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Sermon – 07/17/2011

On 07/17/2011, I was again honored to be asked to lead the services at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Cape Girardeau, MO.  With a focus on the Gospel of Matthew 13:24-30/36-43, I prepared and delivered the following sermon to the glory of God!

Matthew 13:24-30/36-43

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

36Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

h/t AAA Jack's Blog

The Sermon

Pastor probably already mentioned that the 13th Chapter of Matthew is a chapter of parables – seven of them: The Parable of the Sower; The Parable of the Weeds; The Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast; The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl; and The Parable of the Net. Our Lord Jesus called them “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven”.

These parables, according to Scofield’s Reference Notes, “describe the result of the presence of the Gospel in the world during the present age, that is, the time of seed sowing which began with our Lord’s personal ministry, and ends with the ‘harvest’.”

Mark and Luke have their own, more concise, versions of the 13th Chapter. The 8th Chapter of Mark and the 4th Chapter of Luke share some of the same parables. Those Books included two additional parables that were not included in the 13th Chapter of Matthew: The Parable of the Revealed Light and The Parable of the Fruitful Earth. I count 9 in total.

At this time in His ministry, Jesus is traveling and ministering in Galilee. These parables were spoken on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and this teaching takes place between the 2nd and 3rd Passover Feasts of His ministry. More than ‘The Twelve’ were regularly traveling with Him, and the Gospel of Luke goes so far as to list three of the women: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna.

The Chapter begins with Jesus leaving the house and sitting by ‘the lake’. He then boarded ‘a boat’ to be heard by the large crowd that had gathered. In other versions of The Bible, ‘the lake’ is ‘the sea’ (The Sea of Galilee) and ‘a boat’ is ‘a ship’. I wondered whose house he had left, and found in my readings, that it was the house of Peter.

In my last sermon, I calculated that Peter was speaking to at least 3001 people at the Pentecost of Jesus’ death and resurrection, so we could probably surmise that a similar or larger crowd would gather to hear Jesus’ words – especially this far into His divine ministry. Several times throughout His ministry, Jesus boarded a boat (or a ship) to better be heard by the crowds. I’ve read of natural amphitheaters along the sea in Galilee that would amplify Jesus voice to be heard by the thousands gathered.

What kind of people do you think were in this crowd? Pharisees? Sadducees? Wealthy landowners? Military men? Probably not many. The crowd was likely made up of peasants, workers, slaves, small farmers, merchants, and entertainers. However, our story today is based around the activities of a wealthy landowner.

He had fields and barns; he had slaves, servants and harvesters. He had a lot of land and was likely very wealthy.

And…he sowed some seeds.

Now, I’m not a wealthy owner of fields, and the only garden I have is one of those upside-down tomato plants. But, I’ve sure spread my share of grass seed around the yard, and I’ve seen exactly the results that Jesus describes in last week’s Parable of the Sower. Some of it fell on the sidewalk, and of course, the Robins ate it. Some fell right next to the driveway, and it grew fast. But it didn’t have room to spread out its roots, so it died. Some fell next to the weeds, and the sun never had a chance to make them grow. And some fell in the front yard on good soil, and grew a beautiful lawn… …this past spring… …but is now arid, dry and dying in the hot summer sun.

I’ve also had a similar horticultural experience to today’s Parable of the Weeds. I think it was in in 2007. I did everything I knew to do. I used a 25-Gallon sprayer on the back of a 4-wheeler to kill the weeds; I waited; I put down the Weed and Feed; I waited; I put down the grass seed; I watered; I watered; and I watered. Then as the summer went along, a beautiful dark green grass spread across the lawn. I watered some more. One of my neighbors commented about how nice the lawn looked. But as time went along, I became unhappy with how the grass grew. It grew sideways across the lawn. It was so thick that I had to keep cutting it higher and higher. It sent shoots over the sidewalks and the driveway. It had ugly seed pods that quickly shot above the growth line of the rest of the grass. I, like the servants, wondered what kind of grass seed I had sown.

I turned to the Master – in this case, the Internet. I pulled up pictures of grass, and quickly found that I was the proud owner of a lawn filled with Crabgrass. For all my 40+ years, I was absolutely sure that Crabgrass was this other horrible thing that I had seen from time to time. I too couldn’t tell the difference between the good grass and the Crabgrass until well after it had grown throughout the lawn.

The positive side of that story?!?! …my neighbor obviously didn’t know it Crabgrass was either.

The weeds of today’s parable are also called “Tares” or darnel (in Latin: Lolium temulentum). It’s a poisonous weed that is actually related to wheat and looks just like wheat in the early stages of its growth. Its poisonous properties are believed to come from a fungus that, when poisoned, gives on a feeling of drunkenness. It can cause death.

Matfran, a Biblical commentator, notes that to sow darnel amongst a person’s wheat was punishable under Roman Law, and this parable may well have been drawn directly from events which were known to most of Jesus’ hearers.

Considering that rival farmers often feuded at the time, it is not surprising that Roman law would specifically forbid sowing such poisonous plants in another’s field. If you found an abundance of such weeds in your field, you would certainly suspect your enemy’s hand.

One can easily see that the Wealthy Landowner would blame an enemy. He certainly cannot sell poisonous weeds among his good grain. Let’s not poison our customers, eh.

At this point, it would be very helpful if I were a well-studied Pastor or other theologian that had much much more knowledge of Scripture… …because as I studied for today’s sermon, I came across two different interpretations of The Parable of the Weeds. If I was more learned, I could better discern the correct interpretation and discuss it with you. So indulge me and we’ll review them both, and we can decide for ourselves.

The difference in the interpretations was centered on Jesus’ explanation of today’s parable in verse 38. Specifically verse 38 starts with the words, “the field is the world”.

  • Most of the interpretations I reviewed considered ‘the field’ to be the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth – in other words, The Church. It was the seed that God, through Jesus, spread during his ministry on Earth.
  • The other interpretation considered ‘the field’ to be, literally, the World.

Well, if ‘the field’ is only those within The Church, then we better start looking at who’s sitting here today, cause we’ve got some weeds within our mix. I immediately thought of Phil… …just kidding.

I could certainly be that weed in our midst. With the thoughts that go through my head regarding Christianity and religion-in-general, I could easily find myself to be judged as a weed if today were the harvest and the end of the age.

Maybe it’s all of us. The Central States Synod of the ELCA certainly may think that all of us here at St. Mark are weeds; the Baptists over the hill may think we are weeds because we don’t practice full immersion baptism; the Catholics may think we are weeds because we don’t engage in priestly confession.

Maybe it’s all of them. I disagree with churches that don’t practice open communion. Does that make them the weed?

Pick any reason or difference between two Christians, two church buildings, or two denominations, and you can call out the other as weeds. The interpretation of the words in verse 38 as ‘the field’ meaning ‘the church’ is as correct as the other, but it sets up an environment where one person or one group might (incorrectly) judge another.

I have to say that I agree more with the second interpretation – that ‘the field’ is, literally, the World. We know that God’s realm, God’s kingdom, and God’s might rules over and includes all of the earth – indeed over all Space and Time. So, when Jesus sowed the seeds, he sowed them throughout the Earth, not just in the burgeoning Christian Church. And, the evil one came in the night and sowed the weeds… ..throughout the Earth.

And for all the time that man and woman shall inhabit the Earth, the weeds sown by the evil one will dwell among us. Or, if we are weeds, we shall dwell among the good seeds sown by Jesus. The Master has chosen to let us be until the time of the harvest.

There is a big omission in the explanation of this parable if you take the good seed versus the tares too literally. Without some serious and quick evolutionary steps, the good seeds cannot turn into the tares, and the tares cannot turn into the good seeds.

But, that is not true for the human race, and that is the part of the parable that Jesus did not explain. Men and women have the unique opportunity to turn away from the evil of being a weed and turn toward the righteousness of being the good seed. In other words, we can become children of the kingdom if we, simply, believe. That’s all we can do is believe. We are still sinners, but, if we believe, the rest is done for us through God’s infinite love and grace. That’s good news.

And, even better news is that through our work here at St. Mark Lutheran Church, we can become a big part of that evolution of turning others from the evil of the weed toward the Kingdom on Earth. And guess what, our part in this transformation is written on the front of our bulletins, and we talk about it every week.

Our mission is to: Celebrate the Word of God and Respond to Human Need.

By celebrating the Word of God and responding to human need, we can be that community of believers that awakens the bad seeds to the truth of God, Jesus and everlasting life. Through our efforts and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can be like that light that is shining at the end of the age – a beacon that helps to draw those planted by the evil one to the love and abundance of our one God.

Amen

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Posted by on July 19, 2011 in Miscellaneous, The Bible

 

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St. Mark Lutheran Church – Sermon – 05/15/11

Once or twice per year, I am honored to be asked to compose and deliver the Sunday Sermon at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Cape Girardeau, MO.  Last weekend, I gave the Sermon on Acts 2: 42-47.  I am not a Theologian nor have I attended or graduated from Seminary.  Thus, it is quite a challenge to study and prepare a Sermon… …and I really enjoy it!

Below is the Epistle Lesson followed by the Sermon:

Acts 2: 42-47

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

The Sermon

So, I was reading the Lessons for this week, and yes, I feel I’m supposed to speak about the Gospel, but I could NOT stop focusing on the lesson from Acts.  The knee-jerk questions started flying as I read through that lesson:

  • What kinds of ‘wonders and signs’?
  • What is ‘everything in common’?
  • Verse 45 “…anyone who had need” Who?  The Jews?  The Pharisees?  The Gentiles?
  • Verse 47 “…enjoying the favor of all the people“.  What people?  The Jews?  The Pharisees?   Gentiles?  Samarians?
  • What happened to the powers that were granted to the Apostles?  Why weren’t they passed on to future generations?
  • Why did the fellowship end?

For the scripture readings, I try to build in my head a picture or a film or a video of the scene and the actions and the dialogue, and this week, the reading from Acts really came to life.  Then I read the verses that surround today’s reading.  And Verse 41, directly before today’s reading, REALLY brings the picture to life.

41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.     

In Acts 1, we are told that there were about 120 of them – the believers.  That’s, what, about twice as many as we average here on a given Sunday.  Can you imagine Pastor Malone giving such a great sermon, and with the work of the Holy Spirit, 3000 new souls being baptized and added to our numbers in one day?  Imagine every man, woman, and child from Chaffee, MO joining St. Mark Lutheran Church in one day!

I doubt today’s sermon is going to have that affect.

Pentecost is not for a few weeks (June 12th), so it seems were are getting ahead of ourselves.  But, the scene from today’s reading starts shortly after the Apostles spoke in tongues and on the same day as that 1st Christian Pentecost.  Then, the lesson gives us a view of the next few weeks going forward.  I picture the center of Jerusalem, a busy city with thousands of people teeming with merchants, guards, commoners, religious types – all that going on before Pentecost.  Then, the Holy Spirit descends upon the Disciples, and they start speaking in tongues.h/t http://www.speaking-in-tongues.net/

A crowd gathers.  I always imagined that crowd to have been a hundred or so people, but now I know that’s not possible.  I would think the crowd had to be at least 4,000… …at the very minimum, 3001.  I picture Peter practically screaming to be heard by that mass of people – especially at first when they were grumbling about the Disciples being drunk on “new wine”.

Peter stood up and spoke with great conviction.  In his Sermon, he quoted the Prophet Joel, admonished the Jews for putting Jesus to Death, and quoted King David.

And then, those who accepted his message were baptized – 3000 of them.  How many didn’t accept his message?  Based on the wording, some didn’t accept his message.  Some Americans don’t believe NASA landed on the moon.  90% do.  So that ratio would mean that at least 3,333 were listening to Peter.  As of 2009, 79% of Americans believe Jesus rose from the dead.  That ratio would mean about 4,000 were listening to Peter on that first Christian Pentecost.

So, the crowd he spoke to must have been massive, and with 3,000 added to their numbers (and more every day), I see an enormous logistics problem.  And, I don’t see UPS showing up in brown vans to deliver food, water, and other necessities to the Temple.

I see the Temple and Solomon’s colonnade bustling with the newly faithful. I imagine them praying and celebrating the word of God and the Resurrection of Jesus.  I envision people coming and going to and from their homes bringing food, money, and property.  I see Apostles teaching, but also directing, planning, organizing, leading, controlling and appointing other faithful to ensure that this new church can devote itself to the Apostle’s teachings.  All that activity and hustle and bustle is in this scene in my head.

And finally, we are here at Verse 42 with my list of questions:

My first question was ‘What kinds of wonders and signs?

It was fairly easy to locate some specific examples of what we would generally consider wonders and signs.  We think miracles:

  • Peter curing a man unable to walk: Acts 3:1-10
  • Peter causing Tabitha (Dorcas) to rise from the dead: Acts 9:36-10:1
  • Philip dispossessing unclean spirits and healing the paralyzed and lame: Acts 8:5-7

But, I learned that the real wonder and awe goes to the Holy Spirit and the evidence of its presence in the budding the Church.  The fact that so many people believed the teachings of the Apostles in such a short period of time is truly a wondrous and miraculous occurrence.

My next question was of a suspicious nature, “What is this ‘everything in common’?”

Well, it was exactly what it said. Those who had plenty and those who had little sold their possessions and brought them to the Apostles to be included in the common purse.  The Disciples and Jesus kept a common purse, and other groups of Jews used the same practice long before the advent of this Christian Church.  So, this was not exactly new.

But being who I am, my brain immediately saw this as a verse that would be quoted by the Marxists and Communists as biblical evidence that supported their causes.  I could see being admonished to give up the products of my labors to the government because, “What Would Peter Do?”  But, I quickly learned that this commonality was different.  It was not coerced at the end of a gun nor through law or guilt.  Each man or woman made the choice regarding their possessions as the Holy Spirit worked within them.

In Verse 45 & 47, my questions were “Who is this… …anyone who had need?” and “What people were they … … enjoying the favor of”.

William Willimon wrote that “Certainly, Luke makes a makes a distinction between what is said to outsiders and what is proclaimed within the ongoing life of the church.  Far from any modern mushy ‘inclusiveness,’ Luke is quite careful to separate those on the inside, who know, from those on the outside, who do not know.”

Regarding “anyone who had need,” Luke is describing the activities of and within the fellowship, not the beginnings of social ministry.

And, considering in Acts 4, Peter and John were arrested by “the [chief] priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees,” we know that they weren’t enjoying the favor of those people.  (There’s also that little thing where Stephen becomes the 1st martyr in Acts 6.)  Again, Luke was describing the activities within the budding church when they were “praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.”

What happened to the powers that were granted to the Apostles?  Why weren’t they passed on to future generations?

A more knowledgeable person than me could write a book on this subject, but from my readings, put simply, the miraculous powers given to the first Apostles died out with the first Apostles.  Why?  God’s choosing.

It seems that God through Jesus entrusted the 12 Disciples with divine powers and with or through those Apostles to Stephen, Phillip, Paul and Barnabas.  But that seems to be all.  There is discussion of wonders and signs being performed at churches in the absence of the Apostles, but to a lesser extent.

The greatest level and number of miracles were performed during the times of Jesus and immediately following through his first Apostles and a few chosen others.  God chose to use the miracles performed by Jesus and the Apostles to glorify Himself through Jesus and the Apostles.

Additionally, there were many times throughout the Old Testament where there were a greater or lesser number of miracles being performed by God, His Prophets (major and minor), and His believers.  So, it stands to reason that the level and number of miracles would seriously increase during the magnificent event where God, through Jesus, frees us from the bonds of sin… …and then decrease from there.

And my final knee-jerk question was, “Why did the Fellowship end? 

Reading in Acts Chapter 8, we get a pretty good description of why the Fellowship ended.  After Stephen’s sermon and martyrdom, “a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. […] 3But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.”

So that was it; the end of the Jerusalem Fellowship; the end of the great Christian Communion; the end of the Temple Community on Solomon’s Porch.  You might even call it the true end of the Resurrection Pentecost.

There was actually one more question that I had, but it seemed a bit more thoughtful and less knee-jerk.

In what ways is the Fellowship present in today’s time?”

Was the “Great Persecution” the end of the Fellowship?  Did Saul’s attack on the Christian Communion succeed? That wasn’t it; was it? That wasn’t the end.

For in the very next verse, we hear “4Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”

And with that, you can draw a straight line from Jerusalem to Cape Girardeau, MO and all points beyond.  This wasn’t the end; it was the beginning.  It was the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, with Its Divine power, leading the people out of Jerusalem to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.

It was the Advent of our Christian Religion and Faith.  It was the beginning of the Community of St. Mark Lutheran Church in Cape Girardeau, the Communion of our members, and the Fellowship of our believers.

We see the power of that 1st Pentecost all the time here at St. Mark:

  • Every week in the Sanctuary
  • Every month on Sweet Sunday in the Fellowship hall
  • At Spirit Club
  • WELCA
  • Dorcas Circle

I have felt the power of the Holy Spirit in the St. Mark Community since I returned to the area in 2006.  When I arrived, I often cried in the pew in sorrow and despair, and the St. Mark Community in the Sanctuary lifted me with Song and The Word.  I have laughed time and again with different members of the St. Mark Community as we have worked in the Glory of God.  I have felt the pain as we have lost loved ones and watched with pride as we’ve supported those left behind.  I have seen the power of the Holy Spirit as we have cared for those within the St. Mark Community.  And I’ve known that if I was one of those seriously in need, the St. Mark Community was ready and willing to help.  That is the evidence 1st of the days of the Christian Church that I’ve seen at St. Mark.

And I know… …we can grow the St. Mark Community in the same way the Christian Community at Jerusalem grew after that first Resurrection Pentecost – with the divine aid of the Holy Spirit.  In business, they say, “If you aren’t growing; you’re dying.”  St. Mark is certainly not dying.  So I know, as we go outside of our Community at St. Mark, we can count on the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we spread the Good News of Jesus Christ; and we can rely the fact that, as we tell others about God’s Grace, He will “add to our numbers daily”.

Let us Pray,

Lord, thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit and its guidance over the ages.  Help us to rely on its power to continue to strengthen the Community at St. Mark in both love and numbers.  Keep us on the right path so that we may find that gate to everlasting life.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2011 in Miscellaneous, The Bible

 

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Sermon – 08/01/2010 – It Writes Our Mission Statement

Occasionally, I’m asked to lead the services and give the sermon at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.  Here is my sermon from 8/1/2010:

For me, the best part about being asked to give a sermon is that, during the study to prepare for the sermon, I learn SO much.  The first thing I always learn is that I don’t know very much!  I have never read the entire Bible, and I’ve never studied its contents at length, so this gives me a great opportunity to gain more knowledge about my faith.

One of the many things I learned this week that King Solomon, in his old age, likely wrote Ecclesiastes about his frustrations with life; he also wrote Proverbs from his wisdom in his middle years; and he wrote Song of Solomon about the love of his youth – from the woman’s point of view.  According to 1st Kings, Solomon wrote 1005 songs – the Song of Solomon might have just been one of them.  Solomon is also said to have had 700 wives and 300 concubines.  Times have certainly changed; who could afford that.

For Colossians, I learned that most people attribute the writing of the Book to Paul although there are suspicions and arguments that it wasn’t written during his lifetime.  Scholars say it uses a different literary style and words that are not found in any of the other of the undisputed books of Paul.

I learned that the writer of Luke may have been a traveling companion of Paul, and he is also credited with writing the book of Acts.

I learned many other things including a reminder of the fact that the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the Hebrew language of the time only had 22 consonants – no vowels.

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Posted by on August 2, 2010 in Miscellaneous

 

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