November 18, 2018, Rev. Jenn Tafel
Good morning! What a blessing to be worshipping with you all again.
The Thanksgiving season and holiday call all sorts of images and more often than not it’s the cornucopia overflowing with items harvested. For me, it calls up what it takes to fill that horn-o-plenty. And for someone who doesn’t have a garden or do a lot of gardening—I sure do use the imagery quite a bit. And honestly—it’s a metaphor and image that works with so many folks across cultures and class differences (well, most of the time). Heck, there are plenty of parables and stories of gardening in the Bible for us to use—even if we don’t have current experience.
Recently, I used the image/metaphor of gardening at a spiritual activism meeting when discussing the commitment and longevity needed for doing justice work. Like an artist, a gardener can see the big picture and possibly the finished product when looking at an empty field. There is planning, preparation, purchasing, and ultimately planting. It is an involved process—if a person wants to be successful. The same can be said for justice work—though modified a bit, of course. There is the big picture and in order to work toward that picture we have to be willing to invest the time and energy—knowing that the work will yield benefits beyond our lifetime.
The garden (or us) needs to be prepared or cultivated and this requires education. Education is imperative. It wasn’t until I attended junior college that I learned that there was a way to learn. Yes, it’s true. I was continually frustrated throughout my primary education. I thought that people knew a secret that was hidden only to me. Well, they did to some degree. I finally learned that textbooks are written a certain way and once you realize this small but important detail—the process of learning runs a heck of a lot smoother! Holy smokes! It was like a veil or fog had been lifted. How we are educating is just as important as the content of education. Education for our spiritual journey comes from our theology as well as lived experience. Hopefully it comes from more than one source and a variety of authors. If we are doing any work towards improving justice and equity it is crucial that we be trained and educated as allies. I am constantly attending workshops and seminars.
Working in a garden also requires the proper tools (isn’t it amazing how fast the work goes once you have the right tool for the job?!). Our spiritual journey and the advancement of cultural competency also require us to use the “right” tool for the job. Having a variety of spiritual practice techniques is key in our regeneration or spiritual growth process. Meditation works for some things where prayer requires a different focus. There is a difference between tilling a field or plot and watering the soil. Maybe that’s a statement of the obvious but I know I need reminding from time to time!
The Scripture lessons for today speak to life cycles and the spiritual journey. In our reading from 1Samuel we hear how Hannah is preparing herself for what will be a spiritual undertaking—though she doesn’t know at this stage in the game—spoiler alert! She is participating in the spiritual practice of the pilgrimage, prayer, and openness to God’s leading. She has been cultivating herself for some time without knowledge of how God will be working in her life. For me, it’s not blind faith but rather an act of devotion without thought of outcomes. The process of the devotion IS the act. Hannah is dedicated to serving God and knows that she is changed in the process. The life she’s built is such that the pilgrimage to the Tent of Meeting is a central piece of her spirituality—regardless if it was required of her. She and the Tent of Meeting had a relationship. It happens that God sees and hears this and gives her a son, Samuel, who was the religious figure responsible for consecrating the first kings of Israel.
We turn to the reading from Gospel where the disciples are impressed with the Temple and structure of it. “Look at the huge stones!” Jesus in his way of teaching informs them that once again the disciples are focused on the wrong thing. Man—that had to be tough! I remember early in my adventures in ministry and theological formation being focused on entirely the wrong things. Woof! I don’t have a specific example but I can remember the feeling. Just like the disciples I was walking along thinking I knew something only to be told, “Yeah—that’s wrong!” Are you kidding me?! What an ego crusher (maybe that was the point…maybe).
A take away from these stories is perhaps not to get hung up on the structures or the permanence of things. It isn’t the building. It isn’t the relationship. It isn’t the job. It isn’t the plant or vegetable. It isn’t the organization. Oh my gosh, Jenn Tafel—what are you saying?!!! I’m saying that perhaps it’s the work. It’s the process. Most importantly it’s the relationship with God and paying attention to this guidance. God works through organizations and structures but isn’t those things. God is present in relationships but isn’t the relationship. God isn’t the plant or the vegetable—God is present in the creation and nurturing of them.
We can’t get hung up on the permanence of anything if we are working in garden. At the end of a season—whoosh! All gone. For better or worse it is literally left on the field. All the cards are played. Then the planning goes into the next season. Will I keep growing corn there or is it time to put in beans? Do I need to expand the plot? What methods worked for keeping out disease, insects, and invaders? How was I able to respect the land and nurture Mother Earth in this process?
As I was wrestling with the material for today’s message, I came across a quote from Shams of Tabriz, #10 from the “40 Rules of Love.” It says, “The midwife knows that when there is no pain, the way for the baby cannot be opened and the mother cannot give birth. Likewise, for a new self to be born, hardship is necessary. Just as clay needs to go through intense heat to become strong, Love can only be perfected in pain.”
Life-Cyles. Death. Birth. Re-birth. God is present through it all.
We come together today not only to worship but also to share in a meal. We are here for celebrating God who works through our lives and also to celebrate one another. If I’ve learned anything in my time on the planet, it’s that community building is just as worthwhile and challenging as working in a garden. How are you different from a year ago? I was lucky enough to be here a year ago and so I know how different I am as we come together today. What worked for your community? What didn’t? Do you need to rotate or shift anything for growth to occur?
The food we will be sharing also took a lot of work to prepare—what a blessing we will be sharing that together. We will be nourished by the food as well as the company. We can talk about our blessings and hopes with one another. How good it is to come together. What a horn-o-plenty we have here today. God IS good!
1 Samuel 1: 4-20
4 When the time came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions to Peninnah and her children, 5 and a double portion to Hannah, for he loved Hannah, even though YHWH made her childless. 6 And because YHWH closed her womb, her rival constantly taunted her. As a result, she grew gravely depressed. 7 This went on for years. Every year they made the pilgrimage to YHWH’s Tent of Meeting, her rival taunted her to tears and she refused to eat. 8Elkanah, her husband would ask, “Hannah, why do you cry, and why do you refuse to eat? To grieve? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” 9 Hannah rose after one such meal at Shiloh, and presented herself to God. at the time, the priest Eli was sitting on a chair by the door of YHWH’s Tent of Meeting. 10 Hannah, deeply distressed, wept greatly, 11vowing, “YHWH Omnipotent, look with pity on your handmaid. Don’t forsake me. Remember me. If you will give me a child, a male, I will dedicate him to you. For all the days of his life, he will neither drink wine nor liquor, and no razor will ever touch its head.” 12 As she kept praying to YHWH, Eli noticed her lips. 13 Hannah was praying silently—her lips moved but they made no sound. Seeing this, Eli decided she was drunk, 14 and said to her, “How long will you continue remain in this drunken state? Sober up!” 15 Hannah replied, “Oh no! It isn’t that! I am a woman with a broken heart! I have drunk neither wine nor liquor. But I have been pouring out my heart before YHWH. 16 Don’t judge me as a terrible person. I am simply pouring out my feelings of grief and misery.” 17 Eli said “Go in peace. And may the God of Israel grant you your wish.” 18 Hannah replied, “You are most kind.” Then she left. 19Early the next morning they arose early and worshiped before YHWH and then returned to Ramah, their home. When Elkanah made love to Hannah, YHWH remembered her. 20 She conceived, and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, for she had asked for him.
Mark 13: 1-8
1 As Jesus was leaving the Temple, one of the disciples commented in passing, “Look, Teacher! What huge stones these are! What wonderful buildings!” 2 Jesus replied, “See these great buildings? Not a single stone will be left on another. Everything will be torn down.” 3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives facing the Temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will all this happen? What will be the sign that all this is about to take place?” 5 Jesus began by saying, “Be on your guard that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name saying, ‘I am the One,’ and they will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of war, do not be alarmed. Things like this must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation and empire against empire; there will be earthquakes throughout the world and famines—yet this is only the beginning of the labor pains.
Message from Swedenborg
“God alone—the Lord—is love itself, because God is life itself. Both we on earth and angels are life-receivers. I will be offering many illustrations of this in works on divine providence and life. Here I would say only that the Lord, who is the God of the universe, is uncreated and infinite, while we and angels are created and finite. Since the Lord is uncreated and infinite, God is that essential reality that is called Jehovah and is life itself or life in itself. No one can be created directly from the Uncreated, the Infinite, from Reality itself and Life itself, because what is divine is one and undivided. We must be created out of things created and finite, things so formed that something divine can dwell within. Since we and angels are of this nature, we are life-receivers. ”
~Divine Love and Wisdom 4