Sermon 12.22.19 The Nativities

We have all seen a Christmas nativity scene,  made popular, complete with animals, by Francis of Assisi.  And what do our nativity scenes usually include?

Input from the congregation. . . 

There are lots of examples along the back shelf here in the sanctuary.  You may want to look at them after church.  

Our nativity scenes tend to include many of the same figures but there are actually two stories about Jesus’ birth in the Bible and they are quite different and involve different characters.  

A nativity scene that is based on the story of the birth of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew, would have Joseph, Mary, the baby Jesus, an angel (just one), some wise men (we don’t know how many) bearing gold, frankincense and myrrh.  And the scene might even include a key figure, King Herod, and some of his advisors.  I don’t know about you, but I have never, ever, seen a Herod in a creche scene. Herod was a violent, insecure tyrant akin to Stalin.  I can’t imagine him in a nativity scene.  But there he is as a major character in the birth story of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew.  And we want to note that in Matthew’s story there is no mention of a stable, no manger, no hosts of singing angels, no shepherds, and no animals, except maybe camels for the wise men.    

Then there is the birth story of Jesus in the gospel of Luke.  This story includes the angel Gabriel, Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, the stable with the manger and the swaddling cloths, shepherds and probably sheep and other animals.  No Herod.  No wise men.  No gifts.  No star.   

But why are there different stories?  In the same Bible?  Written in about the same time frame?  In the same context?  

One fundamental issue of the time was power and authority.  Rome was in control.  Caesar, the head of the Roman Empire, was referred as Son of God, Lord, Redeemer, God from God, Liberator, Bringer of Peace, Savior of the World, Divine.  [See The First Christmas by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, p. 63]  These are among the same titles that were used for Jesus.  So there was a basic conflict between the authority of Rome and the authority of Jesus as the Messiah of the God of the Jews.  The same titles were used but who really had the power?

And there was a big conflict about what it means to be at peace.  Rome inflicted peace on the people through fear, intimidation, and threat.  And Jesus was symbolic of peace through justice and anti violence.  Which kind of peace was it going to be?  

So, there were two competing world views influencing the context of the birth stories.  And the gospel writers chose to respond to the same reality in different ways.  Matthew tells a story that is more about the political power structure and who has the real power.   The Matthew story is looking at things more from the top down.   Luke is telling a story that lifts up the people who are made poor, forgotten, not important, and of little value; those who are victims of the Roman Empire and its social, political, economic, and ideological power structure.  The Luke story is looking at things more from the bottom up.  So, the birth stories confront the same reality but are told from differing perspectives.  

The gospel writers are also addressing different audiences so they tell their stories in ways that will speak to their readers.  Matthew is speaking to a mostly Jewish audience using references to the Hebrew Scriptures and including the wise men to show that Jesus is a universal figure and his reign will include everyone not just Jews.  Luke is concerned with addressing an audience of both Jews and non Jews and includes people who are poor and expendable.  

Why do we have different stories?  People of the first century saw Jesus as an incredibly powerful figure who transformed their reality.  They felt that his impact was universal.  They saw his significance to all people of all times and cultures.  Jesus was experienced as a figure of power sent by God to change the trajectory of human history.  Jesus was so special, so important, that the people in the Jesus movement wanted to make sure that everyone heard about him.  In a relatable way.  So they sought to tell of him in ways that would speak to all different kinds of people so that everyone could see the importance of Jesus.  

Yes, there are two different birth stories in the gospels, but in both stories light triumphs over darkness, peace with justice triumphs over oppression and violence and fear.  That is the message that both gospel writers want to convey and it comes through in each of their nativity stories.  The birth of Jesus is a significant event for people of all times and places.  It is as important to us today as it was to the people of the first century.  It is about a new reality for all of us where light conquers darkness and peace with justice is stronger than war and violence and greed.   

So we can think about how we relate to these nativity stories today.  Do we relate to the conflict of power on a societal scale?  We sure saw some of that this week during the impeachment debates. Do we relate to the multicultural message of Matthew?  This is important in our time of increased hate crimes and anti-immigrant sentiment.  Do we find ourselves relating to the story of Luke and the inclusion of those who are made poor, forgotten, and marginalized?  That is a problem in our country and world wide with the growing wealth gap.  Do we resonate to Luke giving women a more important place in the story?  We continue to confront the second class status of women in this country and around the world.  Do we relate to Joseph and his dreams encouraging him to resist the power structures around him?  What is legal is not necessarily moral.  Do we see ourselves in the angels who have good news to share?  We need more of that today!  Do we relate to the shepherds, low wage workers?  There are so many people struggling in the shadow economy where things are not prosperous.  Do we feel like bystanders, onlookers, like the animals of the barn?  Witnesses with a story to tell.  Do we feel called like Mary to birth love into the world?  What the world needs now is still love.  Are we well educated intellectuals seeking spiritual guidance like the wise men?  Churches that respect and encourage scientific thinking are here for us.  Do we have gifts to give?  They are needed.  Do we see our primary focus in parenting and trying to imbue the world with love through our children?  There are many ways for us in our life situations to find a place in the nativity stories.  Today we are part of birthing God’s love into the world.  We, too, have nativity stories to share.  

The congregation was invited to be part of forming an impromptu nativity tableau with costumes and props provided.

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

Sermon 12/8 Listening Together

Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 11:1-10 and Luke 1:26-45
Sermon: Listening Together
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

Holiday spending among Americans was $1.1 trillion in 2018. [Tampa Bay Times
11/28/19] Does that number surprise you? Do you find it hard to believe? Do you
want more information about how that statistic was arrived at? When we receive
information that we are unsure about, we often look into verifying it, finding out
more, making sure we understand.

In the story we heard this morning from Luke, we are told of Mary being given
some information. The whole scenario is outrageous – an angel, a baby, a throne, a
kingdom, another baby. Doesn’t this angel know that Mary is a nobody peasant
from an insignificant village in a backwater province? We can understand that
Mary is perplexed and ponders. But what can she do to verify the information that
she is given? Mary is told that her elderly relative Elizabeth is pregnant.
Evidently, Mary did not know about this. Is it true? If that part of the message
from Gabriel is true, then maybe there is validity to the rest of his message. So,
after Gabriel’s departure, Mary makes her own hasty departure to visit Elizabeth
and see if there is anything to this vision she has received.

And what does Mary discover in the story? Yes, Elizabeth is pregnant. So there is
something to the message from the angel Gabriel. Not only that, Elizabeth feels
her baby stir in response to Mary’s arrival. So, as promised, Elizabeth’s child is
fulfilling the role assigned to him by God preparing the way for the one to come.
Another part of the message is validated. And Elizabeth is filled with the Holy
Spirit and declares that Mary will be the mother of the one God is sending.
Elizabeth offers a prophetic witness affirming that Mary has willingly offered
herself in service to God’s dream and so Mary becomes the first believer. Mary
looks for verification of the message she has received and she gets it.

God, seen as the supreme ruler of the universe, sends an angel, Gabriel, to Galilee,
a region in Israel, to a town called Nazareth, to a young woman, engaged to Joseph from the house of David, whose name is Mary. The will of the all powerful, all present, supreme one, filters down from the heavenly realm to a specific situation.
To a random every day person. And a woman, no less.

This is so unexpected that it has to be verified. Such important activities of God
would surely involve people of high status, with means, in the center of power. So
this strange thing, this intrusion of God, in an unlikely manner, must be validated.
And in this visit between Mary and Elizabeth, we see that both women have their
suspicions confirmed. Elizabeth’s baby begins his job of preparing the way right
then and there even before being born, and Mary is given the affirmation she needs
from Elizabeth who seems to know the whole story without having been told by
Mary. In this interaction the women come to see more clearly how God is at work.
It’s not that they were skeptical but no one expected God to use weak, vulnerable,
nobodies for such a grand scheme. In the interaction between Mary and Elizabeth,
God’s plans are verified and confirmed. Together they discern the validity of what
God is doing in their lives and in the world. They mutually reinforce the calling of
one another. With this validation, they can trust what is happening. They have
support from each other when perhaps others will question their actions and their
roles. When they are hesitant and need encouragement, they can count on each
other. They are given to each other, their destinies are intertwined, they are
mutually dependent upon one another as well as upon God, so that they can fulfill
their purpose in God’s dreams.

I want you to take a moment and look around at the people who are in this
sanctuary. Some you may know. Some you may know very well. Some you may
not know. It doesn’t matter really. Because in the church we believe that we have
been given to one another to be of mutual support, to be in discernment together, to
affirm and validate each other’s calling. We are here to help each other see God’s
way for our lives and to encourage one another on that journey of faithfulness.
Elder, younger, woman, man, child, new to the church, a person of lifelong faith,
wealthy, homeless, it really doesn’t matter. We have been brought together here to
be of mutual support and encouragement as we seek to discern our calling and live
trusting the presence of Divine Love within us and among us. In the church, we
are here to help and support each other. To be in the process of discernment together. We are here to confirm and reinforce the ways we experience God
working in our lives.

We need each other to help us see how we are being blessed. We need each other
to discern the nature of God’s call in our lives. Like the people of Bible times, we,
too, still want to define being favored by God in terms of wealth, good health, and
social standing. We want to see God at work in our lives manifest as prosperity
and comfort.

Here, the story of Mary and Elizabeth gives us a reality check. Mary is favored by
God. She is blessed. The story tells us that for her this means she will endure the
shame of having a child out of wedlock who will later be executed as a criminal.
It’s no wonder Mary and Elizabeth need each other for support and encouragement.
Experiencing God’s call in your life may not be a cakewalk.

So we, too, need each other to verify and validate God’s intentions for our lives
because what God has in mind may be a far cry from anything we were expecting.
It may be a drastic departure from what we have in mind for our lives. It may be a
radical break from our planned trajectory. So, we need each other to help us stay
open to God’s intrusions and to respond with faith and trust.

Sure, you may get zapped by some seemingly supernatural insight during a
worship service but it’s more likely that you may hear a word from God in a
conversation with someone as you are walking to your car. Or doing dishes after a
potluck. Or in the van on the way home from church. And in that interaction you
may be led to see more clearly who you are, what you are being called to, how you
are needed to serve, and which direction you are to go.

On Sunday a couple of years ago, the congregation was asked about why you
come to church. Why bother on Sunday morning? And I remember one of the
responses was, “One of the reasons I come to church is because someone may need
me. I may be needed.” That’s exactly it. We come here. With the awareness that
someone here may need us, may need to hear what we have to say, may need our perspective, may need our word of support, may need our direction, or help, or
encouragement. Someone may need us. And, the person we need, the message we
need, may be here. Waiting for us. To show us the way. To help us see. How we
are needed to help save the world.

The gospel of Luke tells us of a girl engaged to a carpenter in an insignificant town
in an unimportant province having a child that will be a savior of the world. And
her elderly relative is needed to help that story unfold. Here we are. Every day
people. Not kings, princesses, or Kardashians. Just ordinary folks, like Mary and
Elizabeth. Listening together. Reminding each other that nothing will be
impossible with God. Who knows what might just happen here. When we are
together. Amen.

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For
additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

Sermon 12/1 Swords into Plowshares

Scripture Lesson: Isaiah 2:1-5 Sermon:  Swords into Plowshares Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

Swords into plowshares.  This phrase implies a process of transformation.  It is about the changing of something into something else.  

A sword is a weapon.  It has a long, sharp blade that is intended to be used for slashing and stabbing people.  It is to be used to kill. It also can be used as a defensive weapon, to deflect a blow from another sword, but mainly it is a weapon created to be used to kill people.  We can think about the image of a sword the way we think about a gun today.

Now, a plowshare.  A plowshare was a long, sharp metal tool used to prepare the dirt for the planting of seeds.  It made furrows in the ground and the seeds were planted in the little trenches where they would grow into plants used for food.  A plowshare is something that was used for farming, for raising crops. Food is necessary to live, so plowshares were used to give life not take it like a sword.

Both a sword and a plowshare involve a long metal blade though they are shaped slightly differently.  So retooling a metal sword into a metal plowshare was not a huge transformation. What is really different about a sword and a plowshare is the use.  One is used to end life. One is used to promote life. One is used to kill. One is used to grow. The biggest difference between a sword and a plowshare is in their use not their shape.  So bending and reforming a piece of metal from a sword into a plowshare is not that much of a change. The bigger part of the change from swords into plowshares is the change of intention, of desire.  The big challenge is changing from wanting to kill people to wanting to promote life for people; from wanting to end life to wanting to make life better.

The idea of changing swords into plowshares involves changing from an orientation of violence to an orientation of peace.  As in no more guns. No more missiles. No more bombs. This is drastic in a context like ours that affirms violence as an acceptable tool to be used.  The transformation from swords into plowshares means the resources used for violent means are transitioned to uses that promote life – like food, education, healthcare, the arts, and sustainable energy.   All the money and raw materials and labor that go into making guns and weapons would be used for making equipment for schools, solar panels, musical instruments, farming equipment, and cooking pots; homes for all and healthcare for all; great schools for all kids.  Converting our swords into plowshares would drastically change our society. And it would be great for everyone!  

But how do we make that kind of change?  In the beautiful verses we heard this morning, we were told about how the people, all the people, from everywhere, make their way up to the top of a mountain where they learn the ways of God.  They are taught about what God wants. And then they come down the mountain, back to their everyday lives, and beat their swords into plowshares. The people are changed on the inside and this makes them want to make changes in their lives on the outside.  Their hearts are changed and they are transformed from being concerned about weapons and violence and war to being focussed on peace and growing food and supporting life for everyone. The change starts on the inside.  

Well, we cannot go up a mountain and expect to be taught about the ways of peace.  But we have Jesus to show us God’s ways and to lead us in the way of peace. Jesus is referred to as the Prince of Peace.  Jesus embodied peace completely. He never used violence. Jesus had many enemies who wanted to do him harm. But he didn’t have a sword or other weapon.  He never lashed out at anyone by hitting them. Jesus showed love to people. He gave them food. He healed them. He gave them forgiveness. All of this even to his enemies.  Jesus helped people to love themselves and feel accepted so that they could show love and acceptance to others. Jesus showed people how to share and to take care of each other and to get along creating community.  He teaches the way of God and the way of peace. He teaches us how to transition from the way of insecurity, violence, hatred, and war to the way of peace, mutual respect, and understanding. Jesus shows us how to turn swords into plowshares from the inside out.  

This Advent season at Lakewood we are talking about coming home for the holidays.  What is home? Home is supposed to be place where we are loved and accepted. Where we know we will be taken care of.  Where we help take care of others. Home is a place to learn and grow. There are loving people who nurture us and help us to develop.  Home is safe. Home is a place where there is both food and forgiveness.  

Sadly there are times when the places we live and the people we live with do not function in this way.  There are families where people are not taken care of. Where they don’t learn to forgive. And where there isn’t unconditional love and acceptance.  This is very sad. Sometimes there is even violence among people that live together. I won’t even call it a home because violence should never happen in a home.  But sometimes people are attacked and hurt in the place where they live.  

Whatever our living circumstances, the church is to be a place where we learn the ways of God and the ways of peace from Jesus.  Church is where our hearts are changed on the inside so that we can learn to be more peaceful on the outside. Church is a place where we are transformed, where we are changed, where we learn to live in a new way, a way of peace.  

We move away from thinking about hurting others, lashing out, and using violence to thinking about how to take care of ourselves and how to make life better for others.  We learn to work on making the world a better place for everyone.  

This can be a very big change.   But the church is here as a home, to help us along the way.  To help us learn to love ourselves. To forgive ourselves and others.  To help us learn to express our hate and anger in ways that do not harm others.  The church is a place to try to understand those we disagree with. It is a place to cultivate compassion for those who may hate us.  To learn to work through conflicts without using weapons or violence. To get along and help each other instead of taking advantage of each other or abusing others, physically or financially.  The church provides a context to honestly examine our prejudices and biases and learn to give them up. It is a place to look at our feelings and behaviors with honesty so that we can engage in the process of transformation.  The church is here to help transform us so that we give our time, energy, work, and money to promoting life for all people, including ourselves, nature, and the planet.  

Swords into plowshares.  It is a really big change.  It can be a slow process. And it happens one heart, one life, at a time until society becomes something new focussed on promoting life!

This Advent season we prepare to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus who teaches us the ways of God and leads us in the ways of peace.  May we follow Jesus and be transformed so that we create the peace we dream for every baby. Amen.   

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

Sermon 11/24 Gifts of Gratitude

Date: Nov. 24, 2019 Thanksgiving Sunday
Scripture Lessons: Deuteronomy 26:1-11 and Luke 17:11-19
Sermon: Gifts of Gratitude
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

Really, what is God going to do with a shock of wheat? Or a pomegranate? Or an
olive? Even the people of Bible times didn’t expect their super hero-like God to
literally eat food. So we could easily pass over this ritual of the giving of first
fruits that we heard about from the book of Deuteronomy as something only for
olden times. And that would be our mistake.

In the brief eleven verses that we heard the word ‘gift’ is used six times. And every
time it is used it refers to God: God has given the land, God has given the harvest,
the food, the first fruits. God has given freedom from slavery, God has given
provision to a people who were once landless and destitute. These verses show
God as the giver, the generous giver of life, supporter of life, and giver of identity,
and hope. God gives. And people benefit from God’s giving.

The simple ritual of offering to God a basket of the first fruits of the land shows
this orientation toward life. Life is possible because of God and God’s gifts. The
giving of first fruits conveys this understanding of reality. And this is why they are
to do this. And it is as significant in the time of Deuteronomy and as it is in our
time of advanced technology and artificial intelligence.

The giving of first fruits is an affirmation that we are benefitting from what God
gives to us including the gift of life. The key idea is that we have been given life
and what is needed to sustain life, like land and plants for food, and freedom. We
have received this. And on this foundation, we base our view of reality, past,
present, and future, with a sense of gratitude and hope. This forms the identity of
the community.

This way of looking at life is very important. It shows that we are dependent on
God. We are alive because of what we have been given. There is no room for the
idea that we are self-made. That we have pulled ourselves up by our boot straps.
That we have succeeded through rugged individualism. That all that we are and all
that we have we have achieved ourselves. I have done it. I have made it happen. I
have earned it. Everything we do, and we can do a lot, can be done only because
of what we have already been given.

There is a story about a pastor who was new to town. She went to visit
someone from the congregation who was a farmer. The farmer showed the pastor
around the farm. The pastor commented about how God had been so good to the
farmer. God? the farmer replied. You should have seen this place when God had
it.

This is not the view we see in the first fruits story. The first fruits remind us that
the land itself was a gift to humanity. The farmer can only grow things because
God has created the land in the first place. He can only work the land because it
has been provided. Given.

When we think we are the ones fully responsible for the good things in life we get
a mistaken view of ourselves and others. And the idea that we are self made can
lead to another lie: The idea that if someone is not successful, not well-off, it is
their fault. They are not working hard enough or applying themselves. This view
of reality can also be false. In this country, we can see that past laws and policies
have favored white, male people. People of color and women were not given the
same rights as white men. And today we continue the process of changing that
system of inequality so that we might move closer to that more perfect union in
which there is liberty and justice for all in this country.

This simple ritual of giving first fruits that we hear about in Deuteronomy provides
a basic orientation toward reality that acknowledges all that we are given, simply
given. It is a celebration of the gifts we receive from God. This act takes power
away from the idea that we are self made. That we create the world. That we
deserve all the credit. The simple ritual of the giving of first fruits reminds us that
we have received gifts from God: the gifts of life and all that supports life. These
gifts are intended for all. Everyone is to benefit from the generosity of God not
just some people. With this orientation toward reality, we see the gifts around us.
We live breathing the air of blessing. We have a sense of abundance and hope.
This reality helps us to be generous because we realize that what we have is really
not ours, but has been given to us. And so we are freed to give and share.
There is no more scrambling to get mine, to protect what I have. There is no more
it all depends on me. I have to do it. I have to go it. Alone. There is no more ‘I’
at the center of my universe. The giver, God, is the center of our reality. And the
gifts are for everyone.

I have a book from my childhood called Me by William Saroyan. It was written in 1936. It goes like this:
“Once upon a time there was only one word – me. If you wanted to say here I am,
you said – me. And that’s how it was when you wanted to say give me the orange,
or look at the tree, or listen to the bird, or what is the moon.
“Some people said it in a loud voice; some people said it in a soft voice. Some
laughed, some cried. Some giggled, some sighed. Only people said it. Animals
said other things.

“The dog said bark bark, take me to the park park. The cat said purr purr, I am the
Queen, be kind to her. The cow said moo moo, I am a cow. What are you? The
horse said ha ha, there is my Ma, and there is my Pa. The pig said hunk a chunk of
pumpkin pie, you can watch me get fat – but you will never see me fly. The
caterpillar said I was never a cat and I never saw a pillar. I’m a soft green feller
with a belly full of filler. The butterfly said what I was I’ll never know. Watch me
stop, watch me go, unafraid in light or shade. The fish said hush in the water. I’m
waiting for a letter from my only daughter. Father or mother, each of the animals
said something or other. Other things said other things.

“The white rose to the red rose said hello there redhead. The lamppost said I’m the
most from coast to coast. The train said watch me go to Buffalo. . . . But people
went right on saying the only word they knew how to say – ME”

By the end of the book, people have progressed from the word me to the word no
and then on to many other words. [On a side note, there are only male humans in
the book. It is past time to move on from that male orientation.] But I think the
message of the book is that we need to move on from the word me; that I am the
center of life, that I matter most. We need to move on from a view of reality
centered on one person to a view of reality that is based on the universe, the entire
web of life, and all of humanity.

The giving of first fruits is a celebration of the whole creation and our place in the
world. It reminds us of all that we are given and that we are not in charge of
everything. We did not create the world and we did not give ourselves life. We
didn’t create plants for food so that we can live. All of this was given to us. And
just that simple ritual of giving first fruits is a celebration of all that has been given.
This creates a life orientation of abundance and generosity and community. It
opens us up to a bigger world view. It helps us see the goodness in life. It is an
antidote to stress, competition, and worry. When we see all we are given, we are
filled with awe and wonder. The simple ritual of first fruits, of gratitude, saves us
from thinking we have to do it all and connects us to abundance and blessing.
So this Thanksgiving, and every day, remember what we have been given. And
give. Amen.

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For
additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

Sermon 11/10 What Seeds Are You Planting?

Date: Nov. 10, 2019 The BIG Event – Stewardship Sunday
Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 55:10-11 and Matthew 13:1-9
Sermon: What Seeds Are You Planting?
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells


Even I, who was raised by city slicker parents and have always lived in an urban or
suburban environment, know that this parable is not a lesson on farming.

Farmers very carefully assess where and when to plant their seeds. They prepare
the soil with precision and care. Then, when the time is just right, they plant the
seed. Today’s combines are guided by programs on iPads to dispense the precise
amount of seed based on the soil conditions foot by foot through the field. For
farmers, seed is an important investment and they are not going to waste it. Their
goal is to plant it in the most effective way to get the highest return. They want
that yield – 30 fold, 60 fold, even 100 fold!

Seed is an investment like other investments. We pride ourselves on investing
carefully. Where it will pay off. Where the return will be maximized, whether we
are investing seed, or money, or time. We want to see a return. This is the
transactional mindset in our culture. We do something to get something in return.
We are trained to be transactional beings and not only regarding our financial
affairs but in relationships with people, with institutions, with government, and
within society as a whole. We want to know the expected yield before we invest.

The parable we heard today abandons the transactional model entirely. And on
purpose. There really is no quid pro quo here. The farmer plants seeds on the
footpath, the rocky ground, and among thorns. The story tells about the planting of
seeds everywhere. Strewn with abandon. Cast away freely in a wasteful manner.
It’s a random, inefficient investment strategy. And yet, some seed yields 30 fold,
some 60 fold, and some an unimaginable 100 fold.

This planting scheme is more related to nature than agriculture. In nature seeds are
strewn freely. Seeds like dandelions blow through the air and land where they will. Birds spread seeds through their poop. Just look at the plants growing below a
fence where birds sit. Fruits protect seeds which then are deposited randomly by
the animals that eat the fruit and eliminate the seeds. Animals spread seeds on
their fur. So, in nature, we see the widespread, indiscriminate dispersal of seeds.
And this system works. What we hear about in the parable seems more related to
this natural process than to agriculture.

In the parable we hear of the seed of God’s word, the gospel, love, being spread far
and wide with abandon. Unconditional, universal love. Strewn everywhere,
wanted or not. God invests in everyone. Because no one is irredeemable.
Because everyone can bear fruit. Because some seeds will yield, 30, 60, and even
100 fold. So the seeds are freely scattered with the knowledge that some, some of
these seeds will help to grow a better world. And they will be enough.

We see this kind of seed planting in Jesus. Jesus was constantly planting seeds of
love. He offered forgiveness. He healed people. He shared food. He told people
about a world where no one was left behind and everyone was beloved. He shared
a vision of a different kind of reality. He was planting these wonderful seeds all
the time. But many of the seeds that Jesus planted fell on deaf ears. Many people
dismissed Jesus. Many despised him. He was killed because there were people in
power that wanted to end his planting seeds of justice, mercy, and love. Yet many
of the seeds Jesus planted grew and bore fruit. Some 30, some 60, some even 100
fold. That is why we have the church today. It is the result of those seeds that
Jesus planted.

The church is here to help us know that we have seeds to plant. We are needed to
spread love and compassion and justice in the world. The church is the soil
nurturing us, helping us to grow. Helping the vision of the gospel grow in us;
getting stronger and more deeply rooted so that we can spread the love, the
universal, unconditional love of God, in all circumstances and situations. The
church is here to help us be people of integrity, critical thinkers, people of moral
fiber, compassion, and creativity. And to encourage us to plant the seeds of God’s
reality with abandon. This means being nice to the person who is mean to you.

Getting to know the person who isn’t fair. Giving to a hopeless cause that you
know is right. Taking the job with the huge cut in pay because it makes your heart
sing. Getting involved in social justice and ministries of compassion to serve the
least of these. The church is here to grow the gospel in us and encourage us to
spread the seeds of love in the world – with wasteful abandon.

Rev. Dr. James Forbes was our preaching professor at Union Theological Seminary
in New York City. He went on to serve as the pastor of The Riverside Church in
New York. In his retirement, he continues his ministry, spreading seeds of love
and hope. He has this to say about the church:

“In God’s grace the Church discovers that its member are not helpless victims of
alien powers but bearers of gifts, competencies, and influence for effecting change.
Just as Moses was told to use the rod in his hand and the disciples were bidden to
feed the multitude with the lunch they had, so we are expected to use what we
have. One of the functions of the Church is to help its members discover and
release their power in ways that promote the cause of the Kingdom. Professionals
and non-professionals, trained and untrained workers, rich and poor – all are
influencing their context either by reinforcing the status quo or promoting change.
The issue is not simply one of getting power but of becoming aware of how we use
the power we have, and then developing expertise to make an impact on our
communities for good. The Church is a sleeping giant. What a powerful witness
we could be if the parts of the body came to a new awareness of the power that is
at work within and around us!”

This is another way of talking about planting seeds. And Forbes emphasizes that
we have a lot of seeds, power, to spread in the world. Remember, some of the
seeds will produce an inconceivable yield of 100 fold.

When we look at the world today, we know that we are needed to continue to plant
seeds as Jesus did. We see the rise in acts of racism. We see hate crimes
committed against people who are Jewish and Muslim. We see the break down of
the environment due to human activity which has created global warming. We see violence growing like a cancer in our country. We see the negative attitude toward
immigrants when the only people on this continent that are not immigrants are the
indigenous native americans. We see the rise of anxiety and mental illnesses. We
see little concern about an economic system that creates extensive wealth by
creating extensive poverty. We are needed to plant seeds, seeds, and more seeds!
Strewn everywhere. Cast about with abandon. Some won’t do much. But some
will. Some will produce 30 fold, some 60 fold, and some even an amazing 100
fold.

In closing I want to tell you about the redwood tree. It starts from a small seed and
grows to become the largest plant on the planet. These towering trees, some over a
thousand years old, are still to be found in the forests of northern California. In the
book, Wild Trees, author Richard Preston tells of a college student obsessed with
these trees. He and a friend launch themselves into a tree which they call
Nameless and they make their way to the top. Now, we know how that type of tree
grows, right? There are large branches at the bottom and the branches become
thinner and taper off near the top. Right? Well, that is not what these college
students found as they summited Nameless. Here’s how Preston describes the
mature growth of the coast redwood tree as discovered by these adventurous
students:

“As the redwood enters middle age [about 800 years old], it typically loses
its leader. Its top spire dies back. . . and it falls off the tree. . .
“A redwood reacts to the loss of its top by sending out new trunks. The new
trunks appear in the crown, high in the tree, and they point at the sky like the
fingers of an upraised hand. The new trunks grow straight up from larger limbs,
rising vertically and traveling parallel to the main trunk. As the new trunks rise
and extend themselves over centuries, they send out branches. These branches
eventually spit out yet more trunks, and those trunks grow branches that send up
more trunks, and so on. The tree is becoming a grove of redwoods in the air,
containing redwoods of all sizes, from tiny to large. This aerial grove is connected
to the ground through one main trunk. The whole structure is, of course, a single
living thing.” [pp. 20-21]

And this single living thing, a huge tree, with a grove at the canopy, hosts many
other forms of life – many species of lichens and mosses, hanging gardens of ferns
and other plants. Before these college students made their ascent, scientists
considered the redwood canopy a redwood desert. But these students discovered a
whole vast forest ecosystem at the top of the redwood canopy!

And it all starts with a seed. Just one of the 6-8 million seeds produced by a
redwood tree each year. Seeds so tiny that a million seeds weigh just 8 pounds.

May we plant the seeds of the gospel with indiscriminate wasteful abandon.
Because some will take root. Some will yield 30 fold, some 60 fold, and some will
produce an astronomical, unimaginable, explosive yield of 100 fold – food for all,
community for all, material and financial security for all, justice for all.
Inconceivable abundance emerges. When we plant our seeds. Amen.


A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.