Dare to Dream: Lose Your Big Buts

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Exodus 3:11-15.

You know what is a really long list? All of the things I learned in seminary.

You know what is an even longer list?

All of the things I did not learn in seminary.

Let us pray.

In 1964 Simon and Garfunkel released their single “The Sound of Silence.” It begins, “Hello, darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again.”

My adaptation – “Hello, fear, my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again.”

There is a direct relationship between my fear and my lack of knowledge. And since the list of what I did not learn in seminary is longer than the list of what I learned in seminary, I am often afraid…

I immediately fear what I do not know – especially a task I do not know how to complete or a problem I do not know how to solve. At times the fear is paralyzing. I cannot move. My breathing is shallow. I feel tears welling in my eyes.

Fear stands before me. What are you going to do now? Fear taunts. The answer Fear wants? Nothing. Silence. Will Fear accept a verbalization? Sure – as long as it is an excuse which affirms that nothing will change.

My faith has taught and is teaching me a response to fear…

Fight.

(Not the word you were expecting, huh?)

I fight fear. First I admit that I am afraid. And then I get mad. And when I am mad, I am pretty unstoppable until the friend, accountability partner, or fellow servant is called; the skill is acquired; the task is completed; and the problem is solved.

I am like the T-Rex on the t-shirts with the handheld extender grabbers.

Unstoppable.

I would rather learn new skills in order to conquer challenges than make excuses. I would rather call on the community of faith that has supported and is supporting me than sit alone in my fear. Problem solving skills are vital in the church; they are vital in every day life. Fear wants to immobilize us. Faith desires to motivate us to make positive change and contribute, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to transforming our world more into God’s Kingdom.

Hello, Fear, my old friend…weren’t you just leaving?

What is your reaction to fear? How do you overcome fear? How has and does your faith form your response to fear? Share your answers with someone this week. See you Sunday!

Prayer: “When Israel was in Egypt’s land, let my people go; oppressed so hard they could not stand, let my people go. No more shall they in bondage toil, let my people go; let them come out with Egypt’s spoil, let my people go. Go down (go down) Moses (Moses) way down in Egypt’s land; tell old Pharaoh to let my people go!”* Amen.

*”Go Down, Moses,” The United Methodist Hymnal 448.

 

Advertisements

God Never Said That: God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 38:3-8 and I Corinthians 10:1-13.

This morning I received this text message from my dear friend, Dan:

Sarah! We were just called out by our seminary professor!

It may surprise some of you, but this is not new for Dan and me…we were known to meddle quite a bit during our Candler Days. Since it has been a while since we have been called out by a seminary professor, I was immediately curious. What was happening?

Dan is attending a continuing education event at Epworth by the Sea in St. Simon’s, Georgia and our pastoral care professor, Dr. Karen Scheib, was the plenary speaker this morning. Her plenary subject was the importance of covenant groups – groups that connect electronically, over the phone, and/or in person to share the highs, lows, and happenings of life. Dan and I are in such a covenant group. We make a point to connect several times throughout the week via text message, call one another at least once a month, and see one another a minimum of once a year.

During our interactions, whether texting, talking, or in person, we laugh; we cry; we share ministry resources; we challenge one another; we build up one another.

I cannot imagine my life without Dan or Brenda. My life is better because they are in it.

When I experience moments where I feel like that last piece of straw is about to break the camel’s back – meaning my back! – I am so grateful for friends like Dan. God did not say this life would be easy; God did say that we would not live this life alone. Our loved ones, family, and friends are such gifts to us throughout our lives as they lend their perspective, advice, hands, feet, presence, and faith to our benefit and aid.

Are you a member of a covenant group? I would venture to say you probably are, even if you do not call your group a covenant group. When you are in need, afraid, worried, or sick – who do you call? When you have had an incredibly joyful experience – who do you call? When you need to check in about what is going on in your life – the highs, the lows, and the happenings – who do you call? The persons that come to mind as you answer these questions constitute your covenant group.

In addition to your check-ins, consider how you might grow in relationship with God alongside your covenant group members. Perhaps you

  • Begin or end or begin and end your conversations with prayer.
  • Participate in a Bible Study together.
  • Serve on a day-long or extended service project together.
  • Eat together.
  • Fellowship together.

I have found that being intentional – that making my covenant group a priority in my life – is central to my faith development. My covenant group is central to reminding me that even when I do not think I can handle one more thing that God provides a way forward. Thanks be to God that the members of my covenant group are part of that way forward.

Prayer: “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul. It is well (it is well) with my soul (with my soul), it is well, it is well with my soul.* Amen.

*”It Is Well With My Soul,” The United Methodist Church 377.

 

FAMILY ~ It Begins With YOU

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 2:38-47.

This week Andrew and I had the opportunity to return to some of our “old stomping grounds.” No, we were not in Polk County, but that is a great place, too! We were in the greater Atlanta area visiting dear family and friends, eating practically everything in sight, and reminiscing about our time spent here while in seminary at Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

I may have also been bitten by the Doctorate of Ministry bug…but we will talk more about that later.

It is good to visit “home” or “the homes” throughout our lives because those occasions help us to reflect on how things were and how things have changed, and how we were and how we have changed. Going home is as much a physical visit as it is a spiritual and emotional visit. It draws me to a time of reflection as well as gratitude. Yes, somethings change – people who used to live or work in certain places are no longer there, buildings that were once used for one thing are now used for another purpose, praising God that one section of road construction is finally completed only to find that they have simply moved the construction two miles north.

And yes, somethings stay the same and get better with age – hospitality, kindness, generosity, curiosity, encouragement, and love.

This Sunday in the Christian Year we return home to Pentecost – the birth of the Early Church through the giving and receiving of the Holy Spirit. In returning to this home we are reminded of how things were and how things have changed and how we as God’s people were and how we as God’s people have changed. I am so thankful for the legacy from our Pentecost home that remains and sustains – worship, confession, gathering around Christ’s table in fellowship, thanksgiving, acts of mercy, acts of justice, service, companionship, and transformation. I am thankful for the ways our legacy from our Pentecost home has changed, morphed, and evolved through the generations. And I am hopeful for how we will continue shaping our legacy as a family of faith through our relationship with and response to the leadings of the Holy Spirit.

I invite you to join me in prayer for the continued shaping of our legacy as a United Methodist faith family as the voting at General Conference begins on Monday, May 16. I am hopeful that decisions made by this elective body and voice of our denomination recall our home in Pentecost – the mighty presence of God and the immediate, authentic, inclusive response to God’s presence in our midst – as they add their heads, hearts, and hands to the shaping of the United Methodist witness in the world for the next four years.

Gracious Lord, may hospitality, kindness, generosity, curiosity, encouragement, and love define United Methodists and our witness. May people see your face, your light, and your welcome in us.

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.

Collect Moments With God: Through

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 1:8, 2:42-47

I remember it like it was yesterday…the sweaty palms, the clammy brow, the unsettled stomach.  I was seated at my desk.  A blank sheet of paper before me and a pen in my hand.  The task: write out the prepositions used in highest frequency in the English language.  I believe there are 63.

Did I mention this was 8th grade?  This was a life or death situation!

Then again I also remember the day before my first exam in my Old Testament seminary course, where Dr. Petersen and his fabulous mutton chops said, “I will not test you on something you can look up in a book…”

Geez…I wish Mrs. Anderson would have had the same sentiment…all that sweat for nothing!

Through was one of those high frequency prepositions.  I understand through as a conduit.  Like if you were traveling through a tunnel – you begin on one side and end up on the other.  Movement, momentum, and progress occur in the through.

In honor of today being the kick-off to the 2014 NFL Season (Go Packers!), there are no “delay of game” penalties when you get to the through. You walk up to the line of scrimmage and you initiate the play.  Or in our case of the collect prayer, you state your do – the petition of the prayer – and then proceed to the through so you begin working on it.

To continue the football analogy, saying the prayer is not the end of the play.  Walking up to the line of the scrimmage and saying “hut hut hut” is not all that is required.  You have to surround yourself with a team.  You have to have a strategy.  You have to actively move the prayer forward.  If you are going to run the prayer, then you need people around you that are going to secure a safe passage.  If you are going to launch your faith into a new area, you need to make sure you communicate with others so they can catch you or meet you on the other side.

There are allowances for time-outs, for pauses, for discernment, for consultation with coaches, mentors, family, and friends.  But those need to be regulated as well.  Not rushed, but regulated, because we cannot stay in time-outs forever.  God does not want us in between plays or in between pursuing the words of our prayers indefinitely.  God wants us active and serving and, in the words of John Wesley, “spreading Scriptural holiness over (or perhaps through-out!) the lands!”

In a football game the clock is always running.  If it is stopped, it is only for a brief period.  That players and coaches make such discerned and calculated and timely decisions is evidence of their preparatory work.  God calls us to the same sort of preparatory work, and we engage that work through prayer.  In prayer we offer our requests, we hear God’s will, we feel God’s strength, and we are sent out through the power of God’s Holy Spirit.  Every day we are stepping onto the “playing field” – are we going to move forward or move backward?

The through of the collect prayer moves us from start to finish, from beginning to end.  And through God’s Holy Spirit, I believe we are transformed into holy conduits to move forward God’s new and renewing acts of grace, from one side to the other, from start to finish, from beginning to end.

Prayer: “Holy Spirit, wind and flame, move within our mortal frame; make our hearts an altar pyre; kindle them with your own fire.  Breathe and blow upon that blaze till our lives, our deeds, and ways, speak that tongue which every land by your grace shall understand.”* Amen.

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

Stepping Up To The Plate

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Peter 1:3-9

It’s the week after Holy Week.  My dear friend Sarah refers to it as Hurricane Holy Week!  Feelings of being windswept, underwater, and overwhelmed are all the menu.  Activities at home go on hold – save eating, sleeping, and showering – which spouses, staffs, and congregants appreciate.  Activities at church go on hold, too, unless they pertain one of the many ministry happenings of Holy Week.  And then Easter happens – He is risen, indeed! – and life resumes to its regularly scheduled programming…

I have had some difficulties this week getting on the right channel.  Exhaustion – physical, spiritual, and creative – has reigned.  On Tuesday Sarah (who is in Western Massachusetts), our friend Dan (who Southwest of the ATL), and I participated in communal sermon planning…and at the beginning it sounded a lot like the conversation between the two buzzards in the Jungle Book:

What text are you preaching on this week?  I don’t know; what text are you preaching on this week?  I don’t know; what text are you preaching on this week?

Haven’t we already established that none of us know!?!

We laughed.  We scratched our heads.  We observed the smoke pouring from our ears – a consequence of extreme pastoral concentration.  And ultimately we enjoyed the community.  We remembered that even though we may feel all alone and isolated that we are not far from friends and family and persons that do truly know what you are going through at that exact moment.

That gift of community brought me peace.  And that peace gifted Sunday’s sermon.

*exhale*

I Peter 1:8 reads, “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribably and glorious joy.”  I believe this Scripture is true about my Savior.  “Blessed,” Jesus says, “are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (Jn 20:29).  We have not seen him, but we love him and believe.  And when we struggle to believe or struggle to accomplish an act of faith, we turn to that community that brings us joy, which is a reminder of our own joy in Christ.  I have not seen Sarah in over three years.  I have not seen Dan since February of this year, but it feels like so much longer!  For me, they are part of my community – a community to commiserates together and celebrates together, a community that embraces the struggles and successes of living out our salvation, a community that does not always see one another, but loves one another dearly and believes in one another sincerely.  That love and belief gifts indescribable and glorious joy, which is a reflection of the indescribable and glorious joy that is ours to hold because of our salvation in Christ.

Who is in your community?  Have you told them lately that you love and believe in them?  Take some time this week to do just that.  And experience the joy of it all.

Prayer: “Come, we that love The Lord, and let our joys be known; join in a song with sweet accord, and thus surround the throne.  Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God; but children of the heavenly King may speak their joys abroad.  Then let our songs abound, and every tear be dry; we’re marching through Emmanuel’s ground, to fairer worlds on high.”* Amen.

*”Come, We That Love The Lord,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 732.

Atonement: Offering For Sin

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 52:13-53:12

My fabulous Hebrew Bible professor in seminary, Dr. David Petersen, taught me great love for a great many things.  Among them are mutton-chop sideburns, fly fishing, liver divination, and last but certainly not least, reception history.

(He also taught me a great love for Hebrew Bible…don’t worry!)

Reception history is evidence of how a biblical text has been received over time and how it has been recreated or remembered throughout history.  Reception history spans the world of the arts – literature, music, sculpture, theatre, poetry, painting, film, and more.

I believe a biblical text can be helped as well as harmed by reception history.  Helped because it draws people back towards the biblical narrative and engenders feelings of curiosity and exploration.  Harmed because sometimes folks do not make it back to the biblical text and take what they read or view at face value as what the biblical text says…which is why I stay away from most of what debuts on a certain television station that thinks it explores “history” but there is a whole lot more of “opinion” and “creative storytelling” than actual “fact.”  But I digress…

In 1741 George Frideric Handel composed his masterwork oratorio,  Messiah.  The oratorio is an extended reflection on Jesus Christ as Messiah – and an excellent example of a text’s reception history – singing through birth prophecies, his nativity, his passion, his crucifixion, his resurrection, and his exaltation.  I had the privilege to sing selections from this masterwork while in concert chorale during undergraduate.  The enormity of the piece – both its length and its meaning – remain on my heart to this day.

Four musical reflections in Messiah come from our Scripture passage for this week, which through the lens of the prophet Isaiah, gazes upon the humble yet extremely powerful offering of the suffering servant.  I have included the links to watch and listen to this scripture sung by mass choir.  May it be for all of us a meditative practice as we draw near to our study of Scripture this week.

Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs – Isaiah 53:4-5

And With His Stripes We Are Healed – Isaiah 53:5

All We Like Sheep – Isaiah 53:6

He Was Cut Off Out Of The Land Of The Living – Isaiah 53:8

Prayer: “Man of Sorrows! what a name for the Son of God, who came ruined sinners to reclaim.  Hallelujah!  What a Savior!  Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood; sealed my pardon with his blood.  Hallelujah!  What a Savior!  Guilty, vile, and helpless we; spotless Lamb of God was he; full atonement can it be?  Hallelujah!  What a Savior!  Lifted up was he to die; “It is finished” was his cry; now in heaven exalted high.  Hallelujah!  What a Savior!  When he comes, our glorious King, all his ransomed home to bring, then anew this song we’ll sing: Hallelujah!  What a Savior!”* Amen.

*”Hallelujah!  What a Savior,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 165.

New Creation: Servants of God

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Corinthians 6:1-13

This Sunday I have the privilege to be joined in worship leadership by one of my dearest friends, The Rev. Dan Dixon.  Dan is the pastor serving Mt. Gilead UMC in Sharpsburg, GA.  Brenda – Dan’s beautiful wife – will also be a guest at Reeves UMC on Sunday.  I am so excited that they will be in town and that we will get to spend some much needed time together.  They make my heart so happy!!

Throughout this week’s Scripture passage Paul uses the first person plural pronoun we – As we work together with him; we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain; we are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way.  But who is this we?  

Remember – although Paul is the writer – or attributed writer – of most of the New Testament passages, he was not working alone.  He had associates.  He had partners in ministry – together he and they were the helpmates of Christ in the Kingdom.  His partners were men, women, Jews that became Christian, Gentiles that became Christian, folks that had similar walks and upbringing as him, and folks whose walks were as unknown to Paul’s as Adam’s house cat.

They worked near one another – as near as one another’s breath – and then they also worked with great distances between them.  Whatever the circumstance, they served with joy.  They embraced their commission as servants of God and servants in the Kingdom as Paul says, “through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, and hunger (II Cor 6:4b-5).  Whatever came their way they knew they had one another and they knew they had Christ.

As we continue serving in the Kingdom today I believe that we continue the legacy and live into the example of Paul and his friends, of Christ and the disciples.  A life of ministry can be very isolating – in a vocation where you are surrounded by people, pastors can feel so alone.  It is in these days that I am most thankful for my colleagues in ministry – both near and far – that I can call on for support.  Dan is one of those colleagues.  We met the first day of seminary – two nervous students that found themselves in an Old Testament Lecture wondering what the heck we had gotten ourselves into – but no matter what we got into – then and now – we have each other.  We have Christ.  We have incredibly supportive spouses and partners in ministry in Brenda and Andrew.  We have mutual friends – like The Sara(h)s.  We have friends known only to one of us and not the other and then we have friends that were only known to one of us that have become mutual.  All of these friends, colleagues, beloved ones – they constitute my we – our we.  And it is beautiful.

One of my favorite affirmations of faith is The Statement of Faith of The United Church of Canada.*  It affirms, “We are not alone; we live in God’s world; we believe in God; we trust in God; we are called to be the church; we are not alone.”

That first person plural pronoun – it is intentional.

We are the servants of God.  We are in this together.  And it is beautiful.

Prayer:  “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing; he chastens and hastens his will to make known.  The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.  Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own.  Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining, ordaining, maintaining, his kingdom divine; so from the beginning the fight we are winning; thou, Lord, wast at our side, all glory be thine.  We all do extol thee, thou leader triumphant, and pray that thou still our defender wilt be.  Let thy congregation escape tribulation; thy name be every praised!  O Lord, make us free!”**  Amen.

*”The Statement of Faith of The United Church of Canada,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 883.

**”We Gather Together,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 131.