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.

 

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You Must Take Up Christ’s Cross and Follow Him

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 29:11 and Matthew 16:24, 25:40.

Dearest Members and Friends of Tuskawilla UMC,

I am so very humbled by all the expressions of appreciation I have received over the past few weeks – the cards, sweets, grill seasoning and apron, gift cards for date nights and coffee, contributions to my shoe fund (are you surprised!?), dinner out with the staff, and ELEVEN fruit trees for the parsonage! These gifts have truly warmed my heart and will continue to do so!

I also received one gift of appreciation that literally made me laugh out loud – an elephant. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. (And I prefer mine with tabasco!) Elephants – figuratively – represent hurdles, obstacles, and big ole bumps in the road. And while I have encountered a number of elephants since arriving at Tuskawilla, I am not discouraged.

Confession: I may be initially discouraged, but because of the strength of this congregation’s leadership and the wonderful friendships that I have here, Onward! and Forward! have become my rally cries when I see another pachyderm appear.

In Matthew 16 Jesus makes the first prediction about his death and resurrection; “Jesus began to show his disciples that he had to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and legal experts, and that he had to be killed and raised on the third day.” And Peter lost it! “God forbid, Lord! This won’t happen to you.” And Jesus turned to his friend, his principle disciple and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are a stone that could make me stumble, for you are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts…All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them” (Mt 16:21-25).

Sometimes our thoughts, worries, desires, ambitions, projects, and motivations become stumbling blocks that manifest into elephants. Sometimes circumstances caused by others become stumbling blocks that manifest into elephants. These elephants have the potential to distract us from God’s work and God’s intentions. Jesus shows us in this encounter with Peter that when we encounter an elephant, which Jesus calls a cross, we are not to run the other way. We have to work our way Forward! and Onward! in pursuit of God’s plan and God’s desires.

John Wesley, in his Explanatory Notes, writes the following on Matthew 16:24,

Crosses are so frequent, that whoever makes advantage of them, will soon be a great gainer. Great crosses are occasions of great improvement: and the little ones, which come daily, and even hourly, make up in number what they want in weight. We may in these daily and hourly crosses make effectual oblations (offerings) of our will to God; which oblations, so frequently repeated, will soon amount to a great sum.*

In Christ elephants – crosses – transform from obstacles to opportunities for offerings. When facing adversity – whatever adversity – we have a choice – to turn the other way or to pick up our cross and follow Christ.

After I unwrapped the elephant, Samantha said, “Looks like you are starting another collection in your office.” By the time Charge Conference concluded I had my second elephant! And bonus! Both elephants have upturned trunks. In Nepal, elephants that have their trunks turned up bring good fortune. They still require work, but they bring good fortune.

It is even better with the crosses we bear for and with our Christ – they require work, but they bring everlasting life.

Please join us in worship this week as Dean Paulus shares with us a very good word on these texts from Jeremiah and Matthew. I am looking forward to worshipping with you and learning from Dean.

Sweet Blessings,

Pastor Sarah

 Prayer: “We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord. We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord. And we pray that all unity may one day be restored. And they’ll know we are Christians by our love by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Amen.**

*http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/wesleys-explanatory-notes/matthew/matthew-16.html 

**”They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love,” The Faith We Sing, 2223.

Seven Questions of Faith: Is There Hope?

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 24:1-12

I spent time with my niece last week. Addison helped me prepare a side dish that our family would share at dinner – sliced squash and zucchini on the grill. She was in charge of seasoning; in complete honesty it was her idea to add the red pepper flakes, Anna and Gramps (Mom and Dad)!

(Okay, maybe not complete honesty…Addison had an accomplice!)

After dinner Addison wanted to show me her latest achievement. At the age of almost nine months, Addison is starting to walk. She has a variety of “push toys” that she can position herself behind and then totter all over the house. She pulls herself up and stands next to furniture. She will take steps while holding onto the hands of loved ones. And she loves to dance to the hot dog song, a popular tune on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

At times Addison takes steps without fear. At other times she is a bit more timid. What does not change is that she steps. Addison moves forward.

Mixed with fear and timidity, Mary Magdalena and the other women approached the garden tomb. The shadows that lingered since the Sabbath began are finally starting to fade.

Deep blue becomes gray. Gray becomes pale blue. Pale blue gives way to light.

And the women step forward.

They come to the tomb; yet, their intent on being there is not looking ahead but behind. They come to finish preparing Jesus’ body for burial and to their astonishment, Jesus is not there! He suffered and died and left his grave clothes behind.

He is risen, just as he said!

Confident of their next steps, the women leave the garden and hurry to the disciples. They witness to what they have seen, and yet many of the disciples, who had physically moved forward but were still looking behind, did not believe.

Peter is the first to wonder…

He left the safety of the disciples’ hiding place to venture to the tomb. He stepped forward, clinging to his faith.

Could it be?

It is.

We that journey with Jesus this week will take many steps – to the upper room, to the garden, to the governor’s house, to the cross, to the tomb. As we journey may we look forward rather than behind. Looking forward will draw our attention to the present moment.

Gone are the shouts of praises and waving of palm branches.

Prepare for the Last Supper.

Then prepare for death.

And once that death has occurred, my friends, do not look back at it.

Honor the steps that you take, be they fearful or timid or heavy or tearful or have some other character. Whatever their character, take steps. Be present.

And prepare for resurrection.

Prayer: *Merciful and everliving God, Creator of heaven and earth, the crucified body of our Son was laid in the tomb and rested. Grant that we may await with him the dawning of the third day and rise in newness of life, through Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen.”*

*”Holy Saturday,” The United Methodist Book of Worship 367.