Opened and Mending
2nd Sunday of Lent, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia Wagner
31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.
32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him.
33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue.
34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”
35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.
36 Then Jesus[a] ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
Balm In Gilead:
I remember the first time I really heard that song: when the Knoxville College Choir came to sing at our church in Richwood, Ohio.
It was the 1960's. The African Americans in town lived, literally, on the other side of the tracks. And these students came, maybe 50,
and Dad, a pastor had invited them to come on their tour, and had folks in the congregation take them in for the the night to sleep.
Perhaps the only time that would happen in any of their lifetimes, the students or the small town and farm folk.
We all knew it was a gift, a sort of healing as was their music, including this song, which is remarkable for it’s coming out of peoples who have known suffering.
It’s an answer to a question that is posed by the people to Jeremiah.
And to hear it, let's imagine ourselves one year back, when the pandemic was beginning, everything was closing and no vaccine was in sight.
The people were desperate, they had heard that a salve made from the balsam tree, native there, might have healing properties.
“Is there no balm in Gilead?”, asked the people, “Is there no healing there?``
So much of scripture is about human brokenness and healing
It speaks to personal condition: infertility and bleeding and boils of brokenness in family life, of greed and guilt and lost souls.
Into this world came Jesus who tapped into God's power to recreate us, to heal us. But also brought a new teaching: sickness is not sin, he said, but sin is sickness; injustice is our own brokenness.
I saw some videos this week of attacks on a young man who folks called the police over because he looked sketchy. And a young man slamming into an old man causing his death because he was Asian.
Beyond this outward brutality are the things that we as a society do that make life for the poor and working folk harder.
We have cracks in our humanity, and we might want to cover them up, with excuses or shield ourselves from the pain that's out there, or in here.
But, Jesus always seemed to be able to see what was broken beneath the surface like the Woman at the well, made her wounds plain before she could begin to be changed.
He there is tradition in Japanese ceramics called Kin-sin-tu. It’s based on a philosophy called Wabi-Sabi that accepts our imperfection, our impermanence.
In ceramics, rather than try to hide or disguise the fractures and breaks of a broken vessel, the mender uses a gold bond to reveal those lines of brokenness more clearly, and somehow, the fixed vessel becomes more beautiful than before.
We have a vessel like this, and Helen Hughes is going to begin the process of mending it, using this method.
And while she does that, we will consider this healing story only found in the Gospel of Mark.
Jesus has traveled farther north than at any other time in our Gospel records. He is in the region of the Gentiles, those who were not Jews. And he is brought a man who cannot hear and who struggled to speak.
So many do, and for such persons, the hearing and speaking most of us do every day is so longed for, so miraculous.
I think of the friends of this man, rushing to his home. He's here, he's come all the way here, and hurrying to bring him before Jesus for surely this was his only chance.
Mark says that Jesus takes the man aside away from the others, put his fingers in the man's ears, touched his tongue with a bit of his own saliva, his own life force. Raises his eyes to the source of his life' force and says:
Ephatha - Be Opened! And the man heard and spoke.
He commanded that the people not speak about it, but unlike the waves in the water, when Jesus spoke, when he speaks, people tend not to follow.
Jesus channeled a power that mended bodies, but the mending he was focused on was for our souls.
He could see our brokenness and the ways we cover up and cover over the broken bits.
We do this as persons, as nations, as peoples.
But Jesus says to us, as he places his spirit upon us, as he touches our life with his own essence, Ephatha, Be Opened, he says, unveiling our wounds then opening our ears that we might hear the cries of the world and our own, then unleashes our tongues to speak the truth about what is around us, about what is within us.
And then he claims us, broken open and mending for God.
He claims your life, in all the ways you are broken open and mending for God, and says, come join my band, mend in community, and in that meeting, in that healing is the love that binds us back together.
For there is a balm in Gilead, say those who came out of slavery, that makes the w0unded whole, that heals the sin-sick soul, even me, even you, even us.
Let us open ourselves to that life force to that mending, to that healing.
Thanks be to God.
Good For The Soul
First Sunday of Lent, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Mark 1: 9-15
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved;[a] with you I am well pleased.” 12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. 14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news[b] of God,[c] 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;[d] repent, and believe in the good news.”[e]
Wade in the water, we just heard Paisha sing,
God's gonna trouble it, Gonna stir it up and make it heal you like the Spirit did in the waters at the pool of Bethsaida, by the Sheep gate, where the one first into the troubled waters would be healed. God was in those troubled waters.
Harriet Tubman sang that spiritual to those who were coming along with her to freedom. It meant, go into the nearby waters so those hunting you down lost track of you.
Wade in the water, children. God's gonna trouble the water, gonna stir it up and heal you.
John invites everyone in the troubled city of Jerusalem to come wilderness outside the city to enter the waters of the Jordan.
It is good for your soul, says John, Confess, then enter the waters and see what God will do.
Jesus came to the Jordan. What he needed to confess, only he knew, then he ducked down into the waters troubled by God, heard within himself of his belovedness, and got sent out, into the desert, into that lonesome valley, by himself.
What temptations he found there, only he knows. Mark does not recount them in his gospel. They were private torments
only you and I know fully how and when we've been tempted to be less than our true selves.
Only we know what we need to confess what we have done, and left undone, what griefs we carry, what brokenness burdens.
Only you know the wild beasts you've encountered who go by the "grief" or "cruelty" or "shame" or some other name.
Only you know what angels have waited upon you, as they did upon on Jesus; what healing came by their ministrations.
And only you can bear witness to the wholeness that came out of that journey; the tearing and the mending.
I've been thinking about confession. The power of it, the work of it. And about mending. The power of it, the work of it.
About how, together, they lead to us a new creation to our rising, our resurrection. That is the work of this season.
I asked our sister, Jeanette Belz, a master of cloth, to share her experience of quilting as mending work and healing work.
(Jeanette shares this in a video)
We want these 40 days of Lent to be a time of confession and mending and rising for all of us.
We have new leaders for small groups where, for the season, you can talk about Jesus' healing stories, confess and mend together.
We have daily practices for you, which you can get in your email inbox Monday through Saturday.
We will be hearing messages from menders in downtown Atlanta, and from rural Indiana, and from the Ohio Reformatory for Women.
Each we will be mending this beautiful, broken vase created by the artist and teacher, D'Lyn Stinziano right here, before you, on Sunday mornings.
Because if ever we needed such a season of confession, for ourselves, for our nation, ravaged by disease and death, hate and violence, inequality and poverty, And if we ever needed to see and trust in God's power to mend us and mend through us and bring us to resurrection surely it is now.
I hope you will choose to be in this wilderness; all of us, together, confessing, mending, creating, rising. I believe, if we give ourselves over to is, to the troubled waters, to the 40 day journey it will be good for your soul and for mine. And for the communities we seek to build and heal. And I invite you now to join with me in a prayer of confession by the monk, Thomas Merton:
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” Amen.
You are not alone:
Let us now sing our closing song:
We are a Wilderness, Wandering People by Jim Strathdee:
We are a wilderness, wandering people on a journey of the soul. May we find our destination in our longing to be whole.
Our Holy God is calling to us. With Jesus by our side
May compassion be our compass; may the Spirit be our guide.
May we cherish all our children, let us heal our family’s pain
Help us cure our city’s madness, let love and justice reign. Reconciled with one another in prayer and praise and song,
We’re the body of Christ together and we know that we belong, We belong, we belong, we belong.
A New Perspective
February 14, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Today’s story from Mark is a quintessential mountain top experience.
A powerful experience of being in the presence of the holy, a moment when God breaks-through, when we’re astonished into seeing something we’ve never seen before. We don’t just see something new; we see in a new way. A new perspective is revealed. We are changed.
These experiences can be hard to talk about. On multiple occasion Jesus even told people after a miraculous event, like he told the disciples in today’s story, don’t talk about it - yet.
There are those experiences that we need to pause and savor. We need time to let them work on us, transform us. Time to let them dislodge our old ways of thinking and viewing the world, as we gradually gain a new perspective.
Sometimes, after an unusually extraordinary experience, we try to fit it into an existing pattern, and when it doesn’t fit, we may dismiss it. Or rewrite it.
Today’s story is one that is so fantastical that it could easily be dismissed as just a dream, a fantasy, some sort of hallucination.
We’re told that Peter, James and John, climbed with Jesus to the top a mountain, where the disciple saw Elijah and Moses, who are both long dead, talking to Jesus, whose clothes turned a brilliant white. Then God’s voice came out of the cloud saying, “this is my beloved son, listen to him.” What a vision. It terrified the disciples.
Something mysterious happened on that mountain. Something beyond any rational explanation.
Admittedly, in my youth, I joked with a bit of smart aleck skepticism about my mother’s mysterious experiences: visits from dead loved one, her encounter with angels, God’s hand on her shoulder, and God taking the steering wheel of her car to guide her to safety.
And yet, most of my life I was hoping God would show up in some supernatural way; to confirm another reality I was beginning to perceive and to explain the purpose of it all!
I don’t know if the rest of you have ever hoped and waited for God to make an otherworldly appearance, but I suspect most of us have at least wished at one time or another that God would just speak to us, loud and clear, and tell us what we’re supposed to do.
Peter, James and John were there to for that moment when God appeared. And in Peter’s fear, the scripture says, he didn’t know what to say so he blurted out “let’s build three dwellings.” Yet, this significant story, recorded in the 3 synoptic Gospels and 2nd Peter, is missing a lot of important details. Mark doesn’t tell us why they climbed to the top of a very high mountain, (though the Gospel of Luke said it was to pray), or how the disciples knew it was Moses and Elijah, and what was Jesus, Elijah and Moses talking about? And why is Jesus luminous?
Again, the Gospel of Luke tells a little more by saying that Jesus was talking to Elijah and Moses – about his soon-to-be departure.
Some Bible scholars place this event about 40 days prior to Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem. Jesus would have known the dark days ahead, the pain and suffering that lay before him if he continued the path, he was on.
He was publicly calling out the religious and political leaders for their hypocrisy and greed, he was challenging the social structure, and blatantly breaking laws by healing on the sabbath and touching the unclean; the powers that be were going to stop him. They were going to silence him – it was only a matter of time.
Here we are in this season after epiphany, with another brilliant light, appearing to us, just before we begin the arduous journey to the cross.
We began this season with a bright shining star guiding us to baby Jesus. And now, the light shines, radiating from Jesus, brighter than any earthly white. Along with another pronouncement, similar to one at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my Son, my beloved.” And God tells us “Listen to him!”
From his birth, to these three decades later, we’ve been given signs, and messages, “watch, listen, pay attention to Jesus. Do what he does.”
Today’s scripture is at an intersection between God’s story and the human story, and it reads like a fable, or a myth. Yet, the real supernatural story is that Jesus became human to show us how to become divine. It was what Jesus said and how Jesus lived, that was truly astonishing and otherworldly.
Yes, there were supernatural events going on to be sure – whenever Jesus touched the untouchables. Every time Jesus forgave sins - even before the sinners had repented.
The extraordinarily, unusual occurrences were when Jesus asked the blind beggar what can I do for you? When Jesus told the paralytic he could pick up your mat and walk? When the leper asked Jesus are you willing to heal me and Jesus answered, yes, I’m willing. When Jesus suggested the one without sin throw the first stone? When Jesus said love your enemy.
Something unbelievable occurred when Jesus climbed the mountain and gave the sermon: Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, the merciful, and the peacemakers.
And, in a luminous moment, a voice called out from the clouds and says, “He’s my beloved son, listen to him.” Listen to him. Jesus became human to show us how to transfigure into the divine. Jesus became the light to shine in the darkness.
So, I really wanted my bright shining moment with God. Yet, I have not had the visual and auditory experience with the transfigured Christ. However, Jesus did come to me, and in some mysterious way, I knew that it was Jesus, I can’t describe him by looks, I can’t tell you what his voice sounded like, but I feel sure, Jesus spoke to me.
It was one of the times in my life when I was struggling with feelings of inadequacy, and on the advice of a spiritual guide, I made my own climb up the mountain to pray, I talked to Jesus about the feelings of inadequacy– of not good enough – not capable enough. And without hesitation, Jesus told me, “Neither was I, I can do nothing on my own, it is only God through me.” And I had a new perspective of myself, my sense of inadequacy diminished a bit, and my understanding of God’s amazing love and grace grew.
That mountaintop experience came on the shores of Lake Erie for me.
God has also appeared to me in the chapel on a Good Friday, as a voice, saying, “allow yourself to be crucified.” I knew God was asking me to humble myself. To be less concerned about protecting my opinions and position, and more interested in listening to others.
God has spoken to me in the shower, on my sick bed, and in the company of loved ones. As I said, from here, on Baptism Sunday, God spoke to me this very epiphany season saying, “follow the light out of the darkness.”
When my son Will, was 16 years old, he had a figurative and literal mountain top experience while in the Smoky Mountains on a Maple Grove youth mission trip. He said the mission team had gathered a one of the highest peaks, and they were to find a spot to sit in silence, to pray and journal. As he sat there, he began to look around, he found himself spontaneously smiling at the beauty and perfection of the world, and then he began to laugh out loud and roll around on the ground, and his laughter turned into tears of joy, because he was convinced there was a God.
God appears. Opens our eyes, reveals a new perspective, give us a vision. Both for our sake, and for the sake of others.
Dr. Martin Luther King told us he had “been to the mountain top.” And from there, he saw the promised land. And in that vision, he saw that one day, this great country would live up to its ideals. One day it would be a sacred place where all of God’s children would stand as equals on level, fertile ground. There would be racial equality, justice, and freedom for all. From where he stood, he saw black and white folks joining hands, in unity, working together, and transforming the discord of our nation into a “beautiful symphony.”
We surely need these transfiguration experiences, God visions, God perspectives.
Did the transfiguration on the mountain top literally happen, I don’t know, however, I believe the transfiguration happens every time we humble ourselves to listen and serve, every time we love rather than judge, every time we speak words of blessing, every time we see Christ in each other, and whenever we recognize that we are standing on holy ground. The world gets a little brighter. And it is all by the grace of God.
Because, on my own, I can do nothing.
Now, as we turn towards lent, and undertake the most difficult scriptural passages, prepare yourself. Take time to fast and pray and serve and give alms. Let’s begin this journey together and allow God to illuminate us and love to guide us.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
On Not Fainting
February 7, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia Wagner
We are going to hear two powerful poetic meditations on the human condition. One was written by Rev. Mr. Thomas A. Dorsey, whose young wife Hetty died in childbirth and their child soon after. It was 1932, and Thomas was 33 years old. He was lost in grief, some days later, he found himself at a piano and his hands found the melody of an old hymn by George Allen, Must Jesus bear the cross alone, and the spirit led him to words that eased his heart and would ease the heart of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, who grew up with this song in his daddy's church, and who asked Mahalia Jackson to sing it at rallies, and on the phone when he needed comfort. The last words he spoke on that balcony in Memphis on April 4, 1968, was a request that Precious Lord, Take My Hand be sung at the church that night.
But before that, we are going to hear from the 40th chapter of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, who is speaking to the Hebrew people, in the 8th Century BC, and I want you to listen to these words and see where you hear their stories connect
and how they connect with yours.
Isaiah 40: 21-31
21 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is God who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to live in;
23 who brings princes to naught,
and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when the Holy one blows upon them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
25 To whom then will you compare me,
or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these?
The one who brings out their host and numbers them,
calling them all by name; because the Lord is great in strength,
mighty in power, not one is missing.
27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel,
\“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
who does not faint or grow weary;
and whose understanding is unsearchable.
29 The Holy One gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
"Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, help me stand, I am tired, I am weak, I am worn."
Did you hear the way, that hymn echoes the passage from Isaiah? The prophet repeats two words 3 times: "weary" and "faint,"
People have always been faint and weary, it seems. Thomas Dorsey, Martin King, the Hebrew people sent into exile in Babylon, which is going to last decades. No wonder they are faint and weary.
I've been thinking about the million mothers in America who had to leave their jobs to care for their children, and they are reporting that even their toddlers are stressed out.
Our backs are aching. It’s hard to sleep. We've lost people we love, relationships are strained and the nations, not just ours. Every nation is uneasy.
And we may all be thinking, everyone one of us on this earth as Isaiah says the Hebrew people do: My way is hidden from the Lord.
My life is not visible to God. We are just too small, too human to matter
One day, sure, we will enter into glory, and we'll be in God's presence but for now we are too far away for God to reach us.
And its too much - we grow weary and faint.
My most memorable faint happened when I went back to visit my first mission site in Cotabato, a very poor Muslim community in the Southern Philippines.
I stayed that night at the home of a friend, Mohammed, His wife, Isa, had died from TB the year before, his children were hungry, and they wolfed down the candy I'd brought.
That night the rain beat down like a curse and I awoke to water coming in on my bed. And thought, all these years of hard work and he doesn't have money to fix his roof or to feed his children.
The next morning, I slogged my way to the market and came to a stall where women were selling homemade cloth when and my head suddenly grew heavy and I blacked out, right into a colorful stack of cloth.
I became conscious of a dozen hands massaging my head, neck hands and back. Reviving me and Samin, the quiet street sweeper, took me to get a cup of strong coffee and stayed with me until I was alright.
We can be overcome by life. The Hebrew people were, as Thomas Dorsey was, as those moms and most of us on the planet are these days.
But... "Have you not known, Have you not heard, says Isaiah.
The Lord is out there, yes, in the remote and beautiful boundlessness. But God is right here, too, equally transcendent and imminent. In the stars that entrance you, in the music that inspires you, and in the hands that revive you.
And because the Lord is great in strength, mighty in power, says Isaiah, not one is missing.
Not one is missing, not those we've lost to death, not those we've forgotten in poverty or oppression or stress, and not you.
Have you not known, have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
This world, including us, including you, and those you don't like, and don't know, belong to God.
You may grow faint and weary, but, says, Isaiah, God does not faint or grow weary. Never, ever, ever.
And that loving energy is reaching out to us all the times, reminding us that we don't have to power our way through by our own steam. That we are to surrender our sense of control so we can receive what we need from God.
And if we do, if we do, says Isaiah:
29 The Holy One gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.