Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Tiny Seeds of Faith


It's all a part of God's whole plan of salvation that we would just plant these seeds of love and kindness wherever we go, however we can.

"The kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed, which when it is sown in the earth is less than all the seeds that be in the earth. But when it is sown it groweth up and becometh greater than all herbs and shooteth out great branches. So the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it." (Mark 4:31-32 KJV)

Tiny seeds of faith. Our own faith, we can think of as a tiny seed, a mustard seed that planted in our heart grows. And so if we take that little tiny amount of faith that we may have, that hopefully we have at least a little tiny seed of faith, and we can have confidence and trust that it will grow and it will just keep growing. And as it grows, then we're growing into the kingdom of God. And we are growing into the relationships of that kingdom and all the blessings of the kingdom and it will just continue to grow.

We can have that same faith in others that if tiny seeds of faith are planted in the lives of the people around us, that that faith will also grow. And like Johnny Appleseed going across the country a long time ago, planting apple seeds, we're planting seeds of faith all around the world, mostly wherever we go. And so think of all the places you go and where you are mostly is going to be right around here probably, but then we travel and we plant seeds as we travel as well. And there's no telling exactly when or how that those will grow. And Jesus has several parables about that, about the soil that they are on and about how, all the other conditions that go into it, that we don't really have any control over, we just really have control over just how much seeds we're going to plant.

Transcript of sermon
 Preached Extemporaneously [Audio] on June 13, 2021
for Briensburg UMC

And we just try to do the best that we can. And a lot of times the things that grow that make, get all the attention are the big things that we plan, like a big event or mega church, or a super big program, or a big get togethers and all like that. All the things that are big, that make a big splash. But those aren't really the things that are the most effective in the growth of the kingdom of God. It is those daily seeds of kindness like the song says, "Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness, sowing in the noonday and so forth." As we sow those seeds everyday, that's the grassroots of it all.

That is where the day by day, year by year or century by century, and over these thousands of years, the kingdom of God has grown by the little things that we say and do that connect people, that plant the seeds in our hearts, that make the changes that grow within them. And so that mustard seed is one of the most famous parables because of that being such a tiny little seed, and then it grows into, and it just makes people's imagination go all different directions. When you think about all the ways that the seed can grow, and then what the results can be of that.

Debra Ann Butler wrote this poem,

Scatter seeds of kindness,
as today you make your way
you don’t know just how much
they could make someone’s day.

Spread a wide old-grin,
get someone else to smile
it could make them feel
useful and worthwhile.

Extend a happy greeting,
sing out a bright hello
it may bring a little joy
to someone you don’t know.

Disperse some generosity,
it can go a long, long way
to energize and cheer up
someone sad you meet today.

Scatter seeds of kindness,
let goodwill be what you sow
how they make other’s feel
you may never really know!

We can always plant a seed
It is good to say thank you to the Lord, to sing praises to the God who is above all gods.  (Psalm 92:1 TLB)

We can always plant a seed. What we can always, that's something we can always do regardless of where we are, or what our situation may be. The Psalmist wrote, and this is in the Living Bible, "It is good to say thank you to the Lord, to sing praises to the God who is above all Gods." This song that we began the service with today, is a song for the Lord's day. And later on in there, it includes this verse, also from the Living Bible, "Even in old age, they will still produce fruit and be vital and green."

And I like that promise as my time continues to grow and everything. That our whole entire lives, no matter what's going on, we're always able to plant a little seed somewhere. We may not be able to do all of the things that we would like to do, or all the things that we have done, but we can always plant these little seeds wherever we go. And we can always know that those little seeds are under God's control.

In this Psalm he talks about, not planting the seed, but in there he talked about... Well, I guess that's in Ezekiel that he talks about cutting a shoot, taking a slip off of a tree and planting that, and it grows.

So the Lord has a lot of these different views of how, as Paul wrote, "We plant the seeds but God gives the growth." And so we can only plant those seeds and start those shoots or whatever it is just to get something in there and God makes it grow. That's our part to trust that. That even in lots of situations that we think might be insurmountable or too difficult for any good to come from, God can make good come out of that planning of the seed.

So I don't usually make lists because you're all telling me not to make lists, but I've made a list anyway. And then you can add to this list today, some plants, some seeds that we can plant for free doesn't really cost us anything to plant these seeds. Thanks, as that Psalmist said, give thanks to God. If we're giving thanks to God in everything we're planting the seeds as we go, and smiles, and prayers, and good thoughts, and compliments, and encouragement, and nods of recognition, and food for thought. Those are things we can just plant away. We can just throw those seeds everywhere, doesn't cost us anything and they land all over the place and help people in ways that we can't begin to imagine.

We never know who will benefit or how from the seeds we plant
Birds of every sort and kind will live under it. They’ll build nests in the shade of its branches  (Ezekiel 17:23)

We never know who would benefit or how they would benefit from the seeds that we plant. And in our reading from Ezekiel God said through the prophet Ezekiel, "Birds of every sort and every tongue will live under it, they'll build nests in the shade of its branches." That's a lot like what Jesus said about the mustard seed in the gospel reading. And then this is back to the prophet speaking of those slips of Cedar that are being planted, they'll grow, and years later birds will be living in it. We had some birds living outside the kitchen window in the bush out there that was planted a long time before we ever moved there. And it's still there and the birds are still building nests there and we get to look out the window and watch them feed the little buddy birds in there, isn't that something.

And so you never know but as the seed grows, what will come of it, and there's just all kinds of stories about that, about people whose lives were changed and sometimes maybe a generation or two later, because of some seed that was planted in the past, somebody grew up to be a great leader. And because of just a little thing that somebody has done lives were saved over here without anybody knowing about it.

There was a story that my sister shared on Facebook the other day that was like that. It was about a person that was hired to paint a boat, little small boat. And so as he painted the boat he discovered a hole in the boat. And thought, "Well, that's no good, a hole in the boat would be sinking the boat." So he just fixes the hole, while he was painting the boat and he got done. Well the owner a few days later sent him a big check, way bigger than what he had planned on paying him.

And so he called him and asked him, "What was the purpose of this extra payment?" And he said, "Well," he said, "As it turns out, you plugged the hole in that boat and I want to pay for it." And he said, "Well, it was nothing. I just did it as I went, just plugged it up." And he said, "Yeah, but when I got home, I saw my boat was gone and my grandchildren were supposed to be there." And he said, "I was afraid they took that boat out on the lake with the hole in it. But here they came back, all happy, had a big time and everything like that." And he said, "Because you plugged the hole in that boat then the boat floated for my granddaughter and didn't sink."

So that's one of those examples, and there's a lot more on the internet and a lot of them in our own lives when we can think of where something little got done we wouldn't even give it a thought, except that it had amazing other types of results that went beyond it. And Jesus said that, "Even a glass of water given his name would produce results." One thing theologically it reminds me of is our doctrine of prevenient grace,  that we plant the seeds before, and the seeds were planted in our lives that we don't even really know about, but the people that nurture us in the faith and introduce us to Christ and love us and bring us together is what has brought us into the Christian faith.

And that's what brings others into the Christian faith too. It's God's grace at work in our lives to bring other people into the kingdom of God before they even really know it, even little tiny babies and everything else. We're reaching out and they don't know anything about God, but we include them in our fellowship, and they grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ until they come to that justifying grace that enables them to make their own choices and choose this life of Christian faith, and discipleship, and then go on to the sanctifying grace that takes us and completes us in the love of Christ.

Christ has opened Paradise for us and invites us to to be part of this new spiritual creation
Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17 GNT)

So it's all a part of God's whole plan of salvation that we would just plant these seeds of love and kindness wherever we go, however we can. And Christ has opened up to us paradise. For us and God invites us to be a part of this whole new spiritual creation. In the reading from 2 Corinthians in the Good News it says, "Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being, the old is gone, the new has come." And so now as that song, I think we sang that last Sunday would have been good for this Sunday, but now I'm living in a new creation, his banner over me is love.

"Heaven is all around us. In God," Paul said, "We live and move and have our being." And so the invitation for us in all of this is to step into this life of love. One thought, one word, one deed at a time. And if that's the invitation for us, it's the invitation for all. "Come unto me, all ye who are labor and heavy laden," and that's an invitation for us to help people find that one little thought that they can build on. That one little idea, that one little feeling, that one little relationship that they can start. That spark as we sang in the other song, that little spark that gets started and it all grows from there.

Bible is full of materials to help us understand how much God loves us
Jesus preached his message to the people, using many other parables like these; he told them as much as they could understand.  (Mark 4:33 GNT)

And the Bible is filled with materials to help us see that and to understand how much God loves us. Again, in the Good News, later on in this gospel reading, it said, "Jesus preached his message to people using many parables like these, he told them as much as they could understand." Now that's interesting isn't it because we have, not only the parables that gives us these little, this imagery to associate with our faith and communicate to us about our faith, and how it grows, and how it gets started, and how it works.

But then also that God has given us everything we can understand. As we grow, then we get more, as we can understand more than we get more. And it keeps growing and it's like that until finally God wants us all to have, be complete and to be all in and the kingdom of God. And so we have the other song, "If we've been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to sing God's praise than when we first began." We have a long, deep relationship in Christ and with each other that has no end and only just keeps getting richer and building larger and stronger and more beautiful.

John Denver has a song I love and it has a verse, 

It's long been on my mind,
You know it's been a long, long time,
I've tried to find the way that I can make you understand
The way I feel about you,
And just how much I need you
To be there where I can talk to you
When there's no one else around.

And that was a theme that we have seen going all the way through the Bible. From the first pages in the creation story, all the way to the final pages, with the fountain of, the water of life. That God is with us as John Wesley said in his final words and breath, "The best of all is, God is with us."

And in that just, towards the end of the Revelation as the city of new Jerusalem, came down from God out of heaven and John's vision. He said, "I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men and he will dwell with them and shall be their people and they shall be their God, and God himself shall be with them and be their God." And that's what God's dream has been all along and pouring out the spirit, wanting to pour God's Holy Spirit out on everybody, on all flesh men, women, children, and everybody. And wanted to be with, walk with Adam in the cool of the day and wanted to be our companions and walk in the garden with us. Once at the very end, to tabernacle with us, to live with us and dwell with us, God wants to be with us and invites us saying in the last few verses of the Bible saying, 

“Come!” say the Spirit and the Bride.
Whoever hears, echo, “Come!”
Is anyone thirsty? Come!
All who[soever] will, come and drink,

Drink freely of the Water of Life! (Revelation  22:17 MSG)



Sunday, June 6, 2021

Extended Family


Let's learn to talk spiritual kin with everyone, so we can discover the connections that make us all sisters and brothers in the family of God.

 "For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother and my sister and my mother."  (Mark 3:35 KJV)

This idea of us calling each other brother and sister and being of the members of the family of God does not replace our biological families, but adds to it. As we see here, Jesus didn't mean to say that, or he didn't say, and we don't need to take it as though he did, but to make it a little more clear, that his biological family, his mother and his other family members were no longer his family, but that in addition to that, so was all the other people. So were the others. We are an extended family and we feel that often in the church, don't we? We think of our spiritual family, our church family, and we grow close to each other and we love one another. Some of our best friends are blood kin, and some of our closest brothers and sisters are our spiritual kin. So it's all meant to expand our understanding of what it is to be family and the family of God.

Transcript of sermon
 Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on June 6, 2021
for Briensburg UMC

I think one of the best demonstrations or backups of that idea we find at the cross where Jesus brought together one of his disciples and his mother, and made that an eternal relationship that became representative, not only of those two individuals, one, his birth mother and the other his spiritual friend, but of all of us in the church that we are all kin together. So it says, "Whoever does the will of God," that's how the passage ended in the gospel reading. "Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."

God's will is stated in a lot of different ways throughout the scripture, but it's pretty much summed up as the Bible says, although all the law can be summed up, or all with God's will can be summed up in this one word, namely, that we love one another. That was the commandment of Jesus, that we love one another as Christ has loved us. If we do that, then we're doing the will of God, and everyone who loves is doing the will of God. And a lot like the prodigal son, sometimes we may stray, but that we're still the children of God. We're just aren't enjoying the feelings and the benefits and everything of it because we've turned away from it. But when we are restored in our love for one another, when we turn back to God, then God is always there like the prodigal father with open arms ready to receive us.

So, I think that a lot of people don't understand that. They feel like that there's something about their life and their relationships that makes them no longer the children of God, if they ever did feel like they were. It's up to us to remind them that, no, you're a part of the family. You're made in the image of God. You're the child of God. You may not be acting like it. You may not feel like it, but come on home and you'll know. Come on home and you'll feel it. Come on home and you'll know that you're in the family and that your family loves you, and I think you'll love the family, too.

The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands. (Psalm 138:8 RSV)

So the Psalmist says in the Revised Standard, "The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me. Your steadfast love of the Lord endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands." We say in our communion ritual in just a few minutes, that even when we have rebelled against God's love, God's love for us has remained steadfast. That's just how it is. God loves us, and there's nothing we can do to undo that. There's nothing we can do to change that. There's nothing we can do to make it happen because it's already there and nothing we can do to stop it. His love endures forever, and his purpose is within that love. His purpose is that all of us would be in that relationship with God and with each other as a family for all of eternity. The promise of the Psalmist that's repeated in many other ways in the scripture is that the Lord will fulfill that purpose that he has for us. So we praise him and we want to be a part of that fulfillment. We are privileged to be part of the work, even though our part may be really small, it's a privilege just to be a part of it and to enjoy the progress as it's made toward the reconciliation of all of humanity.

They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:8-15 RSV)

In the creation story, it kind of picks up in the narrative where they heard the sound of the Lord walking, as we say in the King James, in the cool of the day. Then it points us to that God wants to be companions with us. That's brought out, again, throughout all the scriptures if we follow that thread. A lot of times we might forget that and think that there's some other thing going on here. There are a lot of things going on, but it's within that context of God's love for us. God wants to be companions with us, friends, and to hang out together and spend time, and he wants to be with us in the car, and in the house, and in the church, and in the yard, or wherever we go. God wants to be a part of that, and a sharing of the... Not to just to boss us around or get on our case about how we're doing things, or how we're not doing and everything like that, but because God loves us. He wants to be companions and walk with us as the song In The Garden tells us, how to walk in the garden. He wants to walk with us in the cool of the day.

But we sometimes are embarrassed or afraid of that because of our awareness of our disobedience. When Peter saw Jesus standing on the shore, then he was a little bit embarrassed. And other times that the apostles would say, well they're afraid because they just realized that they were not worthy of this relationship. But worthiness isn't in the equation from God's perspective. God knows our hearts. He knows our lives. He knows who we are, what we've been through, what we've put others through, and he loves us. He wants to be friends with us. That's what the forgiveness of sins is all about, that we know that God loves us, who we are, and works with us on the rest of it. So we're the children of God all the time, and so is everybody else. We need to find those connections and helping them make that connection.

My grandmother taught me how to talk kin. She believed that everybody in the whole world descended from Adam and Eve, and so that we're all family she said. We're all members of the family. She was on a mission to find out how we were kin with everybody she met. And she'd ask who they were. Well, then the next thing would be, well were they from there? Well, I know somebody over here and they're my third cousin or my 10th cousin or something like that. So that became something that she kind of instilled within me, not to the degree that she carried on. But she not only did that, but she made her mission also to go visit all the family. So she was all over the place visiting and traveling and meeting everybody, and finding out how we were kin. She was pretty good at figuring it out, too. If she didn't know, she knew it was in there somewhere and it'd get figured out somewhere.

But yesterday at Hugh Barksdale's funeral, I mentioned that a few years ago his wife Marilyn and I had compared some notes to confirm that Hugh and I were seventh cousins. We had descended from a common ancestor, a clergyman, William Barksdale and his wife Mary Adams that were both born back in 1629. So I said, (and much to Hugh's consternation because he teased me about that all the time, "Oh no, no, no. I'm not related to you)." But anyway. But I said that a long time before we knew we were cousins, seventh cousins, a long time before we knew we were cousins, we knew we were brothers. Brothers in Christ. I think that's important for us to recognize each other in that way. A lot of times people have, especially when we were at all younger, I guess, it was more common that in churches everybody called each other brother and sister, but we still kind of do that. It's important, though, whether we call each other that, that we treat each other that way, brothers and sisters, and carry that and extend that out to the people around us in the world.

Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.  (2 Corinthians 4:15 RSV)

Paul wrote, "Yes, everything is for your sake." A lot of time we think, well we do this for the sake of the Lord. We come to church for the sake of the Lord. We'll read the Bible for the sake of the... It brings glory to God, as he said, but it brings glory to God because it's extending God's love to more and more people is what he wrote. It's extending God's love to more and more people, and more people are giving thanks for God's love, and for this relationship, and for making us all this big, beautiful family of love. So yes, everything is done for your sake, for our sake so that we can have the joy that is complete, so that we can have the fullness of our happiness, and reality, and relationship with everybody, and be on good terms with everybody, and forgive each other and move along, and just enjoy life together in this world and in the life of the world to come, in eternal life.

And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! (Mark 3:34 RSV)

So finally, in the gospel reading, again, in verse 34 it said, "And looking at those who sat around him, he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers.'" And again, he did not mean to exclude anybody as some churches like to do. Some places you go, they believe... Well, I don't go there, but some places that there are, some cults and everything that believes that you should get rid of all your biological relationships when you become a member of their church. But we don't believe in that, and that's not what Jesus was talking about here. He wasn't saying that those family members should go away because these are his family now. But instead, that in addition, those people at the door that were of his blood kin, there also were these people sitting under his feet listening to him, and sharing and fellowship with him. They were also his kin, and we are also his kin. So we don't exclude anybody from the family. We're supposed to include each other and everybody else in the family of God, extend that relationship wherever we can, extend our love and God's love to every person around us, and find some way to talk kin with them, spiritual kin, and find out where they can make that connection, where we can make that connection to where we can call them brother and sister in Christ.

In the name of Jesus, Amen.