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



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.


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.


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.





Lately I have been receiving stories of detours from a number of sources. My experience tells me that when I hear the same thing repeatedly I ought to pay attention. There is a lesson to be learned and I would do well to pay attention to it.

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to worship at an Episcopal church in Chicago. As it was Epiphany the pastor was talking about the Magi and the detour they had taken. Rather than returning to Herod as they had been instructed they trusted the dream they had that warned of the danger and took a detour away from Herod. They took another way around and protected the safety of the Christ child. Mary and Joseph had plans to marry…they did not have plans to become expectant parents prior to that marriage and they did not plan to give birth to their child in a cold stable, but things didn’t go as planned. God changes our plans.

More times than I can recall I have become irritated by an unplanned interruption in my schedule caused by a required extra stop at an extra store or returning to someplace I had already been to finish what was not finished. Too many times to call coincidence there has been an accident or incident that I would surely have been in the midst of if I had not been detoured from my original route. God changes our plans.

A dear friend of mine explained having a child with cerebral palsy being like this…imagine a long awaited and well-planned-for journey to Italy. You have bought the tickets, made reservations, scheduled appointments, received your passport and even learned to speak Italian. You have been looking forward to this for a long time with preparation and anticipation. As the plane is in the air you are excited that the time has finally arrived…just as the plane is taxiing up to the gate the flight attendant says, “Welcome to Holland.”  Holland? We were supposed to be going to Italy?  Holland and Italy equally lovely countries, equally lovely possibilities…but…you didn’t prepare for Holland, you prepared for Italy. As you experience Holland you find many blessings…it’s just not what you planned for. God changes our plans.

How do we react when God changes our plans? Do we dig in our heels and fight it? Do we take a deep breath and submit? Perhaps the lesson we learn from these experiences is that when we take such detours we might try taking the time to enjoy the detour. What do we see along the detour that we would have missed going our own way? What is it God is trying to focus our attention on?

When we find a roadblock in the path we have chosen, perhaps it is because God is trying to redirect us down another path. Perhaps it is because our focus has wandered from where God wants it to be. Perhaps God just wants us to slow down for a minute to rest and regroup.

God changes our plans. We choose how we respond.

Is Silence Always Golden?

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented”.      Elie Wiesel

 I posted this quote on my Facebook wall following the grand jury’s decision not to indict in Ferguson, MO. I needed to say something but unsure of what needed to be said. There were many others that had more information than I. Many who spoke more eloquently. Many are speaking but I’m still not sure what progress we are making. Of course, I disagree with much of what is being said and agree whole heartedly with much of what is being said. I don’t consider my voice to be more important than others but as Elie Wiesel points out silence does nothing to help the suffering and humiliated.

I still struggle about what more can be said. We know what the problem is…it’s dangerous to be a person of color in America. People of color have daily challenges and struggles with which Anglos cannot even identify. Whether it is white privilege or blindness or inability to focus because of so much injustice in the world that gets in the way of real systemic change I cannot say. Perhaps, it’s all of those and more. It is not uncommon for the police force to not reflect the demographics of the community in which they serve; how was this a factor?

I believe there are others who are better equipped to speak to the changes needed to truly live in a society of equality and justice in the U.S. However, what I cannot get off my mind is the conflicting information about what actually happened. I also don’t know how much of that conflicting information the grand jury was given when making their decision; I understand their purpose to be to determine whether or not there is probable cause. If we cut the process short we not only lose the opportunity to hear all the voices but we lose the opportunity to talk about the situation and circumstances that brought these two men to this moment and to speak to the issues of killing a person who is by many accounts already surrendering.

Where is the place to have a discussion of police training or racism or fear, for that matter? Where is the discussion of why this young man’s actions were so threatening that the officer’s response was to take a fatal shot? There is no way we can know what the result of a jury trial would have been but my concern is that the process was not allowed to continue to completion so that all are heard and justice is done. Are we afraid of shedding light on these dark places?

One of the main reasons I remain a Disciple of Christ is the belief that even when we disagree, we stay at the table…we talk, we debate, we argue…but we have the conversation. I suppose this understanding paints the outline for my societal interactions as well…why must we be afraid to hear all the information? Why can’t we have the conversation?

A learning moment for me was realizing that when things like this happen…things like the Ferguson, MO refusal to indict or the Eric Garner case in New York….I am stunned, but my friends of color are no longer stunned…saddened but not stunned. White people and people of color experience a very different America.

 May we pray that God will open our eyes and guide us to be the people God created us to be…brothers and sisters together…living in peace and with justice for everyone. May we be willing to work toward that end.

Hear our prayer, O God.

Ministry Appreciation Month

Did you know that half of all ministers starting out will leave the ministry within five years, and only 1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form?

Does your pastor or minister know you appreciate her or him?

October is Ministry Appreciation Month, a time to let those who serve in ministry know you appreciate their call and their work. It is an opportunity to encourage those in ministry. Pastors hear all kinds of jokes about only working January 2012one day a week and then only for an hour but it takes many hours to properly prepare to deliver a sermon. There is also a great deal more work for a pastor than the weekly sermon and worship service. Often pastors have multiple services as well as Bible studies, meetings, visits, counseling, etc. etc. Additionally, they often carry the burdens of their beloved flock sharing in their struggles, manage a staff, and tend to hundreds of details to keep the ministry moving forward. All of this while graciously accepting the opinions of those who think worship is too long or the music is not to their liking or the children of the pastor were misbehaving during worship.

While it may not be inappropriate to have higher expectations for pastors than some other professions it is also appropriate to be appreciative for the hours and energy invested in the ministry.

How can you show your appreciation?

  • You can express verbally your appreciation.
  • You can offer a small gift, perhaps a Starbucks gift card or a Disciples Women’s Shepherd Pin
  • You can volunteer.
  • You can offer to babysit the pastor’s children.
  • You can be patient when you are unhappy with something your pastor has said or done.

This might be a good time, as well, to remember that not all ministers are full-time, vocational ministers. There are many in our churches who serve as pastors and ministers in many ways and who have received a call to ministry from God. This is an appropriate time to offer your gratitude for living out their call in a way that honors God.

Thanks to all of you who serve as pastors and ministers in the wide variety of expressions of ministry. Blessings for you and your work.



SOAR! with Disciples Women

SOAR! The General Assembly in 2015 will be focused around the theme of SOAR! Disciples Women invite you to SOAR with them above the pain and struggle that is part of the world we live in…rising above with God’s Peace Craneshelp. Reflecting the work of Disciples Women’s Ministries, we will be accumulating peace cranes.

There is a Japanese legend that says if a person folds 1,000 cranes they will get their wish. This inspired us to think about what we do when we have a deep need. Our intent is to gather 1,000 cranes with 1,000 prayers written on them by the end of GA 2015. When we have achieved this goal we will join together in prayer and offer all these concerns to God. Knowing that God will already be answering these accumulated prayers, we will also offer thanks for what God has already done and is already doing.

Over the next year as Disciples Women staff journeys to be with people in many contexts, we will be accepting cranes to be brought back with us. (Or, you can send them to the office.)

At GA, there will be cranes already made and waiting for prayers as well as paper to make cranes at the Disciples Women booth. We look forward to adding your prayer and your crane to the flock so together we will pray for the concerns of our sisters and brothers knowing that God hears us. Together we will SOAR into wholeness!

Lessons Learned at QA: Lesson #1

For the Mix in ’06, the QA we partnered with the UCC women, I was invited to be the communion director which involved getting a chalice from each region to QA (and making sure they got picked up) and teaching women who spoke a dozen different languages (which I do not speak) how to serve 3000(?) women a communion meal during worship. It was an amazing experience and I remembered going home having learned very clearly that smiles communicate a great deal in that situation. The rest of my communication was miming…not sure what my skills are there but everyone was fed and we worshiped together.Communion Table

Other than that I had not experienced a Quadrennial Assembly from the point of view of the planning team. It is an outrageous and impossible job and yet we had dozens of women agree to give of themselves and their time to make it happen…and they did, indeed, make it happen.

As the planning began and we worked together to hear God’s call and what theme might reflect that, we were very excited about having a direction. As plans took on more shape there were new ideas that popped up and grew and we got very excited about. Suddenly, it felt like we were planning three different events and trying to roll them all into one package. Under Arlene Pimentel’s and Michelle White’s leadership it all came together and we were blessed.

2014 QA logo OFFICIAL

Through the planning we dreamed of what we wanted the women attending to know about God and about each other. We planned moments where we thought God would be clearly present and evident to all who attended. Some of the team had very clear pictures of how things would work and flow and come together and were certain that God would speak. But even with the large numbers of women who gave of themselves to make this happen we can never keep God confined to our planning or even our vision.


One of the pre-events of QA is a dinner with the International Sisters sponsored by Division of Overseas Ministries/Global Ministries. The dinner this year was held at a local church only a few blocks away. The day was spent in preparing the stage in the plenary hall, dressing the worship space, etc. and with a little time left I went and changed out of work clotmulticolored womenhes into appropriate dinner attire to welcome our International Sisters. As I walked toward the church the dark clouds started rolling in but since it was a short distance I decided it wasn’t necessary to go back for an umbrella but one block away my mistake was clear when the skies opened up with a torrential downpour. I ran under an awning at a rental car space to try to stay sheltered in hopes that the storm would pass or slow down enough that I could make it the rest of the way to the church. As I tucked into my dry haven and the water pooled at all the low places in the street I could see that if I were patient it would slow down enough for me to make it the rest of the way to the church. As I stood in my alcove a bus went flying by that sent a tsunami of rain water up over me drenching me completely.

bus splashing water

Now what? This was ridiculous and impossible. I might as well just go back to the hotel and give up. But…as I waited for a break in the weather I remembered the stories of how some women visiting our international sisters were met by women who had walked for two weeks to greet them….two weeks! How could I walk away because I was wet when our sisters had walked two weeks to show hospitality?!

I decided I was fully drenched and it made no sense to wait so I began the resman with umbrellat of the walk to the church. As it turned out when I arrived at the church the doors were all locked. I buzzed the intercom and was told that the dinner was being held at the annex which was a block and half back the way I had come. Already determined that I would show up regardless, I started back around the church and out on to the sidewalk in the rain. A man was coming the other way looking quite sane carrying an umbrella…as anyone with some sense would do. As he approached me he turned around and stood with me with his umbrella over both of us. He asked me if I was lost…well, that was the nicest question he could ask someone who looked like me rather than making a judgment about my ability to be rational or worse. I told him the address and he said, “I’ll take you there.” He then turned away from his original direction to walk me back to where I was headed all the while making small talk to distract me from my physical state. He brought me right to the door of the hall where the dinner was and I said my goodbyes and tried to enter as inconspicuously as someone dripping wet might be able to do.

So, now, lesson #1. In spite of all the planning, working, struggling, dreaming, praying about making space for God to show up…God always shows up and God shows up at the most unexpected times and reminds us that we are blessed with other travelers on this journey who are blessings to us and for whom we may also be a blessing.

when god shows up

Be open to those God puts in your life as blessings and reminders of God’s presence.
Peace, Pat