ROARing Great Time

Sunday’s Scripture ~ “Do not be afraid…Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome” (Nehemiah 4:14bc).

At Vacation Bible School this week the children learned about God’s people crossing the Jordan. Men – one from each of the twelve tribes – led them across the river waters into the Promised Land each selecting a stone as they walked. Once safely to the other side – the ark of the Covenant before them and God’s people all around them, they helped Joshua build an altar. Then Joshua said to the people,

When your children ask their parents in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we crossed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, and so that you may fear the Lord your God forever (Joshua 4:21-24).

That altar of stones could also be called an Ebenezer, meaning stone of help.

We receive our understanding of Ebenezer from I Samuel 7:

Then Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Astartes from among you. Direct your heart to the Lord, and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So Israel put away the Baals and the Astartes, and they served the Lord only.

Then Samuel said, “Gather all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.” So they gathered at Mizpah, and drew water and poured it out before the Lord. They fasted that day, and said, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah.

When the Philistines heard that the people of Israel had gathered at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the people of Israel heard of it they were afraid of the Philistines. The people of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, and pray that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines.” So Samuel took a sucking lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord; Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel, and the Lord answered him. As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel; but the Lord thundered with a mighty voice that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion; and they were routed before Israel. And the men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and struck them down as far as beyond Beth-car.

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer; for he said, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel; the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel (vv. 3-13)

Throughout Vacation Bible School – because of the incredible service of South Shore’s staff and volunteers – our children witnessed Ebenezers – though I think they call them God-sightings. They saw and celebrated moments of the Lord’s goodness, experiences of the Lord’s kindness, and displays of the Lord’s faithfulness. Each Ebenezer – each God-sighting – was an opportunity to remember thus far the Lord has helped us – to remember the Lord is great and awesome. Whom shall we fear?

No one. Thus far the Lord has helped us. The Lord is great and awesome.

And friends, I’ll raise an Ebenezer to that!

Join us as we celebrate VBS Sunday at both South Shore Services this weekend. It is sure to be a roar-ing great time!

Prayer: “Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I’m come; and I hope, by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home. Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God; he, to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood.” Amen.

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

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Take The Risk

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 25:14-30

This Sunday the Tuskawilla Family will be led in worship by our Youth Mission Team and a special youth-young adult praise team! They will be sharing stories from their experiences and adventures throughout The Glades as we partnered with the wonderful folks at First UMC Pahokee in a week of serving God and neighbor. You already know this – but I will remind you again – the TUMC Youth are PHENOMENAL young people. They want to share with you about their trip because you made their trip possible through your support of their rummage sale (donations and/or purchases), talent show (acts and/or admissions), prayers, smiles, and encouragement along the way. Thank you, Tuskawilla Family, for your commitment to the children and youth of our church. Join us this Sunday as we celebrate God’s accomplishments through their hands, feet, and hearts!

The theme Scripture passage for the Youth Mission Trip was Matthew’s version of the Parable of the Talents. This parable also appears in Luke’s Gospel, but not in Mark’s Gospel, which tells us that Matthew and Luke received this teaching of Jesus from a shared source. Biblical scholarship widely identifies this source as Q – which is short for Quelle the German word meaning source.

When we compare the two tellings of this parable they follow a similar pattern: a landowner entrusted funds to employees to steward and multiply while he was away. In each telling one employee presents a sizable gain on the landowner’s investment, another employee presents a fair gain on the landowner’s investment, and the third employee returns the investment that was entrusted with no gain at all. “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been trustworthy with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things!” to the two that gained on the landowner’s investment; “throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!” to the one that gained nothing on the landowner’s investment.

Two of the employees took risks to bring a return on the landowner’s investment. They had to move beyond themselves, beyond their familiar environments, and beyond their usual activities. Their risk taking yielded a big return – something that would not be possible if they decided – like the unfruitful employee – to stay within their comfort zones.

While on the mission trip the Tuskawilla Youth took risks all over the place. They left their homes, their families, their daily routines, THEIR ELECTRONICS and entered into relationship with a new community, in a new place, with a whole new level of heat and humidity. God invested talents in each of these students – through their creation, through their families, and through our church family that they, in turn, invested into The Glades. The returns that our youth yielded on God’s investment cannot be numbered. They were so generous in their spirit, compassion, and service. I am so very proud of them and know that this sort of risk taking for God and God’s Kingdom will continue to increase.

Well done, good and faithful youth servants of Tuskawilla UMC. We cannot wait to celebrate your service and Kingdom building on Sunday!

Prayer: “Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true. With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living, sanctuary for you.”* Amen.

*”Sanctuary,” The Faith We Sing 2164.

Collect Moments With God: Do

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Deuteronomy 6:4-5, 10:12-22

The “Do” of the Collect prayer form is the petition portion of the prayer.  Contained in the petition is a double “do” – (1) what we want God to do which in turn will (2) lead us to do for others.  For example, “Show us mercy (God do this) so that we can show mercy to others (we will do for others).”

But what about the times when you do not feel you can do one more thing?  Those times when you feel like more things are being “done” to you and I am not talking about a day at the spa, shopping spree, or tickets to see your favorite team take on their biggest rival.  I’m talking about those days when you have two flat tires on the side of the highway and it is pouring down rain and the bolts are so tight on your tires that the tire iron will not loosen them and you are two hours late arriving to an event two hours away.

I’m not speaking from experience…but events like these come close to a day that Andrew lived a few months ago.

It is moments like these where we feel like all of this junk is being “done” to us and it jades us from wanting to “do” anything at all.  Or if we do anything…it is for “me”.  Human nature is to defend and secure ourselves when we feel under attack.  Thoughts of caring for others quickly disappear.  Like a turtle we shrink back into ourselves.

Sometimes the question of “why is all this junk being done to me” can be answered.  There are causes and the “done-ness” is the effect.  But sometimes we ask that question and the answer we receive is silence.  We do not know why.  What we do know is that God has been here before.  God has been here with God’s people – not understanding, asking why, feeling used and abused, feeling frustrated, feeling angry, wanting to care only for self, consumed with survival and not turning an eye to the revival of others.  God has been here before – and God has seen God’s people through time and time again.

I treasure God’s love letters to God’s people contained with the Torah – like our text for this week.  The words of these love letters bring incredible assurance:

“Remember, you were once a slave and stranger in a foreign land and I brought you out of that.”

“Remember, there was a time when all of this junk was being done to you and I was your constant companion, your hope, your guide.”

“Remember, there has never been and there never will be a time when I will not do for you…and because I do, you will do also.”

Junk happens.  Junk is done to us.  Sometimes we can control it and sometimes we cannot.  So lament the junk and let it roll off your back.  As my colleague Lisa says, “Breathe in the goodness of God and exhale the garbage.”  I am sure we will question “why” junk happens and is done to us for the rest of our lives…but we will never have to question whether or not God is with us in it and if God will lead us through it.  Our God is faithful.  Our God does for us.  And in gratitude for all God has done and continues to do, we are invited to do for others.

Prayer: “All who love and serve your city, all who bear its daily stress, all who cry for peace and justice, all who curse and all who bless: Risen Lord, shall yet the city be the city of despair?  Come today, our Judge, our Glory, be its name, “The Lord is there!”* Amen.

*”All Who Love and Serve Your City,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 433.

The Gospel According to Showtunes: Raise You Up

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 1:1-11

The Ascension of Jesus assures that those who come from God, return to God.  Jesus – God’s only begotten Son – came from God as an infant – holy and lowly – and now as resurrected Christ ascends into heaven.  Those who believe in the resurrected and ascended Lord are also on this path.  We, who claim faith in Christ, are new creations; our birth is no longer natural or earthly but from on high with God.  Our faith in Christ has grafts us into the Kingdom.

The Apostle Paul writes, “You will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity towards those who have fallen, but God’s kindness towards you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And even those of Israel, if they do not persist in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again” (Romans 11:19-23).  The “broken branches” refer to the people of Israel that did not receive the good news of Jesus Christ and the “grafted branches” refer to the Gentiles that did receive the good news.  Paul guards his listeners (and readers) against pride.  It is because of Christ that we are on the path we are on; therefore, do not be boastful.  We have been set on a particular way – from God to return to God – and how we live and serve in the in-between-time becomes our focus.  We are challenged to keep God at our center so that in God we will “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

Jesus sends the disciples to Jerusalem; there they are to await the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This is another step in their in-between time from God to God, but the disciples get ahead of themselves.  They don’t want to take a step; they want to take a flying leap forward!  They ask, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6)?  I can imagine Jesus dropping his chin to his chest and chuckling after hearing this question.  Acts records Jesus response as, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8).  My paraphrase of Jesus’ response would go something like this…”Oh you disciples, you still don’t get it.  You are looking for things way in the future when I have asked you to be present in this moment.  We are here for you to receive the Spirit and then you will join me in restoring the Kingdom to the ends of the earth.  Keep focused.  One step at a time.”  Before the disciples can ask any follow-up questions, Jesus ascends.  They stand in awe with their gaze toward heaven.

And eventually…their gaze shifts from the heavens back to earth, back to the mission field, back to the Kingdom that is reigning in some areas and still needing to in-break into others.  God equips the disciples with the Holy Spirit so they are prepared to attend to the work before them.  The disciples are now responsible to carry on Jesus’ revolutionary work and they will do so with the Holy Spirit as their companion.

We, as modern day disciples, also find ourselves on the path “from God to return to God.”  Sure, we can take time to marvel at the heavens and be thankful for the final destination of our path, but we have work to do in the in-between time.  We, like Jesus’ disciples, have to uncrane our necks from the heavens and get dirt back under our fingernails.  Jesus is not going to do the work for us and we cannot stand idle until he returns in glory.  There is work to be done.  We are equipped by God’s Spirit to do it.  And we will do it – one step at a time.

Prayer: “I can hear my Savior calling, I can hear my Savior calling, I can hear my Savior calling, ‘Take thy cross and follow, follow me.’  He will give me grace and glory, he will give me grace and glory, he will give me grace and glory, and go with me, with me, all the way.  Where he leads me I will follow, where he leads me I will follow, where he leads me I will follow; I’ll go with him, with him, all the way.”* Amen.

*”Where He Leads Me,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 338.

 

We See Him – Witnesses of Change

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 28:1-10 and Acts 10:34-43

It seems like I have been waiting for Easter Sunday forever.  Life as a pastor makes a person hyper aware to one’s proximity to certain holy days.  It is always easier to prepare for Christmas Eve…I know when it will happen.  But Easter…Easter is another holy day entirely.

The day we celebrate Easter shifts every year in accordance to the lunar cycle and to keep it near the celebration of Passover.  Last year Easter was “early” – the last day of March.  This year it is three Sundays into April…and I am ready to celebrate.  I am anxious to shout a word that begins with “Alle” and ends with “luia” that I have kept from my vocabulary since the first Sunday of Lent, thereby participating in the early church tradition of not saying that word during the Season of Lent.  That word is a proclamation that the Kingdom of Heaven is established on the earth and during Lent we earnestly pray and crave for the Kingdom’s coming.

On Easter we relish as we utter that word – the Kingdom is come and it is an eternal one, free from the bondage of sin and death because our Christ has defeated the grave.  Our Christ is victorious.  Our Christ leaves the grave, not so that he cannot be found and not so he can play his version of hide and seek.  Jesus is not hiding, but he calls those who are faithful to him to seek him.  And where will we find him?  Why among the people, of course.  His ministry is not done.  He wants us to see that even in the present Kingdom ministry, service, sacrifice, care of neighbor, will of God must still be done.

We leave the tomb for it is empty.  We meet Christ in the world and see what he is doing.  And then we join him in it.

One of my favorite praise songs for Easter is Christ is Risen by Matt Maher.  This particular video combines the lyrics and orchestration of Maher with the incredible spoken word talents of David Bowden.  In his spoken word Bowden describes where Christ is present after the resurrection and the healing that Christ brings.  My everlasting hope is that Christ will always be present in these places and that his presence will draw his faithful nearer.

What holy day follows Easter?  Pentecost…the birth of the church…the day we celebrate the receipt of the Holy Spirit…the day the church collectively commits to carry forward the ministry, service, sacrifice, care of neighbor, and will of God because Christ has gone ahead of us into the Kingdom.  We commit to these acts until he completes his Kingdom here.

Prayer: “Almighty God, through Jesus Christ you overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life.  Grant that we, who celebrate the day of our Lord’s resurrection, may, by the renewing of your Spirit arise from the death of sin to the life of righteousness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”*

*”Easter Vigil or Day,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 320.

 

New Creation: Servants of God

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Corinthians 6:1-13

This Sunday I have the privilege to be joined in worship leadership by one of my dearest friends, The Rev. Dan Dixon.  Dan is the pastor serving Mt. Gilead UMC in Sharpsburg, GA.  Brenda – Dan’s beautiful wife – will also be a guest at Reeves UMC on Sunday.  I am so excited that they will be in town and that we will get to spend some much needed time together.  They make my heart so happy!!

Throughout this week’s Scripture passage Paul uses the first person plural pronoun we – As we work together with him; we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain; we are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way.  But who is this we?  

Remember – although Paul is the writer – or attributed writer – of most of the New Testament passages, he was not working alone.  He had associates.  He had partners in ministry – together he and they were the helpmates of Christ in the Kingdom.  His partners were men, women, Jews that became Christian, Gentiles that became Christian, folks that had similar walks and upbringing as him, and folks whose walks were as unknown to Paul’s as Adam’s house cat.

They worked near one another – as near as one another’s breath – and then they also worked with great distances between them.  Whatever the circumstance, they served with joy.  They embraced their commission as servants of God and servants in the Kingdom as Paul says, “through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, and hunger (II Cor 6:4b-5).  Whatever came their way they knew they had one another and they knew they had Christ.

As we continue serving in the Kingdom today I believe that we continue the legacy and live into the example of Paul and his friends, of Christ and the disciples.  A life of ministry can be very isolating – in a vocation where you are surrounded by people, pastors can feel so alone.  It is in these days that I am most thankful for my colleagues in ministry – both near and far – that I can call on for support.  Dan is one of those colleagues.  We met the first day of seminary – two nervous students that found themselves in an Old Testament Lecture wondering what the heck we had gotten ourselves into – but no matter what we got into – then and now – we have each other.  We have Christ.  We have incredibly supportive spouses and partners in ministry in Brenda and Andrew.  We have mutual friends – like The Sara(h)s.  We have friends known only to one of us and not the other and then we have friends that were only known to one of us that have become mutual.  All of these friends, colleagues, beloved ones – they constitute my we – our we.  And it is beautiful.

One of my favorite affirmations of faith is The Statement of Faith of The United Church of Canada.*  It affirms, “We are not alone; we live in God’s world; we believe in God; we trust in God; we are called to be the church; we are not alone.”

That first person plural pronoun – it is intentional.

We are the servants of God.  We are in this together.  And it is beautiful.

Prayer:  “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing; he chastens and hastens his will to make known.  The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.  Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own.  Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining, ordaining, maintaining, his kingdom divine; so from the beginning the fight we are winning; thou, Lord, wast at our side, all glory be thine.  We all do extol thee, thou leader triumphant, and pray that thou still our defender wilt be.  Let thy congregation escape tribulation; thy name be every praised!  O Lord, make us free!”**  Amen.

*”The Statement of Faith of The United Church of Canada,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 883.

**”We Gather Together,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 131.

Plot From The Plain: Woah and Woe

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 6:17-26

This week Reeves will begin a sermon series entitled Plot From The Plain based on lessons from Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain found in Luke 6.  Jesus’ first sermon in Luke begins similarly to Jesus’ first sermon in Matthew – with a sharing of beatitudes.

The Beatitudes are Christ’s promise of coming blessings.  The blessings will arrive when the Kingdom of Heaven is in it’s fullness and completion on earth.

The Beatitudes are not the first blessings we encounter when we read Scripture.  Old Testament and New Testament texts are punctuated with blessing.  Each blessing is an authoritative pronouncement of God’s favor.  In some of our Bibles handy-dandy editors have come through and organized the Scripture with headers that somehow indicate “find a blessing here!” and then you read that blessing.  Other blessings in Scripture are not as easily noticed at first glance, but they are no less powerful and gracious in their gifting.

One of my favorite blessings that I return to again and again is Isaiah 46:4b.  God says, “I have made and I will bear; I will carry and I will save.”  I believe this blessing from God is pure gift.  And it is this blessing that beckons me, draws me, and inspires me into service for my God who has made the commitment through my creation to bear, carry, and save me.

No. Matter.  What.

//

As I ponder blessings this week I can’t help but think about how we have limited blessings in our lives.  Yes, we can read them in Scripture, but where else do we encounter blessings?  Sadly, I feel that we have limited blessings to words before we eat, sneezes, offertory prayers, and worship service dismissals.  You may participate in a faith community where clergy regularly steward the sacraments – there you will also encounter blessings.

But where else do we encounter blessings?

I am drawing a blank…and I think that shows the graveness of this predicament.

Which leads me to my next question – how can we develop a culture of blessing?

The Beatitudes are Christ’s promise of coming blessings – but I believe that we are presently in the world of Christ’s blessings and anticipating their completion.  We don’t anticipate idly.  We anticipate actively knowing that we do not bring about the completion of Christ’s blessings ourselves, but that we are helpmates in the completion and pronouncement of those blessings.

Through blessings we affirm people.  Through blessings we affirm the worthiness of others; we affirm our appreciation for their gifts, their presence, their dedication.  Through blessings we also encourage.

When we practice giving blessings – blessings from our own experience of others or speaking blessings of Scripture into the lives of our neighbors – I believe we develop a culture of blessing.  This culture of blessing could start with one – with me – with you – and grow exponentially.  I believe this is the task that Christ calls us to as helpmates in the Kingdom.

God bless you my friends.  Now go and do likewise.

Reflection: Who has blessed you in this life?  What was communicated in that blessing?  Was it spoken, written, expressed physically through a hug or some sort of service?  Who have you blessed?  How did you communicate it?  Who is someone that God is calling you to bless?  When will you communicate that blessing?

Prayer: “Blessed assurance; Jesus is mine!  O what a feeling of glory divine!  Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.  This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long; this is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.”*  Amen.

*From “Blessed Assurance,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 369.