Sunday, July 13, 2008

Reflection on Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

We’ve all heard this parable before and we know the moral: be the seed rooted in good soil not the seed rooted on the path or on the rocks or in the thorns. Plant yourselves in good soil, do good things, yada, yada, yada, be loving like Jesus was loving, Amen. Short reflection today; time to venture forth from the computer and enjoy our summer afternoon at the mall, or at home in front of the tube, or playing games in a family member’s home.

Leaving everything right there does not feel right does it? Do not get me wrong, some part of us wishes I was not joking, because there are much more interesting things to be doing out there than sitting here reading a sermon. There are malls to be explored, great scary theme park rides to be enjoyed, beautiful gardens to plant, unexplored mountains to hike, and fish packed lakes to be emptied. I know that part of you probably has that desire pulling you out the door, but there is that equally piercing gut feeling that tells you such an attitude towards God’s house is like a skin piercing vine of thorns that will painfully snag you as it grows past, and haul you far away from the good soil.

Let us be honest, do we not come to websites like this expecting to find the presence of Christ, expecting to find good, rich, dark, soil in which we can sink our roots deeply? Do we not hope, each time we read reflections like this, to soak up a word that is full of water and minerals? Many times we do not get what we desire, but do we not wish that we could?

I will tell you the truth, I am not quite sure how this sowing the seed thing works. I am certain that a lot of people come and read with the expectation of meeting Christ and do not feel as if they have. I am honestly not certain that some people are ever given the chance at sinking their roots into dark, rich soil. It seems that lots of people are just sown in the wrong places from the very beginning.

I have known lots of people who are thrown onto heavily traveled paths where they do not even have a chance because they are picked at or trampled on right away. Others are cast into the shallow soil on top of rock where they have little hope to spread their roots and get firmly established. Usually, they are blown away with the gentlest of breezes. Others are always winding up in the thorns, and I think we all know what life is like when the thorns are trying to tear you away from your good soil. There are all these people that I know who are good people, but they just can not seem to get a break. Why did God cast them into such rough conditions?

Yet, at the same time, there are those who seem to find the good soil anywhere they go. They get thrown on the path, and somehow they find the middle of the path where they will not get trampled. They actually thrive being in the conflict of the path. You know these people. Others are thrown onto rock and somehow they find the crack in which they can send their root deeply. They use the rock to their advantage, hooking the bottom of the rock with their root. You have met this person. They are probably sitting nearby. And much rarer, but still out there are those who find a way not to be choked or pulled out by the thorns. Somehow these people are able to make the worst situation great.

But, those people are not the rule. I am not sure that there is really anyone to blame here. People cannot be expected to be put into terrible positions and come out with deep roots in rich, good soil. To expect such a thing is just unfair.

I am not even sure that God can be blamed. God could be blamed for being a terrible farmer. No one throws away their precious seed on the path or on rocky ground, or in the thorns. That is just bad economics. But, I do not think it is evil. I think that God means it for good.

God does choose to be a terrible farmer. God chooses to cast us with the Word in our hearts all over the place.

That leads me to think one thing. It seems to me that since some people find the good soil in the worst of places; that God casts us everywhere, even the worst places, so that every place can have the chance to experience Christ’s love and forgiveness. I mean, look at the yield that God can produce out of just a little good soil in between two huge rocks: a great yield is four fold, but God’s yield is a hundred fold, or sixty, or thirty. It is amazing what God can do with just a little good soil.

Perhaps, you know what it is like to be sown on a busy and conflicted path? Have you had troubles setting your roots deep? Have you been sown among the thorns? Consider that God has provided you a small patch of good, rich, dark soil anyway. Perhaps, God intended you to fall among the thorns, not to harm you, but so that good soil might start to sprout life even there. What a great, green glimmer of hope you may be to someone who finds themselves cast into the shadows of the thorns.

What a gracious God we have, who provides good soil, even in the most unlikely of places. What a gracious God we have, who desires Christ’s grace and forgiveness to land everywhere, for everyone to touch and experience.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Reflection on Romans 7:15-25a

The 1st Commandment: “I am the Lord your God…you shall have no other gods.”

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“Oh bender ball, you are absolutely wonderful. You give me hope. You promise me a great body and a changed life. For only $9.99, you are a small, plastic, pop the side open and blow up miracle. I give my breath to you, oh bender ball.”

“I am the Lord your God…you shall have no other gods.”

“I’m sorry God, I’ll do better next time.”

Ped Egg

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“I am the Lord your God…you shall have no other gods.”

“I’m sorry God, I really, really promise that I will not do it again.”

Family comes first.
Families matter most.
Families are number one.
Have you forgotten your family?
Everyone who is a healthy adult had a healthy family.
Focus your full attention on your family.
Focus on the family.

“Oh family, how could I neglect you for even a second? There are hundreds of people who could help their neighbor, but only I can help my family. I will devote myself to you 100%. I will never forget you. I will never put anything first, before you. You are my whole life, my family. You are what keeps me alive. You are what sustains me through every trial.”

“I am the Lord your God you shall have no other gods.”

“I’m sorry God. I didn’t even know I was doing it this time. I really, really, really, really promise that I will not do it again.”

America The Beautiful (Second Verse)

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassion'd stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness.
America! America!
God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.

“Oh America, thank you for keeping me safe. Mold me by your law. Keep me safe in your law. Shape me into a better person. American, imprint your law and your freedom in my heart so that it may never fade and your ideals may never falter in my life.”

“I am the Lord your God you shall have no other gods.”

“I’m sorry God. I really didn’t know I was doing it this time. I try and I try and I try, but I just cannot follow your law. I want to follow your law; I truly want to. I pray that I might finally be able to, but each time I try, something else distracts me. Sin is so hard to see working until it is too late. I keep getting distracted. Who will help me? I can’t do it! Who will save me?”

“Oh God, I keep failing. I am captive to sin and I can’t do anything about it. Save me God. Come to my rescue and save me from myself. I do not understand my own actions, for I do the very thing that I hate to do. Believe me God, though my actions do not say it, I have not forgotten your goodness and forgiveness. May your goodness and forgiveness touch me once again. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Reflection on John 21:15-19

Peter was following close behind Jesus, hidden in the shadows, as Jesus was drug off to the High Priests for questioning. His love for Jesus was great enough to care about what happened to Jesus, but was it great enough to stand with him to the end? A woman saw Peter standing nearby in the courtyard.

“The woman said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?’

He said, ‘I am not.’”

Strike One.

In the courtyard were many court slaves and police, talking and waiting for the result of the case so that they may get back to work.

“Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing round it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself. As Simon Peter was standing and warming himself, they asked him, ‘You are not also one of his disciples, are you?’

He denied it and said, ‘I am not.’”

Strike Two.

“One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked,

‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’

Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.”

Strike Three.

Three strikes, Peter is out. Peter’s love for Jesus has failed. Does he love Jesus more than himself? Absolutely not! He has been put up to bat, he has had three attempts at the swing, and he has absolutely failed. It is time to move him to the dugout and forget about him.

Three strikes is about all that people can handle. If one misstep is taken, it can easily be dismissed as a fluke; as a sign of human vulnerability. The person will know better next time. Once a second, identical, misstep it taken, things start to get serious. “Why did you do that? You knew it wasn’t right. Why don’t you just stop?” Forgiveness too comes with the second misstep, but it is often with hesitancy and a clear warning that it should not be done again. And, as an almost universal human law, the third misstep is the last straw. You can visit any country or any culture and you will find this to be the case. The third time, the person knowingly did the misdeed and obviously intended the harm. This cannot be tolerated. It is time to say goodbye. Three strikes and you are out.

That being the case, it is amazing to me that Peter shows up in the story again.

Given an unprecedented fourth chance, Jesus asks Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" Peter said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." The question is asked two more times, “Do you love me?” two more times Peter says "yes," and two more times Jesus gives him responsibility over his sheep, to tend and to feed them.

Is Jesus stupid? Has Jesus learned nothing? It is very simple Jesus, Peter cannot be trusted. He will not go to the cross with you. He will not stick around through the sludge of life and care for your lambs. The guy has proven that he will simply run when things get tough. It is time to learn Jesus. It is time to wizen up. Or, perhaps, we are the ones with something to learn.

Forgiveness can be powerful stuff. Everyone forgives the first time. Most people forgive the second time. No one expects anyone to forgive the third time. The third time that a friend did something to destroy the relationship between he and his wife, all of his friends, including myself, told his wife to leave him. She should not allow herself to go through any more of his nonsense. Three strikes and you are out.

She did not leave him. We were not happy with this decision, but she apparently knew something that Christ knew, those who are forgiven much love much. The forth time, the unexpected opportunity at forgiveness, turned him around. There is something powerful about the unexpected opportunity at forgiveness. It can be powerful. It can be life transforming. It can keep a couple together so that their children can have an intact and happy home. It can start the amazing healing ministry of an apostle who knows he is only walking to his death.

Unexpected forgiveness, unexpected grace, can do amazing things. Unexpected grace leads to salvation. Perhaps, Jesus and his cross have something to teach us. Grace is the most powerful force in all creation. It has the power to break sin and death each time. Perhaps, Jesus and his cross have something to teach us.

All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.