Vital Elements of Worship: Breathing in Grace, Breathing Out Praise

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 150.
Questions.
I am answering a lot of questions these days.
How are you feeling? Have you been sick? What has your experience been like? Do you need anything? How can I help?
Questions…that are hard to answer because I do not like (prefer) talking about myself.
Answering these questions draws me out of my comfort zone. It is important for me to share. And I feel and experience great care when I hear these (your) questions. Thank you, friends, for your care of me.
My biggest adjustment in starting my gestational journey is rest. I need to rest much more frequently than I have in recent memory…and I am finding that some attempts to rest are completely futile. I lie awake – uncomfortable, curious, nervous, and sore. In the quiet and in the stillness I ebb and flow between feelings of chaos and order. With God and Andrew, we are experiencing a huge time of creation! This is a (our!) Genesis Moment.
In Creation, there was order and chaos. In Creation, God spoke and it was so. In Creation, God spoke and said it was – we are – all is good. In Creation God breathed God’s life-giving Spirit into us, eternally solidifying our connection. In Creation, God worked and rested.
Rest is not a sign of weakness. Rest is not a sign of inadequacy. Rest is a way – God’s way – our way of recharging, recentering, and reinvigorating our work in and for the Kingdom. If we work without ceasing, our work becomes our idol. If we work without ceasing, we do not offer our best selves or services to God and neighbor. If we work without ceasing, we cut ourselves off from what God seeks to offer us in the midst of rest.
I do not like (prefer) to rest, but I am learning the value of rest. I do not like that my production levels are not equivalent to the past, but on those days I just remind myself that I fortified a central nervous system in the last 12 hours!
I do like that in my rest I am reminded of God’s life-giving breath falling afresh upon me as my breath nourishes the life of my and Andrew’s son. In those moments of rest I ask God to relieve feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. I ask God to help me be and to breathe deeply.
Prayer: “Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew, that I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do.”* Amen.
*”Breathe on Me, Breath of God,” The United Methodist Hymnal 420.

Parable of the Dragnet

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:47-51.

The summer of 2004 Andrew served as a lake interpreter at a Boy Scout camp in the Boundary Waters area of Northern Minnesota. He spent the summer taking different scout troops on 10 to 14 day paddle trips…and loved every minute of it.

I also think he wanted to have a summer where he did not have shower the.entire.summer.

And he did not…for 81 days…

He knew to shower before he boarded the flight home to see me.

Smart guy.

In regaling me with stories about his summer on the water, he would laugh the heartiest about the groups that showed up to the base with food to take with them on the water – canned food, snacks, MREs and more! And Andrew…being the stingy interpreter he was…would not let them take any food! None of it!

Why? Because if the boys were not paddling canoes, they were carrying canoes along with everything else they needed for their daily use and campsites. Andrew learned after his first trip that summer that if the scouts could not (literally) carry the weight brought with them, then he would have to carry it…and he did not sign up for that. So while inspecting the scout packs before departure, Andrew would make them pile up all their food to be left behind. They would spend the next 10 to 14 days on the water…and they would fish!

Some boys were fishing experts while others had a steep learning curve. They fished with rods and cast nets. Sometimes they caught fish…other times they caught whatever was in the lake that day…a coffee carafe was the most interesting item!

What I found most encouraging – after I recovered from the thought of Andrew denying the boys access to all the food they brought with them! – was how the boys applied themselves to the work and task of fishing. Fishing was essential for survival on their trip. If one scout had a hot line in the water and another scout was struggling, they took care of one another. Everyone ate. Everyone enjoyed his experience. They learned the value of teamwork, hard work, and being their brothers’ keeper.

The Kingdom of God is like…

This week we celebrate Pentecost – the birth of the Church – in the Christian year. On the day of Pentecost a great gathering of God’s people were gathered together in one place. The Holy Spirit descended and together God’s people worshipped. And from their worship many were convicted to repent and be baptized. And in response – in ownership – of their baptism they served together, ate together, affirmed their commitment to God by caring for and keeping their sisters and brothers together.

Together.

I truly believe that God intends us all to be together. And that when we are all together as the Church – worshipping, serving, sharing, affirming – we not only have enough; we have and are more than enough. To be the Church is hard work. From time to time we may have to leave things behind that we desperately want to bring forward with us so that we can make room to learn new skills, be adventurous in new areas, and blossom further into the people that God desires us to be.

I hope such great hope for the Church, for The United Methodist Church, and for Tuskawilla. God is bigger than all our challenges and God is so so faithful. God asks for our faithfulness. God asks for us to fish even when we are scared…even when we do not know how…even when we think we know a better way. God will and is taking care of us. We are the Church. We are God’s Church. And God is leading us into God’s preferred future.

Please plan to join us for a Congregational Meeting following our 11am Worship Service this Sunday, June 4 to receive an update about the work and continued work of your Tuskawilla UMC Leadership Team. We will meet in the Sanctuary immediately following the Benediction.

Prayer: “Wind who makes all winds that blow, gusts that bend the sapling low, gales that heave the sea in waves, stirrings in the mind’s deep caves: Aim your breath with steady power on your church, this day, this hour. Raise, renew the life we’ve lost, Spirit God of Pentecost.” Amen.*

*“Wind Who Makes All Winds That Blow,” The United Methodist Hymnal 538.

Parable of the Treasure

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:44.

One day while in Nepal (it still stuns me that I am able to say that phrase!) Andrew and I decided to visit Nagarcot, which is in the western-most end of the Everest region. We called our faithful driver, Ramesh, and set out early for the 40 kilometer journey from Kathmandu.

It was truly incredible to watch the landscape change as we ascended out of the bowl of the Kathmandu valley. Geographically, Kathmandu is in a valley; it is in a physical dip in the landscape between the mountains that sits gingerly atop an active fault line. But the lusciousness that the word “valley” evokes is hard to find amongst all the construction and industry. In a very real way, one must leave the valley to find the valley.

The farther we drove, the more the air quality improved. Trash disappeared, or was much less visible. Brown and gray turned to green and I was so excited to see green! “Wait,” Ramesh said, “Just wait.”

Out of the valley we turned off the paved road for a rocky one to led us up to Nagarcot. After driving upward for a couple kilometers Ramesh pulled the car over, which was a feat in itself because there was nowhere to pull the car to – the choices were towards the rock face or the cliff.

He chose the rock face.

“Now look.”

And we followed Ramesh’s gesture to look at that same field we passed earlier but this time we saw it from above. What I thought was green was actually a field of gold. Little golden flowers sitting atop green stems that bloom in direct daylight and close up again at dusk.

It was truly hidden treasure in a field.

I was amazed that field had been left untouched so the flowers could grow. Land is at such a premium in Nepal, though not many people own; they squat. Ramesh said this field on the rock face had been in the same family for many generations – meaning the same family had lived on that rock face for many generations – and though development was important, it was not vital. What was vital was leaving the land as untouched by human hands as possible so the livestock could graze, and the water could seep into the earth, and the flowers could greet them as if to say “good morning” on their way to work and “good night” on their way home.

Our parable for this week says the finder bought the field, not what the finder did with the field once purchased. Yes, I believe that we are invited to have a hand in bringing about the Kingdom of God, but we do not have to develop it from the ground up. The Kingdom of God is – just like the field is – full of beauty and wonder. It is something to behold and respect. It is something to care for and nurture. And it is a place to be surprised by what we might discover there – and because we are there – what we might discover in ourselves.

Join Samantha Aupperlee and Alex Lilly this Sunday as they offer their leadership in word and song on this parable in both our Morningsong and 11am worship services. Thank you, dear friends, for sharing your gifts with our church family.

Prayer: “In all the world around me I see his loving care, and though my heart grows weary, I never will despair. I know that he is leading through all the stormy blast; the day of his appearing will come at last. He lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today! He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way. He lives, he lives, salvation to impart! You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.”* Amen. 

*”He Lives,” The United Methodist Hymnal 310.

Messiah: For Unto Us A Child Is Born

This Weekend’s Scripture ~ Luke 2:1-20.

Today – December 23 – Andrew and I celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary, the 12 year celebration of our engagement, and 15 1/2 years of togetherness.

My heart is so warm.

People often ask why our anniversary is so close to Christmas. Andrew proposed under the Japanese archway in Epcot on December 23, 2004 and said he wanted that day to be our anniversary – and so it is!

It is a bit overwhelming at times for a clergy couple to celebrate our anniversary so close to our leading celebrations of Christ’s Incarnation, but we would not trade it. In celebrating our anniversary we remember that the church brought us together – our first kiss as a couple and as spouses was at an altar!…a story for another time – and the church was brought together by and because of Christ.

I give thanks for the Child that is born unto us. I give thanks for my husband and for the opportunity to share the life we have together in service of this Child. I give thanks for the Merry Christmas and Happy New Year that awaits us all.

Join us for Christmas Eve Worship at 6pm on Saturday featuring Carols, Communion and Candlelight.

Join us Christmas Day for Morningsong at 8:30 featuring Prayers and Communion and at 10am for Carols and Blessing of the Toys.

Prayer: “Joy to the world! The Lord is come. Let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare him room. And heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven and heaven and nature sing!”*

*”Joy to the World,” The United Methodist Hymnal 246.

Christmas Cantata: Once Upon A Night

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 1:76-79. 

This Sunday Tuskawilla UMC’s Sanctuary Choir will share their Christmas Cantata Once Upon A Night. Thank you, Tim, Linda, and choir members for your hours of preparation and spirits of dedication to share this offering of song with us. 

(Thanks for inviting me to sing with you, too!)

My “once upon a night” Christmas Eve story is not nearly as picturesque as that first Christmas night. It was December 24, 2006. Andrew and I arrived to the cabin in the North Georgia Mountains where we would spend our honeymoon just as the sun was setting. We checked in at the lodge to receive our key and to eat dinner…only to get the key and be told that the lodge was closed for the next three days even though we called multiple times to ensure we would be able to eat there over Christmas. 

We had no food with us…save the few remaining cheddar biscuits from Red Lobster in the back seat of the car. And so began our pursuit – on Christmas Eve at 5pm – for a grocery store still open in rural North Georgia. 

Lord have mercy. 

We eventually navigated our way to a Walmart 45 minutes away. Andrew pleaded with the security guard at the front door behind the already closed security gate to let us in to buy some food for the next few days. 

Our Christmas wish was answered; “You have 10 minutes” was all he said. 

Andrew and I split up – I got in line at a register and he took off for frozen foods. When I saw him next he had waffles, frozen pizza, frozen chicken wings, and orange juice. 

Can you guess what we eat every Christmas Eve once we get home from worship!?

It was not glamorous, but it was our first Christmas Eve together. We laugh about it now, but I was so troubled in the moment. I start thinking about what I will eat next while I am currently eating; so, the thought of no access to food for a day or two caused me a great deal of distress. 

I am sure the Holy Family experienced a great deal of distress as they travelled to Bethlehem – Mary, great with child and Joseph, great with lingering concern about his betrothed and her child. And in the dark of night they found sanctuary in a stable-cave. In the dark of night they watched the Light of the world enter this world – our world – and through his life Jesus ushered them – ushers us – out of darkness into marvelous light. 

All once upon a night. 

I hope you will join us as the choir sings the nativity story in a fresh and wonderful light on Sunday morning at our 11am service. Morningsong will gather at 8:30am for prayer, Scripture reading, a meditation, and Holy Communion. Looking forward to worshipping with you on the Third Sunday of Advent. 

Prayer: “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given; so God imparts to human hearts the blessing 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.

A Special Treat

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 19:1-10 (Morningsong) and 1 Samuel 17 (11am Blended Worship)

On Monday Andrew and I took his brother, Josh, a pumpkin. Josh is interred at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell and Halloween was (is) his favorite holiday. Oh the mischief Andrew and Josh would cause on Halloween.

One Halloween they kept changing their costumes – full wardrobe changes at first and then only minor changes towards the end – as they revisited the same house again and again. Why that house? Four words: full.size.candy.bars.

Andrew and Josh did not start out as friends. They started out having a fist fight…and then they became friends. And once they were friends, the two were instantly brothers. If you were to ask my in-laws or Josh’s parents, I am sure they would say that a common phrase between Andrew and Josh was “I am coming to your house today!” To hang out, to sleep over, to build something in the garage, to scheme the next prank, to plot resistance against “the man” (whatever or whoever “the man” was that week), to laugh, to live. “I am coming to your house today.”

Wherever Josh was, there Andrew would be and vice versa.

My heart breaks because Andrew cannot have those experiences with Josh right now…but that will not be the case forever. We trust, we believe faithfully that God is bringing us all – bringing them – together again.

Jesus shocked the crowd when he announced that he was going to Zacchaeus’ house. Perhaps some hoped that Jesus was going there to “clean house” or spare Zacchaeus the public ridicule and shame of being rebuked by the Savior before his peers. But that was not Jesus’ intent. Jesus’ intent was to build community and include rather than further exclude the tax collector. Jesus wanted Zacchaeus, who had been so far from Jesus as evidenced by his behavior, to come near to him. Zacchaeus, this tax collector, this culturally despised man, this swindler, this con – Jesus had so many reasons to come to blows with this man. And yet Jesus does not throw a fist, but offers a hand. “I am coming to your house today.”

Jesus said, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Lk 8:21). Through his repentance and reconciliation – through admitting his wrong and repaying his neighbors – Zacchaeus turned his will towards the Father’s and embraced his kinship with Jesus.

We visit Josh to remember. We visit Josh so that Andrew and Josh can hang out. We visit Josh so Andrew can tell him what has been built in the garage, report on completed pranks, update resistance plans, and laugh. We visit Josh as an act of living and leave Josh’s side with a renewed sense of calling: Who will we invite to our house today? What homes will we ask to enter? What new and continuing relationships will we nurture? How will we see Christ in others and invite them to see Christ in us?

Remember this Sunday’s treat: Join me for the 8:30 Morningsong Service and then plan to stay for worship at 11am as Andrew preaches on David and Goliath from I Samuel. I am looking forward to my time at both Tusakwilla and Azalea Park UMCs this weekend! The Millers are excited to see you in worship on Sunday!

Prayer: “Called forth from every nation, yet one o’er all the earth; our charter of salvation: one Lord, one faith, one birth. One holy name professing and at one table fed, to one hope always pressing, by Christ’s own Spirit led.” Amen.

*”The Church’s One Foundation,” The United Methodist Hymnal 546.

Community Leadership

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Timothy 3:1-7, 14-16

On our third full day in Israel our group was scheduled to travel north. Our guide, Mike, mentioned there was a great possibility for the presence of accumulations of frozen water where we were headed…so naturally I layered up with my clothing.

And wore sandals. You can take the girl out of Florida…

I knew as long as I started out warm that I would stay warm throughout the day; therefore, coffee was next on my list. At our particular hotel – and at most hotels throughout Israel – the coffee cups are tiny and the queue anticipating coffee deep and wide. So instead of filling one cup, I decided to fill three. Yes. Three. All for me.

Coffee

Andrew and our friend, Winnie, think all my coffees very amusing. And Bishop Carter was so kind to lend a hand in lifting my third cup.

“Are all of those for you, Sarah?” “Yes….”

“Well, you will have quite the day ahead of you.”

Indeed I did…because this was the day I decided to headstand on a cliff of Mount Arbel overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

Headstand

The Bishop may have been slightly more impressed by this headstand than my three cups of coffee…but only slightly.

I am so thankful to have had this opportunity to travel to Israel with Bishop Carter, Andrew, and 33 others from the Florida Conference. It was an incredible journey of study, worship, friendship and discovery in the homeland of our faith. There was much to learn about culture, faith, tradition, and hope during our trip – not only of the places we visited but also of our fellow travelers. We travelled as a group of people with very specific roles and very specific labels – pastors, pastors’ spouses, conference staff, and bishop – but at our heart, we are all people. We are all God’s children. As we continued on our trip it was not that we forgot the roles that we serve, but we remembered and brought forward our shared humanness and kinship as sisters and brothers in Christ.

I think part of our human nature is to put people up on pedestals; I know that I have done and continue to do it! We put people up on pedestals that we revere and trust, people that we aspire ourselves to be. While this is kind and has good intentions, it is not sustainable for the person on the pedestal or for the person that put the other there. We are human. We are fallible. We stumble. We fail. We let one another down. These lapses chip into the pedestal until it crumbles…and if we so attach our faith and hope to that person being on a pedestal, our faith and hope are in jeopardy of crumbling, too.

In our Scripture for this week we read about the leadership of the Early Church – leadership that was not plucked from pedestals but raised up out of the faithful. Leaders came from the people; they knew well the people’s joys and struggles because the leaders shared in those same joys and struggles. Leaders were named as such because they covenanted to be their sisters’ and brothers’ keeper. They did not want to be lord or king because their Lord and King was Jesus.

Leaders were not asked to be perfect; they were not asked to perform on pedestals. Rather, leaders were asked to model and lead in faithfulness. Leaders were asked to learn from their humanness as well as from their kin and then interpret those lessons for the health, sustainability, and growing maturity of the Body of Christ.

When I met with Bishop Carter prior to my ordination that was the lesson he shared with me, as my leader and as my brother in Christ. He encouraged me to be myself and to trust God in using my humanness, my relationship with others, my fallibility, and my faithfulness to not lead me to a life on a pedestal but to lead me in life with others, to lead me in life with Christ.

Bishop Carter picking up my third coffee cup, laughing with me, cautiously eyeing my headstand, as well as many other acts of leading and caring while in Israel and throughout my ministry remind me of this lesson. I am grateful for his leadership and friendship. I am grateful to lead and be in relationship with all those I serve in and beyond the Tuskawilla Family. Together I know that we are bringing joy to God as the God’s Kingdom strengthens in our community.

Prayer: “The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord; she is his new creation by water and the Word. From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride; with his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died. Elect from every nation, yet one o’er all the earth; her charter of salvation, one Lord, one faith, one birth; one holy name she blesses, partakes one holy food, and to one hope she presses, with every grace endued.”* Amen.

*”The Church’s One Foundation,” The United Methodist Hymnal 545.