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.

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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.

Messiah: His Yoke Is Easy

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 11:28-30. 

Remember your baptism, and be thankful.

Last year on Baptism of Our Lord Sunday I worshipped as I watched our church family approach the baptismal font, touch the water and remember for themselves, and for most, to touch the water again and share the gift of grace the water represents with their spouse, child, or sibling in Christ. 

Remembering this moment brings tears to my eyes. 

As I watched our church family return to their seats I prepared to conclude our worship service when movement caught my eye. Half way back in the sanctuary, Phil Detmer rose to his feet to help his beloved Beverly Joyce – the girl of his choice, he told me – into her wheelchair and together they came to the font. Without thinking I lifted the bowl of the font off its stand and knelt with it. I watched Bev touch the water and touch her forehead. Then she touched the water again and touched Phil’s hand – a hand she knew so well. Every crease. Every callous. Every kindness created for her and the beautiful daughters they share in their over fifty years of marriage. 

Remembering this moment tears fall down my face. 

Commitment. Unity. These words join beautifully in Community

Ephesians 4:5 affirms the community we have with and because of Christ – “one Lord, one faith, one birth.” Our birth to new life through the waters of baptism is also our birth into the family of God, a family whose foundation is grounded in the covenant of God being our God, our being God’s children, and our responsibility to care for our brothers and sisters. 

I believe the care we are called to give is the care that is articulated in the marriage covenant – to have, hold, and honor – in all times and in all circumstances. 

I see commitment and unity to this belief in the family at Tuskawilla. I see community of this belief in the family at Tuskawilla. I saw it last Baptism of Our Lord Sunday as our family remembered our baptisms and expressed thankfulness. I saw it in the love between Phil and Bev. I see it in each face as we fellowship, study, serve, and worship as God’s family. 

We return to our regular worship service and small group times this Sunday – Morningsong at 8:30am, Small Groups at 9:30am, Worship at 11am. Both Morningsong and our 11am Worship Services will include opportunities for Baptism Remembrance. Peace, friends. See you Sunday!

Prayer: “Father in heaven, at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan you proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit. Grant that all who are baptized into his name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, One God, in glory everlasting. Amen.*”

*”Baptism of the Lord,” The United Methodist Hymnal 253. 

From Wreck to Restoration: God Invites Us Into The New Covenant

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 31:27-34.

We conclude our sermon series From Wreck to Restoration this Sunday with God Invites Us Into The New Covenant. I preached this Scripture passage for my ordination sermon; I vowed after studying this passage extensively and preparing this passage for preaching for over four months that I would never again preach this passage.

Never say “never,” right?

I selected this text for my ordination sermon because I felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit guiding me towards it. I attempted to work on one of the other recommended texts and God continued to draw my heart back to this declaration of the new covenant. There is such grace in this text. There is such love and hope. We will know the Lord. God will forgive our wrongdoings and never again remember our sins.

We all have moments in our lives that we would rather not to remember – how we hurt someone we loved, how we walked away instead of standing up, how we said something we did not mean or remained silent when our words would have made all the difference, how we did harm in some way instead of doing good, how we experienced deep suffering and agony. I would like to permanently forget those moments and some days I think I have…until something happens that reminds me of my wrongdoings and the weight of my past actions comes crashing down all over again.

In those moments I feel truly wrecked, which leads me to question – am I able to be made whole, am I able to be forgiven, am I even worth it?

The answer to those questions is yes. What may be unexpected is that I did not have to come to that answer on my own. I received that answer from God through God’s invitational love and mercy. I believe we all receive that answer from God through God’s invitational love and mercy.

In full knowledge of our sin, God invites us into the new covenant. God forgives and remembers no more. God invites us to know God and to be fully known by God. When we answer God’s invitation and live into the new covenant, God’s Law will be written on our hearts. Rather than something learned, God’s instruction will be innate, as near to us as our breath, and that which guides the pulse of our lives.

This past week I had the privilege to hear two separate testimonies of restoration in the same setting. Two persons both shared their struggles with clinical depression, of feeling hopeless, and of desperately wanting to feel anything at all. They spoke of the loneliness and the shame. They spoke of considering every possible means of finding relief…

Those two people – two of my friends – have experienced and continue to experience God’s restoration. I am privileged to know them and to watch them offer their talents in the service of God and others. I am privileged to learn from them and to laugh with them. I consider it a great privilege to look at their lives – to look at them – and see the evidence of God saying yes

Yes, my child, you are forgiven.

Yes, my child, you are made whole.

Yes, my child, you are worth it. 

God says yes to us and welcomes us to life in the new covenant. However we are wrecked, God welcomes us to restoration in him. Our saying “yes” to God may happen in an instant. It may happen over a lifetime. It may be once and for all. It may be said again and again. I think of utmost importance is that we say “yes” to God’s invitation into the new covenant and that our lives are the proof of our saying “yes.”

Prayer:”I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene, and wonder how he could love me, a sinner, condemned, unclean. He took my sins and my sorrows, he made them his very own; he bore the burden to Calvary, and suffered and died alone. How marvelous! How wonderful! And my song shall ever be: How marvelous! How wonderful is my Savior’s love for me!”

*”I Stand Amazed in the Presence,” The United Methodist Hymnal 371.

From Wreck to Restoration: God Shapes Us

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 18:1-11.

In a farewell to summer before school resumed I joined my dear friend, Holly, and her son, Gage, at the beach one afternoon. There is something so soothing about the sound of crashing waves upon the beach. 

After several rounds of cards and watching Olympic Beach Volleyball, we headed down to the beach ourselves. Gage, in his creativity, wonder, and joy said, “Let’s build sandcastles!”

Now growing up a native Floridian, I spent many a summer day on the beach, but I have not built that many sandcastles. Gage and Holly are experts. We built a pyramid-shaped castle, complete with a mote. We built a drip castle. And then we set about our biggest endeavor – a sandcastle in the shape of a turtle. 

Yes – a turtle. 

Our assignments: Holly – sculptor | Gage – water | Sarah – sand

With great ease and steady hands Holly modeled a sea turtle out of that mound of sand. First the shell, then the flippers, then the head, and lastly a little tail. Holly took care in shaping each piece and didn’t move on until every grain was just so. 

Then, Gage invited me to crosshatch the shell – pressure. So much pressure.  

It was incredible to stand back and admire our work. The turtle would remain until the tide returned and would begin its own sculpting to smooth some of the mounded sand and take others back into the Atlantic. While our turtle will be gone the materials remain for the next group of friends to come and create.

I am thankful that just as we had the opportunity to shape the sand into our creations, God continues God’s shaping of us in our lives throughout our lives. God builds us up, God smooths us out, God gathers us, God separates us.

God shapes us for a particular task. Then, God shapes us again.

God’s shaping comes through our stewardship – through our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. God’s shaping comes through our interaction with Scripture – through our study and response. God’s shaping comes through the hands of the Holy Spirit and through the hands of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Sometimes we are ready for God’s shaping and at other times it catches us by surprise. Sometimes we are hungry for God’s shaping and at other times we wish God would pass by us. God’s shaping is part of our sanctification, part of our life and living in holiness. We may not want it, but we need it. We may not welcome it, but we are better for it. God will not force God’s shaping upon us; this shaping is part of God’s gift of grace and desires us to accept it.

I encourage you to find your way to some sand this week. Spend some time shaping and creating. Feel the grains of sand in between your fingers. Gather and separate the sand. Build it up and smooth it again. Think of how you have experienced and received God’s shaping in your life. Give thanks and prepare – for God’s shaping and for the shaping that God will do.

Keep our brothers and sisters in Haiti, Cuba, the Bahamas, throughout Florida and along the Southeast Atlanta Coast in your prayers in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. Please stay safe and check in on one another.

Prayer: “Take my life, and let it be concreted, Lord, to thee. Take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise. Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of thy love. Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for thee.”* Amen.

*”Take My Life, And Let It Be,” The United Methodist Hymnal 399.

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.

Seven Questions of Faith: Am I Accepted?

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 8:1-11

In a couple of weeks I will graduate from my 13-month, 303-hour yoga teacher training program. This has been an incredible time of growth in my practice, not just in my physical abilities (because trust me, I still fall – a lot!), but in my understanding of yoga philosophy, anatomy, and in appreciation of yoga’s incredible ability to unite people with so many uniquenesses and abilities to breathe and move as one.

I have also grown in great love and respect for my yoga teacher trainee family. Before we started our training journey our common denominator was our teacher, Holly. We were all novices to one another, coming from different professional, vocational, and familial backgrounds. Our first few interactions were all experiences of testing the waters with one another. Holly never impressed upon us an expectation for relationship; she fostered what occurred organically between us. I am so happy and grateful to say that  Joy, Dom, Lauren, Jeri, Kristine, and Stephanie are some of my best and favorite people ever.

Early on in our training we participated in a workshop experience with a local yogi that encouraged us to begin writing the story or narrative that brought us to yoga. We all have our own path. The evidence of that path will appear from time to time on our mats and is also a part of the equation of what results from time spent on our mats.

We each began to journal. I returned to yoga in May 2013 as a way to address my chronic cranial pain and chronic migraine diagnoses. I tried to manage my pain through medications, but the side effects I experienced were not worth it. So I looked east to this ancient practice for strengthening and relief. I still struggle with chronic pain, but not nearly as severely. I am healthier and stronger than I have ever been.

What we did not know at the outset of our journaling was that our workshop leader wanted us to share our journal entries with one another. We were still a new group on this journey together…did we really want to share such personal information so immediately? Did we really want to reveal parts about ourselves that could potentially make us feel weak or less than or ashamed and potentially make ourselves visible as weak, less than, and shameful before people we were still getting to know?

Seated in a circle, looking one another in the eye, each taking our turn, we shared our stories. And we shared grace as we listened. Stories of recovery from medical events, of recovery from addictions, of seeking community, of seeking acceptance, of wanting to grow, of wanting to ground, of fear, of freedom, of friendship. Hearing one another’s stories – made up of confessions and dreams, worries and confidences – knit our little yoga family together in a big, big way. We did not judge one another’s journeys. We did not assign value or status, other than to recognize the worth of the neighbor to our right and to our left.

We thanked one another for our courage in sharing. And thank you, Candace, for leading us in this gift of narrative and birth of community.

In our Scripture passage for this week Jesus hears a narrative of a woman, not told in her own words, but by the words of the ruling religious and governing body. It is a narrative that in the ancient world and in Jesus’ world would bring shame and feelings of worthlessness not only upon her but on her family as well. But when Jesus looked up and spoke to those in range of hearing, he did not assign value or status, other than to recognize the worth of the daughter of Abraham standing before him. In recognizing her worth Jesus did not diminish the worth of the scribes and Pharisees; rather, he invited them to remember her worth by recalling the grace they had received as they journeyed down their paths in life.

Take some time this week to remember your personal journey. What has brought you  to this point? Recall your formative moments, both positive and negative. What grace did you receive in those moments? What grace resulted from those moments? How did your perception of yourself change as you received your worth as a beloved child of God? How has your perception of your neighbors changed as you recognized the worth in another of God’s children? How has God knit you into community in the past and present? How do you anticipate God knitting you into community in the future?

Be grateful for your journey. Be grateful for God’s grace in your life. And be grateful for where God is leading you right this moment.

Prayer: “Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended, that we to judge thee have in hate pretended? By foes derided, by thine own rejected, O most afflicted. For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation, thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation; thy death and anguish and thy bitter passion, for my salvation.”* Amen.

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