Parable of the Yeast

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:33.

The seasons of Lent and Easter have been a “proofing” period for the TUMC Leadership Team in the discernment of God’s vision for Tuskawilla’s future.

Proofing refers to the final rise that dough undertakes before it is baked. The ingredients are together. Their active ingredients – the yeast, sugar, and salt – catalyzed chemical reactions for the dough to rise. The dough has space to rest. The baker kneads the dough, to ensure its desired texture and consistency. And then the dough rises one final time before baking.

The TUMC Leadership Team met in early Lent to share their hearts on our church’s strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities. They believe

  • Our congregation’s greatest strength is our family-friendly feel.
  • Our congregation’s greatest weakness (growth area) is how we value and to express the value of each person in relationship with our church family, especially our children and youth.
  • Our congregation’s greatest opportunity is to connect in service with our neighbors, especially the schools that are next-door neighbors with the church.

Since that meeting in February, I have lived with our named strength, weakness, and opportunity. They are with me as I shop for groceries and walk in our neighborhood, as I travel to district and conference events, as I watch the transformation of our church campus and dream about the future. They are with me as we continue to be God’s people in what seems to be never-ending seasons of change and flux.

And the longer they are with me, the more they speak to me that this is exactly who we are and exactly the path we need to pursue as a congregation in this time.

God brought us together. God continues God’s work with us and in us. God is leading us into God’s preferred future.

God calls us to be faithful. God calls us to follow. And like the woman in this week’s parable, together with God we will make the bread of life that will nourish this part of God’s world.

The Leadership Team gathers this coming Tuesday, May 16 to finalize the first phase of our action plan to further enhance our congregational strength, improve our congregational weakness, and pursue our congregational opportunity. Please mark your calendars and plan to attend a Congregational Meeting following worship on Sunday, June 4 to hear and discuss the first phase of our action as a church family.

The Leadership Team deeply appreciates your prayers and support during this time of discernment. And we look forward with joy, hope, and faithfulness to what God will reveal in our future.

Prayer: “The care the eagle gives her young, safe in her lofty nest, is like the tender love of God for us made manifest. As when the time to venture comes, she stirs them out to flight, so we are pressed to boldly try, to strive for daring height. And if we flutter helplessly, as fledgling eagles fall, beneath us lift God’s mighty wings to bear us one and all.”* Amen.

*”The Care the Eagle Gives Her Young,” The United Methodist Hymnal 118.

Parable of the Weeds Among the Wheat

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:24-30.

In reaction to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, Patton Oswalt, renowned actor, comedian, and writer, shared these words,

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity where inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago. So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance, or fear, or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred, or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”

These are incredibly powerful words that provided me with a sense of hope and comfort after that terror attack. They are words that I, unfortunately, continue to recall with each additional act of terror that happens in our nation and in our world.

As I think on these acts of terror – and as I read and reflect upon our Scripture passage for this week – I find myself asking – again – that powerful, haunting, one-word question.

Why?

Why do innocent people suffer? Why do hurt people choose to hurt people?

How do we cope with people – near or far – that seek to do us harm and yet we must grow alongside them? How do we heal from personal behaviors by which we do harm to ourselves?

Why do weeds grow among the wheat?

Why does God allow it to happen?

I do not think God allows it to happen; I believe people allow these sort of harmful behaviors to manifest-er into harmful acts. And I believe we must face these harmful acts caused by hurting people with grace and forgiveness. The Scripture says that we have to grow up together, for to take one from the other would cause damage to both. Jesus holds us accountable to how we treat our neighbors – neighbors that love us and that we love as well as neighbors that desire to cause us harm and, towards them, our thoughts are less than kind.

Scripture also tells us that Jesus is judge. Jesus is adjudicator. In trusting his sovereignty, we trust that he will enact justice. In coming under his lordship, we hope that we will be found among the faithful that responded to his commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbors – all neighbors – as ourselves.

Since the time of the Fall God has been saying, shouting, praying that the good outnumber the evil and always will. I believe God calls us to join in saying, shouting, and praying this statement – not to puff ourselves up as the good – but to offer hope in a world that at times seems all too gloomy.

Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.

On all. On us. On me.

Prayer: “Come, my Light, and illumine my darkness. Come, my Life, and revive me from death. Come, my Physician, and heal my wounds. Come, Flame of divine love, and burn up the thorns of my sins, kindling my heart with the flame of thy love. Come, my King, sit upon the throne of my heart and reign there. For thou alone art my King and my Lord. Amen.”*

*”An Invitation to Christ,” The United Methodist Hymnal 466.

Seven Questions of Faith: Is There Hope?

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 24:1-12

I spent time with my niece last week. Addison helped me prepare a side dish that our family would share at dinner – sliced squash and zucchini on the grill. She was in charge of seasoning; in complete honesty it was her idea to add the red pepper flakes, Anna and Gramps (Mom and Dad)!

(Okay, maybe not complete honesty…Addison had an accomplice!)

After dinner Addison wanted to show me her latest achievement. At the age of almost nine months, Addison is starting to walk. She has a variety of “push toys” that she can position herself behind and then totter all over the house. She pulls herself up and stands next to furniture. She will take steps while holding onto the hands of loved ones. And she loves to dance to the hot dog song, a popular tune on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

At times Addison takes steps without fear. At other times she is a bit more timid. What does not change is that she steps. Addison moves forward.

Mixed with fear and timidity, Mary Magdalena and the other women approached the garden tomb. The shadows that lingered since the Sabbath began are finally starting to fade.

Deep blue becomes gray. Gray becomes pale blue. Pale blue gives way to light.

And the women step forward.

They come to the tomb; yet, their intent on being there is not looking ahead but behind. They come to finish preparing Jesus’ body for burial and to their astonishment, Jesus is not there! He suffered and died and left his grave clothes behind.

He is risen, just as he said!

Confident of their next steps, the women leave the garden and hurry to the disciples. They witness to what they have seen, and yet many of the disciples, who had physically moved forward but were still looking behind, did not believe.

Peter is the first to wonder…

He left the safety of the disciples’ hiding place to venture to the tomb. He stepped forward, clinging to his faith.

Could it be?

It is.

We that journey with Jesus this week will take many steps – to the upper room, to the garden, to the governor’s house, to the cross, to the tomb. As we journey may we look forward rather than behind. Looking forward will draw our attention to the present moment.

Gone are the shouts of praises and waving of palm branches.

Prepare for the Last Supper.

Then prepare for death.

And once that death has occurred, my friends, do not look back at it.

Honor the steps that you take, be they fearful or timid or heavy or tearful or have some other character. Whatever their character, take steps. Be present.

And prepare for resurrection.

Prayer: *Merciful and everliving God, Creator of heaven and earth, the crucified body of our Son was laid in the tomb and rested. Grant that we may await with him the dawning of the third day and rise in newness of life, through Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen.”*

*”Holy Saturday,” The United Methodist Book of Worship 367.

 

What Will Be

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 3:15-22

A little over a month ago I had the privilege to baptize my niece, Addison, during our weekly worship service. And as many of you will remember, she was…quite vocal…about the whole experience.

Baptizing someone is always an incredible experience. Through this sacrament we welcome a new sibling into the Body of Christ and covenant to walk with them as they are raised in the faith. Whenever I baptize someone I strive to make as much eye contact with that person as possible. I want them to know that I mean what I say to them. “I am with you. I will help you. I will encourage you. I will hold you accountable. And I hope you will do the same for me.”

When I held Addison that day, I felt like I was holding the future. I was holding her future, my future, and the future of the church in my arms, all enclosed in her little 12-pound squawky body. In that present moment we – her parents, her extended family, and her church family – we made promises about her future and promises that will shape her future. We promised to raise her in the knowledge of the faith. We promised to nurture her in God’s grace so that she may be guided to accept God’s grace for herself. We promised to pray for her as she walks with Jesus in the way that leads to eternal life. We promised that present day as we hoped for the future.

As we hoped for what will be.

When I think about the future of all baptized Christians my hope is that we are encouraged more than we are challenged in our walks with Christ, though I welcome challenges that will purify us with our God’s refining fire. I also hope that as we walk together into God’s future that we walk so as to make the walk of those beside us and behind us – friend and foe – easier, with the ultimate hope that any foe would become a friend as a result of our walking together.

When we walk together into what will be, the possibilities at our fingertips are endless. The church, the kingdom are our oyster – not to make into what we want them to be but to make them into what God wants them to be through the application of our passions, prayers, and praises.

Some perceive the Christian life as overtly legalistic and confining. “Do this; do not do that or that…or that.” A few years ago one of my colleagues described the Christian life this way, “Imagine a football field: 360 feet long, 160 feet wide. That’s 57,600 feet of available space to be in play. Yes, there is out of bounds. And there are penalties or consequences if you go out of bounds. But why would you need to go out of bounds? There is so much room in bounds. There is so much room on the field. And that’s where God wants you. God does not want you at a specific place on the field because that will change throughout your life. God wants you on the field. Baptism gets you there and that is where God desires you to stay.”

This image continues to be life-giving to me as I walk in my Christian life and walk hand in hand with others in theirs. I give thanks for my parents committing to my future through my baptism. I give thanks for all those who have walked and continue to walk with me through all the fields in God’s kingdom. I give thanks for the privilege to look into what will be for my siblings in Christ and to be in the fields of passion, prayer, and praise with them. I do not feel confined. I feel liberated to discover what will be.

I am looking to what will be with hope and great joy.

Prayer: “Wash, O God, our sons and daughters, where your cleansing waters flow. Number them among your people; bless as Christ blessed long ago. Weave them garments bright and sparkling; compass them with love and light. Fill, anoint them; send your Spirit, holy dove and heart’s delight. We who bring them long for nurture; by your milk may we be fed. Let us join your feast, partaking cup of blessing, living bread. God, renew us, guide our footsteps; free from sin and all its snares, one with Christ in living, dying, by your Spirit, children, heirs.”* Amen.

*”Wash, O God, Our Sons and Daughters,” The United Methodist Hymnal 605.

 

Hope For The Holidays

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 1:26-38

Recently I saw The Martian starring Matt Damon. This film – and book, which has been highly recommended to me and is on my list to read – chronicles the survival of Astronaut/Botanist Mark Watney after he has been left on Mars. A storm threatened the work and lives of the six person Mars crew; so, the crew chose to abandon their work and return to their space station. Mark was blown off course by a piece of debris as he struggled through hurricane force winds on his walk back to their short range spacecraft. His crew assumed he was dead and with heavy hearts executed their launch sequence to flee the storm.

Mark woke up a few days later, half buried in sand, and wholly aware of his singular existence on the Red Planet. He returns to the crew’s work and living station on Mars and completes an inventory of supplies. He records in a video diary that while he has food for now, he will die of starvation without a renewable source of nutrition. His water supply will soon deplete. And what if his facility is damaged or the systems that purify the air so that he can breathe are destroyed?

Mark’s reality washes over him…he hangs his head. And then, resolute – so resolute that he leans into the camera filming his video diary – he affirms, “I am not going to die here.” His resolution fuels his hope. Yes, of course, Mark faces challenges and set backs. Even so, he lives the mantras “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” and “where there is a will, there is a way.”

It was incredibly encouraging for me to witness Mark’s inner strength as well as how he was able to draw upon the strength of others that rallied around him. During this time in our world where the reigning mantra seems to be “every man, woman, and child for him or herself” – perhaps even “every nation for itself” – to see this display of compassion and camaraderie – reminded me of my source of inner strength, who leads me in compassion and camaraderie for others – all others – whom my hope, my Christ, welcomes as neighbors and friends.

We are a people of hope. Hope was knit into our fleshy fabric at the time of  creation. It is a legacy that was affirmed by God to Abraham when God covenanted, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” The judges and the prophets repeated God’s promise. The Psalmist sang God’s promise. And with the coming of Christ, God further invigorates the hope saying, “I will be your God and I will be with my people.”

Mary receives this message of Emmanuel in our text for this week and she looks to the future with – I am sure – a mild dose of concern that is tempered with a great deal of joy. Immediately she is drawn into community with her relative Elizabeth and they share with one another the gifts of compassion and camaraderie. They live as neighbors and friends. They help and comfort each other. They affirm that even in the midst of this most unanticipated, unexpected, unpredictable of circumstances, that neither one of them is alone.

Mark felt quite lonely up on Mars until contact was reestablished with NASA and his fellow crew mates. There are folks right outside our doors, on the street corners, in the cars next to us, on the other side of the fence or cubicle wall that feel like they mights as well be on Mars because their loneliness is so profound. Maybe you are the one attempting to hurdle the obstacle that is loneliness only to fall back down again.

If you feel your hope is waning or gone, stand up, go to the nearest mirror, and look at yourself. Really look at yourself. Look at yourself until you see, you feel, that you are created in God’s image and that God’s hope is indeed within you. Then affirm – out loud – that you will not stay where you are, continuing to feel how you do. Say it. “I will not stay here. I will not continue to feel this way.” And then reach out. Call someone you trust. Call the church office! We are created with innate hope that leads us into unity. Reach out, my friend.

If you feel strong and secure in your hope, ask God to reveal to you someone that needs a helping hand or encouraging word this week. And do not ignore who is revealed to you! That person may not be your first choice, but that person is God’s choice. We are all God’s choice. And we are all in this together.

Hope, my friends, is so powerful. It is the belief in the unexpected and the unanticipated…and it leads us towards the unexpected and the unanticipated. That journey is trying as well as beautiful. It is a journey that God walks with us through thick and thin. It is a journey with Emmanuel. And I hope will you will join the Tuskawilla Family as we journey together this Advent Season.

Happy Thanksgiving! And see you Sunday.

Prayer: “Holy God, the mystery of your eternal Word took flesh among us in Jesus Christ. At the message of an angel, the virgin Mary placed her life at the service of your will. Filled with the light of your Spirit, she became the temple of your Word. Strengthen us by the example of her humility, that we may always be ready to do your will, and welcome into our lives Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”*

*”The Annunciation to Mary,” The United Methodist Book of Worship 256.

Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Micah 6:1-9

This past Saturday I attended a district committee meeting and our group began with a devotion and time of thought centering by meditating on The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh. It was particularly timely and particularly powerful for this to be our centering image given the terror that waged in Paris and across our world in Lebanon, Syria, Japan, and Mexico last week.

If you are familiar with the piece, then you will recall the swirling formations in the sky that represent chaos, the eerily lit sun-moon off in the corner, and the darkened landscape of community tucked in a valley between mountains.

(They might be hills to other folks, but to this Florida girl, they are mountains!)

The leader of our meeting asked our group to consider the painting in silence and then to share what we saw. After a few moments I shared that at the center of the painting is a church, complete with stained glass windows and steeple, but it is completely dark. No light is emanating from it. The surrounding homes are all aglow, but the church is asleep.

For van Gogh this painting was his interpretation of what had happened (perhaps has happened) to the church – the light, the Spirit has gone out – and not in the way to flourish in the world – but as a commentary on how the Spirit of God has been extinguished. Therefore people did not (perhaps do not) turn to the church as an institution, as a faith community, as a people in times of sorrow or joy. The church had (has) lost its relevancy; so, while other structures and the people within them are alive and well, the church functions much like a tomb, a memorial of days long past.

What will return the church to relevancy? What will resurrect its hope? Our God and only our God.

And what will return the light and recall the Spirit to the church? The faithfulness of God’s people in doing what the prophet Micah challenges and charges t0 “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).

There is a powerful scene at the end of The Half Blood Prince in the Harry Potter film series. Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School had died and the pupils and faculty stand around his body in mourning. The Dark Mark floats in the sky, a symbol that the battle between good and evil continues and that evil has taken this round. Those who loved and are faithful to Dumbledore weep at his side and then one by one they spark a light at the end of their wands and lift them skyward. Each individual light  pales in comparison to the Dark Mark coursing through the sky, but together, their collective light obscures and then erases the Dark Mark.

Hope. The church has hope. We have hope. God is our hope. And we are invited to live that hope by accepting the invitation to be God’s vessel of hope to others in our very shadowy world.

A quote that I continue to see and hear following the continuing terror attacks that plague our world bears repeating here. It is from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Together, may we be God’s light, may we be God’s love.

Together.

//

This week the Tuskawilla Community will be led in worship by our very own Rev. Kate Ling – and y’all – she has amazing worship planned! Thank you, Pastor Kate, for your partnership and mentorship in ministry. And I will see the Tuskawilla Community for the First Sunday of Advent.

//

Prayer: “Lord, we pray not for tranquility, nor that our tribulations may cease; we pray for thy spirit and thy love, that thou grant us strength and grace to overcome adversity; through Jesus Christ. Amen.”*

*”For Overcoming Adversity,” The United Methodist Hymnal 531.

Rock of Ages: Fire Up From A Rock

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Judges 6:11-24

This week our Rock of Ages sermon series continues with a study of Gideon. Gideon was selected by God as a judge for the people of Israel. The role of a judge in the Hebrew Bible differs from the role of a modern day judge. While modern day judges adjudicate trials and convene sentences, judges in the Hebrew Bible were tasked, above all, with restoring peace. Peace was disturbed because God’s people committed idolatry and chose to worship the gods native to the land they were now inhabiting rather than the God who delivered them to that land. If the Israelites would choose to do what was right in God’s eyes rather than their own, then they would not continually be in strife.

God calls Gideon to this role of judge and Gideon’s response – are you serious!?

(I have yet to find a biblical translation that conveys this sentiment, but I feel it in the text. I also envision Gideon with eyes as big as saucers.)

Gideon does not believe. Why would he be called to this task? And is it actually God doing the calling?

In our study of “Water from the Rock” we learned that we are not to test the Lord our God; we are not to make our faith contingent upon forced or coerced demonstration from God. But in reading our passage for this week we find that Gideon fleeces God. Perhaps this is an argument of semantics, specifically an argument of diction. Perhaps a fleece is not a test in Gideon’s mind. But his aim is the same. Whether a fleece or a test Gideon wants to know that it is God who cares for him, that it is God who will be with him, and it is God who will lead him in accomplishing the demolition of altars and the restoration of peace.

Our desire to know is linked with our capacity to wonder. To wonder means to curiously speculate. There is a definite air of hope in wondering as well. A person who wonders anticipates evidence that will reveal an outcome…and I would say in the case of hopeful wonderings, the person anticipates evidence that will reveal a consistent and positive outcome.

Last school year I had the opportunity to participate in the Bear Connections Program through Winter Springs High School. Bear Connections is a mentoring program for ninth grade students that have been identified by their middle school teachers, guidance counselors, and school administrators as persons that would benefit from a mentoring relationship with a positive adult role model. Bear Connections mentors are not tutors; they are great listeners who are open to sharing their positive life experiences and willing to help a student navigate his or her way through the first year of high school. A mentor meets with his or her mentee for 30-45 minutes weekly, on campus during an elective class period.

When I first met my mentee he looked at me – and the Bear Connections program – in the spirit of Gideon – are you serious?! Are you seriously going to take time out of your week each week to meet with me, listen to my stories, answer my questions, help me find answers to my questions, occasionally help me with an assignment, and definitely play UNO in the courtyard? He wondered. And each week I showed up…and showed up…and showed up. Each time I showed up I answered his “Are you serious?!” with a definite yes yes yes! In fact, I was almost sent to detention one day for playing UNO with him in the courtyard; an administrator walked up behind us and said we had a lot of nerve to be playing UNO in the middle of the courtyard during class.

(I have never been to detention before in my life! Thankfully my mentee was quick to share I was his mentor. “Show him your badge, Mrs. Sarah!” And then the administrator said I looked like a student…and then I returned to our game of UNO.)

I am so thankful for the privilege of walking alongside my mentee throughout the 2014-2015 school year and of affirming in him that an adult in addition to his nuclear family, guidance counselor, dean, and teachers wanted him to succeed. I helped hold him accountable. I helped focus his attention away from sports and girls and onto science and geometry. I looked forward to our time together. My mentee anticipated evidence that would reveal a specific outcome. He anticipated my showing up and when I did, that affirmed him. He is important. He is valued. He has a friend that would help him succeed.

The Bear Connections program is currently looking for mentors to match to 95 freshman this fall. This mentoring opportunity is a great way to serve our community and to let our community know that we at Tuskawilla UMC care about the success of the students in the greater Casselberry, Ovideo, Sanford, and Winter Springs area. I will be serving as a mentor again this year and I invite you to think about serving in this program as well – 30 to 45 minutes for roughly 15 weeks in the Fall and 15 weeks in the Spring. Students have elective periods scattered throughout the day so you can be placed with a student who’s schedule works with your availability! This is an opportunity for you to serve and be served. This is an opportunity for you to be God’s agent in coming alongside the Gideon’s among us.

Please be in prayer about this opportunity and contact me directly if you would like information about the next steps in registering as a Bear Connections Mentor.

Prayer: “O Jesus, thou hast promised to all who follow thee that where thou art in glory there shall thy servant be. And Jesus, I have promised to serve thee to the end; O give me grace to follow, my Master and my Friend.”* Amen.

*”O Jesus, I Have Promised,” The United Methodist Hymnal 396.