Help! I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up!

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 10:25-37.

Some weeks are more difficult than others. There are stressors, challenges, misunderstandings, hurt feelings, long hours, slow progress, and questions – lots of questions. During difficult weeks I tend to feel like the traveler making her way from Jerusalem to Jericho when robbers attacked leaving her beaten and broken along the road.

Eyes cast down. Curled in the fetal position. Longing for relief.

Hoping for a friend.

I am grateful that during difficult weeks that I do not hope in vain. Friends are near, present, and quick to bring comfort. And friends, we need each other.

Friends connect by phone call, text, and email. They offer a hug and then another. They recognize contributions. They listen. They give their time. They offer their humor. They help. They come alongside. They connect.

Friends – loved ones – help us stand, help us heal, and help us make our way forward.

Feeling better with the help of my friends and loved ones reminds me of my responsibility (my joy!) to be the friend and loved one of others – to offer love, support, listening, encouragement, hope, and help. And so I took time to do just that, which further transformed my difficult week into a week that witnesses to our call to care for our sisters and brothers in Christ.

There are people all around us that are wounded – with eyes cast down, curled in the fetal position, longing for relief, hoping for a friend – be it literally or figuratively. And our Jesus calls us to take on the posture of the Samaritan – to connect, to help, and to restore hope.

Who is on your heart to connect with this week? To offer a hand, a smile, and a hug? To share encouragement, humor, and time? I encourage you to do so. These small acts can change the tide of someone’s week. These small acts can save someone’s life.

I am delighted to welcome our friend, certified candidate for ministry, and seminary student, Samantha Aupperlee, in worship leadership this week at Tuskawilla! She will preach at both morning worship services. Join us to hear her sermon on The Good Samaritan and to wish her well on her second year of seminary studies.

Prayer: “‘Go, make of all disciples.’ We hear the call, O Lord, that comes from thee, our Father, in thy eternal Word. Inspire our ways of learning through earnest fervent prayer, and let our daily living reveal thee everywhere.”* Amen.

*“Go, Make Of All Disciples,” The United Methodist Hymnal 571.

 

 

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Lord of the Dance: Killing The Dance

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 15:33-41.

Memorial Services are holy moments in my life. They are opportunities for me to practice my faith, to share my belief in the resurrection, and to walk with the Good Shepherd alongside his followers that are burdened by grief and loss. In Memorial Services we have the opportunity to sing, read, and hear our faith. Doing so enables me to affirm it is well with my soul.

Recently I served at two graveside services and each service included a change from which I am accustomed. Early on mentors in ministry told me to – in this order – complete the graveside benediction, shake the hands of the family seated in the first row,  move to the side for the funeral director to formally end the gathering, and leave.

Leave.

The graveside staff would not move the casket until the entire family left, which was signaled (and encouraged) by the departure of the clergy person .

But these last two services were different. The service ended and I moved to the side (with the intentions of greeting the family after the funeral director spoke) only to hear an invitation for the family to move close to the graveside as their loved one’s casket was lowered into the earth. At one service, family members were among the people lowering their father in place.

Even then – even in death – their family was at their side.

On a hill, far away, stood an old rugged cross. On a hill, far away, stood Jesus’ family as Mary’s son, James’ brother, Mary Magdalena’s friend, our Savior died.

Memorial Services affirm me of the courage and strength God gifts us. They also teach me about the resiliency of God’s people. Accompanying someone to, through, and from death is difficult. People experience a whole gamut of emotions in a matter of minutes, and those minutes tend to repeat themselves again and again. There is hurt…and there is hope. It is hard to draw near – and perhaps even harder to stay near – in these moments. But proximity is so important. Proximity ultimately provides healing.

In John 16:33 Jesus says, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” In conquering the world, Jesus conquered death. And in conquering death, Jesus showed us the path to the Father by our belief in him.

As I continue my journey to Calvary this year, I hope I am found at the foot of the cross – just as these devoted families gathered with hope around their loved one’s graves – rather than on a hill far away. Why? Because proximity increases intimacy – it increases our connection to the depth of love displayed on the cross.

When I look at the cross, I understand the vertical beam reconciling me to God through Christ and I understand the horizontal beam as Christ’s commission that I reach out in his love – from his heart through my hands – for reconciliation, for upbuilding, for the sake of the Kingdom. I have this understanding as a result of drawing near to Christ’s crucifixion. I have this understanding because I have accompanied and will accompany him to and through death so that he can lead me in the paths I should go from his death.

I do not believe I could accomplish this from a distance – from a hill far away.

So I choose to draw near. Christ’s death has and will continue to overcome the grave.

It is well with my soul.

Prayer: “I danced on a Friday and the sky turned black; it’s hard to dance with the devil on your back; they buried my body and they thought I’d gone, but I am the dance and I still go on. Dance, then, wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the Dance, said he. And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be, and I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.

 

*”Lord of the Dance,” The United Methodist Hymnal 261.

 

New Beginnings: Forget It!

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Philippians 3:12-13.

The summer I turned six was a big deal. Why? Because that summer included a huge rite of passage – leaving my training wheels behind, my bike would become a two-wheeler.

One day that summer I was out practicing riding my newly two-wheeled bike; if someone gave me a push, I could ride a little way down the street on my own before I had to put a foot down. And putting a foot down was a common occurrence as the landscape of the dirt road changed daily depending on passing vehicles and road conditions.

I remember preparing – picking a place that I am sure six-year-old Sarah thought was well on the horizon but in reality was maybe twenty feet down the street as my goal. I gripped my handlebars. I steadied one foot on the pedal and left just the tip of the other on the ground. I nodded for my push and off I went.

*pedal pedal pedal BIG SAND MOGUL* and CRASH!

Right into a barbwire fence of the pasture that bordered our dirt road.

To this day I have a trio of scars on my left leg from where my flesh met the fence. They have grown as I have grown, stretching and widening. The upper two cuts healed fairly easily, but the largest of the three scars seemed to be an open wound the remainder of that summer…and it fascinated me! My parents enrolled me in summer day camp and the only thing I remember from that summer is my counselors telling me to leave my scab alone or my leg would not heal.

Sometimes that cut reopened itself through regular movements. Other times I reopened it. (Hey! I was six!) And if it was open, I was out – out of activities, out of participation. I was not allowed to play with an open cut.

When we reopen hurtful experiences in our lives – experiences that cut us very deeply – we, too find ourselves out. Reliving those experiences draws us out from relationships, out from our regular routines and engagements, out from participating in life with others. We cannot heal from those wounds if we continue to reopen them.

And we need to heal.

I have found that forgiveness is the most active agent for healing in my life. Forgiveness of self and forgiveness of others allows me to heal. Forgiveness of self and forgiveness of others allows me to choose wholeness over wounds. Forgiveness sets me on the path of reintegration – into activities, participation, and most importantly, relationships.

Forgiveness takes me away from being out by drawing me back in.

When faced with open wounds from hurtful experiences, what allows you to heal? How do your day-to-day experiences and interactions change when you are hurting? What would you need to do in order for your old wounds to stay closed?

Prayer: “And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood? Died he for me? who caused his pain! For me? who him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God should die for me? Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God should die for me?”* Amen.

*“And Can It Be that I Should Gain,” The United Methodist Hymnal 363

 

The True Scope of Forgiveness

Sunday’s Scriptures ~ Matthew 18:21-35 and Genesis 42:1-16.

This Sunday Andrew and I will pulpit swap for our 11 o’clock worship services. I will lead our Morningsong Service at 8:30am and offer a message entitled “The True Scope of Forgiveness”. I will then travel to Azalea Park UMC to preach their 11 o’clock service. Andrew will join the TUMC family for our 11 o’clock service and continue our Joseph Saga series with a message entitled “More Brothers, More Problems.” He is very much looking forward to worshiping with you.

(I will return to Tuskawilla by 12:30pm…my sources tell me there is some kind of celebration happening…*wink*)

During my senior year at Florida Southern College I registered for a cross-listed philosophy and political science course entitled “The Politics of Terrorism and Insurgency.” Impressive, right? On the first day of class our professor – who also had my mother as a student – clarified the focus for the course. He said, “This semester we will study proposed methods and applications of conflict resolution from philosophers and political scientists through the ages beginning with the Ancient Greeks and culminating in the present day. The course has the name it does because I was doubtful anyone would register for a class dully named “Methods and Applications of Conflict Resolution.”

He was probably right.

The first topic on the syllabus was a review of Hammurabi’s Code – the ruling religious, political, and philosophical thought in the Ancient World (and, in some contexts. still today). “An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth.” Sound familiar?

Hammurabi’s Code focuses on fairness. Its use created a “tit for tat” society and normalized “tit for tat” behavior as part of the human condition. Jesus’ intent was to normalize radical role reversals and counter-cultural behaviors into the human condition. This was his method for fulfilling both the Law and the prophets.

The Torah contains impressions of Hammurabi’s Code and Jesus quotes a number of those passages in his Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you” (Mt 5:38-42).

Jesus does not promote retaliation in these verses – a significant counter-cultural and radical role reversal move! These words of Jesus become the foundation for our text for today.

While Hammurabi’s main focus was on fairness, Jesus’ main focus is on forgiveness.

The practice of forgiveness brings separated, estranged, and embattled community members back to one another – so that what once was broken may be fixed, may be healed. The act of repeated forgiveness – seventy-seven times – over and over – holds communities together.

Temptation can lead to sin. Sin leads to separation – from God and from one another. Like a shepherd that seeks out a sheep gone astray, so we are to seek out those we are separated from because of sin. Jesus affirms, “It is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost” (Mt 18:14). Through forgiveness we are found. Through forgiveness we make our way home.

When did you last experience forgiveness – either giving or receiving? How did you find that experience? Needful? Extraneous? Powerful? Casual? What lessons has forgiveness taught you? How has forgiveness changed you into more of  a Kingdom resident than a resident of the world?

Prayer: “Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; naught be all else to me, save that thou art – thou my best thought, by day or by night; waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.”* Amen. 

*”Be Thou My Vision,” The United Methodist Hymnal 451.

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.

The Coming King: The ‘Grumble’ Servant

Scripture ~ Matthew 11:2-6

In this Scripture passage disciples of John the Baptist engage Jesus in conversation.  It is not a casual catch-up.  They are not swapping challah recipes.  There is weight in their question, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

There’s a fabulous song playing on the radio once every 20 minutes it seems…okay not really every 20…more like every 12…by Avicii called Wake Me Up.  The second verse sings, “I tried carrying the weight of the world, but I only have two hands.”   John the Baptist’s disciples bore a very heavy question in their hands.  And they asked it on behalf of the imprisoned First Century prophet, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

I wonder how quickly Jesus answered their question.  Did he grant the question space to breathe, to resonate, to echo before he answered?  The text does not tell us…but what it does tell us is saving.

Jesus says with assurance, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

What have John’s disciples seen and heard?

Healing.

What could our world – and more specifically our individual selves – see and hear more?

Healing.

This Tuesday a dear friend and congregant of mine will undergo a double mastectomy to address and entirely remove the breast cancer from her body.  At the end of the worship service this past Sunday we paused as a family of faith to pray over my friend and her spouse through the laying on of hands and anointing with oil.  Together we prayed,

“My friends, you are anointed with oil in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

O God, the giver of health and salvation, we give thanks to you for the gift of oil.  As your holy apostles anointed many who were sick and healed them, so pour out your Holy Spirit on us and on this gift, that those who in faith and repentance receive this anointing may be made whole; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

May the power of God’s indwelling presence heal you of all illnesses – of body, mind, spirit, and relationships – that you may serve God with a loving heart.

Almighty God, we pray that our sister and brother may be comforted in their suffering and made whole.  When they are afraid, give them courage; when they feel weak, grant them your strength; when they are afflicted, afford them patience; when they are lost, offer them hope; when they are alone, move us to their side.  In the name of Jesus Christ we pray.”  Amen.*

At the end of the prayer the family of faith at Reeves granted space for the prayer to breathe, resonate, and echo in and around us and finally settle on my friend and her spouse.

Sunday morning I was granted the privilege to witness the healing Jesus testified.  I saw it.  I heard it.  I experienced it.  And even more humbling, I was honored to lead the healing liturgy for this special couple.

In that service of worship became what Jesus assured John was happening and it is happening because the incarnation of Christ is in our midst.  There is no need to wait.  There is no need to wonder.  Christ is the one who is to come and we know that with confidence as we see the healing taking place all around us: in relationships mended, in needs provided, in weakness restored, in sins forgiven.    

Jesus ends his response to John the Baptist saying, “Blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.”  After experiencing what I led and walked alongside the Reeves family through on Sunday I understand Jesus’ words as, “Blessed is anyone who takes no offence at the healing my coming initiates.”

My friends, we are truly blessed.  Christ’s healing is all around us.  May our eyes be opened to see it, may our ears be cleared to hear it, may our hearts be softened to receive it.

Prayer: “O let the Son of God enfold you with his Spirit and his love.  Let him fill your heart and satisfy your soul.  O let him have the things that hold you, and his Spirit like a dove will descend upon your life and make you whole.  Jesus, O Jesus, come and fill your lambs.  Jesus, O Jesus, come and fill your lambs.  O come and sing this song with gladness as your hearts are filled with joy.  Lift your hands in sweet surrender to his name.  O give him all your tears and sadness; give him all your years of pain, and you’ll enter into life in Jesus’ name.  Jesus, O Jesus, come and fill your lambs.  Jesus, O Jesus, come and fill your lambs.”** Amen.

*”Healing Service,” The United Methodist Book of Worship, 620-621.

**”Spirit Song,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 347.