FAMILY ~ Intergenerational Culture

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

This Sunday the Tuskawilla UMC Family is joined in worship leadership by Rev. Melissa Cooper, program coordinator for the Life Enrichment Center and director of LECFamily. She will share with us a message that explores the basic understanding and benefit of creating, establishing, and growing an intergenerational culture in the church.

I am also a great big fan of Melissa…and this is the first time we will both be at Tuskawilla together. Be prepared for learning and merriment!

Today – April 25 – is the one year anniversary of the devastating earthquakes that ravaged Nepal. As I reflect once again on our trip, my memories return to the beautiful people of the country – their generosity, their hospitality, and their inclusivity. I was welcome. I was family. And from that experience, I continue to feel like family with the Nepali people.

Halfway through our trip Andrew and I travelled to Pohkara, which is in Western Central Nepal. It is home to the Annapurna Range of the Himalayan Mountains. On one of our days in Pohkara we visited an aboveground to underground waterfall that is fed by melting Himalayan snow.

Pohkara 2

Standing above the fall.

Pohkara 1

In the cave underground, a half mile from the aboveground site.

We were able to visit the underground cave because it was not yet monsoon season; during monsoon this cave is completely flooded.

To see base of the waterfall meant walking down ten flights of stairs; we were the equivalent of ten stories beneath the earth. The steps were old and rusted from years of being submerged in water for up to eight months at a time. The steps were not well lit and they were very steep.

Andrew and I started our journey down the steps and I was caught by the noise of laughter. I turned thinking I would see a group of children and what I saw was a group of Nepali grandmothers, in full length saris, standing at the top of the stairs watching one of their group begin to make her way down the stairs. Her friends’ laughter was not mocking or mean-spirited; they laughed out of astonishment and in the spirit of “tell me how it was when you get back up here!”

As long as she was in the faint light of the surface she kept walking down the steps, but as soon as the last vestiges of light disappeared in darkness, she stopped. I could see on her face the dilemma; she wanted to continue her descent, but she needed help.

Andrew and I looked at one another and silently decided what we would do. In many cultures it is not appropriate for a man to touch a woman that is not a member of his family; so, Andrew positioned himself in front of us in case we were to slip, he would catch us from slipping too far. I climbed back up the stairs, and without words, offered my arm and open hand to this grandmother. Separated by spoken language, but not the language of the heart, she took my hand and I braced her arm, and we continued our journey down the stairs.

When we reached the bottom, she began to laugh again, this time at the look of astonishment on her husband’s face! She had been the only wife to make the journey. She was so proud of herself; she shook with joy. Our eyes met one final time before I set off with Andrew to explore the cave. She was grateful. I was grateful. In that moment I walked with her as I have with my own grandmothers, in my family and in my congregations. Into darkness. Towards our goal. Sharing a beautiful, common, and shining light between us.

From a very young age I was taught to love God and to love others. I was taught to have my eyes open and ears attuned to opportunities where I could be a helper and a friend. These are lessons that were revisited for me throughout my childhood and adolescence; they are lessons that I take great joy in visiting with others. These are lessons that I teach with my words as well as my actions, and I am so grateful for the moments, like this time in Nepal, when my actions speak louder and longer than words.

God instructs us to teach the commandment to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength to our family for generations. We are to revisit this lesson. Through active presence we are to have our eyes open and ears attuned to where we see this lesson incarnated and where we see this lesson needs incarnating.

Today I pray for the people of Nepal. I give thanks for all those that are incarnating our command to love God with all that they are – that we are – as this beautiful country and beautiful people continue rebuilding. I am grateful for the extended hands and outstretched arms. I am grateful for the people who walk alongside, especially if it is into darkness as the first of many steps, in reaching the Nepalis’ goal of rebuilding a people and a heritage. I am grateful for the sharing of the beautiful, common, and shining light between them.

Prayer: “O God, you divided the waters of chaos at creation. In Christ you stilled storms, raised the dead, and vanquished demonic powers. Tame the earthquake, wind, and fire, and all the forces that defy control or shock us by their fury. Keep us from calling disaster your justice. Help us, in good times and in distress, to trust your mercy and yield to your power, this day and for ever. Amen.

*”In Time of Natural Disaster,” The United Methodist Book of Worship 509.

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FAMILY ~ Ministry of All Believers

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ephesians 4:1-16.

My friend Dan Dixon has the keenest ability to send me cards that 100% describe how I am feeling at the present moment. My most recent installment looks like…

 

IMG_0107

This.

I think it should be titled, “Sarah Miller: This Moment In Time.”

The inside of the card reads, “Ever have one of those days?” And underneath those words Dan kindly wrote, “Yes, we do! Yes, we all have!”

How wonderful it is to be reminded that I am not alone in this life and that I have a great friend that will send me a picture of a soaked cat to lift my spirits.

In the card Dan thanked me for all the ways we stay connected as colleagues as well as friends. We share resources, we ask advice, we laugh, we vent, we sit in silence, we complain about all the things we should have been taught at Candler, and through talk, text, and/or email, we offer “towels” to one another on the days we are utterly soaked.

Dan has the incredible gift of speaking truth in love – “Sarah, you are doing a little too much right now.” “Sarah, listen to your committee members on this.” “Sarah, let that go.” “Sarah, forgive yourself.”

In her book Altar in the World Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “The hardest spiritual work in the world is to love the neighbor as the self – to encounter another human being not as someone you can use, change, fix, help, save, enroll, convince or control, but simply as someone who can spring you from the prison of yourself, if you will allow it.”*

Through the relationship we share, Dan and I are able to be brought out of ourselves – and most importantly, brought out of the stories that we tell ourselves that are not a true reflection of our actual selves – so we can love and nurture, so we can struggle with growth and grapple with fear, and so we can try on the rawness of vulnerability and realize that we can live with that rawness for just a few moments longer than we did the last time.

Barbara Brown Taylor observes that we are all born with “instinctive care” – that innate knowledge to do whatever we need to do to care for ourselves. To love the neighbor as the self requires that we apply that same sort of instinctive care to someone else, that we do whatever is needed to care for another. Barbara Brown Taylor says, “to become that person, even for a moment, is to understand what it means to die to your self. This can be as frightening as it is liberating. It may be the only real spiritual discipline there is.”*

When we apply instinctive care to one another in community we experience unity. We share our joys and sorrows in community. We do not walk alone; we walk with others. We share one another’s burdens and we work together to lighten those loads. We offer affirmation, we ask questions, we seek and share forgiveness. This is what it means to be in relationship with one another. This is at the core of our ministry to one another as believers – caring for one another, which leads us to caring for all, as Christ cares for us.

Is there someone in your life presently that relates to or resembles my above “moment in time?” How might you reach out to them, and in so doing, instinctively care for them as you would for yourself? Consider how your actions will draw the two of you closer together. And imagine what our world would be like if we all genuinely and diligently answered our calls to to this sort of care.

Prayer: “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love; the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.”** Amen.

*Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, 93.

**”Blest Be the Tie That Binds,” The United Methodist Hymnal 557.

 

FAMILY ~ All Means All

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Galatians 3:23-29.

She arrived on a wind from the East. Michael thought she was a witch. Jane knew better; witches fly on brooms, not with umbrellas.

Why is she here? Because the Banks’ children excel at nanny resignations. Their most recent conquest? Nanny resignation by following a kite.

The kite in Mary Poppins becomes a very powerful symbol. To Mr. Banks, father to Jane and Michael, the kite is a symbol of childishness and a need to grow up. To Michael, the kite is a symbol of playfulness and freedom, which are two qualities that are hard to come by in the Banks’ home. Within the walls of Number 17 Cherry Tree Lane children are not meant to be children, but little adults.

One day Mary Poppins announces the children will join their father on an outing to the bank where he works. The children nearly collapse of amazement because their father never takes them anywhere. When the children return to reality, sensitivity to their impending boredom arrives. Mary Poppins, in her wisdom, sweetens the deal, “Children, you could take a tuppence to feed the birds.”

Bird feeding is not on Mr. Banks’ agenda. Bird feeding is childish and wasteful spending of money. Guided by his father, and encouraged by his father’s coworkers, Michael hears, “Come, young man, grow up and be responsible. Invest your tuppence in the bank.” Nearly convinced to invest, Mr. Dawes, Sr. – the bank owner – abruptly takes the money from Michael’s hand, which angers Michael greatly. Michael’s determination to retrieve his money turns the bank into a zoo.

Mr. Banks’ job is now in jeopardy because of the tuppence fiasco. Heart and mind heavy with burden, Mr. Banks receives care from an unexpected place. Michael gives the fiasco-causing tuppence to his father as a sign of faith that it will help fix the situation at the bank, as a sign of belief in his father. Michael gives to his father – simply, beautifully – in a child-like way to help heal an adult-sized problem. This gift brings into focus the true adult-sized problem in Mr. Banks’ life – his desire to forcibly mature his children rather than support them and grow with them through relationship.

Mr. Banks puts down the tuppence and goes in search of Michael’s kite; he mends it so the family can fly it. The Banks’ growing and maturing in mutually beneficial ways – growing and maturing together – was of most importance. And they returned to this essential work by flying a kite.

//

When I read this passage from Paul, particularly the opening verses, I am struck by the image of growing in faith together. There are definitely lessons that are passed down from older generations to newer generations. There are definitely lessons that are passed up from newer generations to older generations. And there are definitely lessons that we all learn together.

In Christ we are all children of God. In faith we grow together…not so much into “adults” of God…but more so into “maturing” children of God. This maturing continues throughout our lives. It is not a forced maturation like what Mr. Banks wanted originally for his children. If our maturation in faith was forced, then we might rush through or all together disregard a lesson or time in our lives where we and our faith need time to explore and develop.

I worry when I encounter circumstances that pit mature faith against a child-like faith or picture a mature faith as superior to child-like faith. I believe we need both qualities present in our faith. As we mature in our relationship with Christ, as we mature in years, as we mature in our abilities to reason and research, we mature in our ability to argue, to defend, to question, and to prove. At times this ability to reason and research is helpful…and at other times all it does is make the waters more muddy. It is in these moments that our child-like faith serves us well to simply believe, rest, be at peace.

Simply be.

In Christ we are all children of God together. While each of us are at different places in our relationship with Christ, collectively we are all in relationship with Christ together. This is one of God’s mysteries – we are all in different places, but somehow all in the same place through community. This is a gift to us – to be with Christ as we are with one another – to learn, to play, to be challenged, to be supported, to mature in faith by growing in responsibility, and to mature in faith by flying a great number of kites.

Friends, let’s commit to doing this work – as God’s children – all of us.

Together.

Prayer: “One bread, one body, one Lord of all, one cup of blessing which we bless. And we, though many throughout the earth, we are one body in this one Lord. Gentile or Jew, servant or free, woman or man, no more. Many the gifts, many the works, one in the Lord of all. Grain for the fields, scattered and grown, gathered to one, for all. One bread, one body, one Lord of all, one cup of blessing which we bless. And we, though many throughout the earth, we are one body in this one Lord.”* Amen.

*”One Bread, One Body,” The United Methodist Hymnal 620.

FAMILY ~ First Things First

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Joshua 24:14-28

On December 23, 2006 Rev. Dr. Robert Gibbs said these words to Andrew and me, “The marriage of Andrew and Sarah unites their families and creates a new one. They ask for your blessing.”* Surrounded by our families of origin, our church family, and our family of peers, we received their blessing.

It was and remains an incredible way that we started our marriage and family together. That day we made a covenant with God and with one another through the reading of Scripture, the joining of hands, the exchanging of vows, and the giving and receiving of rings. There were over 400 witnesses to our union…over 400 family and friends that covenanted to support us, nurture us, and hold us accountable as we continued our lives together.

Andrew and I have known since the moment we started dating that our individual faiths and our faith as a couple would be primary in our relationship. We met at church. We started dating after a mission trip. And I confess that I snuck in my first kiss with him at the corner of the chancel in our home church.

Our individual faiths and faith as a couple were essential in discerning our calls to full-time Christian service. Our families raised us in the church and as young adults we spent as much time as we could at church. We majored in religion as undergraduates. We completed our Master of Divinity degrees. We launched our vocations as United Methodist Clergy. We have planned Bible studies, prepared sermons, written devotions, prayed prayers, and done all the forms…we think…and because I said that I am sure someone is now scheming up a new one!

Since I spend most of my days completing tasks that contribute to my life of professional faith I sometimes neglect the development of my own relationship with God. While I am called to prepare and study and write as that is my job and charge from the Florida United Methodist Bishop, the time allotted towards professional faith development does not always doubly count towards my personal faith development. Then add to this equation that all this preparing and planning and praying is being done by two pastors in the same house every single week!

We do professional faith development quite well…but sometimes professional faith development keeps the first thing from being first.

What is the first thing? Our growth in faith with God as individuals and as a family.

Joshua charges the Israelites with this question, “Choose this day whom you will serve.” To whom will you be devoted? With whom will you grow in relationship? Whom will you seek? As individuals Andrew and I answered, “God, the Holy One of Israel.” As a couple we answer, “God, the Holy One of Israel.” And when we are not doing that, when we are not making the investment in our personal faith development, oh it is so evident. And it is not pretty.

Our faith feeds and informs who we are; when we cut ourselves off from that source, we are not who God created us to be, alone or together.

Joshua confronts the people about worshipping idols and instructs them that in choosing to serve and seek the Lord they must bury those idols. I would not call myself an idolator or idol worshipper, but when I allow something else to take the place of my growth and faith in relationship with God, I stand guilty of my sin. I stand in need of repentance. I stand as someone looking for a hand to hold as I move forward and return to the way of keeping the first thing first, for myself and for my marriage.

I am so thankful for the many hands Andrew and I have to hold – from our families, our church families then and now, and from our family of peers that continues to grow. All of these witnesses encourage and hold us accountable in keeping the first thing first. All of these witnesses are blessings on our journey. We are thankful to serve our God alongside you.

Prayer: “I know not how this saving faith to me he did impart, nor how believing in his word wrought peace within my heart. I know not how the Spirit moves, convincing us of sin, revealing Jesus through the word, creating faith in him. But I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto him against that day.”** Amen.

*”A Service of Christian Marriage,” The United Methodist Hymnal 865.

**”I Know Whom I have Believed,” The United Methodist Hymnal 714.

 

A Modern Resurrection Appearance

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Romans 12:1-8

When I was younger and having a bad day my mother would often offer me this advice…opportunity…directive…

“You need an attitude adjustment.”

Thanks Mom.

Something inside me needed to change – the way I approached situations, the way I reacted to situations, the way I processed situations. This change could not come from outside of me; it had to be my choice and taken under my initiative.

I find now that I am a bit older that some days I continue to need an attitude adjustment. Somedays I also need a mind adjustment. And I have learned that these two are related.

When I have endure a series of bad events – similar to the woes of Alexander and his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day – not only does my attitude fall into a slump but my mind does as well. I sour in my interactions and I sour in my outlooks. Not only do I approach, react to, and process situations poorly, but I also go looking for situations and circumstances that will keep me in and feed my poor attitude rather than move me out of it.

It is only when I go through a change in my mind that I truly experience a change in my attitude and outlook. This mind change is not so I seek and see all the “silver linings” so that I can obscure or ignore my difficult or less than desirable circumstances. This mind change enables me to grow in self-awareness, identify blessing in the midst of hardship, and chart a path forward that includes my mother’s peaceable prescription for a change in attitude.

Paul wrote in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” More often than not I believe our world encourages to see, act, approach, react, and process situations from sour places. We fixate on negatives, complaints, and problems…and when there are not enough negatives, complaints, and problems, some of us choose to create more.

We – humanity – have become too familiar and too comfortable with conformity. We – humanity – as a whole need attitude and mind adjustments.

Paul prescribes transformation and this sort of transformation will only come with God’s help. God’s transformation will bring God’s will into focus, set our feet firmly on God’s path, set our eyes squarely on God’s face, and set our hearts ablaze with passion for God’s people. Through God’s transformation I believe we will be counted among what is good, acceptable, and perfect.

These past few months have been a season where I have constantly asked myself, “Why is this happening to me?” I have felt like the world is out to get me. I have let my frustrations and doubts get the better of me. I have been in the need of serious attitude and mind adjustments. A practice that I find beneficial in launching my attitude and mind adjustments is taking the time to answer this question,

“What brings me joy?”

On days I am able I ask others, “What brings you joy?”

This question breaks my conformity cycle. This question interrupts what was and has the potential to hold and crescendo a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. This question gracefully adjusts me. Some days it is a difficult question to answer…but it is so worth answering.

What brings you joy? Think about it. Answer it. Ask a friend. Listen. Learn. Invite God to adjust not only your attitude, but also your mind.

Prayer: “I’d stay in the garden with him though the night around me be falling, but he bids me go; thru the voice of woe his voice to me is calling. And he walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own; and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”* Amen.

“In the Garden,” The United Methodist Hymnal 314.