GOD’S PLAN FOR YOU AND ME
REV. MICHELLE BAKER
MAPLE GROVE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
SEPTEMBER 5, 2021
I am so glad to be with you today to be offering the message and serving at the table for communion. Both are near and dear to my heart as is this congregation. Patty asked me to offer a message of my personal life and faith. There was no question which scripture I would use for today but Jeremiah 29:11. This is my life verse. Listen to it again.
For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord. Plans to prosper and not to harm, to give you a hope and a future.
There is a joke that says: Do you know how to make God laugh .... Tell God your plans. This seems to be so true in my life. I say often, that before I die, I want to learn the difference between my time and God’s time. I’m getting better, but I still have a way to go.
As we begin, Let’s look at the setting in which this scripture is placed. This is part of a letter that God had the prophet Jeremiah write around the year 600BC to a group of Jews who are living in Babylon approximately 400 miles from Jerusalem. They were exiled because of their sins and idolatry. God was giving the land rest for the centuries the Israelites had not kept the Sabbath. They had acquired the values of those around them, not living a life of faith. Living here was not their choice. They were exiles.
The Babylonians had come and literally taken them away from their families and friends, and forced them to leave their jobs and their homes, and to live in a place and culture which was totally foreign to them. This was nothing they wanted, nothing they planned and certainly in their foreign culture, nothing they understood.
Previous to this passage God tells them to get comfortable in their new surroundings. Because they were to be there for the next 70 years, if you ask me, that was a very long time out. BUT God assures them that he had a plan for them ... not to hurt or harm them. A plan with a purpose. What was the purpose.? The Lord planned to prosper them, to provide them with hope ... to provide them with a future.
I think we can understand theoretically that God has a plan but when we are in the midst of trial and difficult times that consumes us, it is hard to see to the other side. Sometimes I feel like that is the world we are living in right now. A virus that just does not seem to stop, fires - earthquakes -hurricanes - global warming, hatred and division even within those who are profess to follow Jesus. I don’t know about you but there are days I absolutely feel like those Jews in Babylon ... I know God has a plan but I would sure like to be brought into the loop and to how this will all work itself out.
To help us make this verse a little closer to our heart, I would like to substitute two words from what we have read. 1. Let’s put dreams in place of plans ... 2. and the original Greek meaning of hope is confidence. Let’s listen again. For I know the dreams I have for you declares the Lord, to give you confidence and a future. I don’t know about you but that lets me see this in a whole different way.
God's dreams for me? Really? The creator of the universe has dreams for me? Yes, God does have dreams for me and for you. If God created me in God’s image and calls me his daughter, why wouldn’t he have dreams for me. Think about parents. All parents have dreams for their children. Why would it be any different with our creator? And it is the same for you. God created you and calls you son or daughter and has dreams for you. It doesn’t depend on you believing it, feeling it or even understanding it. God has dreams for each of us.
Now the other word we substituted was confidence for hope. To give us confidence and a future. I know when I have confidence in achieving something, it becomes easier for me. I believe in my ability. And to think that God gives us that confidence makes it all the more attainable.
God has dreams for you, and instills confidence in you to see the future that God plans.
I’m quite sure I didn’t understand this for many decades of my life. I want to take you on a short trip to places in my life that now, I can see where God's plans helped to form me into the person that stands here today.
Let’s start in the early 1960’s at Worthington Methodist Church. There was a little girl that cried because she was too young to join the children’s choir and when she was old enough stood up in the choir loft and sang to the depths of her soul. (Infant Holy, Infant Lowly was the first song I sang in church, so Quinton if you could put that on out list every Christmas that would make me happy).
Fast forward to the mid 70’s. I went on a mission trip with another church to Broken Bow Oklahoma to work with the Choctaw Chickasaw Indians. I planned and ran a VBS for the children on the reservation. In our evening vespers I remember crying every night. The leaders passed it off as being homesick, but I look back and realize it was the first time I felt the Holy Spirit washing through me and I had no clue what to do with it.
Also during this same time frame I had just completed confirmation and finally I Was allowed to teach Sunday School. One year in the 3’s class, one year in the Kindergarten class and my senior year was lead teacher of the Kindergarten. That was God's training for a future in Christian Education.
Fast forward to 1992 on the steps right here. I was 9mo pregnant with Connor and friends ... there was no better time to play Mary during a children’s sermon than that moment. I told the children about this amazing gift and a very young Kate Morgan looked up with those beautiful blue eyes and said, Oh Miss Michelle ... You mean God loves me that much. I literally thought I would melt into a puddle and slide down the steps. Friends little did I know it then, but God had a plan ... that was my call to ministry. All I knew was I had a story of God's love that I needed to share with others.
7 weeks into life with our newborn, and he was desperately sick and in the hospital, not knowing if he was going to live or die. This was the first time I was able to cling to this verse when in the wee hours of the night I was rocking my baby and praying hard. God calmed my soul and allowed my faith to grow exponentially. I was able to come to a place that if he wasn’t going to make it, somehow I would figure out a way to move on, with God's help, how to be ok. We made it home and it was a rough couple years but 4 months in, his pediatrician said someone needed to stay home and manage him medically. I needed to give up my professional career as an epidemiologist and data analyst. But when I did that, I now had the time to concentrate on my part time job here at MG as DCE and found that ministry fulfilled me like nothing ever had. I now had a path to follow that call to ministry. If you don’t know, that little baby boy is a happy and healthy 28yo married man now.
I want to make a caution here, I in no way believe that God caused Connor to be sick in order to fulfill his dream of me being a minister. My theology simply does not allow for that. But he did give me the ability to see through an unimaginable time and find good within it.
I started a full time position at Hilliard UMC as minister of education, graduated from seminary and was zooming toward ordination when it felt like every support I had fell out from under me. I was denied ordination the first time I interviewed. I had to take a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. I picked Children’s Hospital because my ministry experience had been with children, youth and families. One late night on call I had to pray a 4month old into heaven as we discontinued life support. Friends I cannot describe what it felt like but I literally felt heaven and earth touch in that moment. I knew without a shadow of a doubt chaplaincy was my next step in ministry.
God said it wasn’t time yet, because the wheels were coming off my marriage and I needed to heal. The church (not a west Ohio church) where I was serving told me because of that to go find another job elsewhere. I needed time to heal. And so I did. During this time, working a non ministry job, I had our verse for today taped to my computer monitor. I read it literally hundreds of times every week. I didn’t understand it, but I believed it. And now I have completed my advanced training, became board certified and have been a hospice chaplain now for 10 years. People ask me how I do this difficult work and I can safely and confidently, It’s where God calls me today, where God calls me tomorrow, I’ll just wait and see.
This is only just the highlights in my life, and dare I say does not even begin to tell the story of how many times I made a plan, tried to change the major or minor events of my life, because ... surely I know better what direction my life should’ve. What plan are you on, B, C, T, or maybe Z? How often do we wonder? “What's next”, “Where is God in all this?” or maybe “God, what is your plan?”
If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. The Jewish people of Jeremiah’s day had to feel like this. The prophet Jeremiah spoke for God and told them to hold tight, hang on ... God had a plan and it's to give you hope and give you a future. Have you felt like this last year and a half has had us in exile? I would venture the answer would be yes. How many of our plans have been derailed. How many of our dreams have been derailed. We don’t know where this will all end, but I pray it isn’t what the Jewish people were told, 70 years. We have been separated from loved ones, activities that nurture our soul, loss of work and so much loss of life, and then not always being able to even celebrate our loved ones lives when they die. But I assure you, God tells you today to tell you that God has a plan for your life, and God offers you a future.
Sometimes in our lives, bad stuff happens. I almost lost my first born, I didn’t plan on being a single mom, I certainly didn’t expect a church to let me go because I was no longer married, and my career goal was clear -- I was going to find the cure for cancer, not be a pastor for heaven sakes. All things I didn’t plan, but I can see how my faith grew, my personal strength grew, and my relationship with God grew out of the difficulties in my life.
There were many times when I cried out wondering where God was in the mess.
But in times like this, I think God is calling to us to look to God for our security and strength. The Psalmist tells us in Psalm 121 [my favorite Psalm] “I lift my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from. My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” Sometimes in difficulty it is not where is God, but Where are we, What have we been going? Like those in exiles, we too often realize that we also are trying to blend in with society instead of being a light in the darkness. That isn’t always the case, but I think it bears giving ourselves a reality check as to where we are in relation to where God’s word tells us to be.
God often uses our mistakes or our heartaches, if we allow it to fulfill the bigger plan for our lives. God has a plan for this world, even if we cannot figure it out in these days, and God tell you and me that there is a plan ... and God wants to be sure that that plan includes you.
I asked my coworkers this week in our team meeting what this scripture meant to them. Here are a few of their responses. There are things in life to look forward to and life will be happier. God is in control, especially now. I hear emotional fulfillment. God loves me more than I know and wants the best for me.
But it was my friend and coworker Kari that I think hit on the ultimate meaning of this passage, God does give us a hope for a future ... its not just our life on this earth, because this life is temporary. God wants us to focus on the eternal - the life to come. I love the beginning of the Gospel of John chapter 14... and I take this from the Rev. Michelle paraphrase version of the Bible. “In my Fathers house there are many rooms, and if it was so, I would have told you. And because it so, I will come and take you to be with me, because where I am you will be also.”
That’s God’s ultimate promise for you, Jesus tells us that we have a place in heaven. God’s ultimate plan is to spend eternity with you in heaven.
Jesus died on the cross for you and me and the world. The creator of the world wants to spend eternity with you. In the grand scheme of things, the bumps in the road of life begin to pale. God tells us to be secure in the plan, whether we can see the outcome or not.
You probably are saying, thats all well and good, but how do we put this into action? I was thinking hard on this when I felt pulled to my momma’s well used and worn Bible. We have talked about verse 11 this morning, but mother has V12-13 marked and highlighted.
“When you call upon me and come to pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.”
Prayer ... connection to God ... looking for God in the crazy events of life. Seek God with all your heart. That's what God wants. All of us, to put God first in our lives. To do all the good we can with our time on earth, and look to the future of eternity.
We prepare now to join at God’s table through the sacrament of Holy Communion. We remember the sacrifice Jesus made for us, his death on the cross for which he paid the price for our sins, and so that we will spend eternity in heaven. Have confidence in this dream of God, to have a relationship with you throughout your life on earth, as well as eternity.
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.
July 25, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Deuteronomy 30: 11-14, 19
11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?”14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.
19 I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Therefore, choose life, that both you and your seed may live
It was wintertime, just after Christmas, and I was driving on the beltway outside of Chicago traveling east on Friday evening rush hour when a car sideswiped me, dislocated my driver’s seat and set my Celica spinning out. All I remember was seeing the car lights coming toward me and wondering if it would hurt when I died.
But when the spinning stopped, I found myself stalled, facing the right direction, with a truck on my right, also stopped, protectively giving me time to pull over.
I was alive the car was drivable. How was that possible?
What had everyone had to do to get out of my way? And why I had been spared when so many good people die this way? And all I could think was, that whatever the reason I have survived, I should make sure to do something with my life. But what?
I was traveling to see a wise friend, a priest, about a decision to go for my divinity degree and PhD or to go back overseas. Both meaningful, one seemed to be the upward and steady path, and the other the downward and uncertain.
I saw the priest, who told me to listen to God. So, after getting the car fixed, I found my way to Niagara Falls. I donned the rain jacket, then took the elevator deep down to the tunnel underneath the falls. You can sense the ancient power of the earth there, 1/5 of the world's freshwater crashes down over those rocks, but there was something welcoming, too. I sensed that I was part of this, that we human beings are part of this power.
I walked down the portal, and there with water rushing in I heard clearly the answer to my question, seemingly spoken aloud: Go with what gives life!
Moses is nearing the end of his life and journey and is desperate for the people he's been leading to know what he knows. It takes 26 chapters of Deuteronomy to tell them.
He reminds them of all they have been through the ways in which their lives have been upended, shaken, shaped. He has described what God intended for them; to love God, heart soul and mind, in chapter 6 to cancel the debts of the poor, in chapter 15, to guard against excess wealth, 16 limit punishment to protect human dignity, 19 offer hospitality to runaway slaves, 23 pay employees fairly, 24 leave part of the harvest for those who need it.
Then concludes: 11 Now what I am commanding you today
is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?”13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?”14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. 19 I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Therefore, choose life, that both you and your seed, your children, may live.
It’s your choice, the Lord says, it was the choice of those in the first garden, it’s your choice now.
The Creator of heaven and earth chose to reach out to us; to reveal Godself to us through a child whom we would love.
And Mary chose to bear that child and Joseph chose to claim that child. and then, Jesus, in turn, chose in the wilderness not to take the easy path but to follow his calling, then he chose his disciples, chose us.
And then, perhaps first by our parents, but then somewhere along the way, we chose this path for ourselves.
In story and questions and by his own life, Jesus shows us the choices before us: What brings forth life in the kingdom of God in you? Choose that life, he says.
Choose to speak when it’s easier to stay silent, to love when it’s easier to hate, to care when it’s easier to turn away, to give when it’s easier to keep, to forgive when it’s easier to resent.
As Jesus showed us, it isn't the easy life we choose, when we choose his way, it isn't the longest life but unlike serving the small gods, when we listen to that voice, we claim our true life.
Over and over, throughout our days, the voice quiet or rumbling, clear or hazy, says, I am here, and the choice is yours, once again. Life or death? Choose life.
I ended up choosing a rather downward path with profound consequences and wondered often about that other way. And yet, in that moment of the rushing waters the command and the path was clear.
It's not easy being our true selves, choosing to fully live into the life that is within us.
I recently heard someone talking about the Song “It's Not Easy Being Green.” It was an odd lyric to me. I never really connected with it.
But as Sesame Street marked its 50th anniversary this summer, I heard a woman recalling hearing that song for the first time.
She gasped. “Do you hear that?” she said, to her friend. They were singing about her, about them, about her living her life in brown skin.
And it's about living in yours and choosing again and again to claim the life God has given you. Think of that as Steve sings, and think of this: I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Therefore, choose life, that you may live.
The Secret Garden
Mark 4: 26-34
Maple Grove UMC
July 18, 2021
Scripture: Mark 4:24-36
Please rise in body or spirit for the reading of the Gospel, which comes from Mark 4:24-36
26 Jesus also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.
In one of the farthest corners of the Roman empire, Jesus tells his disciples and followers, that the Kingdom of God is at hand. And in today’s scripture that Nancy read for us, Jesus tells us something about that Kingdom, he says it is like a man who scatters seeds, then goes to sleep, forgets about them, yet they still grow, first a stalk, then the head, then the full kernel. And when the grain ripens, it’s ready to harvest.
Then he tells us that the kingdom is like a small mustard seed, that grows into a large plant, a plant so big that birds can build nests in the shade of its branches.
Jesus’ use of parables tends to create more questions than give answers.
One description of a parable says that it doesn’t “tell a truth to a person as much as it helps a person discover the truth.”
Pastor Mary Luti wrote a reflection called No Idea, here is a portion of it, Luti says “A preacher I know once stopped in the middle of her sermon, head down, silent. After several seconds, she looked up and said softly, “I have no idea what I’m talking about.”
Luti goes on to say, “She hadn’t wandered from her point or lost her place on the page. She been cogent and confident right up to that moment.
The moment she was overcome with a searing awareness that she was out of her depth. The moment it struck her that when it comes to the (capital M) Mystery, neither she nor anyone else on the face of the earth has the faintest clue.
The moment when she, who’d been nattering away like a person who knows things, was so mortified by her impudence that she couldn’t go on.
Luti continues…The pastor then finessed the awkward moment with a joke, finished, and sat down. Afterwards, nobody mentioned it. Except one parishioner who told her that when she’d said “No idea…” he’d want to shout “Hooray! The truth at last!”’
So the truth is, we’re all out of our depth, none of us have the faintest clue. Not just me, up here, trying to unpack these parables from Jesus, but all of us who are seeking to resolve (capital M) Mystery, to speak of the holy, who want to know the unknowable, and hope to control the uncontrollable.
Today’s scripture says that Jesus spoke to them, as much as they could understand and when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.
Earlier in this same chapter, following the parable of the sower, the disciples asked Jesus to explain it to them, and he said, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?”
There are a lot of levels of understanding. Like for instance, we all understand that our lives depend upon us breathing, but it’s astonishing to me, to learn from someone with knowledge of physiology how breathing affects our nervous system, our metabolism, our sleep, and even the shape of our face.
And, I understand how to put out birdseed and draw flocks of birds to my feeders all day long, but a bird expert can help me attract specific birds based the particular seeds, nuts, fruit, and insects that suit the beaks and diets of those visitors I’m hoping for. And that expert can tell me how to keep the squirrels, skunks and raccoons away from my feeders too.
Some things can be easily learned, and fully understood; given sufficient information, however, the more holy and sacred, the infinite and eternal truths, the Mystery, are ineffable, and we can only hint at and point towards and tell parables about them.
Jesus, as a spiritual master and wisdom teacher, according to the Gospel of Mark, didn’t say anything to the disciples without using a parable. Parables don’t give information, as much as they give an experience. They don’t help us see something new, as much as they help us see in a new way. Parables offer a new perspective. They stretch our minds and hearts and invite us in; they don’t give a quick and easy understanding; they say, in effect, Slow down. Come closer and listen. Let me tell you a secret…
Jesuit priest Anthony DeMello advised his readers to always carry around a parable. He said, give these stories a chance to work on your subconscious mind and reveal their hidden meaning. He said they will worm their way into your heart and break down barriers to the Divine.
So the Kingdom of God is like a man scattering seeds and going to sleep, and the crops grow. It’s like a small seed, growing into a large shrub, a place for birds to perch.
Certainly, at one level of meaning, we can hear these two parables speak to us about qualities we might consider essential in the Kingdom of God. They’re soaked in grace - crops grows and produce with so little effort on our part. It’s all by the grace of God. Life emerges, growth is given, life supports life. Grace abounds.
And through observing nature, we learn to trust. There is an animating source, a power beyond us, greater than us, sustaining this grand and mysterious universe which is always undergoing transformation. Always changing, growing, maturing. Always productive and generative. Moving through cycles.
Grace, trust, and transformation would be gift enough for us to glean from these parables. But what else can we hear and see in this parable? What more? What other perspective might we gain?
Since we are in a garden sermon series this summer, I feel like I’ve got to talk about the research that indicates nature is not only our teacher but our healer as well. We’ve long known that trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. We’re now learning that time spent in nature, or even watching and listening from our window, has many health benefits.
According to Park Rx America, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to decrease the burden of chronic disease, increase health and happiness, and foster environmental stewardship, they say, studies show that being out in nature is associated with better cognitive development in children. And that the closer we are to green spaces the less likely we are to suffer from cardiovascular, respiratory, neurological and digestive diseases. Nature helps to decrease high blood pressure and reduces stress, depression and anxiety. Even crime is lower in areas with more trees. It seems we’re healthier, happier and more peaceful when connected to nature.
I read a story, some years back, I’ve been unable to find it again, to tell you the source or even verify it but it stuck with me, and it came to me again as I thought about the different state of mind evoked through nature. The story, as I recall, was about a psychotherapist, who would take on patients that other therapists had been unable to help. People who were trapped in deep mental anguish and distortions. This therapist lived on a patch of wooded land; he had a couple of cottages on it as well. Once he took on a client, they would move into a cottage and were given a journal. His therapy with them begins not with meetings between the therapist and client but with the client journaling daily and delivering the journal to the therapist each evening, for him to read and return for the next day’s journaling.
The therapist and client begin to meet for sessions once the client stops writing about all the disturbances, distractions, and obsessions going on in their mind, and begins to write about what they are observing in nature. When the client had moved to journaling about their awareness and connection with the natural world outside them, the next step of therapy would begin.
A garden invites us into the present moment, into stillness and silence, out of the busy, calculative, anxious mind. Calling us beyond just the mind of logic and reason. It speaks the language of the heart and soul. Encouraging us to rest and release and receive. A garden is disarming. It can break down barriers to the divine.
In a talk by Irish theologian Peter Rollins he said that “The core subversive message of Christianity is not that we are trying to get into heaven but we are screaming to get God out of heaven, into the earth, into the grime of the everyday of life.”
Rollins said while growing up in Ireland, he’d hear stories about the IRA, and how they had a tactic where they would plant an explosive in a building and phone up the authorities and tell them they have 5 minutes to get everyone out. Rollins said he remembers hearing a tale about a man named Seamus, and Seamus dies, and he finds himself in heaven, and he meets Saint Peter. Saint Peter pulls out a big old dusty book, sets it down, opens it up, looks in it for a bit, then looks at Seamus, and he says “Listen mate, you’re not in the book, look you’re in the IRA, you’re not getting in.” Seamus says ‘No, no. You misunderstand, I’m not trying to get in, you’ve got 5 minutes to get out.’
Jesus, living in the first century, in the farther reaches of the Roman empire said the kingdom of God is in your midst.
Jesus’ overarching message is that the “kingdom,” the “reign,” the “realm” of God has come near — near enough that we can reach out and touch it. It’s not somewhere else; it’s here. It’s not later; it’s now. That was the primary news that Jesus brought. This is the Good News of the Gospel. It is the news that God is not remote and removed from us in some distant sphere. Instead, God is in our midst, active in our daily lives, offering us gifts, inviting us into the freedom and fullness of life.
For those who have ears to hear and eyes to see.
And through parables, that work on our subconscious and worm their way into our hearts, the Kingdom of God comes as an invitation, a grace, an offering, we’re not pressured, there’s no force. Through a spiritual power, Jesus reveals this sacred, enchanted, mysterious kingdom hidden in our midst.
“God comes to you disguised as your life” spiritual teacher Paula D’Arcy says. And Franciscan priest Richard Rohr’s response is… “that’s a disappointment to us.” Yes, especially right now when the world doesn’t seem to make any sense; it’s feels unsafe and scary, it’s chaotic, it’s tragic, it’s messy, it’s incoherent.
Us humans, have spent many decades believing that through our logic and reason, reality and God, would be knowable and controllable. In Rohr’s book "The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Chaos, Reorder" he says “Physics has discovered that when we get to the smallest points (such as atomic particles) and the biggest points (galaxies and black holes)—it’s mystery again! It looks knowable, yet finally it’s unknowable. Control eventually gives way to mystery and the letting go of control. Suddenly, we are not in charge. The physicists are becoming mystics, while the clergy are becoming psychologists.” And it is great scientist Einstein who said, “The most beautiful and profound experience is the feeling of mystery.”
And as Pastor Luti says “when it comes to the Mystery, no one on the face of the earth has the faintest clue.”
Though we may be out of our depths in understanding the Mystery, the really Good News is, we are all part of it. Just as the seeds grow, producing kernels and perches and shade, occupying their place in the kingdom of God, at One with the infinite and eternal, whether they understand it or not - we are too. And that’s the truth that grounds us. That’s our security and our knowing.
God is here – in our midst – disguised as our life - we can relax and tend to the business of scattering seeds in the Kingdom of God.
I leave you with these few lines by poet Mary Oliver:
Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.
Take Off Your Shoes
Maple Grove UMC
July 4, 2021
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Exodus 3: 1-5
3 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”
5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.
Joshua 5: 13-15
13 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”
14 “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”
15 The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.
What is holy ground to you? This sanctuary, your home, your parent's home, the ocean, the mountains, the woods, your garden?
Last week, a young man with our lawn service brought a weed-wacker to the parsonage and cut down a patch of ornamental grass that he presumed were weeds. He didn't know that this was something carefully chosen, tenderly planted, given water and light and fertilizer and room to grow.
He looked on the outward appearance, reckoned it out of place beside the tomato plants and daisies. It looked grassy, but it belonged and was loved. It was a part of the garden. But he didn't know that and cut it down.
I've done this. You've done this. Trampled over things, places and persons.
I've walked into a home and only realized some minutes later that I was the only one with shoes on in that home. And it wasn't so much that my shoes left a mark, it was the respect for the place and its inhabitants that I was missing.
I've walked into churches, I've walked into lives, without knowing the preciousness there.
When God first called Moses, God set a bush to blazing and when Moses approached said: Take off your shoes. The ground which you stand is holy.
Moses took off his shoes, and humbly led the people to freedom. When he died on the journey, Joshua took his place and led the people the rest of the way, and just before he entered the new land was stopped by a messenger of God who told him to take off his shoes. For this land was holy ground. God arrived before them.
This is the day that we celebrate our founding as a nation which belongs to the world. The place where everyone can begin again. A promised land.
Those who came to this amazing continent found freedom, opportunity and hope, but they struggled to take off their shoes to realize that God was there before they came, that God's presence filled creation and had revealed itself to these people so different from themselves.
To truly believe that all, all are created equal, endowed by our Creator with the same rights and holy longings has taken time to learn.
Moses had to learn, Joshua had to learn, we have had to learn, too about the holiness that goes before us.
So, I had to learn about taking off my shoes in Southeast Asia.
One day I climbed a mountain to find a wise old tribal leader to tell me his stories of God. But he was too busy with his root crops
and not up to emanating the earthy mysticism I wanted. So, I hiked back down the slope. If I hurried, I could get home by nightfall.
It was May, near the end of dry season and along the river, these native, first peoples pushed off their fertile soils, had built their small lean-tos by a dry riverbed.
I was walking quickly, the first storm of the year was threatening, when I faintly heard my name; then clearly, "Anak!, which means Child. I turned to see an old woman up on the riverbank waving at me.
"Come here," she said.
"Hello, Inang Filipa, Grandmother Filipa, how are you?", I have just come from the mountain, I am on my way home."
"Come here," she said.
"I must get home," I said and kept walking.
But the sky had opened and the rocks were wet. "Come here, child, it is raining!" Resigned, I scurried up the slope.
Bent double from osteoporosis, Inang Filipa shooed me under the roof and her daughter brought me a cup of sweet, hot, coffee made from scorched corn.
The rain picked up and the dogs crowded in with us; no way I'd get home tonight. Inang was talking and laughing about something. I brightened up and switched on my recorder.
"Does the water have a spirit," I asked. "Of course," she said.
Her daughter interrupted. "The militia keep coming by here, did you see them?"
Inang said: "Yes, they are always troubling us."
"No, I didn't see them today" I answered curtly. I had spent years documenting militarization, now I wanted to talk about the environment and spirituality.
I asked Inang, "How about the trees, do they have spirit?"
"Of course," she answered.
The daughter broke in again, "Pat, do you remember when we first met? It was at that rally?"
I nodded and asked Mother Filipa how she felt when the trees were cut but her daughter kept on talking.
"That rally was right after I was arrested. You remember. They kicked me in the stomach!" She shook her head, perplexe "...and me being six months pregnant."
I stopped breathing.
Inang said, "yes, that was an awful thing. And my nephew was just killed yesterday in the other village, poor boy."
Her face turned toward the riverbed, now with water flowing, then to me. "If they can look a person in the eyes and not see the spirit in them, and kill them, how can they see the spirit in a river or a tree?
“No, the Power, Holiness is all around them, yet is as nothing to them."
The rain was slowing now, I asked no more questions.
Just let this mother and daughter speak of life: human and bird, river and plain, a child's death and the cutting of trees.
In my blindness I had been treading the same path as the militia. There was no unholy ground. All things are charged with eternity.
We are part of the same garden, God's garden, chosen, tenderly planted, given this world in which to live and grow.
Take off your shoes, said the Lord for what you are walking on is holy.
Let's help one another not to forget.
Rocks, Thorns, Earth: Stories of Soils and the Sower
Maple Grove UMC
June 27, 2021
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Mark 4: 1-20
Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.” Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
We've all been thinking about the building that collapsed in Miami. There were structural issues. Not only was the building deteriorating and unstable, so was the earth beneath. And the lives of all those people ended in rubble.
I would like us to pause for a moment to hold in our hearts for those who lost their lives and all who loved them and who are searching for them. All who are left with questions.
There is so much that we want to be sure of, that the ground beneath us won't give way. That our jobs, our families, our relationships are secure, that our faith is strong, able to withstand the storms and shifts of our lives. We want to be on solid, solid ground.
But In this amazing parable of Jesus, the first of three about gardens that we will ponder over the next three weeks.
The firmer the ground, the tougher the surface the harder it is for God to enter.
Everyone who has tried to dig into Ohio soil especially in the summer, knows how solid our earth is here. It’s called clay. There are good things about it. It has a lot of nutrients, unlike loam, which has room for the roots to breathe. It is dense, and it dries to a rock.
It’s hard for things to grow in rocks, Jesus said. It might be good as a foundation of a house, that firmness, that unyielding nature, but in people, it makes it hard to grow says, Jesus.
We can imagine him looking around him at all those whom he is trying to teach and there are those who are so rock hard in their understanding, their religious and world view that, he says, there's no room for the living word of God, the reality of the divine to really take hold.
Word can be sown in rocky soil and a flower can spring up, he says, but it won't really take root it won't change that interior landscape.
We hear this story, and wonder:
Has the divine word really taken root in me? In the time of drought, will it sustain me? In the time of trial, will I sense grace?
When my time comes, perhaps as suddenly as these folks in Miami, have I learned enough?
Then some of the seed falls into soil with thorns, thorny plants that can choke the word, says, Jesus.
And we know that, pain can overwhelm any sense of God's goodness.
There are folks in this congregation who just this week lost a family member who was struggling with health issues to death by his own hand.
Back in April, we hosted a memorial service for an extraordinary young woman from a loving family who had gone to bible study and the next day ended her life. The thorns in her life just hurt too much. For her to hear a word of hope.
Her pastor was despairing as well. What should I have done? What could I have said?
We all know thorns! And we could say to that pastor, to the family that lost their dad last week, It’s not you.
There are times in my life, too, when it’s been so thorny that hope has a hard time taking hold.
We say this to Jesus, we know you are the face of God, that you believe in us. But we just can't seem to receive you.
Churches can be thorny, we can make or people that choke the life out of the faith of folks, hurt them so deeply, they can't live there. Maybe you've experienced that.
And we can be hard ground, the worn path, grown so impenetrable that we are no longer open to the word of God revealed.
We were like about divorce about women called to ministry.
Our United Methodist Church has had discriminatory language about LGBTQ persons since the 1970's.
We have held onto ancient understandings that do not reflect the grace and mystery of Divine love made known in Jesus and the seed of understanding cannot make its way through.
But I see those hard places in me, too. In the world around me when we are just a bit too smooth, too advanced to believe, to give way to something greater than ourselves.
We are so aware of our hardness, our thorniness, our rocks. But somewhere too, is the loam. The good soil.
It’s in you, it’s in me. Soil that is open, ready, receiving.
Is it enough? Are we enough? Are we doing enough in the world to help that word take root?
But, I don't think Jesus meant for this story to make us anxious.
Let us remember, the first line: The Sower went out to Sow.
The sower, that is Divine Love is sowing seeds of life, seeds of divine love and hope and mercy and understanding, everywhere
In every place we are, in every sort of person in all sorts of soils.
In lives where there is enough love to nourish and keep hearts open and in lives where there isn't in hard ground, and in lives full of thorns, the sower keeps sowing seeds moment by moment including this one.
And somehow we are asked to do the same.
Years ago, I attended a church leadership seminary and the leader said, that we should follow the McDonalds. McDonalds opened in places that had potential. We should do the same.
Well, in my part of Dayton, the McDonalds had closed as had pretty much every other store.
Was he saying that the word of God can only flourish where there is wealth enough to buy a big mac? That doesn't sound like God's business plan. The sower flings seeds everywhere, even here.
But maybe that's what God's love looks like.
I worked at Marion Correctional Institution for three years and I was amazed at how people could find ways to become better people there, how word could take root. But it could be hard to fathom. So many thorns, and rocks and hardness.
I heard of a group of people touring a juvenile detention facility led floor by floor by a young judge who showed them everything, the holding cells, the classrooms.
But then down the hallway where the young offenders lives, each steel door had a narrow slot, where you could see the eyes of the child behind them. And it was so bleak that one of the group just stopped in the hallway, and began to weep.
And the judge paused, walked back and put her arms around the weeping one and said, I know, I understand.
If we are ever to be judged, we want a judge like that. But think of Jesus' words. We all have a judge like that.
We're all a mixed soil, we are rocky and thorny, we have tough places. But there is, in each of us, the possibility of growth.
And what's called for is to learn to trust our lives to the Sower who is out there flinging grace day by day, moment by moment.
To those with ears, says Jesus, let them hear that.