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August 27, 2017, 12:00 AM

Forgive and Forget?

by Sandy Bach

45 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. 10 You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ 12 And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. 13 You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him. (Genesis 45:1-15 NRSV)

He was a spoiled, entitled "little brother." Worst of all, Dad loved him best.

He was bright, but he wasn't very savvy.  He was an immature seventeen-year-old when he shared with his brothers some of his dreams.

"It was an awesome dream.  We were all binding sheaves in the field when my sheaf stood tall and all your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed to it."  (Genesis 37:7)

"I had another dream," he announced a few days later.  "The sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me."

Everyone knew the meaning of these dreams.  Joseph believed that some day his brothers would bow down to him; that he would rule over them.  Outrageous!  His father rebuked him strongly. As far as his brothers were concerned, it was too little too late.

His brothers planned to kill him.  Through a series of incidents they ended up selling him to a band of Ishmaelites who were traveling to Egypt from Gilead, the producer of balm.  They made a deal with the caravan drivers and then reported back to their father that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.

Joseph served in the house of Potiphar, the captain of the Egyptian guard.  Joseph rose in stature in the general's home and served him well.  Meanwhile, Mrs. Potiphar found Joseph to be handsome and tried to seduce him.  Joseph would have none of it, so she accused him of attempted rape.  Joseph was thrown in jail.

His fellow prisoners discovered his gift of interpreting dreams.  Pharaoh's cup bearer was one of these, having been put in jail under Pharaoh's orders.  Joseph accurately interpreted his dreams and assured him he would be returned to service.  When the cup bearer was, indeed, returned to service, he heard that Pharaoh had dreams of his own.  Eventually, he remembered Joseph and recommended him to Pharaoh.  And now we come to the heart of the Joseph "novella."

Joseph successfully interpreted Pharaoh's dream and also provided a solution to what would become a national disaster.  For seven years, the land would enjoy bumper crops of grain.  But, then there would be seven years of famine.  The solution Joseph suggested was ingenious and simple: find someone whom you trust and have him oversee the collection of the crops.  Every year, one-fifth of the harvest should be held in silos until the famine strikes.  Then there will be enough for everyone.

Pharaoh not only approved the plan, he appointed Joseph to oversee the project.  Joseph successfully saved Egypt from starvation and disaster.  He rose to power quickly, becoming Pharaoh's second in command.

Now the scene is set.  God has been at work.  Joseph's plight has been used to carry out God's plan to save Jacob's family in Canaan.  By the second year of famine, Canaan has also come up against hard times and Jacob sends his sons to Egypt to purchase grain.  Joseph recognizes them immediately; all they see is an Egyptian ruler.

Joseph toys with them and holds them for a few days.  Eventually, he concocts a plan to get them to go back for their youngest brother, Benjamin.  Joseph and Benjamin had been close as children, and he longed to see him.  He also knew that his father, Jacob, would be reluctant to let Benjamin go since he was his new favorite son.

Eventually, the time comes for Joseph to reveal himself.  And this is the twist in the story.  He could have had his brothers imprisoned, even killed.  He could have sold them into slavery like they had done to him.  He could have refused to sell them grain.  He had the power to act out his pain any way he desired.

He chose to forgive them.

Forgiveness isn't forgetting.  It isn't saying that it's okay.  Selling Joseph into slavery wasn't okay.  It was a horrible thing to do.  It hurt Joseph; it nearly killed their father.  They mistreated a beloved creation of God.

I believe it was Lily Tomlin who said, "Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past."  She's right.  When we hold onto the hurt, we're allowing the chains of pain to encircle us and choke us off.  We become bitter and hateful and hate-filled.  We fail to be the authentic person God intends us to be.

Forgiveness is a process.  When the shooter of nine people at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC was brought before a judge, an amazing thing happened.  One by one, members of the church confronted him.  They described their pain and what he had done to change their lives and their families forever.  And to a person, each one said, "I forgive you."

They weren't saying, "Oh, it's okay.  You're in a bad place."  They also didn't say, "May you rot in hell!"  They didn't get through their pain that day.  What they said was, "You and evil will not win today."

That Sunday in worship, they sang, "This is my story, this is my song, praising my savior all the day long." Over and over and over again, they sang it.  They would not allow evil to rule the day.  They would not allow anger and hate to wrap them in its grip and change them.  They clearly understood themselves to be children of God and followers of Christ.  They would get through this with God's help.  And the first step was forgiving.

Joseph not only forgave, he began the steps to reconciliation.  Notice that he stated clearly what the brothers had done to him: selling him into slavery.  Joseph looked back on how his life had played out and saw God at work.  Because of his being sent to Egypt, Joseph was able to save his family and provide a place for them to grow and thrive.

The brothers and Joseph probably spent years reconciling what had been done and understanding how God had used it for good.  It would be years before the brothers would seek forgiveness from Joseph and he would give it.  "Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today."  (Genesis 50:20 NRSV)

What does forgiveness look like today?  It looks like an adult son of an abusive father finally facing and acknowledging the physical and emotional pain and saying, "I forgive him.  I don't know what pain he was suffering, but I refuse to let it ruin my life.  I forgive him."

It looks like an employee forgiving a boss stealing his ideas to make himself look good.  He moves on to use his newly recognized gifts with an employer who values his contributions.

It looks like a support group for parents of murdered children who acknowledge their pain and suffering and use it to help others in similar circumstances while working to strengthen laws that make their community safer.

It looks like a group of people who realize their white privilege.  They acknowledge it and forgive themselves.  Then they work with others to understand and eliminate racist laws and attitudes.  They refuse to hate.  They choose to stand with and for others who are hurt and sidelined.

That spoiled and entitled little brother has a lot to teach us about forgiveness.  He had to  learn who he was and how he had hurt others.  He lived out a value system that refused to take advantage of others, but chose to help others understand themselves.

He learned to use his gifts of discernment and organization to save his adopted nation and his birth family.

As I study white privilege I am appalled and ashamed.  I have lived a good life, having worked hard to get where I am today.  Yet, I now realize that there are many who worked harder than I did and didn't get as far, not because of anything to do with their failings, but because of the color of their skin.

We have a choice.  Ignore it and the growing hatred in our nation.  Understand it and live in shame.

Or.  We can learn and understand and forgive ourselves.  Then step forward with others to stem this tide of bigotry and hate, not to make ourselves feel better or to make atonement.  But, because we recognize injustice for what it is and that God created us to live in peace and harmony with our neighbor, regardless of race or ethnicity or disability or anything else that threatens to separate us.

I choose forgiveness.  I pray for discernment to move into a place of reconciliation with my neighbor.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




August 13, 2017, 12:00 AM

Lonely the Boat

by Sandy Bach

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land,[a] for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind,[b] he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Jesus is tired.  Physically and emotionally exhausted.  Spiritually depleted.  A trip home that should have been filled with joy ended in shambles as the townspeople utterly rejected him.  And then word arrived that his close friend, John the Baptizer was killed by Herod as a result of drunken party and young woman's erotic dance.

He went off for rest only to discover that crowds of people followed him.  5,000 plus women and children.  People energize Jesus.  And when he saw them, he couldn't not take care of them.  He healed.  He cured.  He fed.  He created community.  And as we stepped back from the scene, we caught a glimpse of God's kingdom: a place where everyone is accepted, agape love abounds and all are fed until they're full.

If Jesus was tired before this, he's thoroughly exhausted now.  He needs time to pray and grieve and rest.  It's time for the crowd to pack up and return home.  He and the disciples watch as they begin to gather their meager belongings.  Mothers gather their children.  Father's shake hands with new-found friends.  Jesus turns to the twelve.

"Get in the boat and head to the other side.  I'll join you later."

They try to argue with him.  Why don't you come with us?  A couple of us will stay with you.  How will you travel to join us?

"Just go.  I'll be okay."

He turns back to the crowd and provides a final blessing and benediction.  The crowd begins their journey while the twelve get in the boat.

Quiet settles slowly.  Peace and quiet.  Jesus can finally have that alone time he needs.  Slowly he walks the narrow path up the mountain where he can be closer to God.  The next several hours are spent in prayer, rest and sleep.  More prayer.  Perhaps some weeping.  So much evil in the world.  So much to do.  Not enough time to get it all done.

Prayer.  Rest. Sleep. Repeat.  God's shalom surrounds him.  Pray. Rest. Sleep.  The brokenness and hostility of the world drop away to be replaced with God's wholeness, completeness, fullness and balance.  Peace and shalom surrounds Jesus as he prays and rests and sleeps throughout the night.

Meanwhile, a storm is brewing.  Storms develop quickly on the Sea of Galilee.  The winds sweep down the mountains and toss the sea around like a bowl of water.  The fishermen on the boat call out orders to the novices.  (What do tax collectors and political zealots know about boats and angry seas?)

They hold on to the the ropes while wiping water from their eyes with their upper arms.  This storm is bad.  Can they survive it?  Fear has them in its grip.  Just when it couldn't get worse, it does.  A ghost appears, walking directly toward their wind-tossed boat.

Oh, great! a demon, perhaps?  We're surely doomed, now.

Then they hear his voice.  Calm, steady, piercing the sound of the wind.  "It's okay.  It's me.  Don't be afraid."

Peter drops his ropes and makes his way to that side of the boat.  "It's him!  He's walking toward us.  On the water!"

"Lord, order me to come out and join you.  Let me try it."

"Okay, Peter.  Come on out."  And he gestures with his arm.

Eagerly, but but not without a tiny bit of trepidation, Peter climbs over the side of the boat and lowers himself onto the water.  He did it.  He's standing on the water!  Now, he takes a step.  He gazes on Jesus and sees his encouraging smile.  Water sloshes around his toes as he takes steps toward the Master.

He'd forgotten all about the storm.  Suddenly, a gale slaps him across the face and he drops his attention from Jesus.  Fear and doubt settle in; he drops into the water like a rock.

"What was I thinking?  What a stupid thing to do.  I've let everyone down, especially Jesus.  Some disciple I am!

Just then he feels strong hands reach around him and lift him out of the water.  "You did good, Peter.  Why did you doubt?"

And then the peace.  That shalom that Jesus brings with him.  That wholeness; completeness; balance.  Peace settles the storm and the disciples fall to their knees.  Tired, worn; awe-filled and trembling.

Once again they realize what they've known all along.  "Truly, you are the Son of God."

It's a lovely narrative.  Lots of scenery and color and movement.  Peace and fear; miracle and failure; most of all, a happy ending.

What scares you?  Really scares you.  I'm talking about paralyzing fear that engulfs you like that storm on the Sea of Galilee.

How badly our churches want to enter into the mission field.  They want to reach out to help those who are holding on tight while poverty or illness engulfs them.  They want to make broken lives better; offer healing from abuse; reach out to the children so desperately in need of shalom.

But, we're paralyzed with fear.  We don't know where to begin.  We don't have enough people.  Money is at an all-time low.  Do we pay the electric bill or fund that new mission?

We try.  We step out and try and when we don't see the immediate return, we feel like failures.  We did something wrong.  God wasn't with us.  We're failures and the whole world has witnessed us making fools of ourselves.  We've let God down.

And we step back into the church and close the doors against the howling storms of a broken world.

Here's the good news:  it's not about us.

God calls us to be faithful, not successful.  That's God's job.

Several years ago I  met a minister from New England.  He pastored a church located in the worst part of the inner city.  He shared with me their ministry.

It was litany of one success after another.  They cleaned out the old basement and have a food pantry and offer classes to the neighborhood to help them get a job.  The members spent days going out into the neighborhood picking up trash (including spent needles and condoms.)  For several minutes my new friend waxed eloquently about everything his congregation was doing to meet needs.  He was excited and grateful.

The more he talked, the quieter I became.  Finally, I asked him a question.  "How long have you been doing this?  How long did it take to figure out your call?"

He paused for a thoughtful moment and studied my face.  I think he saw my fear and disappointment at my own meager attempts.  It turns out that he knew what I was feeling.  He'd been in my shoes.

"It took years," he finally replied.  "It took years to get to the point in our ministry where we could see the next opportunity.  Not everything worked and not everything works today.  In fact, we had several starts in the beginning."

We talked a bit longer.  About false starts and lack of clear vision and disappointment.  His parting words to me were, "Keep moving forward.  Step out in faith.  Remember that Jesus only had twelve disciples and one of them was the devil!"

Stepping out is hard.  We want to.  We so desperately want to.  We hear that call to offer healing and food.  But, we're held back by scarcity.  We need more money and time and people.  We forget that Jesus is in charge and will provide all that we need.

What we need is a miracle.  The miracle of Jesus' calm voice saying, "Little Believers, you won't let me down.  Your tiny mustard seed faith is all I need from you.  Whatever happens, I'll never ever be disappointed in you.

"Little Believers, that boat is filled with fear and scarcity.  Step out in prayer.  And keep stepping out.  Sometimes you'll sink like a rock; other times you'll soar with the eagles.

"Little Believers, step out.  Don't worry about what others are thinking.  That's what takes your eyes off of me.  Don't worry about pleasing some high expectations you think I have.  That's the rain slashing across your face.

"Little Believers.  Step out.  I've got you and I'll provide what's missing: energy, time, people, money."

Do we dare do it?  Do we dare to step out of that lonely, fear-washed boat?  Someone needs you to offer them Jesus' healing and shalom.

Are you the one he's calling?

If so, listen to him say,

"Come on Little Believer.  Let's get to work.  That's it.  Step out of that boat.

"Yes!  I knew you could do it!"

After all.  Is anything impossible with God?

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




July 30, 2017, 12:00 AM

Challenges and Opportunities

by Sandy Bach

I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.  (Romans 8:26-39 The Message)

When my son was in middle school, his aunt bought him a hand held video game.  It was his pride and joy.  He took it everywhere with him and took very good care of it.  One night he woke me up in tears.  Somehow his precious video game had gotten damaged.  Through bleary eyes I could see that the display was utterly destroyed. He was beside himself and I could barely remain awake.  "There are always options, honey.  Go to bed and we'll work it out in the morning."  And I fell back to sleep.

The next morning he was up early, dressed and ready for breakfast.  He was never up early, was never dressed and ready for breakfast.  In fact mornings were a constant battle to get him moving out the door to school.  Then I remembered: the video game.  He was making sure I'd be ready to help him find a solution.

I was wrong.

He entered the kitchen with a piece of notebook paper on a clip board.  He had written notes on it that filled the page.

"Mom, do you know where Federal Express is located?"

"There's an office about a mile from here.  Why?"

"If we can pack up my video game and put this Return Merchandise Authority number on the package and ship it to this address, they'll repair it and return it to me."

I was stunned.  He had actually listened to me.  Did I mention he was in middle school?  He had heard me say repeatedly throughout his young life that there are usually options if you pause to consider them.  As it turned out, he found the toll-free number to call the support line and they give him the information he needed.  At 1:00 AM, no less!

Challenges and opportunities.  My young son had learned early in life that a broken video game wasn't the end of the world.  And I learned that my son could be resourceful.

Challenges and opportunities.  Where do you live?  In a world of challenges and burdens?  Or a world with opportunities and resources?

Jesus was clear about bad things in life:  "...for [God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous." (Mt. 6:45b)

Bad things happen to good people.  Life is filled with moments of joy and wonderment and miracles.  God's creation comes alive every spring and we're reminded of God's abundance; in the fall we see nature "shut down" and prepare for winter.  Mustard seeds sprout in unexpected places: friends showing up to help a seriously ill loved one; a teenager turning her life around; the miracle of birth.  Often what we take for granted are miracles all around us.

If good things happen, so do bad.  I overheard a conversation where someone said, "Why is this happening to me?"  The answer came back, "Why not?"  Was the response meant to be snarky, or was she pointing out to her friend that the rain falls on the evil and the good alike?  Being a Christian doesn't protect us from life.  Being a Christian gives us stamina to get through life and do it with grace.

What are your particular challenges?  Can you see opportunities in them?  A seed can't be protected.  It has to be buried and it has to die in order to produce a strong tree or beautiful flowers.  Broken video games can help a young teenager learn how to find solutions.  The political party you oppose offers opportunities to broaden your thinking on the issues.  That debilitating illness can provide you with a more compassionate spirit and challenge you to allow others to help you.

Do you concentrate on burdens or on resources?  When ministers and pastors and priests stand in the pulpit, they see their flock. These shepherds know the pain and joy of each member of the flock: the broken kids, the dying, those who worry about their job prospects, the ones tired of living.  They know deeply the pain and angst of their congregations and they hold them in prayer and in their arms.

Looking for resources and opportunities doesn't mean we look at life through rose-colored glasses.  No.  This type of thinking and praying means that we have to see the absolute worst in our situation.  Only then can we define what our needs are.  For healing, yes.  But, also for assistance from friends or advice from support groups.  Maybe it means a change in your life situation that can lead to something new and fulfilling.

Looking for resources and opportunities is how we see the abundance in our lives.  Instead of a scarcity of money, we find an abundance of help.  Rather than a scarcity of energy, we find deep rest.  Instead of a scarcity of time, we discover what "letting go and letting God" really means.

This year has lasted about 3 years!  My husband and I have experienced death of loved ones and setbacks in our health.  One day I was deep in prayer and felt God's presence in a new and different way.  That afternoon I shared this with my husband and said, "I don't know what the future brings, but I do know that God is waiting for us there and we'll be okay.  I'm ready to step into that future, no matter what it brings."

Our journey has included some difficult twists and turns.  I've learned so much and I've met some amazing people who have "been there and done that" and infused me with hope.  Our mailbox overflows with cards and well-wishes.  I'm a stronger, more compassionate person for our experience.  I don't know what the next big thing will be.  Living today is all I want and need.

We can't always avoid the challenges in life.  Sometimes we bring them on ourselves; sometimes they simply happen.  Paul knew all about this and wrote about persecution often.  But he believed with every fiber of his being that nothing, not anything can separate us from God's love. Read his words once again:

I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.  (Romans 8:26-39 The Message)

Nothing can get in the way of you and God.  We can accept trouble with grace because God's got this.  Miracles will happen: not necessarily the way we want them, but keep an eagle eye out.  You'll see them.

We can accept trouble with grace.  We can look for miracles.  We can look at the opportunities and resources.

Because God's got our back.

And that's all we need.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




July 23, 2017, 9:50 AM

Kingdom Harvest

by Sandy Bach

24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 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?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 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.’”

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears[d] listen!

Last week we met a lavish farmer who cast seed everywhere.  He didn't seem to care where it landed.  Most of it landed on hard rocky ground, or among the thorns or got scorched by the sun.  Only a small amount landed in good soil and grew a hundred fold, sixty fold or thirty fold.

This week our farmer was far more particular.  He planted only good seed in good soil.  The rows were straight, each seed placed in its proper place.  Then he slept.  The enemy showed up and sowed weeds.  Not just dandelions, but darnel: deadly weed.  Come harvest, this weed must not be mixed in with the good wheat or the entire crop will be inedible.

I'm told that darnel wraps its roots around the roots of the good wheat, sucking off nutrients and water.  It's hard to tell the difference between wheat and darnel until the ear appears.

Recently a friend of mine said, "The church is filled with hypocrites!"  I responded, "Yes it is.  Come and join us."

The church is filled with sinful people.  None of us are pure or perfect.  Most of us admit it and understand that's why we're a part of the church.  Get rid of the hypocrites and there's no church!  Wheat and weeds sit together in the pews.  The problem occurs when we're forced to admit that sometimes we're the weed.

Weeds suck off the nutrients from the wheat.  They can be insidious and invasive.  Weeds speak without thinking; they exclude; they're judgemental.

Or weeds do nothing. They sit back and allow bad things to happen without speaking out.  I'm reminded of the words of Martin Niemöller, a German Lutheran Pastor who spoke about the cowardice of Germans during the Nazi Regime:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

There's a time to speak and a time to be silent; a time to act and a time to wait.  Sometimes it's easier to be a weed.

Yet, weeds face judgement.  Jesus' words are harsh.  Why doesn't the farmer have the weeds gathered before they have a chance to take root?  And why is the punishment so harsh?

The wheat and weeds are  you and me.  Sometimes we get it right.  We welcome the stranger whom we'd rather pass by; we stand up for the poor and do something about it.  Sometimes we're weeds, demanding walls rather than bridges; war rather than peace.  In our fear of losing what we already have, we gather even more, not realizing who we're hurting.

If God had weeds plucked up, there would be none of us left.  No chance to grow and change.  No chance to be discipled and disciplined by the Master.  So, God puts up with us and our callousness and our lack of discipline;  our fear and judgementalism.

On a good day, we're wheat.  Like Peter, we get a moment's insight and do the right thing.  We welcome the stranger or stand up for the sidelined.  We build bridges; we try to understand those with whom we disagree.

But, what about those other weeds?  What about those who are proud of their weediness? Those who make a life out of proudly putting others down in order to make themselves feel better; who greedily take what doesn't belong to them; who spew hate and vitriol with abandon?  Now, those are weeds that God needs to see to!

God does.  God is at work.  God uses evil for good.  Most of all, God isn't finished, yet.  Even these weeds have a chance to change.  And, ultimately, God will have the last word.

I find comfort in this.  I don't celebrate that those who harm are headed for a fiery hell.  Nor do I want to stand in judgement on those who oppose my opinions.  What comforts me is that God is in charge and at work.

Sometimes we set the bar high.  For ourselves and for others.  Our measuring stick isn't what matters.  What matters is that stay in the farmer's field, knowing that when we fail, God picks us up, dusts me off and allows us a chance to learn.  When we do well, God says, "Well done, good and faithful servant..."

We love God, because God loved us first.  God loves us when we're weeds and God still loves us when our wheatness turns weedy.  That gives us all hope.  When we are suffering or hurt because of people or circumstances, we live in hope.  Suffering and hope are what connects us to Christ.  We are connected through his own suffering on the cross and his resurrection.

God is patient.  Perhaps too patient.  Yet, that's what we need: patience from our creator to become the healthy, authentic people God intends for us to be.  When life throws us curves, we may not respond well.  And that's when we depend on God's patience.

That's where we live and move and have our being.  Others may want to harm us.  Sometimes they succeed.  So we live in the hope that God is still in charge and at work.

Our job is to stand up for what is right; to meet people where they are in their their weediness; to continue being a disciple; to persevere no matter what.

The rest is up to God.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




July 16, 2017, 12:00 AM

Kingdom Sowing

by Sandy Bach

13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears[a] listen!”  (Matthew 13:1-9 NRSV)

Jesus is a lousy farmer and an even worse businessman.

You don't cast seed all over the place.  It's wasteful.  You have to carefully cultivate the soil.  Get the right mix of fertilizer; turn over the soil to let the air and nutrients in; plant the seed carefully so as not to waste any.  Then surround it all with a method of keeping the animals out.  Weed early and often.  Get a good irrigation system.

You don't plant a new church just anywhere.  You study the demographics. You decide who the target audience will be: millennial's with children are a popular choice.  Then you find the perfect place: store front; existing church building; arena; television.  You gear everything to your chosen demographic down to the decorations in the worship area and the music and message.

After all, that's how we do business.  McDonald franchisees don't just pop a building down and watch it grow.  They've been doing it for so long that they know the formula.  Small towns are selected by the numbers: for example, population and average income.  Before they even clear land they know who will drive through town and be most likely to stop at the restaurant for a hamburger.

No.  Jesus knows nothing about business, economics or church planting.  He has a sower who casts seed all over the place.  A full 75% of it falls into hard soil or gets scorched by the sun or gets trapped with sharp thorns.  75% of the seed is wasted.

Yet, for all our hard work and effort and our studies and seminars, the Christian Church in the northern hemisphere is dying.  Since 1965 the mainline church has steadily drifted downhill to be the sidelined church.

Maybe we need to quit fighting Jesus and, instead, sit ourselves down and listen to him.

The sower casts seed everywhere: rocky soil, scorching sun, sharp thorns and good soil.  It goes everywhere.  Up there in the trees only to slip down onto the pathway.  Those big black crows crowd the field waiting for seed to come their way so they can have a meal.  The farmer forgot about cultivating the soil and failed to get rid of those thorny bushes.

And the crop yields as much as a hundred-fold.

Hm.

Are you a careful sower or a lavish one?  Are you afraid of running out of seed or do you cast this precious resource in faith?

Churches run on strict budgets.  Often the electric bill trumps the mission budget.  Every month the board gathers and studies the financial report in detail.  And all we see is scarcity and that frightens us.  We'd better scale back on the Vacation Bible School budget; surely there are other churches who can help support the food pantry.

The wealthiest nation in the world and we're running scared that we don't have enough.  So we hoard our seed and only bring it out when we can reasonably expect a good crop.  We pass up the hard soil and thorns and scorching sun.  We're afraid of failure.

By the time Jesus is getting into that boat to teach, he's hit a few walls himself.  His ministry was growing.  The harvest was plentiful but the laborers were few.  Jesus trained and then sent out his disciples to heal and proclaim his message.  But then his close friend, John the Baptist sends word from prison: you don't look and act like a Messiah.  Perhaps we should keep looking?

And now the religious elites, desperate to keep the status quo and their power, are pushing back.  Jesus is feeling the push-back and is taking his teaching in a new direction.  He's teaching in parables.  He's preaching to his followers more, sharing images of kingdom work in words they can understand.  And many of those parables center on trouble: seed falling on hard soil, under scorching sun and among the thorns.

But the seed also falls in the rich soil and breaks forth lavishly.

This week, two people have crossed my path.  The first was a fruitful visit.  We were able to help her out with gasoline and we came up with an idea where she could raise some money to pay her utility bill.  The second needed a room for the night.  And food.  And gasoline.  We provided these, and I suggested a few places where he might be able to find work.  He called me later saying his car had broken down, did I know anyone who had a car they would donate to him and his family?

We might well predict that the first will do well and the man and his family will move from town to town looking for handouts.  But, we don't know that, do we?  Perhaps we cast the seed on rocky soil.  We don't know and it's not our job to know until God is ready to share that with us.

It's a fact of life that our message will be rejected.  It happened to Jesus and it'll happen to us.  It's not our job to be successful.  We're called to be faithful.

Carefully laid plans and demographic studies and pie charts are a good idea until they choke out the seed.  The sower wasn't trying to be wasteful; he was trying to be lavish.  His was a reflection of God who created a sustainable and beautiful world for us, his greatest achievement;  who provided manna and quail and water in the wilderness for forty years; who brought the Hebrews into a land of promise.

The sower wasn't trying to be wasteful.  He trusted in God's abundance and didn't go around looking for growth.  He knew that growth would happen in some places and not in others.

So, in our efforts to make our corner of the kingdom just a little bit better, we can turn to this parable and glean something from it.  We're called to be faithful and lavish in our encounter with others.  We are disciples of Jesus who can't be faithful unless we continue to persevere and continue learning by listening -- really listening to Jesus' teachings.  And understand that not everything we sow will be harvested by us.  It may be harvested by others or die in the scorching sun.  That's God's problem.  God will take care of it.

There will be rejection.  Look what happened to Jesus.  Learn what you can from it and move forward.  Jesus' message isn't wrong or silly or unimportant.  There's no guarantee where the seed will land.

The promise is this: God isn't finished with us, yet.  God will provide in abundance if we will set aside our fear of scarcity.  Not all of the seed will fall in the wrong places; some of it will grow a hundredfold.

Looking at it that way, I guess Jesus' ideas aren't so bad.  His sense of business and economics and farming are, indeed, solid.  We're the ones who use the wrong lens.

Perhaps it's time to learn from him through the lens of kingdom values.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


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