From Wreck to Restoration: God Invites Us Into The New Covenant

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 31:27-34.

We conclude our sermon series From Wreck to Restoration this Sunday with God Invites Us Into The New Covenant. I preached this Scripture passage for my ordination sermon; I vowed after studying this passage extensively and preparing this passage for preaching for over four months that I would never again preach this passage.

Never say “never,” right?

I selected this text for my ordination sermon because I felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit guiding me towards it. I attempted to work on one of the other recommended texts and God continued to draw my heart back to this declaration of the new covenant. There is such grace in this text. There is such love and hope. We will know the Lord. God will forgive our wrongdoings and never again remember our sins.

We all have moments in our lives that we would rather not to remember – how we hurt someone we loved, how we walked away instead of standing up, how we said something we did not mean or remained silent when our words would have made all the difference, how we did harm in some way instead of doing good, how we experienced deep suffering and agony. I would like to permanently forget those moments and some days I think I have…until something happens that reminds me of my wrongdoings and the weight of my past actions comes crashing down all over again.

In those moments I feel truly wrecked, which leads me to question – am I able to be made whole, am I able to be forgiven, am I even worth it?

The answer to those questions is yes. What may be unexpected is that I did not have to come to that answer on my own. I received that answer from God through God’s invitational love and mercy. I believe we all receive that answer from God through God’s invitational love and mercy.

In full knowledge of our sin, God invites us into the new covenant. God forgives and remembers no more. God invites us to know God and to be fully known by God. When we answer God’s invitation and live into the new covenant, God’s Law will be written on our hearts. Rather than something learned, God’s instruction will be innate, as near to us as our breath, and that which guides the pulse of our lives.

This past week I had the privilege to hear two separate testimonies of restoration in the same setting. Two persons both shared their struggles with clinical depression, of feeling hopeless, and of desperately wanting to feel anything at all. They spoke of the loneliness and the shame. They spoke of considering every possible means of finding relief…

Those two people – two of my friends – have experienced and continue to experience God’s restoration. I am privileged to know them and to watch them offer their talents in the service of God and others. I am privileged to learn from them and to laugh with them. I consider it a great privilege to look at their lives – to look at them – and see the evidence of God saying yes

Yes, my child, you are forgiven.

Yes, my child, you are made whole.

Yes, my child, you are worth it. 

God says yes to us and welcomes us to life in the new covenant. However we are wrecked, God welcomes us to restoration in him. Our saying “yes” to God may happen in an instant. It may happen over a lifetime. It may be once and for all. It may be said again and again. I think of utmost importance is that we say “yes” to God’s invitation into the new covenant and that our lives are the proof of our saying “yes.”

Prayer:”I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene, and wonder how he could love me, a sinner, condemned, unclean. He took my sins and my sorrows, he made them his very own; he bore the burden to Calvary, and suffered and died alone. How marvelous! How wonderful! And my song shall ever be: How marvelous! How wonderful is my Savior’s love for me!”

*”I Stand Amazed in the Presence,” The United Methodist Hymnal 371.

Advertisements

Jesus Sees You

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 13:10-17.

Earlier this week I taught a yoga class that included a student with a broken big toe. He was anxious – to participate, to not harm his toe further, to not be a distraction to the other students, and to feel like he accomplished what he wanted to accomplish by the end of class.

The good news about yoga is that every pose – every.single.pose. – can be modified to each individual student. Poses can increase in challenge or comfort. Poses can be completed standing, kneeling, or sitting. So no poses on your feet – no problem.

He did not leave. He did not sit out. He practiced.

He did not feel cast to the side. He felt seen. He felt heard. He felt comforted. He felt accomplished. He felt included.

Before leaving class he thanked me for taking such special care of him in class and then asked me to suggest what other classes he might take that would accommodate and guide him through his recovery. I shared with him that it would be the pleasure of any teacher in the studio to lead him through a class at his ability level. It is on the teacher to meet the students where they are, to listen, to guide, and, most of all, to see.

When I feel seen, my self worth soars. When I feel seen, I am affirmed that I matter and that my contributions matter. And that feeling motivates me to see and affirm others.

As we head into the Fall months at Tuskawilla UMC we will have increased opportunities to see and connect with folks in our church family as well as see and connect with folks in our community. I love to watch our church during the Greeting Time on Sundays…I am convinced that our church family would greet one another for at least 20 minutes if we did not draw the congregation’s attention forward in the service. No one stands alone. No one is without a hand to shake or a smile to receive. It is truly extraordinary to behold and warms my heart so. We take time to see one another every Sunday. We take time to see one another as Jesus sees us.

In that same spirit I look forward to seeing our Bible Study groups resume, to seeing Scout Troops return to our campus, to seeing our Morningsong Worship Service begin on Sunday, September 11 at 8:30am, and yes, even to seeing the arrival of our little orange friends because their presence means we will soon see many of our community members on the church campus. I celebrate how our church sees both the Class Athlete Afterschool Program and the students of the Arbor School of Central Florida and has welcomed them to meet on our campus. I am amazed by the number of families our Friday Afternoon Food Bank sees and serves twice a month; their commitment to nourish the body and the soul is deeply inspiring.

The Tuskawilla Family understands well what it means to see one another and to meet our neighbors where they are. Through our ministries and witness we comfort and we challenge; we see, hear, and include God’s people. Through this behavior we add our hands to building God’s Kingdom.

Jesus sees us. When we serve one another well, we serve him well and he is so pleased.

Prayer: “Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew, that I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do. Breathe on me, Breath of God, until my heart is pure, until with thee I will one will, to do and to endure.”* Amen.

*”Breathe on Me, Breath of God,” The United Methodist Hymnal 420.

Rock of Ages: Hannah’s Song

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Samuel 2:1-10

In my vocation I read (and subsequently write) a lot. Folks who are avid readers are well acquainted with the two types of literature – fiction and non-fiction – which are then categorized further into the genres of literature – autobiographies, biographies, romance, suspense, mystery, thriller, fantasy, self-help and more. In my experience there are additional genres of literature – the good, the superb, the bad, the excruciating, the humorous, the you-gotta-be-kidding-me-did-you-really-write-this, and, my personal favorite, the i-will-reward-myself-with-reading-something-else-for-every-one-paragraph-I-read-of-this.

I had a wonderful professor at Florida Southern College who always reminded (and reminds!) me to be a generous reader to the authors…sometimes generosity flows more freely than at others.

One book that completely captured my attention a few years ago, and I continue to return to it, is Dr. Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. Dr. Brown is a licensed master social worker and is a professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. Her research is in the areas of studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. The title of her book, Daring Greatly, comes from a quote by Theodore Roosevelt that reads,

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

In this quote Roosevelt – and Dr. Brown – lift up the people that are present in living life. Their present living may be a moment of struggle or their present living may be a moment of triumph. Regardless, they are living. They are active. They are not on the sidelines or in the bleachers hollering out coulda woulda shouldas. They are at the plate. They are on the starting line. They are jumping for the tip ball. They are defending the end zone. They are in the arena. They are on the field. They are running on the court. And they are working cooperatively to alter their circumstance. Dr. Brown would say that folks on the sidelines or in the bleachers should be muted. Unless they are willing to enter the arena themselves, their comments should stay to themselves.

This week in Rock of Ages we turn our attention to a study of Hannah, the mother of Samuel. She, like many women in Scripture, was barren. Her inability to produce a child meant that she brought shame upon herself, her husband, and her family. There would be no heir to inherit their land, their goods, their history, or their faith. Bystanders and sideliners – Peninnah in particular – mocked and ridiculed Hannah, which compounded her grief and grated away even more of her self-worth.

Hannah had a choice. She could wallow in self-pity or she could enter the arena. Having grieved (and having accomplished nothing more than grieving) Hannah entered the arena, which in her context was the temple. Hannah was “deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. She made this vow: O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant…” (I Sam 1:10-11). Her prayer brought her up to the starting line, she grounded her stance next to the plate, she centered herself in front of the net, and she engaged. She dared greatly in asking for what she wanted – a child, specifically a son – knowing full well that she may not have received. In making this plea before the Lord she honored herself by naming what she wanted, she made a public display of faith, and made a public affirmation that she is worthy, and able, and capable of coming before the Lord with the deepest concerns of her heart.

I know that when I pray I am quick to pray for others, for our leaders at every level and kind of administration, for the church, for the world. I am not so quick to pray for myself or to reveal the deepest concerns of my heart before God – which is silly because God already knows. And yet, I think it is an act of daring greatly and entering the arena to bear my heart before my God and share my concerns with God personally rather than God observing them from afar. I believe doing so places me in agreement with Hannah – that I am worthy, able, and capable of coming before God and that God is worthy, able, and capable of receiving what I share.

This exchange strengthens our relationship. This exchange honors God as God and guards me from thinking (and acting like) I need to be in control at all times. Stepping into this arena with God does not mean we are opponents; we are on the same team. Stepping into the arena means I am willing to take the risks of vulnerability, to face my fears, to share my heart, and be led by the greatest coach of all time who is wherever I am – on the sideline, on the field, and definitely in my heart.

Prayer: “Lord, I want to be more holy in my heart. Here is the citadel of all my desiring, where my hopes are born and all the deep resolutions of my spirit take wings. In this center, my fears are nourished, and all my hates are nurtured. Here my loves are cherished, and all the deep hungers of my spirit are honored without quivering and without shock. In my heart, above all else, let love envelop me until my love is perfected and the last vestige of my desiring is no longer in conflict with thy Spirit. Lord, I want to be more holy in my heart. Amen.”*

*”For Holiness of Heart,” The United Methodist Hymnal 401.

Stewardship Is Gifting The Next Generation

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 71:18

When I think about “gifting the next generation” I think about legacy.  What does it mean to be a legacy?  What does it mean to leave a legacy?

When it was time to apply to college I was surrounded by friends sending in scores of applications – in town, in state, out of state, out of the country even!  So many essays to write and recommendations to secure and transcripts to request.  Me?  I only filled out one college application.  It was to my mother’s collegiate alma mater, which is now my alma mater as well,  Florida Southern College.

Now some may say that I put all of my eggs in one basket.  Why on earth, Sarah, would you do such a thing?  Well, in my sophomore year of high school I received a letter from the Florida Southern Director of Admissions.  It was a letter that named me as a Florida Southern Legacy.  My mother attended and based on my preliminary information they had received about me, my academic career, and my academic aspirations, I would be most welcome to continue my education as part of the Florida Southern Family and keep the Florida Southern attendance tradition alive and well within my family.

That letter really impressed me.  And in turn, I felt impressive.  I felt proud.  I knew my accomplishments and my potential.  So did my parents.  But now, an “outsider” saw what we saw.  I was honored and humbled.  And two years later when all my classmates were scrambling to complete applications I knew exactly where I was headed.

Go Mocs!

As I reflect on receiving this letter, I am really amazed at what an impact a letter had on my decision to be a member of a certain organization.  How much mail do we receive and just set aside without even opening?  I’m talking post office mail and inbox mail!  I know I do it!  But this letter – still steps removed from personal interaction either through a phone call or face to face – made such an impact on me that I made the decision to only apply to one school and then attend that school!  That letter recognized who I was and joined me in dreaming about who I could become.  That letter said I was someone of worth, someone of character, someone of interest, and because of those attributes, this institution wanted to make an investment in me.  Florida Southern wanted me as part of their legacy.

There are lots of letters that are sent out to church members during Stewardship season.  Letters that share with folks the vision for the church in the next year.  Letters that ask people to give.  Letters that thank people for giving.  Some of these letters, like other posted and electronic mail, remain unopened.  Or if they are opened they have little impact.  I wonder if this is a casualty of churches focusing on the giving rather than the giver?  Yes, as a pastor I want people to give, but I want the people first.  As a minister of the gospel my first and foremost task is to edify the people I serve that they (that you!) are a person of worth, a person of character, a person of interest, and because of your attributes coupled with my understanding of faith, I and the church want to make an investment in you!  Then, together we can make an investment in others and this beautiful cycle of recognizing worth, investment, and creating legacies starts all over again.

Each person in the church is part of God’s legacy.  Each person on earth is part of God’s legacy!  As a part of God’s legacy, I want to do something that matters.  To me what matters is “proclaiming God’s might to all the generations to come.”  I want to proclaim to all God’s children that they are of worth, character, and interest.  How do I know?  Because God told me so.  How will I share what I have been told?  In any way I can – in letters, in emails, in handwritten notes, in sermons, in visits, in chats over coffee, and definitely at potlucks, in worship, in prayer, at bedsides and gravesides.   Long ago, people in the church – pastors, Sunday School teachers, choir directors, church ladies and more – recognized that I was part of God’s legacy and that my presence and participation was vital to the church.  Little did I know then that sharing this same message would be one of my greatest joys in life.  And sharing that message is part of my legacy of stewardship.

What legacy are you leaving?  What legacy would you like to leave?  How are you participating in God’s legacy?

Prayer: “O how sweet a walk in this pilgrim way, leaning on the everlasting arms; O how bright the path grows from day to day, leaning on the everlasting arms.  Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms; leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.”*  Amen.

*”Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 133.

The Coming King: Equitable Lord

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 11:1-10

Sometimes…you just need to stop and read a storybook.

Seriously.

Today’s storybook is You are Special by Max Lucado.  It tells the tale of Punchinello, who is  on a journey to discover the source of his self-worth.  Punchinello is a Wemmick – a small wooden person – and lives in a township full of Wemmicks who were all created by Eli the woodcarver.  The Wemmicks have an unfortunate treasured past time – they spend their days mulling around town valuing or devaluing their neighbors through gifting gold star stickers or imposing gray dot stickers.

If you happen to be a Wemmick that is made of smooth wood and fine paint, then you are adorned with gold star stickers.  However, if you happen to be a Wemmick that is rough around your edges, with dull paint and perhaps a few chips, then gray dot stickers are not just your fate but your reality.

Can you guess where Punchinello finds himself?  That’s right.  You can hardly see him for all his gray dots.  Shame overcomes poor Punchinello.  His identity is lost or perhaps it is eclipsed by the gray dots.  He leaves the town feeling utterly worthless.

And then one day he meet Lucia – a Wemmick unlike any other he had met because she had neither gold star stickers nor gray dot stickers.  The Wemmicks attempted to gift or impose the stickers, but they did not stick to her!  “What a curious Wemmick,” Punchinello must have thought.  “How could this be so?”  Lucia told Punchinello that the stickers did not stick to her because she decided that she did not care what the other Wemmicks thought.  She cared what Eli, the woodcarver, thought because he made her.  Lucia invited Punchinello to visit Eli so he could experience the freedom fromjudgment and fount of self-worth she had found.

Cautiously, Punchinello visited Eli.  And Eli said,

Who are they to give stars or dots?  They are Wemmicks just like you.  What they think doesn’t matter, Punchinello. All that matters is what I think.  And I think you are pretty special.  

The stickers only stick if they matter to you.  The more you trust my love, the less you care about their stickers.  

You are special because I made you. *

“You are special because I made you,” Eli said.

“You are special because I made you,” God says.

This is the fount of our self-worth.  And I find this message particularly meaningful in light of the text from Isaiah this week.  The Coming King – our Equitable Lord – will unite unlikely people in his kingdom.

Are we worthy of such a gift?  I know I don’t feel worthy some days.

I’m too proud.  I’m too stubborn.  I’m lacking in faith.  I’m lacking in care and concern for others.  I participate in gifting gold star stickers and imposing gray dot stickers – and in like measure I have received those stars and dots.

The stars have forged relationships.  The dots have forged chasms.

Even in the face of this behavior God sends our Equitable Lord.  To bring us under his wing as a mother hen protects her young.  To provide for us.  To make peace within our individual selves and across our communities.  Why?  Simply because God made us.

There are no thresholds to cross.  There are no benchmarks to meet.  There are no prerequisites to fulfill.

God sees us.  God hears us.  God knows us.  God comes alongside us.

God crosses these chasms our gray dots have created.

God comes to us.

This is the gift each of us has received because we belong to God.  Receiving this gift necessarily transports us to the edge of the chasm our dots have created so we, after the example of God, can begin to cross the chasms and reconcile with our neighbors.  Reconciliation does not take the form of sowing star stickers in our neighbors.  Reconciliation takes the form of valuing our neighbors as beautiful children of God because that is what they are.

We are.   All of us.  Together.

We are standing on the edge and God is ready to walk with us as we cross.

Prayer: “Out of the depths I cry to you; O Lord, now hear my calling.  Incline your ear to my distress in spite of my rebelling.  Do not regard my sinful deeds.  Send me the grace my spirit needs; without it I am nothing.  It is in God that we shall hope, and not in our own merit; we rest our fears in God’s good Word and trust the Holy Spirit, whose promise keeps us strong and sure; we trust the holy signature inscribed upon our temples.”** Amen.

*Max Lucado, You Are Special (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1997), 25, 27, 29.

** “Out of the Depths I Cry to You,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 515.