Parable of the Dragnet

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:47-51.

The summer of 2004 Andrew served as a lake interpreter at a Boy Scout camp in the Boundary Waters area of Northern Minnesota. He spent the summer taking different scout troops on 10 to 14 day paddle trips…and loved every minute of it.

I also think he wanted to have a summer where he did not have shower the.entire.summer.

And he did not…for 81 days…

He knew to shower before he boarded the flight home to see me.

Smart guy.

In regaling me with stories about his summer on the water, he would laugh the heartiest about the groups that showed up to the base with food to take with them on the water – canned food, snacks, MREs and more! And Andrew…being the stingy interpreter he was…would not let them take any food! None of it!

Why? Because if the boys were not paddling canoes, they were carrying canoes along with everything else they needed for their daily use and campsites. Andrew learned after his first trip that summer that if the scouts could not (literally) carry the weight brought with them, then he would have to carry it…and he did not sign up for that. So while inspecting the scout packs before departure, Andrew would make them pile up all their food to be left behind. They would spend the next 10 to 14 days on the water…and they would fish!

Some boys were fishing experts while others had a steep learning curve. They fished with rods and cast nets. Sometimes they caught fish…other times they caught whatever was in the lake that day…a coffee carafe was the most interesting item!

What I found most encouraging – after I recovered from the thought of Andrew denying the boys access to all the food they brought with them! – was how the boys applied themselves to the work and task of fishing. Fishing was essential for survival on their trip. If one scout had a hot line in the water and another scout was struggling, they took care of one another. Everyone ate. Everyone enjoyed his experience. They learned the value of teamwork, hard work, and being their brothers’ keeper.

The Kingdom of God is like…

This week we celebrate Pentecost – the birth of the Church – in the Christian year. On the day of Pentecost a great gathering of God’s people were gathered together in one place. The Holy Spirit descended and together God’s people worshipped. And from their worship many were convicted to repent and be baptized. And in response – in ownership – of their baptism they served together, ate together, affirmed their commitment to God by caring for and keeping their sisters and brothers together.

Together.

I truly believe that God intends us all to be together. And that when we are all together as the Church – worshipping, serving, sharing, affirming – we not only have enough; we have and are more than enough. To be the Church is hard work. From time to time we may have to leave things behind that we desperately want to bring forward with us so that we can make room to learn new skills, be adventurous in new areas, and blossom further into the people that God desires us to be.

I hope such great hope for the Church, for The United Methodist Church, and for Tuskawilla. God is bigger than all our challenges and God is so so faithful. God asks for our faithfulness. God asks for us to fish even when we are scared…even when we do not know how…even when we think we know a better way. God will and is taking care of us. We are the Church. We are God’s Church. And God is leading us into God’s preferred future.

Please plan to join us for a Congregational Meeting following our 11am Worship Service this Sunday, June 4 to receive an update about the work and continued work of your Tuskawilla UMC Leadership Team. We will meet in the Sanctuary immediately following the Benediction.

Prayer: “Wind who makes all winds that blow, gusts that bend the sapling low, gales that heave the sea in waves, stirrings in the mind’s deep caves: Aim your breath with steady power on your church, this day, this hour. Raise, renew the life we’ve lost, Spirit God of Pentecost.” Amen.*

*“Wind Who Makes All Winds That Blow,” The United Methodist Hymnal 538.

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God Never Said That: God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 38:3-8 and I Corinthians 10:1-13.

This morning I received this text message from my dear friend, Dan:

Sarah! We were just called out by our seminary professor!

It may surprise some of you, but this is not new for Dan and me…we were known to meddle quite a bit during our Candler Days. Since it has been a while since we have been called out by a seminary professor, I was immediately curious. What was happening?

Dan is attending a continuing education event at Epworth by the Sea in St. Simon’s, Georgia and our pastoral care professor, Dr. Karen Scheib, was the plenary speaker this morning. Her plenary subject was the importance of covenant groups – groups that connect electronically, over the phone, and/or in person to share the highs, lows, and happenings of life. Dan and I are in such a covenant group. We make a point to connect several times throughout the week via text message, call one another at least once a month, and see one another a minimum of once a year.

During our interactions, whether texting, talking, or in person, we laugh; we cry; we share ministry resources; we challenge one another; we build up one another.

I cannot imagine my life without Dan or Brenda. My life is better because they are in it.

When I experience moments where I feel like that last piece of straw is about to break the camel’s back – meaning my back! – I am so grateful for friends like Dan. God did not say this life would be easy; God did say that we would not live this life alone. Our loved ones, family, and friends are such gifts to us throughout our lives as they lend their perspective, advice, hands, feet, presence, and faith to our benefit and aid.

Are you a member of a covenant group? I would venture to say you probably are, even if you do not call your group a covenant group. When you are in need, afraid, worried, or sick – who do you call? When you have had an incredibly joyful experience – who do you call? When you need to check in about what is going on in your life – the highs, the lows, and the happenings – who do you call? The persons that come to mind as you answer these questions constitute your covenant group.

In addition to your check-ins, consider how you might grow in relationship with God alongside your covenant group members. Perhaps you

  • Begin or end or begin and end your conversations with prayer.
  • Participate in a Bible Study together.
  • Serve on a day-long or extended service project together.
  • Eat together.
  • Fellowship together.

I have found that being intentional – that making my covenant group a priority in my life – is central to my faith development. My covenant group is central to reminding me that even when I do not think I can handle one more thing that God provides a way forward. Thanks be to God that the members of my covenant group are part of that way forward.

Prayer: “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul. It is well (it is well) with my soul (with my soul), it is well, it is well with my soul.* Amen.

*”It Is Well With My Soul,” The United Methodist Church 377.

 

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.

FAMILY ~ All Means All

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Galatians 3:23-29.

She arrived on a wind from the East. Michael thought she was a witch. Jane knew better; witches fly on brooms, not with umbrellas.

Why is she here? Because the Banks’ children excel at nanny resignations. Their most recent conquest? Nanny resignation by following a kite.

The kite in Mary Poppins becomes a very powerful symbol. To Mr. Banks, father to Jane and Michael, the kite is a symbol of childishness and a need to grow up. To Michael, the kite is a symbol of playfulness and freedom, which are two qualities that are hard to come by in the Banks’ home. Within the walls of Number 17 Cherry Tree Lane children are not meant to be children, but little adults.

One day Mary Poppins announces the children will join their father on an outing to the bank where he works. The children nearly collapse of amazement because their father never takes them anywhere. When the children return to reality, sensitivity to their impending boredom arrives. Mary Poppins, in her wisdom, sweetens the deal, “Children, you could take a tuppence to feed the birds.”

Bird feeding is not on Mr. Banks’ agenda. Bird feeding is childish and wasteful spending of money. Guided by his father, and encouraged by his father’s coworkers, Michael hears, “Come, young man, grow up and be responsible. Invest your tuppence in the bank.” Nearly convinced to invest, Mr. Dawes, Sr. – the bank owner – abruptly takes the money from Michael’s hand, which angers Michael greatly. Michael’s determination to retrieve his money turns the bank into a zoo.

Mr. Banks’ job is now in jeopardy because of the tuppence fiasco. Heart and mind heavy with burden, Mr. Banks receives care from an unexpected place. Michael gives the fiasco-causing tuppence to his father as a sign of faith that it will help fix the situation at the bank, as a sign of belief in his father. Michael gives to his father – simply, beautifully – in a child-like way to help heal an adult-sized problem. This gift brings into focus the true adult-sized problem in Mr. Banks’ life – his desire to forcibly mature his children rather than support them and grow with them through relationship.

Mr. Banks puts down the tuppence and goes in search of Michael’s kite; he mends it so the family can fly it. The Banks’ growing and maturing in mutually beneficial ways – growing and maturing together – was of most importance. And they returned to this essential work by flying a kite.

//

When I read this passage from Paul, particularly the opening verses, I am struck by the image of growing in faith together. There are definitely lessons that are passed down from older generations to newer generations. There are definitely lessons that are passed up from newer generations to older generations. And there are definitely lessons that we all learn together.

In Christ we are all children of God. In faith we grow together…not so much into “adults” of God…but more so into “maturing” children of God. This maturing continues throughout our lives. It is not a forced maturation like what Mr. Banks wanted originally for his children. If our maturation in faith was forced, then we might rush through or all together disregard a lesson or time in our lives where we and our faith need time to explore and develop.

I worry when I encounter circumstances that pit mature faith against a child-like faith or picture a mature faith as superior to child-like faith. I believe we need both qualities present in our faith. As we mature in our relationship with Christ, as we mature in years, as we mature in our abilities to reason and research, we mature in our ability to argue, to defend, to question, and to prove. At times this ability to reason and research is helpful…and at other times all it does is make the waters more muddy. It is in these moments that our child-like faith serves us well to simply believe, rest, be at peace.

Simply be.

In Christ we are all children of God together. While each of us are at different places in our relationship with Christ, collectively we are all in relationship with Christ together. This is one of God’s mysteries – we are all in different places, but somehow all in the same place through community. This is a gift to us – to be with Christ as we are with one another – to learn, to play, to be challenged, to be supported, to mature in faith by growing in responsibility, and to mature in faith by flying a great number of kites.

Friends, let’s commit to doing this work – as God’s children – all of us.

Together.

Prayer: “One bread, one body, one Lord of all, one cup of blessing which we bless. And we, though many throughout the earth, we are one body in this one Lord. Gentile or Jew, servant or free, woman or man, no more. Many the gifts, many the works, one in the Lord of all. Grain for the fields, scattered and grown, gathered to one, for all. One bread, one body, one Lord of all, one cup of blessing which we bless. And we, though many throughout the earth, we are one body in this one Lord.”* Amen.

*”One Bread, One Body,” The United Methodist Hymnal 620.

Upbuilding: Determined to Share

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Thessalonians 2:1-8

This year I am participating in a new mentoring program initiative at a local high school.  This program matches students in the local high school to volunteers in the community that want to come alongside these students and support them in their educational success.

I have met with my mentee three times so far.  For the first two meetings we talked sports – I talked about football and my mentee is continuing my education about basketball – I may understand it eventually!  We talked a little about our families and what we want to be when we grow up.  The conversations skimmed the surface, which is normal.  We were getting to know one another.

This week the conversation increased in depth.  My mentee shared a goal with me, but my mentee’s heart was not happy.  It was downcast.  The goal was before my mentee and the path to achieve that goal presented itself like walking across broken glass on hot coals up a mountain both ways without shoes.  So, we circled the wagons.  We strategized.  We came up with a plan.  We even role played the conversations that would need to happen and possible outcomes that could result depending on what was shared in those conversations.  And slowly but surely my mentee’s downcast heart became hopeful.  The frown on my mentee’s face started to turn up at the corners.

I cannot wait to see my mentee this next week and follow up on the progress towards his goal.

I am confident that my mentee and I were able to share in that conversation because we had intentionally laid the ground work of getting to know one another.  Sharing about ourselves took time.  A relationship had to be built.  Trust had to be established.  Showing up incarnated my commitment, incarnated my care, incarnated my investment in his success.  I am in my mentee’s corner.  I will hold him accountable.  I will celebrate his successes and I will help craft plans for greater acheivements so his goals will become his reality.

I also have a goal of understanding basketball by the end of all of this.  I am pretty sure my mentee will make that part of my reality.

This mentee/mentor relationship is not a one way street.  Just because I am the mentor does not mean that I am not being guided, and learning, and being formed and transformed by the conversations shared with and insights gained from this intelligent mentee.  We are both giving.  We are both receiving.  We are both committed to sharing about ourselves, learning about one another, and learning together.

Sharing ourselves with others is a way to share Christ with them – to love our neighbors, to serve our neighbors, to care for them, to comfort them, the challenge them, to congratulate them.  This is what living life is about.  This is the life that Paul lived with the Thessalonians.  He was a mentor to and a companion of the Thessalonians.  He was also a mentee of the Thessalonians.  They lived life together.  He was dedicated to sharing with the Thessalonians and rejoiced over the sharing the Thessalonians did with him.  Together, they incarnated that “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Mt 18:20).  Christ is there with them.  Christ is here with us.

As I was leaving our mentoring time this past week my mentee asked where I was headed.  “Back to my office.”  “Where is your office?”  “At a church.  That’s where I work.  I pastor a church.”  “What!?  You’re a pastor??”  “Yes, I am.”  “Could…could we talk about that sometime?”  “You bet.  You just let me know.”

Where two are gathered…

Amen.

Prayer: “Draw us in the Spirit’s tether, for when humbly in thy name, two or three are met together thou are in the midst of them.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Touch we now thy garment’s hem.  All our meal and all our living make us sacraments of thee, that by caring, helping, giving, we may true disciples be.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!   We will serve thee faithfully.”* Amen.

*”Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 632.