God Never Said That: It Doesn’t Matter What You Do

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 8:4 and Revelation 3:14-22.

This week while serving as the Middle School Worship Leader at the Warren Willis United Methodist Camp in Fruitland Park I have had the privilege of reconnecting with one of my former youth that is now an amazing young adult leader. Her name is Greer.

I met Greer as a ninth grader in my small group at St. Luke’s UMC Orlando. She was bold and opinionated. And her favorite word was annoying! I walked with Greer through highs and lows. We shared many conversations about work ethic, goals, fears, dreams, and sun screen. We talked about the presence of God. We talked about the absence of God. We asked tough questions. We sought tough answers. In many ways we grew up together.

Some of my most formative relationships growing up were with my youth counselors. As I think back to those conversations, I am amazed to realize that those conversations I participated in fifteen years ago are the same conversations I shared with Greer five years ago are the same conversations I am overhearing Greer share with campers this week.

This behavior – this kind of investment and care for our sisters and brothers in Christ that are coming after us – it is learned. Someone has to teach us. Someone has to share with us. Then we share and teach this behavior to others. And God’s gift of discipleship lives on.

As I see all of the campers, counselors, camp staff, and adult volunteers this week I am filled again with hope for the church. I am filled with assurance that what I do – how I serve, how I lead, how I study, how I engage in relationships and behaviors – matters. What I do is an example for others, for good or for ill, for sickness or for health. And when I look into the eyes of these middle school campers – these 11 to 13 year olds – I want them to know what a life lived in fun and faith looks like. I want them to know that a life of fun and faith exists and that it is available to them! I want them to know that they can choose a life of faith and be fulfilled.

But it is one thing to say it. And it is another thing to see it.

My youth counselors lived what they said. I strive to live what I say. And I am humbled to see the fruit of those seeds in my youth…like what I see in Greer. What she does for the Kingdom matters…and the fact that God made a way for me to be a part and a continuing part of Greer’s story is amazing.

I give thanks for those that taught me the importance of investing in people – that taught me the importance of discipleship. I will continue to live in response to those gifts. I will invest in others.

They matter. You matter.

And what we do matters.

Prayer: “Lord whose love through humble service bore the weight of human need, who upon the cross, forsaken, offered mercy’s perfect deed: we your servants, bring the worship not of voice alone, but heart. Consecrating to your purpose every gift that you impart. Called by worship to your service, forth in your dear name we go to the child, the youth, the aged, love in living deeds to show; hope and health, good will and comfort, counsel, aid, and peace we give, that your servants, Lord, in freedom may your mercy know, and live.”* Amen.

*”Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service,” The United Methodist Hymnal 581.

 

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God Never Said That: God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 38:3-8 and I Corinthians 10:1-13.

This morning I received this text message from my dear friend, Dan:

Sarah! We were just called out by our seminary professor!

It may surprise some of you, but this is not new for Dan and me…we were known to meddle quite a bit during our Candler Days. Since it has been a while since we have been called out by a seminary professor, I was immediately curious. What was happening?

Dan is attending a continuing education event at Epworth by the Sea in St. Simon’s, Georgia and our pastoral care professor, Dr. Karen Scheib, was the plenary speaker this morning. Her plenary subject was the importance of covenant groups – groups that connect electronically, over the phone, and/or in person to share the highs, lows, and happenings of life. Dan and I are in such a covenant group. We make a point to connect several times throughout the week via text message, call one another at least once a month, and see one another a minimum of once a year.

During our interactions, whether texting, talking, or in person, we laugh; we cry; we share ministry resources; we challenge one another; we build up one another.

I cannot imagine my life without Dan or Brenda. My life is better because they are in it.

When I experience moments where I feel like that last piece of straw is about to break the camel’s back – meaning my back! – I am so grateful for friends like Dan. God did not say this life would be easy; God did say that we would not live this life alone. Our loved ones, family, and friends are such gifts to us throughout our lives as they lend their perspective, advice, hands, feet, presence, and faith to our benefit and aid.

Are you a member of a covenant group? I would venture to say you probably are, even if you do not call your group a covenant group. When you are in need, afraid, worried, or sick – who do you call? When you have had an incredibly joyful experience – who do you call? When you need to check in about what is going on in your life – the highs, the lows, and the happenings – who do you call? The persons that come to mind as you answer these questions constitute your covenant group.

In addition to your check-ins, consider how you might grow in relationship with God alongside your covenant group members. Perhaps you

  • Begin or end or begin and end your conversations with prayer.
  • Participate in a Bible Study together.
  • Serve on a day-long or extended service project together.
  • Eat together.
  • Fellowship together.

I have found that being intentional – that making my covenant group a priority in my life – is central to my faith development. My covenant group is central to reminding me that even when I do not think I can handle one more thing that God provides a way forward. Thanks be to God that the members of my covenant group are part of that way forward.

Prayer: “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul. It is well (it is well) with my soul (with my soul), it is well, it is well with my soul.* Amen.

*”It Is Well With My Soul,” The United Methodist Church 377.

 

God Never Said That: God Wants You To Be Happy

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I John 2:15-17 and Psalm 86:4-5.

This Sunday the Tuskawilla Community begins a new sermon series entitled “God Never Said That.” Throughout this series we will examine four pieces of cultural wisdom that, over time, have been attributed to God, and then explore what God actually says to us in Scripture. The cultural wisdom sayings we will explore include:

  • God wants you to be happy.
  • God will never give you more than you can handle.
  • It does not matter what you do.
  • It  does not matter what you believe.

Many folks believe they have “a corner on the market” of what God says. But how do we really know? This may sound altogether too simple…but look it up! Grab your Bible and dive in. I usually follow this procedure:

  • Read the saying or story that caught your attention two to three times for familiarity and comprehension.
  • Next, read the material immediately surrounding that particular text.
  • Then, get a sense of how that particular Scripture passage fits in the narrative arc of that particular biblical book by skimming the remainder of that biblical book.
  • Finally, ponder how God speaks to God’s people through that particular Scripture – not just then – but also now and for all time.

Other helpful tools for your Scripture exploration may include:

  • Bible Dictionaries – which define terms or concepts mentioned (and sometimes implied) in Scripture.
  • Bible Concordances – which allow you to look up a certain word and report the frequency that word is used and where it is used in Scripture
  • Bible Commentaries – which offer insight and interpretation of the Scripture passage read.
  • Reading and discussing Scripture with others – listen to what your co-readers hear from Scripture and what they say about Scripture; then, consider how that informs your understanding of Scripture.

Reading and studying Scripture for ourselves rather than (1) solely relying on what others say Scripture says or (2) relying on our recollection of what Scripture says guards us from taking Scripture out of context, misappropriating Scripture, and misinterpreting Scripture. God’s Word has been used throughout the course of history to cause harm, such as justifying slavery, genocide, and child abuse. I do not want my use of Scripture to cause, remind, or reinforce harm. Therefore, I am committed to appropriately using and interpreting Scripture, which means I am committed to spending time in and with God’s Word.

Reflect and Respond: How will you spend time in God’s Word this week? Do you have a regular Scripture reading schedule? Is it important to you to be biblically literate? Why or why not?

I look forward to beginning this series with the Tuskawilla Community! I am grateful for my time of “sermon Sabbath” and for the leadership of Vanessa Schuchart, Samantha Aupperlee, and Rev. Kate Ling in offering God’s Word to God’s people at TUMC during my Sabbath. I am excited to share God’s Word with you on Sunday. See you then!

Prayer: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. His oath, his covenant, his blood support me in the whelming flood. When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.”* Amen.

*”My Hope Is Built,” The United Methodist Hymnal 368.

A Study of Mary Magdalene

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 20:1-18.

This week Rev. Kate Ling and the Quest Sunday School Class will lead the Tuskawilla community in “A Study of Mary Magdalene” during our 11:00 worship service. Their leadership in worship provides me the opportunity to worship with Andrew at his new church this Sunday. Thank you, Pastor Kate and Quest Class, for the gifts you share this week!

As I reflect on Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the resurrected Christ, I am continually amazed that Mary did not know she was speaking with Jesus until Jesus said her name. Many women are not named in Scripture and if they are named it is usually because they do not have the best story, whether personal or familial, and yet, Jesus calls Mary by name. He calls this weeping woman to his side. He acknowledges that she is God’s beloved child. He acknowledges Mary for who God says she is, not what her present context or what our present context says she is.

In John 10 in his teaching about the shepherd and his flock, Jesus says the shepherd calls his sheep by name. They listen to him and follow (Jn 10:1-5). At the empty tomb Jesus said to Mary, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God'” (Jn 20:17, emphasis added). Jesus called Mary by name, called Mary to himself, and called Mary to follow. With joy she went to her brother disciples, “I have seen the Lord” (Jn 20:18).

In recent years I have not regularly watched or read the daily news because I dread what I will see and hear. Last week I wrote about the terror attack in Istanbul and since that time Baghdad – Bangladesh – Alton Sterling – Falcon Heights, Minnesota – and I am sure others that have not been named for one reason or another – are unfortunately added to list of terror-filled and fear-driven senseless acts of violence. Hearing about these attacks leads me to reading about these attacks, but I do not read about them to be drawn in by the sensational and graphic descriptions. I read about them to read the names, to say aloud the names of God’s children that have died.

Because it is right that they be said.

And then I wonder…

  • If the persons that caused these attacks had known the names of the persons they attacked
  • If relationship had been present instead of fear
  • If their personal stories had been known rather than pervasive stigmas and incorrect stereotypes that mangle the understandings and beliefs about folks that appear different than “us” – whoever the “us” may be –

would these attacks have happened?

This wondering intensifies my hurt about our broken world, which is pale in comparison to the families and communities that have lost loved ones.

Jesus called Mary by name. God calls each of us by name. We are precious. We are beloved. We are known. We are called for a purpose. We are created for healthy relationships. We are intended to have life and have it abundantly. And when our actions, when humanity’s actions interrupt or take away or strip the name and status we have given to us by God through God’s amazing grace, then we are in the wrong and we are ever in need of God’s grace – God’s grace that leads us to repentance, God’s grace that leads us to reconciliation, God’s grace that rescues us from our own pits and helps keep us from digging any deeper.

Jesus said Mary’s name. There is something about the saying of her name. There is something about the saying of our names – about the saying of the names of all God’s children. Lord have mercy on us. Draw us to your side. And send us in your grace to tell of your good news, which will draw us together and heal where we have torn ourselves apart.Let there be peace – your peace – in me, around me, and because of of you in me.

Prayer: “O God, you are the hope of all the ends of the earth, the God of the spirits of all flesh. Hear our humble intercession for all races and families on earth, that you will turn all hearts to yourself. Remove from our minds hatred, prejudice, and contempt for those who are not of our own race or color, class or creed, that, departing from everything that estranges and divides, we may by you be brought into unity of spirit, in the bond of peace. Amen.”*

*“For The World And Its Peoples,” The United Methodist Book of Worship 526.