Friday, July 18, 2014

Live peaceably with all

From today's reading:  Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Romans 9:12, 18

Sometimes Paul seems so obtuse and so often can be confusing.  And he seems to contradict himself even in a single sentence. You are supposed to hate what is evil and yet bless (and not curse) those who persecute you.  Isn't persecution evil?  Paul says, "live in harmony with one another" and "never avenge yourselves."

We look at the world around us, this same creation that God proclaimed "good," and we see it at war, passenger airliners being shot out of the sky, whole families being slaughtered.  Who is living in harmony?  Who is seeking revenge? God is crying in his heaven over the atrocities we commit on one another.

I have friends who have suffered persecution on Facebook and/or been "unfriended" because of political or religious beliefs/conflicts.  The border crisis here in the US is just the latest of Satan's long line of attempts to divide us as a country, and as a religious people.  Instead of trying to work together to solve a very real problem, people are at each others' throats dividing into extremist camps that will never solve anything. Jesus said, "Let the little children come..." and "As you do unto the least of these, you do unto me..."  Where does all this discord stop?

Jesus, come to us, help us to find unity in the midst of division.  Lord Jesus, we need you - your love and compassion.  We need your grace and mercy to remain strong in the face of dissension, so that we might live peaceably as a witness to a world torn by strife.   Amen.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

The extravagant sower

This parable of the sower is very familiar.  We have heard it and its interpretation too many times.  We think we know it and we have a tendency to dismiss it casually.  Sam was telling me that he’s sat in church before listening to this parable and thinking, “Yea, I know people like that…”  and we do.  We’ve all heard the interpretation and we’ve all known people like those mentioned in conjunction with each kind of soil.  (Hold that thought, we’ll come back to it later.)

When Sam and I lived in Austin the first time, we had a garden, and in that garden we planted all kinds of vegetables for eating.  I remember getting out my graph paper and drawing the garden and deciding on what plants to put where.  We always had two rows of corn on the west side of the garden and two rows of okra next to the corn.  There were potato plants, squash plants and sometimes watermelon or cantaloup in the middle.  On the east side we had tomato and pepper plants.  Along the fence on the north side were cucumbers and green beans.  Sam bought a tiller and turned the soil, and he and I very carefully planted the precious seeds.

Now, I understand that a farmer planting acres of ground can’t do it that way.  He’d never get finished – and he and everyone depending on him would starve to death.

Someone asked once where I get my inspiration for sermons.  Well, one place I get not only my inspiration, but my passion, is from reading sermons.  And the sermons that give me the most inspiration and passion are those I disagree with.

I read 4 commentaries, two articles, and three sermons that all talked about the sowing of seeds in the first century.  And they all agreed that there were two ways common for sowing seeds in Jesus’ day.  One method was to plow first, then they would tie a seed sack to a donkey, poke a hole in it and lead the donkey up and down the plowed field allowing the seed to fall out of the sack in the rows.  The second way was to sling the feed sack over your shoulder, reach in and grab a handful and throw it on unplowed earth – this was called the broadcast method.  Then the field would be tilled after the seed had been distributed.  Now each of the commentaries and articles agreed that using the broadcast method, the sower couldn’t tell what kind of soil his seed was falling on and couldn’t really control where his seed went.  

My response to that is “baloney!”  One preacher talked about casting grass seed in his yard and only one in four seeds falling on good ground – the rest fell on the driveway, the sidewalk, the street and the bushes.  Now I don’t know about you, but I know I could walk around my yard broadcasting seed with much better results.  I can see the bushes and the cement and keep most of the seed off.  I figure all these guys have got to be city boys with no idea of the cost of the seed.  The main problem is that they are trying to make this example of farming sensible to us and for the people at that time.

This reading is a split reading.  The first half is Jesus telling the parable, but after the people had gone home and the disciples were left alone, they asked him, "What did that parable mean?  We don't understand."
You see, if this parable had made sense to the people of Jesus' time, then Jesus would not have had to explain it to the disciples.   But it didn't make sense agriculturally or any other way and that was the whole point.  I can hear them now – “We don’t understand – why would the farmer waste good seed?  And what’s that got to do with the kingdom of heaven?”  It’s true that using the broadcast method, you’re going to lose some seed – but not three out of four.

This parable is about the Kingdom of Heaven – and about how it’s different from our human experience, not how it’s like it.  In this case, our sower is God, and God is extravagant!  If you don’t believe it, take a look at the world around you.  God is the great and reckless sower, and he has sown his seed everywhere.  That’s why you will find wildflowers growing out of cracks in the sidewalk, and bushes growing on the side of cliffs.  In Hawaii we saw flowers blooming in the middle of vast expanses of lava.    God’s extravagance is why there are thousands of varieties of trees, and more than just rice to put on the table alongside the meat.

The seed that is being sown is the word of God.  Jesus is the sower and his extravagance matches God’s.  He didn’t just teach to those who were considered to be good enough.  He taught everywhere: in the synagogues, in the market place, in people’s homes, along the dusty roads, at people’s dinner parties, up on the mountain top, out at the sea shore, - even in some of the gentile villages.  He didn’t worry about who was listening to his words – he let them fall wherever they might.  He didn’t worry about whether or not the people hearing would bear fruit… Remember at the beginning of this sermon I told you to hold on to the thought that we’ve all known people like those in the interpretation… well…

Most of us can point to times in our own lives when we’ve been each kind of soil; times when we just couldn’t understand what Jesus was talking about; where what he said was so foreign that it bore no meaning for us.   These are times when we may be on a different path from the one God calls us to travel.

We can relate to the people on rocky ground.  Maybe when we heard the word and understood it and rejoiced in it…   but when we tried to share it, friends made fun of us, or ridiculed us for our beliefs.  We have second thoughts and shy away.

And we can relate to the seed that fell among the thorns…  We don’t like to hear things like “sell all you have and give to the poor”…  Today’s business world doesn’t like to hear about God’s sense of mercy and justice.  We want a car that’s faster and fancier…  We want a house we can entertain in…  We want the newest computer and software…  We want to be attractive to the opposite sex…  We want to party and have fun…

Truth is, it’s hard to follow Jesus – the cross is often too much to bear.  The things he asks are hard to do.  We know that we are not innately good soil.  The world and human nature pulls us away from the things of God.  And some people lose hope and think they can’t make it.

But thank goodness, God is not looking for ‘good soil’ because we can’t make ourselves into good soil.

The good news is that God doesn’t leave us where he finds us.  But God himself is the sower and he gets to work to produce in us the soil needed to receive the seed.  He breaks up the hard clay of our life and plows it under.  He picks out the rocks and deepens the soil there.   He clears the thorns bushes and prepares the ground.

Isaiah tells us, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven…and water the earth making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth…  it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose….”

This is a parable to encourage us to be like Jesus.  It says, don’t be scared to go out and sow the word of God in those you meet.  It’s not our decision (or responsibility) who is ready and who’s not.  Not all people you meet will be ready to receive the word, but God will begin to prepare their hearts and make them ready to receive the seeds of faith and growth.  We are simply called to plant the seeds and we can trust God to take care of the rest.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Gathered under his wing

From today's reading:  How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!  Matt 23:37

How often does God call us and we are not willing....?  Like the father of the prodigal son, he did not pursue, but the left the gate open - ready for the son's return.  But I believe that God, in his own way does pursue us - subtly - ever calling us back, giving us gentle reminders that he is indeed waiting for our return and he gives us every opportunity to return.  Still - it is up to us to take that first step.  

For whatever reason this morning, as I was waking, I remembered Jane in her last days - I remembered reading scripture to her - she would tell me what to read and a beautiful smile adorned her face as I read and she rested in the words of faith.  God was gathering her under his wing, and she gladly sheltered in his love.

As we prepare to make our summer trip to Idaho to visit with Sam's brother who has been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, I can't help but remember Jane's last long car trip was up to visit Danny.  What a gift that they were able to do that before she died.

One of my favorite song, as I think on these things...

There's a family gathering, and it won't be long,
There's a family gathering, can you hear my song.
I'm calling my children from the ends of the earth,
They're coming on home, they're my sons of new birth,
And there's a gathering, they're gonna feast at my table!
In the end, God does gather his family and shelters them under his wing, in his new Jerusalem.  It's never too late to open your eyes and see the glory of God's kingdom and to find rest in his presence.