FAMILY ~ Intergenerational Culture

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

This Sunday the Tuskawilla UMC Family is joined in worship leadership by Rev. Melissa Cooper, program coordinator for the Life Enrichment Center and director of LECFamily. She will share with us a message that explores the basic understanding and benefit of creating, establishing, and growing an intergenerational culture in the church.

I am also a great big fan of Melissa…and this is the first time we will both be at Tuskawilla together. Be prepared for learning and merriment!

Today – April 25 – is the one year anniversary of the devastating earthquakes that ravaged Nepal. As I reflect once again on our trip, my memories return to the beautiful people of the country – their generosity, their hospitality, and their inclusivity. I was welcome. I was family. And from that experience, I continue to feel like family with the Nepali people.

Halfway through our trip Andrew and I travelled to Pohkara, which is in Western Central Nepal. It is home to the Annapurna Range of the Himalayan Mountains. On one of our days in Pohkara we visited an aboveground to underground waterfall that is fed by melting Himalayan snow.

Pohkara 2

Standing above the fall.

Pohkara 1

In the cave underground, a half mile from the aboveground site.

We were able to visit the underground cave because it was not yet monsoon season; during monsoon this cave is completely flooded.

To see base of the waterfall meant walking down ten flights of stairs; we were the equivalent of ten stories beneath the earth. The steps were old and rusted from years of being submerged in water for up to eight months at a time. The steps were not well lit and they were very steep.

Andrew and I started our journey down the steps and I was caught by the noise of laughter. I turned thinking I would see a group of children and what I saw was a group of Nepali grandmothers, in full length saris, standing at the top of the stairs watching one of their group begin to make her way down the stairs. Her friends’ laughter was not mocking or mean-spirited; they laughed out of astonishment and in the spirit of “tell me how it was when you get back up here!”

As long as she was in the faint light of the surface she kept walking down the steps, but as soon as the last vestiges of light disappeared in darkness, she stopped. I could see on her face the dilemma; she wanted to continue her descent, but she needed help.

Andrew and I looked at one another and silently decided what we would do. In many cultures it is not appropriate for a man to touch a woman that is not a member of his family; so, Andrew positioned himself in front of us in case we were to slip, he would catch us from slipping too far. I climbed back up the stairs, and without words, offered my arm and open hand to this grandmother. Separated by spoken language, but not the language of the heart, she took my hand and I braced her arm, and we continued our journey down the stairs.

When we reached the bottom, she began to laugh again, this time at the look of astonishment on her husband’s face! She had been the only wife to make the journey. She was so proud of herself; she shook with joy. Our eyes met one final time before I set off with Andrew to explore the cave. She was grateful. I was grateful. In that moment I walked with her as I have with my own grandmothers, in my family and in my congregations. Into darkness. Towards our goal. Sharing a beautiful, common, and shining light between us.

From a very young age I was taught to love God and to love others. I was taught to have my eyes open and ears attuned to opportunities where I could be a helper and a friend. These are lessons that were revisited for me throughout my childhood and adolescence; they are lessons that I take great joy in visiting with others. These are lessons that I teach with my words as well as my actions, and I am so grateful for the moments, like this time in Nepal, when my actions speak louder and longer than words.

God instructs us to teach the commandment to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength to our family for generations. We are to revisit this lesson. Through active presence we are to have our eyes open and ears attuned to where we see this lesson incarnated and where we see this lesson needs incarnating.

Today I pray for the people of Nepal. I give thanks for all those that are incarnating our command to love God with all that they are – that we are – as this beautiful country and beautiful people continue rebuilding. I am grateful for the extended hands and outstretched arms. I am grateful for the people who walk alongside, especially if it is into darkness as the first of many steps, in reaching the Nepalis’ goal of rebuilding a people and a heritage. I am grateful for the sharing of the beautiful, common, and shining light between them.

Prayer: “O God, you divided the waters of chaos at creation. In Christ you stilled storms, raised the dead, and vanquished demonic powers. Tame the earthquake, wind, and fire, and all the forces that defy control or shock us by their fury. Keep us from calling disaster your justice. Help us, in good times and in distress, to trust your mercy and yield to your power, this day and for ever. Amen.

*”In Time of Natural Disaster,” The United Methodist Book of Worship 509.

PictureLent ~ Reflect

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Our very own Pastor Kate is preaching this week! I hope you will join her in worship on Sunday and to receive the Scripture and message that God has prepared in her to share with each of you.

This week’s #picturelent focus word is Reflect. If you are reading along with the #picturelent devotions you will observe a reflective tone throughout: (1) of Jesus reflecting on Hebrew Bible Scriptures and (2) of how we are called to reflect Jesus’ love through our service in the world.

This reflective tone causes me to pause. I often think about how I am reflecting  Jesus’ love through service to, for, and with my neighbors. But reflecting on these Scripture texts has drawn my attention to something I have known for some time, but I have not had at the forefront of my mind: Jesus was not always the first person to offer the lessons he taught. His lessons are steeped in the Hebrew faith tradition. Some he taught verbatim scroll to people and others he expounded upon to bring a new interpretation. These lessons were passed down generation to generation and Jesus’ endorsement – God’s own Son saying “Yes! This! Do and keep doing this!” – of these lessons reinforce their importance and life-givingness.

I am convinced that we are able to care for others after the example of Christ through responsible stewardship of our resources that leads us to responsible living in the world. Whether time, talents, prayers, or passions, when we order them properly – offering first to God and then to neighbor – God’s blessings abound for the whole community. These lessons in stewardship were not advents with Jesus; Judeo-Christian lessons of stewardship were appropriated from Egyptian culture where the first fruits of all harvests were offered to Pharaoh, who was considered a deity. Instead of offering first fruits to Pharaoh we offer them to God. And then the remaining fruits are available for us to steward and share.

As I reflect on this interaction of Jesus reflecting on texts and then people reflecting his love through service, my mind comes to my friend Holly. She is my primary yoga teacher, the one responsible for walking with me and leading me through the wide world of yoga. Holly is a strong woman of faith and she is deeply committed to sharing the compassion she experiences in her relationship with Christ with others. When structuring the class schedule at her yoga studio she intentionally and purposefully dedicated her Sunday class as a Give class. Participants do not pay for this class; rather, they offer themselves in their practice and, in appreciation of that practice, participants offer a donation that Holly then gifts to a local philanthropy. Why does she do this? Because it is an expression of her understanding Scripture and an outpouring of her commitment to serve others after the example of Christ. Holly’s commitment to serve others after the example of Christ has even benefited the Tuskawilla Community as she gave the offerings from January’s Give classes in support of our support of the Conference Imagine No Malaria Campaign.

This is one example of a person’s understanding of Scripture nourishing her care and compassion for her neighbors. To incarnate this sort of understanding requires an exposure to God’s Word and time intentionally given to studying the connection between reading God’s word and living it out. To incarnate this sort of understanding requires reflection.

If you look in our mosquito net in the Narthex, you will see Firefly Yoga covering a few of the mosquitoes representing Holly and Firefly’s support of Imagine No Malaria. If you are committed to being one of TUMC’s 100 families to commit to the campaign, please write your name over a mosquito and hang it in the net as a sign of your support!

Bearing in mind the dual nature of reflections in this post, consider these questions: What is the subject of your recent reflections? What reflections are you showing in the world? Thinking on your activity in the world, what do they reflect as your source? What do they say about what you have been studying?

Prayer: “Blessed Jesus, at thy word we are gathered all to hear thee; let our hearts and souls be stirred now to seek and love and fear thee, by thy teachings sweet and holy, drawn from earth to love thee solely!”* Amen.

*”Blessed Jesus, at Thy Word,” The United Methodist Hymnal 596.

Stewardship Is More Than Money

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Corinthians 9:6-15

This Sunday the Tuskawilla community begins our Stewardship series in preparation for and anticipation of the 2015 ministry year. It will be a partnered series including (1) a collection of sermons on “Stewardship Is” that will explore the many facets of stewardship and (2) a collection of letters entitled “Known” that will connect what we know of our personal experiences with growing understandings and experiences of stewardship. I am very excited to begin this series because stewardship is so incredibly vital to our participation in the Body of Christ and helping build God’s kingdom on earth.

“God loves a cheerful giver” our Scripture text says this week. A person who gives is a person who has received.  I have vivid memories as a child and youth of my father saying, “You take care of what belongs (is given) to you more than what belongs to someone else.” I am sure this statement was made in reference to me tearing something up that was not mine. Regardless of the context, there is great truth in these words – I take care of what belongs to me because it is mine.

As I have engaged in this practice of care a greater truth has been revealed.  I take care of what belongs to me.  And now that degree of care influences the care I give to what has been entrusted to me for a season and influences the care I give in giving to others.

As a pastor I am entrusted with the spiritual nurturing and challenging of Christ’s body in a specific context. I am entrusted to care for a home in which the church invites my family to live. I am entrusted with the call to live faithfully and lead ethically.  All of this is for a season as I am in an itinerant appointive clergy system and my dedication of care will continue throughout all the years of my vocation. I believe that I have to lead by example. I cannot speak with integrity about others ascribing to this level and sensitivity of care if I do not live it in my own life.

As I live it in my own life I experience great joy. Yes, I am joyful every week when I clean my parsonage because it is a gift from the congregation to me. Yes, I am joyful to steward the church I serve – from baptizing babies to plunging toilets. Both involve water in different ways and both are important in their own ways!  Yes, I am joyful to be held accountable to how I lead and how I learn. And yes, I am joyful – and so incredibly thankful – how the lesson from my father continues to teach me and influence my care for entities that belong to others and my care for others.

“God loves a cheerful giver.”  I have cheerfully received – from God, from others, from God through others.  It is my pleasure to give and care in response and extension of how I have cared for what I have received. In giving as I have received I believe I incarnate the obedience our God desires to see. I do not always succeed in this obedience, which serves as another opportunity for growth in spiritual maturity in my relationship with God and greater accountability with my peers as we walk the journey of faith together.

That we travel together – that is one of the greatest gifts God has given and continues to give.

How do you care for what you have received?  What connection exists between how you care for your belongings and how you care for others?  If there is not a connection, how could you begin establishing a connection?

I invite you to prayerfully consider these questions and, as God leads you, live out your response.

Prayer: “But we never can prove the delights of his love until all on the altar we lay; for the favor he shows, for the joy he bestows, are for them who will trust and obey. Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at his feet or we’ll walk by his side in the way; what he says we will do, where he sends we will go; never fear, only trust and obey. Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”* Amen.

*”Trust and Obey,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 467.

The Gospel According to Showtunes: Climb Every Mountain

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ephesians 3:14-21

This Sunday is my last Sunday with my Reeves UMC family.  On July 1st I begin serving as the senior pastor at Tuskawilla UMC and my first Sunday will be July 6th.  Below is my farewell letter to Reeves.  I invite you to be in prayer for both of these congregations and for me as I prepare to say “see you later” and “nice to meet you” in the next couple of weeks.

Dear Reeves UMC Family,
It has been my honor and pleasure to serve as your pastor for the past two years.  You have taught me so much about life, about being a pastor, about yourselves, about myself, and about the very real presence of God in our midst.
Thank you for putting up with my shenanigans, loving me despite my shortcomings, and embracing my “high taste” for shoes.  Thank you for opening your arms to Andrew and our four-legged children.  Thank you for allowing me to affirm and challenge you in my sermons and small group studies.  Thank you for your prayerful support of the mission and outreach of the church.  Thank you for your trust in my leadership and stewardship of your congregation.  Thank you for the hugs, handshakes, constructive criticism, affirmation, laughter and tears.
I felt called to come to Reeves and serve alongside you.  I am now called to continue in service in another local church.  My love and care for you will continue.  I will continue to hold you in prayer as you come under Rev. Tracy’s pastoral leadership and grow as disciples so you can transform your church and community.  As I leave you to begin serving as the pastor at Tuskawilla United Methodist Church I will remember you fondly and know that we will meet again someday.  So this is not good-bye; it is see you down the road.  It is because of God’s grace that we travel this road together and this road is leading us to glory.
Love,
Sarah
Philippians 1:3-6
Prayer: “Lord, whose love through humble service bore the weight of human need, who upon the cross, forsaken, offered mercy’s perfect deed: we, your servants, bring the worship not of voice alone, but heart, consecrating to your purpose every gift that you impart.  Called by worship to your service, forth in your dear name we go to the child, the youth, the aged, love in living deeds to show; hope and health, good will and comfort, counsel, aid, and peace we give, that your servants, Lord, in freedom may your mercy know and live.”* Amen.
*”Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 581.