March 27, 2022
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Scripture: Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32
It's cold today, it will warm soon. But now it is cold. One of our friends makes her home outside this church. Thom covered her with a warm blanket. As she napped outside our door.
Expect 3 snows after the forsythia blooms, right? So, I don’t worry about those bushes, or the daffodils in my yard. The Magnolia, though…those delicate blooms have started to emerge. They didn’t survive a late frost last year. So, I know they are vulnerable. And as I ponder this love we have for the fragile flowers and fragile friends at the door and for a child in Mariupol, Ukraine. Injured and recovering in a hospital that is also a bomb shelter. The anguish we feel for this vulnerable child we will never meet. Wipes us out, the one who loves is vulnerable, too.
And if we can ache for a budding tree and a neighbor on the step, and a child far away, what does that tell us about the one who made us? There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, that is wider than the sea. There’s a kindness in God’s justice that is more than liberty. Those are the words in our opening hymn from a poem written by a pastor in England in the early 1800s. One of the stanzas that didn’t make it into our hymnal is this one. Would you sing it with me.
But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.
We equate God with guns and judgement because it’s what we associate with all powerful. But love is a different kind of power. Of strength, we make limits on the love of God. Because we struggle to comprehend it. When Jesus was mingling with those whom society shunned, the pharisees grumbled because such persons were to be shamed. And so Jesus tells them a story.
Three, actually: First of a shepherd who has 99 sheep and loses one and when he finds it, calls his neighbors to rejoice.
And then of a woman who searches for a lost coin finds it, and does the same.
And then the story of a man who had 2 sons one left him took his inheritance and squandered it. The other stayed and the one who’d left. Whose life was spent out, and was finally hungry enough, weary enough to say, I can’t go on, made his way home. He was ready to grovel, had practiced his lines, to convince. But before he could speak them was met with a force of love. To those whom Jesus told this story, this would have been unthinkable. No father would stoop so low he would have disowned that son. But this is a story about God, and about the Graceland. That God lives in and invites us to. Just like our hearts ache for the vulnerable around us just as we stoop and carry, so does God.
Christian author, Rachel Held Evans wrote these words just months before she died at age 37. When God goes all in on us and for us there’s risk and vulnerability for God, too. God planted a man right in the middle of our inhumanity our messiness, our wars of property, and nation, and ego. Jesus, who drank at weddings and cried at funerals whose heart broke and soared and skipped beat and one day, stopped. God in Christ, loves, without the guarantee of reciprocation. Divine love is freely given, mercy wider than the infinite sea, God doesn’t’ walk away from us. We prodigals do. We walk away from the promise and dwell in other lands. Ones where is okay to bomb our neighbors, where we do not provide adequate housing, and shun the addicted, where we lock people away and keep them locked up decades after it makes any sense to do so.
The Graceland that Jesus proclaims, that kingdom it feels like too much even for us, our hurts, our aches, our shaming sorrows, we Struggle to confess, them even to God. Who loves us, as Jesus told us. But one day, our hearts that break and soar and skip beats will one day stop, and we will have no option, but to come before the Lord. One day we will arrive, as others have this week, weary from war or illness or accident and we will be received.
Charlie Mackesy painted this image, called the Prodigal daughter for a friend. I was just trying to show her through imagery that to be held is something she always wanted. So, I said, ‘This is what God is like.’ God knows you; you’re known, you’re fully known and loved.” This is me, this is you. This is the love with which we will be received. This is the love by which we are enveloped, now. This is the kingdom in which Jesus invites ws to live.
A poem by Daniel Ladinsky an American poet,
From his book: Love Songs from God.
God Would Kneel Down
I think God might be a little prejudiced.
For once He asked me to join Him on a walk through this world,
and we gazed into every heart on this earth,
and I noticed He lingered a bit longer
before any face that was weeping,
and before any eyes that were laughing.
And sometimes when we passed
a soul in worship God too would kneel down.
I have come to learn: God adores His creation.
Believe it, says Jesus in his story of the prodigal and the father, full of Grace. Your hearts, formed by God. Hearts that break for tender plants and people in the cold and children in the war. Your heart is as mine for you are mine, says the Lord, and this is Graceland , come home. Come home, come home, ye who are weary come home.; Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling. Calling, O children, Come home.
Cultivating the Heart
March 20, 2022
Rev. Patricia Wagner
What wondrous love is this: That Jesus would give his life rather than deny his truth. The truth of God, present, aware, continuously, constantly offering us the path of life, the waters of hope, the balm that will heal so we will remember who we are and turn away from that which harms other creatures and the earth. So that we human beings would not be so filled with hate that one is ready to kill another, but so filled with love that we are ready to die for another. What wondrous love. And we long to know that love we are not always aware that we do we are distracted, and worried or bored, or unsettled or unsatisfied and we buy things, eat, drink that which will not sustain us and when we realize that we realize that we want something more, something deeper, that which will truly comfort, heal our brokenness. That we want to be at home in our own soul. God joins us in that longing and helps us cultivate that home. Its why we are here in this room. Its why we get up and get dressed and get here. Or spend time apart in the quiet of contemplation. Or rise in compassionate care for one another.
Because we long for the waters of God. Waters that invite us, wherever we are, whoever we (For all the distinctions disappear before God). That we might know the One who meets us exactly where we are in that place within us here we are fully accepted, forgiven. Where there are no more questions, only knowing. Where there are no words, only love. That is the place from which our sister Twyana is going to speak.
I heard recently that our first gaze at any other person is judgement. And the second gaze is love. Let us prepare to look upon our sister, Twyana as she comes before us a community of strangers to share her truth. Let us trust it comes from the heartland. Let us go with her to the waters.
Rev.Patricia Wagner, Maple Grove UMC
The Heart in Danger
March 13, 2022
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Scripture: Luke 13: 31-38
The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? 2 When the wicked advance against me to devour[a] me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. 3 Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident. 4 One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. 5 For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. 6 Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord. 7 Hear my voice when I call, Lord; be merciful to me and answer me. 8 My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek. 9 Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior. 10 Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. 11 Teach me your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. 12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, spouting malicious accusations. 13 I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. 14 Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
Luke 13: 31-38
31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! 34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’[b]”
Psalm means song and Psalm27 has been sung perhaps for 5000 years by people of faith. Not a static faith, one with closed eyes, but a real, lived one. Imagine these words coming from a person under bombardment in Ukraine. A person facing a serious illness. Your own lips as you tell yourself, as you ask yourself: The Lord is my light, whom shall I fear ? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?
And then comes the universal plea. When the troubles return, the bombs fall closer, the illness. Lord I Hear my voice when I call, Lord; be merciful to me and answer me. 8 My heart says of you, “Seek God’s face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek. 9 Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior.
Then the bombing pauses, the pain subsides, and hope returns again “I know I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Rings the song and ends with these words. 14 Wait for the Lord; the psalmist tells herself be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Jesus would have known this psalm, he would have sung it in synagogue. Perhaps particularly verses 11 and 12 Lead me on the right path. False witnesses rise up against me accusing me. Jesus is in trouble.
Just before the passage Nancy read from Luke 13 Jesus has proclaimed that the last shall be first and the first last. And nothing so alarms those at the top than the suggestion that they may not remain so. The Pharisees warn Jesus that Herod is plotting against him. Just as his father, also named Herod, did when Jesus was a child and word of his birth stoked fear. Leave, they say, hoping to kill two birds with one stone. For his words threaten them, too. But Jesus says, forcefully: Go tell that fox that I will not stop, I know what danger I am in, but I will press on, today, tomorrow and the next day.
But then the tone shifts to lament: O Jerusalem, he says, taking in all there, even those who threaten him, the priests, the pharisees, the people, perhaps Herod and his court: How I have longed for you to find your security, your home, in me, like chicks do a mother hen.
He sees what will happen to those who do not, for you will have to live in that house you are making desolate. Could they not instead listen to his call, to the call of their own heart?
From Psalm 27 4 One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
The house of the Lord, not a sanctuary, not a synagogue, but the place where God dwells. The place where we know who we are, whose we are. I was growing up there was a pastor’s family that send Christmas cards. They were all attractive, perfect smiles and hair, dressed in beautiful matching sweaters standing by a fireplace of a lodge in Aspen, and the letter held details of a truly charmed existence. This wonderful thing happened this year, then this, then this, and finally this! We were jealous, mostly because what preacher’s family has the resources to go skiing in Aspen? And how do they also look so good in the same sweater? When their card would come, each year, we would read it aloud at dinner time and laugh. Whose life is like this? Why would a pastor need to pose? Isn’t the soul of Christian community? It’s very purpose, to share the truth of our lives. Like the psalmist makes clear we live a life between struggle and hope, doubt and assurance. That is where faith is found.
For some years I worked for the Catholic Church and took on the work of helping introduce a theology that reflected the lives and perspective of women and a new relationship with the earth. This was the early 90’s and there were men, frankly, who didn’t like to hear that. Some walked out of our workshops on women in the bible or made fun of us. The person who was the center of my life was unhappy that I was focusing on this – there is so much other work he felt that was more important.
It was a dangerous time for my heart: I had to choose whether my home with this man or was it with something deeper some place within myself that my heart was at home with God. We grew estranged and our life together began to fall apart, I could not cease, for I could see what it meant to women who’d been put down in the church, in their homes. At the end of that year, we had our annual planning gathering and those with whom I had worked, these quiet nuns and lay women, shared, with conviction and clarity. What we had figured out together and swayed the leaders to take a new direction. I hadn’t had to say a word that seemed to anger him more. I found myself running to the chapel of that church and I don’t know if I sat or fell on my knees, but the tears poured out. All the loss, the heartache, the joy combined, and I thanked God for giving me the strength to see it through. And I went back to our home and packed my bags and left.
I’d realized that I was a chick who knew her way home. That I longed most to dwell in the house of the Lord. That the most important relationship of my life was with my inmost being. The heartland. The place in us formed by God from which God calls us to which God calls us to reside.
In that moment in the chapel, I realized the gift God had given me, by allowing my heart to enter into danger. I found my faith. Faith is not really about believing in a particular doctrine or creed. It is fundamentally more than that Rev. Lindsay Armstrong says, “It’s about the truth of what we have known. The life of faith is grounded in experience. It is about the real mystery, awe,pain, and grace that we know.”
That’s what we hear in the psalm 27. That’s what we hear in Jesus’ agony outside Jerusalem. Mystery, awe, pain, and grace that brought our psalmist through. That brings Jesus through and brought me through. That leads every one of us, if we are willing, into the heart land that is our home. Here’s an American folk hymn, a psalm:
My life flows on in endless song, above Earth’s lamentation
It sings a real, though far off hymn, that hails a new creation
No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock I’m clinging
It sounds an echo in my soul, how can I keep from singing.
While though the tempest loudly roars, I know the truth, it liveth.
What though the darkness 'round me close, Songs in the night it giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm, While to that rock I´m clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth, How can I keep from singing?
When tyrants tremble, Sick with fear, and hear their death knell ringing,
When friends rise up both far and near, How can I keep from singing?
Through all the tumult and the strife , Our thoughts to them are winging,
So all may know God's with them yet, how can I keep from singing?
The Heart and the Wilderness
March 6, 2022
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Scripture: Luke 4:1-13
4 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” 5 Then the devil[a] led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil[b] said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 9 Then the devil[c] took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’11 and
‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Today, the First Sunday of Lent, we enter into the lonesome valley. The wilderness with Jesus. We know what that looks like. Those who have been working on COVID hospital wards know. Those living with addiction, or those that love them, know. The hungry, the displaced, know. Those losing toes to frostbite know. Those who are facing severe illness. Those who have lost loved ones. All know the wilderness.
Our sister, Bev is in the wilderness. That place between life and death
She said aloud: I am here, see me. Perhaps because of the essential loneliness of the valley, perhaps to ask the one who coming to meet her to take her home. All who have known and loved her know that she has known where her true home is for a long time.
The world has been driven into the wilderness these days accompanying the people of Ukraine. As bombing reduce homes and hospitals and schools and town squares to rubble. Our comfort becomes uncomfortable, our spring-like days while winter lingers there, feel unfair. We see trains of children sick with cancer on trains heading to the borders. Men standing in front of tanks. See us, see our children, they cry. See us, see our struggle, they cry. Some of you know the wilderness of war, firsthand. And war may seem to be out there, but we know it begins in here. It is within that the battle rages and there are choices that each mortal makes.
Jesus is led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness. He has no easy source of food or water, no companion to comfort and confide in. He is as vulnerable as any human ever was, and there he faces the voice of temptation.
This Son of God, this one with whom God is pleased, this one whom God would have us listen to. Let us lead him to another way, tempt him with power and glory – all the earth is yours. With ease – you need not hunger or know hardship. With invulnerability – no fall will harm you. The people will listen to him and believe that is the righteous way. Jesus rejects that way, choosing instead community, humanity, vulnerability. Others, false messiahs, take it. Every land on earth has had them, including this one. Has had them. One who makes the deal, the strongman, who builds a kingdom of power without conscience the hoarder of wealth, who would deny others bread. The seemingly invulnerable - who from their fortresses make war on the meek of the earth. These false messiahs, these uncrowned kings proclaim that they are establishing a kingdom without equal and without end upon the earth. And they convince, or coerce others, sometimes millions to follow.
But they are leading people deeper into wilderness. Into the lands of jackals and ostriches. Making people strangers to their own conscience. Coaxing and coercing them to leave the home. That God has made in their heart. That place which is the kingdom of the Lord. The place that is our home, too, your home, too. There is a place that no bomb can touch. No illness can change, no loss can separate us. There is a place within us where we can know peace. Where we are whole. The place from which we can distinguish between. The false and true messiah. Where we continuously, even unconsciously seek God. And where we are continuously, even unconsciously. In God’s presence. This land within us, this kingdom of God. This heartland is the holy land. And we know when people are living out of their heartland, people, ordinary people, just like us. Sacrificing their lives so that others may live. We see it in the mothers caring tenderly for children in hiding. Children bearing up with their parent’s constant love and bringing them joy. We see it in the world taking to the streets. Steeling themselves for financial costs of protest. We see it in the embrace of persons at border crossings ready to take beloved strangers in.
We see the choice made for community, humanity, vulnerability. Psalm 91 is cited in this story: You who live in the shelter of the Most High. Who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord My refuge and my fortress; my God in whom I trust.
That refuge, that kingdom, that heartland, that everlasting love is right there, right here. Let us find our way home.