Wouldn’t It Be Easier?

The Israelites complained to Moses, “Isn’t this the very thing we told you about while we were still in Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’ because it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’”               – Exodus 14:12 (paraphrase)

“You would cut off your own nose just to spite your face.” This is an old saying that I didn’t really understand when I was young. I mean, it sounds kind of silly, right? Who would mutilate themselves in order to make a point? Actually, I hadn’t thought about it for many years. Just the other day, however, as I was thinking about the great changes that we as a society are undergoing, this saying came back to me. And I began to wonder how many people “would cut off their own nose” just to avoid change? How many people would “spite their own face” just to keep the status quo?

Well, that seemed to be the sentiment among the Israelites as the reality and the cost of liberation became apparent. So, they complained to their leader, Moses, about the condition of their freedom. In essence, they wondered out-loud if it wouldn’t have been easier to have stayed in Egypt? Moses challenged them later in this passage, however, when he said, “…overcome your fear and stand firm, and you will see the deliverance that God will accomplish for you today.” Moses was reminding the Israelites, that while deliverance from bondage could be a frightening in the moment, the reward for standing firm, the prize for their steadfastness, would be greater than they could possibly fathom.

Now, in these unsettling and unusual times we too may wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to keep the status quo. But here’s the thing. The Covid-19 virus and the Black Lives Matter Movement have forever changed our society. Change is here whether we like it or not. And that being the case, it seems to me that we have a few choices to consider. I mean, will we accept the new normal of this pandemic? Will we forego some of our former activities, follow the CDC guidelines, and save the lives of as many people as possible, or will we let the fear of change lead us to cut off our own noses? And moving forward, will we accept this emerging transformation in how our differing races relate to one another or will we “spite our own face” by resorting to old stereotypes or racial slurs?

My friends, in these uncertain times, as we ask ourselves these difficult questions, and as we push-down our fears, rest assured that God is with us on the journey. We have example after example from Scripture calling us to fearlessly choose the difficult path by faithfully pursuing justice, by offering kindness, and by seeking wholeness for all of God’s people. This is the more difficult way, but in the end, it is the better way. May we find our way through the wilderness of these times, together.

Shalom and Many Blessings, Pastor Phil

A Broken Center

A Gathering Prayer

Blessed are they who fall in the mud, who jump with gusto and rip the pants, who skin the elbows, and bruise the ego, for they shall know the sweetness of risk.

Blessed are they who make giant mistakes, whose intentions are good but impact has injured, who know the hot sense of regret and ask for mercy, for their hearts will know the gift of forgiveness.

Blessed are they who have seen a D or an F or C or any letter less than perfect, who are painfully familiar with the red pen and the labels as “less than,” for they know the wisdom in the imperfect.

Blessed are they who try again, who dust off, who wash up, who extend the wish for peace, who return to sites of failure, who are dogged in their pursuit, for they will discover the secret to dreams.

Blessed are they who refuse to listen to the naysayers, for their hearts will be houses for hope.

Blessed are they who see beyond the surface of another,

for they will be able to delight in the gift of compassion.

Blessed are they who stop running the race to help a fellow traveler, who pick up the fallen, who stop for injured life, for they shall know the kindness of strangers.

Blessed are they who wildly, boldly abandon winning, for they shall know the path of justice.[i] Amen & Amen.

Scripture Reading  Mark 4:30-32 (A Paraphrase)

Once Again Jesus said, “What shall we say the Realm of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It’s like a tiny mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, as a matter of fact, it’s branches are so expansive, that the birds can perch in its shade.”

Our world feels like it is falling apart. We don’t know what to count on. We don’t know who we can trust. We don’t know what to believe. We don’t know where to go or how to be safe getting there. We don’t know if we’re infected with a virus. We don’t know if our companies will survive. We don’t know what this trauma is doing to our children. Where to we turn in these trying times?

Well, William Butler Yates might help us out here a bit. He once penned these famous lines:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed,
and everywhere […everywhere]  
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

My friends, the center is not holding. All that we trusted – institutions, leaders, corporations, multinational agreements, democracy, capitalism; it all seems to be falling apart. But here’s the thing. When the center is broken, we instinctively turn to the Center that’s always whole. We seek God, the One that was, is, and will always be. [ii] But as we do that, as we turn once again to the center of our faith, as we once again look to the church for reassurance, we come with new questions and with the same old questions; we come longing to begin to put the pieces together.

Now, for as long as I’ve been active in the church, people have been telling me it’s dying. With charts and graphs and data, I’ve been told many times that the center of my life, the church, used to be the right size but now it’s too small. But that’s not what I see. I view churches like mustard seeds – looking to all the world like something too small to matter but with room enough for so many in their shade. [iii]

Consider our church buildings. Some people might look at both of our beautiful church buildings, Cable and Delta United Churches of Christ, and simply see places to gather on Sunday mornings. And until this past spring, that was a big part of our identity as faithful congregations. But if this pandemic has shown our on-lookers anything, it’s that we’re more than just two well-maintained church buildings. When we say we are the “Church” we’re not talking about the buildings’ we’re talking about the people. Our congregations, our members and friends and visitors are the body of Christ on any given Sunday or Wednesday or Tuesday. We are the Church because the Church is anywhere the love of God is demonstrated through acts of compassion or justice and the Church is present anytime we seek to bring wholeness to humanity or creation.

And yes, before this virus hit, we participated in countless outreach ministries and creative mission opportunities. And in the United Church of Christ and in both of our congregations, we’ve always been a little ahead of the curve in our openness to a variety of people from many different walks of life. We’ve been, and continue to be, churches who offer an extravagant welcome by sharing God’s invitation to all people, no matter where they find themselves on life’s journey; an offer to fully participate in the life, worship, and sacraments of the church. God’s invitation is not reserved for an exclusive, righteous few, but it’s extended to all people – all people – no exceptions.

Now, with all of that being said, the fact is we’ve had to cancel or modify or postpone a whole bunch of things that define who we are as Delta and Cable United Churches of Christ. These opportunities to gather for worship or bible study or fellowship are dearly missed. I get that! This is another aspect of that broken center that Yates and I mentioned earlier. But… but here’s the thing. Out of brokenness comes an opportunity to discover wholeness, perhaps even a greater wholeness than we had before.

I mean, consider our parable for today that Jesus shared so many years ago. He looked around at those gathered there, in the dusty arid wilderness, and he struggled for a story to which they could relate. “What shall we say the Realm of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?” Notice here in Mark’s account that Jesus says nothing about faith. You see, for Mark the mustard seed represents the Kingdom or the Realm of God, a realm that was present all around them. Jesus was the center of that realm and his life was defined by love and grace and forgiveness and compassion. These attributes of Jesus, then, create for us an image of what the realm of God should look like here, in our time. An image meant to bring us peace amid chaos, justice instead of oppression, and wholeness in the midst of brokenness.

And here’s the good news!  We don’t need to have all the answers. We need but a tiny understanding of this present realm, a mustard seed of the attributes of Jesus will be sufficient to center ourselves on God and the work of compassion and extravagant welcome to which we have been called!

And here’s the better news! Even when the world seems like it’s falling apart, even when the centers of society seem broken beyond repair, we can find our center God because God is always faithful.

And finally, here’s the best news of all! God is love and each of us are loved by God. And we as God’s faithful are called and challenged to be the Church beyond our buildings by sharing God’s love with all people and by loving all of creation with that same passion.

May it be so. Amen and Amen.

 

 

 

 

[i]  A Blessing for Risk-Takers and Failures By Robin Tanner

[ii] Carmen Trimble Plotting Faith (carmon@congergenceus.org) 2020

[iii] John Edgerton Small But Spicy (dailydevotional@ucc.org) 2020

Guerrilla Gardening

Matthew 13:24-30 – The Parable of the Weeds

 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like someone who planted good seed in his field. While people were sleeping, an enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat and went away. When the stalks sprouted and bore grain, then the weeds also appeared. The servants of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Master, didn’t you plant good seed in your field? Then how is it that it has weeds?’ An enemy has done this,’ he answered. The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and gather them?’ But the landowner said, ‘No, because if you gather the weeds, you’ll pull up the wheat along with them. Let both grow side by side until the harvest. And at harvesttime I’ll say to the harvesters, ‘First gather the weeds and tie them together in bundles to be burned. But bring the wheat into my barn.’”

I learned a new term this week. Guerrilla gardening. What is guerrilla gardening? Well, an article I read defines it as “…the illicit cultivation of someone else’s land. It is usually done in the name of improving urban space and as an action against urban blight. It can be very politicized, and it can also be informal. Sometimes it is a short-term gesture, as in throwing a seed bomb over a fence into a vacant lot. Other times it can grow into something much more permanent, like the garden plots in my neighborhood.”[i]

Now, let’s think about guerrilla gardening in light of the parable of the weeds that we have before us today. To me, it sounds like a guerrilla gardener is the opposite of the “enemy” in Jesus’ story.  The guerrilla gardener spreads “wheat” in places where only weeds had previously existed. But how might these contrasting examples of gardening speak to us today? How might we, as people of faith, spread the seeds of compassion, of grace, of justice to the “vacant lots” of our community, to the forgotten spaces in other corners of this world? How might we overcome the evil that exists all around and within us? Under what conditions might we become guerrilla gardeners?

Well, many of the same questions that trouble us also troubled the earliest Christians, including the community Matthew addresses here, in his Gospel. Now, Matthew often used language of judgment, decision and division, sometimes producing terrifying scenes of condemnation. In response to our ancestors’ struggle with the presence of evil in their midst, Matthew provided them with pictures and promises to help them endure and persist, even if their little community, and the big world beyond it, seemed infected and flawed by  the “weeds” sown by an unseen power at odds with God’s vision for the world.

Barbara Brown Taylor shares that parables are not direct answers to the questions that we want clearly and specifically answered. But instead, she says, they deliver “…their meaning in images that talk more to our hearts than to our heads. Parables are mysterious. Left alone, they teach us something different every time we hear them, speaking across great distances of time and place and understanding”[ii]

Parables are mysterious, and as I said last week, if we take them to literally or if we think we’re certain about their meaning, the parable and thus the message is in danger of become irrelevant. But if we’re made uncomfortable by the challenge of a parable, we’re probably getting a little closer to the heart of what we’re meant to gain from it. You see, “Parables are short stories that often teach by criticizing bad behavior and calling for hearers to reform their lives. These are not simply reflections on the kingdom of heaven; these are directions for how to create the kingdom of God here on earth.”[iii]

Now, like last week’s lectionary reading, our passage contains a parable with images of sowing seeds. Last week’s sower liberally spread seeds on every kind of ground, with mixed results. This week’s sower presumably uses good ground, but also gets mixed results because of the actions of an unnamed “enemy.” And this is important. It’s important because as in any good storytelling there’s tension and conflict. The enemy here actively resisted the work of God the sower. Perhaps those early Christians had a sense of their own powerlessness. Perhaps they felt small and vulnerable in opposition to the powerful enemies of their society.[iv]

But what about you? Are there times when you feel powerless or vulnerable in the face of the evils of this our society? But while this parable and the subsequent explanation seem to look forward to a final judgment day, it’s intent, in reality, is better understood in how we build up the reign of God in our present circumstances. As we work toward a society in which all people are treated with dignity and respect we will have to contend with the weeds that choke justice, literally and figuratively.

Now, I’ve seen his parable misused to justify complacency as the weeds and wheat grow together until final harvest; a “just let God sort it out” kind of thinking. But telling people who are presently suffering victimization to wait for a future reckoning only causes further harm and fails to promote God’s vision of justice. God’s eschatological justice cannot be an excuse for inaction, comfortable ignorance, or outright denial of the need for change.[v]

And this is where we come back around to guerrilla gardening. I believed with every fabric of my being that we are being called, during these most trying of times, to become “guerrilla gardeners of God’s love.” What does that mean? Well, It means continuing the process of finding ways to be sowers of wheat among the weeds of this world. But it also means considering the places where we’re the ones sowing the weed seed. We’re simultaneously represented by both the weeds and the wheat in this parable. We’re the ones who have stood up against racial injustice, for example, but at the same time we’ve also, perhaps unwittingly, participating in passive racism by utilizing social structures that advantage white-straight-men over all others.

So, what a parable like this one challenges us to do, first of all, is to become aware of these systems and then, to use our new-found awareness to influence social change. Real and lasting social change that can be realized if we are willing to lend our voices, our wallets, and our vote to insure that equality and justice is real for every single one of God’s children.

Yes, in the end, we are both weed and wheat. But we can choose to become something more, we can choose to become sowers of justice, propagators of peace, channels of God’s grace; we can, my friends, choose to become guerrilla gardeners of God’s love. And isn’t that finally, something worth considering?

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[i] David Tracey, Guerrilla Gardening: A Manual-festo (BC: New Society Publishers, 2007).

[ii] Barbara Brown Taylor “Learning to Live with Weeds,” in The Seeds of Heaven (quote found at www.ucc.org/samuel/seeds) 2020

[iii] Jaime L. Waters How the Parable of the Weeds Compels us to Fight for Justice  (www.americanmagazine.org) 2020

[iv] Katheryn Matthews’ reflection on Matthew 13 (www.ucc.org/samuel/seeds) 2020

[v] Ibid. Waters

The Surprising Generosity of God

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 The Parable of the Sower

Jesus said many things to them in parables. A farmer went out to scatter seed. As he was scattering seed, some fell on the path, and birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where the soil was shallow. They sprouted immediately because the soil wasn’t deep. But when the sun came up, it scorched the plants, and they dried up because they had no roots. Other seed fell among thorny plants. The thorny plants grew and choked them. Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit, in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one.

Jesus then went on to explain the parable.

Whenever people hear the word about the reign of God and don’t understand it, the evil of this world comes and carries off what was planted in their hearts. This is the seed that was sown on the path. As for the seed that was spread on rocky ground, this refers to people who hear the word and immediately receive it joyfully. Because they have no roots, they last for only a little while. When they experience distress or abuse because of the word, they immediately fall away. As for the seed that was spread among thorny plants, this refers to those who hear the word, but the worries of this life and the false appeal of wealth choke the word, and it bears no fruit. As for what was planted on good soil, this refers to those who hear and understand, and bear fruit and produce; in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one.

I have a lifetime connection to farming. I grew up in a rural, farming community in Illinois, worked on dairy farms growing up, I served a country church in rural Iowa for five years, and as many of you already know, Becky and I raise chickens and turkeys, goats and geese along with two large gardens on our property here in Northern Wisconsin. So, it’s suffice to say that I know a thing or two about planting seeds and what constitutes good soil. And it would be easy to translate that knowledge into a sermon on how you should become better soil.

But I’m going to go a different direction today. I want to offer you something beyond the same old, dusty understanding of this text. I want to offer you something more than just asking, “what kind of soil are you?” I want to offer you a perspective on this parable that speaks to us in our time, in our context, in the midst of all this chaos that is 2020. I want to offer you a word about the surprising generosity of God.

I read a story this week written by a pastor who had recently spent a couple of days in Selma, Alabama. He shared his experience this way: “I stopped at a gas station at the edge of town to fill up before heading home,” he said, “but when I went inside, I noticed an elderly black man sitting in a chair against the wall. I looked at him and said hello. He just nodded and said, ‘Boss.’ And then he started. ‘Forty cents a day I plowed dem fields boss. Forty cents a day!’ Then he got louder. ‘Forty cents a day I tell you. Forty cents, boss!’ Then he got his wallet out. Held up two one dollar bills. He was quiet, calculating. Then he began waving the two dollars and said, ‘This was five days of my life boss. Forty cents a day!’”

Today’s parable makes me think about the gound upon which that old man walked. I suspect he often walked the hard-packed path of racism, a path where not much grows, where life and opportunities are too quickly snatched away. I’d be willing to bet he knew what it was like to live between a rock and hard place. On the rocky ground, life withers because you can’t put down roots. There’s no security or stability and the sun scorches. He surely walked amongst the thorns of violence, fear, anger, and poverty. I have no doubt that those thorns wrapped themselves around him and his family choking away dignity, security, and trust.

Now, you and I may not have plowed fields for forty cents a day but we all know the different landscapes of which Jesus speaks. We know the beaten path of life. We’ve stumbled through the rocky patches of life. We’ve all been scratched and cut by the thorns of life. But we’ve also planted our roots deep in the sacred soil of life. Soil that has feed us and allowed us grow into the community of faith we are today.

Do you see where I’m going with this? Jesus isn’t just describing different types of soil or circumstances of life. He is describing the inner landscape of the human heart. And if we know anything, we know that the human heart is complicated and multifaceted. And it’s precisely because we’re so complex that our hearts are represented by more than just one type of soil. We‘re actually all four. The four soils are descriptive of how we live and relate to others and to God. Jesus’ interpretation of this parable, when he tells us about what happens to the seeds, describes the consequences of each kind of life.

Now, this way of understanding today’s narrative represents both the beauty and challenge of parables. The challenge comes when we try to understand a parable as a literal. By literal, I mean the attempt to cram an ancient, pre-scientific, pre-rationalist understanding of how things work in the world into our post-modern worldview. And unfortunately, this type of literalism causes a parable to lose its relevance.

I mean, as a person who gardens, when I read about a farmer going out and sowing seeds on a public pathway, on rocky ground, and amongst the thorns, I think to myself, “That is simply wasteful, inefficient, and ineffective. That’s bad farming. You can’t plant seeds among the rocks and thorns or on a path and then act surprised when nothing grows.” So, the result of looking at this parable in these literal terms is irrelevance. But to be aware of this disconnect is how we begin to understand the deeper, culturally in-tuned, beauty of this parable. A beauty that invites us to find a meaning that speaks to us in our time and situation. And if we approach Jesus’ teachings with this kind of freedom, they will offer us a glimpse into God’s world and what God is like.

And the Parable of the Sower is, in the end, a koan of grace that invite us to indwell the surprising generosity of God. A generosity that lays at the heart of this passage. A generosity that’s revealed to us through the imagery of the four soils. As different as they are from one another, these four types of soil hold two things in common. Seeds and the sower. The sower sows the same seeds in all four soils with equal toil, equal hope, and equal generosity. And the sower does so without evaluation of the soil’s quality or potential. There’s no soil left unsown. No ground is declared undeserving of the sower’s seeds. This isn’t about the quality of dirt. It’s about the quality of God, the surprising generosity of the divine sower.

Our society, however, for hundreds of years has misunderstood the nature of God’s generosity. The privileged have used their advantage to push people of color, whether they be African American, Latinx American, Asian American, or Native American, onto the hard, rocky, thorny ground of racism. That’s the point of the old man’s rage at spending five days of his life earning only two dollars. That’s the anger inherent in his words, as he spoke of getting only 40 cents a day while working 40 dollar a day soil. And that’s the motivation behind the Black Lives Matter Movement. It isn’t about the rioting and looting, that’s the unfortunate result of a few instigators of trouble. And it isn’t about getting rid of the police, as we depicted in a ridiculous political ad recently.

Instead, the Black Live Matter movement actually speaks from the very core of this parable. It’s about coming to understand the surprising and indiscriminate generosity of our Still-Speaking God, as revealed to us in the life and teachings of Jesus. It’s about a generous God who says that no life, no race, no nationality, no sexual orientation or gender identity, no person, no soil, is left unsown. No one is beyond the grace of God and no one should be excluded from the extravagant welcome of God’s people. That’s what this parable is finally about in our context: The equal distribution of dignity and respect, of opportunity and wealth. It’s about seeing beyond the color of one’s skin and coming to understand that justice, real and true racial justice, must be for all, by all, and among all.

And finally, we’re called and challenged, as people of faith, to be prophetic in how we respond to the rapidly changing landscape around us. We’re called to be fearless in our pursuit of justice and we’re challenged, maybe now more than ever before, to love our neighbors, all of our neighbors, beyond the limits of the past, beyond even… the constraints of our imaginations. We are called, my dear ones, not only to proclaim the generosity of God in our society, but to live-out that generosity in our words and with our actions.

My friends, change is here. That’s the simple truth. That’s the reality. But the question of how we, as people of faith, as the advantaged majority, respond to this movement toward equality, that remains to be seen.[i]

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[i] Many of my thoughts in this message found their beginnings in the stories and theology of a sermon titled: It’s About God, Not the Dirt (www.interruptingthesilence.com) 2011

Growing Weary: A Message of Hope in the Midst of Hopelessness

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”

Let me begin by telling you something you already know. It has been a very hot week! Hot for Northern Wisconsin anyway. So, when it comes to working in my gardens, I’ve had to adopt a new strategy. I get up early and frantically hoe and pull weeds before it gets too hot. It’s suffice to say that gardening has become more difficult because of the heat. But here’s the thing. I still love it! Even though it’s become more difficult this week, I’m not going to give up on my vegetables.

In our gospel passage from Matthew today, Jesus invites us to adopt a new strategy when the burdens of life become heavy, when the yoke we bear seems to become unbearable, when the cost of discipleship seems too costly. Rachel Held Evans put it this way. “The yoke is hard because the teachings of Jesus are radical,” she writes, “…enemy love, unconditional forgiveness, extreme generosity. [But] The yoke is easy because it is accessible to all: the studied and the ignorant, the rich and the poor, the religious and the nonreligious.”

Jesus invites all of us who are weary and bearing heavy burdens to find rest in him. Not just those who are members of a church, not just the righteous, or the self-righteous as the case may be, but all who are weary and carrying a heavy burden are welcome. There’s no price to be paid, no creed to repeat, no doctrine to memorize. Perhaps it’s this universal invitation to sabbath that makes this one of the most beloved passages from the Gospel of Matthew. But, that being said, the contrast that I see in this passage has always been interesting to me. There’s a contrast or a tension here between resting and working, between heavy and light, between wearing the burdensome yoke of the world verses the easy yoke of Jesus.

Now, this is, for obvious reasons, a common passage used in celebration of life services. Our loved one has cast off the burdens of this life and now rests in eternity. That’s a valid and reassuring way to view this passage. But if we look at this passage within its immediate context, we soon come to realize that Matthew is really teaching us about discipleship. And this is where these contrasting images of yoke enter the picture.

But before we get into all that, I think we need to take a moment to talk about yokes. I would be willing to bet that most of us have never seen, let alone felt the weight of a yoke. For the younger ones watching or if you’re not a student of historical agricultural tools, a yoke was a large, wooden, I would say “harness” for lack of a better word, that went over the backs of either one or two animals, usually mules or oxen, so a farmer could plow his fields or pull a wagon. It would have been very heavy and very cumbersome to move around and especially difficult to lift up onto the animals backs.

So, the first impression that we’re intended to get here is one of a heavy, burdensome weight dragging us down. And not coincidentally, that’s sometimes the impression we get when we think about discipleship. The connotation of the word itself drips of weighty commitment to working for the benefit of others, no matter the personal cost, no matter the sacrifice. And I would submit that if we try to “do” discipleship by ourselves, alone, it can become just that, burdensome, like a heavy yoke.

But the thing about a yoke is that it both restrains and enables. It’s simultaneously a burden and a possibility. So, the question confronting all of us is this: which yoke will we put on? The heavy, lonely one or will we share the burden with others and with God?

Well, Matthew, here in the 11th chapter of his account, invites us to choose the latter. He invites us to discover a better way of “doing” discipleship. A way that invites us to view discipleship through the lens of two Great Commandments, loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. And when we do that, when we view our responsibilities as people of faith through the lens of love, the yoke becomes gentle, not burdensome or wearying, but light, easy, and pleasant. 

But can it really be that simple? In these days of distrust, division and disease, can we really find unity by sharing the burdens of society and by shouldering the yoke of these troubling times, together? In a word, yes. Yes we can. You see, that’s the enduring wisdom of this text and that’s the enduring wisdom of the garden. You see, a successful garden needs to be weeded, often. But if you let the weeds get away from you, in the end, your yield will be diminished. Well, the same it true as we think about reaching out to others with grace and compassion, sharing the love of God with our neighbor. The definition of discipleship. But if we don’t tend to our discipleship, if we don’t tend to the needs of our neighbor, and if we don’t tend to our personal spiritual health, our love for others will be diminished, like the yield of an untended garden.

But if we are willing to put in the work. If we are willing to cultivate justice, if we are willing to propagate peace, and if we are willing to do this work side by side and hand in hand with others in our community, the yield will be plentiful. Because I am utterly convinced, that showing grace yields more grace, that compassion when shared, expands beyond the limits of our imagination, that love comes back 100fold, and finally, that non-violent resistance leads to positive change. My friends, when we take-on of the yoke of Jesus in community, together, the burden of the world become light.

May it be so. Amen.

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Katheryn Matthews. Reflection on Matthew 11 (www.ucc.org/samuel/seeds) 2020