Heroes and Villains: Stephen

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 7:51-60.

When I watch a movie or read a book, I always give great care and attention to the final words. Sometimes they are funny. Sometimes they are solemn. Sometimes there are no words, just sighs too big for words. Sometimes the words are an appropriate summary for all that has transpired. Sometimes the words are a red-herring, a thought completely disparate and from whatever is beyond left field.

Words are powerful. Words matter. They shape those that read them, hear them, and live  in response to or in effect of them.

This week in our Heroes and Villains sermon series we turn our focus to Stephen – the first Christian martyr. Luke – the writer of both the gospel by that name and Acts of the Apostles takes great care in having Stephen’s final words resonate with the final words of our Lord for whom he dies.

As Jesus hangs on the cross – battered, broken, bleeding – he cries, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34).

As stones are hurled at Stephen – stones intent not to maim but to ultimately silence – he cries, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).

In their last moments both Jesus and Stephen have their final words on the theme of forgiveness. And they bring these words on the theme of forgiveness not out of bitterness or spite for the persons ending their lives, but out of love – out of God’s victorious love.

God’s love tells us that life has the last word, not death. God’s love tells us that pain, suffering, and sickness will be no more. God’s love tells us that sorrow lasts for the night, but joy comes in the morning.

One of the many ways that we can be stewards of God’s love is through the act of forgiveness. It is a challenge to practice forgiveness because (1) it is not always easy to forgive and (2) it is something we are called to do again…and again…and again.

“Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times” (Mt 18:21-22).

Practicing forgiveness is at times heroic, but if practicing forgiveness makes us or made us heroes, then we would misplace the focus and importance of forgiveness. Practicing forgiveness invites us to participate in a mighty act of God. Practicing forgiveness should not point to us; rather, it should point to the one who taught us – who gifted us – this practice.

When I think about my last words – which I truthfully hope will be shared sometime from now! – I hope they will be words that communicate God’s love. I hope they will be words that acknowledge my seeing Christ in someone else. I hope they will be words that build up someone rather than tear down someone. And because of this hope, I make it a practice to not miss opportunities to communicate God’s love, to acknowledge my seeing Christ in someone else, to build up someone.

If you consider your final words, what would you hope them to be? What would you hope that you say? And how can you begin to say those words today?

Prayer: “Lead on, O King eternal, till sin’s fierce war shall cease, and holiness shall whisper the sweet amen of peace. For not with swords loud clashing, nor roll of stirring drums; with deeds of love and mercy the heavenly kingdom comes.”* Amen.

*”Lead On, O King Eternal,” The United Methodist Hymnal 580.

Advertisements

Be Unmistakable – Gravity Youth 2017 Mission Trip Sunday

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Romans 12:9-21.

When I think of our Gravity Youth Students and all they accomplished on their Summer Mission Trip – the word that comes to my mind is courageous. Our students are incredibly courageous.

They trusted their parents and church leadership in selecting where they would serve this summer. They trusted us with their time – not only on the mission trip, but also in preparation for the mission trip on four training Saturdays and a slue of meetings. They trusted our driving through the greater Atlanta area!

Most importantly, they trusted God to be with them as they served in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. They served graciously and intentionally. They served without complaint or competition. They served with their whole hearts, minds, souls, and strengths. They served after the example of Christ. And their service represented our church family with excellence.

During the week our worship speaker challenged us each night to Be Unmistakable. We become unmistakable by

  1. Being Set A Part
  2. Being A Servant
  3. Being Brave
  4. Being Humble, and
  5. Being A Disciple

On the evening we learned about Being Brave the Rev. Carolyn Poling reminded us of Peter walking on the water to meet Jesus. What bravery – what courage! – it took him to get out of the boat to walk towards Jesus! And what greater bravery – what greater courage! – it took for him to call on Jesus’ name, to reach for Jesus’ hand as the person to rescue him when the waters rose.

Many look at this story of Peter as a loss of faith, but I believe it is a story of living real faith. We do not practice the life of faith in a bubble. We are not in a laboratory that is secure from outside influences. We live our faith in the real world that is full of situations and circumstances that are beyond our control yet impact us greatly. And when we begin to sink, we lit.er.a.ly. have a whole host of folks and deities we could call on for help. Whose name would be or is on the tip of your tongue? For whose hand would you reach for or are you reaching? What will you do when faced with moments that call for – that demand – courage?

Our students faced challenges and frustrations as they worked. They left creature comforts of home – beds, favorite foods, consistent air conditioning, and wifi – to step into the lives of homeowners that do not have much by society’s standards, but what they have is their world. They ached over the destituteness they witnesses, which fueled their desire to work all the more, to connect at deeper and deeper levels, and to complete the work placed before them so they would know upon returning to Casselberry, Winter Springs, Longwood, Fern Park, and Winter Park that the lives of their homeowners would be improved because of all the ways God worked through them that week.

My dear students, you completed your work – all of it. You accomplished your goals. You are so courageous; thank you for your trust and for being an example of courage to me and our church family.

I look forward to worshipping with our church family this weekend as we celebrate Youth Mission Trip Sunday. Our Gravity Youth will serve during the 11am Service and then share about their experiences at Dalton Area Project that evening at our Stockholders’ Dinner and Presentation. If you purchased stock in the mission trip this summer, please RSVP your attendance to the Stockholders’ Dinner by this Wednesday, August 9.

Prayer: “Let the King of my heart be the wind inside my sails, the anchor in my waves, oh he is my song. You are good, good. Oh. You are good, good. Oh. When the night is holding onto me, God is holding on. When the night is holding onto me, God is holding on.”* Amen.

*“King Of My Heart” by John Mark McMillan and Sarah McMillan. To listen to the full song, follow this link – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpqSbKYxd9Y

Parable of the Weeds Among the Wheat

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:24-30.

In reaction to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, Patton Oswalt, renowned actor, comedian, and writer, shared these words,

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity where inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago. So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance, or fear, or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred, or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”

These are incredibly powerful words that provided me with a sense of hope and comfort after that terror attack. They are words that I, unfortunately, continue to recall with each additional act of terror that happens in our nation and in our world.

As I think on these acts of terror – and as I read and reflect upon our Scripture passage for this week – I find myself asking – again – that powerful, haunting, one-word question.

Why?

Why do innocent people suffer? Why do hurt people choose to hurt people?

How do we cope with people – near or far – that seek to do us harm and yet we must grow alongside them? How do we heal from personal behaviors by which we do harm to ourselves?

Why do weeds grow among the wheat?

Why does God allow it to happen?

I do not think God allows it to happen; I believe people allow these sort of harmful behaviors to manifest-er into harmful acts. And I believe we must face these harmful acts caused by hurting people with grace and forgiveness. The Scripture says that we have to grow up together, for to take one from the other would cause damage to both. Jesus holds us accountable to how we treat our neighbors – neighbors that love us and that we love as well as neighbors that desire to cause us harm and, towards them, our thoughts are less than kind.

Scripture also tells us that Jesus is judge. Jesus is adjudicator. In trusting his sovereignty, we trust that he will enact justice. In coming under his lordship, we hope that we will be found among the faithful that responded to his commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbors – all neighbors – as ourselves.

Since the time of the Fall God has been saying, shouting, praying that the good outnumber the evil and always will. I believe God calls us to join in saying, shouting, and praying this statement – not to puff ourselves up as the good – but to offer hope in a world that at times seems all too gloomy.

Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.

On all. On us. On me.

Prayer: “Come, my Light, and illumine my darkness. Come, my Life, and revive me from death. Come, my Physician, and heal my wounds. Come, Flame of divine love, and burn up the thorns of my sins, kindling my heart with the flame of thy love. Come, my King, sit upon the throne of my heart and reign there. For thou alone art my King and my Lord. Amen.”*

*”An Invitation to Christ,” The United Methodist Hymnal 466.

Parable of the Soils

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:1-8, 18-23

I took Algebra in the 9th grade. I was excited – I excelled at solving for X. One beautiful day my Algebra teacher said we were going to start working on parabolas. 

She said “parabolas.” I heard “parables.” I thought, “Yes! Solving for X in a word problem that has a lesson to teach me!”

Oh those parabolas taught me lessons all right…but not the lessons I anticipated. 

(Have I mentioned that math is hard?)

This Sunday the Tuskawilla Family will begin a sermon series for the Season of Easter through Pentecost Sunday where we will study the Kingdom of God parables in Matthew 13. Each of these parables will provide us with a different glimpse of what life is like in the Kingdom of God. 

Jesus’ disciples asked him why he taught in parables. Jesus answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given…’For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn – and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear” (Mt 13:11, 15-16). The people – our people – us – we have turned off our senses from God. Our receptors to encounter and acknowledge God’s presence have become dull, possibly even numb. And so Jesus tells these stories in order that our senses may come alive again in him.

I love the idea that through experiencing these parables – with our seeing, hearing, and feeling – Jesus will heal us. Jesus will draw us closer to himself. Jesus will draw us closer to our preferred future – our home with him in the  Kingdom. 

It is fitting that we begin our study of Jesus’ Kingdom of God parables with the Parable of the Soils. In it we are invited to examine our own hearts – the soil ripe for sowing and reaping in our lives. Join us at 8:30 for Morningsong or 11 for Traditional Worship as we reflect upon and refine the ground of our souls where God’s truths can flourish and grow. 

Prayer: “Lo! Jesus meets thee, risen from the tomb; lovingly he greets thee, scatters fear and gloom. Let the church with gladness hymns of triumph sing, for our Lord now liveth; death hath lost its sting. Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son; endless is the victory thou o’er death hast won.”* Amen. 

*”Thine Be the Glory,” The United Methodist Hymnal308. 

Giving Up: Superiority

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 4:5-26.

One of our earliest lessons as children is learning opposites, and in learning opposites, we learn to identify differences.

The opposite of up is down. The opposite of left is right. The opposite of yes is no. The opposite of stop is go.

Opposites are not bad. Identifying differences is not bad. What has the potential to be bad is if or when we allow opposites and identifying differences to seed and fertilize feelings of superiority – that one side, opinion, or belief is better and therefore superior to another.

How fascinated we are in drawing artificial lines between us. These lines can be used to set ourselves apart – to identify ourselves from what we are and what we are not, to recognize a given position of leadership or achievement. But when these identifications or recognitions feed into a system where “never the twain shall meet” – meaning there is no opportunity for these two people or two groups of people (or more) to unite – this is indeed a problem.

Jesus was set apart. As Messiah, as God’s Son, he was different from his family, colleagues, and friends he met and served in his ministry. He was different, but he did not operate in the world of opposites and identified differences.

The opposite of Savior is sinnerThe opposite of King is commoner.

No. This is not our Jesus.

Jesus, full of grace and peace, met people where they were. He met them in their doubt, questioning, and uncertainty. Jesus crossed perceived lines that would keep unlikely people apart. He did not consider himself superior, even though he was and is God. Rather,   Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-even death on a cross” (Phil 2:7-8).

Jesus as God’s Son could have picked up his crown and not bothered with women, Samaritans, lepers, the blind, the lame, or outcasts of any sort. But our Jesus picked up a towel instead, wrapped it around his waist, and served. He served all people. He saved all people.

Jesus serves and saves still.

As Jesus crossed perceived lines of opposites and difference, so should we. He poured himself out and was never without; he was immediately filled again so he could continue in his service. We are filled with the Holy Spirit and will be replenished by that same Spirit whenever we share its power and graces with others. But to be with others – to meet them where they are – first means getting beyond ourselves. Beyond our own comfort zones. Beyond our own opinions. Beyond our own perceived ideas of superiority.

We must lay down any crowns we have fashioned so that we, too, can pick up a towel as is exampled for us by our Lord.

Prayer: “Thou art giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blest, well-spring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest!  Thou our Father, Christ our brother, all who live in love are thine; teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine. Mortals, join the mighty chorus which the morning stars began; love divine is reigning o’er us, binding all within its span. Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife; joyful music leads us sunward, in the triumph song of life.”* Amen.

*”Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” The United Methodist Hymnal 89.

 

 

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.

Awaken Orlando – Gravity Youth Sunday

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 11:38-44.

This Sunday Tuskawilla UMC’s Gravity Youth Group will lead our worship experience. They will share about their summer mission trip – Awaken Orlando – through music, personal testimonies, and a picture slideshow. Shrell Chamberlain, TUMC’s Youth Director, will offer the sermon. Our youth are looking forward to this time in worship with our church family.

John 11 tells the story of Jesus’ dear friend, Lazarus. Lazarus became ill and later died. Jesus wept for love of Lazarus and rather than letting death have the final word, Jesus went to Lazarus to awaken him. Jesus went to Lazarus to call him back to life.

When I think about how our youth served on the mission trip, I know they joined Jesus in the work of awakening. They saw need and they answered with service. They saw want for relationship and made and strengthened friendships. They saw places and people crying for hope and became living hope. With fearlessness they stepped into new and different circumstances with new and different people and they served beautifully. I am so so proud of them.

When Lazarus emerged from the tomb, having been awakened by Jesus, Jesus said, “Unbind him and let him go” (Jn 11:44). When Jesus wakes us up – when we become aware of our sin, of our separation from God and intentionally return to God – Jesus says to us, “Unbind him. Unbind her. Let them go.” Unhindered by what was and looking with great anticipation towards what is, the world is ours for the taking. What will we do? What decisions will we make? Will we return to sin, which leads to darkness and death, or will we walk with God on the path that leads to life?

As our youth reminisce about their mission trip I have heard their reminiscing lead to requesting. “When will we return to the Memory Care Center? When will we return to Community Food and Outreach? When will we return to Matthew’s Hope? When and where can we serve more?” These requests are evidence of the rooting of our youth’s awakening. They do not want to go back to sleep. They do not want to go into darkness. They have seen, been a part of, and contributed to the goodness of light and life with God, and they want to continue walking down that path. This mission trip released them to serve and they are ready to continue their response.

Thank you, Gravity Youth, for your service on your mission trip. Thank you for the many ways you represented Jesus, your families, and Tuskawilla UMC during your mission trip. And thank you for the learnings you will share with us this Sunday. I cannot wait to reminisce with you and respond to your requests for future opportunities to serve!

Prayer: Lord, “I could just sit; I could just sit and wait for all your goodness hope to feel your presence. And I could just stay; I could just stay right where I am and hope to feel you, hope to feel something again. And I could hold on; I could hold on to who I am and never let you change me from the inside. And I could be safe; I could be safe here in your arms and never leave home, never let these walls down. But you have called me higher. You have called me deeper and I’ll go where you will lead me, Lord. You have called me higher. You have called me deeper and I’ll go where you lead me, Lord, where you lead me, Lord.”* Amen.

*”Called Me Higher” Lyrics by All Sons & Daughters.