The Gospel According to Showtunes: Climb Every Mountain

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ephesians 3:14-21

This Sunday is my last Sunday with my Reeves UMC family.  On July 1st I begin serving as the senior pastor at Tuskawilla UMC and my first Sunday will be July 6th.  Below is my farewell letter to Reeves.  I invite you to be in prayer for both of these congregations and for me as I prepare to say “see you later” and “nice to meet you” in the next couple of weeks.

Dear Reeves UMC Family,
It has been my honor and pleasure to serve as your pastor for the past two years.  You have taught me so much about life, about being a pastor, about yourselves, about myself, and about the very real presence of God in our midst.
Thank you for putting up with my shenanigans, loving me despite my shortcomings, and embracing my “high taste” for shoes.  Thank you for opening your arms to Andrew and our four-legged children.  Thank you for allowing me to affirm and challenge you in my sermons and small group studies.  Thank you for your prayerful support of the mission and outreach of the church.  Thank you for your trust in my leadership and stewardship of your congregation.  Thank you for the hugs, handshakes, constructive criticism, affirmation, laughter and tears.
I felt called to come to Reeves and serve alongside you.  I am now called to continue in service in another local church.  My love and care for you will continue.  I will continue to hold you in prayer as you come under Rev. Tracy’s pastoral leadership and grow as disciples so you can transform your church and community.  As I leave you to begin serving as the pastor at Tuskawilla United Methodist Church I will remember you fondly and know that we will meet again someday.  So this is not good-bye; it is see you down the road.  It is because of God’s grace that we travel this road together and this road is leading us to glory.
Love,
Sarah
Philippians 1:3-6
Prayer: “Lord, whose love through humble service bore the weight of human need, who upon the cross, forsaken, offered mercy’s perfect deed: we, your servants, bring the worship not of voice alone, but heart, consecrating to your purpose every gift that you impart.  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.
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The Gospel According to Showtunes: Seasons of Love

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 39:1-7

This week pastors and lay people from all over the Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church will gather in Lakeland for our Annual Conference event.  It is a time to celebrate the ministry that God has led the Florida Annual Conference (comprised of over 700 churches) to and through this past year.  It is also a time to look ahead to where God is leading us in the future.

I most look forward to Annual Conference because of the friends in ministry that I am able to reconnect with during the event.  We worship together.  We grow together.  We eat together – and eating together is a priority – we are United Methodist, after all.

This Annual Conference will also be very special because I will be ordained and brought into full connection membership to the Annual Conference.  On June 13th, 2014 – a Friday and a full moon! – I will close my six year candidacy journey.  Over the past six years I have moved from inquiring candidate to certified candidate; from certified candidate to commissioned provisional elder; and now from commissioned provisional elder to ordained elder in full connection.  During these six years I have laughed and cried; I have doubted and felt affirmed; I have watched God transform relationships – bringing some to a close and rooting others all the more deeper.  I am so blessed to have had Andrew by my side throughout this journey.  I was called to this life and I chose this life – a life of ordained service in the church, a life of itinerating when the appointive authorities say it is time to move, a life of middle of the night phone calls for pastoral emergencies and meetings after meetings after meetings.  Sometimes I apologize to Andrew for this life that I have brought him into because he did not choose it…but then he looks at me and says, “But I did choose it…I chose it when I chose you.”

I know what you are thinking…he’s a keeper.  And I intend to do just that.

My Annual Conference experience will be a full one.  I am

  • Hosting a lunch
  • Assisting with the coordination of all seven worship services
  • Participating in two worship services
  • Co-hosting the inaugural Annual Conference 5K
  • Singing in a memorial choir
  • Being ordained
  • And hugging a whole host of people that I love very very much.

I am thankful for the season in my life.  It’s a crazy one, but it is so full of God’s abundance and love.

And next week…I will sleep.  Very very well.

Prayer: “Be still, my soul: your God will undertake to guide the future, as in ages past.  Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake; all now mysterious shall be bright at last.  Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know the Christ who ruled them while he dwelt below.”*  Amen.

*”Be Still, My Soul,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 534.

The Gospel According to Showtunes: Raise You Up

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 1:1-11

The Ascension of Jesus assures that those who come from God, return to God.  Jesus – God’s only begotten Son – came from God as an infant – holy and lowly – and now as resurrected Christ ascends into heaven.  Those who believe in the resurrected and ascended Lord are also on this path.  We, who claim faith in Christ, are new creations; our birth is no longer natural or earthly but from on high with God.  Our faith in Christ has grafts us into the Kingdom.

The Apostle Paul writes, “You will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity towards those who have fallen, but God’s kindness towards you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And even those of Israel, if they do not persist in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again” (Romans 11:19-23).  The “broken branches” refer to the people of Israel that did not receive the good news of Jesus Christ and the “grafted branches” refer to the Gentiles that did receive the good news.  Paul guards his listeners (and readers) against pride.  It is because of Christ that we are on the path we are on; therefore, do not be boastful.  We have been set on a particular way – from God to return to God – and how we live and serve in the in-between-time becomes our focus.  We are challenged to keep God at our center so that in God we will “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

Jesus sends the disciples to Jerusalem; there they are to await the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This is another step in their in-between time from God to God, but the disciples get ahead of themselves.  They don’t want to take a step; they want to take a flying leap forward!  They ask, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6)?  I can imagine Jesus dropping his chin to his chest and chuckling after hearing this question.  Acts records Jesus response as, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8).  My paraphrase of Jesus’ response would go something like this…”Oh you disciples, you still don’t get it.  You are looking for things way in the future when I have asked you to be present in this moment.  We are here for you to receive the Spirit and then you will join me in restoring the Kingdom to the ends of the earth.  Keep focused.  One step at a time.”  Before the disciples can ask any follow-up questions, Jesus ascends.  They stand in awe with their gaze toward heaven.

And eventually…their gaze shifts from the heavens back to earth, back to the mission field, back to the Kingdom that is reigning in some areas and still needing to in-break into others.  God equips the disciples with the Holy Spirit so they are prepared to attend to the work before them.  The disciples are now responsible to carry on Jesus’ revolutionary work and they will do so with the Holy Spirit as their companion.

We, as modern day disciples, also find ourselves on the path “from God to return to God.”  Sure, we can take time to marvel at the heavens and be thankful for the final destination of our path, but we have work to do in the in-between time.  We, like Jesus’ disciples, have to uncrane our necks from the heavens and get dirt back under our fingernails.  Jesus is not going to do the work for us and we cannot stand idle until he returns in glory.  There is work to be done.  We are equipped by God’s Spirit to do it.  And we will do it – one step at a time.

Prayer: “I can hear my Savior calling, I can hear my Savior calling, I can hear my Savior calling, ‘Take thy cross and follow, follow me.’  He will give me grace and glory, he will give me grace and glory, he will give me grace and glory, and go with me, with me, all the way.  Where he leads me I will follow, where he leads me I will follow, where he leads me I will follow; I’ll go with him, with him, all the way.”* Amen.

*”Where He Leads Me,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 338.

 

The Gospel According to Showtunes: I Know Where I’ve Been

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Proverbs 22:8

This week the Reeves community welcomes several musical guests to worship.  The first is Ms. Delicia Egerton – the director of the Orlando Community Center Children’s Choir.  She will sing our showtune feature for this week – I Know Where I’ve Been from the musical Hairspray.  The second is the Cross and Flame Youth Choir from Trinity United Methodist Church in Homewood, AL.  They will sing several anthems throughout the worship service.  I am so excited to have these talented folks join us this week!!!

An additional treat is that my middle school orchestra teacher – Mrs. Jodi Haskins – is a chaperone with the youth choir from Trinity UMC.  I have not seen her in person in years!  Mrs. Haskins – along with my other music teachers and directors – helped to grow my love for music – a love that I have had since infancy.  She and they taught me music appreciation, instrument fundamentals, and the technicals of music theory.  As I reflect upon the Scripture passage for this week a certain technical of music theory comes to mind – leading tones.

A “leading tone” is a note or pitch that resolves or leads to a note one half-step higher or lower that the original tone.  For example, in a C-major scale the notes are C D E F G A B C;  a leading tone in this scale is the B that resolves in the C.

(Please forgive this over-simplistic theory lesson – but we do not need to go too technical.)

What I appreciate about leading tones is that they are going somewhere.  They are somewhat volatile, reactive pitches.  There is energy behind them.  Anticipation is created within them.  Anticipation can quickly become angst if the leading tone is not resolved.  Progress needs to be made.  Move the piece of music forward.  Follow the leading tone through the next phase of the song.

This week’s Scripture passage contains a leading tone and the leading tone is within the word “will.”  “Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail.”  That will indicates that present circumstances are going somewhere.  That will is somewhat volatile and reactive.  There is energy behind it.  Anticipation is created within it.  And anticipation quickly becomes angst if the will is left too long to resolve.  Progress needs to be made.

God says sowers of injustice will reap calamity and that the rod of anger will fail.  Our God is trustworthy.  Our God is the guarantor of promises made.  Our God…does not work alone.  We are caught up in that will with God.  We are instruments of God’s peace with justice in the world.  We are partnered with God in leading tone moments – in our own lives, in our community, and in the Kingdom.

What are leading tone moments?  They are those moments where you come to a fork in the road and resolution is necessary.  Which way will I turn?  What decision will I make?  What outcome will that bring?  It is God’s desire that our leading tone moments further God’s justice in the world, that our decisions give life and reflect the one who created us.

We are all working, living, serving towards our ultimate resolution – the time of complete resurrection.  Every moment until that time, then, is a leading tone moment, where we can act with God’s help to more fully bring about the Kingdom or not.  What leading tone moments are you currently experiencing?  How does God want you to resolve?  What resolution will you bring to the Kingdom?

Prayer: “Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day; earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away; change and decay in all around I see; O Thou who changes not, abide with me.  I need thy presence every passing hour.  What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?  Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?  Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.  I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless; ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.  Where is death’s sting?  Where, grave, thy victory?  I triumph still, if thou abide with me.”* Amen.

*”Abide with Me,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 700.

 

The Gospel According to Showtunes: Freak Flag

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 1:4-10

This passage of Scripture shares the call of the prophet Jeremiah.  God calls Jeremiah to live a life set apart  and to lead God’s people through proclamation, guidance, and accountability.  Jeremiah resisted, but God convinced him, and Jeremiah lived his life in the service of his Lord.

As I read Jeremiah’s call story, I am drawn to the memory of my own.  I have known since the age of 11 that God called me – and calls me still – to live a life set apart and to lead God’s people through proclamation, guidance, and accountability.  I cannot recall any moments where I resisted in the manner of Jeremiah, but that does not mean that I have not faced my share of hardships…and it does not mean that I do not continue to face hardships.  I receive criticisms on my age and my gender.  My intellect and work ethic are questioned.  I am looked down upon and it is God who helps me keep on standing when my knees buckle.

Some folks think that only ministers, pastors, and priests are called by God.  Not true.  So not true.  We all participate in the ministry of all believers, which means we are all called and set apart by God to do a specific task or many specific tasks in the Kingdom.  Some flavors of set apartness lead persons into lives of ordained clergy and other flavors of set apartness lead persons into lives of awesome servant leadership without having a formal title in the church.

But wait…we all bear a formal title.  Actually we have several formal titles from God.

Child of God.  Disciple.  Beloved.

All of these calls – clergy / laity / children of God / disciples / beloved – are worthy and honorable and necessary in the Kingdom.

We can try to offer excuses to God as to why we are not fit to serve or worthy of God’s call, but if we gaze into our Scripture passage for this week we learn that God has an answer to each of our objections.  We could follow in the footsteps of Jonah and flee from God’s call with an excursion on our own, but I know I would rather follow God’s will – no matter how trying it may seem to me – smelling fresh and clean than smelling like l’eau de poisson.

How awesome it is that our mighty and powerful God, who could and is able to do all the work and service needed in this world, is so generous in inviting us to join the work?  When we call on God, we want an answer…and that’s a two way street, my friends.  When God calls on us we should not send God to voicemail or hit “ignore” or receive the message and never respond.  God calls and God wants an answer.  The unknown of that call – the where will I be sent, what will I be asked to do, how will I make this work, why did God pick me – will be answered in time.  Our initial and quick answer to God’s call should be in trust and in faith.

“I am with you to deliver you,” God said to Jeremiah.

God affirms those words to us as well.

And we should say, “Here I am, send me.”

Prayer: “Standing on the promises that cannot fail, when the howling storms of doubt and fear assail, by the living Word of God I shall prevail, standing on the promises of God.  Standing on the promises I cannot fall, listening every moment to the Spirit’s call, resting in my Savior as my all in all, standing on the promises of God.  Standing, standing, standing on the promises of God my Savior; standing, standing, I’m standing on the promises of God.”* Amen.

*”Standing on the Promises,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 374.

 

The Gospel According to Showtunes: He Lives In You

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I John 4:11-17

Emotions are running high in my life.  I am sad.  I am excited.  I am nervous.  I am exhilarated.

I am moving this summer…the seventh move in seven years for Andrew and me.  In the next six weeks I will say goodbye to the Reeves UMC congregation that has nurtured, challenged, affirmed, and stretched me and my pastoral identity over the past two years and say hello to the congregation of Tuskawilla UMC.

It is a very strange place to be.

I am transitioning in service from one local church to another.  My family is also transitioning to another residence as well.  So our current parsonage is bespeckled with boxes and packing peanuts and bubble wrap, which is fine until you are walking around in the dark and your foot finds the bubble wrap!  I’ll just say that you wake up really quick!  There are signs of this move all over the place: in my emotions, in my vocation, in my home.  With all this transition some days I am struggling to identify a leg on which to stand.

And then I received a birthday present from my dear friend Lillian.  She bought me a globe.  It is small, about the size of a large grapefruit and it sits atop this brilliant silver stand.  The colors of the globe are muted; the water is dark and the countries are colored in greens, yellows, and peaches.  As much as I cherish this globe, I cherish her reason for giving it to me even more.  She wanted the globe to be a sign and an assurance that God is with me wherever my travels and transitions take me.  Though my appointments may change and though I may move out of one house and into another, my residence and my home is with God.

The concept of Emmanuel – God with us is one we usually hear during the seasons of Advent and Christmas, but let’s not confine Emmanuel to those brief seasons.  God with us is our blessing and assurance each and everyday.  People say that the only thing constant in life is change.  Change is not the only constant; God is a constant – the constant – and with God as my constant I know that God will guide me, ground me, and grow me through any change I may face.

I conclude this post with a benediction that my friend and mentor Jenny would offer at the end of the worship services she led.  Remember this blessing (and hearing her voice in my head) are such a gift this evening.  It is said that this blessing is a riff on what is inscribed on the breastplate of St. Patrick.  I hope you enjoy.

Prayer: God go before you to guide you.  God go behind you to protect you.  God go beneath you to support you.  God go beside you to befriend you.  Be not afraid.  And let the blessing of Almighty God, The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, descend upon you, settle in around you, and make its home in you.  Be not afraid.  Go in peace.  Amen.

The Gospel According to Showtunes: No One Is Alone

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Kings 17:8-24

I write this blog post on the eve of my birthday.  Tomorrow I will be 29…and I’m thinking around this time 29 years ago my mother entered into her labor of me.  I was a healthy baby – 9lbs 6oz if I remember correctly what I have been told – so my mother worked hard!  As I age I find myself thinking more of my mother than myself on my birthday.  That day is what it is because of how she labored for what God created.

I was a mild-mannered child, save the colic I had for what seemed like eternity!  And then very quickly into my teenage and young adulthood years I found my own opinions that I expressed with my own voice.  I am not sure that I was ever shy in sharing an opinion – though I have reigned that in a bit nowadays.  Sometimes I would say things and my mother would look at me with a face of, “Where in the world did you get that trait?!”  Certainly not from her, but she claimed me and loved me and claims me and loves me still.

Even when I say things that are the complete opposite of what she believes.

Even when I say things that push her outside her comfort zone.

She claims me.  She loves me.  That is the greatest gift of motherhood a child could ever receive.

Every Sunday night my mother sends me an email and they all start out with variations on this theme:

Dear Sarah, I hope your service went well this morning.  I hope those gathered heard God’s word and felt God’s presence.  I prayed for you and your leadership as you served.

Her prayers, her sincerity, her consistent messages – they are pure gift.  They remind me that no matter how old I get, I am still her little girl.  The little girl that she had to tape bows to my head for pictures because my hair was so few and so fine – you would never believe that if you saw my hair now!  The little girl that she had to coax to wear tights to church.  The little girl who acted tough in public but she would hold as I cried at night.  That happened when I was a child.  That still happens now.

My sweet mother is someone who comes alongside those who are in need and she serves diligently.  She serves not seeking recognition but because she knows in her heart that it is the right thing to do.  In Matthew 6:2-4 Jesus says, “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.  But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  My mother does not sound a trumpet.  She gives wholeheartedly.  She serves silently.

She is my example and my hero.

I give thanks that my mother is always there to remind me that I am not alone.  Her companionship is a gift that I will treasure always and it is a gift that I seek to share with all of my family, friends, and the people that I serve.  Our relationship is balanced: I learn from her, she learns from me; I say crazy things and she laughs.  See?  Balanced!  I celebrate her this week as I enter my 29th year of life.

I love you, Mom.  So very much.

Prayer: “For our mothers, who have given us life and love, that we may show them reverence and love, we pray to the Lord…  For mothers who have lost a child through death, that their faith may give them hope, and their family and friends support and console them, we pray to the Lord…  For women, though without children of their own, who like mothers have nurtured and cared for us, we pray to the Lord…  For mothers, who have been unable to be a source of strength, who have not responded to their children and have not sustained their families, we pray to the Lord…  Loving God, as a mother gives life and nourishment to her children, so you watch over your Church.  Bless these women, that they may be strengthened as Christian mothers.  Let the example of their faith and love shine forth.  Grant that we, their sons and daughters, may honor them always with a spirit of profound respect.  Grant this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.”*

*”A Prayer for Mother’s Day,” The United Methodist Book of Worship, 438.