Since many of you practice the tradition of sharing thankful thoughts with your families at Thanksgiving, let me share some of mine with you...
I give thanks for your love and mercy.
This past week I received communication from Bishop Greg Brewer and the Diocese of Central Florida regarding my journey toward Holy Orders. I have moved forward in the process and I am on track (God willing) for being a Candidate later this fall and then being ordained to the diaconate in January 2018! This discernment regarding the priesthood has been a rigorous process with many stages involving clergy and lay leadership throughout our diocese. I am excited and humbled for the days to come and I covet your prayers. Once I am ordained to the diaconate, a period of no less than six months will be a final discernment period before ordination to the priesthood.
Fr. Reid values my leadership at All Saints' and plans to keep me here once I am ordained. I, too, value being a part of our parish family and look forward to continue serving as I do with the children, teens, and families of our church as Director of Family Ministries, along with continuing to be involved with women's ministries, the Order of St. Luke, outreach, and altar serving. I already enjoy the many opportunities to teach, preach, care for our members and visitors, to be part of outreach ventures, to lead in worship, and to do so working with men, women, boys, and girls of all ages. At All Saints' I have been given encouragement and exhortation to share the spiritual gifts, talents, and passions for ministry that God has given me, and I am grateful to Fr. Reid for the freedom and blessing to do so. He has trusted me to work as needed and there have been many opportunities to collaborate in ministry which is a joy.
I love All Saints' Church and I am grateful to be a part of the vision that God has for us.
Homily for Youth Sunday, September 24, 2017, 8:50 a.m. Service
I am titling my homily today as “Knowing the Heart of Our Father.” It is my hope and prayer that we will discover the hearts of the people in today’s scripture lessons, and that by that discovery we will hear and know the Father’s prompting in our own lives. I, in particular, hope that all of our children and teenagers here today will be listening for a new thought to help them know and follow our Father in heaven.
The first scripture lesson we heard this morning was from the book of Exodus, chapter 16. The lesson captures the struggles that the Israelites experienced in traveling through the wilderness. Given our recent experiences of Hurricane Irma and seeing the news from Harvey and Maria, it is not too difficult for us to imagine a tribe of people going through a journey without the materials from home and struggles because of the environment. We here in Lakeland lost power and many of us were uncomfortable, but what the Israelites lost was their familiar surroundings - they lost what they called home in Egypt – they lost pots of meat and bread to fill them up - to then go day after day in a dry land, not knowing where they would end up. They had no food and they were hungry; they complained and they complained against the Lord; their lives had become unfamiliar and they were tired of camping. They did not believe that God was taking care of them, and their hearts were revealed when put in a difficult situation.
Many of us have been bracing for days in preparation of Hurricane Irma. Only a week ago we had been watching the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and many of us were moved to respond with Christian charity. They will continue to need our help, as well as parts of Louisiana and Tennessee who experienced flooding from the storm. Thankfully, there are Christians organizations like Episcopal Relief & Development and Samaritan's Purse who are mobilized to provide resources through people like us, and they will continue to do so.
Now here we are waiting for Irma to come our way. We have felt the build-up and we have learned by what we witnessed with Harvey. I remember asking my husband just a week ago, "if you just had a garbage bag for carrying your most needed possessions, what would be in your bag?" It was a way of asking myself, when I pair down to the true essentials, what would I have? I have read on disaster preparedness sites about what they recommend, so I am doing that, but then I am reflecting upon all that I can let go. When it comes right down to it, I am taking two wedding photos off the wall, insurance documents, passports, ownership of property documents, a change of clothing, toiletries, two books, the Bible, my phone, my laptop computer, and my pets. I can let everything else go if the storm takes it from me. I could even let some of what I am taking go, but I can take a little more than a small garbage bag.
Now where am I going, you might ask? Why the need to pack? Charles and I have been preparing our home for the chance of flash flooding, so we are taking just these few things (and Charles has his short list which can't include his piano!) and hanging out in my parents' home in S. Lakeland since it seems less prone to having the water issue. It's hard to predict what will happen, but we are working on our intuition and street smarts!
If you've been paying attention to national news since Friday, you know that our country (and our world) needs Christ and his love more than ever. My response to the displays of civil unrest, hatred, and violence has been to pray for Jesus to intervene and bring healing to a broken world. I have also responded by personally sharing lessons and encouraging our midweek teachers to share lessons on loving others as Jesus would want us to do.
On Sunday I asked myself the question, what does it look like for our children to love others as they start a new school year? Perhaps they are in classrooms with children of different ethnicities and skin color? How should they respond to other children but find ways to be loving, kind, and welcoming...to go the extra mile to get to know every student's name as soon as possible so that they start building relationships and help to create a loving, family atmosphere among their peers and classroom.
Our Epistle lesson from Romans 10 this past Sunday reminded us that the feet of those who share the good news are beautiful and I encouraged our children to be those "beautiful feet" who share Christ's love with every one in their classes. Perhaps for our young children, they might be asked to share crayons or markers and they might not always get what they want, but that gives them an opportunity to love a classmate? Perhaps our older children might have to show a new classmate how to do a classroom task and that gives them an opportunity to love and grow in responsibility? Perhaps our teens have the opportunity to invite new students into their friendship circles and they can grow in showing Christ's love to others? There are so many opportunities for us to teach our children to make this world a better, more loving place in which to live. My prayer and hope is that we all continue to reflect on how we can pay attention to the needs of others as we love our neighbors as ourselves.
I recently heard a pastor friend mention this idea that we are called human beings and not human doings. What a fun play on our English language, I thought! A day later, I was attending a centering prayer gathering where one member of the group mentioned that she was praying about how she was "being" before God. Then, I reflected upon a billboard that had been up around town which asked, "Who do you want to be?" with the idea that the institution would help you develop your qualities of being rather than specifically focus on how to help you do something as a career. It seems to be a good word that I need to hear this week. How does this thought resonate with you? Let me explore a little bit...
So much of our lives are focused on doing projects, whether it is for work or home, or whether it is for getting our family members to activities and to support them, or perhaps for organizing activities and studies for schools and churches. We are a project-oriented society! I cannot deny that I enjoy having projects and find fulfillment in "human doing"! And I also cannot deny that God does indeed want us to be doers of the word (James 1:22 ), but that drive in us to be active in our faith needs to be balanced with a deep sense of who we are as God's children .
So I, in addition to being a "doer", also realize the deep need for simply being. I think about my family members and friends who know me well and how I can enjoy being myself when I am with them. I can take that for granted, but I receive a huge blessing when I am aware of the love and peace that comes by simply being who I am with and for them. It's a true gift from God and one that comes when I take time to slow down and quiet my doings to simply be. I know that my family and friends value that from me, and I know that when I slow down to be quiet before God (Psalm 46:10 ), I am able to know God better and to know myself better, too.
Archbishop Justin Welby is leading our Anglican Communion to set aside these next 10 days to be intentional about praying for others and our world. The website is www.thykingdomcome.global/?thankyou=1#Pledge2Pray where you can let the Archbishop know that you are participating, and there are many resources for your personal prayer time or for your familes or teens. There are videos sent to your email which share a good word each day.
Charles and I are committing to praying together toward this cause and we began this morning. We chose 5 people for whom to pray with the hopes of reaching people who don't have a relationship with Jesus.
I hope you'll consider looking at one of the links shared below and praying as an individual or with your family. The resources are varied and unique and well produced.
May can be a challenging month for families as the end of the school year brings about a series of transitions and changes. Some students are graduating and preparing for next steps; some students are preparing for being at a new school in the fall so they are already preparing themselves for leaving their current school and the friends they have there; some younger children will be getting ready to leave daycare and start a formal school setting. Then there are the transitions to the summer schedule and what that will mean for the family routine with more time at home, or summer camps and family vacations. Here at church we help see our students promote to the next small group such as Kids' Club, God Squad, Middle School Youth Group, and High School Youth Group, as well as new Sunday School classes. Thankfully, our hands-on leaders Priscilla Baez in the nursery, Carrie Kotal in the children's area, and Stephanie Paul with our teens are steady and consistent with our children and teens and will help welcome them as they move. Transitions are everywhere!
As always, during these seasons of transition, we know that we have God as our solid foundation upon whom we put our trust. He guides us through all of the changes, especially as we remain faithful to his leadership and call in our lives. For me personally, I am glad that God has brought me to All Saints' Church. I know that God has brought me here for this season in the church's life, and I have every reason to believe that God wants me here for many years to come. I continue to be in the discernment process with the Diocese of Central Florida toward Holy Orders and there has been much affirmation during this journey.
I am still on God's timing and planning for the priesthood, but Lord willing, I should be at All Saints' to serve as a clergy member in the future to continue being part of the wonderful team and family that is All Saints' Parish. This is readily and openly affirmed by Fr. Reid and I am grateful that others are excited, too. I covet your prayers for the variety of ministry opportunities that are available for our children and teens as our Family Ministries team of staff and volunteers come alongside our families to encourage our students to love Jesus and put him first in their lives.
I am looking forward to our week together as we move from today's Palm Sunday celebration to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. I think about our opportunities to gather for worship each day (and multiple times on some days!). I think about our opportunities to be with our young people (on Wednesday evening, Thursday evening, and Saturday morning) to encourage and teach them about the importance of this week. I think about our personal reflections in scripture and daily devotions to walk each day of this week with Jesus.
As I think about Jesus' final days, I reflect upon the persecution that he faced. And Christians throughout the ages and in various parts of the globe have suffered in the name of Christ. Non-believers simply cannot accept Jesus as fully God and fully man. They cannot accept his grace, love, and mercy. The novel/movie Silence helped to illustrate this reality of rejection, and just this morning we read or heard about Coptic Christians in two different locations in Egypt who were killed in their houses of worship as the result of a terrorist strike from non-Christians. Also, last week I received an email from English clergy friends who are currently serving an Anglican Chaplaincy in Sicily and they expressed that they don't feel safe wearing their clergy clothing in Palermo. We live in times where persecution of Christians makes our headlines and it is something we should consider with prayerful hearts. The world in which we raise our families is global and we can't forget that.
Ephesians Chapter 3:14-21
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith - that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength 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, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
I always look forward to the beginning of a new calendar year. It's a time for new beginnings if one so chooses; or it is a time to get reoriented after the change of routine during the Christmas season.
Personally, I did not make specific resolutions for the new year, but because I have the priesthood journey as part of my experiences in 2017, I am making sure that there are essentials in my day-to-day existence. (I don't believe that these essentials are unique to my calling to the priesthood, by the way, so feel free to use these as a checklist for yourself, too!)Each day I am trying to begin with prayer as I wake. Often times, I am not out of bed and my eyes might be closed, but I am definitely conscious and talking with God, pouring out my heart and mind as God leads the conversation.I am listening to or reading scripture. Often it is the BCP daily lectionary readings plus other books/chapters I am reading for other studies.I am tending to the relationships in my home. This means taking the time to be present to them and loving them as they need and perceive.I am tending to my own personal needs of health and well-being which usually involves getting outside for time to jog or walk my dog.I am reading and listening to texts other than the Bible that help me to be a more thoughtful Christian and person.I am always returning to prayer as a continual dialogue with God throughout the day to frame my work and understand the best way to encourage others in their walk with God.
I am at peace with God when I do these "basics" and I am realizing more and more how much I don't need what the world is trying to offer to bring joy and happiness and peace; all I truly need is God's love and care for me and to spend my days with Him.
I was ringing the Salvation Army bell as a volunteer for our church this week and found that I had much time for reflection since I was there without companionship. As I set in for my duties, I found that there was a steady flow of walking traffic in and out of the store, but rarely did people make eye contact or even acknowledge my existence, let alone contribute to the cause. Patrons were quickly walking by, or avoiding my area, and store employees who were working the carts in the parking lot managed to continue to pass by me without looking my way or saying a word. I saw at least 8 store employees and only 2 willingly made eye contact to greet me and a third employee was willing to respond and then look my way when I said hello. I started to get to the point of counting how many people would pass by without looking before someone would make eye contact and say hello. It was a pitiful percentage. I had strong conviction that I was standing there in the image of God with Christ's presence in me (John 15 ) and people were simply walking by and denying Jesus. I wondered if John the Baptist felt that way as one crying in the wilderness.
It is the day after the election and I find myself thinking, "Now what?" There is always so much build up to the American political process that it is difficult to ignore the post-election emotions, no matter which way one voted or which candidate won. I find that I need to simply keep on praying that God's will be done no matter who is or isn't elected to office. No political leader or party is perfectly aligned with God's purposes, so we all do the best we can as we vote.
Thankfully, as Christians we have our hope in God the Father, Jesus as our Savior, and the Holy Spirit to be our comforter and guide. It is this very point that I want our young people to know. I want them to take away from all of this rhetoric that the only perfect worldview is to be aligned with God's will for the world, and God is not controlled by our political processes. When Jesus lived on earth, he did not try to overthrow or control the Roman political structures, but rather, he let those structures continue to function as they did. Jesus was more interested in trying to reorient how the Jewish religious people saw their world; He wanted them to have a "biblical" worldview (if you will permit me to use that term even though anachronistic for its time).
In a recent Sunday School class, our 6th-12th graders were asked to answer the question, "What does God expect from us?" I have several sheets of paper filled with their insightful answers. Here are a few of their thoughts:
I had this phrase, "It's about relationship," come to me during a prayer time recently and it has been staying with me. I keep thinking about it for how it can shape each day of my life when I allow it to do so, but also what it means for how I communicate with all of our children, teens, families, and teachers at church. Here's what I mean...
It came to me when I was praying about our teens and what/how I would see us teaching them on Sundays and Wednesdays. We have a mission statement, we have a plan of activities on Wednesdays for theme nights, we have scripture application challenges, and we have a Sunday curriculum with a comprehensive 3-year plan for going from Genesis to Revelation, but what do I (and we) want to see our teens take away with them as they go off to college? The response that God told me was, "I want them to know that each day of life is about having a relationship with Me."
I have started to share this good word with others and now I am sharing it with readers here. I posted it on my Facebook page the morning I heard from God; I have been sharing it with Priscilla, Carrie, and Stephanie who head up the grade level areas of ministries with our preschoolers, children, and teens; I will be sharing it with the Youth Steering Team in our monthly meeting this evening; and it continues to be a theme in texts, teaching resources, and workshops that I have encountered the past three weeks. God is guiding this process.
We just experienced a full weekend of being together and hearing from our guest philospher and apologist Dr. Douglas Groothuis. The focus of his time with us was to heighten an awareness of the need to pursue knowledge of Christ and one's Christian faith. He asked our parents and teens to consider, "What do you believe?" and then charged them to know and believe the Bible. He quoted, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37 ), (which is a verse that now lives on the wall of our youth floor as a constant reminder of our highest calling).
So, where do we go from here? Can we do better about engaging our hearts, souls, and minds to love God better? I think the answer will always be "yes" to that question, but I have an idea about a new discipline that we can undertake to do something in response to what we heard this weekend. Here goes...!
Go to www.newcitycatechism.com.
It might seem unlikely that I would write a short blog about parenthood based on a 4th-century confessional writing by St. Augustine, but here goes...I promise it's good stuff. :)
In books II and III of his Confessions, Augustine wrote about his older teen years and bemoaning his waywardness, but he explained that something changed within him at age 19. He was in a course of study that prompted him to read a text called Hortensius by Cicero. In his reflections he wrote, "it was this book which altered my way of feeling, turned my prayers to You, Lord, Yourself, and gave me different ambitions and desires...I was on fire then, my God, I was on fire to leave earthly things behind and fly back to You" (Book III, Chapter 4). Powerful stuff! I love when I hear about individual's lives being transformed by the Spirit!
So, how does this transformational experience connect with his parents? I'd imagine that all of us want the young people in our lives or household to be this excited about God. Here's what Augustine continued to write in that confession:
I spent the past week with 26 teens and various adult leaders/volunteers being on mission in our community. It was a rewarding week and one that I will remember for several reasons:God provided our needs just as we needed them since an awareness of needs regarding transportation and water presented themselves over the course of the week. Thank you, God, for answering prayers!Having the mission team from St. Luke and St. Peter in St. Cloud with us was a wonderful addition to our week. We bonded with them and the ways that God is manifest in them both individually and as a team made an impact on us.The kinship in Christ that we share deepened over the course of the week, and for that I am extremely grateful.We were visited by Mike Beam from St. Michael's in Orlando and he brought a sermon about the difference that one person can make. His 3-year-old daughter is living testimony to that fact.We shared Holy Communion together on the youth floor with Bishop Greg Brewer. It was an enriching experience. I coached a rising 6th grader from the other team to lead prayers of the people for the first time and he did a wonderful job.Stephanie, Sophia, and Christian Paul got to spend many hours with us in mission activities and times of fun, fellowship, and devotion. It was fabulous!We volunteered/ministered at 11 different ministries/locations in Lakeland. We didn't want to see it come to an end. :)
What happens next?...
As I was getting back to one of my devotional books this morning called The One Jesus Loves by Robert Crosby, I found that many of the themes of this past week were evident as I was reading. Crosby wrote about the feeding of the five thousand and that God's Bread gives life to the world; those were themes during our Eucharist service with Bishop Brewer. Crosby wrote that Christ followers have open eyes and open souls; those were discussions we had during our times of devotion when we talked about the parable of the Good Samaritan and how to be aware of the needs around us. Crosby wrote about what it means to be the seventy who follow Jesus and go out to serve and minister in his name; that was our modus operandi this past week. The next step (and I would add life-long step) that Crosby suggested is to "discover we are not just called to do something but to do it for Someone." He shared the scripture passage from Matthew 22:36-39 (which connects with the parable of the Good Samaritan): "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" He concludes his thought with the following statement: "Loving is the goal; serving is a means of fulfilling the goal."
It has been a whirlwind of activity since school got out for our children and teens. From a youth lock-in to Vacation Bible School to a party for the Taits to a pool party for families to movie night at church for our teens, we have been having fun getting together!
A reflection that came from one of our children on Friday of Vacation Bible School was that she was glad that she got to come to church everyday. :) And many of our children, especially our preschoolers, told their parents that they didn't want VBS to end. How wonderful!
One of our teens recently expressed to me that he wanted to use the competitve spirit among our teens to see if others could be encouraged to read their Bibles every day. I most certainly applaud this idea and I will help encourage incentives/competitions over the summer. The first incentive was presented last night to the teens who were at youth group. They need to find a daily Bible app (or simply use their Bibles) to have a daily reading, then write a short reflection on what that reading says to them. Then they need to forward that to me each day for one full week and I will have a food reward for them at the end of the week. It's really a simple challenge, but it requires daily intentionality. Developing a lasting and deep relationship with God is a daily thing. Let's pray that our summer challenges encourage spiritual growth!
For my birthday earlier this year, my husband Charles gave me a book written by one of his colleagues at Southeastern University. It is titled The ONE Jesus Loves and it is by Robert Crosby. The whole premise of the book is to establish a new rubric or a new model for understanding growing closer to Jesus. He shares an observation that over the centuries the following have been tools for growth in Christian discipleship:
"The Apostles' [or for us the Nicene] Creed helps us with right beliefs.
The Lord's Prayer assists us with focused intercessions.
I started making time to attend Fr. Reid's Wednesday morning Bible study and the first class I attended was on the last few verses of Romans 7 . (Now I wish that I had started attending sooner!) For many it was a great class, and in particular for me, I found that I had a greater sense of Paul's spirit in penning the words and a greater sense of my own sinfulness simply by being human and my need for God's grace. I had started reading a book called Speaking of Sin by Episcopal priest and author Barbara Brown Taylor and I have found some of her words to resonate with what I experienced in the Bible study that morning. I will share two brief excerpts below and I hope you find God's Spirit speaking through them:
"Sin is not simply a set of behaviors to be avoided. Much more fundamentally, it is a way of life to be exposed and changed, and no one is innocent. But that fact need not paralyze anyone with fear, since the proper response to sin is not punishment but penance...the point is that the essence of sin is not the violation of laws but the violation of relationships. Punishment is not paramount. Restoration of relationship is paramount, which means that the focus is not on paying debts but on recovering fullness of life." (I must interject with Romans 8:1 , "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.") "We do wrong, but we do not do wrong all alone. We live in a web of creation that binds us to all other living beings. If we want to be saved, then we had better figure out how to do it together, since none of us can resign from this web of relationship. Meanwhile, sin is our only hope, because the recognition that something is wrong is the first step toward setting it right again.
"Repentance begins with the decision to return to relationship: to accept our God-given place in community, and to choose a way of life that increases life for all members of that community. Needless to say, this often involves painful changes, which is why most of us prefer remorse to repentance. We would rather say, 'I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I feel really, really awful about what I have done' than actually start doing things differently. As a wise counselor once pointed out to me, our chronic guilt is the price we are willing to pay in order to avoid change. We believe that if we feel badly enough about what we are doing, then we may continue doing it. Plus, the guilt itself is so exhausting that it drives us right back into the arms of our sins, which may provide us with our only reliable comfort. 'All sins are attempts to fill voids,' wrote the French philosopher Simone Weil. Because we cannot stand the God-shaped hole inside of us, we try stuffing it full of all sorts of things, but it refuses to be filled. It rejects all substitutes. It insists on remaining bare. It is the holy of holies inside of us, which only God may fill. When we are ready to honor the bare space instead of trying to stuff it full, then we are ready to consider what kind of new life God may be calling us to. Our answers will be as varied as our sins, but they will involve more doing than saying, more reformation than remorse. Meanwhile, I do not believe that sin is the enemy we often make it out to be, at least not when we recognize it and name it as such. When we see how we have turned away from God, then and only then do we have what we need to begin turning back. Sin is our only hope, the fire alarm that wakes us up to the possibility of true repentance."