An ELCA pastor shares his thoughts about the Bible, spirituality, the world, and LGBT issues.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Sunday Sermon: Mustard Seed, Yeast & Treasure

ORDINARY 17A    Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52   David Eck

I. I'd like to believe that Jesus was a farmer.

Now I know most people
—Think that Jesus was a carpenter
—Since his Daddy, Joseph, was a carpenter

However, the Bible doesn't really tell us
—What Jesus did before he called those first disciples.
—So we can believe what we want to believe
—And I'd like to believe that he was a farmer!

Why?  Because when we look at Jesus' stories
—He spent a lot of time talking about
—Soil and plants and harvests
—And very little time talking about woodworking

In fact, the only woodworking references I can think of
—Are a story about people running around
—With planks in their eyes
—As well as a yoke that is easy
—And a burden that is light

Whoever, the latter is also a farming reference
—And so it only reinforces my point!
—Jesus was a farmer.
—That's my story and I'm sticking with it!

I imagine Jesus sitting on a hillside
—Watching the sunset with his disciples.

He's wearing a big straw hat and
—A pair of blue jean overalls.
—His skin is browned by the summer sun.
—His eyes sparkle like deep pools of water.

And as they watch the majestic red and purples
—Of the fading light on the horizon,
—Jesus points to the farms and fields below
—And begins to tell them stories:

II. Boys, this is the way God works in our world
—See that mustard plant over there?

It's a big old scraggly weed, isn't it?
—Hard to get rid of, but lots of flavor.

Did ya know that it starts out as a tiny seed?
—You can barely hold it between your fingers
—And yet, it grows and grows and grows
—Into a big old bush.

Big enough for birds to make nests in it branches
—And find shade underneath it
—In the hot summer sun.

God works that way, too!
—Just a little bit of God goes a long way.
—God is tough and tenacious.
—Like that mustard plant God can survive anything:
—Drought, torrential downpours, locusts.

If God is in you, you can survive anything, too.
—The good news is that all you need is
—A little bit of faith, a little bit of hope,
—A little bit of love and God
—Will grow it into a force to be reckoned with!
—That's the way God works in our world
—That's the way God works in you, too

III. Jesus continued with another story.
—See this loaf of bread I have in my hands?
—Now I know that many of you are fishermen
—But surely, all of you
—Have seen your momma making bread.

I'm not taking about those flat pita loaves
—You make quickly, bake in small round ovens,
—And sell in the marketplace for practically nothing

I'm talking about the kind of loaf
—That takes a little more time and effort.
—One of those big, fat yeasty ones
—That had to rise twice
—And smells like heaven
—When it's baking in the oven

It’s the kind of bread you want to eat
—With homemade preserves
---Or maybe just a little bit of butter.

Did you know it only takes
—A teaspoon of yeast
—To make that loaf rise?

It takes a whole lot of flour and water
—And handful of sugar to get things started.
—But once that yeast begins to do its work
—It makes the whole loaf come alive!

God works that way, too
—Just a little bit of God goes a long way.
—God is tough and tenacious.

Like that little bit of yeast
—God has a way of spreading through our lives
—Until there is no place where God cannot be found.

The good news is that you only need
—A little bit of faith, a little bit of hope,
—A little bit of love, and God will grow it
—Into a force to be reckoned with!
—That's the way God works in our world
—That's the way God works in you, too

IV.  The good news of our gospel lesson
---Is that God’s Kingdom is indestructible.

Just a mustard seed portion of faith
—Just a pinch of hope and love
—Is all it takes to get something growing and moving in our lives

God is one tough cookie
—God is hard to get rid of

There are many things in this life
—That are temporary and passing
—But God is not one of them

There are many things in this life
—That can easily slip through our fingers
—But God is not one of them

The good news of our gospel lesson
—Is that a little bit of God goes a long way

A little bit of God can start something big in our lives
—Because God is a force to be reckoned with.
—God has a way of finding the good soil in our lives
—And producing a harvest that is
—Thirty, sixty, a hundred times more than we expected

St. Paul in our Second Lesson put it this way:

—"I am convinced that neither death nor life,
—Nor angels, nor rulers,
—Nor things present, nor things to come,
—Nor powers, nor height, nor depth,
—Nor anything else in ALL of creation
—Will be able to separate us
—From the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" [Rom 8:39]

That's the kind of God we can believe in!
—It’s not a God who sits up in heaven
—Deciding who's gonna get punished next

It's the kind of God that takes our hopes, fears, joy, and tears
—Our passion, pain, triumphs and shame,
—And makes them into something beautiful and holy

It's the kind of God who desires that we have life
—And have it abundantly

The kind of God who promises to be
—The farmer of our lives
—Who will grow a beautiful garden in us
—If we only allow God to plant that first seed

When that first seed is planted, watch out!
—Big things are going to happen!
—That's the way God works in our world
—That's the way God works in us.

V. Today we hold this promise for Andrew Bailey
—As he is baptized this morning.
—It will also be the day that Andrew receives
—His First communion as well.

Today, Andrew is planting two kingdom seeds
—And we are here not only to bear witness
—To these important events in his life.

We are also here to help Andrew
—Find good soil where those seeds
—Can grow and flourish.

We are here to teaching him about Jesus
—And to become his spiritual family.

It is a wonderful day, indeed.
—And I have no doubt that farmer Jesus
—Will take the seeds Andrew plants today
—And grow them into a beautiful garden
—Where peace, love and hope can grow.

VI.  But we aren't finished yet
—The sun is still setting over the horizon
—And Jesus had one more story
—To tell his disciples:

Boys, it's starting to get late
—I know you're tired
—And we've got a big day ahead of us tomorrow
—But let me leave you with one thought

God is the greatest treasure you will ever possess.
—As we walk this road together
—There will be lots of temptations along the way.
—Some of you are going to make some bad decisions
—That will take you to places you never intended to go

But the good news is that if God is your treasure,
—If God is your heart's desire,
—No matter where you go or what you do
—God will be with you
—God's gonna stick to you like glue

So, do whatever it takes
—To make sure God is your treasure
—And not something else

Do whatever it takes
—To keep that tiny seed of God
—Planted in the soil of your life

You'll never regret it
—And once God gets a hold of you
—I guarantee you, good things are going to happen!
Friends in Christ, let us trust in the promises
—These parables give to us today:

If God is in us, we can survive anything.
—The good news is that all we need is
—A little bit of faith, a little bit of hope,
—A little bit of love and God
—Will grow it into a force to be reckoned with!
—That's the way God works in our world
—That's the way God works in us, too.  AMEN

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sunday Sermon: Wheat and Weeds

LECTIONARY 11A    Matthew 13: Matt 13:24-30,36-43  David Eck

I. If you were going to write a job description
—For what it means to be a Christian,
—What would it include?

This is not a rhetorical question.
—I’m actually hoping you’ll shout out some answers!

So, let me repeat the question.
—If you were going to write a job description
—For what it means to be a Christian,
—What would it include?  [Allow time for answers.]

I know you pretty well as a congregation,
—So your answers aren’t surprising to me.
—They are what I expected to hear
—From the members of our church.

But if we expanded this conversation
—To include all of Christendom,
—I’m certain the job descriptions written
—Would be quite diverse indeed!

I suspect that the answers given
—Would fall neatly into two areas of job responsibilities:
—Belief and action.

A. Let’s start with belief.
—Some people think that in order to be a Christian,
—One must believe a certain set of statements
—About God and Jesus.

In other words, some say we have to believe
—That the Bible is the inerrant Word of God.

Others say we have to take specific stances
—On the ethical issues of our day.

Others insist that we say The Sinner’s Prayer
—Where we confess our sins
—And take Jesus into our hearts
—As our personal Lord and Savior.

On the opposite side of the spectrum,
—-Others take a broader approach to belief,
—Saying that the job description of being is Christian
—Means you need to use your brain, and think for yourself.

If you put Jesus in the center of your faith,
—The rest will fall into place.
—Godly people will disagree on a variety of issues.
—Therefore, uniformity of belief
—Is not a prerequisite for being a Christian.

B. The second area of “job responsibility” is action.
—Christians not only need to believe certain things,
—They need to act on them as well.

This is where some of your answers come in!
—Probably the most popular “job description”
—In terms of action is Matthew 22:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart,
—And with all your soul, and with all your mind…
—And love your neighbor as yourself.”

Then there’s Matthew 25,
—Which is the parable of the Sheep and Goats.
—Here, Jesus tells us to take care of the “least of these.”
—This includes the hungry, the stranger,
—The naked and those in prison.

Others will take an Old Testament approach
—And go with the Ten Commandments.

Beyond these answers, people start micromanaging
—The job description:
—No hats in church.  No dancing.
—No swearing.  No drinking.
—No women in the pulpit.
—And so on and so forth.

The list of actions can get very long indeed.
—I know of some faith communities
—Where the action list is downright exhausting.

II.  But there’s one action I haven’t mentioned
—That Christians are particularly good at,
—That hasn’t made the job description list so far.

It happens in every church,
—No matter what denomination it may be!

It’s one of those things we do with gusto,
—And the rest of the world says we’re
—Particularly good at it.

Do you know what it is?

In our effort to write a job description
—For what it means to be a Christian,
—We sometimes get the false impression
—That our job description
—Is the only true job description.

When someone doesn’t believe what we believe
—Or act the way we act,
—We weed the field, we cast them out.

Christians are really good at weeding the field.
—I know some of us have horror stories
—About the way we were treated by other Christians
—Because they thought we didn’t follow
—Their job description of what it means to be a Christian.

We were fired.  We were given a box
—And told to clean out our desk.
—Then the security guard took our keys
—And escorted us to the front door of the church!
—You know what I’m saying?

Christians can be spectacularly brutal
—In the way they weed out the field.
—Some of us have the scars to prove it!

But guess what?
—Weeding out the field is NOT our job description!

III. The reason why I know this is because of
—Jesus brilliant parable in our gospel lesson.
—It’s addressed to the crowd which means
—It’s intended for all of us to hear.

Matthew includes an explanation to the parable
—That was given to the disciples.

He turns the parable into an apocalyptic story.
—But I don’t think Jesus intended it
—To apply to some time in the future.

I think he meant it for here and now,
—As he addressed a problem in the church
—That is as old as time:
—Our need to weed out the field!

This is why I omitted the explanation of the parable
—From our gospel lesson.
—It’s more confusing than it is helpful.

I think it’s better to hear this parable
—The way Jesus original audience heard it
—With no explanation attached.

When we do this, we can’t simply dismiss it
—Because we know the answer.
—We have to wrestle with it
—And apply it to our lives.
—This is exactly what Jesus intended!

So let’s jump into the story
—And see what it tells us
—About the job description of being a Christian.

IV.  Jesus begins by saying the “kingdom of heaven
—May be compared to” which means
—This is the way God works in our world.

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to
—Someone who sowed good seed in his field;
—But while everybody was asleep,
—An enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat,
—And then went away.”

Those of you who were in church last week
—Know that Matthew paired this parable
—With the Sower and the Seeds.

In fact Matthew 13 is filled with harvest stories.
—These two parables definitely intersect.

In the parable of the Sower and the Seeds
—Jesus tells us that “A sower went out to sow”
—And “some seeds fell among thorns,
—And the thorns grew up and choked them.”
—Weeds seem to be a problem in the church!

When Matthew explains the meaning of
—The Parable of the Sower and the Seeds
—He says the weeds stand for
—“The cares of the world and the lure of wealth.”

Funny, I don’t see anything in there
—About the weeds being other people.
—But we often hear it this way!

Let that sink in for a minute!

When we take this understanding of the weeds
—Into today’s parable, we hear that
—The sower sowed good seed,
—But the enemy planted the weeds.

The enemy is code language for Satan.
—However, experience tells us that there
—Are a lot of things that become weeds in our field.

Worry, anxiety and depression
—Can choke the life to of us!

Traumatic events can leave us feeling
—Surrounded by darkness and despair.

Wealth, possessions and popularity
—Can overwhelm us and turn us into egocentric monsters.

Believe me, the enemy is real;
—No matter what form we may think it takes.

The truth of the parable is,
—Everyone has weeds in their wheat field,
—Whether they care to admit it or not.

What Jesus does next in the story
—Is why this parable is so brilliant.

V. He says “the plants came up and bore grain,
—Then the weeds appeared as well.

And the slaves of the householder came and said to him,
—‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?
—Where, then, did these weeds come from?’”

We could rephrase this question
—In a way that everyone has uttered
—At one time or another in their life:
—“God, why are you doing this to us?
—Why is this happening to me? To my family?”

It’s the ultimate question of why
—There is evil in the world;
—But that’s a theological question for another sermon!

The Sower simply answers their question
—By saying ‘An enemy has done this.’
—In other words, the weeds have NOTHING to do with God.
—God did not intentionally plant them in the field.
—They came from another source.

Then the slaves utter those immortal words:
—“Then do you want us to go and gather them?”
—Meaning, “Do you want us to weed the field?”

The Sower replies “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.” [NRSV]  Brilliant!

VI. Do you hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people?
—Weeding the field is NOT our job description,
—It’s God’s job description.

Furthermore, when we equate the weeds
—With what’s happening in our life,
—Instead of equating them with evil people,
—The whole meaning of this parable changes.

This is why I hate Matthew’s explanation of the parable.
—He says “the field is the world,
—And the good seed are the children of the kingdom;
—The weeds are the children of the evil one.”

To this I respond, “No, no, no!
—Sorry, Matthew, I don’t think this is what
—Jesus intended at all.

It may be what some Christians think he intended
—But it seems so unJesus-like.

It let’s some people off the hook
—Since they think of themselves as good seeds.
—But Jesus NEVER let’s us off the hook,
—Especially when it comes to the parables.

If we’re not squirming like worms on a hot griddle,
—Then we’re not reading the parable correctly!
—Can I get an Amen?

The way we need to approach this parable
—Is to understand that WE are the field.
—Our field has both wheat and weeds in it.

When we shift the focus away from
—Weeding people out to the field,
—To examining the weeds in our own field,
—The parable takes on a whole new meaning.

We add a new sentence to our job description
—Of what it means to be a Christian:
—Being a Christian means we need to believe
—That weeds are a part of the human experience.
—Everyone has them.

But what sets us apart is that we need to trust
—God’s timing in pulling up the weeds
—So we don’t damage the wheat.

Maybe, just maybe, Jesus is telling us
—The weeds can serve a purpose.
—Only God really knows when those weeds
—Are supposed to be removed from our lives.

As I say this, I don’t want you to think
—I believe we’re supposed to suffer in silence;
—Waiting for God to remove the hurtful places in our lives.
—I believe it’s a process of discernment.

God often brings things to our attention
—When it’s time for us to deal with them.

For example, I’ve struggled with depression
—On and off through my life.
—Every time the weeds of depression become overwhelming,
—I’ve always found the right resources
—To help me deal with it.

I found the right counselor,
—The right group of friends,
—Even the right medication.

God slowly pulled those weeds from my life
—And left the wheat undamaged.

And so for me, personally, I’ve learned
—To resist the temptation to weed out my field
—Every time a feel a little depressed.

Instead, I’ve learned to live with it,
—And gain wisdom from it,
—So that I can be a stronger and more centered person.

As I learn to live with my weeds,
—I trust that God will help me to remove them
—In the right season of my life.

Therefore, part of the job description of being a Christian
—Is to believe that God does NOT
—Intentionally sow weeds in our field.

Instead, God tells us to wait and have the faith
—That God knows they are there
—And the Almighty will help us remove them
—When the time is right!

So, friends in Christ,
—Let this be a part of our job description as Christians.

And let us focus on our own wheat field
—Instead of trying to weed others out of the Church.  Amen.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sunday Sermon: Sower and the Seeds

LECTIONARY 15A  Matthew 13:1-9  David Eck

I. The parable of the Sower and Seeds
—Is one of the few parables
—That has an explanation attached to it.
—This defeats the purpose
—Of telling a parable in the first place!

Jesus tells this parable
—To the gathered crowd on the seashore.
—He leaves it hanging there for everyone
—To ponder and discuss with no explanation.

This is the way it should be!
—Parables are not puzzles to solved,
—They are mysteries to be pondered.

They NOT supposed to have a definitive answer.
—They’re like an Everlasting Gobstopper from the movie
—From Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

We keep chewing on them,
—And chewing on them,
—And the flavor and the color keeps changing,
—Again and again.

It’s one of the reasons why these stories
—Have been around for so long.

If they were simple, we’d get bored with them.
—We’d stop telling them,
—And they would disappear from the pages of time.

Therefore, the verses which follow our gospel lesson
—Are a bit of a letdown because Jesus offers an explanation
—To the parable of the Sower and the Seeds.

II. Many scholars, including myself,
—Think this explanation has nothing to do with Jesus
—And everything to do with the early church.

It is the early church’s attempt
—At trying to understand this parable,
—And apply it to their situation.

Even though this is probably the case,
—We can’t simply ignore the explanation
—And say that it’s not important for us to consider.

Verses 18-23 have some merit.
—And while they are not the ONLY interpretation of the parable,
—They are a GOOD interpretation nonetheless.

So let me read these verses to you.
—Let them roll around in your brain for a minute,
—And see if they make sense.

Later in the day, after the crowd went home,
—Matthew tells us Jesus offered
—The following explanation of the parable
—To his clueless disciples:

“Hear then the parable of the sower.
—When anyone hears the word of the kingdom
—And does not understand it,
—The evil one comes and snatches away
—What is sown in the heart;
—This is what was sown on the path.

As for what was sown on rocky ground,
—This is the one who hears the word
—And immediately receives it with joy;
—Yet such a person has no root,
—But endures only for a while,
—And when trouble or persecution arises
—On account of the word,
—That person immediately falls away.

As for what was sown among thorns,
—This is the one who hears the word,
—But the cares of the world and the lure of wealth
—Choke the word, and it yields nothing.

But as for what was sown on good soil,
—This is the one who hears the word and understands it,
—Who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case
—A hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

III.  Now that’s a pretty reasonable explanation
—Of the parable, especially considering
—That the early church faced intense persecution.
It was tough for the word to take root.
—It was risky, even dangerous, to proclaim it in public.

But times have changed, and, for the most part,
—It’s not really dangerous to be a Christian, at least in the USA.

In spite of what we hear from fundamentalist Christians these days,
—There is NOT a conspiracy by liberal society
—To destroy Christianity.
—One can believe whatever they want to believe.

What has changed is that
—If we say something stupid or outrageous about Jesus,
—We’re going to be challenged.

While this might result in a battle of words,
—It’s very rare that someone is killed
—For their belief in Jesus
—No matter what tat belief may be.

IV. This brings us back to the explanation
—Of the parable that Matthew offers.

While our context is different from the early church,
—We have the same challenge of allowing
—The Word to fall on good soil
—And yield a bumper crop in our lives.

What I’d like to do for the remainder of our time together
—Is look at the different kinds of soils
—And see how they apply to us today
—As we encounter the Word.

A. The first, is the seed that fell on the path,
—Which the birds came and ate them up.

The interpretation tells us this is the work of
—The Evil One which, of course, is Satan.
—He snatches the word from our hearts.

While this might work as a plot
—For a good horror movie,
—I think the explanation is much more simple
—And far less ominous.

People are turned off by the Word of God
—Because of other Christians.
—Satan is the least of our problems!

Christians who portray Jesus as an angry smiter
—Who is looking for opportunities to send people to hell,
—Are killing the Church.

People take a look at all the hate and intolerance
—And they want nothing to do with Jesus!
—The seed of the Word is snatched from their lives.
—They leave the church, and they don’t look back.

The other source of “seed snatching”
—Is the truth that there are so many other options
—For Sunday mornings in our nation.

The church is no longer the center of the community.
—There are plenty of fun and soul-rejuvenating activities
—That one can participate in outside of church.

This is not going to change in the future.
—Therefore we’ve got our work cut out for us
—If the seed of the Word is going to remain
—Is the soil of those around us.

B. The second seed is the one that fell on rocky ground.
—It withered when the sun beat down upon it
—Because its roots weren’t deep enough to survive the heat.

The interpretation tells us this seed represents
—Anyone who receives the Word with joy,
—But their faith wasn’t deep enough
—To survive the drought of trouble and persecution.

I see this play our in the lives of Christians all the time.
—Crisis and hardship are a faith tester.
—Everyone goes through it, but not all survive it.

We believe that God cares for us.
—We’ve heard the scripture that NOTHING
—Can ever separate us from Jesus Christ our Lord.

But then a tragedy strikes our lives,
—Which is sometimes followed by another
—And maybe even a third.

During these times, its easy for our us
—To feel like wilted seedlings.
—It’s easy for us to question
—Whether God truly cares of us.

This is especially true if we don’t
—Have a lifetime of following Jesus
—To help us grow deep roots into fertile soil.

It’s also true of those who don’t have
—A healthy faith community to nurture and encourage us
—When hard times come.

This is one of the reason why it’s so important
—For us to deepen our spirituality
—During the green season in our lives.
—When everything is good and right in our world.

We know these times won’t last forever
—So it’s important that we establish deep roots of faith
—So that we can survive the drought.

C. The third seed is the one that fell among thorns,
—And was choked by them.

The explanation of the parable says this seed represents
—Those who are choked by the cares of the world
—And the lures of wealth.

The Message adds some clarity to this explanation, saying,
—“The weeds of worry and illusions about getting more,
—And wanting everything under the sun,
—Strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it.”

Worry is a inseparable part of the human condition!
—We all worry about things both big and small!
—The trick is not to let our worries
—Choke the life out of us!

My favorite passage regarding this
—Is one I turn to again and again.

In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us to look at the birds of the air
—And the lilies of the field.
—He says God cares for them,
—Therefore God will most certainly care for us.

The ending to this teaching
—Is one that should probably
—Be posted on everyone’s refrigerators:

“Do not worry about tomorrow,
—For tomorrow will bring worries of its own.
—Today’s trouble is enough for today.”  [Matt 6:34]

Worry is the weed that threatens
—To choke the life out of us.

But there is a second weed as well:
—The lure of wealth, possessions, beauty and power.
—This weed is a sermon unto itself.

We have read or seen on our TV’s
—Countless stories of people who lead
—Tragic and unfulfilled lives in spite of
—Being incredibly wealthy or popular.

Jesus, reminds us, once again,
—That God’s priorities and the world’s priorities
—Are often polar opposites.

If the Word is going to survive among the weeds
—We have to be strong on the inside
—And adopt a different set of values and priorities
—Than the world around us tells us we should have.

In addition to these insights, I think this third seed
—Serves as a literary device whose purpose
—Is to magnify the sense of hopelessness in the parable.

Good gravy! Jesus’ audience is thinking.
—Who will the seed ever survive.
—It looks like a no win situation.

First there’s the birds, then there’s the sun,
—And now its the weeds.
—Is there any hope?
—Is there even a slim chance that the Word
—Can take root and flourish in our lives?

D. Thankfully, in the midst of this dire and desperate situation,
—There is a fourth seed.
—It’s the good news of the parable!
—It’s the good news of God’s Kingdom
—That breaks through and changes our lives forever.

Jesus tells us this forth seed,
—Fell on a teeny, tiny patch of good soil.
—It might have been in the corner of the garden
—And we didn’t see it, but it’s there.

And when this seed, when the Word of God
—Finds the least bit of good soil in our lives.
—Watch out!  Stuff is going to happen!
—Things are going to grow exponentially!
—100 times, 60 times, or 30 times
—What could be reasonably expected
—From a single seed!

V. Why the disciples needed an explanation to this parable
—Is beyond my comprehension!

Perhaps they needed to be reminded
—That the kingdom of God is virtually indestructible.

Trials and tribulations will come.
—Mean people will try
—To suck the life out of us!
—Worry and bad choices
—Will cause us to suffer.
—But all of this is survivable!

God can work with whatever tiny patch
—Of good soil we have left in our lives
—And make it blossom and flourish.

This is the good news of the parable.
—It’s the reason why I can stand up in the pulpit
—Every Sunday morning and preach a word of hope.

I believe God’s Kingdom is tough and tenacious!
—I believe the love of Jesus is indestructible!

We need to trust that’s the truth!
—Armed with this knowledge, I pray
—We will do whatever we can
—To remove the rocks and weeds from our lives
—So that God has more good soil to work with.

More good soil…more love and joy.
—More good soil…more peace and joy.

It’s that simple.  It’s that difficult!

To help us all grow deeper roots of faith,
—This fall we’re going to embark
—On a year-long journey through
—Brian McLaren’s book, “We Make the Road By Walking.”

Brian has given us a modern day Catechism
—That guides us through the basic themes of the Bible
—And helps us to deepen our understanding of the Word.

It’s clear.  It’s concise.
—And there are two ways you can participate
—In this undertaking.

The first is to come to Sunday School
—Where we’ll tackle one chapter each week
—And have time to discuss it together.

The second is to do each chapter at home,
—Where you can use a study guide
—I will post each week online.

If you cannot afford the book,
—Talk to me and I’ll make sure you get one.
—They’re about $25.00 a piece.

If you miss a Sunday School class,
—Which will happen to everyone,
—You can do that chapter at home.

I want as many people to participate as possible
—In this intentional study of the Word.
—I have no doubt that if we set aside 1 hour a week
—To do this king of studying and reflection
—It will find good soil and yield
—A bumper crop of blessings in our lives.

My hope and prayer is that the Word of God
—Will put down deep roots in our lives
—So that we can thrive and flourish
—No matter what terrible things the world throws at us!

Amen?  Amen!

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Sunday Sermon - Yoke Bearing

7 PENT A  Gospel & 2nd Lesson    David Eck

I.  This morning I’d like to share
—Three stories with you.
—Each is a window through which
—We can see our gospel lesson more clearly.

The first is by author Leslie Weatherhead
—Who imagined the experiential origin of Jesus’ words.
—It’s only a guess but I find his images
—To be both striking and meaningful.

Picture, if you will, Jesus working in the carpenter shop
—Long after his father Joseph is dead.
—One day, right at closing time, a farmer appears
—Leading an ox whose ill-fitted yoke
—Causes the beast’s shoulders to bleed.

The Farmer pleads with Jesus
—To give both him and the ox some relief.

There is plowing that needs to be done.
—His ox cannot pull the plow in its present condition.

It’s yoke needs to be planed.
—Jesus doesn’t want to do it.
—His work day has been long enough already.
—Everything has been put away for the night.

He is hungry.  His mother is expecting him.
—He is looking forward to a long walk in the hills.
—And so Jesus hesitates

But the anguished look of the farmer
—And the bloodied back of the ox
—Cannot be ignored
—And so Jesus begins his work.

The job of planing takes him a long time.
—Finally, the yoke is carved and sanded
—Until it is smooth again.

A grateful farmer returns home with a beast
---That will suffer no more while it does its work.

Years later, Jesus looks out on a crowd
—Which seems every bit as bloodied as the farmer’s ox.
—He sees a people worn down by the burdens of life.
—People who get tired.

Jesus looks at them,
—Stretches out his carpenter’s hands and says:
—“Come to me, all you that are weary
—And are carrying heavy burdens,
—And I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me;
—For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Neat story, huh?
—There are powerful images that are contained within it
—Like the worried farmer and the ox
—Whose shoulders are bruised and bleeding.

Then there’s Jesus the carpenter
—Bringing healing and comfort
—To both the farmer and his ox.

This is a story we know too well.
—We understand what it means to be bruised and bloodied
—By the burdens of life.

We know what it’s like
—To feel the weight of the world
—Pressing down upon our shoulders.

We’ve all been there.
—We can relate to what the ox was going through.
—We know what it feels lo go through life
—With an ill-fitted yoke.

II. In our second lesson,
—Paul articulates this predicament so powerfully.
—He knew what it meant
—To be weighed down by the burdens of life.

He knew what it meant to constantly struggle
—With elusive goals and feelings of failure.

In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul tells them:
—“What I don’t understand about myself
—Is that I decide one way, but then I act another,
—Doing things I absolutely despise.”    [Rom 7:15, The Message]

Paul was keenly aware of his own short comings.
—He knew what it meant to feel the pain of a yoke
—Gouging deeply into his shoulders.

Paul became so exasperated with himself
—That he blurted out in his letter:
—“I’ve tried everything and nothing helps.
—I’m at the end of my rope.
—Is there no one who can do anything for me?
—Isn’t that the real question?”    [Rom 7:24, The Message]

Can’t you hear the frustration and desperation
—In Paul’s voice?
—Fortunately, like the farmer in the story,
—Paul did not give up in despair.

He realized that the only source
—Of relief and healing was found in Jesus.

Paul goes on to say,
—“The answer, thank God,
—Is that Jesus Christ can and does.”

In other words, Paul believes Jesus
—Is the only one who can help him
—When he feels like he’s at the end of his rope.

He knew Jesus had the power
—To lift the burden of the yoke he carried.

He knew Jesus could deliver him
—From his personal failures and brokenness.

He realized he could not ease
—The burden of his suffering by himself.
—Paul needed a Savior
—Who could give him rest for his soul;
—A Deliverer whose yoke was easy
—And whose burden was light .

This is the lesson we learn from the story
—Of the farmer and the ox.

Our only source of hope, healing and restoration is Jesus.
—Jesus stands before us
—And is more than willing to ease our burdens.

He is ready to plane our yokes, sand them smooth,
—And lift our troubled spirits.

Jesus is there to comfort us in our struggles;
—To bring about healing for our bodies
—And rest for our souls.
—This is what we learn from the story
—Of the farmer and the ox.

III. The second story took place
—In the early days of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s
—During the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott.

The leaders of the boycott discovered
—That an elderly black woman,
—Known affectionately as Mother Pollard,
—Was supporting the boycott
—She was walking many miles each day
—Instead of riding the bus.

Because of her advanced age,
—Mother Pollard was encouraged by the leadership
—To go ahead and take the bus to save her strength.
—She refused, however, saying,
—“My frets is tired, but my soul is rested.”

From this story we learn that the kind of rest
—Jesus promises his followers,
—After he planes our yokes and sands them smooth,
—Is not some sort of eternal vacation.

If that were true, he would have told Mother Pollard
—To go ahead and ride the bus
—So she could save her strength.

Instead...Jesus chooses to take the yoke
—Reshape it and plane it
—So that it fits us properly.

It’s true, Mother Pollard’s feet were tired.
—But like she said, her soul was rested.
—Her spirit was uplifted.
—She looked to Jesus to give her the strength
—To make a stand against racism.
—She took on his yoke and discovered that
—Indeed his yoke was easy and his burden was light.

From the story of Mother Pollard
—We learn that the rest Jesus promises us
—Is not necessarily an easy rest.

It is a zeal for living,
—A certain spring in our steps,
—That makes the burdens and problems of life
—Seem lighter even as the work goes on.

Sure our feet may get tired from time to time.
—Our bodies might ache from the tasks that lie ahead
—But Jesus will give us the strength we need to do his will
—And he will help us bear the burdens
—That weigh heavily upon our shoulders.

IV. The third and final story
—Happened to me many years ago
—While I was doing a concert at my home church in Pittsburgh.

After the concert, one of my former youth group members
—Came up to talk to me.
—When I asked how he was doing
—I saw a look in his eyes that told me something was wrong.

We sat down as the tears rolled down his face
—He told me how his best friend
—Had been killed in a hot air balloon accident the day before.

The balloon struck a high tension wire
—And burst into flames as its propane tank caught on fire.

We must have talked for at least half an hour.
—As we neared the end of our conversation
—He said that he felt a little better.

Isn’t that odd?
—The loss of his friend was a reality
—That was still present before him.

I had given no great words of wisdom
—Nor offered any answers to his questions.
—I simply sat and listened to his story.

But in the end, he said he felt better.
—And I knew he meant it.

What my friend had done was let go
—Of some of the burden he was carrying.
—His yoke was planed by the sharing of his story.

In the process, the yoke seemed more balanced.
—The rough places were not quite as abrasive as before.
—Some of the deeply gouged wounds were given a respite.
—He found at least a little bit of rest for his soul.

This story gives us the final piece
—Which helps us to understand what Jesus meant
—By those comforting words in our gospel lesson for today.

From this story, we learn that our calling
—Is to be the “yoke-bearers” of the world

We are called to reach out and help share the burdens of others
—So they too might discover the source or rest and refreshment
—We have found in Jesus.

We are called to listen, support and love our brothers and sisters
—Whose lives are weighed down by the burdens of this world

We are called to point them
—To Jesus, the ultimate source of healing and rest.

Sometimes we do this by simply listening.
—Other times it involves much more.

If we are faithful to our calling,
—God will give us the grace and strength
—To do this holy work;
—For God’s yoke is easy and God’s burden is light!

V.  The night I talked to that young man after the concert
—I must admit I was physically tired
—After singing and playing for over an hour.

But as we left the church that night
—I realized he was not the only one
—Whose burden was lifted.

 I, too, felt a certain spring in my step,
—A sense of peace and contentment
—In knowing God was able to use me
—To help ease the pain of another person’s suffering.

That’s the funny thing about yoke-bearing.
—When we reach out to lift up others,
—It has a way of lifting us up too.

Let us go forth today and and serve
—Those who are weary and carrying heavy burdens,
—n the name of the one whose yoke is easy
—And whose burden is light.


Monday, June 30, 2014

Sunday Sermon - Cup of Cold Water

ORDINARY 13A  Matt 10:40-42  David Eck

“Whoever gives even a cup of cold water
—To one of these little ones in the name of a disciple;
—Truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

I. Last summer, while visiting Seattle,
—I heard a Snohomish Indian legend
—That I’ve wanted to share with you
—Ever since it was told to me.
—It fits our gospel lesson perfectly!

The Snohomish Indians reside around
—The Puget Sound area of Washington State,
—North of Seattle.

This is my version of their creation story.

The Creator first began forming the world in the East;
—Slowly moving westward,
—Creating different tribes along the way;
—Including the Cherokee
—Who live in our majestic mountains.

The Creator gave each tribe
—A language of its own.

When the Creator finally reached Puget Sound,
—The Great Spirit liked it so much
—That the decision was made to go no further.

However, the Creator had many languages left,
—And scattered them all around Puget Sound
—And to the North.

This is why there are so many different
—Indian languages spoken there.

The problem, of course, is that
—When the tribes got together
—They had trouble understanding each other.

Yet, in spite of this obstacle,
—They all agreed on one thing:
—The Creator made the sky too low!

It was so low that no one could stand up straight!
—People had to walk bent over
—So that they would not bang their heads on it.

Sometimes people would also do what was forbidden.
—They climbed high in the trees and
—And entered into the Sky World.

Others tried to push the sky up by themselves
—But they weren’t strong enough to do it alone.

II. One day, the leaders of all the different tribes
—Had a meeting to see what they could do
—About lifting the sky.

They agreed that all the tribes should get together
—And try to push it up higher.
—“We can do it," a gray-haired elder said,
—“If we all push at the same time.”

"How will we know when to push?” asked another.
— "Some of us live in this part of the world, some in another.
—We don't all talk the same language.
—How can we get everyone to push at the same time?”

This puzzled the leaders of the tribes.
—Until, finally, one of them suggested
—They use a signal.

"When the time comes for us to push,
—When we have everything ready,
—Let someone shout ‘Ya-hoh.'
—Which means 'Lift together!' in all our languages."

So the leaders of the tribes
—Sent this message to all the people
—And told them what day
—They were going to lift the sky.

Everyone made poles from the giant fir trees
—To use in pushing against the sky.

When the day for the sky lifting came.,
—All the people raised their poles
—And touched the sky with them.

Then the leaders of every tribe shouted,
—“Ya- hoh!" Everybody pushed,
—And the sky moved up a little.

"Ya-hoh," they shouted a second time,
—And everybody pushed with all their strength.
—The sky moved a few inches more.

They kept on shouting “Ya-hoh"
—And pushing up the sky
—Until it was in the place where it is now.

Since then, no one has bumped their head against it,
—And no one has been able to climb into the Sky World.

III. Jesus said, “Whoever gives even a cup of cold water
—To one of these little ones in the name of a disciple;
—Truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

There is a great deal of wisdom
—In the Snohomish creation story.

Our world is diverse, indeed.
—God has given us many tribes
—Who speak many different languages.

We don’t always communicate well with one another.
—Even those of us who speak English
—Have a hard time understanding
—The many different points of view
—We possess.

This world we inhabit is a tough place sometimes.
—It’s so tough that it often feels like
—The sky is pressing down upon us.
—Our bodies and spirits are hunched over,
—Unable to stand up straight.

When we feel this way,
—We try to push up the sky all by ourselves.
—But our efforts are in vain.
—No matter how hard we push and strain and groan,
—The sky remains firmly in place.

We remain bent over by the troubles of this world.

The Snohomish Indians remind us that
—It’s only when we work together,
—It’s when we learn to communicate and co-operate
—That the sky can be lifted.

Even then, it’s hard work
—But it can be done!

IV. Friends in Christ,
—I think this is what Jesus is getting at
—When he told his disciples
—“Whoever gives even a cup of cold water
—To one of these little ones in the name of a disciple;
—Truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

A cup of cold water
—Seems like such an insignificant thing.
—It is a small gift, that’s given in love,
—But it is a small gift nonetheless.

Perhaps Jesus is trying to remind us
—That each of us has a cup to give,
—In terms of time, talent and treasure.

It may seem like a small cup to us,
—And so we’re hesitant to share it.

But if we come our cup
—With the cups of our neighbors,
—If we work together, shouting “Ya-hoh,”
—We can indeed push up the sky!

We can accomplish more together
—Than we ever could as individuals.

V. Let me give you an example.
—Twice a year our church cooks a meal
—For Room In the Inn.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the program,
—Room In the Inn is a portable women’s shelter
—That helps women to get out of homelessness
—Through an intentional program of education
—That is combined with the love and support
—Of a number of area churches
—Who help to house the women during the evenings.

We give them more than a home cooked meal.
—We sit down at the table with them.
—We hear their stories and give them
—Lots of love and encouragement.

Those of us who have participated
—In this program can testify
—What a wonderful experience it is.

Room In the Inn has a high success rate
—Of helping these women move out of homelessness
—And into a more stable situation.

Abiding Savior piggy backs on the weeks
—That First Congregational UCC hosts the women.
—This happens twice a year.

Our cup of cold water is an evening meal.
—It may not seem like much,
—But it is a part of the greater whole.

When we combine our cup,
—With the cups of other churches,
—We are able to push up the sky
—For a group of women
—Who have felt bent over and oppressed
—For many years.

This is only possible because
—Our churches have chosen
—To work together in spite of the different
—Faith languages and perspectives we possess.

This is why Jesus encourages us
—To give our cup of cold water.
—Because it is an important part
—Of a bigger picture.

He is trying to give us a vision
—For this bigger picture
—And remind us we can push up the sky
—If we work together.

VI. St. Paul stated it a slightly different way
—When he used the analogy of how the Body of Christ works:
The eye cannot say to the hand,
—“I have no need of you,”
—Nor again the head to the feet,
—“I have no need of you.”

On the contrary, the members of the body
—[Jesus would say the cups of cold water]
—That seem to be weaker are indispensable,
—And those members of the body
—That we think less honorable
—We clothe with greater honor,
—And our less respectable members
—Are treated with greater respect;
—Whereas our more respectable members
—Do not need this.

But God has so arranged the body,
—Giving the greater honor to the inferior member,
—That there may be no dissension within the body,
—But the members may have the same care for one another.

If one member suffers, all suffer together with it;
—If one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. [1 Cor 12:21-26]

I think Paul is trying to tell us
—That everyone’s cup of cold water
—Is essential to the health of the body of Christ.

We are so much stronger together,
—Than we are apart.

This should encourage us to offer
—Whatever cup of cold water we possess,
—No matter how insignificant we might it is.

The truth is that everyone’s cup
—Is valuable and important.
—If one cup is missing,
—We just might not be able
—To push up the sky together!

VII. This morning I'd like us to seriously consider
—What our cup of cold water looks like.
—We may think your cup is small
—Or we may already be putting several cups
—Into the Abiding Savior jar.

But no matter what the case many be
—Each and every cup is important.
—Each and every cup counts.

During the two remaining hymns that we sing,
—As well as during communion,
—I'd like us to consider what our cup might be.

When we can identify our cup;
—When we are willing to offer your time and talent
—To serve others in the name of Christ;
—I'd like us to come up to the table
—In front of the church.

I'd like us to take a small Dixie cup of water
—And pour it into the big vessel on the table.

This big vessel is the cup of cold water
—Known as Abiding Savior.
—And it cannot be full
—Unless we all help to make it full.

Each and every cup counts.
—Each and every gift offered to God
—Will be blessed by God.

It will be used to help quench the thirst
—Of those who enter the doors of this church
—As well as those we serve out in the community.

Brothers and sisters in Christ,
—This is a voluntary and symbolic act
—I hope you'll seriously consider what your cup might be.

We all need to do something
—Beyond showing up on Sunday morning
—If our church is going to be strong and vibrant.

Give your cup of cold water today.
—Trust that without your gift
—We might not be able to push up the sky
—For our brother and sisters both near and far.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Sunday Sermon - Scooby-Doo, Sparrows and Have No Fear

PROPER 12A  Matthew 10:26-33  David Eck

I. This week Casey Casem died.
—He was the host of American Top 40
—For more years than I can recall.

Most people aren’t aware that
—He was also the voice of Shaggy
—From the Scooby-Doo cartoon.

Growing up in the late 70’s
—I was a fan of both,
—Especially Scooby-Doo.

I loved all the adventures
—Of Shaggy, Scooby and the gang
—As they set out to discover the source
—Of things that go bump in the night.

Shaggy and Scooby were always
—Scared out of their wits
—As they ran from the likes of
—Pirate ghosts, sea creatures,
—And monsters galore.

But if there is one lesson I learned
—From watching all those episodes of Scooby-Doo,
—It’s that real monsters are always humans.

Yes, Scooby and the gang faced
—Some pretty frightening villains!
—But, in the end, they always turned out to be
—Humans with costumes and masks
—Or fancy special effects.

This is actually a good lesson
—For a teenage boy to learn.
—There are many things in life
—That cause us to be afraid.
—What’s important is that we’re able to discern
—The real monsters from the fake ones.

II.  Believe it or not, this bring us
—To our gospel reading for today
—Where Jesus has a lot to say about fear:
“Have no fear of those who taunt and persecute you.
 —Do not fear those who kill the body.
— Fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
—Even the hairs of your head are all counted,
—So do not be afraid.”

Why all this talk about fear?
—“Zoiks,” it sounds a bit
—Like an episode of Scooby-Doo, doesn’t it?

If we listen to what Jesus
—Is trying to tell us in these verses,
—It the same truth:
—There are many things in life
—That cause us to be afraid.
—What’s important is that we’re able to discern
—The real monsters from the fake ones.

The context of these verses
—Is Jesus sending out the twelve disciples.

Their marching orders are as follows:
—“Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,.
—As you go proclaim the good news,
—‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’
—Cure the sick, raise the dead,
—Cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” [Mt 10:6-8]

As the disciples go about this work,
—Jesus tells them they are going
—To get in some pretty scary situations.
—“See, I am sending you out
—Like sheep in the midst of wolves.”  [Mt 10:16]

He then tells them not everyone
—Will be receptive to their message.
—Some will even have them arrested
—And try to put them to death.

Finally, he talks about who and what
—They need to be afraid of
—In today’s gospel reading.

We know from history
—There were plenty of things
—The disciples needed to be afraid of.

11 of the 12 died a martyr’s death.
—Only John lived to see old age.
—Yet, in spite of intense persecution,
—They bravely shared the good news of the kingdom
—And changed the world forever.

III.  Fast forward to 2014.
—As we listen to this text
—We are are very much aware
—That being a Christian is a pretty safe thing to do,
—At least in the United States of America.

Some people may be a little hostile toward us.
—Others think we’re out of touch with reality.
—But, for the most part, no one is threatening
—To kill us for what we believe.

So, how do we apply Jesus’ words
—To our particular context?
— What advice would he give us
—In 2014 about being afraid?

I believe the advice he would give us
—Is not unlike that which I learned
—From watching Scooby-Doo cartoons:
—There are many things in life
—That cause us to be afraid.
—What’s important is that we’re able to discern
—The real monsters from the fake ones.

We live in a society that is fear-based.
—Thanks to the 24 hours news cycle
—We witness a daily litany of things
—They tell us to be afraid of:
—Wars, global warming,
—Gun violence,
—The decline of the Church,
—Democrats, Republicans,
—The increasing gap between
—The have’s and the have not’s;
—Foods that clog our arteries
—And make us sick;
—And so on and so forth.

If we let all these fears get the best of us
—I don’t think we would leave the house!
—There are, in fact, some people
—Who struggle with this very fear
—On a daily basis.

But, in the midst of all these things
—That can cause us to be afraid,
—Jesus tells us we need to have faith.

Yeah, I know, it sounds like a bad bumper sticker
—Or a pious platitude,
—But what Jesus is offering us
—Is real peace of mind
—That can discern the real monsters
—From the fake ones.

It’s the kind of peace of mind
—That tells us that even when we face death,
—God has our back.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?,” Jesus says.
—“Yet not one of them will fall to the ground
—Apart from your Father.

And even the hairs of your head are all counted.
—So do not be afraid;
—You are of more value than many sparrows.”

IV. This particular saying is the inspiration
—For the well-known hymn  “His Eye is On the Sparrow.”

The story behind it is one
—That helps us to understand
—What Jesus is trying to teach us
—In our gospel lesson.

Civilla Martin, the author of the hymn,
—Wrote the following about its origins:
—”Early in the spring of 1905,
—My husband and I were sojourning in Elmira, New York.
—We formed a deep friendship
—With a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle,
—True saints of God.

Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for twenty years.
—Her husband was an incurable cripple
—Who had to propel himself
—To and from his business in a wheel chair.

Despite their afflictions, they lived happy Christian lives
—Bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them.

One day while we were visiting with the Doolittles,
—My husband commented on their bright hopefulness
—And asked them for the secret of it.
—Mrs. Doolittle's reply was simple:
—‘His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”'

The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faith
—Gripped the hearts and fired the imagination of Dr. Martin and me.
—The hymn ‘His Eye Is on the Sparrow’
—Was the outcome of that experience."

The next day she mailed the poem to Charles Gabriel,
—Who supplied the music.

“I sing because I'm happy, I sing because I'm free,
—For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”

V. This is the good news Jesus brings to us today.
—It is his message about the nature of fear.

When we are fearful and worry about
—How we’re going to make it through today,
—Let alone tomorrow…

We are reminded that God’s eye is on the sparrow
—Therefore, God eye is on us as well
—And not a single one of us is forgotten in God’s sight!

When our prayers seem to fall on deaf ears
—When we feel like we’ve lost our way
—We know that we are never alone…

God’s eye is on the sparrow.
—God’s eye is upon us!

When jobs and relationships fail,
—When health and wellness leave our bodies,
—When the Boogieman become real…
We are reminded we are not alone.
—God’s eye is on the sparrow.
—God’s eye is upon us!

We can never stray so far away
—That God does not know where we are.
—This, at the very least, should make us
—A little less fearful about the world around us.

God’s eye is on the sparrow.
—God’s eye is upon us!
—God has out backs in life and in death,
—In joy and in sorrow!

This is not a bad bumper sticker
—Or a pious platitude.
—It is the solid ground we can stand upon
—When it feels like there is no solid ground in sight.

Psalm 40, puts it this way.
—“I waited patiently for the LORD;
—He inclined to me and heard my cry.
—He drew me up from the desolate pit,
—Out of the miry bog,
—And set my feet upon a rock,
—Making my steps secure.
—He put a new song in my mouth,
—A song of praise to our God.
—Many will see and be in awe,
—And put their trust in the LORD.

“I sing because I’m happy.  I sing because I’m free.
—For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”

VI. Friends in Christ,
—There are many things
—That cause of us be fearful in life.
—Some of these are imagined.
—Some of these things are real.

As we wrestle with dark nights of the soul
—Where fear, anxiety, depression and despair
—Are our constant companions,
—It is my hope and prayer that we will remember
—Jesus’ words from our gospel lesson for today:

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?,” Jesus says.
—“Yet not one of them will fall to the ground
—Apart from your Father.

And even the hairs of your head are all counted.
—So do not be afraid,
—Do not be afraid,
—You are of more value than many sparrows.”

The disciples trusted this truth
—And they changed the world with it.
—May we trust this truth as well
—As we battle the many monsters
—Who threaten to suck the joy, peace,
—Love and hope out of our lives.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Sunday Sermon - Psalm 8: Feeling Awe-filled or Awful?

HOLY TRINITY    Psalm 8      David Eck

I. Psalm 8 asks a pretty powerful question
—“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers;
—The moon and the stars that you have established;
—What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
—Mortals that you care for them?” [NRSV]

The Message paraphrases this question rather colorfully:
—“I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous,
—Your handmade sky-jewelry,
—Moon and stars mounted in their settings.
—Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,
—Why do you bother with us?
—Why take a second look our way?”

What are human beings that you are mindful of them?
—Why take a second look our way?

This may very well be the biggest question of them all.
—It’s a question we may have asked ourselves
—As we watched the sun set over the Blue Ridge Mountains
—Or while we were taking a walk on a Carolina beach
—With the vastness of the ocean in front of us.

It’s a question we may have asked
—As we looked at the immensity of the world’s problems
—And felt powerless to do anything about them.

It’s a question we may have asked
—As we experienced a dark night of the soul
—When God felt distant and uncaring.

What are human beings that you are mindful of them?
—Why take a second look our way?

II. Rob Bell in his marvelous book
—What We Talk About When we Talk About God
—Makes the following observation about Psalm 8:

“When I’m talking about us
—I’m talking about the paradox at the core of our humanity,
—That we’re made of dust and stars
—And energy and patterns of atoms
—And yet, as it is written in the Psalms,
—We are clothed with glory and honor.

We are both large and small,
—Strong and weak
—Formidable ad faint,
—Reflecting the image of the divine
—And formed from dust.”

To give us some perspective
—He also reminds us n the same chapter
— That “A single drain of sand
—Contains 22 quintillion atoms,
—That’s 22 with 18 zeroes.

About one million atoms lined up side by side
—Are as thick as a human hair.”

If we let those numbers sink in,
—It’s a bit overwhelming!

If we ponder the vastness of the universe
—As well as the unlimited unseen world
—Of quarks and subatomic particles,
—We find ourselves asking
—The same question the Psalmist did:

What are human beings that you are mindful of them?
—Why take a second look our way?

Why would the Creator of the Cosmos
—Care for me and you?

III. Every time we ask this question,
—It usually elicits one of two responses
—From deep down inside of us.

The first is that is makes us feel awe-filled.
—It awakens in us a sense of wonder,
—At the size and complexity
—Of the created order.

We marvel that God can hold all of this together
—And keep it in running order.

It reminds us that God definitely
—Pays attention to details,
—And loves diversity and detail.

It reminds us, as Psalm 139 says,
—That we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” [Ps 139:14]

It makes us feel closer to our Maker
—Who “formed our inward parts,
—And knit us together in our mother’s womb.” [Ps 139:13]

But there is a second response
—This cosmic question elicits.
—Sometimes it does make us feel awful,
—Instead of awe-filled!

With the infinite universe in front of us,
—We start to think that God
—Has better things to do
—Than care of little old you and little old me!

After all, our Creator has stars and galaxies to maintain.
—God has planets to hold in their orbits
—And black holes to keep from swallowing everything.

How can this same God have time
—To keep a watchful eye on us?
—How can the Caretaker of the Universe
—Take care of us?

And so the question the Psalmist asks
—Can make us feel a little bit fearful,
—And insignificant and neglected.

IV. Thankfully, during the times of our lives
—When we feel awful instead of awe-filled,
—The Bible remind us
—That the Creator of the universe
—Really does care for us!

Jesus told his disciples:
—“Look at the birds of the air;
—[No, seriously, look at them!]
—They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns;
—[They do not have a care in the world]
—And yet your heavenly Father feeds them.

Are you not of more value than they?
—And can any of you by worrying
—Add a single hour to your span of life?

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow;
—[No, really, stop you’re fretting for a moment
—And look at them!]
—They neither toil nor spin,
—[They don’t have to work at looking beautiful]
—Yet I tell you, even King Solomon in all his glory
—Was not clothed like one of these.
—[Versache and Vera Wang can’t even come close.]

But if God so clothes the grass of the field,
—Which is alive today
—And tomorrow is thrown into the oven,
—Clothe you—you of little faith?” [Mt 6:26-30]

Jesus reminds us that our Creator DOES care for us.
—When we feel awful instead of awe-filled,
—He tells us to take a walk out in nature
—Look at the birds and the flowers,
—And remember that if God
—Takes the time to care for them,
—God will also take the time to care for us!

Jesus passes this torch onto St. Paul
—Who also reminds us
—Of God’s intimate presence in our lives:

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,
—Nor angels, nor rulers,
—Nor things present, nor things to come,
—Nor powers, nor the highest mountain,
—Nor the deepest ocean,
—Nor anything else [that you can possibly think of]
—In all creation,
—[On both a macroscopic and microscopic level,]

Will be able to separate us from the love of God
—In Christ Jesus our Lord. [Rom 8:38]

V. The reason why I bring all of this up this morning
—Is that it’s so easy to feel overwhelmed by life.
—It’s so easy to feel awful rather than awe-filled.

It’s true that modern technology
—Has brought us closer together as a world.
—Around the globe 24 hours a day.

We can chat with people
—Half way around the globe
—By phone, e-mail, Facebook and Skype.

And yet, somehow, all of this technology
—Can make us feel isolated and alone.

We may have the world literally at our fingertips,
—But this doesn’t empower us.
—Instead It sometimes make us feel
—Tiny and insignificant.

It makes us ponder the Psalmist’s question, once again:
—What are human beings that you are mindful of them?
—Why take a second look our way?

VI.  Friends in Christ,
—Today is Holy Trinity Sunday
—[You knew I would get to it
—As some point in my sermon!]

It’s a day when we ponder our experience of God
—As Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

As we examine this eternal mystery,
—It can either make us feel awe-filled or awful.

It can make us feel awe-filled
—As we celebrate our God
—Who created this amazing and infinite world we live in.

It makes us feel awe-filled
—As we tell the story of Jesus,
—Who lived among us
—And told stories of God’s love for us.

It makes us feel awe-filled
—As we tune into the Holy Spirit
—Who is our creative muse
—And trustworthy guide.

Thinking of the Holy Trinity in this way
—Inspires awe and intimacy.
—It makes us feel safe and secure and loved.

VII. But there is a second way
—Of reflecting on the Trinity
—That makes us feel awful.

It happens when we try to explain the mystery,
—Instead of embracing it.

We write Creeds in order to put God
—In a manageable box.

We say these Creeds every time
—We gather for worship,
—But we do so with our fingers crossed
—Because there are parts of these Creeds
—We’re not sure we believe anymore.

This makes us feel awful
—Because, somehow, we’re not “good Christians”
—If we can’t say “I believe” to each and every phrase.

We get further bogged down
—When we try to explain
—How the Trinity exists.

Yes, a jar of ice cubes, water and air
—Is helpful in trying to wrap our brains around
—How something can exist
—In three forms of the same substance.

But we know it pales in comparison
—To the complexities of how
—The Father, Son and Holy Spirit
—Relate to each other.

Suddenly, the Holy Trinity
—Becomes as complex
—As the universe around us and inside of us.

This leaves us feeling awful and exhausted.
—As we wonder how such a complex God
—Can even keep God’s-self together,
—Let alone care for us!

It makes us ask, once again,
—The same question the Psalmist asked:
— What are human beings that you are mindful of them?
—Why take a second look our way?

Contrary to popular belief,
—I am not a mindreader!
—I can’t tell if you’re feeling awe-filled or awful
—On any given Sunday.

But experience has taught me that
—Some of you are feeling awe-filled this morning,
—Some of you are feeling awful,
—And there’s a third group who is a combination of both.

No matter where we find yourselves,
—Along the spectrum from awe-filled to awful,
—I hope we’ll give ourselves permission
—To be honest about our spiritual journey.

We don’t have to have everything figured out.
—In fact, I believe God loves questions!
—I believe God likes us to be inquisitive and curious.

And so, on this Holy Trinity Sunday,
—My prayer for all of us
—Is that we try to recapture
—Our sense of wonder and awe
—About God and about the world around us.

Let’s give ourselves permission
—To have a technology sabbath
—Where we leave our devices behind
—And immerse ourselves in the natural world.

Let’s step off the gerbil wheel of worry
—For at least an hour
—And do something, anything,
—That will help us reconnect with God.

It’s a big world out there!
—But in the midst of this big world
—The Bible reminds us that God
—Is a close as a breath or a prayer.

Let’s embrace the mystery
—And let it fill us
—With a sense of awe, wonder, and joy!  AMEN

The Holy Trinity

      Scholars attach LOTS of words to the Holy Trinity but sometimes art is better at expressing the inexpressible.  The painting above is by Anthony J. Kelly, professor of Theology at Australian Catholic University.  If we look very carefully at this painting, we can see the three intertwined circles that are the classic symbol of the Trinity.  These circles have some play to them but our minds complete the lines without us really thinking about it.  The circles are drawn this way intentionally because we know that the lines between Father, Son and Holy Spirit are fluid. 
     Now let's look at the three circles.  The middle, lower circle represents the Father who is seen as the Creator of the Word.  Kelly is telling us that we experience God as Father most profoundly through nature.  The images of dolphins, trees, a waterfall, mountains and a lake echo the words of the Psalmist: "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of God's hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge."  [Ps 19:1-2] 
     The upper left circle represents Jesus with its images of the cross, the Body of Christ, and two hands of different races clasped together in friendship.  Kelly is telling us that we see Jesus most clearly through his sacrifice on the cross and through each other.  Incarnation means more than "God in human form."  It also means that the power of Christ is made incarnate in us through our thoughts, words and deeds.  People see Jesus through us and sometimes in spite of us! 
     The final circle in this painting is the Holy Spirit.  Kelly takes a creative approach to this third persona of the Trinity.  The Holy Spirit is all about miracle: The miracle of a cell with it's tiny but complex structure; it's DNA, its protons, electrons and neutrons.  It is the beginning if life. The mystery of how we came into existence.  Somehow the Holy Spirit is the cosmic glue that holds everything in the universe together and keeps it running with amazing precision. 
     This third circle also includes a mother holding her newborn child as well as the symbol for infinity.  I think this is a wonderful portrayal of the Holy Spirit because the other two persona in this painting  are concrete and easy for us to understand. 
     This portrayal of the Holy Spirit reminds us that in spite of all of our attempts to define God, and presume to know what God is thinking, there is much about God that is still a mystery.  It's the kind of mystery that Isaiah talked about where the presence of God was impossible to contain within the space of the temple.  It is that part of God that inspires us to proclaim in wonder  "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory."
     Hope you have a wonderful celebration of Holy Trinity Sunday this week!