Friday, March 8, 2019

Nature therapy-- some silence and solitude

Yesterday morning was beautiful and sunny.  I kept sensing a lure, an urge, a nudge to get outside.  It wasn't to just get outside though.  It was to go to Reflection Riding for a walk, to spend some time in the woods there and in the bamboo.  I was wanting to get back to the bamboo partly because of the upcoming "Bamboo Encounter" kick off worship in May, I imagine.  But it wasn't just the bamboo. My spirit knew I needed some wide open space to meet with the Creator.

I walked on the gravel road, hearing the crunch beneath my feet.  I smelled the smoke from the fire in the pit.  I watched the horses in the field.  I saw many flowers and plants.  I heard different kinds of birds and even owls.  I heard and saw the trickling waters of springs flow over the rocks.  Inside the bamboo forest I heard the song of the bamboo as the breeze blew the bamboo.  I heard children at play. I saw and smelled the fresh cut logs that had blocked the roads from recent storms.

As I walked, there was a recurring thought that came to me: "my soul, my soul magnifies the Lord".  That comes from Mary's song of praise in Luke 1:46, yet I don't know why it was on repeat in my mind, except that as I walked throughout the the property, my soul was magnifying the Lord.

Yesterday's word for lent was "awareness".  It turns out that I was aware of quite a bit on my walk yesterday.  In that time of walking, in that silence and solitude, my heart, mind, and soul were able to become clear again.  God was able to meet me and I was able to meet God.

The work of keeping a whole soul isn't always easy.  Making time for the spiritual practices that keep me healthy and whole don't always take precedence.  There are sermons to research and write, folks to visit, call, and write.  There are quarterly preaching schedules to prepare (when you serve three churches and there are two of you preaching).  There are meetings in the churches, the district, with clergy groups.  There are CEUs (continuing education).  Then there is also family, exercise, friends, doctor visits, etc.  I talk about spinning plates and juggling balls.  Plates and balls get dropped some times.  But I know that if I am to lead well, I need to be well-- emotionally, spiritually, physically, and mentally.  Therefore, if I don't take care of me in self-care and soul care, I cannot take care of others. I will not be a good leader.  What is in me will come out of me.  It is my hope and desire that what comes out of me helps others in their discipleship journey, as they seek to grow.  So yesterday's time of walking in nature was a part of my work, a part of keeping me whole, a part of my ministry.

I am grateful for yesterday, for the clearing of my soul.  I am grateful for the time of silence and solitude, two spiritual practices that continue to be life-long learning opportunities for me. I am grateful for the beautiful day and everything it offered.  I am grateful for a Creator who knows me better than I know myself, who lured, urged, and nudged me to get outside into creation so that my soul could be at peace.

Below you will pictures and a video from yesterday's adventures.

Whatever spiritual practices bring you life, may you make time for them this Lenten season.

Peace on your journey,

Debra
























Ash Wednesday 2019


I did my first "ashes to go" this year, in Spanish.  It was COLD!  The week prior I procured a location on Rossville Blvd., at a panadería.  Thankfully it was a clear and sunny morning.  I had an "A-frame" sign made up (velcro, so it's changeable), some bilingual give away cards, and some bilingual brochures about Ash Wednesday and Ashes to Go.

I am thankful to Jeff Crim, a Lutheran pastor, who has invited me to this second opportunity for pop up ministry in community.  Our first was on Virgin of Guadalupe Day.  It wasn't as cold or as early.

Ash Wednesday was a success in that we offered ashes to quite a few folks.  Two accepted the offer.  Another took one of the bilingual cards with the phrase on it about being dust and returning to dust.  We said "good morning" to many others and shared with those who were interested about what we were doing and who we were.

Before Jeff arrived, someone offered to buy me coffee, but I already had some.  So, instead, I was given some money to get whatever I wanted from the store.  I got some homemade tamales and a donut when I left for breakfast.  I was grateful for his kindness.

Another person offered us his three beers, which we left next to the park bench.  Still, that was an act of kindness.  I was humbled by not only these acts, but the conversation with the one who asked why couldn't denominations get along and Jeff and I were able to say that here we were, representing two different denominations and getting along quite well.  Another part of a conversation that struck me was when I shared with someone that the ashes were a symbol of our humanity.  The response was that they knew all too well their own humanity, having almost died several times.  I suspected this person was homeless.

Ash Wednesday is a time to reflect on our being, who we are and whose we are.  It is a time to ponder God's grace, love, forgiveness, mercy, and goodness.

After the Ashes to Go, I participated in an Ash Wednesday service at one of the three churches where I serve, Simpson UMC.  There is a Lenten Luncheon Series annually that is kicked off on Ash Wednesday and the Holston Georgia Parish churches and anyone in community is invited to it.  Justin shared the message on "forgiveness" and he and Wayne Cook from McFarland UMC offered the imposition of ashes.

Being able to serve and be with folks in community is rewarding.  Being able to reflect on the deeper meaning of life is humbling and freeing.

Ash Wednesday was a good way to begin the Lenten journey for me, once again.

Peace,

Debra









Monday, March 4, 2019

Freedom in the Spirit-- this past Sunday's sermon

I have gotten behind in posting sermons.  Not that I post all of them, but I do try for the most part to post the transcripts, the recordings, the bulletins, some of the songs, etc.  That is, when I have time and energy.  I haven't posted sermons in the past three weeks.  Things have been busy in life.

I will start with yesterday's sermon and hopefully catch up with the other two as well.

In addition to the recorded sermon, I'm including the special music this time because I recorded it.  I don't always record the special music, but I did yesterday.

I included a song in the sermon.  You might can hear it in the recording, but I will also add it to the sermon script.

In the sermon, I mention something and include the link in the transcript.  I will post it too.

I wore my butterfly stole yesterday that I bought to wear for my niece's wedding.  I thought it was appropriate for Transfiguration Sunday, as I shared about transformation for all of us.

I don't know who reads or listens or if this meets anyone where they are, these sermons.  But, I share, in the off chance that the Holy Spirit, who is always teaching, may use it somehow, someway, for someone.

Peace,

Debra

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“Freedom in the Spirit”
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 (CEB)
March 3, 2019 (Transfiguration Sunday/Communion Sunday)
Fort Oglethorpe UMC

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 (CEB)

12 So, since we have such a hope, we act with great confidence. 13 We aren’t like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the Israelites couldn’t watch the end of what was fading away. 14 But their minds were closed. Right up to the present day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. The veil is not removed because it is taken away by Christ. 15 Even today, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But whenever someone turns back to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Lord’s Spirit is, there is freedom. 18 All of us are looking with unveiled faces at the glory of the Lord as if we were looking in a mirror. We are being transformed into that same image from one degree of glory to the next degree of glory. This comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
This is why we don’t get discouraged, given that we received this ministry in the same way that we received God’s mercy. Instead, we reject secrecy and shameful actions. We don’t use deception, and we don’t tamper with God’s word. Instead, we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God by the public announcement of the truth.
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THIS IS THE WORD OF GOD FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD.
THANKS BE TO GOD.                      
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Today is Transfiguration Sunday.  From the UMC discipleship.org page, today “we celebrate the revelation of Christ’s glory “before the passion” so that we may “be strengthened to bear our cross and be changed into his likeness.”  The focus of the Lenten season is renewed discipline in walking in the way of the cross and rediscovery of the baptismal renunciation of evil and sin and our daily adherence to Christ.”  

This prayer from The Book of Common Prayer helps us put today in perspective: “O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen. https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/transfiguration-sunday-why-do-we-celebrate-it-before-lent

As we dig into today’s passage, keep in mind that we are to become more and more like Christ, as we celebrate the revelation of Christ’s glory.

The title for today comes from verse 3:17—“The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Lord’s Spirit is, there is freedom.”

There is freedom in the Spirit.  Amen?!  Do you believe that?  Have you experienced the freedom that comes in, with, through, and by the Spirit?  Once you have, there’s no turning back.  When you’ve been set free, you don’t go back into bondage.  You cannot un-see what you have seen. 

Before today’s key verse, 17, there are key words in other verses that might have stood out to you—hope, confidence.  In verse 17, freedom.  After verse 17, transformed.

4:1 tells us to not be discouraged.  Others versions say, do not lose heart.

Today’s passage is one that calls us from bondage and blindness into freedom, hope, and boldness, all because of an encounter with the Spirit and being transformed into the image of God (verses 17-18) [Feasting on the Word, Donald Musser, 446]

A quote from this week’s reading: “Hardened hearts are softened and blind eyes become sighted as the glory of God is revealed and lives are transformed (3:18) into God’s image.” (Feasting on the Word, Donald Musser, 446)

The life changing experience that Jesus had on the mountain, his transfiguration, is available for every one of us.  We can all be transformed.  An encounter with God will not leave us the way we were, if we are open to the life giving freedom of the Spirit.

Let’s think for a moment about what things might cause us to experience bondage or blindness. [PAUSE]

What if we were to fill in the blank for this sentence: “He/She/They was/were blinded by ______________.” What would you say?  [Now, if you’re thinking ‘she blinded me by science, then you are familiar with the 1982 song by Thomas Dolby, but that isn’t where I was going, though it did come to mind. 


Things that come to my mind that often cause us to be blinded or in bondage are: fear, hate, ignorance.  There are many other things that cause blindness and bondage. 

The good news is that there is freedom in the Spirit.

We can be transformed.  We can change.  We aren’t stuck in the environment in which we grew up, our thoughts, our habits, etc.  Because of the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit, we are transformed into the likeness of Christ, as we grow as disciples of Christ. 

In my preparation this week, I came across a recommended video.  I had never heard of it before, so I looked it up.  In a few minutes we will show this video.  Before we do that, I ask that we pray this prayer from Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT)--

23Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

This video is a song by Montgomery and Gentry, “Some People Change”.  Listen and watch.

[VIDEO]

[Read the closing words again from the screen:]

“Here’s to the strong
Thanks to the brave
Don’t give up hope
Some people change
Against all odds
Against the grain
Love finds a way
Some people change
Thank God for those who make it
Let them be the light”

As we prepare our hearts for Holy Communion today, may we remember that there is freedom in the Spirit.  May we recognize the gospel of love, hope, and deliverance in Jesus Christ.  On this Transfiguration Sunday, the transforming power and love of God is for all of us.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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Recorded sermon

Special Music




The squeaky toy that wasn't

I haven't posted my last three sermons, but I will. My life and brain have been otherwise occupied and it is hard to write, to even post something I have already written, when there isn't much space. In addition to life and brain being occupied, my body decided to wear down some last week. I have mostly recovered from that.

I decided to post about an odd thing that happened last night.

You know how cats bring home gifts to their owners? Evidently, dogs do as well.

This was my first experience with Cliff bringing us anything.

I had let him out last night and went to check on him. Usually he comes in when ready.

This time I called him and he came running in and jumped on his couch. As he did, I noticed one of his squeaky toys. It was larger than normal (see picture) as most of them lose their stuffing quickly and its legs were sticking stiffly up in the air.

My brain quickly told me this one was not like the others and I went for help. I told Riley and Charlie that Cliff had something on the couch.

We don't know when he brought it in. It was a rabbit. A decent sized one. Riley and Charlie took care of it.

You know the saying that you can't unsee what you've seen? I even used that in yesterday's sermon. I haven't been able to unsee that plump little figure with the legs straight up.

I am grateful for Riley and Charlie for handling the cleanup. I couldn't deal with it. Somehow, a rabbit was on my couch.  We never figured out exactly when he brought it in, how he got it or why. As for the latter, possibly as a gift.

Cliff wasn't punished. He didn't get in trouble. He was being Cliff.

One thing that strikes me today is that I am reminded there are things that happen in life that we cannot unsee. How do we deal with them? Calmly? In healthy ways? In ways that do no harm?

I am grateful that I didn't do what I almost did--- take three steps closer to the couch, grab that "squeaky toy" and send it flying for Cliff to chase.  If I had done that, you probably would have heard me scream. That rabbit would not have moved easily. Or, maybe it would have. I am not sure it was completely gone at that point.

Life is full of adventure, even with squeaky toys.

Peace,

Debra

Squeaky toys







Sunday, February 10, 2019

Fishing For People

Today's sermon, "Fishing For People" references taking risks in relationships.

Below you will find the transcript for today's sermon, the bulletin, an additional Scout Sunday picture (or two), and a couple of the songs sung today.





“Fishing For People”
Luke 5:1-11 (CEB)
February 10, 2019 (5th Sunday after Epiphany/Scouting Ministry Sunday)
Flintstone UMC

Luke 5:1-11 (CEB)

One day Jesus was standing beside Lake Gennesaret when the crowd pressed in around him to hear God’s word. Jesus saw two boats sitting by the lake. The fishermen had gone ashore and were washing their nets. Jesus boarded one of the boats, the one that belonged to Simon, then asked him to row out a little distance from the shore. Jesus sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.When he finished speaking to the crowds, he said to Simon, “Row out farther, into the deep water, and drop your nets for a catch.”
Simon replied, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing. But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.”
So they dropped the nets and their catch was so huge that their nets were splitting. They signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They filled both boats so full that they were about to sink. When Simon Peter saw the catch, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!” Peter and those with him were overcome with amazement because of the number of fish they caught. 10 James and John, Zebedee’s sons, were Simon’s partners and they were amazed too.
Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.” 11 As soon as they brought the boats to the shore, they left everything and followed Jesus.                                         
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THIS IS THE WORD OF GOD FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD.
THANKS BE TO GOD.                      
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For the past several weeks, the Scripture passages have been focused on callings.  Today’s passage is also a call passage.  It is the passage in which Jesus calls the first disciples from their current vocation into a new one.

As we look more closely into today’s passage, think about where you find yourself in the narrative.  What resonates most with you today?  Where can you relate?  What challenges you?
One aspect that we might not think about from reading this passage is that it isn’t just the disciples taking a risk here.  Jesus takes the first step of risk when after speaking to the crowds from Simon’s boat, he asked him to row out a little ways further into deeper waters and drop his net.  (verse 4) [Actually, Jesus’ first risky step may have been getting into the fisherman’s boat without permission.]

Simon didn’t have to say “yes” here, did he?  In fact, he begins to say “no” in verse 5—“Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing”.  Yet, Simon didn’t stop there.  Something persuaded him to say “yes” because he finishes his sentence by saying, “But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.”

Jesus risked asking Peter to do something extremely counterintuitive.  Peter risked saying yes to Jesus in a situation that was not only counterintuitive for him, but simply made no sense to a seasoned fisherman.

Relationships involve risk.  I would go so far as to say that relationships require risk.  If we aren’t stepping out in risk, then maybe it’s time to rethink some things.

“God in Christ takes the initiative and the risk as he beckons us into a relationship with himself.” (Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 1, Howard K. Gregory, 332)

“Like Peter’s call to fish for persons, the outcomes are unpredictable when people risk encountering each other across cultures, groups, and traditions, thereby moving beyond the stereotypes they have embraced.” (Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 1, Howard K. Gregory, 333-334)

I have witnessed risk taking here at FUMC and I’m grateful.  You have stepped out into unchartered waters and you have held big community events—from the Memorial Day service, to an ice cream social, to movie nights, to family night dinners, to a Community Candlelight Christmas Eve Service and you have engaged the community in a community pantry.

I have also seen you join in with the community for a community Easter Egg Hunt and the Valley Fest.  At both of those activities, FUMC was side by side with our Scouts.  It was great to see both groups take a risk in being out in community and making the most of the opportunity to engage with community.  How neat that we have been able to be literally side by side while doing these two activities.  I believe it shows the community that we work together, that we’re not simply hosting the Cubs and the Scouts and that they aren’t simply using space here.  We are a team.  Amen?!

Invitations to join in with Jesus won’t always look the same.  For Simon Peter, the first invitation was to put out into deep water and cast the nets he had just cleaned.  The second invitation that Jesus gave him was to leave behind the net full of fish he had just caught and follow Jesus, to walk away from his livelihood and all he knew.

What a series of risky invitations.

Has it changed for us? Does Jesus still call us, invite us into risky adventures?  (I would say “no” to the first question and “yes” to the second one.  That’s what I see.  What about you?)

There are still invitations for us to venture into new ground or new depths, pointing to new challenges in mission and ministry. (Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 1, Howard K. Gregory, 334)  Would you agree?

What is something you are feeling invited to do, whether it is something in Scouts, for church, or a mission or ministry in the community?

Does it seem counterintuitive to you?  Yet, the call remains and you are considering what it might be like to say “yes” to the invitation.

How many here remember me talking about the bamboo patch last year after my January day apart at Reflection Riding?  At the time, it was just a special experience for me.  I had no idea it would grow into an opportunity for outdoor worship.  I didn’t know I would engage in conversation with people connected with Wild Church Network, that there would be a retreat for pastors and leaders, that there was even a seed growing inside me.

But when the day came and Jesus invited me to row into deeper water and to cast my nets over the side, I said yes.  I wasn’t sure what would come of it, but that wasn’t up to me.  My part was whether or not I was going to be faithful in doing what I was invited to do. 

It looks like there will be outdoor worship on the 4th Saturday of the month at the bamboo forest at Reflection Riding, beginning in May.  This is a way for me to worship God in creation and open the space for others to do so as well.

I still have lots of questions, but in the meanwhile, I’m trying to trust and follow the leading of Jesus.

What about you?  What is YOUR next step in the invitation you have been given? 

I encourage you to step out in faith, as did Simon Peter.  Go deeper and cast your nets.  Jesus is with you. 

As we step out in faith to follow Jesus’ leading, we will grow as disciples of Christ and we will also make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

If we do that, then we will be fishing for people, just like Simon Peter and the other first disciples.

Remember Jesus’ words to them in today’s passage in v. 10—“Don’t be afraid.” Are you willing to take that step of risk and faith to follow Jesus?


Amen.
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Recorded sermon

SONGS:

(The first one was sung using this version on the overhead.  All the others were sung from the United Methodist Hymnal (UMH).  I found a version to sing along with, in case you wanted to do that and/or just listen to the tune.)




UMH 140-- "Great Is Thy Faithfulness"



UMH 338-- "Where He Leads Me"


UMH 310-- "He Lives"




Pictures from the service and reception following the service:





Thursday, February 7, 2019

Bamboo Encounter-- a nudge is becoming a reality


If you follow me on Facebook, you've probably seen the posts on my personal page about "Bamboo Encounter", an outdoor worship opportunity that begins on May 25 and will meet every 4th Saturday.  Currently, I only have through December reserved.  However, we'll see how things go in the early months and go from there.

In a blogpost from last January, I wrote about my experience in the bamboo patch.  I shared that with Flintstone UMC a little soon after I had my day apart.  What I didn't know is that time in the bamboo planted a seed within me that started growing into something that became a space for outdoor worship.

This past summer at our national gathering for the Fellowship of United Methodist Spiritual Directors and Retreat Leaders (FUMSDRL) I learned that one colleague was taking a sabbatical and checking out the churches in the Wild Church Network.  I also learned that another colleague was offering an outdoor service in her area.

As we left the gathering, I sent an inquiry to Wild Church Network, inquiring whether or not there were any churches in my area.  I sent another one soon thereafter inquiring how one goes about leading such a church.  I use the term "church" loosely, as it isn't church in the traditional sense, yet it is a place where folks gather to worship.

Due to my healing time from hip replacement surgery and being out of things (in and out), I missed some emails.

I finally got connected.  It was in December that I saw an email that mentioned a retreat for pastors and leaders to be held by the Wild Church Network.   That did it.  I was in.  I knew I was supposed to attend.  And, the bamboo patch came to mind.

But, there were so many questions and details.

I inquired about the bamboo patch.  The first phone call came on January 8th from Reflection Riding.  That phone call gave me hope that the possibility could become a reality after all.

I called my colleague who has the church and asked LOTS of questions.  I emailed the colleague who did the sabbatical and we'll talk later and I look forward to reading the research.

I e-mailed my District Superintendent to share the nudges of the Holy Spirit, the dreaming and visioning.

I worked in the background on a brochure and on a Facebook page.  I created an email account.

On Tuesday, February 5th, I had a Clergy Group Spiritual Direction meeting.  Part of the meeting was reading the Scripture passage of Psalm 62 using lectio divina.  The words that stood out to me the first time were "hope", "refuge" and "rock".  On the second reading, the word "wait" stood out to me.  There was much peace surrounding that word and waiting.  I am content (for the most part) in the waiting and attempt to trust with open hands in each and every situation.

After the meeting I went to Starbucks for some coffee.

While there I heard back from Reflection Riding this week.  In that conversation I learned how much rental of the bamboo patch would cost and we put the dates on the calendar.

After the conversation, I published the Facebook page.

I tweaked the brochure later this week.

There are still questions and details to work out.

What in the world am I doing?!?!?!

Honestly, I am saying "yes" to a nudge of the Holy Spirit.  A nudge that offers me soul care and self care as well as a space for others to receive soul care and self care, as we practice the spiritual practice of worship in nature and creation.

 If you'd like to check out the Facebook page, click on "Bamboo Encounter" to get there.

There you will find pictures, the brochure (in jpg) form, the blogpost that started it all (though I'll probably post it here too).

I will post something after May 25th, the first meeting.  Meanwhile, check out the FB page if you want to see some quotes on nature and spirituality, etc.

What seeds are growing in your life?  How is the Holy Spirit nudging you to step out in faith in some sort of adventure?

Whatever it is, enjoy the journey!

Debra

Lessons From a Bamboo Patch-- January 13, 2018




Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Set Apart-- this past Sunday's sermon

      



Here is this past Sunday's sermon-- "Set Apart".  The recorded sermons from each church are at the bottom of the transcript.  As always, there are different things shared orally than what you will find in the written sermon.  Also, there are some different things shared at each church.  I try to remain open as I speak, so the illustrations and other things are often different.

“Set Apart”
Jeremiah 1:4-10 (CEB)
February 3, 2019 (4th Sunday after Epiphany/Communion)
Flintstone UMC/Simpson UMC

Jeremiah 1:4-10 (CEB)

The Lord’s word came to me:
“Before I created you in the womb I knew you;
    before you were born I set you apart;
    I made you a prophet to the nations.”
“Ah, Lord God,” I said, “I don’t know how to speak
    because I’m only a child.”
The Lord responded,
    “Don’t say, ‘I’m only a child.’
        Where I send you, you must go;
        what I tell you, you must say.
Don’t be afraid of them,
    because I’m with you to rescue you,”
        declares the Lord.
Then the Lord stretched out his hand,
    touched my mouth, and said to me,
    “I’m putting my words in your mouth.
10 This very day I appoint you over nations and empires,
    to dig up and pull down,
    to destroy and demolish,
    to build and plant.”
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THIS IS THE WORD OF GOD FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD.
THANKS BE TO GOD.                      
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Today’s title comes from verse 5, “before you were born I set you apart;”

Some versions, such as the NRSV say “consecrated” or sanctified.  If you look for the English “set apart” in a concordance, you will find other examples, but they are different Hebrew root words.  They are not the same word used here.  This is where knowing the language, knowing someone who knows the language, and/or trusting the research becomes important.  One word can have many meanings and we want to make sure we are as close to the original intention as possible, seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we interpret the text.

The word used here is from the Hebrew root word “qadash”, Strong #6942.  The meaning of the Hebrew term is ‘to set apart as Holy’.

Don’t worry.  My linguistic and teaching geek mode will stop there, but I did want to give you a little bit of a background on the word.  There are other root words that can mean ‘set apart’, but this is the one we find here.  If you do desire to dig deeper, you can use online resources such as blueletterbible.org or biblehub.com.


Let’s look at the passage now:
                                                                            
We see in verse 5 that Jeremiah was set apart as holy before he was born.  His name means “YHWH exalts” (Keeping Holy Time, 76) He was to be a prophet to the nations.  Notice Jeremiah’s response in verse 6. His initial response is to come back with an excuse, “I don’t know how to speak because I’m only a child.”

How old is Jeremiah here?  In my research, I wasn’t able to find an exact age.  All we see is that Jeremiah refers to himself as “a child”.   Is age really a factor? No matter his age, can we really turn down the Lord God when we are being asked to serve?  Rarely will we “feel” equipped to live into a calling God places on us.  We likely don’t have the experience. And, that’s probably a good thing because it helps us rely on the One who has called us and promises to be with us.

Yet, even when we are promised to not be left alone in whatever it is, we still at times turn down the Lord God’s offer to serve at times, don’t we? 

Okay, so I won’t put you on the spot.  You don’t have to answer.  I will.

I’ve turned down God.  I’ve said things such as: I’m too young, I’m female, I stutter, you know my life history, that’s a little too scary, that sounds too difficult, and when being called into seminary: really, God—don’t you think I’m getting a little too old to go back to school?  Those are just some of my excuses.

There have been many times that I’ve said “no” to God, initially. Often it has been because I didn’t fully understand what God was doing, that God could really be asking me to do whatever it was, or I was simply afraid.

I preached my first sermon in 1989, after having completed the 8 week Lay Speaker course.  Speaking wasn’t my thing.  Teaching wasn’t my thing.  There is some stuttering and dyslexia that get in the way at times.  When I was asked to preach for the first time, I would not have known that it would be my last Sunday on Long Island before I left for a new job teaching at Bryan College. The title of that first sermon?  “Are You Available?”

Though it hasn’t always been easy, I’ve tried to say yes to the Holy Spirit along the way—3 church staff positions; one of those being a paid one in a large church, lots of pulpit supply opportunities, church leadership roles, and then finally, the call to seminary.  I still pushed back the call into pastoral ministry.  I found ways to say “no” along the way.  Yet, the Holy Spirit was persistent and gracious, reminding me that I would not be alone on the journey.

What about you?  Have you said “no” along the way?

If so, we’re in good company.  Today’s passage shows us Jeremiah, but we can remember that Moses came back with some good “no” answers too. 

Who else said “no” to God?  Zechariah.  What happened to him?  He became mute because he didn’t believe the angel (Luke 1:19-20) until the time John was named (Luke 1:64)

Why?  It’s scary to step out in faith into something new, something different, something outside of our comfort zone.

It is our natural response to want to keep what we know, sometimes at all cost, even if it isn’t in our best interest.

How did the Lord respond to Jeremiah’s attempt to get out of being who he was called to be and to do what he was called to do?

Verses 7-10

 The Lord responded,
    “Don’t say, ‘I’m only a child.’
        Where I send you, you must go;
        what I tell you, you must say.
Don’t be afraid of them,
    because I’m with you to rescue you,”
        declares the Lord.
Then the Lord stretched out his hand,
    touched my mouth, and said to me,
    “I’m putting my words in your mouth.
10 This very day I appoint you over nations and empires,
    to dig up and pull down,
    to destroy and demolish,
    to build and plant.”

The Lord assured Jeremiah that he would be with him, that he would put words in his mouth and that he was appointing him to do the things he was calling him to do and be.

We need reassurance from the Lord, too, don’t we? 

We need to know that the Lord is with us in our callings.

Do you remember last week’s passage from Luke, where Jesus read from the Isaiah scroll?  Jesus made it clear to everyone who he was and what his calling was.  He let them know he was set apart.
                    
Just as Jeremiah, Zechariah, Moses, Gideon, Isaiah and Jesus were called and set apart, so are you.

As we come to the table today, know that God loves you and wants you to receive the grace offered to you.  Whatever God is currently calling you to do, may you have the courage, strength, and boldness to say “yes”.

You are set apart to live into a calling only you can.  May you live out your calling in trust and obedience so that you fulfill the mission of making disciples for the transformation of the world.


Amen.

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Recorded sermon from Flintstone UMC

Recorded sermon from Simpson UMC