Jesus Said What!? ~ Sell What You Have

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 10:17-22.

If you ever visit the parsonage, watch your step just inside the front door. Why, you may ask? Because there is always a pile of donations by the front door.

Always. Ask Andrew.

While serving New Horizon in Haines City/Davenport I was introduced to “31bags” – not the company, but the concept. Ladies in the church told me that on the first day of the month they went around their homes and placed one item in the bag for everyday of the month – so 28, 29, 30, or 31 items depending on the month and the year. Once the items were collected they would place their 31bag in a closet. If they returned to the bag during the month to take hold of a particular item, they would keep that item. All undisturbed items were donated by the month’s end. And on the first of the next month they would repeat the process.

Why did the ladies do this?

  • To de-clutter.
  • To simplify.
  • To help their families so that their loved ones would not have to de-clutter and simplify later.

The practice of de-cluttering and simplifying feels natural to me. If I cannot use something, maybe someone else can. And if I am not using something, do I need to hang onto it? Itinerancy also helps with the discernment to keep or to donate; on more than one occasion I have asked myself in a store – “do I like this enough to move it?” – and more often than not, I leave whatever it is on the shelf.

Donating items and clearing out what is not being used is also a spiritual practice for me. These acts are acts of stewardship. I am making room – physical, spiritual, emotional – for what is really important. I feel like letting go of stuff here – on this side of eternity – further prepares me for what awaits in the fullness of eternity. Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Mt 6:19-20).

I do not want to be bogged down. And I do not think there is “baggage check” where we are going. It is like the wonderfully poignant Polk County bumper sticker reads, “Ye who dies with the most toys…still dies.”

Take a look around your home. Are there places you could de-clutter and areas you could simplify? Is this the time for you to create your own 31bag? These are big tasks and they can quickly become overwhelming, but doing a little bit at a time is better than doing nothing at all. It’s for you. For your family. For your stewardship. For your preparation for eternity.

Prayer: “Take my will, and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine. Take my heart, it is thine own; it shall be thy royal throne. Take my love, my Lord, I pour at thy feet its treasure-store. Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee.”* Amen.

*”Take My Life, and Let It Be,” The United Methodist Hymnal 399.


Jesus Said What!? ~ Let Him Who Has No Sword Buy One

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 22:35-38.

The Tuskawilla UMC paraments – the cloths on the altar and the pulpit – are now green signifying we are in a period of “ordinary time” in the church year. (Ordinary Time technically started the first Sunday after Pentecost back in May…but the red or Pentecost paraments are my favorite and I like to enjoy them for more than just one Sunday.)

The Ordinary Time that follows after Pentecost is known as Kingdomtide. This period continues until the Season of Advent begins. During Ordinary Time we study Scripture texts that encourage us to mature in our daily expressions of faith so that we become more holy and whole persons.

To seal our Ordinary Time intention – to mature in our daily expressions of faith so that we become more holy and whole persons – I offer this blessing from one of my mentors and colleagues, Rev. Jan Richardson.

“Blessing the Ordinary”

from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons

(Orlando: Wanton Gospeller Press, 2015)

Let these words lay themselves like a blessing upon your heard, your shoulders,

as if like hands they could pass on to you what you most need for this day,

as if they could anoint you not merely for the path ahead

but for this ordinary moment that opens itself to you –

opens itself like another hand that unfurls itself, that reaches out to gather these words in the bowl of its palm.

You may think this blessing lives within these words,

but I tell you it lives in the opening and in the reaching;

it lives in the ache where this blessing begins;

it lives in the hollow made by the place where the hands of this blessing meet.

See you in worship on Sunday, friends! May sweet blessings be upon you and bring our hands to meeting throughout this Ordinary Time.

Jesus Said What!? ~ Fear Him Who Has The Power To Cast You Into Hell

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 12:4-12.

One of the first concepts a student of Scripture interpretation learns is how the sacred texts we have came to be. The stories present in our sacred texts existed first as oral tradition – stories told around campfires, as friends worked in the fields, as mothers tucked their children into bed.

These stories were told to keep the faith alive and fresh in God’s people – so the young would learn and the old would not forget. Moses spoke specifically of the royal law – “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” when the following words were shared, and I believe they are applicable to the whole of our sacred text – “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deut 6:4-9).

At a later time writers inspired and guided by God’s Holy Spirit captured on paper – or scrolls – these oral traditions. The scrolls circulated through faith communities and were further committed to the heads, hearts, and hands of God’s people.

The formation of the Synoptic Gospels – synopticmeaning same or similarlike the word synonym– is of particular interest because unlike other biblical texts, we have access not only to the particular gospel text, but also to its sources. The earliest gospel we have is the Gospel of Mark; it serves as the source document for both Matthew and Luke. They share many stories in common, with Matthew and Luke often adding additional details or descriptions to concise Markan accounts. Additionally Matthew and Luke have stories they share that Mark does not have, which some scholars attribute to Q– short for Quelle, which is German for Source– and they have independent material (called Mand L) that neither of the other Synoptics share. All of these sources – Mark, Q, M and L – provide us with the gospels we cherish today.

The presence of these shared or common sources between the Gospels is why students of Scripture interpretation may experience déjà vu…didn’t I read this already? In fact, you probably did. So…is it worth reading again? In fact, yes it is – for a number of reasons. Among them are

  1. The meaning of Scripture grows in depth and meaning as our life experiences change. As we age, as we experience more, how Scripture guides and resonates with us changes to ensure our grounding and growth in the faith.
  2. Certain sayings of Jesus are not always “attached” or “linked” – if you will – with the same stories or circumstances across the gospels. Remember, the gospels are not “eyewitness accounts.” As such, it is important to read the sayings of Jesus in context with surrounding material because the surrounding material will shape and yield different and deeper learnings. Sometimes the contexts are the same, and that agreement between the gospel writers adds greater emphasis and importance to the Jesus saying. At other times the contexts are different, which reveals the individual gospel writer’s specific message to his intended audience.

So as you read and study Scripture, stay alert and resist temptations to slip into “auto pilot” or “auto reader mode” when you read a passage that sounds familiar. If you experience déjà vu while reading Scripture, then invite that feeling to guide you into a greater state of presence and awareness as you study. Scripture is a gift. That we are able to hold it in our hands is a gift. That we are able to read it in our heart language and dialogue about it freely is a gift.

Treasure Scripture. Keep these words in your heart. Share these words with your family and friends. Live in response to Scripture through the actions of your head, hearts, and hands.

Prayer: “Thy love divine hath led us in the past; in this free land with thee our lot is cast; be thou our ruler, guardian, guide, and stay, thy Word our law, thy paths our chosen way.”* Amen.

*”God of the Ages,” The United Methodist Hymnal 698.

Jesus Said What!? ~ You Must Be Perfect

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 5:43-48.

Last week in Tuskawilla’s 11:00 Worship Service I referenced Wesley’s Historic Questions which are asked of those persons being ordained since the beginning of Methodism. There are 19 questions in all and they are all structured on a version of the verb form “to be” – Have you, Are you, Do you, and Will you? Questions structured on a version of the verb form “to be” have two possible answers – yes or no.

(And if your discernment and desire is to be ordained, your answer is yes – to all 19.)

The second of John Wesley’s Historic Questions shows he is batting for the fences. He wastes no time in getting to the heart of the matter:

2. Are you going onto perfection?

Which is followed in the next breath:

3. Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?

And given that the answers to 2. and 3. are both yes, he rounds out with:

4. Are you earnestly striving after it?

I answered yes to these three questions (and the other 16 as well!) before the entire Annual Conference the day before my ordination. I answered sincerely and confidently. I do believe I am going onto perfection. I do expect to be made perfect in love in this life. And I am earnestly striving after it.

At the heart of these questions for John Wesley is the work of sanctification – the work of being made holy – the work of recovering and restoring the image in which we were created – which is the image of God – which is perfect.

Sanctification is not a matter of works righteousness. We cannot work ourselves to righteousness through the acts that we do, the words that we say, or the money that we give. Titus 3:4-7 says, “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Because God acted on our behalf, we are able to act in response to God’s grace and with God’s help so recover and restore the image in which we were created. 

Through sanctification we go onto perfection – we are made perfect in love in this life. This perfection does not mean that we will not make mistakes or have weaknesses that cause us to backslide – meaning revert to behaviors before or early on in our relationship with Christ prior to our maturing in faith. Rather, Wesley understood this perfection to mean a continual process of perfecting our love for God and neighbor by reducing – and ultimately removing – our desire to sin. When sin does not have a hold on us, we are free to love as God intended – love God first and love neighbor second, and then all else in the world will fall into place by keeping these two at our forefront.

Are you going onto perfection? Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life? Are you earnestly striving after it? Share how you are earnestly striving after it with someone this week. I look forward to worshipping with you on Sunday!

Prayer: “Take time to be holy, let him be thy guide, and run not before him, whatever betide. In joy or in sorrow, still follow the Lord, and, looking to Jesus, still trust in his word.”* Amen.

*”Take Time to Be Holy,” The United Methodist Hymnal 395.


Jesus Said What!? ~ You Must Hate Your Parents, Spouse, Siblings and Children

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 10:32-39.

Some Bible verses are hard to stomach and this week’s passage is among them. This text is troublesome. In truth it causes me to cringe. Much like Jacob wrestled with a man in the night and limped away forever marked in the morning, folks have wrestled and continue to wrestle with this text – biblical scholars, pastors, disciples, and seekers. We thought Jesus’ intent was to draw all people together and to draw all people together to himself. And yet this passage seems to tell a different story…

When we read passages like this one it is important to remember our tools for exegesis – meaning our tools for studying Scripture:

  1. Read and study Scripture in context meaning in relationship to the passages immediately before it and after it. This also means reading the given passage alongside other passages of the same topic in order to gain deeper understanding of the concept. Resources like a Bible Dictionary and Concordance are helpful in this sort of study. Hardcopies of these resources are available in the Church Library and electronic versions are available for free online.
  2. Beware “sound bite theology.” Have you ever been in a conversation with someone that has said, “Well the Bible says…” and then that person zeros in on one verse to make a (his or her) point and in order to shut down any further conversation? (I admit – I have done this!) More often than not when someone deploys this strategy that person takes a scripture verse out of context or that person “reads into the text” – known as eisegesis – in order for Scripture to say what he or she wants rather than what the text says. In these instances I encourage you
    1. To honor your conversation partner,
    2. To respect their opinion even if you disagree with it, and then
    3. To attend to your own study of the text to further develop your personal interpretation and application of it.
  3. Do not hesitate to use one of the most theologically sound statements available to you – “I don’t know!” There are passages of Scripture that are difficult and in our attempts to make them less difficult we sometimes dig ourselves into even deeper holes…and then backfill dirt on top of ourselves. (I have also done this one more than one occasion!) Sometimes we question the value of Scripture – or our desire to know more of it or about it – when we come across passages like this one that make our hearts ache. Saying “I don’t know” to a Scripture like this does not defeat it…but it may relieve our anxiety to explain it. And hopefully we will be encouraged to learn more about it through personal study and conversation with friends. “I don’t know…but let’s find out together.”

Reading the whole of Scripture paints us the fullest picture of our God and of his Christ. In some moments our hearts will be sweetly touched and in others they will feel achingly raw. We are better and our faith is deeper by having the presence of both kinds of Scriptures and the experiences they bring. In this way Scripture remains relevant in our lives. Scripture speaks to life. Scripture speaks life. And I am so grateful.

Prayer: “When peace like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul. It is well (it is well), with my soul (with my soul), it is well, it is well with my soul.”* Amen.

*“It Is Well with My Soul,” The United Methodist Hymnal 377.


Jesus Said What!? ~ Whoever Divorces and Marries Another Commits Adultery

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 10:1-12.

Our Scripture text for this Sunday mentions adultery – the act of engaging in a relationship with someone that is not your spouse. In biblical times adultery concerned physical actions. I believe in our present time adultery concerns physical actions as well as emotional and psychological actions. Technology was not on the “biblical times relationship radar;” however, in the present day, some people cannot conceive of their “relationship radar” without technology. Some people would not have their relationships without technology! Technology can help or hinder relationships; technology can bring couples together or it can tear them apart.

In John 8 the Pharisees bring a woman before Jesus who had been caught in adultery. According to the Law of Moses the woman should be stoned and so the teachers of the Law wait with baited breath to see what Jesus will do. Curiously Jesus decides to draw in the sand as the Pharisees continue their questioning. When Jesus speaks he astounds them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” and then he returns to his scripting in the sand (Jn 8:7).

(I can’t wait to ask Jesus what he wrote…)

The Pharisees left Jesus. When Jesus looked up again only the woman remained. None were there to condemn her and neither would Jesus. With great freedom and forgiveness Jesus says, “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again” (Jn 8:11).

Once again Jesus shows incredible grace. The Pharisees expect Jesus to take a bite out of her – to apply retributive justice by taking a stone in his grasp…and Jesus surprises them by restoring her.

Perhaps Jesus surprises us, too.

Jesus recognizes her humanity. He acknowledges her sin but affirms that sin is not what defines her. She is made in the image of God. Her worth is sealed in the image of God. Forgiveness makes her new and so Jesus sends her forth to not sin again.

I pray that this witness of Scripture leads us to loosening our grips and laying down our stones. I pray that God redeems our proclivity to condemn so we would be people of greater compassion that join Jesus in affirming the worth of all our sisters and brothers. God’s intention is that we build up and draw together – that we create and nurture, not destroy.

When we are caught in sin – however we are caught in sin! – Jesus forgives us. He does not take up stones against us. This is good news. And in his name he sends us on our way to tell of his good news and sin no more.

Prayer: “Fairest Lord Jesus, ruler of all nature, O thou of God and man the Son, thee will I cherish, thee will I honor, thou, my soul’s glory, joy, and crown.”* Amen.

*”Fairest Lord Jesus,” The United Methodist Hymnal 189.

Jesus Said What!? ~ Let The Dead Bury Their Dead

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 9:57-62.

This Sunday the Tuskawilla UMC Family begins a new sermon series entitled Jesus Said What!? In this series we will study words of Jesus that are possibly lesser known to us and definitely a shock to our system. When I think of Jesus’ words, I think of words that are kind and hospitable; many of the passages we will study over the next two months are “a completely different animal” as my Gramps would say.

Let us remember that the words we have in Scripture circled for generations in oral tradition before they were written down. This fact troubles some folks; they question the truth of Scripture because it is a re-creation of these moments rather than an up-to-the-minute breaking-news account. In our world of 24-hour news media that provides instant gratification when we hunger for headlines, it is at times hard to accept how the Scripture we hold so dear came to be and came to us.

I believe the Bible is true because Scripture contains the word of God. Scripture reveals the actions of the Triune God as truth and is the foundation of our knowledge of God. Scripture proclaims Jesus as the Word of God – who was made incarnate in the world – in order to serve, teach, love and save humanity. Scripture is the means by which we encounter the Holy Spirit, who guides us in our service to others; service is our appropriate response to what the self-revealing God has done for us. Scripture proclaims that, through the mercy of God and the salvific death of Christ, humanity’s broken relationship with God is reconciled and restored.

The Holy Spirit’s movement in the lives of the biblical writers inspired and guided their writing. The Bible does not claim to be inerrant or require literal interpretation at all times; it is a human construction – inspired by the Holy Spirit – and it expresses the word of God in a variety of literary forms. I believe Scripture is not meant to function as a science textbook; it tells its readers the Who and the Why, not necessarily always the When and the How. Just as the Holy Spirit spoke to and guided the writers of Scripture I believe the Holy Spirit speaks to us through Scripture and shepherds us in interacting with Scripture in fresh ways.

Scripture continues to be relevant and true for us today. It serves as our primary source for theological reflection and study as we grow in our knowledge and love of God. It connects us to the history and faith of God’s people. It reveals to us the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as individuals and as the Church. It informs our response in service to the world in the manner of Christ.

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.