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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The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss ~ The Sneetches

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Galatians 3:23-29.

The film Hidden Figures tells the powerful story of black female compute-ers that were integral to the United States’ success in the 1960s Space Race. Two of the most impactful scenes in this film for me feature bathrooms.

You read that right – bathrooms.

In the first scene, Katherine Goble, recently assigned to NASA’s Space Task Group, stands soaking wet in the middle of the Space Task Group’s Command Center – the lone black woman surrounded by white men, including her supervisor, Al Harrison – and defends why she is away from her desk forty minutes a day. Cold and embarrassed with her mascara running because of the rain and her anger, she responds, “There is no bathroom for me here. There are no colored bathrooms in this building or anywhere outside the West Campus, which is half a mile away. Did you know that? I have to walk to Timbuktu just to relieve myself…so excuse me if I have to go to the restroom a few times a day.”

The scene ends with Al Harrison breaking the Colored Restroom Sign off the wall on the West Campus with a crowbar and telling Katherine, “Use whatever bathroom you want, preferably one closer to your desk.”

In the second scene, Dorothy Vaughn finds herself in the women’s restroom – not white restroom or colored restroom just the women’s restroom – with Vivian Mitchell. Dorothy, a black woman, functions as the supervisor for the West Campus compute-ers without the title or the pay while Vivian, a white woman, is the supervisor of the East Campus compute-ers with all the rights and benefits that entails. Earlier in the film viewers see inside the Colored Restroom – dismal and gray, lacking in essential supplies like soap and paper towels – whereas the White restroom is rosy, warm, stocked and sparkling. Dorothy pauses, not taking for granted that there is soap in the dispenser and paper towels awaiting her use. Vivian comes toward a sink and her eyes lock on Dorothy’s. Vivian says, “Despite what you think, I don’t have anything against y’all,” meaning persons of color. Dorothy, without missing a beat, responds, “I know you probably believe that” and exits the restroom.

Scene One communicates the message that we are all one.

Scene Two asks if we really are all one…do we say it, believe it, and act it or do we say it but believe and act otherwise?

This week in worship we will study Paul’s words to the Galatians that affirm, “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith…There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26 and 28). We will explore what it means for us to all be one, especially in light of the challenges that seek to chip away at the unity God desires us share, through the lens of Dr. Seuss’ The Sneetches. I look forward to worshipping with you. 

Prayer: “In Christ shall true hearts everywhere their high communion find; his service is the golden cord close binding humankind.”* Amen.

*”In Christ There Is No East Or West,” The United Methodist Hymnal 548.

Messiah: His Yoke Is Easy

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 11:28-30. 

Remember your baptism, and be thankful.

Last year on Baptism of Our Lord Sunday I worshipped as I watched our church family approach the baptismal font, touch the water and remember for themselves, and for most, to touch the water again and share the gift of grace the water represents with their spouse, child, or sibling in Christ. 

Remembering this moment brings tears to my eyes. 

As I watched our church family return to their seats I prepared to conclude our worship service when movement caught my eye. Half way back in the sanctuary, Phil Detmer rose to his feet to help his beloved Beverly Joyce – the girl of his choice, he told me – into her wheelchair and together they came to the font. Without thinking I lifted the bowl of the font off its stand and knelt with it. I watched Bev touch the water and touch her forehead. Then she touched the water again and touched Phil’s hand – a hand she knew so well. Every crease. Every callous. Every kindness created for her and the beautiful daughters they share in their over fifty years of marriage. 

Remembering this moment tears fall down my face. 

Commitment. Unity. These words join beautifully in Community

Ephesians 4:5 affirms the community we have with and because of Christ – “one Lord, one faith, one birth.” Our birth to new life through the waters of baptism is also our birth into the family of God, a family whose foundation is grounded in the covenant of God being our God, our being God’s children, and our responsibility to care for our brothers and sisters. 

I believe the care we are called to give is the care that is articulated in the marriage covenant – to have, hold, and honor – in all times and in all circumstances. 

I see commitment and unity to this belief in the family at Tuskawilla. I see community of this belief in the family at Tuskawilla. I saw it last Baptism of Our Lord Sunday as our family remembered our baptisms and expressed thankfulness. I saw it in the love between Phil and Bev. I see it in each face as we fellowship, study, serve, and worship as God’s family. 

We return to our regular worship service and small group times this Sunday – Morningsong at 8:30am, Small Groups at 9:30am, Worship at 11am. Both Morningsong and our 11am Worship Services will include opportunities for Baptism Remembrance. Peace, friends. See you Sunday!

Prayer: “Father in heaven, at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan you proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit. Grant that all who are baptized into his name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, One God, in glory everlasting. Amen.*”

*”Baptism of the Lord,” The United Methodist Hymnal 253. 

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.