Posted in Advent, Good News, John the Baptist, Pope Francis, Uncategorized, wake up

The Way of Jesus

Matthew 3:1-6

3In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” 4Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

In verse 4 of Matthew chapter 3 it says, “Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.” Call me crazy.  I discovered this purely by accident.  But when John the Baptist is described I happen to envision my brother Josh.  As I sat thinking about how I would describe John the Baptist, Josh immediately comes to mind he went to Clemson, was a counselor at Asbury Hills, and he taught multiple spiritual life retreats and his final seminary project were on survival.  He tricked me when I was 7 ½ months pregnant with Enoch.  I was the campus minister at Winthrop Wesley and we had organized a camping trip.  I was used to staying at King’s Mountain State Park where you can park right at the campsite and bring board games, all sorts of snacks, and loads of gear.  He talked me into going across the street to Crowder’s Mountain State Park.   The campsite was a 1.8 mile hike!!!  Josh definitely wants to be a man living on the land and he’s convinced that we all should take plant classes so if we have to go to my grandparent’s farm, we can eat.  If the Zombie apocalypse comes no one is going to come anywhere close to Greeleyville or Williamsburg County so we’ll be safe there.  Now you might be imagining someone who is “rugged.”  No, not necessarily.   Scraggly – with his cut off khakis and flip flops.  Definitely tenacious and stubborn.  He can MacGyver anything.  Fearless?  Josh reminds me of John the Baptist not merely on his live on the land exterior, but he has the boldness and the bullheadedness of purpose that I’m sure that John the Baptist had.

John was not afraid to march to the beat of his own drummer.  He was not afraid to be different.  He was not afraid to be prophetic – no matter the cost, no matter the friends he lost, no matter if people pointed at him, no matter what they whispered at him, no matter if people called him an odd duck or weird or strange.

As they lit the Advent wreath earlier, we heard from a different Gospel writer, Mark, as he begins with a quote from Isaiah about John the Baptist.

Mark 1:1-4

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”  John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Mark and Matthew both explicitly name John the Baptist as the one the prophet Isaiah talked about.

Fast forward through Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, through the temptation of Jesus, and the start of Jesus’ public ministry to John the Baptist’s imprisonment.  In Matthew chapter 11, verses 2-6, “2When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ 4Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.’”

Jesus wanted to continue John the Baptist’s legacy, making it complete, in him.  The prophets had foretold this.  Jesus’ wanted to build on John’s teaching, baptizing not just by water but by the Spirit.  Jesus wanted to continue the revolution that John had started.  Jesus also stepped to the beat of a different drum so he understood.  In fact, he created the drum.  Jesus asked John’s disciples to take back what they could hear and see.   Remember, Keep Awake, from last week’s text, we don’t know when we will cross to the other side of Jordan and no one knows the hour or the day, but we should be prepared all the time.  We should live like Christ calls us to ALL the time.  We should do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God 24:7:365.  It’s not out of guilt, it’s not about us earning our salvation, it’s out of joy and hope and love of God and neighbor.  It’s practicing what you preach no matter the cost or how hard it is.  Again, Jesus asked John’s disciples to take what they could hear and see.  If Jesus came back today, what would he hear and see?

Would he see us being hateful to one another by our sharp, critical, pessimistic, glass half empty, doomsday brand of legalistic Christianity?

Would he see our country so divided that each of us demonize the “other” calling them ignorant or unchristian or conservative or liberal or independent?

Would he see us loving our neighbor that may be different from us or just the ones we’re comfortable with, the ones we like, the ones who dress appropriately for church or who fit in and know the words to all the creeds?

There’s got to be a different WAY.  The world has got see a different way.  The way of love. Light. Hope.  Because if we’re not offering it than who is?  If we can’t offer a prayerful, calm, hope-filled word than what are we doing here?  Are we playing church or being church?

We lit this candle on the Advent wreath symbolizing Christ the Way.

Do we know the way?  In John 14:6 says, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  That’s pretty clear.  I am the way.  I am the truth.  I am the life.  Model my behavior.  Be my light to the world.

Pope Francis writes in his “Evangeli Guadium” or The Joy of the Gospel, the first official document written entirely by Pope Francis, “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” 

“More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving.”

“I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor.”

“Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason.  The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

Amen.  Prophetic words that have much to teach us.

Pope Francis knows something of what the prophet Micah spoke of in Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Jesus calls us out and helps us to see.  He’s not passive aggressive.  He does it in love.  He gets to the heart of us.  He cuts through the rationalizations and why’s and excuses and he looks at us and we begin to squirm because in our heart of hearts we know we’re wrong.  We know we shouldn’t put our stock in tradition, ritual, rules, or anarchy, laissez faire attitudes, ambivalence to everything.

We may pile up all sorts of opinions and points in an argument or debate, but in the end, with Jesus, love is the last word of all – God’s love for US, for all the world, and all of creation.  During this season especially, let’s react first in love, not in judgment.  I know it’s hard for some of us.  It often seems like we’re merely reacting to what happens, instead of setting the course.  I learned this advice in defensive driving class that I always carry with me, “You can only control your car.  You can’t control what another driver does, how he or she acts, or whether or not they tailgate you and speed around you.  You can only control how YOU react to the situation.”

Speaking of tailgating, as we move through the Christmas shopping season, let’s not let our overflowing shopping carts prevent us from seeing where Jesus is steering us. He wants us to focus on him, not on luxurious lifestyles. As country singer George Strait noted,

You don’t bring nothing with you here
And you can’t take nothing back
I ain’t never seen a hearse, with a luggage rack.

If we buy things in order to have that fuzzy, warm feeling – it’s going to leave us empty, unfulfilled, and with maxed out credit cards.  This may be a tough path to walk, but fortunately Jesus strengthens us. He baptizes us “with the Holy Spirit” (v. 8), filling us with his presence and power. The Spirit of Christ offers us love, joy and peace, as well as other spiritual gifts: “patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control” (Galatians 5:22-23). These gifts are the marks of a Christian life, and are the clearest signs that a person is moving along the path of Jesus.

There is a story about a group of tourists visiting the Vatican. Their tour guide had told them about the famed Sistine Chapel: the place where the College of Cardinals meets to choose a new pope, the room whose ornate painted ceiling is Michelangelo’s masterpiece.

One aspect of the Sistine Chapel comes as a surprise to most first-time visitors: its size. It’s a rather small room. One young man was so eager to see Michelangelo’s painted ceiling, he dashed in one end of the Sistine Chapel and out the other. He mistook the Chapel for some kind of antechamber. The tour guide had to chase after him, saying: “Come back, you missed it — and this time, remember to look up!”

It’s the sort of mistake that’s so easy to make during Advent. It’s so easy to confuse Advent with a waiting room: to dash through these four short weeks, arms laden with packages, eyes cast downward, busy, busy, busy.  Just like Amy Grant’s Christmas song, “I need a silent night, a Holy night.  To hear an angel voice through the chaos and the noise.  I need a midnight clear, a little peace right here. To end this crazy day with a silent night.”  Advent is a destination in its own right.  To make him room.  To prepare the way.  To keep awake.  If we fast forward to Christmas, we’re missing out on the soul work God wants us to do this Advent season.  Doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God.

So walk the talk this Advent season.  Dig into scripture or an Advent Devotional book.  There are some on the Missions table in the Fellowship Hall.  Do a specific prayer focus or take part in an Advent picture challenge.  Do whatever you need to do for YOU to connect with God during this season.  Did you hear what I said?   Do whatever you need to do for YOU to connect with God during this season because a baby is coming and He can be your Lord of Lords, Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, and Everlasting God.  He proclaims release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.  He will change your life if you let him.

  • Preached on Sunday, December 4th.
Posted in Abundance, Christian music, Community, Jesus, Uncategorized

Our Stories

I preached this at Point Hope UMC this morning.  They were very gracious to me and we had a delicious lunch after church that Mike and the kids have raved about all afternoon.  Thanks for being with me on this crazy journey called life.  I want you to share your stories  with me too!  ‘Cause we’re not meant to do this life alone.  Amen?

Psalm 77

1I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me.

2In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.

3I think of God, and I moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints. Selah

4You keep my eyelids from closing; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.

5I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago.

6I commune with my heart in the night; I meditate and search my spirit:

7“Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?

8Has his steadfast love ceased forever? Are his promises at an end for all time?

9Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”

10And I say, “It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed.”

11I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; I will remember your wonders of old.

12I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds.

13Your way, O God, is holy. What god is so great as our God?

14You are the God who works wonders; you have displayed your might among the peoples.

15With your strong arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Selah

16When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; the very deep trembled.

17The clouds poured out water; the skies thundered; your arrows flashed on every side.

18The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook.

19Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen.

20You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Some of you may be wondering what on earth is this preacher doing using a Psalm as her text on her first Sunday.  The Psalms get to the heart speak.  They get down deep, to the nitty gritty.  They’re full of real people celebrating their Good Shepherd and crying out desperately to God.  Both the mountaintops and valleys, the fullness of the human experience, is captured in the Psalms.

Let me tell you a story.  In my previous appointment I went to Costa Rica for a Spring Break mission trip in 2013 with Pura Vida Ministries.  Listen to their mission statement: “We exist to transform lives by providing Christ-centered, life-changing mission adventures.  We believe that following Jesus is Not an Event, but a Life!”  Not an event, but a life.  Not an event, but a life.  I believe that.  You will hear in my messages and hopefully see in my life a fervent desire to live our faith out loud, no matter the storms or challenges.  They had different merchandise you could buy with “Not an event, but a life” so I brought back a mousepad for my office, not knowing then that I would have my second brain surgery later that May.

At a conference in Winchester, VA I had my first seizure.  It was 2010 and I was 30 at the time.  I was diagnosed with a brain tumor that they removed most of two weeks later.  My tumor has a Harry Potter spell-like pronunciation to it – an oligodendroglioma. I had no complications or deficits after surgery.  I mean I had a tube coming out of my head with a blood bulb that I would put in the pocket of my hospital gown when I went to the bathroom but you go through what you have to.  I had the surgery on Friday and I was out on Sunday.  My son Enoch had just turned 3 and Evy was 1;58969_656598733737_2486331_n

so I recuperated at my brother Josh’s house.  I was back home and at work the next Thursday, less than a week later, easy, peasy, lemon squeezy.

I remember writing on the prayer request card from Pura Vida at the end of the trip that I would have an MRI the following Monday.  The MRI unfortunately showed the tumor had grown and so I began sharing with people that I would have a second surgery.  I thought it would be like the first surgery, so I agreed to do a wedding 3 weeks later and was set to do a workshop in Chicago that June and set to preach at camp for a week in July.  Unlike the first surgery where I had no complications, when I woke up I could understand everything the nurses, doctors, and my family were saying but I had lost my ability to speak.  The doctors and speech therapists call it apraxia.  Apraxia is the inability to execute learned purposeful movements, despite having the desire and the physical capacity to perform the movements. Oh, I had the desire in spades.  In other words, the words were still there but the ability to form sentences was broken, non-existent.

The tumor is on the motor cortex, that’s why they didn’t get it all the first time, so I had no feeling in my right arm or hand, and I’m right-handed.  I texted these words to my husband, Mike, with my left hand over two weeks later, “The quickness with which I speak comes back?”  It took me 45 minutes to text that.  I did 30 radiation treatments, 6 months of chemo, physical, occupational, and speech therapy over that year and then I went to the Ukraine to speak at a conference, but that is another sermon.

I’ve learned to rely on God because I HAVE to.  I am an independent, non-conformist person mixed with a perfectionistic people pleaser and I ALWAYS relied heavily on my communication skills.  I didn’t know how much until I couldn’t rattle off a prayer or answer a theological question or explain simple things to my kids or preach without a manuscript, or even the little things.  I used to carry around a small calendar in my purse to jot stuff down in, I used to type x number of words a minute, I used to love to send handwritten notes to people.  The ease and what came naturally to me before was lost and I still sometimes grieve that loss.  It’s okay to grieve.  God is with us when we mourn.  God promises to bring joy in the morning, so I went back to preaching in June.  I could read things and I reused every sermon that I had full manuscripts for that summer.  My oncologist, who I met with more frequently that first year and now at least every 3-4 months, was an older man who was all business and had a wry sense of humor.  Dr. Stahl always asked me if I was still preaching every week and I would always say yes.  He doesn’t know, by him asking me that question every time that I’m just stubborn, bull-headed and tenacious enough to see that as a challenge and with God’s strength, to make it happen!  He wrote this to me when he found out as I was moving, “It has been a privilege and a pleasure to have you as a patient-You have remarkable courage and determination-both of which have you served you well.”

We at the time had services every Sunday at 11 and every Wednesday night at 8:30 and shared in communion each time and it was a challenge to say the least.  A number of things helped me get through that time great students and other church members, Gator Wesley had been a local church and our older members sent me cards of encouragement almost every day, my speech therapist being patient and pushing me and saying your brain will rewire itself, songs like “Lord I Need You,” movies like “Rise of the Guardians” talking about what is your center and having faith even when you cannot see and “The Legend of Bagger Vance” talking about each of us has one, true, authentic swing, when I didn’t feel confident in my own voice, and y’all’s prayers, cards, and prayer shawls from around the United Methodist connection.  When I didn’t have the strength or the words or even the desire, on the dark nights of the soul, God was faithful.  When my primary care doctor said to me that September, I don’t think this brain tumor’s going to kill you, let’s get you healthy and strong, God was working through her to give me the hope that I needed to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  God can and does use us to be lights in a world full of darkness.  I knew then and I know now that God is with me every step of the way, continuing to strengthen me for the journey.  How do I know?  God gives us proof.   The little reassurances along the way – the person that says something and God’s speaking to me through their voice, the song that happens to come on the radio or the itunes shuffle at just the right time, the passage of scripture I happen to read that morning…it doesn’t just “happen.”  It’s a God thing.  Claim it.  Know it.  Trust it.  Be the person that Mother Teresa emulated as she said, “I’m a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world.”

God is ever present reminding me I am enough even when I don’t have the words.  I am worthy even when I don’t have the answers.  I can claim my inheritance by simply resting in the surety that I am a child of God.  We all can.  We are all worthy and enough.  If I have learned anything over the past 6 years is it’s not enough to just merely have these quick fix Jesus highs, these Psalms of praise alone – no matter how great they are – because they won’t sustain you when the ship hits the sand or when the rubber hits the road and you’re left bereft.  Developing a real, in depth relationship with Jesus will.  Developing a faith that lasts and is rooted and grounded in scripture will.  A verse, a song lyric, a prayer….When the storms of life are raging, I know where my hope is and that is in Christ alone.  We sang the hymn, “In Christ Alone” at Annual Conference in 2011, one year after the first surgery, and we sang it just now before the sermon.  It’s a song that means very much to me, especially the last verse.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.

At a retreat a year after the second surgery, the facilitator asked us to write questions on 3 cards.  They were to be questions where we needed the Holy Spirit to intercede, questions that were rolling around our heads but we had never articulated.  Then we were to paint and cut out pictures from magazines for each card without seeing what questions were on the back.  So I went to a place by myself and I invited the Holy Spirit to come by lighting a candle and I wrote these questions:

1.  What do I need more of in my life?
What do I need to embrace? 
Question 1

2.  What obstacles of the joy God wants for me do I consciously or subconsciously allow to hinder me from experiencing that joy? Question 2

3.  What do I need to let go?  Why am I so afraid to share my story?  Question 3

I went through the cards and picked colors and themes as I felt the Spirit leading me to.  Despite my skepticism, this activity ended being one of the most powerful practices that I have ever experienced.  I had gotten so caught up in my designs and cutting anything out that struck me that I had completely forgotten the original questions.

The answer to the first question was this: written in pencil “In Christ Alone, cancer, and colors.   I needed to embrace my cancer.  I was a cancer survivor.  And I need to place my trust “in Christ alone.”  Even the part about the skin was pointing to me embracing myself.  I had the dot tattoo so they could line me up to do my radiation and I had the scars from both the surgeries, but in the back of my mind I was still hiding.Image 1

We had been singing “In Christ Alone” during this retreat and when I shared that piece of my story later when all of us were sharing, we sang that as a closing song, which brought me to healing, relieving tears, like I let go of a burden.  The second question was this picture.  I look at this picture, I feel peace and beauty, and I needed more of that in my life after the year I had so I made a commitment to make room for beauty and positive and calming messages, so that’s why my office and home are decorated in such ways.Image 2

The last question of “What do I need to let go?” was the safe question.  God was leading me to ask what I really needed.  And the Holy Spirit was so loud in me, that I scribbled down the last question. It was surprising to me because I try to be real and authentic in all aspects of my life.  That’s why I created the blog in 2010. I didn’t want to actually talk about my blog or anything that I wrote.  And it was self-preservation and a bit of laziness to be sure because it was a  way to share with my family, friends, students and the communities that raised me and fed me and are praying with me something I couldn’t say out loud.  It was to share authentically with the world what was going on with me.  It was a way to update everyone at once with what was going on inside my head.  I rarely re-read and edit.  So this question was surprising to me.  But Proverbs 3:5-6 says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”  It struck me as I was writing this sermon that I use “afraid.”  And I think that is telling.  I admit now I was afraid and I am afraid of being misunderstood, of losing my words, of not being in control…but as 1 Timothy 1:7 says God does not give us a spirit of fear, but rather a spirit of power and love.  God doesn’t call us to be silent, God calls to be bold and step out in faith and God will give us the words to speak. Image 3

Everything.  I needed to let go of everything.  And I felt safe in the arms of Mike in it all, but more than that I felt like God had and is protecting me from the storm.  God was creating the perfect shelter, an eye in the hurricane.  God was also giving me a clear message with these cards.  I needed to share my story, integrating the cancer, no matter how hard, personal, and vulnerable.

 I’ve claimed the words of Isaiah 41:8-10 (NRSV) But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; 10 do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”

Bob Goff in his book Love Does says, “I once heard somebody say that God had closed a door on an opportunity that they hoped for.  But I’ve always wondered if, when we want to do something that we know is right and good, God places that desire deep in our hearts because He wants it for us and it honors Him.  Maybe there are times when we think a door has been closed and, instead of misinterpreting the circumstances, God wants us to kick it down.  Or perhaps just sit outside of it long enough until somebody tells us we can come in.”

God wants us to dream large God-sized dreams.  God wants us to sometimes kick doors down.  God wants to give us a future with hope.  As Jeremiah 29:11-14 says, “11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”  Or as it is in 1 Corinthians 2:9, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.”  Or as it is in Ephesians 3:20, “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.”

We’re not meant to walk this road alone.  I want to walk with you and hear your stories so that in the mountain tops and the valleys, we can share with one another, come alongside one another, praying for each other, being church with one another.  It’s a crazy cool relay race in the United Methodist Church’s system of itineracy.  Joe passed Walter the torch. Walter passed me the torch and I am ever grateful for that torch and the care in which he handed it off.  In 1 Corinthians 3:6, “Paul wrote, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.”   The earth is fertile here at Point Hope and God is indeed in your midst making things grow and making all things new.  I trust God to rock our socks off!  That’s the beautiful and crazy gift of having life in Christ.  You follow where God has called you, no matter that you’re too old to have kids, like Abraham, no matter if you’re a prostitute, like Rahab, no matter the speech impediment like Moses, no matter if you don’t want to, like Jonah, no matter if you’re left in a foreign land with your mother in law, like Ruth…and that’s just the Old Testament.  The Bible is chock full of stories about God doing extraordinary things with ordinary people.  God didn’t stop writing stories two thousand years ago.  I’m reminded of the Big Daddy Weave song that weaves in the hymn “This is my story, this is my song.”  The lines are

 If I told you my story
You would hear hope that wouldn’t let go
If I told you my story
You would hear love that never gave up
If I told you my story
You would hear life but it wasn’t mine

If I should speak then let it be

Of the grace that is greater than all my sin
Of when justice was served and where mercy wins
Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in
To tell you my story is to tell of Him

We all have a story and when we take a moment in our busy lives to catch our breath and let the God that came and dwelt among us have room in our lives, we create room for God to share with us.  If you’re thinking you don’t have a story, ask God and God will reveal your story.  Or if the problem is not you not knowing, but getting it out or just not telling it, than Marianne Williamson says it this way, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.  We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?  Actually, who are you not to be.  You are a child of God.  Your playing small does not serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.  We are all meant to shine, as children do.  We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.  It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.  And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”  Let your light shine that the world may see and know.  If we all share our lights together – we will – with God’s strength – rock their socks off!

I had no idea before the age of 30 that my story would include a brain tumor, but I know I have life, indeed abundant life in Christ.  Not just surviving but thriving. Too often I hear that we’ve just got to get through high school or college or grad school or we have to get our first job or get married or have children or retire to figure out what in the heck to do with our lives, but God doesn’t want us to let life pass us by so that we’re only barely surviving. God wants us to thrive.  Jesus didn’t come so we could have a complacent life.  He came for us to have abundant life.

I want each of us to be a part of God’s larger. Broader story, in our own particular way, with our own spiritual gifts, strengths or weaknesses that God works for good.  Look under your chair, some of you might have peeked already, and that’s perfectly okay.  This is to basically sum up my sermon and it was made by one of my favorite artists Suzanne Vinson.  Here’s the full quote from Frederich Buechner.

“The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you. There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”

I would like you to take this with you.  Keep it in your wallet or in your dashboard or on your bathroom mirror.  Let it be a reminder that nothing can separate you from the love of God and God’s abundant grace, and though beautiful and terrible things will inevitably happen, we are not to fear, because we know the One who spoke things into existence, who is our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.  Amen.  Let us pray.

*  Music that I was listening to while I wrote this sermon.  TobyMac “Move” Hawk Nelson  “Drops in the Ocean” “Lord I Need You”  Lauren Daigle “Trust In You” Sidewalk Prophets “Prodigal” Ryan Stevenson “The Eye of the Storm” Aaron Shust“Ever Be” Hollyn “Alone”

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Bonheoffer, Colossians 3, Community, Grace, Music, Needtobreathe, Roberta Porter poems, Shelter

Shelter

community
Colossians 3:12-17

“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Our scripture today is one that I give couples to select for a scripture reading for their wedding. It was also used as the middle scripture on Gator Wesley’s Spring Tour this week. I hoped it would resonate with the students as they dealt with one another in the love of Christ in the midst with all of the challenges of tour. One of my favorite lines of this scripture, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” We love each other like family here at Gator Wesley. We fight like brothers and sisters, but we know at the end of the day that we need to bear with one another and forgive each other just as Christ has forgiven us.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer asks the questions, “Has fellowship served to make the individual free, strong, and mature, or has it made him weak and dependent? Has it taken him by the hand for a while in order that he may learn again to walk by himself, or has it made him uneasy and unsure?”

I say yes for the community at Gator Wesley. We don’t seek to wave magic wands to solve all of life’s problems, but we seek to come alongside and journey with you wherever you go with the love and grace of Christ that leads us.

I love the poems in the Alive Now devotionals by Roberta Porter. This one is called simply “Gift.”

It is no small gift to be a faith community,
to worship, to witness,
to walk the way of love
in the name and strength of Jesus.
And in community,
When brokenness and sorrow come,
those in need are surrounded
with prayer and compassion.
Our caring goes beyond ourselves,
and the stranger, in many places,
Is touched
by the healing love and grace of God.

In our failures, in our busy forgetting,
we are forgiven, renewed
to continue to be the hands and feet of Christ –
no small task,
no small gift.

I say yes for myself in the community of Gator Wesley that has lifted me up in powerful ways that has allowed me to walk this journey of recovery. That you let me be your leader in the midst was a true gift of grace. I may not have often felt adequate or enough these past few months or past year, but God’s grace has been more than sufficient. These were the verses in The Upper Room Devotional for yesterday the anniversary of my second brain surgery, but I didn’t read it until today, taking a sort of fast from social media because we celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary yesterday. Lamentations 3:22-26, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” Amen and amen.

Another poem called “Beyond Ourselves” by Roberta Porter.
We are created for Christ
and for community –
to pray, to care
to show and receive compassion
to witness to all
the wonder of God’s grace.

May we faithfully act in love –
forgiving, restoring,
renewing, serving,
and living
beyond ourselves
in the power of the Sprirt
and to the glory of God.

This is the gift from me to you, to thank you for journeying with me this past year. The song “Brother” by needtobreathe really resonated with me as I traveled on tour this past week. I highly encourage you to get the entire CD because it’s awesome. Because this CD is so recent, this is the only recording of this song on youtube besides the one with just the album cover. This is obviously the acoustic version.

Brother Lyrics
Ramblers in the wilderness we can’t find what we need
Get a little restless from the searching
Get a little worn down in between
Like a bull chasing the matador is the man left to his own schemes
Everybody needs someone beside em’ shining like a lighthouse from the sea

Brother let me be your shelter
I’ll never leave you all alone
I can be the one you call
When you’re low
Brother let me be your fortress
When the night winds are driving on
Be the one to light the way
Bring you home

Face down in the desert now there’s a cage locked around my heart
I found a way to drop the keys where my failures were
Now my hands can’t reach that far
I ain’t made for a rivalry I could never take this world alone
I know that in my weakness I am stronger
It’s your love that brings me home

Brother let me be your shelter
I’ll never leave you all alone
I can be the one you call
When you’re low
Brother let me be your fortress
When the night winds are driving on
Be the one to light the way
Bring you home

Brother let me be your shelter
I’ll never leave you all alone
I can be the one you call
When you’re low
Brother let me be your fortress
When the night winds are driving on
Be the one to light the way
Bring you home

Brother let me be your shelter
I’ll never leave you all alone
I can be the one you call
When you’re low
Brother let me be your fortress
When the night winds are driving on
Be the one to light the way
Bring you home

Brother let me be your shelter
I’ll never leave you all alone
I can be the one you call
When you’re low
Brother let me be your fortress
When the night winds are driving on
Be the one to light the way
Bring you home

Brother let me be your shelter
Brother let me be your shelter
Brother let me be your shelter
Brother let me be your shelter

SO THANK YOU FOR ALL OF THE PRAYERS and letting me call each of you shelters.