Giving Up: Our Lives

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 11:17-27, 38-46.

Recently I was reminded of a powerful truth from my friend Hugh, pastor of the LoveWins Community in Raleigh, North Carolina. Throughout our lives things have a habit of going awry and sometimes when things go awry, folks throw up their hands and say, “God has a plan!” It’s true. God does have a plan. Hugh would affirm that, and then add, “God’s plan is you.”

God’s plan is me. Is you. Is us.

This I believe.

This Sunday a group of our TUMC Gravity Youth will confirm their faith in front of God and our congregation. They will respond, claim, and confirm – for themselves – the vows taken on their behalf at their baptism. At their confirmation they step into the “drivers seat” of their faith. They will drive the direction of their faith, the engagement of their faith, the enrichment of their faith, and the depth of their faith. And the good news? They do not drive alone. They have the whole congregation riding with them.

Church, our youth are bright, passionate, and intelligent; they soaked up the lessons of their time in Confirmation like sponges. And they know – I know, we know! – that these lessons are not “one and done.” Part of our life, experience, and growth as followers of Christ is to return to these lessons over and over again because what they meant to us as teenagers can be (and is!) vastly different to what they mean as high school graduates, entering the work force, getting married, increasing their family, retiring, racing towards eternity.

The Gospel remains true and its meaning deepens as we live our lives with Christ.

I believe our youth are changing the world. Not only are they a part of of God’s plan, they are living into it with great creativity, fearlessness, and joy. They fuel my passion to give and serve. And…they are a little bit whacky…and we all need a little bit whacky in our lives.

Please join us this week as we celebrate the Confirmation of our youth at our 11:00am worship service. God has a plan, my friends. It includes these youth, and me, and you.

This I believe.

Prayer: “You make beautiful things. You make beautiful things out of dust. You make beautiful things. You make beautiful things out of us.”* Amen.

*”Beautiful Things” by Michael Gungor.

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Giving Up: Enemies

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 19:37-44.

Sometime last week Andrew and I stumbled upon a showing of “Miss Congeniality” on network television. I am a big fan of Sandra Bullock; so, of course, we watched the movie. The film occurs at a national scholarship program *cough* beauty pageant *cough* that includes evening wear, swim wear, talent, and interview competitions. The irony of the interview competition is that no matter the question – no matter the respondent – the correct answer is “world peace.”

Reminds me of when I taught Children’s Sunday School and no matter the question – no matter the respondent the correct answer was “Jesus, God, prayer, church, share!”

(You know it’s true…)

Whenever my 10th grade History Teacher – Mr. Hinthorne – would introduce a new (past) global skirmish in his lectures he would name the groups involved and then ask, “Why can’t we all just get along?” It took my class quite sometime to realize his question was rhetorical…and oh so profound.

Getting along is a part of peace; it is a building block in the peace process. Jesus accuses Jerusalem of disregarding this building block. We heard it – we can imagine it – peoples from different places and circumstances uniting their voices in praise of the Messiah. But the praise is quickly muted by the grumbling of the Pharisees telling Jesus to subdue his followers into silence. This grumbling on Palm Sunday will end in Jesus’ groaning in his Passion. He will bear on his body how the people that surrounded him on Palm Sunday chose a way other than peace.

When we get along, when we participate in peacemaking – not just with those that we already get along with, but with folks that we are different from – we participate in creating unity, harmony, safety, and prosperity. When we participate in peacemaking we continue following the path the Prince of Peace lays before us and we bear the fruit – we show the evidence – of our salvation in Christ.

Getting along is an act I practice by

  1. Talking less and listening more.
  2. Truly listening rather than listening to prepare a response.
  3. Finding ways to walk alongside folks from a variety of life experiences through conversation, non-fiction reading, documentaries, and more.
  4. Making the first move to seek forgiveness and reconcile.

We are a people meant for peace. We are disciples of the Prince of Peace. And I think, on the whole, people would like there to be – we hope for there to be – peace. But do we think that peace is achievable? Is peace just a wish or can peace be our reality?

Peace can be our reality if we apply ourselves to acts of peacemaking. Mr. Hinthorne was right – it all starts with getting along. It is a big task, but we are more than capable. God calls us to this work and provides us with the strength and courage to complete it.

Prayer: “For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation, thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation; thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion, for my salvation. Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee, I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee, think on thy pity and thy love unswerving, not my deserving.”* Amen.

*”Ah, Holy Jesus,” The United Methodist Hymnal 289.

Giving Up: Superiority

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 4:5-26.

One of our earliest lessons as children is learning opposites, and in learning opposites, we learn to identify differences.

The opposite of up is down. The opposite of left is right. The opposite of yes is no. The opposite of stop is go.

Opposites are not bad. Identifying differences is not bad. What has the potential to be bad is if or when we allow opposites and identifying differences to seed and fertilize feelings of superiority – that one side, opinion, or belief is better and therefore superior to another.

How fascinated we are in drawing artificial lines between us. These lines can be used to set ourselves apart – to identify ourselves from what we are and what we are not, to recognize a given position of leadership or achievement. But when these identifications or recognitions feed into a system where “never the twain shall meet” – meaning there is no opportunity for these two people or two groups of people (or more) to unite – this is indeed a problem.

Jesus was set apart. As Messiah, as God’s Son, he was different from his family, colleagues, and friends he met and served in his ministry. He was different, but he did not operate in the world of opposites and identified differences.

The opposite of Savior is sinnerThe opposite of King is commoner.

No. This is not our Jesus.

Jesus, full of grace and peace, met people where they were. He met them in their doubt, questioning, and uncertainty. Jesus crossed perceived lines that would keep unlikely people apart. He did not consider himself superior, even though he was and is God. Rather,   Jesus “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” (Phil 2:7-8).

Jesus as God’s Son could have picked up his crown and not bothered with women, Samaritans, lepers, the blind, the lame, or outcasts of any sort. But our Jesus picked up a towel instead, wrapped it around his waist, and served. He served all people. He saved all people.

Jesus serves and saves still.

As Jesus crossed perceived lines of opposites and difference, so should we. He poured himself out and was never without; he was immediately filled again so he could continue in his service. We are filled with the Holy Spirit and will be replenished by that same Spirit whenever we share its power and graces with others. But to be with others – to meet them where they are – first means getting beyond ourselves. Beyond our own comfort zones. Beyond our own opinions. Beyond our own perceived ideas of superiority.

We must lay down any crowns we have fashioned so that we, too, can pick up a towel as is exampled for us by our Lord.

Prayer: “Thou art giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blest, well-spring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest!  Thou our Father, Christ our brother, all who live in love are thine; teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine. Mortals, join the mighty chorus which the morning stars began; love divine is reigning o’er us, binding all within its span. Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife; joyful music leads us sunward, in the triumph song of life.”* Amen.

*”Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” The United Methodist Hymnal 89.

 

 

Giving Up: Expectations

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 3:1-17.

When I think about my life, I realize I live between high expectations and contentment. I have high expectations for myself; I desire excellence and therefore seek to serve excellently in all tasks. I also seek to practice contentment, which is a grounding skill. Practicing contentment returns me to the knowledge that I am because God loves; I am not by what I do or do not produce.

The thought of giving up expectations makes me quite nervous (1) because of my desire to be in control (still working on that!) and (2) because I feel that expectations provide me with direction. But giving up expectations also creates space for God to do one of the things God does best, which is surprise me – surprise us!

Nicodemus, a Pharisee and leader of the Jews, does something surprising; he seeks Jesus out at night to ask him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born” (Jn 3:4)? Having grown up in Jewish systems of thought and expectations all his life – and serving as a teacher in these systems and with those expectations – Nicodemus courageously ventures to think a new thought and consider a new paradigm. Nicodemus was familiar with the practice of repentance and seeking forgiveness of sins. Nicodemus was familiar with baptism – participating in a ritual that declared a person’s devotion to a particular group or belief. And in his encounter with Jesus, he is surprised to learn that to receive eternal life, he must be born again by water and the Spirit.

If Nicodemus remains so committed to the systems of thought and expectations he knows and teaches, he may miss out on the surprise of what lies beyond them – the surprise and blessing of resurrection.

In giving up expectations we receive (and hopefully accept!) the invitation to trust God. And in trusting God, we live into contentment. We are because God loves; we are not by what we do or do not produce.

Join the Rev. Kate Ling and the Quest Sunday School Class this Sunday as they offer their leadership during Tuskawilla’s worship services. I will be serving with TUMC’s youth on the Confirmation Retreat Friday evening through Sunday afternoon and then at Gator Wesley Sunday evening. Thank you, Pastor Kate and Quest Members, for your preparation and service, dear friends!

Prayer: “God forgave my sin in Jesus’ name, I’ve been born again in Jesus’ name, and in Jesus’ name I come to you, to share his love as he told me to. He said, ‘Freely, freely you have received, freely, freely give. Go in my name, and because you believe, others will know that I live.'”* Amen.

“Freely, Freely,” The United Methodist Hymnal 389.

Giving Up: Control

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Matthew 4:1-11.

As I scrolled through social media this morning a fellow pastor and friend posted this as his status,

Lent is kind of annoying. Kind of like Jesus. 

At first I thought, “*name has been removed to protect the innocent*, did you really just write that!?” And then as the words washed over me, I realized…Lent is kind of annoying. Kind of like Jesus.

Lent is the season of the church year that is the antithesis of a spiritual warm fuzzy. Lent is not fuzzy; it is scratchy – scratchy like burlap, scratchy like sackcloth, scratchy like ash on my forehead.

If we choose to lean into Lent, then we choose to lean into our lack. We participate in the sort of self examination where the answer is always you have been found wanting. We look at our sin full on in the face, and in doing so, look deeply into our mortality.

“For I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me” (Ex 20:5) .

“For the wages of sin is death”(Rom 6:23a).

Ouch, Lent. Ouch.

I believe leaning into our lack presents us with two opportunities:

(A) We could become so consumed by our lack that it defeats us. We could throw our hands up in the air. We could roll our eyes at Jesus. We could question (could yell) “What is this life of faith even about? Why are you making me feel worse than I already am? See, I was right; you are just here to judge me!”

(How many of our friends that do not have a relationship with God or are hurting in their relationship with God share these words on a regular basis?)

OR

(B) We could see in our lack – and in recognizing our lack – that God is near. That God’s grace is abundant. That it is annoying to unlearn or change present behaviors so that we are transformed into God’s people who are on the path towards life rather than death.

God is not here to judge us. God is here to love us and to give to us – be for us – the example of holding one another accountable for our actions and behaviors so that we will be a people of life rather than a people of death.

If we continue reading in the two Scriptures quoted previously, see how grace is present in the next breath,

“For I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Ex 20:5-6).

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23). 

During the Season of Lent the Tuskawilla Family will study our way through a sermon series entitled Giving Up, which will encourage us to give up practices or learned behaviors not just for this season, but forever. Giving something up – a regular practice for some during Lent – can be annoying, but I encourage you, if you give something up, to see it as an opportunity to recognize the nearness of God and God’s grace to you in this time (and at all times!).

The life of a disciple is necessarily a life of change – of giving up and taking on, of leading and following, of serving where comfortable and serving beyond our comforts. In all of these environments, God perfects our faith, Jesus strengths our compassion, and the Holy Spirit feeds our appetites for further work in the Kingdom. Essential to this growth in the knowledge and love of our Triune God is recognizing the depth of our need for God’s incredible grace. The Season of Lent, then, is a unique opportunity for us to look into our lack – which can be oh so annoying – and find God’s grace – which is oh so abundant.

Prayer: “O God our deliverer, you led your people of old through the wilderness and brought them to the promised land. Guide now the people of your church, that, following our Savior, we may walk through the wilderness of this world toward the glory of the world to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen.*”

*”Lent,” The United Methodist Hymnal 268.