August 2, 2020
WELCOME AND ANNOUNCEMENTS
Let me remind you quickly of our protocols for everyone’s safety.
· Attendance was taken by ushers as you entered
· Offerings may be placed in the plate by the doors.
· The bulletins were placed specifically for social distancing, one household per pew. Please sit exactly where you found your bulletin.
· Please keep your masks on and remain seated through the whole service.
· There will be no singing, and no physical contact.
· You may read along silently, but today there will be two questions at the end to which I will direct a short out loud response
· The office and the rest of the building remain closed, but you can contact Karla during her office hours.
· Session, you are meeting with the governing board of First Congregational Church next Sunday followed by your own meeting. The joint meeting is for the purpose of getting acquainted and sharing ideas for potential partnerships in future ministries
WORDS OF WORSHIP
This is the day that the Lord has made.
let us rejoice and be glad in it!
Everlasting God, in whom we live and move and have our being, we praise you and adore you. You have made us for yourself, so that our hearts are restless until they rest in you. Give us purity of heart and strength of purpose, that no selfish passion may hinder us from knowing your will, no weakness keep us from doing it; that in your light we may see light clearly, and in your service find perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
CONFESSION AND PARDON
O God, we confess to our brokenness, to the ways we wound our lives, the lives of others and the life of the world. May God forgive us, Christ redeem us, and the Spirit empower us to live in love.
In the name of Jesus, we are forgiven. Thanks be to God!
May the peace of Christ be with you.
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION
Oh Lord, your Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. Open our hearts to receive it, that we might know your more completely and serve you more faithfully. In Christ we pray, Amen.
Isaiah 55: 10-13
10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. 12 You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.”
Matthew 13: 1-9
13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
Matthew 13: 18-23
18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.
23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
The Power of Speaking God’s Word Rev. Kristy Parker
Both of our scripture readings today address the power that the spoken word has for us. (Isaiah 55: 10-13 and Matt. 13: 1-9; 18-23)
- We know that words are powerful
- They have the power to build us up or to diminish us
- We can probably all remember a word of praise from a parent or teacher spoken during our childhood that made us feel cherished
- By the same token, we can probably remember a negative word spoken that crushed us and still has power, to this day, to make us feel sad or inadequate when it comes to mind.
- Words are powerful
- There are words about the pandemic
- There are words about race
- There are words about politics
- When I dare to venture onto Facebook, its clear that many people have become experts on all of the above
- Radio, tv, and social media flood us with such an overwhelming onslaught of opinions and exhortations that we feel numb.
“An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less until he knows absolutely everything about nothing.”
- And it seems to me that there are also a lot of people who know nothing about everything
- It’s the preacher’s job to offer words that will hopefully help in times of need, comfort in times of grief, inspire in times of apathy, convict in times of sin, redeem in times of repentance.
- The difference, though, is that the preacher is accountable for letting God’s Word be heard, not her own -
- to read the Word, to ask the Holy Spirit for help in hearing what God has to say, to study what others have said, and then to speak it.
- And really as followers of Christ, we’re all called to hear and to speak a word from God into the lives of others and into the life of the world
- The Word Isaiah speaks about today is the Word that comes from God
In the verses that precede our reading today, God says to the people through the prophet Isaiah,
“my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways; as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
There is a voice and a Word that can be trusted today
- There is a power that can give us hope and guide us
- That Word and that power come from God
- Not CNN or FOX or NPR
- Not from our Facebook friends
Isaiah wrote these words toward the end of the Babylonian exile.
- Israel had been pushed out of the promised land into a foreign land and Jerusalem was in ruins.
- The people were heartsick and depressed.
- Not only were they cut off from their land, but they couldn’t worship.
- It was as if their heart had been torn out.
I think of the song from the musical Godspell that speaks of this time in Israel’s history:
On the willows, there
We hung up our lyres
For our captors there
Of us songs
And our tormentors, mirth
Sing us one
Of the songs of Zion
But how can we sing?
Sing the Lord's songs?
In a foreign land?
Many of us feel as if we’re in a “foreign land” right now
- It feels like we’ve been exiled from a life we used to know
- We feel captive in our own homes, isolated from others,
- We fear singing and even breathing in the presence of others
- We feel heartsick at the injustice and oppression in our society
- And we feel powerless over the chaos that’s raging
- And we’re tired of words, words that say nothing and offer no hope
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name and you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned, For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…you are precious, and honored in my sight, and I love you.”
What a healing balm those words must have been for Israel at such a time
- And God proved faithful to God’s word
- just as everything seemed hopeless, Cyrus led a vast Persian army on a westward conquest.
- Babylon was conquered and Israel returned home to rebuild Jerusalem
- The people returned because it was God’s command.
- As certain as the rain cycle, God’s word had an effect.
- Just as the rain came from heaven to water the earth, making it flourish, so did God’s word bring forth joy and peace for God’s people
- Just as the rain yielded seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so did God bring God’s people home again.
- We have to trust in the power that is higher than we are
- In the Word that comes from the One who really is the expert at loving people, redeeming people, and restoring people
- And we have to speak that word out to our world that is hurting
- Can our words make a difference in a culture that is flooded with words that bring confusion, and hostility and even death?
- Sometimes it seems futile to us as Christians.
- It seems like there is so much to compete with that nobody is really listening anymore.
- We look around us and it seems our witness has diminished with respect to its influence on life in the world
But it was no easier in Jesus’ time.
- Humanly speaking, Jesus had very little success.
- The doors of the synagogue were shutting him out.
- The leaders of orthodox religion were his bitterest critics and were obviously out to destroy him.
- True, the crowds came to hear him, but there were so few who were really changed, and so many who came to reap the benefit of his healing power, and who, when they’d received it, went away and forgot.
- There were so many who came to Jesus only for what they could get.
- The disciples were faced with a situation in which Jesus seemed to rouse nothing but hostility in some and a very short-lived response in others.
- It’s not surprising that they would get discouraged at times. We think perhaps that “conditions” were better back then, but it’s not true.
- Sowing seeds, speaking God’s Word was perhaps even more difficult.
And so, Jesus told the parable of the sower.
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.
Then Jesus explained to the disciples what the parable meant. The seed is the Word of God, the path is the heart of the hearer, and the bird is the evil one.
- Our first instinct when we hear this text is to start trying to figure out what kind of soil we are.
- We have this nagging feeling that we’re not “good soil.”
- We come to church and hear the Word, and we don’t really understand what was said.
- We don’t really see how it applies to our lives, and we’re really not into Bible study too much, so we think we must be like that place on the path where the bird snatched the seed away before it had a chance to land.
- Or we come to church and hear the word, and then we have an argument in the car on the way home. “Hum, the seed must have fallen on rocky ground,” we think.
- We hear the Word and we’re all motivated to go out and do mission work, but then we get caught up in the everyday responsibilities of life, and we don’t do the great things we thought we would while we were sitting in church.
- So, we think to ourselves, “I must be shallow ground.
- The seed planted in me isn’t growing.
- The Word isn’t changing me.
- I’m bearing no fruit.”
Well what if this parable really isn’t about us at all?
- What if the parable is really about the indestructible nature of the seed, the indestructible nature of the Word of God?
- Just like the rain that waters the earth to yield seed for the sower, so is the Word that goes out from the mouth of God
- It will accomplish what God desires for it and achieve the purpose God has for it.
There’s no doubt about it.
- The Word has an effect.
- It will bear fruit.
- It doesn’t matter how bad the conditions are.
- Yes, some seed may fall by the wayside and be snatched away by the birds; some seed may fall on the shallow ground and never come to maturity; some seed may fall among the thorns and be choked to death; but in spite of all that, the harvest does come.
- Because the sower just keeps sowing
- God just keeps speaking, keeps planting God’s word in God’s people
Fortunately, the results of the planting don’t depend on “conditions” so much as they do on the indestructibility of the seed.
- Let’s face it, some days we’re good soil and some days we’re bad soil
- That’s what it is to be human
- In stressful times like the ones we’re going through now, it can be more difficult to be receptive, to stay positive
- But even when we’re not at our best, God can still work with us
- I remember driving down the highway once after a flood
- There was junk and debris lying all over the place
- But right there, growing up through a crack in the pavement, there was a sunflower
- It’s an amazing mystery how these things happen.
- But it’s proof positive that God can make a seed grow wherever God wants to.
In the same way, God can and will use God’s Word to accomplish God’s purpose, even in the worst of conditions.
- Even during a pandemic
- As I was in the middle of writing this sermon, I took a break to have a ZOOM meeting with my siblings and my dad
- My dad is in a memory care center
- We haven’t been able to hug him for six months, and have just recently been allowed to sit at an outdoor table six feet away from him
- One of my sisters thought it might lift his spirits if we could have a hymn sing together
- My brother found David Crowder’s version of Because He Lives, and we all sang along with Crowder’s gravelly, passionate voice:
God sent his son; they called him Jesus,
He came to love, heal and forgive,
He lived and died to buy my pardon,
An empty grave is there to prove my savior lives
Because he lives, I can face tomorrow.
Because he lives, all fear is gone.
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living just because he lives.
- It was powerful for all of us, as well as the attending nurse who teared up when the music started
- We felt hopeful, uplifted by the power of speaking God’s word
The Word itself is what’s operative.
- We’re the mouthpiece of God.
- It can be as simple as a note or a song of encouragement
- God will bring us out of exile
- In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made…in him was life, and that life was the light of all humankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it
- The same God who spoke life into the world in the beginning promises to carry us through to the end
- God promises to wipe every tear from our eyes
If you get a moment, sing it with David Crowder this week:
And then one day, I’ll cross the river,
and fight life’s final war with pain,
And then as death gives way to victory,
I’ll see the lights of glory, and I’ll know he lives.
God will bring us through this time
- God loves us, and when we pass through the rivers, they will not overwhelm us
- Believe it, know it, speak it
- God’s word has the power to save, even in the worst of times.
AFFIRMATION Apostle’s Creed, Ecumenical Version
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
CHARGE & BLESSING