In pm's words
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September 18, 2017, 7:46 AM

the one about noticing this new life...

Sermon from September 17, 2017

Text - Matthew 18: 21-35

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, forgiveness. It’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination. And, nothing is more frustrating than when someone else talks as if it is something incredibly easy. Jesus gets to be that individual today.

He’s asked by Peter about how much are we required to forgive someone. Peter even offers up a pretty reasonable number. Far greater than many would expect. More than enough times. Seven is a good number.

Yet, Jesus turns it around and gives him an answer that is so crazy that I can only imagine how much Peter stammered in amazement at hearing Jesus speak. Seventy-seven times. Or maybe seven times seven. Or perhaps seventy times seven times (not all translations are in agreement in the number Jesus gives). Truth be told, the exact amount is not important – it’s something else entirely that I think Jesus drives home in the parable, but we get lost in the details searching for it.

Let’s get the details out of the way.

Jesus’ parable tells the story of a king speaking to a person under his reign and command. This individual has a lot of debt. Specifically, a lot of debt to the king. In order to pay it off the king declares to sell not only everything this person owns, but everything that makes up this person’s life and being. His wife, his children, his possessions. It all must be sold.

The indebted person naturally and sincerely asks for forgiveness. And it is granted. This is a big deal. Ever consider how much debt this guy had? A talent in my research was the equivalent to 130 lbs. of silver that would take roughly 15 years to ‘work off.’ This guy owed the equivalent to 10,000 talents! 1.3 million pounds of silver. It would take 150,000 years to work off that debt.

It wouldn’t. It couldn’t be done.

The king forgives that debt. Wipes the slate clean. Sends this freed man off to a new life.

Then the newly freed man meets someone in the streets who owes debt to him – 100 denarii.

Now, many times we look at that number and think that it is such a piddly amount why couldn’t this guy forgive it. But, it’s not an insignificant amount. A denarius was roughly a day’s wage. Let’s compare that to today. $7.25 is the minimum wage in South Carolina. People roughly work about 8 hours/day (though, at this point in history they would probably work about 12-15 hours a day). Before taxes, that’s around $58, multiply that by 100; that’s $5,800.

I don’t know about y’all but, if someone owed me almost six grand I’d probably be a little upset with them. Maybe even unwilling to let that go. For me, as I assume for the man, $5,800 is a lot of money.

I think it is at this point that we get bogged down in the details. This man was forgiven an unfathomable amount of debt. Yet, when presented with a similar issue, he couldn’t be like the king.

Many times, we hear a sermon on this parable we receive a message about needing to be like the king in the story and not the unforgiving servant. But, I’m not so sure that that is even possible.

Peter and the newly freed from debt man do not do anything that any of us wouldn’t do. Peter gives a more than acceptable answer to how often one should forgive. When we know a little bit more about what is going on, we can begin to see why the servant is unwilling to forgive the debt someone has with him. Yet, still Jesus takes the story in a way that further emphasizes not only the goodness, but the new life that we have been given.

In this story, it isn’t so much that the unforgiving man is unwilling to release another from his debt. It’s that his life wasn’t changed by his own release from bondage.

This man received a once-in-a-life gift. His life is literally changed when his debt is forgiven. Not only does he no longer have to worry about that debt hanging over his head, he doesn’t have to live with the fear and worry of where his wife and children are. Not only has he been freed, but his family has been given this gift as well. Y’all, what the king did for this man and his family is huge. A literal new beginning.

So, it isn’t so much that this man is unwilling to forgive the debt from another. It isn’t so much that comparatively it is a much smaller (though not insignificant debt). It isn’t even that he can’t be like the king.

No, my sisters and brothers, the crux of this parable is that even after been given the greatest gift of his life that after he walks out those doors, his life hasn’t changed. It is as if he hasn’t even noticed.

We have been given – freely through the grace of God – that wonderful gift. We have been given that new life, that new clean slate. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have been set free. In our baptisms, our old life has died, and we have risen to this new, free, and gifted life from God.

A gift like that? It’s supposed to change us.

I know I talk about it a lot, but I really mean it when I say this. We don’t live a life of have to, we live a life of get to. We get to live this life because of what has already been given to us. This new life freed from the debt of sin and death.

This new life where because we have been given so much we get to go out and serve others. We get to help. We get to forgive. We get to worship. We get to pray. We get to live. All because of what God has already done for us.

That changes you. I think it should change you.

We live this live because we have been forgiven. So, does that mean we should forgive others? I think so. However, as we know, and I’ve already mentioned forgiveness isn’t easy. We live a life striving to love others in that way.

We don’t always succeed. We probably fail more often than we care to admit. Yet, still because of what God – what the king – has already done, we get to live a life that is freed from that worry of ‘what if?’ or ‘is this enough?’ or ‘have I done it right?’ The slate has been wiped clean. That burden has been removed.

We walk through those waters of baptism new people. We remember that a life of forgiveness is indeed possible because we have already been forgiven. We are loved. We are cared for. God has done it already.

In that free gift, we get to live a life of love, mercy, forgiveness, and acceptance. It isn’t always easy, we will continue to struggle, and we will not always succeed. But, we remember in that struggle what God has already done. Reminding us again and again that that the very possibility of forgiveness – again, whether God’s or ours – creates possibility: things do not always have to be the way they are. And I find that not only comforting, but uplifting and empowering.

The man in Jesus’ parable has been given a great gift, and he doesn’t even seem to notice. Know, see, and live into the gift you – we – have been given.

So, yes. The parable we read and hear today is about forgiveness. However, it just might be about more than that. Perhaps it is about getting to live a life that is profoundly changed and shaped because of the new life that we have already received from our God through Jesus Christ. Live this life as one where you notice that gift. When we live this life noticing that gift? Then we get to live this life of forgiveness with and for others. Amen.

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September 11, 2017, 8:54 AM

the one about Jesus being there...

Sermon from September 10, 2017

Text: Matthew 18: 15-20

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and savior Jesus who is the Christ! Will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, growing up there was a TV show that I enjoyed from time to time. It was a show that didn’t really make a whole lot of sense. It was a show that was advertised as being about nothing in particular. Just a group of friends who were normal and yet still, very different from others. This show of course is Seinfeld.

There is one part from that show that I continually laugh about and look back on – George Costanza’s dad’s ‘invented holiday’ of Festivus. Particularly the airing of grievances. Frank’s voice booming out around the table, “I’ve got a lot of problems with you people and now you’re going to hear about it!”

He then proceeds to unload all the little annoyances he has with his friends and family.

I thought of that moment when I read Jesus’ advice to his disciples on how to approach others who have sinned against them in some way.

Now, I don’t know if Jesus would agree with the process of Frank Costanza, but he might think he is at least near the right path.

For the past few years (and truthfully – far longer than that and far longer than we’d like to admit), we’ve been living in a world that is seemingly at ‘odds’ with one another. Or at least at odds with the idea of one another. We grumble; we complain about others and the things they’ve done. We fret about someone who espouses a view that is in line with more liberal or conservative viewpoints. To the point where those words have become derogatory labels.

But, there are other things that we grumble about too that are a little more personal. I can’t believe she didn’t tell me about that. He talked to you and not me! I thought we were friends. You’ll never guess what your mother said this time. Why does my brother keep doing this stuff – doesn’t he know how this affects me?

Don’t even get me started on the grievances aired within communities of faith. In my time in ministry they have ranged from valid criticisms in how a situation was handled to the complaints about how there weren’t enough Christmas hymns sung during Advent – even though what they asked the church to do was already being done. But don’t worry, that last one wasn’t here at Redeemer.

This morning, Jesus gives his disciples instructions on how to ‘air those grievances.’

As we begin to read the words of Jesus this morning, I believe we like to think he’d be more in line with Frank – just laying it all out there. Saying your words, venting your mind, getting it off your chest.

Though, the more I think about it, this has less to do with ‘airing grievances’ and more to do with repairing relationships and the body of Christ. Knitting back the torn fabric that is community.

When someone ‘sins against you’ or you’ve (whether you knew it or not) sinned against another in thought, word, or deed – it hurts. A lot. We’ve all been on the receiving end of those painful moments, and we’ve all been the one to dole out that sort of hurt to others.

There’s brokenness. There’s separation. There’s death.

It is hard to speak up during those times. I know – it is very difficult to do what Jesus is asking his disciples – asking us – to live into. I still have trouble and at times have neglected to heed Jesus’ words from our text this morning in some situations in my own life.

Our life of faith is about relationships. And they are hard. It takes work. Investment. Love. Sometimes lots of love. Yet, we still live into our relationships and live into our community.

Why? Because that is how we have been created. Not to be lone wolfs, walking solo in life. We are created to be with one another. To share in our joys, to grouse together in our laments. To be with each other. Being with one another is so important to our God, that God literally came down to be with us. To wade in the messiness of life.

Our Lord understands how important relationships are. Especially when you – as Jesus said in our reading last Sunday – take up your cross and follow him. When you live a life that is foolishly counter to the powers that be, you need others there with you. As much as the world wants to promote a life of ‘pulling us up by our own bootstraps’ it’s false.

We live, work, worship, and play with one another. We depend on each other. We need one another. We don’t do any of this – faith, work, life – alone.

As the storms ravaged over Houston and the surrounding areas, as we anxiously await what another massive storm might bring – we come together. Being present with each other during times of need. When a loved one dies; we come together to mourn. When a hurdle is finally eclipsed; we come together to celebrate. When the stress and business of life pulls us down; we depend on others to hold us up.

Jesus knows that we need one another – that we need him. And Jesus knows how quickly sin can separate us and cut us off from one another. Our Lord invites us – continually – into the difficult aspects of this life of faith. Boldly approaching one another, in our love for one another, to talk about difficult subjects. To share the hurt that others have caused us or that we -that you – have caused someone else.

We are commanded by Christ to have those conversations. And they aren’t fun.

Yet, even in those moments we are not left alone. For the one who came to be with us in the midst of this messy life of creation is indeed the one who is present in the middle of those messy conversations as well.

I find it interesting that we usually attribute ‘where two or three are gathered’ only to worship – and rightfully so. But, we hear Jesus speak those comforting and promise filled words not in the context of worship, but instead in the context of repairing relationships. In the context of having difficult conversations.

We gather together in love. To worship. To pray. To support. To serve. To be sent. We do all of that out of love. Knowing in those moments that even if only two or three are there – Jesus is right there too. Yet, we forget that we also gather in love to have difficult conversations as well. To confront one another in the sins we have committed and in those moments when we feel someone has sinned against us.

Jesus is there too. In fact, Jesus said he’d be right there. Right here.

So, maybe Jesus would agree with Frank Costanza. We’ve got problems with one another, and now we’re going to hear about it. But, we say it not to belittle, to undercut, or to show dominance over another. But, we ‘air our grievances’ with one another because of not only our love for each other, but our God’s love for each of us.

Community is important. We are the Body of Christ. Love. Talk. Serve. Jesus is there. Amen.


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September 4, 2017, 9:00 AM

the one about what it could look like...

Sermon from September 3, 2017

Text: Matthew 16: 21-28

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and lord Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, in just a few verses separating them, the bold Peter disciple is at first declared the rock on which the church will stand (because he voices the disciples’ proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah and Son of the Living God) and then is called a stumbling block that is impeding Jesus’ ministry.

Talk about whiplash, right?

How do you think Peter felt in those moments? I know how I’d feel. First incredibly humbled and honored to be spoken to in such warm and loving terms by Jesus. The admiration speaks volumes as Jesus changes his name to reflect the honor he has received. No longer Simon, you’re Peter now.

Then, incredibly hurt. Saddened. Overwhelmed. The same Lord who changed your name. Who gave keys to the kingdom because of the words you voiced for the group, is now telling you that ‘you’re in the way.’

For the life of me, I couldn’t remember a story that seemed similar in my own life. I don’t know if I’ve gone from the highest of highs, to the lowest of lows quite like that. I don’t imagine many have.

Yet, as a church – whether that be specifically as Redeemer here in Newberry, the SC Synod, the institution of church in the country, or even the vast church of the world – it can seem pretty normal. Where in one breath it can seem like God is giving praise and honor to the work that we do – caring for the poor, opening our hearts to those who’ve lost so much because of natural disasters in our country and around the world, walking with those who are systemically tossed aside and looked past.

Where we see so much good that the church does.

Then, the bottom can drop out. All those good words, actions, and intentions can fall flat when things start to get more specific. Lord, you can’t possibly be calling us to go there. Lord, I love you and so do my friends please don’t tell me that those people love you too. God, I give praise and honor to you all my life – as long as you understand that ‘all my life’ mostly consists of little over an hour one day a week.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Peter is a great disciple and a true model of faith for the church. He has done more good for the building and forming of faith than most. He occasionally put is foot in his mouth. In many ways, the church is very much like Peter. On a whole – throughout the different flavors of the church – she has done wonders and miracles in forming faith, spreading the gospel, and serving those in need. Yet, occasionally the people that spread her reach and love have put their collective feet in their mouths.

Why? What’s going on?

I think for Peter and for us as the modern and historical church – we don’t understand. We don’t understand fully what Jesus means for the world. We don’t understand fully the lengths to which Jesus will go to show love, grace, and mercy. We don’t understand that sometimes, many times, the lengths we go to live out Jesus’ radical hospitality and love can cost us so, so much.

Take Peter for example. For him and most practicing Jews at this time, they saw the messiah as a fearless warrior. The one who would come to vanquish the enemies of God. The fierce leader who in one fell swoop would conquer those who oppress the people of God. Would drive them out. Who would show them – one way or another – that the God of Israel was the one true God.

That messiah, the image of the messiah that Peter and many had in their minds, wouldn’t die. Or at least, wouldn’t die such a dishonorable way that Jesus alludes to in our text today. He couldn’t imagine that.

You’re going to ‘win’ by losing? Not even in a dignified way? But, suffering the atrocity of a death on a cross? No. It can’t be Jesus. You must be wrong.

Peter cannot understand because it doesn’t make sense. Remember last week when I mentioned that Jesus told Peter and the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the messiah? It’s because of things like this. They don’t understand.

The church too at times doesn’t understand. We barely understand (if that) what it means to be raised, what a victory over sin and death means for us. Sometimes we can be overcome with that sense of love and grace knowing that God has done that for us. But, when we are confronted by where that love can spread – where it’s just a little bit (or a lot of bit) wider than we thought previously – we can become just like Peter. Indignant, exasperated, a stumbling block.

Sometimes the words and actions of Jesus don’t make sense. We would be fools to think otherwise. No one from before the resurrection would think that through death you could bring life. There are many here now who have trouble comprehending it. Even I at times have trouble with it. It doesn’t make sense.

As one of my favorite preachers wrote this week, “It is no surprise that Jesus died.” Even his birth was so troubling because of the prophecies and noise surrounding it that King Herod slaughtered toddlers and younger in an attempt to quash the would be king.

It is no wonder that Jesus was killed because of his ability to be a constant and persistent thorn in the side of religious authority and the empire. Turning their words against them, proclaiming the love for the outcast and the ones pushed to the side. Empowering all in their identity as children of God – no matter who they are or where they’ve come from. Those are dangerous words to the powers-that-be.

How Peter couldn’t see that is beyond me.

When you think someone is the messiah, you think that in spite of all that mess – they’ll rise above it. They’ll end up victorious over their foes.

Yet, what Peter had difficulty understanding and in which we have difficulty with as well, was that God is going to do something very different. God is at work to do something very radical. The surprising thing, is not that Jesus died, it is that God raised Jesus from the dead. That the power of sin and death had no hold upon him.

He did rise above it, even if it was in a way that we couldn’t expect.

So, what would it look like my sisters and brothers – what would it look like if instead of holding close the abundance we have – we shared it with those in need? What would it look like if we sought forgiveness instead of vengeance when we’ve been wronged in a myriad of ways? What would it look like if we gave second chances after terrible first impressions or stereotypes we’ve heard throughout our lives?

What would it look like if we denied ourselves and took up our cross?

Sure, it’s a hard sell. It really is. Taking up our cross. Following the path and life of our messiah – the one who dies on the cross – is harder, more painful, and could possibly place you at odds with your neighbors – even your country. It could possibly cost you your life. So, what would it look like?

The world might change. It just might get fixed. I could be a kinder place.

I think in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, we’re seeing an inkling of what it might mean. The brothers and friends who go in search of those needing rescue and only two of the five return. The mother who gave her life so that her young child could survive the storm. The man who – with no knowledge or learned skills – became the leader of a shelter and helped people survive. Where the only reason he was there was because he dropped everything three months prior to take care of his dad. The countless pictures and stories shared of long lines – not to receive food, water, or shelter – but, to volunteer to help.

What would it look like…

All because we denied ourselves, and took up the cross. In the end it isn’t death, but it is new life we will find. New life for us, new life for the world, new life for the poor, the jerk, the widow, the proud, the humble, the lonely.

New life. Unexpected for sure. But, that’s what the resurrection brings. That’s what the resurrection has given us.

So, I ask again – what would it look like?

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September 1, 2017, 9:00 AM

September 2017 Newsletter

I have to admit. I was a little skeptical of the hype. I’d seen partial eclipses, I’ve looked through a pinhole viewer. I’ve even seen pictures of ‘totality’ on the internet and in books. Yet, still. Nothing could prepare me for what we were able to witness this past August 21st.

In the words of my daughter Ashleigh, “That was amazing.”

Throughout scripture we read the phrase, “…to fear and love the Lord…” It’s a phrase that we think we understand, but we just can’t quite wrap our minds around the concept. However, I think after viewing totality for those two and a half minutes, I’m beginning to get an inkling of what that might actually mean.

I was overcome with all sorts of emotions leading up to that moment and during it. Anticipation, a little worry, excitement. When I removed my eclipse glasses to view the moon completely blocking the son, I was overawed with emotion. My eyes watered and I couldn’t help, but think, “God’s creation is so freaking amazing. I too am a part of that.”

The same hands that intentionally fashioned me and all of you in the womb, the same one who knows every hair on our head, is the same one who put the earth in motion, who set the moon and sun in its place, who started the processes that lead to the beauty and bewilderment of a total solar eclipse. The same God who did all that is the same one who came to earth as flesh and blood, to share the Good News of God’s love for the world, who died, rose, and ascended in the victory over death on the cross. The same one who calls us to love and serve with and for one another.

Being witness to all of that myself was incredible. Being witness to that surrounded by thousands of people that are sharing in that moment? Words can’t begin to describe it all.

Y’all. Y’all. We’re in this together. We are surrounded by our brothers and sisters. We worship and give praise and thanks to God who loves and holds us all. All of us. Wow.

In that spirit of a ‘fuller’ body of Christ on Sunday, October 29th we will be worshipping with our neighbors for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. We will gather at Wiles Chapel at Newberry College at 10:30am. We will celebrate in that wonder of God who has fashioned us, continually re-forms us, and sends us out proclaiming God’s love, mercy, acceptance, and forgiveness to the world.

Mark it on your calendars. October 29, 2017 – 10:30am. It’s going to be great. No glasses needed. Just full hearts and serving hands.

August 28, 2017, 9:08 AM

the one about not telling...

Sermon from Sunday August 27, 2017

Text: Matthew 16: 13-20

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

So, whenever I read that verse (or the variations of it throughout Matthew and Mark’s gospels) I’m always taken aback a little. Why in the world would you want to hide that message? That’s good news, right? People are clamoring for the messiah – why wouldn’t they want to hear about it!

I usually joke that Jesus was just ahead of his time in modern psychology. The Messiah understands that the quickest way to get someone to do what you want is to tell them they can’t do it. And to be really stern in it.

But, after this week I began to think of it in another way.

This might prove difficult for us because of all the ways in which we do and can know things, but imagine 100 – 200 years ago. Or even further back, the same scenario will still hold true. Imagine living back then and telling people – listen to me. At the beginning of the week, in the middle of the afternoon, the moon is going to block the sun. It’s going to remain hidden for a few minutes. It’ll be wonderful.

Now, what do you think people are going to tell you?

Whatever. You’re full of it. Get behind me Satan! Call the doctor, Matt’s lost his marbles – again!

Even with the wonder of science, where we knew the eclipse would happen this past Monday, there were still those who doubted the significance and wonder of it. Would it really be worth all the fuss and hype?

I don’t know about y’all – I thought it was more than worth it. But, even I started to be skeptical about what 2 minutes and 34 seconds could really mean the closer the day of the eclipse approached. Even when I had a friend decide at almost the last minute to fly down from Boston to witness this even, I remember asking – you’re really going to spend that money to watch just under 3 minutes of darkness?

All those worries and doubts and skepticisms vanished the moment the sun was eclipsed by the moon in totality. Words cannot describe what I and what many of us saw. I was overcome with emotion – that I did not expect – when I removed my eclipse glasses and saw what looked like a portal into another dimension opened up where the sun should be.

It was mesmerizing, beautiful, and even a little scary. I even prayed in that moment – not for safety, but in thanks to God for what I was seeing. That the same one who fashioned me, who dug us from the quarry as Isaiah writes is the same one who put the celestial bodies of our universe in motion from the beginning of time millions of years ago in creation. The same one who does these beautifully amazing things is the same one who became flesh and blood on the earth out of deep and abiding love for the world and all of creation.

Throughout scripture we read the sentence to ‘fear and love’ the Lord. I think we always have a little trouble understanding that. It’s hard to wrap our minds around it. Yet, after the eclipse and viewing that amazing sight for just over two and half minutes, I think I have a better understanding (though not a complete one) of what fear and loving the Lord actually means.

So, I’m thinking about all this while reading that Jesus tells his disciples to not mention a word about who he is. And I got to thinking.

Until the eclipse happens – no one really knows exactly what it means to witness it. It’s hard to describe. Sure, we can detail and highlight what happens, the darkness creeping in, the 360-degree sunset, the corona being visible. But, no one can really describe how it feels to witness that. You’ve just got to experience it. To know it. To see it. Especially surrounded by loved ones and even friends who travel just over 900 miles to view 2 and a half minutes.

Jesus orders his disciples not to tell anyone that he is the Messiah. Why? Well, because Jesus’ life doesn’t make a whole lot of sense until after the resurrection.

Think about it. Until the resurrection – Jesus is very similar to many other holy people. Be good. Love one another. Serve God.

Sure, he threw in some distinct uniqueness – love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Eating, drinking, socializing, and showing love to the lowest in society. Elevating the least into equality with the ‘best.’ Enough ‘out there’ thoughts that pushed him and his friends to the fringes of traditional society and put them in the harsh glare of the religious authorities of his day.

In many ways, it is no wonder Jesus orders the disciples not to tell others about who he really is. They won’t understand – you won’t really understand – until after the victory over sin and death. We see that failed understanding play out in the gospels. Even bold Peter – the one who speaks on behalf of the disciples, “You are the Messiah, the son of the Living God!” is going to be the one who will deny him three times.

Yet, the church is built on those words – that confession. It is in that proclamation – You are the Messiah, the son of the Living God – where the church stands on solid rock. It is in those words that the keys to the kingdom of heaven are given.

But, until the resurrection, no one is going to be able to even comprehend those words. They don’t make sense. They won’t fully understand. But, but… they’ll experience it. They’ll see it. They’ll know.

You’ll know. Even people you wouldn’t expect – they’ll know. The Canaanite woman, the Centurion at the cross, and more.

I didn’t quite know what to expect before the sun was blocked out by the moon. Yet, in that moment – I knew God’s wonderful and beautiful handiwork was there. I knew that even Ieven each of us – am a part of that great creation that God set forth in motion.

We proclaim the resurrection of our Lord. Now seems like as good a time as any to tell. Now seems like a good a time as any to live into that faith and live out that love. Amen.

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August 21, 2017, 9:00 AM

the one about staying in the conversation...

Sermon from August 20, 2017

Text: Matthew 15: 21-28

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, most weeks you hear me say something to the effect of, “Oh wow – this is a great little text. I really love it.” I love the texts I get to preach in the lectionary we use. They are filled with subtle and direct ways in which the kingdom of heaven is here among us and how we can and do participate in its continued growth and love. Out of the entire three-year lectionary, I can honestly say that almost every gospel lesson is wonderful. Each text is an opportunity for our Lord to teach us how to be in the kingdom of God. Almost every single one. Except, perhaps, the gospel reading we have today.

I dread this particular Sunday every three years. This text where we see and hear Jesus say some disturbing things to a foreign woman. How he and the disciples openly dismiss this woman in their midst. She’s labeled a dog by our Lord.

During this time, there were those who were ‘in’ and those who were ‘out.’ As with any culture, it was hard to earn respect and love from those around you, but it was incredibly easy and quick to be put on that ‘other’ list. Woe be to the ones who were born into a group that the ‘majority’ deemed less than.

That’s the Canaanite woman. Or as she is called in the other gospel where this story occurs (Mark), the Syrophoenician Woman. She was an ‘other.’ Outside the Jewish faith. A Gentile of Gentiles.

Yet, she knew who Jesus was. She knew who Jesus was called to be. She knew what Jesus proclaimed. She knew she was a part of that too. It seems that she knew Jesus’ mission was more than Jesus knew his mission to be.

After the events of last weekend in Charlottesville there has been a call by many for pastors and others in leadership roles to publicly denounce the views of white supremacists, Nazis, and more.

I continue to do that. I denounce with every fiber of my being those who espouse that a person is ‘superior’ to another based on the color of their skin, the faith they practice, or the life they live. No. That’s not how the kingdom of heaven works. That’s not how any of this works. As I said last week in my sermon, there’s no room for that kind of belief in the life of the Christian.

Imagine my own heartbreak and difficulty this week when in the context of the events of Charlottesville I read these words of Jesus to this Canaanite woman. It doesn’t sound good. It doesn’t put Jesus in a good light. I think Jesus is wrong here.

Where in the world does one begin to find good news here in this text?

So, I took a closer look at this woman. Reading more intensely what she says and how she acts.

She calls upon Jesus. She knows he can heal her daughter, and by golly – he is going to heal her daughter. Because that’s what Jesus does for those who call upon him.

He ignores her.

She cries and shouts so much that the disciples plead that he do something to this woman because she’s really annoying. Always bringing up her sick kid. We don’t got time for that! We’ve got important things to do Lord. Do something and quiet her.

He speaks over them.

Yet, still. The woman with a child in need persists. She stays in the conversation even though up this point, only she has been participating in it in any meaningful way.

When Jesus enters the conversation? Wow. What a PR disaster. He completely dismisses her and the people she’s from. It’s not ‘fair’ to the people he’s called to.

Yet, she persists. She stays in the conversation. She reasons with him and even challenges his own views.

Jesus changes his mind.

Jesus changed his mind.

Because of the persistence of a foreigner, a disenfranchised individual, a woman – Jesus changes his mind.

Because of HER great faith. The woman’s daughter is healed. She receives blessing from the Son of David.

She stays in the conversation. She insists that others are going to hear her plea, her cry. She persists in the need for others – for Jesus – to see her. To see her as a person and not as a label.

I think of her persistence as I hear and see vicious words being spewed back and forth from so many people with chasm wide opposite views on so many subjects and issues. Sadly, the response I see most often when people disagree is, ‘fine, I’ll have nothing to do with you then. I’m not going to talk to you anymore.’ Well, at least we agree on that!

Stepping out of the conversations. Ceasing our voice to be heard. Removing ourselves from discourse doesn’t change anything. In order for love to win out – and I believe with every ounce of who I am that love will win out – it must be shown. The only way for love – the faithful love that Christ calls us to participate in – can be shown is to continue to be in relationship and conversation with those that we disagree with.

And that’s hard. That’s difficult. I don’t enjoy listening to people who advocate racist, Islamophobic, or homophobic views. I don’t enjoy speaking with those who completely dismiss another because of their political affiliations or religious beliefs. It’s not fun, at all. But, I persist. I want to have the conversation. Because only by talking with and interacting with one another can we bring about the change we desire and (with God’s help) grow the kingdom of heaven.

But, there is something that is even more difficult to come to terms with as well. For as much as I feel that I and others need to be persistent in our desire for others to hear; it is that sometimes even I am resistant to hear. Where someone must be persistent with me so that I can see, and hear, and know, and change.

We don’t quit the conversation. Even, when like the disciples, we think that it is annoying and that we are being ‘badgered.’ People keep bringing up that issue. We continue in the conversations and relationships. Standing firm in our faith that God calls us to love. But, recognizing at times that others might be speaking to us so that we too might see where we need to change to fully live into the faithful love we proclaim and share.

I read of an experience recently shared on Instagram and it is one of those real-life stories that makes you say “Yes, let’s be that in the world.” It comes from an individual whose username is ‘confessionsofamuslimmom.’ She shared a story about a conversation she had on an airplane.

She sat next to a tall, white, middle-aged man. Throughout the course of the flight, they talked and their conversation touched upon many subjects – including how his father was a card-carrying member of the KKK in Virginia.

He asked her, “Do you think people can change?” She said that she absolutely believes people can change. Everyone has that capacity.

He went on to tell her that his brother married a woman from one of the Carolinas. A woman who had grown up surrounded by black people. She even went to a predominately black church, which soon his brother started to attend as well.

When his father saw how his son had changed; he was happy. He even said, “I want to go to your church.” Unsurprisingly, this man and his brother were a bit hesitant about where this conversation could go. They know who their father was and what sorts of things he believed. They also knew that his values were not shared by either of them. Still, the son gave a tentative ‘sure’ to his dad.

Sometime soon, their father attended the church with his son’s family. And loved it. He even remarked that, “you really feel something there.”

She goes on to reflect that she couldn’t stop the conversation that was going on in her own head the whole time. That apparently, this man grew up surrounded by hate. And yet, he sat there with her talking to her with no hesitation. Treating her as fully human. If he held any bias against her because of her gender, faith, color, or religion he absolutely didn’t show it.

As they got off the plane and said their goodbyes, she began to think about that father’s relationship with his sons. Though they didn’t share his values, they didn’t leave him. They didn’t abandon him. They kept trying, insisting, nudging him even as they grew old themselves to change.

People can change. But, that chance and opportunity to change greatly diminishes when we leave them. When we push them away.

The Canaanite woman stayed in the conversation. In her insistence she changed the seemingly unchangeable. The doors opened. The ministry spread. The kingdom of heaven is that much more full.

If this man can change, if our Lord can change, surely, we too can change and be changed in God’s persistent and overflowing love. If we stay in the conversations and relationships, with God’s help we can change others as well. Amen.

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August 13, 2017, 1:44 PM

the one about Jesus being here in the midst of it...

Sermon from August 13, 2017

Text: Matthew 14: 22-33, 1 King 19:9-18

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, this is our second week of miracles and this is a big one, right? Jesus walks on the water! But, I noticed something this week. We focus on the spectacular and miraculous of this story (as this part of Matthew’s gospel is titled Jesus walks on Water), but have you ever noticed that this particular part of the story really isn’t about Jesus walking in a way that others can’t.

Sure, it’s a big deal, especially when Peter asks to walk out to Jesus as well. Peter tries, which seems like par for the course for this great disciple, he doesn’t quite make it.

But, when we focus on just Jesus walking on the water, we lose sight of other stuff – important and faithful stuff – that is going on as well.

This story occurs immediately after the feeding miracle we heard last week. Jesus sends the disciples back on the boat. He’ll catch up. Finally, Jesus is able to venture off alone to the mountain to pray, reflect, and possibly mourn the death of John the Baptist (it’s what he was trying to do before he was sidetracked by the crowds).

During this time and evening with Jesus on the mountain, the sea becomes rougher as the wind picks up and pushes the boat further from the coast. Then Jesus descends from the mountain early the following morning. He sees the boat and walks out there. No big deal (yeah right).

The disciples see him – they see someone – and they’re taken aback, afraid even. Jesus assures them that it is he, and then Peter calls out to the Lord to command him to walk on the waves as well. Alright, come on then.

Peter begins, but he is soon overcome with fear because of the wind and the waves. As he begins to sink down, Peter cries out and Jesus reaches out and grabs him. He’s safe.

Jesus gets in the boat, the wind stalls, and the disciples proclaim him to be the Son of God.

Quite a bit of action in this short little pat of Matthew’s gospel.

Since it is another miracle story we know well, we just go from point A to point B because we’ve done it before. Kind of like when you’re driving home from work – the same route you’ve taken for years – and there’s that one time that you don’t really remember driving it. You know you left your office, and then you were at your home. It’s scary when those things happen – because you missed out and looked past all those other ‘familiar’ sights.

So, the temptation here is to misremember the timeline. There’s the storm, Jesus calms it, and walks on the water. And then talks to the disciples.

Except, that’s not really how it happened. Throughout this whole story, the winds don’t cease until after Jesus gets back in the boat.

I think that’s pretty significant. Especially as it pertains to our lives of faith.

In this part of Matthew’s gospel, in this little sliver of life and faith that we see of Jesus – our wind doesn’t cease until after the disciples know they’re safe.

Think about it. When life is a storm, rocking away, what’s the one thing we pray, hope, and yearn for? If you’re like me its that the seas stop crashing, the wind dies down, and the boat of life floats in calm waters.

I think that might be what the disciples were wanting too. Especially with the added drama and fear of someone walking out where they shouldn’t be. That can be scary.

In the middle of choppy sea of life, as the seas foam and the wind blows, we just want the storm to cease and the winds to die down. Then Lord, walk to us so that you can help us.

I had planned at this point to write something about the beginning of school and to preach about the storms those new beginnings can bring. But after the events of yesterday in Charlottesville, VA. I don’t think I can anymore.

We live life now within choppy waters. The seas rage and the winds blow. Evil rises up. Fears heighten. We saw that come to fruition yesterday as a young man, distorted in his views about people different from him, drove his car into them. Something that we have seen happen in other parts of the world, but it happened here. Just a half a day’s drive from Newberry.

There is a temptation to only speak once things have died down. To only speak while looking back and saying that it was wrong and despicable. But, the storm is out there now as it rages and the winds blow. We are called in our faith, called out by Christ to speak against the things that we saw and read about from yesterday.

We yearn for those calm waters so that we might speak. We yearn for that time of tranquility to talk as we look back together and agree with one another that this was of course sinful. That it is wrong and evil to disparage someone - to hate someone - because of the color of their skin, the faith they believe, the ideology they identify with, or the life they live. That it is wrong to have such radicalized thoughts in your heart that you seek to hurt, to maim, to even murder others, other children of God.

It is in those moments, as the storms rage within our souls about whether we should speak – be it from the pulpit, your cubicle, on the golf course, at the restaurant, or out on the streets – it is in those moments, that we remember that Christ is right there with us. Our Lord has indeed stretched out those merciful hands and holds us tight so that we know we are not sinking down.

It is right and faithful of us to say – This isn’t what God desires. At all. This isn’t what Jesus calls us towards. As we prepare to speak out against such hateful views that storm and those rising waters strike fear into our hearts. We don’t want to ruffle feathers. We don’t want to ‘get political’ or talk about ‘race.’

There is even temptation to just move our little boat out of those waters and find calmer seas. Pulling ourselves away from that turmoil. To just ignore and look past.

But, we can’t. Not anymore.

We remember that Jesus is right there. Standing firm in resolve as we speak definitively and defiantly against those who distort the Gospel truth. Who speak ill and seek to harm and hurt those who are different from their experience of life.

As hard as it is to comprehend, we also remember that Jesus stands with those who seek harm, speak hateful words, and act out terrible and evil plans. Not hurling the same rhetoric. Not participating in the same monstrous deeds. But, reminding us that we are indeed called to love and pray for our enemies and those who persecute us.

Yet, I know that loving someone doesn't have to mean we cannot speak firmly in opposition to their views. Loving someone doesn't mean I can't stand in the way of hate while protecting those that are being attacked. Loving someone doesn't mean I let them 'get away' with any of the things that they say or do that are against Jesus' call to love those around us.

In the life of the Christian - there is NO ROOM for the sort of violence (physical, verbal, visual, and spiritual) that were shown in the streets of Charlottesville. No. Room. At. All. That's not what Jesus stood for in any way shape or form. In our love, we say no.

The waves rise and the wind continues to push against the boat.

Our cry and our prayer during those times is for the storm to stop. The waves to calm. The wind to stall.

Lord, just calm the storm around me so that I can know you’re with me. Make all this stuff around me disappear so I know you’re here.

I noticed in this text that all of this is happening as the waves still rise and crash and the wind still blows. The wind is strong enough to distract Peter as he walks out to Jesus. Distracts him enough that his fear begins to overwhelm him and he begins to be surrounded by the waves.

Yet, the one he thought was so far off, was right there. Reaches out and grabs him. Lifts him up and places him in the boat. His presence calms the disciples there as well. He’s right there. He’s with them. The storm around them might ‘rage,’ but the storm within them is calmed. They know they are safe.

Then, and only then do the winds cease. Do the waters calm. Does the boat become still.

I thought of that stillness as I read our text from 1 Kings. Where God was not in the fire, the storm, or the earthquake – all the places one would expect to find God. Instead God was present in the calm and the sound of sheer silence. That was the holy place in which Elijah stepped out to speak from the cave.

That calm stillness – in the midst of the storm – because we know that God is there. Because we know that Christ is present. The one who reaches out and grabs us.

I like to think that Peter didn’t get very far on the water. Mostly because Peter was known for biting off more than he could chew and falling spectacularly in his faith. Jesus was ‘far off’ enough that they thought him to be a ghost, nevertheless the one who grasps him in the waters was right there. Firm and strong to raise him up and place him back in the boat.

As we look out into the life we live; a life with all its waves, wind, and more – we have faith that Jesus is present with us in the midst of it all. Calming us to see and know our Lord within the stillness and silence of ourselves. Where that prayer changes from, “Lord calm the seas and wind so that I can know you’re here.” to “Lord, I know your calm and peace is here within me so that I can venture through these waters.”

Remember, Jesus is here. Jesus reaches out to hold you in his grasp. Reminding you again and again that though the seas may rage – and do they ever rage – that you are not alone. You are not abandoned.

Jesus is here as we speak out against groups like the KKK, Nazis, and the alt-right. Jesus is here with you as you speak a loving NO to those who try to disparage, rail against, or harm another through words and actions simply because of their skin, faith, country of origin, or life.

Jesus reaches out to calm us all in the midst of the storms. Jesus is in that calm. That calm that those hands are holding you firmly and tightly. That’s the sheer silence of peace. God indeed is present with you. Present with us. Amen.

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August 7, 2017, 9:00 AM

the one about that feeding

Sermon from August 6, 2017

Text: Matthew 14: 13-21

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ; will y’all pray with me? Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen!

So, this is one of those stories that almost everyone knows. Jesus performing the miracle of feeding the vast multitudes of people gathered around him. I’d say its Jesus feeding the more than 5000 simply because it appears the tellers of this story only counted the men.

Miracles are pretty special and interesting aspects of our faith life and our lives in general. When we think of miracles we can think of a whole host of things that can fit that description.

Some would say that having young children and getting them awake, fed, cleaned, dressed, out the door and to church (or wherever) on time is a miracle in and of itself.

There are even those who look to incredibly exciting moments in the shared experiences of others as ‘miracles’ too. Like when Clemson won the National Championship with one second left in the game or for Texas Rangers fans like me when a former catcher - Benji Molina (not a little guy by any measure) hit for the cycle (hitting a single, double, triple, and a homerun in a single game) against the Red Sox at Fenway Park a few years ago.

There are those who have been diagnosed with a disease or some sort of potentially life-threatening ailment – like cancer or other serious foreign ‘things’ within their bodies – and the next time they have a check-up that ‘thing’ is gone.

Some will even say that a miracle is just what you spread on your sandwich to make it taste better.

Yet, as we encounter this miracle in Matthew’s gospel, I’m not sure we always notice where the miracle actually takes place. When we tell this story – or have heard this story told and interpreted – we usually hear about how the miracle is in the actual feeding. Look at how many people Jesus fed! 5000 people were fed – just like that! Even more than 5000 since women and children (unfortunately) weren’t included in the count.

It is wonderful and amazing that Jesus in this miracle was able to feed those who gathered around him in that remote place so that they could hear what he had to say and be healed by him. Yet, when we focus strictly on the feeding, we might lose sight as to what Jesus actually did. As it seems with every story involving Jesus, there is actually much more to this story than we might have thought before.

We’ve heard the stories about the five loaves and two fish. This particular account of the feeding miracle is significant because of how the disciples approach Jesus before the miracle takes place.

Now, a lot of places within the wilderness desert land of Israel are pretty ‘remote.’ Way more ‘out there’ than any place here in South Carolina. Probably a lot closer to the ‘remoteness’ of driving through Texas where I was last week. Jesus after hearing about John the Baptist’s death heads out to a deserted place to be alone – perhaps to mourn, reflect, and pray, but the people catch wind of where he is and follow him and gather around him. He doesn’t push them away or continue to find a place away from the masses. Instead, he was moved with compassion. He heard their stories and he healed them where they needed to be made whole – which is almost a sermon in and of itself, but for another day.

I imagine the hour becomes late and the disciples are getting tired and grumpy. Maybe the onset of being ‘hangry’ is nigh. They don’t want to be responsible for all these people who will need to eat - soon. Sure, it is what good hosts would do – feed the people in their midst and essentially under their care. But, that’s way more do-able with 10 people than it is with 50 or more; almost impossible with over 5000. They come to Jesus and ask that he ‘send the crowds’ away so that they – the crowds – can go and eat. It’s a long walk back to town; we’re spent, tapped out. We don’t have anything to give them.

Jesus just asks, “Well, what do you have to eat?”

Their reply, “Not much – just this little bit of bread and fish.”

“I can work with that, tell the people to sit…”

When have you been at those times where you’re tapped out and dried up? When you feel like you have almost nothing else to give? Or that what you are able to give is almost nothing compared to what you feel you need or want to give?

The disciples are in that spot – it isn’t so much that they don’t want to help. They just feel like they don’t have the ability to help. What they have to offer wouldn’t be enough. Too small. Too little. Too late.

I believe that this is the sense that the greater church is feeling now. As we continue to hear about the shrinking numbers, the dried-up faith, the apparent ‘moral decay,’ the multitude of stories insisting ‘it didn’t used to be this way.’ We – as the church – are like the disciples coming to Jesus and saying, “this is all we’ve got… it isn’t much… probably more of an insult to offer this than nothing at all.”

Have y’all experienced something similar to that before in your own lives? Those times when you truly feel almost spent? Where you feel this way as you’ve approached the ministry within the church, in your relationships, at your job, in the community, among your family? Where you feel that whatever you have to offer is nothing compared to what you feel like you need to offer?

We can’t do anything about it; we don’t have anything here, but some older folks and a few kids.

We can’t do anything about it; we don’t have anything here, but enough money to pay the bills.

We can’t do anything about it; we don’t have anything here, but, but, but, but . . .

How often has a thought like that rolled through your mind the past few years? We don’t have thing here, but…

Yet, Jesus’ response is – bring them here or I can work with that.

Whatever we have to give Jesus – to give to God – no matter how small we might think it is, it can be used. Not only can God use what we offer, but God can do great things with just even a little bit of what we can bring.

God has, does, can, and will use what we bring to be used. We open and share what we have so that God might be able to use it. We offer it freely and without obligations/restrictions. We give of ourselves – our talents and skills. We give of our time – re-prioritizing what we devote to so that we continue to look towards and serve our God. We give of our treasure – seeing that what we have can and will be used to help spread the Word of God and enrich the Kingdom of Heaven. We may not be where Redeemer once was in years past (and almost every congregation can share a similar story), but that doesn’t mean God can’t still use what we have to offer – use us as sisters and brothers in Christ, use us as Redeemer, use us as the ELCA, use us as Christians speaking to the world – God can and does use that which we bring to do great things. And with that little bit, Jesus gathers it up, blesses it and watches it grow.

The disciples brought to Jesus barely enough food to feed themselves – yet Jesus uses what they had to offer – a meager meal – and was able to do something pretty fantastic. Miraculous we say.

What we offer and bring to God to be used in the world seems pretty small – words of encouragement, a little bread, a little wine, a splash of water, a helping hand, a few dollars here and there – but God can and does use that to bring about miracles in everyday life.

The person who hears they are loved...

The person who gets a little food…

The person who receives a few bucks for gas…

What we might be able to offer may be small – but God can do miracles with even that.

As one of my favorite sermon writers wrote once.

The kingdom of heaven is like – a tiny mustard seed that turns into a tree that grows big enough for a bird to roost in.

The kingdom of heaven is like – leaven that a woman puts in the dough and the bread rises and rises and rises.

The kingdom of heaven is like – Jesus taking loaves and fishes and turning them into a feast that knows no end.

The kingdom of heaven is like – a congregation of Christians bringing all they are and all they have to Jesus, and being ready to be a part of the amazing new things God will do through them. Amen.

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August 1, 2017, 9:00 AM

August 2017 Newsletter

Grace and peace y’all!

As you read this I’m probably somewhere in Texas having a good time with my family as we visit my dad in Dallas. We’ll be going to Six Flags, a Texas Rangers game, touring AT&T Stadium (where the Dallas Cowboys play), and who knows what else. I’m really looking forward to it.

Some might say, “Now wait a minute, he just got time off…” And you’d be right. I did just have a lovely and wonderful time away with my family in the mountains of North Carolina and at the beach along the SC coast. It was a great opportunity for rest.

Here’s the thing – we all need rest. Even Jesus sought rest from the ministry in which he was involved. There are numerous texts telling us where Jesus ‘withdrew’ from the crowd in order to pray/rest.

Rest is even built into our lives as people of faith as it is written that even God rested on that seventh day of creation. In the Ten Commandments, we are called to acknowledge the sabbath and keep it holy. A part of our faithful living is finding time to take a break.

Rest. Sabbath. Time away. We all need it. We live in a world that is constantly on the go. I recently read on article about a CEO who – as a test – will send texts or e-mails to prospective employees late Friday night or early Sunday morning, just to see how long it takes them to respond. The reason for this test; the CEO works all the time and expects their employees to at least be thinking about work even while they are a way from work.

I don’t believe that’s healthy and I don’t believe that is the sort of life that Christ has called us into.

When you’re bone tired and dragging you’re not being faithful to yourself nor are you being faithful to those around you. You cannot be the best and most faith-filled parent, child, spouse, friend, or even employee when you’re running on fumes. We can’t work non-stop. We are not created to be that way.

When we rest we, when we take a brief moment to ourselves, we give thanks for what God has already given to us. Our selves, our gifts, our life. We gain that energy to continue to do wonderful and faithful work in our lives because we can take a moment and be with those around us.

So, take a break. Put the phone down. The e-mails can wait. Rest in the life that God has given you. Be filled again with that life and love of the work you get to do in and for God through your family and your vocation.

Jesus invites us into rest (Mark 6:31), take heed and follow. Rest, be filled, so that you can get back to the work God has called you into. Amen.

July 17, 2017, 9:00 AM

the one about God being at work...

Sermon from Sunday July 16, 2017

Text: Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, the parable we hear this morning is another popular one. There’s a farmer throwing out seed and caution to the wind. As the farmer walks down the path, the seed falls on the ground, falls in not-so-great places, and some even finds its way into good soil.

I’ve had the opportunity to talk about this parable with those in my ministry who are way more agriculturally capable than I am. We have blueberry bushes in our yard that are producing a small yield and I’m just surprised that they haven’t died yet. But, when I have talked about this particular parable to those who farm, they get a little put-off by these words of Jesus.

Why? Because the farmer in this story isn’t very good at being a farmer. The farmer really doesn’t know what he or she is doing. Just walking around and throwing seed everywhere. Not really caring about what’s going on, just making sure the seed gets out, not minding that a lot of the seed isn’t going to produce – at all. Sure, there’s a lot of luck that goes into producing a good harvest, but those who farm use their skills and gifts to maximize that opportunity to produce from their fields.

It’s made me wonder a bit about how I’ve preached this text before. In the past, I would focus on the joyous spreading of the Word of God. The farmer – who I typically identify as God in this story – is out there spreading that seed no matter what. Indiscriminately tossing the seed and spreading the Word to every place on this earth. That there is so much that it just overflows and falls in all the places of the world.

Of course, what does that mean for the particular seed – those that hear the Word who receive it on the ‘paths, rocky places, and thorny areas’ of life? When I step back a bit, it sounds like there isn’t a whole lot of hope there. The Word of God is going to spread, but you might not be able to hear it. So, tough. I didn’t preach about that, but that is kind of the unsaid implication.

God’s gonna spread the word whether you can hear it or not, and if you don’t? Well… it might not be good.

That’s not the most embracing, fulfilling, and live-giving type of message to deliver.

But, what I do love about this indiscriminate spreading of the Word of God is that it never runs out. The farmer in Jesus’ parable never worries about that outcome because it won’t happen. The farmers that I know are some of the most deliberate and focused individuals that I’ve met. They have to be. You have a finite amount of seed, so you’re going to plant in such a way to maximize what is going to (hopefully) happen. There will be seed that doesn’t take, there will be seed that gets ‘snatched’ away, there will be seed that doesn’t produce. It happens in every field. So, you better be deliberately careful about where you plant and how you take care of that field so that the field might produce.

As I have continued to think about this parable I ask myself a question that I hope we all ask when we hear any parable from Jesus’ lips; where would I be in this story?

Most of us will say – I’m the good soil. I’ve heard, I’ve grown, I’ve produced. And there’s gospel in that as well because the seed that finds good soil produces in different ways. Jesus doesn’t compare and cast shade at the seed that produces thirty-fold. He doesn’t place the one that has produced a hundred-fold on a higher level. Jesus mentions that the seed produces and that is good.

But, if I’m really being honest about where I see myself in this parable, I think I can find myself in the ground itself. All of it. I’ve been on the path – heard the word and just moved on. I’ve been in the rocky ground and been overcome by the goodness of the Spirit and Word, but when tragedy and hard times struck, I withered away. I’ve been in among the thorns, where I heard the word yet, because of the draw and lure of life and sin of the world, I turned away from what the Word is trying to tell me.

Sometimes I even find myself in good soil, I hear and take heart, I produce in the ways that need to be as I help and contribute to the spreading of God’s word to the world.

Throughout my life, I’ve been in all those places. More often than not, I’ve been in all those places in a week, a day, an hour.

We find ourselves in each of those places – the path, the rocky ground, among the thorns, and in good soil – throughout our life. We may even venture into one type of ground more often than we should.

The grace, beauty, and good news of this day is that no matter what – God is still spreading that abundant word. It doesn’t run out. It never dries up. It doesn’t end. Ever.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we should just stay in the places that aren’t good for us. We should strive to make our lives and hearts good soil. Surrounding ourselves in the community of God, seeking to find and know God in scripture, prayer, the sacraments, worship, and more. Remembering each day that God has indeed claimed us in the waters of our baptism, filled us with the bread and wine – the body and blood of our Lord. Where we are indeed sent out into the world to care and serve because of what God has already done and continues to do.

In caring for these blueberry bushes this past year, I learned something. As hardy as a plant as it is – and it is pretty resilient. Doing even a little bit to care for that seed and plant can do amazing things. A little water, a bit of turning soil, adding some fertilizer. It’s amazing what just a little can do. It’s not overflowing in its produce this year, but it’s produce. When that first blueberry popped up and turned dark blue I was overjoyed. There was only one fruit on there, but man did I and my family celebrate.

So too does God celebrate when we produce in the Word of God. When we grow. When we share. When we invite. When we step out of our comfortable boxes and walk into the radical life that Christ calls us into.

No matter where you are in life – God is speaking to you. God is speaking to us. God is speaking to the world. Sometimes we hear it. Sometimes we might ignore it for something a little flashier. Yet, God continues to speak. Working and living together, we can help make our lives like good soil so that the Word God spreads – spreading through the work of others and even our own work – takes root in our hearts and produces rich and wonderful fruit. God celebrates that – even if it is just a little blueberry. Amen.

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