Revised Common Lectionary for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
July 16, 2017
Lessons: Isaiah 55:10-13, Alternate: Genesis 25:19-34, Psalm 65:[1-8] 9-13, Romans 8:1-11, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people receive God’s lavish gifts, and in turn we sow the good news of Jesus lavishly for all to hear, see, and know.
Key Scripture: But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty. Matthew 13:23
The idiom “between a rock and hard place,” is usually taken to mean that one is faced is faced with two options, neither of which is desirable or even particularly palatable. How often in life do we find ourselves facing such situations! Yes, life is full of tough decisions and hard choices. Sometimes these dilemmas come as no fault of our own, but all too often it is our broken humanness that leads us to sit right on the dilemma’s sharp horns. In our efforts to master and control our destiny, we have a distinct tendency to muck it up in grand fashion….
Christians are no exception. We try to be good people and do good works, to follow Jesus, but our dual nature as saint/sinner often causes us to do the very things we know we should not do. We heard about that struggle in last week’s epistle lesson with Paul’s transparent confession, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:19). We are saved by grace, but we are still prone to allow the real life consequences of poor decisions to enslave us. Whether these consequences are manifested as health issues resulting from addictions to nicotine or alcohol, or feelings of guilt or inadequacy brought on by our own actions or the actions of others, many of us walk through life wounded and stuck somewhere between grace and destruction. We know, but we can’t let go. We are redeemed, but we’re afraid to live into our identity as God’s children because deep down we feel like we don’t deserve it. Quiet desperation marks our days and stunts our growth as disciples.
On the other hand, some folks are stuck without even realizing it. Sin is something that other folks do, or it’s big stuff like murder, adultery, and theft. Going to worship, living pretty good, quiet lives, climbing the work-worn rungs to heaven, we delude ourselves into believing that if we just yank a little harder on our bootstraps it will all be fine. Again, our growth is stunted for lack of deep roots that rely on God. We all deal with rocks and hard places in different ways. We wear our pain, our hopes, and our indifference like costumes shrouding our most vulnerable parts. Perhaps that’s why more folks aren’t filling the pews of churches today. If one is going to be stuck between a rock and a hard place anyway, then why bother risking anything more? If all that’s available on a Sunday morning are pat answers and bromides served up with hard-to-sing hymns and confusing liturgy, what do we expect? No wonder folks head out the door saying “Thanks be to God” with as much enthusiasm as one greets a tax increase.
It shouldn’t be that way, and it surely doesn’t have to be so. Sure, we may be between a rock and a hard place, and life can be tough, but what if we tweak that idiom and claim it as our own to say something about life in Christ? What if we say that as Christians we are indeed between a rock (the rock of our salvation) and a hard place (life in this beautiful, broken world)? Jesus will not let us go and will not let the world crush us.
Life may be hard, and we may hurt, but we are never alone. We have amazing hope and freedom—fertile soil in which to nurture our faith. Here Paul’s words again: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Say it again and let the words sink deep into your being. This is good news for all of us.
Life between a rock and a hard place, in the already of this world and the not yet of eternity, is not such a bad place to be when your rock is Jesus. Go ahead and let your roots grow deeply into the fertile soil of Christ’s gracious love. You have nothing to lose and real life to gain.
Consider singing “Lord, Let my Heart be Good Soil” today. Incorporate time for worshipers to think about and share with their neighbors what kind of “sowing” practices they need to incorporate. How can they be both good soil to receive God as word-made-flesh and lavish sowers who are not stingy with the seeds of faith? Invite them to “listen” for God’s gardening instructions in their own lives. Whoever has ears, HEAR!
Two Sides of the Human Coin
Spend some time with youth talking about today’s lesson from Romans. Paul identifies people as either those who live according to “the flesh” or those who live according to “the Spirit.” How do we see this played out today? Why are we drawn one way over the other? Why is it so difficult to follow Jesus and so easy to do what the world and culture tells us is better? What role does our baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit play? We are both saint and sinner, being formed but not yet whole, growing but not complete.
Sowing Jesus Seeds
Take a regular seed packet and design a cover to paste to the front that says something like this:
Logos Seed Company
Yields a bumper crop of Jesus Followers
Salvation Guaranteed! For all Eternity!
Instructions: Sow lavishly, preferably in good soil that has been well prepared. Water with baptism. Nourish regularly with worship, scripture, and Holy Communion. Harvest in good faith. Trust God to take care of the details.
Ask the children what they think these seeds will grow if you sow them in your backyard? Will they grow flowers? Vegetables? Herbs? Christians? Allow for all responses, and guide the children back to the gospel lesson where God sows the Word (Jesus) lavishly. God doesn’t follow planting instructions that call for careful spacing and measuring out of seeds. God sows abundantly, knowing that by spreading the seeds of the Word everywhere, the yield will happen and faith will grow. Ask the children how we can grow Jesus followers. By sharing God’s love? By inviting people to church? By being kind and loving? By helping? By praying? Share as many possibilities as they can name. Finish with a short prayer.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
In today’s gospel lesson Jesus challenges us to open our ears and hear this story of God’s abundance as the lavish sower of seeds and the ground on which these seeds fall. Are you sower or soil? Are you lavish or stingy with the seeds of Good News? Are you good soil or rocky ground when it comes to discipleship? Or, can you see a little bit of yourself in all the roles in the story? How will you respond to God’s call? Are you ready to grow AND sow?
Stewardship at Home
Pray for opportunities to be a sower this week. Don’t stop there though! Keep a record of how many times and in what places you sow the seeds of God’s love, grace, and mercy this week. How easy is it for you to sow seeds of the good news of Jesus Christ? How about inviting not one but two, or even three people, to join you for worship or a program or service project in the congregation? Seeds don’t grow if they aren’t planted. This week’s gospel lesson encourages us to not be discouraged when our efforts fall on rocky ground or in the weeds. God will give the growth if we plant the seeds.
Photos: John Farrell Macdonald, crystalina, and Lance Cheung, Creative Commons. Thanks!
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