From Wreck to Restoration: God Invites Us Into The New Covenant

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 31:27-34.

We conclude our sermon series From Wreck to Restoration this Sunday with God Invites Us Into The New Covenant. I preached this Scripture passage for my ordination sermon; I vowed after studying this passage extensively and preparing this passage for preaching for over four months that I would never again preach this passage.

Never say “never,” right?

I selected this text for my ordination sermon because I felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit guiding me towards it. I attempted to work on one of the other recommended texts and God continued to draw my heart back to this declaration of the new covenant. There is such grace in this text. There is such love and hope. We will know the Lord. God will forgive our wrongdoings and never again remember our sins.

We all have moments in our lives that we would rather not to remember – how we hurt someone we loved, how we walked away instead of standing up, how we said something we did not mean or remained silent when our words would have made all the difference, how we did harm in some way instead of doing good, how we experienced deep suffering and agony. I would like to permanently forget those moments and some days I think I have…until something happens that reminds me of my wrongdoings and the weight of my past actions comes crashing down all over again.

In those moments I feel truly wrecked, which leads me to question – am I able to be made whole, am I able to be forgiven, am I even worth it?

The answer to those questions is yes. What may be unexpected is that I did not have to come to that answer on my own. I received that answer from God through God’s invitational love and mercy. I believe we all receive that answer from God through God’s invitational love and mercy.

In full knowledge of our sin, God invites us into the new covenant. God forgives and remembers no more. God invites us to know God and to be fully known by God. When we answer God’s invitation and live into the new covenant, God’s Law will be written on our hearts. Rather than something learned, God’s instruction will be innate, as near to us as our breath, and that which guides the pulse of our lives.

This past week I had the privilege to hear two separate testimonies of restoration in the same setting. Two persons both shared their struggles with clinical depression, of feeling hopeless, and of desperately wanting to feel anything at all. They spoke of the loneliness and the shame. They spoke of considering every possible means of finding relief…

Those two people – two of my friends – have experienced and continue to experience God’s restoration. I am privileged to know them and to watch them offer their talents in the service of God and others. I am privileged to learn from them and to laugh with them. I consider it a great privilege to look at their lives – to look at them – and see the evidence of God saying yes

Yes, my child, you are forgiven.

Yes, my child, you are made whole.

Yes, my child, you are worth it. 

God says yes to us and welcomes us to life in the new covenant. However we are wrecked, God welcomes us to restoration in him. Our saying “yes” to God may happen in an instant. It may happen over a lifetime. It may be once and for all. It may be said again and again. I think of utmost importance is that we say “yes” to God’s invitation into the new covenant and that our lives are the proof of our saying “yes.”

Prayer:”I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene, and wonder how he could love me, a sinner, condemned, unclean. He took my sins and my sorrows, he made them his very own; he bore the burden to Calvary, and suffered and died alone. How marvelous! How wonderful! And my song shall ever be: How marvelous! How wonderful is my Savior’s love for me!”

*”I Stand Amazed in the Presence,” The United Methodist Hymnal 371.

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Community Example

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Timothy 1:12-17.

“Hi, folks…what seems to be going on?”

An innocent, calm question, until it is asked by a sheriff deputy.

“My wife’s the pastor!” Andrew said. “Hi, my name is Sarah. What brings you by this evening?”

“I am on patrol and I saw you turn into the church driveway. I thought I would give you a couple of minutes, in case you were in the sheds, and then I would come and find you in the act.”

“Oh, well we were just picking up mail from the office and disposing of some smelly trash from the parsonage. I appreciate you coming to check on us. And I appreciate you looking out for the security of our church.”

Lessons learned:

  1. We are blessed with great first responders and law enforcement in Seminole County.
  2. Maybe I shouldn’t pick up mail from the office at 10:24pm.

“Hi, folks…what seems to be going on?” If this question were asked of Paul in his first letter to Timothy, I believe Paul would say with joy that the “foremost” of sinners had been shown mercy and therefore he will show and share mercy in all times, in all circumstances, with all people (1:15). Though Paul was raised in “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” climate, Christ’s mercy molded him into a person that “turned the other cheek” (Mt 5:38-39). Through the example of Paul we learn that if Christ could and did shepherd Paul through such an incredible transformation, then Christ can and will shepherd incredible transformation in our community.

Christ can and will shepherd incredible transformation in us.

When I consider “what seems to be going on” at Tuskawilla, I am so pleased by the balance of our ministry and witness. We understand and continue growing in our understanding that as we do for our church family, so we are called to do for our surrounding community. And what we do for our surrounding community we do in the spirit as if we are serving our church family. This sort of behavior and understanding of needful, equivalent behavior is not always common in churches. Some congregations “like who we like” and others…oh well. Not so at Tuskawilla. Not so with this church family. I truly believe we act the way we do in response to our having experienced Christ’s mercy as individuals and as a congregation. As we have received, so we are led to give, which is in keeping with the teaching of Christ, “for the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Lk 6:38c).

If you were caught in the act of being a Christ follower, if someone happened upon you engaging in Kingdom work and asked “Hi, folks…what seems to be going on?” what would you be found doing? How would you respond to the question? And what story would your response witness about your life in God’s Kingdom?

Prayer: “Immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes, most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days, almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise. To all, life thou livest, to both great and small; in all life thou livest, the true life of all; we blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree, and wither and perish, but naught changeth thee.”* Amen.

*”Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise,” The United Methodist Hymnal 103.

 

PictureLent ~ Replace

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Galatians 2:19-21

Every active United Methodist clergy person in the East Central District of our Annual Conference (and some other districts, too) participates in a Clergy Peer Group. These groups meet monthly September through April. We meet for the purposes of walking alongside one another in our ministry offering support, guidance and companionship. We also study a book each semester. This semester we are reading Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home by Richard Foster. This text explores the “spiritual movements of prayer” and “helps [readers] understand, experience, and practice the many forms of prayer.”*

One of the chapters I read recently describes Unceasing Prayer. Foster quotes Kallistos, a Byzantine spiritual writer, when defining this sort of prayer: “Unceasing prayer consists in an unceasing invocation of the name of God.”** Foster then quotes St. Francis saying, “[Unceasing prayer] seemed not so much a [human] praying as prayer itself made [human].”**

The Apostle Paul encourages us in I Thessalonians 5:17 to “Pray without ceasing,” but how exactly is that done? It is accomplished with mindfulness and with practice. Foster observes that Christians over the centuries desiring to live into this direction from Paul have settled on what is called aspiratory prayer or breath prayer. Writes Foster, “The idea [of breath prayer] has its roots in the Psalms, where a repeated phrase reminds us of an entire Psalm, for example, O Lord, you have searched me and known me (Ps 139:1). As a result, the concept arose of a short, simple prayer of petition that can be spoken in one breath.”***

The most famous of the breath prayers is the Jesus Prayer: Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. It is a prayer that can be inhaled and exhaled on a single breath. It is a prayer that can be repeated again and again in its entirety or in pieces. I like to pray the prayer in its entirety and then continue the prayer by removing phrases one at a time:

Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.

Jesus Christ, Son of God.

Jesus Christ.

I find that when I engage prayers like this one I become calmer and I become more attentive, not to my surroundings, but to God. I am focused. I am primed to receive.

This week our #PictureLent theme is Replace. As we journey deeper into the season of Lent we become more aware of what awaits us and awaits our Christ. We know that Good Friday is coming…but even more importantly, Easter is coming. On the cross Jesus replaced humanity; he took our place. He took our punishment for sin. He took our shame. He took our death and defeated it.

Mindful of what is still to come in the Lenten season – not only spiritually in my walk with Christ, but also schedually (yes, schedually) in the life of the church – I am in need of more moments of quiet and centering and reflection. I often spend my devotional time listening to music and this past week I was introduced to “Here’s My Heart” by I Am They. This song is a breath prayer repeating again and again “Here’s my heart, Lord. Speak what is true.” This song petitions God to speak into our inner most beings the heavenly truth that can and will replace the lies, fears, and doubts that have come to dwell within us.

I am guilty – at times – when praying the Jesus Prayer of focusing on the word sinner. I believe – I am convicted – that we need to recognize and take responsibility for our sins. But we are not the sins. We are ones who receive the truth of mercy. God’s mercy reminds us of our sacred worth. God’s mercy reminds us that we are made in God’s image. God’s mercy nurtures us daily in activities and decisions that lead us in recovering the image in which we are made. God’s mercy plants the seeds that move from our head to our heart. God’s mercy breeds assurance, which opens us further.

Which leads me again in my offering: Here’s my heart, Lord. Speak what is true.

Speak what is true.

Prayer: “What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul, what wondrous love is this, O my soul! What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul, to bear the dreadful curse for my soul. What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul, what wondrous love is this, O my soul! What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of life to lay aside his crown for my soul, for my soul, to lay aside his crown for my soul.”**** Amen.

* from the Prayer dustcover

** Prayer 119.

*** Prayer 122.

**** “What Wondrous Love Is This,” The United Methodist Church 292.

New Creation: Treasure In Clay Jars

[My apologies, The Sunday Stiletto Readers!  It has been a crazy busy week so I am very much delayed in posting this blog.  I hope you enjoy and look forward to the next posting in a few days!  Blessings!]

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Corinthians 4:5-12

Some of my fondest memories growing up are from the time I spent in United Methodist Youth Fellowship.  While I was in high school I had the privilege of serving in the Youth Praise Band – I strummed the bass, sang, and dabbled a little in guitar.  One of the first songs I learned to play was Trading My Sorrows by Darrell Evans.

The bridge of Trading My Sorrows sings and elaborates upon a very important part of this week’s Scripture passage from II Corinthians 4 – “I’m pressed, but not crushed; persecuted, not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  I’m blessed beyond the curse for His promise will endure and his joy is gonna be my strength.  Though the sorrow may last for the night His joy comes in the morning!”  The tempo and drum beat would drive through the first two sentences, drop out around “though the sorrow may last for the night,” and then build again to ring in God’s joy that arrives at dawn.  This section was always my favorite.  I couldn’t help but smile when I sang it.  I couldn’t help but revel in the assurance of God’s promise.

The rest of Evans’ song is profound as well.  The verse sings, “I’m trading my sorrows.  I’m trading my pain.  I’m laying them down for the joy of The Lord.  I’m trading my sickness.  I’m trading my shame.  I’m laying them down for the joy of The Lord.”  The chorus affirms “Yes Lord!” I will do these things – I will lay them down and claim your joy.

In studying this week’s passage and reflecting on this song, I am aware that this passage speaks about and song sings about sufferings.  Sorrows, pain, sickness, and shame are sufferings and cause sufferings in this life.  Both admit that life is not a bed of roses.  Both recognize that there are thorns (if you will allow the metaphor) and, at times, those thorns cut deep.  Suffering is part of the human condition.  For people of faith, suffering is also part of our faith experience.  Having faith does not make us immune from suffering.  If anything having faith probably leads us to more questions about suffering – leads us to ask why.

Asking why is not a fissure in our faith.  Asking why does not challenge or weaken our faith.  I think asking why is a sign of faith – a sign of faith seeking understanding within our relationship with God.

As Christians we can ask why sufferings occur.  The answer is because there is evil in the world.  God did not create the evil.  God is not the cause of the evil.  I believe much of the evil that causes the suffering we experience is the result of individuals or systems of individuals abusing God’s good gift of free will.  So what do we do about our suffering?  Or more to the root, what do we do about the evil?  We respond to it with compassion and charity.  We transform it with justice and accountability.  We imbue it with empathy, love, and hope.

My biggest challenge is to lay down sufferings.  When I am asked about my day, more often than not, I quickly jump to my sorrows.  I carry sorrows for such a long time.  Doing so deprives me of joy and shields me from the beauty of God’s mercies that rise each morning with the sun.

I need to lay down my sufferings.  I need to claim God’s joy.

Yes, Lord.

Prayer: “Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine with ten thousand beside.  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.