July 28, 2011

Needing to be fed

I haven't looked in the official Revised Common Lectionary (Episcopal Version) Lectern Book, but I'm guessing it follows pretty closely to lectionarypage.net in the way it leads the reader in to the opening verse (14:13) of the Gospel lesson for Sunday.  Here at St. Paul's we use the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) for our lessons.

Here is how verse 13 reads in the NRSV, "Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns."

Here is how verse 13 reads, pulled from its context in the larger story of Matthew, "Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns."

Do you see the difference?

In context, we read that Jesus withdrew because of what he had heard. In the RCL we get no reason for Jesus' withdraw. So, what did Jesus hear that we didn't?

Matthew 14:1-13 is the story of a different kind of meal; one held in the the comfort of the Herod's palace. There was food beyond measure, wine beyond debauchery, that awkward scene with Herod's step-daughter dancing much to Herod's pleasure, and finally John the Baptist's head on a platter.

That's what Jesus heard before he withdrew to a deserted place by himself, and I don't blame him. Jesus felt what most of us feel when tragic news comes, he was hungry for God. He needed to spend sometime with His Father in order to sort it all out. He needed to hear again that the Father's will is good and perfect even when people are bad and ugly. He returned from his time away, short as it seems to have been, fed and ready to share with a crowd of people who were hungry as well. God's gift was shared by Jesus through compassion. Sure, real bread and real fish were consumed, real people were cured of real infirmities, but the real gift was God's amazing grace poured out from the perfect vessel of love, God incarnate.

I rag on the RCL a lot. I know that choices have to be made, we can't read all of Matthew in one sitting on a Sunday morning, but sometimes the context tells the story. Leave those few leading words in and make the preacher explain what is happening. And since they aren't there, dear preacher, do the work of telling the whole story. The people are hungry, we ought follow the example and feed them.

John R. W. Stott 1921-2011

In recent years, as evangelical has become more of a pejorative in Western Christianity, to call him the father of modern evangelicalism is to do a disservice to this great man.  He was a missiologist before missiology became the "in" thing and theological schools offered D.Min programs in it.  His books line my shelves and as editor of "The Bible Speaks Today" commentary series, he has impacted congregations, including St. Paul's Foley, around the globe.

My rector sent this to me yesterday upon hearing of Stott's death,

"One of the most searching tests to apply to any religion concerns its attitude to death. And measured by this test much so-called Christianity is found wanting in its black clothes, its mournful chants and its requiem masses. Of course dying can be very unpleasant, and bereavement can bring bitter sorrow. But death itself has been overthrown, and ‘blessed are the dead who die in the Lord’ (Rev. 14:13). The proper epitaph to write for a Christian believer is not a dismal and uncertain petition, ‘R.I.P.’ (requiescat in pace, ‘may he rest in peace’), but a joyful and certain affirmation ‘C.A.D.’ (‘Christ abolished death’)." - John Stott

—From “The Message of 2 Timothy” (The Bible Speaks Today series: London and Downers Grove: IVP, 1973), p. 39.

Follow this link to read my seminary paper on the missiology of John Stott. (Warning - it is 14 pages long and not that great).

CAD John Stott

July 27, 2011

Among many others

There are a lot of stories from the Bible that we know so well, we've forgotten what they actually say (let alone what they actually mean (assuming we ever did know that)).  The Feeding of the 5000, as I told you before Final Jeopardy last night, appears in all four Gospels.  The feeding of a multitude appears six times in all.  We get it.  Jesus did a lot with a little.

As I said yesterday, it is The Miracle of Jesus.

But what we miss, is that it happened in the midst of a whole lot of other miracles. (I'll stretch the context outside of the pericope tomorrow).  Jesus, trying to find some peace and quiet, sees that the crowd has followed him, sought him out, and has compassion on them.  Then, Matthew tells us, he cured their sick.  The word he uses here isn't the typical word for healing (iaomai) but instead is the basis for our word "therapy" (therapeuo).  The first definition of which being "to serve."

Jesus' Big Miracle of feeding, where the disciples participated by serving the crowd is precipitated by Jesus' many smaller miracles of healing, where he himself served the crowd.  Maybe this is a superfluous detail, but I think it shows us something big.  God does miracles in two ways.

Sometimes, he takes care of it himself. BOOM - miracle done, person healed.

Sometimes, he invites disciples to be the agents of his miracles by handing out food, teaching the forgotten, loving the unlovable, starting an IV, whatever.  Sometimes big miracles happen because a lot of people listened to God and acted as his agents of change.

The Miracle in this story, the one we learn about our call to discipleship, is the feeding of the 5000, but we learn that lesson only because we know from the many other examples, that God is quite able to do it all on his own.

July 26, 2011

The Miracle

The picture at left is of one of the shelves in my office bookcase.  A, my able youth ministry volunteer/Sunday school coordinator gave me "Miracle Jesus" for Christmas a couple years ago.  Two miracles are featured with the glow-in-the-dark handed Jesus action figure: The turning of water into wine and, what I have dubbed The Miracle, The Feeding of the 5000.

You'll note the five loaves and two fish on the paten (next to the water jug that flips over for wine) and the multitude in the background.

I think if you took a man-on-the-street type survey of the miracles of Jesus, the feeding of the 5000 would be the clear winner.  Never mind the fact that it was more a feeding of the 10 or 15 thousand, this miracle gets our attention because it has to do with the one basic we all share: food.

It is the only miracle that appears in all four gospels and as the NAB notes state below, it is full of allusions both forward and back.

"The feeding of the five thousand is the only miracle of Jesus that is recounted in all four gospels. The principal reason for that may be that it was seen as anticipating the Eucharist and the final banquet in the kingdom (Matthew 8:11; 26:29), but it looks not only forward but backward, to the feeding of Israel with manna in the desert at the time of the Exodus (Exodus 16), a miracle that in some contemporary Jewish expectation would be repeated in the messianic age (2Ba 29:8). It may also be meant to recall Elisha's feeding a hundred men with small provisions (2 Kings 4:42-44)."

As our news is full of billionaire owners and millionaire football players, political wrangling over a looming debt crisis, and historic droughts in Africa, the abundant provision of Jesus in this story seems as profound as ever.  How does the Church, as the body of Christ, re-create this miracle on an ongoing basis? How are we called, like the disciples, to feed people even in our scarcity?  How is God's abundance alive and well even in the midst of our philosophy of scarcity?

Lots of questions this week, and short week to ponder them, but I'm glad to be back.

July 14, 2011

One Square Meter

Jack Daniel's fans who are lucky enough to become Tennessee Squires are deeded one square inch of land.

Habitat for Humanity of Baldwin County supporters can donate one square foot of a house.

The more I think and pray about the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, the more I'm convinced that none of us is just one plant in this story. I think that perhaps each human being comprises more like one square meter in the field of God.

As I take stock of my own life, I am keenly aware of the ways in which good fruit (wheat) and bad fruit (tares) grow up side by side, often intertwined, within me. Like the Apostle Paul said in the Epistle lesson a few weeks ago, "I don't understand my own actions."

Plants have no choice as to whether they are wheat or weeds. They have no ability to tear up the weeds that are choking them out. They are stuck until harvest.

Human beings, on the other hand, have choices to make. Am I content having my square meter be more full of weeds than wheat? Am I willing to ask God for help pulling the weeds? Am I able to be patient enough to wait for that to happen?

Parables are never as simple as they seem on Monday, but I'm still glad I don't have to preach this weekend.

God keeps his promises - a homily

Here's my homily from yesterday's noon Eucharist.

Over the past six months, I have watched the Veggie Tales version of the Jonah story more times than a good parent would care to admit. I have learned a lot from the adventures of the poor asparagus names Jonah: his escape to Tarshesh, his time in the belly of a big fish, and the repentance of the people of Nineveh. One thing of which I am certain, the life of a prophet is never dull. Hosea was called by God to marry a prostitute who would cheat on him so that he could experience the pain God felt as Israel worshiped idols. Ezekiel was told to lay on his left side for 390 days while God laid the iniquity of Israel upon him. Isaiah walked around naked for three years to show Isreal's enemies the shame that was to come upon them. Prophets spoke words of correction and rebuke to people of all strata – from peasants to kings – individuals and whole nations. They found themselves, unsurprisingly, in all sorts of jams and in need of the very God who sent them into the storm for safety. My spiritual director in seminary told me she thought I had the gift of prophecy, and I've been scared to death that she was right ever since. Being a prophet is a life of unease, at best.
There are moments, however, when being a prophet is a pretty sweet gig, and not just on the other side of the River Styx. There are scores of stories in Scripture where, when all the prophecy and rebuke is over, when wars have come and gone, when people have been killed, exiled, and humiliated, when God gives the prophet a word of restoration – a promise that even in the midst of the worst possible situation, God promises goodness for his people. We get a piece of that in the Isaiah lesson.
Chapter fifty-five ends what is called Second Isaiah, the portion of the book that takes place during the Babylonian Exile, and this word is desperately needed. Their time in exile has been almost too much to bear. Their beloved holy city of Jerusalem was destroyed, families were torn apart, houses burnt to the ground, and their country leveled. Jeremiah and a group were left in Israel while others were taken by force to Babylon where they could no longer follow the rules of their religion. Their God, who resided in the Temple Court, was no where to be found. Hope is almost lost, when the man who warned them all of this would happen, offers a new word, one filled with hope.
His word of rain and snow comes to a people, not unlike us, who know the dangers of parched ground. They've seen crops fail, fires rage, and livelihoods lost. They know what it is to hope for rain to come and refresh the earth, and, Isaiah says, that is exactly what God's word is like. His word comes, and renews the face of the earth. People who see nothing but sadness, will have their hopeful vision restored. People who in the midst of death and mourning, long for a glimpse of life, will have their lives renewed. God will pour out his word of hope upon his people and they will rise up with joy and singing. The restoration will be so joyous, so spirited, so lively that even the very mountains and hill will sing and rejoice. The words of condemnation, the thorns and the briers, will be transformed into luscious green myrtles and cypress trees. Where Babylon scorched the earth, God's word will bring forth fresh life.
Today marks the middle of our ninth real week of summer. We've had 0.05 inches of rain in July, 2.17 inches of rain in June, and 0.11 inches in May – putting us nearly 8 inches behind for these 9 weeks. We watched 1000 acres of Gulf State Park burn as we smelled smoke for more than a week. We've been stuck in traffic on 59, long lines at the grocery store, and found slivers of sand on crowded beaches. We've got 13 weeks until hurricane season ends. And we can't even begin to understand how desperate the Isrealites in Babylon felt, but there is still hope for us in the words of Isaiah,
God keeps his promises, and he promises to restore his whole creation. No matter how dry, how frustrating, how messy, how fearful the earth becomes, God promises to restore it and us in due time. He's done it before. He's given Jonah, Hosea, Ezekiel and Isaiah good news to share, and been true to their word. May God continue to prove faithful to his word as we seek to faithfully serve him, even in the midst of dry times. Amen.

July 12, 2011

The Wisdom of Solomon

If you are running with RCL Track 2 this summer, you'd better pull out your Roman Catholic Bibles this week because it is time again for "Readings from the Apocrypha!" Remember to tell your lectors not to end the lesson with "The Word of the Lord" lest lightning should strike your lectern/ambo (sarcasm font here). Also, be prepared for questions about why the lesson isn't in "my bible." Someone will ask. Mark my words.

I'm struck this morning by one line from chapter 12 of the Wisdom of Solomon. It reads, "You show your strength when people doubt the completeness of your power." And it is such a good reminder to those of us in leadership positions.

How often do we get to a point where we, effectively by our actions, tell God, "Thank you very much, I'll take it from here." Often, right?

And how often does that work out? Never, right?

God shows his strength when we doubt the completeness of his power and trust in our own instead. He gives us the opportunity to walk away from him, knowing full well that without him, our plans are fruitless. "Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain" (Ps 127.1)

I've seen it happen at all levels of the Church, and, without fail, the program sputters and flops because God was not invited to the party. As we plan for the fall here at St. Paul's it is a helpful reminder to call upon the Spirit for wisdom and discernment. Otherwise, God might just who us the completeness of his power.

July 11, 2011

Children of the Evil One?

I sure am glad that I'm not preaching this Sunday. The Wheat and the Tares is such a messy parable. If one reads the text at face value it sounds like some people were created to always be destined for hell. They even get a name, Children of the Evil One.

It all feels very Calvin-y to me.

As I reread the parable, letting the shock of my first read wear off (every time I read it, it shocks me) I began to wonder who the Children of the Evil One are. If the Creed is to be believed, then God created everything, seen and unseen, in heaven, on the earth, and under the earth. So, did God create children of the evil one, destined for hell, and hell bent on taking the rest of humanity with them?

Or, are the evil one's children a separate creation? Does the devil have such power? Are these children fellow humans? Are they demons? Are they evil powers? Are they principalities?

I feel like this has to be addressed on Sunday morning. I feel like this is all people will hear. We skirt the issue of good vs. evil, of heaven and hell, to our detriment. So, dear reader, how will you preach this text?

The Prodigal Sower - an impractical sermon

You can listen to this here - or read it below.

When I was in seminary, some body of the Church decided to survey Episcopal Parishes on what they most desired from the then thirteen Episcopal seminaries. One question asked something to the effect of “What is the most important attribute for a priest?” The overwhelming majority said “relevant, practical biblical preaching.” I remember hearing that and thinking, “of course, and that is exactly what I will do. I'll preach relevant, practical, biblical sermons.” And for the most part, I feel like I do. I've heard, and I understand that I could be more practical. I could spell out for you exactly how to live your lives, what activities to partake in, what charities to give to, what prayers to say and what scriptures to read. Instead, I think of a sermon like a coloring book. I draw the lines, giving you a general idea of the picture on the page, your job is to take your crayons and bring the page to life. It is an arrangement that for the most part works out well, but there is a problem with relevant, practical biblical preaching. The problem is that sometimes the Bible is ridiculously impractical. Today's Gospel lesson is no exception.
The crowd following Jesus continues to swell. It has become so large, in fact, that Jesus is forced to push out from shore in order to teach to the whole group. Jesus knows, however, that many of them are there for the wrong reasons. Many, if not most, of those following him (including his disciples) are convinced that Jesus' is the military leader who will bring them freedom from the oppressive Romans. They are eagerly and impatiently waiting for Jesus to give them their marching orders, when he pushes the boat out from shore and launches into this third teaching discourse. His language is veiled in the ancient art of parables, probably because there are spies in the crowd. His cousin, John the Baptist is already in prison. Jesus scans the crowd, sees their hearts, and knows that his message must be on point. The Sea was surrounded by fields, so there is a good chance that as Jesus scanned his audience, he saw a farmer planting seed for the new season. “You see that farmer over there sowing seed? Let me tell you about The Farmer,” and he launched into this first kingdom parable about seed that fell on four very different types of ground: the path, where birds ate it up, rocky ground where the fresh sprouts were scorched, thorny soil that choked out the new growth, and good soil that produced a crop in record abundance: a hundred, sixty, or third fold.
The practical preacher would now say something like, “be good soil and give to the building fund.”1 He would then follow up with various ways in which you could tend the soil of your heart to make the Gospel message flourish in your life. The practical preacher can do this, even if it feels a lot like a to-do list for getting yourself into heaven, the dreaded works righteousness, because of the allegorical explanation, attributed to Jesus, that follows right after. The path is like a hard heart that can not hear the Word and so the devil snatches it away. The rocky ground is like a heart eager to join up, but ill prepared for the trials of discipleship, so when the going gets tough, the rocky heart runs away. The thorny ground is a heart too focused on the worries of the world and seeking after wealth, too preoccupied to produce any fruit. The good soil is a fertile heart that hears, understands, and lives the Word producing yields of ridiculous proportions. The Practical Preacher gets to look at her congregation and say, “All you have to do is listen and understand, cut out the worry and the money grubbing, and you'll be good soil.” But I don't buy it. Parables weren't meant to be understood at face value, they were supposed to disturb the hearer and make them think. They were supposed to have many sides, to be looked at from many angles, and to bounce around in the hearers mind for days on end until, when it finally seems to make sense, the process starts over again. So, despite the fact that most Episcopalians surveyed want this sermon to be relevant and practical, I have to agree with Barbara Brown Taylor who asks, “What if this story is not about us at all but about the sower? What if it is not about our own successes and failures and birds and rocks and thorns, but about the extravagance of a sower who flings seed everywhere, wastes it with holy abandon...” What if this parable is totally impractical for our lives except where it opens our eyes to the fact that God is reckless in his love for us? And if that's the case, well then maybe it isn't impractical at all. Surely we can make this more relevant, with just a few easy twenty-first century changes. Let's hear the parable again.
“The Farmer, having hooked up his planter to the back of his John Deere tractor, started out of the barn. He put the machine in gear, turned on his four way flashers, and flipped on the PTO setting the blades of the planter spinning and seed flying about. He slowly made his way down the long gravel driveway, turned right onto County Road 97 and began the two mile journey to his southern fields. Seeds bounced off the asphalt roadway, some fell into the ditch, some pinged off the windshields of cars attempting to pass. When he finally arrived at the south forty, he cut across the weedy, thorny right of way, seed still flying, and then began the slow, methodical process of seeding the well groomed, fertilized, lush field.”2
No farmer in their right mind would be that reckless with seed. Not in first century Palestine and not in the cut throat twenty-first century American agricultural industry. Seed is just too expensive to throw it away in the barn, on the driveway, along the road, and in the right-of-way. No farmer would be so prodigal in their flinging of seed, but God is. God, the creator of all things, seen and unseen, in heaven and on earth can afford to be “confident that there will be enough seed to go around.3” He sees into our hearts and even though he sees barns with treasure stored up for ourselves, gravel driveways parched from lack of living water, roadways paved over and over and over again by doubt and cynicism, and the thorns of fear, addiction, pride, and greed – he keeps throwing seed, again and again and again. He lavishes his good seed not just on the good soil, but on every heart that he has made.
Our modern day parable finishes up like this, “Several months later, when the harvest was finally ready to come in, the farmer started up his combine, turned right onto County Road 97, made the two mile drive to the southern forty and reaped a harvest that was in some spots 100 fold, in others 60, and still others 30. He who has ears, let him hear. She who has ears, let her hear.” The harvest is so plentiful that even with all that wasted seed, there is more than enough to go around. More than enough to fill the barns of every neighbor to the point of overflowing. More than enough grace for every man, woman, and child ever created.
For the practical preacher, this a story of seed falling on four soils. Good Protestant work ethic combined with the “I can do anything” American ethos wants to tell us that we can choose what type of soil we are. The bad news is, you can't. You have no more choice about the soil of your heart than the soil of the earth does about whether it is paved, built upon, left fallow, or tended to with care and craft. And truth be told, none of us, if we were to be really honest with ourselves, would find only one type of soil in our hearts. All of us, carry all four types of soil within us. It would be wise, of course, to do our best to remove what thorns we can, to water what dry ground we find, to give up worrying about wealth, and generally to keep the soil of our hearts in good order, but we all know that is easier said than done. Ultimately, it is only by the grace of God that any real change takes place. In the meantime, the good news for us today is that this is this a completely impractical story of our God, The Prodigal Sower, who will keep flinging seed in your direction, from now, until the end of time. Which, for those of you, who, like me, still struggle with sin everyday, is actually quite practical indeed. Amen.

July 7, 2011

Follow the Word

At our 10am service, we have, for several years, tried to make it more family friendly.  Parent's have a hard time paying attention because their kids are fidgety.  Kids have a hard time paying attention because they are kids.  And so, our families were averaging maybe an every-other-week attendance.

Over the past six months or so we've tried something new, that seems to be working pretty well.  The Gospel book is processed to the center aisle where the children (up to grade 5) are invited to join the preacher.  The Gospel is read and the book is handed to a child who leads the rest of the group to the chapel where some sort of art project, apropos to the lessons, is attempted.  The kids bring the project back in during the offertory as their "Word Offering" each week.

The key verse for this activity is featured in this Sunday's 2nd Old Testament lesson from Isaiah 55.

"As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,

and do not return there until they have watered the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

it shall not return to me empty,"

It is our hope that the word going forth to the chapel will meet up with the Word and what returns, while a cutesy art project on the outside, is a changed life on the inside.  As the parable of the prodigal sower tells us, however, we won't know the fruit for quite a while.

July 5, 2011

Sermon on Proper 9A

You can listen here, or read below.

I don't understand my own actions - office equipment edition

“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” With these words, Paul speaks a universal truth beyond something any preacher could dream to muster. He speaks the truth about himself, about the rest of the Apostles, about the early Church, and about you and me. Sometimes, we all do the very things we hate. Sometimes, I don't do what I want to do. Sometimes, I don't understand my own actions.
Take this week as an example. As the only one in the office this week, I had the distinct pleasure of being not just the Associate Rector while the big wheel was out of town, but I also had the dreaded task of filling in for the parish secretary. Keith being gone is one thing, but Karla leaving means at least a dozen extra items on my weekly to-do list. And that dozen multiplied at about 10:30 on Wednesday morning when the copier went down. Error Code C7300. So, I turned the machine off, per the instructions on the machine's screen, let it cool down and tried again. Ten copies later, Error Code C7300. And so, I bit the bullet and called our service contractor. “No problem,” they said, “we'll get someone out there shortly.” “Sounds good,” I responded, and twenty-nine hours later, a technician finally arrived.
“I don't know these machines very well,” is how the interaction between the tech and me began, and somehow things went downhill from there. Seems our friendly neighborhood copier service was bought out by a mega-office-soluitons company, and this nice man was from the big boys regional office because all of the techs from the old company were out servicing other machines. They assumed, I suppose, that I would be glad for the prompt and courteous service. A dubious assumption on their part. Anyway, the tech thought the C7300 code was a toner code, but t make sure he called on the the guys who was too busy to come out and see me. He was right, and thanks be to God, we actually had extra toner. With his phone tucked between his shoulder and his head, the nice man proceeded to fumble through figuring out how to removed the old toner cartridge, finding the power switch, and asking the guy on the other end if he had to shake the new cartridge.
Somewhere in there, I cam to realize that prompt courteous service, while nice (and in not actually a reality in this particular case) would be a whole lot more effective if it were simply knowledgeable service. Anyway, he made a few copies, instructed me to call the office to order more toner and headed off to his next service call at a place, quote “he'd never heard of before.”
I went back to attempting to print today's bulletin, when ten or so copies in... you guessed it... Error Code C7300. And here's where this rubber on this long, rambling story, hits the road. Here's where I did what I didn't want to do, the very thing I hate. Here's where the parts of my personality that I can't understand come to the fore. I called up the help desk again, calmly explained to them that the nice man they had sent clearly didn't have a clue what he was doing, and then sat behind Karla's desk a stewed over his incompetence for what felt like an hour.
“O God, you have taught us to keep your commandments by loving you and our neighbor...” That's the way our Prayer for Today begins. We know, O Lord, that we can live up to everything you expect of us if we could just love you and love our neighbor. It is that simple. The yoke is so easy. The burden is so light. And yet. And yet, over and over and over again I fail to love God and I fail at loving my neighbor and I find myself, metaphorically, sitting at Karla's desk, stewing in my own contempt over something that in the grand scheme of things, doesn't matter at all. It is in those moments that Paul's rhetorical question in verse twenty-four come to a head in my life, “who will rescue me from this body of death?”
Our prayer continues, “give us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection...” Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” The burdens we carry are as different as each one of us. Grief, guilt, illness, fear, depression, contempt, anxiety, stress, addiction – the list goes on and on. The world continuously ties new weights upon our shoulders until we can barely stand under the strain, and then, we heap some more upon ourselves, just for good measure. We are told, even in Scripture, that suffering produces endurance, but most of the time, this sort of suffering only leads to broken relationships between us and God and us and our neighbors.
Jesus can take those self-imposed and world-imposed burdens from our shoulders. He longs to replace them with the easy yoke of his Gospel, if only we would let him. I know I want rest for my soul, but instead, for reasons I can't understand, I choose instead to sit at a desk and fume over some poor copier repair guy who got dropped into an unfortunate situation. I honestly don't understand my own actions.
What about you? What burdens have you heaped upon yourself? What loads have you allowed the world, your work, your family, your church to place upon your shoulders? What are you yoked to that is pulling you away from God and toward fear, contempt, guilt and sin? In Follow the Word this morning, the children are making mobile, just like this one. At the top is a cartoon Jesus, hand extended. He's carrying a barbell, a boulder, and an anchor. He's carrying a lot of weight, to be sure, but he words written next to him are all the weight we need to worry about. “Jesus carries my burdens for me.” No matter how much junk you've heaped upon yourself, Jesus is strong enough to carry it for you. Just hand it over to him. Lift it up one more time so that he can take it away. As Paul says, in response to his own rhetorical question, “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Handing your weighty garbage over to Jesus doesn't mean it will all go away and life will be all hunky-dorry. There will still be stresses, struggles, and trials. What handing them over does mean, however, is that you won't have to go through it alone. You'll have the God of all Creation, the Son of Redemption, and the Spirit of Sanctification there to help. And, perhaps just as importantly, you'll have the community of the faithful there to walk wit you as well. Sure, we can't necessarily help carry anything for you, since we've all got our own loads to bear, but we can surely walk alongside, encouraging, praying, and being a friend and neighbor in the meantime.
Now to be sure, when you hand it all over to God today, new stuff will come down the pike tomorrow. Perhaps an adaptation of today's Collect might be fruitful as a prayer for when your feet his the floor in the morning. Almighty God, thank you for the gift of another day. Thank you for the promise of an easy yoke and light burdens. Grant us the grace of your Spirit, O God, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart (without any of the garbage there to get in the way). Grant us the grace of your Spirit, that we may be united to one another in pure affection (loving one another even in the midst of the messes we create). Grant us the grace of your Spirit to hand it over, to lift it up, to give it away so that we might find rest for our souls and serve you worthily to the honor and glory of your name. Amen.

A New Understand of Seeds

My wife decided she wanted to plant a garden this year. So, we dug up a plot of sod, marked it out with landscape timbers, turned the soil, and planted seeds.

Real, honest to God, seeds.

And, by some miracle of her green thumb, Lower Alabama's fertile soil, and a high water bill, things grew.

Sunflowers that stand nearly 8 feet tall.  Basil plants so fruitful we can't eat enough spaghetti, and zucchini so numerous we're turning green ourselves.

But the poor watermelon plant.  About where SHW's shadow is in this picture is where we planted a watermelon seed.  It grew, slowly but nobly, in the beginning. Until the zucchini plant grew so large that it nearly took over the whole garden.  The poor watermelon tried to survive.  It wrapped itself around the strong leaves of the zucchini, and it continued to grow, slower yet, and bit less noble.  Until, one day last week, when SHW called time of death, cut the vine, and removed the poor plant.

Much to her shock and sadness, she found one tiny little watermelon growing on the vine.  "I could have cried," she texted me.  And all of a sudden the parable of the seeds came into a new light.  Faith is kind of like seed strewn by a sewer, but the success rates vary day to day rather than lifetime to lifetime.

Sometimes, the seed grows to 100 fold yield, like that dang zucchini plant.  Sometimes it fizzles out due to lack of water, or sun, or nutrient rich soil.  And sometimes, it fights like hell to survive despite the worst of conditions.  Our poor watermelon plant did that, and so has each one of us who claim discipleship of Jesus.  Sometimes our faith gets tested, but sure enough, with some love and some living water and some bread and some wine, we survive, despite the odds and for the glory of God.

Next year, one zucchini plant, and, for sure, a watermelon.