Scripture – Story – Song

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Corinthians 4:1-18.

Jack Vinson was martyred in the Kiangsu Province of Mainland China in 1932. A bandit told the missionary, I’m going to kill you. Aren’t you afraid?

Kill me if you wish, Vinson replied. I will go straight to God.

Vinson’s courage inspired this poem, authored by his friend EH Hamilton:

Afraid?  Of what?

To feel the spirit’s glad release?

To pass from pain to perfect peace, the strife and strain of life to cease?

Afraid – of that?

Afraid? Of what?

Afraid to see the Savior’s face

To hear his welcome, and to trace the glory gleam from wounds of grace?

Afraid – of that?

Afraid? Of what?

A flash, a crash, a pierced heart;

Darkness, light, O Heaven’s art!  A wound of his a counterpart!

Afraid – of that?

Afraid? Of what?

To do by death what life could not –

Baptize with blood a stony blot till souls shall blossom from the spot?

Afraid – of that?*

The words of Tertullian, The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, continue to resonate as we read Paul’s words to the Corinthians: We are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. In biblical times martyrs gave up their lives in order to give life – to sustain life – whereas our present reality connects martyrs with acts of terror, violence, and harm.

I think it is time we write a new story, by returning to the old, old story.

The idea of martyrdom in the faith is no longer associated with the Christian’s religious identity, but I believe it should be. Writes Martha Sterne, “Our religious identity is usually associated with stability, prestige, comfort, satisfaction, and happiness. We get up on Sunday morning and go to the church that strikes our fancy…we are not harassed by civil authorities, and in our communities of faith we are almost never asked to sacrifice. Christian life and discipleship are frequently confused with good citizenship, appropriate decorum, and following socially acceptable norms and lifestyle”…but that is not what Christian life and discipleship are.** Christian life and discipleship are displayed in the witnesses of the martyrs – women and men who boldly, with great conscience – meaning the ability to determine right from wrong – sacrificed their words, acts, and lives to give life to the church that we enjoy today.

The testimonies of Christian martyrs challenge us to move beyond our comfort zones and as uncomfortable as their witnesses may make us – we must realize that we are their blossoms. Their testimonies should encourage and embolden us to articulate and share  what effect this precious treasure in clay jars has had and is having in our lives. While I do not advise looking for martyrdom opportunities, I also do not advise avoiding the to speak up, explain, or defend our faith.

The testimonies of Christian martyrs encourage us to trust – as they did – that if they gave it all, put their life on the line, God is faithful. Our culture says we live in a world of those who lose their life lose it. Our assurance from our God is that those who lose their life will find it and it will be everlasting.

This Sunday in both services our congregation will experience Scripture-Story-Song: an opportunity to reflect in gratitude and offer songs of praise to our God for all our many blessings. These worship services will be a wonderful way to prepare our hearts and center our spirits for Thanksgiving celebrations next week. I look forward to this time of worship with you and encourage you to invite a friend that could benefit from encouragement and affirmation to join us! See you in worship, friends!

Prayer: “O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be! Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee. Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love; here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.”*** Amen.

*Jesus Freaks 74-75.

**Feasting on the Word Year B Volume 1 424.

***”Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” The United Methodist Hymnal 400.

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.


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.

Prepare for Salvation

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 1:46-55

This week I welcome Rev. Dora Thomas, Associate Pastor serving First UMC Ovideo as the guest preacher with the Tuskawilla Community. Dora and I both attended seminary at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, though we attended different years. She graduated in May 2014 and when she was appointed in July to First Ovideo a mutual friend of ours connected the two of us saying we were two gals cut from the same bolt of cloth – how right our friend is! Thank you, Dora, for sharing your gifts at Tuskawilla this Sunday!

Dora’s text for this week is Mary’s Song – known as the Magnificat. Magnificat is a Latin word that means my soul magnifies. Mary’s Song captures the world-changing aspects of the impending Savior’s birth. The powerful will be humbled. The hungry will be filled. The Savior’s mercy will benefit Israel as in accordance to the promise made to Abraham. The Savior will bring blessing from generation to generation. God is about to do an incredible thing that will alter history from this point forward…and God chooses to involve humanity in it.

God invites Mary, meek and mild, to be part of this incarnation. Mary shares the excitement and anticipation of the incarnation with her cousin, Elizabeth. The advent of the incarnation connects the women together in a deeper way than even their shared bloodline and fosters community between them.

Reflecting on the Magnificat and Mary’s visit to Elizabeth that precedes her song Pastor Michael Bennett says, “God gives Mary and Elizabeth two things they each lacked: community and connection. God removes their isolation and helps them to understand themselves more fully as part of something larger than their individual destinies.” Hope is birthed in each of the women as they carry God-given children. Over time hope grows alongside the children and anticipation builds for what will be. And when the children are born the celebration and welcome is not just for these two nuclear families, but for the family of God, which spans the globe.

As members of God’s family we are all involved in something larger than ourselves. What happens to one member of God’s family happens to all of us. As the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it” (I Cor 12:26). We are active participants in the Incarnation and Salvation stories that our God continues to write.

Often I hear people say that they want to be involved in something that matters. Our faith, our faith heritage, living our faith all matters. And it does not just matter because it affects our personal lives. It matters because it affects our lives and the lives of our neighbors – those who know the old old story and those who are hearing this story for the first time. Perhaps God is calling you to be a herald of good tidings for someone this year. Invite them to worship on Sunday. Invite them to one of our Christmas Eve Services (5pm and 7pm). Invite them to dinner. Invite them to coffee. Invite them to hear and receive the story of how God has changed and will continue changing the world through the incarnation of Jesus. Connect with someone. Create community. Tell the story, and in so doing, magnify the Lord.

Prayer: “Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord! Unnumbered blessings give my spirit voice; tender to me the promise of God’s word; in God my Savior shall my heart rejoice. Tell out, my soul, the greatness of God’s name! Make known God’s might, who wondrous deeds has done; God’s mercy sure, from age to age the same; God’s holy name, the Lord, the mighty One. Tell out, my soul, the greatness of God’s might! Powers and dominions lay their glory by; proud hearts and stubborn wills are put to flight, the hungry fed, the humble lifted high. Tell out, my soul, the glories of God’s word! Firm is the promise and God’s mercy sure. Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord to children’s children forevermore!”* Amen.

*”Tell Out, My Soul,” The United Methodist Hymnal 200.

Upbuilding: Determined to Share

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Thessalonians 2:1-8

This year I am participating in a new mentoring program initiative at a local high school.  This program matches students in the local high school to volunteers in the community that want to come alongside these students and support them in their educational success.

I have met with my mentee three times so far.  For the first two meetings we talked sports – I talked about football and my mentee is continuing my education about basketball – I may understand it eventually!  We talked a little about our families and what we want to be when we grow up.  The conversations skimmed the surface, which is normal.  We were getting to know one another.

This week the conversation increased in depth.  My mentee shared a goal with me, but my mentee’s heart was not happy.  It was downcast.  The goal was before my mentee and the path to achieve that goal presented itself like walking across broken glass on hot coals up a mountain both ways without shoes.  So, we circled the wagons.  We strategized.  We came up with a plan.  We even role played the conversations that would need to happen and possible outcomes that could result depending on what was shared in those conversations.  And slowly but surely my mentee’s downcast heart became hopeful.  The frown on my mentee’s face started to turn up at the corners.

I cannot wait to see my mentee this next week and follow up on the progress towards his goal.

I am confident that my mentee and I were able to share in that conversation because we had intentionally laid the ground work of getting to know one another.  Sharing about ourselves took time.  A relationship had to be built.  Trust had to be established.  Showing up incarnated my commitment, incarnated my care, incarnated my investment in his success.  I am in my mentee’s corner.  I will hold him accountable.  I will celebrate his successes and I will help craft plans for greater acheivements so his goals will become his reality.

I also have a goal of understanding basketball by the end of all of this.  I am pretty sure my mentee will make that part of my reality.

This mentee/mentor relationship is not a one way street.  Just because I am the mentor does not mean that I am not being guided, and learning, and being formed and transformed by the conversations shared with and insights gained from this intelligent mentee.  We are both giving.  We are both receiving.  We are both committed to sharing about ourselves, learning about one another, and learning together.

Sharing ourselves with others is a way to share Christ with them – to love our neighbors, to serve our neighbors, to care for them, to comfort them, the challenge them, to congratulate them.  This is what living life is about.  This is the life that Paul lived with the Thessalonians.  He was a mentor to and a companion of the Thessalonians.  He was also a mentee of the Thessalonians.  They lived life together.  He was dedicated to sharing with the Thessalonians and rejoiced over the sharing the Thessalonians did with him.  Together, they incarnated that “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Mt 18:20).  Christ is there with them.  Christ is here with us.

As I was leaving our mentoring time this past week my mentee asked where I was headed.  “Back to my office.”  “Where is your office?”  “At a church.  That’s where I work.  I pastor a church.”  “What!?  You’re a pastor??”  “Yes, I am.”  “Could…could we talk about that sometime?”  “You bet.  You just let me know.”

Where two are gathered…


Prayer: “Draw us in the Spirit’s tether, for when humbly in thy name, two or three are met together thou are in the midst of them.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Touch we now thy garment’s hem.  All our meal and all our living make us sacraments of thee, that by caring, helping, giving, we may true disciples be.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!   We will serve thee faithfully.”* Amen.

*”Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 632.

New Creation: New Bodies

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Corinthians 5:1-10

My friend Hugh Hollowell is the pastor of Love Wins Ministries in Raleigh, North Carolina.  You may have heard of Hugh as he and his church received national media coverage towards the end of last year due to what was affectionately (?) called “Biscuit-Gate 2013”.  You see, Love Wins’ is a ministry of presence and pastoral care for the homeless and at-risk population in Raleigh.  During Biscuit-Gate the city of Raleigh tried to arrest the staff and volunteers and Love Wins Ministries for distributing food to their homeless and at-risk brothers and sisters.  The city of Raleigh is now working with Love Wins in providing space for and fostering dignity among the persons that are fed – physically, spiritually, and relationally.  It’s truly beautiful and an example of the Kingdom of God coming on earth as it is in heaven.

Thank you, Hugh, for all the ways you and your staff serve these our neighbors.  And thank you, friends and members of Love Wins, for your patience with the rest of us as we slowly and continually learn what it means to actually be church.

As I read the Scripture passage for this week my mind quickly moved to Hugh and the friends he serves.  I wondered how someone who experiences homelessness on a daily basis would read and interpret a text that talks about leaving an earthly home for a heavenly home…when they are without an earthly home all together.  No physical structure exists for them and if one does it is on a temporary basis until another roof can be secured.  Is this passage even relevant?

So I asked Hugh.  And his answer is powerful.

He said initially this community would interpret this passage as “other-worldly” – as in “things will be better when I die.”  Hugh’s challenge – and I would wager his delight – is to transform this interpretation.  I would call the initial interpretation as “escapist theology” – I have to get away from here to get to there because there is better than here and I will be happier there.  Hugh wants to craft this interpretation into something new.  Hugh wants to expose the community he serves to a liberation theology – that God has a preferential and special compassion for the poor (which clashes harshly with the message his folks consistently hear)  and that liberation is essential to salvation as salvation applies to the whole person, not just his or her spiritual needs.

From what are the folk that Love Wins Ministries serves being liberated?  The idea that they are less than.  The idea that they have to accomplish X Y Z ad infinitum to have worth.  The idea that they have to endure only hardships in this life and once they get to the resurrection, life will be better.

No, my friends, no.  You are more.  You are worthy.  You can experience the goodness of the resurrection, of the house built with eternal hands and not human ones, right now.

How many times will Hugh – will I – will you – have to say these words?  Affirm this reality for those in our lives who continue to doubt?  Continue to question?  Perhaps until the time that we all enter into that heavenly dwelling place.  But that is our task.  To teach one another, to be present with one another until these lessons are written entirely, wholly, completely on all of our hearts.  Then the time of teaching will have ended because we all will know.

We do not have to flee this place or wait an undetermined about of time for things to get better.  What we have to do is tune our eyes, tune our behaviors, tune our hands in rhythm with the movement of our God to reveal the construction of our heavenly home within our midst.

It is hard to do.  It is necessary to do.

And it is our joy to do.

Prayer: “O God of every nation, of every race and land, redeem your whole creation with your almighty hand; where hate and fear divide us, and bitter threats are hurled, in love and mercy guide us, and heal our strife worn world.  Keep bright in us the vision of days when war shall cease, when hatred and division give way to love and peace, till dawns the morning glorious when truth and justice reign, and Christ shall rule victorious o’er all the world’s domain.”*  Amen.

*”O God of Every Nation,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 435.

New Creation: Letters of Recommendation

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Corinthians 3:1-6

A constant question that the church faces is the question of marketing – how do we get our name out there?  How do we get our name out there so people will come be with us here?

To answer that how question I would say – Go Out There!  Have a Little Mermaid Moment and “be where the people are!”

But what seems to be the case?  Churches appear reluctant to go out there…they would rather invest in the latest and greatest marketing technique to get people to come here.

Websites – Social Media – Live Streaming – 24hr Prayer Lines – Brochures – HUGE Electronic Signs and Billboards – 15 page full color 11”x17” inch weekly bulletins – TV advertisements – and more!

One of the most frustrating points in all of this…once you invest in one technique or update another…it’s all out of date!  Once all your information is current…it’s immediately past tense.

As churches we want people to know who we are.  So we seek, we strive, we struggle to capture who we are on paper, in a text box, and sometimes in under 140 characters.  “Who are you?  Who is this church?” someone asks and what do we do…we direct them away from us.  (and in that “.” please read “!?!?!”)  Visit this website.  Read this brochure.  Sign up for our text message reminders.

Why not just answer their question?  Paul says we are capable of doing that.  Paul says that is our purpose – to be the Christ’s recommendation letter – to be the church’s recommendation letter to the world.  Do you want to get to know the church – whether church as a specific congregation or church as the Body of Christ – get to know me.  All my successes and struggles, all my joys and fears.  I am the church.  Get to know me.

Martha Sterne shares incredibly profound thoughts in her commentary entry on this Scripture passage in Feasting On The Word.  Sterne writes, “What if all of us accepted the responsibility that Jesus gave us in our baptism, which is to be a letter of recommendation to the whole world of the good news of God in Christ?  We would have to stop looking for the next newest and greatest marketing ploy for church growth.  Instead we would know that we are invited to be, not just the marketing program for the church, but the healing and growth of Christ – in us, through us, and among us.”* (400).

To be the healing and growth of Christ – in us, through us, and among us – we have to get out from behind the social media, the signs, the bulletins.  We have to be where the people are.  We have to take the message of Christ into the places of pain, hurt, and need.  I believe as the church we would be better stewards and collect a greater return on the investment of teaching one another how to share our faith one-on-one rather than updating information to a third-party, non-personal marketing technique.

What’s the common denominator for all of these marketing techniques?  They are all bound to one place – a yard, a piece of paper on a credenza in the church foyer, and yes, even on the web.  People, however, we are everywhere.  We are dynamic.  We are capable of being an outstanding recommendation for Christ to the world.

Let’s go be where the people are.

Prayer: “‘Go, make of all disciples.’  We hear the call, O Lord, that comes from thee, our Father, in thy eternal Word.  Inspire our ways of learning through earnest, fervent prayer, and let our daily living reveal thee everywhere.  ‘Go, make of all disciples.’  We at thy feet would stay until each life’s vocation accents thy holy way.  We cultivate the nature God plants in every heart, revealing in our witness the master teacher’s art.”** Amen.

*David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting On the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B Volume 1 – Advent through Transfiguration (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 400.

**”We Are the Church,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 558.

Just Walk Across The Room: Evangelism Pointers

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 17:11-19

Consider This Part 1: How do you like to be thanked?

Even though I’m a pastor and I’m in front of a congregation 48 Sundays a year plus additional services as requested and scheduled, I don’t prefer to be the center of attention.  I’m not the “pull me in front of tons of people and have them fall all over me” kinda girl.  And the thought of people giving me a standing ovation makes my face turn the color of cherry taffy.

I like to be thanked in a handwritten card, handshake, or hug.  I like to be thanked through eye contact and sincere conversation.

Nothing extravagant.  Simply authentic to the person with whom I am in relationship.


Consider This Part 2: How do you express thanks to others?  Do you express thanks to others?  How could you begin to express thanks to others?

Are you hindered from expressing gratitude because you do not know what that person would like?  What if you started expressing gratitude by the means you like?  Perhaps that would open up conversation so you could learn how your neighbor, friend, family member, or colleague likes to experience and receive gratitude.


In our text this week a person once infirm returns to extend gratitude to Jesus for a received healing.  But how does he express his gratitude to Jesus?  This man doesn’t raise his voice.  This man doesn’t surround himself and Jesus with a big crowd.  This man doesn’t rent a first century sky-writer aircraft so his thanks can be written among the clouds spanning the entire Galilean countryside.

(Yes, I know…sky-writer aircraft came later…just go with me on this!)

This man walked up to Jesus, shouted “Praise God!,” fell at Jesus’ feet, and thanked him.  Scripture does not indicate the length of this conversation or transcribe the text for us.  As Jesus is quick to ask where the other nine are who were healed I imagine in my mind that the words of gratitude the man shared are brief yet poignant.

This man could have gone on about his life and started living his life – back with his family, his friends, his trade, his church – since those suffering leprosy were exiled from social, economic, and religious life.  But he chose to make the time to return to Jesus and express his gratitude.  Jesus receives this man’s thanks and the two depart – Jesus continuing towards Jerusalem and this man back to the life he thought he had surely lost because of his infirmity.

What do you think would be the first words out of his mouth upon returning to his life-pre-leprosy?  Would he talk about the weather?  How the burlap industry is bustling??  If his family should keep their investment in goats or move to llamas???


I think the first words out of his mouth would be about how Jesus healed him!  How meeting Jesus restored him to health and life!  How encountering Jesus ensured his faith that he had not been forgotten by God and that he was not being punished by God!

And by telling that story, my friends, this man – once sick and exiled but now healed and restored – continues to express gratitude to his Savior Jesus.


Consider This Part 3: What stories of gratitude do we have to share about how Jesus has healed us?  Have we shared those stories with our Jesus?  Who else can we share these stories with that together we may all grow in our faith?

Prayer: “Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices, who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices; who from our mother’s arms has blessed us on our way with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.”  Amen.*

*”Now Thank We All Our God” from The United Methodist Hymnal, 102.