God in Unexpected Places: Angels in Muddy Boots

  • July 18, 2017

The Rev. Polly Jenkins Man offered this sermon on July 16th, 2017

Jeremiah 31:7-12
Matthew 13:1-9

Every morning, when we gathered in our prayer circle before work, Charles said the same prayer, “Thank you God for this day which we have never seen before.

It was spring over ten years ago when a bunch of us from here and from South Acton Congregational Church arrived in New Orleans, Louisiana, or NOLA for short, to help rebuild Charles and Winnie Wilmore’s house after it had been destroyed a year and a half earlier by Hurricane Katrina.  Charles and Winnie had moved to their new house in East NOLA only 3 weeks before the storm, finally locating and being able to afford a home where Winnie’s ailing mother could come to live with them.  They had left the neighborhood in the Lower 9th Ward where generations of both their families had raised their children and where many of their cousins, aunts, uncles and lifelong friends were still living in August 2005.

Now, almost 2 years later, they were in a toxic FEMA trailer parked in their front yard, looking at the ruin of their dream. Winnie’s mother had gone to Baton Rouge for the duration. Given the shenanigans of post-Katrina bureaucracy, it was no surprise that, when they checked with the insurance company about the flood insurance   they had purchased when they moved in, the agent told them that the paperwork had been “lost in the aftermath of the storm.”

So no flood insurance, no home, no family, and living in a poisonous environment.  Winnie was partially disabled with a bad hip, Charles retired from the postal service.  Yet every day, without fail, Charles thanked God for the new day, one never before known or experienced.  And then he followed it with giving thanks for the “angels” who had been sent to help. They, apparently, were us.

When the Israelites were in exile, the prophet Jeremiah spoke the words read earlier.  Promising restoration, promising a joyful return home.  “Again I will build you and you shall be built.” Jeremiah spun miraculous images of watered gardens and fruited vineyards that God would provide. To the exiles it must have sounded like a lovely but very unlikely fairy tale.  They were far from home, had lost everything; and there was no sign of any human intervention.  I imagine that God must have seemed as distant to them as George Bush did to the people stranded on rooftops in New Orleans when he flew over them in Air Force One.

Still, the prophet kept reassuring them  “I am going to bring them from the north and from the farthest parts of the earth…from Baton Rouge, Houston, Massachusetts?  How so?

But there we were, angels in muddy boots.  Working under the guidance of Hosanna Industries from Pittsburgh, with a high school group from Tulsa, we cut and hauled big pieces of sheetrock and put them up, nailed floorboards, framed windows, caulked seams.

Then came the roof day.  Although it was April, New Orleans was a steam bath, sweat pouring off us in rivers. Being a creature who is happiest when it is 30 or 40 degrees, dry and briskly sunny, there was no way I was going to go up there, possibly pass out and fall off.  So along with Pris, who had also decided to remain earthbound, we passed the shingles up to the roofers and disposed of the old roofing as they tossed it down.  That being accomplished, we wandered back behind the house where, for some reason, none of us had ever been.  What we saw there were the ruins of what looked to have been a small private garden and some patio furniture.  Stone pavers were upended and cracked, flowerpots tossed about, dirt and debris everywhere.  I don’t remember whether Pris or I said anything, or whether we just looked at each other and simply knew what we were going to do.

After clearing away some of the debris, and righting the furniture, we scrounged some rusty garden tools from the shed and began to dig along the back fence.  That’s when it happened.  As earthworms began to wriggle up from the mud, mud that had been buried under Mississippi flood waters and was now rich with nutrients, I recognized that, down there on my knees in the dirt, I was receiving a call from God. Don’t get me wrong, no angels appeared, no harps or trumpets sounded, and certainly no voice.  It was more like, “Oh yeah, that’s why I came on this trip!”   Then, and this is true, I looked up to see a butterfly flit by and a bird land on a nearby tree. I know, this sounds like a scene from a Disney movie. But my point is that there was life here, where there had been only death and destruction. And I wanted to be a part of it.  To rebuild gardens in New Orleans.  So people, when they come back will have not only a home for their bodies but also a place of beauty for their spirits.  I wanted to plant seeds of hope in the city.

In the parable of the sower, Jesus tells the crowd that not all the seeds that they will sow are going to take root and bear fruit. There are many obstacles that will come along and prevent their growth: poor soil, choking weeds, too much sun.  While this seems to be a warning to his followers that there will be many times when people will not listen to them as they go out to spread the Word, the parable is also a literal reminder that, not all these gardens we plant will thrive. All we can do is, quoting Bishop Ken Unterer,  plant the seeds that  one day will grow, water the seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.  We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.  This enables us to do something and to do it very well.

Our week with Charles and Winnie came to an end, but not before we had led them back behind their house, where they hadn’t been since the destruction.  Over the course of the previous days, we had cleared away the debris, gone to Home Depot (one of the few places that had opened up) to buy flowers that we planted.  Don from our group, although suffering from the flu, repaired the walkway, the teens from Tulsa bought brightly colored cushions for the furniture, we constructed a few side tables from cinder blocks and swept the place clean. When the Wilmores saw the garden, they were beyond surprised and clearly overcome. Melissa from South Acton had recorded some of the great New Orleans jazz on her iPhone; at which point Winnie tossed aside her cane and joined us as we all danced.

And so Gardens for NOLA was born, in the backyard of a ruined house, deep in the Mississippi mud and alive with earthworms, butterflies, birds and mostly, hope.

Last winter Hannah led a series that was entitled “Finding God in unexpected places” and asked for volunteers to tell our stories this summer.  I signed up which is why I’m here today.  to tell you that the last thing that I expected, when I signed on for the New Orleans trip ten years ago is that I would come home with what felt like an encounter with God and a passion to take groups of adults and teens to restore and plant gardens in New Orleans, which we did for seven years and ten trips.  But as I’ve thought about this experience recently, the idea of finding God unexpectedly there really doesn’t make sense.

After all, where else would we expect God to be?  She always shows up where there are homeless and forgotten people. God is always on the side of the oppressed and the marginalized.  He’s there when everyone else has hit the road.

And Charles reminded us of that every single day.

God in Unexpected Places: Isaac & Rebekah

Genesis 24

This summer we are exploring the theme “God in unexpected places.”  Two weeks ago we began with Hagar and Ishmael, remembering how God came to help them in the wilderness. Last week you heard from Andrew Harris, focusing on the Gospel of Matthew.  This week we return to the book of Genesis and hear the story of Abraham’s search for a wife for Isaac.

Abraham is getting on in years, and he has a problem. He has chosen his son Isaac to receive his inheritance and carry on the family line. But Isaac has not yet chosen a wife. The scriptures don’t tell us why Isaac has remained a bachelor so long. At 40, he is far past the traditional marriage age. Is he a playboy? Is he indifferent to women? Is he too focused on his work, tending the land and the flocks?  Perhaps Isaac is unmarried because he hasn’t found anyone who pleases his father.  Abraham does not want Isaac to marry into the Canaanite community where they live.

Whatever the reason for Isaac’s singleness, Abraham sets out to solve what he perceives as a problem. It’s not at all clear that he consults Isaac. Abraham just sends his oldest and most trusted servant back to his homeland to find an eligible match.

Now you may be wondering, how can a trusted servant find a likely young woman in an unfamiliar town? Abraham’s servant can’t use an online dating app, or scope out the bar scene. As far as we know, he has no experience or expertise in matchmaking. But this guy still knows exactly what to do.  He goes to the community well towards the end of the day.  He prays to God for help with his endeavor. He waits for the young women to come to fill their water pitchers. And he watches for a young woman who will give both him and his camels a drink.

Those of us who live in Massachusetts in 2017 may have trouble at first recognizing the wisdom of the servant’s selection criteria.  Why choose a woman based on whether she offers water to camels? It seems almost random. But take a moment to consider. A woman who offers a drink to a stranger is generous.  A woman who brings water for 10 camels is a miracle. Camels are capable of drinking 20-30 gallons of water after a long journey. When she offers to water the servant’s camels, Rebekah is showcasing both extraordinary generosity and tremendous physical strength. She draws and carries 300 gallons of water.  Try that the next time you need a good workout.

Abraham’s servant knows what to do, and he is successful: he finds a woman of great generosity and strength. Rebekah also happens to be beautiful, and untouched by men. Plus, she is a first cousin once removed of Isaac – which may sound like it’s not in her favor, but in this time and place, it is. Everything looks favorable for this match. The only thing left to do is persuade Rebekah and her family to go along with it.

Soon a caravan is headed back towards home, with Rebekah and her nurse and her maids accompanying Abraham’s servant. Then, just as the story is about to end, we get two surprises. First, when Rebekah sees Isaac, she is so struck by him that, according to a close translation, she falls off her camel.  She is lovestruck. It’s romantic comedy genius.  Then, when Isaac weds Rebekah, our narrator tells us that he loves her, and is comforted for the loss of his mother.  In the end, a marriage that was arranged to suit a father-in-law and accommodate concerns of culture, and religion, and wealth, and family, turns out to be a love match as well. (more…)

God In Unexpected Places: Hagar & Ishmael

Genesis 21:8-21

Throughout this summer our services will focus on the theme: God in Unexpected Places.  Some of you may remember that as we prepared to leave our Meeting House, we shared together the story of how the Israelites created a beautiful traveling place of worship for their time in the wilderness. They made a tabernacle and a tent of meeting for their time of Exodus. Wherever they went, God was present with them, and they worshipped God. This summer we are taking our tent of worship here to Concord Children’s Center, and to TriCon, and back here, and back to our transformed meeting house. So it’ s a good time to be especially alert to the unexpected places and ways that God can show up in our lives.  Our texts from this summer, from Genesis and the Gospel of Matthew, also happen to be rich in stories of surprise.

We start the series this week with the story of Hagar and her son Ishmael. We meet Hagar earlier in Genesis as the Egyptian slave of Sarah. Hagar’s role in the story of Genesis becomes more visible to us when Sarah despairs of producing a child.  It was so important in that time for a woman to produce children, and for a couple to produce helpers and heirs.  Sarah is getting on in years, and there has been no child.  So, finally, Sarah asks Abraham to impregnate Hagar.  Because Sarah owns Hagar, a child born to Hagar would legally belong to Sarah. This strategy, though it may sound strange to us, was not unusual in that time and place.  You may remember it also happens with Bilhah and Zilpah, the servants of Rachel and Leah, the wives of Jacob.

Sarah comes up with a plan to address her barrenness, and Sarah’s plan works: Hagar conceives. But as soon as she is successful, Sarah realizes that this outcome isn’t —  exactly —  what she wanted. Hagar’s pregnancy changes Hagar’s role in the family, and Sarah’s role, as well. Sarah wants to put Hagar back in her place, so she treats her harshly, establishing her own greater power in their family system. Hagar is so distressed by her mistreatment that she runs away.  But an angel of the Lord encourages Hagar to return, to survive: to bear the son she carries, Ishmael.

In time, Ishmael is born.  And, miraculously, Sarah also conceives, and bears Isaac.  One might think, then, that the problem Sarah perceived in this family is resolved. But once Isaac has survived infancy, Sarah is discontented.  Seeing Ishmael at play, watching him laugh, she becomes uneasy. Sarah is afraid that Ishmael might inherit a portion of Abraham’s wealth.  She says to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son.”

Abraham is distressed, the scripture tells us, on account of his son. But God promises to care for the child. So Abraham rises early in the morning, and takes bread and a skin of water. Abraham gives the bread and water to Hagar, along with the child, and sends them away into the wilderness.

By this point in the story, I just want to say… what? What has happened to our holy ancestors?  What has happened to Father Abraham, and Mother Sarah, models of integrity and faithfulness?  So many things are wrong in this story.  Our ancestors had slaves. Hagar is forced to become a surrogate, without any indication that she has a choice in the matter. We don’t know if she was raped. After this injustice, she is mistreated again, in order to force her subservience.  Finally, she and her son are sent out to die.

There is plenty of blame to pass around for all the things that go wrong in this story.  We could blame the ancient society, for prizing women only for their childbearing, or for favoring eldest sons. We could blame Abraham, for ducking out of all the moral questions along the way.  We could blame God, who gives some dubious advice in this story – lots of conflicting commentary about that.  I keep coming back to Sarah’s sins. They seem so painfully familiar. In a difficult situation, she makes a terrible choice, not once, but over and over again. She chooses to protect her own interests by taking cruel advantage of someone she has power over.  A woman from a different culture. A woman, perhaps, of a darker skin color.  A woman who is her slave.

In Sarah’s actions, we can see the justifications that white and wealthy and Christians and otherwise privileged people in our society so often make to excuse our mistreatment of others.  We’re just a little too worried about our own place in the world.  We’re just a little too worried about the advantages that our children will receive. Even though we’re already so far ahead of the curve, we are still willing to sacrifice the wellbeing and even the survival of others to get an extra inch of protection.

We see this self-protective instinct when people segregate suburbs and cities by wealth and by race. We see it in debates over school funding. We see it when we decide who can vote, and how hard it is to exercise that right. We see it when we make decisions about the minimum wage.  We see it when a group of white men of wealth make a plan for our country’s healthcare that does not require universal coverage, or even maternity services. We see it when we place the importance of industrial profit above the importance of a healthy planet for us all to live on. We see it when we send immigration agents on a raid at a humanitarian water station in the desert. We see it when the very presence of a Muslim person, or a dark-skinned person, represents to our mind a deadly threat to our way of life. Our margin of privilege, our margin of power, is just too precious to let go of — despite injustice, or destruction, or death for God’s children and God’s creation. Even when it is ultimately in our own long-term interest to make room for others, too often, we just can’t bring ourselves to do it.

The story of Hagar and Ishmael is particularly important to many African American Christian women, because for all the differences in time and culture, this story just rings true.

Hear is the good news: when Hagar goes into the wilderness, God is with her. God hears her, and offers her words of comfort, saying “Do not be afraid.”  God sees her, and helps her to find water to survive. God abides with her, and helps her discern a path towards the future. God accompanies her and her child along that path.

Ishmael’s childhood is not the same as Isaac’s. He is not sheltered in a family compound.  He does not marry an Israelite woman. He does not inherit wealth from Abraham. But, there are blessing to his upbringing all the same.  Raised in the wilderness, Ishmael becomes an expert with the bow. Away from the compound, he is not raised in the ways of slavery. In time, he finds a wife from the land of Egypt, a wife from his mother’s people. And we know that somehow, he does  find a way to connect with his father: when Abraham dies, Ishmael works beside Isaac to bury him.

The promises that God makes to Hagar come to pass. Eventually Ishmael has twelve sons: Nebaioth, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. These sons have villages, and tribes, all known as the descendants of Hagar.  Ishmael lives to be 137 years old, and when he dies, he is gathered to his people.  According to Muslim tradition, the well that saved Hagar and Ishmael in the desert becomes the water source around which a city is built: the city of Mecca.  Hagar and Ishmael are honored as founders of that city, and they are buried in the most holy part of Mecca.  As a pastoral colleague of mine often says, God is such a show off.

Summer is not a quiet season so far this year, as least as it concerns politics and world events. But don’t be pulled down by the undertow.  Remember, when you witness injustice, that God hears, and God sees.  Remember that God abides, and God accompanies.  God is there with those of us who suffer and with those of us who struggle to put aside our power and privilege.  God is working among us, showing up in the most desolate moments.  God is working around our failures and even with them, for justice, for peace, and for joy. Thanks be to God.

Is Anything Too Wonderful for the Lord?

  • June 21, 2017

Genesis 18:1-14

Abraham has so many reasons not to get up.

When we meet father Abraham in the scriptures today, he is resting at home under his favorite tree.  He has reached the age of 99, and getting up and down may not be easy for him anymore. It is the heat of mid-day in the ancient near east, when no sensible person is active.  And Abraham is also recovering from a recent encounter with God that included undergoing a circumcision, and hearing the shocking news that he will yet have a son by his wife Sarah, herself 90 years of age.

Abraham has so many reasons not to get up. He really needs a rest! But when he looks up and sees three strangers, Abraham not only gets up: he runs. He runs towards these three visitors, and bows before them, and begs for the opportunity to serve them, saying: “My Lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant.”

Abraham promises the strangers water for washing, and a little bread to eat, and the opportunity to rest under the very tree he had used for shelter himself. And then Abraham orders up a feast that far surpasses what he has promised. It includes freshly baked cakes made from choice flour by the skill of Sarah’s hand; a tender calf, slaughtered and prepared by his servant; and curds and milk to drink.  All of these things Abraham places before the travelers, who now sit in comfort in Abraham’s favorite spot.

Why is this story in our scriptures? Theories abound.

This story has become famous in recent centuries because many interpret it as a story about the Christian concept of the Trinity. Just think — here, in the Hebrew Scriptures, our one Lord visits Abraham in the guise of three persons. Textual analysis shows that Abraham even goes back and forth between the singular and the plural when addressing them.

But unfortunately for Christian theology nerds everywhere, the likelihood that the authors of this story were contemplating the trinitarian nature of God is slim to none. That theology came much, much later. Also, in Genesis this kind of visitation is not so unusual. God comes to visit humans in all kinds of interesting ways, from a burning bush to a midnight wrestling partner. Angels in particular were strangely common: so much so that three of them showing up to see someone like Abraham seems fairly unsurprising.

One might also wonder if this story is important because God is testing Abraham and Sarah.  Perhaps by showing up in disguise, God wants to discover the true nature of their character and determine whether they are worthy of receiving a child or being part of a covenant.  This idea also falls short, however, when we remember that a child has already been promised to them, a chapter before, as part of the covenant between them. So the words of the visitor at the end of the passage, “I will surely return to you, and your wife Sarah shall have a son” – these words serve as a confirmation of God’s intention, not a new declaration.

Maybe there is another possibility. The picture on the front of your bulletin is a famous icon by Andrei Rublev. In the background, if you look closely, you can see Abraham’s house, and the tree that provides shade for him and his visitors. Moving forward, we see the three visitors, graceful, peaceful, surrounding a table which holds the food they have been offered. Delightfully, at the very front, there is a spot at the table open for us, so that the viewer may join in the meal as well.  You may have heard this lovely icon called the Trinity, or the Old Testament Trinity.  It also has another name: Abraham and Sarah’s hospitality.

Hospitality is an important theme throughout our bible but it is a particular focus of this portion of Genesis. If we read on, we find that when the three strangers leave Abraham and Sarah, they travel towards Sodom. Sodom and Gomorrah are slated for destruction due to the great sin found there. What kind of sin, the bible does not tell us specifically. Unfortunately, plenty of people have filled in the blanks to their own satisfaction. But we have an opportunity to witness one failure of morals within the story itself.

Two of the travelers arrive in Sodom and are welcomed by Lot, Abraham’s brother. Lot offers them a feast, and a place to stay in his home. But the men of Sodom, both young and old, every single one, surround the house in anger and mistrust. “Where are the men who came to you tonight,” they demand. “Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.” Lot, however, does not trust the crowd. He refuses to offer up his guests.

The men of Sodom are enraged. They respond, “Stand back! This fellow Lot came here as an alien, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” The mob almost manages to break down the door before the angels close it against them.

What can we learn from these visitors, who come first to oaks of Mamre, and then to Sodom? These two stories, back to back, drive home the point beyond the shadow of a doubt. Those who follow God are called to provide hospitality to strangers.  Those who offer them suspicion and violence instead are guilty of great sin.

Our scriptures are absolutely clear what kind of attitudes and actions we should have towards those who are different from us. Both the Hebrew and Greek scriptures tell us over and over agaon: Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Welcome the stranger. Every single person deserves decent treatment – and indeed, extravagant hospitality.

This biblical teaching touches so many issues in our modern lives.  There are national and international issues, like refugee resettlement, and travel bans, and deportation. There are cultural issues, like white supremacy, and anti-Islam bias, and class discrimination.  There is the continuing tragedy of deaths like Philando Castile’s, and the failure of our justice system to recognize his death as a crime. Seeing the contrast between the values of our faith and the values of our nation, our culture, is jarring. It’s hard to know where to start, how to follow God’s teaching.

The best place to start is probably at home. Many of us have relationships in our own lives in which differences have led to estrangement, in which some extravagance on our part might help to bring down a barrier. All of us have a cultural inheritance of racism and bias, that we have a chance every day to choose to unlearn. Our churches, too, have work to do, many kinds of work, and on that front I bring good news this morning.

Yesterday it was my great privilege to attend the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ Annual Meeting. Except, that’s not what it was this year. This year, the Massachusetts and Connecticut and Rhode Island conferences of the United Church of Christ met together. And not only did they all meet on the same weekend, in the same place, they all voted, separately, to begin the process of forming a new conference that would unite them all.

Now I imagine there are few of you who have been staying up late wondering whether this would happen or what the ramifications would be. Probably, this is the first you’ve heard of it, and the last time it’ll concern you at all. But let me tell you, from where I stand, this is a development of astonishing beauty. Hundreds of good New England Congregational church people, born and bred in the idea of righteous autonomy, utterly proud of and devoted to their congregational and state identities, decided that the power of what we could do together was more important than our independence. We decided interdependence was better than independence, when considering the crucial nature of our common mission. We began to erase the artificial boundaries that have kept us apart from one another and have kept us from making God’s love and justice real in New England with the full impact of our combined resources.

From violence to peace, from deportation to radical welcome, from isolation to connection. There is so much work to be done. We have so far to go. But, as Abraham’s visitor proclaims, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”

After all, Abraham and Sarah were not the first ones to show extravagant hospitality. God herself is our first example.  She welcomes us in all our strangeness and sin. She opens a seat up for us at Her table.  And She also comes to us as a guest.  Each stranger we encounter is made in the image of God. By honoring them, we honor God. By welcoming them, we learn to know God more fully. Thanks be to God.

 

Walking Prayers at Walden Pond: Our Graced Oasis

  • June 19, 2017

Last week marked our final Walking Prayer gathering at Walden Pond … for now anyway.  What a blessing it has been to observe the seasonal changes throughout the year – both in nature and in our lives.   We have drawn closer to our own hearts, to God, and to one another, as we’ve carried one another’s burdens and shared in each other’s joys.

They say that beauty comes from a spirit that has weathered many hardships in life and somehow continues with resilience.  Grace can be found in a soul who ages softly, even amid the tempest.  I think the loveliest by far is the one whose gentle heart bears a hundred scars from caring, yet still finds a way to pick up the lamp, one more time, to light the way for love.”    

                                                                         – from Open Passages by Susan Frybort

 

 

 

 

 

 

We most recently watched spring finally arrive at the pond, to be followed quickly by signs of summer.  All along, this place has become a “graced oasis” for us – to borrow a term from Miriam Therese Winter who writes:

“Drink, drink deep, let it all sink in to the well of your remembering and the spell of your imagining, against the day after day after day, devoid of time to sit and pray, when your heart is up against the wall, your thirsting spirit will recall what a blessing so much time and space is, and return you to this graced oasis.”

Youth Reflections on Faith & Courage

  • June 14, 2017

Here are some reflections from our youth on Matthew 14:22-33, as shared on Children & Youth Sunday.

Over the past several weeks, our class has been exploring this story to discover what we think it says about Jesus, about faith and risk-taking, and about God’s love. One of the first things we noticed in this story is that after Jesus dismissed the crowds, he “went up to the mountain by himself to pray”. We wondered: What does this tell us about Jesus? What kind of example is he setting for us?

  • One person wrote: “This tells me that even Jesus gets tired, and that everyone needs a break, time to reflect, and a chance to rejuvenate.”
  • Another person shared this: “This shows that to have a true connection with God, you must have earnest faith and not pray just for your public image so people will think you’re very religious.”

Next we wondered about the imagery in the story. What does the boat represent? How about the waves and the wind?

  • “The boat might represent a person and their relationship with God, their friends and family, or whatever else makes them feel comfortable. The waves represent the challenges that are thrown at you or obstacles that you face. And the wind represents anything that might distract you from your faith.”
  • “The boat is the everlasting Love of God and the wind and waves are the work of Satan – such as the horrible temptation of greed or the cruel quest for power. The Love of God protects us and can’t be destroyed.”

In response to the questions: “What made Peter step out of the boat? and Does Peter have a strong faith?” Our answers varied…

  • “He trusts Jesus so much and has a super strong faith.”
  • “Peter does have a strong faith. He believes in Jesus because otherwise he wouldn’t have stepped out of the boat. And he believes in himself because he trusted his feeling of faith in Jesus.”
  • “He trusts in Jesus but doesn’t believe he can be like Jesus. He begins to doubt himself and maybe that’s why he starts sinking.

After examining some of the details of the story, we dug a little deeper to think about how this story might be relevant in our own lives. We started off by wondering what the gospel writer is trying to teach us about faith.

  • “This passage is showing us how life can have situations in which it seems impossible to do the right thing, but you must have faith in whatever you’re going to do. It also tells us that in the end, Jesus will love and save us no matter what.”
  • “The gospel writer is trying to tell us that believing and trusting the good in people will help you survive. It’s also telling us that God has faith in us, so we should have faith in ourselves too.”
  • “The message here is that faith can guide one through adversity. The story is trying to teach us that life will inevitably bring adversity and faith in God or Jesus will help us through it.”

Next we asked the questions: “Why is it hard to take risks?” and “Where do we find courage?”

  •  “It’s hard to take risks because of the possible downside. Risks are risky so there’s a chance of something bad happening. For example, if you have a 25% chance of winning $100.00 and a 75% chance of losing $50.00, then odds are you’ll lose money so you don’t want to take the risk.”
  • “It’s hard to take risks because it is far more comfortable to play it safe. You never know what the outcome is going to be. And sometimes you might be afraid of failing or getting hurt.”
  • “Courage comes from friends and family who care about me and contribute to my well being. It’s nice to know there are people who will support me in hard times.”
  • “It’s also hard to take risks because we have little faith in ourselves. If we trusted that everything would turn out ok, we might take more risks. It’s the bad things that happen in life that make it hard for us to take the risks.”
  • “It helps me to look back at situations in my life where I have overcome similar challenges. This gives me courage to try again.”

“How does God’s love make us brave?” This was our final question for reflection. These are some of our responses:

  •  “I know that even if I take a risk and mess up, God will still love me and be there for me.”
  • “God’s love makes me brave in two ways. The idea of “if you love someone, set them free” shows how God will push us to take risks and have faith in Him. But also if you love someone, you take care of them, and God will take care of us when we take too big of a risk.”
  • “God’s love, which shines through a lot of people I know, makes me want to take a leap of faith or take risks, because I feel empowered when I feel God’s unconditional love.”
  • “God’s love makes me brave because it lets me know that I always have someone by my side and that I’m never alone.”

Our hope and prayer for each of you this morning, is that you will also feel empowered by God’s amazing love so that you might strengthen your faith, take more risks, and dare to be brave! Amen

Demolition, Part 2

Demolition continued on June 8th & 9th.

Renovation: Demolition

After several days of prep, on June 7th a crew arrived to begin demolition. They did a huge amount of work in one day!