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. 

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Committed to the Journey

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Kings 2:1-12.

This Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday in the Church Year; it is the final Sunday of the Epiphany Season before Ash Wednesday, which begins the Season of Lent. It is fitting that Transfiguration Sunday closes the Epiphany Season, a season of ah ha’s about Jesus, our Savior. In the Season of Epiphany we learned

  • The Magi – Gentile Kings from the East – presented Jesus with gifts. They were welcomed at his nativity – a sign of the inclusive nature of the Kingdom that began with Jesus’ birth. All would be welcome to worship him – inclusive of age, nation, and race.
  • In the Jordan River, following his baptism, God declared Jesus as his Son, the Beloved. With Jesus, God is well pleased. After the example of Jesus, we, too, are to be baptized; we, too, are to become daughters and sons of God. We are beloved to God. With us God is well pleased.
  • And now on Transfiguration Sunday, we hear God’s voice again. Again, God names Jesus as God’s Son, and God gives the following instruction, “Listen to him.”

On a mountainside before Peter, James, and John, Jesus changes. His clothes become dazzling white. Glory shines upon his face. Moses and Elijah join him at his sides; Moses, representative of the Law and Elijah, representative of the prophets. And we hear God tell us to listen to Jesus – to listen to how he fulfills the Law first given by Moses and to listen how he brings a new understanding of reconciliation, a primary subject of the prophets, as our Savior prepares to make the ultimate sacrifice to secure humanity’s reconciliation to God forever. Peter – Jesus’ disciple, Jesus’ student – wants to stay on the mountainside, wants to build houses for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Peter’s offer suggests that he wants them all to stay where they are…and yet Jesus’ journey was not meant to culminate on that hillside, but on Calvary.

Jesus, with Peter, James, and John, head back down the mountain. In doing so Jesus commits to the journey ahead of him – to the teachings he will offer; to the miracles he will complete; to the betrayal, denial, desertion and death he will endure. As the disciples follow him, Jesus bids all disciples – bids us – to follow him. More ah ha’s – more epiphanies await us as we journey with Jesus from glory into glory.

Jesus is committed to us and this journey. Let us commit to Jesus and journey with him to and beyond his cross.

Prayer: “O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”*

*from the Book of Common Prayer according to the use of the Episcopal Church, 1979, page 217.

Heroes and Villains: Thomas

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 20:24-29.

There is a powerful scene towards the end of Disney’s The Lion King where Simba, the reluctant and somewhat recalcitrant prince of the Savannah, is alone at night until he sees an effigy of his father in the clouds. Instead of coming towards him, Simba’s father seems to dissipate on the winds. Simba chases the cloud with all his might. He attempts to catch up with the wind and when he realizes he cannot, he hurls at the wind – at his father – “You said you’d always be there for me! But you’re not…And it’s my fault. It’s all my fault.”

I imagine the disciples felt the same way after Jesus’ crucifixion. Even though the disciples betrayed, denied, and deserted Jesus, I believe they continued to hope that all he had said would be true – that he would be with them, that he would die and rise again, and after ascending, that he would send his Holy Spirit to be with them always.

Ten of the eleven disciples have seen Jesus, but Thomas was absent. Thomas hears their testimony about Jesus, but he wants to see for himself. He wants – he asks – to see and touch.

Thomas wants to explore the realness of the resurrection. He wants personal confirmation that the resurrection was not an illusion or a trick or a figment of the disciples’ collective imagination. If the resurrection had been an illusion, trick, or figment of the imagination, the resurrection would not have the same efficacy, the same saving power.

“You said you’d always be there for me!” And Jesus was. Jesus is.

Jesus showed up. Jesus revealed himself to Thomas and the disciples again. Thomas asks and Jesus responds; Jesus provides and Thomas receives.

The story of The Lion King is a story of identity – of Simba discovering or returning to who he is, which ultimately guides him home. The death of Jesus caused an identity crisis for the disciples and followers of Jesus, too. Although Jesus foretold his death and resurrection numerous times, the weight of its reality finally set with the sun that Good Friday. Seeing the resurrected Jesus reminded the disciples of who they are and whose they are. Touching Jesus – physically interacting with his living truth – restored and reconnected the disciples to the living truth of Jesus’ miracles, healings, and teachings.

Wanting that confidence of who we are and whose we are, wanting to see and touch the living truth of our Jesus does not make us bad people. That desire locates us as individuals that trust our “asking, seeking, and knocking” will be answered by our Jesus that has already shown his desire that we would all believe. So if you have the desire to ask, seek, or knock – proceed! Jesus’ timeline in answering may be at odds with your timeframe of receiving an answer, but do not let that sway you from asking. Remember, Jesus is faithful and is making all things known. Jesus is here for us and answers us when we call.

Prayer: “When our confidence is shaken in beliefs we thought secure, when the spirit in its sickness seeks but cannot find a cure, God is active in the tensions of a faith not yet mature. God is love, and thus redeems us in the Christ we crucify; this is God’s eternal answer to the world’s eternal why. May we in this faith maturing be content to live and die!”* Amen.

*“When Our Confidence Is Shaken,” The United Methodist Hymnal 505.

God In A Box

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 9:2-9

This week the Tuskawilla Community welcomes back Rev. Melissa Cooper to share with our congregation. Melissa serves as the Program Coordinator for our Conference’s Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park. She is the genius behind our Conference’s LECFamily Camps and Retreats Ministries and a visionary for cultivating intergenerational ministry cultures within churches across our Annual Conference. Melissa has recently started working with a team at Tuskawilla. She is helping us learn about and from our organic intergenerational nature as well as learn new ways to expand the intergenerational impact of our ministries.

Melissa is also one of my favorite people. Ever.

The friendship that Melissa and I share started out as a mountain top experience, plummeted into a valley, and then came back up to a middle ground where we continue to flourish in relationship, moving as life does between the mountain tops and the valleys.

We met at a conference retreat where I could talk and she could not! Melissa was training as a facilitator for this conference program and her task for that retreat was to be a silent observer – to look, to listen, to journal, and then when the conference was over, she and other trainees like her would dialogue about their experience during the training. I was a participant at this retreat, and I confess, I was not too keen on being there. And when I add “not too keen to being here” to several days of several hours of group work that is then reported back to the larger group and we do not receive a break until all the groups have reported in – oh I was all the more willing to share to move the whole conference along! So I talked quite a lot and Melissa did not…and somewhere in the midst of what I said, what she heard, and what God did in the midst of all of that, when the retreat ended Melissa made a beeline for me!

I think her first words were “Let’s be friends!” and I was like…”ummmm…okay?” We made plans to connect later that Fall. We hugged and said good bye.

Mountain top.

By the time Melissa and I got back together, I had received disappointing news about a project I had been working towards for over two years…and I was angry. I really did not feel like seeing anyone, but I keep commitments once I make them and I headed to meet Melissa for dinner. She walked in as her joyful, sassy glasses wearing self and oh, I hurricane’d all over her parade. I griped. I complained. I aimed anger at her – someone that, HELLO!, this is my first real opportunity to spend time with her! – and ate my dinner like a sullen, soaked house cat.

Poor Melissa. She was probably thinking “where’s the other girl!? I want to be her friend…get this one out of here…”

Valley. Deep, deep valley.

I remember sitting in my office a few days later wondering if I would ever hear from Melissa again when my phone buzzed. It was a text message from her. I think it said something blatantly obvious and wholly comforting, something like, “So that was a rough night, huh!?” I laughed. And texted back, “Yeah…that about sums it up.”

Out of the valley to the gift of middle ground where all people can grow. And I give thanks that our friendship continues to grow.

In the Scripture passage for this week we read about Peter’s mountain top experience with Jesus. Jesus’ transfiguration occurs. His clothes “became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them” and Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus (Mk 9:3). The persons representative of the Law, the Prophets, and Eternal Salvation are all in one place!

This mountain top experience is the complete package!

And Peter wants to stay. He wants to build tents. He wants to set up camp. But after the cloud descends and he hears “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Jesus leads Peter and the other two disciples back down the mountain (Mk 9:7). Moses and Elijah are gone. The moment is gone.

Valley. Deep, deep valley.

Jesus and his disciples return to a place of middle ground. They return to their work of continued growth in relationship with one another and service of their neighbors. They return to their ministry of healing, of teaching, and of preparing the people – preparing themselves – for Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.

This middle ground is a place of growth. In a way mountain top and valley experiences are static. Not much happens there. It is in the place between where we move towards a mountain top or away from a valley or the other that we learn about ourselves, that we learn about our God, that we strengthen relationships, and that we strengthen our faith.

I give thanks for the gift of the middle ground I continue to receive in my life…and I especially give thanks that Melissa did not wash her hands of me after that awful, awful first date. She showed me grace and understanding. Jesus showed Peter grace and understanding. May these be the gifts that you share with yourself and someone else as you explore the middle ground this week.

Prayer: “Holy God, upon the mountain you revealed our Messiah, who by his death and resurrection would fulfill both the law and the prophets. By his transfiguration enlighten our path that we may dare to suffer with him in the service of humanity and so share in the everlasting glory of him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God for ever. Amen.”*

*”Transfiguration,” The United Methodist Hymnal 259.