Joined Together

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ephesians 2:11-22.

When I think about unity I picture a massive dining room table – one where anyone and everyone can gather, sit down, and share a meal. There was a commercial last summer about the “biggest back yard barbeque” where the table went on and on; as more people arrived, more tables were added. There was always room. There was always space. Everyone was welcome. What they brought was gratefully received and added to the spread. And there was laughter. And there was joy.

This idea is why Andrew and I have a massive dining room table.

In the Gospel of Luke Jesus shares the Parable of the Great Dinner. Jesus said, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his [servant] to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the [servant] returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his [servant], ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room’” (Lk 14:16-22).

The image of there still being room, of inviting others to come in, and most importantly, inviting folks – as I have heard described – that no one else wants or no one else sees – is the reason why Andrew and I have a massive dining room table…and is the reason why I think the tables in churches should be even bigger. Our tables remind us that Christ’s table was not just for the healthy, the financially sustainable, the intelligent, the talented, and the successful. Christ’s table is for all people. And thank God for that because as much as I would like to think of myself among the healthy, the financially sustainable, the intelligent, the talented, and the successful, I am among the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. And Christ welcomes me – welcomes us – welcomes all so that “[his] house may be filled” (Lk 14:23).

When you think about unity, what image do you see? And what feelings accompany that image? Take time to reflect on that question and your response this week – and share your image with someone you cherish.

Prayer: “Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed, for I am thy God and will still give thee aid; I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.”* Amen.

*“How Firm A Foundation,” The United Methodist Hymnal 529.

 

 

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A Special Treat

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 19:1-10 (Morningsong) and 1 Samuel 17 (11am Blended Worship)

On Monday Andrew and I took his brother, Josh, a pumpkin. Josh is interred at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell and Halloween was (is) his favorite holiday. Oh the mischief Andrew and Josh would cause on Halloween.

One Halloween they kept changing their costumes – full wardrobe changes at first and then only minor changes towards the end – as they revisited the same house again and again. Why that house? Four words: full.size.candy.bars.

Andrew and Josh did not start out as friends. They started out having a fist fight…and then they became friends. And once they were friends, the two were instantly brothers. If you were to ask my in-laws or Josh’s parents, I am sure they would say that a common phrase between Andrew and Josh was “I am coming to your house today!” To hang out, to sleep over, to build something in the garage, to scheme the next prank, to plot resistance against “the man” (whatever or whoever “the man” was that week), to laugh, to live. “I am coming to your house today.”

Wherever Josh was, there Andrew would be and vice versa.

My heart breaks because Andrew cannot have those experiences with Josh right now…but that will not be the case forever. We trust, we believe faithfully that God is bringing us all – bringing them – together again.

Jesus shocked the crowd when he announced that he was going to Zacchaeus’ house. Perhaps some hoped that Jesus was going there to “clean house” or spare Zacchaeus the public ridicule and shame of being rebuked by the Savior before his peers. But that was not Jesus’ intent. Jesus’ intent was to build community and include rather than further exclude the tax collector. Jesus wanted Zacchaeus, who had been so far from Jesus as evidenced by his behavior, to come near to him. Zacchaeus, this tax collector, this culturally despised man, this swindler, this con – Jesus had so many reasons to come to blows with this man. And yet Jesus does not throw a fist, but offers a hand. “I am coming to your house today.”

Jesus said, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Lk 8:21). Through his repentance and reconciliation – through admitting his wrong and repaying his neighbors – Zacchaeus turned his will towards the Father’s and embraced his kinship with Jesus.

We visit Josh to remember. We visit Josh so that Andrew and Josh can hang out. We visit Josh so Andrew can tell him what has been built in the garage, report on completed pranks, update resistance plans, and laugh. We visit Josh as an act of living and leave Josh’s side with a renewed sense of calling: Who will we invite to our house today? What homes will we ask to enter? What new and continuing relationships will we nurture? How will we see Christ in others and invite them to see Christ in us?

Remember this Sunday’s treat: Join me for the 8:30 Morningsong Service and then plan to stay for worship at 11am as Andrew preaches on David and Goliath from I Samuel. I am looking forward to my time at both Tusakwilla and Azalea Park UMCs this weekend! The Millers are excited to see you in worship on Sunday!

Prayer: “Called forth from every nation, yet one o’er all the earth; our charter of salvation: one Lord, one faith, one birth. One holy name professing and at one table fed, to one hope always pressing, by Christ’s own Spirit led.” Amen.

*”The Church’s One Foundation,” The United Methodist Hymnal 546.

The Plan

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ephesians 3:1-12

This Sunday the Tuskawilla Community will celebrate Epiphany – the 12th day of Christmas – the end of Christmastide.

(Disclaimer: Yes, Sunday, January 4 is only the 10th day after Christmas, but it’s okay.  We will sing Christmas and Epiphany hymns this week!)

On Epiphany we remember the magi coming to the Christ child bearing exquisite and expense gifts. On this final moment of Jesus’ nativity we begin to hear the laments that will wail from Golgotha. He will not wear a crown of gold, but a crown of thorns. His body will not be sweetened with frankincense and myrrh, but prepared for a borrowed grave.

As the carol sings the magi “traverse(d) afar, field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star.” They journeyed from the East and had obstacles – some easy and some not so easy – to overcome on their quest to see what lay under the Bethlehem star. The magi did not give up. The magi did not turn back. The magi journeyed so that they, too, might worship the newborn King.

2014 closes in a little more than a day. Each day is part of a year long journey where we, too, face our own fields, fountains, moors, and mountains. Fields are be those spaces where we feel rooted or grow or harvest. Fountains are those spaces where we are cleansed, refreshed, purified, and made new. Moors are those spaces where the ground is not so smooth, where the vegetation is overgrown so visual confirmation of sure-footing is obscured, and where stinky, sticky mud can bog us down. Mountains are those spaces of trial and of triumph; mountains are those spaces where we draw close to God and then re-enter our routine landscapes.

I am looking forward to 2015 through reflective eyes gazing on 2014. I can identify my fields, my fountains, my moors, and my mountains. I am thankful for each moment of my journey, not because they have helped move me closer to the Christ child, but because each of these moments were Epiphanies where Christ found me. Jesus planted me in and harvested me from the fields, washed me in the fountains, unstuck me from the moors, and met me on the mountains. With each moment I was drawn closer to the Bethlehem star, but not withheld from worshipping the Christ until I finally arrived. I worshipped as I walked. This year has been a moving meditation.

I invite you to reflect upon your 2014. What are your field, fountain, moor, and mountain moments? How have you worshipped as you have walked? What have you learned? How will you invite Christ to continue shaping you from the path of 2014 as you journey into 2015? Perhaps these reflections will lead you in discernment of what you will resolve for your relationship with Christ in the coming year.

As I reflect I resolve to lean into hope rather than worry. I resolve to claim positivity and release negativity. I resolve to further breathe into the inclusive nature of Epiphany – that Christ came for all people – that Christ seeks each one of us – that Christ our Lord makes us one and is Lord of all.

What will you resolve? What will you apply from your traversing in 2014 that will help you with your Christ-led meditation in 2015?

Prayer: “O God, you made of one blood all nations, and by a star in the East, revealed to all peoples him whose name is Emmanuel. Enable us who know your presence with us so to proclaim his unsearchable riches that all may come to his light and bow before the brightness of his rising, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.”*

*”Epiphany,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 255.

Collent Moments With God: You

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 1:26-27, 2:7, 2:18-22

This week the Tuskawilla community begins a four-week series exploring the collect prayer form. The collect prayer form dates from medieval times.  The collect prayer has four components. Each week of the series we will explore one component of the prayer. This week we begin with you.

The you in the collect prayer refers to the entity to which we are praying.  As Trinitarian Christians the you we are praying to is the Triune God and our God has many names. Growing up the names I typically used for God were God, Lord, and Father. I was comfortable with these names because I was raised and my faith formed around these names for God.

And then I went to college…and I was exposed to a new way of thinking about names for God. Unfamiliar words, concepts, and descriptors of God seeped into my worldview. I was rocked by the teachings of women like Rosemary Radford Ruether, Mary Daly, and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza. Offerings from female and feminist theologians and philosophers began shaping me. God can be God the Father / He, but God is not limited to God the Father / He.  What about God the Mother? God the Bakerwoman? God giving birth through the act of creation?

What about conceptions of God beyond God the Father?

Why is this necessary?  Why do we need so many names for God?  Is there something wrong with God the Father/ He?  I do not think there is any wrong with these names, descriptors, or conceptions of God.  But I think the Father / He descriptors limit how we describe our God.  Father / He places God in a box…God created the box, but God does not exist in the box.

True, our fallible, imperfect human language can only glimpse in words all that our God is, but expanding our vocabulary and conceptions of God breathes incredible life and vitality into our understanding of God.  Additionally, there are persons present in our world that have terrible horrors in their past.  Referring to God as Father, King, Conqueror, Mother or others may stir up hurt feelings or painful memories that they do not want to relive in their personal communion with God; therefore, they find a name that is comfortable or approachable in their relationship.

I am privileged to serve as the leader of a faith community and in my leadership I am sensitive to inclusivity concerning names for God.  Whereas I grew up using Father / He now I refer to God as God, Lord, Savior, and balance my imagery for God with masculine and feminine descriptors.  This personal practice helps me remember that God is beyond gender stereotypes.  God created us in God’s image – the way that God wanted us to be – male and female God created us.  I believe God bears within God’s self all the possible expressions and descriptors; so, the treasure trove of descriptors and names for God that we have at our finger tips is as deep and as plentiful and as full of surprises as Mary Poppin’s carpet bag.

What name do you use for God?  What names or descriptors for God are comfortable for you to use and known to you?  Which names or descriptors for God challenge you or call you out of your comfort zone?  Consider these questions as you pray this week.  Explore if God is calling you to breathe into using a new name in your relationship.

Prayer: “God, like a bakerwoman, you bring the leaven which causes our hopes to rise.  With your strong and gentle hands, shape our lives.  Warm us with your love.  Take our common lives and touch them with your grace, that we may nourish hope among humanity. We pray trusting in your name, through Jesus our Christ. Amen.”*

*Prayer by Ruth Duck, The United Methodist Book of Worship, 469.