All Saints Celebration and Remembrance

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Hebrews 9:11-14.

On Saturday Andrew will preside at the celebration of life for two saints of Azalea Park UMC – Beverly and Harvey House. They went onto glory within days of one another. They both lived into their mid-eighties. They both finished well their courses in faith. They both loved one another and their families beyond description.

They both will be missed.

The first time I really sat down to speak with Harvey was at a UMW Picnic of all places. The Sunshine Circle has an annual picnic lunch at a local park; they invited Andrew to come and welcomed me as an extra guest.

(I cannot resist United Methodists and deviled eggs in a park pavilion!)

Harvey sat towards the back of the pavilion while Beverly joyfully served as a hostess, ensuring everyone had every possible choice and need fulfilled. Harvey had a quiet smile on his face as he watched Beverly serve. I asked him why he was smiling. He pointed to Beverly – her joy, her friendliness, her compassion, and her servant’s heart – and simply responded, “How could I not?”

“How could I not?”

When I think of the saints we will celebrate a Tuskawilla UMC in both our worship services this week, I join Harvey in smiling. These women and men – their service on both sides of eternity – are witnesses to our faith.

We miss the loved ones that are no longer physically near us. Somedays their place in our hearts is so empty and hollow…it is like the wound of grief will not ever heal. It is in these moments especially that we call to mind God’s faithfulness and the truth of God’s word:

Therefore, my friendslet us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching...Recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting. Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet “in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay; but my righteous one will live by faith. My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back.” But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved (Heb 10:19a, 22-25, 32-39). 

Do not abandon your confidence. Claim the Lord’s endurance – especially in the valley of the shadow of death. God will guide us through – God and the servant saints that smile on us as we continue our courses in faith.

We will honor the saints of the Tuskawilla UMC Family at both our worship services on Sunday. See you then.

Prayer: “For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest. Alleluia, Alleluia!”* Amen.

*”For All The Saints,” The United Methodist Hymnal 711.

 

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Memorial Day Sunday Hymn Sing

Scripture ~ Psalm 72.

When I was a girl, Memorial Day signaled the start of summer. School would be out soon if it was not already. We would eat more meals of hamburgers and hotdogs from the grill. Long days of sunshine and riding bikes into the evening hours until the mosquitoes literally chased us inside were in my grasp.

Memorial Day took on a new meaning my senior year of high school. My brother, Charlie, enlisted in the United States Army and deployed to Kuwait. There he served as a fueler and he patrolled the oil lines headed into the war zone. I thought of and prayed for him every day he was away. I wanted to eat burgers and hot dogs with him on Memorial Day, not wish he was there…

My appreciation for Memorial Day deepened a great deal when we learned of the death of Andrew’s beloved Josh. I will never forget driving into the National Cemetery in Bushnell and seeing each grave decorated with an American Flag. Josh loved this country. He gave his life for it. Duty. Honor. Brotherhood. Those values were the foundation of his life.

When Andrew and I found out we would be parents – like many – we began discussing names. It was not until the day we learned that we would have a son that I looked at Andrew and said we should name him Joshua. I will never forget the way that Andrew‘s face lit up. I asked him if it would be painful for him to call our son Joshua and Andrew said no because he wants our son to hold dear all of the things that his beloved Josh held dear. And so when we look at our Joshua we remember his namesake. We remember duty, honor, brotherhood and sisterhood. We remember and we give thanks.

As you celebrate Memorial Day this coming week, I invite you to reflect on how the celebration of this holiday has changed for you. How has the meaning of this day deepened? Is there someone that God is calling you to connect with on this day? What values ground your life and how do they give shape to the service that you offer to your neighbors?

Prayer: “Almighty God, before whom stand the living and the dead, we your children, whose mortal life is but a hand’s breadth, give thanks to you:

For all those through whom you have blessed our pilgrimage, whose lives that have empowered us, whose influence is a healing grace, we lift up thankful hearts.

For the dear friends and family members whose faces we see no more, but whose love is with us for ever, we lift up thankful hearts.

For the teachers and companions of our childhood and youth, and for the members of our household of faith who worship you now in heaven, we lift up thankful hearts.

For those who sacrificed themselves, our brothers and sisters who have given their lives for the sake of others, we lift up thankful hearts.

That we may hold them all in continual remembrance, and ever think of them as with you in that city whose gates are not shut by day and where there is no night, we lift up thankful hearts.

That we may now be dedicated to working for a world where labor is rewarded, fear dispelled, and the nations made one, O Lord, save your people and bless your heritage. Day by day we magnify you, and worship your name, for ever and ever. Amen.”*

*”Memorial Day,” The United Methodist Book of Worship 440.

Join us in worship for one service at 11am this Sunday at Tuskawilla UMC. Our choir will lead us through a guided hymn sing celebrating American Hymn Writers.

 

New Beginnings: Remember

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Deuteronomy 15:15; Ezekiel 36:31; and Revelation 2:5

My first car was a small four-door gold Saturn sedan with beige interior and super dark window tint. Her name was Gina. Gina made me feel like I was just the coolest. Not only did Gina have a tape deck, but my parents bought me a tape deck adapter that I could plug into my portable discern to listen to CDs in my car. I know – you’re impressed! With Mariah Carey blaring through my speakers, I was unstoppable!

One day I was driving to school in Gina. I was two subdivisions down from my own when I realized I did not have my school ID card. I turned into the Lexington Green subdivision, made a three point turn, and proceeded back to the main road. I stopped at the entrance before making my left hand turn and then WHAM!

I pulled out in front of a fellow student at my high school. His car was older than mine – more steel than fiberglass. His vehicle sustained minor damages, but Gina…Gina did not make it.

Rest in peace…pieces?

It took me a while to start driving again. My parents wanted me and my nerves to calm down after the accident, and rightly so. I was not afraid to start driving again. I was ashamed to start driving again.

The main road where I caused the accident was the only way to and from my subdivision and a number of others in that section of North Lakeland. So no matter if I was coming or going I would have to drive by the scene of my disgrace. And in doing so I would be forced to remember…

  • My failure to look twice before turning.
  • The sound of steel crushing fiberglass.
  • The look of other high school students staring down the accident scene on their way to school.
  • My call to my mother that I wrecked the car.

I did not want to face any of that. I did not want to remember. But it seemed unavoidable. There was no other way to accomplish my daily commute. So I had to grit my teeth and bear it.

At first I would drive past the scene without looking to that side of the road. I would plan major karaoke moments so I was caught up in song when I drove that way. I would do whatever I needed to do for the sake of not remembering.

And none of them worked. I remembered. And I felt ashamed.

One day while I was in college I was again driving past the scene of my accident and the shame started descending. Until I stopped myself. I stopped myself and asked God to help me feel something different when I drove through that intersection. In mere seconds God’s peace overcame me. Through God’s peace I realized I did not need to feel ashamed at what I caused. That was not the lesson to take away from that moment in time. The lesson – God’s lesson – to take away was one of gratefulness – grateful that I walked away unharmed, grateful that my parents had the resources – like car insurance – to help our family move forward, grateful that I learned the valuable lesson of looking twice before turning left.

I would not have realized these lessons if I had not asked God for the courage to remember and grow from a difficult moment in my life.

I am not sure I will have the occasion to drive by that subdivision in coming years as my parents moved to the south end of town. Nevertheless, I will always remember that day from my senior year in high school – not with shame but with gratitude.

I believe we have lessons to learn every day – even on our hardest days. God gives us courage to learn those lessons…and God gives us the grace of space to learn those lessons when the time is right.

Consider – what days are hard for you to remember? What do those days – those memories – cause you to feel? What does God want you to learn from those days and memories? God’s courage is available to you. Ask. Receive. Remember. And learn.

Prayer:  “O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise, the glories of my God and King, the triumphs of his grace! In Christ, your head, you then shall know, shall feel your sins forgiven; anticipate your heaven below, and own that love is heaven.”* Amen.

*”O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing,” The United Methodist Hymnal 57.

Remembering September 11

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 51:1-10, Micah 4:1-5, and Matthew 18:21-35.

I will never forget. I was sitting in my 11th grade AP Literature class when our principal all called over the intercom system, “Teachers, please turn on your class televisions. A plane has just hit the World Trade Center in New York City.”

My class sat in silent horror as we watched the smoke rise from the building. We could not take our eyes away from the screen – the North Tower, the South Tower, the Pentagon, the field in Pennsylvania. Initially all students were kept in our third period classes; eventually the school board determined that the schools were secure and we could continue through our class schedule. But it really was not “continuing.” Students migrated silently between classes. From one room to the next we entered, sat in our desks, and watched the news.

I had so many questions. My fears mounted. As I reflect 15 years later, I continue to have many questions and in returning my thoughts to this day, my fears are stirred up afresh.

After 9/11 life seemed to come back to normal – whatever “normal” was – until my brother drove home from his Army base in Virginia one afternoon to hug me and my family. He was saying “goodbye.” He would deploy to Kuwait headed for Iraq in the next 36 hours. And all the 9/11 terror came crashing back down, but now it was not in New York or the Nation’s Capital or Pennsylvania. Those places were all very far away. Now the terror was too close to home…in fact it was in my home and taking my brother – that I would holler at because his music was too loud coming through the wall between our bedrooms and because he somehow managed to get water on every surface in the bathroom after showering – half way around the world into the very face of danger.

The house was too quiet without him. And although I prefer a dry bathroom, what I would have given to have slipped on water left on the floor.

Charlie served his country well. And Charlie came home. Many did not.

Brave men and women served our country – served our fellow country men and women well on 9/11 – people they knew and people they did not know. We were united. We were all Americans.

We are all Americans.

Some of those men and women that served on 9/11 came home. Many did not.

Countless lives were lost – unnecessarily lost. And to this day it is hard for me to recall what happened, to look at images from that day, to hear recordings of people calling for help and reporting the horrors they faced. I do not want to remember. I do not want those feelings to return.

But…

It is crucially important to remember that human beings are capable of this sort of behavior and activity. We remember by seeing these images, listening to the cries for help, and committing ourselves to behaviors that will not lead us to this sort of activity again.

Says the Psalmist, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (Ps 51:10).

Says the Prophet Micah, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths” (Micah 4:2).

Says Peter to our Lord Jesus, “‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times'” (Mt 18:21-22).

May these verses guide our prayerful desire to craft behaviors that lead to peace rather than destruction, to unity rather than division, to love rather than fear our neighbors.

May we take time this week to remember 9/11, even if it makes us uncomfortable…dare I say especially if it makes us uncomfortable. God is communicating something to us in these moments. May we never forget and with God’s help we will not return to behaviors that led to activities that resulted in the terror of this day 15 years ago.

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.

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.

New Creation: Pleasing Fragrance

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Corinthians 2:14-17

This Sunday in the Christian Year the Church celebrates and remembers the Baptism Of Our Lord – when Jesus presented himself to John the Baptist alongside the River Jordan for baptism.

The Gospel of Matthew’s baptism account reads, “And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’” (Mt 3:16-17).

That day in the Jordan River Jesus is publicly claimed by God as the child of God.  When we anticipate, celebrate, witness, and remember baptisms, we recall how we, too, are claimed as children of God.

Holy.  Worthy.  Beloved.  With whom God is well pleased.

//

I live and serve in an area saturated with Disney paraphernalia – not a bad thing at all! – and as I dwell with this image of Jesus meeting John along the banks of the Jordan River a coy smile creeps across my face as I remember wise ole’ Rafiki leading a weary and lost Simba to the banks of a watering hole.  Simba peers over the side hoping to see his father – who died many years earlier – and instead sees his own reflection.  Disgusted Simba recoils and Rafiki encourages him to look again.  “Look harder…” Rafiki says, “You see…he lives in you” and Simba’s reflection morphs into that of his father’s.

Simba then hears his name rolling across the clouds like thunder and an effigy of his father appears.  “Simba, you have forgotten me,” Mufasa says.  “You have forgotten who you are and so have forgotten me.  Look inside yourself.  You are more than what you  have become.  You must take your place in the circle of life.  Remember who you are.  You are my son.  Remember.”

Simba protests, “How can I go back?  I’m not who I used to be…”  And Mufasa implores, “Remember.  Remember.”

//

When we return to the waters of baptism – not for rebaptism for God’s grace is sufficient in the single ritual – it is to remember who we are.  Regardless of what we have done or left undone, regardless of where we have said too much or kept silent too long, regardless of who we used to be and who we are now, God calls us to remember.  To remember who we are.  To remember who God is.  To remember what God’s grace has done and is doing.  To refresh our memory of God’s claim on our lives.

We are holy.  We are worthy.  We are beloved.  We are with whom God is well pleased.

I am.  You are.

Remember.

Prayer: “Baptized in water, sealed by the Spirit, cleansed by the blood of Christ, our King; heirs of salvation, trusting his promise, faithfully now God’s praises we sing.  Baptized in water, sealed by the Spirit, dead in the tomb with Christ, our King; one with his rising, freed and forgiven, thankfully now God’s praises we sing.  Baptized in water, sealed by the Spirit, marked with the sign of Christ, our King; born of one Father, we are his children, joyfully now God’s praises we sing.”* Amen.

*“Baptized in Water,” The Faith We Sing, 2248.