I had some much needed rebuilding of my old wattle fence (a primitive structure using twigs and branches) to do the other day. As I was working on it, I was thinking about the growing divisions in my once bucolic rural community and how it is that we all need to do the work of rebuilding broken fences. When Jesus says “you are my brothers and sisters” he means it. You are. So how are we being “family” to one another? As always, thank you for spending time on the farm with me. It’s always great to have you swing by and catch up. Blessings!
20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters[a] are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
This Memorial Day I invite you to join me in chilly Vermont (temps have been in the 40s…brrrr…brrr…) where I attempt to make paper poppies. I’ll explain why when you pour yourself a cup of coffee and join me at the farm. 😉
This weekend I find myself reflecting on poppies, prayer and how we live our lives knowing that the lives we have to live have been made possible by the sacrifices of others, mostly made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus.
I also share a story of Ike Jackson, my husband’s grandfather who served in World War II and who exemplified a life lived in humble awe and gratitude to the many blessings he was given. It is so great to join together to worship with all of you!
Enjoy, share, like, but most of all reflect and let God’s word shape, guide and inspire you!
Today’s Scripture Lesson: John 3:1-17
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus[a] by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”[b] 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.[c] 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You[d] must be born from above.’[e] 8 The wind[f] blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you[g] do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.[h] 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.[i]
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Pentecost has often been marked by high winds for me. This year, though, it’s been still…just subtle breezes every so often. In the stillness, though, I felt something powerful — a reminder that God’s Spirit is always among us no matter what we are feeling. So join me today at the farm as we celebrate Pentecost together, discovering what it means to be moved by the Spirit and how we can be more attuned to that Spirit. Perhaps a little forest bathing would help. (Intrigued? Click on the video below.)
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3 He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath[a] to enter you, and you shall live. 6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath[b] in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath:[c] Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath,[d] and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
11 Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Today is one of my favorite days on the church calendar — the Ascension of the Lord! Yes, you read correctly! The ascension is so overlooked on our faith journeys, and yet there is so much that we can learn from it; there is so much that defines who we are to be. It is a reminder for us to prepare prayerfully for the coming of the Pentecost Spirit. It is also a reminder for us to never forget that we are called to be the Christ light to others. And so, join me here in Vermont as the season of Easter comes to close and a new season of incredible God moments begin. Blessings!
Luke 24:44-53 (The Message)
44 Then he said, “Everything I told you while I was with you comes to this: All the things written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets, and in the Psalms have to be fulfilled.”
45-49 He went on to open their understanding of the Word of God, showing them how to read their Bibles this way. He said, “You can see now how it is written that the Messiah suffers, rises from the dead on the third day, and then a total life-change through the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in his name to all nations—starting from here, from Jerusalem! You’re the first to hear and see it. You’re the witnesses. What comes next is very important: I am sending what my Father promised to you, so stay here in the city until he arrives, until you’re equipped with power from on high.”
50-51 He then led them out of the city over to Bethany. Raising his hands he blessed them, and while blessing them, made his exit, being carried up to heaven.
52-53 And they were on their knees, worshiping him. They returned to Jerusalem bursting with joy. They spent all their time in the Temple praising God. Yes.
Mother’s Day and the church. Over the years it has gotten a bit of pushback as many question the validity of a Hallmark holiday being celebrated along with God’s Word. For a holiday that has advocacy at its core — yes, there is a connection between Mother’s Day, war and peacemaking (it’s in the video) — it has somehow become a day of exclusion, rather than inclusion.
On this Mother’s Day I invite you sit with me at my kitchen table at the farm as I share with you a Mother’s Day that touched my heart. How it made me realize that we are all chosen by God for a purpose — some to birth children, some to birth dreams — we are all called to give life and nurture. And in the end, I will reveal how we really all our mothers.
Blessings to you all!
Today’s Scripture: John 15:9-17 (NRSV)
9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants[a] any longer, because the servant[b] does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
Well, here we are —the fifth Sunday in Eastertide — and I find myself pondering what a little pruning can do in my life! And, yes, that is me in the apple tree. And, yes, I do live in Robert Frost country. (I share some fun facts about Vermont’s poet) As always, I hope you are blessed by our time of worship at Old Stone Well Farm! Share with others.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes[a] to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed[b] by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
Good Shepherd Sunday is here, and what better way to spend this time reflecting on God’s word than with some of my local friends — the sheep!Let’s spend time together listening to our Shepherd’s voice this Eastertide. (And watch for the added bonus at the end where a little lamb wants to greet you.)
John 10:11-17 (NIV)
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again.
Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
Join me for a snowy Holy Week here at Old Stone Well Farm in Vermont. This time together is a simple gathering based on a Tenebrae service. There will be time to listen to Scripture, reflect and, as the story progresses, candles are removed, representing the growing darkness of betrayal and abandonment as the cross draws closer.
Before watching, create a sacred space for yourself. Find a comfy chair. Have a mug of soothing tea. Light your own candles and extinguish them along with the video. However you might watch, though, be ever mindful of the love God has for you — a love that went all the way to the cross, and a love that we will see never dies.
Yes, it’s Good Friday. But Easter is coming! If you enjoyed this time of worship, please share on YouTube and subscribe so that you never miss visiting Old Stone Well Farm!
There’s an old saying that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Yes, the month is a transitional one, where winter gives a mighty punch or two before the season of spring appears, bringing with it new life. No one really knows where the saying originated, but one of the earliest citations is found in Thomas Fuller’s 1732 compendium, “Gnomologia; Adagies and Proverbs; Wise Sentences and Witty Sayings, Ancient and Modern, Foreign and British.” I like the saying. It is better than other sayings of old such as, “so many mists in March you see / so many frosts in May will be.”
The other day as March’s cold wind was chased away by warm sunshine, I thought of lions and lambs, transitional months, the dead of winter giving away to spring’s new life. And I thought about Holy Week, which this year ushers out the month of March and heralds in April. I thought of how Jesus came in like the lion of Judah, greeted by the roar of a starstruck crowd waving palms and shouting, “Hosanna! Save us!” By the end of that week, Jesus — our sacrificial lamb of God — is on the cross.
Palm Sunday has arrived. We are at the beginning of a week called holy which, if we fully enter into it, will have has walking more slowly, thinking more deeply, feeling more intently, praying more feverishly. As we walk this week with Jesus ask yourself, “Who is this lamb of God for you? Has the depth of his sacrifice changed your life? Could we, who have been invited to die to self all Lent, make such a sacrifice for others?”
May you find not only courage and strength on your Holy Week journey, but may your eyes be opened to all the God moments. Blessings!
Scripture Reading: John 12:12-16
The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel!” Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.
On a chilly first day of spring, I spent my morning collecting pussy willow branches and putting them in water so that by next week, Palm Sunday, they will have fully bloomed.
Why am I doing this?
I invite you to click on the video and join me at Old Stone Well Farm in Vermont on this fifth Sunday in Lent to discover the pussy willow tradition along with the folklores that have been shared over the centuries about this tree.
But beyond folklores and traditions, this tree, which is the first tree to bud in the spring, is our invitation to wake up, to see the divine all around — to see Jesus, as we hear in John’s Gospel. And friends, pass the blessing along to others.
Share the link so that more will be invited to see the God moments all around!
John 12:20-26 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus. “Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
It’s the little things that matter the most. We have heard this saying before, but how often do we do those little things for others? Better yet, when was the last time you were the recipient of a “little thing”?
I didn’t realize how long it has been since I have been the recipient of one of those meaningful little things, until today. Before I share with you, a little background here.
It’s been a long, hard winter for me. I’m not just talking about how the ice, snow and cold have been holding my dear little community in Vermont hostage. It’s been long, hard winter in many ways beyond seasonal weather patterns.
The upheaval and uncertainties of a yearlong pandemic have been tiring and unsettling. Is it just me or have you also missed being able to see the smile of a stranger that you pass by on the street? I have always been one to nod and smile, but with mask wearing those smiles are gone. I miss them. I miss how a simple exchange of smiles could be a healing balm for your soul.
If the pandemic wasn’t enough, I have found all of the political banter and political correctness tiresome. I pray that my liberal friends won’t attack me for that sentence. But I can’t be alone in feeling this way, can I? I can’t be alone in feeling that whatever I say or do, it just isn’t right. I can’t be alone in my hesitancy to share how I feel for fear I will be labeled, misunderstood or unfriended. I find myself wondering if in the conversations for justice, if anyone will ever acknowledge that there is the danger of exhaustion and in that exhaustion comes exasperation and in that exasperation comes the very real desire of just giving up and walking away from trying to make the world a better place.
I know I have reached my limit — and broken down in tears out of sheer exhaustion and exasperation — when the Scottish bakery I have ordered from to receive scones and meat pies announced that its hot cross buns would no longer feature a cross made of icing on top of them. Out of respect for those who are not Christian, the cross has been removed from the bun. If you do want a cross, the company is more than happy to include a recipe card with your order as to how to make the icing and put the cross on the bun yourself. I have no words. I am dumbfounded. I am tired. Who would have thought a hot cross bun would push me to the point of enough?
It’s the little things …
I sit here pondering when I should be working. I don’t have the luxury for this. I need to be productive. But here I am pondering how I have chosen two careers/callings in life where I risk criticism for the things I say, do and write. I have chosen livelihoods that bring me to the frontlines of having to deal with navigating pandemics, talking justice and discerning the effects of a bakery’s decision to remove an icing cross from its seasonal buns that have been a tradition in many households, like mine, during Lent.
As a writer, the inner most parts of my heart find their way into words and are then sent out into the universe to be read, embraced, misunderstood, challenged, etc. It is an extremely vulnerable position to put yourself in, especially when lamenting about hot cross buns.
And then, on top of that, I said “yes” to the call of being a minister. I don’t even know where to begin describing what leading God’s children is often like. Think unruly sheep, Moses in the wilderness (worship around a golden calf, whining about the dinner menu that features only manna), etc. There are blessings, too. But they are far and few between. Rather, you hear more about how you have failed as a pastor because you didn’t offer a Zoom Bible story time for children, even though your congregation has no children at all. Not to mention, even if we did, children, I believe are overloaded with Zoom offerings and should really be outside in nature rather than in front of a screen.
Don’t misunderstand. I love what God has called me to. I am in awe that I have been tapped to use my love for writing to point us to the divine, to give God the glory, to tell the stories of Jesus’ redemption in our lives. It’s just many days your vulnerability is abused. Many days the sheep bite. Many days it seems the only letters people take time to write are the ones highlighting what they disliked or disagree with. And then there comes the day when the confectionary cross is removed from your hot cross bun.
So when I get a picture of a Presbyterians Today reader so excited to get the magazine that I edit, well, it is like a God hug. It is a thoughtful act that brings with it the warmth needed to begin melting my long, hard winter. It might seem insignificant, but it’s not.
Keris Dahlkamp, a youth director in a Presbyterian church in California, and Amy Young, hold up the magazine I edit. They were excited to get the issue and shared that excitement with me.
Yes, it’s the little things that matter the most. What little thing have you done today that might just mean the world to someone? Let me know. I will enjoy hearing from you as I nibble on a bun that can still be called a hot cross bun.
I still prefer my hot cross buns with an icing cross on top of them.
The snow is melting at Old Stone Well Farm and signs of spring are slowly emerging. Yet my Lenten journey has not been what I had wanted it to be. As I share with you today, it has been one of busyness that has crowded out quiet prayer time.
This past week, though, I had a few God moments that came on all days — March 11 — the year anniversary of the start of the nation’s pandemic lockdown. I was searching for signs of hope and on that day, God did not disappoint. I won’t give it all way, but I will give you a hint: It involves crocuses.
And so, let us join together in a time of worship. And may you find yourself always hunting for crocuses. Blessings!
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous[c] serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.
John 3:14-21 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
Today is Ash Wednesday. Our Lenten journey begins. I invite you to find some quiet time today to join me from my 18th century farm in Vermont and reflect on this day.
Reflect on our need for forgiveness. Reflect on just how fleeting this life is and how much time we spend wasting the precious time we have been given.
Reflect on God’s great love for you. There is a time to impose the ashes as well. If you don’t have ashes, find some dirt (that is, if you aren’t in an area covered with snow or ice!). Or even get a little bowl of water or oil to make the sign of the cross on your hand. If you don’t have anything, simply tracing the sign of the cross on your hand is powerful in itself.
Share with others as it is my hope that many will truly enter into this Lenten season, searching more deeply for God and drawing every closer to Him. Blessings!
Scripture Reading: Psalm 51
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me. You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness, let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right[b] spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing[c] spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, then you will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
It’s Valentine’s Day at here at Old Stone Well Farm in Vermont, and in a world lacking in love and lacking in hope, we find our hearts renewed by remembering God is always giving us something to hold on to as we see in the Scripture lesson of Jesus’ transfiguration — a divine spectacle that confused and dazzled his friends. Little did they know it was the very thing they would need to keep the faith when walking the valley of life’s challenges and strife.
So, pour yourself a cup of coffee or brew some tea and spend this special day with me. And for those who like trivia, we begin with how Valentine’s Day came to be. And keep on the lookout because Rev. (my cat) also makes an appearance.
Blessings, Pastor Donna
Mark 9:2-9 NRSV
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one[a] on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings,[b] one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
The season of Lent has traditionally been a time to give up something, to deny ourselves that which gives us pleasure, such as chocolate or binging watching TV. In my time in ministry, I have seen the 40-day penitential season, that invites us to walk with Jesus to the Good Friday cross, focus less on denying and more on “giving” of our time, treasures and talents to others.
This year, though, as the season I have so often embraced approaches — it has always been a time for me to go deeper into my soul searching and listen more attentively to the Holy Spirit’s hopeful whispers in my ear — I find myself just wanting to give up. Not chocolate. Not binge-watching TV. Not on anything that can be labeled a gluttonous sin. Just GIVE UP. Period. I don’t even want to do the painful soul searching that has always led to new life come Easter morning.
Before anyone suggests that I call a suicide hotline, I am not talking about giving up on life. Well, maybe I am — in a way. I am ready to give up on the life that I see so many being sucked into — including me. It is a life that has me concerned. It is a life where even brothers and sisters in Christ are so quick to spew forth their opinions without concern if they are valid or not. It is a life where we seem to take pleasure in accusing others of cheap grace while all the while throwing around unmerited condemnation.
If someone disagrees with someone there seems to be no space for grace for that differing viewpoint. If someone is deemed as not doing enough to dismantle racism or address system poverty or dares to remain silent when it comes to a controversial issue, they are all too quickly labeled as part of the problem in society.
I am not saying that there isn’t any work that needs to be done. There is a ton of work to do when it comes to building a beloved community where there is a place at the table for all and where everyone has a chance to speak and be listened to. But in working towards that beautiful never-ending banquet table, something is going awry. And I wonder?
Does anyone else see what I am seeing? Am I the only who is noticing that the never-ending banquet table where all are invited to pull up a chair is becoming the very table that we say we are trying to dismantle? Don’t sit near me if you disagree with me or worst yet take your chair and go create another table of like-minded people.
Voices are being silenced out of fear of retribution or out of fear of being misunderstood or out of fear of being mislabeled. I hesitate to name some of those labels for fear of the very thing I write — fear of being slammed or shunned. Is this fear healthy? No. It isn’t. It makes me wonder how many people with good hearts are deciding to opt out of the fight for justice all because the lack of grace and mercy we are seeing at that very table of grace and mercy we say we want?
As Lent approaches I find myself feeling like I just want to give up. And Sunday’s Super Bowl’s almost made me do just that. I will admit, I didn’t watch it. It’s just not the thing in my household. But the next morning, when I saw on social media outlets of those who are Christian leaders slamming Bruce Springsteen and the Jeep commercial as an example of white supremacy, I thought more seriously about a cabin in the woods and off the grid. I am not defending the commercial. Not at all. After watching it, there was many things that could have been done differently and many things that should have been edited out, like the cross and flag mingling together. (Don’t get me going with why the American flag has no place in our sanctuaries. I will be more than happy to engage in a healthy conversation about that another time.)
What rattled me the most, though, were not the creative decisions from some ad agency trying to sell more Jeeps. What rattled me were that the critiques from Christians on social media had an edge to them. The critiques seemed laced with judgment. One such writer mentioned how the very use of the phrases “common ground” and “meeting in the middle” were white supremist codes.
Really? Because I still believe in trying to find our commonality. I still have hope of not exactly meeting in the middle, but in at least trying to walk towards one another so that we find that point of connection. What I read didn’t lead us in walking toward the other. Rather it made the distance between us even greater.
Social media critiques have become dangerously toxic, doing the very thing we say we don’t want done: Keeping us divided. As one openly evangelical blogger who weighed in on the Jeep Super Bowl debacle said: The commercial revealed the most disturbing thing, that is even our divisiveness is divisive.
I guess what bothered me was that there wasn’t anything constructive in the criticisms flooding social media outlets. It was simply bringing up all that was wrong with the commercial and how Jeep failed and how Springsteen needed to repent, etc. (By the way, the need for repentance is constructive, but not when it is done with a finger pointing at someone.)
This Lent was beginning to look like one in which I just wanted to give up. I was ready to tell my husband when he came home from work that we would be moving into the woods and off the grid because civilization has lost its civility. It was Diana Butler Bass, a writer on American religion and society, though, who saved my husband from a life without Netflix.
It was Bass who restored my faltering heart. And she did so with a thoughtful and constructive critique on the Jeep ad. It didn’t condone the choices Jeep made, but it didn’t attack the company either. It brought up the many marks the company missed and did so in a way that wasn’t laced with venom. It was edifying. It is an example of how to dialog — and disagree — with grace and mercy.
Grace and mercy. Hmmm. Perhaps grace and mercy are the very things we have lost, the very things we have chosen to give up somewhere along the way on our faith journeys? Perhaps they are what we need to restore in our lives this Lenten season. Grace, yes. And especially mercy.
Ann Lamott defines mercy in her book, “Hallelujah Anyway” as compassion, empathy, a heart for someone’s troubles. She also writes that mercy is something we find in the most unlikely places, “never where we first look.” If we keep looking for mercy among those in the church, I am afraid, by the things I see on social media, that we might not find it right now. We might have to look elsewhere.
For those who are interested, here is the link to Diana Butler Bass’ Jeep ad rebuttal.
I’ve started to plan my garden here at Old Stone Well Farm. It gives me hope to think about new life bursting forth from the ground while my garden beds are still covered with snow.
But as I was planning, I thought about Paul’s words to the church in Corinth and began thinking about a thing call “companion planting” where some plants grouped together actually help one another thrive. What would happen if we really were companions to one another, really helping to bolster each other rather than tear down? What was Paul really saying when he said he can be all things to all people? And why does it matter to hear his words today? After the week I have had (many weeks in fact) I found Paul’s words so revealing.
Today’s message is straight from the heart and I share some of the struggles I have been going through. I share some thoughts about how we treat one another, especially on social media, and how we can move forward in this world being companions to one another so that we can flourish rather than wilt and wither away.
Today’s Reading: 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law.To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
Today we observe the church celebration known as Candlemas. Candlemas, observed on Feb. 2, was traditionally the end of the Christmas season. It marks the 40 days after Jesus’ birth, when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple to be presented as according to Jewish customs. Thus, this day is also known as the Presentation of the Lord.
Since Candlemas was also a time when folks would bring their candles to the pastor to be blessed, I spend the day here at Old Stone Well Farm trying my hand at making candles. It’s not easy — and it takes a lot of patience. As I made the candles, I thought about the patience of Simeon and Anna who waited in the temple patiently for many, many years, praying and praising God, hoping to see for themselves, with their own eyes, God’s salvation.
How patient are you? Especially when waiting for God to reveal the hope and the light you are seeking? Let us worship together!
Our Scripture lesson for today is from:
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon;[a] this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon[c] came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant[e] in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Oatmeal cookies and a basket of love … join me today as I remember an amazing woman of faith who reminded me always of what really mattered in this life. Pour a cup of coffee, brew some tea or add some marshmallows to a mug of hot coco and let us be in the present of God, together, on a cold January day in Vermont.
And remember to have a bowl of water handy as we begin our time by remembering our baptisms.
Today’s Scripture Lessons
Psalm 62:5-12 NRSV
For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them. Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God,and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord. For you repay to all according to their work.
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.
I have been thinking a lot about trees lately. And so when I read John’s Gospel for this time of worship together, I couldn’t help but to wonder what was the significance of the fig tree that Jesus saw Nathanael sitting under? So let’s explore together — and even spend some time contemplating God’s ways underneath my apple tree here in Vermont. There is also a special announcement about Ash Wednesday, which is Feb. 17, at the end of the video. So, stay tuned…
Let us begin our time of worship!
Blessings, Pastor Donna
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you,you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
NOTE:Before we worship together, have a bowl of water ready so that you can dip your hands in it for our reaffirmation of baptismal vows at the end of the video.
While many observe Epiphany as a one-day celebration, I observe this day on the church calendar as a season, starting on Jan. 6 and running till Ash Wednesday.
In these weeks, I like to challenge us to see Christ among us — where do we see the light of revealing God’s work? I was reminded, though, this past Wednesday, that the light that shines reveals the very things we want to remain hidden.
This past week truly was an Epiphany — a sad, startling epiphany moment — revealing our sins. The story of the Magi, a crazy diabolical leader fearing the loss of power, the need to go another route, became all-too real. That Scripture coupled with today’s readings from Genesis, reminding us that the first thing God did when bringing order to the cosmic chaos was to say “Let there be light.”
And then we go to Mark’s Gospel and hear about Jesus’ baptism and are reminded that in order to emerge from the water as a new creation, one must first confess their sins. The light is shining. The light is revealing what we have long tried to keep hidden. The light, if allowed to shine, will bring order to chaos. The light from heaven wants to shine upon us, but only if we dare to reaffirm our baptismal vows, renouncing evil and to commit to the work of light shining.
Please share today’s time together at the farm with all those you feel will be blessed by it.
Our readings are:
Genesis 1:1-4 (NRSV)
In the beginning when God created[a] the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.
Mark 1:4-11 (NRSV)
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with[c] the Holy Spirit.” In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Christmastide is coming to an end, but the work of Christmas is just beginning. Join me as I share with you what this work involves, and how an unexpected tradition that began years ago while I was living in Manhattan has helped me remember this work throughout the year.
Our Scripture for today is:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.
After many technical difficulties, a special gift is here for you on this New Year’s Eve. Yes, I invite you to spend it with me here in Vermont for a Hogmanay celebration — a true Scottish experience complete with haggis! A blessed New Year to you!
Our Scripture to reflect on as we welcome in the New Year is Isaiah 43:18-19: Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing;now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
Welcome to worship on this Sunday in Christmastide. Yes, the 12 days of Christmas have begun and we spend our time at the farm with two unsung heroes of the birth narrative: Simeon and Anna. Two people who waited patiently, and with faith, to see God’s promise to the world — Jesus. Simeon and Anna also got me thinking about how we spend this season of Christmas and how it can be the perfect time for us to charge our spirits in order to move forward in faith.
Blessings, Pastor Donna
Scripture to Ponder: Luke 2:22-38
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant[e] in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
I feel so blessed to be spending Christmas Eve with you from my little snowy home in Vermont. May this time together be one of great joy, reflection and humble adoration to what God has done and is doing in our lives.
Remember, have a candle ready to light so that we can join together in the singing of “Silent Night.” Pass this on to friends and family. Consider having a watch party together. Or perhaps just curl up in a comfy chair with a cozy blanket and a cup of hot coco and worship the new born babe.
Scripture to Reflect On
Luke 2:1-20 (NRSV)
2 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
The Shepherds and the Angels
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,[a] the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,[b] praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”[c] 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Well, here we are on the fourth Sunday of Advent. Christmas will be upon us in just a few days. As we light the last candle on the Advent wreath — the candle of love — we pause and remember what this celebration is all about: “For God so loved the world that he gave us his Son.”
And God chose to give us this gift in an unprecedented way. He chose a young girl from a humble family living in an insignificant village (can anything good come from Nazareth?) to be the Christ bearer.
Mary learns of her role in this story of salvation through Gabriel, the angel who just loves to disrupt lives by announcing God’s plans for those lives. “Greetings, favored one” Gabriel starts with, and from there Mary’s world is turned upside down.
Today, at the farm I invite you to ponder the power of that greeting, and imagine what your life would be like when you realize God whispers to you everyday those same words, “Greetings, favored one.” For God has a role for us to play in this story of salvation. God has great big God plans for each of us.
May these days leading up to Christmas be filled with Gabriel disruptions, God whispers and Mary yeses.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Today was an unexpected snow day here in Vermont, which got me thinking about how magical snow days were when I was a child and how important it is to keep the magic going. In a time when technology means we can meet whenever, wherever — well, what does that do to our souls? Isn’t a snow day God’s gift to us, an invitation to be still, to play and do something that gives our soul’s joy? And so, I did just that today. I accepted the snow’s invitation to slow down and be still before God. Blessings!
I can’t believe it is the third Sunday of Advent already, but here we are and it really is beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
Today at the farm, I invite you come and set up the Christmas tree with me. As we do we will talk about the tradition of trees and how it points up to Christ in the world.
God is good at using signs to point us to Christ. But how good are we noticing them? I will also share with you a God moment I had recently when thinking about Christmas trees, and what I came to realize when it came not just to the tree, but my life.
Our Scriptures this morning to reflect on are:
6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman[a]is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.[b]
12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,[a] praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”[b] 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”
I am so excited to share with you an early Christmas gift — my replica of an 18th century lap desk. These desks were the Colonial version of today’s laptops, providing those on the go with all the things they needed to write letters — parchment, a feather quill, powder ink, wax to seal the documents. It is said that much of the Revolutionary War documents were written on lap desks: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton all had one. Even literary giants such as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens had “laptops.”
My 18th century writing box got me thinking about the art of handwriting a letter. It’s not like an email or a text. Handwriting means you have to really take the time to compose your thoughts, that time taken in itself can show another person how much you care. And without autocorrect or an online thesaurus, handwriting means you have to think more deeply about the words you use. Handwriting can bring out the poets in us.
The more I thought about the time and care it takes to handwrite a letter, the more I thought about God’s letters to us — especially God’s Christmas love letters and how these notes were delivered by messengers, such as John the Baptizer, who comes to us in Scripture today.
Yes, John’s message of “repent” is indeed a love letter, for without repentance — which means basically “turn back to God” —how will we ever fully prepare to receive Christ into our hearts? Repent is a loving invitation to stop doing the things that hurt ourselves and others and open our lives to God. We will see in Mark’s Gospel that before those coming to have John baptize them, they had to confess their sins first.
A fresh start with God cannot happen until we confess. We see this with the prophet Isaiah who, in his vision of being in the presence of God, cries out, “Woe is me. I am not worthy.” It is then God takes a piece of coal and blots Isaiah’s lips. Isaiah, after confessing, is made clean by God. He is ready to serve God and God’s children.
This Advent, as we prepare for the coming of Christmas, let us keep in our minds God’s love letters. Letters that tell us to turn back to God, to not fear, to rejoice…and then I invite you to take time this week to write your own Christmas love letter — to God, letting God know how much His presence means to you.
Advent blessings to you!
The beginning of the good news[a] of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,[d] who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” John the baptizer appeared[e] in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with[f] water; but he will baptize you with[g] the Holy Spirit.”
These past two weeks we have been observing the Celtic Advent, but today we transition into the traditional, four-week season of Advent. Here in Vermont, it is also a season fondly (and not so fondly) referred to as “stick” season. It’s the time of year when the leaf peepers have all gone home. The leaves are on the ground and the bare limbs have not yet been covered with a warm blanket of snow.
The barren trees paint a melancholy canvas and some see drabness. I see beauty. For the barrenness opens my eyes to new things, a new perspective. And perhaps that is the opportunity the start of Advent presents us with — a chance to gain a new perspective, to finally see the beauty of God when all seems hopeless.
And so, let us begin our time of worship here at the farm. Our reading for today is:
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.
Time to Reflect: As the season of Advent begins, it is easy to get caught up in the mad dash to Christmas, to rush to the good news of a Savior born for all. How easy it is to lose sight of the meaning of the season, to not call upon God or reach out our hands to heaven. Spend time today calling upon God, even simply whispering God’s name. Quietly sit in the presence of God, with your hands opened as if to receive something. Meditate on God’s goodness and hope in your life as the first candle of Advent burns.
As we head into this holiday, I realize many are not “feeling” it, many are feeling down, and many are missing loved ones. As I prepare for my holiday meal, I share with you how God is with us, and that what we really need to do is prepare our hearts to receive God’s love.
This time together has been loosely based on a Blue Christmas service, where short reflections are interspersed with reflection music. May it bring a sense of joy and peace to your heart.
Welcome to ministry in 2020. The picture below illustrates it the best. The picture also got me thinking about feasting — not on the turkey that will grace my Thanksgiving table this Thursday, but feasting on faith rather than fear.
It seems lately I, the one who always took leaps of faith, have been weighed down by the fear of the unknown. I blame the pandemic for instilling this fear in me as “uncertainty” is a word reverberating in all of us, isn’t it?
The thing about fear is it doesn’t satiate one’s soul. If anything, it gives you heartburn. Or in my case, heartache.
I have dreams. I’ve shared that with you before. I have big, crazy, scary dreams that need a big helping of faith to birth them into being. And this picture of me on the big screen in a Methodist church’s ecumenical Thanksgiving service is making me hunger for that faith that always filled me up. It is making me regret, too, some of the dreams that I let go all because I allowed myself to listen to those in the church, caring friends, even family, whisper well-intentioned messages of warning: What if it fails? It’s not possible. Play it safe.
Being that I was the pastor who lived the furthest away in the clergy group, I was invited to send a video welcome and an opening prayer. My Vermont home is more than an hour away from the historic village of Ticonderoga, New York, where battles between the French and the Indians were waged and where one can trace the footsteps of Revolutionary War heroes like Ethan Allen and traitors like Benedict Arnold. So I was thankful to the Ticonderoga clergy for being understanding and considerate.
Watching myself on the big screen, though, reminds me of the wacky idea I had three years ago when I tried pitching a virtual circuit rider ministry to three rural churches in my area. I would rotate being in person at a church on Sunday. One Sunday I would preach while the other churches zoomed me in via technology. Each church would have pastor physically present one Sunday a month. One church was sort of on board with the idea, but when I began working with them, it was clear they just wanted a traditional pastor to preach and spend time having tea with members. I am not tea drinker.
One church, who was looking for a part-time pastor, was honest and brutally shot it down, stating, “We can’t afford to take a risk with such an idea. What happens five years from now if this doesn’t work?”
That was three years ago, and where are they now? No further along and perhaps their dire straits becoming more dire. Imagine where they might have been if they went with this pastor’s crazy idea of using technology before technology was a ministry necessity in 2020?
But they didn’t want to feast on faith. Their taste buds had grown accustomed to the empty calories of fear. And I, in the process, accepted their invitation to sit at that table with them.
I can’t help but feel a tremendous sadness that these churches would have been way ahead in digital ministry as the pandemic swept through the country. They would have been showing their communities faith, not fear. They might have started to see a revival. They might have learned that seeking what they want in ministry never works. They might have seen the amazing things that I have seen in my ministry when you trust God all the way and only seek to follow what God wants.
Yesterday I had a wonderful chat with a minister in Tennessee for a magazine story I am writing. He took a small church of 15 members all in their 70s and turned it around. Well, he didn’t turn it around. The members did because when he came on board as their pastor they told him don’t fear the lack of money, don’t look at the empty pews, don’t worry about the budget. “We have decided to put our trust in God and God alone,” they said. He then told me their mantra became, “Jesus is Lord. Jesus is King.” That was all they needed to allow the Spirit to enter and transform them.
“Donna, they never once asked me as pastor to get children into the church. They never once asked ‘how do we fill our pews?’,” he said. “They just kept saying, ‘Jesus is Lord.'” To that I say, “Amen!”
My crazy dream of using technology to zoom pastors and the word of God into people’s homes and other sanctuaries has become true. While I didn’t get the chance to actually launch it, I feel validated that it wasn’t as crazy as others thought.
I look over at my frozen turkey thawing on the kitchen counter. I am done feasting on fear. It’s time to sit down to the table of faith where a crusty loaf of bread is broken and in that act, my eyes once again open and see Jesus smiling, nodding a loving “yes” to me, saying, “Dream, live, fear not. I am with you.”
What will you be feasting on this Thanksgiving? Faith or fear?
Our Celtic Advent, which began Nov. 15, continues today, Christ the King Sunday. Christ the King Sunday is the church’s New Year’s Eve, as it marks the end of one liturgical year and begins a new one that starts with us preparing for the birth of Jesus. On this Sunday we are reminded why Christ was born — to be a our Suffering Servant, our Crucified Lord, our Heavenly King. It is fitting to remember this as the Advent season gets into full swing and we make our way to the celebration of Christ’s birth.
The Celtic Advent is traditionally divided into two parts — the first focusing on Jesus’ first coming — his birth — and then the second half focusing on Jesus’ second coming. Today, here at the farm, we will focus on the Incarnation, the birth of Jesus. I will share with you the beautiful Incarnation page, the most famous page, from the Book of Kells, the illustrated 8th century book Irish monks created. Also called the Chi Rho page, from the Greek letters representing Christ, the ornate and intricate detailing is a lot to take in. You can spend hours gazing at it and all of the symbolism hidden in plain sight. But what it reminded me of the most is that while Christ is my King, he is also my caring, humble, always-available, loving friend and brother. Yes, brother. I have spiritual royalty in my family tree. And so do you.
Let us begin our worship!
Blessings, Pastor Donna
1 An account of the genealogy[a] of Jesus the Messiah,[b] the son of David, the son of Abraham.
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, 4 and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of King David.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph,[c]8 and Asaph[d] the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos,[e] and Amos[f] the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.[g]
17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah,[h] fourteen generations.
The Birth of Jesus the Messiah
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah[i] took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
I was so intrigued — and excited — when I learned recently about the Celtic Advent, which starts on November 15. I love the season of Advent, but four weeks just never seems like enough time to fully embrace it, especially how Christmas festivities from decorating to caroling to shopping for presents overshadow the simplicity and joyful somberness (yes, joyful somberness) of Advent. There was a time when Advent mirrored Lent in that it was a full 40 days of preparing for Christ’s birth.
So, with our Scripture lesson from Titus — one of Paul’s three epistles written in 63 A.D. — I invite you to start a new tradition with me this year. I invite you to an early Advent.
Blessings, Pastor Donna
Titus 2:11-13 (New Revised Standard Version)
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, 12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The idea of returning to the lost art of mending has been on my mind for a while now, but this week it just seemed so perfect to talk to you about it and imagine our spiritual needles and thread stitching what is ripped in our lives — and our country.
And so with God’s Word speaking to us through Ecclesiastes 3, who tells us to everything there is a season, we explore entering a season of learning how to sew/how to mend all that is torn.
This video was filmed before the election was called, so there is a moment where I mention the votes were still being counted. It was my parents who called me with the good news as I was editing our worship service. As I cried, I realized my tears of joy were being joined by those who cried tears of sadness. And while I might not understand those tears, I need to respect those tears as we turn our eyes to God. Now is the time to love, to listen, to respect, to sew.
My faith was faltering, but this week I realized something: No matter how far we fall from God, God is gracious, reaching out His arm to lift us back up. Let us reach back for that Divine hand.
Let us worship! Blessings, Pastor Donna
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (New Revised Standard Version) For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6 a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
This country pastor has been quiet this election week: quiet, stressed, heartbroken, anxious, hopeful. I had no idea so many emotions could show up all that same time, but show up they did.
I must say, it has been tiring this election week. But unlike many of my ministry colleagues, I didn’t schedule vacation time. I should have, because getting work done has proven futile. It’s now the end of the week and nothing has been scratched off of my to-do list, which only adds to the stress swirling all around me.
No, I wasn’t mindful in creating self-care rituals for this week. I didn’t schedule any time to do something joyful for my soul. I had every intention to churn some butter in my 18th reproduction butter churn. That always makes me feel better. I waited too long, though, and my churning therapy went right down the drain with the curdled cream.
I was also going to take an online yoga class. Light a candle and allow my body and soul to melt into a beautiful oblivion. That didn’t happen either. Instead, every night this week I pried myself from my desk — accomplishing nothing — to go for run, forgetting that daylight savings time had ended. A dark wooded trail is a great motivator in turning your leisurely run into a frantic sprint. With every rustle and crunch of leaves, I envisioned the worst: a bear, a coy dog — Big Foot? (Don’t laugh. A rural town just over the Vermont border claims to be home to Big Foot, even holding a Big Foot festival every summer.) No, not even my time of exercise could qualify as self-care.
I was far from kind to myself. I was especially harsh to racing mind, yelling at it to focus. “What’s wrong with you, mind? Work. Be productive,” I would tell it. It didn’t help. If anything it made my mind huff away. It was not good because this was the week I was faced with several self-imposed impossible deadlines. I thought if I challenged myself, and if I met them, I would feel better. I would feel in control. I would have a sense of accomplishment. You can guess what happened. I failed miserably. Oh, and my mind is still giving me the silent treatment.
This morning, though, I struggled to get my worn out body out of bed early. I wanted to see the sun rise. Bleary-eyed and achy, I made a cup of coffee and sat on my old stone well. I watched, and I listened. I listened to God speak in the sound of a bird, in the honking of geese flying low and in the ardent moo’s of my neighbor’s cows wanting to get to the field that promised them their breakfast. And then it happened. The faintest of light emerged and grew stronger as the sun’s rays yawned and stretched over the hills.
It’s been a stressful election week, and the stress is not over — nor is the healing work this country needs to do. I never thought I would say I live in a United States that is not united, but here I am — and here is the sun still rising, and here is God still speaking, and here is grace still saving us.
For those who worship virtually with me at Old Stone Well Farm, this morning I couldn’t help but to sing the song from our time together two weeks ago…
I can see a light that is shining for the heart that holds on...
For the first time in weeks, months, dare I admit these past few years, I find my faltering faith steadying…”And the light shines in darkness; and the darkness cannot overcome it.” John 1:5
My heart is holding on.
A light shining on the Vermont trail I run on. Yes, that is snow.
Let us now prepare for worship! Blessings, Pastor Donna
When Jesus[a] saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely[b] on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
This is the day the Lord has made! I am so happy that you have joined me for today’s worship here in Vermont. I have to admit, I really enjoyed exploring what it means to be the light in the world. And I really enjoyed carving an inspirational message in the pumpkins that glow now on Sofie’s Hill here on the farm. Sofie was my bumbling Bernese Mountain dog who I lost two years ago. We used to run up the hill and sit staring at the Green Mountains. But I digress. Our Scripture reading for today is Matthew 5:14-16. May you be blessed by today’s worship. Blessings, Donna
14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Welcome to worship! Today we take a trip to one of the four covered bridges that are in Washington County, Upstate New York, which is on the border of my little 18th century home in Vermont. These bridges were sometimes called “kissing” bridges and sometimes called “wishing” bridges. It got me wondering, what is God’s wish for us? I thought a lot about that as I read our Scripture reading from Matthew. And so, let us prepare our hearts and worship God.
Blessings, Pastor Donna
Matthew 22:15-22 (New International Version)
Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?”
But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
I wasn’t sure how the disorganization happened nor how my to do lists multiplied like out of control rabbits, but this was the morning I was going to face the mess on my desk. As I looked at the unbelievable task before me, I felt panicky. The panic wasn’t that the piles of disorganization were symbolic of all the work I was facing. I was panicky because this wasn’t me. I was always the organized one.
Back in my Manhattan magazine days, I was the writer everyone looked at suspiciously because my desk was so neat. Each story deadline was clearly marked on my wall calendar. Each story assignment — notes, word count, a list of sources to call for quotes — all placed in its own manila folder. Sometimes I would go to the supply closet for a colored folder — red, yellow, blue or green — just to give my cubicle a pop of color. The files were placed in order of importance in a file holder. Next to my computer would be a yellow legal pad with the day’s tasks prioritized. The mail was in its own little pile and magazines that I would read along with my afternoon cup of coffee — were methodically stacked on the floor near my desk. Everything was under control. I was able to focus and be productive. I was able to breathe.
But now? What happened to that organized, in control person?
It seems these days I’m always behind the proverbial eight ball. I’m always being reminded of something that had fallen off of the 100th revision of that darn to do list. Deadlines that are circled on a calendar seem to come all too quickly. My heart races, leaving me dazed and confused, wondering where did the time go?
This morning I was going to take my life back by organizing every piece of paper before me. That’s when the answer to my gnawing question of what happened to me came. I picked up a blank notepad that was thrown into one of the many piles. Its cover read, “Do More of What Makes You Happy.”
It was then the stressed-to-the-max floodgates holding back tears broke open. The piles of disorganization weren’t because I was doing too much or that my workload was unrealistic. The piles of disorganization on my desk were telling me that I had forgotten to do more of what made me happy — what fed my soul, what renewed my spirits, what restored my creativity.
I had forgotten that it was okay to step away from deadlines and go for a hike. I had forgotten that when faced with writer’s block that worst thing you can do was force the words to come. Rather, when faced with the frightening feeling that you have finally run out of words, that’s when you need to do something that makes you happy. Yet instead of unfolding that beautiful material I recently purchased to make another quilt, I had imposed a “no fabric therapy” rule until the story was written. Where did that get me? Stressed out and still missing a deadline.
I realized that these past few months I haven’t done anything — let alone more of — the things that made me happy: cooking over an open fire outdoors, laying the foundation for my 18th century bread oven, tilling the soil to expand my garden, scouting out the future site for my chicken coop and perhaps even a goat pen, even writing more for this blog, Accidental Country Pastor.
I stared at the mess on my desk, admitting that I had become a “pandemic overachiever.” I have been trying to gain a sense of security, of certainty, of control in a world that is out of control by focusing on things that can be measured in terms of progress and productivity. I haven’t allowed time to dream, to play or just be. When was the last time I allowed myself to nap?
Another Zoom meeting invite? Sure, sign me up. After all, I can’t give the excuse that I am not available, right? I am home most of the time. Yet with Zoom meetings come the extra work of having to actually wash my hair and throw on some mascara. Back in the good old days, meetings with colleagues were done over the phone, which was a lot less hassle. Not only could I forego my primping (saving time to perhaps sew some quilt blocks together for that fabric therapy that is worth the cost of all the material I bought), but I also didn’t have the stress that comes with wondering, praying, holding my breath that my rural internet would not act up. Yes, that is a real stressor. There is nothing worse than being in the middle of an important presentation, only to have the screen freeze and the warning appear “Internet Connection Unstable.”
The projects that would have prevented the drought my soul was now in, had been pushed aside as I fell victim to “webinar binging,” seizing the opportunity to attend free seminars and classes companies and organizations were offering. I didn’t want to miss any valuable information on how to navigate this new world the pandemic has created. Instead of filling my head with knowledge, though, I was robbed of valuable hours of my time as many, not all, but many of the webinars didn’t live up to the promotional hype. After my million and one free webinar, it hit me. No one knows how to navigate this world we are in. Period. All we can do is find peace in the chaos and live with the ambiguity. All we can do is “do more of what makes you happy.”
I am a pandemic overachiever. My messy desk is a sign of that. This morning I was going to take back my life by organizing the mess so that I could be more productive and face those looming deadlines head on. The mess, though, is still there. The work to be done is still there. Yes, there are stories to write. Copy to edit. A sermon to prep for Sunday. There’s even a webinar I was scheduled to attend. But not today.
I have things to do that make me happy, that restore my soul, and that reconnect me to my authentic self, not the self I think this pandemic world wants. I have a quilt to work on. I have cream to churn into butter. I have a run on the rail trail to go on. I have a video to shoot for worship at Old Stone Well Farm, which I love doing.
It was rainy week here at Old Stone Well Farm, and this country pastor got caught in a downpour while out running in the woods. But a beaver who scurried into its lodge got me thinking…when in a storm, where do I find save haven? That’s when I thought back to a childhood memento that used to remind me where my safety and hope were…in the Lord.
And so, enjoy a crisp fall autumn at the homestead as I light some candles to chase away the darkness and share with you how my Shepherd has always guided me.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley,I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it! Today’s worship from Vermont…and, yes, this is a very homespun video, complete with a sneaky cat opening a cabinet behind me and a husband walking in during filming towards the end. I opted not to reshoot, but rather, embrace life as it happens.
Before we begin our time together, here is today’s Scripture lesson from Philippians 3:10-14:
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
As always, drop me a note and let me know how you plan on pressing on this week.
We continue our reading from Exodus with the children of Israel continuing to doubt God and complaining. First it was nothing to eat, now it’s no water to drink. Why do we continue to doubt God even after the most amazing moments of realizing God hears us — always? Make sure to watch to the end for a surprise. Hint: It’s cute and cuddly.
But before we begin, here’s today’s Scripture reading:
17 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.
Quail and manna. Miracles of provision God sent to the children of Israel in their wilderness wandering. I wonder, though, what miracles of provision (not just monetary or food, but what about more hope, more love, more assurance) are God sending our way right now? What if the miracles are all around us in all the ordinary things we take for granted? Some thoughts I ponder with you today as we worship here in Vermont.
Before starting, here is our Scripture reading:
Exodus 16:2-15New Revised Standard Version
2 The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. 5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” 6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” 8 And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.”
9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’” 10 And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lordappeared in the cloud. 11 The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12 “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”
13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 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. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?”[a] For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.
The corn is ripe and fall colors are beginning to appear here in Vermont. Join me today as I share some “kernels” on Jesus and the forgiveness he talks about in Matthew 18.
As we prepare for worship, take time to reflect quietly on the Scripture passage for today.
1 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.[a]
23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[b] was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[c] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
I didn’t think the rhubarb I planted would survive — let only thrive. But much to my surprise, thriving is what they’re doing. The plants have been through a lot. Season after season they have been ravaged by pesky beetles. There has been many summer mornings, as the fog hung low in the valley and my feet squished through the tall grass wet with dew, that I would tend to the rhubarb, pulling the insects off as they happily chomped lacelike patterns into the leaves.
As I did, I would gaze at the scenery around me, allowing a surge of gratitude to distract me from the squeamishness of touching the insects. In those moments, I couldn’t help but be in awe as to how God was guiding me, answering a childhood prayer to live on a farm in New England.
My husband reminds me that I can’t call our Vermont home a farm if we don’t have outbuildings or animals. In my mind, though, I see the vision. I see the possibilities of what can be. I see the goats. I see the chickens. I see the pond. I see the cherry tree. I see it.
I will admit, though, that lately that clear picture of a farm is fading with each passing day. Darn those passing days. They seem to be sprinting past me, eager to get to the year-end finish line. I’m not ready for the race to be over. I have a dream inside that has been waiting for far too long to become a reality.
But for the first time in my life I find myself wondering could it be that some dreams ought to remain just that: Dreams never to see the light of day? Dreams that I will never know how God intended for them to be born and bless the world?
I wonder what happened to “Donna the risktaker”? What happened to the girl who challenged naysayers and took all those “no’s” as a challenge to be proved wrong? What happened to the person who would say to all those impossibilities looming before me that all things were possible if I only believed?
My dreams seem to be withering, but my rhubarb is thriving.
This morning I harvested the last of it for the season. By the time I was done, I had two armfuls full of green and pinkish-red stalks, some averaging more than 16 inches long. My first thought was what was I going to do with all of this rhubarb? There are just so many pies one can eat. There is just so much rhubarb jam, relish, sauce that one can consume.
The decision to plant rhubarb wasn’t because of my love for it — nor my husband’s. He won’t eat anything with rhubarb in it, thus, why I worry about all those pies as I turn my attention to how my jeans are fitting.
I planted the rhubarb really for my dad. I remember the stories of how rhubarb pie was one of his favorites that his mom would make when he was growing up on a farm in the Swiss Alps. The picture this brings to mind is so bucolic. But I bet there were beetles to pluck off the leaves as well. I bet there were days of clouds. I bet there was a time or two when perhaps my grandmother wondered how to slow down those days sprinting by as she harvested her rhubarb.
As I walked back to the house, I found myself cradling the abundance of rhubarb in my arms. Cradling the stalks because in that moment they were more than just future pies. The stalks were stories of a Swiss grandmother making pies on farm surrounded by snowcapped mountains. They were that aching in my heart to see my parents again as COVID-19 has kept us apart for months — them in New Jersey and me in Vermont. They were a vision of a farm that I once saw so clearly that now seemed to be slipping away. The stalks I cradled were God whispers, assuring me that God was still nurturing me, plucking off all those pesky self-doubts and negative messages of the world that keep chomping away at my dreams.
Well, it seems God is trying hard to get my attention. What are these delays trying to teach me? What are the glitches all about? As frustrating as the technical difficulties I have been having are — this is another Sunday where the system is very slow in loading the worship video — I have to try to search for the lesson. Could I reframe my situation and see these glitches as God glitches? What about you? How do you react when things just aren’t going smoothly? Or, worse yet, when everything seems to be broken or falling apart? I am realizing we have two options — we can crumble or we can rise above the trials, the problems, those oh-so frustrating moments in life.
I remember a devotional from years ago that had a huge impact on me. It was talking about the hard work of waiting for God to work in our lives. It said that if only we could see that a delay in life was not a denial of a treasured prayer. Rather, the “delay” was God’s way of working things out most beautifully — beyond our wildest imaginations.
So what is this delay once again in Worship at Old Stone Well Farm teaching me? Not sure. But I will try to learn. I will see what God is trying to say to me. I will search for what on this path of ministry I might be missing in which God is saying, “Look. See.”
And so, as I get ready for traditional in-person worship this morning, I ask for your prayers. But I also invite you to reflect on all those times in your life where the delays weren’t denials at all. They were all part of God’s ultimate plan for us.
Stay tuned. (And here’s a teaser…today’s worship focuses on Matthew 18:15-20.
Well, we are finally here together to worship! Apologies for the technical glitches this morning. While my nerves are frazzled, I am seeking the God lesson is this delay. And what I have come to realize is that perhaps this delay is opening us to a new spiritual discipline — that is, breaking out of the habit of thinking that worship to God is on a Sunday morning only. Perhaps this is making us carve out another time to take a moment to hear God’s word and praise Him outside of Sunday? Just some musings I have as I regroup from this technical nightmare. (Did I mention my nerves are frazzled? Darn thunderstorms in rural Vermont…or perhaps, those darn chipmunks chewing on wires!)
But enough about that. We are here together virtually and even amid delays and glitches, God is at work, God is with us, God is guiding us. And so let us praise God together!
Today’s Scripture is from Romans 12:9-21:
9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.[a] 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;[b] do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God;[c] for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
As you read the Scripture, think about what it means to show “genuine” love to all. Where is God asking you to be more loving?
I love old doors. There’s just something about the warped wood, rusty hinges and black iron latches — that often fail to work — that captures my imagination. Maybe I love old doors because they remind me of the primitive houses I loved to explore as a child while on family vacations to historic 18th-century stomping grounds.
If I close my eyes, I can easily be transported to one such trip where, as a little girl so enthralled with the farmhouse that is known as the Wick Farm in Morristown, New Jersey — where General Washington and his troops encamped one harsh winter — I can hear the creaking as the door swings open. I can see the dust swirling in the streak of sun that breaks into a low-ceiling, windowless, timbered wall room, with a huge cooking hearth that perfumes every nook and cranny with a dense smoke from the dying embers that big black kettles hang over. I stand in the threshold of two worlds. The modern one I know and the ancient one I want to know better.
Today at the farm, we will take a look at one old door. A locked one that kept Jesus’ friends trapped in a world they knew — a world of fear, doubt and uncertainty. Yet beyond that door was light and love and new God possibilities. What can we learn from that first Resurrection evening? How many doors have we shut and locked all because fear overtook faith? What is the threshold you are standing in today? And where is God inviting you to step?
Let us begin our time of worship together. The video is ready for you to press play. Make sure to watch to the end as I have an announcement about next week and a challenge for you to participate in.
Blessings! Pastor Donna
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
He is Risen! He is risen indeed! Welcome to Easter worship here at Old Stone Well Farm!
I invite you to join and watch the sunrise with me at Merck Farmland, just overlooking Frederick Buechner’s home. I then go to an 18th century cemetery nestled in the rolling hills of the Green Mountains to ponder the angel’s announcement to Mary, “He is not here.”
And, as promised, you will discover why this year I dyed some of my Easter eggs red.
It is a joy to worship with you. Share this special worship with others on this Resurrection Day — or any other day in Eastertide, those awe-inspiring 50 days leading us Pentecost, where God’s Spirit descends upon us!
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.[a]