Declare

This Weekend’s Scripture ~ Luke 2:15-20.

A couple years ago I had the privilege to attend the Trans-Siberian Orchestra Concert with Andrew and six very dear friends. What an experience! Lights – sounds – huge screen projections – incredible musicianship – and indoor pyrotechnics. Incredible!

Their show began with their story called The Ghosts of Christmas Eve. It tells the tale of a young girl that finds sanctuary on Christmas Eve in an old theater. The ghosts draw her into their past experiences as their way of meeting her where she is, offering her comfort, and preparing to send her on her way home for Christmas.

(And then later on a dragon appeared…)

The Ghosts of Christmas Eve included suspenseful and delightful moments. Through an amazing cacophony of sound – and so much sensory engagement one could easily slip into overload – clear voices sang through with hope.

Hope for reunification. Hope for forgiveness. Hope for coming home.

Songs of hope that began with these words so long ago…”Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors” (Lk 2:14)!

Christ’s nativity was suspenseful and delightful. Christ’s nativity is our gateway to reunification, forgiveness, and coming home – with God and neighbor.

That is my wish for you this Christmas. Admire and enjoy the spectacle, but do not miss the true meaning and purpose of Christmas in the sights and sounds. God meets us in the world – in the flesh – and offers us sanctuary. Christ came into a world that did not want him and equally ached for him. That environment of 2000 years ago describes us still today.

We need this Jesus. We need our Christ to forgive and to teach us to forgive. Jesus brings us together. Jesus journeys with us home to God.

This Sunday our choir will lead us in worship as they declare our Savior’s birth as they offer Jesus! The Advent of the Messiah at our 11am Worship Service. Join us for this special time of worship and song.

Prayer: “Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere; go, tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born. Down in a lowly manger the humble Christ was born, and God sent us salvation that blessed Christmas morn. Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere; go, tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.”* Amen.

*“Go, Tell It on the Mountain,” The United Methodist Hymnal 251.

 

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Dimiss

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 1:18-25

This week while watching coverage celebrating the life and service of George H. W. Bush I heard him say in an earlier interview, “I have banned the use of the ‘L’ word.” What word was that? Legacy. He banned the use of the word legacy.

The 41st President continued, “I would like someone else to define the legacy…I think history will…point out the things I got wrong, and perhaps some of the things we did right.”

Your words ring true, Mr. President. Well done, good and faithful servant.

Our Scripture text for this week is the defining moment in Joseph’s legacy. Will he pursue betrothal to Mary to marriage or will he dismiss her quietly? Although the text does not lift the veil, we can sense the psychological turmoil Joseph endures. On the line are his reputation, his place in the community, his chances for another relationship, and his faith. The same things are on the line for Mary…add “her life” also to that list.

We do not hear from Joseph again much after Jesus’ nativity. He decides to enter marriage with Mary. He welcomes and names Jesus. He witnesses as the magi worship the Christ Child and then shepherds his family to Egypt seeking refuge from Herod. Joseph’s legacy is that of a caregiver and provider. He stood at the fork in the road between being right and being kind – and he chose kindness.

History points out that Joseph got this one right. When we find ourselves at the same fork in the road, may we also choose as Joseph did.

Prayer: “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given; so God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.”* Amen.

*“O Little Town of Bethlehem,” The United Methodist Hymnal 230.

Direct

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 1:76-80.

“The wand chooses the wizard, Mr. Potter.”

The same can be said of conducting batons.

As a sacred music major Andrew took Conducting as a graduation requirement. He and his classmates received their batons and – ahhhhh – it was time to make music. Or at least direct it.

Conducting students rotated through the concert chorale, orchestra, and wind ensemble to practice their skills. Some displayed great confidence. Others were like musical deer under stage headlights. I do not blame them – some of those wind ensemble scores have upwards of twenty notated instrument parts to read and lead at once!

It is the conductor’s responsibility to direct every part. But the full weight of responsibility is not on the conductor. It is the musician’s responsibility to pay attention.

There were many a rehearsal that conductors throughout my life – orchestra, choir, handbells – asked, reminded, sometimes pleaded that the musicians would look up! “I will help you, I will bring you in, I will give you each note, each moment of movement. Just look up!”

How true that is for the life of faith as well. If we look up – or more specifically if we look to the people and teachings God places in our lives for help and guidance – we will find God ready and eager to help us. God will bring us in, alongside, and through; God will give us each moment of movement.

We do not have to go it alone. That is the gift of Emmanuel. God is with us – always.

I trust God in each entrance. I trust God in each exit. And I trust God in strengthening my commitment to pay attention.

Join us in worship on Sunday for the First Sunday of Advent. We will light the Advent Candle Wreath and begin singing carols of the season as we prepare our hearts for our Savior’s birth. See you Sunday!

Prayer: “O come, thou Wisdom from on high, and order all things far and nigh; to us the path of knowledge show and cause us in her ways to go. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”* Amen.

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

 

 

Loves, Freed, Made

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Revelation 1:4b-8.

On Thanksgiving Week much of our attention is focused on nourishment – nourishing our bodies with delicious food and nourishing our hearts with hugs and hearty conversations with loved ones.

I often turn to the beautiful words of Rev. Jan Richardson to nourish my spirit when I am feeling dry or in need of a thoughtful pause. I met Jan on a retreat in the Fall of 2010. Her gaze has a way of embracing your whole person that is both a comfort and a calling. People feel at ease around Jan – free to be themselves. I would also say people feel a calling around Jan. The way God uses her to draw people to reflection and discernment of what is next – both their next depth of being and towards their deepening relationship with God.

And so on this week of nourishment, I turn to Jan for this wholesome word. May it be a blessing to you, my friends and fellow servants.

— — —

“Come, you who are blessed,” Jesus says; “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Mt 25:35-36).

 

You Who Bless by Jan Richardson

 

You who are yourselves a blessing

who know that to feed the hungering is to bless

and to give drink to those who thirst is to bless

who know the blessing in welcoming the stranger

and giving clothes to those who have none

who know to care for the sick is blessing

and blessing to visit the prisoner:

may the blessing you have offered now turn itself toward you

to welcome and to embrace you at the feast of the blessed.*

Amen.

http://paintedprayerbook.com/2011/11/15/you-who-bless/

 

Scripture – Story – Song

Sunday’s Scriptures ~ Genesis 1:29-31a; Job 1:13-22; Job 38:4; Psalm 100; II Peter 3:9; and II Samuel 7:18-22

During the month of November I make an annual practice of keeping a daily gratitude journal. With the advent of social media I am able to see entries to my journal from years past; those entries jettison me to fond moments of laughter and degrees of frivolity. Last week I read an entry about gratitude for completing a dumpster-diving project, which contained comments and concerns for my swift exit from the dumpster.

(I am happy to report I have not been dumpster-diving…recently…)

I find that it is easy to give way to the negativity that surrounds us on a daily basis. Criticism without action to create better situations and improved circumstances as well as pervasive divisiveness are grave temptations.

Friends, we need one another. We do. Our united giftings and offerings guided in application and investment by the Holy Spirit help reveal the Kingdom of God. Remember the words of the Apostle Paul to the church at Corinth,

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 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? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it (I Corinthians 12:12-26). 

When I set about writing my daily gratitude entry I begin by answering the question, “What brings or brought me joy today?” and then the answers flow with ease. As we approach Thanksgiving – an annual celebration of our abundant blessings and gratitude – I am all the more mindful of all the joy in my life due to God and my sisters and brothers in Christ.

Will you join me in keeping a daily gratitude journal through the end of the November? We have much for which to be grateful. Our God is so good to us. Therefore, let us be good to and do good for one another.

Join this Sunday for a special service of worship through Scripture – Story – and Song – to help us express our gratitude to God for all God has done and continues to do in our lives!

Prayer: “To God be the glory! To God be the glory! To God be the glory for the things he has done. With his blood he has saved me. With his power he has raised me. To God be the glory for the things he has done!”* Amen.

*”My Tribute,” The United Methodist Hymnal 99.

 

We Honor Forever

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ecclesiasticus 45:1-15

Y’all know how I feel about Little Orange Friends. Someone said to me in small group this week, “We haven’t been [together in class] in two weeks; you look a whole lot better!”

I look a whole lot less orange!

We have three pumpkins still in our house – a faithful(?) remnant, if you will. One is for Andrew and Joshua to carve…eventually. The other two are small pumpkins sitting on the table in our kitchen nook. One is for Josh. The other is for Joshua.

Each year we purchase a pumpkin for Andrew’s dear brother Josh that died of complications related to congestive heart failure several years ago. For a couple years we took Josh’s pumpkin to his interment site at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell. We have not been in two years…but that does not deter us from buying Josh a pumpkin and holding his memory close.

Each night I look on that pumpkin and then see its neighbor for our Joshua. Andrew continues to tell stories about Josh – some I have heard before and others that are brand new. These stories will continue. We want Joshua to know his namesake…and I am sure as Joshua creates his own mischief, stories yet to be told will emerge.

And I will cherish every story just as I cherish our sweet son.

Ecclesiasticus – also known as Sirach or Ben Sira – meaning son of Sira – is an Apocryphal Wisdom text. And Ecclesiasticus contains the gem of a scripture passage that we will share this week in worship as we honor – forever – the Veterans in our lives and church family. Our ‘sermon’ this week will be a media presentation from Veterans in our congregation sharing (1) their name and rank in their branch of service (2) how their faith shaped their military service and (3) how their military service shaped their faith.

I am grateful for the kind and generous sharing of our Veterans’ stories; your words are truly a gift to our congregation. Your sharing with us welcomes us into your legacy of service. And the contributions of your service shape our lives – because your service gave and gives us the life we have today.

Thank you, Veterans.

I hope you will join us in worship this week. And I invite you to thank and encourage all the Veterans in your life.

Prayer: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be. With God our Creator, children all are we. Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony. Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now. With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow: to take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally! Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”* Amen.

*“Let There Be Peace On Earth,” The United Methodist Hymnal 431

 

All Saints Celebration and Remembrance

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Hebrews 9:11-14.

On Saturday Andrew will preside at the celebration of life for two saints of Azalea Park UMC – Beverly and Harvey House. They went onto glory within days of one another. They both lived into their mid-eighties. They both finished well their courses in faith. They both loved one another and their families beyond description.

They both will be missed.

The first time I really sat down to speak with Harvey was at a UMW Picnic of all places. The Sunshine Circle has an annual picnic lunch at a local park; they invited Andrew to come and welcomed me as an extra guest.

(I cannot resist United Methodists and deviled eggs in a park pavilion!)

Harvey sat towards the back of the pavilion while Beverly joyfully served as a hostess, ensuring everyone had every possible choice and need fulfilled. Harvey had a quiet smile on his face as he watched Beverly serve. I asked him why he was smiling. He pointed to Beverly – her joy, her friendliness, her compassion, and her servant’s heart – and simply responded, “How could I not?”

“How could I not?”

When I think of the saints we will celebrate a Tuskawilla UMC in both our worship services this week, I join Harvey in smiling. These women and men – their service on both sides of eternity – are witnesses to our faith.

We miss the loved ones that are no longer physically near us. Somedays their place in our hearts is so empty and hollow…it is like the wound of grief will not ever heal. It is in these moments especially that we call to mind God’s faithfulness and the truth of God’s word:

Therefore, my friendslet us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching...Recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting. Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet “in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay; but my righteous one will live by faith. My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back.” But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved (Heb 10:19a, 22-25, 32-39). 

Do not abandon your confidence. Claim the Lord’s endurance – especially in the valley of the shadow of death. God will guide us through – God and the servant saints that smile on us as we continue our courses in faith.

We will honor the saints of the Tuskawilla UMC Family at both our worship services on Sunday. See you then.

Prayer: “For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest. Alleluia, Alleluia!”* Amen.

*”For All The Saints,” The United Methodist Hymnal 711.