God Is Wild About You!

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 139

This week at Tuskawilla the children of our church and our community experienced God’s goodness and love at our Pandamania Vacation Bible School. I am immeasurably grateful for the leadership of Samantha Aupperlee, Shrell Chamberlain, Kelly Mawhinney, Vanessa Schuchart, Tim Rounsaville, and all the youth and adult volunteers that have made this week possible. Thank you for serving God’s children and sharing God’s witness this week!

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to attend a Compline Service at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle. Compline derives from the Latin word completorium, which refers to the completion of the working day. Compline services are entirely sung, save a few verbal instructions and the stating of the Scripture passages for the day.

At St. Mark’s the choir sang from a back corner of the cathedral rather than standing in the front of the gathered congregation. The congregation faced the altar and a brilliant rose window. Our group sat in the pews as the congregation gathered in silence, centering on God’s presence and welcome in that space.

But then a funny thing happened…

I saw a huge group of people stream into the cathedral carrying pillows and blankets. At first I thought a youth group had just returned from a trip and the Compline service was their final moment before heading home. I was wrong. In curiosity I watched as these fellow worshippers proceeded to spread out their blankets, place their pillows, and lay around the feet of the altar. They stared up at the ceiling. They peered out into the darkening sky. Some laid alone. Some laid alongside a loved one. They laid in God’s presence as God’s Scripture and prayers sang over them. They laid in comfort. They laid in peace. They laid at home.

It was beautiful.

In the gathering darkness we worshipped the Lord. In the gathering darkness we sang God’s praise. In the gathering darkness we laid ourselves on God’s altar…we became, we become, we are becoming holy and living sacrifices.

Even in the gathering darkness, as the Psalmist sings, God sees; God knows; and God comes alongside.

My heart broke once again as I learned about the terror attack in Istanbul. I added my lament with others’, “How long, O Lord, how long!?” Lord Almighty, cure our warring madness. Break the power that sin has over us. Take away our appetite for evil. Heal our brokenness. Instill within us that you desire light not darkness. Remind us that when we are in darkness – darkness that is and darkness that we create – you are with us. You see us. You redeem us. You perfect us. You make us new. You make us whole.

I take great comfort in knowing that children and youth surrounded God’s altar at Tuskawilla this week just as people surrounded the altar at St. Mark’s. Our children and youth offered their songs, laughter, curiosity, wonder, and joy to our God. I am filled with hope in knowing this is not an occasional but a regular occurrence; thanks be to God. May their gifts, may our gifts, rise up like sweet incense. May these our children know that God’s Sanctuary as their home. And may our church always understand the importance of creating a place and offering a space for all people to draw near to God as God draws near to us.

Be sure to join us in worship this Sunday for our Pandamania Worship Celebration. Our children and their leaders will guide the worship service. I cannot wait to dance and sing around God’s altar. See you there!

Prayer: “Jesus loves me—this I know for the Bible tells me so; little ones to him belong—they are weak, but he is strong.Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so!”* Amen.

*”Jesus Loves Me,” The United Methodist Hymnal 191.

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We Shine!

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 60:1-6

A phrase often heard – and an action often encouraged – in my yoga studio is “Shine your heart.” To shine your heart means that you draw forward your heart cavity, which is your sternum and upper rib cage, through your shoulders as if a beam of light began shining from your heart onto the wall next to you, the ceiling above you, or the person in front of you. Shining your heart rotates your shoulders back and down, which brings them into proper alignment over your hips and creates space and broadness across your shoulders.

Why is this phrase often heard and action often encouraged? Because my yoga teachers see so many people walking with hunched shoulders…I see so many people walking with hunched shoulders. These persons, their hearts are not shining forward; their hearts are receding, their lights mere flickers. They are bracing for impact. They are in survival mode. They have only just endured the last moment. They are fearful of the next moment. Their shoulders reflect their burdens caused by life’s innumerable weights.

When we walk with hunched shoulders long enough, our bodies begin to accept that shape as our natural shape. When our bodies accept that hunched shape as natural, it cannot be reversed, and we live with its effects permanently.

When I first returned to yoga I walked as someone that rounded forward my shoulders. My body physically manifested the stress I carried. I thought that the way to protect my heart was to shield it rather than shine it. I experienced physical discomfort in drawing my heart forward, in rolling my shoulders into proper alignment.

After years of practice I am growing in comfort with shining my heart. It took time to cultivate this practice. It took courage to face what was causing me to shield rather than shine. It took several brave steps towards vulnerability.

I had to let things go physically and emotionally. I had to forgive. I had to be forgiven. I had to walk away from burdens. I had to open myself to shining and to light.

This week we will ring in a new year that is full of promises, possibilities and potentialities (as the song goes). With the close of one year and the beginning of another we are afforded the opportunity to let things go, to lessen and release burdens, to forgive and be forgiven, to commit or resolve ourselves to shining our hearts rather than continuing to shield them.

Folks that shield their hearts know well the “darkness [that] covers the earth and thick darkness the peoples” (Isa 40:2a). “Arise and shine!” Isaiah says (Isa 40:1a). Christ’s light and life has lightened our burden. Our Christ has revealed a new way forward. What way forward is that for you in 2016? What commitments or changes is God calling you to make so that you can shine your heart in offering to God and shine God’s heart in offering to others?

I find that when I begin with gratitude – for where I have come from, for where I am going, for the people and places and experiences I’ve had along the way – I am more able and wanting to shine my heart.

Steve Harper, a retired pastor and professor in the Florida Conference – and a continuing mentor to many! – shared this reflection as we move to the new year, “Thinking this final week of 2015 about influencers: the people who have influenced me most have not spent their lives identifying the darkness, but rather have devoted themselves to intensifying the light.”

“We shall see and be radiant”says the prophet (Isa 40:5a). We shall see and be radiant as we devote ourselves to intensifying Christ’s light.

With renewal and rejoicing we move on, we move forward, we move towards 2016.

In this New Year, may we open up, invite in, and grow. May we choose light. May we choose life. May we shine.

Prayer: “O God, you made of one blood all nations, and, by a star in the East, revealed to all peoples him whose name is Emmanuel. Enable us who know your presence with us so to proclaim his unsearchable riches that all may come to his light and bow before the brightness of his rising, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.”*

*”Epiphany,” The United Methodist Hymnal 255.

Home For The Holidays

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 1:68-79

I’ll Be Home For Christmas debuted in 1943 and has been favored tune for this time of year every year since.

This song is sung from the point of view of a soldier stationed overseas during World War II. The soldier’s message to his family is brief and heartfelt, “I will be home for Christmas…prepare the holiday for me.” He requests snow, mistletoe, and presents under the tree.

Yet the song ends on a melancholy note, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams…”

The dream of home can evoke feelings of comfort and discomfort. At the holidays the dream of home can evoke both of those feelings at the same time. Perhaps we anticipate being in a familiar place surrounded by loved ones. Perhaps we breathe heavily and sigh too deep for words as we remember that home is not a familiar place and that the loved ones we want to see  will not be present. Perhaps we experience both feelings within a matter of seconds.

I find myself in an odd place as I continue walking forward to Christmas. I am excited for the holiday, but I will miss being able to gather with all of my family. I am anticipating the great joy of our Savior’s birth, but my heart is heavy knowing so many in my family, in our church family, in our community, and in our world are hurting. Medical prognoses worsen, new concerns are found, relationships strain, loved ones die, there is not enough money, there is not enough time, there is not enough energy, there is not enough.

There is loneliness. There is emptiness. There is darkness.

And there…in the darkness…the light of our Christ burns brightly. Zechariah sings, “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:78-79).

Thanks be to God.

This coming Monday, December 21 at 7pm in the Sanctuary the Tuskawilla Family will celebrate a Service of Longest Night. The seasons of Advent and Christmas are often marked by expressions of joy, excitement, and happiness, but this time of joy and expectation can often overshadow the pain and hurt many experience during this season. The grief and sorrow we feel is real and during this time of worship, we are invited to  draw near to our grief and sorrow and find that our God is bringing healing in the midst of it.

I invite you to join us for this time of prayer, Scripture reading, reflection, and communion. Perhaps this is a threshold you would like to cross or feel you need to cross so that you can settle home for the holidays. You are welcome among us. You are welcome here. As a beloved community we will worship. As a beloved community we will experience God’s healing.

Prayer: O God, “we look for light, but find darkness, for brightness,  but walk in gloom. We grope like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in twilight. If I say, ‘Let only darkness cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you, the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. Blessed be your name, O God for ever. You reveal deep and mysterious things; you are light and in you is no darkness. Our darkness is passing away and already the true light is shining.”* Amen.

*”Canticle of Light and Darkness,” The United Methodist Hymnal 205.

Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Micah 6:1-9

This past Saturday I attended a district committee meeting and our group began with a devotion and time of thought centering by meditating on The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh. It was particularly timely and particularly powerful for this to be our centering image given the terror that waged in Paris and across our world in Lebanon, Syria, Japan, and Mexico last week.

If you are familiar with the piece, then you will recall the swirling formations in the sky that represent chaos, the eerily lit sun-moon off in the corner, and the darkened landscape of community tucked in a valley between mountains.

(They might be hills to other folks, but to this Florida girl, they are mountains!)

The leader of our meeting asked our group to consider the painting in silence and then to share what we saw. After a few moments I shared that at the center of the painting is a church, complete with stained glass windows and steeple, but it is completely dark. No light is emanating from it. The surrounding homes are all aglow, but the church is asleep.

For van Gogh this painting was his interpretation of what had happened (perhaps has happened) to the church – the light, the Spirit has gone out – and not in the way to flourish in the world – but as a commentary on how the Spirit of God has been extinguished. Therefore people did not (perhaps do not) turn to the church as an institution, as a faith community, as a people in times of sorrow or joy. The church had (has) lost its relevancy; so, while other structures and the people within them are alive and well, the church functions much like a tomb, a memorial of days long past.

What will return the church to relevancy? What will resurrect its hope? Our God and only our God.

And what will return the light and recall the Spirit to the church? The faithfulness of God’s people in doing what the prophet Micah challenges and charges t0 “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).

There is a powerful scene at the end of The Half Blood Prince in the Harry Potter film series. Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School had died and the pupils and faculty stand around his body in mourning. The Dark Mark floats in the sky, a symbol that the battle between good and evil continues and that evil has taken this round. Those who loved and are faithful to Dumbledore weep at his side and then one by one they spark a light at the end of their wands and lift them skyward. Each individual light  pales in comparison to the Dark Mark coursing through the sky, but together, their collective light obscures and then erases the Dark Mark.

Hope. The church has hope. We have hope. God is our hope. And we are invited to live that hope by accepting the invitation to be God’s vessel of hope to others in our very shadowy world.

A quote that I continue to see and hear following the continuing terror attacks that plague our world bears repeating here. It is from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Together, may we be God’s light, may we be God’s love.

Together.

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This week the Tuskawilla Community will be led in worship by our very own Rev. Kate Ling – and y’all – she has amazing worship planned! Thank you, Pastor Kate, for your partnership and mentorship in ministry. And I will see the Tuskawilla Community for the First Sunday of Advent.

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Prayer: “Lord, we pray not for tranquility, nor that our tribulations may cease; we pray for thy spirit and thy love, that thou grant us strength and grace to overcome adversity; through Jesus Christ. Amen.”*

*”For Overcoming Adversity,” The United Methodist Hymnal 531.