All Saints Celebration and Remembrance

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Hebrews 9:11-14.

On Saturday Andrew will preside at the celebration of life for two saints of Azalea Park UMC – Beverly and Harvey House. They went onto glory within days of one another. They both lived into their mid-eighties. They both finished well their courses in faith. They both loved one another and their families beyond description.

They both will be missed.

The first time I really sat down to speak with Harvey was at a UMW Picnic of all places. The Sunshine Circle has an annual picnic lunch at a local park; they invited Andrew to come and welcomed me as an extra guest.

(I cannot resist United Methodists and deviled eggs in a park pavilion!)

Harvey sat towards the back of the pavilion while Beverly joyfully served as a hostess, ensuring everyone had every possible choice and need fulfilled. Harvey had a quiet smile on his face as he watched Beverly serve. I asked him why he was smiling. He pointed to Beverly – her joy, her friendliness, her compassion, and her servant’s heart – and simply responded, “How could I not?”

“How could I not?”

When I think of the saints we will celebrate a Tuskawilla UMC in both our worship services this week, I join Harvey in smiling. These women and men – their service on both sides of eternity – are witnesses to our faith.

We miss the loved ones that are no longer physically near us. Somedays their place in our hearts is so empty and hollow…it is like the wound of grief will not ever heal. It is in these moments especially that we call to mind God’s faithfulness and the truth of God’s word:

Therefore, my friendslet us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching...Recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting. Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet “in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay; but my righteous one will live by faith. My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back.” But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved (Heb 10:19a, 22-25, 32-39). 

Do not abandon your confidence. Claim the Lord’s endurance – especially in the valley of the shadow of death. God will guide us through – God and the servant saints that smile on us as we continue our courses in faith.

We will honor the saints of the Tuskawilla UMC Family at both our worship services on Sunday. See you then.

Prayer: “For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest. Alleluia, Alleluia!”* Amen.

*”For All The Saints,” The United Methodist Hymnal 711.

 

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Defying Gravity and Loving Your Enemies

Sunday’s Scriptures ~ II Chronicles 15:1-12 and Jonah 4:1-11.

This week Andrew and I will ‘swap pulpits’ for our 11 o’clock worship services. Andrew will preach at Tuskawilla UMC and I will preach at Azalea Park following TUMC’s 8:30am Morningsong Service.

It has always been important to Andrew and me for our congregations to know both of us. Our congregations do not see both of us together regularly and we want you to know that both of us care for you, pray for you, and are grateful that you smile at our shenanigans…

Well, that you smile at our shenanigans…most of the time…

This week I am in awe of watching God’s people at work. Both of our churches hosted Trunk or Treats last week. It is an incredible sight to watch the church rally together around an event to serve our community. Smiles donned faces. Laughter filled the air. New connections were made. A broad sense of welcome was shared. Thank you, Church, for all your incredible service and hospitality.

This past Wednesday a college student made his way to the church, seeking counsel and direction. I was engaged in Bible Study when he arrived – and you know what – all was well. Again, the church – the Body of Christ present – rallied around this young man. Prayers were offered. Hands were held. Contact information was exchanged. And I imagine a young man who walked in the Sanctuary with his face downcast left with his head a little higher, his back a little straighter. This folks! This is what it means to be the Body of Christ. This is what it means to take on the posture of the Good Samaritan – to stop and serve a neighbor in need along any and every road in life.

And! even more telling – I was not the one to initiate or facilitate either of these encounters – neither Trunk or Treat or holding the space of grace for this college student. The Body of Christ – you – the church – stepped up and stepped into these valuable leadership roles.

I am so so proud of you. I am so so grateful for you. Well done, good and faithful servants.

I look forward to worship on Sunday – to serve with the TUMC Family at Morningsong, to join the Azalea Park Family at 11am, and to hear about the fun you will have with Andrew at 11 o’clock at TUMC. Thank you for welcoming him in worship leadership on Sunday. See you soon, church family!

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.

 

The Blessing Of Giving

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 20:32-38.

I spent a lot of time in reflection this week. Little did I know a year ago this week would be my last week before maternity leave.

I think God was merciful; my preaching in flats for one Sunday was enough!

We thought our due date was November 5 – actually it was November 12 for reasons that still do not make sense to Andrew and me – but Joshua had other plans entirely.

I think he wanted to redeem October for me. Now I would think of this month for him first…and for LOFs…do I have to assign them a number?

This time last year we had just moved all our furniture back into the parsonage following the new flooring installation. We were still unpackaging shower presents. I had no idea where the special hospital folder with all the paperwork in it was – you know the one you have when you go to the hospital!? (Turns out you do not have to have it…)

That week I worked patch shifts. We unloaded the second truck. I spent the day in a district meeting. And then I went to a doctors appointment – and they were astonished I was walking and talking. They were also slightly terrified when I said I drove myself to the appointment; according to the blood pressure machine I should have been in the midst of a seizure or a stroke.

Andrew picked me up and we went to the hospital – without the folder. We waited and waited and waited. I did not respond to any of their medication – to reduce my blood pressure or to start labor. We waited and waited and waited. We cried. We rolled our eyes. We hoped. I wanted Joshua to be safe. Andrew wanted both of us to be safe.

And then Sunday came. And with Sunday – peace. Great friends and leaders stepped into the pulpits, and Trunk or Treat leadership, and Charge Conference participation and we stepped into the operating room. Britney Spears’ Wrecking Ball played over the speakers. “Sometimes there are weird noises in here,” the anesthesiologist said. Moments later, soft cries. Joshua was here. And his presence erased all the fear and anger and worry and mess from the preceding days. That day I received the third greatest gift in my life. The first is my relationship with God, the second is my relationship with Andrew, and the third is the relationship with our son. We delight watching him grow in knowledge and love of God and the world God made each and every day.

Andrew and I joke from time to time, “We have kept Joshua alive [this length of time].” On Monday we can say, “We have kept Joshua alive for a whole year!” But the truth is that he has given us life – he has given us life for a whole year. Joshua has given us a life we never dreamed could be until October 22, 2017.

I tear up when I think about all we have received since receiving Joshua in our arms nearly a year ago – all the encouragement and gifts, all the hugs and crazy stories, all the honesty and care.

The generosity of others in our lives – especially in Joshua’s first year of life – teaches and encourages our generosity. This is a beautiful lesson learned as a result of living faithfully in a community of believers.

Thank you, dear friends, for welcoming and loving our son so well in his first year. Because of what we have received from you, we are inspired to give, and to give more.

Prayer: “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father; there is no shadow of turning with thee; thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not; as thou hast been, thou forever wilt be. Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”* Amen.

*”Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” The United Methodist Hymnal 140.

 

The Big Ask

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Proverbs 3:1-12.

Last Sunday I was out in the patch with our Little Orange Friends when the first family of visitors arrived. They headed to the far end of the patch – the children’s eyes on a on a not so little Little Orange Friend. I grabbed the Patch Visitor Stickers and headed their way.

The first sticker I offered to a little boy; he looked to be about four. He seized that sticker and proudly donned it on his shirt. The second sticker I offered to his sister; she looked to be about two-and-a-half. “Would you like a sticker for visiting the pumpkin patch today?” Her eyes met mine…and then…she slowly…edged…behind…her father’s…leg.

Mom and Dad tried to coax her out, but I affirmed her choice. “You do not know me. I am new to you. You made a good choice in sticking close to Mom and Dad.” Mom took her daughter’s sticker from me. As they left the patch I spied the sticker on the little girl’s collar.

I was a new person to that little girl and the enormity of what I was asking her was clear on her face. I was not asking her if she wanted a sticker. I asked her if she would trust me; the sticker was simply the evidence of our trust exchange.

Trust comes with time. Trust builds through relationship. Trust is learned and strengthened through our faith.

I find that on the whole I trust people easily and quickly because I hope for the best in people. I seek the best in people. And I encourage the best in people. “God did not give [me] a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” (II Tim 1:7). God’s spirit of power humbles my pride. God’s spirit of love drives out suspicion. God’s spirit of self-discipline reminds me that I was made for relationship and I was sent to make of all disciples. Together God’s spirit of power, love, and self-discipline draws me to acts and feelings of compassion towards all people. This is the work of the Kingdom – to fuel the trust that is foundational to our faith – and living out our faith! – rather than fuel anxiety and fear.

And my friends, the Kingdom has had to wait long enough.

I will be joined in worship leadership at both Morningsong and 11 o’clock Worship this week by Bob Spitzer, TUMC’s Finance Chairperson. Together we will share about the vision for Tuskawilla UMC’s stewardship in 2019. I am grateful for Bob’s leadership and for the faith-filled message he will share on Sunday.

Prayer: “Even so, Lord, quickly come, bring thy final harvest home; gather thou thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin, there, forever purified, in thy presence to abide; come, with all thine angels, come, raise the glorious harvest home.”* Amen.

*”Come, Ye Thankful People Come,” The United Methodist Hymnal 694.

Example of Greatness in God’s Kingdom

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 21:1-4.

Earlier this week I had the privilege to partake in one of my more glamorous pastoral duties – throwing away straw and rotten pumpkins in the dumpster.

*pause for dramatic effect*

I set to work quietly with a wheelbarrow and a shovel. And it was not before long that I heard another voice and then another voice. And then two hands became four hands. And four hands became six hands. And before long, all of the straw and rotten pumpkins were relocated into the dumpster.

Thank you, Jose and Lila.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude by the number of kind voices speaking and helping hands serving at the church recently. Light bulbs are changed. Closets are organized. Weeds are pulled. Special events are planned. Telephones are answered. Bulletins are folded. Copies are made. Invoices are recorded. Powerpoints are crafted. Small groups are led. Communion is served. Prayers are prayed. Shepherds are raised. Community members are welcomed. LOFs are sold!

The list could go on and on.

To some these acts may seem so small. To me, these acts are incredibly generous and incredibly important. I am so grateful to the persons that bless me and bless our church with these offerings. I am grateful that you are quick to respond and lend a helping hand…even when that helping hand might crush into pumpkin guts. Thank you for what you do. I honor your service. I honor you.

And God does too.

Join us Sunday as we learn about the widow’s offering – another small act that examples for us greatness in God’s Kingdom. We will also join with our brothers and sisters in faith around the globe as we celebrate The Lord’s Supper on World Communion Sunday.

See you in worship.

Prayer: “You satisfy the hungry heart with gift of finest wheat. Come give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat. You give yourself to us, O Lord, then selfless let us be, to serve each other in your name in truth and charity. You satisfy the hungry heart with gift of finest wheat. Come give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat.”* Amen.

*”You Satisfy the Hungry Heart,” The United Methodist Hymnal 629.