Strong and Courageous: SundayServe

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 3:31-35

This Sunday the churches within the East Central District of the Florida Conference of The UMC will be set loose on our local communities to engage in acts of service for our neighbors through an event entitled SundayServe.  The Reeves congregation will meet for a brief service of worship at 10am and then we will be dismissed to our service opportunities.

  • Some will spend their morning through early afternoon packing food with Stop Hunger Now.
  • Others will be leading hymn-sings at local retirement and nursing homes.
  • Others will be picking up trash and recycling along motorways and shorelines
  • Others will be cleaning and sprucing up partnering non-profit facilities
  • And these are just a few of the options!

Reeves celebrates that folks from around our local neighborhood – including a neighboring UMC about 5 miles away – as well as the partnering organizations that use the Reeves facility throughout the month will join our members this coming Saturday to complete the exterior painting of our property and begin painting the interior walls.  This is such a gift to the Reeves congregation – because trust me – we have LOTS of walls to paint.

My heart is warmed by the idea of SundayServe because participating in it brings the people called Methodist back to our roots – and even more than that – it brings the people called Christian back to our roots.

(1) The Early Methodists were always where the people were – and trust me – that wasn’t every often in a church structure.  It was in the fields, the streets, the prisons, the hospitals, the horse stalls, and more than likely a couple of joints where someone could partake in a festive adult beverage.  Meeting the people where they were led to the explosion of the Methodist movement.  That ministers and lay leaders in the church went directly to the people first met a physical need so they could then address spiritual needs.

Now this physical need doesn’t mean that they always brought something to the people they sought…I doubt a “new friend coffee mug” was given at the end of their meeting.  The physical need that was met was the desire to be included, the confirmation that as they were presently was all that was required to be included, to join.

And isn’t that what we all still crave today?  Yet…we seem so comfortable in our pews.  I would venture to say that we have felt included – that we felt we were and are enough to join the assembly in which we find ourselves today…so why don’t we more readily share that confirmation and invitation with others?

(2) In the Scripture passage for this week Jesus is seated among a mixed crowd.  He alerted that his brother and mother have arrived and want to speak with him.  Now if I were Jesus my gut reaction would be to politely excuse myself from the group to attend to my family.  But Jesus’ response is the opposite of that – just another example of Jesus being Lord in a Kingdom that is upsidedown from what we would expect.

Jesus asks, “Who is my family?  My mother?  My brother?  Who are my kin?”  These aren’t rhetorical questions and he quickly provides the answer.  Jesus looks at the crowd around him and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers.  Whoever does the will of God is my brother, sister, and mother” (Mk 3:35).

And what is the will of God?

  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.

(pause so that can resonate)

This Sunday the people of Reeves will have the opportunity to serve our neighbors as if we are serving Jesus.  It will be a humbling day, but also a day of great proclamation – that we are true to our Methodist roots, that we are true to our Christian heritage and will boldly live its legacy, and by taking the servant’s towel and wrapping it around our waists, we tell our neighbors – our family – that they are worthy and are welcome with us.

Prayer: “The voice of God is calling it summons in our day; Isaiah heard in Zion, and we now hear God say: ‘Whom shall I send to succor my people in their need?  Whom shall I send to loosen the bonds of shame and greed?’ ‘I hear my people crying in slum and mine and mill; no field or mart is silent, no city street is still. I see my people falling in darkness and despair. Whom shall I send to shatter the fetters which they bear?’ 3. We heed, O Lord, your summons, and answer: Here are we! Send us upon your errand, let us your servants be. Our strength is dust and ashes, our years a passing hour; but you can use our weakness to magnify your power.”* Amen.

*”The Voice of God is Calling” from The United Methodist Hymnal, 436.

Heritage: The Work of Living Stones

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Peter 2:1-10

This week Reeves’ concludes our Heritage series somewhat at the beginning.  In previous weeks we have been looking back to the foremothers and forefathers of our faith in Scripture, in both Old and New Testament times, to get our spiritual footing.  This week we turn to take the first spiritual steps as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.

In order to go out as a person called by God I think it is first important to consider how you have experienced your call by God.  All people are called not just those persons who are set apart to be the clergy leadership in congregations.  I love the language contained in this Scripture passage because it supports that all people have been given access to God – to know, to seek, to understand, to question, to confirm.  Before the Protestant Reformation it was thought that only the priests had this kind of access to God when in fact we are a priesthood of all believers – meaning anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord has this access and is welcomed to engage.

I believe that people who call upon the name of the Lord have experienced God’s call on their life – whether or not they can easily articulate it.  It does not have to be some intense, dramatic scene.  Scripture attests that God can show up in a myriad of ways – full of pomp and circumstance or in a quiet voice.  But this call – this exchange with God – is the pivotal point that prompts a person to take that spiritual step.

In Methodist history, some scholars suggest that John Wesley’s on Aldersgate Day, the 24th of May 1738, while hearing someone reading from Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans, that he felt that his heart was “strangely warmed” and said, “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”*  Some scholars have understood this to be the pivotal moment of Wesley’s call.  Aldersgate led Wesley in his next years to begin an movement in the Church of England that led him out of the church to preach where anyone would listen – to preach in the world his parish.  His movement continues as The United Methodist Church.

I experienced my call at United Methodist summer camp the summer before 6th grade.  The last night in chapel I was up at the altar praying and I heard God calling me into a life of ministry in The United Methodist Church.  I had no idea at age 11 how that would look, but with trembling confidence I responded, “whatever your will Lord, send me.”  I continue to realize and live into that calling each day as I serve in the local church and grow in my relationship with God.

Maybe you are in a vocation outside the ecclesial or church circle?  What then?  How do you live into your call?  Well, don’t fear that you had the wrong call or no call because you aren’t living into your call in the church.  As I said before, God calls all people and God is calling you right where you are right now.  So what do you do about it?  Explore it.  See what it means.  Ask yourself questions.  Ask God questions.  Dialogue with someone you trust.  Do you know your call in and out, up and down, backwards and forwards?  Are you living into everything that God wants you to do?  Is there more God desires?  How can you start addressing that?  This self-reflection and call-exploration is crucial work needed to take further spiritual steps.

I resonate so much with a story Barbara Brown Taylor tells from her own experience about exploring and living into her call.  During her final semester of seminary she recalls praying fervently to God that God would answer her most dreaded question, “What do I do after graduation?!”  One late evening atop her favorite prayer space, an abandoned fire escape, God’s answer came to her, “Do anything that pleases you and belong to me.”**

Maybe your question is “what do I do with my call?!”  I think the same answer applies.  Do anything that pleases you and belong to God.  Doing so will help all of us take steps in knowing ourselves more as God desires us to be and positions us to take spiritual steps as God’s chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, God’s own people.

Prayer: “I, the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry.  All who dwell in dark and sin my hand will save.  I who made the stars of night, I will make their darkness bright.  Who will bear my light to them?  Whom shall I send?  Here I am, Lord.  Is it I, Lord?  I have heard you calling in the night.  I will go, Lord, if you lead me.  I will hold your people in my heart.”***

** Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, 110.

*** “Here I Am, Lord” from The United Methodist Hmynal, 593. 

Heritage: Birth of the Church

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 2:1-12

This Sunday the Christian Church celebrates Pentecost!  The great fifty days of Easter are complete – meaning the Season of Easter is complete – yes, Easter is a season as well as a day!  And now we cross the threshold into the season of Pentecost…which is many many many more days than the season of Easter.  In fact, in the liturgical year, the season of Pentecost is the longest season…lasting 27 weeks this year!  Woah!  That’s 189 days of Pentecost!  Good thing I like the color green.

(Extra points to the friends that catch that reference!)

Pentecost is the birth of the church.  On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit is given to humanity, Peter preaches one intense sermon, and then Acts 2:41-42 tells us “So those who welcomed his [Peter’s] message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.  They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

They devoted themselves to what we now know as the pattern of worship in the church – teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers.

Thomas Troeger – one of my all-time favorite authors, poets, and hymnwriters – likens Pentecost to a homecoming.  Folks are gathering from the corners of the earth in one central location to remember, to celebrate, and to reconnect.

When I think about my high school homecomings…I am overwhelmed with memories of friends running around in garnet and gold war paint, waving our arms as tomahawks to the driving and deafening beats coming from our marching band, and cheering our football team to victory.  “Garnet!  Gold! We Are!  Lake Gibson!”

We had one goal – one mission – win the game!  The players, coaches, cheerleaders, dancers, color guard, band, and crowd – one goal, one mission – win the game!  In certain moments it was like we moved as one, breathed as one, tackled as one, scored as one.  And when the game was over, winners or losers, we would sing our school song and go home.

The homecoming game wasn’t the only football game we played each year; the season was 12 games in duration.  But the other games didn’t seem to have the same spirit as the homecoming game.  They just were…when the homecoming game was.

So I think about this likening to Pentecost – as a homecoming for the church.  This one day we celebrate as one, sing as one, for some churches wear red as one, and for other churches (I hope Reeves does this!) eat cake as one!

Let’s face it…we all need to walk around with red-dyed mouths.  It will be awesome!

There’s so much spirit on Pentecost.  The church is overwhelming with energy. It’s a mountain top experience…and then (as it’s been my experience) the church falls hard back into the valley.  The spirit dissipates and it’s back to church as usual.  And I don’t know about you, but I’m over church as usual.

I want that spirit and energy of Pentecost every week!  Every Sunday is a little Easter – our remembrance of the resurrection – of Jesus defeating sin and death.  Every Sunday is also a little Pentecost – an opportunity for the church to come home, to remember, to celebrate, to collaborate, and to return to service in the world.  I’m not saying every week in worship needs to be a high-energy hoopla of a service.  God’s presence can be known in the mighty earthquake and a thunderstorm as well as a still small voice.  There is presence – mighty presence – in stillness as there is in loud exaltation.  What I am saying is that every week in worship needs to be an authentic reflection and response to the moving of the Spirit in our midst.

God is faithful in giving the Spirit.  May we be faithful as we are enlivened by it.  May our worship reflect our reception of it.  May our worship be a pleasing fragrance, a holy and living sacrifice to our God.

Reflection: How will we allow the Spirit to lead us?  How will our worship reflect the in-breaking and presence of God’s Spirit?  How will we be a Pentecost people every Sunday of the year?

Prayer: “Holy Spirit, wind and flame, move within our mortal frame; make our hearts an altar pyre; kindle them with your own fire.  Breathe and blow upon that blaze till our lives, our deeds, and ways speak the tongue which every land by your grace shall understand.”* Amen.

* from “Wind Who Makes All Winds That Blow,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 538.

Heritage: Builders of Our Tradition

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 16:13-20

One of the first major milestones in any teenager’s life is driving.  I couldn’t wait to drive.  I remember my parents ordering the driver’s ed manual for me to study for my learner’s permit.  I remember my dad driving me to the bustling metropolis of Dade City to get my learner’s permit.  The DMV was on a hill way above the road and all I could think was…if I get my license, please don’t make me back down this crazy driveway!  I remember my parents insisting, impressing, requiring that my brother and I take driver’s ed in summer school or we would not step within 100 feet of the driver’s seat in the family vehicles.  But my most vivid memory was “the talk” my folks had with my brother and I after we turned in our learner’s permits and received our full licenses.

You know…”the talk”…

Keys in hand they said,

“You do not have to drive.  Driving is a privilege.  It requires responsibility and discipline and maturity.  And if you abuse this privilege, you will lose it.”

Then the keys were passed.

I think this is a pretty standard talk…wonder if you receive it in a script on a page of that elusive parenting handbook I keep hearing about…

In our Scripture lesson this week Peter receives keys from Jesus – keys to the Kingdom of heaven.  And much like receiving car keys, responsibility and discipline and maturity were required to receive these keys.  But in a little different twist, if the followers of Christ abused what they had been given, they wouldn’t lose the keys.  No.  How they treated what they received on earth would be reflected in heaven.

Jesus said, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  We have been entrusted with these keys to open up God’s word and God’s forgiveness to all people.  What we do matters.  What we say matters.  How we say it matters.  And what we don’t say matters.

How we respond to this great responsibility matters.

It has eternal effects.

I am continually amazed as I serve among the Reeves’ community that truly all means all.  I am amazed that Reeves is a community where we have agreed to live into the United Methodist motto of open minds, open hearts, and open doors.  We do not serve free of scrutiny.  We do not serve free of judgment or trial.  But in our service we acknowledge that we have received the keys from Christ.  We acknowledge that abuse has been done with them and by them before.  And we acknowledge our responsibility to stand in the gaps, returning to God’s word and God’s forgiveness for ourselves that we may seek the forgiveness of others.

It is a powerful place to be.  It is a place where I truly believe I am engaging Kingdom work daily.

The keys we hold are a privilege.  A privilege received from Christ’s own hand.  With them we are binding great things for God’s present and coming Kingdom.  And Lord, if in some folly we bind things unfit for the Kingdom, in your grace and in your wisdom, release them.

Prayer: “Lead on, O King eternal, till sin’s fierce war shall cease, and holiness shall whisper the sweet amen of peace.  For not with swords loud clashing, nor roll of stirring drums; with deeds of love and mercy the heavenly kingdom comes.”  Amen.*

*from “Lead On, O King Eternal” from The United Methodist Hymnal, 580.

Heritage: Builders of the Faith

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Psalm 127

This Sunday at Reeves we begin our Heritage series.  I felt led to share this series because the congregation is just about half and half.

  • Half the people have been here for years!  Their children – and some even their grandchildren – have grown up in this congregation.  They know the stories, they know the people, they are and continue the story!
  • Half the people are new – joining the church within the last few years.  They have heard bits and pieces of the story, and now as members of the story, I think it’s important they hear the whole story so the story will continue.

(And as a companion for this period of the journey, I reckon I should know the stories!)

So we celebrate Heritage at Reeves – looking at who this congregation is, looking at where we have been, and anticipating – alongside God – where we are going.

Psalm 127 speaks of the spiritual construction of houses while Deuteronomy 6:4-9 speaks of the spiritual instruction that takes place in the houses.

I remember when I was in the sixth grade my parents sold our home on the southside of town to build a new home on the northside of town.  For 6 long months (I think it was 6…it felt like 6…years…) I slept on the couch in the two-bedroom apartment our family rented.

My big brother got the bedroom…but I got the closet!

Hah!  Priorities folks…priorities!

During that time of transition from one house to another I felt very out of place…like I was in everyone’s way.  Since I slept on the couch, if people were watching TV and I wanted to go to sleep, someone had to move…either they ended their program-viewing early or I curled up under the dining room table. I didn’t have a space that was mine to order – from where things went to what went on in there.  I was completely dependent on someone else…someone over me had the say and final word…and I didn’t like it.

Yet as I read these passages…I become more aware that nothing in this world is mine to order solely on my own…and if I attempted, it would all be in vain.  What is mine to order is mine because God gifted me that ability, that opportunity, that responsibility.

Like the lyrics from Casting Crowns, “Not because of who I am, but because of what you’ve done.  Not because of what I’ve done, but because of who you are.”

God creates the space.  God gifts the space.  God invites me into the space.  To God be the glory.

And if I feel out of place in that space…well…I think that is an indicator I need to get back to the business of proper spiritual instruction.

Proverbs 14:1 and 11 read, “The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands…The house of the wicked is destroyed, but the tent of the upright flourishes.”  The wise person builds if she does so pursing the heart of her Creator; God will make her dwelling flourish.

God will make your dwelling flourish.  Invite God to order and craft your space.

Prayer: “Happy are they whose hopes rely on Israel’s God, who made the sky and earth and seas, with all their train; whose truth forever stands secure, who saves the oppressed and feed the poor, for none shall find God’s promise vain.” Amen.*

*from “I’ll Praise My Maker While I’ve Breath” from The United Methodist Hymnal Book of Worship, 60.