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.

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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.

 

So I Send You

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 20:19-23.

Y’all. Holy Week Hangover is a real thing.

Apparently, I – and my family – did too much last week. (Oops? I might be a bad influence on them…) And so I am reaping what I sowed this week. Andrew has ear and throat infections. Joshua is a teething monster and fighting sleep like it is an Olympic sport. And I had a migraine earlier this week that could have laid out an entire parade of elephants!

Therefore, I would like to pause on a practice that I seldom do enough of – self care. We cannot just go go go. (Say it louder, Sarah, so you hear yourself! In fact, get up and go say this in front of the mirror a minimum of three times…right now…I’ll wait…) Go go going all the time makes us more susceptible to illness, short-tempered, and neglectful of those things that are truly needful – like spending time with loved ones and connecting with God.

Scripture tells us the story of our God and of his Christ that served and love and gave so much. Scripture also tells us the story of how on the seventh day God rested and that while the disciples were working the nightshift as fishermen, Jesus was napping. It is okay to rest. It is valuable to rest. Those are the opportunities where we reset and reevaluate so that when the time comes we are ready to purposefully reengage in the work that God has before us as individuals and as Christ’s Body, the church.

How do you practice self care? Do you nap, go for a run, read, or listen to music? Do you pray while taking an afternoon stroll, connect with a friend over coffee, get a massage, or sit in silence? Perhaps more importantly to ask, when was the last time you practiced self care? And if you are like me – meaning you can.not.remember – find time for that this week. Find time for that today. You cannot be – I cannot be – the person(s) God desires without caring for the body God gifted.

Take care, friends. Self care, friends. See you Sunday.

Prayer: “He left his Father’s throne above (so free, so infinite his grace!), emptied himself of all but love, and bled for Adam’s helpless race. ‘Tis mercy all, immense and free, for O my God, it found out me! ‘Tis mercy all, immense and free, for O my God, it found out me!”* Amen.

*“And Can It Be that I Should Gain,” The United Methodist Hymnal363.

 

 

Woman In The Night: The First Witnesses

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 24:1-12.

My extended family is in the process of cleaning out my grandparents’ home as they have now transitioned to assisted living. I am honored to have brought home a chair that my Nonnie read to me in whenever I stayed with her as a child as well as a crown of thorns that was planted in her back yard under a big oak tree.

Y’all…

I have never prayed for a plant so much in my life as I have prayed for this plant over the last month.

Channeling the plea of the late Chris Farley, “Be strong, little roots!”

We brought home the crown of thorns attempting to root it in a pot with fresh and nutrient rich soil. For weeks it dropped leaf after leaf after leaf. This plant cannot die! It was (is!) going to be the plant we move with us wherever we go to remind me of my grandmother – a legacy of the travelling plants I carry on after my mother, who moves a rose bush from her grandmother’s house to every new home she and my father share.

I see this plant and I hope.

I hope and hope and hope.

Y’all…

There’s new growth on my Nonnie’s crown of thorns. And it is beautiful.

Just in time for Easter.

I hope you will join us this Sunday as we celebrate the new life in resurrection. We gather for Sunrise Morningsong Worship in the Courtyard at 7am. Join us for Easter Family Breakfast in the Fellowship Hall at 9:30am. Traditional Worship will conclude our Easter Celebration at 11am in the Sanctuary. Bring flowers for our Courtyard Easter Cross and have your picture taken.

Our God is making all things new. There is new growth in each of us. And it is beautiful.

Just in time for Easter.

Prayer: “Woman in the dawn, care and spices bring; earliest to mourn; earliest to sing! Come and join the song, women, children, men; Jesus makes us free to live again!”* Amen.

*“Woman In The Night,” The United Methodist Hymnal 274.

Woman In The Night: Weeping Daughters

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 23:26-31

 The role of the crowds in the gospel narratives is always in flux. They are people – like you and me. They are women and men. They are witnesses of our Jesus – of his ministry, his miracles, and his majesty. They are potential disciples. They become his supporters and fellow travellers. They waver through his arrest and trial. They join the opposition and shout for his crucifixion.*

And in this scene, they walk behind him on the way to Golgotha – the Place of the Skull – where Jesus will be crucified.

In the past when I have read this text I conceived that the crowd followed Jesus for one of two reasons. One – they wanted to have “the last laugh” when Jesus was, in fact, not able to save himself and get down off that cross. Two – they were curious and, not having missed any of the spectacle to this point, thought they would see it to the end.

Recently I received a different point of view from an excerpt by pastor and theologian Fred Craddock, whose words continue to be so life-giving for me. Craddock acknowledges that a mighty throng follow Jesus as he stumbles – bruised and broken – towards the cross. The people that follow him do so beating their breasts and wailing for him. Craddock connects this activity to the traditional gesture of lament enacted by prophets like Zechariah:

 And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one[a]whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn (Zech 12:10).

Craddock notes that Luke takes care to connect this behavior – wailing and beating one’s breast – to the act of repentance. In Luke 18 Jesus tells the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The Pharisee praises God in prayer that “he is not like other people…even this tax collector” whereas the Tax Collector rends his heart, “standing far off, [not even looking] up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Lk 18:12-13). Jesus said, I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted (Lk 18:14).

I was wrong. The people did not want to have the last laugh. Neither are they curious. They are repentant. And they are committed. Their allegiance to Jesus returns.

And so they walk to the cross. To the grave. And – thanks be to God – from the empty tomb.

I look forward to the opportunities to walk with the people of TUMC this Holy Week. We walk as the foremothers and forefathers in our faith – repentant and committed. To the cross. To the grave.

And – thanks be to God – from the empty tomb.

Holy Week at Tuskawilla UMC

 

Saturday, April 13 – Easter Egg Hunt

9:30am – Gather in Fellowship Hall

Sunday, April 14 – Palm Sunday Worship

8:30am – Morningsong in the Sanctuary

11am – Here Is Love Cantata in the Sanctuary

Monday, April 15 – Prayer Stations

5:30-7:30pm in the Sanctuary

Tuesday, April 16 – Prayer Stations

5:30-7:30pm in the Sanctuary

Wednesday, April 17 – Prayer Stations

11:30-12:45pm and 5:30-7:30pm in the Sanctuary

Thursday, April 18 – Maundy Thursday Drama

Daughters of Jerusalem concluding with Holy Communion

7:00pm in the Sanctuary

Friday, April 19 – Good Friday Service of Tenebrae

7pm in the Sanctuary

Sunday, April 21 – Easter Sunday

Bring flowers for our Courtyard Easter Cross

7am Sunrise Morningsong Service with Holy Communion in the Courtyard

9:30am Easter Breakfast in the Fellowship Hall

11am Worship in the Sanctuary

Monday, April 22 – TUMC Offices Closed

Prayer: “The people of the Hebrews with psalms before thee went; our prayer and praise and anthems before thee we present. To thee, before thy passion, they sang their hymns of praise; to thee, now high exalted, our melody we raise. Thou didst accept their praises; accept the prayers we bring, who in all good delightest, thou good and gracious King. All glory, laud, and honor, to thee, Redeemer, King, to whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring.”** Amen.

*The People’s New Testament Commentary 275-276.

** “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” The United Methodist Hymnal 280.

Woman in the Night: Fellow Travelers

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 8:1-3.

Many people – many women – were fellow travellers with Jesus. In him they found their Savior. In him they found a generous friend.

These are two of my generous friends – Mr. Joey and Miss Alice.

image1-2

They attended the Morningsong Service for the first time a couple of weeks ago. Morningsong follows its own liturgy – meaning work of the people – that has many consistent worship elements week to week. The “variety” in the service comes in one song of praise, the three Scripture readings, and the sermon.

(Let us pray there is variety with the sermon…)

It is also a more intimate worship experience, with a smaller attendance, that supports worshippers passing the peace to each of their neighbors every Sunday. It is awesome to watch the people that gather for Morningsong truly behold one another – and in so doing – behold the true and living presence of Christ in his and her generous friend with Christ.

Morningsong celebrates weekly Holy Communion and I invite one or two persons from the congregation to join me in sharing the elements. That day I asked Mr. Joey and Miss Alice if they would come. Of course, they sprang from their pew and bounded towards the altar rail. After inviting them to use the official unofficial third Communion element – otherwise known as hand sanitizer – I moved them into position.

“Miss Alice, when people come forward, offer them a piece of bread, and when you give it to them say, Jesus loves you.”

“Mr. Joey, when people come to you, offer them the cup in which to dip their bread, and say, Jesus loves you.”

Y’all, the gift of Holy Communion was so sweet that day. Watching these two serve the congregation, including their mother, is an experience I will never forget.

We all join the journey with Christ in different places and at different times. And yet – blessedly – we are all headed in the same direction – towards God’s preferred future for us.

Take notice this week of the travellers near you. Offer them a word of encouragement. Receive from them a word of wisdom.

Be a generous friend.

And give thanks. Always give thanks.

I am so proud of you, Mr. Joey and Miss Alice! Thank you for serving your church family. You did a wonderful job! See you Sunday!

Prayer: “Woman on the hill, stand when men have fled! Christ needs loving still, though your hope is dead. Come and join the song, women, children, men; Jesus makes us free to live again!”* Amen.

*“Woman In The Night,” The United Methodist Hymnal 274.