Julian of Norwich and Us
Revelations of Divine Love
Maple Grove UMC
October 10, 2021
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Quotes (in italics) are from "Meditations with Julian of Norwich" a translation of her writings by Brendan Doyle. Bear & Company Publishers, 1982.
We do not know her true name, only the name of the church in which she would come to live, St. Julian's Roman Catholic Church, in Norwich, England. She was born in 1342, and the Black, or Bubonic Plague, reached England in 1349, when she was 7.
The disease was airborne, and was carried by rats and fleas, people and clothing. It traveled the world road, by river or by ship, and caused inflammation and boils and terrible pain. It killed all the street sweepers in London, 2 of every three clergy and a great many children. Half the population of England died, and at least 1/3 of Europe and much of the world.
There was no world health organization to warn or guide, there were no vaccines or treatments other than comfort and quarantine. The plague would come and go for more than would last her whole lifetime, into the next century.
Julian became sick with what illness we do not know, and hovered near death, receiving last rites. During this time, she received sixteen revelations from God.
When I was only thirty and a half year old
I had a sickness unto death
and it pained me to think of dying
not because I had any special plans for my
life, nor fear of any pain
In so short a time,
I had experienced so little of life.
I thought my life as nothing
and no longer giving praise to the Good Lord
but I longed to live to love God
better and longer here,
so I might know and love God more
when in the joy of heaven
Then God showed me in my palm
a little thing round as a ball,
about the size of a hazelnut
I asked myself,
What is this thing?
And I was answered, "It is everything that is created"
I wondered how it could survive
since it seemed so little
it could suddenly disintegrate into nothing.
The Answer came:
"It endures and ever will endure,
because God loves it.'
And so everything has being because of God's love.
Julian felt called to leave her world and was accepted as an anchoress,
After a special service of holy communion, she was conducted to a small room built into the wall of the church with a window to the sanctuary, and one to the outside world. She lived there the rest of her life.
There she wrote down the visions God had given her. And the book, Showings, and her second "Revelations of Divine Love"
are the first known writings by a woman in the English language.
Her words were simple, but stunning, for they turned around the church's teaching of an angry, wrathful God, who set the plague to punish a sinful world.
The True Nature of God
and the goodness
that everything possesses
God feels great delight
to be our Father
and God feels great delight
to be our Mother
and God feels great delight
to be our True Spouse
and our soul, God's loved Wife
Jesus feels great delight
that he is our Brother
and Jesus feels great delight
that he is our Savior
These are the five great joys of God
The fullness of our joy
is to behold God in everything
The Mingling of Sorrow and Joy
Julian recognized it is difficult to feel this joy. People would come to her window at the church to seek her counsel: Mothers and fathers who'd lost children, children who lost parents,
What would we tell Mother Julian? What might she say as we share with her this mingling of heartache and hope in us.
The mingling of both well-being
and distress in us
is so astonishing that we can
hardly tell which state we
or our neighbor are in.
We stand in this mingling our whole life.
We seek rest where there is no rest
and therefore are uneasy.
not knowing that God is our True Rest
Sometimes, we experience such darkness
that we lose all our energy
But our intent in life
is to continue to live in God
and faithfully trust
that we will be shown
compassion and grace.
God did not say:
"You will not be tempested.
You will not labor hard.
You will not be troubled."
But God did say:
"You will not be overcome."
There is no Separation between Us and God
Julian recognized how we fail, she saw it clearly
in herself and in the situations of those who came to her.
But God showed her we are
in her words, "oned" with God,
and have been so
since the beginning of creation
and while we may may be inclined to division
nothing we do or think or say can separate us
now, or ever, from divine love
our trust is not full.
We are not certain
that God hears us
because we consider ourselves
worthless and as nothing.
This is ridiculous
and the cause of our weakness
I have felt this way myself.
But God has chosen the soul of humanity
as his resting place.
God never began to love us
We have always been
known and loved from the beginning.
we are knit and oned with God.
We are unlike God
in our sinful ways.
But our prayer is a witness
to the fact that we want
what God wants.
and this strengthens our conscience
and empowers us with grace.
Prayer ones our soul to God
When we think that our prayers
have not been answered
we should not become depressed
I am certain
that God is telling us
that we must wait for a better time
or that a better gift will be given us.
God kindles our soul
and brings it to life
and makes it grow
in grace and capacity.
All Shall Be Well
I met Julian just when I turned 30, in this translation we are using today by Brendan Doyle, and carried it around in my backpack for 10 years.
When I was so wounded by others, when the world got so grim, when I wasn't sure what or how to believe, I went to this book and Julian met me at the window of her cell and carried me through. As they did all those who came to her window and have come to hear her.
There is no better saint for the times of pandemic than she, no one to counter the world weariness, no one more available to open our eyes
and say, be not afraid.
"Love is his meaning"
We see so much evil around us
so much harm done
that we think it impossible
that there is any good in this world
We look at this in sorrow
and mourn so
that we cannot see God as we should.
My good Lord answered all my questions
and doubts by saying,
full of energy:
"I can make all things well
I know how to make all things well
I desire to make all things well,
I will make all things well,
and you will see with your own eyes
that every kind of thing will be well. "
Afterwards, it was said to me:
"Do you wish to see clearly
your Lord's meaning
in these Showings?
See it well.
was your Lord's meaning.
Who showed it to you?
What did you see?
Why was it shown?
And on the last day
we will clearly see in God
the secret thoughts
that are now hidden from us.
Then none of us will be stirred to say:
" Lord, if we had known these things
then all would have been well."
we will all say with one voice.
"Lord, may you be blessed!
For it is well."
A Small World
World Communion Sunday - October 3, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Galatians 3: 23-29
23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise
For the weeks after my surgery my world narrowed: to my bedroom, then to main floor of the house.
My bandwidth narrowed: Afghanstan fell, Haiti had an earthquake, COVID deaths are still rising and politics is making things worse but I can still barely take it in.
My world became quite small.
COVID 19 narrowed many of our lives to our workspaces, to the length and breadth of our homes, to the care and comfort of our household.
We have lots of new babies in this congregation and for new parents, the world gets very focused on this tiny creature's needs.
It can be a relief, a respite, to focus on the near, on the dear, to care for ourselves, and our households, to let the locus of faith be our home and we all know how hard it is to be a Christian in our own homes or among those closest to us.
Early church life was centered in homes. First for safety then because they had no buildings
Today in our passage we hear about the church in Galatia, Jewish believers and Gentile believers gathered in different homes, each community loving and caring for one another but quite separate.
And that wouldn't have been problematic but there was a question of status. Surely the law said that those born Gentile were not yet fully part of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah's people.
Surely they had to follow the religious laws to be equals in the sight of the Lord.
In some early church communities, particularly in Corinth, there were wealthy believers who could invite many into their homes, both the rich and the poor, for the Lord's supper.
But they did so in the approved custom of Corinth, so the houseowner invited wealthier Christians were in one space and the poor believers, among them those who were debtors, were in a separate space in the same house and fed food and drink inferior to that of the brothers and sisters in the other room.
For Paul, the segregation, the ranking, the unequal fellowship was the culture of the world and the old laws of the faith creeping into the community of Jesus.
The Lord's supper, the common meal, is the essence of the faith, one loaf, one body, uniting believers.
How can we not be equals before the table of the Lord?
He wrote the Galatians a letter, it is the oldest writing in our New Testament, the first preserved.
And these are the most important words in that letter: there are neither male nor female, gentile or Jew, enslaved or free, but we are all one in Christ Jesus. We may live in different households but we are one.
We may speak different languages and have different family histories on this planet. We may be able to leap and run in body or mind and some of our bodies and minds may not.
Because of what we look like, or earn, or do for a living, or how our lives are turning out, we may not think ourselves to be equal, whole, beloved as others are or we may think that our small world is the only one that counts, that we aren't a piece of God's continent, a part of the main.
But all of you are one in Christ Jesus, says Paul.
29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.
Just take that in, for a moment. We are one in Christ. We belong to Christ, all of us, including those outside our small worlds.
Lately I have thought about this theory that there is just six degrees of separation between us and any other persons on the planet. That we know someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows that other person. That we know Fred and Allan and Susan means that we have less separation that that to those on the African continent. All of that is amazing.
But what Paul says is perhaps even more astounding that we are One with these others there is no separation we are in Christ and we belong to Christ.
We started practicing World Communion Sunday back in 1940, when the world was beginning to come apart again for the second time in that century. Because we had to remember, amidst all the conflict between cultures that we were one community of faith. That God so loved not this community or that one, but that God so loved the world.
I heard this week about a young man who was in the World Trade Center when the planes hit and he raced down from the 47th floor and survived,
And he struggled after that because he was unable to get out of his mind
the scene that he left behind—people of all ages, races, genders, nationalities praying, in languages he could not understand, in postures of prayer with which he was unfamiliar. All were praying to one God.
“He asked his pastor, ‘What am I to make of that?... Suddenly, my God was so narrow. As I was running down the stairs, I couldn’t help but think of the God who is claimed by all these people,’ he said.
A God who so loves the world, a rather small world in this big universe and gave us Jesus to love us into loving one another.
A friend of mine, the poet Julia Cadwalder Staub
wrote this poem:
There is no such thing as quantity in love
my mother said, correcting me.
No such thing as “much” love.
You can’t count it.
No such thing as “all my love.”
You can’t contain it.
There’s an endless supply.
I love you, she said.
"I love you," says Jesus,
and there's enough
for this whole world. "
I’d like to talk about the scripture reading today from Mark 6:30-44 or Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000. There are many stories of Jesus doing miraculous things that seem impossible to us now, raising the dead, walking on water, changing water into wine, etc. and we could certainly look at this story as another example of just that. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that interpretation but when asked to preach I specifically chose the version found in Mark because there’s a certain theme to that Gospel that I think can help us with interpreting what we can take away from this passage. This story does appear in all 3 of the synoptic Gospels, Mark, Matthew, and Luke, but Mark is considered the oldest of the 3 and the versions in Matthew and Luke were likely copied and edited out of the account that was first shared in Mark. You see, each Gospel writer had their own idea of the nature of Jesus and what message about him they wanted to communicate out. For Mark there’s a frequent theme that the Disciples and people around Jesus just don’t quite get it. He keeps trying to tell them what they should do and the meaning behind things and they keep failing to carry out his wishes or doubting his explanations. In fact, many scholars believe the Gospel originally ended when Jesus appears to the women at the tomb in verse 16:8, “so they went out and fled from the tomb, for the terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” The End. The women don’t tell anyone that Jesus is raised, Jesus doesn’t appear to anyone else, the mission is left incomplete. It’s believed that once the Gospels of Matthew and Luke became more widely known and there were efforts to combine them all into a common book was when the rest of the ending was tacked on. The original version would certainly make for quite an abrupt ending, so I think it is worth asking what the implications are of ending the story that way. I think when looking at the broader theme of the Disciples not quite getting it, and the abrupt ending, the implication is that YOU the reader are supposed to be the ones the “get it”. We all are the ones being called to carry out Jesus’ mission. To pick up where that incomplete ending left off.
So, what does this mean for how we make sense of this story? For me, I turn to the part where the Disciples tell Jesus to send the people away so they can get something to eat and Jesus said, “YOU feed them.” He doesn’t say “I will feed them” He says, “YOU feed them.” But of course, the Disciples don’t get it and it falls to Jesus to bless the meal and give away what he has. In light of the broader theme of the Gospel, that initial “YOU feed them” though is kind of a command for us. We’re the ones who are supposed to pick up where the Disciples of the story fall short. So, what do we do in that situation? We aren’t Jesus. We can’t create something from nothing. How do we feed multitudes like Jesus did when as individuals we don’t have enough for everyone?...
Not to get too sidetracked but if you’ll indulge a bit of a tangent, I’d like to say that I’m really not much of an actor. Sorry Maple Grove Players, I know you’re always looking for new talent but that probably isn’t me. However, when I was a child, I did rack up a few acting credits. I was one of the 3 wise men at the church Christmas pageant. I think I played some background scenery in my first-grade play called “The Last Litterbug”. Probably the funnies performance was when I was supposed to be a bunny in the background of one play and I decided to wear the wolfman costume my mother had made for me the previous Halloween but replacing the wolf mask for bunny ears. I was definitely the furriest bunny on that stage, but my greatest role, in that I actually had a couple lines, was as one of the soldiers in the story of Stone Soup.
Maybe some of you are familiar with the story Stone Soup. It’s been a while for me but for those that aren’t, the story is about 3 soldiers returning from war who have nothing to eat and are hungry and enter a town and start asking people if anyone can spare some food. At each house they come to the people turn them away. Why should we give what little we have when we can barely feed ourselves, they think? Eventually the soldiers get an idea and they set up a big pot in the town square and fill it with water and start boiling it. They then throw in a few stones. The townspeople see them do this and start to gather around and ask what they’re doing. Well, they say, in the army we got used to foraging for food and making do with what little is available so we’re making stone soup. It’s really good and we’d be happy to share it with all of you. That’s great, the people say, but is it really any good? Oh yeah! Although, it would be a little better if we just had some carrots. Oh well. Hey! I have some carrots says one of the towns people, and they go and get their carrots and chop them up and add them to the soup. Oh, this is great. Too bad we don’t have onions though. That would really make it good. Sure enough, another one of the townspeople says they have onions and adds them to the pot. This continues on and on until nearly everyone in the town has added something more to the soup. In the end they all have a great big feast together that feeds all of them, including the soldiers, and offers better nutrition from their combined ingredients than any one of them would have had with the lone ingredient they possessed. You see, the people of the town were afraid of scarcity and so they all hoarded what they had for fear of not having enough for everyone and being left without enough for themselves if they gave away any what they had. In the end though, there was enough for everyone. There was more than enough because they were able to feed the soldiers too. If they had asked themselves, how can I best help people during these times of scarcity rather than why should I help them, they would have all feasted together much sooner and been able to provide for others as well.
So, let’s go back to the feeding of the 5,000. Perhaps Jesus created food from thin air, and it was enough to feed everyone. I’ve seen it portrayed as Jesus holding up his basket to the air and bringing it down suddenly filled. That isn’t exactly what the scripture says he did. It says he looked up to heaven, blessed the meal broke the bread, but that is certainly a valid understanding of this scripture. God provides for us just as God provided for that crowd through Jesus. But again, I’m brought back to the fact that Jesus initially told the disciples, “YOU feed them” and the theme of Mark is often that we the reader are supposed to pick up where the disciples fall short, so perhaps there is another understanding that speaks to our own behavior. Perhaps Jesus is displaying more of an example to follow rather than another miracle to be an awe of.
Jesus and the disciples did not have enough food for everyone, but he gave all that he had. Perhaps there were others in that crowd that had some food with them too. After all, travel took a long time in those days. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to bring a little something with you if you’re out of the house. Surely most people wouldn’t have had a lot of food with them but perhaps something at least. I don’t know what kind of packer you are when you travel but I know I tend to throw a whole bunch of stuff in a suitcase and end up with more than I need. Others maybe pack more lightly and trust that if they forgot something they can pick up a replacement along the way. That was probably true with the people of that crowd. Some headed out to follow Jesus with extra food because they weren’t sure when they’d get back. Others maybe only brought a little, and still others might have brought nothing. Seeing such a large crowd, most people probably would have been hesitant to offer up what they had because surely no one person brought enough for everyone and if they offered up what they had they’d end up with nothing for themselves. After all, it would barely make a difference in feeding everyone else anyway. Why should they take that chance? Well, Jesus did. He didn’t have enough, and he gave it all. Others seeing that example perhaps decided to share what little they had, and then more shared what they had. Soon they ended up with a classic potluck situation where everyone gets fed and there are more leftovers than you know what to do with. An experience I’m sure we’ve all had at church potlucks, and I hope we can get back to more often again. But the point is, when everyone chipped in and thought about how they can help rather than why should they help, there turned out to be more than anyone ever expected.
So what does this mean of us, for our community, for society as a whole? I am a believer that the primary message of the Bible is not about waiting for God to magically change the world and all we have to do is stand by and believe. I believe the primary message of the Bible is that we are called upon the create the kingdom of God here on Earth. The responsibility is on us to do “On Earth as it is in heaven.” So, when we look to the message of the Gospels, we look to find the plan Jesus lays out for how we can better create that kingdom on Earth. I remember theologian John Dominick Crossen once said, “Heaven’s in great shape. It’s this world that needs fixing.” But is the problem that there isn’t enough or that it’s just not getting to the people who need it? An interesting fact of nature is that a population cannot increase without there being enough food for the existing population. It’s physically impossible. Our bodies must be made of something for there to be more of us and so it’s made from the food we eat. That means for every year that human population increased on this earth there wasn’t just enough food for everyone, but more than enough. Enough to sustain the even larger population to allow it to continue to grow. So why are there people who go hungry? Not just throughout the world but here in our community. The problem isn’t a lack of resources. It’s a lack of equitable distribution of those resources.
Now I don’t claim that these problems have easy solutions. I called this sermon “How can we rather than why should we?” because asking ourselves “how can we help” is a legitimate question without an easy answer. This is a question all churches and this very congregation often struggles with. For example, we have a covered porch with benches and a blessing box as a constant source of some food and other necessities. It is not at all uncommon for the occasional homeless person to choose our porch as a place to rest. Having such facilities is practically a magnet to bring in people who have nowhere else to go, but this church has also come a long way in embracing the opportunities the Holy Spirit puts before us even though we may struggle with how best to meet those opportunities. I was in a committee meeting not too long ago and we were talking about some of our early experiences with this church when we first joined. One person who had been here longer than I mentioned how when they first joined there was talk about how to get rid of some homeless people that had been hanging around. There was very much a mentality of “why should we help” rather than asking “how can we help?” If this congregation was the same now as it was then the answer would be to get rid of the blessing box, change the benches to those kinds that don’t offer enough room to lay down like I’ve seen so many cities using as a draconian method for further displacing the homeless. Doing whatever we could to make the church less hospitable to anyone who would come here for shelter. In more recent times though, a ministry group has been gathering to figure out how we can use the opportunity to help the homeless rather than try to get rid of them. It’s an ongoing process and COVID certainly makes it more difficult to do any number of ministries, but I am certain that far more good will be accomplished from that “how can we help” approach rather than the “why should we help” approach.
What about society as a whole? I mean when you think about it, if we’re supposed to be creating the Kingdom of God on Earth than that goes beyond what we do as individuals. We have to actually change what we prioritize as a society. Now of course there is the classic argument, teach a man to fish rather than give him a fish, but honestly how often is the argument genuinely used to propose a better way to do something rather than just thrown out there to justify not doing something? We live in fear of the scarcity of resources in this world, but they aren’t as scarce as we often act like they are. Instead, we hoard what we have and at best perform little acts of charity to assuage our guilt rather than truly changing the circumstances that create the imbalance. Like I pointed out before, there is and continues to be more than enough or else there wouldn’t continue to be more people. These are difficult problems. Finding solutions that work logistically, fairly, and sustainably are complicated. It is not my intention to seem like I’m promoting any particular policy choices or a specific approach. However, what I do think is that if as a society we approached the problems of the world with a more of a mindset of “how can we help” we would find more solutions than avoiding the problems with a mindset of “why should we help.” In some ways, the easiest thing we can do in so far as it requires the least individual effort, is to use our voices and influence to at least push our society to lean more toward that “how can we help” mentality. With enough of us pushing in that direction it could make a difference in addressing some of those global and national problems that can often seem so far outside our individual capacity to solve. Remember the people in the crowd with Jesus and the townspeople in stone soup knew they didn’t individually have enough to solve the problem. It took all of them collectively to solve the problem and to do that it took having faith that their limited individual contribution would still be enough as part of the greater whole. We as Christians must have faith that God did provide everything we would need, assuming we didn’t hoard it and create an imbalance of distribution. I’m reminded of Matthew 6:26, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither so nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” What we need has been provided as matter of our very existence and we’ve proven that by continuing to multiply on this Earth. We may not be able to multiply as we have been indefinitely but so far we’ve managed to have enough and so we know we have enough at least for right now and yet people still starve, people are still not provided for.
Let us look to Jesus not simply as a miracle worker in the sense of bending the laws of physics to create something from nothing. Let us look to him as an example to follow. Doing things that actually are within our power to do. “YOU feed them,” he said. That means YOU here now, and me, and all of us. It won’t be easy. Our world is complicated, and it can be hard to know what the best solutions are. What’s important though, is that we have faith the solutions are possible, that the resources do exist, and that we approach all these problems with a mentality of “how can I” rather than “why should I.” The first step is always making the effort rather than making excuses. The church is a great place to start because we’re already part of a community that’s making the effort but let it just be the beginning rather than the end of those efforts. Let us do on Earth as it is in heaven. Let us ask of ourselves, “How can I best feed them.”
Let us go to God in prayer:
Gracious God, we thank you for all you have provided. We know that this earth was made with all that all of us could need. We ask your forgiveness for not always letting everyone have access to what they need. We ask for strength to overcome our fears that cause us to hesitate to provide, that cause us to hoard what we have, that cause us to fall short of building your kingdom. We know that through you all things are possible and that all our problems do have solutions. We seek your guidance in finding those solutions and walking with you. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
SCRIPTURE: James 3:1-10 (The Message)
1-2 Don’t be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards. And none of us is perfectly qualified. We get it wrong nearly every time we open our mouths. If you could find someone whose speech was perfectly true, you’d have a perfect person, in perfect control of life. 3-5 A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! 5-6 It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell. 7-9 This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth! 10 My friends, this can’t go on.
When I chose this lectionary passage a few weeks ago, I first thought I would entitle the message, “Words Have Meaning.”
I don’t know how many of you are like me, but I can’t ever remember experiencing such hate-filled rhetoric like that which has gripped our country. Such denigrating of one another, often shouting at one another, sometimes even threatening one another. Over race, immigration, gun control, abortion, gay marriage, climate change, mask wearing, COVID vaccinations. You know the hot-button issues.
It has split families, friend groups, work settings, and church communities. We’re reading about nurses quitting. School boards members quitting. School bus drivers quitting. Teachers leaving early.
We refuse to watch TV news that doesn’t line up with our own views. Gone are the Walter Cronkites. Remember how he was "the most trusted man in America,” as the CBS Evening News anchorman for 19 years. Now we call journalists “the enemy of the people.”
And some of the worst rhetoric is coming out of the church, even from our pastors! I have no idea why a longtime friend of mine would think I would like a YouTube video he recently sent me. It was of a Greg Locke, pastor of the Global Vision Bible Church in Mt Julie, TN. Pastor Locke was ranting while on a plane heading for Florida where he was going to be preaching at a youth retreat.
Among other things he said, “The Delta variant is nonsense! They’re going for Round Two of the Liberal Lockdown.” He went on to scream, “If you show up at our tent with a bunch of masks, I’m going to ask you to leave. I don’t care how mad you get.”
There’s a sign in front of his church that reads: “Our campus is a mask free church. Either kindly remove them or sit in your car.”
There was a letter to the editor this week bemoaning the state of the church where the person wrote: “I have evangelical friends and atheist friends…and I’m starting to like the atheists more.”
As we try to wrap our hearts and minds around 9-11 this weekend after 20 years, we are painfully aware of how words have had real consequences. Initially our feelings of patriotism and unity with one another were unlike anything I’ve experienced in my lifetime. I had never seen so many people fly American flags. The Pew Report said that as many as 79% of Americans did.
I had a young mother and her two teenage sons who lived directly across the street from my Lewisburg parsonage knock on our door right after 9/11 to talk frighteningly about whether we were coming to the end of the world. The three of them started coming to church for the first time in their lives. Remember how church attendance spiked?
But that spirit of solidarity and unity didn’t last. For it wasn’t long before the rhetoric of fear and revenge and this thing called Islamophobia took over. It led us into two wars at an estimated cost $6.4 trillion and over 800,000 lives lost. Anti-Muslim hate crimes increased 1,600% in the first year after 9/11, even though people from 93 countries were represented among the almost 3,000 who died that day.
You started hearing stories like the frightened little 10-year-old girl and her younger sister wearing their hijabs and running home in Brooklyn scared to death. A car had pulled up and a man spit at them and screamed, “Terrorists!”
Fourteen years after 9/11, in early September 2015, a Muslim man, Ayhan Kaklik, who lived in apartments across the road from my Bethel International UMC walked into my office. His wife was in one of our ELS classes. He wanted to ask if I might come to his Turkish mosque to talk to a group of men in their 20’s about something confusing to all of them. That it seemed like Christianity worshipped three Gods. Of course, he was talking about the Trinity, a concept not easy to fully comprehend by any of us.
When my devoted and protective secretary heard about it, she pleaded with me not to go. “You could be seriously hurt, Pastor Mike. You can’t take that chance!”
But a retired attorney who was in my Wednesday morning small group came to the rescue. When he heard I was going, because of his interest in world religions, he asked if he could join me. Now I was “safe” since Denny would act as my bodyguard.
So, on a Thursday early evening, Denny and I went over to TASO (Turkish American Society of Ohio) and first enjoyed a pizza supper. Then we went into a prayer room with Ayhan and about 15 young men and spent close to two hours together discussing the Trinity and some troubling issues on our part about radical Islam.
When our time came to an end, I asked if we might all pray together, not knowing exactly how to do it. I suggested that one of them pray for all of us. But they insisted I should pray, as their “honored” guest.
I don’t remember exactly what I prayed, but I do remember closing with a passionate plea for our children. With my amen, I realized that I could hardly see through the tears that were pouring from my eyes.
One by one each of those fellows came up and gave me a hug. They then walked Denny and me to our car, saying that we “must do this again.”
That led to a group of our church’s women and some young women from TASO to begin meeting regularly as “Sisters in Faith.” I preached about our coming together not long after our visit, and to my surprise the sermon went viral within the Muslim community, with feedback from as far as Chicago.
In early December of that year, Ayhan asked if he could offer what he called “Noah’s Pudding,” or Ashure, as a thank-you gift to our congregation. He said that he loves to give it in large quantities, to at least 200 people.
I said, “Maybe we could do that, but what in the world is Noah’s Pudding?” He then told me how tradition has it that after Noah’s ark came to rest on Mt. Ararat, Noah gathered anything that was available—dried fruit, nuts, grains, and the like—and cooked them to form a sweet-tasting porridge or pudding. It was given to his surviving neighbors as an offering of peace and love.
As I thought about it, I said that we have a special cantata Christmas Sunday coming up where our various worshipping communities come together, including our Korean congregation, maybe as many as 400. He said, “That would be great!”
So, on 12/20/15 at least twenty Muslim folks joined with us for Christmas music and celebration. I asked one of their men to play the Ney Flute, an ancient Turkish woodwind, dating back as far as 4500 years. I also asked one of their women, an OSU professor, to join with me in giving the benediction. Then several of them lined a table and passed out Noah’s Pudding to the worshippers as they left.
Because it was Christmastime, several guests were on hand. Some of them came up to me after the service and said, “If this is the kind of church you have, I think I want to come back for more.” I also had a few of my own members tell me, “Pastor, you have drunk the Muslim Kool-Aid.”
Since then, I have never missed a Ramadan without being in Ayhan’s home for an after-sunset, Iftar meal with other friends of his. They have joined with my wife, Diane, and me at our own home for dinner. I have prostrated myself with them at prayer time, praying my own prayer, but to the same God.
The experience is always the same. Kindness within a warm embrace exuded—the language of love. No one is trying to change the other person. Just trying to celebrate those things we hold in common and understand with appreciation that which is different. It’s become God’s greatest surprise gift to me in this late stage of my ministry. It has shattered many of my stereotypes.
I share these things to remind us that the volatile, tense, factional setting in which James was writing wasn’t a whole lot different than ours today. There were economic problems in the Roman world of that time and there was intense in-fighting among different factions.
A few years after James wrote these words, a powder keg would be lit when the Jewish Zealots revolted against Rome in 66 AD. It was a disaster, resulting in the total collapse of Jerusalem and the destruction of Herod’s temple within 4 years. Is it any wonder that one of James’ primary themes of his letter was that words DO matter?
Remember verse 6 from today’s reading? “By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos…send the whole world up in smoke, and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.”
James then goes on to say: “With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth.”
There's an old adage that goes: “If you really want to know about a person's character, watch how that person treats the waiter at a restaurant.”
Does he treat the waiter as a person, or merely as a servant? Kind words aren't meant only for friends. We're to offer them to everyone because they, like us, are made in God's image. You can't bless God and curse his image at the same time.
Knowing how words do matter, we look to Jesus as our model. Let’s go for a moment to Jesus’ first sermon. We know it as The Sermon on the Mount.
He starts with eight Beatitudes or beautiful attitudes, filled with beautiful words. Let’s take the first couple of them. Hear the Lord’s words and their tone.
From Matthew 5:3 --“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
What does “poor in spirit” exactly mean? Listen to a different translation, the New Living Translation. God blesses those who realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.”
Or how about God’s Word Translation? “Blessed are those who recognize they are spiritually helpless. The kingdom of heaven belongs to them.”
The word “blessed” in Greek can also be translated as “happy” or even “congratulations.” So, here’s my favorite: Congratulations to those who now feel empty at the very core of their being because of their need for God. They are already citizens of God’s Kingdom.”
Beautiful attitudes. Beautiful words. Jesus’ words. They not only draw us into the heart of God, but they bind us all together. Jesus’ words are sweeter than honey.
Let’s look at Matthew 5:4 --“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
The word for “mourn” here means the kind of grief and agony you feel from having lost the most important person in your life. You’re blessed because this kind of mourning shows the depth of your love.
The JB Phillips NT Translation puts it this way: “Happy are those who know what sorrow means, for they will be given courage and comfort!”
And here’s Eugene Peterson’s The Message: “You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.”
Looking at different translations is a way the bible can speak fresh words to us, even when we’ve read the same passage a hundred times before.
Words do matter and Proverbs 16:24 tells us that “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweet to the taste and healing for the body.” We really need to believe that and practice that as Christians. The whole world is watching.
In retirement, I’ve stepped up my game in working with a faith-based prison ministry out of Marysville and Marion called Kindway. I didn’t fully appreciate the name Kindway until preparing for this sermon.
It is a powerful, faith-based program that involves inmates 18 months prior to parole and follows them through a mentoring and halfway house component for a year after release. I’ve taught Bible classes at the prison primarily for lifers and have been a Navigator for a few on parole. After ten years of operation and dealing with close to150 men and women, their success rate stands at an unheard of 98.5% (only two have returned to prison).
After they have surrendered completely to Jesus Christ, I wish you could hear their choice of words. They are filled with kindness and compassion and love, the kingdom of heaven kind of words Jesus spoke of in the Beatitudes. Never do the guys that I mentor fail to say “I love you” when we part company.
Within the last year, Stan Stever was released after almost 33 years and has already become a staff member of Kindway. In his early prison days, he was a leader among the Arian Brotherhood. I can only imagine the vile, hate-filled speech that spewed from his mouth for the better part of his lifetime. But Jesus Christ has so transformed him that some of his dearest friends are now African American.
Sam Webb, who I continue to mentor after two years away from prison where he spent close to 40 years incarcerated, is one of the gentlest souls you want ever want to meet. Sam was a boxing champion in his early days in Ohio prisons. His words, like so many of the others, are like heavenly music to the ears, sweeter than honey, always a very taste of this kingdom of heaven.
James wrote for us today that a word out of your mouth can be like a spark which sets off a forest fire. I would say that the converse is also true. A kind word takes but a second to say but can last a lifetime.
My goodness, if speaking kindly to plants helps them grow, imagine what speaking kindly to one another would do…with Jesus as our model.
GOD’S PLAN FOR YOU AND ME
REV. MICHELLE BAKER
MAPLE GROVE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
SEPTEMBER 5, 2021
I am so glad to be with you today to be offering the message and serving at the table for communion. Both are near and dear to my heart as is this congregation. Patty asked me to offer a message of my personal life and faith. There was no question which scripture I would use for today but Jeremiah 29:11. This is my life verse. Listen to it again.
For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord. Plans to prosper and not to harm, to give you a hope and a future.
There is a joke that says: Do you know how to make God laugh .... Tell God your plans. This seems to be so true in my life. I say often, that before I die, I want to learn the difference between my time and God’s time. I’m getting better, but I still have a way to go.
As we begin, Let’s look at the setting in which this scripture is placed. This is part of a letter that God had the prophet Jeremiah write around the year 600BC to a group of Jews who are living in Babylon approximately 400 miles from Jerusalem. They were exiled because of their sins and idolatry. God was giving the land rest for the centuries the Israelites had not kept the Sabbath. They had acquired the values of those around them, not living a life of faith. Living here was not their choice. They were exiles.
The Babylonians had come and literally taken them away from their families and friends, and forced them to leave their jobs and their homes, and to live in a place and culture which was totally foreign to them. This was nothing they wanted, nothing they planned and certainly in their foreign culture, nothing they understood.
Previous to this passage God tells them to get comfortable in their new surroundings. Because they were to be there for the next 70 years, if you ask me, that was a very long time out. BUT God assures them that he had a plan for them ... not to hurt or harm them. A plan with a purpose. What was the purpose.? The Lord planned to prosper them, to provide them with hope ... to provide them with a future.
I think we can understand theoretically that God has a plan but when we are in the midst of trial and difficult times that consumes us, it is hard to see to the other side. Sometimes I feel like that is the world we are living in right now. A virus that just does not seem to stop, fires - earthquakes -hurricanes - global warming, hatred and division even within those who are profess to follow Jesus. I don’t know about you but there are days I absolutely feel like those Jews in Babylon ... I know God has a plan but I would sure like to be brought into the loop and to how this will all work itself out.
To help us make this verse a little closer to our heart, I would like to substitute two words from what we have read. 1. Let’s put dreams in place of plans ... 2. and the original Greek meaning of hope is confidence. Let’s listen again. For I know the dreams I have for you declares the Lord, to give you confidence and a future. I don’t know about you but that lets me see this in a whole different way.
God's dreams for me? Really? The creator of the universe has dreams for me? Yes, God does have dreams for me and for you. If God created me in God’s image and calls me his daughter, why wouldn’t he have dreams for me. Think about parents. All parents have dreams for their children. Why would it be any different with our creator? And it is the same for you. God created you and calls you son or daughter and has dreams for you. It doesn’t depend on you believing it, feeling it or even understanding it. God has dreams for each of us.
Now the other word we substituted was confidence for hope. To give us confidence and a future. I know when I have confidence in achieving something, it becomes easier for me. I believe in my ability. And to think that God gives us that confidence makes it all the more attainable.
God has dreams for you, and instills confidence in you to see the future that God plans.
I’m quite sure I didn’t understand this for many decades of my life. I want to take you on a short trip to places in my life that now, I can see where God's plans helped to form me into the person that stands here today.
Let’s start in the early 1960’s at Worthington Methodist Church. There was a little girl that cried because she was too young to join the children’s choir and when she was old enough stood up in the choir loft and sang to the depths of her soul. (Infant Holy, Infant Lowly was the first song I sang in church, so Quinton if you could put that on out list every Christmas that would make me happy).
Fast forward to the mid 70’s. I went on a mission trip with another church to Broken Bow Oklahoma to work with the Choctaw Chickasaw Indians. I planned and ran a VBS for the children on the reservation. In our evening vespers I remember crying every night. The leaders passed it off as being homesick, but I look back and realize it was the first time I felt the Holy Spirit washing through me and I had no clue what to do with it.
Also during this same time frame I had just completed confirmation and finally I Was allowed to teach Sunday School. One year in the 3’s class, one year in the Kindergarten class and my senior year was lead teacher of the Kindergarten. That was God's training for a future in Christian Education.
Fast forward to 1992 on the steps right here. I was 9mo pregnant with Connor and friends ... there was no better time to play Mary during a children’s sermon than that moment. I told the children about this amazing gift and a very young Kate Morgan looked up with those beautiful blue eyes and said, Oh Miss Michelle ... You mean God loves me that much. I literally thought I would melt into a puddle and slide down the steps. Friends little did I know it then, but God had a plan ... that was my call to ministry. All I knew was I had a story of God's love that I needed to share with others.
7 weeks into life with our newborn, and he was desperately sick and in the hospital, not knowing if he was going to live or die. This was the first time I was able to cling to this verse when in the wee hours of the night I was rocking my baby and praying hard. God calmed my soul and allowed my faith to grow exponentially. I was able to come to a place that if he wasn’t going to make it, somehow I would figure out a way to move on, with God's help, how to be ok. We made it home and it was a rough couple years but 4 months in, his pediatrician said someone needed to stay home and manage him medically. I needed to give up my professional career as an epidemiologist and data analyst. But when I did that, I now had the time to concentrate on my part time job here at MG as DCE and found that ministry fulfilled me like nothing ever had. I now had a path to follow that call to ministry. If you don’t know, that little baby boy is a happy and healthy 28yo married man now.
I want to make a caution here, I in no way believe that God caused Connor to be sick in order to fulfill his dream of me being a minister. My theology simply does not allow for that. But he did give me the ability to see through an unimaginable time and find good within it.
I started a full time position at Hilliard UMC as minister of education, graduated from seminary and was zooming toward ordination when it felt like every support I had fell out from under me. I was denied ordination the first time I interviewed. I had to take a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. I picked Children’s Hospital because my ministry experience had been with children, youth and families. One late night on call I had to pray a 4month old into heaven as we discontinued life support. Friends I cannot describe what it felt like but I literally felt heaven and earth touch in that moment. I knew without a shadow of a doubt chaplaincy was my next step in ministry.
God said it wasn’t time yet, because the wheels were coming off my marriage and I needed to heal. The church (not a west Ohio church) where I was serving told me because of that to go find another job elsewhere. I needed time to heal. And so I did. During this time, working a non ministry job, I had our verse for today taped to my computer monitor. I read it literally hundreds of times every week. I didn’t understand it, but I believed it. And now I have completed my advanced training, became board certified and have been a hospice chaplain now for 10 years. People ask me how I do this difficult work and I can safely and confidently, It’s where God calls me today, where God calls me tomorrow, I’ll just wait and see.
This is only just the highlights in my life, and dare I say does not even begin to tell the story of how many times I made a plan, tried to change the major or minor events of my life, because ... surely I know better what direction my life should’ve. What plan are you on, B, C, T, or maybe Z? How often do we wonder? “What's next”, “Where is God in all this?” or maybe “God, what is your plan?”
If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. The Jewish people of Jeremiah’s day had to feel like this. The prophet Jeremiah spoke for God and told them to hold tight, hang on ... God had a plan and it's to give you hope and give you a future. Have you felt like this last year and a half has had us in exile? I would venture the answer would be yes. How many of our plans have been derailed. How many of our dreams have been derailed. We don’t know where this will all end, but I pray it isn’t what the Jewish people were told, 70 years. We have been separated from loved ones, activities that nurture our soul, loss of work and so much loss of life, and then not always being able to even celebrate our loved ones lives when they die. But I assure you, God tells you today to tell you that God has a plan for your life, and God offers you a future.
Sometimes in our lives, bad stuff happens. I almost lost my first born, I didn’t plan on being a single mom, I certainly didn’t expect a church to let me go because I was no longer married, and my career goal was clear -- I was going to find the cure for cancer, not be a pastor for heaven sakes. All things I didn’t plan, but I can see how my faith grew, my personal strength grew, and my relationship with God grew out of the difficulties in my life.
There were many times when I cried out wondering where God was in the mess.
But in times like this, I think God is calling to us to look to God for our security and strength. The Psalmist tells us in Psalm 121 [my favorite Psalm] “I lift my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from. My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” Sometimes in difficulty it is not where is God, but Where are we, What have we been going? Like those in exiles, we too often realize that we also are trying to blend in with society instead of being a light in the darkness. That isn’t always the case, but I think it bears giving ourselves a reality check as to where we are in relation to where God’s word tells us to be.
God often uses our mistakes or our heartaches, if we allow it to fulfill the bigger plan for our lives. God has a plan for this world, even if we cannot figure it out in these days, and God tell you and me that there is a plan ... and God wants to be sure that that plan includes you.
I asked my coworkers this week in our team meeting what this scripture meant to them. Here are a few of their responses. There are things in life to look forward to and life will be happier. God is in control, especially now. I hear emotional fulfillment. God loves me more than I know and wants the best for me.
But it was my friend and coworker Kari that I think hit on the ultimate meaning of this passage, God does give us a hope for a future ... its not just our life on this earth, because this life is temporary. God wants us to focus on the eternal - the life to come. I love the beginning of the Gospel of John chapter 14... and I take this from the Rev. Michelle paraphrase version of the Bible. “In my Fathers house there are many rooms, and if it was so, I would have told you. And because it so, I will come and take you to be with me, because where I am you will be also.”
That’s God’s ultimate promise for you, Jesus tells us that we have a place in heaven. God’s ultimate plan is to spend eternity with you in heaven.
Jesus died on the cross for you and me and the world. The creator of the world wants to spend eternity with you. In the grand scheme of things, the bumps in the road of life begin to pale. God tells us to be secure in the plan, whether we can see the outcome or not.
You probably are saying, thats all well and good, but how do we put this into action? I was thinking hard on this when I felt pulled to my momma’s well used and worn Bible. We have talked about verse 11 this morning, but mother has V12-13 marked and highlighted.
“When you call upon me and come to pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.”
Prayer ... connection to God ... looking for God in the crazy events of life. Seek God with all your heart. That's what God wants. All of us, to put God first in our lives. To do all the good we can with our time on earth, and look to the future of eternity.
We prepare now to join at God’s table through the sacrament of Holy Communion. We remember the sacrifice Jesus made for us, his death on the cross for which he paid the price for our sins, and so that we will spend eternity in heaven. Have confidence in this dream of God, to have a relationship with you throughout your life on earth, as well as eternity.
One Vital Question
August 29, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Charles Hill
OT-II Sam 15:1-12//Luke 16:19-24//Acts 5:1-6//Philippians 4:8-9
King David was a great leader. He was, without question, the most powerful man in Israel for a long time. He was also richly blessed by a number of very kind biographers. Sometimes that is most important for a great person.
He was: From the tribe of Judah
Born in the town of Bethlehem
Youngest son of Jesse
He was a shepherd boy
He was great as a child: he killed Goliath
He played the lyre, or harp, and was drafted to play for King Saul—to
calm him. No Zoloft then.
He was lauded by the citizens. They sang:
“Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands.”
David was made King and
he brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem
and as he did that he danced and had a great time.
He made Jerusalem the seat of government and
was baptized with the Power of God.
And that all adds up to quite a heady resume.
But as he enjoyed one success after another, he apparently had not bothered with that One Vital Question that is on my mind today. At least not on a daily basis.
The King was walking one evening on the palace roof. Roofs were flat in that area of the world. And he was cooling himself at close of a long demanding day. And just over in the next yard Bathsheba was cooling herself with a nice lukewarm bath. (Now I must admit that I have some trouble evaluating this picture. Could she not see the man on the roof?). Well, you know the rest of the story. He sent a servant to fetch her and he lay with her. And she conceived. And the king said, “Oh, I may have a problem.” The good king had not considered that One Vital Question. And now he had to think fast. He did. And when his plan was fully carried out Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, was dead. ---And he thought he had saved the day and his reputation. But God was watching. Through the eyes of Nathan. –King David was not above not clearly thinking about consequences.
He had some of the same problem with parenting. One son, Amnon, abused his half-sister, Tamar, who happened to be Absalom’s full sister. Raped her. And David did nothing about it. Nothing. So, Absalom waited his chance. And then created the opportunity. And he killed Amnon. Then fled to a nearby area where another king ruled. And he stayed there for three years. And while there he was developing a plan.
But in all that time the King longed to see his fair-haired son, Absalom. He went on about it until Joab, his general, arranged the homecoming.---Now it would be well that we take a closer look at Absalom here. The author of Second Sam:
Now in all Israel there was no one to be praised so
for his beauty as Absalom; from the sole of his foot
to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him
and when he cut his hair once a year, said hair weighed
in at five pounds.” II Sam. v25f
And now this beloved boy was home. David was ecstatic. But Absalom was restless. For he knew he could do a much better job at leading than dear old dad. So, he began HIS journey to the throne. Except he did not pause to consider that One Vital Question of which I am speaking. He was on a mission, but he had missed something.
He secured himself some fine horses and a golden chariot and he raced around the city. He also hired fifty strong men to run ahead of him announcing his coming. Yelling about how great Absalom is. You get the picture. And the king did nothing. Absalom would go to the city gate and talk with the elders. He would ask about their needs. They would tell him. He, with a hound dog expression on that perfect countenance would say, “I feel your pain. And if I were king I would take better care of you.” But apparently he never asked the question.
So, Absalom attacked his father, and King David went weeping into what is now Jordan I suppose. And he told Joab, the general, be kind to my son, my Absalom.
Joab was told Absalom was caught in a tree. The rider reminded Joab what the king had ordered: treat him kindly. And Joab went and found him hanging by his hair (It must have been too early in the spring for him to cut it) and Joab killed right there. And the King wept and wept. Secluded himself and mourned. Until Joab went and told the king to get hold of himself and be grateful to all who had risked their lives to save him. Here was the greatest king Israel ever had, and a son that must have looked like a body builder and beautiful to boot. Neither ever paused to ask the question
And, in the Luken lesson we find the rich man, a farmer, whose land produced and made him rich. He had to expand the barns and grain storage units. He had it all, and he didn’t see how his great success should be shared with others. So, he just built and built, until he died. And then he discovered he was not lauded as a great farmer, but denigrated as a miser who didn’t see the needs of others. He never asked that One Vital Question.
II. The one vital question that each of us should be asking ourself daily. “If I get to where I’m going, where will I be?” I knew a man once who was elevated to vice president of the company. He went right out and bought a new Audie. But when his next check came, he discovered that the title was not accompanied by cash.—If you get to where you are going where will you be?
Some of us here today can look back and say, “Gee, I wish I had asked that question before I did such and such. –I am sure Gov. Cuomo wishes that. At least I hope he reflects on it. And some of those people who stormed the capitol on Jan. 6. Someone like Ashli Babbitt who lost her life. “If we get to where we are going today, where will we be?”
When we moved into Afghanistan 20 years ago to get Osama Ben Laden. And then stayed to establish a democracy. What could go wrong?—Why did the Afghan army lay down its arms? Not because they could not defend themselves. Most of them didn’t really want their women to move toward equality. That’s my take. We could have looked and asked that one vital question in the context of history. And if we had acted on the information of that history we would not be where we are today. If we get to where we are going, where will we be?”
A hundred years ago Dean Campbell and I were hanging out along the Muskingum River in Beverly. There was a rope attached to a tree limb. Dean shed his clothes, grabbed the rope, swung out over the water and dropped. When he came up he said, “Come on in the water great.” One problem. I couldn’t swim. I did ask the Vital Question, and I said, “No, can’t do that.” If you get to where you are going, where will you be?”
That is the question the once-up-on-a-time UNITED Methodist Church has been dealing with for the past thirty years. And now we know. We will probably splinter when the General Conference meets. Yet, we should ask, “”if we get to where we are going is it possible for us to do some of Christ’s work together? Can we join hands on some issues? Or will we denounce each other? We are told that the Pension Board will remain one. And I am for that. If we split, just how much can we still do together? Jesus pleads with us to address that question in a positive manner. “If we get to ‘splitsville’ can we still be Christian and do Christ’s work and relate to each other in love?”
And what about our nation: “If we in America get to where we are going at the moment, where will WE be?” If we get to where we are going on:
Global Warming—this is a matter of life and death. If we do nothing, it will be addressed. Millions will die, the human footprint will lessen, balance will return in a thousand years, and all will be well.
White supremacy--- When Obama was elected president, I thought, “We have arrived.” The Supreme Court thought so too. But remember, they thought slavery was all right too. What Obama’s election did was to show us how racist we are. If we continue the path of White Supremacy, where will we be?
Guns in the streets ---If we continue not to address this issue where will we be? I need not elaborate on this issue. You read the paper or watch the news. You know there is a problem that sooner or later has to be addressed.
Where will we be if we continue to ignore the crucifixion of Truth on the Cross of Expediency? We will not be a democracy for long.
I am aware that we, a few hundred committed Christians cannot change the world overnight. We can, however, be guided by the Spirit of Christ, who will empower us to resist evil, overcome prejudice, expand our ability to show compassion to all people, to have empathy even for those who bug us. Listen to Paul:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is
just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
I would say, We need to let our daily behavior be baptized in these holy attributes. These marks of virtue. These acts of grace which are empowered by the Presence of Christ in our lives.
The world is in a mess. America is conflicted but Christ’s Spirit can still open our eyes to truth, open our minds to Christian acceptance of others, open our hands to help; insure, that as we move along this highway of faith we can get to where we need to go; to the place where Christ is calling us to be.
So, from this moment: will you covenant with Christ to: Take global warming seriously?
To lay aside any idea that being white makes one better than anyone of color.
To work with those who seriously are trying to do something positive about gun violence in this community and the land?
To get serious about truthfulness everywhere?
Pledge yourself to denounce lies no matter who is lying?
Will you, with God’s help, make the Golden Rule, the touch stone of your relational behavior? “Do unto other as you would have others do to you?”
Twistees and the Peace of God
August 22, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Mark 4: vs 35-41:
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"
The first thing my cousin Bruce did when he retired from teaching
was to buy a boat
and he took us out on Lake Erie
but within 30 minutes
the wind picked up
and the waves grew
and the boat was no match for them.
It was scary. We were clearly overpowered.
There's a prayer I remember:
O Lord, the sea is so big and my boat is so small.
Wind and waves assail our fragile vessels.
our governments, our nations,
We've seen just how fragile Afghanistan is
Seen that 20 years of struggle and death could not bring peace.
Our own national boat feels at sea, too.
our churches, our schools,
are tossed by the winds of distrust and dis-ease.
We feel helpless.
When Simone Biles stepped away from Olympic competition,
She taught us a phrase:
for a debilitating anxiety that leaves
a gymnast's body and mind out of synch
up and down are confused
and she or he cannot sense where she or he is.
and so cannot safely soar or land.
She the most disciplined and decorated of athletes
And we are all sensing the twistees now.
WE all seem to have it, in every rank and station
what is up and what is down
how do we navigate
how do we land safely,
how we are going to get to port
And those who are responsible for others
nursing home directors, social workers, counselors
physicians, they see others walking away from their
work, worn out
and they have to somehow navigate through this crisis.
The disciples wondered if Jesus
even cared that they were in peril.
They were experienced fishermen,
they had been in storms,
and this one frightened them.
Jesus doesn't say to them: “there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
These are 4 experienced fishermen
they know and he knows that storms are perilous.
His question is Why are you afraid.
As real as the threats are,
the point Jesus wants us to see is that
they do not have ultimate power over us.
I have found that in almost every situation
I've been in
including places of war and conflict,
that I can find a place of calm
I heard an Afghan who has been in the work
of building the democracy there
that he knows he may not survive
but it’s been worth it.
that he would do it again
because it gave his life meaning.
And those social workers and nurses and so many folks
On the front line, they continue.
And our gospel lesson says to us:
When the storms of life are raging,
We can be frustrated and angry
We can hurt one another
We can rebuke God
Or we can choose peace.
It’s not that there is nothing to fear:
There are storms, winds, waves that rock us
But we don’t live in fear,
Because we trust that God is with us
In the boat.
And helping us do that which is within
Our power to do.
In November of 1983
4 Catholic sisters, friends of mine
were aboard a ferry bound for a church conference
The vessel was overloaded, and when a storm came up
it began to take on water
The sisters saw this and alerted the passengers,
found and handed out life jackets
led passengers to life rafts
until there were no more jackets or rafts
and they held hands for a while and prayed
then took small children remaining
into their arms
while the boat sank into the waters.
And Connie and Virginia and Catherine and Consuelo
Found the peace of God,
if that brave Afghan can
if those in the trenches can
If parents of struggling children can
Then maybe it’s possible for us, to do
what we are able to do
Perhaps it will be helping with the resettlement of Afghan refugees that come to Columbus.
This church has done that before.
Perhaps it will be fundraising for Haiti recovery,
we've done that before.
Perhaps it will be caring for those among us who are the most hard hit by this COVID wave
Or the homeless who continue to suffer.
To claim in the midst of the stors,
That God is with us,
And brings us peace, peace we can share.
There is a prayer that comes to mind.
attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.
Lord, make me an instrument of our peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon,
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is darkness, light
Where there is sadness, joy.
May that be our work,
From this small boat
May we claim that peace, in Jesus’ name.
Down from the High Bar
Jesus on Pretending and Authenticity
Maple Grove UMC
August 15, 2021
Rev. Patricia Wagner
The Beatitudes and 2 Timothy 1: 1-9
From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,
To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
3 I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.
6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7 for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
8 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace.
I had a conversation with a friend that hasn't been in church for a while. He has struggled with faith and if felt to him that essentially churches like ours are fortresses where people show up and pretend to believe and to love God and care for the poor, a place of hypocrisy, posing.
Its a sobering thought: why would anyone want to be part of a church if that's what happens here. I wouldn't.
A church, authentic worship, is where we should be able to express who we really are, underneath all the disguises and polish we may apply to the outside world.
Where we can sing and say Just as I am, I come affirming the ancient truth that we live our lives in the presence of the divine that comprehends everything, loves everything and that includes us.
We come here to not pretend.
Another friend taught me about that: she said when she had her 20th high school reunion she dieted for weeks and got a new outfit.
When she had her 30th, she got the new outfit but didn't lose the weight. When she had her 50th, she just threw on a pair of jeans and went. It was time just to be herself.
It feels like it’s that time for me, and for you, for us. Even here and now, in worship, even when we have to lean into the hymn writers', or our parent's or each other's faith to sing these songs and say these prayers muffled a bit by masks and doubts.
To sing through our masks make song no less powerful; to sing through our doubts makes us no less authentic. This path is where we are called to be, this community is what we are called to belong to.
I've heard drag artists talk about their performance. It may seem all pretense and makeup but they were revealing something in themselves that would normally be hidden, an aspect of themselves difficult or unacceptable to reveal to others.
We all have that, even Simone Biles, arguably the greatest gymnast of all time. This girl born in Columbus, Ohio declared aloud that her mind and body were not in synch, that stress had stolen her equilibrium and she wasn't able to perform safely on the world stage. And so was stepping back. And it took a moment for us, even the most sympathetic, to get past our shock and disappointment. We like to see her do what no one else does, what we could never do; and make us proud of ourselves, our nation, through her.
And then, hearing the danger that she was in, there was relief. Relief that she had not gone ahead and injured herself.
Some of us remember in 1996 when gymnast Kerri Strug had an ankle injury, but, to please her coach did the vault, stuck the landing then tore two more ligaments.
It seemed to me this took just as much courage, and more, to come down from the high bar: my life is more than performing for you, and this is not good for me.
And suddenly, we too were given permission, all we non-Olympians, to be ourselves.
I've been thinking of that song: Just as I Am, and the verse:
Just as I am - though toss'd about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come!
O Lamb of God... Maybe one of the reasons why Jesus is so powerful in our lives, is that he was his own self.
He did not hide the burden that was on him, the frustration with his mother and the disciples when they didn't understand him, his sorrow in the garden as he hung on the cross, dying.
If he had a question of his interrogators, of those who came to him for healing, of those who criticized his understand of God, he asked it.
If he had knowledge of God, he shared it.
He was completely himself. The self that God called forth from him, had he hid his thoughts, his questions, he would not have been killed. Had he been willing to be inauthentic he might have lived out a long life but he wouldn't have been our savior.
And he didn't want us to hide either, or be ashamed of our vulnerabilities; The Beatitudes make that clear:
He says: You, who are poor, in life, or in Spirit - you are blessed, you who are meek, you are blessed, you who suffer for my sake, you are blessed and on and on...
You may feel diminished by the world but God sees your authentic self and blesses you. Don't forget that.
And Saul, whom the risen Christ spoke to on the Damascus Road and stripped away all pretense: Why do you persecute me? he asked Saul. And Saul knew that he was known, and it was devastating, and it was liberating, and he claimed a new name, Paul, and an authentic life.
And he acknowledges in this letter Timothy, and his mother, Eunice and his grandmother Lois, their sincere faith. The word sincere comes from the Latin sine cera, without wax, for there were those who would sell vessels, clay pots that had cracked and were fixed with wax, a way of pretending they were whole when they were not.
It is the sincere, the authentic, the true vessel that you are, that must come forth, says Paul. The gift of God is within you, a spirit not of fear of what others think of you, but of power and love and self-discipline.
So, don't be ashamed. You have been called with a holy calling, and responding to God's own purpose and grace in you.
To stop pretending who we think others want us to be and to claim our authentic self, to claim God's own purpose and grace in us. That's what we claim on Sunday morning. That is our power and our story. And now we will hear Xema's but first we'll sing:
Who is this, that sends us out?
Maple Grove UMC
August 8, 2021
Rev. Dr. Brenda Buckwell – Living Streams Flowing Water
I have spent some extended time recently with my children and grandchildren. When I am with them my mind can easily go to stories like Thomas the Train, The Little Engine that Could or perhaps more challenging stories of the ugly duckling, beauty and the beast, The Princess and the Frog.
These more challenging stories, the ugly duckling, beauty and the beast, The Princess and the Frog; are invitations to look beyond the surface. Things are not simply as they appear. A cursory, surface, or presumptive glance could lead the viewer to miss out on the fullness of beauty and love of the stories.
Or if we look toward real life: Simone Biles from the Olympics. When the news broke that she would not be completing and had pulled out, the haters tweeted, … But when the real story came out, we learned a lot about the twisties and mental health. She was courageous! Not an ugly duckling but a true beauty.
It is so easy to have a presumptive perspective when seeing things, people, and events. Do you know, according to psychological works it takes us 6 seconds to make our minds up about strangers? Do we like what they wear? Is their voice soothing? We size them up unconsciously if they are someone we would like to know or not.
When have you, when have I looked upon another and stayed with your first glance of perspective and not delved deeper into the true person?
This morning we hear of some hometown children, now grown into adults who are still perceiving the other from their childhood pettiness. In our Gospel reading from Mark, we hear how Jesus is being judged by historic perceptions. They are not questioning his teachings or miracles. They are questioning who he thinks he is after going off on tour and coming back appearing to be at it were for his britches. There is not even enough respect to say he is his father’s son but chide him saying he is a Mama’s boy; he is Mary’s boy.
The folks in Nazareth are viewing Jesus with historic, earthly, or surface eyes; only identifying him through the eyes of private jealousy or prejudgment.
AND THIS BLINDNESS, when we trap others in our own expectations, about how the other should behave, what the other can and cannot do or be keeps the other from being his or her most authentic, God-gifted truest self.
The Gospel of Mark is all about helping the reading discovery the trust identity of Jesus. The readers encounter questions very quickly 1:27, 2:17, 4:41 and now here in chapter 6
Mark is not so interested as to what the disciples did when Jesus sent them out, but the necessary character needed by and formed in the disciples that are sent out to mission by Jesus.
Jesus invested the disciples with his authority and a list of instructions:
Student from my Introduction to Spiritual Formation Class. His story is shared here with his permission. (See attached)
He was offering God’s presence of grace, compassion and truly seeing her as God sees her.
Disciples are to go to on mission to neighbors near and around the world. Totally dependent upon God’s provisions, which is to be provided by the generosity of others.
Mark has Jesus preparing the disciples for mission after his death and resurrection.
The truth of humanity is that we still are influenced by the words, standards, roles, of the world.
Parents often struggle to experience their grown children is they are truly gifted to be. And the reverse is often true – adult children often struggle to break their childhood imagine of who the parent is.
Assumptions are often made about:
1. An answer to the question “With what lens do you view Jesus?” “Through what lens do you view others?”
Mark is inviting us to trust Jesus’ truest identity, not from our learned Bible stories of our youth, but of our adult formational experiences of how God’s love.
What is a formational experience of God’s love?
The power and presence of God that literally transforms our inner character, mannerisms, motivations, and attributes of our heart more and more into Christlikeness, (gift of the spirit) so that we view life – others, self, God through the lens of Jesus’ transfiguration, life-changing, presence and love born upon the cross.
The definition of Spiritual Formation that I teach in all my classes and use with my clients is from the late Robert Mulholland, Jr. His book Shaped by the Word. Upper Room books. Page 25.
“Christian Spiritual Formation is the process of being more nearly conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.” The student’s story encompasses both clauses of this definition. From his fasting he clearly heard God – “Stop at Bob Evans. Eat now.” And as he gave think for his heart to think – I love the way he said that! He lived the second clause of the definition – “For the sake of others” as he conversed with the waitress.
Our faith, beliefs, theology is to be lived in everyday encounters with others, self, and God.
No longer may we view the Ugly Duckling from a surface presentation but seek to gaze beyond the surface to see the beauty of Christ indwelling presence in the other.
May it be so as we walk humbly, seek justice, and share God’s mercy and love with others.
Maple Grove UMC
August 8, 2021
Yesterday evening, I was driving by myself. I happened to pass a Bob Evans Restaurant. I noticed the time was about 7:30 pm. It was after 6:30 pm, the Fasting expiration time for my Tuesday’s Rule of Life. At that moment, the hunger pains flared, triggering - Go into Bob Evans, go now, do not wait and drive anymore. No other customers were in the restaurant. A friendly waitress, whom you could tell was an experienced seasoned professional, came and took my order. After the practice of Fasting for the Rule of Life, I have learned having my first meal be a lighter meal rather than a heavier one works better for me. So, I ordered breakfast for dinner, eggs sunny side up. When the nice waitress served my meal, she said, “I am so sorry. One of the sunny-side-up yolks broke open a bit. Would you like me to have your meal remade?”
I paused for a moment. My heart was thinking, why would she believe the meal needed to be remade? And the way she said it, I could tell she was genuinely feeling sorry, but for what? An excellent-looking sunny round yolk with merely a tiny insignificant trickle. How small, but somehow big to her? But, why? Then that audible voice, that is not audible, but oh so audible, I heard, “She has been yelled at and mistreated many times by customers for, yes, a small, cracked yolk. Look in her eyes.”
After realizing my pause was starting to appear strange, I turned towards her looking up at her eyes, “No. You kidding, please, it is perfect! I am sorry for my pause. I wasn’t even considering whether I wanted the meal remade. Truth is, my pause or hesitation was because I was thinking about you felt a tiny cracked yolk would require a whole new meal to be remade for me. May I ask you, do people actually make you take the meal back for a new meal if the yolk is not just perfect every time?”. She said, “All the time. So many times a day. All-day long. The egg can be remade; the toughest part is watching how upset, so many people get, even getting so cruel, if their egg yolk is not perfectly round. Even when remade, I watch them let it ruin their entire time while here, even when with children.” I want to emphasize; she was not speaking in an ill will manner or tone of her customers, not at all. She was conveying in her tone, through her verbals and non-verbals, that she clearly and sincerely was more concerned about them (the upset customer) and still cared about their well-being long after they had left the restaurant. I looked at her, and I said, “You’re a good person. I am so sorry to hear. And know, I hear you, and I can see you genuinely still care about them. I was a waiter years ago, so I know what it can mean. Please know I see you. More importantly, He sees you….”
That immediately opened and led to a larger, more meaningful, purposeful conversation about the spiritual discipline of hospitality, other spiritual disciplines, treatment of strangers, and our calling as humanity for God, self, and others. She smiled after a lengthy discussion, and then she left me to finish my meal (actually start it). As I was about to leave, I requested my bill. She said, “There is no bill for you, please; your meal is on me. Our conversation is what I so needed to hear and experience. This was a blessing. It is my way of saying thank you.” Then a prayer of thanksgiving is appropriate at that moment. I was surprised, not ever expecting or even thought of her paying for my meal. I then snuck back and placed the estimated cost of the meal on the table plus a good tip, as her total tip for her graciousness and hospitality.
Win-Win for all, with the integration of the Spiritual Disciplines for Spiritual Formation by utilizing the knowledge grounded in and from our personal experience in our Rule of Life and this class. The individual practice moving outwardly “integrating and moving from individual to corporate in practices; Not how I, but how do we notice” and being mindful of assessing and knowing “when is the proper time to disclose the information about a practice” while seeking and “looking beyond the surface for the hidden wholeness of God”, for God is everywhere in the details of our lives (PPT).
No, it was not in a church setting or a structured small group; it was in a Bob Evans. But that is where it happened. And similarly where it has been happening. And that is apparently where it is meant to happen, too. It was not me; it is God. We corporately walked away feeling better, blessed, and more hopeful by the experience. Interestingly, this kind of interaction has been happening quite often lately over the past several months. I do not believe in coincidences.