Message for worship at West Richmond Friends Meeting, 1st of Third Month, 2020
Speaker: Hoot Williams
Genesis 2:15-17. 15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
Genesis 3: 1-7. 3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” 4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Mark 1:9-13. 9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” 12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted[a] by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
I’m just thinking what it must have been like to be Jesus and those around him when that sky opened up and that voice came down and said "You are my son and I love you, I am very pleased with you!" Amen!
Last week we talked about the mountain top moment in the transfiguration of Jesus and the appearance of Elijah and Moses, and that’s always been one of my favorite scripture references because it holds that wonder and that beauty of being in God’s presence. It’s very easy to turn to those mountaintop moments as an anchor because God is with us, God loves us and is proud of us. I did not know that, this is not something that came naturally, this knowledge of God. I had to do the wrong way. Which brings me to the other half of what I understand the spiritual life to be, which is the wilderness moments. The times when we’re in the valley with God. I know what it’s like to be in the valley without God. And that’s the experience I talk about when I say I know what it’s like to not do it right. I came to a relationship with God through a gift called Desperation. Have you ever had the gift of Desperation? Well, I have. And it relates to this offering, the serenity prayer, that we heard this morning. That was a fruit of my desperation. In 2001, I became a member of AA, because I’m an alcoholic and I couldn’t stop drinking. I was maybe 25 or 26. I grew up in the church and I had always been told certain things about God to believe. I had lots of questions, I was very against following rules and things like that (I still am). And I remember my grandmother would say to me when I would question (why did God put Jesus on the cross to be killed if he’s a good and loving God?) etc. as an 11 or 12 year old kid. And my grandmother would say, in her good Lutheran training, “Don’t think about it, just believe it.” Well that wasn’t sufficient. That led me out of the church for a while to try to discover -- or really to not discover, because I was like, that’s really stupid, if that’s the kind of God you’re worshiping, no thank you, that was my attitude.
But alcoholism had its way with me, and started to remove things from my life. Things like my self esteem, things like my pride, my money, relationships. I had difficulties at work, problems with the neighbors and friends, and fear. Incomprehensible fear and demoralization. I got into a forced situation with the courts, because I got a DUI, where I had to go to groups. This is back in the late 90s, before I got sober. I was in this group where I had to go to an AA meeting, I had to go to these counseling sessions, and I heard the message of recovery and it pointed to God, and God’s love. I was always a believer, but I never had that experience of God’s love, I never heard that voice that came from the clouds that said “You are my beloved son, and I love you.” But I had faith, and I persisted in seeking out that power, that presence, that relationship that could transform me into somebody with all the freedom that the Spirit offers us. The joy, the contentment. It goes back to that serenity prayer, I didn’t believe it but I knew that it worked, I knew that prayer worked. I tried to use my gift, which is music, to bridge that gap between the place where I didn’t know or didn’t believe and the place where it was possible and there was hope. I became an addiction counselor, I stayed sober, I did everything that I was told. I became teachable.
Fast forward nearly ten years, and I was attending a Methodist church in Brooklyn, New York. It was a Methodist church, as I said, and was really disappointed in the church. I didn’t like the way that they gossiped about each other, I didn’t like all the things that went on behind closed doors in these committee meetings that nobody knew - or at least I certainly didn’t know - what was being done. One day I came to church and it was just announced that the minister was being removed and we were getting a new minister, and nobody had any idea, I was just like, “What is going on here?” Because I really liked the minister, but apparently there were factions that were having problems with her. Anyway, I said “Forget this, I’m out of here.” It took me a couple of years before I found Quakers. I’m one of those Belief-o-matic Friends - I don’t know if you know about this, but there’s an online quiz that you can take if you don’t know where you fall theologically. I was wrestling at the time, my spirituality was really based on 12 Steps. G-O-D was a group of drunks. But I knew that wasn’t it. I had been in recovery for a few years and I knew that wasn’t sufficient, that it was a bridge back to life, and I felt that God was calling me to find my home, my spiritual home. And so I went online, I found this quiz, I took this quiz, and I was 98% Orthodox Quaker, 96% Liberal Quaker and something like 89% Mainline Liberal Protestant. I was amazed, I was like, Quaker? I didn’t even know you existed, I really didn’t. I thought, I remember reading something about the Underground Railroad, and something about slavery and blah blah blah. So I found Brooklyn Monthly Meeting of Friends, and I went. It was an unprogrammed meeting. I was astonished, basically, I had a born again experience in an unprogrammed meeting for worship. And I retired from the debating society. Jesus came to me in that silence. And I have never questioned that relationship again. I haven’t always agreed with it, I’ve wrestled, but the truth of my faith in Christ was sealed that day.
Not long after that I was called to seminary at ESR, that was in 2010-2011. I had become a member of Brooklyn Monthly Meeting, it had been nine months and I was attending every week; I came early I stayed late, I went to the library, I read all the books, I couldn’t get enough of it. And I had my clearness committee meeting and they said, well, we have many attenders who have been coming for 20 years, some of them, and they still haven’t requested membership. What makes you so sure that in the 9 months you’ve been coming that you’re ready to accept this? And I said, without missing a beat, “If the good Lord can make a baby in nine months, he can certainly make a Quaker out of me." That was a good answer, they were clear that day. And I was, too, I was clear.
So here we are today. I’m joining your body as a member., relocating to Richmond for most of the year, I intend to live here from the fall into the summer. The summer is a time when I go away to my garden. Which brings us to the moment that I want to touch on. The question that I have for you is, Where is your garden? Do you have a garden? Because I’m going to highly, highly, suggest and recommend that you name and claim that space, wherever it is. I feel very blessed, I have two acres of Catskill Mountain woodland with a beat up mobile home on it. I paid the mortgage in February of 2019 and I gave it away to you. You don’t know that yet, but easy does it. The point is, I believe, like our hymn says, Now is the cool of the day. For how many thousands of years, Christians have been waiting. We’re a people who wait. We wait for the return. I have some news. The wait is over. That’s really the message. We are in the garden. And we bring to the garden our whole selves. It’s difficult to look at – I”ll say it – our sin. But it’s a big problem, our fear of naming the things within our selves that keep us from being fully in the present of the Living God. When Jesus said, after that baptism, he said Repent – The Kingdom is at hand. And that message is just as relevant today as it was then. We – I – had to look at that darkness and be present with it, in it, through it, and to name those things that keep me from knowing God’s love and being in it. I believe we’re always in God, but when I get out of my own way, there’s room for the Spirit to have her day. I believe that none of us are alone in that walk, because the scriptures that we heard today said that when Jesus went into the wilderness, the angels ministered to him. But we don’t live in a world that names and claims angels as flesh and blood people. I challenge that, I believe that there are angels that we can see and there angels that we can’t see.
Welling talked about the mysterious ladies that helped her in a difficult situation when she fell, and when she said that I thought, “Those weren’t mysterious ladies.” There are angels in our midst. And I say that because how can it be otherwise? If Christ is come, we are part of that life. And that’s the life that we know and it’s also the life that we have yet to know and have known. I want to share something with you that I wrote. A couple of questions to help us in our worship think about the things that are on my heart and mind today and every day. Because I said a prayer in my recover and I still say it, it’s called the Third Step Prayer and I’m going to share it with you so you can understand where my location is in relationship to God.
“God, I offer myself to Thee, to build with me and to do with me what Thou will. Relieve me of the bondage of self that I may better do thy will. Take away my difficulties so that victory over them will bear witness to those I would help with thy power, thy love and thy way of life. May I do thy will always.”
This is a prayer that doesn’t have an Amen because it doesn’t end.
There is a garden growing despite the world’s decay
Where life is overflowing and peace is here to stay
This garden was established with goodness and with grace
Yet often it seems hidden or lost without a trace
This garden has been planted with new creation’s seed
That springs forth life eternal and chokes the vines of greed
The seed bed has been flooded with promise and with trust
From streams of living water while we’ve gone on to dust
This garden is within us, not hidden out of sight
For death and darkness vanish when held against the light
Abandon all self-willing and you will find the way
Into the living garden, into a brighter day.
Where is your garden? How are you sharing it? What holds you back? Who are the angels ministering to you? When will you turn all of your life over to The Life.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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