Cultivating Good SoilPosted: July 13, 2014
Cultivating Good Soil
SLIDE 3: WHY DO SOME RESPOND AND OTHERS TURN AWAY?
Our scripture this morning was worked and re-worked by the early church, but it still retains the seed of the authentic teaching of Jesus. The early church was terribly disappointed that more Jews did not hear and respond to the way of Jesus. Within a hundred years after the death of Jesus the church had become primarily a gentile institution. The church and the synagogue were casting mutual curses at each other and Judaism and Christianity became estranged from one another. While our parable in its present form carries the marks of the concerns of the early church, we can also see in these words a genuine question that was asked of Jesus. “How come some people hear the word about the Common Wealth of God and they respond in faith, while other people hear the preaching of the Good News, and they either reject it or they initially respond with enthusiasm but then wither away?”
SLIDE 4: GRACE IS A MYSTERY
Grace is a mystery. Why do some people seem to “get it,” while others remain blind? Someone, either Jesus or the early church, perhaps the author of Matthew recognized people had been wondering about that very question since the time of Isaiah the prophet Chapter 6:
SLIDE 5: EYES WIDE SHUT
Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing.
Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing.
The people are blockheads!
They stick their fingers in their ears
so they won’t have to listen;
They screw their eyes shut
so they won’t have to look,
so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face
and let me heal them.
SLIDE 6: WHAT WE WORSHIP DETERMINES THE KINDS OF LIVES WE WILL LIVE
What we worship determines the kinds of lives we will live. If power, wealth, physical beauty and pleasures are most important in our lives, then we will devote ourselves to those worldly goals. Of course, we don’t make physical idols anymore. We don’t carve images of stone or wood, or cast figurines of silver or gold. But look around our environment and take in the images that capture our attention. Consider the objects or the pass times we spend so much of our time and labor to possess and maintain. After all we are only 49 days until kick-off. We seldom allow ourselves to become conscious of the things we worship most.
SLIDE 7: REST OF THE WORLD CRAZY ABOUT FUTBOL
Actually the World Cup about to be completed in Rio has helped to give some perspective to our American obsession with sports. The rest of the world is as crazy about soccer or what they call futbol as we are about American football. And there is a joke about Satan and St. Peter organizing a soccer match between heaven and hell.
The match was to be played on neutral ground between the select team from the heavenly host and the forces of darkness. “Very well,” said the gatekeeper of Heaven. “But you realize, I hope, that we’ve got all the good players and the best coaches.”
“I know, and that’s all right,” Satan answered unperturbed. “We’ve got all the referees.”
SLIDE 8: JUDGED BY HOW WE USE OUR TIME AND MONEY?
If you and I were to be judged by how we use our time and money, what might an observer from another planet or another culture conclude are the gods we worship: our jobs, trying to look good, sports, recreation, collectibles, our homes, lawns, gardens, food, film, television, Youtube, politics, the internet? I know I’m getting close to meddling, but what captures your time, attention, or budget? We all have to earn a living, and it’s not that enjoying life and activities are bad, but our challenge is perspective – keeping our eyes wide open, so we can occasionally see ourselves through God’s eyes. Matt Fitzgerald offered us a good Still Speaking Devotional this week about keeping our eyes wide open.
SLIDE 9: FRIEND WHOSE HOUSE LOOKS OUT ON AN ISLAND
Matt wrote: “I have a friend whose house looks out on an island. He said, ‘I don’t need to go to church. I already know how to look at the island.’ Maybe he knows how to be awestruck, even grateful. So why go to church?
“Well, church teaches us to see more than beauty. It teaches us to see ourselves.
SLIDE 10: HOMELESS SHOP FOR FREE
“Each year at the end of my congregation’s rummage sale homeless men and women shop ‘for free.’ My job is to guard the door while they assemble. Last summer there were about eighty people waiting and more than thirty minutes to wait. The crowd was restless. I folded my arms and tried to look stern. I felt scared.
“The first man in line was rough, long ponytail, torn leather jacket. Tough as nails. We stood two feet from each other in dead silence. At least five minutes passed.
“Then he spoke up. ‘You want to see a picture of my kids?’ They were beautiful, of course. Twins. Two-year-old girls. He had about a dozen photos. ‘I’m here to get them beds. I’d wait all day.’ He smiled.
SLIDE 11: BROKENNESS INSIDE OF US
“And when he did I saw him for who he truly was. And I saw my fear for what it truly was and I felt myself indicted and enlightened, both at once. That’s what church can do. It can help us see the beauty all around us – and the brokenness inside us.”
SLIDE 12: GOD LOVES US CARES FOR US
We can go out in nature and see evidence of our Creator. On a really dark night like when the power was off after the tornados we can look up in the sky and become lost in the wonder of the stars. We can sit down to a table of fresh produce from the garden and experience thankfulness. But to see ourselves through God’s eyes maybe we do need the church. For just when we become angry and judgmental about someone else’s behavior in church, God pulls us up short and reminds us how far we fall short in following the way of Jesus. It’s not my purpose to guilt trip people, and God knows people don’t want to come to church to feel bad about themselves. Most of us are good enough at beating up on ourselves without the church’s help. And I hope I repeat often enough the important message that God loves us, God cares for us, and we are all precious children of God.
SLIDE 13: WORSHIP SOMETHING OTHER THAN OURSELVES
Occasionally, however, like Matt Fitzgerald we need our brothers and sisters in the community of faith to help us to see the beauty around us and to experience the brokenness inside us. We are all precious children of God, and we are all in need of God’s healing. That is why we come together to worship. To worship something other than ourselves, our stuff, our addictions, and our obsessions. To remind ourselves that we are not self-made people, and we belong to a love that will not let us go even beyond death.
SLIDE 14: OUR ENSLAVEMENT
The false gods we worship demand sacrifice. Our prayer of confession this morning expresses our enslavement. From slavery to schedules, lists and deadlines, from the tyranny of cell phones and the rule of wristwatches, from bondage to busyness to all things that simply must be done before we stop to think or feel or care – good Lord deliver us. From the domination of our moods the gnawing of worry, the pang of guilt, the lead weight of depression and despair, our worship of a mediocre yet comfortable way of life, our fear of failing, hurting, dying. Good Lord, deliver us, and make us free to lose and find ourselves in caring for each other and for the redemption of the whole world.
SLIDE 15: COME HERE TO WORSHIP OUR CREATOR
That is why we come here with good spiritual friends to worship our creator. As Jesus said last week, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” This is a God that does not demand sacrifice. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” When we finally turn away from our false gods, the gods of sacrifice, we find our way home. We find rest, peace, the Sabbath of the heart.
SLIDE 16: GOD’S SHALOM
The miracle of grace is that once we let go of the false gods of sacrifice the spirit grows within us all on its own: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The good soil of faith produces first the blade, then the ear, and finally the full grain appears in the harvest of the Commonwealth of God. Everyone then is invited to the table and everyone shares and eats together. And God’s Shalom comes to earth and everything and everyone is healed.