“The Parable of the Sower”
Cass Poulos The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ, Bradford, Vermont July 16, 2017
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
(Ms. Poulos preaches from notes rather than a written sermon … these are the notes from which she preached on July 16th.)
Corn field next to our house: Mother-in-law with dementia looks at the corn each morning and multiple times throughout the day: “look how much the corn has grown.” And “the corn really is growing. Isn’t that wonderful.” Many times, throughout the day we talk about the growing corn.
Parables: Sometimes they seem to be difficult to understand. Ever wonder why Jesus tells us parables?
Story and Riddle must pay attention to it if we want to understand it.
Stories To make a point, stories put a face and action to all the words it would take to explain the point.
Stories use common experiences so they give us a picture and action that we can always come back to.
Parable as a riddle, hides as much as it reveals about Godlike a kaleidoscope or hanging crystal, they give us many perspectives of the same image. The image and point become clearer, but never fully clear. We cannot have full understanding!
Seeing from a different perspective is like seeing something for the first time. It is new and full of mystery. It engages us in a fresh way.
The Sower; the soil; and the harvest
Unlimited supply of seed
farmer today tends to soil 1st nourish it and prepare way for seed
Jesus’ time seed first and then turn soil
Sower is extravagant tossing seed everywhere, even in places where they are not likely to sprout and grow
Sower is wasteful, even foolish for wasting good seed could be used by someone else
Might shake our head at the sower action does not make sense to us.
4 types the path which isn’t really soil; rocky soil; soil infested with thorns and weeds; and good s
Jesus says: The soil is the landing place for “the message about the Kingdom of God” …and the message is “sown…in [our] hearts” (Matt 13.19).
Soil is a metaphor for heart
Heart in BibleBrokenhearted; hard hearted; faint hearted; heart ache; heartless; kindhearted; stouthearted; wholehearted; heart’s desire; heart’s delight; heart’s prayer to God hearts that turn back to God; that are given to God; that are loyal to God; that are fully committed to God
Today (Greek understanding):
Mind and will are centered in our heads (“I think therefore I am” Rene Descartes)
Mind, ability to think and reason is ultimate
heart is the center of our “total personality…intuition, feeling, and emotion” (Dictionary.com).
Jesus’ time: heart essence of who we are
encompassed intuition, feeling, emotion as well as our mind and will.
To have an open heart, all components would need to be centered and equally developedneed an open heart to be a disciple to love God with all our heart, mind, and strength and love our neighbor as self
The Seed in Mathew
Working in Substance Abuse Treatment and Planting the Seed
Grace of God establishing the Kingdom of God
Opposition to Kingdom of Godsame as a hard heart
The Extravagant, Super-Abundance of God’s Grace Seeds flung everywhere is the arena for God’s love and redemptive activity
The outcaste; the poor; widows and children; all who were unclean and unwanted; tax collectors; and prostitutes Sometimes the wealthy and powerful anyone who could listen and hear the message about the Kingdom of God not possible to be open always, but even a little is enough
Seeds that come to fruition
Folks who get clean and sober
Rooted, sprouting and growing seeds call for a response from us otherwise the seed has not come to fruition
Carry the message Be a disciple Open heart to someone not like you, someone you don’t like, an acquaintance
This is what God’ Grace is doing for me
The Abundance of the Harvest 7X good harvest10X True abundance30X feed a village for a year100X retire very wealthy
My Mother-in-laws attention to the corn field Like God’s attention to us
God has an Open Heart No matter what, God never stops trying to get our attention
This week we will again welcome Cass Poulos into our pulpit. She writes, “When we read about heart in the Bible, we miss the broad understanding that Jesus and the disciples had of heart. For us heart is the center of our ‘total. personality … intuition, feeling, and emotion’ (Dictionary.com). In Jesus’ time, heart also encompassed mind and will. To have an open heart, all components would need to be centered and equally developed.”
We are very pleased as well to welcome two fine flutists, Danelle Sims and Lisa Barfield who will play several lovely works of J.S. Bach
Want to find out how this all fits together? Come to church on Sunday!
“Take His Yoke Upon You”
Cass Poulos The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ, Bradford, Vermont July 9, 2017
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
(Ms. Poulos preaches from notes rather than a written sermon … these are the notes from which she preached July 9th. You’ll better understand why Jesus said to take on his yoke and to learn from him.)
Heavy bags are burdens. I considered doing this but NO! I decided this whole exercise places too much importance on our burdens, when we are often informed by images of underlying beliefs.
I. YOKES … the first time I saw an actual yoke was in New Hampshire at a Founder’s Day. I was watching an Ox Pull, where two yoked oxen had to move a heavy load. Each time more weight was added as the yoke began to push taut against their chests. These oxen took short steps together, straining against the weight and the whip. Eventually the weight was too much and they stopped. In order to get them unhitched from the weight they had to be backed up.
1) These oxen are special, willing to work together, to trust each other. They work towards a common goal, a common good.
2)There were yokes in Roman times, too. They were used on enslaved people to enforce subservience, those without a homeland or rights, at the mercy of someone else. There was shame associated with being yoked.
3)In the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, the yoke is a sign of obedience and submission. It also represents wisdom and justice!
4)Chosen obedience/submission leads to wisdom and justice? A positive image!
II. IMAGES … images inform the way that we think and act, whether our behavior is shameful or honorable. Images can be helpful or debilitating, a burden that weighs us down until we can’t move forward.
A) Images of God: boss, fixer, power, active
B) Rugged individualism: grown, venerated, implying success. We think of leaders of industry. They don’t need anyone’s help! Unless in dire need, they have no yoking for themselves and sometimes not even then.
C) Acts of submission: asking for help, acknowledging we do not have all the answers! Church, education, government, military, Grange, clubs. Going to speak with a counselor, a minister, a friend or relative, asking for help in some way. Welfare. Work for the common good.
III. (there was a) YOUNG WOMAN … she believed that she was too bad for God. She thought God deserted her and wanted nothing to do with her. At best, God was missing and was the same as everyone else in her life.
A. STORY: Lowest point, in substance abuse treatment, she decided to be “profoundly honest” with someone else. Told counselor how bad she was. Beyond hope. Believed she was nothing more than a pile of manure. She spent her whole life building this self-image.
B. COUNSELOR SAID: Have you ever considered what that is? And, do you know what that looks like? He didn’t say anything else and didn’t wait for a reply. He left the room and she was alone with this image she created and nurtured her whole life.
C. SELF-IMAGE: she was the survivor of childhood sexual and physical abuse. Her image became a hard-outer shell that once offered her protection from pain. It developed into her prison, a burden that she neither saw or could break through. She realized she lived life on the outside, removed from love and warmth. She realized she was full of fear. She rejected herself, God, and everyone else.
D. THE COUNSELOR’S WORDS: they cracked the shell, her self-image and allowed light to creep in.
IV. HOW WE RELATE TO GOD INFORMS HOW WE LIVE! All of us have some image of God. They usually reflect who we are, do not challenge us to grow, to be more than we are because the God we serve is really a reflection of who we are. Jesus said God sent two to us and both were rejected.
A. JOHN THE BAPTIST: fierce, scruffy guy out in the desert eating locust and honey and proclaims judgment. He cries out for Baptism by water, for us to decide, place God first, and follow. He forecasts the One to come who will Baptize with fire. Most of us would dismiss him as a nut.
B. JESUS: eats, drinks, parties, and even turns water into wine, so abundantly it is too much for the wedding party. He hangs out with outcasts and challenges the religious and political status quo. He preaches about God who forgives and desires humanity to know and follow God, to serve God, to even love God with all our heart, mind and soul, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
V. OUR IMAGES, especially the hardened, impermeable ones are NOT of God.
Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.” (Matt. 11:28-30)
VI. YOKES. Woman in story: her hard-outer crust began to crack because she asked for help. Another person saw what she could not and asked a question which led to her recognition that she was much more than a pile of manure.
A. None of us grow alone. Can read all the self-help books, Bible verses, etc. Without the aid of others our burdens do not shift!
B. We must be willing to be yoked to Jesus/God/other people
C. 12-Step Programs: to keep it must give it away! Cannot hoard. Jesus sends the disciples out in twos. They are yoked together and yoked to Jesus. Chosen obedience/submission leads to wisdom and creates justice. They can only share what they have, experience with the Grace of God. We are called to be disciples. Challenge unhelpful, negative images which burden others, create a just world.
Last Sunday was a very special day for our Beloved Community, a day when we gathered with tears of joy to celebrate the three years that Rev. Kinder has been our Interim Minister, and to wish him a fond Godspeed on his new journey ahead. We sang, we laughed, we worshiped, we joined together in a Litany of Leave-taking, and most precious of all we came forward one by one to be served communion by Rev. Kinder. After this deeply moving experience for us all we gathered downstairs for a delicious farewell luncheon, preceded by a heartwarming circle of thanks. Presented from the congregation were many cards and a special gift in recognition of Rev. Kinder’s love of nature and hiking. In all ways we wished him a beloved Aloha*. Here is a link to read Rev. Kinder’s July 2nd farewell sermon, “I Am with You Always, to the End of Time”http://bradforducc.org/sermon-july-2-2017/
Rev. Pam Lucas The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ, Bradford, Vermont June 25, 2017
Third Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 86; Genesis 21: 18-21
‘In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a mighty wind swept over the face of the waters.’ And out of that chaos God brought order and purpose and life…men and women created in the image of God.
And then out of all the men and women in the world God called to Abraham and Sarah, ‘Go from this your country to a land I will show you. I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you so that you will be a blessing – and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’
The story of God’s people in scripture is the same story we hear each day in the daily news. The Holy Land of Scripture is the Holy Land of today. Three monotheistic faiths share the creedal belief that there is but One God. All three trace their family tree back to Abraham – that patriarch of our faith.
And we – who share a God who created us all in God’s image and gave us a common ancestor have managed to dismantle order and create chaos – in our Holy Land of origin.
For Jews and Christians, that tree is traced from Abraham’s son Isaac – born to Sarah and Abraham in their ‘very’ old age! The pages of the Old Testament – variously also called the Hebrew Scriptures – or the First Testament tell the rest of the sacred story of our Jewish brothers and sisters. And the pages of the New Testament – or Second Testament continues to trace the sacred story through the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who binds the Christian community into the church born on Pentecost.
Yet, the third monotheistic faith is Islam – who trace their family tree through Abraham’s son Ishmael, birthed by Hagar – Sarah’s slave-woman. The rest of their story unfolds in their sacred scripture – the Koran.
But we have a hint of that other family story that grows into its own branch of the family tree. Right at the beginning of our common story, we learn that God is present with the outsider and the oppressed.
Hear Hagar’s Story in Genesis chapter 21:18-21.
Hagar sat on a small rock in the blazing son, rocking back and forth, back and forth, her arms wrapped tightly around her, trying not to hear the cries of her son – her dying son.
A sob escaped her lips – a scream of terror and anger – directed at anything – everything – directed at God – even though Hager knew that God was nowhere near.
The cries of her son stopped. He would die soon – then she would die – and then it would all be over. But then – from somewhere deep inside – came a cry of defiance – yes directed at God. What had God ever done for her – except give her a bit of hope – and now had thrown her out into the desert with her son to die.
They say that just before you die your whole life plays out before you –
She saw herself as a child in Egypt – taken from a home she barely remembered – sold as a slave to Sarah – waiting on her for years and years. Old Sarah – barren Sarah – Sarah who could have no children argued and begged God to give her a son.
And then fourteen years ago – Sarah had grabbed her arms and pushed her into Sarah’s tent and told her husband Abraham – ‘Here – make this slave-girl pregnant. If I can’t give her a son, she can. But it will be MY child. Do you hear that, slave?’
Hagar remembered nodding silently – she had no choice. She was a slave who did what she was told.
Hagar did get pregnant. She loved that child growing inside of her. But as Sarah kept reminding her –‘It’s NOT your child.’
Hagar should have known better. She should have known that slaves do not taunt their owners. But this was so unfair. She blurted out – ‘You’re right. He’s your child, o barren woman!’
Of course, Sarah lashed back in anger. She beat her. And Hagar had fled into the desert. It didn’t seem so bad that time. She felt God’s touch on her swollen belly. She seemed to hear God speak. ‘Give Sarah time to cool down, and then go back. You will bear your child. Give him the name of Ishmael – which means, ‘God hears’. God will hear you. Your son shall grow up strong, and you shall hold his children on your knee.’
Hagar did return. She did her best to follow orders and stay out of Sarah’s way – and to keep Ishmael out of her way as well.
But then came the day there were rumors – rumors of angels – rumors of Sarah and Abraham laughing out loud at the angelic good news that Sarah would have a son.
Hagar looked at her son – now in his early teens – she thought – ‘Good news! Not for me. Not for Ishmael. Hagar did not laugh when Sarah birthed a son named Isaac – which means ‘laughter’.
Little Isaac toddled from tent to tent. Ishmael saw the child fall and hurt his knee a bit. Ishmael picked him up to comfort him. When Sarah suddenly appeared and saw Ishmael with her son, her beloved Isaac, she screamed and told Hagar to ‘Get out – go away – I don’t ever want to see you again. Get out!’
Abraham had tried his best – ‘Sarah, you’re the one who brought Hagar to me. It was you who said that we should have a child through her. And now you want to throw them out – it’s not right.’
Sarah didn’t back down – ‘that boy is old enough to take your place – if you die, he will inherit everything and the child God sent to us will be left with nothing. Get rid of her and her son. Right now!
Abraham even talked with God about it. ‘They’ll die if I send them out into the desert. What can I do?’
God said, ‘Do as Sarah tells you. I will work it out. I will make of nation of multitudes for him as well – for he is your offspring.’
And now Hagar screamed at God. ‘So much for your promises, God. My son is quiet now – maybe he’s already dead. I put him over there because I can’t stand to watch him die. The child who was supposed to be Abraham’s son. He sent us out here with one skin of water and a little bread – for two of us – in a place where there is no water or food – or villages or people. What did he expect – except that we would die.’ Her sobs took over the words – her tears were blinding.
Something inside of her nudged her to go over to her son – to wrap her arms around him one more time. She got up and stumbled over rocks and brush and held his body – and she heard the promise – God had heard the cries of her son – and God had heard her cries of trouble and hopelessness – her anger and despair – God said – remember – I am going to make a great nation of him. He will have a wife –
And then through her tears – she saw –
She saw a well? Was she so far gone that she was seeing things? Why hadn’t she seen it earlier? Had God just given her a miracle?
She laid her son’s body down and hurried to fill her water skin. She poured it out on the thin cracked lips of Ishmael. At first he didn’t respond – but then he moved. He drank and drank –
She whispered to him – ‘You will live, Ishmael’ – and Hagar knew that she and her son were loved of God – and children of God’s promise – just as much as Abraham, Sarah and Isaac.
“I Love My God, Who Heard My Cry” … I love my God, who heard my cry and pitied every groan. Long as I live and troubles rise, I’ll hasten to God’s throne …
The Genesis story tells us that when Abraham died, his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave at Machpelah – where Sarah had been buried earlier. Ishmael settled from Havilah to Shur – which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria. Ishmael had twelve sons – twelve princes according to their tribes.
This story confronts us with the flaws in our spiritual fathers and mothers in the faith. This story holds the seeds of so much of the violence that has been part of world history and Christian Church history and is still playing out in real time.
This God we call the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – and Jacob’s twelve sons who would form the twelve tribes of Israel – who would journey to Egypt – where the day would come when God would hear their cries in the midst of slavery and oppression and abuse – who would be led forth from Egypt to the Promised Land – to become the people of God who would be blessed to be a blessing to all the families – this God would call these people to remember – to remember that they had been slaves – they had been oppressed – they had been strangers and aliens and outsiders – they had been hungry and thirsty – and IF they remembered well – they were to welcome the stranger – and care for the widow and orphan – perhaps they were being called to do the opposite of what Abraham and Sarah had done to Hagar and Ishmael. Maybe they were begin called to act as God had acted – to make hope and a way for the outsider – to provide for the needs of the stranger and alien –
Perhaps that is what we do each time we make room in our lives and churches for the hopeless – every time we furnish food for the hungry – every time we work to make our churches, our communities safe for our children – each time we work to stop the cycle of domestic violence and make safe houses for women and children – every time we work to make shelter for those who have none – we learn from Sarah and Abraham that there is a better way.
U2’s lead singer Bono addressed the National Prayer Breakfast in 2006 and said ‘God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives. And God is with us – if we are with them.’