The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
July 16, 2017 * Pastor Ed Foster
One of my earliest memories comes from when I was maybe four years old. My Dad and my uncle and my cousin Mark and I went on a camping trip. Now, cousin Mark was almost 10 years older than I was and he was kind of my hero. Mark was hip and Mark was cool and he knew all kinds of really neat stuff that four- year-old really needs to learn, things like how to properly bait a hook.
And so, we went camping and in the middle of one of the days my Dad and my uncle left Mark and I to fish by ourselves. The middle of the day and so the fishing wasnít very good and it didnít take long for Mark and I to give up and to decide that we were going to go and take a nap. So, we got into the tent and Mark asked me, Eddie would you like a snack? Well, yes, I would like a snack. So, we got into the groceries and there in the groceries we found three Hershey bars. This is a problem, Eddie, thereís only 3 Hershey bars but thereís four of us and when our Dadís get back, somebody is not going to have a Hershey bar. Letís eat them all.
And so, we did! That evening around the camp fire Uncle Jess went looking for the Hershey bars because we were going to have smores and we admitted that we had indeed ate them. Now luckily, Uncle Jess knew Mark and his sweet tooth, so we went to the pickup and out from under the seat he pulled a whole box full of chocolate bars, more than enough for all the smores that we would want. Markís solution at 14, a scarcity, was just to eat it all.
Todayís gospel lesson is another one of those tricky ones. Partly it is tricky because it starts out with a parable and be honest with you I am always tempted when one of the parables to just read it really well and have a few moments of silence for you to think about it and just to sit down and shut up. Jesus probably canít be improved on. But todayís is one of those tricky ones, so weíre probably going to have to say something about it.
It is tricky for a number of reasons. One of those, of course, is that we have heard this parable before and because we are familiar we may just think, oh, we know what it says and let our minds wander off onto other things. But it is also tricky because as you may have noticed they left out some verses in the middle and those verses that are left out in the middle are kind of important to making this make sense.
Big crowds started to follow Jesus, so, he goes down to the lakeshore and gets in a boat and he begins to teach them, but he teaches them in parables and he tells them this parable about a sower Ė a sower goes out and he sows his seed everywhere. He is a crazy sower, he sows it out in the field, but he also sows it in the rocks and on the path and in the weeds, he even sows it in front of the birds. He is a crazy sower, he just sows his seed everywhere.
But it is okay because that seed is going to produce 30-fold and 60-fold and even a 100-fold. Jesus and his disciples go back inside and the disciples come up to Jesus and they say, whatís the deal with all of these parables? You know people can make those parables mean whatever they want and you know if you would just speak plainly, maybe more people would believe in you.
And then he tells this second story, this explanation of the parable and in this explanation, he doesnít talk about the sower, he talks all about those different soils.
Thereís the rocks, the weed, the path and all of those things are obstacles to hearing God word and understanding it, but still, still in the hearts of those who hear Godís word it will produce a bountiful crop, a bountiful harvest, 30, 60, or even 100-fold.
Now here is why it is so tricky. The explanation doesnít say the same thing as the parable did. The parable talks about a sower who casts his seed everywhere. The explanation talks about the soil and why sometimes that seed grows and sometimes it doesnít.
It is, I think, particularly interesting to most of us because when we hear this parable or the parable and the explanation almost immediately, at least for me, my first thought is, which kind of soil am I? Am I the rocky soil? Am I the path? Or am I full of weeds? Almost certainly our initial reaction to this is am I good soil?
And the truth of the matter is that at different times and in various ways we are all those kinds of soils, arenít we? There are times when the worries of life get in the way of our faith. There are times when we are afraid and not able to share Godís love with the world in the way we would like to. There are times when outside forces Ė the Devil Ė comes and snatches our faith, indeed we are all often all of those kinds of soil. And we are also that good soil.
But all through it, there is that crazy sower who sows everywhere, sows it in places where you are sure it is going to grow, and he sows it in places where no one would think it would grow. That crazy sower sows his love and sows his grace, sows his kindness and mercy and forgiveness, sows so much that it will take root in us and it will grow.
So, sometimes we will be rocky soil or weedy soil, sometimes there will be birds, indeed sometimes we will be all of those kinds of soil, but the promise is that Godís word will take root and it will grow and we will produce 30 , 60 and 100-fold. Amen.
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, July 9, 2017
Pastor Ed Foster
Iíve always felt this lesson rather difficult, how about you? It starts with this rather strange saying about flutes and mourning and ends with these beautiful words about those of us with carrying heavy burdens coming to him and finding rest for our weary souls.
Iíve heard this conversation and ones like it a hundred times over the years, more recently to be sure but variations of it are repeated every day around the country and world. You hear it in coffee shops and certainly on the internet. It is heard at kitchen tables and even around the water cooler.
The latest time I heard it was at the library while I was looking for a book in the stacks. A young man and woman were sitting at one of the tables with a computer opened in front of them. The young woman asked, ďHave you heard about the new religious scandal?Ē ďHasnít everyone?Ē he replied. ďI just donít get those Christians, they are so judgmental.Ē ďAnd hypocritical,Ē she adds. And he said, ďThatís why I donít believe in God. Christians think they are so much better than everyone else and are always trying to tell everyone else what to do.Ē The young woman replied, ďOh, I believe in God, I would be too afraid of going to hell not to, but I donít believe in organized religion.Ē
Iím not sure really what pained me most about the conversation. That the young man had given up his faith based on a stilted understanding of what the church is about, or that the young woman thought that faith was a way to stay out of the burning fires of hell. Or that once again it seems that the failings of Christians have prevented people from hearing the Gospel. Or that nowhere in their discussion, or I am guessing in their thinking about faith, did Jesus seem present at all. The song of the gospel, of Godís love and mercy, doesnít seem to have resonated with them at all.
Most commentators agree that the first lines of our lesson come from a saying that was common in the first century. We played the flute and you didnít dance, we wailed and you did not mourn. The gist of it is Ö we proclaimed this wonderful news to you, we came and sang the song of Godís word for you, and you didnít even notice.
John came proclaiming repentance and you said whoa there pardner, that is just too harsh, too radical, too extreme. And Jesus came proclaiming grace and forgiveness and peace and you said, look at the kind of people he hangs out with Ė tax collectors and sinners Ė you are too lenient, too liberal, too soft.
Jesus and John came proclaiming the word of God, playing their flutes and wailing, proclaiming the law and gospel, the good news of salvation, the good news of Godís love, and many people, maybe most people, wrote them off and ignored them.
Jesusí frustration, even his anger, seems to me to be over this. He has come with the most wonderful good news ever spoken and the very people who should be rejoicing, the ones who should have been terrified by John rather than offended by him, should be overjoyed by him, rather than writing him off as a liberal crackpot who loves the weak and lowly, the tax collectors and sinners.
He and John had played for them the music of Godís word and no one danced, no one mourned.
Do you every feel that way? Like we are singing a song in the church that no one else wants to sing? That they donít know the tune, and they donít like the words? Do you wonder if the message of the Gospel is still relevant to peoplesí lives? Do you fear that no one is listening?
I must admit that one of my great frustrations is how often I hear Christianity and the Christian faith described in terms that are completely foreign to me, how often what I think is the heart and essence of the Gospel is missing all together.
I donít believe in a God that is looking to smash the sinners and the unrighteous. I donít believe in a God that hates. I donít believe in a God that is angry. I donít believe in that God I hear so much about in the world. That isnít a song I am familiar with, and not one I want to sing.
And so, yes, I get Jesusí frustration. I understand how wearying it can be when you are proclaiming a message and it doesnít seem like anyone is listening. In fact, the one they are listening to isnít the real one at all.
And yet, even in his frustration, Jesus didnít give up. He sings another verse. Sing another verse. Donít give up on this world that God so loves. Call those who are weary, those who are carrying heavy burdens for Jesus yoke is easy and his burden is light.
Sing the good news of Godís love and of Godís forgiveness. Donít let the false messages and distorted versions of the gospel keep you living out your faith in your words and deeds. And indeed, when you are tired and weighed down, hear Jesusí call. Amen.
The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, July 2, 2017
Pastor Ed Foster
As most of you know, last summer I went on a bike ride out west, from Seattle to Portland. It was a wonderful event, well-planned with lots of help and stops about every 20 miles for food and drinks which, of course, made the event much easier. How many calories you burned and water you sweat out could be replaced before you started to really suffer.
But between stops, there were also people who had set up card tables alongside the road. They had snacks and drinks they were willing to share with you for a price. Not a bad idea really. 10,000 hungry and thirsty bike riders are pretty likely to want a candy bar or a can of Coke. And they were friendly, happy to see you and to cheer you on.
The longest stretch between food stops was the very last one, or maybe it just seemed like it. But riding into Portland we road for nearly an hour through the neighborhoods of the city on our way to downtown. It was the hottest part of the trip and not knowing exactly how much farther we had to go, thinking that the end would be just around the next corner it was easy to start wondering if we were ever going to get there.
And it was on the side of the road, there in front of a little yellow house, were 3 little girls. The oldest couldnít have been more than 8. They had a sign that said, ďCongratulations Riders! Only 5 more miles.Ē And they had a pitcher full of ice water.
It was hard to know if they understood what a kind and generous thing it was that they were doing. Encouraging us, letting us know the end was in sight? Giving us even a cool cup of water. Of the images, I will remember from that bike ride, those three little girls will remain one of the most precious.
Jesus is sending his disciples out on their first mission. He warns them, of course, that their mission will not be all fun and games, that some will welcome them, but that some will reject them, just as they rejected him.
Warns them that it will, at times, be an arduous and dangerous mission, but he also reminds them that God loves them, loves them so much that he has counted the hairs on their heads, and then he goes on to say that whoever welcomes them will be rewarded. That whoever gives them, even a cup of cold water, will not lose their reward. Even a cup of cold water.
Being a disciple, being a part of Godís kingdom and following God, being a part of Godís plan and making a difference in the world sometimes will require big and heroic things of Godís followers. Sometimes in loving those who God loves, and in caring about those things that God cares, we will indeed face all kinds of conflict and opposition.
Proclaiming Godís love and forgiveness, showing care to those who no one cares about and no one wants to hear about, advocating for peace and justice in the world, all of those things that God calls us to do they can be hard and dangerous, following Jesus can be like taking up a cross.
But, being a disciple isnít always about big, heroic deeds. Sometimes it is as simple as even a cup of cool water. Sometimes it is as simple as a smile, or a kind word. Sometimes it is as simple as a phone call or a note in the mail or a text.
Sometimes, I daresay most times, being a disciple is about sharing the love of Jesus, not in big and heroic ways, but in ways that seem to us simple and small, small like a cup of cool water. Small like a listening ear. Small like a warm welcome or a word of encouragement or a few cans of soup, or enough money for a bus fare.
But being a disciple, following Jesus, sometimes it will mean that we are asked to do big and heroic things, but most of the time following Jesus is about giving people a cup of water.
How many things can you think of that seem like little things?
For you see, I think, nothing that is done in faith, nothing that is done in love, is really ever a little thing. Even a cup of cold water is worthy of Godís reward, even a cup of cold water, kindness, gentleness and forgiveness, they are heroic, they are the essence of discipleship. Amen.
The Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 25, 2017
Pastor Ed Foster
There are two important truths in todayís lesson. The first truth is Ö surprise, surprise Ö there is, there always has been, and until Christ returns, there always will be conflict and division in the world. Not a surprising revelation, is it?
We see division and discord all around us these days, the anger and the frustration is overwhelming sometimes. Now to be sure, some of that division is avoidable and unnecessary. We are indeed called to be peacemakers. We are called to heal divisions between peoples, to seek reconciliation. We are called to both forgive and to strive for forgiveness. And I must say that we need peacemakers today. We need people who are willing to reach out with love and compassion and begin mending what has been so terribly torn in the world. But it is also true that there is some division and conflict in our world that is absolutely unavoidable.
As we seek to follow Jesus, as we seek to proclaim his word and live in the truth that he has revealed to us, the very same forces that opposed him, they will oppose us. The forces that reviled him and called him every kind of name, they will call us names, too. The forces that killed him, may indeed seek our demise as well. That is a hard truth.
As much as we would like to believe that following Jesus will bring us comfort and ease, as much as we hope that if we just believe hard enough that we will be healthy, and wealthy and maybe even wise, the truth is that if we are faithful, if we live out our faith, if we love our neighbors, and if we love God we will have turmoil, we will experience division, we too, will be given a cross to bear.
Now there is a temptation here. The temptation is to assume that our version of the truth is the only right and correct versions of the truth, and that all of those who disagree with us are the sinful, evil, foes of God and Christ.
And yet, on both sides of almost every one of those disagree-ments and disputes, there are good and faithful Christians who sincerely believe that they are doing Godís will and faithfully defending the truth. It is tempting to count our side as righteous and our opponents as something less, and to use text such as these as encouragement to do so, but I would suggest we be a bit careful as we do so.
Still, the point Jesus is making shouldnít be lost. Following our master, following Jesus will indeed bring us a cross to carry, loving our neighbor will make some people mad, will frighten others, will offend others Ö keep on loving them.
Standing up for peace and justice will indeed threaten some people and incite others. People of good faith may disagree about how to best work for peace and justice, and some people want nothing to do with it. Keep working for peace and justice.
Loving God, admitting that we are Christians, and that we believe Jesus is our Lord and Savior, may also bring us scorn, ridicule and pain. No, it doesnít rise to the level of persecution here in America, though it may bring some very angry and ugly words from some quarters, there are indeed many places where claiming Jesus these days is a death sentence, where refusing to honor another god or to renounce your faith can bring the end of your life. In the face of all of that proclaim for faith boldly.
For there is another, much more wonderful truth here. God loves you so much. Indeed, as much as God cares and loves every sparrow that he has created, Jesus says, God loves you so much more.
God loves you! God knows that you are going out into the midst of a world that abused and crucified Jesus, and that wouldnít mind doing the same to you, and he has promised that he will be with you, that he will care for you, no matter what may come.
So, do Ö get out into the world and be faithful. Go, knowing that not everyone will like it, that some will oppose it, that some will try to stop it. But, go out into the world knowing that God loves sparrows and he loves you so very much more. Amen.