Vital Elements of Worship: Let Every Soul Be Jesus’ Guest

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Hosea 11:1-11 and Luke 15:1-2.

This past week I heard stories about the experiences of two of our Tuskawilla Family members.

One was a story of gratitude – that Tuskawilla is a place where we welcome people and value the service they offer. It was a story of being so glad to be apart of this fellowship, recognizing that not all church families are like ours.

The other story was a story of hurt feelings – that on our campus, that in our walls, that by our actions a member of our church did not feel welcomed and did not feel that the service they offered was valued.

In mere moments of one another – I was so proud of our church…and then saddened that one of our family is living with this hurt.

My dear TUMC family, I want our church – the place and the fellowship that we co-create in the name of God, the power of Christ, and the community of the Holy Spirit – to be an environment at all times and in all seasons where we welcome everyone and value the service offered, where we BelongGrow, and Serve together. It is bound to happen that we will not get it right from time to time; I know I do not get it right from time to time. When we mess up, let us not leave the mess. Let us not leave the relationship. Let us not walk away from one another.

God does not leave us in the messes we create. God does not, has not, and will not leave the relationship we share with God. Though we stray, God does not walk away. I believe there are times when God moves forward and invites us to follow, but God does not walk away.

Our Jesus welcomes and eats with sinners. Our Jesus welcomes and eats with people that do not always get it right. Our Jesus welcomes us to seek out our kin – that we have wronged and those that have wronged us – not for vengeance, but for forgiveness – and then in the beauty of restored relationship, share a meal together (see Matthew 18). Whenever we eat together, we remember the meal that Jesus shared with his disciples on the night he gave himself up for us. We remember that Jesus ate with sinners. We remember that in that meal Jesus made tangible for us the grace that is available to us. This grace forgives, this grace reconciles, this grace welcomes, and this grace values. God’s grace truly is amazing.

My friends, I want us to be the church of the first story – not some of the time, but all of the time. And when we are not that church, I pray that God works swiftly in me, in you, in all of us, to be seekers of forgiveness and sharers of God’s grace so we are prepared to come to the table Jesus sets for us.

Prayer: “Come, sinners, to the gospel feast, let every soul be Jesus’ guest. Ye need not one be left behind, for God hath bid all humankind. See him set forth before your eyes; behold the bleeding sacrifice; his offered love make haste to embrace, and freely now be saved by grace. Ye who believe his record true shall sup with him and he with you; come to the feast, be saved from sin, for Jesus waits to take you in.”* Amen.

“Come, Sinners, to the Gospel Feast,” The United Methodist Hymnal 616.

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A Special Treat

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 19:1-10 (Morningsong) and 1 Samuel 17 (11am Blended Worship)

On Monday Andrew and I took his brother, Josh, a pumpkin. Josh is interred at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell and Halloween was (is) his favorite holiday. Oh the mischief Andrew and Josh would cause on Halloween.

One Halloween they kept changing their costumes – full wardrobe changes at first and then only minor changes towards the end – as they revisited the same house again and again. Why that house? Four words: full.size.candy.bars.

Andrew and Josh did not start out as friends. They started out having a fist fight…and then they became friends. And once they were friends, the two were instantly brothers. If you were to ask my in-laws or Josh’s parents, I am sure they would say that a common phrase between Andrew and Josh was “I am coming to your house today!” To hang out, to sleep over, to build something in the garage, to scheme the next prank, to plot resistance against “the man” (whatever or whoever “the man” was that week), to laugh, to live. “I am coming to your house today.”

Wherever Josh was, there Andrew would be and vice versa.

My heart breaks because Andrew cannot have those experiences with Josh right now…but that will not be the case forever. We trust, we believe faithfully that God is bringing us all – bringing them – together again.

Jesus shocked the crowd when he announced that he was going to Zacchaeus’ house. Perhaps some hoped that Jesus was going there to “clean house” or spare Zacchaeus the public ridicule and shame of being rebuked by the Savior before his peers. But that was not Jesus’ intent. Jesus’ intent was to build community and include rather than further exclude the tax collector. Jesus wanted Zacchaeus, who had been so far from Jesus as evidenced by his behavior, to come near to him. Zacchaeus, this tax collector, this culturally despised man, this swindler, this con – Jesus had so many reasons to come to blows with this man. And yet Jesus does not throw a fist, but offers a hand. “I am coming to your house today.”

Jesus said, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Lk 8:21). Through his repentance and reconciliation – through admitting his wrong and repaying his neighbors – Zacchaeus turned his will towards the Father’s and embraced his kinship with Jesus.

We visit Josh to remember. We visit Josh so that Andrew and Josh can hang out. We visit Josh so Andrew can tell him what has been built in the garage, report on completed pranks, update resistance plans, and laugh. We visit Josh as an act of living and leave Josh’s side with a renewed sense of calling: Who will we invite to our house today? What homes will we ask to enter? What new and continuing relationships will we nurture? How will we see Christ in others and invite them to see Christ in us?

Remember this Sunday’s treat: Join me for the 8:30 Morningsong Service and then plan to stay for worship at 11am as Andrew preaches on David and Goliath from I Samuel. I am looking forward to my time at both Tusakwilla and Azalea Park UMCs this weekend! The Millers are excited to see you in worship on Sunday!

Prayer: “Called forth from every nation, yet one o’er all the earth; our charter of salvation: one Lord, one faith, one birth. One holy name professing and at one table fed, to one hope always pressing, by Christ’s own Spirit led.” Amen.

*”The Church’s One Foundation,” The United Methodist Hymnal 546.

From Wreck to Restoration: We Commit Sin

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 2:4-13.

A congregant once said to me, “Pastor, I’ve never heard a preacher talk about sin as much as you do!”

I remember laughing as he said this…and then I was quite struck as his words washed over me. If pastors are not talking about sin, then how will people in our congregations know how to talk about sin? How will people in the world know how to talk about sin?

Barbara Brown Taylor, one of my favorite authors, advises that we need language about sin as much as we need language about salvation. In her book, Speaking of Sin, she writes,

Abandoning the language of sin will not make sin go away. Human beings will continue to experience alienation, deformation, damnation, and death no matter what we call them. Abandoning the language will simply leave us speechless before them, and increase our denial of their presence in our lives. Ironically, it will also weaken the language of grace, since the full impact of forgiveness cannot be felt apart form the full impact of what has been forgiven.*

It is not easy to talk about sin. Why dwell on the bad stuff, especially when God has promised to forgive the bad stuff and absolve us of it? I believe we need to talk about our sin, not so we carry the guilt and shame of it with us always, but so that we know the weight of our sin, and therefore the magnanimity of God’s amazing grace.

An essential component of John Wesley’s Class and Band structure was to have members of the bands sit before one another and answer the question, “How is it with your soul?” In responding to this question the band members would share where they excelled, struggled, and out right failed in their lives – personal, professional, and of faith – since the last band gathering. (Wesley would say the life of faith pervades all spheres of life.) It was not enough for band members to say that they sinned; they would have to name the sin specifically and articulate how that sin had harmed God, their neighbors, and themselves. Some might consider this method a severe form of behavior modification, but it worked for the Early Methodists and it continues to work for many today that participate in a covenant or accountability group.

Developing a language to discuss sin draws us into intentional thinking about our sinful acts as well as their consequences and repercussions. From this sort of reflection I am led to

  1. Repent of my sin and seek forgiveness and reconciliation and
  2. Make note of the circumstances, my actions, and my reactions, so that my behavior will be different the next time I encounter the same or similar circumstances.

I talk about sin and I talk about my sin as a way of letting people around me know that I am  a safe place to talk about sin. And maybe one day, if they would like, we could talk about their sin together. And when that conversation begins it will most surely end with the affirmation that our God forgives our sin, that Jesus removes the guilt of sin, that the Holy Spirit breaks the power sin has over us, so that we will indeed live as the forgiven and the redeemed.

Prayer: “In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine, a wondrous beauty I see, for ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died, to pardon and sanctify me. So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.”** Amen.

*Barbara Brown Taylor, Speaking of Sin 4.

**”The Old Rugged Cross,” The United Methodist Hymnal 504.

Wilderness Trials

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 4:1-13

SPOILER ALERT! This week’s Sunday Stiletto contains reference to a scene in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Hopefully I will not give away too much…but this scene is just too good.

Read on.

Rey finds herself in a storage closet in Maz Kanata’s Canteen and – after listening to the Force, that she would not identify as the Force at this time, nevertheless she responds to it intuitively – Rey uncovers a light saber. Rey takes hold of the saber and immediately experiences a number of flashbacks, her own and others. Frightened and overwhelmed, she returns the saber to its box and runs from the room. Maz finds Rey in the hallway of her Canteen’s basement. A dialogue ensues. Rey apologizes for being in that part of Maz’s Canteen; Maz is not concerned. In fact, Maz encourages Rey to take the saber and to see where the saber will take her. Rey ponders this proposal…and then declines. She has to get back to Jakku.

Rey is saddened by her decision to leave…and to leave the light saber. Like a mother, Maz comforts Rey. Looking deep into her eyes Maz says to Rey, “The belonging you seek is not behind you, but ahead.”

When I am in the midst of a personal wilderness experience – when I feel abandoned, afraid, alone, angry, lost, and out of control – I tend to dwell on what is behind me instead of ahead. I harp on my failures. I am quick to refuse help because I think I can figure it out on my own…and because of my actions I do not think I deserve help.

I wallow. I weep. I wander.

Guilt grows. Shame showers. And I think, what if I could just go back to before this happened? Can I call a mulligan on this conversation? This day? This experience in my life? Why did we get rid of rewind buttons? Like Cher, like many of us, I wish I could turn back time.

But we cannot turn back time. We do not have the benefit of a cosmic mulligan. And to some extent I am thankful, because if there were cosmic mulligans, there might also be a chance that the film Groundhog Day could be a reality…and I do not want that either!

Rey wanted to return to Jakku; she was convinced that her future was there in that desert, scavenging through Imperial and Resistance wreckage. When I falter in my faith, when I wreak havoc in relationships, I want to go back to where I think my future is…before the incident. But that is not where my future is. The belonging I seek – the belonging I have broken because of my selfish words or selfish desires – cannot be restored by going behind me. The belonging I seek can only be restored by going ahead purposefully, seeking forgiveness with acts and words of reconciliation.

For me this process looks this way:

  1. Name my wilderness – what am I experiencing?
  2. Identify how I got myself here – where did I fall from temptation into sin?
  3. Learn a lesson – this is critical! If a lesson is not learned, then it is only a matter of time before I make a repeat visit to this or another wilderness.
  4. Approach the person I harmed – a sibling in Christ and/or God, my Creator – and ask for forgiveness, share what I learned through this experience, and ask that person to help me in strengthening my belonging into the future.

My process does not have to be your process, but it can be a help as you process how you respond to your personal wilderness experiences and move towards the belonging that God desires for you.

Maz’s words were right for Rey…they are right for all of us, “The belonging you seek is not behind you, but ahead.”

Prayer: Sweet Jesus, “As thou with Satan didst contend, and didst the victory win, O give us strength in thee to fight, in thee to conquer sin. As thou didst hunger bear, and thirst, so teach us gracious Lord, to die to self, and chiefly live by thy most holy word.”* Amen.

*”Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days,” The United Methodist Hymnal 269.

Be The Change

I apologize for the late post of The Sunday Stiletto this week.  It has been a week leading up to one of the biggest servant-leadership ministry opportunities in my life.  Surrounded by accountability partners, great friends, new friends, partner churches, 350 runners, and nearly 100 volunteers, Be The Change 5K ran and walked in the name of our God – for solidarity, for inclusion, for one another, for all – in Downtown Orlando on October 5, 2013.

I was privileged to share opening words with those gathered in the start line.  I shared that the church I serve as well as our partner churches understand the wideness of God’s mercy – that all means all – and we desire to be in true relationship and community with all our brothers and sisters.  With a humble heart and boldness of speech, I asked for forgiveness on behalf of the institutional church for the harm that has been cast towards our LGBTQ neighbors and allies; I asked for forgiveness from God and from those present.

I made my confession and sought reconciliation.

And then I received gifts of reconciliation from some gathered that morning.  One man approached me and extended his arms for a hug.  I returned the hug and when I started to release him, he clung to me longer.  When he was ready, he stepped back, looked me in the eye and shared these words, “I want you to know I love you.  I want you to know that I appreciate what you are doing.  I want you to know that you are teaching me what it means to be a true Christian.”  And then he walked away.

My friend, that you and others would hear my confession and grant me forgiveness, you are teaching me what it means to be a true Christian.  Christians are people of forgiveness and grace and I believe we learn more clearly how to share forgiveness and grace when we receive it.

I know I do.

Yesterday over 400 people – participants and volunteers – took huge steps towards reconciliation and unity in our community.  In fact – we took 3.1 miles worth of steps and it is my prayer that those steps will continue.

To those who served – thank you.

To those who participated – thank you.

To those who experienced this vision and helped bring it to reality – thank you.

To those who never gave up – thank you.

Together, we are the change we want to see in the world.  Together – exactly the way that God created us to be.

Prayer: O Lord, open my eyes that I may see the needs of others; open my ears that I may hear their cries; open my heart so that they need not be without succor; let me not be afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong, nor afraid to defend the poor because of the anger of the rich.  Show me where love and hope and faith are needed, and use me to bring them to those places.  And so open my eyes and my ears that I may this coming day be able to do some work of peace for thee.  Amen.*

*”For Courage to Do Justice,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 456.