Loved Well and Well Loved

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 13:31-35.

This Sunday is my last Sunday with my Tuskawilla UMC family.  I begin six weeks of renewal leave on May 24. On July 1st I begin serving as the senior pastor at South Shore UMC in Riverview; my first Sunday will be July 7th. I invite you to be in prayer for both these congregations, for the transitions we are all anticipating – including my family. It is an odd place to be – somewhere between “see you later” and “nice to meet you.”

I give thanks, in the tradition of St. Patrick, that in all times – especially this one – that “Christ [is] with [us], Christ before us, Christ behind us, Christ in us, Christ beneath us, Christ above us, Christ on our right, Christ on our left, Christ when we lie down, Christ when we sit down, Christ when we arise, Christ in the heart of every person who thinks of us, Christ in the mouth of every person who speaks of us, Christ in every eye that sees us, Christ in every ear that hears us.”*

Dear Tuskawilla UMC Family,

It has been my honor and pleasure to serve as your pastor for the past five years. You have taught me so much about life, about being a pastor, about yourselves, about myself, and about the very real presence of God in our midst. Thank you for putting up with my shenanigans, loving me despite my shortcomings, joining me on taking risks, and embracing my stilettos. Thank you for opening your arms to Andrew and our beloved Joshua. Thank you for allowing me to affirm and challenge you in my sermons and small group studies. Thank you for your prayerful support of the mission and outreach of the church. Thank you for your trust in my leadership and stewardship of your congregation. Thank you for the hugs, handshakes, constructive criticism, affirmation, laughter, and tears.

I felt called to come to Tuskawilla and serve alongside you. I am now called to continue in service in another local church. My love and care for you will continue. I will continue to hold you in prayer as you come under Pastor Heather’s pastoral leadership and continue growing and maturing as disciples. As I leave you to begin serving as the pastor at South Shore United Methodist Church I will remember you fondly and know that we will meet again someday. So this is not good-bye; it is see you down the road. It is because of God’s grace that we travel this road together and this road is leading us to glory.

God’s Sweetest Blessings Be With You Always,

Pastor Sarah

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:3-6

Prayer: “Come, thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace; streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise. Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above. Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, mount of thy redeeming love.”**

*To read St. Patrick’s full prayer, based on the inscription of his breastplate, visit https://www.ourcatholicprayers.com/st-patricks-breastplate.html. 

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

Waiting and Watching

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 10:22-30.

I don’t like change.

The frequency I am hearing and saying this sentence increases daily.

It is true – we like what we like. We like what we know. Therefore, we do not like change.

It is also true – if we do not change, we do not achieve our full potential. If we do not change, we deny ourselves growth and maturity.

If we do not change, we die.

During times of change I find comfort by remembering and returning to the constants in my life – God’s faith in me, the love of and for my family, the good news in hymns, and the truth contained in Scripture. These are sure and trustworthy anchors for me.

On Wednesday I had the privilege to preach the chapel service at Westminster Winter Park as I have done quarterly for the last seven years. These mornings spent in worship with this community have been such a blessing. The residents became mentors and friends. They helped shape me as a person and a pastor. I am so grateful.

Many of my chapel visits were on days that one of Westminster’s musical groups offered their leadership in worship; Wednesday was no different. The choir sang a rendition of “God of the Ages.” The last verse of that hymn sings:

Refresh thy people on their toilsome way;
lead us from night to never-ending day;
fill all our lives with love and grace divine,
and glory, laud, and praise be ever thine.

The phrases “refresh thy people” and “lead us from night to never-ending day” speak deeply to my soul in this season of transition. Amidst all the movement and shift associated with change, change is also an opportunity to refresh and to be led. Our God has a very clear idea of who God wants us to be and what God wants us to do. I, for one, am really good at overcomplicating things, most especially myself. The gift of change is the ability to refresh and be led in and for God’s intention for both my life and my ministry.

The same is true for the Tuskawilla UMC Family as you prepare to continue your ministry alongside Pastor Heather.

My prayer for the coming days is that all our lives truly will be filled with love and grace divine as Jesus refreshes and leads us to the new days that await us. Change is not hard; resistance to change is hard. So may we all be encouraged to be refreshed rather than resist the change. The God of the Ages – including this one! – is leading us!

Prayer: “O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise, the glories of my God and King, the triumphs of his grace! My gracious Master and my God, assist me to proclaim, to spread through all the earth abroad the honors of thy name.”* Amen.

*”O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing,” The United Methodist Hymnal 57.

Course Correction

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 21:15-19.

In our Scripture text for this week Jesus faces Peter – in the text called Simon son of John – head on and asks him the same question three times in a row.

“Simon son of John, do you love me?”

In the many times I have read this text, my immediate reaction has been towards Peter. Jesus puts him on the spot! Peter publicly denied Jesus, raising his voice so that there would be no question from the passersby of with whom Peter stood…or rather did not stand.

Jesus was in earshot of all of this. Peter was in the courtyard above him while Jesus was in a cellar underground.

I have stood in that tomb. Right in its center. And I looked up towards the windows. I could hear birds chirping outside and the wind blowing through the nearby trees. There is no doubt that Jesus heard Peter’s denial.

“Simon son of John, do you love me?”

What a vulnerable question – and not just for Peter – as it invites him into the heart-work of truth telling. But also for Jesus – as with asking this question our Jesus risks rejection once again.

“Simon son of John, do you love me?” could very easily be adapted to any of our names. To me this question is not only worthy of an answer, it demands an answer. The vast amazing incredible holy God of the universe – the Word incarnate – Love incarnate – calls Peter and you and me by name. God in Jesus faces us and sees us and asks us “Do you love me?”

Three times Simon son of John said yes. And three times Jesus directs Peter to incarnate his yes. To talk the talk and walk the walk. To say it and live it. New Testament and other Early Church writings confirm that Peter did. Peter’s actions restored both his credibility and his faith. Peter’s actions reconnected him to the commitment he made to Christ in becoming a fisher for people.

Peter made a huge mistake in denying Jesus. And that mistake could have been the last we ever heard about him. But Peter did not quit. He did not give up. He faced Jesus. He learned from his mistake. Jesus forgave him. Jesus redeemed him. And Peter lived out his days as a witness – as a martyr – declaring – before the world – our Jesus and his love.

Prayer: “As we worship, grant us vision, till your love’s redeeming light in its height and depth and greatness dawns upon our quickened sight, making known the needs and burdens your compassion bids us bear, stirring us to tireless striving your abundant life to share.”* Amen.

*”Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service,” The United Methodist Hymnal 581.