On The Top Shelf

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 23:33-43.

This Sunday the Rev. Dr. Steve Harper will share a message entitled “On The Top Shelf” at both our Morningsong and 11am Worship Services.

I met Steve for the first time in my small group interview for membership as a provisional elder in the Florida Conference in January 2010. I was terrified walking into that small group room and Steve was a very kind face.

I remember him asking me about my definition of sin in my paperwork; I had defined sin as some kind of radical evil in the world. Steve wondered if I had an example of this kind of radical evil and so I shared a story about a conversation with the Senior Pastor I served with my last year of seminary. A person could stand on the front door step of the church, look across the field, and see the steeple of another United Methodist Church. I asked Jennie what our church’s relationship was with our neighbor church when a member walked up behind me and said, “We don’t have a relationship with them; that’s where the slaves worship.”

That was in the Fall of 2009.

2009.

I looked at Steve and said, “Sin is some kind of radical evil.” He nodded his head in agreement and my interview continued.

As Jesus hung on the cross, he looked into sin – some kind of radical evil – and gave his life so that we would live. Above him hung a cross that read “King of the Jews”. The Romans meant it as one more jab at our Savior, but Jesus’ friends and followers knew it to be true. Here, our humble King, is dying for you, for them, and for me.

Our King did not come as expected. Jesus did not have a grand entry into the world. He was born to an unwed mother and his earthly father was suspect of the whole situation. He was born in a borrowed cave surrounded by animals. He lived like a vagabond with no place to lay his head.

Jesus was encouraged by generous hospitality and lived not on bread alone but feasted on the word of God. He served, he sacrificed, and he saved.

Jesus revealed the presence of God’s Kingdom in the real world. The in-breaking of the Kingdom is not loud and overbearing; it was as soft as a baby’s cry and greets us like a kind face and an open hand. Our King did not and does not demand obedience; he invited and invites obedience. Jesus wants relationships not constituents under requirements.

Jesus is our King in a new Kingdom. Jesus is our King that looks in the face of sin and all radical evils and does not turn away. Jesus is our King that is leading us in ways where we will all be one – male and female, Jew and Gentile, black and white, slave and free.

It is true that Scripture speaks of a day where every knee will bow before Jesus and every tongue will confess his Lordship. And when I picture bowing before Jesus, I see him reaching for me with his arms, to raise me to my feet, and then embracing me to his chest. This is the King I know. This is the King I serve. This is the King that changed my life and I believe is changing the world. Because of his transformation in me, I offer myself to be used by him in the beautiful transformation of others.

I look forward to worshipping with you and learning from Steve this week. Thank you, Steve, for the gift of your leadership and sharing with the Tuskawilla Family. Thank you for the kind face and guiding presence you continue to be in my life.

Prayer: “Almighty God, who gave your Son Jesus Christ a realm where all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; make us loyal followers of our living Lord, that we may always hear his word, follow his teachings, and live in his Spirit; and hasten the day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord; to your eternal glory. Amen.”*

*”For Reign of Christ,” The United Methodist Book of Worship 421.

All Saints Sunday: Seeing The Glory of God

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 11:28-44

In third grade I received my first Bible – a red leather red letter NIV Bible. Shortly after receiving it I attended a Third Grade Bible Retreat to learn all about this library I had just been gifted by my home church. At that retreat I learned about the history, compiling, and composition of the Bible; biblical languages; how to look up Scripture addresses; and some very useful trivia. Did you know that King Solomon had a muster of peacocks delivered every three years!?

At the end of the retreat each student was given some additional sheets of Bible Trivia we could look up on our own. Well, little third grade Sarah, being the assignment completer she was (is) completed the packet in a week.

Not much has changed…except my hair is a little longer, my heels are definitely higher, and my mother does not have to beg me to wear a dress.

I remember that one of the trivia challenges was to identify the shortest verse in the Bible. I found it in John’s Gospel, “Jesus wept.” The knowledge that Jesus cried affected me deeply. I knew that Jesus was born of a woman like me. I knew that Jesus walked the earth like me. I knew that Jesus ate with his family and friends like me. But to know that Jesus cried…like me? Jesus became all the more real, all the more human in that moment.

Jesus wept because he missed his friend Lazarus who he loved dearly; he wept over the loss of his friend and disciple. Throughout my years in ministry I have joined Jesus in weeping at the bedside and graveside of ones that are nearing the end or have completed their journey in faith. I have held hands, received teachings, and made commitments to look after the family and friends left at this time.

Once I was even made to promise I would have my prostate examined yearly! I hope my congregant forgives me for not following through with that…

I have cried the precious tears that say, “I love you today; I love you always.” I have cried the precious tears that say, “I miss you today, I will miss you tomorrow, I will see you again.” And it is because of the precious tears that Jesus cried and his authority to call Lazarus forth from the grave that I am assured I will see – that we will see – our loved ones again. Jesus cried as a response to present pain and suffering, but in his completed Kingdom, every tear will be wiped away. There will be no mourning, no crying, no suffering, no pain. All will be whole. All will be well. And death will be no more.

There is definitely more time passing between my weeping and being reunited with loved ones than in Jesus’ weeping and calling Lazarus to life. But the power and gift of the resurrection is already at work. We will be reunited in the fulfillment of the resurrection, all that was loss will be gain, and the glory of God that we have seen just a glimpse of will be on full display.

Prayer: “Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord. Grant us grace so to follow your holy saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys, which you have prepared for those who sincerely love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”*

*”All Saints,” The United Methodist Hymnal 713.

Remember to Fall Back one hour this Saturday Night/Early Sunday Morning!! 

The Coming King: Good News

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Romans 1:1-7

Today my heart is heavy.  Andrew and I learned today that his childhood best friend – his kindred spirit – his partner in mayhem – his beloved Josh – passed away on December 10, 2013 due to heart failure.  He was 29.

Josh and Andrew were true brothers.  They met as many brothers do…in a fight…and following those initial blows they were inseparable.  They were family.  They are family.

Both attended an arts magnet high school in our hometown.  Both endured scrutiny and bullying because they were guys who loved the arts.

Andrew: vocal performance | Josh: dance

They stood up for one another.  They defended the other.  They held one another accountable.  They had so much fun.  They got into a lot of trouble.  They were boys.  They are brothers.  And now Josh has passed on.

Josh is a decorated veteran.  He served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan in elite combat forces with the Marine Corps and Army.  He loved his country.  He loved defending freedom.  Though he would not talk in these words, I believe his true love was for the least, the last, and the lost.  I believe this is a love he found and fostered in his friendship and brotherhood with Andrew.  Their care for one another led him to care for so many – soldiers, civilians, innocents – around the globe.

I ache for Andrew.  I ache for our family.  I ache for Josh’s family.  When we ache it is so hard to remember, think about, and speak good news.

In one sentence – in one very long sentence – Paul shares the Good News with fledgling Christian communities in Rome – and around the world.  He tells the story from beginning to end.  From incarnation to resurrection to discipleship and stewardship of the Good News for our neighbors.

Paul wanted his brothers and sisters in Rome to know the whole story up front before diving into every theological detail and nuance the Roman correspondence has to offer.  When he shared this statement I am sure some who heard it were overjoyed, some overwhelmed, some content, some complacent, some angry, some grieving, some dying.  Though the words may have been a struggle to hear they were shared.  Though the words may have been a struggle to recall they were remembered and have been remembered throughout the ages.

We remember them tonight.  We remember the Good News as we acknowledge our human grief and human loss.  We seek comfort in the promise that we shall be raised with Christ, that we share in his gift of eternal life, that we shall be reunited with our loved ones in resurrection.

In the days ahead we will walk with our grief.  In the days ahead we will remember Josh as we remember the promise of Christ.  In the days ahead we will be mindful of the example of Christ that Josh lived in his life – to care first and foremost of the least, the last, and the lost.

In doing so we will draw near to the Good News and the Good News will heal.

Prayer: “Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home; swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home.  If you get there before I do, coming for to carry me home; tell all my friends I’m coming too, coming for to carry me home.  Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home; swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home.”* Our promise in you, O God, is that we are all coming home.  We thank you for this gift of Good News.  Amen.

*”Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 703.