Sermon scripture : Genesis 2:4-9

See transcript below

When you arrived this morning, you may have noticed a change in the landscape of our front yard. An extremely dedicated work party soldiered through wind and rain yesterday to get Emmanuel Farm’s raised beds build and installed.  In fact, this might be as good a place as any to make a brief entreaty.  So much has been accomplished in a brief window of time. Yet we have a mountain of soil to move and seed to get into the beds. Planting time is here! Bob Walthers and I will be here tomorrow afternoon (it’s supposed to be 650 and sunny) at 1:00 and we’ll give it one last push next Saturday morning.  As always, shovels and wheelbarrows are encouraged. Our efforts this week will set the scene for the entire inaugural growing season. 

So, as we are in the heart of the building frenzy, this might be a good time to lay out the project, and share my how my trajectory and the farm came to intersect. The notion of a church garden had been bandied about for several years, specifically by Kristel Dillon, Dave Vliet and Ann Shelhorn. There was this sprawling expanse of lawn in the front yard begging for some demonstrable way for us to interface with the greater community. Well, grand ideas have a way of coming to fruition with time.  Let’s spend a few moments on the particulars of Emmanuel Farm.

1. Mission statement, crafted by Ian McFerron: 

“Emmanuel Farm is a non-profit, volunteer and grant-based organization affiliated with the Emmanuel Presbyterian Church in Bothell, WA.  Utilizing a portion of the church grounds along with sustainable agricultural techniques, the mission of Emmanuel Farms is to produce healthy, nutritious food for the benefit for those living in food-vulnerable circumstances. The majority of food produced at Emmanuel Farms is provided to shelters and food banks operating in neighborhoods throughout communities of Bothell, Northshore, and the Eastside.

Through classes, seminars, and hands on participation, members of the congregation and community are invited to learn about sustainable and permaculture food production techniques. In this way, Emmanuel Farms operates as a vehicle which fosters community while promoting efforts geared toward greater ecological, economic, and social sustainability.

The Farm provides the opportunity for Emmanuel Presbyterian Church to expand its continued efforts to live out Christ’s greatest commandment, which compels us to care for those living in need. As we strive for good stewardship of the Earth and all its inhabitants, it is our hope that Emmanuel Farms continually sees God’s hand at work; that we may be one piece in the broader effort to achieve a healthier, more stable, and more compassionate world.”

2. Committee:

  • Loren and Carol Steinhauer, Ian McFerron, Kristel Dillon, Bram Melse. Big help fom: Dave Veleit and Warren Weber
  • Others have come forward to adopt an enterprise: Lois Robinson- mason bees, Nancy Higgins- photographer.
  • Would anyone else who has been involved in a work day event please stand as well?
  • There are so many ways to become involved, large and small.  There’s a bulletin board in the narthex as well as a section on the church website. There’s even a Facebook page to keep up with news, invites, and other snippets. 

3.  Description

  • A. What you see currently is about ½ as large as the final garden will be.
  • B. Phase 1: Raised beds will have veggies and flowers for bouquets and pollination
  • C. Phase 2:  In the fall, will start our Permaculture garden- Originally from “permanent agriculture”, uses perennial plants rather than annuals, and mimics natural ecosystems as much as possible. Imagine a layer cake.  The top layer might be a few fruit or nut trees.  Below are some currants and berry bushes. Then, perennial crops like artichokes or rhubarb. Many more principles that Kristel or I would be happy to discuss further. 
  • D. Organic- please, no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, fenced, irrigated,  garden gates with arbors, rain barrels, compost bins, benches, tables, signs to highlight sustainable practices
  • E. The “farm” moniker was first uttered during Ian’s drafting of our mission statement- a bit tongue in cheek, I’ve heard rumblings that it’s not a farm without animals so keep an eye out for a few fainting goats or Glouchestershire Old Spot pigs in the future!

4. Who will it go toward?

  • A. Mary’s Place Northshore- Mission statement: Empowering homeless women, children, and families to reclaim their lives by providing shelter, nourishment, resources, healing and hope in a safe community. In particular, there will be opportunities to commune with residents as we prepare and share meals together from our bounty. 
  • B. Maltby Food Bank- Website describes as “an independent, non-profit organization. Through advocacy and actions, Maltby Food Bank reaches out to people in need through God’s love.”

5. Funding:

  • A. $5300 grant from NW Coast Presbytery
  • B. Presbytery Hunger program $1000 grant pending for next spring
  • C. Also received a very generous gift from someone in this congregation.  A heartily felt anonymous note of gratitude to this anonymous donor. 
  • D. The majority of wood, soil and seeds have been donated as well

So how did I come to this juncture? 

After 28 years in private practice audiology, I had run out of gas; I found I was lacking the emotional steam to be present for clients eight hours a day anymore. I also realized that I had less and less to give at home as a result.

Now, in 2012, the nominating committee, of which I was part, was in the throes of searching for a new pastor. (Describe Dave’s late entry, fan of natural consequences, “Too bad, so sad”).  God had the last cosmic laugh. Dave’s arrival here has reverberated through my life in ways that are still evolving.   

For starters, he introduced me to the writings of Franciscan Priest Richard Rohr.  His book Falling Upwards has become my beacon. It smacked, and continues to smack, me right upside the head- “Stop talking and start listening”; “stop being so cock sure and start being unsure”; “Falling down is really the only way to fall up”, “divest your tribal associations- mother, wife, employee, consumer, alumni- and just be”.

Here are my two spiritual sages, “Rohr” and “Rohrer”. In German, means Rohr means Pipe and Rohrer means Piper.  Even though the iteration is different- this “pipe” means the metal tube type- the bagpiper in me recognized that there’s just a little kismet there, no? 

So, back to the question- what to do with the rest of my life?  Now, don’t laugh at the contradiction here, but my first aspiration was to become a chaplain.  End of life issues have always captivated me, but were particularly spurred after my dad’s pilgrimage through pancreatic cancer and hospice care. Still extremely people-centric but I’m not fixing problems anymore, right? Just witnessing to those in time of trial. Heidi, I can hear you laughing from here at my naiveté.  So I met in turns with Dave, Corey Schlosser-Hall, and his wife Adrian to explore the process. After applying to and getting accepted at Regent College for the MDiv program, my astute husband, who knows me better than I know myself, called me on the carpet. “Wait a minute, you’re experiencing compassion fatigue at work, yet you want to sit on a daily basis with the dying in hospice.  How is this going to work?” Don’t you hate it when they know you better than you know yourself!??!

That led me to my close second desire, which actually requires less intense interaction with people! With two sons keenly aware of the environmental debacle they’re inheriting, it was becoming increasing difficult to wave it off. “Yes, the globe is headed in a terrible direction, but what can one person do?”. The particular challenge of how we are going to escalate food production 70% by 2050 in an equitable, socially just and environmentally responsible manner is one of the defining challenges of our age. It stirs my imagination.  Food systems and agriculture represents a microcosm of all the themes that resound in my heart: the health of our planet, the role of corporations in our societies, power, justice, food security, and solidarity with the dispossessed. So two years ago, I garnered what fortitude I had left and returned to graduate school via WSU to pursue an MS in sustainable agriculture and Food Systems. Since the farm is my graduate project, I hope it might assuage any justifiable misgivings about accountability or sustainability over time, and since you were so instrumental in my transition, Dave, my tuition bills are in the mail…

Nothing on this path has been linear. So far it’s been messy, circuitous and bewildering but I’ve never felt so alive in my life.  It’s not me doing, it’s being done unto me and that makes all the difference. As Dave stresses in his book The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry: Preparing a People for the Presence of the Lord, “You may feel unqualified and out of place.  But permit it for now.”  It’s not really mine to hold, but God’s. Let Him hold it. It’s an invitation that has been (often grudgingly) accepted and now, I’m just along for the ride. Whenever it gets too terrifying, two phrases, themes from sermons in this sanctuary, emanate from somewhere within, “Whatever it is, it’s OK” and “Come and See”.

You heard in the scripture reading the very first sentence of John 1 pronounces “In the beginning was the word”. Richard Rohr’s interpretation, “In the beginning was the relationship”, is an affirmation that our very DNA is imprinted with an invitation to presence, to belonging. It isn’t really a stretch from there to construe it as “In the beginning was the invitation”. Now, stop and think about all the “buts” that instantly invade your mind when you receive an invitation: “I don’t have anything to wear”, “When will I find time to make something to bring?”, “I wonder if we can make a brief appearance and cut out early; I’m don’t have the energy for small talk”; “Do you think (so and so) will be there? I can only take him in small doses”.   Do we even remember how to unabashedly accept the invitation to Joy, to the celebration without the “buts”?   God doesn’t care if we have a hole in our underwear, if we burned the bruschetta or where we fall on the introvert/extrovert scale. He just yearns for relationship. The party is going on either way. We just need to decide whether to join in or not. 

Genesis offers a ritual of abundance.  It affirms benevolence and rejects want. Walter Brueggemann’s essay “The Liturgy of Abundance; the Myth of Scarcity”, relays this story about Martin Niemoller, a pastor in Nazi Germany.   “Niemoller was a young man when, as part of a delegation of leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, he met with Hitler in 1933. Niemoller stood at the back of the room and looked and listened. He didn't say anything. When he went home, his wife asked him what he had learned that day. Niemoller replied, "I discovered that Herr Hitler is a terribly frightened man.”

Brueggemann continues, “We never feel that we have enough; we have to have more and more, and this insatiable desire destroys us. Whether we are liberal or conservative Christians, we must confess that the central problem of our lives is that we are torn apart by the conflict between our attraction to the good news of God's abundance and the power of our belief in scarcity-a belief that makes us greedy, mean and unneighborly. We spend our lives trying to sort out that ambiguity.  The conflict between the narratives of abundance and of scarcity is the defining problem confronting us today.  The gospel story of abundance asserts that we originated in the magnificent, inexplicable love of a God who loved the world into generous being.  We can live according to an ethic whereby we are not driven, controlled, anxious, frantic or greedy precisely because we are sufficiently at home and at peace to care about others as we have been cared for.” 

There’s no ration line for salvation. Isn’t that what we just celebrated last Sunday? We are coming off THE WEEK that trumpets Christ’s unceasing immediacy and relevance here and now.

Genesis 2 tells us that God “planted” us in a garden of all things, with an edict to steward His creation. Here is where our union first springs and abides today and into infinity. This is the farm’s commission.  To proclaim quietly that God is present here and now and working throughout the community and beyond. For the congregation, that it offers cosmic hope rather than another problem to be solved. That our time in the garden excites unfettered joy and revelry in His creation, that we recognize Eden is here when we look around. That this undertaking is devoid of guilt or obligation.  I will be eminently satisfied if nobody ever comes up and says “I’m sorry I didn’t make it to the last work gathering but….” This project isn’t in everyone’s wheelhouse.  We all have lives. Some of us aren’t comfortable with the uncertainty, messiness and yes, sometimes outright chaos, that is sure to visit us more than once during our endeavors.  And finally, that we reach out mirroring that lineage of abundance, knowing full well that the reality of those we serve is constrained by scarcity- Spiritually, emotionally and physically.

God’s commandment propels us beyond our walls, albeit only 100 yards in this case, and into the community.  For those of you who knew Pastor Steve Knowles, he often referred to our spot here as a “beacon on the hill”.   Matthew 5:14-15 proclaims “You are light for the world; a city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden”.   Dave’s perhaps inaugural Rapport article in the spring of 2013 included this prevailing challenge: “Where are we? Where are we as the congregation of Emmanuel Presbyterian Church? The most basic answer to that question is: We’re at the top of a knoll on 104th about a half mile up from Main Street in Bothell. We’re in a brand new building and on a clear day have a view of the Olympics. We’re next door to Maywood Hills Elementary School that has a mission of educating the children of our neighborhood. We’re set among homes where families conduct their lives.  We’re less than a mile from Cascadia Community College and UW Bothell where students are learning and staff and faculty are dedicating energy to fostering the environment for this learning to take place. We’re living in a changing community where our streets are being torn up, familiar pathways rerouted and new businesses are being built.

Where are we? We’re living in a dynamic place, a place made even more exciting by the work of God in our midst. As we consider where we are and see the signs of how God is showing up in this place, I look forward to what we will experience together as a congregation.”

Four years later, we’re still in that same dynamic place; God is still working in our midst. I’ll end by praying that we keep our eyes and ears open, that we cultivate an awareness of God’s grace where we stand, that we joyously receive the invitation to His calling in this place.  Our commission is to “give off the scent of Jesus”, to remind others of their loveliness.  Even our name, “Emmanuel”, reminds us that God is indeed as close as our next breath.  What on earth more do we need? “Whatever it is, it’s OK.” Amen? “Come and See”. Amen?