Perritte Memorial United Methodist Church July 5, 2020

Sermon: Where in the World is Elwood?

12 The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,
    those who curse you I will curse;
        all the families of the earth
            will be blessed because of you.”

Abram left just as the Lord told him, and Lot went with him. Now Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all of their possessions, and those who became members of their household in Haran; and they set out for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in Canaan, Abram traveled through the land as far as the sacred place at Shechem, at the oak of Moreh. The Canaanites lived in the land at that time. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “I give this land to your descendants,” so Abram built an altar there to the Lord who appeared to him. From there he traveled toward the mountains east of Bethel, and pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and worshiped in the Lord’s name. Then Abram set out toward the arid southern plain, making and breaking camp as he went. (Genesis 12:1-9, Common English Bible)

Perritte Memorial United Methodist Church

Phone (936) 564-8427
Email info@perritteumc.org

Mailing Address

638A N University Dr # 255
Nacogdoches, TX 75961-4617

Physical Address

1025 Durst St
Nacogdoches, TX 75964-5063

Sermon:
Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Where in the World is Elwood?

12 The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,
    those who curse you I will curse;
        all the families of the earth
            will be blessed because of you.”

Abram left just as the Lord told him, and Lot went with him. Now Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all of their possessions, and those who became members of their household in Haran; and they set out for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in Canaan, Abram traveled through the land as far as the sacred place at Shechem, at the oak of Moreh. The Canaanites lived in the land at that time. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “I give this land to your descendants,” so Abram built an altar there to the Lord who appeared to him. From there he traveled toward the mountains east of Bethel, and pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and worshiped in the Lord’s name. Then Abram set out toward the arid southern plain, making and breaking camp as he went. (Genesis 12:1-9, Common English Bible).

It was almost lunchtime one day in May, 1991. I was in my office at Fondren and the Southwest Freeway in Houston. I was a programmer/analyst with the FDIC. I was working on some random computer code when my phone rang.

It wasn’t a call I got at work. My calls usually were about a program I had written and someone managed to find a way to break, doing something they weren’t supposed to do and the program wasn’t designed for.

Occasionally a Scout leader would call to talk about some activity. We were very involved in Scouting then. Our boys were young and very involved.

Cindy called to talk about kid stuff and if any of us had anything in the calendar that night. It might be what was on the dinner menu.

I wasn’t used to calls about church work. I was, after all, an employee of the Federal government. They wouldn’t have had much positive to say about church.

It was a surprise then when I heard, “Keith, this is Asbury Lennox.” The late Dr. Asbury Lennox was then the District Superintendent of the old Houston East District. I had anticipated a call, but I assumed it would come one night at home. I never thought he’d call during the day the workday.

Dr. Lennox said, “I have called to talk about an appointment. The cabinet met with Bishop Oliphant and we want to appoint you to Elwood.

Before I realized it, the words tumbled from my mouth, the title of this sermon, “Where in the world is Elwood? I hadn’t said it. I knew Texas pretty well, but have learned not as well as I thought. I hadn’t heard of Elwood and and many other places in the Lone Star State. While it is on some state maps, Elwood isn’t even a town! No wonder I hadn’t heard of it.

Elwood is a rural community about 12 miles northeast of Madisonville in rural Madison County. The closest real town, if you can call it that, is Midway, named that because it’s located about midway between Crockett and Madisonville. Midway’s population at the time was 333. Today it has declined to 229 as of the last census.

The only store closes at 6:00. The Walmart in Madisonville closed at 8:00. Our closest neighbors, other than cows were over half a mile away.

At one time, Elwood, then named French was a thriving town and the county seat for Madison County. That was before anyone thought about Madisonville.

Today Elwood consists of a few residences, ranch land, and the Baptist church. I am sorry to say, the Methodist church closed a few years ago. The building is there but belongs to the Elwood Cemetery Association today.

That was a culture shock for a city boy used to 24 hour Walmart stores and convenience stores that never closed, even on Christmas Day. Elwood took careful planning. To get something after 8:00 PM required driving an hour each way to Huntsville, or doing without. Only something important made that drive.

The title of today’s message, “Where in the World is Elwood?” is because of that phone call 30 years ago. I could just as easily titled it after a good number of the places like, “Where in the world is Lovelady, Kennard, Mt. Sylvan, Van or Grapeland. I thought I knew Grapeland but I was talking about Grapevine. I’ve heard it from many since then. “Where in the world is…” Groveton or Huntington. I did know where Prairie View is but it isn’t the same one.

I had heard of Canton, but I didn’t know where it was. I had to look for it on a road map in the days before most any of us had a GPS in the car.

I knew where to find were Tyler, Freeport and Diboll. I made trips to Tyler when I was younger. I went fishing a few times in Freeport. And, my mother’s family used to have a family reunion every year in a little community a little larger than Elwood, named Central, just north of Lufkin.

I could have titled the sermon, “Where in the world is Santa Fe?” and no, not New Mexico. This Santa Fe is in Galveston County, on the mainland. I hadn’t heard of it before a UM ARMY.

I couldn’t have titled the message, “Where in the World is Sweeny?” I knew where it was long ago. But I did hear the question many times when I would tell people I had been appointed there. Much like Tyler, nobody questioned me on. “Where in the world is Nacogdoches?” when I told people about this appointment.

The point of all this is to say, for all of us, there are places in the world we know little, if anything about. Yet often these are some of the very places where God calls us to go and most needs us to go.

Such was the case for one of the great heroes of the Bible, Abraham, or Abram as he was called in our lesson this morning. God spoke to this 75-year-old man and told him to pack up all his stuff and move, only God didn’t tell him to move to Elwood or Nacogdoches or Grapeland or some other named place you might find on a map or with your GPS. God told Abram to move to the land God would show him. Friends, God was asking Abram to take a great leap of faith.

But, God didn’t ask Abram to take a walk on the wild side. God made Abram some promises too. The biggest promise was, God would be there and that Abram would be blessed.

Abram went packing and God made another promise, Abram, descendants would inherit the land where he stood. Abram never saw that promise fulfilled, but he knew God would keep the promise.

If we continued on in Genesis we would see God’s faithfulness in those promises. God blessed Abram in virtually everything. God promised land to Abram’s descendants. God saw to it. In time, those descendants grew in number as promised. If you keep reading, in Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Joshua, as promised, Abram’s descendants inherited the land God promised.

God gave a faithful man a task. The man did as instructed. God made promises and kept them, including a promise of blessings on a faithful man.

Blessing is a recurring theme throughout Genesis. Really it is a recurring theme throughout Scripture. When people remain faithful, they receive God’s blessing.

The same is true for us. God asks us to start a faith journey together. It is something that in many ways will be different. But, we don’t travel alone. We travel together as the people of God in this time and place. Further, we don’t just travel with each other, God travels with us.

Friends, if we are faithful to God’s call, we will be blessed.

Someone emailed me a little clip I thought I would share with you as I close the message.

At first I thought God was my observer, my judge, keeping track of my wrong doings to see if I merited heaven or hell when I die. He was sort of like the President. I knew the picture but I didn’t really know God.

Later, I recognized God, and life was like a bike ride, but a tandem bike, and God was in the back helping me pedal. I don’t know when God suggested we switch but life hasn’t been the same since.

When I had control, I knew the way. It was boring but predictable. We took the shortest route. When God took over there were delightful long cuts, up mountains and rocky places and fast speeds! Sometimes I could barely hang on. I was scared sometimes, God reached back and touched my hand.

I met people with gifts I needed: gifts for my journey, our journey, God’s and mine. Then we were off again. Then God would say, “Give those gifts away, extra baggage, too much weight.” So I gave them to people we’d meet.

I learned then that in giving we receive. Our burden was light. I didn’t trust God at first, being in control of my life. “What if God wrecks it?” But God knows, “bike secrets,” how to make it bend in sharp corners or jump high rocks or to fly through scary passages.

I’m learning to shut up and pedal in strange places. Now I enjoy the cool breeze on my face, with my delightful companion. And when I’m sure I can’t do any more, God smiles and says,”Pedal.”

We have work to do. Let’s be faithful like Abraham. If we are, God will bless us to be a blessing. Oh, and don’t forget, pedal!.

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

It’s About Grace

20 “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After he agreed with the workers to pay them a denarion,[a] he sent them into his vineyard.

“Then he went out around nine in the morning and saw others standing around the marketplace doing nothing. He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I’ll pay you whatever is right.’ And they went.

“Again around noon and then at three in the afternoon, he did the same thing. Around five in the afternoon he went and found others standing around, and he said to them, ‘Why are you just standing around here doing nothing all day long?’

“‘Because nobody has hired us,’ they replied.

“He responded, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and give them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and moving on finally to the first.’ When those who were hired at five in the afternoon came, each one received a denarion. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more. But each of them also received a denarion. 11 When they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 ‘These who were hired last worked one hour, and they received the same pay as we did even though we had to work the whole day in the hot sun.’

13 “But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I did you no wrong. Didn’t I agree to pay you a denarion? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I want to give to this one who was hired last the same as I give to you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you resentful because I’m generous?’ 16 So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.” (Matthew 20:1-16, New International Version).

A story is told about Fiorello La Guardia, who, as mayor of New York during the Great Depression and World War II, who many New Yorkers called “the Little Flower.” He stood five foot four and always wore a carnation. He was a colorful character who rode city fire trucks, raided speakeasies with the police, take orphanages to baseball games, and when New York newspapers were on strike, he went on radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids. One cold night in January of 1935, he turned up at the night court serving the poorest people in the city. La Guardia dismissed the judge took over the bench himself.

It wasn’t long before an old woman appeared, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told La Guardia her daughter’s husband had left, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. The shopkeeper refused to drop the charges. “It’s a bad neighborhood, your Honor.” The man told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach people around there a lesson.”

La Guardia sighed, Turned to the woman saying, “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions – ten dollars or ten days in jail.” He wasn’t finished. He reached into his pocket and pulling out a bill, tossed it into his hat saying, “I remit the ten dollar fine; and furthermore I fine everyone here fifty cents for living in a town where a person steals bread to feed her grandchildren. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.”

The following day the newspapers reported $47.50 was turned over to an old lady who stole bread to feed her grandchildren, fifty cents contributed by the grocery store owner, while seventy petty criminals, traffic offenders, and policemen, having paid fifty cents to do so, applauded the mayor.

Here is my question for you. Did the elderly lady in the story get what she deserved? Clearly the answer is, of course not. She had stolen a loaf of bread. Yes, she may have had good reason, but stealing is stealing and regardless of the reason, punishment would seem to be the order of the day.

There’s a word for what La Guardia did, grace. Grace is when one in power shows mercy to less powerful people. The mayor, rather than demanding punishment, paid the fine and helped her with the collection of the fifty-cent fines she received. It was more than she deserved. It was grace.

Our lesson is about that too. The lesson is the wonderful story of the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who hired workers for his vineyard. Some he hired early, telling them that he would pay them the usual daily wage. He found more workers to hire, telling them he would pay them what was right.

At sunset it was time to pay the workers. He began with the last hired, paying the usual daily wage. Those working all day got really excited. Surely they would get more for all day.

The excitement didn’t last. Ill feelings arose when they got paid the same working all day as those only working an hour.

He heard grumbling and explained he was fair. He paid what was promised. Couldn’t he pay everyone whatever they wanted with his money?

The landowner didn’t live in our time. He also didn’t seem to know much about business. When he next hired help none would until the last hour.

The landowner did know grace. Workers at the end of the day didn’t get what they deserved they got mercy. That is grace.

In the parable the landowner is God, we are the workers, and the pay is the kingdom. Studying this parable, we see, it’s about grace.

First, the parable says grace is received, not deserved. We all should know we do not deserve grace. Nothing we do will leave us deserving grace. All we can do is receive the gift God offers.

David Seamands ends his book Healing Grace with this story. For more than 600 years the Hapsburgs exercised power in Europe. When Emperor Franz-Josef I of Austria died in 1916, his was the last extravagant imperial funeral. Dignitaries escorted the casket, draped in the black and gold. A military band played dirges and by torches light, as the party descended the stairs of the Capuchin Monastery in Vienna. At the bottom an iron door lead to the Hapsburg family crypt. There was the Cardinal-Archbishop of Vienna.

An officer followed the ceremony. “Open!” he cried. “Who goes there?” responded the Cardinal. “We bear the remains of his Imperial and Apostolic Majesty, Franz-Josef I, by the grace of God Emperor of Austria…” the officer listed the Emperor’s 37 titles.

“We know him not,” replied the Cardinal. “Who goes there?” The officer spoke again, this time using a less ostentatious title. “We know him not,” the Cardinal said again. “Who goes there?” The officer tried a third time, using the humblest title: “We bear the body of Franz-Josef, our brother, a sinner like us all!” The doors swung open, and Franz-Josef was admitted.

Whoever we are, whatever our titles, how much we have, it can’t open God’s grace, given freely, left for us the undeserving.

Second, God’s grace is about mercy, not fairness. Fair would be to pay the later workers less than those working longer. That would be fair. Grace isn’t fair. It is merciful. God loves us and gives us more than we deserve.

Christian financial consultant Larry Burkett tells in Business by the Book about going the extra mile, beyond fairness. In 1984 he leased an office that was a nightmare. The foundation was faulty and was singing several inches a year. After more than three years of problems, including power failures and weeks without water, Burkett moved his business.

Soon the former landlord called demanding Burkett remodel and repaint his former office space. Burkett said no. He had already been more than fair with the landlord. The demands continued. Burkett got an attorney who agreed Burkett fulfilled his responsibility and need not do anything more.

Burkett saud his son offered him different counsel reminding Burkett of the landlord’s family, who had lost their only child a few years before. The still suffered. Burkett had commented he would wanted to help them. The son said this was an opportunity to do more than what was fair, but merciful. Burkett considered and agreed. He spent several thousand dollars to restoring a virtually unusable building. That goes past fair, to merciful. It is what grace is about.

Third, God’s grace is for the last and the first. It’s easy to say we deserve more. We’ve been faithful. God doesn’t work that way. God wants a relationship with all of us, those hired early and those who worked an hour. That is Grace.

A woman was abused by her father when she was a small child. She grew up, overcame the damage, became a Christian, then married. Years later, her children grown, she received a letter from her father saying he was a Christian and asked God for forgiveness. He realized he had sinned against her and wrote asking her to forgive.

Feelings surfaced. It wasn’t fair! He should pay. This was easy. Now he was part of God’s family! Her home church was killing the fatted calf and she was invited to the party! She was angry, hurt, resentful.

Then she had a dream. Her father stood on an empty stage. The hands of God held a white robe. She recognized it, she was wearing one. As the robe descended toward her father, she awoke crying , “It isn’t fair! What about me?”

She moved past it by realizing her earthly father was now like her, the same in God’s sight. Grace was his as it was hers. With that, she was able to forgive her father.

God’s grace is a free gift and available to all. It’s a free and more than we deserve. Grace is about mercy, not fairness. Grace is for the last and the first. Thankfully, it is about grace.

Be blessed.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved.

Now You Hear It, Now You Don’t

By: Keith Broyles

It is time once again for the Sunday Sermon. Because I am not preaching this week I went searching through some old sermon manuscripts and pulled this one out. Unfortunately, there is only the manuscript. I wrote and preached this sermon back in 2007 when I was pastor at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Santa Fe, Texas. I hope you enjoy the read.

13 That day Jesus went out of the house and sat down beside the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he climbed into a boat and sat down. The whole crowd was standing on the shore.

He 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. Everyone who has ears should pay attention.” (Matthew 13:1-9, Common English Bible)

Most of you know, Cindy, Christopher, and I spent Fourth of July weekend with my parents. My father has some hearing difficulty, but his greatest hearing difficulty is convenient hearing and not paying attention to what is being said around him. That can be said of many of us.

Most of you know, we spent Fourth of July weekend with my parents. My father has some hearing difficulty. Four years of running around the boiler room and the engine room on an old ship. He went from the Navy to working construction. His best argument for not getting his hearing checked was expense. But his greatest hearing difficulty is convenient hearing and not paying attention to what is being said around him. That can be said of many of us.

Sunday afternoon he and I were watching baseball games on television. When the Astro’s game was over we turned on the Ranger’s game. Kenny Rogers was pitching. For those few people who are totally oblivious to the sports world, Kenny Rogers went after two television photographers a week and a half ago, jerking the camera from one’s shoulder and then kicking it several times. I don’t know if the camera was damaged or not. Following this tirade, Major League Baseball suspended him for 20 games and fined him $50,000.

When we turned the Ranger’s game on, who was pitching, but Kenny Rogers. We talked about how Rogers had appealed his suspension and was allowed to play until the appeal was heard. My Dad even said that he hoped Rogers would be picked to the All-Star team so that he wouldn’t be able to play.

As the game went on, one at a time, Cindy, my mother, my brother-in-law, my sister, and then Christopher and his girl friend walked into the room. As each came in and saw Rogers on the mound they said, “I thought he was suspended. How can he be playing?” And, each time patiently at first, not so patiently toward the end I explained that Major League Baseball rules allow a player to appeal his suspension and keep playing until his appeal is heard. So Rogers was allowed to play.

Monday morning my dad hears on television that Rogers had pitched the day before and exclaims, “I thought he was suspended, how could he have pitched.” My question is, how could he have not heard it any of the six times I explained it and even worse, he watched almost he entire game, how could he have not seen Kenny Rogers pitching the day before? He was even the one who had turned the game on.

II I guess my words to my dad were like seeds scattered on a path that the birds came and ate. I don’t think that they could be seeds scattered on the rocky places that sprung up but were scorched by the sun. I don’t think that they were like the seeds scattered among the thorns and were choked out by the other plants. That would mean that he at least heard a little bit and probably chose to ignore it. He certainly wasn’t the seed scattered on good soil because he just didn’t get it at all.

I have learned over the years that such is all too true. And, it isn’t just true with my father. There are many of us with hearing that is convenient at best. I know, and I understand that there are those without hearing and even those with hearing loss. I am one who has some moderate hearing loss. And, I know my dad is too. Still, if we are honest with ourselves and with each other, at least for many of us our greatest hearing problem isn’t a physical problem. For many of us anyway, we hear much of what we want to hear. Many things that are said to us or around us, we tune out or we don’t pay attention to. Such was the case during the Rangers game last Sunday afternoon.

III We live in a society that just doesn’t want to listen or maybe has lost much of ability to listen. Perhaps it is selective hearing on many of our parts. Perhaps it is too much noise going on around us, distracting us from what others may be saying. Maybe we think that we don’t have time to listen.

The lesson we read a few minutes ago closes with Jesus saying, “He who has ears, let him hear.” Yet all too often, we just don’t want to listen or we don’t have the ability to listen to one another. And, it seems to me that such inability would also inhibit our ability or desire to hear when God is speaking to us.

This morning we continue our series, “Principles from Parables” as we look at “The Parable of the Sower.” In this lesson Jesus says that a farmer went out in the field to sow his seeds. Think for just a minute about someone who goes out, and by hand, broadcasts seeds onto a field or even a yard. As you scatter the seeds they can go everywhere. Some go to where you want, but others go to places that you don’t, even places that have no real possibility of growing anything. Jesus said that some went on the path where the birds ate them up. Some went to rocky areas, places where there wasn’t much soil and the plants couldn’t get much in the way of a root system. When the heat came they burned up and died. Some fell in the thorny places and were chocked out by the other plants around them. But, some fell on good soil, and produced a good crop, many times the amount of seed that was planted.

I understand that idea. When we moved to Lovelady, we moved into a brand new house. With a brand new house comes a brand new yard. Before we moved in a member of the church came by to plant grass seed. He broadcast the seed. I am sure that some went onto the sidewalk and the birds came and ate it. There weren’t any rocky places so that wasn’t a problem, but there were flowerbeds and some of the seed went there. Do you know what grass is when it is in a flowerbed? It is a weed, but we will deal with “The Parable of the Weeds” next Sunday. The point is, when you scatter seed, some of it goes where you want, but some of it goes into and maybe even takes root in places that you don’t want.

This parable would be difficult at best to understand if it stopped where I stopped reading this morning’s lesson. Without question, it would be cryptic. At times, it is difficult to get the real point that Jesus is trying to make when he used parables. That would have particularly been the case here except that after verse 17, verses 10 through 17 deal with the disciples asking why Jesus speaks in parables and Jesus’ response to them. But, then, in verses 18 through 23 Jesus explains “The Parable of the Sower.” Read 18-23.

With this explanation we now have a much clearer picture of what Jesus was saying to the disciples and others who were gathered to hear him. All of the seeds that went to the places the sower never intended, are people who use their selective hearing or ignore all together what God may be saying. We may hear about the Kingdom of God, and yet we don’t hear. The seeds may be planted within us but they never really take root deeply in our hearts.

On the other hand, there are also the seeds that are scattered on the good soil of the heart. They are seeds that take firm hold because we are not only attentive when the Word of God is spoken; we use what we hear to help cultivate the faith that is growing inside of us. God is speaking. Are we listening?

V I think that when Jesus says, “He who has ears let him hear” he is saying to us; “You have the ability to hear the voice of God calling you into a relationship. Take the time; stop what you are doing and listen. God may be speaking to you.”

When we live with the idea of now you hear it, now you don’t, our faith becomes the seeds that fall in places where it is difficult to impossible for it to survive. Yet when we open our ears and we listen to the word of God, the seeds of faith are planted in good soil. We hear the word of God when we read the words of Scripture, when we pray, from the things that we see in nature and the world around us. We hear it sometimes by God speaking to us from the words of others that share our world. We can even hear it through the still small voice of our conscience. But, we have to be listening or we might miss it.

Now you hear it, now you don’t is selective hearing and if we heard at all, before long it is gone away. What we really need is “Now I hear it… Yeah I still hear it.” Then the seeds of faith are growing in the richest soil of our lives.

I understand that idea. When we moved to Lovelady, we moved into a brand new house. With a brand new house comes a brand new yard. Before we moved in a member of the church came by to plant grass seed. He broadcast the seed. I am sure that some went onto the sidewalk and the birds came and ate it. There weren’t any rocky places so that wasn’t a problem, but there were flowerbeds and some of the seed went there. Do you know what grass is when it is in a flowerbed? It is a weed, but we will deal with “The Parable of the Weeds” next Sunday. The point is, when you scatter seed, some of it goes where you want, but some of it goes into and maybe even takes root in places that you don’t want.

This parable would be difficult at best to understand if it stopped where I stopped reading this morning’s lesson. Without question, it would be cryptic. At times, it is difficult to get the real point that Jesus is trying to make when he used parables. That would have particularly been the case here except that after verse 17, verses 10 through 17 deal with the disciples asking why Jesus speaks in parables and Jesus’ response to them. But, then, in verses 18 through 23 Jesus explains “The Parable of the Sower.” Read 18-23.

With this explanation we now have a much clearer picture of what Jesus was saying to the disciples and others who were gathered to hear him. All of the seeds that went to the places the sower never intended, are people who use their selective hearing or ignore all together what God may be saying. We may hear about the Kingdom of God, and yet we don’t hear. The seeds may be planted within us but they never really take root deeply in our hearts.

On the other hand, there are also the seeds that are scattered on the good soil of the heart. They are seeds that take firm hold because we are not only attentive when the Word of God is spoken; we use what we hear to help cultivate the faith that is growing inside of us. God is speaking. Are we listening?

Strong sermons during fear & uncertainty…

Enter your name and email to begin. Credit card required, cancel any time. Plus, get email updates & offers from SermonCentral. Privacy

V I think that when Jesus says, “He who has ears let him hear” he is saying to us; “You have the ability to hear the voice of God calling you into a relationship. Take the time; stop what you are doing and listen. God may be speaking to you.”

When we live with the idea of now you hear it, now you don’t, our faith becomes the seeds that fall in places where it is difficult to impossible for it to survive. Yet when we open our ears and we listen to the word of God, the seeds of faith are planted in good soil. We hear the word of God when we read the words of Scripture, when we pray, from the things that we see in nature and the world around us. We hear it sometimes by God speaking to us from the words of others that share our world. We can even hear it through the still small voice of our conscience. But, we have to be listening or we might miss it.

Now you hear it, now you don’t is selective hearing and if we heard at all, before long it is gone away. What we really need is “Now I hear it… Yeah I still hear it.” Then the seeds of faith are growing in the richest soil of our lives.

Be Blessed

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

And Finally Beloved… (Manuscript)

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

10 I rejoice[c] in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. 11 Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:6-13, New Revised Standard Version).

A little girl and her mother sat in church one Sunday. The preacher was about 10 minutes into the sermon when he said it, “And finally…” and he kept right on preaching. About five minutes later he said again, “And finally…” and the sermon continued. About five minutes later, he said for the third time, “And finally…” then the little girl turned to her mother and asked, “Mama what does that mean?” her mother whispered to her quietly, “Absolutely nothing.”

this morning I am going to use those words several times throughout the sermon. When I do, don’t think that because I say, “And finally,” or “And finally beloved,” the sermon is about to end. You may be pretty disappointed.

I use the words today because those words, “Finally beloved” are the words Paul often used to close his letters. Those words coupled by certain themes at the ends of the letters dealt with matters of Supreme importance for Paul. Many of Paul’s most important priorities are in those last few words at the close of his letters.

This morning, as we close our time together, that we would share some of those thoughts, and also a few thoughts of my own. We will refer to several of Paul’s letters today as we think and reflect a bit on these things that were important to Paul.

“And finally beloved, rejoice in the Lord.” in Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.” A christian’s life should be characterized by happiness. We are people who know the answer period we are people who have the answer period we know that we live by faith in Jesus Christ. That is the answer to a whole lot an complete life. And, when you have the answer to life’s primary, most important question, there is always reason to rejoice. The christian’s life should be characterized and marked by happiness , by joy. As people of faith we should radiate with optimism when we go through life looking and feeling as if our life is spent down in the pits. What does that say about our faith? What does it say about our answer for this life and the life to come?

Life can be hard. Bad things can happen in our lives. We don’t have to do anything more than watch the Evening News to see just how hard life can be. It’s been pretty hard these last few months with the corona-virus and all the issues surrounding it. Social distancing, the debate over wearing masks, whether or not businesses and other places we gather should be allowed to reopen, vaccines and cures, and on and on. There are economic problems as well as civil rights issues, civil disobedience issues, and general unrest. But, as people of faith we have the assurance that God is greater than our problems and the problems in the world. Life can be hard at times, but God is good all the time and all the time, God is good. We can celebrate and rejoice in God’s goodness. Remember too, the scriptures don’t say we should rejoice in difficulty or rejoice in pain or rejoice in problems or rejoice in tragedy. The scriptures say, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!”

David Suna and John Tu sold 80 percent of their tech company, Kingston Technology Corp. They made mostly computer memory products. For that 80 percent, Suna and Tu decided they would share their good fortune with their employees. The average bonus check was $75,000. Suna and Tu said the joy was not in the money. Joy came from two places. To know that all who contributed to the success was sharing in the rewards, everyone from the custodian to the CEO was awarded.

On its most basic level, being a Christian means being a person of joy. If we are truly filled with this joy, it should be on the brink of bubbling and gurgling out of us each day. A father asked a child why she liked her Sunday school teacher so much. She answered, “Because her eyes twinkle like she’s laughing inside all the time.” Jesus as our joy keeps the corners of our mouths perpetually turning up. Keep smiling!

What is it that gives you joy? What is out there that you can do to make your eyes sparkle. I always think of our Loose Threads group. The joy we share needs to be a joy everywhere for eve

For me it is working on a song. Sometimes that means guitar or piano and practice. Or, it might be writing something new or giving something old a make-over.

Beloved, rejoice in the Lord.

Finally, beloved, be strong in the Lord. Paul is sharing with the Ephesians. He knew they would face opposition from the secular world. As the Christian faith grew stronger, the pressure Christians faced from the Roman Empire grew more and more difficult. Life wasn’t easy for those to whom Paul wrote. There were many challenges in life during the biblical era. Some were physical. Others were spiritual. So, Paul wrote these words, “be strong in the Lord,” to encourage Christians of the day.

Being a Christian has never been easy. In recent years we have seen challenges to our faith. Today the church continues to face greater and greater opposition from secular society. There are challenges again and again to matters of faith. If something even smells of faith it can face immediate and fierce opposition. To stand firm in the faith means to be strong in the Lord.

I recently found a platform for writers and bloggers I had not previously known called Medium and no, it isn’t about connections to the spirit world, palm reading, or any of that kind of thing. It is a vast number of writers, sharing thoughts on a wide variety of topics.

One of the first pieces I read was written by a lady named BeBe Nicholson. She titled her piece “Hostility Toward Christianity is Growing.” In the article Ms. Nicholson addresses some argument’s used by those who have left the church. Being hurt by the church, Christianity being most responsible for most of the wars in history and therefore responsible for huge numbers of deaths, Christians are judgmental, and Christians are intolerant. The Church is far from perfect. I am pretty sure we can all agree on that. After all, the Church isn’t the building, it’s the people and because people in general tend to be judgmental about various things, we can be intolerant. But what some see as intolerance can also be understood as living under the tenants of faith.

Nicholson uses the example of a Supreme Court case as an illustration about the hostility faced by the Church.

Atheists objected to a cross erected over 100 years ago as a memorial to soldiers killed during the first World War. Wanting the memorial removed the group fought the case all the way to the Supreme Court who ruled that there was no Constitutional violation.

A group of atheists launched a billboard campaign in parts of the country last Christmas with the slogan, “Just skip church; it’s all fake news.” Why do unbelievers care if Christians go to church?

Most ironic of the information surrounding the article was the ferocity of the comments made about the article. Those who accuse Christians of judging were judging themselves.

In responding to my comments, she wrote, “Well said Rev. Broyles! Thanks for weighing in with your thoughtful and thought-provoking statements in what turned out to be an unexpectedly controversial post. Even I, who wrote the essay, wasn’t aware of the level of hostility that is actually out there until I read the responses to my article.

Friends we must maintain our focus and our spiritual strength. Beloved be strong in the Lord.

Finally, beloved, pray for us. In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul gives them this instruction. It is important period probably the greatest thing one Christian can do for another is to pray. Intercession is one of the finest acts the Christian performs. Our prayer life should be of central importance to our whole life. When we are in prayer we are truly a servant a servant of God and a servant to neighbor we are called to be people of prayer.

A few years ago, I had an epiphany. I came to the realization that I was not the man of prayer many people believed me to be. People would ask me to pray. I would tell them I would do so and then, many times, I never did. I wasn’t really lying to people or at least that wasn’t my intention. I always intended to pray for the people needing prayer and then life happened. I got busy with fifteen other things and that request I had committed to? Yeah, it was gone.

So, I started doing two things and I want to challenge you to make them part of your prayer routine too. First, when someone asks me to pray, I try very hard to stop what I am doing right then and pray with that person. If it is a request online, email or the church’s prayer page, I try to type a prayer in right then, when I see it. Again, at times I put it off and forget all together. When that happens, I am reminded of the importance of praying right then. And, if someone calls me on the phone asking for prayer, we take the time to stop and pray. I want to ask you to not just remember but since I started doing that, I have seen the difference it makes for the person asking for prayer. Before, they hoped I and others were praying for them, with this practice, they know we are praying.

Beloved, pray for us. Pray for each other period pray for the world around us. We are called to pray.

Finally beloved, “…What things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, think on these things.” If we are to live the kind of lives God calls us to live, all of the things on that list or must. Our hearts must be on the things of God. We must have high ideals and deep convictions in our personal lives. We must decide on clean speech, pure motives, and the highest integrity that is beyond question.

Joseph Parker, a former pastor in London, wrote that on one occasion the great concert pianist Ignace Paderewski came to London to give a concert. Parker, quite an accomplished pianist himself, went to hear the concert. The pastor was so moved by what he heard he did a very strange thing when he came home he stood by his piano, called to his wife, and said, “bring me an axe! Today I heard great music for the first time ever. By comparison what I can do amounts to nothing at all. I feel like chopping my piano to pieces.”

Parker could never be Paderewski simply by following his example period to do so, he would need Paderewski’s hands and mind and heart and yes, even his soul.

It is much the same in the Christian life. We can never live up to the life of Jesus. And, his example could lead us to great desperation. Or, we can use his example. His life, that is in each of us to inspire us on to greater things, to a greater life, to the high ideals and motives and integrity that should be part of every Christian’s faith walk. In Jesus we find our strength, power, and motivation.

Beloved what things are true honest just pure of good report think on these things.

Finally, beloved, farewell. Be perfect. These were Paul’s words that closed his 2nd letter to the Corinthians. As people of faith we know being perfect does not mean being sinless. What I think it does mean is to live as a complete child of God. It means to be everything God calls us to be. It means to live whole, well rounded Christian lives. It means we are called to live in perfect love.

A goat wanted more than anything in the world to be a lion. He didn’t want to be like a lion, he wanted to be a lion. He told himself if he could learn to walk like a lion, talk like a lion, and go where Lions go, he’d be a lion. So, he crouched down and practiced stalking through the jungle. He tried to switch his stubby little tail majestically as Lions do. Then he worked on how to turn his pitiful little bleat into the deep awesome roar of the King of beasts. He worked and he worked, and he worked. Finally, he convinced himself, he really looked and sounded like a lion. “Now,” he said, “all I have left to do to be a lion is to go where Lions go.” So, he marched into lion territory one day about lunchtime. You can imagine what happened. It was a total disaster.

To be perfect we can’t just think we are Christians. We have to act like it. We have to look like it. We have to be it. Try as much as he wanted the goat couldn’t look like a lion by the same token, we can’t look like Christians if we’re not actually Christian. We may be able to fool some people sometimes, but we will never fool the King. We cannot be perfect if we are not who God created us and calls us to be.

To be Christian, to be perfect, shows in our joy. It shows in our prayer life. It shows in our priorities. It shows, not because of what we do, but because of what God does in us . It shows because our strength comes from God.

Beloved farewell. Be perfect.

So, I close by saying just a few more final words, and these are my words, not Paul’s. And finally, beloved, I take my leave with the hope and prayer that you will always stand firm in your faith. May your days be filled with joy and your life filled with God’s grace and strength. Follow only the things that come from God. Live a full and whole Christian life. Cindy and I covet your prayers as I begin new work in Nacogdoches and we want you to know, our prayers are with you. we bid you Farewell, with his grace and peace. We will love you always.

How Do You Know?

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.(Matthew 16:13-20, New Revised Standard Version)

Have you ever had a doctor say you needed to do everything you never wanted to do? I am talking about one of those kind of doctors who have their own version of the Ten Commandments, saying things like “thou shalt not eat salt” and “thou shalt lose weight.” I’m talking about a Doctor you could have a conversation with, telling them you know and have studied the Bible and there is nothing in there saying anything about those two commandments and yet the doctor just doesn’t seem to care. He or she wants you to follow those instructions anyway. We can talk. We can argue and yet that wonderful doctor just keeps saying the same thing. We can even go so far as to call them “an old stick in the mud that wants to be take all the flavor out of food” or, even worse, wants us to completely remove our favorite foods from our mouths. I have actually heard one doctor say though not to me, “if it tastes good, spit it out!”

I don’t know about you, but I have had doctors tell me I need to lose some weight, an instruction I obviously have not fully followed. At least my efforts weren’t the way my doctors intended. But, I do work on it.

I think no matter what I, or any of the rest of us do or say, most of our doctors will keep telling us to lose weight or stop eating salt or get more exercise, or stop drinking coffee or whatever else might fall into their personal version of the Ten Commandments.

Why is it, do you think, our doctors push us, their patients lose weight? Sometimes I think he or she just wants to see skinny people walking around town. Could that possibly be true? Perhaps, but I doubt it.

Maybe these doctors own stock in a clothing manufacturing company or clothing retail store chain and is trying turn a profit? That could be the case but then that same doctor would be telling skinny people to gain weight so they would have to go out and buy new clothes as well. Besides, how many times have you heard about a doctor telling anyone to gain weight? It does happen, most recently the doctor told my son and daughter-in-law that Sydney needed to gain weight. But people hear the need to lose weight a great deal more than needing to gain weight.

It could be that our doctors think if those of us who are overweight would lose a few pounds we would look better. I know for me it would take more than just a few pounds.

Any of those things could be true, but I think there is probably a different answer resting in the fact that the person giving us these instructions is a medical doctor. Do you think that, maybe, just maybe, our physician knows that those of us who are overweight would be feeling better and living healthier if we lost all the extra pounds? That, my friends, is probably the case. But, how do our doctors know that to be true. If one of them were here this morning I might ask them the same question directly. To tell the truth, I really wouldn’t need an answer.

I think I know the answer. I think most of us do.  Losing a few pounds or having something else that could cause that doctor to give us some kind of special instructions. Any of us might and all of us should, regardless of our weight, or who are doctor might be, listen, at least a little bit to what they say. First of all, we pay them our hard-earned money for their advice. But more importantly, they are the ones with the education. They are the ones who have read the research. How does the doctor know? His or her education, training, research, experience, and study tell them so.

I read an article by Dr. John Eagan on the Protestant work ethic. Dr. Eagan said everyone is a person of faith. He went on to make a point that though every person is a person of faith, he did not say in what people placed their faith. He only said that we all do have faith.

For instance, I have faith that when I put my clothes in the washing machine, do all the voodoo  with all the settings, and all the stuff with the cleaning agents, my clothes will come out clean. How do I know? Because I know what the various products I use in doing the laundry are supposed to get done. If they don’t work, then I know my faith was misguided and I need to take another look at my laundry methods, cleaning products, equipment or all of the above.

When it’s August in Texas and the weatherman tells me, it’s going to be hot, I have the faith that what he says is true. It should be noted, however, that having faith in the weather forecast is not always faith well founded. But, how do I know that August in Texas means hot? My experience of living almost all my life in Texas, including a whole lot of Augustus tell me that it is almost always hot when those two conditions are present, no matter what the weatherman has to say when I watch the 10:00 o’clock news.

When I go to the doctor, I have faith that he or she gives me is best for my overall health. And we should listen to what they say if for no other reason than we have enough faith in the medical opinion to give them money so we can hear that opinion.

It is easy for us to say I have faith in something. It’s something very different to know why we have faith in something. Do you have faith that if we flip on a light switch the lights will come on? You do? How do you know?

In our lesson, we are looking at Jesus’ response to Peter first Jesus asks who do you say I am?” Jesus begins by asking a simple faith question, the question that laid the groundwork, if you will, is who do people say I am?” That’s a far easier question to answer when you’re talking about someone else, someone other than yourself. The response, “some say Moses, some say Elijah, or one of the prophets.” What other people are saying, is almost always an easier answer to give than to answer Jesus’ real question, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?”

Peter quickly gives the answer. Surprisingly, usually when Peter answers quickly, he’s wrong. But this time, Peter says, “You are the Christ the Son of the living God.” That is a faith answer to a faith question. Peter says, I know you are the Messiah.” For me, what is really at stake is, how did Peter know?

If given the opportunity, I think Peter probably could have answered the question for himself. This time, he didn’t because Jesus responded first. “Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but instead my father in heaven.” Peter says, “You are the Christ,” and that is true but how does he know? He knows because God revealed it to him.

All of us face the same faith question. It asks where our faith lies. Here we aren’t talking about our faith in doctors or the weather reporter or household appliances or light fixtures. We may have faith in at least some of these things. But what we’re talking about is faith that is deeper and more significant than anything we have talked about.

That is because they can falter, they can let us down and our faith is misguided. This faith question asks, “Who do you say he is?” If I asked each of us to answer in a quick poll of the congregation, I think I most, if not all of us, would answer, “He is the Christ, the Son of the living God, the savior, the Redeemer,” or another title that would be equally appropriate.

That is not to say if we were to poll everyone in the country or even here in Huntington that we would get the same answer. We would probably get some very different answers from our own, depending on who we asked. But for this morning’s message, those questions are not our concern. Should we be concerned about their faith and their Salvation? Sure, we should, but we will save that concern for another time.

My focus is on us. My concern is for those who give the expected answer to Jesus question, “Who do you say I am?” for we who know Jesus to be the Messiah, the Christ, I have another question for you and perhaps it’s the most important question we have asked this morning.

You say Jesus is the Christ or some similar term, answer me this, how do you know? How do you know Jesus is the Christ? In many ways Jesus’s question to Peter is a confession of faith. When we confess our faith, we are saying we know Jesus is the Messiah?

The summer I was seven years old, toward the end of vacation Bible school, the pastor of our church asked me, “Keith, when are you going to come forward and let me baptize you?” Then he asked me if I believed in Jesus. I answered I did. Though I really don’t think I understood what that meant. Within a few weeks I was baptized and in my seven-year-old way I confessed Jesus to be the Christ, but how did I know? I knew because the preacher had told me. And maybe for a seven-year-old kid, probably for any kid, that’s good enough. But for a more mature faith, it isn’t good enough.

How do you know Jesus is the Christ? Is it because I or some other preacher told you who Jesus is? I’m glad you listened and got that message, but that’s not good enough.

Do you know because some past Sunday school teacher told you who Jesus was? Again, I’m really glad you got that message, but knowing because a Sunday school teacher told you isn’t good enough.

Do you know because you read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? It touches my heart to know that you read the Bible? Personal time and scripture is important and I am really glad to know you have taken the time to read Scripture. Keep it up. But just reading the Bible to say you know Jesus to be the Messiah, well, sorry, that isn’t good enough.

Do you know because your mom or dad taught it to you? Once again that’s important. It’s vitally important that we raise our children in the faith. It is important that we teach them matters of faith at home. But as much as I hate to say it, it still isn’t good enough all these things are important they are vitally important for our children. But you can’t inherit mom or dad’s faith.

Do you know it because you got it from your grandma or grandpa. Both of my grandmothers told me a lot about Jesus over the years. My maternal grandmother came by it honestly. She was a strict Baptist’s preacher’s kid. That wasn’t good enough.

As the Church, when we baptize children and adults, we make a promise to uphold and teach and demonstrate living the faith. And friends, at every opportunity you have to teach the faith, to demonstrate the faith, and to support those arounds us in church and beyond, thank you. But, as hard as you work to do that, I am sure God smiles, but it isn’t good enough.

Yes they are important period all of them are important and I would never tell you otherwise. But none of these things are good enough for the mature person of faith because all these things are head knowledge. We expect head knowledge from the doctor or the mechanic or from the other people we do business with. But with matters of faith, we all need something more.

John Wesley talked about his heartwarming experience. Wesley knew in his head all there was to know about Jesus, yet something was missing, something important. He knew what he had wasn’t good enough. He went on a search for what more he needed. His search sent him as a missionary to Georgia. His search led him to active participation in the Holy Club at Oxford. He desperately wanted to know what it was to know Jesus to be the Messiah, not just in his head but in his heart. He wanted more than to know Jesus to be the Messiah, he wanted to feel Jesus was the Messiah.

Then one day, as he was at a preaching house on Aldersgate Street in London. He listened to a reading of Martin Luther’s preface to Paul’s letter to the Romans. The Holy Spirit came mightily upon Wesley and he said he felt his heart strangely warmed. He said he knew Jesus died, even for him!

That’s what we need. We don’t just need head knowledge; we need heart knowledge. Matters of faith are matters of the heart. Here in the church we depend a great deal on head knowledge. We need it to do business. But more importantly, I think it is difficult, not impossible, but difficult for us to arrive at heart knowledge without first having head knowledge. We need to hear Christ proclaimed in worship, Sunday school, in the words of scripture, and in many other places so we can come to a knowledge and understanding about God’s work in our lives. But head knowledge alone is not good enough.

We need something more. We need a lot more. Where shall we turn? There is good news. In our lesson Jesus says to Peter, “blessed are you son of Simon son of Jonah for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my father in heaven.”

I think what Jesus is saying here is, flesh and blood work in our heads, God works in our hearts.

____________________

Be blessed

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Smart and not Afraid: Lessons from a Turtle

12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

14 Do all things without murmuring and arguing, 15 so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. 16 It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you— 18 and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:12-18, New Revised Standard Version).

Giuseppe’s granddaughter and Bill’s mother was a four-years-old when the Great Depression began. One day in 1930 Giuseppe brought home a pair of box turtles for Bill’s mother. Giuseppe fenced in the yard to keep the turtles in. As was for most pets during the great profession, the turtles, ate whatever the family ate. They named the male Horace. Bill, the author of the story said he regrettably never asked why an Italian family would pick such a name for their pet turtle. His best guess was that there had been an Italian poet of some note named Horace.

Bill said he never knew the name of the female who, around 1950 escaped the fenced in backyard. They found the turtle at the neighbor’s home who refused to give it back. So then it was one box turtle, Horace, and Giuseppe reinforced the fence.

In 1990, Bill’s great-grandfather Giuseppe, was long deceased and his grandfather was recently deceased. His grandmother decided to sell her home and Horace’s habitat in New York and get a much smaller place near her sister in New Jersey. She called Bill and asked him to take over the now 60-year-old box turtle. He agreed and with a friend’s help and some books and articles about building an outdoor habitat for a box turtle, Bill did just that.

Over the next 25 years, Bill said he learned a lot about turtles. Horace is on a healthier diet these days. His people don’t feed him table scraps. He eats a balanced died of fruits and vegetables and worms and bugs. The article Bill wrote was published in 2012. About that time, Horace lost a leg to a predator. Bill’s daughter made a comment to Bills story about Horace in 2013 and said Bill came through his hibernation fine. I could find nothing new about Horace since 2013.

Until reading Horace’s story and doing some research for this sermon, I had no idea how long box turtles lived. They are right there with talking birds and us!!!

I learned box turtles don’t travel far from where they are born. If a human picks one up in the woods and carries it home to be a pet, the turtle has some kind of homing mechanism built in and will work itself quite literally to death trying to walk home. Turtles have no concept of glass and will beat itself up trying to get past the glass and go home.

I learned that turtles hibernate. As a reptile, they don’t handle the cold so they hibernate. I always thought turtles like we see around here were amphibians. I never thought about them as a reptile though that one doesn’t surprise me. Their periods of hibernation are vitally important to them and they can lose as much as a quarter of their body weight during hibernation.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that the most vulnerable time in a turtle’s life is when they are young. After they are hatched, for several months their shells are not fully hardened. Some predators like alligators and crocodiles can, if they have unusually strong jaws, break the shell of an adult, any can break the shell of a hatchling. Only 20 percent of hatchlings live part their first year. But, if they make it past the first year, living to a very old age improves dramatically. It is not uncommon for turtle to live to be 100 years old.

When I started on this search for turtle data, I wasn’t really looking for much of what I have said this morning. I was focused on finding one thing. I remember as a kid, when me and my friends would play with a turtle, we knew as soon as we picked it up, we would startle the turtle and legs, feet, claws, tail, and head would all be pulled into the shell and that shell was closed and locked just about as good as a bank after closing time. Oh, that was something else I learned, not every turtle can pull itself into its shell. Only the box turtle can close itself up tight.

So I knew a turtle retreated into its shell when it was scared. I wanted to know the other times a turtle hid out in its shell. There were two I found and both are related. Neither was surprising. The first is to sleep. I guess I always assumed when looking at a turtle when I wa a kid that they were still fearful so they had not come back out. It is likely that at least some of that time they were asleep. The other is to hibernate. Since I didn’t know turtles hibernated, I also didn’t know they did that in their shells.

Turtles hide themselves well when they sleep. They bury down and hide themselves VERY well when they hibernate. Aside from their first year, hibernation and sleep are the two most dangerous times for a turtle. Sure, they have the protection of their shell but they are still very vulnerable.

I have give quite a bit of thought lately to the turtle’s hangout, its shell, its house. They are there to hibernate and fight off the cold of winter. They are there to sleep. And, they go there when they are afraid.

In those ways, we are a lot like a turtle only we don’t carry that house around with us. I think of the proverbial story of the tortoise and the hare, no wonder tortoise was slow. More than a quarter of its body weight is that house he or she carries around on their back.

We may not carry a shell around but we still find ourselves seeking the shelter of our homes. Just as the turtle needs the security of its shell to protect it from predators during its vulnerable times, we seek that same kind of security.

The turtle’s world is pretty scary. They have many different natural predators and when those vulnerable times come, they place themselves in the best possible position to survive. The box turtle pulls itself tightly into its shell and seals themselves in. When ready to sleep, the turtle may push itself into a hollowed log or up under leaves.

When we are at home and about ready to go to sleep we go around the house and make sure everything is closed up and locked. We want that additional level of security.

For the turtle, the desire is just like us. The turtle wants to make itself as secure as possible before it goes to sleep. First under leaves or plants or wood, pull in the head and the extremities, close up the shell and then sleep.

Hibernation is a bit different. Because the cold weather makes a difference, the heart rate slows, temperature changes, other things in their body changes. The place where turtles set up for winter may or may not be more secure than where they slept the night before but to bury itself or close the ends of that hollow log added make that place warmer and more comfortable for hibernating. In the cold, with all the physical changes for the turtle, they are at risk to the cold. The best line of defense from predators is to disappear. The best defense from the cold is to add layers of protection around the shell and then pull up inside the shell.

Of course, you and I don’t hibernate. That being said, when cold weather rolls around, we often do sleep longer. We spend more time inside because it is more comfortable. Much like a box turtle, when we head for our sleep time in winter, we do make sure the house is closed up and locked. We make sure that the household heating devises are operating appropriately, meaning off if that is what should happen, and throw an extra blanket or two on the bed. They keep us as warm and the weight gives us comfort. Our Loose Threads group understands that as they regularly sew weighted blankets for autism patients.

The third thing that sends a box turtle hiding in its shell is when something scares it. Fear, and knowing the comfort and safety of its shell will pull up inside.

Every living creature has fears and something they try to do to keep themselves sake. From the turtle’s shell to natural camouflage, to growls, rattles, hand hiding, animals try to protect themselves from whatever they fear.

The human animal is really no different. We all have fears. I know people who don’t name their fears but I am convinced after talking to them that they have fears but don’t want to let others know or want to take control of what scares them.

I have told you before, I hate snakes, but it is more than that. I am flat out afraid of snakes. Yet it is still even stronger than that. I have an irrational fear of snakes. Still pictures of snakes don’t bother me too much but if I see a snake in a movie or television, I hide my eyes until its gone. That snake on the screen can’t hurt me but I am still not looking.

Several years ago, back in the late 1990s, Cindy had a job working in a chiropractor. This guy loved to scare people with his life sized statue of a rattlesnake. He would set the snake on the floor just outside an examining room or office. Then he would hang back for the reaction when someone saw the snake. When it was my turn, I saw him set the snake on the floor. He came back in and we carried on a normal conversation like I knew nothing about the snake. When I left the room a few minutes later, I simply stepped over the snake, turned around and laughed at the good doctor. He said he loved to scare people and that getting scared was good for you.

Until just recently, I thought him to be joking. While preparing for this message I discovered, The Adventure Collection Blog said there are a number of benefits when you get scared.

Fear keeps you safe.
Fear helps you lose weight
Fear temporarily boosts your immune system
Feeling fear-in the right dose-can be fun and exciting
Fear gives you a natural high and a sense of empowerment
Fear helps you manage stress and relaxes you.
Fear helps you stay in the present moment and to focus
Fear socializes you and bonds you to other people
Fear allows you to live life to the fullest
Fear gives you clarity on what’s really important in life

All over the Bible we have people telling others Don’t be afraid. In the Emmaus story, Jesus tells the disciples in the boat, right before Peter walks on water,. “Don’t be afraid.” An angel tells the shepherds outside of Bethlehem.”

Then here, Paul says to, “Work out you own salvation with FEAR and TREMBLING. In other places in the Bible we find places that talk about the fear of God and living in the fear of God. I have long argued that the Fear of God is to be in awe and respect of God. We also know that God loves us. That alone should remove some of our fear.

The bottom line is, fear is not such a bad thing. The thing that makes fear bad is when we let fear take control. If I know there is a snake in the yard, no longer do I want go out in the yard. I seek the safety of my house. But, if I go look, I don’t see the snake. I am not staying in the house because I fear the snake. I am going outside because that is where I feel best. I will not let the snake control my life.

For the past two months we have been staying in. We have avoided just about all things out. I am more than ready to be out. This extrovert needs out of the house and back around people. This preacher is glad to be able to look into people’s eyes today instead of only looking at empty seats and a camera lens. Though I know God is with me, it is still a scary world. I know this, I am not going to let my fears be in charge. Just like a rattlesnake in my yard might keep me out of his way, the possibility of a rattlesnake in the yard tells me I need to keep my eyes open if I don’t want an unpleasant encounter but so can getting out of bed in the morning.

Friends the fear we feel is not a bad thing. I am glad gave it to us. Because of fears, in some settings it causes me to be alert and think about the best way to protect myself should the need arise.

I don’t stay home because I fear the virus. I don’t wash my hands just because it is good hygiene. I don’t wear a mask because I am going out on a robbery binge. I do all these things because there is something scary out there. Because God gave me a gift of respectful fear, wisdom says, I should do all I can to protect people around me and encourage others to do the same. In reality, if by being a bit afraid and use that fear to motivate me to protect myself and be an example for others, that’s what I should strive to do. It’s what we should all try to do.

Be Blessed.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

#M.O.M.-Mother on a Mission

Matthew 15:21-28 21
21 From there, Jesus went to the regions of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from those territories came out and shouted, “Show me mercy, Son of David. My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession.” 23 But he didn’t respond to her at all. His disciples came and urged him, “Send her away; she keeps shouting out after us.” 24 Jesus replied, “I’ve been sent only to the lost sheep, the people of Israel.” 25 But she knelt before him and said, “Lord, help me.” 26 He replied, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and toss it to dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord. But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall off their masters’ table.” 28 Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith. It will be just as you wish.” And right then her daughter was healed. (Matthew 15:21-21, Common English Bible).

John 13:31-35 31
31 When Judas was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Human One[a] has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify the Human One[b] in himself and will glorify him immediately. 33 Little children, I’m with you for a little while longer. You will look for me—but, just as I told the Jewish leaders, I also tell you now—‘Where I’m going, you can’t come.’ 34 “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. 35 This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” (John 13:31-35, Common English Bible).

Many things about us from our mannerisms to our looks and other physical traits are ours because of who our birth parents happen to be. When we see a child, we might say the child has her mother’s eyes or his father’s hair. In Cindy’s family they talk about the “Oquinn Little Finger.” You can see the bend in pictures. It is slightly bent. 

What we inherit often goes beyond physical appearance. There are also hereditary medical conditions many people have. This is one of the primary reasons some who are adopted what or even need to locate their birth parents. 

Our oldest son Wayne has the misfortune of inheriting both his mom’s and his dad’s vision issues. Christopher was fortunate enough that he didn’t get much of either. He wears glasses now but that is mostly to help him reading. 

Cindy is VERY near-sighted. I have a disorder called hyperphoria. It is a five-dollar medical term that simply means one eye looks up and one eye looks down. For me it isn’t as pronounced as it is for many people, but it is there and it does present me with problems. Until I was in seminary and developed what my ophthalmologist called “grad school syndrome,” meaning I spent way too much time reading, I didn’t really need my glasses. 

I was often frustrated if I tried to do extensive reading and didn’t have my glasses. I would start reading on one line and when I got to the end I was reading the next line. The reading didn’t make much sense. It would also make me very sleepy. I would usually fall asleep after reading only a few pages. 

While a student at University of Houston I went to their optometry clinic. After several days of testing they found the problem. I had the condition all my life and it is 100 percent correctable with the right lenses. It made reading easier. 

About the time Wayne hit junior high, he started complaining about symptoms much like I had. He had already been wearing glasses for nearsightedness., but he was still had problems. 

As we listened to him, we knew he had hyperphoria. We made an appointment at University of Houston. They ran all the tests and found he had the same problem as me. He got the right lenses and we went on about our business. 

A year passes. Wayne’s eyes need to be examined again. Now we’re living in east Texas. Still we went to Houston to take advantage of U of H optometry clinic. They knew his eyes and we thought they would have his best interest in mind. 

The student examining Wayne said he outgrew his hyperphoria and no longer needed the correction. We questioned the student extensively and later his professor, both insisted the correction was no longer needed. 

Having little choice, we left. It was shortly before Thanksgiving. As we walked to the car Cindy said, “By Valentine’s day we will be back with Wayne showing the same symptoms.” 

Sure enough, February first, Wayne started complaining again about his eye issues. Cindy went off. If you have never seen a red- head ready to battle, if you do, get out of the way. 

She went on a campaign, determined her son wasn’t going to suffer with a correctable eye problem. She started calling people at the U of H. When she didn’t get satisfaction from one person she went to the next. By the time it was all said and done, Cindy talked with the dean of the optometry school. There were casualties in her wake. Cindy doesn’t go redhead often, but when she does, it’s not pretty. You don’t want to be in her line of fire. When we went to U of H again.

Wayne the examining wing, a space that could house 10 patients and the examining student optometrists, all to himself. The supervising professor would watch five students or more. Wayne was his only patient. Beyond that, this professor was the head of the binocular vision clinic, where I was diagnosed. After the exam, the original student and professor came in to learn from their mistake. At the end of the day Wayne left with new glasses, correcting his hyperphoria. 

Through this, Cindy became M.O.M., she coined an acronym, “Mother on a Mission.” 

During my years in ministry I have seen M.O.M., mother on a mission, several times and more moms than my wife. I have seen M.O.M., mother on a mission in hospitals, schools, and even twice in a courtroom. 

I feel certain if I could walk among you this morning and handed out a variety of difficult or threatening situations to you moms no doubt I would see MOM, mother on a mission. Most mothers tend to be that way. They protect their children. They will fight any fight to protect their child and the child’s needs. It makes them who they are. It’s makes our mothers special. 

Society, churches, and families we celebrate what mothers mean to us. We celebrate the love they bring to our lives. Most celebrations are also times for special memories. Most of us, remember times when our moms show us love in a special way. We remember times when our mothers turned into MOM, mother on a mission. I’m sure the moms watching this morning remember those occasions too. And, likely they would do it again. It is your child and mom’s love for her child sets you’re actions into motion. 

Today’s lesson shows MOM, Mother on a Mission. Please note, I do not fully understand this story. It has made me uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable with Jesus, in essence, calling the woman a dog. 

There are scholars who argue that Canaanite has the same root word as canine, so Canaanites would be “dog people.” First, that doesn’t really help. Second, Jesus likely spoke Aramaic or Hebrew. It was translated into Greek and then English. Not all words translate from language to language. There are two Greek words in the Bible for dog. One is a large cur dog. The other a small dog, a pet or puppy. Matthew had Jesus using the second word. It was more of a pet name. I still don’t understand or like it so I am not going to try to elaborate on what I don’t know. 

Some might ask, “Why would you preach a story you are uncomfortable with and don’t understand? That is a good question. This is a great story of M.O.M., mother on a mission. As the lesson begins, Jesus is in Canaanite country. The Jews didn’t like Gentiles in general and saw them as dogs. Canaanites were particularly loathed. This woman was in a hotbed of Canaanite activity when Jesus came by, she comes to him she asks healing for her daughter. At first Jesus ignores her. She was undeterred. Jesus’ non-answer wouldn’t be her answer. 

The disciples begged Jesus to send her away. She was determined to pressure Jesus, she was a total nuisance. 

Jesus gave an answer, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” So, Jesus said, “No, I won’t help you.” 

This isn’t what the Canaanite woman expected or wanted to hear. Jesus told her “no.” No less determined, she comes and kneels in front of him and begs him to help her daughter. Jesus tells her, “It’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 

I don’t think Jesus was being critical. He explained his mission and tested her faith to see how far she was willing to go. Still, people thought as a cut down MOM, mother on a mission, she wasn’t going quietly. “No” wasn’t her answer. She was determined to find healing for her child regardless of insult or cost. Her reply to Jesus was direct if nothing else. She said, “Yes Lord, but even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” 

What a woman. A silent “no” on Jesus’ part be her answer. She wasn’t going to take a response of “it’s not my job,” and she wasn’t going to take a put down, if that is what Jesus was doing. This is a story of not only great determination; it is also a story of great faith. It is an example saying, “whether we know it or not, most all of us follow. We pray for those who are close to us, our children, our parents, our spouses, when they are faced with great problems, physical or otherwise. 

The woman’s faith was well founded. Jesus even told her, her faith healed her daughter and sent them on their way. It was a wonderful story of MOM, mother on a mission. 

When I read this story, I have no trouble seeing MOM, Mother on a Mission. Just as importantly, however, it isn’t just in these words of Scripture where I can see MOM. I have seen it in my own home. I have seen it in my mother. I see it on many of your faces and in your love. The love is great. The love is what makes you determined. It is wonderful to see that love in our mothers. We all need to have that kind of love in our lives. That kind of love makes us feel good. It makes us feel special. But, most importantly, that kind of love is a good example for us of the kind of love God asks us to share with others. 

In John’s gospel, Jesus reminds us of the importance of that too. The love of a mother for a child, while a good example, does not in show us either mother or child as a Christian. Mothers of other faiths love their children. Mothers of no faith at all love their children. But Jesus also says this, “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 

As people of faith loving our family is not our calling. That is the easy part even though it can be difficult and challenging at the various times. Our call is higher and for more difficult. Our call is to love one another, which includes but is not limited to our families. 

The truth of the matter is, while most of us have a special love in our mothers, it isn’t true for everyone. Some children have no mother in their life. Some children have a mother but might be better off without. For whatever reason, the mother is incapable of loving her child. Yet they need to feel love too. They need to feel they are important to someone and that they are important to God. 

It is because of these people all of us can join the MOM, mother on a mission brigade, even if we are not a MOM. This is where the new commandment comes into play. And, it is where we are people of faith entering the picture. People out in the world need to know our faith. They learn of our faith by seeing our love. 

As people of faith we are called to love, not just when and where it is easy, but to love everyone sharing our world, even the unlovable. No, it isn’t always the easy thing to do. People of faith struggle with that every day, but that doesn’t make it any less necessary. God’s love needs to be seen at work in the world. 

M.O.M., mother on a mission is a great acronym. It is an even better example for us. Not everyone, however, has a mom or can be a mom. But we do all need to know about and experience and even give that special kind of love. So maybe a new acronym is called for, one that speaks to our need to be faithful in the mission God has given us, to be faithful in love. I think maybe F.O.A.M. fits the bill because it fits all of us as people of faith. May we all be, Faithful on a mission. 

The Dandelion Paradox

24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen! (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, New Revised Standard Version)

So, why read the sermon when you could watch it? Well, they NEVER come out the same. Even on the rare occasion when I read a sermon manuscript, they NEVER come in the same. So, with that, see what you see that’s different. I know there is at least one typo…

When we moved to Lovelady in 1995, we moved into a brand new parsonage. And, that new house came with a new yard. Before we moved in, one of the men in the congregation thought the lawn needed to have grass so he bought a bag of Bermuda grass seed and using the broadcast method, he spread it over the yard. As a result, much of it went on the lawn, where it was supposed to go. But, some of it also went into places where it wasn’t supposed to go. Onto sidewalks and the driveway wasn’t a big deal. But, it also went into every flowerbed on the property. Do you know what grass is called when it’s in a flowerbed? That is correct, it’s a weed. For the next two years, at least, there was an ongoing battle to remove the grass from those flowerbeds.

I also remember watching my mother and father working out in the yard and pulling weeds from the lawn. At least as I remember them, most of them were dandelions. I wasn’t allowed to pull the dandelions because I never got the whole root and it would grow back again. The last thing my parents wanted was for weeds to grow back.

When I was a very small child I remember picking the flowers off the dandelions to give to my mother. As I got older, I learned they were weeds. I grew up thinking a dandelion was nothing but a useless weed that nobody really wanted around and the only one who really knows why these plants are around at all is God himself. Why did God create weeds anyway?

Years later, I learned, much to my own surprise, there are actually people in this world, perhaps some of you, who actually eat those weeds. That’s right, they don’t see them as weeds at all. Instead, they view them as vegetables. They call them greens. I have personally never eaten them and, while I would try them, I am not in a real big hurry to do so. I am not real crazy about other more common greens like mustard greens, collard greens and turnip greens. I did try kale a few years ago and it was OK, but I have learned some folks would actually prepare those dandelion greens and then eat them. Can you imagine folks eating weeds?

That is quite a paradox. It is all the same plant but to some, it is a weed and yet to others a vegetable and for a few others, a flower. So, do we weed it out of the yard or do we pick off the leaves and boil them (or do whatever you do to dandelion greens) and eat them and then let the rest continue to grow for the next harvest? Or, do we pick off the blossoms and use them to brighten our homes?

For many people, if clover is growing in your yard it is a weed needing to be pulled or at least choked out. Yet on March 17th every year there are shamrocks, clover hanging everywhere. At that one point of the year it would seem everyone around us wants clover, at least the four leafed variety to bring us good luck.

It would seem that the paradox is, one person’s weed is another’s four-leaf clover and one person’s plant, flower or vegetable can be another person’s weed. Without question there are weeds in the world, plants that probably any of us would consider weeds. There are even plants having the word weed in their name. I have an acquaintance who has a master’s degree in biology, botany to be more specific. He wrote his master’s thesis on the milkweed. I am not clear, however, if he actually thinks the milkweed is a weed.

The same is true for people in the world around us. There are some we think are really bad people and some we think are really good people. Yet even those we think of as really bad, someone thinks of as good and those we think of as really good, there are others who think they are not worth the time of day. It is the dandelion paradox all over again.

In addition, that doesn’t even begin to include those we look at and rush to a snap judgment. All too often, we will take one look at someone and immediately decide they are good or bad, totally based on their appearance. When I am honest with myself, I knowI tend to fall into this particular sin pretty quickly and easily. And, rarely do I regret my thoughts and actions. I am also not alone in this either.

Here is an example. A seminar leader showed a class of government workers a series of pictures. The pictures began with a view of a person’s face, and then broadened the view to reveal the person’s entire body. It was only when the entire picture was seen that the class could make anything approaching an accurate judgment.

The first picture showed the face of a grizzled man, scowling and straining. He looked to be a member of a motorcycle gang, perhaps gripping the handlebars of a chopper. But when the entire picture was revealed, it became clear he was a maker of customized wheelchairs for the disabled, and he was pushing a client in one of his new creations.

Picture two showed the face of a lovely woman with a beautiful smile. She appeared to be a flight attendant or a hostess at an upscale restaurant. But when the view was expanded, what the class saw was an exotic dancer ready to do a pole dance.

Way too much of the time we don’t see the whole picture and rush to judgment. We need to stop and pull back and take a longer look at the situation.

Our lesson this morning finds Jesus teaching the way it seems he taught so much of the time, in parables. The parable of the weeds finds a farmer putting in a field of wheat. Under the cover of darkness one of the man’s enemies comes in and plants weeds among the wheat. When the farmer’s servants discover the weeds they ask the farmer if he wants them to weed the fields. He tells them no, to let the weeds and the wheat grow up together. If you try to pull the weeds you will take some of the wheat out as well. At harvest time we will separate them. We will take the wheat to the barn and we will burn the weeds.

If we are unfamiliar with the parable the meaning can seem to be pretty cryptic to us. We might think it means Jesus is telling us not to weed flowerbeds. Because many of us have heard the parable numerous times, we can read this much and have some sense of understanding what Jesus is saying.

Even if we don’t, however, this is a parable where Jesus takes the time to explain it to the disciples and us. Our text ends this morning at verse 30. Verses 31 through 35 are the Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Years. Then, beginning in verse 36 Jesus explains the Parable of the weeds. Read Matthew 13:36-43.Jesus is the farmer. The world is the field. The wheat represents people of faith.The devil sows the weeds and the weeds are his children. The harvest is the end of time.

To me, the Parable of the Weeds can be a frustrating story. Weeds and wheat together? But, it’s also very real to our world. We raise our children and we pray with them and for them. We bring them to church – we surround them with good friends and even more important, good influences. Then they go to school. They come home with words we hoped they’d never hear much less learn. And, they watch television and they experience a world of extramarital affairs and uncommitted relationships. They see rape and drugs and alcohol. And what we start to see is like wheat being surrounded by weeds.

It is real, and what we really want to pray is, “Lord, take the weeds away!” Take all the evil and all the temptations and all the anxieties. Pull those weeds out of my life. Takeaway the wars and the human hunger. Take away the divisions between humanity. Yes, our prayer would be no less than Jesus’ prayer, “Father, if it be your will, take this cup from me…”

But the Kingdom of God is here on earth and wheat and weeds grow together side by side, lest in pulling out the weeds we disrupt the wheat as well. Weeds and wheat, side by side. We are not afforded a monastery – where we could go and get away from the problems of this world. We have to live in the real world. What Jesus is really trying to teach us in this lesson is, judgments aren’t our job.

We are to leave that to God. God knows we are consistently off the mark when we try to make an accurate assessment of the moral character of a friend or neighbor or anyone else, so we need to focus our energies elsewhere.

As I think about it, it’s a good thing those judgements aren’t mine to make. You see, also part of this paradox happens when I realize, perhaps the reason I can’t tell the difference between the weeds and the wheat is that they both look a great deal like me.

Some of the time, when I am living the way God calls me to live, I look a whole lot like wheat. But, there are still other times, those times when I fall far short of who and whatGod wants me to be, times that I judge others, times when I live for me instead of living out God’s call in my life, I look a whole lot more like a weed than I look like a stalk of wheat. Thus, not only is a dandelion a paradox, so am I. I would even submit, so are you.

The challenge for us is to put our energy into being good wheat instead of trashing the weeds around us, even those weeds we see looking back at us from the mirror.

Weeding the field isn’t our job. Rather than erecting walls, building boundaries and trying to purify our community of faith from the impurities of the world around us, our job is to grow healthy and strong – and leave the judging and the weeding to Jesus. The problem with us trying to pull up weeds is we might easily grab some wheat by mistake and unintentionally pull it out, and hurt others who are part of the wheat and not part of the weeds. We also just might hurt ourselves in the process. Then too, when we start yanking stuff out of the ground we may find the ground around us loosens and we might not grow quite as well as otherwise we might have.

The best news is, growth and maturity are probably the most effective forms of weed control around. I am told, if you are responsible for taking care of a lawn, that healthy grass is extremely competitive and will crowd out most of the weeds surrounding it all by itself. If your lawn is healthy you shouldn’t have to dig out many weeds – in fact the presence of weeds is a sign your grass is weaker than it probably should be. If you find yourself dealing with weeds, one of the best things to do is, let the grass grow and get healthy.

When we let the grass (or more scripturally, the wheat) grow we don’t have to worry as much about the dandelion paradox. We don’t have to worry whether it is a weed or a vegetable or a flower because the good plants will surround us. Yes, weeds will be part of the world, but when some of them see the life of the wheat, they too might become one of the good plants. They may look a bit different, but in the long run, the dandelion paradox becomes a moot point.

When I was at Pleasant Retreat in Tyler, a man named Ted was a member of that congregation. Ted was one of Tyler’s bigger rose growers. One Sunday morning I preached on this parable. As I greeted Ted at the door following the service he told me something I doubt I will ever forget. He said, “Keith, a weed is just a plant nobody loved.”

WOW. What good news that is for all of us who spend some of our time on the weed side of the dandelion paradox. But, for those times when we are on the wheat side of the paradox, those weeds out there? We’ve got to keep loving them too.

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

We Believe, Don’t You?

This is the list of the descendants of Adam. When God created humankind he made them in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them “Humankind”when they were created.

When Adam had lived one hundred thirty years, he became the father of a son in his likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth. The days of Adam after he became the father of Seth were eight hundred years; and he had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred thirty years; and he died. (Genesis 5:1-5, New Revised Standard Version)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own. and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen (John 1:1-14, New Revised Standard Version).

******

I am not a Treky. For those of you who are like me but don’t know what that means, I am not a huge Star Trek fan. In fact, I don’t even like Star Trek the original series. That is complete heresy to a real Treky. The truth is, I really don’t even care much about science fiction at all. Its just not my genre. All that being said, I did become a casual fan of Star Trek The Next Generation. I’m not at all sure who started us watching the show, Cindy or one of the boys, but I could at least tolerate it and actually grew to like it because the writers were not afraid to tackle moral issues on the show. I didn’t always agree with their treatment of these issues but I did appreciate their willingness to address them, particularly the more controversial issues.

If you never watched the show, the Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise was Jean-Luc Picard. Most of the plot-lines revolved around Captain Picard. One recurring but not regular character, in fact, according to my research he was one of the few recurring characters on the show was Q. In fact, Q was in more episodes of Next Generation than any other who was not part of the crew. Q was an anti-god of sorts. He wasn’t Satan by any means but he was eternal and he was omnipotent, all-powerful. He was very God-like but he also fell far short of the God we all know and understand. And, he was continually stirring up problems for Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise.

In the episode titled, “All Good Things…” Captain Picard and the crew of the
Enterprise are dealing with a space anomaly they know little or nothing about. Then Q enters the scene.

As Q and Picard are looking at “the beginnings of life on earth,” or at least the possibilities of life on earth, we see one of the scientific theories of creation and life. Two proteins are floating in a puddle of goo. The theory is, unlike the television show, the two proteins come together and create the first single cell organism. It divides into two single cell organisms who in turn divide yet again. Eventually, the theory goes, the single cell organisms evolve into multi-cell organisms. As time passes they too evolve into ever more complex organisms which eventually evolve into land animals and then to humans and life on earth as we know it.

There a couple of problems with that theory. The theory, at the very least, implies either that there is no God or God isn’t active in the world around us. By this theory God wasn’t active then and God certainly wouldn’t be active today and I have a great deal of trouble with that idea as I feel sure is the case for most of you as well.

How can anyone look on this world and think all this just happened? I don’t get it. With all that is around us, it all happened by chance? When Cindy and I were on our trip to California a few years back, on more than one occasion I looked around me and wondered to myself, “How can anyone look on this and still believe God doesn’t exist?”

To look out over the Grand Canyon and to see that beauty, how can you say there is no God or that God doesn’t drive the creation? I said the same through the San Diego Zoo with so many of the animals. Think about this, a koala eats nothing but Eucalyptus. The particular species of eucalyptus, while grown in many parts of the world today, these species are native, exclusively to Australia. Coincidentally, the only place koalas are found in the wild. How can anyone look on that and believe it all happened by chance, by accident.

Look at your child, your grandchild, your parent, your friend or even look in a mirror at yourself. The human body is complex. Many of you know about my newborn granddaughter. She wasn’t eating when she was in the emergency rooms they checked yer blood sugar. It was so low it wouldn’t even register. I have no idea how many of you have had blood sugar issues during your life. I have. I don’t have a clue how that little girl was feeling except to say, I know how bad I feel when my sugar is in the 30s or even 40s. If my sugar gets below 90 I start feeling bad and it can get scary in a big hurry. Anyway, here is the point. Our bodies are so complex that a blood glucose reading down just a few points makes a difference between feeling fine and feeling like you were just run over by a truck. How bad do we feel when our normal body temperature is off by even as little as a degree? How could something as complex as the human body have come into being just by accident? How could it happen without some kind of Supreme Being there and working to drive that creation? And, I am not even beginning to talk about the complexities of the human mind and soul.

I know, it’s all just a big coincidence. My favorite current TV show is NCIS. According to the show’s man character, Leroy Jethro Gibbs here is no such thing as a coincidence.” I personally, however, in general at least, will not take it that far. I think things can happen by coincidence, but a coincidence as large as all this has to be.

Today on the blog, we are beginning a series discussing the Creed. Today we are looking at the first part of the creed, “I believe in God,
the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…”

Our lesson from Genesis this morning is the beginning of the creation story. “When God began to create the heavens and the earth—the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters—God said, “Let there be light.” And so light appeared. God saw how good the light was. God separated the light from the darkness. God named the light Day and the darkness Night. There was evening and there was morning: the first day.” According to the Bible, before God entered the picture there was nothing. The earth was nothing more than endless water, I believe God also put the water there but there really isn’t anything to back that up. There was no life, plant or animal. There was no land or light.

There was nothing but a dark, vast sea of emptiness. And, in these first
five verses of the Bible, God swept in and began to change everything. First, God gave light to a dark void. And, God said it was good.

I chose not to read the whole creation story from Genesis 1 but it is all there. The creation of land. Then there was the creation of vegetation. God said it was all good. Then God saved the pinnacle of creation for last. God created the human creature and said it was very good.

It’s all there. I find it interesting that those who believe in a strict theory of evolution have such difficulty with the creation story. Even if you want to carry it that far, the Biblical narrative and Darwin’s theory don’t deviate from one another all that much except to say that Darwin sees it happening by chance and the Bible makes it clear that God drove the creation process and I would argue that God is still driving that particular car. It is all structured. It is all organized. It all comes together in a special way that the
only logical solution is, God was getting it done. William of Occam lived from 1287-1347. He was an English Franciscan friar, scholastic philosopher, and theologian. He suggested a principle, later to become known as Occam’s razor stating that in the absence of certainty among competing hypothesizes, or competing theories, the simplest, the one with the fewest assumptions, should be the accepted truth.

Would the simplest theory be “this all happened by chance?” Would the fewest assumptions be that in the entire universe the right two proteins would exist in the same galaxy, the same solar system, the same planet, and the same puddle of goo on that planet? If you are one of those folks, I am sorry, but I remain unconvinced. The simplest explanation, the explanation that makes the fewest assumptions is, a Supreme Being, a Being you and I would call God, created all we can see and all we cannot. While I cannot
say with certainty, I believe William of Occam, based on him being a theologian, would agree with what I am saying.

The Genesis narrative isn’t the only place you can find this idea in Scripture. Tradition credits Moses with the writing of Genesis. Much of the time we treat the ancients as unenlightened, and Moses would have to be considered an ancient. By Jewish calculation Moses lived circa 1390-1270 B.C. So, by the time of Jesus and the disciples were walking the planet some 1300 years had passed. John the Apostle lived from circa 6-100 A.D. From that, we could make the assumption that John was more enlightened
than Moses. Yet in our lesson this morning from John, in the first five verses of John’s Gospel we read, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.”

“The Word was with God and the Word was God.” Admittedly, John is
showing much more of a theological bent than Moses, but none the less, John is saying in essence the same thing. Nothing came into being without the Word, without God. And, God is the light that shines for all the world to see. God is light shining in the darkness. “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”

Those are the words we say we believe. We believe there is a God, and that
God is very real and is all powerful. We believe God has the power to bring bright into darkness. We believe that all we have comes from God and God
created all that is in the world today. Sometimes we are co-creators with God, but God is still in control over the creation. I guess there have always been those who would argue the creation was nothing more than a happy accident. There are those who would believe everything was created by a big bang. There are those who believe a couple of proteins came together and it was the birth of life on this planet.

There is an awful lot of coincidence to swallow for a group of people who
generally don’t believe in coincidence. For me, and I would hope for you, I
choose to follow Occam’s razor. In other words, I choose to follow the Bible
when it comes to learning about the creation because I believe it to be the
simplest theory to follow, all the rest just muddy the water with thoughts and ideas that have difficulty coming together, after all, in the Star Trek version of creation the two proteins never come together and life itself never happens on this planet.

No, the simplest way to explain it all, it is not just a coincidence. It is
the creative hand of Almighty God.

Have a blessed day in the Lord

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved