We Shine!

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 60:1-6

A phrase often heard – and an action often encouraged – in my yoga studio is “Shine your heart.” To shine your heart means that you draw forward your heart cavity, which is your sternum and upper rib cage, through your shoulders as if a beam of light began shining from your heart onto the wall next to you, the ceiling above you, or the person in front of you. Shining your heart rotates your shoulders back and down, which brings them into proper alignment over your hips and creates space and broadness across your shoulders.

Why is this phrase often heard and action often encouraged? Because my yoga teachers see so many people walking with hunched shoulders…I see so many people walking with hunched shoulders. These persons, their hearts are not shining forward; their hearts are receding, their lights mere flickers. They are bracing for impact. They are in survival mode. They have only just endured the last moment. They are fearful of the next moment. Their shoulders reflect their burdens caused by life’s innumerable weights.

When we walk with hunched shoulders long enough, our bodies begin to accept that shape as our natural shape. When our bodies accept that hunched shape as natural, it cannot be reversed, and we live with its effects permanently.

When I first returned to yoga I walked as someone that rounded forward my shoulders. My body physically manifested the stress I carried. I thought that the way to protect my heart was to shield it rather than shine it. I experienced physical discomfort in drawing my heart forward, in rolling my shoulders into proper alignment.

After years of practice I am growing in comfort with shining my heart. It took time to cultivate this practice. It took courage to face what was causing me to shield rather than shine. It took several brave steps towards vulnerability.

I had to let things go physically and emotionally. I had to forgive. I had to be forgiven. I had to walk away from burdens. I had to open myself to shining and to light.

This week we will ring in a new year that is full of promises, possibilities and potentialities (as the song goes). With the close of one year and the beginning of another we are afforded the opportunity to let things go, to lessen and release burdens, to forgive and be forgiven, to commit or resolve ourselves to shining our hearts rather than continuing to shield them.

Folks that shield their hearts know well the “darkness [that] covers the earth and thick darkness the peoples” (Isa 40:2a). “Arise and shine!” Isaiah says (Isa 40:1a). Christ’s light and life has lightened our burden. Our Christ has revealed a new way forward. What way forward is that for you in 2016? What commitments or changes is God calling you to make so that you can shine your heart in offering to God and shine God’s heart in offering to others?

I find that when I begin with gratitude – for where I have come from, for where I am going, for the people and places and experiences I’ve had along the way – I am more able and wanting to shine my heart.

Steve Harper, a retired pastor and professor in the Florida Conference – and a continuing mentor to many! – shared this reflection as we move to the new year, “Thinking this final week of 2015 about influencers: the people who have influenced me most have not spent their lives identifying the darkness, but rather have devoted themselves to intensifying the light.”

“We shall see and be radiant”says the prophet (Isa 40:5a). We shall see and be radiant as we devote ourselves to intensifying Christ’s light.

With renewal and rejoicing we move on, we move forward, we move towards 2016.

In this New Year, may we open up, invite in, and grow. May we choose light. May we choose life. May we shine.

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 forever. Amen.”*

*”Epiphany,” The United Methodist Hymnal 255.

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Go and Tell!

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 2:15-20

This week Tuskawilla UMC welcomes two special guests in worship leadership. Rev. Anne Bachmann will share her sermon entitled “A Change of Heart” and Mrs. Jane Warren (my amazing mother!) will share her love and gift of music through accompanying our service. Thank you, Anne and Jane for serving with us and serving us this Sunday.

In our Scripture text for both Christmas Eve and Sunday morning we read about the shepherds’ activity before, during, and after their encounter with the Christ child. First, the shepherds receive the angels’ proclamation about Jesus’ birth. Second, they seek him. Third, they worship at his cradle. And then fourth, they return to the world to tell everyone about what they experienced.

Go. Tell. Over the hills and everywhere.

As I think of my own practices and behaviors around Christmastime, I find that I am really proficient at three parts of the shepherds’ activity. (1) I receive the invitation to worship our Jesus on Christmas Eve. (2) I prepare myself to worship and draw nearer to his nativity through the season of Advent. (3) I worship on Christmas Eve. And then (4) I typically put my Christmas experience to bed just as Mary helped Jesus in laying down his head.

Oops.

Thinking back on my Christmas Day conversations, they seldom include any mention of our Savior’s birth. I confess that they absolutely contain deep sighs that express Oh thank you, Lord, that’s over till next year! 

Oops again.

Paging: Missed Out, Party of Sarah.

The shepherds were told to “Go” by the angels, and in response to their go-ing, they shared their witness of Christ with joy and excitement. I excel at the go-ing and it appears my Christmas growing edge is the telling. 

I receive this invitation to grow in the telling. I need to break out of my habit of laying down my Christmas joy as soon as we finish singing Silent Night. Each year that I celebrate Christmas I experience something anew; a learning, a hymn, a revelation resonates at a new or deeper level. These learnings, hymns, and revelations – they are what the shepherds shared. I doubt it was polished…I doubt it was in complete sentences. What matters is that they shared – with joy and boldness – and these meek shepherds were instrumental in spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ across the lands.

We are invited this week to go (to come), to worship at Jesus’ manger. And we are invited to tell, to share this Good News – the Good News of Jesus Christ. Do not find yourself saying “Oops” like I have. Do not miss out on the opportunity to tell someone – or lots of someones – about what you experienced at the manger this Christmas. Share with me. Share with a loved one. Share with God. And, by all means, share with someone that can benefit from hearing Jesus’ Good News.

Go and tell, my friends. Go and tell.

Prayer: “Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere; go, tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born. Down in a lowly manger the humble Christ was born and God sent us salvation that blessed Christmas morn. Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere; go, tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.”* Amen.

*”Go, Tell It on the Mountain,” The United Methodist Hymnal 251.

Home For The Holidays

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 1:68-79

I’ll Be Home For Christmas debuted in 1943 and has been favored tune for this time of year every year since.

This song is sung from the point of view of a soldier stationed overseas during World War II. The soldier’s message to his family is brief and heartfelt, “I will be home for Christmas…prepare the holiday for me.” He requests snow, mistletoe, and presents under the tree.

Yet the song ends on a melancholy note, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams…”

The dream of home can evoke feelings of comfort and discomfort. At the holidays the dream of home can evoke both of those feelings at the same time. Perhaps we anticipate being in a familiar place surrounded by loved ones. Perhaps we breathe heavily and sigh too deep for words as we remember that home is not a familiar place and that the loved ones we want to see  will not be present. Perhaps we experience both feelings within a matter of seconds.

I find myself in an odd place as I continue walking forward to Christmas. I am excited for the holiday, but I will miss being able to gather with all of my family. I am anticipating the great joy of our Savior’s birth, but my heart is heavy knowing so many in my family, in our church family, in our community, and in our world are hurting. Medical prognoses worsen, new concerns are found, relationships strain, loved ones die, there is not enough money, there is not enough time, there is not enough energy, there is not enough.

There is loneliness. There is emptiness. There is darkness.

And there…in the darkness…the light of our Christ burns brightly. Zechariah sings, “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:78-79).

Thanks be to God.

This coming Monday, December 21 at 7pm in the Sanctuary the Tuskawilla Family will celebrate a Service of Longest Night. The seasons of Advent and Christmas are often marked by expressions of joy, excitement, and happiness, but this time of joy and expectation can often overshadow the pain and hurt many experience during this season. The grief and sorrow we feel is real and during this time of worship, we are invited to  draw near to our grief and sorrow and find that our God is bringing healing in the midst of it.

I invite you to join us for this time of prayer, Scripture reading, reflection, and communion. Perhaps this is a threshold you would like to cross or feel you need to cross so that you can settle home for the holidays. You are welcome among us. You are welcome here. As a beloved community we will worship. As a beloved community we will experience God’s healing.

Prayer: O God, “we look for light, but find darkness, for brightness,  but walk in gloom. We grope like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in twilight. If I say, ‘Let only darkness cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you, the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. Blessed be your name, O God for ever. You reveal deep and mysterious things; you are light and in you is no darkness. Our darkness is passing away and already the true light is shining.”* Amen.

*”Canticle of Light and Darkness,” The United Methodist Hymnal 205.

Hum For The Holidays

Scripture ~ Luke 1:46-55

I have heard this refrain and request from several in the Tuskawilla Family over the past couple of weeks:

Oh Pastor Sarah! I sure hope we get to sing Christmas Carols soon! They are my favorite part of the season!

Rest assured, Tuskawilla Family, we will begin singing Christmas Carols this week as our Sanctuary Choir leads us in our annual cantata entitled Ceremony of Candles. And we will sing a Christmas Carol on the 4th Sunday of Advent. And then we will sing all of the Christmas Carols you can imagine between Christmas Eve, the Sunday between Christmas and New Years, and Epiphany.

(We might even sing a Christmas Carol on Baptism of our Lord Sunday…who knows how festive I will be feeling in 2016!?)

There is a method to the madness (my madness) of waiting to begin singing Christmas Carols.

(1) It is a way for us to build up anticipation, to cultivate appetites, and to look forward to an activity that is long treasured and wholly enjoyed and when we receive it, we savor it.

(2) It is also a way for us to learn and learn from the carols of the Advent season that sing of anticipation, that sing of repentance, that sing of desires for a new world, a new you, and a new me, that is delivered to us as we sing our joy at the birth of the Savior.

Our Scripture passage this week sings Mary’s Song. She sings with gratitude for the ways that God has recognized her lowly state and affirmed “Yes, you are worthy; yes, you are treasured; and yes, you have a valuable place in my future.”

This affirmation for Mary rings true for us, too. In her song may we feel God’s affirmation, “Yes, you are worthy; yes, you are treasured; and yes, you have a valuable place in my future.”

Mary’s chorus of thanks continues as she foreshadows the coming Light that will be the Light of the nations, “He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, just as he promised” (Lk 1:54-55a). Our God is so faithful. Our God’s promises will not fail. 

This Sunday through song and growing candlelight we will praise our God for all that God has done and is doing in our lives, in our church, and in our world as we move closer to the celebration of Jesus’ birth. I would especially like to thank Tim, the Sanctuary Choir, and the Audio/Visual Team for their diligence and hard work in preparing this Advent worship experience for our congregation. 

(Also, Choir, thanks for inviting me to sing with you! That is such a treat!)

Please join us this Sunday at 11am for Ceremony of Candles. Invite a friend. And be ready to sing a carol or two!

Prayer: “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given; so God imparts to human hearts the blessing of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in. O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.”* Amen.

*”O Little Town of Bethlehem,” The United Methodist Hymnal 230.

Hone For The Holidays

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 1:39-45

The Nativity Story is a story of movement. In reading scenes of the story in Matthew’s gospel or Luke’s gospel, we observe that the characters are always on the go. Mary travels to visit Elizabeth, as we read in our text this week. Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem for the census. The shepherds leave their fields to worship at the manger of the Christ child. The Magi from the East trek westward towards the star that hangs over where the child lays. The Holy Family seeks refuge in Egypt until the sign is given that it is safe for them to return to their homeland.

Somewhere to be. Something to do.

Sound familiar?

For many of us during the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years we are on the go. We travel to eat with family, to visit friends, to shop, to attend parties, to catch concerts, to see Christmas lights. We go and we do because we do not want to miss out and we do not want to disappoint.

I shared Thanksgiving Day with almost 40 family and extended family members across two meals. It was fantastic to see them and to catch up, to break bread and to hope no one would break buttons off of their pants! My heart was full and my belly satisfied by the fellowship and food that was shared. I treasure that time with my family.

And I also treasure the time Andrew and I spent driving to these gatherings. I confess that most of our travel time was in silence; there had been plenty of sound in other moments of the day! In silence we “pondered in our hearts” all that had happened with our families and held the moments dear (Lk 2:19, 51). In silence we shared gratitude for the family that we – the two of us – are together. In the silence, though we were moving, at times, swiftly down the interstate, we were able to slow down. We were able to reflect, to be present, and to process. Intermittently we would break the silence to share a thought or crack a joke. And then we would return to the silence – to think, to be still, and to be grateful.

I encourage you in this season of Advent and activity – in this season of personal and Scriptural movement – where there does not seem to be enough time and the world will not slow down to find and/or create moments of silence. Slow down. Share gratitude and quiet prayer. Listen for expected and unexpected words from God. Ponder these moments in your heart. Share what you observe and learn with a loved one. Crack a joke with a friend. Then return to the silence once more.

I am grateful I did. I am sure you will be, too.

Prayer: “Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand; ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in his hand, Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand. King of kings, yet born of Mary, as of old on earth he stood, Lord or lords, in human vesture, in the body and the blood; he will give to all the faithful his own self for heavenly food.”* Amen.

*”Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” The United Methodist Hymnal 626.