Rock of Ages: Hannah’s Song

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Samuel 2:1-10

In my vocation I read (and subsequently write) a lot. Folks who are avid readers are well acquainted with the two types of literature – fiction and non-fiction – which are then categorized further into the genres of literature – autobiographies, biographies, romance, suspense, mystery, thriller, fantasy, self-help and more. In my experience there are additional genres of literature – the good, the superb, the bad, the excruciating, the humorous, the you-gotta-be-kidding-me-did-you-really-write-this, and, my personal favorite, the i-will-reward-myself-with-reading-something-else-for-every-one-paragraph-I-read-of-this.

I had a wonderful professor at Florida Southern College who always reminded (and reminds!) me to be a generous reader to the authors…sometimes generosity flows more freely than at others.

One book that completely captured my attention a few years ago, and I continue to return to it, is Dr. Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. Dr. Brown is a licensed master social worker and is a professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. Her research is in the areas of studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. The title of her book, Daring Greatly, comes from a quote by Theodore Roosevelt that reads,

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

In this quote Roosevelt – and Dr. Brown – lift up the people that are present in living life. Their present living may be a moment of struggle or their present living may be a moment of triumph. Regardless, they are living. They are active. They are not on the sidelines or in the bleachers hollering out coulda woulda shouldas. They are at the plate. They are on the starting line. They are jumping for the tip ball. They are defending the end zone. They are in the arena. They are on the field. They are running on the court. And they are working cooperatively to alter their circumstance. Dr. Brown would say that folks on the sidelines or in the bleachers should be muted. Unless they are willing to enter the arena themselves, their comments should stay to themselves.

This week in Rock of Ages we turn our attention to a study of Hannah, the mother of Samuel. She, like many women in Scripture, was barren. Her inability to produce a child meant that she brought shame upon herself, her husband, and her family. There would be no heir to inherit their land, their goods, their history, or their faith. Bystanders and sideliners – Peninnah in particular – mocked and ridiculed Hannah, which compounded her grief and grated away even more of her self-worth.

Hannah had a choice. She could wallow in self-pity or she could enter the arena. Having grieved (and having accomplished nothing more than grieving) Hannah entered the arena, which in her context was the temple. Hannah was “deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. She made this vow: O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant…” (I Sam 1:10-11). Her prayer brought her up to the starting line, she grounded her stance next to the plate, she centered herself in front of the net, and she engaged. She dared greatly in asking for what she wanted – a child, specifically a son – knowing full well that she may not have received. In making this plea before the Lord she honored herself by naming what she wanted, she made a public display of faith, and made a public affirmation that she is worthy, and able, and capable of coming before the Lord with the deepest concerns of her heart.

I know that when I pray I am quick to pray for others, for our leaders at every level and kind of administration, for the church, for the world. I am not so quick to pray for myself or to reveal the deepest concerns of my heart before God – which is silly because God already knows. And yet, I think it is an act of daring greatly and entering the arena to bear my heart before my God and share my concerns with God personally rather than God observing them from afar. I believe doing so places me in agreement with Hannah – that I am worthy, able, and capable of coming before God and that God is worthy, able, and capable of receiving what I share.

This exchange strengthens our relationship. This exchange honors God as God and guards me from thinking (and acting like) I need to be in control at all times. Stepping into this arena with God does not mean we are opponents; we are on the same team. Stepping into the arena means I am willing to take the risks of vulnerability, to face my fears, to share my heart, and be led by the greatest coach of all time who is wherever I am – on the sideline, on the field, and definitely in my heart.

Prayer: “Lord, I want to be more holy in my heart. Here is the citadel of all my desiring, where my hopes are born and all the deep resolutions of my spirit take wings. In this center, my fears are nourished, and all my hates are nurtured. Here my loves are cherished, and all the deep hungers of my spirit are honored without quivering and without shock. In my heart, above all else, let love envelop me until my love is perfected and the last vestige of my desiring is no longer in conflict with thy Spirit. Lord, I want to be more holy in my heart. Amen.”*

*”For Holiness of Heart,” The United Methodist Hymnal 401.

Rock of Ages: Fire Up From A Rock

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Judges 6:11-24

This week our Rock of Ages sermon series continues with a study of Gideon. Gideon was selected by God as a judge for the people of Israel. The role of a judge in the Hebrew Bible differs from the role of a modern day judge. While modern day judges adjudicate trials and convene sentences, judges in the Hebrew Bible were tasked, above all, with restoring peace. Peace was disturbed because God’s people committed idolatry and chose to worship the gods native to the land they were now inhabiting rather than the God who delivered them to that land. If the Israelites would choose to do what was right in God’s eyes rather than their own, then they would not continually be in strife.

God calls Gideon to this role of judge and Gideon’s response – are you serious!?

(I have yet to find a biblical translation that conveys this sentiment, but I feel it in the text. I also envision Gideon with eyes as big as saucers.)

Gideon does not believe. Why would he be called to this task? And is it actually God doing the calling?

In our study of “Water from the Rock” we learned that we are not to test the Lord our God; we are not to make our faith contingent upon forced or coerced demonstration from God. But in reading our passage for this week we find that Gideon fleeces God. Perhaps this is an argument of semantics, specifically an argument of diction. Perhaps a fleece is not a test in Gideon’s mind. But his aim is the same. Whether a fleece or a test Gideon wants to know that it is God who cares for him, that it is God who will be with him, and it is God who will lead him in accomplishing the demolition of altars and the restoration of peace.

Our desire to know is linked with our capacity to wonder. To wonder means to curiously speculate. There is a definite air of hope in wondering as well. A person who wonders anticipates evidence that will reveal an outcome…and I would say in the case of hopeful wonderings, the person anticipates evidence that will reveal a consistent and positive outcome.

Last school year I had the opportunity to participate in the Bear Connections Program through Winter Springs High School. Bear Connections is a mentoring program for ninth grade students that have been identified by their middle school teachers, guidance counselors, and school administrators as persons that would benefit from a mentoring relationship with a positive adult role model. Bear Connections mentors are not tutors; they are great listeners who are open to sharing their positive life experiences and willing to help a student navigate his or her way through the first year of high school. A mentor meets with his or her mentee for 30-45 minutes weekly, on campus during an elective class period.

When I first met my mentee he looked at me – and the Bear Connections program – in the spirit of Gideon – are you serious?! Are you seriously going to take time out of your week each week to meet with me, listen to my stories, answer my questions, help me find answers to my questions, occasionally help me with an assignment, and definitely play UNO in the courtyard? He wondered. And each week I showed up…and showed up…and showed up. Each time I showed up I answered his “Are you serious?!” with a definite yes yes yes! In fact, I was almost sent to detention one day for playing UNO with him in the courtyard; an administrator walked up behind us and said we had a lot of nerve to be playing UNO in the middle of the courtyard during class.

(I have never been to detention before in my life! Thankfully my mentee was quick to share I was his mentor. “Show him your badge, Mrs. Sarah!” And then the administrator said I looked like a student…and then I returned to our game of UNO.)

I am so thankful for the privilege of walking alongside my mentee throughout the 2014-2015 school year and of affirming in him that an adult in addition to his nuclear family, guidance counselor, dean, and teachers wanted him to succeed. I helped hold him accountable. I helped focus his attention away from sports and girls and onto science and geometry. I looked forward to our time together. My mentee anticipated evidence that would reveal a specific outcome. He anticipated my showing up and when I did, that affirmed him. He is important. He is valued. He has a friend that would help him succeed.

The Bear Connections program is currently looking for mentors to match to 95 freshman this fall. This mentoring opportunity is a great way to serve our community and to let our community know that we at Tuskawilla UMC care about the success of the students in the greater Casselberry, Ovideo, Sanford, and Winter Springs area. I will be serving as a mentor again this year and I invite you to think about serving in this program as well – 30 to 45 minutes for roughly 15 weeks in the Fall and 15 weeks in the Spring. Students have elective periods scattered throughout the day so you can be placed with a student who’s schedule works with your availability! This is an opportunity for you to serve and be served. This is an opportunity for you to be God’s agent in coming alongside the Gideon’s among us.

Please be in prayer about this opportunity and contact me directly if you would like information about the next steps in registering as a Bear Connections Mentor.

Prayer: “O Jesus, thou hast promised to all who follow thee that where thou art in glory there shall thy servant be. And Jesus, I have promised to serve thee to the end; O give me grace to follow, my Master and my Friend.”* Amen.

*”O Jesus, I Have Promised,” The United Methodist Hymnal 396.

Rock of Ages: Water from the Rock

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Exodus 17:1-7

Our Scripture text this week speaks to a very raw and vulnerable portion of my life – worry. The text does not use the word worry, but it is worry defined. The Hebrews are in a unfamiliar place – reunited with the God who seems unfamiliar as they believed God had forgotten them in their suffering in Egypt – and led by a somewhat suspicious guy because he was once Team Pharaoh and is now Team Elohim. Their identity – all they have ever known of themselves, day to day living, and expectations in life – has shifted. No longer slave but free. No longer many gods but one God. No longer in Egypt but in the wilderness.

Egypt was not a cakewalk – not even a bread walk some days – but there were absolutes in Egypt. The Hebrews knew as long as they met their production quota they would eat, drink, and survive with minimal harm. Leaving Egypt and enjoying the fruits of freedom also meant that the wells in Egypt – wells that came at such high costs but were wells none the less – dried up. In the wilderness with Moses and God the Hebrews were removed from those absolutes. In their worry-ness and weariness the Hebrews doubted that the God who through Moses delivered them through the water might bring water to quench their thirst. They were so downcast they thought about returning to just survive in Egypt when God wanted them – and wants for us – to thrive.

Worrying gets in the way of thriving. Worrying thwarts thriving from the start. I worry because I like to be in control. I am most comfortable when I know what will happen, how I will feel while it is happening, and what the consequences will be after it happens. I do not like the feeling of my stomach in my throat or my stomach diving down towards my knees.

When walking through the wildernesses of my life I have to remember that I am not a trailblazer and I am not a lone ranger. I am not wholly and solely responsible for my path and how I will be sustained along that path. I am following after God – God blazes the trail. And I am travelling with company – much like our ancestors in the Sinai region. We are all making our way together.

The wilderness is a place full of potential. You have left what was and anticipate what will be. To simply be in that space is powerful. It is a struggle to be, but that is when I need to remember that I am not God. I am not blazing the trail. I am a creation. I am a beloved child of God. And in my creation God made a commitment to provide for me through God’s creation, through utilizing my God-given gifts and graces, and through my relationships with others. When I worry I feel that I create negativity in my life or that I am bracing myself for a negative impact that may never come. When I focus on the potential of the wilderness, the space that God is bringing me through, yes there are points of shadow and I might trip on a branch, but light is also breaking through the branches, I can hear a river running by, I can see an environment teeming with life, and I can notice that the trees are becoming less dense.

The Exodus did not end when God’s people crossed the Egypt Region Line. Our Exodus is a continuing saga; it continues every time God brings us through whatever it is we are facing. We do not need to worry. Sarah – I do not need to worry. God will provide. God does provide.

Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. Amen.”*

*”The Serenity Prayer,” The United Methodist Hymnal 459.

Take The Risk

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 25:14-30

This Sunday the Tuskawilla Family will be led in worship by our Youth Mission Team and a special youth-young adult praise team! They will be sharing stories from their experiences and adventures throughout The Glades as we partnered with the wonderful folks at First UMC Pahokee in a week of serving God and neighbor. You already know this – but I will remind you again – the TUMC Youth are PHENOMENAL young people. They want to share with you about their trip because you made their trip possible through your support of their rummage sale (donations and/or purchases), talent show (acts and/or admissions), prayers, smiles, and encouragement along the way. Thank you, Tuskawilla Family, for your commitment to the children and youth of our church. Join us this Sunday as we celebrate God’s accomplishments through their hands, feet, and hearts!

The theme Scripture passage for the Youth Mission Trip was Matthew’s version of the Parable of the Talents. This parable also appears in Luke’s Gospel, but not in Mark’s Gospel, which tells us that Matthew and Luke received this teaching of Jesus from a shared source. Biblical scholarship widely identifies this source as Q – which is short for Quelle the German word meaning source.

When we compare the two tellings of this parable they follow a similar pattern: a landowner entrusted funds to employees to steward and multiply while he was away. In each telling one employee presents a sizable gain on the landowner’s investment, another employee presents a fair gain on the landowner’s investment, and the third employee returns the investment that was entrusted with no gain at all. “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been trustworthy with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things!” to the two that gained on the landowner’s investment; “throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!” to the one that gained nothing on the landowner’s investment.

Two of the employees took risks to bring a return on the landowner’s investment. They had to move beyond themselves, beyond their familiar environments, and beyond their usual activities. Their risk taking yielded a big return – something that would not be possible if they decided – like the unfruitful employee – to stay within their comfort zones.

While on the mission trip the Tuskawilla Youth took risks all over the place. They left their homes, their families, their daily routines, THEIR ELECTRONICS and entered into relationship with a new community, in a new place, with a whole new level of heat and humidity. God invested talents in each of these students – through their creation, through their families, and through our church family that they, in turn, invested into The Glades. The returns that our youth yielded on God’s investment cannot be numbered. They were so generous in their spirit, compassion, and service. I am so very proud of them and know that this sort of risk taking for God and God’s Kingdom will continue to increase.

Well done, good and faithful youth servants of Tuskawilla UMC. We cannot wait to celebrate your service and Kingdom building on Sunday!

Prayer: “Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true. With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living, sanctuary for you.”* Amen.

*”Sanctuary,” The Faith We Sing 2164.

In The Case of God vs. God’s People

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Micah 6:1-8

This week the Tuskawilla Community will be led in worship and in the celebration of Holy Communion by Pastor Kate. Her service and leadership allows me to worship with Andrew on his first Sunday at Montverde UMC. Thank you, Pastor Kate and thank you, Church for creating this space for me to be and worship with my family this weekend.

Speaking of family – some of my seminary family are in town this week – Sarah and Dan. Sarah is the pastor at Rehoboth Congregational Church (UCC) in Rehoboth, MA and Dan is the pastor at Manchester First UMC in Manchester, GA. I love these two and I am so thankful to spend time with them.

As I pondered the Scripture lesson Pastor Kate will share with the Tuskawilla Community this week and my reunion with Sarah and Dan, I was reminded of a lecture in the Hebrew Bible class that Sarah, Dan, and I heard while in seminary. Dr. David Petersen – incredible Hebrew Bible scholar and possessor of glorious mutton-chop sideburns for days! – invited his students – all 163 of us – to envision this Scripture from Micah being spoken (read) in a courtroom.

  • The defendant – the people of Israel
  • The plaintiff – the Holy God of Israel
  • The court reporter – Micah, the prophet

God’s people were on trial. The time had come for them to account for their actions. God’s actions were very visible: God brought them up out of slavery and delivered them into the Promised Land. God fortified the people. God forgave the people. God’s actions brought light to the people…and God’s people continually chose to act and live within the world of shadows.

Like in modern-day court cases and trials, restitution must be made. How shall the restitution be made? Not through lavish sacrifices. Not through burnt offerings of oil, rams, or a first-born child. Restitution shall be made this way: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

There is great familiarity with the verdict found in Micah 6:8, but the verse’s power and intensity strengthens when we interpret it in context with the surrounding verses. Hearing our summons to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” can sound very idyllic when the context, or circumstances, of Micah 6 are anything but idyllic. God’s people are being confronted by our Creator. All the evidence is on the table. There is nowhere to hide. This raw, vulnerable place becomes the seedbed for restitution – and because of God’s grace – the seedbed of regeneration.

We do not have to look far into the world to see where we are still falling short of doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God. People are dying; houses of worship are burning; racism, prejudices, and hate are bubbling to and through boiling points. Each consecutive wound leaves another scar on Christ’s body and on the Body of Christ. Friends, our Savior’s body is scarred enough and with each act of harm we carve the wounds all the deeper.

When I see a scar, I remember the incident that formed it, and that remembrance is encouragement enough for me to not repeat the behavior. I have a very substantial scar on the front of my left leg just above my ankle. It was the case of 6-year-old Sarah riding her banana-seat bike without training wheels vs. a barbed wire fence. The fence won the battle, but I won the war because I did not run into a barbed wire fence ever again.

Friends, humanity on the whole is continuing to run into barbed wire fences…we must learn that our God is calling us to a more holy way. We have to stop our own running into these fences. We have to guide our neighbors in not running into these fences. It is within our power to stop this harmful behavior. We have this power and will to choose a more holy way because of God’s grace in our lives.

God calls us to be regenerated from our hunger for harm so we will thrive on God’s justice, God’s loving kindness, and God’s mercy. We have received God’s verdict. For the love of Christ and the wholeness of Christ’s Body, let us not waste one more day in living out God’s command.

Prayer: “Help each of us, gracious God, to live in such magnanimity and restraint that the Head of the church may never have cause to say to any one of us, This is my body, broken by you.” Amen.*

*”For the Unity of Christ’s Body,” The United Methodist Hymnal 564.