July 30, 2023
9th Sunday after Pentecost
Please join us in Calvin Hall following worship today for a time of fellowship.
School Supply Drive. See more information about this United Way effort to provide school supplies to all the elementary students in Clinton County. A box has been placed in the hall outside the sanctuary. If you would like to donate cash instead of items, the Christmas in July box is there to accept your donations. Thank you!
The Gathering Place continues to serve the needs of people who need connection and socialization. Tell your friends. Come assist and join with this thing that Christ is doing in our midst. Please speak to Pastor Joyce to sign up to assist in the near future.
JoAnn Grimm who fell last week and broke 2 ribs.
The Pawlik family as they morn Arlene
Joan Pinkston, on hospice.
*CALL TO WORSHIP
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field.
The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant who finds one pearl of great value.
Let us sell all that we have and buy that field.
Let us sell all that we have to purchase that pearl.
For the kingdom of heaven is a precious gift that offers life and healing.
We seek this day the kingdom of God’s glory.
Let us worship God. Amen.
*HYMN Come, Thou Almighty King #139 (You may be seated.)
CALL TO CONFESSION
The Kingdom of Heaven is here and now, but we fall short of that which is asked of us. How we need the yeasty, mustard scented kingdom that enables us to be a more faithful people. Let us offer to God our fears and our failings.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Wonderful Savior. Your realm is like a mustard seed or a bit of yeast, a hidden treasure or a beautiful pearl. These parables point to your workings that are right in front of us. You call us to be a kingdom people and to know that you are at work in our midst. But too often we turn away. Instead of seeing you and the power of your love, we look for easier truths. Forgive us, Lord, for rejecting your saving activity and refusing to participate with you. Help us to see your hand at work and to be a part of your love for all the world. Amen
WORDS OF ASSURANCE
“If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not also give us everything else? … It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” Thus we receive, this day, the assuring words of Paul. In God’s incredible love, we are offered holy grace and forgiveness. Let us take hold of this gift and never let it go.
SONG OF PRAISE Gloria Patri #579
PASSING THE PEACE
May the peace of Christ be with you.
And also with you.
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION (from Romans 8: 38-39)
As your word is read and proclaimed, holy Lord, help us to be assured that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from your love, as presented to us in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
SCRIPTURE LESSONS Romans 8: 26-39
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. 31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52
31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. 47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked. “Yes,” they replied. 52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
SERMON A Little Goes a Long Way!
In the very small town where my children grew up the Christensen family was a fixture. This strong catholic family with 13 children was very involved in the community. Their dad, Wayne was a wrestling fan, and as those boys began to hit high school they dominated the wrestling mat. Before too many years had passed the “Christensen” name was very familiar at the state wrestling level. Many championship trophies, medals and awards decorated their celebration wall. Several of the boys went on to wrestle in college with excellent records. Two became coaches who trained many other state champions. Even the daughters got into the act by bringing their sons into the next generation of wrestling champions. Today 8 grandsons are wrestling at the college level. One family—yes, it was a large family, but what a thumbprint they put on the Iowa wrestling world! If you google Iowa Wrestling and Christensen a plethora of articles come up regarding this family who are involved in the sport. And it began with one father’s passion for the sport. His enthusiasm rubbed off and his work with his sons, his encouragement and his support allowed that small town to produce a whole legacy of wrestlers.
I think of Wayne and his family at times when I hear people talking about the impending death of the church. It wasn’t too long ago when I was told that the church as an institution would not survive into the next generation because it had been replaced by soccer and baseball leagues, gymnastic tournaments and other child centered activities.
Well, in the first place, I think the talk of the church’s demise is a bit premature. Christ’s church has survived under difficult threats for over two thousand years. There have been many waning periods that are then followed by renewal. I concede that things are changing, and church membership is dwindling. Anyone who drives past baseball fields in the early summer see the power and appeal of the kids’ sport. The job of the church, in the midst of this time, is to keep holding tight to God’s love and discipleship. We shouldn’t pull out our white flag yet.
So with the backdrop of dwindling church importance in our society and the modern day example of what one small family can accomplish, I want to explore our gospel scripture for today. The mustard seed faith. The mustard seed is a very tiny seed, but it grows into a very impressive shrub. It becomes a home for all kinds of wildlife.
Let me ask. Can you step out your door and watch the plants in your garden grow? Now I don’t mean can you see that they are bigger today than they were yesterday. I mean, can you literally see them getting bigger before your eyes—in the moment? Probably not. Neither could the people of Galilee see a mustard plant growing. But God was at work, and it did grow. Perhaps it surprised that person who had seen it a week previously regarding how MUCH it had grown. The point is that oftentimes growth happens without us being fully aware. God is at work, and that’s the part that we hold onto. And that mustard plant—it adds aroma and vitality to our world. It provides shelter and it offers shade that nourishes us.
But the mustard seed isn’t the only parable before us today. “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” In another translation it says that the woman hid the yeast in the flour. The point is that a very small amount of yeast is mixed in with a very large amount of flour. Scholars tell us that three measures of flour would be about 60 pounds. That’s a lot of bread! That would be bread enough for a banquet, bread to nourish lots of people—to provide for a celebration of life and well-being.
So, if you’ve done any baking you know for yourself that a little yeast goes a very long way. One teaspoon is enough to raise two loaves of bread. One teaspoon of yeast per 4 or 5 cups of flour. Of course there are a few other ingredients, too—a liquid of some sort, a bit of salt and sugar, but the main ingredient is the flour.
Have any of you bakers ever accidentally left the yeast out, or tried using yeast that had expired. What you end up with is a small hard brick that is more useful as a door stop than a nutritious part of your meal.
Here’s a science lesson. Yeast is actually a biological agent that grows and expands when certain conditions are present. Then it gives off a gas. To make that happen yeast needs liquid, warmth and sugar to make it work. The liquid activates it. The warmth allows it to multiply and the sugar gives it the fuel to make it go. Yeast needs a bit of a head start before being added to the rest of the bread ingredients. Then it needs to be thoroughly mixed with the dough, kneaded so that it is trapped in the protein strands of the flour. As the gas is produced, it lifts and lightens the bread. Otherwise you get that doorstop effect of a lump of baked flour.
There are different ways to interpret this parable, of course.
1. The Holy Spirit is the yeast and as it interacts with us—the church—we become bread, the substance of life, bringing well-being to the world. We offer life and health and healing to those who are hurting and who need the love of God. We bring others into the church where they, too, can feel that new life and be a part of Christ’s hope for our community and world.
2. Or are we the yeast? We who seek to follow Jesus. Are we the agents through whom God works to bring about new life? Are we the workers who are placed in the mix to counteract the violence and injustice, the pain and hopelessness that so many encounter? In this interpretation we are the agents that allow that flour to become a tasty, joyful slice of bread or toast adorned with jelly or honey. We are called to interact with all with whom we encounter. Do you like that? Does that give you a warm sense of purpose and meaning? I hope so, because I firmly believe that we have the responsibility to offer the gifts of God to the world such that the world is transformed and God’s love rules the day—even if we can’t see it.
3. Or is it some combination. The Holy Spirit becomes yeast for Christ’s church and we are then allowed to become the yeast to lift and transform our world with God’s love and new possibilities for life.
So how do we, as the church, work in the name of God to make that difference in our world? In the first place, we should understand that the Holy Spirit is a vital part of the equation. In Romans Paul tells us that the Spirit even intercedes into our prayers, to help us lift to God our hearts and our lives. We have trouble doing it on our own. The Spirit leads us and helps us as we reach out into our world. With that in mind, we shouldn’t assume that we can behave like a company--develop a plan and then plowing ahead to bring that plan to fruition. When we are working with the Holy Spirit, prayer is important. Talking together allows us to feel God’s hand leading us. We need to take the time to discern God’s agenda before we make an agenda of our own.
If the church is the yeast, then the Spirit is the liquid that allows that leavening process to begin. I also believe that fellowship, camaraderie and the support we get from one another is a vital part of the process, too. It’s the way we feel God’s hand guiding us and caring for us. It’s the way we are sustained along the journey. We are changed. Qualities like compassion, understanding and forgiveness take on a larger role in our life. We develop a passion for justice. We learn to be more patient and respectful of others who are different, and even our generosity grows and flourishes. and our world is lifted and transformed. We might not be able to see it, but it’s happening, none the less.
So here’s the part that I come back to. God is in the mix. We would all like for our congregation to grow. That’s at least a part of why our new ministry, The Gathering Place is up and going. But that’s not the primary reason we do it—at least I hope not. The Gathering Place is a needed element in our community. Right now we have 5 ladies who are regular attendees, and this is a huge part of their week. It allows them to be with other people and to make connections. It chases away the loneliness. God is in this mix. As we play cards, laugh over our silly scrabble words, teach each other new games or work on a puzzle together, and we feel God’s care. We get to be a part of God’s care. We get to be a bit of that yeast.
And that’s the pearl of great value, the treasure that is found buried in the field. We get to be a part of God’s healing in our world—right here in Clinton, Iowa. We get to feel God’s touch of great love in our own lives, as well.
We are small, but God hasn’t counted us out. There are opportunities for us to make a difference in our world. We might not always be able to see that difference. It might seem like we are not getting anywhere—especially if our singular goal is to welcome lots of new people into our front door on Sunday morning. But when God is in control, and the Holy Spirit is at work, things are happening. We strive to be the yeast that is poured into a very large measure of flour.
Let us invite the Spirit to make of us that mustard seed, that yeast. Let us pray for the wisdom to seek that pearl of great value or that treasure hidden in a field. And then to sell everything, recognizing that if we have the kingdom of heaven, we don’t need anything else. Like the Christensen Family we, although small, have the power to become agents of something joyful and filled with new possibilities.
Mustard Seed people. Yeasty brothers and sisters. Let’s give thanks to God for the gift of being a part of God’s good work in our world. We CAN make a difference. Praise be to our Lord. Amen.
*HYMN Called as Partners in Christ’s Service #343
(you may be seated.)
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors;
and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, now and forever. Amen.
OFFERING OUR GIFTS TO GOD
*DOXOLOGY Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow #592
*PRAYER OF DEDICATION
*AFFIRMATION OF FAITH
We trust in God the Holy Spirit,
Everywhere the giver and renewer of life.
The Spirit justifies us by grace through faith,
Sets us free to accept ourselves and to love God and neighbor,
And binds us together with all believers
In the one body of Christ the Church.
In a broken and fearful world
The Spirit gives us courage
To pray without ceasing,
To witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior,
To unmask idolatries in Church and culture,
To hear the voices of peoples long silenced,
And to work with others for justice, freedom and peace.
*HYMN Take Thou Our Minds, Dear Lord #392 (You may be seated.)
*CHARGE & BLESSING
* Sections of the service preceded with * are times to stand if you are able to do so.
Bold text is to be read together aloud as a congregation.