The Resurrection Project
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia Wagner
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
I remember the moment that I believed in Jesus as the Messiah. The grown up and realizing this for myself, kind of belief. It was Christmas Day, and I was on my way to the airport. And Handel's Messiah came on the radio, and tears started flowing, and I had to pull the car over, and sobbed. I released myself from doubt and just l sort of fell into a place of peace. Of assurance that Jesus is who he says he is.
I didn't understand it all, still don't, and I wondered, still, about forgiveness, how that works, and how a broken body disappear and rise into spirit.
Forgiveness, Brokenness, Resurrection. The counterpoints to our themes this season: Confession, Mending and Rising
Confession and forgiveness is hard, hard even to understand why we need it.
I remember being a girl at the Good Friday services in Richwood, where my father was the pastor. I would hear the women in the balcony sobbing as the story was told and as Were You There was sung.
And I didn't understand it, that lament, that sense of participation in Christ' suffering, that sense that we, too, are accountable. But in my late middle age, I'm starting to get it.
When we drive our cars into each other and kneel on each other's necks and knock each other down or don't help each other up, we need to confess.
This great racial reckoning we're part of. This old, old stuff that has remnants in us, not of our making, but ours to acknowledge, we need to confess.
The prophets told us, that, before we can rise, we have to kneel, kneel in honesty confessing who we are to say, God, I know that I am your creature and I want to live a life of meaning and grace. Help me with my stuff. Show me your way.
And then to be about the mending. Mending is like confessing. It is uncomfortable.
Have you had a broken bone or had a serious surgery? The knitting back together of flesh and bone is miraculous, but also painful.
Maybe it was so for Jesus, too, as his bruised and bloodied and broken body, bound in those linen clothes began to be released into spirit.
But then, Mending is about releasing, isn't it? Allowing ourselves or helping others to be released from that which binds, that keep us in our tombs. That keeps us in darkness.
In Jewish mysticism, there is an expression Tikkum Olam, The repair of the world. Comes from a rabbi’s vision that God created a primordial vessel, into which God poured God's light but the vessel was not strong enough to hold that power, and so the vessels shattered into shards that pierced the world and scattered the light.
And the work of God's creatures is tikkum - to gather together those sparks of light and to help repair the vessel that is the earth. The shards that hurt are embedded in each of us, but also the sparks of light they carried.
Jesus keeps trying to tell us that. That the kingdom is here, that light, is here. That we are children of the light, that we can come together and help one another see it in themselves.
Jesus saw it in the ordinary people from all walks of life. He saw it in Mary of Magdela and the woman with the flow of blood, and the man born blind, He even saw it in Judas who betrayed him. In Peter who denied him.
All part of the kingdom, all with shards in their bones and light to bring forth to repair the world. That's a fearsome thing, isn't it?
We heard Mark's account at the tomb this morning, but we haven't yet heard the last words he wrote. That after they saw that the tomb was empty and the messenger told them to go and tell the other disciples, then, Mark says:
The women said nothing to anyone for they were afraid! Fearful perhaps of the power of God to resurrect, or that the one they loved was more than they thought he was, fearful that they wouldn't be believed, or that others would fear the power of Jesus even in death and endanger them.
They'd come to grieve and been given a fearsome mission. And they were quiet for a time, but at some point they accepted the mission and they told the story. The story in music that I heard as I was driving to that airport and that we heard today.
The Broken-Hearted, Open-Hearted One
Palm Sunday, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia A. Wagner
Philippians 2: 5-8
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.
Jesus is entering Jerusalem. He has chosen to do so on the donkey, just how the ancient prophets foret0ld the Messiah would enter the gates of the city. The Messiah whom the people had now been waiting for hundreds of years
Hosanna! they shout, so happy to be witnesses to his arrival this glorious Passover surprise, to see this one who will fight their battles who heal them and their wounded national pride and bring God's peace.
Then, at the gates, we hear the people of the city now in uproar at this upstart ask, Who is this? The prophet Jesus, from Galilee, answers the crowd.
The city folk do not know him. Nor, in fact, do those who laud him outside the gate. Their praise is both genuine and fleeting their hearts hopeful, and unknowing their love, passionate and shallow, all will forsake him. We are not ones to judge, for even with all we know of what will happen that week, the upper room, the trial and torment, the cross and the empty tomb, we still do not understand the Christ, the God of the universe present in human form.
Who is this? We still ask, It is beyond what we can fathom. What we will ever understand in this short life.
And we must confess the shallowness of our love, the unknowingness of our faith the fleetingness of our praise.
But at the same time, we know, somehow deep in our bones, that this is our Messiah. This brokenhearted, open-hearted one this one who is poor and lonely and abandoned and fiercely truthful, there will be no other.
And that his message more simple and difficult and important than any other we will hear in this life: His promise that the world may be redeemed through the vulnerability of infinite love rings true.
But to follow him is what he asks, beyond the shallows, on the way that leads to Jerusalem; that confrontation with the powers that wrong God's world and people.
This is the way says the Messiah, and we wish it were not, for this Messiah's mending requires a tearing, a breaking open.
Bishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador a few weeks before he was martyred said:
"A church that doesn't provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn't unsettle, a word of God that doesn't get under anyone’s skin, a word of God that doesn't touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed --
What kind of gospel is that?
What kind of Messiah do we want, Maple Grove? We, who stand at the gates of the city.
Do we want a Messiah who does not see and address the real sin, evident every day in the poverty and violence around us?
One who does not see and address the hidden brokenness in us? Are waiting for another?
But we know none other will come. There is no political leader, no lover, no physician like the prophet from Galilee.
And so, reluctantly, we say yes, and we realize that he would rather not walk alone. That he wants you with him when he upsets the tables of iniquity, to join him at table at that last supper, and stay with him in the garden and on the walk to Golgotha.
Leave the shallow love and praise and move into the depths he says, and you shall be broken open and you shall be healed.
Many years ago, I sat in a convent, weary from wounding, as it happens, from church folks, and I found this poem, inscribed on a plaque on the wall by an British chaplain, named George Studdert Kennedy who served on the western front in World War 1 and was known for going into the battle lines to care for the wounded.
For you, who are the journey with the Messiah, receive this blessing, this word of healing:
Blessed are the eyes that see
the things that you have seen,
Blessed are the feet that walk
The ways where you have been.
Blessed are the eyes that see
The Agony of God, Blessed are the feet that tread
The paths His feet have trod.
Blessed are the souls that solve
The paradox of Pain, And find the path that, piercing it,
Leads through to Peace again.
GA Studdert Kennedy 1883-1929
May you be healed
May you help to mend the world in Jesus, the Messiah's name.
March 14, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Chad Hale
Thank you, Pastor Patty, for inviting me to preach at Maple Grove. I am honored. I want to thank my sister, Cathy, as well, for her support for me and my work over the years. Brothers and sisters, it is a great joy to share this moment with you. Even though my presence with you is through the medium of video, I do feel the kinship and am grateful for your witness and your desire to grow more faithful to Jesus.
I also very much appreciate the Lenten title that you have been led to adopt, God’s Resurrection Project. It’s an inspiring title and set of themes: confess, mend, rise. God’s Resurrection Project.
Let us pause and pray
Empower us now, O Lord Jesus, empower Maple Grove United Methodist Church, empower, empower. Honor the work to prepare for this moment by infusing the words with your Word. Thank you.
It is a daunting thing that you have been called to with this Project. What is it you are being called to? You, Maple Grove United Methodist Church, are being call to love one another as Jesus has loved us and love your neighbor as yourself and that takes Resurrection Power. Jesus said take up your cross, which led of course to death, but overall, in the church, in particular the white middle class church, we do not love one another that way, we don’t really know what that means, and we’re pretty sure we’re not ready to die for someone, maybe not even share very much of our money with them. So, you’re going against the stream here; it’s a serious project you are working with. I commend you for taking it on.
There’s a church building a little ways to the west of my home, which has a sign on it that says the name of the church is “The Perfect Church.” I've never been part of what I would call a perfect church, so it is a curiosity to me. I've never seen anyone there, and I pass by fairly regularly, though I haven’t stopped to visit. I have an acquaintance who stopped to see if anyone was there; he went around looking, looked through windows, etc., but could find no one. No activity at all.
So, it dawned on me, maybe that’s how you get to be a Perfect Church. No people. No one around, no conflicts, no problems. Because, of course, if you have people, you’ve automatically got sinners and bingo—you’re not perfect. It seems that to be a perfect church, you’ve got to keep everyone out.
But if we harken back to the picture of the church presented in the Gospel of Mark in today’s reading, it is a dramatic contrast. There’s seems to be a lot of people there and Jesus is right at the center. And with Jesus at the center of things, it is a bustling and thriving place. It’s hopping, it’s a happening. Jesus was poor himself and came to a poor, 3rd world country. People were happy when someone wanted to pay them attention; nobody cared about them, no one was giving them attention. And along comes this guy who actually loves them and is healing them and spending time with them. So, in this picture, there is a lot of life. People are breaking in, tearing holes in the roof, knocking down the doors, as it were, to get inside. It’s a wild and lively and wonderful scene.
I have to say, for my money, the picture in Mark is closer to the perfect church; it’s full of folks and Jesus is at the center. I know it’s the place I’d rather be. It is the very picture of life, the Resurrection Project in full swing.
Now, we’ve got to be clear and bear in mind that the folks being brought to the house and to Jesus are not being evangelized. They’re not people being brought to Jesus to be converted, not Gentiles. These were Jews. They are already part of “the chosen people.” But if they were already saved, so to speak, why were they flocking to Jesus? Clearly, they still had need; in one way or another they were poor, they longed for something more, they needed more and deeper salvation. They were not as alive as they would like, they wanted to be more whole, to be healed, to be forgiven, to be raised up so they could walk and run and work. They knew they had need. They were people who were poor—Remember that Jesus said he came to bring good news to the poor, and that was what they were experiencing. Here he was, a doctor who didn’t charge them a cent and loved them and a Temple, for that’s who he said he was, the new Temple, that didn’t make financial demands to be in his presence.
I’m blessed to be a pastor to a congregation of people who are mostly poor. We are people in need. Nobody’s putting on airs; we struggle. We’re not talking about our fancy vacations and cruises or new cars. We don’t have it all together. Every week, we come seeking, beseeching, asking for more, crying out for healing, for deliverance, and, we do see God act. We cry together, we pray together, we lay hands on each other. One thing about being poor is, you know you need and you don’t have to hide it and you know you need Jesus and you know you need each other. We come with expectation, bringing each other to Jesus, lifting each other up, praying together. We are focusing prayer now during Lent on a woman who has persistent stomach ailments and for the addicted daughter of one of our members (the daughter doesn’t attend the church), but the mother keeps crying out to God and asking the church to pray. So we have been, and unexpectedly, the daughter entered a rehab program (and she didn’t know we were praying for her!). The woman with the stomach problems can’t afford the first visit to this promising new doctor we’ve found and she has no insurance. So we’ve pulled together the funds for her to be able to at least get that first assessment and see what we learn. The church is making a way a way to carry her to this doctor.
It’s not always quick that change or healing takes place, to be sure, in fact, it doesn’t always happen at all, at least not in the ways we hope. This carrying each other to Jesus is a learning thing and a journey. Sometimes we get freed and raised up quickly. I remember one woman who was part of a small group I was in, who came to us with terrible allergies she could not get free of. She asked us to lay hands on her and pray, and lo and behold, the allergies left her immediately. Two years later she asked us again because the allergies had returned. She asked, we prayed, she was freed. Together we brought her to Jesus.
We had a young girl brought to us by her mother who said that warts were proliferating on her body in a very threatening and uncomfortable way. She said she had taken the girl to the doctor about it, but that the doctor had rather given up and was saying to her that he didn’t know what else to do. She asked us to pray and we laid hands on her in our church service. Within two weeks, the warts had receded and never came back. Resurrection power.
Another woman in the congregation said she had something she had been carrying for years that she needed to confess. She was hiding something from us, feeling shame and guilt. We held a retreat and spent together and during that time she confessed to us she had killed a man in Vietnam when she had been in the service and the circumstances were such that it has weighed on her ever since. She got free; it still bothers her sometime, but she knows that we know and that we haven’t kicked her out and we love her and she is forgiven.
Now, of course, the prerequisite to rising, to having Resurrection Power, is dying. But mostly, of course, we don’t want to die. How do we die? We die by confessing our need that we want to hide; we die by admitting we need help and aren’t self-sufficient. Because generally we’re not going to get free to be raised up if we don’t ask, if you don’t participate. If you don’t know you’re poor, that you exist by the mercy of God, that you could be literally physically dead in a few seconds’ time, and that you have needs, that death is close by and in ways has a hold on you, then you won’t ask for help. Then we’re held back from rising like a rock on the string of a helium balloon.
Remember, what Jesus said to the man in Mark was, “Your sins are forgiven.” So what are the sins that make you and me sick or paralyzed in some fashion? What are the things that hold us back? The angers that threaten to give us a heart attack or depress us and keep us down or lonely or whatever, that keep us from life. If we’ll tell them to trusted brothers and sisters in the church, they can help us to get to Jesus, if we confess we have a need, then life can happen. But it’s true there are people who are happy where they are—stuck in the middle, not fully dead but not fully alive. That’s a problem for a lot of us middle class folks: we’re too comfortable to rock the boat and afraid to admit we’re poor and needy. Poor people don’t have that problem. Everybody knows they’re poor and needy. It’s only folks like you and me that have money in the bank and an image to uphold, who need to look like we have it together, that can’t admit we’re poor and sick and paralyzed.
So, we have to decide for ourselves whether we want to participate in the Resurrection Project and in making Maple Grove a rocking place, and begin to take risks. In the church that’s alive we’re like both a party and an AA meeting, only we’re not anonymous. We are all sinners who confess to each other. Even the people who carried the man to Jesus had needs. So, I say my name is Chad Hale and I have a drinking problem. Or, I’m Chad Hale and I don’t want to forgive the man who raped my daughter, in fact, I’d rather kill him in a gruesome fashion; I’m Chad Hale and I can’t forgive my parents for the ways they abused me and my siblings; I’m Chad Hale and I’m afraid I’ve got something wrong with my health but I’m scared to go to the doctor; I’m Chad Hale and I can’t stand those liberal socialist leaning Democrats that voted for Biden; I’m Chad Hale and I hate those conservative fascist leaning Trump supporting Republicans; I’m Chad Hale and I struggle with pornography; I’m Chad Hale and I am worried about money and my future and feel like I need to hold onto every cent I can get; I’m Chad Hale and I’m having an affair that I know is wrong, but I don’t really want to get out of it; I’m Chad Hale and I’m struggling with some gender issues; I’m Chad Hale and when I’m honest with myself, I don’t love my neighbor as myself, especially if they are poor or homeless and generally different from me—and I’m not sure I really want to; I’m Chad Hale and I’m also not sure I really believe there’s a God and I don’t really know what to think about Jesus; I’m Chad Hale and I neglect my wife and children because I’m too busy on my job; I’m Chad Hale and I don’t really have faith that Jesus hears prayers and answers them; I’m Chad Hale and I don’t really think the church is all that important; I’m Chad Hale and I’m full of grief and rage and anxiety, etc., etc. I could go on and on, of course, naming all of the ways death has a hold on me and maybe you, too, and holds me back and down. If we don’t name them, and get them out, then we keep being paralyzed and unforgiven and alone and unfree and unhealthy and less joyful and peaceful, and it gets harder to conger up the courage to admit we’re paralyzed or afraid or whatever and say to our friends, brothers and sisters, I need help. And you know what? That hurts not only you but it hurts the church, it keeps the community weak; you stay alone and part of you hidden. You have a good AA meeting when everyone is confessing and coming to the party. Your willingness to jump in the pool strengthens you and the community to be more alive and joyful and whole. The very dark matter you fear becomes grist for creating light. But if we get stuck in the old and think this is the way life is, we can despair that things can shift and, and maybe we spend lots of money on therapists, but we shouldn’t discount the church, the place where Jesus is at the center, as a place of life and healing and joy and power and possibility.
But also, as we see from Mark, for the Resurrection Project to lift off and have power, we have to love on another and trust and care for one another. These brothers love their friend and were determined to get him to Jesus. Maple Grove can be a place of loving life if you want it to be. It can be like that picture. But it won’t happen if we’re judging each other and trying to one up each other, backbiting, gossiping, comparing who’s a better Christian. Because we have to know that if we tell someone about our sins and our needs, they are going to respond with care and compassion and honor us and our vulnerability. We are sinners together. This is a community thing, a church thing. We need each other, just as we need Jesus. You remember the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. After he had done so, he told the church to “unbind him and let him go.” Jesus raised him, but you and I have to help with the unbinding or the carrying or whatever is needed. Love one another as I have loved you. Think of the church as your family, as a new loving community, the beloved community.
Of course, not knowing your church that well, you may have a lot of people already who are carrying people to Jesus one way or another. Usually, in my experience, I find that the ones who are carrying people to Jesus are also the ones confessing, the ones who already have the most life. You may be doing all of this work to get free already and I hope you are. But if you’re not, I can’t tell you just HOW and to whom and where you do all of this confessing and mending resulting in rising. But I have a couple of thoughts and I know the Lord will lead you if you ask. First of all, there is power in small groups. In the early Methodist Church John Wesley had small groups where people would confess their sins of the previous week and pray for each other and love each other to health and joy by taking them to Jesus.
Secondly, an important way to get help with Resurrection Power, is to begin to hang around people who are not just like you, people that may threaten you, make you a little uncomfortable and invite them into your church family. In my case, poor people have taught me so much. Pray that they Lord would bring people in need to part members of your congregation. It might be a test, but it would bring you some life. I’ve got a pastor friend here in Atlanta who pastors a comfortable white church. He told me that a homeless African-American man had joined their church and it was kicking their butt. People didn’t know how to treat the man. Some were trying to give him money; they didn’t know how to relate to him as a person. Others were upset because one of ways they welcome people into membership was to give the new member a copy of the church directory, which had everyone’s address and phone number, which a lot of folks didn’t want him to have. Now see, isn’t that funny just to think about. It makes me laugh. There was life being stirred up already, some of their stodginess and death being jostled, consciences being pricked. We immediately become aware our love has a lot of boundaries and then we just maybe we begin to be able to get freer, if we want to, and we begin to find a new and deeper joy and we begin to rise. I’m not talking poor people about as charity objects, but as brothers and sisters in Christ. Now I realize that may be something you are already doing. But if you’re not, you might consider it. I’m not talking about trying to change people either; I’m talking about learning to love them and let them love me. The members of my food co-ops had an average income of under $12,000 a year. One co-op member joined our church; her income is just over $700/mo., so you can see she’s not rolling in the dough. But she’s great; she prays for my family every day. My folks need Jesus in a way that mostly us middle class folks do not, because they may not be able to pay the rent or buy a car or have enough food or pay the utilities or afford to go to a doctor. They HAVE to cry out to Jesus; they have to depend on Jesus. Their faith is stronger than mine and generally speaking I find that they aren’t hiding as much as me and my middle-class friends. They’ll tell me about their sins and struggles in a heartbeat, sexual stuff, mental stuff, you name it. So I get freer and more honest and less concerned to put on airs. And yes, it’s true I have ways I can help them, just as they have ways they help and teach me, so we get to know and love one another have community together. Yes, my poorer brothers and sisters have been a great blessing to me.
All I know for sure is, if you as a church, or even just a few of you, want more Resurrection Power, ask Jesus and he will help you. In any case, seek and you will find. The scriptures tell us “You have not because you ask not.” So ask. And tell Pastor Patty you want to take this seriously and put your strength into making Maple Grove an example of the beloved community.
As a church, I don’t whether you have really have thought about it or not, but you have a really good name. Maple Grove United Methodist Church. Maple Grove: a stand of trees. Those who study such matters tell us that trees are communal, they look out for one another, they communicate and nourish each other. But that is you, Maple Grove—I’d like to think you are or want to be a community of people like trees—what do the Psalms say, trees planted by the water—who nourish and look out for one another, intent on taking each other to Jesus and wade further out into that Resurrection Power River.
May the Lord bless you and raise you up. Take seriously this Lenten calling that the Holy Spirit has given you and take seriously stewarding your own little patch, your little grove, of the Kingdom of Jesus. Take courage—find brothers and sisters to help pray for you to get you closer to the source of Life, or if need be, to get you closer to wanting to be free, and help to carry you to Jesus, and make yourself available to carry others in some fashion. You will begin to come alive just from making the effort. I am confident you will find joy in the journey. I would suggest that if you do that, you, Maple Grove United Methodist Church, will indeed be the perfect church.
So, I exhort you, my brothers and sisters, to follow Pastor Patty’s lead into the Resurrection Project. She is passing along a powerful word to you from our good brother Moses —Choose Life!
Come Holy Spirit, Come Lord Jesus, come quickly.
Jesus and the Outcast
March 7, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia Wagner
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well." 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, "Who touched my clothes?" 31 And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, 'Who touched me?'" 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease
She is alone. Unlike others who ask for Jesus’ healing, she does not draw attention to herself or raise her voice to cry out. Apparently women did not do that. Many still do not. And she has no friends to bring her to him as another person in need of healing did.
She and any friends she has know that she is not allowed in public. Her constant hemorrhaging means that she is ritually unclean, to touch her, to be touched by her, would make you unclean, too, especially men on their way to temple; they would have to go home and wash again.
And she's poor- she's spent all she has on physicians who had no cure for her, so, she is absolutely vulnerable and she's hidden, from Jesus, from everyone.
She hears about him, and dares to go outside, into the open where she can be caught and accused.
She makes her way to him, and reaches out to touch him, just the tassels of his garment, and in reaching out, she is made well.
And it says, that she felt immediately in her body that she was healed. And immediately, Jesus felt the power go out from him.
This is the only time in our scripture that we hear how healing felt both to the healed, to Jesus, as the healer.
And Jesus wonders, who has done this; who drew it forth from me?
When he asks that his disciples seem to make fun of him. How can you ask that, the crowd is pressing in on you, everyone is touching you?
The others in the crowd surely were desperate for healing, too. How was it that she alone accessed this power? And we ask, ones we loved were desperate for healing, too, why weren't they made well. Why aren’t we?
Jesus never wanted us to focus on the physical healing that was available through the power that moved in and through him. He commanded those healed not to talk of it. Remember, too, that that he himself would suffer unto death. He did not heal his own wounds.
This account, a story shared by Matthew and Luke as well speaks even more clearly about those who are outcast those whom we have considered beyond hope, beyond redemption, unclean.
For even beyond her physical healing, which she confesses she took without asking, is his acceptance of her, of her defying the barriers which separated them.
She risked an intimate connection with the Divine. She realized that she could not mend alone. She had to leave her home that was her prison, she had to clear her mind of the warnings that she wasn't worthy, that she should keep her suffering hidden and go find the holy one who would call her "daughter."
You are my kin, Jesus is saying, Go in peace and be whole, he says.
As she is his kin, so are you, and so we are one another's
Val Kobus is here and she understands this story, she has lived it.
Let us welcome this daughter of Jesus as she brings her mending story.
(Val spoke extemporaneously, so we have no transcript from her sharing of her life, her addiction, imprisonment, and her transformation through the love of God shared by persons from the EMBARK program, Kindway and Welcome Home. We will be having Val back in April to share more)
Opened and Mending
2nd Sunday of Lent, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia Wagner
31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.
32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him.
33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue.
34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”
35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.
36 Then Jesus[a] ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
Balm In Gilead:
I remember the first time I really heard that song: when the Knoxville College Choir came to sing at our church in Richwood, Ohio.
It was the 1960's. The African Americans in town lived, literally, on the other side of the tracks. And these students came, maybe 50,
and Dad, a pastor had invited them to come on their tour, and had folks in the congregation take them in for the the night to sleep.
Perhaps the only time that would happen in any of their lifetimes, the students or the small town and farm folk.
We all knew it was a gift, a sort of healing as was their music, including this song, which is remarkable for it’s coming out of peoples who have known suffering.
It’s an answer to a question that is posed by the people to Jeremiah.
And to hear it, let's imagine ourselves one year back, when the pandemic was beginning, everything was closing and no vaccine was in sight.
The people were desperate, they had heard that a salve made from the balsam tree, native there, might have healing properties.
“Is there no balm in Gilead?”, asked the people, “Is there no healing there?``
So much of scripture is about human brokenness and healing
It speaks to personal condition: infertility and bleeding and boils of brokenness in family life, of greed and guilt and lost souls.
Into this world came Jesus who tapped into God's power to recreate us, to heal us. But also brought a new teaching: sickness is not sin, he said, but sin is sickness; injustice is our own brokenness.
I saw some videos this week of attacks on a young man who folks called the police over because he looked sketchy. And a young man slamming into an old man causing his death because he was Asian.
Beyond this outward brutality are the things that we as a society do that make life for the poor and working folk harder.
We have cracks in our humanity, and we might want to cover them up, with excuses or shield ourselves from the pain that's out there, or in here.
But, Jesus always seemed to be able to see what was broken beneath the surface like the Woman at the well, made her wounds plain before she could begin to be changed.
He there is tradition in Japanese ceramics called Kin-sin-tu. It’s based on a philosophy called Wabi-Sabi that accepts our imperfection, our impermanence.
In ceramics, rather than try to hide or disguise the fractures and breaks of a broken vessel, the mender uses a gold bond to reveal those lines of brokenness more clearly, and somehow, the fixed vessel becomes more beautiful than before.
We have a vessel like this, and Helen Hughes is going to begin the process of mending it, using this method.
And while she does that, we will consider this healing story only found in the Gospel of Mark.
Jesus has traveled farther north than at any other time in our Gospel records. He is in the region of the Gentiles, those who were not Jews. And he is brought a man who cannot hear and who struggled to speak.
So many do, and for such persons, the hearing and speaking most of us do every day is so longed for, so miraculous.
I think of the friends of this man, rushing to his home. He's here, he's come all the way here, and hurrying to bring him before Jesus for surely this was his only chance.
Mark says that Jesus takes the man aside away from the others, put his fingers in the man's ears, touched his tongue with a bit of his own saliva, his own life force. Raises his eyes to the source of his life' force and says:
Ephatha - Be Opened! And the man heard and spoke.
He commanded that the people not speak about it, but unlike the waves in the water, when Jesus spoke, when he speaks, people tend not to follow.
Jesus channeled a power that mended bodies, but the mending he was focused on was for our souls.
He could see our brokenness and the ways we cover up and cover over the broken bits.
We do this as persons, as nations, as peoples.
But Jesus says to us, as he places his spirit upon us, as he touches our life with his own essence, Ephatha, Be Opened, he says, unveiling our wounds then opening our ears that we might hear the cries of the world and our own, then unleashes our tongues to speak the truth about what is around us, about what is within us.
And then he claims us, broken open and mending for God.
He claims your life, in all the ways you are broken open and mending for God, and says, come join my band, mend in community, and in that meeting, in that healing is the love that binds us back together.
For there is a balm in Gilead, say those who came out of slavery, that makes the w0unded whole, that heals the sin-sick soul, even me, even you, even us.
Let us open ourselves to that life force to that mending, to that healing.
Thanks be to God.
Good For The Soul
First Sunday of Lent, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Mark 1: 9-15
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved;[a] with you I am well pleased.” 12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. 14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news[b] of God,[c] 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;[d] repent, and believe in the good news.”[e]
Wade in the water, we just heard Paisha sing,
God's gonna trouble it, Gonna stir it up and make it heal you like the Spirit did in the waters at the pool of Bethsaida, by the Sheep gate, where the one first into the troubled waters would be healed. God was in those troubled waters.
Harriet Tubman sang that spiritual to those who were coming along with her to freedom. It meant, go into the nearby waters so those hunting you down lost track of you.
Wade in the water, children. God's gonna trouble the water, gonna stir it up and heal you.
John invites everyone in the troubled city of Jerusalem to come wilderness outside the city to enter the waters of the Jordan.
It is good for your soul, says John, Confess, then enter the waters and see what God will do.
Jesus came to the Jordan. What he needed to confess, only he knew, then he ducked down into the waters troubled by God, heard within himself of his belovedness, and got sent out, into the desert, into that lonesome valley, by himself.
What temptations he found there, only he knows. Mark does not recount them in his gospel. They were private torments
only you and I know fully how and when we've been tempted to be less than our true selves.
Only we know what we need to confess what we have done, and left undone, what griefs we carry, what brokenness burdens.
Only you know the wild beasts you've encountered who go by the "grief" or "cruelty" or "shame" or some other name.
Only you know what angels have waited upon you, as they did upon on Jesus; what healing came by their ministrations.
And only you can bear witness to the wholeness that came out of that journey; the tearing and the mending.
I've been thinking about confession. The power of it, the work of it. And about mending. The power of it, the work of it.
About how, together, they lead to us a new creation to our rising, our resurrection. That is the work of this season.
I asked our sister, Jeanette Belz, a master of cloth, to share her experience of quilting as mending work and healing work.
(Jeanette shares this in a video)
We want these 40 days of Lent to be a time of confession and mending and rising for all of us.
We have new leaders for small groups where, for the season, you can talk about Jesus' healing stories, confess and mend together.
We have daily practices for you, which you can get in your email inbox Monday through Saturday.
We will be hearing messages from menders in downtown Atlanta, and from rural Indiana, and from the Ohio Reformatory for Women.
Each we will be mending this beautiful, broken vase created by the artist and teacher, D'Lyn Stinziano right here, before you, on Sunday mornings.
Because if ever we needed such a season of confession, for ourselves, for our nation, ravaged by disease and death, hate and violence, inequality and poverty, And if we ever needed to see and trust in God's power to mend us and mend through us and bring us to resurrection surely it is now.
I hope you will choose to be in this wilderness; all of us, together, confessing, mending, creating, rising. I believe, if we give ourselves over to is, to the troubled waters, to the 40 day journey it will be good for your soul and for mine. And for the communities we seek to build and heal. And I invite you now to join with me in a prayer of confession by the monk, Thomas Merton:
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” Amen.
You are not alone:
Let us now sing our closing song:
We are a Wilderness, Wandering People by Jim Strathdee:
We are a wilderness, wandering people on a journey of the soul. May we find our destination in our longing to be whole.
Our Holy God is calling to us. With Jesus by our side
May compassion be our compass; may the Spirit be our guide.
May we cherish all our children, let us heal our family’s pain
Help us cure our city’s madness, let love and justice reign. Reconciled with one another in prayer and praise and song,
We’re the body of Christ together and we know that we belong, We belong, we belong, we belong.
A New Perspective
February 14, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Today’s story from Mark is a quintessential mountain top experience.
A powerful experience of being in the presence of the holy, a moment when God breaks-through, when we’re astonished into seeing something we’ve never seen before. We don’t just see something new; we see in a new way. A new perspective is revealed. We are changed.
These experiences can be hard to talk about. On multiple occasion Jesus even told people after a miraculous event, like he told the disciples in today’s story, don’t talk about it - yet.
There are those experiences that we need to pause and savor. We need time to let them work on us, transform us. Time to let them dislodge our old ways of thinking and viewing the world, as we gradually gain a new perspective.
Sometimes, after an unusually extraordinary experience, we try to fit it into an existing pattern, and when it doesn’t fit, we may dismiss it. Or rewrite it.
Today’s story is one that is so fantastical that it could easily be dismissed as just a dream, a fantasy, some sort of hallucination.
We’re told that Peter, James and John, climbed with Jesus to the top a mountain, where the disciple saw Elijah and Moses, who are both long dead, talking to Jesus, whose clothes turned a brilliant white. Then God’s voice came out of the cloud saying, “this is my beloved son, listen to him.” What a vision. It terrified the disciples.
Something mysterious happened on that mountain. Something beyond any rational explanation.
Admittedly, in my youth, I joked with a bit of smart aleck skepticism about my mother’s mysterious experiences: visits from dead loved one, her encounter with angels, God’s hand on her shoulder, and God taking the steering wheel of her car to guide her to safety.
And yet, most of my life I was hoping God would show up in some supernatural way; to confirm another reality I was beginning to perceive and to explain the purpose of it all!
I don’t know if the rest of you have ever hoped and waited for God to make an otherworldly appearance, but I suspect most of us have at least wished at one time or another that God would just speak to us, loud and clear, and tell us what we’re supposed to do.
Peter, James and John were there to for that moment when God appeared. And in Peter’s fear, the scripture says, he didn’t know what to say so he blurted out “let’s build three dwellings.” Yet, this significant story, recorded in the 3 synoptic Gospels and 2nd Peter, is missing a lot of important details. Mark doesn’t tell us why they climbed to the top of a very high mountain, (though the Gospel of Luke said it was to pray), or how the disciples knew it was Moses and Elijah, and what was Jesus, Elijah and Moses talking about? And why is Jesus luminous?
Again, the Gospel of Luke tells a little more by saying that Jesus was talking to Elijah and Moses – about his soon-to-be departure.
Some Bible scholars place this event about 40 days prior to Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem. Jesus would have known the dark days ahead, the pain and suffering that lay before him if he continued the path, he was on.
He was publicly calling out the religious and political leaders for their hypocrisy and greed, he was challenging the social structure, and blatantly breaking laws by healing on the sabbath and touching the unclean; the powers that be were going to stop him. They were going to silence him – it was only a matter of time.
Here we are in this season after epiphany, with another brilliant light, appearing to us, just before we begin the arduous journey to the cross.
We began this season with a bright shining star guiding us to baby Jesus. And now, the light shines, radiating from Jesus, brighter than any earthly white. Along with another pronouncement, similar to one at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my Son, my beloved.” And God tells us “Listen to him!”
From his birth, to these three decades later, we’ve been given signs, and messages, “watch, listen, pay attention to Jesus. Do what he does.”
Today’s scripture is at an intersection between God’s story and the human story, and it reads like a fable, or a myth. Yet, the real supernatural story is that Jesus became human to show us how to become divine. It was what Jesus said and how Jesus lived, that was truly astonishing and otherworldly.
Yes, there were supernatural events going on to be sure – whenever Jesus touched the untouchables. Every time Jesus forgave sins - even before the sinners had repented.
The extraordinarily, unusual occurrences were when Jesus asked the blind beggar what can I do for you? When Jesus told the paralytic he could pick up your mat and walk? When the leper asked Jesus are you willing to heal me and Jesus answered, yes, I’m willing. When Jesus suggested the one without sin throw the first stone? When Jesus said love your enemy.
Something unbelievable occurred when Jesus climbed the mountain and gave the sermon: Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, the merciful, and the peacemakers.
And, in a luminous moment, a voice called out from the clouds and says, “He’s my beloved son, listen to him.” Listen to him. Jesus became human to show us how to transfigure into the divine. Jesus became the light to shine in the darkness.
So, I really wanted my bright shining moment with God. Yet, I have not had the visual and auditory experience with the transfigured Christ. However, Jesus did come to me, and in some mysterious way, I knew that it was Jesus, I can’t describe him by looks, I can’t tell you what his voice sounded like, but I feel sure, Jesus spoke to me.
It was one of the times in my life when I was struggling with feelings of inadequacy, and on the advice of a spiritual guide, I made my own climb up the mountain to pray, I talked to Jesus about the feelings of inadequacy– of not good enough – not capable enough. And without hesitation, Jesus told me, “Neither was I, I can do nothing on my own, it is only God through me.” And I had a new perspective of myself, my sense of inadequacy diminished a bit, and my understanding of God’s amazing love and grace grew.
That mountaintop experience came on the shores of Lake Erie for me.
God has also appeared to me in the chapel on a Good Friday, as a voice, saying, “allow yourself to be crucified.” I knew God was asking me to humble myself. To be less concerned about protecting my opinions and position, and more interested in listening to others.
God has spoken to me in the shower, on my sick bed, and in the company of loved ones. As I said, from here, on Baptism Sunday, God spoke to me this very epiphany season saying, “follow the light out of the darkness.”
When my son Will, was 16 years old, he had a figurative and literal mountain top experience while in the Smoky Mountains on a Maple Grove youth mission trip. He said the mission team had gathered a one of the highest peaks, and they were to find a spot to sit in silence, to pray and journal. As he sat there, he began to look around, he found himself spontaneously smiling at the beauty and perfection of the world, and then he began to laugh out loud and roll around on the ground, and his laughter turned into tears of joy, because he was convinced there was a God.
God appears. Opens our eyes, reveals a new perspective, give us a vision. Both for our sake, and for the sake of others.
Dr. Martin Luther King told us he had “been to the mountain top.” And from there, he saw the promised land. And in that vision, he saw that one day, this great country would live up to its ideals. One day it would be a sacred place where all of God’s children would stand as equals on level, fertile ground. There would be racial equality, justice, and freedom for all. From where he stood, he saw black and white folks joining hands, in unity, working together, and transforming the discord of our nation into a “beautiful symphony.”
We surely need these transfiguration experiences, God visions, God perspectives.
Did the transfiguration on the mountain top literally happen, I don’t know, however, I believe the transfiguration happens every time we humble ourselves to listen and serve, every time we love rather than judge, every time we speak words of blessing, every time we see Christ in each other, and whenever we recognize that we are standing on holy ground. The world gets a little brighter. And it is all by the grace of God.
Because, on my own, I can do nothing.
Now, as we turn towards lent, and undertake the most difficult scriptural passages, prepare yourself. Take time to fast and pray and serve and give alms. Let’s begin this journey together and allow God to illuminate us and love to guide us.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
On Not Fainting
February 7, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia Wagner
We are going to hear two powerful poetic meditations on the human condition. One was written by Rev. Mr. Thomas A. Dorsey, whose young wife Hetty died in childbirth and their child soon after. It was 1932, and Thomas was 33 years old. He was lost in grief, some days later, he found himself at a piano and his hands found the melody of an old hymn by George Allen, Must Jesus bear the cross alone, and the spirit led him to words that eased his heart and would ease the heart of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, who grew up with this song in his daddy's church, and who asked Mahalia Jackson to sing it at rallies, and on the phone when he needed comfort. The last words he spoke on that balcony in Memphis on April 4, 1968, was a request that Precious Lord, Take My Hand be sung at the church that night.
But before that, we are going to hear from the 40th chapter of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, who is speaking to the Hebrew people, in the 8th Century BC, and I want you to listen to these words and see where you hear their stories connect
and how they connect with yours.
Isaiah 40: 21-31
21 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is God who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to live in;
23 who brings princes to naught,
and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when the Holy one blows upon them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
25 To whom then will you compare me,
or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these?
The one who brings out their host and numbers them,
calling them all by name; because the Lord is great in strength,
mighty in power, not one is missing.
27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel,
\“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
who does not faint or grow weary;
and whose understanding is unsearchable.
29 The Holy One gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
"Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, help me stand, I am tired, I am weak, I am worn."
Did you hear the way, that hymn echoes the passage from Isaiah? The prophet repeats two words 3 times: "weary" and "faint,"
People have always been faint and weary, it seems. Thomas Dorsey, Martin King, the Hebrew people sent into exile in Babylon, which is going to last decades. No wonder they are faint and weary.
I've been thinking about the million mothers in America who had to leave their jobs to care for their children, and they are reporting that even their toddlers are stressed out.
Our backs are aching. It’s hard to sleep. We've lost people we love, relationships are strained and the nations, not just ours. Every nation is uneasy.
And we may all be thinking, everyone one of us on this earth as Isaiah says the Hebrew people do: My way is hidden from the Lord.
My life is not visible to God. We are just too small, too human to matter
One day, sure, we will enter into glory, and we'll be in God's presence but for now we are too far away for God to reach us.
And its too much - we grow weary and faint.
My most memorable faint happened when I went back to visit my first mission site in Cotabato, a very poor Muslim community in the Southern Philippines.
I stayed that night at the home of a friend, Mohammed, His wife, Isa, had died from TB the year before, his children were hungry, and they wolfed down the candy I'd brought.
That night the rain beat down like a curse and I awoke to water coming in on my bed. And thought, all these years of hard work and he doesn't have money to fix his roof or to feed his children.
The next morning, I slogged my way to the market and came to a stall where women were selling homemade cloth when and my head suddenly grew heavy and I blacked out, right into a colorful stack of cloth.
I became conscious of a dozen hands massaging my head, neck hands and back. Reviving me and Samin, the quiet street sweeper, took me to get a cup of strong coffee and stayed with me until I was alright.
We can be overcome by life. The Hebrew people were, as Thomas Dorsey was, as those moms and most of us on the planet are these days.
But... "Have you not known, Have you not heard, says Isaiah.
The Lord is out there, yes, in the remote and beautiful boundlessness. But God is right here, too, equally transcendent and imminent. In the stars that entrance you, in the music that inspires you, and in the hands that revive you.
And because the Lord is great in strength, mighty in power, says Isaiah, not one is missing.
Not one is missing, not those we've lost to death, not those we've forgotten in poverty or oppression or stress, and not you.
Have you not known, have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
This world, including us, including you, and those you don't like, and don't know, belong to God.
You may grow faint and weary, but, says, Isaiah, God does not faint or grow weary. Never, ever, ever.
And that loving energy is reaching out to us all the times, reminding us that we don't have to power our way through by our own steam. That we are to surrender our sense of control so we can receive what we need from God.
And if we do, if we do, says Isaiah:
29 The Holy One gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
The Compassionate Command
January 31, 2021
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching--with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
What a powerful, relevant story this is.
The man with an unclean spirit, and unclean here, means that which corrupts, defiles the holiness in a human being. The sacred live in the human being the unclean spirit inhabits.
What have you to do with us? say the spirits. You are the holy one of God!
They know him, they know what will destroy them and they push back against Jesus moving into their territory: What have you to do with us?
But whenever does corrupting, abusive, unholy power easily submit?
Jesus does not hesitate, doesn't stay quiet in that holy place, but speaks a word directly to the powers that have overtaken the humanity in the man before him powers that suppress his holiness:
BE SILENT, he says, Leave him!
And the people are startled at the authority of his speech and his disruptive word that rids the man of that which was destroying him. And transforms him back to himself
All this happens in a synagogue. The people aren't used to their leaders calling out evil spirits in holy space.
We, too, as people of the church wrestle with that which pervasively harms us, distorts God's intention in us.
And I wonder, does God give even us power to speak a disruptive, transformative word to that which defiles the holiness of human beings? Does God give us the charge to disarm the powers by speaking their name so healing can begin?
It must be so, and surely, we must learn both to speak and to listen for that powerful word that will disrupt our silence, transform our hearts, and make us whole.
We have stories to tell about such a word.
Let us now listen to our brother, Duane Casares, about the word that came to him.