Seven Questions of Faith: What Matters Most?

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 12:28-34

Have you ever watched a reunion between family members or close friends? The likes of a person or group being surprised by the return of a loved one at a football game or running across an airport terminal to embrace?

I experienced one of those moments this past week. A mother and dear friend from Andrew’s last church invited us to attend the Hillsong United concert with her, another parent from the youth program, and 25 or so of our former students. The students – they didn’t know we were coming. So as we gathered outside the CFE Arena at UCF one student after the next came out of the parking lot, identified the agreed upon meeting spot, and upon seeing us, ran as fast as they could to embrace each of us as hard as they could. One of the girls even ran towards us while wearing an air-cast on her foot! We love and admire your enthusiasm, Kelli, but we want your foot to heal!!

Each embrace restored my soul. Each embrace filled my cup. Each embrace reminded me what matters most.

Relationships. Caring relationships.

Some of my most formative relationships growing up and continuing to today are are with my youth group leaders. These folks are some of the first people outside of my family that saw me for me. They identified my gifts. They nurtured my call. They encouraged my curiosity and wondering about the mystery of God.

I am so grateful for these relationships. Because of them I looked forward – and look forward! – to sharing these kind of relationships with young adults. God made an impression on me through the hands of my counsellors and I am humbled by the opportunities to make God’s impressions on the young men and women I serve.

In our Scripture passage this week Jesus identifies how we are to act in the – in our – ultimate caring relationship – by loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. And then Jesus instructs us in how we are to make impressions on one another – by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

We are so loved by God. God’s love shapes us. God’s hands by way of God’s love are literally all over us. God is constantly running towards us, reuniting with us, and welcoming us home. Whether we have moved away from God or God has moved and asks us to follow, whole and holy relationship with God remains our goal. And we grow in whole and holy relationship with God by leaning into and modeling whole and holy relationships with our neighbors.

I believe that each time we participate in a reunion with a loved one – whether we have been apart for a day, a decade, or what feels like a decade – when we feel that embrace, when we fill our cups, we feel God’s loving impression upon us through the hands of our neighbors. Sharing God’s loving impression with others draws us deeper into relationship with one another and with God, which truly centers us on what matters most.

Prayer: “I love to tell the story; ’tis pleasant to repeat what seems, each time I tell it, more wonderfully sweet. I love to tell the story, for some have never heard the message of salvation from God’s own holy Word. I love to tell the story, ’twill be my theme in glory, to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love.”* Amen.

*”I Love to Tell the Story,” The United Methodist Hymnal 156.

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.

Crew

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.