God Is Wild About You!

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 139

This week at Tuskawilla the children of our church and our community experienced God’s goodness and love at our Pandamania Vacation Bible School. I am immeasurably grateful for the leadership of Samantha Aupperlee, Shrell Chamberlain, Kelly Mawhinney, Vanessa Schuchart, Tim Rounsaville, and all the youth and adult volunteers that have made this week possible. Thank you for serving God’s children and sharing God’s witness this week!

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to attend a Compline Service at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle. Compline derives from the Latin word completorium, which refers to the completion of the working day. Compline services are entirely sung, save a few verbal instructions and the stating of the Scripture passages for the day.

At St. Mark’s the choir sang from a back corner of the cathedral rather than standing in the front of the gathered congregation. The congregation faced the altar and a brilliant rose window. Our group sat in the pews as the congregation gathered in silence, centering on God’s presence and welcome in that space.

But then a funny thing happened…

I saw a huge group of people stream into the cathedral carrying pillows and blankets. At first I thought a youth group had just returned from a trip and the Compline service was their final moment before heading home. I was wrong. In curiosity I watched as these fellow worshippers proceeded to spread out their blankets, place their pillows, and lay around the feet of the altar. They stared up at the ceiling. They peered out into the darkening sky. Some laid alone. Some laid alongside a loved one. They laid in God’s presence as God’s Scripture and prayers sang over them. They laid in comfort. They laid in peace. They laid at home.

It was beautiful.

In the gathering darkness we worshipped the Lord. In the gathering darkness we sang God’s praise. In the gathering darkness we laid ourselves on God’s altar…we became, we become, we are becoming holy and living sacrifices.

Even in the gathering darkness, as the Psalmist sings, God sees; God knows; and God comes alongside.

My heart broke once again as I learned about the terror attack in Istanbul. I added my lament with others’, “How long, O Lord, how long!?” Lord Almighty, cure our warring madness. Break the power that sin has over us. Take away our appetite for evil. Heal our brokenness. Instill within us that you desire light not darkness. Remind us that when we are in darkness – darkness that is and darkness that we create – you are with us. You see us. You redeem us. You perfect us. You make us new. You make us whole.

I take great comfort in knowing that children and youth surrounded God’s altar at Tuskawilla this week just as people surrounded the altar at St. Mark’s. Our children and youth offered their songs, laughter, curiosity, wonder, and joy to our God. I am filled with hope in knowing this is not an occasional but a regular occurrence; thanks be to God. May their gifts, may our gifts, rise up like sweet incense. May these our children know that God’s Sanctuary as their home. And may our church always understand the importance of creating a place and offering a space for all people to draw near to God as God draws near to us.

Be sure to join us in worship this Sunday for our Pandamania Worship Celebration. Our children and their leaders will guide the worship service. I cannot wait to dance and sing around God’s altar. See you there!

Prayer: “Jesus loves me—this I know for the Bible tells me so; little ones to him belong—they are weak, but he is strong.Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so!”* Amen.

*”Jesus Loves Me,” The United Methodist Hymnal 191.

Advertisements

Community Charge

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Timothy 6:6-19

One of my greatest lessons – and continuous lesson! – from God is the lesson of contentment. Since moving into our first apartment in January 2007 God has sown and is persistent in sowing this question of discernment:

Do you cherish it enough to move it?

Now that question may cause some to laugh, but for folks in professions and vocations that relocate with great frequency, this question that prompts a reflective pause is so valuable. I am able to appreciate something in a shop window, on a hanger, or in a display and with great joy leave it right where it is because the thought of finding a box to move it in causes my guts a great deal of distress. And then, of course, there are other items for which I will absolutely secure a safe mode of transportation for relocation.

And for the record not all of them are shoes.

Promise…

Through the practice of contentment – and yes it is a practice – God shifts my heart away from the desires of this world and towards the desires of Kingdom.

  • In the Kingdom it is not about what I have, it is about what we share.
  • In the Kingdom it is not about what I want, it is about what God desires.
  • In the Kingdom it is not about my will be done, it is about God’s will be done.

I truly believe a huge part of God’s will, a huge part of God’s justice is to live in the world of enough rather than in the world of excess. When I live within enough

  • I am able to live within rather than beyond my stewardship.
  • I am able to share God’s riches with all people rather than hoard them to myself.
  • I am able to keep my commitments, which helps me keep to my word, which helps me keep my integrity.
  • I am free.

In this world of enough I do not feel without or less than or lacking; I feel whole and focused. I feel less distracted by stuff and more centered on faith. I feel empowered to keep the first things first – faith in God and faith with family.

I am so grateful to begin my third year of ministry with the Tuskawilla Family in just a few days. Even though I am not packing as some of my friends and fellow pastors are currently, I continue to be mindful of our culture’s message to collect and consume while Jesus impresses the message of contentment and healthy stewardship. I want less so God’s family can have more. And when God’s family has more, we all are truly blessed.

Please join me in welcoming and thanking Vanessa Schuchart and Rev. Kate Ling for their leadership in worship this Sunday. Both of these ladies are such gifts to me. Thank you, Vanessa and Pastor Kate, for serving this week!

Prayer: “Come, thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace; streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise. Teach me some melodious sonnet,  sung by flaming tongues above. Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, mount of thy redeeming love.”* Amen.

*”Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” The United Methodist Hymnal 400.

Community Care

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Timothy 5:1-2, 8

At the Friday Afternoon Food Bank our wise and wonderful chairman often brings the attention of the Food Bank volunteers to our words. John guides us in remembering that those we serve are experiencing hardship of some kind and that through our service, through our words, we are able to share with them the love of Christ.

We are encouraged to speak to every guest. We are encouraged to look them in the eye. We are encouraged to take that extra moment to make a special connection. I truly believe the guests of the Friday Afternoon Food Bank look forward to this offering not just because of the nutritious food that they receive, but also because the fellowship they experience is equally warm, hearty, and fulfilling.

Before I head out to chase carts in the parking lot – and sometimes violate established parking lot driving patterns! – our chairman invites me to pray with the volunteers. Together we ask God for patience, diligence, and safety as we serve. Together we ask God to reveal Godself to us in new ways, and for us to especially see God’s presence in the faces of those we serve. I know taking on that perspective changes the way that serve, speak, and steer shopping carts.

Last Friday it was quite warm – a mere foreshadowing of what is to come this summer – and as guests exited with their carts full of food I shared an encouraging word. In return they shared encouraging words: 

Thank you for hosting this. My family counts on this food. I appreciate everything your church does. 

I believe my words lifted their spirits. And I know that their words lifted my spirits. This is how the cycle of care begins and continues. And it is a beautiful thing. 

If you have not had the opportunity to experience the work of our Friday Afternoon Food Bank, to meet our guests, and to share God’s hope in this way, you are welcome to join us on the second and fourth Fridays of each month. Volunteers gather in the Fellowship Hall at noon. With the summer months upon us and our dedicated volunteers also wanting to enjoy a bit of Sabbath and vacation, extra volunteers are needed. Our upcoming serving dates are: Friday, June 24 | Friday, July 8 | Friday, July 22.

Reflection: With whom can you share an encouraging word this week? In whom can you seek God’s likeness? In what ways will your acts of care impact the recipient? In what ways will your acts of care impact you? 

Request: Please be in prayer this week for the Annual Conference Gathering of Florida United Methodists. Ask God to help our clergy and lay members to do all things in great care so that together we will more wholly act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

Prayer: “He leadeth me: O blessed thought! O words with heavenly comfort fraught! Whate’er I do, wheree’er I be, still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me. He leadeth me, he leadeth me, by his own hands he leadeth me; his faithful follower I would be, for by his hand he leadeth me!”* Amen. 

*”He Leadeth Me: O Blessed Thought,” The United Methodist Hymnal 128.

 

Community Dedication

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Timothy 4:7b-16

One of the methods I use during meditation and study of Scripture is lectio divina. Lectio divina is a Latin term meaning “divine reading” and through this process of reading, listening, and meditating those that practice lectio divina experience Scripture as the living Word of God through their interaction with it.

To practice lectio divina follow these steps:

  1. Select a passage of Scripture (I recommend no more than 10 verses so the passage is easy to comprehend and follow from beginning to end) and read it aloud.
  2. Pause in silence for 1 to 3 minutes. Perhaps close your eyes.
  3. Read the Scripture passage aloud a second time and notice if there is a word or phrase that stands out to you or lingers with you after you finish reading the passage.
  4. In your journal – either paper or electronic – write down the word or phrase that stood out or lingered on; meditate on that word or phrase. Consider the circumstances in your life that helped bring that particular word or phrase to the forefront for you. Take a few moments to capture your thoughts in your journal.
  5. Share a prayer with God.

As I practiced lectio divina with our text for this Sunday, the word that lingered with me is godliness. “Train yourself in godliness,” Paul writes to Timothy, but what does godliness mean?

For me training for godliness means becoming more of a servant. While I understand God as my Lord and Savior, I also understand that God is my greatest example of servanthood, especially in the person of Jesus. Philippians 2:5-8 reads, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a [servant], being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”

I have learned that to grow as a servant – and grow in godliness – means seeking opportunities to serve and rest, to study and fellowship, to be surrounded by a team and to be alone, to be loud and to be silent. Recently I was reminded of the lesson that serving is not about the task that is accomplished. Serving is about the person that is served. If I forget that, if I neglect the person I serve, then all I have done is accomplish some task; I have not served.

My second reflection on godliness as growth in servanthood pertains to the eternal nature of godliness. I Timothy 4:7b-8 assures that training in godliness has implications and impact on both sides of eternity. On this side of eternity we are called to be the sheep that fed Jesus when he was hungry, gave him drink, clothed, visited, and welcomed him (see Matthew 25). On the other side of eternity we take up our cross with the great cloud of witnesses that cheers, supports, and offers lessons through the witness of our lives to God’s people on earth (see Hebrews 12). The goal, then, of this life is not to reach the new life of eternity and kick my stiletto-wearing feet up. The goal of this life is to serve my way to new life and to continue my service there – perhaps in the same way and perhaps in entirely different ways.

I just really hope there are still stilettos.

I encourage you to try on the practice of lectio divina with our Scripture passage this week. Read the living Word of God. Listen for the word or phrase that lingers. Meditate on it. Respond to it. Discover something new about God. Discover something new about yourself.

Prayer:”Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. Now I will not forget your love for me and yet my heart forever is wandering. Jesus, be my guide and hold me to your side, and I will love you to the end. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”* Amen.

*”Thy Word Is a Lamp,” The United Methodist Hymnal 601.

 

Community Leadership

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Timothy 3:1-7, 14-16

On our third full day in Israel our group was scheduled to travel north. Our guide, Mike, mentioned there was a great possibility for the presence of accumulations of frozen water where we were headed…so naturally I layered up with my clothing.

And wore sandals. You can take the girl out of Florida…

I knew as long as I started out warm that I would stay warm throughout the day; therefore, coffee was next on my list. At our particular hotel – and at most hotels throughout Israel – the coffee cups are tiny and the queue anticipating coffee deep and wide. So instead of filling one cup, I decided to fill three. Yes. Three. All for me.

Coffee

Andrew and our friend, Winnie, think all my coffees very amusing. And Bishop Carter was so kind to lend a hand in lifting my third cup.

“Are all of those for you, Sarah?” “Yes….”

“Well, you will have quite the day ahead of you.”

Indeed I did…because this was the day I decided to headstand on a cliff of Mount Arbel overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

Headstand

The Bishop may have been slightly more impressed by this headstand than my three cups of coffee…but only slightly.

I am so thankful to have had this opportunity to travel to Israel with Bishop Carter, Andrew, and 33 others from the Florida Conference. It was an incredible journey of study, worship, friendship and discovery in the homeland of our faith. There was much to learn about culture, faith, tradition, and hope during our trip – not only of the places we visited but also of our fellow travelers. We travelled as a group of people with very specific roles and very specific labels – pastors, pastors’ spouses, conference staff, and bishop – but at our heart, we are all people. We are all God’s children. As we continued on our trip it was not that we forgot the roles that we serve, but we remembered and brought forward our shared humanness and kinship as sisters and brothers in Christ.

I think part of our human nature is to put people up on pedestals; I know that I have done and continue to do it! We put people up on pedestals that we revere and trust, people that we aspire ourselves to be. While this is kind and has good intentions, it is not sustainable for the person on the pedestal or for the person that put the other there. We are human. We are fallible. We stumble. We fail. We let one another down. These lapses chip into the pedestal until it crumbles…and if we so attach our faith and hope to that person being on a pedestal, our faith and hope are in jeopardy of crumbling, too.

In our Scripture for this week we read about the leadership of the Early Church – leadership that was not plucked from pedestals but raised up out of the faithful. Leaders came from the people; they knew well the people’s joys and struggles because the leaders shared in those same joys and struggles. Leaders were named as such because they covenanted to be their sisters’ and brothers’ keeper. They did not want to be lord or king because their Lord and King was Jesus.

Leaders were not asked to be perfect; they were not asked to perform on pedestals. Rather, leaders were asked to model and lead in faithfulness. Leaders were asked to learn from their humanness as well as from their kin and then interpret those lessons for the health, sustainability, and growing maturity of the Body of Christ.

When I met with Bishop Carter prior to my ordination that was the lesson he shared with me, as my leader and as my brother in Christ. He encouraged me to be myself and to trust God in using my humanness, my relationship with others, my fallibility, and my faithfulness to not lead me to a life on a pedestal but to lead me in life with others, to lead me in life with Christ.

Bishop Carter picking up my third coffee cup, laughing with me, cautiously eyeing my headstand, as well as many other acts of leading and caring while in Israel and throughout my ministry remind me of this lesson. I am grateful for his leadership and friendship. I am grateful to lead and be in relationship with all those I serve in and beyond the Tuskawilla Family. Together I know that we are bringing joy to God as the God’s Kingdom strengthens in our community.

Prayer: “The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord; she is his new creation by water and the Word. From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride; with his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died. Elect from every nation, yet one o’er all the earth; her charter of salvation, one Lord, one faith, one birth; one holy name she blesses, partakes one holy food, and to one hope she presses, with every grace endued.”* Amen.

*”The Church’s One Foundation,” The United Methodist Hymnal 545.