Photos from 2018 Garden of Eatin’ Blessing

As an act of worship on Sunday, May 6th, we blessed our “Garden of Eatin’ and prayed for all who are hungry and go without substance. This ministry has turned out to be a rather remarkable outreach opportunity for the congregation with many neighbors who pass by offering a sincere sense of gratitude and appreciation for our efforts.

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“It actually looks like someone cares,” quoting a neighbor who walked by.

The entire harvest is taken to the local food pantry for distribution. The pantry manager informs us that nothing is ever left from our vegetable donation at the end of the day. Most people take the variety of vegetables that contribute.

Crops selected are based on the market at the food pantry. We have three types of lettuce, beans, several varieties of peppers,  many varieties of tomatoes, kale, carrots, onions, radishes.

Know When to Hold Em, When to Fold Em, and When to Just Walk Away- John 15

[Jesus said:] 1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
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Tools to prune branches.

I didn’t think that the yard work I did last Monday would turn into the subject of a sermon, but it fits perfectly with Jesus metaphor of vines and branches. My lilac shrub and this vine plant that I can barely stand needed to a cut, so with the beautiful weather, I didn’t want to miss my chance to trim a little of the plants. Here is a piece of the branch that I cut.

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What Jesus is talking about as fruit is faith. We can be confident he is talking about faith because he gives a clue. He says that those who are not bringing forth fruit will have to be pruned and thrown away. This is because they apparently are not drawing their life from Christ who is the Vine. They are cut off from Christ. Consequently, they are cut off from life. Their lives are fruitless and dead. They must be pruned and taken away and ultimately thrown into the fire. On the other hand, Jesus says to his disciples, “You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.” This is to say that Jesus has already cleansed, pruned, and trimmed his disciples that they might be able to yield the proper fruit. This is an essential point in the text…. They did not cleanse themselves. They did not make themselves fit branches for bearing fruit. Jesus himself furnished them with the righteousness to produce their fruit acceptable to the Divine Vinedresser.

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The point of all this pruning work is so that we “abide” in God. Really, the heart of John’s gospel message is to abide in Christ love.

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So, this week, I want us to think about the fruits of our faith. Jesus says it like this, a good tree bears good fruit. And in our text, Jesus is the vine. God is the vine grower. We are the branches and expected to bear fruit. We cannot do so unless we abide in the vine.

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Like the shrubs I trimmed, God removes branches that don’t bear fruit. God prunes those that do. God is glorified when we become disciples and bear fruit. And what this fruit is not spelled out.

But, we might take a cue from Paul, who wrote about bearing fruit long before John wrote his gospel: The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…”(Galatians 5:22) If we consider this interpretation of fruit, love, peace, joy and such as the fruit, then John is saying we find these by dwelling in Christ.

Here’s this morning’s take away – the branches (disciples) cannot bear fruit (good works) apart from the vine. Our good deeds come from God. And if the branch tries to bear fruit apart from the vine, it will wither. Focus in abiding in Christ first, and the branch will eventually bear fruit.

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Being connected to Christ is the only way we can honestly know we are connected to the source which provides life.

It seems to me that in every parish I have served, there are a some who worked their fingers to the bone trying to do good at some point they flamed out. They weren’t connected to the vine. It’s our only source of energy, and we need reminding that we have to stay connected to Christ, the source of life. Some of us, rather than discerning God’s direction, operate frantically. Worship and prayer were secondary to some. I’m all for helping people, but without the spiritual food and drink, we will all eventually run out of gas.

Our spiritual lives are the food we need for a life of ministry, a life of walking the way of the cross. We can’t get there on our own. We need the energy from the vine to keep up going. So many of us take on too much and eventually we wither, like the seed that fell in rocky soil and then was withered by the sun because it didn’t have the depth of root. Even though some folks meant well, they got crispy from not receiving nourishment and fade away.  

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What are the things in my life that God calls me to Hold, Fold or Grow in my walk with Christ? Maybe I need to think about rearranging some of the priorities and values I profess to have??? Perhaps I need to do something more?  Possibly I need to cut back???   Pray about it and remember through your baptism your connection to the source of life.

And this week I want you to consider what you immerse yourself. What would it be like to immerse yourself in love? Specifically, what would it be like to immerse yourself in the love of Christ – to love as Christ loved?

Let us pray…. Amen.

The Shocking News – An Easter Sermon

Late last year, I received a message from someone I didn’t know on Facebook informing that I had lost something that carries a lot of meaning in my life. I didn’t think the item the person claimed was missing and believed I was being baited, so I chose to ignore the message. Later, I received a second attempt through another means of communication from the same person who was attempting to reach me because she believed her husband found something of value that belonged to me. Again, I chose to ignore the message and brushed it aside.

Finally, on the night of New Year’s Eve, I revisited the message from a woman who lived in Wisconsin. She informed me that her husband works in a recycling center and that a class ring was found in the recycling with my name on it. She asked me if I could identify the ring. I was baffled. I take good care of my items and couldn’t imagine how this person could contact me about a personal class ring from my college I received in 1998. So, I went to the place where I kept my jewelry and discovered that the class ring I wear from time-to-time was indeed missing. My heart tightened, and different scenarios began running through my mind. The brain thinks strange thoughts when it is surprised, and reactions are not rational. So, I stepped back and thought, “How can this be?” What on Earth? I had no idea my ring was even missing.

I contacted the person and described the ring. She then sent me a picture of what was indeed my class ring. I just couldn’t believe what was happening. And quite honestly, I am still baffled by this. Somehow my class ring wound up in the recycling either at my home or here at church in the office. I can’t say for sure because I hadn’t any clue it was even missing. From the recycling, it made its way to a recycling center in Beloit, Wisconsin, and Billie Jo’s husband found it while he was cleaning out the box where all the foreign objects went when he discovered it.

What I learned is that trash from seven different states are shipped to this location, and the probability of having something of personal value found is improbable. Billie Jo went on to say that her husband lost his class ring over 20 years ago and they were devastated when they realized it was gone. She found my name on the inside of the ring, did a quick google search and discovered I was a pastor and found my website and reached out to me. Less than a week later, I received a package with my ring inside. I couldn’t repay Billie Jo and her husband despite trying to mail a check or a finder’s reward. Her only request of me was to share the story in one of my sermon’s. How there are still good people out there, who are watching and caring for each other. She and I agreed that somehow God was at work through this encounter and the lesson for her (and for me) is that we need to do right by others.

Sisters and brothers – life is full of surprises. We never know when we will be surprised by the sudden news. That’s the reality of life – we are shocked by some story that makes us anxious or afraid. Some of us live in fear of what could happen. This fear can sometimes paralyze us because we are so scared of what might happen.

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Perhaps that was the feeling of Mary Magdalene when she went to the tomb expecting to anoint the body of Jesus, but all she found was an empty shell. Her surprising message left her confused and afraid. After all, the tomb was empty. Nothing in all of the scriptures points to the fact that Mary Magdalene ever expected the body of Jesus to be missing. She showed up early to visit her Lord and Teacher. Little did she know what she would find.

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You and I get the privilege of getting excited about the empty tomb. It gives us a great hope that Christ has Risen…. But Mary Magdalene was devastated and shocked. She had lost a mentor who had great value for her.  The one to whom Mary had given much glory and devotion had been brutally put to death just three days prior, and now his remains were missing. She had no clue early that Easter morning that Jesus was missing and had risen from the dead. Could it be that someone stole the body? After the betrayal and everything that Jesus had been put through, it would have been heart-breaking for her to discover that someone had desecrated his dead body.

That is not what the Bible says. The Bible says Mary ran to get Simon Peter and another disciple, presumably John, the gospel writer, who ran to the tomb together to see what was going on. Inside the tomb, all that was left was the linen cloth that the body which wrapped the body. 

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The bible isn’t clear why the disciples still did not comprehend what was happening; it merely says the two disciples returned home leaving Mary Magdalene alone at the tomb. When two angels of the Lord appear where Jesus lay and question why Mary is weeping, she turns around and encounters the risen Jesus, whom she mistakes as the gardener. Jesus instructs Mary to go and tell the disciples that Jesus is alive and has not yet ascended to the Father. So, Mary goes as Jesus directs and shares the Good News.

And what does this all mean?   No one had, no has ever been, raised from the dead, and then set loose back in the world. What does that mean: “He is raised?” 

Just for this morning, let me say to you that it just means this; although we are all frail, mortal, finite human beings and are wholly inadequate in our words and our deeds in the face of death-  God – the one who creates and gives us life is determined to be the creator and the giver of life even in death.

Because Jesus is raised, we are bold to believe that we also shall be raised. The end of life is one problem that we can never solve. We can prolong life, but not bring life eternal on our own. We may have been successful in overcoming many of our daily problems. But death is one problem we cannot solve on our own.

And the good news of this day is that we don’t have to solve this deadly problem. Our culture tries it’s best to avoid death and aging, but it’s merely a false reality and message. Here is good news. Here is the best good news you will ever hear: “He has risen!” Do not fear death doesn’t get the last word. God does.

Easter carries with its fear. The Bible says that it is a “fearful thing to fall into the hand of a living God.”  And today, we and all our fears have fallen into the everlasting arms of a living God. God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves:  God triumphs for us in what St. Paul calls our “final enemy” – death. God does do something about our death problem.

So, whether it be fear, doubt, joy, whatever you feel, you can drop whatever it is you are doing and run, tell this Easter message: “He has risen!”  Because this day we can be like Mary Magdalene and my friend, Billie Jo who announced the good news of something that was lost and of value to me is not gone but has been found! Despite our fear and concerns of rejection to tell anyone who will listen in our culture of disbelieving: “He has Risen!  He is risen, indeed.”  Alleluia. To God be the Glory. Amen.

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God’s Great Reversal – Matthew 20:1-16

I’m going to share a truth that we know is true, but for some reason, it’s easier for us to deny it.  The truth I’m speaking of is that sometimes life just isn’t fair.  It’s a reality that sooner or later we’re all going to face.  It’s best that we are learning this fact while you are in your first half of life than waiting until old age to discover this truth.  In fact, you can learn this truth in nursery school – Sometimes lives deals us lemons.

Sometimes that’s the way things happen, isn’t it?  Sometimes life isn’t fair.  So we learn to deal with the unfairness.  So, let me tie this life reality in with the Gospel text today.  It’s a crucial point that I don’t want you to miss in the text.  Saying life isn’t fair is not the same as saying that God isn’t fair for two reasons.  First, of all, because God doesn’t owe you and me anything at all.  Like Luther said on his deathbed, “It’s true.  We’re all beggars.”  And second, God’s justice doesn’t work the way the world’s justice works.

Saying life is not fair is not the same as saying God isn’t fair because God doesn’t owe us anything at all.  In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, the very opposite is correct.  We owe God everything:  our time, our talents, and our treasures.  The very life that lives inside each of us has been gifted to us; even the breaths that you take, the clothes on your back, the food that is prepared for you, even your health to some extent is a gift from God.   The simple fact is:  God doesn’t owe us anything.

As active disciples of Christ, we commit our lives to God.  We resist the urge not to show up or to sleep in on our Sunday morning to worship God.  We spend our hard-earned money and resources to support the work and ministry of our congregation.  We spend time in prayer and the study of Scripture when we could be golfing or some recreation.  Our confirmation students could do something with their one hour on Wednesday nights other than talking about faith formation.  You see, as active Christians, we follow Jesus, the landowner into the vineyard, where we are called to do the work of God.

For us, active disciples of Christ, things may not always seem the way we would like.  It doesn’t seem fair to us that some deserve God’s grace when they don’t even show up or participate.  We are the ones, after all, who’ve done most of the work, we tell ourselves.  The laborers in the parable that began picking the first hour of the day picked more grapes than those who started picking the last moment.  If that were to happen today, there would be an uproar; labor strikes and unions would lash out. It is only right that the reward for our work should be consistent with the time we put into our efforts.

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But this parable has nothing to do with economics, at least in the sense that we understand the economy.  It is not a description of how employers should treat workers.  It is, after all, a description of how God works in the kingdom of heaven.  God’s goodness may or may not be entirely understandable.  We don’t fully understand the grace of God.  And based on this parable, we may indeed think that God doesn’t operate fairly.

God’s not fair, according to our limited human reasoning.  In fact, if we put ourselves in the place of the laborers who started at sunrise or midmorning or even early afternoon, we have missed the point of the parable.  Jesus is the one who works from sunup to sundown.  Jesus is the one who has borne the burden of the day and heat.  Only Jesus has earned us salvation.  The grace is that God still calls us towards God’s self and gives us the full wage.   God offers you the promise of salvation, not because you have worked hard enough but because Jesus has done it for you.

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God gives us more than we can ever earn.  The Bible teaches that the wages of sin are death, but it is God who gives life.  The laborers in the vineyard all received a full day’s pay regardless of the hours they worked.  We have all been given salvation, irrespective of the sins we’ve been under.

And perhaps even more remarkable is that God has entrusted us to do God’s work.  In baptism, we’ve been given the work of a lifetime, and at the table, God renews us and then sends us out as labors to plant the seeds of God’s word, to speak to those who have never heard and to proclaim the word anew to those who have fallen away.

ripe-47423__480.jpgRemember that the kingdom of heaven is a gift, and in a way, we’re all latecomers, aren’t we? In Christ, it’s never too late to come home to the mercy of God. Thanks, be to God.  Amen.

 

 

Week One in San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel (SMA) is truly a unique place.  It’s got the mystic of a 15th-century colonial city and the charm of a small village.  While it might be true that not everyone will enjoy the 5:00 A.M. bombastic fireworks that wake the town at 5:00 A.M. for the past two days, they serve as a reminder that this is town is different.  It’s typical of a laid-back Mexican slower pace and relaxed rhythms of life.

My best description of cities in the US of SMA is imagined if New Orleans meets Santa Fe.  Of course, being a 15th-century colonial city, there is the Old World charm with 600-year-old cathedrals which have welcomed the faithful and stood as a witness to the years of Mexican history and the progress of society.

 


Where else but in a town like SMA can you wander into the Jardin (garden) on a balmy Thursday evening to find a religious festival in progress with dancing and mariachis?Or a parade of lanterns held highly the devout, and the hundreds of devoted followers attending the white daisy-draped casket-like float held high by eighteen strong Mexicans men?  We gringos wonder which saint is celebrated?

The first week taught me that pace of life in North America is so different from the slow-moving, carefree, less hectic life in the “States.”  There is a mantra about the town – “No es importanta!” Relax.  Being busy isn’t life.  One’s worth isn’t depending upon how busy one is.

Of course, in my situation, I have three small children with me.  People back home have asked, “Is it safe?”  Hmmm… Is it safe in the US?  Do we in the US live an illusion that we are “safe?”  And, what do we mean when we ask about safety?  From what are we trying to protect ourselves?  People?  Food? Violence?

 

 

On Tuesday, I began a class in the Spanish language and had progressed in my comfort of speaking with locals in a short amount of time.  I still have a long, long way to go concerning being completely fluent in Spanish, but my comfort level, particularly with Spanish verb tenses is slowly increasing.

A big blessing for me is my language teacher, Socorro.  She tells me she’s taught Spanish to foreigners, many Gringos, for forty years.  She’s feisty, fierce, funny as hell, and demands correct syntax.  She’s my kind of teacher!

 
Every day, I (along with Karen) spend four hours of language class from 9 to 1 with a 30-minute break at 11:00.  Followed by homework of learning verbs and verb tenses. The entire class is in Spanish for the first hour-and-a-half is spend on the lesson and the second 90 minutes is conversational Spanish as we practice speaking the language with Socorro.  It’s a safe space to attempt to expand our comfort for speaking Spanish with native speakers.  Students come from colleges in the US to spend some time learning to speak the language.  Many students have retired from their occupations in the US and spend some time in  SMA.

San Miguel is rich in educational offerings.  It’s kind of like a college campus of arts and language.  While the town is known as a center for the arts, there is most defiantly a wide variety of class and educational opportunities. The class has been a great way for me to meet some new people from the States as well as local folks.  Learning Spanish is so important to be able to enjoy time in San Miguel.  Don’t expect people to speak English! I find the locals to be forgiving and accustom to guys like me who are trying to hone their language skills.  If nothing else, I shrug off my attempt to speak, and together I share a laugh with those whom I speak as I feebly try to communicate.   I try not to be so hard on myself for my lack of fluency.  It’s a work in progress, yet anyone who has immersed one’s self in a culture where a different language is spoken can be sympathetic to the lack of fluency.

 


Along with my class, my two older daughters attend school a few blocks from our apartment.  Analise is entered third grade in the fall and has been placed in the appropriate eight-year-old classroom.  Half her day is spent learning in Spanish, and the other half is in English.   She, too, struggles with the lack of language but is having fun.  In fact, it’s been heartwarming to see her classmates run up to her on the street to greet her and say ‘hola Analise‘!

My four-year-old is in the preschool and loves it.  She gets to have a lot of fun and makes artwork and enjoys her immersion in Spanish as she is helped by Ms. Pati, her English-speaking teacher.

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Garden of Eatin’ Blessing on Rogation Sunday

Rogation Sunday is an ancient Christian observance dating back to around 470A.D. in which farmers blessed the fields and crops for feeding.

Rogation Sunday has an interesting history in the life of the Church.  It started as a Roman pagan ritual in which a dog was sacrificed as an offering for the blessing of the crops.

Instead of offering up a dog as a sacrifice,  Zion Lutheran Church dedicated our Community Vegetable Garden, “The Garden of Eatin’” on Rogation Sunday (April 23, 2017).

 

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Members and friends of Zion Lutheran Church in Muscatine make their way to the garden dedication.  The garden is located at the corner of Sycamore St. and 6th St. It is adjacent to Zion Lutheran Church at 513 Sycamore St. near downtown Muscatine. 

The harvested produce is given to the Muscatine Community Food Pantry and is distributed to those who come to the pantry as a way to encourage healthy eating and an easy way to gain access to fresh produce.

The garden ministry was launched in 2016 when we received a grant from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America World Hunger program.   The grant was used to purchase seeds, wood and supplies to build garden boxes, as well as to offset the cost of water and other needed accessories.

Varieties of vegetables in this year’s garden include carrots, lettuce, kail, onions, green beans, peas, tomatoes, peppers, and tomatoes.

We are planning to build a fence on the property and will include small boxes on the wall for herb gardens.

This has been a blessing to our congregation as our neighbors enjoy visiting with us about the garden and engage us in conversation about our ministry in Muscatine.

The garden is one of many ministries through our Social Ministry Committee and is cared for by different families rotating throughout the summer who volunteer to pull weeds, harvest the produce, and water the crops.

 

 

“Garden of Eatin’ ” is Producing a Harvest

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Two of my daughters watering the flowers at Zion Lutheran’s               “Garden of Eatin’
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We have beets!!!! 

In the summer of 2015, I applied for a domestic hunger grant through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to start a community garden to provide our neighbors and local food pantry with access to fresh locally-sourced produce.

Our congregation, Zion Lutheran Church, received $1,000 from the grant application and subsequent work began through our Social Ministry committee.

On Earth Day weekend, in April 2016 , we dedicated the “Garden of Eatin’ ” to the Glory of God as an act of worship and the garden was off and running!

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Garden of Eatin’ ” dedication on Earth Day weekend in April 2016.

Towards the end of June 2016, the garden has produced about 80 pounds of fresh vegetables that have been given to the Muscatine Community Food Pantry and a few produce has gone to our immediate neighbors.

Vegetables include:  broccoli, carrots, beets, romaine lettuce, green lettuce, two types of onions, tomatoes, two varieties of kale, green peppers, beets, and red cabbage.

The Garden of Eatin’ Ministry has really taken on a life of it’s own (no pun intended) and  gotten lots of inquires from our neighbors and folks in the community.

This is the kind of project that required the work of the entire congregation (and even our neighbors have graciously allowed us to use some of their water).   Some one from the congregation came up with the name for the garden, a member who happens to be a farmer donated soil, another designed the garden boxes, a couple of folks planted the crops, another the sign, and then each week, one family unit signs-up to steward the garden for a week.

The week of June 26-July 2nd is my family’s week to serve.  We had a great time working together in the garden and getting our hand’s dirty serving up a wonderful harvest!