You Know the Truth That Makes You Free

 

Meditation on John 8:31-36

Reformation Sunday

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

Oct. 27, 2019

 

He said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.                                                                                                     

***

We had a great time at our church picnic last Sunday! It was my first experience with a corn maze. For that matter, it was my whole family’s first experience with a corn maze. I was surprised they wanted to come with me when Courtney Snyder told us that we better bring cookies if we do the maze. It takes at least 2 hours, she said, and we would get lost. “I always do,” she said. So, we grabbed some cookies, and started the maze after watching the instructional video. Did any of you watch that? In the video, we were asked to repeat after the guide in reciting all the rules. The ones I recall went something like this: I will not run in the maze. I will not smoke. I will not damage the maze. I will stay on the path and not break through the ribbons. Jim, Jacob and I dutifully echoed all the rules. Mom, however, remained silent.

We split into pairs once we started the maze. Jacob and I had the map, with the questions and clues that I tried to fill in. Jim and my mom, who weren’t interested in completing the worksheet, went the shortest way they could possibly find. Pretty soon, we realized Courtney was right. It was going to take a while, and we were going to get lost. Several times. Good thing we ate cookies, first!

My mom pointed to where a ribbon was broken and an illegal path had been made. She was going to take a short cut. She was tired and had had enough of the maze.

And I said, “No. We can’t do that. We promised we wouldn’t break the rules.”

She said, “I didn’t promise.”

I said, “If we don’t follow the maze, they will throw us out.”

“Why didn’t you say so sooner?” she said. “I would have done it a long time ago.”

Have you ever noticed that rules only seem to work sometimes when there are unpleasant consequences, even when rules are made for the good of the people? There’s always someone who questions the rules and wants to do things a different way. But have you also noticed how hard it is to change the rules, even when people agree that they are unjust and need to be changed?

Sometimes, there’s a shortage of courage.

 

***

Today, we remember and honor those with the courage to study God’s Word and listen for God’s voice still speaking to Christ’s followers in every age. We give thanks for those who fearlessly walked by faith and were led by the Spirit to work to transform the Church and make it more faithful to Christ’s call.

On Reformation Sunday, Presbyterians are used to hearing about Calvin, Luther and maybe Knox or Zwingli. As my history professors at Princeton Seminary would say—dead white men. But in so doing, we leave out many important reformers—women who were faithful to work for reform in the Church long before John Calvin fled to Switzerland and wrote his Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536.

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John Calvin

 

And more than 100 years before Martin Luther hammered his 95 Theses to the door of The Wittenberg Church on October 31, 1517.

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Martin Luther

I would like to share with you about a theologian and author from the 14th century who was first an inspiration to me when I was in seminary in 2008. She is called “Julian of Norwich,” though we don’t know her real name. You see, she was an anchoress, a devout woman whose long life was lived in a small room attached to the church of St. Julian in Norwich, England.

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Because she was a woman, she would not have been permitted to speak her views in church, but she was able to share them with folks who came to her window for godly counsel and prayer each day.

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And she did the unthinkable. She wrote down what God had showed her through a series of visions on May 13, 1373 of Christ on the cross, when she was “30 and a half years old” and was so ill that a priest was brought to administer last rites. About 15 years later, she wrote a longer version of the book—86 chapters! Unlike Luther, it isn’t an academic treatise written in Latin for scholars and theologians to debate. Julian writes in English; her Showings or Revelation of Divine Love, is written “for all men,” she says, meaning all people. What a radical thing for a woman of the Middle Ages to say!

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Her work is thought to have been the first book written in the English language. The teachings God has shown her are meant to be a comfort to all her fellow Christians or “even Christians,” as she says. She lives in a dark time and had witnessed great suffering as a child of 6 when the Black Death swept through England in 1349 and all of Europe, taking the lives of 20 million people–more than 1/3 of Europe’s population.

When you think about the time in which she writes—when the Church was wealthy, powerful and corrupt–you can appreciate her courage. She wrote in English before reformer John Wycliff and his followers translated the Bible from Latin into Middle English in 1382, two years before he died of a stroke. Wycliff, an Oxford professor and priest who attacked the wealth of the Church, the selling of indulgences, prayers to saints, and the teachings on purgatory, believed that the Bible was the only reliable guide to the truth about God. He would be declared a heretic and his bones dug up, burned and scattered in the River Swift in 1428.

While Julian insists repeatedly that she agrees with all the teachings of “Holy Church,” the reality is that her beliefs are in sharp contrast to Roman Catholic beliefs and practices of her day. The Church taught that a close relationship with the Lord wasn’t possible for an ordinary believer. The Church threatened the wrath of God and eternal punishment for those who disobeyed the Church’s teachings.

Julian disagrees. The Lord shows her that God is all love and wants to be intimate with us, for we are his “bliss.” The woman who lives during the Hundred Years’ War between England and France says that the wrath is all on the side of human beings. It is through the Trinity and the perfect humanity of Christ and not the Church that she reaches God. “Julian sees man as a sinner,” writes one Medieval scholar. “Sin is an historical reality, a personal and a collective as well as a universal phenomenon, embracing everyone. Yet this sinner is forgiven and saved because God shared in his human condition – in his pain and in his joy.”

Julian isn’t shy about questioning the Lord. She wonders, in chapter 27, in the great wisdom of God that “the beginning of sin was not prevented. For then it seemed to me,” she says, “that all would be well.” Jesus answers, saying, “Sin is necessary, but all will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well…. These words were revealed most tenderly,” she goes on, “showing no kind of blame to me or to anyone who will be saved. So it would be most unkind of me to blame God or marvel at him on account of my sins, since he does not blame me for sin. And in these same words, I saw hidden in God an exalted and wonderful mystery, which he will make plain and we shall know in heaven. In this knowledge, we shall truly see the cause why he allowed sin to come, and in this sight, we shall rejoice forever.”

Julian longs for greater intimacy with the Lord and calls God, at times, “Mother,” in the tradition of Christianity in the Middle Ages. “For God gave her life, his life, in his Incarnation and in his death,” explains a Medieval historian. “(She believes that) he nourishes us through the preaching of the Church; he makes us grow through his grace, adapting himself to each of us in his infinite love.”

In her 86 years of life, Julian never sees her book published. I am sure that she never imagines it would be! It isn’t until 1670 that her book would be published, but not widely read by Julian’s fellow “even Christians” until modern English versions are published beginning in the mid to late 20th century. I think she would be most pleased that the ordinary people for whom she originally wrote in the 14th century would finally have the opportunity to read her writings and find comfort in the assurance of God’s love.

Today, many Presbyterians may meet Julian of Norwich through a hymn attributed to her. “Mothering God, Who Gave Me Birth,” has been published in 13 hymnals, including our 1990 blue Presbyterian hymnal and the most recent Presbyterian Hymnal, Glory to God. (Listen to a beautiful version of this song at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFac46KYThc)

Sisters and brothers, because the reformers courageously fought against the abuses of the Church of the Middle Ages, we have the freedom to organize, worship and live out our faith according to our convictions. We can read the Bible in our own language and hear the truth that makes us free! But we in the Reformed tradition believe that the Reformation isn’t over! The Spirit continues to change us, as we draw nearer to God and God draws nearer to us. Let us embrace the Spirit’s transforming work in our lives and our Church!

We know that it’s not through any righteousness of our own or any human works that we are saved, but by accepting God’s love and grace shown by His Son, our Lord and Savior, and pursuing an intimate relationship with him.

I urge you now to live courageously, as a forgiven people, walking by faith, desiring God and seeking God’s face, offering love and comfort to our fellow Christians, as Julian of Norwich did, and to those who don’t yet know the hope we have in Him.

Let your life shine for all to see… the truth that makes us free!

 

Let us pray.

 

Holy God, we thank you for your Spirit that illumines your Word for us and allows us to understand what you have done for us through the sacrifice of your Son on a cross. Thank you for the reformers, the men and women of every generation, who have worked to transform the Church, so that we would become, more and more, the people you desire us to be. Thank you that your Spirit continues to do its work of transformation in us. Forgive us, Lord, when we are reluctant to change because it is uncomfortable or we are afraid that others may be unhappy or it feels like too much work to try new things. Open our eyes, Lord, to what we cannot see—how the Church may be turning a blind eye to our neediest members and our neighbors in need and not doing enough to change the unjust structures in our society. Stir a longing in us for you, Lord, to be closer to you and dig more deeply into your Word. Empower us to share with others today and every day the truth that makes us free—salvation is a gift from God, received by faith. In Christ we pray. Amen.

You Are Needed and Loved

Meditation on Hebrews 12:1-2

Shared at First Presbyterian Church of Uhrichsville

Thank-You Gathering for Retired Pastors

Karen Crawford, The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

Oct. 24, 2019

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Hello, dear friends!

I am honored to be here with you today at this special gathering of pastors. My name is Karen Crawford and I serve the Presbyterian Church in Coshocton. I am here to say on behalf of the Muskingum Valley Presbytery, “Thank you for your ministry.”

I look forward to meeting you all and getting to know you better. I want to hear your stories. I have a few to tell you, too. I am new to this presbytery and to Ohio. In fact, this is my first time at this church. I am not even sure that I am pronouncing the name of the town correctly. I used my GPS to get here. And that can be pretty scary in Ohio to trust GPS, as you well know, where the shortest way to get somewhere may be straight up a dirt hill, in a forest, with fog and darkness rolling in and deer leaping across the road. Did I mention that I know this from experience?

This is what happened when Jim and I and our son, Jacob, moved here from Melbourne, Florida, in January, for me to accept the call to the Coshocton church. We were a caravan of three cars, three adults, and a dog and a cat, and had been on the road for 2 long days. We took the 541 exit from 77 north, instead of continuing on up to the Newcomerstown exit. Next thing I knew we were heading straight up a hill on a dirt road. I was driving my mini-cooper and was pretty sure that I was going to get stuck. My first experience with my new church was going to be calling a member of the PNC with a tractor to come tow me out. Well, we went up a hill, down, up again, wound around, and came to kind of a clearing. And there was this adorable little white chapel in the woods. Don’t ask me the name of the church. And I still have no idea where we were. Jim, in the first car, paused in front of the chapel, and I wondered why we were stopping. Later he told me that he was tempted to get out of the car, then, and announce to Jacob, “We’re here! This is your mother’s new church!”

Our adventures continue.

When Matt Sklonik told me that our presbytery was planning a lunch for retired pastors, I had two initial thoughts. One was, “Isn’t that nice?” What a wonderful presbytery to show its appreciation for those who have touched hearts and changed lives in ways they could never know.  My other thought, when Matt asked me to come and speak today was, “I didn’t know pastors retired.” Every retired pastor I know continues to be faithful to God’s call to the ministry of word and sacrament long past what others might say was retirement age.

My husband, Jim, has been honorably retired for 10 years. When he told me that last night, I couldn’t believe it has been that long! But you wouldn’t know that he is retired. He is busy! He is sorry he couldn’t be here today. He is on his way to his high school class reunion in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  In his “retirement,” Jim has served Presbyterian and a few UCC congregations in Minnesota, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio as interim or supply. He has preached and led worship for at least 5 churches in our presbytery since we arrived in January. He has been an active supporter of my ministry, assuring me of my gifts and calling, before I saw those gifts in myself. I wouldn’t be a pastor if he hadn’t encouraged and supported me. He has served with me in Florida as an unpaid parish associate, played guitar in a praise band and for my preschool chapel, taught adult Sunday school and assisted with new member classes, served as a liturgist, cooked and washed dishes for potlucks and helped to host dinners in our home.  He remains active in presbytery and has worked on presbytery committees, such as CPM, Finance, and Council. In addition to supply preaching where we are now, he works 20 hours or more each week at the Coshocton library.

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How fitting it is that we gather just a few days before Reformation Sunday, when some of us will read from John 8 and hear Christ’s reassurance that His followers will know the truth and the truth will make us free. This is the message I have to share with you today. We are still Christ’s beloved, you and I, saved by grace, through faith and not by our works, in case some of us might worry that if we are no longer working full time in a parish, then we are no longer valuable to the Lord and Christ’s Church. We are God’s handiwork and were created for good works that God has ordained. Those good works may be simple acts of kindness that the Spirit will lead us to do every day of our lives.

Yes, many churches are struggling today. We are not as big as we used to be, as a presbytery or denomination. We aren’t as wealthy as we used to be. The churches need us even more, but at the same time, have fewer resources to pay pastors and staff. Many of you have served smaller churches and have been willing to accept lower pay than you could have received leaving this area, because you love the Church and the Lord. This is a generous and gracious gift you have given and continue to give, those of you who serve, like my husband does, as interim or supply pastors, though you are technically “honorably retired.” But don’t small churches deserve excellent spiritual leadership, too? And doesn’t the call to follow Jesus as an ordained minister of word and sacrament last a lifetime?

We don’t know what tomorrow will hold. We don’t know the shape our ministry will take in years to come or the future of our small, but mighty country churches, ready to rescue new pastors driving minis, stuck on dirt roads in the forest, with fog and darkness rolling in. But we know that today, tomorrow and forever, we are a forgiven people, called to witness to the Kingdom of God by preaching justice, speaking up for the poor, hungry, marginalized, and oppressed, and sowing seeds of kindness and peace. Every day, we trust that our Savior has made his home in us and has a plan for us. We abide in him and he in us. And the Holy Spirit that is working to reform the Church of every age is still transforming each one of us, more and more.

My friends, God is not finished with you, yet!  And in this presbytery, you are wanted and needed for your wisdom and experience, knowledge and faith, humor and encouragement as colleagues in ministry, friends, storytellers, teachers and mentors, sisters and brothers, fellow laborers in the Lord.

I need you, because I am definitely out of my comfort zone! And I want to learn from you and hear your stories of perseverance through difficult times for the church—because more difficult times lay ahead.

You have made a difference! You are making a difference. Thank you for sharing your gifts and talents, nurturing hope, faith, love, and grace. Thank you for shepherding the Church of Jesus Christ in times of sorrow and joy, growth and loss, brokenness and unity, conflict and peace.

The Cloud of Witnesses that has surrounded us is still calling to us, cheering us on to keep running the race that has been set before us, following in the footsteps of the author and finisher of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame. And has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

May you be blessed by today’s gathering of pastors. May you be embraced by new friendships and strengthened by renewed friendships. May you be refreshed by the Spirit and encouraged in your ministry for the Lord.

 

Let us pray. Holy One, thank you for gathering us together in your name to show our appreciation for those who have served you and continue to serve you faithfully. Thank you for your love and forgiveness for us sinners. Bless those who organized this luncheon and prepared our food. Help us to always honor your call on our lives and never forget the cost of our salvation—the price of the cross—and the promise of abundant and eternal life with you. May we continue to listen for your voice and gratefully obey, guided by Your Spirit to serve with joy for all of our days. In Christ we pray. Amen.

We Are All Sinners, Saved By Grace

 

Meditation on Luke 18:9-14

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

Oct. 20, 2019

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He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

 

Did I tell you my mom is here? Her name is Elaine. She arrived Tuesday night, and I have been taking her around town, eating at the Warehouse, The Mill, and Bob Evans, getting Buckeye ice cream at Medberry Market–$1.50 for a kid’s cone and it’s a lot of ice cream! Checking out the shops of Roscoe Village. Buying chocolate and peanut butter fudge at the General Store. Stopping at Aldi’s and Buehler’s, taking an awesome tour of the library. Coming to choir practice and doing home visits and home communion with me. And today, we will get to experience our fall picnic, corn maize, hayride, and campfire for the first time. I have heard we are back in the low 70s this afternoon! That’s going to feel good after a chilly week. Living in Florida for almost 3 decades, if it is below 80, Mom feels cold.

Weather aside, she understands, why I like it here so much–why Coshocton is good for me and my family.

Thank you for your warm welcome for her. I don’t think she expected that you would treat her like you already know her, though she is an outsider, a stranger. She has received many hugs. You don’t treat her like a stranger, because you know me.

She can see that I love you and that you accept me as your pastor and friend. You accept that my care and concern for you, for the whole church, are real. We are learning from one another as we hear each other’s stories. We have different views and expectations at times, just because we have lived in different places, have had different experiences and because we have different callings.

You know that I want to be a blessing to you—to help you heal from your wounds, find peace and comfort amidst the chaos of life, to challenge you with God’s Word and help you grow in love and service, faith and confidence in who you are in Jesus Christ. I want to help you take some risks and step out of your comfort zone, for the sake of the Lord and Kingdom growth and for your well-being and the well-being of your community. And you know that I need your help and support, so that I may be faithful to God’s call. And that we both must trust the Lord to lead us to minister together with love.

I have found kindness here. I have felt the grace of God in this place. You could have treated me like an outsider. That would be the human temptation when we meet a stranger who doesn’t know all our history and traditions and all our relationships, joys and losses. But the love and grace of God for us lead us to think and behave differently than the world would have us live. The Spirit changes us, more and more, as we embrace the God who is with us, helping us every day.

Our lives are intimately intertwined—you, me and our community. We have a common ancestry of dust, breathed into life by the same God. We are all sinners, in the hands of a loving God, changed and changing, made new! Saved by grace.

 

***

 

Today’s passage in Luke 18, beginning at verse 9 is about the importance of humble prayer, realizing our need for God’s grace and how we could lose sight of that and become prideful of our own religious practices, forgetting our faith–everything we have– is a gift from the Lord. It follows a parable about our need to be persistent in our prayer and never give up. The widow keeps asking for justice from the unjust judge—who turns her down repeatedly, until finally he gives in, saying, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” And the Lord says, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Today’s passage, starting at verse 9, begins by Luke explaining the purpose and meaning of the parable. “He also told this parable,” Luke says, “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.” Notice that the parable is for “some,” and yet here it is in the New Testament, which means the lesson is NOT just for some; it’s for the whole Church, for all people who sincerely desire to follow Jesus and be more like Him.

The Pharisee comes to the Lord’s House, in Luke 18, to be reassured that he is wonderful—better than other people—and have everyone see him as wonderful. Yet, he is disconnected, uncaring, standing apart from others he considers unclean. He believes that God favors him because he isn’t a thief, a rogue, adulterer, or the person praying next to him, “this tax collector.”

“I thank you, God, that I am not like other men,” the Pharisee says, but the Greek word translated men refers to “the people of the land”—unrighteous commoners despised by those who strictly observe the law. The Pharisees, says NT scholar Kenneth Bailey, “thought of the law as a garden of flowers. To protect the garden and the flowers, they opted to build a fence around the law,” going beyond the requirements to ensure that no part was violated…The written law only required fasting on the annual day of Atonement. The Pharisees, however, chose to fast two days before and two days after each of the three major feasts (or 12 days a year!) But this pious man announces to God and to others (as he is praying aloud) that he puts a fence around the fence. He fasts two days every week!

Also, the faithful in the OT were commanded to tithe, or give 10 percent of the increase, from their grain, oil and wine. In NT times, the rule became that the faithful must give 10 percent of the increase of everything that “was used for food, watched over, and grows from the soil.” But this Pharisee beats all others in his show of devotion and generosity to God; he tithes from all that he possesses!

But the way the Pharisee is speaking to God is not prayer as Jesus taught us. How we pray reveals what we believe about the Lord and the condition of our hearts. It shows whom we serve, and how we feel about ourselves and others.

Prayer, even for those whose hearts are in the right place, is as challenging for us as it was for the disciples in Jesus’ time. In Matthew 6:9-13 (NRSV): Jesus says, when his disciples ask for help, “Pray then in this way, ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

And in Luke 11:1-4 NRSV, Jesus “was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us each day our daily bread.  And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.’”

So, what of the tax collector, despised not just by this hypothetical Pharisee of a parable, but despised by many Jewish people? They are working for the enemy—supporting their families by collecting taxes from their neighbors for the oppressive Roman Empire. Many, in fact, are greedy and keep a large portion of what they collect for themselves. Luke’s earliest audience would have reacted with astonishment for a tax collector to be seen as a model of humility and made righteous because of his godly attitude and actions. Just as last week’s gospel featured an enemy of the Jewish people, a Samaritan, as the model of gratitude and humility as the only one of 10 lepers to return to Christ to offer his thanks and praise.

Sisters and brothers, Luke’s message is for all the Church and not just for some who might be tempted to trust in themselves, rather than trust in the Lord. We are not righteous because of what we do, our religious practices, which might lead us to arrogance. The love and grace of God for us lead us to think and behave differently than the world would have us live. The Spirit changes us, more and more, as we embrace the God who is with us, helping us every day to be gentle and merciful, as the Heavenly Father is gentle and merciful with us.

Our lives are intimately intertwined, connected—you, me and our community.

We are all sinners, in the hands of a loving God, changed and changing, made new! Saved by grace.

 

Let us pray. Heavenly Father, we thank you for the holy mystery of your grace, for sending your Son to be our Savior, when we were perishing in our sins. And then, for sending your Spirit to empower us to live as your people, showing mercy and grace to others. Help us to be faithful to the end, to serve you with our tithes and our lives, and to pray as the humble tax collector prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” In Christ we pray. Amen.

 

Do Not Be Afraid

 

Meditation on John 14, Selected Verses

In Memory of Ivy Catrow

Oct. 7, 1923-Oct. 11, 2019

Custer Chapel, The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

Oct. 15, 2019

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Ivy Catrow, on the far right, sewing a baby blanket in the sewing circle at The Presbyterian Church.

 

14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”…

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 

25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

***

Soon after I arrived to serve The Presbyterian Church in January, Pat Miller said, “I have someone I want you to meet. Her name is Ivy.”  I think Pat may have driven me to her house the first time I visited, because Ivy’s house, which she and her carpenter husband built years ago, is on a country road. And if you have never been there, it might be difficult to find. You have to watch for it. Also, the house is kind of down in a holler, so don’t pull into the steep driveway. You won’t want to back out of that. Just park on top by the side of the road.

Yes, going to visit Ivy was an adventure, but surely not anything like the adventures dear Ivy experienced in her lifetime. I enjoyed many visits with Ivy after that first wonderful visit. I was welcomed into her home, offered a comfy chair and pop from the fridge. I loved hearing Ivy’s stories.  She had a way with words, and a musical, lilting voice. Having a British accent, though she had lived in Coshocton 73 years, made her stories of long ago and far away even more exotic.

Born in London in the 1920s, she loved her family, her Lord, her country and queen. Air raids became a way of life for her family during WWII; most families had underground shelters in their backyards. Ivy and her brother hated to go the shelter. “Sometimes we would hide under the kitchen table, instead,” Ivy said when she was interviewed for our church’s 195th anniversary, “and our mom would get so upset.” Her daughter, Deb, remembers Ivy telling the story of the time when she was the only one to remain in a London movie theater after an air raid siren went off; she didn’t want to miss the 1939 American epic Gone With the Wind. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss that movie on the big screen, either. Angels watched over Ivy and her family when a bomb fell close to their home, causing their windows to blow out; no one was injured.

While Ivy’s father and brother fought in the war, Ivy served with the Women’s Land Army, a civilian organization more commonly known as Land Girls. The Land Girls were placed with farms that needed workers and farm machinery operators. The young women did all the labor that the men, called to serve in the war, would normally do. They kept the troops and the country fed.

Serving as a Land Girl, Ivy was able to stay close to her mother and younger sister, at first. As the war went on, Ivy’s mother and sister were evacuated from London to Cornwall, the westernmost part of the Southwest Peninsula of the island of Great Britain.

Ivy met George Catrow, a 1936 graduate of Coshocton High, when she was working as a Land Girl. The farm where she worked was near the airfield where he was stationed. He served as a sergeant in the US Army 29th Air Disarmament Squadron. After they knew each other for 18 months, George wanted Ivy to marry him in England. Ivy said, “No,” because she had heard many horror stories of young girls marrying American soldiers and then the men would return to the States, and they wouldn’t see them again. She told him to go back home and write for her if he still wanted to get married.

George made it home to Coshocton for Christmas 1945, and George wrote her, she said, every other day. In October 1946, Ivy took a train from Paddington Station to a ship at Southampton. She was so excited when she saw the RMS Queen Elizabeth, which had served as a troop ship in Feb. 1940. This was her maiden voyage as an ocean liner. She was well stocked with food, which was a treat for Ivy, since food had long been rationed in England.

“There were four of us girls in my cabin,” she said, “all GI fiancees, and all of them were seasick, except for me.” She got up at 5 a.m. to see the Statue of Liberty, a memory she would treasure.

Ivy arrived in Coshocton on Nov. 12, 1946. The Rev. Kiskaddon married them 10 days later in the parsonage, which was later torn down to make room for the Christian Education addition and this chapel in 1959. Ivy had to get special permission from Judge Ross at the Courthouse for their marriage license because she wasn’t a citizen. Ivy would later join a Sunday school class in our church that Judge Ross and his wife, Margaret, also attended. George and Ivy joined the church Jan. 30, 1949. Both of their children, Greg and Deb, would be baptized and married here. As a new bride in Coshocton, Ivy felt warmly embraced by the women in our community of faith. “There’s an overall feeling of love at the Coshocton Presbyterian Church,” she said. “I have so many friends here. My heart is very close to this church.”

Over the years, Ivy, who loved to cook, sew, knit, and garden, was involved in our sewing group and the prayer fellowship group, and served on mission and fellowship committees. After being so impressed, she said, with the bereavement dinner when George died in 1995, she got involved helping with those dinners and enjoyed doing that for many years.

Just as Ivy was warmly embraced, Ivy warmly embraced me as the new pastor here. Every time I visited her–at home, in rehab or in the hospital–she would introduce me to whoever came into the room. And I would get some very surprised looks as she would say, with pride and joy in her voice, “This is my pastor at The Presbyterian Church. I want you to meet Pastor Karen.”

Ivy would share her stories and health struggles when asked, but she also wanted to hear my story. I felt comfortable sharing because she was a great listener. She was curious and caring; she was interested in what we were interested in. She was an encourager. She always asked me about my family.

She was a woman of faith, who appreciated home communion when she could no longer come to worship. She missed her church. When I saw Ivy on Thursday, Pat and I brought her communion, anointed her with oil, and said a prayer for healing and wholeness. She told me then that she was ready. She didn’t know why the Lord was taking so long, because she was ready to be with Him. She had been strong for so long, even sitting up in a chair, though it required a great effort, on her 96th birthday on Monday, which she celebrated in the hospital.

Like the Lord talking with his dearest friends, before he went home to be with the Father, she had instructions and encouragement to her loved ones she was leaving behind. She chose the music and scripture for the service that would witness to her faith and comfort those who mourn.

She wanted us to hear a message of God’s love and presence with us always, though we will have trials and struggles. We pass through the waters and are not overwhelmed, walk through fire, unharmed. We are assured that the God who created us has called us by name. We are precious in His sight! We are redeemed. We are forgiven for all our sins.

Like the disciples, who didn’t know how they would continue on—or if they even could— if Jesus were to die, we needn’t be afraid when we lose our loved ones or when we ourselves are facing death. We have the promise of everlasting life with Him that begins in this world. Christ sent His Holy Spirit, the Advocate, so that He may abide in us and we abide in Him. Christ’s Spirit will continue to strengthen and teach us that we may live according to His will and love as He loved.

I saw Christ in Ivy. I saw His light and felt his love and peace, which he gives to all who open their hearts to receive them. The miracle of knowing Christ is that the nearer we draw to the Lord, the more we want others to draw nearer to Him and experience the same joy. We want others to know a peace that we struggle to explain. A peace that truly goes beyond human logic. A peace that stays with us when we walk through dark valleys, grieving the loss of our loved ones, when we don’t know how we can live without them tomorrow.

Christ speaks to his followers in every time and place when he tells us to let go of the burden of fear. Fear is not God’s will for you!

      “Peace I leave with you,” he says.“My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Faith Has Made You Well

 

Meditation on Luke 17:11-19

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

Oct. 13, 2019

TenLepers.jpg

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

 

I had a special blessing last Friday that I want to share with you. Two second-grade teachers, members of our church, invited me to volunteer at Coshocton Elementary, helping children with their reading. I read aloud The Littlest Pumpkin to one of the classes, like I did for the children here, and discussed the importance of not judging people by their size and being friends with everyone, even those who are different than us. Then, propped on a windowsill at the end of a hallway, I listened to children, one by one, read aloud from picture books. It was comfortable for me being back in reading specialist mode, listening for their expression and decoding skills, asking questions for comprehension and to build background knowledge and interest, complimenting them when they read well. The time just flew by. Before I knew it, I had been there 2 hours. And I couldn’t wait to come back the next week.

As I said goodbye to one of the teachers, I realized that I had recognized some of the children as those we have been reaching out to in Coshocton’s needier neighborhoods. I wondered what would it take to draw some of them into our flock so that we could minister to the entire family here? And what would make them more comfortable with us?

Then the answer came. We have to keep going out to them, caring for them and showing that we care, without expecting anything in return. Isn’t that what Jesus would do? He didn’t wait for people to come to his community or the synagogue. He went out to them. We need to be who we really are–show them that Christians are imperfect but loving people trying to follow the Savior and experience healing in our own lives and draw others nearer to Him who is able to grant us a faith that makes us well.

 

***

 

Today’s passage in Luke 17 begins with the announcement of Jesus setting his heart on his final destination–Jerusalem. He is on his way to the cross. But he isn’t finished teaching us that God’s salvation and healing transcend uncomfortable social, religious, and political boundaries that human beings build up between one another.

map-galilee-samaria.jpg

Samaria, in ancient Palestine, was the central highland region between Galilee to the north and Judea to the South. When the Israelites conquered the Promised Land, this region was given to the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim. First Kings and 2 Chronicles tell us that the kingdom splits after Solomon dies and his son, Rehoboam, comes to power in 930 BCE. While Rehoboam’s arrogance is said to have caused the split, the division of the kingdom will ultimately be blamed on his grandfather, David’s, sin with Bathsheba. Samaria becomes the capital of the northern kingdom, called Israel, while Jerusalem becomes the capital of the southern kingdom, called Judah.

By the days of Christ, the relationship between Jewish people and the Samaritans is strained, at best. You’ve heard it said that Jews and Samaritans don’t get along–and how Jesus is forever challenging prejudice, exclusivity, and isolationism. Remember Jesus’ offering Living Water to the Samaritan woman at the well, an outsider to her own community? And the story of the “Good Samaritan,” who rescues and cares for a stranger, who was beaten, robbed and left by the side of the road, to be passed over by a priest and a Levite, members of his own faith community.

Do you wonder why Samaritans and Jews don’t get along in Jesus’ time and centuries before? Samaritans believe that they are descendants of Joseph, through his sons Manasseh and Ephraim, and that the center of worship should remain at Shechem, on Mount Gerizim, where it had been in the time of Joshua. The Jews, in contrast, build their first temple at Jerusalem. Bad feelings increase between the two groups after the Assyrians conquer Samaria in 722 BCE, and thousands of Israelites are taken as captives. The Assyrians resettle the land with foreigners who worship pagan gods. The foreigners intermarry with the Israelites remaining in that region. The Jewish people in Christ’s day accuse Samaritans of idolatry and look down on them as a mixed race. Jewish people would travel miles out of their way to avoid passing through Samaria, a region under Roman control that extended about 40 miles from north to south and 35 miles east to west.

When Jesus meets the 10 lepers entering a village that is “between Galilee and Samaria,” it isn’t clear if he has walked through Samaria or if his disciples are with him at this border town. I’m going to go with “no”–that Jesus is walking this way alone, as the disciples are never mentioned. The lepers approach Jesus at a distance, out of respect. They are living outside the village, not permitted to live in the community, even with loved ones. They are barred from worship in the synagogue. They are seen as “unclean,” unacceptable to God. But are they really? Or is this just a cruel barrier erected by human beings to keep them out of God’s house?

The Son of God, seeing the 10 lepers and hearing them cry out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,” responds mercifully and compassionately. “Go and show yourselves to the priest,” he says. Do you remember when they are healed? Not immediately. They are healed as they obey Christ’s voice and are on their way to the priest, hoping for a miracle.

I am bewildered that the others who are healed don’t respond with gratitude. Perhaps the point is that not everyone who experiences the goodness of God recognizes that it is the Lord who has blessed them. And some who do, don’t always respond by living gratefully. Isn’t that true in our society today? We experience blessings all the time, but do we always stop and say thank you to God for what He has done? And share with others our thanks and praise?

We can’t see the Lord’s facial expression in this passage, but knowing his mercy and compassion for the poor, hungry, despised, and sick, I don’t think he is speaking with anger when he questions those who do not return to say thank you. I think he is just teaching us, making his point that God’s salvation is for everyone, even our enemies, by emphasizing that the one who falls to his feet, loudly praising God, is a Samaritan. Were not ten made clean?” Jesus asks. “But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then Jesus says to him, and I am sure he is smiling when he says this, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

      

***

 

I am looking forward to reading with the children again, next Friday, and getting to know each of their personalities, as well as their skills in decoding, fluency, and comprehension. Still a reading specialist! I am happy to be able to use all my gifts and talents, my training and experience to help others. It is such a good feeling to be used by the Lord. It brings me joy, especially, to extend my ministry beyond the walls of our church in a way that is comfortable for me–and reach out to help some of the youngest and neediest members of our community who may never have the opportunity to go to church. After all, it’s up to an adult to bring them!

I know that many of you are serving the Lord beyond the walls of our church, out in the community. You inspire me! Thank you for your faithfulness! You never know what a difference you will make in someone’s life. Wherever you go, remember that you bring the peace and healing love of Christ.

Perhaps the best moments of my morning with the children on Friday was after they finished reading with me and they went to take reading tests. Each one came running out to me in the hall to tell me that they had passed, that they had reached their goals. Each one said, “Thank you!” And many of them gave me a hug!

I had tears in my eyes as I walked back to my car. I cried, just telling Jim about my experiences later that day. I felt gratitude and awe for the Lord who gives us the desires of our hearts–puts those desires in us–then gives us the desires of our hearts, makes our dreams come true. For I always wanted to be a second grade teacher and did my student teaching in second grade. And here I am, ministering in a Presbyterian Church in Coshocton, and suddenly, I am back in the classroom. In second grade. The timing is perfect. It’s just what I needed, a ministry project that, while I help others, is bringing me healing after a difficult summer. Praise the Lord. For he is making me well.

If only we could be as joyful as the little children and as grateful for our blessings–small and large. Like the Samaritan who was healed of his leprosy when Jesus was on his way to the cross to give his life for a world that scorned and rejected him. May we all be stirred to share our faith, gratitude, and joy like the despised outsider, the Samaritan who praised the Lord with a loud voice and fell humbly at his feet. The one who made Jesus smile and say, “Get up, and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

 

Let us pray.

 

God our healer, we praise you now with all our heart for what you have done for us. Help us to be more grateful and to live lives of gratitude. For you, in your mercy and compassion, are making us well. Help us to be your humble servants, letting go of our own plans and goals and trusting that you know what is best. Build your Kingdom here, in this place, and use us to reach out to our needy neighbors, especially to the children, Lord, so that we might spread hope, joy, peace and love. Give us confidence to use the power of our faith like the one whom Jesus healed of leprosy–to make our families and communities well. In Your Son’s name we ask these things. Amen.

Increase Our Faith!

 

Meditation on Luke 17:5-10

World Communion Sunday

Oct. 6, 2019

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton, OH

 

faith to uproot a mulberry tree

 

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

 

***

 

We hosted our community dinner, once again, last  Thursday night. Thank you to all our faithful volunteers who continue this compassionate ministry to our neighbors in need. When I went downstairs to help, volunteers were busy cooking Rice Krispie chicken, scalloped potatoes, mixed vegetables, fresh fruit and tossed salad, and homemade desserts. It was a feast!

We didn’t have as many people from the community come to the meal this time, perhaps because it was the last night of the fair. Maybe about 25 or 30 came, including some families with young children. I wasn’t disappointed. I know that whoever came were the ones that the Lord wanted us to serve and be Christ’s Body for the world. Amen?

I’m not a cook. Jim loves me, anyway. My passion is for serving food, hospitality, and seeing the joy on people’s faces. My job, this time, was spooning out the mixed vegetables. I didn’t see a lot of joy when I offered peas, broccoli, squash, carrots and cauliflower! In fact, some people avoided me altogether. Skipped right over me. I became like one of the carnies, selling chances to win a bunny at the fair. “Broccoli and cauliflower here!” I called. “Eat your cruciferous vegetables! They’re good for you!” One man asked me what that meant–cruciferous. He thought I was making it up. It’s really a thing. Cruciferous veggies include broccoli and cauliflower, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, watercress and radishes. The name “cruciferous,” according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is a classification for members of the mustard family. The word comes from the Latin cruciferae meaning “cross bearing,” because the four petals resemble a cross.[1]

I did a good job coaxing people to eat their colorful vegetables, picking out the peas for some of them. What is it about peas? I don’t know. Except for this one boy that scrunched his face, crossed his arms and said, “No way!” After I finished serving the veggies, I spooned them into take-home boxes for some members of our congregation and then some onto my plate. By this time, they were cold. I was wondering if I was going to have a hard time eating them; I wanted to set a good example–and not be a hypocrite!

You will be happy to know that I ate a well-balanced meal that included one of Grace’s lemon cookies. Have you ever had Grace’s cookies before? I wanted a piece of Texas Sheet Cake, too, but if you snooze around here, you lose! I sat down to eat at one of the long tables and got to talking with four dear ladies from the community who had stories to share. As I listened, time flew by.

L. was born in Los Angeles at home– where third base is at the Dodger’s Stadium now! Her father helped deliver the baby while he was on the phone with the doctor. L. couldn’t wait to go the hospital, she said. The doctor who came later told her daddy that he had done a fine job delivering the baby. He couldn’t have done it any better! L. lived with her family in California and Texas before she moved to Coshocton with her husband to be close to one of their sons, who had moved here, got married, and had a baby.

I asked L. to tell me about her husband. He wasn’t at the meal. “He has trouble with anxiety,” she said. “He doesn’t like crowds.” She has been a full time caregiver for him for decades, since he was diagnosed with a debilitating mental illness years ago. They lost two children to foster care because of his illness, when it was untreated, before they have the medications that help him to be more like the man she married, she said.

“Why did you stay with him?” I asked, “when they took your children away?”

“Faith,” she said. “I have faith. And he was sick, so I couldn’t leave. I had made promises when I married him.”

The conversation moved to happier things after that, stories of generosity, kindness, healing. Hope. L. brought the other 3 women, one in her 90s, celebrating a birthday this month, and another with a walker, and a younger neighbor who smiled and said she was doing well with her medication and friends like L., who took in her cat when he wasn’t getting along with her dog. L. added, “We split the vet bills.”

Then we looked up and realized that most of the room had emptied out. Only a few volunteers remained, gathering trash, wiping tables, turning off the fans. L. laughed. “I guess we’re the only ones left,” she said.

As I walked them out of the church, I watched L. help her 3 neighbors, one of whom had never come to our community meal before, but L. had invited her and drove her here. I had this uncomfortable thought, then. I wouldn’t be as kind and forgiving as L. Not in the things she has had to endure. And I remembered what she said to me, as I pretended to eat the cold vegetables on my plate and wished that I had, instead, a slab of Texas sheet cake.

“You can’t love without God,” she said. “You can’t be good.”

***

That must have been the problem that the disciples had, when, as our passage begins in Luke 17, they ask Jesus to increase their faith. Just before this passage, Jesus tells them that if their brothers or sisters in the Lord sin against them seven times a day, but repent and ask for their forgiveness, they should forgive them. Seven times a day, the same person hurting you with their words and actions. This was happening amongst the disciples while Jesus was trying to teach them how to minister to people in need, revealing the Kingdom of God through His ways of love and peace.

It’s no surprise that the disciples weren’t getting along. Remember Judas Iscariot, the one who would betray Jesus, was still in their midst. And Judas aside, some of the disciples had favored status. Jesus had a kind of inner circle in Matthew, Mark and Luke, chosen to be with him in private moments, while the others are left behind. Remember when Jesus goes up on the mountain and meets with Moses and Elijah and is transfigured? Who is with him? Simon Peter, and the sons of Zebedee– James and John, fishermen who faithfully dropped their nets to follow him and become fishers of people when Jesus said, “Come.”

Even in the inner circle, there were problems. Ego. Competition. In Matthew 20, beginning at verse 20, “ The mother of Zebedee’s children (James and John) came to Jesus with her sons. She got down on her knees before Jesus to ask something of Him. He said to her, “What do you want?” She said, “Say that my two sons may sit, one at Your right side and one at Your left side, when You are King.” The other disciples hear about this later and are angry with the two brothers.

Now, in Luke 17, Jesus tells the disciples, when they ask for more faith, that they have enough! If they had faith like a mustard seed, one of the tiniest seeds of all, they could change the natural world, saying to a mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey.’ Then he tells a parable, which doesn’t sound like good news to us in the 21st Century with this disturbing talk of slavery, but it is. He compares the job of the disciples to the life of a slave, who has no rights and doesn’t live to be served, but to humbly serve the master, expecting nothing in return. The message to the disciples is, “Trust God and obey His Word!”

None of us can be like that humble slave, obedient to God all the time. None of us can be good, without God’s help. We struggle to forgive and give of ourselves and our resources. The good news is that we have the Lamb of God who became sin for us. Jesus Christ is the perfect example of faith, the author and finisher of our faith, the Righteous One, who emptied himself and became a slave, though it cost him his life, being perfectly obedient to God.

***

Friends, we often feel that are lacking something in our lives. We always want more. We think we need more to be happy and faithful. But Jesus assures us that we have enough! If only we would live in obedience to God. We have a treasure placed in our hearts, the Holy Spirit, granting us the power to forgive and faith to move a mulberry tree and plant it in the sea!

Today on World Communion Sunday, Christ’s followers around the world partake of the bread and cup together. We remember and give thanks to the One who died so that we would have peace with God and one another. Though the Church struggles with divisions, on this day, we gather as one, united in His Body, filled with his love. In the act of eating and drinking the bread and cup, we are confessing our faith. We are saying to one another, “As I am forgiven for all my sins in Jesus Christ, I forgive you! Seven times a day and forever. I forgive you!” Afterward, we are sent out to be Christ’s Body for the world, revealing the Kingdom by serving in ministries of compassion, such as when we gather around the table with our neighbors at the community meal. Breaking bread, listening to stories, sharing peace, hope, and healing in the Lord.

Everyone is invited to the community meal–to eat and to serve. It’s strange to me that so few church members come. I know what Jesus would do. And if you do come–I hope you do–don’t judge our neighbors as having less than you do. Some have faith like a mustard seed, with power to uproot a mulberry tree and plant it in the sea.

Surely we, who have seen the grace and goodness of God, have enough faith to forgive and live in peace. Surely we, who are so rich with blessings too numerous to name, can trust in our faithful God to give us all that we need as we open our hands to feed the world.

Let us pray. Holy One, great is thy faithfulness! Thank you for your forgiveness for all our sins through your Son, Jesus Christ. Thank you for revealing your love and for pouring into our hearts the Holy Spirit that provides all that we need to minister in your name and do the great things that you have planned for us. Help us to be obedient and love one another. Stir us to use the gift of faith, powerful enough to uproot a mulberry tree and plant it into the sea. In Christ we pray. Amen.

     [1] Holly Larson, “The Beginner’s Guide to Cruciferous Vegetables” at https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/nutrient-rich-foods/the-beginners-guide-to-cruciferous-vegetables