Parable of the Mustard Seed

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:31-32.

On Tuesday evening I had the privilege of attending the Spring 2017 Seminole State College Commencement to celebrate Alaine Gorman’s graduation. Alaine, I am so proud of all your accomplishments and know – with full confidence – the the world best be ready because you are going to take it by storm. 

I am so grateful to know you. 

Education, for many of us, begins like a tiny seed planted inside of us. As children we learn our names; we learn languages! We learn shapes and colors. We learn textures and sounds. Our horizons expand. Our knowledge grows. 

Why is this needful? Why is it necessary? Because as my high school principal loved to say over the campus intercom, “Knowledge is power and the power is on!”

Knowledge takes us places. Knowledge is the gateway to a greater world, full of opportunities for us to know and be known. Knowledge – and encouragement in the pursuit, refinement, and application of that knowledge – is what helps us blossom to our full potential. And in the process of maturing to our full potential – a process that I consider to be lifelong – we become teachers and sharers of knowledge each in our own way. 

It is a true gift to watch Alaine share her life experiences, passion, and truth with our students. She shares from a place of “this is what I know and I hope it will help you as you grow to know yourself, others, and how you want to contribute in the world.” Alaine shares authentically with fantastic wit and cunning sense of humor. She shares because – I truly believe – she was raised in an environment that values planting and nurturing seeds of knowledge so that in time she would (and does!) plant and nurture seeds of knowledge in others. 

The Kingdom of God is like…

Continue learning and sharing, Alaine. Through you, God will continue amazing things. 

Prayer: “Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his name, you will be in the midst of them. Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen.”*

*”Prayer of John Chrysostom,” The United Methodist Hymnal 412.

Parable of the Weeds Among the Wheat

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:24-30.

In reaction to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, Patton Oswalt, renowned actor, comedian, and writer, shared these words,

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity where inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago. So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance, or fear, or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred, or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”

These are incredibly powerful words that provided me with a sense of hope and comfort after that terror attack. They are words that I, unfortunately, continue to recall with each additional act of terror that happens in our nation and in our world.

As I think on these acts of terror – and as I read and reflect upon our Scripture passage for this week – I find myself asking – again – that powerful, haunting, one-word question.

Why?

Why do innocent people suffer? Why do hurt people choose to hurt people?

How do we cope with people – near or far – that seek to do us harm and yet we must grow alongside them? How do we heal from personal behaviors by which we do harm to ourselves?

Why do weeds grow among the wheat?

Why does God allow it to happen?

I do not think God allows it to happen; I believe people allow these sort of harmful behaviors to manifest-er into harmful acts. And I believe we must face these harmful acts caused by hurting people with grace and forgiveness. The Scripture says that we have to grow up together, for to take one from the other would cause damage to both. Jesus holds us accountable to how we treat our neighbors – neighbors that love us and that we love as well as neighbors that desire to cause us harm and, towards them, our thoughts are less than kind.

Scripture also tells us that Jesus is judge. Jesus is adjudicator. In trusting his sovereignty, we trust that he will enact justice. In coming under his lordship, we hope that we will be found among the faithful that responded to his commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbors – all neighbors – as ourselves.

Since the time of the Fall God has been saying, shouting, praying that the good outnumber the evil and always will. I believe God calls us to join in saying, shouting, and praying this statement – not to puff ourselves up as the good – but to offer hope in a world that at times seems all too gloomy.

Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.

On all. On us. On me.

Prayer: “Come, my Light, and illumine my darkness. Come, my Life, and revive me from death. Come, my Physician, and heal my wounds. Come, Flame of divine love, and burn up the thorns of my sins, kindling my heart with the flame of thy love. Come, my King, sit upon the throne of my heart and reign there. For thou alone art my King and my Lord. Amen.”*

*”An Invitation to Christ,” The United Methodist Hymnal 466.

Parable of the Soils

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:1-8, 18-23

I took Algebra in the 9th grade. I was excited – I excelled at solving for X. One beautiful day my Algebra teacher said we were going to start working on parabolas. 

She said “parabolas.” I heard “parables.” I thought, “Yes! Solving for X in a word problem that has a lesson to teach me!”

Oh those parabolas taught me lessons all right…but not the lessons I anticipated. 

(Have I mentioned that math is hard?)

This Sunday the Tuskawilla Family will begin a sermon series for the Season of Easter through Pentecost Sunday where we will study the Kingdom of God parables in Matthew 13. Each of these parables will provide us with a different glimpse of what life is like in the Kingdom of God. 

Jesus’ disciples asked him why he taught in parables. Jesus answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given…’For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn – and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear” (Mt 13:11, 15-16). The people – our people – us – we have turned off our senses from God. Our receptors to encounter and acknowledge God’s presence have become dull, possibly even numb. And so Jesus tells these stories in order that our senses may come alive again in him.

I love the idea that through experiencing these parables – with our seeing, hearing, and feeling – Jesus will heal us. Jesus will draw us closer to himself. Jesus will draw us closer to our preferred future – our home with him in the  Kingdom. 

It is fitting that we begin our study of Jesus’ Kingdom of God parables with the Parable of the Soils. In it we are invited to examine our own hearts – the soil ripe for sowing and reaping in our lives. Join us at 8:30 for Morningsong or 11 for Traditional Worship as we reflect upon and refine the ground of our souls where God’s truths can flourish and grow. 

Prayer: “Lo! Jesus meets thee, risen from the tomb; lovingly he greets thee, scatters fear and gloom. Let the church with gladness hymns of triumph sing, for our Lord now liveth; death hath lost its sting. Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son; endless is the victory thou o’er death hast won.”* Amen. 

*”Thine Be the Glory,” The United Methodist Hymnal308. 

The Winning Team

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 10:34-43 and John 20:1-18. 

On Palm Sunday I referred to Holy Week as “Super Bowl Week for the Church.” That evening a friend sent me a message that said, “Two teams play in the Super Bowl…and we are on the winning team.”

I admit that I did not fully catch the truth in his statement when I first read it. When I made my comment I was referring to the number of opportunities to engage our faith as we walk with Christ to the cross – just as there are a number of activities that lead up to the big game on Super Bowl Sunday. But Chris heard my comment in relation to the main event. “Two teams play in the Super Bowl…and we are on the winning team.”

On one side is sin and death. On the other is grace and Christ. 

Grace and Christ start the week strong…but as the week progresses, sin and death gain momentum until such a time it appears sin and death close it all. 

But they do not. 

And they never will. 

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (Jn 1:5).

We are on the winning team with Christ because of God’s amazing grace. This winning team is not exclusive to us; it is God’s gift to all people. And that is why we will gather to celebrate the resurrection of Christ this Sunday. 

7am Morningsong Service featuring acoustic music and Holy Communion in the Courtyard

10am Easter Breakfast in the Fellowship Hall

11am Worship featuring the Sanctuary Choir and traditional hymns in the Sanctuary

Prayer: “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow; because he lives, all fear is gone; because I know he holds the future, and life is worth the living just because he lives.”* Amen. 

*”Because He Lives,” The United Methodist Hymnal364.

Once Upon A Cross

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 21:1-11.

TUMC celebrates Holy Communion weekly at our Morningsong Service and at each service I ask different worshippers to help serve Communion.

(This may cause anxiety in some folks…I hope not!)

One Sunday I invited John Rothrock and his daughter, McKenna, to serve communion. McKenna is in first grade and full of life. She skipped up to the table with the world’s biggest smile on her face. I served her communion, telling her that as she ate the bread and tasted the juice that Jesus loves her so much. I then carefully handed her the ceramic chalice. She looked at me with eyes half full of wonder and half full of uncertainty. I knelt down again, “As people come to you, tell them what I told you, ‘Jesus loves you so much.’”

Our worshippers came forward for Holy Communion and had to bend down a little bit more than usual to dip their bread into the cup. They all returned to their seats with the glory of God upon their faces. Seeing McKenna serve Holy Communion with her father is a memory I will cherish forever.

At the conclusion of the service I met McKenna in our church’s Family Room, knelt down, and thanked her for serving with her father and me in worship. I opened my arms to her and she ran for me with such joy in her hug that she knocked me to the floor! It suddenly became one of those moments where everything went silent in the Family Room until our shared giggles filled the room to a roar.

“Jesus loves you so much, McKenna.” “I know…because you tell me.”

It is so important to proclaim God’s good news to one another. Proclaiming God’s good news is a sign of our maturing discipleship, our growing in faith and in love of God. It is equally important for us to hear God’s good news proclaimed. When we feel alone or afraid, when we feel lost or ashamed, recalling God’s good news proclaimed can comfort and reassure us. We do not have to be a certain age or have certain skills in order to proclaim God’s good news. God invites all of us to share, to tell, to proclaim.

In the week ahead we will celebrate with Jesus as he enters Jerusalem, weep with Jesus in the garden and at the cross, and hope for our own resurrection as we witness Jesus’ empty tomb. On some of the days of Holy Week it is easy to proclaim God’s good news while on others it is more challenging. Be encouraged to speak God’s good news even when it is difficult. They are words that definitely need to be said. They are words that we definitely need to hear. Through proclaiming God’s good news others will know…because we tell them.

Morningsong will gather this week and hear a sermon entitled, “A Little More Than HeeHaw” and celebrate Holy Communion. Our 11:00 service will worship alongside the leadership of our Sanctuary Choir as they offer their cantata Once Upon A Cross. We welcome you as we begin our Holy Week journey together.

Prayer: Holy God, who gives good news, help us to proclaim your good news so that all may know your love and establish their hope in you. In the power of your name, we pray. Amen.

Holy Week at Tuskawilla UMC

Saturday, April 8 – Easter Egg Hunt

9:00am in Fellowship Hall

Sunday, April 9 – Palm Sunday Worship

8:30am – Morningsong in the Sanctuary

11am – Once Upon the Cross Cantata in the Sanctuary

Monday, April 10 – Prayer Stations

5:30-7:30pm in the Fellowship Hall

Tuesday, April 11 – Prayer Stations

5:30-7:30pm in the Fellowship Hall

Wednesday, April 12 – Prayer Stations

5:30-7:30pm in the Fellowship Hall

Thursday, April 13 – Maundy Thursday Experience

A Taste of Seder concluding with Holy Communion and Prayers for Anointing

6:30pm in the Fellowship Hall

Friday, April 14 – Good Friday Service of Light

7pm in the Sanctuary

Sunday, April 16 – Easter Sunday

7am Sunrise Morningsong Service with Holy Communion in the Courtyard

10am Breakfast in the Fellowship Hall

11am Worship in the Sanctuary

Monday, April 17 – TUMC Offices Closed

Giving Up: Our Lives

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 11:17-27, 38-46.

Recently I was reminded of a powerful truth from my friend Hugh, pastor of the LoveWins Community in Raleigh, North Carolina. Throughout our lives things have a habit of going awry and sometimes when things go awry, folks throw up their hands and say, “God has a plan!” It’s true. God does have a plan. Hugh would affirm that, and then add, “God’s plan is you.”

God’s plan is me. Is you. Is us.

This I believe.

This Sunday a group of our TUMC Gravity Youth will confirm their faith in front of God and our congregation. They will respond, claim, and confirm – for themselves – the vows taken on their behalf at their baptism. At their confirmation they step into the “drivers seat” of their faith. They will drive the direction of their faith, the engagement of their faith, the enrichment of their faith, and the depth of their faith. And the good news? They do not drive alone. They have the whole congregation riding with them.

Church, our youth are bright, passionate, and intelligent; they soaked up the lessons of their time in Confirmation like sponges. And they know – I know, we know! – that these lessons are not “one and done.” Part of our life, experience, and growth as followers of Christ is to return to these lessons over and over again because what they meant to us as teenagers can be (and is!) vastly different to what they mean as high school graduates, entering the work force, getting married, increasing their family, retiring, racing towards eternity.

The Gospel remains true and its meaning deepens as we live our lives with Christ.

I believe our youth are changing the world. Not only are they a part of of God’s plan, they are living into it with great creativity, fearlessness, and joy. They fuel my passion to give and serve. And…they are a little bit whacky…and we all need a little bit whacky in our lives.

Please join us this week as we celebrate the Confirmation of our youth at our 11:00am worship service. God has a plan, my friends. It includes these youth, and me, and you.

This I believe.

Prayer: “You make beautiful things. You make beautiful things out of dust. You make beautiful things. You make beautiful things out of us.”* Amen.

*”Beautiful Things” by Michael Gungor.

Giving Up: Enemies

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 19:37-44.

Sometime last week Andrew and I stumbled upon a showing of “Miss Congeniality” on network television. I am a big fan of Sandra Bullock; so, of course, we watched the movie. The film occurs at a national scholarship program *cough* beauty pageant *cough* that includes evening wear, swim wear, talent, and interview competitions. The irony of the interview competition is that no matter the question – no matter the respondent – the correct answer is “world peace.”

Reminds me of when I taught Children’s Sunday School and no matter the question – no matter the respondent the correct answer was “Jesus, God, prayer, church, share!”

(You know it’s true…)

Whenever my 10th grade History Teacher – Mr. Hinthorne – would introduce a new (past) global skirmish in his lectures he would name the groups involved and then ask, “Why can’t we all just get along?” It took my class quite sometime to realize his question was rhetorical…and oh so profound.

Getting along is a part of peace; it is a building block in the peace process. Jesus accuses Jerusalem of disregarding this building block. We heard it – we can imagine it – peoples from different places and circumstances uniting their voices in praise of the Messiah. But the praise is quickly muted by the grumbling of the Pharisees telling Jesus to subdue his followers into silence. This grumbling on Palm Sunday will end in Jesus’ groaning in his Passion. He will bear on his body how the people that surrounded him on Palm Sunday chose a way other than peace.

When we get along, when we participate in peacemaking – not just with those that we already get along with, but with folks that we are different from – we participate in creating unity, harmony, safety, and prosperity. When we participate in peacemaking we continue following the path the Prince of Peace lays before us and we bear the fruit – we show the evidence – of our salvation in Christ.

Getting along is an act I practice by

  1. Talking less and listening more.
  2. Truly listening rather than listening to prepare a response.
  3. Finding ways to walk alongside folks from a variety of life experiences through conversation, non-fiction reading, documentaries, and more.
  4. Making the first move to seek forgiveness and reconcile.

We are a people meant for peace. We are disciples of the Prince of Peace. And I think, on the whole, people would like there to be – we hope for there to be – peace. But do we think that peace is achievable? Is peace just a wish or can peace be our reality?

Peace can be our reality if we apply ourselves to acts of peacemaking. Mr. Hinthorne was right – it all starts with getting along. It is a big task, but we are more than capable. God calls us to this work and provides us with the strength and courage to complete it.

Prayer: “For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation, thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation; thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion, for my salvation. Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee, I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee, think on thy pity and thy love unswerving, not my deserving.”* Amen.

*”Ah, Holy Jesus,” The United Methodist Hymnal 289.