Woman In The Night: The Balanced Christian Life

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 10:38-42.

Since becoming a mother, my house is in a constant state of disarray, which is odd to none more than Andrew. Some days I think he looks around the house and then looks at me and wonders if I am the latest victim of The Body Snatchers.

You see, I used to be the person that woke up early every Friday morning to clean the house from top to bottom. I would pride myself that I could have the kitchen and all three bathrooms cleaned in under forty-five minutes, all the while clothes were in the process of being washed, dried, folded, and returned to their appropriate drawer or closet. I would have the carpets vacuumed, the furniture dusted. Trash would be out and recycling sorted. And if I was feeling super productive, the dogs would be bathed, brushed, and donning coordinating and season-appropriate bandanas.

That allllllll changed October 20, 2017…which is the day after I was admitted to the hospital for Joshua’s delivery. I did not clean the house that morning…and I have pretty much not cleaned the house every Friday morning since then.

Hence…Andrew’s wondering if I have been body snatched…

Andrew and I have lived in parsonages – in congregation’s gifting – for a decade. Because of that incredible gift I have felt – and continue to feel – a deep responsibility to take and show great care to these parsonages. I recall at the very beginning that I would use my time cleaning as a time to connect with God. I would pray for the congregation. I would sing songs of praise at the top of my lungs…which was not always the way Andrew wanted to wake up on those Fridays. Overtime, however, the cleaning became less about connecting with God and praying for the people I served and more about racing against the clock to see what all I could accomplish in as few minutes as possible.

Whoopsie.

I disconnected from my true purpose for those acts, which was to show appreciation to God and gratitude to the congregations that welcomed my family into their church family and into their home.

I am so glad Joshua’s birth helped set me straight and get my priorities back in line. No, I am not cleaning on Fridays nearly as often. I confess that I truly have become my mother in that I do a little cleaning every day. I celebrate my reconnection with my true purpose for these acts, which is to show appreciation to God and gratitude to this congregation that welcomes my family – all three of us! – into your church family and into your home.

When did you last stop and consider why it is that you do what you do – whatever it is that you do? How are you able to live into and live out your faith because of that act of service? How can you use that physical activity as an activity of faith?

Prayer: “Woman in the house,nurtured to be meek,leave your second place;listen, think and speak! 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.

 

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Woman in the Night: The Gospel in the Law

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 7:36-50.

Last week a member of the Worship Planning Team spied that Prayer of Confession and Words of Assurance was part of our order of worship for Sunday. He messaged me, “Are we using green grape juice for Communion on Sunday?”

No. But I laughed at his question.

During the season of Lent I like to incorporate Prayers of Confession and Words of Assurance in our weekly worship. These are portions of the liturgy that we tend to only engage on Communion Sundays as they are a path for us to prepare to come before the table Christ prepares for us – for everyone.

I find these words particularly powerful during Lent – this season of self-examination and Savior-invitation – to look to the new life Christ is creating in us that we will celebrate with his resurrection on Easter morn!

In the act of confession we acknowledge our sin. We acknowledge the hurt and harm that we cause. We acknowledge that we do not have this life – this world – figured out! We acknowledge that we deserve judgment, but because of the Love that will not let us go, judgment is not our fate.

It is my experience that some people experience adverse reactions to the thought of confession. Perhaps they hear confession and believe they are expected to make a public display – a public rending of their heart – like the woman in our Scripture passage for this week. Or perhaps they hear confession and are resistant because they do not want to participate in an act that will make them feel bad about themselves.

I feel bad when I make a confession. I experience guilt and remorse – that weight of my committed sin. But there is a difference between saying “I feel bad; I made a bad choice” and “I am bad because I made this choice.” I am not bad. We are not bad. I and we make bad choices. I and we can alter our behaviors so as to not make those bad choices recurrent. Guilt and remorse can be powerful motivators for behavior modification – and the hope for followers of Christ – is that guilt and remorse will motivate us to accountably changing our behavior to be more like Christ. Feeling bad does not absolve us of sin. Seeking forgiveness and accountably changing our behavior acknowledges before God and neighbor that we are applying the grace in forgiveness we receive.

When I am feeling lost or astray in my relationship with God, I often return to the Parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke 15. The shepherd leaves the 99 in search of the 1, and Jesus concludes saying, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Lk 15:7). For me, confession is one way to bring God joy. That homecoming is sweet and needful and holy. That homecoming is healing so that I may – every day – become more of the person and leader God desires.

Prayer: “Woman at the feast, let the righteous stare; come and go in peace; love him with your hair! 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: Can’t Change The Beginning; Can Change The Ending

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 4:7-26 and 39.

Recently I gathered with a group of friends – and fellow yoga teachers – to organize behind a vision of a yoga collective in Orlando. Some in the room knew one another; others were new faces. Our leader, Holly, invited us to *briefly* introduce ourselves to the room – because yoga teachers tend to talk as much as pastors – y’all have a double whammy with me! – including our name, our yoga story, and something we wanted the others in the room to know.

I was struck by the third prompt – something we wanted the others in the room to know.

When it was my turn I shared: My name is Sarah Miller. I first practiced yoga when I was in college and truly came home to yoga in 2013 seeking medicine-free relief from two chronic pain conditions. And something you should know about me…I am an ordained clergyperson…and an introvert.

(I know…an introvert! Who would have thought!?)

I am not sure if eyebrows were raised higher because I am an ordained clergyperson or because I practice yoga. “Can you do yoga and be Christian” is quite a hot topic of debate these days. True – yoga is an Eastern meditative practice. True – yoga has deep roots in both Buddhism and Hinduism, drawing on these religions for the development of yogic philosophy as well as the names and stories behind certain poses. Some people say that yogis “chant to or worship Buddha” during their practice…from my study of Buddhism, I am confident that Buddha does not want chanting or to be worshipped. Buddha desired that each person be released from the struggles of life and a person pursues that intent through practicing non-attachment – from possessions, from agendas, from popularity, from addictions.

As I reflect on the life of Jesus, I believe that Jesus, too, wants us to be released from the struggles of life. I believe that non-attachment from possessions, agendas, popularity, and addictions is part of that release. However, as Buddha non-attached, he turned inward in the pursuit of total enlightenment. I believe that as followers of Jesus non-attach, we are to turn Christ-ward so that our personal lights will shine all the more bright because of and for the Light of the World.

At the surface that third prompt – something we want the others in the room to know – seemed docile. In reality – it was and is an incredibly vulnerable question. I am grateful for the opportunity to practice vulnerability because those are (rare) opportunities to truly know oneself and articulate that true self in front of someone(s) else.

The Woman at the Well said of Jesus, “He told me everything about me.” This statement reveals the omniscience – the all-knowingness – of God, which Jesus has because Jesus is God. Even so – even though God and Jesus already know! – I believe our God and our Jesus want us to take time to share what we want them to know. The act of sharing – of being vulnerable – is how we deepen our relationship with God and Jesus.

That sharing takes courage. That sharing can be scary.

That sharing is the practice of knowing self, knowing Savior, and being known by our Savior.

Prayer: “Woman at the well, question the Messiah; find your friends and tell: drink your hearts desire! 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: Daring to Reach

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 8:42b-48.

I recently learned about the “Stockdale Paradox” – so coined by Jim Collins in his text, Good to Great. The Stockdale Paradox states that you – whether ‘you’ is an individual or an organization – must “retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties AND at the same time confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be” (Good to Great 86).

The Stockdale Paradox is named for Admiral Jim Stockdale who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for eight years. He was tortured too many times to count. Unlike POWs around him, he faced the realty that he would be tortured and mistreated. He also never lost faith that he would be rescued and reunited with his family.

In conversation with Admiral Stockdale, Collins asked him, “Who didn’t make it out?” “Oh, that’s easy,” said Stockdale, “the optimists…the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas’ and Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. They’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart” (Good to Great 85).

You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties AND at the same time confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be…

Those words ring true for me as I consider the woman in our Scripture passage for this Sunday. She faced insurmountable odds. She was considered unclean – and therefore full of sin – because of her hemorrhaging. She was an exile in and to her community for twelve.long.years. People did not want to touch her. People did not want to be touched by her.

A crowd separated her and Jesus…it may as well have been a chasm between two opposite cliffs. Perhaps she thought, “If only Jesus could see me! He could see me and my need for healing and make me whole…but how am I ever going to get in front of him…he has already passed me by.”

Jesus may have passed, but he did not pass her by.

Jesus may have passed by…and this woman pressed on.

She had a goal. She had faith that Jesus would help her achieve that goal. And so she navigated the crowd. She overcame social, religious, and physical obstacles. She faced the brutal facts of her current reality, and my friends, she prevailed in the end. Her faith in Jesus made her whole.

These witnesses – Stockdale and the woman healed from hemorrhaging – are two incredible stories of perseverance, of courage, and of consistently daring to reach towards God’s preferred future for one’s life.

What brutal facts are facing you? Have you turned your face towards them? And how will your maturing faith in our Lord Jesus Christ embolden you towards prevailing?

Prayer: “Woman in the crowd, creeping up behind, touching is allowed; seek and you will find! 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: Eemas

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Exodus 1:15-22 and Luke 1:30-33, 38.

This Sunday the Tuskawilla UMC Family begins our Lenten Study entitled Woman In The Night. The series is based upon the verses of a hymn under that same name. Each verse sings of a woman in Scripture that had an encounter with Jesus – from his birth to life to his birth to new life.

Some of the women we will study in this series are named. Others are not. They are all important. Their witness is valuable. And Jesus’ ministry with them affirms Jesus’ presence, passion, and compassion is for all people.

Thanks be to God.

I hope you will join us in worship this Sunday as we begin this study. I will also provide a summary of the events of the Special General Conference Gathering this week in St. Louis.

And I hope to read some of our church’s big hairy audacious God purposes on the Family Room Wall this Sunday! Be sure to stop by the wall and share God’s purpose for your life with our church family sometime during Lent.

In prayer for both the work, growth, and discernment of our General Conference as well as our work, growth, and discernment as followers of Jesus Christ, may we unite our hearts with these words from Shirley Murray’s hymn, For Everyone Born.

Let us pray.

Prayer: “For everyone born, a place at the table, for everyone born, clean water and bread, a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing, for everyone born, a star overhead. And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy!

For woman and man, a place at the table, revising the roles, deciding the share, with wisdom and grace, dividing the power, for woman and man, a system that’s fair. And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy!

For young and for old, a place at the table, a voice to be heard, a part in the song, the hands of a child in hands that are wrinkled, for young and for old, the right to belong. And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy!

For just and unjust, a place at the table, abuser, abused, with need to forgive, in anger, in hurt, a mind-set of mercy, for just and unjust, a new way to live. And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy!

For everyone born, a place at the table, to live without fear, and simply to be, to work, to speak out, to witness and worship, for everyone born, the right to be free. And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy!”*

*”For Everyone Born,” Worship and Song 3149

 

Dare to Dream: Perseverance

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Deuteronomy 34:1-12.

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending the first Florida Conference Spring Confirmation Retreat with TUMC’s Confirmands. Under the wonderful leadership of Alaine Gorman and the incredible mentoring of Dan Hood, our students had a fantastic weekend of learning, fellowshipping, and maturing in their faith.

I heard the worship speaker was pretty good, too. *wink*

One of our Saturday activities was to complete elements on a low-ropes challenge course. These elements typically involve balancing in tight spaces, steadying in large spaces, and maneuvering in narrow spaces. And for fun…why not complete the element without talking…or out of a group of nine, only one person can talk…

And it is not uncommon to select the least verbose in the group for this speaking role.

Low-ropes challenge course elements encourage critical thinking, communication, and teamwork – sounds like a good recipe for mindful and engaged leadership in the local church! During their time on the course, we watched our students find their voices, take the lead, encourage another leader, and take risks.

One element was a 12×12 grid. Their task: move from one side of the grid to another, one square at a time, according to a map that only the low-ropes facilitator could see and the students had to figure out through trial and error. Some students stepped from their starting square to the next potential square with great enthusiasm while others were cautious in not wanting to fail. They did not want to let down the team. They wanted to be correct in their choices. It was clear they wanted to succeed, to win.

It is good to want to be correct and successful. But I know that I miss out on the deeper meaning of experiences when I am tunnel-visioned on correctness and success.

It bear repeating – when you have the choice between being right and kind – choose to be kind.

Together the team of nine students – TUMC’s five and four from Peace UMC in Orlando – completed the maze. That was their last element before lunch. As we walked back to the lodge I asked the students about how the felt when they chose a correct square on the grid versus an incorrect square. Some said it was exciting; they would get to immediately try for another correct square. Others mentioned how their correct guess contributed to the team’s goal of revealing the entire map.

I mentioned how I thought their incorrect guesses also contributed to the team’s goal of revealing the entire map. They sat with that one for a minute. And then one said…”Oh, I guess that is what they mean by failing forward.”

That is it exactly. We try. We fail. We keep trying. We fail some more. And as long as we rise one more time than we fall or fail, we will succeed.

The rising – that is perseverance.

I am so proud of our Confirmands – of the faithful work they started in November and will bring to conclusion in their Confirmation Service this Spring. These students are bright, creative, thoughtful, and have some sass.

I like the sass.

They give me hope for the future of the church. Together with them under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, may we all persevere towards God’s Kingdom. May we all rise.

Prayer: “High King of heaven, my victory won, may I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s Sun! Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, still be my vision, O Ruler of all.”* Amen.

*“Be Thou My Vision,” The United Methodist Hymnal451.

Dare to Dream: What Is In Your Hand

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Exodus 4:1-5.

This Sunday the Reverend David Killingsworth will join the Tuskawilla Family in worship leadership while I am off with our confirmands causing mischief at the first Florida Conference Confirmation Retreat at the Warren Willis Camp in Fruitland Park.

Please be in prayer for all the Confirmation Retreat participants this weekend. May relationships with Christ deepen, may understandings of faith increase, and may the coffee be strong – oh so strong!

(Not for the students – but for the adults – especially me!)

David serves as a co-pastor in partnership with his wife, Meghan, at First United Methodist Church in Sanford. David and I met many years ago when both he and Andrew were youth directors at two of the largest United Methodist Churches in greater Orlando. David has a sweet spirit, a wonderfully quick wit, and a deep love for the God’s people. David is passionate about strengthening the bonds between the church and the community through justice work. Ask him about The Picnic Project! Introduce yourself this Sunday and thank him for sharing his gifts with us at TUMC.

As I study the Scripture text for this Sunday, I am aware that it is a passage about what God’s power can do with current resources. Moses felt so ill-equipped and yet as a mentor told me years ago, God always equips the called. Moses doubted – his leadership, his potential effectiveness, his abilities, and his resources. Where Moses saw only deficiency, God saw efficacy. God saw how Moses could be and would be successful in drawing the Hebrews out of bondage and leading them into the salvation of the Promised Land.

I often joke with staff members and ministry colleagues that the first place I start shopping for ministry events… is at the Dollar Tree.

That is right. The Dollar Tree.

It is very seldom that the Dollar Tree fails me in what I am seeking. And hey – it saves a buck because everything literally is a buck!

People past and present have scoffed at my Dollar Tree shopping, but here is the truth: 1) Dollar Tree shopping is in keeping with TUMC’s commitment to stewarding our financial resources wisely and 2) I am always amazed at what God does with Dollar Tree resources.

Once again I am preparing for our Holy Week Lenten Prayer Stations – interactive opportunities for participants to read, reflect, and respond to Jesus’ Passion Story as they continue their journey with him from Hosanna to Empty Tomb. Most of the interactive elements at these stations humbly come from the Dollar Tree. Those candles, those pieces of clay, those markers, those silk leaves – through the presence of God’s power they become holy – and I am confident that God’s presence guiding their use accomplishes more in deepening faithful ponderings and encouraging faithful growth than I will ever know.

Just because something is humble or ordinary or commonplace does not limit God’s use of that object to draw you into deeper relationship with God or to display God’s power in guiding your life purpose.

Even items at/from the Dollar Tree.

Thank you, David, for sharing your gifts at TUMC this Sunday. Love them well and challenge them, too. They (we) are up for it!

Prayer: “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing, were not the right man on our side, the man of God’s own choosing. Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is he; Lord Sabaoth, his name, from age to age the same, and he must win the battle.”* Amen.

*“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” The United Methodist Hymnal 110.