Come to Dinner . . . A Meditation on Luke 14:15-24

Microsoft Clip Art
Microsoft Clip Art

15 One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, ‘Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ 16Then Jesus* said to him, ‘Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. 17At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” 18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.” 19Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.” 20Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” 21So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” 22 And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” 23 Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you,* none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.” ’

On a warm June afternoon in 2000 I was sitting at the entrance to the primary hotel in Vallejo CA.  I was waiting for a bus to come and deliver John to me who was coming from the Oakland airport. I could hardly contain myself, you see in just a few short weeks I would be retiring from my consulting job and moving back to Edmonds. John was coming to help me pack-up the apartment and drive with me back to WA.  We would be married in September.  This was the beginning of 6 months of celebration that has extended into nearly 16 years.

I had accepted an invitation, I said yes. I knew that in that acceptance I would now be living a new life and one that would require me to make the choice to change from a life of taking care of only me to taking care of someone else. Now that’s a huge change for someone who was 53 and never married.  But it was a choice that I have been grateful for ever since.  You see by accepting the invitation I was transformed from a stranger into a member of a community.  And, as a result I was blessed with a new life that has had its challenges and its joys. That’s what happens when you chose to transform your life.  Life can be a bed of roses, but what you must remember is roses have thorns and you can be sure you will sometimes get stuck with one, or more, of those thorns.

Today’s scripture is not only about choosing between accepting and refusing an invitation to a banquet given by an upper class gentleman, it is about choosing between accepting or refusing to live a transformed life of free grace in the way we were meant to live. It is choosing to live as a member of a community rather than being a stranger, and, to decide living a transformed life means accepting all of that life of grace.  It means we are to commit to live that life no matter what gets thrown at us or how many thorns we run into.  Living a transformed life of grace doesn’t mean there won’t be thorns, or potholes, or great sorrows on your path. It means we are given the strength to walk through them because we aren’t traveling the road alone.

Our story this morning is about a man who has invited his friends and, probably, business associates to a banquet.  In the first century preparing a large dinner was not an easy process.  Different items were served depending on how many people RSVP’d the invitation.  If only a small number accepted then chicken fish or duck may be the main course and a larger number would result in the host preparing anything from a one lamb or oxen to preparing many.

You have to remember there was no refrigeration so all of the food had to be prepared and eaten before it spoiled.  To help prevent food wastage two invitations were sent out.  The first invitation invited the guests to the dinner and they responded yes or no but the time of the dinner was not given.  When all is ready the host sends out a second invitation calling the people to the prepared dinner.  It was extremely rude to accept the first and not come for the second invitation because that meant a huge waste of resources for the host.

The householder has invited the guests and now sends his servants to call them to the prepared dinner. But despite accepting the first invitation all of his guests find excuses for not attending.  The first guest refuses because of business issues.  The second guest let’s his possessions take precedents over his social obligations, and the third puts his home and family above attending to a promise already given.  I suppose to us these don’t seem like unreasonable reasons for not attending but what if we look at the story from a different direction.

First of all this isn’t a story isn’t about an ordinary householder.  No, our host happens to be Jesus who is inviting his guests into a relationship that will transform their lives.   How does the story and the excuses change when we see that it is Jesus who is inviting us into a banquet that will transform us from strangers into the Children of God in order to live a new life?  How will that perspective change the way we hear this parable?

So here is how the story might sound if we told it as if Jesus was throwing this shindig? The guests Jesus first invites to his amazing banquet are those he expects will accept the invitation because they already understand, or he thinks they do, what it means to live the transformed life He is offering them.  Jesus wants them to come and celebrate with Him, to become part of the new life that only happens when we accept the Divine invitation.  An invitation of free grace to live the life we are meant to live in the presence of God, Jesus and Holy Spirit.  So he sends his disciples out to bring his guests to the party; the food is ready, wine is poured, the orchestra is tuning up for an all night event.  But his disciples come back and tell him all have refused, all are too busy with the details of life, the minutia of daily living.  So what does he do, after all he has a hall prepared, food on the table, wine chilling, and musicians waiting?  Well, Jesus did just what he told his disciples to do when he sent them out to preach and the invitations they gave were refused. He “dusted the dirt from His sandals” and turns his back on those who refused him and sends his disciples out again into the streets to bring in whomever they find to the party, the good and the bad, the worthy and the unworthy.  These guests are the disadvantaged of the Jewish people; tax collectors, prostitutes, the homeless, and the ostracized because they are different.  But still he has room so he sends out his servants again this time to the people from the roads and byways around the city.  These are the people normally not considered part of the ‘Jewish family,’ these are the gentiles, the ultimate outsiders for the Jewish people.

How would we identify these people with those from today, the 21st century?  Well think of who are our people of the streets and you might first of all think of “Nicholsville,” or the man or woman standing on the corner with a sign that says “Homeless vet, needs food and job,” and think of the shop keepers in the poorest parts of Seattle, or any town for that matter. It was people like these who were the ones who were welcomed into Jesus’ party. They were the nobodies of the town and here they were going to a big shindig given by the most important person in town.  Now think of those people outside the Christian circle of community, Muslims, Buddhists, Jewish, atheist, and agnostic. Those might be our version “gentile.”

Can you imagine how they all felt?  Can’t you just hear them as they walk to the mansion, “Jesus invited me, me, to his party,” “You too, I can’t believe it,” “I was invited too, and get this, the woman said come as I am, and it didn’t matter if I’m not part of the Christian faith.  He just wants me to celebrate the Divines presence in my life as you celebrate it in yours, how cool is that.”

Unlike Jesus’ first guests these guests weren’t concerned about who they would be sitting next to at the table or who might make a big splash in the news media.  It didn’t matter to them that the person next to them was a drug addict, a thief, a prostitute, a shop keeper, a prosperous business person or followed a different faith, they were all children of the one God. They didn’t care if Jesus was failing or succeeding in life. They were excited about being invited.  They understood the importance of being invited to this banquet, this table.  They wanted to have new lives.  Unlike those first invited they knew their old lives weren’t working for them and they were willing to change and live new lives, transformed lives of grace that had meaning and where all people are recognized as family and community despite who they were or how they walked their way to God.

What Jesus was offering wasn’t a new idea for his banquet.  For centuries the Prophets of Israel were telling the people the same thing. Moses says in Deuteronomy (30:19b) “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”  In Proverbs 9 Wisdom calls to the people:

4“You that are simple, turn in here!”
    To those without sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
    and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity, and live,
    and walk in the way of insight.”

And through Isaiah God tells the Jewish people:

“ the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
    a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
    of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.”

In the New Testament James writes:

“God opposes the proud,
    but gives grace to the humble.”

God has been inviting us to the table of grace since the beginning.  She spoke through the fathers of the Jewish people, through the prophets, sent her Son and spoke through the disciples.  But we have let greed and self-centeredness takes precedence over the original message of grace.

But what does it mean to choose life?  Well “When you say ‘Yes’ to life you say ‘Amen’ to all of life as a package deal. Thereafter the so-called problems you have with personal injustice do not arise. You renounce your concept of victimhood and the old impulse to complain about being unfairly treated.” A “commitment to life  . . . refuses to make any distinction between your outer life and your inner life, or between secular and sacred spheres of life, or between loving God, loving all of life, or loving one’s neighbor, no matter who they are. Nor does it distinguish between your current life concerns or your eternal concerns. On the contrary, it simply calls for an unhesitating and unreserved ethical response to the call of life, the call of Jesus, God, and Holy Spirit – right where you are at this moment in time, at this point in your life,” to live a life where you defend justice for all and refuse to accept injustice for anyone as an expedient to living.[1] That is what Jesus taught, that’s grace. It’s not new information, its old stuff we haven’t listened to, at least not for long time.

No matter how you tell today’s story it’s about Divine invitations, the acceptance of grace, and how you live once you’ve accepted God’s grace. When John asked me to marry him, I had a number of options.  Like the first invited guests I could have refused and that would have been that.  I don’t know where I would have been 16 years later but I am quite certain it wouldn’t have been here.  But I did say yes and again to that yes I had options as to how I was going to live within this new relationship.  One way was I could continue to behave as I have always behaved, just as the first guests invited to the banquet.  Taking care of me, making sure I had what I wanted and what I needed.  Yes John would be there but our relationship would not have been very deep because I wouldn’t have let him into the deeper part of me, the part of me that would have built the relationship where both of us would have lived a transformed life.  But I chose to say yes and I chose to attend my life banquet. I let John into my heart and said we are partners and what I do and what you do will affect and change who we both are.  We looked at the covenant of our marriage and said we do this together as one, not as two people living their own lives in one house.  When I accepted John’s invitation to marry, when I accepted that covenant, I had no clue as to what that might look like, but I knew I was going to have to change if I was going to make my life with John. And yes it hasn’t always been sunshine and flowers.  Sometimes we have had our thorny moments. But it was because we chose to live a life together as one that we had the strength to overcome all thorns and rocks in our path. While my wedding story wasn’t about God’s grace specifically, by accepting my invitation I discovered grace in a way I did not expect, and that is how it sometimes work.

As many diverse faith community’s we are given a Divine invitation to free grace every time we choose to come invite to our tables all people no matter who they are. We have heard this invitation before and we accepted it with our desire to be who we, as individuals and as communities, were meant to live. We are invited to a banquet of grace, welcoming every single one of us to the head table, and No  questions asked about our past or how many times we haven’t understood, if we believe a certain way, or look a certain way. No the Divine wants us to come and join Her. To laugh and sing and eat together, to tell jokes, and play games.  To dance to the music that life brings us, and cry together when life brings us sorrows. We are asked to change who we are at our deepest level and live grace filled lives that do not see differences between us, whether they are gender, racial, religious beliefs, cultural, social, or political. He asks us to live a life where we see only brothers and sisters and not people of different abilities, colors, faiths, or cultures.

We can change the world we live in, we can change the world by being the people we are meant to be, a people of grace, by being a people who refuse to accept evil, greed, and self-centeredness as the status quo.  We can change the world by refusing to accept war as the only solution, or that homelessness and hunger is just part of life.  We can change the world by seeing each other as the Children of God, living the life God meant us to live.

The banquet meal is ready to be served: lamb roasted, wine poured out, table set with silver and flowers. . . .  Jesus goes to town, stands on the street corner, and invites everyone within the sound of his voice: Come, rich and poor alike, come the worthy and the unworthy, come with me, oh come, and celebrate the joining of our spirits! I’ve prepared a wonderful spread—fresh-baked bread, carefully selected wines. Leave your lives of self-centeredness, loneliness, fear, poverty, greed, and come, celebrate with me! Come celebrate a life with meaning, a life of grace. Come change your lives, remember to live transformed, not only your inner selves, but also your outer selves.  Put on your cloak of joy and celebration and come, walk up the street to a life with meaning.”[2]

Amen

 

[1] Cupitt, Don: Life, Life, Polebridge Press, Santa Rosa, CA, 2003, pg 6-7.

[2] Proverbs 9:1-6

All Means ALL

All means ALL
All means ALL

My thoughts over the last couple of months have been over whelmed by the violence, the bullying, the tragedy, and the anger that has played across my TV screen, computer, radio and newspaper in the last couple of months.  I have seen the quote by some famous person that reads “those who keep silent in the face of evil are giving their approval,” or the pictures’ displaying one perspective versus another and which one has the greatest validity.  I am left speechless and in pain.  Yes I have heard that even one small act of mercy changes someone and I have used those very words myself many times. Do what you can and ‘wait,’ wait for minds to change, or for hearts to open,  . . . wait for what.

The scripture for Sunday came from Isaiah and begins with “Comfort, O Comfort my people” (40:1), but, I’m sorry I don’t feel that comfort.  I offer prayers, I read, and I listen.  I volunteer at the King County Juvenile Detention Center, here at church, and lead the occasional spiritual retreat and labyrinth walk, yet, except for Juvenile Detention CTR, I feel as if I am “preaching to the choir,” so to speak.  Where in all of these days of suffering, and confusion does the offering come that provides more than my comfort and brings a justly faithful, hopeful, loving comfort to those who do not share my skin color, or language, or culture, or gender, or abilities, or whatever makes them different from the so called “main stream” of the population.

This meditation was intended to be an inspirational moment.  But I am not feeling very inspirational, just too much has happened in the last couple of months.  So I ask your forgiveness for talking through some of my thoughts.  I live in a world that appears to be falling apart as I sit my comfortable, warm home.  I keep asking what will stop the building blocks our lives from tumbling into the abyss.

I am afraid we are headed into a storm of our own making that will destroy us.  We won’t need to be invaded, no; we are doing a grand job of destruction all by ourselves.   Voices of change and compassion, justice, mercy, and peace are drowned out by hateful speech by bullies in high places.  The actions and words of those high placed bullies give permission to those who fear the unknown to be violent and destructive at the ground roots level.  Hateful speech and actions becomes a cancer eating away at our will to fight against justice and mercy.

So I sit in my little home office, offering prayers, and volunteering when the opportunity arises.  I do my small acts that I pray are being added to other small acts, but I don’t know if any of it will be enough. Our denominations GLBQ organization used the slogan “All Means ALL” at our last national General Assembly.  They wanted to get the message across that everyone matters, despite gender identification, skin color, religion, or culture everyone is important.  There are very few slogans I actually believe in, but I believe in that one.  If I can do nothing other than let each and every person know how much they matter in my life, in the life of my Faith Community, and in the life of the greater community we are all part of then I have done the best I can.  That will have to be enough.

Ruth Jewell, ©December 8, 2014

Prepare the Way – Prayerful Tuesday

A New Day is Coming
A New Day is Coming

Matthew 3:3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”

Unfortunately I never had children.  However, I have been blessed to be Grammy to my husband John’s two youngest grandchildren.  I remember how excited I was to hear our Daughter-in-Law, Laura, tell us she was pregnant and I could hardly wait to see this new addition to our family.  Liam was born on John’s birthday in 2007 and he is now 7 year old, actually soon to be 8 and is becoming a wonderful young man.

I have been thinking about what it took to prepare for Liam’s arrival.  So many things go into preparing for newborn; baby clothes, blankets, crib, diapers, binkies, blankets, toys, rattles, bottles, booties, the list is endless.  And you can be sure you will forget something in all the hustle bustle of getting ready.

We are in the first week of Advent and I was thinking about what Mary would have done to get ready.  The first thing she would have to do was tell her intended husband she was pregnant and I can only imagine how the conversation went.

“Ah Joseph, I have to tell you something.”

“Yes Mary what is it.”

“Now I want you sit down and listen to what I say, I know it will be hard to understand, I don’t understand myself, but this is the truth.”

“Just tell me Mary, it will be ok.”

“ Weeell, 3 months ago I was visited by an angel of the Lord and he told me that I had been chosen above all other women, to bear the child of the Most High. He said the Holy Spirit would come upon me and, ah, it happened, I’m pregnant.”

Silence.

“ Ah, Mary , you are telling me your pregnant, and it is YHYW’s child. That’s a little hard to believe.”

“I know but, before you do anything, like report me to the temple authorities, just think about it.”

“Ok, I’ll think about it, but this I will tell you the wedding is off but I won’t have you taken before the authorities, I still love you and I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

“You will know what’s best to do Joseph.”

Mary was a teenager, maybe as young as 13 years, and being an unwed mother in the first century was not an acceptable practice. Stoning of the woman was the rule and Mary had every right to be afraid.  She didn’t know what Joseph would do.  She didn’t know that He would be visited by the same angel who would tell him he has nothing to fear.  Mary, like any young woman who finds herself pregnant, was fearful of what could happen to her.  Just preparing to tell those she hoped loved her would be a fearful experience. Her pregnancy would bring shame and humiliation upon her family and Joseph so simply getting the courage to tell of her predicament would take time.  Maybe that is why she went to visit her Cousin Elizabeth to gather the courage to tell her wonderful, terrifying secret.

In the next 4 weeks we too will be preparing.  No we aren’t in Mary’s sandals, but, we have those things that terrify us as we get ready for the celebration the Christ Child’s birth.  We have our own secrets that we keep buried within us. In the last couple of years the racial bias, gender bias, bias against women, poor, and elderly have come out into the open.  All of us, me included, carry some level of all those biases.  It is learning to admit that I, we all, carry fear toward someone different that raises those fears and biases from subconscious to conscious where they light of day can heal them.

Advent is about preparation, it is about hope, it is about faith, it is about love, it is about peace entering where angels fear to tread.  This advent I am taking my fears out of the shadows and finding the way to heal the wounds they cause. Letting the light of hope, faith, and love change them from fear to acceptance.  In prayer, in meditation, and with Advent prayer books I am working, trying hard, to change how I see the world.

What fears, what biases cause you to afraid of someone from a different faith, with a different color skin, is poor, or elderly keeping you from experiencing the amazing peace, hope, faith and love that the presence of the Christ child offers to you?  I invite you to ponder the above scripture this week, to pray about how to prepare your heart for the celebration of the Christ’s birth.

Ruth Jewell, ©December 2, 2014

Prepare — Prayerful Tuesday

Preparing Split Pea Soup
Preparing Split Pea Soup

3 A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Isaiah 40:3

The other Sunday I and a friend of mine were in charge of the coffee hour after worship.  It was going to be a cold November day and I wanted to do something different and special for people I care about.  Cherry and I talked it over and decided, since there was an Elders meeting after worship, a light meal of homemade soup, salad and bread would be a perfect offering. Cherry decided on making a chicken soup and bringing the rolls.  I decided on a vegetarian split pea soup and also brought the salad.

I have read and heard the words of the prophet Isaiah all of my life and have loved many of the songs and chants written around this verse.  But as I was preparing the soup for Sunday the words struck me a little deeper.  The picture above is the ingredients for my soup.  Simple wholesome ingredients; dried split peas, herbs, and garlic and onions, from my own garden, and fresh carrots and celery from the farmers market go into making this really simple soup. (Recipe Below)  As I scrubbed the carrots and celery I thought about who would eat my soup and in the process of browning chopped onions and garlic in olive oil the act of making the soup became an act of prayer.

The people who would share in my offering were the people of my faith community and any visitors we might have.  People I love and care about, but, more than that, it was an extended sharing from the communion table. The breaking of bread, the ladling of hot soup all became part of the feast Christ sets before us every Sunday.

As a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) we prepare and offer communion every Sunday.  We carefully set out bread and cup and share it with each other and as I prepared this simple meal that would be served after worship we were continuing a 2000 year old tradition of breaking bread and pouring cup then going in to share a common meal.  That is what the first followers of Jesus did.  They shared more than just a piece of bread and thimble full of wine.  They shared a whole meal together, rich or poor, aristocrat or tent maker, all ate from the same serving bowl.

I have helped prepare and serve hot meals for the homeless, and I routinely make up food bags to give to the homeless I see on the streets and while I may not sit down with each person I offer food too it is still communion.  It is a sharing of food, and drink, and recognizing that what I give doesn’t come from me, but from God, Christ, and Holy Spirit.  I am only the servant who is trying to fulfill Christ’s commandment; “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. (Matthew 25:35)

In the process of preparing to serve others I am preparing to serve Jesus, to follow, as faithfully as possible, the path Jesus leads me on.  I know I will stumble, but Jesus will be there to pick me up; I will wander off the path, but the Holy Spirit will be there to lead me back; and I will grow weary, but God will be there to cradle me in her arms until I am rested.

The spiritual practice I am inviting you to share in this Advent season is to find the sacred in all that you are preparing for your own celebrations.  In what ways are you preparing for the Lord in your everyday life?  With whom will you celebrate the feast of God?  As you await the birth of the Christ child let your preparations become an act of prayer, for those you love and those you may not know.

May the peace of Christ be with you, always

Ruth’s Pea Soup
about 8 servings

1 lb. dry green or yellow peas
3 quarts of cold water (or 1 qt vegetable stock and 2 quarts cold water)
1 large carrot, sliced in to small pieces
1 small celery stick chopped
1/8 cup olive oil
1 small onion or 4 large green onions
4 large cloves of garlic, pressed or chopped fine
¼ teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon fresh mint
1 tablespoon fresh herbs (I like fresh rosemary, summer savory, and thyme)
¼ teaspoon sea salt
Pepper to taste

In the bottom of a large pot sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil until soft.  Add the turmeric, stir then add the carrots and celery. Add the peas and cold water into a large saucepan; add the herbs and salt to the saucepan; add the pepper to taste.  Cook over low to medium heat until the peas are very soft.  Remove from the heat and run through a ricer or press through a colander to remove the hulls.  Return the soup to the saucepan and heat to eating temperature.  Serve with a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt.

Notes:  Use only 1 teaspoon of dried mint or herbs when substituting for fresh. I will use whatever fresh herbs I have on hand but I prefer 1 tablespoon each of fresh thyme and summer savory.  If you want a more salty taste you can add a teaspoon of spike or one of the other herbal salt substitutes when cooking.  I also like to sprinkle fresh chopped chives (either onion or garlic) over the sour cream or yogurt when serving.

Source: A Ruth Thompson original recipe that I first made sometime in early 1980’s.

Ruth Jewell, ©November 25, 2014

Good Soil, Bad Soil

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Romans 8:9a
But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit,
since the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Romans 8:9a

 

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

1That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.9Let anyone with ears – listen!’

18 ‘Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But 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.’

The word of the Lord

Please join me in prayer:

Source of Life may all that offer this today be acceptable in your sight, Amen.

———

Today’s scripture is a popular one among biblical storytellers and so all of us have heard this many times in many ways.  We have heard many interpretations as well, so many in fact that in all likelihood we all think “Oh I know that one, it’s an old one and I like what it says.”  I thought the same thing, at first, but then I began to look more closely at what was being said and what I thought I heard and what I was actually hearing.  I was surprised to realize, I hadn’t heard it all.

Parables are multi-layered, like a Russian doll, you think there is only one doll until you start opening it up and discover many little dolls hiding within. Parables are like that, layers wrapped in layers.  I didn’t read the middle portion of this scripture where Jesus tells his disciples one very important lesson, and that is those who want knowledge will open his parables up to discover the many layers, messages, hidden within, and those who don’t will simply hear a story about a really bad farmer.  So I am going to try and open this story up bit, and, maybe we will find a layer within we didn’t expect.

Because this is such a familiar story to all of us I am going to try something a little different this morning and hope that we all see this story in a new light.  Because this is such a visual story I am going to lead you in a guided meditation.  I am going to read only verses 1-17; so get comfortable, with both feet on the floor.

Now close your eyes and take a deep slow breath, let it out slowly, … take another deep slow breath, … let it out slowly.

You are one of the disciples of the teacher Jesus and after spending the night in the home of a friend Jesus goes out early in the morning to the shore of the Sea of Galilee. … Many people come to see and listen to this teacher of yours and to hear what he has to say, … so many in fact that there is no room for Jesus … to sit or stand on the beach.  …  Jesus asks one of your fellow disciples to get a boat and pull it up on the shore.  … He gets in and asks everyone to sit.   …  You and the other disciples sit in the sand forming a half circle around the boat and the crowd finds their places behind you.   …   As you sit and wait for the crowd to become silent you are aware of your surroundings,  …  of the sound of the water lapping gently on the shore, shore birds calling, … a gentle breeze blows across the water, …  and there is the pleasant smell of fresh fish coming from the boat.  …  The sun hasn’t yet climbed far into the sky but it is warm on your back and the sand is still comfortably cool.

Jesus begins to speak.

“‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. … 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path,  …  and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, … where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But  …  when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, … they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. …   8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, … some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. …  9Let anyone with ears – listen!’”

You and your fellow disciples are confused by the story … it seems simple yet you know there has to be more to it … or Jesus wouldn’t have told it. …  So one of the disciples ask a question; … “Teacher, … ‘Why do you speak in parables? …  We are confused but we know there is more to this than a simple story’”

Jesus smiles at you and says:

‘To you it has been given to know the secretsof the kingdom of heaven, …  but to crowds … it has not been given. … 12For to those who have, will be given more, … and they will have an abundance;  … but from those who have nothing,  …  even what they have will be taken away. … 13The reason I speak to them in parables is that … “seeing they do not perceive, … and hearing they do not listen, … nor do they understand.” … 14With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:
“You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
15 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.”
16But blessed are your eyes, … for they see, … and your ears, …  for they hear. … 17Truly I tell you, … many prophets and righteous people … longed to see what you see, but did not see it, … and to hear what you hear, … but did not hear it.

[Pause for moment and then ring the chime]

Well did you hear a new message in the story?  Did you hear the story open up in a new way and did you find a new layer that you hadn’t seen or heard before? I cannot speak for you I can only speak of my own heart. I can only speak of what I have heard.  And, I would like to offer my budding new understanding of this parable, a new layer for me.  Your new layer maybe different from mine and that’s ok, we learn from each other and my layer of this story may or may not resonate with yours but it might be a layer you hadn’t seen before and cause you to think.  I hope you will tell me yours sometime so that you will cause me think.

So here is the new layer I discovered as I listened to Jesus.  I didn’t feel like a disciple in the story, rather I felt like one of the crowd who was thinking about following Jesus. When I heard the story I thought Jesus was comparing me to the seed being sown and I wasn’t sure I liked what I heard. I was close enough to hear the question of the disciples and Jesus answer and my first thought is “How rude of Jesus not to make the message plain to all of us.”  Then I thought again, “OK, if there is a hidden message, what is it? And, how do I tease it out?”

As you can see this internal conversation has caused me to almost miss the rest of the Jesus’ answer so I listen again and hear.

18 ‘Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But 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.’”

Ah … the story isn’t about being a careful farmer and planting the seed in good, rich and well watered soil after all. Rather it’s about who will have the staying power to follow Jesus and spread more seeds.  OK, I get.  But I still have questions.  You see I do some farming, and yes my harvest is best when the seed is grown in the right place, but like all good farmers I’ve learned that seed that falls in difficult soil has its good qualities as well, it is often more hardy and will survive when no other seed would.  What would it look like if considered for a moment the seed in this story and thought about how what the seed does and how that helps the sower?  If I am going to be a seed for the Kingdom don’t I need to be strong?

Don’t I really need to work hard and build up my strength because this won’t be an easy task?  So maybe falling on dry hard ground where I have to quickly dig deep into soil, taking up as much water as I can and learn to make efficient use of nutrients when they are available in order to grow. Wouldn’t that be a good thing? I know seeds that do that and they do well in dry places.

Or, what about the seed that falls on thorny ground and to prevent being overrun by thorns adapts and develops protection that would keep the thorns from killing me.  I’ve seen plants do that as well so I know it works and such plants thrive.  Or, consider the seed that falls on rocky ground.  Here I have to learn to extend my roots around obstacles, breaking down some of the rocks into new soil.  With deep, strong roots, I will do quite well, I know that because I’ve seen plants that do. So while I’ve not landed in an ideal place, I learned to survive and I may have produced only 10% compared to the 30 or 60% of the seeds planted in good soil.  But that’s still something and there will be seeds for the sower to spread around in the next year. And if there is a draught, or someone seeds the farmers field with weeds, or he has to sow his seed in a rocky field I know that the seed that has had to struggle will do very well and produce a crop, which could mean the difference for the farmer between eating and starving.

How do I compare that scenario to Jesus answer?  Well being a seed on the dry, hard ground of kingdom means I have to work hard at understanding. Not giving up but keep digging for the treasure found within me and those around me even when it seems hopelessly dry.  When, I land in an area where the temptations of the world try to tear me away from my path to follow Jesus, I have to work harder to keep the message of the kingdom in front of me while I work within the world.  And, when I hear the kingdoms message and find it sweet like honey but the world lays obstacles in my path I have to remember to let my roots grow with study and contemplation in order to break down the rocks in my path so that I am able to spread my seed-children, the good news of the Kingdom, in new soil.

Why wouldn’t I want to be planted in nice rich soil, with plenty of nutrients, in other words, why would I not like the task of spreading the word of the kingdom to be easy?  Well, from a farmer’s perspective, seed that is always grown in nice rich soil does produce a lot of seed; however, a lot of that seed will not have the ability to fight off disease, or draught.  That means if there is any kind of environmental stress your crop will most likely fail.  However, if you harvest seed from plants that have had to withstand stress the resulting plants will be strong and healthy even under stressful conditions and the farmer has a crop to sell and eat.

It’s the same with the seed of the kingdom.  If receiving the word is easy and you don’t have to work for it then when something challenges you, you and your community will struggle and maybe not survive.  It has been my experience that working hard for anything means I value it more and I learn to distinguish what is false and what is true because I need to do it to live into the message Jesus taught me.

Jesus told this story because he knew what his disciples, and anyone else who followed him, would need strength in order to stand against the world’s trials, temptations, and obstacles as they spread the word of the kingdom of God. He knew they were going to be tested with many trials and how they responded to those trials would test their resolve and determine whether or not the Good News was spread.  So his disciples were going to have to dig deep into inner territory, sending down strong roots into their soul to anchor their faith and learn to protect themselves from thorny individuals by loving instead of hating them. So you see it wasn’t the easy road and productive communities that defined the movement called THE WAY, it was those who experienced suffering, struggle, trials, doubts, who loved their enemies despite persecution that defined the followers of Jesus.

That definition of struggle and hardship is what defines us today, or should be anyway. Maybe in years past some of us have had it so easy to be “Christian” that we have forgotten what it means to be a follower of THE WAY.  Those who cannot bring themselves to dig deep within, to doubt, question and be willing to live into mystery and paradox may fall by the way side.  But some will strike out into the wilderness and learn how to thrive and how to spread the Good News despite draught, thorns or obstacles.

So my question to each of you is what do you identify with in this parable? Mine was the seed on less than ideal ground.  Are you the seed on good soil, but when disaster strikes you are unable to go on? Or, are you the seed that lands in dry, thorny, rocky land, are you the seed that fights and struggles bringing into fruition the best fruit you can? We all have choices; I’ve chosen what I will do.  How do you choose?

Ruth Jewell, ©Sermon, Queen Anne Christian Church, July 13, 2014

Salt and Light

Salt light

Sermon, Queen Anne Christian Church
February 9, 2014

I was supposed to preach yesterday, but because of snow all of the streets to the church were closed.  You see Queen Anne Christian Church is at the top of Queen Anne Hill and the wise DOT decided it was too dangerous for people to drive up either side of the hill, therefore church was cancelled. So instead I will offer my sermon here.  Enjoy

Matthew 5:13-20 (NRSV)

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. (Isa. 49:6) A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, [a] not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks[b] one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

In one of the early classes I took with Father Raschko at STM there was this long discussion about the differences between each of the 4 Gospels.  You know, Mark was written first, then Matthew and Luke, who used Mark as a blue print, and John was last and totally different.  Now Father Raschko is a Mark scholar and he loves Mark.  The Gospel of Matthew is OK, but in the words of Father Raschko Matthew was out to correct all of the mistakes Mark had made.  I, in my first or second year enthusiasm decided to sit down and compare them to see if he was right.  Silly me

I have to admit after reading both of them I discovered I loved the Gospel of Mark.  I mean there is that whole messianic message mystery thing he has going on.  You get to the end, all the endings, and it says go back to the beginning, it’s a mystery and who doesn’t love a mystery.  But I found I truly loved the Gospel of Matthew.

Matthew doesn’t write about mystery, well not the way Mark does anyway. He writes about an itinerate Jewish Rabbi, he places Jesus within the historical and cultural landscape of God’s very own people.  In Matthew’s Gospel he connects the Hebrew Scriptures and the peoples own history to what Jesus did to fulfill the scripture.  He writes about doing: about being intentional as a follower of Jesus. In a lot of ways the Gospel Matthew is a Do-It-Yourself manual for how to become a follower of Jesus. Matthew connects the actions of Jesus to the law and the prophets. He expected his own community of first century Christians to do the same.

In today’s scripture Jesus gives an introduction to what the mission of his disciples and followers will be. With the words “you are salt, and you are light” He identifies the ground rules for someone who wishes to become one of his followers. Jesus doesn’t say you should be salt, or you might be light, no, he is telling his disciples, the crowd and us, we are salt and we are light for the communities we live in.  It was the disciples and now it is you and I that is to add the goodness into the lives of those we meet, provide balance and savoriness in our communities, just as salt does for the foods we eat. It is us, you and me, who are to intentionally disrupt the status quo and care for the dispossessed, and those who are hungry and ill.  We are to work for justice and show mercy, and be peacemakers, other words we are to stand up for what we believe with no expectations of ever being rewarded. Just as salt does its job without announcing its presence in the food we eat we are to do all these things not to bring ourselves recognition but because that is just what we are supposed to do.  Just as salt is hidden within our food bringing brightness and goodness to the final product, Jesus wants us as his followers to hide within the community and bring brightness and goodness to the world around us. To do otherwise means we have lost our saltiness and not helpful to the work needed by the Kingdom of God.

Jesus then recalls the prophet Isaiah who says:

I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (49:6b)

Jesus tells his disciples “you are the light of the world, to both Jew and Gentile, and you can’t hide the light. We too are to let the light shine. This means we are not just salt and supposed to care for others, fight for justice, extend mercy and be peacemakers without an expectation of a reward we are to be the mirror that reflects God’s light into the darkness we humans so frequently to gather within and around us. We are to reflect the graciously given gift of God’s light within ourselves to illuminate the darkness in our own souls. To recognize and open the dark spaces within our souls so that we are better able to reflect God’s light outward to those around us so they too may live in Gods loving light.

We are to let the light shine without focusing the light on ourselves. We are to care for those around us and to carefully walk with God, not in front, but alongside.  We have to take all the good acts we see being done in the world and go one step farther.  And that means it is not in what we say we do, it is in what we DO that is important. Jesus wants us to be intentionally active in whatever way we are called to be, not sitting on the couch or watching others. We are to be the advocate for the voiceless, the homeless, and the dispossessed. It also means just like a mirror we are only the glass that reflects the glory of God and the Kingdom of God. We are to be behind the light being the lens that focus’ the beam on who those needing the light.

We are to be advocates for social justice, advocates for the hungry, the homeless, the incarcerated, and advocates for peace but we are to say “we have done nothing; it is God working through us that has done these things.”   This is where those Matthew called “scribes and Pharisees” got it wrong. Yes they did good works but they made sure everyone knew it. God’s command is we are to do good acts because it’s the right thing to do, not inflate our own ego’s

Today we have modern “scribes and Pharisees” who do the same thing and sometimes I’m one of them.  The hardest thing for me to do is setting aside my own ego and let God stand in front of me, you see I don’t always like taking a back seat.  I must admit that I am all too often a card carrying member of the Pharisee club and I am not proud of that.  I am sure I am not alone in being a member we are, after all, humans, who make choices sometimes there are good ones and sometimes not so good.  It is a good day when I intentionally start it with the words “today I am the mirror, I am the salt.

Ruth Jewell, © February 10, 2014

Prayerful Tuesday – “I the God of Israel will not forsake them”

 

God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform; by Wm Cowper Picture by NASA
God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform        words by Wm Cowper
Picture by NASA

Isaiah 41:17-20
17
When the poor and needy seek water,
and there is none,
and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them,
I the God of Israel will not forsake them.

18I will open rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the midst of the valleys;
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
and the dry land springs of water.

19I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive;
I will set in the desert the cypress,
the plane and the pine together,

20so that all may see and know,
all may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it. 

Advent, a time of waiting, a gestation time of new beginnings, I have heard those words many times over many Advents.  And, while all this waiting is important I have a confession to make, I hate waiting!  Yes, my impatience frequently gets me into trouble, with G-d and with those around me.  I begin before the preparation has been completed and my task, while not a total failure, does not live up to its potential.  Patience is not one of the gifts G-d has seen fit to give me. It is something I have been trying to learn for 66 years and I am still not very good at it.

I admit to being one of those thirsty people in the desert who wants to have water and I want now!  If I had been with the Israelites in the Sinai I would have marched right up to Moses and said “I’m thirsty, I need water and I need it now!”  And I am sure Moses would have looked at me with a jaundiced eye and said “get a grip; learn some patience for crying out loud.  You are out of Egypt so be grateful for what you have and quite complaining!”  Yep that would have been me hearing those words.   Yet in Isaiah we hear that G-d will provide water and more to those who are poor and in need and it is not lost on me that G-d came through with food and water during the Exodus.  So yes I do believe G-d, in Her own good Time and Way, will provide.

The key to this waiting is “in Her own good Time and Way” G-d will offer the drink and food we need and it’s always in that perfect moment.  The moment when we not only need it the most but the moment when we are open the widest for hearing G-d’s voice speak the Word we so desperately thirst and hunger for.

For the last two and half years I have been in my own time of Advent, walking in a wilderness of my own making as I waited for G-d to give me a Word I could respond to about where my ministry would take me.  And in that time there have been many impatient moments.  Many times I have tried to hurry G‑d.  I have tried to guess what She will speak and tried starting a task with no direction from Her.  It rarely works out because you cannot hurry G-d.  G-d will speak when the time is right, when my heart is open the widest to hear G-d speak and not before.

Through out this time G-d has been allowing a ministry to begin gestating within me.  To grow in concept piece by piece, step by step while at the same time letting G-d open me up to whom I am and who She is. I am learning that G‑d is my greatest counselor, friend, lover, supporter, confidant, comforter, and confessor.  All I have to do is live a life that puts G-d first, keep our relationship strong and allowing the counselor, friend, lover, supporter, confidant, comforter, and confessor work through me in a working partnership with Her.

It seems as if it would be easy to do what G-d asks of us doesn’t it?  But it is not.  Ask the Israelites how hard it was to follow the path G-d laid before them.  Ask the disciples how hard it was to walk the path Jesus laid before them.  Each one will tell you it is not easy.  Yes G-d will provide for the poor and needy but verse 41:20 of Isaiah says it best.  We are to “… see and know … consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.” We fail hopelessly in that understanding.  All too often we take G-d’s handiwork for granted and do not see what the Lord does for us.  I, just like the rest of the human race, all too often think we are entitled to the abundance we see around us.  We forget just where and who it comes from, where and from whom we come from.  It has taken me a life time to understand in a small way the meaning of verse 20.  And, it has only been in the last year and half that I have worked hardest to be patient and to let G-d speak when She is ready and not me.

And now G-d is bringing me closer to an understanding of what my role as Her partner will be.  And, somehow I feel it is appropriate that G-d picked Advent for this to happen, the time for me to begin to feel the movement of a baby ministry within me.  I am excited and scared about bringing into reality this ministry of my very own.  It takes courage for me to step out and claim my role as G-d partner a courage I do not always have.  I have many fears; will I be worthy of G-ds trust, will I hurry this up and as a result rush to completion what needed time to grow, will I give up saying “sorry G-d this to hard for me,” will I simply not be enough for the task.  There are so many fears, so much excitement, and so many hopes.  The future I do not know, only G-d does, so I will keep waiting, and listening, and moving with G-d’s time and moments.  Patience is really hard but I continue to learn to lean into the open arms and let G-d teach me.

This Week’s Spiritual Practice

Do you have something waiting to emerge from you?  Waiting is hard (just ask any 4 year old) but it can be done. So this week I simply ask that each day you find yourself a quiet place and sit in silence for 5 to 20 minutes.  Listen for a Word from G-d.  It might be a Word about doing something, or it might be G-d whispering “I love you.”  Just remember whatever happens let it happen in G-d’s time not yours and be grateful for the time spent with G-d.

Ruth Jewell, ©December 10, 2013