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.
This morning, we name and celebrate women in the early church.
We learn of them chiefly through the letters of Paul to the first believers.
They did not own buildings. They could not afford them and Christianity was not legal in the Roman world. Rather, they met in homes, and homes were the domain of women.
From Paul's letter to the church in Rome, Chapter 16
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe a deacon of the church at Cenchrae ("Sen-cree- aa") and I ask that in Christ you extend to her a welcome that is worthy of the saints. Give her whatever help she may need from you. For she has helped a great many people and she has been a support to me.
My greetings to Prescilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus who risked their lives for me. Not only I, but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. My greetings also to the church that meets at their house.
Greetings to Mary, who has worked so hard among you.
Greetings to Andronicus and Junia, who have been in prison with me.
They are outstanding among the apostles and they were in Christ before I was….
Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa those women who worked hard in the Lord.
Greet my dear friend, Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.
Greetings to Rufus, a chosen servant of the Lord. And to his mother who has been a mother to me.
For the times you walked the city streets and ministered to the poor:
Julia, Junia, Mary, Persis, We remember you.
For the times you preached the Word of God, We remember you.
For the times you opened your homes to others, Phoebe and Prescilla,
We remember you.
For leading the church at its dangerous beginnings, for the years you spent in exile, Tryphena and Tryphosa, (Try-Feen-a) (Try-Foe-Sa), We remember you.
For the women and men you nurtured, Mother of Rufus, We remember you.
For the times we feel forgotten, We now remember you.
For all our sisters, Known and unknown, who ministered in the early church: Phoebe, Prescilla, Julia, Junia, Mary, Persis, Tryphena, Tryphosa, And Mother of Rufus, We remember you.
Naming - Aphia
When he was in prison, Paul wrote a letter commending a former slave to the care of the community. It begins:
From Paul, a prisoner for Jesus Christ,and from Timothy, our brother, to Philemon, our beloved fellow worker and Apphia, our sister, and the church that meets in your house, Grace and peace to you from God and from Jesus, God’s anointed.
Who do people say we are? Wife? Mother? Sister? Daughter? Who do we know we are? Daughters of the Living God.
Uniting - Chloe
Like today, early Christians struggled over differences. We learn this from Paul's first letter the Church at Corinth:
“I appeal to you my brothers and my sisters, for the sake of Jesus Christ to settle your differences instead of disagreeing among yourselves. Be united again in belief and in practice. It has been told to me by Chloe’s people that there are serious dissentions among you. But consider: Is Christ divided?”
O God, You are One, eternally One, One God of all the earth’s people. You bring forth all your children and you know us each by name. You are Life. There is only one Life. One Source of all our living. All that you are, all that you do, all whom you have brought forth, all that is, is meant to be a blessing.
Slienced – Mary of Magdela
Whenever our scripture speaks of the Galilean women who followed Jesus, Mary Magdalene heads the list.
In the New Testament, she is the named as the woman who was cured by Jesus of 7 demons then followed him and financially supported his ministry.
By every account, she and two other women went to the tomb to tend to Jesus’ body in death and to these women, to Mary, Christ's resurrection was first made known. Hers is the first voice of that good news; the first apostle of the resurrection. And yet, the Gospels reveal that the men who followed Jesus did not believe her or any of the women.
Ancient scrolls from the second century discovered in the twentieth century, in caves in the Judaean desert by the Dead Sea, name Mary of Magdala as a central figure in the early church, on par with Peter himself.
And yet, women continue to be told that they cannot be leaders in Christ's church.
You lift me up, Creator of Life, You entrust me with your mission. You reveal your way to me. Be with me when I am silenced or silence myself from fear.
Help me remember all the others who have been silenced, whose leadership, denied: The last, the least, the lowest.
Give me an honest heart. Help me say what I ought to say, so I will not hesitate to call the question no matter the risk.
Your Word, Who is Truth says "Keep my word, Speak the truth, and the truth will make you free and keep you true in Me" May it be so.
Rising – Tabitha
Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 9:
Now at Jaffa, there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, in Greek, Dorcas, who was tireless in doing good and in charitable giving.
She fell ill and died and they prepared her body and laid her in an upper room.
Now Peter was nearby in Lydda (Lee-Dah) and when the disciples heard he was in that town, they sent women with an urgent message, to come as soon as possible.
So Peter went back with them at once, and when he arrived, they took him to the upper room where all the widows were gathered in tears displaying all the tunics and other garments Dorcas had made when she was with them.
Peter sent them all out of the room then he knelt, and prayed, and turning to the body, he said, Tabitha, get up! She opened her eyes, looked at Peterand sat up.
Peter gave her his hand and she stood up. Then he called in the saints and widows and presented her to them alive. The whole of Jaffa heard the news, and many became believers.
Now and then, here and there, we are rising, rising from the dead.
From silence, from bondage, We are rising.
From exploitation, from violence, We are rising.
Against all odds rising from the dead, We are rising.
Like the sun, Like the moon, We are rising.
Like Incense, like bread, We are rising
Like Dorcas, We are rising.
Here and there, We are rising,
Rising from the dead.
Into hope, into freedom, We are rising.
Into speech, into significance, We are rising.
Into the future, here and there, everywhere,
We are rising, rising from the dead.
And finally, a special word for mothers.
We first remember Ann, whose child, in her womb, leapt when encountering Mary with child. Mary, who brought Jesus into the world and believed in him, raised him to love and serve and offer himself, and who began a chain of faith that continues today.
From Paul's first letter to Timothy:
I am reminded of your sincere faith. A faith that first lived in your grandmother, Lois and in your mother, Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.
Let us now praise mothers, and mothers of mothers.
For young mothers and old mothers, first time mothers and experienced mothers, and all those whose love is like that of mothers.
For all mothers who have lost a child and children who have lost their mothers and mothers who raise other mother's children.
Mothers of those in prison and mothers in prison. Mothers whose home has never had children, mothers whose children will never come home.
We praise God for mothers. May God's grace and peace accompany them,
And follow them all the way home.
Let us pray:
We thank you, God, for all these women, for linking our lives backwards and forwards making a chain of witness and hope and compassion long enough
and strong enough to circle the whole of your church including us, this very day. May we, too, live our faith and share it in Christ's name. Amen.
Reflections on Core Value: Sustaining Community
May 2, 2021
When I think about our core value: “We are a compassionate, connected community that acknowledges and respects our differences”, there really seems to be 3 distinct areas of focus - compassion, community, and diversity.
Let’s dive into what each of those means to me.
We are compassionate
Compassion is showing concern for the suffering and misfortune of others. Its Latin root “compati” means “to suffer together.” When I think about how we are compassionate, how we show concern for the suffering of others, I immediately think about our ministries. I think about our ministries which feed the hungry, our ministries which clothe the naked, and our ministries which give friendship to the lonely. I think about our mission trips which travel to disaster areas to heal those whose lives have been reduced to shambles. I think about the small acts each member of the congregation does to acknowledge one another as a person.
To me it is not all about being compassionate, but also about being open to receive compassion. Megan and I struggle to accept help at times - we say to ourselves “we are smart and hard working, with enough energy we can work through this ourselves”. I can promise you this is a foolish mind to have. When we first brought home our daughter Eleanor, born underweight and with complications in the midst of global pandemic, we were proud and tried to just handle it ourselves. But this drove us to a point almost beyond hope, we were suffering from fear and anxiety - “what if she never gets better?”
But in that suffering our Church and small group lifted us up. Cathy Davis made certain we were fed with her delicious cooking. Our small group gave us moments of joy and friendship every Sunday. They listened to our worries and shared in our suffering. They lifted us out of our darkness and into a place of hope. If we had not opened ourselves up to receive these compassionate acts, I don’t see how we could have made it through intact. I would encourage you to not only act compassionately, but also be willing to receive compassion.
We are a connected community
Connection and a sense of community is critical to our success as a Church. Without connection what are we more than a building full of people who all happen to show up on Sunday.
When Megan and I first moved to Columbus from North Carolina, we were looking to find something different than the transient relationships we came from in the high turnover, tech focused community of Research Triangle Park. We wanted to put roots down in Columbus and integrate ourselves into the community. We wanted to feel like we were participating in something bigger than ourselves that would have lasting positive effects on our neighbors.
We found exactly this at Maple Grove. In the first few weeks we visited the Church, I cannot count the number of people who reached out to us to make a connection. We were asked to join the drama group, the technical team, the millennial group, to form a small group - the list goes on. In each of these instances, even if we did not decide to accept the kind offer, someone saw us and saw a chance to reach out and make a connection, to make us part of the Maple Grove community. This is what makes Maple Grove such an amazing place.
When the pandemic struck, our ability to maintain connection and community was at risk of disappearing due to lock downs and social distancing guidelines. Our leaders saw this and knowing how important connection and community are to us, took immediate action. Online worship became a priority and was turned around in record time. Small group meetings went virtual. Socially distanced events were scheduled to keep us engaged. All of these things helped to preserve our sense of community and our Church continues to ensure we maintain this sense of community.
We acknowledge and respect differences
Finally, we acknowledge and respect our differences. It is our differences and diversity which makes us strong as a Church. With a single mind, we could never push ourselves to grow and see where God is leading us. We need people with different viewpoints, experiences, and ideas! (To me, a completely homogeneous congregation sounds so boring).
Part of having differences is disagreeing and having space to disagree. Even within my own small group we have such a wide variety of viewpoints on a number of topics. From pacifism, gun ownership, or the compatibility of the military in Christianity - we certainly do not all agree, but it is in these differences and the discussions around them, we are able to understand one another and form lasting relationships.
I truly believe that God speaks through our differences. To those who may fear “the other” or someone who brings different ideas, I challenge you with this: Who among us can claim that another is not welcome in God’s house? Who can say you are too different? I would encourage you to embrace those differences and see what you can learn about one another.
Reflections on Core Value: Sustaining Community
May 2, 2021
I was 12 years old in 1984 and, as a Catholic, I chose the confirmation name Philip. I chose Philip because he was a church leader in acts of compassion (in Acts 7), and he was the “First evangelist”. And so this cycle of stories in the book of Acts has always had a special resonance for me, and has provided an interesting touchstone for exploring my faith over the next 35 years. So I have a lot I could say; but, I will limit it to reflections on today’s Core Value: Sustaining Community: we are a compassionate, connected community that is respectful of our differences. I hope, at the least, to create space for our own contemplation and wrestling with scripture and lives forged in love.
--This man is an Ethiopian. He is the first recorded non-Jewish convert to this new Jesus movement. Remarkably, his blackness is unremarked, because Race was a much later construct in history—However his Ethnicity would have been remarkable to any early hearer of this story. And so, his non-Jewishness is underscored. The first christians did not believe that this new allegiance to Jesus was open to non-Jewish people. This was in fact the driving force behind most of the New Testament we have today: how can this fundamentally Jewish religion be available to non-Jews; how can we have common table with people who eat pork, don’t have circumcision, and don’t honor the covenants of Moses? And yet, Philip is driven by compassion to overlook these very real questions, and find that Jesus’ love can bring unity in spite of all differences.
--The man is a eunuch. Now we are not entirely certain whether this means the man was a castrati, or whether he was a homosexual, or possibly both; each of these possibilities existed for people who served in positions of proximity to royal women. Either way, and this caused me much consideration as a conservative evangelical, he was not what we call CIS male heterosexual. Almost every religious system of the time would have marginalized this man from full participation in their rites, and yet, we have recorded for our edification and contemplation, for all time, this story. And not only that, this story, I may repeat, holds the honor of being the first such conversion of a non-Jewish person.
--So, there can be very real differences in our thoughts as to how we interact with the world in all sorts of ways—but in the church, in the kingdom of Jesus, our first allegiance is to love those around us. It is in this sort of compassion and fundamental re-identification that Jesus’ Family of Believers are able to have unity where otherwise we might not. Are we shaped first and foremost by the Spirit exercising Jesus’ love in and through us? Or are we shaped by some other thing? And if that thing causes us to reject those God has put beside us to love?
--Please realize that I was raised in 1970s and 80s conservative, christian, small town, America. Dealing with the “problem” of homosexuality and alternative gendering was not one of simply changing my mind. But I HAD to wrestle with the reality of scripture here, and I found that the motivating factor was compassion, love, and solidarity with another who was seeking to know God. I could have all manner of conclusions about the rightness or wrongness of this or that sexuality, but in the end, being motivated by compassion in close relationship with people,
being challenged to PERSONALLY be the love and care of God to those God put before me...well, that was no different than what Philip did here. Exercising compassion changed me, it made me see things in scripture that were always there, but I had not fully seen before.
--The early church was not quick to realize these things, so we need to be compassionate toward those who may be slow to change. It was quite awhile after Philip told this story to the home church that the consensus that non-Jews (Gentiles) could participate in this new Kingdom of Jesus. In fact, it took a terrifying dream, and Peter being in the presence of a Roman Centurion —the absolute worst kind of oppressor Gentile—who, un-provoked, began to speak in the tongues off the Holy Spirit, and then asks to be baptized. It took a convention of leaders to finally decide after this event that, if God so clearly put God’s Spirit upon this man, who were we to say otherwise. And then another few years for this to be truly agreed upon at the Council of Jerusalem—and EVEN THEN, they marginalize the even and delegate this new upstart, Paul, to be assigned for these gentiles. And EVEN THEN for the next 30 years there was constant division in the church about how Jews and Gentiles could share the communion table together —not when these dirty gentiles ate pork, and dishonored holy days, nor when these superstitious Jews couldn’t understand that there was no reality behind the “gods” before whom the meat at marketplaces was butchered. I speak of a lot of things here, but please hear: these differences were HUGE and lasted for the first 50 years of the church (and longer, if you are a student of history)--yet always God was patient and the church was challenged to find unity first in Love, and by the compassion of Christ who gave up all of his rights for the sake of love and the creation of a non-divided people. It is a fact that this issue, in particular, was the primary reason the New Testament exists in the form and content we have today.
--My final point of reflection: The passage of Isaiah 53, which the eunuch was reading, and Philip interprets for him, is about how through the Suffering of the Servant, healing will come to others. Or restated: Jesus’ compassion, displayed in his suffering in solidarity with a suffering, marginalize humanity, brings healing and restoration to those of being shaped into his image. How fortuitous that a man who was so deeply handicapped by others: his sexuality taken, his body mutilated, and his spirit marginalized from all religious experience—that such a person should just happen to be hearing a message from the God who became like him, and was willingly marginalized and mutilated. And through this somehow conquers the oppression of empire and even of death itself, brings new life, healing, community, and TRUE religious experience.
The definition of compassion is “to suffer together, or, to suffer or feel with.” God’s love reveals itself in compassion, and we are in made in the image of God. My hope for this church—and the Core value upon which we do well to consider—is that we look first to the unity we have been given in God’s love, that we are motivated first from compassion, and that in this, we can maintain the respect, connection, and love for those who are different from us. Unity where such distinctions exist is surely a sign that God’s love is among us.
Put Your Hand in My Side
Doubt, Faith and the Church of The Risen Lord
Maple Grove UMC Easter 2, 2021
April 11, 2021
Rev. Patricia Wagner
19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
They were hidden in a room. Everything was shuttered, everything shattered, the cross did not hang before them in burnished beauty, it was a gallows, still there outside the city.
The women, Mary, Martha, Salome had told them their experience at the tomb but they doubted them until Jesus enters their locked room and breathes on them. Thomas doubts both what the women said and what the disciples recount until Christ comes to him and then he believes.
John told this story so that those in the early church would realize that their own fears and doubts decades later were no anomaly.
The church began as a community of doubt. And now we are in 2021.
This past year has left us shuttered and shattered. So many questions about whether God was in this with us. All this death, and division among us. Two thousand years on, congregations and pastors are pondering if they can survive what this year has wrought, knowing that they, we, have all been changed.
One way is to hold fast to our precepts, dig into our tradition. On Easter, I asked you to renew your baptism. Encouraged you to answer I Do, and Yes, to ancient questions of faith.
For those who doubt, I asked you to lean into these vows with hope, to affirm even if warily.
I want this for you, I realize, because after decades of continuous movement rom faith to doubt to faith and back again, that these ancient truths, bear a truth deeper than my understanding.
And I was delighted when you said, "yes" and "I do".
But the next day, on Monday this week, a beloved cousin came to visit. One who is not afraid of his questions and doubt, and he pushed back on the creeds and we worked through our ideas and questions together.
I realized that when I nudge you to answer yes, when your hearts and mind say maybe, or no, is to afford you less than the Christ offered his own disciples.
When Jesus appears in the upper room, he doesn't chide or criticize their doubts. He says, "Peace be with you" and then he returns, meets Thomas where he is, fills the room with grace, again and says, again, Peace be with you, put your hand in my wounded side. Believe I have risen.
Those who can believe without seeing, are blessed, says, Jesus, but so, too, was Thomas whom the Christ gave room to question, space to grow.
So, if any of you felt uncomfortable affirming those questions of the faith last week, If you, or someone you love is in a place of perplexity, quietly or openly challenging the faith, asking questions like
Do I have to believe in bodily resurrection? Or what is this holy spirit thing?
Or why do I have to be so lonely, or my loved one to be so sick or to die?
Why is God or Jesus or the Spirit real to other people and not to me?
The same questions Christian have asked through the centuries.
Then I apologize for sidelining you. I myself have only come to faith because I had space to question.
Many years ago, in my first parish, Catherine, an 85 year old woman who headed the altar guild and I were preparing the communion table, and she said to me: I have never understood communion.
What courage it took for her to say that, that the answers to her pondering have never been enough. I humbly shared my own understanding and questions.
Where did we get the idea that faith communities are supposed to be congregations of the certain fortresses of fundamentalism when from the beginning and through the centuries, the church and her saints were places and persons of knowing and unknowing, of clarity and mystery?
A Church where there is only one absolute: love and that is what Jesus showed us: love of neighbor, love of enemy, love of ourselves, doubting and questioning, grieving and believing selves.
Do we want people who are struggling to stay away from church until their unsettling questions cease? Or do we want those who have question, or have felt rejected or abandoned by the church, to feel safe here?
Do we want young people and old people to feel like they are allowed to ask question anything? It seems so!
In 2019 and 2020, this congregation engaged in a process of naming our Core Values and one of the 5 is: To be a Safe Place to questions, seek, grow and demonstrate who we are in Christ.
I think Thomas would love that, I think Jesus loves that.
The church as a community where we give ourselves and one another space to question and to firmly believe, space to seek and to find, to grow and to be rooted in faith, a safe space to work out who we are in Christ.
Now, we are discerning how to live out that and what Jesus in that shuttered and shattered community says comes to mind.
What if that was the first word anyone ever heard from someone here, felt from someone here was: Peace be with you? Whatever your questions, whoever you are, whatever you have come through: Peace be with you.
Then to allow others to see our wounded selves our pondering selves, our uncertain selves. Put your hand in my side, we say. I am like you.
To not be afraid of other's wounds, the wounds of our neighbors, the wounds of the poor and the homeless, the wounds of the addict, the wounds of the discriminated against, the world's wounds and the questions those bring.
Then to see each other through to the other side of what life will inevitably bring, the challenges and changes and reckonings that will come.
To be a church that lights a candle in the darkness, a beacon that says, here is a safe place to be you, the you you are, the you that Christ is inviting you to be.
What a church that would be! What a church that shall be!
The Resurrection Project
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia Wagner
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
I remember the moment that I believed in Jesus as the Messiah. The grown up and realizing this for myself, kind of belief. It was Christmas Day, and I was on my way to the airport. And Handel's Messiah came on the radio, and tears started flowing, and I had to pull the car over, and sobbed. I released myself from doubt and just l sort of fell into a place of peace. Of assurance that Jesus is who he says he is.
I didn't understand it all, still don't, and I wondered, still, about forgiveness, how that works, and how a broken body disappear and rise into spirit.
Forgiveness, Brokenness, Resurrection. The counterpoints to our themes this season: Confession, Mending and Rising
Confession and forgiveness is hard, hard even to understand why we need it.
I remember being a girl at the Good Friday services in Richwood, where my father was the pastor. I would hear the women in the balcony sobbing as the story was told and as Were You There was sung.
And I didn't understand it, that lament, that sense of participation in Christ' suffering, that sense that we, too, are accountable. But in my late middle age, I'm starting to get it.
When we drive our cars into each other and kneel on each other's necks and knock each other down or don't help each other up, we need to confess.
This great racial reckoning we're part of. This old, old stuff that has remnants in us, not of our making, but ours to acknowledge, we need to confess.
The prophets told us, that, before we can rise, we have to kneel, kneel in honesty confessing who we are to say, God, I know that I am your creature and I want to live a life of meaning and grace. Help me with my stuff. Show me your way.
And then to be about the mending. Mending is like confessing. It is uncomfortable.
Have you had a broken bone or had a serious surgery? The knitting back together of flesh and bone is miraculous, but also painful.
Maybe it was so for Jesus, too, as his bruised and bloodied and broken body, bound in those linen clothes began to be released into spirit.
But then, Mending is about releasing, isn't it? Allowing ourselves or helping others to be released from that which binds, that keep us in our tombs. That keeps us in darkness.
In Jewish mysticism, there is an expression Tikkum Olam, The repair of the world. Comes from a rabbi’s vision that God created a primordial vessel, into which God poured God's light but the vessel was not strong enough to hold that power, and so the vessels shattered into shards that pierced the world and scattered the light.
And the work of God's creatures is tikkum - to gather together those sparks of light and to help repair the vessel that is the earth. The shards that hurt are embedded in each of us, but also the sparks of light they carried.
Jesus keeps trying to tell us that. That the kingdom is here, that light, is here. That we are children of the light, that we can come together and help one another see it in themselves.
Jesus saw it in the ordinary people from all walks of life. He saw it in Mary of Magdela and the woman with the flow of blood, and the man born blind, He even saw it in Judas who betrayed him. In Peter who denied him.
All part of the kingdom, all with shards in their bones and light to bring forth to repair the world. That's a fearsome thing, isn't it?
We heard Mark's account at the tomb this morning, but we haven't yet heard the last words he wrote. That after they saw that the tomb was empty and the messenger told them to go and tell the other disciples, then, Mark says:
The women said nothing to anyone for they were afraid! Fearful perhaps of the power of God to resurrect, or that the one they loved was more than they thought he was, fearful that they wouldn't be believed, or that others would fear the power of Jesus even in death and endanger them.
They'd come to grieve and been given a fearsome mission. And they were quiet for a time, but at some point they accepted the mission and they told the story. The story in music that I heard as I was driving to that airport and that we heard today.
The Broken-Hearted, Open-Hearted One
Palm Sunday, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia A. Wagner
Philippians 2: 5-8
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.
Jesus is entering Jerusalem. He has chosen to do so on the donkey, just how the ancient prophets foret0ld the Messiah would enter the gates of the city. The Messiah whom the people had now been waiting for hundreds of years
Hosanna! they shout, so happy to be witnesses to his arrival this glorious Passover surprise, to see this one who will fight their battles who heal them and their wounded national pride and bring God's peace.
Then, at the gates, we hear the people of the city now in uproar at this upstart ask, Who is this? The prophet Jesus, from Galilee, answers the crowd.
The city folk do not know him. Nor, in fact, do those who laud him outside the gate. Their praise is both genuine and fleeting their hearts hopeful, and unknowing their love, passionate and shallow, all will forsake him. We are not ones to judge, for even with all we know of what will happen that week, the upper room, the trial and torment, the cross and the empty tomb, we still do not understand the Christ, the God of the universe present in human form.
Who is this? We still ask, It is beyond what we can fathom. What we will ever understand in this short life.
And we must confess the shallowness of our love, the unknowingness of our faith the fleetingness of our praise.
But at the same time, we know, somehow deep in our bones, that this is our Messiah. This brokenhearted, open-hearted one this one who is poor and lonely and abandoned and fiercely truthful, there will be no other.
And that his message more simple and difficult and important than any other we will hear in this life: His promise that the world may be redeemed through the vulnerability of infinite love rings true.
But to follow him is what he asks, beyond the shallows, on the way that leads to Jerusalem; that confrontation with the powers that wrong God's world and people.
This is the way says the Messiah, and we wish it were not, for this Messiah's mending requires a tearing, a breaking open.
Bishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador a few weeks before he was martyred said:
"A church that doesn't provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn't unsettle, a word of God that doesn't get under anyone’s skin, a word of God that doesn't touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed --
What kind of gospel is that?
What kind of Messiah do we want, Maple Grove? We, who stand at the gates of the city.
Do we want a Messiah who does not see and address the real sin, evident every day in the poverty and violence around us?
One who does not see and address the hidden brokenness in us? Are waiting for another?
But we know none other will come. There is no political leader, no lover, no physician like the prophet from Galilee.
And so, reluctantly, we say yes, and we realize that he would rather not walk alone. That he wants you with him when he upsets the tables of iniquity, to join him at table at that last supper, and stay with him in the garden and on the walk to Golgotha.
Leave the shallow love and praise and move into the depths he says, and you shall be broken open and you shall be healed.
Many years ago, I sat in a convent, weary from wounding, as it happens, from church folks, and I found this poem, inscribed on a plaque on the wall by an British chaplain, named George Studdert Kennedy who served on the western front in World War 1 and was known for going into the battle lines to care for the wounded.
For you, who are the journey with the Messiah, receive this blessing, this word of healing:
Blessed are the eyes that see
the things that you have seen,
Blessed are the feet that walk
The ways where you have been.
Blessed are the eyes that see
The Agony of God, Blessed are the feet that tread
The paths His feet have trod.
Blessed are the souls that solve
The paradox of Pain, And find the path that, piercing it,
Leads through to Peace again.
GA Studdert Kennedy 1883-1929
May you be healed
May you help to mend the world in Jesus, the Messiah's name.
March 14, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Chad Hale
Thank you, Pastor Patty, for inviting me to preach at Maple Grove. I am honored. I want to thank my sister, Cathy, as well, for her support for me and my work over the years. Brothers and sisters, it is a great joy to share this moment with you. Even though my presence with you is through the medium of video, I do feel the kinship and am grateful for your witness and your desire to grow more faithful to Jesus.
I also very much appreciate the Lenten title that you have been led to adopt, God’s Resurrection Project. It’s an inspiring title and set of themes: confess, mend, rise. God’s Resurrection Project.
Let us pause and pray
Empower us now, O Lord Jesus, empower Maple Grove United Methodist Church, empower, empower. Honor the work to prepare for this moment by infusing the words with your Word. Thank you.
It is a daunting thing that you have been called to with this Project. What is it you are being called to? You, Maple Grove United Methodist Church, are being call to love one another as Jesus has loved us and love your neighbor as yourself and that takes Resurrection Power. Jesus said take up your cross, which led of course to death, but overall, in the church, in particular the white middle class church, we do not love one another that way, we don’t really know what that means, and we’re pretty sure we’re not ready to die for someone, maybe not even share very much of our money with them. So, you’re going against the stream here; it’s a serious project you are working with. I commend you for taking it on.
There’s a church building a little ways to the west of my home, which has a sign on it that says the name of the church is “The Perfect Church.” I've never been part of what I would call a perfect church, so it is a curiosity to me. I've never seen anyone there, and I pass by fairly regularly, though I haven’t stopped to visit. I have an acquaintance who stopped to see if anyone was there; he went around looking, looked through windows, etc., but could find no one. No activity at all.
So, it dawned on me, maybe that’s how you get to be a Perfect Church. No people. No one around, no conflicts, no problems. Because, of course, if you have people, you’ve automatically got sinners and bingo—you’re not perfect. It seems that to be a perfect church, you’ve got to keep everyone out.
But if we harken back to the picture of the church presented in the Gospel of Mark in today’s reading, it is a dramatic contrast. There’s seems to be a lot of people there and Jesus is right at the center. And with Jesus at the center of things, it is a bustling and thriving place. It’s hopping, it’s a happening. Jesus was poor himself and came to a poor, 3rd world country. People were happy when someone wanted to pay them attention; nobody cared about them, no one was giving them attention. And along comes this guy who actually loves them and is healing them and spending time with them. So, in this picture, there is a lot of life. People are breaking in, tearing holes in the roof, knocking down the doors, as it were, to get inside. It’s a wild and lively and wonderful scene.
I have to say, for my money, the picture in Mark is closer to the perfect church; it’s full of folks and Jesus is at the center. I know it’s the place I’d rather be. It is the very picture of life, the Resurrection Project in full swing.
Now, we’ve got to be clear and bear in mind that the folks being brought to the house and to Jesus are not being evangelized. They’re not people being brought to Jesus to be converted, not Gentiles. These were Jews. They are already part of “the chosen people.” But if they were already saved, so to speak, why were they flocking to Jesus? Clearly, they still had need; in one way or another they were poor, they longed for something more, they needed more and deeper salvation. They were not as alive as they would like, they wanted to be more whole, to be healed, to be forgiven, to be raised up so they could walk and run and work. They knew they had need. They were people who were poor—Remember that Jesus said he came to bring good news to the poor, and that was what they were experiencing. Here he was, a doctor who didn’t charge them a cent and loved them and a Temple, for that’s who he said he was, the new Temple, that didn’t make financial demands to be in his presence.
I’m blessed to be a pastor to a congregation of people who are mostly poor. We are people in need. Nobody’s putting on airs; we struggle. We’re not talking about our fancy vacations and cruises or new cars. We don’t have it all together. Every week, we come seeking, beseeching, asking for more, crying out for healing, for deliverance, and, we do see God act. We cry together, we pray together, we lay hands on each other. One thing about being poor is, you know you need and you don’t have to hide it and you know you need Jesus and you know you need each other. We come with expectation, bringing each other to Jesus, lifting each other up, praying together. We are focusing prayer now during Lent on a woman who has persistent stomach ailments and for the addicted daughter of one of our members (the daughter doesn’t attend the church), but the mother keeps crying out to God and asking the church to pray. So we have been, and unexpectedly, the daughter entered a rehab program (and she didn’t know we were praying for her!). The woman with the stomach problems can’t afford the first visit to this promising new doctor we’ve found and she has no insurance. So we’ve pulled together the funds for her to be able to at least get that first assessment and see what we learn. The church is making a way a way to carry her to this doctor.
It’s not always quick that change or healing takes place, to be sure, in fact, it doesn’t always happen at all, at least not in the ways we hope. This carrying each other to Jesus is a learning thing and a journey. Sometimes we get freed and raised up quickly. I remember one woman who was part of a small group I was in, who came to us with terrible allergies she could not get free of. She asked us to lay hands on her and pray, and lo and behold, the allergies left her immediately. Two years later she asked us again because the allergies had returned. She asked, we prayed, she was freed. Together we brought her to Jesus.
We had a young girl brought to us by her mother who said that warts were proliferating on her body in a very threatening and uncomfortable way. She said she had taken the girl to the doctor about it, but that the doctor had rather given up and was saying to her that he didn’t know what else to do. She asked us to pray and we laid hands on her in our church service. Within two weeks, the warts had receded and never came back. Resurrection power.
Another woman in the congregation said she had something she had been carrying for years that she needed to confess. She was hiding something from us, feeling shame and guilt. We held a retreat and spent together and during that time she confessed to us she had killed a man in Vietnam when she had been in the service and the circumstances were such that it has weighed on her ever since. She got free; it still bothers her sometime, but she knows that we know and that we haven’t kicked her out and we love her and she is forgiven.
Now, of course, the prerequisite to rising, to having Resurrection Power, is dying. But mostly, of course, we don’t want to die. How do we die? We die by confessing our need that we want to hide; we die by admitting we need help and aren’t self-sufficient. Because generally we’re not going to get free to be raised up if we don’t ask, if you don’t participate. If you don’t know you’re poor, that you exist by the mercy of God, that you could be literally physically dead in a few seconds’ time, and that you have needs, that death is close by and in ways has a hold on you, then you won’t ask for help. Then we’re held back from rising like a rock on the string of a helium balloon.
Remember, what Jesus said to the man in Mark was, “Your sins are forgiven.” So what are the sins that make you and me sick or paralyzed in some fashion? What are the things that hold us back? The angers that threaten to give us a heart attack or depress us and keep us down or lonely or whatever, that keep us from life. If we’ll tell them to trusted brothers and sisters in the church, they can help us to get to Jesus, if we confess we have a need, then life can happen. But it’s true there are people who are happy where they are—stuck in the middle, not fully dead but not fully alive. That’s a problem for a lot of us middle class folks: we’re too comfortable to rock the boat and afraid to admit we’re poor and needy. Poor people don’t have that problem. Everybody knows they’re poor and needy. It’s only folks like you and me that have money in the bank and an image to uphold, who need to look like we have it together, that can’t admit we’re poor and sick and paralyzed.
So, we have to decide for ourselves whether we want to participate in the Resurrection Project and in making Maple Grove a rocking place, and begin to take risks. In the church that’s alive we’re like both a party and an AA meeting, only we’re not anonymous. We are all sinners who confess to each other. Even the people who carried the man to Jesus had needs. So, I say my name is Chad Hale and I have a drinking problem. Or, I’m Chad Hale and I don’t want to forgive the man who raped my daughter, in fact, I’d rather kill him in a gruesome fashion; I’m Chad Hale and I can’t forgive my parents for the ways they abused me and my siblings; I’m Chad Hale and I’m afraid I’ve got something wrong with my health but I’m scared to go to the doctor; I’m Chad Hale and I can’t stand those liberal socialist leaning Democrats that voted for Biden; I’m Chad Hale and I hate those conservative fascist leaning Trump supporting Republicans; I’m Chad Hale and I struggle with pornography; I’m Chad Hale and I am worried about money and my future and feel like I need to hold onto every cent I can get; I’m Chad Hale and I’m having an affair that I know is wrong, but I don’t really want to get out of it; I’m Chad Hale and I’m struggling with some gender issues; I’m Chad Hale and when I’m honest with myself, I don’t love my neighbor as myself, especially if they are poor or homeless and generally different from me—and I’m not sure I really want to; I’m Chad Hale and I’m also not sure I really believe there’s a God and I don’t really know what to think about Jesus; I’m Chad Hale and I neglect my wife and children because I’m too busy on my job; I’m Chad Hale and I don’t really have faith that Jesus hears prayers and answers them; I’m Chad Hale and I don’t really think the church is all that important; I’m Chad Hale and I’m full of grief and rage and anxiety, etc., etc. I could go on and on, of course, naming all of the ways death has a hold on me and maybe you, too, and holds me back and down. If we don’t name them, and get them out, then we keep being paralyzed and unforgiven and alone and unfree and unhealthy and less joyful and peaceful, and it gets harder to conger up the courage to admit we’re paralyzed or afraid or whatever and say to our friends, brothers and sisters, I need help. And you know what? That hurts not only you but it hurts the church, it keeps the community weak; you stay alone and part of you hidden. You have a good AA meeting when everyone is confessing and coming to the party. Your willingness to jump in the pool strengthens you and the community to be more alive and joyful and whole. The very dark matter you fear becomes grist for creating light. But if we get stuck in the old and think this is the way life is, we can despair that things can shift and, and maybe we spend lots of money on therapists, but we shouldn’t discount the church, the place where Jesus is at the center, as a place of life and healing and joy and power and possibility.
But also, as we see from Mark, for the Resurrection Project to lift off and have power, we have to love on another and trust and care for one another. These brothers love their friend and were determined to get him to Jesus. Maple Grove can be a place of loving life if you want it to be. It can be like that picture. But it won’t happen if we’re judging each other and trying to one up each other, backbiting, gossiping, comparing who’s a better Christian. Because we have to know that if we tell someone about our sins and our needs, they are going to respond with care and compassion and honor us and our vulnerability. We are sinners together. This is a community thing, a church thing. We need each other, just as we need Jesus. You remember the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. After he had done so, he told the church to “unbind him and let him go.” Jesus raised him, but you and I have to help with the unbinding or the carrying or whatever is needed. Love one another as I have loved you. Think of the church as your family, as a new loving community, the beloved community.
Of course, not knowing your church that well, you may have a lot of people already who are carrying people to Jesus one way or another. Usually, in my experience, I find that the ones who are carrying people to Jesus are also the ones confessing, the ones who already have the most life. You may be doing all of this work to get free already and I hope you are. But if you’re not, I can’t tell you just HOW and to whom and where you do all of this confessing and mending resulting in rising. But I have a couple of thoughts and I know the Lord will lead you if you ask. First of all, there is power in small groups. In the early Methodist Church John Wesley had small groups where people would confess their sins of the previous week and pray for each other and love each other to health and joy by taking them to Jesus.
Secondly, an important way to get help with Resurrection Power, is to begin to hang around people who are not just like you, people that may threaten you, make you a little uncomfortable and invite them into your church family. In my case, poor people have taught me so much. Pray that they Lord would bring people in need to part members of your congregation. It might be a test, but it would bring you some life. I’ve got a pastor friend here in Atlanta who pastors a comfortable white church. He told me that a homeless African-American man had joined their church and it was kicking their butt. People didn’t know how to treat the man. Some were trying to give him money; they didn’t know how to relate to him as a person. Others were upset because one of ways they welcome people into membership was to give the new member a copy of the church directory, which had everyone’s address and phone number, which a lot of folks didn’t want him to have. Now see, isn’t that funny just to think about. It makes me laugh. There was life being stirred up already, some of their stodginess and death being jostled, consciences being pricked. We immediately become aware our love has a lot of boundaries and then we just maybe we begin to be able to get freer, if we want to, and we begin to find a new and deeper joy and we begin to rise. I’m not talking poor people about as charity objects, but as brothers and sisters in Christ. Now I realize that may be something you are already doing. But if you’re not, you might consider it. I’m not talking about trying to change people either; I’m talking about learning to love them and let them love me. The members of my food co-ops had an average income of under $12,000 a year. One co-op member joined our church; her income is just over $700/mo., so you can see she’s not rolling in the dough. But she’s great; she prays for my family every day. My folks need Jesus in a way that mostly us middle class folks do not, because they may not be able to pay the rent or buy a car or have enough food or pay the utilities or afford to go to a doctor. They HAVE to cry out to Jesus; they have to depend on Jesus. Their faith is stronger than mine and generally speaking I find that they aren’t hiding as much as me and my middle-class friends. They’ll tell me about their sins and struggles in a heartbeat, sexual stuff, mental stuff, you name it. So I get freer and more honest and less concerned to put on airs. And yes, it’s true I have ways I can help them, just as they have ways they help and teach me, so we get to know and love one another have community together. Yes, my poorer brothers and sisters have been a great blessing to me.
All I know for sure is, if you as a church, or even just a few of you, want more Resurrection Power, ask Jesus and he will help you. In any case, seek and you will find. The scriptures tell us “You have not because you ask not.” So ask. And tell Pastor Patty you want to take this seriously and put your strength into making Maple Grove an example of the beloved community.
As a church, I don’t whether you have really have thought about it or not, but you have a really good name. Maple Grove United Methodist Church. Maple Grove: a stand of trees. Those who study such matters tell us that trees are communal, they look out for one another, they communicate and nourish each other. But that is you, Maple Grove—I’d like to think you are or want to be a community of people like trees—what do the Psalms say, trees planted by the water—who nourish and look out for one another, intent on taking each other to Jesus and wade further out into that Resurrection Power River.
May the Lord bless you and raise you up. Take seriously this Lenten calling that the Holy Spirit has given you and take seriously stewarding your own little patch, your little grove, of the Kingdom of Jesus. Take courage—find brothers and sisters to help pray for you to get you closer to the source of Life, or if need be, to get you closer to wanting to be free, and help to carry you to Jesus, and make yourself available to carry others in some fashion. You will begin to come alive just from making the effort. I am confident you will find joy in the journey. I would suggest that if you do that, you, Maple Grove United Methodist Church, will indeed be the perfect church.
So, I exhort you, my brothers and sisters, to follow Pastor Patty’s lead into the Resurrection Project. She is passing along a powerful word to you from our good brother Moses —Choose Life!
Come Holy Spirit, Come Lord Jesus, come quickly.
Jesus and the Outcast
March 7, 2021
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia Wagner
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well." 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, "Who touched my clothes?" 31 And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, 'Who touched me?'" 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease
She is alone. Unlike others who ask for Jesus’ healing, she does not draw attention to herself or raise her voice to cry out. Apparently women did not do that. Many still do not. And she has no friends to bring her to him as another person in need of healing did.
She and any friends she has know that she is not allowed in public. Her constant hemorrhaging means that she is ritually unclean, to touch her, to be touched by her, would make you unclean, too, especially men on their way to temple; they would have to go home and wash again.
And she's poor- she's spent all she has on physicians who had no cure for her, so, she is absolutely vulnerable and she's hidden, from Jesus, from everyone.
She hears about him, and dares to go outside, into the open where she can be caught and accused.
She makes her way to him, and reaches out to touch him, just the tassels of his garment, and in reaching out, she is made well.
And it says, that she felt immediately in her body that she was healed. And immediately, Jesus felt the power go out from him.
This is the only time in our scripture that we hear how healing felt both to the healed, to Jesus, as the healer.
And Jesus wonders, who has done this; who drew it forth from me?
When he asks that his disciples seem to make fun of him. How can you ask that, the crowd is pressing in on you, everyone is touching you?
The others in the crowd surely were desperate for healing, too. How was it that she alone accessed this power? And we ask, ones we loved were desperate for healing, too, why weren't they made well. Why aren’t we?
Jesus never wanted us to focus on the physical healing that was available through the power that moved in and through him. He commanded those healed not to talk of it. Remember, too, that that he himself would suffer unto death. He did not heal his own wounds.
This account, a story shared by Matthew and Luke as well speaks even more clearly about those who are outcast those whom we have considered beyond hope, beyond redemption, unclean.
For even beyond her physical healing, which she confesses she took without asking, is his acceptance of her, of her defying the barriers which separated them.
She risked an intimate connection with the Divine. She realized that she could not mend alone. She had to leave her home that was her prison, she had to clear her mind of the warnings that she wasn't worthy, that she should keep her suffering hidden and go find the holy one who would call her "daughter."
You are my kin, Jesus is saying, Go in peace and be whole, he says.
As she is his kin, so are you, and so we are one another's
Val Kobus is here and she understands this story, she has lived it.
Let us welcome this daughter of Jesus as she brings her mending story.
(Val spoke extemporaneously, so we have no transcript from her sharing of her life, her addiction, imprisonment, and her transformation through the love of God shared by persons from the EMBARK program, Kindway and Welcome Home. We will be having Val back in April to share more)