Be Still: Knowing and No-Ing

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 1:29-39

This time last summer I was diligently preparing for a week long mission experience in the beautiful town of Wahiawa, Hawaii.  Wahiawa is a suburb of Honolulu.  Now, you may say to yourself – “Hawaii is NO PLACE for a mission trip.”  Well actually, Hawaii is one of the most impoverished states in the United States.  In Honolulu alone close to 28% of the population live at or below the poverty line.  We travelled to Wahiawa to serve with Surfing The Nations.  We partnered with their feeding program and recreation ministry using eight wooden surfboards that Andrew’s youth had spent the previous year building from the boards up.  We gifted Surfing The Nations the surfboards at the conclusion of our trip.

While in Wahiawa I fell in love with Hawaii and it’s people.  It is not the beautiful vistas or the smell of pineapple in the breeze that makes my heart ache to return.  It’s the people.  People who are kind.  People who are generous even in their wanting.  People who even in their wanting hold their heads high and strive for a better future.  People who take the time to stop, to listen, to embrace, to encourage.  For these people I want to return.

There is a different rhythm of life in Hawaii – or at the very least where we stayed and served in and around Wahiawa and the North Shore.  People are single-taskers, which is very different from the culture of multi-taskers on the mainland.  Several times I was told by the staff to slow down!  I did not need to rush.  I did not need to be doing five things at once…because in doing so I was not giving any of those tasks my all – my best self.

One thing at a time was the prevailing modus operandi.  First this – and bring it to completion.  And then second this – but only if the first task is completed and you have enjoyed the completion.  And so on.

Like I said – a different rhythm of life.

As you are reading this, how many things are you also doing at the same time?  As I am writing this I am aware of emails being delivered, of texts coming in, of carrying on conversations in the office, of reviewing in my mind what I just wrote in my sermon, of responding to comments on my social media, of listening to music, and a whole host of other things that my subconscious is shushing at the moment.  I am a multi-tasking fiend!  But is it to my detriment or to my betterment?

We live in a culture where we feel we always need to be engaged…but is it engaged or entertained or distracted?  Do we want to have so many things going on around us because it unsettles us if we take the time to focus on one thing at a time?  Are we at odds with single-tasking and giving one thing at a time our best selves?

In our Scripture lesson for this week Jesus retreats from the multitasking of preaching, teaching, healing, and exorcising so that he could focus on one task – praying.  In the silence, alone, and attuned, Jesus prayed and Jesus listened.  And in doing so he knew what he needed to do.  He knew how his time of service would continue.  Yes, he eventually returned to multitasking, but in the quiet of that single-tasking moment, he gave his best self to God so God in turn would give Christ’s best self to the world.

In 1976 Billy Joel released “New York State of Mind” – and even though it was not released in the 80s I have great love for this music – it’s Billy Joel people!  Thinking “New York” makes me think about energy and movement and everything needed to be done yesterday.  But if you listen to Joel’s tune – it’s a ballad.  It’s meandering melody takes it’s time.  The song speaks of the joy of enjoying what the city has to offer – and enjoying it all in due course.

To me…that sounds like a single-taskers state of mind.  It sounds like a Wahiawa state of mind.  It sounds like giving the world – giving God – our best selves state of mind so that in turn God will give our best selves to the world.

Prayer: “Let us slow down; let us be in step with the One who walks with us in the journey. [Silence] Gracious Lord, you walk with us in this life and yet at times we are distracted and do not know that you are with us.  We confess our inability to see you; our unwillingness to hear you; our hesitation in following you.  And yet we believe that you are indeed present among us, mysteriously, in this very time and place.  Open our eyes, our ears, our hearts and our hands.  Help us stop, rest, listen and learn.  Make us receptive to your presence, through Jesus Christ our risen Lord. [Silence] Lord Jesus, you are God with us – Emmanuel.  You call us not only disciples, but also friends.  Draw near to us, abide with us, and remus us in your image.  Amen.”*

*Kenneth H. Carter, Prayers and Liturgies of Confession and Assurance, Just in Time! (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009), 36.

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Strong and Courageous: Witness StN

Sunday’s Scripture ~ This Sunday Reeves welcomes Sarah Rosenberg and the message she will share with us.  Sarah is a case manager for the state and school board and spends her summers as a facilitator at Renewed Hope Missions – a United Methodist Volunteers In Mission site in the Dominican Republic.

This Sunday the Reeves’ family will also have the opportunity to hear the witness of our 2013 Mission Team that traveled to serve a week with Renewed Hope Missions.  While our mission team was across a portion of the Atlantic Ocean serving as the hands and feet of our Lord Jesus Christ, I was across a portion – granted a larger portion! – of the Pacific Ocean serving alongside some of the fabulous youth and adult volunteers of St. Luke’s UMC Orlando with Surfing The Nations, based in Wahiawa, Hawaii.

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The Team – everyone is smiling and Dawn and me.

From January 2011 to July 2012 this group of students and adults have been building wooden hollow-core surfboards from strips of poplar to finished boards.  They studied Scripture as they built, exchanged vlogs with the Surfing The Nations’ staff and children in their program, and studied the area of Hawaii where we traveled in July 2012 to deliver these boards.

Most people when they conceive of Hawaii think of pristine beaches, extravagant hotels, and little umbrellas in their drinks…little do people know that at some points just across the street from those pristine beaches, multi-billion dollar hotels, and umbrella-ed drinks are brothers and sisters that live in extreme economic duress – at it’s height – 28% of the population living under the poverty line.

In Hawaii.

A couple of days during our trip we served the people in Waianae.  In Waianae it is commonplace for people to live in tent villages on the beaches.  You can obtain a permit to sleep on the beach in the same place for 6 days and then you have to move to another spot and obtain a new permit.  This “ensures” that someone isn’t staying somewhere too long.

Grooves mark the walking paths of these our homeless neighbors as they tread up and down the beaches, seeking community, seeking companionship, seeking access to a bathroom and a spot to draw near to a fire pit at night.

Those “fortunate” enough to have housing live in converted military hangers.  What used to house planes now house people.  Large families – sometimes up to 17 people – live in 15’15’ rooms which are no more than 4 walls and beds for sleeping.  Everything else occurs in the common areas – eating, job training, tutoring.  Families do not control turning on or off the lights or the air conditioning, which is furnished by big industrial fans that coax the warm Hawaiian air into circulation.  Bathroom facilities are reminiscent of gym class in middle school.  Food is served cafeteria style at set times during the day; if you miss meal time, you miss that meal.

Surfing the Nations has a wonderful relationship with the people in Waianae.  Weekly they travel to these converted military bases and collect the children, youth, and young adults that live there to take them to the beach – for worship, for fellowship, for swimming, and for surfing.  They have a commitment to sharing the love and lessons of Christ with these children and families as well as a commitment to teach them water safety and perhaps a skill that will help them transition out of poverty.  It is for these children – and all the children that Surfing the Nations serves – that we made these boards.  Surfing the Nations never has enough boards – especially boards that will “stand up” to being used again and again by novice surfers.  The wooden boards were up for the challenge and will surely stand the tests of time and use.

Surf

All Seven Boards

Unwrapping these boards for the children in Waianae was like every Christmas I have ever experienced all in one.  These beautiful children of God that have hardly anything to call their own knew from that day forward that these boards had been created especially for them – prayed over, celebrated over, cried over – that these children would feel the presence of God alongside them as they surf.

Towards the end of our trip we assisted with feeding over 700 familes – that’s 3500 people – in a weekly feeding program that Surfing The Nations supports called Feeding the Nations.  We arrived in the morning to a paved space beneath an overpass of one of Honolulu’s busiest highways and set up a supermarket of sorts from the ground up – tables, shelves, organized food – for the families to come and receive.  We provided food for hungry people for five hours and then completely took the supermarket apart, returning the space to an empty paved space once again.

FtNA view of the FtN Supermarket.  The volunteers are in orange.

The families we served were primarily Polynesian, Micronesian, and American Samoan.  Most sobering of this experience was the realization that poverty is the great equalizer.  Neighbors came through the lines with faces and stories that they had never been afforded any opportunity in life to bring themselves out of poverty.  These neighbors stood next to others that had faces and stories of having been afforded the opportunities and yet here they were.  As one of my friends on the trip said, “It was a hard day of holding back tears, but a good day, too.”  Good because God’s people came to receive and God’s people were able to give – and give abundantly.

That’s the Kingdom of God.  That’s a brief witness I wanted to share.  And if you’re interested, I would love to share with you more.

If I ever return to Hawaii, it won’t be for the pristine beaches – but for the pristine faces of new friends that I hold most dear in my heart.

I hope to worship with you on Sunday so we can all hear the witness of the 2013 Mission Team!  See you in worship!

Prayer: “All who love and serve your city, all who bear its daily stress, all who cry for peace and justice, all who curse and all who bless: In your day of loss and sorrow, in your day of helpless strife, honor, peace, and love retreating, seek the Lord, who is your life.”* Amen.

*”All Who Love and Serve Your City,” The United Methodist Hmynal, 433.

Faith and Works: C – P – R

Sunday’s Scripture ~ James 5:13-20

What? A sermon/blog titled C-P-R with Scripture from James? Is this where the medical community first got the idea for cardiopulmonary resuscitation?

Alas – no.

But there is some definite life-saving and life-giving business marinating in this passage of Scripture.

C – P – R

Confess – Pray – Reconcile

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Last week I spent my vacation serving as a member of a mission team with Surfing the Nations in Wahiawa, Hawaii. It was an incredible week of service and community building – not only with the students and adults from St. Luke’s UMC Orlando (the church Andrew serves) but also with the people of Hawaii.

We hosted a surf-n-swim party for children and families living in a transitional shelter. We fed 3500 people in 5 hours in a “supermarket” that we constructed from set up to serve to tear down under an overpass of one of Hawaii’s busiest highways. We entered and found solidarity with the working poor by spending a day walking – and riding the bus – in their shoes from looking for work to paying bills to buying groceries to seeking a safe place of refuge for the night.

As my friend Jed said, “It was a good hard week with eyes tired from holding back tears.” Tears of joy for the happiness the children shared for us, tears of restoration for the families that would have food to eat that day, tears for the healing of complacency, tears crying for justice.

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A week ago today our mission team was invited to join the StN staff in their day of Sabbath. We fasted. We worshiped. We experienced what the StN-ers phrased “speaking truth into one another’s life” – and that speaking truth came through C-P-R.

Confess – Pray – Reconcile

Confessing – Praying – Reconciling will help bring the wanderer back. These acts are our road map. These acts sustain us in this life. These acts draw us close.

To God.

To our neighbors.

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I presently find myself in a dry spiritual place. I spend so much time planning and preparing for the life of the church that I, at times, cast off – or eliminate – my faith presence in the church. That’s when what I do becomes a job instead of a calling – something to do rather than a true vocation.

I confess my wandering.  I don’t like where I am. I need a spiritual resuscitation. Confess – Pray – Reconcile are these steps I need to get there. God will lead me. Loved ones and accountability partners will walk alongside me.  But I have to first engage these practices.

If you find yourself in a dry place, consider what it is you have been doing or not doing. How can C-P-R aid you? How can C-P-R revive your spiritual life? How can C-P-R put an end to your wandering and guide you back to a sure course that is led by God?

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Prayer of Confession: God of creation, giver of life: we confess our anxiety about this very day, which you have made. Forgive us. Lord Jesus Christ, bread of life: we acknowledge our refusal to receive the grace that sustains us. Have mercy upon us. Holy Spirit, giver of new life, we declare the limitations of our energies; our resources; our gifts. Grant us your peace.

Words of Assurance: Hear the good news: God leads us beside still waters and restores our souls, and in God’s presence there is sanctuary. Let us give thanks for the eternal presence of the One who is life and peace. Amen.*

*”Self-Sufficiency and Pride” from Prayers and Liturgies of Confession and Assurance, Kenneth H. Carter, Jr. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009), 25.