Jesus Said What!? ~ Let The Dead Bury Their Dead

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 9:57-62.

This Sunday the Tuskawilla UMC Family begins a new sermon series entitled Jesus Said What!? In this series we will study words of Jesus that are possibly lesser known to us and definitely a shock to our system. When I think of Jesus’ words, I think of words that are kind and hospitable; many of the passages we will study over the next two months are “a completely different animal” as my Gramps would say.

Let us remember that the words we have in Scripture circled for generations in oral tradition before they were written down. This fact troubles some folks; they question the truth of Scripture because it is a re-creation of these moments rather than an up-to-the-minute breaking-news account. In our world of 24-hour news media that provides instant gratification when we hunger for headlines, it is at times hard to accept how the Scripture we hold so dear came to be and came to us.

I believe the Bible is true because Scripture contains the word of God. Scripture reveals the actions of the Triune God as truth and is the foundation of our knowledge of God. Scripture proclaims Jesus as the Word of God – who was made incarnate in the world – in order to serve, teach, love and save humanity. Scripture is the means by which we encounter the Holy Spirit, who guides us in our service to others; service is our appropriate response to what the self-revealing God has done for us. Scripture proclaims that, through the mercy of God and the salvific death of Christ, humanity’s broken relationship with God is reconciled and restored.

The Holy Spirit’s movement in the lives of the biblical writers inspired and guided their writing. The Bible does not claim to be inerrant or require literal interpretation at all times; it is a human construction – inspired by the Holy Spirit – and it expresses the word of God in a variety of literary forms. I believe Scripture is not meant to function as a science textbook; it tells its readers the Who and the Why, not necessarily always the When and the How. Just as the Holy Spirit spoke to and guided the writers of Scripture I believe the Holy Spirit speaks to us through Scripture and shepherds us in interacting with Scripture in fresh ways.

Scripture continues to be relevant and true for us today. It serves as our primary source for theological reflection and study as we grow in our knowledge and love of God. It connects us to the history and faith of God’s people. It reveals to us the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as individuals and as the Church. It informs our response in service to the world in the manner of Christ.

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.” 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.

 

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Church Behind the Scenes

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 2:1-12.

Some years ago I heard this piece of truth: if your dreams do not scare you, then your dreams are not big enough.

I tend to avoid things that scare me: roller coasters, water chestnuts, flats on Sundays… so it is a bit counterintuitive for me to run towards and hold fast to something that scares me.

I am a planner. I do not like surprises. I like expectations – both what to expect and what is expected of me. While the unknown and the future holds a certain intrigue – a certain mystique – it scares me.

On Pentecost we celebrate the birth of the church – the day we received the gift of God’s Holy Spirit as well as the invitation to worship, gather, and serve as part of God’s dream that is both seen and unseen. As we are the church together God reveals more of God’s dream – God’s big, grace-filled, freeing, heart-capturing dream. We have the opportunity to take hold of God’s dream and very quickly it takes hold of us and draws us towards a future we cannot fully see but can fully trust.

It can be scary…but a relationship with God draws us into such a greater world. In God’s world we matter and what we do matters. Sometimes we can see how what we do fits into God’s larger dream. And sometimes we serve not knowing exactly how our offering fits into God’s big dream and so we trust that God uses our offerings to God’s good and God’s glory.

As scary as all of this is…God has so captured me that I cannot do anything but pursue God’s dream. I know some of the steps, but not all of them. And I continue walking. I continue trusting. I continue dreaming. And when I am scared I know I am not alone…and that I am right on track.

Prayer: “Wind who makes all winds that blow, gusts that bend the sapling low, gales that heave the sea in waves, stirrings in the mind’s deep caves: Aim your breath with steady power on your church, this day, this hour. Raise, renew the life we’ve lost, Spirit God of Pentecost.”* Amen.

*”Wind Who Makes All Winds That Blow,” The United Methodists Hymnal, 538.

 

Why the Holy Spirit Power Is Needed For Church Renewal

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ephesians 3:20-21.

This Sunday the Tuskawilla UMC Community will be joined in worship by Rev. Aldo Martin. Aldo is one of the Florida Conference leaders of Methodists United In Prayer, a ministry team that serves to affirm and strengthen the relationships of care and service held between The Methodist Church in Cuba and The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. Methodists United In Prayer focus their ministry efforts on the following priorities in both The Methodist Church in Cuba and The Florida Annual Conference Churches:

  • To pray for one another and develop a common study of Scriptures.
  • To engage in the interchange of peoples of Cuba and Florida Conferences work teams, preachers, laity, caravans, study teams, professors, teachers and choirs.
  • To respond to the priorities of the Methodist Church in Cuba.
  • To build relationships between the Florida Conference and the Methodist Church in Cuba for mutual support and encouragement.
  • To enable the training of pastors and lay people for the equipping of Cuban disciples.
  • To mutually share the history, current events, culture and spirituality of both Conferences.*

Bishop Ken Carter visited Cuba in 2013 to participate in the 130th Celebration of Methodism in Cuba and he was overwhelmed by what he saw. In an email he sent to Florida Conference Churches upon his arrival home he shared, ““The Cuban Methodists have discovered how to form new communities of Christian disciples…and how to call forth the gifts of a younger generation.” This evidence – this occurrence – speaks incredibly to the Holy Spirit’s power in the Cuban Methodist Church. For many decades the Cuban Methodist Church struggled under Communist regime and as a Protestant denomination in a predominantly Roman Catholic society. Methodist pastors and missionaries fled because they were threatened with physical harm or imprisonment. It seemed that hope was dwindling for the Methodist Church in Cuba. It seemed that God’s Spirit was being pushed out, when in fact, God’s Spirit was and is growing stronger day by day.

Our Scripture text this week teaches that with God’s power we are able to accomplish abundantly more than we can ask for imagine. I truly believe that what God has done and is doing in and through the Methodist Church in Cuba – in and through the Florida Conference United Methodist Churches – in and through each one of us – would not be possible apart from God. God gives what we need and gives what we do not know we need. God guides and provides. Our God is surprising. Our God works in all times and places. And our God will not be driven out of anywhere. As we are reminded in John’s Gospel, God’s light “shines in the darkness, and the darkness [does] not overcome it” (Jn 1:5).

I look forward to hearing from Rev. Martin this Sunday and then joining with him and others for conversation following the service in Room 16 to explore how Tuskawilla UMC can grow in our relationship with our sister church in Cuba – La Lima – as well as explore future service opportunities with them. I look forward to worshipping with you.

Prayer: “When the poor ones who have nothing share with strangers, when the thirsty water give unto us all, when the crippled in their weakness strengthen others, then we know that God still goes that road with us, then we know that God still goes that road with us.” Amen.**

*http://flumc-missions.org/muip-covenant.html

**”When the Poor Ones,” The United Methodist Hymnal 434.

 

FAMILY ~ It Begins With YOU

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 2:38-47.

This week Andrew and I had the opportunity to return to some of our “old stomping grounds.” No, we were not in Polk County, but that is a great place, too! We were in the greater Atlanta area visiting dear family and friends, eating practically everything in sight, and reminiscing about our time spent here while in seminary at Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

I may have also been bitten by the Doctorate of Ministry bug…but we will talk more about that later.

It is good to visit “home” or “the homes” throughout our lives because those occasions help us to reflect on how things were and how things have changed, and how we were and how we have changed. Going home is as much a physical visit as it is a spiritual and emotional visit. It draws me to a time of reflection as well as gratitude. Yes, somethings change – people who used to live or work in certain places are no longer there, buildings that were once used for one thing are now used for another purpose, praising God that one section of road construction is finally completed only to find that they have simply moved the construction two miles north.

And yes, somethings stay the same and get better with age – hospitality, kindness, generosity, curiosity, encouragement, and love.

This Sunday in the Christian Year we return home to Pentecost – the birth of the Early Church through the giving and receiving of the Holy Spirit. In returning to this home we are reminded of how things were and how things have changed and how we as God’s people were and how we as God’s people have changed. I am so thankful for the legacy from our Pentecost home that remains and sustains – worship, confession, gathering around Christ’s table in fellowship, thanksgiving, acts of mercy, acts of justice, service, companionship, and transformation. I am thankful for the ways our legacy from our Pentecost home has changed, morphed, and evolved through the generations. And I am hopeful for how we will continue shaping our legacy as a family of faith through our relationship with and response to the leadings of the Holy Spirit.

I invite you to join me in prayer for the continued shaping of our legacy as a United Methodist faith family as the voting at General Conference begins on Monday, May 16. I am hopeful that decisions made by this elective body and voice of our denomination recall our home in Pentecost – the mighty presence of God and the immediate, authentic, inclusive response to God’s presence in our midst – as they add their heads, hearts, and hands to the shaping of the United Methodist witness in the world for the next four years.

Gracious Lord, may hospitality, kindness, generosity, curiosity, encouragement, and love define United Methodists and our witness. May people see your face, your light, and your welcome in us.

Prayer“Wind who makes all winds that blow, gusts that bend the sapling low, gales that heave the sea in waves, stirrings in the mind’s deep caves: aim your breath with steady power on your church, this day, this hour. Raise, renew the life we’ve lost, Spirit God of Pentecost.”* Amen.

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

Thrive: Depth

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ezekiel 47:3-5

While practicing yoga I frequently hear my teachers inviting me to deepen my practice. There are a number of ways to deepen a yoga practice:

  1. Take a more full expression of a pose. For example, if you are in a pose that calls for your legs to be in the shape of a lunge (like Crescent Pose or Warrior One), you deepen the pose by increasing the bend in your front leg towards a 90-degree angle with the goal of stacking your knee over your ankle.
  2. Move to your edge. An “edge” in yoga could be the extent of your comfort zone with a pose or the extent of your familiarity with a pose. Moving to your edge means that you try on something new in the pose by bending a little deeper, growing a little taller, or extending a little longer. The goal is to not cross your edge but to increase your edge – that is how you grow in yoga.
  3. Bring awareness to the breath. What is the quality of your breath? Is it shallow and quick? Is it deep and slow? How can you lengthen the breath? How can you bring a sense of calm to a very active practice? How can you breathe with the entirety versus a portion of your lungs?
  4. Turn inward. Yes, yoga is a physical practice, but the physical practice – known as asana – is only one portion of the practice. Yoga encompasses physical as well as mental activity. It is an outward and an inward practice. It unites movement and meditation. When a practitioner turns inward, the mind settles allowing clarity to increase while distractions decrease.

As Ezekiel follows God’s messenger out of the temple and into the rushing river’s flow, he becomes increasingly aware of the river’s deepening. His expression changes as he witnesses God’s river take on its full expression as it cascades down the mountain. He moves to his edge as he wades in the water. If I were in Ezekiel’s shoes I would want to ensure a calm and even quality to my breath as I ventured into water where neither my bare nor stiletto’d feet could touch the riverbed. And I would want to focus and settle my mind. In that state of awareness and presence I would be safe and I would see and experience all that God desires to reveal.

In order to grow in my yoga practice I am committed to deepening my practice. The same holds true for my – for our – spiritual practice. God invites each of us to deepen our spiritual practices so we can deepen our relationship with God. There are a number of ways to mature in our faith:

  1. Take a more full expression of prayer, worship, fasting, service, and stewardship.
  2. Move to the edge of our comfort zones so we increase the area of our comfort zones as it relates to sharing our faith with and witnessing to our neighbors. I desire God to transform my comfort zone so it defines all that God enables me to do and that I serve in those roles with joy rather than separating what I will do from what I will not do. Continue my transformation, Lord.
  3. Bring awareness to God’s life-giving breath – God’s Holy Spirit – that dwells within us and guides us. Centering our attention on God’s breath and following the guidance of God’s Spirit will not lead us astray; it will lead us farther into the Kingdom.
  4. Turn inward away from the distractions of the world so that we may gain clarity about God’s purposes and God’s purposes for us.

(This is by no means an exhaustive list. This is what I have experienced and I would love to hear about your experiences, about how you specifically grow in your faith!)

Consider how God may be calling you to deepen your faith during this time and season. What full expression might you try on? How might you increase your comfort zone? What is God’s Holy Spirit breathing in you? When you turn inward, what do you see and how does that compare to what you would like to see? I invite you to pray about these questions this week. Ask. Seek. And share what you discover with someone you love.

Prayer: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. Allelu, Alleluia. Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek and ye shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened unto you. Allelu, Alleluia.”* Amen.

*”Seek Ye First,” The United Methodist Hymnal 405.

Feeding God’s Flame

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Walt Disney World has always held a special place in mine and Andrew’s relationship. We spent many dates at Magic Kingdom and Epcot in our high school and college days. We got engaged at Epcot – outside of Japan after we finished our dinner in Italy – where else on earth could that happen without the help of the Concord?! We have been so blessed by friends over the years who work for WDW that have gifted us tickets and helped us experience the magic again. For my birthday Andrew surprised me with a season pass so we can retreat to the wonderful world of Disney whenever we like.

One of my favorite experiences at Disney is the fireworks show at Epcot. One of mine and Andrew’s first dates was watching a Fourth of July fireworks show atop Happy Top Mountain in Kentucky while serving on a mission trip together. After he proposed Andrew asked that our first activity as an engaged couple be watching the fireworks show at Epcot; I could think of nothing better.

If you are familiar with the show, you know that it is a combination of fireworks and extreme pyrotechnics – complete with a raging fire that flames from a steel globe that sails on the surface of the World Showcase Lagoon. I have viewed this show from many different places along the shores of the lagoon and no matter where I stand, I can feel the power and strength of the heat radiating from the flames sourced within the globe. Sometimes it is warm and pleasant upon my face. Other times it is so intense that I need to turn away.

The flames are bright. The flames are full of vigor. The flames inspire.

This week we celebrate Pentecost – God’s giving of the Holy Spirit to God’s people and the birth of the Church. Acts 2 tells us “When the day of Pentecost had come, [the apostles] were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (Acts 2:1-4). Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them – tongues that were bright…tongues that were full of vigor…tongues that inspired.

I am sure that the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and those gathered with them created an energy that had never before been seen. Strength and power to heal and to prophesy and to dream and to make dreams reality were at the fingertips of the leaders of the Early Church and they employed this strength and power for the Kingdom’s good! For those the apostles served their presence, gifts, and ministry were welcome, warm, and pleasant happenings; their service drew people towards them like moths to a flame…or Methodists to a potluck. To others the apostles’ presence and gifts caused people to turn away.

As we prepare for the celebration of Pentecost and our active remembrance and participation in receiving the Holy Spirit, I wonder how God’s holy fire will manifest in us? Will it rage with such an intensity that we ignite new ways to engage our faith through critical thinking and companionship and compassion? Or will it be like just another day where a fire is started, but deprived of the necessary elements to help it breathe and grow, it fizzles out? I want to be like the flames emanating from the globe at the World Showcase. I want to be bright. I want to invigorate. I want to inspire. I want to do all of this for God’s glory, for the vitality of the church, and for the exponential growth of grace in the world.

God gifts the flame and we feed God’s flame by committing ourselves to the needful work of critical thinking, companionship, and compassion in conversation with and in response to our faith. May God’s Pentecost flame burn brightly within each of us; through it and because of it may we illuminate the world.

Prayer: “Fire who fuels all fires that burn, suns around which planets turn, beacons marking reefs and shoals, shining truth to guide our souls: come to us as once you came; burst in tongues of sacred flame! Light and Power, Might and Strength, fill your church, its breadth and length.”* Amen.

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

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.