Every once in a while I fill in for our Pastor at my church.  (Yes, clergy DO get vacations! ).  Today was one of those days, so I give you my meditation for the day: 

When Pastor Lynn asked me to fill in today, I immediately said yes.  I didn’t need to think about it, I just said yes. But then I had to come up with something to say, and unlike previous times, I couldn’t come up with anything.  Nothing makes you feel more alone than realizing you have nothing to say. I read the lectionary passages in the hopes that something would hit me. Nothing. I started to anxious.  I meditated and prayed on it. Nothing. I got nervous. I know that I am among a loving family, and I have always told my son and anyone who speaks or sings here that it is okay to make mistakes.  In this place no one is alone. It is a safe space. Everyone makes mistakes (remember when Pastor Lynn forgot to print out her sermon, realized it at the last minute and had Peggy run up to her office to get her laptop so she could preach?  You can be sure that I left reminders to myself to print these sheets out...and in large type.) This is a place filled with love and understanding no matter what happens; a place where no one stands alone. But how loving and understanding would you be if I stood here and said nothing.  Sure we’d get to coffee hour quicker, but somehow I don’t think that would endear me to everybody.

It wasn’t until Diane emailed me about today’s anthem that an idea started to form. The first words of the song are “I come to the garden ALONE.”  And then, as it often does, inspiration came to me, from an unlikely source: a sitcom.

Does anyone here watch Mom?  The show is in its 5th season, but I only just started watching it in syndication so I’ve seen seasons and episodes out of sequence and there are more that I haven’t seen than I have.  For those of you who haven’t seen the show, it’s about a mother, her daughter, her daughter’s daughter and son and their circle of friends. It’s important to note that all the main/recurring  adult characters are extremely flawed AND all are recovering addicts. The show does not shy away from the ugly realities of addiction and real life. The path of sobriety is not a straight one and there are relapses, homelessness,  arrests, and death. And yes, this is a comedy.

Bonnie, the “mom” of the title is jaded and narcissistic and definitely NOT a role model to daughter, Christy. In season two, she reconciles with her ex-husband, Alvin, who abandoned her just before Christy was born only to have him die.  She is angry, and understandably so. Further angering her is the fact that her friend Regina has “found Jesus” and is released from prison early. Regina flaunts her faith and her prayers publicly and seemingly gets everything she wants:  a new job, a place to live and even a parking spot just by praying. It just doesn’t seem fair to Bonnie who is suffering more than she lets anyone know. It is a pain that makes her feel alone.

The episode ends with Bonnie going downstairs to the kitchen.  Sitting there at the table is Jesus, drinking a cup of coffee. “What are you doing here?” she asks.  “I heard you were looking for me,” he replies. She is no longer alone in her grief and anger. She decides to sit down with him, after pouring a cup of coffee for herself and topping his cup off at his request.  Jesus asks her, “So what’s up?” “I want to know why you took Alvin.” Jesus explains that it was Alvin’s time. He had completed what he had to do on earth; he had made peace with his daughter and his ex-wife. Bonnie asks  “What about me?” Jesus replies: “You still have work to do with Christy, Roscoe, Violet and...oops...almost gave something away.” Bonnie asks one more question: “When will it stop hurting?” to which Jesus replies: “When you wake up.”  At which point Bonnie does wake up, visibly calmer than she has been throughout the whole episode and snuggles up with her daughter who is sleeping beside her. She is not alone and she never has been. Has she realized that her hurt can be quelled by continuing to work on her relationship with her daughter and her family?  That part of Alvin lives on through his daughter and her children? Or has she simply been comforted by the presence of Jesus in her dream? Has his just being there lessened the pain and anger that she feels? Just as it said in the hymn, “there is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.”   It applies to everyone; all who are wounded...all who need it no matter what the reason or who the person.

Several episodes later, Bonnie hurts her back and ends up relapsing on pain pills.  Her circle of friends help her go through detox, but her daughter Christy is understandably angry and reluctant to do anything for her mom.  The withdrawal process is not easy or pretty. Hurting, Bonnie ends up in her room alone until she envisions “Bad Bonnie” telling her to give up and give in to temptation and “Good Bonnie” encouraging her to continue on the path of sobriety.  Caught in between the good and bad, Bonnie calls out “I don’t know what to do. I give up. Somebody help me.” And Jesus appears again telling the angel and devil: “Ladies I’ve got this.” Then he sits next to Bonnie saying: “It’s okay, WE can do this.”  Bonnie is not alone. She never was.

Isn’t that the case for us all? With Jesus beside us, (metaphorically), we CAN do amazing things.   God is always beside us, even when we don’t physically see his presence. God is with us in spirit and in those around us who have been called to serve him.  We may come to the garden alone, but as the anthem says: He walks with me, and He talks with me, And He tells me I am His own.”  And we are ALL his own. We may think we are alone, but we are not. God is with us.

Going back to the tv show, which is now in season 5. I don’t believe Jesus has appeared again. Nor has Bonnie become a devout Christian.  She and her friends continue to struggle to stay sober. She continues to be an imperfect person, but she does have her moments where her heart opens and she is more caring and less selfish.  I believe the appearance of Jesus, be he just a dream, hallucination or a visitation, speak volumes. At her lowest, most vulnerable points, Bonnie is reminded that she is NOT alone.

That is an important message, no matter where we come from.  We are NOT alone. No matter who we are or where we are, we are NOT alone.  “Good” or “Bad” it doesn’t matter. As we said last week in our prayer of confession:  We can understand that you might appear to the disciples -- those that went with Jesus to do good and heal the oppressed.  It is hard for us to imagine that you truly show no partiality. Surely, there are more talented people, more prayerful people, more intelligent people, more faithful people than we are.  But today, O God, we remember that you come to us all. You come to the strong and the ill, the rich and the poor, the proud and the humble. You appear.”

God is here to listen and comfort.  God is with us...always. This can be hard to remember, especially when we are at our lowest points, but God IS with us.  God is around us. And God is listening to us, but not giving us easy answers or providing us with prime parking spots.

Returning to the new testament lesson today:  Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”   They were overjoyed to see him; filled with joy to see their teacher and their friend.   As disciples of Christ over 2000 years later we too are filled with joy each Easter season and share the good news. More importantly, the disciples then, and we as disciples now, have been given the message of peace and the instruction:  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

God is with us and we are with God.  As it says in Colossians 3: Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

This Sunday, the Sunday after Easter, as we continue to rejoice in the news that Jesus lives, we too are instructed to go out and serve in his name.  Christ lives through us and our actions. As disciples of Christ, we need not just to proclaim the good news, but are called to action. And that action might just simply be to let those who are lonely know that they are not alone.  To share a cup of coffee with one who is broken hearted. To lend an ear, be a shoulder, to reassure. Perhaps to simply be.

Shout for joy to God, all the earth!  God is with us and we never be alone.


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