One Vital Question
August 29, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Charles Hill
OT-II Sam 15:1-12//Luke 16:19-24//Acts 5:1-6//Philippians 4:8-9
King David was a great leader. He was, without question, the most powerful man in Israel for a long time. He was also richly blessed by a number of very kind biographers. Sometimes that is most important for a great person.
He was: From the tribe of Judah
Born in the town of Bethlehem
Youngest son of Jesse
He was a shepherd boy
He was great as a child: he killed Goliath
He played the lyre, or harp, and was drafted to play for King Saul—to
calm him. No Zoloft then.
He was lauded by the citizens. They sang:
“Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands.”
David was made King and
he brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem
and as he did that he danced and had a great time.
He made Jerusalem the seat of government and
was baptized with the Power of God.
And that all adds up to quite a heady resume.
But as he enjoyed one success after another, he apparently had not bothered with that One Vital Question that is on my mind today. At least not on a daily basis.
The King was walking one evening on the palace roof. Roofs were flat in that area of the world. And he was cooling himself at close of a long demanding day. And just over in the next yard Bathsheba was cooling herself with a nice lukewarm bath. (Now I must admit that I have some trouble evaluating this picture. Could she not see the man on the roof?). Well, you know the rest of the story. He sent a servant to fetch her and he lay with her. And she conceived. And the king said, “Oh, I may have a problem.” The good king had not considered that One Vital Question. And now he had to think fast. He did. And when his plan was fully carried out Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, was dead. ---And he thought he had saved the day and his reputation. But God was watching. Through the eyes of Nathan. –King David was not above not clearly thinking about consequences.
He had some of the same problem with parenting. One son, Amnon, abused his half-sister, Tamar, who happened to be Absalom’s full sister. Raped her. And David did nothing about it. Nothing. So, Absalom waited his chance. And then created the opportunity. And he killed Amnon. Then fled to a nearby area where another king ruled. And he stayed there for three years. And while there he was developing a plan.
But in all that time the King longed to see his fair-haired son, Absalom. He went on about it until Joab, his general, arranged the homecoming.---Now it would be well that we take a closer look at Absalom here. The author of Second Sam:
Now in all Israel there was no one to be praised so
for his beauty as Absalom; from the sole of his foot
to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him
and when he cut his hair once a year, said hair weighed
in at five pounds.” II Sam. v25f
And now this beloved boy was home. David was ecstatic. But Absalom was restless. For he knew he could do a much better job at leading than dear old dad. So, he began HIS journey to the throne. Except he did not pause to consider that One Vital Question of which I am speaking. He was on a mission, but he had missed something.
He secured himself some fine horses and a golden chariot and he raced around the city. He also hired fifty strong men to run ahead of him announcing his coming. Yelling about how great Absalom is. You get the picture. And the king did nothing. Absalom would go to the city gate and talk with the elders. He would ask about their needs. They would tell him. He, with a hound dog expression on that perfect countenance would say, “I feel your pain. And if I were king I would take better care of you.” But apparently he never asked the question.
So, Absalom attacked his father, and King David went weeping into what is now Jordan I suppose. And he told Joab, the general, be kind to my son, my Absalom.
Joab was told Absalom was caught in a tree. The rider reminded Joab what the king had ordered: treat him kindly. And Joab went and found him hanging by his hair (It must have been too early in the spring for him to cut it) and Joab killed right there. And the King wept and wept. Secluded himself and mourned. Until Joab went and told the king to get hold of himself and be grateful to all who had risked their lives to save him. Here was the greatest king Israel ever had, and a son that must have looked like a body builder and beautiful to boot. Neither ever paused to ask the question
And, in the Luken lesson we find the rich man, a farmer, whose land produced and made him rich. He had to expand the barns and grain storage units. He had it all, and he didn’t see how his great success should be shared with others. So, he just built and built, until he died. And then he discovered he was not lauded as a great farmer, but denigrated as a miser who didn’t see the needs of others. He never asked that One Vital Question.
II. The one vital question that each of us should be asking ourself daily. “If I get to where I’m going, where will I be?” I knew a man once who was elevated to vice president of the company. He went right out and bought a new Audie. But when his next check came, he discovered that the title was not accompanied by cash.—If you get to where you are going where will you be?
Some of us here today can look back and say, “Gee, I wish I had asked that question before I did such and such. –I am sure Gov. Cuomo wishes that. At least I hope he reflects on it. And some of those people who stormed the capitol on Jan. 6. Someone like Ashli Babbitt who lost her life. “If we get to where we are going today, where will we be?”
When we moved into Afghanistan 20 years ago to get Osama Ben Laden. And then stayed to establish a democracy. What could go wrong?—Why did the Afghan army lay down its arms? Not because they could not defend themselves. Most of them didn’t really want their women to move toward equality. That’s my take. We could have looked and asked that one vital question in the context of history. And if we had acted on the information of that history we would not be where we are today. If we get to where we are going, where will we be?”
A hundred years ago Dean Campbell and I were hanging out along the Muskingum River in Beverly. There was a rope attached to a tree limb. Dean shed his clothes, grabbed the rope, swung out over the water and dropped. When he came up he said, “Come on in the water great.” One problem. I couldn’t swim. I did ask the Vital Question, and I said, “No, can’t do that.” If you get to where you are going, where will you be?”
That is the question the once-up-on-a-time UNITED Methodist Church has been dealing with for the past thirty years. And now we know. We will probably splinter when the General Conference meets. Yet, we should ask, “”if we get to where we are going is it possible for us to do some of Christ’s work together? Can we join hands on some issues? Or will we denounce each other? We are told that the Pension Board will remain one. And I am for that. If we split, just how much can we still do together? Jesus pleads with us to address that question in a positive manner. “If we get to ‘splitsville’ can we still be Christian and do Christ’s work and relate to each other in love?”
And what about our nation: “If we in America get to where we are going at the moment, where will WE be?” If we get to where we are going on:
Global Warming—this is a matter of life and death. If we do nothing, it will be addressed. Millions will die, the human footprint will lessen, balance will return in a thousand years, and all will be well.
White supremacy--- When Obama was elected president, I thought, “We have arrived.” The Supreme Court thought so too. But remember, they thought slavery was all right too. What Obama’s election did was to show us how racist we are. If we continue the path of White Supremacy, where will we be?
Guns in the streets ---If we continue not to address this issue where will we be? I need not elaborate on this issue. You read the paper or watch the news. You know there is a problem that sooner or later has to be addressed.
Where will we be if we continue to ignore the crucifixion of Truth on the Cross of Expediency? We will not be a democracy for long.
I am aware that we, a few hundred committed Christians cannot change the world overnight. We can, however, be guided by the Spirit of Christ, who will empower us to resist evil, overcome prejudice, expand our ability to show compassion to all people, to have empathy even for those who bug us. Listen to Paul:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is
just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
I would say, We need to let our daily behavior be baptized in these holy attributes. These marks of virtue. These acts of grace which are empowered by the Presence of Christ in our lives.
The world is in a mess. America is conflicted but Christ’s Spirit can still open our eyes to truth, open our minds to Christian acceptance of others, open our hands to help; insure, that as we move along this highway of faith we can get to where we need to go; to the place where Christ is calling us to be.
So, from this moment: will you covenant with Christ to: Take global warming seriously?
To lay aside any idea that being white makes one better than anyone of color.
To work with those who seriously are trying to do something positive about gun violence in this community and the land?
To get serious about truthfulness everywhere?
Pledge yourself to denounce lies no matter who is lying?
Will you, with God’s help, make the Golden Rule, the touch stone of your relational behavior? “Do unto other as you would have others do to you?”
Twistees and the Peace of God
August 22, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Mark 4: vs 35-41:
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"
The first thing my cousin Bruce did when he retired from teaching
was to buy a boat
and he took us out on Lake Erie
but within 30 minutes
the wind picked up
and the waves grew
and the boat was no match for them.
It was scary. We were clearly overpowered.
There's a prayer I remember:
O Lord, the sea is so big and my boat is so small.
Wind and waves assail our fragile vessels.
our governments, our nations,
We've seen just how fragile Afghanistan is
Seen that 20 years of struggle and death could not bring peace.
Our own national boat feels at sea, too.
our churches, our schools,
are tossed by the winds of distrust and dis-ease.
We feel helpless.
When Simone Biles stepped away from Olympic competition,
She taught us a phrase:
for a debilitating anxiety that leaves
a gymnast's body and mind out of synch
up and down are confused
and she or he cannot sense where she or he is.
and so cannot safely soar or land.
She the most disciplined and decorated of athletes
And we are all sensing the twistees now.
WE all seem to have it, in every rank and station
what is up and what is down
how do we navigate
how do we land safely,
how we are going to get to port
And those who are responsible for others
nursing home directors, social workers, counselors
physicians, they see others walking away from their
work, worn out
and they have to somehow navigate through this crisis.
The disciples wondered if Jesus
even cared that they were in peril.
They were experienced fishermen,
they had been in storms,
and this one frightened them.
Jesus doesn't say to them: “there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
These are 4 experienced fishermen
they know and he knows that storms are perilous.
His question is Why are you afraid.
As real as the threats are,
the point Jesus wants us to see is that
they do not have ultimate power over us.
I have found that in almost every situation
I've been in
including places of war and conflict,
that I can find a place of calm
I heard an Afghan who has been in the work
of building the democracy there
that he knows he may not survive
but it’s been worth it.
that he would do it again
because it gave his life meaning.
And those social workers and nurses and so many folks
On the front line, they continue.
And our gospel lesson says to us:
When the storms of life are raging,
We can be frustrated and angry
We can hurt one another
We can rebuke God
Or we can choose peace.
It’s not that there is nothing to fear:
There are storms, winds, waves that rock us
But we don’t live in fear,
Because we trust that God is with us
In the boat.
And helping us do that which is within
Our power to do.
In November of 1983
4 Catholic sisters, friends of mine
were aboard a ferry bound for a church conference
The vessel was overloaded, and when a storm came up
it began to take on water
The sisters saw this and alerted the passengers,
found and handed out life jackets
led passengers to life rafts
until there were no more jackets or rafts
and they held hands for a while and prayed
then took small children remaining
into their arms
while the boat sank into the waters.
And Connie and Virginia and Catherine and Consuelo
Found the peace of God,
if that brave Afghan can
if those in the trenches can
If parents of struggling children can
Then maybe it’s possible for us, to do
what we are able to do
Perhaps it will be helping with the resettlement of Afghan refugees that come to Columbus.
This church has done that before.
Perhaps it will be fundraising for Haiti recovery,
we've done that before.
Perhaps it will be caring for those among us who are the most hard hit by this COVID wave
Or the homeless who continue to suffer.
To claim in the midst of the stors,
That God is with us,
And brings us peace, peace we can share.
There is a prayer that comes to mind.
attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.
Lord, make me an instrument of our peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon,
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is darkness, light
Where there is sadness, joy.
May that be our work,
From this small boat
May we claim that peace, in Jesus’ name.
Down from the High Bar
Jesus on Pretending and Authenticity
Maple Grove UMC
August 15, 2021
Rev. Patricia Wagner
The Beatitudes and 2 Timothy 1: 1-9
From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,
To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
3 I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.
6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7 for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
8 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace.
I had a conversation with a friend that hasn't been in church for a while. He has struggled with faith and if felt to him that essentially churches like ours are fortresses where people show up and pretend to believe and to love God and care for the poor, a place of hypocrisy, posing.
Its a sobering thought: why would anyone want to be part of a church if that's what happens here. I wouldn't.
A church, authentic worship, is where we should be able to express who we really are, underneath all the disguises and polish we may apply to the outside world.
Where we can sing and say Just as I am, I come affirming the ancient truth that we live our lives in the presence of the divine that comprehends everything, loves everything and that includes us.
We come here to not pretend.
Another friend taught me about that: she said when she had her 20th high school reunion she dieted for weeks and got a new outfit.
When she had her 30th, she got the new outfit but didn't lose the weight. When she had her 50th, she just threw on a pair of jeans and went. It was time just to be herself.
It feels like it’s that time for me, and for you, for us. Even here and now, in worship, even when we have to lean into the hymn writers', or our parent's or each other's faith to sing these songs and say these prayers muffled a bit by masks and doubts.
To sing through our masks make song no less powerful; to sing through our doubts makes us no less authentic. This path is where we are called to be, this community is what we are called to belong to.
I've heard drag artists talk about their performance. It may seem all pretense and makeup but they were revealing something in themselves that would normally be hidden, an aspect of themselves difficult or unacceptable to reveal to others.
We all have that, even Simone Biles, arguably the greatest gymnast of all time. This girl born in Columbus, Ohio declared aloud that her mind and body were not in synch, that stress had stolen her equilibrium and she wasn't able to perform safely on the world stage. And so was stepping back. And it took a moment for us, even the most sympathetic, to get past our shock and disappointment. We like to see her do what no one else does, what we could never do; and make us proud of ourselves, our nation, through her.
And then, hearing the danger that she was in, there was relief. Relief that she had not gone ahead and injured herself.
Some of us remember in 1996 when gymnast Kerri Strug had an ankle injury, but, to please her coach did the vault, stuck the landing then tore two more ligaments.
It seemed to me this took just as much courage, and more, to come down from the high bar: my life is more than performing for you, and this is not good for me.
And suddenly, we too were given permission, all we non-Olympians, to be ourselves.
I've been thinking of that song: Just as I Am, and the verse:
Just as I am - though toss'd about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come!
O Lamb of God... Maybe one of the reasons why Jesus is so powerful in our lives, is that he was his own self.
He did not hide the burden that was on him, the frustration with his mother and the disciples when they didn't understand him, his sorrow in the garden as he hung on the cross, dying.
If he had a question of his interrogators, of those who came to him for healing, of those who criticized his understand of God, he asked it.
If he had knowledge of God, he shared it.
He was completely himself. The self that God called forth from him, had he hid his thoughts, his questions, he would not have been killed. Had he been willing to be inauthentic he might have lived out a long life but he wouldn't have been our savior.
And he didn't want us to hide either, or be ashamed of our vulnerabilities; The Beatitudes make that clear:
He says: You, who are poor, in life, or in Spirit - you are blessed, you who are meek, you are blessed, you who suffer for my sake, you are blessed and on and on...
You may feel diminished by the world but God sees your authentic self and blesses you. Don't forget that.
And Saul, whom the risen Christ spoke to on the Damascus Road and stripped away all pretense: Why do you persecute me? he asked Saul. And Saul knew that he was known, and it was devastating, and it was liberating, and he claimed a new name, Paul, and an authentic life.
And he acknowledges in this letter Timothy, and his mother, Eunice and his grandmother Lois, their sincere faith. The word sincere comes from the Latin sine cera, without wax, for there were those who would sell vessels, clay pots that had cracked and were fixed with wax, a way of pretending they were whole when they were not.
It is the sincere, the authentic, the true vessel that you are, that must come forth, says Paul. The gift of God is within you, a spirit not of fear of what others think of you, but of power and love and self-discipline.
So, don't be ashamed. You have been called with a holy calling, and responding to God's own purpose and grace in you.
To stop pretending who we think others want us to be and to claim our authentic self, to claim God's own purpose and grace in us. That's what we claim on Sunday morning. That is our power and our story. And now we will hear Xema's but first we'll sing:
Who is this, that sends us out?
Maple Grove UMC
August 8, 2021
Rev. Dr. Brenda Buckwell – Living Streams Flowing Water
I have spent some extended time recently with my children and grandchildren. When I am with them my mind can easily go to stories like Thomas the Train, The Little Engine that Could or perhaps more challenging stories of the ugly duckling, beauty and the beast, The Princess and the Frog.
These more challenging stories, the ugly duckling, beauty and the beast, The Princess and the Frog; are invitations to look beyond the surface. Things are not simply as they appear. A cursory, surface, or presumptive glance could lead the viewer to miss out on the fullness of beauty and love of the stories.
Or if we look toward real life: Simone Biles from the Olympics. When the news broke that she would not be completing and had pulled out, the haters tweeted, … But when the real story came out, we learned a lot about the twisties and mental health. She was courageous! Not an ugly duckling but a true beauty.
It is so easy to have a presumptive perspective when seeing things, people, and events. Do you know, according to psychological works it takes us 6 seconds to make our minds up about strangers? Do we like what they wear? Is their voice soothing? We size them up unconsciously if they are someone we would like to know or not.
When have you, when have I looked upon another and stayed with your first glance of perspective and not delved deeper into the true person?
This morning we hear of some hometown children, now grown into adults who are still perceiving the other from their childhood pettiness. In our Gospel reading from Mark, we hear how Jesus is being judged by historic perceptions. They are not questioning his teachings or miracles. They are questioning who he thinks he is after going off on tour and coming back appearing to be at it were for his britches. There is not even enough respect to say he is his father’s son but chide him saying he is a Mama’s boy; he is Mary’s boy.
The folks in Nazareth are viewing Jesus with historic, earthly, or surface eyes; only identifying him through the eyes of private jealousy or prejudgment.
AND THIS BLINDNESS, when we trap others in our own expectations, about how the other should behave, what the other can and cannot do or be keeps the other from being his or her most authentic, God-gifted truest self.
The Gospel of Mark is all about helping the reading discovery the trust identity of Jesus. The readers encounter questions very quickly 1:27, 2:17, 4:41 and now here in chapter 6
Mark is not so interested as to what the disciples did when Jesus sent them out, but the necessary character needed by and formed in the disciples that are sent out to mission by Jesus.
Jesus invested the disciples with his authority and a list of instructions:
Student from my Introduction to Spiritual Formation Class. His story is shared here with his permission. (See attached)
He was offering God’s presence of grace, compassion and truly seeing her as God sees her.
Disciples are to go to on mission to neighbors near and around the world. Totally dependent upon God’s provisions, which is to be provided by the generosity of others.
Mark has Jesus preparing the disciples for mission after his death and resurrection.
The truth of humanity is that we still are influenced by the words, standards, roles, of the world.
Parents often struggle to experience their grown children is they are truly gifted to be. And the reverse is often true – adult children often struggle to break their childhood imagine of who the parent is.
Assumptions are often made about:
1. An answer to the question “With what lens do you view Jesus?” “Through what lens do you view others?”
Mark is inviting us to trust Jesus’ truest identity, not from our learned Bible stories of our youth, but of our adult formational experiences of how God’s love.
What is a formational experience of God’s love?
The power and presence of God that literally transforms our inner character, mannerisms, motivations, and attributes of our heart more and more into Christlikeness, (gift of the spirit) so that we view life – others, self, God through the lens of Jesus’ transfiguration, life-changing, presence and love born upon the cross.
The definition of Spiritual Formation that I teach in all my classes and use with my clients is from the late Robert Mulholland, Jr. His book Shaped by the Word. Upper Room books. Page 25.
“Christian Spiritual Formation is the process of being more nearly conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.” The student’s story encompasses both clauses of this definition. From his fasting he clearly heard God – “Stop at Bob Evans. Eat now.” And as he gave think for his heart to think – I love the way he said that! He lived the second clause of the definition – “For the sake of others” as he conversed with the waitress.
Our faith, beliefs, theology is to be lived in everyday encounters with others, self, and God.
No longer may we view the Ugly Duckling from a surface presentation but seek to gaze beyond the surface to see the beauty of Christ indwelling presence in the other.
May it be so as we walk humbly, seek justice, and share God’s mercy and love with others.
Maple Grove UMC
August 8, 2021
Yesterday evening, I was driving by myself. I happened to pass a Bob Evans Restaurant. I noticed the time was about 7:30 pm. It was after 6:30 pm, the Fasting expiration time for my Tuesday’s Rule of Life. At that moment, the hunger pains flared, triggering - Go into Bob Evans, go now, do not wait and drive anymore. No other customers were in the restaurant. A friendly waitress, whom you could tell was an experienced seasoned professional, came and took my order. After the practice of Fasting for the Rule of Life, I have learned having my first meal be a lighter meal rather than a heavier one works better for me. So, I ordered breakfast for dinner, eggs sunny side up. When the nice waitress served my meal, she said, “I am so sorry. One of the sunny-side-up yolks broke open a bit. Would you like me to have your meal remade?”
I paused for a moment. My heart was thinking, why would she believe the meal needed to be remade? And the way she said it, I could tell she was genuinely feeling sorry, but for what? An excellent-looking sunny round yolk with merely a tiny insignificant trickle. How small, but somehow big to her? But, why? Then that audible voice, that is not audible, but oh so audible, I heard, “She has been yelled at and mistreated many times by customers for, yes, a small, cracked yolk. Look in her eyes.”
After realizing my pause was starting to appear strange, I turned towards her looking up at her eyes, “No. You kidding, please, it is perfect! I am sorry for my pause. I wasn’t even considering whether I wanted the meal remade. Truth is, my pause or hesitation was because I was thinking about you felt a tiny cracked yolk would require a whole new meal to be remade for me. May I ask you, do people actually make you take the meal back for a new meal if the yolk is not just perfect every time?”. She said, “All the time. So many times a day. All-day long. The egg can be remade; the toughest part is watching how upset, so many people get, even getting so cruel, if their egg yolk is not perfectly round. Even when remade, I watch them let it ruin their entire time while here, even when with children.” I want to emphasize; she was not speaking in an ill will manner or tone of her customers, not at all. She was conveying in her tone, through her verbals and non-verbals, that she clearly and sincerely was more concerned about them (the upset customer) and still cared about their well-being long after they had left the restaurant. I looked at her, and I said, “You’re a good person. I am so sorry to hear. And know, I hear you, and I can see you genuinely still care about them. I was a waiter years ago, so I know what it can mean. Please know I see you. More importantly, He sees you….”
That immediately opened and led to a larger, more meaningful, purposeful conversation about the spiritual discipline of hospitality, other spiritual disciplines, treatment of strangers, and our calling as humanity for God, self, and others. She smiled after a lengthy discussion, and then she left me to finish my meal (actually start it). As I was about to leave, I requested my bill. She said, “There is no bill for you, please; your meal is on me. Our conversation is what I so needed to hear and experience. This was a blessing. It is my way of saying thank you.” Then a prayer of thanksgiving is appropriate at that moment. I was surprised, not ever expecting or even thought of her paying for my meal. I then snuck back and placed the estimated cost of the meal on the table plus a good tip, as her total tip for her graciousness and hospitality.
Win-Win for all, with the integration of the Spiritual Disciplines for Spiritual Formation by utilizing the knowledge grounded in and from our personal experience in our Rule of Life and this class. The individual practice moving outwardly “integrating and moving from individual to corporate in practices; Not how I, but how do we notice” and being mindful of assessing and knowing “when is the proper time to disclose the information about a practice” while seeking and “looking beyond the surface for the hidden wholeness of God”, for God is everywhere in the details of our lives (PPT).
No, it was not in a church setting or a structured small group; it was in a Bob Evans. But that is where it happened. And similarly where it has been happening. And that is apparently where it is meant to happen, too. It was not me; it is God. We corporately walked away feeling better, blessed, and more hopeful by the experience. Interestingly, this kind of interaction has been happening quite often lately over the past several months. I do not believe in coincidences.
The Forever Garden
August 1, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia Wagner
10And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 2
Then the angel[a] showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life[b] with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants[c] will worship him; 4 they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
When Dad died, I got the phone call. It was still dark, I awakened my daughter and we silently dressed and got in the car. A few miles on she spoke: “Mama, Grandpa showed me what's he's seeing and he's not colorblind anymore.”
His vision had awakened her, and then she'd gone back to sleep, but still saw it clearly.
She spent most of the next day painting. There emerged on canvas a grove of strangely beautiful, tall trees, flowing water, a sun of many colors, creatures mingling, and a door opening into light,
She labored over the sky, layered different hues of blue, a color her grandfather had never truly seen.
“I have to get this right,” she said.
Once complete, we were in awe. None of us understood how, nor doubted that Dad had at death communicated this vision to this beloved granddaughter. Her open spirit the one most ready to receive it.
It comforted all of us, particularly my mother who spent days looking at it. Dad had suffered so much, and now he was steeped in beauty, in a garden. We were all filled with wonder and relief.
John's revelation in Chapter 21 and 22, must have done the same; for those who have suffered from the wickedness of the Roman and Babylonian empires.
The spirit, says, John, conveyed him up a mountaintop the place of vision and there he is shown a city and water, bright as crystal, flowing through it. And each side of the river is the tree of life which bears fruit endlessly fruit and whose leaves are for the healing of all the nations.
All there are marked by the name of God, claimed forever. There is no temple, nor light not from a sun or lamp but God's illuminating presence fills all in all.
Rivers, trees, light like what Dad saw, and I'm sure those worn down by war and pestilence and the politics of empires felt, as we did, wonder and relief.
We each may get our glimpses: In the mid 1300s, during the Black Death, the bubonic plague, when Julian of Norwich was 20 and a half years old, she fell ill, and was given vision of the way in which God loved the world, and heard God say All Shall be Well.
I ran into a friend yesterday at the garden center who shared that his father is facing death. After some harrowing years of impoverishment and sickness, now he had a bed at a good care center, and on Friday, he smiled and said: “I'm ready - and it’s all okay.”
But John's word is not only about what awaits but what is to happen, a vision for this side of glory. We seem to be a people without vision. After a respite, we've returned to troubled days filled with vitriol and distrust that has left everyone more vulnerable to a deadly disease.
And yet, has not God given us what we need: Scientists, minds given by God have worked together to create a vaccine, like those leaves for the healing of the nations and they will continue to work to help us.
And John's vision of common glory, even in this divided city, we are brought together by creation.
When Rose and I walk along the Scioto we meet there people are there from income group neighborhood and an abundance of nations relishing the trees, the light the water flowing bright as crystal, comforting, all of us.
Each of us given eyes to see and ears to hear born into the garden, to be stewards of it, and one another, to recognize distress and ease it, to recognize evil and upend it, to take all of it, and our lives, in their beauty and struggle and cry holy. And then, at the last to lay down our tools, and be delivered into wonder into God's forever garden.
I showed Rose's painting to a friend, who looked at the blue sky she'd painted so carefully, do you know what color that is? It’s indigo. Have you heard of the Indigo children? Children who had each been given a vision of the life after life, and this is the color they all describe.
Rose did not paint that scene again, but went on to paint a great tree, rooted, stretching outward. “This is how I imagine him,” she said of her grandfather, “full of new life.”
And it seems to me that God wants that too, for us, and gave us Jesus who would help us live it on this side of glory. Come, he says, come to the table, receive the healing leaves, the fruit of the vine, the bread of the earth. Come, be a gardener with me.