Gathered Around This Table Rev. Anna Woofenden, 10/25/2015

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Rev. Anna Woofenden
The Garden Church
Isaiah 61
Revelation 21 & 22

“The Spirit of The Lord is upon me, for God has anointed me, God has sent me to bring good news to those who are poor; to heal the broken hearted and to proclaim release to those held captive… to comfort all who mourn, to give flowers instead of ashes…the oil of gladness instead of tears, the cloak of praise instead of despair.

They will be known as trees of integrity, they will rebuild sits long devastated; they will repair the ruined cities…

For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and a garden brings its seeds to blossom,

O Exalted God makes justice sprout, and praise spring up before all nations.”

These words of Isaiah echo in my ears as I look back over the past six months of the planting and growing of the Garden Church.

The Spirit of The Lord is upon us, for God has anointed us.

On May 1st when the Garden Church opened our gates here on 6th Street, the very first thing we did was to place the altar, the table, God’s table, in the middle of what was then an empty lot, and anoint it with oil.

Stories from The Garden Church 1

The practice of anointing—anointing with oil—is one that is usually reserved for priests and kings, for prophets and leaders, people are anointed to lead, to proclaim, to be a prophetic witness. But on May 1st, just after we opened our gates, we anointed this table and we began with these words: “May the God of all creation, bless this space and its many parts, for the seeking of the peace of the city. This lot has been waiting for us, longing to be a life-giving element in our city and in the lives of the people who live here. It is our partner, our co-creator, our home for this season.”

We went on to bless the gates and the soil, giving thanks for God’s presence in the earth and the sky.

We then consecrated the table with these words:

“We consecrate this table with the anointing of oil, the oil that runs over the head of those who are prophets and priests of God’s message in the world. We anoint our table with oil as it in itself, at the center of our worship space and of our life together as a community, bears God’s prophetic message to the world. All are welcome at this table. All people, in all expressions of humanity, welcome at this table to feed and be fed. This is God’s table, all are welcome here.”

And that, my friends, is exactly what has been happening. All kinds of people, from various walks of life, young and old, housed and un-housed, from different backgrounds and languages, race and gender, gay and straight, wealthy and living in poverty, from different faith traditions or none at all, varied ideologies, and so many stories, are meeting together in the garden—feeding each other and being fed.

And we keep finding that something happens when we gather together around this table, as two sets of hands meet to help each other plant a basil plant, or open our eyes to the beauty of a vibrant yellow flower.

Something happens when we show up and open our hearts to each other and see each other as valued and human.

Something happens when little Laya calls out “Quia, Quia” across the garden and something happens when Brett reaches out and welcomes James into the circle.

Something happens when we encounter Karen’s friendly face at the front gate and a watering can waiting in Darlyn’s hands,

Something happens when we see the cucumber go from a seed in the seed tray, to a little seedling ready to go in the ground, to a growing plant ready to be harvested, then into our salad, and the scraps go back around to the compost to make more soil.

Something happens when a new voice stands up and reads scripture, and when we hand each other the bread and the cup.

Something happens when we see God’s Light in each others eyes, as we look across the table.

This table where all are welcome. This table where we interact with people we wouldn’t otherwise encounter. This table where all people come to feed and be fed.

This table, God’s table, where we experience a loving expansive God who is more interested in transformation than conversion, more interested in us treating each other with love and respect, than there being one right way. This God that doesn’t just tolerate diversity, but actively creates and delights in variety, the God that is everywhere and moving in all things, the God that it is right here, incarnate, present with us.

As we gather around this table.

In the anointing of the table, and the naming of the space, over and over again, seeds of justice and collaboration, healing and hope, love and transformation were planted

The earth has brought forth its shoots, and this garden brings its seeds to blossom.

And now dear ones, take a look around us. Look at this table in the center, and then look around you, to this beautiful sanctuary we have created together. From the creamy plumeria, to the yellow stalked Swiss chard, to the lovingly made picnic tables, to the faces of each of you and of the thousands of others who have been part of this space over the last six months.

The Lord God has made justice sprout and praise spring up before all nations.

This truly is more heaven here on earth. And this is the church, the garden, the urban sanctuary, our little bit of heaven, right here in the middle of the city, which we have built together.

Together with collaboration with all kinds of people and organizations, from our friends on the block, to the local recovery homes, our denominational partners, and Cultivation Team members all across the globe, to our core collaboration, with Green Girl Farms. Our partnership with Farmer Lara and her team have been integral in this work and a continual blessing on so many levels as we share this work hand in hand. It has truly become a place that is bringing more love and healing and goodness into our community as we collaborate and grow together.

Our second scripture reading for today came from the very end of the book of Revelation, and invoked this image that we circle around every week here at the Garden Church—the Tree of Life.

We continue to explore and remember the Tree of Life—and that Heavenly City that it is in the middle of—as we show up to this work and engage in doing our part to bring more justice and peace, healing and transformation to our plot of land in the middle of this city.

As we re-imagine church, we’re walking outside of traditional comfort zones of pews and stained glass, one right way and specific belief statements, one and only one way of seeing God and people.

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Our tradition often draws on these images from the Heavenly City, New Jerusalem to imagine, to re-imagine what it means to be the church in the world, what it means to be people of faith, what it means to be community and to be part of the human race.

As we look to these rich images of the Heavenly City, we see twelve gates, welcoming people of all kinds, of many different backgrounds and traditions, ways of life and belief, all to be part of this place together.

We read that in this Heavenly City, there is no temple, because God is everywhere. God is not contained within a specific church or belief structure, or only accessible if you’re good enough or right enough or pious enough. No, God is everywhere, in the cracks in the sidewalks and the cracks in our lives, in the rich soil and in the depth of human connection, God is in and amongst it all, the ground of all being, the spiritual reality infusing our physical world and experience, and accessible, right here, right now, for all of us.

There’s a river running through the middle of this Heavenly City—the River of the Water of Life, renewing, cleansing, teaching. Clear as crystal—God’s wisdom and truth that leads us and opens us up to God’s transformative ways.

And then there’s this Tree of Life that is right there in the middle of the city. A tree that has twelve kinds of fruit, one for every season, and leaves that will heal the nations. It’s this tree that we keep returning to here at the Garden Church, on our icon as we unpack the tabernacle each week, it’s on our logo, it’s one of the spiritual images we look to as we continue to discover who we are as a community and what God is calling us to in the world. And it’s this Tree of Life that is central to our communal art project that Ebony Perry has been beautifully leading us in over the past eight weeks, and will share more with us now.

“I want to begin by saying thank you to everyone who made this possible and I also want to mention what an amazing journey it has been. I feel very honored to be a part of the Garden Church—and the transformative effect it is having on San Pedro. Every time I leave this space, I feel at peace and incredibly inspired, by all of the hard-work, positive energy, and dedication that not only goes into making this garden grow, but also all of the hard-work and dedication that goes into helping grow and heal the community that surrounds it. So thank you.

Now, this piece that we are about to unveil, is the result of an eight-week, multi-generational art series known as “Enlightened Art.” Enlightened Art began as a very loose, very experimental idea inspired by the belief that art can be used as a vehicle for positive change in the world… That by placing it here in the garden, we could continue enriching and engaging the community through communal art, nature, gardening, and spiritual connectivity via shared space. After I presented the final proposal to Anna in September, we put the series into motion.

For several weeks, my good friend Stephanie Ramirez and I joined forces, prepared, and lead meditational art workshops for the community in this sacred space—creating leaves to heal the nations, with all who came to collaborate with us.

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Each week we used a different artistic medium, and more importantly, focused on a different mantra, theme, or positive intention to incorporate into our creations. Each of these mantras, themes, or positive intentions was meant to reflect what we desire to see happening in the world around us.

  • ` During sessions one and two, we focused on the themes of Yin and Yang. We meditated on the importance of bringing light into our lives as well as serving as a source of light in lives of others. This was done in order to find balance and harmony within.
  • During week three, we meditated on the importance of consciousness, being aware, and awakening the creative spirit.
  • For week four, we meditated on the importance of unity and celebrating the beauty of a world with diversity.
  • Week 5 focused on strength, fearlessness, and peace.
  • Week 6 focused on the theme of healing through positivity, and the importance of having faith when life presents us with obstacles that seem impossible.
  • In week 7, we meditated on the virtue of compassion, in order to continue inspiring compassion in our community.
  • And now for week 8—the conclusion of the Enlightened Art Series—we have come full circle, by using the mediums in which we began the series, while focusing on gratitude, counting our blessings, and giving thanks for how far we’ve come as a community.

And with that, we present to you the final, living, community art piece that you all helped to create, and will now crown with the leaves you hold in your hands today for our ceremony. A true symbol of the power and beauty in unity, and a true symbol of you all being part of the positive ripple effect that began here.”

And that ripple effect, that individual and communal transformation, that belief that the seeds we plant here, the love we engage, the work we do, the gospel we live, here in this space emanates out, ripples out, into the world.

Because dear ones, when we look at the world around us, we know that it is not all as we wish it was, not all people are being fed in every month by that fruit, there are people who are hungry and hurting, there are tears that are being shed, there are places, in ourselves and in the world around us that need healing. We need these leaves that will heal the nations. The hope. The peace. The justice. The more heavenly way of being, here on earth, that we all make together. Amen. 

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