The Rule of God

Genesis 29:15-28; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33; 44-52 – July 26, 2020

Hear the word of God from Matthew 13:31-33; 44-52…

Let us pray. Open our eyes to see your truth.  Open our ears to hear your voice. Open our souls to sense your touch.  Open our hearts to feel your love. Open our minds to receive your word.

***

The Kingdom of God is ….like.

Our country was founded on not having a king, so the word kingdom does not translate as well for us.  We are a country founded on laws, on rules, that we expect everyone to observe and obey.  So this morning I want to talk about the rule of God’s for and over and in our lives.  When Jesus says the kingdom of God is like, I’m going to substitute the rule of God is like…

Those of you who are into Facebook know what it is to be “liked.” on Facebook.  If you post something that people like, they click on an icon of a “gig em” hand sign, (an up pointed thumb)

Sometime ago a friend of mine shared what it was trying to make friends outside of Facebook.  He wrote, “So I have been trying to make friends outside of Facebook and thought I would try applying the same practices. Today I go outside my building and just start walking down the street. As I pass by people I let them know what I had to eat, how I feel right now, what I did last night, what I will do later etc… I thought it would be interesting to hand out pictures of my family, my dog and me doing some of my favorite things. If they were talking I would stop to listen to their conversation and then give them the good old “thumbs up” and let them know I like them.

So it actually worked!!!! I already have four people following me: two police officers, a private investigator and a psychiatrist.

In the 1952 presidential election, those who favored a particular candidate wore buttons that said, “I like Ike.” That expressed the same usage that we see on Facebook.  People were saying that they agreed with what Ike stood for. They didn’t want to BE Like Ike.  They just Liked Ike. (Who in their right minds would want the headache of being president?)

In the 80’s Gatorade came out with a commercial and a song those encouraged kids to dream of being “like Mike.”  (as in Michael Jordan) Those who used like in that way were saying that they wanted to dunk like Mike, even though most of them never would.  I drank Gatorade and all I could ever dunk was a donut.

Those who, “Liked Ike,” voted for him to elect him president.   Those who wanted to be
“like Mike” drank Gatorade.  But those who like Jesus—those who want to be like Jesus…have to love one another and others and listen when he tells them what being and loving and living like him is “like.”  In this morning’s gospel lesson we see 5 different images that Jesus used to describe what the rule of God is LIKE.

What does Jesus choose to illustrate the movement he is starting? Jesus says God’s rule is like a huge oak tree? No—he says it’s like a mustard seed, small and common, not big and majestic. Mustard greens start from small seeds, and they grow like crazy; and if you don’t pull them and eat them (as most people did and still do), they grow into a sort of bush.  (One commentator pointed out that the mustard plant is really a weed.  Left unchecked it can grow to a bush big enough for birds to nest in.  But like all weeds it comes up as a surprise.) 

The mustard seed can get stuck under the tip of a fingernail. Yet, from the smallest seed grows a shrub as large as a tree; it is not just tall but is also wide. It was known as the poor man’s fence providing shade and protection at no cost. It kept predators out and children in. The mustard plant was thick providing nesting places for birds that brighten the yard with music and color and at the same time helped keep the insect population under control.  The kingdom Jesus came to bring brings comfort, protection, and safety for the family. It is available to the poorest of the poor, a reward far greater than the investment.

The Rule of God is where God’s love is stronger than any other power, human or cosmic—it doesn’t have to look powerful, doesn’t have tanks or armies. The rule of God’ is small and ordinary; it’s full of peace-lovers and people who feed the poor. (3)”

That is what the rule of God that Jesus describes is LIKE

Here, Jesus offered example after example.  In piling “like” upon “like” Jesus stacked story upon story in showcasing how “priceless” this new possibility was for persons who could grasp its truth.

Jesus said, “The Rule of God is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

Do you know how much three measures of flour is? About eighty pounds! This woman is not Martha Stewart whipping up a couple delicate exquisite little biscuits that together weigh less than a canary. No! She’s emptying sixteen five-pound bags of flour into the biggest mixing bowl you’ve ever seen. She’s pouring in forty-two cups of water! She’s got a mass of dough on her hands that weighs over a hundred pounds! She’s kneading this lump of dough, shaping it, pounding 100 pounds of it that had been influenced by just a little bit of yeast.  That’s what the rule of God that Jesus came to bring is LIKE

A goal that is worthy deserves and demands a commitment. An Olympic athlete must be committed to training; a great violinist must be committed to practicing; anyone who pursues a goal must be committed to the disciplines the achievement requires.

After hearing a famous pianist, a lady said to him, “I would give anything to be able to play like that.”

He replied, “I’ll bet you wouldn’t give five minutes a day.”

Another said to a master musician, “I would give my very life if I could play the way you do,” and the musician replied, “That is precisely what it cost me, my life.”

Jesus is saying that the rule of God is like a small seed or a pinch of yeast that will surprise you.  As he continues he shares about more surprises.

The rule of God is like a hidden treasure waiting to be found, like a priceless pearl worth all you have.

Today people dream of winning the lottery. But in Jesus’ time people dreamed of finding treasure buried in a field. Commerce and banking were not as sophisticated as they are today. There were no offshore banks in the grand Caymans; no unnumbered accounts in Switzerland. So people who wanted to secure their wealth buried it in the ground. It gained no interest, but at least it was secure. Unfortunately, some of these people died before reclaiming their wealth. So there it lay just waiting for someone to discover it.

I have wondered why Jesus told two almost identical parables: one about a man who apparently gets lucky and finds a treasure in a field, and the other about a dealer in pearls whose deliberate search leads him to one exquisite pearl.  The stories bear some similarity. Both men are surprised when they find what they were looking for.  Both are overjoyed.  Both sell everything they have to obtain what they have found. But I wonder, is Jesus is also saying something vital about the availability of God’s rule?  

The first man apparently is digging in a field and gets a lucky and unexpected break. He stumbles across the treasure, buries it again and goes and sells all he has to get enough to buy the whole field. The second man seems to be a searcher. In his very deliberate and painstaking efforts to locate fine pearls, he finds one to which there is no equal. Yet, even though these two people are very different, and their ways and their efforts quite unlike, one thing is true for both: the treasure, their discovery, is a marvelous gift, a great surprise and a cause for great joy. .

The Council of Joyful Life has led you through two meetings with the Bishop’s Associate to consider becoming a redevelopment congregation.  Should you vote as a congregation to embark on that process the Synod will begin searching for the person who will serve as your next pastor like the man who looked for the pearl of great price or maybe, just maybe, you will get lucky and that person will be discovered like a treasure in a field.

Is life with God just for the lucky ones who just happen to stumble upon it or is it only for the searchers, those who search for years?  Maybe you have thought, “If only I were as lucky as he. His faith seems so easy, so natural.” Or maybe you have wondered, “If only I were a deep thinker with a great mind like hers.

When we think those things, we risk not hearing Jesus’ words about the rule of God being widely available to everyone.  So don’t spend your time wishing you were some other kind of person. When you have heard about Jesus, you have encountered the treasure. You had help—through Jesus.  When through Jesus you catch a glimpse of how wonderful life is living under God’s rule no price is too high to pay for it.

When a young man is smitten by love, he counts all other romantic relationships as worthless compared to knowing his beloved. He becomes like Jacob in our Old Testament lesson who had to serve seven years to be able to marry Rachel, but the years “seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.” (Genesis 29:20)

The Rule of God over our lives will always cost us something. But as we give ourselves to it we discover an amazing thing. It begins to take root in us and grow. And it creates within us the very best we can become. It calls forth from us the very best we could ever be. And, like all good investments, it will provide in us and for us wonderful dividends. 

A boy came home from Sunday school one Sunday and told his mother they had learned about inheriting blessings from god. They studied what it means to inherit something. Then he said to his mother, “I’d like my inheritance now.” His mother answered, “That’s too bad. I’m not through with it yet.”

In the rule of God rule however, you can have your inheritance now. Saint Paul wrote to the Romans, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” Provided we “suffer” with him that we might be glorified with him.”

That’s why you better think twice before you buy into it. Because buying into the rule of God means giving up old habits and ways of doing things that are destructive to us and others. It means giving up the kind of stinginess that finds us holding back from God.

Last week we read parables where Jesus likened God’s rule to a field sowed with both wheat and weeds. Jesus revisits the lesson of the “weeds and the wheat,” with the last parable of a net that catches “fish of every kind.”

Back then, observant Jews could only consume those “fish” that had both scales and fins (no lobster, crabs, scallops, clams, and shrimp). Those bottom-feeding “fish” that were not “kosher” were simply thrown back into the sea.

Organic farmers are all about returning nutrients to the soil through the use of organic, natural composting materials — stuff that decomposes and enriches the soil, giving the next generation of plants the best possible “launching pad” they could hope for. 

The fishermen are doing the same thing.  The fishermen are winnowing out the “clean” from the “unclean” fish.  Although they had no knowledge of marine ecology, by returning all the “unclean” bottom-feeders to the sea, the Jewish fishermen were helping create a better environment for the “fins and scales” fish they were interested in harvesting.

The image of the rule of God’ here is not of trees and dough or treasures in fields or pearls of great price, but a gospel net that catches all kinds, red, brown, yellow, black and white, whether we like it or not,  and the good are gathered into the boat and the bad are tossed away.

However you may find the rule of God in your life, whether it sprouts up in your back yard without you doing a thing to make it happen or it works its way in your life like tiny bit of yeast in a huge lump of dough, or you stumble across it coincidentally in an everyday task, or  discover it finally after a life-long search or are caught up in its net before you know what God has done to you — however you find yourself living in the of God I hope you don’t pass up the chance to buy into it. It will be the greatest investment you’ve ever made and the greatest adventure you’ll ever take that will never end. When you find yourself living under the rule of God you will find your true destiny which is worth more than anything. Finding out why you and I are here on this earth is “more precious than silver and more costly than gold more beautiful than diamonds… Finding that treasure in your life is all about what it means to live in and under the rule of God.  

Let’s pray.

Lord, surprise us.  Sprout up before us, work your way into our lives.  May we seek you and find you and be willing to let go of the things that hinder us from fully experiencing the joy of following where you lead so that we will be in the boat and not thrown back.

Lord, sometimes we do not know how to pray.  Knowing that Jesus intercedes on our behalf we are emboldened to come before your throne of grace. We pray for those who are not seeking you or have not yet found you.  Surprise them. 

We pray for those who are in need….for children without shelter, like birds who have no place to nest.  We pray for those who do not know where their next meal is coming from.  We pray for those who live in fear of what is coming next.   May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is being done in heaven.

We pray for those who are fighting.  For those who are fighting for their lives.  For those who are ill, who are facing surgery, undergoing therapy, struggling in recovery and for those whose journey is nearing an end and a new beginning. 

We pray for the places in the earth where your peace is not present.  We pray for all of those in harm’s way. We pray for the Place we call the Holy Land.  We pray for the places where missiles fly and land, and where planes crash.  We thank you for a cease fire and pray that it can hold and lead to more permanent solutions.

 We pray for missionaries who leave home to take the good news of the kingdom where it has yet to go.  We pray for our mission that through us God will change lives and make disciples through the transforming love of Jesus.

  • Michael Vinson d365  7-21-14
  • David Hayward  “the Naked Pastor” daily cartoons
  • Michael Vinson, d65 7-21-14

Faith Lift: Last Will & Testament

My last article told you about my new purchase of a newer less-used Prius than the one I had.  This one has 100,000 less miles driven on it. One of the things that I lost in the trade-in was my Jack-in-the-box antennae ball that helped me find my car in parking lots. So on Saturday I went to a Jack-in-the-Box to get a new one.  When I talked to the person-in-the-speaker-box to ask if they had any she said that they were out.   So I just ordered a small Diet Dr. Pepper.  When I got to the window-in-the-box the smiling person-in-the-box said, “I found one!”  Not only did she give me the antennae ball, she gave my Diet-Dr. Pepper for free!

Some days it’s good to be … a child of the King.

Part of last Sunday’s epistle lesson said that 15 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children.[h] Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”[i] 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory.

An heir is someone who inherits what someone else has left for them.  An heir is someone who is included in someone else’s will.  As a follower of Jesus I am included is God’s will. What I have received because I follow Jesus is far more valuable than any monetary, temporal goods that could be left to me in any earthly Last Will and Testament.    

The passage that Paul wrote to his friends in Rome doesn’t end with verse 17.  Paul, one who was shipwrecked, snake bit, imprisoned, beaten, and martyred for his faith, continued with the further clarification in verse 18,

“But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.18 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.” 

Suffering is a part of living. It is a part of following Jesus.  Jesus suffered.  Jesus calls us to follow him.  It will involve suffering.  Our world is suffering.  We lose loved ones. One day, we will be one that our loved ones will lose. I cling to the promise that the suffering we endure now is “nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.”

Until later comes, there are days when we get glimpses of that glory.  It can be something as brilliant as a beautiful sunrise….or sunset.  It can be as warm as greeting someone who can only smile with their eyes because they are wearing a physical mask.  It can be something as simple as a free Jack-in-the-box antennae ball with a small Diet Dr. Pepper … to boot.  Those are mere foretastes of what I will receive when those who follow me will hear when a lawyer reads to them my … last will and testament.

The Patient Farmer

Genesis 28:10-22; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43; Romans 8:12-25 – July 19, 2020

 

INTRODUCTION Genesis 28:10-19a In the verses just prior to ones I am about to read, we learn that Esau marries the daughter of Ishmael, the first son of Abraham born to Hagar, the Egyptian servant of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.  Not only did Jacob’s older brother not care for his birthright, giving it away for a bowl of beans, he marries the daughter of the son that Abraham was not supposed to have. NOW we know why Jacob is to be the line through which the Nation of Israel will come. Esau and Jacob have been at odds with each other ever since.   

This morning we read about Jacob taking flight after having tricked his brother Esau into giving him the inheritance in exchange for a mess of pottage. As Jacob leaves to go to find a wife from his Uncle Laban, the brother of his mother Rebekah, he has a dream. Hear the word of God from Genesis 28;10-22

INTRODUCTION TO MATTHEW13:24-30; 36-43

This morning we come to another agricultural parable of Jesus. This week, Jesus teaches about the mystery of the existence of evil in our world.  This is another parable that the disciples asked for an explanation.  They really did not understand agriculture. Hear the word of God from Matthew 13:24-30 and 36-43.

************

Let us pray. Open our eyes to see your truth.  Open our ears to hear your voice. Open our souls to sense your touch.  Open our hearts to feel your love. Open our minds to receive your word.

***

Last week we talked about sowing seeds. This week we are talking about pulling weeds (or whether to do so or not).  Every gardener knows that planting seeds is the easy part of having a successful garden. It is much more time consuming to weed that same garden. It is hard work. As someone has said, “When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant.”  There is a corollary to that truth: “To distinguish flowers from weeds, simply pull up everything. What grows back … is weeds.”

The meaning of Jesus’ parable about the wheat and the weeds becomes clearer when we look at the specific kind of weed, he talks about.  There was a weed in Palestine called bearded darnel, which was a common curse of farmers. In its early stages it looked just like the wheat.  Other translations call these weeds “tares.” Tares are “bearded darnel,” and they are mentioned only in Matt. 13:25-30. It is the Lolium temulentum, a species of ryegrass, the seeds of which are a strong poison. It was only after both had “headed out” or produced seeds up top that one could tell the difference between the two by their color.  At harvest time, the bad, the bearded darnel, had to be separated from the good, the wheat.  The problem with taking our hoe to the evil weeds of the world is that good and evil sometimes look so much alike.  It only becomes clear later.  2)

Jesus told this simple parable to illustrate the truth about a Day of Judgment.  It was designed to be familiar to people who depended on agriculture for a living.  

Maybe it might be helpful to retell the parable for those who may not be familiar with agriculture. 

Here is a “Revised Tampered Version” of this parable.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a programmer who started many processes on her computer. While everyone was sleeping, a hacker broke in and started some counterfeit jobs, which began using some of the CPU time. The programmer’s operators said, “Didn’t you start useful jobs on the computer? Where then did these counterfeits come from?” “A hacker did this,” she replied. The assistants asked her, “Do you want us to kill the jobs?” “No,” she answered,” because while you are killing them, some good processes might be interrupted by accident. Let them all go to completion. Then we will purge every counterfeit process from the disk and memory, and save the results of every good process onto permanent storage.” 1) 

Jesus talks about a farmer who planted good wheat seed in a field. This farmer is deliberate and careful and determined to do everything he can to make sure he will have a good crop. Unlike the parable of the crazy sower we looked at last week, this is one shrewd sower.  He planted his wheat in nothing BUT good ground.  He was assured of a good crop. But under cover of night, an enemy came and planted weeds.  

Now here’s where Jesus’ audience of farmers had to break into a laugh.  Who PLANTS WEEDS?  Try going to a nursery and asking if you could buy some weed seeds.  Have you got any dandelions, any Johnson grass, any crabgrass, any chickweed, any mug wart, any “Gill Over the Ground?”  I am serious, there is an actual weed named that!  

In Jesus’ parable, the farm hands came to the farmer and asked, “Do you want us to pull the weeds?” “No,” said the farmer. “If you try, you might damage the grain in the process. Let the weeds alone. At harvest time we will separate the two.  Let good and bad grow together.”

Locked inside this parable are four truths about the Day of Judgment.  
1) First, we have an enemy and that enemy is real. In verse 39 Jesus tells us plainly that the enemy is the devil. Some modern Christians consider themselves too sophisticated to believe in a devil.  Surely, we all know that there is no creature with horns a tail and a pitchfork. That is more from Milton’s Paradise Lost than the Bible. But in this parable Jesus himself, declares that there is an intelligent, active spiritual presence in this world that is opposing God and actively sowing weeds. In Satan’s campaign to oppose God, Satan tries to separate us from God and make this world a living hell.  (I once saw a post on Facebook that needed to be spell checked.  It said, “Hail Satin.”  (If it was not a typo it must have been posted by someone who really LOVED silk)

Fans of country music well know the name of George Jones. Jones has had enough hit songs on his hundred or so albums to make the careers of ten singers. Sometime back George was nearly killed in an automobile accident. He was talking on his cell phone. When the news first came out, many of his fans probably assumed that George was off the wagon again because with his talent and genius came a dark side.  Jones had a reputation for wild living and self-destructive behavior. In the past he struggled with a serious addiction to alcohol and drugs. His addictions were so severe that Jones would literally do anything to fuel his habit.  One time, George was almost outwitted by his then-wife, Tammy Wynette. To keep him away from the local bar, Tammy took George’s car keys.  But George’s determination won out. He hopped on his riding lawn mower and rode ten miles to the nearest bar.

Why otherwise good people allow themselves to get trapped in self-destructive patterns of behavior is beyond our understanding.  Where does such behavior come from? Can we get off the hook by saying, “The devil made me do it?”  3) 

2) The second truth declared is that God is patient. In Jesus’ parable, the farmer does not clean out the weeds. God is amazingly patient with us sinners.

When Dr. Harold Bosley was pastor of Christ Church in New York City, he preached a sermon entitled, “Shall We Be Patient with Evil?” He pointed out how during the Civil War everything was crystal clear on both sides, if you could judge by what was being said. He then told of an experience he had while visiting a museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania where there is a huge painting of Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg.  In front of him was a mother with two small sons who were asking questions. “Who were the good guys and who were the bad guys?” one of the boys asked. The mother replied softly, “It is hard to tell.” The child asked why they were trying to kill each other. The mother patiently tried to explain about slavery and the other issues. “Did they have to fight?” the lad asked. Her answer was classic. “They thought so,” she said. Dr. Bosley pointed out: “There was in that reply the gentleness distilled in the interval of a hundred years.” Socrates once observed: “He who takes only a few things into account finds it easy to pronounce judgment.” Be patient! Wait until harvest time. 4

3) Third, it is God who judges in the end not us.  The parable does not explain the origin or purpose of evil.  It is considered a fact of our present existence.  In our world good and bad live side by side. The parable promises that evil will be abolished at the harvest time when the kingdom of God fully comes but until then…. good and bad will be neighbors.

When Jesus said, “Judge not lest you be judged,” he is saying, “Don’t give up on someone.”  Don’t you be the one to pass judgment or pass sentence on someone.”  That is the job of the judge.  No person is authorized to compose a list of those who are in and those who are out. For us to do so is not only be judgmental but also presumptuous on our part. It presumes that all weeds are destined to stay that way.  It disallows for the possibility of transformation.

Like I pointed out last week, there once was a Pharisee named Saul who was a weed.  He was bad.  He held the coats of those who stoned Stephen so they could get a better wind up so they could throw harder.  He imprisoned followers of Jesus.  But then, Saul met the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus.  Saul the weed, became Paul the wheat.  What would have happened to the Christian Church if Saul had been pulled up before he met the risen Jesus? 

What if I had been pulled before I met Jesus?   I grew up a weed.  I grew up a weed in the church.   I grew up alongside wheat.  They rubbed off on me until the day came that this little guy that grew up like a weed became a wheat.   I went from a weedie to a wheatie. As we make our way around the world, we will meet a lot of people, some good, some bad. .and some in transition. Some of the people we meet are Weeds and some are Wheat. And some were Weedies on their way to becoming Wheaties–and we are not the ones to determine which is which.   

Jesus loves us enough to come to us and call us to follow him as we are, but he loves us too much to leave us as we are. We are all having our lives changed.  We are all being made into disciples.  We are all being transformed by the love of Jesus Christ.

The parable of the Crazy Sower taught us that we are to sow the word of God wherever we go because we don’t have the capacity to judge what is going on in the hearts of those with whom we share God’s love.  This parable of the Patient Farmer teaches us that in addition, we don’t have the ability to judge whether the people we meet are good wheat or bad weeds OR whether they are weeds like Saul who are in transition on their way to being changed to Paul.

4) The fourth thing this parable teaches us is the fact that the Judgment Day is coming.  Real love forces choices between good and bad.  Real love is a woman saying to an alcoholic husband, “I force you to choose between the bottle and me. Real love says, “I will not coddle that liquor which threatens to kill you.” Real loves take away the keys to the riding mower George Jones!)

Real love challenges idolatry and bigotry and hatred and greed.  Real love reaches out to those in need no matter what side of what border they are. Real love tells the truth.


Prior to and during World War II, Jewish persons in Europe were told by the Nazis that if they boarded the trains provided for them, they would be resettled in comfortable, peaceful areas. But the truth was that the trains were headed for Auschwitz and other death camps. Some Jews who knew the truth tried to warn the others, but the majority hushed them up, saying, “That’s ridiculous. If you talk like that, you will terrorize people.”

Today many are being herded aboard trains of false promises. On one end of the spectrum is the train that promises a rapture that will take Christians out of the world before things get really bad like the Left Behind series of books.  The other end of the spectrum is a train called universalism that promises that all persons are bound for heaven whether they wish it or not—that Hitler will live next door to Mother Teresa.  Real love does not tell people what they want to hear; real love tells the truth. It does not pretend that a train to Auschwitz is a train to Club Med. 

One day God will call all of us to accountability. God will ask, “Did you tell the people what they wanted to hear?  Did you tell them what seemed rational to you? Or did you tell them the truth?”  I want to be able to respond to God Almighty, “Yes, Lord, I told them the truth, the hard truth as well as the gentle truth that “God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Until then we are all growing in a field–wheat and weeds, side by side, good and bad. Some rubbing each other the wrong way… and some the right way.  Until the end, we will continue to have pain and sorrow, suffering and shame.  Until then we will have to be patient. 

God is patient.  We must also wait with patience.  We cannot pull the weeds in our world.  That is not our job.  Good and bad will be neighbors.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit though the grace of God can transform neighbors.  It can transform weeds like Saul into wheat like Paul.  The grace of God can even transform weeds like little Jimmy into wheat like Jim.  Our job is to be good wheat and our job is to join the churches of the world in sharing the love of God so that as many weeds as possible can be transformed while we live next to each other, good and bad. Our job is to be more about planting wheat than pulling weeds.  Our job is to have the patience to wait …  like a … patient farmer.     

Let us pray.  We thank you, Lord Jesus that you do not deal harshly with us, uprooting the good with the evil.  We pray that we will be agents of transformation in our world, that as we love you with all our heart minds soul and strength, that as we love our neighbors as ourselves, that we and our neighbors can be transformed into the wheat you desire us to be.

1)  Michael P. Green

2)  Wheat and Tares, by Todd Weir

3)  ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc., ChristianGlobe Illustrations, by King Duncan

4)  ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc., Problems Beyond Our Power to Fix, by  

     Thomas Lane Butts

Faith Lift: Filters

As of today I start on my fourth Prius.   I turned in my 2005 model for a new car for my wife and took over her 2008 model.  Both cars lasted over 150,000 miles before I traded them in on the next one.   Today I traded in my 3rd Prius for a newer model.  I traded in a 2015 model for a 2017 model.

All three models averaged around 44 miles per gallon of gasoline.  However, one time my mileage started going down.  There is a monitor display on the dash that indicates how many miles you are driving to the gallon.  With curiosity I watched my 44 average to 42 then 40.  When it got to 38 I grew concerned.   When it got to 35 I took it to the shop.

One shop said that unless there was a light on the dash they couldn’t recommend what to do.  They suggested it might be bad gasoline.   I left that shop.

I knew I was supposed to replace the air filters but where I have my oil changed they usually tell me when I need to do that.  On a hunch I went to an Auto Parts store and bought two air filters.  When I lifted the hood and opened the cover of the air filter guess what?  It was dirty; very dirty.  There were also leaves under the windshield wiper housing that were blocking the air return vents.  When I opened the inside cabin filter behind the glove box it was even dirtier and there were leaves there as well. 

The filters did their jobs.  Not only did they keep dirt out of my engine and cabin, when they did their job well enough the dashboard monitor display did its job by indicating something was not optimal.  My mileage was going down!

As followers of Jesus, we have filters.  We have outside and inside filters.   The Holy Spirit is our filter that screens dirt from getting into our hearts and minds and spirits.  The Holy Spirit can work through our fingers to change the channel, to hit the fast forward, to NOT click on a post.   The Holy Spirit can be an inside filter that can slow us down from responding to a text or an email of a post before we are calmer and more objective, acting as a filter to keep clean what’s coming out of us as well.  

The Word of God, written, spoken, memorized, and/or demonstrated can act as a warning when we need to take ourselves to the” shop.”  We may not have warning lights, or computer screens that tell us when we are getting off track, but the Word of God we have heard or read or seen or memorized or had demonstrated for us can warn us when we are getting far afield.

I’m grateful for filters.   I’m also grateful for monitors that remind me that when the filters need to be replaced.   I’m also grateful for scheduled maintenance the routine of which helps me replace filters before they have done their job so well that they are so dirty that they can’t do their job and need a monitor to warn me that it’s time for them to be retired and replaced.  

Every analogy can only go so far.  We don’t replace the Holy Spirit. Through confession and mercy the dirt of our sins are taken away and the filter is ready to use again.  We don’t replace the Word of God.  It continues to help us monitor what we say and do and serve as a measure for our lives.  There’s no substitute for regularly scheduled maintenance like worship and Bible Study groups and Fellowship dinners.  Most importantly there’s no replacement either for replacement …. Filters.

The Great Sower

Genesis 25:19-34; Psalm 119:105-112; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23 – July 12, 2020

INTRODUCTION TO GENESIS 25:19-34

Once again, God seems to linger in fulfilling his promise to make a great nation of Abraham’s progeny. Isaac is 40 by the time he married Rebekah. Another 20 years go by before his wife gives birth to the twins, Esau, and Jacob. Which one will be the one to fulfill the promise?  Hear the word of God from Genesis 25:19-34

INTRODUCTION TO MATTHEW 13:1-9; 18-23

Jesus was a carpenter by trade, but he was well aware of other trades.  He taught fishermen where to fish. He taught winemakers how to make wine. At 12 years old he taught theologians what to think about God. When it came to farming though, those hearing him give his thoughts about farming must have thought that he should stick to carpentry. Hear the word of the Lord from the gospel of Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23


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Let us pray. Open our eyes to see your truth.  Open our ears to hear your voice.  Open our heart to feel your love.  Open our souls to sense your touch.  Open our minds to receive your word.  Amen. 

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Mark Twain once said, “I can live two months on one good compliment.” Sometimes that is all people need. I believe the greatest coach of any team in any sport was John Wooden who coached the UCLA Bruins to eleven National Championships in thirteen years. He understood Mark Twain’s statement and had a special way of making sure his players applied it.

Wooden instructed his players that whenever a basket was made, the player who scored was required to smile, wink, nod, or point to the player who passed him the ball. When Coach Wooden gave these instructions to one team, one of his new players said, “But Coach, what if he’s not looking?” John Wooden said, “I guarantee you he’ll look.” He was right because everyone is looking for encouragement and affirmation.1

This parable is one of the few that Jesus told that he actually explained.  He usually left the story out there for people to draw their own conclusions.  But in verses 18-23 he gave the interpretation that the seed is the Christian message, the word of God, the gospel. We, like those first disciples, have learned through experience that the seed gets a different reception from different people.  It bounces off some; for some it just goes in one ear and out the other, with others and doesn’t take root; and with still others the word gets choked by all the other things in life in which they are caught up. Yet there is hope…  for some — the word is joyfully received, takes root and bears fruit. 

Maybe you have read this before or heard sermons on this parable before that focus on the kinds of soil and ask, “What kind of soil should you be?  “Don’t be like the hard soil, like the path, where the word doesn’t sink in and it gets stolen away by the birds…or don’t be like the rocky ground, which welcomes the word but doesn’t allow it to take root and gets scorched…or don’t be like the soil that is so absorbed in the cares of the world that the word gets choked. Be good soil!  Be people who believe the word, who study it, who take it seriously, and live it.”

But that’s not what Jesus is saying through this parable. To focus on the soil takes the focus off the point of the parable—the sower.  In fact, in my Bible this passage is introduced with the header that says, “Parable of the Sower.”  It does not say, “Parable of the Soils”

This parable is aimed to illustrate the attitude of the sower when it comes to sowing God’s word.  Jesus told it to Encourage DIScouraged disciples who were not seeing fruit from their or EVEN from Jesus’ labors. Jesus was doing miracles and yet people were plotting to get rid of him.  If Jesus was not getting a100% response from the things he was saying and doing what hope did, they have?  Judging from the reaction that Jesus himself was receiving, the disciples must have been discouraged.

The emphasis is NOT what kind of soil am I? Do I make the right response? Am I sincere?  Are my motives correct?  Looking at the parable like that shifts the focus to other people–look at those rocky, hard, thorny people– I am so glad I am not like them.

The picture that Jesus paints is of the sower’s liberality, his generosity. Those who knew farming might have thought, “Well that’s one crazy sower!”  (Kids today would say He Cray Cray) What does he think he is doing sowing on the pathway?  Who sows seeds among weeds or among thorns?  I think some of them might have even broken into laughter as Jesus told this parable.   

The sower is the one who spreads the seeds around with such liberality that no ground is missed.  Yes.  Some of the seed, even a large portion of the seed, even 75% of the seed does not produce fruit.  The point is to cover the ground. The Sowers job is to sow.

But you see, even in telling the story Jesus is sowing.  He is using an image of a carefree, crazy, sower to catch the attention of folks.   Jesus had all four kinds of soils in HIS audience.   But he kept on sowing anyway.  He did not try to judge and decide which ones of them would produce…He shared it with all of them.  All kinds…even those that looked rocky and shallow and surrounded with thorns. 

The point is that when it comes to sowing, we do not have the capacity to judge what kind of soil on which we are sowing.  We must leave that to God. Our job is to sow.  God’s job is to grow. 

Notice where this teaching takes place.   It says that Jesus left the house and went to the seaside.  Jesus gets in a boat and uses the water as a sound system to amplify his voice for the crowd on the shore. From this point on, Jesus would not be welcome in many houses or the synagogues or the temple.  He is sowing his messageoutside the box, outside the normal places where people expected to hear the word of God.  

Of course, you expect to hear the word of God in sacred places like synagogues and temples and churches.  That is why we build them.  That is why we build out storefronts to serve as a sanctuary.  It is so there will be a place to gather to hear and to examine and respond to the word of God.  But HERE we Gather to Grow, but OUT THERE we are Scattered……. To Sow.  

The Word is not only for in here.  It is for out there.  It is especially for out there.  It is for out there where, in the process of sowing the world WILL land on hard pathways and rocky soil and on soil that is surrounded by thorns AND on good fertile soil that will produce much fruit.  

The point is, we cannot judge a book by its cover and we certainly cannot judge people by their covers.  (but that has not stopped some from doing it anyway.)

Our job is not to judge… Our job is to sow. and sow and sow-even to the point of someone calling us an “old sow and sow)

If we are faithful in sowing, God will take what we do and will cause the growth.  We will not be successful every time.  Jesus was not successful every time.  If he had been, he would not have been crucified.   It was the hard and rocky and weedy soils that arrested him and put him to death.

So too, as we sow the word of God in our world, we will not always see fruit come.  Personally, the times I have seen fruit have been from the least likely efforts.

One night I worked the door for a benefit concert for a local musician who was in a horrible car accident sitting still.  She was in her van in a Walmart parking lot.  A truck hit another truck that sent it flying in the air and landed on top of her van.  She was treated at the hospital and sent home but the next day her brain began to swell, and she lost sight in one eye and couldn’t’ talk or walk.  They took her back to the get an MRI and she is gotten treatment and she can see and talk again but still has trouble walking.  Local musicians gathered for a concert and silent auction and raffle with a goal of raising $10,000 to help with her expenses.  I have been sowing support. 

I have given up trying to figure out what kind of fruit is going to come from what I do.  I just go and sow.  I cannot begin to predict what the Holy Spirit is going to use.  But I know that if I do not sow, there less a chance of the Holy Spirit having something to use than if I do, so I sow.

This is the parable of the sower. It is a parable of encouragement to those who do the sowing–to Jesus’ disciples–and to us.  It is a parable told to teach them and us that no matter what the response they are to continue to sow. They are not to be discouraged even if 75% of the people do not respond to their efforts.   We sowed the word.  It was heard. 

While there were Pharisees who reacted negatively to Jesus message and began to plot to have Jesus killed.  There also were Pharisees, like Nicodemus, who came to Jesus one night and heard a message about being Born Again.  There was a Pharisee like Joseph of Arimathea who provided the tomb for Jesus to spend the weekend when Jesus died. 

There was a boy whose dad died when he was five years old. This boy dropped out of school after the sixth grade. By the time he was 17 he had lost job after job after job. He married at 18, had a baby at 19, and was separated from his wife at 20.

He became a railroad conductor, but he got fired. He joined the Army, but he washed out. He became a farmer and lost his shirt. He applied to law school but got turned down. He became an insurance salesman and could not give it away.

Finally, he became a dishwasher and a cook in a two-bit restaurant. One thing he was able to do was to finally persuade his wife to come back to him and together they made a living cooking and washing dishes in this little restaurant. At 65 years of age he retired. He went to the mailbox and got his first Social Security check that had a grand total of $105. This 65-year-old man was so discouraged he decided to commit suicide.

He went under a shade tree, wrote out his last will and testament, determined to end his life. Well, somehow his wife found out about his scheme and confronted him, and said, “Let me tell you one thing you can do, I believe better than anybody I’ve ever known.” He said, “What’s that?” She said, “You can cook.” He said, “Do you really think so?” She said, “You’re fabulous.”

Well that gave him an idea. He went down to a local bank and borrowed $87 dollars against his Social Security check. He went to the supermarket, bought some chicken and some boxes, fried it with a special recipe he had developed on his own, put it in boxes and began going door-to-door in Corbin, Kentucky selling his chicken.

It became so popular he came up with the idea to try to sell it to restaurants. Well, guess what? He was turned down 1,014 times before a man named John Y. Brown tasted his chicken and said, “I’ll go into business with you.” That man’s name was Colonel Harlan Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken. What was the secret?  Same man, same recipe, same ability, same chicken. The only difference—a word of encouragement.  2

We are to not be discouraged where our efforts are NOT producing fruit and to instead look to where they are producing fruit.  When and where we are faithful, God will bless us with prodigious growth and transforming influence.  God can change the soil. 

One day in a crowd there was a Pharisee who was the rockiest kind of soil.  He held the coats of those who stoned Stephen.  But even as he died, Stephen was sowing seeds.  Stephen preached about Jesus as he was being stoned to death.  On the road to Damascus the seeds Stephen sowed bore fruit and a formerly rocky soil was changed and Saul became Paul.   

We all are sowers.  Each of us has good news to share.  Each of us has a story to tell. Where are we to tell it?  Everywhere.  When we are able to pass the peace again in our sanctuary we will, but we are to sow seeds out there…at benefit concerts for girls who have vans land on top of them while sitting in a Walmart parking lot.  Each of us has a calling to be sowers because we never know when our seeds will hit home. We are called to sow and sow, SO THAT…. Those OUT THERE can come and join us and get in on the joys of being those who go OUT THERE and sow and sow and sow and sow and sow. In the spirit of the parable of one…. Crazy …  Sower.

Let us pray, 

Dear Lord, let not our hearts be discouraged.   Help us to look more where we see fruit coming than where we do not.  Do not let us give up when things get tough.  Remind us that the watering and the tilling and the fertilizing and the sunshine are up to you.  That if we are faithful to do our part that you will do your part.  

Thank you for each person you have brought here.  I thank you for the ones that have been planted in this fellowship.  I pray that we will all grow and that we will produce the kind of fruit befitting our calling. 

We pray for the places where bombs explode, and rockets launch, and Jacob and Esau still fight.  We pray for the places where those in the part of the family of God that follow Jesus fight and split and sue and hurt one another.  May the words Jesus sowed take root in our lives especially and may we love one another as we have been loved by you, Jesus.   May we reach out to others with the same kind of compassion that you showed to outcasts, to widows, to street people, to Gentiles, to singles, to refugees, to little children. to those who are hard, who are snatched away, and who are being choked by thorns as well as those who are glad to see us.   

1 and 2 How to Rub People the Right Way ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc., Collected Sermons, by James Merritt

Faith Lift: Following Signs

The last time I flew in a plane I need to make a visit to the rest room.   Once inside I noticed big signs that said, “No Smoking.” (You know the kind with a picture of what you’re not supposed to do with a red circle around it and a line through it)

However, I also noticed an ash tray on the door with a smoking cigarette etched on the cover. That sign was telling me where to put out my cigarette that I wasn’t supposed to smoke.  Then I noticed a sign that said, “Do not put your cigarette butts in the trash.”   What?

If we aren’t supposed to smoke in the little boy’s room why do they have signs telling us where to put out our cigarettes and where not to put their butts?  Is the airline assuming that people will ignore one sign and yet obey another?  When signs collide, which do we follow?

As Christians do we sometimes convey mixed messages?  Do we say one thing and do another.  Do we ask others to “Don’t do as I do, do as I say?” Do we send out conflicting signs?

On Mount Sinai Moses was given 10 commandments.  (There’s an old joke that has Moses saying, “I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news.  The good news is I got it down to 10.  The bad news is the one about not committing adultery is still in there). 

Eventually the commands grew to 613.  Yet when Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment he combined two from the 613 to make one with an addendum.   He said that the greatest commandment was to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.  He added an addendum, to love ones neighbor as oneself.  He said on these two hang all the laws and the prophets.

The gospel of Mark ends with these words that speak of what the disciples did after Jesus ascended into heaven, “, And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following.”   My prayer is that we will go forth like those disciples, preaching everywhere and that the Lord will confirm the words we share with signs following us rather than content ourselves with following signs.

Rest

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Psalm 45:10-17; Romans 7:15-25; Matthew 11:16-19; 25-30 – July 5, 2020

INTRODUCTION TO GENESIS 24:34-48

We’ve seen God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah result in the birth of a son Isaac.  Last week we saw Abraham pass the ultimate test of his faith in being willing to sacrifice his only son in obedience to God’s command.  We saw how God interceded and provided a ram in the thicket.

This week we pick up the story of Isaac when he is a grown young man. Isaac’s mother Sarah has died and Abraham determines that it is time for Isaac to find a wife.  Abraham instructs his servant to go to the land from which Abraham came and find a wife for Isaac.  The servant does as instructed, and when he gets there in prayer he asks God to show him which woman is the one God wants Isaac to marry.  He asks that the first woman who responds to his request for a drink and offers to water his camels will be the one.  The first woman he meets who fulfills these requirements turns out to be Rebecca, the daughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor.  Hear the words of Abraham’s servant from Genesis 24:34-38. 42-29.  When Rebekah’s family heard Abraham’s servant’s story they called for Rebekah.  Read 58-67.

INTRODUCTION TO MATTHEW

As we read last week Jesus’ gave explicit instructions to his disciples to prepare them for their first missionary journey.  In chapter 11, Jesus has finished their instructions and sent them on ahead and then Jesus proceeds to follow them and teach and proclaim his message in their cities.  Jesus’ cousin John, whom we call John the Baptist, is in prison and has heard about what Jesus has been doing and sends a message from prison asking Jesus if he really is the Messiah or should he look for another.  Prison tends to make people doubt, especially those on death row.  Jesus responds with an encouraging message to John and then launches into a praise of John as the greatest of all the prophets.   In verse 16 Jesus laments the fickleness of the generation to whom he and John came with God’s message of the kingdom.  Hear the word of God from Matthew 11:16-19 and then 25-30.

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Are you weary?  Are you carrying heavy burdens?  Some of us are weary from work.  Some of us are weary from not being able to work. Others of us are weary from worry. A lot of our fatigue is mental and emotional. I am always amazed at the number of things some people find to worry about.

An elderly woman at the nursing home received a visit from one of her fellow church members.  “How are you feeling?” the visitor asked.

“Oh,” said the lady, “I’m just worried sick!”
“What are you worried about, dear?” her friend asked. “You look like you’re in good health. They are taking care of you, aren’t they?”
“Yes, they are taking very good care of me.”
“Are you in any pain?” she asked.
“No, I have never had a pain in my life.”
“Well, what are you worried about?” her friend asked again.
The lady leaned back in her rocking chair and slowly explained her major worry. “Every close friend I ever had has already died and gone on to heaven,” she said. “I’m afraid they’re going to think I’m not coming!”    (2)


In our gospel lesson, Jesus laments that people could not grasp the message that he and his cousin John came to bring.  Jesus described them as acting like children who complain when people won’t follow THEIR lead! (Know any children like that?)  They complained when they wanted to play the flute and be joyful and celebrate and John wouldn’t join them. They complained because John lived the austere life of a prophet, eating locusts and wild honey and fasting and not drinking (which might be easier to fast if all you ate was honey dipped locust—Fear Factor wilderness style).

 They complained that when they wanted to mourn and wail that Jesus partied hard with folks that were not their kind of people.

They were acting like babies and yet, there were real infants that got it. Jesus said the wise ones of this world were stumped but the “infants” in the ways of the world caught on to who John and Jesus were and what they were about.  Then Jesus invites his hearers to come to him.  He invites them to not listen to the generation of complainers, the whiners. He invites them to not listen to those who claim to be wise in this world, but to listen to the infants to whom God has revealed who John and Jesus are.  Jesus says that those who come to him will be truly free.  

This week as we prepared to celebrate our nation’s birthday there was much talk about freedom.  On July 4th we celebrate our Independence from being a mere colony of Britain.  It is said that King George wrote in his diary, July 4, 1776, “Nothing of importance happened today.” Well, we think something of importance happened, and we are grateful that it did.

We may celebrate freedom FROM England, but true freedom is not only freedom FROM, it is freedom TO.  We celebrate freedom FROM England, but it is also a Freedom TO be the United States of America.  As Christians who have been forgiven through the grace of Jesus Christ we celebrate freedom FROM sin and the freedom TO serve.  In Jesus we are freed FROM being unequally yoked to sin and freed TO be yoked to Jesus and to followers of Jesus TO serve others in his name and share his love with others.

Nicky Gumbel is an Episcopal priest in London and he tells a story about the day he was pressed into service to referee a football game. (We call it soccer)  I’ve always thought it ironic that in American Football only four people per are actually allowed to touch the ball with their feet—punters and field goal and kick off kickers. In European football, soccer, the only people are allowed to touch the ball with their hands are the goalies, players who are out of bounds and the referees. .

Nicky said that he didn’t really know the rules, but the regular referee didn’t show and Nicky was the only dad there.  So Nicky began to referee.  It soon became evident to the children that Nicky didn’t know the rules and so they started breaking them….and pretty soon they were breaking each other.  It escalated into mayhem until the real referee arrived.  He took the whistle in hand restored order and the boys got on with playing and had a fabulous time.

For a few minutes they experienced freedom FROM the rules of the game for a few minutes, and lost the joy of the game.  But when they took on the yoke of order, they were able to experience the freedom to play the game and enjoy it.

Jesus calls us to enjoy the freedom OF being yoked to him. “Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and let me teach you for I am humble and gentle at heart and you shall find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bear and the burden I give you is light.”

Are any of you tired or weary and carrying heavy burdens? The stress on people today has been well documented–particularly those with families. There are many people today working full-time on the job and then working just as hard off the clock meeting their responsibilities at home.

Kim Bolton tells of a workday to which that many moms can relate. She looked around at mounds of unwashed laundry and un-mopped floors, and she silently dedicated herself to a day full of cleaning. And just as she was getting into a cleaning rhythm, her two-year-old son called to her, “Hey, Mom, why dontcha come and sit wif me in da big chair.”

Kim protested. She tried to explain how busy she was. She promised to sit with him later. But he continued to smile that charming smile and pat the chair next to him. Finally, Kim put down her laundry and settled into the chair with her son. The two of them snuggled for a minute or so, and then her son patted her on the leg and said, “You can go now.”

In a hectic day, he had insisted that she take just a moment to rest with him. He understood her busyness, but he also understood that their time together was more important to both of them. In that moment, Kim Bolton said her two-year-old boy was an example of Jesus to her. (1) “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,” says Jesus, “and I will give you rest.”

Few emotions take a toll on us like worry does. Author Stephanie Stokes Oliver in her book, Daily Cornbread, asks whether we are worriers or warriors.  Chronic worriers let their anxiety and fear interfere with living their life to the fullest. They manifest their worry in physical symptoms like headaches and knotted muscles. Worriers seem unable to take control of their situation and make a positive change for themselves.

Warriors, on the other hand, find healthy ways to deal with their fears. They don’t automatically shut down and go into crisis mode. They trust that God will sustain them. Warriors take positive action to change a negative situation. (3)

Astronaut Jim Lovell is a warrior. In a news conference he was asked about Apollo 13. He was in command of that spacecraft when it experienced an explosion on its way to the moon. With their oxygen almost gone, their electrical system out, their spaceship plunging toward lunar orbit, it appeared Lovell and his crew would be marooned hundreds of thousands of miles from Earth.

Lovell was asked, “Were you worried?” Such as obvious question drew snickers. But then Lovell gave a surprising answer. “No, not really.” he said. “You see, worry is a useless emotion. I was too busy fixing the problem to worry about it. As long as I had one card left to play, I played it.” (4)

People who allow worry to overwhelm them will often complain of fatigue. Fatigue, they’ll tell you, is why they do not do anything about their situation.
Friends, you may be tired because of your work. You may be tired because of worry.  But more of us are tired because of what is happening in our brains than what is happening in the workplace. Negative thoughts will drain the life right out of you.

Some of the worry we experience may come to us from a breakdown in integrity. Nothing will drain us like the fear of discovery–always looking over our shoulder will not allow us to make much progress in the world.

Are you weary this morning? Weary from work? Weary from worry? Weary from guilt or fear? Hear again the words of Jesus, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  

Jesus calls us to come to him and take him on…to follow him and that as we do so with others in ministry the load is lighter because it is shared.  Jesus says, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  It’s still a yoke.  Work is still involved.  It’s more than taking a seat in a recliner. It’s strap on and let’s work together in partnership with your other brothers and sisters and we’ll make light work of it. 

Jesus calls us to celebrate freedom FROM the bondage of SIN and enjoy the freedom TO SHARE God’s love.  Jesus calls us to not only celebrate Freedom FROM being a Colony of another nation, but to celebrate the freedom TO SHARE God’s love with other NATIONS.  Jesus calls us to come to him even if we are in a dead-end job or we think we’re too busy to “come and sit wif me in da big chair.”  Jesus came to free us from worrying, especially about our friends who have gone to heaven thinking we’re not coming.  So let us answer Jesus call to come to him and let him give us…..rest.

Let’s pray.  We hear your invitation, Lord. Come. Rest. It sounds so appealing. Come! Rest! Come share the load with others.  Lord, lift us out of our self-concern and focus our attention upon your word of life. Help us to find rest for our souls. Amen.

1. Kim Bolton with Chris Wave, Finding God Between a Rock and a Hard Place, compiled by Lil Copan and Elisa Fryling (Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1999), pp. 134-135.
2. bounce-jokeseveryday-1807004@ripple.dundee.net
3. Stephanie Stokes Oliver. (New York: Doubleday, 1999).
4. Second Thoughts–One Hundred Upbeat Messages for Beat-up Americans by Mort Crim, Health Communication, Inc., Deerfield Beach, Florida, 1997, p. 154.

                 Offering Song: “Abide With Me”  -Henry Lyte

On Friday I had a phone conversation with David Cade. In the course of our visit we got to talking about some of the old hymns.  I talked about the one I’ve been signing off with on my emails—“God be with you till we meet again.”  David said one of his favorites was “Abide with Me.”  I think that hymn is a great follow up to Jesus call for us to come to him when we are weary and weighed down. Abiding with Jesus is a great way to find rest.

I looked up the author of the hymn and found its history fascinating. It was written by Henry Lyte.  Henry was left an orphan at the age of nine and was taken in by a kind Irish minister named Dr. Robert Borrows. Even though Dr. Borrows had five children of his own, he took Henry in and paid for his schooling. Henry followed in Dr. Borrows’ footsteps and attended Trinity College in Dublin, where he won prizes and scholarships for poetry. Henry graduated in 1814 and became an ordained ministry of the Church of England.

Henry overworked himself taking care of the sick and soon had to visit France to regain health. Henry and his wife Anna spent their days carrying for the sick and needy every single day and visiting warmer France in the winter. Henry became ill with tuberculosis and was not expected to live much longer. At the age of 45, Henry prepared a farewell speech for the morning of September 4, 1847 which included the lyrics of “Abide With Me.” Henry Lyte passed away 10 weeks after preaching his farewell sermon.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Faith Lift: Americas

“South America stole our name.”  That’s a lyric from Randy Newman’s song “Political Science” that has always made me stop and think.   As we gather on July 4th with family and friends to give thanks for the freedom we enjoy in the United States of North America I pray that we will keep the other two Americas –South and Central America in our minds and our prayers as well.

Some are starting to suggest that our national anthem should be changed.  For one thing, it’s a really hard song to sing.  For another thing it has a lot of bombs and rockets in it.  Some have suggested it be changed to Woody Guthrie’s “this Land is Your Land.   Others are suggesting that it be changed to “America the Beautiful.”  The chorus of that song says, ‘America, America God shed his grace on Thee.”  The only problem is that there are three Americas.  All of them need God’s grace shed upon them.

In my previous churches we used to sing, “In Christ there is no East or West, in him no South or North, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.” It is because of the freedom we have in Christ that we can be joined in fellowship with people in all three Americas and indeed in the whole wide earth. 

A couple of years ago when Anne and I went on vacation to Colonial Williamsburg, as I stood in the chapel in next to George Washington’s pew there was a track playing “My Country Tis of Thee.”  (which are lyrics set to the tune of “God Save The Queen”) Every Wednesday at the Rotary meetings I used to attend in Baytown we would begin with a pledge of allegiance to the flag of our country that says we are “one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” 

Having spent time on my vacation on a battlefield where men died to gain liberty from England (so we could change the words of “God Save the Queen” to “My Country Tis of Thee,”) and on a battlefield when we fought against each other to prove that we were not permanently “divisible,” I spent that 4th of July remembering what it took to secure and to preserve our freedom.  The following Sunday I stood in the pulpit and shared about Jesus commissioning his 12 disciples to go and proclaim repentance and offer freedom in Christ for all … throughout the “whole wide earth.” Here’s to hoping and praying and working so that God would shed grace on the “whole wide earth” including all 3 …  Americas.

Message from Council President

Hello Joyful Life,

As you are probably aware, the Coronavirus Pandemic has taken a turn for the worse in our area. Out of an abundance of caution, the Joyful Life Church Council has voted to suspend worship in the building until further notice. This was a very difficult decision for us since we just returned to the building and were getting things rolling again. We realize that this is late notice for this Sunday, June 28. Therefore, we will have the building open for prayer, meditation, and a time for you to drop off your prayer requests and offerings beginning at 10:30. Church council members will be available to answer any questions or just talk further if needed.  Please wear a mask if you are planning to come by. The council will then be holding a planning meeting to discuss further direction so we can keep you updated as necessary. We will continue to provide the service online for your convenience, so please watch for information to be sent to you via e-mail. Stay safe and let us know if you or your families have any needs or special requests.  


Gerald Evans, Council President

Faith Lift: Vacation

Summer has begun.  The longest day of the year has happened.  Vacation time is here. 

I wonder what professional golfers do on vacation. Do they spend their winter months sitting behind a desk? 

How will you spend your summer vacation?  Last summer we spent our vacation moving into our new house in Jersey Village. (Good News!  We have a closing date on our Meyerland house before July 4th)

The summer before last my wife Anne was serving on the Holistic Review Committee for the American Association of Medical Colleges and they met in Washington D.C.  She has been there many times but I had never been.  My son went when he was in the 8th grade.  My daughter has been for her work.  So, at the risk of continuing to be left out, I finally got to go.

While Anne was in committee meetings, I went to tour the Smithsonian Museum of American History.  One of the exhibits I naturally wanted to see was the History of American Music exhibit.  When I asked a volunteer for the way to that exhibit, she informed me that it was closed for renovation. When she saw the look of disappointment on my face she said, “We have Sting’s guitar.  Will that do?”

Not exactly.  First of all, Sting, the lead singer from the Band “The Police,” is from England. Second of all, Sting primarily is a bassist.  Third of all, one guitar owned by a bass player from England does not make up for missing the History of American Music.  Luckily, I did manage to catch a 45-minute film on the History of American Music which helped. 

Anne and I had a wonderful time seeing not only the Nation’s capital but also visiting Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown.  That’s how I spent my summer vacation summer before last.

Of course, this summer we are not planning on flying anywhere. In fact, last week and this week Anne has been taking vacation because if she doesn’t take it she won’t get it. So we are staying at home and doing things around the house.  We had a great Father’s Day Game night. (see pictures of my getting “carded”) We played a new card game our daughter brought over “The Great Dalmuti.”  Last night our son and his wife came over and we went bike riding in the neighborhood. 

From time to time Jesus took time to get away from the crowds.  He would go mountain climbing to spend time in prayer.  Other times he would get in a boat with his disciples and head out on the lake. (Luke 8:26-39)

I hope that you will be able to take some time off to enjoy yourself this summer.  Stay safe.  Wear a mask. Keep your distance.  If you are a professional golfer, I hope you can find some time for relaxation…behind a desk.   Enjoy your summer … vacation.

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