Parable of the Treasure

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:44.

One day while in Nepal (it still stuns me that I am able to say that phrase!) Andrew and I decided to visit Nagarcot, which is in the western-most end of the Everest region. We called our faithful driver, Ramesh, and set out early for the 40 kilometer journey from Kathmandu.

It was truly incredible to watch the landscape change as we ascended out of the bowl of the Kathmandu valley. Geographically, Kathmandu is in a valley; it is in a physical dip in the landscape between the mountains that sits gingerly atop an active fault line. But the lusciousness that the word “valley” evokes is hard to find amongst all the construction and industry. In a very real way, one must leave the valley to find the valley.

The farther we drove, the more the air quality improved. Trash disappeared, or was much less visible. Brown and gray turned to green and I was so excited to see green! “Wait,” Ramesh said, “Just wait.”

Out of the valley we turned off the paved road for a rocky one to led us up to Nagarcot. After driving upward for a couple kilometers Ramesh pulled the car over, which was a feat in itself because there was nowhere to pull the car to – the choices were towards the rock face or the cliff.

He chose the rock face.

“Now look.”

And we followed Ramesh’s gesture to look at that same field we passed earlier but this time we saw it from above. What I thought was green was actually a field of gold. Little golden flowers sitting atop green stems that bloom in direct daylight and close up again at dusk.

It was truly hidden treasure in a field.

I was amazed that field had been left untouched so the flowers could grow. Land is at such a premium in Nepal, though not many people own; they squat. Ramesh said this field on the rock face had been in the same family for many generations – meaning the same family had lived on that rock face for many generations – and though development was important, it was not vital. What was vital was leaving the land as untouched by human hands as possible so the livestock could graze, and the water could seep into the earth, and the flowers could greet them as if to say “good morning” on their way to work and “good night” on their way home.

Our parable for this week says the finder bought the field, not what the finder did with the field once purchased. Yes, I believe that we are invited to have a hand in bringing about the Kingdom of God, but we do not have to develop it from the ground up. The Kingdom of God is – just like the field is – full of beauty and wonder. It is something to behold and respect. It is something to care for and nurture. And it is a place to be surprised by what we might discover there – and because we are there – what we might discover in ourselves.

Join Samantha Aupperlee and Alex Lilly this Sunday as they offer their leadership in word and song on this parable in both our Morningsong and 11am worship services. Thank you, dear friends, for sharing your gifts with our church family.

Prayer: “In all the world around me I see his loving care, and though my heart grows weary, I never will despair. I know that he is leading through all the stormy blast; the day of his appearing will come at last. He lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today! He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way. He lives, he lives, salvation to impart! You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.”* Amen. 

*”He Lives,” The United Methodist Hymnal 310.

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.

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Standing above the fall.

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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.

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.

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.

PictureLent ~ Remember

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 23:39-43

I have returned! My pilgrimage through Nepal has concluded…and thanks to Turkish Airways was extended a few extra days. Many thanks to Rev. Melissa Cooper and Rev. Kate Ling for preaching for me while I was away and to Rev. Tom Love for serving as a pastor-on-call. Many thanks also to Tuskawilla’s wonderful staff and leadership teams for their service while I was away. I am so grateful to be home and to have returned to our wonderful community. I am refreshed despite the jet lag and altitude sickness. I know that the vineyard was well-tended while I took my Sabbath. I’ve got my stilettos…I’m headed back to work!

In Nepal, education is not public nor is it compulsory. Families have to pay for their children to attend school, and many do. What makes it different from primary and secondary education in the States is that each individual school is able to set their own calendars and the times of their school days. So one school may be in session from 5:30am-12:30pm and another from 9am-4pm and another from 12:30pm-7:30pm.

Could you imagine trying to balance multiple children through this kind of scheduling? Ack!

Since the schools have such random schedules at any given point throughout the day you see school-age children just wandering through town – and let me tell you – they love Westerners. They associate Westerners with sweets. They will see Westerners walking up the road or sitting in a park or strolling around a stupa and will run with great glee towards them and squeak “sweets sweets sweets!” They are after chocolate or hard candy or gum – whatever you may have. And then after receiving what they want, they laugh and run off.

I was a less-than-favorable Westerner to the Nepali children. I’m not a big sweets person – unless it’s my Mom’s cream cheese pound cake, my mother-in-law’s Mexican wedding cake cookies, or my best friend Becky’s peanut butter cup cookies. For me bacon and cheese grits > sweets.

Nepali children associate or remember sweets when they see Westerners. They ask – and pretty much if they do not ask me or others like me – they receive! My friend I was visiting in Nepal shared with me that many aid agencies across the country encourage visitors to give the children toothbrushes when they ask for sweets. Nepali children receive so many sweets that their overall dental health is abysmal. The benefit of a sweet lasts a few moments, whereas the benefit of a toothbrush can literally last a lifetime.

Take note in the conversation that the criminal shares with Jesus that he asks for the toothbrush and not the sweet. The sweet would have been “Hey Jesus, get me off this cross!” The toothbrush is “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42). This criminal saw Jesus and turned his attention to the Kingdom. Perhaps it was his first ever thought of God’s Kingdom. Perhaps he was reminded in that moment – once again – regardless of his past – Jesus and God’s Kingdom would be his present and future.

When Christians encounter difficulties in life we often turn to Jesus because we remember that Jesus is our God, our Messiah, our Savior, our Helpmate, our Friend. We turn to Jesus and follow his teaching, “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Mt 7:7-8). But for what do we ask? What is our request? The sweet? The temporary benefit? “Lord, get me out off this mess! Get me off this cross!” and then we revert to our life as usual instead of Christ’s life in us being our usual? Or do we ask for the toothbrush? Do we ask for the Kingdom? Do we ask for strength in tribulation? For our feet to continue following the narrow instead of the wide path? For peace with our neighbors? For enemies to become friends? For the healing of the nations? For abounding hope? For everlasting peace?

I know the Kingdom will indeed be sweet. I have tasted. I have seen. And I will taste and will continue to see. But I do not want the effects of the Kingdom to be temporary. I want them to be my present and my future. I want the Kingdom to pervade my lifetime and usher me beyond this time. Jesus, I look to you and remember. Remember me when you come into your Kingdom.

Prayer: “Alas! and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die? Would he devote that sacred head for sinners such as I? Was it for crimes that I have done, he groaned upon the tree? Amazing pity! Grace unknown! And love beyond degree. Well might the sun in darkness hide, and shut its glories in, when God, the mighty maker, died for his own creature’s sin. Thus might I hide my blushing face while his dear cross appears; dissolve my heart in thankfulness and melt mine eyes to tears. But drops of tears can ne’er repay the debt of love I owe. Here, Lord, I give myself away, ’tis all that I can do.”* Amen.

*”Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed,” The United Methodist Hymnal 294.