Church Alive

Church Alive

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; May 23, 2021

Day of Pentecost

Ezekiel 37:1-14; Acts 2:1-21

Oh, how I love the wonderful stories of the Bible—like the accounts of David, Esther, the Prophet Deborah, Jeremiah, Hannah, Isaiah. And what about Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Wouldn’t you like to sit with her for a while and hear her story? Then there’s Peter, Thomas, Mary Magdalene, and Paul. What tales they could tell. Scripture is filled with so many people who have incredible lives. It kind of makes me wish I were that proverbial fly on the wall. And never more so than on this day—the day of Pentecost when the wind, the spirit, hope on fire, sweeps in, and alters our faith story forever. Pondering our lectionary readings made me wonder what it might have been like for someone who happened to be present. How did they experience knowing Jesus, loving Jesus, witnessing his ministry to the world, and then after his death, resurrection, and ascension, waiting with the others for the promised power from on high?

 

One person who comes to mind is Joanna. She is named in the Gospel of Luke as one of the women who comes to the tomb on Easter morning to find that it is empty for Christ has risen, just as he said. Although we know nothing more about her, with the help of the Holy Spirit, she still may have something to teach us. So, imagine with me a little Jewish girl, Joanna, sitting at the feet of her father whom she adores. He has a love for Hebrew Scripture, and he is gifted with a dramatic flair that makes the old stories come to life. Although Joanna loves every story, nothing holds her attention like her father’s rendering of Ezekiel prophesying to the dry bones.

 

The days of Ezekiel are dark days when disaster has fallen on Israel. Because of the unfaithfulness of God’s chosen people, the Babylonians destroy Jerusalem. The traumatized survivors, who witness the massacre of loved ones, are taken into captivity. Ezekiel is among them. In Babylon, Ezekiel the priest becomes Ezekiel the prophet to the exiles. The people are dejected. They have lost hope. The Temple, the home of the Presence of God has been destroyed. What of the spiritual life now? It is into this dark, hopeless place that God sends Ezekiel, setting him down into a valley of dry bones. Joanna’s father tells this story with great enthusiasm!

 

Our people had given up saying, “All is lost. We are dead.” But Yahweh was not finished with Israel. God said, “No! There is still hope.” Then Yahweh provided a demonstration. He put Ezekiel down in the valley of dry bones and God said to Ezekiel, “Prophecy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God…I will cause flesh to come upon you…cover you with skin…put breath in you and you shall live.” Ezekiel prophesied and suddenly the bones began to rattle and the bones began to shake—as if finding a long, lost friend, they came together, bone to bone. Then tendons appeared, and muscle and then skin that wrapped it all up, just so. Again God spoke, telling Ezekiel to prophecy to the breath and say, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these…that they might live.” Ezekiel did as he was told to do and the breath, the wind, the spirit, the ruah came upon them and they lived and they stood at attention.

 

What an incredible scene—a prophecy and a promise of things to come for the people of Israel—for the people of God. To be sure, all hope is not lost. Joanna’ father reminds her that in another place in Scripture, Ezekiel speaks these prophetic words of God, “A new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you…and you shall be my people and I shall be your God.”[i]

 

Joanna grows up hearing these stories of wonder and promise and hope, and then she meets Jesus. From the moment she lays eye on him, hope begins to stir in her heart. She watches Jesus change lives, heal the sick, feed the hungry, love the unlovable. He walks the streets of Galilee and Nazareth and Jerusalem. Everywhere he goes people flock to him. Some begin to wonder if maybe, just maybe, the dry bones of God’s people might rise again. They come and they see. However, there are others who cannot accept this humble king. They want a ruler to reign with a shield and a sword. But Jesus has other plans—plans for the salvation of the world. In the end, it comes as no surprise that Jesus, the humble Son of God, is silenced because the rulers of the world are not ready for his message. It is doubtful they will ever be!

 

Joanna is there when her precious Savior hangs on a cross and, like everyone around her, she thinks it is the end. But God has other plans. God breathes life into his Son once more. A new day dawns on Easter morning when Joanna, along with Mary Magdalene and other women arrive at the tomb only to find that it is empty. Empty! And then Jesus, alive and oh so well, appears. He walks among his followers, spends time with them. But soon, he tells them he must return to his Abba Father’s side. Beforehand, he provides instructions. “Wait to be clothed with power from on high.” Even though they don’t really know what he means, they wait. Once Jesus ascends into heaven, there is some business to take care of. Matthias is chosen to replace Judas, and the disciples, representing the tribes of Israel, are once more numbered 12.

 

In a few short days, the Jewish festival of Pentecost arrives—a festival that honors Yahweh’s giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai. Understandably, people from every land wander the city.  But the followers of Jesus are together in one place. About 120 people are present, including the disciples, and Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers. Suddenly from heaven there comes a sound like the rush of a violent wind and the wind, the spirit, the ruah rips through the house. Divided tongues like flames of fire rest upon Joanna and all those gathered there. Everyone is glowing with the Spirit of God, and they begin to speak in languages they don’t even know! It’s like a roll call of nations and languages symbolizing how God’s Spirit will be for the whole world.[ii] Devout Jews hear the ruckus and come to investigate. In their own language, they hear the gospel message of God’s wonder-working power. They are stunned. They are perplexed. Some even claim: “They’re drunk, that’s what this is!” But if they are intoxicated, it isn’t from wine. It is from the heavenly wind that sweeps through them, giving life to dry, dry, bones.

 

Peter jumps up, raises his voice, and proclaims this is nothing less than the fulfillment of the prophecy spoken long ago from the lips of the prophet Joel, that in the last days, God’s Spirit will be poured out upon all flesh, that sons and daughters will prophesy, that young men shall see visions and old men shall dream dreams. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

 

In a flash, the Holy Spirit rushes in and the church is born. The Temple of the Lord comes to dwell in the heart of every believer with no more class, race, age, or gender distinctions. What a glorious day! I imagine Joanna dancing and singing as she remembers the stories of her childhood—stories her father told about those dry bones coming to life. How he would have loved to see God’s story unfold in such a way.

 

God’s story is still unfolding. Here we are, equipped by the Spirit to step out of our fears and away from our doubts to notice new life swirling all around us—to think wondrous thoughts and dream marvelous dreams on behalf of God’s beloved community. Here we are, after a year of a global pandemic that has nudged us to explore new ways of being the church. Here we are, gathered onsite and online to celebrate the Spirit among us and within us. Here we are, amazed at God’s grace that has proven to us that the church is not a building. The church is God’s people doing God’s work of love in the world. The Spirit continues to be a moving, nudging, creating Spirit. To what new creative work might the Spirit be calling our church? To what new creative work might the Spirit be calling you and me? Let us watch for it. Let us wait for it. And when we feel the Spirit move, with all the courage we can muster, let us ride the wind wherever it takes us. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[i] Ezekiel 36:26, 28, NRSV.

[ii] Feasting on the Word, 4.

*Cover Art “Pentecost” by Ira Thomas @ Catholic World Art, used by permission

And Then They Prayed

And Then They Prayed

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; May 9, 2021

6th Sunday of Easter

John 17:6-20; Acts 1:1-17, 21-26

About the time I entered my second semester of seminary, I became intellectually numbed with books written by scholars who seemed to only know how to communicate with long sentences made up of five syllable words. I began to wonder if I would ever read anything enjoyable again. Finally, I did what any radical person would do, I put the heavy books aside for an entire weekend to savor a novel. While Joy Comes in the Morning, written by Jonathan Rosen was one of our recent Virtual Book Club choices, I can still recall reading it the first time. There I sat on my sofa, devouring page after page of a story about a Reformed Jewish Rabbi, Deborah Green, who craves goodness and surety while wrestling with sadness and doubt. Throughout the novel, a glimpse is offered of the complexities of being a female rabbi, serving people in times of sorrow and joy.

Although I enjoyed the entire book, there was one part that took my breath away. In the story, a young Christian woman who is marrying a Jewish man, has decided to convert to Judaism. She has been meeting with the rabbi regularly in preparation for this huge step. But one day, out of the blue, she calls Deborah in a panic—wanting to see her. Yet, when she arrives, she remains distant…vague. Deborah asks one question after another, pressing for clarity, until she finally takes a chance, inquiring, “Will you miss him?”

“Who?” asked the young woman.

“Jesus” the Rabbi answered.

After a long moment of silence, the young woman responded, “Yes, Yes, I will.”

I had planned to take a respite from my studies…I needed a break, but I hadn’t expected to break down weeping. “Will you miss him? Will you miss Jesus?” What a question. In all my years as a believer, I had never considered what it might feel like to even imagine such a thing! Give up Jesus?

This memory bubbled up as I pondered today’s reading from Acts—a reading that takes us to the end of Jesus’ time upon the earth. When Jesus dies on a cross, the disciples never expect to see him again. Yet, in three days, wonder of wonders, Jesus rises from the dead to walk among the living for some forty days. Likely, by now the disciples are getting used to Jesus being around again—even if things are a little different since he has picked up a habit of appearing out of nowhere when they are huddled behind locked doors. But Jesus has no plans of sticking around. He’s about to leave—and for good—so he shares his plans with them—assuring them they will receive power from on high—they will be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. But not to worry; they won’t have to do it alone. No—the Holy Spirit is coming, and they must stay put until the Spirit arrives. Then, with their own eyes, the disciples see Jesus disappear into the clouds. There they stand with mouths gaping until, out of the blue, two men in white robes appear saying something like, “Don’t just stand there. He’s gone.”

Can you imagine, being a witness to Jesus departing in such a dramatic way? It must have felt like another painful ending. Yet, there’s no record of weeping and mourning. Instead, Jesus’ followers return to Jerusalem and devote themselves to prayer—about 120 men and women, along with Jesus’ mother, Mary, and his brothers. They know what to do. They get down to business and the first order of business is prayer—something they learned from their Teacher.

We have a wonderful example of Jesus at prayer from John’s Gospel. In what’s known as Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, he prays to his Abba Father not only for the disciples who hear his voice, but also for the disciples yet to come. What does he pray? That those who are in the world but not of the world will be protected from evil and that they may be sanctified in truth—in other words, that they may be made holy.  In many ways, Jesus’ prayer sounds like the prayer of a parent: “Lord you gave them to me…they are yours…keep them from evil…keep them faithful…”

Jesus is nearing the end of his ministry but there’s still work to do—there is prayer work—so Jesus prays. He prays because he knows his disciples have a long way to go to mature in their faith. He knows they will have tough decisions to make in the future. Right now, though, they are by his side and can hear this prayer offered on their behalf. While it’s not the last prayer Jesus will pray, it’s the last one recorded in Scripture that they will hear. Jesus will pray in agony in the garden, “Let this cup pass from me—yet not my will but your will be done,” but they won’t hear it. They’ll be fast asleep. From the cross, he’ll cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” They won’t hear that one either. They have scattered in fear.[i]

Jesus prays for this ragamuffin band of followers because even though he sees them for what they are, he has high hopes for what they will become. And we get a glimpse of what they will become once Jesus ascends into heaven, for obediently they remain in Jerusalem for the coming of the Spirit even though they can hardly know what that will mean. Faithfully, they gather in the upper room and then they pray.

 

Then, Peter brings some new business for the group to consider—the matter of Judas’ replacement. There seems to be a sense of urgency to make the circle whole again. Ironically, Peter, the Denier becomes Peter the strong leader, who speaks boldly to those gathered around him. First, he interprets Scripture (the Old Testament) in light of Jesus. Then he offers guidelines for who is eligible to fill the vacancy: It must be someone who has been with them from the time Jesus was baptized until now; someone who has witnessed his life and ministry. Two possible candidates are named, Joseph called Barsabbas and Matthias. Then the people pray to God. Surely a decision this important cannot be made without prayer. Even so, what comes next, the casting of lots, seems odd to our modern minds. Imagine we need a new session member, so we offer a prayer, put two names on the table and flip a coin. Although the idea may seem ridiculous to us, more than one scholar notes that in the end, God is guiding “the luck of the draw”—at least that’s how this community of believers sees it—for this is a common decision-making practice for them. But the important thing to notice is the presence of prayer in the process because prayer signals that the church looks beyond itself for guidance and direction.[ii] While the mission of the community will not really get started until the Holy Spirit sweeps in, for now the disciples are once again numbered 12, and the foundation is set for the work ahead.

 

Today marks the end of the Easter Season and next Sunday we will celebrate the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost. In many ways, today marks an important ending in the life of our faith story—the end of Emmanuel, God with Us, walking upon the earth in human form. But there is more to come because on Pentecost, God enters the earth in another form—as the Living, Breathing Holy Spirit to reside in the heart of every believer. Jesus may no longer be with us in the flesh, but empowered by the Spirit, we’ve got work to do—so we pray. There are people with whom we need to share the love of Christ, so we pray and then we speak what the Spirit leads us to speak. There are people who hunger and thirst for physical and spiritual food, so we pray and discern how to best utilize our resources to help those in need. The fledgling church begins steeped in prayer. It is still the most important work we do. In fact, any church that isn’t a praying church—well, it can hardly be called a church at all!

[i] Rev. Dr. James Howell, http://day1.org/1256-in_but_not_of_the_world

[ii] Feasting on the Word, Noel Leo Erkine, 528.

*Cover Art “Word of Life” mural by Millard Sheets from Art in the Christian Tradition.

Mothering God

Mothering God

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; May 9, 2021

6th Sunday of Easter

1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17


 If I had to choose one word to describe God, it would most likely be “love.” But as simple as that might sound, the word itself is rather complex, made even more so by such English renderings as “I love hotdogs and baseball; I love the azaleas in bloom; I love the rays of the morning sun; I love my Mother.” The Greek language, on the other hand, translates love in four different ways. Storge refers to affection between family members; Philia is the love between friends; Eros is romantic love; and Agapē is the highest form of love—demonstrated in the caring of another, no matter what. In our short reading from the Gospel of John, the word “agape” or its derivative is mentioned 9 times. One commentator notes that what is being expressed is “an excellence of character that God has by nature and in which we participate by grace. Such love is primarily interested in the good of the other person, rather than one’s own. It does not attempt to possess or dominate the other. Nor is it limited…by time and place…one can have agape for all.”[i]

 

When I think of agape love, I think of unconditional love—love beyond boundaries—love in spite of the circumstances. In my own life, it was my grandmother who first showed me agape love—taking on the role of mother when she already had a whole brood of children of her own. While traditional Hallmark Mother’s Day cards never really worked for me, I know of the kind of love such cards portray because of my grandmother and other women in my life—aunts, teachers, neighbors, church ladies, and my precious mother-in-law. From bearing four children of my own, I know a mother’s love is a strong bond. I am reminded of a story about a certain mother who had twelve children and was asked which one she loved best. She responded, “The one who is sick until he gets well; the one who is away until she returns home.”

 

On the front of today’s bulletin is artwork depicting the mother of St. Augustine kneeling in prayer by the couch of her wayward son.  Augustine, who was born in North Africa in 354, has probably had more influence on Christianity than anyone, except the Apostle Paul. And like the Apostle Paul, the way in which Augustine behaved in his young adult years makes his story more dramatic. Augustine’s mother was a devout Christian, but his father was a pagan who was often annoyed by the good deeds and prayer life of his wife. Still, Augustine was brought up in a Christian home. As a young man, though, he renounced Christianity to live a rebellious, lazy life. In response, his mother, Monica, wept and prayed, and wept and prayed. She never stopped banging on the doors of heaven on behalf of her son’s soul. At one point, so the story goes, she visited a certain bishop who offered these consoling words, “The child of those tears shall never perish.” After 17 years of resistance, finally Augustine converted to Christianity—which brought him salvation and brought his godly mother peace and joy.

A godly mother like Monica loves her child with a deep agape love—a love something like the love that God has for each one of us— drawing us ever close—longing for our very best—and never abandoning us. For some of us, imagining God as a Father is easy, but thinking of God in maternal terms can be more challenging—even though Scripture offers ample examples of a mothering God. Yolanda Pierce is a professor of African American religion and literature at Princeton Theological Seminary. Having first experienced divine love at the hands of her mother and grandmother, she says that even as a child she knew if God was real, if God truly loved her as a parent loves a child, then God was also “Mother” and not only “Father.”[ii] She writes,

Scholars who oppose the notion of God as Mother often focus on the gender of Christ and his naming of God as “Abba” or Father. Others argue that God is beyond gender, all the while privileging masculine language to understand God. There are also scholars, myself among them, who support the naming of God as Mother along with God as Father, deriving their support from biblical passages which privilege more “feminine” metaphors and analogies, including the image of God as a nursing mother (Isaiah 49:15; Numbers 11:12); God as a midwife (Psalm 22:8-10); and God as one who gives birth (Isaiah 42:14). We do not have to choose only one form of address. God is Creator and Sustainer. God is Protector and Defender. God is Mother and Father. If we are humble, we know that human words and metaphors are incomplete and can never do justice to describing the majesty of who God is… I understand God as Mother because of all the mothers, aunties, grandmothers…and church mothers who were made in the image of God and who embody God’s loving care. As the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich eloquently summarized, “As truly as God is our Father, so truly God is our Mother.[iii]

As a pastor, I recognize there’s a real need to embrace feminine characteristics of God—for myself and for others. Why? Because there is no greater love than the love God models for us—as both mother and father. And then there is the fact that I have heard too many stories of women who have been harmed by men—some by fathers or other male relatives—some by pastors, youth pastors, or other leaders of the church. Often, in such terrible situations, if a woman cannot find a place where God can be spoken of in something other than male terms, she abandons the church altogether. She needs a fuller, broader way of imagining God in order to fully receive acceptance, healing, and most of all, agape love from the God who loves her beyond measure.

Love, love, and love abounding—that’s the essence of God. It is the essence of Jesus, too. Recall how he looks down at the city in which he will soon meet his death. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” he says with such longing, “how often I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you are not willing.” Oh, the deep love Jesus has for those whom God called him to enter the world to save. To his disciples in our reading today Jesus proclaims his agape love saying, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” And then, “I do not call you servants any longer…but I have called you friends.” Friends! We are friends of Jesus. We are accepted. We are loved. It sounds like a promotion, doesn’t it? No more sleeping in the lowly servant’s quarters. No more carry this, take care of that. Instead, we are invited into the family home to sit for a spell over chocolate chip scones and a spot of tea. Now, our days will be filled with long walks, lengthy phone conversations, emails, and texts because that is how friends behave toward one another. How did such a thing happen? Were we promoted because our impressive and polished application for friendship was accepted? Have we worked so hard; we are getting our just desserts? Hardly! Remember the words of Jesus: “You did not choose me. I chose you.” Only by the grace of God are we elevated from servants to friends—and Jesus wishes to make everything known to his friends.

But a word of caution is in order. Along with this new position comes incredible responsibility. With God’s love coursing through our veins, we may begin to see the world as God sees the world. We may worry about children that aren’t even ours and we may feel compelled to do what we can to make sure they have enough food to eat. We may feel an urge to pray for God to intervene in the lives of strangers. We may see news of domestic violence or sex trafficking, and tears may stream down our faces as we pray for protection and work for justice.  We may begin to sacrifice more of our own resources—whatever they are—so that the gospel goes out into all the world.

 

If we are a friend of Jesus and love as Jesus loves, we will want to draw closer to him and become more like him. We will feel compelled to work on things in our character that keep us from acting like our new best friend. Anger and pride can’t have a home in our hearts any longer. Acting in ways that hurt others will have to stop. We may have to practice being truth-tellers even when the telling is hard. Instead of facing the new day with a list of complaints, we may begin to perceive each new day as a gift and an opportunity to share the agape love Christ has planted in our hearts. It could happen! With God as Mother and Father, Protector and Defender; with Jesus as Friend and Brother, Lord and Savior; with the Spirit as Comforter and Advocate, Teacher and Guide—who knows what great wonders might be in store for us—and for those whom God calls us to love. Who knows!

 

 

[i] Feasting on the Word, David S. Cunningham, 498.

[ii] Yolanda Pierce @ http://ideas.time.com/2013/05/11/why-god-is-a-mother-too/

[iii] Ibid

*Cover Art in Public Domain

The Vine of Life

The Vine of Life

Jane Shelton, CRE; May 2, 2021

5th Sunday of Easter

 

Well, I don’t know about you, but after reading that scripture, I’m ready to go dig in the dirt!

 

Now I’m nowhere near our professional gardeners like Eve Renfroe and Nelda Harris who grow the most beautiful flowers ever!  Or Mark Crawford and Bryan Almand who are the expert gardeners.  And we can’t forget our most fun-loving lady, Laurelee Wilkerson who always shines like a spring bloom in the warm sun and her talent with her beautiful plants.  And I remember seeing on Facebook last year a picture of Donna Gosnell in her garden boots behind a tiller preparing her garden.

 

Maybe we could leave church now, and head to their homes for a Sunday field trip!  Wouldn’t that be fun!  I think we should really consider a Saturday progressive gardening event so they can give us their favorite gardening tips!  We might even find out there are others of you who are great gardeners, too!

 

Now, I’m not anywhere as talented as our professional gardeners here in the church, but I do love to dig in the dirt every now and then!!

 

When I think back to my younger years, I really can’t remember a time when I didn’t love putting my hands in the dirt.  At about age 5, I can remember leaving the house early in the morning with my mother, just as the sun was coming up, so that we could go help pull tobacco plants from the tobacco beds.  I remember the excitement whenever the plastic cover was removed from the bed, and out came all these shining green plants, and they were little like me, and easy to pull.

 

Some of my fondest memories were going with my mother to my grandparents’ home where Papa was the true farmer with animals, gardens, fruit trees and a beautiful fishing pond with beautiful lily pads growing along the edges.

 

I remember my first lesson of digging potatoes with a kitchen spoon.  I thought that was the best event ever to be able to use a large kitchen spoon, take it into the garden, and search in the dirt for a wonderful treasure like a potato!  It doesn’t get any better than that for a 5 year old adventure!

 

My grandmother was a marvelous cook, and would often prepare fig tarts for me and my siblings when we visited, but we always had to go pick the figs from the fig trees if we were to be rewarded with fig tarts.  Not that those figs were used in the tarts, she already had plenty cooked down and ready to use, but it was meant to teach us that in order to get something, we needed to work for it, care for it.

 

Now my grandparents’ farm required a lot of work, and Papa would get up early every day before the sun was up and head out the door before breakfast to feed the animals.  He worked the fields, and his gardens were beautiful and weed free because he would hoe every inch of the dirt around the plants until there was no grass and no weeds which made it possible for the vegetables to grow because the nutrients were not being soaked up by the weeds, but instead going to the vegetable plants so they would grow strong and full.  And having clean rows made it easy to gather the vegetables.

 

Gardening is a lot of work, as I’m sure our gardeners can tell us, but the rewards are bountiful.  It takes a lot of nurture and care.

 

In this same way, we have been shown by Jesus to nurture our soul, our inner spirit, if we want to continue to grow spiritually to a closer relationship with God.  Jesus, in all his busyness of teaching and healing, still found time to escape.  The scriptures are full of stories of Jesus reading scriptures, praying, and sailing to a place to be alone.  He set the very example to show us how the spirit needs time to be nurtured from the vinegrower so that the fruit of the spirit can grow and thrive.

 

So how do we nurture the vine in us so that it grows and bears bountiful fruit?  Again Jesus, tells us exactly what we need to know.  “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”

 

Let’s look at some ways in which we can abide in Christ, and he in us.

 

First, getting our mind and hearts to focus on the love of Jesus, to focus on the life of Jesus given to us as an example of how to live.  This can be done through prayer and meditation.  We often use prayer as a means of asking for something to fulfill our needs or for someone else’s needs, and while I am not discouraging this at all, because any time we commune with God through prayer, it is a good thing.  Although, Centering Prayer has taught me another way to look at prayer, another way to approach the vinegrower and nurture the vine in us.  Rather than approaching prayer as a time to ask God to fulfill our needs, Centering Prayer allows time for us to sit quietly, knowing that God is around us and within us, working in us, and the only thing we are required to do is just “BE”.  Be present to allow quiet space in our busy lives to recognize that God abides in us and is working in us and through us.  And you don’t have to just sit to be present, you can take a walk through nature or down the street, just find time to abide in our Lord so The Spirit can abide in you.  This is something I’ve really come to appreciate.

 

Reading scripture is another way to learn and grow, not just reading it, but sitting with it, pondering it, questioning it….how is the scripture speaking to you?  What is it calling you to do?  How is it showing you how we should love and live?  Our First Friday Contemplative service is a great way to experience Lectio Divina where we read scripture and examine it together, not just among us, but with others in our community.  I’m always amazed at how God is able to speak to each of us individually through scripture and how his word affects our individual lives.  Through Lectio Divina on First Friday, we are able to hear how others interpret the Word, which sometimes reveals an entirely different meaning than when others of us read the same scripture.  Keep an eye out on when our First Friday service will resume!

 

Having conversations is another way we grow spiritually, not just within ourselves, but with each other.  During our weeks of Lent, a group of us met to have Holy Conversations.  Many of these evening discussions were heated and passionate with different views, but we left each week feeling a stronger connection to the other people in the group.  Maybe with a little better understanding of why others look at things differently than I do, and most importantly, knowing that I still loved each and every one of the folks who were participating in this group, being will to risk to share their feelings and thoughts about tough topics in our society.  We grew spiritually with one another, and within ourselves, and we strengthened the vine in us through the process.  We left knowing that every person there cares about what is best for God’s beautiful world and people, even though we come at it from different directions.  And don’t forget tomorrow evening starts another study on “Interrupting Silence” with Sherrida Crawford and Julie Magruder leading the discussion via Zoom.

 

And of course reading beyond our scriptures, but with our scriptures in mind, also broadens our minds, allows us to look at different perspectives, and provides food for our spirits to grow and bear fruit.  If you haven’t joined our monthly Book Club, I invite you to do so.  And it’s not just for women, just ask Dick Shelton who has dropped in for a book or two along the way.

 

A very positive thing we can do to continue to bear fruit is to take care of ourselves physically so that we have the energy to be good gardeners and bear healthy fruit.  And I’m not even going to begin to tell you how to do that, cause that is one that I struggle with daily.

 

Verse 8 wraps up the results of our gardening and growth nicely in a big bow, “My father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”  All we do is for the glory of the vinegrower.  This is why we were planted in the beginning.  This is why he watches over us and care for us always, so that we may grow spiritually closer in relationship to the vinegrower, bear healthy fruit, show others the love of Jesus Christ, and in the process glorify our father in heaven.  This is what our life’s purpose is as disciples….let us be ever mindful to abide in the word and actions of Jesus, so that he abides in us.  Let us be ever mindful that our task is to continue to glorify our Lord.  Let us go now, grab a hoe, and till the land.

*Cover Art found at https://img1.etsystatic.com/051/0/5669853/il_570xN.682667213_8hfn.jpg, free image.