Bradenton-Sarasota Congregation Online Service
July 12, 2020
Preparation for Worship – based on Psalm 119:105
Prayer for Peace
Creator God, we live in wondrous times. Through the intelligence you have given us, we have learned much about how your creation works. We try to understand the reason for our existence, but have yet to understand what it means to live. We have built great cities, yet fail to understand the value of community. We know how to wage war, but not how to wage peace.
Compassionate God, we seek your Holy Spirit of compassion and wisdom that we learn how to use the capacities you have instilled in us to understand what peace is, as well as how we might achieve it. May your Spirit of love for all your creation inspire in us the respect for each individual. May we hold each person, regardless of their ability or station in society, as worthy of the dignity due even the most deserving and accomplished of our number. May we see each one as a valued sister or brother in the family of God.
Loving and patient God, we believe you have created us to improve our world, not to exploit it; to bring blessings to others, not burdens; and to instill peace, not conflict. We know you hear our prayers because we have seen the results. We seek to do your will because you are the focus of our highest regards and aspirations. We feel your love and presence in our lives because we become better people when we do. So we seek your blessing on our efforts to bring peace to our communities and your blessings to all who seek you.
In the name and spirit of the greatest example of what it means to be “of God,” your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
—W.B. “Pat” Spillman
Message by Evangelist Al Mount
Our theme for this week is HEAR THE WORD, with our scripture reading coming from the gospel of Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23 (the parable of the Sower and the Seed). As I am going to paraphrase this parable, it might be well to take a minute to read it as we seek to “Hear the Word” as Jesus is speaking to the crowd and us.
The Sower and the Seed: To begin let’s pretend (though it could be true) that there is a farmer sowing his seeds on the hill behind the crowd Jesus is speaking to. Jesus tells the crowd, look behind you and watch the farmer sowing his seeds. Notice how he is just scattering the seeds all over the place! Notice how some of the seeds are falling on the “wayside” (“ways” are paths that run in between the rows of the crops). The soil on the waysides is packed hard as a brick from all the foot traffic. The seeds just sit on top of this rock hard dirt. Jesus says to the crowd, “You have to know the seeds falling on the wayside will be eaten by the birds, none will sprout. Now behold the seeds falling on the rocky soil, you know as well as I do that as soon as the little shoots spring up, the hot sun will kill them; they won’t last out the day.”
“Now,” says Jesus, “notice the seeds that are falling on thorny soil; you all have been around long enough to know the thorns will eventually choke the life out those seeds and they too will die. None of these seeds will produce anything! But keep looking and you will see that the rest of the seeds are falling onto the good soil, these are the seeds that are going to sprout, take root and produce much fruit and even more importantly they will multiply! There will be a harvest; there will be a celebration!”
When, as a young boy attending Sunday school in the Methodist Church, I heard this parable many times. In my mind, I took this parable to mean that some people will never come to church (falling on the way, hard soil=hard hearts), some will come to church for a couple of Sundays and never come back (thin soil); some will come to church and get involved for an extended period of time but then all of a sudden they drop out (the thorns crowded out the seed =got too busy with other things). However, there were those who came every Sunday without fail for years (the good soil). They never quit, they were consistent in their faith. As a young boy I counted on them. I looked forward to being with them each and every Sunday. These are the ones I looked up to as I felt safe and loved.
I attended this congregation from the time I was born until I went into the military. The “good soil” members were the ones, who, along with my parents, sowed the seeds that took root in my life and sprouted forth into my Christian faith. I guess you could say they were sowing “kingdom” seeds into my life. Though I’m now a member of Community of Christ, I owe so very much to those who loved and nourished me from a baby to young adulthood. Because of those disciples, I “Heard the Word” and felt the Spirit of my Lord even as a young boy, the same Spirit that has led me to where I am today.
Many if not all of those disciples of my childhood have left this world but they will remain in my heart forever (I hope each of you have had such people in your lives). So this is pretty much what this parable meant to me as a child and maybe in some ways, at least in general terms, to the crowd Jesus was speaking to. My understandings of what it means to be a follower of Jesus has grown much since my childhood. Jesus’ “way” requires much more than going to or doing church.
I have also learned that there can be at least one additional meaning to this parable.
Let us as modern day disciples, put ourselves in the shoes of those early disciples/apostles as they heard Jesus speak this parable that day long ago. How might their interpretation of this parable differ from that of the crowd? What is our interpretation as modern day disciples?
Like us, these early disciples were only human! In their humanness, there must have been times when they felt discouraged. After all, they had given up everything from earning an income to leaving the comfort of their homes along with most of their worldly possessions. They had surrendered their way of life to follow Jesus’ “way” which was hard. These early disciples were always out walking along the dusty or muddy roads in extreme heat and cold. They went long periods of time away from their families not to mention some of their families thought they were loony for going off after this man, Jesus.
These early disciples had to at least ask themselves every once in a while, “We gave up everything for what?!” They were no longer welcomed in the very congregations where they had grown up since they were babies; people who had loved them are now turning their backs on them (how would we feel?). The leaders in their communities who they had once respected wanted nothing to do with them. The religious leaders they had once looked up to in awe are now out to destroy them along with Jesus. Yes, Jesus was drawing crowds but only a few were being “converted” (like the minority of seeds that fell on the “good” soil).
I believe Jesus knew very well that His followers were getting frustrated. I believe Jesus, in this parable, was delivering a specific message for His disciples to “hear” which was probably different from what the crowd may have understood. Jesus was taking the heavy load they were carrying off their shoulders as they worried and were defining their success or failure in terms of the number of “converts”. Jesus, I believe, was asking His disciples to not worry about numbers. “All that is required,” says Jesus, “is for you to scatter the “seeds” of the Kingdom everywhere and leave the rest to Me and the Power of My Holy Spirit.” Jesus is saying, “I know many of the ‘seeds’ you sow will not root but there will be those ‘seeds’ that will, and in these you will find much joy for they will bear much fruit and multiply. So, please, go scatter those seeds for there will be a harvest and great will be your reward!”
So these disciples (only 12 to start with) did continue to sow the seeds of the Kingdom while leaving their concerns at Jesus’ feet. Did it work? Well, according to the Pew Institute, in 2015 there were 7.3 Billion Christians worldwide; so I’d say, Yes! Does this not show what Jesus can do through us as well? Remember it began with just 12!
This past week I shared in a zoom meeting with our President and Prophet, Steve Veazey, as he addressed The Order of Evangelists. Brother Steve related our condition as a church and even the world as being in an in between stage, like the time between what was a caterpillar and will be a butterfly (the cocoon stage). Once the caterpillar goes into its cocoon it kind of turns into a goody substance. But, in that messy goo things are happening, things we can’t see, that will transform the goo into a beautiful butterfly. Life right now, in and out of the church seems pretty messy and gooey. Nothing is like WE planned or expected is happening in any of our lives. But we must have faith that in the midst of the goo that God is at work creating something that will be beautiful and better. Jesus is telling you and me just as the disciples of old, “Keep scattering those seeds of the Kingdom; scatter them everywhere and every place and leave the rest to Me. Do not fret. Go now, says Jesus, go and spread the seeds of My Amazing Love and Grace and I will carry you; for there will be a harvest and celebration; I want you there!”
Ministry of Music – Amazing Grace by Linda Mount
Disciples Generous Response
As our faith community sought to live God’s guidance in the early stages of the Restoration movement, it meant responding with their whole lives. As the call to build Zion was expressed, faithful disciples were willing to disrupt their lives to move to new places. They shared all they had to help create Zion, understood as God’s kingdom on Earth.
This call is about using our whole life in a way that helps bring about God’s purposes on Earth. It is not focused on just a portion of our life. It expands the question of how we can be generous to every aspect and every day of our life. Instead of pondering what we will return to God, whole-life stewardship asks how we generously use everything for God’s purposes. It is not just about what we return to God through tithing of our time, talent, treasure, and testimony. It is also how we use what we keep in a way that remains faithfully focused on God’s purposes.
—Choose Generosity, Discovering Whole-Life Stewardship, page 15, Herald House, 2019
As you share your mission tithes or if you give regularly through eTithing, use this time to express gratitude for God’s many gifts in your life and to reflect on how we respond faithfully to those blessings. When we understand God’s love and grace are given freely to us, we respond out of gratitude and are liberated to share freely in return.
Closing – I Will Listen by Twila Paris
This service was prepared by Sherry Lindgren and Al Mount