What Will Be

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 3:15-22

A little over a month ago I had the privilege to baptize my niece, Addison, during our weekly worship service. And as many of you will remember, she was…quite vocal…about the whole experience.

Baptizing someone is always an incredible experience. Through this sacrament we welcome a new sibling into the Body of Christ and covenant to walk with them as they are raised in the faith. Whenever I baptize someone I strive to make as much eye contact with that person as possible. I want them to know that I mean what I say to them. “I am with you. I will help you. I will encourage you. I will hold you accountable. And I hope you will do the same for me.”

When I held Addison that day, I felt like I was holding the future. I was holding her future, my future, and the future of the church in my arms, all enclosed in her little 12-pound squawky body. In that present moment we – her parents, her extended family, and her church family – we made promises about her future and promises that will shape her future. We promised to raise her in the knowledge of the faith. We promised to nurture her in God’s grace so that she may be guided to accept God’s grace for herself. We promised to pray for her as she walks with Jesus in the way that leads to eternal life. We promised that present day as we hoped for the future.

As we hoped for what will be.

When I think about the future of all baptized Christians my hope is that we are encouraged more than we are challenged in our walks with Christ, though I welcome challenges that will purify us with our God’s refining fire. I also hope that as we walk together into God’s future that we walk so as to make the walk of those beside us and behind us – friend and foe – easier, with the ultimate hope that any foe would become a friend as a result of our walking together.

When we walk together into what will be, the possibilities at our fingertips are endless. The church, the kingdom are our oyster – not to make into what we want them to be but to make them into what God wants them to be through the application of our passions, prayers, and praises.

Some perceive the Christian life as overtly legalistic and confining. “Do this; do not do that or that…or that.” A few years ago one of my colleagues described the Christian life this way, “Imagine a football field: 360 feet long, 160 feet wide. That’s 57,600 feet of available space to be in play. Yes, there is out of bounds. And there are penalties or consequences if you go out of bounds. But why would you need to go out of bounds? There is so much room in bounds. There is so much room on the field. And that’s where God wants you. God does not want you at a specific place on the field because that will change throughout your life. God wants you on the field. Baptism gets you there and that is where God desires you to stay.”

This image continues to be life-giving to me as I walk in my Christian life and walk hand in hand with others in theirs. I give thanks for my parents committing to my future through my baptism. I give thanks for all those who have walked and continue to walk with me through all the fields in God’s kingdom. I give thanks for the privilege to look into what will be for my siblings in Christ and to be in the fields of passion, prayer, and praise with them. I do not feel confined. I feel liberated to discover what will be.

I am looking to what will be with hope and great joy.

Prayer: “Wash, O God, our sons and daughters, where your cleansing waters flow. Number them among your people; bless as Christ blessed long ago. Weave them garments bright and sparkling; compass them with love and light. Fill, anoint them; send your Spirit, holy dove and heart’s delight. We who bring them long for nurture; by your milk may we be fed. Let us join your feast, partaking cup of blessing, living bread. God, renew us, guide our footsteps; free from sin and all its snares, one with Christ in living, dying, by your Spirit, children, heirs.”* Amen.

*”Wash, O God, Our Sons and Daughters,” The United Methodist Hymnal 605.

 

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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.

 

God’s Balance Sheet: Lessons In Stewardship ~ God’s Financial Plan

Sunday’s Scripture – Luke 16:1-13

(I know, right?! Back to back gospel lections…weird isn’t it?)

I believe supporting the local church I attend, and since I am United Methodist likewise my annual conference and the UM connection, is a sign of spiritual growth. It is a sign of trust – that I trust God with the riches I return to God.  I trust that God will do what God does – make them fruitful and multiply!

I also believe that in supporting the local church I attend (again and my annual conference and the UM connection) that I grow in financial maturity. I am reminded as I give that it’s not all about me.

I know. Shocker.

It’s about God and how God invites me to further participate in the Kingdom as I give.

Now, I’ll admit. Giving has been hard for me these past few years. And I think that I’ll find a lot of kinship with that statement. With the recession/downturn in the economy financial fear has been the norm instead of financial security. Andrew and I faced a great decision as we were in seminary during this time: did we take student loans to finish our education and begin serving the church full time or wait to earn the money and finish our degrees as our funds allowed?

We accepted the debt. Along with 2 car loans (word to the wise…don’t EVER have two car loans if you can help it…) And credit card payments. And utilities and cell phones and groceries and book costs. And…and…and…

Now, this is meant to turn into a pity-party for the Millers. It was rough. But it taught us (1) the value of what we have, (2) the value of hard work, and (3) the value of offering gifts to the Kingdom.

I have felt so financially trapped these past few years. Our savings were dismal, the bills kept coming in, and I often turned to God to complain only to quickly turn away because I was ashamed I wasn’t giving more to the Kingdom.

And then I heard these words from a congregant one day, “Sarah, I always give to God first. Not last, but first. And I don’t worry if the money will be there for bills or at the end of the month. Because God will provide. God always provides.”

Those words broke my chains. Those words reminded me that God honors my gifts, whatever it is, and God can do great things with what we might consider the smallest of offerings. God assured me that growth in my spiritual and financial maturity included growth in managing my personal finances, paying off debt, not adding new debt, and budgeting. Doing so frees me and frees up more funds that can be given to the glory of God’s Kingdom.

Andrew and I are slowly but surely coming out of our debt. We are moving towards the Promised Land of financial security and spiritual maturity. We are more able to support the churches we serve, support other charities and initiatives close to our hearts, bolster our own savings, and seek a simplistic life. It is not something that happened over night. We have been working towards “this day” for a while and will continue working for many many more years. We have God as our companion. We know God celebrates our financial successes while challenging us to constantly evaluate how God is calling us to alter the management of our resources that we will be better stewards in the Kingdom.

Whatever we give – I give, you give, we give – God honors as God knows our circumstances and God knows our hearts. Let us not become comfortable in our giving but seek the ways in which God challenges us to stretch and give in new ways.

Our Scripture tells us, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much” (Lk 16:10). God has trusted each of us with a small portion of God’s Kingdom. Do we, will we trust that in returning that portion to God that God will provide and make those riches fruitful and multiply?

Prayer: Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me…Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.  Amen. (From Psalm 51:10-12, 15-17; 139:23-24)