Messiah: And He Shall Purify

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Malachi 3:1-3.

It is said that Martin Luther would offer a doctoral robe from the University of Wittenberg to anyone who could successfully reconcile the Apostle Paul’s salvation by faith alone with faith without works is dead from the Apostle James. From my studies of John Wesley I believe he deserves this robe! While he constantly preached salvation by faith alone, Wesley equally advised the need for works that signify an individual pursuing and maturing in the Christian lifestyle.

Wesley learned from a young age that works were needed alongside faith. His mother, Susanna, wrote about the faith development of John and his siblings in a letter she sent to her son:

The children of this family were taught, as soon as they could speak, the Lord’s Prayer…as they grew bigger, were added a short prayer for their parents, and some Collects; a short Catechism, and some portion of Scripture, as their memories could bear.*

Wesley continued his practice of Scripture study, prayer, and faithful conversation in small group and the assembly throughout his adult life. His devotive work – personal and communal – led him to regularly visiting prisons and hospitals and establishing literacy programs. Later Wesley impressed this lifestyle of faith – the combination of private devotion and active participation – upon the Early Methodists involved in classes and bands. Wesley defines these groups as communities “having the form and seeking the power of godliness, united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in love, that they may help each other to work out their salvation.”** We receive salvation from God and we work out our salvation with God. Wesley understood this to be the nature of salvation and how the people called Methodists mature in our faith.

The season of Advent is a time to prepare for the coming of our Lord and one way to prepare for Christ’s coming is to consider our place at the intersection of faith and works. How are you engaging in private devotion? How are you engaging in active participation? What do you receive from these works? How have these works matured your faith? Recalculating to the course of this intersection and/or continuing through this intersection leads us in the ways of holy living – in the ways of holiness. In working out the salvation we have received, we are made well; we are forgiven of our sins and purified in this life.

How will you prepare for Christ’s coming through your faith and works this week? How will you meet, love, and grow with your Savior at your intersection of faith and works?

Prayer: “Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand; ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in his hand, Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand. Rank on rank the host of heaven spread its vanguard on the way, as the Light of light descendeth from the realms of endless day, that the powers of hell may vanish as the darkness clears away.”*** Amen.

*Letter from Susanna Wesley to John Wesley, July 24, 1732.

**Albert Outler, John Wesley 178.

***”Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” The United Methodist Church 626.

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Prepare for Salvation

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 1:46-55

This week I welcome Rev. Dora Thomas, Associate Pastor serving First UMC Ovideo as the guest preacher with the Tuskawilla Community. Dora and I both attended seminary at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, though we attended different years. She graduated in May 2014 and when she was appointed in July to First Ovideo a mutual friend of ours connected the two of us saying we were two gals cut from the same bolt of cloth – how right our friend is! Thank you, Dora, for sharing your gifts at Tuskawilla this Sunday!

Dora’s text for this week is Mary’s Song – known as the Magnificat. Magnificat is a Latin word that means my soul magnifies. Mary’s Song captures the world-changing aspects of the impending Savior’s birth. The powerful will be humbled. The hungry will be filled. The Savior’s mercy will benefit Israel as in accordance to the promise made to Abraham. The Savior will bring blessing from generation to generation. God is about to do an incredible thing that will alter history from this point forward…and God chooses to involve humanity in it.

God invites Mary, meek and mild, to be part of this incarnation. Mary shares the excitement and anticipation of the incarnation with her cousin, Elizabeth. The advent of the incarnation connects the women together in a deeper way than even their shared bloodline and fosters community between them.

Reflecting on the Magnificat and Mary’s visit to Elizabeth that precedes her song Pastor Michael Bennett says, “God gives Mary and Elizabeth two things they each lacked: community and connection. God removes their isolation and helps them to understand themselves more fully as part of something larger than their individual destinies.” Hope is birthed in each of the women as they carry God-given children. Over time hope grows alongside the children and anticipation builds for what will be. And when the children are born the celebration and welcome is not just for these two nuclear families, but for the family of God, which spans the globe.

As members of God’s family we are all involved in something larger than ourselves. What happens to one member of God’s family happens to all of us. As the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it” (I Cor 12:26). We are active participants in the Incarnation and Salvation stories that our God continues to write.

Often I hear people say that they want to be involved in something that matters. Our faith, our faith heritage, living our faith all matters. And it does not just matter because it affects our personal lives. It matters because it affects our lives and the lives of our neighbors – those who know the old old story and those who are hearing this story for the first time. Perhaps God is calling you to be a herald of good tidings for someone this year. Invite them to worship on Sunday. Invite them to one of our Christmas Eve Services (5pm and 7pm). Invite them to dinner. Invite them to coffee. Invite them to hear and receive the story of how God has changed and will continue changing the world through the incarnation of Jesus. Connect with someone. Create community. Tell the story, and in so doing, magnify the Lord.

Prayer: “Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord! Unnumbered blessings give my spirit voice; tender to me the promise of God’s word; in God my Savior shall my heart rejoice. Tell out, my soul, the greatness of God’s name! Make known God’s might, who wondrous deeds has done; God’s mercy sure, from age to age the same; God’s holy name, the Lord, the mighty One. Tell out, my soul, the greatness of God’s might! Powers and dominions lay their glory by; proud hearts and stubborn wills are put to flight, the hungry fed, the humble lifted high. Tell out, my soul, the glories of God’s word! Firm is the promise and God’s mercy sure. Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord to children’s children forevermore!”* Amen.

*”Tell Out, My Soul,” The United Methodist Hymnal 200.

Prepare For Song: The Promise of Light

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 9:2 and John 1:5

This Sunday the Tuskawilla Community will celebrate the coming of the Christ child with two of my favorite symbols – music and light. Music is a very important part of my life. My mother has always been singing to me. She helped me get involved with music programs in school and church from a very young age. I happily played my part in many a bathrobe nativity – I made those sheep ears look good. As I grew up I helped other children fill the roles in those beloved nativities. Through the years children would sing and do sing the story of God’s entrance into the world. With Christ’s incarnation God’s love became physical and dwelt among us.

The Tuskawilla Choir will offer a cantata this week entitled The Promise of Light. This cantata walks tenderly the path from Advent to Christmastide, from preparation to incarnation, from people who walk in darkness to people who have seen a great light. As far as I know there will not be any bathrobed sheep running around though I would welcome them! The morning promises to be full of music and narrations that speak to humanity’s experience with darkness and God’s promise of light that will save all people.

As we pass through the middle of the Advent Season I am all the more ready for the glory of Christ’s light to be revealed. Spending so many years in church music programs and now pastoring churches has shown me the best seat in the house on Christmas Eve. I know that all good Methodists think that the back of the Sanctuary is where it is at…but anyone in the choir loft will tell you that the front is the place to be.

During the singing of Silent Night light floods the darkened Sanctuary. Light shines on each and every face. Features that were once obscure are now easily seen and most often the expression on each face is joy…joy that I trust is there because of Jesus. From my viewpoint I am able to see all of that joy as the light travels its way left to right front to back. Then together we lift the light, which I believe is symbolic of how Christ lifts all of us out of darkness. Surrounded by music and light we welcome our newborn King.

There are still a couple of weeks until we will lift that light in welcome. In the meantime I will wait. I will listen to music. I will sing as the choir leads me. And I will lean into the promise that our Lord is coming and will lead us out of darkness.

Prayer: “O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thy justice here; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”* Amen.

*”O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” The United Methodist Hymnal 211.

Prepare For Salve

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 40:1-11

I’m coming home, I’m coming home.

Tell the world I’m coming home.

Let the rain wash away all the pain of yesterday.  

I know my kingdom awaits and they’ve forgiving my mistakes.

I’m coming home, I’m coming home.  Tell the world I’m coming.  

Hauntingly, but persistently, Skylar Grey sings these words.  In this video as one chorus ends another begins, almost as if Grey is marching as she sings.

Our Scripture for this week is famously captured in these recitatives of Handel’s Messiah: Comfort Ye, Every Valley Shall Be Extended, And the Glory of the Lord, And Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion, and He Shall Feed His Flock.  This Scripture tells the story of a people estranged from their homes, estranged from their true selves, estranged from their God that is coming home.  They do not have to find their way through the wilderness unaccompanied.  No, the Lord is coming to pave a way through the desert.  All the people have to do is walk.

Making our way through the wilderness is a faithful pilgrimage and legacy of God’s people.  After their liberation from Egypt God’s people made their way through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land.  After the conclusion of the exile God’s people made their way through the wilderness back towards Jerusalem, the seat of the Lord, the home of the temple, the place where the Lord would be revealed and revealed in glory.

This passage calls us to prepare the way so that our Lord will make the way so that we will follow the way.  Who, other than our God, can lift valleys and make mountains low?  Who, other than our God, can level uneven ground and make smooth rough places?  God alone does these things, but God in us and through us prepares the way.

Andrew loves woodworking. When he moves into the finishing process he sands and stains, sands and stains, sands and stains.  The sanding opens up the pores of the wood to receive the stain…but why then would you sand the stain off!?  To open up the stain to receive more of the stain.  Together the layers of stain enhance and increase the vibrant color of the wood.  Together the layers of stain help any completed project stand the test of time.

We cannot lift a valley, but we can lift a stone.  We cannot make a mountain low, but we can clear away gravel.  We can plumb what is catawampus and perhaps even use sandpaper with a discerning mind.  Engaging in these acts opens us up to release those things that hold us back and receive our Lord who will move us forward.  Engaging in these acts will strengthen us as we stand the test of time, secure in the knowledge that our Lord is coming and we are coming home.

As we serve perhaps we will sing along with Grey.  Persistently yes – with each chorus representing another step forward along the way.  But not hauntingly.  Assuredly.  Yes, assuredly.  We are coming home.  And our Lord, like a shepherd, will lead us.

Prayer: “Mountains and valleys will have to be made plain; open new highways, new highways for the Lord.  He is now coming closer, so come all and see, and open the doorways as wide as can be.”* Amen.

*”All Earth Is Waiting,” The United Methodist Hymnal 210.

Prepare for the Sculptor

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 64:1-9

This Sunday Christians are invited to shout “Happy New Year!” as we enter the Season of Advent, which is the beginning of the Christian Year. During the Season of Advent we prepare for the coming of the Christ Child. We prepare our homes with decorations. We prepare our stomachs to eat tasty food! We prepare our budgets so that we remain faithful stewards throughout this and every season, striving to live within and not beyond our means. We prepare our hearts by joining God on an introspective journey. Is my heart ready to receive the Christ child? Are other things – idols, ideas, grievances, jealousies – squatting in his rightful place? The Season of Advent invites us to dwell in the midst of this question and rightfully order our internal house so that we are ready to receive our King.

As I prepare to welcome the Christ child I am struck by these words from the Isaiah contained within this week’s text, “We are all the work of your hand” (Isa 64:8). We are all the product – the creation – of God’s sculpting. We are all God’s children, but not all of us have access to the same resources – education, medicine, nutrition, shelter, fresh water – as others, simply because of where and to whom we were born.

During Advent I commit to pray daily for my brothers and sisters in Africa who are impacted by malaria. Malaria is caused by a parasite, which is transmitted to humans through the bite of the female anopheles mosquito. This mosquito flies and feeds at night. When an infected mosquito bites a person, the parasite enters the bloodstream and heads for the liver, where it multiplies. It then re-enters the bloodstream, attacking red blood cells. Typically, someone with malaria experiences a high fever, chills, joint pain and headaches. Left untreated, symptoms eventually advance to organ failure.

Malaria is a global health problem, with over 200 million infections and killing more than 600,000 people every year. Every 60 seconds a child dies of malaria. Malaria disproportionately affects young children and pregnant women. The people of The United Methodist Church – and furthermore people everywhere! – have the unique opportunity to put discipleship into action to make a difference in the lives of our global neighbors.

Making a difference requires an integrated strategy to fight malaria. As a life-saving ministry, Imagine No Malaria aims to empower the people of Africa to overcome malaria’s burden. INM fights malaria with a comprehensive model that includes prevention (insecticide-treated bed nets, draining standing water, residential spraying), treatment (Rapid Diagnostic Tests, geographic-specific medication), education (what malaria is and why you must protect your family), and communication (UMC radio stations and mobile technology spreading information about malaria).

We are all the work of God’s hand. We all deserve healthy lives. If we work together, then we can make healthy lives – that seem like only a dream to our brothers and sisters in malaria-stricken lands – a reality.

I invite you to join me in praying for our brothers and sisters in Africa. And if you feel so led, please consider adding your financial support to help end malaria. A gift of $10 saves a life by providing prevention, treatment, education, and communication. A gift of $10 gifts life. I am inviting the Tuskawilla congregation to support this global health initiative through daily prayer and the gift of $1/day for a total of $25 during the Season of Advent. I invite you as well!  Gifts can be made by visiting ImagineFlorida. Please join us in prayer and giving during this season as we celebrate Christ’s gift to the world and join him in gifting health to our global community.

November 30 – For those longing to make a difference

December 1 – In celebration of our connection to our sisters and brothers all over the world

December 2 – For inspiration to join Jesus in his mission to love and to heal

December 3 – For boldness to act and respond like Jesus

December 4 – To dream of a world with no more malaria

December 5 – For our imaginations and resources to create such a place

December 6 – In gratitude of our God who offers life

December 7 – For discernment for how God will lead us to offer his abundant life to others

December 8 – For our healing

December 9 – For those who long to be healed

December 10 – For our sight to focus on God’s vision

December 11 – For those with sight who cannot see past sadness and sickness

December 12 – For knowledge that will become a resource to conquer fear

December 13 – For those with many resources and fearful viewpoints to be opened and transformed

December 14 – For our stewardship to be a blessing to others

December 15 – For those with money and solely practice self-centered spending

December 16 – In gratefulness of our God who unites people of all ages, races, and nations

December 17 – For those who do not believe that what happens to one will happen to all

December 18 – For God’s mercy and compassion as we become better neighbors in our global community

December 19 – For empathy as we learn the plight of God’s people devastated by malaria

December 20 – To participate in joyful giving and big-hearted involvement

December 21 – For the parents who nurse ailing children

December 22 – For the children who nurse ailing parents

December 23 – For the communities that claim God’s hope despite their crippling by a curable disease

December 24 – For the gifts of the doctors, nurses, scientists, and faith leaders committed to the health and wholeness of all

December 25 – In celebration of all that has been stewarded to eradicate malaria.

Almost 2013

Sunday’s Scriptures ~ John 1:1-18; Luke 2:25-32; Romans 13:11-12; II Corinthians 4:4-11; Ephesians 5:8-14; and I John 1:5-7.

Reading lots of Scripture – it’s a beautiful thing.

This week we turn our attention towards New Year.  We have celebrated Christmas, our houses are wrecks, our fridges are over-flowing with left-overs, college football bowl-season is in full swing, and people are beginning to make plans for the new year.

2013…

What will it hold?

What will I resolve to do this year?  What will I resolve to not do this year?

This Sunday’s service is based on a Watchnight Service, which is a service typically held on New Year’s Eve.  It begins late in the evening and typically concludes after the clock strikes *NEW YEAR*.

(Reeves will be having our service at 10am on Sunday, December 30…same time…same place…same Bat-channel…see what I did there?!)

A Watchnight Service provides us with an opportunity to reflect, confess, and prepare:

  1. Reflect – upon the year that has come to an end; what was started, what was accomplished, and what was left undone; the joys and successes alongside the trials and the losses.
  2. Confess – our sins, individually and communally, and be reconciled
  3. Prepare – for the new year through prayer and resolving.

As I consider the spiritual opportunities in a Watchnight Service I see a fantastic opportunity for growth in spiritual discipline throughout the new year.  What if I (what if we) resolved to have this sort of reflection time each week during 2013?  A time to:

  1. Reflect – upon the week that has come to an end; what was started, what was accomplished, and what was left undone; the joys and successes alongside the trials and the losses.
  2. Confess – my sin and be reconciled.
  3. Prepare – for the new week through prayer and resolving change and to be the change.

Each weekly watchnight would be an opportunity for private worship, study, journaling, and prayer.  Each weekly watchnight would be an opportunity to commune with God, center oneself again on the being who is our true center, and then proceed into the world as God’s hands and feet.

Perhaps…

Perhaps this is what God is calling you to resolve…perhaps this is not what God is calling you to resolve.  If a weekly reflection experience is not your cup of tea, then seek diligently the way God is calling you to resolve more time in the divine presence.  Seek it.  Name it.  Engage it.  And on the cusp of 2014 we will celebrate it!

Happy New Year!

Prayer: For “Seeking God’s Will” through Confession and Words of Assurance* by Bishop Ken Carter, Resident Bishop of the Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church

O God, we seek you, and yet we hide from you.  At times we draw near, and at other times we move away.  If we are honest, we sometimes prefer darkness to light; despair to hope; confusion to clarity.  Help us receive the call to rebirth as a gift, and open our hearts and minds to the Spirit that makes all things new.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Pray in silence.

Brothers and sisters, hear the good news.  The kingdom of God has come near.  Repent, and believe the gospel.  In the name of Jesus, you are forgiven.  Amen.

* Kenneth H. Carter Jr, Prayers and Liturgies of Confession and Assurance (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009), 37.