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.