The Parable of the Sower

From Parables and Portraits, by Stephen Mitchell

A sower went forth to sow.  Some of his seeds fell upon stony .places.  Centuries passed; millennia.  And the seeds remained.  And the stones crumbled and became good soil, and the seeds brought forth fruit.

“Wait a minute,” said one listener.  “You can’t play fast and loose that way with natural facts.  The seeds would die long before the soil could receive them.”

“Why should they die?”

“Because they can’t hold out in stony places, for thousands of years.”

“But, my dear, what kind of seeds do you think we’re talking about?”

It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than That

 

Yesterday evening I emailed my younger brother, Wayne, and told him I had spent the afternoon working on my bible class material while watching the Twins play Kansas City on MLB and the Cardinals play the Cubs on FSM.  Wayne emailed back, that it doesn’t get any better than that to spend an afternoon that way.

His comment led me to think of Tevye, of “Fiddler on the Roof.”  One of the things he could do, if he were a rich man, would be to enjoy life and spend every day in the synagogue discussing the things of God.  Compared to the Russian Jews depicted in the musical we are rich.  We are rich in the wealth of God’s grace and we are economically rich in comparison.  We have shalom – God’s peace and well-being.

This morning along with 15 other mostly retired men we will gather around a table at church and spend 90 minutes in the Word.  The Word we study this morning is, fittingly, Paul’s great resurrection chapter of I Corinthians.

As we enter Holy Week on Sunday we have ample opportunity to enjoy Teyve’s dream to not only spend time in the Word, but to spend time with fellow believers in worshipping our Lord as we travel along with Jesus from his triumphant entry into Jerusalem through dark Friday to the light Resurrection Day on Sunday.

So, we will pray on Sunday, “Almighty and everlasting God, You sent Your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to take upon Himself our flesh and to suffer death upon the cross.  Mercifully grant that we may follow the example of His great humility and patience and be made partakers of His resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Until Christ returns, it doesn’t get any better than that.

The Seasons of God’s Will

 

Flannery O’Connor wrote: The world said, “love cuts like the cold wind, and the will of God is plain as the winter.  Where is the summer will of God?  Where are the green seasons of God’s will?  Where is the spring and summer of God’s will?”

Is O’Connor saying that the will of God is cold as judgment?  I’m not sure.  But when it comes to the spring and summer of God’s will, a letter in our local Thursday “throw away” paper that landed on my lawn answers that.

Mary Fitzgerald responded to a previous letter which portrayed Christianity as a proponent of judgment, small-mindedness and hate.  Mary wrote: “Christ’s message is clear.  He came into our world in its brokenness.”

The spring and summer and green season of God’s will arrives when Jesus goes to the cross, suffers, dies, is buried and rises again to new and unending life.  Then God’s will is as plain as winter as our sins, which are as red as his shed blood, will be wiped out leaving us as white as snow.

 

The Seasons of God’s Will

 

Flannery O’Connor wrote: The world said, “love cuts like the cold wind, and the will of God is plain as the winter.  Where is the summer will of God?  Where are the green seasons of God’s will?  Where is the spring and summer of God’s will?”

Is O’Connor saying that the will of God is cold as judgment?  I’m not sure.  But when it comes to the spring and summer of God’s will, a letter in our local Thursday “throw away” paper that landed on my lawn answers that.

Mary Fitzgerald responded to a previous letter which portrayed Christianity as a proponent of judgment, small-mindedness and hate.  Mary wrote: “Christ’s message is clear.  He came into our world in its brokenness.”

The spring and summer and green season of God’s will arrives when Jesus goes to the cross, suffers, dies, is buried and rises again to new and unending life.  Then God’s will is as plain as winter as our sins, which are as red as his shed blood, will be wiped out leaving us as white as snow.

 

We Preach Christ Crucified

 

“For in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom

did not know Him, God was pleased, through the foolishness

of what was preached, to save those who believe!”

1 Corinthians 1

April 5, 2017

To scholars, with their learning made more dense,

The Gospels’ wild accounts just don’t make sense.

Cruel Pilate was no vacillating fool.

And Herod would have seized the chance to rule!

 

The Pharisees unjustly are maligned.

The tax-oppressed were far from good and kind.

This rebel Jesus, all for His own cause,

Preached fables, upset tables and the laws.

 

To unbelieving, self-achieving men,

The wisdom of the world has won again!

And many souls for whom the Savior died

Are ridiculed, dismissed, and vilified!

Still, let them rant and rave and waste their breath.

The Savior still has saved the world from death.

+

The Christian truth-exactor still will find

 A Savior for himself and all mankind!

A brother pastor in St. Louis wrote the above in response to the PBS program, “The last Days of Jesus.

Personally, I never watch those “Bible programs.”

 

 

 

Benedict the African, Confessor

 

Benedict was born to freed African slaves in 1526 on the island of Sicily.  Though poor and illiterate, he worked for meager wages until he could by a pair of oxen with which he could work the soil.  As a young man, he joined a group hermits.  When the bishop of Rome ordered all hermits to attach themselves to a religious community, Benedict joined the Franciscan order.  He served as a cook in the friary.  Because he was a confessor (one who heard confessions of sin and granted absolution) who dealt with people in a humble and patient manner, he was named as the Superior of the community.  After his term, he returned to the friary kitchen.  He is a patron saint of African Americans; remembered for his patience and understanding when confronted with racial prejudice and taunts.

He died on April 4, 1589.

Benedict practiced what Martin Luther called the “mutual conversation and consolation of brothers and sisters.”  This may have been based on a monastic practice of mutual confession and absolution given by a neighbor or friend.

In the Smalcald articles, Martin Luther wrote in 1537 concerning the gospel in article 4.

“The gospel gives guidance and help against sin, “first, through the spoken word, in which the forgiveness of sins is preached to the whole world; second, through baptism, through the holy sacrament of the altar; fourth, through the power of the keys and also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brothers and sisters.”  Luther cites Matthew 18 “where two or three are gathered…

Source of Our Joy

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.  Psalm 51:12.

Joy does not come from positive predictions about the state of the world.  It does not depend on the ups and downs of the circumstances or our lives.  Joy is based on the spiritual knowledge that, while the world in which we live is shrouded in darkness, God has overcome the world, Jesus says it loudly and clearly: “In the world you will have troubles, but rejoice, I have overcome the world.”

The surprise is not that, unexpectedly, things turn out better than expected.  No, the real surprise is that God’s light is more real than all the darkness, that God’s truth is more powerful than all human lies, that God’s love is stronger than death.

Lord, help me see that I don’t have to overcome the troubles of the world by myself.  Help me trust in what Jesus has already done.

 

 

Living in the Imperfect Tense

 

I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received; that Christ died for our sins,…that he was buried, that he has been raised on the third day…and that he appeared to Cephas and then the twelve. I Corinthians 15:3-4

Paul has handed over to his brothers and sisters in Corinth what he also received.

These are sure and certain facts. That he died…that he was buried…that he has been raised…that he appeared.  Four time he uses “that.”

His dying and burial are in the past tense. His death and burial are in the past, over and done with, never to be repeated.

However, “that he has been raised” is in the perfect tense.  His condition of resurrection remains.  His last great act in his ministry was to raise Lazarus.  But Lazarus would die again in the future.  Jesus has been raised and death and grave remain in the past.  Jesus will be resurrected.

When we were baptized into Christ we were baptized into his death and resurrection.  But for now, we live in the imperfect tense.  What happened to us in the past, in baptism, continues, though in an incomplete sense.  Our eternal death is behind us, and yet physical death lies ahead.  We will not be living in the perfect tense until we are resurrected when Christ returns.  Then we will be alive with Christ forevermore.  It will be said of us, “He/She has been resurrected” and so it shall be for eternity.

 

Antiphonal

 

I like antiphonal speaking or singing in worship.  That is, I like when the pastor and the people or a choir, sing or chant a psalm back and forth.  It’s a dialogue in song.

I believe I came across the first use of antiphonal in the Bible.  In Deuteronomy 27 Moses and the elders directed the people that when they crossed over the Jordan into the promised land, six tribes were to stand on Mt. Gerizim and six tribes stand on Mt. Ebal. These two mountains are directly across from one another with a valley in between.  Those on Mt. Gerizim were to call out the blessings of the Lord, if they faithfully obeyed the voice of the Lord and carried out his will.  They would be blessed in all things in their coming in and going out.

Those who were on Mt Ebal were to call out the curses of the Lord if they were unfaithful.  If they were unfaithful, then the curses would come upon them and overtake them.  Nothing will go right for them and they will end up being carried out of the land.

Joshua 8 tells us that this antiphonal calling out of the blessings and curses on the two mountains was carried out under Joshua in a covenant renewal service.  In the valley between the mountains the priests placed the Ark of Covenant, the sign of the presence of the Lord in their midst.  Everyone was present, men, women, children and sojourners living among them.

When we look to Jesus on the cross on Mt Calvary we see these blessings and curses gathered on one mountain in Jesus, who is all of Israel wrapped into one person.  He suffers the curses in our behalf and he bestows God’s blessings upon us.

When God Explodes

 

Isaiah 42

God had been annoyed with his people, but he held it in.  He chose a servant to gently talk with the people.  Equipped with the Spirit, he would not become discouraged.  His servant would be a light for the nations.  He would open the eyes of the blind, bring prisoners out of their dark self-made dungeons.  In fact, everything was going to be new.  The old things would pass away.

But the people didn’t listen to the servant.  They refused to come into the light.  They refused to see and remained as if they were still imprisoned in dark dungeons.

Finally, it was just too much for God (Is. 42:14)

I have been silent for a long time.

I kept quiet and held myself back.

But like a woman in childbirth I will cry out.

I will gasp and pant.

In his thrashing about, mountains will be smashed to smithereens.  Plants will die in the dryness.  Rivers and ponds will dry up.

But with the Lord, where there is anger over sin, it is always followed by grace.  He will lead the blind on the road of faith which is unfamiliar to them.  He will turn their darkness into light.  He will smooth the rough places.

He concludes in Isaiah 42:16, “I will never abandon them.”

That promise of never being abandoned is still with us.  In this season of Lent, we make our way to the cross and the empty tomb.  There we will see God explode again, not in anger, but in an explosion of grace and life which covers us from head to toe.  It wipes out the old sinful past and creates us new again.