“God Changes Things!”

Mark 4:26-34 (4:30-32) – June 13, 2021

            When my children were small, they loved reading time, every night before bedtime! I read them all kinds of stories. I remember reading some lovely illustrated versions of Aesop’s Fables. These taught children (and adults) some moral or practical lesson, wrapped up in engaging storytelling. Who doesn’t remember the lessons of “The Tortoise and the Hare,” (slow and steady wins the race) and “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” (honesty is the best policy)?

            The Rabbi Jesus also was a master storyteller, like Aesop.  Jesus used a different method. He regularly told parables. Parables are not quite the same as fables. Jesus told many parables to help people learn what God is like and how God wants us to live. “Parables are useful when the truth you want to share is difficult, whether difficult to hear, comprehend, or believe.” [1]

            In today’s Scripture reading from Mark chapter 4, Jesus tells two parables, both about seeds. Parables can be seen from a number of different viewpoints. Children can view a parable as a simple retelling of people planting seeds. As we age and grow, our understanding ages and grows, too. As I would sometimes tell my children, these Bible stories – or parables – are thinking-about stories. We think about them, ponder them, and ruminate over them.

            Parables, as pastor and writer Eugene Peterson has said, are in this sense like narrative time bombs. “You hear them – tick – wonder about them – tick – think maybe you’ve got it – tick – and then as you walk away – tick – or over the course of the next day or so – tick – and all of a sudden the truth Jesus meant to convey strikes home – boom! – almost overwhelming you with its implications or … blinding you with its vision.[2]

            Both parables Jesus relates talk about sowers and seeds. I was drawn to the second one in my study for this sermon, the parable of the mustard seed. How many people here today have ever seen a mustard seed? You can often see them at a produce market or ethnic food market, in the spice section. A fairly large tree will grow from that tiny seed, half as small as an apple seed!

            Children especially really like the idea of a tiny mustard seed growing into something big. Children are small, much smaller than adults. Yet, they can see a tiny little thing like a mustard seed growing big and bigger, and indeed taking over the garden, if we don’t watch out. Small children intuitively appreciate this story about something small having great influence. And perhaps, grown people who feel as if they don’t ordinarily have much influence also appreciate this parable about tiny things becoming big, grand, and having influence after all.                

            Aren’t we amazed that such a tiny seed can turn into a small tree? What is more, seeds germinate and grow when hidden under ground – hidden from everyone’s sight. As Jesus said, every small thing we do can make such a big difference. 

But it does not stop there! One little mustard seed doesn’t just produce one bush. Mustard bushes are what many people consider weeds. One quickly becomes several and several soon take over the whole field. Understanding that about mustard trees tells us something else about God’s Kingdom – it is unstoppable. It is going to fill the whole world.

Here in suburban Chicago, we are now into the beginning of June. Many gardens are starting to grow, producing flowers, and the beginnings of fruits and vegetables. Our Lord Jesus relates a number of parables about sowing seeds, and these parables have multiple meanings, and can be viewed from different points of view.

When the sower first sows seed, the plant has not started growing yet. But, there is potential for it to grow! As we sow good seeds in this congregation, these seeds have the potential to grow, too. Are we going to tend these tender young plants carefully? With love? Or, are these plants going to be left alone, and allow the weeds take over the plot of ground?

As we prayerfully consider this beloved congregation, a change seems to have come upon St. Luke’s Church, accelerated by this past year of Covid-tide. (as some church folk are now calling it) It is true that St. Luke’s Church is no longer the church it used to be, 20, 30, 40 years ago. St. Luke’s Church has changed, and the world has changed, too.

Do we – faithful believers in Christ – know what is coming next? Frankly, I do not. Our church leaders do not, either! Do you? This is a waiting time, an expectant time. A time when seeds can be sown, and nurtured, and a time when God may bring forth unexpected growth and exciting events! Are you eager to see what happens next? I know I am!

We know what happens when a caterpillar goes into a cocoon. The caterpillar gradually turns into a chrysalis, and after a time, a beautiful butterfly emerges. But – that is from the point of view of a human, watching over the chrysalis. What about the caterpillar? Did you ever think about the caterpillar’s point of view? I suspect the caterpillar has no idea of what is happening to it all the while it is in the chrysalis, transforming into that butterfly. That is where we are, now!

Can you see it? Feel it? St. Luke’s Church is on the threshold of a new thing! The sower sows the seed, and it goes into the ground, where the growth happens unseen. Something new is coming. “The Kingdom Jesus proclaims has room for everyone. It creates a new and open – and for this reason perhaps a tad frightening – future.” [3] Maybe Jesus is telling us God’s best dream for us – for St. Luke’s Church – is like that. Once God’s love gets planted in us and starts to grow, it changes everything around us forever. Sure, the next thing might be a bit frightening, from the caterpillar’s point of view, but I’m excited to see what is coming next! Aren’t you? I know God will be right by our sides, no matter what. And, it will be all right. Truly.

(Thank you to David Lose for his commentary “Preach the Truth Slant,” from “In the Meantime” in 2015. I took several extended ideas from that article. And thanks to Illustrated Ministries for their lesson for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost from Mark 4, from their 2020 Summer Children’s series.)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2015/06/pentecost-3-b-preach-the-truth-slant/

“Preach the Truth Slant,” David Lose, …in the Meantime, 2015.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

God Our Pathfinder!

“God Our Pathfinder!” – September 27, 2020

Psalm 25:1-9 (25:4-5)

Do you know people who do things or say things that are really hurtful, but never acknowledge the hurt at all? These oblivious people can make others uncomfortable, or downright angry. Even if they are shown clear evidence of their bad behavior or wrongdoing, they will not own up to it, at all.

Our Scripture reading today mostly talks about the flip side of this bad behavior – or living in God’s way, according to God’s paths. King David reflected on his life, and gives his readers an overview of his journey with God in this psalm. However, we are also given a few fascinating glimpses of David’s own stumbles – the sins and rebellion of his youth.

Which of us has not been foolish in our youth? Or, sometimes downright rebellious? Going our own way? Not listening to anyone or anything? Some people – even, many people stubbornly insist on doing things their way, over and over. And, they do not care or are oblivious of what happens to others who express caution or prudence. Knowing what King David was like in his youth, I can well see why David remembered certain situations (without giving us the painful details) right here in this overview.  

As I just mentioned, certain people are foolish and rebellious into middle age, and even beyond. I suspect David knew a number of oblivious or malicious people. He must have experienced them in his life, too. In verse 2, he asks God not to allow mean, malicious people to shame him.

Do you and I have rebellious or malicious people in our lives? That is the wonderful thing about poetry, like in the book of Psalms. When you and I read one of these songs to God, it is so simple to put ourselves in the place of the psalm writer and with him, ask God to protect us from rebellious or malicious words, acts, and deeds – and people.  

Today, we begin every worship service with a confession of sin. Just in case you or I have some sin or transgression in our hearts, thoughts or lives, this confession of sin helps us to clean our slate before God.

Before paper was common and cheap, and way before computer laptops and tablets, schoolchildren often used slates to do schoolwork. This was like a little chalkboard, and students could write their lessons out. Except – what would happen if you made mistakes? What if the math problem you worked was wrong? Then, you would need to clean or erase the marks on the slate. Just as we need to clean the slates of our lives each Sunday as we come before God in worship, we confess our sins, and we promise to repent.

To repent is to change your ways or turn from one thing to another.  Based on what they hear in church, most people simply assume that ‘repent’ means to be sorry for something you have done.  Today’s psalm reading implies that while being sorry is a good starting point, the real repenting doesn’t start until we start making changes. [1]

God’s rule book (the Bible) is a great guide and compass. David’s wise words help us know where to find God’s ways and paths. We can read Scripture, as we do together in church, we can study it and examine it more closely, and we can pray and ask God to help us continue to walk in a Godly manner, leaving behind the rebellious and malicious ways of the world.  

However, I wonder about those who are really hurting. Those who are in great pain, or those who are actively grieving a great loss, or the death of a dear loved one. Yes, these words of King David are fine for most of us, most of the time. But, for those who are intensely mourning, these words to study and follow and hearken to God’s Word seem to ring hollow.

There are psalms that reach right down inside of a person and speak to raw, grieving, mournful feelings. Psalm 4, 32, 54, 116, and 139 are good examples of God reaching out to hurting people. And, of course, we all can think of Psalm 23 and how God walks with us through the valley of the shadow.  

Scripture memory verses can help people when they are floundering through life. Many people remember memorizing verses of Scripture in Sunday school, and beyond. Some remember their children and grandchildren memorizing the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, and even parts of different catechisms.   

In this psalm, David reminds us “Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me.” This psalm calls us to look to the past to see how God has provided both growth and forgiveness. It also calls on us to be honest about our past. [2]

So different from today’s “Gospel” of a secular culture that promotes self-actualization, self-sufficiency, and instant gratification, David reminds us all that we can follow God’s ways. [3] We all can journey with God on the upward path, and receive fullness of life from God, not from online merchandise or take-out food delivered to our door.

Have you gone off the path that God has set before each of us? It is not too late to change your heart and mind. Not only say “sorry” to God, but change our ways. Get on God’s path.

David calls each of us to follow God’s way! May it be so, dear Lord.


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/09/year-proper-21-26th-sunday-in-ordinary.html

Worshiping with Children, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014.

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3905

Commentary, Psalm 25:1-10, Beth L. Tanner, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2018

[3] McCann, Jr., J. Clinton, “Psalm 25,” The New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. IV (Abingdon, Nashville, TN: 1996), 779.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Prepare!

“Prepare!”

Mark 1-3 prepare, road

Mark 1:1-8 (1:3) – December 10, 2017

This is the second weekend in December, a time of year that many people consider festive, merry and bright. The holidays here in America—with Christmas quickly approaching—are associated with tinsel, holly, and bright lights. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, silver bells, and jingle all the way.

But, that’s the secular way of welcoming the holidays. When we think of religious Christmas carols, we can remember O Little Town of Bethlehem, Angels We Have Heard on High, The First Nowell, and O Come, All Ye Faithful.

Except…it isn’t Christmas yet. We are still on the second Sunday of Advent. We are still preparing our hearts and minds for the coming of the Baby in Bethlehem. Sort of like in George Frederick Handel’s “Joy to the World,” Isaac Watts’s verse “Let every heart prepare Him room.”

The first two Sundays in Advent are more prophetic in tone. The bible readings for these two weeks look at prophecy referring to the coming of the Lord. In the case of the Apostle Peter, he is talking about the second coming of our Lord Jesus. The Gospel reading from the first chapter of Mark is about the forerunner of the Lord, John the Baptist. Mark starts off this gospel with “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet.”  John the Baptist cries, “Prepare! Prepare the way of the Lord!”

What are we supposed to prepare, anyhow? That was always a question I asked myself.

Let’s back up. We learn more about John the Baptist from the Gospel of Luke. He was Jesus’s cousin. We know about John because his older mother Elizabeth was pregnant at the same time as the young Mary, the mother of Jesus. I suspect John and Jesus grew up fairly close to one another, perhaps even seeing each other on a regular basis.

What about the people at the time of the John the Baptist and his ministry, in the first century? What did they think of him? John comes across as—what some today might call—a lunatic or crazy person. Some homeless guy, spouting weird religious stuff about the coming of the Lord, or something. Really wacko, and not very appealing. Look at what he wears! Look at his weird diet, too!

John had quite a prophecy to live up to, as well. Listen to what Isaiah the prophet has to say! “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”

Yes, we can compare John to one of those doom-and-gloom prophets with a long, bushy beard. We might see them in cartoons, walking around a downtown area with a large sign that says “Repent! Prepare! The end of the world is near!”

I know I’ve heard street preachers downtown who preach fire-and-brimstone messages, warning everyone of the judgement to come, telling people to clean up their acts. Isn’t this similar to what John was preaching? Telling people to repent and to prepare for God’s coming?

Although, God did not just send a preacher like John the Baptist one time only, two thousand years ago. No, God regularly sends those preachers into our lives today to remind us that God’s arrival is indeed just around the corner.

What’s more, we hear from one of those preachers in the New Testament lesson for the Second Sunday of Advent. In Eugene Peterson’s great modern translation “The Message,” the apostle Peter asks, “Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy life?” [1]

Living a holy life? That is exactly what John the Baptist wanted people to do, too. That is why he told people to clean up their hearts, and clean up their lives. Prepare! Get ready! John told people they had forgotten how to live like God’s people and needed to make changes. So, he baptized people who heard him, changed their minds and hearts, and wanted to make those changes permanent in their lives. [2]

We know that many people did change their hearts and minds, and did start living the way God wanted them to live, back in the time of John the Baptist. We know that many people repented and got baptized as an outward sign that they were repenting, and that God forgave their sins.

There are certain people who do not want to change. Certain people are stuck in their imperfect but familiar ruts, stuck doing the same thoughtless things, saying the same hurtful words, thinking the same inconsiderate thoughts. Everyone remembers Ebenezer Scrooge, from Charles Dickens’s story A Christmas Carol? Remember how mean and sour and nasty Scrooge was? He had absolutely no intention of changing his ways and becoming a kinder, more compassionate person—becoming more Christlike.

The people who John baptized certainly wanted to change, and they told John the Baptist so. They had a change of heart, and turned around to go a different way. They were preparing for the coming of the Lord. They were preparing the way for the Lord to work in their hearts, minds and lives. Can we do the same thing in our hearts, minds and lives, today? Or, will we cry, “Bah, humbug!” with Ebenezer Scrooge and continue on our stubborn way, away from God?

Another aspect of Scrooge’s life bears looking at. Another of Ebenezer Scrooge’s problems was that “he thought everything he had – his money, his possessions, his business – were the things that brought meaning to his life.” [3] The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future could be viewed as preachers. They came to him that evening and reminded him that all of those earthly things could be gone tomorrow. Sure, Scrooge had prepared all his earthly assets, but he had not prepared the inner sanctuary of his heart.

In the first century, in our Gospel lesson today, John the Baptist encouraged the crowds to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. We have preachers today to encourage us to do the same thing. We have the witness of conscience and the Holy Spirit to do the same thing—encourage us to change. By repenting; literally making a 180 degree turn. By stopping dead in our tracks, like old Ebenezer, and re-evaluating the course of our life.

What is more, John promised that someone was coming from God who was going to be very important. John told people that they could change and that Jesus would give them even more power to make even bigger changes.

What about us, here and now? We can hear the call of John the Baptist. We can prepare for the coming of the Messiah. We can prepare Him room, just as the Christmas Carol “Joy to the World” tells us. We can prepare the sanctuary of each of our hearts to welcome the Baby in Bethlehem who is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Won’t you prepare the way?

[1] From An Advent Journey: Devotional Guide, Week Two. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry.

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/11/year-b-second-sunday-of-advent-december.html

Year B – The Second Sunday of Advent (December 7, 2014)

[3] From An Advent Journey: Devotional Guide, Week Two. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry.

(A heartfelt thank you to An Advent Journey: Devotional Guide. Some of these sermon ideas and thoughts came directly from this guide.  I appreciate this intergenerational curriculum, which is the basis for my Advent sermon series. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Thanks so much for such great ideas!)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)