Saturday, July 15, 2017

Year A, Proper 10, Isaiah 55.10-13, Matt 13.1-9,18-23, "Wait for it"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
This is not the church I signed up to serve, when I went off to seminary back in 1984.
I’m not talking about Peace Lutheran in Otis Orchards.
I’m talking about the whole Church, the ELCA, but more than that, Christianity as a whole.
A lot has changed since I loaded up my family and drove from Gig Harbor, WA to St. Paul, MN to enter seminary.  So much has changed, that it seems like this is an entirely different church than the one I anticipated serving when I went to seminary.
Karla and I were charter members of Agnus Dei Lutheran Church in Gig Harbor, at the time.  Agnus Dei was a new congregation of our church that was started in 1980, about the same time that Peace in Otis Orchards began.
It was an exciting time in the Church, especially for young people like Karla and I.
We were thrilled to hear that a new congregation was being developed in Gig Harbor when we graduated from PLU and we knew that we wanted to be part of it.  With youthful idealism and boundless energy we jumped at the opportunity. 
Let me pause right here for a moment.
When I say that this is not the church I signed up to serve, I’d like to point out one thing that is different. 
As recent graduates of PLU, and with both of us having worked as Bible Camp counselors, we showed up at Agnus Dei’s first worship service at the local elementary school gymnasium already committed to not only joining this congregation but to becoming leaders of the congregation.
And the thing was, we were not unique.
That day there were many like us, though we were the youngest couple, but there were many like us eager to be part of this new congregation.  Young families, professionals, enthusiastic, and incredibly optimistic.
I quickly became involved as a worship leader and council member, serving as one of the first congregational presidents.
Karla volunteered as a secretary, and served in a number of other ways, as well.
It all seemed so natural, a perfect place for us.  And there was nothing about it that seemed surprising or different.
What a different world we live in today.
Can you imagine what it would be like if today, a young couple in their early twenties showed up at the door, not only fully committed to becoming part of the congregation—but equally committed to becoming leaders of that congregation?
And not only were we ready to be part of it, we were ready to devote a significant amount of time and energy to it. 
I just wish that once in my ministry I might experience having a youthful, energetic young couple like Karla and I were show up and be part of the congregation.  But that was then, and this was now.
That was thirty seven years ago.
The Church was still riding the wave of the Baby Boomers coming of age. 
In 1984 the Lutheran Churches that became the ELCA had a campaign to start even more congregations:  “Fifty more in ‘84” was the name. 
We’re not starting new congregations like that anymore.
And young people are not showing up at church on Sunday mornings primed and ready to become leaders of the Church.
The world has changed.
And some of us are wondering “what happened”? 
One of the things that happened was that in 1962 the birth control pill came out and Lutherans started having fewer children.  So by the time the ‘80s came about there were simply not nearly as many young Lutherans to fill up the pews.
But another thing happened as well.
The Church and its message has become increasingly irrelevant to the lives of many of our youth.
On a day like today, you are much more likely to find those young couples with children at a soccer field, than a church.
It’s simply the way that it is.
And the Church as a whole, like our congregation is in decline.
I sometimes get depressed and discouraged about it.
I search for something to give me hope.
One of the scripture passages that have spoken to me over the years is the lesson from Isaiah that we read this morning:
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
This is the hope that sustains me.
If we simply are faithful to the proclamation of God’s Word, it will accomplish that for which it was intended.
As you know, I’ve been trying to use Facebook as a means of getting the Word out there into the community. 
I post sermons on the congregation’s Facebook page, with short summaries, and then ‘boost them’ by paying to have them distributed throughout the community.
So for example, the last one I boosted reached 1,867 households. 
The hope is that if we just keep putting it out there, the Word itself will accomplish that for which it is intended. 
That sounds easy enough.
But it’s never that easy.
 “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”
Jesus makes clear that there are all sorts of things that can get in the way of the Word taking root and bearing fruit.
All sorts of things.
Jesus speaks about the evil one snatching away what was sown in the heart. 
God’s Word is not the only word out there.  There are many messages being shouted out in the world that are drowning out the message of the Gospel. 
I’m spiritual but not religious.
People hear, but do not understand, and soon the message they heard is gone.  Just like that.
And then there are those who quickly embrace the Word, and are overjoyed, but they fail to go deeper, to put down roots, and when life doesn’t go as they would like, they lose heart and fall away.
For still others, there are simply so many other concerns in the world, that there simply is not room for God.
And it goes deeper than that.
It’s not just that God is being pushed to the periphery of our lives, is that for many people today, they just don’t see the Church and “God”, dealing with the issues that truly concern them and that make a difference in their lives.
If I were to identify one major difference between my wife and I, and our children, it would be this:
When we looked at the world and all its challenges and problems, we saw the solution as coming from God and therefore committed ourselves to the Church.
Our children are more likely to see the challenges that face our world and look for solutions to them in the sciences, in education, in political activism, in technology, and other such places.
Rather than being seen as being part of the solution, often today, the Church is seen as being a major part of the problem. 
There is good reason for thinking this.
In a world that cries out for change, the Church has too often been an advocate for maintaining the status quo.
I could rattle off a bunch of examples of this but let it suffice to say that many people today would echo Ronald Reagan’s words, only in response to the Church.
Reagan famously said, “Government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem.”
Likewise, many in our world today would say that “religion is not the solution to our problems, religion is the problem.”
The entirety of the Biblical witness is that God is actively engaged in our world, and offering to us a solution to the ‘problem’, and we see that solution as being the problem.
And yet the truth is that neither science, nor technology, nor will any other human endeavor be able to do that which only God’s grace can do, and that is to redeem this fallen world.
And so we continue to speak the Word, and take comfort in the fact that as seeds sown in good soil, that Word of the Gospel will germinate and grow.
There is a period of time, when you just can’t see it. 
After you plant the garden, there is a period of waiting before the seeds send up their sprouts and break the surface.
Perhaps, that is where we are today.
Standing back, looking at the garden, newly planted but still bare soil, and wondering when the time will come that the new growth will emerge.
It’s this waiting that we are not good at.
We live in a world that expects immediate results.
But God is not about immediate results, but lasting results.  And that’s worth waiting for.

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