The Breath of Life Sermon 6/5/2016

13332834_10153806002224094_1025933552022537007_nRev. Anna Woofenden, The Garden Church, San Pedro, CA
Audio
Scripture: 1 Kings 17:8-16, (17-24) and Luke 7:11-17

On Tuesday I was standing at my kitchen sink washing an endless pile of, wait for it, Swiss Chard. As my hands made the familiar movements of moving the big leaves through the water and smoothing off any dirt or bugs, I had a moment when something that had been dead in me was brought back to life. If you’d been standing in my kitchen, you wouldn’t have known it, I kept washing large green leaf after large green leaf, but inside of me something shifted. A culmination moment of conversations and prayers and ponderings and sortings, and I felt something in me that had been pushed so far to the side of my being that it felt like it had died, being brought back to center, to focus, given breath, a part of me was brought back to life.

These stories today are kind of complicated to preach on. And kind of really simple. They’re complicated because, well what do we do with these texts that talk about people being raised from the dead? What do we make of such stories, fact or fiction? These miracles seem to be a time and place away, and are beautiful in many ways. They are also painful, because why didn’t Elijah show up for your niece who died of cancer or the child shot by the police? Where is Jesus at our loved ones funeral?

It’s complicated because I haven’t literally seen Jesus or a prophet raise someone from the dead, and I would personally feel out of integrity as your pastor and preacher to suggest that we can expect such things. But then, it’s also super simple: God brings dead parts of us to life all the time.

God has always been in the business of raising the dead, feeding people, making a lot out of a little, giving us just what we need for the day, providing for us moment-by-moment. From the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, to when the Lord walked on earth and raised people up and fed thousands with loaves and fishes, to the way our community meal always seems to be enough for everyone who shows up, to moments like I had in my kitchen, where parts of ourselves that we thought had gone dormant and died, have life breathed into them and we feel God’s presence with us.

I asked my Facebook feed, “What’s an example in your life of something that you felt was dead in you that was brought back to life?”

And so many powerful answers flowed in:

One friend shared:  True caring about others.

Another: My passion for writing

  • Performing in a band.
  • It took asking God to help me let go of addiction to get life back.
  • My ability to be loved and loveable. That changed when I met my husband and he proved me wrong.
  • What came back to life for me was: Feeling. For 30 years I was almost emotionless. Getting involved in community theater brought it all back.
  • My vocation!
  • Who I was after my kids grew up.
  • My faith
  • Art. There was a chapter in my life that I wasn’t creative. No time or some other excuse. Once I put colors on paper again there was a spark!
  • Laughter!
  • Faith in people caring for others
  • Belief in myself.

And then one woman wrote: I felt dead inside after my son died. It hurt too much to be alive. Over time with God’s help and love of family and friends, I learned to trust living again. Ten years later, it is one step at a time, one day at a time.

Both of our stories from scripture today tell of a widow, a woman whose husband had died, with an only son, who has died as well. A woman who not only had lost her husband, but now also has just lost her only child, her son. In the culture at this time, this was not only a deep loss relationally, it was also economically fraught.

A woman, and a widow was not the most financially stable person at these points in history, and losing her son, her only child, put her on even more shaky ground. She no longer had someone to help her pay the bills, or grow the food. Basic needs were a big worry for her. They are for most people. But now she was faced to deal with them alone, without any other immediate family members, to return to her home all-alone and without any hope for security, companionship, provision.

Do you know anything about uncertainty? About longing? About loneliness and desire? Where your next meal is coming from? How your child is going to be able to thrive? Maybe it’s wondering about our aging parents’ health, or our own body’s struggle. Are you going to find that relationship that you long for, or the new job, or sobriety?

In a world ridden by conflict and urgent need, we thirst for such miracles. The story of Elijah and the widow of Zaraephath and this gospel text dramatizes the miracle of divine compassion that unfolds when we dare to receive the prophetic into our midst.

The miracle of the oil and flour not running out, can remind us that the Lord provides every day, but rarely as far ahead as we would like to see it, or with the guarantees of what it’s going to look like. The refills happen daily, just as when the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness, the manna came every night, but if you gathered it up and tried to keep it, it would go bad. Just as we pray in the Lord’s prayer, give us this day, our daily, bread, give us today, enough bread for today.

The Lord provides as we need it, but rarely in the timing or the way we want and expect. But these stories in the Bible and in people’s lives remind us: provision always comes, in one form or another.

Elijah the prophet provided a widow with an endless flow of flour and oil, Jesus fed thousands, and there were baskets of fragments left over, widow’s sons are raised from the dead. These are stories that show us the nature of Divine Love, that remind us, in the words of a insightful 11-year-old after he heard this story read at Noontime Prayer on Friday:

“That if you need help, you can always ask the Lord for help because he will always help you, no matter who you are, what you do, the Lord will always help you.” —Malik

Even when we’ve hit total bottom, even when we think all is lost, even when we don’t even have the desire to have a desire for hope or new life. Jesus has the audacity to say, “Do not weep”

Not because weeping and grief are not incredibly important and appropriate responses to loss and pain, and recommended. But because in this moment in our gospel story, Jesus knows what’s coming next. Jesus knew, knew that bit further.

When we’re in those places of despair or wondering, uncertainty or rock-bottom, the Divine love is there, gently stirring us. Swedenborgian theology talks about the laws of Divine Providence, the ways the Divine interacts with us and the universe, and gives us the idea that the working of Divine Providence can only be seen from behind, from after the fact, when we look back and say, “Wow, that time was really really difficult, but I see now how good came out of it.” We don’t know how the new life is going to be brought forth, how the new birth will come, but we can trust that God is a God of new life and is always working towards it.

As these mothers, these widows, weep in great despair, we can weep with them. Grieving the places of loss in our lives, acknowledging the places in our lives that feel dead, the hopes we’ve given up on, the parts of ourselves we haven’t been willing to give the time of day. Even in our weeping, we just may find the Divine at work, stirring in us, reminding us of the things we care about, opening us up to the possibility of life.

And when these parts of us that have gone dormant, parts of us that have died, are breathed back into life, it’s for a reason. God raises us for a purpose. We’re brought to life FOR something—to be happy, to be useful, to be present to the expansive love of God pulsing through the universe.

My cousin wrote in response to the question of what had been brought back to life for him: My zest for life. A few years ago my heart took a dive. I had to have the full open-heart surgery. I was sure that I wouldn’t make it off the table but then…..SURPRISE, I’m still alive. I’m not going to take this life for granted anymore. That’s when I made some major changes.

When we’re brought back to life, it’s for a purpose; it’s for a reason, and we are changed by it. It’s for us to show up and meet God where God meets us and choose to live in the ways of new life.

God meets us in the unexpected places, in the places where we are feeling hopeless, afraid, uncertain, alone, and She breathes new life into the cracks and crevices of our hearts. God meets us in the places that we’ve hidden away so deeply we don’t even admit them to our closest friends, God gently stirs the dreams and hopes that we have covered over with protective layers, God takes the most impossible situations and invites us to tilt our head to the side and say, “Oh, interesting, I hadn’t seen that angle and possibility before.”

One friend wrote: After my divorce I rediscovered trust through social dance. I started taking partner dance classes as a solo. I was uptight at first, but learned to relax and be completely carefree as I was as a child. I remembered it was ok to make mistakes. I allowed myself to become completely dependent on a partner to guide me in the dance with no fear of their expectations. A teacher told me it was simply a social engagement with no strings attached. We would rotate partners as the woman would form one circle moving clockwise and the men the opposite direction. These brief moments to share a dance completely changed my outlook.

God meets us in the places where there is uncertainty and fear…

Another friend writes: I thought my marriage was dead. Pretty much felt that way. The day I realized that is how I felt is seared into my memory. When my husband was in treatment I had taken off my betrothal ring….but left my tiny wedding band on. I made that promise very sincerely back in 1982….and at that bleak moment I realized I just had to consent each day…sometimes each hour. I chose my husband freely, I could choose freely to stay or not….but the covenant stayed with me. Little by little I said yes each day….and didn’t worry about the future. Eventually the seedling love took root again. I felt it was attending 12 steps that gave me my church and life back again. God never left me/us! That was the ONLY thing I was sure of during that horrible desert time. I could stay. I could say yes. We could say yes. We are alive and thrive, imperfectly today. No turning back.

When God gives us new life, we get to choose it, to receive it, to slog through the moment-by-moment stuff to continue to act and show up in it. God love us so fiercely and so relentlessly that God is always reaching out to meet us in the midst of our deepest longings and to meet our deepest needs. Divine Love that is so powerful and so big God can grab hold of us as we walk the beach, or are on the street, or in church or at the kitchen sink while washing Swiss chard.

God reaches out and meets our needs in the places within us where we never even imagined God could feed us, and loves us with abundance, with consistency, every single day. Giving us the nourishment we need each day, each moment, meeting us in the unexpected places and bringing us back to life.

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We’ve all Got Feet–A sermon for Maundy Thursday

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Maundy Thursday 2016
Rev. Anna Woofenden
The Garden Church, San Pedro, CA

Listen to the Audio

In 2008 I came down with a debilitating illness, one that put me on disability for months, and for many weeks of that had me lying on my friends’ couch, only able to walk tentatively to the bathroom and back, the rest of the time only able to lie on the couch. I had always prided myself in being a self-sufficient person, living on my own, taking care of my home, traveling solo, unplugging clogged disposals and changing car tires, taking meals to those who needed them, and being the one who was always available to help others. I didn’t need help, I didn’t need other people, I could do it all myself.

Until… I couldn’t do any of it myself. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t cook for myself. Or do laundry. Or drive. I couldn’t work. Or be productive. Or useful. Or accomplish things. And all I could do was be there. And receive. And be taken care of. And receive the love and care from others.

I will never forget the Maundy Thursday service that year. Even in my weak state, I didn’t want to miss the service. So a friend picked me up and drove me to church. She helped me walk slowly inside, where I was able to direct the final decorating and setting up of this service that every other year I had been intimately involved in preparing for and leading, and giving to others. It was a joy to be around the table with these people I loved, and to participate in worship with them. I soaked up the candles and the taste of the lamb in my mouth, and preciousness of being together in community.

And then it came time for foot washing. We drew names out of a bowl, and one by one, people came and took the hand of another and brought them up to the front of the sanctuary and washed their feet. I sat there in the candlelight, waiting and wondering. And then, a familiar hand came towards me. It was the pastor, but not just our pastor; this was my colleague, and dear friend. The person who, along with his wife and family (who already had a house filled with small children at the time) had been taking care of me during the months of my illness.

This was the person who had been cooking food that I could eat, and making sure I ate it. This was also the person who had been without a co-worker for all these weeks and months, and had been doing both his job and mine at church. The person who, probably more than anyone else, had been affected by my illness, and by the fact that I was not able to be doing things for others, let alone take care of myself. This was the person who was reaching out to follow Jesus’ example, love one another as I have loved you, wash each other’s feet. And I was the person who was to receive it.

10152019_1773450689554298_796215167823181571_nWe gather around tables tonight, to celebrate Maundy Thursday, Maundy, the mandatum, the mandate, the command to love one another, picturing and creatively wondering what it would have been like to be with Jesus that last night before his crucifixion as they gathered in that upper room in Jerusalem to share the Passover meal together.

This Passover meal had been being celebrated over the decades and centuries, since the Children of Israel, held as slaves in Egypt had first celebrated this meal on the eve of their liberation. Remembering how on God’s command, they had marked the doorposts of their homes with the blood from a lamb, as a sign that the angel of death should pass over them. They had eaten the bitter herbs and baked the unleavened bread, all eaten in preparation, as they were ready to make their move to freedom the next day. And this feast, remembered and celebrated every year since, in the years as they wandered through the desert, through the decades, to the Passover meal Jesus celebrated with his disciples, through the centuries to this day. The Passover is celebrated, and the God of liberation, the God who calls us to free those in bondage and free each other, is always moving in the way of liberation for captives, and freedom from the things that hold each of us in bondage.

As we share in our Passover meal together, we’re invited to continue to reflect on these questions as we share this meal of invitation, of liberation, of freedom. As we eat the lamb, we’re reminded of the innocence that God places within each one of us, the innocence that believes that joy is possible, the innocence that despite all the painful and hard things we’ve experienced, can still reach out for freedom and hope. We share the bitter herbs, reminding us of the temptations, the struggles along the way. That there are struggles, and they are part of the meal as well. We share the bread, the bread of life, God’s love incarnate in the world, and we remember the Love that is present here and present in our world, available to all.

12670549_1773483089551058_6020044807004343430_nIt’s during this feast of Passover, as Jesus and his disciples celebrated it in Jerusalem that year, around that table in the upper room that what we now refer to as “the Last Supper” was celebrated. It was during that meal that Jesus took the bread and blessed it and broke it and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

And so, for the years and decades and centuries since, people have been gathering together around tables, throughout the world, in different languages and places and cultures, and doing this in remembrance of Jesus. In remembrance of these acts of love. Sometimes humans have gotten hung up on the who and the how and what of this sacred act. But the Spirit persists, and keeps calling us back to the table—God’s table—where all are welcome to feed and be fed. Expressing and experiencing the expansive love of God and the reciprocal love of other people.

And then, on that Last Supper Passover evening, Jesus takes the embodiment of love a step further, showing us how to love one another, as vulnerable as it can be. That last evening with his disciples, he took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself, poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. After he had washed their feet, put on his robe, and returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

5515_1773450799554287_3634859720897877678_nJesus gives us this command, to love one another, and then shows us an example of what that looks like. By humbling ourselves to each other, being willing to wash each other’s feet, yes, but maybe even more difficult for many of us, by being willing to have our feet washed by others.

Receiving the expansive love of God and the reciprocal love of others, means being vulnerable, admitting that we can’t do it all ourselves, to need each other, to care for each other. And that isn’t always easy, and it’s usually messy, and we may feel a little uncomfortable, vulnerable, shy. Because really seeing each other, following Christ’s example to love one another, it’s the real deal. It’s not something that can be kept clean and pristine, something we just talk about or think about. Following Jesus’ command to love one another means engaging with the messiness of life, helping others and letting them help us.

This vulnerability, this realness, is embedded in this very act of washing feet, because friends, Jesus washed His disciples’ feet because they were dirty. They hadn’t gone out to get their Maundy Thursday pedicures in preparation for this service. These men and women had been walking in the hot, dusty, Palestinian streets, wearing sandals; no doubt their feet were probably filthy, and dry, and in need of some attention. Jesus washed His disciples’ feet because they needed washing. And He told them, “as I have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet, for I have set you an example…do as I have done to you.”

12524248_1773483266217707_8263322057590132625_nFriends we all have feet. We all have feet. And we all have the parts of our lives that have been walking through the dust. That are messy, that are dirty, and that we don’t want to share with anyone. And being willing to take off our shoes, even our socks, and say to another person, “Yup, I’ve got feet just like you, I’ve got parts of my life that aren’t as pristine and put together as I would like to be.” I’ve got parts of myself that I have to say, “I can’t do it all by myself.” I have to receive. “These are the feet that Jesus washed, these are the feet that we’re commanded to love and wash for each other.

Just as the disciples let their teacher, their guide, their friend, bend down and wash their feet, as he saw them for who they are—messy, vulnerable, hurting, beautiful, and beloved people. Not loved because of how they got it right, because certainly the disciples rarely did. Not because of following the rules perfectly; Jesus was often breaking the cultural norms himself. Not because of what they had accomplished, or how they looked, or any other thing that we believe makes us worthy to be loved. No, Jesus bent down and washed his disciple’s feet just because he loved them. As they were. Dirty toe nails and all. Whole and messy, vulnerable and beautiful, loved, loved, loved. And then Jesus tells us to love each other, and do likewise.

12799411_1773464592886241_5030245574190186351_nOn that Maundy Thursday in 2008, I felt this love. As my friend and colleague came and took my hand and asked, “May I wash your feet?” and then bent down and carefully poured the warm water over my weak feet and dried them with a towel.

In a place of deep vulnerability, where I could not do it all myself or be “just be fine on my own,” I was shown love. Shown the love that is always available from God, no matter whether we feel we deserve it or not, and shown the love that the Lord invites us to show each other.

The love that we have we have an opportunity to share with each other, to be in community together, as we follow this command of Christ, love one another as I have loved you. Go now and do likewise…

Amen.

Ritual of Protest–A Palm Sunday Sermon


10294472_1770222679877099_6138238975058536742_nMarch 20th 2016, Palm Sunday
The Garden Church, San Pedro, CA
Rev. Anna Woofenden

Link to Audio

Today is Palm Sunday, the day where we engage the story of Jesus riding on a donkey, followed by his ragamuffin crew, riding into Jerusalem while a bunch of peasants welcomed them by waving palm branches and shouting praise. As Jesus enters the city, a “whole multitude of the disciples” throng around, and spread their cloaks on the road, wave palm branches and lift loud their praise, ”blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven.” And “Hosanna!” “God save us!”

Zoom out for a moment to see the context of this story…. Passover week was a big deal in Jerusalem—Jews from all over gathered to share in this feast day, this feast of liberation together. Likely there were two processions that day. From the west came Pilate draped in the gaudy glory of imperial power—horses, chariots, and gleaming armor. He moved in with the Roman army at the beginning of Passover week to make sure nothing got out of hand. Insurrection was in the air as Passover was being celebrated, and the memory of God’s deliverance of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt was in people’s minds.

Then from the east came another procession, a commoner’s procession—Jesus in an ordinary robe riding on a young donkey. The careful preparations suggest that Jesus had planned a highly ritualized symbolic prophetic act. Showing in this act the coming of a new kind of king, a king of peace who dismantles the weaponry of war, the leader who shows power through reaching out and touching those who are untouchable, and healing and calling for justice and love. Jesus comes around a bend in the road and sees the whole city spread out before him. It makes him weep and we hear him say, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem… If only today you knew the things that make for peace…” Calling for peace, peace for all people, for the earth, for all living beings.

735074_1770222439877123_7738148248014871312_nLuke’s Palm Sunday account echoes his Christmas story. When Jesus was born, the Gospel writer tells us that angels appeared to sing, “Peace on earth.” Now as Jesus rides his colt towards Jerusalem, the people look to the sky and sing, “Peace in heaven.” Peace on earth, peace in heaven, the cry echoing back and forth, echoing, reverberating to this day. Peace on earth, peace in heaven, peace on earth, peace in heaven….

Think back just a bit, to Christmas, to that story and promise of peace on earth, good will to all people. I’m remembering the darkness, physical darkness here in this space, and the darkness that I felt in the world around us, in my own journey, that deep longing for peace, for good will towards all people. Moving forward on our journey together, we have had these weeks of Lent… this season of repentance where we’ve been asking the question: What separates us from the immediate love of God and the reciprocal love with other people? As we look at what separates us, we’ve talked about the process of repentance, of changing our minds, of turning and doing and living life more open to love.

On this Palm Sunday, we have the opportunity to engage in some tangible reminders, ritual as we process into Palm Sunday, moving into Holy Week with our palm branches held high and the cries of “Hosanna! God save us!” echoing in our ears. As we call out “Hosanna! God save us!”, we claim the truth that we will not be saved by a particular political figure, or the one more thing we need, or if our spouse would just do this, or if we got a new boss, or if we lost some weight, or if we accomplish one more thing. It’s not a better insurance policy that saves us, or having the right home or car.

It’s God who saves us. God who saves us from our self-doubt, saves us from our over-inflated egos, saves us from brushing by and ignoring another human being, and from diminishing our own possibility for being loved in the world. While I certainly believe things need to change and be attended to in the world around us, ultimately, happiness, contentment, peace on earth and good will to all people, must be felt and experienced inside each one of us—God with us. And from that place, we can be vessels of peace and love in the world.

1474547_1770222449877122_5848041661451775731_nAnd so on this day of celebration, but also on this day of statement, of claim, Jesus is showing us another way of how love comes into the world, how love drives out all fear, how the way of peace overcomes the way of power, how reaching out across the boundaries and seeing the light in other people is always.

The entrance on Palm Sunday was a protest. It was a statement that the ways of the Roman Empire were not the way of peace. The procession on Palm Sunday was both protest of what was happening around them and example of the way forward, “Hosanna! God save us!” It was appealing to the Divine Love, Jesus entering into the city and going to the heart of where the people were, and even in their response shows us the way. As Jesus rode into the city, they took off their outer garments and laid them down, they took palm branches and waved them, they engaged in this ritual of protest, this proclamation of there being another way.

We gather together here at the Garden Church, we make church together, we grow our own food and welcome all to the table each week because we’re moved by the same call—engaging in a ritual of protest against the forces of consumerism and fear, isolation and division, apathy and hate. As we commit each week to cultivating our plot of earth, our place of more peace and justice, love and reconciliation, in the middle of our city, we’re engaging in a ritual of protest, a protest for the way of love and removing—repenting—of the things that keep us from actively engaging that love.

And so as we move into our own procession, our protest around the garden, we’re invited to think about this question we’ve been working with… “What separates you from the immediate love of God and the reciprocal love of other people?” What do I need to let go of, change, and engage to walk forward in the way of love?

We’re going to go on this journey together around the garden, in our own act of ritual protest, of sacred movement. We’ll stop at three stations around the space and have a time of ritual and prayer at each one of them—we’ll raise our palm branches and ribbons, lay down garments, compost old ideas, tie ribbons of new hope, and give it all over to the One who saves us.156222_1770222456543788_8081206631244357152_n

Baptized and Beloved Sermon 2.22.16

Picture0221162158_1Baptized and Beloved
Rev. Anna Woofenden
The Garden Church
Scripture: Genesis 1:1-8, Matthew 3:13-17
Audio: 

I shared with you last week some of the stories about taking the ashes of Ash Wednesday out into the streets and into our neighborhood, and some of the interactions that we had with our neighbors. How this ritual of the ashes reminds us of our connection with all of humanity, with the earth, with each other and with God our creator, as we take the ashes and say over and over again, from dust you have come and to dust you will return. Divisions were dissolved as I bent down to touch the forehead of the old man slumped on the sidewalk, or lifted the foils on the woman in the hair salon, or smoothed the curls of the little boy at the gate, and taking my thumb, dipping it in the ashes and placing it on their forehead, said, from dust you have come and to dust you will return.

As the ashes—the dust—pressed into the skin of the humanity around us, as I traced that sign of the cross, it dissolved the barriers between us, looking into the eyes of another human being and remembering our shared humanity. It a reminder of how we are all interconnected with each other, with the earth, created out of the expansive love and creativity of our shared Creator, who formed humanity out of the dust, shared even as the God of the universe, when incarnate, come and mixed with the ash and the dust of human flesh, came and walked among us as the Christ, the anointed one.

Baptized by water, reaching out and touching and healing, gathering people around the table, welcoming little children, blessing bread and wine, and inviting us to take and eat, remembering God’s love for us, remembering how we belong to God and to each other. Remembering how this child, prepared to be baptized here today, belongs to God, and we belong to her.

As the prophet Kahlil Gibran writes:

“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”

Today Leia is getting baptized, and in her baptism we remember how she belongs to God, to life greater than us, how out of the Love of God she was created and to the love of God she will return, baptized to name and claim this belovedness.

This baptism is for Leia, and for her parents, Sarah and Ed, and for their family. But this baptism is also for all of us, as a church belonging to each other.

While baptism is an invitation into something so much larger than any one community, as it connects us with the church universal, the communion of saints, all people who are loving God and serving neighbor in a myriad of ways, baptism, also connects us and binds us to the people right here with us. There is a beauty in the expansiveness of the church universal, and there is power in the particularities, of the specifics. This child, this family, this community, this church naming and claiming God’s love and promise, here, today. Naming how this child belongs to God, and how we belong to each other.

Baptism is a sign of that belonging.

Signs of belonging are tricky, because it’s so easy to see and point to how signs of belonging can quickly be used to say how people don’t belong. We need to watch that and be aware of that tendency in ourselves as human beings.

Yet, this is not a reason not to engage this sacrament, in fact, I believe it’s all the more the reason to deeply engage the particularities of a path of faith, and to choose to live and embody our faith in the world in a way that claims this belonging, as a commitment to being people who value all of humanity, living lives that enact the compassion and justice and reconciliation and hope that comes when we remember how we belong to God and to each other.

When we talk about belonging here at the Garden Church, I often compare the images of the fence or the magnet. So often the way that we belong to things is by having to cross over a fence—to believe the same thing, to look the same way, to follow certain rules, in order to be accepted.

But here at the Garden Church, and in a growing number of gathering communities, we’re working to engage a different model. A reimagined model. One of a magnet rather than a fence. And the magnet is the table—God’s table where all are welcomed, to feed and be fed. We belong here, however we choose to engage, because we’re drawn to it, and in being drawn together, we encounter each other. However we engage, as we put our hands in the dirt, as we pray, as we serve together, as we welcome the next face through our gates, we all belong because we choose to move towards love, and in love, belong to each other, and to our creator.

So this act of baptism today, this choice to engage this sign of belonging, is a choice to belong to a community centered around a magnet, not one that is a sign of making it over a fence.

It’s the choice to name and claim what is true and available for all of us, regardless of our path. That the loving God of the Universe, the Source of all things, created us and claims us as beloved, and that we, choose to live and see and claim that belovedness, that care for each other as human family, with each other.

When Jesus was baptized in the river by his cousin John, it was an unexpected choice, not going to the religious leaders, in the temples, behind the fences and strict codes to ask for ritual purification through proper channels. No, he went to the edge of the Jordan river, the local basic water source, where all the people were, and asked his cousin John, the roving prophet dressed in camel hair, who was living on a diet of wild honey, this roving prophet who’d been calling for repentance, for a change of minds, preparing the way for the anointed one, the Messiah to come. And then, there’s Jesus, going to John, right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of it all, amongst the people who were on the outskirts—curious, wondering, seeking—and asks to be baptized.

And when we was baptized, by a humble and reluctant John, the heavens opened, the Spirit descended like a dove, and a voice from heaven said, This is my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.

This is my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.

This is the message of the God of all things. This is the promise to each of us. This is the promise that we claim in baptism today.

God loves you. God loves us. God created us and created us beloved. And because of this, God is always drawing us closer, cleansing us, changing us, freeing us, creating us anew, drawing us around this table and reminding us that each and every day is a new day, and we are beloved and we belong to each other.

Amen.

Peace in the Chaos

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12.20.15
The Garden Church
Rev. Anna Woofenden
Readings: Luke 1:26-55

Link to Audio

Today is the 4th Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Peace. Advent this time of waiting, of preparing for Christmas, this time of longing for the dawn of light and peace in the world. Peace in our own lives, peace in our families, in our communities, peace in the world. The scriptures use the word peace often, and we find it in the Christmas story. When we read these stories that may be familiar to us, I find that it’s easy to let them waft past our ears gently and fill in the surrounding sights, and make the stories that surround Jesus’ birth echo and match our desires and longings for some perfect Christmas moment, the silent, the peaceful scene. And yet…have your read these stories? Maybe the coming of peace is not actually as serene as we thought.
Take Mary for example. Mary the mother of Jesus. A figure who in our lore and tales so often is depicted in this peaceful glow, seemingly apart from anything trying or chaotic. And yet, did you hear the story we read today? The story of the Angel coming to Mary, likely as she was just going about her everyday business, and telling her that she was going to conceive a son in her womb and name him Jesus and he would be the Son of the most high, to reign over the house of David forever…

When we have the soft blue lenses with the “all is quiet and peaceful” on, we often skip straight to the last sentence, when Mary says “let it be to me as you have written” and the angel departs.

Okay, let’s think for a moment about this Mary. Maybe the story has become so common to us over the years that we forget how shocking this is. First, Mary is just going about her everyday life, from all we know. We have no reason to believe that she was asking for this or expecting it. The fact that the angel said to her, “do not be afraid” implies that her reaction at first was, understandably, one of fear. But she sticks with it. She listens. And then she does something that I find striking.

She asks a question. She’s not meek and mild. She’s actually pretty kick-ass. She has the courage and audacity to ask this angel who shows up. “How’s this going to happen?” “I’m a virgin.”

Now yes, this means what you think it means. And at that time and in the culture the idea of being pregnant without being married to the father of the child was no small thing. She was taking a major risk, particularly as she was engaged to Joseph at this time. But she keeps listening. And when she hears that it is God that will do this work, and that nothing will be impossible with God. She replies with these beautifully well worn words, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be to me, according to your word.”

And Mary’s song—these words of response, of praise, of proclamation that Mary sings in our gospel reading today—these are not sanitized comfy, and set-apart-from-the-world words. These are strong and powerful words about how the incarnate God’s coming into the world breaks into the systems of oppression and the hunger and the violence, and calls for another way.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
… has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
… has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.

Maybe Mary is more like you and me than we thought. Seeking to follow God in the midst of chaotic times. Calling for a world where hungry bellies are filled and those who are abusing power are humbled, a turning of our economic disparity and a world where peace is tangible for all. Making choices that were incredibly risky to her own being, to courageously follow the call of God—to engage God with us, coming into her life and into the world.

In the orthodox tradition Mary is called the “theotokos” a Greek word that means “God-bearer” or “birth-giver of God” and “the one who gives birth to God.” This is different, in my mind than being the “Mother of God.” And it opens up interesting possibilities and curiosities about the theological traditions of immaculate conception. That to be the theotokos maybe is not about being pure and already divine, but actually about being fully human and responding with a courage and strength to carry the divine.
There’s a passage in Swedenborgian theology that strikes me as relevant in this conversation…

“Before anything is brought back into order, it is quite normal for it to be brought first into a kind of confusion, a virtual chaos.” (Secrets of Heaven 842) This passage goes on to say that is through this process that we experience as confusion, even chaos, that the Lord re-arranges things, sorts things, and puts them in order.
This leads me to believe that in order to find the peace, that sense of God’s presence with us, we have to be willing to engage the chaos, the reality of the world around us, not to hide from it or avoid it, instead—to see it, to listen, to name it and then go to the Lord and offer our willingness to respond.

As much as we want to sanitize these stories, to make them something outside of our realm—clean, pretty, peaceful—it’s difficult once you read them. And listen again. Because we find out what the Incarnation, the coming of the Christ was not about.
It was not about something separated from the reality of humanity, of the suffering and questioning, joy and human feeling and vulnerability. It’s about the Light coming into the darkness, and the Prince of Peace showing up in the chaos of the world.
It’s like the bell at the beginning of our worship time together.

That silence that we find inside even with the chaos happening around us, God’s still small voice with us. Here’s the thing about peace—real peace, internal peace, lasting peace—it’s not about getting away or avoiding what is around us. It’s about finding God in the midst of it.

Because yet again, we’re shown how Emmanuel, God with us does not behave the way we might expect or show up in the pretty tidy picture we expect. The angels did not go to the rulers in the center of town, or the rabbis in the temple to share the good news. Instead they showed up in the darkness, in the cold, on the margins, in and amongst the daily tasks that were being done, bringing “good news of great joy… Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to all people!”
And this, my friends, is the message these stories of Advent keep returning me to this year—it’s not about finding peace “out there,” or about one perfect fix for our life struggle or the world—“if I just___”. “If we just….” The story of Advent invites us, reminds us, calls us to be people of hope, people of life, people who continue to show up and look for and work for goodness and transformation.
Because yes, there is darkness, there is hunger—spiritually and naturally. We live in a world where we see division and isolation, poverty of body and spirit. We each are living real human lives and we carry with us loss and longing along with our desires and hopes. And it is in and amongst all of this that Emmanuel, God of incarnation offers us hope.
Hope not devoid from the trouble and pain, just as silence is not devoid of sounds, and peace is not devoid of chaos. No the hope, the peace, comes as the Prince of Peace comes, in and amongst all the messiness of life. In and amongst our family systems, in and amongst a world that’s experiencing hunger and poverty. Showing us again and again that God isn’t far away and inaccessible.
And that God came down, Love incarnate, right here, as a human, with humans, born by a human because divinity and humanity are inexplicably intertwined, God is right here. In that moment when we open our eyes and see the light in a new way. As one hand reaches out to another, offers that gentle squeeze of knowing. In the silence, amid the sounds of voices and questions and confusion, Christ is born. The presence of love come to earth, then and now. Emmanuel. God is with us. Amen.

Stories from The Garden Church, June 2015

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Dear Friends,

I crouch down next to Sage, a little girl about four years old, who’s just come in through the gate with her parents and baby brother.

“Do you want to plant something?” I ask. Like the dozen or so kids I’ve asked the same question to in the last hour, her face lights up and she says, “Yes please!” “I know just what we should plant—your namesake plant” and I pulled a packet of Kitchen Sage seeds out of my back pocket and proceed to show her how to make a little hole, put the seed in, cover it up with dirt “like a cozy blanket” and then proceed with the favorite job of watering. This little girl, like many of the people who June 17 12walk through our gates, had never planted a seed before, lives in an urban setting without access to dirt and gardens, and is amazed to see that those little baby green things on the plant are going to turn into tomatoes. You see the transformation in her face as she realizes that the little seed she has just planted is going to grow into something green and edible, and you see the pure joy on her face as she waters and waters in the warm sunshine.

On May 1st the Garden Church opened our gates to the empty lot we have leased and are transforming into an urban sanctuary, a pop-up garden and gathering space. In this short amount of time, we have a beautiful collection of stories started of individual and communal transformation. The vision of the Garden Church that you’ve been hearing about, and reading about, and supporting, and praying for is now embodied in people and garden beds, bread and wine, conversations and relationship, prayers—all tangible reminders of God’s love and presence.FullSizeRender

When we opened the gates on May 1st, the first thing that we did was to place our altar, a beautiful tree stump, in the middle and consecrate it and the empty lot as a sacred space—as a church. 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:11262123_10153260798508363_2427397761498950005_n

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 unhoused, 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.

Because something happens when we meet together, as two sets of hands meet to help each other plant a basil plant. Something happens when a prominent member of the community sees “that woman I see living on the streets” beautifully scripting the message on the chalkboard for the day and opens her eyes and heart to who she is as a valued human being.

Something happens when the eight-year-old boy who lives with an aunt nearby comes in and is immediately captivated by the garden, “can I come back and plant something?” he asks, and when receiving an affirmative reply comes back the next week with a handful of seeds and then dives right into the life of the community, helping to lead in our opening ritual, reading scripture, and jumping up when a new person joined the circle to show them where the name tags are. The next week I looked across the garden and saw that he had taken the three young men who’d wandered in to check out what was happening and was giving them a tour. Before I knew it, they were being invited to sit down and join us for worship. After which one of them said, “I didn’t realize we were going to do church, I hadn’t taken communion in a very long time and I’m so glad I did.” All three stayed through the meal, visiting with various members of the community, the stoneworker offering to come back and build something, another bringing a fourth friend the following Friday and helping build garden beds, and another coming back by on his way to work just the check on the plants.

June 17 4

Something happens when there’s a space to re-think Christianity, re-imagine what it means to be church without the confines of whatever baggage we may have. A woman and her spouse and young family have claimed this community as their church after being assured that “we’re not about
conversion, we’re about transformation—individual and communal.” She posted on her Facebook page after her first time at a gathering, “Looking forward to gardening and “transforming” with my new Garden Church family!” and invited all her friends to join us.

The stories go on and on. People are connecting with the earth, with their food, with each other, and with God. And this experiment of re-imagining church as we work and worship and eat together, of planting an urban sanctuary, of striving to be a place of more heaven, here on earth, is alive and real and growing.

We are meeting every Sunday afternoon to “make church together.” Everyone who walks through the gates has something to offer and contribute and something we’re hungry for, in body, mind, and spirit. And every week it is different and every week it is beautiful. We are opening our gates more and more throughout the week, as we build the capacity and community involvement. We strung lights and brought in a couple of local singer-songwriters and opened our gates for 1st Thursdays, a monthly art night downtown, complete with live music, open galleries, food trucks and people. More than 150 people came through over the course of the evening and toured the garden and took part in the community that is being built in this space—the responses from the local community continue to be marvelous. “I’ve always thought this space should be a garden” and “thank you for creating this sanctuary” and “this is so wonderful, I want to be part of it” and variations on such phrases are often heard.

And so, we will keep opening the gates, and we will keep meeting people and honoring them as precious humans and finding out what it is that they have to offer, and what it is that they are hungry for. We’ll keep working together and worshiping together and eating together. We’ll keep doing all the million and one things that it takes to keep a scrappy start-up moving forward. And we’ll keep praying and having faith and trust that the God who dreamed all this up will continue to lead and infill this work.

In service to the Holy One and Holy Humanity,

Rev. Anna Woofenden

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Giants in the Land: A sermon on race, violence, gospel, and telling the truth

Planting rosemary for remembrance and sage for wisdom.
Planting rosemary for remembrance and sage for wisdom.

The Garden Church, June 21, 2015 6.21.
Rev. Anna Woofenden
1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49
Mark 4:35-41

Audio

There are a lot of things I could preach about today. Father’s Day. Summer Solstice. We go through what’s called the Revised Common Lectionary for our scripture texts, a series that walks through the Bible, along with churches all over the world. And today we have David and Goliath, the story of the young boy who faces and defeats the enormous giant; we have Jesus calming the storm. And some of these things would be more fun to preach about than what God has on my heart to preach about today.

A wise preacher is often quoted, “preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” We might say now, “Preach with the Bible in one hand and the Facebook feed and the newsfeed and the Twitter feed in the other hand.” So if I’m going to preach with these in my hands this week, we have to talk about racism and we have to talk about violence. And that’s not fun—I quake and pray, and others have been praying about how we can best have these conversations. Because it’s hard and messy and painful. But I believe that if we can’t have these conversations in church, with the infusion of God’s love and wisdom amongst us, well then I don’t know why we have church.

So friends, I invite you to enter into a hard topic today. And to try to find, where is the gospel in it? Because I do believe that God is present, and that Jesus shows us that there always is gospel—good news. Sometimes to find that gospel we have to be willing to engage the hard and the painful, and the things that we’d rather just gloss over.

Thursday morning, I woke up to a news feed filled with articles and shock and grief. The night before, a young white man who has since been identified as Dylan Storm Roof walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church where a Bible study was taking place. He sat around the tables with the community for over an hour and then, as they were wrapping up, pulled out a gun and shot nine people.

I read and I watched and I sat down and I wrote.

A person,
            Killed another person.
                        And my heart aches.

A white person,
           Killed another black person. 
                       And my lungs contract.

A young white man person,
            Killed nine black women and men, people.
                        And my back stiffens.
                        My heart pounds.
                        My fingers tighten.
                        My feet press into the ground.

All the words scroll by, “Enough is enough”…“Lord, have mercy”…“When will this end?”…“Stop racism”…“When will we have peace?

Scrolling, scrolling, images flush, other faces, Trayvon and Michael, Eric, young girls and old men, the marches, the media, this gaping wound of racism, violence, pain, and hate.

I keep scrolling. Someone urges us not to  “jump to conclusions” and then black clergy colleague asks, “Will you be silent when it’s me?”

My hands go to my forehead. Again.

To keep feeling, to keep being present, every time there is another giant public witness to racism and white supremacy in our nation. I want to ignore, to numb.

Not to be silent because I don’t care, but because it’s so much work to stay present with the suffering. And name that there are giants in our land. There are giant gaping wounds of racism and inequality, hunger and violence. There are systems and ideologies, structures and places within me that continue to benefit from the oppression of others. And I know, that I, as a white woman, am mostly on the benefiting end. And I worry about this beautiful big-hearted little boy that I know, who I’ve known since he was an itty-bitty infant, who has beautiful beautiful black skin and I know that he is in more and more risk with each inch that he grows. And that, my friends, is so painful to sit with. It’s too much. It’s giant.

We heard today the story of a giant—Goliath—a big, huge, intimidating enemy. When we hear this story, this story of a giant that is so gigantic, so overpowering, the giant who has all the armor and weapons and a reputation to go with it, a story of impossibility. Maybe we can relate. The stories we read in the Word can mix and layer with the stories of our lives. We see ourselves in these stories as we let them come alive, and we see ourselves and the world in the text.

There are giants that we face. Racism. Violence. The insurmountable. The very large that seems so dangerous and impossible to even begin to approach.

There were giants in the land. Send someone else. There are giants in our land. I want to run away, to hide, to make it be someone else’s problem, to explain away why this is none of my business or could never affect me.

But then there’s David, this young shepherd boy, innocent, strong, wise, dedicated and trusting in the Lord’s work in the world and in his life. And he steps forward. He says, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.”

David, and so many courageous people, before and after, who step up and say, “yes, there’s a giant, but there’s also the Lord, and step out in faith and trust and with the courage to face what we all want to hide from.”

Rather than hiding, avoiding, glossing over, I need to show up. Be present to it. I need to continue to listen. I need to particularly listen to my colleagues and friends of color and know and honor that they have wisdom from their lived experience, that I do not, and that I have privilege merely by the skin that I’m born in. I need to listen.

Because when I listen, I hear voices such as Rev. Emma Akapan, a black woman who wrote yesterday, “To my white Christian brethren, I don’t need for you to tell me how angry you are. I need you to tell your white family members, friends, and congregants. I need you to talk about your anger at racism and white supremacy from the pulpit. I need you to urge your congregants to address racism in their own family. White folks know who their racist family members and friends are—now is not the time sit idly by and ignore it. We must face those who we love, and challenge their prejudice. White folks must say, “no more” to racism, especially when it’s a system that they benefit from.”

And so here we are. I could have tried to get away with preaching a nice sermon on Father’s Day today, but I hope not, I hope that this community demands from each other and from your preacher that this is a place where we take our theology of the table, that all are welcome, we take our commitment to look into the eyes of each other and see the face of God, the humanity of all people, we take our charge seriously, to be a place that’s more like heaven, in and amongst the messiness of earth. Which means, to me, that we are willing to stop and wrestle deeply with what the gospel—the “good news”—is for our country still dealing with the festering wound of racism, violence, and division.

I believe hat the gospel calls us to have the courage to have these conversations, knowing that we’re not going to get it all right. I will say some things that offend some, and other things that offend others, I will likely make myself and others uncomfortable that I am preaching about racism from the pulpit, I may even say things that later I’ll have to go back and say, “I’ve learned more since then.” But I will not be silent. Because we need to speak our truth about these giants in the land.

The good news—the gospel—is in Jesus, as we watch him as he walked on earth, calling to repentance, a changing of our minds and heart, as he reached out across barriers and lines, calling us to pray for our enemies, to forgive the impossible, to knock over the tables of injustice, to stand with and walk with the oppressed and speak truth about oppressors.

Remember, Jesus came from a time when there were giants in the land, the Roman empire was crushing those who were not them, slavery and racism and classism were rampant. And Jesus called for a different way. Jesus didn’t put on the armor of Saul. He didn’t go to the palace and try to play with the power struggle of violence and aggression. He didn’t take up the sword and shield.

Like David before him, who when Saul offered him his bronze helmet and coat of mail and David tried to walk in them, and then said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them. David took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.

David didn’t use Saul’s armor. He went forward with what was more vulnerable, but true to him. He went out as his own vulnerable self. With the tools and skills he knew well.

Jesus, the all powerful God of Heaven and earth, didn’t come into the world protected by chain mail and with a sword. He came to earth as a vulnerable baby, grew and walked with the people. An itinerant preacher, sleeping here and there, going across the lake in boats, being with the people. Valuing, touching, feeding everyone he met. He didn’t hide behind the religious rule or the protection of Roman guards. He put on his own clothing,—vulnerable skin—and from that place engaged the giants.

Jesus wasn’t afraid of the hard conversations, of stirring things up, Or if he was afraid, he did it anyway, even when it resulted in his own death at the hands of Roman rulers.

And here’s where we reach out for and claim the gospel, where we repent and invite God to keep working to change our minds, to take off the ill-fitting armor of the stories we tell ourselves and put down our weapons of defense that come from fear and hate. Calling us to lament and repent. And then to tell the truth.

In the language of metaphor, stones remind us of truth, and if you think about stones as truth, these stones are smooth, and rounded from the water flowing over them, they’re well used, known, lived truths.

And its just one of these stones—one truth—that slays the giant in this story. Now I’m not suggesting that if we just land on just the right truth that we’ll end these major problems in our world. And I’m not suggesting that we use truth as a weapon. And though I’d really like to be able to wrap up our story as nicely as is the story of David and Goliath, I cannot. Because being human and living in the world today is just so much messier than than this story.

We can’t fix it all overnight. We can’t do one thing and make it all better. We can ignore it for so long, but then it will come back in our faces and in our hearts. Maybe we can start by telling the truth. By speaking the truth, we let the light in. We let God in. Tell the truth about the history of slavery that this country is built on. Tell the truth about the vastly un-equal incarceration rate of black men vs. white men who committed the same crime. Tell the truth about racially charged violence. Tell the truth about how economic and social systems benefit white people. Tell the truth about ourselves and how we are part of these systems. Be willing to engage and stand in hard conversations about race, and be honest and vulnerable and to cry out to God in and amongst it.

I wish I had some more uplifting gospel to give you. But maybe the gospel is just this: Embodying our liturgy and our faith. Speaking our prayers of confession and repentance. Being church side-by-side with people that are different than us. Coming around the table where all are welcome. And meaning it. Even when it’s messy. Even when we disagree. Even when we have to be honest and have hard conversations. That we come around God’s table and be the human family together.

Crying out—telling the truth in the midst of it all. Being willing to put on our own clothing, our vulnerability, voice our confusion and doubts, engage in the hard conversations and cry out to God and to each other.

The disciples out on the boat are in the great storm and afraid. And Jesus was asleep in the stern. The disciples are freaking out and say, “Jesus, Jesus, don’t you care that we are perishing?” And he woke up, and said, “Peace, be still” and the waves stopped. He then said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Let us keep crying out, “Jesus, don’t you care that we are perishing?” Crying out in lament for sisters and brothers, crying out as we repent, crying out for healing and reconciliation. And Jesus, just for that moment, calms the storm. Peace. Be still.

Amen.

We come to You and to each other and we lament…

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Excerpts from the prayer service at the Garden Church today for those who were killed Wednesday evening in the  Emanuel AME Church, in Charleston, South Carolina

O Holy One,
We gather to mourn and lament, to cry out, to shake in the wake of another act of violence, another slew of images of death and brutality, another story of black people and white people, hatred and violence, racism and the cries for a just world.

We gather to lament Lord,
Though part of us wants to move on, run away, brush it off,

We stop and lament.

We come to you and to each other and we lament the nine lives that were violently ended Wednesday evening as they gathered to worship and pray.

We come to you and to each other and we lament acts and systems that further racism and violence, valuing the lives of some more than others.

We come to you and to each other and we lament places where violence and division tear apart families, communities, relationships and places inside each one of us.

We come to you and to each other and we lament the ways we have turned from you and from each other and we confess our need for healing and compassion, renewal and peace.

We come together to remember.IMG_0842

And to plant in remembrance of those who died and for those who keep living.

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As each plant is being planted, we sing together. O Lord hear our prayer, o Lord hear our prayer, as I call come to me, o Lord hear our prayer, o Lord hear our prayer, come and listen to me.

We remember and mourn for:

  • Cynthia Hurd, 54, a manager with the Charleston County Public Library system.IMG_0849• Ethel Lance, 70, a retiree who recently worked as a church janitor.IMG_0845 • Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41, a South Carolina state senator and pastor at the church.IMG_0851 • Susie Jackson, 87, a longtime member of the church.IMG_0853 • Depayne Middleton Doctor, 49, former Charleston County community development director.IMG_0854 • Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, age unknown, a church pastor, speech therapist and a high school girls’ track coach.IMG_0855 • Myra Thompson, 59, a pastor at the church.IMG_0847• Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sr., 74, another pastor at the church.
    IMG_0857• Tywanza Sanders, 26, a 2014 graduate of Allen University.

IMG_0848And we plant sage for wisdom. For honesty. For the willingness to repent of the ways that we participate in violence and division.

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We come before you and we offer our prayer of confession and receive your assurance.

Before God, with the people of God,
We confess to our brokenness;
To the ways we wound our lives,
The lives of others,
And the life of the world.

God who forgives us and urges us to forgive others,
We claim Your unending love,
Your continuing call to renewal and change,
And your constant presence with us on the journey.

You are loved.
You are forgiven.
You are never separated from the expansive love of God.

11651184_10155741290850711_494062978_n
O Lord hear our prayer, O Lord hear our prayer, when I call, answer me, O Lord hear our prayer, O Lord hear our prayer, come and listen to me.

And now, may the One God of Heaven and earth, God of Compassion, God of Justice, God who created and loves all, the God who calls us to move forward in making a more just and compassionate world be with us all. Amen.

11651184_10155741290850711_494062978_n-1–Rev. Anna Woofenden, the Garden Church in San Pedro, CA 6/19/15

Rev. Anna in the Philly area, preaching and sharing stories about The Garden Church

20 2The Garden Church exists due to a large network of people across the country who have been praying for and supporting the vision to re-imagine church. Rev. Anna is heading east to speak, preach, and share stories and conversations about the work of the Garden Church.

Friday, January 16th at noon: Rev. Anna will be speaking at Bryn Athyn College, her alma mater, and sharing a bit about her faith journey and how it has led to the founding of The Garden Church.

Saturday, January 17th at 5:00 p.m. and Sunday, January 18th at 10:30 a.m.: We’re delighted that Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Huntingdon Valley PA (outside of Philadelphia) will be hosting two worship services around the theme “Feed and Be Fed” and Rev. Anna will be preaching and sharing stories and liturgy with the community.

All are welcome to join for worship and a shared meal and service project, as well as a Q&A time for anyone interested in hearing more specifics about the Garden Church and ways to be involved and support this work.

Find more info and let us know you’re coming on the Facebook events:
Friday: https://www.facebook.com/events/522078084598046/?ref_dashboard_filter=upcoming&source=1
Saturday: https://www.facebook.com/events/819299261466217/

We look forward to seeing you there!

From our hosts at Gloria Dei:

Garden Church” is a growing concept (pun intended!) in churches nationwide and Gloria Dei is blessed to get to hear about it firsthand!  On the weekend of January 17 and 18, we will welcome The Rev. Anna Woofenden, Pastor of the Garden Church in San Pedro, CA.  We heard about her good works through our field education student.  Garden Church uses a 3-part idea of church—work together, worship together, eat together.  It sounds like our Dinner Church or the familiar church potlucks after services, doesn’t it?  On this particular weekend we’ll worship together—5:00pm on Saturday evening or 10:30am on Sunday morning.  We’ll eat together—a potluck meal after each service.  And we’ll work together—after our potluck, we will package up the rest of the food for our Aid For Friends project and the Barbers will deliver these abundant meals to those in need.  Win-Win-Win!  The theme of the day is “Feed and Be Fed”—your pastors and staff hope that you will want to join in and do just that!

There is a specific menu for the potluck this time, as the food will be shared with Aid For Friends.  Please choose a recipe and bring it to share!  Recipes are available on the Gloria Dei website (www.gloriadei.com).