We gather again today to share a prerecorded service with worship, prayer and a word from Scripture. Our building remains closed in this time of Coronavirus pandemic and we are thankful indeed for the work of Interim Pastor David Mueller and John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, which allows us to continue to meet and share a common experience, albeit from afar.
Also participating in today’s service are Nancy Myers, worship assistant, and this week’s Virtual Choir: Dave Herrmann, Allen Kirk, John Lasher, David McClure, John Nichols, Cheryl Powell and Teresa Stebner. We will also hear from vocalist Paige Stebner.
The link to the prerecorded video is below, along with the text of Pastor Mueller’s message: “The Messy God.”
Also, be sure to check out the new “St. Mark’s Midweek Extra,” which offers a more informal encounter with Pastor Mueller, who offers to reply to questions we submit and also shares his reflections and thoughts on a range of other issues for about half an hour. The broadcast started on Wednesday, July 8, and it is planned as a weekly event, usually arriving online by 10 a.m. You can find last week’s discussion — and all those to come — on our YouTube channel.
“The Messy God” (Matthew 13:1-9, 36-43)
David E. Mueller, Interim Pastor
You may or may not find it interesting that seminary education in Lutheranism traditionally has included four theological disciplines: Biblical theology (exegetics), history, systematics, and practical theology. I am troubled that far less history is required these days.
I want to center for just a minute on systematic theology, which is like engineering. If the foundation of a bridge has not been built correctly and strongly, it could easily collapse. The engineers have to put the design together in such a manner so that various parts of the bridge support rather than conflict with each other, making the whole a safe and practical bridge.
Systematic theology, which includes our Lutheran Confessions, seeks to make certain that various points of theology, belief and practice fit together and in no way contradict. Systematic theology is structural and quite technical. It is an attempt to neatly package what we believe even if complex.
Along comes Jesus speaking in parables which often defy neatness and order. I will not go through a number of them to prove my point, except to look at the Gospel lesson appointed for today about the sower and the seeds, which, as Jesus reveals when He explains what He first spoke, is really about the word and kingdom of God. God the sower flings seeds all over the place, in hopes that some will fall on good soil, take root and grow.
Seeds cannot and do not germinate on the road with birds eating what is not destroyed by traffic, like the devil coming along and snatching the seeds away.
Seeds cannot grow well on rocky ground either for the soil is not deep enough, which is like a person believing initially until the going gets hard and persecutions and other troubles come along and the person falls away.
Seeds can fall among the thorns and weeds, but get choked by the thorny cares of the world and wealth, yielding nothing.
Finally, seeds grow best on good clean and rich soil. The word is received, understood, the seeds germinate and produce fruit in various measures.
Interestingly, in the appointed Gospel for next week from just a bit later in Matthew 13, the weeds and thorny things are left to grow together.
It is all very messy and doesn’t seem to fit together very well. God does the things God does whether flinging seeds in reckless fashion or allowing weeds and seeds to co-exist.
In the familiar Psalm 23, we hear of cups running over, making a real mess on the table. God can be and often is quite messy.
We do ourselves and anyone else no favors by looking at the various places seeds land and identifying people we know who are like that. Good old Charlie gets very involved in things at the church but can never sustain his excitement. Henrietta simply cannot keep up with the thorns and weeds which end up killing off her many efforts. Mortimer always has his mind on what is best for himself and how he can make a killing. We all know people who seem to fit into these three categories. We can even identify the ones among us who do all the work, take little credit when all goes well and take a lot of guff when things go badly. These characters are all here at St. Mark’s in full and living color.
But what if there is a deeper interpretation without meaning to outdo Jesus here. What if in each of us there are four kinds of soil? What if there are birds which take the seeds in us which have not been smashed by traffic? What if in a spiritual sense we have rocks in our hearts much like stones in our kidneys which can act up? What if we find ourselves so wrapped up in the things of the world that there is no room left for the things of God? What if there is in each of us really good soil? If all this is true, what to do? Move to the good soil and let the word and will of God grow; avoid the other places in our lives where no growth of consequence is possible!
There is a parable in Matthew 21:28-32, where one son said yes when asked by his father to go out and work in the vineyard but who did not show up. The other son said no to his father but showed up and did the work. Which son did the work of the father? Obviously the one who showed up after all. This is a messy business as well because to have said “no” to a father in those days would have been asking for real trouble. It would be nice if sons or daughters always said a loving and obedient “yes” and did the work. But a case can be made that two sons like that or daughters are in each of us, doing some sort of battle. Which of them wins in us? It is like the soil. Move to the good soil in yourself!
I believe I have shared about the Native American grandfather who told his grandson that there were two wolves in each person, a ravenous, angry, dangerous one and a kind, friendly, but protective one. “Which one wins?” the grandson asks. “The one you feed,” said the grandfather.
There is clearly an eternal implication to all of this, that is, what is it that makes life last forever and not just for a while? But there is an immediate temporal significance and benefit as well.
Listen to the Prophet Isaiah in our first lesson as he lists the beautiful things God will do: to summarize, there will be joy, peace, hills singing, tress clapping hands. There will be no thorns but the Cypress, no brier but Myrtle. It is all an everlasting sign that people will not be cut off from the Lord.
Paul in our second lesson (Romans 8:1-11): set our minds on the things of the Spirit and live or on the things of the flesh and die!
As we ask ourselves what we want out of life, we Christians are invited to believe that the word, will and wonder of God is well worth it, while the stuff of bad soil, bad boys and big bad wolves are worth nothing in the end. Believing then and having living faith is setting aside our stuff — whatever it is — and allowing God in Christ to sow His abounding and steadfast love in us, on our hearts and in our minds.
There is clutter like thorns and thistles in us. There are false but formidable forces calling us to destruction. Let Jesus die for that so that you might be good soil on which God sows good fruit! Amen.