Steps of Faith

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Matthew 14:22-33; Romans 10:5-15 – August 9, 2020

INTROUCTION TO GENESIS 37:1-4;12-28

Jacob, now also known as Israel finally has a son by his beloved Rachel.  That son is named Joseph.  Sibling rivalry being what it is evolves into attempted fratricide only to be curtailed by an opportunity to make a financial profit.  Hear the story of the favorite son being sold into slavery to children of Ishmael, Abraham’s other son by his Egyptian wife.

INTRODUCTION TO GOSPEL LESSON

After the crowds were filled, and leftovers collected and counted Jesus sent his disciples away and then he sent the crowds away and he went to do that he came to that region to do in the first place–to go up on the mountain to pray.  Hear the word of God from Matthew 14:22-33

Let us pray. Lord, thank you for this your word.  Thank you for the encouragement it holds for us as we hear you calling us to step out on faith.  As we meditate on this portion of your word, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock, and our Redeemer.   Amen.

This story of Jesus and Peter walking on water is a familiar story. Mark Twain refers to it in one of his books. He recalls a visit to the Holy Land and a stay in Capernaum. It was a moonlit night, so he decided to take his wife on a romantic boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. Twain asked a man in a rowboat how much he would charge to take them out on the water. The man saw Twain’s white suit, white shoes and white hat and supposed he was a rich Texan. So, he said the cost would be twenty-five dollars. Twain walked away as he said, “Now I know why Jesus walked.” (1)

I don’t know what it would have felt like to have been in a small fishing boat in a storm in the dark of 5 in the morning, much less to look through the mist and the pounding waves and see a man walking ON them towards me.  I don’t’ know whether I would have shrieked or hollered “OMG!” (in which case it would have

at least been accurate) The disciples cried out “It’s a Ghost!” But Jesus said, “Fear Not!  It’s me.”

Walking on water—Jesus, and Peter–for a few feet– are the only two to have ever done it.  For them, walking on water was a reality, but for us it has become a metaphor, a metaphor for faith–for stepping out into the unknown, for believing in what you can’t see, for believing you can do what has never been done…yet.

I once saw a billboard for a furniture store that said, “Seeing is Believing.”  That may be true for furniture, but it is not for faith.  In the realm of faith “Not seeing is Believing.”  Hebrews 11:1 says, “To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see. “2 Corinthians 5:7 says, “We walk by FAITH not by sight.”  Seeing is verifying.  Not seeing is believing.  (Channel __has a series called Verify.  Apparently, there is so much false information around that a NEWS program must have a segment called Verify)

The disciple Thomas had missed the meeting on the day that Jesus’ rose from the dead.  For a week, his fellow disciples tried to convince him that Jesus really had raised from the dead. But Thomas was like that Furniture Billboard.  He said, “Seeing is believing. Unless I see I will not believe.” 

A week later, when Jesus appeared to the disciples in the Upper Room again and this time Thomas was there.  Thomas fell at Jesus’ feet and said, “My Lord and my God.!”  To him Jesus said, “You believe because you see? Blessed are those who have NOT seen and yet believe.  Seeing is verifying.  Not seeing is believing.

In the 11th Chapter of Hebrews the writer lists people of faith who believed in what they could not see.  Verse 1 shares the writer’s definition of faith as “the assurance of things hoped the conviction of things not seen.”  Abraham had faith that he would be the father of many nations even though he only lived to see Ishmael and Isaac born. Isaac had faith that even though he was tricked by Jacob to give his blessing to the second born son, once given it could not be taken away.  Jacob had faith that God’s promise to him would come true even though he thought Joseph to be dead.  Joseph had faith even when taken from the pit to the palace to the prison that God had a role for him to play.  Moses had faith that with God with him that the children of Israel could be free and that there was a Promised Land even though he did not live to see it. 

I was not alive to see Jesus’ feeding 5,000 with one kid’s happy meal. I was not alive to see Jesus walking on water or see him resurrected.  I must believe the testimony of those who did and reported it.  I must accept it by faith. 

Peter saw Jesus walking on the water, and he believed he could do it too.  He took off and for a while, step by step, he did it!  But when is started seeing the waves around him he could not believe what was happening and he started to sink.  When he took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the waves around him and listened to the winds swirling around him instead of Jesus’ voice the gospel says he “began to sink.”  

When I enter the pool at the pool down the street and go to the deep end I never begin to sink. I sink.  It is only as I paddle and stroke and kick that I begin to float, I begin to swim.  Apparently Peter sank slowly, slowly enough to call out to Jesus for him and slowly enough for Jesus to reach out and grab him without him sinking all the way, forcing Jesus to LITERALLY become a “Fisher of Men.” (as he fished Peter out of the drink.)

Friends, I do not believe that I will ever walk on water. At times, the best I have been able to do is to walk on land with a cane. ..(this week I slipped in a pool of water at Kroger in front of the Courtesy Booth and fell on my back and the handrail of the grocery cart hit both of my shins and gave me calves on the front of my legs—and because I’m not going to sue them I got a Courtesy call from Kroger and they promised a $150 gift card for my anguish)   I can’t even walk on puddles, but I know I can walk on faith, walk by faith, step out on faith and be led by Jesus, step by step.

I do not know what stepping out of the boat, stepping out on faith might be for you. Maybe it is sending your baby off to college for the first time.  Maybe it is sending your child to school during a pandemic.  Maybe it is going back to school for that degree you never finished or another degree you really need.  Maybe it is asking for that promotion or a raise.  Maybe it is putting yourself out there to find a job at all in this time of unemployment. 

Faith calls for more than intellectual agreement with a formula. James 2:17 says, “Faith without works is dead.”  James 2:19 says that the demons have faith.  They believe in God and shudder!

Genuine faith is a response that shows itself in what we do.  Now, that is not to say that dramatic actions such as Peter’s are the only acceptable evidence of faith. For the vast majority of us, it is in the ordinary tasks of our daily routine that faith will make itself evident.  It takes faith to go to the doctor. It also takes faith to do what the doctor says.  It really takes faith to go to the pharmacy and believe that they pharmacist can read the doctor’s handwriting!

In our ordinary everyday lives, we need to be conscious of the call to act and speak as people who trust in God rather than in our own ingenuity. It is not by our ingenuity that we are saved. In Ephesians 2:8, Paul reminds us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

Events in the world and in our private lives are threatening our faith and causing many to wonder where God is.  Biblical literacy is at an all-time low because people do not seem to have time to study the Bible, either in their homes or with other folks. Right now the seas outside our little boat are churning with a struggling educational system, a culture saturated with guns, drug addictions and glorified images of violence, and a glorified violence in wars of all kinds and the battle of the rattling sabers.  If you do not think it is stormy out there on the sea of life you probably do not get out much!

I will bet every one of us this morning can think of some remarkable folks who have like Peter, stepped out in faith. We all have watched simple, straight-forward, hard-working men and women, little toddlers and tormented teens, the shut-in elders and the shut-out homeless, perform acts in their lives that defy the limitations of the world in which they live.  There is the chemotherapy patient who gets out of bed, puts on clean clothes, picks up the house, before going for treatment . . . taking steps of faith.

There’s the single parent, overworked, overwhelmed, over-extended in time, money, and energy, but makes it to soccer games and school plays and checks to see that homework is done . . .taking steps of faith.

There’s the octogenarian who lives alone, whose family has forgotten him, who counts the postal carrier and the water-meter reader as “company,” but still is up and dressed by 8am and sits at the table for all his meals . . . taking steps of faith.

There are times in our lives when we need a sign from God. There are times when we need to get out of the boat and step out in faith.  There are times when we do and even make it for a few steps….and there are times when we take our eyes off Jesus and “start to sink.”

This story teaches us that, even in the midst of our need for a sign, even in the midst of our doubts, it is okay to cry out, “Lord, save me!” because Jesus will  reach out to us, and with a strong grip, pull us out of the drink, and away from the storm, into the calmness of his presence.

Did you notice in the gospel lesson that the storm continued until Jesus and Peter got back into the boat?  For us, sometimes the storm may continue, sometimes for what might seem like a long time. But through the spray and the splash of the waves, Jesus will be there, calling out to us, “Take heart, it is me the Lord; do not be afraid.”

There is no way I can know where you are today – whether you’re in a place of complacency and just trying to stay afloat–whether you’re sinking and need the hand of God to lift you up.  Maybe you are like Peter and God is calling you to take a risk.  Maybe you are like the other 11 and still too scared to even try.  Wherever you are, just as Jesus came to the disciples, Jesus will come to you.  He will give you faith and the courage to endure. 

I do not know what storms you may be enduring at this very moment, or what storms of life will come your way this week or years from now.  But I know this: we all have one thing in common—a Savior who comes to us as he came to Peter in the boat, and us in this room with the words, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

A dear friend of mine who has gone to be with the Lord shared a meme with me one time.   It said, “Faith does not mean trusting God to stop the storm. It is trusting him to strengthen us as we walk through the storm”

Scott Trippane wrote a song that says, “Sometimes he calms the storm.  Other times he calms his child. 

The point is not that everyone else stayed in the boat and that Peter walked on the water, got scared and started to sink.  The point of this story is that Jesus came.  Jesus came.  Jesus came for the one who had the courage to get out of the boat and for the eleven others who did not.   Jesus came to them in the midst of their storm and Jesus will come to you in the midst of your storm-whatever it is.  

Jesus still walks on and over whatever he has to help his friends in trouble.   He may have to walk over tradition.  He may have to walk across the aisle.  He may have to walk across cultural lines, across county lines, across lines in the sand.  But he will come to you when you are in trouble.  He will lift you out of the deep that you got yourself into because you dared to get out of the boat…and He will walk with you back TO the boat till the storm passes and still the storm even if you were too scared to risk taking steps of faith.   We may not walk on water, but we can walk on faith, walk by faith not by sight.–walk not by verifying but walk by believing what we can’t verify, believing to be true what our eye can’t spy taking … steps of faith.

Let us pray. Lord.  We are listening for your word of encouragement, for your assurance that you are with us and that we are not to fear.  Come to us.  Bid us to come to you.  Walk with us through this life until we step from it INTO the joys you have prepared for us.  Thank you, Lord.  Thank you, Lord.  We are not afraid

1 Christian Globe Networks, Inc. Stay in the Boat! By David E. Leniger

Faith Lift: Our Worst and Our Best

One of the most colorful people in the Bible is David.  One of the first Bible stories that many children learn is about David as a boy and how he was able to slay the giant Goliath through the power of the Lord.  I remember spending a lot of time looking at that picture in my Bible as I sat in church waiting for the sermon to be over. 

That was one of David’s greatest moments.  Later in his life David took a detour from his track of following the Lord.  It was one of his weakest moments. 

The Bible is about real people. It is about people who do noble things. And it is about people who do terrible things. Sometimes it is the same people who do noble things who also do the really terrible things. David defeated Goliath.  David was defeated by Bathsheba.      

David sent for Bathsheba after seeing her bathing on her roof.  When the King calls you answer.  When Bathsheba learned that she was pregnant David plotted to cover up what he had done.  David had Bathsheba’s husband Uriah brought from the battlefield. But Uriah’s devotion to his King was greater than his devotion to his wife and he refuses to go to her. So David reassigned him to the front lines where he was killed.

Were David and Bathsheba able to experience forgiveness?  Yes, but.  There are consequences. God’s grace does not make us immune from the law of sowing and reaping. As someone has said, many want to sow our wild oats and then pray for a crop failure.


When we break the laws of God, we not only hurt ourselves, often we end up hurting others. One of the consequences of David and Bathsheba’s affair was that the child of their adultery did not live. One of the evidences of God’s grace and mercy is that after David repented and confessed his sin the second child of their union, Solomon built the temple David wanted to build but was not allowed to build.    

The Bible is a collection of stories about God and God’s people.  It does not cover up the worst and include only the best.  The Bible tells the story of David and Goliath AND David and Bathsheba.  It tells of people at their best and at their worst so that we can know that God’s grace is sufficient redeem us from our worst and use us to accomplish our best.

God’s Blessing

Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21; Genesis 32:22-31; Matthew 14:13-21; Romans 9:1-5 – August 3, 2020

INTRODUCTION TO CONFESSION–GENESIS 32:22-31

Jacob has a hard time at night. Last week we read that as he left his home to find his dream wife, he had a dream of a Ladder coming down from heaven. Now as he prepares to return home, he has another traumatic encounter in the night.  

Jacob was a wrestler. He wrestled with his brother and came away with his brother’s blessing…  He wrestled with his uncle Laban and after 14 years of hard labor came away with 2 wives, their two handmaids, 11 children and many flocks.   As he heads for home and faces the prospect of wrestling with his brother Esau again, he winds up spending the whole night wrestling and comes away with a limp and …. a new name.  Hear the word of God from Genesis 32:22-31

INTRODUCTION TO-ROMANS 9:1-16

Jacob’s new name grew to become the name for a whole nation consisting of 12 tribes.  The apostle Paul, a Jew’s Jew, understood that God had made a covenant with Abraham that extended to Isaac and Jacob and the nation of Israel.  In Romans chapter 9-11 Paul wrestles with the dilemma that Jesus came to the people of Israel as their messiah, but many of them did not recognize him as such.  Not only did they not accept him, some of them called for him to be crucified. In the beginning of chapter 9 Paul wrestles with this rejection and part of the answer that begins to dawn on him is that this rejection opens the door for others to become adopted into the family of God and to multiply the number of folks who can come to know the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob.  Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, and of those who will become grafted into God’s family tree through God’s grace to receive God’s Blessing… 

INTRODUCTION TO GOSPEL LESSON MATTHEW 14:13-21

In the atrium of Houston Methodist hospital there is bronze statue of Jesus and a woman kneeling before him.   The scripture on the plaque at the base of the sculpture is from this morning’s gospel lesson. , “Jesus had compassion on the multitude and healed their sick.”  

Jesus compassion for the crowd was not limited to their need for healing.  They not only hungered for healing they hungered for food.

In the life of Christ this miracle so impressed the twelve disciples that it is the only miracle of Jesus besides the resurrection that is recorded in all four gospels. It is the story of a small group of disciples facing an overwhelming need.  Hear the word of God from Matthew 14:13-21 

Let us pray.  Open our eyes to see your truth.  Open our ears to hear your voice. Open our minds to receive your word.  Open our wills to respond accordingly.

Dr. H. King Oehmig tells a story of the time that a church congregation from Cartersville, Georgia wanted to begin a Habitat for Humanity group.  It was in the early days of Habitat, so the group went to Americus, Georgia to meet with Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity.  The group toured the Habitat facilities and saw a presentation on how groups operate.  Then Mr. Fuller took time from his busy schedule to go and talk to this group.  During the course of their conversation, one of the folks from Cartersville said, “Mr. Fuller, we think this is what God’s calling us to do.  But before we begin, how much money do you think we should have in the bank to get us off the ground?”

Fuller leaned toward the man and in a very low and serious voice told him, “It would be wholly irresponsible, completely negligent, totally feather-brained if you started an affiliate without at least one dollar. But you have to have one dollar.  Don’t you dare make a move without it!” (1)

In Baytown where I served as pastor for over 6 years over 50 miracle houses have been built.  Each one started with at least a dollar.  For some reason God likes to take what we have to give, no matter how small, and to that adds … God’s blessing.

Ours is not a Lone Ranger faith. The Lone Ranger may have been the only Ranger, but even he had Tonto. To be a follower of Jesus is to be in partnership with God and others.  It is a partnership of people of faith working together. Miracles begin with the compassion of God, but they are greatly enhanced when we give God something with which to work.  We offer what we have and then God adds … God’s blessing.

After a marathon of healing the disciples determine that gathered multitude is hungry, which probably means that the disciples are hungry as well.  When they bring this to Jesus’ attention Jesus, he tells them to give the crowd something to eat.

In Matthew’s telling of the story the disciples say, ‘We have nothing but five loaves and two fish.”  In the gospel of John’s telling of this story it is a small boy comes forward with his lunch.       

A man was packing a shipment of food for the poor people of Appalachia. He was separating beans from powdered milk, and canned vegetables from canned meats. Reaching into a box filled with various cans, he pulled out a little brown paper sack. Apparently one of the pupils had brought something different from the items on the suggested list. Out of the paper bag fell a peanut butter sandwich, an apple, and a cookie. Crayoned in large letters was a little girl’s name, “˜Christy — Room 104.’ She had given up her lunch for some hungry person. (1) 

Over the years there have been several attempts to “explain” this miracle of the feeding of the 5,000.  One attempt says that the people were so moved by the generosity of the little boy that they brought forth the food they had hidden under their clothes and in their traveling pouches.  But that does not explain the leftovers.  Would 5,000 men, not counting women and children, have said to themselves before leaving home, ‘You know, we better pack our lunches and pack extra in case a little boy decides to share his lunch so we can be inspired to share ours.  Lets pack enough extra so there will be 12 baskets of leftovers.    

No, Jesus took the little boy’s lunch of 5 loaves and 2 fish and blessed them and broke them and 5,000 men, not counting the women and children were filled.  The disciples began by wondering how this crowd could be fed and they wound up wondering what to do with the leftovers!  By the way this proves that they were neither Lutherans nor Presbyterians because there would not have been leftovers.

Tony Campolo is a professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University in St. David’s Pennsylvania and a popular speaker. He was once invited to a women’s conference where he was to give a major address. These women were being challenged to raise several thousand dollars for a mission project goal. While Campolo was sitting on the dais, the chairperson turned to him and asked him if he would pray for God’s blessing as they considered their individual responses to the goal. Campolo stood and–to the utter amazement of everyone present–graciously said “no.”

He approached the microphone and said, “You already have all the resources necessary to complete this mission project right here within this room. It would be inappropriate to ask for God’s blessing, when in fact God has already blessed you with the abundance and the means to achieve this goal. The necessary gifts are in your hands. As soon as we take the offering and underwrite this mission project, we will thank God for freeing us to be the generous, responsible and accountable stewards that we’re called to be as Christian disciples.” And they did. (2)

One little boy brought his lunch.  Each one of us has something that we bring.  When we do, we trust that what we give will be multiplied by God’s blessing.

Jesus is looking at us and at the community around us and his heart is filled with compassion.  Jesus is taking what we must give, our time our talents our gifts of money and our elbow grease so that God’s blessings can be multiplied and our whole community can be fed.  Jesus is saying to us, “You give them something to eat.”  

Jacob was set for life.  He left his Uncle Laban’s home with a large family and even larger flocks.  But Jacob had seen the ladder.  Jacob wanted more than what he was able to provide by his own labor.  Jacob wanted his Father’s blessing and got — that but Jacob wanted more.  Jacob not only wanted his Father Isaac’ blessing he wanted God’s blessing. Like the little boy who offered his lunch Jacob sent portions of his flocks across the river as a gift to his brother Esau.   He gave away part of what he had labored for 14 years. He spent the night wrestling and would not let go.  Because he did not give up, because he prevailed, he received God’s blessing and Jacob, whose name meant “the wrestling trickster,” became Israel which literally means “One who prevailed with God.” 

It was not easy.  It came with a limp.  But look at what came from one man who was not willing to let go until he had God’s blessing.  From that man Jacob came not only a new name but a new nation-Israel, and from that nation Israel came the Messiah, Jesus, who not only fulfilled the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but opened wide the doors to Cornelius, and Priscilla and Aquila and to us.  We are not related to God by our bloodlines but grafted into God’s family tree by the blood lines that flowed from the cross of Jesus.

The disciples wrestled with what to do in the face of such a crowd of hungry people.  They did not know what to do so they took the challenge to Jesus.  Jesus challenged them back.  With what are we wrestling today?  What do we want to see come to pass and will not let go until we see it?  Do you have at least one dollar?   Do you have at least a peanut butter sandwich, and apple and a cookie?  Are you willing to hang on for dear life and not let go until you have God’s blessing?  It may come with a limp, but what a blessing.  Whatever you feel God calling you to give do so knowing that when it is given it will be multiplied by … God’s blessing.  

Let us pray, Dear Lord Jesus, take what we have and bless it.  Take our gifts of time and talent and treasure and break them open and bless them and send them forth from this place to make a difference in our lives and in the lives that are touched by what we do in here and from here.   We pray that you will take what we offer and make a difference in the lives of the men and women and children of our world. 

(1) Do You Believe in Miracles? by John Bedingfield

(2) King Duncan, “You Feed Them!” Collected Sermons, http://www.Sermons.com

Faith Lift: Surprise!

This Sunday I will be preaching on Jesus’ miracle of feeding 5,000 with one kid’s happy meal-and that was just the men.  They didn’t count the women and children.  It is the one story that made the cut in all four gospels.  (of course they all told the story of Jesus’ resurrection.)

The disciples and certainly the people were surprised when the baskets started coming around.  We know they couldn’t have been Lutherans or Presbyterians because after every one was full there were still leftovers—12 baskets of leftovers.  That was one Happy Meal.

This Tuesday I will be having a happy meal with my family because we will be celebrating my 69th trip around the sun.  I was born in Herman Hospital on July 28, 1951.   You may have heard me mention before that for several years my parents had tried to have children but not been successful.  In fact my parents had completed the paperwork to apply to adopt when my mother went for a check-up and the doctor told her she was pregnant.  Surprise!

I look forward to celebrating my birthday with my family for dinner on Tuesday night.  My son Andrew and his wife Meghan and my daughter Abbey and her husband Michael will be coming.  We will be socially distancing with our expanded dinner table. It is hard to stay masked and eat.  I guess we could take turns around the table—Mask On- Mask off- take a bite- Mask back on.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

My daughter-in-law is making veal parmesan and Anne made my favorite cake—pineapple upside down cake.   I told Anne I didn’t want any maraschino cherries in the middle of the pineapple rings like they have at Luby’s.   I don’t know what else will happen.  There may be some surprises.  After all I was a …. surprise!

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.

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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. 

*** 

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.

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