Archive for July, 2020


Sowing Seeds of Faith


God does not reserve God’s goodness only for those who respond in the way God hopes…

The Foolish Farmer
A Sermon on Matthew 13:1-9, with allusions to 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Sunday, July 26, 2020

Farmers can’t control every variable, but there are things they can do to make a good harvest more likely. This time when I went home my brother Charles and I talked a lot about soil management at the farm, crop rotation and such. He was filling out reports on what he has planted in every field this year. We also talked about what he and his co-worker have been doing to condition the soil more deeply. It gets compacted over the years, and it has to be loosened.

One strategy that Charles has used, though not this year, is to plant giant radishes in a field between the crop seasons. These radishes grow to the size of baseball bats, and they push deep into the soil and break it up. Eventually they decompose, adding organic matter to the soil.

A farmer went out to plant, Jesus said to the crowd, and it quickly became apparent that this farmer was not like the wise farmers we know. There was no strategic plan, no soil analysis, and no soil preparation. Instead he threw seeds willy-nilly everywhere. Some landed on the path, where the soil was hard and needed something like the giant radish treatment to break it up. Those seeds never germinated. Birds quickly got them. Some landed where the soil was too thin to support the emerging plants, and they withered. Some landed in the weeds, and the weeds choked the seedlings. Thank goodness some seeds landed in promising ground, where they germinated, grew, and brought forth an abundant harvest: thirty, sixty, even a hundredfold.

What foolishness is this? What true farmer has seed to waste? Not in the real world. It’s clear Jesus is talking about a different world here. Jesus is inviting his listeners into the parable zone, where deceptively simple little stories challenge our usual assumptions, where the values and priorities often turn out to be different, and where worldly wisdom sometimes gets turned on its head. In the parable zone, for example, workers who get hired at the eleventh hour get paid the same as those who have toiled all day. In the parable zone, wayward sons who have thrown their lives away get treated like royalty. In the parable zone, farmers foolishly broadcast seed any and everywhere. “Let those who have ears, listen,” Jesus said.

Those who do listen and walk around in the parable zone, who wrestle with the strange things they see there, learn something about the kingdom of God, where God is in charge, about the great farm where God is the farmer in charge. They learn the strange wisdom of God.

God the great farmer isn’t worried about wasting seeds. The seeds of God’s great faithfulness, mercy, and love truly are unlimited. God is determined to sow good seed everywhere whether it is well-received or not. It is the great farmer’s nature to sow the seeds of love broadly, reaching out to all. God does not reserve God’s goodness only for those who respond in the way God hopes.

Jesus stepped out to sow God’s love in this way. He sowed his word and his teaching generously everywhere. He shared God’s gifts of love generously, everywhere, even in places and with people that some pious onlookers believed Jesus shouldn’t be wasting his time on. Often it was the outsiders, people who could not hide the pain and mess of their lives who were the most receptive. They turned out to be the most fertile ground for Jesus’ message.

Unfortunately, some of the religious leaders who knew the scriptures best turned out to be the least receptive. How dare Jesus be so soft and loose on the law of God! How dare he throw grace and forgiveness around so willy-nilly! Jesus ought to get tough on sinners, which is what they themselves decided to do: get tough on Jesus. By the middle of Matthew 12, just before the array of kingdom parables we are now exploring, this powerful contingent of scripture experts was plotting to destroy Jesus, like he was some kind of noxious weed. (more…)


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Come to Jesus

Our congregation feels the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic and the weight of the suffering and strife in our community, nation, and world.  We are still worshiping via Zoom as cases of the illness continue to rise in North Carolina.  We shared communion today after we reflected on Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11:25. The video below is a rendition of Sylvia Dunstan’s hymn, “Come to Me, O Weary Traveler,” a loving invitation for these hard times.  (Video from the First Congregational Church of Houston.)

Come to Jesus

A Sermon on Matthew 11:25-30

One translation of today’s gospel lesson reads: “Come to me all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads” (Common English Bible).  We get it.  We know what it means to shoulder up heavy loads:  Struggling with worries and pressures and illness in ourselves and others.  Shouldering responsibility for loved ones who are helpless or frail.  Feeling the weight of the pandemic and the unrest in our country.

Jesus always saw clearly what was weighing on folks.  He recognized the yokes they wore.  And on that particular day in Matthew 11 what he saw weighing on so many was the burden of being unable to measure up religiously, being spiritually second class, at least in some self-appointed religious experts’ eyes. Jesus took special notice of them.  He called them “little ones,” as opposed to the “big shots,” the experts who thought they had God and God’s ways all figured out.

Whereas God had meant for the sacred law to be a gracious, guiding yoke for humanity, these wise in their own eyes experts had turned God’s gracious law into a heavy yoke that was hard for ordinary people to shoulder, and downright impossible for many.  Later in Matthew 23, Jesus puts it this way, “They make up heavy loads and pile them on people’s shoulders, but then refuse to lift a finger to help them carry these loads.”

These little ones were the people who couldn’t get everything right in the eyes of the big shots.  They were too poor, or too sick, or too disreputable to be able to get with the spiritual experts’ “program.”  Some had bodily conditions that rendered them perpetually unclean according to the purity laws.  And if they were unclean, they could not come into the house of the Lord.  Some made their living at occupations—such as shepherding—that made it impossible to comply with all the rules.  Some didn’t have the time, or the strength, or the money to do what the experts said the law demanded.  Grace was their only hope before God, and they knew it.  Jesus saw these little ones were in the crowd that day, and he said, “Come to me.”

“Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest,” he said.  “Put on my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in spirit, and there you will find a resting place for your souls.”  The yoke Jesus is picturing is one that yokes two together to pull as a team.  The yoke he offers is his own, the one he himself is already in.  “Come be yoked together with me, and I will give you rest.”

“Come away from the ‘get it right or else’ crowd,” Jesus called.  “Come away from those who take the focus off God and put it on the rules.  Come away from endless efforts to try to please or appease an angry God.  Come to me, get in the yoke with me, and through me, come to the God who loves you.  Learn from me.  I will teach you what burdens you can let go of.  And I will help you carry the ones you do have to carry.”

Jesus recognizes the loads people labor under.  He knows all our burdens.  He knows all our worries and fears.  He knows we cannot carry them alone.   “Come to me, all of you.” 

“Come to me,” Jesus calls to all the sick, to everyone who is hurting in body, mind or spirit.  “Come to me,” he calls to the poor and hungry, to the outcast and the rejected, to all who are seen as little in the world’s eyes.

“Come to me, little children, let me take you in my arms.”  Jesus  knows children carry heavy burdens in their bodies and in their hearts, too, things that make them sad and afraid. 

Jesus always sees the loads we carry, and he says, “Come be with me, all you who carry heavy burdens, who struggle, who need relief, and I will help you.  I will give you rest.”

“Come get beside me in the yoke, and learn from me, and you will find rest for your souls.  Come join me at my table.  And you will find food for your souls.  

I will give you rest.

I will give you life.


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