Be Unmistakable – Gravity Youth 2017 Mission Trip Sunday

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Romans 12:9-21.

When I think of our Gravity Youth Students and all they accomplished on their Summer Mission Trip – the word that comes to my mind is courageous. Our students are incredibly courageous.

They trusted their parents and church leadership in selecting where they would serve this summer. They trusted us with their time – not only on the mission trip, but also in preparation for the mission trip on four training Saturdays and a slue of meetings. They trusted our driving through the greater Atlanta area!

Most importantly, they trusted God to be with them as they served in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. They served graciously and intentionally. They served without complaint or competition. They served with their whole hearts, minds, souls, and strengths. They served after the example of Christ. And their service represented our church family with excellence.

During the week our worship speaker challenged us each night to Be Unmistakable. We become unmistakable by

  1. Being Set A Part
  2. Being A Servant
  3. Being Brave
  4. Being Humble, and
  5. Being A Disciple

On the evening we learned about Being Brave the Rev. Carolyn Poling reminded us of Peter walking on the water to meet Jesus. What bravery – what courage! – it took him to get out of the boat to walk towards Jesus! And what greater bravery – what greater courage! – it took for him to call on Jesus’ name, to reach for Jesus’ hand as the person to rescue him when the waters rose.

Many look at this story of Peter as a loss of faith, but I believe it is a story of living real faith. We do not practice the life of faith in a bubble. We are not in a laboratory that is secure from outside influences. We live our faith in the real world that is full of situations and circumstances that are beyond our control yet impact us greatly. And when we begin to sink, we lit.er.a.ly. have a whole host of folks and deities we could call on for help. Whose name would be or is on the tip of your tongue? For whose hand would you reach for or are you reaching? What will you do when faced with moments that call for – that demand – courage?

Our students faced challenges and frustrations as they worked. They left creature comforts of home – beds, favorite foods, consistent air conditioning, and wifi – to step into the lives of homeowners that do not have much by society’s standards, but what they have is their world. They ached over the destituteness they witnesses, which fueled their desire to work all the more, to connect at deeper and deeper levels, and to complete the work placed before them so they would know upon returning to Casselberry, Winter Springs, Longwood, Fern Park, and Winter Park that the lives of their homeowners would be improved because of all the ways God worked through them that week.

My dear students, you completed your work – all of it. You accomplished your goals. You are so courageous; thank you for your trust and for being an example of courage to me and our church family.

I look forward to worshipping with our church family this weekend as we celebrate Youth Mission Trip Sunday. Our Gravity Youth will serve during the 11am Service and then share about their experiences at Dalton Area Project that evening at our Stockholders’ Dinner and Presentation. If you purchased stock in the mission trip this summer, please RSVP your attendance to the Stockholders’ Dinner by this Wednesday, August 9.

Prayer: “Let the King of my heart be the wind inside my sails, the anchor in my waves, oh he is my song. You are good, good. Oh. You are good, good. Oh. When the night is holding onto me, God is holding on. When the night is holding onto me, God is holding on.”* Amen.

*“King Of My Heart” by John Mark McMillan and Sarah McMillan. To listen to the full song, follow this link – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpqSbKYxd9Y

Rise Up!

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 7:11-17.

It is a struggle for me to watch the news somedays – all the contentious and gut-wrenching reports weigh heavily on my heart. That is why I am thankful when time is allotted in national broadcasts for stories that remind me – remind us – of God’s goodness in humanity.

Recently I saw a story of a young man from Texas named Justin. Daily he walks three miles in the stifling heat to work at a local taco restaurant. One day a fellow commuter, named Andy, pulled over and offered Justin a ride to work, and after their short time together, Andy was determined to make a difference in Justin’s life. Justin shared that he worked hard every day and saved all he could in the hopes of one day having a car of his very own. Inspired by Justin’s perseverance and dedication, Andy reached out to his friends and members of the community to see what could be done.

The owner of a local pizza shop placed a donation box for Justin near his cash register; within a week almost $5,500 had been given from the community towards a vehicle for Justin. Andy approached a local car dealership and they were able to work out an agreeable purchase price on a 2004 Camry along with free oil changes for two years and pre-paying Justin’s car insurance for one year.

Andy and others from the community met Justin at work one day during his lunch break and asked him to come outside, tacos in his hand. Andy shared with Justin the impression he (Justin) had left with him and to honor his hard work and dedication, presented Justin with his own car! Justin turned to see the Camry, and then handed off his tacos so he could sit in the driver’s seat! Justin then exited the car so that he could hug everyone present – twice. He was so overwhelmed by the community’s compassion for a young man that had a dream of driving to and from work rather than walking to work in the heat of the day and walking home in the shadows of night.

God desires this sort of compassion to rise up out of each of us for neighbors known and not yet fully known. With God all things are possible! Funds can be raised. Relationships can be healed. Visions can become realities. And the Kingdom can be built by hands led by Almighty God.

Join us this week in worship as we commission our Youth Mission Team for their week of service with Dalton Area Project in Dalton, Georgia. These youth, and their adult leaders, go to serve in compassion and carry the compassion of this congregation with them. I am grateful for the service and leadership they will offer in the coming week; may it serve as an example and inspiration for all of us to raise up our compassion for use in the further building of God’s Kingdom.

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. Still your children wander homeless; still the hungry cry for bread; still the captives long for freedom; still in grief we mourn our dead. As, O Lord, your deep compassion healed the sick and freed the soul, use the love your Spirit kindles still to save and make us whole.”* Amen.

*”Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service,” The United Methodist Hymnal 581.

 

Good News to the Poor

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 4:14-21

The summer after tenth grade I travelled to a rural area of Tennessee with my youth group to serve on a mission trip. My team’s project was to assess and repair the roof of a mobile home that was caving in on the resident, who was a very kind man and a decorated Veteran that became a paraplegic as a result of his years of service.

After arriving and meeting our resident our team climbed onto the roof to begin removing the worn shingles and felt paper so we could expose the decking. Upon completing our task our surprised group leader, Mr. Nixon, said, “This decking is fine…so something else is causing the problem.” We got off the roof and a few from our team went into the home to identify other potential sources of the roof problem. A few moments later the small group returned with their discovery. The home we were repairing was in fact two single mobile home units that had been joined together to create one larger home with a unified roof; however, the structure did not have a proper load-bearing wall to support the weight of the roof. Someone asked, “What’s wrong with the load-bearing wall?” Mr. Nixon replied, “The wall is not plumb.”

For a wall to be plumb means that it is perfectly vertical. The loadbearing in the center of this house, which connected the two single units into one unit and was intended to support the center seam of the roof, was out of plumb just enough that the weight of the roof was not equally distributed on the rafters or other supporting walls. This was the source and cause of the caving roof. Our team spent the next three days reconstructing that load-bearing wall to stabilize and redistribute the weight of the roof. The final day and a half we re-shingled the roof.

When we said our final goodbyes to our homeowner I remember him looking upon his roof with great pride. Though he was in a wheelchair, he stood so strong and tall as he admired his level and supported roof; everything that was out of plumb was finally in proper alignment.

In our Scripture for this week we read the plumb line of Jesus’ teaching. In quoting the Isaiah scroll Jesus reveals the ways in which he and others that are faithful to God will complete God’s work in the world. We, after the example of Jesus, are called to

  • Bring good news to the poor
  • Proclaim release to the captives
  • Proclaim recovery of sight to the blind
  • Let the oppressed go free, and
  • Proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Lk 4:18-19).

New Testament scholar Carol Lakey Hess says that in this passage “we learn what Jesus came to do” and “insofar as we measure our lives against this, we are following Jesus’ ministry.”* If our service and contributions towards God’s work in the world are measured by, guided by, and in accordance with this Scriptural plumb line, then we do not risk our efforts becoming skewed or out of sync with God’s desires for God’s children and the Kingdom.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, articulated the plumb line for God’s service in the world in three simple rules:

  1. Do no harm.
  2. Do good.
  3. Attend upon the ordinances of God.

Do no harm and Do good are wonderfully self-explanatory. Before proceeding with an act – in word or in deed – ask yourself, “Does this cause harm? Does this communicate bad news or good news? Does this reveal God’s kingdom or keep it hidden from view? Does this release someone from a burden or add a new one?” Before proceeding with an act, name the good that the act will do. “This action will give someone hope; this act will provide comfort; this act will promote forgiveness, which will strengthen a relationship.”

Attend upon the ordinances of God is not as self-explanatory. What Wesley prescribes here is to stay connected with God through prayer, praise, Sacraments, and service. When we stay connected with God – individually through personal devotion and communally as the Body of Christ – we are strengthened in our spirits and continually reminded of the plumb line for our service. When we neglect our relationship with God, we are more likely to fall out of alignment, which can cause our relationships with God and others to cave, much like the roof over that home in rural Tennessee.

God is our strong foundation. The plumb line provided in our Scripture passage for this week is what helps us build upon God’s foundation in the Kingdom. We should revisit this plumb line often so that we can celebrate God’s accomplishments and continue refining our service in alignment with God’s will. This is a combination of head, heart, and hand work. Sometimes it is hard work and at other times it is easy. This work is always fulfilling and by applying ourselves to it, we will stand strong and proud, admiring what God has accomplished through us and looking with joy towards whatever task God has next.

Prayer: “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing; he chastens and hastens his will to make known. The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing. Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own. Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining, ordaining, maintaining his kingdom divine; so from the beginning the fight we were winning; thou, Lord, wast at our side, all glory be thine.”** Amen.

*Feasting on the Word Year C Vol I 286.

** “We Gather Together,” The United Methodist Hymnal 131.

Rock of Ages: Living Stones

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Peter 2:4-10

This week’s Rock of Ages passage names the people of God, the disciples of Christ, the sisters and brothers in the Spirit “living stones”. That’s a curious title or classification because I do not think we often conceive of stones as living. They are inanimate. They can be sturdy, precious, porous, or soft. They are instrumental in construction projects. They are a pain to dig out of the ground to prepare it for a garden. They have the ability to stub your toe like no other.

But living? Do stones live?

As I thought about an example of living stones, my mind went immediately to volcanos – mighty and powerful living stones capable of spewing acrid ash and lava with temperatures nearing 2192 degrees Fahrenheit. Our history books detail the destruction wrought by volcanos – names like Vesuvius and St. Helen live in infamy. And yet they also create new land and regenerate land that was once unsuitable for agriculture to be vibrant and capable of producing crops.

In 2002 I served on a mission team in Costa Rica. Towards the end of our trip we hiked a mountain that was home to a monastery and the largest illumined steel cross in the country. Across the horizon from the monastery-mountain was what I would call a “stirring volcano.” Our guides told us that it had not erupted in some time, but it was not classified as dormant because it would have fits of spewing ash and rumbling the near by ground. As a result, the families that called the volcano home – either living on its side or at its base – were very attuned to its activity and ready to respond at any given moment.

I think the image of a volcano is an appropriate image for the church – and more specifically – the image of a stirring and active volcano. Churches have wonderful “volcano” moments during certain seasons of the year – Christmas and Easter especially – and also for Tuskawilla when our little orange friends come to visit. But what about the other seasons in the year? What about the other 46 weeks?

Presently we are in the height of Ordinary Time – the season of the church year that spans the time between Pentecost and the beginning of Advent. Many people hear the word ordinary and think “nothing special.” But this time of the Christian year is so special in that it grants us space to put into practice everything we have learned about the coming, birth, baptism, life, teaching, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, and victorious return of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior because something between his coming and his victorious return stirred us so much that we committed our lives to him.

We remain in that commitment with him because his enduring presence – the Holy Spirit – continues to stir up  and reinvigorate that commitment. And then the months between Pentecost and Advent set in…and the “activity” in the Christian Year appears to slow down because we are not moving from season to season to season as we do from Advent to Christmas to Epiphany… Maybe our reactivity to God’s stirring becomes slower. Maybe we hit the snooze button on the stirring…and if we do that enough, we become dormant.

God gave us life and calls us to life. God made and makes us living stones. God’s Spirit within each of us is alive and well and wants to and does move us into activity. We are not being true to our identity as living stones if we are dormant. And if we are being true to our identity as living stones, then the effects would be felt not only by those who are connected together as this volcano of faith but also by those in our surrounding community. Our action should prompt, generate, lead, and sustain positive and affirming reactions in our community.

What is God stirring in you? What signs of God’s life and awaken-ness are you displaying to your and our neighbors? How will you make this week during Ordinary Time extraordinary?

Prayer: “Spirit of promise, Spirit of unity, we thank you that you are also the Spirit of renewal. Renew in the whole Church that passionate desire for the coming of your kingdom which will unite all Christians in one mission to the world. May we all grow up together into him who is our head, the Savior of the world. Amen.”*

*”For The Church,” The United Methodist Book of Worship 503.

Take The Risk

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 25:14-30

This Sunday the Tuskawilla Family will be led in worship by our Youth Mission Team and a special youth-young adult praise team! They will be sharing stories from their experiences and adventures throughout The Glades as we partnered with the wonderful folks at First UMC Pahokee in a week of serving God and neighbor. You already know this – but I will remind you again – the TUMC Youth are PHENOMENAL young people. They want to share with you about their trip because you made their trip possible through your support of their rummage sale (donations and/or purchases), talent show (acts and/or admissions), prayers, smiles, and encouragement along the way. Thank you, Tuskawilla Family, for your commitment to the children and youth of our church. Join us this Sunday as we celebrate God’s accomplishments through their hands, feet, and hearts!

The theme Scripture passage for the Youth Mission Trip was Matthew’s version of the Parable of the Talents. This parable also appears in Luke’s Gospel, but not in Mark’s Gospel, which tells us that Matthew and Luke received this teaching of Jesus from a shared source. Biblical scholarship widely identifies this source as Q – which is short for Quelle the German word meaning source.

When we compare the two tellings of this parable they follow a similar pattern: a landowner entrusted funds to employees to steward and multiply while he was away. In each telling one employee presents a sizable gain on the landowner’s investment, another employee presents a fair gain on the landowner’s investment, and the third employee returns the investment that was entrusted with no gain at all. “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been trustworthy with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things!” to the two that gained on the landowner’s investment; “throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!” to the one that gained nothing on the landowner’s investment.

Two of the employees took risks to bring a return on the landowner’s investment. They had to move beyond themselves, beyond their familiar environments, and beyond their usual activities. Their risk taking yielded a big return – something that would not be possible if they decided – like the unfruitful employee – to stay within their comfort zones.

While on the mission trip the Tuskawilla Youth took risks all over the place. They left their homes, their families, their daily routines, THEIR ELECTRONICS and entered into relationship with a new community, in a new place, with a whole new level of heat and humidity. God invested talents in each of these students – through their creation, through their families, and through our church family that they, in turn, invested into The Glades. The returns that our youth yielded on God’s investment cannot be numbered. They were so generous in their spirit, compassion, and service. I am so very proud of them and know that this sort of risk taking for God and God’s Kingdom will continue to increase.

Well done, good and faithful youth servants of Tuskawilla UMC. We cannot wait to celebrate your service and Kingdom building on Sunday!

Prayer: “Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true. With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living, sanctuary for you.”* Amen.

*”Sanctuary,” The Faith We Sing 2164.