Proper 10 – A

                                                                                                                                                                   Matt 13:1-9,18-23

                                                                                                                                                                        July 16, 2017

                                                                                                                                                                        St. Columba’s

 

           In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Intro

           In today’s Gospel reading, we hear the Parable of the Sower.

 

           This story shows us Jesus at his story-telling best, and we even get a glimpse of his Rabbinic Rhetoric.

 

           Jesus tells a straightforward story about a familiar scene in any agricultural community:

                      A farmer goes out to sow seeds

                      The seeds fall here and there

                      Some of them germinate, thrive and mature

                      Some don’t

                      End of Story.

 

I. Allegorical Interpretations

 

           A. But Jesus’ hearers would have heard clues as to the story’s meaning.

 

                      1. Images of planting, growth and harvest were deeply embedded in the Jewish religious imagination as symbols of the KINGDOM OF GOD.

 

                      2. Jesus can be certain that whenever He speaks about seed-sowing and harvest, barrenness and fruitfulness, His hearers will understand that he is talking about God’s Kingdom and God’s will.

 

                      3. Probably in its original form, this parable was one of contrast pointing to the miraculous YIELD of God’s Kingdom, despite the frustrations and lack of success of Jesus and his followers.

 

                      4. In this form, the SEED is the Word of God which is spread about to the crowds.

                      5. And even though some of the seed falls where it can do little or no good – the harvest WILL come and it WILL be abundant.

 

           B. Scholars, however, debate about the second half of our reading, in which the parable is explained.

 

                      1. It’s not like Jesus to explain his parables, and thus turn them into ALLEGORIES;

                                 - so scholars tend to believe that this explanation is a later addition by Matthew or the Early Church.

 

                      2. Because in the allegory the focus of the story shifts from the ABUNDANCE of God’s Kingdom, to a warning about hearing the Word of God.

                      3. But whether it comes from Jesus or not, the interpretation that identifies the different kinds of soil with different kinds of hearers has always held a significant place in the church’s thought.

 

                            4. Traditionally, the way this parable is treated is that the seeds themselves represent the teachings of Jesus and the soil in which they land determine the different responses to what is sown.

 

                      5. But this time around, I would like us to look at the SEED itself and see what conclusions we might draw.

 

II. The Seed

 

           A. The story is told of two seeds that lay side by side in the fertile soil.

 

                      1. The first seed said, “I want to grow!

                                 - “I want to send my roots deep into the soil beneath me and thrust my sprouts through the earth’s crust above me.

 

                      2. “I want to unfurl my tender buds like banners to announce the arrival of spring.

                      3. “I want to feel the warmth of the sun on my face and the blessing of the morning dew on my petals!”

 

                      4. And so she grew.

 

                      5. The second seed said, “I am afraid.

                                 - “If I send my roots into the ground below, I don’t know what I will encounter in the dark.

 

                      6. “If I push my way through the hard soil above me I may damage my delicate sprouts.

 

                      7. “What if I let my buds open and a snail tries to eat them?

                                 - “And if I were to open my blossoms, a small child might pull me from the ground.

 

                      8. “No, it is much better for me to wait until it is safe.

                                 - And so she waited …

 

                      9. But, unfortunately, a yard hen scratching around in the early spring ground for food found the waiting seed and promptly ate it.

 

                      10. It takes effort to be the Good Seed of the Kingdom of God.

 

           B. In the Gospel, Jesus says that the SEED is “the word of the kingdom.’

 

                      1. In other words, the seeds are the teachings of Jesus about the Good News of the Kingdom of God.

 

                      2. These are all those other parables and stories that make us pause and scratch our heads, because they don’t add up to our way of thinking.

 

                      3. You know, stories where a hated SAMARITAN is the good guy and treats a stranger as their neighbor,

                                 - or when a wastrel SON returns home and is welcomed by his loving Father,          

                                 - or other farming stories about hiring people throughout the day and then paying them the same WAGE – no matter how many hours they worked.

                      4. You know, those stories about the God’s extravagant, inclusive, unconditional love freely offered to all – whether we think they deserve it or not.

 

           C. And like seeds, Jesus’ teachings are NOT to be stored somewhere safe in a dark place where no one can disturb them.

 

                      1. On the contrary – they are to be taken out and scattered all over the place.

                      2. I mean look at the SOWER – once again we see the extravagance of God – this guy is shooting seeds everywhere: on the path, in the weeds, on the rocks, and on the fertile farm soil that is prepared for it – but the point is the seeds are shot EVERYWHERE.

 

                      3. God’s Word is offered to EVERYONE!!

 

                      4. But in order for this to happen – the only way the NEWS of God’s love can be spread – is if somebody does it;

                                 - and that SOMEBODY, my friends, means YOU and Me.

 

III. Being Sowers

 

           A. That’s right – the only way for God’s Word to be spread about is if WE do it.

                      1. And before you start backpedalling and saying, “No, that’s your job, you are the professional “Word Sower;”

 

                      2. It’s OK – there are lots of ways to sow the seeds of God’s Kingdom – the seeds of God’s Love.

 

                      3. Remember the Sower from the parable: he’s not responsible for what happens to the seed – God takes care of that – his job is to just get it out there any way he can;

                                 - and so is ours.

 

                      4. It’s as simple as telling people about God and about God’s love for them – that’s it – and we do it all the time.

                      5. We do it in the way we live our lives and the way we treat other people – in other words, the way WE show God’s love.

 

                      6. We do it every time we welcome a stranger into our midst, every time we pray The Welcoming Prayer – and really mean it, every time we reach out and get to know someone who is new to us.

 

                      7. We don’t have to be great theologians – we don’t have to be Defenders of the Faith – all we have to do and say is “This is what it means to me …”

                      - This is what it means to me to find meaning in the worship of the Episcopal Church

                      - This is what it means to me to be a part of the COMMUNITY  of St. Columba’s

                      - This is what I’ve found and I hope you find it too.

 

           It’s as simple as that.

 

           B. And we’re doing it this weekend with our BOOTH at the Fiesta.

                      1. We have close to 25 people helping in various ways to get out the Good News about God’s Love and St. Columba’s.

 

                      2. In our booth are a collection of sayings with pictures illustrating how we strive to live them out.

 

                      3. Sayings such as:

                                 - We welcome all – the faithful, the seekers, the doubters

                                 - Faith is God’s gift to us, not our gift to God

                                 - We find our unity in shared worship not forced agreement

                                 - Being an intelligent, strong woman is not a drawback in the Episcopal Church

                                 - You are treated as an adult but the child in you is welcome

                                 - This is the only church as lovingly loony as your family

 

                      4. And these are just some of the ways that we live out God’s Kingdom in this place, and our lives, each and every day.

Conclusion

 

           For as we strive to live out God’s Kingdom in our lives – as a parish and as individuals – we are being SOWERS of God’s love.

 

           Remember, this is a parable about ABUNDANCE – the abundance of the Kingdom of God despite our ineptness and frustrations.

 

           So let us become SOWERS of the Good News of God’s Love for us, and fling our SEED with the same reckless abandon as the Sower – trusting that God will bless our efforts and cause them to flourish with abundance.

 

Let Us Pray

           O God of seed time and harvest, you have generously sown the Good Seed in our hearts:  Grant that what you have planted not only takes root, but flourishes, producing abundant fruits of faith and love in our lives, that we may in turn become sowers of the seeds of your kingdom.  This we pray in the Name of the Great Sower of your Word, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen 

(Notebook p.243 – adapted)


 

Proper 9 – A

                                                                                                                                                          Matt 11:16-19, 23-30

                                                                                                                                                          July 9, 2017

                                                                                                                                                          St. Columba’s

 

              In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

I. Yoked for Service

 

           A. As Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, we hear that the people marveled at his teaching, healing and proclaiming God’s Kingdom.

                      - “Who is this guy?” they would ask one another; for he was unlike anyone else they had ever seen.

 

                      1. Yet, at the same time, Jesus and his teachings also met stiff opposition from those in positions of power and authority.

                                 - “Who does this guy think he is?” was the question they asked – as they experienced him as a threat to their position and authority.

 

                      2. In our passage today, Jesus talks about this opposition, comparing them to obstinate children who refuse to join in each other’s games.

 

                      3. He refers to John the Baptist and how the two of them seem to be caught in a “Catch 22”.

 

                      4. On the one hand, John was dismissed because of his ascetic lifestyle, as Jesus points out “he came neither eating nor drinking, and they say ‘He has a demon.’

 

                      5. While on the other hand, Jesus is accused of gluttony and drunkenness because he ate and drank with those considered to be outcasts and sinners.

                      6. He then goes on to thank God that God’s truths are hidden from those the world considers wise and important and instead are revealed them to those who the world thinks are unimportant.

 

           B. To these followers, Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

 

                      1. This image Jesus is using is right from the farm and would have been very plain to the people of Jesus’ day.

                      2. All the people had to hear was yoke and they could envision two animals harnessed together, thus making the heaviest burdens possible to bear.

 

                      3. Several years ago, Nancy and I spent a vacation in Central New York and visited Cooperstown.

 

                      4. Of course we went to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but first we went to the Farmer’s Museum – which among other things includes a recreated village showing how the people of the area lived 200 years ago.

 

                      5. There as we walked around was a “farmer” getting ready to disc his field using oxen to pull his equipment.

 

                      6. To keep the oxen together and to use the full advantage of their combined strength the farmer yoked them together.

                                 - A wooden ox yoke went over their shoulders so that they could work TOGETHER.

 

           C. That’s the image that Jesus was pointing to for his followers – being yoked together, yoked together in service to spread his message of God’s love.

 

                      1. Think about those OXEN yoked together pulling a plow – they work together, in harmony, moving steadily onward – until they accomplish their task.

                      2. And the same could be said about the followers of Christ.

 

                      3. Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

 

                      4. And what is Jesus’ yoke – this burden he calls us to carry – it can be summed up in one word – LOVE.

 

                      5. The yoke we are bound together with is LOVE.

 

                      6. We as Jesus’ followers are yoked together – all of us harnessed to work together on a common task – to make Jesus’ message of God’s love known.

                      7. We do this in so many ways, but if each of us went scurrying off in our own separate direction, our work would be too diffuse and diluted.

 

                8. Yet, by working together under Jesus’ yoke of love, we are able to combine our strengths and talents in accomplishing the things we are given to do.

II. Sylvia

 

           A. We said, “Goodbye” to a great example of this last Thursday – Sylvia Aplin.

                      1. For Sylvia was a true servant of God, who knew the power of Jesus’ yoke.

 

                      2. If you could say anything about Sylvia, it was that she KNEW God.

                      3. A week or so before she died, I was talking with Sylvia via her son’s cell phone – and she said to me, “Fr Greg, when I die will I go to heaven.

                                 - And I said, “Sylvia, if you don’t – there’s no hope for the rest of us.”

                      4. Sylvia had a deep and abiding relationship with God – that you could just know – you could just feel – when you were with her.

 

                      5. Of course, she wasn’t afraid to tell you about her relationship with God either.

 

                      6. It’s just part of who she was – the life she led – and part of the legacy she leaves for the rest of us as well.

 

           B. Sylvia was a member of the Daughters of the King, an organization whose vows and ministry she took deeply to heart.

 

                      1. The Daughters of the King is an order found around the world in the Anglican Communion whose mission is: the “extension of Christ’s Kingdom though, Prayer, Service and Evangelism.”

 

                      2. Hmm, Prayer, Service and Evangelism – that sums up Sylvia pretty well – I guess you could say, in a very real way she was the poster child for the Daughters of the King.

 

                      3. For Prayer, Service and Evangelism were the way that she lived her life.

 

           C. I told this story the other day at Sylvia’s funeral, but I think it bears re-telling, for it is a wonderful example of how she lived this out.

 

                      1. Before they came to Camarillo, Sylvia and Dennis lived in Santa Monica.

                      2. And living next door to them was this nice couple of women whose company they would enjoy.

 

                      3. It seems Dennis would especially enjoy engaging them in conversation whenever they were in their hot tub in the back yard.

 

                      4. When he heard them in the hot tub, his head would pop over the fence and he would have a chat.

 

                      5. Of course, they didn’t bother to wear bathing suits when they were in the hot tub – so sometimes it could be a long chat.

 

                      6. As they did later when they moved here, Sylvia and Dennis had a HOUSE CHURCH that met weekly in their home for prayer and study.

 

                      7. Sylvia would lead Evening Prayer and there would be a Bible Study or Book Discussion.

 

                      8. Well, one day, one of these neighbor ladies asked Sylvia, “What is it that you have going on at your house every week?”

 

                      9. And Sylvia simply said, “Come and see.” 

                                 - “Come and see,” that’s all she said.

 

                      10. So, the neighbor lady did.

                                 - She came to check out this group – and stayed.

 

                      11. She became part of the House Church – and then became part of the main church, at St. Augustine’s – and eventually was ordained as a Priest in the Episcopal Church.

                                 - All because Sylvia said, “Come and See”

 

                      12. And THAT is just one way Sylvia led her life of Prayer, Service and Evangelism – that was how she was yoked to serve.

 

III. How are we yoked to serve

 

           A. So, how are WE yoked to serve?

 

                      1. Let’s think about this for a minute.

 

                2. If we are yoked that presumes a PAIR – so who are we yoked with?                                  - And quite simply, I think the answer is Jesus.

                      3. Think about that, WE are yoked together WITH Jesus, in Jesus’ yoke of love, to carry out Jesus’ mission of sharing God’s love.

 

                      4. Just like those OXEN in the field, we are to work slow and steady TOGETHER – not on our own – to accomplish the tasks that are placed before us.

 

           B. Donald S. Armentrout paraphrases Jesus’ invitation this way:

 

                      1. “‘Come to me…’

                                 - “You do not have to eat and drink in some particular way to be worthy.

                                 - “You do not have to acquire special wisdom.

                                 - “Come as you are.

 

                      2. “Find me among those who gather in my name.

                                 - Find me in the church where sisters and brothers bear one another’s burdens, praying for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus, and for all people according to their needs.

 

                      3. “‘Come, and find rest for your souls.’”

 

           C. Are you willing to be yoked to serve?

 

                      1. Will you put on Jesus’ yoke of love to carry out your ministry in the world?

                      2. Will you be yoked to Jesus – working in tandem with him to bring God’s love to those who need it.

 

              3. Will YOU be a person of PRAYER, SERVICE and EVANGELISM?

 

                      4. Will you, like Sylvia be willing to say, “Come and See?”

 

Let Us Pray

 

           O God you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. AMEN.                                              (BCP p. 230)

Proper 8 – A

                                                                                                                                                                        Matt 10:40-42

                                                                                                                                                                        July 2, 2017

                                                                                                                                                                        St. Columba’s

 

           In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

I. Abraham

 

       A. “If you let somebody read this one in church, you’d better preach on it.”

 

                      1. That’s the advice of Barbara Crafton – Author, Retreat Leader, Spiritual Director, and a Seminary colleague of mine.

 

                      2. “If you let somebody read this one in church, you’d better preach on it” – she exclaims writing about our OT Lesson.

 

                      3. So I thought I’d go one better and let HER preach on it, and share with you her meditation on this troubling story.

 

           B. She writes:

 

                      1. Somebody walks in off the street, maybe, or comes back to church after an absence that began when she was 18 and is only now coming to an end, and she’s 47.

 

                      2. She sings her first hymn in all those years, and is quietly pleased that it is one she still remembers.

 

                      3. She is glad she came; she needed something more in her life.

 

                      4. Then someone gets up and reads the story of how Abraham feared God so much that he was willing to kill his own son if God told him to, and she is not so sure.

 

                      5. This is barbaric, she thinks, feeling her face grow hot and her heart begin to pound.

                                 - This sort of thing is why I left, for crying out loud.

 

                      6. What kind of God even allows a father to think he wants his child killed?

                      7. So what if it’s only a test of Abraham’s faith – the test itself is barbaric.

                      8. And what about the terror of the little boy who lives for the rest of his life with the memory of the time his father almost slit his throat?

 

                      9. Don’t stand up there and preach about something else, Barbara Crafton writes; her anger is righteous.

                                 - You won’t distract her.

                                 - If you leave it be, she may disappear for another 29 years.

 

           C. She then continues:

 

                      1. Here is what I think: I think we are witnessing, in this ancient story, a moment of transition in Israel’s understanding of who God is.

 

                      2. We know that human sacrifice was an occasional feature of Hebrew life – we hear prophets and holy men inveighing against the practice, which they wouldn’t have had to do if people were not drawn to it.

 

                      3. We know about the god Moloch, who demanded the sacrifice of children by burning, the very act in which Abraham is engaged when a voice from heaven stops him.

 

                      4. Many of the people around Abraham must have sacrificed in this way; he knows just how to do it.

 

                      5. And then God stops him.

 

                      6. The words of the story tell us that he is stopped because God is now satisfied with his devotion, but the fact of the story, the fact of its inclusion in our holy scripture, suggests another reason: our God is not Moloch.

                      7. We don’t have to relate to God as if that were the case.

 

                      8. If ever you think God is telling you to act violently in defense of his honor, think again – both about what God is and about what honor is.

 

                      9. We’re past that now.

 

                      10. So writes Barbara Crafton.

 

 

 

 

II. Jesus

 

           A. We also hear this story of Abraham and Isaac in Lent and at the Easter Vigil – and there it takes on an extra layer of meaning as well.

 

                      1. For in the context of Jesus’ death and resurrection we see that ABRAHAM did NOT have to sacrifice his son – but that God DID, as Jesus’ life was laid down for us to open a new way to God.

 

                      2. For that’s what Jesus came to do – he came to tell people about God’s love for them – a love that was offered to everyone.

 

                  3. In fact, that’s what got him in trouble with the religious authorities.

 

                      4. They believed that God could only love certain people – specifically God’s chosen people, the Jews, and then only ones who abided by the strictest adherence to the Law.

 

           B. But Jesus came to change all that – and upset the world view of too many people.

 

                      1. People thought God was a fearsome thing to be appeased – that was why there was a whole system of sacrifices, that could only be carried out at the Temple in Jerusalem – to somehow appease this fearsome God and allow the people to continue to exist;

                                 - shades of Barbara Crafton’s Moloch.

 

                      2.  There’s no LOVE there – there’s no RELATIONSHIP there.

 

                      3. But Jesus came to change all that – he came to say, “God’s not like that at all – God LOVES you – as a parent loves their children.”

 

                      4. And God’s love is available to ANYONE, and we return that love in the way we live our lives and treat other people.

 

                      5. A revolutionary concept – so revolutionary the people couldn’t hear it and strung Jesus up on a cross to be done with him and his radical teaching.

                      6. But God had different ideas – God took the worst possible thing humanity could do – killing Jesus – and flipped it upside down by raising Jesus from the dead and offering us a whole new relationship with God.

 

III. Being Emissaries  

 

           A. And it’s that relationship that Jesus sends his Followers out to share in our Gospel reading.

 

                      1. Jesus sends them out as his EMISSARIES – to carry the Good News of God’s love to all they met.

 

                      2. As they carry out their mission, they will be rejected in some places but welcomed in others.

 

                      3. Since they are emissaries of Jesus, those who welcome them also welcome Jesus – and therefore God.

 

                      4. This comes from the tradition that accepting a king’s emissary is the same as welcoming the king himself.

 

                      5. Thus the mission of Jesus’ followers is inextricably connected to Jesus as the one who sent them.

 

                      6. And this has carried down throughout the centuries – Jesus’ followers are sent to be his EMISSARIES – to share his message of the Good News of God’s love.

 

                      7. And what was true then is true now – for we too are called to be Jesus’ EMISSARIES to our time and place.

 

                      8. The question is – HOW are we going to do it?

 

           B. The story is told of a man walking through the forest who saw a FOX that had lost it legs and he wondered how it lived.

 

                      1. Then he saw a TIGER come in with game in its mouth.

 

                      2. The TIGER ate its fill and left the rest of the meat for the FOX.

 

                      3. The next day God fed the FOX by means of the same TIGER.

 

                      4. The man began to wonder at God’s greatness and said to himself, “I, too, shall rest in a corner with a full trust in the Lord, and he will provide for me with all I need.”

 

                      5. He did this for many days, but nothing happened, and he was almost at death’s door when he heard a voice say, “O you who are in the path of error, open your eyes to the truth! Follow the example of the TIGER and stop imitating the disabled FOX.”

 

           C. Are you going to be a TIGER or a disabled FOX when it comes to being Jesus’ EMISSARIES here, today?

 

                      1. For each of us is called, as a follower of Christ, to bring Jesus’ message of God’s costly, inclusive and abundant LOVE, extravagantly given to us all.

                      2. Our world, our culture, our time may be more like ABRAHAM than we may want to admit.

 

                      3. What is it that we wouldn’t SACRIFICE to get ahead – to get what we deserve – to get something more?

 

                      4. Moloch is alive and well in our day – and every day our culture rewards those who think they can do it all themselves and don’t need anyone – especially God.

 

                      5. But into this conflagration WE are sent – sent with the same message Jesus came to share – the message of God’s love.

 

                      6. God’s love for US and all God’s children, if they would just open themselves up to it and to the relationship that God wants to have with us.

 

Conclusion

 

           How will you be an EMISSARY for God?

 

           How will you live God’s love in your life that it may be an example to others?

           How will you deepen your relationship with God – so that you may be strengthened to be the EMMISARY you are called to be?

 

           So that when we encounter that woman who knows something is missing in her life – and wants something deeper – we can help her along the way to knowing God’s deep, deep love for her.

 

           How will you be an EMISSARY for God?

Let us Pray

 

           Welcoming God, giving space for creation to return your love: make us emissaries of the open table, a place of hospitality to challenge the world with the gift of your abundant extravagant love; through Jesus Christ, who offered himself for us. Amen.                                                                          (Shakespeare p. 29 – adapted)