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Guest Sermon from The Rev. Mary Nelson

Speaker: The Reverend Mary Nelson

August 23, 2020

Sermon Meditation Sunday, August 23, 2020

Rev. Mary Nelson, Regional Minister, Southern New England Conference, UCC 

Hi Guilford, I’m Mary Nelson, your Regional Minister.  Ginger asked me to speak today about my labyrinth and my spiritual journey. 

So, I want to begin with gratitude, because I built this while I was on sabbatical last fall, and it is your generous giving to the conference that makes my ministry possible, and that made my time of sabbath possible.  Thank you, thank you, thank you for your generosity.

I did not start out my sabbatical planning to build a labyrinth.  I wanted to build a pollinator garden.  And I spent probably a month trying to figure out what to do with this sunny spot, although you can’t tell that it is sunny today because it is overcast while I am filming.  The first month I spent pulling up weeds during the day, just clearing the space.  At night I would research native Connecticut plants, pollinators, different kinds of bugs, and butterflies, and birds and animals, to figure out what would be appropriate here in this space. 

The idea came to me at about 1:00am in the morning, one night after I’d spent a couple of weeks drafting different plans for gardens.  The idea that it needed to be a labyrinth just sort of struck me.  It was a real Holy Spirit moment.  Everything felt right. I started drawing different spirals, and researching cathedral floors and finger labyrinths and looking at different designs until I found the one that is right for this space. 

What I have here is a 12-foot diameter piece of land with 3 concentric circles and a stump in the middle – a little place to pause and reflect.  But there is a doorway where I am sitting and a doorway out directly behind me because I wanted this to be a movement into the world, not just a place of self-reflection. 

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to plant, and I spent a day with my friend, Pam Orifian, at Silver Lake Conference Center garden.  She gave me some plants and some tips, and we worked together in the garden.  We spent time talking about what might be good for my yard here…  what might be possible for me to grow.  

I decided to use plants for the “wall” but I didn’t know what I wanted to use as a path.  It came down to the last morning, the last day that I had to work on this garden.  I woke up in the morning to the sound of chainsaws across the street.  I looked out my window and there were some city workers chopping down a tree and sending it through the wood-chipper.  So, I quickly came downstairs, went across the street and said: “Hello!  If I bring over my wheelbarrow, may I have some woodchips, please?”  And the guy said, “Sure, that would be fine.”  So, with the two wheelbarrows full of woodchips, my neighbor ‘s tree has become the walkway of this labyrinth.  That, too, was a moment of affirmation from the Holy Spirit that this was going to come together, and it was going to be okay.

The thing about this labyrinth, and the thing about a spiritual journey, is that there is no end point.  There is no final destination.  It keeps growing.  It keeps changing. It keeps moving and that is what has happened here, too.

You may recall that in the last couple of weeks we’ve had a heatwave, and then we had a hurricane, and then another heatwave.  There are a number of plants in my little labyrinth garden right now that are pretty sad-looking!  And that is ok: they will either make it or they won’t.  This labyrinth has also had visits from many different kinds animals who have moved things, disturbed things, eaten the plants.  This labyrinth had a car drive through it about a month ago.  That was quite an adventure, the result of which is that I got a new retaining wall, which was great because I was planning to do another retaining wall this year anyway.  Plus, I got to buy some new plants!  I learned that healing is often pretty easy and accessible when there are just a few cosmetic fixes to make. 

This labyrinth has reminded me of the parable of the wheat and the weeds. I have had to use netting so that plants and animals don’t disturb the plants.  I started using this because there were some animals who were nibbling my plants, my flowers, back down to the ground.  So, I am reminded of the parable of the wheat and the weeds, because I had to cover the areas where I sowed seeds so that those seeds might be able to grow, but at the same the weeds grew next to them.

This parable of the wheat and weeds is a story that Jesus taught his disciples.  There was a landowner who planted some wheat in a field.  In the night an enemy came along and sowed some weeds along with the seeds of the wheat.  So, when the wheat came up, the weeds grew as well.  The landowner’s workers said, “We should pull up these weeds so that the wheat can grow.”  And the landowner said, “No, no, leave them there and when the time comes to harvest, we will separate out the wheat from the weeds.  If you pull up the weeds, the wheat might also be disturbed and not be able to grow as strong.” 

So that has been my philosophy in this garden.  There have been a few weeds I have let grow.  I have no idea what they are. But the definition of a weed is something that you didn’t plant intentionally.  I’ve got weeds that are place-holders for now and I’ll figure out what belongs in that place later.  I also have got some flowers that growing on purpose.  That has been a gift when they come up as planned, but it’s always been a surprise as well when they haven’t.  

Some of these plants are not working out as I expected, and that’s okay too.  I will figure it out, and I haven’t given up on them yet!  I have seen one monarch butterfly in this garden, so that gives me hope that I am doing what I’d like to be doing.  I have a little bumblebee buzzing behind me right now.  There have been a lot of bees and a lot cabbage moths.  The one monarch butterfly, I hope will tell its friends!

That’s what we are doing here as part of the kin-dom of God.  The kin-dom is stronger, the kin-dom grows when we remember that it is here among us and we tell our friends. That’s how the good news of new life spreads.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.  

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