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the sermon for

the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

16 July 2017

Matthew 13:1-9 , Matthew 13:18-23
The church exists to love... and to love... and to love...

07162017I have to tell you, as I was reading through the gospel, again, this week, it felt just like meeting an old friend after a long, long absence! Some of you might remember... it was this particular handful of verses that provided the foundation for our transformation, our renewal, as a congregation, nearly a decade-and-a-half ago. Sowing the Seeds of a New Creation! That became our mission statement, of sorts. That and those three ears of wheat. For an entire year we ruminated together on this parable. For council devotions. In sermonitos, as we called children's sermons. Monthly reflections in the newsletter. We, even, planted a patch of wheat our by the well house and watched it grow. Then, we harvested it. Just outside the front doors, we threshed it! And for the next year or so, we used it to make bread for communion. And the reason was rooted right here... in the thirteenth chapter of Matthew.

The lesson we learned, after all was said and done... Faith – church – isn't something we construct or manufacture. It's something that's cultivated, grown! We learned a lot that year. I learned a lot. And what we learned still inspires us. And after all this time, here we are, again...

A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

The gospel of the Lord! Praise to you, O Christ! And naturally, Matthew makes it all about us! Our hearing! Our understanding! Our receiving! Our enduring! Our falling away! What the seed yields, what the field produces, is, ultimately, up to us! And the parable becomes more a fable and the moral at the end of the story is simple: Be the good soil! Be the good soil! But this time through, the thing that came to mind is that sometimes, sometimes not even good soil bears fruit! Not even thirtyfold!

Now I know that Midland and Odessa are oil towns! Here, petroleum is king! But there's enough farming going on around us that we should know by now... Some years, the harvest is good! Other years not so much! Sure, there are paths! And yes, there's rocky soil. But there are years when the good soil just isn't much better! Just think about the drought we went through. Only now are we beginning to turn green, again. There were a few years when the fields were empty and the gins went silent. Farmers planted! Sowers went our to sow! But nothing! The good soil brought forth little if anything! Years with no rain! Years when it rained too much! Years when it rained at the wrong time! Add to that hail! Weevils! And each time, every time, when something like that happened, there was only one alternative... Plant, again, next year! Plant, again, next year and hope that, this time, the harvest came!

You see, it's just not about the dirt! It's not just about the soil, the earth! It's about the rain and the sunshine and the warmth of the ground! And the magic, the miracle, is that when it all comes together, when the conditions are just right, life happens! Life happens and the seeds has the chance to do what seeds do! Sprout! And grow! And flower! And bear fruit! That's why the parable's called the parable of the sower and not the parable of the soils! What matters, what's important, is the one who plants the seeds! The sower and the seeds themselves!

Of course, Jesus' primary concern wasn't agriculture. It wasn't farming. It was faith and hope and love. Especially the love! Free, unearned, undeserved! Without limit and without measure! Love with without beginning! And love without end! But whether agriculture or love, the lesson is the same. There are times the seed doesn't have a chance to fall into the earth. And there are times when it's scorched and whither, scorched and wilt. And there are times when it's choked by the weeds. But none of that means that there's something wrong with the seed! That somehow, it's faulty, defective. Given the right time and the right place, it WILL sprout and it WILL grow and it WILL bear fruit! After all, that's what it was made to do! It's the parable of the sower! The parable of the seed! And if, for some reason, that seed doesn't do what we expect, when we expect, we'll do what farmers, what sowers, have done for millennia... we'll, simply, sow it, again, next season! We'll do it all over, again, in the certain and the sure!

Unfortunately, we're living in a time when it appears that the gospel is broken. The church is shrinking. Getting smaller. Grayer. And after a generation or two, we're starting to worry. Starting to panic. But stop and think. It's pretty naïve to think that this is the end! Pretty naïve and pretty arrogant. To think that after all this time – after two thousand years, a hundred generations – that the church has never been confronted by challenges like this! But we form praise bands. We come up with Jesus jingles. Put together PowerPoint presentations. Chase after the latest gimmicks and fads. We grab at one straw after another trying to find the solution to our problem. But what if...

What if there isn't a problem? What if this is just the way it is? An off year? For now? I learned, early on, in my time in Lubbock, that every year isn't a bumper crop of cotton. In fact, if they have a good harvest every five or six years, they're satisfied! What if it's the same for the church? What if it isn't always a hundredfold... or half of that... or half of the half... It's still a harvest! The seed does what is was always meant to do! And in spite of the outcomes, we do what we were meant to do... We sow... and we sow... and we sow... and we keep on sowing...

In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given...

In the name of Father, Son, and Spirit...

Given and shed for you and for all...

We know god loves... always... forever... And we know that droughts never last! A couple or so years back, Lyne Brown – you might remember her – graduated from UTPB and a friend hosted a party for her. Well, there was a woman from Russia at the party. Just passing through. And when she found out I was a pastor, it piqued her curiosity. You see, she'd been born under the Soviet Union and religion was banned. So now, it intrigued her and wherever she went, she was drawn to the spirituality of a place. Anyway, on one trip, she was in Tibet and got to talk with one of the monks about Buddhism. He told her about the struggles under Mao, during the Cultural Revolution. When temples were destroyed, people were imprisoned, monks executed. He told her that when things looked bad, they knew it would never last. It never had. And he and the other monks decided that when that time came, there would be seed – good seed – to plant, again! There job was to make sure of it. And now, there's been a rebirth! A resurgence! New temples filled with both priests and worshipers! All because of the faithfulness of those few! A sower went out to sow!

It's not about us. Our commitment. Our piety. How long. How well. Sometimes, now and then, the seed just doesn't sprout. Sometimes the seed just doesn't grow. And sometimes, even if it does, it doesn't produce like we want, like we wish. But in spite of all that, be assured, the seed is good! And the seed changes the world! Just like god planned it! Maybe not all at once... Maybe in stages... in steps... But make a difference, it does!

My friends, our job is simple. To go out and sow! To sow and to sow and to sow... and just keep sowing! For despite the birds... and the rocks... and the weeds... the seed will sprout... and the seed will grow... and without doubt, the harvest will come!

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the sermon for

the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

09 July 2017

Matthew 11:16-19 , Matthew 11:25-30
Not by law, but by love!

07092017"For John came neither... nor..., and they say, 'He has a demon'; the Son of Man came both... and..., and they said, 'Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'"

I have to confess, in the past, every time this passage came around, I've chosen to ignore it! To pretend it, simply, doesn't exist! On the surface, it appears so plain and simple. But I have to tell you, when you have to find something in it to preach... well, it has a way of complicating things! But this time... This time, I thought I'd rise to the challenge! And by Thursday, I had a pretty good introduction! Unfortunately, that's all I had and I couldn't figure out where to go from there. So, last night, I just went to bed! Call it a day! Trusting that sometime while I was sleeping, I'd come up with something! With anything! Not in a mystical, metaphysical sort of way. It's just that I learned, a long time ago, that your brain does its best work when you're not helping it! And I'm happy to say – I'm REALLY happy to say – when I woke up, this morning, I was inspired!

The message was simple enough. Just a couple of words. Two ways! Two ways of thinking! Two ways of believing! Two ways of living! That's what Jesus is talking about! There's John's way and there's Jesus' way! The baptist's way and the Son of Man's way! And they are mutually exclusive! As different from each other as night from day! That's where the flute playing and wailing enter in. The crowd knew there were two very distinct visions. And they couldn't decide which one was right. Which one to believe in! Which one to stake their life on!

John was all about dividing people into groups. The good, the bad. The righteous, the unrighteous. Sheep and goats. Grain and chaff. Wheat and tares. And the line was drawn not with the point of a sword, but with an axe at the roots and a winnowing fork in hand. Wrath. Retribution. That's what John proclaimed. Fire. Brimstone. It's what the crowd expected. What the crowd wanted. And then, there was Jesus. Forgiveness. Compassion. Patience. Understanding. No judgments. No lines. No separations or divisions. Only love. Only love.

Two ways. Two different, distinct ways. Each one, like I said, mutually exclusive of the other. But my problem, I realize now, is that I thought Jesus was saying they were both the same. John. Jesus. Somehow one was as good as the other. But that's where that final line comes in. "Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds." "Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds." Which is right? Jesus? John? Jesus says, "Only time will tell! Only time will tell!" That was then. But two thousand years, one hundred generations, later... We bear the name of Christ and not John! In hindsight, time has told! It's not the one who kept raising the bar... It's not the one who kept people out... the unworthy... the undeserving... It's the one who lowered the bar! Who let people in! It's the glutton! And the drunkard! The friend of tax collectors and sinners! For John, it's always about the few! For the Son of Man, it's the many and the all!

Frankly, I think that's why the United States is as divided as it has ever been. Popular religion, here in America, has more in common with John than it does with Jesus! We need – politically speaking – fewer prophets and more gluttons and drunkards! More friends of tax collectors and sinner! At least, metaphorically speaking! But I digress...

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say. "He has a demon!"
The Son of Man came doing both, and they called him a glutton and a drunkard!
A friend of tax collectors and sinners!
[A friend of the down and out, of the lowest and the least!]
Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds!

And time has, indeed, told! John, in and of himself, has no redeeming value! The only value he has had is that of pointing to Jesus! All the ranting, all the raving, all the finger-pointing and fist-shaking, has done nothing to bring the kingdom closer! Only Jesus has done that! Only Jesus does that! Simply, by loving! Loving the loveless! Loving the unlovable! And that has changed the world, forever! Forever!

"Bear fruit worthy of repentance!" That's the gospel according to John the Baptizer! "Don't just say you're sorry, show it! Show it or else!

"Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest!" That is Jesus' proclamation of good news! "I am gentle and humble of heart!" That is something John would never, could never, say!

Two ways! As different as night and day! As distinct as east and west! They have nothing – absolutely nothing – in common! One is reward, the other gift! One command, the other promise! The one earned, the other undeserved!

For John, it's the law that's always important! More important than people! For Jesus, it just the reverse, just the opposite! People are always the bottom line! People are forever the last word!

For Jesus, it's not the austerity! It's not the ascetics! Self-denial for its own sake! It's taking up a cross – someone else's cross, a cross that's not your own – and carrying it so they don't have to! And that... that is altogether different!

John came neither eating nor drinking and he did it all for god. Jesus came both eating and drinking, and he did it all for us! Yes, on behalf of god! But for our sake, nonetheless! And it's been Jesus, ever since, who has changed lives! Who has made a difference! Wisdom vindicated by her deeds!

God doesn't love only the lovely, only the loveable! God loves the lovely, the unlovable, so that they might become, so that they might be, lovely! It's like Luther said, "God doesn't love us because of our worth. We are of worth because god loves us!" That good news doesn't come to us in the Wilderness from John. It comes only from Jesus on Golgotha! It's spoken only by that glutton, that drunkard, that friend of tax collectors and sinners!

So, on the surface, at face value, this passage, at first, appears pretty plain and simple! But the more you look at it, the more you think about it, the more you plum its depths... Well, that's how it remains! Plain! Simple! John is not Jesus! And Jesus... Jesus is not John! And of the two, of the two only one has any redeeming value!

John came neither eating nor drinking and they said, "Look, he has a demon!" Jesus came doing both – eating and drinking – and we say, Amen! This is most certainly true! Two separate ways! Two ways of thinking! Two ways of believing! Two ways of living life! And my friends, we have taken the one less traveled! We have taken the one less traveled and that has made all the difference! Time has told! Wisdom has, indeed, been vindicated!

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