Course Correction

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 21:15-19.

In our Scripture text for this week Jesus faces Peter – in the text called Simon son of John – head on and asks him the same question three times in a row.

“Simon son of John, do you love me?”

In the many times I have read this text, my immediate reaction has been towards Peter. Jesus puts him on the spot! Peter publicly denied Jesus, raising his voice so that there would be no question from the passersby of with whom Peter stood…or rather did not stand.

Jesus was in earshot of all of this. Peter was in the courtyard above him while Jesus was in a cellar underground.

I have stood in that tomb. Right in its center. And I looked up towards the windows. I could hear birds chirping outside and the wind blowing through the nearby trees. There is no doubt that Jesus heard Peter’s denial.

“Simon son of John, do you love me?”

What a vulnerable question – and not just for Peter – as it invites him into the heart-work of truth telling. But also for Jesus – as with asking this question our Jesus risks rejection once again.

“Simon son of John, do you love me?” could very easily be adapted to any of our names. To me this question is not only worthy of an answer, it demands an answer. The vast amazing incredible holy God of the universe – the Word incarnate – Love incarnate – calls Peter and you and me by name. God in Jesus faces us and sees us and asks us “Do you love me?”

Three times Simon son of John said yes. And three times Jesus directs Peter to incarnate his yes. To talk the talk and walk the walk. To say it and live it. New Testament and other Early Church writings confirm that Peter did. Peter’s actions restored both his credibility and his faith. Peter’s actions reconnected him to the commitment he made to Christ in becoming a fisher for people.

Peter made a huge mistake in denying Jesus. And that mistake could have been the last we ever heard about him. But Peter did not quit. He did not give up. He faced Jesus. He learned from his mistake. Jesus forgave him. Jesus redeemed him. And Peter lived out his days as a witness – as a martyr – declaring – before the world – our Jesus and his love.

Prayer: “As we worship, grant us vision, till your love’s redeeming light in its height and depth and greatness dawns upon our quickened sight, making known the needs and burdens your compassion bids us bear, stirring us to tireless striving your abundant life to share.”* Amen.

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

 

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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.

 

The Choice Is Yours

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 1:4-11.

I am thrilled to return to my regular posting on The Sunday Stiletto! My eleven week hiatus was due in part to this sweet face.

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Meet Joshua everyone! Andrew and I are completely in love and grateful each day to be this little guy’s parents.

Last Sunday Pastor Kate shared a challenging sermon based on one of her favorite Scripture texts – Micah 6:1-8. This is a text that Pastor Kate returns to again and again. The thought of her returning to this text stirred my heart to consider a Scripture text I return to again and again. Immediately I thought of The Greatest Commandment:

“One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, Which commandment is the first of all? Jesus answered, The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The secondhand is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mk 12:38-31).

In the words of Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, “let me sum up – Love God; Love Others.

In my words and in my actions, in my work and in my play, in public and private spheres, today and always I want to love God and love others. That is my choice and my prayer as I begin each day, especially since Joshua arrived. I want him to see in me what it looks like and what it means to embody Jesus’ Greatest Commandment.

I need God’s help to accomplish this embodiment. I need God to lead me. I confess that I do not always get it right. I roll my eyes, I think hurtful thoughts, I put myself ahead of others. I am grateful that God’s grace is abundant in those moments and is faithfully shaping me so that I am able to love more completely the next time.

What Scripture text do you return to again and again? How does that Scripture text inspire or guide the choices you make? Share your thoughts with someone and take care to embody that Scripture text this week.

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.”* Amen.

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

On The Top Shelf

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 23:33-43.

This Sunday the Rev. Dr. Steve Harper will share a message entitled “On The Top Shelf” at both our Morningsong and 11am Worship Services.

I met Steve for the first time in my small group interview for membership as a provisional elder in the Florida Conference in January 2010. I was terrified walking into that small group room and Steve was a very kind face.

I remember him asking me about my definition of sin in my paperwork; I had defined sin as some kind of radical evil in the world. Steve wondered if I had an example of this kind of radical evil and so I shared a story about a conversation with the Senior Pastor I served with my last year of seminary. A person could stand on the front door step of the church, look across the field, and see the steeple of another United Methodist Church. I asked Jennie what our church’s relationship was with our neighbor church when a member walked up behind me and said, “We don’t have a relationship with them; that’s where the slaves worship.”

That was in the Fall of 2009.

2009.

I looked at Steve and said, “Sin is some kind of radical evil.” He nodded his head in agreement and my interview continued.

As Jesus hung on the cross, he looked into sin – some kind of radical evil – and gave his life so that we would live. Above him hung a cross that read “King of the Jews”. The Romans meant it as one more jab at our Savior, but Jesus’ friends and followers knew it to be true. Here, our humble King, is dying for you, for them, and for me.

Our King did not come as expected. Jesus did not have a grand entry into the world. He was born to an unwed mother and his earthly father was suspect of the whole situation. He was born in a borrowed cave surrounded by animals. He lived like a vagabond with no place to lay his head.

Jesus was encouraged by generous hospitality and lived not on bread alone but feasted on the word of God. He served, he sacrificed, and he saved.

Jesus revealed the presence of God’s Kingdom in the real world. The in-breaking of the Kingdom is not loud and overbearing; it was as soft as a baby’s cry and greets us like a kind face and an open hand. Our King did not and does not demand obedience; he invited and invites obedience. Jesus wants relationships not constituents under requirements.

Jesus is our King in a new Kingdom. Jesus is our King that looks in the face of sin and all radical evils and does not turn away. Jesus is our King that is leading us in ways where we will all be one – male and female, Jew and Gentile, black and white, slave and free.

It is true that Scripture speaks of a day where every knee will bow before Jesus and every tongue will confess his Lordship. And when I picture bowing before Jesus, I see him reaching for me with his arms, to raise me to my feet, and then embracing me to his chest. This is the King I know. This is the King I serve. This is the King that changed my life and I believe is changing the world. Because of his transformation in me, I offer myself to be used by him in the beautiful transformation of others.

I look forward to worshipping with you and learning from Steve this week. Thank you, Steve, for the gift of your leadership and sharing with the Tuskawilla Family. Thank you for the kind face and guiding presence you continue to be in my life.

Prayer: “Almighty God, who gave your Son Jesus Christ a realm where all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; make us loyal followers of our living Lord, that we may always hear his word, follow his teachings, and live in his Spirit; and hasten the day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord; to your eternal glory. Amen.”*

*”For Reign of Christ,” The United Methodist Book of Worship 421.

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.

Prepare for Salvation

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 1:46-55

This week I welcome Rev. Dora Thomas, Associate Pastor serving First UMC Ovideo as the guest preacher with the Tuskawilla Community. Dora and I both attended seminary at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, though we attended different years. She graduated in May 2014 and when she was appointed in July to First Ovideo a mutual friend of ours connected the two of us saying we were two gals cut from the same bolt of cloth – how right our friend is! Thank you, Dora, for sharing your gifts at Tuskawilla this Sunday!

Dora’s text for this week is Mary’s Song – known as the Magnificat. Magnificat is a Latin word that means my soul magnifies. Mary’s Song captures the world-changing aspects of the impending Savior’s birth. The powerful will be humbled. The hungry will be filled. The Savior’s mercy will benefit Israel as in accordance to the promise made to Abraham. The Savior will bring blessing from generation to generation. God is about to do an incredible thing that will alter history from this point forward…and God chooses to involve humanity in it.

God invites Mary, meek and mild, to be part of this incarnation. Mary shares the excitement and anticipation of the incarnation with her cousin, Elizabeth. The advent of the incarnation connects the women together in a deeper way than even their shared bloodline and fosters community between them.

Reflecting on the Magnificat and Mary’s visit to Elizabeth that precedes her song Pastor Michael Bennett says, “God gives Mary and Elizabeth two things they each lacked: community and connection. God removes their isolation and helps them to understand themselves more fully as part of something larger than their individual destinies.” Hope is birthed in each of the women as they carry God-given children. Over time hope grows alongside the children and anticipation builds for what will be. And when the children are born the celebration and welcome is not just for these two nuclear families, but for the family of God, which spans the globe.

As members of God’s family we are all involved in something larger than ourselves. What happens to one member of God’s family happens to all of us. As the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it” (I Cor 12:26). We are active participants in the Incarnation and Salvation stories that our God continues to write.

Often I hear people say that they want to be involved in something that matters. Our faith, our faith heritage, living our faith all matters. And it does not just matter because it affects our personal lives. It matters because it affects our lives and the lives of our neighbors – those who know the old old story and those who are hearing this story for the first time. Perhaps God is calling you to be a herald of good tidings for someone this year. Invite them to worship on Sunday. Invite them to one of our Christmas Eve Services (5pm and 7pm). Invite them to dinner. Invite them to coffee. Invite them to hear and receive the story of how God has changed and will continue changing the world through the incarnation of Jesus. Connect with someone. Create community. Tell the story, and in so doing, magnify the Lord.

Prayer: “Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord! Unnumbered blessings give my spirit voice; tender to me the promise of God’s word; in God my Savior shall my heart rejoice. Tell out, my soul, the greatness of God’s name! Make known God’s might, who wondrous deeds has done; God’s mercy sure, from age to age the same; God’s holy name, the Lord, the mighty One. Tell out, my soul, the greatness of God’s might! Powers and dominions lay their glory by; proud hearts and stubborn wills are put to flight, the hungry fed, the humble lifted high. Tell out, my soul, the glories of God’s word! Firm is the promise and God’s mercy sure. Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord to children’s children forevermore!”* Amen.

*”Tell Out, My Soul,” The United Methodist Hymnal 200.

Prepare For Song: The Promise of Light

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 9:2 and John 1:5

This Sunday the Tuskawilla Community will celebrate the coming of the Christ child with two of my favorite symbols – music and light. Music is a very important part of my life. My mother has always been singing to me. She helped me get involved with music programs in school and church from a very young age. I happily played my part in many a bathrobe nativity – I made those sheep ears look good. As I grew up I helped other children fill the roles in those beloved nativities. Through the years children would sing and do sing the story of God’s entrance into the world. With Christ’s incarnation God’s love became physical and dwelt among us.

The Tuskawilla Choir will offer a cantata this week entitled The Promise of Light. This cantata walks tenderly the path from Advent to Christmastide, from preparation to incarnation, from people who walk in darkness to people who have seen a great light. As far as I know there will not be any bathrobed sheep running around though I would welcome them! The morning promises to be full of music and narrations that speak to humanity’s experience with darkness and God’s promise of light that will save all people.

As we pass through the middle of the Advent Season I am all the more ready for the glory of Christ’s light to be revealed. Spending so many years in church music programs and now pastoring churches has shown me the best seat in the house on Christmas Eve. I know that all good Methodists think that the back of the Sanctuary is where it is at…but anyone in the choir loft will tell you that the front is the place to be.

During the singing of Silent Night light floods the darkened Sanctuary. Light shines on each and every face. Features that were once obscure are now easily seen and most often the expression on each face is joy…joy that I trust is there because of Jesus. From my viewpoint I am able to see all of that joy as the light travels its way left to right front to back. Then together we lift the light, which I believe is symbolic of how Christ lifts all of us out of darkness. Surrounded by music and light we welcome our newborn King.

There are still a couple of weeks until we will lift that light in welcome. In the meantime I will wait. I will listen to music. I will sing as the choir leads me. And I will lean into the promise that our Lord is coming and will lead us out of darkness.

Prayer: “O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thy justice here; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”* Amen.

*”O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” The United Methodist Hymnal 211.