Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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The Flower Pot

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!

Pastor Donna

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.

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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A Life that Flourishes

Up in my apple tree, trying to get sense of how and if I can prune it!

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.

Robert Frost’s house in Shaftsbury, Vermont. It is now owned by Bennington College and opened to the public.

John 15:1-7

“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.

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

Open the Doors

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

John 20:19-23

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.”

Easter at Old Stone Well Farm

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!

Mark 16:1-8

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. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 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. 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.” 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]

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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Palm Sunday: In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb

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.

I stumbled upon this picture the other day and it captivated me. When thinking of Holy Week in light of March’s famous saying “in like a lion, out like a lamb” I couldn’t help but to think of Jesus as the lion of Judah and Jesus as our sacrificial lamb. Take a moment and reflect on the picture. Notice how the lion brushes up against the young woman with earnest, almost pleading eyes. And then notice how carefree and playful the little lamb is. What thoughts/feelings/insights come to you?

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.

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

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Waking Up

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!

Blessings!

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.

Worship at Old Stone Well Farm

A Lenten Cross

There’s a special place there on my fledgling farm. It’s called “Sofie’s Hill.” The hill is named after my Bernese mountain dog who died two years ago in March during the season of Lent. It is a place where we used to climb together and sit gazing at the view below. It is here I sprinkled her ashes when the first snow of the season fell. She always loved the snow. And it is here I continue to make the climb, although a lonely one now, to sit and ponder life. I invite you today to join me on Sofie’s Hill as I especially reflect on the words of Jesus when he said to his friends that to truly follow him you must take up the cross. What does taking up the cross look like in our lives today? How do these words have the power to change who I am and how I live?

May your “climb” today bring a new view on your Lenten journey.

Blessings,

Pastor Donna

Mark 8:31-35
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

After Sunday Thought… I See Failure; God Sees Success

Have you ever failed at something? Made a mistake? Messed up a project?

Of course you have. You’re only human. That’s why I loved yesterday’s scripture from Mark where Jesus returns to his hometown to preach only to find that he isn’t warmly welcomed. On the surface you can say that he was a big flop.

Soon after the synagogue debacle, though, we don’t see Jesus rethinking his life’s call, giving up on the mission of radical love and welcome. Rather, we see him move forward. This time, sending out his friends, two by two, to go to the towns and stay in homes to share the good news. And knowing that sometimes life brings rejection, he tells his friends, don’t let it get you down. You have something to offer. You have been called to do a job. You are part of God’s bigger plan. Just shake off the dust from your sandals and move on. There’s no time to waste; there are others to reach.

There really isn’t time to waste wallowing in our failure or rejection, for when something doesn’t go the way we had hoped or we don’t the results of our labor, it isn’t the end of the world. In fact, it could be God’s way of redirecting us — for example, those in the synagogue won’t receive you, then go out to those in the streets.

I have a chicken coop I’ve been trying to build for a year now. My father began the project last summer, but it was put on hold in the fall because of my indecisiveness as to how to side the walls. I wanted weathered barn boards, but they are wicked expensive to buy and I haven’t come across any old barns that have fallen down lately.

During this time of searching for siding alternatives, two major windstorms blew the coop over. By the second storm, I felt crushed thinking I would probably have to give up on the dream of having chickens. I really thought about dismantling the structure, but something urged me on. Once again, I cajoled my husband into helping me hoist the sad looking coop upright. And there it sits.

Somedays I stare out the kitchen window at this “failure” and I get down about it. Other days, though, I see these delays in finishing the coop as blessings because the reality is I  don’t have time to tend to chickens. The failed chicken coop is starting to look more like a rustic shed for my garden tools.

I have always joked in my life that if Plan A doesn’t work, I am okay because there was a Plan B, a Plan C, a Plan D. I vowed I would never fret until I got to Plan Z. Why? Because I have learned that God has a beautiful way of guiding us. All the times I thought I have failed, I actually found myself stepping onto a new and better path.

And here’s the other thing with “failure.” It really isn’t what it seems to be because God sees things differently. God, who is a redemptive God, can take a mess and bless it.

I overheard a conversation on a shuttle bus to the airport recently. A woman asked a man sitting next to her what he did for a living. He led Christian retreats at a conference center. The woman was excited because she had attended that center years ago. She then went on to tell how one speaker she heard changed her life forever. It led her to give her life to Christ, to go into Christian publishing to spread the good news and, subsequently, because of the path she was now on, her sister was so inspired that she became a missionary. The woman was quiet after sharing the story and then said, “Now that I think about it, that retreat saved me.”

I was startled when I saw the man getting teary-eyed and wondered what was going on? I soon found out as he replied, “I led that retreat and I thought it was the biggest failure of my life. I was so depressed afterwards and found myself rethinking everything.”

A failure isn’t a failure — with God. Just take a look at Jesus. It seemed to everyone — even his friends — that his ministry failed that day he was nailed to the cross. But it didn’t. It was just starting.

So the next time you think you really screwed up or feel you are a hopeless cause or start believing you have no worth at all in this world, think again. God sees things differently. God sees blessings in messes. God brings holy successes out of our human failures.

Now, shake off the dust. You have a beautiful life to live — and I have a chicken coop, um, I mean garden shed, to finish.

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Failures aren’t what they seem. Take for instance, my chicken coop. Blown over by high winds twice and still not finished, the delays have made me realize, I really don’t have time to raise chickens. I do, though, need a place to store my garden tools.

 

After Sunday Thought…

As a pastor, I find myself pondering yesterday’s sermon on what is supposed to be my sabbath — Monday. The sabbath rest never seems to come as there’s always something needing to be done, among them, planning for next Sunday’s worship.

But before I can even be opened to what God is preparing me to say, I need to stop replaying yesterday’s sermon in my head. Yes, I do that.

I have a pastor friend who once told me after said she preaches, it is completely out of her mind. She doesn’t fixate on the perfect quote she wanted to share that she left out. She doesn’t harp on the words she tripped over or the moment she lost her train of thought. She doesn’t even replay the rare and glorious moment when the most heavenly prose comes from her mouth. She prepares. She prays. She proclaims. And when it’s over, she proceeds to her much-need Sunday afternoon nap. By Monday, she is ready to move on.

Ah, to be like her. But I am not. So I invite you to join me for today’s “after Sunday” thought that has been on my mind. Here it is:

While preaching on the woman who pushed through the crowds to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe in order to be made whole, I got to thinking.

We are all that woman in the crowd, aren’t we? We all want to be healed of something, be it physical or emotional. We want to have hope for tomorrow. We want to stop feeling defeated, left out or unloved.

 

Yes, I’m in the crowd trying to hold on to a faith that urges me on with a beautiful realization that even if I am able to touch just a thread of Jesus’ hem, that would sufficient. I don’t need the whole hem.

I’m in the crowd. You’re in the crowd. So are your friends. And the one you love to hate. She’s next to the one who betrayed you.

The immigrant is there, too, holding the hand of a child who is crying. Both are scared. It’s an uncertain future, who wouldn’t be crying? Yet, there is a thread of a holy hem to touch. It’s so close. Reach. Stretch. Do whatever you can to get to it, but please don’t give up.

The person who doesn’t look like you, yep, he is standing right next to you in the crowd. Don’t sigh and get annoyed. He has every right to be there. The one who doesn’t speak English is pressing in as well. The gay, the lesbian, the transgender — they are all there with that woman Scripture tells us about. The woman society deems not worthy of being called by name. The woman Jesus sees as worthy and, as such, claims her name. “Daughter.”

So since we are all in that crowd reaching for the holy hem, let us not trip one another up. Let us not shove one another aside because we think them not worthy. Let us not elbow the other out of the way, because we want Jesus all to ourselves.

Rather, let us lock arms with one another and push toward a better life — a beloved community — together. For there is enough grace, love, help, support, healing — there’s enough Jesus — for all.

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I come to the garden…just one of the many places on Old Stone Well Farm where I can be still and ponder my many ‘after Sunday’ thoughts. 

 

Best. Christmas. Ever…

So many families are disappointed that the snow has prevented loved ones from spending Christmas together. I admit, I am feeling a bit down in the dumps that my husband and I won’t be heading out to see my parents and brother. The roads are pretty bad…

Disappointment. It’s something we don’t like to talk about on Christmas Day, but it is often there lurking in a room filled with smiles and laughter. Children get disappointed if Santa forgot a toy on their list. We pastors get disappointed weather impacts our carefully planned worship services. Adults get disappointed if…well, I think we adults can finish that sentence in many ways.

And now this Christmas Day, Santa has delivered a big dose of disappointment for many…snow falling steadily and piling up quickly, leaving many to make those calls to loved ones, “I’m sorry, but we won’t be seeing you today.”

It is disappointing, but I can’t help but to see the God moment in this Christmas Day storm. Perhaps the changed plans, the unexpected stillness and the forced “slow down” is God’s invitation for us to enjoy a different kind of celebration — a Christmas Day not based on what has always been or one that carries the heavy burden of expectations, but one that is as holy as that very first Christmas when Christ was born. That day was filled with the unexpected “disappointments” that really were beautiful blessings. I mean, really, Mary must have been a bit disappointed that she had to deliver her child in a stable.

The snow is still falling. Every so often I can hear it slide off  the roof of our 18th century home. The snow pile against our front door is now 4 feet high. I can’t see Vermont’s lofty mountains from the kitchen window. They are hidden by a blanket of gray skies. I can’t even see my old stone well for which my little some-day farm is named after.

I can’t see much of anything. And that’s a good thing, I remind myself. For only God knows the plans God has for us. Faith in those God plans is trust game we must play. We need to see beyond the things we usually see or want to see, in order to truly see God.

That means this day, seeing beyond the disappointment of a Christmas Day snowstorm.

And so, I am loving the unexpected gift of peacefulness I unwrapped this morning as I stood outside feeling the gentle flakes fall on my face. I loved this gift so much I have yet to stop playing with it. In fact, the other gifts, the ones from a store, are still unopened under our Christmas tree. They can wait.

God’s gifts cannot.

The gift to see the world differently, the gift to let go of our expectations of what this day should be, the gift to let God’s healing love surround us in the guise of a snowstorm…these are the gifts to open.

Merry Christmas.

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