhaps not on the most direct course to Jesus, until we adjust to the leadings of God’s Spirit and curve back toward the Savior. The stones lead followers across the threshold into the world and then draw followers back towards the altar, which resembles the rhythm of the faithful – into the world – into the sanctuary – and the beat rolls on.

Like the chief priests, Judas, and Peter, there are times that we reject Christ. I believe that even in moments of rejection we stay on the path with Christ. We might not be in the center or drawing to the side closest to Christ. We may be farther away from Christ, but we are still on the path with Christ. Psalm 118:21-24 sings, “I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Those who reject the stone, the stone came to save. Those who reject Christ, Christ came to save. When we wind our paths back towards Christ, Jesus redeems our rejecting and we are saved.

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.