Give Thanks for the Legacies

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.  I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.  I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.” – Ephesians 3:14-21

What are you thankful for? Over the next days/weeks leading up to Thanksgiving I’m going to try to put some good in the world, some light in the midst of the darkness and bitterness of the world.  I have been slack on my 30 days of thanks for the 30 days of November on social media to cultivate a spirit of gratitude.  I’m grateful for SO very many things.  Like life, breath, my family, a roof over my head, good food to eat, living in a country where I have the right to vote, a calling and vocation that keeps me on my toes and continues to reignite and renew me as the Triune God refreshes my Spirit. If all is grace, then we are thankful.

On All Saints Day, I am thankful for the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. These “saints” that have gone before are not just the heavy hitters like Mary or Paul or Mother Theresa. These saints encompass all of the people that have gone before us seeking to live as Christ. Some of these saints are ones that we read about in our Holy Scripture. Some are ones that we have read back and forth and still dig into their kernels of wisdom – CS Lewis, Jim Elliot, Teresa of Avila, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Love Jim’s “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose”). Some of these are saints that may or may not be seen as religious folks – love me some Jane Austen, Joseph Heller and Louisa May Alcott. Others may be the ones that we’ve personally known or been shaped by.

I think about some of the dear saints I’ve known in this life. Mr. Howard and Ms. Evelyn that we sat with as children on Sundays while Dad preached and Mom sang in the choir. Ms. Betty teaching our first and second grade Sunday school class. I still remember the felt board with the Bible characters. Mr. Tim and Ms. Bunny who proved to me that people want to minister to their minister and his/her family and they really care about each of us. They would take my parents out to eat every Friday night and then stop by Dunkin Doughnuts to get us a mixed box of doughnuts among many things.  Ms. Pal Moore who taught the best VBS for youth that I’ve ever been a part of and continues to be an encouragement in my life.  She actually made the stole that I’m wearing.  There are so many that I could easily name, I have been blessed beyond measure by all the saints who lifted, taught, and undergirded me, those who have laughed, cried, and shared life with me and those whose example I try to follow every day.

I think about the saints in our family…and then I start to tear up and laugh. The thing that I love about them and any of our saints for that matter, is that they were real people – flesh and bone and not always perfect. There’s this thing about saints that we build up to be otherworldly with rose-colored glasses, but the thing that I like the most is that they were colorful characters who didn’t just do everything prim and proper perfectly, but they made a splash. They had spunk. They did not go gentle into that good night as the Dylan Thomas poem goes.

There’s always been an interest in connecting with the afterlife.  Mediums are not new.  I think there’s a great big part of us that wants to know for sure and for certain that we’re not alone here. There’s part of us that wants to know that our family and loved ones – both from long ago and now – those who are dear to us – are okay and it’s going to be okay for us too. When I’m channel flipping, even I get sucked into the story and it has me tearing up at parts because of the sincerity of people really wanting to know that we are all connected and we stay connected and that this beautiful network of love doesn’t just stop here, but continues on.

As the seasons in South Carolina start to change for real and things are turning and getting colder and Winter is coming, I’m reminded that death is not the end. Yes, there is grief. Yes, there is change. Yes, there is loss. Yes, there are those we miss dearly. But the great cloud of witnesses surrounds us, spurs us on, and still speak to us in big and small ways. As Dad likes to share – these folks are often our “balcony people!”  Joyce Landorf writes in her book you’re either a basement person or a balcony person.  Dragging others down or lifting others up.  The loved ones that we have lost and still feel a wide, gaping hole for, we have Christ’s promise of eternal life.  We read these words of grace at any United Methodist Celebration of Life.

The Word of Grace

Jesus said, I am the resurrection and I am life.

Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live,

and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.

I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.

I died, and behold I am alive for evermore,

and I hold the keys of hell and death.

Because I live, you shall live also.

That is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  3There are power in those words.  It likens to the Revelation text in its broadening, yet definitive answer.  As I look around my office and home to the things that I treasure – pictures with family, pictures at Ganny’s house, a beautiful picture painted by Robin, a shingle that my Gandaddy made with our pictures on it, Dad’s pottery, a “family tree” my Mom made for me….as I look into my heart to the things I treasure – both sassy grandmothers that neither minced words, had plenty of spunk, and weren’t afraid to use various words in their vocabularies, the amazing integrity and character of both of my grandfathers and their legacy of continuing to love people – whoever they are, whatever color they are or accent they have, wherever their family came from…these are the gifts that the communion of saints continues to give us as we wrestle with their words, their examples, their legacies and their authentic lives of faith.  They leave lasting legacies and as Rafiki tells Simba in the Lion King clip I shared a few months ago, they live inside each of us.  Louisa May Alcott writes, “Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.”

Thank you God for all of those that have touched us in such mighty ways!  May we ever remember them and treasure them in our hearts and may we give thanks for their legacies.

Who are your saints? Who has shaped you? What do you hold dear from the ones that have gone on before us?

The flip side is true too.  Who are you being a good example for?  Who are you mentoring?  Who are you showing, by your very life, the way they should go?

I’ll tell you one final story that will transition us to communion.

In fact, you never know the legacies you will leave.  You may not know that Gator Wesley was a local church, University United Methodist Church before it gave birth to Gator Wesley in 2010.  Carmen was one of the older members who never stopped coming.  He always would talk to those sitting around him at worship.  Ali wrote on her facebook page the morning that Carmen died, “If I’ve learned anything from working at a church, it’s that you make friends with unlikely people. One of those friends, Carmen (the older man on the left in the gray hoodie) passed away this morning. I met Carmen before anyone else at Gator Wesley. My first Sunday I sat in front of him, when he preceded to ask me about 10 minutes worth of questions about my life, my plans, and my dreams. Almost every Sunday since, he’s asked me about the stories I’ve done and the people I’ve I’ve done and the people I’ve met. Although he was confused about what I was doing (he was fairly convinced my dream was to be a TV anchor or a talk show host), he kept listening. Every week he told me how he prayed for me. His last Sunday before he entered assisted care, he told me that I was going to go out and change the world. I didn’t know that was going to be the last time I saw him not in a hospital bed.  While Carmen never realized it, the love he has shown all of the students at Gator Wesley has been unending. Although he was stubborn and cantankerous, he was a good man. Gator Wesley became his family. Wesley is much larger than this photo taken on Easter, but it’s nice to see Carmen with his home. Everyone deserves a Carmen in their life. I’m glad that I met mine.”

Carmen smiled and waved to students at the student apartment where he lived.  He touched countless lives.  He wanted his life to mean something.  He was so deeply concerned, that his life didn’t matter, I started to tell him in his last days, that the students were his legacy.  The students are his legacy.  He would light up when “the students” were mentioned.  The hospice social worker saw it and I did too.  He only wanted to see “the students” at the end.  So we piled into his room on a Sunday after church.  Four of the students went with me and our Associate Pastor Ryan to see him the Wednesday before he died.  That Wednesday night we shared the Lord’s Prayer, Carmen’s favorite prayer, and he was able to say some of it with us.  That was the last smile I saw on his face, when he noticed the 4 students we brought.

The students are his legacy.  I’ll never forget when I had finished a sermon and Carmen stood up quick as I’ve ever seen him and said, “Gator Wesley IS going to change the world!”  I’m so glad I got to hear and see that.  You see Carmen was a deeply spiritual person and a follower of Jesus Christ.  He had been raised in the Catholic Church, but he didn’t like what he called the “rules” or what he thought was the earning of salvation.  He struggled with the concept of grace. Don’t we all do that?  He was just honest enough to say it out loud.  He joined the baptism class my first year here and he would read the Bible and all of the handouts and he wanted a copy of the Baptism service in the Book of Worship and so on and so on.  He wanted to be prepared and he was excited more about the United Methodist Church that I haven’t seen.  I would tell him over and over again and again, any time he came up to me after the service, and in his last few weeks.  You’re a child of God.  You were made in your mother’s womb.  God’s grace was given to every one of us.  You don’t have to earn it.  There’s nothing you can do to earn it.  It’s a gift.  You’re ENOUGH.  I would say it over and over again.  One of our students says it was meaningful to her, “To see his face light up in a group when he was told that God loves him no matter what.”  “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  And in this table we celebrate that.  We are all enough.  We are loved by the Great God of the Universe, that came to Earth Emmanuel, with an abundant, passionate, ever seeking, ever reaching love.  We remember our saints, our great cloud of witnesses, as we try to be “balcony people” for others so we too can leave a legacy.

Amen.

As we celebrate this meal…

 

PS – Anytime I preach on legacies, I’m reminded of this Nichole Nordeman.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ah1COE39ARs

saints

Lydia and Lazarus – Are you a better giver or receiver???

We’re going to be looking at the Biblical characters of Lydia and Lazarus, but as we prepare our hearts and feet to be in action for National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week, that Gator Wesley will be hosting, I thought I would begin with this video that shows the ever-widening divide between rich and poor.

These are some pretty eye-opening statistics.  But I invite you to not let the research/fact part of your brain take over urging you to gloss over the information downloaded.  As an African proverb says, “Statistics are numbers without tears.”  In other words, we can tune out or trick our brain into thinking that these are not real people.  Real struggle.  Real challenge.  Real hunger.

The actual title of this chapter is “Who Are Your VIPs?  You Need a Lydia and Lazarus, Rich and Poor.”  So the author of the book, Len Sweet, is setting up a dichotomy between Lydia, who represents the rich and Lazarus, who represents the poor.  I will read the passage where we meet Lydia for the first time.  It’s in the book of Acts, when the early church is first forming.

 

Acts 16:11-15

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Conversion of Lydia

11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13 On the Sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15 When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

Lydia is found in the Bible only in two places both of which are in Acts.  When it says that she was a dealer in purple cloth that was a signal to readers that she was wealthy because purple cloth was expensive so it was a sign of nobility or royalty.  Her husband is not mentioned anywhere in the passage, but it says she and her household were baptized, which most likely would have included her children and servants.  She offered hospitality in her home to Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke.

Let’s flip to Lazarus.  First off, it’s not THAT Lazarus.  It’s the only parable that Jesus ever told where he gives the main character a name.  Lazarus is Hebrew for “God helps.”  He gives all of the characters names except for the rich man.

Luke 16:19-31

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Rich Man and Lazarus

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

These texts have been playing in my head all week as I’ve prepared for this sermon and this is my main take away.  We often receive from people we would think or assume have nothing to offer us.  We often receive from people we would think or assume have nothing to offer us.  Is it easier for you to be the giver (like Lydia and her patronage providing for the ministry of the early church) or the receiver (like Lazarus who depended on the alms of passersby and who only had dogs to lick his wounds)?  We’ve all heard the saying that it is more blessed to give than to receive.  But, and I’m speaking for myself here, it is much more difficult for ME to receive.  I love giving gifts and being generous with my friends and family.  My default position is to be a giver and I rarely can wait for Christmas or a birthday to give gifts to those that I love.  Mike and the kids get Christmas or birthday presents all year long.  My love language is gift giving.  But something about receiving gifts makes me uncomfortable.  I know it sounds silly, but I care so much getting right the appropriate reaction to show my appreciation to the giver, that I often wait and open the gift or the card in private.  And that’s not fair to the giver.  I’m robbing them of the joy of giving by hiding out so they can’t see my actual receiving.  Have you ever noticed that when you take the love languages quiz that it only asks how you SHOW your love language?  But it doesn’t take into account how you want to BE loved?  Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, Physical Touch.  What’s your love language?  Is it easier for you to give than receive?

Jesus was a good receiver.  Have you noticed that he was never in the role of host and he was comfortable in that?  He was always the guest.  That convicts me.  Because it so hard to be placed on the side of invitee rather than the one doing the inviting.  It gives up a certain amount of control and makes you vulnerable.  In Atlanta this past week, we had the opportunity to hear Barbara Brown Taylor, one of the most respected preachers of her generation, on the virtues that shape her preaching life.  She told us that research has shown the believability factor is central to you being considered a “good” preacher.  That was broken down to the visual factor, the vocal factor and the content.  The statistics may surprise you.  It did me.  The visual factor made up 55% of the votes, the vocal factor 38%, and the content of what you’re actually saying only made up 7%.  She posited that it had less to do with what the preacher says but how a preacher lives.  How the things match up, the authenticity, the integrity.  She gave us her three virtues:  reverence, courage, and self-forgetfulness.  She then challenged us to come up with our own virtues.  Mine was vulnerability.  And that surprised me.  That was the first thing that came to mind in this season of life.  I’m challenged to be vulnerable each Sunday and Wednesday as I preach, lead the communion liturgy, pray out loud, and give the benediction, because I don’t know if the words are going to come out or not and that has shaped who I am.  For those that don’t know I had brain surgery in May and I lost my ability to speak but it’s slowly coming back.  I’ve appreciated SO much the grace in which y’all’ve walked this journey with me.  I know if you asked me a year ago what my virtue would have been I would NOT have answered vulnerability.  Sometimes we need to be brought down low, to fully trust in and rely on God and the community around us.  Sometimes the “rich” need to get the fuller picture of what God has to offer them instead of relying on their own strength, their own wealth, or their own power.

We must remember the words of Mother Teresa in A Simple Path, “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”  In many ways, the rich are spiritually more vulnerable than the poor because they’ve not HAD to rely on God.

Have you ever been on a mission trip where you thought you were going to serve “the poor people,” and you realized at the end of the trip that God had given you abundantly more through the people you were supposedly “serving” than you gave in return?  I’ve had countless experiences like that.  Through Salkehatchie, a work camp that we have back in South Caroling, on mission trips, in the summers I spent working at the Cooperative Ministry, a one-stop service center for the homeless that provided clothes, food, counseling, and cars to the needy.  I’m sure many of you can think of a similar time in your own faith journey.  If not, I would encourage you to go on our domestic spring break option or our international option.  It has the potential to be life changing.

But, the disparity in our world should not just be a thing that we do on a mission trip.  It’s building relationships that cross socio-economic barriers ALL THE TIME.  Sweet writes, “It’s one thing to have a heart for the poor.  It is another to use their bathroom.”  Let me repeat that.  “It’s one thing to have a heart for the poor.  It is another to use their bathroom.”   I couldn’t be blunter than that.   We should be in ministry WITH the poor.

We all come at the Communion table as one.  “In the early church, the agape feast followed by Communion (the Eucharist) was a “family reunion” where the rich and the poor shared food and fellowship together without regard to class distinctions and social status.”  And on this All Saints Sunday we remember those that have gone before, the communion of the saints, and gather with them at the table as well.  Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day – all are examples of saints who have gone on before but those whose lives we should emulate.  May we live out our faith in word and deed, may we be in ministry with not in ministry to, may we humble ourselves and in our vulnerability may God teach us and mold us and shape us to fully rely on God.

 

For the Communion of the Saints

What are you thankful for? Over the next days/weeks leading up to Thanksgiving I’m going to try to do what many of my wise friends on facebook and other wise folks have shared – cultivate a spirit of gratitude. If all is grace, then we are thankful.

So for Day 1 on All Saints Day, I am thankful for the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. These “saints” that have gone before are not just the heavy hitters like Mary or Paul or Mother Theresa. These saints encompass all of the people that have gone before us seeking to live as Christ. Some of these saints are ones that we read about in our Holy Scripture (Paul – I can’t wait to talk to you about the book of Romans after preaching on it this semester in worship – wowzers). Some are ones that we have read back and forth and still dig into their kernels of wisdom – CS Lewis, Jim Elliot, Teresa of Avila (Love Jim’s “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose”). Some of these are saints that may or may not be seen as religious folks – love me some Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott. Others may be the ones that we’ve personally known or been shaped by.

I think about some of the dear saints I’ve known in this life. Mr. Howard and Ms. Evelyn that we sat with as children on Sundays while Dad preached and Mom sang in the choir. Ms. Betty teaching our first and second grade Sunday school class. I still remember the felt board with the Bible characters. Mr. Tim and Ms. Bunny who proved to me that people want to minister to their minister and his/her family and they really care about each of us. There are so many that I could easily name.

I think about the saints in our family…and then I start to laugh. The thing that I love about them and any of our saints for that matter, is that they were real people – flesh and bone and not always perfect. There’s this thing about saints that we build up to be otherworldly with rose-colored glasses, but the thing that I like the most is that they were colorful characters who didn’t just do everything prim and proper perfectly, but they made a splash. They had spunk. They did not go gentle into that good night as the Dylan Thomas poem goes.

There’s stuff all over the place about paranormal activity and that crazy horror story tv show and even Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt talking to folks from the beyond and I get people’s fascination with this. Or at least I think I do. Well, not necessarily the horror/scare factor. But I do think there’s a great big part of us that wants to know for sure and for certain that we’re not alone here. There’s part of us that wants to know that our family and loved ones – both from long ago and now – dear to us – are okay and it’s going to be okay for us too. That stinking Anderson show (I watched while sick – captive audience) even had me tearing up at parts because of the sincerity of people really wanting to know that we are all connected and we stay connected and that this beautiful network of love doesn’t just stop here, but continues on.

As the seasons in South Carolina start to change for real and things are turning and getting colder and Winter is coming, I’m reminded that death is not the end. Yes, there is grief. Yes, there is change. Yes, there is loss. Yes, there are those we miss dearly. But the great cloud of witnesses surrounds us, spurs us on, and still speak to us in big and small ways. As Dad likes to share – these folks are often our “balcony people!”

As I look around my office and home to the things that I treasure – pictures with family, pictures at Ganny’s house, a beautiful picture painted by Robin, a shingle that my Gandaddy made with our pictures on it, Dad’s pottery, a “family tree” my Mom made for me….as I look into my heart to the things I treasure – both sassy grandmothers that neither minced words, had plenty of spunk, and weren’t afraid to use various words in their vocabularies, the amazing integrity and character of both of my grandfathers and the legacy for trying to love people – whoever they are, whatever color they are or accent they have, wherever their family came from…these are the gifts that the communion of saints continues to give us as we wrestle with their words, their examples, their legacies and their authentic lives of faith.

Thank you God for all of those that have touched us in such mighty ways!

Who are your saints? Who has shaped you? What do you hold dear from the ones that have gone on before us?

DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

“Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.” – Louisa May Alcott

Can you hear the party of praise around us???