Community Example

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Timothy 1:12-17.

“Hi, folks…what seems to be going on?”

An innocent, calm question, until it is asked by a sheriff deputy.

“My wife’s the pastor!” Andrew said. “Hi, my name is Sarah. What brings you by this evening?”

“I am on patrol and I saw you turn into the church driveway. I thought I would give you a couple of minutes, in case you were in the sheds, and then I would come and find you in the act.”

“Oh, well we were just picking up mail from the office and disposing of some smelly trash from the parsonage. I appreciate you coming to check on us. And I appreciate you looking out for the security of our church.”

Lessons learned:

  1. We are blessed with great first responders and law enforcement in Seminole County.
  2. Maybe I shouldn’t pick up mail from the office at 10:24pm.

“Hi, folks…what seems to be going on?” If this question were asked of Paul in his first letter to Timothy, I believe Paul would say with joy that the “foremost” of sinners had been shown mercy and therefore he will show and share mercy in all times, in all circumstances, with all people (1:15). Though Paul was raised in “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” climate, Christ’s mercy molded him into a person that “turned the other cheek” (Mt 5:38-39). Through the example of Paul we learn that if Christ could and did shepherd Paul through such an incredible transformation, then Christ can and will shepherd incredible transformation in our community.

Christ can and will shepherd incredible transformation in us.

When I consider “what seems to be going on” at Tuskawilla, I am so pleased by the balance of our ministry and witness. We understand and continue growing in our understanding that as we do for our church family, so we are called to do for our surrounding community. And what we do for our surrounding community we do in the spirit as if we are serving our church family. This sort of behavior and understanding of needful, equivalent behavior is not always common in churches. Some congregations “like who we like” and others…oh well. Not so at Tuskawilla. Not so with this church family. I truly believe we act the way we do in response to our having experienced Christ’s mercy as individuals and as a congregation. As we have received, so we are led to give, which is in keeping with the teaching of Christ, “for the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Lk 6:38c).

If you were caught in the act of being a Christ follower, if someone happened upon you engaging in Kingdom work and asked “Hi, folks…what seems to be going on?” what would you be found doing? How would you respond to the question? And what story would your response witness about your life in God’s Kingdom?

Prayer: “Immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes, most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days, almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise. To all, life thou livest, to both great and small; in all life thou livest, the true life of all; we blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree, and wither and perish, but naught changeth thee.”* Amen.

*”Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise,” The United Methodist Hymnal 103.

 

Take The Risk

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 25:14-30

This Sunday the Tuskawilla Family will be led in worship by our Youth Mission Team and a special youth-young adult praise team! They will be sharing stories from their experiences and adventures throughout The Glades as we partnered with the wonderful folks at First UMC Pahokee in a week of serving God and neighbor. You already know this – but I will remind you again – the TUMC Youth are PHENOMENAL young people. They want to share with you about their trip because you made their trip possible through your support of their rummage sale (donations and/or purchases), talent show (acts and/or admissions), prayers, smiles, and encouragement along the way. Thank you, Tuskawilla Family, for your commitment to the children and youth of our church. Join us this Sunday as we celebrate God’s accomplishments through their hands, feet, and hearts!

The theme Scripture passage for the Youth Mission Trip was Matthew’s version of the Parable of the Talents. This parable also appears in Luke’s Gospel, but not in Mark’s Gospel, which tells us that Matthew and Luke received this teaching of Jesus from a shared source. Biblical scholarship widely identifies this source as Q – which is short for Quelle the German word meaning source.

When we compare the two tellings of this parable they follow a similar pattern: a landowner entrusted funds to employees to steward and multiply while he was away. In each telling one employee presents a sizable gain on the landowner’s investment, another employee presents a fair gain on the landowner’s investment, and the third employee returns the investment that was entrusted with no gain at all. “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been trustworthy with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things!” to the two that gained on the landowner’s investment; “throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!” to the one that gained nothing on the landowner’s investment.

Two of the employees took risks to bring a return on the landowner’s investment. They had to move beyond themselves, beyond their familiar environments, and beyond their usual activities. Their risk taking yielded a big return – something that would not be possible if they decided – like the unfruitful employee – to stay within their comfort zones.

While on the mission trip the Tuskawilla Youth took risks all over the place. They left their homes, their families, their daily routines, THEIR ELECTRONICS and entered into relationship with a new community, in a new place, with a whole new level of heat and humidity. God invested talents in each of these students – through their creation, through their families, and through our church family that they, in turn, invested into The Glades. The returns that our youth yielded on God’s investment cannot be numbered. They were so generous in their spirit, compassion, and service. I am so very proud of them and know that this sort of risk taking for God and God’s Kingdom will continue to increase.

Well done, good and faithful youth servants of Tuskawilla UMC. We cannot wait to celebrate your service and Kingdom building on Sunday!

Prayer: “Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true. With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living, sanctuary for you.”* Amen.

*”Sanctuary,” The Faith We Sing 2164.

Blessed Trinity

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Romans 8:12-17

This Sunday we will celebrate Trinity Sunday, which kicks off the longest season in the Christian year known as Ordinary Time or KingdomtideOrdinary Time refers to the part of the Christian year that lays outside of the seasons of Lent-Easter and Advent-Christmas. It is an in-between time where the Church celebrates the mystery of Christ not in one particular aspect but in all its aspects. For example, in Advent we focus on the particular aspect of Christ’s incarnation and in Lent we focus on the particular aspect of Christ’s coming Passion and Resurrection from the dead. In Ordinary Time our focus is Kingdom-minded, which is why some refer to this season as the Kingdomtide. During this season Christians consider texts that invite us to apply in our lives what we have learned from the example of Christ and help further bring about the Kingdom of God on earth.

Bringing about the Kingdom of God on earth is anything but ordinary…so do not let that name fool you. It is extraordinary work and, even more amazing, God invites us to be part of this work.

My childhood best friend Laura and I are the kind of friends that may not speak to one another face to face for a length of time, but when we finally do, we pick up right where we were last. This past Saturday Laura contacted me to share that her Pop had passed away; she and her family wanted me to know. She also invited me to her Pop’s graveside service and her Memaw wanted to be sure I knew that “Sarah Beth-Ann was invited to lunch afterwards.”

To that family I will always and forevermore be Sarah Beth-Ann.

The family planned a very small graveside service because that is what Pop always wanted. Pop was a very strong and sensible man. He made sound investments throughout his life; to him it did not matter that the latest and greatest gadget was just released because his version that he purchased in the 1950s was still working. “If it ain’t broke, don’t mess with it” was his policy. His contentment with his material possessions freed him up to really invest in immaterial possessions, specifically his relationship with God and with his family and friends. The fruit of his investment in relationships was evident at his graveside as the quaint corner of Oak Hill Cemetery was overcome by people who loved Pop – family members, friends, folks he mentored, business colleagues, and more. The small graveside service became a large graveside service. We were there for Pop and his family. I was there for Laura.

After the service Laura and I connected, first, by eye contact and second, by embrace.

“How are you doing?” “I’m okay…actually I’m not okay.” “And that’s okay.” “I’m glad you’re here.” “Me, too.”

Laura and I say that we have been friends from the womb. Our mothers were pregnant during the same time and we met in daycare as toddlers. We went to the same elementary school…and our parents quickly learned that we should not be in the same class together because while we had a great time together it was not always the great time that the teachers wanted us to be having. All our lives we have been family to one another and family comes a-running when a member is in need.

Laura and I share this understand of being family to one another because of our relationship with Christ. Individually we know that we are God’s children and because we are God’s children we understand our call to be our sister’s keeper. Jesus teaches that we serve him and build and reveal the Kingdom before our own eyes each time we provide food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, care to the sick, companionship to the imprisoned, and clothes to the naked. This work may at times seem mundane or ordinary but in fact it is the extraordinary work of the Kingdom! It is work that God desires us to attend to and participate in daily.

I find in my own experience that I receive so much care for my soul as a product – and gift – of caring for another’s soul. This is the lesson I was reminded of as I attended Pop’s service with Laura on Wednesday. Jesus participated in this work and he is an heir to God’s Kingdom. Our participation in this work joins and extends the work of Christ and, as his sisters and brothers, we become heirs to God’s Kingdom.

During this Ordinary Time may God lead us in Extraordinary Work!

Prayer: “Everlasting God: you have revealed yourself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and ever live and reign in the perfect unity of love. Grant that we may always hold firmly and joyfully to this faith, and, living in praise of your divine majesty, may finally be one in you; who are three persons in one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”*

*”Prayer for Trinity Sunday,” The United Methodist Book of Worship 412.

The Gospel According to Showtunes: Raise You Up

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 1:1-11

The Ascension of Jesus assures that those who come from God, return to God.  Jesus – God’s only begotten Son – came from God as an infant – holy and lowly – and now as resurrected Christ ascends into heaven.  Those who believe in the resurrected and ascended Lord are also on this path.  We, who claim faith in Christ, are new creations; our birth is no longer natural or earthly but from on high with God.  Our faith in Christ has grafts us into the Kingdom.

The Apostle Paul writes, “You will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity towards those who have fallen, but God’s kindness towards you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And even those of Israel, if they do not persist in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again” (Romans 11:19-23).  The “broken branches” refer to the people of Israel that did not receive the good news of Jesus Christ and the “grafted branches” refer to the Gentiles that did receive the good news.  Paul guards his listeners (and readers) against pride.  It is because of Christ that we are on the path we are on; therefore, do not be boastful.  We have been set on a particular way – from God to return to God – and how we live and serve in the in-between-time becomes our focus.  We are challenged to keep God at our center so that in God we will “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

Jesus sends the disciples to Jerusalem; there they are to await the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This is another step in their in-between time from God to God, but the disciples get ahead of themselves.  They don’t want to take a step; they want to take a flying leap forward!  They ask, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6)?  I can imagine Jesus dropping his chin to his chest and chuckling after hearing this question.  Acts records Jesus response as, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8).  My paraphrase of Jesus’ response would go something like this…”Oh you disciples, you still don’t get it.  You are looking for things way in the future when I have asked you to be present in this moment.  We are here for you to receive the Spirit and then you will join me in restoring the Kingdom to the ends of the earth.  Keep focused.  One step at a time.”  Before the disciples can ask any follow-up questions, Jesus ascends.  They stand in awe with their gaze toward heaven.

And eventually…their gaze shifts from the heavens back to earth, back to the mission field, back to the Kingdom that is reigning in some areas and still needing to in-break into others.  God equips the disciples with the Holy Spirit so they are prepared to attend to the work before them.  The disciples are now responsible to carry on Jesus’ revolutionary work and they will do so with the Holy Spirit as their companion.

We, as modern day disciples, also find ourselves on the path “from God to return to God.”  Sure, we can take time to marvel at the heavens and be thankful for the final destination of our path, but we have work to do in the in-between time.  We, like Jesus’ disciples, have to uncrane our necks from the heavens and get dirt back under our fingernails.  Jesus is not going to do the work for us and we cannot stand idle until he returns in glory.  There is work to be done.  We are equipped by God’s Spirit to do it.  And we will do it – one step at a time.

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.’  He will give me grace and glory, he will give me grace and glory, he will give me grace and glory, and go with me, with me, all the way.  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.

 

We See Him – Witnesses of Change

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 28:1-10 and Acts 10:34-43

It seems like I have been waiting for Easter Sunday forever.  Life as a pastor makes a person hyper aware to one’s proximity to certain holy days.  It is always easier to prepare for Christmas Eve…I know when it will happen.  But Easter…Easter is another holy day entirely.

The day we celebrate Easter shifts every year in accordance to the lunar cycle and to keep it near the celebration of Passover.  Last year Easter was “early” – the last day of March.  This year it is three Sundays into April…and I am ready to celebrate.  I am anxious to shout a word that begins with “Alle” and ends with “luia” that I have kept from my vocabulary since the first Sunday of Lent, thereby participating in the early church tradition of not saying that word during the Season of Lent.  That word is a proclamation that the Kingdom of Heaven is established on the earth and during Lent we earnestly pray and crave for the Kingdom’s coming.

On Easter we relish as we utter that word – the Kingdom is come and it is an eternal one, free from the bondage of sin and death because our Christ has defeated the grave.  Our Christ is victorious.  Our Christ leaves the grave, not so that he cannot be found and not so he can play his version of hide and seek.  Jesus is not hiding, but he calls those who are faithful to him to seek him.  And where will we find him?  Why among the people, of course.  His ministry is not done.  He wants us to see that even in the present Kingdom ministry, service, sacrifice, care of neighbor, will of God must still be done.

We leave the tomb for it is empty.  We meet Christ in the world and see what he is doing.  And then we join him in it.

One of my favorite praise songs for Easter is Christ is Risen by Matt Maher.  This particular video combines the lyrics and orchestration of Maher with the incredible spoken word talents of David Bowden.  In his spoken word Bowden describes where Christ is present after the resurrection and the healing that Christ brings.  My everlasting hope is that Christ will always be present in these places and that his presence will draw his faithful nearer.

What holy day follows Easter?  Pentecost…the birth of the church…the day we celebrate the receipt of the Holy Spirit…the day the church collectively commits to carry forward the ministry, service, sacrifice, care of neighbor, and will of God because Christ has gone ahead of us into the Kingdom.  We commit to these acts until he completes his Kingdom here.

Prayer: “Almighty God, through Jesus Christ you overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life.  Grant that we, who celebrate the day of our Lord’s resurrection, may, by the renewing of your Spirit arise from the death of sin to the life of righteousness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”*

*”Easter Vigil or Day,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 320.

 

Heritage: Builders of Our Tradition

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 16:13-20

One of the first major milestones in any teenager’s life is driving.  I couldn’t wait to drive.  I remember my parents ordering the driver’s ed manual for me to study for my learner’s permit.  I remember my dad driving me to the bustling metropolis of Dade City to get my learner’s permit.  The DMV was on a hill way above the road and all I could think was…if I get my license, please don’t make me back down this crazy driveway!  I remember my parents insisting, impressing, requiring that my brother and I take driver’s ed in summer school or we would not step within 100 feet of the driver’s seat in the family vehicles.  But my most vivid memory was “the talk” my folks had with my brother and I after we turned in our learner’s permits and received our full licenses.

You know…”the talk”…

Keys in hand they said,

“You do not have to drive.  Driving is a privilege.  It requires responsibility and discipline and maturity.  And if you abuse this privilege, you will lose it.”

Then the keys were passed.

I think this is a pretty standard talk…wonder if you receive it in a script on a page of that elusive parenting handbook I keep hearing about…

In our Scripture lesson this week Peter receives keys from Jesus – keys to the Kingdom of heaven.  And much like receiving car keys, responsibility and discipline and maturity were required to receive these keys.  But in a little different twist, if the followers of Christ abused what they had been given, they wouldn’t lose the keys.  No.  How they treated what they received on earth would be reflected in heaven.

Jesus said, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  We have been entrusted with these keys to open up God’s word and God’s forgiveness to all people.  What we do matters.  What we say matters.  How we say it matters.  And what we don’t say matters.

How we respond to this great responsibility matters.

It has eternal effects.

I am continually amazed as I serve among the Reeves’ community that truly all means all.  I am amazed that Reeves is a community where we have agreed to live into the United Methodist motto of open minds, open hearts, and open doors.  We do not serve free of scrutiny.  We do not serve free of judgment or trial.  But in our service we acknowledge that we have received the keys from Christ.  We acknowledge that abuse has been done with them and by them before.  And we acknowledge our responsibility to stand in the gaps, returning to God’s word and God’s forgiveness for ourselves that we may seek the forgiveness of others.

It is a powerful place to be.  It is a place where I truly believe I am engaging Kingdom work daily.

The keys we hold are a privilege.  A privilege received from Christ’s own hand.  With them we are binding great things for God’s present and coming Kingdom.  And Lord, if in some folly we bind things unfit for the Kingdom, in your grace and in your wisdom, release them.

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.*

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