Faithful Living

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16.

When I read the words “Let mutual love continue” I immediately think of Mr. Bill Gill. Bill is a member of Gray Memorial UMC in Tallahassee and I had the privilege of meeting Bill during my interview for membership as a provisional elder in the Florida Annual Conference in January 2010.

It was one of those damp, cold January days. I flew in from Atlanta the day before, ventured to Polk County for a quick siesta, and then after receiving thorough instructions about driving my mother’s brand new car to my interview, I drove to the Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park. I was invited to come for lunch; my interview would start at 1pm. I remember being too nervous to eat and standing awkwardly at the back of the dining hall, quaking in my stilettos, seeking a friendly face. Bill’s gaze caught mine and his wise, kind eyes assured me that everything, in fact, was going to be okay.

Bill looked in on me throughout the afternoon. He was caring and comforting. And as a prelude to the news that I would be commissioned that year at Annual Conference, he smiled and said, “We have much to expect from you. God is doing great things in you and I am going to enjoy watching it all unfold.”

When it came time for my ordination interviews Bill sought me out again – this time a friendly and familiar face. Bill and I always seem to find one another at Annual Conference without planning it – God keeps seeing fit to draw us together. He asks about my appointment. He asks about my family. And he shares the great things going on at his church, which one of my friends happens to serve.

(Sometimes Bill says that Jack is up to something…and that is when I assure Bill that pastors are always up to something…)

Whenever we are together Bill humbles me with his encouragement. “We have much to expect from you. God is doing great things in you and I enjoy watching it all unfold.” And now his encouragement includes this phrase followed by a hug, “I am so proud of you.”

I feel, know, and treasure Bill’s love in my life. He showed me hospitality as a stranger and in him I have found such a generous friend. The relationship I have with him and the care I continue to receive from him has shaped and continues to shape the relationships I have with others. As I said in my sermon last week, “small acts have expansive consequences.”* Bill’s small act of sharing love in my life continues to live beyond both of us from that moment we shared on a Tuesday afternoon that last week of January in 2010. That love, which is Christ’s beautiful love, is living on in me and I know it is living on in him.

Thank you, Bill. Thanks be to God for you. May Christ’s mutual love always continue in you and through you. May Christ’s mutual love continue in and through all of us.

Prayer: “Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you. Neighbors are rich and poor, neighbors are black and white, neighbors are near and far away. These are the ones we should serve, these are the ones we should love, all these are neighbors to us and you. Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you.”** Amen.

*Craddock, F. B. (1990). Interpretation–Luke. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 171.

**”Jesu, Jesu,” The United Methodist Hymnal 432.

 

Jesus Sees You

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 13:10-17.

Earlier this week I taught a yoga class that included a student with a broken big toe. He was anxious – to participate, to not harm his toe further, to not be a distraction to the other students, and to feel like he accomplished what he wanted to accomplish by the end of class.

The good news about yoga is that every pose – every.single.pose. – can be modified to each individual student. Poses can increase in challenge or comfort. Poses can be completed standing, kneeling, or sitting. So no poses on your feet – no problem.

He did not leave. He did not sit out. He practiced.

He did not feel cast to the side. He felt seen. He felt heard. He felt comforted. He felt accomplished. He felt included.

Before leaving class he thanked me for taking such special care of him in class and then asked me to suggest what other classes he might take that would accommodate and guide him through his recovery. I shared with him that it would be the pleasure of any teacher in the studio to lead him through a class at his ability level. It is on the teacher to meet the students where they are, to listen, to guide, and, most of all, to see.

When I feel seen, my self worth soars. When I feel seen, I am affirmed that I matter and that my contributions matter. And that feeling motivates me to see and affirm others.

As we head into the Fall months at Tuskawilla UMC we will have increased opportunities to see and connect with folks in our church family as well as see and connect with folks in our community. I love to watch our church during the Greeting Time on Sundays…I am convinced that our church family would greet one another for at least 20 minutes if we did not draw the congregation’s attention forward in the service. No one stands alone. No one is without a hand to shake or a smile to receive. It is truly extraordinary to behold and warms my heart so. We take time to see one another every Sunday. We take time to see one another as Jesus sees us.

In that same spirit I look forward to seeing our Bible Study groups resume, to seeing Scout Troops return to our campus, to seeing our Morningsong Worship Service begin on Sunday, September 11 at 8:30am, and yes, even to seeing the arrival of our little orange friends because their presence means we will soon see many of our community members on the church campus. I celebrate how our church sees both the Class Athlete Afterschool Program and the students of the Arbor School of Central Florida and has welcomed them to meet on our campus. I am amazed by the number of families our Friday Afternoon Food Bank sees and serves twice a month; their commitment to nourish the body and the soul is deeply inspiring.

The Tuskawilla Family understands well what it means to see one another and to meet our neighbors where they are. Through our ministries and witness we comfort and we challenge; we see, hear, and include God’s people. Through this behavior we add our hands to building God’s Kingdom.

Jesus sees us. When we serve one another well, we serve him well and he is so pleased.

Prayer: “Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew, that I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do. Breathe on me, Breath of God, until my heart is pure, until with thee I will one will, to do and to endure.”* Amen.

*”Breathe on Me, Breath of God,” The United Methodist Hymnal 420.

Why the Holy Spirit Power Is Needed For Church Renewal

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ephesians 3:20-21.

This Sunday the Tuskawilla UMC Community will be joined in worship by Rev. Aldo Martin. Aldo is one of the Florida Conference leaders of Methodists United In Prayer, a ministry team that serves to affirm and strengthen the relationships of care and service held between The Methodist Church in Cuba and The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. Methodists United In Prayer focus their ministry efforts on the following priorities in both The Methodist Church in Cuba and The Florida Annual Conference Churches:

  • To pray for one another and develop a common study of Scriptures.
  • To engage in the interchange of peoples of Cuba and Florida Conferences work teams, preachers, laity, caravans, study teams, professors, teachers and choirs.
  • To respond to the priorities of the Methodist Church in Cuba.
  • To build relationships between the Florida Conference and the Methodist Church in Cuba for mutual support and encouragement.
  • To enable the training of pastors and lay people for the equipping of Cuban disciples.
  • To mutually share the history, current events, culture and spirituality of both Conferences.*

Bishop Ken Carter visited Cuba in 2013 to participate in the 130th Celebration of Methodism in Cuba and he was overwhelmed by what he saw. In an email he sent to Florida Conference Churches upon his arrival home he shared, ““The Cuban Methodists have discovered how to form new communities of Christian disciples…and how to call forth the gifts of a younger generation.” This evidence – this occurrence – speaks incredibly to the Holy Spirit’s power in the Cuban Methodist Church. For many decades the Cuban Methodist Church struggled under Communist regime and as a Protestant denomination in a predominantly Roman Catholic society. Methodist pastors and missionaries fled because they were threatened with physical harm or imprisonment. It seemed that hope was dwindling for the Methodist Church in Cuba. It seemed that God’s Spirit was being pushed out, when in fact, God’s Spirit was and is growing stronger day by day.

Our Scripture text this week teaches that with God’s power we are able to accomplish abundantly more than we can ask for imagine. I truly believe that what God has done and is doing in and through the Methodist Church in Cuba – in and through the Florida Conference United Methodist Churches – in and through each one of us – would not be possible apart from God. God gives what we need and gives what we do not know we need. God guides and provides. Our God is surprising. Our God works in all times and places. And our God will not be driven out of anywhere. As we are reminded in John’s Gospel, God’s light “shines in the darkness, and the darkness [does] not overcome it” (Jn 1:5).

I look forward to hearing from Rev. Martin this Sunday and then joining with him and others for conversation following the service in Room 16 to explore how Tuskawilla UMC can grow in our relationship with our sister church in Cuba – La Lima – as well as explore future service opportunities with them. I look forward to worshipping with you.

Prayer: “When the poor ones who have nothing share with strangers, when the thirsty water give unto us all, when the crippled in their weakness strengthen others, then we know that God still goes that road with us, then we know that God still goes that road with us.” Amen.**

*http://flumc-missions.org/muip-covenant.html

**”When the Poor Ones,” The United Methodist Hymnal 434.

 

Awaken Orlando – Gravity Youth Sunday

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 11:38-44.

This Sunday Tuskawilla UMC’s Gravity Youth Group will lead our worship experience. They will share about their summer mission trip – Awaken Orlando – through music, personal testimonies, and a picture slideshow. Shrell Chamberlain, TUMC’s Youth Director, will offer the sermon. Our youth are looking forward to this time in worship with our church family.

John 11 tells the story of Jesus’ dear friend, Lazarus. Lazarus became ill and later died. Jesus wept for love of Lazarus and rather than letting death have the final word, Jesus went to Lazarus to awaken him. Jesus went to Lazarus to call him back to life.

When I think about how our youth served on the mission trip, I know they joined Jesus in the work of awakening. They saw need and they answered with service. They saw want for relationship and made and strengthened friendships. They saw places and people crying for hope and became living hope. With fearlessness they stepped into new and different circumstances with new and different people and they served beautifully. I am so so proud of them.

When Lazarus emerged from the tomb, having been awakened by Jesus, Jesus said, “Unbind him and let him go” (Jn 11:44). When Jesus wakes us up – when we become aware of our sin, of our separation from God and intentionally return to God – Jesus says to us, “Unbind him. Unbind her. Let them go.” Unhindered by what was and looking with great anticipation towards what is, the world is ours for the taking. What will we do? What decisions will we make? Will we return to sin, which leads to darkness and death, or will we walk with God on the path that leads to life?

As our youth reminisce about their mission trip I have heard their reminiscing lead to requesting. “When will we return to the Memory Care Center? When will we return to Community Food and Outreach? When will we return to Matthew’s Hope? When and where can we serve more?” These requests are evidence of the rooting of our youth’s awakening. They do not want to go back to sleep. They do not want to go into darkness. They have seen, been a part of, and contributed to the goodness of light and life with God, and they want to continue walking down that path. This mission trip released them to serve and they are ready to continue their response.

Thank you, Gravity Youth, for your service on your mission trip. Thank you for the many ways you represented Jesus, your families, and Tuskawilla UMC during your mission trip. And thank you for the learnings you will share with us this Sunday. I cannot wait to reminisce with you and respond to your requests for future opportunities to serve!

Prayer: Lord, “I could just sit; I could just sit and wait for all your goodness hope to feel your presence. And I could just stay; I could just stay right where I am and hope to feel you, hope to feel something again. And I could hold on; I could hold on to who I am and never let you change me from the inside. And I could be safe; I could be safe here in your arms and never leave home, never let these walls down. But you have called me higher. You have called me deeper and I’ll go where you will lead me, Lord. You have called me higher. You have called me deeper and I’ll go where you lead me, Lord, where you lead me, Lord.”* Amen.

*”Called Me Higher” Lyrics by All Sons & Daughters.

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

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 119:65-72 and Romans 3:21-22.

A couple years ago my dear friend Kelsey asked me to guest lecture in her AP Human Geography class. Her students were working their way through a unit on the five major world religions and Kelsey asked me to come in to represent Christianity.

Woah.

And by the way, the class is 50 minutes long and please leave at least 15 minutes for questions and answers.

Double woah.

Knowing my audience (and time sensitivities!) I decided to make a Top Ten List to share with the students – a sort of cross between a countdown on a late night television show and “you might be a Christian if…” With the help of my friend Magrey, this is what I shared with the students:

YOU MIGHT BE A CHRISTIAN IF…

10. YOU HAVE A THING FOR TABLES – We are a table fellowship people. The table is a place of brokenness, connection, and blessing. We bring our brokenness caused by sin to the altar table, we seek connection with Christ, and we receive the blessings of forgiveness and grace.

9. YOU’RE RELATED TO MORE PEOPLE THAN KEVIN BACON – Our participation at the table connects us to Christians, as well as Jews and Muslims, through the ages as we all share a common lineage in Abraham. This connection also reveals a number of ways to practice the Christian faith. Perhaps a more accurate description is Christianitiesrather than Christianity.

8. YOU HAVE A THING FOR THE GAME SHOW “FAMILY FEUD” – Why are there Christianities? Because people – through the ages and in the present – that practice Christianity quarrel about interpretation of Scripture, application of Scripture, teachers of Scripture, and more. They fight and think they are more right…it is not that they leave the table, more like they declare their own section at the table. This kind of quarrel is at the root of the Catholic-Protestant split, and to some degree, is the root of why we have so many denominations.

7. YOU’RE THEOLOGICAL VOCABULARY INCLUDES THE WORD, “WHOOPSIE.”– Our Christian history is not full of warm and fuzzy events.

  • The Crusades – the Spanish Inquisition – many Nazis claimed Christianity – to just name a few. It is not just other faith traditions that invoke the right to land and secure their access of it through mass genocide…Christians do it, too.
  • We struggle with Sin and sins. Sin refers to the Fall – when humanity abused God’s good gift of free will – and sins refers to the act, word, or thought – whether of omission or commission – for which we will be held accountable before God.
  • Our bondage to sin ruptures our relationship with God, with one another, and with the rest of creation. We are incapable of breaking the power that sin holds over us. This is why Christ’s atoning death is so needful – his immeasurable gift of love through his atoning death frees us from sin’s bondage, which allows us to live in renewed relationship with God, with one another, and with creation.

6. YOU’RE KIND OF WEIRD AT MATH, PART I: 1+1=1 – Jesus is one person with two natures. He is fully human and fully divine. As fully human, he lived as we live and endured what we endured; as fully human Jesus is able to stand in humanity’s place and take the punishment for sin. As fully divine, Jesus as God incarnate is able to save humanity from our condemned state and break the power sin has over us.

5. YOU’RE KIND OF WEIRD AT BIOLOGY, TOO – We believe in the resurrection of Christ, not the resuscitation of Christ. On the third day when the stone was rolled away, our Jesus did not come back to life; he was not resuscitated. Jesus was given new life. He was resurrected and his resurrection assures the eternal defeat of sin – the eternal defeat of death – for all that receive the gift of grace in Jesus Christ.

4. YOU’RE KIND OF WEIRD AT MATH, PART II: 1+1+1=1 – We believe our God is Triune – that our God is one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We believe in every moment God is all three of these persons; God does not cease being one person in the Trinity in order to be another.

3. YOU THINK THERE’S A GUY IN YOUR FOOD – Sacraments are the means by which Christians encounter the mystery of Christ. At the communion table Christians believe they encounter the mystery of Christ, but in different ways. Some Christians believe that once the communion elements – the bread and wine/juice – are blessed that they physically transform into the body and blood of Christ. Other Christians believe the real presence of Christ becomes present in the bread and wine/juice. Either way, there is a guy in the communion meal, and we are redeemed of our sin and equipped for service in the Kingdom through this encounter with the mystery of Christ.

2. YOU HAVE A WEIRD THING FOR CALLING PEOPLE “MINISTERS” – What is theology? The study of God. Who does theology? Everyone! We believe in the Ministry of All Believers. It is not just the clergy that attend to the work and service of God’s people. This is the work of all people! All people have gifts for ministry to use in the Kingdom. And our using our gifts – this work – our ministry – we share it together.

1. LOVE, BABY.  IT’S ALL ABOUT LOVE – Like all faith practices – it is what you make of it. Some Christian traditions offer detailed prescriptions of what practitioners do and do not do to make of their faith while others are less rigorous. As for me and my making of faith I start here:

  • “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other” (Jn 13:34-35).
  • I live out this verse in conversation and accountability John Wesley’s General Rules: (1) Do no harm, (2) Do good, and (3) Attend upon the ordinances of God – or as Bishop Reuben Job said – “Stay in love with God.”

(Exhale!)

If you were to add anything to this list, what would it be? Take time this week to consider what it means to be a Christian to you. What are your foundational Christian beliefs? How do your beliefs draw you in closer relationship with Christ and those that are faithful to him?

Prayer: Holy God, “Although a difference in opinions may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works…Is thine heart right, as my heart is with thy heart? If it be, give me thine hand.”* Help us, O God, to offer and receive one another’s hands. Amen.

*John Wesley’s Catholic Spirit – (http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-39-catholic-spirit/)