Sir, We Would Like to See Jesus

“Sir, We Would Like to See Jesus”
5th Sunday in Lent, Year B 3/22/2015
John 12:20-33, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 63:1

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!

Well everyone, Lent is almost over. Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, and Holy Week will soon be here. So, Lent is winding down. Or, is it winding up? “The days are coming!” says God in our Old Testament reading for today. Something big is about to happen. God said it in our first reading. Something big is going to happen, and it’s going to be different from what we had before.

God says that this is going to be a new covenant. The old covenant was the one that Israel had received from God through Moses on Mount Sinai. It worked well for a while, as long as everyone did what was required of them and followed all of the laws in the Old Testament. That didn’t last long though. I’m not sure if you recognize the general story, but after the Israelites left Egypt with Moses they came to Israel and set up their nation, which grew into first one then two kingdoms. Everything was great! Except it wasn’t. After generations of the people turning their back on God for pagan idols and generations of evil kings, God had simply had enough. He didn’t destroy the kingdoms; he simply stopped protecting these two tiny nations that were surrounded by large and powerful enemies.

Eventually both Israelite Kingdoms were torn down. The Northern Kingdom was conquered by Assyria and the Southern Kingdom was conquered by Babylon a generation or so later. Both kingdoms were gone, and it seemed like God was done in this world. The remaining Israelites and that survived were taken away to be slaves in a foreign land.

Think of it this way. It would be like if today ISIS invaded Minnesota, defeated the U.S. Army and burned St. Paul to the ground. After they killed men, women, and children indiscriminately and stole everything of value, they took anyone who was lucky enough to survive and took them away to be their slaves back in Syria. It was that kind of carnage and national trauma that the remaining Israelites that Jeremiah the Prophet was speaking to were going through. We talk about the movie “God’s Not Dead” that came out a few months ago. Well, to these Israelites God seemed like He was dead.

What could anyone say to a people that had gone through something like that? There was no more king to lead them. Jeremiah the Prophet was one of the only leaders left, and he was going into exile too. The only one who could speak anything into such a national tragedy was God Himself.

And what did God say? He said that soon everything would change. No, God was not going to simply return the things to the way that they were. Why would he? The old way didn’t work. People simply cannot follow God’s perfect law on their own. They needed a new way, a new covenant. They needed a covenant like what God said through Jeremiah in verse 34. They needed a way where all of the people can know God, not just a select few. They needed a way in which God can forgive their sins so that this sort of pain never has to happen again.

“The days are coming.” What is that though? How long is soon? It is like when you are a kid and you are on a road trip with the family. It is so incredibly boring in the car though, and ten minutes into an eight hour drive you moan “Are we there yet?” Has this ever happened to any of you? Or were you the parent driving and saying “no! We aren’t anywhere near where Grandma’s yet!”

Well, so it was for the Israelites. The Jews eventually came back from Babylon and formed a new country, but it was always under the thumb of some foreign power, whether it was Persia, Greece, or Rome. They never forgot the experience of the exile though, and they were still looking for that new covenant that God said was coming.

Then one day, right before the biggest holiday of the year, an itinerant rabbi named Jesus came to town. It was all the news. The whole city was excited about this guy. Who was he though? There was no denying that he was something special, since he had done many miracles. Was he a prophet? Or was he the messiah that they had long been waiting for since that day when Jeremiah said those words of God? What would he do?

There was only one way to see. They had to go and see this rabbi, this Jesus guy. There is a small detail that’s in our text though. You see, the people that came up to see Jesus were Greeks, not Jews. Jews and non-Jews did not associate with each other. Jews could not even enter the home of a non-Jew. Not only this, but the people in question here are Greeks! You see, the Jews and the Greeks did not get along well together at all. After Alexander the Great’s armies swept through the region a couple hundred years earlier, the Greeks formed the Seleucid Empire in the area and would not let the Jews worship God. They tried to make Jews become like the Greeks. They even took the Temple in Jerusalem and dedicated it to Zeus! This persecution initiated the Maccabean Revolt, where the Jews threw out their Greek rulers, purified the Temple and installed King Herod’s ancestors as the kings if Israel. It is this part of Jewish history that modern Jews are remembering when they celebrate Hannukah.

This is the history that the Greeks and Jews of Jesus’ time are still feeling, even though they are both under Roman rule. It’s for that reason that the Greeks didn’t come to Jesus directly. They felt like maybe they were not allowed to come. What did Philip do? He didn’t say “Go away, you unclean Gentile!” No, he brought them to Jesus.

Have you ever had a moment like Philip’s moment? Have you ever been in the position to introduce someone to Jesus? Or do you feel like that you maybe identify with someone else Are you like the Greeks? Do you feel like that you somehow you don’t deserve to come to Jesus? That there has been too much bad blood between you and God in the past, or between you and God’s people? Sometimes, unfortunately, that can happen in our broken world.

If that’s you, then remember that Jesus did see the Greeks that Philip brought to him. He told them that the Prince of the World, Satan, will be driven out! Jesus says that he will bring all peoples to himself. It won’t matter if you have been one of God’s people all of your life like the Jews or if you are new to God like the Greeks. Jesus doesn’t care. What he said in verse 26 is that “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” Jesus wants us to follow him, and he doesn’t care about our checkered pasts. He only wants followers. He doesn’t want any fans. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” so that the sins of God’s people can be remembered no more as God said through Jeremiah His prophet.

Let us pray. Lord Jesus, we want to see you. We are not worthy to come before you. We thank you that even though we are not, that you would still receive us as your followers in the new covenant that you promised your people so long ago through your servant Jeremiah the prophet, amen.

The Lord is Coming

Given to the Soldiers of the Minnesota Army National Guard by Seminarian Scott at drill

The Lord is Coming
Pastor Scott Adkins
2nd Sunday in Advent B, 12/7/2014
Mark 1:1-8

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ!

In case you didn’t know, we are now in the second week of the time of the year called Advent, which is the month before Christmas. During Advent, we as the Church take a moment both to remember how Christ came into the world and how Jesus said that he would come back again. So Advent is a time of anticipation.

But that makes sense. This sense of anticipation is brimming around everywhere, isn’t it? Thanksgiving wasn’t even over before people started crowding the stores for Black Friday, the Christmas decorations are going up, and  we are waiting for Christmas Eve with baited breath it seems, for that special few days with family, friends food, that new Xbox game that you wanted and a good beer.

However, the darker side of that anticipation sometimes rears itself too. What if Christmas means that you spend the holiday alone? Or if buying presents is not possible for you or your family this year, or at least bulges your credit card uncomfortably?

Our Scripture reading for today has something to speak into all of this. In our reading from the beginning of the oldest Gospel, we get to literally hear some “good news”- that’s something we don’t get to hear very often, now is it?

The good news, oddly enough, is about waiting. The prophets from the Old Testament tell us that the way of the Lord is being prepared. John the Baptist, the final prophet that baptizes Jesus, tells the people that Jesus is coming. And he doesn’t mince words either. Here is John, highly respected by the community, and he says that this next guy is so great that he is unworthy to untie his shoes.

That same message is true for us today. We are told in Scripture by Jesus himself that He is coming soon, just like those Jews at the river with John heard. So what do we do about it?

The main thing that we can do is “prepare the way for the Lord” just as the Old Testament Prophets said. We don’t do this by cleaning up and rolling out the red carpet though, we do this by what John preached: repent and be baptized!

By repenting of our sins and going through the sacrament of Holy Baptism we prepare a place for God’s Holy Spirit to live within each of us, allowing us to be together with Jesus in the Body of Christ until Jesus does return himself. By this way we get to belong to Christ and he says to each of us, “You are mine.”

Whether Christmas anticipation is a good thing to be cherished or something to simply struggle through, we all have something real and exciting to look forward to. We get to look out for the coming of the Son of God, and this is what Christmas anticipation is all about.

Amen.

 

Faith and Family Wednesdays

St John’s Lutheran Church in Stacy, MN presents Faith and Family Wednesdays.

Worship starts at 6:00PM. The service moves into an evening of learning, fellowship and projects.

All ages are invited and it is entirely free of charge.

We have learning opportunities for children age 4 (potty trained) up to 12 years old in Faithweavers and teenagers in Lutheran Confirmation classes. Also many guest speakers and projects for adults and kids who choose not to participate in either Faithweavers or Confirmation.

*Childcare for younger children may be provided depending on demand. 
We hope to see you there.
View below to see our previous Faith and Family services –

But What Belongs to God?

Pastor Scott Adkins
10/19/2014
Isaiah 45:1-7, Matthew 22:15-22

Good Morning Everyone! Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ!

Well, Jesus was certainly in a pickle for this one. Jesus’ old debating “buddies,” the Pharisees, came back to him to ask him yet another question intended to trap him up and get him into trouble. However, this time, the Pharisees brought along some friends of their own. They brought along a different group of Jews, called the Herodians. The Herodians were Jews that were supporters of the reign of Herod, the Roman puppet-king of Judea. The Pharisees, if you remember, were Jews that emphasized obedience to the Law of Moses found in the books Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. They also did not care for Roman rule. Jesus was in a no win situation here. If he said yes, pay your taxes, he would anger the Pharisees and those who opposed Roman rule. If he said no, don’t pay taxes, he would anger the Romans and their supporters. In the famous words of Star Wars’ Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!”

Jesus has quite the answer to get out of their trap, though. He asks for a coin and simply asks whose image is on it. When they reply that it has Caesar’s image, Jesus says to give to Caesar what belongs to him, and to give to God what belongs to God.

The trouble is, the Caesars of the world were not and still aren’t always stand up guys. Tiberius Caesar was by no means a God-fearing man. He claimed himself to be a god, like the other Roman emperors. The inscription on the coin that Jesus held probably said “Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus,” with a Roman god or goddess on the reverse. Looking at the coin itself was a reminder of Roman idolatry to the observant Jews. How can they give their allegiance to a man who consistently and unapologetically does what is contrary to our faith and breaks God’s law?

Well, our first lesson for the day talks about this. In our reading from Isaiah, God calls King Cyrus of Persia his “anointed.” If you remember what I said in my other sermons, guess what Hebrew word “anointed” is? You guessed it, it is “messiah!” In the Greek Old Testament Bibles that the early Christians of St. Paul’s time used, the word used here is “kristos,” or Christ!

Don’t get me wrong, I am not comparing King Cyrus to Jesus. All I am saying is that God chose Cyrus to be the king, that he was “anointed” by God to do that. God does say in verse four that He summoned Cyrus by name and gave him honor and strength, even though he did not acknowledge God. In our reading, God says that he is choosing Cyrus “for the sake of Jacob my servant.” He did this for the benefit of his people, Israel. King Cyrus liberated the Jews from their exile in Babylon and gave the order to rebuild the God’s temple in Jerusalem. The idea here is that even though the ruler may not be a Christian, he is chosen by God for the benefit of His people, as long as the ruler does not forbid what God commands us to do. In such cases, St. Peter said in Acts chapter five verse 29 “We must obey God rather than any human authority!” (NLT).

Caesar’s reign was similar to Cyrus in some ways. While definitely not Jewish at all, Caesar’s Roman Empire provided the relative peace, common languages and infrastructure of that enabled Christianity to flourish from Jerusalem to all over the Roman Empire and beyond. This is why in Romans chapter thirteen St. Paul says to submit to the authorities and pay taxes, because they provide order and justice to society and therefore are servants of God.

It’s because of this that Jesus tells us to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Even though the government may not be Christian, we still need to obey the authorities, because, as God said to Jeremiah the prophet in Jeremiah chapter twenty-nine verse seven, “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” It is clear that we need to submit to the authorities and seek the common good for the country and community, but there are two questions that I see from what Jesus said. What belongs to Caesar, and what belongs to God?

Well, let’s talk about Caesar first. St. Paul tells us in Romans thirteen verse six to pay our taxes, and in our Gospel reading Jesus told us to pay taxes because the money has his image on it. But is there anything else that is Caesar’s? We know that we need to seek the good of the country, and to obey the authorities. I think in order to do this, we need to be responsible citizens, especially since here in America we choose who our “Caesars” are. Only by being involved citizens who vote, pay taxes, and take our part in the common good and defense of our country can we really “seek the peace and prosperity of our city.” Being an apathetic citizen and not voting or participating in civic life is not “giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

With the discussion over the denarius, Jesus shared what belonged to Caesar. But he never specifically explained the second part of his answer to his opponents. All He said was “Give to God what belongs to God.” Well what in the blazes does this even mean?

Jesus doesn’t tell us specifically here, so we’ll take a look at what he said about the denarius. Why did Jesus say that the denarius belonged to Caesar? Remember, he pointed out two things. The image on the coin was Caesar’s, and so was the inscription. What do we have that has a similar image and inscription of God on it?

The answer is: us. Remember from the beginning of the Bible at creation in Genesis chapter one verse 27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them. Male and female he created them.” We are each created by God in His image. We also have God’s inscription on us. St. Paul said in Romans chapter two verse 15 that all people, believers or not, have God’s Law written on their hearts. This is God’s inscription.

Unlike our Caesars, who want our money, time, and possibly our military service, God wants all of us. Jesus quoted parts of the Law of Moses found in Leviticus and Deuteronomy when he summed up the Ten Commandments right after he spoke with the Pharisees and the Herodians in our Gospel reading for today starting in verse 37. He said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

This is definitely a tall order. God demands all of us completely; heart, soul, and mind. Since we bear his image, God wants what belongs to him, just like Caesar. The problem is, none of us can completely give everything we are over to God nor can we love our neighbors perfectly. Even if we seem to be and try to be sincere, we always hold something back. “Ok God, you win! I believe in you and trust in Jesus! I give it all to you! Except this little piece of my life. That I keep for myself.” Maybe that little piece is your job, your family, certain relationships, a hobby, your secular reputation, a “favorite sin” that you seem to do over and over, or yes, even your money. Try as we might, we can never “give to God what belongs to God.”

Well folks, this sounds rather depressing. We have a debt to God that we can never pay because of our sinful nature. However, there is a bright spot. Has anyone here ever had to owe the IRS any money? Don’t raise your hands! If you have, you know that Uncle Sam always gets his due. Just like Uncle Sam, God is just as tenacious at pursuing us, but for a different reason than the IRS. While the IRS goes after what you have, God goes after what you are. Unsatisfied with what you are, God wants to change you with the Holy Spirit, to make you into something new and good through Jesus. He looks at that debt that you can never pay up, and marks it “paid in full” through the blood of Jesus. Nothing you can do, think, or choose can make that happen, only trust in Jesus can pay that debt off. Because of that gift, we are able to belong fully to God as His most precious possessions, ones that He will cling to. Remember that. You are precious to God.

Jesus told the Jews that tried to corner him to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to give to God what is God’s. We may not like or agree with our Caesars, but we still need to give them their due, even if our Caesar doesn’t believe. However, it is that second part of what Jesus said that is much more difficult to do. “Give to God what is God’s” God created us in His image, so we ourselves belong to Him, but we can never give God His due on our own. Only through the price paid by Jesus are we able to fully belong to God in the Holy Spirit, and He will hold on to us as His precious possessions.

Let us pray. Lord, thank you for setting up worldly authorities to keep order in the world. They are not perfect, but they carry out your will. Lord give them your guidance and wisdom to govern justly. Lord thank you for sending your Holy Spirit after us so we can be your people, and for giving us faith in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross and paid the price for us to fully belong to you. Amen.

Living in the Kingdom of Heaven

Pastor Mary Ellen
Sunday July 27, 2014
Psalms 119:130, Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52

 

Grace and Peace to you from our Lord Jesus Christ:

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

In the Old Testament reading for today, just after Solomon becomes king and David’s successor – the LORD appears to Solomon in a dream and says to him “Ask me for whatever you want me to give you.” Solomon asks for an understanding mind and the LORD gives him a wise and discerning mind.

In the Lay Shepherd lesson read today Psalm 119:130 “ The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.”

Paul says in the Epistle reading for today in Romans 8: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Jesus in the Gospel today says to the disciples, “Have you understood these things?” after Jesus tells them the parables about the kingdom of heaven.

All of these suggest that we as followers of Jesus Christ are not to put our minds on the back burner. We are to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to give us discernment and the wisdom and words that we need when we need them. Total reliance on God is what living in the kingdom of heaven is all about.

“I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”― Martin Luther

Paul tells us in the reading from Romans that we have within us the very Spirit of God. Our Lutheran tradition confirms this as we receive God’s Holy Spirit in baptism and we reaffirm it at our confirmation.

Paul also says Holy Spirit intercedes for us and Jesus intercedes for us. With these two people speaking for us how can we not draw on their wisdom in living our lives from day-to-day in every situation and place we find ourselves.

Paul also says that nothing can separate us from the love of God as witnessed to us by Jesus Christ. So, we are loved and enlightened by the Creator of the universe everyday. This is living in the kingdom of heaven if we choose to do so. We can choose to have ears that hear, eyes that see and minds that understand all that God has given us by choosing to rely on God.

Whether we realize it or not, we are intimately connected to God. To illustrate how closely we are bound to God I have used this example in children’s sermons. When we are baptized we are linked with God so closely that it is impossible for us to separate ourselves from him. It is like mixing a package of powdered lemonade into a pitcher of water. After it has been mixed there is no way to separate out the water from the powder.

Even though we are so closely linked to God we can ignore it. Every day we can be lulled away from the kingdom of heaven by what we see, hear and take into our minds from the world around us. Yes we do live in two worlds at once here on this earth. We can choose to live in the kingdom of the world or the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus teaches us about the kingdom of heaven in today’s Gospel. He tells us what it is like:

• A grain of mustard seed sown into a farmer’s field that although it is the smallest of seeds grows into the largest of plants – a tree!
• Leaven that a woman took and hid in flour until the leaven spread into all the flour.
• A treasure found and then covered and hidden in a field. He sells all that he has to buy that field.
• A merchant in search of fine pearls when he finds one of great value sells all he has and buys it.
• A net that was thrown into the sea and gathered all kinds of fish. The fish were then sorted – the good ones kept and the bad ones thrown out.

Then Jesus asks – Have you understood these things? Will our answer be yes? I am not sure mine will be.

My mind can only grasp a small portion of what Jesus is saying here about the kingdom of heaven. But maybe that is the point. My understanding is like that of a small mustard seed. Choosing to rely on the wisdom of God is my only recourse here.

So I thought and prayed about these words of Jesus. I asked Him to help me understand what He means by likening the kingdom of heaven to such things as a mustard seed, leaven, treasure, merchant and net. The answer came in a multi-faceted form like a multi-faceted diamond with many faces.

You see the kingdom of heaven is not just the after-life with Jesus it is wherever. Jesus’ rule and reign are respected and honored. So, we can live in the kingdom of heaven right here and now. In a study of the Bible called Eschatology – a study of the end times – this kind of thinking is called “The Already and Not Yet”.

So -We already can start our eternal life right this moment and every moment we choose to follow Jesus. So, our eternal life starts right now. We being who we are kind of waiver in and out of the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of this world – as Pastor Ed has pointed out several times in his sermons lately Martin Luther calls us both sinners and saints here on earth. Simul Iustus et Peccator = “A Christian is simul (at the same time) iustus (just or righteous) and peccator (a sinner).”

So, the mustard seed could be seen as the amount of faith one could have to follow Jesus here on earth. In fact, Jesus says to the disciples after they were unable to cast demon out of a boy in Matthew 17:

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

The power to move the mountain is not ours. It is God’s power given to us through our faith. Faith links us to God. Faith exercised on our part is the realization that we are so closely linked with God that when we ask anything He will make it happen according to His will. Through faith we want to do what is pleasing to God.

When we are resurrected we will then be able to experience life as a saint and that life will be hugely different than this one. As different as a mustard seed is from the large tree it produces in Jesus’ parable. So, that is only one aspect or facet of this diamond called the kingdom of heaven.

As I reflected about the leaven it came to me that now we are both sinner and saint. The leaven is the sanctification process that we go through here on earth which transforms us into new creations. As Jesus deals with our sinfulness and as we confess it we are actually becoming holy. That is the saint part. That leaven works in us until it is fully realized within us as we step into our eternal life after our death – where we will be righteous. I can’t wait for that. I won’t hurt anyone and no one will hurt me. Everything will be as God first intended it. There it is another facet of the kingdom.

The treasure is that this experience of the kingdom is worth all that we have. When we die we will take nothing with us. We will have given it all up whether we want to or not. Realizing that we can live in the kingdom right now we can give up living by the dictates of this world as we choose another way – Jesus’ way of loving both God and neighbor. We don’t do this all the time here on earth but we can at least see its value in our lives. It is absolutely priceless to see the reaction to our kindness as we choose to help our neighbors in need. Yet another aspect of living in the kingdom.

Among all the treasures of this world living in the kingdom of God is the most precious. It is not just life it is the only life worth living! Appreciation for the life Jesus died to give us can only grow. I can hardly imagine how precious the new and eternal life will be as we all become saints and who we truly were created to be. Another aspect of the diamond called the kingdom.

Last but not least Jesus describes the kingdom like a net that catches all kinds of fish. God desires all people to come to Him and the net catches them all. We all have a chance to live in the kingdom, but God cannot allow sinfulness into heaven. We who are followers of Jesus have imputed righteousness. That is we rely on Jesus and His death on the cross for the forgiveness of all our sins. As we follow Him in this life we live in the kingdom as much as we are able to and desire to based on our faith.

As Scott said a couple weeks ago we are to sow the word of God to others regardless of how it is received. A farmer ceases to be a farmer if he does not plant seed – Likewise, we cease to be a follower of Jesus when we cease to live by the word and tell others about Jesus. God can work with those seeds and make them grow in the most unlikely of places. God desires all the fish to come to Him. Yet another aspect of God’s character and the kingdom of heaven.

A multi-faceted diamond is so precious and so is the kingdom of heaven. Even though we can only understand it a little we can live in the kingdom based on what faith we now have. Jesus honors every step taken toward follow His reign and rule and considers this love. John 14:15 says “If you love me you will obey my commandments.

We do not know how wonderful the life to come is but the seed of that life has been planted in us. It can grow here while we are still on earth as we walk in love, obedience and faith. We are to share that love with everyone we come into contact with so that we can in turn plant the seeds of eternal life in them.

Maybe the next time you have a choice about how you will go about dealing with the people in your life…. Stop and choose life – eternal life. Do things that Jesus would do not what comes naturally to you. Confess your resentment toward one another and live life without the burden of that heavy load. Give it to Jesus. Now that is living in the kingdom of heaven already.

Pastor Ed is teaching Scott and I in a vessel training class. That is one of the first things he teaches. To recognize that holding a resentment is a sin. It does not matter what hurt caused that resentment but confessing it will change not only you but plant a seed in someone else’s heart.

Living with resentment builds a barrier between you and another person. Let Jesus protect you by confessing it as sin regardless of how the other person receives it. This practice will change your life. It will give you part of the authentic kingdom living that we will all experience fully one day.

Let’s pray

Heavenly Father – we love and want to honor you always.

Jesus – we want to follow you and live the life you came to give us right here and now. Help us to confess our sins and grow in holiness. We look forward to becoming the saints you created us to be.

Holy Spirit – advise us along the way. Show us when we stray and live outside the kingdom. Give us wisdom and discernment as we live and love God and others in this world.

Thank Lord for being God with us here on earth. Amen

Sower or the Seed

Intern Pastor Scott
5th Sunday After Pentecost A, July 13, 2014
Isaiah 55:8-13, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!

Where I grew up in North Dakota was pretty similar to here in Stacy. Do we have any farmers here or anyone that grew up on a farm? (wait for responses) Well, I grew up outside of Minot, North Dakota. At the time, before the oil in North Dakota was found, it was a farming community. Everyone there made a living either by farming or by working in a business that supported farmers or their families. Add to that, we lived far out of town in the country, so there were farm fields in every direction from my childhood home. I remember every summer from May to September the farmers would be out in the fields working to get the wheat or canola or whatever they were growing in so that there was enough time for the seed to grow before the harvest. My dad would be out there too, making his deliveries for the agricultural chemical company that he worked for after he retired from the fire department. Everything just revolved around farming.

It was this sort of agrarian mindset that Jesus worked with in our Gospel reading for today. In our reading, Jesus tells us a story about farming, since that was something that the people of Galilee understood. Like most of his stories, though, this story has a meaning to it other than simply farming.

This parable is different from some of the others that Jesus tells us in the Gospels because Jesus comes out and tells his disciples the parable’s meaning. Granted, he tells only his disciples the meaning, rather than the crowd that came to see him. In each instance though, Jesus implores his listeners to listen to him, whether they were his disciples or the Galilean crowds.

I think there are two ways to look at this parable. The first is the way that Jesus outlines, where the seeds represent us, hearers of the Word. In this way of understanding the parable, the sower plants the seeds, but they fall on different types of ground. In the end, only one of the four seeds sown produces fruit. This seed produces not just the seven or eight times that Judean farmers of the era could expect, but the seed produced a hundred times more!

That sounds great if you happen to be the seed that falls on the good soil. But what if you are a seed that falls on the rocky ground, or on the path, or there just happened to be a couple of thorns around you? I mean, it doesn’t seem fair, does it? The seed was thrown! You didn’t get a choice where you landed! Why is it that this seed over here lands on the nice plowed piece of good soil seems to have everything going for him. Why is it that I landed here on this rocky ground? It just doesn’t seem fair.

Yes, some of the circumstances in life are not our choices. Like the seed scattered around the field, you have no choice in what happens. The seed that fell around the rocky ground didn’t choose to be planted among rocks. The seed that fell on the path didn’t ask to be eaten by birds. It seems like there is no good end for these seeds that didn’t just happen to fall on the good soil. Or is there?

Has anyone seen some of the plants that grow through the rocks in our parking lot? These seeds definitely landed on rocky soil, however, they persevered. When we look at the seed that fell on the path and was eaten by birds, I think about the different fruits that spread their seed by being eaten and passing through the various animals that the plants feed. The point is, even though these plants went through some tough times that would choke the life out of others, they persevered and are able to produce fruit too. It is the same way with people. Even though the Word planted in them may fade away for a time due to circumstances in their lives, don’t give up on them quite yet. You never know what God will be able to do.

But what if we look at this whole story that Jesus tells from a different perspective? Instead of the seed, think of yourself as the sower. You are given a bag of seeds and you want to get the greatest yield possible. Of course, you want to spread the seeds on the good soil, that’s where most of the yield will happen, but what about the other plots of your field? We have this area with thorns and weeds, a patch with lots of rocks, and we have the path that we are walking on. Don’t we want these parts of the soil to be productive too?

One solution is to simply scatter the seeds around and let what happens happen. Some folks will do this when they try to evangelize. They will simply hand out Bibles or say “Jesus loves you” or the like. Sometimes you get good soil and the Word sprouts in their hearts, but more often than not it withers and dies there.

A better solution, like any gardener could tell you, would be to put some work into these plots to make them good soil. Weed the ground, plow it, pick out the rocks. Do what you need to do to make this patch of soil productive again. Doesn’t this work with people too? Most of the time people will need some living evidence of Christ in you before they will accept what you have to say about Jesus. This means living life with others as “little Christs,” as Luther would say. Help those who need it. Be there for those in tough times. Laugh with them in the joyful times. St. Francis of Assisi once said: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” This means that your words will be meaningless without the work behind it.

However, the sower won’t get any fruit at all without sowing any seeds. Too often Christians don’t like talking about spiritual matters. They are afraid of being looked down on or of being rejected. Remember though, the sower is expected to sow, just as the seed is expected to produce a fruit. A farmer that doesn’t plant crops probably will not be a farmer for long. It may seem daunting, but really what it takes is people seeing Christ at work within you. Once they see that, you may get an opening to explain why you are the way you are. If you help someone, you could explain that you did it because Jesus wants you too.

It can be frustrating being a sower. You put all of this time and effort into scattering the Word. We want to do our part to make the Word grow into people’s hearts, so that we can produce our hundredfold crop that Jesus wants us to make for him. Even with all of this effort though, sometimes the seeds wither and die in bad ground. Sometimes the parable works out the exact same way that Jesus says. Sometimes people will not believe for whatever reason, and we may be tempted to get discouraged. Remember what the Apostle Paul said to the Christians in Corinthians: “I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow (1 Corinthians 3:6, New Living Translation).”

We may be the sowers, even the waterers, but God is the one who makes the Word grow in our hearts. The Holy Spirit is the one who takes care of that. It is not our job to try to force it to grow. If we do that we would be trying to be God. Just like God said in our Old Testament reading for today, “my thoughts are not your thoughts.” Just because things don’t work out the way we think it should, it does not mean that it failed. God also said in our first reading that he sends His Word out from his mouth, and it will not return to Him empty. It will accomplish what God wants it to do.

Remember to do what Jesus told us to do in our Gospel reading though. Jesus told us to listen. Listen to his message behind the parable. Be a seed that produces good fruit in good times and perseveres in the bad. Be a sower that does his or her best to create good soil to sow the seeds in, but leave the growing to God. God will do with His Word what he wills. And just like he said to Isaiah, when we do, we will “go out in joy and be led forth in peace.” Amen.

Shepherd Like Jesus

Intern Pastor Scott Adkins
Shepherd Like Jesus
3rd Sunday After Pentecost A, June 29 2014
Ezekiel 34:11-16, John 21:15-19

Good Morning everyone, and happy senior Sunday! Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!

I really like the fact that we are setting aside a day for the seniors in our lives. The seniors in our lives have been our parents, grandparents, and role models throughout our lives, and deserve our respect. It’s not in our readings for today, but God did tell his people something important about the seniors in their lives. Leviticus 19:32 says “‘Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.”

I really like the fact that we are setting aside a day for the seniors in our lives. The seniors in our lives have been our parents, grandparents, and role models throughout our lives, and deserve our respect. It’s not in our readings for today, but God did tell his people something important about the seniors in their lives. Leviticus 19:32 says “‘Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.”

I really like the fact that we are setting aside a day for the seniors in our lives. The seniors in our lives have been our parents, grandparents, and role models throughout our lives, and deserve our respect. It’s not in our readings for today, but God did tell his people something important about the seniors in their lives. Leviticus 19:32 says “‘Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.”

When I was a little boy, I loved being with my Grandfather. When I was little, like 3 or 4 years old, we would visit him at his home in Michigan a couple of times a year. When I was there, I loved going on walks with my Grandpa, I would pull a little toy airplane around with me. This little toy airplane had a boarding stairway that would pop open, and it would do so when I pulled it across every crack in the sidewalk. Of course, a toy airplane can’t pretend fly with the boarding ramp open, so I would stop to close it on every. Single. Crack. My grandpa didn’t mind, however, even though that me closing the ramp meant that he had to bend down as well since he was holding me other hand. All I thought about then was how much I loved walks with grandpa. What I see now though, was just how much my grandfather loved me and how he led me around in a safe place, even though I had my own agenda.

I’d kinda like to use that as the launching point for our sermon today. My Grandpa led me around with love, even though I wasn’t particularly paying attention, and he didn’t let me go, much like a shepherd does.

Both of our readings deal with sheep and shepherds. In our first reading, from the book of Ezekiel, we see God as the good shepherd. It is a great passage; Israel or the people of God, represented by sheep, are lost and scattered across the land. God says that he himself will search after the lost sheep from the darkness. Once God finds the lost sheep, he pledges to take care of them himself. He takes them to the lush pastures on the mountains of Israel where they will be well-provided for and at home– the place where they belong in a world where they are scattered all over. God pledges to heal the injured and to implement justice among his sheep.

Sounds great? Doesn’t it? It makes me think of Jesus the good shepherd from John 10 or the parables of Matthew 18 or Luke 15. In fact, this passage of Ezekiel would pair very well with that passage. However, we have a different passage, one from the conclusion of the Gospel of John.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus is risen from the dead, but he has not yet ascended into heaven. In it, Peter and John were fishing, and Jesus appeared to them one day. After catching a ridiculous amount of fish and eating some food, Jesus started talking with Peter. Their conversation I think is very understandable. Although Jesus was talking to the Apostle Peter, he may well have been saying these words to you or me. Because of that, I’d like you to imagine for a moment that Jesus is saying this to you.

After their breakfast of fresh fish, Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of John, Scott, son of James, do you truly love me more than these?” Now, what are “these?” It could be the fish and tackle, which was Peter’s profession. Do you love Jesus more than you career? How about those around him, like his friend John? Do you love Jesus more than the relationships in your life? The 1st Commandment says you should love God above all things, and if you believe Jesus is Lord, then you know what that means.

In any case, Peter answered yes, he does love Jesus more than anything. What Jesus replies with is really unusual when you think about it. Jesus says to Peter: “Feed my sheep.” Peter is a little confused, so Jesus says it to him 3 times just to make sure it sinks in! Remember, these sheep are not literal sheep- they are the people that God cares about. They are everyone, all of God’s human creation. Jesus then tells Peter some details about his death, but then he finishes by telling Peter follow me

We are told to feed God’s sheep. If we want to follow Jesus, we have to take care of God’s people. Jesus is requiring us to take care of each other. Jesus wants us to follow him, but in order to do that we must take care of each other. We must be each other’s shepherds, our brother’s keepers. Jesus wants us to feed his sheep. For some, that may mean literally feeding them, taking care of bodily needs. For others, it may need walking alongside them in times of sorrow or need. Whatever it is, Jesus wants us to take care of all of God’s children, because each one is someone for whom the Son of God died to redeem.

This rings true in our Old Testament reading. While our reading seems all great and good, which it is, there is a little detail left out in the lectionary. Immediately preceeding our Old Testament reading for today, in Ezekiel 34:1-10 is a scathing criticism of the shepherds of Israel. That is why God’s sheep are scattered. It is because the people of Israel failed in shepherding each other and instead took advantage of one another. God says here that they, the sheep, were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them. No one at all even bothered or cared that the sheep were missing. In contrast, Christ the Good Shepherd left the 99 in the flock to search out the one lost sheep and rejoiced .

God does look after the lost sheep, those that are scattered, lost, and in danger. However, Christ calls us to feed the sheep that we encounter. Don’t be like the shepherds in Ezekiel who abandoned their sheep and took advantage of them. When Christ calls to you and asks you, “Do you love me?” and if you say yes, be prepared to feed Jesus’ sheep. It doesn’t take much to follow Jesus. You don’t have to be a genius, or an athlete. What it does take is a heart that responds like Peter did when that question was asked. Peter said yes, and fed the sheep when Christ called: “Follow me!” Jesus Christ takes care of us, and we need to take care of each other. Amen.