We Honor Forever

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ecclesiasticus 45:1-15

Y’all know how I feel about Little Orange Friends. Someone said to me in small group this week, “We haven’t been [together in class] in two weeks; you look a whole lot better!”

I look a whole lot less orange!

We have three pumpkins still in our house – a faithful(?) remnant, if you will. One is for Andrew and Joshua to carve…eventually. The other two are small pumpkins sitting on the table in our kitchen nook. One is for Josh. The other is for Joshua.

Each year we purchase a pumpkin for Andrew’s dear brother Josh that died of complications related to congestive heart failure several years ago. For a couple years we took Josh’s pumpkin to his interment site at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell. We have not been in two years…but that does not deter us from buying Josh a pumpkin and holding his memory close.

Each night I look on that pumpkin and then see its neighbor for our Joshua. Andrew continues to tell stories about Josh – some I have heard before and others that are brand new. These stories will continue. We want Joshua to know his namesake…and I am sure as Joshua creates his own mischief, stories yet to be told will emerge.

And I will cherish every story just as I cherish our sweet son.

Ecclesiasticus – also known as Sirach or Ben Sira – meaning son of Sira – is an Apocryphal Wisdom text. And Ecclesiasticus contains the gem of a scripture passage that we will share this week in worship as we honor – forever – the Veterans in our lives and church family. Our ‘sermon’ this week will be a media presentation from Veterans in our congregation sharing (1) their name and rank in their branch of service (2) how their faith shaped their military service and (3) how their military service shaped their faith.

I am grateful for the kind and generous sharing of our Veterans’ stories; your words are truly a gift to our congregation. Your sharing with us welcomes us into your legacy of service. And the contributions of your service shape our lives – because your service gave and gives us the life we have today.

Thank you, Veterans.

I hope you will join us in worship this week. And I invite you to thank and encourage all the Veterans in your life.

Prayer: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be. With God our Creator, children all are we. Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony. Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now. With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow: to take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally! Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”* Amen.

*“Let There Be Peace On Earth,” The United Methodist Hymnal 431

 

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The Blessing Of Giving

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 20:32-38.

I spent a lot of time in reflection this week. Little did I know a year ago this week would be my last week before maternity leave.

I think God was merciful; my preaching in flats for one Sunday was enough!

We thought our due date was November 5 – actually it was November 12 for reasons that still do not make sense to Andrew and me – but Joshua had other plans entirely.

I think he wanted to redeem October for me. Now I would think of this month for him first…and for LOFs…do I have to assign them a number?

This time last year we had just moved all our furniture back into the parsonage following the new flooring installation. We were still unpackaging shower presents. I had no idea where the special hospital folder with all the paperwork in it was – you know the one you have when you go to the hospital!? (Turns out you do not have to have it…)

That week I worked patch shifts. We unloaded the second truck. I spent the day in a district meeting. And then I went to a doctors appointment – and they were astonished I was walking and talking. They were also slightly terrified when I said I drove myself to the appointment; according to the blood pressure machine I should have been in the midst of a seizure or a stroke.

Andrew picked me up and we went to the hospital – without the folder. We waited and waited and waited. I did not respond to any of their medication – to reduce my blood pressure or to start labor. We waited and waited and waited. We cried. We rolled our eyes. We hoped. I wanted Joshua to be safe. Andrew wanted both of us to be safe.

And then Sunday came. And with Sunday – peace. Great friends and leaders stepped into the pulpits, and Trunk or Treat leadership, and Charge Conference participation and we stepped into the operating room. Britney Spears’ Wrecking Ball played over the speakers. “Sometimes there are weird noises in here,” the anesthesiologist said. Moments later, soft cries. Joshua was here. And his presence erased all the fear and anger and worry and mess from the preceding days. That day I received the third greatest gift in my life. The first is my relationship with God, the second is my relationship with Andrew, and the third is the relationship with our son. We delight watching him grow in knowledge and love of God and the world God made each and every day.

Andrew and I joke from time to time, “We have kept Joshua alive [this length of time].” On Monday we can say, “We have kept Joshua alive for a whole year!” But the truth is that he has given us life – he has given us life for a whole year. Joshua has given us a life we never dreamed could be until October 22, 2017.

I tear up when I think about all we have received since receiving Joshua in our arms nearly a year ago – all the encouragement and gifts, all the hugs and crazy stories, all the honesty and care.

The generosity of others in our lives – especially in Joshua’s first year of life – teaches and encourages our generosity. This is a beautiful lesson learned as a result of living faithfully in a community of believers.

Thank you, dear friends, for welcoming and loving our son so well in his first year. Because of what we have received from you, we are inspired to give, and to give more.

Prayer: “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father; there is no shadow of turning with thee; thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not; as thou hast been, thou forever wilt be. Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”* Amen.

*”Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” The United Methodist Hymnal 140.

 

Lessons In Leadership ~ Learn or Repeat

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 51:1-12.

Joshua’s new favorite pastime? Doors. He loves doors.

Closet doors. Cabinet doors. Bedroom doors. If it is on a vertical hinge, Joshua loves it.

There is a “Lazy Susan” cabinet in our kitchen that is Joshua’s utmost favorite. He will sit in his chair that is in a shape of a Ferrari (I know, right!?) and spin the Lazy Susan around and around and around – squealing with delight all the while.

Until one time he was not squealing. He was screaming.

It happened. His fingers did not move fast enough and Joshua felt the first real sting of pinching fingers in a door.

(Do you feel that sensation as you read this? I am feeling it as I type this. Ouch!)

I gathered Joshua up in my arms. Andrew came in and kissed Joshua’s little hand. And then Andrew sat on the floor with Joshua to teach him about moving his hand away. Andrew placed his fingers where Joshua’s fingers were pinched and showed him that if the door continues to rotate, then he would be hurt. Joshua sat mesmerized. And I just fell in love with Andrew all over again. Because that is what love is – taking the time to sit with someone, to teach them, to help them gather skills and knowledge so that they can live happy and whole and (hopefully) hurt-free lives.

Andrew sat with Joshua because others sat with him – teaching him, caring for him, guiding him. Andrew’s parents, siblings, friends, teachers, and mentors learned that lesson from having folks sit with, teach, care for, and guide them.

And who taught that first lesson of care and relationship? Our God in heaven.

I am sure the “pinched fingers” lesson is one of many lessons we will have to revisit with Joshua as he grows. It is great when we learn a lesson the first time. And if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we usually have to learn lessons – usually the same lesson – more than once. This is part of the human condition – that we revisit lessons. This is part of learning obedience – that we will choose a different path. This is part of gaining wisdom with the hope that we will learn and then apply what we have learned in all future circumstances.

If we fail to learn in the present, then we are destined to repeat the past.

I look forward to concluding our Lessons in Leadership Sermon Series this week as we study Psalm 51, which is attributed to David after he was held accountable for his actions with Bathsheba by the Prophet Nathan. Even after such a terrible event, there is grace and there is hope. Even after the terrible events in our lives – the ones we create and the ones that impact us – there is grace and there is hope for us to learn rather than continue to repeat.

Thanks be to God.

Prayer: “He took my sins and my sorrows, he made them his very own; he bore the burden to Calvary, and suffered and died alone. How marvelous! How wonderful! And my song shall ever be: How marvelous! How wonderful is my Savior’s love for me!”* Amen.

*”I Stand Amazed in the Presence,” The United Methodist Hymnal 371.

Lessons in Leadership: Felling Giants

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Samuel 17:38-50.

Is you seeing them? the BFG asked.

Sophie, squinting through the glare of the sun, saw several tremendous tall figures moving among the rocks about five hundred yards away. Three or four others were sitting quite motionless on the rocks themselves.

This is Giant Country, the BFG said. Those is all giants, every one.

It was a brain-boggling sight. The giants were all naked except for a sort of short skirt around their waists, and their skins were burnt brown by the sun. But it was the sheer size of each one of them that boggled Sophie’s brain most of all. They were simply colossal, far taller and wider than the Big Friendly Giant upon whose hand she was now sitting. And oh how ugly they were! Many of them had large bellies. All of them had long arms and big feet. They were too far away for their faces to be seen clearly, and perhaps that was a good thing.”*

Lately I have felt like a resident of Giant Country. And not only do these giants reflect Roald Dahl’s description, these giants are hangry– hungry and angry – ready to devour.

What is on the menu?

Me.

In Dahl’s tale, The BFG, little Sophie had a guide, a confidant, a protector, and a friend as she traversed Giant Country. And when I feel like the giants are looming, stomping, interrupting, or nearly triumphing, I am grateful for the guides, confidants, protectors, and friends that are with, before, and behind me.

Late last week my childhood best friend texted me to say she was headed to the hospital. “Memaw is not well,” Laura wrote. Less than thirty minutes later Laura texted again, “Memaw is gone.” Memaw – Shirley W. Warren – was an expert navigator of Giant Country. She shared her wisdom freely – wisdom that was steeped in beautiful Southern charm and North Carolina wit. She was the matriarch of her family. She loved deeply and sowed richly in the lives of her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. She took family under her wings that were both family by blood and family by choice. Memaw called me “Sarah Beth-Ann” whenever she saw me and considered me one of her own.

At my Friends and Family Baby Shower last September Laura presented me with a quilt that she, her mother, and Memaw made together for Joshua. I took hold of that quilt the other day. The pattern throughout the quilt reminds me of a compass rose – a navigational tool – Memaw’s living legacy that will comfort Joshua as he makes his way through Giant Country.

When you find yourself in Giant Country, who are the guides, confidants, protectors, and friends that are with, before and behind you? What legacy does their presence imprint on your heart? Offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God for these persons in your life, and if you are able, express your gratitude to these persons.

Thank you, Memaw. I hope you are sitting in a recliner next to Granddaddy, holding his hand. Well done, good and faithful servant. See you again.

Prayer: “Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore; let the search for thy salvation be our glory evermore. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, serving thee whom we adore, serving thee whom we adore.”** Amen.

*The BFG, Roald Dahl 4.

**“God of Grace and God of Glory,” The United Methodist Hymnal 577.

Built On Faith

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 7:24-27.

How is it possible that in a couple of weeks Joshua will be ten months old? There were days when I thought he would never grow out of newborn diapers…and nowadays he will not stop growing!

It is good that he grows; Joshua is doing what he is supposed to do. Time is a gift, not an enemy.

Joshua’s new favorite pastime (new favorite pastime…is that a thing?) is “pulling up” – one step closer to cruising – and then to standing on his own – and then to walking! Joshua will pull up to stand on just about anything; unfortunately his choices of “pulling up” foundations are not always the sure-est, which leads to a quick departure back to the ground. Arriving back on the ground does not deter this kid. Though there may be a few tears, moments later he gets back up again.

As we mature in faith, the foundations of our faith shift, strengthen, and endure testing. Through times of trial and doubt we question our faith. Does what we believe hold? Does what we believe satisfy? Is what we believe well with our souls? Through times of health and hope our faith is confirmed, and as a result, we affirm our faith. We recognize it as our source of strength, our fount of wisdom, our well of comfort, and, perhaps most importantly, our legacy.

A signature teaching of my dear friend and fellow ministry mischief-maker, Rev. Melissa Cooper, is that faith is caught more than it is taught. Faith is caught as we live life with others – and as they live life with us – co-witnessing how we act and react to every day situations. When the going gets tough, how do we sustain? When we get knocked down, how and when do we get back up again? In our daily interactions, do we speak first of our joys or of our complaints? In our daily investments, do we think first of our neighbors or of ourselves? Each of these actions and decisions are actions and decisions guided and rooted in our faith. Therefore, it is vital that we have a sure foundation of faith so that as we pull ourselves up to the next opportunity or through the next trial, our foundation is sure – with Christ as our cornerstone and our friends in faith as encouragers at our sides.

Join us this Sunday at 11am as our Gravity Youth share with us about how they Built on Faith through their service with Metro Atlanta Project this summer. We will hear from each of the participants, view a slideshow of their experiences, and sing some of the music they sang in their nightly worship services. I look forward to worshipping with you on Sunday!

Prayer: “He’s coming on the clouds; kings and kingdoms will bow down. And every chain will break, as broken hearts declare his praise. For who can stop the Lord Almighty? Our God is the Lion, the Lion of Judah. He’s roaring with power and fighting our battles. And every knee will bow before him. Our God is the Lamb, the Lamb that was slain. For the sins of the world, his blood breaks the chains. And every knee will bow before the Lion and the Lamb. Every knew will bow before him.”* Amen.

* “The Lion and the Lamb,” Bethel Music, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9ujBoud26k

Memorial Day Sunday Hymn Sing

Scripture ~ Psalm 72.

When I was a girl, Memorial Day signaled the start of summer. School would be out soon if it was not already. We would eat more meals of hamburgers and hotdogs from the grill. Long days of sunshine and riding bikes into the evening hours until the mosquitoes literally chased us inside were in my grasp.

Memorial Day took on a new meaning my senior year of high school. My brother, Charlie, enlisted in the United States Army and deployed to Kuwait. There he served as a fueler and he patrolled the oil lines headed into the war zone. I thought of and prayed for him every day he was away. I wanted to eat burgers and hot dogs with him on Memorial Day, not wish he was there…

My appreciation for Memorial Day deepened a great deal when we learned of the death of Andrew’s beloved Josh. I will never forget driving into the National Cemetery in Bushnell and seeing each grave decorated with an American Flag. Josh loved this country. He gave his life for it. Duty. Honor. Brotherhood. Those values were the foundation of his life.

When Andrew and I found out we would be parents – like many – we began discussing names. It was not until the day we learned that we would have a son that I looked at Andrew and said we should name him Joshua. I will never forget the way that Andrew‘s face lit up. I asked him if it would be painful for him to call our son Joshua and Andrew said no because he wants our son to hold dear all of the things that his beloved Josh held dear. And so when we look at our Joshua we remember his namesake. We remember duty, honor, brotherhood and sisterhood. We remember and we give thanks.

As you celebrate Memorial Day this coming week, I invite you to reflect on how the celebration of this holiday has changed for you. How has the meaning of this day deepened? Is there someone that God is calling you to connect with on this day? What values ground your life and how do they give shape to the service that you offer to your neighbors?

Prayer: “Almighty God, before whom stand the living and the dead, we your children, whose mortal life is but a hand’s breadth, give thanks to you:

For all those through whom you have blessed our pilgrimage, whose lives that have empowered us, whose influence is a healing grace, we lift up thankful hearts.

For the dear friends and family members whose faces we see no more, but whose love is with us for ever, we lift up thankful hearts.

For the teachers and companions of our childhood and youth, and for the members of our household of faith who worship you now in heaven, we lift up thankful hearts.

For those who sacrificed themselves, our brothers and sisters who have given their lives for the sake of others, we lift up thankful hearts.

That we may hold them all in continual remembrance, and ever think of them as with you in that city whose gates are not shut by day and where there is no night, we lift up thankful hearts.

That we may now be dedicated to working for a world where labor is rewarded, fear dispelled, and the nations made one, O Lord, save your people and bless your heritage. Day by day we magnify you, and worship your name, for ever and ever. Amen.”*

*”Memorial Day,” The United Methodist Book of Worship 440.

Join us in worship for one service at 11am this Sunday at Tuskawilla UMC. Our choir will lead us through a guided hymn sing celebrating American Hymn Writers.

 

The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss ~ The Butter Battle Book

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Corinthians 13:4-8a, 13.

Joshua is teething. Our wonderfully content little man…is now a wonderfully cranky little man. Poor guy. It is true what they say – it is good that babies are the ones that teeth and that they (we) forget the pain. Adults could not endure it.

Watching Joshua teethe, attempting to soothe him, or listening as he gives Andrew a piece of his mind about teething during the late night hours is hard. It is hard to watch and attempt to soothe and listen to someone you love experience pain.

We rock Joshua. We sing to him. We offer him a cold teething ring. We assure him that the pain will pass. We offer him something to eat and, when necessary, pain reliever. He is not left alone in his pain. Our nearness assures him that we see, we know, and we walk alongside. Our nearness communicates our commitment to him. Our nearness and our presence in his pain – not to increase it but to comfort him in hopes of alleviating the pain – is an expression of our love.

Our world is full of all sorts of pain. And sadly there are many in this world that sit alone in their pain – some through self-selection and others that have sought listening ears and warm hearts and found only cold shoulders. I am convinced that their pain – our pain – would be surely eased and well on its way to being healed by giving and receiving the gift of nearness, which entails both companionship and compassion.

Sometimes when we see a loved one in pain, we can fix the situation. Andrew or I can offer Joshua a teether and that does the trick! But other times we cannot fix the pain; it is either beyond our capacity to fix or it is not our role to fix. No matter the circumstance, what we can do – and it is hard! – is show our loved one empathy by sitting with them in their pain. The intent of sitting with them is not to further exacerbate their pain but to acknowledge that it is real, and, that if it is a concern for their heart, then it is a concern for ours, too.

Pain, and often the shame that accompanies it, intensifies when we feel we are all alone, which is why the Apostle Paul calls our attention to “a more excellent way” – which is the way of love expressed through companionship and compassion. This is the love that we receive from God because God first loved us. This is the love that bears all things, believes all things, and hopes all things. This is the love that never fails. This is the love that never ends.

When was a time someone showed you empathy? How did that nearness comfort you and heal your pain? Who is God placing on your heart to connect with this week? How might sharing God’s gift of nearness alter their circumstances for the better?

Prayer: “Your love, O God, has called us here, for all love finds its source in you, the perfect love that casts out fear, the love that Christ makes ever new.”* Amen.

*“Your Love, O God, Has Called Us Here,” The United Methodist Hymnal 647.