Parable of the Dragnet

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:47-51.

The summer of 2004 Andrew served as a lake interpreter at a Boy Scout camp in the Boundary Waters area of Northern Minnesota. He spent the summer taking different scout troops on 10 to 14 day paddle trips…and loved every minute of it.

I also think he wanted to have a summer where he did not have shower the.entire.summer.

And he did not…for 81 days…

He knew to shower before he boarded the flight home to see me.

Smart guy.

In regaling me with stories about his summer on the water, he would laugh the heartiest about the groups that showed up to the base with food to take with them on the water – canned food, snacks, MREs and more! And Andrew…being the stingy interpreter he was…would not let them take any food! None of it!

Why? Because if the boys were not paddling canoes, they were carrying canoes along with everything else they needed for their daily use and campsites. Andrew learned after his first trip that summer that if the scouts could not (literally) carry the weight brought with them, then he would have to carry it…and he did not sign up for that. So while inspecting the scout packs before departure, Andrew would make them pile up all their food to be left behind. They would spend the next 10 to 14 days on the water…and they would fish!

Some boys were fishing experts while others had a steep learning curve. They fished with rods and cast nets. Sometimes they caught fish…other times they caught whatever was in the lake that day…a coffee carafe was the most interesting item!

What I found most encouraging – after I recovered from the thought of Andrew denying the boys access to all the food they brought with them! – was how the boys applied themselves to the work and task of fishing. Fishing was essential for survival on their trip. If one scout had a hot line in the water and another scout was struggling, they took care of one another. Everyone ate. Everyone enjoyed his experience. They learned the value of teamwork, hard work, and being their brothers’ keeper.

The Kingdom of God is like…

This week we celebrate Pentecost – the birth of the Church – in the Christian year. On the day of Pentecost a great gathering of God’s people were gathered together in one place. The Holy Spirit descended and together God’s people worshipped. And from their worship many were convicted to repent and be baptized. And in response – in ownership – of their baptism they served together, ate together, affirmed their commitment to God by caring for and keeping their sisters and brothers together.

Together.

I truly believe that God intends us all to be together. And that when we are all together as the Church – worshipping, serving, sharing, affirming – we not only have enough; we have and are more than enough. To be the Church is hard work. From time to time we may have to leave things behind that we desperately want to bring forward with us so that we can make room to learn new skills, be adventurous in new areas, and blossom further into the people that God desires us to be.

I hope such great hope for the Church, for The United Methodist Church, and for Tuskawilla. God is bigger than all our challenges and God is so so faithful. God asks for our faithfulness. God asks for us to fish even when we are scared…even when we do not know how…even when we think we know a better way. God will and is taking care of us. We are the Church. We are God’s Church. And God is leading us into God’s preferred future.

Please plan to join us for a Congregational Meeting following our 11am Worship Service this Sunday, June 4 to receive an update about the work and continued work of your Tuskawilla UMC Leadership Team. We will meet in the Sanctuary immediately following the Benediction.

Prayer: “Wind who makes all winds that blow, gusts that bend the sapling low, gales that heave the sea in waves, stirrings in the mind’s deep caves: Aim your breath with steady power on your church, this day, this hour. Raise, renew the life we’ve lost, Spirit God of Pentecost.” Amen.*

*“Wind Who Makes All Winds That Blow,” The United Methodist Hymnal 538.

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Parable of the Merchant

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:45-46.

When I was in elementary school a sure sign of summer was that my mother and aunt would pile my brother, my cousin, and me in the backseat of either the Oldsmobile or the Bonneville and we would head for the beach. Anna Maria was a family favorite; beach, shade, and a playground with a really fast slide.

Days at the beach included time in the water, walks in the sand, regimented slathering of sunscreen, exploring the playground and eating special beach foods – like Pringles and Fig Newtons…I did not know it was possible to eat these foods at other times than at the beach! But the activity I looked forward to most was hunting for seashells.

And not just any seashells – specifically corkscrew or auger shaped shells – once their snail inhabitant had vacated, of course!

These shells are not typically atop the sand. They are deep within the beach and must be unearthed, taking time and patience. Some days at the beach I would not find a single corkscrew; others I would come home with an entire cupful! Each find increased my delight and fed my hunger to find more. Though other shells were readily available on the beach – that was the one I wanted; that was the one I sought. I would disregard all others for that certain shell.

The merchant in our parable for this week is in search of fine pearls, but in finding one precious pearl, the focused and determined merchant sells everything to possess that one pearl.

Our lives are full of many pearls…or things that would like us to consider them pearls. But God sets before us the pearl – the Kingdom of God – for us to seek and take hold of and thereby not be distracted by other items, people, or activities. God places within us a desire to seek the Kingdom and some days we may see it and others wonder where, in fact, it is or if we are privy to participate in it. I assure you that we are in the midst of the Kingdom, even on the days when we feel we are in a fog or a haze. Says the writer of Hebrews, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Says the author of the Fourth Gospel, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (Jn 20:29).

Some days we seek the pearl and other days it is in our grasp; as with the life of faith – it is about the journey as well as the destination.

Prayer: “Crown him with many crowns, the Lamb upon his throne, Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own. Awake, my soul, and sing of him who died for thee, and hail him as thy matchless King through all eternity.”* Amen.

*“Crown Him With Many Crowns,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 327.

Parable of the Treasure

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:44.

One day while in Nepal (it still stuns me that I am able to say that phrase!) Andrew and I decided to visit Nagarcot, which is in the western-most end of the Everest region. We called our faithful driver, Ramesh, and set out early for the 40 kilometer journey from Kathmandu.

It was truly incredible to watch the landscape change as we ascended out of the bowl of the Kathmandu valley. Geographically, Kathmandu is in a valley; it is in a physical dip in the landscape between the mountains that sits gingerly atop an active fault line. But the lusciousness that the word “valley” evokes is hard to find amongst all the construction and industry. In a very real way, one must leave the valley to find the valley.

The farther we drove, the more the air quality improved. Trash disappeared, or was much less visible. Brown and gray turned to green and I was so excited to see green! “Wait,” Ramesh said, “Just wait.”

Out of the valley we turned off the paved road for a rocky one to led us up to Nagarcot. After driving upward for a couple kilometers Ramesh pulled the car over, which was a feat in itself because there was nowhere to pull the car to – the choices were towards the rock face or the cliff.

He chose the rock face.

“Now look.”

And we followed Ramesh’s gesture to look at that same field we passed earlier but this time we saw it from above. What I thought was green was actually a field of gold. Little golden flowers sitting atop green stems that bloom in direct daylight and close up again at dusk.

It was truly hidden treasure in a field.

I was amazed that field had been left untouched so the flowers could grow. Land is at such a premium in Nepal, though not many people own; they squat. Ramesh said this field on the rock face had been in the same family for many generations – meaning the same family had lived on that rock face for many generations – and though development was important, it was not vital. What was vital was leaving the land as untouched by human hands as possible so the livestock could graze, and the water could seep into the earth, and the flowers could greet them as if to say “good morning” on their way to work and “good night” on their way home.

Our parable for this week says the finder bought the field, not what the finder did with the field once purchased. Yes, I believe that we are invited to have a hand in bringing about the Kingdom of God, but we do not have to develop it from the ground up. The Kingdom of God is – just like the field is – full of beauty and wonder. It is something to behold and respect. It is something to care for and nurture. And it is a place to be surprised by what we might discover there – and because we are there – what we might discover in ourselves.

Join Samantha Aupperlee and Alex Lilly this Sunday as they offer their leadership in word and song on this parable in both our Morningsong and 11am worship services. Thank you, dear friends, for sharing your gifts with our church family.

Prayer: “In all the world around me I see his loving care, and though my heart grows weary, I never will despair. I know that he is leading through all the stormy blast; the day of his appearing will come at last. He lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today! He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way. He lives, he lives, salvation to impart! You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.”* Amen. 

*”He Lives,” The United Methodist Hymnal 310.

Parable of the Yeast

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:33.

The seasons of Lent and Easter have been a “proofing” period for the TUMC Leadership Team in the discernment of God’s vision for Tuskawilla’s future.

Proofing refers to the final rise that dough undertakes before it is baked. The ingredients are together. Their active ingredients – the yeast, sugar, and salt – catalyzed chemical reactions for the dough to rise. The dough has space to rest. The baker kneads the dough, to ensure its desired texture and consistency. And then the dough rises one final time before baking.

The TUMC Leadership Team met in early Lent to share their hearts on our church’s strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities. They believe

  • Our congregation’s greatest strength is our family-friendly feel.
  • Our congregation’s greatest weakness (growth area) is how we value and to express the value of each person in relationship with our church family, especially our children and youth.
  • Our congregation’s greatest opportunity is to connect in service with our neighbors, especially the schools that are next-door neighbors with the church.

Since that meeting in February, I have lived with our named strength, weakness, and opportunity. They are with me as I shop for groceries and walk in our neighborhood, as I travel to district and conference events, as I watch the transformation of our church campus and dream about the future. They are with me as we continue to be God’s people in what seems to be never-ending seasons of change and flux.

And the longer they are with me, the more they speak to me that this is exactly who we are and exactly the path we need to pursue as a congregation in this time.

God brought us together. God continues God’s work with us and in us. God is leading us into God’s preferred future.

God calls us to be faithful. God calls us to follow. And like the woman in this week’s parable, together with God we will make the bread of life that will nourish this part of God’s world.

The Leadership Team gathers this coming Tuesday, May 16 to finalize the first phase of our action plan to further enhance our congregational strength, improve our congregational weakness, and pursue our congregational opportunity. Please mark your calendars and plan to attend a Congregational Meeting following worship on Sunday, June 4 to hear and discuss the first phase of our action as a church family.

The Leadership Team deeply appreciates your prayers and support during this time of discernment. And we look forward with joy, hope, and faithfulness to what God will reveal in our future.

Prayer: “The care the eagle gives her young, safe in her lofty nest, is like the tender love of God for us made manifest. As when the time to venture comes, she stirs them out to flight, so we are pressed to boldly try, to strive for daring height. And if we flutter helplessly, as fledgling eagles fall, beneath us lift God’s mighty wings to bear us one and all.”* Amen.

*”The Care the Eagle Gives Her Young,” The United Methodist Hymnal 118.

Marinate: Harvest Time

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:8-9, 23

Reeves’ concludes our Marinate sermon series this week.  I think it’s been a great exercise – and somewhat of a challenge – to work with the same text over a four-week period.  A couple times when I started my sermonizing process I felt like there was not much “sermonizing water” left for me to wring out of this text…and then as God always does…God works in amazing ways by breathing life into texts that truly speak to me and the congregation I serve.  That breath – I believe it’s the same breath of creativity that has been inspiring since creation.  The true work then – the hard work – is being attentive to that breath, to allow it to lead, to sit with it.  In essence, to allow God’s creative breath to marinate over me and the text.

It’s harvest time!  For three weeks we have been anticipating sustainable growth from the seeds that were sown, but each week the seeds encountered some obstacle:

  • Birds gobbling them up
  • Shallow rooting because of the rocks and scorching heat from the sun
  • Deprived of nutrients because of the thorns

But finally…the seeds have grown.  They have produced a bountiful harvest.  A harvest that is uncommon – perhaps unheard of!- by 1st Century Galilean standards.  This is no ordinary harvest or a harvest that a human could bring about.  This is a harvest inspired by God’s breath, a harvest cultivated by Jesus Christ, and a harvest that evidences the goodness and in-breaking of God’s Kingdom on earth.

I am reminded that it takes time for seeds to grow.  From seed to sprout to harvest – it does not usually happen overnight – although I’m sure that God could make it so.  I know there are days where I pine (see what I did there?!) that it were so.  That God would go ahead and bring everything to completion, everything to harvest.  But there is gift in the time that it takes seeds to come to harvest.  There is comfort in that space to grow, explore, question, discern, doubt, and decide.  It takes time and I feel that God has built that into the system.  If God wanted us to assent to everything immediately, then God would have made it so.  If God wanted immediate harvest, God could have it.  There wouldn’t be choice or free will.  But there is and God graces us with time to come to harvest.

So enjoy the time.  Embrace the gift.  God will lead you to harvest.

And you will be bountiful.

Prayer: “Even so, Lord, quickly come, bring thy final harvest home; gather thou thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin, there forever purified, in thy presence to abide; come with all thine angels, come, raise the glorious harvest home.”*

* from “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” from The United Methodist Hymnal, 694.

 

Marinate: Among the Thorns

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:7, 22

Yesterday I had the opportunity to gather with a small group of fellow clergy in the Orlando area to discern and brainstorm and craft liturgy for some of our Annual Conference worship services.

(For folks reading this that are not familiar with Annual Conference – it is the annual gathering of United Methodist clergy and lay persons across the Florida Conference, which spans from Key West to the time change line west of Tallahassee, to do the work of the church.  We have plenary business and voting sessions that are punctuated, enhanced, grounded, interpreted, and appreciated through the worship services that precede and follow them.)

Our over-arching desire yesterday was to have the liturgy truly be the work of the people.  Often in liturgy the leader or the one provides a bulk of the speaking and naming of what we are celebrating or offering petitions for while the people or the all have brief admissions.  We want to flip that as much as we can – so the people – the all – have a greater presence in leading the liturgy.

Once we established this structure our focus shifted to the subjects of the liturgy.  Quite simply, we ain’t finished yet.  (Pretty confident we will refrain from using the word ain’t in the liturgy, but I find it fitting presently.)  As Christians, as United Methodists, we are constantly becoming.  As John Wesley would say, we are going onto perfection.  We are not there yet.  We are unfinished.  We are imperfect.  But through God’s grace, leading, and provision each day we are working out our salvation to reclaim the image of God in which we were created.

We paused to draw images into our mind that illustrate our unfinished state:

  • Hunger
  • Poverty
  • Access to quality healthcare and education
  • Struggles with conflict resolution and peace making
  • Judgment, prejudice, and hate
  • Premeditated acts of evil instead of intentional acts of kindness

Our meeting dismissed with each of the team member’s receiving our writing assignments and setting dates of when we would regather.

Our meeting dismissed an hour before the bombs exploded at and near the Boston Marathon finish line.

I drove home to check on one of my four-legged-children that did not have a very good weekend – she ate something she should not have eaten! – and shortly thereafter received a call from a friend of mine asking if I had heard from another friend who was attending the Boston Marathon as the cheerleading section for a runner.  I said no…and immediately my heart sank.  What had happened?  Bombings, he said.

Like a moth to the flame I watched the news coverage from afternoon till late night.  I waited anxiously to hear from my friend Sarah.  She texted around 11pm that she was home and all in her party were safe.  She was shaken but okay.

I give God incredible thanks for her protection and cry out in raging anguish for those who were injured and lost their lives in this senseless act of violence.  I have the utmost respect for the first responders and runners that headed into rather than away from the smoke.  God bless you and keep you always.

It is sadly ironic that hours before the liturgy team was brainstorming specific examples of where we, as an unfinished people, are still in need of God’s grace…and this horrific example came barreling towards us…

My God, we are unfinished.  When will we as a species acknowledge the unfinished-ness and brokenness and instead of amplifying it act in such a way to heal it?  When will we say “NO!” to the bombings and massacres and violence and hate?  When will we truly come alongside the persons who think and scheme and enact these horrors so that they can be healed, we can be healed, and then these evils won’t happen again?  When will the systemic evil be transformed?

My God, I confess to you that I am in the thorns this week.  I am struggling to grow in faith and trust of your word alongside tragic events that seek to choke out my joy.  Lord I recognize that the thorns must grow up alongside healthy seeds because if we remove one we will surely damage the other.  I am unsatisfied with this reality because it appears that the thorns are winning.  With each act of violence and hate and apathy to change or heal the first two, it seems like the thorns are the victor.  In these dark and thorny spaces, God of goodness and God of light, assure me that though sorrow may last for the night joy comes in the morning.  Your joy is coming.  Your goodness will prevail.  Strengthen me to be an instrument of your will and a bringer of your peace.  Deliver me – deliver us – from the thorns.

Prayer: “Can you hear the voice of the children softly pleading for silence in their shattered world?  Angry guns preach a gospel full of hate, blood of the innocent on their hands. Crying Jesus, ‘Help me to feel the sun again upon my face? For when darkness clears, I know you’re near, bringing peace again.'”* Merciful God, hear this the prayer of the children and the agonizing confession that we have failed…as evidenced by our offering this prayer yet again. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Bring your peace. Amen.

*from The Prayer of the Children by Kurt Bestor

Marinate: On the Rocks

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21

My first memory of the phrase “on the rocks” is as a six or seven-year-old.  My brother and I were out to dinner with our grandparents – Nonnie and Gramps – and Gramps ordered whiskey on the rocks.  I remember asking him why on earth he would want to drink anything that was on the rocks!?! I distinctly remember from the tender age of two that I was not to put anything in my mouth that had at one time been on the ground; so, he should know better!  He then enlightened me so as to explain that “rocks” where ice cubes…but why call them “rocks” when they are ice cubes???

(Yes…I was that child who asked questions…about everything…)

(Oh who am I kidding?  I am still that child…21 years later!)

In other news, when my director of worship arts received this sermon title he had visions of fancy beverage glasses adorning the worship space; however, that may generate some discussion before, during, and after the worship service that we are not yet prepared to address…

(Tucking that idea away for later…)

In Scene Two of the Parable of the Sower our gaze shifts to the seed that falls upon the rocks.  The seeds quickly take root but then whither under the scorching heat.

Being a Florida native I know a thing or two about scorching heat.  In Florida the season of Spring lasts about…oh…three or four hours and then it’s SUMMER!  (In 2013 this event occurred last Thursday…)  The heat cranks up and the new seeds or plants that have been added to the landscape have a very brief and stiff learning curve – they either start to thrive or in a few days time they are dead as a doornail, as my Nonnie would say.

It’s easy to pick out the ones that quickly lose the fight – once green and vibrant now brown and lifeless.  But more interesting to watch are the seeds that become plants that adapt to the harsh conditions; they adapt and conquer.  Some plants grow parallel to tree trunks, finding shelter and protection from the elements in the tree’s shade.  Other plants skirt along the ground for hundreds of feet to find water and then begin their growth assent once assured that their wellspring is near and plentiful.  Still other plants fortify their root systems above ground if the earth is too dense (or shallow) for their roots to be underground.  These seeds and later plants acknowledge their circumstances and then do like Tim Gunn.  They make it work! *snap*

We cannot always control the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  What we can control is how we will react while in them.  In this portion of the parable the seeds represent people who hear the word of God and the soil is various circumstances we will encounter where our harvest of God’s word will be tested.  How will we react to harsh circumstances?  Will our faith and trust in God’s word whither?  Be scorched?  Or will we adapt and continue to thrive and produce fruit in the midst of hardship?

While on the rocks, I think God wants us to adapt and make it work.  And with God’s help, we surely can.

Cheers! *clink-clink*

Prayer: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.  On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.”*  O Lord, when I find myself on the rocks, lead me towards faith, lead me towards trust, lead me towards Christ.  Amen.

* from “My Hope Is Built,” The United Methodist Hymnal Book of Worship, 368.