Vision 20/20 Church: Smyrna

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Revelation 2:8-11.

Devotion Focus ~ Matthew 28:19-20, Matthew 22:37 and 39.

The United Methodist Church draws upon two passages of Scripture as the rational for our shared mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are united under Jesus’ Great Commission as we fulfill Jesus’ Greatest Commandment.

Matthew’s Gospel concludes with Jesus saying to the disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Of greatest importance is that Jesus’ disciples then – as well as Jesus’ disciples now – teach all people to love God with all that they are – with the entirety of their minds, hearts, souls, and strengths – and to love others as they love themselves. Jesus learned this lesson of loving God and neighbor from the Levitical or Priestly Code. Later the Apostle of James, believed to be the brother of Jesus, would call this teaching The Royal Law and thereby reference Jesus as living and reigning King. Our King lived by this law, and we – the persons in his Kingdom – should likewise live by the same standard.

United Methodists believe that we appropriately and rightly live out our love of God through our love of neighbor. In doing so we join with others in seeking the fulfillment of the reign of God in the world. We also affirm that as we are about the business of loving God through our love of neighbor that we do so with greatest respect. “As we make disciples, we respect persons of all religious faiths and we defend religious freedom for all persons” (¶121 BOD 2016). God created each of us. God claims all people as God’s children and desires relationships with us. As children of God, all people and their beliefs are of value. God’s children have developed into different cultures, traditions, and beliefs; one groups is not created holier than another, though at times individuals and religious groups perpetuate this understanding.

Our Social Principles – while not church law – “are considered a prayerful and thoughtful effort on the part of the General Conference (the official voice and governing body of The United Methodist Church) to speak to the human issues in the contemporary world from a sound biblical and theological foundation” state that United Methodists “deplore acts of hate or violence against groups or persons based on race, color, national origin, ethnicity, age, gender, disability, status, economic condition, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religious affiliation” (¶Preface Social Principles and ¶162 BOD 2016). United Methodists hold fast and deeply to the inherent dignity of all persons, and so in love, we apply ourselves to the work of “recognizing and protecting the universal, indivisible, and inalienable rights” of all persons (¶162 BOD 2016).

We are the truest version of Church when we apply ourselves to the work of transforming the world by making disciples through sharing about and serving to multiply God’s great love. This work takes many visible forms. Sometimes it is writing a letter to a lawmaker. Sometimes it is visiting someone sick or recovering. Sometimes it is inviting a friend or family member to worship. Sometimes it is stopping to lend a helping hand or to prepare a meal.

Every time we do this work, we are drawing near what is holy. Every time we lean into and live out God’s love through our lives, we – the Church – help make the Kingdom of God a bit more visible…a bit more real.

Prayer: “Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty; let our rejoicing rise high as the listening skies, let it resound loud as the rolling sea. Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us; sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us; facing the rising sun of our new day begun, let us march on till victory is won.”* Amen.

*“Lift Every Voice and Sing,” The United Methodist Hymnal 519.

 

The Choice Is Yours

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 1:4-11.

I am thrilled to return to my regular posting on The Sunday Stiletto! My eleven week hiatus was due in part to this sweet face.

9Y4A4714bw

Meet Joshua everyone! Andrew and I are completely in love and grateful each day to be this little guy’s parents.

Last Sunday Pastor Kate shared a challenging sermon based on one of her favorite Scripture texts – Micah 6:1-8. This is a text that Pastor Kate returns to again and again. The thought of her returning to this text stirred my heart to consider a Scripture text I return to again and again. Immediately I thought of The Greatest Commandment:

“One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, Which commandment is the first of all? Jesus answered, The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The secondhand is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mk 12:38-31).

In the words of Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, “let me sum up – Love God; Love Others.

In my words and in my actions, in my work and in my play, in public and private spheres, today and always I want to love God and love others. That is my choice and my prayer as I begin each day, especially since Joshua arrived. I want him to see in me what it looks like and what it means to embody Jesus’ Greatest Commandment.

I need God’s help to accomplish this embodiment. I need God to lead me. I confess that I do not always get it right. I roll my eyes, I think hurtful thoughts, I put myself ahead of others. I am grateful that God’s grace is abundant in those moments and is faithfully shaping me so that I am able to love more completely the next time.

What Scripture text do you return to again and again? How does that Scripture text inspire or guide the choices you make? Share your thoughts with someone and take care to embody that Scripture text this week.

Prayer: “Wash, O God, our sons and daughters, where your cleansing waters flow. Number them among your people; bless as Christ blessed long ago. Weave them garments bright and sparkling; compass them with love and light. Fill, anoint them; send your Spirit, holy dove and heart’s delight.”* Amen.

*“Wash, O God, Our Sons and Daughters,” The United Methodist Hymnal 605.

Parable of the Weeds Among the Wheat

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:24-30.

In reaction to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, Patton Oswalt, renowned actor, comedian, and writer, shared these words,

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity where inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago. So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance, or fear, or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred, or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”

These are incredibly powerful words that provided me with a sense of hope and comfort after that terror attack. They are words that I, unfortunately, continue to recall with each additional act of terror that happens in our nation and in our world.

As I think on these acts of terror – and as I read and reflect upon our Scripture passage for this week – I find myself asking – again – that powerful, haunting, one-word question.

Why?

Why do innocent people suffer? Why do hurt people choose to hurt people?

How do we cope with people – near or far – that seek to do us harm and yet we must grow alongside them? How do we heal from personal behaviors by which we do harm to ourselves?

Why do weeds grow among the wheat?

Why does God allow it to happen?

I do not think God allows it to happen; I believe people allow these sort of harmful behaviors to manifest-er into harmful acts. And I believe we must face these harmful acts caused by hurting people with grace and forgiveness. The Scripture says that we have to grow up together, for to take one from the other would cause damage to both. Jesus holds us accountable to how we treat our neighbors – neighbors that love us and that we love as well as neighbors that desire to cause us harm and, towards them, our thoughts are less than kind.

Scripture also tells us that Jesus is judge. Jesus is adjudicator. In trusting his sovereignty, we trust that he will enact justice. In coming under his lordship, we hope that we will be found among the faithful that responded to his commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbors – all neighbors – as ourselves.

Since the time of the Fall God has been saying, shouting, praying that the good outnumber the evil and always will. I believe God calls us to join in saying, shouting, and praying this statement – not to puff ourselves up as the good – but to offer hope in a world that at times seems all too gloomy.

Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.

On all. On us. On me.

Prayer: “Come, my Light, and illumine my darkness. Come, my Life, and revive me from death. Come, my Physician, and heal my wounds. Come, Flame of divine love, and burn up the thorns of my sins, kindling my heart with the flame of thy love. Come, my King, sit upon the throne of my heart and reign there. For thou alone art my King and my Lord. Amen.”*

*”An Invitation to Christ,” The United Methodist Hymnal 466.