Heroes and Villains: Rahab

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Joshua 2:1-14

During my trip to Israel we spent one afternoon in the City of Jericho. We ate lunch in a restaurant attached to a shop called The Temptation Center. Alarming title…so much beautiful pottery! Outside The Temptation Center was a small staircase that pilgrims could climb to see a surviving portion of the Wall of Jericho. I remember climbing the staircase and hearing the Bible stories my mother told me as a child – of the people of Israel marching around the wall, of loud trumpet blasts and shouting, and of Rahab welcoming the spies into the safety of her home.

Some might consider the relationship between Rahab and the Israelite spies purely transactional. “I protected you; you protect me” akin to “I will scratch your back; you will scratch mine.” But I believe the relationship was deeper than that. Rahab knew the stories of the Israelite God. She feared God in awe and wonder not worry and dismay. She feared and revered God; she revered and believed. Welcoming the spies into her home was a sign of not only Rahab’s belief in the stories of the Israelite people and their God, but also of her personal acceptance of those stories and the person (deity) that sent the spies.

Recently a dear friend welcomed me into her home for dinner and fellowship. I knocked and the door was immediately opened. As always, I took off my shoes and walked around her house like I lived there. “Help yourself to whatever you need in the kitchen; open cabinets or drawers till you find it!” (whatever it may be). My friend made sure I was comfortable before she made herself comfortable. I did not have the feeling I had as a child sitting in my grandmother’s formal living room where I am convinced everyone hovered over the couches rather than sitting on them for fear of harming them. My friend heartily and joyously welcomed me. I was at peace. I was safe. I was at home.

Hospitality is a truly beautiful gift.

I learned the manner of hospitality that I practice – in the place I live, in the relationships I share, in the churches I serve – from my study of Scripture. Luke 6:38 reads “give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” I hope that my expressions of hospitality tell the story of the one who sent and sends me – that our God is a welcoming God that provides, nurtures, loves, and forgives. Sometimes my hospitality takes a visible form – I am able to provide a service or fulfill a need. At other times my hospitality takes an invisible form – I listen, I hold space while someone weeps, I pray, I hope.

Of most importance is our understanding that God calls us to practice hospitality – not just for the people we like or the people like us – but for all people. From a 30,000ft view Rahab have nothing in common with the Israelite spies that entered the land of Canaan, but from a heart-view, Rahab and the spies share the common heritage of being created in the image of God. I believe from that common heritage she welcomed the spies and provided them sanctuary, and in turn, the Israelites remembered she and her family when they came into possession of the land.

…The measure you give will be the measure you get back…

Take some time this week to consider the hospitality you offer. Where did you learn your hospitality practices? What guides your practice of hospitality? What message or whose message do you send through your practice of hospitality?

Prayer: “As Christ breaks bread, and bids us share, each proud division ends. The love that made us, makes us one, and strangers now are friends, and strangers now are friends. And thus with joy we meet our Lord. His presence, always near, is in such friendship better known; we see and praise him here, we see and praise him here.”* Amen.

*“I Come With Joy,” The United Methodist Hymnal 617.

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A Knock At Midnight

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 11:5-8.

One of the most powerful moments in my ministry is to be present with people. One of the most powerful gifts in my ministry is for people to be present with me.

My aunt had surgery on Thursday, which took me to Lakeland in the wee hours of the morning to pray with her and be present with her husband and my cousin. Her surgery was a success, but in the time between our shared prayer and our reuniting in recovery, we three looked deeply into the face of mortality.

I saw a side of my aunt’s husband I am not accustomed. Usually cracking jokes with a toothy grin, Rodney was quiet and reflective. Expressions of hope and worry washed across his face as waves wash up on the shore.

I wanted to be strong for my family while also being present in my own emotions. I showed up for my family and my family of faith – at and beyond Tuskawilla – showed up for me. People prayed for me. People sent messages of hope and encouragement throughout the day. People named that cancer is awful and that I and my family are not alone.

What does it mean to be the church? It means to show up. It means having someone come to you at midnight – representative of a time of need, a time of great distress – and answering the door. It means going to someone in your time of need and time of great distress and being welcomed.

I am grateful to have answered my family’s knocking. I am grateful to have been welcomed in my time of knocking.

May we all continue on – encouraged, shaped, and participating in – the showing up of the church. May we knock and be answered. May we hear knocking and swiftly move to the aid of our family – of origin, of choice, of faith.

Prayer: “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love; the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above. We share each other’s woes, our mutual burdens bear; and often for each other flows the sympathizing tear.”* Amen.

*”Blest Be the Tie That Binds,” The United Methodist Hymnal 557.

Jesus Sees You

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 13:10-17.

Earlier this week I taught a yoga class that included a student with a broken big toe. He was anxious – to participate, to not harm his toe further, to not be a distraction to the other students, and to feel like he accomplished what he wanted to accomplish by the end of class.

The good news about yoga is that every pose – every.single.pose. – can be modified to each individual student. Poses can increase in challenge or comfort. Poses can be completed standing, kneeling, or sitting. So no poses on your feet – no problem.

He did not leave. He did not sit out. He practiced.

He did not feel cast to the side. He felt seen. He felt heard. He felt comforted. He felt accomplished. He felt included.

Before leaving class he thanked me for taking such special care of him in class and then asked me to suggest what other classes he might take that would accommodate and guide him through his recovery. I shared with him that it would be the pleasure of any teacher in the studio to lead him through a class at his ability level. It is on the teacher to meet the students where they are, to listen, to guide, and, most of all, to see.

When I feel seen, my self worth soars. When I feel seen, I am affirmed that I matter and that my contributions matter. And that feeling motivates me to see and affirm others.

As we head into the Fall months at Tuskawilla UMC we will have increased opportunities to see and connect with folks in our church family as well as see and connect with folks in our community. I love to watch our church during the Greeting Time on Sundays…I am convinced that our church family would greet one another for at least 20 minutes if we did not draw the congregation’s attention forward in the service. No one stands alone. No one is without a hand to shake or a smile to receive. It is truly extraordinary to behold and warms my heart so. We take time to see one another every Sunday. We take time to see one another as Jesus sees us.

In that same spirit I look forward to seeing our Bible Study groups resume, to seeing Scout Troops return to our campus, to seeing our Morningsong Worship Service begin on Sunday, September 11 at 8:30am, and yes, even to seeing the arrival of our little orange friends because their presence means we will soon see many of our community members on the church campus. I celebrate how our church sees both the Class Athlete Afterschool Program and the students of the Arbor School of Central Florida and has welcomed them to meet on our campus. I am amazed by the number of families our Friday Afternoon Food Bank sees and serves twice a month; their commitment to nourish the body and the soul is deeply inspiring.

The Tuskawilla Family understands well what it means to see one another and to meet our neighbors where they are. Through our ministries and witness we comfort and we challenge; we see, hear, and include God’s people. Through this behavior we add our hands to building God’s Kingdom.

Jesus sees us. When we serve one another well, we serve him well and he is so pleased.

Prayer: “Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew, that I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do. Breathe on me, Breath of God, until my heart is pure, until with thee I will one will, to do and to endure.”* Amen.

*”Breathe on Me, Breath of God,” The United Methodist Hymnal 420.

Longing for Spring: What New Methodists Want

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 10:1-12

Our Scripture text for this week has the image of hospitality as a primary focal point. The seventy – who are commissioned by Jesus to take his Good News through and to all the nations – will know that their message is received and accepted in households if they receive hospitality from the household. This hospitality would take the form of welcoming them indoors, providing them with food and water, inviting them to rest their weary feet from their travels. “Peace to this house!” will be the seventy’s salutation and if peace – in the form of hospitality is not given – the seventy are to continue on their way (10:5). Their message remains consistent, “The Kingdom of God is near” (10:11). Even if they do not benefit from hospitality, their message remains hospitable. “Prepare, my fellow citizens of earth. God’s Kingdom is coming. And you are invited to be a part of it.”

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Temples outside of Mother Theresa’s home in Kathmandu, Nepal. Her home is now used as a hospital, hospice, and care center of aging Nepalis. Mother Theresa understood Christ’s lesson of hospitality and peace so well. She is an example for us all. 

My heart continues to be heavy in the wake of the reports coming out of Nepal. I ache for the lives lost, for the historic and holy sites damaged and/or destroyed, and for the delay in delivering desperately needed relief supplies due to continued aftershocks and impassable roadways.

The Nepali people have a beautiful love for life and an incredible, innate sense of hospitality for their neighbors old and new.   Nepalis take every occasion to celebrate. In fact, my friends who worked in the Embassy said that recently the Embassy had to change their “paid vacation day” calendar, which typically follows not only American paid vacation days, but also the governmental and religious holy days recognized within that nation, because there are many weeks that for Nepalis they would not work at all! There was too much celebrating to be done!

When Nepalis celebrate, everyone is invited to the party. During our trip we had the opportunity to celebrate Holi, a Hindu spring festival celebrating color and love. At a Holi celebration there is music, dancing, delicious food and conversation. The day typically ends with a colored-dye water fight. The powered dyes are brightly colored and when mixed with water become even more vibrant…so vibrant that they stain your skin for the next few days.

I safely observed this colored-dye fight from afar. We celebrated Holi on the side of a mountain, which was at an elevation of just under 9000ft…and the wind was blowing…and it was 65ish degrees. I reckon if I had joined the fight I would have become a Holi popsicle!

The family that invited us to their Holi celebration gifted us with incredible hospitality. For that afternoon, their home was our home and we were to be at home with them. We talked about every topic imaginable: politics: Nepali and American; economics: Nepali and American; cricket; the 2016 Olympics; religion; and that women can be ministers. The conversations were incredibly diverse in opinions, in life experiences, in knowledge base, and there was peace. We came together. We shared our hearts. We dialogued about our passions and our dreams. We became community and there was peace.

I remember walking down the mountain and turning to look back up to the home where we celebrated Holi and thinking, “Wow, what a sanctuary. This experience is holy. I am being made more holy because of it.”

As reports continue to come out of Nepal I hope I will learn about the safety of this family and the safety of our driver, Ramesh, and his family. I hope that reports of aftershocks cease because the ground stills. I hope that relief efforts are swift and that healing begins sooner rather than later so that the Nepali people can return to their love for and celebration of life.

There are many relief agencies receiving financial contributions at this time to help with the Nepali disaster recovery. I would once again lift up UMCOR – the United Methodist Committee on Relief – as one of these agencies. UMCOR operates on the principle that for every dollar given for relief efforts 100% of that dollar is spent in relief efforts. Nothing is taken out of that dollar for administrative fees or organizational overhead. If you would like to make a gift to UMCOR to help our brothers and sisters in Nepal, you may do so by visiting www.umcor.org, select the DONATE button in the top right corner, and select International Disaster Response. You may also give a contribution to Tuskawilla UMC and mark “UMCOR” on the memo and we will send in your support on behalf of the church.

The Nepali people are truly a people of peace. Our prayerful and financial support will greatly help them reestablish their peace of mind and peace in their homeland. The peace we give is rooted in the peace of Christ and it brings all measures of healing.

Prayer: “Lord, you give the great commission: Heal the sick and preach the word. Lest the church neglect its mission, and the gospel go unheard, help us witness to your purpose with renewed integrity. With the Spirit’s gifts empower us for the work of ministry. Lord, you call us to your service: In my name baptize and teach. That the world may trust your promise, life abundant meant for each, give us all new fervor, draw us closer in community. With the Spirit’s gifts empower us for the work of ministry.”* Amen.

*”Lord, You Give the Great Commission” The United Methodist Hymnal 584.

Stewardship Is An Expression of Hospitality

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Hebrews 13:1-2

This week Tuskawilla’s Stewardship Chairperson will be sharing a message entitled “Angels Among Us” based on Hebrews 13:1-2.  When I read this text the word that instantly grabs my attention is hospitality and when I reminisce on hospitality the image that immediately comes to mind is my grandparents’ dining room table.

Like many families – when the extended family was all gathered at my Nonnie and Gramps’ house there was a kids table and an adults table.  The kids either ate on the porch or in the nook while the adults gathered around the dining room table.  At first I thought this was because adults deserved a fancier dining venue…and while that is true…it is also true that my grandparents’ dining room table was surrounded by countless priceless breakables.  Breakables and young feisty grandchildren do.not.mix.  So to the nook or the porch the grandchildren went.

Like many families – the kids ate first.  Our parents fixed our plates so they could ration out the mashed potatoes.  Once we were sitting at the table gobbling away our dinner they would fix their plates and retreat to the dining room.

A consequence of the kids eating first…is that we were always done eating first…and our parents were no where near done eating.  Who wanted to stay at a table when all of the food was gone?  I sure didn’t and neither did my cousins.  So one by one we would devise ways to enter the dining room.  “Mom, I have a question.”  “Dad, can you tie my shoe?”  “Hey, what are you eating?  I didn’t get any of that.”  And one by one each grandchild would find a seat at the dining room table – sharing a chair, sitting on a lap, leaning against a shoulder.  We never had to squeeze.  We never had to struggle for a place. There was always room at the table.

This image of my grandparents’ dining room table is one of the reasons Andrew and I built our dining room table to seat up 16 people.  I wanted this cherished memory to be my lived reality each time our family gathers around the table.

Showing hospitality – extending the table in whatever form the table takes – is a way of “letting mutual love continue.”  How we extend the table is a matter of our stewardship.  The table could be a handshake, a hot meal, a conversation, a letter, an errand, a commitment.  Extending the table places the needs of a neighbor before the needs of self.  How and at what rate we extend the table is an expression of our stewardship.

Our attitude towards hospitality and stewardship may change depending on who we are serving.  If we are serving a regular Joe on the street…ehhh…no big deal.  If we are serving an angel, well then we are putting on the Ritz!  This should not be!  We should serve everyone as if we are serving an angel.  This does not mean the service needs to be ostentatious; rather, the service should be intentional, and compassionate, and contextual to the person being served, and in the name of our Lord. Jesus takes stewardship one further.  Serve others not as if you are serving angels; serve others as if you are serving Christ himself.  “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “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” (Mt 25:37-40).

In another parable Jesus teaches about the Kingdom of God being like a table where everyone – everyone – will find room and be a guest.  Jesus stewarded hospitality to one and all – to the angels and most especially to the average Joes.  Jesus stewarded for us.  How, when, and what will we steward for others?

Prayer: “Christ, from whom all blessings flow, perfecting the saints below, hear us, who thy nature share, who thy mystic body are.  Move and actuate and guide, diverse gifts to each divide; placed according to thy will, let us all our work fulfill; never from thy service move, needful to each other prove; use the grace on each bestowed, tempered by the art of God.”* Amen.

*”Christ, from Whom All Blessings Flow,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 550.

Be Our Guest

(Last) Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 18:1-8

This week is your lucky week.  In all of the hustle and bustle of last week I neglected to make my post – so this week you will receive two!  Thank you for your graciousness in receiving this belated post.

I am overwhelmed by the graciousness and hospitality I have received from the Tuskawilla congregation.  Yesterday was my first Sunday at TUMC and the Spirit was tangible.  The energy was high.  The smiles were warm.  We sang.  We prayed.  We studied Scripture.  We gathered around Christ’s table and shared in the meal that he prepared for us.  I shook numerous hands, felt the embrace of a few hugs, and heard a number of rebuttals about my choice in football team (Go Packers!) and in the best decade of music ever (The 80s!).

As I serve at TUMC I will continue to come back to this sermon – this Sunday – as it is a reminder of my role in the congregation.  As the pastor of this flock, I am not the host.  I am the guest.  The congregation – the people with the history of this church, that have laughed with her, cried with her, bandaged her, and defended her – they are the host.  I have been invited in and entrusted with the stewardship of the church – to care for her, to challenge her, to connect people to her.  That is my privilege.  That is my joy.  And that is my task alongside the people at TUMC.

Sometimes in “ecclesial-culture” a posture is taken between the congregation and that pastor that “we [the congregation] are ready for you [the pastor] to do X Y Z …”  In my short time at TUMC I have come to know that this is not their posture.  They are ready to partner.  They are excited to partner.  They have ownership of the church and its ministries and are excited for someone to lead them to another level – to lead them onward.

Through the discernment of the appointive authorities over me I have been selected to be that shepherd.  I am ready to work alongside my hosts.  I am ready for us to get some dirt under our fingernails as we work in God’s vineyard.  I am ready to continue conversations that were started last Sunday, to learn names – lots of names, …and to perhaps hear a few more rebuttals about my choice in music and sports teams.

I am ready – and I trust that God equips.

Prayer: “As Christ breaks bread and bids us share, each proud division ends.  The love that made us makes us one, and strangers now are friends, and strangers now are friends.”*  Amen.

*”I Come with Joy,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 617.

Faith and Works: Heavenly Wisdom Breeds Earthly Hospitality

Sunday’s Scripture ~ James 3:13-18

This Sunday Reeves UMC welcomes Michael Slaymaker, President of Orlando Youth Alliance, as our guest speaker. The Orlando Youth Alliance is a peer-to-peer mentoring and support group whose mission is to provide a safe space for LGBTQ youth in Central Florida.

Last Fall the idea for Be The Change 5K was birthed by Lisa – Reeves’ Youth Director – and myself after months of discernment and prayer. In our discernment God led us in a desire to not only support Reeves with the proceeds of BTC5K, but also to support a local agency with BTC5K proceeds so the community surrounding the church – and the community in which the church participates – can be the change they want to see in the world. Lisa had a history of volunteering with OYA and recommended them as a beneficiary of BTC5K proceeds. In November Lisa and I met with Michael to discuss the possibility of a partnership between OYA and Reeves – to receive a portion of the funds from the 5K and to invite OYA to utilize our campus as the site for their weekly gatherings. The invitation was extended and Lisa and I entrusted it to God to do what God does.

Michael contacted us in late January; the OYA Board of Directors were interested in seeing the space Reeves had to offer the group. I am so happy to say that OYA moved their weekly gatherings to youth room at Reeves back in February. Before this time this group of vibrant, passionate, inquisitive, discerning, and fear-conquering young adults met in temporary spaces around Orlando. They didn’t have a space to call their own. They have truly blossomed in this space and cherish the security of calling this space their OYA home.

Lisa and I felt called to extend this earthly hospitality to OYA after much time spent in prayer and discernment, in which God imparted what I believe is heavenly wisdom. Our Scripture lesson for this week tells us that wisdom is from above and that it is pure. And when wisdom from above reigns down it cleanses the greatest vices of the world – jealousy and selfishness. This refers to not just jealousy and selfishness at the individual level, but also at the corporate level – the congregational level – the church level.

When the church opens its doors and invites our brothers, sisters, neighbors in to find sanctuary and experience hospitality – however that may look for them – we embody that we have received, are attuned to, and responding to God’s heavenly wisdom. From that pure wisdom flows peace, gentleness, and a willingness to yield to the desires of others – not to compromise our witness or integrity of faith – but to remain vulnerable and aware of the needs of our neighbors so as one people we can promote healing.

It’s true – Reeves is providing hospitality to OYA, but we are not simply givers and they receivers. We are mutually giving and receiving as OYA’s weekly presence on our campus helps Reeves live into our mission of intentional inclusivity and hospitality with the LGBTQ community. God’s wisdom is reigning in the mission and service of these two groups – individually – corporately – congregationally.

I hope you join us in worship on July 28 to hear Michael share more about the partnership between Reeves and OYA. You will be enriched, encouraged, and blessed by his sharing.

Prayer: “Called by worship to your service, forth in your dear name we go to the child, the youth, the aged, love in living deeds to show; hope and health, good will and comfort, counsel, aid, and peace we give, that your servants, Lord, in freedom may your mercy know, and live.”* Amen.

*”Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 581.