Vision 20/20 Church: Pergamum

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Revelation 2:12-17.

Devotion Focus ~ Matthew 6:5-15.

At the heart of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount Jesus takes care to teach on prayer, providing clear and specific instructions that shape both the disciple’s practice of prayer and the disciple’s heart that offers the prayer.

First – prayer is not an attention-seeking behavior. Prayer is a behavior for seeking the holy, which is accomplished in humility rather than in show.

Second – prayer is to be done in secret. Secret comes from the Greek word kruptos meaning ‘concealed so as to not be made known.’ And yet our God says through prayer in secret God will make the concealed known – God will make Godself known to the one that draws away in prayer. Jesus says in Matthew 10:26, “So have no fear of (coming persecutions); for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.” This uncovering – this revealing and making known – displays the power of Almighty God.

Third – prayer is not a floor exercise of thesaurus-al and syntax-ical gymnastics. (Neither should that last sentence have been, if I am honest!) In prayer, speak plainly. As Jesus reminds us, God already knows what we need before we ask.

Fourth – prepared now to pray, we are to pray this way:

  1. Name God and our relationship with God – Father, our Father
  2. Articulate our understanding of God’s preferred future – Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven
  3. Ask our petitions – which recognize God as the wellspring of our resources and our redemption – Give us this day our daily bread / forgive us our trespasses

So be it – which is the translation of the word Amen.

This prescription for prayer is quite purposeful. It serves as a guide and as an accountability check. Here Jesus speaks plainly to us about how we should prepare for prayer, offer our prayer, and speak plainly to God in prayer. If we get off track, Jesus’ words are once again our plumb line so that we can come back into proper alignment with God.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline, in a similar fashion, articulates our process – dare I say method!? – a for carrying out our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. In a way, this particular prescription serves as a United Methodist plumb line to both guide and align – check and balance – that we are attending to the work of God before us in ways that are becoming of the gospel as well as embodying our United Methodist history, theology, and polity.

We make disciples as we:

Proclaim the gospel, seek, welcome, and gather persons into the body of Christ;

Lead persons to commit their lives to God through baptism by water and the spirit and profession of faith in Jesus Christ;

Nurture persons in Christian living through worship, the sacraments, spiritual disciplines, and other means of grace, such as Wesley’s Christian conferencing;

Send persons into the world to live lovingly and justly as servants of Christ by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for the stranger, freeing the oppressed, being and becoming a compassionate, caring presence, and working to develop social structures that are consistent with the gospel; and

Continue the mission of seeking, welcoming, and gathering persons into the community of the body of Christ.

(¶122 BOD 2016).

Take note that it says what we are to do, but not always how we are to do it. I find this to be both liberating and infuriating. This is our invitation to discernment with God’s Holy Spirit. God has set us this task and by assessing and accessing individual and collective skills, disciple-making will occur. What sets this process into motion is our making ourselves available to be used by God – is our response to God’s Spirit stirring our hearts and then committing to do something about it.

I am also comforted that disciple-making occurs without us, even, at times, in spite of us if we are really in a spiritually-mutinous season. This truth does not mean that we should not try. This truth means that while we are invited to join God’s work that accomplishing God’s work is not solely dependent on us.

God is moving. God is speaking. God is saving. You. Me. All. I believe deeply that everything we do as the Church is about and should promote the Kingdom. If it is about and does promote the Kingdom, then we will and should keep doing it to the health and growth of God’s reign on earth. If it doesn’t, then we need to stop it or modify it until it does. Because friends – because Church – the Kingdom has had to wait long enough.

Prayer: “Open my mouth, and let me bear gladly the warm truth everywhere; open my heart and let me prepare love with thy children thus to share. Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see. Open my heart, illumine me, Spirit divine!”* Amen.

*”Open My Eyes That I May See,” The United Methodist Hymnal 454.

Vision 20/20 Church: Smyrna

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Revelation 2:8-11.

Devotion Focus ~ Matthew 28:19-20, Matthew 22:37 and 39.

The United Methodist Church draws upon two passages of Scripture as the rational for our shared mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are united under Jesus’ Great Commission as we fulfill Jesus’ Greatest Commandment.

Matthew’s Gospel concludes with Jesus saying to the disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Of greatest importance is that Jesus’ disciples then – as well as Jesus’ disciples now – teach all people to love God with all that they are – with the entirety of their minds, hearts, souls, and strengths – and to love others as they love themselves. Jesus learned this lesson of loving God and neighbor from the Levitical or Priestly Code. Later the Apostle of James, believed to be the brother of Jesus, would call this teaching The Royal Law and thereby reference Jesus as living and reigning King. Our King lived by this law, and we – the persons in his Kingdom – should likewise live by the same standard.

United Methodists believe that we appropriately and rightly live out our love of God through our love of neighbor. In doing so we join with others in seeking the fulfillment of the reign of God in the world. We also affirm that as we are about the business of loving God through our love of neighbor that we do so with greatest respect. “As we make disciples, we respect persons of all religious faiths and we defend religious freedom for all persons” (¶121 BOD 2016). God created each of us. God claims all people as God’s children and desires relationships with us. As children of God, all people and their beliefs are of value. God’s children have developed into different cultures, traditions, and beliefs; one groups is not created holier than another, though at times individuals and religious groups perpetuate this understanding.

Our Social Principles – while not church law – “are considered a prayerful and thoughtful effort on the part of the General Conference (the official voice and governing body of The United Methodist Church) to speak to the human issues in the contemporary world from a sound biblical and theological foundation” state that United Methodists “deplore acts of hate or violence against groups or persons based on race, color, national origin, ethnicity, age, gender, disability, status, economic condition, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religious affiliation” (¶Preface Social Principles and ¶162 BOD 2016). United Methodists hold fast and deeply to the inherent dignity of all persons, and so in love, we apply ourselves to the work of “recognizing and protecting the universal, indivisible, and inalienable rights” of all persons (¶162 BOD 2016).

We are the truest version of Church when we apply ourselves to the work of transforming the world by making disciples through sharing about and serving to multiply God’s great love. This work takes many visible forms. Sometimes it is writing a letter to a lawmaker. Sometimes it is visiting someone sick or recovering. Sometimes it is inviting a friend or family member to worship. Sometimes it is stopping to lend a helping hand or to prepare a meal.

Every time we do this work, we are drawing near what is holy. Every time we lean into and live out God’s love through our lives, we – the Church – help make the Kingdom of God a bit more visible…a bit more real.

Prayer: “Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty; let our rejoicing rise high as the listening skies, let it resound loud as the rolling sea. Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us; sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us; facing the rising sun of our new day begun, let us march on till victory is won.”* Amen.

*“Lift Every Voice and Sing,” The United Methodist Hymnal 519.

 

Vision 20/20 Church: Ephesus

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Revelation 2:1-7.

Devotion Focus ~ Matthew 16:17-19.

South Shore’s opening sermon series for the New Year is “Vision 20/20 Church.” For the next seven weeks we will study The Seven Letters to Seven Churches found in Revelation. We will learn from their experiences and practices of church as we attend to the work of reframing and refining our experiences and practices of church.

Through this sermon series, the invitation before us – which is both important and timely! – is to

  1. Look at our practices of church through the eyes of Christ
  2. Process what we observe through the mind of Christ, so that
  3. We will see the vision God is revealing for our church.

Each week of our “Vision 20/20 Church” Series, I will share a devotion focus that lifts up both a Scripture text and a learning from The United Methodist Book of Discipline, which is our book of church governance and order. This book organizes and guides the service we provide as the people called Methodist in the Body of Christ.

In these verses from Matthew 16, Jesus tells Peter that on his shoulders, his name, his legacy, Christ’s church will be built. Wow! What a tall order. And Jesus shares this news with Peter at Caesarea Philippi, which still stands today, as one of the most monolithic sites of pagan worship in the world. Before this towering rock face – complete with idols and statues to foreign gods and even what those in Biblical Israel considered the very mouth of the underworld – Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ – not any of the present idols, but Jesus! – and Jesus confesses Peter as the bedrock of the church – the church which continues in and through us today.

This is one of Peter’s shining moments…but we know that not all his moments were shining. Peter walked with Jesus; he also walked away from Jesus. Peter defended Jesus; he also denied Jesus. Peter pledged his love and fidelity to Jesus and his mission; still, there were moments where his heart, spirit, and faithfulness waivered. Even so, on him and others like him, the church was and is built.

I take courage from the witness of Peter. The church is not made up of perfect people. Neither does the church demand perfection. The church welcomes people that share a desire to be a new creation, to be students and followers of Jesus – which is the definition of a disciple! By being a new creation, by following the teachings of Jesus, by pursuing the heart of his mission in the world, we are transformed. And when we are transformed, we believe that the world is transformed.

God told the Apostle Paul that God’s power is made perfect through weakness (II Cor 12:9a). Our imperfections could definitely be understood as weakness; they can also be understood as a way for God’s power to be displayed through us. When we overcome a weakness, surpass a shortcoming, and especially celebrate forgiveness of sin, let us first and foremost point to and give glory to God for the work God has done and is doing in us, through us, and because of us. This is why Paul said, “So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (II Cor 12:9b-10). Paul shares this good word in the context of the church at Corinth, which Scripture tells us was made up of a people far from perfect. And yet they gathered together in order to learn and to become more Christ-like. From this and other New Testament witnesses The United Methodist Church draws our learning that the “local church [and extension ministries of the local church] are the most significant arenas through which disciple-making occurs” (¶120 BOD 2016). It is in the local church that strength is made perfect in weakness and the imperfect is drawn towards perfection through the power of God in Jesus Christ.

At South Shore UMC we worship. We fellowship. We disciple. And I truly believe that each of these, our practices, will be further strengthened in their presence and witness when we align them in response to fulfilling a need in the Kingdom:

  • When we align them in response to bridging a gap in our community
  • When we align them in response to something that breaks God’s heart breaking our own hearts.

I am hopeful for this work of visioning for South Shore UMC in 2020. It will be the result of our church family praying, listening, serving, and seeing together. And we can do this work. Everything we need to do this work we already have. And best of all, friends, God is with us.

God is with us. Emmanuel.

 Prayer: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. Allelu, alleluia!”* Amen.

*“Seek Ye First,” The United Methodist Hymnal 405.

20 in 2020

New Year’s Day Scripture ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1-11.

“For everything there is a season, a time for everything under heaven,” writes Ecclesiastes. As we celebrate the new year, we look to the new year with hope.

I am a goal-oriented individual and so I prepared 20 for 2020. These goals address my whole person – physical, emotional, nutritional, relational, financial, familial, experiential, educational, and spiritual. This list is ambitious and I believe I am up for it.

Often I say, “How is it already (insert a day of the week or month of the year)!?” and then accompany that statement with a sigh. By framing my year in terms of these goals I hope I will say “Wow!” instead of “How!?” as a result of time well invested in the pursuit of the goals below.

I may not complete them all; they are not just “to do’s” to be transformed into “ta da’s.” They are invitations for me to more intentionally be – and hopefully be better.

20 for 2020

  1. Complete 20 consecutive chatarunga push-ups
  2. Read 20 new books
  3. Listen to 20 new artists
  4. Attempt 20 new recipes
  5. Drink (at least) 20 ounces of water per day
  6. Asana in 20 yoga classes
  7. Enjoy 20 coffee dates
  8. Volunteer 20 hours
  9. Watch 20 documentaries
  10. Support 20 local causes
  11. Learn from 20 experiences of truth-telling
  12. Identify 20 formational passages of Scripture
  13. Intentionally opt outside 20 minutes a week
  14. Engage 20 opportunities that push me out of my comfort zone
  15. Take 20 trips to the library with Joshua
  16. Reduce my wardrobe by 20 percent
  17. Incorporate 20 conversational Spanish phrases into my vocabulary
  18. Adopt 20 environmentally conscious living practices
  19. Connect with 20 new people
  20. Articulate 20 new hopes

What are your hopes, resolutions, or goals for the new year? Share them with a loved one and start pursuing them!

Happy New Year, Friends! Join us for worship this week. We return to our regular worship times – 8:30am Traditional and 11:00am Contemporary. We welcome Ms. Samantha Aupperlee in worship leadership. Samantha is a third-year Master’s of Divinity candidate at Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Thank you, Samantha, for your service with the South Shore UMC Family this Sunday!

Prayer: “Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning, born of the one light Eden saw play. 
Praise with elation, praise every morning, God’s re-creation of the new day.”* Amen.

*”Morning Has Broken,” The United Methodist Hymnal 145.

Joy to the World: Come and Hear

Christmas Eve Scripture ~ Psalm 66 and Luke 2.

 One of the most heart-warming expressions of Christmas is the Nativity. It speaks of the mystery of God’s wisdom. Why God chose to send his son into our world as a baby of humble birth, born in common surroundings, we do not know. What we do know is that God reached out to all people including the poor and wealthy, the simple and the wise, the powerless and the powerful. All who found him knelt in humility before him. Knowing God is possible because he came to us, at our level. Whenever we see a Nativity we find ourselves with all of the figures bowing before the manger, overwhelmed by God’s expression of love in coming to us.

St. Francis of Assisi is often credited with the first manger scene about 800 years ago. For a people who could not read it was an effective visual aid in telling the story of the birth of Jesus.

Nativities populate my house during Advent and Christmas seasons. My brother, Charlie, gifted me my most cherished nativity scene from The Holy Land. He was stationed with the USArmy in Egypt and had the opportunity to make his way to Israel. And he thought of me and brought me home an olive wood nativity from Nazareth. In turn, when I see this nativity, I think of the kindness of my big brother.

The nativity animals that surround the olive wood manger have such expressive faces. The shepherd is weather-worn. The magi are stately. And the Holy Parents – they are serene. Mary gazes adoringly at her son. And Joseph holds a lantern – shining a light, helping draw people in towards the Light of the World.

Come shepherds, come kings. Come family and friend and foe. Come one and all! O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him, O Come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord!

Join us for Christmas Eve Worship at South Shore UMC

3pm – SSFamily Worship

5pm – Traditional Worship

7pm – Contemporary Worship

And then on Sunday, December 29, join the South Shore Family for ONE Service at 9:30am. Regular worship services will resume – 8:30am Traditional and 11:00am Contemporary – on January 5, 2020.

Prayer: “O come, Desire of nations bind all peoples in one heart and mind. From dust thou brought us forth to life; deliver us from earthly strife. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”* Amen.

*”O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” The United Methodist Hymnal 211.

Joy to the World: Who Has Kept Us

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 66:8-15.

The legend of the poinsettia comes from Mexico. It tells of a girl named Maria and her little brother Pablo. They were very poor but always looked forward to the Christmas festival. Each year a large manger scene was set up on the village church, and the days before Christmas were filled with parades and parties. The two children loved Christmas but were always saddened because they had no money to buy presents. They especially wished that they could give something to the church for the Baby Jesus. But they had nothing. On Christmas Eve, Maria and Pablo set out for church to attend the service. On their way the picked some weeds growing along the roadside and decided to take them as their gift to the Baby Jesus in the manger scene. Of course other children teased them when they arrived with their gift, but they said nothing for they knew they had given what they could. Maria and Pablo began placing the green plants around the manger and miraculously, the green top leaves turned into bright red petals, and soon the manger was surrounded by beautiful star-like flowers and so we see them today.

Most Christmas greenery reflects European traditions. But one colorful plant, which looks like a flaming star, the poinsettia, is a native to the American continent. It was named after Dr. Joel Robert Poinset, an ambassador to Mexico who first introduced it to the United States in 1828. The people of Mexico and Central America call the brilliant tropical plant the “Flower of the Holy Night.” The poinsettia is a many-pointed star that has become a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem.

This week poinsettias that were given in celebration, honor, and/or memory of loved ones will be placed in the Sanctuary. We look forward to how they will enhance our worship this coming Sunday and on Christmas Eve. We invite patrons of the poinsettias to take home their poinsettias following Christmas Eve Worship.

It is my hope that as the poinsettias depart the South Shore campus and move to individual homes that these flowers will become conversation starters to continue telling the Christmas story – that these flowers would be opportunities to share the legend of the poinsettia and engage our family and guests at Christmas in exploring what offering we made, are making, or could make to the Christ Child.

Friends, every gift is important. Every gift is worthy. Every giver is important and worthy! Telling this truth is one of the greatest gifts we can share during the Advent and Christmas seasons.

Prayer: “O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thy justice here; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”* Amen.

*”O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” The United Methodist Hymnal 211.

Joy to the World: Christmas Cantata

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Micah 5:2-5a.

Advent is a time of expectation, and this is symbolized, not only for the four-week period of preparation, but also by the lighting of an Advent Candle on each Sunday of the season. The flame of each new candle reminds us, the worshippers, that something is happening, and something more is still to come.

The candles are arranged in a circle to remind us of the continuous power of God, which knows neither beginning nor ending. The large white candle in the center is the Christ candle and points to Jesus as the Christ, the Light of the world.

A progression is noted in the lighting of the candles of the Advent wreath each Sunday. Each candle symbolizes various aspects of our waiting experience. For us this year we are focusing on four ideas of the Christmas event: Hope, Purity of Heart, Love, and Joy. The culmination of the season comes as we light the Christ Candle on Christmas Eve, and from the Christ candle, sharing the light throughout the congregation, which represents sharing the light of Christ to all the nations.

As I concluded my annual “Christmas Candle Lighting Instructions” with a congregation – if your candle is lit, it remains upright and unlit candles move towards the flame – I walked towards the Christ Candle with taper in hand. A five-generation family – all of the relations present – were happily nestled in the front three pews nearest the Advent wreath. In silence I extended my taper towards the Christ Candle and it ignited to the excited chorus of two-year-old Adella, “Ooooooo!” “That’s right, Adella!,” I said. “That’s right!”

May we all have that kind of wonder – Adella-Wonder! – as we are caught up in the light of Christ, and especially, as we share the light of Christ with others.

This week both services will receive the gift of a Christmas Cantata presented by South Shore’s Sanctuary Choir. I am grateful for the choir’s preparation and for the leadership of Drew Golding and Nancy Jackson – all of which makes this Cantata possible. This will be a wonderful opportunity for you to invite family, friends, and neighbors to worship this week as the choir sings us ever nearer to the nativity of our Lord.

Prayer: “O come, thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home. The captives from their prison free, and conquer death’s deep misery. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”* Amen.

*”O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” The United Methodist Hymnal 211.