Monday, September 28, 2009

Outrageous Sowing

Apple Festival Sermon for 9.27.09
Lectionary selected by pastor: Psalm 17:1-8a; 2 Corinthians 9:6-10; Mark 4:26-32

Please pray with me: “O Lord, I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me” (Psalm 13:5, 6).

From today’s Gospel: “When [the mustard seed] is sown, it grows up… and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

I have witnessed a miracle this week, the miracle of work and prayer and hospitality. Many of you came here to peel apples after a long day of work, some took days off, or simply did not go to work at all so that you could help. People came who don’t belong to our church. The Children’s Home sent two groups of boys on consecutive nights, with a staff member, to peel apples—and the Director phoned me the next day to thank me and tell me what a wonderful time they’d had. Your former pastor David Houston arrived with a whole group from his church! And after the day-long Festival, there was dinner—two seatings worth! People were still down in the kitchen cleaning up as I finished this sermon at 9:30.

Several workers introduced themselves to me as “I’m one of your parishioners who doesn’t come to church.” Well, they were here this week, drawn by something that only a community of many hands and hearts can achieve. We stretched ourselves and made Esopus a happier place. I believe that we found the will to do this day proud—that we were stretched—by something bigger than all of us.

Because I’m your pastor, I want us to know how Biblical we have been. As a Community of the faithful, it is so important for us to realize this. The passages that Marilyn and Joy read so beautifully to us describe and affirm what we have seen here with our eyes, hearts, touched, and tasted of the word of Life!

You have the passage from Corinthians right in front of you on your leaflets. In this passage, Paul shows his love of the idea of sowing and reaping, and he starts by describing us: “The one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” How does this happen? Here are Paul’s guidelines: #1 We give, each one of us, just as we have decided in our hearts to give (NIV translation). “Hearts” is better here than “mind,” which sounds calculating, too rational, and certainly doesn’t describe our energy. #2 We give “not reluctantly or under compulsion.” Clearly this was the case. #3 In fact, our sense of well-being, of having done what was simply good—exhausting as it may have been—brings blessings “for God loves a cheerful giver.” #4 Moreover, says Paul, the Creator who orders the seasons for sowing and harvest, will also “increase the harvest of your righteousness.”

You have been doing this Apple Festival for a long time and the harvest of your righteousness has grown. I am taking nothing from you, I hope, when I involve God, our Creator, in the whole process. Here is verse 10 again from Corinthians: “He who supplied seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.” Paul uses the image of sowing and reaping because it captures the interplay between God, the seed giver, and us, the harvesters. God is not only the source of abundance, but the source, the supplier, the initiator of the Grace that allows us to respond with goodness and generosity. This wonderful interplay is one reason that I start so many of my prayers by asking God to be with us and by thanking God for being with us. For me, this week was indeed filled with important human interactions. The week was also overflowing with God. Dancing in the light of God, actually, as one of our hymns puts it. I think that’s pretty awesome.

And that brings me to the gospel of Mark. Mark is telling us a story about bringing in the Kingdom. “The kingdom of heaven,” he loves to say, “is as if…” and then he fills in the blank. Guess who filled in the blank yesterday! We were living in the Kingdom, good people.

Mark’s first parable suggests that this happens slowly, mysteriously, almost without people knowing it. “The seed would sprout and grow,” Paul writes, the farmer “does not know how.” And then suddenly, there it is, something immense!

Mark also gives us a second parable of the Kingdom. How on earth, he says in effect, can we describe the Kingdom of God? Well, it’s like a mustard seed, so small, and yet when it grows, it “becomes the greatest of all shrubs.” In the Middle East, it typically grows from about two to six feet. And I’ve seen fields of it in India, spreading across the landscape like great golden saris.

As Paul’s listeners knew, this plant is both hardy and intrusive; once it takes hold, it tends to take over. What’s more, it “puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” Please savor every word here: The branches of the mustard plant are strong and wide enough so that creatures can find refuge, a place that is home. This week, I felt as though I was watching mustard seeds—or maybe apple seeds—pushing up and taking over.

I saw how happy the boys were who came from The Children’s Home. I watched people really enjoying themselves. There were reunions—with Pastor Johnson and his wife, for example. There were chance encounters, serendipity all over the place. Because we drew from all over our township, I was able to meet people whom it would have taken me hours to find otherwise. I was able to have conversations with them about the town and the people here. I believe there will be harvests from these conversations for our church and for our town. And harvests of different kinds for each of us.

But I hope we will remember the outrageous nature of that mustard seed: It can shelter because it is hardy and persistent. It knows its potential for good and achieves it. Such is God’s Kingdom on earth of which we, this church, in this time and place, are a part.

Let us pray: Dear God, help us to build on our time together this week, with one another and with you. Let us not forget our energy and excitement. Let us go from strength to strength, praising you who are the course of that strength and of our abundance. Thank you for loving us as the apple of your eye. AMEN.

*** BULLETIN ***
Apple Festival Worship – September 27, 2009
Lectionary readings for next Sunday: Genesis 1:20, 22-26, 28, 31; Psalm 148; Romans 8:18-23; Matthew 25:31, 34-40

Organ Prelude
Greeting by Pastor
Invocation (in unison):
Grant us, O God, a mind to meditate on you; eyes to behold you; ears to listen for your word; a heart to love you; and a life to proclaim you; through the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

*Introit #707 “Hymn of Promise”
*Call to Worship: Psalm 17
Pastor: Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry;
People: Give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.
Pastor: From you let my vindication come;
People: Let my eyes see the right.
Pastor: If you try my heart, if you visit me by night,
People: If you test me, you will find no wickedness in me; my mouth does not transgress.
Pastor: As for what others do, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent.
People: My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.
Pastor: I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;
People: Incline your ear to me, hear my words.
Pastor: Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.
People: Guard me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who despoil me, my deadly enemies who surround me.
*Opening Hymn #170 “O How I Love Jesus”
Prayer of Dedication (in unison):
Lord, hear; Lord, forgive; Lord, do. Hear what we speak not; forgive what we speak amiss; do what we leave undone; that not according to our words or our deeds, but according to your mercy and truth, all may work for your glory and the good of your kingdom, through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Words of Assurance
*Assurance Hymn #128 “He Leadeth Me”
Greeting One Another with the Peace of Christ
Time for Children of All Ages
(Children 3 and older may proceed to Children’s Church.)

Proclamation of the Word of God
New Testament Reading: 2 Corinthians 9:6-10
Instrumental Music
Gospel Reading: Mark 4:26-32
Sermon: “Outrageous Sowing” Pastor Dora J. Odarenko

Response to the Word of God
*Hymn #83 “Canticle of God’s Glory”
Sharing of Joys and Concerns
Silent Prayer followed by Pastoral Prayer
The Lord’s Prayer
The Offering of Our Gifts
*Prayer of Thanksgiving

Sending Forth
*Closing Hymn #711 “For All the Saints”
This hymn is dedicated to Shirley Corder, Roger Mabie, Ethel Howard, Ann Petrizzo, Nat Ciccone and all of our Apple Festival Champions.
*Dismissal with Blessing
Organ Postlude

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