Near the Cross: Prayer and Perseverance

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Philippians 3:12-16.

Spiritual Discipline ~ Service

Discipline Scripture ~ John 13:1-5, 14-15.

During the Season of Lent, Christians through the ages ‘try on’ different spiritual disciplines as a way to lean into their life of faith in a new, deeper, or fresh way. Each week during Lent, I will offer a reflection – including thoughts by the renowned Richard Foster – on a different spiritual discipline as modeled for us by Jesus.

In our Discipline Scripture text this week we read of Jesus serving his disciples by washing their feet. His service ends with instruction, as it so often does. In John’s Gospel Jesus applies The Golden Rule, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (Jn 13:14-15). We, who follow Jesus, are called to serve. Called to humble ourselves. Called to honor one another. We are called after the example of our living Lord.

As we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we learn more deeply the differences between Self-Righteous Service and True Service:

  • Self-Righteous Service
    • Comes through human effort
    • Is impressed with the big deal, meaning impressive gains
    • Requires external rewards
    • Is highly concerned about results
    • Picks and chooses whom to serve
    • Is affected by moods and whims
    • Is insensitive, meaning meeting the need even when to do so would be destructive
    • Fractures community
  • True Service
    • Comes from a relationship with God deep inside the individual
    • Finds it almost impossible to distinguish between the small service from the large
    • Rests contented in hiddenness
    • Is free of the need to calculate results
    • Is indiscriminate in its ministry
    • Ministers simply and faithfully because there is a need
    • Can withhold the service as freely as perform it
    • Builds community

Says Foster, “True service quietly and unpretentiously goes about caring for the needs of others. It draws, binds, heals, and builds.”*

Through service we lean into the radical role reversal that Jesus taught – that Jesus incarnated. That the last will be first. The least will be greatest. The weakest will be the strongest. Jesus did not seek position or title. Jesus served with a towel. Jesus served at the table, excluding no one. Jesus served on the cross, becoming sin who knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God.

Recall a time when you were served. What was the circumstance? How did being served make you feel? How was your relationship with the person that served you transformed by that encounter? How has this or how can this experience shape your future service? How has serving rather than being served changed your life for the better? Share your answers with a friend. I look forward to serving you in worship this Sunday.

For further reading, see Celebration of Discipline pages 126-140.

Prayer: “And through these days of penitence, and through thy passiontide, yea, evermore in life and death, Jesus, with us abide.”** Amen.

*Celebration of Discipline 128-130.

**“Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days,” The United Methodist Hymnal 269.

Near the Cross: Prayer and Sacrifice

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Philippians 3:1-11.

Spiritual Discipline ~ Solitude

Discipline Scripture ~ Luke 5:16.

During the Season of Lent, Christians through the ages ‘try on’ different spiritual disciplines as a way to lean into their life of faith in a new, deeper, or fresh way. Each week during Lent, I will offer a reflection – including thoughts by the renowned Richard Foster – on a different spiritual discipline as modeled for us by Jesus.

Our Discipline Scripture for this week is one of many texts that describes Jesus practicing outward solitude. Jesus spent forty days alone in the desert before starting his professional ministry. Before selecting the disciples he spent time alone. Upon learning of John the Baptist’s death he drew away by himself. After feedings and healings and teachings he sought time alone. Seeking outward solitude was a regular practice for Jesus; so should it be for us.

Inner solitude is also to our benefit. Foster says that inner solitude is what sets us free from loneliness and fear. Inner solitude is not just a time of being alone and being quiet; it is a time where we have a develop a heart that is keenly listening for God’s voice. Listening for God’s voice leads us in when to speak and when to keep silent; without God’s voice guiding us, we will miss the mark every time. Foster writes, “We must seek out the recreating stillness of solitude if we want to be with others meaningfully. We must seek the fellowship and accountability of others if we want to be alone safely. We must cultivate both if we are to live in obedience.”*

It is true that silence can make us feel helpless. But rather than feeling helpless, I like to think of silence as an invitation to trust – for God to speak for us, for God to speak into us. Rather than fill the world with words that grasp at straws or that do not truly reflect our heart, through solitude and silence, we welcome God to be our justifier rather than alone having to explain ourselves.

To practice solitude, Foster recommends identifying and observing the moments of solitude already present in your day – like the quiet moments in the morning when you just wake up or when you are stuck in traffic – let’s face it! – anywhere in South Hillsborough County! You can also seek to create moments of solitude by completing an assignment and then pausing in reflection or taking a walk outside.

The fruit of this work is increased sensitivity and compassion, towards ourselves and towards our neighbors. And I think we would all agree that our world could definitely benefit from increased sensitivity and compassion. Solitude is the threshold to cross to lead us there.

For further reading, see Celebration of Discipline pages 96-109.

Prayer: “As thou didst hunger bear, and thirst, so teach us, gracious Lord, to die to self, and chiefly live by thy most holy word.”** Amen.

*Celebration of Discipline 97-98.

**“Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days,” The United Methodist Hymnal 269.

Near the Cross: Prayer and Formation

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Philippians 2:12-30.

Spiritual Discipline ~ Study

Discipline Scripture ~ Luke 2:41-51.

During the Season of Lent, Christians through the ages ‘try on’ different spiritual disciplines as a way to lean into their life of faith in a new, deeper, or fresh way. Each week during Lent, I will offer a reflection – including thoughts by the renowned Richard Foster – on a different spiritual discipline as modeled for us by Jesus.

In our Discipline Scripture this week, we read of Jesus in the Temple as a child. He and his family travelled – as was the custom – annually to the Temple to worship, to repent, and to give their offering. His parents started their journey home, but Jesus was not with them. He stayed behind in the Temple, listening to the scribes and asking his questions. Jesus took that opportunity to study, and he availed himself to that opportunity throughout his life. Luke 2:52 says, “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”

Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2). Foster says, “The mind is renewed by applying it to those things that will transform it.”* There is no greater transformation in this world than the one that comes through a relationship with Jesus. Knowing Jesus exposes us to the truth, and as we grow in that truth, we gain knowledge of the love of God, and that knowledge will set us free.

Foster observes that study involves four steps:

  1. Repetition – regularly channeling the mind in specific directions in order to ingrain habits of thought.
  2. Concentration – the centering of the mind on what is being studied.
  3. Comprehension – understanding what is being studied.
  4. Reflection – defines the significance of what we are studying, and specifically, to see things from God’s perspective.

That turn – to see things from God’s perspective – alerts us that study demands humility. Foster writes, “Study simply cannot happen until we are willing to be subject to the subject matter. We must submit to the system. We must come as student, not teacher. Not only is study directly dependent upon humility, but it is conducive to it. Arrogance and a teachable spirit are mutually exclusive.”**

I had a teacher in undergrad that every student called Dr. B. He taught business classes; we have him to thank for much of my church finance savvy. One of Dr. B’s most important lessons was wait to I-ize – meaning do not move too quickly from interpretation of what is being studied to application of what is studied. Foster agrees with Dr. B. We must first interpret – know what a lesson means – so that we can discernably apply what the lesson means for you (for me).

This week select a text and explore it through the four steps Foster identifies. Seek an interpretation of the text before an application. Share your insights with a friend. In this way, we try on the example set for us by Jesus – of listening, of asking questions, of living a life set towards holiness.

For further reading, see Celebration of Discipline pages 62-76.

Prayer: “As thou with Satan didst contend, and didst the victory win, O give us strength in thee to fight, in thee to conquer sin.”*** Amen.

*Celebration of Discipline 62.

**Celebration of Discipline 66.

***“Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days,” The United Methodist Hymnal 269.

Near the Cross: Prayer and Service

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Philippians 2:1-11.

Spiritual Discipline ~ Fasting

Discipline Scripture ~ Mt 6:16-18.

During the Season of Lent, Christians through the ages ‘try on’ different spiritual disciplines as a way to lean into their life of faith in a new, deeper, or fresh way. Each week during Lent, I will offer a reflection – including thoughts by the renowned Richard Foster – on a different spiritual discipline as modeled for us by Jesus.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus provides clear instruction as to how we are to give alms, pray, and fast. Concerning fasting, we are not to look dismal or disfigure our faces. Changing clothes or wearing ashes were common signs of mourning and repentance. To separate those acts from fasting, Jesus directs us to wash our faces.

When we fast, we are not to attract attention because fasting is for spiritual purposes, not attention. Fasting is a between the individual and God.

Jesus does not command us to fast; rather it is a discipline that we can use as an offering to God. Remember, Jesus says “whenever you fast” not “you should fast.” Jesus upheld this discipline and anticipated his followers would as well.

Foster writes, “ Fasting reminds us that we are sustained by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Mt 4:4). Food does not sustain us. God sustains us…We are told not to act miserable when fasting because, in point of fact, we are not miserable. We are feeding on God and, just like the Israelites who were sustained in the wilderness by the miraculous manna from heaven, so we are sustained by the word of God…”*

If you choose to try on fasting, progression should be observed. Be sure to check in with your primary care physician before starting a fasting routine. Begin with a partial fast one day a week, staying hydrated with fresh fruit juice and water. Try this for a few weeks and then you can either extend the hours you fast and/or increase the number of days you fast. Remember, “fasting can bring breakthroughs in the spiritual realm that will never happen any other way. It is a means of God’s grace and blessing that should not be neglected any longer.”**

For further reading, see Celebration of Discipline pages 47-61.

Prayer: “Lord, who throughout these forty days for us didst fast and pray, teach us with thee to mourn our sins and close by thee to stay.”*** Amen.

*Celebration of Discipline 55-56.

**Celebration of Discipline 60.

***“Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days,” The United Methodist Hymnal 269.

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.