Baptism of Our Lord Sunday

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 3:15-22.

Joshua loves water.

He loves water when it splashes. He loves water in mustaches. He loves water in his sock. He loves water ‘round the clock. He loves water in his cup. He loves water with rubber ducks! He loves water through a straw. To Joshua, water has no flaw!

*pause for effect*

I often joke that Joshua is remembering his baptism whenever he interacts with water. He is so curious. He is so joyful. He is quite messy. And he is oh so proud of himself.

The more I think about – I think he is teaching me about our ongoing relationship with our baptisms through his love of interacting with water.

  • After baptism I believe God hopes we have curious spirits that will continue to seek and nurture our relationship with God.
  • After baptism I know God wants us to be joyful. Our baptism draws us into the largest family on earth as it is in heaven – a family that, yes – at times, lets us down – and a family that, yes – apologizes, encourages, and supports one another.
  • Baptisms themselves can be quite messy because the water goes where it wants – what a beautiful thought about God’s grace, which the water symbolizes in this sacrament. That the water is abundant and messy reminds us that God’s love and grace are abundant and messy – especially in the moments in our lives when we are our messiest and need help being made whole.
  • And lastly I do think we can be proud of our baptisms. Not to lord them over others but in recognition of the faith claim we make through them or that our families made on our behalves. Our baptism acknowledges that we are not God – that we are coming under Christ’s Lordship – and that we are ready – excited – to be part of something greater than ourselves.

I am proud of that. So is Joshua. We hope you are, too.

Join us in worship this week as we celebrate remembering or anticipating our baptism in our worship services. And if you are interested in being baptized or have questions about this sacrament, please connect with me for conversation!

I’ll see you Sunday; that’s a fact. I’ll see you Sunday and that is that!

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.

 

Lessons In Leadership ~ Learn or Repeat

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 51:1-12.

Joshua’s new favorite pastime? Doors. He loves doors.

Closet doors. Cabinet doors. Bedroom doors. If it is on a vertical hinge, Joshua loves it.

There is a “Lazy Susan” cabinet in our kitchen that is Joshua’s utmost favorite. He will sit in his chair that is in a shape of a Ferrari (I know, right!?) and spin the Lazy Susan around and around and around – squealing with delight all the while.

Until one time he was not squealing. He was screaming.

It happened. His fingers did not move fast enough and Joshua felt the first real sting of pinching fingers in a door.

(Do you feel that sensation as you read this? I am feeling it as I type this. Ouch!)

I gathered Joshua up in my arms. Andrew came in and kissed Joshua’s little hand. And then Andrew sat on the floor with Joshua to teach him about moving his hand away. Andrew placed his fingers where Joshua’s fingers were pinched and showed him that if the door continues to rotate, then he would be hurt. Joshua sat mesmerized. And I just fell in love with Andrew all over again. Because that is what love is – taking the time to sit with someone, to teach them, to help them gather skills and knowledge so that they can live happy and whole and (hopefully) hurt-free lives.

Andrew sat with Joshua because others sat with him – teaching him, caring for him, guiding him. Andrew’s parents, siblings, friends, teachers, and mentors learned that lesson from having folks sit with, teach, care for, and guide them.

And who taught that first lesson of care and relationship? Our God in heaven.

I am sure the “pinched fingers” lesson is one of many lessons we will have to revisit with Joshua as he grows. It is great when we learn a lesson the first time. And if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we usually have to learn lessons – usually the same lesson – more than once. This is part of the human condition – that we revisit lessons. This is part of learning obedience – that we will choose a different path. This is part of gaining wisdom with the hope that we will learn and then apply what we have learned in all future circumstances.

If we fail to learn in the present, then we are destined to repeat the past.

I look forward to concluding our Lessons in Leadership Sermon Series this week as we study Psalm 51, which is attributed to David after he was held accountable for his actions with Bathsheba by the Prophet Nathan. Even after such a terrible event, there is grace and there is hope. Even after the terrible events in our lives – the ones we create and the ones that impact us – there is grace and there is hope for us to learn rather than continue to repeat.

Thanks be to God.

Prayer: “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!”* Amen.

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

Lessons in Leadership: You Are That Man

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Samuel 11:26-12:13a.

The story of David and Bathsheba is a story of uncontrolled lust.

Lust is not just an intense desire in the body; it is also a strong passion for something that does not belong to oneself. That which we lust after is something that must be learned, experienced, or acquired. It could be a lust for knowledge, laziness, or food. It could be a lust for power, pleasure, or possessions.

When we lust we do not think rationally. We are immune to counsel. We are driven by appetites that demand to be fulfilled – even if fulfilling them results in our own detriment or the detriment of others.

I believe we can all relate to struggles with lust; it is part of the human condition. We have experienced (or are experiencing) lust running rampant through exuberant eating or spending; through the pursuit of perfection; through judgment, promiscuity, or keeping up with the Jones. Likewise, we have been exposed (or are being exposed) to offerings of wisdom, arguments, and counsel from God, others, and our own selves in the midst of our struggles with lust.

At times, we have accepted.

At others, rejected.

That which we lust over – and may eventually achieve – does not satisfy. When our lust runs rampant, we are not the only ones that suffer. We may be oblivious to the suffering we cause because we are so consumed by our lust; even worse, we may turn a blind eye to the suffering or claim ignorance so we can persist in the enmeshment of our desire.

When lust runs rampant we harm

  • Those whom we share relationship,
  • Those who could benefit from the resources and assets (presence, time, funds, effort, and passions) we pour into our obsessions,
  • Those we use and abuse to achieve our own ends,
  • And last, but certainly not least, we harm our relationship with God as the items, persons, and/or pursuits of our lusts become idols that we seek to worship and serve.

The work of the ever-maturing child of God is to interrupt and disconnect from our lustful appetites. John Wesley, the founder of the people called Methodist, offers a method to do just that.

Wesley understands all Sin as having two components – inward and outward. Inward sin is not a loss of faith whereas Outward sin is. Lust begins as Inward sin; lust begins in thoughts alone. Wesley argues that these thoughts alone are not sinful, but actualizing them – acting them out, moving them from the abstract to the concrete, incarnating them from the ideal to the real – that is the sin. And Outward sin is a loss of faith.

We are all sinners. We have all “fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). We have all experienced losses of faith.

We are also redeemed by God’s grace. We are all “justified freely by [God’s] grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). By God’s grace in justification we, who are sinners, are declared righteous before God. By God’s grace the power of sin over individuals breaks, causing an inward spiritual change that interrupts and disconnects the link between inward inclinations resulting in outward sins.

Our challenge – our invitation – is to growth in God’s grace and to seek the interruptions to and disconnections from lust. This happens through prayer, through being held accountable, and through implementing boundaries in your life that guard your heart from lust(s) and keep your heart attuned to God.

This work is needful. This work is on-going. This work is essential to our development as disciples.

Prayer: “Just as I am, thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; because thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come, I come. Just as I am, thy love unknown  hath broken every barrier down; now, to be thine, yea thine alone, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”* Amen.

*”Just As I Am, Without One Plea,” The United Methodist Hymnal 357.

‘Check’ None

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Romans 1:16-17 and Luke 10:29-37.

A week ago while out running errands I stopped at a local alterations place to pick up a blouse that needed mending. On the way out of the store, I saw a young woman – maybe high school or early college – sitting at an outdoor table with her face in her hands. Her shoulders were up by her ears. She was quiet or perhaps striving to stifle cries.

And what did I do?

I walked right on by…

I know well the story of the Good Samaritan. And I like to think that I am the Samaritan…but in this moment I was the Levite. This young woman was in need and I did not stop. The rest of my errands took precedence.

Friends, I got it wrong. And so, I ask for forgiveness.

It is a challenge to put feet to our faith. It is a challenge to live the words of Scripture that we read in our daily study and hear proclaimed in worship. It is a challenge, but it is not a challenge that we cannot fulfill. It takes practice. And the more that we put feet to our faith, the more consistent our behavior becomes.

The invitation to put feet to our faith is not a one and done. It is an invitation before us each moment of each day. It is a challenge, but it is not a challenge that we cannot fulfill. It takes practice. And the more that we put feet to our faith, the more invitations we will receive to do it again.

Last Sunday before Morningsong I had to privilege to share with a guest to that service what United Methodists believe about Holy Communion – specifically the transformation we believe occurs through praying that the bread and the cup be for us the body and blood of Christ that we may be for the world the body of Christ redeemed by his blood. By receiving the grace of the sacrament we believe we are transformed by that grace so much so that we – because of and with God’s grace – will transform the world to God’s glory. Our transformation will be noticed by others – it will witness to them – and through God’s Holy Spirit working through us – our witness may stir up a curiosity in them to seek what is different about us…that it might become what is different for them.

I am confident of humanity’s deep need for God’s grace. I am confident that humanity’s transformation by grace is what caused the Samaritan to stop on that Jericho road. I am confident and hopeful God’s grace will hold me accountable and remind me to stop when the next invitation comes my way.

Be sure to join Rev. Kate Ling and members of the Quest Sunday School Class as they lead worship on these Scripture texts this week. Thank you, friends, for your leadership in worship and service to the TUMC Family!

Prayer: “I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus – no turning back, no turning back.”* Amen.

*“I Have Decided to Follow Jesus, The Faith We Sing 2129.

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.

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.