Rise Up!

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 7:11-17.

It is a struggle for me to watch the news somedays – all the contentious and gut-wrenching reports weigh heavily on my heart. That is why I am thankful when time is allotted in national broadcasts for stories that remind me – remind us – of God’s goodness in humanity.

Recently I saw a story of a young man from Texas named Justin. Daily he walks three miles in the stifling heat to work at a local taco restaurant. One day a fellow commuter, named Andy, pulled over and offered Justin a ride to work, and after their short time together, Andy was determined to make a difference in Justin’s life. Justin shared that he worked hard every day and saved all he could in the hopes of one day having a car of his very own. Inspired by Justin’s perseverance and dedication, Andy reached out to his friends and members of the community to see what could be done.

The owner of a local pizza shop placed a donation box for Justin near his cash register; within a week almost $5,500 had been given from the community towards a vehicle for Justin. Andy approached a local car dealership and they were able to work out an agreeable purchase price on a 2004 Camry along with free oil changes for two years and pre-paying Justin’s car insurance for one year.

Andy and others from the community met Justin at work one day during his lunch break and asked him to come outside, tacos in his hand. Andy shared with Justin the impression he (Justin) had left with him and to honor his hard work and dedication, presented Justin with his own car! Justin turned to see the Camry, and then handed off his tacos so he could sit in the driver’s seat! Justin then exited the car so that he could hug everyone present – twice. He was so overwhelmed by the community’s compassion for a young man that had a dream of driving to and from work rather than walking to work in the heat of the day and walking home in the shadows of night.

God desires this sort of compassion to rise up out of each of us for neighbors known and not yet fully known. With God all things are possible! Funds can be raised. Relationships can be healed. Visions can become realities. And the Kingdom can be built by hands led by Almighty God.

Join us this week in worship as we commission our Youth Mission Team for their week of service with Dalton Area Project in Dalton, Georgia. These youth, and their adult leaders, go to serve in compassion and carry the compassion of this congregation with them. I am grateful for the service and leadership they will offer in the coming week; may it serve as an example and inspiration for all of us to raise up our compassion for use in the further building of God’s Kingdom.

Prayer: “Lord, whose love through humble service bore the weight of human need, who upon the cross, forsaken, offered mercy’s perfect deed: we, your servants, bring the worship, not of voice alone, but heart, consecrating to your purpose every gift that you impart. Still your children wander homeless; still the hungry cry for bread; still the captives long for freedom; still in grief we mourn our dead. As, O Lord, your deep compassion healed the sick and freed the soul, use the love your Spirit kindles still to save and make us whole.”* Amen.

*”Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service,” The United Methodist Hymnal 581.

 

Good News to the Poor

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 4:14-21

The summer after tenth grade I travelled to a rural area of Tennessee with my youth group to serve on a mission trip. My team’s project was to assess and repair the roof of a mobile home that was caving in on the resident, who was a very kind man and a decorated Veteran that became a paraplegic as a result of his years of service.

After arriving and meeting our resident our team climbed onto the roof to begin removing the worn shingles and felt paper so we could expose the decking. Upon completing our task our surprised group leader, Mr. Nixon, said, “This decking is fine…so something else is causing the problem.” We got off the roof and a few from our team went into the home to identify other potential sources of the roof problem. A few moments later the small group returned with their discovery. The home we were repairing was in fact two single mobile home units that had been joined together to create one larger home with a unified roof; however, the structure did not have a proper load-bearing wall to support the weight of the roof. Someone asked, “What’s wrong with the load-bearing wall?” Mr. Nixon replied, “The wall is not plumb.”

For a wall to be plumb means that it is perfectly vertical. The loadbearing in the center of this house, which connected the two single units into one unit and was intended to support the center seam of the roof, was out of plumb just enough that the weight of the roof was not equally distributed on the rafters or other supporting walls. This was the source and cause of the caving roof. Our team spent the next three days reconstructing that load-bearing wall to stabilize and redistribute the weight of the roof. The final day and a half we re-shingled the roof.

When we said our final goodbyes to our homeowner I remember him looking upon his roof with great pride. Though he was in a wheelchair, he stood so strong and tall as he admired his level and supported roof; everything that was out of plumb was finally in proper alignment.

In our Scripture for this week we read the plumb line of Jesus’ teaching. In quoting the Isaiah scroll Jesus reveals the ways in which he and others that are faithful to God will complete God’s work in the world. We, after the example of Jesus, are called to

  • Bring good news to the poor
  • Proclaim release to the captives
  • Proclaim recovery of sight to the blind
  • Let the oppressed go free, and
  • Proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Lk 4:18-19).

New Testament scholar Carol Lakey Hess says that in this passage “we learn what Jesus came to do” and “insofar as we measure our lives against this, we are following Jesus’ ministry.”* If our service and contributions towards God’s work in the world are measured by, guided by, and in accordance with this Scriptural plumb line, then we do not risk our efforts becoming skewed or out of sync with God’s desires for God’s children and the Kingdom.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, articulated the plumb line for God’s service in the world in three simple rules:

  1. Do no harm.
  2. Do good.
  3. Attend upon the ordinances of God.

Do no harm and Do good are wonderfully self-explanatory. Before proceeding with an act – in word or in deed – ask yourself, “Does this cause harm? Does this communicate bad news or good news? Does this reveal God’s kingdom or keep it hidden from view? Does this release someone from a burden or add a new one?” Before proceeding with an act, name the good that the act will do. “This action will give someone hope; this act will provide comfort; this act will promote forgiveness, which will strengthen a relationship.”

Attend upon the ordinances of God is not as self-explanatory. What Wesley prescribes here is to stay connected with God through prayer, praise, Sacraments, and service. When we stay connected with God – individually through personal devotion and communally as the Body of Christ – we are strengthened in our spirits and continually reminded of the plumb line for our service. When we neglect our relationship with God, we are more likely to fall out of alignment, which can cause our relationships with God and others to cave, much like the roof over that home in rural Tennessee.

God is our strong foundation. The plumb line provided in our Scripture passage for this week is what helps us build upon God’s foundation in the Kingdom. We should revisit this plumb line often so that we can celebrate God’s accomplishments and continue refining our service in alignment with God’s will. This is a combination of head, heart, and hand work. Sometimes it is hard work and at other times it is easy. This work is always fulfilling and by applying ourselves to it, we will stand strong and proud, admiring what God has accomplished through us and looking with joy towards whatever task God has next.

Prayer: “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing; he chastens and hastens his will to make known. The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing. Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own. Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining, ordaining, maintaining his kingdom divine; so from the beginning the fight we were winning; thou, Lord, wast at our side, all glory be thine.”** Amen.

*Feasting on the Word Year C Vol I 286.

** “We Gather Together,” The United Methodist Hymnal 131.

The Coming King: Good News

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Romans 1:1-7

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

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

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

Andrew: vocal performance | Josh: dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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