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.

What Will Be

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 3:15-22

A little over a month ago I had the privilege to baptize my niece, Addison, during our weekly worship service. And as many of you will remember, she was…quite vocal…about the whole experience.

Baptizing someone is always an incredible experience. Through this sacrament we welcome a new sibling into the Body of Christ and covenant to walk with them as they are raised in the faith. Whenever I baptize someone I strive to make as much eye contact with that person as possible. I want them to know that I mean what I say to them. “I am with you. I will help you. I will encourage you. I will hold you accountable. And I hope you will do the same for me.”

When I held Addison that day, I felt like I was holding the future. I was holding her future, my future, and the future of the church in my arms, all enclosed in her little 12-pound squawky body. In that present moment we – her parents, her extended family, and her church family – we made promises about her future and promises that will shape her future. We promised to raise her in the knowledge of the faith. We promised to nurture her in God’s grace so that she may be guided to accept God’s grace for herself. We promised to pray for her as she walks with Jesus in the way that leads to eternal life. We promised that present day as we hoped for the future.

As we hoped for what will be.

When I think about the future of all baptized Christians my hope is that we are encouraged more than we are challenged in our walks with Christ, though I welcome challenges that will purify us with our God’s refining fire. I also hope that as we walk together into God’s future that we walk so as to make the walk of those beside us and behind us – friend and foe – easier, with the ultimate hope that any foe would become a friend as a result of our walking together.

When we walk together into what will be, the possibilities at our fingertips are endless. The church, the kingdom are our oyster – not to make into what we want them to be but to make them into what God wants them to be through the application of our passions, prayers, and praises.

Some perceive the Christian life as overtly legalistic and confining. “Do this; do not do that or that…or that.” A few years ago one of my colleagues described the Christian life this way, “Imagine a football field: 360 feet long, 160 feet wide. That’s 57,600 feet of available space to be in play. Yes, there is out of bounds. And there are penalties or consequences if you go out of bounds. But why would you need to go out of bounds? There is so much room in bounds. There is so much room on the field. And that’s where God wants you. God does not want you at a specific place on the field because that will change throughout your life. God wants you on the field. Baptism gets you there and that is where God desires you to stay.”

This image continues to be life-giving to me as I walk in my Christian life and walk hand in hand with others in theirs. I give thanks for my parents committing to my future through my baptism. I give thanks for all those who have walked and continue to walk with me through all the fields in God’s kingdom. I give thanks for the privilege to look into what will be for my siblings in Christ and to be in the fields of passion, prayer, and praise with them. I do not feel confined. I feel liberated to discover what will be.

I am looking to what will be with hope and great joy.

Prayer: “Wash, O God, our sons and daughters, where your cleansing waters flow. Number them among your people; bless as Christ blessed long ago. Weave them garments bright and sparkling; compass them with love and light. Fill, anoint them; send your Spirit, holy dove and heart’s delight. We who bring them long for nurture; by your milk may we be fed. Let us join your feast, partaking cup of blessing, living bread. God, renew us, guide our footsteps; free from sin and all its snares, one with Christ in living, dying, by your Spirit, children, heirs.”* Amen.

*”Wash, O God, Our Sons and Daughters,” The United Methodist Hymnal 605.

 

Hone For The Holidays

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 1:39-45

The Nativity Story is a story of movement. In reading scenes of the story in Matthew’s gospel or Luke’s gospel, we observe that the characters are always on the go. Mary travels to visit Elizabeth, as we read in our text this week. Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem for the census. The shepherds leave their fields to worship at the manger of the Christ child. The Magi from the East trek westward towards the star that hangs over where the child lays. The Holy Family seeks refuge in Egypt until the sign is given that it is safe for them to return to their homeland.

Somewhere to be. Something to do.

Sound familiar?

For many of us during the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years we are on the go. We travel to eat with family, to visit friends, to shop, to attend parties, to catch concerts, to see Christmas lights. We go and we do because we do not want to miss out and we do not want to disappoint.

I shared Thanksgiving Day with almost 40 family and extended family members across two meals. It was fantastic to see them and to catch up, to break bread and to hope no one would break buttons off of their pants! My heart was full and my belly satisfied by the fellowship and food that was shared. I treasure that time with my family.

And I also treasure the time Andrew and I spent driving to these gatherings. I confess that most of our travel time was in silence; there had been plenty of sound in other moments of the day! In silence we “pondered in our hearts” all that had happened with our families and held the moments dear (Lk 2:19, 51). In silence we shared gratitude for the family that we – the two of us – are together. In the silence, though we were moving, at times, swiftly down the interstate, we were able to slow down. We were able to reflect, to be present, and to process. Intermittently we would break the silence to share a thought or crack a joke. And then we would return to the silence – to think, to be still, and to be grateful.

I encourage you in this season of Advent and activity – in this season of personal and Scriptural movement – where there does not seem to be enough time and the world will not slow down to find and/or create moments of silence. Slow down. Share gratitude and quiet prayer. Listen for expected and unexpected words from God. Ponder these moments in your heart. Share what you observe and learn with a loved one. Crack a joke with a friend. Then return to the silence once more.

I am grateful I did. I am sure you will be, too.

Prayer: “Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand; ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in his hand, Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand. King of kings, yet born of Mary, as of old on earth he stood, Lord or lords, in human vesture, in the body and the blood; he will give to all the faithful his own self for heavenly food.”* Amen.

*”Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” The United Methodist Hymnal 626.

Thrive: Source

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ezekiel 47:1-2

When I was in elementary school I would spend a week with my brother at my grandparents’ home in Merritt Island. They lived on Pelican Court and it was paradise: bike riding in the cul-de-sac, spying fish off the dock, imagining wild adventures on my grandfather’s boat while it was still safely anchored in the canal, and all of the orange-flavored Flintstone push-pops I could eat.

Nothing – and I mean nothing – beats an orange-flavored Flintstone push-pop.

When you opened the door of my grandparents’ home the hallway that started at the front door came to its end at what we would now call a chair and a half. At the time it was blue with flecks of white; presently, it is covered in a cream colored fabric with cranberry toile accents. No matter the fabric, that chair and a half is a seat of blessing.

As a child I would sit in that chair and listen to my Gramps lightly snore through whatever show he was watching. No one dared to change the channel because he would instantly awake! I would also sit in that chair and my Nonnie would read to me. I would sit so close to her that when she tucked me into bed I would smell like her Coco Chanel No. 5.

My grandparents no longer live in that home on Pelican Court and that chair is no longer blue with flecks of white. I still see that chair each time I visit my grandparents and when I see it I remember the laughter, the lessons, and the love that I lived sitting in that seat of blessing near and with my Nonnie and Gramps. I like to think that chair was built purposefully to have more than one person in it…I never felt like I was crowding or being crowded. I felt like I fit. I fit there with my grandparents, and there, so close to them, I received blessings that I will never forget.

In our Scripture text for this week Ezekiel stands near the source of blessing in the newly constructed temple of the Lord. He sees the water flowing east from under the temple’s threshold and out into world – and as we continue studying this chapter we will learn that this water from God brings blessing wherever it goes. God’s people have been in exile – estranged from their God, their homes, and their true selves. In the vision cast before Ezekiel in Chapter 47 God gathers all that has been scattered and broken back together and brings healing. It is a vision of blessing; after a time of trial and sorrow comes a new dawn and new day. Because of God’s goodness and faithfulness to God’s people, there will be time for laughter, and lessons, and love. These blessings flow from the temple just as they flow from that chair in my grandparents’ home, only what I experienced and experience of blessing from that chair is but a glimpse of what we experience and will experience from God.

And that, my friends, is such incredible blessing.

I hope you will join us in worship over the next several weeks as we learn more about God’s blessings and our invitation to steward them to all our neighbors to the glory of God’s Kingdom. This is an important time as we discern, pray, and plan for our next season of ministry. I look forward to worshipping with you.

Prayer: “Come, thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace; streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise. Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above. Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, mount of thy redeeming love.”* Amen.

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