Anointed to Love

img_6115

November 13th, 2013
Rev. Anna Woofenden
The Garden Church, San Pedro, CA

Scripture: Isaiah 35:3-8, Luke 17:20-21

“The hallmark of love is not loving ourselves, but loving others and being united to them through love.” Divine Love and Wisdom 47 Emanuel Swedenborg

As a church, we don’t stand with a particular political view; as people of faith, there is not one right partisan expression. What we stand behind, no matter what, is love. And being people who are anointed to love.

Love goes beyond who we voted for, or how that is expressed. Love looks out into the world to see who is suffering, who is experiencing fear and loss, who is consumed by hate. Love looks inward at parts of ourselves—at what is underneath our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Love isn’t always comfy or pretty. Often love calls us to go beyond our comfort zones.

Glennon Doyle Melton writes “Love is not warm and fuzzy or sweet and sticky. Real love is tough as nails. It is having your heart ripped out, putting it back together, and the next day offering it back to the same world that just tore it up.”

Love is fierce. Love is persistent. Love puts our bodies in between, beside, and behind bodies that are threatened. Love combats the hate and words of condemnation that come into our own heads, and stops us when we want to lash out at other people.

I think love also gently wraps a blanket around us. It encourages us to care gently, for ourselves and for each other. Love reaches out and checks in, “How are you doing?” “How can I support you today?” “How can I stand with you today?” Love calls out to that Divine love, and welcomes it into this place.

This message is nothing new friends; it’s what you hear from me most every week—love God and love each other, honor the dignity of all human beings, we belong to God, we belong to each other, we are loved and we are called to love. This is not new information, nor a new call. But today we have the opportunity to be reminded of its imperative. We have a reminder that love is not easy, but it must be our consistent commitment, for the long haul. The work of courageous love has been the work, is the work, and will continue to be the work. All the resolve we feel now—we must keep that, and continue to stay awake.

We must be awake to where there is hell and negativity that is working to divide us and twist things. We must be awake when it urges us to flare up in anger or take us to the pit of despair, and when it tells us there’s no point and to just stop.

We must stay awake to heaven and its powerful force for compassion and justice and healing in the world. Because heaven is with us and among us—urging and infilling us, anointing us to love.

And this is why we need to keep gathering together, praying and listening and acting. We need to educate ourselves in how to love more effectively and  to encourage each other. We need to hold each other accountable.  We need to widen our circles and expand our friendships. We need to look more deeply at things we might have assumed we know, and question narratives that have been presented as the singular truth. We need to consistently do our internal work of rejecting hell and welcoming heaven and to show up and stand with courage and compassion in the face of injustice and hate. We need to be kind to each other and gentle to each other. We need to call together on God, for the strength and comfort and resolve. We need to come around God’s table where all are welcome, and remember together that we are beloved and we are anointed to love.

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear.”
For God is here.

“How the Encounters Will Change Us” New Church Live, PA – Video 5/22/2016

Watch and listen to Rev. Anna Woofenden’s talk at New Church Live in Bryn Athyn, PA.

 

To support the ongoing ministry at the Garden Church…give your offerings here: http://gardenchurchsp.org/donate

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

photo-1-2-300x225

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.

photo 4-5

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.

IMG_3453

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. 

Gathering Around the Table | A Sermon for The Garden Church

November 23rd, 2013
Rev. Anna Woofenden
Psalm 100 & Matthew 25:31-45
Audio: 

14c
“For whatever you do for the least of these, whatever you do to one who is a member of my family, you do to me.”

Last month when we gathered down by the docks in a grassy spot after walking the streets of our community together, we talked about this thing called the Revised Common Lectionary. The Revised Common Lectionary is a series of readings that walk preachers and congregations through the Bible in a three-year cycle. And I shared how I, as your preacher, have chosen to use this calendar of scripture for our worship services. Now, there are a variety of reasons for this choice, one of the main ones being that it makes it so I don’t just pick the readings that I like—or that especially speak to me—and use them over and over and over again. I want to, and to have us all, be challenged by reading the breadth and variety of Biblical texts, and to have a shared accountability that we don’t just keep going back to the same scriptures, and preaching the same sermon over and over again.

With all this in mind, you can laugh with me when I tell you about our gospel text for this week, Matthew 25:31-45, the parable of the sheep and the goats. This scripture more than any other, is the one that I have preached on, wrestled with, been inspired by, and worked with in the forming and developing of this church. I’ve read it backwards and forwards, written papers on it, had it preached to me at pivotal moments, chosen it as the text for my ordination sermon, and, and—I’m not making this up—I have it engraved on the back of my iPad. “For I was hungry…” Matthew 25.

And seriously, it is integral to why we’re here today, starting a church that integrates the natural and spiritual, individual and communal needs, and a church that is committed to working together for changed spirits and hearts, in conjunction with changed physical lives. It has led me to believe that the spiritual and the natural work are inter-connected, and that Jesus is pointing to this reality when he equates one’s eternal place with what one does for “the least of these who are members of God’s family.”

So, out of all the Sundays of this three-year cycle of scripture, out of all the passages of the Bible that we could explore. it’s today, at our third Gathering, that the Revised Common Lectionary lands on this passage. And I laugh and I wonder at the movement of God and the confirmation that there is such a thing as Divine Providence leading and guiding all things. You with me?

This story has been following me around for years. But it first came into my life in a meaningful way when I was in an undergrad psychology course in 1998. Dr. Sonia Werner, a brilliant psychologist and Swedenborgian scholar, made a chart that changed my view of the world and of what church and ministry and following God might mean.

Along one side of the chart she put:
For I was hungry and you fed me
I was thirsty and you gave me drink
I was a stranger and you welcomed me in
I was naked and you clothed me
I was sick and you cared for me, and
I was in prison and you visited me.

Along the other side of the chart she had outlined what Emanuel Swedenborg, the Christian mystic and theologian whose teaching our tradition turns to, and outlined what he calls, “the levels of the neighbor.”

So along the top of the chart she wrote:
Spiritual useful services—love toward God and love for the neighbor
Moral and civic services—love for the society in which a person resides
Natural useful services—love of the world and its necessities
Corporal useful services—self-preservation for the sake of higher uses

Dr. Werner’s offering, carried in the Swedenborgian teaching that there is an internal meaning, or layers upon layers of teaching that we can find in the Biblical text. It awoke something in me as it moved from being an edict on what boxes I had to check off to “inherit eternal life,” to a story that Jesus is telling us about how engaging others is how we engage the spiritual life, in an interconnected and multi-layered way.

The intersection of these two series—the natural, mental, emotional, spiritual and the call of Jesus to give food, offer drink, clothe, visit, care, and welcome—are at the core of vision of the Garden Church.

To re-imagine church as an entity that cares about people—mind, body, and spirit—and to be a body that engages individual transformation within the context of communal, societal, and global relationships. Because I really do believe that it is in these actions, of feeding those who are hungry, and clothing those who are naked, and caring for the sick, and so on, that we also find spiritual transformation.

And so when people ask us, “is a church or is it a garden?”, the answer is always, “Yes” because we’re about the transformation of mind, body, and spirit. We’re about the transformation of earth, food, health, and community. They are all intertwined.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Just the way that when Jesus was asked how to inherit eternal life, he didn’t talk about just what you believe, or a certain formula of morality codes, he talked about actions and the way we treat one another as the way we interact with God.

Each of us have sheep and goats in us—ways that we act and engage the world around us from a place of love, wisdom, compassion, and action; and parts of ourselves that look inwards in ways that further our own selfishness and gain. We’re invited to hear this passage not dictating a specific set of delineated instructions that will let us know whether we pass or not. Instead, this story calls out as a herald of the interconnected whole. That the spiritual life is housed in the physical life. That tangible actions of goodness to those around us, are the way that we experience eternal life and where we see the way of Jesus, the face of God, in the world around us.

And so this call to action is not about, “Go, quick go! Sign up for one more ‘helpful’ volunteer opportunity to make sure you get enough points to get into heaven!” I believe it’s calling for something much more profound and beautiful than that. This story calls us to transform the way we see God and see our neighbor. It is telling us that how we interact with the people around us is also our interaction with God. It is telling us that when we look and truly see and connect with the humanity in front of us, we are seeing and connecting with the Divine.

This passage not only calls us to action, to the acts of feeding people, clothing people, engaging those who are imprisoned, and caring for those who are sick. It calls us to something even more profound and transformative. After the first half of this tale, when Jesus lays out these six areas of care, he says that the righteous will ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you drink, a stranger and welcome you in, naked and give you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or imprisoned and visited you and cared for you?” And Jesus says, “whenever you did it to one of the least of these, who are members of my family, you did it for me.” When we’re doing our own internal work towards compassion and goodness, it changes our external work. When we come together to work and serve with others on the physical level, our hearts and spirits are changed, transformed, saved from the draw to the insular, selfish, materialistic lives that we can all get caught up in.

In a few minutes we’re going to gather around the table and share in the sacred meal, in Communion. We come around the table every time we meet, because at the table we are reminded—in these physical, natural elements of bread and wine—of the profound spiritual realities. We will bless and share the bread and say, “the bread of life” and the cup and say, “the cup of salvation.”14a

Because in these acts, we remember, we experience the abundance of life and love, and that there is enough for all to feed and be fed. And we remember God’s new covenant that is made with this cup. That transformation, or salvation, for each of us, and all of us, as God is constantly drawing us together, making all things new.

And we come around the table because we look across the table, and we see each other, and the love and wisdom in each other, as we answer God’s call to see precious humanity in each face we meet. We engage these natural elements, bread and wine, flesh and dirt, water and lettuce seeds, because they are the container for the spiritual—as we are the containers for the spiritual. Each of us, the least of these, are interacting with Love Incarnate when we engage flesh and blood.

20 2And we come around the table, to share in this sacred meal, in a spirit of Thanksgiving. This ancient Christian practice of sharing the bread and wine as the Lord did with his last meal while he was on earth has been named throughout traditions as “the Eucharist”—the Great Thanksgiving. And so as we are in a season of collective Thanksgiving, of gratitude and awareness of the abundance, we come together and share this Sacred Meal in remembrance of the love that Jesus calls us to, and in Thanksgiving for that which feeds us to be present in the world.

Because bodies matter. Minds matter. Spirits matter. Relationships matter. Being in communion with one another, with the Divine Love, with our human family, matters. We come around the table every time we meet because we are reminded of the abundance of the love of God and the call to compassionate living between us.

As we follow Jesus call to feed, and nurture, welcome, and accompany each other and our human family in this interconnected web of life. Whatever you did for the least or these, who are members of my family, you do for me. Amen.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Support the Garden Church continuing to grow: http://www.razoo.com/story/The-Garden-Church-Fund

Picking up the Manna

Sermon by Rev. Anna Woofenden
The Garden Church
San Pedro, CA
September 28th, 2014

Exodus 16:1-15, John 6:22-35

“This is the bread which God has given you to eat” signifies that this is the good which must be taken and integrated into our lives. In the ultimate sense, this is the Lord in you. Because “bread” signifies heavenly and spiritual good, in the supreme sense, it is the Divine itself. In this passage, “the manna” signifies good, which is God itself. That this is good when it is taken into oneself and made part of our life, is shown by the action of “eating”; for the good which is from God makes the life of heaven with people and nourishes and sustains it.” Excerpts from Heavenly Secrets 8465, Emanuel Swedenborg)

IMG_1314
Over the course of the last seventeen years, and particularly the last four, I have moved a lot. I have done a lot of packing and unpacking. Setting up homes, meeting people, wondering “Will I find friends?” “Where should I hang that picture?” “Will I find a place to belong?” And it’s those things that I notice, that tell me, “You are home.” I look for the signs that it is becoming home, that I belong.

Like instinctively reaching to open the silverware drawer and opening the one that actually has the silverware in it, or driving to the grocery story without using the GPS. That moment when I have a spontaneous outing with a new friend and realize that I DO have community and placing the picture of three little children who mean the world to me, where it belongs on my bedside table.

We began our worship together by naming how we are a community on the move, we are a community that is becoming, forming, exploring who it is that God is calling us to be, together in this community. And we began by unpacking our Garden Church tabernacle. That funny word, “tabernacle.” I like the way it roles off my tongue, tabernacle. In Hebrew the word is: mishkan, “residence” or “dwelling place” of God.

The image, the story of the tabernacle goes back to the ancient stories of the Hebrew Scriptures, the part of the Bible that’s often referred to as the “Old Testament.” The tabernacle comes into the story of the Children of Israel when they were wandering in the desert, having just escaped from slavery in Egypt and heading towards the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey. Now this journey went on for forty years, and they were not always so keen about it, as we heard in our scripture today.

They would complain about their circumstance, whine about God and Moses and even wish that they were back in slavery, rather than out in the desert. But every time they stopped on their journey, they would set up the tabernacle.

They would stop. And take the time to painstakingly place each pole in its proper place, each carefully measured support, the specific layers of cloth, and then the sacred objects. In the outer part of the tent they would place an oil lamp, a table for bread, the altar of incense, and then in the inner tent, the holy of holies, you’d find the Ark of the Covenant, with the two stone tablets that held the Ten Commandments, God’s words to them. And a golden urn holding the manna. These sacred objects, reminding them who they are as a community, who God is, and the way God leads and provides and is present with them.

I imagine it something like me putting that photo on my bedside table, or us setting up our table with the bread and the Word, the candle and the cup.

IMG_5960

Here’s home for this moment. Here’s God with us. Here’s where we belong.

This story of the Children of Israel is packed with rich images and reminders of how the Divine interacts with humanity. The story of the manna that we read today is one that I never tire of telling. Probably because it’s just so totally human and seems like something I would do.

So they’re hungry. And God say’s there will be bread from heaven. They wake up in the morning and they saw, “when the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground.”

And they did not say, “Oh, look, God provided for us.” Or, “I always knew and believed the Lord was looking out for us and would give us all we needed.” No, instead they said, “Manna?” Or “What is it?” They called it “Manna” because this literally means, “What is it?” and they DIDN’T EAT IT AND CONTINUED TO GO HUNGRY!

Then Moses comes and points out to them, “hey people, duh, THIS is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat” (okay, that’s my paraphrase) and it’s then that they begin to stop, to notice, to realize, and bend down, scoop it up, and take it to their tents to prepare and eat.

Friends, this is as true for us today, as it was for our ancestors centuries ago. What we need is all around us; God is everywhere and moving in all things. It’s not that there is not enough for us, or for the world that leads to scarcity in our lives, or loneliness, or hunger on any level. It’s that we, individually and collectively, so often get stuck in the greed, the selfishness, the apathy, the isolation, and the slavery. Like the children of Israel enslaved in Egypt, we become enslaved by our fears, by our prejudices, by the collective systems that favor some and oppress others. We become enslaved by thinking that we are all alone, that no one is struggling like we are, that we don’t belong. We can look around at the world around us and see suffering and pain and wonder, “What’s the point? Where’s God? Is there hope?”

IMG_5893And this is why we’re gathering together to be a community that works together, that worships together, that eats together, because we believe that there is hope, there is goodness and healing, reconciliation, hope, joy, fun, laughter, connection and food enough for everyone. This is why we’re re-imagining church, because we believe that God, Love, is in all things, animating all things, moving through all things, and we are charged with seeing it and claiming and engaging love put into action in the world.

We get to be reminded how God says, stop, look, ask “what is it?” and then bend down and pick up that heavenly goodness, that which sustains, God’s love available and amongst us and manifesting in so many ways.

Going out into our communities and asking, “what is it?” “Where is the goodness and hope? Where are the needs and struggles? Who are my neighbors that I am called to love? How are we called to be church, to bring more heaven to earth, in this place?

Last week some of us went out and spent the morning walking the streets of San Pedro, with the Garden Church and the community on our hearts and minds. We went out on a mission to look, to wonder, to ask, “What is it?” Where is the Spirit moving in this community? Where is there land? Who are the people? What are the needs? Where can you get fresh vegetables? We were looking, watching, listening, asking, “What is it?” Where is God moving? Where do we fit into this web?

10612938_1548932688672767_7053978693020902921_nWe came back from our community mapping adventure and sat around my dining room table and heard each other’s stories.

“I saw two grandpa men sitting in chairs by the sidewalk and chatting and saying hello to everyone that passed…”

Another said: “I encountered friendly people, and people were excited about the idea of a Garden. I stopped at a retirement home and the people had ideas for the residents to join us in the dirt.”

Another noticed that the street they were walking on has a great deal of socio economic shift as you go up the hill.

One of you talked about your neighbors who live in the park next to you and how you want to invite them in, but don’t, and your eyes got teary as you talked about being able to soon invite them to share in our community meal of the Garden Church.

Another reported that they found no place to buy groceries, and another wondered why so many vacant lots are filled with parked cars, and who’s cars are they? We saw women walking to yoga, and little children pausing to play on the sidewalk. Old and young, all colors and shapes and sizes of people, humanity in our community.

I met a man who was sitting on the steps of the post office, who I see often when I’m checking the mail. And this time I stopped and went over and introduced myself. When I asked him his name, he mumbled something I couldn’t understand, and when I asked again he said, “how about you call me Michael Jackson, Michael Jackson the rapper” and his face burst into a huge grin as he said it. “Okay, Michael Jackson the rapper it is, I said.” We both were laughing as I said goodbye and walked on. Manna, manna from heaven.

These simple human connections when we stop, we look, and we engage another part of God’s humanity, when we bend down, pick it up, look around, where is God working in the world, how can we be part of it.

And that’s why we Gather here, as the Garden Church, that’s why we believe that God is always making things new and we are honored and privileged to be re-imagining church for this time and place, because the provision is there, the dew is stretched over the ground, it’s up to us to look around and ask, “what is it” and to bend down and pick it up and have this bread from heaven.

And that’s why we will celebrate the Sacred Meal, Communion, Eucharist, Holy Supper, however you name it. Because as we follow in the traditions of the Passover meal that our ancient ancestors ate, and the manna they bent down and picked it up and ate. And we follow in the tradition of Jesus, the Christ. Jesus, incarnate love, who said when he was on earth, “I AM the bread of life” and then fed, and healed, ate with and was in community with the people that others deemed “outsiders” and who Jesus saw and claimed as friends. And then, who on his last night before he was betrayed, took bread and broke it and shared it around a table and took bread, blessed it and broke it, saying “this is my body”, “I am the bread of life,” “do this in remembrance of me.”

And because it’s God’s table, not ours, we find a place around the table where we belong not because of what we do, or have accomplished, not because of our race or gender, our family history, or whether we feel we measure up. Belonging at God’s table is embedded in the very core of our spiritual DNA. Each of us, created in the image of God, embodiments God’s love and wisdom. Belonging comes not just with receiving, but knowing that you can give. We come around this Sacred Table, this Sacred Meal, to remember that we’re all part of this bigger interconnected whole.

We share in the bread, the cup, the food, the drink, because God is always present to us, available to us, and yes we can find this on our own, in the world, but something happens when we come together as a community, as the human family, as the church, and see each other, see the Spark of the Divine in each other and feed and are fed together.

And that’s why we are here, that is why we are reimagining church, because we’re hungry. We’re hungry for being part of something meaningful. We’re hungry to put our energy towards things that matter. We see the disconnection in the world, from ourselves, from nature, from each other, from God and we want to take a step towards connection.

We gather around the table, remembering who we are in God and in community. And then we go out, and we walk in our community. And we stop. And we notice. And we ask, “What is it?” and see how the Abundant God of heaven in earth is feeding us, and inviting us to feed others.

Amen.
IMG_5965

Ordination Sermon


Anna Woofenden
July 4, 2014
St. Louis, MO

Scripture Text: Matthew 25:31-40

“God created us in such a way that our inner self is in the spiritual world and our outer self is in the physical world. This is so that the spiritual part of us, which belongs to heaven, can be planted in the physical part the way a seed is planted in the ground.”
–Emanuel Swedenborg

When the ocean and I meet, we have a ritual. I walk to that salty shore and I bend down, right at the edge of the waves. I take a deep breath, and breathe a prayer to God as I look out on the vast ocean. And then I take the water, and with my fingers I make the sign of the cross on my forehead and on my chest, tracing the mark that was placed there so many years ago in my baptism. Something happens when flesh meets water. When my fingers meet that salt. In this act the internal, that which belongs to heaven, meets the physical reality of the natural world, of my body. In this physical act I experience and can name the presence of God with me, the revelation, the incarnation of God in the world.

Swedenborgian theology illuminates this idea that the natural world is infused with spiritual reality. That we, at our core, are spiritual beings, created for heaven, and as we’re living in this natural world we have the opportunity to increase our awareness and receptivity of God’s influx, infusion, and infilling in all things. In this framework we find an invitation not to reject or to conquer the physical, but instead to be conscious, aware, and appreciative of the world around us, as it is the conduit for the spiritual, the celestial, the heavenly. That the physical world around us and our very bodies are the skin that God’s love and wisdom can come together in to act in useful service.

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, naked and you clothed me, I was a stranger and you welcomed me in, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. For whatever you do for the least of these, who are members of my family, you do this for me.

These words of Jesus invite us into the incarnational reality that the Lord embodied while walking on earth, when the One God of heaven and earth chose to come on earth not as a mere concept, as a set of rules to follow, or merely as an ethereal presence, but to come on earth as a human being. Feet, and dust, hands, and healing. Demonstrating what the kingdom of heaven looks like, mustard seeds and loaves of bread, bending down and washing feet, feeding and being fed. We may not know the ins and outs of the arguments of who God is and who we are. But we can know this: That God is in all things and created us to for a life of love and service. That in a hand reaching out to another God with us. That when we bend down and wash the feet of one whom we hesitate to even touch, Divinity is being incarnate. That when we take the bread and the wine, the water, God is incarnate with us. Cooking supper, writing poetry, wiping noses, digging in the dirt, love in action. As my late grandfather, Rev. Dr. Bill Woofenden, put it, “Love, by its very nature must be doing something.”

In doing these acts, love is revealed. Love is revealed, as the truth of all people being created and seen as beloved children of God is named. When you do this to the least of these, you do it for me.

My calling to ministry has been revealed to me through my body, through the spiritual reality of who God created me to be pressing and yearning to be manifest in the world around me.

For many years I had the honor to serve at a church congregation that I love, a church that was born into an organization that will not ordain me because of my gender, my body. I have much gratitude for this church and this organization and I hold them in great love and respect. And it was in that messy mixed bag of delight in service and the limits and prescribed roles of how I could serve, that my calling to ordained ministry became clear.

In our congregation we had an annual family camp. And every year on Saturday evening we would have a Holy Supper, Communion, service. Now, every year, I would prepare for this. Being the lead on the camp, I would have gathered together the staff, prepared the program, set the theme and so on. And then when the evening arrived I always took great joy in setting that sacred table. Spreading the white linens, creating the shape and space of the service, sprinkling candles and flowers, silk and stones, and setting out the bread and wine. Preparing a table for our community to gather around.

I loved this worship, and looked forward to the profound moments I witnessed in the lives of our congregation during this yearly ritual. But after a few years, another tradition developed. I would cry. Before, after, sometimes during the service. And I’m not talking a few tears, a tissue, and a “oh, isn’t it beautiful when the Spirit moves us” kind of crying.

No. These tears exploded out of me, taking over my body and catching even me, especially me, off guard.

The inevitable trigger: When it came time to start the service and I could not stand beside my colleague, the minister of our congregation, to serve Communion to our community. There was something about the elements of the sacrament–the bread, the wine, handed, received–that transcended the rational arguments of why I could not be an ordained minister and exposed to me the truth of my calling. 

I needed to be presiding over this meal, alongside my colleague serving our community together as we did throughout the year. My being ached to be breaking the bread and pouring the wine, telling the story of the Lord’s feast with us, offering spiritual food and drink and blessing these people I held so dear.

Afterwards I would find myself curled up with close friends, crying and going back over the evening. Picking apart the trigger phrases and being sure I was over-reacting to un-intentional words and actions of exclusion and ignorance. We were all ignorant. I was ignorant of how the fibers of my being were shouting out my call, my call to serve at the table. My friends were ignorant, comforting the pain in the specific situation, but not knowing, not seeing and naming the question of what God was stirring inside me.

The next year my body didn’t wait and contain itself until after the service. I found myself pounding up the hill to the bathrooms after setting up the space. I scared myself as I slammed stall doors, stomped my heavy boot-clad feet. This emotion that was pressing out of my body was not something I was used to, or comfortable with. I assumed since it was so strong, intense, it must be something bad

I can see and ask the question now–Was it God? Was it God letting every fiber of my being know that there is something powerful, deep and sacred about sharing the bread and cup, and that not only was I called to do it, but that I’m called to stand for an opening of the sacred table, that for the Lord’s table to be open to all, not only must it be available to all to receive, it also must be open for all who are called to be trained, gifted, and ordained to serve, to serve.

Whether I like it or not, I know what it’s like in the very fiber of my being, to be told–be it in words or systems, cultural norms, or well intentioned theories–that I am not hearing the Lord properly, that I am inadequate and unlovable, that I am fundamentally flawed. I know what it feels like to question whether I am wholly created in the image of God, whether I am loved and okay. I know this wholly human experience of questioning who we are in relation to God and the world.

It is out of these times of struggle and doubt, pain and darkness that we can find the clarity, truth, love and light of the Lord and claim who we are in God. It is the sacred charge that I stand here today, to claim for myself, and to claim for others whose call may be different, but who are also called to do and be incarnations of God’s love in the world. All of us are whole. All of us are loved and all of us are created in the sacred image of God. And God created us to embody love and wisdom, and made us to be changed and transformed. 

And I stand here before you because you have seen me, and claimed me, and given me a home to serve from. I stand here today with a grateful, passionate, and peaceful heart as I step forward to serve from a this denomination and tradition that is embodying love in action, seeing the Lord at work in the beauty of creation, the variety of humanity, and is committed to the work of being receptors of heaven here on earth.

This is what propels me forward in my future ministry to re-imagine church, to facilitate and serve a church that is attuned to the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs of our community. I am stepping forward as an ordained minister to plant a church, the Garden Church in San Pedro, California–church that is founded on the principles of interconnection, embodied theology, and seeing all people as whole and precious creations of God. I am stepping forward to take the charge to feed those who are hungry, visit those in prison; clothe those that are naked as the incarnational charge that it is–finding the incarnate God as we bend down and look in the eyes of the withered woman huddled on the street corner; finding the incarnate God as we watch the toddler pulling a carrot out of the dirt; finding the incarnate God as we work together, worship together, and eat together. Naming the dance between the spiritual reality of heaven and the physical alignment and un-alignment of earth as we claim people—each person–as an expression of God’s presence in the world. Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.

In a few minutes, hands will be laid, words will be spoken, and a mantle will be taken on. It is with deep gratitude and humility that Elizabeth and I thank this gathered body and church for seeing us and seeing the Lord’s call on our lives and for providing the container for our inner selves to be fully expressed in the world as we step into the role of ordained ministry.

We stand here today, called, prepared, and ready to commit to the life of serving the Holy One and the holy humanity. Dually broken, wholly healed, prepared, and nurtured, called, and ready for this holy work.

Here is my body, here is my mind, and here is my spirit. Wise, loving, and useful, here I am, send me.

1Watch the Rite of Ordination and Prayer of Blessing or the Full Ordination Service