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.
Stories of Love and Transformation in Exile
Maple Grove UMC
June 20, 2021
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Scripture: Isaiah 58: 6-12
11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets to Live In
"Sometimes it takes a rainy day just to let you know everything's gonna be alright." Those words by Chris Williamson came to mind this week during our rain showers. It was grace made wet; the heavens taking care of the earth.
It seems we're struggling a bit to respond in kind.
The woman who has cut my hair for 18 years, half her life,
told me she was leaving her job. People are too mean right now, she said. Not her regulars, but the new folks. They are angry, impossible to please. The salon owner told me that 3 others in that salon resigned in the last month; same reason.
I then went to the grocery store and asked the cashier and the man bagging my groceries, How have people been treating you? People were really nice during the pandemic, but now, the lines are long sometimes, they didn't mind before, but now they are frustrated and mad at us.
Donnie, one of the Divine Hands Cleaning team that are handling some of our cleaning now, he cleaned this sanctuary last Monday.
Well, Donnie was at the gas station on Thursday and someone just started shooting and hit him in the foot now he's got a cast on it, and can't work.
Maple Grove should start a kindness movement. Tell our friends, wear buttons, but that's really an old movement, and heard about it in Isaiah, Chapter 58.
It’s third Isaiah, the people are now home from exile and they are back in synagogue practicing their rituals, like prayer and fasting.
But on the day of fasting, you are oppressing your workers and serve your own interest. You pray then end up quarreling and fighting.
What's up with that? Didn't you learn anything in exile about what is important?
During our exile, there was so much that we couldn't and still can't take for granted:
Our health, a hospital bed, cleaning supplies, food stocks, treatment, human touch and company, faces.
Our elders, our first responders and front-line workers, schools and teachers, our church, our congregation.
And now that we are returning from a sort of exile to our city as we knew it, perhaps we are struggling too to remember how it felt to be thankful for each day's provision. For one more day of not being sick.
Perhaps it’s easy to be impatient, to be careless with others, to use whatever we power we have to our advantage.
Isaiah says that the Lord wants one sort of sacrifice from us: to loosen the chains of injustice, to untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, to break every yoke.
To share our food with the hungry, provide the poor wanderer with shelter, to clothe the naked and not turn away from our own kin.
And if we do...
If we do... that sounds rather conditional, doesn't it? I thought rain falls on the just and unjust.
Yes, says Isaiah, but yet if we follow the commandment, take in the poor, treat those without power with respect, care for the orphaned, the kids in foster care etc. If we come out of exile and respond to God's grace with grace and mercy and righteousness, then, says Isaiah, 11 The Lord will guide you always; satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.
And You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets to Live In.
What a wondrous pledge and I think you know somehow in our bones that it’s true. That if we live as we've been shown that God will find a way to meet our need and strengthen our frame. And that, if we are tuned in to the source, we will be well-watered gardens, like springs whose waters never fail.
And because of this we will be known as those who repair the ruins, who restore the streets we live on.
When Michelle Murphy and Pam Temple moved into this part of Clintonville, they found themselves across the street from this guy, Milt Campbell, a member of Maple Grove.
Milt had who learned in his long life from his startup days in the farm in Oklahoma to his last days in this city, to be a gardener, not only of roses and hostas, but of neighbors. He restored not only their garden but the streets he dwelled in.
We thank God for Milt, for neighborliness.
My father was a watered garden. I hope you have had a father, grandfather, uncle, friend, mentor, teacher, neighbor, who learned from life and helped you learn from yours to become yourself a spring.
The Gardener God
June 13, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Psalm 8: 3-6
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
5 You have made them[ a little lower than the angels[c]
and crowned them[d] with glory and honor.
6 You made them stewards over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
Genesis 2: 4-9, 15-19
In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, 5 when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6 but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— 7 then the Lord God formed the human from the dust of the ground,[b] and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the human became a living being.
8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there God put the human whom God had formed. 9 Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
15 The Lord God took the human and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the human, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.
18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the human should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19 Then out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the human to see what he would call them; and whatever the human called every living creature, that was its name.
from "The Apple Tree"
Stlll it's possible a day may come,
When momentarily the world wears thin;
I fI weary of the world outside me,
I can always take a good look in.
For along with ev'ry cloud and cobweb.
I'm emphatic'ly a member of
This diversified, curious, fascinating bountiful,
When I say, “Old Testament God" what comes to mind? Judge? Warrior, King?
But in this primal story, about the beginning of everything we hear these words:
God planted a garden in the East. God is a gardener. Jesus didn't call God, King and himself a Prince. He said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” (John 15:1)
You know what that means, who a gardener is, what they do. You know this even if the extent of your gardening is limited to a seed that you once put in a cup of dirt back when you were 5.
A gardener's work is to helps things live.
The Gardener is a planter, and protector and pruner and provider.
And the Gardener of creations is one whose deepest concerns is life's flourishing…is your life’s, flourishing. Not to judge or rule or fight with you or for you. Not a distant, creator but a gardener: intimately engaged. in the soil of life. Ours, yours, mine.
But why? The psalmist pondered this, too:
When I survey this vast world, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars and all that you have established, what are mortals that you are mindful of us, human beings in our despair or joy or resentment or smallness of heart who are we that you care for us as a loving gardener?
Why is that the one who brought forth the stars and the meadow the swan and the black bear, the mango trees and the bumblebees also brought forth us, brought forth me, and you?
Genesis 2 says something about that, too. After the unfathomable beginnings of the first chapter, when everything is made in turn, day and night, heaven and earth, plant and creature and human, all named Good.
Then we come to this second chapter of Genesis, this second creation story where a human being is raised up from the earth, formed, from the very soil we walk upon to till and keep the garden of God.
That is it, according to Genesis 2, that's our simple, utterly astounding purpose.
What would it mean to claim this role, that we are made in the image of God, the Gardener, and that is our great purpose, our deepest concern, our reason for existing in this diversified, curious, fascinating bountiful, beautiful, world, is to till and keep. To support the flourishing of life.
What if that was the goal by which we measure everything, every decision we make, what food we eat, what we buy, how we treat loved ones and strangers, how we live as a nation, as a church?
Its hard work: this tilling, keeping, tending, nourishing. It can be overwhelming, even caring, tending to one person. Life is complicated and hurting is hard.
How shall we help life flourish? I think of Dayquan, who has spent the last three years in the county jail.
How has he survived in that barren place? He has not seen the blue sky nor walked the green earth in 3 years; but he has been loved by his sister and his grandmother and because of that love he has cultivated friendships with his guards, and he has gone deep into himself and learned humility, he says. Somehow God is at work in him and through those tending him, that, even in captivity, he might live.
And those of us who are facing decline in life, sorrowful situation, health problems that cannot be reversed. And here we learn another lesson that the God's garden is greater than that which we see, that there is a flourishing that that is deeper than death.
There was a powerful witness to that this week. A woman from Zanesville, Ohio stepped onto the stage of a talent show. She is 30, thin, waif-like, with ragged pants, the glittering judges sat before her. And she told them of the cancer in her spine and lungs and liver and her 2% chance of living.
And she sang a song she wrote, a confession,” I'm a little lost, we're all a little lost,” she said, “but it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright.”
We can feel a little lost in life, and wonder: How shall we flourish, how shall our children? How shall the world when we care so little about one another. When we are busy being little warriors and kings and judges of one another.
We lose our sense of being planted in God’s garden. We lose our sense of place, and thus, our deepest purpose, and so, our hope and our joy.
But its alright, says the Gardener God we find in Genesis and within our hearts: My deepest purpose is your flourishing and I am not leaving you, not in this life, this garden and not in the next.
So, join me, says the Lord or heaven and earth, in tilling and keeping, join God, says Julian of Norwich:
“be a gardener, dig a ditch, toil and sweat, turn the earth upside down and seek the deepness.”
And if you get discouraged, remember, as Todd sang today:
Still it's possible a day may come,
When momentarily the world wears thin;
If I weary of the world outside me,
I can always take a good look in.
For along with ev'ry cloud and cobweb.
I'm emphatic'ly a member of
This diversified, curious, fascinating bountiful,
Our Mother's Gardens:
Becoming Who We Are
June 6, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Genesis 1: 1-2, 11-12, 29-30,
In the beginning when God created[a] the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God[b] swept over the face of the waters.
Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them”; and it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to everything that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so.
I only really started gardening during COVID. Before the shops closed up in March, I bought silk flowers and once the earth warmed got my hands in it. I found myself longing to go home from work and get to work in my garden. I wasn't good at it, but the worse things became in the world, the more solace I took there.
I'd never understood that, before, even though I was born into a horticultural family and I am only realizing now, how replete our scriptures are with gardens.
From the beginning through the prophet's promise of gardens when the people return from exile to Jesus' parables about the trees and seeds and of course, he prays in the garden, gets arrested there, buried in another, then, risen, is mistaken for the gardener.
Scripture ends with the Book of Revelation the promised garden of our own resurrections… We will dwell in these gardens each in their turn, this summer.
But let’s start with our own stories. Some of you grew up on farms. All of us are a just few or more generations removed from them. We may have owned the land, or perhaps worked it, some of our ancestors were enslaved to it.
My mother's father, Chauncey came from generations of farmers, and started off as one. One day he said, he was out in the field and he saw a cloud up in the sky that formed 2 big letters: “P. C. “ Preach Christ, he thought, and headed to seminary. Later, when parish life was hard he'd realized that he was probably being told to Plant Corn.
They weren’t paid much, and everywhere, he and grandma put in a garden.
The lettuce was lush, the corn was way over my head, and there were strawberries and blackberries, tomatoes and cucumbers, peas and beans, and melons that grew right out of the compost pile.
It was non-stop weeding, and the produce filled their larder and was sent home with us, canned by Grandma for the winter.
My mother didn't plant for food, but for beauty. I marveled at how she could get a few marigolds to become a sea of gold. Geraniums and peonies thrived.
Like grandpa, mother was steady, she knew what was required for each thing to become what it was meant to be to bring forth the beauty within.
In a sense, I have lived my lifetime in others’ gardens.
But while I have grandpa's spade and my mom's tools, I lack their skill. I want to become like them, good stewards of God's earth and people.
But, and perhaps you are realizing it too, hopefully at an earlier age than I, that we have to trust our own learning, and growing. Trust the work that God, our steward, has begun in us.
To trust the earth, cared for, will be bountiful. To trust the word of Jesus Christ, well shared and honestly confessed will take root from generation to generation. To trust God’s goodness to be revealed in my life, in yours.
To take in those words of Joseph Campbell, the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are
A nurse, named Jennifer Worth, who worked as a midwife in England in the 1950s a series was created from her books called Call the Midwife. She found herself planted in an unfamiliar place and she didn't think she could cope. But she learned: That is to trust in oneself. Some might call it confidence, others name it faith. It makes us brave, it’s the thing that frees us, to embrace life itself.
To embrace life itself, to bloom and grow, to live and to fade in this gorgeous garden.
I know it can be hard. This year has been hard, confining, and the ground can be rocky or so full of clay the fields can seem unyielding, our gardens unwieldy with too much work.
But still, life is coming forth. Your life is unfolding beyond the confines. And if we trust this life in us, the life perhaps evident in our mother’s gardens, we will make mistakes in our gardens, and we will learn,
how to steward the families into which we are born, the communities where we've been planted and those with whom we share this earth that we might all bloom and grow together. Amen
Memorial Sunday, May 30, 2021
2 Corinthians 4: 5-12
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia Wagner
For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake. 6 For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
Memorial Days begin in the Civil War, and one of the first happened in South Carolina in 1865. There, 257 Union soldiers had died in a prisoner of war camp and were buried in unmarked graves in Charleston; the South's main port for the collection and selling of human beings.
Freedmen and women prepared a memorial graveyard and then reburied those union soldiers. And thousands more marched to the site to bless and remember those who died in the cause to end their enslavement.
There is such poignancy to this story; These men from the north, conscripted into this great, but costly cause, and their memorializers themselves having come through unspeakable agony and loss, meet on this now holy ground.
The holiday that came from such gatherings is the one that is dedicated to remembering: remembering the forgotten, and the costs of war and conflict.
Our scriptures today remind us that we also called to remember Psalm 139 asks us to remember that God remembers us, and Paul, that ordinary human beings even, or perhaps, particularly in our weakness are vessels of the divine.
Many years ago, I was traveling on the highway, and I saw a slow moving vehicle in the right hand lane. It was an armored tank, and standing on the back were two soldiers, in full battle gear holding their weapons. I passed another, then another, then another, 7 of them in total, young men, black and white in the slenderness of youth.
This was before such equipment became part of our civilian forces. We almost never saw battle-ready soldiers, during this war in Afghanistan, that will soon end for us and continue without us.
But, even armed as they were it was their vulnerability, I sensed, their humanity beneath the Kevlar jackets.
By the time I was passing the last tank I realized I hadn't even acknowledged them, these young men who might not return.
So I waved, and, to my surprise, the soldier on the last tank saw my wave through the window, and he waved back as if he'd been looking for someone to acknowledge him.
I suddenly feared for him as a fellow human being for whom Psalm 139 says, so clearly, God loves, attends to, hopes for, and will be with unto death.
It started to rain, hard and I turned on my wipers, and thought about those soldiers caught in the rain, taking it, because that's what they do:
That's what soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen and women, and Coast Guardsmen and women, do. They take it. They bear the battle, they take in the suffering into their minds and bodies just as those who were enslaved did. As they endured cruelty, and fought for freedom, and as their descendants have ever since.
Just as health care workers who have spent the past year on the frontlines of COVID, thousands of whom who have died.
All these human beings wearing various forms of protective armor. Physical, emotional, and yet each of them, all of us, vulnerable to life's demands so aware of our human inadequacies and pondering our belovedness, the meaning of our little lives and our deaths.
Paul, the apostle, felt inadequate, even though he'd been saved from a wasted, soul-killing life by a revelation from the crucified and risen Lord.
There were others, who seemed to garner more attention and devotion. Paul was always aware that his appearance was not pleasing. He had come through many trials for his testimony and now he finds himself diminished in comparison to others.
His arrogance, his armor falls away in his writing, and you see how vulnerable he feels to rejection, just as we are.
But in that diminishment, he realized something.
I am not impressive, he says, But the thing is, its not about me. In fact, he says, it is my weakness, my mistakes, my unimpressive self, that allows everyone to know that whatever I accomplish is not from my own power. Whatever light I shed is not from my own self.
We are clay, he says, clay pots. The people of Corinth know what he means. They are everyday items, common, breakable, made from the earth. He goes on. We are clay pots that can be filled with the treasure that is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God.
And because we hold this treasure in these clay pots it is evident that this power, this light is not from us.
How else could it be that we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed?
It’s not about us. We believers carry the death of Christ in us, he says. We carry that infinitely vulnerable, compassionate, sacrificing love of Christ in us. Which means, giving up our lives for Jesus' sake in whatever way that happens, large or small, so that the life of Jesus might be visible in our very mortal, imperfect selves.
I think we can take such comfort in knowing that our lives, however short or long, however quiet or renowned, can be a remembrance of Jesus' own life.
Rose and I went to the Veterans Memorial yesterday. It is worth your time, particularly the exhibit about PTSD and suicide. We ended by going to the replica of the Vietnam Memorial.
There were people there, in yellow jackets. “May I help you,” he asked, ready to lead us to a name to help us remember.
Remembering there has been so much loss this year, even this week,
and it is worth remembering that every life, even ones that seem lost from the beginning or lost forever, are never lost to God.
And that we, the living, can do what seems impossible. We can be filled with mercy and courage, compassion and wisdom and sacrificial love
Because these lives we have, these clay pots, formed of the earth, vulnerable, breakable, and prone to mistakes, are vessels of God's everlasting light.
Let us remember that and be thankful. Amen.
Ascension Sunday, May 16, 2021
Rev. Patricia Wagner
1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While staying[a] with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Christ, risen, from the dead and now, in this story from Luke's word in Acts, risen from the earth.
HIs is the only account of this transition, of how Jesus tells the disciples that they are to bear his message of redemption and forgiveness and will be his witnesses, clothed with power and then, ascends.
Let's remember where we started this Eastertide,
After his crucifixion, his followers were anguished, bewildered,
Then they hear, or they see, of his resurrection. For those closest to him, who knew him as their friend and teacher, their idea of him has to change.
They loved him, his words, his healing power, his physical being.
We do too, so much that we carve and paint and cut glass into versions of his likeness of the most beautiful man we can imagine everywhere.
But, with resurrection, they and we are asked to take in another Jesus.
Through divine power, he breaks the boundary of life and death. It is not a return to life as before, like Lazarus but resurrected life, new life.
He breaks the boundary of space, moving thorough doors, appearing and vanishing from the sight.
And now, with ascension, the boundaries of his own personhood shift. Now Christ's existence is more than his own physical being on the earth.
All communities of faith, our existence, our identity, all those are now "in Christ".
Hear how the letter to the church at Ephesus describes it.
17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the source of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe,
Yes, the Divine Power of the Universe was made known in this human one who has been raised and made boundless, and now, you, this fragile little group of people, this community is going to have, energy, courage, imagination, Compassion Unbounded, because now we are In Christ.
As the sister of St. Francis, Teresa of Avila wrote in the 1500s:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which Christ looks
Compassionately on the world
Yours are the feet with which Christ walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which Christ blesses the world.
This story is about Jesus, the Christ and it is about us:
Here is the Skit about the disciples looking up and waiting for Jesus
Over the past few months, we have shared our core values and had persons in the congregation bear witness to them:
We have heard from the broader community:
Seeking to be Christ in the world. From Nikki King shared her stories of challenging addiction in rural America inviting us to live into hope.
Chad Hale shared his life in community with those at the margins in Atlanta, inviting us to be church, perfect in compassion and community.
Val and Hope told their stories of women coming home from prison and the Welcome Home community began meeting here.
Emily from the United Methodist Children's Home shared how the power of love claims foster children and their parents.
And some other voices have been heard right around our church inviting us to be Christ’s hands and feet.
Spencer, who has lived outside for a long time, Val, who just lost his home and has been sleeping here.
And a group of church folks here have begun to gather with those who work with these communities to imagine a shared ministry right here.
A family called a few weeks ago and asked if this room could be the gathering place for the family of a young woman, Jenna, and a devasted LGBTQ community remembered her life gone too soon.
And we did so this past Monday, and now members of this congregation who counsel young adults are ready to consider, how we come alongside young people and families as they struggle to have hope.
Cathy has gathered others to dream and plan the creation of a prayer labyrinth in which all persons, regardless of station or status can come and walk a winding path that helps them and be empowered.
We are working on our stewardship, our endowment, our choir loft, our outreach. We have prayer teams and Easter Egg Hunts and mission trip to southern Ohio. And now youth are preparing for Pentecost Sunday and so much more.
It can seem overwhelming, what we are attempting. All of us, the church of Jesus Christ in every place, including Jerusalem and the West Bank. Imagine that work of redemption and forgiveness that is to be done by all God’s people there.
But remember where we started, a small group of bewildered, bereft people to whom the power of God to resurrect was revealed. To whom the risen Christ who breaks through every barrier of space and time was made known, and whose Spirit invites and empowers us still to be the church. Ekklesia: called out and called together in Christ's name to become Christ's home in the world.
And so we are and shall be, Amen.