Archive for July, 2014

What Do You Hear? 7-27-14

This week’s sermon is based on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-53. Jesus shares 5 short parables explaining the Kingdom of Heaven. I explore the wide range of human experience and how it shapes our hearing of these parables.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-do-you-hear-7-27-14

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Over the course of the past few days I have noticed a trend, both on Facebook as well as in conversation including comments by others caught in passing as well as direct conversations that I’ve engaged in…the fair. I’m guessing that most of you are aware that we have one of those going on right now.

And now, admittedly, I find myself a little bit curious as to the general state of reactions to “the fair.” How many of you out there are big fair-goers…namely, the type of person that gets excited and goes at least 2 or 3 time, if not more, each and every year (let them acknowledge). Okay…well then, how about those who make it a priority to get to the fair at least once each year (let them acknowledge). Okay…and how about those that think get there once in a while, perhaps taking it in once every few years (let them acknowledge). Okay…what about those who have no interest in going to the fair…but at the same time have no issue with it…those that have no problem with it, but also feel no need to go check it out (let them acknowledge). Okay…and finally…who out there will claim to be “anti-fair” (let them acknowledge).

Obviously there is a wide range in opinions or thoughts or perhaps, personal experienced in and around the notion of a county fair. I myself will admit to falling into the final “anti-fair” category. Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with those who enjoy it and who chose to participate in the various activities that go on there. But I also know that its just not for me.

I blame growing up in the Okoboji area and going, year after year, to the apparently…world famous Clay County Fair that occurs every September in Spencer…perhaps you’ve heard of it. The older I got, the less and less I wanted to go. Huge crowds wandering around looking at animals or equipment that I saw every day on the farm. Carnival barkers yelling out in order to try to finagle a dollar or two out of my pocket and into theirs. Various venders attempting to sell their goods…oh and the food…the vastly overpriced fair food. (pause). I know some love it…but its just not for me…and so when I hear the word “fair” it just doesn’t sit well with me…though admittedly I know others have a different experience.

And its this notion of a different experience that brings me into the scripture for today. Week #3 of Matthew chapter 13…Week #3 of parables…and if you were hear a couple weeks ago, then you heard me admit to the notion that parables excite me about as much as the county fair.

Yet here we are…teeing up round three of what seems to be the same sort of thing…but admittedly, as I read through the lesson for today, I was struck by some differences compared with what we’ve had over the course of the past couple weeks. (pause) For two weeks, we head single parables, quite lengthy…both including explanations from Jesus after the fact…and both having to do with farming…there was a definite trend present. But this week…things are a little bit different aren’t they?

Yes we hear parables again…but this time around, Jesus treats us to multiple parables…5 of them to be exact…they are each substantially shorter…and there are no detailed explanations from the teacher this time around. (pause)

At first glance, these five individual parables don’t seem to have much in common with one another…and admittedly that raises the question of just why Matthew chose to lump them all together in the first place, not to mention why the creators of the Lectionary decided that we needed to hear them all at once…yet here they are.

First we hear that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…a tiny seed that grows into a great shrub…even a tree…and the birds set up shop. Then we hear that the kingdom of heaven is like yeast mixed in with a whole bunch of flower until the entire batch is leavened. After that we hear that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field that some random guy finds…and he’s compelled to go off and sell everything in order to acquire it. In the one similarity, next we hear of a merchant searching through a bunch of pearls in the marketplace, only to find one of great value…and he too sells everything to get ahold of it…apparently the kingdom of heaven is like that too. And finally we hear that the kingdom of heaven is like a great net thrown into the sea which hauls in a great variety of fish…some good and some bad…and the fish will be sorted out at the end.

And so it seems that the kingdom of heaven is like…well you know what? It seems like the kingdom of heaven is like a lot of things doesn’t it? Saying its like a mustard seed in a field or a garden might appeal to the farmer or the gardener. Personally I hear that one and I’m transported back to the days of walking beans and my dad telling me you darn well better get those mustard plants cut out because they will spread and overtake everything…others might hear that and focus in on the birds. Maybe for birdwatchers out there, that’s a positive thing…others might not like birds so much…and to them that’s negative.

And what about that whole yeast in the flour thing. It seems that Jesus is speaking to the cooks and bakers…or perhaps to the homemakers with this one…and that’s fine…but what if you aren’t a fan of leavened bread…or perhaps you’re allergic to glutton…maybe this doesn’t sound so great.

The treasure in a field? Well that sounds like it might just appeal to real estate brokers…or perhaps just treasure hunters like the guys on Pawn Stars or American Pickers. (pause) And the pearl? Well jewelers might like that one…or oyster farmers…and the great drag net? Sounds like that one’s aimed at fishermen. (pause)

Sure enough…it seems in today’s lesson, not to mention all of Matthew chapter 13 and its many different parables…that the kingdom of heaven is like…well…a lot of stuff isn’t it? (pause)

Now when we think about parables in general, something we’ve talked about for a couple weeks now…we remember that Jesus utilizes parables to give us little glimpses of the kingdom of heaven…that’s nothing new…but its interesting when we stop and think about it…and when we add in the notion that the kingdom of heaven covers a lot of ground…some of which might speak to us as an individual and some that might go right over our heads.

Thinking back, I can see this trend in my own responses to the last two parables. First we heard the parable of the sower and as a farming community, I think a lot of us…me included…could really relate to that one. It spoke our language. But then a week later we heard about weeds in a wheat field…and all farming aside, at least for me personally…that one missed the mark…it was a lot harder to wrap my head around because I had never done anything with wheat…but I also know that’s not the case with everyone…because there is a wheat field…recently harvested…about half a mile away from where we are all sitting right now…right up over the hill past the elementary school…so clearly someone in the local area knows a thing or two about wheat.

Now this week, I find these parables a mixed bag as well. I already mentioned the connection I find with the mustard seed…but on the other end of the spectrum I hear about a merchant selling everything he owns just to buy a nice pearl…and I find it laughable because that’s just not something that even registers on my personal radar. (pause)

And as we think about all that…perhaps we begin to come to the realization that maybe…just maybe…Jesus knew what he was doing when he told such a wide variety of parables…because each and every individual experiences those parables differently…and that’s because each and every individual who has ever and will ever live…has a unique experience in life.

God has made each and every one of us uniquely…sure we all share interests and view points with others…but we differ from them as well…and so as Jesus teaches, he boils down life altering realities of the kingdom of heaven into snippets that work for some that hear it…and either fail to register, or paint an entirely different picture for the next person.

But you know what…that’s life isn’t it? We live out our lives of faith in the midst of our own unique experience…and our life of faith is shaped by that experience. (pause) It never ceases to amaze me how the life of an individual or a group of individuals can and does vary so much from moment to moment. We live a life of emotionally and experiential roller coasters. I have witnessed…personally…within the confines of this week alone incredible joy…unbridled happiness…expressed…and within mere moments, the expression of utter despair and pain. (pause) I have seen this between different people…and I’ve even seen the back and forth within a single individual.

As your pastor I have the blessing of being invited into these moments alongside of you…and it is truly a blessing to be able to witness so many utterly “human” moments that encompass such a wide variety of experience…and yet as I think about these various experiences of individuals…I realize that life WILL not be contained in any sort of container. Life will not be defined by any single experience…and to hear someone utilize a comparison for the purpose of explaining something…that will not be limited to a single explanation.

And so today…as we hear these 5 different parables from Jesus…I stand before you today and recognize that if I attempt to explain to you what is significant or correct or apparent about even a single one of them…much less all five of them…then you and I are going to disagree…because I cannot possibly understand how your experience shapes how you hear any one of these.

And that’s the beauty of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus tells us today that the kingdom of heaven is like a lot of different things in life…and that is because the kingdom of heaven is here now…You might have noticed that none of these are set in the future…Jesus did not say that the kingdom of heaven will be like anything…he said that it IS like a lot of things.

You see…when God made the choice to enter into our reality…to put on flesh and walk around…to become human and move into the neighborhood…He brought the kingdom of heaven along with him. It’s here…right here…right now…We are in the midst of the kingdom of heaven right now…and though the kingdom continues to change as it, along with our present reality…moves towards the completion that God has intended…we are granted little glimpses of it. Sometimes in scripture…sometimes in our own day to day experiences…and sometimes both of those all wrapped up into one.

God works in ways that are beyond our understanding…but make no mistake…God is working…and so I pose this question to you today…when you listen to these parables…either as a whole, or individually…what do you hear? What seems significant to you…what seems troubling to you? (pause) Focus on those points…and continue to think about them as you leave today…as you walk out these doors into your regular day to day life. Because that’s is where God is using the Holy Spirit to give you just a glimpse of what the kingdom of heaven is like.

I’m not going to attempt to give you the answer today…but perhaps as you ponder…and as you discuss your thoughts with someone else…then God will reveal something significant to you that He desires you to know.

And in the midst of your experience…whatever it is today…regardless of where you might happen to fall in that rollercoaster of the human experience, remember that you are not alone…remember that we have a God that loves us enough to come to us in the midst of our experience…and remember that nothing…neither death nor life…neither angels, nor rulers…nor things present, nor things to come…nor powers, nor height, nor depth…(pause) nor ANYTHING in all creation can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Nothing at all…not our pride…not our pain…not anything can stop God from coming to you…and so I ask you today…as you sit and listen to the words of Jesus Christ…God himself in human form…What do you hear?

 

Sermon Braindump Intro and Episode

For the past 10 weeks, I’ve been doing something new…something I haven’t posted here. Over the course of the summer season, I tried an experiment. I’ve been supplementing a weekly discussion of the assigned Lectionary Gospel text for the week that I hold during adult forums with a video. In the video I discuss the thought process that my weekly sermon preparation takes me through. Insights that I have garnered from the text and such. I include certain things that I’m thinking of including in the sermon itself…but it should be noted that this is not the sermon itself. Those I have been, and will of course continue, to post in audio and text form here in my blog.

But since this whole video thing has been going pretty well…and honestly I’ve found it really helpful for my own “sermonation” process…also known as my “percolation” period…I’ve decided that I’m going to continue doing it for the foreseeable future.

You can find all the videos on my YouTube channel.

There are a few other videos on there as well…quick little deals that I created in the past. Feel free to peruse them if you like, but no pressure.

This week I have posted episode number 10. This one is based on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-53. Like the rest of Matthew 13, its parables…but this time around, it’s multiple short ones (as opposed to individual long parables including explanations by Jesus featured the past two weeks).

In the video I explore just why Jesus choses to use parables…and just how “the kingdom of heaven” can be like so many different things all at the same time.

You can find the video here…I hope you enjoy Sermon Braindump Episode #10

 

Stop Pulling Weeds 7-20-14

This week’s sermon is based on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. This is the parable of the weeds in the wheat.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/stop-pulling-weeds-7-20-14

You can also follow along with the sermon here.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

It is possible that I might seem a little distracted this morning…if not, great, I’m covering well…but if in fact I do, I blame the fact that the final round of the British Open, the third golf major of the year, is currently underway across the pond…right now, as we speak.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I love golf. I love it. I think it’s the greatest sport in the world…and while I certainly don’t have the game to rival the professional out there competing for the Claret Jug today, I do have a little bit of what they call…native ability.

But like all amateurs, I recognize my limitations…and when I play I aim for bogey golf…for 9 holes, that’s shooting mid-40’s…though throughout my time, I’ve always aimed to break into the 30’s…and I can still remember the very first time I did it. I was playing league on a Thursday night at Brook’s National Golf Course in Okoboji, IA, and somehow…someway I had managed to keep myself even par through the first 8 holes. I made some bogeys and managed to drain a few bombs to make some long distance birdies…and as I came up to the tee of the final hole I thought to myself. I’ve got this all figured out today…everything’s clicking…one more good hole and I’ll not only break into the 30’s, but I’ll shoot even par…and with that…I shanked my drive into the trees…flubbed a couple approach shots…and finished up my round 3 over…with a 39. I didn’t shoot par, but at least I made the 30’s. Small victories.

But I got to thinking about how unpredictable golf is…and anyone out there that’s a fellow golfer will agree with me…the micro-second you think you’ve got it figured out…you don’t. Period. The game or the weather, or your swing, or something throws you a curveball.

And you know what…our faith life can be the exact same way. If you were here last week, we heard the parable of the sower and I think we agreed that parable, was really one for us…a farming community…familiar with agriculture…Jesus was speaking our language….but just like the game of golf…the moment we think we’ve got it figured out…here comes the curve.

In today’s story, we hear yet another parable…and for the second week in a row…its about farming again…so this one should be easy right? (pause) NOPE!!!! CURVE BALL.

The parable of the weeds in the wheat. And at least for me personally, my farming background trips up at the thought of a wheat field. Because wheat is not really something we do in abundance here in the upper Midwest is it? Granted some, do…but not many…and so perhaps…today’s parable needs a touch of background…and we need to think for a moment to wrap our heads around a weedy wheat field.

First things first…throw out any notion of row crops, because that just doesn’t apply here. Wheat is planted like a lawn…it’s a grain…a grass…and so the planting style of a wheat field can best be compared to a lawn…edge to edge…and the wheat grows up, blanketing the field, as the individual stalks grow up very close together….the roots of each individual stalk tangled up with those around it.

And that right there, is where we jump into today’s story. Jesus tells us that the master goes out and sows good seed in the field…but then in the night, the enemy comes and sows weeds among them so that when the crop comes up, the weeds come right up with it…intermixed right in with the wheat plants.

Now some scholars believe that the weeds that Jesus is talking about are a specific type of plant…actually a mutation of regular wheat that looks very similar to the good plants…they grow right up together, difficult to distinguish until the actual grain is produced later in the season…perhaps this is why the servants in the story fail to recognize the weeds until…apparently, its too late to do much about them…and the master instructs them to just leave well enough alone…and at harvest time, the reapers will divide out the good from the bad. (pause)

Now in normal fashion…as Jesus is teaching with parables, we know that he’s attempting to teach us truth about the kingdom of heaven…and so we stop and ask ourselves the question of just what truth he’s trying to teach us today. And when we listen to his explanation we hear that the field is the world…and the wheat is the good and the weeds are the evil…and so in a nutshell…Jesus seems to be telling us that here in the world…even in the presence of the kingdom of Heaven which we know is already here…right here and now…within the kingdom evil is still present. (pause)

And I don’t think any of us would dispute that would we? All it takes is turning on the evening news or opening a newspaper…and we are blasted with bad news…and I don’t think any of us would venture to think…even for a moment, that evil is gone from this world…but not just in the world either…but even within us as individuals.

When we stop and take an honest look at ourselves, I think we each feel the presence of evil…of sin within our own existence…and so perhaps when we are honest ourselves, we see that the field that Jesus is talking about exists right here…within each and every one of us…and when we realize that, we recognize that within each of us lies wheat, interspersed with weeds…and that’s a humbling thought…but it goes beyond us as individuals as well…because as Jesus tells us, the field is the world…and so we must realize that while Jesus speaks of the presence of good and evil within the lives of individuals, he’s also speaking about all of humanity…because we’re all in this together.

(pause)

And when we start breaching the subject of good and evil within humanity…within our regular day to day life…I think the initial tendency is to do exactly what the servants in the parable did…blame God…Master…did you not sow good seed in your field? Where then did these weeds come from. (pause)

How common is it that we blame God for the presence of evil within the world? We blame him for all kinds of stuff don’t we? It’s human nature as we seek answers to the questions of why. Why did this accident happen? Why does she have this disease? Why did I lose my job? Why did you let this happen God…if you really loved me…this wouldn’t have happened. (pause)

And while I think that the presence of those questions is to be expected when we encounter hardships…perhaps what we’re really doing is passing judgment…judging something to be evil…and even going so far as to judge God as guilty because of it. (pause)

Isn’t that what the servants are really doing in the parable? First judging God as guilty of creating the evil…for planting the weeds…but then going beyond that and judging the weeds themselves…Master, do you want us to go and gather the weeds?

The servants are ready to place themselves in the judgment seat…to distinguish between that which is good and that which is evil in the field…but Jesus tells us…that it is NOT our place to do so. First of all, judgment doesn’t occur until harvest time, according to Jesus…and when it does…the servants are not the ones to do it…that’s up to the angels…Jesus tells us that.

And here’s the important part…when it comes to the notion that there is evil in the world mixed right in with the good…we need to remember the exact same thing…it is NOT our place to try and distinguish between the two…because humanity is completely tied up together…as we know the presence of good and evil lies intermixed among humanity and within every individual.

And Jesus tells us that when we take it upon ourselves to judge what is not worthy and tear it out, then we end up doing damage to that which is good and surrounding it. Just as the roots of the weeds in the parable are intermixed with the roots of the wheat…and to pull one will result in pulling out the good with the bad…we know that when we try to pass judgment on what we deem to be evil is going to harm others as well.

Its not up to us…and yet there are times when we as individuals…and we as the church make mistakes in judgment. We do…and the examples throughout history are far too many to try and list…but just this week I read a story about an individual that was excommunicated by their congregation…he was kicked out for what the congregation viewed to be sinful behavior. The article didn’t go into specifics, and I don’t know any details…but this is a clear example of humanity…flawed humanity passing judgment on who is and who isn’t worthy of the kingdom…for in the letter, the individual is told that they are now outside the church and outside the church there is no forgiveness of sin. (pause) In short…the congregation is playing God because only God alone…is worthy to pass judgment on who is worthy of God’s grace.

That’s not up to us people…and you know what I’m glad…I don’t want that responsibility…because I would mess it up…and you know what…I do mess it up. Sometimes with the best of intentions…when faced with a choice of how to respond to a situation or an individual or a request…I make the wrong call…we all do, whether we mean to or not, we pass judgment…precisely what Jesus tells us today that we are not called to do.

And in those moments…in those times when we fail at this command of Jesus to just leave well enough alone and let judgment fall to the one worthy of it…then the world which includes good and evil…its in those moments that the world shrinks all the way down until it encompasses just one person. You…and right then and there we see that Jesus is right…and we see that there is evil in the world…even a world of one.

But…evil does not have the last word…judgment for our failings does not have the last word. God does…and I believe that through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our sins…our failings…the part of us that is inherently evil is bundled up and thrown into the fire leaving the good fruit…to be gathered into God’s barn.

When Jesus speaks of the world of one…when he speaks to the individual, he assures us that through the power of the holy spirit and only by the grace of God, that our sin is no more…and the field that is the individual is cleansed from all evil…and you know what…that sounds a little like baptism doesn’t it?

When we are washed in the water…cleansed of the power of sin in our existence through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ…purified of that which is evil…because God cares enough about each and every one of us to walk through our fields…and pull our weeds.

So let’s stop pulling weeds people…because it’s not up to us…praise the Lord, its up to him…and he’s willing to do it…and more importantly he’s worthy to do it. Amen.

God’s a Lousy Farmer 7-13-14

Today’s sermon was based on Matthew 13:1-9,18-23. This is the parable of the sower.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/gods-a-lousy-farmer-7-13-14

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Well, its been awhile since we’ve dabbled in the parable department here in worship…but today, the common teaching style of Jesus comes roaring back into the picture doesn’t it?

You may recall from a period last fall when the lectionary and Luke’s gospel served us up week after week a healthy portion of the parable pie…and after a few weeks of it in a row, admittedly I was getting a little tired of it…tired of the repeated need to attempt an interpretation.

But then advent rolled around and we switched gears…not to mention gospels…and thankfully we’ve taken a nice little sabbatical from the parable train…until…this week. That parable of the sower. (pause)

Now admittedly, when I started my preparation last Sunday, taking my first look at the gospel lesson for today…the first thing I saw was “Parable” and I remember thinking “Oh no…here we go again.” But then, I begrudgingly started to read the parable in question…and immediately my mood changed…the parable of the sower. PLANTING…SOIL…FARMING (pause) Considering my background…I might just have a little bit of insight into that.

I am, after all, a farm kid…a graduate of the college of ag at Iowa State University…not to mention happily entrenched in life here among many many farmers in a farming community. Today should be easy right? Let’s do a quick survey shall we?

A sower went out to sow…common translation…springtime planting. Ok..check. (pause) First batch of seeds fell on the path…ummm…let’s see…sounds like a bag of seed corn broke open on the way to the field…maybe it tipped out of the back of the truck on the way…not good…but I get it…so check. (pause) Oh, and the birds came and ate it up…yep..the pheasants get a free meal when that happens…oh and the deer probably show up too. (pause)

Next we hear that seed fell on rocky ground…I get that…all I have to do is think back to the multitude of hours I spent out in the field in early spring with a 5 gallon bucket…picking rock…continuing to add to the mountain that is the rock pile…present in pretty much every single field I’ve ever seen in this part of the country…so check.

After that we hear about seeds falling among the thorns…and then the thorns grow up and choke it…I know all about weeds…anyone ever walked beans mid to late summer…particularly when the cockleburs are particularly strong…I remember chopping my way through patches so thick you couldn’t even see the beans…because they weren’t there…because the burrs crowded them out…so yet again…check.

And finally, we hear that some of the seed fell on good soil and brought forth grain…30, 60, even 100 fold…sounds like countless conversations I’ve had about yield…checking in with dad to see how many bushels he averaged per acre. (pause)

And that’s not all…we can also list countless other things like conversations why the soil on top of the hills is a lighter color than that down in the low spots…time in high school spent studying different profiles in preparation for a soil judging competition…various classes in college where I literally studied soil and all the different aspects of it…time in the greenhouse working with different types of growing media and plants…work for a lawn care company when we needed to analyze the ph balance of the soil to determine the suitability of growing a strong lawn…and finally countless discussions with my wife on just why you call it soil…and not dirt.

It’s safe to say that when it comes to interpretation of today’s parable…I’m all set…and after all, that’s the whole point of parables isn’t? Jesus sharing truth about the kingdom of heaven in ways that the common person can understand…and today…this one’s for us…truth about the kingdom…in rural farm talk. (pause)

And now, this particular parable is one of those oddball ones when Jesus actually takes the time to explain just what he’s talking about isn’t it? We hear the explanation in the second half of today’s lesson…first the parable…then the description…and perhaps as Jesus was describing what each particular soil type refers to…you found yourself nodding along thinking…yah…that all makes sense.

Seed isn’t going to grown on the path or the road is it? Nope…and the birds are going to clean it up pretty quick…and when plants grow among rocks, there is no root and it dries up or pulls out really easily…and when a crops try to grow in a weed patch…you don’t get much crop do you? But the seed that falls in the field…carefully tilled and cared for throughout the growing season…well of course you’re going to get crop out of that. No brainer Jesus. (pause)

But despite the obvious…when we back up to just what Jesus is telling us here, its almost laughable. A sower went out to sow, and as he sowed, seed fell on the path…and on the rocks…and in the thorns…and some, not all by any means…only 25%…managed to fall in the field where its supposed to be. And so it seems that our sower…he’s not very good is he? He doesn’t seem to be paying the slightest attention where he’s throwing that seed…which sort of makes you wonder how much value he places on it doesn’t it?

Think about that for a moment…how much is a bag of seed corn this year? $225…$250? Seems awfully expensive to just take it out and scatter it randomly…with no care as to where it lands. And I don’t know about you…but if I saw someone just open up a bag and give it a toss…not paying the slightest attention to where they were standing…much less trying to keep it in the boundaries and in nice even rows…if I saw that…I’d think it was a pretty lousy farmer…wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t we all judge that farmer pretty harshly? (pause)

But just who is the farmer in the parable? Who is it, that we’re criticizing for their lack of effort in the planting department? Well, when we listen to Jesus’ interpretation, we hear that the seed that is sown…is the word of the kingdom…it’s the gospel…the good news of Jesus Christ…the story of his life and his ministry…and his teaching and his miracles…and his confrontations and his interactions…and finally his violent death on the cross which culminated 3 days later with his glorious resurrection and his defeat over the power of sin and death…that’s the seed.

And if that’s the seed, well then we need to stop for just a moment and think about just who it is that’s throwing that seed to the wind. And as always, we must first recognize that the farmer…the first one to proclaim the work of God within our reality…is God himself…for we have a God that has spoken to humanity in many ways…first through Creation itself…then later on through the law and the prophets…but in these days we have a God that has spoken to us, and is still speaking to us through the Son and through his word in the Bible…God is the farmer…out there scattering the gospel without even paying attention…completely hap-hazardly…apparently letting ¾’s of it go where it has no business what so ever…what a waste right? So I guess God makes for one…lousy…farmer. (long pause)

But you know what? God…isn’t…a farmer…he leaves that to a very special group of people in the world…because God’s got other fish to fry…the seed is the Gospel…we’ve already established that…and so now we need to think about where the Gospel is going…just what are these four types of soil that Jesus talks about in the parable…3 of which seem to waste the gospel and only 1 does anything with it. (pause)
What is the soil? Well…take a look around…you’re looking at it. Each and every person in the world represents that soil…but the important thing to remember, is that we don’t get to choose which one. If we did…that would easy wouldn’t it? We’d all choose to be the good soil and bear fruit for the gospel…some 30…some 60…some 100…but that’s not the reality. (pause) And you know what…if all those soil classes in college taught me anything…its that there is all kinds of different soil everywhere…you take a soil sample, it changes from inch to inch…you look at a plot of land, it is riddled with different soil profiles…all swirled up together…and I think that each and every member of the human race is exactly the same…a swirl of all 4 types of soil…and its not up to us to make any one of the 4 stronger than the others.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…faith…believing in the gospel of Jesus Christ…it is NOT self generated…it is a gift of the Holy Spirit…it is the result of the Spirit using the proclamation of the gospel to you and creating the root of faith within you. (pause)

When I was working with this text this week, I was surprised to find insight in the original language, which you may know happens to me from time to time…but in the short bit talking about the plants having no root in the rocky soil…the action of “Having” or “Holding” occurs with the seed itself…with the plant…not with the soil. And this strengthens the notion that we do not create faith ourselves because through the Holy Spirit the gospel itself…the seed in our story takes hold of us…and once it does it WILL NOT…let go.

And once that has happened…once God finds the good soil in the life of an individual and faith grows within their life…well, then they join with God…in a different role…that of the sower in Jesus’ story. (pause) As fellow believers in Jesus Christ we join in the priest hood of all believers…and you’ve heard me talk about this before…we all share a calling to proclaim the gospel so that those who have never heard may here…and maybe…just maybe…that seed that we cast out in the name of Jesus Christ…will find good soil and take root.

But at the same time, we must also realize the importance of the example of the sower in today’s story…God himself…the original farmer…and the lousy one at that. (pause)

God doesn’t distinguish where the seed….where the Gospel…goes…he’s equal opportunity…casting that gospel to the wind in abundance and we are called to do the same…it is not up to us to judge the audience that we think is worthy to hear it…if that were the case, then the sower would have stayed inside the boundaries…but that’s not the case…and praise be to God that we are freed of the burden of judging who is worthy to hear the good news and who isn’t…because if that were in fact the case…then in our own lives…in our own history…whoever it was that had joined with God in the role of sower may have taken a look at each one of us and thought…nope…too rocky…and held onto that seed…but if you are sitting here today listening to this message…then you know that’s not the case…and today if you are hearing this for the first time…and I mean really hearing it…well then I think the Holy Spirit’s finding some good soil in you…and who knows how much fruit that’s gonna produce.

Thanks be to God…that God…looks at all of humanity and does NOT distinguish between good soil…and bad soil…thanks be to God…that He…is a lousy farmer…but is a loving Father. Amen.

We’re Fickle Aren’t We 7-6-14

This sermon is based on Matthew 11:16-19,25-30. Jesus has been talking about John the Baptist, and exhibits frustration with the fickle response of the crowds to the different ministry styles of both John and himself.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/were-fickle-arent-we-7-6-14

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here. Be sure to disregard indications to pause and odd punctuation. I have a weird writing style after all.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Sometimes my brain has this strange tendency to not really comprehend certain truths until a couple different coincidental things happen. I can hear something over and over again, and the truth of it just won’t sink it…but then something else happens along the same lines, and suddenly the mental light bulb goes off for me.

For the past couple of months I’ve been hearing ads on the radio as well as seeing them on tv for various political candidates. Various individuals rattling on and on before the final bit of information lets you know that they are running for congress or senate, or for governor, or whatever other races are going on. I hear them, and admittedly, 9 times out of ten the information goes in on ear and right out the other…I hear it…I groan…and then I go right back to whatever else was going on prior to the beginning of the add.

But then on Friday, I was sitting along the parade route here in town, celebrating the 4th of July along with what I estimated to be approximately ¾’s of the population of Pottawattamie County…and a few different people went by in the back of a truck or a car, with a sign indicating that they, too, are running for office. (pause) LIGHT BULB

Lightning might as well have struck my brain…because I had an epiphany…its an election year. (pause) Duh right? Admittedly, I’m been pretty slow on the uptake on that one…but when I stop and think about it, I wonder if maybe that’s a subconscious thing in my mind…protecting me from the aggravation that is politics…or to be more specific, politics during election season.

Admittedly, I’m probably failing in my civic duty, but for the most part I tend to block out these ads, because in the end all they tend to do is irritate me. I’m sure its not true across the board, but the vast majority of ads that I hear or see fail to tell me the slightest thing about the candidate that the ad is supposively supporting…Instead, 99% of the add is simply talking smack about their opponent…tell you…John Q Taxpayer why you shouldn’t vote for the other guy…listing their negative track record…their vices…their failures…and in short…trying to make you scared of them so that you’ll make the obvious choice, and vote for the right person.

And then, more often than I’d like to admit…within the very same block of commercials…you see the opponent doing the very same thing. Funny how that works isn’t it? Now I shouldn’t generalize…I really shouldn’t…but sometimes it really seems like the political ads are a bunch of bickering children…caught up in the normal sibling argument that every parent has heard…he did this…she did that…its not my fault.

And just as those bickering children try to make themselves look good by making the other one look bad, I’ve seen way too many political ads…and so perhaps I’m jaded…but it really seems like they’re just telling us what they think we want to hear…and no one can really make up their minds what they want. (pause)

Now…it should be noted that I’m not trying to be political today…far from it…I have no partisen agenda, so rest easy…I have no plans to sway you in the political realm today. Rather…as I think about the multitude of mudslinging that goes on this time of year, I’m reminded of the apparent issue that Jesus is facing in today’s story.

Admittedly, it starts off a little strange…Jesus has been talking about John the Baptist…who is currently sitting in prison because certain people didn’t like how he conducted himself in his ministry. In short…John irritated the wrong people and now he’s behind bars.

Jesus has been talking about him…and it seems that in the midst of the conversation, Jesus get’s a little exasperated thinking about the results of John’s ministry as well as his own. And he spouts off…to what will I compare this generation? Like children sitting in the marketplaces…children who just can’t get along…children who can’t decide what they want.
HEY…WE PLAYED A FLUTE FOR YOU…BUT DID YOU DANCE? NO. SO WE TRIED SOMETHING ELSE…WE MOURNED…BUT YOU DIDN’T CRY. (pause)

At first this seems a little strange to hear from Jesus…but he goes on. John came, neither eating nor drinking…John went through his ministry…bold…confrontational yes…yet following tradition and the law…and what did you do? You threw him in jail.

And when Jesus came? He tried different tactic…he lived life with those he encountered…you call him a glutton and a drunkard…and WHY? Because he sits down at the table to enjoy a meal with those who welcomed him…because he had a glass of wine? Because he simply celebrated the companionship of the people he was with at that time…and the crowds didn’t like it. (pause)

John and Jesus…two very different men…two very different styles of ministry…and yet the crowds reject them both…just like those jeering children in the marketplace…they can’t make up their mind what they want…and yet…as I think about this…about just how frustrating that must have been for Jesus and for John…and not only but for God himself who had sent both of them to proclaim this good news…as I think about that…the next part of the scripture lesson comes as no great shock as Jesus starts praying…and it really comes across as frustrated.

Father…I thank you…that you have hidden these things from the wise and clever…and revealed them to infants. (pause) Now admittedly, the first time I heard that…it confused me…because you’d think the wise and clever would understand it. The basic truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t that complicated after all…so the wise one should get it right away…but that’s not what happens…and we see just a little bit of why in Jesus’ next few statements…for no one knows the father except the son and the ones that the Son chooses to reveal him too.

And think about it…who’s Jesus going to choose to reveal God to? Those that turn away from him? Those that write him off…scoffing at him…accusing him of simply being a drunk? Or is Jesus going to reveal the truth to those who accept him…which we see in the story seems to be the ones who are likewise rejected…the simple…the lowly…the overlooked…those who have been beat down by the world and all the burdens that come with it.

So maybe…just maybe that’s why we get the strange little transition into the final portion of this scripture…something that at first glance really doesn’t seem to have all that much in common with the first two parts. Come to me…all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens…and I will give you rest.

Sounds hopeful doesn’t it? Like it might just appeal to those that are rejected and downtrodden…those carrying their own burdens…those carrying the weight of the world. When we think about that…it makes sense that they would stop and pay attention…that their ears would perk up just a bit at the teachings of this miracle man named Jesus.

But just when its all starting to make a little sense…Jesus throws out a statement that I fear has turned into something of a Christian cliché. Take my yoke upon you…for my yoke is easy and my burden light. (pause)

When’s the last time anyone saw a yoke? (pause) Anyone here under the age of 35 even know what a yoke is? Well a yoke is a wooden harness, used to hitch two oxen together by laying a big wooden beam over their necks, and connecting a wooden loop up under their throats to the main beam, so that as the two oxen move forward their front shoulder push against the beam which is in turn connected back behind them to some sort of equipment…often a plow or a heavy wagon or something of that nature.

And so, listening to that description…does that sound anything at all like something that would be easy and light? I don’t know…but it doesn’t really sound like, not when the reality sets in. (pause)
Thinking about that reminds me of something that happened last Thursday…I’d put off mowing the lawn for a couple days…and so it was nice and long and thick…I’d made a few laps around the back yard, but still had a lot left to do when all of the sudden the self-propel mechanism stopped working…and suddenly I found myself having to physically push that rather heavy mower around and around again….my first thought was “ahh…its not so bad…I can do this.” But I’ll tell you what…the physical effort that actually went into doing the work…rather than simply walking along behind it…was exhausting…I may have initially thought it would be light and easy…but I quickly discovered the exact opposite.

And so as I think about this analogy that Jesus gives us today…that his yoke is easy and his burden light…I got to admit…I scoff just a little…and I wonder if maybe just maybe you do too. Come to me…all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens. (pause)

Does that hit home with anyone out there? Anyone carrying heavy burdens…anyone got the weight of the world on your shoulder. Bills pilling up…emotions running high…tough times staring you in the face…maybe a lost job or an illness? (pause) We all carry burdens…sometimes they don’t seem so bad…but other times they threaten to drive us into the ground and nothing we do or say or think seems to make difference.

And in those times I think we hear Jesus say take my yoke upon you and it sounds like one more thing…and sometimes…sometimes in the midst of all that stuff, we hear these words from Jesus and they don’t come across as hopeful…instead they come across as a big joke…and we ask the question where are you on all this stuff?

I lost my job…and I feel that pain…I’m facing a terminal diagnosis…and I feel that fear…I lost someone I love and I’m still mourning…where are you on that one Jesus? Because this yoke of yours still feels pretty heavy. (pause)

So what do we do in those times…when the hope that Jesus offers us doesn’t really seem to be easing the pain that we’re feeling…what do we do with that? What we do when Jesus and the salvation of sin that he offers us through his death on the cross doesn’t take away the burden of life? (pause)

Well, in those times, we stop to remember just how a yoke works…and how many animals are in that yoke to begin with. Two…not one…its not one animal acting alone…a yoke takes two…sharing the load…both working hard…both straining…both having to work together to get past the task at hand…neither one of those animals is alone in their experience…and neither…are…we.

Take my yoke upon you…and I will take it upon me as well…and together we will walk through this life…we will walk through this pain…and through this burden…yes you will still experience it…life as a believer in Christ does not take the pain and stress and hurt out of life…but it does offer us the hope of knowing that we have a God that has experienced it as well. We have a God who has entered our reality…experienced the same pain…the same stress…the same hurts that we experience…and this is the same God that chooses to walk beside you while you experience yours…and I believe that when we experience the pain of life…and we mourn the reality…the first being that mourns is God himself…and whether we realize it or not…whether we want to admit it or not…whether we want it or not…he’s there…right beside us.

This is the truth of the gospel…that we have a God that loves us so much that he cannot bear to be apart from us…and since we can’t get to him…he comes to us. We can’t get up there so he comes down here…and this is the truth that is revealed to the lowly ones…this is the truth that is revealed to children…and why to children?

Well…has a child ever asked you a question? You give them the answer…and they don’t think about it…they just say “Ok.” And when a child hears the truth that God loves them and Jesus died for them, they don’t over think it…they don’t try to use their wisdom to explain it away…they just say ok…so maybe that’s why Jesus tells us to become like a child…and accept that he is there with you…in the midst of your burdens…and you are not alone. Amen.