Sermon, July 23rd, 2017

“Good Weeds?” 
Rev. Neil Wilson

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
July 23, 2017

Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43

Redroot_Pigweed3I was tempted to title this morning’s message “Some Good Weed” without the question mark, but didn’t want anyone to get the wrong impression!

One doesn’t have to listen to much evening news to realize that this world of ours can be a scary place, full of war, famine, natural disasters, corruption and violence, state sponsored and individual but most of all perhaps, too much indifference to all these! While there is much evil there is also great beauty and moments of tremendous grace.

We live in a world of paradox, where people who love their families but will not hesitate to kill the members of other families who they consider a threat.

Good people still struggle and die while evil ones thrive.

Infants and children die of hunger every day, while dictators and oppressors live full and healthy lives.

How did this happen? Didn’t our Maker sow good seeds? Didn’t the Creator deem everything “good” in the beginning? Where, then, did all this evil come from?

Like Esau, we might feel that a conniving brother has somehow cheated us out of our worldly blessings. We begin to wonder how so many weeds sprung up in this garden.

Even in our anxiety over the weeds in life, we get a little excited when we hear this parable. There are weeds in the garden? No problem! I’ve got my gloves and hoe right here, let’s take care of them before they get out of hand!

Behind our enthusiasm is a self-certainty that we can tell the difference between a weed and wheat, between good people and less desirable ones.

But Jesus puts a damper on our enthusiasm. He calls us to leave the weeds among the wheat – let the good and the evil grow together. We just might not be wise enough to know the difference between what is good and what is evil.

What we call weeds, God may see differently – only God can finally judge anyone, or anything, or any situation in our world. If we appoint ourselves as judges, the chances are we may destroy some of the good in this world.

I assume many of you are gardeners.

When it comes to gardening what is your definition of a weed?

Something that grows where you do not want it to?

Is it a weed because it is of little or no food value?

Is it something we deem to be ugly, useless, even harmful?

It is a weed because if left unchecked it will spread out of control?

It seems to me that a weed is something we’ve determined we do not want where it is growing.

Did you know that there are instances where corn is considered a weed? (Midwestern farmers see what it called “volunteer” corn in the fields of soybeans is eradicated by the debatable use of Roundup)

Pigweed also known as Lambs Quarter is a wonderful spinach-like addition to salads.

What is an unsightly invasion of yellow to the lawn fanatic is a field filled with beauty bouquets for Mom or Dad to a child.

Now to be sure there are invasive species that are very problematic. Milfoil in our lakes for example. And what about Asian Carp in the Illinois River which is connected to Lake Michigan through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. A series of electric barriers are in place to prevent the carp from entering the Great Lakes.

Mint can take over your herb garden and then your lawn. An example of a good plant becoming a weed?

Yet God can transform the ugly in the world to things of beauty. Gang members that become mentors to youth, former drug abusers become counselors. I do not know about you, but I’m glad it’s God who does the final judging and not me.

But still, how quick I am to judge! Whenever someone flies past me on the highway, I say “Where are the troopers?” And let’s be honest, like me, you take a certain amount of pleasure when in a mile or two there they sit beside the road with a police officer busily writing out a ticket! We want to be there when justice in meted out. I want to drive by and just smile.

In fact, if it were up to me, doing such things in traffic would get them all thrown in the prison for a while. And then, just around the next corner… I find myself not living by my own rules! Thank God, it is not up to me!

We want to see people get their comeuppance, don’t we? We want the speeder nailed, the thief punished, the cheater caught, the murderer condemned. We want our thirst for vengeance satisfied. We’re so stuck on this idea in our culture that we produce and patronize movie after movie on just such a theme – the bad guy getting his/her due – usually violently.

You see there are not just weeds in the world, but weeds in our own hearts. The Apostle Paul told the Romans that it’s not just the whole creation that groans in pain, but we do as well. We groan inwardly while we wait for redemption, restoration not just for this world but for ourselves.

Vengeance is just one of those weeds; there are others: pride, envy, gluttony, dishonesty, indifference, cheating, lying, anger. They’re all there – within each of us – weeds among the wheat of our good works, our good thoughts, our love, our caring, our compassion, and our hope.

Bookstores have shelves of self-help books we buy (and sometimes read) to help us weed our inner gardens, but often the weeds seem to grow back after a while don’t they.

Here’s a thought, what if, every once in a while we stopped and gave thanks for some of these weeds instead of trying to rip all of them up by the roots?

Our anger at times can cause great pain but also great joy. Anger has harmed relationships, driven people we love away, held us hostage, and caused damage to people and things. But it is also in learning to deal with this weed of anger that we can grow to be stronger, healthier, and happier. We can learn the art of forgiveness, of compassion, and self-control. That good weed of anger has also gotten some of us involved in causes that seek to make the world a better place – that seek to make the good wheat stronger.

Think of your own weeds. Think of those things about yourself that you’re ashamed of, that you don’t want anyone to know about. Think about your weaknesses, your addictions, your guilty pleasures.

Most of the time it isn’t possible to just yank them out, is it. But they can challenge you to grow stronger, to make your wheat outgrow all the weeds in your inner garden.

In a former life and career as a logger, I did a fair amount of timber stand improvement work. The object of such work is to harvest the poor quality and less desirable trees (sometimes actually called “weed” trees) to release the higher quality/value crop trees allowing them to grow to a greater girth and height quicker.

But one had to be especially careful not to cut away all the lower quality “weed” trees for you could do more harm. The crop trees needed these “lesser” trees to protect them from strong winds and these so-called weed trees would compete with the crop trees for sunlight forcing them to grow taller, straighter and with fewer limbs thus fewer knots in the lumber.

In the end, the lesson from scripture and logging is nothing all that amazing or new:

Judge not lest you also be judged. Cast not the first stone. We cannot always see the end result, only God can. So, leave it to God to take care of most things.

Use the occasional weeds that pop up in our lives, those perceived as problems, wisely and you will find that God can redeem them – and out of them perhaps even create something beautiful in our lives. After all, this is what God does!

In the end, these are my thoughts on Jesus’ parable. I encourage you to consider them and ponder your own.

Amen.

 

Upcoming Service Notes July 23, 2017

This Sunday, July 23rd we welcome to our pulpit the Rev. Neil Wilson* whose  focal point for the service will be based on Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43.  Rev. Wilson said of this weedy parable:

pigweedWhen I was a child we had to “weed” the garden before we could go swimming in the afternoon.  I remember one hot day in my exuberance and dreaming of floating on the old innertube in the cool water, I weeded a whole row of pigweed.

Except it wasn’t pigweed but a row of young radishes!  (I don’t think I went swimming at all that week!)

In the parable of the Weeds in the Wheat Jesus portrays the Kingdom of Heaven, of which today’s church is a sign and symbol, as a mixed-bag reality.  And like that young fellow, so intent on his own interests, we cannot often tell the weeds from the wheat.  In our desire to make things neat and tidy we may not recognize the potential young plants in our midst. Continue reading Upcoming Service Notes July 23, 2017

Sermon, July 16, 2017

“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?

  1. Story and Riddle must pay attention to it if we want to understand it.
  2. Stories To make a point, stories put a face and action to all the words it would take to explain the point.
  3. Stories use common experiences so they give us a picture and action that we can always come back to.
  4. 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!
  5. 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

The Sower

  1. Unlimited supply of seed
  1. farmer today tends to soil 1st nourish it and prepare way for seed
  2. Jesus’ time seed first and then turn soil
  1. Sower is extravagant tossing seed everywhere, even in places where they are not likely to sprout and grow
  2. Sower is wasteful, even foolish for wasting good seed could be used by someone else
  3. Might shake our head at the sower action does not make sense to us.
  4. The Soil:
  1. 4 types the path which isn’t really soil; rocky soil; soil infested with thorns and weeds; and good s
  2. 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).
  3. Soil is a metaphor for heart

I

  1. 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
  1. Today (Greek understanding):
  1. Mind and will are centered in our heads (“I think therefore I am” Rene Descartes)
  2. Mind, ability to think and reason is ultimate
  3. heart is the center of our “total personality…intuition, feeling, and emotion” (Dictionary.com).
  1. Jesus’ time: heart essence of who we are
  1. encompassed intuition, feeling, emotion as well as our mind and will.
  2. 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
  1. The Seed in Mathew
  1. Working in Substance Abuse Treatment and Planting the Seed
  2. Grace of God establishing the Kingdom of God
  3. Opposition to Kingdom of Godsame as a hard heart
  4. The Extravagant, Super-Abundance of God’s Grace Seeds flung everywhere is the arena for God’s love and redemptive activity
  5. 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
  1. Seeds that come to fruition
  1. Folks who get clean and sober
  2. Rooted, sprouting and growing seeds call for a response from us otherwise the seed has not come to fruition
  3. Carry the message Be a disciple Open heart to someone not like you, someone you don’t like, an acquaintance
  4. This is what God’ Grace is doing for me
  1. The Abundance of the Harvest 7X good harvest10X True abundance30X feed a village for a year100X retire very wealthy
  1. My Mother-in-laws attention to the corn field Like God’s attention to us
  2. God has an Open Heart No matter what, God never stops trying to get our attention
  3. Never limits to God’s Grace

Upcoming Service Notes July 16, 2017

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

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!

Continue reading Upcoming Service Notes July 16, 2017

Sermon July 9, 2017

“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.

We can do this because we submit to Jesus’ yoke.

We are never alone.

Upcoming Service Notes, July 9, 2017

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

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/

This Sunday we warmly welcome Cass Poulos to our pulpit. She will have us continue with lessons in discipleship: what does it mean to be a disciple and how do we go about that, anyway?
Continue reading Upcoming Service Notes, July 9, 2017

Sermon, July 2, 2017

“I Am with You Always, to the End of Time” 
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
July 2, 2017
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Transition Sunday
Psalm 121; John 14-17

Dr. Ira Byock directed palliative care at Dartmouth Hitchcock.  His books tell us to be sure to say four things when we come to a final goodbye: please forgive me; I forgive you; thank you and I love you.

The end of every stage of life marks the transition to the next.  To be present in such a moment is to have one foot in the past and one already stepping toward something new.  It is important to make a careful ending so that we do not stumble as we make our first step toward the new life.

So it is important today that I ask your forgiveness, and that I assure you that I forgive you, and that we thank one another, and that we express our love for one another.

This is a sanctuary, meaning a safe place to feel and live our truth and know we will be accepted and affirmed as we are.  You may be in one of the stages of grief, or you may feel excited for the next stage of the journey, or you may feel all mixed up.  It is fine.  We love you.  Let your feelings be what they are.  They have something important to tell you, and then they will pass and you will feel something else.

I could not possibly speak to where every person is today, but I will speak to a place where we all go sometimes, the place of needing comfort for loss and grief. The church and Jesus Christ can help us there.
Continue reading Sermon, July 2, 2017

A Last Epistle

Dear Church Family,

This is my last letter to you. That makes me sad. I have loved serving here—loved the people, the sanctuary and building, and loved the Spirit as it has moved through you in this amazing time of healing, renewal and change. I wish I could spend many more years with you, but that has never been a possibility since I signed the pledge in my initial covenant promising that I would not seek to be your settled pastor. I have stayed almost three years, which is a year longer than I thought I would, and I am so grateful for that extra time! I came to do the job of an interim, and part of that job is to leave before our hearts would have me leave.

Another part of the job is to send you off into the future along the path that we have discerned together, the path that leads to what God is calling you to be and do. I think of the scene in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit when Gandalf has led Bilbo and the Dwarves to the edge of the dark forest of Mirkwood. They are standing where the path enters that unknown future of opportunity and danger, the path they know they need to take to fulfill their purpose in life. They are distressed that Gandalf is not traveling it with them. They hear him call his final wisdom as he rides off: “Don’t leave the path!”

My most important message to you is, “Don’t leave the path!” Continue reading A Last Epistle

Upcoming Service Notes, July 2, 2017, Tom’s Last Sunday

This Sunday will be the Rev. Tom Kinder’s last as our Interim Pastor.  Worship will be followed by a potluck farewell lunch to which all are invited.   We will read the King James Version of the 121st Psalm. We will sing a hymn with words written by Tom and a new tune by our organist, John Atwood, based on excerpts we will read from the farewell words of Jesus in Matthew and John, “I Am with You Forever More.” We will also sing “Be Thou My Vision,”  “In the Bulb There is a Flower,” and a verse of “We Are One in the Spirit.”   The choir will sing two verses of “Still, Still With Thee,” with words by Harriet Beecher Stowe and a tune from Felix Mendelssohn.

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