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.

Whoopsie.

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.

 

The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss ~ The Cat In The Hat

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Revelation 21:1-5.

The Warren Willis Camp in Fruitland Park will always be a special and holy place for me. It is the place I first received my call; God said “Follow me,” and I am continually amazed by where following God leads me.

The Maggie Brown Dock overlooks Lake Griffin. It is a weathered and wise structure bearing up generations of campers’ hopes and dreams, worries and confessions. The dock is an incredible place to watch the sunrise. The way the colors dance across the sky is truly incredible.

My friend Malinda Rains is a talented artist across a number of mediums – including Taylor Swift dance moves! She snapped a photo one morning of the sunrise from the dock. It captured the colors in the sky as the backdrop to the camp cross that floats in the lake. Adjacent to the cross was a fishing boat and a fisherman attending to his work. Upon seeing her photo I commissioned this watercolor from Malinda.

IMG_2003

(Upon receiving the watercolor, I commissioned the frame from Andrew!)

When I think of New Creation, Malinda’s image – first painted by God’s own hand – comes to mind. The night has passed and the day lies open before me. Light breaks and embraces me. And I am called to serve – to attend to the responsibilities God places before me – keeping always near the cross.

“And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people’” (Mt 4:19).

Today. Tomorrow.

Always.

What is your image of New Creation? How does it inspire you to attend to the responsibilities God places before you? Share your thoughts with a family member or friend. I look forward to seeing you in worship on Sunday.

Prayer: “There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody; there’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me. From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”* Amen.

*“Hymn of Promise,” The United Methodists Hymnal 707.

 

 

Awaken Orlando – Gravity Youth Sunday

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 11:38-44.

This Sunday Tuskawilla UMC’s Gravity Youth Group will lead our worship experience. They will share about their summer mission trip – Awaken Orlando – through music, personal testimonies, and a picture slideshow. Shrell Chamberlain, TUMC’s Youth Director, will offer the sermon. Our youth are looking forward to this time in worship with our church family.

John 11 tells the story of Jesus’ dear friend, Lazarus. Lazarus became ill and later died. Jesus wept for love of Lazarus and rather than letting death have the final word, Jesus went to Lazarus to awaken him. Jesus went to Lazarus to call him back to life.

When I think about how our youth served on the mission trip, I know they joined Jesus in the work of awakening. They saw need and they answered with service. They saw want for relationship and made and strengthened friendships. They saw places and people crying for hope and became living hope. With fearlessness they stepped into new and different circumstances with new and different people and they served beautifully. I am so so proud of them.

When Lazarus emerged from the tomb, having been awakened by Jesus, Jesus said, “Unbind him and let him go” (Jn 11:44). When Jesus wakes us up – when we become aware of our sin, of our separation from God and intentionally return to God – Jesus says to us, “Unbind him. Unbind her. Let them go.” Unhindered by what was and looking with great anticipation towards what is, the world is ours for the taking. What will we do? What decisions will we make? Will we return to sin, which leads to darkness and death, or will we walk with God on the path that leads to life?

As our youth reminisce about their mission trip I have heard their reminiscing lead to requesting. “When will we return to the Memory Care Center? When will we return to Community Food and Outreach? When will we return to Matthew’s Hope? When and where can we serve more?” These requests are evidence of the rooting of our youth’s awakening. They do not want to go back to sleep. They do not want to go into darkness. They have seen, been a part of, and contributed to the goodness of light and life with God, and they want to continue walking down that path. This mission trip released them to serve and they are ready to continue their response.

Thank you, Gravity Youth, for your service on your mission trip. Thank you for the many ways you represented Jesus, your families, and Tuskawilla UMC during your mission trip. And thank you for the learnings you will share with us this Sunday. I cannot wait to reminisce with you and respond to your requests for future opportunities to serve!

Prayer: Lord, “I could just sit; I could just sit and wait for all your goodness hope to feel your presence. And I could just stay; I could just stay right where I am and hope to feel you, hope to feel something again. And I could hold on; I could hold on to who I am and never let you change me from the inside. And I could be safe; I could be safe here in your arms and never leave home, never let these walls down. But you have called me higher. You have called me deeper and I’ll go where you will lead me, Lord. You have called me higher. You have called me deeper and I’ll go where you lead me, Lord, where you lead me, Lord.”* Amen.

*”Called Me Higher” Lyrics by All Sons & Daughters.

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.

 

We Don’t Have To Go Home, But We Can’t Stay Here

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 9:28-36

I returned from an eight day pilgrimage across Israel on Wednesday and a word that resonated with me and my fellow sojourners throughout our travels in the Holy Land was home.

We visited Bethlehem where the Holy Family had their home during Jesus’ infancy. We visited Nazareth where Jesus lived as a boy and youth and would eventually be expelled from because “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town” (Lk 4:24). We visited Capernaum and journeyed throughout the Galilee where Jesus accomplished most of his ministry before he set his eyes on Jerusalem. And in Jerusalem we visited places where Jesus taught, prayed, worshipped, and wept.

Throughout the course of our trip our group took turns teaching, praying, worshipping, and weeping together. We followed in the steps of our Lord in the land of his home, which each of us came to see as our home as well.

Our guide for our trip was a fella named Mike. He quickly became one of my favorite people…mostly because within 10 minutes or so of knowing me he understood that Sarah is Hebrew for “trouble maker…”

I smiled. Mike smiled. The Bishop smiled. And our journey continued.

Towards the end of our journey across the Holy Land Mike posed this question and challenge to our group: What would it take, what would I need to consider, how would I need for God to transform me so that I could become home for someone else? To be a home for someone else means becoming a safe place, a place of support, a place of comfort, a place of care, a place of sanctuary. Serving as a home for someone does not mean that together we escape reality; rather, it is a means that where two or more are gathered Jesus is there with us, lightening our burdens, easing our hurts, providing for our needs, and walking with us as we commit to walking together whatever the path is before us.

In a sense Peter wanted to create homes for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah atop Mt. Tabor at the time of Jesus’ transfiguration. Peter’s intended to construct permanent residences that would take him, Jesus, and the other disciples with them away from the world. Why would Peter want to do this? Because days before Jesus foretold his coming passion. Luke 9:21-22 writes, “[Jesus] sternly ordered and commanded [the disciples] not to tell anyone, saying, ‘The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” If Peter was successful in keeping Jesus on the mountain, then Peter could keep Jesus from this fate. Jesus could go on teaching and healing and bringing good news without enduring great suffering.

But Jesus was not seeking a savior or protector. Jesus was seeking – and seeks – partners, friends, and homes to serve others. Jesus sought in his disciples – and seeks in us – the commitment he introduces in his continued conversation with the disciples before his transfiguration, “Then [Jesus] said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves'” (Lk 9:23-25)?

The Good News of Jesus was and is that he became and becomes home for all. He put himself to suffering, bleeding, and dying so that we – his followers, his sisters and brothers – would know that while on life’s paths we do not walk alone. Not even death could separate us from Jesus for in three days time he was raised in glory.

So if nothing can separate us from Jesus – our eternal Savior and home – then why would we who are faithful separate ourselves from opportunities to be like Jesus and continue his ministry by becoming home for others? We can only be these homes if we open ourselves to be used by Jesus in this way and if we draw near to the portions of Christ’s Body that are in pain. Being a home cannot be accomplished at a distance. Jesus did not complete his servant ministry from on high; he was so close to humanity he could literally and did literally rub his nose in all of our hurt. And he redeemed it.

We can enjoy our times on the mountains, those high points in life. My trip to Israel is certainly one of them! And equally I believe Jesus wants us to enjoy our times in the valleys because that is where he served and calls us to serve by becoming home for others – for all.

Prayer: “You satisfy the hungry heart, with gift of finest wheat. Come, give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat. As when the shepherd calls his sheep, they know and heed his voice, so when you call your family, Lord, we follow and rejoice. You give yourself to us, O Lord; then selfless let us be, to serve each other in your name in truth and charity. You satisfy the hungry heart, with gift of finest wheat. Come, give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat.”* Amen.

*”You Satisfy the Hungry Heart,” The United Methodist Hymnal 629.

Good News to the Poor

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 4:14-21

The summer after tenth grade I travelled to a rural area of Tennessee with my youth group to serve on a mission trip. My team’s project was to assess and repair the roof of a mobile home that was caving in on the resident, who was a very kind man and a decorated Veteran that became a paraplegic as a result of his years of service.

After arriving and meeting our resident our team climbed onto the roof to begin removing the worn shingles and felt paper so we could expose the decking. Upon completing our task our surprised group leader, Mr. Nixon, said, “This decking is fine…so something else is causing the problem.” We got off the roof and a few from our team went into the home to identify other potential sources of the roof problem. A few moments later the small group returned with their discovery. The home we were repairing was in fact two single mobile home units that had been joined together to create one larger home with a unified roof; however, the structure did not have a proper load-bearing wall to support the weight of the roof. Someone asked, “What’s wrong with the load-bearing wall?” Mr. Nixon replied, “The wall is not plumb.”

For a wall to be plumb means that it is perfectly vertical. The loadbearing in the center of this house, which connected the two single units into one unit and was intended to support the center seam of the roof, was out of plumb just enough that the weight of the roof was not equally distributed on the rafters or other supporting walls. This was the source and cause of the caving roof. Our team spent the next three days reconstructing that load-bearing wall to stabilize and redistribute the weight of the roof. The final day and a half we re-shingled the roof.

When we said our final goodbyes to our homeowner I remember him looking upon his roof with great pride. Though he was in a wheelchair, he stood so strong and tall as he admired his level and supported roof; everything that was out of plumb was finally in proper alignment.

In our Scripture for this week we read the plumb line of Jesus’ teaching. In quoting the Isaiah scroll Jesus reveals the ways in which he and others that are faithful to God will complete God’s work in the world. We, after the example of Jesus, are called to

  • Bring good news to the poor
  • Proclaim release to the captives
  • Proclaim recovery of sight to the blind
  • Let the oppressed go free, and
  • Proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Lk 4:18-19).

New Testament scholar Carol Lakey Hess says that in this passage “we learn what Jesus came to do” and “insofar as we measure our lives against this, we are following Jesus’ ministry.”* If our service and contributions towards God’s work in the world are measured by, guided by, and in accordance with this Scriptural plumb line, then we do not risk our efforts becoming skewed or out of sync with God’s desires for God’s children and the Kingdom.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, articulated the plumb line for God’s service in the world in three simple rules:

  1. Do no harm.
  2. Do good.
  3. Attend upon the ordinances of God.

Do no harm and Do good are wonderfully self-explanatory. Before proceeding with an act – in word or in deed – ask yourself, “Does this cause harm? Does this communicate bad news or good news? Does this reveal God’s kingdom or keep it hidden from view? Does this release someone from a burden or add a new one?” Before proceeding with an act, name the good that the act will do. “This action will give someone hope; this act will provide comfort; this act will promote forgiveness, which will strengthen a relationship.”

Attend upon the ordinances of God is not as self-explanatory. What Wesley prescribes here is to stay connected with God through prayer, praise, Sacraments, and service. When we stay connected with God – individually through personal devotion and communally as the Body of Christ – we are strengthened in our spirits and continually reminded of the plumb line for our service. When we neglect our relationship with God, we are more likely to fall out of alignment, which can cause our relationships with God and others to cave, much like the roof over that home in rural Tennessee.

God is our strong foundation. The plumb line provided in our Scripture passage for this week is what helps us build upon God’s foundation in the Kingdom. We should revisit this plumb line often so that we can celebrate God’s accomplishments and continue refining our service in alignment with God’s will. This is a combination of head, heart, and hand work. Sometimes it is hard work and at other times it is easy. This work is always fulfilling and by applying ourselves to it, we will stand strong and proud, admiring what God has accomplished through us and looking with joy towards whatever task God has next.

Prayer: “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing; he chastens and hastens his will to make known. The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing. Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own. Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining, ordaining, maintaining his kingdom divine; so from the beginning the fight we were winning; thou, Lord, wast at our side, all glory be thine.”** Amen.

*Feasting on the Word Year C Vol I 286.

** “We Gather Together,” The United Methodist Hymnal 131.

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.