Scripture – Story – Song

Sunday’s Scriptures ~ Genesis 1:29-31a; Job 1:13-22; Job 38:4; Psalm 100; II Peter 3:9; and II Samuel 7:18-22

During the month of November I make an annual practice of keeping a daily gratitude journal. With the advent of social media I am able to see entries to my journal from years past; those entries jettison me to fond moments of laughter and degrees of frivolity. Last week I read an entry about gratitude for completing a dumpster-diving project, which contained comments and concerns for my swift exit from the dumpster.

(I am happy to report I have not been dumpster-diving…recently…)

I find that it is easy to give way to the negativity that surrounds us on a daily basis. Criticism without action to create better situations and improved circumstances as well as pervasive divisiveness are grave temptations.

Friends, we need one another. We do. Our united giftings and offerings guided in application and investment by the Holy Spirit help reveal the Kingdom of God. Remember the words of the Apostle Paul to the church at Corinth,

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it (I Corinthians 12:12-26). 

When I set about writing my daily gratitude entry I begin by answering the question, “What brings or brought me joy today?” and then the answers flow with ease. As we approach Thanksgiving – an annual celebration of our abundant blessings and gratitude – I am all the more mindful of all the joy in my life due to God and my sisters and brothers in Christ.

Will you join me in keeping a daily gratitude journal through the end of the November? We have much for which to be grateful. Our God is so good to us. Therefore, let us be good to and do good for one another.

Join this Sunday for a special service of worship through Scripture – Story – and Song – to help us express our gratitude to God for all God has done and continues to do in our lives!

Prayer: “To God be the glory! To God be the glory! To God be the glory for the things he has done. With his blood he has saved me. With his power he has raised me. To God be the glory for the things he has done!”* Amen.

*”My Tribute,” The United Methodist Hymnal 99.

 

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Example of Greatness in God’s Kingdom

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 21:1-4.

Earlier this week I had the privilege to partake in one of my more glamorous pastoral duties – throwing away straw and rotten pumpkins in the dumpster.

*pause for dramatic effect*

I set to work quietly with a wheelbarrow and a shovel. And it was not before long that I heard another voice and then another voice. And then two hands became four hands. And four hands became six hands. And before long, all of the straw and rotten pumpkins were relocated into the dumpster.

Thank you, Jose and Lila.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude by the number of kind voices speaking and helping hands serving at the church recently. Light bulbs are changed. Closets are organized. Weeds are pulled. Special events are planned. Telephones are answered. Bulletins are folded. Copies are made. Invoices are recorded. Powerpoints are crafted. Small groups are led. Communion is served. Prayers are prayed. Shepherds are raised. Community members are welcomed. LOFs are sold!

The list could go on and on.

To some these acts may seem so small. To me, these acts are incredibly generous and incredibly important. I am so grateful to the persons that bless me and bless our church with these offerings. I am grateful that you are quick to respond and lend a helping hand…even when that helping hand might crush into pumpkin guts. Thank you for what you do. I honor your service. I honor you.

And God does too.

Join us Sunday as we learn about the widow’s offering – another small act that examples for us greatness in God’s Kingdom. We will also join with our brothers and sisters in faith around the globe as we celebrate The Lord’s Supper on World Communion Sunday.

See you in worship.

Prayer: “You satisfy the hungry heart with gift of finest wheat. Come give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat. You give yourself to us, O Lord, then selfless let us be, to serve each other in your name in truth and charity. You satisfy the hungry heart with gift of finest wheat. Come give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat.”* Amen.

*”You Satisfy the Hungry Heart,” The United Methodist Hymnal 629.

The Joseph Saga: The Truth Comes Out

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 45:1-14.

This has been a trying week for me at Tuskawilla UMC. On Monday we experienced a large scale water leak in the Sanctuary. On Tuesday we had a pipe burst at the parsonage. A friend of mine texted me saying, “Sarah, this is not what you needed following a hurricane!”

Yeah…I am over water at this point. It is necessary and needful…and I like it a whole lot more when it stays where it is supposed to be – offshore away from land, secured by valves, and contained within pipes.

What a week…and we are only halfway!

These water emergencies have thrown off the groove of my typical week. So as I sat down this morning to begin my study on this week’s Scripture text, God brought order to the chaos with these words: “God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5b).

Joseph speaks these words to his brothers, affirming that God sent him ahead of his family into Egypt so he would be in a position to help his family – even though they did him harm. I read these words and they resonated deeply in my heart this week in relationship to our church family. God sent our church family ahead of me to preserve life.

Now our water woes this week are certainly not a matter of life or death. Many of our brothers and sisters across Florida, Texas, and especially the Caribbean are facing matters of life and death because of water – they remain in our prayers and a focus of our mission efforts with the creation of hygiene kits and offerings through the United Methodist Committee on Relief. Our water woes were a crisis. We did not want to waste anymore water than what was already leaked. We did not want any additional damage to be incurred on our buildings. And we – because of dedicated church family members showing up after a desperate appeal for help – dedicated church family members that God saw and sees fit to draw into relationship and community in this place – preserved life – for our safety, our assets, and our ministries.

I am so very grateful for the students, adults, and families that dropped what they were doing Monday afternoon to come clean up the church, to reorganize materials brought out of closets, and to help me make decisions. I am so very grateful to Wayne Wright and his work to continue cleaning our facility through the night so that hopefully all will be dry before worship gatherings this weekend. I am so very grateful for the resources of our church to rent equipment to clean the church campus and support the repairs at the parsonage. None of this would be possible without YOU, church family. “God sent me [you – each one of you!] before you [me] to preserve life.”

Thank you, my dear church family, for all the ways you have cared for me, my growing family, and your church family this week. Melissa Martin said it best on Sunday afternoon – it takes a village. I am thankful to be one member of yours. See you in worship on Sunday.

Prayer: “Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine with ten thousand beside! Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”* Amen.

*”Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” The United Methodist Hymnal 140.

 

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.

Messiah: For Unto Us A Child Is Born

This Weekend’s Scripture ~ Luke 2:1-20.

Today – December 23 – Andrew and I celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary, the 12 year celebration of our engagement, and 15 1/2 years of togetherness.

My heart is so warm.

People often ask why our anniversary is so close to Christmas. Andrew proposed under the Japanese archway in Epcot on December 23, 2004 and said he wanted that day to be our anniversary – and so it is!

It is a bit overwhelming at times for a clergy couple to celebrate our anniversary so close to our leading celebrations of Christ’s Incarnation, but we would not trade it. In celebrating our anniversary we remember that the church brought us together – our first kiss as a couple and as spouses was at an altar!…a story for another time – and the church was brought together by and because of Christ.

I give thanks for the Child that is born unto us. I give thanks for my husband and for the opportunity to share the life we have together in service of this Child. I give thanks for the Merry Christmas and Happy New Year that awaits us all.

Join us for Christmas Eve Worship at 6pm on Saturday featuring Carols, Communion and Candlelight.

Join us Christmas Day for Morningsong at 8:30 featuring Prayers and Communion and at 10am for Carols and Blessing of the Toys.

Prayer: “Joy to the world! The Lord is come. Let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare him room. And heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven and heaven and nature sing!”*

*”Joy to the World,” The United Methodist Hymnal 246.

Hum For The Holidays

Scripture ~ Luke 1:46-55

I have heard this refrain and request from several in the Tuskawilla Family over the past couple of weeks:

Oh Pastor Sarah! I sure hope we get to sing Christmas Carols soon! They are my favorite part of the season!

Rest assured, Tuskawilla Family, we will begin singing Christmas Carols this week as our Sanctuary Choir leads us in our annual cantata entitled Ceremony of Candles. And we will sing a Christmas Carol on the 4th Sunday of Advent. And then we will sing all of the Christmas Carols you can imagine between Christmas Eve, the Sunday between Christmas and New Years, and Epiphany.

(We might even sing a Christmas Carol on Baptism of our Lord Sunday…who knows how festive I will be feeling in 2016!?)

There is a method to the madness (my madness) of waiting to begin singing Christmas Carols.

(1) It is a way for us to build up anticipation, to cultivate appetites, and to look forward to an activity that is long treasured and wholly enjoyed and when we receive it, we savor it.

(2) It is also a way for us to learn and learn from the carols of the Advent season that sing of anticipation, that sing of repentance, that sing of desires for a new world, a new you, and a new me, that is delivered to us as we sing our joy at the birth of the Savior.

Our Scripture passage this week sings Mary’s Song. She sings with gratitude for the ways that God has recognized her lowly state and affirmed “Yes, you are worthy; yes, you are treasured; and yes, you have a valuable place in my future.”

This affirmation for Mary rings true for us, too. In her song may we feel God’s affirmation, “Yes, you are worthy; yes, you are treasured; and yes, you have a valuable place in my future.”

Mary’s chorus of thanks continues as she foreshadows the coming Light that will be the Light of the nations, “He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, just as he promised” (Lk 1:54-55a). Our God is so faithful. Our God’s promises will not fail. 

This Sunday through song and growing candlelight we will praise our God for all that God has done and is doing in our lives, in our church, and in our world as we move closer to the celebration of Jesus’ birth. I would especially like to thank Tim, the Sanctuary Choir, and the Audio/Visual Team for their diligence and hard work in preparing this Advent worship experience for our congregation. 

(Also, Choir, thanks for inviting me to sing with you! That is such a treat!)

Please join us this Sunday at 11am for Ceremony of Candles. Invite a friend. And be ready to sing a carol or two!

Prayer: “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given; so God imparts to human hearts the blessing of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in. O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.”* Amen.

*”O Little Town of Bethlehem,” The United Methodist Hymnal 230.

Jobbbb: Battle

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Job 1:1, 2:1-10

While in seminary I was introduced to the concept of spiritual warfare. When a person engages in spiritual warfare he or she takes an active stand against devils, demons, and/or other supernatural (meaning unbound by the laws of physics) or preternatural (meaning they are sourced in unknown places) forces.

At first introduction, I did not think much of spiritual warfare. I did not feel that I had experienced it in my life. But as I grew in awareness of it and talked with friends that believed they experienced it, my paradigm shifted and expanded.

In my experience I have seen people – as well as myself! – blame the devil or demons as the cause of their (my) transgressions. The devil or demons became the scapegoat. “The devil made me do it.” No, the devil did not make me do it; I chose to do that. And there are consequences for this and every choice. This personal awareness – and taking responsibility – was a huge eye-opener for me. My personal awareness helped me grow in accountability for my actions to God, myself, and others.

In my experience I have also witnessed the horror of evil in this world – evil that causes immense suffering – gun violence, substance abuse, infidelity, debilitating diseases, and prejudice. I have witnessed moral evil, natural evil, and radical evil. Sometimes I am able to “put my finger” on the root of the pain; that provides comfort and at least a place to focus actions of compassion and correction. At other times I am unable to put my finger on the root of the pain…it just “is” and that it “is” breaks my heart.

When will it end? Why does it happen? Where are you, O God?

I confess that my faith is not as strong in these times. I become angry. I doubt. I fall to my own pride thinking I will just take matters into my own hands, when really the only thing I should be left to doing alone is taking myself to lunch – and somedays I am not even successful with that.

It is interesting to see how Job engages in spiritual warfare – how Job takes a stand against the evils inflicted upon him and the suffering that it causes. He does not “raise his dukes” or “dig in his heels” in order to steady himself to fight back. He sits in ashes. He questions but does not accuse. He wonders aloud – perhaps rhetorically – “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad” (Job 2:10b)? Scripture tells us Job did not sin with his lips (2:10c). I believe he sensed God’s presence with him. He knew that God was walking with him…and as long as God continued walking, so would Job.

A song that some of my beloved students taught me is You Fail Us Not by 1,000 Generations. When I think of the trials in my life, I give thanks for God’s continued presence with me.

I invite you to listen to this song. Give thanks. In life – and especially in the battles – God fails us not.

Prayer: Holy God, “You’re bigger than the battle, you are bigger than the battle, you are bigger than the battle has ever been. Whatever will come, we’ll rise above, you fail us not, you fail us not. No matter the war, our hope is secure, you fail us not, You fail us not. You fail us not.”* For this, and so much more, we give you thanks. Amen.

*”You Fail Us Not” from 1000 Generations.