She Persisted

Luke 18:1-8

18 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

 

The Gospel of Luke contains a great deal of material about women that is found nowhere else in the Gospels. It has been proposed that Luke may have had access to a women’s source– a collection of stories and teachings perhaps written or preserved by women and providing insight into women’s experience of the Jesus movement.

But do not be fooled…Luke is definitely not a feminist.

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This Gospel is often called, not only the “Gospel of women” but also the “Gospel of the Poor”. Luke’s interest in women and in the marginalized and oppressed may not be a shared interest but rather a recognition that women were part of the marginalized and oppressed. Most of the poor in every age are women and the children who are dependent on them.

Luke has a tendency to defend, reassure, and praise women. He refers to widows more frequently than do the other Gospels, often in passages that presuppose their economic helplessness in a male-dominated society.

However, Luke has no women who challenge Jesus or initiate a mission to the Gentiles. Women are included in Luke but not equally. So we see Luke recognizing unattached women as being especially vulnerable members of society, such as divorcees and widows, and still they are shown making decisions and participating actively in their own lives.

For women who see themselves as powerless victims, the parables show a glimpse of a world in which women with roles much like their own are able to make wise and foolish decisions (how much oil to take to the wedding), make a big difference through small action (kneading yeast into a loaf of bread), recover from mistakes (find the lost coin), and take action against unjust social structures (persistent widow).

Given all that…what do we hear Luke saying in this parable about the persistent widow?We understand, hopefully, that Luke is not suggesting God is like an unjust judge.

Luke introduces the parable with a note on prayer…praying always without losing heart; then ends the parable with a statement about the delayed Parousia…being steadfast as we wait for Jesus’ return…keeping the faith.

Joel, a wise man, who spoke of keeping the faith a long time ago reminded us that ‘the good ole days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems’. He asserted ‘ain’t it wonderful to be alive when the rock and roll plays’ that’s why we’re keeping the faith…that’s Billy Joel btw.

Hands, Received On, Light, Appreciation, Supernatural

Beginning and end of the parable speak of persistence…keeping the faith. Women and other historically marginalized groups would agree that the good ole days weren’t all that good for them…what the dominant group considers good often has the opposite effect for them…yet, persistence is what served them well…and there was hope for tomorrow.

The woman in today’s parable persisted in her quest for justice. It would be nice if we could say ‘look the judge finally recognized the substance and validity of her argument’…that she ‘won him over’…but we have to settle for him just capitulating out of sheer weariness or embarrassment.

She persisted…and she finally got what she wanted.

Disciples Women is celebrating its 145th birthday on October 21…the day that the Christian Women’s Board of Missions was formed…organized and managed exclusively by women to serve the needs of the world in the recognition that God’s grace is for all.

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Caroline Neville Pearre, an educator and a minister’s wife, taught at Christian colleges in Missouri, Kentucky, and Ohio. The Easter of 1874, while living in Iowa City, IA, she was especially moved by the Easter sermon about the redemptive grace of God aimed at drawing all of humanity into a new relationship with the risen Christ. She was overwhelmed with joy at the renewed realization that the gift of the grace of God was for EVERYONE.

She had an ongoing concern for the lack of sharing of the Good News with people who did not yet know or have a relationship with Christ. There was work to be done to share the Good News both at home and around the world.

The American Christian Missionary Society, under the leadership of Alexander Campbell, had existed for 25 years, and had been doing work in three areas overseas. However, it had not been able to secure enough funds to continue the work.

This weighed heavily on her and she knew the Church needed to find a way to be and share the Good News. And now with this moment of joy over the grace that God offered to all people she knew that something must be done to be sure that people all over the world knew of God’s love and grace.

That Friday in April, following Easter, she sat down in her favorite chair for her daily Bible reading and prayer…and that concern sat there with her.

During her devotions, the thought came to her to become involved in organizing the women of the church to do this work. She prayed that God would send a leader…someone to organize the women for this ministry.

Hands, Human, Old Human, Age, Seniors, Fold, Skin

She persisted in faith

…she persisted in prayer

…she persisted in problem-solving.

Then the question came to her…’why can’t you do it?”

Well…there were many reasons why not. One being that she was a woman in a day when women were not allowed to vote much less seen as able to take on most leadership roles. During the years of the Civil War, she and many other women were raising and distributing aid to the soldiers … and in the process discovered powers that they and the rest of the nation had not known they held. They were driven to new experiences and new sources of power. They had seen what they were capable of and knew that God could overcome any obstacles.

Caroline and her sisters had deep concerns for humanity. She felt that the great commission was extended to that time in history as well as when Jesus first issued it to his disciples. They were being called to spread Christ’s teachings to the entire world.

So as she prayed for someone to lead the women to do the work that was badly needed and was not being addressed…she listened to the question: why can’t you do it? She was filled with joy and excitement as she said aloud “I will!”

She began to lay the groundwork for what would later become a $1.5 million dollar enterprise, organized and managed exclusively by women. They sent men and women as missionaries doing all forms of mission work– educational, benevolent, medical, industrial, and directly evangelistic. This was unique in that all business of the organization was managed by women, who collected and disbursed the funds, and employed and directed the missionaries. This was the first organization of women doing home mission work.

This was a relatively new idea but the new awakening to their own abilities empowered and emboldened them to answer the call of the great commission. She wrote letters to many leaders in the church and began strategic planning to organize to achieve what God was calling them to. She addressed a convention of men, defying tradition, urging support for foreign missions. In October of that year, they had the first organizing meeting of the Christian Women’s Board of Missions, which made no distinction between home and foreign missions—their field was the world. They understood that we are all connected. They provided training programs that equipped thousands of young people and established four Bible Chairs at state universities. This was only the beginning of what women would accomplish in the Disciples of Christ Church.

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As women persisted in answering their call from God and persisted in going against the tradition of the time, another group of women in St. Louis, recognizing a need to assist poor and orphaned children, began what is now the National Benevolent Association, the social services ministry of the church.

In 1889, Clara Babcock was ordained; in 1892, Sarah Lue Bostick, became one of the first African American women to be ordained in DOC.

In 1895, A.M Atkinson, husband of Nancy E. Atkinson, a founding member of the Christian Women’s Board of Missions, received a telegram informing him of the passing of the beloved minister and former governor of Indiana, Ira J. Chase, who left a nearly blind widow and several children with no means of support. He set out to raise a fund to provide for this family and received enough to purchase a home that Mrs. Chase graciously received, provided $1,000 was returned to the fund from the sale of the home upon her death. This was the birth of what is now the Pension Fund.

The Board of Missions joined with interdenominational churches to provide the first college for women in Central China. Minnie Vautrin, a Disciples woman from Illinois, became known as the Goddess of Nanjing for her work in saving girls and an estimated 10,000 refugees at the Ginling College during the Japanese invasion.

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These connections and relationships became their strength—a powerful force of sisterhood connected like no other could be. Women were drawn to the spirit of birthing and nurturing what others found so difficult. And, as women in the movement united to embrace sisters regardless of color, race, nation, or income, boundaries began to fade and healing began.

Begun in prayer, the movement of Disciples women has, at its best, persisted by deep faith in God and reliance on the leadership of Christ.

Celebrating the history of Disciples Women who persist in the face of tradition and seek change for the better, Disciples Women’s Ministries became a self-determining ministry in close covenant with Disciples Home Missions. This ministry is now responsible for direction and oversight of Disciples Women.

It was the result of the persistence of many women who had grown weary of the lack of women’s voices in decision making and ministry focus. They persisted in their pursuit of justice for women inside the Church as well as in the world.

Disciples Women still persist in that pursuit.

The widow in today’s parable represented women who were extremely vulnerable; she had no one to act or speak on her behalf. So she persisted on her own behalf. Nothing about the judge changes during the course of this parable but still she gets the result she was looking for.

A more literal interpretation of the judge’s explanation is that the woman ‘is giving me a black eye’…she is making me look bad. He is tired physically of her continued presence but is also risking public embarrassment…nonviolent resistance on her part, perhaps. He relents not because he has changed his mind but simply because he wants her to go away…her insolent, obnoxious, even intolerable behavior results in justice. This parable may encourage those who are suffering injustice to continue their complaints and calls for justice…if this is what it takes to get the attention of our government, our society, those who have the power, then we must persist.

Women'S March, Marching, Women, Woman, Protest

The widow engaged in socially unacceptable behavior to effect change to the point of embarrassing the powers that be to get that change. Disciples Women will continue to engage in these activities if that is what is required to get justice for women and girls.

Women and girls around the world continue to be the most vulnerable…they are unequally born and are required to struggle against those norms their entire lives. Women and girls are most vulnerable to sex traffickers. Women and girls are most vulnerable to poverty. We know that much of the world struggles with the basic need of clean water and appropriate sanitation. Many girls in the world miss out on education because the responsibility of providing that water falls on them.  They may spend hours walking to get clean water for their families….that often takes them through areas that are unsafe and they suffer abuse and assault. Missing an education then affects their future possibilities, hopes and dreams as well. Women in India struggle to keep their jobs as taxi drivers because of inadequate sanitation facilities…they often do not have any available and when it is available it is often a place of danger…to the point…they cannot do their jobs because there are no restrooms. Girls often become child brides because their parents cannot afford to care for them, or to save them from the danger and shame of becoming rape victims. Child marriage is legal in 49 US states….in 2018, Delaware became the first to ban child marriage. From 2000-2010, 248,000 girls in the US married as young as age 12 and almost always to an adult male.

Yes, Disciples Women persist.

As long as there are people in the world who do not know the Good News that they are loved and cherished by a loving God, as long as women and girls are the most vulnerable, as long as women and girls are less valued because of their gender, Disciples Women will persist.

We celebrate the parable of the persistent widow who risked embarrassment and going against social norms to get justice. We celebrate our general minister and president and all Disciples Women who stand up against injustice and risk criticism and judgment for going against the established powers.

We understand that ‘Well behaved women rarely make history’. We celebrate the history, the mission, and the ministry of women throughout time…those who surrounded Jesus, those who became his disciples, those who stood up against social norms and organized the strength and power of women to do what God called them to do, and those women who continue to serve God by finding their voices and answering God’s call to mission, ministry, and justice.

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The widow in today’s parable? She persisted.

Caroline Neville Pearre? She persisted.

This parable calls us to persist…to persist in prayer…to persist in doing the ministry we are called to while we wait for Jesus’ return…to persist in seeking justice. This parable celebrates that our relentless struggles will not be in vain…and accompanied by prayer will effect change.

Amen

145th Birthday of Disciples Women

145 birthday-3Disciples Women is celebrating our 145th birthday in 2019. This is a celebration marking October 21, 1874, as the day the Caroline Neville Pearre organized the women to address the mission and ministry that was then lacking in the church. Convicted during her prayer time in April of that year she recognized her call to initiate the Christian Women’s Board of Missions (CWBM) that would be organized and managed exclusively by women. One supporter described the CWBM has knowing no distinction between home and foreign missions –its field was the world.

Since then Disciples Women have been organizing and advocating to serve the needs of God’s people across time, culture and geography.

The CWBM provided training programs, which equipped thousands of young people and established four Bible Chairs at state universities.

In 1886, a group of women in St. Louis, recognizing a need to assist poor and orphaned children, and led by Mattie Younkin, began what is now the National Benevolent Association, the social services ministry of the church.

sarah matilda hart younkin_from nba

In 1895, Nancy E Atkinson, a founding member of the CWBM, and her husband received news of the death of a pastor who left behind a nearly blind widow and several children with no means of support. Establishing a fund to provide support for this family was the beginning of the Pension Fund.

Sarah Lue Bostick was a field worker for the Christian Women’s Board of Missions and the National Christian Missionary Society and became one of the first African American women to be ordained to Christian Ministry in the late 19th century.

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During the 1890s, Hispanic women in Texas began to organize within congregations and later began networking across congregations and regions. In the 1970s with the preparation of materials in Spanish and a growing desire to connect throughout the diversity of the church, the relationship has grown. Hispanic women have always had representation on the IDWM Cabinet.

The CWBM joined with interdenominational churches to provide the first college for women in Central China. Ginling College in Nanjing became one of the most influential schools for higher learning among women in China. A Disciples Woman, Minnie Vautrin, became a legendary heroine for her efforts to save the women at the school during the Japanese invasion.

Joining provinces of Canada and the organized states of the United States in cooperative work, the women formed the International Christian Women’s Fellowship in 1953.

Late in the 20th century, Asian women began to network and organize. Even prior to this organizing work, Asian women, like Maureen Osuga, served on the IDWM cabinet.maureen osuga-oh

 

 

 

 

The work of many has been celebrated across the last 145 years and Disciples Women in the United States and Canada continue to find their voices and live out their call today.

In recognition of this history of service and worship, we celebrate our 145th birthday. To observe this milestone and to participate in the ministry ahead, Disciples Women invites you to give a gift of $145. Our goal for 2019 is to have at least 1,450 individuals or groups offer gifts of $145. We appreciate and celebrate all gifts and hope you will celebrate our birthday with us throughout the year.

Please make all checks payable to Disciples Women with a notation in the memo line of “145th birthday” and mail to Disciples Women, P.O. Box 1986, Indianapolis, IN 46206. If you prefer, you can give online at https://www.discipleshomemissions.org/product/donation-disciples-women/ and choosing the “145th Birthday” option on the drop-down menu.

Our Treasures

Are you thinking about spring cleaning? Or are you still organizing post-Christmas. I confess I have Christmas decorations still sitting waiting to be stored.

It seems that organization has become one of my hobbies.  I keep trying to find more and more clever ways to store and/or display my belongings. I love to quilt and having lots of fabric available is like having paints available to a painter. However, it has now become a collection. I rarely have time to quilt but I keep buying fabric because the sale cannot be beaten and the new fabrics are incredibly beautiful. The colors of my sewing room are like artwork to me and so I justify it.

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This year I have made the decision to stop buying fabric. A couple of years ago I imposed a one-year moratorium on fabric purchases hoping to get it under control. Finally, I have come to the realization that I can’t live long enough to use the fabrics I already have…so no more fabric purchases for me.  I removed the Joann Fabrics notifications from my phone since they come nearly daily to let me know about a great sale.

fabric on cart

But if that were all, I might declare myself a collector and move on. Unfortunately, it seems that every year or so I decide to rearrange my stuff. I use Pinterest to get great ideas about how to do that. I purchase storage systems/shelves/displays and still there is too much stuff.

How long does it take for one to recognize that having the proper storage solution isn’t the answer? The answer is reducing the amount of stuff. So I’m on a mission. My children, the local organization who cares for refugees and those seeking asylum, and Goodwill have been and will continue to be the recipients of carloads of stuff that they can choose to keep or pass on to someone who wants it. Some of it has gone straight to the dumpster as I wonder why I was holding on to it at all. How did I accumulate all this stuff and why do I still have it?

According to IBISworld annual self-storage revenue was estimated at $38 billion in 2017. Depending upon whose report you use there are between 44,000 and 52,000 self-storage facilities in the U.S. This coexists with the reality (according to the National Association of Homebuilders) that the size of the average American house has increased by 50% in the last 40 years. Houses got bigger, average family size got smaller, and still, we have possibly 52,000 self-storage facilities.

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Why are we holding on to all this stuff?

There is a great deal of need in the world. Your local church is working to reach out to help sisters and brothers in need both in your neighborhood and around the globe. There are many organizations that are trying to provide for the needs of others. And, yet, we hold on to so many things we are not using…and possibly never will.

I know I’m not alone in this. The statistics of self-storage, as well as my conversations with others, support that knowledge.

Are you thinking about spring cleaning as the days get warmer and we get that occasional glimpse that winter will come to an end?

Perhaps it’s time to decide to stop buying storage systems and find a way to bless someone else with some of the things you are hanging on to.

It may be helpful to consider why you are holding on to it? Does it make sense?  Is it worth having to clean around it, over it, or find a way to store it? A recent book on tidying asks “Does it give you joy?”

Maybe it’s time to bless someone else with it while making the decision to not continue to spend money on stuff you have to find a way to store.

What good could be done with that money?  Who could you help? I trust you can find many ways to care for others with the money you will redirect. If not, I would be happy to make suggestions.

I have a lot of work to do. But I am hopefully started down the right path. Are you ready to make that journey too? Imagine the freedom of having all that time available to you that you spend on organizing and cleaning around things…imagine the good you can do by redirecting your money to causes that can support the beloved children of God who have great needs.

Where are your treasures?

 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal;  but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

Matthew 6:19-20

A New Year

“Each age has deemed the new-born year. The fittest time for festal cheer.” 

                                                                                                       Sir Walter Scott

I think to a great deal this quote is true. A lot of people, maybe even most, look forward to the new year with joy and plans for celebrations of all types…from a comfortable night at home with those you hold closest…to a night in New York’s Times Square with one million of your closest friends.

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I confess; I don’t get it. I have had a few celebrations over the years that included going out and dining, dancing, or both but when I get to choose, I prefer the stay-at-home-and-watch-Christmas-movies-while-I-still-can kind of evening.

What’s the attraction?

I suspect that, perhaps, the new year feels like an opportunity to start over.  If things haven’t gone well or even if it’s just that you feel stalled, the idea of a fresh start is appealing. Celebrating the opportunity to do things differently from how they have been done in the past has a touch of hope to it. Having the opportunity to be made new. I suspect this is where the tradition of resolutions comes from; it’s all part of becoming “new and improved”.

2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!”

Isaiah 43:19 says, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

The Bible doesn’t expect us to wait for that once a year opportunity to become new. When we are in Christ, there is already a new creation…no waiting for January 1.

And God is doing a new thing all around us…if only we will open our eyes to it. If you want to make a resolution for this new moment in God’s timing, perhaps, it might be to open our eyes and hearts to be ready to be truly excited and participatory in that new thing that God has for us. It’s so easy to cling to the old ways of thinking, the old ways of behaving, the old ways of insisting on having things our way.

You don’t have to wait another year to make a change to love and serve and truly care for your brothers and sisters, to assume the best about your sister or brother instead of the worst, you can do it now.  Every day God gives us the opportunity for ‘new’, for ‘new and improved’.

What will you do with this new year? If you have failed at your resolutions, will you wait a whole year to try to do better?

God offers us the opportunity to be new each day…may you be blessed as you allow the old things to pass away.

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Disciples Women at General Assembly 2017

Luncheon:  Every general assembly Disciples Women gather for time to network, celebrate and dream at the Disciples Women luncheon. As it has been for several years, our luncheon will be on Wednesday, July 12 at 11:15 a.m. We will be celebrating women in leadership, especially Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins as she will complete her time as General Minister and President during this assembly. If you plan to attend you can register and buy your luncheon tickets online right now at http://ga.disciples.org/registration/. Remember to buy your tickets early before they sell out. Come and celebrate that we are ONE.

‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.

John 17:20-21a, NRSV

Aftersession:  We will also be gathering on Monday evening after worship to connect with our sisters across the denomination and to have an opportunity to talk with Disciples Women staff and your Executive Committee. All are welcome.

Bible Study: Freedom: Promise and Struggle. The theme of freedom runs through scripture, but that theme not always has been understood.  This Bible study intends to bring to life scripture passages that can offer insights on the promise and struggle for freedom from Biblical to contemporary times. Presenter: Kathy McDowell; editor of Just Women.

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Booth:  Remember to come to our booth in the exhibit hall to hear about what’s going on with Disciples Women, to have a conversation with staff and/or executive committee, and stock up on resources and logo items.

Soil or Sower

Preached at St. Leonard’s, Burton Leonard, Yorkshire, England  6/5/16

Scriptures: Psalm 44; Genesis 8:15 – 9:17; Mark 4:1-20

 

In each of these three readings we hear the scriptures speak of planting and sowing.

The Psalm recognizes that it is God who planted the people in Canaan, God who provided a new home for Israel.

In our reading from Genesis God gives the abundance of nature to God’s people and instructs them to be fruitful and multiply.

In the creation story we often hear about the Garden of Eden, but the story is better understood as the Orchard of Delight. It is only after the Fall that humans are required to work a garden rather than accept the delights of a fruit-filled orchard.

And….In the Gospel reading we heard about sowing seed for future harvest.

While the weather of the past week might mislead us, it is indeed planting and growing season. Those who report the weather assure us summer has arrived…in spite of the evidence against it.

When I arrived three weeks ago I was astounded by the flowing fields of yellow rapeseed…standing out brightly against the beautiful green backgrounds.

After two weeks of travelling, many of those seas of yellow have turned green…they are growing and maturing as they are intended to do.

The vegetable garden at the vicarage is popping up quickly and will be providing food any day.

At home I have hosta plants in my yard; I trust when I return they will be growing and spreading because that’s what hosta plants do well.

Some growth is easy to observe…we see the grass in our lawns grow what seems all too quickly requiring a regular mowing to prevent it from becoming a neighbourhood brush field. There are many seeds that produce seedlings in a few days. However, some growth is more difficult to see.

How do you know when people are growing in their faith?

Can we determine if they are or are not?

It is not as easy to observe this kind of growth.

Not everyone is able or willing to speak of their faith or their spiritual growth.

For some it is a very personal subject or, perhaps, they just do not have the appropriate language to communicate what is happening in that area.

Of course, there are some who speak of it often and at length

…but again, this is not a mark of one’s growing in faith

…only their ability to speak about it.

In the parable from today’s reading from Mark’s Gospel, we hear the parable of the sower.

This is one of Jesus’ favorite teaching methods…teaching through parables.

His disciples, like us, were at different stages of understanding of their faith. Teaching in parables opened the lesson to a wider understanding and interpretation to allow the hearers the opportunity to hear God speak to them based on where they were on their faith journey.

Today we hear Jesus talking about planting and sowing…a reference his audience would understand. He talked about the results of planting in a variety of soils

…seeds falling on hard paths are eaten by the birds before they can even hope for a seedling

…seeds fell on rocky ground and sprang up quickly but without any depth of soil and were scorched by the sun

…seeds fell among thorns and were choked by the thorns

…but some seeds fell in good soil and brought forth grain

…producing an abundant crop.

 

Then we hear His conversation with the 12

…when the 12 ask questions it is always an encouragement to us

…when we hear that they don’t always understand,

it gives us hope that when we don’t understand, there is still the hope that one day we will.

Jesus admonishes or encourages them, depending upon how you hear this, to work toward an understanding of this and other parables.

But for now, he explains.

He says the sower sows the Word

…then explains how each of those soils relates to the people who hear the Word of God and how they grow, or do not grow, depending on their preparation.

 

There are two ways we can approach this parable.

Do you hear this and wonder what kind of soil you have prepared for the Word of God?

Or, do you hear this and see yourself as the sower sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ?

I would like to take a moment now and remind you of a scripture that we often hear at Christmas, from the beginning of the Gospel of John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

As we consider whether we are the soil or the sower, let’s think about the Word as not only the words of scripture but the Word as Jesus, the light of the world.

There is more to our faith than knowing the words. Our faith is about our knowledge and relationship with Jesus Christ, the Word of God.

Are we prepared to accept Jesus and His teachings as a way of life?  Is the soil of our hearts and minds and souls ready to live and behave in the ways Jesus has taught us?

What Jesus asks of us is not easy

…living a Christian life is not easy

….helping others, being servant minded, loving our enemies, forgiving (even when we would rather not).

Are we prepared for that? If not, are we willing to prepare ourselves to be in a real relationship with Jesus and live lives that reflect the teachings of Jesus?

 

If we are the soil in this parable, then our work is to prepare ourselves to allow our relationship with Jesus, with God, to grow and become able to bear the fruit that is thirty, sixty and a hundredfold. We will need to allow ourselves not to be overly cynical or untrusting.

We will need to prepare ourselves to accept those we may not be particularly comfortable with. We will need to be ready to forgive ourselves and others. In these ways we can open our hearts and minds and souls to accept the relationship with Jesus and with God that we are invited to be part of.

 

If we hear this as our part being the sower, then we, again, have good news about how we approach this.

In this parable Jesus does not instruct or warn about how to sow seeds

…he speaks only of sowing.

If we understand all these many places that the seed falls then we see the sower spreading the seed far and wide

…it is not the sower’s responsibility, in this case, to find appropriate soil

…only to scatter the seed.

The idea of Evangelism makes us nervous…perhaps because it has been done so badly for centuries with evangelists scaring or threatening us rather than sharing the Good News. It is difficult to hear Good News when the speaker is telling you what’s wrong with you, what you have done wrong, or how you have failed

…the sower in this parable makes no judgment on the soil

…soil everywhere is scattered with seed.

 

As sowers in today’s parable, we are instructed to tell the Good News, tell our story, live our lives in ways that make it clear that our faith has made a difference. We are not even being asked to account for the harvest…we are told to scatter the seed.

As soil, we are to bear fruit.

Galatians says the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

It is often difficult to act out of love and generosity to those with whom we struggle. Yet, those are the fruits of the spirit…the harvest of being open and accepting of the Word of God, loving and being in relationship with Jesus Christ.

Whether we are the soil or the sowers or perhaps both…this is planting season, as it always is in the fields of faith and spiritual growth.

May each of us grow and bear fruit. Amen

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An Easter Sermon …sharing from Rev Dr Jonathan Singh

Alleluia! Christ is risen! Even two thousand years on, the news is still remarkable. It‘s still cause for exclamation. Throughout our services for the next fifty days of the Easter season, we repeat this refrain many times. It’s no coincidence that there are 31 exclamation marks in this morning’s order of service! The final and most important holy days of Holy Week have been moving and powerful.
More than 40 people shared in a Passover supper at St John’s from our three churches in our two villages. 30 people gathered in the bareness and starkness of Good Friday to reflect on Jesus sacrifice of himself on the cross.
In many churches, Easter Eve is an event of great celebration in the darkness. I remember as a curate keeping the Easter vigil, and the Easter fire late one Easter Eve.
It is an ancient tradition. I vividly remember this one particular Easter Eve. The fire was lit outside the great west doors of Spalding parish church. The wind blew and the flames leapt high. Eventually, with singed eyebrows and burnt fingers, we got the Paschal candle lit, and began the procession into church. But soon, against my one tone singing, were the two-tones of the local fire engine, called out by a concerned passer-by.
The Vicar, my boss, ran to the fire crew and assured them that ‘everything was under control’. The fire officers were gracious but much less enthused by our news of resurrection. The miracle we proclaimed was for them a false alarm. The Roman authorities, too, had thought everything was under control. Jesus was finally destroyed and out of the way. End of the story.
At dawn this morning, following the emptiness of Holy Saturday, we went out to light our new fire at Burton Leonard, to proclaim the truth that it was NOT the end – and, following ancient tradition, we renewed our baptismal promises – reminding ourselves that no matter what we face, we are Easter people, in a Good Friday world – and alleluia is our song.
Our Gospel reading this morning tells of the first Easter person – Mary Magdalen. It is a profoundly moving and beautiful story. Just when she thinks everything is lost, suddenly and miraculously, everything is well again. Here in a garden, on the first day of the week, we find a man and a woman, and creation is made new – reminding us, perhaps, of that first garden – in Eden.
In this garden encounter there is a monumental transformation and change, not in Jesus’ re-appearance, but chiefly in Mary. It’s told in close-up, intimate detail. So often with both tragedy and joy, we can cope much more easily on a one-to-one basis. When there’s a terrible disaster in which many are killed, we comprehend best, not by the numbers, but by the story and experiences of individual figures, by understanding the profound and personal impact on them and their lives. We’ve seen it on the news in recent days as the stories have surface from Brussels.
And so John relates this remarkable, miraculous story through the eyes of Mary. Mary, whose life was once-before turned around by Jesus, who has faithfully followed him throughout his life, who kept vigil at the foot of the cross with the other women when nearly all of the male disciples were nowhere to be seen; Mary, who here in John’s Gospel has come alone to his tomb before the dawn; Mary, who now for a few brief hours, is the only person in the world who can say, hand on heart and no doubt heart in mouth, “I have seen the Lord!”
Jesus hasn’t changed – he still meets us where we are; for Mary, it is in the midst of grief. He doesn’t leap out from behind a bush and shout “Ta-dah! It’s me. I’m back!” He meets her, as before, gently – in her anguish and distress, asking simply “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” and in his simple, profound and earth-shattering speaking of her name, her question is answered, her whole world transformed and her faith confirmed.
Mary is transformed by this garden experience. Transformed lives are what makes Easter real. It is the profound effect of their encounters with the risen Christ that turns the disciples from terrified individuals to exuberant evangelists. As we heard in our reading from Acts today, previously shy fishermen become bold, passionate preachers. They become Easter people. They don’t become immune from all suffering – far from it, but they become people of hope, whose song is Alleluia. But even for Easter People our lives rarely fit neatly into the liturgical seasons of the church’s year. For some, it is still Good Friday or Holy Saturday. Some are still living with the horror of the crucifixion; others are immersed in tomb time – bereaved and bereft, wandering how on earth they can move forward. We all, I’m sure, know people who are in the midst of personal trials and tribulations, people who are sick, anxious, bereaved, betrayed, in debt, in addiction. That may be where you are today. This is Easter Day but we know that our news will still bring us stories of terrible ongoing suffering around the world. In my ministry, I’ve encountered terrible tragedies. Lives cut short before they’ve even begun. Long lives but with unfinished business, unforgiven hurts. Tragedies almost unspeakable. I’ve also encountered those whose stories are nothing short of miraculous – coming through surgery against all the odds. The arrival of a baby so longed for that hearts were filled to bursting with love and expectation. Easter people are those for whom their faith is their cornerstone in times of trouble. Easter people are those who come through some of the hardest, most painful experiences in life knowing that it is our faith, our relationship with God, which has somehow sustained us. We can’t always explain it, but we simply know, at a level too deep for words, that somehow, even if we only recognise it looking back, God has been present with us – not always in a tangible sense, and often through the presence and witness of others. God can be present even through a seeming absence. Easter people are those who have a longer-term perspective, who know, in ways they cannot explain, that this is not all there is; that death is not the last word on life. Easter people are those who know that all our experiences – the best and the worst, the most painful and the most joyous, are held in the palm of the one whom death could not contain. Easter people are those who recognise that there can be no empty tomb without the cross. We are Easter people!
We know the resurrection because of the transformation it brought about in Mary, that first Easter person, and in all those who came to recognise the truth of which she and the disciples spoke, down through the ages. We may see it in the faces of those who have been shining examples of faith to us, and we will shortly see it in the faces of one another as we gather around the altar to share in this Communion. Today, simply by our presence here, we are opening ourselves to the truth of the resurrection. We are opening ourselves to new possibilities of peace and justice in our world. We are opening ourselves to the possibility of change and transformation in our own lives too.
Resurrection has no meaning, no purpose, no place, unless like Mary Magdalene we go and tell it to a world living in Good Friday! Resurrection has no meaning unless we are willing to live as Easter people.
The resurrection isn’t an event it is an experience. We are called to go and tell not only with our lips but also with our lives – the experience of triumphs over life’s most difficult stuff. This is resurrection. Your presence here confirms it!
 
We are an Easter people & alleluia is our song.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!
 

Valentine’s Day: A Love/Hate Relationship?

February is American Heart Month, National Children’s Dental Health Month, International Prenatal Infection Prevention Month and African Heritage Month, among others.

But February is also —the month for loveheart

…hearts everywhere…beginning the day after Christmas we have the big run up to Valentine’s Day ….red and pink and hearts to remind us that February is the month for love.

I             Love             Valentine’s Day.

When I started school back in …well, awhile back…we were given colored papers and pencils, glue, scissors and a shoe box to create a decorated box for Valentines to be put into. We were given a list of classmates so everyone would get a card from everyone else…we made handmade cards…craft time with Mom…

I             Love             Valentine’s Day.valentines cards

When we got older, we were no longer given a list of classmates…we were no longer told to bring valentines for ANYONE let alone EVERYONE. In what I remember to be about 4th grade I discovered I had a ‘boyfriend’ who had been waiting for Valentine’s Day to tell me…Donnie. He created the most beautiful card with a hand drawn heart inside…it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen.

…now to be clear, I’m not talking about the traditional symmetrical heart shape

…I’m talking about a hand drawn rendition of a human heart…a human organ with all of its blood vessels with the large ones cut open at the top where it had obviously been removed from its body

—an awesome piece of arthuman heart

I             Love             Valentine’s Day.

When I was about 12 I received a red heart box full of chocolate candy…it was delivered to the door…pretty cool thing for a 12-year-old.  It was from my great uncle who was a bachelor and often stayed with our family when he visited all the relatives. He rarely spoke and it was news to me that he even knew I existed.

 

When I was 15 I dated for the first time…it was more platonic than anything else.

But when Valentine’s Day rolled around I received a pair of chocolate shoes from a local chocolate company…cool…impressive.choc shoes

And the next year my name in chocolate.

Did I mention…

I             Love             Valentine’s Day?

One year I sent a Valentine’s Day card to my husband on the 14th of EVERY month…

I             Love             Valentine’s Day.

As time went by though the gifts I received became expressions of obligation.

…or at least it felt that way.

And, of course, there were those times when there was either no observation of the day at all or a passing mention…Often it is too hard to live up to the hype that commercials and movies put on it.

The pressure is on to suddenly be romantic for people who may not be all that romantic otherwise.

And, of course, for people who are not in a relationship, or in a failing one, it can feel like the world is pointing a finger and making sure that everyone knows it.

What’s the deal with needing a day to be romantic anyway? Or to show love?

As I got more cynical Valentine’s Day felt more like a commercial conspiracy rather than a holiday about love.

I mean…if you have to be reminded to tell someone you love them…well, then, what’s the point?

So Valentine’s Day not only lost its luster but became an irritation, an uncomfortable day to get by.

broken heart

I didn’t marry the boy who drew the human heart…although looking back…(smile)

But I DID marry the boy who sent the chocolate shoes and my name in chocolate…clever.

Married at 18 and after 5 years of hoping for a baby and the doctor telling us that we might want to think about alternatives to giving birth to our own… I discovered I was pregnant.

….and to make up for lost time…I was pregnant with twins.

After a short 7 month pregnancy I went into labor in the middle of the Blizzard of ‘77…in the middle of night 7 of 8 nights of “Roots”…I didn’t tell anyone I was in labor because I didn’t want to miss any of the story.

At some point shortly after the 11 o’clock news began it was clear that I would have to let my family know…we were staying with my parents because of the blizzard and they were asking people to double up to be able to have the power to heat homes….so, out into the blizzard we went.

By the way, did I tell you that I only found out I was having twins 12 hours before that?

So off to the hospital where both babies were born within 2 hours.twin girls

4 lbs 1 and 4 lbs 10….wow…amazing.

Because they were early, they had breathing problems and had to be put into incubators immediately without us even getting to touch them…they lost weight down to near 3 lbs.

The incubator is where they stayed…for 16 days…we visited every day, scrubbed up to our elbows, put on gowns, masks and gloves and stood at incubators and talked to our babies and touched them and tried to let them know…somehow…that we were there.

Day 16 happened to be the date set for our baby shower so our intention was to visit with our babies then head off to the shower.

However, when we arrived on Day 16…it was clear we would be delayed getting to the shower.

The doctor wanted to see us

…he wanted to know if we wanted to feed them….WHAT?

Feed them?

For the first time they were taken out of their incubators and we were given tiny little bottles and were allowed to hold them and try to get them to eat from the bottle.

WE GOT TO HOLD THEM! Take them in our arms and cuddle them.

(We were very late for the shower)

Our daughters were born on January 29 so if you’re doing the math we held them for the first time on February 14…Valentine’s Day…

I             Love             Valentine’s Day.

Not because of the commercial push to get people to date or buy gifts or pressure people into proposals or dates or things they might otherwise recognize they are not ready to do…

…but because we held our babies for the first time.

Every year we celebrate not so much on January 29 but more so February 14…we celebrate the love between parents and children. Even with the not so wonderful Valentine’s Day experiences that came later, this moment preserved Valentine’s Day for me.

Being a parent gives us just a glimpse into how much God loves us,  God’s children…it helps us to better understand how loving that child doesn’t require they do or be something to earn it..

…that child is loved because she or he is your child…that’s all that is necessary.

It doesn’t matter if you are a birth child or an adopted child or however your family is built…it’s a special kind of love.

That’s how God loves you.god_loves_you

God loves you…on Valentine’s Day and every other day…but if you need a reminder and if you have a love/hate relationship with Valentine’s day like me…let it become a reminder that you are loved…that God loves all of us…each child.

Maybe…you will love Valentine’s Day too.

 

X Marks the Spot

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “X marks the spot”? I think of pirates and treasure maps. When I was growing up my brother and I and the other kids in the neighborhood would bury ‘treasure’ then draw a map with trees and creeks and roads with an “x” where the treasure was buried. We would take turns searching for the treasure prepared for us and celebrate together when we found it. Sometimes it had toys or baubles but often it had a snack to share with everyone.

x-marks-the-spot-map

Growing up, that was the only reference I had for “x marks the spot”. However, because I love to hear the origins of common phrases, especially those that come from something quite different from its current usage, I wondered about this phrase. As it turns out, in addition to the treasure map reference, “X marks the spot” was put into common usage by the British army, who performed executions by marking a piece of paper with a black x and positioning it on the heart of someone sentenced to death. The acting officer would say “X marks the spot” and the firing squad would shoot the x. Yikes! I’m glad I didn’t know that when I was a child.

This year at General Assembly, GLAD had t-shirts of the chalice with white words on a red background but arranged in a way that the negative space created the St. Andrews cross in the middle of the words. Glad chaliceI recently spent a weekend with my family at Pennsylvania’s church camp and wore that t-shirt one day. My 4-year-old grandson hopped up on my lap to play and suddenly backed up and said, “Grandma, you have an x on your shirt.” It took a second for me to realize what he was looking at then I pointed out to him the shape of the words. He said, “I know that.” Let me show you where it is. So I followed him as he hopped and skipped which is his normal mode of travel. He said, “I’ll show you….x marks the spot.” We ended up in the top of the barn there at the camp where a decade or two ago the women’s group painted a labyrinth on the floor. In the center of the labyrinth had been added a red chalice with the white St. Andrew’s cross; AJ ran and jumped in the center of it and said, “See…x marks the spot.”

And yes, he’s right in so many ways…x does mark the spot. The cross he interpreted as an x is the spot where Christ declared that death is not the final word. The cross says God through Jesus gives us hope of more than pain and suffering…of a love that transcends time and space. The cross, an x, marks the location of God’s heart, God’s love, through Jesus Christ…used as a way of execution…but death was not the real meaning. The reality was the offering of God in a way that we might be able to perceive how much we are loved by the promise that death does not win.

cross stained glass

AJ easily perceived the chalice on my shirt to be the same as the one painted in the middle of the labyrinth. Our perception makes all the difference in our understanding. Our perception is affected by our point of view, by our preconceived ideas, and by many other factors. For instance, if you want to hear a Bible passage in a new way try reading it in different voices…gentle and loving, angry, questioning, assertive, etc. You may discover that there is a lot more depth in the words and it may even allow you to consider a new way of understanding that passage. I conducted my own ‘experiment,’ asking people who mentioned the t-shirt from GA, which word they saw first. (You may have seen this question about blocks of letters on Facebook asking you to comment with the first words you saw.) These are the responses I received when asked about the shirt: female, transgender, big, short, divorced and undocumented. It’s reasonable to assume if I had asked more people I would have gotten even more variety of answers. Interestingly, I had to check the shirt to see if it, in fact, had all these words because I had not noticed them all. My perception of who I thought might need to be reassured that they are included in the ‘all are welcome’ of the Disciples of Christ probably influenced the words I noticed…the words that had other connections and meanings for me were probably more likely called into my consciousness.

all are welcome

Who do you think needs to hear that all are welcome’ includes them? Who can you reassure and offer love to? The cross marks the spot where Jesus was executed to show us that God’s love conquers even death and that even at our most vulnerable God is there with us. How do we perceive that love toward those who are different from ourselves? There is enough love to go around…that is the treasure we find where the cross marks the spot.

love-quote-treasure

Where Do I Fit?

Luke 10:38-42 NRSV

 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.  But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”  But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;  there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Acts 18:24-26

24 Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately.

1 Corinthians 12:12-13 NRSV

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

 

Isaiah 43:18-19

Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.  I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

 

Psalm 96:1-4

O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods.

John 4:24-26

God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

 

Are you open to a new thing that God is doing in your life? Is it scary? Uncomfortable?

Do you doubt God has a place for you in that new thing?

Several years ago the church I was serving agreed to study a book called Who Moved My Cheese? This is a book about change and dealing with it in our lives. I had previously studied it when I was working for a Fortune 500 company. Together we talked about the fear of stepping out into ‘the new’ and the anxiety it sometimes caused. One of the questions posed at the end of that book is “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

We posted that question in foot high letters on the wall of the fellowship hall. Every time we gathered for any reason the question was there before us…reminding us to think about the future…reminding us to consider the possibilities. My hope was that in this study our congregation would be encouraged and emboldened to do a new thing and be church in a new way.

Since that time that congregation has indeed made some real changes in how they are and do ‘church’. But that question, as it turns out, had a real impact on me while I was trying to have an impact on the congregation. When it was suggested to me by more than one person that serving as executive director for Disciples Women was a ‘fit’ I resisted. But that question and my trusted few made me reconsider and re-reconsider…and I submitted my papers…and, answered my call to serve women’s ministries.

Where do you fit in women’s ministries?

What are you resisting? Why are you resisting?

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Do you know that God is in control?

When I watch a movie or a television show I absolutely do not want to know the ending…I do not want someone to spoil the movie by telling me the ending. Watching I find myself intent, almost “IN” the movie, reacting as if it were really happening.  When I know the end, my experience is quite different…I am not worried about the lead actress, whether or not she will survive or succeed, because I already know how it turns out.

Women of God, you know how this story ends. You know that God has the last word. Why are we so afraid of the new thing God is doing when we know who is writing the story, when we know who is in control of the end?

“I know that the Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ), sent by God who is the author of the beginning and the end. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.

May God bless every act of courage and boldness in sharing the gifts God has generously given you that women of God (and all God’s children) will know they are truly loved and cherished.