Can you drink the cup?


hopeless

 

Can you drink the cup?  The mother of the sons of Zebedee makes a request of Christ, “Promise that these two sons of mine will sit on your right and left in your kingdom.”  Christ sets the overzealous mother and her sons straight, “You do not know what you are asking.”

They were asking for things along the lines of accomplishment without hard work, freedom without responsibility, all the gifts and grace that God has to offer without any of the suffering of the human condition.  Can you drink of the cup, of the cup of your own life?

The hectic pace of this life leaves little time for reflection.  It is an effort to put our phones away and pay attention.  Being fully present is in danger of being fully extinct.  Can you drink the cup?

It took me a long time to be willing to look at the cup of my own life.  Growing up in the presence of alcoholism left me anxious and unwilling to discuss what I had lived through.  Little did I know that others endured the same or worse.  I lived with that for far too long.

It took a lot of counseling in addition to God’s ability to heal for me to arrive where I am today.  Much healthier, but still reluctant to trust.  That is my cup.  No shame in the things that were beyond my control.  To be able to see that the events that take part in each of our lives is God’s way of molding and shaping us, even when those things are painful and don’t make any sense.

Christ’s cup was so painful that he asked if it could pass.  All the ugliness and sin the world has to offer.  Christ submitted to his Father’s will, we should do the same.

 

Pastor Shawn, Seymour UMC

Author of Incomplete

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Blessed are the poor in spirit…


Does GOD Exist?

Does GOD Exist?

Does GOD EXIST?

 

Christ brought with him a message of hope, a message of salvation and a message that turned how we see the world upside down.  He showed us how God sees this world through human eyes.  This God with us.

So, how is it that God sees this world?   And what is his message of hope……..Last week I talked about how Christ called his first disciples and they joined him with nothing more than the invitation of, “Follow me.”

Follow me.  Peter, Andrew, James and John did just that.  As Christ traveled throughout Galilee teaching and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God, crowds of people gathered to listen to him preach and cure people of sickness and disease.

I’ve have talked before about the Roman occupation of the Holy Land.  Life was hard.  The taxes were oppressive, it was all some could do just to exist.  Many were forced to sell their children and themselves into slavery.

Here comes this guy they call Jesus, bringing a message unlike anything they’d ever heard.  Crowds gathered and as this particular group gathered, Christ went up on the side of the mountain and preaches about the kingdom of heaven.

Eight statements, eight blessings, eight beatitudes. Eight statements that turn the world as we know it on end.  The great paradox of Christian life – in order to be first, you have to be last.  The humble will be exalted and the exalted will be humbled.  Where one has to be born again.

In the book of Matthew, the beatitudes take place early in Christ’s ministry – it is his first recorded sermon.  His message of hope.  In the children’s time message I attempted show how things are when they are inverted.

Christ spoke about seeing the world as he sees it, how God sees it.  Not from the vantage point of standing on your head, but of leaving the accumulation of wealth, possessions and other obstacles that get placed between us and our God.

To meet and minister to people where they are and for who they are – children of God, as one who bears the image of the Creator, just as each of us do.  He blesses those afflicted, not based on anything they can do, but simply because they are.

Christ starts this message of hope with, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”……I have read that each of these statements build on the previous one and none of them are possible without this one, the first one.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they will see the kingdom of heaven.  Poverty of spirit is the beginning of discipleship.  It doesn’t mean that you don’t have spirituality.  It means that those poor in spirit are not full of themselves.

They understand their own brokenness, have been convicted of sin and put Christ, the cross and faith at the center of their lives….Those poor in spirit know how destructive sin is, they’ve seen it firsthand.  They know that sin causes them to stray from God, even if only for a short time. 

….Well Pastor, I’ve gone to church since I was a child, I haven’t strayed from God….I don’t know every intricate detail about everyone’s life.  But I would contend that we have all strayed at some point in our life, if only for a short time.

The power of sin is great.  God’s power, grace, mercy and love are greater….Coming before God with open minds, grateful hearts and empty hands.  Knowing that money, power, titles, land, riches and possessions won’t save us and they certainly should not define us.

This message of hope – blessed are they that know of their need for God.  Christ continued with these petitions.  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” 

Do you ever watch the new and some of the stories they report on almost make you sick?  So much suffering, too many evil acts and loss of life.  Blessed are those that mourn over the brokenness of this world. 

For lives that end prematurely, for children that go hungry, neglected or abused.  For people in countries torn apart by war and are displaced.  For those that dead the pain and emptiness in their own life with things like alcohol and drugs.

We mourn for things that we don’t fully understand because they seem so distant or foreign to us….Those that see with eyes and hearts of faith feel the pain of those that suffer.  It is only by the grace of God that we don’t suffer through the same circumstances.

This sermon, not mine – Christ’s beatitudes were taken to heart by many of the saints and they did their best to live out these petitions, as difficult as that may seem.  I’ve talked about Mother Teresa’s example before.

She had been called by God to work with the poor in India.  She sensed that God was calling her to work with the poorest of the poor.  She left behind the work she had done for years and off she went.  She to one of the poorest slums, gathered some children and began teaching them the alphabet….using a stick to draw in the dirt with.

A ministry that would be known around the world, she would become a household name and she started with nothing other than who she was and the message that burnt within her.  Her own message of hope.

That is essentially what ministry is.  Each of us has a message that burns within us, each of us has a story written on each of our hearts – it exists, it is there waiting for that fire to be lit and that song to be sung.

As with the parables that Christ spoke of this scripture, these blessings that Christ bestows call for more than a quick passing over, they have to be studied and wrestled with.  Christ continued, “Blessed are the meek, for they will be filled.” 

God blesses those who are humble and gentle, for the whole earth will belong to them.  Those that submit to God in patience and humility.  What is the opposite of humility………pride, arrogance.  Those things are dangerous.

Pride and arrogance blind us to our own weaknesses while amplifying those of others.  If you are like me, pride can come quickly, seemingly out of nowhere.  It can be easy to take credit for the talent and skills that we have that God granted us. 

Blessed are those who do not return evil for evil, an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth.  Who are slow to anger, abundantly patient and wise.

Christ continues this message of hope when he blesses those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  Thank God for those who seek justice that believe in the right to be treated fairly. 

The road to seek out fairness, equality and justice is not a short one and seems to be the road less traveled. 

We thank God for those that seek out righteousness, who strive for holiness and seek out their God.  Treating all of God’s creation and people with the respect and value they deserve.  There is holiness that lives within each of us.  It cries out to be joined with the one that placed it there.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”  God has given us this treasure of grace, it is only right that we extend it to others.  We should not judge, label or put down others.  We are called to be merciful and love one another unconditionally.

Blessed are those who are pure in heart, for the peacemakers and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.  Christ’s message of hope.

We should be reminded of God’s mercy and grace every day and extend it to others. 

This scripture, these eight statements, the Beatitudes, show us how our God sees the world.  It is a message of hope.

Pastor Shawn LaRue, Seymour UMC

Author of Incomplete

 

 

The parable of the wheat and the weeds….


hopeless

 

In the 13th chapter of Matthew Christ gives the parable of the wheat and the weeds.  “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.”

“Master did you sow good seed in your field?” his servants asked.  “An enemy has done this,” the Master replied.  “Should we gather the weeds?” the servants questioned.  “No, in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.  Let both grow until harvest, the reapers will collect the weeds and burn them, the wheat will be stored in my barn.”

The Master of the house in this parable is God, the seed sown is the word of God and the servants are us – his disciples.  The enemy if the devil who sows weeds in this parable and lies in our lives.  Under the cover of nightfall, when we aren’t watching, when we are at our most vulnerable is when Satan preys upon us.  Sowing the seeds of hate, discontent, anger jealousy, envy and greed.

He is the great sower of lies.  You’re not good enough, you don’t measure up and you won’t gain approval from those from whom you seek it the most.  Those are just a few examples, there are thousands more.  The grain in this parable has to compete with the weeds in order to survive.
Our spiritual’s lives and Christ’s church are the same.  Competing with vacations, ball games, camping, fishing, enjoying the summer weather and on and on.

The weeds, those things that don’t bear fruit, will be gathered up and thrown into the fire.  The good seed, that which produces a harvest of 30, 60 or a hundredfold will be stored up in the treasure of heaven.

Pastor Shawn – Seymour UMC

Author of Incomplete

incompletedevotional.com

The seed and the sower.


Halfway through the book of Matthew, in today’s reading of the 13th chapter, the crowds following Jesus had gotten so large that he got into a boat to address the crowd with his teaching and to speak in parables as he often did.
He got into the boat so that he would not be pressed and could be heard by all that had gathered along the beach. He presents the parable of the sower and the four types of soil. Hopefully this passage from scripture and message I’ve prepared will find a home with many of you given our agricultural based way of living in southern Iowa

I would ask you, after hearing he scripture read and the children’s message demonstrated, who is the sower and what is the seed?

Christ oftentimes spoke in parables and parables can be understood by those willing to be taught, for those unwilling they are complex and difficult. At times, Christ’s own disciples didn’t understand them.

Parables are meant for examination and the searching of one’s soul. To search for the truth in our own lives. The search for God because he is truth. God wants to draw us into relationship with him. This requires effort on our part.

Christ addressed the crowd and said, “Listen! A sower went out to sow and as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up.”

This sentence could just as easily read, “A farmer went out to plant his crops and some of the seed fell on the highway, a gravel road, in his driveway or the access point to his field.”
Would we expect seed dropped in such places to grow? Of course not. Do crops, gardens or flowers grow in soil that is not broken, not plowed or prepared for the seed to be planted in it? Not usually or not very well. Our souls, our lives and our being are the same.

Some seed fell on the path, fell by the wayside and birds came and ate it. That seed laid uncovered, unprotected and was easy prey to those that would devour it. It had little chance to grow.

Christ would sometimes explain what his parables meant so that those in attendance would understand. He did not do that with this teaching, with this parable. He leaves it with the crowd to turn over in their minds and to evaluation their own being and search for truth.

First century life was hard, poverty was common and brutal. Many had to beg to survive. This crowd, these people needed hope. They needed to have their burden made lighter.
We live in an affluent country and probably struggle to fully understand the crushing weight that these people carried. We lead far more comfortable lives today, but our souls today still cry out to know that easy burden and to be nourished, just as this crowd that surrounded Christ did.

Some seed fell on the path and was immediately eaten. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil. There was enough soil for the seed to take hold and grow. But the soil wasn’t deep enough for the roots to take hold and when the sun rose, they were scorched because they had no root and they withered away.

I asked earlier who is the sower and what is the seed. That might seem obvious. The seed is the word of God and the sower is Jesus Christ. That may seem easy enough. But here is the part that requires self-examination.

As I talk about the four types of soil, which one represents you…….Some seed fell on stony places, where there was not much earth or soil. The ground was shallow and although the seed took hold and grew quickly, there wasn’t enough soil or depth to sustain it.

The sun came out and scorched what had begun to grow because it didn’t have the roots or the ability to withstand the heat of the sun and it withered away. With our collective knowledge of farming we know that it is hard to grow much out of stony, rocky ground.

I could use this part of scripture to argue that this is what happens when you don’t go to church. The devil comes and burns up what faith you have. But attending worship is only a part of the Christian, spiritual life.

Being part of a community of faith is important, but so is prayer, reading your bible, being of service to your community, loving your family. If you are completely reliant on my preaching, I’m afraid that we are both in trouble.

The seed that fell on stony ground was quickly burnt up by the sun because it didn’t have deep enough roots. When things get hot, where there is pressure, too much stress, trials and tribulation.

When life seems overwhelming, nothing is going right, not only do we not get everything we want, we can’t seem to get anything we want, it is at those times that those fledgling seeds are at risk. The devil turns up the heat in order to snuff out those seeds of faith.

We’ve had the seed that fell on the path and was devoured. The seed that fell on rocky ground, didn’t have the necessary roots and was burnt up by the sun’s heat. Christ would continue, “Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.”

Other seed fell among the weeds and thorns and was choked by them. Christ doesn’t mention anything that indicates that there is anything wrong with this soil. The weeds and thorns lay beneath the surface. They spring up and grow at the same time and maybe even the same pace as the seed that was planted.

But they overtake the seed, they over take the faith that had started to grow and eventually destroyed it. The seed was sown on ground that appears to be fertile, good ground. But there was competition, it seems like there always is.

I have talked a lot about things like convenience, selfishness and all the things of this world that this flesh burns for. You might be tired of hearing about them. I have some bad news for you. You are going to continue to hear about them.

I’m not going to continue to bring them up to screw with you, I bring them up because things like convenience, our own selfishness – mine included and all the fun, exciting things that the world offers have the power to kill the church.

Just like the weeds and thorns in today’s scripture had the power to overtake the seed that was planted. For those of you that plant flowers, do you plant them in the spring and then never tend to them? I doubt it.

For those of you that garden, do you plant your tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet corn, green beans and other vegetables and leave it idle until fall? Of course not, weeds are pulled, the plants are checked.

Do farmers plant their crops, do they not fertilize, cultivate, watch over and pray for rain for them? Of course they do all those things. It is no different with our spirituality and with our souls. They must be cared for, kept and tended to.

Christ would end this parable with, “Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears hear!”

Not everyone that hears the word of God will hear it, listen to it or pay any attention to it. But for that good soil, that fertile soil – from that will come 30, 60, 100 fold. That soil that has been broken and is ready to be seeded.

Like that soil we are all broken whether we realize it or want to admit it. We are all broken people. All capable of being or becoming that good soil. Everyone has the ability to bear fruit, to be the fertile and rich soil.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear. Not just to hear the audible words, but to allow these words of Christ to take hold in your soul. That this parable would not be about information, but transformation.

 

Pastor Shawn, Seymour UMC

Author of Incomplete

incompletedevotional.com

Faith v. Flesh


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Paul’s letter to the Romans takes place near the end of his ministry.  It includes his mature reflections on the Christian life.  In the seventh chapter he writes, “For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh.  I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”

In spite of our best efforts we still lose our temper, say things we shouldn’t have and may not accomplish everything we want in this life.  Lust, greed, envy and pride are all day every day temptations.

It is only when we understand that this flesh is rebellious, wants everything in it’s path and can only be tamed with faith, that life changes.  Faith and the belief in God is the only context in which our being makes sense.  We are given life freely by our Creator.  We can choose to follow him or reject him, we can pick earth or eternity and convenience or Christ.  We choose to tame the flesh by faith or feed its every desire and ultimately choose death.

 

Pastor Shawn, Seymour UMC

Author of Incomplete

incompletedevotional.com