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.

God Never Said That: It Doesn’t Matter What You Do

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 8:4 and Revelation 3:14-22.

This week while serving as the Middle School Worship Leader at the Warren Willis United Methodist Camp in Fruitland Park I have had the privilege of reconnecting with one of my former youth that is now an amazing young adult leader. Her name is Greer.

I met Greer as a ninth grader in my small group at St. Luke’s UMC Orlando. She was bold and opinionated. And her favorite word was annoying! I walked with Greer through highs and lows. We shared many conversations about work ethic, goals, fears, dreams, and sun screen. We talked about the presence of God. We talked about the absence of God. We asked tough questions. We sought tough answers. In many ways we grew up together.

Some of my most formative relationships growing up were with my youth counselors. As I think back to those conversations, I am amazed to realize that those conversations I participated in fifteen years ago are the same conversations I shared with Greer five years ago are the same conversations I am overhearing Greer share with campers this week.

This behavior – this kind of investment and care for our sisters and brothers in Christ that are coming after us – it is learned. Someone has to teach us. Someone has to share with us. Then we share and teach this behavior to others. And God’s gift of discipleship lives on.

As I see all of the campers, counselors, camp staff, and adult volunteers this week I am filled again with hope for the church. I am filled with assurance that what I do – how I serve, how I lead, how I study, how I engage in relationships and behaviors – matters. What I do is an example for others, for good or for ill, for sickness or for health. And when I look into the eyes of these middle school campers – these 11 to 13 year olds – I want them to know what a life lived in fun and faith looks like. I want them to know that a life of fun and faith exists and that it is available to them! I want them to know that they can choose a life of faith and be fulfilled.

But it is one thing to say it. And it is another thing to see it.

My youth counselors lived what they said. I strive to live what I say. And I am humbled to see the fruit of those seeds in my youth…like what I see in Greer. What she does for the Kingdom matters…and the fact that God made a way for me to be a part and a continuing part of Greer’s story is amazing.

I give thanks for those that taught me the importance of investing in people – that taught me the importance of discipleship. I will continue to live in response to those gifts. I will invest in others.

They matter. You matter.

And what we do matters.

Prayer: “Lord whose love through humble service bore the weight of human need, who upon the cross, forsaken, offered mercy’s perfect deed: we your servants, bring the worship not of voice alone, but heart. Consecrating to your purpose every gift that you impart. Called by worship to your service, forth in your dear name we go to the child, the youth, the aged, love in living deeds to show; hope and health, good will and comfort, counsel, aid, and peace we give, that your servants, Lord, in freedom may your mercy know, and live.”* Amen.

*”Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service,” The United Methodist Hymnal 581.

 

What Will Be

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 3:15-22

A little over a month ago I had the privilege to baptize my niece, Addison, during our weekly worship service. And as many of you will remember, she was…quite vocal…about the whole experience.

Baptizing someone is always an incredible experience. Through this sacrament we welcome a new sibling into the Body of Christ and covenant to walk with them as they are raised in the faith. Whenever I baptize someone I strive to make as much eye contact with that person as possible. I want them to know that I mean what I say to them. “I am with you. I will help you. I will encourage you. I will hold you accountable. And I hope you will do the same for me.”

When I held Addison that day, I felt like I was holding the future. I was holding her future, my future, and the future of the church in my arms, all enclosed in her little 12-pound squawky body. In that present moment we – her parents, her extended family, and her church family – we made promises about her future and promises that will shape her future. We promised to raise her in the knowledge of the faith. We promised to nurture her in God’s grace so that she may be guided to accept God’s grace for herself. We promised to pray for her as she walks with Jesus in the way that leads to eternal life. We promised that present day as we hoped for the future.

As we hoped for what will be.

When I think about the future of all baptized Christians my hope is that we are encouraged more than we are challenged in our walks with Christ, though I welcome challenges that will purify us with our God’s refining fire. I also hope that as we walk together into God’s future that we walk so as to make the walk of those beside us and behind us – friend and foe – easier, with the ultimate hope that any foe would become a friend as a result of our walking together.

When we walk together into what will be, the possibilities at our fingertips are endless. The church, the kingdom are our oyster – not to make into what we want them to be but to make them into what God wants them to be through the application of our passions, prayers, and praises.

Some perceive the Christian life as overtly legalistic and confining. “Do this; do not do that or that…or that.” A few years ago one of my colleagues described the Christian life this way, “Imagine a football field: 360 feet long, 160 feet wide. That’s 57,600 feet of available space to be in play. Yes, there is out of bounds. And there are penalties or consequences if you go out of bounds. But why would you need to go out of bounds? There is so much room in bounds. There is so much room on the field. And that’s where God wants you. God does not want you at a specific place on the field because that will change throughout your life. God wants you on the field. Baptism gets you there and that is where God desires you to stay.”

This image continues to be life-giving to me as I walk in my Christian life and walk hand in hand with others in theirs. I give thanks for my parents committing to my future through my baptism. I give thanks for all those who have walked and continue to walk with me through all the fields in God’s kingdom. I give thanks for the privilege to look into what will be for my siblings in Christ and to be in the fields of passion, prayer, and praise with them. I do not feel confined. I feel liberated to discover what will be.

I am looking to what will be with hope and great joy.

Prayer: “Wash, O God, our sons and daughters, where your cleansing waters flow. Number them among your people; bless as Christ blessed long ago. Weave them garments bright and sparkling; compass them with love and light. Fill, anoint them; send your Spirit, holy dove and heart’s delight. We who bring them long for nurture; by your milk may we be fed. Let us join your feast, partaking cup of blessing, living bread. God, renew us, guide our footsteps; free from sin and all its snares, one with Christ in living, dying, by your Spirit, children, heirs.”* Amen.

*”Wash, O God, Our Sons and Daughters,” The United Methodist Hymnal 605.

 

Take The Risk

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 25:14-30

This Sunday the Tuskawilla Family will be led in worship by our Youth Mission Team and a special youth-young adult praise team! They will be sharing stories from their experiences and adventures throughout The Glades as we partnered with the wonderful folks at First UMC Pahokee in a week of serving God and neighbor. You already know this – but I will remind you again – the TUMC Youth are PHENOMENAL young people. They want to share with you about their trip because you made their trip possible through your support of their rummage sale (donations and/or purchases), talent show (acts and/or admissions), prayers, smiles, and encouragement along the way. Thank you, Tuskawilla Family, for your commitment to the children and youth of our church. Join us this Sunday as we celebrate God’s accomplishments through their hands, feet, and hearts!

The theme Scripture passage for the Youth Mission Trip was Matthew’s version of the Parable of the Talents. This parable also appears in Luke’s Gospel, but not in Mark’s Gospel, which tells us that Matthew and Luke received this teaching of Jesus from a shared source. Biblical scholarship widely identifies this source as Q – which is short for Quelle the German word meaning source.

When we compare the two tellings of this parable they follow a similar pattern: a landowner entrusted funds to employees to steward and multiply while he was away. In each telling one employee presents a sizable gain on the landowner’s investment, another employee presents a fair gain on the landowner’s investment, and the third employee returns the investment that was entrusted with no gain at all. “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been trustworthy with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things!” to the two that gained on the landowner’s investment; “throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!” to the one that gained nothing on the landowner’s investment.

Two of the employees took risks to bring a return on the landowner’s investment. They had to move beyond themselves, beyond their familiar environments, and beyond their usual activities. Their risk taking yielded a big return – something that would not be possible if they decided – like the unfruitful employee – to stay within their comfort zones.

While on the mission trip the Tuskawilla Youth took risks all over the place. They left their homes, their families, their daily routines, THEIR ELECTRONICS and entered into relationship with a new community, in a new place, with a whole new level of heat and humidity. God invested talents in each of these students – through their creation, through their families, and through our church family that they, in turn, invested into The Glades. The returns that our youth yielded on God’s investment cannot be numbered. They were so generous in their spirit, compassion, and service. I am so very proud of them and know that this sort of risk taking for God and God’s Kingdom will continue to increase.

Well done, good and faithful youth servants of Tuskawilla UMC. We cannot wait to celebrate your service and Kingdom building on Sunday!

Prayer: “Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true. With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living, sanctuary for you.”* Amen.

*”Sanctuary,” The Faith We Sing 2164.

Longing for Spring: Spring

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 5:12-16

If you were raised in Florida – or have spent a significant amount of time here – you know that our state is a wee bit confused about the seasons. Some would argue that we only have two seasons: hot and more hot, but that is not so! We experience all four seasons in Florida…three are just very brief in light of the main season of Summer.

Our seasons are also out of order. In my experience we have Summer – Winter – Fall – Spring and sometimes Summer charges in before we even have the benefit of experiencing all of Spring. I thought that would be the case this year. The last bit of Fall concluded a few days before Holy Week began. We made our way towards the cross as the last few dry leaves made their way to the ground. New growth pushed forth. The vibrancy of green was amazing. I sat at the picnic table on the TUMC Bean and wondered at the beauty of the green on this sweet gum tree shading our parking lot. What a vision of Spring.

And then someone cranked up the heat. Spring felt like only a brief memory. Summer arrived and when Summer arrives so early we know it will be a sweltering one. That’s what has made these last few days a true gift. We received a break from the heat and retreated back to the coolness and refreshment of Spring. It is not so much a break that it feels like Winter again; we are not retreating for hibernation. We are retreating for refreshment, growth, and strengthening so when the temperatures indicate Summer has arrived in full force (and will stay so till around December 2…) we will be able to handle the heat. We will be able to stay in the proverbial kitchen. We will be conditioned. And we will continue.

In our Scripture text for this week we read “more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women” (Acts 5:14). This was a time of Spring for the Early Church. The first bud of the resurrection is Jesus and numerous others followed his leading. In Jesus and through his disciples the people experienced profound healing and teaching that changed their lives. These experiences anchored their faith. These experiences drew them one to another and as a community to their Lord. There was great excitement – excitement they could not contain. So they told others. They brought others from their homes to experience it for themselves. They believed in what was happening. They believed it would change the world. And they wanted to be apart of it.

In the Wellspring Class this week we discussed the nature and mission of the church – church universal and church United Methodist specific. United Methodists believe that the church is first and foremost a worshipping community and the church is the greatest arena for disciple-making to occur. The church is where disciples are made so that we then will go into the world and make disciples. And friends, we have to believe that this is what God wants for us – for Tuskawilla – for Christ’s Body – for Christ’s bride, the Church.

In his letter to the Romans Paul boldly questioned, “If God is for us, who is against us” (Rom 8:31)? The answer is “no one and no thing.” God is for us. And God wants us to experience this Spring, this renewal, this great addition of believers in the Lord to the present believers in the Lord, and together that they would experience a deepening of their faith in the Lord. Belief that God has this desire for us unites us one to another and unites us in the Lord. And this belief sustains us when the heat gets turned up – and I am not just talking about the temperature outside. This belief sustains us when we face temptation, trial, suffering, grief, addiction, loss, and death. This belief helps us spring or bounce back in response to the pressures and burdens of this life. This belief shelters us as we experience the winters in our faith.

God is for us. I cannot say it enough. God is for us! And God was us to experience this Spring.

Holy God, lead us in being your church, in serving our neighbors, and welcoming great numbers of the faithful to your family. Help us believe and through us bring about your mercy, grace and peace.

Prayer: “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father; there is no shadow of turning with thee; thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not; as thou hast been, thou forever wilt be. Summer and winter and spring-time and harvest, sun, moon, and stars in their courses above join with all nature in manifold witness to thy great faithfulness, mercy and love. Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”* Amen.

*”Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” The United Methodist Hymnal 140.

Status Report: Mission Trip Summer 2012

Read Ephesians 5:8-14.

This Sunday the mission team from Reeves will share their experiences with the congregation during worship.  I am so pleased these individuals offered a week in service to the community near the Hinton Rural Life Center – a United Methodist related agency – in Hinton, North Carolina.  I was unable to join the mission team on their endeavors in North Carolina as I was on my own mission trip that week.

I served as the worship leader for the Elementary Campers at the Warren W. Willis United Methodist Youth Camp in Leesburg, FL!

(Well…it’s really in Fruitland Park…but are we going to split hairs over that?  Nah!)

I spent the week with an incredible group of rising 4th and 5th graders and the adult volunteers and camp counselors that were with them.  They were so full of life and energy and eagerness and energy and spirit and energy…

Did I mention they had energy?  Oh yes!

Our theme for the week was AWAKENING and each night in worship we learned what it means for us to be AWAKE: for God, for God’s purpose for our lives, for God’s purpose for creation.

To be AWAKE we have to (be):

A – Aware / W – Wonder / A – Act / K – Know / E – Engage

We have to be aware of who we are and whose we are.  In that awareness, God gives us space to wonder about things we do not have answers for or understand…like why there is evil and why bad things happen.  Once we are aware and have had the opportunity to wonder with God, we arrive at the critical point to act – that point of making a move towards God and saying “Yes! I want to be part of what you are doing!!”  As we act we continue to learn and we come to know that following God isn’t always easy, but it is so worth it.  This knowing leads us to engage – engage our journeys with God, engage with our churches at home, engage with our friends at camp outside of camp, engage what we have experienced so we won’t forget it.

Aware – Wonder – Act – Know – Engage

When these combine, we are AWAKE!

I learned so much from the campers during my time at camp.  They reminded me of what it means to have faith like a child – to have a simple faith.  That doesn’t mean it is an ignorant or uninformed faith.  It is just simple, uncomplicated, beautiful relationship.  Yes, I can ask questions.  Yes, I can doubt.  Yes, I can yell and scream if needed.  God has created space for all of that.  God creates space for me to be me in my faith.

That’s what I learned on my mission week in Summer 2012.  God’s message prepared especially for me in those 63 rising 4th and 5th graders was a much needed awakening.

Reflection: Did you have an opportunity to serve God’s people in some way this summer?  How did that time of service make you feel?  How were you changed? How did you grow?  How did God use you?  Share your story with someone this week.

And if you’re struggling to come up with an answer because you didn’t have the opportunity to “go” on a mission trip, I encourage you to spend some time in quiet reflection asking God to reveal to you how in fact God did use you to serve this summer.  You might be surprised by what God lifts up.