Given Everything

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 12:38-44.

When I think about “my pastor” I think about Riley Short. He was appointed to my home church – First UMC Lakeland – when I was in elementary school and retired the year I graduated from high school. I grew up with him as he grew up my church.

When I was in seventh grade I drew the “short straw” – as in I was not in Sunday School one day so I was “voluntold” the next week that I would be preaching all three services at our upcoming Youth Sunday. I was terrified. The sermon was on the temptation of Christ in the wilderness. I used way too many “air-quotes” and talked way too fast. It was awful.

Riley asked me to stand with him in the greeting line after the 11 o’clock service that day. He had his arm around my shoulder the entire time, the look of great pride and pleasure across his face. When we concluded all our greetings, Riley squeezed me a little tighter to his side, looked me in the eye, and said, “You will be a great preacher one day.”

I do not know about the “great preacher” part – but those words that Riley spoke in my life and into my life have profoundly shaped me to this day. And they will continue to shape me beyond this day. Those words, which to some may have seemed so small, so minor, perhaps even flattery without any real grounding in reality, gave me everything.

They offered me life.

The offerings that we make throughout our lives – with our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness – with our words, actions, and deeds – with our hugs and handshakes – with our taking the time rather than rushing the time – make all the difference in the world. What may seem like just a small drop in the bucket create ripples of change – and if we are aware – we see that the change impacts not only our neighbor, but us as well.

If we move too quickly in life, we will miss opportunities to give and therefore receive. If we think too highly of ourselves, much like the Scribes in our Scripture passage for this week, then our behavior is not only a detriment to our neighbors – it is also a detriment to ourselves. God asks that when we give, we give what is most valuable in that moment. Therefore, what we give may change from moment to moment – that we give is to remain constant…constant and dynamic.

Our offerings – be they our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness – our words, actions, and deeds – our hugs and handshakes – our taking the time rather than rushing the time – make all the difference in the world. Our offerings are opportunities for us to speak life and speak into the lives of one another and our neighbors. How awesome it is that our God gives us this privilege – this responsibility! Receive it with care. And share your offerings with great joy.

In the words of Riley, “And that’s the truth…Amen.”

Prayer: “Give thanks for tomorrow, full of surprises for knowing whatever tomorrow may bring, the Word is our promise always, forever; we rest in God’s keeping and live in God’s love.”* Amen.

*”What Gift Can We Bring,” The United Methodist Hymnal 87.


The Lord Builds This House

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 127:1.

When I was in sixth grade my parents decided to sell our house and build a new house across town. For six months our family of four lived in a two bedroom apartment. I slept on the couch and shared a closet with my brother.


(Not the sleeping on the couch – the sharing the closet with my brother.)

Every Monday through Saturday evening had the same routine:

  • Family came home – from work, school, errands, or activities
  • Family ate dinner together
  • Family loaded into the car to make the three mile drive to see the new house.

Every Monday through Saturday evening for six months.


(Sorry Dad.)

My father wanted daily visual confirmation of what work had been accomplished. He and my mother made quite an investment in that house; they wanted to see the fruit of their investment from dug footers to the shingled roof to everything in between.

(Like any sixth grader, my biggest concern was that I would have the bigger bedroom. After all…I slept on the couch for six months… I did get the bigger bedroom, but Charlie had the bigger closet. Can’t win ’em all.)

I found those daily pilgrimages to the new house very frustrating. I was not interested in how the house was built; I lacked the patience – or maybe it was the attention – to spot what was new each time we pulled up to the curb or crossed the threshold. My priority was that the house was built. Until then, the daily visits were daily reminders of how much longer I had to wait.

(And waiting is the worst…c’mon November.)

My predisposition remains towards that things are made or completed rather than how they are made or completed…which is probably why God continues to draw me into problem solving situations as well as circumstances where I have to move from A to B without knowing the way forward.

(While a straight line would be the quickest commute – the church world tends to prefer winding paths and loop-de-loops…)

Why the winding paths? Why the loop-de-loops? Why the detours or dead ends? There is one common denominator – people.

Whenever I encounter a roadblock in my yoga practice, I acknowledge that there is a person in my way…and that person is me. If I am afraid of a pose, if I fall out of a pose, if I “fake it till I make it” in a pose rather than applying myself to the process of learning the pose from the ground up – the person standing in the way is me.

Similarly, I believe when the church encounters roadblocks in our problem solving or in moving forward, it is usually because of people. Sometimes it is malicious in nature, but more often than not, we stand in our own way because of fear, uncertainty, and uncooperativeness – with God and with one another. God wants the church – the Body of Christ – to accomplish the work before us – to ensure that we make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. God also wants the church – each church – our church – to be faithful in figuring out how our work is done.

How the work is done and that the work is done is the responsibility of the whole body of Christ at Tuskawilla. Frustration enters in when this responsibility continually falls on the shoulders of a few.

For Tuskawilla UMC to continue in the way that God intends, we must apply ourselves to both the how and the that. And that we does not just refer to the Executive Council, Leadership Team, retired clergy, present small group and ministry leaders, or pastor – that we applies to all of us. Together God wants us to face our fears, to relinquish our uncertainties, and to cooperatively discern and determine our next steps as a congregation. God wants us to speak truth to one another in love so that we do not hinder or block the next steps God desires us to take. And God wants us to take those steps. One after another after another after another.

God has been about the business of building at Tuskawilla for over three and a half decades. God is not finished yet…and I am eager to see the how and that God will shepherd us to and through next.

Prayer: “Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I’m come; and I hope, by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home. Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God; he, to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood.”* Amen.

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

Where You Go, I’ll Go

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ruth 1:1-18.

Following the events in Las Vegas late Sunday evening and early Monday morning, I saw a number of people quoting phrases from Warsan Shire’s poem entitled, What They Did Yesterday Afternoon. Shire is a British poet, activist, writer, and teacher, born to Somali parents, and originally from Kenya. Her poems stem from the tension between suffering and belonging – and in that place – she, from writing, and others, from reading – experience healing.

what they did yesterday afternoon

by warsan shire

they set my aunts house on fire
i cried the way women on tv do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.
i called the boy who use to love me
tried to ‘okay’ my voice
i said hello
he said warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?

i’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
dear god
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered

Once again – maddeningly, frustratingly, horrifically, crushingly – we as a society, as a species – find ourselves trying to make sense of life after a senseless tragedy. Innocent blood spilled. Questions unanswered. Joy stripped away. Peace voided.

We know too well the environments Shire describes in her poem. We see our places of origin or the places that we spend most of our time “thirsty” and “on fire” – meaning that we see them – we engage them experiencing – great need and crying for help. People are hurting. And unfortunately, hurt people hurt people.

Following a tragedy like the mass shooting in Las Vegas it seems the the hurt compounds further as everyone from family members to neighbors to religious leaders to law makers argue over Second Amendment Rights, gun control, responses to gun violence, and access to quality mental health care. Tempers flare and arguments rage to a boiling point…and then the conversations start to cool…but the hurt remains.

“Where does it hurt?” “Everywhere everywhere everywhere.”

In our Scripture passage this week Ruth covenants to journey on with Naomi, her mother-in-law, though it would make more sense for Ruth to return home to seek better future opportunities. Naomi feels so poorly treated by God that she wishes to change her name to Mara to capture the experience that the Almighty has “dealt bitterly [and] harshly” with her (Ruth 1:20-21). Naomi looks at her life and as her heart bleeds over the losses in her family, she feels abandoned and wants to give up. But she is not alone. Ruth is with her. And I believe Ruth’s presence is the very embodiment of God’s presence – a present gift and promise – of which Naomi needed to be reminded.

In a hurting world we have the opportunity to be the very embodiments of God’s presence – God’s present gift and promise – of which our family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers, acquaintances, and elected officials need to be reminded. We bear with us the message of the cross – that life has the final word, not death – and that our God’s preferred future for us is one shaped by peace rather than violence.

We bear this message in our bodies and it is also our responsibility to communicate this message – to share and advocate this message – through our words, actions, and deeds. A mentor of mine once told me that hope is a beautiful gift, but hope is not a strategy. We cannot “hope away” conflict, no matter the subject of the conflict. We must come to the table, as hard as it may be, to have conversations, to hear points of view different from our own, to accept that all parties – all sides – must give and take to reach a life-giving solution. I believe these are vital, necessary, and immediate steps that must be taken as we journey in life together.

God calls us to be our sisters’ and brothers’ keeper; God calls us to be Ruth for whoever is experiencing a period of Naomi.

Wherever Naomi went, Ruth was with her. In the joy and in the hurt. Everywhere everywhere everywhere.

In our journeying together – in compassion, empathy, and advocacy – I believe we can change the answer of Shire’s atlas.

“Where does it hurt?” “Nowhere, nowhere, nowhere.”

Prayer: “I can hear my Savior calling, I can hear my Savior calling, I can hear my Savior calling, ‘Take thy cross and follow, follow me.’ Where he leads me I will follow, where he leads me I will follow, where he leads me I will follow; I’ll go with him, with him all the way.”* Amen.

*”Where He Leads Me,” The United Methodist Hymnal 338.