July 24, 2022
What if Tenderness is the Only Path to Mutual Transformation?
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Mark 5: 1-20
Before I sent up to Chautauqua for few days,
I’d had an encounter with a man that had seared me.
was on our patio,
and was, clearly very unwell,
but he would not go to the safe place
Its not safe for you here, and its not safe for people
to be around you.
I tried to say it with both clarity and compassion, but
he left, pretty angry.
and I didn’t know where he was,
and I was wretched.
I went up to Chautauqua
to hear and see Fr. Gregory Boyle who founded Homeboy
Industries, who gives people jobs and hope
helping thousands of people
find a way out of gang life
and the cycle of incarceration
Fr. Boyle spoke of Meister Eckart,
a Dominican priest of the 13th century Germany
who countered the prevalent image of an angry
vindictive, violent God, saying:
any talk of God that doesn’t comfort you is a lie.
God is love, and we all receive the tender glance of God
Fr Greg spoke of Ignacious of Loyola, a Spanish Priest in the 1400s
and the word Ignacious used describe how God looks at us:
Accaciamento, to look with attention,
with “affectionate awe.”
We know that God looks at us this way,
because we meet Jesus in these stories
and nowhere more powerfully than this one
told by Mark and Luke,
Jesus has crossed over the sea of Galilee
This is not his home turf, these are not his homies.
The whole purpose of this trip,
seems to find this man who lives among the tombs,
and inflicts harm upon himself
They have tried chaining him,
locking him up, like we tend to do here,
but he gets out of those chains
and hurts himself even more.
“What have you do to with me, Jesus of Nazareth,
don’t torment me”
with your words of hope and love and peace,
there is no peace,
and you can’t possibly love me
and I know you can’t help me.
we are legion, there’s too much.
it’s all too much.
there are so many who feel this way,
whose pain and inner doubts, borne of trauma,
where no one soothed their pain,
and now they cannot do this for themselves
I spent a long time yesterday with a person,
borne into brokenness, who lashed out at me,
and my words of love and support,
seemed to him, taunting.
It took everything in me to stay the course,
it is scary to face the swirling struggle in someone.
in my own self, .
to transform my frustration at brokenness
into tenderness for the broken one.
Fr. Boyle brings members of his team with him,
Homeboys, or homies, they call one another,
and one time he brought Raul.
Saul had done 12 years in prison, he’d suffered a lot,
and was working in the bakery
and Fr. said, come on with me to Boston.
and he teared up, and blessed him
One afternoon, Father Boyle told us
Saul, had gone off to look around the city
and was taking a picture of himself by an historic courthouse,
and some feet from him there was a little bench, and two older, unhoused men,
were sitting there.
One guy says, Don’t take my picture,
who told you could take my picture.
and the other guy says,
Relax, he’s just taking a selfie,
but he continues to rant, .
And Fr. Boyle says that Saul,
rather than backing away from the hostility,
approaches it. and looks at these two men and says,.
Hi, my name is Saul, I’m from Los Angeles.
I don’t care where you are from, don’t take my picture,
and the other man says,
Don’t mind us, we’re crazy.
And Saul extends his hand to the one who was screaming
and says, That’s okay, I’m crazy, too.
and he finds out that the guy’s name is Louie,
and the other man is Bill,
and they talk for some time.
Finally, its time for Saul to leave.
and the one who was yelling, says, now
in a different tone and stillness.
He says, Saul, I’ve lived my whole life in Boston,
you need directions or something?
Saul had crossed the seas, had looked upon the broken man
with affectionate awe,
Louis felt seen and cherished, held and carried.
It was the comfort of the God of all comfort.
Jesus is standing
in the lowly place, says Ignacius of Loyola,
Not outside the area pointing to it, but in the lowly place
And Fr. Boyle elaborates:
he is serenely standing there with the poor, the powerless,
the voiceless, whose dignity has been denied,
with the easily despised and the readily left out,
he is standing with the demonized
so the demonizing will stop.
and with the disposable,
so the day will come
when we stop throwing people away.
He is there not so much
to comfort the poor in their powerlessness.
But a comfort that reminds them of their power,
a comfort that holds and carries us all.
No, you don’t come with me,
Jesus says to the man who was now well,
but go and tell the people in your own place
what the Lord has done for you,
what mercies God has shown you.
God looks at us with affectionate awe,
looks at you
looks at the person in your life who is struggling
in ways you can’t seem to fix,
with affectionate awe
knowing we all want to be well
To believe this, to practice this, changes us, too.
A homeboy named Raul told Father Boyle,
“What happened to me yesterday
never happened to me before.
The train was packed but he was able to get a seat
and there was an older guy, a homie, a little drunk,
and he sees the sweatshirt, and says,
You work at Homeboy, is it any good?
and Raul says, It helped me,
in fact, I don’t think I’m every going back to prison because of this place,
And Raul stands, and asks the guy his name,
and he pulls out. piece of paper and
writes down the address of Homeboy Industries.
and he looks him in the eye and says,
Come see us, we’ll help you.
and the man said gently, thank you.
and then gets off
Raul sits down.
What happens to me next, he told Fr. Boyle
has never happened to me before,
Everyone on the train was staring at me,
was nodding at me,
Everyone on the train was smiling at me,
and for the first time in my life,
I was admired.
What if tenderness is the only way to mutual transformation….
The whole world is barricaded, says Fr. Boyle
What if the only thing that can scale that wall is tenderness.
I am so grateful to be there, with them,
and among this community where we are learning to practice that tenderness
that affectionate awe.
Some, I hope most of you have received a letter that informs you
that the church was the victim of a
sophisticated business email compromise
that resulted in loss of money.
We had a meeting with leaders on Wednesday,
and shared what happened,
and what we have done and are doing about it,
and the question came quickly:
How do we help other churches not experience this
and folks were gratified to hear that we are working on that.
The wound moved so quickly to compassion,
to tenderness for others,
and my gaze upon those gathered turned to affectionate awe.
And I hope that when our friend comes back to the patio,
that will be my gaze,
and I will remember that he wants to be well,
and that God is a God of comfort,
and infinite tenderness,
who, if we allow it,
will bring forth that goodness in us.
May it be so. Amen.
July 10, 2022
What if We Lived with a Calm and Hopeful Trust?
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Scripture: Luke 10: 38-42
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
I can’t literally remember an easy week,
Maybe not since Christmas have we been able to sing
“all is calm, all is bright.”
so I’m quite envious of Mary
having this time with Jesus.
I wonder what they were discussing
Maybe he had a question, something like:
How is it with you?
Maybe she had one that he answered,
There are plenty I would ask him, particularly:
Will things be alright
for all who suffer and struggle
for me, for those we love, all of us?
Perhaps she didn’t have to ask anything,
he would have just looked at her, and she knew
the answers to her questions.
Anyway, its really how Jesus must have made her feel
that I envy:
That at she is valued
that her questions are valid,
that her heartbreak is legit and shared by God.
Of course, were Jesus at my house,
I’d probably be busy cleaning.
There is always so much to do
it is constant, and endless
and there is no avoiding it.
Even though I can hear Jesus say,
consider the lilies
and the birds of the air
There is no end to work.
We hear that anxiety is prevalent into every age
And every nation,
Fear of both the present and the future.
Is, a poet said,
a small trickle
that meanders through the mind
until it cuts a channel into which all other
thoughts are drained."
Guess what is the most common phrase in the bible?
“Do not be afraid.”
Someone counted: its there 365 times!
one for every day of the year
I’m no numerologist, but I’m wondering
if that’s no coincidence.
I bet Jesus would say something like that if he were here…
And I am, we are, like Martha, distracted…
How close is your phone right now?
How quickly does attention disappear
with the ring of a call, the ding of a text?
And if we don’t charge our phone,
We get scolded, if silently:
why didn’t you look at your text,
listen to your message.
hear this news?
The internet that comes to us in all forms, brings an overload of
information, both important and not so,
so that any kind of central focus
is instantly eroded,
And we get accustomed to that,
maybe addicted to it.
Paul Tillich said:
"There are innumerable concerns in our lives
and human life generally,
which demand attention, devotion, passion.
But they do not demand
They are important, often very important,
for you and me and the whole of humankind.
But they are not ultimately important...."
It may seem unbearably simple,
And you don’t have to have Jesus at your table.
God comes to you, says Fr. Richard Rohr,
disguised as your life.
So, we have to do one thing: fully experience it.
There is, for each of us, at least most of us,
A great, secret hurt
that we carry,
that we may not even realize
or be able to name.
one which Jesus would see
that the Christ knows.
If God comes to us as our life,
shall we not honor and receive that grief
as well as that joyful fullness,
or that profound longing that we experience
in this life,
and allow ourselves to realize that
it is part of the sadness and fullness and longing
Jesus may not be coming to dinner,
but we can meet the incarnate one,
in the depths of our own selves,
in observing and honoring the depth of our own
experience as human beings,
created by God.
We can our offer lives,
offer our workload and worry and distractions
place our lives, full of gaps and holes,
at the center of our consciousness
and, as if Jesus is before us,
allow the love that radiates from him
to Mary and Martha
radiate now to you, as the Christ.
Catch your breath,
feel your hurt,
sense how you are falling
and that which is holding you
and helping you to endure.
Be in awe before the simple truth of your existence,
wonder at the depth and eternity of it
and an incomprehensible love
that can, release you from your busyness
and worry and distraction
if only for a moment.
To trust, as Fr. Rohr says,
that there is a river.
The river is flowing
And that you are in it,
That we are in it
And allow that trust, that calm and hopeful trust
to grow in you
that you can tend, and help others to find.
Since my father died,
the person who has been the one who leads
me into the presence of Christ
is a wonderful old priest –
I have taken nearly every confirmation class I ever led
to walk a prayer labyrinth with him
to feel that fully accepting love
radiating out of him,
as Mary felt in the presence of Jesus.
Vinny is one of the priests whom the new bishop
so I will not have him
to physically go to, anymore.
But, he would remind me,
as Jesus reminds Martha,
to remember that our lives are lived
in the presence of eternal love.
As the carol says,
Love has come, a light in the darkness,
love has come and never will leave us
let us remember that,
let us find a calm and hopeful trust
and be not afraid.
Rev. Patricia A. Wagner
July 3, 2022
What if Christ is in All Of Us
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Galatians 3: 26-29
Its good to sing a Christmas hymn in July
halfway between Christmases
We may be fretting about the price of everything
and the downturn in the stock market,
but Christmas brings stories of a poor savior
born in a stable,
and Bob Cratchits’ family rejoicing
in each other and their modest feast,
and the Grinch realizing what matters.
What matters, we all realize at Christmas
is the most important truth that we will ever know:
God poured Godself into one like us,
and we understand
ourselves and God
and the universe
and who we can be, through him.
Just as in Jesus’ time and in his life,
there is adversity and discouragement
and doubt and death,
But there is a light that has been made known to us
that nothing can erase.
That the light that was in the beginning with God
came into the world in Jesus,
and remains in the world, in us, in Christ.
That’s the message at Christmas,
then why is it so hard to believe in July?
Just like how Christmas decorations seem quaint
and faintly ridiculous when left up too long,
that profound optimism,
that sense of the profound goodness of creation
can feel like a fairytale, or worse
a mocking those who suffer in the present.
We put up the title of our summer series:
“What if everything is going somewhere good,”
on the sign outside.
The idea, as you know is
to encourage an openness to a reality
beyond us, and around us,
and in us,
even in devastating times
that is leading us toward the good.
But on a week with seismic shifts
for environmental regulation, abortion,
rights of privacy,
church and state rules,
shooting death of police officers
and the migrants dying in the heat
and the bombing of Odessa,
a woman called,
left me a personal, blistering voice message
that she was so stunned by the words on our sign,
that she had to pull her car over
to get her breath,
So angry was she at our obvious obliviousness
to climate change among other things,
how dare we say
“ everything is going somewhere good.”?
when everything is going to hell.
She had even gone back, taken a picture of the sign,
and posted it to Twitter, to shared outrage.
I could hear the tremendous pain,
and it made me terribly sad.
Know that I am very sad whenever I cause you pain,
by my action or inaction.
I called her back and I thanked her for telling me,
told her I was sorry for the hurt I’d caused her,
and tried to explain our intention,
to find a greater hope
it wasn’t something she could hear,
I let her know I would change the sign
since grief and anger was not what I had hoped to instill.
It’s not just this year that optimism is hard to hear;
humans, including Americans
have always had reason to despair.
In the heat of the American war in Vietnam
and the brutal Civil Rights struggle
with Dr. Martin Luther King, jr
told us that the arc of the moral universe
but it bends toward justice.
Maybe a bit overly hopeful, some thought
then, some may think now.
There is a utopian ideal in Judeo-Christianity
Wolves shall lie down with the lambs
They shall study war no more on all my holy mountain
Blessed are those who meek
for they shall inherit the earth.
and our lesson today: Paul’s letter to the Galatians
that the old law which codified our ranks is obsolete
there is no language or culture
or status or gender,
there is neither Greek nor Jew
slave nor free
male or female
but all are one in Christ Jesus.
All these visions
are of a deeper , broader,
we see only now through a glass darkly
Divine love has poured out into creation from the beginning
and particularly in Jesus,
divine love, that word made flesh,
who did not abide by these distinctions,
who cared for men and women
gentile and Jew
and every status.
because, beyond his encounter with the Syrophenecian woman
those distinctions have no meaning to him
not in Jesus
Everything that is, as Richard Rohr says,
everything that is visible to us
is the divine outpouring of God’s own self
God’s being which is love:
everything, including you and I,
The Christ, in the beginning with God,
was poured out into the form of Jesus
who becomes the light of the world,
who teaches us that we are the light of the world
It’s a struggle for us to accept that
our life, is divine light and love outpoured
Jesus saw it in us,
even Paul saw it in us.
there is not religion or ethnicity or nationality
or gender that can bypass or surpass this truth,
The divine love that made us
claims all of us,
We are in Christ.
and Christ is in us, all.
including that woman who called me
She is right, to feel so, that is divine hurt in her,
for we have forgotten the holiness of the earth
assuming we have the some god-given right
to destroy people and the earth
if it meets our purpose.
So, not comprehending that the planet is in essence,
love outpoured, that humanity and creatures of the earth
is the great sin – falsely separating ourselves
from the one who has poured out Godself
into all of us.
So, there is work to do,
our work as Christ followers, of building hope,
and faith, and love,
proclaiming , practicing
that the earth is love made visible
and that this radiant, expansive
glorious reality of divine love
That Christ is within us and around us
and that the Creator of all that is
is with us, binding us together,
sharing our joys and our sorrows
guiding us toward a better way
and all that is good news
at Christmas and in July
and every season.
June 26, 2022
What if Our Resurrection Has Begun
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Luke 7: 11-17
Love that song-
There is such longing,
For the “corner of the sky”
Our place in God’s creation.
In the great cosmic story.
It’s hard to see where this cosmic story is going, isn’t it,
At least on this planet,
At least in this moment,
The preacher at our clergy session
Described what a lot of clergy have been experiencing.
There have been so many unexpected
And worrisome developments,
So many changes and disappointing heartbreaks,
So many unknowns, that have occurred
Over the past few years.
For the last weeks,
There’s no end in sight.
We’re worn out.
We’re worn down
And we’re not sure what to think about the future.
We’re not sure what or who we’re becoming
Or if it’s a very good thing at all.
So, and it that’s what clergy are feeling
If that’s maybe what you are feeling,
What Christians bring
To a whole world that is feeling this way.
Let’s see what the founder and perfector of our faith,
Has to say to us today.
Jesus is in Nain, a town about
About six miles from Nazareth,
And coming toward him is a funeral procession
Of a young man;
The only son of a woman
Who is also a widow.
His death has left her alone,
With no status, no means to support herself.
Her future is so uncertain.
And she is weeping.
I want you just to take that in for a moment,
Hear that in your mind,
Let her stand in for someone suffering now.
Perhaps for you,
Perhaps for a woman, or a man,
Anywhere in the world,
Ukraine, Ulvalde, Afghanistan
We reveal our humanity most plainly
In our weeping.
At every Annual Conference
There is a moment when the bishop is thanked
And this year,
After the person spoke of all that our bishop
Has done this past year,
Even as he lost his father to death.
The bishop, was so moved by the recognition of all
He’s been through
He began to weep, and could not stop.
And all those watching, felt something within
We felt with him, we felt for him.
This woman is weeping.
And Luke says, Jesus has compassion for her.
Compassion, translated from the rare Greek term,
meaning that his intestines were torn up.
Her situation tears him up inside.
Jesus of Nazareth
The incarnate presence of God upon this earth,
Feels her pain so deeply it hurts.
Does this not reveal something:
That God hears our weeping, our longing,
Knows we are worn out, worn down,
Whether we are we are poor widow, or a bishop
Or anyone else.
The Holy Spirit that resided in Jesus’ heart
Felt that woman’s hurt
And responded with loving power
Jesus touches the funeral bier,
On which the young man’s body was placed,
Young man I say to you, rise!
And the man, sit’s up,
And Jesus, says the scripture,
Gave him to his mother.
And suddenly, says Luke, the people watching were seized with fear,
They’d heard that he healed
But now he’d raised from death,
Which was terrifying and marvelous
And news spread, quickly, everywhere.
And Jesus knows that it’s a great risk
To reveal the power that’s beyond anything
Human beings on this earth have ever known
That power threatens those who assume
They have control of the people of the earth
But out of love, out of compassion for
Our human condition,
Jesus chooses to tear open the fabric between
Our time and all time.
For while we may think of resurrection
Healing into life, as an event,
Something we want for ourselves and loved ones
Once this mortal coil is shuffled off.
Jesus shows us that resurrection, healing into life
Is the great constant work of God
This ongoing, purposeful, becoming
Underscores all time,
And everything in all creation.
Resurrection is the essence of God’s
Love in action.
Jesus of Nazareth
In this simple, astounding story
Shows us the essence of God:
And this, now, as Christ’s body,
Is our work.
Fr. Greg Boyle works in Los Angeles
With men and woman who have sought
A family and protection in gangs
It is a precarious life, and death comes young.
One young man came to him, saying,
I want to live before I die.
He so wanted to rise,
Not in the next life,
But in this one
Death will come, in its time, to each,
It’s deadness in this one we fear.
And Father Boyle gave him work, and a new community,
He made new friends,
He found joy and purpose and peace,
Before, violence ended his life.
But he had lived before he died.
This longing to rise up,
Is, perhaps, God’s own longing in us
And our resurrections, God’s compassionate response
After Afghanistan returned to Taliban rule,
Young women and girls’ lives were severely restricted.
No longer allowed to attend school past just the early grades
I heard a recording of some young women,
Weeping over their loss, their sense of hopelessness.
But the radio documentary continued.
And teachers, women in Afghanistan and around the world
Felt great compassion
And they have set up online schools
And the girls gather in homes of those with internet
And they described what it felt like to learn
French and History and music
Even new dances
You could hear in their voices, such hope!
Even in the midst of uncertainty, they are becoming,
Their resurrection is happening.
After worship today, I’ll be heading over to Maynard Avenue
United Methodist Church,
It’s the last day for that building to be open.
They are selling that property and Summit UMC is selling theirs
And together they are forming a new church
Circle of Hope UMC
In North Linden, a place that needs an
Open, gracious, reconciling presence.
Resurrection is God’s Constant work in us,
In all of us, together,
And in each of us,
We will know it’s completion only at death,
But for now,
The charge is clear:
We are not to swim in cynicism and despair.
Consider what the Lord has done for you,
What mercies God has shown you,
When a way was made out of now way
When joy returned in the morning,
Lean into it, God can bear the weight of your life
The river of your tears,
Your worries are known, your longings are heard
And if Jesus of Nazareth
Could raise from the dead
Then the Christ that is in
All creation is raising you, too.
Raising Afghanistan, and Ukraine,
And Ulvalde and all those women facing new uncertainties
God is at work, Christ is in the world
And resurrection is happening,
Even there, even here, even now.
Thanks be to God. Amen
Jun 19, 2022
God Plays No Favorites
Rev. Jim Waugh
Acts 10: 9-16; 23-36
When was your last “aha” moment? What is an aha moment? Merriam-Webster defines it this way, “a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension.” It’s one of those moments that when experience it, it changes the way that look at an issue or maybe life itself. It is a moment of insight.
So, as we turn to the text that I read today, we find a big aha moment for Peter and for the early church, but also an aha for us in the church today. You know when an organization or a movement is just starting up, there are a lot of things you must figure out.
I have been involved for the last several months with the startup of a new group in Grove City. It is a new Pride organization – Pride in GC. This is the first time that a Pride group has organized in Grove City. Well, someone had to call a group together to begin the work of organizing the group and there are all kinds of questions:
· What is our target area?
· What is our mission?
· Do we organize as a 501.3c or 501.4c organization?
· Will we charge dues? How much?
· What about a logo?
· How about by-laws?
· Those are just a few of the questions that we had to deal with.
Well, it turns out that the early Christians had some pretty big questions on their plate after Jesus left and ascended into heaven. Even after they waited for the power of the Holy Spirit to come upon them at the day we now know as Pentecost as we celebrated a couple of weeks ago, there were still important matters to be decided.
Foremost among those questions for the early church was, “What about the Gentiles?” And that’s where the account in Acts 10 comes in for us today.
The biggest controversy in the first few years of the church was whether to fully include Gentiles as Gentiles, or whether they needed to be circumcised first.
The early church consisted of Jewish believers. The Gentiles were on the outside of that circle. There was a Biblical Law in Genesis 17:10, “Every male among you must be circumcised.” If a male was not circumcised, they were labeled as unclean. This was a stumbling block for many Gentiles in the first few years of the church because Gentiles were not circumcised.
So, before where I began reading in Chapter 10 today, Cornelius was introduced. He is described as a “thoroughly good man.” We are told that he led those in his household to live worshipfully before God. He helped those in need, and he was a man of prayer.
But –and this is a big BUT, Cornelius was a Roman. He was a Gentile, and on top of that he was a Roman soldier who occupying Israel. As someone has said, “Cornelius was about as kosher as a double bacon cheeseburger.” However, it was to this Roman Gentile that an angel appeared with a message that he should send for Peter who was staying in Joppa.
A few days later, Peter was about to experience his own vision when he went out on the balcony where he was staying in Joppa. He was hungry, and he was thinking about lunch. You never know what might happen when a man starts thinking about his next meal.
In this case as one writer says, “The apostle Peter had a vision while he was on a roof. He saw a sheet coming down from heaven – kind of like a big picnic blanket -- with many animals that according to Biblical Law were unclean. Peter wasn’t even allowed to touch those animals. But he heard God say to him, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ Peter replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.’ He always followed the kosher law.
Like any good Jew, Peter kept the Jewish dietary restrictions. Peter was being a good follower of the dietary laws. But God was changing Peter’s understanding of the law. God said to Peter, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Or as the Message version says, “The voice came a second time, ‘If God says okay, it’s okay.” This happened three times, and then the blanket was pulled back up into the skies. That blew Peter’s mind so much that God had to repeat it three times. After all, Peter was just following the law. And now God was doing something radically new!
As someone noted, “When Peter woke up from his vision, he realized that the message wasn’t merely about eating bacon.” At this point, as Peter struggles to understand what had just happened to him, he does not even know anything about this man Cornelius. Soon, however, he would receive the group of men whom Cornelius sent to summons Peter to Cornelius’ house.
We are told in the text that this group of men met Peter and took him to this Gentile’s home. When he entered Cornelius’ house, Peter said that it was unlawful for him to even be there, but then he flips the script of Biblical Law forever, “but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”
Peter then asked Cornelius why he had sent for him. Cornelius responded by sharing how God had given him a vision to request Peter’s presence and his message. So, with bated breath Cornelius and his household are now waiting to hear the message that God has put on Peter’s heart to share with them. As the Message version of this text reports, “Peter fairly exploded with his good news: “It’s God’s truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from – if you want God and are ready to do as (God) says, the door is open. The Message he sent to the children of Israel – that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again – well, he’s doing it everywhere, among everyone.”
Then, in the next portion of the scripture from Acts that we did not read today, Peter proceeds to share the message of what God had done in Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection and the work that the followers of Jesus were now sent out to do to proclaim this message.
We are told that the as soon as Peter finished his message, the Holy Spirit fell up Cornelius and those with him. The believing Jews with Peter couldn’t believe that the Gentiles had experienced the Holy Spirit. Peter then proceeds to baptize all the household of Cornelius as these Gentiles were now included in the family of faith of the early Christian church.
So, God is active here in this account of Peter and Cornelius. As one writer puts it, “God’s pastoral project is to bring us into an understanding of God’s will so that we may better collaborate with God in the work of salvation. The conversion of Cornelius takes Peter by surprise but not because God decides at the last moment to save an uncircumcised Gentile. As one writer says, “The universal embrace of divine love was promised to Abraham and prophesied by Scripture long before Cornelius was saved.”
But Peter still did not get it, his religious parochialism caused him to divide people into “clean” (repentant Jews) and “unclean” (uncircumcised Gentiles). God’s redemptive purpose for Gentiles could not be realized unless Peter changed his mind.
The issue here is by what manner does Peter learn God’s will to obey it and serve God’s redemptive interests. Peter’s story here helps in two ways in finding God’s will for our lives. Again, as one writer notes, “First, we learn of God’s will from God rather than from our own resources – Peter says, ‘God has shown me” --- As someone has put it, “The Lord is not a passive bystander or a disinterested partner but is committed to a process of disclosure by which God’s will is made known to us.
Second, we typically learn God’s will over time through a series of those “aha” experiences. Peter’s vision of the sheet with the unclean animals set before him initially baffled him.
Peter’s understanding of his Gentile mission grew through a series of events:
· He heard Cornelius testify to his own vision when the angel said that he should send for Peter to visit him and his household.
· Peter had his own moment of internal reflection when he was so puzzled by the vision when God directed him to “kill and eat” and that it was “okay” for him to eat these unclean foods.
· And he grew in his understanding through hearing the reports from others about what a God-fearing man Cornelius was.
Peter only turned to scripture for confirmation only after he learned through these multiple experiences over several days that God’s forgiveness is offered to all people without partiality.
So, this was Peter’s aha moment. “I truly understand that God shows no partiality – God plays no favorites.
Too often those believers who think themselves among God’s “chosen” are often inclined to think that that God has not chosen anyone else who disagrees with their beliefs or with their interpretation of scripture. How often do we see this happen today? We label our disagreeable opponents to disenfranchise them. They are “liberal” or “conservative” or “gay” or “transgender” or Jewish” or “Baptist” or “female” or “black” or divorced” – just to name a few.
Yet what has become crystal clear to Peter is that to do so is not the prerogative of pious Israel or anyone else, It is God alone who judges the living and the dead. As one writer notes, “One of the most surprising features of Acts is the diversity of people God calls to be included among God’s people – all of whom are symbolized by the (Gentile) Cornelius.”
Someone has said that American Christians need to have an Acts 10: 28 moment. Of course, they are referring to Peter’s experience in the passage we have looked at today where Peter had his aha moment and declared “… but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”
Has God shown us that we should never call anyone unholy or unclean? Yes! More than three times. But we still seem to struggle with this very simple concept.
As one writer has said, “I wish Christians today would take this verse to heart. Print it up on t-shirts. Slap that bumper sticker on you SUV. Post and share that meme on your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram page.”
Peter’s vision and what he learned from it is that God plays no favorites. That means no one is rejected. No one is excluded. Not gay people, not transgender people, not Muslims, not Atheists, not Democrats, not Republicans, not Black Lives Matter, not anyone, anywhere, at any time for any reason.
I’ve had my aha moments, too, on my journey toward the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons in the faith community. I’m grateful that back in the 80’s when my views on the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the church and support for families of LGBTQ families was just emerging in my thoughts that God’s Holy Spirit was working on me. I knew that in the small-town church I served I had a family that before I became their pastor, their son had come out as an adult and had left his wife and declared that he was gay. Well, I bought my first back on the subject of homosexuality --The Parents of the Homosexual Child published in 1980 -- so I could learn more before I talked with this family about their son and show my support and care for them.
Little did I know that forty years later, I would be offering classes for parents whose kids have come out. And now, I am resourcing others who want to offer classes or support for parents when their kids have come out.
When I was a district superintendent in the 1990s when Judy Craig was our bishop. At the General Conference in 1996, Judy was among fifteen bishops who broke with the Council of Bishops and made a public statement at that conference that the doors of the church should be open to LGBTQ+ persons. That statement created a lot of controversy among some congregations in our annual conference including some in the Athens District where I served. As I went out to speak to and listen to these congregations, I was placed in a position where I had to figure out what I believed about God’s love for all people and that being gay was not a lifestyle choice, not something that condemns someone to eternal damnation, but being LGBTQ+ is who people are in their best authentic personhood as children of God.
Then our daughter Lisa came out to us as lesbian twenty-two years ago. As a dad on this Father’s Day, I’m glad that God was already working on me before then to show me that God’s love extends to God’s LGBTQ+ children. I was already on my way when Lisa told us she was gay. I loved her then, and I love her and her partner Melissa today just like I love our daughter Laura and her husband Jason and our two grandchildren.
It was through my witness of the lives of faithful people who happen to be LGBTQ+ and through seeing in the scriptures the love that Jesus came to proclaim that God loves all of God’s children that I was prepared to love my daughter, to offer support for parents of LGBTQ+ children, and to become an ally seeking justice in the United Methodist Church.
Yes, I, too, have had my aha moments where God has showed me that God plays no favorites, and that God loves all. And I’ll probably have more of them in the future because I’m sure God isn’t finished with me yet.
Today we are still in a struggle for the soul of the United Methodist Church as we have been for the last fifty years. God is still calling us to be faithful as we welcome and accepts all of God’s children. And while many gains have been made in the larger culture for LGBTQ+ persons, many are still at risk especially LGBTQ+ children who are at a higher risk of suicide.
Transgender persons are especially being targeted in these days. That includes families of transgender children who are in need of support medically and with counseling that some politicians are trying to deny them. I just read on Friday about a resolution passed by the North Texas Annual Conference pledging to defy Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's order to have parents of transgender children investigated if they seek life-saving gender-affirming care for their youngsters.
The resolution put the state on notice that more than 600 North Texas clergy, along with nearly 130,000 United Methodists in 277 churches covering 22 counties have declared themselves safe sanctuaries for trans families," said the Rev. Dr. Geoffrey Moore, the resolution's author, during a sermon June 12 at St. Stephen United Methodist Church in Mesquite, Texas, a Dallas suburb. "This resolution tells the state that we will not criminalize life-saving medical care that medical authorities say is appropriate for trans children," Dr. Moore said.
I hope it doesn’t come to that in the state of Ohio, but with legislation about transgender children coming before the Ohio legislature, the congregations of the West OH Conference – we -- may be called upon to take up such a stance in support of transgender children and their families. We need to stand with those families and with all LGBTQ+ persons and in these days. We are called to live out the truth that God plays no favorites.
In a devotional I read this spring, the writer said that the ubiquitous “All are Welcome” sign has become disdained in many church circles. She writes that it is not that churches do not wish to welcome all people. The tension is between the desire and the execution. Churches often welcome all who can fit in to the often narrow group of whom the people in that church find acceptable.
The writer continues by asking “What if the new vogue in church signs were, “We See with Christ’s Eyes”?
· A church living up to this sign would hold its traditions and habits lightly. It would create new ways when the old ones cause harm or limit the church’s ability to share love and power.
· The people of the congregation would see themselves as a new generation of apostles sent out into the world to see Christ in others and returning every week for prayer, renewal, and to share stories of the new creation.
· In this beloved community, no one is considered from a human perspective but in the light of divine love.
· People are accepted for who they say they are.
· Good boundaries are established and kept.
· Honesty is valued, encouraged, and praised.
· No one grieves alone. Forgiveness abounds and reparations are respected as necessary.
Indeed, if we want to mean, “All are Welcome,” then we must demonstrate how we see all people through Christ’s eyes.
What would it mean for us and for this church and for the church at large to see with others with the eyes of Christ?
What would happen if we were to seek to live out the lesson that was revealed to Peter in our text today?
The encounter of Peter with Cornelius and God revealing to Peter that none are profane or unclean changed the course of the early church and its mission to all people.
God give us a vision and help us to learn that lesson anew in this day for the sake of all your children including your LGBTQ+ children and their families. Let us have our own aha moment as we realize that love is for all. Let us seek to see others with the eyes of Christ.
It’s God’s own truth: nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites. It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from – if you want God and are ready to do as (God) says, the door is open to you!
So let us seek to live in this day!
Trinity Sunday – June 12, 2022
Rev. Patricia Wagner
In a few minutes we are going to baptize Eleanor.
initiate this beautiful child into this ancient faith.
This is Trinity Sunday, the day when the Christian church
Meditates on the meaning of this foundational
Understand of God.
Its completely humbling to try to preach on,
because we know we can’t approximate it
Its unfathomable, but that shouldn’t stop us. It only means that we will never get to the end of it.
We can spend out whole lives discovering it!
So, I’ll I begin with tears I shed
watching the last episode of a series called Grace and Frankie
The series begins as
Grace and Frankie’s husbands announce
that they were in love with each other
and wantto marry.
And so Frankie and Grace,
who never really cared for one another,
find themselves unhappily sharing a home.
Over the course of the seven years,
lots happens, and they
develop a bond stronger
than any other love in their life
I wept at that embrace
For I have known the power of friendship
In our deepest friendships, and they can come in any relationship,
we are understood beyond words, as Richard Rohr says,
We release ourselves to the trust and shelter
Of another person’s soul.
Who receives our sacred and special identity
As we receive theirs
A holy bond
Deep connection, bonds are in our bones.
Scientists look through microscopes
and see how the elements
the very substance of our cells,
respond to each other’s presence,
Enormous energy is found,
not in the elections and neutrons and protons themselves,
but in the bond that holds them together with such force,
we create nuclear power by separating them.
And on a cosmic level,
The energy of the universe is not the planets themselves
The earth is a rock, it has no power in itself
Yet it moves around the sun and the moon around us,
All creation moves as in a dance.
Cosmic energy is in what is between
the planets and the stars
So if relationality
Is the power of the universe.
From our cells to the cosmos
And love is the bond that binds us as human being.
How could Divine Reality, the source of all that is.
Not be relational in its very essence.
Not some separate and on high,
Some God on Mt. Olympus
Or a distance creator
That started everything with a bang
And then left.
But something that was, in the beginning,
Let us create humans in Our image,
And that image is of a loving being
That power, that bonding, that energy
That we know in our relationships,
And in our cells and the cosmos.
That which draws us together
And unites us with God’s own self
Is God’s being
Everything that is or was or will be flows from this love.
The Christ, the expression of love,
Which flowed into Jesus showed us that.
Jesus, for it would take one of us to teach us
the nature of things:
Let the children come to me, do not stop them, and,
the greatest thing one can do is it give one’s life for one’s friends,
And do not even stop love flowing to your enemies.
And forgive them for they know not what they do.
There were no boundaries, no place
No person that holy love could be separated.
I am in the father and the father is in me, says Jesus in John.
And now you, by the holy spirit, dwell in me
In the Christ that has always been
\Because, then says Paul,
Has flowed into our hearts
Through the Holy Spirit.
Love is the presence of God within you,
moving in you prompting you
To pray, to care, to heal, to give, to serve, to love.
And so when we are drawn to love
To give, to respect, to honor, to sacrifice for another
How can it not be of God?
Regardless of whom it is between.
Indeed, how dare we seek to prohibit it,
To judge, to outlaw it,
In a universe that is alive by the bonds
Between our cells, our stars and us,
Why would we want to halt love’s flow?
Love is not something God does, says Fr. Rohr.
Love is what God is.
“Everything you have ever seen with your eyes
is the self-emptying of God into
multitudinous physical and visible forms “
and that pouring out is God, in three persons,
it is creator, is the Christ, made known in Jesus
it is the spirit that flows into you.
Love is not something you do
love is someone you are.
It is your True Self
where you came from , we say to Eleanor in baptism,
and love is where you’re going.
And love is where you came from,
and where you are going.
This is an icon of the Trinity,
painted by the Russian artist, Rublev
In the 1400’s
Do you feel the gentleness here
the deep peace
and respect between them
as they all share from a common bowl?
And note the hand of the Spirit
pointing toward the open and fourth place at the table!
Is the Holy Spirit inviting someone to join them
Whom else but you?
They are all turned to see you!
C.S. Lewis, the Christian author describes
An ordinary woman,
She has been moved, by an inner prompting to pray.
To pray to be whom God longs within her to be,.
And meanwhile she is standing with Jesus in prayer.
In the company of the body of Christ,
The holy trinity of love is circulating within her very being.
And as with her, so with you.
God the creator,
It is what you are praying for,
God, the Spirit,
It is the prompting within you to pray,
God in Jesus, the Christ.
It is your beloved companion along the way.
So, let us know bring this beloved child, Eleanor, into the faith,
Faith in the Loving Creator, into Jesus, the Christ and into the
Even with all that we do not know,
Trusting that the love of God is with us, and with her
Now and forever.
Rev. Patricia Wagner
June 5, 2022
Will you pray with me?
You are the wind that I feel at my back pushing me closer to you.
You are the flame that lights in me to lead me beyond myself,
Let me be the song that you sing,
Send the Holy Spirit to us today so that we may feel that flame,
the flame of truth, within each of us.
It all began when I was a toddler. My grandmother and mom were sitting on either side of me at the kitchen table and I was going to color while Sunday dinner was cooking. Does this sound familiar? I picked up a crayon and my grandmother, who loved me fiercely…. You know the kind of love that grandparents heap on the first grandchild? They watch everything you do. My grandmother took the crayon out of my left hand and placed it in my right hand. As she curled my tiny fingers around the crayon, she told my mom that every time I picked something up with my left, to place it in my right.
I know my grandmother wanted the best for me and she wanted me to fit in and have an easier life being right-handed, in a right-handed world. She didn’t want me to go against the grain. But my mom loved me fiercely too, and she was a little bit stubborn. She took the crayon out of my right hand and gently placed it in my left again. She said it looked like being left-handed was comfortable for me and they should just let me be myself.
My grandmother and mom both wanted the best for me. But, that tension between fitting in versus being my true self has been one that has stayed with me my whole life.
Today, we celebrate Pentecost. The apostles were in the upper room when they were overtaken by the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2:4, it says that they “began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability”. The Holy Spirit gave them the means to spread the Gospel-- to guide all people in the body of Christ. The wind drove the flame of the Holy Spirit on the crowd coming to hear. The Holy Spirit did not discriminate. It was a radical act of inclusivity. We celebrate this as the birth of the church.
Today, we also celebrate the beginning of PRIDE month. Pride is a time for the LGBTQ+ community and those who support and love them to celebrate diversity and inclusion. The celebration is to honor those who have come before, to be more visible in the community, to express the need for equality, and to share a pride in the ability to love themselves and others authentically.
In the Gospel reading today, John 14:15, Jesus calls us to obey the commandments. And you are probably familiar with what Jesus said were the 2 greatest commandments in Matthew 22: “You shall love your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind”. Also, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”.
It seems simple, love your neighbor -- but it is so easy to fall short. God sends The Holy Spirit to walk beside us to remind us that we are all a child of God and are all worthy of God’s love. And, according to John Cobb, a Process Theologian, Christianity is different from other religions because we are also called by Jesus to even love our enemies.
The basic question is what does it take to love yourself and then to authentically relate to your neighbor in a way to love them also?
I know the Bible warns us about a destructive pride. The kind of pride that is boastful and arrogant, that can be used to hurt others. I want to invite you to think about a different kind of pride: a healthy pride. Rev. Edman (Queer Virtue) explains a healthy pride this way:
“Pride is the self-awareness that gives you strength to get through challenging situations. Pride takes your life seriously, all of it: the good and the hard, the joyful and the agonizing. Patrick Cheng, a theologian, says healthy pride is the affirmation of one’s self-worth. This personal affirmation allows us to be authentic and more accepting of others. Pride takes courage to claim your identity out loud.
I am usually a private person but when asked to speak today I wondered if I could be vulnerable enough to share a little about my own faith journey. I grew up attending an evangelical church. It provided me with a wonderful foundation about Jesus and the love of God. However, as I got older, I began questioning and distancing myself from church and from God. I had internalized messages from the church I grew up in and from others in my life. That message was that I was a sinner just for being who I was and because of who I loved. They did not believe I could be a Christian and be my true self. I felt unworthy of God’s love.
I reached out for support in community. I asked them to walk alongside me as I explored whether I could have an authentic relationship with God. There were some dark nights of the soul as I reworked painful times when people had pointed out how I was not worthy of God’s love. One day, I heard Pastor Patty say something in a sermon that stood out to me. She said, “My heart entered into danger and I found my faith”. That’s where I was, in that danger zone, but I was in the danger zone of losing my faith. Or so I thought.
Then, one morning as I was waking up, the chorus of a song came to me from Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash. The chorus goes like this: I fell into a burning ring of fire. I went down down, down, and the flames went higher. And it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire. The ring of fire.”
Well, that made me think the Holy Spirit was telling me I might be going to the opposite of heaven but it made me curious enough to listen to the whole song. As I listened, I was surprised to find that song is about an all-consuming love. A love that permeates your whole life.
I began doing a lot of reading and listening to podcasts from different theologians. In this process – the Holy Spirit became even more real. I began to envision the Holy Spirit as a guide.
I was beginning to see that God was calling me in a new way. God was waiting for me to be open to new possibilities. I gathered my courage to explore creeds, scripture and history. What I found was a journey to freeing Jesus in my life. The flame of the Holy Spirit burned away the shame and unworthiness the church had ingrained in me. I was no longer a scared bud hiding my true spiritual self. My spirituality began to bloom into a confident beautiful flower.
I was able to feel that I have always been a child of God -- no matter what others said to me or about me. I was, I AM beloved. AND the good news is that so are each of you! God made us who we are to be in this diverse world. It took me a long time to find a healthy pride in my spiritual journey. I see now that God asks nothing from us to receive God’s blessing.
Richard Rohr puts it this way:
“God is always given, incarnate in every moment and present to those who know how to be present themselves. It is that simple and that difficult.”
When that love is made aware to you, I promise you cannot keep it to yourself. That flame is present inside of you every moment.
I encourage you to be open to how the Holy Spirit is leading you to have hard conversations. We hear a lot of criticism in the world today but what is gained and makes changes ---is made with love.
Today I don’t worry about how I fit in the right versus left-handed world. I know that I am living authentically and I am an integral part of God’s creation. It’s true, I feel the vulnerability of telling my truth but I also feel the love of God holding me firm.
This truth has cost me friends and maybe some family. I know my family loves me but I often wonder if they love me as the person they want to see or the person they want me to be; not as who I fully am in the eyes of God.
The love between us has been strained over time by the reality of who we each see as God, the loving God of compassion or the punishing God who sees my life as a sin.
There are churches that are leaving our denomination because we have different interpretations of what love looks like and who can fully participate in ordination. I am sorry to say that love has also been strained by politics. It would be negligent not to mention that legislation has been introduced and passed in many states, including Ohio, to strip the rights of LGBTQ+ people and their families.
Despite my vulnerabilities, I stand here today to say LGBTQ+ people exist in our churches. We are devoted Christians too. We long to be involved in every part of the church so we can fully participate together in the glorification of God. I stand here to say that books can be removed from libraries and language can be censured by banning talk about gay people but we still exist. I am also acutely aware as I stand here that there are many who have spoken their truth before me. Some have paid a steep price for their truth. And if my speaking today causes any relationship with me to further strain, friends, I still must be true to who God made me to be.
I have experienced the Holy Spirit at work right here at Maple Grove. I have pride in this congregation because you have let your hearts move into the danger zone that Pastor Patty talked about. You searched your souls and voted overwhelmingly to become a reconciling congregation. I also witnessed the Holy Spirit at work that was so moving when love won and because of that I was married right here in this church!
If I may, I would like speak directly to the LGBTQ+ community; If you are in the process coming out or questioning; maybe you have previously been hurt by the misuse of scripture; maybe you are here in the sanctuary and are wondering if you can say your truth, or maybe you are at home wondering if you can be yourself and affirmed here at Maple Grove. If this is where you are today, I invite you to feel pride in your faith journey. You are deserving of the love and grace of God. Know we are open to walking with you, alongside you, to affirm your place as a Child of God. Come and see what we can do together as a community who welcomes and affirms you, just as you are. You are a beloved child of God.
SONG—No matter what people say, say or think about me, I am a child, I am a child of God…. Choir sings…
May 29, 2022
Rev. Patricia Wagner
He was one of us
Son of Man, child of Mary,
A human being,
made of flesh and bone,
Feel your hands
His were just like yours
Had a heart beating within his chest
A heart that warmed and raced and broke,
A mind that soared and pondered
And eyes that sometimes could not stop weeping
Like ours this week.
He was blessed, tempted, befriended, tormented.
Who knew tenderness, and savagery and practiced forgiveness.
He taught us
To love ourselves
To love our neighbor
To love our enemies
All as God loves us
And to lay down our lives for one another
And then he did
Rather than take back what he’d taught us
Rather than to deny the Christ within him.
To renounce those who said there was no God
but Caesar, or corrupt religious power,
both who proclaimed
God lived by their limits.
Death might have ended Jesus’ life
But not the Christ within him.
On Easter morn
And then, once more and finally
according to both Matthew and Luke.
Luke gives us two accounts of the ascension.
The one David read
And again, in the
Book of Acts of the Apostles.
The Risen Jesus, still bearing the scars of his mortal life
Has been appearing among his followers
On the 40th day, the disciples asked him:
Lord is this the time when you will restore the kingdom?
Still hoping it seems for what Judas and the rebels wanted
for that kingdom of Israel
to rise again in glory and power.
Jesus was always speaking of the Kingdom of God.
And he does, again:
“Yes, you will receive power
from the holy spirit
to be my witnesses”
Mou martyres in Luke’s original language:
the holy spirit will give you power to bear
the cost of following me.
And then he is raised up.
The scarred, resurrected one,
becomes Divine light and grace
his human journey ended,
enfolded into the pervasive presence
Of the Eternal
Jesus becomes Christ for the world.
Here is a poem by Anglican priest and poet Malcolm Guite,
We saw his light break through the cloud of glory
Whilst we were rooted still in time and place
As earth became a part of Heaven’s story
And heaven opened to his human face.
We saw him go and yet we were not parted
He took us with him to the heart of things
The heart that broke for all the broken-hearted
Is whole and Heaven-centred now, and sings,
Sings in the strength that rises out of weakness,
Sings through the clouds that veil him from our sight,
Whilst we ourselves become his clouds of witness
And sing the waning darkness into light,
His light in us, and ours in him concealed,
Which all creation waits to see revealed.
His light in us
We enabled by the power of the spirit
To be his martyrs, his witnesses.
His light in us
seems deeply concealed this week
And our readiness to be his martyrs, his witnesses
I wanted to hear the voice of a victim
And found Taylor Schumann, who was shot through a door
By a young man with a gun at her college in Virginia,
bullet fragments lodged in her eye.
Taylor is an evangelical Christian
And this is her witness:
I believe in the power of prayer deeply.
And I think when we pray about gun violence
we are not always open to hearing what God has to say.
Are we really willing to be used to reduce this violence?
If God’s answer to our prayers requires personal sacrifice,
are we willing to hear that?
Every single year, 40,000 image-bearers of Christ
are taken from this earth by these acts,
If we are truly pro-life, must we not speak for life?
40,000 image bearers, including all those children
What happens when we think of one another this way?
When our understand of Christ for the world
Means Christ in all?
was on the underground train in London,
A crowded train in which all sorts of people
Suddenly, she says
I saw with my mind, Christ in them all.
Christ in every one of them,
living in them, dying in them, rejoicing in them,
sorrowing in them
I came out into the street and walked for a long time in the crowds.
It was the same here, on every side,
in every passerby – Christ.”
I had long been haunted by the Russian conception
of the humiliated Christ,
the lame Christ limping through Russia,
begging His bread;
the Christ who, all through the ages,
might return to the earth and come even to sinners
to win their compassion by His need.
Now, in the flash of a second, I knew that this dream is a fact . . .
Christ in us
Alright, we say, but what do we do with those who commit such
Horrific crimes, surely Christ is not in them.
But Yes, she says, their sin is in reality their utmost sorrow
Christ is suffering in them.
Even in those sinners whose souls seem to be dead.
Who is the life of the soul, is dead in them.
They are his tombs,
yet from such tombs he can rise.
The Christ weeps in those
who have no mercy
these angry, broken, manipulated
sick, and likely grieving men.
pleading: Stop, stop, stop……
But Christ, there, too, in that classroom of holy innocents
And in their teachers, their holy mothers
spreading their arms like angel’s wings
that they would know God’s love in death.
Christ dwelled in them,
And they rose with Christ
Each elder, each child, each teacher,
rose to light, to grace upon grace.
And we, we here in this room
With hearts that beat, and minds that ponder
And hands fit for work
We have been given power by the holy spirit
We, says the risen Lord, not the kingdoms of the earth
We have been been given power to become Christ witnesses,
Paul says to the church at Ephesis:
God will give to you,
A spirit of wisdom and revelation
So that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened
You may know what is the hope
to which he has called you.
Let us feel the Christ within our bones
Within our tears, within our voice.
Let us bear witness
To the Christ within
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Patricia Wagner, Maple Grove UMC
Did anything happen this week you weren’t expecting?
Good things, hard things?
Costs up, market’s down,
And you had to figure out what to do
Feel like you are not getting it right,
Because we are all doing this for the first time
We are all improvising.
And maybe, aside from all the wondrous order of the universe
Creation is full of improvisation,
Of responding to the choices every creature makes.
And bringing forth new possibilities.
And what we sense, we creatures of both habit and impulse,
Is that God the eternal, is in the flow,
In the movement of our lives,
Its changing rhythms, unexpected turns,
Working, as Marjorie Suchocki says,
with the world as it is to bring it to where it can be.
Working with us, as we are, and bringing us to where we can be.
Jazz is a form of music that we don’t typically hear in worship
Worship, at least in many traditions,
Feels reliably steady
Whereas Jazz can seem like it evolving as you hear it,
Jazz has unexpected notes, movements, rhythms,
But somehow, with the right director
And musicians who know music in their souls.
It all comes together.
A good metaphor, says my friend and teacher, Carolyn Bohler
For the nature of the Divine.
A name for God
“Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you”
Says Jesus in Matthew.
Maybe God is like a jazz conductor, say Carolyn,
Who helps us know what to do when the time comes.
Like with the music we will hear now from our choir and instrumentalists:
Ancient hymns to the life of God in Christ
put to new melodies, new rhythms,
We and the musicians, the singers will have to lean in,
trust one another, and their director, Greg,
go with the flow and not worry about mistakes
but keep flowing, together.
So, in the movement, the rhythm of your life,
You respond to what is new
Trusting that you are not alone.
earning to live in the flow.
Responding in way, that,
with our loving Jazz Conductor
Brings forth something good.
Patricia Wagner, Maple Grove UMC
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.