July 23, 2017

Pentecost 7   July 23, 2017   Psalm 1, Romans 8:18-25, Matthew 13:24-30, 34-43 **************************************************************** The parable of the seeds and weeds is like the best of all parables. The parable that tells us everything we really need to know. The parable that tells us God will get rid of all evil, and we’ll live happily ever after, shining like the sun in the kingdom of heaven… The parable of the seeds and weeds is like the worst of all parables. A parable in which whether we are good seed or bad weed, our fates are all predetermined. The good seed are the children of God, who are bound to grow into good grain no matter what. The bad seed are children of the devil who are bound for the fiery furnace no matter what… This parable is like the famous first sentence of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, that begins: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” then winds through a series of comparisons, to “We were all going direct to heaven – we were all going direct the other way…” We’re in our second week of listening to the Jesus parables in chapter 13 of Matthew’s gospel. Once again we’re looking at seeds planted in the ground. Last week all the seed was good, but when good seed was cast by a good sower on four different types of ground, the good seed sown by the good sower still failed completely in three out of four soil situations. This week we’re in the garden again with Jesus, but now – all the soil is good – and now there’s not one but two sowers. First the Son of Man, who looks a lot like Jesus, and sows good seed. Then a second sower, a stuntman double for the devil, it seems, who sows a toxic weed, an actual weed known as darnel or zinzania, that looks a lot like wheat til its nearly full grown, and which is poisonous enough so that you would not want to eat bread that had darnel mixed in with the wheat. The problem of darnel growing along with wheat was well-known among farmers. No enemy required; wind-blown weed self-seeds. There are a few recorded cases of farmers letting both grow together till harvest, but more often farmers would cut or pull toxic weeds before harvest. Jesus is talking about unusual, not usual farming behavior. People would know this is a parable, not an agricultural lesson.  And… This is a parable in two rather different parts. In part one, the more conspicuously parabolic part, the point seems to be about not making a bad situation even worse. ‘Leave those weeds alone, or you’ll uproot the good along with the bad. Let the wheat and weeds grow together till harvest.’ So the Lord of the harvest commands. Then, after two other short parables (that we’re not reading today), Jesus responds to questions from disciples about the meaning of what they call “the parable of the weeds…” in the second part of the parable… and… As I’ve been thinking about this parable while weeding in my garden… I’ve been wondering – how often have I yanked up little seedlings that I have personally laboriously previously planted – pulling them...

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July 3, 2016

Pentecost 7   July 3, 2016   (Ps 25)  Acts 10 (v1-16, 17-33, 34-48) ************************************************ Acts is a spiritual journey that begins in familiar territory, then heads off to the far ends of earth, directed, often through dreams and visions. On the day of Pentecost, as the Holy Spirit’s poured out on disciples (near the beginning of Acts), the apostle Peter, quoting the prophet Joel, says “your young people will see visions, your older folk will dream dreams.” (Peter seems to be middle-aged – because he’s at least half asleep when he get his dream-like vision… And…) Today we’re seeing in double vision. First Cornelius, Gentile Centurion, who  becomes the first full-blown, out-in-plain-sight non-Jewish convert to the new Christian faith. Then Simon Peter, Jewish fisherman, first-round draft choice Christian apostle, who we’ve known since the opening chapters of the gospels. Cornelius and Peter each have a vision – and each vision directs and connects the one to the other… First an angel of the Lord appears to Cornelius in a vision simple, direct, and specific. God has heard your prayers, and noticed your alms, your generous heart for the poor. Now ‘Go, send for Simon Peter, who is staying over in Joppa.’ Peter’s vision’s not so simple, not so direct… Though it surely is a wild wow!-of-a-vision. A heavenly-blanket-full-of-kosher-clean and unkosher animals, coming down from heaven, with a voice saying to napping Peter “Get up Peter, kill and eat.” That would probably wake me up quick. But this vision repeats itself three time before sleepy Peter wakens from his dreamlike vision. When he wakes, he’s puzzled – still thinking about the vision – even after he’s seen it not just once but three times. Why is it, I wonder, reading the book of Acts, that God so often resorts to visions and dreams for communicating? I wonder the more, because today we overhear the Holy Spirit speaking audibly to the same Simon Peter who receives this vision. Peter has no apparent difficulty hearing when the Spirit says ‘Get up and go’ with the three men sent by Cornelius… But after his vision, we’re first told, he’s ‘puzzled’ – then told he’s ‘still thinking about the vision…’ as the delegation from Cornelius arrives. Only when he gets to the home of Cornelius, and hears about the centurion’s vision, does he start to get it that his own vision’s not just about food… But about who is to be considered clean (acceptable) or unclean (unacceptable)… He starts to get it, but he’s still talking about barriers that he assumes are still in place, preventing common-ground table fellowship, as he speaks with the assembly in the house of Cornelius. It’s not till he hears Cornelius tell his story a second time, adding details now about how he, Cornelius was fasting and praying, when his vision came – that now Peter really gets the big picture, that God is transforming and remaking the rules, big time… At which point the Holy Spirit falls afresh on all the gathered household of Cornelius, this good God-fearing Gentile, non-Jewish guy – who works for the Roman Empire. Now Peter, sounding a bit like the Ethiopian eunuch who last week, remember, having heard the gospel, and seeing water ahead, cries “what’s to keep me from being baptized?” But this...

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July 27, 2014 – Abraham, God, and a lesson in prayer

Matthew 5:43-48 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Galatians 3:6-9 Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.” For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed. Genesis 18:16-33 Then the men set out from there, and they looked toward Sodom; and Abraham went with them to set them on their way. The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; so that the Lord may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” Then the Lord said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.” So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Again he spoke to him, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose...

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