May 15, 2022
Cathy Davis, Assistant Pastor
Scriptures: Acts 11:1-18, John 13:31-35
Here we are on the fifth Sunday of Easter, in this season known as Eastertide. Which is the fifty days following Easter, taking us up to Pentecost. Christ is risen! He’s appeared to Mary in the garden, to the disciples in the upper room, on the beach of Galilee and on the road to Emmaus. Christ is alive – it’s a time to celebrate and yet, it’s not the same, everything has changed.
Life with Jesus as his disciples knew it, is gone. What was, is no more. The hopes and dreams of many followers for a political uprising and social reform to usher in a golden age, a new kingdom, those have been dashed. It’s time to recalibrate.
Those first followers of Jesus are between ‘what was’ and ‘what will be.’ They have left behind the tried and true, or it has left them, and they don’t yet know what will replace it.
Times such as these are what are sometimes referred to as liminal space – it’s a time of transition, a threshold. Between worlds. The old one has been left behind, and what’s to come is still a mystery.
That’s where those first followers of Jesus found themselves…living in the mystery of life, death, and resurrection. And in the fear, grief, confusion and even excitement of it.
Eastertide is also a season known as "mystagogy” which is an initiation into the “mysteries” of Christ. It’s a spiritual process of moving from the visible to the invisible, into deeper spiritual realities, those that can’t be easily explained.
In the midst of this season of mystagogy, our lectionary Gospel reading for today takes us back to John 13:31-35. To the Last Supper, Maundy Thursday, to words spoken by Jesus right after Judas leaves the Passover meal. These verses are also the beginning of Jesus’ Farewell discourse that goes through the next few chapters. And in these chapters, Jesus provides instructions to his disciples on how to live, in his visible absence.
I didn’t really want to go back to the Maundy Thursday scriptures right now. I was hoping for stories about the Risen Christ and his appearances to the disciples - walking beside them, comforting them, breaking bread with them, and yet, perhaps today’s scriptures on how to carry on in uncertain and troubling times may be exactly what’s needed right now.
Of the two scripture we read from today’s lectionary, one looks back and one looks to the future with these disciples. As we look back in the Gospel of John we hear, love each another as I have loved you and as we look forward in the Book of Acts, we read about Peter’s vision from God that does away with the labels of ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ and welcomes the ‘outsiders’ into the new church community.
These readings remind me of the need to take the wisdom of the past and yet also stay open to what God is creating new, now, and the potential the future holds.
The words Jesus gave to his disciples to carry them into the future was, “Love each other. Just as I have loved you.” He said, “This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”
The Eastertide season is also a time to shore up our identity as Christians, this is when the newly Easter baptized members, deepen their understanding of what it means to be a Christian. And Jesus has established love as the defining characteristic “everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” It is by our love they will know us.
And yet, especially during difficult times - times of change, of anxiety, shock, grief, fear ---- love is not usually our initial response. We may be more likely to strike out or withdraw.
Here we are in this season of transition, of now and not yet. When we are not sure what the future holds but we know the past is now the past.
We have all experienced these liminal spaces. Those times in our lives when we’re transitioning – by choice or not. Those who are graduating from high school or college – they’re in liminal space – standing at the threshold of something new.
Now and not yet.
When we wait for the birth of a child.
When a loved one dies, our old life dies too, and we wait as new life slowly emerges.
When we’ve experienced a serious health crisis.
When we go through a divorce. We have a new identity, new relationships.
When there are major social and political shifts, and we wait and watch, wondering what’s next.
When a pandemic hits, people are sick and dying, we stop gathering, we’re uncertain what the future holds.
These difficult times and many others, are between ‘what was’ and ‘what’s next’ – what do we do in times such as these?
I’m reminded of a poem by Dan Albergotti called Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale, some of his suggestions are:
Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days. Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals. Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices. Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Review each of your life's ten million choices. Think of all the things you did and could have done.
So, it’s said, change is inevitable, transformation is optional.
Jesus gave instructions for transformation to the disciples – he said, love each other, and he said it the most important commandment. This is how his followers are to become, to belong to, the body of the Risen Christ, this will sustain them even when there are any number of things threatening their faith.
In his book, We Make the Road By Walking, author Brian McLaren says, “Jesus was living by a different interpretation of the old stories…Instead of arming his followers with daggers, swords, spears, chariots, and war horses, he armed them with faith, hope, service, forgiveness, and love.”
Theologian Ian Paul says that these words from John 13 and the farewell discourse that follows, was “consolation to the inner circle but also becomes a word of consolation to us, facing different kinds of challenges and tragedies.” He says: “The future home with God is found now in the present, as we take our place amongst the people of God and as God makes his home with us now, by the Spirit.”
When our world falls apart, when war breaks out, when covid surges, when we’re fearful of who get elected to a political position, when stocks are plummeting, and cost are rising, when our spouse, child, parents, or siblings die. When we head to college, we leave an old life behind and begin a new one. It’s a good time to return to love. To press in on love.
We listen again as Jesus says, you do know how to love, you know how to do this, because you have been loved by me.
Author Richard Rohr says: “Perhaps we don’t want to hear these commandments to love one another because we can never live up to them through our own efforts. We’d like to whittle this down to a little commandment, like “Come to church on Sunday,” so that we could feel we have obeyed the commandment.”
Love demands a lot of us. We are asked to be vulnerable, face fears, to let go of judgments or forgive an offense. Patterns and responses that are natural and can be difficult to change on our own. It is in Christ and through Christ, as Paul so often said, that we are transformed.
Last Sunday’s Gospel reading was John 15: 4 & 5 and a portion of that read: Those who abide in me, and I in them, bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
Another McLaren quote from his book We Make the Road by Walking, he said: "Where the Spirit is moving, love for God always, always, always overflows in love for neighbor."
Today, the high school graduates were given the book Three Simple Rules by Bishop Rueben Job. These are the three general rules for holy living that Methodism founder John Wesley taught – the rules are: do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God.
Rules for holy living. And Jesus said, “This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”
Last week I had a conversation with longtime Maple Grove member Judy Becker. I have known Judy pretty much since the day I came to Maple Grove over 20 years ago. I was welcomed in then by her warmth and kindness. I really got to know her when we were in a year-long Disciple Bible study together and she has remained a friend and wise teacher in my life. For years Judy served in visitation roles here at Maple Grove. She used to visit the first-time visitors who came to church, and she also visited church members, especially those who were homebound. And when I began working at Maple Grove, Judy mentored me in pastoral care, I went along with her on her visits and she taught me then, and continues to say today, it’s all about the people. Judy didn’t rush a visit, she patiently listened, she remembered important details, taking notes as needed.
She related to people in what Jewish scholar, Martin Buber called an I-Thou relationship, and he describes that as an attitude of reverence, a loving “yes” to God and to others. She treated people as though it was an honor to be with them.
Last week Judy and I were talking about her and her husband, Willard’s upcoming 70th wedding anniversary. They were married, right here, in this sanctuary 70 years ago on May 24th. And I want to wish Judy and Willard a very happy anniversary.
But somewhere in our conversation, as it often does with Judy, it turned to the bigger, deeper concerns of life and the nature of God. And Judy said to me, “it is really very simple, God is love.” She said, “The older I get, the more I love what’s around me.” She went on to say, “we help God enter into the world through our love.”
Holy living. It’s not what we see, it’s how we see. Holiness looks out through the eyes of love.
In his book The Universal Christ, Richard Rohr gives what he calls his only definition of a true Christian, he says, “A mature Christian sees Christ in everything and everyone else. That, he says, is a definition that will never fail you, always demand more of you, and give you no reasons to fight, exclude, or reject anyone.” He goes on to say, “Isn’t that ironic? The point of the Christian life is not to distinguish oneself from the ungodly, but to stand in radical solidarity with everyone and everything else."
We become what we press into. We probably know this to be true now, more than ever. Our social/political breakdown may have something to do with too much pressing in on fear, division and hatred.
In an Eastertide homily, Pope Francis talked about how the Risen Christ had left a message for his disciples to go back and meet him at Galilee, the Pope said we need to return to those moments of being captivated by the love and mercy of Jesus, but he said, “not in a kind of nostalgia but rather it is returning to our first love, in order to receive the fire which Jesus has kindled in the world and to bring that fire to all people.”
St. Ignatius of Loyola says that we are to “find God in all things in order that we might love and serve God in all.”
Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. According to Saint Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.
And according to our Acts scripture from today’s reading, love is inclusive. Love doesn’t decide who is worthy and who isn’t. Peter’s transformative vision from God reversed centuries of rules and practices deciding who was ‘clean’ and who was ‘unclean’.
Many years ago, I went to a conference in Arizona with some friends. It was about spiritual practices for connecting with the Divine. One morning my friends and I went to a restaurant for breakfast and the waitress was just terrible! The worst I’ve ever had. It was not a busy morning there, and yet she took a long time to get to our table, she made it very clear that she was not in the mood to be waiting on us. After an extended period of time our food arrived, delivered grumpily with items missing, she didn’t check back with us, neglected to refill coffee, and we had to flag someone else down to bring us our check so we could get to our conference on time. However, inspired by what we had heard at the conference, we made a decision to respond with love. It was definitely not an earned love. We each tipped her $20 for our $10 breakfasts. It was a gratuitous tip, and it felt loving, not because of the money but rather because we set aside the question of whether she deserved it or not, whether she was worthy or not.
According to Dr. King the necessary ingredient for the Beloved Community was agape love. He said that “agape is the love of God operating in the human heart. Agape does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people…It begins by loving others for their sakes” and “makes no distinction between a friend and enemy; it is directed toward both…Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community.”
Maple Grove is one place we can practice creating a community of agape love and strengthen our identity as followers of Christ.
In this Eastertide season of mystery, this time of now and not yet, we recalibrate, and even as we wait for what’s to be we can:
And on those days, allow this community of Christians, to love you, because that is what we do, that what followers of Christ do, they help God enter into the world, in our lives, through love.
May 8, 2022
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Scripture: Acts 9: 36-43, John 15:4-5
36Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. 37At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” 39So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up.
Scripture: John 15: 4-5
4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
I Choose you, says a mother to her child, says a child to her mother, says the one to whom they both belong. My mother was a nurse at OSU, she was the surgical nurse requested by Dr. James, and Dr. Zollinger for their particularly difficult surgeries. When Jack Nicklaus needed hand surgery, mom was called in. But she spent most of her career working in the outpatient clinics, her heart was in caring or those of lesser means and she would come home with stories of trauma and resilience.
She was born in 1927, so was a child of the Great Depression. Her father was a pastor, and there was almost no salary for a while. He was paid in bushels of corn, tomatoes, and beans, so with that, and the food from their garden her mom fed the family of six as well as all the hungry men passing through who came to their back door.
My Mom would make pies when we had company always making a second one which she sent home with her guests. She was always giving things away, we don’t need this, she’d say, and she was disappointed in us when we chided her for being generous forgetting that it was hers to give, her life to offer.
We can forget that, folded into the domesticity of mother’s lives is a path of holiness. Like her mother, mom ended her days on her knees in prayer by her bed. The strength to feed, to make, and make do, to care for those in the household and those at the door or the hospital, was possible because they were connected to a source. Came from and led into union with God
Just once in the New Testament do we hear the word, mahetria, the feminine form of the Greek noun for disciple: It is in our story today, Tabitha, a widow, is a disciple. She does good works, and when she dies, the women are bereft. They lift up all the garments she has made, What shall they do without the one who has clothed them with love.
We get the despair, its hard not to feel that for the nation, our sense of union, failing, or the world economy, or the only three months old. But seemingly endless war on Ukraine. And of course, we have our own issues in our own particular lives and homes. We may find ourselves shutting out the hard parts drinking it away, ignoring it, walking away. But Walter Brueggeman, a bible scholar says, The trouble with steeling yourself against the harshness of reality is that the that can also steel yourself against being opened up and transformed by the holy power that life itself comes from.
In the 15th chapter of John, Jesus gathers his disciples around him. He foresees the hardships and death he is about to face and wants to console them. He knows the trials they will face in the days ahead. And wants to prepare them. Rather than arming them with words and strategies to defeat the enemy, Jesus speaks of vines and branches. Of hope and trust I abide in God, you, now abide in me, he says, make your home in me just as I do in you.” You cannot go it alone, he says, you will not bear fruit abide in my love.
Paul knew this story, walks into this community of bereft at Tabitha’s death as one who was abiding in God’s love, and through God’s spirit, life returns to Tabitha and to that community of faith. We hear this story of resurrection in Acts and we think it impossible, we see the devastation in Ukraine and in other places and think, how can it return, we sense the strife among us, and the reports of what is ending. Yet, Jesus says, abide with me and be open to the restorative power from which all things come.
I heard a radio reporter tell of visiting a place that was home to dozens of severely disabled children, whom parents had left to institutional care and then their caregivers, as the invasion came left behind again. There were others who came, who stepped in when parents and caregivers failed. But they, like the reporter, sounded shattered. Bereft on behalf of these innocents caught in war. As the reporter was recording, one of the young girls, who was blind, with infirmity of mind, and body, became interested in the reporter and his microphone, and she took it in her hands, she spoke, with delight, and then she began to sing. To sing!
She was singing the song in her heart. The life that we listening to her had presumed was beyond hope was insistent on saying, I am here and I can give you my song.
In the depression, Grandma always answered the back door at the clinic. Mom was present to the sick. We enter into the world we’ve been given, and to which we are called and in the midst of it, sing our song.
A song given by the one in whom we abide. A song for all those who abide or hope to abide. The magnificent community, this magnificent community. For if we abide in the love of the Christ, then we abiding in one another, we build a bridge.
I’ve been thinking this week about a mom named Naomi who was a nurse and her daughter, Wynonna, and their song about what endures the love between God and us, between the Christ and us, and between all of us. That we can bear God’s love in the world. Love that is greater than death. Love that abides.
Love can build a bridge
between your heart and mine.
Love can build a bridge,
don’t you think it’s time.
Don’t you think it’s time?
April 24, 2022
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Scripture: John 20:19-31
19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
A man who was dead, walks into a room Jesus appears and says the most extraordinary thing. Peace be with you. This from this one who’d just suffered a staggeringly painful death. Still bears its marks. Said to the disciples who fled when he was arrested. Were not there when he died, even denied him, and who now have locked themselves inside out of fear, something he had never done. And he’s not mad at them, or Disappointed or hurt by what they’ve done or haven’t done. He’s comforting them! Offering them peace, inviting them to forgive as he’s forgiven them to realize that’s in their power.
And then breathes on them the very spirit of the living God. No conditions, no requirements. It’s there for them, exactly for who they are. And where they are. Thomas is not there, perhaps the only one not afraid to go out isn’t there. And when he’s told of Jesus’ appearance, he can’t bring himself to rejoice in it, he must have his own experience, like you and I want to have. Like every human being who was not in that room. Now, we cast aspersions on the man, give him the monitor, Doubting Thomas. But Jesus, the one doubted, doesn’t. He appears again. Although I wonder if he was always there, just not seen, anyway, in this moment, he is seen and offers his wounds to Thomas to see and touch. Look, he says, with tenderness I am scarred and yet I live. This revelation of God’s own woundedness this a vision of the vulnerable divine, brought forth from Thomas a confession of faith.
The Christ blessed Thomas , blessed all who doubt, but then blessed, too, those who do not see and yet believe. So indeed blessed all the world. Imagine for a moment the love that filled that room the perfect acceptance. What more witness do we need that death has no power over love. Everyone here has lost someone, some of you very recently, its only been days, weeks, months. The love you felt from them, you do still. Love is stronger than death. And yet it is with us, on such a massive scale. A million have now died from COVID. What does Jesus word of peace and power over death mean to the creatures and communities that are endangered by rising tides and storms and heat. Or to Ukraine where Passover ended last night. And today is Easter Sunday where there seems no passing over of terror and Risen Christ unseen, at least from here?
Shall there be on earth, peace? Jesus walks into a room, a traumatized community and speaks a word of love: Peace be with you. Everything holy, healing, redeeming flows from that. Let’s start a smaller than the world. Let’s look at Los Angeles where Father Gregory Boyle works with persons in gang life. There are about 450 gangs in LA. with tens of thousands of members who perpetuate war, generational hate, violence and death. For 35 years, Fr. Boyle has been speaking peace to people others might not see as worthy. But he knows have experienced levels of trauma. That he can not possibly comprehend. He says, we know that traumatized people create trauma damaged people cause damage. But then it must be equally true, that a cherished person can cherish themselves and others.
Father Boyle doesn’t judge, he’s not mad at them, even when they start using again, or leave, he speaks peace. Then gives them a job - always beside a rival gang member. Okay, but I won’t talk to them. Right. Let’s see how long that lasts. It doesn’t. It’s an ecosystem where enemies realize their mutual humanity and inevitably see each other’s unshakable goodness. The goodness that God plants in everyone. He tells the story of one gang member who told him that the state ordered him and his brother to live with their grandmother who made them sit on the floor and taped over their mouths. I hate the sound of your voices, she said. And this man, who had been loved by Homeboy folks, said, about his own daughters: “I love their voices.”
That when he and his wife find their eldest has taken a crayon and drawn across the wall. That instead of scolding her, as his wife asks him to he wraps his arms around his child and says That is the most beautiful art I have ever seen!!
Christ walks into the room and sees the goodness in his people. If he was present then, surely he is in Ukraine, and is witness to the goodness there, even in war: People are taking risks, dying for one another. Staying to care for the sick, the elderly, the children. In Russia, some journalists and politicians, and everyday folks, are telling the truth, fully knowing they will suffer terribly for it. And surely he is in Poland and Germany, and all places offering shelter and schooling and medicine to those who have fled the war. Physicians in Ukraine contacted St. Jude hospital in Memphis. Who have had staff at the border to bring out children with the forms of cancer that require the highest level of care. Speaking life into the mouth of death.
I was hungry and you gave me food, I was naked, and you clothed me sick and you cared for me, says the Christ. I am right here. You think you can crush the bones of the people and turn the landscape to rubble, you think you can lock yourself in a fortress, and God will leave you? Where else would God be but here? Father Boyle says, The only God we have is the God of this world and the only world we have is the world of this God.
My grandfather was an electrical engineer who started working on clean air in the 30’s and 40’s. Researched coal stacks and airplane fuel output, helped found the International Air Pollution Control Society to build awareness and mechanisms for change. What would Grandpa say about what’s happening today? Well, first, he’d be thrilled about electric vehicles, and that wind and solar power are growing exponentially, by 20% a year, helping climate goals come within reach. And that some electrical engineers just recently figured out how to get solar power from the night sky so that day or by night, we can have power. He probably felt like a voice crying out the in the wilderness in his time, so I don’t think he’d be mad at where we are, on the environment, I think he’d be amazed at how young people of the world are rising up and claiming the earth as precious, demanding that we stop warring with it. Reminding us, as God reminds Moses, to take off our shoes, for the place we are standing is holy!
Like the disciples in the upper room, we are on the earth are in the presence of God. Tred the Earth Lightly is a hymn in our Faith We Sing hymn book by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette: let’s sing one verse:
Let there be greening,
birth from the burning,
water that blesses and air that is sweet,
health in God's garden, hope in God's children,
regeneration that peace will complete.
What if we breathe in the peace that Christ offers us. The peace that regenerates life, health, hope, the peace that allows our souls to be at rest?
Even when war seems war’s only answer, let us remember the Christ who speaks peace. A few days ago, as we laid a body of a beloved family member to rest in a plot of earth. One of those present saw, clear as day standing there among us, the Risen Christ, and others around him, including the one who had died, who was full of joy! Oh, we wish we’d seen it, too, but blessed are those who have not seen and believed, Right? Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Pass it on. Amen.
Patricia Wagner, Maple Grove UMC
April 17, 2022
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Scripture: Luke 24: 1-12
24 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body.[a] 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women[b] were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men[c] said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.[d] 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.[e]
They’d been all in, everything they had, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary “the mother of James”, women of Galilee, who Luke told us earlier, provided for Jesus’ ministry “out of their own resources.” Surely, they’d been changed by being with him like all the disciples and those listened to him as Ezekiel describes:
A new heart I will give you, says the Lord. And a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. A vulnerable heart, an aware and attentive heart.
Now those women of aware and attentive heart did not turn away, but looked into Jesus face of suffering. Witnessing his crucifixion and his body being laid in the tomb. Then went home and prepared spices and linens to anoint and wrap this precious, lifeless form, so that he might be buried once the sabbath was over. Then women rose early the first day of the week and made their way to the tomb.
A Hasidic rabbi once said: There is nothing so whole as a broken heart, for it is open to suffering, just as the Lord’s own.
These wholehearted, broken-hearted women walked to the tomb not sure how they would roll the stone away but proceeding nonetheless for they would do what must be done. Only find the stone rolled away. The heart of stone was rolled away and two beings, dressed in light, asked them:
Why do you seek the living among the dead? Why are you here in the tombs, when the Lord is the Lord of life? Don’t you remember? Remember that he told you all this would come to pass? That death would come, but that would not be the end of it?
And the women remembered what Jesus taught them what he’d shown them. What they were never to dwell in death, nor vengeance, nor hate his healings, his stories, his teaching all were of the unstoppable power of God. Luke says that the women returned home to tell the other disciples about what they had seen. The men didn’t believe them. Who could? But no matter, no matter that Peter had to run to the tomb to see for himself the linen cloths. For they had faced the unfathomable and then been told the impossible, the broken hearts were whole. For they knew, KNEW, that that nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Indeed, who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or homelessness, or pandemic, or inflation, or the peril of bombs in the night? No, says, Paul, no say the brokenhearted, wholehearted women, no say the pastors in Ukraine, no say the believers who have risen up in Russia.
For if God is for us, then who is against us? For we are convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God made known in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And knowing that, the women’s hearts, the disciples’ hearts, Paul’s, and we are free, free to live in the heartland where Jesus lived. Even with all its risks, and vulnerabilities. And uncertainties. We live in this heartland. This home of God, planted in in our hearts. As have those who have followed Jesus before us. In the 3rd century, believers forged a list of the unfathomable, impossible. Truths of the faith, the story of the Christ, so that those who had not seen. Might believe and we have joined in this apostle’s creed ever since. Words that we might not have written ourselves. We might take out one or two lines. But it binds us, to those faithful women at the tomb, the other disciples, to Peter, to Paul, to believers hiding in Rome, and living in China, in El Salvador, in Poland. We may not believe every word.
Rachel Held Evans says “There are parts we might leave out, or did, but we do say, “I want to believe”.
I want to believe in there is a good and gracious God who created all the beauty we can see as well as all we can’t and who redeems all things.
I want to believe there was once a man, who, like all other men, went to the grave, but unlike all other men, triumphed over it and ascended to a place we don’t yet know but will someday.
I want to believe that there is one church, one holy catholic church bound together across time and space. In marvelous mystery and faithful companionship. By a spirit who knits together what we only know how to tear apart.
I want to believe in a love so lavish it overwhelms us. I want to believe in a faith that can handle all my questions. I want to believe in a religious that not only tolerates but embraces my whole heart”.
I want to believe the women who went to the tomb and found the stone rolled away. To find my identity, my homeland, in the same God, the same Jesus. The same gospel of this community of believers. And living there, in the heartland, can make us brave. What if we, here in this place, pledge to live there, whole heartedly.
The church is changing, and if some of the ways we are used to are dying then so be it, for we trust that others are rising. Quite a few young folks I’d never met came to services this week.
One walked up to me after Good Friday service, smiling. What is your name I asked? Angel she said, smiling, Of course it is, I said. And so, with the angels among us, we are rising. Rising from our grief, rising from consuming worry, and self -destruction. Rising to be a place of freedom. Rising to be a people of hope amidst war and pandemic. Rising to be a selfless people. Rising to be gracious in a time of discourtesy, to be merciful, in a time without mercy. Rising to sacrifice rather than covet and hoard. Rising to be the wholehearted people.
Jesus invites us to be. To live with him, even now, wholehearted and rising. Rising, rising, rising from the dead. Amen.
And so, on the day the emperor’s occupying army would have entering through the Western gate. To keep the people of Jerusalem in order during the Passover. Jesus enters through the Eastern gate. The Sha’ar Harahamim, the “Gate of Mercy” by which the prophets have said the Messiah will come. The people outside the city welcome him. They recognize him as the one foretold, who will bring forth goodness and mercy. Hosanna, they sing as they lay down their robes and the branches from the trees. Blessed is this one who comes in the name of the Lord.
He enters, and tyrants tremble. The recognize him, too. This one who speaks for God. Who says that first shall be last and the last first. That God’s blessing is not with Caesar but the poor blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. This Messiah dares to speak for God. The religious authorities will reject him, The Sanhedrin, will call out to Pilate: We have no king but Caesar. Words now echoed by leaders of the Orthodox Church in Russia. We have no Savior but the President, they cry, as the bombs rain down upon the innocent.
There have always been religious leaders who do not honor the Prince of Peace or fathom the Suffering Servant, who bend their knee to Caesar, whatever his name, rather than to the one who stoops to wash the feet of his disciples. Not the one who bears the cross. Jesus haunts them, I expect, these men who turn away from the suffering,
For he is there, in that time, in this time, for all time. Real and present among us. For we are, always, asked to see and welcome the one who reveals the one who shows us God’s mercy. God’s sorrow at our cruelty to one another, God’s love for each one of us. And particularly this week, this holy week, we are all asked to examine our hearts and to look upon the wounded heart of God.
I spent the last 36 hours in emergency rooms and CBD shops and all-night pharmacies trying to get help for my daughter, who was in pain for her chronic illness.
This morning she is sleeping, and there is much relief in my house. I finally slept a few hours. It is hard to stay with those who suffer, the news that floods our inbox. The images and stories of the war are only getting worse. And yet, we know that part of this life Christ calls us to is to be willing to look at the suffering of the world. To speak to it, to do all we can to ease it, and in so doing, to recognize that God is with the wounded ones, that God is with us.
A carol has been in my mind:
He came down to earth from heaven
Who is God and Lord of all
And his shelter was a stable
And his cradle was a stall,
With the poor the mean and lowly
Lived on earth our Savior holy
And the next verse ends:
And he feeleth for our sadness
And he shareth in our gladness.
It all comes down to this – really, to these words and this week. That he feelth our sadness He shareth our gladness and through him God feels and shares our life on this earth. Jesus is the evidence that the God of heaven and earth. God’s sensory life include us, we lowly humans. That God feeleth for our sadness and shares in our gladness. This is the very mystery of God. This is what makes holy week holy. There are paintings of the crucifixion which have Jesus standing on a block of wood not hanging from that cross. It is hard to look upon suffering, it is hard to see the savior suffer. But this week, we do. We turn our attention to him, take in the stories remembered by those who were there, and when we do so, we find more than suffering. We find courage, we find purpose, we find what is worth these lives we’ve been given.
We remember, and are shattered by the truth by the infinite vulnerability of infinite love we gaze upon the wounded heart of God and by his love, we are healed. Patricia Wagner, Maple Grove UMC
April 3, 2022
Confirmation Message - A New Heart
Scripture: Psalm 119
I invite you to listen to some ancient words from Psalm 119 and search them for what they could mean for you today:
Verse 105: Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path
Verse 114: You are my refuge and my shield. I have put my hope in you.
Verse 89-90a: Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.
Your faithfulness continues through all generations…
We’ve had a strange, wild ride for Confirmation this year, I think.
Here’s my main point: I am looking forward to making MORE and MORE memories with you.
Because SERVING and LEARNING with wonderful young people like you renews my heart and faith.
Did you know that simply by SHOWING UP to Confirmation, others have been encouraged?
That’s the POWER of YOU – the power God has given you that JUST in SHOWING UP, you can bring others light and hope.
YOUR FAITHFULNESS can impact generations that have come before you AND generations that come after you.
Some of you have chosen to be confirmed today – some of you have said “ I need to wait and think and learn a bit more.” All of you have listened to your heart and I respect that. Sometimes life gets so busy and overwhelming, we don’t take time to slow down and listen to our hearts. Sometimes our hearts can feel old, tired and broken no matter what age we are. So why is the title of this message A NEW HEART? Because, as you know already, there are times in our lives our hearts are disappointed, crushed and even broken. Yes- even when we choose the path of Christian and follow in the footsteps of Jesus, our hearts can become sad and discouraged.
Think about this for a second – how many times in your life have you wished you could start over – take back the words you said – choose a different action or doorway to walk through?
Where do you go when it feels like your heart has a glitch…?
where do you go for a Heart-Re-Boot, a Heart Tune Up? I know you talk to good friends, family members – but I’m here to remind you that you can always go to the One who Created your heart in the first place to help you feel renewed. I chose the three scriptures from Psalm 119 at the beginning to help show you how to do it. Listen again to what this clever poet said in Psalm 119 which is 176 verses long!!!! Don’t worry, I only chose three to focus on.
READ, PRAY, WORSHIP & SERVE
To wrap this up, I formed an ACROSTIC to help us remember what we’ve talked about today. An ACROSTIC IS a poem, word puzzle or other composition in which certain letters in each line form a word or words. In fact, Psalm 119 itself IS AN ACROSTIC where each line of each stanza begins with a letter from the Hebrew alphabet! So I worked on this on Friday and here’s what I came up with:
“WORPS” – that’s not inspiring me, then I thought of…
“PRAWS” – for Pray, Read (and)Worship, Serve – still doesn’t sound right
Then I found it….
“SPRAW”- if I add an L there’s a real word – and I think God is ALL for laughter – so let’s add an L to the word for God’s gift of Laughter and we get SPRAWL
That means to spread the arms and legs out carelessly in an untidy way while sitting or lying down…think of when your dog or cat is REALLY relaxed and on its back with all its legs spread way out – A true SPRAWL is when you are letting everything go and feel you are in a safe space to do it.
By the way, the Urban Dictionary has a slightly different definition for the word sprawl, but we don’t need to use that one.
Let’s see how we can use SPRAWL to help us remember to go to God when our hearts hurt.
The last words John Wesley was said to speak before he died were these: “The best of all – is God is with us.” Those words mean a lot to me, and I hope something I’ve shared today can mean a lot to you. Through all life’s trials, I’ve come to this conclusion: There are no guarantees in life except this: God loves us and God is with us through it all. SPRAWL out in God’s love and let your heart be made new and healed.
March 27, 2022
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Scripture: Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32
It's cold today, it will warm soon. But now it is cold. One of our friends makes her home outside this church. Thom covered her with a warm blanket. As she napped outside our door.
Expect 3 snows after the forsythia blooms, right? So, I don’t worry about those bushes, or the daffodils in my yard. The Magnolia, though…those delicate blooms have started to emerge. They didn’t survive a late frost last year. So, I know they are vulnerable. And as I ponder this love we have for the fragile flowers and fragile friends at the door and for a child in Mariupol, Ukraine. Injured and recovering in a hospital that is also a bomb shelter. The anguish we feel for this vulnerable child we will never meet. Wipes us out, the one who loves is vulnerable, too.
And if we can ache for a budding tree and a neighbor on the step, and a child far away, what does that tell us about the one who made us? There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, that is wider than the sea. There’s a kindness in God’s justice that is more than liberty. Those are the words in our opening hymn from a poem written by a pastor in England in the early 1800s. One of the stanzas that didn’t make it into our hymnal is this one. Would you sing it with me.
But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.
We equate God with guns and judgement because it’s what we associate with all powerful. But love is a different kind of power. Of strength, we make limits on the love of God. Because we struggle to comprehend it. When Jesus was mingling with those whom society shunned, the pharisees grumbled because such persons were to be shamed. And so Jesus tells them a story.
Three, actually: First of a shepherd who has 99 sheep and loses one and when he finds it, calls his neighbors to rejoice.
And then of a woman who searches for a lost coin finds it, and does the same.
And then the story of a man who had 2 sons one left him took his inheritance and squandered it. The other stayed and the one who’d left. Whose life was spent out, and was finally hungry enough, weary enough to say, I can’t go on, made his way home. He was ready to grovel, had practiced his lines, to convince. But before he could speak them was met with a force of love. To those whom Jesus told this story, this would have been unthinkable. No father would stoop so low he would have disowned that son. But this is a story about God, and about the Graceland. That God lives in and invites us to. Just like our hearts ache for the vulnerable around us just as we stoop and carry, so does God.
Christian author, Rachel Held Evans wrote these words just months before she died at age 37. When God goes all in on us and for us there’s risk and vulnerability for God, too. God planted a man right in the middle of our inhumanity our messiness, our wars of property, and nation, and ego. Jesus, who drank at weddings and cried at funerals whose heart broke and soared and skipped beat and one day, stopped. God in Christ, loves, without the guarantee of reciprocation. Divine love is freely given, mercy wider than the infinite sea, God doesn’t’ walk away from us. We prodigals do. We walk away from the promise and dwell in other lands. Ones where is okay to bomb our neighbors, where we do not provide adequate housing, and shun the addicted, where we lock people away and keep them locked up decades after it makes any sense to do so.
The Graceland that Jesus proclaims, that kingdom it feels like too much even for us, our hurts, our aches, our shaming sorrows, we Struggle to confess, them even to God. Who loves us, as Jesus told us. But one day, our hearts that break and soar and skip beats will one day stop, and we will have no option, but to come before the Lord. One day we will arrive, as others have this week, weary from war or illness or accident and we will be received.
Charlie Mackesy painted this image, called the Prodigal daughter for a friend. I was just trying to show her through imagery that to be held is something she always wanted. So, I said, ‘This is what God is like.’ God knows you; you’re known, you’re fully known and loved.” This is me, this is you. This is the love with which we will be received. This is the love by which we are enveloped, now. This is the kingdom in which Jesus invites ws to live.
A poem by Daniel Ladinsky an American poet,
From his book: Love Songs from God.
God Would Kneel Down
I think God might be a little prejudiced.
For once He asked me to join Him on a walk through this world,
and we gazed into every heart on this earth,
and I noticed He lingered a bit longer
before any face that was weeping,
and before any eyes that were laughing.
And sometimes when we passed
a soul in worship God too would kneel down.
I have come to learn: God adores His creation.
Believe it, says Jesus in his story of the prodigal and the father, full of Grace. Your hearts, formed by God. Hearts that break for tender plants and people in the cold and children in the war. Your heart is as mine for you are mine, says the Lord, and this is Graceland , come home. Come home, come home, ye who are weary come home.; Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling. Calling, O children, Come home.
Cultivating the Heart
March 20, 2022
Rev. Patricia Wagner
What wondrous love is this: That Jesus would give his life rather than deny his truth. The truth of God, present, aware, continuously, constantly offering us the path of life, the waters of hope, the balm that will heal so we will remember who we are and turn away from that which harms other creatures and the earth. So that we human beings would not be so filled with hate that one is ready to kill another, but so filled with love that we are ready to die for another. What wondrous love. And we long to know that love we are not always aware that we do we are distracted, and worried or bored, or unsettled or unsatisfied and we buy things, eat, drink that which will not sustain us and when we realize that we realize that we want something more, something deeper, that which will truly comfort, heal our brokenness. That we want to be at home in our own soul. God joins us in that longing and helps us cultivate that home. Its why we are here in this room. Its why we get up and get dressed and get here. Or spend time apart in the quiet of contemplation. Or rise in compassionate care for one another.
Because we long for the waters of God. Waters that invite us, wherever we are, whoever we (For all the distinctions disappear before God). That we might know the One who meets us exactly where we are in that place within us here we are fully accepted, forgiven. Where there are no more questions, only knowing. Where there are no words, only love. That is the place from which our sister Twyana is going to speak.
I heard recently that our first gaze at any other person is judgement. And the second gaze is love. Let us prepare to look upon our sister, Twyana as she comes before us a community of strangers to share her truth. Let us trust it comes from the heartland. Let us go with her to the waters.
Rev.Patricia Wagner, Maple Grove UMC
The Heart in Danger
March 13, 2022
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Scripture: Luke 13: 31-38
The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? 2 When the wicked advance against me to devour[a] me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. 3 Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident. 4 One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. 5 For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. 6 Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord. 7 Hear my voice when I call, Lord; be merciful to me and answer me. 8 My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek. 9 Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior. 10 Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. 11 Teach me your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. 12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, spouting malicious accusations. 13 I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. 14 Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
Luke 13: 31-38
31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! 34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’[b]”
Psalm means song and Psalm27 has been sung perhaps for 5000 years by people of faith. Not a static faith, one with closed eyes, but a real, lived one. Imagine these words coming from a person under bombardment in Ukraine. A person facing a serious illness. Your own lips as you tell yourself, as you ask yourself: The Lord is my light, whom shall I fear ? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?
And then comes the universal plea. When the troubles return, the bombs fall closer, the illness. Lord I Hear my voice when I call, Lord; be merciful to me and answer me. 8 My heart says of you, “Seek God’s face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek. 9 Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior.
Then the bombing pauses, the pain subsides, and hope returns again “I know I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Rings the song and ends with these words. 14 Wait for the Lord; the psalmist tells herself be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Jesus would have known this psalm, he would have sung it in synagogue. Perhaps particularly verses 11 and 12 Lead me on the right path. False witnesses rise up against me accusing me. Jesus is in trouble.
Just before the passage Nancy read from Luke 13 Jesus has proclaimed that the last shall be first and the first last. And nothing so alarms those at the top than the suggestion that they may not remain so. The Pharisees warn Jesus that Herod is plotting against him. Just as his father, also named Herod, did when Jesus was a child and word of his birth stoked fear. Leave, they say, hoping to kill two birds with one stone. For his words threaten them, too. But Jesus says, forcefully: Go tell that fox that I will not stop, I know what danger I am in, but I will press on, today, tomorrow and the next day.
But then the tone shifts to lament: O Jerusalem, he says, taking in all there, even those who threaten him, the priests, the pharisees, the people, perhaps Herod and his court: How I have longed for you to find your security, your home, in me, like chicks do a mother hen.
He sees what will happen to those who do not, for you will have to live in that house you are making desolate. Could they not instead listen to his call, to the call of their own heart?
From Psalm 27 4 One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
The house of the Lord, not a sanctuary, not a synagogue, but the place where God dwells. The place where we know who we are, whose we are. I was growing up there was a pastor’s family that send Christmas cards. They were all attractive, perfect smiles and hair, dressed in beautiful matching sweaters standing by a fireplace of a lodge in Aspen, and the letter held details of a truly charmed existence. This wonderful thing happened this year, then this, then this, and finally this! We were jealous, mostly because what preacher’s family has the resources to go skiing in Aspen? And how do they also look so good in the same sweater? When their card would come, each year, we would read it aloud at dinner time and laugh. Whose life is like this? Why would a pastor need to pose? Isn’t the soul of Christian community? It’s very purpose, to share the truth of our lives. Like the psalmist makes clear we live a life between struggle and hope, doubt and assurance. That is where faith is found.
For some years I worked for the Catholic Church and took on the work of helping introduce a theology that reflected the lives and perspective of women and a new relationship with the earth. This was the early 90’s and there were men, frankly, who didn’t like to hear that. Some walked out of our workshops on women in the bible or made fun of us. The person who was the center of my life was unhappy that I was focusing on this – there is so much other work he felt that was more important.
It was a dangerous time for my heart: I had to choose whether my home with this man or was it with something deeper some place within myself that my heart was at home with God. We grew estranged and our life together began to fall apart, I could not cease, for I could see what it meant to women who’d been put down in the church, in their homes. At the end of that year, we had our annual planning gathering and those with whom I had worked, these quiet nuns and lay women, shared, with conviction and clarity. What we had figured out together and swayed the leaders to take a new direction. I hadn’t had to say a word that seemed to anger him more. I found myself running to the chapel of that church and I don’t know if I sat or fell on my knees, but the tears poured out. All the loss, the heartache, the joy combined, and I thanked God for giving me the strength to see it through. And I went back to our home and packed my bags and left.
I’d realized that I was a chick who knew her way home. That I longed most to dwell in the house of the Lord. That the most important relationship of my life was with my inmost being. The heartland. The place in us formed by God from which God calls us to which God calls us to reside.
In that moment in the chapel, I realized the gift God had given me, by allowing my heart to enter into danger. I found my faith. Faith is not really about believing in a particular doctrine or creed. It is fundamentally more than that Rev. Lindsay Armstrong says, “It’s about the truth of what we have known. The life of faith is grounded in experience. It is about the real mystery, awe,pain, and grace that we know.”
That’s what we hear in the psalm 27. That’s what we hear in Jesus’ agony outside Jerusalem. Mystery, awe, pain, and grace that brought our psalmist through. That brings Jesus through and brought me through. That leads every one of us, if we are willing, into the heart land that is our home. Here’s an American folk hymn, a psalm:
My life flows on in endless song, above Earth’s lamentation
It sings a real, though far off hymn, that hails a new creation
No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock I’m clinging
It sounds an echo in my soul, how can I keep from singing.
While though the tempest loudly roars, I know the truth, it liveth.
What though the darkness 'round me close, Songs in the night it giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm, While to that rock I´m clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth, How can I keep from singing?
When tyrants tremble, Sick with fear, and hear their death knell ringing,
When friends rise up both far and near, How can I keep from singing?
Through all the tumult and the strife , Our thoughts to them are winging,
So all may know God's with them yet, how can I keep from singing?
The Heart and the Wilderness
March 6, 2022
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Scripture: Luke 4:1-13
4 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” 5 Then the devil[a] led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil[b] said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 9 Then the devil[c] took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’11 and
‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Today, the First Sunday of Lent, we enter into the lonesome valley. The wilderness with Jesus. We know what that looks like. Those who have been working on COVID hospital wards know. Those living with addiction, or those that love them, know. The hungry, the displaced, know. Those losing toes to frostbite know. Those who are facing severe illness. Those who have lost loved ones. All know the wilderness.
Our sister, Bev is in the wilderness. That place between life and death
She said aloud: I am here, see me. Perhaps because of the essential loneliness of the valley, perhaps to ask the one who coming to meet her to take her home. All who have known and loved her know that she has known where her true home is for a long time.
The world has been driven into the wilderness these days accompanying the people of Ukraine. As bombing reduce homes and hospitals and schools and town squares to rubble. Our comfort becomes uncomfortable, our spring-like days while winter lingers there, feel unfair. We see trains of children sick with cancer on trains heading to the borders. Men standing in front of tanks. See us, see our children, they cry. See us, see our struggle, they cry. Some of you know the wilderness of war, firsthand. And war may seem to be out there, but we know it begins in here. It is within that the battle rages and there are choices that each mortal makes.
Jesus is led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness. He has no easy source of food or water, no companion to comfort and confide in. He is as vulnerable as any human ever was, and there he faces the voice of temptation.
This Son of God, this one with whom God is pleased, this one whom God would have us listen to. Let us lead him to another way, tempt him with power and glory – all the earth is yours. With ease – you need not hunger or know hardship. With invulnerability – no fall will harm you. The people will listen to him and believe that is the righteous way. Jesus rejects that way, choosing instead community, humanity, vulnerability. Others, false messiahs, take it. Every land on earth has had them, including this one. Has had them. One who makes the deal, the strongman, who builds a kingdom of power without conscience the hoarder of wealth, who would deny others bread. The seemingly invulnerable - who from their fortresses make war on the meek of the earth. These false messiahs, these uncrowned kings proclaim that they are establishing a kingdom without equal and without end upon the earth. And they convince, or coerce others, sometimes millions to follow.
But they are leading people deeper into wilderness. Into the lands of jackals and ostriches. Making people strangers to their own conscience. Coaxing and coercing them to leave the home. That God has made in their heart. That place which is the kingdom of the Lord. The place that is our home, too, your home, too. There is a place that no bomb can touch. No illness can change, no loss can separate us. There is a place within us where we can know peace. Where we are whole. The place from which we can distinguish between. The false and true messiah. Where we continuously, even unconsciously seek God. And where we are continuously, even unconsciously. In God’s presence. This land within us, this kingdom of God. This heartland is the holy land. And we know when people are living out of their heartland, people, ordinary people, just like us. Sacrificing their lives so that others may live. We see it in the mothers caring tenderly for children in hiding. Children bearing up with their parent’s constant love and bringing them joy. We see it in the world taking to the streets. Steeling themselves for financial costs of protest. We see it in the embrace of persons at border crossings ready to take beloved strangers in.
We see the choice made for community, humanity, vulnerability. Psalm 91 is cited in this story: You who live in the shelter of the Most High. Who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord My refuge and my fortress; my God in whom I trust.
That refuge, that kingdom, that heartland, that everlasting love is right there, right here. Let us find our way home.