Weekly Lessons and Sermon
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always
acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
George shares about his experience on the Mexico Love Journey of 2023 at St. John's
Hear how Hope Built Up from others...
Sermon for today
Jesus said: “Have you understood all this?”
They answered, “Yes.”
This is hilarious.
Really? They really understood all that? Because I sure didn’t!
Once again: We find Jesus saying some pretty weird stuff.
Some stuff that initially makes no sense to us.
And I doubt that it made much sense to the disciples either.
But who would want to look like a moron in front of Jesus?
And yet: We all sometimes do.
Like the disciples: We often don’t get it—but we pretend like we do.
We often miss the point.
We rarely fully understand what Jesus is trying to say—and what Jesus is trying to
Our own understanding of the Kingdom of heaven sometimes gets in the way.
We look for—hope for—amazing fantastical things.
We expect Incredible—mind blowing results.
And sometimes: these expectations cause us to miss the small glimpses of the
Kingdom right in front of our eyes.
While amazing, fantastical, incredible things are indeed good--
And indeed a part of God’s work--
We must not lose sight of the small humble realities that are also a part of the
Kingdom of God.
Those things which begin quite small.
Like Jesus—The Son of God--
Born in a humble stable.
The Savior of the world--
Born quite poor.
Jesus reminds us of these small, humble beginnings of the Kingdom--
Which may take many years to grow.
Some of you have heard be talk about a monastic community in France called
I’ve been there a number of times,
And it’s a place where the humble vision f the Kingdom of God is deeply present.
The founder of the community: Brother Roger--
Understood this vision of the Kingdom--
As he gave his life in small ways—which grew to unbelievable results--
But he did not expect these results--
And he did not see many of them before his death.
Taize began quite small.
In a tiny village in France—Brother Roger at age 25 set out to form a community
Who would live together in a life of prayer.
In the wake of World War II—He provided a place of safety--
For wandering travelers, for seekers, for those who may catch a small glimpse of
Seven Brothers made their first life commitment to the Taize Community.
Quite humble, small beginnings.
Now: there are over 100 brothers in the monastic community:
And these brothers welcome hundreads (to sometimes THOUSANDS) of young
people (from all across the world) to their monastery every week.
The monastery has become a pilgrimage sight for young people:
To enter into the brothers prayerful and rhythmic life.
What began with seven young men on Easter Sunday in 1949--
grew into unimaginable numbers today.
But it is not just about the numbers--
Brother Roger understood that a small seed—a pinch of yeast—is all that you
And the story of Taize became proof that small beginnings can produce
That a small lump of yeast can influence the whole dough.
And yet: Brother Roger did not need immediate results.
He did not lose heart when his hopes or visions were not quickly fulfilled.
Or when the realities of the Kingdom of God appeared quite different than those
In fact: Brother Roger did not originally intend for Taize to be a place of pilgrimage
for young people.
He never intended to welcome thousands from across the world every week.
But when his small pinch of yeast mixed with the dough to create such a reality--
He let go of his own original expectations.
Brother Roger often said: Let us keep moving forward--
Trusting that God will bear fruits of the Kingdom.
And God does.
And It’s stunning to me--
That thousands of young people from all across the globe--
Would travel to a monastery.
Thousands—Every week. Praying.
And this success is due to a humble beginning.
Brother Roger—and the brothers to this day--
Let go of their own expectations.
And place their confidence in God.
They do not claim to have all the answers.
They do not claim to be the only way.
They do not claim to have understood everything.
Instead—they welcome everyone. Of Every kind.
Americans, South Africans, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Argentinians, Germans.
They welcome Christians, Agnostics, Seekers, and Questioners.
Because they truly believe: As Paul says in his letter to the Romans--
That Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
And that’s not just about you and me.
Nothing can separate ANYONE from the love of God.
“For I am convinced” Says Paul:
“That neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things
to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, or anything else in all creation, will
be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Nothing can separate us from God’s love.
No matter who we are.
No matter where we’ve been.
Brother Roger lived this Kingdom reality.
He knew that his life was not merely about himself.
That his community was not about his own expectations.
But about the most simple, humble reality--
Simply sharing God’s love with others.
And he has taught us that a small humble beginning is enough.
A tiny seed is enough.
A pinch of yeast is enough.
And with patience, and Joy--
We can let go of our own expectations.
Let go of our own understanding of what the Kingdom of God would or should
Let go of our own understanding of what our Church should look like.
And trust with Confidence in God’s love--
God’s love which no one—can ever be separated from.
“His disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of
After Jesus gave his response to this question:
Did you fully understand the parable?
I had some help with for today’s sermon on this parable.
There’s a famous Episcopal Preacher,
Named Barbara Brown Taylor.
And she’s largely responsible for what I’m about to say today.
As I sat down to do my sermon research this week,
It was clear that her understanding of the parable was way more helpful than
anything I could’ve come up with on my own!
So let’s review:
“Jesus said: The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed
good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and
sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.”
There’s a lot of grief and anxiety in today’s world.
Open up any newspaper and you’ll see how awful things are.
Many of us: right now in this very church:
Are struggling with deep grief,
Loss, anxiety, health.
Whether the topic is the nation, the church, the economy, or the environment:
Consensus is that things are getting worse, not better.
The whole creation is groaning:
And the weeds seem to be crowding out the wheat.
Those of us who believe in God have a hard time explaining—to our selves or to
anyone else—why things are the way they are: wrestling with a world that is
messier than we would like it to be.
The details may have changed since the Bible was written,
But the dilemma remains the same:
What should we do about this mess?
What CAN we do, and why is it this way in the first place?
If God really is in charge,
Then why isn’t the world a beautiful sea of waving grain?
Or at least the church--
Couldn’t the church, at least, be a neat field of superior wheat?
According to Jesus:
Not even the kingdom of heaven is pure.
It may have started out that way,
But sometime during the night,
While everyone else was sleeping:
An enemy sneaked in and sowed weeds among the wheat.
A weed known as darnel:
Which was a nasty wheat look-alike with poisonous seeds and roots like a nylon
If it’s not separated from the wheat at some point or another,
Those seeds can get ground into the flour and make a loaf of bread that will give
you a real bellyache.
Now we all know from our own gardens and flower beds, that weeds do not
require someone to physically plant them:
They grow all by themselves.
And most of us have got them:
In our yards, and also in our lives:
Those thorny people who were not part of the plan,
Who are not welcome:
Sucking up sunlight and water that were meant for good plants, not weeds.
Some of them are just irritating,
Like poison ivy:
But some of them are as deadly as nightshade,
And the question is: what do we do about them?
In Jesus’ parable, the slaves ask their master:
“do you want us to go and gather the weeds?”
That is, after all, the common sense solution.
Pull them up, cast them out, cleanse the field.
But the boss said “no.”
“No” he said, “For in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with
them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will
tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them into bundles to be burned,
but gather the wheat into my barn.”
This is a stunning statement.
Not least of all because it seems to advocate passivity in the face of evil.
It also seems to suggest that we can do more harm when we think we are doing
good, than when we are doing nothing at all.
But there might be a few reasons that the boss says no to those who want to
neaten up the field.
The first reason is that they are not skillful enough to separate the good from the
They cannot always tell the difference. They exterminate something that looks
like a weed, but when they bend over to pick up the limp stalk, grains of wheat
Did you know:
That in one of the first crusades knights from western Europe blew through an
Arab town on their way to the Holy Land and killed everyone in sight?
It was not until later, when they turned the bodies over, that they found crosses
around most of their victims’ necks. It never occurred to them that Christians
might be living in the Arab town.
Another difficulty with separated the good from the bad is that often their lives
That is one of the ways darnel survives:
By wrapping its roots around the roots of the wheat so that you cannot yank up
one without yanking up the other.
There is no plant surgeon alive who can extract the poisonous seed without killing
some innocent bystanders,
And according to the Boss: it’s just not worth it.
Better to let them all grow together until it is time to harvest.
A second reason to let the weeds grow is that they may turn out to be useful in
In Jesus’ time:
Lumber and coal were hard to come by.
The best bet for heating and cooking fuel was dried weeds or manure.
By letting the weeds and the wheat grow together,
Farmers had almost everything they needed to make bread: the wheat for the
flour, and the weeds for the fire.
The only other thing they ended was a little patience:
A little tolerance of the temporary mess, until everything was put to good use at
For those of us living in the time before the harvest,
That patience can be hard to come by,
But the weeds may still be. Useful in ways that surpass our understanding.
Sometimes the weeds wake the wheat up and remind them who they are.
Sometimes, when the field gets very, very messy, the search for the Sower
becomes a necessity, not a luxury,
And good seeds that once toasted in the sun taking everything for granted
remember that surviving as wheat is going to take some effort.
The point of all of this is that God allows a mixed field.
Whether we like it, approve of it, or understand it or not:
God asks us to tolerate a mixed field too--
Both in the church and in the world.
And this is NOT being passive.
It is, instead, a call to strenuous activity (as any of us who have tried to love our
enemies already know.)
It is not easy being wheat:
Especially with so many weeds competing for the soil:
But what the Boss seems to know is that the best and only real solution to evil is
to bear good fruit.
Our job, in a mixed field, is not to give ourselves to the enemy by devoting all our
energy to the destruction of the weeds,
But to mind our own business, so to speak--
Our business being the reconciliation of the world to God through the practice of
If we will give ourselves to that, God will take care of the rest--
The harvest, the reapers, the fire—all of it.
Our job is to be wheat:
Even in a messy field--
To stay true to our “roots”
And to go on bearing witness to the one who planted us.
For the next few weeks, we’ll be hearing Jesus tell some stories:
And they have a lot to do with sowing, soil, and growth.
And its important to keep in mind that these parables, and their explanations,
Are not just Jesus addressing his first disciples:
But as with all scripture:
Jesus is addressing us too.
This parable could be a way to get us to do a little soil sampling of our hearts:
A little analysis to see what kind of ground we are for “seed-reception.”
This parable could be an invitation to ask ourselves,
How can we make the soil of our hearts more fertile,
More ready to receive the seed that is the word of the kingdom?
How can we be the good soil so we can produce grain a hundredfold,
And be part of a great agricultural ripple effect that makes more and more seed,
That can be sown near and far and take root in places we may never dream of?
How can we clear our little patch of ground,
And be strengthened to endure even persecution for the sake of the Gospel?
How can we root out the thorns of worldly busyness, worry, self-interest,
pettiness, and greed so the word of the kingdom can abide with us,
Settle deep in us, make a home in us, and bear fruit?
These are good questions, and if being good soil is the goal, there is help for us.
Gardeners and farmers tell us that soil that is good for planting has particular
Good soil has a lot of decayed material:
Like grass roots and leaves---that encourages good nutrients, good trainage, and good
Good soil has room for water and air to move through it and get to the seeds and plant
Good soil is more than just dirt:
It’s full of life.
Earthworms, for instance, burrow through soil, carrying away dead matter and taking
needed material from the surface of the soil down deep where it can decompose and
make more rich soil.
In some places, good soil for planting exists because fire has burned off saplings,
preventing forests from growing.
So good soil seems to be the result of letting some stuff go:
Letting some stuff even die:
Perhaps getting burned away and allowing room for life-promoting organisms to do their
The same may be said of our hearts.
To be receptive to the word of the kingdom,
We may need to let some old, false ideas go:
Maybe even let some of them die.
To let idols go or have them taken from us may feel as painful as having them burned
But letting them become compost may be the first step in making healthier soil.
Letting in life-promoting, wholeness-producing understandings of Jesus and the true
nature of God’s reign can turn worthless clay into soil good for planting.
We can be the good soil in which seeds take root and grow into healthy, seed-bearing
Who wouldn’t want to be part of making God’s crop of growth and new life?
But perhaps Jesus has another good word for us in this parable:
Not just the exhortation—come on! Be good soil!--
But the explanation and reasuurance that has to do with the sower rather than the soil.
Perhaps Jesus has an invitation for us to be sowers, and not ONLY soil.
For the early Church,
For those in whom the word of the kingdom initially took root,
And brought healing, peace, and joy,
There was still a conundrum:
Why doesn’t everyone who hears the word believe?
Why is what is so plain to us, so imperceptible to others?
Why, when we can say, “Jesus is Lord,”
Even risk our lives for it,
Why don’t others get it?
What’s wrong here?
We might wonder some of the same things.
Faith in Jesus is important to us.
We go to church.
We’re here listening to this sermon.
Why isn’t everyone?
Why are we showing up, giving, and serving,
While all around us there are people who choose sports or coffee, or sleeping in:
Over what makes sense and is obvious to us?
Why are churches getting smaller or struggling?
Is there something wrong with the word?
Is the seed not what we thought it was?
Are we wasting our time?
Is there something else we should let take root in our hearts?
Keeping soil good for planting can be hard work sometimes,
And we want to know:
Is it worth it?
What if there’s no rain?
Did the sower get it wrong?
To the first disciples, to the early church, and to us:
There is nothing wrong with the seed.
The sower is dependable.
But here’s what happens when the seed falls on different kinds of ground.
Trust the sower.
Trust the seed.
Be good soil.
Be good soil:
But take a clue from the sower too.
The sower’s approach to sowing is carefree, to say the least.
The sower flings seed willy-nilly as she goes:
With seeming disregard for where the seed will end up.
Shouldn’t the precious seed be saved for careful deposit in some meticulously prepared
narrow furrow where it has a better chance of germination and survival?
Not with this sower.
To this sower, it’s as if the seed is so precious:
He can’t hold on to it—it has to be shared.
To hold onto the seed would be to squander it.
This sower’s method seems to be to fling the seed as he goes,
Letting it land where it will, and keep going.
This sower covers a lot of ground,
Not sticking to one pathway, or field, or territory.
The point, for this sower, is to sow.
And so she does.
What if Jesus’ word for us has as much to do with the sower as the soil?
The sower is often taken to be God or Jesus, and that’s a good analogy.
God in Jesus flung the seed of the word of the kingdom wherever he went,
And it found good soil in some places where others thought nothing good or holy could
God in Jesus never said a word aobut some people deserving to hear good news and
(Although he did suggest once that a fig tree that sounds a lot like a group of people
might benefit from a heaping application of compost)
Jesus sowed the word of the kingdom, wherever he went.
He himself was even buried like a seed in the soil,
And from that sowing,
God brought forth an unimaginable harvest.
But in the explanation of the parable,
Jesus doesn’t say, “I am the sower.”
He just says that the sower sows the word,
Wherever the sower is,
Wherever the sower goes,
And sometimes the word gets snatched away,
And sometimes people fall away because following is costly and risky.
And sometimes the cares of the world choke the word,
And sometimes, sometimes,
The word bears ridiculously abundant harvest.
What if Jesus is not only saying to be good soil:
To be open and receptive,
To let dead and death-dealing ideas die,
And to welcome all that is holy and life-giving to make room and a hospitable reception
for the word?
What if Jesus is also saying: “SOW!”
Don’t worry about whether you think the soil you’re walking oer is good or bad, receptive
Don’t be saving up seed for the places you think will be the most fertile.
The seed is so precious:
It has to be shared:
And there’s plenty more seed where that came from.
Not every bit of fruitful sowing is going to happen in the tidy rows of our pews:
Although by God’s grace it can happen even there.
There is so much seed to be sown.
Throw it all over the place.
Get out there, and Sow.
This sums up Mthr Portia's experience. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry narrates.
“Jesus said, ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’”
Just so we get this straight: whoever welcomes you, welcomes Jesus, and
whoever welcomes your friend or neighbor or family member,
or work colleague, or elected official, or mother in law,
or next door neighbor, or chatty seat companion on an airplane,
or vendor at the state fair, or grocery checker, or barber, or the UPS driver,
or the kid who hit your new car with a soccer ball… and so on and so
forth…. Welcomes God?
We could have fun with this! But would there ever be an end to such a list
of those who are welcome?
If there is an end to such a list of who is welcome, what does this mean?
And if not, well- what does that mean?
Whoever welcomes you welcomes me.
And whoever welcomes any one of us welcomes Jesus, welcomes God.
The message we hear in today’s Gospel was important enough to Jesus,
And to the early church, that some variation of this theme shows up in each
gospel: and often more than once.
Also in Matthew’s gospel, from chapter 18:
“whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
And from chapter 25:
“The king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the
least of these… you did it to me.”
Mark includes similar verses.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus declares that
“Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me,
and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
In John’s gospel, in true poetic style, Jesus declares in chapter 13
“Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and
whoever receives me receives him who sent me.”
There are numerous other examples and variations throughout the New
The bottom line emphasis seems to be on inclusion, reciprocity, welcome
and doing for others—all those things it takes to build up community:
To include the stranger as neighbor.
Clearly, Jesus and the early disciples and apostles put a high value on
Pause for a moment, and think about all of our present day drama:
About division, exclusion, keeping people separated, and kicking people
This kind of thinking goes against the teaching of Jesus who talked so very
much about welcome, inclusion, and hospitality.
Such an understanding of hospitality,
of the obligation of welcome, dates back to well before the time of Jesus.
It was a matter of survival and community health which translated into the
religious understanding of what God wants of us.
Where and how do we experience such welcome today?
“Jesus said, ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’”
Is this what we hear?
Or do we hear, instead, words of separation, words of breaking
relationship, and words of opposition.
So many of the ugly attitudes playing out on the world stage and in the
evening news have spilled over into our popular culture.
Today’s gospel lesson reminds us that of our need to witness to welcoming
And thereby welcoming Jesus and the one who sent him.
This Sunday falls between two other occasions marked on the Church
the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul last week and our celebration of
American Independence on the Fourth of July on Tuesday.
It is important to note this for a number of reasons.
First, think about Peter and Paul.
They did not agree on many things, didn’t get along at all,
and finally went their separate ways in the proclamation of the Gospel.
Peter insisted that the early believers must follow Jewish ways,
must be circumcised, must hold to the Law.
Paul’s vision led him to distant lands proclaiming faith in a risen Christ and
urging believers to conform their lives to that faith.
What they had in common, though, was the conviction that God had visited
humanity in Jesus,
and that Jesus had brought something new and remarkable to humankind
demonstrated in a way to live,
a way to relate and a way to witness to God’s love.
And they both understood that the welcome of God was an invitation to a
place in God’s kingdom.
As we celebrate this Fourth of July, and as we sing God Bless America,
and as we roast hot dogs and hamburgers and marvel at fireworks and the
good ol’ red, white and blue,
let us also ask ourselves what Jesus meant in telling us over and over
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me
welcomes the one who sent me”
We may believe differently about the details of faith,
as Peter and Paul certainly did and as Christians are wont to do.
We may understand civic responsibility differently;
Americans have always held a variety of opinions on things.
But for us as Christian Americans or American Christians,
the question of the day growing out of this gospel text asks:
What does it mean to welcome, and how do we do that?
What does it look like in our churches, in our neighborhoods, in our national
policies, in our very attitudes?
For we are Christians first, as citizens of God’s kingdom,
living that faith in an American context of privilege and challenge.
Jesus didn’t say that we have to agree on everything,
but he pretty clearly told us to be welcoming.
Like Peter and Paul, we won’t all agree on everything.
And as Americans, we will stand proudly to celebrate on the Fourth.
When we put all that together,
one possible outcome is that we may have to agree to disagree on some
aspects of American policy as we live our Christian faith in daily practice.
Christian people are called to be welcoming,
for in welcoming others we welcome God. Can we at least agree on that?
As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us,
when we welcome strangers, we may be entertaining angels unaware.
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