Near the Cross: Prayer and Perseverance

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Philippians 3:12-16.

Spiritual Discipline ~ Service

Discipline Scripture ~ John 13:1-5, 14-15.

During the Season of Lent, Christians through the ages ‘try on’ different spiritual disciplines as a way to lean into their life of faith in a new, deeper, or fresh way. Each week during Lent, I will offer a reflection – including thoughts by the renowned Richard Foster – on a different spiritual discipline as modeled for us by Jesus.

In our Discipline Scripture text this week we read of Jesus serving his disciples by washing their feet. His service ends with instruction, as it so often does. In John’s Gospel Jesus applies The Golden Rule, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (Jn 13:14-15). We, who follow Jesus, are called to serve. Called to humble ourselves. Called to honor one another. We are called after the example of our living Lord.

As we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we learn more deeply the differences between Self-Righteous Service and True Service:

  • Self-Righteous Service
    • Comes through human effort
    • Is impressed with the big deal, meaning impressive gains
    • Requires external rewards
    • Is highly concerned about results
    • Picks and chooses whom to serve
    • Is affected by moods and whims
    • Is insensitive, meaning meeting the need even when to do so would be destructive
    • Fractures community
  • True Service
    • Comes from a relationship with God deep inside the individual
    • Finds it almost impossible to distinguish between the small service from the large
    • Rests contented in hiddenness
    • Is free of the need to calculate results
    • Is indiscriminate in its ministry
    • Ministers simply and faithfully because there is a need
    • Can withhold the service as freely as perform it
    • Builds community

Says Foster, “True service quietly and unpretentiously goes about caring for the needs of others. It draws, binds, heals, and builds.”*

Through service we lean into the radical role reversal that Jesus taught – that Jesus incarnated. That the last will be first. The least will be greatest. The weakest will be the strongest. Jesus did not seek position or title. Jesus served with a towel. Jesus served at the table, excluding no one. Jesus served on the cross, becoming sin who knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God.

Recall a time when you were served. What was the circumstance? How did being served make you feel? How was your relationship with the person that served you transformed by that encounter? How has this or how can this experience shape your future service? How has serving rather than being served changed your life for the better? Share your answers with a friend. I look forward to serving you in worship this Sunday.

For further reading, see Celebration of Discipline pages 126-140.

Prayer: “And through these days of penitence, and through thy passiontide, yea, evermore in life and death, Jesus, with us abide.”** Amen.

*Celebration of Discipline 128-130.

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

Woman In The Night: The Balanced Christian Life

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 10:38-42.

Since becoming a mother, my house is in a constant state of disarray, which is odd to none more than Andrew. Some days I think he looks around the house and then looks at me and wonders if I am the latest victim of The Body Snatchers.

You see, I used to be the person that woke up early every Friday morning to clean the house from top to bottom. I would pride myself that I could have the kitchen and all three bathrooms cleaned in under forty-five minutes, all the while clothes were in the process of being washed, dried, folded, and returned to their appropriate drawer or closet. I would have the carpets vacuumed, the furniture dusted. Trash would be out and recycling sorted. And if I was feeling super productive, the dogs would be bathed, brushed, and donning coordinating and season-appropriate bandanas.

That allllllll changed October 20, 2017…which is the day after I was admitted to the hospital for Joshua’s delivery. I did not clean the house that morning…and I have pretty much not cleaned the house every Friday morning since then.

Hence…Andrew’s wondering if I have been body snatched…

Andrew and I have lived in parsonages – in congregation’s gifting – for a decade. Because of that incredible gift I have felt – and continue to feel – a deep responsibility to take and show great care to these parsonages. I recall at the very beginning that I would use my time cleaning as a time to connect with God. I would pray for the congregation. I would sing songs of praise at the top of my lungs…which was not always the way Andrew wanted to wake up on those Fridays. Overtime, however, the cleaning became less about connecting with God and praying for the people I served and more about racing against the clock to see what all I could accomplish in as few minutes as possible.


I disconnected from my true purpose for those acts, which was to show appreciation to God and gratitude to the congregations that welcomed my family into their church family and into their home.

I am so glad Joshua’s birth helped set me straight and get my priorities back in line. No, I am not cleaning on Fridays nearly as often. I confess that I truly have become my mother in that I do a little cleaning every day. I celebrate my reconnection with my true purpose for these acts, which is to show appreciation to God and gratitude to this congregation that welcomes my family – all three of us! – into your church family and into your home.

When did you last stop and consider why it is that you do what you do – whatever it is that you do? How are you able to live into and live out your faith because of that act of service? How can you use that physical activity as an activity of faith?

Prayer: “Woman in the house,nurtured to be meek,leave your second place;listen, think and speak! Come and join the song, women, children, men; Jesus makes us free to live again!”* Amen.

*“Woman In The Night,” The United Methodist Hymnal 274.


Lessons In Leadership: Ruler Not King

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Samuel 5:1-5 and 9-10.

A statement I hear frequently?

“You shouldn’t be doing that.”

And let’s face it…I do a lot of thats.

I was prepared for the “you shouldn’t be doing thats” as a girl and woman – I defy with great glee, bearing in mind personal safety…most of the time. I was prepared for the “you shouldn’t be doing thats” during pregnancy – again, I defied with great glee, and held always in mind the health of myself and Joshua.

I was not and am not prepared for the “you should not be doing thats” as a pastor.

When our church hosted the Friday Afternoon Food Bank I typically served in the parking lot. It was my own version of “Undercover Boss” though I really was not under cover. I was in workout clothes and a baseball cap. Many patrons to the food bank thought and/or referred to John Chambliss as the pastor of the church, which delighted me to no end. One day someone made a comment to John as such and John kindly offered this correction, “I’m not the pastor. She’s the pastor – over there” and pointed at me. “What? Really? And you have her working the parking lot shift!?” We all shared a hearty laugh.

As a pastor – really as a person – I do not fear the thats, which is why I have been known to crawl through hedges looking for trash, to dumpster dive, and to take on the grossest of jobs – yes – even more gross than disposing a liquified pumpkin.

When I start to fear the thats – or think I’m too good to do the thats – that is when I need reminding that our Jesus did not wear a towel around his neck like a cape, but around his waist, ready and willing to wash feet…perhaps even feet bathed in liquified pumpkin.

Doing the thats is what servant leadership looks like to me…doing the thats is servant leadership to me.

What thats do you do? What thats do you leave undone? And what that is God calling you to do this week?

Prayer: “Come, we that love the Lord, and let our joys be known; join in a song with sweet accord, join in a song with sweet accord and thus surround the throne, and thus surround the throne. We’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion; we’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God.”* Amen.

*”Marching to Zion,” The United Methodist Hymnal 733.


Seven Questions of Faith: What Brings Fulfillment?

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 13:1-5, 13-17.

Through washing the disciples’ feet Jesus enacts and makes visible his love for his own. “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (Jn 13:15).

As I marinated in this text this week I also marinated in the question, “How is it that I enact and make visible my love for my own?”

I am an accomplisher. I accomplish tasks with regularity and efficiency. I accomplish tasks as a way of expressing my love.

And one of my primary ways of accomplishing and therefore expressing love – cleaning.

I pause for a moment because I know my parents are picking their jaws up off the floor. As a child my parents would attempt to twist my arm six ways to Sunday to get me to clean and now it is one of my primary ways to express love for others.

I know you are proud, Mom and Dad.

Some of you may wonder…why cleaning? This is why.

During college Andrew was a church custodian for one of the largest United Methodist Churches in Florida. And allow me to let you in on a little secret – church people are not the cleanest people. For five years Andrew cleaned up messes that he did not make. He scrubbed walls and floors and trashcans. He swept, mopped, and polished. He worked well into the night – every night – so that guests to the campus would arrive to find their room and adjacent facilities in pristine and hospitable conditions.

Andrew took pride in his work. He served well. And he became an example for me.

I clean with the diligence and commitment that I do as a way of making easier the path for others around me. As I accomplish the tasks my hands may be manipulating a rag or a broom, but my heart is focused on the individual I am serving in that moment. My dedication to that task frees my neighbor to dedicate their hearts in another area, to another person or project, which will bring them joy and hopefully sustain these waves of service as they continue rippling.

It is true, cleaning tasks are not always glamorous…and sometimes they are down right smelly. And that is when I think about my Jesus, kneeling before the pungent feet of his disciples, offering them comfort and care through washing their feet.

“For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

I encourage you to find time this week to consider how it is that you enact and make visible your love for your own. Consider how you make easier the paths of those around you. And then begin to identify the ways that others make easier your path. Give thanks for the many ways the waves of service ripple to and from you.

Prayer: “Called by worship to your service, forth in your dear name we go to the child, the youth, the aged, love in living deeds to show; hope and health, good will and comfort, counsel, aid, and peace we give, that your servants, Lord in freedom may your mercy know, and live.”* Amen.

*”Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service,” The United Methodist Hymnal 581.


Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Micah 6:1-9

This past Saturday I attended a district committee meeting and our group began with a devotion and time of thought centering by meditating on The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh. It was particularly timely and particularly powerful for this to be our centering image given the terror that waged in Paris and across our world in Lebanon, Syria, Japan, and Mexico last week.

If you are familiar with the piece, then you will recall the swirling formations in the sky that represent chaos, the eerily lit sun-moon off in the corner, and the darkened landscape of community tucked in a valley between mountains.

(They might be hills to other folks, but to this Florida girl, they are mountains!)

The leader of our meeting asked our group to consider the painting in silence and then to share what we saw. After a few moments I shared that at the center of the painting is a church, complete with stained glass windows and steeple, but it is completely dark. No light is emanating from it. The surrounding homes are all aglow, but the church is asleep.

For van Gogh this painting was his interpretation of what had happened (perhaps has happened) to the church – the light, the Spirit has gone out – and not in the way to flourish in the world – but as a commentary on how the Spirit of God has been extinguished. Therefore people did not (perhaps do not) turn to the church as an institution, as a faith community, as a people in times of sorrow or joy. The church had (has) lost its relevancy; so, while other structures and the people within them are alive and well, the church functions much like a tomb, a memorial of days long past.

What will return the church to relevancy? What will resurrect its hope? Our God and only our God.

And what will return the light and recall the Spirit to the church? The faithfulness of God’s people in doing what the prophet Micah challenges and charges t0 “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).

There is a powerful scene at the end of The Half Blood Prince in the Harry Potter film series. Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School had died and the pupils and faculty stand around his body in mourning. The Dark Mark floats in the sky, a symbol that the battle between good and evil continues and that evil has taken this round. Those who loved and are faithful to Dumbledore weep at his side and then one by one they spark a light at the end of their wands and lift them skyward. Each individual light  pales in comparison to the Dark Mark coursing through the sky, but together, their collective light obscures and then erases the Dark Mark.

Hope. The church has hope. We have hope. God is our hope. And we are invited to live that hope by accepting the invitation to be God’s vessel of hope to others in our very shadowy world.

A quote that I continue to see and hear following the continuing terror attacks that plague our world bears repeating here. It is from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Together, may we be God’s light, may we be God’s love.



This week the Tuskawilla Community will be led in worship by our very own Rev. Kate Ling – and y’all – she has amazing worship planned! Thank you, Pastor Kate, for your partnership and mentorship in ministry. And I will see the Tuskawilla Community for the First Sunday of Advent.


Prayer: “Lord, we pray not for tranquility, nor that our tribulations may cease; we pray for thy spirit and thy love, that thou grant us strength and grace to overcome adversity; through Jesus Christ. Amen.”*

*”For Overcoming Adversity,” The United Methodist Hymnal 531.

Rock of Ages: Fire Up From A Rock

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Judges 6:11-24

This week our Rock of Ages sermon series continues with a study of Gideon. Gideon was selected by God as a judge for the people of Israel. The role of a judge in the Hebrew Bible differs from the role of a modern day judge. While modern day judges adjudicate trials and convene sentences, judges in the Hebrew Bible were tasked, above all, with restoring peace. Peace was disturbed because God’s people committed idolatry and chose to worship the gods native to the land they were now inhabiting rather than the God who delivered them to that land. If the Israelites would choose to do what was right in God’s eyes rather than their own, then they would not continually be in strife.

God calls Gideon to this role of judge and Gideon’s response – are you serious!?

(I have yet to find a biblical translation that conveys this sentiment, but I feel it in the text. I also envision Gideon with eyes as big as saucers.)

Gideon does not believe. Why would he be called to this task? And is it actually God doing the calling?

In our study of “Water from the Rock” we learned that we are not to test the Lord our God; we are not to make our faith contingent upon forced or coerced demonstration from God. But in reading our passage for this week we find that Gideon fleeces God. Perhaps this is an argument of semantics, specifically an argument of diction. Perhaps a fleece is not a test in Gideon’s mind. But his aim is the same. Whether a fleece or a test Gideon wants to know that it is God who cares for him, that it is God who will be with him, and it is God who will lead him in accomplishing the demolition of altars and the restoration of peace.

Our desire to know is linked with our capacity to wonder. To wonder means to curiously speculate. There is a definite air of hope in wondering as well. A person who wonders anticipates evidence that will reveal an outcome…and I would say in the case of hopeful wonderings, the person anticipates evidence that will reveal a consistent and positive outcome.

Last school year I had the opportunity to participate in the Bear Connections Program through Winter Springs High School. Bear Connections is a mentoring program for ninth grade students that have been identified by their middle school teachers, guidance counselors, and school administrators as persons that would benefit from a mentoring relationship with a positive adult role model. Bear Connections mentors are not tutors; they are great listeners who are open to sharing their positive life experiences and willing to help a student navigate his or her way through the first year of high school. A mentor meets with his or her mentee for 30-45 minutes weekly, on campus during an elective class period.

When I first met my mentee he looked at me – and the Bear Connections program – in the spirit of Gideon – are you serious?! Are you seriously going to take time out of your week each week to meet with me, listen to my stories, answer my questions, help me find answers to my questions, occasionally help me with an assignment, and definitely play UNO in the courtyard? He wondered. And each week I showed up…and showed up…and showed up. Each time I showed up I answered his “Are you serious?!” with a definite yes yes yes! In fact, I was almost sent to detention one day for playing UNO with him in the courtyard; an administrator walked up behind us and said we had a lot of nerve to be playing UNO in the middle of the courtyard during class.

(I have never been to detention before in my life! Thankfully my mentee was quick to share I was his mentor. “Show him your badge, Mrs. Sarah!” And then the administrator said I looked like a student…and then I returned to our game of UNO.)

I am so thankful for the privilege of walking alongside my mentee throughout the 2014-2015 school year and of affirming in him that an adult in addition to his nuclear family, guidance counselor, dean, and teachers wanted him to succeed. I helped hold him accountable. I helped focus his attention away from sports and girls and onto science and geometry. I looked forward to our time together. My mentee anticipated evidence that would reveal a specific outcome. He anticipated my showing up and when I did, that affirmed him. He is important. He is valued. He has a friend that would help him succeed.

The Bear Connections program is currently looking for mentors to match to 95 freshman this fall. This mentoring opportunity is a great way to serve our community and to let our community know that we at Tuskawilla UMC care about the success of the students in the greater Casselberry, Ovideo, Sanford, and Winter Springs area. I will be serving as a mentor again this year and I invite you to think about serving in this program as well – 30 to 45 minutes for roughly 15 weeks in the Fall and 15 weeks in the Spring. Students have elective periods scattered throughout the day so you can be placed with a student who’s schedule works with your availability! This is an opportunity for you to serve and be served. This is an opportunity for you to be God’s agent in coming alongside the Gideon’s among us.

Please be in prayer about this opportunity and contact me directly if you would like information about the next steps in registering as a Bear Connections Mentor.

Prayer: “O Jesus, thou hast promised to all who follow thee that where thou art in glory there shall thy servant be. And Jesus, I have promised to serve thee to the end; O give me grace to follow, my Master and my Friend.”* Amen.

*”O Jesus, I Have Promised,” The United Methodist Hymnal 396.