For the full worship service plan, please read the bulletin for today on the Bulletin page. Video of the Sermon, and other parts of service, will be included on this page after the morning service of worship.
SERMON: Today, as some of us gather again, after sixteen weeks away, we continue New Old Parables. We share the parables of the Sower and the Seed, and of the Plowman, as well as stories called ‘A Sense of Vocation, and ‘The Oyster Man.’ Let us pray…
“I love it when a plan comes together,” said ‘Hannibal’ Smith, on The A-Team TV show. Today, we are putting together a new plan, a whole new kind of plan, for worshipping together. It’s our first try, and we will learn from this experience. Perhaps you count this, already, as a success? The plan comes together.
I see, in the Bible parables of this day, stories of failure and success. Life is filled with both. The past four days for me, I have been viewing some key life moments, and reflecting on the successes of life, life’s meaning and purpose. On Thursday, a wedding. On Saturday, a funeral. Today, the dedication of a baby. If only I had a baptism, I’d have all the big moments!
And these moments, from cradle to grave, touch me with the timeframe of life. This year is teaching us again the need to be patient, the need to be learning new things, the need to change our ways and be transformed. The need to ‘let go and let God.’
The Old Testament ‘parable’ I chose for today is called ‘The Plowman,’ from Isaiah 28. It is, I think, a story about: time, the right time, taking enough time, God’s timing.
It is an agricultural scene. Isaiah preaches it in the form of a series of rhetorical questions, mostly.
Does the plowman keep plowing forever?
Doesn’t the farmer plant each crop in the proper method needed for each?
And, to put it in more familiar terms… Pumpkins aren’t harvested all winter, eh? Oats aren’t left in the fields for the horses to eat, right? & surely apple trees aren’t pruned & pruned until there’s nothing left?
The long and sometimes harsh times of farming are not too long. Crops take time, but they take just the right time. So too with the consequences of the actions of the peoples. There will come a day, by God’s grace and plan, when the suffering and the struggles will be over. The punishing of their poor leaders will finish up. It will be harvest time. It will be joyful again. There will be a new beginning.
Isaiah chapter 28 is dealing with the failures of the leaders in Israel, long ago. Disaster befell them, and they deserved it. But the trouble will not last forever. The record of these days long ago, in the pages of the Bible, remains for us, reminding us, teaching us. There are lessons to be learned from human failure. There is hope gained from the action of God. Building beauty out of trouble is the way our Master works.
This year, on earth, is a big year for learning lessons, among the human race. To borrow from the field of education, God has a real ‘teachable moment’ with us all, right now. It is a big opportunity.
Our own sense of purpose, as Chistians these days, is being tested, really put to the test. Perhaps I have been saying more than once that we have a mission in our area. I just have not said exactly what that mission looks like! It could look like developing our prayer ministry more: doing some training, and praying in small groups, and offering prayer for more people in our neighbourhoods. Writing a book of prayers garnered no interest among you – what does?
It could look like more sharing about our faith online during this time. We could start an internet channel for interviews and chats in which many of us could share our faith experiences. (Or a podcast – audio only, in other words.)
It could look like more practical help to people in need – through foodbank or grocery delivery or phone check-ins with isolated people.
I could look like another ministry… What better time than the present to start a new creative thing, with Christ, to “reach out to those in the church and community conveying the message of Jesus Christ through preaching and teaching with hearts of compassion and loving hands in service.” We, Digby Baptist, have a vocation, a ‘mission from God.’
An old friend is a preacher and a writer. In His 1994 book of stories, Art White tells this anecdote that he titles, ‘A Sense of Vocation.’ He says:
I was visiting a friend in Hospital, one lawn of which was a shambles due to the gouging of heavy equipment and pallets piled high with building materials.
Amid this scene of diesel-driven gadgetry, worked a lone figure with a pick-and-shovel, waist-deep in a cramped trench which ran beside the dusty walkway from the parking area.
“There’s something you don’t see much any more,” commented the fellow behind whom I was walking, “a hand-dug ditch.”
He called out, “What are you doing there?”
Pretty obvious, I thought. Perhaps the labourer did too, but he didn’t say it. His answer was mature and memorable.
“We’re expanding the hospital.”
(Art White, From Away, Here to Stay, 1994, p. 53)
That man with the pick and shovel had a sense of purpose, a purpose he shared with others, when he said, ‘We are… expanding the hospital.’
It is a real success to know your purpose. I looked at Mark and Janet on Thursday, and thought about the purpose of them being together. I looked at the family of the late Darlene LeBlanc and wondered out loud about the purpose of this woman whom I’d never met. We looked at little Eliana Taylor Grace this morning, held and surrounded by her family, and pondered her purpose here on earth. It may all seem mysterious, and wonderful, and frightening, and grand, all at the same time. Thanks be to God, the failures and successes of life get balanced out in the best direction possible. This is the story of our Faith.
So, we do have this famous story from Jesus today. Of the sower who sowed some seed. Like some of His other parables, it can seem simple on the surface, but can get deeper and challenging.
Today, it looks to me like another story of failures and successes. It looks like three failures, to begin with. Some seed hits the path, and becomes bird food. Some seed springs up in shallow soil and is doomed. Some seed is out-competed by weeds. Three strikes, you’re out: get yourself a better farmer!
But no, there are other seeds; they get into the good ground; and the harvest, well, from some of those plants it is incredible!
There will be failure. There will be loss. There will be trouble. Yet there is also success! Life! A rich harvest! This is God’s Kingdom, God’s Rule, God’s Empire. What does life-with-God look like in this pandemic time? Has our private, devotional life improved? Has our practical help to people increased, or decreased? Have we started deeper conversations with people we used to share only smalltalk before?
When your life is an example to others who see you, who know you: some days they glimpse God and a good example; some days they see your failings and miss out on some grace. When you have a chat of some importance with someone, you may be clear and honest and shine for Christ; or you may be selfish and hide the Good News that helped you. When you cooperate with others on some little project, you may do more than humanly possible, thanks to God; or you may end up not making the most of your opportunity together. Give thanks, whatever happens, for God in Christ has a will to forgive and a way of repairing the trouble we cause.
At times, we need to embrace our weaknesses, and failures, in order to be all that we can be. It is then that we rely upon God more, so to speak. Or, to put it another way, when we are imperfect, we are more likely to tap in to the Supreme Source of Good and Truth and Grace.
Years ago, one of my Deacons in Windsor drew my attention to a little story. She liked it very much, and gave me a copy of it. It is called
The Oyster Man, from The Daily Bread, by Cindy Hess Kasper, April 9, 2008
In the days of John Wesley, lay preachers with limited education would sometimes conduct the church services. One man used Luke 19:21 as his text: “Lord, I feared Thee, because Thou art an austere man” (KJV). Not knowing the word austere, he thought the text spoke of “an oyster man.”
He explained how a diver must grope in dark, freezing water to retrieve oysters. In his attempt, he cuts his hands on the sharp edges of the shells. After he obtains an oyster, he rises to the surface, clutching it “in his torn and bleeding hands.” The preacher added, “Christ descended from the glory of heaven into . . . sinful human society, in order to retrieve humans and bring them back up with Him to the glory of heaven. His torn and bleeding hands are a sign of the value He has placed on the object of His quest.”
Afterward, 12 men received Christ. Later that night someone came to Wesley to complain about unschooled preachers who were too ignorant even to know the meaning of the texts they were preaching on. The Oxford-educated Wesley simply said, “Never mind. The Lord got a dozen oysters tonight.”
Our best may not always measure up to the standards of others. But God takes our inadequacies and humble efforts and uses them for His glory.
The writer of this story, Cindy Kasper, is right, I think. Our humble efforts are worth something. Even our errors can be transformed, and good things can grow. Much of the seed we sow will end up on the path, the rocks, and among the weeds. But just the bit that we do for the good can end up growing more than expected.
Is this not the way of God, described over and over in scripture? As a preacher, an educated, ordained preacher, I yet feel the challenge of communicating truth and reality, from our sacred text. Many times a year I think I am far more like the lay preacher who spoke of an ‘oyster man,’ than the brilliant evangelist of long ago, John Wesley. I have many moments of feeling that my work is not accomplishing much that is truly worthwhile.
For years, I have held to the hope that God does more than I ask or imagine. And the few seeds I scatter that land on good soil will grow to produce a harvest greater than I expect, and more than I will see.
A Church reopens, during a pandemic. A couple in their 50s gets married. A woman dies at age 60. A family brings an infant daughter to Church, believing she can be blessed in this life. In every life, the seeds of God’s Rule are sown. Will they grow?
Failure, or success? Both can take us closer to the Divine, and both are steps along the eternal journey. Thanks be to God!
PRAYERS Wonderful Counsellor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace: we are called together for prayer, and we answer You today. From pews, and from our places at home, we gather before You.
We seek good for this world of trouble. The virus of the pandemic is but one of so many illnesses and troubles that threaten life every day, and disrupt the hopes of so many. Healer of body and soul, reach into lives, reach into the systems for healing and help, and do more than we can, for the sake of millions.
Our prayers are also local. Eternal One, we pray for Marj Wilson, in palliative care in hospital, and her family, and all who face the end of life in these days. Bless those who mourn, such as Cairine and family, and the family of the late Darlene LeBlanc.
O Mind of Christ, we pray for all who are troubled, depressed, or distressed in this stressful year. When things are too much to bear, may there be relief and a gift of inner strength.
Dear Spirit of power, descend upon the bodies of all who are ill, all who are undergoing treatments or therapies or surgeries, and all who face chronic, unending illness.
And, with mercy, hear all our prayers now, spoken aloud or offered in silence…
Our Father, who art in heaven… AMEN.