All Saints Sunday: Seeing The Glory of God

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 11:28-44

In third grade I received my first Bible – a red leather red letter NIV Bible. Shortly after receiving it I attended a Third Grade Bible Retreat to learn all about this library I had just been gifted by my home church. At that retreat I learned about the history, compiling, and composition of the Bible; biblical languages; how to look up Scripture addresses; and some very useful trivia. Did you know that King Solomon had a muster of peacocks delivered every three years!?

At the end of the retreat each student was given some additional sheets of Bible Trivia we could look up on our own. Well, little third grade Sarah, being the assignment completer she was (is) completed the packet in a week.

Not much has changed…except my hair is a little longer, my heels are definitely higher, and my mother does not have to beg me to wear a dress.

I remember that one of the trivia challenges was to identify the shortest verse in the Bible. I found it in John’s Gospel, “Jesus wept.” The knowledge that Jesus cried affected me deeply. I knew that Jesus was born of a woman like me. I knew that Jesus walked the earth like me. I knew that Jesus ate with his family and friends like me. But to know that Jesus cried…like me? Jesus became all the more real, all the more human in that moment.

Jesus wept because he missed his friend Lazarus who he loved dearly; he wept over the loss of his friend and disciple. Throughout my years in ministry I have joined Jesus in weeping at the bedside and graveside of ones that are nearing the end or have completed their journey in faith. I have held hands, received teachings, and made commitments to look after the family and friends left at this time.

Once I was even made to promise I would have my prostate examined yearly! I hope my congregant forgives me for not following through with that…

I have cried the precious tears that say, “I love you today; I love you always.” I have cried the precious tears that say, “I miss you today, I will miss you tomorrow, I will see you again.” And it is because of the precious tears that Jesus cried and his authority to call Lazarus forth from the grave that I am assured I will see – that we will see – our loved ones again. Jesus cried as a response to present pain and suffering, but in his completed Kingdom, every tear will be wiped away. There will be no mourning, no crying, no suffering, no pain. All will be whole. All will be well. And death will be no more.

There is definitely more time passing between my weeping and being reunited with loved ones than in Jesus’ weeping and calling Lazarus to life. But the power and gift of the resurrection is already at work. We will be reunited in the fulfillment of the resurrection, all that was loss will be gain, and the glory of God that we have seen just a glimpse of will be on full display.

Prayer: “Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord. Grant us grace so to follow your holy saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys, which you have prepared for those who sincerely love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”*

*”All Saints,” The United Methodist Hymnal 713.

Remember to Fall Back one hour this Saturday Night/Early Sunday Morning!! 

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Jobbbb: Bitter

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Job 23:1-9, 16-17

A question that I have become most fond of is, “What brings you joy?” And the great thing about this question is that after I listen to the answers of my friends and family, I have a chance to answer myself. Somedays my answer – and the answers from my conversation partner(s) – comes swiftly. Other days…not so much.

I would not say that I like to complain…but I find myself complaining more than I should. I have learned there is a difference between complaining and venting. When I vent I share my feelings, my concerns, my fears, and they are released. I state them and I move forward. When I complain I share my feelings, my concerns, my fears, and then I repeat them. Nothing changes. Nothing resolves. I do not move forward.

The consequence of the toxic cycle of complaining is bitterness. My outlook, my attitude, my interactions with others all sour and suffer. I become like Job. I want answers. I seek them. And at times the only answer I receive is deafening silence.

And yet…

Complaints pale in comparison to our joys. Complaints have a nasty way of obscuring joy and, through that obscuring of joy, they deprive us of joy. Now, I am not suggesting that we all start complaining about our complaining…that will not get us anywhere! But I am suggesting that we each take time to name what brings us joy.

I invite you into a time of reflection. What has been the topic(s) of your recent complaints? I encourage you to write them on a sheet of paper. For every complaint, I invite you to (1) write out something that brings you joy and then (2) begin to brainstorm ways that you can address your complaints. Perhaps after reviewing your list you may be able to easily identify steps that will lead those complaints to positive resolutions. Perhaps after reviewing your list all you are able to do is write PRAY in big bold letters. Once you identify ways to address your complaints, act on them. Take one at a time, but take action. Move forward.

My husband, my niece and nephew (first time saying that!), my family, my puppadoos, the growth in my yoga practice, the continued stewardship of our church, Tuskawilla’s faithful and faith-filled leadership, God’s call on my life, my mentors, my dear friends, and pumpkins – yes, even pumpkins, bring me joy.

What joys will you name today?

Release your complaints. Do not be overcome by bitterness. Unleash your joy.

Prayer: “Pass me not, O gentle Savior, hear my humble cry; while on others thou art calling, do not pass me by. Thou the spring of all my comfort, more than life to me, whom have I on earth beside thee? Whom in heaven but thee? Savior, Savior, hear my humble cry, while on others thou art calling, do not pass me by.”* Amen.

*”Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior,” The United Methodist Hymnal 351.

Jobbbb: Battle

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Job 1:1, 2:1-10

While in seminary I was introduced to the concept of spiritual warfare. When a person engages in spiritual warfare he or she takes an active stand against devils, demons, and/or other supernatural (meaning unbound by the laws of physics) or preternatural (meaning they are sourced in unknown places) forces.

At first introduction, I did not think much of spiritual warfare. I did not feel that I had experienced it in my life. But as I grew in awareness of it and talked with friends that believed they experienced it, my paradigm shifted and expanded.

In my experience I have seen people – as well as myself! – blame the devil or demons as the cause of their (my) transgressions. The devil or demons became the scapegoat. “The devil made me do it.” No, the devil did not make me do it; I chose to do that. And there are consequences for this and every choice. This personal awareness – and taking responsibility – was a huge eye-opener for me. My personal awareness helped me grow in accountability for my actions to God, myself, and others.

In my experience I have also witnessed the horror of evil in this world – evil that causes immense suffering – gun violence, substance abuse, infidelity, debilitating diseases, and prejudice. I have witnessed moral evil, natural evil, and radical evil. Sometimes I am able to “put my finger” on the root of the pain; that provides comfort and at least a place to focus actions of compassion and correction. At other times I am unable to put my finger on the root of the pain…it just “is” and that it “is” breaks my heart.

When will it end? Why does it happen? Where are you, O God?

I confess that my faith is not as strong in these times. I become angry. I doubt. I fall to my own pride thinking I will just take matters into my own hands, when really the only thing I should be left to doing alone is taking myself to lunch – and somedays I am not even successful with that.

It is interesting to see how Job engages in spiritual warfare – how Job takes a stand against the evils inflicted upon him and the suffering that it causes. He does not “raise his dukes” or “dig in his heels” in order to steady himself to fight back. He sits in ashes. He questions but does not accuse. He wonders aloud – perhaps rhetorically – “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad” (Job 2:10b)? Scripture tells us Job did not sin with his lips (2:10c). I believe he sensed God’s presence with him. He knew that God was walking with him…and as long as God continued walking, so would Job.

A song that some of my beloved students taught me is You Fail Us Not by 1,000 Generations. When I think of the trials in my life, I give thanks for God’s continued presence with me.

I invite you to listen to this song. Give thanks. In life – and especially in the battles – God fails us not.

Prayer: Holy God, “You’re bigger than the battle, you are bigger than the battle, you are bigger than the battle has ever been. Whatever will come, we’ll rise above, you fail us not, you fail us not. No matter the war, our hope is secure, you fail us not, You fail us not. You fail us not.”* For this, and so much more, we give you thanks. Amen.

*”You Fail Us Not” from 1000 Generations.

Thrive: Inclusion

Sunday’s Scripture: Ezekiel 47:21-23

The Tuskawilla UMCommunity celebrates and concludes our 2015 Thrive Stewardship Series this Sunday. Everyone is invited to bring their completed Commitment Card with them to worship this week. Following the sermon the congregation will have the opportunity to offer our commitment cards before the altar and then share in a time of prayer. You are in my prayers as you complete your commitment card. I look forward to offering mine in partnership with yours to the glory of God on Sunday.

(And if you need a commitment card, there will be extra in the Fellowship Area on Sunday morning. Ask an usher.)

Believe it or not, my Tuskawilla family, you are not the first congregation upon which I have inflicted my crazy hymn selections. With my first congregation – Inman UMC in Fayetteville, GA – I was such a ministry “greenhorn” that every time I preached I shuffled the same three or four hymns repeatedly. I do not think they minded…they loved to sing Blessed Assurance! It was with my second congregation – New Horizon Church in Haines City-Davenport – that I really grew in my knowledge of the hymnal and what I wanted to sing with the congregation.

My senior pastor, Pam, thought I was nuts.

She was right. She is right.

I recall one day Pam and I were planning worship in her office. We were brainstorming hymns to sing and I suggested Take My Life, and Let It Be as I thought it would really compliment her sermon. Very quickly Pam objected, “No; I do not sing that hymn.” Now, I had grown somewhat accustomed to rebuttal to my hymn suggestions, because sometimes they are, well, nuts. But this one? Really? We are not going to sing Take My Life?

Pam, sensing my bewilderment continued, “I do not sing that hymn because I do not want to sing those words and not mean them. Our hymns are our theology; we sing our theology. We sing our faith. And I do not want to sing a song that says take my life, moments, days, hands, feet, voice, lips, silver and gold, intellect, will, heart, love, myself and not really mean it. If I say to God, take these things, I want God to have all of them. I want to withhold nothing. And until I can apply myself consistently to that sort of offering, I do not want to make a pledge I cannot keep.”

Pam had and has a desire to give herself to God inclusively. Pam had and has an awareness that our intentions in giving do not always compute with how we actually give to God. And she wanted to make a pledge that she could keep, that she could incarnate, that she could witness. Aware of her (this) growing edge did not keep Pam from giving herself to God because she knew she would, she could, and she should work up to giving inclusively. It is a process. It is her personal investment. It was and is an act of worship and praise.

I appreciate the inclusivity our Thrive commitment cards. They provide an opportunity to explore and commit to how we will offer our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness to God through the ministries at Tuskawilla. Making our commitment in this way through this many facets gives us the opportunity to grow in giving inclusively – in giving our whole selves to the Lord in partnership with our church family.

With boldness I sing Take My Life, and Let It Be. I look forward to singing boldly with you on Sunday as we celebrate our commitments to God for our next ministry year together.

Prayer: “Take my will, and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine. Take my heart, it is thine own; it shall be thy royal throne. Take my love, my Lord, I pour at thy feet its treasure store. Take myself, and I will be, ever, only, all for thee.”* Amen.

*”Take My life, and Let It Be,” The United Methodist Hymnal 399.