‘Empty’ Does Not Mean ‘Over’: Nets

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 5:1-11.

One summer afternoon when I was six I went fishing off of my Nonnie and Gramps’ dock. They lived on a canal of the Indian River on Merritt Island. I had my yellow Snoopy and Woodstock fishing pole. I was unstoppable.

Well, at least I thought I was. Others in my family may have had doubts.

They kept the doubts to themselves.

And I was successful…sorta?

I did catch a fish…but as I was reeling it in…I caught a pelican! Or rather a pelican caught my fish…that was still attached…to my yellow Snoopy and Woodstock fishing pole.

After a few traumatizing moments of me shrieking and of my father and my Gramps catching the pelican in order to retrieve my fishing pole, all was well again.

And we let the pelican keep the fish.

Sometimes fishing leads us to more than we bargained. I think this is true in life and in the life of faith. What we might have thought was a one time service or a random reading of Scripture or a casual conversation about belief turns out to be God sweeping us off our feet like that pelican swept my fish – and fishing pole – clean out of my hands in mid air. And we are caught. We are suspended. We are stunned.

Waiting.

Waiting for the Spirit that swept us up to point us in the direction we are now to go.

In this current season I have been swept up in the processes of ‘making church digital’ – of finding ways to connect with faith and feel connected to our faith family when we cannot gather in person. I will be the first to admit – this is so much harder than what we normally do. For many this emphasis on making church digital was coming down the pipe but had not yet arrived. Well, now it is flushed out of the pipe. It is here and it is not going away.

And so – as one swept by God – I am waiting for how and where God will shape this new advent in ministry – not just for this season – but for our continued movement into the future.

Think of a time where God has swept you off your feet. What were the circumstances? How did you feel? What was the outcome? And, perhaps most importantly, what did you learn? Share your answers with someone this week.

I look forward to worshipping with you on Sunday!

Prayer: “Lord, you have come to the lakeshore looking neither for wealthy nor wise ones; you only ask me to follow humbly. O Lord with your eyes you have searched me, and while smiling have spoken my name; now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me; by your side I will seek other seas.”* Amen.

*”Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore,” The United Methodist Hymnal 344.

 

Joy to the World: Come and Hear

Christmas Eve Scripture ~ Psalm 66 and Luke 2.

 One of the most heart-warming expressions of Christmas is the Nativity. It speaks of the mystery of God’s wisdom. Why God chose to send his son into our world as a baby of humble birth, born in common surroundings, we do not know. What we do know is that God reached out to all people including the poor and wealthy, the simple and the wise, the powerless and the powerful. All who found him knelt in humility before him. Knowing God is possible because he came to us, at our level. Whenever we see a Nativity we find ourselves with all of the figures bowing before the manger, overwhelmed by God’s expression of love in coming to us.

St. Francis of Assisi is often credited with the first manger scene about 800 years ago. For a people who could not read it was an effective visual aid in telling the story of the birth of Jesus.

Nativities populate my house during Advent and Christmas seasons. My brother, Charlie, gifted me my most cherished nativity scene from The Holy Land. He was stationed with the USArmy in Egypt and had the opportunity to make his way to Israel. And he thought of me and brought me home an olive wood nativity from Nazareth. In turn, when I see this nativity, I think of the kindness of my big brother.

The nativity animals that surround the olive wood manger have such expressive faces. The shepherd is weather-worn. The magi are stately. And the Holy Parents – they are serene. Mary gazes adoringly at her son. And Joseph holds a lantern – shining a light, helping draw people in towards the Light of the World.

Come shepherds, come kings. Come family and friend and foe. Come one and all! O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him, O Come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord!

Join us for Christmas Eve Worship at South Shore UMC

3pm – SSFamily Worship

5pm – Traditional Worship

7pm – Contemporary Worship

And then on Sunday, December 29, join the South Shore Family for ONE Service at 9:30am. Regular worship services will resume – 8:30am Traditional and 11:00am Contemporary – on January 5, 2020.

Prayer: “O come, Desire of nations bind all peoples in one heart and mind. From dust thou brought us forth to life; deliver us from earthly strife. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”* Amen.

*”O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” The United Methodist Hymnal 211.

You Might Be A Christian If…You Have A Weird Thing For Tables

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 5:27-32.

This week the South Shore UMC Family begins an eight-week sermon series entitled You Might Be A Christian If… I am grateful to the Rev. Magrey deVega, serving Hyde Park UMC in Tampa, for helping capture the themes for this series in a Jeff Foxworthy style and for Dr. Kelsey Evans-Amalu for inviting me to test-drive these themes in a lecture on Christianity in her Human Geography course a few years ago.

Also a shout-out to the first Spring Confirmation Retreat 2019 that heard these in each of our times of worship together…I’m still working on determining this generation’s Kevin Bacon…

As Hagrid would say, “more on that later…”

One of the things my Nonnie was known for was elaborate tablescapes. For the grown-up table – Lenox and Waterford Crystal as far as the eye could see. Napkin rings snuggled fine cloth napkins. The chandelier just bright enough to enhance conversation, but not blinding in reflections off the glassware. The kids’ table had its own flare – plastic ev.ery.thing. – but fun plastic! Usually flamingoes. Or pineapples. Or flamingoes enjoying pineapples (thanks, Burdines!). The kids would sit on the porch or in the breakfast nook while the adults escaped to the dining room.

Or so they thought…

Being hangry is a real thing – being angry because you are hungry – and knowing that, even before the word was a thing – meant the adults always let the kids fix their plates first so they – the adults – could eat in peace.

Or so they thought…

Kids eat fast. And we sure did. So when the grandchildren were done we would one-by-one find a way into the dining room. “Mom, I need help with this…” “Gramps, take a look at what I just did…” “Nonnie, may I have…” And a dining room table that comfortably had eight adults around it swelled to fifteen.

And there was always room. Always.

I used to think Nonnie’s dining room table was magic in the way there was always room. But it was not magic. It was magnanimity – learned from her love of God, which taught her great love for her family.

I desire that same spirit of magnanimity when I think of preparing the tables in my life for all God’s people to come. That there will always be room. That there will always be enough and more beside. That at the table we will be and find generous friends.

It’s true. I have a weird thing for tables…because of my faith…my faith that leads my family and leads me in welcoming every single person as a member of Christ’s family.

Prayer: “Sent forth by God’s blessing, our true faith confessing, the people of God from this dwelling take leave. The service is ended, O now be extended the fruits of our worship in all who believe. The seed of the teaching, receptive souls reaching, shall blossom in action for God and for all. God’s grace did invite us, and love shall unite us to work for God’s kingdom and answer the call.”* Amen.

*“Sent Forth by God’s Blessing,” The United Methodist Hymnal 664.

Woman In The Night: The First Witnesses

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 24:1-12.

My extended family is in the process of cleaning out my grandparents’ home as they have now transitioned to assisted living. I am honored to have brought home a chair that my Nonnie read to me in whenever I stayed with her as a child as well as a crown of thorns that was planted in her back yard under a big oak tree.

Y’all…

I have never prayed for a plant so much in my life as I have prayed for this plant over the last month.

Channeling the plea of the late Chris Farley, “Be strong, little roots!”

We brought home the crown of thorns attempting to root it in a pot with fresh and nutrient rich soil. For weeks it dropped leaf after leaf after leaf. This plant cannot die! It was (is!) going to be the plant we move with us wherever we go to remind me of my grandmother – a legacy of the travelling plants I carry on after my mother, who moves a rose bush from her grandmother’s house to every new home she and my father share.

I see this plant and I hope.

I hope and hope and hope.

Y’all…

There’s new growth on my Nonnie’s crown of thorns. And it is beautiful.

Just in time for Easter.

I hope you will join us this Sunday as we celebrate the new life in resurrection. We gather for Sunrise Morningsong Worship in the Courtyard at 7am. Join us for Easter Family Breakfast in the Fellowship Hall at 9:30am. Traditional Worship will conclude our Easter Celebration at 11am in the Sanctuary. Bring flowers for our Courtyard Easter Cross and have your picture taken.

Our God is making all things new. There is new growth in each of us. And it is beautiful.

Just in time for Easter.

Prayer: “Woman in the dawn, care and spices bring; earliest to mourn; earliest to sing! Come and join the song, women, children, men; Jesus makes us free to live again!”* Amen.

*“Woman In The Night,” The United Methodist Hymnal 274.

Lessons in Leadership: The Most Important Muscle

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Samuel 16:6-13.

While on vacation I spent precious time with my two nephews, Jacob and Elijah. Jacob will be three in October and Elijah is almost four-months old. They are true delights.

One afternoon Jacob asked, “Aunt Schawah, will you playdoh with me?” And when someone asks you to playdoh, you playdoh.

Jacob has quite a collection of playdoh toys – scissors and rollers and stamps. He even has little critters that will grow playdoh hair through their heads!

I took hold of one of the critters, turned it head down, and started stamping it on one of the playdoh pancakes Jacob prepared. “Aunt Schawah, whatcha doin’?” “I”m stamping. Look, this critter stamps out a flower.” “No way!” “Yes way. Look!” With amazement Jacob watched all the blooms appear. And with excitement, Jacob took hold of that same critter and started blooming a garden of his own.

Playdoh is impressionable. It is flexible and pliable – unless it is exposed to the air too long. Playdoh takes its shape from the maker and reshapes again and again at the maker’s desire.

Writes the prophet Isaiah, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isa 64:8). As God shapes us, God makes us new. As God molds us, God prefects us.

As the work of God’s hands, we bear God’s impressions in our very beings. God’s shaping of us occurs throughout our lives; it is an ongoing transformative process that begins with our most important muscle. 

It begins with our hearts.

This week the Tuskawilla UMC Family begins a five-week series entitled Lessons in Leadership. We will study texts related to David found in I and II Samuel as well as the Psalms. I hope you will join us. See you in worship.

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. 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.

New Beginnings: Forget It!

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Philippians 3:12-13.

The summer I turned six was a big deal. Why? Because that summer included a huge rite of passage – leaving my training wheels behind, my bike would become a two-wheeler.

One day that summer I was out practicing riding my newly two-wheeled bike; if someone gave me a push, I could ride a little way down the street on my own before I had to put a foot down. And putting a foot down was a common occurrence as the landscape of the dirt road changed daily depending on passing vehicles and road conditions.

I remember preparing – picking a place that I am sure six-year-old Sarah thought was well on the horizon but in reality was maybe twenty feet down the street as my goal. I gripped my handlebars. I steadied one foot on the pedal and left just the tip of the other on the ground. I nodded for my push and off I went.

*pedal pedal pedal BIG SAND MOGUL* and CRASH!

Right into a barbwire fence of the pasture that bordered our dirt road.

To this day I have a trio of scars on my left leg from where my flesh met the fence. They have grown as I have grown, stretching and widening. The upper two cuts healed fairly easily, but the largest of the three scars seemed to be an open wound the remainder of that summer…and it fascinated me! My parents enrolled me in summer day camp and the only thing I remember from that summer is my counselors telling me to leave my scab alone or my leg would not heal.

Sometimes that cut reopened itself through regular movements. Other times I reopened it. (Hey! I was six!) And if it was open, I was out – out of activities, out of participation. I was not allowed to play with an open cut.

When we reopen hurtful experiences in our lives – experiences that cut us very deeply – we, too find ourselves out. Reliving those experiences draws us out from relationships, out from our regular routines and engagements, out from participating in life with others. We cannot heal from those wounds if we continue to reopen them.

And we need to heal.

I have found that forgiveness is the most active agent for healing in my life. Forgiveness of self and forgiveness of others allows me to heal. Forgiveness of self and forgiveness of others allows me to choose wholeness over wounds. Forgiveness sets me on the path of reintegration – into activities, participation, and most importantly, relationships.

Forgiveness takes me away from being out by drawing me back in.

When faced with open wounds from hurtful experiences, what allows you to heal? How do your day-to-day experiences and interactions change when you are hurting? What would you need to do in order for your old wounds to stay closed?

Prayer: “And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood? Died he for me? who caused his pain! For me? who him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God should die for me? Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God should die for me?”* Amen.

*“And Can It Be that I Should Gain,” The United Methodist Hymnal 363

 

Parable of the Merchant

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:45-46.

When I was in elementary school a sure sign of summer was that my mother and aunt would pile my brother, my cousin, and me in the backseat of either the Oldsmobile or the Bonneville and we would head for the beach. Anna Maria was a family favorite; beach, shade, and a playground with a really fast slide.

Days at the beach included time in the water, walks in the sand, regimented slathering of sunscreen, exploring the playground and eating special beach foods – like Pringles and Fig Newtons…I did not know it was possible to eat these foods at other times than at the beach! But the activity I looked forward to most was hunting for seashells.

And not just any seashells – specifically corkscrew or auger shaped shells – once their snail inhabitant had vacated, of course!

These shells are not typically atop the sand. They are deep within the beach and must be unearthed, taking time and patience. Some days at the beach I would not find a single corkscrew; others I would come home with an entire cupful! Each find increased my delight and fed my hunger to find more. Though other shells were readily available on the beach – that was the one I wanted; that was the one I sought. I would disregard all others for that certain shell.

The merchant in our parable for this week is in search of fine pearls, but in finding one precious pearl, the focused and determined merchant sells everything to possess that one pearl.

Our lives are full of many pearls…or things that would like us to consider them pearls. But God sets before us the pearl – the Kingdom of God – for us to seek and take hold of and thereby not be distracted by other items, people, or activities. God places within us a desire to seek the Kingdom and some days we may see it and others wonder where, in fact, it is or if we are privy to participate in it. I assure you that we are in the midst of the Kingdom, even on the days when we feel we are in a fog or a haze. Says the writer of Hebrews, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Says the author of the Fourth Gospel, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (Jn 20:29).

Some days we seek the pearl and other days it is in our grasp; as with the life of faith – it is about the journey as well as the destination.

Prayer: “Crown him with many crowns, the Lamb upon his throne, Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own. Awake, my soul, and sing of him who died for thee, and hail him as thy matchless King through all eternity.”* Amen.

*“Crown Him With Many Crowns,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 327.

A Knock At Midnight

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 11:5-8.

One of the most powerful moments in my ministry is to be present with people. One of the most powerful gifts in my ministry is for people to be present with me.

My aunt had surgery on Thursday, which took me to Lakeland in the wee hours of the morning to pray with her and be present with her husband and my cousin. Her surgery was a success, but in the time between our shared prayer and our reuniting in recovery, we three looked deeply into the face of mortality.

I saw a side of my aunt’s husband I am not accustomed. Usually cracking jokes with a toothy grin, Rodney was quiet and reflective. Expressions of hope and worry washed across his face as waves wash up on the shore.

I wanted to be strong for my family while also being present in my own emotions. I showed up for my family and my family of faith – at and beyond Tuskawilla – showed up for me. People prayed for me. People sent messages of hope and encouragement throughout the day. People named that cancer is awful and that I and my family are not alone.

What does it mean to be the church? It means to show up. It means having someone come to you at midnight – representative of a time of need, a time of great distress – and answering the door. It means going to someone in your time of need and time of great distress and being welcomed.

I am grateful to have answered my family’s knocking. I am grateful to have been welcomed in my time of knocking.

May we all continue on – encouraged, shaped, and participating in – the showing up of the church. May we knock and be answered. May we hear knocking and swiftly move to the aid of our family – of origin, of choice, of faith.

Prayer: “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love; the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above. We share each other’s woes, our mutual burdens bear; and often for each other flows the sympathizing tear.”* Amen.

*”Blest Be the Tie That Binds,” The United Methodist Hymnal 557.

From Wreck to Restoration: We Are Called

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 1:4-10.

This Sunday the Tuskawilla Family begins a new six-week sermon series – From Wreck to Restoration – as we study texts from the book of Jeremiah. We begin our study with the prophet’s call story.

Earlier this week I had the privilege to spend time with my sweet sister-in-law, Vivian and nephew, Jacob. Jacob is 11 months old and such a joyful little boy. And with his age comes a bit more suspicion about people he is not familiar. Upon seeing Andrew and me, Jacob was cautious and gave us the look of “I think I know you…but my mama better stay right close.”

We spent the afternoon playing with toys and swimming. Andrew took Jacob to the piano for a lesson and I watched as Jacob visibly eased into comfort with Andrew. It was not necessary for Vivian to be in Jacob’s line of sight; Jacob knew he was okay.

Me on the other hand – Jacob’s unfamiliarity lingered – and that was okay. I remained near. I spoke kindly. I smiled. And just before Andrew and I left to come home, while Jacob was playing on the floor and I sat nearby, he crawled into my lap and wrapped his arms around me in tHe best Jacob-size hug.

It won my greatest hug of the day award.

In that moment, Jacob knew me. I was (am) a safe place for him. I was (am) someone that loves him. With me – with Andrew and me – our nephew will always have a family and be at home.

The book of Jeremiah – like all our prophetic texts – tells the story of God’s people being anxious, suspicious, and hesitant in returning to God. They are in exile in Babylon. They hope God has not forgotten them. They wonder if God will forgive them. The prophets affirm that God is with them and that God knows them…but I can imagine the people of Israel and Judah looked suspiciously at the prophets just like Jacob looked at me early Monday afternoon.

The people’s suspicion was okay. And God remained. Through the prophets God spoke words of kindness and affirmation. Through the prophets God communicated a message of hope and salvation. The people would return. And no matter what, they were (we are) God’s children and God was (is) their (our) God.

God wants each of us to let down our guards, to suntended our hesitation, and to climb into God’s arms. God wants to and does hold us close – most especially in the moments when we experience exile. We are members of God’s family. With God we have our home and God is always welcoming us home.

I encourage you to draw near to God. In doing so we move from wreck to restoration.

Prayer: “Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning. Born of the one light, Eden saw play. Praise with elation, praise every morning, God’s re-creation of the new day.”* Amen

*”Morning Has Broken,” The United Methodist Hymnal 145.

A Modern Resurrection Appearance

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Romans 12:1-8

When I was younger and having a bad day my mother would often offer me this advice…opportunity…directive…

“You need an attitude adjustment.”

Thanks Mom.

Something inside me needed to change – the way I approached situations, the way I reacted to situations, the way I processed situations. This change could not come from outside of me; it had to be my choice and taken under my initiative.

I find now that I am a bit older that some days I continue to need an attitude adjustment. Somedays I also need a mind adjustment. And I have learned that these two are related.

When I have endure a series of bad events – similar to the woes of Alexander and his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day – not only does my attitude fall into a slump but my mind does as well. I sour in my interactions and I sour in my outlooks. Not only do I approach, react to, and process situations poorly, but I also go looking for situations and circumstances that will keep me in and feed my poor attitude rather than move me out of it.

It is only when I go through a change in my mind that I truly experience a change in my attitude and outlook. This mind change is not so I seek and see all the “silver linings” so that I can obscure or ignore my difficult or less than desirable circumstances. This mind change enables me to grow in self-awareness, identify blessing in the midst of hardship, and chart a path forward that includes my mother’s peaceable prescription for a change in attitude.

Paul wrote in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” More often than not I believe our world encourages to see, act, approach, react, and process situations from sour places. We fixate on negatives, complaints, and problems…and when there are not enough negatives, complaints, and problems, some of us choose to create more.

We – humanity – have become too familiar and too comfortable with conformity. We – humanity – as a whole need attitude and mind adjustments.

Paul prescribes transformation and this sort of transformation will only come with God’s help. God’s transformation will bring God’s will into focus, set our feet firmly on God’s path, set our eyes squarely on God’s face, and set our hearts ablaze with passion for God’s people. Through God’s transformation I believe we will be counted among what is good, acceptable, and perfect.

These past few months have been a season where I have constantly asked myself, “Why is this happening to me?” I have felt like the world is out to get me. I have let my frustrations and doubts get the better of me. I have been in the need of serious attitude and mind adjustments. A practice that I find beneficial in launching my attitude and mind adjustments is taking the time to answer this question,

“What brings me joy?”

On days I am able I ask others, “What brings you joy?”

This question breaks my conformity cycle. This question interrupts what was and has the potential to hold and crescendo a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. This question gracefully adjusts me. Some days it is a difficult question to answer…but it is so worth answering.

What brings you joy? Think about it. Answer it. Ask a friend. Listen. Learn. Invite God to adjust not only your attitude, but also your mind.

Prayer: “I’d stay in the garden with him though the night around me be falling, but he bids me go; thru the voice of woe his voice to me is calling. And he walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own; and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”* Amen.

“In the Garden,” The United Methodist Hymnal 314.