Dawn

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 1:26-38.

I am not really an early bird and I am definitely not a night owl. In fact, I recently learned that I wear a certain facial expression in the mornings when I am ready to interact with people! Before then, I am told my gaze is rather intense…

So not an early bird…and not a night owl…I am solidly a “progressively tired pigeon.” Yes. That is me to a T.

That being said, Joshua has encouraged my being a morning person. In our early months together he considered “sleeping in” to be 4:27am. Thankfully he is a much better sleeper these days; now I get up early in order to get work done when it is quiet and to organize myself for the day ahead.

Whether I am sitting on the couch or at our breakfast table I have the opportunity to watch light flood the landscape as dawn breaks.

I have watched dawn break in some remarkable places:

  • across the waters of Lake Griffin at the Warren Willis Camp
  • across the Atlantic at Cape Canavral Shores
  • across the Pacific in Wahiawa, Hawaii
  • across the Galilee in Tiberius, Israel
  • across the Himalayas in Pokhara, Nepal

In each context the pattern holds:

  • there is darkness
  • the color begins to shift and shadows begin to recede
  • rays reaching out from the sun extend to embrace me where I stand
  • the light makes visible what was once obscured or hidden
  • the light brings hope, reveals potential, and welcomes the promise of the new day

A couple years ago Bob and Debbie Spitzer gifted Andrew and me a beautiful Thomas Kinkade painting that captures dawn breaking in the mountains. They hoped it would remind us of our adventures in Nepal. It does. It also remind us of God’s promise found in Lamentations 3, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (vv. 22-23).

Christ’s Dawn awaits us as we celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve in the coming week. The gift of the incarnation is the greatest expression of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness we will ever know. May the light of Christ’s Dawn shine in your life, affirming God’s love for you and your place in God’s Kingdom.

I look forward to worshipping with you

Sunday, December 23 at 8:30am Morningsong or 11am Traditional Worship with Christmas Brass.

Christmas Eve Monday, December 24 at 6:30pm – Carols, Candlelight, and Communion

Prayer: “Send, O God, into the darkness of this troubled world, the light of your Son. Let the star of your hope touch the minds of all people with the bright beams of mercy and truth; and so direct our steps that we may ever walk in the way revealed to us, as the shepherds of Bethlehem walked with joy to the manger where he dwelled, who now and ever reigns in our hearts, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”*

*The United Methodist Book of Worship 278.

God Is Wild About You!

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 139

This week at Tuskawilla the children of our church and our community experienced God’s goodness and love at our Pandamania Vacation Bible School. I am immeasurably grateful for the leadership of Samantha Aupperlee, Shrell Chamberlain, Kelly Mawhinney, Vanessa Schuchart, Tim Rounsaville, and all the youth and adult volunteers that have made this week possible. Thank you for serving God’s children and sharing God’s witness this week!

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to attend a Compline Service at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle. Compline derives from the Latin word completorium, which refers to the completion of the working day. Compline services are entirely sung, save a few verbal instructions and the stating of the Scripture passages for the day.

At St. Mark’s the choir sang from a back corner of the cathedral rather than standing in the front of the gathered congregation. The congregation faced the altar and a brilliant rose window. Our group sat in the pews as the congregation gathered in silence, centering on God’s presence and welcome in that space.

But then a funny thing happened…

I saw a huge group of people stream into the cathedral carrying pillows and blankets. At first I thought a youth group had just returned from a trip and the Compline service was their final moment before heading home. I was wrong. In curiosity I watched as these fellow worshippers proceeded to spread out their blankets, place their pillows, and lay around the feet of the altar. They stared up at the ceiling. They peered out into the darkening sky. Some laid alone. Some laid alongside a loved one. They laid in God’s presence as God’s Scripture and prayers sang over them. They laid in comfort. They laid in peace. They laid at home.

It was beautiful.

In the gathering darkness we worshipped the Lord. In the gathering darkness we sang God’s praise. In the gathering darkness we laid ourselves on God’s altar…we became, we become, we are becoming holy and living sacrifices.

Even in the gathering darkness, as the Psalmist sings, God sees; God knows; and God comes alongside.

My heart broke once again as I learned about the terror attack in Istanbul. I added my lament with others’, “How long, O Lord, how long!?” Lord Almighty, cure our warring madness. Break the power that sin has over us. Take away our appetite for evil. Heal our brokenness. Instill within us that you desire light not darkness. Remind us that when we are in darkness – darkness that is and darkness that we create – you are with us. You see us. You redeem us. You perfect us. You make us new. You make us whole.

I take great comfort in knowing that children and youth surrounded God’s altar at Tuskawilla this week just as people surrounded the altar at St. Mark’s. Our children and youth offered their songs, laughter, curiosity, wonder, and joy to our God. I am filled with hope in knowing this is not an occasional but a regular occurrence; thanks be to God. May their gifts, may our gifts, rise up like sweet incense. May these our children know that God’s Sanctuary as their home. And may our church always understand the importance of creating a place and offering a space for all people to draw near to God as God draws near to us.

Be sure to join us in worship this Sunday for our Pandamania Worship Celebration. Our children and their leaders will guide the worship service. I cannot wait to dance and sing around God’s altar. See you there!

Prayer: “Jesus loves me—this I know for the Bible tells me so; little ones to him belong—they are weak, but he is strong.Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so!”* Amen.

*”Jesus Loves Me,” The United Methodist Hymnal 191.

Home For The Holidays

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 1:68-79

I’ll Be Home For Christmas debuted in 1943 and has been favored tune for this time of year every year since.

This song is sung from the point of view of a soldier stationed overseas during World War II. The soldier’s message to his family is brief and heartfelt, “I will be home for Christmas…prepare the holiday for me.” He requests snow, mistletoe, and presents under the tree.

Yet the song ends on a melancholy note, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams…”

The dream of home can evoke feelings of comfort and discomfort. At the holidays the dream of home can evoke both of those feelings at the same time. Perhaps we anticipate being in a familiar place surrounded by loved ones. Perhaps we breathe heavily and sigh too deep for words as we remember that home is not a familiar place and that the loved ones we want to see  will not be present. Perhaps we experience both feelings within a matter of seconds.

I find myself in an odd place as I continue walking forward to Christmas. I am excited for the holiday, but I will miss being able to gather with all of my family. I am anticipating the great joy of our Savior’s birth, but my heart is heavy knowing so many in my family, in our church family, in our community, and in our world are hurting. Medical prognoses worsen, new concerns are found, relationships strain, loved ones die, there is not enough money, there is not enough time, there is not enough energy, there is not enough.

There is loneliness. There is emptiness. There is darkness.

And there…in the darkness…the light of our Christ burns brightly. Zechariah sings, “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:78-79).

Thanks be to God.

This coming Monday, December 21 at 7pm in the Sanctuary the Tuskawilla Family will celebrate a Service of Longest Night. The seasons of Advent and Christmas are often marked by expressions of joy, excitement, and happiness, but this time of joy and expectation can often overshadow the pain and hurt many experience during this season. The grief and sorrow we feel is real and during this time of worship, we are invited to  draw near to our grief and sorrow and find that our God is bringing healing in the midst of it.

I invite you to join us for this time of prayer, Scripture reading, reflection, and communion. Perhaps this is a threshold you would like to cross or feel you need to cross so that you can settle home for the holidays. You are welcome among us. You are welcome here. As a beloved community we will worship. As a beloved community we will experience God’s healing.

Prayer: O God, “we look for light, but find darkness, for brightness,  but walk in gloom. We grope like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in twilight. If I say, ‘Let only darkness cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you, the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. Blessed be your name, O God for ever. You reveal deep and mysterious things; you are light and in you is no darkness. Our darkness is passing away and already the true light is shining.”* Amen.

*”Canticle of Light and Darkness,” The United Methodist Hymnal 205.

Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Micah 6:1-9

This past Saturday I attended a district committee meeting and our group began with a devotion and time of thought centering by meditating on The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh. It was particularly timely and particularly powerful for this to be our centering image given the terror that waged in Paris and across our world in Lebanon, Syria, Japan, and Mexico last week.

If you are familiar with the piece, then you will recall the swirling formations in the sky that represent chaos, the eerily lit sun-moon off in the corner, and the darkened landscape of community tucked in a valley between mountains.

(They might be hills to other folks, but to this Florida girl, they are mountains!)

The leader of our meeting asked our group to consider the painting in silence and then to share what we saw. After a few moments I shared that at the center of the painting is a church, complete with stained glass windows and steeple, but it is completely dark. No light is emanating from it. The surrounding homes are all aglow, but the church is asleep.

For van Gogh this painting was his interpretation of what had happened (perhaps has happened) to the church – the light, the Spirit has gone out – and not in the way to flourish in the world – but as a commentary on how the Spirit of God has been extinguished. Therefore people did not (perhaps do not) turn to the church as an institution, as a faith community, as a people in times of sorrow or joy. The church had (has) lost its relevancy; so, while other structures and the people within them are alive and well, the church functions much like a tomb, a memorial of days long past.

What will return the church to relevancy? What will resurrect its hope? Our God and only our God.

And what will return the light and recall the Spirit to the church? The faithfulness of God’s people in doing what the prophet Micah challenges and charges t0 “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).

There is a powerful scene at the end of The Half Blood Prince in the Harry Potter film series. Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School had died and the pupils and faculty stand around his body in mourning. The Dark Mark floats in the sky, a symbol that the battle between good and evil continues and that evil has taken this round. Those who loved and are faithful to Dumbledore weep at his side and then one by one they spark a light at the end of their wands and lift them skyward. Each individual light  pales in comparison to the Dark Mark coursing through the sky, but together, their collective light obscures and then erases the Dark Mark.

Hope. The church has hope. We have hope. God is our hope. And we are invited to live that hope by accepting the invitation to be God’s vessel of hope to others in our very shadowy world.

A quote that I continue to see and hear following the continuing terror attacks that plague our world bears repeating here. It is from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Together, may we be God’s light, may we be God’s love.

Together.

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This week the Tuskawilla Community will be led in worship by our very own Rev. Kate Ling – and y’all – she has amazing worship planned! Thank you, Pastor Kate, for your partnership and mentorship in ministry. And I will see the Tuskawilla Community for the First Sunday of Advent.

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Prayer: “Lord, we pray not for tranquility, nor that our tribulations may cease; we pray for thy spirit and thy love, that thou grant us strength and grace to overcome adversity; through Jesus Christ. Amen.”*

*”For Overcoming Adversity,” The United Methodist Hymnal 531.

Mayhem and Foolishness: Recalculating

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 9:1-20

I grew up in a household where my mother always left a light on if she knew we were coming home after dark.  That way we could unlock the door, make our way safely into house, and unload whatever we were carrying without stepping on a feline friend or catching our feet on a piece of furniture.

Thanks Mom!  I appreciated that!

Sadly, I have yet to apply that practice to my own life.  If I arrive home and it’s already dark the front room of my house – which is so pleasant and inviting during daytime hours – becomes a void of doom!  I have to walk to the center of the house to find a light to turn on because our house was built in the 1950’s and there isn’t a central ceiling fixture in the front room.  Some days I traverse this expanse with ease.  Other days…it’s a wonder I am not caught up in traction in a local hospital with a broken arm, leg, or neck!

Everything changes when I come in contact with a light source.  I know with certainty the where the furniture is, where our four-legged children are, what my relation is to everything else.  I don’t have to guess.  I don’t have to wonder.

I know.

Until the time of Saul’s conversion he presented himself as one walking with sure and certain footing, but in reality he was stumbling and fumbling through life like me in my living room.  And then he experienced and came into contact with the light – the light of Christ.  He was illuminated.  His surroundings were illuminated.  He saw – truly saw.

God revealing Godself in a visible way is known in theological parlance as a theophany.  As we read Scripture we see many instances of theophany:

1. God walking with Adam and Eve in Eden

2. Jacob wrestling with God

3. Moses and the Burning Bush

4. The Incarnation of Christ

5. Jesus’ resurrection appearances

When God shows up in each of these stories, God shows up in a very dramatic way!  But that’s not God’s sole modus operandi.  We read in I Kings 19 that the prophet Elijah experienced all sorts of drama – a whirlwind, earthquake, and fire!  But God wasn’t found in any of these.  God was found in the still, small voice.

The learnings this offers:

1. Our God is uncontainable.  Our God can show up and reveal Godself however God determines.  When we attempt to limit how God reveals Godself or determine the time when God reveals Godself, we too narrowly focus our own vision and may miss what God is doing right before our eyes.

2. Theophanies, encounters with God, how persons come into relationship with God are not one-size-fits-all!  Yes, you may have a very dramatic story along the lines of Saul or Moses where God took your breath away…or knocked the breath out of you.  “I was headed for destruction.  God intervened in a mighty way and saved my life!”  Or your experience may be more intimate and measured and steady.  “I was raised in the faith; this is the life I have always known and I am thankful for it.”  Neither experience is better than the other.  Neither experience is more valid than the other.  Both are expressions of how our God meets us, heals us, claims us, transforms us.

God invites each and everyone of us into the light so that we can cease stumbling through life.  In God’s light there is purpose and direction.  In God’s light we can share in the clear vision of Saul, the vision that Christ gave to us in the Greatest Commandment and Great Commission.  In God’s light we can identify the moment of our initial theophany and then train our eyes to seek other places that God is revealing Godself in our lives to lead us further.

Prayer: “Open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me; place in my hands the wonderful key that shall unclasp and set me free.  Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see.  Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!”*  Amen.

* “Open My Eyes, That I May See,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 454.