Go and Tell!

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 2:15-20

This week Tuskawilla UMC welcomes two special guests in worship leadership. Rev. Anne Bachmann will share her sermon entitled “A Change of Heart” and Mrs. Jane Warren (my amazing mother!) will share her love and gift of music through accompanying our service. Thank you, Anne and Jane for serving with us and serving us this Sunday.

In our Scripture text for both Christmas Eve and Sunday morning we read about the shepherds’ activity before, during, and after their encounter with the Christ child. First, the shepherds receive the angels’ proclamation about Jesus’ birth. Second, they seek him. Third, they worship at his cradle. And then fourth, they return to the world to tell everyone about what they experienced.

Go. Tell. Over the hills and everywhere.

As I think of my own practices and behaviors around Christmastime, I find that I am really proficient at three parts of the shepherds’ activity. (1) I receive the invitation to worship our Jesus on Christmas Eve. (2) I prepare myself to worship and draw nearer to his nativity through the season of Advent. (3) I worship on Christmas Eve. And then (4) I typically put my Christmas experience to bed just as Mary helped Jesus in laying down his head.

Oops.

Thinking back on my Christmas Day conversations, they seldom include any mention of our Savior’s birth. I confess that they absolutely contain deep sighs that express Oh thank you, Lord, that’s over till next year! 

Oops again.

Paging: Missed Out, Party of Sarah.

The shepherds were told to “Go” by the angels, and in response to their go-ing, they shared their witness of Christ with joy and excitement. I excel at the go-ing and it appears my Christmas growing edge is the telling. 

I receive this invitation to grow in the telling. I need to break out of my habit of laying down my Christmas joy as soon as we finish singing Silent Night. Each year that I celebrate Christmas I experience something anew; a learning, a hymn, a revelation resonates at a new or deeper level. These learnings, hymns, and revelations – they are what the shepherds shared. I doubt it was polished…I doubt it was in complete sentences. What matters is that they shared – with joy and boldness – and these meek shepherds were instrumental in spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ across the lands.

We are invited this week to go (to come), to worship at Jesus’ manger. And we are invited to tell, to share this Good News – the Good News of Jesus Christ. Do not find yourself saying “Oops” like I have. Do not miss out on the opportunity to tell someone – or lots of someones – about what you experienced at the manger this Christmas. Share with me. Share with a loved one. Share with God. And, by all means, share with someone that can benefit from hearing Jesus’ Good News.

Go and tell, my friends. Go and tell.

Prayer: “Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere; go, tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born. Down in a lowly manger the humble Christ was born and God sent us salvation that blessed Christmas morn. Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere; go, tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.”* Amen.

*”Go, Tell It on the Mountain,” The United Methodist Hymnal 251.

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Carry The Message With You

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Romans 10:5-15

A not-so little known secret about me – I do not like feet. Nope. Not at all.

Shoes – yes.

Feet – no. No no no.

Why don’t I like feet? Well I am pretty sure it originated from my feet being very ticklish as a child…but then it evolved. I’m a good Polk County girl. I grew up on a dirt road. There was wooded acreage behind my house and a creek down the street. Who needed shoes when you had all of that to explore? I wanted to feel the earth between my toes…the earth and anything and everything else. So I’m okay with dirty feet…as long as the only encounter I have with dirty feet are with my own during the cleansing process.

Encountering someone else’s dirty feet…I’m going to have to do some praying about that.

It’s a big joke in my family about me not wanting anyone to touch my feet. From time to time my father-in-law will try to sneak a jab at my feet…but I’m usually one step ahead. Poor Andrew…one time he touched my feet…and I accidently had a true “knee jerk reaction” and broke his nose. For years this had been the reason I never had a pedicure…for fear I would end up with a fine for causing bodily harm to an unsuspecting pedicurist.

I will say that my friend Melissa coached me through my first pedicure for my birthday this year. My permanent record remains unblemished.

My friend Sara shares my disdain for feet…and as we were reminiscing this week about our lack of love for feet, Sara said, “I don’t like feet, but I love the beautiful things my feet can do.” What are those beautiful things? For Sara, those beautiful things include caring for her newborn and toddler sons as well as her husband. Those beautiful things include shepherding two United Methodist flocks in the Memphis Annual Conference. Those beautiful things include consistent service and advocacy for the rights of others – the widow, the orphan, and the stranger – in whatever form they present themselves. Why does she show this kind of care? Because that is who Sara is. She lives into the meaning of her name – servant. How beautiful are your feet, dear Sara. How beautiful, indeed.

The band Gungor sings a song entitled, “Beautiful Things.” This song choruses how God makes beautiful things out of ashes and dust. God makes beautiful things out of us so that we can do beautiful things in a world so full of shame, and pain, and fear. Paul’s letter to the Romans shares the good news of God making beautiful things – “No one who believes in [Christ] will be put to shame…for ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’” (Rom 10:11, 13).

Those who call on the name of the Lord will be made new and beautiful creations. We will be saved. Our feet will be set soundly on the cornerstone that is Christ and then we will join him in service. Our feet may get dirty along the way – who knows what we will step in or pass through? What we do know is that Christ is and will always be our faithful companion – and united with him, our feet will lead us to do beautiful things.

Prayer: “All this pain / I wonder if I’ll ever find my way /I wonder if my life could really change at all.  All this earth / Could all that is lost ever be found / Could a garden come up from this ground at all.  All around / Hope is springing up from this old ground / Out of chaos life is being found in You.  You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of the dust.  You make beautiful things.  You make beautiful things out of us.  You make me new.  You are making me new.  You make me new.  You are making me new.”* Amen.

*”Beautiful Things” by The Michael Gungor Band, 2010.

Just Walk Across The Room: Before and After

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 19:1-10

This week lay and clergy delegates of the Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church will descend on Lakeland for our Annual Conference.  In year’s past Annual Conference has been the corporate, if you will, business meeting of the church.  While the conference will use this time to conduct the business of the church, we are also making a tangible turn this year to have a greater focus on ministry celebration under our theme of Becoming Disciples.

This year I had the opportunity to serve on the Annual Conference Worship Design Team and write liturgy for the worship services.  From opening to closing worship we focused our liturgical eyes on becoming and in being a people that are becoming, we recognize both who and where we have been and who and where we are headed, but have not yet arrived.

(Caution: Annual Conference Spoiler!!!)

This is the Call to Worship for the Opening Worship Service on Thursday:

Our God who is perfect invites us to this space
We who are imperfect humbly respond and rejoice.
We come broken…
Seeking to be made whole.
We come unfinished…
Seeking to be brought to Christian perfection.
We recognize this time of holy conferencing as a moment in our journey of Christian service.
We celebrate the ministry of all believers gathered in this space and beyond.
We are children of God who come to be renewed in our call.
Refresh us, revive us, O God, in this time of becoming.

Who and where we have been.  Who and where we are headed.

Becoming.

//

In our Scripture passage this week Zaccheaus is on the path to becoming.  Who and where has he been?  Greedy, cheating, thieving tax collector.  Who and where is he headed?  Honesty, restitution, reconciliation, aware of Christ’s saving power.

Luke 19 is the only time we hear of wee Zaccheaus.  Jesus tells us that he came “to seek out and save the lost” – Zaccheaus fits that description – and then the story ends (Lk 19:10).  We don’t know for sure if Zaccheaus went on to do what he shouted from the top of the sycamore tree, but I believe he did.  Saying that he would repay those he cheated was a public affirmation as well as confession – that he was leaving who he was – his before – and becoming more of the person Christ desired him to be  after Christ changed his entire world.

We are all on this path of becoming – recognizing who and where we were before and how we are becoming after Christ’s impact – and continued impact – on our lives.  These paths lead us in telling our stories to others as we “walk across the room.”  Our own stories of becoming are ways for us to connect with others that are questioning or discerning their stories.  And our own stories of becoming are a humble reminder that we are not there yet.  That we still have work to do.  That we are going onto perfection.

That we are becoming.

(And…Annual Conference Spoiler #2!!)

Prayer:  In creation God pronounced humanity good, and together with all creation, very good.  Shortly after creation humanity disobeyed God’s will through our sin.  Humanity fell from the image in which we are created – the Image of God.  Our God did not leave us fallen.  God immediately set us on a path towards recovering our created image, a path of becoming.  Together with Scriptural witnesses we continue our becoming.

Like Joshua we become as we declare that for our houses – our individual residences, our local churches, our annual conference – we will serve The Lord.
Like Ezekiel we become as we anticipate God rattling our dry bones into revitalized life.
Like the woman bent double we become as Christ enables us to stand.
Like Lazarus we become as Christ raises us up to return to service.
Like Judas we become as we hear Jesus call us friend even though we betray and flee.
Like the women at the empty tomb we become as we will run from this place, in a manner of continual becoming, as witnesses of our Jesus who gifts eternal life.
Like Stephen we become as we face great risk to defend the name and ministry of our Christ.
Like Lydia we become as The Lord opens our hearts and leads us in hospitality.
Like Peter we become as we await our commission, “feed my lambs, care for my sheep, feed my sheep.”
And as we continue becoming disciples we more heartily and humbly proclaim, “Yes Lord. You know I do. You know I will.”

Amen.

Just Walk Across The Room: Roles

Sunday’s Scripture ~ First Corinthians 9:19-23

This past Tuesday I completed my volunteering in a first grade class at the neighboring elementary school to Reeves.  This class of 17 six and seven year old taught me each time I visited them about true joy, hardwork, striving for excellence, and perseverance.  I am thankful that after 180 days these precious children will enjoy a great summer (although it’s very soggy today…six days into the 2013 Hurricane Season and Tropical Storm Andrea is just dumping precipitation on the Sunshine Rainy State).  I will miss these students and treasure the lessons they taught me.

At the beginning of each week the first graders would select jobs or roles they would serve in their classroom family for the week.  Roles ranged from doorholder to caboose to messenger to weather reporter to librarian to substitute, to teacher helper to day-of-the-week friend, to number-of-school-days-friend, and more!  There were 17 first graders and therefore 17 roles to fill.

The students took great responsibility in their roles.  They were always quick to jump up and perform or live into their role.  If they were a little slow to get up sometimes the substitute would move to stand in…or step on the toes of the student that was to be in that particular role.  When this happened, it didn’t go over well, because that role belonged to that particular student.  He or she took pride in completing it, serving his or her classmates in that way.

In the Scripture passage this week Paul talks about the role he played in “walking across the room” so that others would grow in their relationship with Christ.  Essentially he became all things to all people.  He adjusted or modified himself in order to meet people where they were and nurture them in their relationship with Christ.

Somedays he was prophet.  Somedays he was teacher.  Somedays he was pastor.  Somedays he was companion.  Somedays he was mentor.  Paul was attuned to the Spirit, which led him in the role he was to play at each time, and place, and community.

As we continue to read Scripture we can also identify times where Paul possibly pushed the role he was meant to live into a bit far and the situation became reactive by either escalating to argument or dissolving into frustration.  This is Scriptural evidence that we are called to only play the role set before us as led by the Spirit in each time, place, and community when we venture to walk across the room.

I hope as I – as we, the children of God – walk across the room we do so with discerning minds, connected to the Spirit so we know what role it is we are to engage in that space.  And I hope that I – we – do so in the passion of the first graders I spent three hours a week with for the past 20 weeks – excited, ready to work hard, to show what we know, and not let anyone take our place.

Let’s know our role.  And let’s walk across the room.

Prayer: “I, the Lord of snow and rain, I have born my peoples pain.  I have wept for love of them, they turn away.  I will break their hearts of stone, give them hearts for love alone.  I will speak my word to them,  Whom shall I send?  Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord?  I have heard You calling in the night.  I will go Lord, if You lead me.  I will hold Your people in my heart.”*  Amen.

*”Here I Am, Lord” from The United Methodist Hymnal, 593.

Just Walk Across The Room: Evangelism 101

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Romans 10: 8b-15

This Sunday Reeves’ begins an evangelism series using Bill Hybels’ text Just Walk Across The Room.  What prompted this study?  Reeves is participating in National Neighborhood Night Out in early August in partnership with the Colonialtown Neighborhood Association, which is right next door to the church.  This gathering promises to be a wonderful opportunity for the Reeves community to take another step forward in our inclusivity and hospitality by welcoming our neighbors and founding or nurturing relationships.

Evangelism – a swear word in some Christian circles.  Evangelism should not be confused with Evangelical.  Evangelism – simply sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others.  Evangelical – a broad term to describe a global Protestant faith movement beginning in the 1730s.  In the early 20th Century in North America the word Evangelical was caught up with strict fundamentalist faith understandings.  I think this attachment of understandings is one of the elements that first started to push people away from evangelism; folks didn’t want to be thought of in that way…whatever that way is.  Another element is – to some degree – political correctness.  “My mama raised me with the understanding that I don’t ask a woman her age, that I don’t talk about salaries, that I don’t talk about politics, and I don’t talk about religion” – so the saying goes.  We don’t want to offend anyone, we don’t want to pry, we don’t want to push anything on someone else.

Well folks, we aren’t pushing.  If we are engaging in evangelism, then we’re sharing.  And we’re sharing because there is relationship present.  And the relationship is present because someone (hopefully you!) walked across the room.

Did anyone catch that 1730 date from earlier?  For the people called Methodist, this should grab our attention!  The 1730s are the starting block for the early leaders in the Methodist movement to walk across the streets, the fields, the prisons, the schools, the countrysides, even the oceans to share the gospel message.  This is in our denominational roots!  We need to embrace this.

Beyond denominational roots, walking across the room is our duty, heritage, legacy, and privilege as Christians.  Our text for this week (which happens to be one of the Sara(h)s favorite texts) reads “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”  The feet folks!!  Now, those of you who know me well know that I’m not so fond of feet – shoes, yes – feet, no – but these feet!!  The feet that bring good news!!  They only bring good news if they go somewhere!

Hybels speaks of how Jesus walked across the cosmos to become human and then walked all over the Holy Land to teach and heal and love.  Jesus continues walking towards us through the movement of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus’ steps are persistent and intentional.  If he approaches us once and we are resistant he won’t respond, “Well, I tried…”  Jesus won’t let all the topics of conversation his mama warned him not to discuss hinder him from starting conversation.  We see from Scripture that Jesus was all about stirring the pot, making the comfortable uncomfortable, speaking truth in love, and proclaiming truth to power.

Jesus spoke with boldness.  Jesus walked with boldness.  And our bold Jesus invites us to join his ministry.

We can make evangelism as easy or as complicated as we want.  I don’t know about you, but my life is complicated enough as it is.  So I’m going with easy…and easy is walking across the room.  Founding a relationship.  Nurturing that relationship.  And being patient for the Spirit to lead me in what to say and when to say it.

I truly believe that every conversation I share with a person is a spiritual conversation, regardless of the subject matter.  It’s a spiritual conversation because I am a child of God and I am sharing with another child of God.  The exchange that occurs is the beauty of God’s intent for our relationships.  I desperately want to do everything in my being to create more of this beauty in God’s world.

So I’m going to walk across the room.

Prayer: Almighty God, we are “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” from The United Methodist Hymnal, 581.