We Don’t Have To Go Home, But We Can’t Stay Here

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 9:28-36

I returned from an eight day pilgrimage across Israel on Wednesday and a word that resonated with me and my fellow sojourners throughout our travels in the Holy Land was home.

We visited Bethlehem where the Holy Family had their home during Jesus’ infancy. We visited Nazareth where Jesus lived as a boy and youth and would eventually be expelled from because “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town” (Lk 4:24). We visited Capernaum and journeyed throughout the Galilee where Jesus accomplished most of his ministry before he set his eyes on Jerusalem. And in Jerusalem we visited places where Jesus taught, prayed, worshipped, and wept.

Throughout the course of our trip our group took turns teaching, praying, worshipping, and weeping together. We followed in the steps of our Lord in the land of his home, which each of us came to see as our home as well.

Our guide for our trip was a fella named Mike. He quickly became one of my favorite people…mostly because within 10 minutes or so of knowing me he understood that Sarah is Hebrew for “trouble maker…”

I smiled. Mike smiled. The Bishop smiled. And our journey continued.

Towards the end of our journey across the Holy Land Mike posed this question and challenge to our group: What would it take, what would I need to consider, how would I need for God to transform me so that I could become home for someone else? To be a home for someone else means becoming a safe place, a place of support, a place of comfort, a place of care, a place of sanctuary. Serving as a home for someone does not mean that together we escape reality; rather, it is a means that where two or more are gathered Jesus is there with us, lightening our burdens, easing our hurts, providing for our needs, and walking with us as we commit to walking together whatever the path is before us.

In a sense Peter wanted to create homes for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah atop Mt. Tabor at the time of Jesus’ transfiguration. Peter’s intended to construct permanent residences that would take him, Jesus, and the other disciples with them away from the world. Why would Peter want to do this? Because days before Jesus foretold his coming passion. Luke 9:21-22 writes, “[Jesus] sternly ordered and commanded [the disciples] not to tell anyone, saying, ‘The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” If Peter was successful in keeping Jesus on the mountain, then Peter could keep Jesus from this fate. Jesus could go on teaching and healing and bringing good news without enduring great suffering.

But Jesus was not seeking a savior or protector. Jesus was seeking – and seeks – partners, friends, and homes to serve others. Jesus sought in his disciples – and seeks in us – the commitment he introduces in his continued conversation with the disciples before his transfiguration, “Then [Jesus] said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves'” (Lk 9:23-25)?

The Good News of Jesus was and is that he became and becomes home for all. He put himself to suffering, bleeding, and dying so that we – his followers, his sisters and brothers – would know that while on life’s paths we do not walk alone. Not even death could separate us from Jesus for in three days time he was raised in glory.

So if nothing can separate us from Jesus – our eternal Savior and home – then why would we who are faithful separate ourselves from opportunities to be like Jesus and continue his ministry by becoming home for others? We can only be these homes if we open ourselves to be used by Jesus in this way and if we draw near to the portions of Christ’s Body that are in pain. Being a home cannot be accomplished at a distance. Jesus did not complete his servant ministry from on high; he was so close to humanity he could literally and did literally rub his nose in all of our hurt. And he redeemed it.

We can enjoy our times on the mountains, those high points in life. My trip to Israel is certainly one of them! And equally I believe Jesus wants us to enjoy our times in the valleys because that is where he served and calls us to serve by becoming home for others – for all.

Prayer: “You satisfy the hungry heart, with gift of finest wheat. Come, give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat. As when the shepherd calls his sheep, they know and heed his voice, so when you call your family, Lord, we follow and rejoice. You give yourself to us, O Lord; then selfless let us be, to serve each other in your name in truth and charity. You satisfy the hungry heart, with gift of finest wheat. Come, give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat.”* Amen.

*”You Satisfy the Hungry Heart,” The United Methodist Hymnal 629.

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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.

Avalanche Ranch!!

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Joshua 1:7-9

This week over fifty children have learned how God is awesome, real, with us, strong and forever at Avalanche Ranch! With the help of many volunteers our church campus was transformed into a bible story learning, game playing, creative crafting, theatrical acting, song singing, rootin’ tootin’ ranch of celebration! The children travelled with Joshua and the Israelites as they made their way into the Promised Land. The children also learned about Nepal and collected a special offering that will be given in their name to UMCOR – the United Methodist Committee on Relief – to continue disaster relief efforts in this country.

Our theme verse for Avalanche Ranch reads, “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). It has been amazing this week to watch all of these children – some that are very familiar with Tuskawilla and many that are new friends to Tuskawilla from the surrounding community – be bold, strong, and courageous as they learned together, worked together, and played together. Any hesitancy about a new experience that they felt on Monday evaporated by 9:03am on Tuesday. What’s a vision of the Kingdom and a vision for this church? That the church becomes a place where every child feels at home, feels welcomed, feels enriched, and feels loved.

In Joshua 3 and 4 we read a story of God once again parting the waters – this time the waters of the Jordan River – so that God’s people can cross safely to the other side. To remember God’s awesome deed and goodness in helping them with safe passage twelve men – one representing each tribe of Jacob – drew up a stone from the riverbed and together they built an altar. Joshua said, “When your children ask in time to come, What do those stones mean to you? then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial for ever” (Joshua 4:6-7). These stones became an Ebenezer – a visual reminder of a fresh beginning and new course for God’s people.

My hope is that the children’s experience at Avalanche Ranch this week will become an Ebenezer for them. I hope they will remember how they were welcomed here, the joy they experienced here, and how they learned (and will remember always) that God is awesome, real, with us, strong and forever.   And I hope as they want to learn more about our great God that they will remember the community they have felt this week and come back! Ya hear!?

I invite you to be present in worship this week as we celebrate Avalanche Ranch Sunday complete with a slideshow, ranch tunes, dancing, and reveal the amount of the offering the children have given for our neighbors in Nepal. I’m wearing my western finest for just this occasion. Wonder what that is? See you Sunday friends!!

Prayer: “Our God is an awesome God. He reigns from heaven above with wisdom, power, and love. Our God is an awesome God.” Yeeeeehaw! Amen.

*”Our God Is An Awesome God,” The Faith We Sing 2040.