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.

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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.