April 24, 2022
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Scripture: John 20:19-31
19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
A man who was dead, walks into a room Jesus appears and says the most extraordinary thing. Peace be with you. This from this one who’d just suffered a staggeringly painful death. Still bears its marks. Said to the disciples who fled when he was arrested. Were not there when he died, even denied him, and who now have locked themselves inside out of fear, something he had never done. And he’s not mad at them, or Disappointed or hurt by what they’ve done or haven’t done. He’s comforting them! Offering them peace, inviting them to forgive as he’s forgiven them to realize that’s in their power.
And then breathes on them the very spirit of the living God. No conditions, no requirements. It’s there for them, exactly for who they are. And where they are. Thomas is not there, perhaps the only one not afraid to go out isn’t there. And when he’s told of Jesus’ appearance, he can’t bring himself to rejoice in it, he must have his own experience, like you and I want to have. Like every human being who was not in that room. Now, we cast aspersions on the man, give him the monitor, Doubting Thomas. But Jesus, the one doubted, doesn’t. He appears again. Although I wonder if he was always there, just not seen, anyway, in this moment, he is seen and offers his wounds to Thomas to see and touch. Look, he says, with tenderness I am scarred and yet I live. This revelation of God’s own woundedness this a vision of the vulnerable divine, brought forth from Thomas a confession of faith.
The Christ blessed Thomas , blessed all who doubt, but then blessed, too, those who do not see and yet believe. So indeed blessed all the world. Imagine for a moment the love that filled that room the perfect acceptance. What more witness do we need that death has no power over love. Everyone here has lost someone, some of you very recently, its only been days, weeks, months. The love you felt from them, you do still. Love is stronger than death. And yet it is with us, on such a massive scale. A million have now died from COVID. What does Jesus word of peace and power over death mean to the creatures and communities that are endangered by rising tides and storms and heat. Or to Ukraine where Passover ended last night. And today is Easter Sunday where there seems no passing over of terror and Risen Christ unseen, at least from here?
Shall there be on earth, peace? Jesus walks into a room, a traumatized community and speaks a word of love: Peace be with you. Everything holy, healing, redeeming flows from that. Let’s start a smaller than the world. Let’s look at Los Angeles where Father Gregory Boyle works with persons in gang life. There are about 450 gangs in LA. with tens of thousands of members who perpetuate war, generational hate, violence and death. For 35 years, Fr. Boyle has been speaking peace to people others might not see as worthy. But he knows have experienced levels of trauma. That he can not possibly comprehend. He says, we know that traumatized people create trauma damaged people cause damage. But then it must be equally true, that a cherished person can cherish themselves and others.
Father Boyle doesn’t judge, he’s not mad at them, even when they start using again, or leave, he speaks peace. Then gives them a job - always beside a rival gang member. Okay, but I won’t talk to them. Right. Let’s see how long that lasts. It doesn’t. It’s an ecosystem where enemies realize their mutual humanity and inevitably see each other’s unshakable goodness. The goodness that God plants in everyone. He tells the story of one gang member who told him that the state ordered him and his brother to live with their grandmother who made them sit on the floor and taped over their mouths. I hate the sound of your voices, she said. And this man, who had been loved by Homeboy folks, said, about his own daughters: “I love their voices.”
That when he and his wife find their eldest has taken a crayon and drawn across the wall. That instead of scolding her, as his wife asks him to he wraps his arms around his child and says That is the most beautiful art I have ever seen!!
Christ walks into the room and sees the goodness in his people. If he was present then, surely he is in Ukraine, and is witness to the goodness there, even in war: People are taking risks, dying for one another. Staying to care for the sick, the elderly, the children. In Russia, some journalists and politicians, and everyday folks, are telling the truth, fully knowing they will suffer terribly for it. And surely he is in Poland and Germany, and all places offering shelter and schooling and medicine to those who have fled the war. Physicians in Ukraine contacted St. Jude hospital in Memphis. Who have had staff at the border to bring out children with the forms of cancer that require the highest level of care. Speaking life into the mouth of death.
I was hungry and you gave me food, I was naked, and you clothed me sick and you cared for me, says the Christ. I am right here. You think you can crush the bones of the people and turn the landscape to rubble, you think you can lock yourself in a fortress, and God will leave you? Where else would God be but here? Father Boyle says, The only God we have is the God of this world and the only world we have is the world of this God.
My grandfather was an electrical engineer who started working on clean air in the 30’s and 40’s. Researched coal stacks and airplane fuel output, helped found the International Air Pollution Control Society to build awareness and mechanisms for change. What would Grandpa say about what’s happening today? Well, first, he’d be thrilled about electric vehicles, and that wind and solar power are growing exponentially, by 20% a year, helping climate goals come within reach. And that some electrical engineers just recently figured out how to get solar power from the night sky so that day or by night, we can have power. He probably felt like a voice crying out the in the wilderness in his time, so I don’t think he’d be mad at where we are, on the environment, I think he’d be amazed at how young people of the world are rising up and claiming the earth as precious, demanding that we stop warring with it. Reminding us, as God reminds Moses, to take off our shoes, for the place we are standing is holy!
Like the disciples in the upper room, we are on the earth are in the presence of God. Tred the Earth Lightly is a hymn in our Faith We Sing hymn book by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette: let’s sing one verse:
Let there be greening,
birth from the burning,
water that blesses and air that is sweet,
health in God's garden, hope in God's children,
regeneration that peace will complete.
What if we breathe in the peace that Christ offers us. The peace that regenerates life, health, hope, the peace that allows our souls to be at rest?
Even when war seems war’s only answer, let us remember the Christ who speaks peace. A few days ago, as we laid a body of a beloved family member to rest in a plot of earth. One of those present saw, clear as day standing there among us, the Risen Christ, and others around him, including the one who had died, who was full of joy! Oh, we wish we’d seen it, too, but blessed are those who have not seen and believed, Right? Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Pass it on. Amen.
Patricia Wagner, Maple Grove UMC
April 17, 2022
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Scripture: Luke 24: 1-12
24 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body.[a] 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women[b] were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men[c] said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.[d] 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.[e]
They’d been all in, everything they had, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary “the mother of James”, women of Galilee, who Luke told us earlier, provided for Jesus’ ministry “out of their own resources.” Surely, they’d been changed by being with him like all the disciples and those listened to him as Ezekiel describes:
A new heart I will give you, says the Lord. And a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. A vulnerable heart, an aware and attentive heart.
Now those women of aware and attentive heart did not turn away, but looked into Jesus face of suffering. Witnessing his crucifixion and his body being laid in the tomb. Then went home and prepared spices and linens to anoint and wrap this precious, lifeless form, so that he might be buried once the sabbath was over. Then women rose early the first day of the week and made their way to the tomb.
A Hasidic rabbi once said: There is nothing so whole as a broken heart, for it is open to suffering, just as the Lord’s own.
These wholehearted, broken-hearted women walked to the tomb not sure how they would roll the stone away but proceeding nonetheless for they would do what must be done. Only find the stone rolled away. The heart of stone was rolled away and two beings, dressed in light, asked them:
Why do you seek the living among the dead? Why are you here in the tombs, when the Lord is the Lord of life? Don’t you remember? Remember that he told you all this would come to pass? That death would come, but that would not be the end of it?
And the women remembered what Jesus taught them what he’d shown them. What they were never to dwell in death, nor vengeance, nor hate his healings, his stories, his teaching all were of the unstoppable power of God. Luke says that the women returned home to tell the other disciples about what they had seen. The men didn’t believe them. Who could? But no matter, no matter that Peter had to run to the tomb to see for himself the linen cloths. For they had faced the unfathomable and then been told the impossible, the broken hearts were whole. For they knew, KNEW, that that nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Indeed, who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or homelessness, or pandemic, or inflation, or the peril of bombs in the night? No, says, Paul, no say the brokenhearted, wholehearted women, no say the pastors in Ukraine, no say the believers who have risen up in Russia.
For if God is for us, then who is against us? For we are convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God made known in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And knowing that, the women’s hearts, the disciples’ hearts, Paul’s, and we are free, free to live in the heartland where Jesus lived. Even with all its risks, and vulnerabilities. And uncertainties. We live in this heartland. This home of God, planted in in our hearts. As have those who have followed Jesus before us. In the 3rd century, believers forged a list of the unfathomable, impossible. Truths of the faith, the story of the Christ, so that those who had not seen. Might believe and we have joined in this apostle’s creed ever since. Words that we might not have written ourselves. We might take out one or two lines. But it binds us, to those faithful women at the tomb, the other disciples, to Peter, to Paul, to believers hiding in Rome, and living in China, in El Salvador, in Poland. We may not believe every word.
Rachel Held Evans says “There are parts we might leave out, or did, but we do say, “I want to believe”.
I want to believe in there is a good and gracious God who created all the beauty we can see as well as all we can’t and who redeems all things.
I want to believe there was once a man, who, like all other men, went to the grave, but unlike all other men, triumphed over it and ascended to a place we don’t yet know but will someday.
I want to believe that there is one church, one holy catholic church bound together across time and space. In marvelous mystery and faithful companionship. By a spirit who knits together what we only know how to tear apart.
I want to believe in a love so lavish it overwhelms us. I want to believe in a faith that can handle all my questions. I want to believe in a religious that not only tolerates but embraces my whole heart”.
I want to believe the women who went to the tomb and found the stone rolled away. To find my identity, my homeland, in the same God, the same Jesus. The same gospel of this community of believers. And living there, in the heartland, can make us brave. What if we, here in this place, pledge to live there, whole heartedly.
The church is changing, and if some of the ways we are used to are dying then so be it, for we trust that others are rising. Quite a few young folks I’d never met came to services this week.
One walked up to me after Good Friday service, smiling. What is your name I asked? Angel she said, smiling, Of course it is, I said. And so, with the angels among us, we are rising. Rising from our grief, rising from consuming worry, and self -destruction. Rising to be a place of freedom. Rising to be a people of hope amidst war and pandemic. Rising to be a selfless people. Rising to be gracious in a time of discourtesy, to be merciful, in a time without mercy. Rising to sacrifice rather than covet and hoard. Rising to be the wholehearted people.
Jesus invites us to be. To live with him, even now, wholehearted and rising. Rising, rising, rising from the dead. Amen.
And so, on the day the emperor’s occupying army would have entering through the Western gate. To keep the people of Jerusalem in order during the Passover. Jesus enters through the Eastern gate. The Sha’ar Harahamim, the “Gate of Mercy” by which the prophets have said the Messiah will come. The people outside the city welcome him. They recognize him as the one foretold, who will bring forth goodness and mercy. Hosanna, they sing as they lay down their robes and the branches from the trees. Blessed is this one who comes in the name of the Lord.
He enters, and tyrants tremble. The recognize him, too. This one who speaks for God. Who says that first shall be last and the last first. That God’s blessing is not with Caesar but the poor blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. This Messiah dares to speak for God. The religious authorities will reject him, The Sanhedrin, will call out to Pilate: We have no king but Caesar. Words now echoed by leaders of the Orthodox Church in Russia. We have no Savior but the President, they cry, as the bombs rain down upon the innocent.
There have always been religious leaders who do not honor the Prince of Peace or fathom the Suffering Servant, who bend their knee to Caesar, whatever his name, rather than to the one who stoops to wash the feet of his disciples. Not the one who bears the cross. Jesus haunts them, I expect, these men who turn away from the suffering,
For he is there, in that time, in this time, for all time. Real and present among us. For we are, always, asked to see and welcome the one who reveals the one who shows us God’s mercy. God’s sorrow at our cruelty to one another, God’s love for each one of us. And particularly this week, this holy week, we are all asked to examine our hearts and to look upon the wounded heart of God.
I spent the last 36 hours in emergency rooms and CBD shops and all-night pharmacies trying to get help for my daughter, who was in pain for her chronic illness.
This morning she is sleeping, and there is much relief in my house. I finally slept a few hours. It is hard to stay with those who suffer, the news that floods our inbox. The images and stories of the war are only getting worse. And yet, we know that part of this life Christ calls us to is to be willing to look at the suffering of the world. To speak to it, to do all we can to ease it, and in so doing, to recognize that God is with the wounded ones, that God is with us.
A carol has been in my mind:
He came down to earth from heaven
Who is God and Lord of all
And his shelter was a stable
And his cradle was a stall,
With the poor the mean and lowly
Lived on earth our Savior holy
And the next verse ends:
And he feeleth for our sadness
And he shareth in our gladness.
It all comes down to this – really, to these words and this week. That he feelth our sadness He shareth our gladness and through him God feels and shares our life on this earth. Jesus is the evidence that the God of heaven and earth. God’s sensory life include us, we lowly humans. That God feeleth for our sadness and shares in our gladness. This is the very mystery of God. This is what makes holy week holy. There are paintings of the crucifixion which have Jesus standing on a block of wood not hanging from that cross. It is hard to look upon suffering, it is hard to see the savior suffer. But this week, we do. We turn our attention to him, take in the stories remembered by those who were there, and when we do so, we find more than suffering. We find courage, we find purpose, we find what is worth these lives we’ve been given.
We remember, and are shattered by the truth by the infinite vulnerability of infinite love we gaze upon the wounded heart of God and by his love, we are healed. Patricia Wagner, Maple Grove UMC
April 3, 2022
Confirmation Message - A New Heart
Scripture: Psalm 119
I invite you to listen to some ancient words from Psalm 119 and search them for what they could mean for you today:
Verse 105: Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path
Verse 114: You are my refuge and my shield. I have put my hope in you.
Verse 89-90a: Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.
Your faithfulness continues through all generations…
We’ve had a strange, wild ride for Confirmation this year, I think.
Here’s my main point: I am looking forward to making MORE and MORE memories with you.
Because SERVING and LEARNING with wonderful young people like you renews my heart and faith.
Did you know that simply by SHOWING UP to Confirmation, others have been encouraged?
That’s the POWER of YOU – the power God has given you that JUST in SHOWING UP, you can bring others light and hope.
YOUR FAITHFULNESS can impact generations that have come before you AND generations that come after you.
Some of you have chosen to be confirmed today – some of you have said “ I need to wait and think and learn a bit more.” All of you have listened to your heart and I respect that. Sometimes life gets so busy and overwhelming, we don’t take time to slow down and listen to our hearts. Sometimes our hearts can feel old, tired and broken no matter what age we are. So why is the title of this message A NEW HEART? Because, as you know already, there are times in our lives our hearts are disappointed, crushed and even broken. Yes- even when we choose the path of Christian and follow in the footsteps of Jesus, our hearts can become sad and discouraged.
Think about this for a second – how many times in your life have you wished you could start over – take back the words you said – choose a different action or doorway to walk through?
Where do you go when it feels like your heart has a glitch…?
where do you go for a Heart-Re-Boot, a Heart Tune Up? I know you talk to good friends, family members – but I’m here to remind you that you can always go to the One who Created your heart in the first place to help you feel renewed. I chose the three scriptures from Psalm 119 at the beginning to help show you how to do it. Listen again to what this clever poet said in Psalm 119 which is 176 verses long!!!! Don’t worry, I only chose three to focus on.
READ, PRAY, WORSHIP & SERVE
To wrap this up, I formed an ACROSTIC to help us remember what we’ve talked about today. An ACROSTIC IS a poem, word puzzle or other composition in which certain letters in each line form a word or words. In fact, Psalm 119 itself IS AN ACROSTIC where each line of each stanza begins with a letter from the Hebrew alphabet! So I worked on this on Friday and here’s what I came up with:
“WORPS” – that’s not inspiring me, then I thought of…
“PRAWS” – for Pray, Read (and)Worship, Serve – still doesn’t sound right
Then I found it….
“SPRAW”- if I add an L there’s a real word – and I think God is ALL for laughter – so let’s add an L to the word for God’s gift of Laughter and we get SPRAWL
That means to spread the arms and legs out carelessly in an untidy way while sitting or lying down…think of when your dog or cat is REALLY relaxed and on its back with all its legs spread way out – A true SPRAWL is when you are letting everything go and feel you are in a safe space to do it.
By the way, the Urban Dictionary has a slightly different definition for the word sprawl, but we don’t need to use that one.
Let’s see how we can use SPRAWL to help us remember to go to God when our hearts hurt.
The last words John Wesley was said to speak before he died were these: “The best of all – is God is with us.” Those words mean a lot to me, and I hope something I’ve shared today can mean a lot to you. Through all life’s trials, I’ve come to this conclusion: There are no guarantees in life except this: God loves us and God is with us through it all. SPRAWL out in God’s love and let your heart be made new and healed.