Woman In The Night: The First Witnesses

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 24:1-12.

My extended family is in the process of cleaning out my grandparents’ home as they have now transitioned to assisted living. I am honored to have brought home a chair that my Nonnie read to me in whenever I stayed with her as a child as well as a crown of thorns that was planted in her back yard under a big oak tree.

Y’all…

I have never prayed for a plant so much in my life as I have prayed for this plant over the last month.

Channeling the plea of the late Chris Farley, “Be strong, little roots!”

We brought home the crown of thorns attempting to root it in a pot with fresh and nutrient rich soil. For weeks it dropped leaf after leaf after leaf. This plant cannot die! It was (is!) going to be the plant we move with us wherever we go to remind me of my grandmother – a legacy of the travelling plants I carry on after my mother, who moves a rose bush from her grandmother’s house to every new home she and my father share.

I see this plant and I hope.

I hope and hope and hope.

Y’all…

There’s new growth on my Nonnie’s crown of thorns. And it is beautiful.

Just in time for Easter.

I hope you will join us this Sunday as we celebrate the new life in resurrection. We gather for Sunrise Morningsong Worship in the Courtyard at 7am. Join us for Easter Family Breakfast in the Fellowship Hall at 9:30am. Traditional Worship will conclude our Easter Celebration at 11am in the Sanctuary. Bring flowers for our Courtyard Easter Cross and have your picture taken.

Our God is making all things new. There is new growth in each of us. And it is beautiful.

Just in time for Easter.

Prayer: “Woman in the dawn, care and spices bring; earliest to mourn; earliest to sing! Come and join the song, women, children, men; Jesus makes us free to live again!”* Amen.

*“Woman In The Night,” The United Methodist Hymnal 274.

Woman In The Night: Weeping Daughters

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 23:26-31

 The role of the crowds in the gospel narratives is always in flux. They are people – like you and me. They are women and men. They are witnesses of our Jesus – of his ministry, his miracles, and his majesty. They are potential disciples. They become his supporters and fellow travellers. They waver through his arrest and trial. They join the opposition and shout for his crucifixion.*

And in this scene, they walk behind him on the way to Golgotha – the Place of the Skull – where Jesus will be crucified.

In the past when I have read this text I conceived that the crowd followed Jesus for one of two reasons. One – they wanted to have “the last laugh” when Jesus was, in fact, not able to save himself and get down off that cross. Two – they were curious and, not having missed any of the spectacle to this point, thought they would see it to the end.

Recently I received a different point of view from an excerpt by pastor and theologian Fred Craddock, whose words continue to be so life-giving for me. Craddock acknowledges that a mighty throng follow Jesus as he stumbles – bruised and broken – towards the cross. The people that follow him do so beating their breasts and wailing for him. Craddock connects this activity to the traditional gesture of lament enacted by prophets like Zechariah:

 And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one[a]whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn (Zech 12:10).

Craddock notes that Luke takes care to connect this behavior – wailing and beating one’s breast – to the act of repentance. In Luke 18 Jesus tells the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The Pharisee praises God in prayer that “he is not like other people…even this tax collector” whereas the Tax Collector rends his heart, “standing far off, [not even looking] up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Lk 18:12-13). Jesus said, I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted (Lk 18:14).

I was wrong. The people did not want to have the last laugh. Neither are they curious. They are repentant. And they are committed. Their allegiance to Jesus returns.

And so they walk to the cross. To the grave. And – thanks be to God – from the empty tomb.

I look forward to the opportunities to walk with the people of TUMC this Holy Week. We walk as the foremothers and forefathers in our faith – repentant and committed. To the cross. To the grave.

And – thanks be to God – from the empty tomb.

Holy Week at Tuskawilla UMC

 

Saturday, April 13 – Easter Egg Hunt

9:30am – Gather in Fellowship Hall

Sunday, April 14 – Palm Sunday Worship

8:30am – Morningsong in the Sanctuary

11am – Here Is Love Cantata in the Sanctuary

Monday, April 15 – Prayer Stations

5:30-7:30pm in the Sanctuary

Tuesday, April 16 – Prayer Stations

5:30-7:30pm in the Sanctuary

Wednesday, April 17 – Prayer Stations

11:30-12:45pm and 5:30-7:30pm in the Sanctuary

Thursday, April 18 – Maundy Thursday Drama

Daughters of Jerusalem concluding with Holy Communion

7:00pm in the Sanctuary

Friday, April 19 – Good Friday Service of Tenebrae

7pm in the Sanctuary

Sunday, April 21 – Easter Sunday

Bring flowers for our Courtyard Easter Cross

7am Sunrise Morningsong Service with Holy Communion in the Courtyard

9:30am Easter Breakfast in the Fellowship Hall

11am Worship in the Sanctuary

Monday, April 22 – TUMC Offices Closed

Prayer: “The people of the Hebrews with psalms before thee went; our prayer and praise and anthems before thee we present. To thee, before thy passion, they sang their hymns of praise; to thee, now high exalted, our melody we raise. Thou didst accept their praises; accept the prayers we bring, who in all good delightest, thou good and gracious King. All glory, laud, and honor, to thee, Redeemer, King, to whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring.”** Amen.

*The People’s New Testament Commentary 275-276.

** “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” The United Methodist Hymnal 280.

Woman in the Night: Fellow Travelers

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 8:1-3.

Many people – many women – were fellow travellers with Jesus. In him they found their Savior. In him they found a generous friend.

These are two of my generous friends – Mr. Joey and Miss Alice.

image1-2

They attended the Morningsong Service for the first time a couple of weeks ago. Morningsong follows its own liturgy – meaning work of the people – that has many consistent worship elements week to week. The “variety” in the service comes in one song of praise, the three Scripture readings, and the sermon.

(Let us pray there is variety with the sermon…)

It is also a more intimate worship experience, with a smaller attendance, that supports worshippers passing the peace to each of their neighbors every Sunday. It is awesome to watch the people that gather for Morningsong truly behold one another – and in so doing – behold the true and living presence of Christ in his and her generous friend with Christ.

Morningsong celebrates weekly Holy Communion and I invite one or two persons from the congregation to join me in sharing the elements. That day I asked Mr. Joey and Miss Alice if they would come. Of course, they sprang from their pew and bounded towards the altar rail. After inviting them to use the official unofficial third Communion element – otherwise known as hand sanitizer – I moved them into position.

“Miss Alice, when people come forward, offer them a piece of bread, and when you give it to them say, Jesus loves you.”

“Mr. Joey, when people come to you, offer them the cup in which to dip their bread, and say, Jesus loves you.”

Y’all, the gift of Holy Communion was so sweet that day. Watching these two serve the congregation, including their mother, is an experience I will never forget.

We all join the journey with Christ in different places and at different times. And yet – blessedly – we are all headed in the same direction – towards God’s preferred future for us.

Take notice this week of the travellers near you. Offer them a word of encouragement. Receive from them a word of wisdom.

Be a generous friend.

And give thanks. Always give thanks.

I am so proud of you, Mr. Joey and Miss Alice! Thank you for serving your church family. You did a wonderful job! See you Sunday!

Prayer: “Woman on the hill, stand when men have fled! Christ needs loving still, though your hope is dead. Come and join the song, women, children, men; Jesus makes us free to live again!”* Amen.

*“Woman In The Night,” The United Methodist Hymnal 274.

Woman In The Night: The Balanced Christian Life

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 10:38-42.

Since becoming a mother, my house is in a constant state of disarray, which is odd to none more than Andrew. Some days I think he looks around the house and then looks at me and wonders if I am the latest victim of The Body Snatchers.

You see, I used to be the person that woke up early every Friday morning to clean the house from top to bottom. I would pride myself that I could have the kitchen and all three bathrooms cleaned in under forty-five minutes, all the while clothes were in the process of being washed, dried, folded, and returned to their appropriate drawer or closet. I would have the carpets vacuumed, the furniture dusted. Trash would be out and recycling sorted. And if I was feeling super productive, the dogs would be bathed, brushed, and donning coordinating and season-appropriate bandanas.

That allllllll changed October 20, 2017…which is the day after I was admitted to the hospital for Joshua’s delivery. I did not clean the house that morning…and I have pretty much not cleaned the house every Friday morning since then.

Hence…Andrew’s wondering if I have been body snatched…

Andrew and I have lived in parsonages – in congregation’s gifting – for a decade. Because of that incredible gift I have felt – and continue to feel – a deep responsibility to take and show great care to these parsonages. I recall at the very beginning that I would use my time cleaning as a time to connect with God. I would pray for the congregation. I would sing songs of praise at the top of my lungs…which was not always the way Andrew wanted to wake up on those Fridays. Overtime, however, the cleaning became less about connecting with God and praying for the people I served and more about racing against the clock to see what all I could accomplish in as few minutes as possible.

Whoopsie.

I disconnected from my true purpose for those acts, which was to show appreciation to God and gratitude to the congregations that welcomed my family into their church family and into their home.

I am so glad Joshua’s birth helped set me straight and get my priorities back in line. No, I am not cleaning on Fridays nearly as often. I confess that I truly have become my mother in that I do a little cleaning every day. I celebrate my reconnection with my true purpose for these acts, which is to show appreciation to God and gratitude to this congregation that welcomes my family – all three of us! – into your church family and into your home.

When did you last stop and consider why it is that you do what you do – whatever it is that you do? How are you able to live into and live out your faith because of that act of service? How can you use that physical activity as an activity of faith?

Prayer: “Woman in the house,nurtured to be meek,leave your second place;listen, think and speak! Come and join the song, women, children, men; Jesus makes us free to live again!”* Amen.

*“Woman In The Night,” The United Methodist Hymnal 274.

 

Woman in the Night: The Gospel in the Law

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 7:36-50.

Last week a member of the Worship Planning Team spied that Prayer of Confession and Words of Assurance was part of our order of worship for Sunday. He messaged me, “Are we using green grape juice for Communion on Sunday?”

No. But I laughed at his question.

During the season of Lent I like to incorporate Prayers of Confession and Words of Assurance in our weekly worship. These are portions of the liturgy that we tend to only engage on Communion Sundays as they are a path for us to prepare to come before the table Christ prepares for us – for everyone.

I find these words particularly powerful during Lent – this season of self-examination and Savior-invitation – to look to the new life Christ is creating in us that we will celebrate with his resurrection on Easter morn!

In the act of confession we acknowledge our sin. We acknowledge the hurt and harm that we cause. We acknowledge that we do not have this life – this world – figured out! We acknowledge that we deserve judgment, but because of the Love that will not let us go, judgment is not our fate.

It is my experience that some people experience adverse reactions to the thought of confession. Perhaps they hear confession and believe they are expected to make a public display – a public rending of their heart – like the woman in our Scripture passage for this week. Or perhaps they hear confession and are resistant because they do not want to participate in an act that will make them feel bad about themselves.

I feel bad when I make a confession. I experience guilt and remorse – that weight of my committed sin. But there is a difference between saying “I feel bad; I made a bad choice” and “I am bad because I made this choice.” I am not bad. We are not bad. I and we make bad choices. I and we can alter our behaviors so as to not make those bad choices recurrent. Guilt and remorse can be powerful motivators for behavior modification – and the hope for followers of Christ – is that guilt and remorse will motivate us to accountably changing our behavior to be more like Christ. Feeling bad does not absolve us of sin. Seeking forgiveness and accountably changing our behavior acknowledges before God and neighbor that we are applying the grace in forgiveness we receive.

When I am feeling lost or astray in my relationship with God, I often return to the Parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke 15. The shepherd leaves the 99 in search of the 1, and Jesus concludes saying, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Lk 15:7). For me, confession is one way to bring God joy. That homecoming is sweet and needful and holy. That homecoming is healing so that I may – every day – become more of the person and leader God desires.

Prayer: “Woman at the feast, let the righteous stare; come and go in peace; love him with your hair! Come and join the song, women, children, men; Jesus makes us free to live again!”* Amen.

*”Woman in the Night,” The United Methodist Hymnal 274.

 

Woman in the Night: Can’t Change The Beginning; Can Change The Ending

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 4:7-26 and 39.

Recently I gathered with a group of friends – and fellow yoga teachers – to organize behind a vision of a yoga collective in Orlando. Some in the room knew one another; others were new faces. Our leader, Holly, invited us to *briefly* introduce ourselves to the room – because yoga teachers tend to talk as much as pastors – y’all have a double whammy with me! – including our name, our yoga story, and something we wanted the others in the room to know.

I was struck by the third prompt – something we wanted the others in the room to know.

When it was my turn I shared: My name is Sarah Miller. I first practiced yoga when I was in college and truly came home to yoga in 2013 seeking medicine-free relief from two chronic pain conditions. And something you should know about me…I am an ordained clergyperson…and an introvert.

(I know…an introvert! Who would have thought!?)

I am not sure if eyebrows were raised higher because I am an ordained clergyperson or because I practice yoga. “Can you do yoga and be Christian” is quite a hot topic of debate these days. True – yoga is an Eastern meditative practice. True – yoga has deep roots in both Buddhism and Hinduism, drawing on these religions for the development of yogic philosophy as well as the names and stories behind certain poses. Some people say that yogis “chant to or worship Buddha” during their practice…from my study of Buddhism, I am confident that Buddha does not want chanting or to be worshipped. Buddha desired that each person be released from the struggles of life and a person pursues that intent through practicing non-attachment – from possessions, from agendas, from popularity, from addictions.

As I reflect on the life of Jesus, I believe that Jesus, too, wants us to be released from the struggles of life. I believe that non-attachment from possessions, agendas, popularity, and addictions is part of that release. However, as Buddha non-attached, he turned inward in the pursuit of total enlightenment. I believe that as followers of Jesus non-attach, we are to turn Christ-ward so that our personal lights will shine all the more bright because of and for the Light of the World.

At the surface that third prompt – something we want the others in the room to know – seemed docile. In reality – it was and is an incredibly vulnerable question. I am grateful for the opportunity to practice vulnerability because those are (rare) opportunities to truly know oneself and articulate that true self in front of someone(s) else.

The Woman at the Well said of Jesus, “He told me everything about me.” This statement reveals the omniscience – the all-knowingness – of God, which Jesus has because Jesus is God. Even so – even though God and Jesus already know! – I believe our God and our Jesus want us to take time to share what we want them to know. The act of sharing – of being vulnerable – is how we deepen our relationship with God and Jesus.

That sharing takes courage. That sharing can be scary.

That sharing is the practice of knowing self, knowing Savior, and being known by our Savior.

Prayer: “Woman at the well, question the Messiah; find your friends and tell: drink your hearts desire! Come and join the song, women, children, men. Jesus makes us free to live again!”* Amen.

*”Woman in the Night,” The United Methodist Hymnal 274.

 

Woman in the Night: Daring to Reach

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 8:42b-48.

I recently learned about the “Stockdale Paradox” – so coined by Jim Collins in his text, Good to Great. The Stockdale Paradox states that you – whether ‘you’ is an individual or an organization – must “retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties AND at the same time confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be” (Good to Great 86).

The Stockdale Paradox is named for Admiral Jim Stockdale who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for eight years. He was tortured too many times to count. Unlike POWs around him, he faced the realty that he would be tortured and mistreated. He also never lost faith that he would be rescued and reunited with his family.

In conversation with Admiral Stockdale, Collins asked him, “Who didn’t make it out?” “Oh, that’s easy,” said Stockdale, “the optimists…the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas’ and Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. They’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart” (Good to Great 85).

You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties AND at the same time confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be…

Those words ring true for me as I consider the woman in our Scripture passage for this Sunday. She faced insurmountable odds. She was considered unclean – and therefore full of sin – because of her hemorrhaging. She was an exile in and to her community for twelve.long.years. People did not want to touch her. People did not want to be touched by her.

A crowd separated her and Jesus…it may as well have been a chasm between two opposite cliffs. Perhaps she thought, “If only Jesus could see me! He could see me and my need for healing and make me whole…but how am I ever going to get in front of him…he has already passed me by.”

Jesus may have passed, but he did not pass her by.

Jesus may have passed by…and this woman pressed on.

She had a goal. She had faith that Jesus would help her achieve that goal. And so she navigated the crowd. She overcame social, religious, and physical obstacles. She faced the brutal facts of her current reality, and my friends, she prevailed in the end. Her faith in Jesus made her whole.

These witnesses – Stockdale and the woman healed from hemorrhaging – are two incredible stories of perseverance, of courage, and of consistently daring to reach towards God’s preferred future for one’s life.

What brutal facts are facing you? Have you turned your face towards them? And how will your maturing faith in our Lord Jesus Christ embolden you towards prevailing?

Prayer: “Woman in the crowd, creeping up behind, touching is allowed; seek and you will find! Come and join the song, women, children, men; Jesus makes us free to live again!”* Amen.

*”Woman in the Night,” The United Methodist Hymnal 274.