God's always "hooking us," pulling us back: back to the Word, back to the Meal, back to the Font...back to the community.

This blog is for the purpose of sharing around each Sunday's Bible readings & sermon at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.

Get Sunday's readings here. We follow the Narrative Lectionary.
(In the summer, we return to the Revised Common Lectionary' epistle or Second Reading here.)

So, what's been hooking you?

So, what's been hooking you?

Here you can...

Monday, July 21, 2014

July 20 -- Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Well, I suppose we do this every week here at church, but I want to be more explicit about it today: we read the Gospel texts through our lens of what’s happening in the news and in our own daily lives.  

Mid-20th c. theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once suggested that the preacher preach with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other -- not that the two are held up equally, but that the headlines are considered and connected directly with the words of Jesus and the Gospel message of grace and peace.  That it’s actually the other way around: we read the news through the lens of the Gospel (not the Gospel through the lens of the news.)

So let me lift up some top stories in our news this week:  
  • on Thursday -- a passenger plane shot down in the Ukraine.
  • on Wednesday -- Shells fired by an Israeli gunboat killed four boys between ages 9 and 11. The Israeli military said the intended target was Hamas terrorist operatives, who had been firing at them.  Hamas rocket barrages and Israeli airstrikes continue, and now Israeli ground troops have advanced in the Gaza strip.
  • California officials on Tuesday approved statewide emergency water restrictions.  Drought is most certainly...
  • This week on the Daily Show, Hillary Clinton all but spelled out her run for president in 2016.
  • And yesterday -- Protests continue in Murrieta and across the country regarding the bus loads of child immigrant detainees, and the much larger issue of immigration.  Murrieta has been dubbed by some Hate Town, USA.
How, in the light of all this recent news, are we to hear this parable from Jesus about the weeds and the wheat?

The sower sows good seed, but during the night--while everyone slept--an enemy sows weeds among the wheat, so that they’re all mixed up together.  When the field workers discover it, they run to their master, and ask -- and probably assume that it’s time to get to work on the weeding.  At which point the story takes an interesting turn.  “No,” says says the patient master, “Let them grow together, for in uprooting the weeds you’ll also uproot the wheat.  We’ll sort it out at the harvest.”   

And that’s our Gospel message for the day, in light of all this news, in light of whatever is happening in your own life -- whether you agree with it or not, the message of this gospel text, is that GOD WILL SORT IT OUT IN THE END.  

It’s not our job to do the weeding.  Our job is to KEEP ON BEING FAITHFUL, that is, keep on coming and opening your hands to receive God’s word of grace and peace, AND keep on letting Christ work on the weeds and the wheat in your own heart.  [pause]

One Bible commentator I came across this week suggested, don’t make the mistake of oversimplifying this text and just making actual people into weeds and wheat, i.e. good people are wheat and bad people are weeds.  She points out, if that were the case, then we’d all be in trouble...because who among us has never done a “weedy” thing or said a “weedy” word in anger or bitterness?  Thank God, the master says, “No don’t pull up the weeds yet, let them grow together, and we’ll sort it out in the end.”  (Weeds and wheat might better be understood as actions and words, not people.)

What’s interesting as we learn about agriculture in the Middle East and during the time of Jesus, is that -- unlike my front yard where I can tell pretty clearly what’s a weed and what’s not.  The weeds and the wheat in a wheat field look amazingly similar.  
(Even these English words are similar!)  Isn’t that interesting, then, in the metaphor?

How often one’s words or actions might first be perceived as one thing, but they are actually the opposite.  [pause] In some cases, how actions seem at first good, only to realize how they may have been actually quite devious.  That’s the stuff of great television shows -- so as not to use examples and expose any of my own foibles, I’ll bring up a television show:  House of Cards.  (an illustration that’s at a safe distance :)  Kevin Spacey, who plays rising star Senator Frank Underwood -- it’s a whole show about words and actions that seem very “wheaty” on the surface -- wholesome and good as an upstanding, public servant should be.  But in reality, he’s about the most “weedy” character I can think of -- self-serving, back-stabbing, power-mongering.  (Great show ; )         

So back to our headlines, where are the weeds and where’s the wheat in the news?  [pause]  My guess is that your first reaction is to answer that question pretty quickly -- without having to pray or think very hard.  I could tell you exactly who I think the weeds and the wheat are in our headlines!  Making that judgement is easy!  It’s easy to condemn one and condone the other, to punish or pass, to abhor or applaud.    

But God is calling us down different road today, sisters and brothers in Christ.  God is calling us to keep our judgemental-ism at bay, not to uproot the weeds, but to wait patiently and faithfully for God to make the call, at the harvest. [Dani-el]

And that might sound a big break for the bad guys, but that means it’s a big break for us too:  a) We’re freed from prosecuting, and b) we’re given more time here too.  God is giving us space to grow, before the final sorting.  God is giving us all, this whole world, some more time to grow.  And that’s good news!
Where in your own heart would you benefit from some more time to grow?  [pause]  Some more time to get it right?  Some more time to let forgiveness work on you?  These things don’t happen overnight.  Thanks be to God for the extension, here!

And I wonder--with this space and extension of time--if what we thought looked like a weed actually grows into a strong stalk of wheat!  [pause] How many stories are out there of kids who were real pains in the you-know-what growing up, but then they grow into these incredible counselors or teachers or coaches helping the next crop of troubled kids, who everyone else considers a bunch of weeds?!     

God’s gonna sort this thing out, sisters and brothers in Christ! So together we wait for the harvest.  (That’s what worship is: waiting.)  Patience is a virtue...that I need help with.  So together we slow down and wait.  Little Mark’s about to be baptized:  You know, Mark was named after his grandfather who died tragically about 10 years ago.  One of San Diego’s finest Lutheran pastors, I’ve heard time and again!  And here today comes this little seed, who will receive the holy water and continue to grow in life and faith.  How will he grow?  How will he want to sort things out, I wonder?  Will he drive his family and maybe his community crazy, and will we drive him crazy?  Isn’t there this incredibly strong urge to want to do the weeding ourselves?--“No, no, I’m not waiting around for God.  I don’t think God can handle this sorting out; I’m taking matters into my own hands!”  And yet we hear that still, small voice again this day.  Little Mark is being baptized into that still, small voice that calls us to patience.  God says, “Slow down, wait until the harvest.  Peace be with you.  Not yet.  I will sort this out.  Give it some more time.  Don’t be afraid.  You are mine.  And I will gather you into my barn at the last.”  AMEN.    

Monday, July 14, 2014

July 13 -- Fifth Sunday After Pentecost

“But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields.”

I’m thinking this morning about all the different types of soils, of earth we drove past on our family vacation these past few weeks.  

As most of you probably know I’ve been gone for the last two Sundays.  We were vacationing back in the Midwest, where my family is from, where many of our friends live and serve in various congregations, in Milwaukee, in Davenport, in Custer.  We drove as far back as Illinois.  These last two weeks.  And we watched as we drove the landscapes change, and we watched the soils change.  

Over these lush mountains and down into desert, Arizona, New Mexico.  Lots of hot, dry soil, where not much can take root and grow (even though some small parts of it we’ve cultivated).  Then things started really greening up in eastern NM and into Texas.  Even pine trees.  From desert to prairie.  From the thorns and rocky soil of the Southwest into slightly more fertile soil.  This, btw, correlated with the amount of  clouds we saw in the sky.  From the ranching soil and grasslands of Texas then, up into the farming soil of Oklahoma and Missouri.  And after a few days with my family in St. Louis, we turned north to see friends and headed up into the rich farming soil of Iowa and Illinois (the smell on our baseball).  We also saw places where the fertile soil had been flooded, choked out, in a way.  And nothing could grow there.    

So I’m thinking this morning as we read our Gospel about seed sown in fertile soil, about all the land we’ve covered, and perhaps you have too at one time or another.  How our many and various lands, like in Jesus’ parables, can be metaphors for our lives of faith and our reception to the Word of God.  
How in your life has God’s Word taken root and grown, like seeds in the fertile soil of the farmlands?  And when are times that it’s just not?  Too much distraction, too much flooding, too many rocks or bumps, or too much traffic in the busyness of our weeks?  How sometimes God’s word does start to grow, start to change us for the better, start to take root and hold on to us, but then how we can be swept away, almost instantly, by the world’s affairs and concerns.  How often there’s just not enough room or time or patience for God’s redemptive word of grace to take root and grow in our hearts.

You know, I am sometimes a little wary about the over-zealous in our churches.  More times than not, they get scorched by their own fire for Jesus, and they don’t last long in a church  community.  They can get impatient with others who aren’t as on fire, too soon throw their hands up in the air, and be done with the whole thing.  I once knew someone like that in a former congregation.  This person found our church, joined it, got ridiculously involved in every aspect of every ministry it seemed, got frustrated with others, angry and left it all -- all in the course of one short year.  Farmers understand that healthy plants and crops don’t grow like that; so how can we expect disciples to?

Compare that person -- a good person, but fell on rocky soil --  with the one who enters a Christian community slowly, carefully, perhaps dubiously, lovingly, seeking understanding and relationship.  Not over-zealous or anxious.  Just showing up again and again.  I’ve known many like this too.  Sharing life together.  Sharing joys and gathering in sorrowful times too.  I’ve watched, even in my 36 years, I’ve watched some become stronger more faithful Christians, better and better students of Scripture, more grounded in the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion.  And again, faithful in their presence among God’s people.  Showing up, year after year.  Now that’s where the seed of God’s Word -- that is, the Gospel message of God’s forgiveness, grace and love -- has “taken” and continues to grow and expand and bear fruit and become stronger for it.  How  often we emerge stronger, when faced with adversity!

Jesus’ message this hot summer day, is a call not to be fickle.  Not to blow in the wind, and get reactive and storm out, but to slow down, and let this Good Word work on us, change us, from the inside.  How often do we really stop and let a passage from scripture “soak in” or “take root”?  I’m guilty of this -- so often Bible readings can just brush our ears and our intellects, and then we move on, or go back to whatever we were doing before.  It’s hard to let God’s word soak down into our hearts.  (But try taking some real time with Scripture -- and see what happens...) “You are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.  If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you...then God will give life to your mortal bodies.”

We can certainly blow this word off, or brush it aside, but this word has the power to save our lives.  

Why is it that we let other words that people say to us, damage or even destroy our lives, but we can let a Good Word from God just brush past us?  

I bet everyone in here, wouldn’t have to think very long about the meanest thing anyone’s ever said to/about you.  I bet we could re-call those cruel words pretty quickly.  But the Word of God, which promises us life, which grants us peace and joy and forgiveness of all our wrongdoings, that word we can almost forget by the time we get home to watch the World Cup this afternoon...   [pause] 

These hot summer days, a new word takes root in us and grows:  God loves you.  Even you!  God forgives you, and calls you to forgive others -- not because you’re an awesome saint necessarily and perfectly capable of forgiving others.  No God calls us to forgive others, not in our own names but, in Jesus’ name.  That’s a good word that we have to let sit under the ground and grow over time.  And Christ waters us, the light of God shines on us, and the Spirit blows through our lands and connects us so that we don’t stand and grow alone.  

God makes our hearts good soil.  God takes a risk and extravagantly throws out seeds of love, even in your direction today, on every kind of soil that we saw crossing the country.  And God makes our hearts good soil.  So that through the work of the Holy Spirit, that seed “takes” and grows in our hearts.  And in time, deeds and words of love and grace then flow from our hands and our mouths, bringing comfort, peace and joy to this hurting world, the very comfort, peace and joy of Christ Jesus.  From God, the Gracious Farmer, to us, once dry and un-cultivatable soil...because of Christ, who lives and dwells with us this day and forever.  Now we go out too, and spread widely this Good News.  AMEN.