Monday, August 14, 2017

Reflection on Matthew 14:22-33

Why does Peter sink? 

When Peter steps out of the boat, initially all is good.  As he moves toward Jesus, walking on the water with the waves and the wind all around him, all is fine.  So, why does Peter sink?  Or maybe I could ask: why, when you have been making through the struggles of life do you suddenly sink?

It was an easy enough summer bible camp exercise.  It was called a "trust walk," and as we campers moved toward the remote area of the "trust walk" just before midnight, our flashlights revealed a rope tied to a tree. 

“This is the trust walk,” our camp counselor announced.  “It is simple.  All you have to do is grab onto the rope and walk forward into the darkness, blindfolded.”  Because, as an eleven year old, simply walking into the darkness of the deep woods was not enough…we needed blindfolds.

“Where does it go?” we asked nervously.

“You will find out.  Just trust that it goes to the right spot,” our counselor assured.

And, so we did.  We trusted as we fashioned the blindfolds around our eyes and one by one took steps out into the darkness, following the rope with our hand. 

All is well the first hundred feet or so.  You can still hear the giggling of the other campers waiting their turn at that point.  But, soon, as you follow the rope, feeling yourself slip further and further into the deep woods, a familiar feeling starts to creep in. 

It is the same feeling that creeps in when you have started a time sensitive task confidently, with your reputation on the line, but run into something worse than a simple snag. 

It is the same feeling that creeps in when you stand up for what you believe, but others surround you with torches and shouts of hatred. 

It is the same feeling that creeps in when the world that used to seem secure and safe suddenly becomes chaotic and on the brink of war. 

It is the feeling that creeps in and makes you imagine the worst; that a bear is about to devour you as you follow the line.  Or perhaps, the long lost camper of bible camp lore, with his crooked leg and flaking flesh, will find you, blindfolded, vulnerable, and alone, and murder you.

As one of my fellow campers followed the rope, about 200 feet in he started to scream.  We heard one of the counselors bolt through the weeds nervously to come to the rescue.  As we listened carefully, we were relieved to hear that all was fine; the camper had simply been overcome by fear.

“Simply” is too gentle of a word when it comes to fear though.  Fear can completely derail us from whatever we are doing and derail us from the values that we hold, causing us to run away or ball up on the ground in self-protection. 

Fear is the great paralyzer. 

It can take a confident Peter, who is amazingly walking across his turbulent waters just fine, and cause him to doubt and sink. 

“Help me!” the camper screamed. 

“Lord, save me!” Peter cried out. 

“We just can’t do this…it is too much!” we cry out in the face of our own uncertain and fear-filled futures.

Now, I fully understand, that fear can be a good thing.  If a bear had crept upon the camper, fear for his life might have saved his life.  Fear allows us to retreat into safety.  Fear can keep us alive.  Those humans of the past who had no fear as the saber-toothed tiger approached them while they were weaponless never had the chance to have children.  We are the children of all those who were easily motivated by fear who ran for their lives, fought back, or played dead.

But, here is the thing about fear.  Fear of someone can easily turn into anger. 

Nazis and bigots who fear that Jews and blacks are disrupting and endangering their own livelihoods have developed an anger toward those groups of people. 

Jesus tells us outright not to harbor or continue in anger, because a well tended anger can develop into a full blown hatred.  And, the destruction that hatred can cause has no bounds. 

Hatred can lead one to think that it is right and even righteous to plow a car into a group of peaceful protesters. 

Hatred can lead to the annihilation of a whole group of people for nothing more than the color of their skin, the configuration of their genes, or the makeup of their culture. 

Fear is inherently selfish.  It thinks only of the self.  It only seeks to protect the self.  Fear disrupts the movements of love for other people in the kingdom of God.

So, how does Jesus respond when his people sink into fear? 

“Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.  But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, 'Lord, save me!'  Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him.” 

Immediately, Jesus reached out to save Peter from the mess that his fear had caused.  After-all, the answer to fear is not more fear or the anger and hatred that can follow, rather the answer to fear is love.  Jesus looks upon Peter with love and pulls him free so that he can once again be the disciple he was meant to be. 

“Have no fear.”  “Love your enemies.”  “Pray for those who persecute you.”  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  These are all invitations from Jesus to live out of love rather than fear.

1 John 4:18 states: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” 

In Jesus there is no fear.  In Jesus we find only love.  In Jesus we see someone who took to the cross, not with a sense of fear, but with a sense of love.  And, that love saved the whole world.  When the world is sinking, Jesus responds with love.  That is the way of the kingdom of God.

One of the most striking images for me from the weekend of hate down in Charlottesville is one that was sent to me by a pastor friend.  It shows a pastor, in full liturgical garb, reaching out in kindness to an armed militiaman.  It is an image of stepping from the boat into the lake of fear.  It is an image of trust in a Lord who does not allow us to sink.  It is an image of love in the face of fear and hatred.  It is an image of loving your enemy.  It is an image of love in the kingdom of God.  It is an image that reveals the heart of Jesus, our Lord and Savior who reaches out a hand in love so that we might be saved from our fear.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Reflection on Matthew 14:13-21

“You give them something to eat,” Jesus demands of his disciples when the hour is late and the 5,000 men plus women and children…so around 25,000 people… become hungry.

“You give them something to eat.”

I worked at a hospital as a chaplain for a summer, and I remember a sweltering day when a couple of women came into the office and asked for the chaplain on duty.

“How can I help you?” I asked, noticing that one of the women was barefoot.

“We jumped into the car when we heard our sister was sick and drove right up,” they began their story. “We weren’t thinking. We didn’t grab our purses, and I didn’t even think to grab my shoes. Now we are here, 200 miles from home with no money for gas or food, no money for a hotel, and I can’t even buy a cheap pair of flip flops. Can you help us?”

You have to understand that the hospital had given no money to the chaplaincy department for such things, and what I got paid as a chaplain for the entire summer was in the low hundreds of dollars, not the thousands. Thoughts of how stupid these women could possibly be raced through my head.

“Why is your stupidity my emergency?” I pondered, staring at the bare feet on the invisibly germ infested hospital floor.

“How much intelligence do you need to at least put on a pair of shoes before you embark on a journey of over 200 miles?"

Maybe it was all a scam for some drug cash?” I thought.

Yet, the command from Jesus echoed through my head, “You give them something to eat.”

Here’s the thing: about 25,000 people were so enamored by and in need of Jesus that they followed him far into a deserted place without even considering bringing what they would need once they got there. There were 25,000 stupid people.

And, on top of that, if you consider that 2.5 percent on average of a population has a prison history, that means that 625 of those people are probably criminals of some sort.

.5 percent, or 125 of those people are probably just plain old beggars who do not even want to try to work.

And, 1 percent, so 125 of those people, are most likely immoral prostitutes who have simply hitched a ride to make a profit off of the crowd.

So, there is all of that to consider before any help should be given. Maybe, the disciples needed an intake form to sort it all out. Forget that. You know hat would be easiest? How about the disciples just send them all into town to buy some food for themselves? That way they are not morally culpable for helping sinners.

Yet, even with all of that, Jesus demands, “You give them something to eat.”

That sounds great and noble Jesus, but there is the simple reality that we are just not enough. The world is huge. The hurt and need is huge. And, we are just little.

I only had a few hundred dollars to live on for the entire summer, the disciples only had 5 loaves and 2 fish, and we just are not enough to even make a dent in all the pain in the world. We simply are not.

It is not out of a sense of cruelty that we turn them away, it is just plain logic. The 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish (that we wisely packed for ourselves I should note) just is not enough. So, why even try?

Yet, Jesus demands, “You give them something to eat.”

Here’s the thing: none of these excuses matter. When Jesus looks at someone, he does not see a stupid idiot, or a criminal, or a societal leach, or a prostitute. He sees a brother or sister who God molded and shaped, as if from soft clay, with God’s very hands. When Jesus looks at the crowds, he sees siblings in need.

Speaking of siblings, my younger brother could be an idiot sometimes. Once we went on a trip out west on vacation, but before we went my parents gave us a list of things to pack that definitely included underwear. It was listed three separate times, just in case we might have missed it. But, as we traveled and the inevitable stomach cramps hit my younger brother, guess what he did not have. His underwear of course!

Now you tell me; when he had nothing to change into after the underwear blowout, did our parents just say to him, “You were supposed to pack them. Tough luck kid!”? Of course, not!

After the required scolding, they had compassion and bought the underwear, not because he deserved it, but because he needed it.

That is the way God is. Jesus has compassion on us, not because we deserve it, but because we need it.

We need Jesus’ grace. We need Jesus’ mercy. We need to be saved from ourselves. We need the new life that comes after crosses and death. We need second chances. And, sometimes we simply need something to eat.

“You give them something to eat.”

There is still the notion that we do not have enough and that we are not enough.

“Jesus, I hear you. I am the one who has been given the job to feed. I hear you. But, that still does not help the fact that I only have 5 loaves and two fish. It does not help the fact that I am only me and we together here are only we. I am not enough. We are not enough.”

To that notion, Jesus said, "’Give the little bit that you have to me.’ Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.”

“Give the little bit that you have to me,” Jesus says to us.

And, so I did. I reached in my wallet metaphorically, gave the two women a meal in the cafeteria, paid for their gas, and even gave a few dollars for some cheap flip-flops. It was not much, but it was enough. And, minutes later I got a call from a friend that he wanted to take a group of us out to lunch. His treat.

I am not saying that the phone call was a miracle just for me. It was probably just a coincidence that would have happened anyway. But, I am saying that Jesus provides enough.

We may not trust that we…our lowly selves…can make a difference, but Jesus provides enough. We may not think that our little churches…our little Christian communities...can make an impact on anything, but Jesus provides enough.

When we give it over to Jesus to bless and share, there will be enough.

I know, that trust thing is hard. I am certain that the disciples felt inadequate and a little crazy as they took their baskets of bread and fish scraps around to the people. But, they did because Jesus said they should. And, with Jesus, there was enough.

You see, where we and the disciples see limitations, Jesus sees possibilities. Jesus takes what there is, gives thanks, and then trusts that God will make it enough. His compassion allows him to never lose hope for anyone.

So, you too should not lose hope because Jesus will take what you have, give thanks for it, and make it more than enough. You are more than enough because of God.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Reflection on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

When I was a little kid and I dreamed of heaven, I imagined it to be the place where I could safely do the things that I would never dare to do here on earth.

Take mountain climbing. I imagined that I would finally be able to try mountain climbing without fear of getting hurt when the inevitable fall would come.

Or take flying. I imagined that in heaven I would finally be able to fly and not fall to the ground like a heavy bag of meat.

I imagined heaven to be the place where I could try each of these things and more without getting into trouble. No more getting yelled at for standing on the top of the swing set; heaven is a place of peace after-all.

As fanciful as those daydreams were, when Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven, he is not talking about that. He is not talking about an eternal eternal place…where all of our dreams finally come true. Rather, Jesus is talking about a time when all that God desires will finally control the earth; “thy kingdom come.”

Though Jesus' idea of the kingdom of heaven is not as fanciful as mine, it is similar in that it is quite different from the way things are today. In fact, the kingdom of heaven is very different. But, how could we describe it?

What about a mustard seed? The kingdom of heaven is like the seed of that noxious weed, the mustard plant. When it finds a place to get rooted, it spreads quickly and grows everywhere, ruining the garden of vegetables that you had carefully planted.

Yes, it ruins all of your vivid culinary vegetable dreams, but it is not all bad. Mustard can grow tall into full bushes that give the birds a place to live and build their nests.

The kingdom of heaven is not the fanciful imaginings of all that your heart has ever desired, rather the kingdom of heaven changes the world as we know it, and gives it new life.

Do you understand? Well, let us try flat bread. The kingdom of heaven…or the time when God gets to be in charge…is like a woman who is expected to make flatbread, but instead decides to sneak in a measure of yeast while she kneads the dough. When she bakes her “flatbread,” everyone around is horrified to find that it is rising all over the place. It is expanding everywhere, ruining all that they had planned, but providing something new, and in abundance.

You may have your plans of what the world should be, but God has God’s plans. You expect flatbread for yourself, and God ruins it in order to make loafs that can feed a multitude.

Do you understand? The kingdom of heaven is so precious that it is like a treasure that you found in your neighbor’s yard, in the middle of the night using the metal detector that you bought recently at a garage sale. After discovering the treasure, you cover it back up, and the next day offer a million dollars for that small chunk of yard knowing that what you will get in return will be worth even more.

The kingdom of heaven may be disruptive to the ways the world runs now, but to those who are forgotten in the way our world runs now, the disruption is so precious and so worth it.

Do you understand? The kingdom of heaven…or the time when God gets God's way…is so precious to the poor in spirit, the meek, the forgotten, the mourning, and those who seek justice that they are like someone who finds a pearl of great value, and they sell their house, their car, and even their food, just so that the pearl can be theirs.

What would you give to finally have peace in the world?

What would you give so that your neighbor might no longer be exploited by those with wealth and power?

What would you give so that women and children might not simply be thrown away or misused and mistreated as objects?

What would you give for all people to have a change of heart that would force them to forget about prospering themselves and would rather entice them to prosper God and prosper all the neighbors that God cares about?

What would you give for God’s rule to finally come to disrupt business as usual in order to create a new way of life where God’s children are not forgotten or neglected or abused in any way?

It seems like a pipe-dream, right? A word in which love of God and love of neighbor is the driving force of everything seems as unlikely as being able to climb mountains without the fear of getting hurt, or as impossible as humans flying around with their thin little arms.

It all seems to be pipe-dreams, because we know the reality.

The powerful always seem to get their way.

Those who look and act a little different in society are always treated with suspicion and are always pushed into the shadows.

The poor and poor in spirit are always blamed for their own misfortune and are forgotten.

Women and children always seem to get the short end of the stick somehow.

Anger and retaliation is seen as strong and forgiveness is seen as weak.

Nothing is done to reconcile enemies. Instead, people cheer when their enemies are defeated.

And, those who appear to be wonderful in pubic (those who are dressed well, speak well, pray well, and pay up well) are lifted up as great, while those who truly are great and loving are labeled as weak pansies.

I am not making up any of these examples either. These examples of the harsh reality of life do not come from my own desires and political motivations. Instead, Jesus addresses each one in the Sermon of the Mount. This is the sermon where Jesus teaches us to abandon the ways of the world and then teaches us how to live together as a people in the kingdom of heaven.

Taking seriously each of these examples and doing something about them really just boil down to one simple phrase that guides all that happens in the kingdom of heaven: “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you.”

That is what Jesus did after-all. God desires our total love and devotion, so God showed us total love and devotion on the cross. The same care for all, the same love of enemy and the same forgiveness that Jesus expects from us, Jesus showed to us when he died for us.

Even while we were still sinners, even while we did not care about God or those that God loves, Jesus still loved us and died for us. Jesus shows us what it is to live in God’s kingdom: we do to others as we would have them do to us.

God’s desire is that all might be able to experience this love, this concern, this forgiveness, this lifting up of one another in the kingdom of heaven. And, if God needs to go separate the good fish within us from the bad fish within us to do it, God will. Something needs to change in this world, and as the song by No Other Name declares, “let it start with me.”

Let it start with me
Open up my eyes
Fill my heart with your compassion
Free my mind from all distractions
Use my hand, to set the captive free
Move my feet to follow after you
Or change the world and let it start with me

The kingdom of heaven may not be a place where we can climb safely without falling, but it is a place where all of us who fall will be lifted up. This is what we call living in grace.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Reflection on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

The servants recognize the weeds.

Before we go any further in exploring this word of God for us, I just want us to stop right there and recognize a clear fact in the parable: the servants who care for the wheat fields recognize the weeds. They can clearly see the invaders that seek to choke out the good wheat planted in the good soil.

So, as the tenders of the wheat field, they ask, “What are we to do about it?”

People of God, you know wrongdoing, evil, and injustice when you see it. You can be heard talking with friends in the halls and at the tables of family events. The dismay in your voices can be heard each time you see children neglected, God’s creation destroyed senselessly, people suffering because of the stupidity of someone else, people struggling with the horrors of addiction, people struggling to put food on the table while others live high off of cheap labor, defamatory remarks toward women or minorities, and other forms of moral depravity that hurts the health of the community.

In other words, I do not need to hold a class on what the absence of loving your neighbor looks like. For the most part, as long as we have not allowed ourselves to be blinded, we know what wrongdoing and evil looks like.

Just to bring the point home, let us take a look at something. We have all heard the sentiment from Timothy 6:10 which says that “the love of money is the root of all evil.” It is very true. How many people are hurt because others are trying to make a fast buck? So, with that in mind, try to guess the top 10 consumer complaints from 2016 according to Forbes magazine. Do you have your guesses? Well, here they are:

1. Auto. Misrepresentations in advertising or sales of new and used cars, lemons, faulty repairs, leasing and towing disputes.

2. Home Improvement/Construction. Shoddy work, failure to start or complete the job.

3. Utilities. Service problems or billing disputes with phone, cable, satellite, Internet, electric and gas service.

4. Credit/Debt. Billing and fee disputes, mortgage modifications and mortgage-related fraud, credit repair, debt relief services, predatory lending, illegal or abusive debt collection tactics.

5. Retail Sales. False advertising and other deceptive practices, defective merchandise, problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates, failure to deliver.

6. Services. Misrepresentations, shoddy work, failure to have required licenses, failure to perform.

7. Landlord/Tenant. Unhealthy or unsafe conditions, failure to make repairs or provide promised amenities, deposit and rent disputes, illegal eviction tactics.

8. Household Goods. Misrepresentations, failure to deliver, faulty repairs in connection with furniture or appliances.

9. Health Products/Services. Misleading claims; unlicensed practitioners.

10. (Tied with the next) Internet Sales. Misrepresentations or other deceptive practices, failure to deliver online purchases;

Fraud. Bogus sweepstakes and lotteries, work-at-home schemes, grant offers, fake check scams, imposter scams and other common frauds.

See, as the people of God, you know greed and selfishness when you see it. It is not as if the weeds are somehow disguised among the wheat. They are right there, ready to be plucked. So, as the tenders of God’s kingdom, what are we to do about the weeds? What are we to do with those who hate rather than love? What do we do with those who tear down rather than build up? What do we do with our neighbor who is clearly in the wrong?

In the parable, the servants tending the field ask this very question.

"Then do you want us to go and gather them?' But he replied, "No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.' "

Did you catch the significance of what was said?

Though we can clearly see those who commit evil and injustice out in the field of wheat, it is not our job to pluck them out. It is not our job to destroy them. For if we try, the wheat will probably also suffer casualties.

Just last week I heard of a brand new pastor who saw the evil within a young woman in his new congregation. He saw her actions as evil. He knew her actions were evil.

So, he decided that he was going to get up into the pulpit like a self-appointed prophet and blatantly point a finger at the evil. He decided that he was going to pluck out the evil before it grew and spread. His new church was not going to be infested. He preached his finger-pointing sermon, and the next day he received a letter from a husband and a wife, two of the congregation’s most devoted and loving members.

Before I go into what the letter stated, you have to understand that this husband and wife were those quiet servants who were at every event, setting up the tables, making the food, and hugging those forgotten in the corner.

They were the ones who ran the hunger walk every year which raised thousands of dollars for the most destitute in the world.

They were the ones who people called when they were struggling and needed a loving ear.

They were the ones who probably understood Jesus’ self-giving love on the cross the best.

They were also the parents of the “evil” young woman in the congregation.

These parents were not hoodwinked. They knew the trouble that their daughter had gotten into full well. But, they were also working on another task that Jesus had set out for his disciples: forgiveness.

As the pastor read the letter, he discovered that these two disciples of the congregation were not coming back. Nor, did they think they would go to another church, at least not right then. The hurt that was caused by his callous attempt at plucking weeds was too fresh and too great.

Jesus, are we to go and pluck out the weeds? “No,” Jesus says. “Let them grow with the wheat and they will be separated at harvest time because you may just destroy some of the wheat in the process of plucking.” In other words, it is not your job to pluck. “Vengeance is mine” says the Lord.

It is not your job to pluck.

So, what are the servants of God to do when we see the weeds in the wheat? What action are we to take? Well, actually, Jesus has given us an action that we can take. It is a clear action. There is nothing ambiguous about it. It is the same action that Jesus takes on the cross when he dies in order to save the entire world. The action is simply called “forgiveness.”

The parents knew what they were doing. They were the devoted disciples of the congregation after-all. They were showing forgiveness the seventy seventh time because that is what Jesus told them to do. Plucking is not our job; forgiveness is our job.

For some reason in our society, we think the strong, brave, Godly people are the ones who stand up and boldly pluck away. That thought is wrong. It is easy to pluck. The very hard, but Godly, task is the task of forgiveness. Forgiveness is the strong and brave action of a Christ-like person.

That is a good thing, because if we are honest with ourselves, every single one of us is a field with a little bit of wheat and weed mixed together. There are great things about each of us, and there are rotten things about each of us. But, thank you God, for not plucking us out whenever we fail. For, in plucking us out entirely because of the bad, the good will also be removed.

Plucking does not save us. Forgiveness does.

Lord, may your forgiveness work to make us a clean field that yields grain of love for your kingdom.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Reflection on Matthew 13:1-9, 18-33

Do you know what I truly want? I want Christ to really do something with my heart.

When I think back to the days before I became a pastor, I think about the reasons why I kept coming to church and sitting on those hard pews. The main reason that I kept coming to church was that I actually wanted Jesus to do something with my heart.

I actually wanted to have an encounter with Jesus that was so powerful that my heart would be changed and my life, therefore, might also be changed. I wanted to go into church as one person, and come out the other side a brand new version of me filled with the Holy Spirit.

Because of this thirst for a drastic change to my life, I loved the song by Handt Hanson, “Lord Let My Heart Be Good Soil.”

Lord, let my heart be good soil,
open to the seed of your word.
Lord, let my heart be good soil,
where love can grow and peace is understood.
When my heart is hard, break the stone away.
When my heart is cold, warm it with the day.
When my heart is lost, lead me on your way.
Lord, let my heart, Lord, let my heart,
Lord, let my heart be good soil.

Here is the thing. I never walked into church feeling like, “Oh yeah, I got this thing called life all figured out. I’ll just come to church to give others a little bit of moral support.” That never happened.

Rather, I would stumble into church feeling like God had thrown God’s word onto the pathway of my soul, and somehow I completely missed it. It was as if the word had been thrown onto a parking lot and it never even had a chance with all of the birds around and the obvious lack of fertile ground. Most days the word had been snatched away, and I did not even have a chance to grasp it.

Other times, I would sit through church and be moved by the word through either the preaching or the beauty of the music as it gracefully traveled through the air and penetrated my soul. I would walk out the doors of the church, ready to let that grace of God come through the Word to move me and shape my actions. I was ready to be who God had made me to be.

I was like some soil that allowed God’s word to grow up fast and tall, but as soon as my life took the slightest of unexpected turns, whether it be the unfairness of a boss, or the struggling health of a family member, or maybe even just the busyness of life…the busyness of every single hour that never allowed me to do the loving things for God that I desired…the inspiration soon withered and died.

Then, there were the times that the word just did nothing at all. It fell among the shopping lists and worries about family and friends that were at the forefront of my mind as I sat in church and failed to listen. It never had a chance to even be noticed among those little thorns that grow up and get in the way.

Sometimes those thorns of life were not so little though. Sometimes, the word fell among huge, thick thorns of self-righteousness that would not allow any compassion for anyone who had failed in life in any way.

I am not proud of the thoughts that caused me to look down at the neighbor and see trash, rather than looking at the neighbor and seeing possibilities.

More than once the words, “If only they just worked a little harder,” came from my lips; words that are hard, thorny, with no understanding or compassion. Somehow I thought that a nice thick thorn, with its sharp end and sharp tongue would somehow poke these low lives into greatness.

The truth is, thorns an only poke and slay.

God’s word of forgiveness, love, and new possibilities fell into deaf thorns on those days, and there was no soil of love to be found.

As I said, I am not proud of those thorny days. They still come too. I am not proud now when they come today either, but they always seem to come anyway. And, all I can do when I feel the guilt of such hardness of hard and sharpness of thorns is sing:

Lord, let my heart be good soil,
open to the seed of your word.
Lord, let my heart be good soil,
where love can grow and peace is understood.
When my heart is hard, break the stone away.
When my heart is cold, warm it with the day.
When my heart is lost, lead me on your way.
Lord, let my heart, Lord, let my heart,
Lord, let my heart be good soil.

As much as I sang about desiring to be good soil, I am not certain that I ever really was. I think, at best, I was sometimes sandy soil on a beach, which can grow certain things, but not others. I am not certain that God’s word, which seeks to draw us together into a garden of mutual care and support, fertilized and watered continually with the gift of forgiveness, ever really found its proper footing in my heart. The cares of the world and the hardness of my heart toward others kind of closed the gate to such a beautiful garden.

When Jesus said to me, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” I responded, “for they should try harder so that I don’t have to worry about them.” That is not the word taking hold. That is not the way of serving the neighbor. That is not the way of giving. That is not the way of Jesus.

So, what are people like me supposed to do? What are people like me, whose soil is distracted and only partially fertile supposed to do, because I have been trying to be good soil for a very long time now, but somehow it just does not seem to be happening for me in any permanent way?

What are normal, busy, sometimes loving, but sometimes hardhearted, sometimes too sad or too mad for God’s Word to take root sort of people supposed to do?

We listen to these words;

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

But, no matter where the seeds fell, the sower kept sowing.

Is your soul a lifeless parking lot? God still throws seed there. God has not forgotten you.

Is your soul full of rocks? God still throw seed there. God has not forgotten you.

Is your soul tangled up in a bunch of thorns; so trapped that it is unable to see the light of day? God still keeps throwing and throwing and throwing that seed of grace at you, and it tumbles and bounces around until it comes to rest on your soil because God has not forgotten you.

God never assumes that your soil is too hard or rocky or thorny to grow anything, because it is not.

Blessed are us with quite a bit less than perfect spirits, because we get the kingdom of heaven showered down on us. And, when you are showered with grace, over and over again, your soil tends to start to darken into that rich stuff that just might be able to sprout some of God's love and grace.

Lord, let my heart be good soil. Shower me again, and again with your Word.