Lord, Prepare Us: Do Good

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 6:32-38.

Much of my days are currently spent planning for in-person worship to resume. I make plans. I throw out plans. I change plans. I consult on plans.

My eyes cross over plans.

And, if I am honest, all the planning is with an aching.

I rejoice that we will – at some point – be back to worshipping together. Even so, I ache because it will not be worship as we knew it. I ache because I wonder if we will ever worship like that again.

If I am not planning, then I am reflecting on how I can and how I am making this ‘new’ normal actually normal. I am seeking the extraordinary in the ordinary. I am seeking the holy in the routine. I am, as Barbara Brown Taylor would say, pausing and giving thanks to God for the gift and presence of God’s altars in the world – be they a dining room table, a warm embrace, a thunderstorm, a blooming flower, and more.

Recently I shared a conversation with Hal and Donna Pierce. We talked about our admiration for authors that make reflections on the life of faith so real and so tangible. Their words do not require a dictionary or an array of interpretive tools. Their words read like a conversation with a beloved friend; each time you pick up where you left off – with ease and comfort and encouragement.

We share in common a love for Pastor Fred Craddock. I recommended Barbara Brown Taylor and the late Rachel Held Evans to their reading. And before the subject changed, I added Nadia Bolz-Weber to the list with an amusing caution because a healthy comfort with profanity is a major pre-requisite before reading her books.

My best friend came across this social media posting from Bolz-Weber, and it resonated deeply with me. It speaks to identifying the realness and tangibleness of our faith in the midst of pandemic. She identifies the extraordinary. She lifts up the holy. Praise God for these, God’s altars, in the world. May you recognize these and others. May God speak to you through them. May God encourage and strengthen us in the planning, in the aching, and in this and every day before us.

Let us pray.

(Copied from St. Thomas Episcopal Church – Saint Petersburg, Florida’s Facebook Page)

The Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, Lutheran pastor and author (and now podcaster – The Confessional) offered this reflection yesterday which our Deacon, the Rev. Martha Goodwill, shares with us.

I do not know when we can gather together again in worship, Lord.

So, for now I just ask that:

When I sing along in my kitchen to each song on Stevie Wonder’s Songs in The Key of Life Album, that it be counted as praise. (Happy 70thBirthday, SW!)

And that when I read the news and my heart tightens in my chest, may it be counted as a Kyrie.

And that when my eyes brighten in a smile behind my mask as I thank the cashier may it be counted as passing the peace.

And that when I water my plants and wash my dishes and take a shower may it be counted as remembering my baptism.

And that when the tears come and my shoulders shake and my breathing falters, may it be counted as prayer.

And that when I stumble upon a Tabitha Brown video and hear her grace and love of you may it be counted as a hearing a homily.

And that as I sit at that table in my apartment, and eat one more homemade meal, slowly, joyfully, with nothing else demanding my time or attention, may it be counted as communion.

Amen.

-Nadia Bolz-Weber

 

Lord, Prepare Us: Do No Harm

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 6:27-31.

Growing up in United Methodist Youth Fellowship, one of the first songs I learned to sing and play on guitar was Sanctuary:

Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary

Pure and holy – tried and true. 

With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living

Sanctuary, for you.

It was a song that called us to prayer. It was a song that centered us in focus. It was a song that united us in response – as a sanctuary people, Lord lead us in creating and living sanctuary for others.

In my years of service at Tuskawilla UMC the youth taught me a second verse to Sanctuary:

Lord, teach your people to stop their fighting

Start uniting – live as one.

Let’s get together, and live forever

Loving always through your son. 

It was a song that called us to prayer. It was a song that centered us in focus. It was a song that united us in response – as a sanctuary people, Lord lead us in creating and living sanctuary for others.

Again. Then. Still. Now.

Always.

This week South Shore UMC will begin a three-week sermon series exploring what it means for us to be a sanctuary together – called to prayer, centered in focus, and united in response – both as a congregation and as a community of faith in our facility – as we to return to in-person worship and gatherings, following timeline recommendations from our Annual Conference Leadership and public health officials. We will use portions of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain, found in the Gospel of Luke, and John Wesley’s General Rules to frame our teaching and guide our understanding. The sermons during this series will have very practical and very contextual remarks pertaining to our life together at South Shore. A copy of each sermon during this series will be emailed to persons in our church database each Monday so that folks can revisit the policies and procedures introduced during worship.

I invite you to please continue in prayer – for one another, for our church, and for our leaders in the denomination, public health, and government as together we all continue discerning the next best steps that support the wellbeing and health of all people. I look forward to this time together with you in virtual worship and learning in the coming weeks.

Prayer: “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come; ’tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”* Amen.

*”Amazing Grace,” The United Methodist Hymnal 378.

‘Empty’ Does Not Mean ‘Over’: Chair

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 14:15-24.

The wonderful folks of Tuskawilla UMC introduced me to a new beloved anthem. It is a cherished song that the choir and soloists alike sang as part of celebrations of life called “Untitled Hymn” by artist Chris Rice. It has since been called “Come to Jesus” as that is a repeated refrain throughout the song.

It is a bittersweet melody. It is a song of comfort and of sorrow. For it is, in a way, a musical representation of Ecclesiastes 3:1-11, whose refrain is “there is a time for (this) and a time for (that).” In “Untitled Hymn” Chris Rice explores some of the most fragile moments of our human experience and offers to hearers an invitation of what to do when it is “time.”

You may listen to a recording of the song by following the link contained here.

The last time I heard “Untitled Hymn” sung in worship, it was sung by my dear family friend, Alex Lilly, for his beloved Grandmere, at her celebration of life. I am grateful this Sunday at the South Shore UMC Family will hear this anthem sung by our wonderful Chelsea Hemenway as we celebrate Holy Communion.

“Untitled Hymn” has six verses. Each verse contains its own invitation of what to do when it is “time.” Below are six scripture passages offered for your reading and reflection as we prepare for worship this Sunday:

ComeCome to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. – Matthew 11:28-30

SingO sing to the Lord a new song;
    sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
    tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvelous works among all the peoples.
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
    he is to be revered above all gods. – Psalm 96:1-4

FallSo have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. – Matthew 10:26-31

CryIn my distress I called upon the Lord;
    to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice,
    and my cry to him reached his ears…

He reached down from on high, he took me;
    he drew me out of mighty waters.
He delivered me from my strong enemy,
    and from those who hated me;
    for they were too mighty for me.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity;
    but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a broad place;
    he delivered me, because he delighted in me. – Psalm 18:6, 16-19

DancePraise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
    his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel be glad in its Maker;
    let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.
Let them praise his name with dancing,
    making melody to him with tambourine and lyre. – Psalm 149:1-3

FlyBut we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. – I Thessalonians 4:13-18

The last word of each verse in “Untitled Hymn” is the same. Live. “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’”

I believe. May it be so with you. Live, my friends. Live with Jesus. 

Prayer: “I’m so glad I learned to trust Thee. Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend. And I know that Thou art with me. Wilt be with me to the end. Jesus, Jesus, how I trust him. How I’ve proved him o’er and o’er. Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus. Oh for grace to trust him more.”* Amen.

*”Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus,” The United Methodist Hymnal 462.  

‘Empty’ Does Not Mean ‘Over’ ~ Bucket

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 4:4-29a, 36.

As this pandemic experience continues, I feel like my ‘bucket’ becomes all the more empty…all the more dry. The days trudge on…time ticks on…and even in the midst of so much same…the enormity of the ‘new same’ is weighing on my heart. I think it is weighing on all our hearts.

Yesterday as evening was making its way into night, my phone rang. It way my best friend calling…and she asked me to look outside. And there she was. Having driven over from Lakeland. To see me for my birthday. By merely connecting my eyes with hers – in person – face to face – I think I filled up my ‘bucket’ with own tears.

Happy tears.

My bucket remains full.

Her small gesture moved mountains of funk out of my life. It dispelled the gloomy fog that has been hanging low for some time. Becky and I are big Harry Potter fans; yesterday she was my patronus, chasing all my dementors away! Her visit – along with this fresh ‘spring-fall’ air! – ushered in a fresh wind in my spirit. I am so grateful.

And so today, with my ‘bucket’ full – I choose gratitude. To feel it. To share it. To mean it. Becky’s visit reminded me that when we show up for people that we show out our care for them. That we value them. That we treasure them. That they are important to us. That they have made an impact on our lives.

Remembering these truths and speaking these truths in love to others, that is how God fills our buckets and uses us to fill the buckets of others.

Friends, you are valuable. I treasure you. You are important to me. I am grateful for the impact you have made on my life.

Prayer: “This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet. This is my Father’s world: why should my heart be sad? The Lord is King; let the heavens ring! God reigns; let the earth be glad!”* Amen.

*”This Is My Father’s World,” The United Methodist Hymnal 144.