Near the Cross: Partnership, Community, and the Cross

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Philippians 1:1-30.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians begins with three of my favorite verses of Scripture. The Apostle prays,

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 (Phil 1:3-6).

In these and following verses Paul expresses gratitude to God and thanks to the Philippians for partnering with him through supporting his work. Paul repeats the word all in these verses, taking care to emphasize the communal effort that made flesh – made real – made known what God was doing among them.

The result of their partnership? Joy.

And that is a gift of God that will neither tarnish nor fade.

Last Sunday we concluded our Vision 20/20 Series. This Sunday we begin our Lenten Sermon Series based on reflections from Bishop Ken Carter’s book Near the Cross. Today (Wednesday, February 26) we will gather at 7pm in the worship center for a Service of Ashes. I believe it is fitting for the South Shore UMC Family to seal our Vision Study and cross the threshold to the Season of Lent with a litany – meaning a series of prayer petitions – affirming our covenant of service as United Methodists to the world, for the world, and with the world through the power and grace of Jesus Christ our Lord so that the world – so that we! – will indeed experience transformation. Our partnering together in the Lord’s work is how we live into – declare relevant! – and make present the legacy of the foremothers and forefathers of our faith. We are each not called to do all the parts. God calls us in faith – stirs us in our hearts – to do our part. And when we each do our part, together, all the parts are fulfilled – and nothing and no one is in need.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray.

In covenant with God and each other, we affirm our unity in Christ. We will take faithful steps to live as a worldwide church in our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

In covenant with God and each other, we commit ourselves to be in ministry with all people. In faithfulness to the gospel, we will cross boundaries of language, culture, social or economic status as we grow in mutual love and trust.

In covenant with God and each other, we participate in God’s mission as partners in ministry. We share our God-given gifts, experiences, and resources recognizing that they are of equal value, whether spiritual, financial, or missional.

In covenant with God and each other, we commit ourselves to full equality. We uphold equity and accountability in our relationships, structures, and responsibilities for the denomination.

In covenant with God and each other, we enter afresh into a relationship of mutuality. With God’s grace, we joyfully live out our world-wide connection in our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.*

Amen.

*¶125 BOD 2016.

Vision 20/20 Church: Laodicea

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Revelation 3:14-22.

Devotion Focus ~ I Corinthians 12:4-6.

I savor the words of this week’s devotional Scripture text – how beautiful and holy is this good news. God gives each of us gifts. God activates each of these gifts in us. And the telos – the end, the goal, the totality, the fullness – of these gifts is the common good.

Not just for some. Not just for those we love. Not just for those that love us. Not just for those with whom we agree. Not just for those we know. Not just.

This common good that God empowers and equips us with gifts to cultivate is for all.

As United Methodists we affirm “there is but one ministry in Christ, but there are diverse gifts and evidences of God’s grace in the body of Christ. The ministry of all Christians is complimentary. No ministry is subservient to another. All United Methodists are summoned and sent by God to live and work together in mutual interdependence and to be guided by the Spirit into the truth that frees and the love that reconciles” (¶131 BOD 2016).

Jesus says in John 8, “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (v. 36). The worship band Hillsong affirms this Scripture in their song “Who You Say I Am” by answering the words of Jesus singing, “I’m a child of God! Yes, I am!”

Who the Son sets free, oh is free indeed!

I’m a child of God! Yes, I am!

How has being engaged in the ministry of Jesus set you free? How has prayer, worship, giving, service, and witness unbound you? How has your participation in the family of God and the Body of Christ made you whole? What is the greatest gift you have received because of the unity of our shared ministry? I encourage you to use these questions in your reflection time this week. Share your answers with someone you trust. And rejoice. Always rejoice. For what our God says is true, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these” (Jn 14:12).

Prayer: “I, the Lord of snow and rain, I have borne my people’s pain. I have wept for love of them. They turn away. I will break their hearts of stone, give them hearts for love alone. I will speak my word to them. Whom shall I send? Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.”* Amen.

*”Here I Am, Lord,” The United Methodist Hymnal 593.

Vision 20/20 Church: Philadelphia

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Revelation 3:7-13.

Devotion Focus ~ I Corinthians 12:12-26.

The Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 12 acknowledges that each member of the Body of Christ receives gifts or skills from God in order to serve the Body and to equip the Body to serve beyond itself. Each one of us has something to offer – not just the clergy! For some their gift is more readily identifiable. For others their gift may be more nuanced and greater care and attention may have to be applied to articulate it. This work can be daunting and intimidating. So let us hear again these words of assurance,

“Do not be afraid.”

Gifts differ. And that is okay. In fact that is great! As Paul asks in confidence – and rhetorically –, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?”

A regular and recurrent invitation as I serve is to keep my serving in check. What I mean by that is to not allow my service to keep others from serving or to take away opportunities for others to serve. I think this boundary applies to both laity and clergy. We serve an invitational God that desires all of us to be involved and engaged. My natural inclination is to “do it all myself;” that inclination is not only to my detriment but also to the detriment of the Body. If all the individual parts of the body do not live into our roles and live out our gifts, we stagnate.

And nature tells us that which stagnates dies.

The UMC celebrates the gifting and service of the laity – of the people that faithfully gather as the church and accomplish work for God both in and beyond the Sanctuary. The UMC rejoices over the ministry of all believers and encourages the servant leadership of all people. “The ministry of the laity flows from a commitment to Christ’s outreaching love. Lay members of The United Methodist Church are, by history and calling, active advocates of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission; every layperson is called to be missional. The witness of the laity, their Christ-like examples of everyday living as well as the sharing of their own faith experiences of the gospel, is the primary evangelistic ministry through which all people will come to know Christ and The United Methodist Church will fulfill its mission” (¶127 BOD 2016).

The church – the whole Body of Christ – has a responsibility to serve. We have the ability to respond because of God’s grace present in our lives. No individual has to do everything. Every individual is invited, wanted, and valued in doing something.

The Rev. Dr. Barbara Brown Taylor recalls a time of discernment about what she should and would do for God as she anticipated completing her education. Climbing to the top of a rusty fire escape she met God in prayer. She left that conversation with this word from on high, “Do whatever pleases you and belong to me.”

The hope is that what pleases us can and will be pleasing to God as it draws us closer in relationship to God and others.

What pleases you? And how does that support your belonging to God? Share your answers with someone you trust this week. See you in worship on Sunday!

Prayer: “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of his Spirit, washed in his blood. This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long; this is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.”* Amen.

*”Blessed Assurance,” The United Methodist Hymnal 369.

Vision 20/20 Church: Sardis

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Revelation 3:1-6.

Devotion Focus: I Corinthians 12:7-11.

The Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 12 acknowledges that each member of the Body of Christ receives gifts or skills from God in order to serve the Body and to equip the Body to serve beyond itself. Each one of us has something to offer. Some are even called to a special ‘set apart’ ministry. This is the calling of the clergy.

“Ordained ministers are called by God to a lifetime of servant leadership in specialized ministries among the people of God. Ordained ministers are called to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world and the promise of God for creation. Within these specialized ministries, deacons are called to ministries of Word, Service, Compassion, and Justice and elders are called to ministries of Service, Word, Sacrament, and Order. Through these distinctive functions ordained ministers devote themselves wholly to the work of the Church and to the upbuilding of the ministry of all Christians. They do this through the careful study of Scripture and its faithful interpretation; through effective proclamation of the gospel and responsible administration of the sacraments; through diligent pastoral leadership of their congregations for fruitful discipleship; and by following the guidance of the Holy Spirit in witnessing beyond the congregation in the local community and to the ends of the earth. The ordained ministry is defined by its faithful commitment to servant leadership following the example of Jesus Christ, by its passion for the hallowing of life, and by its concern to link all local ministries with the widest boundaries of the Christian community” (¶139 BOD 2016).

The path to ordination begins with an individual identifying and articulating his or her call first before God, and second, in The United Methodist Church, before the local church body. What unfolds next is a rigorous journey of educational, written, and interview requirements whereby individuals pursuing ordination refine their call, articulate their understanding of theology, and demonstrate their fitness for ministry. The Board of Ordained Ministry in each Annual Conference is the group responsible for discerning candidates’ fitness for ministry based on the witness provided. The Board of Ordained Ministry recommends candidates for ordination, which occurs at Annual Conference each year. Ordination is the act that acknowledges and celebrates the ‘set apart ministry’ of an individual by his or her church community. Those who are ordained bear the responsibility to live authentic lives becoming of the gospel and to lead others in living those lives as well.

I started my path towards ordination at the age of 11 – even though I could not articulate at that time what I was doing – God knew what God was doing. My ordination journey led me to Florida Southern College and onto Candler School of Theology at Emory University. My ordination journey led me to submit and present over 200 pages of theological reflection and critical thinking during a five year period. My ordination journey led me to serve with the people of New Horizon in Haines City, Reeves Memorial in Orlando, Tuskawilla in Casselberry-Winter Springs, and now to South Shore in Riverview.

I feel deeply the weight and importance of God’s call to care for and to guide this congregation. Even on my hardest days – and there have been some hard days in all of my appointments – I cannot imagine doing anything else. I am not what I produce but I am and the product of what the I AM is doing through me.

I am grateful for my clergy sisters and brothers that journey alongside me. I am grateful for the congregations that have graciously received me so that together we can attend to God’s work before us. Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world looks similar…and different…in every context. That is both a comfort and a challenge. It is good that we do not work alone. It is good that many are called to be the heads, hearts, and hands of God in the world. When clergy and laity serve hand in hand, we make the Kingdom present. Together we make the Kingdom more real.

Prayer: “O let the Son of God enfold you with his Spirit and his love. Let him fill your heart and satisfy your soul. O let him have the things that hold you, and his Spirit like a dove will descend upon your life and make you whole. Jesus, O Jesus, come and fill your lambs. Jesus, O Jesus, come and fill your lambs.”* Amen.

*”Spirit Song,” The United Methodist Hymnal 347.