New Beginnings: Whenever You Are Ready

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Revelation 3:8.

Joshua is proving to be a wonderful teacher. Researchers say that infant brain development is astounding in the first several months as infants mature and grow in their new surroundings.

I think the same can be said for the parents of infants as we mature and grow in our care of this little one that has completely changed our surroundings.

Andrew and I would not change this for the world.

A couple weeks ago Joshua had his first ever diaper rash. And I felt terrible! His skin was so red and irritated. He did not seem to mind much…maybe because we caught it early? We cleaned the area and applied the recommended ointment. After a few diaper changes, we saw some improvement, but not as much as we would like. After a day or so Andrew wondered aloud if we should try out a diaper the next size up…that perhaps the rash was a way of letting us know that Joshua was ready for that change.

So we did.

New diaper size. Continued application of ointment. And in a two more days, the rash was gone.

I admit that it was a little hard for me to try out the next diaper size on Joshua. That means he is growing up. That means that one stage of his life is already complete and will not be repeated. I said early on that I did not want to think of Time as my enemy as Joshua grows. I want to give thanks for where has has been, be present where he is now, and look with hope to where he is going. Part of being present is being attentive to his signals – that he or his body makes – that he is ready to take the new step forward. That he is ready to start his next new beginning.

It is important for us to be attentive to signals as well – how our bodies, hearts and minds respond when we reflect on “How is it with my soul?” The answer to that question in conversation with God can and will make us aware to when it is time for us to make a new beginning. This new beginning could be a change in routine – like committing to eating better or exercising so you have more energy to pursue the passions in your life. This new beginning could be a call to make a change in your career, a shift in a major relationship, and/or a leading to assess and reorder your priorities.

New beginnings are hard work. I’ll say it again – new beginnings are hard work. Why? Because new beginnings signal that what was is coming to an end. What was may or may not be again. With new beginnings – at times – comes some grief and sorrow. The hope is that those feelings do not last forever because our new patterns, our new beginnings, will be truly life-giving.

Have you been feeling a nudge towards making a new beginning? What signals have you noticed in your life that this may be the season for a change? What preparations do you need to make in order to make the change when you are ready? What support do you have or will you need for your change to be successful?

Prayer: “Let us praise God together on our knees (on our knees), let us praise God together on our knees (on our knees). When I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun, O Lord, have mercy on me (on me).”* Amen.

“Let Us Break Bread Together On Our Knees,” The United Methodist Hymnal 618.

 

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The Joseph Saga: Final Act of Forgiveness

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 50:15-21.

It is said that the Bible declares the message “Do not be afraid” 365 times – one declaration for each day of the year. In Genesis 50 these words draw the dialogue between Joseph and his brothers to a close. In fact, Joseph doubly shares this message of assurance – “Do not be afraid…have no fear” (Gen 50:19, 21).

Sometimes I catch myself living in a world where I am waiting for the other shoe to drop – and they are not always fabulous stilettos. (Life would be so much better if they were!) I feel like I am walking on eggshells around people, around relationships, around responsibilities. Rather than greet the day with anticipation, I greet the day with anxiety. And my friends, that is no way to go about this great life God gifts us. In fact, if the behavior I just described is our primary modus operandi, then I would argue that is not really living at all.

Regularly appointments take me away from the Church Office during office hours and when I leave I encourage the office volunteers to lock themselves in as an extra measure of precaution. And each time I offer this recommendation to one sweet office volunteer, the response is always the same, “Pastor Sarah, I have too much to live for to be afraid.” Some might hear these words and find them reckless, but from their speaker, they are words from a heart brimming with great assurance and peace.

Consider: If Joseph remained fearful of his brothers because of their troubled history, he would have never reunited with his family. If Joseph’s brothers had not bravely stepped into Egypt for help, they would have starved.

Both Joseph and his brothers took risks. Fear often accompanies risk. Risk necessarily involves change – sometimes subtle and other times radical. Often we do not know the result of our venture before we take a risk, before we face our fears. Reason and rationality only bring us so far – and when it comes to risk and fear – reason and rationality typically scream abort abort! The only way, then, for us to move forward, to change, to grow, to truly live as people invested in God’s assurance and the peace it gives, is to take the leap of faith.

What risk are you currently facing? What change? What decision? How are you navigating the fear associated with it? What is your discernment about your upcoming decisions and actions? Are you taking small steps? Are you ready to leap? Are you immobile? Our God says to us again and again, “Do not be afraid…have no fear.”

God is with us. God is bringing all things together for our good. God brings good out of horrific circumstances. I encourage you to take on the posture of our dedicated office volunteer – we have too much to live for to be afraid. May you know that assurance and feel that peace as you take on risks and face your fears this day.

Prayer: “Something beautiful, something good; all my confusion he understood; all I had to offer him was brokenness and strife, but he made something beautiful of my life.”* Amen.

*”Something Beautiful,” The United Methodist Hymnal 394.

 

 

The Joseph Saga: Shawls and Shenanigans

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 37:1-4, 39:1-18.

Clothes are an essential in life. Beyond the beach and being under the age of two shirts, shorts, and shoes are required wherever we go.

We have clothes for different activities. I do not work in the yard in the same clothes in which I lead worship. I do not do yoga in skinny jeans…usually… We have work clothes, casual clothes, and work out clothes. We have date night, comfy night, and team night clothes. The changing of clothes signifies moving from one activity to another. The changing of clothes signifies moving from one life stage to another.

There is a lot of movement with clothes in my life presently. I have a whole closet of clothes (and *sniff* shoes *sniff*) that do not fit right now. I have a section of clothes that fit – and for that I am so grateful – because they represent the change happening in my family, the change happening in me. It seems like we receive new clothes or new-to-us clothes everyday for Baby Miller. He will be the most styling kid ever! These clothes represent our being taken under the wings of many, represent support and love for our growing family, and represent the beautiful breadth and depth of our family.

In our Scripture lessons for this week Joseph receives clothes, changes clothes, and flees without clothes! The coat he receives from his father represents his father’s love for him. His brothers strip that same coat from Joseph’s shoulders and sell him into slavery. Potiphar purchases Joseph from the Ishmaelites and gives him clothes to signify his belonging to Potiphar’s household. And Joseph leaves Potiphar’s clothes behind as he flees from his master’s chamber. Regardless of what he wears…or does not wear…Joseph remains a person of integrity. He is treated poorly by his family. He is misrepresented by his employer’s wife. Nevertheless, Joseph’s integrity does not waver. Who he is in God and because of God does not change…and if it does change…it is only to strengthen

Through all the changes we experience in life – changing clothes, changing life stages, changing life experiences, and more – it is my hope and I believe it is God’s hope – that who we are in God and because of God does not change – and if it does change – it is only to strengthen. As a community of faith we are charged to be our sisters’ and brothers’ keeper, to support and love our ever growing, ever expanding family. Change is constant. Change is inevitable. Change is how we grow and adapt. Change is how we not only survive but thrive. And change is eased, managed, and navigated well when we are surrounded by folks that love us when we are wearing our best clothes and when we wear clothes showing time in life’s trenches.

What change are you currently experiencing? How are you being supported? And how is God calling you to support a neighbor, a fellow family member in faith, during his or her time of change? This is the life to which God calls us. May we respond in ways that strengthen our individual integrities and strengthen the fellowship of believers.

Prayer: “Open now the crystal fountain, whence the healing stream doth flow; let the fire and cloudy pillar lead me all my journey through. Strong deliverer, strong deliverer, be thou still my strength and shield; be thou still my strength and shield.”* Amen.

*”Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” The United Methodist Hymnal 127.

Be Still: Stand Still and See

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Exodus 14:10-22

When was the last time you took a moment to stand still and see – to stand still and marvel at God’s creation and what God is doing?

I have been blessed with the privilege to see some of God’s most amazing sites in creation – the Grand Canyon, the Grindelwald Glacier in Switzerland, sea turtles swimming along the North Shore in Hawaii, a rainforest-filled valley below a smoldering volcano in Costa Rica, the fog settling among the peaks of the Smokey Mountains – to name a few.  These creations are a wonder to behold…and there is so much about these creations that a picture can capture and so much that a picture can not begin to capture.

These are grand images.  They are truly wonderful.  And what amazes me about them most is that they did not appear overnight.  The Grand Canyon was carved through years and years of water slowly running through sedimentary rock.  The Grindelwald Glacier amassed as one singular ice crystal connected with another, and then another, and then another.  The mature sea turtles grew from eggs, the trees in the rainforest from seeds, the volcano and mountains through continuous pressure from colliding tectonic plates.  Each of these developments in our environment are the result of a change – from egg to animal, from seed to plant, from plain to peak, from shallow to deep.

Change requires time and commitment – and in that knowledge I receive grace – not only for others and for the systems that I participate in, but also for myself.  I have been on a personal journey for a little over a year for better health and wellness.  I am engaging in regular physical activity through walking and yoga.  I have altered my eating habits, eating more vegetables, fruits, and leaner meats.  I am eliminating foods and beverages that are “empty calories” – I love to eat…so when I eat I want every one of those calories to count!  There have been times along this journey that I have questioned whether or not what I am doing is making a difference…and when those negative worries creep in God always seems to place someone in my path that says something about my transformation without any prompting.

I have heard to said that it takes four weeks to see a change in your own body/life, eight weeks for your friends and family to see it, and twelve weeks for the rest of the world to see it.  In my own journey I feel that I have lived the reverse.  It took my eyes the longest to adjust and to see what everyone else sees – to see what God sees.  God is making me a new and beautiful creation.  God is making me a wonder to behold.  And God is inviting me to stand still and see what God is doing in my life that I will celebrate!  God has delivered and is delivering me to a place of whole-iness.

“Rome was not built in a day” as the saying goes.  Transformation takes time.  And God’s imprints are all over it.

Have you taken time to stand still and see the transformation God is doing in your life?  In your own body?  In your relationships?  In the systems in which you participate?  Receive God’s grace that accompanies change.  And take time to wonder.

Prayer: “I need thee every hour, most gracious Lord; no tender voice like thine can peace afford.  I need thee every hour; stay thou nearby; temptations lose their power when thou art nigh.  I need thee every hour, in joy or pain; come quickly and abide, or life is vain.  I need thee every hour; teach me thy will; and thy rich promises in me fulfill.  I need thee every hour, most Holy One; O make me thine indeed, thou blessed Son.  I need thee, O I need thee; every hour I need thee; O bless me now, my Savior, I come to thee.* Amen.

*”I Need Thee Every Hour,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 397.

The Gospel According to Showtunes: He Lives In You

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I John 4:11-17

Emotions are running high in my life.  I am sad.  I am excited.  I am nervous.  I am exhilarated.

I am moving this summer…the seventh move in seven years for Andrew and me.  In the next six weeks I will say goodbye to the Reeves UMC congregation that has nurtured, challenged, affirmed, and stretched me and my pastoral identity over the past two years and say hello to the congregation of Tuskawilla UMC.

It is a very strange place to be.

I am transitioning in service from one local church to another.  My family is also transitioning to another residence as well.  So our current parsonage is bespeckled with boxes and packing peanuts and bubble wrap, which is fine until you are walking around in the dark and your foot finds the bubble wrap!  I’ll just say that you wake up really quick!  There are signs of this move all over the place: in my emotions, in my vocation, in my home.  With all this transition some days I am struggling to identify a leg on which to stand.

And then I received a birthday present from my dear friend Lillian.  She bought me a globe.  It is small, about the size of a large grapefruit and it sits atop this brilliant silver stand.  The colors of the globe are muted; the water is dark and the countries are colored in greens, yellows, and peaches.  As much as I cherish this globe, I cherish her reason for giving it to me even more.  She wanted the globe to be a sign and an assurance that God is with me wherever my travels and transitions take me.  Though my appointments may change and though I may move out of one house and into another, my residence and my home is with God.

The concept of Emmanuel – God with us is one we usually hear during the seasons of Advent and Christmas, but let’s not confine Emmanuel to those brief seasons.  God with us is our blessing and assurance each and everyday.  People say that the only thing constant in life is change.  Change is not the only constant; God is a constant – the constant – and with God as my constant I know that God will guide me, ground me, and grow me through any change I may face.

I conclude this post with a benediction that my friend and mentor Jenny would offer at the end of the worship services she led.  Remember this blessing (and hearing her voice in my head) are such a gift this evening.  It is said that this blessing is a riff on what is inscribed on the breastplate of St. Patrick.  I hope you enjoy.

Prayer: God go before you to guide you.  God go behind you to protect you.  God go beneath you to support you.  God go beside you to befriend you.  Be not afraid.  And let the blessing of Almighty God, The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, descend upon you, settle in around you, and make its home in you.  Be not afraid.  Go in peace.  Amen.

Atonement: Family Transaction

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 22:1-19

This Sunday is the first Sunday of Lent!  We also “spring ahead” at 2am on Sunday morning.  Three cheers for more sunlight…and being to worship on time!  Woot-Woot-Woohoo!

This week I find it rather fitting to study the almost child sacrifice of Isaac alongside the beginning of Lent, which is a season of sacrifice.  Both occasions – the pericope from Genesis and the liturgical season – are opportunities for obedience.

God gave Abraham instructions and he obeyed.  He started and – at the right time – God stopped him!  God provided another sacrifice – a gift of a ram so that Abraham could retain his greatest gift, his son.

The season of Lent presents us with an invitation to reflect and fast – reflect – on who we are and what we do; fast – that who we are and what we do make us more into who God desires.  We are not called to mandatory obedience in this reflecting and fasting…but I have to question why we would shy away from it?  Is it because we are too proud?  Is it because we are scared of what might be revealed?  Or is it because we are resigned in thinking that no change can come our way?

This past weekend I had the opportunity to lead enrichment sessions at a conference women’s retreat.  My session, Letters of Treasure, was a time for retreat participants to write letters to women currently incarcerated in our local area.  Our mission was to remind these ladies that they are women of worth; that they are treasured, beloved, and special; that they belong to God.  We wanted to affirm in these ladies that change is possible, that God is already at work in their lives, and that God is inviting their participation to continue their change to lead more healthy and whole lives.

In the letters we asked the ladies to consider who they were, who they are now, and who they wanted to be.  We encouraged the ladies to (1) identify their healthy behaviors and then (2) either transform unhealthy behaviors or leave them aside completely.  We invited them to reflect and and fast.  Why?  Because we believe change is possible.  Because we are affirmed that we bear the change of Christ in our bodies.  Because we believe reflecting and fasting are signs of our obedient faith.

It’s not about who these ladies have been or what they have done.  It’s about who God will lead them to be and what God will lead them to do.

The same is true for each one of us.

During this Lent I will take pause to reflect upon who I have been and ask God to lead me, break me, craft me into who God wants me to be.  Tonight I will starkly remember that all that I have is because of all that God has given and continues to give with the sign of the cross upon my brow.

Ashes to ashes.  Dust to dust.

During this Lent I will fast from all bread related products as a way of standing in solidarity with my neighbors worldwide who hunger and ache for daily bread.  My prayer is that in these 40 days God will lead my heart and my body to God’s true and everlasting nourishment that as God’s vessel I will be able to nourish others.

What will be your reflection this Lent?  Where will God lead you to fast?  How will God encourage, challenge, and increase your obedience?

Believe in change.  Be prepared for change.

Obey and change.

Prayer: “O God, maker of every thing and judge of all that you have made, from the dust of the earth you have formed us and from the dust of the earth you would raise us up.  By the redemptive power of the cross, create in us clean hearts and put within us a new spirit, that we may repent of our sins and lead lives worthy of your calling; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”*

*”Ash Wednesday,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 353.