Longing for Spring: Reports from the Horizon

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Philippians 2:1-13

My morning routine follows thusly: (1) Wake up before the alarm sounds (2) Listen to my pups yawn and stir (3) Scroll through the day’s headlines (4) Pray.

The first headline I saw this morning? Reports of another earthquake in Nepal. Once again the aching feelings of fear and loss coursed through my heart. I shared the news with Andrew and he lamented how the Nepali people cannot seem to catch a break. One of my yoga instructors is currently in Nepal helping with relief efforts. My thoughts immediately went to Beth and prayers ascended for her safety. She was assisting with a surgery consultation when the earthquake struck (I know – yoga instructor and certified firefighter/paramedic with specialized training in rural and wilderness medicine – she’s amazing!). She and her team are okay. They will continue to serve in the mounting devastation. And they serve with hope.

Many of you have asked if we have an update on our driver Ramesh. We do not. Please continue to pray for him, his family, and all of the beautiful Nepali people.

Halfway through our trip Andrew and I took a bus ride to Pokhara, which is in Western Nepal – about 200km (or 125mi) from Kathmandu. It should be said that when Andrew and I drive an-y-where we get in the car and do not stop till we are out of gas. Well, that is not how Nepali’s travel. They travel in the posture of the Hobbits from Lord of the Rings. They stop for first breakfast, and second breakfast, and a bathroom break, and gas, and eight hours later you arrive at your destination. Oh Nepali bus rides…

Pokhara is home to one of Nepal’s largest fresh water lakes – Phewa Lake – and is a great look out point to view the Annapurna range of the Himalayas. We were hopeful in traveling to Pokhara that we would actually see the Himalayas. The first day in Pokhara was dismal…cloudy and rainy…and no mountains to be seen. We spent most of the day in a trekking hotel sending wishes heavenward that the clouds would break just for a few moments.

Andrew splurged on our room in Pokhara…$15 each night for a room with a view…and as I looked out the windows of our room toward the horizon I spied this.

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Sitting up on a “grassy hill” overlooking Phewa Lake is a World Peace Pagoda. This pagoda was built under the direction of Nichidatsu Fujii, a Buddhist monk from Japan. He was greatly inspired after meeting Mahatma Ghandi in 1931 and decided then to devote his life to promoting ahimsa, a Sanskrit word meaning non-violence. In 1947 he began constructing World Peace Pagodas around the world. His hope was that these pagodas would serve as symbols to inspire peace and be places where people of all races and creeds could unite in presence and heart in seeking world peace.

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In the style of traditional Buddhist stupas this peace pagoda has four images of the Buddha facing the four cardinal directions. It is a solid structure.  Patrons and guests of the pagoda are not meant to go inside of it; they are invited to prayerfully walk around the stupa in a clockwise path. While upon this elevated space patrons and guests can look out across the horizon, admire its beauty, give thanks to their Creator, and send prayers and thoughts of peace to all the patrons of the world.

In our Scripture lesson for this week Paul encourages us to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (Phil 2:3-4). When we turn our attention to the interests of others we become other-focused rather than self-focused. The World Peace Pagoda was built in Nepal not for people to look inside it but for people to stand around it and look into the world. This structure invites people to look not to themselves but to others with hopes for peace, growth, flourishing, and life.

I cannot think of an image more fitting for the Nepali people this day and for all of God’s people everywhere. When we look towards the horizons in our lives, what do we see? Do we see devastation or do we see delight? Or do we choose not to see the devastation so that we only see the delight? To flourish as Christ’s Body on earth, to strengthen God’s coming Kingdom we must come alongside our neighbors in their time of need. We must add our hands, hearts, and voices to God’s mighty work of transformation from destruction to delight.

Our God is a life-giving God. We are God’s children. We must add our hands, hearts, and voices to God’s mighty work of transformation. We must do it today.

Prayer: “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.”* Amen.

*The Prayer of St. Francis.

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Longing for Spring: Spring

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 5:12-16

If you were raised in Florida – or have spent a significant amount of time here – you know that our state is a wee bit confused about the seasons. Some would argue that we only have two seasons: hot and more hot, but that is not so! We experience all four seasons in Florida…three are just very brief in light of the main season of Summer.

Our seasons are also out of order. In my experience we have Summer – Winter – Fall – Spring and sometimes Summer charges in before we even have the benefit of experiencing all of Spring. I thought that would be the case this year. The last bit of Fall concluded a few days before Holy Week began. We made our way towards the cross as the last few dry leaves made their way to the ground. New growth pushed forth. The vibrancy of green was amazing. I sat at the picnic table on the TUMC Bean and wondered at the beauty of the green on this sweet gum tree shading our parking lot. What a vision of Spring.

And then someone cranked up the heat. Spring felt like only a brief memory. Summer arrived and when Summer arrives so early we know it will be a sweltering one. That’s what has made these last few days a true gift. We received a break from the heat and retreated back to the coolness and refreshment of Spring. It is not so much a break that it feels like Winter again; we are not retreating for hibernation. We are retreating for refreshment, growth, and strengthening so when the temperatures indicate Summer has arrived in full force (and will stay so till around December 2…) we will be able to handle the heat. We will be able to stay in the proverbial kitchen. We will be conditioned. And we will continue.

In our Scripture text for this week we read “more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women” (Acts 5:14). This was a time of Spring for the Early Church. The first bud of the resurrection is Jesus and numerous others followed his leading. In Jesus and through his disciples the people experienced profound healing and teaching that changed their lives. These experiences anchored their faith. These experiences drew them one to another and as a community to their Lord. There was great excitement – excitement they could not contain. So they told others. They brought others from their homes to experience it for themselves. They believed in what was happening. They believed it would change the world. And they wanted to be apart of it.

In the Wellspring Class this week we discussed the nature and mission of the church – church universal and church United Methodist specific. United Methodists believe that the church is first and foremost a worshipping community and the church is the greatest arena for disciple-making to occur. The church is where disciples are made so that we then will go into the world and make disciples. And friends, we have to believe that this is what God wants for us – for Tuskawilla – for Christ’s Body – for Christ’s bride, the Church.

In his letter to the Romans Paul boldly questioned, “If God is for us, who is against us” (Rom 8:31)? The answer is “no one and no thing.” God is for us. And God wants us to experience this Spring, this renewal, this great addition of believers in the Lord to the present believers in the Lord, and together that they would experience a deepening of their faith in the Lord. Belief that God has this desire for us unites us one to another and unites us in the Lord. And this belief sustains us when the heat gets turned up – and I am not just talking about the temperature outside. This belief sustains us when we face temptation, trial, suffering, grief, addiction, loss, and death. This belief helps us spring or bounce back in response to the pressures and burdens of this life. This belief shelters us as we experience the winters in our faith.

God is for us. I cannot say it enough. God is for us! And God was us to experience this Spring.

Holy God, lead us in being your church, in serving our neighbors, and welcoming great numbers of the faithful to your family. Help us believe and through us bring about your mercy, grace and peace.

Prayer: “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father; there is no shadow of turning with thee; thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not; as thou hast been, thou forever wilt be. Summer and winter and spring-time and harvest, sun, moon, and stars in their courses above join with all nature in manifold witness to thy great faithfulness, mercy and love. Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”* Amen.

*”Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” The United Methodist Hymnal 140.

Longing for Spring: What New Methodists Want

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 10:1-12

Our Scripture text for this week has the image of hospitality as a primary focal point. The seventy – who are commissioned by Jesus to take his Good News through and to all the nations – will know that their message is received and accepted in households if they receive hospitality from the household. This hospitality would take the form of welcoming them indoors, providing them with food and water, inviting them to rest their weary feet from their travels. “Peace to this house!” will be the seventy’s salutation and if peace – in the form of hospitality is not given – the seventy are to continue on their way (10:5). Their message remains consistent, “The Kingdom of God is near” (10:11). Even if they do not benefit from hospitality, their message remains hospitable. “Prepare, my fellow citizens of earth. God’s Kingdom is coming. And you are invited to be a part of it.”

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Temples outside of Mother Theresa’s home in Kathmandu, Nepal. Her home is now used as a hospital, hospice, and care center of aging Nepalis. Mother Theresa understood Christ’s lesson of hospitality and peace so well. She is an example for us all. 

My heart continues to be heavy in the wake of the reports coming out of Nepal. I ache for the lives lost, for the historic and holy sites damaged and/or destroyed, and for the delay in delivering desperately needed relief supplies due to continued aftershocks and impassable roadways.

The Nepali people have a beautiful love for life and an incredible, innate sense of hospitality for their neighbors old and new.   Nepalis take every occasion to celebrate. In fact, my friends who worked in the Embassy said that recently the Embassy had to change their “paid vacation day” calendar, which typically follows not only American paid vacation days, but also the governmental and religious holy days recognized within that nation, because there are many weeks that for Nepalis they would not work at all! There was too much celebrating to be done!

When Nepalis celebrate, everyone is invited to the party. During our trip we had the opportunity to celebrate Holi, a Hindu spring festival celebrating color and love. At a Holi celebration there is music, dancing, delicious food and conversation. The day typically ends with a colored-dye water fight. The powered dyes are brightly colored and when mixed with water become even more vibrant…so vibrant that they stain your skin for the next few days.

I safely observed this colored-dye fight from afar. We celebrated Holi on the side of a mountain, which was at an elevation of just under 9000ft…and the wind was blowing…and it was 65ish degrees. I reckon if I had joined the fight I would have become a Holi popsicle!

The family that invited us to their Holi celebration gifted us with incredible hospitality. For that afternoon, their home was our home and we were to be at home with them. We talked about every topic imaginable: politics: Nepali and American; economics: Nepali and American; cricket; the 2016 Olympics; religion; and that women can be ministers. The conversations were incredibly diverse in opinions, in life experiences, in knowledge base, and there was peace. We came together. We shared our hearts. We dialogued about our passions and our dreams. We became community and there was peace.

I remember walking down the mountain and turning to look back up to the home where we celebrated Holi and thinking, “Wow, what a sanctuary. This experience is holy. I am being made more holy because of it.”

As reports continue to come out of Nepal I hope I will learn about the safety of this family and the safety of our driver, Ramesh, and his family. I hope that reports of aftershocks cease because the ground stills. I hope that relief efforts are swift and that healing begins sooner rather than later so that the Nepali people can return to their love for and celebration of life.

There are many relief agencies receiving financial contributions at this time to help with the Nepali disaster recovery. I would once again lift up UMCOR – the United Methodist Committee on Relief – as one of these agencies. UMCOR operates on the principle that for every dollar given for relief efforts 100% of that dollar is spent in relief efforts. Nothing is taken out of that dollar for administrative fees or organizational overhead. If you would like to make a gift to UMCOR to help our brothers and sisters in Nepal, you may do so by visiting www.umcor.org, select the DONATE button in the top right corner, and select International Disaster Response. You may also give a contribution to Tuskawilla UMC and mark “UMCOR” on the memo and we will send in your support on behalf of the church.

The Nepali people are truly a people of peace. Our prayerful and financial support will greatly help them reestablish their peace of mind and peace in their homeland. The peace we give is rooted in the peace of Christ and it brings all measures of healing.

Prayer: “Lord, you give the great commission: Heal the sick and preach the word. Lest the church neglect its mission, and the gospel go unheard, help us witness to your purpose with renewed integrity. With the Spirit’s gifts empower us for the work of ministry. Lord, you call us to your service: In my name baptize and teach. That the world may trust your promise, life abundant meant for each, give us all new fervor, draw us closer in community. With the Spirit’s gifts empower us for the work of ministry.”* Amen.

*”Lord, You Give the Great Commission” The United Methodist Hymnal 584.

Longing For Spring: Protestant Models of Intentional Community

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 61:1-11

This week I have had the incredible privilege to attend the Faith Forward Conference in Chicago.

Tangent – someone this week wanted to tell Illinois that it is Spring…this Florida girl wanted to tell Illinois that it is Summer!

Faith Forward focuses on re-imagining children and youth ministry through supporting efforts to reclaim these age-segmented and age-sequestered ministries back into the entire Body of Christ. Studies continue to show that our children and youth learn how to do this thing called faith in this thing called life by practicing it alongside loved ones and ones that love them in the same space. This does not mean that we need to abandon all age-level ministries; it does mean that the church needs to be intentional in crafting faith interactions and experiences that are inclusive of and will resonate with all God’s children, whether they are learning or teaching or learning through teaching.

Faith Forward believes this methodology of intentional teaching, learning, and faithing communities will lead to the renewal of the church. I believe this, too. This conference has so affirmed the work TUMC has begun and will continue through the help of our children and youth ministries to further integrate our children and youth into the life of the church through teaching, service, community, and prayer. And let’s face it, we all smile a bit brighter when we see children and youth in worshipping, serving, and praying with us – not because they are cute or because they say the darnedest things. We smile brighter because in our children and youth we see the church continuing.

Again and again we hear “children are the future of the church”. Wrong folks. Children are the present. How can we help them explore and craft and articulate their future with Christ? By being with them. By inviting them to be with us. By modeling the faith we love. By answering honestly the questions they ask – even if the answer is “I don’t know.” And if the answer is “I don’t know,” why not include with it, “but let’s find the answer together.”

This is the good news, friends. God has called us – all of us – young, old, folks of every hue, folks of every ability, folks of every education level, folks of every life experience, folks who wear stilettos, folks who wear flats, and folks who smile or even eye roll when someone else wears stilettos. Like Isaiah we are called “to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of the vengeance of God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion – to give them a garland instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit” (Isa 61:1-3). By attending to this work, we will be renewed, our youth “will be renewed like the eagles,” and our church will be renewed.

I am committed to moving our faith forward. Not just for the sake of the future, but for the sake of the present.

Prayer: “O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise, the glories of my God and King, the triumphs of his grace! My gracious Master and my God assist me to proclaim and spread through all the earth abroad the honors of thy name. He speaks; and, listening to his voice, new life the dead receive, the mournful broken hearts rejoice. The humble poor believe.”* Amen.

*”O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 57.

Longing for Spring: Early Stories of Intentional Community and Church Renewal

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 29:11-13

Jeremiah 29:11 is quoted prolifically throughout graduation season. It is a verse that offers comfort and hope as young people venture forward having completed one stage of life and transition to the next. It is interesting that this verse would serve as a sort of mantra for hope and expectation for the future because of the context in which it was originally given.

Hope was probably one of the last thoughts on the minds of God’s people in Babylon. They were in exile and were reluctant to see beyond their own circumstance. They wondered how they would “sing the Lord’s songs in a strange land” (Ps 137:4)? Would they ever return home? What would be waiting for them there if and when they did?

God through Jeremiah begins to speak words of hope about coming home. Home was not determined by place or possession. Home was and is where God is. While aliens in Babylon God says, “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (29:5-7). “Take up residence,” God says. “Establish yourselves because we will be here for a while.”

And then we arrive at our Scripture text for this week. “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (29:11). God knows the plans and God is already bringing about the future in the present. Even in exile God poured out blessings instead of curses. Yes, God’s people were in a strange place, but that alone was their burden. They were not without a future. They were not without a way forward. They are not without a home. They are not without their God.

God’s future for God’s people continued in Babylon. For so long God’s people thought that their God was contained within the boundaries of the Promised Land; their faith was intimately connected to their geographic location. Through this time of exile God’s people learned that our God is not landlocked. Our God is present everywhere in every moment in every circumstance. In all things God seeks our welfare – in sickness and in health, in feast and in famine, in the known and the unknown – God seeks our welfare. Our God is bringing about good things even when we cannot see them, especially when we cannot see them.

I think we often tell ourselves “If I can just get beyond (this), then circumstances or the future will be different.” I think this mentality is limiting because it is so I/me centric. This mentality does not leave much room for recognition of what God is already doing. Am I aware of how God is creating space for me rest, providing strength for me to continue working, offering wisdom as I write and study and craft? Am I so caught up in feeling distracted or separated or even in exile from the life I think I should be living that I miss the blessings God is pouring out right in front of me?

God is seeking my welfare. God has a plan and a future. And I do not have to wait to cross some threshold or check some task off the list to receive that blessings of that plan and future. God’s blessings are present now – even if I, even if we – feel like we are in a strange land. Wherever we are, whenever we are, we have hope and we are home with our God.

Holy God, open our eyes that we may see, open our ears that we may hear, open our hearts that we may receive. Your mercies are new and bountiful each and every day.

Prayer: “There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody; there’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me. From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”* Amen.

*”Hymn of Promise,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 707.

Longing For Spring: Our Stories

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 11:27-12:4

In our text for this week we first hear of the covenant God makes with Abram. God promises Abram property and progeny – all the land he can see and more children than the stars he can count. God makes this promise and God delivers.

We like to see the delivery or fruit of promises. What we are told awaits us is even sweeter when it is in our grasp. The great fulfilled promise of the Easter season is the resurrection of Jesus. Yet, there are times when the promises are standing right in front of us and we still doubt. Our belief still waivers. Consider Thomas. The Fourth Gospel writes,

“But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’ A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe’” (Jn 20:24-29).

To trust God’s promises seems to require so much faith…and yet Jesus tells us that with the faith of a mustard seed we can move mountains.

A most holy time offered in each of our healing services at TUMC is the time when folks are invited forward for prayers and anointing. I am so humbled by the persons that come forward for prayer. I so admire their courage to share their personal requests with me. There was a common theme through many of the requests I heard. I heard requests for relief from grief, sorrow, and pain, but what really caught my attention were the requests for the strengthening of faith.

“Help me to be the kind of Christian that would make my parent proud of me.”

“Help me to hand hardships over to God and not pick them back up again.”

“Help me to trust. Help me to believe.”

Help my faith so I may fully receive God’s promises and recognize the ones that are already in my life.

I grew up singing “Standing on the Promises” – a hymn about how God’s support never falters. And that’s the funny thing about support – about foundations – most of the time we do not see them, but we trust they are there. Just for a moment feel your body supported by your feet or the chair on which you are sitting. Now become aware of the floor supporting your feet or the chair. Now become aware of the earth supporting the floor. And finally become aware that it is our God who is supporting it all.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. God created all that was, is, and ever will be. God supports it all. God supports us. From the beginning of time God made this promise. This promise is blooming everywhere we turn. We do not have to doubt, and God still loves us when we do. I believe as our trust and faith grow so does our recognition of God’s promises in our lives – promises we have been longing to receive for what seems like eons and other promises we did not know we needed but are so thankful to have.

Our God is so good. God’s promises are good. And because of our God and God’s promises, we are good.

Prayer: “Standing on the promises that cannot fail, when the howling storms of doubt and fear assail, by the living Word of God I shall prevail, standing on the promises of God. Standing, standing, standing on the promises of God my Savior; standing, standing, I’m standing on the promises of God.”* Amen.

*”Standing on the Promises,” The United Methodist Hymnal 374.