Thoughts on Blindness and Seeing

A sermon delivered by Dr. Randy K. Hammer, March 26, 2017

John 9:1-25 GNT

You likely have heard the proverb that was made popular by 17th century biblical commentator, Matthew Henry.  Henry wrote, “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”  Perhaps such is what John the gospel writer had in mind in the story of Jesus and the man born blind.  As often is the case, there is much going on under the surface in this story.  And the theological and spiritual points that John sought to make may be much more important than the literal, physical details of the story itself.  There are several theological points in this story John did not want us to overlook.  In other words, we do well to be sensitive to the purposes John had in mind in giving us this story.

For instance, there is the question of the cause for the man’s blindness.  A common belief of the day was that such a physical ailment or physical deformity was the result of human sin.  But was it the result of the man’s sin, or the sin of his parents before he was born?  That was the question posed to Jesus.

But the answer given is neither.  Within John’s theological framework, it was so the works of God might be made manifest.  Such, I think, has more to do with John’s theology than the actual words of Jesus.  My theological framework finds it hard to accept that, first, God would will that any baby should be born blind; and second, that a baby would be born blind and live with that blindness until adulthood, so that one day the works of God might be made known.  Such seems a bit cruel to me and out of character with a God of love as revealed by Jesus in other places.  But such was the way John reasoned.

However, with all of that aside, as the story progresses, Jesus is revealed to be the “one sent by God” because of the great thing that has occurred in the life of the man who was once blind, but now is able to see.  That is the point John wants us to get at this juncture in the story.

A second theological truth John doesn’t want us to miss in this story is that Jesus is “the light of the world.”  We see this over and again throughout John’s gospel.  So it is only natural that the theme would come up in this story involving blindness, as light is such an important element of seeing.

A third point in the story to be noted has to do with Jesus’ relationship with the religious establishment of the day.  The story presupposes a bitter conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees.  One point of contention is the fact that Jesus has healed on the Sabbath Day.

A question we need to ask, however, is, To what extent was there this much conflict between the historical Jesus and the Pharisees in his own day, compared to the amount of conflict between the Jesus followers and Jewish leaders of the writer’s day, at least 60 years later?  Often what was going on at the actual time of writing colored the gospel writers’ accounts, which got written back into the stories about Jesus.

Yet another point of the story, and one that is most likely the primary point John is seeking to make, has to do with believing in Jesus as the “Son of Man” and a warning about spiritual blindness.  John’s purpose in writing his gospel from beginning to end as he states it himself is that all “may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through . . . faith in him you may have life” (John 20:31).  So the irony of the story is that the man born blind sees and believes in Jesus as God’s Son, whereas the religious leaders who should be able to see spiritual truth are blind and stand condemned, at least according to John.  Ironically, the man who had been born blind becomes the teacher of the religious leaders who in essence are spiritually blind, in that they fail to see the workings of God in their very midst.  The last verse of the chapter sums it all up, where John has Jesus say to the religious leaders, “If you were blind, then you would not be guilty; but since you claim that you can see, this means that you are still guilty” (9:41).  Well, such are some of the theological and spiritual points at work in this story of the man born blind that John wanted us to get.

Regarding being blind and then later coming to see, there is a beautiful story that seems most appropriate to be shared in conjunction with this passage.  Another John, who was English born, endured somewhat of a rough life as a child.  His mother died of Tuberculosis just before he turned seven.  At the age of eleven, John went to sea with his father, who was a commander of a merchant ship.  After sailing several long voyages with his father, John ended up being pressed into service in the Royal Navy.  Being dissatisfied, at one point, he tried to desert and was severely punished in front of a crew of 350, as he was stripped to the waist and then tied up and given a flogging of eight dozen lashes.  He was then reduced to the rank of a common seaman.

Eventually, John found himself on a slave ship bound for West Africa.  Ultimately John became captain of his own ship whose main business was the transport of slaves.  The life John was living was a life marred by greed, sin, and disregard for the lives of others.  Indeed, if anyone was guilty of inhumanity to man, it was John.  In fact, John would later refer to himself during this time period as an “infidel.

During one voyage, the ship got caught in a violent storm.  When all seemed lost and it appeared the ship would surely sink, John exclaimed, “Lord, have mercy upon us.”  The ship did make it through the storm.  As he later reflected on the experience, he believed that God had saved them from the storm and that grace had begun to work in his life.  Later he believed that experience to be the beginning of his spiritual conversion.  He began to read the Bible and other literature.

The curious thing is John continued in the slave trade for some years following this experience.  But around the age of 30, John experienced a serious illness, and he gave up seafaring for good.  He began to educate himself and asked God to take complete control of his destiny.  At this point, he believed his conversion was complete.  Soon thereafter, John became acquainted with the famous English evangelistic preacher, George Whitefield, and became one of Whitefield’s enthusiastic disciples.  During this time period he also met and came to admire John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church.

John decided he wanted to become a minister himself.  It took some years before he was to be accepted, but eventually he was ordained as an Anglican Priest and became rector of an Anglican Church.  So many people crowded into John’s church to hear him preach, the building had to be enlarged.  It was likely during his time as rector in his first parish that John began composing hymns that would become Christian classics, including the one that chronicles his experience of being spiritually blind but enlightened and saved by the grace of God.  John Newton’s “Amazing Grace” is one of, if not the most famous Christian hymns of all times, probably sung and played as an instrumental more than any other hymn.

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

It is likely that the story in the gospel of John on blindness and seeing was the biblical inspiration that John Newton drew from to accompany his own life’s story of being saved and awakened by the grace of God from his spiritual blindness.

Surely one of the lessons of the season of Lent is the importance of being willing to see, spiritually speaking, the workings of God in our very midst.  One may have 20/20 physical sight and be spiritually blind.  And as Matthew Henry so eloquently put it, “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”  Conversely, one may be physically blind, yet have perfect spiritual sight, as in the case of another hymn writer, Fanny Crosby, who was blind but wrote thousands of hymns.

We owe gratitude to both Johns – John the gospel writer and John Newton the former slave trader turned minister and hymn writer – for enriching our faith with their stories about God’s amazing grace that gives new sight to the blind and changes lives.  May it be so.  Amen.

Posted in Sermons | Leave a comment

Awakenings

A sermon delivered by Dr. Randy K. Hammer, March 19, 2017

John 3:1-8 GNT

As you know, tomorrow is the Vernal Equinox – the first day of Spring.  Spring brings with it new life, new beginnings, and all things bursting forth in growth.  Spring means awakenings in the natural world around us.  Awakenings are things to be celebrated.

A couple of weeks ago, I sat in on the afternoon Women’s Circle meeting; the program part of the meeting, anyway.  The Circles had asked Suzanne to give a program on “Spirituality.”  During the discussion time, the word “awakening” was used more than once.  And one of the points that all seemed to agree on is the fact that becoming a “spiritual person,” or developing an interest in spirituality, often is tied to some type of awakening.  Such an awakening often occurs after one undergoes some life-altering experience, such as a severe illness, tragedy, or near-death experience even.  Such life experiences have the potential of awakening us to a different view of life, the world of Nature, to God, and things of the Spirit in general.  One person shared how that following a serious illness, she was awakened to a new appreciation of the world around her – the colors of the world seemed more vibrant, the songs of the birds more prevalent, and so on.

In the course of the discussion, there seemed to be a sense of comfort and ease in talking about spiritual awakenings, and such led me to think about the spiritual awakenings in my own life.  Such awakenings – and there have been three major ones – are significant milestones in my life.  And they are quite personal as well; so personal that I debated whether to share them with you today.  But I decided that by being open and willing to share my own spiritual awakenings might be of interest and help to some of you, and my sharing might lead some of you to recall and reflect upon and celebrate spiritual awakenings in your life as well.  But before I do that, I would like for us to consider today’s reading from John that in essence has to do with spiritual awakening.

John tells of a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in which Jesus says, “you must all be born again” (John 3:7 GNT).  Now, the truth is, “born again” language has become loaded over time as it has become associated with conservative, evangelical, or fundamentalist Christianity.  And I imagine that the term “born again” makes some of us uncomfortable, if we were to be honest with ourselves and each other.  And I understand why.  The idea of “being born again” in many people’s minds may be associated with emotional revival services and being guilted or coerced, even, into going to the altar and praying a sinner’s prayer and “being saved” while the congregation or choir sang ten stanzas of “Just As I Am.”  In my years of ministry, I have run into a number of people who endured such traumatic experiences as young persons, and when they came of age and could make a decision for themselves, they dropped out of church altogether because of the pressure to be saved or born again.

So perhaps the words attributed to Jesus by John produce a negative reaction in many because of the cultural baggage that has been attached to them.  But also, perhaps, because we have previously looked upon the term “born again” from only one angle.  An alternate reading of “born again,” as indicated in the footnotes of many Bibles, is “from above,” which would cause the verse to read, “you must be born from above.”  In other words, one needs the experience of being born – i.e., enlightened or awakened – by the Spirit.

The truth is, many people who would be adverse to saying they have been “born again” might readily confess that they have experienced enlightenment or feel that at some point they were awakened to spirituality and a new perspective on life and faith.  “Being born again” may be terminology peculiar to conservative or evangelical Christianity, whereas enlightenment or an experience of spiritual awakening is universal in scope, and cuts across many religious traditions.  So I have come to interpret the conversation of Jesus and Nicodemus as told by John in more universal terms, indicating an experience of spiritual enlightenment or spiritual awakening.  And to that type of experience, I can personally testify.  As noted earlier, I have had three such awakenings or enlightenments in my life.

The first such awakening was the fall I turned 17 and began to seriously look at my life and where I was headed, if I didn’t change course.  Now, this may surprise some of you, but I was not what you might call an angelic teenager.  We shall not go into details, but from age 15 through 17, I often tried my parents’ patience and caused them many sleepless hours, I am sure.  But near the end of my 17th year, I realized that I was on a dangerous course, and I best change courses if I wanted to live into happy adulthood.

Now, I had been raised in church as a child and adolescent, and during my childhood and adolescent years I enjoyed being involved in church.  I loved attending Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, and participating in the annual Christmas pageant and Youth Group activities.  But for about three years, I strayed from church life, as many teenagers do, and often ran with a not-so-good crowd.  But I can still recall a conversation I had with my uncle and cousin as we worked together one rainy fall afternoon in 1972, and I shared with them how I had decided to turn my life around and do differently.  I did not have any sort of miraculous, instantaneous experience.  Rather, what I experienced was a gradual awakening that occurred over the next six months which involved returning to church, an interest in reading the scriptures, indeed an interest in all things religious, and a serious dedication to living a Christian life.

During this same time period, I met Mary Lou, who was at a similar point in her own life.  So we started attending church together, were baptized, married, united with the church we were attending, and in essence molded our lives around church attendance and involvement.  Three years later I would commence preparations for Christian ministry.  Such was my first spiritual awakening in a nutshell.

My second spiritual awakening occurred some 20 years later, in the mid-1990s, when I began questioning my place in ministry in general and my denominational affiliation in particular.  As noted in previous sermons, I commenced on a long journey of soul searching and introspection, as I sought to really find myself theologically.  For several years I would read voraciously on the history and theology of a number of different American denominations, including the Congregationalists, those who chose to just call themselves “Christians,” Disciples of Christ, Quakers, groups that would form the United Church of Christ, Unitarians, and Universalists.  And it was when I discovered Universalist history and theology that I began a second spiritual awakening.

For a time I read everything I could on classic Universalist history and theology.  I found that I most identified with early to mid-twentieth century (1900-1950) Universalist thought, which at the time was still Christian-oriented, but at the same time was open to spiritual truth wherever it was to be found.  It was like a light bulb went off in my brain.  This makes sense, I thought.  I had come to realize that the theological tradition I had been raised in and was working within was way too narrow.  Surely God was greater than the narrow confines of my denominational tradition, or Protestantism, or Christianity even.  Surely God and spiritual truth can be found in other Christian traditions and world religions as well I discovered.  Such a revelation was a new lease on life for me.  It had taken the reading of thousands of pages to get to that realization, but when I did, I felt like drawing one of those red dots on my forehead to indicate I had been spiritually enlightened.  My whole perspective on life, faith, religion and spirituality was changed.  It was a second spiritual awakening.

The problem was the Universalist Church and theology which led to my second awakening no longer existed.  The Universalist Church of America had merged with the Unitarians in 1961, and their theology had drastically changed as well.  So I had a new theology, but still had to find a church that came closest to embracing it.  (As a side note, a good contemporary presentation of classic Universalist thought is Rob Bell’s book titled, Love Wins.)  Such was my second spiritual awakening.

My third spiritual awakening began, oddly enough another 20 years later, just four years ago with my first sabbatical break, and it involved natural theology.  I had chosen as a course of study the earth, environment, ecology, and what I called at the time “creation spirituality” (not to be confused with Creationism).  During that six-week period, I read a stack of books on these topics, both classic and contemporary.  I discovered Tremont in the Smokies and enrolled in my first class in the Naturalist Certification Program.  And after Mary Lou and I traveled to Florida and experienced Everglades National Park, I discovered a passion for America’s wonderful National Park system, what Ken Burns has aptly termed “America’s Best Idea.”  Since that summer we have visited an additional 11 major national parks and several national monuments as well.  Visiting our national parks has become a spiritual, and at times mystical, experience for me.

But the most significant part of all of this has been an awakening to the world of nature and discovering the beauty, awesomeness, and Sacred Presence in the natural world and a renewed passion for natural theology.  My love of nature photography grew out of that passion.  So when I am lucky enough to capture a decent photo of a bird, wildflower, or natural landscape, there is for me a spiritual element or touch of the Sacred associated with it.  Such has been my third spiritual awakening, an awakening to the Sacred within creation or the world of nature and natural theology.

Now, in sharing my spiritual awakenings with you, I don’t in any way want to imply that my experiences are unique, special, or better than anyone else’s.  I only seek to say that one doesn’t have to be put off by the idea of enlightenment or spiritual awakenings.  They are probably more common than we might initially think, and many of us might be able to describe such an experience, if we had the opportunity to do so.

And none of my spiritual awakenings were miraculous, instantaneous experiences; all three were gradual and occurred over a course of months.  So to use John’s terminology, have I been “born again”?  If is meant by that some kind of miraculous experience where I was zapped and changed instantaneously, the answer is No.  But if is meant a gradual, spiritual awakening to the activity of God, teachings of Jesus, and presence of God or the Sacred in the world, then the answer is a resounding Yes!  Three times over.  That’s my story; and I thank you for the opportunity to share it with you today.

But in conclusion, in my experience, spiritual awakenings are not something to be feared.  They are good things, things to be celebrated.  May it be so for all of us.  Amen.

Posted in Sermons | Leave a comment

Oh, the Things that Men Sometimes Do!

A sermon delivered by Dr. Randy K. Hammer, March 12, 2017

Esther 3:1-11 GNT

There is so much troubling news these days.  And there are so many things going on in the world that cause us to question, to shake our heads in disbelief, that break our hearts, and sometimes just make us downright angry.  And I think that sometimes we are justified in getting angry.  Even Jesus got angry on occasion.

But today we certainly can’t consider all the things in the news that cause us to question, to shake our heads in disbelief, that break our hearts, and make us downright angry.  But there is one issue that I felt inspired to focus on today that has touched my heart and, I have to admit, makes me a bit angry.

I am talking about the recent attacks on American Jews.  On Monday, February 20, the Gordon Jewish Community Center of Nashville received a bomb threat.  The sad news is that it was not the first such incident; it was the third such bomb threat the Nashville Jewish Community Center has received this year, and it was just one of a total of eleven bomb threats made at almost a dozen different Jewish community centers around the country on that same day.  As of the end of February, Jewish community centers and schools across 30 states had been evacuated after receiving bomb threats, totaling at least five waves of such incidents since the beginning of the year.  On February 28, The Wall Street Journal reported that in total, 90 bomb threats had been phoned in to 73 different Jewish community centers and schools. The FBI, who is investigating these incidents, has deemed these bomb threats a hate crime.  USA Today reported that another wave of such threats occurred just this past week, pushing the total number of such bomb threats over the 100 mark.

The Jewish Community Center Association has “called on federal officials to ‘speak out – and speak out forcefully – against this scourge of anti-Semitism impacting communities across the country.’”

But that is not the end of it.  A number of Jewish cemeteries have also been vandalized and desecrated since the first of the year, like the large Jewish cemetery in University City, Missouri.  Vandals damaged over 150 tombstones there.  So not only are living American Jews being terrorized; but the dead are being disrespected and their resting places desecrated as well. Oh, the things that men sometimes do!

All of this disturbing news makes us want to cry out, “What on earth is going on?  Why this renewed wave of anti-Semitism and Jewish hatred?  What is wrong with our world?”

But, sadly to say, there seems to be a revival of religious and racial bigotry and hatred in America today, indeed, in the world at large.  Bolder lines have been drawn, separating one religion and one race from another.  Bigotry, persecution, and even violence based on religion and race seem to be more prevalent and even more acceptable these past few months.  Such a turn of attitudes and events surely is cause for alarm.

For some reason, the Jews have long been the target of persecution and violence.  Such is illustrated in the ancient Hebrew story of Esther.  As the book of Esther tells the story, a number of Jews were deported to Babylon (or Persia) in the 6th century BCE.  Haman, one of the Babylonian officials, plotted to have the Jews of the Kingdom annihilated.  So he concocted a plan that would condemn all who did not fall down and honor him.  The Jews in the story refused to fall down and honor Haman or anyone else, as it would have been a violation of the Jewish Commandments to honor and worship God alone.

However, one of the beautiful Jewish women who ended up in Babylon had become queen to the Babylonian King.  And we all know the story of how Esther put her own life on the line by revealing to the King that she, too, was a Jew who had been transplanted to the Kingdom.  And if the King carried out Haman’s plan of killing all the Jews, she would stand condemned as well.  By her bravery, Esther saved her people.  It is from this story that the Jews celebrate the festival of Purim, which, coincidentally, was this past Thursday.  However, the point here is the fact that the story illustrates that for some reason the Jews have always been subject to persecution, violence, even the threat of genocide.

I pulled a past article from the Internet from the Jerusalem Post in which the author states, “The scapegoating of Jews has been a widespread phenomenon for over two thousand years.”  He notes that over the centuries, many Christians have persecuted the Jews as being responsible for the death of Jesus.  A verse from Matthew’s gospel has been used to justify such persecution, where Matthew records the Jews as saying, when Jesus was condemned to death, “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25).  Many Christians have even gone so far as to refer to Jews in general terms as “Christ Killers.”

Whether Matthew’s gospel was responsible for the persecution or not, at various times in history, Jews have become the scapegoats for what was wrong in the world; as, for example, the plague in Europe during the Middle Ages known as the Black Death.  And at times they have been blamed for the cause of global financial crises and financial recessions.  Millions of Jews were targeted and killed during the Holocaust.  Oh, the things that men sometimes do!

Sadly, such anti-Semitism and Jewish hatred just seem to never really go away.  We may go through brief periods when we think that such religious and racial bigotry have gone away; but in reality, it seems, it is just sleeping or lying dormant, only to raise its ugly head again in uncertain times.  And we seem to be living in uncertain times again today.  As our Gov. Bill Haslam stated this past Tuesday during a Holocaust remembrance ceremony at the state capitol, “The hatred doesn’t go away. . . The point of remembering is to know that, [the Holocaust] can happen again.  The point of remembering is to make sure that it doesn’t and to realize though that we are capable of that.”  Well, that is the bad news.

However, there is good news and there is a ray of hope.  Soon after that Jewish cemetery in Missouri mentioned earlier was vandalized, spiritual support and promise of solidarity and financial help started coming in to help restore the broken, desecrated gravestones.  And among the support that was given was from a group of Muslim Americans who formed a campaign to raise money for the damaged Jewish tombstones.  The goal was to raise $20,000.  But the campaign went viral, and in no time at all $160,000 – eight times the goal – was raised.  A Muslim spokesmen said, “the political climate has brought members of the two religions closer together in recent months.”  As the statement put it, “Muslim Americans stand in solidarity with the Jewish-American community to condemn this horrific act of desecration.”

But the gesture toward solidarity has gone the other way as well.  When a Florida Muslim mosque was burned in an arson attack recently, financial donations began to come in to help repair the damaged mosque.  Some of the donations that started coming in were in odd numbers.  They were in multiples of $18 – 18, 36, 72, and so on.  The Muslim responsible for receiving and keeping record of the donations couldn’t understand why such odd dollar numbers.  Then he realized the multiples of 18 were coming from names like Cohen, Goldstein, Rubin, and so on – Jewish donors.  Jews donate in multiples of $18 as a practice which holds the symbolic meaning of wishing the recipient a long life.

Now, when I read of such positive examples of inter-faith cooperation and solidarity, it gives me hope – hope that things can be different in the world.  Oh, the things that men sometimes do – from a positive standpoint!  But such cooperation between Jews and Muslims also causes me to ask why there aren’t more positive stories involving Christians and Jews and Muslims.  Why aren’t Christian groups making the news more for positive relationships with Jews and Muslims?  On the contrary, it seems that much of the news we hear about regarding what those who claim to be Christians are doing toward those of other religions and races is negative.  We who claim to be progressive Christians – we who hold that the heart of Christianity is compassion, kindness, tolerance, and justice – need to take the lead in working toward better relations with our Abrahamic cousins, since all three of us – Jews, Christians, and Muslims – trace our roots to Father Abraham and Mother Sarah.

As often is the case when I am working on a sermon, a passage appeared at my fingertips at the right moment on the very topic at hand.  This week it was a passage from 20th century Trappist Monk, contemplative, and writer Thomas Merton.  In his book, An Invitation to the Contemplative Life, Merton says, “I will be a better Catholic, not if I can refute every shade of Protestantism, but if I can affirm the truth in it and still go further.  Still, too, with the Muslims, the Hindus, the Buddhists, etc.

“If I affirm myself as a Catholic merely by denying all that is Muslim, Jewish, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist, etc., in the end I will find that there is not much left for me to affirm as a Catholic: and certainly no breath of the Spirit with which to affirm it.”

And so, as I have already said, Oh the things that men (that people) sometimes do!  If we are going to do anything, let us not do anything that is going to contribute to the hatred and religious and racial divisions in the world.  Let us determine to seek to find common ground; let us do what is going to foster more goodwill, cooperation and harmony among all, including those of other religious traditions.  As Merton points out, we don’t have to sacrifice our own beliefs and convictions in order to look for common ground with others.  And this, I believe, is what Jesus would have us do – to seek common ground with those of other religious traditions, rather than contributing to greater divisions.  May it be so.  Amen.

 

Works Cited: NewsChannel5Nashville;   The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 28, 2017;                 Jerusalem Post; Knoxville News Sentinel, March 8, 2017.  www.launchgood.com;            Thomas Merton, An Invitation to the Contemplative Life.  Frederick, Maryland: The Word Among Us Press, 2006.

Posted in Sermons, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Considerations for the Season of Lent

A sermon delivered by Dr. Randy K. Hammer, March 5, 2017

Matthew 4:1-11 GNT

In May 2000, I was privileged to enjoy a nice buffet lunch with my traveling companions at the Mount of Temptation Restaurant near the old city of Jericho.  One of the barren mountains within view of the restaurant is the traditional site of the temptation of Jesus spoken of in today’s reading.  In case you ever have the opportunity to go there, the restaurant boasts of having “the largest food buffet in the Holy Land.”  It was a wonderful experience to be able to dine there.

Of course, no one can be 100% sure of the exact mount where Jesus was tempted.  And I am not sure that today’s story was intended to be interpreted as 100% historical fact either.  As with many of the stories in the gospels, the literal story often is the vehicle or framework for the spiritual truths contained therein.

As I read this story again this past week – the traditional reading, by the way, for the first Sunday in Lent – I sought to universalize the truths contained within it as they might apply to our everyday lives.

For instance, the first point of the story has to do with daily provisions.  Jesus, as the story goes, was tempted to try to turn stones into bread to satisfy his physical hunger.  Yet, Jesus realized that “Human beings cannot live on bread alone” (4:4).  We all need bread to eat to sustain us (with bread being a general term for daily food provisions), but we also need much more.  We need soul sustenance or provisions for the spirit as well.

For Jesus, that spiritual sustenance or provisions for the spirit was the Hebrew Scriptures.  As Matthew tells the story, Jesus quotes the Hebrew Scriptures three times in the course of this story – three times from the book of Deuteronomy, or the Law of Moses.  And for many of the faithful down through the centuries, Jews and Christians alike, the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures have provided the spiritual sustenance their souls have craved.

But spiritual sustenance or provisions can take many forms.  For many, like myself, the Sunday morning worship service is a form of spiritual provision.  Small group studies like a Sunday school class or book group is a form of spiritual provision.  For many, the arts, including music, drama, painting, photography, pottery making, writing poetry, and so on can be a form of spiritual sustenance.  And for others, like myself, the world of nature provides spiritual provisions for the soul.  One of the most famous quotes of naturalist and environmentalist John Muir, referring to what would become our national parks, is “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”  I love and resonate with that thought!

And Mary Lou and I learned this past summer, as we visited Death Valley National Park, that even the desert can be seen as a place of beauty and a place to pray in, and a place to cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.  Perhaps during his time in the desert, Jesus realized this as well.

Another point of Jesus’ temptation story has to do with pride.  The temptation to jump off the highest point of the Jerusalem temple sought to appeal to Jesus’ pride that he could put God to the test to send angels to catch him and keep him from being injured when he fell.  The temptation was an assault on his ego which tempted him to think of himself more highly than the situation called for, putting himself in a position that fed a sense of grandiosity and over-inflated self-image.

One of the lessons of Lent surely is the reminder of the fact that we are humans with frailties and shortcomings.  It is important that we do have a positive self-image; I am the first to admit that.  But at the same time, we do well to keep ourselves in check, from allowing ourselves to have a sense of grandiosity, an over-inflated ego, to the extent that we lose touch with reality and our place in the world.

Pride, you know, can lead us to do all kinds of foolish things that can result in all kinds of negative consequences.  At some point in our lives, most of us allow pride to lead us to purchase or consider purchasing a much larger house than we really need or can afford, or buy a much more expensive automobile than we really need or can afford, or seek a job or position for which we are not really suited, but one that holds the promise of prestige or social standing.  Over the years, I have found myself in such situations, and maybe you have as well.

And so, Lent serves as a wake-up call of sorts to remind us of what is really important in life; things like staying grounded, self-realization, and that simpler often is better when possible.

A third point of Jesus’ temptation story speaks to the issue of priorities.  This temptation involved gaining the whole world by bowing to and pledging allegiance to the evil one.  The import is that by gaining the whole world Jesus would lose his soul in the process.  Indeed, Jesus would later say, “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and yet lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36) Jesus’ priority was to be faithful to God, faithful to what he knew in his heart was right, and faithful to his sense of self.

We, too, often face situations in our lives when we must choose between priorities involving faithfulness to what we feel in our hearts is right versus what we perceive to be most convenient, advantageous, or expedient.  We sometimes are faced with the prospect of gain at the possible loss of our sense of self.

Allow me to illustrate with a personal example.  About ten years ago, when we were looking to make a move back to Tennessee, I interviewed with a church that was in the right geographical area, with a good package, and was, in fact, a church I had longed to move to as a young man right out of seminary.  In fact, 35 years ago I saw it as “the perfect church” to move to.  But since those early years, I had changed dramatically and had arrived at a clearer sense of self, and so ten years ago I realized the church was no longer “the perfect church” or a good fit for me personally.  The theology and denominational affiliation were no longer compatible with whom I had become.  But for weeks I struggled with the decision, and every time I thought about moving there, my stomach would get tied up in knots.  By all outward appearances, it would have been a smart move for me, professionally and financially speaking.  In fact, a minister colleague said to me, “You would be crazy to not go there!”  But I also knew by going there I would not be true to the self I had become and realized.  Such a move would mean self-betrayal; indeed, a very loss of soul.  So I turned down the offer, even though it meant passing up an opportunity of returning to Tennessee from the cold Northeast and passing up financial stability.  What if another such offer never came around? I wondered over and again.

But about six or eight months later, I saw an ad in Christian Century magazine posted by the United Church of Oak Ridge, seeking a minister.  And I applied.  Had I sacrificed my soul for the earlier opportunity, I would have never had the opportunity to become minister of this United Church.  What a tremendous loss that would have been to me and Mary Lou as well!  “Good things come to those who wait,” they say.  And perhaps to those who resist the temptation to compromise and sell their soul in the process.

Yes, as we journey through the 40 days of Lent, we do well to be reminded that: provisions for the soul (in whatever form those soul provisions might take) are just as important as daily food for the body; pride is an ever-present danger that we must guard against, as it can cause us to lose touch with reality; and every now and then we need to take stock of our priorities, reminding ourselves of those things that are really important to us and our own sense of self.

The truth is, the story of Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness—whether it is interpreted as historical fact or not—is every man’s and every woman’s story – it is my story and your story.  Because soul provisions, dealing with pride, and the need to revisit our priorities and sense of self again and again is universal, common to all us.  May such give us food for thought during these 40 days of Lent.  Amen.

Posted in Sermons, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How Well Are We Listening?

A sermon delivered by Dr. Randy K. Hammer, February 26, 2017

Matthew 17:1-9 GNT

Note before the scripture reading: As a point of interest, this story is the traditional story for the last Sunday just before Lent, which begins this coming Wednesday.  This story, with only slight variations, is included in Matthew, Mark and Luke.

How well are you listening?  Such is a question that Jesus could have very easily asked Peter, James and John as they stood there on the Mount of Transfiguration.  “This is my own dear Son, with whom I am well pleased – listen to him!” Matthew has God say to them.  At least, such is the way the story goes.

Now, there is a lot going on behind the scenes in this elusive transfiguration story.  It is one of those stories where the truth or meaning behind the story is much more important and much more powerful than the literal story itself.

In looking at this story, on the one hand it helps to understand Matthew’s approach and frame of reference.  One of Matthew’s aims in his gospel from beginning to end is to portray Jesus as the new and better Moses.  Matthew, we need to remember, was writing to and for a Jewish audience.  Numerous times throughout the gospel he draws parallels between the life of Moses and the life of Jesus: the life of the infant Jesus was threatened by an evil king, just as the life of Moses was threatened by an evil king; as Moses’ family found themselves in the land of Egypt, Jesus’ family escaped to Egypt for a time to avoid King Herod; as Moses went upon the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments, Jesus went upon the mount to deliver the Beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount; as God through Moses fed the Israelites with manna in the wilderness, Jesus fed the multitudes in the wilderness with the loaves and fishes; a number of times Jesus interprets and re-interprets the teachings of Moses; and as Moses’ face shone with the glory of God after coming down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments, Jesus was transfigured (or shone) on the Mount of Transfiguration.  This story is a pinnacle, of sorts, in drawing a parallel between Moses and Jesus.

And then another thing going on in this elusive transfiguration story is the fact that it is one of the so-called “post-Easter” or “post-resurrection” stories.  What I mean by that is, it is one of those stories (and there are several in the gospels) that are colored by post-Easter memories.  The writer of Matthew’s gospel was not an eye witness to the transfiguration event in question.  The story says Jesus only took Peter, James and John with him upon the mountain where it is said that some type of extraordinary, mystical event transpired.

But the real key to the fact that this is a story that was colored by post-Easter influences is the verse where “Jesus ordered them, ‘Don’t tell anyone about this vision you have seen until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead’” (17:9).   And that conversation comes to a blunt end.  Doesn’t it seem odd that one of the three disciples didn’t say something like, “Say what?  Raised from the dead?  What on earth do you mean by that, Jesus?”  Rather, the way the conversation ends (in Matthew’s version at least), it leaves the impression that the resurrection from the dead was a done deal and there was no need for the disciples to question.  Mark does go a bit further by saying the disciples started discussing among themselves, “What does this ‘rising from the dead mean?’” (9:10).  But the issue reflects a looking back rather than a looking ahead – a post, rather than pre-resurrection, perspective.

Nevertheless, with all that background information on the story aside, we are still left with the injunction to “listen to him!”  And herein is the real point of today’s sermon.  Several times in the gospels we hear Jesus emphasize the importance of listening – really listening – and not just being casual hearers.  Repeatedly Jesus is quoted as saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  Or as the Good News Translation renders it, “Listen, then, if you have ears!” (Matthew 11:15).

I went to my bookshelf last week to pull a few resources that emphasize the importance of listening as a religious or spiritual practice.  And I found that I had many more resources emphasizing the importance of listening as a Christian practice and pastoral ministry practice than I had realized.

Two of my resources that emphasize listening as a central act of faith were written by Henri Nouwen – The Way of the Heart and Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith.  Nouwen notes, “prayer is a silent listening that leads to contemplation in the presence of God . . . .  To pray . . . means to be quiet and listen, whether or not we feel God is speaking to us.  More than anything, prayer is primarily listening and waiting.”

We could also learn a lot from the Quakers or Friends’ tradition about the importance of listening, from several different angles.  Listening to the “still small voice of God” is paramount in traditional Quaker thought.  That is why from early on many Quaker meetings have been held in silence so that all could be open to the voice or light of truth that comes from within.  But Quakers also have a wonderful practice called the “Clearness Committee,” where one who is struggling with an important life decision calls for a number of other Friends to sit in a circle and listen and ask questions so as to help the seeker of direction arrive at a clear understanding of which direction should be taken in life.

Careful listening is also the central ingredient in the practice of spiritual direction.  Spiritual Direction is a specialized form of ministry that requires specialized training and certification for one to be officially recognized as a Spiritual Director.  I had a dear Spiritual Director friend – Sister Kitty, a Catholic nun – in New York from whom I learned so much.  Resources on Spiritual Direction are at the heart concerned with the Spiritual Director learning to really listen to directees and mirroring back what is heard and helping the directees also listen to the voice of God as they feel God is leading them.

And such leads me to the paramount point of today’s sermon, that careful listening is both a joy and an opportunity for each one of us to be a service and help to others.  One of the first resources I acquired is a book titled Listening: A Christian’s Guide to Loving Relationships by Norman Wakefield.   It was an assigned textbook for my seminary Pastoral Care and Counseling class.  But as Wakefield points out, listening as a Christian practice is important to everyone, not just pastors or religious leaders.  Some of the points noted by Wakefield are that “All of us cry out to be listened to.. . . Listening says, ‘You are important,’ or ‘Your ideas, problems, and feelings are important to me.  I care about you.’”  True listening does not involve giving advice, criticizing, or passing judgment.  True listening involves both being sensitive to words that are spoken as well as body language and feelings that are shared.  The true listener doesn’t assume he already knows what the other person is going to say, and he refrains from running ahead in his mind what he is going to say in reply.  The true listener doesn’t interrupt before the other person is finished sharing.  Rather, the true listener is careful to hear, assimilate, and then mirror back to the other what is heard, validating the thoughts, feelings, and expressions that are shared.2

When it comes to various aspects of Christian ministry, pastoral care and church life, most people don’t feel they are qualified or have what it takes to address the needs, such as saying or doing the right thing in a nursing home visit, by a hospital bedside, at the funeral home, when someone is facing a real life crisis, and so on.  But with patience and practice, most of us can learn to be a good listener, and often that is the most important service we can provide – to be a good, trustworthy, confidential, affirming listener who really hears and validates what the other person is saying and feeling, and supports them as they sort through options and find the grace and strength they are needing.

Yes, from the early pages of scripture to the end, there is an emphasis upon the importance of listening as a spiritual practice and vital aspect of faith – listening for the “voice of God” via that still, small, inner voice; listening through the pages of scripture; listening by way of others who listen to us and help us discern the right way; listening even in the world of nature.

But through Christian tradition, there is also the emphasis upon careful, compassionate listening within the pastoral ministry, counseling, chaplaincy, and spiritual direction.

But in a much broader sense, every one of us can become a means of grace to others as we learn how to be a careful, compassionate listener.  So as Jesus often said, “Listen, then, if you have ears to hear!”  May it be so for each of us.  Amen.

 

1Henry Nouwen, Spiritual Direction.  New York: HarperOne, 2006. Pp. 62, 63.

2Norman Wakefield, Listening: A Christian Guide to Loving Relationships.  Waco: Word Books, 1981.  Various pages.

Posted in Sermons | Leave a comment

Perspectives on Human Perfection

A sermon delivered by Dr. Randy K. Hammer, February 19, 2017

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; Matthew 5:48 ESV

And Moses spoke to all the children of Israel, saying, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).  And Jesus spoke to his disciples, saying, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).  Well, that sets the bar of living pretty high, doesn’t it?  Who among us is ready to stand and say that we are either holy or perfect?  Is such a thing even humanly possible?  Or could it be it is an ideal, or a goal toward which we may aim?  Or could it be that human holiness or perfection means something totally different than what we may think?

There was a movement in America that began in the mid-19th century that was actually called the “Holiness Movement” that stressed the possibility of human perfection.  The idea emerged from Methodism (or Wesleyan theology) and John Wesley’s teaching and doctrine having to do with a second work of grace (sanctification) that leads to Christian perfection.  Holiness adherents believe that a “second work of grace” or “second blessing” can take place after personal salvation, an experience that enables one to live a holy life.  Several factors in European and American religious history served to support the Holiness Movement: the Protestant Reformation, Pietism in Germany, Quietism in Quakerism, the Evangelical Revival in England, the First Great Awakening and Second Great Awakening in America, and the American camp meeting revivals.  All of these smaller movements lent support to the idea of the Holiness Movement and those who were drawn to it.

Although the Holiness Movement had its roots in Wesleyan theology, leading personalities from a number of denominational backgrounds would also play a role, such as Congregationalist Thomas Upham, Presbyterian evangelist Charles G. Finney, Quaker Hannah Whitall Smith, and Salvation Army co-founder Catherine Booth, just to name a few.

Traditionally, adherents of the Holiness Movement have expected members to obey strict moral and behavioral rules, including prohibiting any use of alcohol, any form of gambling, any form of dancing, any movie-going, and so on.  Holiness groups also have often placed prohibitions upon owning or watching television; women wearing makeup, jewelry, shorts or swimsuits; and other such things.

Over the last 150 years or so, a number of denominations and smaller associations have splintered off the Holiness Movement, including the Christian and Missionary Alliance, Church of the Nazarene, Church of God, Salvation Army, Pentecostal Holiness Church, just to name a few that we may be familiar with.

The question is, as I raised it early on, Is a state of holiness and human perfection really possible?  Such an idea may be predicated on the belief that humans – when first created – knew such a state of perfection, before the so-called “Fall from Grace.”  Perhaps the idea is that if there ever was a time when humans, as created by God, were really innocent and free of sin before falling to temptation, then with God’s grace humans could return to such a state of perfection.  But such is predicated on the fact that one takes the creation accounts in Genesis literally.  If, however, one does not interpret the Genesis creation accounts literally – as many of us may not – then there never was a state of human perfection, and subsequently a “Fall from Grace” to begin with.  If that is the case, then perhaps there is another way altogether to interpret the biblical injunctions to “be holy” and/or “perfect.”

Let’s consider first Jesus’ injunction – at least as Matthew records it – to “be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.”  What is really meant by that word “perfect”?  The connotations of the Greek word that is translated “perfect” in most English Bibles means “ended,” or “complete.”  In fact, the Common English Bible translates the verse this way: “just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.” That puts a whole new spin on it, doesn’t it?  For you see, when we consider the verse “be perfect” or “be complete” within its context (and we should always interpret a verse within its context), we find that Jesus has been talking about showing love and forgiveness in all our relationships: with our enemies, relatives, neighbors, societal relationships, and so on.  So the import of the verse is to be complete or perfectly inclusive in demonstrating love, compassion, and forgiveness in all our relationships, as God is complete or inclusive in demonstrating love, compassion, and forgiveness to all.  Jesus’ injunction to “be perfect” has nothing to do with moral perfection; at least not in this particular instance.

Then as we consider the word “holy” in Leviticus, we find that it means “separate” or “set apart.”  As we think about the time and circumstances, there were good hygienic and dietary reasons for the emphasis upon being separate or set apart.  A lot of the “holiness laws” in Leviticus were concerned with not getting food poisoned or contracting and spreading contagious diseases.   Such is to say that there were practical as well as religious reasons for the “holiness code” within the covenant community.

Some of the laws had to do with being different from the peoples around them, not participating in their worship of idols, indulging in their questionable practices, and so on.  Some of them were aimed at establishing and maintaining a well-ordered society and protecting the family unit, property rights, and so forth.  Granted, as we read the book of Leviticus today, we may think some of the prohibitions to be a bit extreme, silly, or down-right bizarre.  But regarding this particular chapter in Leviticus, biblical commentator John H. Hayes notes, “The ethical teachings of the OT find their apex in this [19th] chapter [of Leviticus] . . . ‘Holiness’ is understood as more than just ethical excellence; it is behavior that imitates God’s behavior” (New Interpreter’s Study Bible).

Therein is the crux of the matter in regards to the idea of holiness.  For if we again consider the verse, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy,” within its context, we find that it all has to do with the way God’s people were instructed to live in relation to others: looking out for the poor, stranger and aliens of the land by leaving remnants of grain and grapes for them to gather; respecting the property of others; dealing honestly with others; paying decent and honest wages to workers; dealing justly with everyone-rich and poor alike; not taking vengeance or using violence; but instead, loving your neighbor as you love yourself.  These are the instructions that come right after the injunction to “be holy.”  To “be holy” is to demonstrate behavior that mirrors or imitates the behavior of God.

And so, when we think of being holy in these terms – in a way that affects how we deal with others in society and in our daily lives; and when we think of being perfect as being complete in showing love, compassion and forgiveness in all our relationships – then it portrays holiness and perfection in a whole different light.

My honest gut conviction and belief is there never was a time of human perfection.  There never was a time of human innocence and so-called “Fall from Grace.”  Rather, I have been wont to believe that humankind could progressively move toward a more perfect state, if we could learn to live together in love and compassion as Jesus taught us.  But the idea that any one human might have some mystical experience that would impart human perfection seems to me to be a bit out of reach.  Maybe there is some holy man or holy woman somewhere in the world today who has reached a state of complete holiness or human perfection.  But I have never yet met one.  And I am not sure that is a possibility for most of us.

But the good news is all of us can be more “holy” as we care for others as God is said to care; and we can strive toward being more perfect, as Jesus described it, as we learn to care more for the less fortunate and learn to relate to others with forgiveness, love, and compassion.   Such is my perspective on being holy and perfect.  As such, may it be so for us.  Amen.

 

Posted in Sermons | Leave a comment

Seeds of Possibilities

A sermon delivered by Dr. Randy K. Hammer, February 12, 2017

Matthew 13:3-8, 18-23 ESV

When I was a boy of 12 or so, it was about this time of the year when fruit tree catalogs and vegetable and flower seed catalogs started to appear in our family mailbox.  My Dad was the one who was most interested in the tree catalogs.  He has tended a small apple, pear, and peach orchard for as long as I can remember.  My Grandmother was the one who was most interested in the seed catalogs.  She was an avid gardener of flowers, and when she was able she made sure that our lawn was adorned with flowers and flowering shrubs of many varieties.  Well, it was only natural that I would inherit some of my Dad’s and Grandmother’s love for plants and trees.

But another thing that came in the mail about this time of year was a business offer from the American Seed Company for a young person like myself to fill out an order form for 50 packages of vegetable and garden seeds and order them on consignment.  Often my Grandmother would help me choose which seeds would be most popular.  I would place the order, and when the box of seeds came in the mail I could then go door to door in our neighborhood selling the packages of seeds at retail cost, and when all the seeds were sold, I would send the American Seed Company about one-third of what I had collected, and I got to keep the rest.  The seeds came in a nice, little rectangular box, which made them easy to transport on my bicycle.  Such was a good exercise in helping an adolescent gain some early business experience.

But those multi-colored, attractively-packaged packets of vegetable and garden seeds also represented a world of possibilities.  Each one of those tiny seeds in each one of those fifty packets represented potential – stalks of sweet corn and hills of green beans, English peas and carrots, summer squash and stalks of okra; yellow zinnias and blue, climbing morning glories; and much, much more.

That is the way with seeds – they contain worlds of possibility and potential.  And such is one of life’s miracles and great mysteries – how such tiny seeds produce such wonderful things to eat and such magnificent natural beauties that brighten our world.

Such brings us to Jesus’ Parable of the Sower.  This familiar parable reminds us that the potential and possibilities are always embodied within the seeds that are sown.  But sometimes environment has everything to do with the seeds’ failure or success.  Seeds that are dropped on rocky ground, the hard footpath, or among weeds or thorns don’t hold much promise of living or reaching their potential.  One of the sad truths of life is that many good seeds are lost.

Of course, in Jesus’ parable, the “seed is the word of the kingdom” of God.  It represents the good news Jesus embodied and taught.  Jesus realized that there would be mixed reactions to his message and mission.  Some of his followers would take Jesus’ words of living in the realm of God and plant them and produce a wonderful harvest in the world.  In fact, the person who was to become Jesus’ most ardent disciple – Paul of Tarsus – draws on the seed-planting analogy in his first Letter to the Corinthians.  Paul wrote regarding preaching the good news and planting new churches, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6).  Because of Paul’s efforts, and others like him, in sowing the good seed of Good News and planting churches, the Jesus movement spread across the world.

But Jesus also realized that not everyone would be receptive.  The number of disciples that Jesus actually gathered in his lifetime probably was much smaller than we might imagine.  Several reasons could be cited for this; among them is the fact that Jesus was not the only itinerant preacher or messiah figure of his day.  And also, perhaps because the message of Jesus was so radical, too radical for many people to embrace, especially the political-religious establishment.  It may very well be that some of Jesus’ radical words helped get him crucified.

Nevertheless, the potential and possibilities of the Good News of the realm of God as Jesus saw it were always present in those metaphoric seeds that he passed down to us.

But let’s expand the box a bit as we think about the seeds we sow.  Let us include as seed possibilities the kind words that we speak to others, the positive example that we set, the altruistic acts of compassion that we perform, and the counsel and encouragement we provide others for their lives.  Every time we go out of our way to say a kind word to someone who is really needing one, we are dropping a good seed into the soil of life that may make a difference in the future.  Every time we counsel another person, or encourage others to stretch themselves, follow a dream, or utilize their gifts and talents, we are dropping a good seed into the soil of life that may someday produce astounding results.  But sometimes it may take years for us to see the positive results of our actions.

Allow me to share a personal example. In the late 1980’s, I was minister of a congregation in Denton, Texas.  Now, Denton is a university town, with Texas Woman’s University and the University of North Texas being two of the largest influences and largest employers in town.  It is not surprising that the congregation we served almost always enjoyed the attendance of a few university students.

Well, there was a nice, young university couple named Jeff and Janine who started attending our church.  I befriended Jeff and Janine and got acquainted with them as I participated in some of the young adult activities sponsored by the church.  Jeff and I talked a few times about his interests and such and future plans, but there was nothing definite.

Well, some years later, after we had long left Denton and moved to a new church start in Franklin, Tennessee, I heard from Jeff.  He made contact to inform me that because of my influence upon his life, he, too, had decided to become a minister and had recently been ordained into the ministry.  I had had no idea.  But the seeds I had dropped evidently had taken root and grown.  Now, that is just one life example.  Many others could be cited.

But dropping seeds of possibility into the soil of life certainly is not limited to ministers of churches.  All of us – in our daily routines and sphere of contacts – have the opportunity to drop seeds of possibilities into the lives of others.

Actor Denzel Washington compiled a book titled A Hand to Guide Me.  It is a collection of several dozen stories contributed by famous, successful people about how their success in life was based on the positive influence and encouragement of others.  In the Introduction, Denzel says, “Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who didn’t want for positive influences in his or her life. . . .  We’re all destined to leave some kind of mark . . . .  we all get where we’re going with a push from someone else. . . .  you can draw a line from every great success back to some rock-solid foundation.  A parent.  A teacher.  A coach.  A role model.  It all starts somewhere.”1

But there are a few things we need to bear in mind as we think about dropping positive seeds of possibility in the soil of life.  One thing is, as pointed out earlier, not every seed we drop will take root and grow.  That is a fact of life.  But we should not let that fact make us lose heart.

A second thing to bear in mind, as already noted, is often it takes time for a seed of possibility that we drop to germinate, sprout and grow.  It may be months or years before anything good comes from the positive influence we exert or the encouragement we share.

And then a third thing to remember is that some positive seeds we drop will make a difference.  And this is a point that we need to remember as we seek to be a positive influence and work for positive change in today’s climate.  It would be so easy for us to get discouraged as we think about the state of our country and world today and decide that anything we might do is useless.  But of the positive seeds that we sow, some will take root and grow and will make a difference.  It may take awhile for a positive outcome to come about, but the good deeds that good people do in the world, and positive influence we seek to exert, will not be lost in the end.  We have to have faith that this is so!

And so, the time for planting vegetable and garden seeds may be a few months away.  But the time for planting seeds of possibility in the soil of life and in the lives of others is now.  There is no better time than the present, as they say. May we all be more alert to the opportunities to do so, trusting that the positive influence we exert, the good deeds we do, and the seeds of possibility that we sow will, indeed, make a difference.  May it be so. Amen.

 

1Denzel Washington, A Hand to Guide Me.  Des Moines: Meredith Books, 2006.

Posted in Sermons | Leave a comment