February 28, 2016 / MY GARDEN / Sara Wolbrecht / Isaiah 55:1-3, 10-11
When I was 23 years old (anyone here 23? Anyone ever been 23?), one day, I was jogging a trail in the Cascade Mountains, right outside Holden Village – a retreat center 12 miles up in the mountains from the northern edge of Lake Chelan, a place where I had spent a week of every summer of my life growing up. And on this particular day, it was early July, sunny and hot, and I stopped my jog on a small bridge, called the Goat Trail Bridge, that straddled Copper Creek, a river that cut its way through the valley where Holden is lodged.
I stopped to take in the view of the familiar mountains around me, the river below, the blue sky above me. And I stopped to talk with God.
You see, just a year earlier I had graduated from college at PLU, and spent the year working at PLU in ministry with the campus pastors. Working with students, planning bible studies and worship services, having coffee and beer dates with students, having late-night conversations with freshmen who were figuring out what they believe now that they don’t attend church with their parents, with seniors who were about to lose it if one more person asked, “So, what are you doing after graduation?” A year discovering that – holy crap – I think I may be called to become a pastor – something that I never felt called to.
So I was 23, in my first real job and wrestling with God about whether or not to do this “becoming a pastor thing.” And for me, it really boiled down to needing to know that I would be a “good pastor.” And the request I kept praying to God was this: “Ok, God, I will become a pastor if you can first prove to me that I will be good at it.” Show me the proof! Then I’m in. Anyone ever tried to make deals like this with God?
Maybe you have had conversations with God similar to this, about your future, about your path, about what God is inviting you into. Maybe you have never really prayed with God like this – and yet maybe you also know what it is like to wrestle with what it is you are supposed to do with your life. Anyone ever wrestled with that? Yeah, how about today? From the big picture decisions – like choosing a school and major. …To slightly smaller things, like what job you take right now. Or whether to date this particular person or go see a doctor, or take this class, or volunteer in a particular way – or if you are parent, any of the millions of decisions you have to make for your children. But we all come to these moments where we have to step forward into something.
And as I prayed on the Goat Trail Bridge in the hot July sun – what I heard from God was this: Sara, you can’t do this on your own, but we can do this together.
And I had an overwhelming sense that God was calling me into something I couldn’t do on my own. Which was both terrifying and absolutely exhilarating. And in that moment I said yes. Ok, God, doing this with you? I can do that.
So my friends, I wonder, when have been your Goat Trail Bridge moments? When have you been in those pivotal moments of stepping into something? Here is our question for where we’re heading today: When have been the defining moments of purpose and direction in your life? Big moments of calling, or little ones, that still put you on a particular trajectory.
Continue to hold this question as we now read from Isaiah 55, our reading for this third Sunday of Lent is one that is read around the world by many churches on this particular Sunday. To give it context, Isaiah chapters 40—55 form a single great poem at the heart of the larger book, a poem about the triumphant return of YHWH to renew both covenant and creation and to do so, strangely but it seems gloriously, through the work of the Servant. Chapters 40-55 paint this puzzling, beautiful picture of a God who will level the mountains, and yet be the servant of all – and not just any servant, but the Suffering Servant. Who would be beaten, tried unjustly, executed. This great poem ends then with this chapter, Isaiah 55, describing how YHWH is renewing the whole creation inviting all people everywhere to come to the waters and drink. In my Goat Trail Bridge moment, this is what I felt God inviting me into – this kind of life of purpose. Do you long for a life of purpose? Listen to this description, a piece of the life of God, for us. Hold you own moments, and hear God speaking into those pivotal moments in your life:
(Also printed in your bulletin – hear it, slowly).
Isaiah 55: 1-3, 10-11 The Message
Hey there! All who are thirsty,
come to the water!
Are you penniless?
Come anyway—buy and eat!
Come, buy your drinks, buy wine and milk.
Buy without money—everything’s free!
Why do you spend your money on junk food,
your hard-earned cash on cotton candy?
Listen to me, listen well: Eat only the best,
fill yourself with only the finest.
Pay attention, come close now,
listen carefully to my life-giving, life-nourishing words.
I’m making a lasting covenant commitment with you,
the same that I made with David: sure, solid, enduring love.
Just as rain and snow descend from the skies
and don’t go back until they’ve watered the earth,
Doing their work of making things grow and blossom,
producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry,
So will the words that come out of my mouth
not come back empty-handed.
They’ll do the work I sent them to do,
they’ll complete the assignment I gave them.
So you’ll go out in joy,
you’ll be led into a whole and complete life.
What I love about this passage from Isaiah is that it is this arms-spread-wide invitation for all people to come and eat and drink and be filled – not just with any old thing, but to not waste our time, our lives on junk. But to pay attention to, come close to, listen carefully to the life-nourishing words of God. Our God who – as it says – makes things grow and blossom, our God whose words do not go out into the world and remain empty, but accomplish something, our God who if we draw near, will lead us into a whole and complete life.
Isn’t this what we hope for at those defining moments of direction and purpose in our lives? …These are the kinds of questions we ask in Lent – these 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Lent comes to reawaken us. To reawaken us to God, to life, to what matters.
And the particular way in which we are reawakening this Lent is through Ed’s Story. These videos each week that walk us through the final years of Ed’s life. Ed was a pastor for years. Then diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was told he would have 2-3 years to live, yet we enter his story at year 10 – as he reflects on what has happened over those 10 years so far – how he has been reawakened to live a life in light of knowing that he is dying. And then for us, to be inspired by, challenged into the tender pain and beauty of his story – knowing that we are living our own story too, as we, too are dying, and as we, too, are embraced by the love of God, and invited to wring the most out of our time here on earth in the best possible ways.
And so now, holding Isaiah’s words, and remembering our own stories, we tune into Ed’s Story – video #4: My Garden.
ED’S STORY 4: MY GARDEN
(we don't have permission to repost the video publicly)
God has placed us in a garden – we are given the incredible gift of having valuable work to do in this world. Purpose. I love that our God designs us for purpose.
As Ed said - Out there there is a purpose for everyone, and when you arrive there, you’ll know it. And I would argue – like in Ed’s life – there is not just one answer to what that looks like (and then we’ve arrived, we’re done), but we keep finding new work, new gardens to tend to during the various seasons of our lives.
Each week we make room to respond to Ed’s Story and Jesus’ story, to let ourselves answer a few big questions about how we are living our own stories. And today, here’s where heading…
In this season of your life, 1. What purpose gets me up in the morning? Now. What sense of passion, purpose, calling. In other words (What is my Garden today?). Where has God placed you? To answer that, look around at your life. In what relationships? With what work to do? Look around, and also look inward: With your passions and interests and limitations? Whether it’s something you get paid to do or not. What are you tending to? What are you “taking care” of? As Ed named – to take care of something is the same as how we worship God.
And maybe as you sit with this, maybe like Ed you see yourself heading into a NEW garden. Ed named how he never had time to really follow Jesus – so maybe the question for you is: 2. What is God inviting me to make time to tend to? (What new Garden could I be placed in?). And what might you have to do to let that happen? Maybe that means stopping something you are committed to. Maybe it is starting something new. What do you want to get out of bed for in this season of your life? What can we do with the limited time we have to make a difference?
So in a few different ways, the question we hold is answering this; My Garden today is…
In a moment we’ll start singing, and when you are ready, make your way up to meet me here at Jesus’ table and receive the bread and cup – Jesus’ life poured out for all. And then, the space is yours. As we name our gardens. To do that, choose a card off the communion table, and head to one of the round tables or back to your seat.
On these cards, you’ll see flowers or a tree – a garden, with space in it for you to write the one thing or make the short list of where God has placed you in this season of your life. And you are invited to color in the picture – to fully embrace the trend of adult coloring books. And to prayerfully listen for what it means for us to tend to the purposes God has for us.