Sunday, July 16, 2017

Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Romans 8:1-11
1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

9But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 
1That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach.

3And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!’

18 ‘Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.

I’m really proud of our family of faith.

I know, no pastor ever lost points with their congregation for complimenting them, but I’m really grateful to have been called here for this chapter of our congregational lifespan. Our congregation turned 70 last month, and we’re planning a big celebration for mid-October, so I’ve been spending some time learning about our history.

I’m grateful to be here for this chapter of our congregational lifespan.

This chapter of our lifespan intersects in interesting ways with this chapter of Matthew.

Congregations all over Gaston County are facing scarcity. We’re no exception. Our budget outpaces our contributions most weeks. Our average worship attendance has declined slightly over the past couple of years. Many of our most consistent volunteers find themselves increasingly overcommitted, both at church and elsewhere. There’s only so much time and energy and money and all of it seems so scarce these days. In our more cynical moments, the yields of a hundredfold, sixty, and thirty seem a long way off.

We’re unquestionable facing some challenges. Seems like now is a time to focus on what’s prudent, to close in and protect what is left. Seems like now is the time to not take risks, unless there is a a clear payoff coming. Seems like now would be the time to seek out the good soil, and to not waste our resources along the path, or on the rocky ground, or among thorns. Let’s make sure we’re on good soil before we begin to plant.

That’s what would be prudent. Prudence, however, is not always the same as faithful. What we, as a community of faith, do testifies to what we believe about God.

God loves us beyond what is prudent. God’s love reaches farther than our resources ever could. God’s love extends past whatever harvest we might produce. When God goes out to sow the word of the kingdom, he lovingly scatters it without regard for what is prudent. This is not the parable of the hundredfold harvest, this is the parable of the sower, whose seeds fall on the path, on the rocky ground, among thorns, and on good soil.

God is inviting us out, “Dear Presbyterian Church of Lowell, won’t you come out to play? Won’t you greet the brand new day, scattering the word of the kingdom to all?” God is foolishly in love with us. Therefore, God continues to invite us out, to be playful and trusting and loving, and not to get choked out by the cares of the world and the lure of wealth.

God does not choose to be prudent, God chooses foolish love that will not let us go even when we are running as hard as we can in the other direction. God does not prudently shape us into good soil before planting begins, or identify which soil is most deserving. The sower goes out to sow, to scatter seeds wherever they might fall, just to see what grows. It’s not always prudent, but it’s who God is, choosing to scatter wherever without being limited by the quality of the soil.

If God chose to love only in ways that produced equal love, the church would not have gotten far. God’s covenants have always been unbalanced. God’s actions do not show careful counting of costs and benefits, they show relentless love.

When we call ourselves the body of Christ, or the people of God, we ought to reflect who we know Christ to be, whom God has revealed himself to be.

I see that work already among us, it’s why I’m so grateful to be called here during this chapter in our congregational lifespan. It’s why I’m proud of our family of faith.

I’m proud that our actions show that we trust more in the promise than in what the world tells us is prudent. “This parable is not simply pragmatic. It’s also filled with promise. We are called to proclaim that promise even in the face of rejection and the reality of this world.” Our Session is working to see around corners, trusting that God is leading us, and making plans for a future filled with hope in a world tells us that the disaster is more likely. Many of our Committees are undertaking major projects that will help our congregation grow in faith. They’re finding long-term solutions that trust the continued presence of the Lord among us, even though the world is more likely to say that the minimum effort is all that’s needed. Our members are finding places to live their faith outside these walls, loving their neighbors in a world that tells us that mistrust is more prudent.

These are the fruits of the word of the kingdom. We see faithfulness taking root all around us. These seeds have been loving scattered by God, and we get to see what grows. We can even grow ourselves, if we can focus on the call and providence of God, instead of getting stuck on the cares of the world and the lure of wealth.

God is inviting us out, past what seems prudent and logical, into a realm of faith that what is sown will be sufficient. God is inviting us, “Dear Presbyterian Church of Lowell, won’t you let me see you smile? Won’t you delight in serving the LORD, and respond with faithful joy?” Believe the good news, because God loves us far beyond the limits of what it prudent. All that is left for us is to glorify him and enjoy him forever, responding in faith to the seeds that God has scattered all around.

This parable gives us plenty of places to stand as we respond to God’s abundant love. If God is the sower, perhaps we find ourselves in the ground.

I know where I’d like to be in this text. I’d like to find myself in verse 23, as “one who hears the word [of the Kingdom] and understands, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” I’d like to find myself as a productive member of God’s planting, someone who makes all the work God has done worth it.

But I’m not convinced that’s where I am.

Some days I get a little choked up by all the cares of the world and the lure of wealth.

Some days I’m joyful, but don’t trust how well I’d stand up to trouble or persecution on account of the world.

Some days I don’t understand the word of the kingdom, and my heart feel snatched away.

But no matter where I fall at harvest time, this parable is not about me. Jesus doesn’t call this “the parable of the harvest.” This is the parable of the Sower.

All those little illustrations of the different harvests, and the different soils, they tell us something about the Sower. No matter what the response ends up being, the sower continues to go out to sow. The seed is still scattered all around. So it almost doesn’t matter, from the viewpoint of God’s grace, what kind of soil we are on any given day. The harvest will still come in, and will still be more abundant that we could ever have anticipated.

So even though my soil quality varies from day to day, I’m still going to try and trust the faithfulness of God over what is prudent. I’m going to continue to focus on the amazing things God has provided, rather than the scarcity of other resources. I’m going to pay attention to the strengths of our congregation, gifts of God and outgrowths of the word of the kingdom, rather than getting caught up in the weaknesses.

I’m going to watch for the ways that God is loving us, and to challenge our community to grow in faith so that we can show that love to all those God has given us. When I look around, I see that God is not just scattering seed among us, but is working through us to scatter the word of the kingdom all across our community, our county, our Presbytery, and throughout the whole world.

Most of all, I’m going to trust the peace with have in Jesus Christ our Lord. I’m going to trust that the arms of God are holding us up, not our own prudence. The wisdom and prudence of people has its limits, but the arms of the LORD are everlasting.

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