November 28, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Jeremiah 33: 14-16 (CEB
The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill my gracious promise with the people of Israel and Judah. In those days and at that time, I will raise up a righteous branch from David!s line, who will do what is just and right in the land. In those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is what he will be called: The Lord Is Our Righteousness.
Psalm 24: 4-5
Make your ways known to me, Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth—teach it to me—because you are the God who saves me. I put my hope in you all day long.
She was waiting for me by the door on Christmas Eve after the service was over, as have so many over the years. Pastor, I don't have a place to sleep tonight. I look dismayed, both for her and for me. I am tired, it's been a long day, a long season, I just want to go home, finish wrapping presents and watch the pope lead Midnight Mass live from St. Peters Cathedral. But there she is, or he is, on Christmas Eve, reminding me Jesus' family looked for a place for him to be born in that night. And, I remember that I am the innkeeper. There is plenty of room, there's just no one to watch out overnight to ensure that all is well. So, I figure out some other way to take care of her for the night, then lock the warm church I fully expect that Jesus will talk to me about this when I have left this life. But I also think that the spirit of divine love understands what we are all feeling. Besides the darn game yesterday, we are just worn out from pivoting from not being able to forecast what is possible next month let alone next year from life's events being beyond our control.
Of course, life isn't. Reinhold Niebuhr says that “We get discouraged when we think we are somehow exempt from the vicissitudes of creature lines.” Isn't that a wonderful phrase? It means the troubles that are part of being human. We wish we could just skip over this weird exhausting time, and be somewhere in the future where all this is behind us.
But Rev. Grace Imathiu a Kenyan United Methodist theologian, says: “Don't miss this moment by wishing it was five years ago, by wishing it was your childhood Christmas, by trying to rush it through so that we get to next year or the year before. Don't miss this. This is the once in a lifetime Christmas. If the darkness is so dark, then this is when the light shines the brightest. So don't be so terrified of the dark that you pretend it's not there. Stare right into the face of exhaustion and lack of control. Look those monsters in the eye and say: ‘Let's do Christmas now. Let's figure out this story that God has given us. Afresh and anew and in this moment.’” The prophet Jeremiah speaks to those in exile from the life they had. They are on the edge of despair, and it is exactly there, that uncertainty opens the door to creativity, to imagination to a different future.
And if you think about it, isn't the Christmas story about the way Divine Love enters into the vicissitudes of creatureliness in unimagined places. What good can come out of Nazareth? A manger, really? It can take a minute to get there, I was driving back Thursday night, from visiting with my brother and his family for the first time in 2 years, when I heard the news on the radio about this Omicron Covid variant. My high spirit deflated as I thought about all who would now stay away from church, again. But after a moment, I decided to look it in the face. Okay, here we are in this unimagined time. What am I not seeing here? How can I, how can we make ourselves available to be God's partners the advent of the new reality. How might we imagine our our worship arts, and our technology, to reach persons who might never leave their homes to come here. Persons with disabling conditions those with life situations who might not cross the threshold but who need a room in this inn?
So, what if we don't gather in great numbers but in small groups more regularly? How might that allow us to build real, intimate, life changing community? And perhaps there are ways that this wonderful space, this Inn of the Lord might become a means to sustain and restore those whom we might not have had room for before. And the hope began to rise again. What if we all take a good deep breath, go ahead, and stare this moment right in the eyes.
This once in a lifetime Advent and Christmas. Let us remember whose inn we keep and be of good cheer a cheer that reflects our very real hope. Then let's share that with our families our community, our guests on the patio. Let us trust that the faithful One who lights the sky with stars. Is lighting our way even and especially this year, Amen.
We Gather Together
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia Wagner
We gather together...What powerful three words those are. We all sense this year, the blessing of gathering together here in this sanctuary, or around a Thanksgiving dinner table and for those longing for absent loved ones you may only now fathom the depths of blessing that you knew when you gathered together. So, to gather together is a gift. It is also a challenge. The virus is still here, people are still getting ill and dying. Separation may still feel more comfortable. Isolation more safe.
We see migrants at the borders desperate for hope and a future and countries and systems they want to enter struggling to know how to manage. We see persons in need on our streets, at our intersections, on our church patio, and we aren't sure how to safely gather with them. And to share a family and a nation; with those whose opinions are so opposite to our own?
I saw a bumper sticker: America, I love you, but you're kind of freaking me out right now. How do we gather together? It was a challenge from the beginning of this holiday exactly 400 years ago, in 1621. The pilgrims were ill at ease with the native peoples on whose home they landed, whose help they required to survive. Those indigenous to this place were naturally uneasy, too. Consider the gulf between these cultures. Consider what became of the native peoples. Consider the power of the grace they offered these strangers as they taught them to survive. They gathered together then, and if they could do so, perhaps we too, might overcome our urge to separate, to isolate and embody the grace and generosity of those to whom God first gave this land and the courage of those starchy pilgrims who were open to a new life.
We may not have a shared vision of the future, but must we not have a vision of a shared future? Churches have struggled to gather together for 2000 years, and for the last 50 years, our United Methodist Church like much of the Christian church has particularly struggled over the question of the full humanity and belovedness of persons who are not heterosexual. It is one that has challenged us as a denomination and revealed a fault line within our body that we have learned cannot be talked over or covered over. And five years ago, this congregation decided upon which side of that fault line it had to stand. But to become a Reconciling church is not to throw down a gauntlet, is not a movement to separate ourselves it is the opposite: The RMN Guidebook that we use in the process of becoming a Reconciling Congregation states that to be reconciled means: "That we are at peace with one another. That we are committed to accompanying others in respect and mutuality walking alongside those who both agree and disagree with us as we discern directions for shared mission. We avoid and do not value divisive rhetoric or actions. We begin and return to God in prayer for guidance and renewal.” That sounds Maple Grove to me. That sounds like the church of Jesus. Where we gather together, all of us, in our variety, equals, each of us sinners and saint overcoming our isolation sustaining and restoring the kingdom and one another. We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing. Who chastens and hastens his will to make known. And here, the wicked oppressing cease from distressing. Sing praises to God's name. God forgets not his own. Amen.
Jesus and the Soldier
November 14, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia Wagner
2 Timothy 1:9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time. 5 When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him 6 and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” 7 And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” 8 The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 10 When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one[ a ] in Israel have I found such faith. .” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour.
We know what God wants from us Jesus told us we are to give our lives for one another, we also know what he said about violence that which we inflict upon one another. So, what would he say to the soldier?
At his birth, Jesus' family fled to Egypt to escape the soldiers Herod sent to kill the newborn king of the Jews. The first encounter we know of in adulthood was the one we heard today, It
took place in Capernaum, Peter’s hometown and Jesus' home base. A Centurian, a leader of 100 men of the occupying force that inhabited Israel Jesus' whole life. This soldier, a person of power and authority recognized that Jesus had his own, if of a different kind. He asked Jesus to heal his servant, gravely ill. Jesus agreed but the soldier then deferred. The text doesn't say why, but perhaps it was because of his being part of the occupying force. “I am not worthy to receive you, but speak and he shall be healed.” Jesus was amazed at the centuriess faith in this healing power to transcend space. “I have not found such great faith, even among my own.”
On Jesus last night, soldiers came with Judas and synagogue officials to the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, asked them, “Who is it you want?” “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. Jesus said, “I am he,” and the soldiers drew back and fell to the ground. Not the synagogue officials not Judas. Those last to fall at Jesus' feet in reverence, were those soldiers who came to arrest him. There were soldiers at foot of the cross, who ridiculed him, gambled for his linen covering and put a sword through his side. But there was also another Centurian, who stood guard that day. He would have seen Jesus' suffering, heard his cries, and his asking God's forgiveness for all who did not understand what they did. And upon Jesus' death, he proclaimed: “Surely this man was the son of God.” And in their stories, all of us can see ourselves: For we, too, want healing for those we love, but wouldn’t feel worthy to have Jesus enter our homes. We wear with all sorts of protecting armor go along with the crowd sometimes yet when goodness is revealed bow down in wonder.
We may stand silently by when evil is done but when grace and mercy are revealed we are moved to new awareness and deeper faith. Jesus sees us human beings for who we are; understands the ways we are compromised whether the woman at the well, the tax collector in the tree, the rich young man who wants everlasting life, or the soldier who longs for one who served him to be well. “
Matt Dresbach was a soldier who longed for one who served him to be well. A former Army Captain, who was deployed to Kandahar Province, Afghanistan from 2011 to 2012. His own interpreter, Fawad, had applied in 2014 for a special visa, but the process was bogged down and then stalled in past years, so Fawad was still there in Afghanistan when the Taliban took control. Matt had been working with a group of veterans here in Central Ohio to coordinate the evacuation of their interpreters and their families. I have copies here of Matt's account of heroic effort of the setbacks, the danger and toil and snares, the beating Fawad endured by the Taliban, the narrow escape from the bombing that took the brave and vulnerable. The illness of his young son, then missing two flights he was to board. Until Matt's high school friend's wife's cousin's wife's assistant's niece's husband on the ground at the Kabul airport was able to make sure they got out. And last week as part of Jeff and Ridhima's great clan of extended family and friends, for the baptism of their daughter Reya. Where their dear friend Matt and his friend Fawad with his wife and son. They all wanted to be here that morning to witness that moment, themselves witnesses to the power of love and friendship.
To move in the most terrible of situations and bring forth good. “ He has saved us and called us to a holy life,” says Paul in the second letter to Peter, “not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” There is grace and purpose enough for thee.
Stewards of Grace - Commitment Sunday
Maple Grove UMC
November 7, 2021
Rev. Patricia Wagner
I Peter 4: 8-11
Many years ago, I was visiting churches and for awhile there, every church I visited was having Commitment Sunday, It was very irritating. I felt like that hero of the movie Groundhog Day, there must be a lesson I'm supposed to learn here, but I don't want to! I was moved by one's sermon about how everything comes from God and how all we are asked to give back is one tenth of that.
Yes, but all these churches were poor, I thought. I would look around and see church folks that had almost nothing, and wonder: how on earth can these people keep this place going I felt for those pastors how could they bear to ask the people to give. Its impossible, I thought to myself. But it's always been rather impossible.
From the ancestors who were enslaved in Egypt to those persecuted peoples of faith who crossed the wilderness of desert or ocean, or attacks from jealous national leaders who suppressed the early church including Peter's. The church has always been in peril. The peril now is different, We are outposts in a world that seem increasingly disconnected to a sense of the holy, to the Sabbath and sees us as quaint to center our lives in something which we cannot prove but only live. And yet the church persists you keep showing up, doing the work of faith, teaching the children, guiding the youth, loving our elders feeding the hungry, caring for the homeless, reaching out to the refugee; taking unpopular stands for the sake of Christ's gospel. And we support this place, this church
you are figuring out how you can do so. That's not to say its easy making commitments of time and resources. While we know in our hearts that God has
If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who
Each of you should use
brought us this far, we confess that we struggle to be sure that God will keep doing so. There's an extraordinary story about that in the first Book of Kings in the Hebrew scriptures. There is a drought on, and the prophet Elijah hears the spirit of God tell him to go into a region where there has been no rain, and visit a widow there, whom God has told to feed him. And Elijah goes and finds the widow and asks her for a morsel of bread and she says, and she says, as the Lord your God lives (you hear that, "your God") she is not of the faith.
As your God lives I have nothing baked, just a handful of meal and a little oil, and I am now gathering a couple of sticks so that I might make something for myself and my son so we can eat and then die. And then he asks, outrageously and without apology, Go and make a little cake for me from the meal and bread and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. Now, how can this man bear to ask this woman, on the verge of starvation, for her last bit of food? But then he makes a promise Elijah makes a promise to her from the God who sent him: “You will not run out of oil and meal. The jars will stay full until the drought is over.”
The Lord will provide. And it was so. Elijah helped her realize, even in her poverty that she had and would receive gifts that would allow her to give. as Peter would say to the persecuted early church: What grace has brought you safe thus far, In what forms has grace come to you? Can you trust that grace that has brought you safe thus far, will lead you home? Can you release your life to that grace? And to the offering that God is calling forth from you? Think of the Saints we encountered this past season. How they felt a call, in very different ways, at different ages.
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
Francis was in his 20's, Julian was in her 30's, Hildegard her 40's, Oscar was in his 60's when the service that was required of them became clear and each given strength to carry it out. Perhaps they, like we, were leaning on these words of Peter: There is a woman who lives a good portion of her life here well, on our grounds, she is without another home, so she spends her days walking through Clintonville. Eats her meals from our blessing box and at night, shuttles between here and the post office boxes. If you would arrive very early on a Sunday morning even on the coldest mornings, you would find her huddled against the door trying to get a bit of the warm air under the door. She can be difficult, she can take advantage, but then last Sunday morning, at worship time, she came inside,
and handed Cathy Davis a wad of money. “Here, this is for the church.” Perhaps because she has come to trust that she has a place to sleep, even a cold one, “If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” That there will be food in the blessing box. According to the gifts she has been given she gave her last coins her morsel of meal and oil as a faithful steward of the grace she has received. That was the lesson those pastors and poor folk in those churches were trying to teach me in those Commitment Sundays all those years ago.
All of us, have received gifts of God and all of us are stewards of that grace. May we help one another to remember and be thankful in Jesus' name.
Patricia Wagner, Maple Grove UMC