Loved Well and Well Loved

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 13:31-35.

This Sunday is my last Sunday with my Tuskawilla UMC family.  I begin six weeks of renewal leave on May 24. On July 1st I begin serving as the senior pastor at South Shore UMC in Riverview; my first Sunday will be July 7th. I invite you to be in prayer for both these congregations, for the transitions we are all anticipating – including my family. It is an odd place to be – somewhere between “see you later” and “nice to meet you.”

I give thanks, in the tradition of St. Patrick, that in all times – especially this one – that “Christ [is] with [us], Christ before us, Christ behind us, Christ in us, Christ beneath us, Christ above us, Christ on our right, Christ on our left, Christ when we lie down, Christ when we sit down, Christ when we arise, Christ in the heart of every person who thinks of us, Christ in the mouth of every person who speaks of us, Christ in every eye that sees us, Christ in every ear that hears us.”*

Dear Tuskawilla UMC Family,

It has been my honor and pleasure to serve as your pastor for the past five years. You have taught me so much about life, about being a pastor, about yourselves, about myself, and about the very real presence of God in our midst. Thank you for putting up with my shenanigans, loving me despite my shortcomings, joining me on taking risks, and embracing my stilettos. Thank you for opening your arms to Andrew and our beloved Joshua. Thank you for allowing me to affirm and challenge you in my sermons and small group studies. Thank you for your prayerful support of the mission and outreach of the church. Thank you for your trust in my leadership and stewardship of your congregation. Thank you for the hugs, handshakes, constructive criticism, affirmation, laughter, and tears.

I felt called to come to Tuskawilla and serve alongside you. I am now called to continue in service in another local church. My love and care for you will continue. I will continue to hold you in prayer as you come under Pastor Heather’s pastoral leadership and continue growing and maturing as disciples. As I leave you to begin serving as the pastor at South Shore United Methodist Church I will remember you fondly and know that we will meet again someday. So this is not good-bye; it is see you down the road. It is because of God’s grace that we travel this road together and this road is leading us to glory.

God’s Sweetest Blessings Be With You Always,

Pastor Sarah

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:3-6

Prayer: “Come, thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace; streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise. Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above. Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, mount of thy redeeming love.”**

*To read St. Patrick’s full prayer, based on the inscription of his breastplate, visit https://www.ourcatholicprayers.com/st-patricks-breastplate.html. 

 ** “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” The United Methodist Hymnal 400.

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Woman In The Night: The Balanced Christian Life

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 10:38-42.

Since becoming a mother, my house is in a constant state of disarray, which is odd to none more than Andrew. Some days I think he looks around the house and then looks at me and wonders if I am the latest victim of The Body Snatchers.

You see, I used to be the person that woke up early every Friday morning to clean the house from top to bottom. I would pride myself that I could have the kitchen and all three bathrooms cleaned in under forty-five minutes, all the while clothes were in the process of being washed, dried, folded, and returned to their appropriate drawer or closet. I would have the carpets vacuumed, the furniture dusted. Trash would be out and recycling sorted. And if I was feeling super productive, the dogs would be bathed, brushed, and donning coordinating and season-appropriate bandanas.

That allllllll changed October 20, 2017…which is the day after I was admitted to the hospital for Joshua’s delivery. I did not clean the house that morning…and I have pretty much not cleaned the house every Friday morning since then.

Hence…Andrew’s wondering if I have been body snatched…

Andrew and I have lived in parsonages – in congregation’s gifting – for a decade. Because of that incredible gift I have felt – and continue to feel – a deep responsibility to take and show great care to these parsonages. I recall at the very beginning that I would use my time cleaning as a time to connect with God. I would pray for the congregation. I would sing songs of praise at the top of my lungs…which was not always the way Andrew wanted to wake up on those Fridays. Overtime, however, the cleaning became less about connecting with God and praying for the people I served and more about racing against the clock to see what all I could accomplish in as few minutes as possible.

Whoopsie.

I disconnected from my true purpose for those acts, which was to show appreciation to God and gratitude to the congregations that welcomed my family into their church family and into their home.

I am so glad Joshua’s birth helped set me straight and get my priorities back in line. No, I am not cleaning on Fridays nearly as often. I confess that I truly have become my mother in that I do a little cleaning every day. I celebrate my reconnection with my true purpose for these acts, which is to show appreciation to God and gratitude to this congregation that welcomes my family – all three of us! – into your church family and into your home.

When did you last stop and consider why it is that you do what you do – whatever it is that you do? How are you able to live into and live out your faith because of that act of service? How can you use that physical activity as an activity of faith?

Prayer: “Woman in the house,nurtured to be meek,leave your second place;listen, think and speak! Come and join the song, women, children, men; Jesus makes us free to live again!”* Amen.

*“Woman In The Night,” The United Methodist Hymnal 274.

 

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.

 

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.