Upbuilding: Destined For Salvation

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Thessalonians 5:1-11

Ever have those days where you just cannot wake up?  Either where you hit snooze on the alarm clock again and again and again or where you do get up and you do not really feel like you are fully functioning?  It has been overcast in my neck of the woods the past few days. Overcast and dreary with a few light showers. I am thankful for the rain – we risk brushfires without it – but I miss the sunshine. I need it to wake up!  Also, I am not fully adjusted to this time change…it is dark so early that my body is ready for sleep as soon as the sun sets…makes the equation of Sarah + evening meetings all the more entertaining!

What do we do when we need to wake up again through out the day?  We find a pick me up. A cup of coffee. A soda. A snack. I do my best to fit in time on my yoga mat. It seems that the most productive time of my day immediately follows my practice. My head is clear. My brain is focused. My movements are swift, discerned, and efficient. I am so thankful to have that time and thankful to serve in a vocation that recognizes the importance of health of body, mind, and spirit.

Additionally – transitioning in and out some of the poses – that will really wake you up!  Ha!  (If you’re curious, complete an Internet search on scorpion yoga pose.)

In our Scripture passage for this week Paul rouses the Thessalonians to awaken from their slumbers. They are not sleeping the days away; rather, Paul is guarding them from lulling into the slumber of sin. He makes clear that it is God who does the waking, and in waking us sets us on the path of salvation. John Wesley says that God stirs the hearts of individuals through the power of the Holy Spirit. That stirring leads us to take a good long look in the mirror. We look. We are convicted of our sins – both of commission and omission – and God’s grace leads us to and through the moment of repentance. God’s grace redeems us. We are made new.

And then what?  Are we awake permanently?  No longer susceptible to sin? I wish…or maybe I don’t. God’s grace wakes us up and then God’s grace holds us accountable to our behavior throughout our lives.  God reawakens us when our behavior is not becoming of the gospel. God reawakens us when God is ready to lead us in new directions. God reawakens us so we can learn the lessons of the past in order to sculpt a better future. I want this sort of accountability. I want this sort of relationship with God. And by God’s grace I have it.

Each yoga class ends with the closing pose of savasana or corpse pose. This is a pose where the yogi lies flat on his or her mat with limbs comfortably outstretched leaving space between the legs and between the arms and the torso. In savasana breathing is no longer calculated. Every tension in the body is released. The mind is calmed and the yogi begins to drift in that presence. Corpse pose represents the death of the practice. The practice is over. It is past. All the accomplishments. All the failures. All the focus. All the confusion. Done. The yogi lays in the stillness until the instructor guides the yogi into fetal pose, which represents the birth and beginning of something new. A reawakening. The body and mind are rested while they both bear the lasting impact of the practice. Eventually the yogi returns to seated position with hands drawn to prayer at heart center. Gratitude is expressed for all that has been because it shapes who the yogi is and hope is named for who the yogi will become.

Awake I am ready to explore, feel, savor, and welcome. Awake I am ready to create, to employ the gifts God gives to me and to creation to serve my neighbor. Awake I see the best evidences of God’s grace and forgiveness in the faces of my neighbors.

I won’t be hitting the snooze button on any of that.

Church, it is time wake up!

Prayer: “Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up all you sleepers. Stand up, stand up, stand up all you dreamers. Hands up, hands up, hands up all believers. Take up your cross, carry it on. All that you reveal, with light in us, will come to life and start breathing. Here we stand our hearts are yours, Lord. Not our will, but yours be done, Lord.”* Amen.

*”Wake Up,” All Sons and Daughters, 2012. Enjoy the video here.

Upbuilding: Caught Up Together

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Thessalonians 4:13-18

One of the first gifts Andrew ever gave me was – wait for it – a mixed tape.  That’s right – legend…ary.  Legendary.  It contained music from his favorite band – which is now one of my favorite bands – Great Big Sea.  The mixed tape included GBS’s rendition of It’s The End Of The World As We Know It.  The only words of the song that I can understand to this day – in R.E.M.’s or GBS’s version – beyond the chorus are breathing down your neck!

Pretty much sums it up – when life is a struggle it feels like the world is breathing down your neck and that the end is coming sooner rather than later.

These past few months I have felt like I have barely been keeping the tip of my nose out of the water much less my head.  I keep saying, “Just a few more tasks…just a few more days…”  I wonder if that was what Jesus was thinking as he approached the cross.  In no way am I saying that my recent journey is in the same league as the path to Calvary, but in our own worlds, in our own minds, in my own perspective it sometimes feels that way.

As I wonder in my end of the world feelings the wise words of two friends come to mind:

1 – How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.

2 – Everything is better in three days.

The first aphorism is a testament to keep on keeping on.  Even when it feels like you are not / I am not making progress, turns out we are. And the second aphorism is an allusion to the resurrection.  At a very very minimum, the cross teaches us that everything is better in three days.

The Thessalonians bring their concerns about the end of the world to Paul.  They believe that the end of the world is at hand. They question the fate of those who have already died.  They wonder – we wonder – what is the reassurance of our faith as we wait for Christ to come?

The cross looked like the end of the world and the grave appeared to seal our demise, but then Jesus busted that grave wide open.  Jesus released from our slavery to sin and death.  Freedom reigns.  Life wins.  Freedom and life in Christ always wins.

And that, my friends, should make us all feel fine.

What do we do on the days when we don’t feel fine?  On the days when it feels like the world is caving in?  I find comfort in first naming that I feel overwhelmed and then I take a break to gather my thoughts – or as my friend Lee would say – get all my putty in a pile.  I inhale.  I exhale.  I get to a place where I feel safe – a place where I feel like I can start again.  This may be a mental transition, but it could also be a physical transition.  And I find a friend.  God has blessed me with so many seasoned and new friends that I am not without someone to hold my hand, to come alongside, and to assure that everything will be okay.  Then, I start working again.  Sometimes the best way for me to begin working again is for me is to make a to-do list so I can check items off as I complete them…and more than once the top item on my to-do list is “make a to-do list!”  Whatever it takes friends – whatever it takes.  As I work I am able to take one bite at a time.  As I work I know that things around me are improving.  I am improving.  Christ is improving me.

Do not be discouraged, my friends.  Chin up.  Keep moving forward.  In steps, in crawls, in leaps, in breaths.  Keep moving forward.  Even when it feels like it the world is not ending.  Everything will be better in three days.

Prayer: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.  I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.  When darkness veils his lovely face, I rest on his unchanging grace.  In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.  His oath, his covenant, his blood support me in the whelming flood.  When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay.  When he shall come with trumpet sound, O may I then in him be found!  Dressed in his righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne!  On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.”* Amen.

*”My Hope Is Built,” The United Methodist Hymnal 368.

Upbuilding: We Remember

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Thessalonians 2:9-13

This Sunday the Tuskawilla community celebrates All Saints Sunday.  In worship we will remember, we will name, we will celebrate the lives and new lives of church members and loved ones that have gone onto glory since All Saints Sunday 2013.  All Saints Sunday is an incredibly powerful and incredibly emotional time.  We honor while we continue to grieve.  We grieve and lean into our faith.  We rest in peace that passes all understanding and we claim the assurance that in Christ’s final victory we will worship with our loved ones again.

This All Saints Sunday is especially tender as I will remember Andrew’s brother, Josh, in worship.  Josh passed away from congestive heart failure at the age of 29 last December.  Josh was a decorated veteran, serving our country as a Marine and later in the Army as a sharpshooter.  Josh originally enlisted as a cook in the Marines…but that all changed on the day it was the cooks’ turn on the firing range.  Josh made an incredible shot without a scope…from cook to sharpshooter with one shot.  Josh served on numerous tours; as soon as he returned home he asked to be redeployed.  He was committed to the mission, committed to his fellow soldiers, committed to peace.

Josh received an honorable discharge in 2012.  The war, the tours, they changed him.  I believe he suffered from post traumatic stress, though I am not sure he was ever formally diagnosed.  He lived like a vagabond following his discharge – seeking what would be next for him.  He had his future at his fingertips.  Eventually he made his way home, after a year or more on the road, and that is where he died.  We celebrated his life at The National Cemetery in Bushnell in January.

A few weeks ago, knowing that All Saints Sunday was nearing, I asked Andrew if he would like to visit Josh.  He immediately said yes, sharing that Halloween was Josh’s favorite holiday.  Andrew and Josh and Halloween…that’s a serious combination for mischief…the stories Andrew’s mother could tell.  So on Monday we headed to Bushnell with a  pumpkin in tow for Josh.  We entered the cemetery – such hallowed ground – and made our way to Josh’s interment space.  We approached it together and then I wandered away to give Andrew space with his brother.  They shared a conversation – I’m not sure what about.  When I made my way back to them Andrew pointed out that Josh is the youngest person on that row of the columbarium; he is surrounded by World War II, Korea, and Vietnam veterans.  His life ended far too soon.  Andrew shook his head and the tears began to flow.

As Andrew paced away I took the opportunity to talk with Josh.  I leaned in and thanked him for loving Andrew.  I promised that we would always look after his beloved daughter.  I told him that we remember him often, that we laugh, that we cry.  I told him that we miss him.  I leaned in and kissed his columbarium marker and as I did a tear slid off my face and onto the marble.  It was present for only a moment and then dried…and I received that sign as God’s assurance that in his coming Kingdom there will be no more crying, no more tears.  We will be together before our God.  Together. United.  Whole.

We miss you Josh.  We love you.  You are not forgotten.  Your memory, your service, your sacrifice lives on in us.  We will tell your story.  And we will celebrate your life with our lives.

Thanks be to God for the saints.  Thanks be to God for the promise that we will be united again.

Prayer: “For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.  Alleluia, Alleluia!  O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold, fight as the saints who nobly fought of old, and win with them the victor’s crown of gold.  Alleluia, Alleluia!  And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long, steals on the ear the distant triumph song, and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.  Alleluia, Alleluia!”* Amen.

*”For All the Saints,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 711.

Upbuilding: Determined to Share

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Thessalonians 2:1-8

This year I am participating in a new mentoring program initiative at a local high school.  This program matches students in the local high school to volunteers in the community that want to come alongside these students and support them in their educational success.

I have met with my mentee three times so far.  For the first two meetings we talked sports – I talked about football and my mentee is continuing my education about basketball – I may understand it eventually!  We talked a little about our families and what we want to be when we grow up.  The conversations skimmed the surface, which is normal.  We were getting to know one another.

This week the conversation increased in depth.  My mentee shared a goal with me, but my mentee’s heart was not happy.  It was downcast.  The goal was before my mentee and the path to achieve that goal presented itself like walking across broken glass on hot coals up a mountain both ways without shoes.  So, we circled the wagons.  We strategized.  We came up with a plan.  We even role played the conversations that would need to happen and possible outcomes that could result depending on what was shared in those conversations.  And slowly but surely my mentee’s downcast heart became hopeful.  The frown on my mentee’s face started to turn up at the corners.

I cannot wait to see my mentee this next week and follow up on the progress towards his goal.

I am confident that my mentee and I were able to share in that conversation because we had intentionally laid the ground work of getting to know one another.  Sharing about ourselves took time.  A relationship had to be built.  Trust had to be established.  Showing up incarnated my commitment, incarnated my care, incarnated my investment in his success.  I am in my mentee’s corner.  I will hold him accountable.  I will celebrate his successes and I will help craft plans for greater acheivements so his goals will become his reality.

I also have a goal of understanding basketball by the end of all of this.  I am pretty sure my mentee will make that part of my reality.

This mentee/mentor relationship is not a one way street.  Just because I am the mentor does not mean that I am not being guided, and learning, and being formed and transformed by the conversations shared with and insights gained from this intelligent mentee.  We are both giving.  We are both receiving.  We are both committed to sharing about ourselves, learning about one another, and learning together.

Sharing ourselves with others is a way to share Christ with them – to love our neighbors, to serve our neighbors, to care for them, to comfort them, the challenge them, to congratulate them.  This is what living life is about.  This is the life that Paul lived with the Thessalonians.  He was a mentor to and a companion of the Thessalonians.  He was also a mentee of the Thessalonians.  They lived life together.  He was dedicated to sharing with the Thessalonians and rejoiced over the sharing the Thessalonians did with him.  Together, they incarnated that “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Mt 18:20).  Christ is there with them.  Christ is here with us.

As I was leaving our mentoring time this past week my mentee asked where I was headed.  “Back to my office.”  “Where is your office?”  “At a church.  That’s where I work.  I pastor a church.”  “What!?  You’re a pastor??”  “Yes, I am.”  “Could…could we talk about that sometime?”  “You bet.  You just let me know.”

Where two are gathered…

Amen.

Prayer: “Draw us in the Spirit’s tether, for when humbly in thy name, two or three are met together thou are in the midst of them.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Touch we now thy garment’s hem.  All our meal and all our living make us sacraments of thee, that by caring, helping, giving, we may true disciples be.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!   We will serve thee faithfully.”* Amen.

*”Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 632.

Upbuilding: Coming Alive

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Thessalonians 1:1-10

This week the Tuskawilla community begins a new sermon series entitled Upbuilding.  In this series we will study texts from I Thessalonians.  The Thessalonians were an exemplar community – they received God’s Word, they were convinced that true salvation is grounded in Christ, and they lived their faith outwardly.  Other early Christian communities set the Christians at Thessalonica as their example.  Paul did not write to the Thessalonians to respond to an erupting issue; he wrote to praise them.  Paul sought to build up the Thessalonians so that their work would continue inspiring, encouraging, and upbuilding others.

 

Earlier this week I was in a meeting – don’t you just love meetings?  And in said meeting I was asked to take the minutes – don’t you just love meeting where you take the minutes?  For a good portion of the meeting it was business as usual – input on this budget item, update on this ministry action, report on this project, type type type.  But then a shift.  The committee began to dream about something entirely new – not new in the way that it has never been done before but new in the way that we are intentionally sculpting this new dream by bringing in the experience of others.  I got caught up in the moment…I had to remind myself to keep taking notes when I really wanted to just bask in the beauty of this dream!  We briefly brainstormed the best practices that certain persons, certain groups, and certain churches could bring to the table as we dream something new.  No one person or group or church does everything well; we do somethings well, but not everything well.  So what if we gather all of the tasks, ministries, and gifts that individually we do well and gift that wellness of best practices to a new dream?

It’s not often that I get really excited in a meeting, but all of this made me really really excited!

So before I could lose the great thoughts I returned to my typing!

Gathering these best practices is a way is a way this leadership team can upbuild a new ministry.  It’s the way this leadership team and those who work with us can invest in our neighbors and invest in strengthening God’s Kingdom on earth.  And why are we doing this?  Not so someone will write an epistle about us.  We do it because it brings God joy – and what brings God joy brings us joy.

The Thessalonians modeled faith and perseverance as best practices.  This is what we read in our Scripture text this week.  This is what Paul praises in his thanksgiving over them.  If someone were to name your best practices that you could offer as a gift to another person or another community, what would they identify?  What are those best practices that you would like to cultivate?  God is already singing your thanksgiving because you are God’s chosen and beloved.  In offering your best practices to use in the Kingdom God will shift from singing general thanksgivings to singing specific thanksgivings of you.

Prayer: “Come, thou almighty King, help us thy name to sing, help us to praise!  Father all glorious, o’er all victorious, come and reign over us, Ancient of Days!  Come, thou incarnate Word, gird on thy mighty sword, our prayer attend!  Come, and thy people bless, and give thy word success; Spirit of holiness, on us descend.  Come, holy Comforter, thy sacred witness bear in this glad hour.  Thou who almighty art, now rule in every heart, and ne’er from us depart, Spirit of power!  To thee, great One in Three, eternal praises be, hence, evermore.  Thy sovereign majesty may we in glory see, and to eternity love and adore!”* Amen.

*”Come, Thou Almighty King,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 61.