Two Gardens

2012-06-01 12.46.54   2012-06-01 12.49.24   2012-06-01 12.47.18   2012-06-01 12.40.04

The story of Adam and Eve, in Genesis, tells us of a garden being vacated in sorrow, shame, and separation from the Creator God. This is the beginning of human sorrow, a picture of brokenness and despair, an account of the barrier raised between humankind and God. We imagine God standing at the entrance to the garden, also with pain and disappointment at the loss of these beloved disobedient children. And thus begins the story of our lives. Their struggle becomes ours, as we try to get back to the beginning, to the intimacy and communion with God.  We imagine God standing in a place of perfection that we can not enter. We fail to see  the sorrow of God, who misses us as much as we miss him.

In John’s gospel, we see another garden, where a broken-hearted Mary Magdalene meets a man whom she supposes to be the Gardener. Was the garden of the tomb a beautiful place, tended and cared for, as some cemeteries are, or a place of abandoned tombs and weedy plants?  The gospel writer tells us only that it contained the borrowed tomb of a wealthy man.   Artists portray it as a place of beauty, but what made it lovely on that day was the discovery of a stranger.  He was not there to maintain or restore order to the garden.  He was there to restore peace to Mary and the relationship to humankind that had been damaged in that first garden, centuries before.  Here is God, standing with open arms, to welcome her –and us – back into intimate fellowship with the living, loving God of Eden, who promises to be with us into Eternity.

The broken-hearted people who left Eden were mirrored in the broken hearts of those who believed that Jesus had left them, leaderless and bereft.  When He revealed Himself to them, their barren lives were infused with beauty.  Centuries later, where ever we hear the voice of Jesus, and see his activity in our places in the world, the gardens of our lives are transformed.  Eden blooms again, as we continue our saintly safaris into the life of God, accompanied by the God and Guide who knows the way. 

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Tongues of Fire – Pentecost

Pentecost

Acts 2:2-4…When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

 At St. David’s in the Pines Episcopal Church in Wellington, FL, Fr. Thomas always publishes in the worship folder the scripture for the day, and a series of “Challenge Questions”, followed by the scripture readings for the following Sunday.

So, having seen these questions each week, and just pondering them for a few minutes before the start of the service, I have decided this week to be more intentional about thinking about them, and waiting on God to see if there is some action, or response that I am to make in light of the scriptures.  In other words, these “Challenge Questions” will, at least for this week, become part of my mediation and prayer life.

1)  What was the impact on the apostles and community?

It was a “WOW” day in the life of the Church and those early disciples.  These men and women went from hiding behind locked doors out into the world, carrying with them the life changing message of Jesus Christ, crucified, dead, and risen to glory.  Their message was filled with excitement, love, joy, power, persuasion.  Death held no fear for them and they were free to live, and love, as Jesus had taught them.  And 5000 came to believe, on THAT day alone.

2) Why did Jesus send the Spirit?  

What specific works did the advocate come to do?  The Holy Sprit came form the Father, sent by Jesus, to fill all of the followers of Jesus with a boldness and power to proclaim the truth of God’s life for each of them.  The Holy Spirit is the bearer of truth from the Father.  The Holy Spirit is the advocate, interceding for us when we do not have the words to express what we really need.  The Holy Spirit comes to show us what it is God wants to do because of the Son.  The Holy Spirit comes to show us how to live, love, celebrate, and draw nearer and nearer to God through Jesus.

3) In what ways do you feel the Holy Spirit in your life, in the Church, in the world?  

I feel the presence of God’s Holy Spirit when I am prompted by the inner sense to do something I might otherwise not do, such as speaking words of encouragement or comfort to a stranger.  Or giving money to a homeless person without wondering what it would be spent on.  Or engaging in a ministry or work I would never feel adequate to do on my own.  In the Church I see the working of the Holy Spirit as lives are changed, encouraged, and strengthened for the good of God and His community.  And in the world I see the Holy Spirit working in the many lives that suffer with dignity and grace, and in those who reach out with compassion and resources to relieve the suffering of others.

4) How and when are you aware of God’s Spirit and how does it work in you?  

See number 3

5) As receivers of the Spirit, how can these gifts/powers be used in the modern day?

We can be empowered to love those we might not otherwise love, and to reach out to those who might normally be beyond our circle of friends and family.  We can welcome the stranger, and the strange one into the fellowship of Christ and His Church.  We can teach, and proclaim the love of God, the forgiveness of sins, wholeness in Christ, and life everlasting to those who have no hope, no peace, no comfort, no sense of connectedness to God.  We can proclaim, along with Jesus, sight to the blind, freedom for the captive, good news to the poor.

6) What gifts do you possess that can be used for God’s purpose/plan on earth?  

This is a difficult question to answer.  Sometimes it is easier to see the gifts of another while missing your own, feeling inadequate, or unworthy.  When I think of my own gifts, I wonder if I am being too modest, or too boastful.  Am I realistic regarding my gifts, or abilities?

I have been told, and I believe, that I am a good communicator, a proclaimer of God’s word, a persuasive preacher.  I love to preach and teach, but usually come away from the experience feeling as if I failed in the endeavor.

I love celebrating, and sharing the Sacraments of the Church.  I love to create worship.  But does that mean they are my “gifts”?  I would like to believe they are, but how do I know for sure?  Again, I have been told that I am “good” at these expressions of faith.

I am NOT gifted in leading meetings, and Church boards, and administration of the daily life of Church business.  I have been told that as well.

I can listen, and pray, and comfort those who are hurting, sick, and dying.  But I have little tolerance for social club politics. 

So where are my gifts that can be used for God’s purpose?  I am not sure, because they are easily confused with God’s purpose and the work of the organized Church.

These are great questions raised by Father Thomas at St. David’s.  And they have been a source of contemplation this week, and will continue to prod me along in the weeks ahead.  Thanks, FT, for the prodding.

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Tongues of Fire – Pentecost

Acts 2:2-4…When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

At St. David’s in the Pines Episcopal Church in Wellington, FL, Fr. Thomas always publishes in the worship folder the scripture for the day, and a series of “Challenge Questions”, followed by the scripture readings for the following Sunday.

So, having seen these questions each week, and just pondering them for a few minutes before the start of the service, I have decided this week to be more intentional about thinking about them, and waiting on God to see if there is some action, or response that I am to make in light of the scriptures.  In other words, these “Challenge Questions” will, at least for this week, become part of my mediation and prayer life.

1)  What was the impact on the apostles and community?

It was a “WOW” day in the life of the Church and those early disciples.  These men and women went from hiding behind locked doors out into the world, carrying with them the life changing message of Jesus Christ, crucified, dead, and risen to glory.  Their message was filled with excitement, love, joy, power, persuasion.  Death held no fear for them and they were free to live, and love, as Jesus had taught them.  And 5000 came to believe, on THAT day alone.

2) Why did Jesus send the Spirit?  

What specific works did the advocate come to do?  The Holy Sprit came form the Father, sent by Jesus, to fill all of the followers of Jesus with a boldness and power to proclaim the truth of God’s life for each of them.  The Holy Spirit is the bearer of truth from the Father.  The Holy Spirit is the advocate, interceding for us when we do not have the words to express what we really need.  The Holy Spirit comes to show us what it is God wants to do because of the Son.  The Holy Spirit comes to show us how to live, love, celebrate, and draw nearer and nearer to God through Jesus.

3) In what ways do you feel the Holy Spirit in your life, in the Church, in the world?  

I feel the presence of God’s Holy Spirit when I am prompted by the inner sense to do something I might otherwise not do, such as speaking words of encouragement or comfort to a stranger.  Or giving money to a homeless person without wondering what it would be spent on.  Or engaging in a ministry or work I would never feel adequate to do on my own.  In the Church I see the working of the Holy Spirit as lives are changed, encouraged, and strengthened for the good of God and His community.  And in the world I see the Holy Spirit working in the many lives that suffer with dignity and grace, and in those who reach out with compassion and resources to relieve the suffering of others.

4) How and when are you aware of God’s Spirit and how does it work in you?  

See number 3

5) As receivers of the Spirit, how can these gifts/powers be used in the modern day?

We can be empowered to love those we might not otherwise love, and to reach out to those who might normally be beyond our circle of friends and family.  We can welcome the stranger, and the strange one into the fellowship of Christ and His Church.  We can teach, and proclaim the love of God, the forgiveness of sins, wholeness in Christ, and life everlasting to those who have no hope, no peace, no comfort, no sense of connectedness to God.  We can proclaim, along with Jesus, sight to the blind, freedom for the captive, good news to the poor.

6) What gifts do you possess that can be used for God’s purpose/plan on earth?  

This is a difficult question to answer.  Sometimes it is easier to see the gifts of another while missing your own, feeling inadequate, or unworthy.  When I think of my own gifts, I wonder if I am being too modest, or too boastful.  Am I realistic regarding my gifts, or abilities?

I have been told, and I believe, that I am a good communicator, a proclaimer of God’s word, a persuasive preacher.  I love to preach and teach, but usually come away from the experience feeling as if I failed in the endeavor.

I love celebrating, and sharing the Sacraments of the Church.  I love to create worship.  But does that mean they are my “gifts”?  I would like to believe they are, but how do I know for sure?  Again, I have been told that I am “good” at these expressions of faith.

I am NOT gifted in leading meetings, and Church boards, and administration of the daily life of Church business.  I have been told that as well.

I can listen, and pray, and comfort those who are hurting, sick, and dying.  But I have little tolerance for social club politics. 

So where are my gifts that can be used for God’s purpose?  I am not sure, because they are easily confused with God’s purpose and the work of the organized Church.

These are great questions raised by Father Thomas at St. David’s.  And they have been a source of contemplation this week, and will continue to prod me along in the weeks ahead.  Thanks, FT, for the prodding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Green Arrow

No, that THAT Green Arrow.   

The one on the traffic light pole…   

Driving in South Florida is entirely different from driving the narrow, twisting roads of West Virginia. In WV, the greatest danger is potholes big enough to swallow the car, or at least break an axel…and drivers careening around curves in the middle of the road…and falling off the shoulder-less road and rolling down the mountain…and…other adventures incurred only while driving in a mountainous state where everyone wants to have the right of way, including deer and bears.  But that is entirely another tale, for another day.

When we first arrived in Florida, Abby was still not allowed to drive, following her heart episodes of the summer. I was designated driver for several weeks, which turned out to be a good thing. It helped me grow more comfortable with the wide avenues, six to eight lanes of boulevards, actual shoulders along the road edges, and long, straight, flat stretches of roadway.

What took the most adjustment was the turning lanes. When traffic is flowing from four directions, the lights are vital to avoid entanglements. I still have to remind myself to look beyond the red lights to the green arrows.  The round red and green lights are for the straight ahead traffic, but beyond them are the lighted arrows that direct the turning lanes.

Often, I prepare to stop at a light that is red, only to discover that beyond it is the green arrow, telling me that it is safe and. actually wise, to turn now, lest some vehicle hit me from behind.

For me, there is a lesson in this.  How easy it is to reach a road block in life’s journey, and stop, thinking that the way ahead is closed.  But, when we look beyond the red light, we see a way opening to us in a different direction.  That turning place may lead to an adventure not yet dreamed, and a fulfillment not yet imagined.  Safaris are seldom journeys of straight lines.  We need to be flexible enough to turn, sensitive enough to know where and when to change our course, and stubborn enough not to stop in the middle of the road.

“ And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, This is the way, walk  in it, when you turn to the right hand, and when you turn to the left.”  Isaiah 30:21
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A Reflection from Preaching as Antoinette Brown-Blackwell

 

Posted on October 18, 2009 on Dr. Abby’s and Rev. Carol’s Place http://www.drabbyreynolds.com/2009/10/a-reflection-from-preaching-as-antoinette-brown-blackwell-by-carol-crawford-rowe/

I had the privilege of preaching at a church near by, where I was asked to speak in my Civil War persona as Rev. Dr. Antoinette Brown-Blackwell. The worship service was an interesting experience, with four components that troubled me.

I do not know who normally presents the Children’s Message, but in the absence of the pastor, one of the lay speakers did so. She was doing a great job, reminding them that Jesus is better than their best friend, always present, always loving them. Then WHAM! She told the children that, when they become adults, Jesus will occasionally “smack you upside the head” when you do something that you shouldn’t do, or fail to do something that you should. I know that she was trying to be cute and clever, but she missed by a mile.

And we wonder why the little ones, who sing “Jesus Loves the Little Children” with such enthusiasm, disappear from our congregations when they become teen agers and young adults. If I were awaiting the day when Jesus ceased being my friend and began to batter me instead, I also would rather leave while I’m ahead.

I was the guest speaker. Should I have interrupted her to tell those young ones that Jesus does not hit us? I believe that, when we fail to do what is good and just, Jesus lays a hand on our shoulder and says, “I’ll bet you’re sorry that you did that in that way. Would you like me to help you fix it?” I wanted to say STOP! You are not talking about the real Jesus. Being polite to her, I confess to you that, by my silence, I failed those young people as badly as she did.

Why should God cease to be a friend and loving presence, and become a harsh, judgmental taskmaster, just because we grow old enough to recognize our failings and mistakes? Is this really the theology that we want our children to learn?

Second, after this disheartening message, every person in the sanctuary age sixteen and under was led away by a cordon of adults, presumably to engage in some activity more appropriate to their age level than the sermon. Huh?!

I was sharing God’s working in the life of Antoinette Brown Blackwell, the first woman in the United States to be ordained a minister of the gospel. She knew as a young child that God had a plan for her life. That knowledge led to a life preaching peace, love, and inclusion of the marginalized and abused. Was this inappropriate for the young people to hear? When did worship become a venue in which children are not welcomed? When are they supposed to learn their roles in the Church and in the world?

Third, the congregation was right “with” me, as I told of the nineteenth century struggles and challenges. They were smiling, nodding, laughing when appropriate. But when I reminded them that we are called to right the wrongs of the twenty-first century, just as nineteenth century heroes and heroines were called to their time, the congregation froze. The smiles disappeared when I reminded them that Jesus also loves people with purple hair, painted skin, and piercings. Their slogan says that they are ministers in the world, to the world. The nods gave way to stiff-necked stares.

Their minds were closed, as were their hearts. As I looked around the mostly grey-haired group, I realized that their doors were also closed to any who are different from their idea of normal and acceptable. Many of the children who were present at the beginning of the service had come with a grandparent. Their parents were not there, an entire generation, mostly missing. What have we done?

And, last of all, at the door, while people were politely shaking my hand, with the compliments that really mean; “I’m not going to take THAT message with me into my world this week”, an elderly man took my hand and said, ‘I’m old fashioned. I believe that God created people to fulfill certain roles”.

I have been condemned before, for being a woman called to ministry. Perhaps that is why my answer came so fast. Smiling, I patted his shoulder and remarked, “Oh, so you believe that a woman belongs in the kitchen. Or, are you willing to allow her into the living room, if she needs to vacuum the carpet?”

The howls of laughter from the surrounding women made it all worthwhile! But I traveled home, saddened in spirit, for the empty shell that our religious institutions have become. To quote an old and dear retired pastor friend, “Who wants to spend their lives in an institution?”

And I felt Jesus’ hand on MY shoulder, as he spoke to me. “You are called to be my messenger. What they do with the message is their responsibility”. Help us, Lord, please help us!

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Walk Softly, and Carry a Shepherd’s Crook

File6

Yesterday morning, a young mother just a few miles from here killed her four teen-age and pre-teen children, before taking her own life.  I did not know her, but my heart aches for her and her entire family.  Who of her neighbors and extended family had an inkling of her pain, pain so debilitating that continuing life was unbearable?  Yes, there was a history of problems – problems in relationships, problems with the law, and, undoubtedly, problems with a hopelessness so deep that she could see no glimmer of relief.

I wonder what help was offered her.   I wonder what judgment was heaped upon her.  I wonder how many hands were extended to her in blessing, how many fists raised against her in condemnation.  I can not help her now.  The question for me remains:  Would I have reached a hand to her if I had known her?  Or would I have joined the legions who criticize and damn?

Teddy Roosevelt suggested that those who go far “speak softly and carry a big stick”.  That may be true, especially in this land of lions and alligators, but I think that we are called to embrace the cry of the prophet Micah, to live justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with the Good Shepherd (6:8).

It is better, I think, to extend the shepherd’s crook to rescue people from the brink, than to raise the stick to club them into despair.

God of us all, help us to see each other through your loving eyes and embrace each other with your understanding heart. 

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I wept for joy, and then sorrow.

This past Sunday in Church, I found myself with tear filled eyes, as I sniffed and stifled the sounds of my crying, not wishing to make too much of a spectacle of myself beyond those immediately around me.

The service was not particularly centered on Mother’s Day, although Father Thomas spoke about Mary, the Mother of God, during the children’s sermon.

No, it was something more.  

 

As we sang the hymn, “I heard the Voice of Jesus Say”, I broke into tears of joy as I thought about the words, and how in love I am with Jesus.  I thought about the past 30+ years of knowing and serving my Lord, and the joys of being near His heart.  I thought of how so many are missing so much by their disregard for the life changing power of the Creator of the Universe.

And then I cried again. More tears of joy as we sang “It is Well With My Soul” during Communion.  I got as far as verse 2 and the words, “that Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and hath shed His own blood for my soul”, before I lost it and had to just sit there, giving heart felt praise to my King and Lord.

I came home elated, full of joy and love, and rejoicing that we have such a Savior as this who loves us so much.  I came home even more in love with Jesus, if that was even possible.

Then it happened, less than 24 hours later.  I wept again.  It was not from joy, but from deep pain and sorrow, that I wept.

Today I read a post from the United Methodist Reporter.  It was entitled, “Big Meeting, Small Change – GC2012 leaves many with blues”

In the article, the author quoted Dr. Dixon Hall, a delegate to the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, 

“Anyone watching the show (and that’s what it was) on Friday can tell you that when you have United Methodists standing on tables, shouting down the presiding officer, and engaging in personal attacks on and off the floor of the plenary session, we have more than walked away from reason. We have run from it,” Dr. Dixon Hall wrote on her blog.

There is so much in this article regarding the sad affairs of one of the largest mainline denomination in the world.

I wept as I read these words from Dr. Hall.  I wept for the Church I have loved, and still love.  I called out to God to show the people of the United Methodist Church how to move forward into the 21st Century as the people of God, full of love, compassion, and unity, not hate, law, and division.

And it is not just the United Methodist Church.  I see so many who call themselves Christians acting in extremely judgmental and hateful ways.  I see so little of the Love of Jesus Christ in the circles called Christianity.  

No wonder so many in the world look at Christianity as a joke.  And no wonder so many are walking away from the Church, declaring they are spiritual, but not religious.

How this must so break the heart of our God.  If I wept, I can only imaging how much more so my Lord and Savior has wept.

The Gospel of John records that Jesus, upon arriving at the home of Mary and Martha, learning that Lazarus has died and had been placed in the grave, “wept”. 

The writer says it was because Jesus love Lazarus so.  Or did Jesus weep because he knew, that no matter how much he did, there would still be people who would act with hate, fear, and injustice, all in the name of God?

 

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