Thy Kingdom Come

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 16:1-8.

My home church’s sanctuary has a balcony, and in the lower right corner of the balcony sits a small antiphonal organ. This organ offers a quieter, more reflective tone. When the organ plays it sounds as if the music crosses a great distance in order to enter the ear.

When I was very young the choir director’s wife always sang during the Good Friday service. She sang the same piece every year. She sang The Lord’s Prayer.

She stood in the corner of the balcony nearest that antiphonal organ and sang the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray. Those are words that I know well; they are words that my mother taught me in my earliest years. And yet hearing them sung from her lips and cascade from on high made the prayer’s words take on a haunting quality. I listened to those words as I viewed artwork depicting Jesus’ passion. As I looked on depictions of his suffering and his mortality, I considered my sin, my loss. On Good Friday it seemed as if the entire world was coming apart … and yet … that coming apart was and is a part of God’s kingdom coming.

Good Friday, by no means, is a warm or particularly joyful holy day celebration in the Christian year. Yet Good Friday, like Ash Wednesday, is needful. It provides space for us to reflect. It provides space for us to draw so near to God‘s incredible grace and repent of our sin. It provides space for us to look death in the face and know – and proclaim – that Sunday is coming.

In his book Falling Upward Fr. Richard Rohr writes, “God adjusts to the vagaries and failures of the moment. This ability to adjust to human disorder and failure is named God’s providence or compassion” (56). God adjusts – not meaning that God bends to accept our bent to sinning – but meaning that God bends low to help us stand.

God meets us where we are – at the foot of the cross and high upon it. God meets us where we are, and through grace, draws us where God wants us to be.

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Prayer: “Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered; the slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered. For our atonement, while we nothing heeded, God interceded.”* Amen.

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

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Make Way For Jesus

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 11:1-11.

One of my favorite books growing up was Make Way For Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. And even better than the book? The day the book came to life when my grandfather took me to visit the Peabody Hotel in Orlando.

That was a special day for many reasons. This Polk County girl was headed for the Big City. I had one-on-one time with my grandfather. And I would get to make way for ducklings.

We entered the hotel lobby and waited. And waited. And waited. I remember the elevator bell ringing. The door opened and a mother duck, followed by a dozen ducklings, filed out. The people in the busy hotel lobby parted like the waters of the sea as the ducks made their way. They crossed the lobby in pursuit of the pond adjacent to the hotel’s lanai. We followed after them – my grandfather guiding me so the ducklings would always be in view. And then *splish splish splash* the ducklings followed their mother into the water. They were onto their next adventure as my grandfather and I completed mine.

Many people waited and then watched as Jesus made his way down the Palm Sunday road into Jerusalem. Men placed their cloaks on the ground. Women sang songs. Children waved branches. And I imagine grandparents guided the younger generations so they, too, would have Jesus in their view.

This intergenerational Palm Sunday image is powerful. So often the Church – the Body of Christ – allows or elects to be silo-ed. Adults here. Youth here. Children here. At times this is good; it enables and supports age- and cognition-appropriate learning and discussion. However, at other times, it is important for the Church to be together. To share moments of worship and wonder together. To create collective memories together. To be changed by the conclusion of one adventure and to start the next together.

Holy Week at TUMC, beginning with the Easter Egg Hunt this Saturday, is full of opportunities for the generations of Christ’s Body, the Church, to be together. We will have opportunities to seek and sing, read and remember, mourn and magnify. And these opportunities will be enhanced by our being together.

This is the first year I will witness Jesus making his way through Holy Week alongside the next generation in my family. I plan to take care in guiding Joshua so he is able to keep Jesus in view. I look to our TUMC Family to take on that same commitment for all the children in our families and in our church. This is a time for us to be together. This is the time for us to make way for Jesus and witness as he begins his next adventure.

Prayer: “The people of the Hebrews with psalms before thee went; our prayer and praise and anthems before thee we present. To thee, before thy passion, they sang their hymns of praise; to thee, now high exalted, our melody we raise. Thou didst accept their praises;
accept the prayers we bring, who in all good delightest, thou good and gracious King. All glory, laud, and honor, to thee, Redeemer, King, to whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring.”* Amen.

*”All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” The United Methodist Hymnal 280.

 

Lord of the Dance: The Dance Goes On

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 15:9-17.

This week we conclude our sermon series based upon Sydney Carter’s hymn The Lord of the Dance. In five verses this hymn sings the story to Jesus’ life – incarnation, disciple-making, facing adversaries, sacrifice, and resurrection. Carter’s final verse takes care to make us aware of our invitation to join Jesus’ dance. In verses one through four we observe Jesus dancing; in verse five he extends his open hand to us.

“I’ll live in you, if you live in me.”

I gain a sense of infinity when I sing that phrase. There is an infinite number of people that could join Jesus in his dance. And there is an infinite number of ways we could continue the dance with Jesus. These truths affirm the following for me:

There is wideness in God’s mercy.

There is great freedom in the ways we can demonstrate our commitment to the dance led by Christ.

Barbara Brown Taylor is a pastor and writer that I often turn to as I continue shaping my life of faith and pastoral craft. In one particular story she shares about a time of discernment with God as she prepared to graduate from college. She lacked certainty in her next steps…she sought confidence to continue in Christ’s dance. So she prayed. And God answered her in prayer, “Do whatever pleases you and belong to me.”

Wideness in God’s mercy.

Freedom in the ways we can demonstrate our commitment to the dance led by Christ.

How are you dancing with Christ? What objections or inhibitions do you have to joining Christ’s dance? By experiencing the wideness of God’s mercy and the freedom in how you can dance with Christ, in what ways are you doing whatever pleases you and belonging to God?

This is our invitation to eternity with Christ. “I’ll live in you, if you live in me. I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.”

Prayer: “They cut me down and I leapt up high, I am the life that’ll never, never die; I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me; I am the Lord of the Dance said he. Dance, then, wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the Dance, said he. And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be, and I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said he.”* Amen.

*”The Lord of the Dance,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 261.

 

Lord of the Dance: Killing The Dance

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 15:33-41.

Memorial Services are holy moments in my life. They are opportunities for me to practice my faith, to share my belief in the resurrection, and to walk with the Good Shepherd alongside his followers that are burdened by grief and loss. In Memorial Services we have the opportunity to sing, read, and hear our faith. Doing so enables me to affirm it is well with my soul.

Recently I served at two graveside services and each service included a change from which I am accustomed. Early on mentors in ministry told me to – in this order – complete the graveside benediction, shake the hands of the family seated in the first row,  move to the side for the funeral director to formally end the gathering, and leave.

Leave.

The graveside staff would not move the casket until the entire family left, which was signaled (and encouraged) by the departure of the clergy person .

But these last two services were different. The service ended and I moved to the side (with the intentions of greeting the family after the funeral director spoke) only to hear an invitation for the family to move close to the graveside as their loved one’s casket was lowered into the earth. At one service, family members were among the people lowering their father in place.

Even then – even in death – their family was at their side.

On a hill, far away, stood an old rugged cross. On a hill, far away, stood Jesus’ family as Mary’s son, James’ brother, Mary Magdalena’s friend, our Savior died.

Memorial Services affirm me of the courage and strength God gifts us. They also teach me about the resiliency of God’s people. Accompanying someone to, through, and from death is difficult. People experience a whole gamut of emotions in a matter of minutes, and those minutes tend to repeat themselves again and again. There is hurt…and there is hope. It is hard to draw near – and perhaps even harder to stay near – in these moments. But proximity is so important. Proximity ultimately provides healing.

In John 16:33 Jesus says, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” In conquering the world, Jesus conquered death. And in conquering death, Jesus showed us the path to the Father by our belief in him.

As I continue my journey to Calvary this year, I hope I am found at the foot of the cross – just as these devoted families gathered with hope around their loved one’s graves – rather than on a hill far away. Why? Because proximity increases intimacy – it increases our connection to the depth of love displayed on the cross.

When I look at the cross, I understand the vertical beam reconciling me to God through Christ and I understand the horizontal beam as Christ’s commission that I reach out in his love – from his heart through my hands – for reconciliation, for upbuilding, for the sake of the Kingdom. I have this understanding as a result of drawing near to Christ’s crucifixion. I have this understanding because I have accompanied and will accompany him to and through death so that he can lead me in the paths I should go from his death.

I do not believe I could accomplish this from a distance – from a hill far away.

So I choose to draw near. Christ’s death has and will continue to overcome the grave.

It is well with my soul.

Prayer: “I danced on a Friday and the sky turned black; it’s hard to dance with the devil on your back; they buried my body and they thought I’d gone, but I am the dance and I still go on. Dance, then, wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the Dance, said he. And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be, and I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.

 

*”Lord of the Dance,” The United Methodist Hymnal 261.