Faithful Living

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16.

When I read the words “Let mutual love continue” I immediately think of Mr. Bill Gill. Bill is a member of Gray Memorial UMC in Tallahassee and I had the privilege of meeting Bill during my interview for membership as a provisional elder in the Florida Annual Conference in January 2010.

It was one of those damp, cold January days. I flew in from Atlanta the day before, ventured to Polk County for a quick siesta, and then after receiving thorough instructions about driving my mother’s brand new car to my interview, I drove to the Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park. I was invited to come for lunch; my interview would start at 1pm. I remember being too nervous to eat and standing awkwardly at the back of the dining hall, quaking in my stilettos, seeking a friendly face. Bill’s gaze caught mine and his wise, kind eyes assured me that everything, in fact, was going to be okay.

Bill looked in on me throughout the afternoon. He was caring and comforting. And as a prelude to the news that I would be commissioned that year at Annual Conference, he smiled and said, “We have much to expect from you. God is doing great things in you and I am going to enjoy watching it all unfold.”

When it came time for my ordination interviews Bill sought me out again – this time a friendly and familiar face. Bill and I always seem to find one another at Annual Conference without planning it – God keeps seeing fit to draw us together. He asks about my appointment. He asks about my family. And he shares the great things going on at his church, which one of my friends happens to serve.

(Sometimes Bill says that Jack is up to something…and that is when I assure Bill that pastors are always up to something…)

Whenever we are together Bill humbles me with his encouragement. “We have much to expect from you. God is doing great things in you and I enjoy watching it all unfold.” And now his encouragement includes this phrase followed by a hug, “I am so proud of you.”

I feel, know, and treasure Bill’s love in my life. He showed me hospitality as a stranger and in him I have found such a generous friend. The relationship I have with him and the care I continue to receive from him has shaped and continues to shape the relationships I have with others. As I said in my sermon last week, “small acts have expansive consequences.”* Bill’s small act of sharing love in my life continues to live beyond both of us from that moment we shared on a Tuesday afternoon that last week of January in 2010. That love, which is Christ’s beautiful love, is living on in me and I know it is living on in him.

Thank you, Bill. Thanks be to God for you. May Christ’s mutual love always continue in you and through you. May Christ’s mutual love continue in and through all of us.

Prayer: “Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you. Neighbors are rich and poor, neighbors are black and white, neighbors are near and far away. These are the ones we should serve, these are the ones we should love, all these are neighbors to us and you. Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you.”** Amen.

*Craddock, F. B. (1990). Interpretation–Luke. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 171.

**”Jesu, Jesu,” The United Methodist Hymnal 432.

 

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Hope For The Holidays

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 1:26-38

Recently I saw The Martian starring Matt Damon. This film – and book, which has been highly recommended to me and is on my list to read – chronicles the survival of Astronaut/Botanist Mark Watney after he has been left on Mars. A storm threatened the work and lives of the six person Mars crew; so, the crew chose to abandon their work and return to their space station. Mark was blown off course by a piece of debris as he struggled through hurricane force winds on his walk back to their short range spacecraft. His crew assumed he was dead and with heavy hearts executed their launch sequence to flee the storm.

Mark woke up a few days later, half buried in sand, and wholly aware of his singular existence on the Red Planet. He returns to the crew’s work and living station on Mars and completes an inventory of supplies. He records in a video diary that while he has food for now, he will die of starvation without a renewable source of nutrition. His water supply will soon deplete. And what if his facility is damaged or the systems that purify the air so that he can breathe are destroyed?

Mark’s reality washes over him…he hangs his head. And then, resolute – so resolute that he leans into the camera filming his video diary – he affirms, “I am not going to die here.” His resolution fuels his hope. Yes, of course, Mark faces challenges and set backs. Even so, he lives the mantras “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” and “where there is a will, there is a way.”

It was incredibly encouraging for me to witness Mark’s inner strength as well as how he was able to draw upon the strength of others that rallied around him. During this time in our world where the reigning mantra seems to be “every man, woman, and child for him or herself” – perhaps even “every nation for itself” – to see this display of compassion and camaraderie – reminded me of my source of inner strength, who leads me in compassion and camaraderie for others – all others – whom my hope, my Christ, welcomes as neighbors and friends.

We are a people of hope. Hope was knit into our fleshy fabric at the time of  creation. It is a legacy that was affirmed by God to Abraham when God covenanted, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” The judges and the prophets repeated God’s promise. The Psalmist sang God’s promise. And with the coming of Christ, God further invigorates the hope saying, “I will be your God and I will be with my people.”

Mary receives this message of Emmanuel in our text for this week and she looks to the future with – I am sure – a mild dose of concern that is tempered with a great deal of joy. Immediately she is drawn into community with her relative Elizabeth and they share with one another the gifts of compassion and camaraderie. They live as neighbors and friends. They help and comfort each other. They affirm that even in the midst of this most unanticipated, unexpected, unpredictable of circumstances, that neither one of them is alone.

Mark felt quite lonely up on Mars until contact was reestablished with NASA and his fellow crew mates. There are folks right outside our doors, on the street corners, in the cars next to us, on the other side of the fence or cubicle wall that feel like they mights as well be on Mars because their loneliness is so profound. Maybe you are the one attempting to hurdle the obstacle that is loneliness only to fall back down again.

If you feel your hope is waning or gone, stand up, go to the nearest mirror, and look at yourself. Really look at yourself. Look at yourself until you see, you feel, that you are created in God’s image and that God’s hope is indeed within you. Then affirm – out loud – that you will not stay where you are, continuing to feel how you do. Say it. “I will not stay here. I will not continue to feel this way.” And then reach out. Call someone you trust. Call the church office! We are created with innate hope that leads us into unity. Reach out, my friend.

If you feel strong and secure in your hope, ask God to reveal to you someone that needs a helping hand or encouraging word this week. And do not ignore who is revealed to you! That person may not be your first choice, but that person is God’s choice. We are all God’s choice. And we are all in this together.

Hope, my friends, is so powerful. It is the belief in the unexpected and the unanticipated…and it leads us towards the unexpected and the unanticipated. That journey is trying as well as beautiful. It is a journey that God walks with us through thick and thin. It is a journey with Emmanuel. And I hope will you will join the Tuskawilla Family as we journey together this Advent Season.

Happy Thanksgiving! And see you Sunday.

Prayer: “Holy God, the mystery of your eternal Word took flesh among us in Jesus Christ. At the message of an angel, the virgin Mary placed her life at the service of your will. Filled with the light of your Spirit, she became the temple of your Word. Strengthen us by the example of her humility, that we may always be ready to do your will, and welcome into our lives Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”*

*”The Annunciation to Mary,” The United Methodist Book of Worship 256.

New Creation: Temple of the Living God

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Corinthians 6:14-7:1

This Sunday we conclude the New Creation sermon series by studying the last image that Paul uses to describe persons who bear within their bodies the effects of Christ’s resurrection.  Paul says that we are the temple of the living God.

II Corinthians 6 is not the first time Paul uses this image or name to describe – and encourage – the faithful.  In I Corinthians 3:16-17 Paul writes, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person.  For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

We are the spaces – within our bodies – within our hearts – we are the spaces that God has chosen to dwell.  From the time of Moses God has claimed all humanity as God’s people.  From the time of the prophets God has confirmed God’s desire to make God’s home among God’s people.  And from the words of Paul we turn with great urgency and expectancy for the fullness of the resurrection – when God’s temple will be complete – when in resurrection we will be made complete.

As we wait for completeness, we become more aware of our incompleteness.  But incompleteness does not translate as worthlessness.  In our passage for this week Paul asks a series of questions, one of which is, “What agreement does Christ have with Beliar?” (II Cor 6:15)  Beliar, one of the various Jewish names for Satan, means worthlessness.  One might quickly retort that Christ has no agreement with Beliar – that Christ has no agreement with worthlessness.  While they may not have agreement, I do believe they share a relationship.  

The relationship is that Christ transforms worthlessness to worthiness.  This is the gift of unending grace that we receive.  Christ became sin who knew no sin.  Christ became worthless…that we would become the righteousness of God.

When I travel one of my favorite pastimes is to visit worship spaces – “temples” if you will. These temples – especially across Europe and Central America are treasures. So masterfully crafted, so ornately decorated, so completely…empty.  For the most part these worship houses have become dormant – “sleeping giants” within the landscape.  For whatever reason what was living and vital within them has gone out. Some might say this is an indication of decline. However, I say and truly believe it is a testament to the true temple – the temple we are and very necessarily the temple we bear with us every place we go.

My fear is that we, too, have become dormant.

We do not become a temple by occupying a temple just as we are no more a car by occupying a garage. We do not become at all. Christ becomes in us. God dwells within us. And we who have been dormant sleepers awaken to new life.

Temples are sacred spaces.  Temples are the spaces where the sacred and the secular meet – temples are the spaces where the secular is refined – restored – resurrected.  Temples are not buildings with steeples and stained glass windows.  It’s like the hymn continues to sing – the church – the temple – is the people.

We are the sacred.  We are the worthy.  We are the space in which God chooses to dwell.  We are the effects of God’s amazing grace.

We are the temple of the living God.

Prayer: “Christ is made the sure foundation, Christ the head and cornerstone; chosen of The Lord and precious, binding all the church in one; holy Zion’s help forever, and her confidence alone.  To this temple, where we call thee, come, Or Lord of Hosts, today!  With thy faithful loving-kindness hear thy people as they pray, and thy fullest benediction shed within its walls alway.”*  Amen.

*”Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 559.