Jesus Said What!? ~ Whoever Divorces and Marries Another Commits Adultery

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 10:1-12.

Our Scripture text for this Sunday mentions adultery – the act of engaging in a relationship with someone that is not your spouse. In biblical times adultery concerned physical actions. I believe in our present time adultery concerns physical actions as well as emotional and psychological actions. Technology was not on the “biblical times relationship radar;” however, in the present day, some people cannot conceive of their “relationship radar” without technology. Some people would not have their relationships without technology! Technology can help or hinder relationships; technology can bring couples together or it can tear them apart.

In John 8 the Pharisees bring a woman before Jesus who had been caught in adultery. According to the Law of Moses the woman should be stoned and so the teachers of the Law wait with baited breath to see what Jesus will do. Curiously Jesus decides to draw in the sand as the Pharisees continue their questioning. When Jesus speaks he astounds them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” and then he returns to his scripting in the sand (Jn 8:7).

(I can’t wait to ask Jesus what he wrote…)

The Pharisees left Jesus. When Jesus looked up again only the woman remained. None were there to condemn her and neither would Jesus. With great freedom and forgiveness Jesus says, “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again” (Jn 8:11).

Once again Jesus shows incredible grace. The Pharisees expect Jesus to take a bite out of her – to apply retributive justice by taking a stone in his grasp…and Jesus surprises them by restoring her.

Perhaps Jesus surprises us, too.

Jesus recognizes her humanity. He acknowledges her sin but affirms that sin is not what defines her. She is made in the image of God. Her worth is sealed in the image of God. Forgiveness makes her new and so Jesus sends her forth to not sin again.

I pray that this witness of Scripture leads us to loosening our grips and laying down our stones. I pray that God redeems our proclivity to condemn so we would be people of greater compassion that join Jesus in affirming the worth of all our sisters and brothers. God’s intention is that we build up and draw together – that we create and nurture, not destroy.

When we are caught in sin – however we are caught in sin! – Jesus forgives us. He does not take up stones against us. This is good news. And in his name he sends us on our way to tell of his good news and sin no more.

Prayer: “Fairest Lord Jesus, ruler of all nature, O thou of God and man the Son, thee will I cherish, thee will I honor, thou, my soul’s glory, joy, and crown.”* Amen.

*”Fairest Lord Jesus,” The United Methodist Hymnal 189.

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Church Behind the Scenes

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 2:1-12.

Some years ago I heard this piece of truth: if your dreams do not scare you, then your dreams are not big enough.

I tend to avoid things that scare me: roller coasters, water chestnuts, flats on Sundays… so it is a bit counterintuitive for me to run towards and hold fast to something that scares me.

I am a planner. I do not like surprises. I like expectations – both what to expect and what is expected of me. While the unknown and the future holds a certain intrigue – a certain mystique – it scares me.

On Pentecost we celebrate the birth of the church – the day we received the gift of God’s Holy Spirit as well as the invitation to worship, gather, and serve as part of God’s dream that is both seen and unseen. As we are the church together God reveals more of God’s dream – God’s big, grace-filled, freeing, heart-capturing dream. We have the opportunity to take hold of God’s dream and very quickly it takes hold of us and draws us towards a future we cannot fully see but can fully trust.

It can be scary…but a relationship with God draws us into such a greater world. In God’s world we matter and what we do matters. Sometimes we can see how what we do fits into God’s larger dream. And sometimes we serve not knowing exactly how our offering fits into God’s big dream and so we trust that God uses our offerings to God’s good and God’s glory.

As scary as all of this is…God has so captured me that I cannot do anything but pursue God’s dream. I know some of the steps, but not all of them. And I continue walking. I continue trusting. I continue dreaming. And when I am scared I know I am not alone…and that I am right on track.

Prayer: “Wind who makes all winds that blow, gusts that bend the sapling low, gales that heave the sea in waves, stirrings in the mind’s deep caves: Aim your breath with steady power on your church, this day, this hour. Raise, renew the life we’ve lost, Spirit God of Pentecost.”* Amen.

*”Wind Who Makes All Winds That Blow,” The United Methodists Hymnal, 538.

 

Thy Kingdom Come

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 16:1-8.

My home church’s sanctuary has a balcony, and in the lower right corner of the balcony sits a small antiphonal organ. This organ offers a quieter, more reflective tone. When the organ plays it sounds as if the music crosses a great distance in order to enter the ear.

When I was very young the choir director’s wife always sang during the Good Friday service. She sang the same piece every year. She sang The Lord’s Prayer.

She stood in the corner of the balcony nearest that antiphonal organ and sang the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray. Those are words that I know well; they are words that my mother taught me in my earliest years. And yet hearing them sung from her lips and cascade from on high made the prayer’s words take on a haunting quality. I listened to those words as I viewed artwork depicting Jesus’ passion. As I looked on depictions of his suffering and his mortality, I considered my sin, my loss. On Good Friday it seemed as if the entire world was coming apart … and yet … that coming apart was and is a part of God’s kingdom coming.

Good Friday, by no means, is a warm or particularly joyful holy day celebration in the Christian year. Yet Good Friday, like Ash Wednesday, is needful. It provides space for us to reflect. It provides space for us to draw so near to God‘s incredible grace and repent of our sin. It provides space for us to look death in the face and know – and proclaim – that Sunday is coming.

In his book Falling Upward Fr. Richard Rohr writes, “God adjusts to the vagaries and failures of the moment. This ability to adjust to human disorder and failure is named God’s providence or compassion” (56). God adjusts – not meaning that God bends to accept our bent to sinning – but meaning that God bends low to help us stand.

God meets us where we are – at the foot of the cross and high upon it. God meets us where we are, and through grace, draws us where God wants us to be.

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Prayer: “Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered; the slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered. For our atonement, while we nothing heeded, God interceded.”* Amen.

*”Ah, Holy Jesus,” The United Methodist Hymnal 289.

New Beginnings: Remember

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Deuteronomy 15:15; Ezekiel 36:31; and Revelation 2:5

My first car was a small four-door gold Saturn sedan with beige interior and super dark window tint. Her name was Gina. Gina made me feel like I was just the coolest. Not only did Gina have a tape deck, but my parents bought me a tape deck adapter that I could plug into my portable discern to listen to CDs in my car. I know – you’re impressed! With Mariah Carey blaring through my speakers, I was unstoppable!

One day I was driving to school in Gina. I was two subdivisions down from my own when I realized I did not have my school ID card. I turned into the Lexington Green subdivision, made a three point turn, and proceeded back to the main road. I stopped at the entrance before making my left hand turn and then WHAM!

I pulled out in front of a fellow student at my high school. His car was older than mine – more steel than fiberglass. His vehicle sustained minor damages, but Gina…Gina did not make it.

Rest in peace…pieces?

It took me a while to start driving again. My parents wanted me and my nerves to calm down after the accident, and rightly so. I was not afraid to start driving again. I was ashamed to start driving again.

The main road where I caused the accident was the only way to and from my subdivision and a number of others in that section of North Lakeland. So no matter if I was coming or going I would have to drive by the scene of my disgrace. And in doing so I would be forced to remember…

  • My failure to look twice before turning.
  • The sound of steel crushing fiberglass.
  • The look of other high school students staring down the accident scene on their way to school.
  • My call to my mother that I wrecked the car.

I did not want to face any of that. I did not want to remember. But it seemed unavoidable. There was no other way to accomplish my daily commute. So I had to grit my teeth and bear it.

At first I would drive past the scene without looking to that side of the road. I would plan major karaoke moments so I was caught up in song when I drove that way. I would do whatever I needed to do for the sake of not remembering.

And none of them worked. I remembered. And I felt ashamed.

One day while I was in college I was again driving past the scene of my accident and the shame started descending. Until I stopped myself. I stopped myself and asked God to help me feel something different when I drove through that intersection. In mere seconds God’s peace overcame me. Through God’s peace I realized I did not need to feel ashamed at what I caused. That was not the lesson to take away from that moment in time. The lesson – God’s lesson – to take away was one of gratefulness – grateful that I walked away unharmed, grateful that my parents had the resources – like car insurance – to help our family move forward, grateful that I learned the valuable lesson of looking twice before turning left.

I would not have realized these lessons if I had not asked God for the courage to remember and grow from a difficult moment in my life.

I am not sure I will have the occasion to drive by that subdivision in coming years as my parents moved to the south end of town. Nevertheless, I will always remember that day from my senior year in high school – not with shame but with gratitude.

I believe we have lessons to learn every day – even on our hardest days. God gives us courage to learn those lessons…and God gives us the grace of space to learn those lessons when the time is right.

Consider – what days are hard for you to remember? What do those days – those memories – cause you to feel? What does God want you to learn from those days and memories? God’s courage is available to you. Ask. Receive. Remember. And learn.

Prayer:  “O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise, the glories of my God and King, the triumphs of his grace! In Christ, your head, you then shall know, shall feel your sins forgiven; anticipate your heaven below, and own that love is heaven.”* Amen.

*”O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing,” The United Methodist Hymnal 57.

The Choice Is Yours

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 1:4-11.

I am thrilled to return to my regular posting on The Sunday Stiletto! My eleven week hiatus was due in part to this sweet face.

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Meet Joshua everyone! Andrew and I are completely in love and grateful each day to be this little guy’s parents.

Last Sunday Pastor Kate shared a challenging sermon based on one of her favorite Scripture texts – Micah 6:1-8. This is a text that Pastor Kate returns to again and again. The thought of her returning to this text stirred my heart to consider a Scripture text I return to again and again. Immediately I thought of The Greatest Commandment:

“One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, Which commandment is the first of all? Jesus answered, The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The secondhand is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mk 12:38-31).

In the words of Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, “let me sum up – Love God; Love Others.

In my words and in my actions, in my work and in my play, in public and private spheres, today and always I want to love God and love others. That is my choice and my prayer as I begin each day, especially since Joshua arrived. I want him to see in me what it looks like and what it means to embody Jesus’ Greatest Commandment.

I need God’s help to accomplish this embodiment. I need God to lead me. I confess that I do not always get it right. I roll my eyes, I think hurtful thoughts, I put myself ahead of others. I am grateful that God’s grace is abundant in those moments and is faithfully shaping me so that I am able to love more completely the next time.

What Scripture text do you return to again and again? How does that Scripture text inspire or guide the choices you make? Share your thoughts with someone and take care to embody that Scripture text this week.

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.”* Amen.

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

Vital Elements of Worship: Let Every Soul Be Jesus’ Guest

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Hosea 11:1-11 and Luke 15:1-2.

This past week I heard stories about the experiences of two of our Tuskawilla Family members.

One was a story of gratitude – that Tuskawilla is a place where we welcome people and value the service they offer. It was a story of being so glad to be apart of this fellowship, recognizing that not all church families are like ours.

The other story was a story of hurt feelings – that on our campus, that in our walls, that by our actions a member of our church did not feel welcomed and did not feel that the service they offered was valued.

In mere moments of one another – I was so proud of our church…and then saddened that one of our family is living with this hurt.

My dear TUMC family, I want our church – the place and the fellowship that we co-create in the name of God, the power of Christ, and the community of the Holy Spirit – to be an environment at all times and in all seasons where we welcome everyone and value the service offered, where we BelongGrow, and Serve together. It is bound to happen that we will not get it right from time to time; I know I do not get it right from time to time. When we mess up, let us not leave the mess. Let us not leave the relationship. Let us not walk away from one another.

God does not leave us in the messes we create. God does not, has not, and will not leave the relationship we share with God. Though we stray, God does not walk away. I believe there are times when God moves forward and invites us to follow, but God does not walk away.

Our Jesus welcomes and eats with sinners. Our Jesus welcomes and eats with people that do not always get it right. Our Jesus welcomes us to seek out our kin – that we have wronged and those that have wronged us – not for vengeance, but for forgiveness – and then in the beauty of restored relationship, share a meal together (see Matthew 18). Whenever we eat together, we remember the meal that Jesus shared with his disciples on the night he gave himself up for us. We remember that Jesus ate with sinners. We remember that in that meal Jesus made tangible for us the grace that is available to us. This grace forgives, this grace reconciles, this grace welcomes, and this grace values. God’s grace truly is amazing.

My friends, I want us to be the church of the first story – not some of the time, but all of the time. And when we are not that church, I pray that God works swiftly in me, in you, in all of us, to be seekers of forgiveness and sharers of God’s grace so we are prepared to come to the table Jesus sets for us.

Prayer: “Come, sinners, to the gospel feast, let every soul be Jesus’ guest. Ye need not one be left behind, for God hath bid all humankind. See him set forth before your eyes; behold the bleeding sacrifice; his offered love make haste to embrace, and freely now be saved by grace. Ye who believe his record true shall sup with him and he with you; come to the feast, be saved from sin, for Jesus waits to take you in.”* Amen.

“Come, Sinners, to the Gospel Feast,” The United Methodist Hymnal 616.

Giving Up: Control

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Matthew 4:1-11.

As I scrolled through social media this morning a fellow pastor and friend posted this as his status,

Lent is kind of annoying. Kind of like Jesus. 

At first I thought, “*name has been removed to protect the innocent*, did you really just write that!?” And then as the words washed over me, I realized…Lent is kind of annoying. Kind of like Jesus.

Lent is the season of the church year that is the antithesis of a spiritual warm fuzzy. Lent is not fuzzy; it is scratchy – scratchy like burlap, scratchy like sackcloth, scratchy like ash on my forehead.

If we choose to lean into Lent, then we choose to lean into our lack. We participate in the sort of self examination where the answer is always you have been found wanting. We look at our sin full on in the face, and in doing so, look deeply into our mortality.

“For I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me” (Ex 20:5) .

“For the wages of sin is death”(Rom 6:23a).

Ouch, Lent. Ouch.

I believe leaning into our lack presents us with two opportunities:

(A) We could become so consumed by our lack that it defeats us. We could throw our hands up in the air. We could roll our eyes at Jesus. We could question (could yell) “What is this life of faith even about? Why are you making me feel worse than I already am? See, I was right; you are just here to judge me!”

(How many of our friends that do not have a relationship with God or are hurting in their relationship with God share these words on a regular basis?)

OR

(B) We could see in our lack – and in recognizing our lack – that God is near. That God’s grace is abundant. That it is annoying to unlearn or change present behaviors so that we are transformed into God’s people who are on the path towards life rather than death.

God is not here to judge us. God is here to love us and to give to us – be for us – the example of holding one another accountable for our actions and behaviors so that we will be a people of life rather than a people of death.

If we continue reading in the two Scriptures quoted previously, see how grace is present in the next breath,

“For I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Ex 20:5-6).

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23). 

During the Season of Lent the Tuskawilla Family will study our way through a sermon series entitled Giving Up, which will encourage us to give up practices or learned behaviors not just for this season, but forever. Giving something up – a regular practice for some during Lent – can be annoying, but I encourage you, if you give something up, to see it as an opportunity to recognize the nearness of God and God’s grace to you in this time (and at all times!).

The life of a disciple is necessarily a life of change – of giving up and taking on, of leading and following, of serving where comfortable and serving beyond our comforts. In all of these environments, God perfects our faith, Jesus strengths our compassion, and the Holy Spirit feeds our appetites for further work in the Kingdom. Essential to this growth in the knowledge and love of our Triune God is recognizing the depth of our need for God’s incredible grace. The Season of Lent, then, is a unique opportunity for us to look into our lack – which can be oh so annoying – and find God’s grace – which is oh so abundant.

Prayer: “O God our deliverer, you led your people of old through the wilderness and brought them to the promised land. Guide now the people of your church, that, following our Savior, we may walk through the wilderness of this world toward the glory of the world to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen.*”

*”Lent,” The United Methodist Hymnal 268.