July 16, 2017 – Sower, seed, soil

Pentecost 6   July 16, 2017   Psalm 126, Matthew 13:1-23 Sower, seed, soil ************************************************************** This parable used to sound rather simple to me. I garden; so I understand – the soil seeds are planted in has a lot to do with how well seeds are going to grow, and what kind of harvest we’ll end up with… So I’ve sometimes puzzled over why this parable is so often called “The Parable of the Sower” – given that the main point seems to be about soil. After three types of crop failure due to seed falling on the wrong types of soil are described, we finally get to good dirt that yields a good harvest. All the sower seems to do is toss seed everywhere – even where no farmer or gardener I know would expect it to do any growing. And the seed doesn’t get much attention – though it does its part – growing best it can, wherever planted. But even the best of seed… is only going to grow well when planted in good soil. But this parable of course isn’t really about gardening. Except that the word parable means, in the original language, putting two things next to each other, side-by-side, in comparison. Comparing two things – one very familiar, usually, and the other less familiar. People in Jesus’ day knew parables. There’s many parables in the old testament– and they’d quickly recognize this story isn’t really about soil conditions. Stuff they already knew well. But even Jesus’ top twelve disciples apparently don’t understand what the point really is… So later, back in camp, Jesus explains… Telling his disciples – and all of us who can hear him – that his message is all about the dirt in human hearts – some hearts with dirt-packed-hard-as-stone – other hearts full-of-stone-just-beneath-the-surface – and even a good heart, full of all the right fertilizers… still won’t actually do any better than a heart of stone… when it’s choked with cares and pleasures that keep us from seeking first the kingdom. And it’s only the heart that’s like good soil, rich in nutrients, well-cultivated… where the word of God’s kingdom is truly able to grow… And I can still get a little lost here, even reading over the parable and it’s explanation many times this week… When I notice how, in the parable itself (in our first reading), not even a word is actually said about what the seed represents. Nor are any clues given as to what the parable is about… It’s only when we get to Jesus’ later-that-same-day explanation of the parable for disciples (in our last reading) that we hear the seed is the word of God about the kingdom of God. As Jesus says, “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it…the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in the heart…” Which actually only makes the parable harder to hear for me. Because now the poor birds of this parable wind up looking like demonic vultures scarfing up good seed that happens to fall on the sidewalk…(Quite a bummer of an image for bird-lovers!) And seed that falls on the garden path, hard-pan soil, stands for those who get excited about Jesus till things get tougher. But when prayers...

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June 26, 2016

Pentecost 6   June 26, 2016   Psalm 87, Acts 8:4-40 (4-13, 14-25, 26-40) ************************************************* Acts is a spiritual travelogue. A journey for Jesus and his kingdom… Jesus has told us we will be his witnesses, starting in Jerusalem, then out into nearby Judea and neighboring Samaria, then to the ends of the earth… Now persecution sets in and most of the church leaves Jerusalem, taking the gospel with them on the road. In today’s episode we’re traveling with Philip, one of the seven commissioned to provide care for the church’s first ethnic minority, Greek-speaking-Jewish-Christians. Now we’re out into Samaria, where the gospel is suddenly spreading like wildfire. Signs and wonders are happening big time through Philip’s ministries.The sick and lame are wondrously healed. Many are coming to saving faith in Jesus. There’s great joy in he city of Samaria. But at the very height of the revival, strangely enough, St Luke (the gospel writer) zooms in on a mercenary magician named Simon, who has been proclaiming his own greatness – so loudly that he’s become known locally as (quote) “the power of God that is called great.” And here’s an almost stereotypical biblical badman – a wannabe ‘great man’ aggressively calling himself ‘great’ till others start to believe it… Yet now even Simon when he hears about Jesus, and sees signs and wonders, is baptized and follows Philip, now, wherever he goes… Meanwhile back in Jerusalem, the apostles hear about the revival in Samaria and send Peter and John down to help. Up to now somehow the newby church in Samaria hasn’t received the Holy Spirit… (at least not visibly…) Which now happens dramatically as Peter and John lay hands on the church and pray and the Spirit falls afresh… Simon the magician sees the powerful changes coming over people as they receive the Spirit. He wants a piece of the action. He says to Peter and John, ‘Give me this power too, so anyone I lay hands on will receive the Holy Spirit.’ Peter says ‘May your money perish with you for thinking you can buy God’s gift! Repent of all your wickedness…So if possible your heart’s intent may be forgiven.’ “Pray for me…” Simon replies. And we don’t know if he’s sincerely repenting, or what happens to him after this… But we do know the gospel shines  its high-beam headlights on Simon long enough to make his fee-for-service-attempt into a biblical case-study on the temptation so often facing the church… To be seduced by power and let worldly values like love of money corrupt the life of faith. (The church eventually named buying or selling power and influence in the church “Simony” in remembrance of Simon the magician. Unfortunately we still too-often hear faith proclaimed as if it were magic– with worldly prosperity promised, if we contribute to the right ministries. And…) The plot thickens now, as an angel of God interrupts the revival narrative, telling Philip to head south on a back road out into the wilderness… And… How weird is this? Here’s the new church, busting at the seams with growth, all Samaria on fire for the gospel…And the angel of the Lord says “get up and go” – not over to the next town, that’s waiting for revival – but go out into the wilderness,...

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July 5, 2015 – Sent out

Pentecost 6 July 5, 2015   Mark 6:1-13   Sent Out *************************************************** In just about every small town I’ve ever been a pastor in, someone always offers this counsel: “Be careful what you say about anyone in this town. We’re all related.” (“Or used to be… or going to be…”) Perhaps meaning, just a bit between the lines – we all need to try to make nice, not upset each other. This is a small place, we have to live together here. We’ve all got assigned roles to play. (Some of us have had roles assigned even before we were born.) So let’s not be rocking any boats. Probably this kind of hometown thinking was old before Methuselah was born. And today even Jesus gets the Hometown Blues. Even Jesus can’t do much in the village he grew up in, where everyone knows him – or thinks they do. People are saying, “Isn’t this Mary’s son? Brother of James and Joses, Judas and Simon? Don’t we know his sisters? (Can’t remember all their last names, now that they’re married, but…)Who the hey does this guy think he is? Isn’t he the carpenter we’ve all known since he was a toddler?” And usually people are amazed by Jesus – and all he says and does – all the powerful works of healing and preaching and teaching with authority. But now it’s Jesus’s turn to be amazed – at the astounding lack of faith in his hometown… He can heal only a few sick people in the face of such overwhelming doubt. So – What to do? What else – but – take it on the road… Jesus sends his crew of twelve disciples out on the road in pairs, to preach and teach the gospel. Which at first seems like a rather strange thing to do on Jesus’ part – considering – these are the same guys we’ve just seen frozen-in-fear-not-long-ago, when a storm at sea threatens to swamp their boat. But look at these disciples now – Preaching repentance – casting out many demons. Anointing and healing many who are sick. Going where they don’t know, doing what they didn’t know they could do. Taking nothing for the journey but a staff. No bread, no bag, no money, no extra clothes. Depending entirely on the hospitality of strangers and the grace of God and the power given by Jesus. Suddenly – wow! They’re doing what Jesus does. *** Meanwhile, back in Nazareth… Some of us might be able to identify sometimes, just a little bit, with Jesus – getting no respect. Some of us also may get a little tired, now and then, of trying to talk about God and church and Jesus with family and friends and neighbors – who most often do their best to ignore us… Maybe we too, like disciples of old, need to think about hitting the road more often. Get a change of venue. Step outside our regular routines. Get into telling the good news of Jesus boldly – even the part about repentance – which really just means changing our hearts until we’re full of God’s love, like Jesus is…That’s the good news made simple. We could take that on the road. Couldn’t we?… But… then I start to remember…hearing how, maybe ten or...

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July 20, 2014 – Would you go where you don’t know?

Luke 1:46-55 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” Acts 3:19-26 “Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets. Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you from your own people a prophet like me. You must listen to whatever he tells you. And it will be that everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be utterly rooted out of the people.’ And all the prophets, as many as have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, also predicted these days. You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.” Genesis 11:27-12:9 Now these are the descendants of Terah. Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran was the father of Lot. Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldeans. Abram and Nahor took wives; the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah. She was the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. Now Sarai was barren; she had no child. Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there. The days of Terah were two hundred five years; and Terah died in Haran. Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went,...

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