Accepting our part, or a mature mission

The following sermon was used on Sunday, July 13, 2014 at St. Paul’s UCC in Eureka, SD. The scripture was Matthew 13:1-9 & 18-23 and Genesis 25:19-34 and Romans 8:1-11. The title in the bulletin was “Accepting Our Part.” If you feel the need to use any of this, please contact me before doing so. I am willing to share, but I am also curious to know if you do.

To say that yesterday was a long day is an understatement. (Here I took a little side track to show my arm with the sunburn and give a little humorous story about the auction sale. If you are interested in how that went you will have to back up to the blog from yesterday and the day before.) After I finally made it back home with all my wonderful bargains from Irene’s auction sale, I managed to make it to Pollock to join James and his classmates for their 40th class reunion. And there were several other spouses there. I had been trying for a week to convince James that none of the others would show up, and yet several did. It was an interesting time of sitting back and listening to them share stories about their families and where they have been since graduation. One of their classmates went so far as to grab their graduation picture off the wall and they went through each of the absent classmates to share what they knew of where those others where and what they were doing.

It was a typical class reunion in terms of variety of where people are and what they are doing, although as we listened to the stories, I picked out a few items of interest. One of their classmates, who is a nurse by occupation, has raised her children up and down the Amazon River because she and her husband are missionaries and have been their whole life together. Another classmate has done mission work, and though he has been a teacher and principal, he is now working as a Pastor in a Baptist church in Aberdeen, and then James was able to say, well I am just the Pastor’s spouse. You would think by now that he has figured out how much work that is. Anyway, it was interesting to hear, as it always is, where and what everyone is and is doing and what their lives are about. I guess if we would be reading a book about the stories we had heard, we might be analyzing them in terms of what literature calls, “the human condition.” We would be analyzing the situations of the people in the stories. We would be discussing someone’s “part” in the world around them. What are their lives about? What is the “condition” of that life?

When you look at the passage of Genesis that we read for today, we see three pieces to the story. The obvious one is the final story in which Jacob swindles Esau out of his birthright. Most people like to look at this story in terms of “poor” Esau and what he lost. According to the tradition of the time, an eldest or first-born was entitled to a double portion of the inheritance. So that means Isaac would divide all he had and give Jacob 1/3 and Esau 2/3. But the issue here is not the worldly possessions, but the father’s blessing and the inheritance as the Patriarch of God’s chosen nation. As the first-born in my family, I really had planned to talk about poor Esau and how he deserved to be given all the things that a first-born deserves. He should have been given everything. What gave that upstart Jacob the right to think he should inherit anything? A first-born should just get it all and the rest should, well, just do without.

Now we all know that is not how God sees things or does things. How many times do we have to read the words of Jesus when he tells us that the first shall be last and the last shall be first, and this isn’t the only story of the Old Testament that gets tipped upside down when we realize what Jesus came to teach us. It seems to me that God doesn’t always follow rules set down by human tradition. Jacob was to be the one through whom the Israelites would become a great nation, and that is how it happened.

Going backwards in the Genesis passage, we see how Jacob and Esau struggled in the womb. Rebekah apparently had a difficult pregnancy. Obviously this happened before the days of ultra sounds or even stethoscopes. There would be no way for the woman to know if there were one or two or several children inside of her, but Rebekah knew. She was in such turmoil that she appealed to God and was told that not only is she having two children, but these two children will both be leaders of great nations, and they will not be working together. She is told even before they are born of the struggles of their later lives. She doesn’t get specific details, but she learns enough to know that things will not go smoothly between her sons. She makes her appeal, she hears the answer, and she accepts what is happening inside of her.

Now to me the most interesting part of the story in terms of how it is handled comes at the beginning. Apparently someone has learned something from growing up in the household of Abraham and Sarah. Isaac must have been a great son. First off, we never read anything about his reaction to the story of how he was nearly sacrificed while Abraham was being tested. Nowhere is there any psychiatrist couch or treatment facility or even any special medication. And when his father’s servant brings home a strange woman to be his wife, he accepts her without any fuss.

So it says that Isaac was 40 when Rebekah was brought to him, and he was 60 when the children were born. For 20 years they were together without having children. As the son of Abraham, he had this “great nation” thing hanging over his head. What was going on? Here is what I mean by the “learning something from living with Abraham and Sarah.” Isaac understands the promise, but when there are no results, he turns to God for the answer. We should all take a lesson from Isaac on this one. Unlike his father and mother who took matters into their own hands and looked to the maid for the answer, Isaac turns to God in prayer. And because Isaac is faithful and believing, God answers him. Isaac knows that God has set a plan for him, but when it didn’t seem to be working out, he went back to God rather than trying to do it on his own; he accepted his part and he went to God for his help.

So how does this accepting our part come into play in the passage from Matthew? Jesus uses a parable about planting to try to teach the disciples about their work as messengers of his word. I found it interesting when I looked at my Interpreter’s Bible because for some reason it was trying to explain seeding in terms of the way farmers planted in earlier days when you would plow the ground then seed it. The parable really is more about the days of broadcast seeding where you would walk with the seed bag on your hip and reach in and cast the seed around you.

Anyway as the parable is explained it comes out as the seed being the word that the disciples will spread and the soil being the types of people who hear the word. The plants that grow from the seed to be harvested or don’t grow are the results of what the disciples have accomplished. The first seeds fall on hard ground and the birds (or devil/Satan/powers of evil if you prefer) eats up the seed/devours the potential believer. The second set of seeds falls on rocky ground and initially a plant grows (a believer develops, but they fade out quickly and stop following when things get tough). The third set of seeds falls into soil with lots of weeds, which are the cares of the world or none believers who pull them away from following. The final seeds that are planted are put into fertile soil and the harvest is great.

Here again it seems that the focus is usually on the dilemma of how the first three types of soil results in no harvest. The focus should be on the fertile soil. The focus should be on the fact that the harvest is plentiful with believers resulting in the 30’s, 60’s and 100 times those who hear the word. Jesus wanted the disciples to understand that when they went out not everyone would believe, but many would believe and they needed to keep working and spreading the gospel. They needed to be able to accept their part and keep working at it.

Just as Esau and Jacob eventually came to terms with what God wanted from them, just as Isaac understood his part in going to God with prayer to ensure that Rebekah would bear his children to fulfill the promise that there would be a chosen nation, so we must accept our part in what God asks of us. We could be the hard soil that accepts nothing of the seed, but if that were true we wouldn’t be sitting here. We could be the rocky soil that starts the sprout but grows no roots—well it seems we have come back more than a few times, so I am guessing that is out. We might be the soil with the weeds—since being here on Sunday morning isn’t always an indication of what happens during the week, but I suspect that is not so much.  Now we could be the fertile soil that is producing in several folds. The question for me is: “What is the truth of our human condition?” And, I realize that money isn’t the only way that we promote the spreading of the gospel, but it is something, and just last Wednesday at the Council meeting, it was approved that we share some of our good fortune with our fellow Christians in Wessington Springs. Again, money is not the only way, but it is A way. What I am still asking and challenging us to do is simply this; we are a church that has the chance to be something different.

We really need to stop and embrace where we are on our faith journey. Instead of thinking that things are slipping because there are no youngsters in the building, we need to embrace the fact that we have been freed up to do something different. (Here I again went off script and reminded the congregation what it felt like to raise children. It went something to this effect. Remember how good it felt when you children were finally able to walk and you didn’t have to carry them anymore? What about when they finally were past all the times of needing to help them with their homework? Again you could sign a relief. And what about when they finally had a good job and didn’t call home saying, “Mom I am a little short this month, could you put something into my bank account?” We are that church.) We are able to be about a more mature ministry. We know what our part is, what we need to determine is, what are the specifics of how we fulfill that mission? How do we die to the old ways and take up the new spirit that God has in mind for us? We all need to be intent on that mission and help come up with that plan. We all need to be part of the thought that decides out spiritual condition in a human world. We all need to be listening to hear how God is Still Speaking to us! Amen!

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Garden Walk Garden Talk
    Jul 15, 2014 @ 19:44:23

    I want to say I understand all of this, but I find it hard to follow. Not your post, but that in the Bible. God did a lot of talking back then, but I never hear of Him talking to individuals now. Does He? I know if He talked to me it just might shock me to death. I cannot imagine Him telling me all the He told Rebekah.

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  2. christinelaennec
    Jul 15, 2014 @ 14:49:33

    I really enjoyed this, thank you! I was talking today with a friend about how much older people have to give to society generally – though I know you aren’t just talking about “mature” in years here. Thought-provoking.

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