Joined Together

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ephesians 2:11-22.

When I think about unity I picture a massive dining room table – one where anyone and everyone can gather, sit down, and share a meal. There was a commercial last summer about the “biggest back yard barbeque” where the table went on and on; as more people arrived, more tables were added. There was always room. There was always space. Everyone was welcome. What they brought was gratefully received and added to the spread. And there was laughter. And there was joy.

This idea is why Andrew and I have a massive dining room table.

In the Gospel of Luke Jesus shares the Parable of the Great Dinner. Jesus said, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his [servant] to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the [servant] returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his [servant], ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room’” (Lk 14:16-22).

The image of there still being room, of inviting others to come in, and most importantly, inviting folks – as I have heard described – that no one else wants or no one else sees – is the reason why Andrew and I have a massive dining room table…and is the reason why I think the tables in churches should be even bigger. Our tables remind us that Christ’s table was not just for the healthy, the financially sustainable, the intelligent, the talented, and the successful. Christ’s table is for all people. And thank God for that because as much as I would like to think of myself among the healthy, the financially sustainable, the intelligent, the talented, and the successful, I am among the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. And Christ welcomes me – welcomes us – welcomes all so that “[his] house may be filled” (Lk 14:23).

When you think about unity, what image do you see? And what feelings accompany that image? Take time to reflect on that question and your response this week – and share your image with someone you cherish.

Prayer: “Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed, for I am thy God and will still give thee aid; I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.”* Amen.

*“How Firm A Foundation,” The United Methodist Hymnal 529.

 

 

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A Special Treat

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 19:1-10 (Morningsong) and 1 Samuel 17 (11am Blended Worship)

On Monday Andrew and I took his brother, Josh, a pumpkin. Josh is interred at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell and Halloween was (is) his favorite holiday. Oh the mischief Andrew and Josh would cause on Halloween.

One Halloween they kept changing their costumes – full wardrobe changes at first and then only minor changes towards the end – as they revisited the same house again and again. Why that house? Four words: full.size.candy.bars.

Andrew and Josh did not start out as friends. They started out having a fist fight…and then they became friends. And once they were friends, the two were instantly brothers. If you were to ask my in-laws or Josh’s parents, I am sure they would say that a common phrase between Andrew and Josh was “I am coming to your house today!” To hang out, to sleep over, to build something in the garage, to scheme the next prank, to plot resistance against “the man” (whatever or whoever “the man” was that week), to laugh, to live. “I am coming to your house today.”

Wherever Josh was, there Andrew would be and vice versa.

My heart breaks because Andrew cannot have those experiences with Josh right now…but that will not be the case forever. We trust, we believe faithfully that God is bringing us all – bringing them – together again.

Jesus shocked the crowd when he announced that he was going to Zacchaeus’ house. Perhaps some hoped that Jesus was going there to “clean house” or spare Zacchaeus the public ridicule and shame of being rebuked by the Savior before his peers. But that was not Jesus’ intent. Jesus’ intent was to build community and include rather than further exclude the tax collector. Jesus wanted Zacchaeus, who had been so far from Jesus as evidenced by his behavior, to come near to him. Zacchaeus, this tax collector, this culturally despised man, this swindler, this con – Jesus had so many reasons to come to blows with this man. And yet Jesus does not throw a fist, but offers a hand. “I am coming to your house today.”

Jesus said, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Lk 8:21). Through his repentance and reconciliation – through admitting his wrong and repaying his neighbors – Zacchaeus turned his will towards the Father’s and embraced his kinship with Jesus.

We visit Josh to remember. We visit Josh so that Andrew and Josh can hang out. We visit Josh so Andrew can tell him what has been built in the garage, report on completed pranks, update resistance plans, and laugh. We visit Josh as an act of living and leave Josh’s side with a renewed sense of calling: Who will we invite to our house today? What homes will we ask to enter? What new and continuing relationships will we nurture? How will we see Christ in others and invite them to see Christ in us?

Remember this Sunday’s treat: Join me for the 8:30 Morningsong Service and then plan to stay for worship at 11am as Andrew preaches on David and Goliath from I Samuel. I am looking forward to my time at both Tusakwilla and Azalea Park UMCs this weekend! The Millers are excited to see you in worship on Sunday!

Prayer: “Called forth from every nation, yet one o’er all the earth; our charter of salvation: one Lord, one faith, one birth. One holy name professing and at one table fed, to one hope always pressing, by Christ’s own Spirit led.” Amen.

*”The Church’s One Foundation,” The United Methodist Hymnal 546.

FAMILY ~ Ministry of All Believers

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ephesians 4:1-16.

My friend Dan Dixon has the keenest ability to send me cards that 100% describe how I am feeling at the present moment. My most recent installment looks like…

 

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This.

I think it should be titled, “Sarah Miller: This Moment In Time.”

The inside of the card reads, “Ever have one of those days?” And underneath those words Dan kindly wrote, “Yes, we do! Yes, we all have!”

How wonderful it is to be reminded that I am not alone in this life and that I have a great friend that will send me a picture of a soaked cat to lift my spirits.

In the card Dan thanked me for all the ways we stay connected as colleagues as well as friends. We share resources, we ask advice, we laugh, we vent, we sit in silence, we complain about all the things we should have been taught at Candler, and through talk, text, and/or email, we offer “towels” to one another on the days we are utterly soaked.

Dan has the incredible gift of speaking truth in love – “Sarah, you are doing a little too much right now.” “Sarah, listen to your committee members on this.” “Sarah, let that go.” “Sarah, forgive yourself.”

In her book Altar in the World Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “The hardest spiritual work in the world is to love the neighbor as the self – to encounter another human being not as someone you can use, change, fix, help, save, enroll, convince or control, but simply as someone who can spring you from the prison of yourself, if you will allow it.”*

Through the relationship we share, Dan and I are able to be brought out of ourselves – and most importantly, brought out of the stories that we tell ourselves that are not a true reflection of our actual selves – so we can love and nurture, so we can struggle with growth and grapple with fear, and so we can try on the rawness of vulnerability and realize that we can live with that rawness for just a few moments longer than we did the last time.

Barbara Brown Taylor observes that we are all born with “instinctive care” – that innate knowledge to do whatever we need to do to care for ourselves. To love the neighbor as the self requires that we apply that same sort of instinctive care to someone else, that we do whatever is needed to care for another. Barbara Brown Taylor says, “to become that person, even for a moment, is to understand what it means to die to your self. This can be as frightening as it is liberating. It may be the only real spiritual discipline there is.”*

When we apply instinctive care to one another in community we experience unity. We share our joys and sorrows in community. We do not walk alone; we walk with others. We share one another’s burdens and we work together to lighten those loads. We offer affirmation, we ask questions, we seek and share forgiveness. This is what it means to be in relationship with one another. This is at the core of our ministry to one another as believers – caring for one another, which leads us to caring for all, as Christ cares for us.

Is there someone in your life presently that relates to or resembles my above “moment in time?” How might you reach out to them, and in so doing, instinctively care for them as you would for yourself? Consider how your actions will draw the two of you closer together. And imagine what our world would be like if we all genuinely and diligently answered our calls to to this sort of care.

Prayer: “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love; the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.”** Amen.

*Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, 93.

**”Blest Be the Tie That Binds,” The United Methodist Hymnal 557.

 

Hope For The Holidays

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 1:26-38

Recently I saw The Martian starring Matt Damon. This film – and book, which has been highly recommended to me and is on my list to read – chronicles the survival of Astronaut/Botanist Mark Watney after he has been left on Mars. A storm threatened the work and lives of the six person Mars crew; so, the crew chose to abandon their work and return to their space station. Mark was blown off course by a piece of debris as he struggled through hurricane force winds on his walk back to their short range spacecraft. His crew assumed he was dead and with heavy hearts executed their launch sequence to flee the storm.

Mark woke up a few days later, half buried in sand, and wholly aware of his singular existence on the Red Planet. He returns to the crew’s work and living station on Mars and completes an inventory of supplies. He records in a video diary that while he has food for now, he will die of starvation without a renewable source of nutrition. His water supply will soon deplete. And what if his facility is damaged or the systems that purify the air so that he can breathe are destroyed?

Mark’s reality washes over him…he hangs his head. And then, resolute – so resolute that he leans into the camera filming his video diary – he affirms, “I am not going to die here.” His resolution fuels his hope. Yes, of course, Mark faces challenges and set backs. Even so, he lives the mantras “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” and “where there is a will, there is a way.”

It was incredibly encouraging for me to witness Mark’s inner strength as well as how he was able to draw upon the strength of others that rallied around him. During this time in our world where the reigning mantra seems to be “every man, woman, and child for him or herself” – perhaps even “every nation for itself” – to see this display of compassion and camaraderie – reminded me of my source of inner strength, who leads me in compassion and camaraderie for others – all others – whom my hope, my Christ, welcomes as neighbors and friends.

We are a people of hope. Hope was knit into our fleshy fabric at the time of  creation. It is a legacy that was affirmed by God to Abraham when God covenanted, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” The judges and the prophets repeated God’s promise. The Psalmist sang God’s promise. And with the coming of Christ, God further invigorates the hope saying, “I will be your God and I will be with my people.”

Mary receives this message of Emmanuel in our text for this week and she looks to the future with – I am sure – a mild dose of concern that is tempered with a great deal of joy. Immediately she is drawn into community with her relative Elizabeth and they share with one another the gifts of compassion and camaraderie. They live as neighbors and friends. They help and comfort each other. They affirm that even in the midst of this most unanticipated, unexpected, unpredictable of circumstances, that neither one of them is alone.

Mark felt quite lonely up on Mars until contact was reestablished with NASA and his fellow crew mates. There are folks right outside our doors, on the street corners, in the cars next to us, on the other side of the fence or cubicle wall that feel like they mights as well be on Mars because their loneliness is so profound. Maybe you are the one attempting to hurdle the obstacle that is loneliness only to fall back down again.

If you feel your hope is waning or gone, stand up, go to the nearest mirror, and look at yourself. Really look at yourself. Look at yourself until you see, you feel, that you are created in God’s image and that God’s hope is indeed within you. Then affirm – out loud – that you will not stay where you are, continuing to feel how you do. Say it. “I will not stay here. I will not continue to feel this way.” And then reach out. Call someone you trust. Call the church office! We are created with innate hope that leads us into unity. Reach out, my friend.

If you feel strong and secure in your hope, ask God to reveal to you someone that needs a helping hand or encouraging word this week. And do not ignore who is revealed to you! That person may not be your first choice, but that person is God’s choice. We are all God’s choice. And we are all in this together.

Hope, my friends, is so powerful. It is the belief in the unexpected and the unanticipated…and it leads us towards the unexpected and the unanticipated. That journey is trying as well as beautiful. It is a journey that God walks with us through thick and thin. It is a journey with Emmanuel. And I hope will you will join the Tuskawilla Family as we journey together this Advent Season.

Happy Thanksgiving! And see you Sunday.

Prayer: “Holy God, the mystery of your eternal Word took flesh among us in Jesus Christ. At the message of an angel, the virgin Mary placed her life at the service of your will. Filled with the light of your Spirit, she became the temple of your Word. Strengthen us by the example of her humility, that we may always be ready to do your will, and welcome into our lives Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”*

*”The Annunciation to Mary,” The United Methodist Book of Worship 256.

Commanded to Love: With All Our Soul

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 12:30 and Hebrews 4:12-13

Our texts for this week explore the impact God’s Scripture has on the soul. The letter to the Hebrews says, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow” (Heb 4:12).

That’s deep – and oh so punny!

As a pastor I read a fair amount of Scripture – and I will quickly add that I would like to read and study more than I do presently! There are days when I read Scripture with the posture of Sargeant Joe Friday from Dragnet – “just the facts, Lord, just the facts.” I want the highlights. I want the headlines. I want the facts and then I want to move on. I want to read, but not really marinate. I want to study, but not really emotionally connect to the text.

What pronoun did I consistently use throughout the five previous sentences? I. Reading Scripture is sometimes about what I want; yet, reading Scripture is an encounter that God always wants. Those encounters with God are not meant to be rushed. Those encounters are meant to and do catch me up in God’s presence. And they speak to my soul. They speak to God in me. They breathe into the breath that breathed into me. They teach. They form. They convict. Yes, they are facts that the Joe Friday in my desires – facts that become fodder for greater reflection and growth in my relationship with God.

A Scripture that continues to catch me up is tucked within the history of the Kings, “When he left there, he met Jehonadab son of Rechab coming to meet him; he greeted him, and said to him, ‘Is your heart as true to mine as mine is to yours?’ Jehonadab answered, ‘It is.’ Jehu said, ‘If it is, give me your hand'” (II Kings 10:15). The he in this text refers to Jehu, the tenth King of Israel, anointed by the prophet Elisha. As king Jehu’s mission was to exterminate the house of Ahab because of the sin that Ahab himself had committed as well as the sin that Ahab led and prompted God’s people to commit.

Jehu is faithful in his mission and it is a bloodbath. On his way to Samaria Jehu’s path crosses with Jehonadab son of Rechab. Jehonadab, though not a Jew himself, supports Jehu in his efforts to fulfill his mission from the Lord. Though they are not from the same people group, from the same heritage, or from the same faith, they choose to work together. They choose to form a partnership. They choose to be stronger together than weaker apart. “‘Is your heart as true to mine as mine is to yours?’ … ‘It is.’ … ‘If it is, give me your hand.'”

John Wesley reflected on this passage of Scripture in his sermon Catholic Spirit as he considered the hindrances that lie in the way of brothers, sisters, neighbors loving one another just as Christ’s greatest commandment calls us to do! Wesley pens, “The two grand, general hindrances are, first, that they cannot all think alike and, in consequence of this, secondly, they cannot all walk alike; but in several smaller points their practice must differ in proportion to the difference of their sentiments. But although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works.” (Read the full text of John Wesley’s Sermon Catholic Spirit here)

My friends, there are so many hindrances in this world that seek to divide us. We can identify the root of some of these hindrances – sometimes we are the root! – and at other times we struggle to identify the root while we suffer the effects the hindrances cause. These hindrances can divide our thoughts, they can divide our hearts, they can divide us from our neighbors. Our God does not desire division. Our God desires one people – one beautifully united people that celebrate one another’s gifts and encourages one another to use our gifts in service of the Kingdom. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.” (I Cor 12:4-11).

Daily I am challenged to, encouraged to, delighted to extend my hand because I truly believe that is how I extend the Kingdom. This Scripture from II Kings strikes and resonates within my soul. This Scripture from II Kings has caught me up. What is that Scripture for you? Please, take my hand and share it with me.

Prayer: “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul. Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blest assurance control, that Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and hath shed his own blood for my soul. My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul! And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll; the trump shall resound, and the Lord bass descend, even so, it is well with my soul. It is well [it is well] with my soul [with my soul], it is well, i is well with my soul.”* Amen.

*”It Is Well with My Soul,” The United Methodist Hymnal 377.

Be The Change

I apologize for the late post of The Sunday Stiletto this week.  It has been a week leading up to one of the biggest servant-leadership ministry opportunities in my life.  Surrounded by accountability partners, great friends, new friends, partner churches, 350 runners, and nearly 100 volunteers, Be The Change 5K ran and walked in the name of our God – for solidarity, for inclusion, for one another, for all – in Downtown Orlando on October 5, 2013.

I was privileged to share opening words with those gathered in the start line.  I shared that the church I serve as well as our partner churches understand the wideness of God’s mercy – that all means all – and we desire to be in true relationship and community with all our brothers and sisters.  With a humble heart and boldness of speech, I asked for forgiveness on behalf of the institutional church for the harm that has been cast towards our LGBTQ neighbors and allies; I asked for forgiveness from God and from those present.

I made my confession and sought reconciliation.

And then I received gifts of reconciliation from some gathered that morning.  One man approached me and extended his arms for a hug.  I returned the hug and when I started to release him, he clung to me longer.  When he was ready, he stepped back, looked me in the eye and shared these words, “I want you to know I love you.  I want you to know that I appreciate what you are doing.  I want you to know that you are teaching me what it means to be a true Christian.”  And then he walked away.

My friend, that you and others would hear my confession and grant me forgiveness, you are teaching me what it means to be a true Christian.  Christians are people of forgiveness and grace and I believe we learn more clearly how to share forgiveness and grace when we receive it.

I know I do.

Yesterday over 400 people – participants and volunteers – took huge steps towards reconciliation and unity in our community.  In fact – we took 3.1 miles worth of steps and it is my prayer that those steps will continue.

To those who served – thank you.

To those who participated – thank you.

To those who experienced this vision and helped bring it to reality – thank you.

To those who never gave up – thank you.

Together, we are the change we want to see in the world.  Together – exactly the way that God created us to be.

Prayer: O Lord, open my eyes that I may see the needs of others; open my ears that I may hear their cries; open my heart so that they need not be without succor; let me not be afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong, nor afraid to defend the poor because of the anger of the rich.  Show me where love and hope and faith are needed, and use me to bring them to those places.  And so open my eyes and my ears that I may this coming day be able to do some work of peace for thee.  Amen.*

*”For Courage to Do Justice,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 456.

Strong and Courageous: Vacancy in the Chariot

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 41:37-44 and I Samuel 18:1-16

One of my all time favorite movies is “Remember the Titans.” The movie is based on a true story and set on the threshold of integration in the school system.  In a town where there was once the white high school and the black high school there is now the high school. Folks were going to have to come together – students, teachers, parents, coaches – folks that were once set apart due to their pigment were now all together.

And at first tensions were high.

“Remember the Titans” subjects the high school’s football team and how they found unity in their diversity, which led them to a championship football season. Their unity brought together the school as well as the community – their unity made what was once broken newly whole.

But in order for this to be possible there had to be dialogue and compromise. Students, coaches, and parents that had very rigid understandings of how things should be and what should be done and who should be in charge had an immediate decision to make: adapt and join the dialogue to make the needed compromises or be very unhappy…because that’s just the way it was. There was no going back. There was only going forward.

This scenario was met with resistance at first, but slowly the community came around and rallied behind their players. Foes became friends and increasingly acknowledged the incredible gifts one another brought to the team.

And they won – not just the game or the season.  They won the fullness of life that God has to offer when folks put aside those things that seek to separate and embrace those things that unite us as one people before our God.

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In our Scripture passages this week we read two examples of leadership.  In the case of Pharaoh and Joseph in the Genesis passage we read of adaptations that led to dialogue that led to compromises that led to everyone succeeding.  In the case of Saul and David in the I Samuel passage we read of stubbornness and jealousy.

Which leadership scenario would you prefer?

I think I’d rather hang out in Pharaoh’s boardroom…

Pharaoh made room for and welcomed other persons to share in the leadership of the kingdom and it was to his benefit.  With Joseph at his side Egypt was at it’s best.  Joseph knew that Pharaoh was pharaoh, but the king didn’t wear that on his sleeve 24/7.  His leadership was a model for other leaders and he wanted those other leaders to engage those practices, not be paralyzed on the sidelines.

This is an important model for our own leadership styles no matter the context or venue that we engage them.  Whether at home, in the classroom, in the Sanctuary, in the coffee shop, on the production line, or the soccer field our leadership style should inspire and invite other leaders to partner with us.  In this way we will share the responsibility of leadership and get more work done than a single person could ever manage alone.

//

The young men of T.C. Williams High School led that community in partnered leadership.  They found unity in diversity and altered the face of their community.  If God’s people scattered across the globe engaged this same sort of practice, imagine the Kingdom work that God would bring about with us as helpmates in the kingdom…

Just imagine…now let’s make it reality.

Prayer “A charge to keep I have, a God to glorify, a never ending soul to save, and fit it for the sky.  To serve the present age, my calling to fulfill; O may it all my powers engage to do my Master’s will!”*  Amen.

* “A Charge to Keep I Have,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 413.