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Planted in the Lord

Planted in the Lord

“Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God; They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be green and succulent; That they may show how upright the Lord is, my Rock, in whom there is no fault.” Psalm 92:11-14

 The Reverend Luther Zeigler

4B Pentecost – June 17, 2018

Anna Mary Robertson was born on September 7, 1860, shortly before Abraham Lincoln was elected President. Born into a poor farming family in upstate New York, Anna was the third of ten children. As a child, she attended a one-room school house for only a few years, receiving no formal education after the age of ten.

By any measure, Anna had a hard life. When she was twelve, she started work as a house girl, doing chores, for a wealthy family who lived nearby. She worked as a domestic for various local families for the next 15 years.

When she was 27, Anna met a fellow by the name of Thomas Moses, one of the “hired hands” on the farm where she worked. Anna and Thomas were married soon thereafter, and moved to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, where they spent the next several decades, living and working on various farms, wherever they could find work.

While they were in Virginia, Anna and Thomas decided to start their own family. Over the next decade, Anna bore ten children, but tragically only five of the ten survived infancy. Even so, Anna and Thomas persevered, and continued to live simple, hard-working, and unremarkable lives for the next several decades, until Thomas died of a heart attack in 1927 at the age of 67.

Anna never married again, and eventually moved in with one of her daughters in 1936, where she did what she could to help around the house, and pursued her interest in needlepoint in her spare time.

For most poor American farming folk of her generation, this more or less would be the end of the story. But not for Anna. Though she was not a churchgoing type, Anna was raised in the Methodist tradition and was very much shaped by the Puritan ethos of her generation. She believed in hard work, purposeful living, and putting to full use all of the God-given talents she had been granted. She loathed wasting anything, and was determined to continue making a contribution with her life, however small, until God decided she was done.

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Where are you?

Where are you?

“The Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” Genesis 3:9

The Reverend Luther Zeigler

3 Pentecost 2018 — June 10, 2018

One of my theological heroes since my college days is the Swiss Reformed theologian, Karl Barth. I wrote my senior honors thesis on him, and I still rely on Barth’s writings for insight and inspiration. Most professional theologians will tell you that Barth is arguably the most important Protestant theologian since Luther and Calvin. And it is not just Barth’s writings that make him important, but his public witness too: along with another hero of mine, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Barth was an early and outspoken leader of the Christian resistance to Adolf Hitler in the 20s, 30s, and 40s.

For all his theological acumen, Barth could also be disarmingly simple. When a reporter asked Barth, near the end of his life, how he might summarize his vast theological writings, he simply began to sing: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so ….” As a reminder of his influence on me, I keep this little pillow in my office with Barth’s picture on it, his ubiquitous pipe in hand. And as you may be able to see, the caption on the pillow reads: “The answer is Jesus. Now what’s the question?”

Against this background, you can probably imagine how my heart sank when, a few years ago, I started reading Eberhard Busch’s classic biography of Barth, only to learn that throughout most of his professional life, Barth maintained a forty-year affair with his long-time secretary, Charlotte von Kirschbaum, which his devoted wife, Nelly, knew about, and was forced simply to tolerate. It was one of those morally obnoxious “accommodations” that powerful men throughout history have often been able to demand. Even now, it pains me to acknowledge this sad truth publicly, because I so want my heroes to live virtuous lives that match the profundity of their work.

It seems that everywhere you go these days, we see a similar pattern of heroes falling from grace because of some dark secret or other. Political leaders, artists, sports figures, television celebrities, the list goes on. And so we wonder: are there any people of integrity left anymore?

While this may seem to be a problem of our times, the truth is that people have always been deeply flawed creatures. In years past, reporters and writers were just more willing to adhere to a code of silence out of respect for the privacy of public figures. I hate to say it, but if you have a hero whom you believe to be an entirely pure paragon of virtue, I suspect it is only because you haven’t probed quite deeply enough.

In our faith tradition, of course, we call this reality sin, and it plagues us all. We are broken people. And, the story of the Garden of Eden, a small excerpt of which we heard in our first lesson, is the classic text for understanding this truth about ourselves:

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Treasure in a Clay Jar

Treasure in a Clay Jar

“… we have this treasure in a clay jar, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” 2 Cor. 4:7

 The Reverend Luther Zeigler

Pentecost 2B – June 3, 2018

Let me begin with a story: A few months back, I awoke early in the morning, as I usually do, got dressed, and ambled down the stairs. I am always, without fail, accompanied in this morning ritual by our little Labradoodle, Rosie, who is also an early riser, and insists that her walk is our first order of business. Indeed, Rosie is so enthusiastic about her morning walk that I have to exercise great care in descending our steep and narrow staircase because I know she will be barreling down the stairs right behind me. Once we’ve safely navigated the stairs, the next step in the ritual is for me to put her leash and harness on, and then reach over to the drawer of the side table in our foyer where the poop bags are kept to pull out a couple of bags before we head outside.

The trouble is that on this particular day, I was either too rushed or less nimble than usual, or both. Because when I reached over to open the drawer, it somehow got stuck. Thinking I just needed to pull a little harder, I instead ended up pulling too hard, with the effect that the side table starting teetering forward, which in turn, caused the lovely ceramic bowl Pat had placed on the table to go crashing to the floor, shattering, irreparably, into dozens of pieces.

That would have been bad enough, but what made matters worse was that this bowl wasn’t just any bowl; it was one of the very few presents we still had from our wedding some 38 years ago. It’s not that the bowl was especially beautiful or expensive. It is, rather, that the bowl held so many memories for us. Memories of the wedding itself, and of the friend who gave us the gift. Memories of the different cupboards, and sideboards, and tables where the bowl lived, in the various rooms in the various homes we have made over these last four decades. Memories of the apples and oranges the bowl held sitting on our kitchen counter; of the salads it served at dozens and dozens of dinner parties; of the whipped potatoes it offered at Thanksgiving and Christmas meals; of the time we used the bowl, in a pinch, as a water dish for the dog; memories, too, of children’s hands grabbing Halloween candy from its generous hollow.

It’s odd how such an ordinary thing as a clay bowl can carry such meaning.

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