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08.17.14 When Jesus Learned Grace Matthew 15:10-28

Jesus once asked, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” If the answer is yes, what does such faith look like?

Summary Points

  • What faith doesn’t look like
  • What faith does according to Isaiah
  • What faith doesn’t do according to Jesus
  • How the Canaanite Woman exemplifies the faith Jesus looks for
  • Questions for discussion and reflection

When Jesus returns, what kind of faith will he look for? (Luke 18:8) We can be sure what it doesn’t look like: Pharisaical ritual observance. The Pharisees had just criticized Jesus and his disciples for not washing their hands before eating. (Matthew 15:1-2) When Mark tells the story, he says the Pharisees took pride in washing cups, pots, and vessels. (Mark 7:4) These, they say, are the “traditions of the elders,” and Jesus should follow them.

In the reading from Matthew today, Jesus redefines what it is that defiles. It is not these things that enter our bodies and pass through to the sewers. Rather it is what we do that defiles us. So the question is, What shall we do?

According to Isaiah, those who do certain things will be welcomed by God into the kingdom. These include those who join themselves to the LORD: they seek God’s ways and follow in them. It includes those who minister or serve God, which is to say, they are concerned to live according to God’s values. They also keep the Sabbath, which is very interesting because what we’ll learn in a few verses is that these people are not Jews. So keeping the Sabbath must mean something like attending to spiritual truth in the midst of worldly living. And they will hold fast to the covenant, which must harken back to a covenant that is more universal than the Mosaic one, since again these are not Jews. It could be the covenant with humanity at creation which calls us to good stewardship of the earth.

These are the things God looks for in ancient Israel, and for which Israel is judged when they fail. But God also finds them outside Israel. Isaiah suggests that they are all forms of prayer, for God promises that his house will be “a house of prayer for all the nations.” God says the sacrifices of the nations in keeping with these criteria are acceptable on God’s altars. These criteria are the bases of “being gathered” in God’s kingdom.

According to Jesus, there are indeed things that defile a person, but they are not failing to keep the traditions of the elders. Instead they are the behaviors that manifest the “evil intentions” of the heart. He lists them as: murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, bearing false witness, and slander.

Note that all these are transgressions of justice. They are violations of a person’s divine right to life without fear of being killed, to marriage without fear of intrusion, to ownership without fear of theft, and to having a good name without fear of slander.

People of faith, according to Jesus will pursue this kind of justice, not justice as retribution, but justice as preservation of life as God intends. Wherever God finds these just qualities—among Jews or Gentiles, whether Pharisee or disciple of Jesus—God gathers. When the Son of Man comes, this is what he’s looking for, not religious traditions, but the maintenance of a just society.

The disciples didn’t quite get this. According to Matthew, when a foreign woman seeks Jesus’ help, the disciples want to send her away. It’s much like they wanted to send the crowd of 5000 men away. They didn’t want to feed the hungry, and they don’t want to care for the foreigner. But faith on the earth, that is to say the maintenance of social justice, does seek to feed and care for strangers.

So Jesus engages the Canaanite woman. First he denies her. Then he insults her. But she surprises him with a smart response and he recognizes her faith. Finally, he answers her prayer.

So faith on earth also looks like the preservation of social justice, but it also looks like the Canaanite Woman. She came to Jesus, even when the church said “no.” She pleads with Jesus in the most simple way: “Lord, help me.” Her prayer even takes on the character of an argument. She may very well exemplify the kind of prayer that qualifies in Isaiah’s vision of God’s “house of prayer.” From this perspective, the words from the Psalm come to life: “May God make his face to shine upon us, that his ways may be known upon the earth.”

In Romans 9-11 the faithful Jew Paul is wrestling with the fact that not all faithful Jews followed Jesus. He comes to his conclusion through the great theological truth that, “God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.” In other words, all of us have the same need for a savior—Jew and Canaanite alike. This is good news for anyone who wants to have faith when the Son of Man returns. God is merciful to all.

So even if one’s faith is small, even if one’s faith has been misguided, even if one has been imprisoned in disobedience, God is merciful. All of us are called to be those who pursue justice and to be those who pray. These, we are assured, will see the salvation of God.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • What are some of the “traditions of the elders” in the church today—those things that some people assert we must do in order to be righteous before God?
  • What are some of the other things that truly defile us, transgressions of justice that make us unrighteous before God?
  • How is maintaining a just society an expression of faith? What are some ways we can do better with this?
  • Have you ever thought about praying like the Canaanite Woman? Can our prayers be so simple, determined, even argumentative? Do you agree that this is an expression of faith?
  • How does God’s merciful disposition to all people imprisoned in disobedience free you to a deeper faith? Do you believe that God is merciful even to you?

 

08.10.14 God Speaks in Many Ways Matthew 14:22-33 Sermon Summary

I saw a mentally ill person talking to himself last week and I wondered, “How many people in my congregation view me the same way on Sunday mornings?”

Summary Points

  • Reformed worship, the mentally ill, and preachers
  • When God tends to speak to me (and Elijah, and the disciples)
  • Four additional suggestions when listening for God’s Word
  • Questions for discussion and reflection

In the Reformed tradition, the Word has primary place in worship. By “Word” we of course mean the Bible, but more, we are referring to an encounter with the risen Christ, the Word of God incarnate. We listen for the Word, respond to the Word, and re-incarnate the Word in our lives.

Seeing the mentally ill person last week got me thinking: there is a paradox in Reformed worship, that we come in order to listen, but we don’t really expect to hear. I mean, do you really want me to tell you, as others do on televised Sunday morning worship, that “I heard God say . . .”?

As a professional listener and proclaimer of God’s Word, I’m nonetheless skeptical when people say to me, “God said such and such to me.” I can only remember one person claim to have heard an audible voice, one that could be recorded (another one told me about such an experience yesterday, actually). But for all the others, they refer to something else: a “sense, feeling, leading, prompting.”

As for me, I can only tell you about my own experience of “hearing God’s voice,” and illustrate with some examples from the Bible.

I can tell you that God tends to speak to us when we’re tired, at the end of our rope, totally spent.

Elijah had just defeated the prophets of Baal and as a result, the evil queen Jezebel threatened him with his life. He runs 100 miles from Mt. Carmel to Beersheba where the text says, he abandoned his servant and continued a day’s journey more where he’s fed three meals and told to sleep. He then takes forty days and nights to go to Mount Horeb, probably fasting and praying as he goes.

He has traveled a total of 280 miles from Carmel to Horeb and ONLY THEN God’s Word “came to him.” “Came” sounds to me like a “sense.” The question Elijah “hears” is, “What are you doing here?” It might just as easily have been a thought Elijah had as a voice he heard: “What AM I doing here?”

Elijah answers twice with the same words, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” Between answers, God makes an appearance, but not in the typical theophanies of wind, earthquake, or fire—but in silence. In that silence, which Elijah “heard,” the question came again.

We don’t know how he answered the two times. Was the first time an angry accusation against God, or was Elijah resigned? Was the second answer given more as a lamentation? We can’t tell from the text; we have only the words. But what the Scripture tells us is that Elijah was tired, and that God spoke to him in many ways.

The disciples also were tired. They had just spent the day feeding 5000 plus people. And that night they spent in a boat struggling against a storm. They had worked a double-shift! Besides being tired, I imagine they might also have been angry: Jesus can feed everyone else, but now he goes up in to the mountains to “pray” and leaves us all alone!

Between 3 and 6 AM, Jesus finally comes to them, walking on the water. Tired, angry, and trying to explain his absence, maybe the disciples thought Jesus had died, and maybe they felt a little guilty about all these feelings, because when Jesus shows up, the disciples are terrified and cry out, “It’s a ghost!”

Peter, true to his impetuous nature, asks to walk on the water also. Jesus invites him out, but when Peter sees the strong winds, far from confusing this with the presence of God as Elijah might have done, Peter panics and begins to sink. He cries out to Jesus who reaches out and saves him.

Jesus says to Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Here again, we don’t know how Jesus delivered this. Was it a deep, judging “God voice”? Was it disappointment? Did Jesus find the whole thing a little funny and deliver these words through laughter? Again, having only text with no stage directions, we don’t know. But the point is this: though God is always speaking, even when we’re not tired, it’s still a good idea to listen ESPECIALLY when we’re tired, exhausted, spent, or at the end of our rope.

Drawing some more from these texts, here are some other guidelines for listening for God’s Word.

First, start by being honest. Here remember Elijah’s need to answer God’s question twice. And remember Peter being true to his character. In worship, we offer a prayer of confession and receive assurance of pardon which is our way of being honest about who we are and who God is. We need, and God is, a savior. We also pray for the illumination of the Holy Spirit when we read the Bible and hear the sermon. Without this help, all we have are words. So start by being honest about your feelings, who you are, and your need for the Spirit’s help.

Second, listen for God’s Word in the form of metaphors. God delights in surprising us by how he uses words. This is why Jesus’ favorite teaching method is the parables. We also see God using action-reflection (for example, Elijah), twists, double-meanings, and even paradoxes. God does speak to us in Scripture, but in experience also. God does speak in fire, but also in silence. So listen without prejudice (as George Michael would urge).

Third, it’s important to always return to and listen in community. Matthew tells us, as Peter and Jesus return to the boat, that those in the boat believed. He seems to contrast their experience with that of Peter’s. We know that Peter eventually came back to the boat—he became the first great preacher. We see time after time how God speaks both to individuals and to communities, and to individuals in communities. So it’s important to listen for God’s Word personally, but also to listen in community. Alone we’re quite at risk of getting it wrong; together we’re better assured of hearing God accurately.

Fourth, to hear God’s Word, maybe stop trying so hard. Paul reminds us that the Word of faith, the Word of salvation, isn’t in heaven to be brought down, nor is it dead in the abyss, needing to be brought back to life. He says it is near, on our lips, even in our hearts. The elementary message of grace, and thus of Christianity, is, “stop trying so hard.” Or better even, “stop trying.” God is speaking; just listen.

Psalm 85 says God’s salvation is near to those who call upon him. Our voice may not be very loud, but then again, neither is God’s necessarily. God speaks to us in many ways. Whether we are tired, whatever our condition emotionally, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, the promise throughout the Bible is that, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” May that be so for us.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • Have you ever had an experience of “hearing” God’s Word to you? How do you describe it? What were the circumstances? Is there a discernable pattern in your life where God “speaks” to you?
  • If it’s true that God tends to speak to those who are at the end of their rope, why might that be?
  • When you listen for God through Scripture and prayer, do you start by being honest about yourself? What might that look like?
  • How might allowing more metaphorical and experiential “readings” of Scripture and prayer enhance your receiving of God’s Word?
  • In what ways do you “try too hard” to hear God’s Word? What would it mean for you to “stop and just listen”?
  • Has God ever spoken to you through another person? Have God ever spoken to someone else through you?

08.03.14 When we Are on Empty Matthew 14:13-21 Sermon Summary

We all have physical hunger, and we know how to satisfy it. But what do we do with our spiritual hunger?

Summary Points

  • Three instances of faith illustrating Psalm 145’s promise that God helps us when we are empty
  • The unexpected way God filled Jesus when he was spiritually empty
  • Being blessed as the poor in spirit, and how the kingdom can be ours as Jesus said
  • Questions for discussion and reflection

Throughout the history of God’s people, we have risen and fallen, we have been exuberant and we have been discouraged. Psalm 145:14 says, “The LORD upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.”

In Isaiah’s time, he portrayed Israel as woman who had divorce forced upon her because she was not able to have children. Isaiah’s message? God himself will betroth her. Paul saw the Israel of his time as unresponsive to a relationship with God through Jesus. Paul’s solution? God’s plan extends beyond our time.

And in Jesus experienced Israel as violently opposed to the message of God’s true kingdom. When he heard of John’s execution, he must have seen the writing on the wall. And Jesus’ solution? Feed people.

Jesus had the faith of Psalm 145, and he must have been especially fond of verse 15: “The eyes of all look to the LORD, and God gives them their food in due season.”

When we are physically hungry, we eat. But God knows physical satisfaction is not the end of our purpose. We are hungry for more than just the satisfaction of our physical needs. Jesus’ first temptation reminded us that we do not live by bread alone, but by God’s Word to us. This is why Isaiah also asks, “Why do you labor for bread that does not satisfy? Incline your ear, come and listen to me, that you may live.”

From Jesus’ perspective we who know our spiritual hunger are the “poor in spirit.” And to us “belongs the kingdom of heaven,” according to the Sermon on the Mount. And the one word pronouncement of Jesus on us in this condition is that we are “blessed.”

What does it mean to be blessed as the poor in spirit?

Matthew’s setting of the feeding of the five thousand gives us a picture. Jesus has just learned that his forerunner John has been murdered by King Herod. He attempts to retreat to a solitary place—out of grief, confusion, fear?—but the crowds find him. At the end of a day of healing and teaching, the disciples ask him to dismiss the crowd; everybody’s hungry by now.

Jesus tells them no one has to go anywhere to be fed; the disciples should feed the crowd. “But we have only five loaves and two fish!” they protest. Human logic dictates that a crowd of five thousand cannot be fed with five loaves and two fish.

Human logic also questions whether a pacifist like Jesus can make a difference in the violent world of Herod. Human logic believes Paul is wasting his time being patient with Israel. Human logic dismisses Isaiah’s hope as unrealistic.

Jesus says to the disciples, “Bring them here to me—the five loaves and two fish.” Jesus’s wisdom transcends human logic. Jesus knows that in God’s hands, five loaves and two fish can feed five thousand—even more, since Matthew tells us that number doesn’t include women and children. God can do more than we need with less than we think we need.

The conquered Jesus triumphs. Paul sees all Israel saved. She who had no future in Isaiah’s time has one in God’s time. Jesus feeds five thousand people plus.

Psalm 145:18-20 describes how we might avail ourselves of this God who can do so much with so little. It says, “The LORD watches over those who love him,” that, “God fulfills the desire of those who worship and saves those who pray,” and that “The LORD is near to all who call on him in truth.”

Jesus fulfills these criteria perfectly. Because he loves God, he loved the five thousand; Matthew tells us Jesus had “compassion” on them. Jesus also worships God and prays: looking to heaven and blessing the bread. And Jesus trusts God completely; even enough to turn the task back over to the disciples, whom he instructed to serve the people.

What we learn is that when we put things like five loaves and two fish, no matter what those small numbers represent in the face of much larger challenges in your life, into God’s hands, he blesses them and gives them back to us. Blessed, these become a blessing to others. Isaiah’s promise gives hope to the despairing. Paul’s patience gives peace to those anxious about others with different beliefs. Jesus’ serves the hungry to give us strength.

With this hope, peace, and strength, God sends us forth as his people—full again, even though we were empty. We discover in our emptiness that we are blessed to be a blessing.

Jesus calls us who are empty, in whatever way we are empty, to put our trust in him, to place everything into his hands. He will bless them, and give them back to us as a blessing, not only for us, but for others as well.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • What situations do you face that resemble Isaiah’s childless divorcee, or Paul’s unbelieving family members, or Jesus’ confrontations with powers? Do any of these stories give you a new perspective—new hope, peace, or strength?
  • As a disciple of Jesus, in what ways are you growing in the ways Psalm 145:18-20 describes those who experience God’s blessings? Do you love God, worship and pray, and trust God completely? What obstacles exist in your life that keep you from following Jesus’ example more closely?
  • What do you hold in your hands that only amount to five loaves and two fishes? What might God do with those meager resources if you turned them over his blessing and received them back to bless others?

Anamnesis

Every week my ministry assistant combs the church database and sends me the names of people from the congregation who are celebrating birthdays and wedding anniversaries. I contact them during the week, often on the very day, usually by email or text, sometimes with a phone call, and wish them well. Most people receive these blessings with gratitude, sometimes surprise.

Others never respond. It makes me wonder if it was a bittersweet anniversary. Maybe they are hurt that they heard from me and not from their parents or children. Maybe their wedding day was, in fact, the happiest day of their marriage.

Anamnesis” is the Greek word for the liturgical rehearsal of Jesus’ ministry in the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, or Eucharistic Prayer. This is the prayer in which we consecrate the bread and wine to be for us the Body and Blood of Christ. In the Sacrament, we remember God’s faithful presence to Jesus–how God did not allow death to be the final judgment upon him but instead raised him from the dead and vindicated his ministry of grace, acceptance, forgiveness, love, and justice.

By virtue of our baptism into Christ, at the Lord’s Supper we also remember God’s faithful presence to us–how God will not allow sin, failure, dying, and even death to be the final word on our lives either.

But these promises, based on God’s faithfulness in the past, are only experienced and received once again in the present through anamnesis, that is, if they are remembered. Forget to remember, forget the past faithfulness, and soon we forget the promises of the future which are the basis of our hope in the present.

There are some things we don’t want to remember–things we would rather forget. We’re ashamed or they evoke too much pain. Maybe to remember them calls us to an obligation we don’t want to fulfill. But whatever we refuse to remember can’t be transformed by God’s grace. It remains shameful and painful, we avoid responsibility and can’t grow spiritually, and our past does not experience God’s redemption.

Today is the one year anniversary of a disclosure in my family of origin that fundamentally shifted my ground of identity. It has passed without any commemoration, no anamnesis by anyone except for me. My relatives whose ground also shifted a year ago seemed surprised when I reminded them of this anniversary. Far from remembering, they appear to have forgotten.

I have not forgotten. I don’t imagine my experience is more painful than theirs. It might appear that way since they have chosen not to commemorate the disclosure. I appear to be the only one dealing with the grief of loss and questioning the meaning of my past. I don’t do this because I am more courageous than they, or, as I’ve said, that my pain is greater than theirs.

I do it because I believe in redemption. If weekly celebrations of the Lord’s Supper has done anything for me, it has deposited, with each piece of bread and gulp of wine, within my very being the conviction that pain remembered will be transformed into joy. But in order for that to happen, it requires anamnesis.

What I’ve learned this past year about loss, confusion, grief and pain, is that it can be a very lonely journey. Few people are willing to take it, though everyone has occasion. “Though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil for you are with me, O LORD” has become personal on this anniversary, for more often than not, God was the only one with me.

But who better to accompany me than someone familiar with suffering alone? Someone misunderstood by his mother? Someone betrayed by a friend? Someone deserted by the family he adopted? Someone who cried out to know why his father had abandoned him? But who better also than someone who is present to accompany me because his life was redeemed, and whose testimony is the guarantee that all who would follow in his way will experience the same redemption?

This, then, is my hope–not that anyone in my family will remember a year from now how our childhood memories have become soiled like a photograph surviving a fire. But rather that in a year’s time I may see and experience the redemption that follows honestly grappling with the pain of loss, the redemption that follows anamnesis.

07.13.14 Of Seed, Soil, and Spirit Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 Sermon Summary

Why does Jesus begin and end one of his most famous parables with the word, “Listen!”? Probably because too often we don’t.

Summary Points

  • Why continual listening is so important
  • The first soil of hardness
  • The second soil of shallowness
  • The third soil of weeds
  • Giving the seed the best chance of being in the fourth soil of harvest
  • Questions for discussion and reflection

I think one of the greatest hindrances to our own spiritual growth, and to our growth as a faith community, is that we think we know what God is saying. And then we repeat it in ways less gracious than God himself.

Of the many places in the Bible where it’s clear we don’t know what God is saying, the parables of Jesus are perhaps the most obvious example that God’s Word has multivalent meanings.

Here’s an interpretation of the parable of the sower. It’s only one interpretation, and it may be entirely wrong.

The first soil is actually a path, and the birds come and eat the seeds. There is a hardness here, the result of being well worn. It is bred from familiarity and habit. It is the result of not understanding, according to Jesus’ own interpretation, and that’s the problem.

According to Jesus, the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your mind. This means we can’t say to ourselves, “I don’t understand this. I can’t understand this. It’s too hard.” If our attitude is such, we can’t be too surprised when the seed is stolen by birds.

The second soil is shallow, superficial ground. Since the seed can’t grow down into strong roots, it grows up, and quickly. It appears enthusiastic and excited. It’s like the new convert to Christianity who hears about forgiveness of sins and the new life in Christ and says, “Yes! That’s for me!” But it isn’t long before they face the same temptations and distractions so they end up leaving saying, “I guess it doesn’t work.”

In our church, we welcome and love every visitor. We also encourage them to regularly attend worship for 2 months before considering membership. We encourage them build relationship and serve with us for a while. This establishes roots so that when I say something they don’t like in a sermon, or we sing a song they don’t like, they are less likely to wither away.

The problem of the second soil is that people have listened uncritically. They are not skeptical enough. They didn’t dig into the issue deeply enough to, again, understand for themselves.

The third soil represents the seed surrounded by weeds. In his interpretation, Jesus identifies two weeds as the “cares of the world” and the “lure of wealth.” This is forgetful soil—forgetful that God is greater than our cares, and that God is more valuable than wealth.

This is soil that isn’t supported by gardening and “interseeding”—the strengthening of the first seed by the addition of other seeds. In our church we try to interseed often. This is why we read so much scripture in worship (from the lectionary: an Old Testament reading, a Psalm response, a New Testament epistle, and the Gospel). This is why we send the “taking faith home” bulletin insert home with you. It’s why we have the Faith Connection Card responses. It’s why these sermon summaries have reflection questions. And it’s why we have difficult conversations, e.g. same-sex marriage in the church.

We do all this so you don’t have only one seed planted on Sunday morning. Imagine if you only watered your lawn on Sundays. What would happen? The same principle applies with the seed of God’s Word. The more we listen, the better chance this seed has to grow in the fourth soil.

The fourth soil sees the seed yield a harvest: Jesus says a hundredfold, or sixty, or thirty. It is obvious that the number-fold of the harvest is not the point; we’re not to be dismayed if we are a thirtyfold or proud if we are a hundredfold producer. The point is that there is a harvest, whether small or large. That is the distinguishing factor of the fourth soil.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • Talk about a time when you were sure you knew what God was saying, and then you changed your mind. Or if God ever told you one thing at one time, then something else at another. Or if you have ever known anyone who knew what God was saying and wasn’t very gracious sharing it with you.
  • Where in your life do you find the soil of hardness? Where do you dismiss out of hand the words of scripture, a sermon, or a prophet?
  • Where do you find the soil of shallowness? What hot topic of scripture or Christianity are you neglecting to study? Same-sex marriage is one in the PCUSA. What about pacifism, immigration reform, military spending, welfare, human trafficking, consumerism in the church, etc.?
  • Where do you find the soil of weeds? Which “cares of the world” or “lures of wealth” distract you from attending to God’s Word in your life? Do you believe that God is greater than our cares and more valuable than the wealth of the world?
  • How often and in what ways do you “interseed” what you receive in Sunday worship?
  • Check out some other thoughts at the “sermon scraps” of this message, or at the summary of a sermon on the parallel passage here.

 

07.13.14 Of Seed, Soil, and Spirit Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 Sermon Scraps

Here are some scraps that didn’t make it into the sermon.

Here are some other unexplored ideas arising from this parable:

  • Jesus’ parables call us to live in the kingdom of God. As such they invite us to identify with any number of facets of the parables. With this in mind, what if you were called to be the sower? How might you sow the seed of God’s Word? It could be studying the Bible with others, but it could also be providing a listening ear to someone in distress. It could be teaching a class to down-and-outers. It could be saying kind words to strangers. It might be offering to pray with someone.
  • God, or Jesus, is often identified as the sower. Notice how indiscriminate the sower in the parable is. Can you imagine if Pioneer Seeds yielded a harvest only 25% of the time, and if that harvest ranged from thirtyfold to a hundredfold arbitrarily? They’d go out of business! And yet here we have the sower of God’s Word flippantly tossing seeds everywhere. What does this say about God? About God’s Word? About God’s hope for the soils?
  • So often spiritual seeds are planted and we don’t know when they will bear fruit. I went to VBS as a kid and my grandmothers prayed for me throughout my childhood, but I didn’t come into the church until high school. Track down some of the original plantings in your life. How far back do they go? Who planted them? What long term seeds are you planting today?
  • Financial gifts early in the life-cycle of a business venture are called “seed money.” Are you planting any financial seeds in the church? God only knows how your donation of even small amounts can grow into something much bigger.
  • Some people hear in this parable a threat or a warning. Perhaps that is there. But there is also grace in this passage in at least two instances. First, the sower has a job and it is to sow. He sows here and there, and year after year. Who’s to say that this year’s bad soils won’t become next year’s good soil? Time will tell, but only because the sower is faithful to sow year after year. Second, the sower believes, year after year, that even the bad soils are worthy of seed. He doesn’t assume barrenness of any situation. The sower’s job isn’t to judge first, but to sow in hope. Think about what this implies about God’s perspective of you.

 

Articles on General Assembly Actions

221 ga logoFriends of Faith Presbyterian, Pueblo Presbytery, and Other Interested Parties,

Since the 221st General Assembly concluded June 21st scores of news articles and opinion pieces have been written about the two most controversial actions, namely concerning same-sex marriage and divestment. I have spent several hours reading everything I could find and have narrowed them down to the following articles that I believe are best. Much of what I have read has been inaccurate, misinformed, distorted, or sensational.

The criteria for inclusion on this list include:

  • That the articles are respectful, accurate, and fair
  • I have given insiders’ (Presbyterian and faith-based sources) perspectives priority over outsiders’ (mainstream press)
  • I have generally avoided explicitly advocacy groups
  • Many of these articles I have culled from Facebook friends I trust

If you would like to suggest additional articles I should include, please feel free, but only if they contribute something new and generally fit the criteria above. Please check back regularly if you are interested, as I will add articles as I find them. And please feel free to share the link to this list broadly.

I do not encourage you to read any comments that might follow the articles. Generally speaking, the comments depart, often significantly, from the “respectful, accurate, and fair” criterion above.

The list has three sections: the actions of the GA in general; divestment; and same-sex marriage. I have introduced each article with a very brief description of its value.

In General

The official PCUSA news agency summary in bulletin-insert fashion. http://www.pcusa.org/site_media/media/uploads/oga/pdf/assembly-in-brief-ga221_combined.pdf

Lengthy, analytical summary. http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/2014/06/abounding-in-hope.html

A pastoral letter to those on the “losing side” encouraging faith and ongoing dialogue. http://improvisewip.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/a-little-open-letter-moving-forward-in-hope-and-love-after-ga221/

A pastoral letter reminding us that the sky isn’t falling. http://helpingmyunbelief.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/should-death-await/

Letter from a Presbytery Executive (regional head) summarizing the most controversial GA actions and reminding us that we are all in this together. http://www.al.com/living/index.ssf/2014/06/presbyterian_leader_pens_lette.html

NEW: Nice take on how diversity with unity may still prevail. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/henry-g-brinton/presbyterian-church-fight_b_5556035.html

Divestment

A good summary with the full text of the GA action. http://jhbelljr.net/2014/06/21/pcusa-divestment/

From the NY Times, a general and accurate description. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/21/us/presbyterians-debating-israeli-occupation-vote-to-divest-holdings.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0

A balanced summary from Israeli paper Ha-Aretz. http://www.haaretz.com/mobile/1.600148

Official letter from PCUSA to American Jews assuring them of our good will and commitment. http://www.pcusa.org/news/2014/6/26/open-letter-pcusa-us-our-american-jewish-partners/?utm_content=bufferdd72f&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

A Jewish voice of support and hope regarding GA decision to divest, including an appreciative list of positive statements the GA made. http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2014/06/23/the-presbyterian-divestment-vote-toward-a-new-model-of-community-relations/#.U6yg_QDZiDM.facebook

From a Jewish Rabbi putting in perspective the strategy of divestment. http://velveteenrabbi.blogs.com/blog/2014/06/caterpillar-et-al.html

Perspective from a Jewish organization sympathetic to PCUSA’s decision. http://peacenow.org/entry.php?id=6457#.U7JD_vldWSr

An understanding voice from Lebanon. http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Opinion/Columnist/2014/Jun-25/261466-the-presbyterian-church-takes-a-stand-on-israel.ashx#axzz36Br3TiZg

Though from an advocacy group, it gives helpful details about the three companies from which we have divested. http://presbypeacefellowship.org/divestmentrelease#.U7JEXPldWSo

Other companies from which we’ve divested. http://www.pcusa.org/site_media/media/uploads/mrti/pdfs/2014_ga_divestment_list-long_form-final.pdf

Same Sex Marriage

A letter from conservative advocacy groups in the PCUSA urging faith and patience. http://www.pfrenewal.org/issues/428-pastoral-letter-pfr-fellowship

From the head of the Fellowship of Presbyterians, PCUSA churches that share the same concerns as those congregations that have left. http://pres-outlook.org/2014/06/journey-ahead-us-thoughts-evangelical-remaining-pcusa/

Official PCUSA news agency summary.

http://www.pcusa.org/news/2014/6/19/assembly-approves-allowing-pastors-perform-same-ge/

Our decision relative to other denominations’ positions. http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2014/06/19/3451183/nations-largest-presbyterian-denomination-now-allows-same-sex-marriage/

Summary of GA action and how we compare to other denominations on the topic. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/19/presbyterian-church-gay-marriage_n_5512756.html

Address by Mark Achtemeier who wrote The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage. Provides a very brief outline/introduction of the book. http://covnetpres.org/2014/06/will-know-fruits/

A post from a friend who recognizes as I do that the new minority can learn from the new majority on how to be in a church despite disagreement. http://mollyfide.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/hoping-through-the-pain/

From an expert on young adults on whether we will ultimately decline or grow as a result of these decisions. http://www.christiancentury.org/blogs/archive/2014-06/why-pcusa-can-grow-because-marriage-equality

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