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[Sermon] The Journey of Abiding: Embracing Resilience in Faith

Updated: Apr 29

Rev. Kristy Daniels + April 28, 2024 + Fifth Sunday of Easter




In her sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Rev. Kristy Daniels delves into the themes of resilience and renewal within the context of the Easter season. Drawing parallels between the pruning of vines and spiritual growth, she encourages us to trust in God's guidance and to find strength in abiding in faith, even amidst adversity.


Transcript

From automatically generated captions via YouTube, with punctuation added by ChatGPT.


Christ is risen, Alleluia! We continue in this season of Easter where we use the color white to remind us that it is a season of holiness and great joy. That death, sin, and the devil did not get the last word; our Savior has been resurrected. In that promise, we too shall receive forgiveness of sins and new life. Thanks be to God.


The season of Easter is a 50-day journey where Jesus has returned to be with his disciples: to comfort, assure, remind, and show what he's already said, getting them ready for this journey where they will be with the Holy Spirit. Not with God in bodily form, but to continue the work that Jesus had begun.


So our Gospel reading for today, of course, comes before the season of Easter. But it reminds us of what we are to be and do as Resurrection people: that we have been gifted for the sake of all creation and sent out into the world to be bearers of the good news, hearts, and hands and voices for those who need that support and knowledge that we carry here.


Sometimes our faith is weak, and we need the community of support around us. Other times, our faith is really strong, and we go at the forefront, leading the way, stepping out without fear into the world so that we can do as we ought.


This idea of pruning, you know, I think about pruning, and I think about pain. Is that what anybody else here thinks about? Yeah, but I also realize that there are many things in my life that need to be pared and cut away—some things that I think don't need to go away but do over time, as we age, as our health deteriorates, or as circumstances change. How are we going to grow and thrive after these occurrences?


I can remember once when I was a young pastor, I went on a church-sanctioned trip to a Spanish-speaking country, going out of Montana as the only pastor in the whole synod they knew that spoke Spanish. And I was not my best self. I was really angry and bitter because I said that I did not want to go on this trip and be the translator. And of course, the church did not care what I thought. And as it turns out, our synod had been doing a terrible job. Our whole thing was to be in right relationship with this synod down south so that they could flourish and really be about their work. And we were doing everything opposed to what they were asking of us because we wanted to feel good about ourselves. Money was getting embezzled, misspent, and things weren't happening. Pastors weren't getting paid, and we were there to feel good about ourselves and what we were doing. And the leader of the trip slept through every single meeting where people were complaining, and I just had to translate. It was horrible. So I started to complain and whine. I feel quite justified in that behavior. I wasn't saying anything that wasn't true.


It took somebody in our group that was quite sick to finally say, "Kristy, I don't think you realize how negative you have become and that's becoming a burden for all of us." It's true. I came out of a very stressful situation and went into a very stressful situation. But I needed that pruning, that snip, that hard truth.


When people see us and know us to be Christians, because that is what we are, they judge us by what we do and then by what we say. Do we go out and bring joy, beauty, hope, and love? How do we carry ourselves in times of trial and change?


I see these quilts, and I see that without words, this message—that you are not alone, that you are loved, that you are important, that you are cared for—will arrive with beauty. Almost every day in my office, I do this pastor's devotion. One of my seminary professors sent me this book she had edited, and I've been trying to do it. I read several chapters out of the Bible every day. I'm finally into Revelation. And then it has some short readings that go along with it for the day. And this is one that I just had, and it fits so well with our reading for today:


"Fighting without and fears within to be a servant of God means to be a struggler. My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for testing. Set your heart right and be steadfast and do not be impetuous. In time of calamity, cling to Jesus and do not depart, so that your last days may be prosperous. Accept whatever befalls you, and in times of humiliation, be patient. For gold is tested in fire, and those found acceptable in the furnace of humiliation. Trust in him, and he will help you. Make your way straight, and hope in him. You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy. Do not stray, or else you may fall. You who fear the Lord, trust in him, and your reward will not be lost. You who fear the Lord, hope for good things, for lasting joy and mercy. Consider the generations of old and see: has anyone trusted in the Lord and been disappointed? Or has anyone persevered in the fear of the Lord and been forsaken? Or has anyone called upon him and been neglected? For the Lord is compassionate and merciful. He forgives sin and saves in time of distress. Woe to timid hearts and to slack hands and to the sinner who walks a double path. Woe to the faint-hearted who have no trust. Therefore, they will have no shelter. Woe to you who have lost your nerve. What will you do when the Lord's reckoning comes? Those who fear the Lord do not disobey his words, and those who love him keep his ways. Those who fear the Lord seek to please him, and those who love him are filled with his law. Those who fear the Lord prepare their hearts and humble themselves before him. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, but not into the hands of mortals. For equal to his majesty is his mercy, and equal to his name are his works."


When I read that, I said, "That is exactly what we're talking about when we're talking about abiding." All of our strength, all of our nourishment, all of our hope comes from God, and God does not disappoint. God has created us and promised to work in us and through us to bring about God's plan of salvation. And the pruning and the nipping is important and necessary. If you don't prune back a vine, it will continue to send out lots of shoots and greenery, and in fact, even fruit. But the fruit will not be as good; it will be smaller, and the vines will eventually, by their own weight, pull themselves down. Here we are called to abide, to be present.


When I think about abiding and being present, on top of what I've just read, I also think about prayer. How we are called to be faithful in our life of prayer with God. And again, from confirmation class, if any of you had to suffer through it, right? What do we learn about prayer? That God doesn't actually need us to tell God what we need. God already knows what we need and provides it. But God wants to be in relationship with us

, and that's why prayer is so powerful. That we are asking, we are seeking, we are keening, we are doing all of those things, as well as praising God for what we have received. And in praising, we are given new eyes to see the world around us, in new ways, to look for where God is active within us, through us, and outside of us in the world.


Part of this experience I had in Montana, which really was like a lightning bolt in my life, and I am so grateful, is that I know in myself that I am very inclined to lean towards the negative. So it forces me, when I'm being a healthy person, to look outside of myself for beauty in the world. Because when you're hurting, when you're angry, when you're caught up in negativity, you do not see beauty and life and hope around you. You see and experience other negative things. There are plenty of those in the world; we can always find them. But as people of God, we are called to declare with all that we are and all that we have that there is a good and gracious God, in whom we have no need for fear, that he has created and called good, that there is beauty and delight in this world.


Now you know, I've been here before, but everything's changed. I called David, I said, "Are there still three services of church here today?" And I also got received this email that I was supposed to bring a special reading, and I see that there was one, but I brought this one anyway. And it's from my favorite poet, Mary Oliver, from her book "Why I Wake Early." And this one might be kind of a stretch, but I'm going to read it anyway. It's called "Bone."


1.

Understand, I am always trying to figure out

what the soul is,

and where hidden,

and what shape

and so, last week,

when I found on the beach

the ear bone

of a pilot whale that may have died

hundreds of years ago, I thought

maybe I was close

to discovering something

for the ear bone


2.

is the portion that lasts longest

in any of us, man or whale; shaped

like a squat spoon

with a pink scoop where

once, in the lively swimmer’s head,

it joined its two sisters

in the house of hearing,

it was only

two inches long

and thought: the soul

might be like this

so hard, so necessary


3.

yet almost nothing.

Beside me

the gray sea

was opening and shutting its wave-doors,

unfolding over and over

its time-ridiculing roar;

I looked but I couldn’t see anything

through its dark-knit glare;

yet don’t we all know, the golden sand

is there at the bottom,

though our eyes have never seen it,

nor can our hands ever catch it


4.

lest we would sift it down

into fractions, and facts

certainties

and what the soul is, also

I believe I will never quite know.

Though I play at the edges of knowing,

truly I know

our part is not knowing,

but looking, and touching, and loving,

which is the way I walked on,

softly,

through the pale-pink morning light.

 

Our way is loving as we have been loved. We are reminded of that gift of love today as we are invited to this table to feast on the body broken and the blood poured out for our sakes, for forgiveness of sin, for new life, for strength, for courage, for community. Because from this place of certainty and safety and life, we are pruned and we are sent outside of the doors of this place to step without fear, to not get so caught up into what tomorrow might bring or what we hear on the news, but to live the good news.


Thanks be to God. Amen.

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