These are my thoughts for the Friday evening “Vespers in the Garden” worship and Saturday morning worship service at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen at Grace UMC (Newburgh, NY).
This is the fourth year that we have held the “Vespers in the Garden” series on Fridays and the third year that we will hold the service on Sundays. The gardens at Grace are an interesting place as they offer an interesting counterpart to the street scene of Newburgh. And on a hot summer day, there is more often than not a cool breeze passing through the garden.
Vespers in the Garden start at 7 on Fridays and Sundays and will run through Labor Day. Come on over if you get the chance and let me know if you might be interested in presenting the message one time or providing the music.
We open the doors of Grannie Annie’s Kitchen at 8 am on Saturday morning, have a brief worship service at 8:10 and then serve breakfast at 8:30. Generally, we stop serving at 9:45. Everyone is welcome to come and be a part of this Saturday morning community.
I am using the Scripture readings for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost (C), 30 June 2013 – 2 Kings 2: 1 – 2, 6 – 14; Galatians 5: 1, 13 – 25; Luke 9: 51 – 62.
It is always interesting to see how the lectionary, a collection of readings formed by a committee many years ago, always offers the right words for the right time. There are, of course, many ways that one could look at why this is and perhaps one day we might do that.
But that would, I think, turn into academic discussion of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin (see “Quantum Gravity Treatment of the Angel Density Problem”). Such discussions are perhaps best left for the quiet solitude of some ivory-covered tower though I did discover that currently safety standards impose a 4-angel limit because Congress passed the Angel Safety Law which also requires that the pin be inspected for structural defects twice a year.
Still, if the the words contained in the Bible are to have any meaning in and for today’s society, they must speak to the moment at hand. If they do not, the Bible quickly becomes a tired old book of history languishing on someone’s bookshelf. And that is what the readings for this weekend do; they speak to the moment at hand what we must do at this moment and in this place and time.
And in looking at the Old Testament reading I thought of the Robert Frost poem which gives me the title for the message, “The Road Not Taken.” And while the poem speaks of the author leaving, it is perhaps the scene of the two roads that diverge that is appropriate for this time and place.
I knew, when I first looked at the Scripture readings for this weekend that this would be Pastor Frank’s last weekend at Grace, though I did not know where he was going nor did I know who was coming to continue the work of the ministry that has been in this place for so many years. I also did not know at that time that this would also be Pastor Mike’s last weekend.
And so, on a weekend where there is a transfer of power and leadership in so many United Methodist Churches, the Old Testament reading today talks about the transfer of power and leadership from Elijah to Elisha. There is, perhaps, a certain degree of fear in Elisha’s voice as he insists on going with Elijah, even when he does not know where Elijah is going. And Elijah knows that Elisha really can’t go with him.
But Elisha insists on tagging along until he receives some token of Elijah’s life. When Elijah asks him, Elisha says that he wants Elijah’s life repeated in his.
Pastor Frank and Pastor Mike, each in their own way and manner, had done that, provided something in leadership, wisdom, and guidance that takes the ministry of Grace (Newburgh) to the next level. They have provided a sound foundation for Pastor Hooker to take Grace where it needs to go, even if that destination is still unknown.
The impetus for this Saturday worship came from Pastor Frank and when we gather together next Saturday and each Saturday after that, our gathering will be a reflection of the ministry that he brought to Grace when he came last September. And each one of us, whether we have worked with Pastor Frank and/or Pastor Mike or just visited and talked with them, will know that they have had some influence in the path we know must walk.
And as they walk their own paths, their encounters and their work with each one of us will have some influence on where they walk and how they work with their new congregations.
But it isn’t just a matter of Pastor Frank and Pastor Mike walking down some road, leaving us standing at a crossroads not knowing which way to go or hoping that Pastor Jeff has a road map. It is about where each one of us is headed.
Do we go home and resume our regular lives, as if nothing happened? Or has something happened here and now that says perhaps we need to walk down a different path, a different road?
Susan Engle, Paducah (KY) District Lay Resource Leader (Memphis Conference), wrote the following about what the laity of the United Methodist Church needs to think about in the coming days and discussion about the life and vital of the local church:
Worship on Sunday is not entertainment, and we are not the audience. Worship is a time for us to gather, hear God’s word, get filled up, and go in the power of the Spirit to change the world. If you go home and nothing changes, in you or in your world, it’s time to stop and consider where you are disconnecting. Where there is life, there is growth. If all of your God stories are from years ago, it might be time to take your spiritual pulse. “Things for the United Methodist laity to unlearn – from a lay person’s POV”
Worship, be it on a Friday or Sunday evening in the garden, a Saturday morning in the Fellowship Hall, or a Sunday morning in the sanctuary, is meant to be a time of connection with God. But you cannot leave that connection behind.
It is easy, I know, to let our life get in the way that we want to walk. Sometimes it it is the mundane things; sometimes it is the extraordinary things. But whatever the reason, we quickly see our walk with Christ as a secondary thought, something that is done after all the other stuff is taken care of and as long as it doesn’t get in the way.
Paul speaks of legalism, of using the law to justify what one does. For some it was the law that gave them the power and authority to tell others what to say and do. But such laws bind one to a life of slavery, not freedom. Even today, people create laws to divide society, to say who can do what, who has the power, or how one can live.
And we, individually, create our own internal laws, saying that we can only do this or we can’t do that, if only to justify that which we do each day. We spend so much time trying to justify our present condition and life that we cannot see how trapped we have become. We speak of our freedom and yet we live as a slave.
Paul points out that we have a choice in how we live. It is very interesting that what some would call freedom, Paul says is slavery. And he, very pointedly, points out the difference between the two.
I don’t know if Paul was thinking of the future when he wrote his letters to the early churches and gatherings. Someone once said that if he was doing that he should have been more careful in what he wrote. We know that he was writing to a group of people in a specific time and place and yet his words apply very much to this time and place. That may speak to our own inabilities and not his ability to see the future.
Our society is very much a selfish, self-centered society. It is very much what is best for the individual and how society can help the individual. Paul points out that the free spirit is very incompatible with this selfishness, this self-centeredness. Your energies are wasted when focused inwardly on your self; they multiply when they focus outwards, to helping others
So we come to this time and place, a crossroads not only in the life of this church but in our own lives. In a few days, Pastor Mike and Pastor Frank will be with their new churches and our new pastor will begin the process of settling in to his role.
And there we will stand, contemplating which road we must walk. We can choose to walk the road that is the same road we have walked each day, convinced that nothing we do can change our lives.
Or we can choose to walk that road that Jesus is walking, leaving behind all of our baggage and all that has burdened us and kept us enslaved.
The choice to walk the road with Jesus is our choice and our choice alone. We cannot force others to walk with us nor should others force us to walk with them. As much as some of the disciples wanted to bring wrath and destruction down on those who refused to walk with Jesus (and how many times have we heard that in today’s society), Jesus just said leave them alone and just continue the walk.
Some will not like the uncertainty of that walk, favoring to continue their own private walk that keeps them entangled in slavery.
But others will begin to understand that to walk with Jesus is a chance to be free from slavery to sin and death and, as Paul pointed out, a chance to open up and express the freedom of the spirit.
Each of us has come to that crossroad, that intersection of two roads. Which path will you take?