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.

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Lord of the Dance: Killing The Dance

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 15:33-41.

Memorial Services are holy moments in my life. They are opportunities for me to practice my faith, to share my belief in the resurrection, and to walk with the Good Shepherd alongside his followers that are burdened by grief and loss. In Memorial Services we have the opportunity to sing, read, and hear our faith. Doing so enables me to affirm it is well with my soul.

Recently I served at two graveside services and each service included a change from which I am accustomed. Early on mentors in ministry told me to – in this order – complete the graveside benediction, shake the hands of the family seated in the first row,  move to the side for the funeral director to formally end the gathering, and leave.

Leave.

The graveside staff would not move the casket until the entire family left, which was signaled (and encouraged) by the departure of the clergy person .

But these last two services were different. The service ended and I moved to the side (with the intentions of greeting the family after the funeral director spoke) only to hear an invitation for the family to move close to the graveside as their loved one’s casket was lowered into the earth. At one service, family members were among the people lowering their father in place.

Even then – even in death – their family was at their side.

On a hill, far away, stood an old rugged cross. On a hill, far away, stood Jesus’ family as Mary’s son, James’ brother, Mary Magdalena’s friend, our Savior died.

Memorial Services affirm me of the courage and strength God gifts us. They also teach me about the resiliency of God’s people. Accompanying someone to, through, and from death is difficult. People experience a whole gamut of emotions in a matter of minutes, and those minutes tend to repeat themselves again and again. There is hurt…and there is hope. It is hard to draw near – and perhaps even harder to stay near – in these moments. But proximity is so important. Proximity ultimately provides healing.

In John 16:33 Jesus says, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” In conquering the world, Jesus conquered death. And in conquering death, Jesus showed us the path to the Father by our belief in him.

As I continue my journey to Calvary this year, I hope I am found at the foot of the cross – just as these devoted families gathered with hope around their loved one’s graves – rather than on a hill far away. Why? Because proximity increases intimacy – it increases our connection to the depth of love displayed on the cross.

When I look at the cross, I understand the vertical beam reconciling me to God through Christ and I understand the horizontal beam as Christ’s commission that I reach out in his love – from his heart through my hands – for reconciliation, for upbuilding, for the sake of the Kingdom. I have this understanding as a result of drawing near to Christ’s crucifixion. I have this understanding because I have accompanied and will accompany him to and through death so that he can lead me in the paths I should go from his death.

I do not believe I could accomplish this from a distance – from a hill far away.

So I choose to draw near. Christ’s death has and will continue to overcome the grave.

It is well with my soul.

Prayer: “I danced on a Friday and the sky turned black; it’s hard to dance with the devil on your back; they buried my body and they thought I’d gone, but I am the dance and I still go on. Dance, then, wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the Dance, said he. And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be, and I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.

 

*”Lord of the Dance,” The United Methodist Hymnal 261.

 

Lord of the Dance: Wanted! Dance Partners

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 1:16-20.

An often quoted African Proverb says,

If you want to go fast, go alone. 

If you want to go far, go together.

I am the kind of person that wants to go far…but it is sometimes hard for me to ask for someone to go together with me.

It takes courage to ask for help. It takes courage to forage a new path or to return to a well known trail with fresh eyes and perspective. It takes courage to share a vision for what you want to accomplish, for what change you want to make, for who you want to be.

Why does it take courage? Because there is risk involved.

  • Risk that you or your idea will be rejected.
  • Risk that you will make a mistake.
  • Risk that you will embarrass yourself.
  • Or possibly the worst – risk that you will fail.

I, for one, prefer to limit the witnesses to my rejection, mistakes, embarrassments, and failures.

While being all alone might temporarily shield me from public awareness of my shortcomings, being all alone also means that I stew longer in my own mess without any one there to offer comfort or encouragement.

I believe this is one of the reasons that Jesus encouraged the disciples to be in partnership with one another and others in the growing Kingdom. Jesus knew what they were risking as they served! Jesus knew they would experience hardship and discouragement. Jesus knew they would experience rejection and so he said to them, “‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.  They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (Mk 6:10-13).

That they – the disciples – went out together – in Jesus’ name and carrying forward God’s preferred future for the world – ensured that they would and did go far

Are you someone that wants to go fast or far? With whom are you traveling? How have you been encouraged and offered encouragement? What vision is God raising up in you to share with someone? What risk do you face in sharing this vision? What do you risk in not sharing this vision?

Prayer: “I danced for the scribe and the Pharisee, but they would not dance and they would not follow me; I danced for the fishermen, for James and John; they came to me and the dance went on. Dance, then, wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the Dance, said he. And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be, and I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.”* Amen.

*”Lord of the Dance,” The United Methodist Hymnal 261. 

New Beginnings: Remember

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Deuteronomy 15:15; Ezekiel 36:31; and Revelation 2:5

My first car was a small four-door gold Saturn sedan with beige interior and super dark window tint. Her name was Gina. Gina made me feel like I was just the coolest. Not only did Gina have a tape deck, but my parents bought me a tape deck adapter that I could plug into my portable discern to listen to CDs in my car. I know – you’re impressed! With Mariah Carey blaring through my speakers, I was unstoppable!

One day I was driving to school in Gina. I was two subdivisions down from my own when I realized I did not have my school ID card. I turned into the Lexington Green subdivision, made a three point turn, and proceeded back to the main road. I stopped at the entrance before making my left hand turn and then WHAM!

I pulled out in front of a fellow student at my high school. His car was older than mine – more steel than fiberglass. His vehicle sustained minor damages, but Gina…Gina did not make it.

Rest in peace…pieces?

It took me a while to start driving again. My parents wanted me and my nerves to calm down after the accident, and rightly so. I was not afraid to start driving again. I was ashamed to start driving again.

The main road where I caused the accident was the only way to and from my subdivision and a number of others in that section of North Lakeland. So no matter if I was coming or going I would have to drive by the scene of my disgrace. And in doing so I would be forced to remember…

  • My failure to look twice before turning.
  • The sound of steel crushing fiberglass.
  • The look of other high school students staring down the accident scene on their way to school.
  • My call to my mother that I wrecked the car.

I did not want to face any of that. I did not want to remember. But it seemed unavoidable. There was no other way to accomplish my daily commute. So I had to grit my teeth and bear it.

At first I would drive past the scene without looking to that side of the road. I would plan major karaoke moments so I was caught up in song when I drove that way. I would do whatever I needed to do for the sake of not remembering.

And none of them worked. I remembered. And I felt ashamed.

One day while I was in college I was again driving past the scene of my accident and the shame started descending. Until I stopped myself. I stopped myself and asked God to help me feel something different when I drove through that intersection. In mere seconds God’s peace overcame me. Through God’s peace I realized I did not need to feel ashamed at what I caused. That was not the lesson to take away from that moment in time. The lesson – God’s lesson – to take away was one of gratefulness – grateful that I walked away unharmed, grateful that my parents had the resources – like car insurance – to help our family move forward, grateful that I learned the valuable lesson of looking twice before turning left.

I would not have realized these lessons if I had not asked God for the courage to remember and grow from a difficult moment in my life.

I am not sure I will have the occasion to drive by that subdivision in coming years as my parents moved to the south end of town. Nevertheless, I will always remember that day from my senior year in high school – not with shame but with gratitude.

I believe we have lessons to learn every day – even on our hardest days. God gives us courage to learn those lessons…and God gives us the grace of space to learn those lessons when the time is right.

Consider – what days are hard for you to remember? What do those days – those memories – cause you to feel? What does God want you to learn from those days and memories? God’s courage is available to you. Ask. Receive. Remember. And learn.

Prayer:  “O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise, the glories of my God and King, the triumphs of his grace! In Christ, your head, you then shall know, shall feel your sins forgiven; anticipate your heaven below, and own that love is heaven.”* Amen.

*”O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing,” The United Methodist Hymnal 57.

Take Courage

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Haggai 2:1-9.

“Take courage,” says the prophet. But what does that mean?

For me to “take courage” means to show up, to take responsibility, to persevere, to speak truth in love, to work, and to repeat.

There are many days where I hear Prissy’s famous line in the back (or front) of my head, “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies!” except I replace “birthin’ babies!” with some other obstacle I am facing that day.

(Though truly, I also do not know anything about birthing babies!)

What I do know is this – that when I am afraid, when I feel low, when I face adversity, when I am met with the unknown I have two choices – take courage or take a hike. “Take courage,” says the Lord, “for I am with you” (Haggai 2:4).

Our God calls us to a full an abundant life and it is a life for which we must work. Early in the garden after The Fall, God said to Adam, “cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:17-19). Some may read this and think that God is telling Adam – telling humanity – to take a hike, but I hear these words in a different light. Yes, after The Fall our relationship with God and God’s plan for humanity was dramatically transformed, but that does not mean that our God does not want and does not intend good things for us.

Yes, we will toil – and we will eat. Yes, in the fields we will endure thorns and thistles and the fields will also produce our food. Yes, we will sweat and we will have bread. And yes, we will return to the ground from whence we were taken – we are from God, we return to God, and in the in-between time God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.

So in the hard days – and it seems like there are many especially in this season – take courage, my friends. Show up, take responsibility, persevere, speak truth in love, work, and then repeat all of that again and again and again.

Our God is with us – ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Prayer: “You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord, who abide in his shadow for life. Say to the Lord, “My refuge, my rock in whom I trust!” … The snare of the fowler will never capture you and famine will bring you no fear. Under his wings your refuge, his faithfulness your shield … You need not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day. Though thousands fall about you, near you it shall not come … For to his angels he’s given a command to guard you in all of your ways. Upon their hands they will bear you up lest you dash your foot against a stone … And God will raise you up on eagle’s wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of His hand.”* Amen.

*”On Eagle’s Wings,” The United Methodist Hymnal 143.

The Gospel According to Showtunes: Defying Gravity

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Chronicles 15:1-12

This week at Reeves we begin a new sermon series – I am so excited!!! – entitled The Gospel According to Showtunes!  Each week we will explore a Scripture passage alongside a showtune and examine where there is harmony and dissonance.  Applying showtunes as an interpretative lens to Scripture will be a challenge, but it will also have its benefits.

Among the benefits is hearing the showtunes in worship.  It’s gonna be awesome!

This week we Defy Gravity in partnership with Wicked and the story of King Asa from II Chronicles.  Asa is of the house of David.  He is a ruler in the Southern Kingdom – a kingdom that is presently pockmarked with idols.  God’s people have strayed once again.  Their praises seek to please static gods in the Ancient Near East rather than the mighty, dynamic, saving God that delivered them through the Sea of Reeds from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.  Asa receives a word from the Lord from God’s messenger Azariah.  Azariah reminds Asa and calls to the people, “The Lord is with you, while you are with him.  If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you abandon him, he will abandon you” (II Chron 15:2).  The people’s idolatry is a sign of their sin and abandonment.  In order to redirect their attention, to redirect their worship, service, and reverence Asa must remove those items that skew the people’s vision.  The idols and Asherah poles – they have got to go.

At this point in the story…it looks like it’s Asa against the world.  What is he going to do?

I’m a huge fan of Harry Potter.  I was a little late to the Harry Potter party – but escaping into JKRowling’s England helped me write my commissioning and ordination papers.  Thank you, Harry.  “Always.”

In the first book of the series, Professor Dumbledore – Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – is in the midst of awarding house points at the end of term banquet.  Whichever of the four houses of Hogwarts – Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, Slytherin – has the most points (awarded for good deeds and write answers, deducted for misbehavior) at the end of the year wins the coveted House Cup.  At the beginning of the banquet Gryffindor – Harry’s house – was in last place, but because of a series of event (read the books folks) Gryffindor is now tied with Slytherin for first place.  Has their ever been a tie for House Cup Champion?  Students and staff in the Great Hall wait with baited breath…and Dumbledore says, “There are all kinds of courage.  It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to your enemies, but just as much to stand up to your friends” (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone 17.197).  And then Dumbledore awards 10 points to Neville Longbottom – the most unlikely person to ever earn House Cup Points – because he stood up to his friends.  Gryffindor wins!

Asa would be rewarded 10 points…probably more.  He stood up to his friends.  He stood up to his family members.  He removed the idols.  He tore down the Asherah poles.  He sought the Lord.  He did not succumb to peer pressure and leave things the way they were.  He knew what was right and he went after it.  And if you know anything about Wicked – Asa’s acts helped him to Defy Gravity!

Where is God calling you to stand up?  It could be to enemies.  It could be to friends.  What conviction has God given you?  How is God calling you, shaping you, to become an advocate?  Sit with these questions for a while…and then act.  Fly high.  Defy Gravity.

Prayer: “The care the eagle gives her young, safe in her lofty nest, is like the tender love of God for us made manifest.  As when the time to venture comes, she stirs them out to flight, so we are pressed to boldly try, to strive for daring height.  And if we flutter helplessly, as fledgling eagles fall, beneath us lift God’s mighty wings to bear us, one and all.”* Amen.

*”The Care the Eagle Gives Her Young,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 118.