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In Step With the Spirit

(a sermon for July 1, 2018, the 6th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Galatians 5:1, 13-25)

In a collection of sermons and other writings entitled Flesh and Bone, the Rev. Dr. A.K.M. Adam – Boston born Biblical scholar and theologian currently on the faculty at Oxford University – writes about his own journey of faith, confessing that there was a time in his life when he didn’t want to follow Jesus.  In fact, he writes, “I didn’t need Jesus [and] I didn’t have any use for anyone who did need Jesus… I was a skeptic, and I meant business about it.”

But something changed, though Adam freely admits that he isn’t sure what. There was “no blinding light, no voice from heaven,” he says. “I can’t tell you about God appearing to me from heaven and slapping me upside my head, or Elijah coming and tossing a cloak onto me, and me then dropping my plow and following.”  This was partly, Adam goes on to say, because he wasn’t aware of what was happening to him even as it was happening, but mostly it was “because God’s way is usually not to do things with spotlights and special effects, but instead to manage the tiny details in such a way that things just happen in the right way.”  Adam writes that “the God who bent my will from defiance and skepticism to submission and faith didn’t bludgeon me, didn’t beat me with a stick to change my mind, but just set me up to change my own mind.”

I actually found that to be a pretty good explanation as to how belief comes to be; and I also suspect that truth be told, most of us can relate to Adam’s story!  For whereas some of us in this room today might well be able to name the specific time and place where we came to faith, it’s more likely that the majority of us have taken that journey step by step, day by day, experience by experience.   The truth of the matter is that a great many of us are, as they say, “born skeptics,” wondering even as we sit in these pews if this religion thing is all it’s cracked up to be!  And even if we are aware that there’s someone bigger than you and me at work here, we find ourselves wondering aloud why things in this world aren’t working out better than they are! But then, there are also those among us who are content to be looking for the road signs along the way; delighting in the happenstances and messages that pop up from time to time that not only remind us who and whose we are, but also serve to assure us that we’re headed in just the right direction (albeit with a course correction or two!).

The trouble with this, however, is that these kind of road signs aren’t always that obvious; in fact, oftentimes they’re so small as to be almost indiscernible!  I remember once, years ago, having been asked to lead a graveside service at a cemetery way out in the hinterlands of western Maine.  This was in the days before cel phones and GPS units, but I’d been given very specific directions from the funeral home that at the bottom of a long hill on the highway, I was to take the first left, and then, after a couple of miles, I’d find the cemetery.  And that’s what I did – or that’s what I thought I did (!) – because as I took that left hand turn and drove several miles down that well-paved road that got thinner and rougher as I went, it became increasingly clear that there was no cemetery to be found on this road!   It got to the point where – no joke (!) – I stopped at a farm house at the very end of that road, banged on the door and asked the people there in a rather panic-stricken voice, “Do you know where the graveyard is?”  To which the farmer calmly replied, “Well, didn’t you take that first left at the bottom of the hill?”  Turned out there was a left hand turn at the bottom of the hill, but it was an old, rather non-descript road of dirt and grass that I quickly and easily passed by because I reasoned it could not possibly be the right road… but of course it was!

Well, likewise in the journey of faith sometimes we only recognize the signs of God’s presence and influence once we’ve already gone by them!  In the end, what we discover along the way is that we have to be paying attention, staying open to all the little times, places and situations in which God’s Spirit reaches out to us, letting ourselves be led by that Spirit; indeed, to go our way freely in this life, but to always seek to God as we do.  In other words, as Paul says it to the Galatians in our reading this morning, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit,” or, as it’s beautifully translated elsewhere, “let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (NIV)

Our text for this morning from the 5th chapter of Galatians is all about Christian freedom and life in the Spirit; the tension that exists in a life of faith between, on the one hand, freedom from the law (that is, the freedom we have to do anything we want, regardless of what the law says), but on the other hand, the call we all have as Christians to resist the temptations of the flesh and be led instead by God’s Spirit in all things.  Yes, says Paul, in Christ we are freed from that which the law addresses, and we are free to do anything we desire; but we are also free to not do anything we desire; we are free to set firm standards for our lives on the basis of what we believe in faith, and then to follow them.  Without that at the center of our freedom, you see, we risk becoming as shackled by the flesh as we were by the law.

I remember many years ago a young woman I worked with who, while we were all employed together, turned 21 and was free now to go out and buy and drink alcoholic beverages legally.  And of course, a lot of her friends were trying very hard to get her to go out with them and celebrate this milestone, to go and party at some of the local clubs.  But she wasn’t interested in this at all; she was actually quite a conservative young woman that way, as I recall.  I remember her saying that she didn’t want to go out drinking before, and she didn’t want to go now; and moreover, that this was not what she wanted for her life, not the road she wanted to go down.  And then she said this, which is something I still remember: why should something like a birthday change what she truly believed?

That’s basically what Paul was getting at in his epistle to the Galatians:  the point that ultimately laws don’t matter, and that by Christ, we are set free to live a truly free life, free from all those things in life that would shackle us!  So “stand firm, therefore” says Paul, “and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” 

Of course, these new Christians at Galatia were not understanding this at all!  In fact, as we pick up the reading today, it’s apparent that their new found freedom had not so much liberated them as had created more problems and divisions amongst them.  In fact, this attitude that now all things were legal and thus good had gotten so out of hand, that it had come close to literally destroying them as a people and as a church.  And to this, Paul says to them,  “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another… if, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”   And, as The Message concludes, “where will your precious freedom be then?”  In their freedom from the law, you see, the Galatians ended up losing the essence of the law, which of course, was love!  And without love, well, the church isn’t the church at all!

Seems to me that’s pretty relevant for those of us in our own time who would seek to follow Christ Jesus and to gather as the church.  There’s no question that we live in a very pluralistic society in which the prevailing winds of the culture are constantly shifting; and as Christians and as the church we continually being asked to discern between that which represents changing times and new ideas, or on the other hand, that which pulls us away from God’s intent for our lives or for his church.  And when you combine this with the fact that just about everyone inside and outside the church has an opinion on such matters, it gets harder and harder to properly read the signs, because as we’ve noted, they’re not always so that obvious to find in such a free-styled world as ours.  That’s why Paul says to the Galatians, and to us, we need to “live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit” [The Message, again] and not by “the desires of the sinful nature.”

It’s at this point of his Epistle that Paul lists down the “obvious” sins of the flesh:  “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealously, fits of rage, selfish ambition,” [NIV] and on and on it goes, right up to and including “drunkenness and carousing!”   [NRSV] “I am warning you,” Paul says, “as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  So don’t go down roads such as these; rather, led by the Spirit, be looking out for signs of the Spirit’s presence in your life, that which Paul refers to as the fruit of the Spirit:  “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  This is the way of true faith, and it comes to us by the Spirit of God!  And if we are led by the Spirit, friends, we are in step with the Spirit… and very close to the Kingdom of God!

So what should we be looking for as we all head back out on the journey this week?  Remember, just as signs are not always that obvious to us, the fruit of the Spirit might not always appear to us as low-hanging!  The truth is that God’s Spirit does indeed move in mysterious, wonderful, and might I add, often very subtle ways; and even amongst unlikely and surprising people! To quote A.K.M Adams again, sometimes “these ideals seep into our lives when we see other folks whom we respect living by their ideals.  We think of self-control… [when we witness] admirable, grace-filled women and men… inclined to exercise self-control; we honor peace and gentleness when we see the [triumph] of patient dignity [over] violent hatred through the example of a truly great person.  When we open our hearts to this message of faith and hope,” we find ourselves seeking out and letting ourselves be led by the Spirit of Holiness, and that’s the beginning of a whole new life indeed.

Who knows where the Spirit will be found in our lives this week, and who knows where that Spirit will seek to lead us?  Perhaps in holiday gatherings and in the opportunities before us as families and friends to “beat the heat” amidst this sultry summer weather?  Perhaps in small but significant “random acts of kindness” both given and received?  Perhaps in and through a new insight for living in the middle of these troubled times?  Or perhaps even in sharing this morning’s sacred meal of bread and wine at the table of blessing?  All I know is that God’s Spirit does move in ways we can never wholly expect; but if we’re paying attention will always serve to remind us that we are bound together by the God who sends us forth in Christ’s name.  And rest assured, if we seek out and live unto that Spirit, we always be walking in step with it wherever life happens to take us.

May it always be so for you and me, beloved.

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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Faith Like You Mean It

(a sermon for June 24, 2018, the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, based on 2 Corinthians 6:1-13)

“Are you sure you want to be a minister?”

This was the rather pointed question that I heard time and time again from the man who not only was my pastor but also the member of the clergy who‘d been assigned as my mentor and advisor in the years leading up to my ordination to the Christian ministry! “Are you sure you want to be a minister?” He was always asking me this, sometimes with a smile but oftentimes dead serious; and I must confess that it did seem rather odd at times that the very person who had been charged by the wider church to offer encouragement in my process of discerning my sense of calling to the ministry seemed to be trying to talk me out of it!

Now, I must add at this point that this man was among the most caring, supportive, nurturing and yes, encouraging people I could have ever hoped for in my pastoral journey. Moreover, even as a young “wanna-be” pastor he gave me so many valuable opportunities to develop my skills as a preacher and worship leader; truly, even all these years later I realize that so much of what I do now as a church pastor I first learned from him.  But he was also a realist, and he wanted me to understand the whole truth about this pastoral vocation to which I was being called: that despite its many joys, working in the ministry can be a very hard job; that the hours were long, the work often demanding and the pay not nearly as much as could be received in other professions; and that the stress of it will almost certainly take its toll on you if you’re not careful, and also on the members of your family.  And not only that, he said, but be aware that sometimes, despite your best efforts, the people you love and serve as a pastor and preacher just won’t be listening to what you have to say… or else, you’ll find out they were listening and just said no!  Either way, that’s when you’ll need all your faith to stay strong and to keep at this ministry to which you’ve been called.

So…“are you sure you want to be a minister?”

Well, as of today I’ve been ordained 34 years so I think the answer to that question was and is, “yes!”  And may I say that it’s been a wonderfully joyous and grace-filled journey every step of the way; and I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life than being a pastor!  But I also have to admit that over the years I’ve discovered again and again that my pastoral advisor was right on all counts; and I must tell you that there have been moments, albeit not many, but a few along the way when it did take a fair amount of faith to stay strong and to keep pressing forward on the pastoral journey.

Of course, what I’m talking about here is not unique to ordained ministry, is it?  Indeed, unless I miss my guess, there are times for each one of us here, no matter what our particular calling or vocation happens to be, that to be honestly and wholly faithful people, that living as true witnesses of God’s grace and love can be a real challenge; most especially when what we believe and what it is we seek to do “with our hearts wide open” ends up being ignored or rejected by those we’ve sought to love.  Perhaps you and I can’t attest to having endured anything on that list of persecutions included in our text for this morning – “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger” – but I suspect some of us might know what it is to have our faith dismissed by others – perhaps even by those close to us – as something naïve at best and fanatical at worst, a belief system that’s totally unrealistic and out of sync with the values that modern society and the world sets forth!

I really don’t wish to sound overly negative here, but this is often the hard and fast reality of how the world treats people of faith, especially in these divisive hyper-partisan times we live in!  And it’s why we do need all the faith we can muster to stay strong and to keep solidly on our journey of discipleship.  As Paul himself wrote to what presumably was a faltering group of Christians in the city of Corinth, “As we work together with him [with Christ], we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain.”  Or, as it’s wonderfully translated in The Message, “We beg you, please don’t squander one bit of this marvelous life God has given us.”

Let’s unpack that a bit.  To begin with, we need to understand that Paul wrote there to the Corinthians was actually very personal in nature; the response to some very specific and very painful difficulties he was having with the Christians there.  Apparently, there was lots of rumors spreading throughout the church in Corinth (it’s always about the gossip, isn’t it!) regarding Paul’s sincerity in faith and a lack of credentials for ministry.  So what becomes clear is that as faithful as Paul was seeking to be in this situation (“with no restriction in our affections,” he says), living out his faith in ways that were sincere, truthful, loving and genuine; being patient, kind and good as he reached out to his brothers and sisters in faith in Corinth, these Christians had in fact sort of closed off their hearts to Paul.

So now, about five chapters of dealing powerfully and not unkindly with matters of divine grace and reconciliation, Paul lays it on the line to Corinthians that the time had come for their hearts to be opened; quoting Isaiah in that “now is the acceptable time; see,” he says, “now is the day of salvation;” the time for the righteousness of God to be demonstrated in each one of those who have been reconciled to him through Christ.  In other words, now is the time for the faith that’s needed to do this ministry to which we’ve been called together and which we share today and in every day that is to come!

And this admonition begins with that very first verse we shared this morning; translated still another way, “See to it that you do not receive God’s grace in vain.”  Now here’s something interesting:  the word that’s translated almost everywhere as “in vain” is the Greek word kenos, which probably more accurately means, “empty.”  So what Paul’s actually saying to the Corinthians is if you are going to accept this graceful gift of God’s salvation and love, do not do so in a way that empty and meaningless!  In other words, quoting Scott Hoezee here, “if God’s grace has really taken root in your hearts and you really understand how his salvation works, then this had better show up in your lives.”  What Paul is doing here, writes Hoezee, “is making it clear not only that working for Jesus is a rough and tumble business in this brutal world” but he is also spelling out how all the faithful need to react to the hardships, persecution and conflict that will inevitably come as a result of it.  And simply put, it comes down to living out your faith not in some casual, nearly empty kind of way, but rather faith like you mean it!

And to illustrate both the importance and the result of such faith, Paul then gives the Corinthians – and also you and me –  that long list of the struggles of discipleship… but also the blessings that come as those struggles are met with true faith and the acceptance of God’s reconciling grace.  In other words, affliction will be met with purity; hardship creates knowledge; calamities bring forth patience; even the pain that results from being “beaten up, jailed, and mobbed” nurturing “gentleness, holiness and honest love.”  So many things can, and will happen when you seek to be true disciple of Christ you are called to be; but “in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute,” known or unknown, even as one dying, in a true and meaningful life of faith we are so much more.  See, says Paul, “we are alive; as punished, and not yet killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

Like I said before, very few of us will ever have to face the kind of full on persecution that Paul or so many other of the early Christians had to endure for the sake of their faith in Jesus Christ.  And yet, I can’t help but remember my old advisor’s warning about ministry not always (if ever!) being an easy or convenient way of life.  Likewise, for any of us it’s all too easy, given the inevitable difficulties and struggle of doing what’s right where our faith is concerned, to let our hearts get closed off to its importance not only to our lives, but also to our world.  Each one of us, you and you and me, needs to be living faith like we mean it; to quote Scott Hoezee one more time, most especially in these days of confused situations, in the church “we need the message and the truth of what Paul says… do not receive God’s grace in vain, “or in emptiness.  “Too much is at stake for the church to look no different from the rest of the world these days.”  And then he adds this, which I thought was very timely:  “Before we start lobbing accusations at one another… [or] before we start knocking each other around in the same rough-and-tumble spirit that is animating the larger body politic today, we had best take a good, long look at our Savior Jesus Christ,” and reflect on whether our actions and words risk rendering the grace of God in our midst in ways that end up vain and empty.

My question for you today, friends, is if you can say that you truly live your faith like you mean it.  Are you able to find the spirit led resources that not only keeps you strong and empowers you to live through the times of personal and worldly rejection, but also provides a means to share the spiritual riches you’ve been given with others?  Is your heart open wide to the ministry to which you’ve been called (and yes, don’t ever forget, we all have a ministry in Christ’s name!), and does the fullness of God’s grace in your life become the source material of righteousness and salvation in the world?

The thing that’s both interesting and incredibly reassuring is that in this ministry that I’m a part of I get to see it unfold all the time:  in those who have dismissed the notion that one’s Christianity is merely a one hour a week proposition, but have decided that things like hope and joy, peace, justice and above all love are more than just ideals but are made real in caring for others who stand near to them in direct and very tangible ways; or for that matter in reaching out to those who have long felt themselves to be beyond the reach of anyone who cares!  I see it in those who have chosen to go against the grain of whatever  pop culture is proclaiming at the moment and to stand up for that which makes for God’s peace – his shalom – and to do so in a way that is not divisive but unifying, without finger pointing and name calling but in a manner wholly rooted in the love of Jesus.  And I see it in the way of some of those around us have simply endured; the people we all know who have taken on the burdens and uncertainties of life as we know it but nonetheless view every single day as a gift, as an opportunity to show forth true and lasting witness to the wonders of God’s grace within themselves and in all things around

These who the people who have not received what they’ve been given in vain; but who have ever and always lived faith in a way that says they mean it…

…I pray that the same may be said of each one of us, beloved, so that everything we say and do today, tomorrow and always resound with a joyous…

…thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2018 Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
 

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Every Flower Reaches for the Sun

(a sermon for June 17, the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Ezekiel 17:22-24 and Mark 4:26-31)

I’m not sure if it was a wedding present, or if it was for Christmas or a birthday, but once when Lisa and I were first married, we received a gift of…wait for it (!)… a can of seeds!

Thinking back, it was actually kind of neat; this was literally a coffee can sized container of wildflower seeds – direct from L.L. Bean, don’tcha know (!) – from which, when properly planted and nurtured, would grow a variety of flowers both annual and perennial.  Even now I still remember what an amazing thing that was: first of all, how despite the fact that all these seeds, at least to my untrained eye, looked pretty much the same, what we ended up with all that first summer and for many more to come were these immensely beautiful, fragrant flowers of every size and shape and color you can name.  I’ve lived in New England just about all of my life, but I’ll confess that I didn’t know we even had that many flowers in this part of the world; but that was the wonder – and the fun – of that particular gift!

But the other thing I remember about those flowers is how utterly relentless they were!  Like I said, there were quite a number of perennials included in that wildflower mix, which means that even given a modicum of care they should continue to grow year after year.  But here’s the thing:  after a couple of years we were shocked to discover that no matter what we did or didn’t do as regards those flowers, or how they may have been – however unintentionally (!) – used, abused or at the least disrupted, despite our best (or worst) efforts not only did they just keep on growing, sometimes they downright flourished!

I mean, inevitably every summer that garden plot where we’d sown those seeds had faced alternate bouts of drought and flooding; every winter it got snowplowed into oblivion; and this is to say nothing of what happened once we had little kids running around!   Understand, it’s not like we set out to ruin this gift or to destroy these wonders of God’s creation, but looking back, in all honesty given everything they went through they really shouldn’t have stood a chance at all! But such was the strong nature of these wildflowers; they seemed determined to grow sunward and to triumph over whatever nature (or humanity!) set in their way!  And because of this, every summer that we lived in that house we were not only treated to the utter beauty of nature as only a wildflower garden can provide, we were reminded in glorious fashion of the resiliency of all that which God has provided!

To put this another way, it’s in the DNA of a seed to grow, isn’t it; it is the seed’s design for the life that’s placed within it to take root and sprout up through the soil, prevailing over whatever hardship it encounters, so to fulfill its purpose as part of the circle of life.  What we’re talking about here is basic botany, and truly, “nature’s way;” but having said that, I’d also have to say that such an explanation says nothing about what ultimately comes from the seed as it makes its way sunward; nor does it really express any one of a multitude of ways that every flower that “reaches for the sun” will end up serving God’s purposes!

Which, come to think of it, is not entirely unlike our lives, yours and mine… after all, you and I might be able to say something about how we live and grow in this life; but that can’t possibly express in fullness what that life is for!

This is wonderfully expressed in a song written by Noel Paul Stookey, the “Paul” of “Peter, Paul and Mary:”

Every flower’s reaching for the sun
Every petal opens when the day has just begun
Even in the city where they grow up through the street
Every blossom needs the sunshine to makes its life complete.
Some are torn out by the roots and cast aside
And some might be arranged and brought inside
A flower’s just a seed when it’s young
And every flower’s reaching for the sun.

Some are bent by fears they cannot see
And some are touched by Love and set free
A flower’s just a seed when it’s young
And every flower’s reaching
Oh every flower’s reaching
Every flower’s reaching for the sun.

 – “Every Flower,” written by Noel Stookey, Bob Milstein and Peter Yarrow

In our gospel reading for this morning, Jesus offers up a parable about how the Kingdom of God “is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground… and the seed would sprout and grow,” despite the fact that the sower of said seed “has no idea how it happens.” [The Message]  It’s a reminder both agricultural and theological, that “just as seeds grow without our effort, so also will God bring about God’s reign.” [David Lose]  If Lisa and I learned anything from our long ago “mystery garden” of wildflowers, it was that ultimately its growth wasn’t up to us; we didn’t make it happen and whatever else we did or did not do to it (!), we couldn’t prevent it from happening either!  Seeds grow of their own accord, you see, and every flower reaches for the sun; and so it is with the Kingdom of God.

What Jesus is wanting his disciples and us to know through this little parable is that the Kingdom is indeed coming as surely as will come a harvest of grain, but rest assured that it comes apart from our efforts.  To quote David Lose, “We can’t bring God’s reign of redemptive and surprising love and grace, but neither can we control it, moderate it, or domesticate it.  And we definitely can’t stop it.”  God is on the move, you see; God is at work – in our life, in our community, in our world – and that work will be done in God’s way and in God’s good time. Whether or not you and I actually see or even know what’s going on; the fact remains that by God’s full intent and grace, his kingdom is coming to us in ways and with an intensity that we can’t even predict.  In fact, as Jesus points out in the second little parable he shares in our gospel text for this morning, the kingdom might well be “like a mustard seed,” the source material for what can be described as “an out of control weed [that] grows and spreads and can hardly be contained, even if you’re not sure [at that particular moment] you want it.” I mean, it’s definitely not the lofty, noble cedar we heard about from the Ezekiel reading; it’s a mustard plant!  But there’s no denying that the end result of its growth into “the greatest of all shrubs” fulfills its purpose: to be that one place where every possible bird of the air can find a place to rest and to “make nests in its shade.”

Seeds grow; and every flower (even every weed) reaches for the sun!

So what do we say to this?  How do you and I deal with this utterly relentless God who promises us that in due course his rule and his will will be enacted among us?

Well, to begin with, we let that prayer we repeat each and every Sunday morning become real for us:  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)  More than merely another piece of worship liturgy, these words serve as our acknowledgment that God is at work as surely as seeds sprout and grow in the soil and “the earth produces of itself.”  And we also need to be patient about the way that happens and how long it takes; for the world as we know it and live in it most often tends to live in steadfast opposition to God’s plan and purpose for it (all the more reason to pray, again and again, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done…”).

But mostly, what you and I always need to be doing is to simply be about the work of that kingdom until it comes in its fullness, to “enact God’s reign wherever we are,” living out of our confidence that God’s promises are true and that the kingdom will come in its fullness.  What that means is that you and I become the flowers reaching for the sun; doing that which we’ve been fashioned for from the very moment of our creation: to align ourselves with God’s will and way; to seek to love and nurture others in the same manner that we have been loved and nurtured; to let our hopes and dreams, our talents and skills, our opportunities and challenges, our joys and even our sorrows become intermingled with our ongoing call to be Christ’s disciples.  At best, what that means is that every piece of our lives – and every fiber of our being – becomes centered on how God has always intended for his creation to be; filled with hope and love, and the joy of living in a close relationship with the Creator.  And by the same token, and once again I’m quoting David Lose here, “when life is hard, when we meet resistance, or when we fail or fall far short of our hopes… we can take refuge in the promise that God is still at work and has not given up on us or the world.”

Because seeds grow; and every flower – and yes, that even includes you and me – every flower reaches for sun.

I think I’ve shared with you before Lisa’s and my other great gardening story, also from early on in our marriage: the year that we grew a bumper crop of beautiful butternut squash… which was amazing, because we never actually planted any butternut squash!  Moreover (and I’m a tad embarrassed to even admit this!), there wasn’t a single crop we planted in that particular garden than managed to make it to harvest or at least past some hungry raccoons!  As we came to understand it, it turns out that there were a fair number of squash seeds in the soil of that garden plot; the remnant of the previous growing season before we’d lived at that house or ever had attempted to plant our pitiful little vegetable garden.  So something else – dare I say, someone else? – was at work.  And the good news was that at the end of it all we had squash enough to last us well into the fall; and trust me, that was truly something!

I kind of like to think of the Kingdom of God that way, beloved.  Because as much as we try to make it happen, and even think we might succeed in it by our own efforts, in the end what grows in our spiritual garden comes about because of what God is doing just beyond our sight with a firm and steadfast resolve.  There’s an old saying, you know, that seems applicable here:  that we should “work like it’s up to us, and then pray like it’s all up to God.”  In other words, plant those seeds of faith and love; tend that garden of righteous living; and do whatever it takes to keep growing up through the soil and to rise up ever sunward, in the great hope and expectation that you’ll become exactly what you’re meant to be.  But know that if that doesn’t work (and despite your best efforts, it might not, because who can predict what happens in a growing season), you’re still meant to blossom; because at the end of the day, what makes a garden strong and beautiful and purposeful is the work that God puts into it.  Beloved, no work done in love is ever lost, especially when that work is done by God; and God, in time and with care, will draw all things together for good so that the harvest can come.

Seeds grow, you see; and every flower reaches for the son.

And for this, and so much more, thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2018 in Faith, Jesus, Sermon, Spiritual Truths

 

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