Home For The Holidays

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 1:68-79

I’ll Be Home For Christmas debuted in 1943 and has been favored tune for this time of year every year since.

This song is sung from the point of view of a soldier stationed overseas during World War II. The soldier’s message to his family is brief and heartfelt, “I will be home for Christmas…prepare the holiday for me.” He requests snow, mistletoe, and presents under the tree.

Yet the song ends on a melancholy note, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams…”

The dream of home can evoke feelings of comfort and discomfort. At the holidays the dream of home can evoke both of those feelings at the same time. Perhaps we anticipate being in a familiar place surrounded by loved ones. Perhaps we breathe heavily and sigh too deep for words as we remember that home is not a familiar place and that the loved ones we want to see  will not be present. Perhaps we experience both feelings within a matter of seconds.

I find myself in an odd place as I continue walking forward to Christmas. I am excited for the holiday, but I will miss being able to gather with all of my family. I am anticipating the great joy of our Savior’s birth, but my heart is heavy knowing so many in my family, in our church family, in our community, and in our world are hurting. Medical prognoses worsen, new concerns are found, relationships strain, loved ones die, there is not enough money, there is not enough time, there is not enough energy, there is not enough.

There is loneliness. There is emptiness. There is darkness.

And there…in the darkness…the light of our Christ burns brightly. Zechariah sings, “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:78-79).

Thanks be to God.

This coming Monday, December 21 at 7pm in the Sanctuary the Tuskawilla Family will celebrate a Service of Longest Night. The seasons of Advent and Christmas are often marked by expressions of joy, excitement, and happiness, but this time of joy and expectation can often overshadow the pain and hurt many experience during this season. The grief and sorrow we feel is real and during this time of worship, we are invited to  draw near to our grief and sorrow and find that our God is bringing healing in the midst of it.

I invite you to join us for this time of prayer, Scripture reading, reflection, and communion. Perhaps this is a threshold you would like to cross or feel you need to cross so that you can settle home for the holidays. You are welcome among us. You are welcome here. As a beloved community we will worship. As a beloved community we will experience God’s healing.

Prayer: O God, “we look for light, but find darkness, for brightness,  but walk in gloom. We grope like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in twilight. If I say, ‘Let only darkness cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you, the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. Blessed be your name, O God for ever. You reveal deep and mysterious things; you are light and in you is no darkness. Our darkness is passing away and already the true light is shining.”* Amen.

*”Canticle of Light and Darkness,” The United Methodist Hymnal 205.

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PictureLent ~ Resurrection

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 16:1-8

Holy Week is a marathon, not a sprint. We gathered at the starting line last Sunday – there was even a parade! We waved palm branches and children sang. We worshipped and then we were benedicted to continue our walk to the cross.

Most of us anticipated reaching the cross on Friday, but it showed up Sunday afternoon as we learned one of our sisters in Christ in the Tuskawilla family passed away. The parade was over. The mourning began.

As a pastor when I learn of a death in the congregation I immediately go into work mode. Phone calls to make – visits to complete – information to gather – services to coordinate. This work also accomplishes compartmentalizing the grief process. As long as I work and stay busy the grief stays at bay.

When I find stillness and quiet up the grief wells.

Wednesday morning I went to yoga as I usually do and during my practice my teachers settled me into sleeping pigeon, which looks like this. Sleeping pigeon is an introspective pose as your gaze is towards your heart-center, the core of your being. It is also a deep hip stretch and release. Once settled I began to breath deeply and my tears began to flow. Reclined on the floor I wept. I wept for Lori. I wept for Ann. I wept for our congregation. I wept and asked only one question.

Why?

Reclined in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus grieved. Jesus wept. According to the Third Gospel writer Jesus was in such anguish that his sweat was like drops of blood (Lk 22:44). “I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying…My Father, if it’s possible, take this cup of suffering away from me” (Mt. 26:37a and 39b).

In the quiet of the garden Jesus probably asked “Why?” He probably confessed his confusion and his inability to understand. He possibly even felt anger that his questions remained unanswered. Pondering, seeking, praying, Jesus turned inward. Inhaling and exhaling into the very center of his being Jesus found his answer. “Not what I want but what you want…let it be what you want” (Mt 26:39c and 42c).

In the face of grief and imminent tragedy Jesus kept walking. And we will keep walking – aware of our loss, aware of our pain, aware of our unanswered questions, and aware of our God’s continued faithfulness. Our Christ walked toward the cross accepting all of the world’s pain as he did. At the ultimate place of defeat Jesus is forevermore our victor. Sunday is coming and resurrection is real.

Lori loved Jesus and his church, this church, Tuskawilla. Lori has gone on ahead of us into glory and is helping to make room for all of us at the table. Because of Jesus’ obedience – “obedience to death, even death on a cross” – we will join her and all God’s children at the heavenly feast Jesus continues to prepare (Phil 2:8). The casseroles will be abundant. Even more so, God’s grace and peace and joy will be abundant. There will be no grief. There will be no tears. There will be no reason to ask “Why?” There will be Jesus and those whom he loved. Lori will be there…and we cannot wait to see her.

Prayer: “For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation, thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation; thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion, for my salvation. Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee, I do adore thee and will ever pray thee, think on thy pity and thy love unswerving, not my deserving.”* Amen.

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

The Coming King: Good News

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Romans 1:1-7

Today my heart is heavy.  Andrew and I learned today that his childhood best friend – his kindred spirit – his partner in mayhem – his beloved Josh – passed away on December 10, 2013 due to heart failure.  He was 29.

Josh and Andrew were true brothers.  They met as many brothers do…in a fight…and following those initial blows they were inseparable.  They were family.  They are family.

Both attended an arts magnet high school in our hometown.  Both endured scrutiny and bullying because they were guys who loved the arts.

Andrew: vocal performance | Josh: dance

They stood up for one another.  They defended the other.  They held one another accountable.  They had so much fun.  They got into a lot of trouble.  They were boys.  They are brothers.  And now Josh has passed on.

Josh is a decorated veteran.  He served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan in elite combat forces with the Marine Corps and Army.  He loved his country.  He loved defending freedom.  Though he would not talk in these words, I believe his true love was for the least, the last, and the lost.  I believe this is a love he found and fostered in his friendship and brotherhood with Andrew.  Their care for one another led him to care for so many – soldiers, civilians, innocents – around the globe.

I ache for Andrew.  I ache for our family.  I ache for Josh’s family.  When we ache it is so hard to remember, think about, and speak good news.

In one sentence – in one very long sentence – Paul shares the Good News with fledgling Christian communities in Rome – and around the world.  He tells the story from beginning to end.  From incarnation to resurrection to discipleship and stewardship of the Good News for our neighbors.

Paul wanted his brothers and sisters in Rome to know the whole story up front before diving into every theological detail and nuance the Roman correspondence has to offer.  When he shared this statement I am sure some who heard it were overjoyed, some overwhelmed, some content, some complacent, some angry, some grieving, some dying.  Though the words may have been a struggle to hear they were shared.  Though the words may have been a struggle to recall they were remembered and have been remembered throughout the ages.

We remember them tonight.  We remember the Good News as we acknowledge our human grief and human loss.  We seek comfort in the promise that we shall be raised with Christ, that we share in his gift of eternal life, that we shall be reunited with our loved ones in resurrection.

In the days ahead we will walk with our grief.  In the days ahead we will remember Josh as we remember the promise of Christ.  In the days ahead we will be mindful of the example of Christ that Josh lived in his life – to care first and foremost of the least, the last, and the lost.

In doing so we will draw near to the Good News and the Good News will heal.

Prayer: “Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home; swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home.  If you get there before I do, coming for to carry me home; tell all my friends I’m coming too, coming for to carry me home.  Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home; swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home.”* Our promise in you, O God, is that we are all coming home.  We thank you for this gift of Good News.  Amen.

*”Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 703.