Messiah: Comfort Ye My People

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 40:1-5.

I cannot sleep in hospitals. I had 27 opportunities to sleep in a hospital during my Clinical Pastoral Education unit, but I was never successful. So rather than restlessly turn over in a broken recliner in the chaplain’s office wishing for sleep that would not come, I walked the halls.

One night as I walked I heard soft sobs coming from a room. I gently knocked on the door, said who I was, and asked if I could enter. The sobs stifled and a weak “yes” answered from the far bed. I walked in and found a woman, not much older than me, curled in the fetal position on her bed. She apologized if her sobs had disturbed me from my work, to which I assured her they had not. She went onto explain that she has Addison’s disease and was in the hospital due to her present disease crisis. Her whole body ached in unrelenting pain. She was greatly fatigued, but could not sleep. She was hungry, but could not keep food in her stomach. And so she wept.

I remember looking at her…wanting to fix the situation…wanting to fix her…and then realizing that I could do neither. I was not a medical professional. And I was not (am not) God. There was nothing about her or her condition that I could fix.

What then could I do? And God answered me – “Be Sarah. Be.”

So I be’d with her.

She cried and I held her hand. She spoke and I answered. She was silent and I chose to listen to her evening breath rather than fill the room with my words.

My shift ended just before breakfast. I thanked her for the invitation to be in her room. She thanked me for comforting her. Our mutual gratitude was the benediction we shared.

As I reflect on God’s command to “Comfort my people,” I am again reminded that to comfort is first to be and not to fix. Some things cannot be fixed – in the present moment or at all. Other things can be fixed – but it is not always me (you/us) that can (or should) fix them.

Be-ing is a gift and ability that God gives each of us. We are created for relationship – with God and with one another. We are created for community and care. We are created to give and receive comfort.

We can do/fix for others without truly knowing them or taking time to know them. Comfort, however, cannot be done at a distance. We have to get close to people; we have to invite people to be close to us. And in getting close to people, we may have to step into a place of powerlessness, realizing there are things we cannot do and receive God’s invitation to beautifully be.

Prayer: “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here until the Son of God appears. O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thy justice here; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel, shall come to thee, O Israel.”*

*”O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” The United Methodist Hymnal 211.

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On The Top Shelf

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 23:33-43.

This Sunday the Rev. Dr. Steve Harper will share a message entitled “On The Top Shelf” at both our Morningsong and 11am Worship Services.

I met Steve for the first time in my small group interview for membership as a provisional elder in the Florida Conference in January 2010. I was terrified walking into that small group room and Steve was a very kind face.

I remember him asking me about my definition of sin in my paperwork; I had defined sin as some kind of radical evil in the world. Steve wondered if I had an example of this kind of radical evil and so I shared a story about a conversation with the Senior Pastor I served with my last year of seminary. A person could stand on the front door step of the church, look across the field, and see the steeple of another United Methodist Church. I asked Jennie what our church’s relationship was with our neighbor church when a member walked up behind me and said, “We don’t have a relationship with them; that’s where the slaves worship.”

That was in the Fall of 2009.

2009.

I looked at Steve and said, “Sin is some kind of radical evil.” He nodded his head in agreement and my interview continued.

As Jesus hung on the cross, he looked into sin – some kind of radical evil – and gave his life so that we would live. Above him hung a cross that read “King of the Jews”. The Romans meant it as one more jab at our Savior, but Jesus’ friends and followers knew it to be true. Here, our humble King, is dying for you, for them, and for me.

Our King did not come as expected. Jesus did not have a grand entry into the world. He was born to an unwed mother and his earthly father was suspect of the whole situation. He was born in a borrowed cave surrounded by animals. He lived like a vagabond with no place to lay his head.

Jesus was encouraged by generous hospitality and lived not on bread alone but feasted on the word of God. He served, he sacrificed, and he saved.

Jesus revealed the presence of God’s Kingdom in the real world. The in-breaking of the Kingdom is not loud and overbearing; it was as soft as a baby’s cry and greets us like a kind face and an open hand. Our King did not and does not demand obedience; he invited and invites obedience. Jesus wants relationships not constituents under requirements.

Jesus is our King in a new Kingdom. Jesus is our King that looks in the face of sin and all radical evils and does not turn away. Jesus is our King that is leading us in ways where we will all be one – male and female, Jew and Gentile, black and white, slave and free.

It is true that Scripture speaks of a day where every knee will bow before Jesus and every tongue will confess his Lordship. And when I picture bowing before Jesus, I see him reaching for me with his arms, to raise me to my feet, and then embracing me to his chest. This is the King I know. This is the King I serve. This is the King that changed my life and I believe is changing the world. Because of his transformation in me, I offer myself to be used by him in the beautiful transformation of others.

I look forward to worshipping with you and learning from Steve this week. Thank you, Steve, for the gift of your leadership and sharing with the Tuskawilla Family. Thank you for the kind face and guiding presence you continue to be in my life.

Prayer: “Almighty God, who gave your Son Jesus Christ a realm where all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; make us loyal followers of our living Lord, that we may always hear his word, follow his teachings, and live in his Spirit; and hasten the day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord; to your eternal glory. Amen.”*

*”For Reign of Christ,” The United Methodist Book of Worship 421.

You Must Take Up Christ’s Cross and Follow Him

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 29:11 and Matthew 16:24, 25:40.

Dearest Members and Friends of Tuskawilla UMC,

I am so very humbled by all the expressions of appreciation I have received over the past few weeks – the cards, sweets, grill seasoning and apron, gift cards for date nights and coffee, contributions to my shoe fund (are you surprised!?), dinner out with the staff, and ELEVEN fruit trees for the parsonage! These gifts have truly warmed my heart and will continue to do so!

I also received one gift of appreciation that literally made me laugh out loud – an elephant. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. (And I prefer mine with tabasco!) Elephants – figuratively – represent hurdles, obstacles, and big ole bumps in the road. And while I have encountered a number of elephants since arriving at Tuskawilla, I am not discouraged.

Confession: I may be initially discouraged, but because of the strength of this congregation’s leadership and the wonderful friendships that I have here, Onward! and Forward! have become my rally cries when I see another pachyderm appear.

In Matthew 16 Jesus makes the first prediction about his death and resurrection; “Jesus began to show his disciples that he had to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and legal experts, and that he had to be killed and raised on the third day.” And Peter lost it! “God forbid, Lord! This won’t happen to you.” And Jesus turned to his friend, his principle disciple and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are a stone that could make me stumble, for you are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts…All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them” (Mt 16:21-25).

Sometimes our thoughts, worries, desires, ambitions, projects, and motivations become stumbling blocks that manifest into elephants. Sometimes circumstances caused by others become stumbling blocks that manifest into elephants. These elephants have the potential to distract us from God’s work and God’s intentions. Jesus shows us in this encounter with Peter that when we encounter an elephant, which Jesus calls a cross, we are not to run the other way. We have to work our way Forward! and Onward! in pursuit of God’s plan and God’s desires.

John Wesley, in his Explanatory Notes, writes the following on Matthew 16:24,

Crosses are so frequent, that whoever makes advantage of them, will soon be a great gainer. Great crosses are occasions of great improvement: and the little ones, which come daily, and even hourly, make up in number what they want in weight. We may in these daily and hourly crosses make effectual oblations (offerings) of our will to God; which oblations, so frequently repeated, will soon amount to a great sum.*

In Christ elephants – crosses – transform from obstacles to opportunities for offerings. When facing adversity – whatever adversity – we have a choice – to turn the other way or to pick up our cross and follow Christ.

After I unwrapped the elephant, Samantha said, “Looks like you are starting another collection in your office.” By the time Charge Conference concluded I had my second elephant! And bonus! Both elephants have upturned trunks. In Nepal, elephants that have their trunks turned up bring good fortune. They still require work, but they bring good fortune.

It is even better with the crosses we bear for and with our Christ – they require work, but they bring everlasting life.

Please join us in worship this week as Dean Paulus shares with us a very good word on these texts from Jeremiah and Matthew. I am looking forward to worshipping with you and learning from Dean.

Sweet Blessings,

Pastor Sarah

 Prayer: “We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord. We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord. And we pray that all unity may one day be restored. And they’ll know we are Christians by our love by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Amen.**

*http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/wesleys-explanatory-notes/matthew/matthew-16.html 

**”They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love,” The Faith We Sing, 2223.

Take Courage

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Haggai 2:1-9.

“Take courage,” says the prophet. But what does that mean?

For me to “take courage” means to show up, to take responsibility, to persevere, to speak truth in love, to work, and to repeat.

There are many days where I hear Prissy’s famous line in the back (or front) of my head, “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies!” except I replace “birthin’ babies!” with some other obstacle I am facing that day.

(Though truly, I also do not know anything about birthing babies!)

What I do know is this – that when I am afraid, when I feel low, when I face adversity, when I am met with the unknown I have two choices – take courage or take a hike. “Take courage,” says the Lord, “for I am with you” (Haggai 2:4).

Our God calls us to a full an abundant life and it is a life for which we must work. Early in the garden after The Fall, God said to Adam, “cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:17-19). Some may read this and think that God is telling Adam – telling humanity – to take a hike, but I hear these words in a different light. Yes, after The Fall our relationship with God and God’s plan for humanity was dramatically transformed, but that does not mean that our God does not want and does not intend good things for us.

Yes, we will toil – and we will eat. Yes, in the fields we will endure thorns and thistles and the fields will also produce our food. Yes, we will sweat and we will have bread. And yes, we will return to the ground from whence we were taken – we are from God, we return to God, and in the in-between time God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.

So in the hard days – and it seems like there are many especially in this season – take courage, my friends. Show up, take responsibility, persevere, speak truth in love, work, and then repeat all of that again and again and again.

Our God is with us – ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Prayer: “You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord, who abide in his shadow for life. Say to the Lord, “My refuge, my rock in whom I trust!” … The snare of the fowler will never capture you and famine will bring you no fear. Under his wings your refuge, his faithfulness your shield … You need not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day. Though thousands fall about you, near you it shall not come … For to his angels he’s given a command to guard you in all of your ways. Upon their hands they will bear you up lest you dash your foot against a stone … And God will raise you up on eagle’s wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of His hand.”* Amen.

*”On Eagle’s Wings,” The United Methodist Hymnal 143.