Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Micah 6:1-9

This past Saturday I attended a district committee meeting and our group began with a devotion and time of thought centering by meditating on The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh. It was particularly timely and particularly powerful for this to be our centering image given the terror that waged in Paris and across our world in Lebanon, Syria, Japan, and Mexico last week.

If you are familiar with the piece, then you will recall the swirling formations in the sky that represent chaos, the eerily lit sun-moon off in the corner, and the darkened landscape of community tucked in a valley between mountains.

(They might be hills to other folks, but to this Florida girl, they are mountains!)

The leader of our meeting asked our group to consider the painting in silence and then to share what we saw. After a few moments I shared that at the center of the painting is a church, complete with stained glass windows and steeple, but it is completely dark. No light is emanating from it. The surrounding homes are all aglow, but the church is asleep.

For van Gogh this painting was his interpretation of what had happened (perhaps has happened) to the church – the light, the Spirit has gone out – and not in the way to flourish in the world – but as a commentary on how the Spirit of God has been extinguished. Therefore people did not (perhaps do not) turn to the church as an institution, as a faith community, as a people in times of sorrow or joy. The church had (has) lost its relevancy; so, while other structures and the people within them are alive and well, the church functions much like a tomb, a memorial of days long past.

What will return the church to relevancy? What will resurrect its hope? Our God and only our God.

And what will return the light and recall the Spirit to the church? The faithfulness of God’s people in doing what the prophet Micah challenges and charges t0 “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).

There is a powerful scene at the end of The Half Blood Prince in the Harry Potter film series. Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School had died and the pupils and faculty stand around his body in mourning. The Dark Mark floats in the sky, a symbol that the battle between good and evil continues and that evil has taken this round. Those who loved and are faithful to Dumbledore weep at his side and then one by one they spark a light at the end of their wands and lift them skyward. Each individual light  pales in comparison to the Dark Mark coursing through the sky, but together, their collective light obscures and then erases the Dark Mark.

Hope. The church has hope. We have hope. God is our hope. And we are invited to live that hope by accepting the invitation to be God’s vessel of hope to others in our very shadowy world.

A quote that I continue to see and hear following the continuing terror attacks that plague our world bears repeating here. It is from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Together, may we be God’s light, may we be God’s love.

Together.

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This week the Tuskawilla Community will be led in worship by our very own Rev. Kate Ling – and y’all – she has amazing worship planned! Thank you, Pastor Kate, for your partnership and mentorship in ministry. And I will see the Tuskawilla Community for the First Sunday of Advent.

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Prayer: “Lord, we pray not for tranquility, nor that our tribulations may cease; we pray for thy spirit and thy love, that thou grant us strength and grace to overcome adversity; through Jesus Christ. Amen.”*

*”For Overcoming Adversity,” The United Methodist Hymnal 531.

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The Gospel According to Showtunes: Defying Gravity

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Chronicles 15:1-12

This week at Reeves we begin a new sermon series – I am so excited!!! – entitled The Gospel According to Showtunes!  Each week we will explore a Scripture passage alongside a showtune and examine where there is harmony and dissonance.  Applying showtunes as an interpretative lens to Scripture will be a challenge, but it will also have its benefits.

Among the benefits is hearing the showtunes in worship.  It’s gonna be awesome!

This week we Defy Gravity in partnership with Wicked and the story of King Asa from II Chronicles.  Asa is of the house of David.  He is a ruler in the Southern Kingdom – a kingdom that is presently pockmarked with idols.  God’s people have strayed once again.  Their praises seek to please static gods in the Ancient Near East rather than the mighty, dynamic, saving God that delivered them through the Sea of Reeds from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.  Asa receives a word from the Lord from God’s messenger Azariah.  Azariah reminds Asa and calls to the people, “The Lord is with you, while you are with him.  If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you abandon him, he will abandon you” (II Chron 15:2).  The people’s idolatry is a sign of their sin and abandonment.  In order to redirect their attention, to redirect their worship, service, and reverence Asa must remove those items that skew the people’s vision.  The idols and Asherah poles – they have got to go.

At this point in the story…it looks like it’s Asa against the world.  What is he going to do?

I’m a huge fan of Harry Potter.  I was a little late to the Harry Potter party – but escaping into JKRowling’s England helped me write my commissioning and ordination papers.  Thank you, Harry.  “Always.”

In the first book of the series, Professor Dumbledore – Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – is in the midst of awarding house points at the end of term banquet.  Whichever of the four houses of Hogwarts – Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, Slytherin – has the most points (awarded for good deeds and write answers, deducted for misbehavior) at the end of the year wins the coveted House Cup.  At the beginning of the banquet Gryffindor – Harry’s house – was in last place, but because of a series of event (read the books folks) Gryffindor is now tied with Slytherin for first place.  Has their ever been a tie for House Cup Champion?  Students and staff in the Great Hall wait with baited breath…and Dumbledore says, “There are all kinds of courage.  It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to your enemies, but just as much to stand up to your friends” (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone 17.197).  And then Dumbledore awards 10 points to Neville Longbottom – the most unlikely person to ever earn House Cup Points – because he stood up to his friends.  Gryffindor wins!

Asa would be rewarded 10 points…probably more.  He stood up to his friends.  He stood up to his family members.  He removed the idols.  He tore down the Asherah poles.  He sought the Lord.  He did not succumb to peer pressure and leave things the way they were.  He knew what was right and he went after it.  And if you know anything about Wicked – Asa’s acts helped him to Defy Gravity!

Where is God calling you to stand up?  It could be to enemies.  It could be to friends.  What conviction has God given you?  How is God calling you, shaping you, to become an advocate?  Sit with these questions for a while…and then act.  Fly high.  Defy Gravity.

Prayer: “The care the eagle gives her young, safe in her lofty nest, is like the tender love of God for us made manifest.  As when the time to venture comes, she stirs them out to flight, so we are pressed to boldly try, to strive for daring height.  And if we flutter helplessly, as fledgling eagles fall, beneath us lift God’s mighty wings to bear us, one and all.”* Amen.

*”The Care the Eagle Gives Her Young,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 118.

Taking The Narrow Path

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Timothy 4:2-8

This weekend the Reeves’ congregation will celebrate Laity Sunday – one of four Sundays a year where the laity of the church serve in leadership roles throughout the entire service of worship – including the sermon!  Ross – Reeves’ lay leader – will be offering the sermon.  He has selected the passage for this week so I will be offering my own musings on the same passage.

Make sure you come on Sunday to hear his interpretation of this passage!

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This letter is the second correspondence that Paul sends to Timothy.  It is a letter of encouragement and direction for this young minister or pastor in his work with a fledgling Christian community.  Some scholars have interpreted that I Timothy is written to define or describe a faithful congregation whereas II Timothy is written to define or describe a faithful minister.  What is interesting about this “distinction” between these correspondences is this – Paul desires – and I would say God desires – all people at one and the same time to be both faithful congregants and faithful ministers.  You do not have to be a professional minister or have ministry as your chosen profession to be a minister.  We are all ministers.  We are all charged with caring for, leading, guiding, holding accountable, and interpreting Scripture for one another as well as ourselves.

So we need to listen up.  Paul is writing to us.  And then our actions in response are the evidence as to whether or not we have listened.

Here in this text – as in his other letters – Paul encourages “constant vigilance!” (any Harry Potter fans out there?  Think Mad-Eye Moody) against the persecutions the Christians are enduring and perseverance in the face of combating ideologies and theologies that are in the community.  Paul encourages strength so that the people will remain strong in self and strong for one another that they will not be swayed by half-truths and whole-lies.

Paul is assured that living a life in the world and not of the world will lead humanity towards happiness.  John Wesley believed the love of God led to true happiness whereas the love of the world led to elusive happiness.  The world is fleeting; therefore, love of the world would also be fleeting.  Our God is alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last, everlasting to everlasting.  Our God is eternal; therefore, love of God would also be eternal and the happiness that results from loving God would be eternal.

Our reward for loving God and not the world is “the crown of righteousness.”  It is available not just for one but for all.  In order to receive it we have to work for it.  As Wesley would say we have to work out our salvation for it – through works of mercy and works of piety.  Works of piety include individual and corporate prayer, searching and studying the Scripture, and receiving the Lord’s Supper.  Works of mercy are those works where we do good, such as living simply so our resources are available to aid others; visiting the sick, lonely, or imprisoned; advocating for the needs of others and helping to bring about change.

Working out our salvation leads us along the narrow path.  There will be moments of ease.  There will be moments of difficulty.  There will be moments of comfort and moments that make our skin crawl.  There will even be moments of triumph and moments where we want to just give up.  But we have to keep persevering.  We have to keep moving forward that we – like Paul – will carry out our ministry fully.

Prayer: “Thou hast promised to receive us, poor and sinful though we be; thou hast mercy to relieve us, grace to cleanse and power to free.  Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!  We will early tun to thee.  Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!  We will early turn to thee.  Early let us seek thy favor, early let us do thy will; blessed Lord and only Savior, with thy love our bosoms fill.  Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!  Thou hast loved us, love us still.  Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!  Thou hast loved us, love us still.”*

* “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 381.

God’s Balance Sheet: Lessons in Stewardship ~ Cultivating a Life of Contentment

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Philippians 4:10-13

(tangent…the spelling of Philippians always catches me…I think it should have more l’s.  Alas, it does not.)

When pondering contentment I am reminded of a scene from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  It is after Christmas and Harry is wandering and wondering about the Hogwarts Castle under the shield of his invisibility cloak.  One night he is fleeing from Filch and Snape (that’s Professor Snape, Sarah) and he ducks into a room that is home to the Mirror of Erised.

The Mirror of Erised bears magical powers.  It shows the viewer the very desires of his or her heart – and if the desires are of pure intentions – the mirror will reveal what will lead the viewer to ultimate contentment.

Harry gazes in and sees his parents – parents he has never known.

Ron gazes in and sees that he is head boy and Quidditch captain, too!

Professor Dumbledore told Harry if he were to look into the mirror he would see a very warm pair of wool socks.

(I never quite understood this…been looking for connections in the book…any HP experts care to help a sister out?!)

Maybe what Dumbledore was trying to convey by saying he would see himself with a warm pair of wool socks was that he didn’t need very much – or very material things – in order to be content.  He didn’t need stuff upon stuff upon more stuff.  He didn’t need wealth, power, or influence.  Perhaps this is a nod to how close to contentment the wise old professor already was…
If you had access to such a mirror and stood before it, what would it reveal on your path to contentment?
  • Lots of stuff?
  • A person?
  • An ideology?
  • Faith?

And when you stand before that mirror to see the desires of your heart, are they pure desires?  Desires becoming of the teachings of the gospel?  Or desires of the world that are clouding your heart and mind?

In this week’s Scripture passage Paul encourages the Philippians (and us!) to find and secure our contentment in our faith in Christ.  In our faith in Christ we will discover a strength that will not falter and will guard us from the temptations of materialism and over-consumption.  In our faith in Christ we find strength and found our identity, not in worldly things that will break or tarnish or pass away or fail, but in he who is perfect and eternal.

When I look in that mirror…I want to see Christ.  When you look in the mirror what do you want to see?

Reflection: What have you seen in your mirror?  Did it fill you or fail you?  What has led you towards contentment?  What has led you towards what you thought was contentment but did not truly fill your emptiness?  How will strengthening yourself in Christ strengthen your contentment?

Prayer: Most gracious God, I want to find contentment in you.  I want to look into the mirror and see you.  I want my identity to be in Christ, not in stuff.  Forgive me, Lord, when stuff has kept me from you – whether it be the physical stuff or the pursuit of it.  Strengthen me to pursue you and only you.  I want to see you.  Amen.