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Enough to Fill Our Souls and Then Some

(a sermon for July 29, 2018, the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, based on John 6:1-15)

Actually, if you want to leave early this morning, I can give you the good news of this morning’s text right up front:  God cares about our hunger!

The story of the feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle story of Jesus that gets told in all four of the gospels, which tells us a couple of things immediately: first, that it’s a very important story; that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all felt that this account of Jesus feeding the multitudes with a scant amount of loaves and fishes so clearly got to the heart of just exactly who Jesus was that it needed to be included in each of their accounts of his “good news.”  It also suggests, I think, that the gospel writers saw this as a story to which almost anyone could relate because most everybody knows what it’s like to be hungry; and moreover, how wonderful it feels to be filled up and not be hungry anymore!  We can all relate to hunger; and the good news here, as we’ve said, is that God cares about our hunger!

Actually, I would suggest to you that hunger is the universal experience!   Rev. Debra Metzgar Shew, an Episcopalian vicar and inner-city social worker in Atlanta, has written that “from the moment we are born,” she says, “we are faced with it… we all feel it.  We all know it.  It is incessant… It propels us to the things that give us life… to the things that quite literally we can’t live without.  We [all] spend time and effort and energy of every kind making it go away, on filling ourselves with something, on staving off our hunger and keeping it at bay.”

Now I’ll admit that that does seem like a bit of an overstatement, especially when you consider that for all of us in this room, and truly the vast majority of us in this affluent culture of which we’re a part, “staving off hunger” is nothing more difficult than opening the refrigerator door or ordering out for pizza!  That said, however, I think we’d all agree that there’s more than one kind of hunger; that there is a yearning within every one of us to be filled up with something more than just food.  We all want to know what it is to be truly loved; we all need to feel a true sense of belonging; we’re looking for our lives to have some kind of purpose and meaning: when those kinds of things are missing for us we’re left wanting… yearning… hungering.  It’s no coincidence that when you ask someone who is going through some difficult transition in life – the end of a relationship, for instance, or the loss of a job, the death of a loved one; you name it – when you ask that person how they’re feeling, very often one of the first things they’ll say is that they feel empty; that there’s a void inside of them that needs to be filled.

Oh, yes… we know about hunger, don’t we?  I dare say that most of us here know what it is to have our hearts ache in the midst of that kind of emptiness.  We understand what it is to be, if you will, spiritually hungry, where our souls are empty and wanting, and needing, somehow, to be filled up… but the question is, what does all this have to do with this story of Jesus feeding a multitude on a grassy hillside along the Sea of Galilee?  Well, as it turns out, as John tells the story, this particular miracle of Jesus has as much to do with caring as it does with the ability to stretch out two fishes and five barley loaves… and as we’ve noted, God does care about our hunger!

To get to the heart of this, however, first we need to understand that Jesus had spent that entire day healing the sick, and that a huge crowd, “attracted by the miracles they had seen him do,” [The Message] was getting larger by the hour and in fact had followed Jesus up a hill where Jesus and his disciples had gone to sit down.  Not only this, but John adds an additional tidbit to the story; that Passover was just about to begin, “the festival of the Jews,” and being true to his faith and heritage, Jesus knew that it was only good and right and hospitable to feed all those people who had gathered.  And so he turns to his disciples (and this, by the way, is unique to John’s version of this story; in the other gospels, it’s the disciples who ask about this), and Jesus says, “Where are we going to buy bread for these people to eat?”

Now at this point of the story we get two very interesting reactions to this request: first, there’s that of one of the disciples, Philip, who immediately starts counting change.  Even as Jesus is asking the question, Philip’s busy calculating how much money it’s going to take to feed everyone there; and of course, there’s no practical way they can do that.  There’s not enough in our budget, he says; our resources are tapped out as it is, and besides, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”

Philip, you see, represents every one of us who obsess on categories, logistics and expectations; in other words, if it’s not there in the ledger, if it can’t be seen in black and white and proven empirically, then it can’t be done, so don’t even try. Philip embodies the trait within so many of us that will lead us in walking along every part of life’s journey while refusing to take a single step purely in faith; which on the face of it seems very prudent and practical, and yet in large part because of it ends up leaving one feeling a constant and indescribable hunger in their lives.

And then there’s Andrew; who I suppose did have a role in setting the miracle in motion, and yet, it should be noted, did so in a rather defeatist kind of way. Well, he says to Jesus, there is this kid over there, and he does have a few barley loaves and a couple of fish… “but that’s a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this.” [The Message]  Now, what’s interesting here is that Andrew has immediately found three different reasons not to use the boy’s loaves and fishes: first, because he’s a child (the original Greek in this text  emphasizes the fact that he’s “just” a little kid, and therefore of no real help whatsoever); second, that there’s not nearly enough barley and fish to go around, and so why bother; and thirdly, because in biblical times barley was considered to be “the grain of the poor,” much cheaper than the wheat that was used for feeding horses, donkeys and cattle, and often what the poorest of the poor would use to make their own flour to bake bread, Andrew may well have thinking (with some validity, I must confess!) that such food shouldn’t be taken from the poor in the first place!

Valid concerns or no, however, what we can glean from this is that Andrew represents those of us who can find a million and one reasons why we’ll always be hungry.  And you know the list of reasons as well as I do:  I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not religious enough, I’ve done bad things in my life; there’s no way that someone like me could ever, should ever deserve to be filled up with good food. No matter what you say to me here, I know better; to be hungry, you see, is just my lot in life!

So… what we’ve got here on this hillside of Galilee is Philip, who in essence refuses to believe in miracles, and Andrew, who is reluctant to accept them.  But then, to all the Philips and Andrews of that world and this one, here comes Jesus; taking a mere five loaves of cheap bread and a couple of random fish, giving thanks to God for the blessings of his creation, and then sharing this rather meager meal with everyone seated there on the hillside!  Yes (!), there was food enough for everyone… and then some; we know that because afterward Jesus had the disciples go around and collect the leftovers, and there was enough to fill twelve baskets!  And all it took was two loaves of barley bread and two fish; but more than enough for Jesus to fill up every belly and every heart in the place.

It was a true and utter, “God is at work” kind of a miracle, and of course, they were all amazed by it; so much so that, as John describes its aftermath, the people recognized Jesus as “indeed the prophet who is to come into the world,” and tried to take him by force “to make him king.”  I mean, if Jesus could do this to bread and fish, just think of what he might do for them; as far as they were concerned, this was more manna from heaven and they needed to do whatever they could to keep it coming!  But of course, like their ancestors before them, they’d missed the whole point of the miracle and the meaning of the food they’d received: the eternal truth that it was Jesus himself who was the real and important food; and that Jesus’ real purpose was and has always been to provide the kind of spiritual sustenance that lasts not simply for a moment but for a lifetime and beyond; that unlike so many things in life that would seem to fill us up at the moment but ultimately leaves us feeling empty, Jesus is bringing us that from God which will keep us filled up with good things.

You see, God cares about our hunger… and God is not about to leave us to subsist on all that which is perishable or, shall we say, “full of empty calories;” God does not wish us to spend our lives searching for all those things we believe are going to bring us fulfillment and satisfaction, yet will inevitably fail us.  Money… power… status… whatever form it takes: so many of us go through our days thinking that the “next” thing is what’s going to finally fill us up and give us that love and sense of belonging we’ve been yearning for for so long;  but you see, God knows better.  God wants us to know and to feel what is to be really full, and well-nourished and wholly satisfied, and that only comes with the food that lasts; and that food comes from Jesus, who is the Bread of Life, which is truly enough to fill our souls and then some.

I wonder how many of us are feeling hungry this morning; and not merely for a Sunday brunch!  I wonder how many of us have come here today, at least in part, out of a nagging feeling of being empty inside; maybe out of the realization that all that other stuff in life that we thought would make us feel good and full and alive just didn’t do it for us and that there’s got to be something better. I wonder just how many of us have heard Jesus’ call to work not for the “food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life,” (John 6:27) but have never taken true advantage of the offer; maybe because it seems unrealistic in a dog-eat-dog world to be so graced with limitless love, or perhaps because somehow, somewhere in our hearts we’ve convinced ourselves that what God does could not ever make it better for us.

Well, if you’ve come here this morning feeling like that, then I would say to you that it would be good for you to think about what happened on that hillside with loaves, fishes, and the caring and all-pervasive love of God through his Son.  Maybe it is hard for us to wrap our post-modern minds around 5,000 people having supper on the basis of a few loaves and fishes, but remember the point of the miracle is not so much the food but the one who brings it.  What we need to remember is when God is at work; when God makes use of whatever small amount of resources or talents or patience or compassion or even faith we have, God will do with it far more with it than we could ever have dreamt or imagined… and if we can trust in that, miracles can and do happen!

For you see, that’s the good news (I told you that at the very start of this message!):  God cares about our hunger… and if we’ll let him, God will give us enough food to fill our souls… and then some.

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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Posted by on July 29, 2018 in Jesus, Life, Sermon, Spiritual Truths

 

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The Hope That Does Not Disappoint

(a sermon for July 22, 2018, the 9th Sunday after Pentecost,  based on Romans 5:1-5)

One year for his birthday – I think he must have been 12 or 13 at the time – our son Zachary got himself a model rocket with his birthday money. As I recall, model rocketry was all the rage that year – the kids had been building their own rockets at school and launching them out on the athletic field – but now, as was and is typical of our son, Zach wanted to take things to the next level.  And I’ll tell you what, this rocket was cool; bigger and better, with considerably more firepower than the dinky little models they shot off at school (!); and it even had a tiny camera in the nose cone so you could take pictures of from 500 feet up!  So this was a big deal; and after waiting days for the right weather and opportunity for “launch,” the moment finally came and on a crystal clear Saturday morning Zach went out to the field behind our house to set this thing off.

And off it went, indeed!  It went higher, faster and straighter than any rocket he’d ever launched before!  The only trouble was that as it flew the rocket started to veer ever-so-slightly toward the sky above the woods adjacent to our house; which meant that when it finally fell to earth, the rocket would almost certainly get caught in a mess of tree branches and be lost forever!

But that’s not what happened (!), because just as the rocket’s pre-installed parachute deployed there was a hint of a breeze beginning to blow off the Scarborough marsh; and, as if by grace, this little bit of wind literally changed the course of the rocket’s descent:  from the woods, back across our field and the parking lot of the church, and out toward the main road, where finally and gratefully it gently hit the ground!  It was, as they say, “another happy landing,” except that as Zach was running up the parking lot to retrieve the rocket, a car turned the corner and ran right smack over it, smashing the rocket into several different pieces!

Now actually, to his credit Zach was pretty philosophical about the whole thing; I remember that for days, he’d tell the story to anyone who would listen and it always ended with, “You should have seen it go!” In fact, unless I’m mistaken, the mangled remains of that ill-fated model rocket is still in a box somewhere!   In the end, I suppose it was something of a life lesson; a reminder not only that what goes up must come down, but also that oftentimes what comes down, comes down hard, and that happens, it can hurt!

To think about this in broader terms, one of the truths of life that we all have to come to grips with is that suffering comes to everyone sooner or later. We may well have moments that we “fly high” in this life, and those are truly the moments we live for; but it’s just as likely that we’ll find ourselves “falling to earth” from time to time. The only question that remains is when it the crash comes, will it destroy us or simply bolster us for the next launch?

And therein lies the parable!

It has been justly said, you know, that suffering is an equal-opportunity offender!  No matter who we are or where we are in life, hard times come to us all: accidents happen, illness comes, jobs are lost, age brings the deterioration of body and mind; people we love break our hearts as they make destructive choices; and we get hurt by cruel words and mean deeds.  Sometimes we end up suffering because of things that have absolutely nothing to do with us; we simply get caught up in the crossfire of somebody else’s situation!

It’s simply part of life, and if you’ve ever been there then you know just how overwhelming, exhausting and ultimately, destructive it all can be!  You get to the point, sometimes – especially when the troubles just seem to accumulate, layer by layer, upon your shoulders – where you simply don’t have the stamina to keep going; you’re feeling as though you will collapse if one more thing happens to you!  You’re literally “sick and tired” of it, so much so that you’re tempted at varying times and degrees to either give up, wallow in self-pity, indulge in bitterness and blame, or simply choose to withdraw from life altogether; or else you’re hurting so bad that some voice inside you is telling you that anything’s got to be better than what you’re feeling right now, and so you start seeking out anything at all that might make you feel better; even if that comes at the expense of your health, well-being, reputation, relationships, or your life!

This is suffering at its worst, friends; it is the embodiment of utter hopelessness.  But it’s precisely this kind of suffering to which Paul is referring in our text for this morning, when he says that we are to “boast in our sufferings.”  I don’t know about you, friends, but nothing I’ve been describing here sounds like anything we’d want boast about or to “glory in,” as it’s translated elsewhere (NIV)!  Yet, as inconceivable as it sounds, here is Paul proclaiming to the early church and to us, to glory in our suffering, “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.”

Looking at this passage from Romans, it’s important to understand that in no way is Paul suggesting that God is causing us to suffer so that we can learn endurance, become stronger people or better Christians; God never wishes suffering upon us to “teach us a lesson.”  But the fact remains that suffering is a reality, and what Paul is saying is that while most everything else in our lives can and does disappoint, there is hope that will not disappoint; the hope that comes from God:  “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.  And we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”  In other words, because of God the bad times that come to us do not have to make us bitter; they can make us better!

Central to our Christian faith is the knowledge that God loves us; and that this is a love revealed to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Through Christ, God names us and claims us as his own, and wants the very best for us; friends, the good news of our faith is always and ever that our lives and our living matters to God!  So, while human suffering might be inevitable, God will use that suffering to bring us closer to Him, helping us to stand strong and endure all the pain that comes our way.  We will find the hope we need to get through it all, and it is a hope that “does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Friends, nobody wants to suffer; but the good news of this text is that there is spiritual depth to be found amidst all the sufferings we face in this life, and that God does find incredible ways even in our worst moments to hold us close, build us up, and  fashion us for the purpose he has for our lives… and, might I add, for the world!  That’s what Paul was talking about when he said, “We have peace with God… [and] we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.”  But the question is, do we believe it?  Do we trust God to lead us through the suffering, and to provide us with the hope that we need?  More to the point, do we really believe that God loves us, and that our living matters to God; and do we believe it to the extent that we’ll let God shape our lives and living?  Let me suggest to you this morning that the less we believe that God loves us, the more likely it is that we will respond to the bad times of our lives with bitterness and resentment and bad behaviors.  It’s hard enough trying to stand upright with everything “piling on;” without the strength and endurance that God offers, we risk collapsing under the strain!  To stand strong amidst all that life can and does dish out, we first need to have faith in the love of God.

Of course, truth be told, most of us have a hard time giving up our control of things; to “let go and let God.”   I have to confess, folks, that all too often in my own life I could be the  poster boy for this!   I cannot tell you the number of times when I’ve found myself so weighed down with life’s stresses and circumstances that I’m just about crushed; and yet, what am I doing?  I’m strategizing – I’m thinking to myself, OK.  If I just do this and that and then take care of the other thing, I’ll fix this.  If I just work a little harder, if I’m just a little better or smarter about it, then everything will be fine!  But what do I accomplish by that?  That’s right; NOTHING!  More often than not, I end up piling more guilt and responsibility upon my own shoulders than what ought to be there, and more often than not things get worse rather than better.

But let me tell you something, friends:  throughout my life, it has only been when I have had the faith to get out of my own way and let God lead that I’ve found relief from whatever is weighing me down; it has only been by the grace of the Lord, his Spirit working in and through my life as well as through the lives of others around me that I have known the real hope and the peace that I need to endure.  And I’ll tell you something else; on those occasions when I finally recognize what God has been doing in me and for me, I am bowled over by a truth I had previously failed to recognize:  that it was a gift; a gift of grace.  It was the gift of God’s Spirit pouring the abundance of his love into my heart.

And that same gift, friends, is being offered to you – right here and now – by the God of grace who loves you beyond measure; the God who wants you, in the midst of all your troubles, to have the hope that will not disappoint. And all you have to do is accept the gift.

James Bracher, a congregational pastor and leadership consultant, tells the story of a conference he once led in which among the speakers was former President Gerald Ford, as well as several of his associates.  Bracher wrote that he was so excited about the former president coming to speak that when the time came to meet one of those associates to prepare for the conference, Bracher started gushing like a fan talking about a rock star.  “Do you know President Ford?” he asked.  “Do you know the president?”  But he was both confused and humbled by the associate’s response:  “Jim,” he said, “the question is not “do I know President Ford?” but, rather, “Does President Ford know me?”

Bracher goes on to explain that while hundreds of millions of people know the president of the United States, how many people do you suppose President Ford would say he knew; I mean, really knew, because a real relationship with someone, be it the president or a neighbor down the street, requires not only that you know that person, but also that person knows you!

That’s how it is with God, beloved.  We know God; but the real blessing comes in the fact that God knows us; that he really knows us.  “God knows our soul,” Bracher concludes. “God knows our intentions, motivations, anxieties, deepest hurts and most noble ambitions… what makes our faith so wonderful is that we have access to the grace of God,” and because of this God meets us where we are and how we are and helps us to build a life of meaning and impact.

Only time will tell what this coming week will bring to our lives: maybe our rockets will be flying high, or perhaps they’ll come crashing down to earth; who knows?  But the good news is whatever happens, the God who knows us and loves us will be there; empowering us and bringing the kind of insight, understanding and peace that we might not otherwise have known.  My prayer for all of us today is that while we may not “boast of our sufferings,” we can certainly rejoice in hope that will not disappoint. For this hope, and for the love in which it is grounded…

…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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