You Might Be A Christian If…You Have A Weird Thing For Tables

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 5:27-32.

This week the South Shore UMC Family begins an eight-week sermon series entitled You Might Be A Christian If… I am grateful to the Rev. Magrey deVega, serving Hyde Park UMC in Tampa, for helping capture the themes for this series in a Jeff Foxworthy style and for Dr. Kelsey Evans-Amalu for inviting me to test-drive these themes in a lecture on Christianity in her Human Geography course a few years ago.

Also a shout-out to the first Spring Confirmation Retreat 2019 that heard these in each of our times of worship together…I’m still working on determining this generation’s Kevin Bacon…

As Hagrid would say, “more on that later…”

One of the things my Nonnie was known for was elaborate tablescapes. For the grown-up table – Lenox and Waterford Crystal as far as the eye could see. Napkin rings snuggled fine cloth napkins. The chandelier just bright enough to enhance conversation, but not blinding in reflections off the glassware. The kids’ table had its own flare – plastic ev.ery.thing. – but fun plastic! Usually flamingoes. Or pineapples. Or flamingoes enjoying pineapples (thanks, Burdines!). The kids would sit on the porch or in the breakfast nook while the adults escaped to the dining room.

Or so they thought…

Being hangry is a real thing – being angry because you are hungry – and knowing that, even before the word was a thing – meant the adults always let the kids fix their plates first so they – the adults – could eat in peace.

Or so they thought…

Kids eat fast. And we sure did. So when the grandchildren were done we would one-by-one find a way into the dining room. “Mom, I need help with this…” “Gramps, take a look at what I just did…” “Nonnie, may I have…” And a dining room table that comfortably had eight adults around it swelled to fifteen.

And there was always room. Always.

I used to think Nonnie’s dining room table was magic in the way there was always room. But it was not magic. It was magnanimity – learned from her love of God, which taught her great love for her family.

I desire that same spirit of magnanimity when I think of preparing the tables in my life for all God’s people to come. That there will always be room. That there will always be enough and more beside. That at the table we will be and find generous friends.

It’s true. I have a weird thing for tables…because of my faith…my faith that leads my family and leads me in welcoming every single person as a member of Christ’s family.

Prayer: “Sent forth by God’s blessing, our true faith confessing, the people of God from this dwelling take leave. The service is ended, O now be extended the fruits of our worship in all who believe. The seed of the teaching, receptive souls reaching, shall blossom in action for God and for all. God’s grace did invite us, and love shall unite us to work for God’s kingdom and answer the call.”* Amen.

*“Sent Forth by God’s Blessing,” The United Methodist Hymnal 664.

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ROARing Great Time

Sunday’s Scripture ~ “Do not be afraid…Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome” (Nehemiah 4:14bc).

At Vacation Bible School this week the children learned about God’s people crossing the Jordan. Men – one from each of the twelve tribes – led them across the river waters into the Promised Land each selecting a stone as they walked. Once safely to the other side – the ark of the Covenant before them and God’s people all around them, they helped Joshua build an altar. Then Joshua said to the people,

When your children ask their parents in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we crossed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, and so that you may fear the Lord your God forever (Joshua 4:21-24).

That altar of stones could also be called an Ebenezer, meaning stone of help.

We receive our understanding of Ebenezer from I Samuel 7:

Then Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Astartes from among you. Direct your heart to the Lord, and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So Israel put away the Baals and the Astartes, and they served the Lord only.

Then Samuel said, “Gather all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.” So they gathered at Mizpah, and drew water and poured it out before the Lord. They fasted that day, and said, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah.

When the Philistines heard that the people of Israel had gathered at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the people of Israel heard of it they were afraid of the Philistines. The people of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, and pray that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines.” So Samuel took a sucking lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord; Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel, and the Lord answered him. As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel; but the Lord thundered with a mighty voice that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion; and they were routed before Israel. And the men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and struck them down as far as beyond Beth-car.

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer; for he said, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel; the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel (vv. 3-13)

Throughout Vacation Bible School – because of the incredible service of South Shore’s staff and volunteers – our children witnessed Ebenezers – though I think they call them God-sightings. They saw and celebrated moments of the Lord’s goodness, experiences of the Lord’s kindness, and displays of the Lord’s faithfulness. Each Ebenezer – each God-sighting – was an opportunity to remember thus far the Lord has helped us – to remember the Lord is great and awesome. Whom shall we fear?

No one. Thus far the Lord has helped us. The Lord is great and awesome.

And friends, I’ll raise an Ebenezer to that!

Join us as we celebrate VBS Sunday at both South Shore Services this weekend. It is sure to be a roar-ing great time!

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.

Commitment and Conviction: Instructing Children

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Deuteronomy 6:1-9.

In 2009 I nearly walked away from the ministry.

(I know…it is hard to say! It is still hard for me to believe, even to this day!)

I was serving as a children’s ministry staff member at a large United Methodist Church in Atlanta. The church recently hired a new director of the ministry and our relationship was not going well. We bumped heads (locked horns) frequently. One day while expressing concern that the children – and their families – were not being as supported in their faith development at home as what I thought possible for the children’s ministry staff to provide I was told these words by the director,

“You are not here to worry about the spiritual health and development of the children and families in this program. You are here to sort curriculum, cut shapes out of construction paper, and sharpen pencils.”

I did not agree. And my resignation was on her desk two days later.

I cannot not be who I am – and I am a disciple of Jesus deeply committed to supporting, nurturing, and equipping families – especially children – in their faith development. I am certain that if there ever comes a day where this commitment wanes, then the time has come for me to retire.

I want faith to be accessible. I want to make faith accessible. I want to ask questions, listen to questions, and join people of every age in seeking answers to those questions. I want to stand on chairs alongside others a la Dead Poets Society and holler “I don’t know!” when it comes to a question of faith…and then climb off the chairs and pull them up to a table with others as the first steps in the adventure of finding the answer(s). This is one of my greatest passions…and to live into this passion with others is without age restriction or requirement.

Children are capable of incredibly faithful and faith-filled conversations. Their innocence and wonder makes them so wise. Their ability to imagine reintroduces adults to a world that they (we) see all the time but rarely notice.

I am grateful for South Shore’s welcome and addition of the Children’s Moment in our Sunday services. I boldly confess…it is my favorite time of the whole service! I look forward to supporting, nurturing, and equipping the faiths of these young ones. I am also looking forward to ROAR-ing with them at Vacation Bible School next week!

I am eager to see and celebrate how God will lead me in supporting, nurturing, and equipping the faith of the children at South Shore. And, I am equallyeager to see and celebrate how God will lead our children in supporting, nurturing, and equipping the faith of the adults – including me! – at our church.

Prayer: “Once earthly joy I craved, sought peace and rest; now thee alone I seek, give what is best. This all my prayer shall be: More love, O Christ, to thee; more love to thee, more love to thee!”* Amen.

*”More Love to Thee, O Christ,” The United Methodist Hymnal 453.

Commitment and Conviction: Sanctification

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Thessalonians 2:13-15.

This past week I had the opportunity to gather for prayer with a group of the South Shore youth before they left for their summer camp experience. They were fully equipped for camp – pillows, donuts, energy drinks, and portable chargers for all.the.devices.

(Let us pray…for their leaders!)

Before leaving the youth leader, Toni, invited the students to sit to review their covenant for their trip together one final time so that everyone was on the same page as far as behavior expectations and accountability.

I submit to you – some of the language and expectations in that document strengthened – a.lot. – from previous iterations.

Why? Because of me.

I could tell some of the students had their feathers ruffled…and so I quickly identified myself as the source of the updated behavior expectations and accountability. In fact, I congratulated the students on being the first group at South Shore to live into new behavior expectations and accountability in our shared ministry together!

They thanked me…? Kinda?

At the end of my conversation with the students I referenced a grout line on the floor of the hospitality area, saying that once they crossed that threshold they would be “going onto perfection” within the boundaries of their new behavior expectations and accountability. One of the adult leaders was already on the other side of that grout line – I affirmed that Jeremy was already before them a shining example of going onto perfection!

They laughed. Heartily!

(I feel like they know something I don’t…!?)

“Going onto perfection” is the work of Sanctification. Sanctification is the process by which we are made holy. We are made holy through our relationship with and experiences of God.

John Wesley uses beautiful imagery of the breath in describing how our souls act and react with God as we are made holy. He writes, “God’s breathing into the soul, and the soul’s breathing back what it first receives from God; a continual action of God upon the soul, and re-action of the soul upon God; an unceasing presence of God, the loving, pardoning God, manifested in the heart, and perceived by faith; and an unceasing return of love, praise, and prayer, offering up all the thoughts of our hearts, all the words of our tongues, all the works of our hands, all our body, soul, and spirit, to be [a] holy sacrifice, acceptable to God in Christ Jesus. And hence we [may infer] the absolute necessity of this re-action of the soul (whatsoever it be called) in order to the continuance of the divine life therein. For it plainly appears God does not continue to act upon the soul unless the soul re-acts upon God” (The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God III. 2 and 3).

As we grow in our relationships with God and experience God we are continually introduced to greater depths of our covenant with God. This necessarily means that we are also held to higher behavioral expectations and accountabilities as God’s Spirit wholy and holy transforms us into the people that God desires us to be. As I mentioned last Sunday, sometimes this gets under my skin…ruffles my feathers. It is in those moments I am called to meet God in the quiet to share my heart…and ultimately receive God’s heart for that moment and season in my life.

Wesley believed that when we achieved perfection – achieved entire Sanctification – that we would inhale God’s love and exhale God’s praise – in all times in all places with all peoples. That is a goal of mine. Sanctification has the trajectory of my life and my life of faith coursed in that direction.

I am so grateful. I am going onto perfection.

Prayer: “Take my will, and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine. Take my heart, it is thine own; it shall be thy royal throne. Take my love, my Lord, I pour at thy feet its treasure-store. Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee.”* Amen.

*”Take My Life, And Let It Be,” The United Methodist Hymnal 399.

New Day

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Lamentations 3:22-24.

*Ahh! Posting a Sunday Stilleto! Feels like slipping into a fabulous pair of heels…and I know a thing or two about that…!*

On my final day of renewal leave I decided to get some dirt under my fingernails. Equipped with great advice from my gardening gurus – Nita and Lila – and a very sharp pair of pruning shears, I shaped my grandmother’s crown of thorns and used the trimmings to root plants in six other pots, which are adding much needed color to our new yard. It brings my heart joy that my Nonnie continues to shine beauty on this side of eternity as well as the next.

(My neighbor thought I was a little crazy cutting a cactus by hand without gloves…you can take the girl out of Polk County, but you can’t take the Polk County out of the girl…)

I have been quite like this crown of thorns over the past six weeks: way too hot, out in the elements, in the midst of moving, and at times – prickly. This plant was one of the last items to journey to our new home from our previous parsonage. With its arrival also came the reality that we are not in Kansas – I mean Casselberry – anymore…even though we have been in Riverview close to six weeks. When Andrew unloaded this plant off the truck, the feeling overcame me that this is now our home.

And that, friends, is well with my soul.

Beginning this week at South Shore UMC I finally feel like the in between time of transition is complete. Christian Mystics often refer to “in between times” as thin places – places where the veil between reality and eternity is much thinner, or perhaps, even permeable. It is those times where people either A) really connect and root with God or B) they freeze or flee from God because it can be scary to be near something so holy.

I experienced both in my thin place of transition. I connected with God. I froze. And now – how wonderfully theological and symbolic – I have chosen to root – just as I rooted cuttings from my grandmother’s crown of thorns. I – my family – have chosen to root in this neighborhood with this church family for the Kingdom of God. Just as I took a piece of Nonnie’s original plant to make something new, so God is taking pieces of me – experiences, learnings, failings forward, and most importantly, relationships – to root me in ministry alongside the folks at South Shore.

I reckon I will need daily watering (coffee-ing?) and pruning (accountability) especially if I start to be or am prickly.

I am counting on y’all.

Thank you, South Shore UMC, for the warm welcome we received. Andrew, Joshua, and I are grateful for you and excited to root alongside you in ministry to the God we serve.

See you Sunday!

Prayer: “Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee; surely his goodness and mercy here daily attend thee. Ponder anew what the Almighty can do, who with his love doth befriend thee.”* Amen.

*”Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,” The United Methodist Hymnal 139.