Woman In The Night: The First Witnesses

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 24:1-12.

My extended family is in the process of cleaning out my grandparents’ home as they have now transitioned to assisted living. I am honored to have brought home a chair that my Nonnie read to me in whenever I stayed with her as a child as well as a crown of thorns that was planted in her back yard under a big oak tree.

Y’all…

I have never prayed for a plant so much in my life as I have prayed for this plant over the last month.

Channeling the plea of the late Chris Farley, “Be strong, little roots!”

We brought home the crown of thorns attempting to root it in a pot with fresh and nutrient rich soil. For weeks it dropped leaf after leaf after leaf. This plant cannot die! It was (is!) going to be the plant we move with us wherever we go to remind me of my grandmother – a legacy of the travelling plants I carry on after my mother, who moves a rose bush from her grandmother’s house to every new home she and my father share.

I see this plant and I hope.

I hope and hope and hope.

Y’all…

There’s new growth on my Nonnie’s crown of thorns. And it is beautiful.

Just in time for Easter.

I hope you will join us this Sunday as we celebrate the new life in resurrection. We gather for Sunrise Morningsong Worship in the Courtyard at 7am. Join us for Easter Family Breakfast in the Fellowship Hall at 9:30am. Traditional Worship will conclude our Easter Celebration at 11am in the Sanctuary. Bring flowers for our Courtyard Easter Cross and have your picture taken.

Our God is making all things new. There is new growth in each of us. And it is beautiful.

Just in time for Easter.

Prayer: “Woman in the dawn, care and spices bring; earliest to mourn; earliest to sing! Come and join the song, women, children, men; Jesus makes us free to live again!”* Amen.

*“Woman In The Night,” The United Methodist Hymnal 274.

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Declare

This Weekend’s Scripture ~ Luke 2:15-20.

A couple years ago I had the privilege to attend the Trans-Siberian Orchestra Concert with Andrew and six very dear friends. What an experience! Lights – sounds – huge screen projections – incredible musicianship – and indoor pyrotechnics. Incredible!

Their show began with their story called The Ghosts of Christmas Eve. It tells the tale of a young girl that finds sanctuary on Christmas Eve in an old theater. The ghosts draw her into their past experiences as their way of meeting her where she is, offering her comfort, and preparing to send her on her way home for Christmas.

(And then later on a dragon appeared…)

The Ghosts of Christmas Eve included suspenseful and delightful moments. Through an amazing cacophony of sound – and so much sensory engagement one could easily slip into overload – clear voices sang through with hope.

Hope for reunification. Hope for forgiveness. Hope for coming home.

Songs of hope that began with these words so long ago…”Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors” (Lk 2:14)!

Christ’s nativity was suspenseful and delightful. Christ’s nativity is our gateway to reunification, forgiveness, and coming home – with God and neighbor.

That is my wish for you this Christmas. Admire and enjoy the spectacle, but do not miss the true meaning and purpose of Christmas in the sights and sounds. God meets us in the world – in the flesh – and offers us sanctuary. Christ came into a world that did not want him and equally ached for him. That environment of 2000 years ago describes us still today.

We need this Jesus. We need our Christ to forgive and to teach us to forgive. Jesus brings us together. Jesus journeys with us home to God.

This Sunday our choir will lead us in worship as they declare our Savior’s birth as they offer Jesus! The Advent of the Messiah at our 11am Worship Service. Join us for this special time of worship and song.

Prayer: “Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere; go, tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born. Down in a lowly manger the humble Christ was born, and God sent us salvation that blessed Christmas morn. Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere; go, tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.”* Amen.

*“Go, Tell It on the Mountain,” The United Methodist Hymnal 251.

 

Lessons In Leadership ~ Learn or Repeat

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 51:1-12.

Joshua’s new favorite pastime? Doors. He loves doors.

Closet doors. Cabinet doors. Bedroom doors. If it is on a vertical hinge, Joshua loves it.

There is a “Lazy Susan” cabinet in our kitchen that is Joshua’s utmost favorite. He will sit in his chair that is in a shape of a Ferrari (I know, right!?) and spin the Lazy Susan around and around and around – squealing with delight all the while.

Until one time he was not squealing. He was screaming.

It happened. His fingers did not move fast enough and Joshua felt the first real sting of pinching fingers in a door.

(Do you feel that sensation as you read this? I am feeling it as I type this. Ouch!)

I gathered Joshua up in my arms. Andrew came in and kissed Joshua’s little hand. And then Andrew sat on the floor with Joshua to teach him about moving his hand away. Andrew placed his fingers where Joshua’s fingers were pinched and showed him that if the door continues to rotate, then he would be hurt. Joshua sat mesmerized. And I just fell in love with Andrew all over again. Because that is what love is – taking the time to sit with someone, to teach them, to help them gather skills and knowledge so that they can live happy and whole and (hopefully) hurt-free lives.

Andrew sat with Joshua because others sat with him – teaching him, caring for him, guiding him. Andrew’s parents, siblings, friends, teachers, and mentors learned that lesson from having folks sit with, teach, care for, and guide them.

And who taught that first lesson of care and relationship? Our God in heaven.

I am sure the “pinched fingers” lesson is one of many lessons we will have to revisit with Joshua as he grows. It is great when we learn a lesson the first time. And if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we usually have to learn lessons – usually the same lesson – more than once. This is part of the human condition – that we revisit lessons. This is part of learning obedience – that we will choose a different path. This is part of gaining wisdom with the hope that we will learn and then apply what we have learned in all future circumstances.

If we fail to learn in the present, then we are destined to repeat the past.

I look forward to concluding our Lessons in Leadership Sermon Series this week as we study Psalm 51, which is attributed to David after he was held accountable for his actions with Bathsheba by the Prophet Nathan. Even after such a terrible event, there is grace and there is hope. Even after the terrible events in our lives – the ones we create and the ones that impact us – there is grace and there is hope for us to learn rather than continue to repeat.

Thanks be to God.

Prayer: “He took my sins and my sorrows, he made them his very own; he bore the burden to Calvary, and suffered and died alone. How marvelous! How wonderful! And my song shall ever be: How marvelous! How wonderful is my Savior’s love for me!”* Amen.

*”I Stand Amazed in the Presence,” The United Methodist Hymnal 371.

Lord of the Dance: Killing The Dance

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 15:33-41.

Memorial Services are holy moments in my life. They are opportunities for me to practice my faith, to share my belief in the resurrection, and to walk with the Good Shepherd alongside his followers that are burdened by grief and loss. In Memorial Services we have the opportunity to sing, read, and hear our faith. Doing so enables me to affirm it is well with my soul.

Recently I served at two graveside services and each service included a change from which I am accustomed. Early on mentors in ministry told me to – in this order – complete the graveside benediction, shake the hands of the family seated in the first row,  move to the side for the funeral director to formally end the gathering, and leave.

Leave.

The graveside staff would not move the casket until the entire family left, which was signaled (and encouraged) by the departure of the clergy person .

But these last two services were different. The service ended and I moved to the side (with the intentions of greeting the family after the funeral director spoke) only to hear an invitation for the family to move close to the graveside as their loved one’s casket was lowered into the earth. At one service, family members were among the people lowering their father in place.

Even then – even in death – their family was at their side.

On a hill, far away, stood an old rugged cross. On a hill, far away, stood Jesus’ family as Mary’s son, James’ brother, Mary Magdalena’s friend, our Savior died.

Memorial Services affirm me of the courage and strength God gifts us. They also teach me about the resiliency of God’s people. Accompanying someone to, through, and from death is difficult. People experience a whole gamut of emotions in a matter of minutes, and those minutes tend to repeat themselves again and again. There is hurt…and there is hope. It is hard to draw near – and perhaps even harder to stay near – in these moments. But proximity is so important. Proximity ultimately provides healing.

In John 16:33 Jesus says, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” In conquering the world, Jesus conquered death. And in conquering death, Jesus showed us the path to the Father by our belief in him.

As I continue my journey to Calvary this year, I hope I am found at the foot of the cross – just as these devoted families gathered with hope around their loved one’s graves – rather than on a hill far away. Why? Because proximity increases intimacy – it increases our connection to the depth of love displayed on the cross.

When I look at the cross, I understand the vertical beam reconciling me to God through Christ and I understand the horizontal beam as Christ’s commission that I reach out in his love – from his heart through my hands – for reconciliation, for upbuilding, for the sake of the Kingdom. I have this understanding as a result of drawing near to Christ’s crucifixion. I have this understanding because I have accompanied and will accompany him to and through death so that he can lead me in the paths I should go from his death.

I do not believe I could accomplish this from a distance – from a hill far away.

So I choose to draw near. Christ’s death has and will continue to overcome the grave.

It is well with my soul.

Prayer: “I danced on a Friday and the sky turned black; it’s hard to dance with the devil on your back; they buried my body and they thought I’d gone, but I am the dance and I still go on. Dance, then, wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the Dance, said he. And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be, and I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.

 

*”Lord of the Dance,” The United Methodist Hymnal 261.

 

Where You Go, I’ll Go

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ruth 1:1-18.

Following the events in Las Vegas late Sunday evening and early Monday morning, I saw a number of people quoting phrases from Warsan Shire’s poem entitled, What They Did Yesterday Afternoon. Shire is a British poet, activist, writer, and teacher, born to Somali parents, and originally from Kenya. Her poems stem from the tension between suffering and belonging – and in that place – she, from writing, and others, from reading – experience healing.

what they did yesterday afternoon

by warsan shire

they set my aunts house on fire
i cried the way women on tv do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.
i called the boy who use to love me
tried to ‘okay’ my voice
i said hello
he said warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?

i’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
dear god
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.

Once again – maddeningly, frustratingly, horrifically, crushingly – we as a society, as a species – find ourselves trying to make sense of life after a senseless tragedy. Innocent blood spilled. Questions unanswered. Joy stripped away. Peace voided.

We know too well the environments Shire describes in her poem. We see our places of origin or the places that we spend most of our time “thirsty” and “on fire” – meaning that we see them – we engage them experiencing – great need and crying for help. People are hurting. And unfortunately, hurt people hurt people.

Following a tragedy like the mass shooting in Las Vegas it seems the the hurt compounds further as everyone from family members to neighbors to religious leaders to law makers argue over Second Amendment Rights, gun control, responses to gun violence, and access to quality mental health care. Tempers flare and arguments rage to a boiling point…and then the conversations start to cool…but the hurt remains.

“Where does it hurt?” “Everywhere everywhere everywhere.”

In our Scripture passage this week Ruth covenants to journey on with Naomi, her mother-in-law, though it would make more sense for Ruth to return home to seek better future opportunities. Naomi feels so poorly treated by God that she wishes to change her name to Mara to capture the experience that the Almighty has “dealt bitterly [and] harshly” with her (Ruth 1:20-21). Naomi looks at her life and as her heart bleeds over the losses in her family, she feels abandoned and wants to give up. But she is not alone. Ruth is with her. And I believe Ruth’s presence is the very embodiment of God’s presence – a present gift and promise – of which Naomi needed to be reminded.

In a hurting world we have the opportunity to be the very embodiments of God’s presence – God’s present gift and promise – of which our family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers, acquaintances, and elected officials need to be reminded. We bear with us the message of the cross – that life has the final word, not death – and that our God’s preferred future for us is one shaped by peace rather than violence.

We bear this message in our bodies and it is also our responsibility to communicate this message – to share and advocate this message – through our words, actions, and deeds. A mentor of mine once told me that hope is a beautiful gift, but hope is not a strategy. We cannot “hope away” conflict, no matter the subject of the conflict. We must come to the table, as hard as it may be, to have conversations, to hear points of view different from our own, to accept that all parties – all sides – must give and take to reach a life-giving solution. I believe these are vital, necessary, and immediate steps that must be taken as we journey in life together.

God calls us to be our sisters’ and brothers’ keeper; God calls us to be Ruth for whoever is experiencing a period of Naomi.

Wherever Naomi went, Ruth was with her. In the joy and in the hurt. Everywhere everywhere everywhere.

In our journeying together – in compassion, empathy, and advocacy – I believe we can change the answer of Shire’s atlas.

“Where does it hurt?” “Nowhere, nowhere, nowhere.”

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.

 

 

Heroes and Villains: Thomas

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 20:24-29.

There is a powerful scene towards the end of Disney’s The Lion King where Simba, the reluctant and somewhat recalcitrant prince of the Savannah, is alone at night until he sees an effigy of his father in the clouds. Instead of coming towards him, Simba’s father seems to dissipate on the winds. Simba chases the cloud with all his might. He attempts to catch up with the wind and when he realizes he cannot, he hurls at the wind – at his father – “You said you’d always be there for me! But you’re not…And it’s my fault. It’s all my fault.”

I imagine the disciples felt the same way after Jesus’ crucifixion. Even though the disciples betrayed, denied, and deserted Jesus, I believe they continued to hope that all he had said would be true – that he would be with them, that he would die and rise again, and after ascending, that he would send his Holy Spirit to be with them always.

Ten of the eleven disciples have seen Jesus, but Thomas was absent. Thomas hears their testimony about Jesus, but he wants to see for himself. He wants – he asks – to see and touch.

Thomas wants to explore the realness of the resurrection. He wants personal confirmation that the resurrection was not an illusion or a trick or a figment of the disciples’ collective imagination. If the resurrection had been an illusion, trick, or figment of the imagination, the resurrection would not have the same efficacy, the same saving power.

“You said you’d always be there for me!” And Jesus was. Jesus is.

Jesus showed up. Jesus revealed himself to Thomas and the disciples again. Thomas asks and Jesus responds; Jesus provides and Thomas receives.

The story of The Lion King is a story of identity – of Simba discovering or returning to who he is, which ultimately guides him home. The death of Jesus caused an identity crisis for the disciples and followers of Jesus, too. Although Jesus foretold his death and resurrection numerous times, the weight of its reality finally set with the sun that Good Friday. Seeing the resurrected Jesus reminded the disciples of who they are and whose they are. Touching Jesus – physically interacting with his living truth – restored and reconnected the disciples to the living truth of Jesus’ miracles, healings, and teachings.

Wanting that confidence of who we are and whose we are, wanting to see and touch the living truth of our Jesus does not make us bad people. That desire locates us as individuals that trust our “asking, seeking, and knocking” will be answered by our Jesus that has already shown his desire that we would all believe. So if you have the desire to ask, seek, or knock – proceed! Jesus’ timeline in answering may be at odds with your timeframe of receiving an answer, but do not let that sway you from asking. Remember, Jesus is faithful and is making all things known. Jesus is here for us and answers us when we call.

Prayer: “When our confidence is shaken in beliefs we thought secure, when the spirit in its sickness seeks but cannot find a cure, God is active in the tensions of a faith not yet mature. God is love, and thus redeems us in the Christ we crucify; this is God’s eternal answer to the world’s eternal why. May we in this faith maturing be content to live and die!”* Amen.

*“When Our Confidence Is Shaken,” The United Methodist Hymnal 505.

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.