Give All You Can

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 12:22-34.

Devotional Scripture ~ Matthew 11:25-26.

This Sunday South Shore UMC concludes our 2021 Stewardship Campaign and will celebrate our commitment cards in worship. We will also honor the saints in worship and gather around Christ’s table to share Holy Communion. I look forward to this time of learning and reflection with the South Shore UMC Family. May God continue speaking to us that we would be further formed and transformed into the stewards God desires us to be.

This morning Joshua asked for a scrambled egg for breakfast…which is his way of asking to cook. After I agreed, he ran to the kitchen. He opened the pantry and pointed at his stepladder. He helped me crack the egg. He scrambled the egg. He asked for a wooden spoon to manipulate the egg in the pan. He reminded me the stove was HOT.

None of this phased me until he descended the step ladder, opened the utensil drawer, and looked into the drawer for the fork he wanted.

SINCE WHEN CAN MY KID LOOK DOWN INTO THE UTENSIL DRAWER!?

Where did my baby go? Guess this is part of what happens when you feed him scrambled eggs…he grows.

Joshua came to us as all children do – totally dependent on others – that care and love we happily provide. Joshua came to us al all children do – as a gift – a gift that we will treasure.

Always.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus praises children and the gift that is their child-like faith. He said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” (Mt 19:14). In Matthew 11 Jesus recognizes and lifts up the children – the infants – the people with a child-like faith – whose seeing causes and results in their belief. These persons witness what Jesus does and on those grounds testify who he is. They recognize and worship him as Son of God. Through him they know the Father. They are convinced. Some might say that these “children” are unintelligent for how easily they follow Jesus. To these, the Scripture says, the Kingdom belongs. 

Our devotional Scripture says it is the Father’s will that the gift of faith be revealed to children. This assures me in the knowledge that the gift of faith is open and available to all. Studies show that the earlier in life a person makes a faith commitment, the more that his or her faith commitment will remain a commitment throughout his or her life.

Let the children come to Jesus. They are welcome. They are gifts. They are and will be treasured always. In coming to Jesus, they can grow up in the knowledge of faith and the love of God.

And – if it agrees with them – they can grow with the help of scrambled eggs, too.

Reflection: Recall an early memory of your child-life faith, where you knew you were in the presence of God and/or experiencing the love of Jesus. Share that memory with a trusted family member or friend.

Prayer: “You satisfy the hungry heart with gift of finest wheat. Come, give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat. The mystery of your presence, Lord, no mortal tongue can tell; whom all the world cannot contain comes in our hearts to dwell. You satisfy the hungry heart with gift of finest wheat. Come, give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat.”* Amen.

*“You Satisfy the Hungry Heart,” The United Methodist Hymnal 629.

Devotional Resource: The Weekly Prayer Project by Scarlet Hiltibidal

Take Heart

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 14:22-33.

Several years ago Andrew and I vacationed in Key West. I had never been and Andrew insisted that story change. Each day of our trip one of us selected an excursion for the day. The day before our departure Andrew’s excursion was snorkeling.

It did not go well.

For me.

It did not go well for me.

I learned three important facts during my snorkeling mis-adventure:

  1. That the waters around Key West contain some of the highest salt content as that area is a geographic point of convergence for three bodies of salt water: the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea.
  2. My skin absorbs the salt in the water at an alarming rate.
  3. I may have some trust concerns…okay – not ‘may’ – I have some trust concerns, especially when it comes to trusting a plastic snorkel with the responsibility of my breath!

I remember bobbing in the water feeling seasick, but I had no symptoms while on deck. I asked the First Mate if it was possible. She said it happens all the time. I tried to stick with it – I did not want to rain on Andrew’s snorkeling parade – but the seasickness from my skin absorbing the salt became too much.

I was so grateful to take the hand of the First Mate to get out of the water. I was safe. I would no longer feel seasick. I could – and did! – return my assigned snorkeling equipment!

I wonder what Peter felt when he took Jesus’ hand to get out of the water. I wonder what Peter experienced in being saved… Yes, Jesus secured his physical safety – Peter was back on board. I wonder what impact Peter’s saving had on the rest of his person – his emotional well-being, his social well-being, his psychological well-being, and definitely his spiritual well-being.

When I returned to the boat, I remember feeling relieved. I remember the nausea immediately evaporating. I remember contentment breaking over me as the waves break on the shore. While others were busy discovering what swam beneath, I breathed in the horizon. I watched as light danced atop the water. I gazed at the clouds remembering the shapes and animals my mother and I would see in them when I was younger. On the boat was where I was meant to be that day. And I made the most of it.

‘On the boat’ may not always be the place for me as I continue my faith journey with Christ. In the moments I am in the water, I hope it is because Christ called me there…and not because I am in over my head – the consequence of being too big for my water britches. But even if that is the case, I trust Jesus will answer when I call, and save. I trust that Jesus will teach and bestow wisdom upon me me through power of the Holy Spirit so I do not make that same or similar misstep again. I trust that Jesus will and is leading me where I am meant to be, and how I am to be while I am there.

I trust that Jesus wants and is drawing me towards God’s preferred future for me.

I trust that Jesus is working all this together for your good, as well.

Prayer: “When darkness appears and the nights draws near, and the day is past and gone, at the river I stand, guide my feet, hold my hand: Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.”* Amen.

*”Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” The United Methodist Hymnal 474.

 

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.

 

Woman in the Night: Can’t Change The Beginning; Can Change The Ending

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 4:7-26 and 39.

Recently I gathered with a group of friends – and fellow yoga teachers – to organize behind a vision of a yoga collective in Orlando. Some in the room knew one another; others were new faces. Our leader, Holly, invited us to *briefly* introduce ourselves to the room – because yoga teachers tend to talk as much as pastors – y’all have a double whammy with me! – including our name, our yoga story, and something we wanted the others in the room to know.

I was struck by the third prompt – something we wanted the others in the room to know.

When it was my turn I shared: My name is Sarah Miller. I first practiced yoga when I was in college and truly came home to yoga in 2013 seeking medicine-free relief from two chronic pain conditions. And something you should know about me…I am an ordained clergyperson…and an introvert.

(I know…an introvert! Who would have thought!?)

I am not sure if eyebrows were raised higher because I am an ordained clergyperson or because I practice yoga. “Can you do yoga and be Christian” is quite a hot topic of debate these days. True – yoga is an Eastern meditative practice. True – yoga has deep roots in both Buddhism and Hinduism, drawing on these religions for the development of yogic philosophy as well as the names and stories behind certain poses. Some people say that yogis “chant to or worship Buddha” during their practice…from my study of Buddhism, I am confident that Buddha does not want chanting or to be worshipped. Buddha desired that each person be released from the struggles of life and a person pursues that intent through practicing non-attachment – from possessions, from agendas, from popularity, from addictions.

As I reflect on the life of Jesus, I believe that Jesus, too, wants us to be released from the struggles of life. I believe that non-attachment from possessions, agendas, popularity, and addictions is part of that release. However, as Buddha non-attached, he turned inward in the pursuit of total enlightenment. I believe that as followers of Jesus non-attach, we are to turn Christ-ward so that our personal lights will shine all the more bright because of and for the Light of the World.

At the surface that third prompt – something we want the others in the room to know – seemed docile. In reality – it was and is an incredibly vulnerable question. I am grateful for the opportunity to practice vulnerability because those are (rare) opportunities to truly know oneself and articulate that true self in front of someone(s) else.

The Woman at the Well said of Jesus, “He told me everything about me.” This statement reveals the omniscience – the all-knowingness – of God, which Jesus has because Jesus is God. Even so – even though God and Jesus already know! – I believe our God and our Jesus want us to take time to share what we want them to know. The act of sharing – of being vulnerable – is how we deepen our relationship with God and Jesus.

That sharing takes courage. That sharing can be scary.

That sharing is the practice of knowing self, knowing Savior, and being known by our Savior.

Prayer: “Woman at the well, question the Messiah; find your friends and tell: drink your hearts desire! Come and join the song, women, children, men. Jesus makes us free to live again!”* Amen.

*”Woman in the Night,” The United Methodist Hymnal 274.

 

Woman in the Night: Eemas

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Exodus 1:15-22 and Luke 1:30-33, 38.

This Sunday the Tuskawilla UMC Family begins our Lenten Study entitled Woman In The Night. The series is based upon the verses of a hymn under that same name. Each verse sings of a woman in Scripture that had an encounter with Jesus – from his birth to life to his birth to new life.

Some of the women we will study in this series are named. Others are not. They are all important. Their witness is valuable. And Jesus’ ministry with them affirms Jesus’ presence, passion, and compassion is for all people.

Thanks be to God.

I hope you will join us in worship this Sunday as we begin this study. I will also provide a summary of the events of the Special General Conference Gathering this week in St. Louis.

And I hope to read some of our church’s big hairy audacious God purposes on the Family Room Wall this Sunday! Be sure to stop by the wall and share God’s purpose for your life with our church family sometime during Lent.

In prayer for both the work, growth, and discernment of our General Conference as well as our work, growth, and discernment as followers of Jesus Christ, may we unite our hearts with these words from Shirley Murray’s hymn, For Everyone Born.

Let us pray.

Prayer: “For everyone born, a place at the table, for everyone born, clean water and bread, a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing, for everyone born, a star overhead. And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy!

For woman and man, a place at the table, revising the roles, deciding the share, with wisdom and grace, dividing the power, for woman and man, a system that’s fair. And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy!

For young and for old, a place at the table, a voice to be heard, a part in the song, the hands of a child in hands that are wrinkled, for young and for old, the right to belong. And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy!

For just and unjust, a place at the table, abuser, abused, with need to forgive, in anger, in hurt, a mind-set of mercy, for just and unjust, a new way to live. And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy!

For everyone born, a place at the table, to live without fear, and simply to be, to work, to speak out, to witness and worship, for everyone born, the right to be free. And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy!”*

*”For Everyone Born,” Worship and Song 3149

 

Dimiss

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 1:18-25

This week while watching coverage celebrating the life and service of George H. W. Bush I heard him say in an earlier interview, “I have banned the use of the ‘L’ word.” What word was that? Legacy. He banned the use of the word legacy.

The 41st President continued, “I would like someone else to define the legacy…I think history will…point out the things I got wrong, and perhaps some of the things we did right.”

Your words ring true, Mr. President. Well done, good and faithful servant.

Our Scripture text for this week is the defining moment in Joseph’s legacy. Will he pursue betrothal to Mary to marriage or will he dismiss her quietly? Although the text does not lift the veil, we can sense the psychological turmoil Joseph endures. On the line are his reputation, his place in the community, his chances for another relationship, and his faith. The same things are on the line for Mary…add “her life” also to that list.

We do not hear from Joseph again much after Jesus’ nativity. He decides to enter marriage with Mary. He welcomes and names Jesus. He witnesses as the magi worship the Christ Child and then shepherds his family to Egypt seeking refuge from Herod. Joseph’s legacy is that of a caregiver and provider. He stood at the fork in the road between being right and being kind – and he chose kindness.

History points out that Joseph got this one right. When we find ourselves at the same fork in the road, may we also choose as Joseph did.

Prayer: “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given; so God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.”* Amen.

*“O Little Town of Bethlehem,” The United Methodist Hymnal 230.

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.

 

Lord of the Dance: Wanted! Dance Partners

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 1:16-20.

An often quoted African Proverb says,

If you want to go fast, go alone. 

If you want to go far, go together.

I am the kind of person that wants to go far…but it is sometimes hard for me to ask for someone to go together with me.

It takes courage to ask for help. It takes courage to forage a new path or to return to a well known trail with fresh eyes and perspective. It takes courage to share a vision for what you want to accomplish, for what change you want to make, for who you want to be.

Why does it take courage? Because there is risk involved.

  • Risk that you or your idea will be rejected.
  • Risk that you will make a mistake.
  • Risk that you will embarrass yourself.
  • Or possibly the worst – risk that you will fail.

I, for one, prefer to limit the witnesses to my rejection, mistakes, embarrassments, and failures.

While being all alone might temporarily shield me from public awareness of my shortcomings, being all alone also means that I stew longer in my own mess without any one there to offer comfort or encouragement.

I believe this is one of the reasons that Jesus encouraged the disciples to be in partnership with one another and others in the growing Kingdom. Jesus knew what they were risking as they served! Jesus knew they would experience hardship and discouragement. Jesus knew they would experience rejection and so he said to them, “‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.  They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (Mk 6:10-13).

That they – the disciples – went out together – in Jesus’ name and carrying forward God’s preferred future for the world – ensured that they would and did go far

Are you someone that wants to go fast or far? With whom are you traveling? How have you been encouraged and offered encouragement? What vision is God raising up in you to share with someone? What risk do you face in sharing this vision? What do you risk in not sharing this vision?

Prayer: “I danced for the scribe and the Pharisee, but they would not dance and they would not follow me; I danced for the fishermen, for James and John; they came to me and the dance went on. Dance, then, wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the Dance, said he. And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be, and I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.”* Amen.

*”Lord of the Dance,” The United Methodist Hymnal 261. 

Committed to the Journey

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Kings 2:1-12.

This Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday in the Church Year; it is the final Sunday of the Epiphany Season before Ash Wednesday, which begins the Season of Lent. It is fitting that Transfiguration Sunday closes the Epiphany Season, a season of ah ha’s about Jesus, our Savior. In the Season of Epiphany we learned

  • The Magi – Gentile Kings from the East – presented Jesus with gifts. They were welcomed at his nativity – a sign of the inclusive nature of the Kingdom that began with Jesus’ birth. All would be welcome to worship him – inclusive of age, nation, and race.
  • In the Jordan River, following his baptism, God declared Jesus as his Son, the Beloved. With Jesus, God is well pleased. After the example of Jesus, we, too, are to be baptized; we, too, are to become daughters and sons of God. We are beloved to God. With us God is well pleased.
  • And now on Transfiguration Sunday, we hear God’s voice again. Again, God names Jesus as God’s Son, and God gives the following instruction, “Listen to him.”

On a mountainside before Peter, James, and John, Jesus changes. His clothes become dazzling white. Glory shines upon his face. Moses and Elijah join him at his sides; Moses, representative of the Law and Elijah, representative of the prophets. And we hear God tell us to listen to Jesus – to listen to how he fulfills the Law first given by Moses and to listen how he brings a new understanding of reconciliation, a primary subject of the prophets, as our Savior prepares to make the ultimate sacrifice to secure humanity’s reconciliation to God forever. Peter – Jesus’ disciple, Jesus’ student – wants to stay on the mountainside, wants to build houses for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Peter’s offer suggests that he wants them all to stay where they are…and yet Jesus’ journey was not meant to culminate on that hillside, but on Calvary.

Jesus, with Peter, James, and John, head back down the mountain. In doing so Jesus commits to the journey ahead of him – to the teachings he will offer; to the miracles he will complete; to the betrayal, denial, desertion and death he will endure. As the disciples follow him, Jesus bids all disciples – bids us – to follow him. More ah ha’s – more epiphanies await us as we journey with Jesus from glory into glory.

Jesus is committed to us and this journey. Let us commit to Jesus and journey with him to and beyond his cross.

Prayer: “O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”*

*from the Book of Common Prayer according to the use of the Episcopal Church, 1979, page 217.

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.