Joy Rising

Link to recording of live-streamed service: https://fb.watch/dcyg0pQs_C/

Meditation onLuke 24:44-53

Pastor Karen Crawford

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, NY

May 22, 2022

Ascension of Our Lord

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised, so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

I went to lunch with PW this week at Old Street. Who was there with me? Are we allowed to say? Is it a secret?

It was fun. We laughed a lot—the Early Bird Circle and me. I could feel our joy rising, moment by moment.

I don’t remember everything we talked about—which is fine because we already promised that whatever happens with the Early Birds stays with the Early Birds—unless it’s just about me. Then, it can be sermon material.

 The group is helping me get acclimated to the area. They told me where to go for grocery shopping and restaurants. We are thinking about riding the ferry together to Cracker Barrel and the Pez Factory. When we talked about how much the ferry would cost, I suggested we ride together all in one vehicle. Like a clown car!  

  They were sympathetic when I told them how I had got lost one afternoon coming home from the church at rush hour. I tried to find a short cut and avoid this congested intersection. I made a wrong turn or missed my turn and went too far.

 I saw beautiful, shady parks, ball fields, the hospital, housing developments, stores, schools, and more. I was on a Smithtown tour. One of the ladies asked where I was when I got lost. I said, “I don’t know. If I knew, I wouldn’t have been lost.”

We had a great laugh about my confusion.

In actuality, I wasn’t far from the church. I just didn’t know which way to go—and I didn’t have a map or my phone, so I couldn’t rely on GPS.

You know what I did when I realized I was lost? I prayed. And then I stopped and asked for directions from a nice lady named Nelly at CVS. Is it true that men never ask for directions?

Friends, so much is new for me and you. It’s not just the technology of hybrid worship; it’s a new world. Do you ever feel anxious or disoriented? Worried about the future? The painter in our home talked with me about an aging, struggling Presbyterian Church that he grew up in. He was worried about the church’s survival—how it had declined.

He asked, “What are you going to do to rebuild your church?”

I didn’t have the answer he wanted. I could tell by his face. He wanted a particular strategy—you know, like a CEO has a business plan. That’s not how the Church of Jesus Christ works. We operate and thrive on FAITH. We trust in what we do not see. But we aren’t passive. We are active servants, workers of the Lord.

I told him that I would reach out to people with the love and grace of God—those who are in the church now, those who used to come often but haven’t been in a while, and those who will be visiting us. Because I know that more people will come. Christ’s desire is to build His Church—and to use us to do it.

We are in an important time of transition as a church as we grow accustomed to life with the virus. Someday, we will look back and tell the next generations about what happened during the pandemic—how we continued as Christ’s Body for the world, even when we couldn’t gather in person and had to wear masks! They will shake their heads in amazement at all the hurdles we faced as a church in this society—and all that we learned about ourselves—and the faithfulness of the Lord who led us to endure and overcome.

In those early days after Jesus was crucified—and there was an empty tomb–his closest friends, who had shared in Christ’s ministry for 3 years, didn’t know what to do. Suddenly, the ministry was over. Or so they thought. But the Church’s work had only just begun.

Thinking about our future ministry together—and all the possibilities, where we will go, what we will do, who we will meet, and lives that will be changed, including our own—I feel my joy rising.

***

Today in Luke’s gospel, we are with the disciples during an important transition for the ministry. Christ is risen from the dead, only to be leaving them again. He is passing the torch to his first followers on earth, with the promise that he will come back.

This is a critical time.

What if his followers had just given up, right then, when they saw him lifted up into the sky? What if they had just taken off—and hightailed it home, as if the last 3 difficult years of ministry with Christ had never happened?

The Lord has some last-minute instructions, just before he is carried up into heaven from Bethany, lifting his hands, blessing them as he goes. He repeats these detailed instructions for their benefit—and for us and all the generations of followers who will be listening in. Because sometimes it takes hearing something more than once before it sinks in. Sometimes it takes hearing it, seeing it, experiencing it with all your senses, and writing and talking about it—and then years later, it all becomes crystal clear.

Jesus says:

  1. “everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”
  2. “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day and
  3. repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 
  4. YOU ARE WITNESSES OF THESE THINGS.

Number 5 is the most important instruction, with 3 parts. Jesus says,

  • I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city (Jerusalem) until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

What’s coming, friends? The Holy Spirit that will bring thousands of souls in one day to repent, believe, receive forgiveness, and become the Church of Jesus Christ. The Spirit will bring new understanding and insight—and this will be the power that will strengthen them—and us—to the end.

    When the Lord disappears from their sight, the disciples return to Jerusalem to worship and wait expectantly. They make a choice. They choose not fear and disbelief. They choose GREAT joy and faith. The mission to all the nations begins in the Holy City, just as Christ said.

    The book of Luke ends with them gathering continually in the temple, blessing God, waiting patiently for all that the Lord has said to come to pass.

     And for their joy to rise some more.

***

 This is where Luke leaves us—with a reminder of the importance of our patience while we wait on the Lord, no matter how our situation and the world around us may change. The words of the Apostle Paul to the Philippians when he was in prison come to mind, saying in chapter 4  how he has learned the secret of contentment. “I can do all things through him,” he says, “who strengthens me.”

   Like the first disciples, we have a choice every day. We can choose fear and disbelief and complain about things that don’t go as we expect them to or want them to go. Life is unpredictable, Amen? But God’s love is everlasting and unchanging. We can always count on that.

     And we can, instead, like the first disciples, choose joy and faith. We can believe that the Spirit is at work in us and through the witness of our lives, bringing new understanding to the Scriptures as we study them in our place and time and through the lens of our life experiences.

    Although I don’t know how the Lord plans to use us to build up the Church, I can see your kindness to one another, reaching out to people you haven’t seen in a while and those who have been sick. By this you are bearing witness to your faith in the Risen and Ascended Christ, who promises to come again! We want to be ready, dear friends! We want to be found faithful when he comes!

    Don’t miss an opportunity to gather formally and informally with your co-laborers in the Kingdom. Eat, laugh, and learn together. Pray for your church family. Look for ways to serve together. There’s nothing better than shared mission to grow enthusiasm and passion in our congregation and to be a light for Christ in our community!

      Don’t miss the blessing of giving of yourself and doing good—and being a listening ear, bringing the peaceful presence of Christ to someone in need.

    The mission that started in Jerusalem starts here in Smithtown for us, where we are equipped, encouraged, and sent out to travel near and far—maybe even by ferry in a clown car!

   Joy rising!

Let us pray.

Gracious and loving God, thank you for the joy of the Ascension and the joy that we experience in your holy presence, as we are now. Thank you for the promise that you are always in our midst, when we gather in your name, lifting one another up in prayer, wherever we are. We ask that you continue to bring us back together, bind us together, make us one, and lead us on the right path to passionate ministry—loving and serving you and our neighbors. Draw us nearer to our Good Shepherd and deeper into the fold. In the name of our Ascended Savior and Triune God we pray. Amen.

God’s Gift of Life Is for All

Meditation on Acts 11: 1-18

Pastor Karen Crawford

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, NY

May 15, 2022

We are all moved in. Well, sort of. The living room and dining room are full of boxes. Not to mention the garage. I really don’t know WHAT’s in the garage. Not our cars, for sure! Thank you, once again, to all the volunteers who have worked hard to help make our house a home. Thank you to all of you who have warmly welcomed us!

Additionally, we are grateful for others who have been paid to do much needed work on the manse. I don’t know all of their names, as some did the work before we came. But they are landscapers, tree trimmers, roofers and siders. Painters and hardwood restorers.

I’ve been thinking about this long period of transition and the work. It’s easy to complain about the costs of things and the time it takes for everything to be done. But the apostle Paul tells us to no longer see one another, ourselves, or the situations of our lives from a worldly point of view! He says in 2 Cor. 5:15-17, “And He (Christ) died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly (or human) point of view. Although we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come!”

    Turn to your neighbor now and say, “I am a new creation!”

    I don’t know if it’s my personality or because I am a pastor or what, but I confess that I find it difficult not to talk with the workers in my home. I try not to—because it can be dangerous for them, you know, operating power tools and talking to me at the same time. And I don’t want it to cost more money, for those who are charging by the hour.

    But here was Frank the plumber a couple of days ago, in our kitchen on a ladder, under the big hole he had made in the ceiling, waiting for the other guy to do something in the bathroom above. I asked Frank, who was kind of a gruff sort, how long he had been a plumber. “35 years,” he said. Then, he told Jim and me how he had worked for his uncle as an apprentice, starting when he was 18.

     I asked if plumbing had changed in 35 years. He said, “Oh, yeah!”  Then I couldn’t help but ask him if plumbing was anything like Moonstruck. The 1987 movie features Cher and Nicholas Cage, as her love interest, and Olympia Dukakis and Vincent Gardenia as Cher’s parents. Her father, Cosmos, is a plumber who, as her mother says when he refuses to pay for Cher’s second wedding, “is as rich as Roosevelt.”

    I didn’t say it, but I was thinking of the scene when Cosmos talks a young couple into paying $10,800 to fix a leak in their bathroom. But I am pretty sure Frank knew I was talking about it.

    (Here’s the link to that scene: https://youtu.be/BEmKe6KxhcM

“It costs more,” Cosmos says of copper pipe, “because it saves you money.”

    Our plumber threw his head back and laughed at the Moonstruck reference. “I love that movie,” he said.

    Later, after the job was done, and he was handing us his bill—not $10,800 but still plenty—he said it would be OK if we mailed him a check. Frank surprised us when he said, “If you can’t trust a church, who can you trust?”

***

    Today in our reading in Acts, similar to our plumber who came when we called for help, the apostle Peter is making a house call. Only, Peter is summoned for spiritual guidance. The amazing thing is the family who reaches out to him is NOT Jewish and it creates a conflict in the First Century Church. This is a good reminder to us that the first followers of Christ are Jewish believers who continue to adhere to the practice of circumcision for males and the dietary regulations in which they were raised.

     Peter will be made to stand before and give account to the leaders of the Church in Jerusalem, not so much for sharing the gospel with Gentiles, but for going to their home, staying with them, and eating with them.

     In his defense, Peter only recounts what happened—how he saw a vision from God and how he responded, how one thing led to another. Do you wonder why he never talks about how Jesus reached out to Gentiles or the Great Commission of Matthew 28, when the risen Christ tells his followers “to go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations” ? I wondered that. But the point is that Peter is trying in his ministry to simply be led by the Spirit in all that he says and does.

     Jesus, like Peter, was criticized by religious leaders for eating and drinking with sinners, such as prostitutes and tax collectors. His own disciples were shocked when he reached out with kindness to the Samaritan woman at the well and accepted a cup of water from her. While the first recorded encounter of the Gentiles with Jesus is when the magi visit him as a toddler in Matthew chapter 2, one of his first encounters with Gentiles in his ministry as an adult is with, interestingly enough, a Roman centurion in Matthew 8:8 and Luke 7:2. One source says that his “being part of the occupying Roman military force…would have represented everything the Jews would have hated about Rome.” — John Newman, Jesus and the Gentiles, http://newhopelafayette.org/jesusandthegentiles/  

    Jesus heals the centurion’s servant, marveling at the centurion’s faith, a faith he had not discovered “even in Israel,” with his own people.

    The whole fascinating story of Cornelius the centurion, a military commander of 100 men, begins in Acts 10. The lectionary passage is only what Peter says when the religious leaders in Jerusalem criticize him. Specifically in question is his fidelity to the laws of Moses. What’s at stake is simply the entire future of the Church—who can be included, and who will be left out?!

    Peter sees the puzzling vision while he is praying up on the roof of Simon the tanner’s house in Joppa by the seashore, where he is staying. Beginning at verse 11, Peter “saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners.In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air.Then he heard a voice saying, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.’ The voice said to him again, a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.”

   If you are thinking things often happen in 3’s with Peter, you’re right! He denies Jesus 3 times before the cock crowed. And the risen Christ asks Peter 3 times if he loves him, charging him with the care and nurture of his flock.

    The vision that at first glance seems to be about what’s OK for Peter and other Jewish Christians to eat is really about who is profane or unclean in the Kingdom of God Christ has ushered in. What’s the answer? No one is unclean or profane! No one!!

    In Christ, we are all NEW CREATIONS in him.

    Friends, turn to your neighbor and say, “You are a new creation!”

    The apostle Paul will say in Galatians 3:28, There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

     Brothers and sisters, how shall we respond to our Acts reading today?

     Let’s get ready for the unexpected! God is about to do a new thing. It is easy for us to get comfortable with our traditions and our circle of friends and family. None of us like change—just like the religious leaders in Peter’s time.

    The future of the Church is outside these walls, as well as inside. It’s in our homes and schools. Our places of work. It’s in doctor’s offices, restaurants and grocery stores, gas stations and train stations, and shopping malls. On the highways and side roads and at the beach. You get the idea!

     We have to be faithful all the time. That doesn’t mean we have to be super religious or perfect or even talking about the Church or Jesus all the time. No, it means we have to be who we are in Jesus—who Christ is making us to be. We have to be kind and open to the move of the Spirit, like Peter was, or else we will hinder the work of God.

     Behold, the old has passed away. The new has come! God’s gift of life is for all!

Let us pray.

Holy One, thank you for the surprising work of the Spirit in the Church of Peter’s time—and in your Church today. Thank you for your love and for modeling kindness and patience through the apostles, even when asked to defend their beliefs and practices. Lord, we tend to be choosy about who we want to spend time with and include in our circles of friends and close family. We often act in exclusive ways, fearing and avoiding those we perceive as different, just as the religious leaders did to the Gentiles in the early days of the Church. Help us to love as you love—inclusively and unconditionally—and to be open to the move of the Spirit in and beyond the walls of this your Church. Grow us in every way and grant us your joy as we serve you with our lives. In Christ we pray. Amen.

Where You Go, I Will Go!

Meditation on Ruth 1:1-18

First Presbyterian Church, Smithtown, NY

Pastor Karen Crawford

May 8, 2022

Link to recording of live-streamed worship service for Mother’s Day: https://fb.watch/cVcOCOLQ1B/

I can’t believe I am finally here with you— leading worship and sharing a message with you for the first time as my very own flock.

Thank you for calling me to serve as your pastor.  You’re probably as anxious to get to know me as I am to know you. I am passionate about ministry—wanting to help you grow and heal from any hurts.

I am here to serve you and care for you and help you care for one another and seek God’s will for your life and the life of our congregation.

I never knew any female pastors when I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s. Maybe if I had, I would have come to the decision to pursue ministry sooner.

I pray that I will inspire girls and young women in our congregation to develop their gifts for ministry, whatever ministry God is calling them to do. Like the writer of Ephesians tells us, may we all come to “live a life worthy of the calling (we) have received.”

But today, if there’s one thing I would like you to remember from this message, it’s that we must persevere in HOPE.

A scripture that comes to mind in this season for our church is Hebrews 10:23-25:

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

***

Opening boxes this week from our move, I found some old pictures of my grandmother, Mabel. I got to thinking how I have come from a long line of strong, hardworking women. Any of you from a long line of strong women? Any of you strong women?

Grandma grew up in Pleasantville, New Jersey, near Atlantic City. She was one of 13 children of Norwegian immigrant parents. I used to hear how her father was a construction worker who helped to build the Steel Pier, the amusement park built on the boardwalk; it opened in June 1898. Grandma didn’t graduate from high school, though she was an excellent student; she left school after 11th grade to work in restaurants with her older sister, Bertha, carrying plates up and down her arms and walking in borrowed high heels that were too small.

She met and married my grandfather when she was working as a nanny for a family that was vacationing in Daytona Beach, Florida. Charles Springer was a widower with two children, a butcher from City Island, NY, who spent the winter months in his family’s cottage in Florida.

They had one child together—my mom, Elaine, who is a college graduate and a Navy veteran and has worked as a nurse, real estate agent and tax preparer.

Grandma never worked outside the home after she was married. She was active in her Lutheran church—singing in the choir for more than 50 years and teaching Sunday school and junior choir. She was a full-time caregiver to her daughter—involved in every activity Mom was—and to her husband, as well as his parents, who lived with them until they died. She didn’t learn to drive until she was in her 40s—and my mom taught her how.

Grandma’s house was always open to her neighbors, who would wander in for friendly conversation and a cup of coffee and slice of cake. Her house was always open to her big, extended family—who would drop by for a meal and a game of cards or to stay a night or two, if they were just passing through.

She came to visit us many summers in Maryland to take care of my brother, sister, and me while my mom and dad were working. She drove us to the community pool, the library, and grocery store; cooked and cleaned; read to us; played games; listened as we practiced piano or had long conversations. She took us on walks in our neighborhood.

She made the best lemon meringue pie. She taught us to pray simple prayers before meals and at bedtime. She gave me my first Bible. I unpacked it last night with her photos! A white leatherbound King James, with the words of Jesus in red.

From the strong women in my life—my mother and grandmothers—I learned compassion, kindness, and service—and the importance of saying thank you and writing thank you notes. I learned the value of making my bed every morning, enjoying a hot bath, and setting a pretty table with napkins, no matter what food was served. I developed, under their nurture, a love for reading and writing. I came to appreciate the peace of washing clothes and the fresh smell of laundry flapping on a clothesline.

I learned to work hard and do my best.  How to give and receive love. To live in the present and not look back on the past with rose-colored glasses. And to always have hope for tomorrow.

In today’s reading in Ruth, we encounter 3 strong women, widows. One is older, an Israelite named Naomi who came with her husband and two sons to Moab 10 years before, when there was famine in Bethlehem. The other two are younger, Moabites, daughters-in-law named Ruth and Orpah. We all remember Ruth, right? But not many of us remember Orpah.

Because Orpah is the one who turns back. She doesn’t complete the 50-mile, 7 to 10 day journey on foot over steep slopes back to Bethlehem with Naomi. She doesn’t go—but it’s out of obedience to Naomi’s request.

Naomi believes she is going home to die; for nothing awaits her there—no home, no family, no money, no job….And nothing is left for her in Moab. She has already buried her husband and two sons. She has no grandchildren.

In verse 8, Naomi says to her two daughters-in-law, “ ‘Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.’ Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud.”

Ruth refuses to leave Naomi. Her home is Naomi—and her calling is to care for and provide for her widowed mother-in-law. She will do so as soon as they arrive in Bethlehem. Penniless and hungry, she will work in the fields, gleaning what’s left after the paid laborers have gleaned, relying on the kindness, mercy, and generosity of a stranger, a wealthy landowner named Boaz.

At the crucial moment, Ruth has to decide—should she stay or go. Should she leave everyone and everything that is familiar and go to Bethlehem, where Moabites are not usually welcomed and embraced in friendship?

At this crucial moment, Ruth is the one who perseveres in hope and faith. This is a surprising faith in the God whom Naomi worships, not the pagan gods of the Moabites. This is a faith that gives her wisdom, courage, and strength. A faith that bears the fruit of love.

This is a faith that, like ours, is a gift from God. For God has a plan to use Ruth, who will become the great-grandmother of David, Israel’s most beloved king.

Ruth weeps and clings to Naomi, saying,

“Do not press me to leave you,
    to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
    where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people
    and your God my God.”

Dear friends, the mercy, generosity, and compassion of Boaz for the foreigner, Ruth, is a picture of God’s love for us. We who were once strangers and outsiders have been grafted into the family tree through our risen Savior.

You and I have begun our journey of faith together. We have made a crucial decision. So now we don’t look back. Today, we have taken our first steps forward into the wonderful future God has planned.

Let us trust in the faithfulness of our Lord, from age to age, still the same—and not in our own abilities, intellect, or past successes. Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,not giving up meeting together, … but encouraging one another. Let us cling to our hope in the Lord, as Ruth clung to Naomi and her faith—and be ready to respond to the stirring of the Spirit, working in and among us.

May we say to the Lord, beckoning us to follow, “Where you go, I will go.”

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, thank you for this ministry here in Smithtown, the calling you have given us for such a time as this. Thank you for your gift of faith and your everlasting love, mercy and grace that will be with us forever on this journey together. Lead us, step by step, navigating any difficulties that may be ahead with grace and peace and yes, even joy. Grant us your wisdom, courage, and strength. As we persevere in hope, help us to bear the fruit of love. In Christ we pray. Amen.

Plant a Garden

Meditation on John 20:1-18

Easter Sunday 2022

Pastor Karen Crawford

The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, Ohio

Link to Livestreamed Recording of the service:https://fb.watch/ctfNlBYj3q/

Do we have any gardeners in the room?

I was visiting with my next-door neighbor, Renate, a couple of days ago. Gardening and faith have been the basis of our friendship these past 3 years.

As we talked about my leaving soon to take a new call, we both had the same question. Would the next woman of the house be a gardener? Would she tend what has been planted? For a garden that is neglected is a sad thing, indeed.

Renate has encouraged me by sharing her passion for growing things and sharing many of the plants in her yard. She has given me Butterfly Bushes. Clematis. Hardy Geraniums. Moonflowers. Vinca. Campanula or Bell Flowers. Lamb’s Ear. Lemon Balm. Burning Bush. Anemone. Snowdrops. Rose of Sharon. And more.

Like young Mary and Colin in one of my favorite children’s stories—The Secret Garden—I have found strength and healing from planting and tending my garden—where not only flowering plants, trees and shrubs, but faith, hope, peace, joy, and love have grown.

***

Mary Magdalene is the first to discover the empty tomb in John’s gospel. She arrives early on the first day of the week, while it is still dark. Her grief very likely kept her from sleeping—as grief often does. But when she sees the empty tomb, she leaves in a panic to wake up two other disciples who are closest to Jesus—Simon Peter and “the one whom Jesus loved.” They, too, come and see. She has probably come to the tomb with other women, at first, as it would be dangerous for her to come alone in the dark. She says to the two male disciples, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 

   Simon Peter and the other disciple see the empty tomb, the linen wrappings, and the cloth that had been on his head. And they believe that his body is gone, but they don’t yet understand what it means—that Jesus is alive.

    They go home. But Mary stays, weeping outside the tomb. Two angels appear and try to comfort her. They ask why she is crying.  She tells them that she believes someone has taken Christ’s body away. “And I do not know where they have laid him,” she says.

   Then she turns and runs into Jesus outside the tomb. She doesn’t recognize him, even when he asks her why she is weeping—and who she is looking for.

    Mistaking him for the gardener, she says, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 

     I have never thought that Mary mistaking Jesus for a gardener has ever been accidental or random. For John connects Jesus to the Creation story in Genesis, starting his gospel with the same phrase Genesis uses: “In the beginning.”

  “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, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”

   In Genesis, the Lord God plants a garden that would be the home for human beings, whom God the gardener would make in his image. The Lord would give the first man his vocation, calling Adam to be a gardener, too. “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden,” says Genesis 2:15, “to work it and take care of it.”

     Jesus has a special ministry in mind for Mary. She will be the first apostle, sent out to bear witness to the male disciples about Christ’s resurrection and ascension.   Mary believes and obeys immediately, running to tell the others that she has seen the Lord!

    Christ is alive!

    ***

    Friends, with Christ’s resurrection, we live as the people of hope who no longer fear death. For we, too, will be resurrected with Him to eternal life. In Christ, we are NEW creations. Forgiven for our sins, the old has passed away. We are Christ’s light shining into the darkness, bearing witness, as Mary Magdalene did. We are continually being transformed into something more beautiful—like a bulb that becomes a flower. Something God alone can see.

   The Lord has entrusted each of us with a unique ministry, gardens to plant and tend with love and care. We are responsible to prepare the soil, sow seeds, water, weed, and prune, when necessary. But it is best to garden with friends and neighbors. God doesn’t expect us to labor alone.

    Remember that in all your work, don’t lose sight of the One you are working for: the Divine Gardener. Keep the Lord at the center of your life. Remember that God is responsible for the growth—in yourself and others.

    I have come to the conclusion, my friends, that I won’t be able to take the garden that I planted in Coshocton with me to my next call. There’s no room in our vehicles for plants. They will have to stay and be a blessing to others.

    I am sad that I won’t be able to bring you to my next call. But I will always carry you in my heart. I pray that the seeds we planted and nurtured together through this ministry will grow into a wonderful garden, bearing eternal fruit.

    Brothers and sisters, don’t let anything discourage you. For we are Easter People! We always have hope and joy in what Christ has done. Don’t let anything cause you to think that what you do as a church won’t make a difference. Small acts of kindness are NEVER small. Remember your faith and call to serve God and neighbor come from Christ and rely on Christ alone—and nothing and no one in this world.

    Paul urges us to persevere in 1 Cor. 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

    N. T. Wright offers this encouragement, “You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s about to be thrown into a fire. You are not planting roses about to be dug up for a building site. You are—strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, comfort and support for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, every Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and that makes the name of Jesus honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that one day God will make.” (Wright, 207-208)

Dear friends, children of the Resurrection, God’s beloved, go and plant a garden—work it and take care of it, as our Divine Gardener commanded the first human created in God’s image.

May you find strength and healing from tending your garden as I did while I lived here with you—where not only flowering plants, trees and shrubs, but faith, hope, peace, joy, and love will grow.

Amen.

Known By Our Love

Meditation on John 13, selected verses

Pastor Karen Crawford

The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH

April 14, 2022

   On this night, as we remember Christ’s Last Supper with his disciples and celebrate our Communion with him, I will have the rare opportunity to serve the bread and cup to each of you.

     I will call you by name. For God knows all of our names—and every thought we have before we think it. Every word we are going to say before we say it.

     Before we gather at the Lord’s Table for spiritual nourishment, we give God thanks for sending His Son for the healing of the world and that we might learn to follow his life of humility and share in the joy of his glorious resurrection.

    It is my hope that as you leave the table refreshed, renewed, and united by the Spirit, you may be strengthened to keep Christ’s “new” command, given on the night he is betrayed by one of his own. When he is troubled in spirit.

     “Just as I have loved you,” Jesus says, “you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

    At the beginning of John 13, we learn that this meal isn’t like any other meal Jesus has shared with his disciples. Suddenly, as they are eating, Jesus gets up, takes off his outer robe and ties a towel around himself. He pours water into a basin, and begins to wash their feet! This is not something that is done during a meal. This is not something anyone but the lowliest servant would ever do.

   Jesus does this because his hour has come.  He knows that the Father has given all things into his hands, and that he has come from God and is going to God.

    Peter cries out in horror and embarrassment that Jesus would so humble himself to them, “You will never wash my feet!”

    Jesus is still modeling for his 12 disciples—and for us—how to live when he is no longer with them in the flesh.

    “You call me Teacher and Lord,” he says, “And you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

    It is startling to hear how Jesus tells his closest friends, “Not all of you are clean” and, “One of you will betray me.”

    Have you ever wondered why he wouldn’t just name Judas as his betrayer? What was the reason for keeping it a secret? Would his disciples have prevented Judas from doing the deed that led to Christ’s dying on a cross?

     All we know for sure is that the betrayal is all part of a larger plan for salvation—or at least something God can use to accomplish His glorious purposes. But this doesn’t change how Jesus feels about the betrayal. After making the announcement, he is “troubled in spirit.”

     He takes two people into his confidence, then—Peter, the one who protested when Jesus began to wash their feet—and the “disciple whom Jesus loved” reclining next to him. Isn’t that what we do when we are troubled in spirit? And Jesus is fully human, like us, as well as fully God. We seek help from the Heavenly Father who knows us and loves us unconditionally, but we also need the comfort and love of people with us who understand, accept, and encourage us to become what God wants us to be.

     The “disciple whom he loved” in the gospel of John is probably the one who wrote this gospel. Rather than naming himself, this phrase could describe any of the disciples. But it’s not just to protect his identity. The writer of John’s gospel wants everyone who hears this to put themselves in the story with Jesus and his disciples on the night that he is betrayed.

     For all of Christ’s followers are Christ’s own, the ones whom Jesus has loved and will love until the end.

      This passage leads us to believe that Jesus wants to get the evil deed over with, the thing that Judas will do that God will use for good purposes. He says to Judas, ‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’ 

      Judas leaves. And it is night.

      We feel the darkness all around—the grief and pain of that moment, the foreshadowing of the suffering that is to come. But we also remember that always, in the darkness, any darkness, there is Light. For Christ was with his disciples then, and he is always with us. And the power of hate and evil never defeats the Power of Love.

      It occurs to me as I read this that Jesus loves Judas as much as he loves the others. Judas is one of the 12 that he called to take up their crosses and follow him. This is Jesus modeling an even more difficult command than love one another. Jesus says in Matthew 5:43-48,

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,that you may be children of your Father in heaven…. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

May we who eat from the Bread of Heaven and drink from the Cup of Salvation be empowered to love as Christ loves, and in doing so, bear witness to our faith.

    May we be known by our love.

Let us pray.

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for your love, grace and mercy, for accepting us just as we are! Lord, forgive us when we have failed to love our brothers and sisters, our neighbors, and those whom we might see as enemies. We praise you for Jesus, our Savior and Teacher who not only commands us to love, he gives us the perfect example and His Spirit to enable us to love. Fill us now with such love for one another that we bear witness to our faith and your healing, reconciling love. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen

The Things That Make for Peace

Meditation on Luke 19:28–42

Palm Sunday 2022

Pastor Karen Crawford

Link to live-streamed recording from this morning’s worship: https://fb.watch/ciYuT2B_nQ/

As I began to write my message yesterday, I couldn’t help but think, “This is my last Palm Sunday with you.”

I wonder if this day will forever remind me of the start of the pandemic in 2020?

 We had closed our sanctuary to in-person worship a week before, but Palm Sunday was the first time I recorded my message and all the liturgy on my cell phone.

It was the first time I led virtual Communion with Jim and Jacob from our dining room table.

Dear friends, we have made so many memories in our ministry together. So much has happened in a short time.

And today, the blessing of baptism! We have witnessed The Lord claiming as his own a woman in her 90s, and a little girl of 4! God is so good!

You know that I am struggling to say goodbye to you. To me, it seems our time has been too short. Most of the time, I am ok, busy with my pastoral responsibilities. There’s so much to be done before we move. But on Friday morning, I felt sad. I reached out to a Christian friend, who reminded me what I tell people who are grieving—that it’s OK to grieve. Give yourself permission and time to feel sad, to rest, and to cry. Tears are healing, aren’t they?

It helps me to know that Jesus cried, too. Do you know that Jesus grieves and suffers with us? Scripture reveals that on at least two occasions, the Lord shed tears. When he was at the tomb of Lazarus, and saw his loved ones grieving, he wept.

And today, in our Palm Sunday reading, Jesus weeps for Jerusalem.

***

Our Lenten study of Adam Hamilton’s The Way, Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus presented our Palm Sunday reading in a different light. Hamilton calls the Palm Sunday procession a peaceful protest. A peaceful protest.

The key word for today’s message is PEACE.

Jesus’ words are not needed to proclaim that he is the long-awaited Messiah, the true King of kings. All it takes is riding a borrowed donkey—with the details worked out just before the event.

The people make the radical declaration for him. Waving palm branches, the people celebrate Jesus as if they are celebrating a victory. There’s no mistaking what this really is. This IS a royal procession.

Why a donkey?  Jesus has walked everywhere up to now, unless he is riding with his disciples in a fishing boat. The donkey connects Jesus with King David, who also rode a donkey. It is a practical choice. A donkey is “more surefooted than a horse on the rocky, hilly terrain of Palestine and is able to travel farther on less water.” But this is also a choice to reveal the character of the rider. In the case of David, the donkey is “a humble beast reflecting (his) identity as the shepherd king.” (137)

There’s another reason for the donkey. It fulfills the promise of the prophet Zechariah, given to the Jewish people 500 years before Christ’s birth. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Zion! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey.” (Zech. 9:9)

When the people shout, Hosanna!, Hebrew for “Save us, now!,” they are quoting Psalm 118, which we read today. The psalm was first written to “welcome kings back to Jerusalem as they returned victorious from war, but it came to refer to “the Messiah who would come and deliver the people.”

There are two more processions that day, Hamilton tells us. These processions would not be peaceful; they are meant to be coercive and intimidating. “Pontius Pilate would have entered the city from the west, coming from Caesarea by the sea and bringing with him at least 1,000 Roman soldiers on chariots, on horseback, and on foot, with all their weapons and regalia. The show of force was designed to suppress any thoughts of rebellion during the Passover…(For) the festival marked the Jews’ release from bondage in Egypt, so the celebration always carried an undertone of hope for liberation—a hope that God was going to free his people again.”  (139)

Pilate would crucify two rebels on that Thursday, the Day of Preparation for the Passover, just to remind the Jewish people of Rome’s power—and who is still in control.

The other procession that day in Jerusalem was of King Herod Antipas, who used violence to suppress the people. He was the one who beheaded John the Baptist. Hamilton says, “Two of the three rulers entering Jerusalem in parades on that Palm Sunday were iron-fisted men known for their cruelty.”

So, if we weren’t sure before, we know now why the Pharisees try to stop the peaceful protest. There’s a good chance that it will provoke violence against those who declare Jesus the Messiah, the One who will deliver the people.

There’s no turning back from this moment. The cross looms ahead.

Jesus boldly declares, “I tell you, if these (people) were silent, the stones would shout out.”

Our Lord weeps, then, but not for what is going to happen to him. He cries because of what he sees in the future for the Holy City—how it will be destroyed because of the rebellion of the Jewish people.

Hamilton says, “(Jesus knew) that as the crowds rejected him, they would be rejecting his way. They would reject his call to love their enemies, to pray for those who persecuted, and to do good to those who did wrong. They would instead choose to follow the way of the sword.”

Two would-be messiahs would lead a revolt against Rome in 66 A.D. The Empire would respond by sending 60,000 troops; a million Jewish people would be killed. The Romans would burn the Temple and the Holy City, just as Jesus foresaw.

But Jesus also cries because of Jerusalem’s turning away from their ancient faith, from the Lord God himself, and their refusal to see that the Son of God had come to save the people from its sins. For Paul says we have peace with God and one another through Jesus Christ and a ministry of reconciliation.

“If you, even you,” Jesus says as he nears Jerusalem on the back of a borrowed donkey. “If you, even you had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

***

I have decided that rather than saying goodbye these next two weeks, I would say thank you, instead.

Goodbye brings sadness. Thank you brings peace.

I have some many things to be grateful for. So it will take me at least two Sunday’s to begin to say thank you.

Thank you for sharing your stories, your faith, and your very lives with me. Thank you for sharing your joys and concerns with me. Thank you for opening your homes and hearts to me and allowing me to serve as your pastor. I am so glad that I met you all and made my home with you.

And one more thing I will keep telling you—because this is the path to peace and healing.

I will pray for you—that you will always recognize the loving presence of God with you and that you will be able to see and do the things that make for peace—and that they may never be hidden from your eyes.

Jesus prays for his disciples in John 17 as he prepares to leave them for the cross. He prays for his original disciples, but he also prays for us—for those who will follow him because of the message of his disciples. And do you know that the Spirit continues to pray for us, so even if we don’t know what to pray, God knows and God will handle your problems anyway.

Listen to Jesus as he prays for us so long ago.

20 “My prayer is not for them alone,” he says, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Will you pray with me? Let us pray.

Holy One, we thank you for Jesus, our Messiah, the one who has come to bring salvation to our world. Thank you, Lord, for our faith and that Christ’s true identity is not hidden from our eyes—that your Spirit has revealed this to us. Help us, Lord, to be One, to walk the right path, to be humble and love our enemies, and to refrain from hurting those who may have hurt us. Give us strength and joy to do good and walk in your loving ways to witness to our faith and lead other generations to come to know the Messiah and Savior who is Christ the Lord. Teach us to recognize and do the things that make for peace. Through your Son, our Prince of Peace we pray. Amen.

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