Joy at the Inn
December 12, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Luke 3: 10-18
And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?" 11 In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?" 13 He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." 14 Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?" He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages." 15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." 18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
Mayfield Kentucky. I've never been there but had massive tornado. A mile wide that traveled two hundred miles on the ground in Kentucky and took out so much of the town is haunting. We see the picture of one house standing next to another house, gone; and the randomness, the abject inequality of it is before us. It's hard to look at it And today we lit the rose candle. It happens every third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday when we are to remember in what was to be an Advent season of penance to claim the joy of Christmas. Of Christ's coming.
But this day also we are asked to listen to John the Baptist a prophet, who surely wanted the people of Jerusalem to get to joy but first to take a good look at themselves and the world they'd accommodated themselves to. The inequities the unkindness, the ways we take advantage of others withhold what others need. Do we not realize that the Messiah who is to come is bringing both the love and the judgment of God to earth? Luke says: “And the people cried out: What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise."
12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, (tax collectors who routinely demanded more from folks than they were supposed to: ) and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?" 13 He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." 14 Soldiers (who threatened people for money) also asked him, "And we, what should we do?" He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages."
Don't constantly want more help ensure a just sharing. Something like with this vaccine. Don't you know, says John, that if you don't save others you yourselves cannot be saved? But you can do it, that's what the Messiah is coming to say: That, says, John, is the gospel. The Good News. For man months folks here have been working on a plan to reach out to the unhoused. It comes because there is a need CRC can't bring people in yet. The winter's get so cold. But also because we feel something when we see others suffer. We know that somehow our joy is tied up with theirs. We know that we need one another.
Doug announced the pilot of our "Warming Station" on Friday. And you immediately came forward with food and socks and donations. And on Friday, folks that worship online and here came in, set a table, provided soup and bread and a space to listen as one man shared his story of life turned upside-down by a ravaging illness, then loss of work then home. We could see the pain on his face, the fatigue he bore, the gap between his life and ours. His home had been wiped away and ours left standing.
That's what John wanted of the people to see what he saw to see what God sees what the Messiah will see. Janet and Pat came in later that afternoon with a thousand cookies that they made and you bought to raise funds to fund ALS research.
When I arrived for the packing of the food boxes for Bethlehem on Broad Street, the patio was a hive of activity, a warm buzz as the community 0f long time members and new folks circled around filling boxes. There was joy, to be doing something together, to meet a need together that we can't meet alone. And folks are making their pledges and finishing paying them for the year. And I know for myself that's not easy, but I also know that there is a sort of joy that comes from doing what we can.
This is the First United Methodist church of Mayfield and this is what it looked like last night. Today, that congregation is worshipping with Christ UMC in Mayfield which has neither heat nor light. And this morning, Pastor Joey Reed has issued this invitation: “I would love for you to come and worship. Come and grieve. Come and hope. During this season of Advent, our goal is to look forward to the coming of Christ. John tells us that he is the one who was, the one who is, and the one who is to come. And, like John, it is time for us to show the world that we are the church that was, the church that is, and the church that is to come by your presence, your prayers, your gifts, your service, and your witness. You may be feeling overwhelmed. I am too. You may be feeling anxious and nervous for the future. I am too. But with the strength of Jesus Christ, this service of worship can be the place where we pivot from suffering to serving. So, will rally and take care of first things first: the people of Graves County and those whose needs exceed our own.
I think about Christ Church in Mayfield that has taken them in. I think about that innkeeper who had no rooms left but said, there is a stable where you can go. offered what he could And when we do that when we stretch ourselves, offer what God knows and we know we can to do what we can. There is a sense of wellbeing. That's a way of saying "salvation" you know. Salve - wellness. We don't share what we have we don't work for a just sharing because it will get us into heaven. We do that because that's way we get to joy here. That's the way to well- being, salve, here and we know it. And John knows it, he called this the GOOD NEWS, the gospel that the new Messiah would bring. Good news of Great Joy. Good news that among the poorest in the land is born one who will comprehend all of us.
Who will invite all of us to trust our lives to the spirit of a loving God. who will lead us to joy, a joy that we sense in Pastor Joey's letter to his congregation? A joy that goes deeper than what is happening around them. That emerges from the confusion and brokenness of human life when we claim what God has given us the goodness we can do together the mercy and love that shines through. The joy at the inn of the holy, where we are all invited to sing Halleluia.
“A Better Home”
Maple Grove UMC
December 5, 2021
Rev. John Wagner
It is so good to be here. Thanks for the warm introduction, thanks for receiving my wife JoAnn and me. Thanks for supporting my sister Patty through her recent surgery and in many other ways. And mostly, thanks for being disciples dedicated to both faith and the practical application of that faith. I’ve heard stories about your remarkable community ministries here, and feel at home among likeminded friends. I also feel at home because if I have a home town, it’s here in Columbus. Our dad was a preacher, so we moved around some, but I went to junior high and high school close by in Upper Arlington, and when asked this is where I tell people I’m from. This is also the first time I’ve preached a sermon in my hometown, so it’s a special day for me.
It was here in Columbus I became an Ohio State fan, which has turned out to be one of my great loyalties no matter where I’ve been. JoAnn and I served in Indiana for much of my career, and it was there my loyalty actually intensified. I held on even when I pastored a church in South Bend, where they delude themselves into thinking they have this great team – they can get pretty obnoxious about it. But every so often I chose to be pretty obnoxious back. I used a transistor radio to listen to play by play of Ohio State games while attending games at Notre Dame stadium, somewhat to the annoyance of those who invited me.
Now, I bring up this passionate loyalty so that I can talk a bit about Patty and my’s mother. She was also an Ohio State fan, but there was a difference between her and the rest of our family. We’d all be watching the game on TV, and she SAID she wanted Ohio State to win, but then the announcer would relate something about a player on the other team, something about his background or his struggles with an injury, and she’d start to feel sympathetic toward that guy, and would then start to express very mixed feelings, greatly irritating the rest of the family. I vividly remember the 1970 Rose Bowl. Ohio State was on track to be national champions. All they had to do was beat Stanford, which should not have been that difficult. But then the announcer began talking about Jim Plunkett, Stanford’s quarterback. He’d grown up poor, his parents were Mexican Americans, and … they were both blind. It’s true, you can look it up. They’d never seen him play. And my mother switched loyalties just like that. When Ohio State got behind, and then further behind, she urged us all to be happy for blanketyblank Jim Plunkett! I was a reasonably respectful teenager, but I believe I told her to just shut up mom! But she didn’t, Ohio State lost, and the whole Jim Plunkett episode became part of our family lore. But it also taught us a lesson.
Now to my way of thinking, there’s a similar lesson to be found in that passage from Luke’s gospel we heard today. It’s a reiteration of an ancient vision that first came to the prophet Isaiah. We hear about the valleys being lifted up, the mountains brought low, the crooked becoming straight, the rough ways made smooth – and the return of all people to their creator, as it says, “all flesh shall see it together” which means that all will be made right again, all will corrected, all will know salvation. In a time when tribal loyalties reigned supreme, when your identity as a Jew or a Samaritan or Roman was supremely important, this represented a vision of a life that hearkened back to the Garden, where humanity started, where all creatures lived in harmony, AND where it was always intended we would live. The Bible offers this vision in many ways using different terms, talking about a promised land, then a kingdom of Heaven, then a new Jerusalem and so on. It’s where we are supposed to be, where our true loyalty and true citizenship must reside. These words from Isaiah and other visionaries call us to see that. Now, my mother’s timing may have been a bit off that New Year’s Day in 1970, but I know now she was part of that call to raise our eyes from the things that seem to matter so much in the moment, and see more clearly where God wants us to be – our true home with him – and how that changes us, or rather, restores us to who we were created to be. And she was right. She had the right message, I’m forced to admit.
In the Gospel of Luke the one carrying that message is John the Baptist. Luke goes out of his way to first name all the other important people of that time – the Roman Emperor Tiberius, Pontius Pilate, Herod and his brother Philip, Lysanias and the high priests Annas and Caiaphas. But instead of these illustrious figures God used this man John the Baptist to bring a vital message to the world. He was a very rough character, it says he wore a coat of camel hair, he ate locusts – like the locusts we saw and heard this past summer. He ate the honey he found in trees and bushes. He wandered in the wilderness, he had no house, no real home. And he spoke loudly, and sometimes scared people and clearly annoyed people. And yet God used him to share his message, that one day soon we would be brought back where we were meant to be, and that someone special was on his way who would lead us all back to our true home, our permanent home.
A week ago Saturday I conducted a memorial service. It was not in a church or funeral parlor, but at one of our local Moose lodges. It was for a man named Chet Morris. Like John the Baptist he was roughly dressed and rough in appearance, he was always scrounging for his next meal, he had a loud voice and yes, sometimes it scared people. And for most of the time I’d known him, he didn’t have a home. He slept outside and looked it. I got crossways with him once or twice – he’d want to shake hands with everyone coming into the church, kind of like a doorman, but I didn’t want him doing that, his hands were so filthy, and we argued and he stormed off. About a month ago now we’d heard he died. He was 60. At first the rumor was he’d been murdered, which was, sad to say, pretty easy to believe, but no, it was a heart attack most likely. Then we found out Chet had a family – he hadn’t seen them in many years, sometimes decades. A daughter, some brothers, some sisters-in-law, two precious granddaughters, including one he’d never met. So what kind of memorial service do you have for a guy like Chet? Well, strangely enough, we found some things to celebrate. We could celebrate the fact that he’d been doing better this past year. His clothes and hands were cleaner, he was more polite, less pushy. He came back to our church, sat quietly, made a few friends. He found an apartment. When his daughter and brothers got into that apartment they found it to be in pretty good order. He had used his stimulus checks rather wisely, which amazed all of us. These were hopeful signs, and we lifted them up as best we could. So, in a way, you could say his life was pointing us all to something more positive, something better, more universal. You could say he’d become a bit like John the Baptist, that God was using him to convey a hopeful message. And we could be happy about that. But folks, I need to say, very clearly, while Chet was indeed kind of like John the Baptist, that he was kind of, in his own way, bringing a welcome message that the rough places could be made smooth, the crooked could be made straight, this was definitely not the happy conclusion of, say, a Hallmark Christmas movie. It was still very very difficult for his family, and those there to support his family. Frankly, there was just too much heartache to overcome in an hour or two, too much hurt inflicted by Chet, particularly for his daughter who’d had a very sad, very difficult upbringing, and was deprived of a real home herself for much of her growing up. In fact, there was tension in the room when it looked like I might be going for some kind of happy ending that was also something of a false ending, a fairy tale, a sermon that wraps it all up so nicely and neatly but is really conveying an illusion – I’m sure you’ve heard a few of those sermons. So the people there, myself including, were forced to find hope in something beyond those few encouraging signs at the end of Chet’s life. We were forced to look for a more authentic hope - the hope, the expectation, the faith, the vision, that in the end, can only be found in God. And yes, this is the ultimate message of John, and all the prophets of old.
Friends, I know you have a ministry with the homeless. Our church has one as well, and my guess is we are all finding out it’s anything but easy. Perhaps it can seem that way to those who helicopter in, who fly down and then quickly fly back up again, perhaps congratulating themselves on a job well done, a mission accomplished. But taking that deep dive, that’s different. Getting to know such persons, and starting to comprehend all that heartache within them and in those who have tried to love them – that’s a ministry of a whole different order. I have a social worker friend, Daryl, who has worked with the homeless for most of his life. He occasionally lets go, lets down his guard, tells me stories of how, in the end, drugs, mental illness, abusive home life and other traumas have rendered all his efforts null and void. His faith that God wants him to continue to serve in this way is quite often the only thing that keeps him going.
In the New Testament book of Hebrews, the 11th chapter, there is a description of all the heroes of old, the children of Israel, the children of the Covenant who strove with all their might to follow God. These brave men and women endured hardship after hardship, terrible ordeals, torture even, in order to serve God and get to the promised land. But then it says, quote, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better home, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God.” End quote.
Folks, this is who we need to be. The strivers, the seekers, who are doing our very best in the here and now, but who also, in the end, know ourselves to be strangers and exiles on the earth. We work hard at the tasks set before us, we are faithful to them, we are encouraged by the occasional win, by a victory for our team, but in the end we know are called to something beyond all that, and for that very reason, we do not lose hope. We are the people who celebrate a real God, who chose to come down to physically live with us, not so we can make a few minor adjustments, straighten things up around the house, making it a bit nicer – and likewise not just so we can have a happy holiday at the end of a long year. No, he came so that we might know we have a savior who levels all mountains, fills all valleys, straightens all paths. Christ came, and friends, his Spirit is still with us, giving us the vision that all will be fulfilled one day. And in living within this vision, we are, EVEN NOW, living in our future home, and our true home.
My sister suggested I might share with you that in addition to being a local pastor I’ve also spent a lot of time working with Palestinian Christians. It’s become part of my life’s work. I bring that up, controversial as it might be, because many of these persons and families have ALSO lost their homes. It’s due to forced expulsions by the Israeli government when Israeli only cities are built in the West Bank over the bulldozed remains of Palestinian villages. I don’t want to get any further into the politics of this here in this sermon, and I’d be more than glad to speak with any of you at any time if you want to talk further, but allow me to say two things I know are absolutely true: First, these brothers and sisters in Christ, descendants of the original Christians, are day to day dealing with an increasing demoralization and depression. No question about it. There is almost no confidence that things will get better, not for themselves, not for their children, many of whom choose to flee to other countries. These Palestinian friends tell me plainly, they are not at all optimistic, but then folks, and this is my second point, they then almost always say they ARE … hopeful. You see, their lives and spirits are not entirely determined by the so-called facts of the situation, the stark realities, the impossible and intractable political problems. They also have hope, and it’s a divine hope, a Godly hope. To them this is quite different from optimism, quite different from positive thinking. It’s rooted in their faith in God and It transcends their day to day experience, transcends their day to day victories and defeats. It elevates them to God’s vision for the world, for an ultimate peace, an ultimate reconciliation of all the tribes, what John the Baptist and so many others told us to look for.
Friends, let me summarize. What I’m talking about here is really pretty simple. We receive this simple truth all the time, certainly in our time of holy communion, when we read the Bible publically, when we talk among ourselves about doing something to serve our community. It’s this understanding that there is a God, and not a remote deity at the center of the universe, but one who is made real in the here and now, and is also directing all of creation toward an ultimate fulfillment beyond our time. As we go about our business this week, in tasks large and small, let’s take that perspective with us. In a season of giving and receiving gifts, this is the greatest gift. Let’s receive it, allow it to strengthen our resolve, and then share it with others. Amen.
November 28, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Jeremiah 33: 14-16 (CEB
The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill my gracious promise with the people of Israel and Judah. In those days and at that time, I will raise up a righteous branch from David!s line, who will do what is just and right in the land. In those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is what he will be called: The Lord Is Our Righteousness.
Psalm 24: 4-5
Make your ways known to me, Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth—teach it to me—because you are the God who saves me. I put my hope in you all day long.
She was waiting for me by the door on Christmas Eve after the service was over, as have so many over the years. Pastor, I don't have a place to sleep tonight. I look dismayed, both for her and for me. I am tired, it's been a long day, a long season, I just want to go home, finish wrapping presents and watch the pope lead Midnight Mass live from St. Peters Cathedral. But there she is, or he is, on Christmas Eve, reminding me Jesus' family looked for a place for him to be born in that night. And, I remember that I am the innkeeper. There is plenty of room, there's just no one to watch out overnight to ensure that all is well. So, I figure out some other way to take care of her for the night, then lock the warm church I fully expect that Jesus will talk to me about this when I have left this life. But I also think that the spirit of divine love understands what we are all feeling. Besides the darn game yesterday, we are just worn out from pivoting from not being able to forecast what is possible next month let alone next year from life's events being beyond our control.
Of course, life isn't. Reinhold Niebuhr says that “We get discouraged when we think we are somehow exempt from the vicissitudes of creature lines.” Isn't that a wonderful phrase? It means the troubles that are part of being human. We wish we could just skip over this weird exhausting time, and be somewhere in the future where all this is behind us.
But Rev. Grace Imathiu a Kenyan United Methodist theologian, says: “Don't miss this moment by wishing it was five years ago, by wishing it was your childhood Christmas, by trying to rush it through so that we get to next year or the year before. Don't miss this. This is the once in a lifetime Christmas. If the darkness is so dark, then this is when the light shines the brightest. So don't be so terrified of the dark that you pretend it's not there. Stare right into the face of exhaustion and lack of control. Look those monsters in the eye and say: ‘Let's do Christmas now. Let's figure out this story that God has given us. Afresh and anew and in this moment.’” The prophet Jeremiah speaks to those in exile from the life they had. They are on the edge of despair, and it is exactly there, that uncertainty opens the door to creativity, to imagination to a different future.
And if you think about it, isn't the Christmas story about the way Divine Love enters into the vicissitudes of creatureliness in unimagined places. What good can come out of Nazareth? A manger, really? It can take a minute to get there, I was driving back Thursday night, from visiting with my brother and his family for the first time in 2 years, when I heard the news on the radio about this Omicron Covid variant. My high spirit deflated as I thought about all who would now stay away from church, again. But after a moment, I decided to look it in the face. Okay, here we are in this unimagined time. What am I not seeing here? How can I, how can we make ourselves available to be God's partners the advent of the new reality. How might we imagine our our worship arts, and our technology, to reach persons who might never leave their homes to come here. Persons with disabling conditions those with life situations who might not cross the threshold but who need a room in this inn?
So, what if we don't gather in great numbers but in small groups more regularly? How might that allow us to build real, intimate, life changing community? And perhaps there are ways that this wonderful space, this Inn of the Lord might become a means to sustain and restore those whom we might not have had room for before. And the hope began to rise again. What if we all take a good deep breath, go ahead, and stare this moment right in the eyes.
This once in a lifetime Advent and Christmas. Let us remember whose inn we keep and be of good cheer a cheer that reflects our very real hope. Then let's share that with our families our community, our guests on the patio. Let us trust that the faithful One who lights the sky with stars. Is lighting our way even and especially this year, Amen.
We Gather Together
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia Wagner
We gather together...What powerful three words those are. We all sense this year, the blessing of gathering together here in this sanctuary, or around a Thanksgiving dinner table and for those longing for absent loved ones you may only now fathom the depths of blessing that you knew when you gathered together. So, to gather together is a gift. It is also a challenge. The virus is still here, people are still getting ill and dying. Separation may still feel more comfortable. Isolation more safe.
We see migrants at the borders desperate for hope and a future and countries and systems they want to enter struggling to know how to manage. We see persons in need on our streets, at our intersections, on our church patio, and we aren't sure how to safely gather with them. And to share a family and a nation; with those whose opinions are so opposite to our own?
I saw a bumper sticker: America, I love you, but you're kind of freaking me out right now. How do we gather together? It was a challenge from the beginning of this holiday exactly 400 years ago, in 1621. The pilgrims were ill at ease with the native peoples on whose home they landed, whose help they required to survive. Those indigenous to this place were naturally uneasy, too. Consider the gulf between these cultures. Consider what became of the native peoples. Consider the power of the grace they offered these strangers as they taught them to survive. They gathered together then, and if they could do so, perhaps we too, might overcome our urge to separate, to isolate and embody the grace and generosity of those to whom God first gave this land and the courage of those starchy pilgrims who were open to a new life.
We may not have a shared vision of the future, but must we not have a vision of a shared future? Churches have struggled to gather together for 2000 years, and for the last 50 years, our United Methodist Church like much of the Christian church has particularly struggled over the question of the full humanity and belovedness of persons who are not heterosexual. It is one that has challenged us as a denomination and revealed a fault line within our body that we have learned cannot be talked over or covered over. And five years ago, this congregation decided upon which side of that fault line it had to stand. But to become a Reconciling church is not to throw down a gauntlet, is not a movement to separate ourselves it is the opposite: The RMN Guidebook that we use in the process of becoming a Reconciling Congregation states that to be reconciled means: "That we are at peace with one another. That we are committed to accompanying others in respect and mutuality walking alongside those who both agree and disagree with us as we discern directions for shared mission. We avoid and do not value divisive rhetoric or actions. We begin and return to God in prayer for guidance and renewal.” That sounds Maple Grove to me. That sounds like the church of Jesus. Where we gather together, all of us, in our variety, equals, each of us sinners and saint overcoming our isolation sustaining and restoring the kingdom and one another. We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing. Who chastens and hastens his will to make known. And here, the wicked oppressing cease from distressing. Sing praises to God's name. God forgets not his own. Amen.
Jesus and the Soldier
November 14, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia Wagner
2 Timothy 1:9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time. 5 When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him 6 and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” 7 And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” 8 The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 10 When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one[ a ] in Israel have I found such faith. .” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour.
We know what God wants from us Jesus told us we are to give our lives for one another, we also know what he said about violence that which we inflict upon one another. So, what would he say to the soldier?
At his birth, Jesus' family fled to Egypt to escape the soldiers Herod sent to kill the newborn king of the Jews. The first encounter we know of in adulthood was the one we heard today, It
took place in Capernaum, Peter’s hometown and Jesus' home base. A Centurian, a leader of 100 men of the occupying force that inhabited Israel Jesus' whole life. This soldier, a person of power and authority recognized that Jesus had his own, if of a different kind. He asked Jesus to heal his servant, gravely ill. Jesus agreed but the soldier then deferred. The text doesn't say why, but perhaps it was because of his being part of the occupying force. “I am not worthy to receive you, but speak and he shall be healed.” Jesus was amazed at the centuriess faith in this healing power to transcend space. “I have not found such great faith, even among my own.”
On Jesus last night, soldiers came with Judas and synagogue officials to the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, asked them, “Who is it you want?” “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. Jesus said, “I am he,” and the soldiers drew back and fell to the ground. Not the synagogue officials not Judas. Those last to fall at Jesus' feet in reverence, were those soldiers who came to arrest him. There were soldiers at foot of the cross, who ridiculed him, gambled for his linen covering and put a sword through his side. But there was also another Centurian, who stood guard that day. He would have seen Jesus' suffering, heard his cries, and his asking God's forgiveness for all who did not understand what they did. And upon Jesus' death, he proclaimed: “Surely this man was the son of God.” And in their stories, all of us can see ourselves: For we, too, want healing for those we love, but wouldn’t feel worthy to have Jesus enter our homes. We wear with all sorts of protecting armor go along with the crowd sometimes yet when goodness is revealed bow down in wonder.
We may stand silently by when evil is done but when grace and mercy are revealed we are moved to new awareness and deeper faith. Jesus sees us human beings for who we are; understands the ways we are compromised whether the woman at the well, the tax collector in the tree, the rich young man who wants everlasting life, or the soldier who longs for one who served him to be well. “
Matt Dresbach was a soldier who longed for one who served him to be well. A former Army Captain, who was deployed to Kandahar Province, Afghanistan from 2011 to 2012. His own interpreter, Fawad, had applied in 2014 for a special visa, but the process was bogged down and then stalled in past years, so Fawad was still there in Afghanistan when the Taliban took control. Matt had been working with a group of veterans here in Central Ohio to coordinate the evacuation of their interpreters and their families. I have copies here of Matt's account of heroic effort of the setbacks, the danger and toil and snares, the beating Fawad endured by the Taliban, the narrow escape from the bombing that took the brave and vulnerable. The illness of his young son, then missing two flights he was to board. Until Matt's high school friend's wife's cousin's wife's assistant's niece's husband on the ground at the Kabul airport was able to make sure they got out. And last week as part of Jeff and Ridhima's great clan of extended family and friends, for the baptism of their daughter Reya. Where their dear friend Matt and his friend Fawad with his wife and son. They all wanted to be here that morning to witness that moment, themselves witnesses to the power of love and friendship.
To move in the most terrible of situations and bring forth good. “ He has saved us and called us to a holy life,” says Paul in the second letter to Peter, “not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” There is grace and purpose enough for thee.
Stewards of Grace - Commitment Sunday
Maple Grove UMC
November 7, 2021
Rev. Patricia Wagner
I Peter 4: 8-11
Many years ago, I was visiting churches and for awhile there, every church I visited was having Commitment Sunday, It was very irritating. I felt like that hero of the movie Groundhog Day, there must be a lesson I'm supposed to learn here, but I don't want to! I was moved by one's sermon about how everything comes from God and how all we are asked to give back is one tenth of that.
Yes, but all these churches were poor, I thought. I would look around and see church folks that had almost nothing, and wonder: how on earth can these people keep this place going I felt for those pastors how could they bear to ask the people to give. Its impossible, I thought to myself. But it's always been rather impossible.
From the ancestors who were enslaved in Egypt to those persecuted peoples of faith who crossed the wilderness of desert or ocean, or attacks from jealous national leaders who suppressed the early church including Peter's. The church has always been in peril. The peril now is different, We are outposts in a world that seem increasingly disconnected to a sense of the holy, to the Sabbath and sees us as quaint to center our lives in something which we cannot prove but only live. And yet the church persists you keep showing up, doing the work of faith, teaching the children, guiding the youth, loving our elders feeding the hungry, caring for the homeless, reaching out to the refugee; taking unpopular stands for the sake of Christ's gospel. And we support this place, this church
you are figuring out how you can do so. That's not to say its easy making commitments of time and resources. While we know in our hearts that God has
If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who
Each of you should use
brought us this far, we confess that we struggle to be sure that God will keep doing so. There's an extraordinary story about that in the first Book of Kings in the Hebrew scriptures. There is a drought on, and the prophet Elijah hears the spirit of God tell him to go into a region where there has been no rain, and visit a widow there, whom God has told to feed him. And Elijah goes and finds the widow and asks her for a morsel of bread and she says, and she says, as the Lord your God lives (you hear that, "your God") she is not of the faith.
As your God lives I have nothing baked, just a handful of meal and a little oil, and I am now gathering a couple of sticks so that I might make something for myself and my son so we can eat and then die. And then he asks, outrageously and without apology, Go and make a little cake for me from the meal and bread and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. Now, how can this man bear to ask this woman, on the verge of starvation, for her last bit of food? But then he makes a promise Elijah makes a promise to her from the God who sent him: “You will not run out of oil and meal. The jars will stay full until the drought is over.”
The Lord will provide. And it was so. Elijah helped her realize, even in her poverty that she had and would receive gifts that would allow her to give. as Peter would say to the persecuted early church: What grace has brought you safe thus far, In what forms has grace come to you? Can you trust that grace that has brought you safe thus far, will lead you home? Can you release your life to that grace? And to the offering that God is calling forth from you? Think of the Saints we encountered this past season. How they felt a call, in very different ways, at different ages.
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
Francis was in his 20's, Julian was in her 30's, Hildegard her 40's, Oscar was in his 60's when the service that was required of them became clear and each given strength to carry it out. Perhaps they, like we, were leaning on these words of Peter: There is a woman who lives a good portion of her life here well, on our grounds, she is without another home, so she spends her days walking through Clintonville. Eats her meals from our blessing box and at night, shuttles between here and the post office boxes. If you would arrive very early on a Sunday morning even on the coldest mornings, you would find her huddled against the door trying to get a bit of the warm air under the door. She can be difficult, she can take advantage, but then last Sunday morning, at worship time, she came inside,
and handed Cathy Davis a wad of money. “Here, this is for the church.” Perhaps because she has come to trust that she has a place to sleep, even a cold one, “If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” That there will be food in the blessing box. According to the gifts she has been given she gave her last coins her morsel of meal and oil as a faithful steward of the grace she has received. That was the lesson those pastors and poor folk in those churches were trying to teach me in those Commitment Sundays all those years ago.
All of us, have received gifts of God and all of us are stewards of that grace. May we help one another to remember and be thankful in Jesus' name.
Patricia Wagner, Maple Grove UMC
Hildegard of Bingen and Us The Way of Creative Possibility
October 31, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia Wagner
We've been going back to listen to saints-persons of the church through whom the light of God shines. This is our 4th and last saint to consider in detail and she is one of whom you most likely have never heard. but whose visions speak breathtakingly to our situation today. To the challenge of our planet's survival, she sees it and says we have within us the creativity to meet it. To our COVID world weariness, she instructs us to sing and claim our courage, to the depression and anxiety, she says we are each light-filled. And she was born a thousand years ago. 100 years before St. Francis of Assisi, 200 years before St. Julian of Norwich, at a time when women were uneducated and their lives unrecorded. And would become the earliest known composer in the Western world. A doctor of the healing arts the author of books of mystical theology and consulted by popes and princes. Yet it took till 1987, 800 years after her death for her work was finally translated into English.
She was born Sybil, the 10th child to a noble German family, and, as was the tradition for a 10th child there and then, was considered too much to care for, and so was dedicated at birth to the church. She began having visions of luminous objects at 3 but soon knew that she was unique in this gift and so hid it
At 8 she was placed in the care of an anchoress, like Julian of Norwich, a woman named Jutta who lived her life in the walls of the church Together with other girls sent there, Hildegard was immersed in scripture in Latin and religious music as the Benedictine monks sang their prayers from early morning to evening. Nurturing her mind and spirit in a way most girls never could.
She took her vows at 15, perhaps then taking the name of Hildegard,
and 23 years later, succeeded Jutta as the spiritual leader and head of the community of women. The visions had continued, but then she received a gift that changed her life, And it came to pass ... when I was 42 years and 7 months old, that the heavens were opened and a blinding light of exceptional brilliance flowed through my entire brain. And so it kindled my whole heart and breast like a flame, not burning but warming... and suddenly I understood of the meaning of the writings in the books. The brightness I see I call the shadow of living brightness, and in that same brightness I sometimes see what I call the living light, and for the time I do see it, all sadness and all anguish is taken
from me. But although I heard and saw these things, because of doubt and low opinion of myself and because of diverse sayings of men, I refused for a long time a call to write, not out of stubbornness but out of humility.
She trusted in the divine origins of her luminous visions, but she wanted her church, the church of Rome, to approve of them too,
She wrote to a holy man, named Bernard, himself later named a saint, who brought her to the attention of Pope Eugenius who exhorted her to continue her work.
Hildegard would later write: Dare to declare who you are. It is not far from the shores of silence to the boundaries of speech. The path is not long, but the way is deep. You must not only walk there, you must be prepared to leap.
Hildegard left the church building where she'd lived her life and settled her community of women, in the Benedictine tradition, in a place near Bingen in the Rhineland, of southwest Germany.
She set her visions down in writing. Two Books: Scivias, which means, Know the Ways of the Lord and The Book of Divine Works, illustrated by the women in her community.
Divinity, all-knowing and all-powerful, is like a wheel, a circle, a whole that can neither be understood, nor divided, nor begun nor ended. It is easier to gaze into the sun, than into the face of the mystery of God. Such is its beauty and radiance. All Living creatures are from the radiation of God's brilliance, emerging from God like the rays of the sun. The Word is Living Being Spirit All Verdant Greening All Creativity. This Word manifests in every creature. The fire has its flame and praises God. The wind blows the flame and praises God. In the voice we hear the word which praises God. And the word, when heard, praises God. So all of creation is a song of praise to God. Good People, most royal greening verdancy, you shine with radiant light.
The relatedness of all creation is something she saw in her visions and proclaimed
Everything that is in the heavens, on earth and under the earth is penetrated with relatedness. God has arranged all things in the world in consideration of everything else. Glance at the sun. See the moon and the stars. Gaze at the beauty of earth’s greenings. Now, think, What delight God gives to humankind with all these things!
She saw, over a thousand years before the terrible cost of our living unaware of the earth: Now in the people that were meant to be green there is no more life of
any kind. There is only shriveled barrenness. The winds are burdened by the utterly awful stink of evil, selfish goings-on. Thunderstorms menace. The air belches out the uncleanliness of the peoples. The earth itself should not be injured. The earth should not be destroyed. As often as the elements of the world are violated by ill treatment, so God will cleanse them through the sufferings, through the hardships of mankind. All nature is at the disposal of humankind. We are to work with it. For without we cannot survive.
And yet, she did not evoke despair, for she trusted in God's wisdom and work in us. Humankind, full of all creative possibilities, is God’s vessel, built for God's self, and filled with inspiration so that God's works are perfected in us. Humankind alone is called to assist God, to create with God. With nature’s help, humankind can set into creation all that is necessary and life- sustaining." To remember that every creature is a glittering, glistening mirror of Divinity. Her writing, her music, the art all were inspired by her experience of the Divine
O Beloved, your way of knowing is amazing, the way you recognize every creature before it appears. the way you gaze in to the face of very human being and see all your works gazing back at you. O, what a miracle to be awake inside your breathing
She prayed: Holy Spirit, the life that gives life You are the cause of all movement. You are the breath of all creatures. You are the salve that purifies our souls. You are the ointment that heals our wounds. You are the fire that warms our hearts. You are the light that guides our feet. Let all the world praise you. Holy Wisdom, Soaring Power encompass us with wings unfurled, and carry us, encircling all, above, below and through the world.
And to those who felt despair, who have lost hope who have lost those they have loved. You are encircled by the arms of the mystery of God. Even in a world that's being shipwrecked, remain brave and strong. I, God, am in your midst. Whoever knows me can never fall. Not in the heights, nor in the depths, not in the breadths. For I am Love, which the vast expanses of evil can never still.
Hildegard, steeped in music nearly all her life, found words alone could not express the divine revelation. The soul's speech is found in music, and we are to sing. Sometimes , when we hear a song, we breathe deeply and sigh. This
reminds the prophet that the soul arises from heavenly harmony. The soul has something in itself of this music. Underneath all the texts, all the sacred psalms and canticle, these watery varieties of sounds and silences, terrifying, mysterious, whirling and sometimes gestating and gentle must somehow be felt in the pulse, ebb and flow of the music that sings in me. My new song must float like a feather on the breath of God. The song of rejoicing softens hard hearts. It makes tears of godly sorrow flow from them. Singing summons the Holy Spirit. Remember, God rewards not only those who never slip, but also those who bend and fall. Don't stop singing.
She composed, and yet, she recognized that song begins in God's own being.
Every element has a sound, an original sound from the order of God; all those sounds unite like the harmony from harps and zithers
Year ago, when I was about 42 and a half years old. I was visiting a friend in Germany. I was struggling with a relationship back home that was making me doubt my worth. I was in a guest house, and was awakened by a voice, singing. I looked at the woman in a bed across the room, she was sound asleep. She hadn't been awakened, it seemed she could hear. But it rang out, and I went to the window to see where it was coming from. But as I listened, I realized that the voice was not an earthly voice, it was a sort of angel song - God’s voice. And the song that I was hearing was the name by which God called me my true name, that God has called me now , and will call me forever. Hildegard heard that voice, and I believe you have too, in the quite places, in your innermost soul, as Hildegard would say, God sings your name to you, reminds you of your worth of the creative possibilities of your life of all our lives, in one great song, together.
Our Chancel Choir, under the direction of Quinton Jones has learned a composition of Hildegard's O Ignee Spiritus: A Hymn to the Holy Spirit, a song which comes to us from a thousand years ago to invite us to take heart as we enter into this time of remembering those we have loved and lost to the infinite beauty of God, and how we are yet connected to them, as all things on heaven and earth are filled, as she said, with relatedness. We will call out the names of those who were members of this congregation or whose memorial services we led. We shall sound a bell, signifying their name as sung by Divine Love itself to those we love now and forever and light a candle, remembering their lives which shine with radiant light.
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. "