Jacobjuncker

Author's details

Name: jacobjuncker
Date registered: April 2, 2012
URL: https://jacobjuncker.wordpress.com

Latest posts

  1. Methodist in-Formation: More than Words — August 12, 2014
  2. Methodist in-Formation: Wrestle. — August 4, 2014
  3. Methodist in-Formation: A Story About the Kingdom: The Possibilities — August 2, 2014
  4. Methodist in-Formation: A Story about the Kingdom: The Weeds — July 24, 2014
  5. Methodist in-Formation: A Story about the Kingdom: The Soil — July 18, 2014

Most commented posts

  1. Methodist in-Formation: We Need Each Other — 1 comment
  2. Methodist in-Formation: Approaching Life: Beyond Ourselves — 1 comment

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Aug 12 2014

Methodist in-Formation: More than Words

Original post at http://jacobjuncker.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/more-than-words/


This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, August 10, 2014.

Reading: Romans 10:8-13

Let’s pray.

Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today.  It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray.  Amen.

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In order to keep some routine in our house, Stella typically goes upstairs to bed between 6:20 and 6:45.  The bedtime routine commenced something like this: Chandra or I go upstairs to put Stella in her pajamas, the other one goes to make a warm milk “baba” and we all reconvene for books “in the big bed” (which as of late has been a lot of Giggle, Giggle, Quack by Doreen Cronin and One, Two, Three by Sandra Boynton).  After books we head to for our last restroom break of the day, then go to the rocker in Stella’s room where Stella snuggles chicken and dada snuggles Stella.  We then sing “You Are My Sunshine.”  And, let me tell you the cutest thing ever is when she sings it with me, she sings off beat like Willie Nelson and alters the lyrics: “you are my sunshine, my only sunshine, I make you happy when skies are grey…”  Ah, makes my heart melt each time she sings along.  At any rate, we sing together and then walk over to the crib.  As I lay her down, she gets three kisses as I say: “Dada loves Stella.  Momma loves Stella.  Everybody loves Stella.  Everybody loves Stella.”  This has been the routine since she was a couple of months old.

This past week, we were going through the routine as normal: jammies, baba, books, potty, “Sunshine,” kisses.  But this particular night, as I was laying her down—“Dada loves Stella.  Momma loves Stella.  Everybody loves Stella.  Everybody loves Stella”—she said, “Jesus loves Stella too.”  “Yes, baby,” I responded, “Jesus loves Stella too.”

Now to be completely honest, we have been singing, pretty regularly, “Jesus Loves Me”—it is her favorite “dada song” that she often sings with mamma—nevertheless, it was a moment that made me smile.  My heart was strangely warmed.  Stella is beginning to learn about faith.  She’s gaining a vocabulary that will, I pray, enable her to one day confess faith for herself.

Our lesson for today gives us a good understanding of what it means to confess our faith.  It also gives us a clue on how we might lead others to confess faith for themselves.  Why is all this confession important?

Because if you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and in your heart you have faith that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 Trusting with the heart leads to righteousness, and confessing with the mouth leads to salvation. 11 The scripture says,All who have faith in him won’t be put to shame12 There is no distinction between Jew and Greek, because the same Lord is Lord of all, who gives richly to all who call on him. 13 All who call on the Lord’s name will be saved.

Romans 10:9-13, Common English Bible

Confess.

The dictionary defines it as an act of acknowledgement, “to own or admit as true.”[1]  When we confess something, we live as if it is indubitably true.  To confess something means to claim it has fact.

When we confess faith in Jesus Christ, we acknowledge that God loved us so much that at the right time, God came to live among us.  We had forgotten what it meant to live at peace with God and neighbor; so, God—in the person of Jesus Christ—came to show us “the way” that leads to life.  God came, showed us the path to peace and love, but we wanted nothing to do with it.  We tried to push God, Jesus, so far away that we tortured him and sentenced him to a cruel death, and when we were sure he was good and dead we placed him in a borrowed tomb and sealed it with the biggest rock we could find.  But not a rock, not our ignorance, and even death could separate us from God’s love for us and God’s desire for us to be wholly happy and at peace.  Three days later after his death, three days after we thought he had breathed his last, Jesus rose from the dead and appeared over the course of 40 days to those (friends, disciples and otherwise) whose hearts were open to the unlikely possibility of God’s never-failing love.  After forty days, Christ “ascended” into heaven, promising to be with us—active in the world through the power of the Holy Spirit—through the end of time.

Or, in the words of Paul, who was actually quoting Deuteronomy (30:14): “The word is near you, in your mouth, and in your heart” (Romans 10:8b, Common English Bible).  That is, God is so close you can taste and feel in the deepest parts of your soul his presence.  God is with us and all the world!

Friends, this is the gospel—the good news, the truth of God’s loves.

But how can people acknowledge a truth they’ve not known or experienced?  “How are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him” (Romans 10:14, New Revised Standard Version)?  People can’t confess something they have no concept of.

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On the night of my “take-in” (which is United Methodist speak for the first time I came to Norwich to see the facilities and meet with representatives of Lee Memorial Church) the Staff Parish Relations Committee had a series of questions that they asked me.  They were trying to feel out—discern—if my ministry style and leadership would be a good match for the church.  In all honesty, I can’t remember all the questions that were asked, but I do remember one.  I believe it was Chris Glenney who asked (I’m paraphrasing best I can recall): “Mainline denominations, including the United Methodist Church, are in decline in the United States.  Why?  And what can we do about it?”

My response: The decline of the church is no longer just a “mainline” (i.e. Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Lutheran, UCC) issue.  The church is declining across most (if not all) large denominations across the United States.  The church in the United States is in decline—not because the 10 Commandments are being taken out of the public square, not because “prayer has been taken out of our schools—the church is in decline because followers of Jesus have not given people a convincing reason to believe.  I don’t think we’ve done a good job of demonstrating that God’s abiding presence in Jesus Christ makes a lick of difference in our lives.  Let’s face it, Christians can be some of the meanest, most judgmental, and inhospitable people we know.  And people who don’t yet know of God’s love in Jesus Christ are looking at us—“Christians—saying, I don’t need anything that’s going to make my life more difficult and broken.

Put another way, we’ve not given people the language necessary to proclaim faith for themselves.  We’ve done a lousy job of confessing our faith—acknowledging, claiming for ourselves, and sharing our experiences of God presence in our lives.

It’s somewhat ironic to me that many a street preacher would look to our lesson for today (Romans 10:8b-13) as justification for what I consider fear based evangelism: that is evangelism where we literally try to scare the hell out of people so that they’ll say a prayer and “accept Jesus into their life.”  The irony is that we don’t have to force the Gospel down people’s throats, God’s already there.  In Paul’s words, “The word [of God] is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (Romans 10:8b, New Revised Standard Version).

So what is Paul getting at?

It’s here that we could learn something from the “hair band” Extreme.  In 1991 they released a song entitled “More than Words.”  Admittedly, this song played endlessly on the adult contemporary station that my parents forced me to listen to as a child.  It’s one of those sappy songs I absolutely despise, but just can’t get out of my head.

Saying I love you
Is not the words I want to hear from you
It’s not that I want you
Not to say, but if you only knew
How easy it would be to show me how you feel
More than words is all you have to do to make it real
Then you wouldn’t have to say that you love me
Cos I’d already know[2]

That is, words alone are insufficient in declaring one’s love.  There are many of us who are much better at saying we God and others than we are at actually living it out.  Paul, and the 80’s hair band Extreme, remind us that confessing our love may begin with words, but it ends in actions.

Therefore, live as if God’s presence makes a difference in your life and the world!  What you’ll find is that as you begin to confess—acknowledge, claim for ourselves—the presence of God in your life trusting that God’s steadfast love will endure…  When you truly believe that

nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers 39 or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.[3]

When you confess with your lives that God is near others will begin to do the same.

 

 

[1] “confess.” Dictionary.com Unabridged (Random House, Inc.) <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/confess> Accessed August 8, 2014.

[2] “More than Words” by Extreme as quoted at AZLyrics.com <http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/extreme/morethanwords.html> Accessed August 8, 2014.

[3] Romans 8:38-39, Common English Bible).


Filed under: Sermons Tagged: Christ Jesus, confess, evangelism, Jesus Christ, romans 10:9-13

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/08/more-than-words/

Aug 04 2014

Methodist in-Formation: Wrestle.

Original post at http://jacobjuncker.wordpress.com/2014/08/04/wrestle/


This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, August 3, 2014.

Reading: Genesis 32:22-31

Let’s pray.

Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today.  It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray.  Amen.

˚˜˚˜˚˜˚˜˚˜˚˜˚

I wrestled for several years as an elementary aged child.  I went to wrestling camp.  I even traveled to a few matches.

My wrestling career came to an end one evening.  I was tall for my age: a good trait for sports like basketball and football.  But, in a sport like wrestling, where you’re not segregated by age, but weight, being “big for your age” is not an advantage.  I’ll never forget that evening at wrestling practice.  I had been paired with an older, stronger student who was in my weight class.  We were practicing holds: a dozen pairs at a time.  The coaches were trying to watch us all at once.  The head-coach screamed, “go;” and, the sparring began.  My more experienced opponent took me down in no time, putting me, literally, in a choke hold.  I was having a hard time breathing.  I was flailing on the mat and doing my best to scream into my opponents ear.  “Let me up! Let me up! Help!”

It was loud in the room that evening.  There were lots of screams and thumping from all other groups practicing.  No one heard me screaming—not even my partner.  He usually wore hearing aids, but because of the echoes in the gymnasium, he had turned them off.  I was screaming into the ear of a deaf person.  And, he was choking me.

I don’t remember passing out that evening.  I do recall coaches coming over and pulling the boy off of me.  I don’t remember him apologizing (after all, he was just playing the game).  I do remember that it was after that night that I hung up the leotard and head gear for good.  Wrestling wasn’t for me.  And, it still isn’t.  The stakes are too high.

I don’t like to wrestle.  I’m not much of a fighter.  Sure, I’m big guy.  But, that’s about all I’ve got going for me.  I don’t like the struggle or the pain inherent in the conflict.

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I’m not a wrestler., but Jacob—my namesake, the central figure in our reading for today—he knew how to wrestle.  He’d been doing it since before he was born.  Genesis records that Jacob started wrestling with his brother Esau while still in his mother’s womb.  It was Rebekah’s first pregnancy.  And, it was terribly uncomfortable, Genesis records, “the boys pushed against each other inside of her, and she said, “If this is what [pregnancy’s] like, why did it happen to me” (Genesis25:22, Common English Bible)?  The struggle continued during the birth.  Rebekah gave birth to Esau first; and Jacob quickly followed on his heels, literally (see Genesis 25:26)

The scuffle continued into adulthood where Esau and Jacob fought for their father’s blessing and wealth.  Through the stuff of daytime drama, Jacob uses coercion and deception to attain his brother’s birthright and his father’s blessing.  In fear of Esau’s revenge, Jacob flees to the land of Haran, to his uncle’s house to find a wife.  It’s there that he meets his cousin…you heard me right…it’s just the way they did back then, OK.  It’s in Haran, in the home of his uncle Laban, that Jacob meets Rachel, the woman who makes his dreams come true—again, literally (see Genesis 28:1-29:18).  To make a long story short (and it’s a long, juicy story), Jacob tries to marry Rachel, but ends up marrying her sister Leah first.  After several years of indentured servitude, Jacob is allowed to marry his other cousin Rachel.  They leave Laban, but on their way out, Rachel steals some household God’s from her father.  Fearing a curse, Laban pursues Jacob.  After Jacob swears to kill the perpetrator (note: that’s Rachel), they finally get everything settled.  Rachel lives.

Leaving Laban behind, Jacob is about to enter back into his homeland, the Promised Land, when he remembers how upset his brother was the last time they saw each other.  Jacob sends scouts out to size up the size of his brother’s army, I mean family.  Having heard Jacob is coming his way, Esau wastes no time and comes out to meet his brother.  Jacob is terrified.  Fearful of the struggle that might be, not wanting his brother to take everything he has, Jacob splits up his possessions and his family.  He waits alone for Esau.  And, in the dark of night, all alone, Jacob wrestles with a divine being whom we later find out is God.

Even though I’m not a wrestler, today’s Scripture lesson is one of my favorite stories in the Bible; and, here’s why…

It’s a reminder that no matter what our struggle might be, it doesn’t matter what we’re wrestling with, God is present in the midst of the struggle.  When we struggle with our finances, our family, our job, our friends…  It doesn’t matter whether we’re struggling with the consequences of our own decisions or the decisions of others…  Whatever our struggle, God is there.  Note: God doesn’t cause the struggle.  It’s pretty easy to read Jacob’s story and see that he causes most of the trouble that comes his way; and yet, nevertheless God is present in the midst of the struggle; and, in those moments we, like Jacob, must take hold of God and refuse to let go.

When you’re struggling to find the means to feed your family, when you’re wrestling in your relationships, when you’re struggling to find the change to fill up your car with gas so that you can go to work, when you’re wrestling—whatever the struggle might be—God is there.  Bind yourself to God and you’ll find a blessing in the midst of the struggle.  Refuse to let go of God no matter how dark the night gets, no matter how lonely you might feel, no matter how difficult the struggle might be.  Like Jacob, cleave to God and God will surely bless you.  It’s a helpful reminder; and, that’s why this is one of my favorite Bible stories.

Let’s pray:

Gracious God, we all have our struggles.  They may vary, but we’ve all wrestle whether we like to or not.  Give us the strength we need to hold tightly to you in the midst of our struggles.  No matter how dark it might get, bless us that the dawn of your redeeming love might break in our lives.  Amen.

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The Encyclopedia Britannica (ya, it’s still available online–not in print) claims that “no sport is older or more widely distributed than wrestling.” [1]  That really should be a surprise.  For as you go about your week, the road won’t be smooth, the seas won’t be calm, the skies will surely darken, there will be struggle.  In the midst of the struggles that come your way, know that God is there.  Hold fast to God and you will surely be blessed.  And, that my friends is Good News.  Amen.

 

[2] “wrestling”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 03 Aug. 2014 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/649438/wrestling>.


Filed under: Sermons Tagged: Genesis 32:22-31, Jacob, struggle, wrestling

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/08/wrestle/

Aug 02 2014

Methodist in-Formation: A Story About the Kingdom: The Possibilities

Original post at http://jacobjuncker.wordpress.com/2014/08/02/a-story-about-the-kingdom-the-possibilities/


This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, July 27, 2014.

Reading: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

 

Today wraps up a three-week mini series we’re calling “Stories About the Kingdom.”  Two weeks ago, we talked about the Story of the Soils.  Jesus used this story of a sower to remind us of our need to tend the soil—to make ourselves ready—for the seeds of—for the coming of God’s Kingdom.  We must tend the soil so that the God’s Kingdom might take root in our lives, grow, and bear fruit.

Last week we talked about the Story of the Weeds and Jesus’ peculiar response to let the weeds grow.  God’s desire is for us to concern ourselves with living into God’s Kingdom.  Our primary concern shouldn’t be to weed the garden, it should be to make God’s love real for all people and let God’s grace work on the weeds.

After worship last week, someone approached me and said, “Pastor, I’m confused.  Let the weeds grow?” he said, “I thought we were supposed to confront evil.”  I wanted to respond in a public way to say this: I think God’s concern in these stories—these parables—is to get people to orient themselves with the movement of God’s love, the establishing of the Kingdom on Earth as it is in heaven..  That is, it’s not so much that Jesus doesn’t want us to confront evil, I think he does.  However, what Jesus seems most concerned about, in these stories, is for people to allow God’s grace to work in them so that God’s Kingdom might come.  As the Kingdom takes root, as we align ourselves with the good in this world (God), evil will naturally diminish.

And, in the stories for today, we find that once the Kingdom takes root, you can’t hide it.  It transforms everything.  And, becomes something you’d give anything for.

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

˚˜˚˜˚˜˚˜˚˜˚˜˚

Let’s pray.

Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today.  It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray.  Amen.

˚˜˚˜˚˜˚˜˚˜˚˜˚

I’m not quite sure where it was said first, but it’s often attributed to Aubrey Hepburn: “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”  That is, you plant seeds in your garden hoping that they will grow healthy plants and bear fruit.  You plant a garden with the belief that there will come a day when you can reap a harvest.  “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”

In the last two stories, in the previous two weeks, Jesus has talked to us at length about our need to tend the soil.  He’s given us a heads up about the weeds.  Now he’s ready to tell us a bit more about the Kingdom.  And it’s at this point in the story telling, that I envision Jesus getting excited.  Like a gardener who is excited to see the first sprouts in his garden, I imagine Jesus, giddy with excitement, telling these final stories.  The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed…  It’s like yeast…  The kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that someone found in a field…  Or, it’s like a jewel merchant who finds the most beautiful, flawless pearl…  It’s like a fish net cast into the sea that brings forth a diverse catch of fish…  These stories remind us what it’s like when the Kingdom takes root: when the seeds sprout and the garden begins to truly grow and that gets Jesus—the generous sower of the seeds of the Kingdom—excited.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed or yeast.  It seems so insignificant at first—like a small seed or a granule of yeast.  But give it time to work and it will grow into something huge, bigger than you might expect coming from something so minuscule.

Let it work, and it will impact everything.  The Kingdom of Heaven is pervasive.  Once people experience the great love of God found in Jesus Christ—once they’ve experience true forgiveness, mercy, and love, they (we) will be transformed.  God’s love changes everything.  It gives us a peace that goes beyond our understanding, a hope that is unshakable even in the face of the greatest hardship, and it moves us beyond ourselves that we might serve God and our neighbors.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure or a pearl.  It’s important to note that the treasure is literally stumbled upon while the pearl is diligently searched for.  So often the Kingdom is that way: for some it’s the stumbled upon kindness of a stranger that shows them a glimpse of the way things could be.  For others, it’s a lifelong pursuit.  Either way, once you’ve experienced the world the way God intended it—where all live in peace, where joy, love, and forgiveness are the norm not the exception—you’ll give anything and everything to stay there.  Once you’ve experienced the fire of God’s love, you’ll do anything and everything to keep it going.

Perhaps, this is why the Church has existed for so long?  To be sure the Church has made its fair share of mistakes.  There have been times when we’ve gotten way wrong.  There have been times when we’ve denied the sacred worth of individuals, when we’ve condemned instead of loved.  There are times when we hoard God’s love instead of share it.  There have been times when we’ve said and done things that divide instead of reconcile people with God and one another.  Oh, but when we get it right: when we see glimpses of God’s Kingdom, that’s a special thing, something worth giving everything for—something you’d give everything to see again.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a net.  It reaches far and wide.  It brings in everyone!  That doesn’t mean that everyone is perfect.  It doesn’t mean that everyone is good and righteous.  But, the Kingdom is for everyone: good and bad, right and wrong, whole and broken.  The Kingdom of Heaven is like a net that draws everyone closer to God and closer to one another (sometimes whether we like it or not).

It’s in these last few parables, stories about the Kingdom that Jesus tells us of the possibility of the Kingdom: it’s like a mustard seed, yeast, a treasure or pearl.  It’s like a net.  These stories are meant to give us a glimpse of the way in which things might be different if only we’d live faithful lives, allowing the love of God to take root in our lives that the Kingdom of heaven might come on earth as it is in heaven.

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I heard a story once about a farmer who

purchased an old, run-down, abandoned farm with plans to turn it into a thriving enterprise. The fields were grown over with weeds, the farmhouse was falling apart, and the fences were broken down.  During his first day of work, the town preacher stops by to bless the man’s work, saying, “May you and God work together to make this the farm of your dreams!”   A few months later, the preacher stops by again to call on the farmer.  Lo and behold, it’s a completely different place.  The farm house is completely rebuilt and in excellent condition, there is plenty of cattle and other livestock happily munching on feed in well-fenced pens, and the fields are filled with crops planted in neat rows.  “Amazing!” the preacher says. “Look what God and you have accomplished together!”  “Yes, reverend,” says the farmer, “but remember what the farm was like when God was working it alone!”[1]

While the story is theologically suspect—God can and does generously care for the world God created and loves so much—nonetheless, the story is a good reminder that God’s Kingdom can only come when hearts and minds are open to the transforming love of God found in Jesus Christ.  The Kingdom of God, heaven on earth, will only come to the extent in which we open our lives and respond to God’s mercy and grace.  So, tend the soil, don’t mind the weeds, and live into the possibility that is heaven on earth.

Let’s pray.

O God,

We like the idea of the Kingdom.  Help us to be open to your leading.  Help us to respond to your grace.

Let your kingdom come!  May we not be afraid.  May we not hold back.  For its in Jesus name—the one who came to show us how to give it all for the world you so love—we pray.  Amen.

 

[1] “Jokes, Humor, Puns, Riddles for Gardeners and Lovers of the Green Way,” compiles by Karen and Mike Garofalo <http://www.gardendigest.com/humor.htm> Accessed July 27, 2014.


Filed under: Sermons Tagged: Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven, parable of the mustard seed, Parables

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/08/a-story-about-the-kingdom-the-possibilities/

Jul 24 2014

Methodist in-Formation: A Story about the Kingdom: The Weeds

Original post at http://jacobjuncker.wordpress.com/2014/07/24/a-story-about-the-kingdom-the-weeds/


This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, July 20, 2014.

Reading: Matthew 13:24-30

This morning we’re continuing to hear stories about God’s Kingdom.  These parables, or stories, were meant to give us glimpses of how God’s Kingdom—glimpses of how the reign of God Jesus came to usher in might come on earth as it is in heaven.

Last week we looked at the parable of the soils.  We were reminded that the seeds of the Kingdom are graciously given to all; and, it’s our responsibility to “nourish the soil” so that the seeds God scatters might grow and bear fruit, bringing forth God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

This week Jesus tells another story about a sower, but this time, Jesus isn’t so worried about the soil.  In this story, Jesus has something surprising to say about the weeds.

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

˚˜˚˜˚˜˚˜˚˜˚˜˚

Let’s pray.

Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today.  It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray.  Amen.

˚˜˚˜˚˜˚˜˚˜˚˜˚

Morning Glories are one of my wife’s favorite plants.  Morning Glories are easy to grow and will cover just about anything.  It will take an ugly looking mailbox at the end of your driveway, and turn it into a viney, flowering, beautiful depository for your daily mail delivery.  In cooler climates, like northern Indiana and Connecticut, morning glories are annuals: go from seed to plant to seed in a single season.  The vines die and in the harsh winters so will the seeds.  In warmer climates, where the seeds fall to the ground, survive, and grow again, morning glories can be a nuisance, a prolific weed.  For instance, in Bermuda, morning glories are not planted, they’re uprooted, considered a pesky weed.  It’s interesting to me how something so beautiful and valued can also be something so despised; how something treated as a thing of beauty can also be looked upon as an ugly nuisance.

“Weeds are,” one writers notes, “wonderful plants growing in the wrong place.”[1]  Plants that grow in the wrong place can be invasive, robbing the plants planted in the right place of the nutrients they need to survive.

The lolium temulentum is one such example, and it is the weed Jesus is most likely referring to in today’s parable or story.  Commonly known as the darnel, poison darnel or cockle, this annual plant grows thick deep roots that intertwine themselves with the surrounding plants, stealing water and vital nutrients.  Lolium Temulentum grows in the same regions where wheat is grown.  The plants look very similar, so much so that this weed is sometimes referred to as “false wheat.”  Its seeds are poisonous.  False wheat creates bad fruit.  A wise farmer would do well to protect his crop.  But, it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference between wheat that is true and false wheat.  The difference is known only at harvest time after the fruit has ripened. And besides, even if you can identify false wheat early, by weeding the field you will most likely pull up the good wheat with it.

What’s the diligent farmer who wants a successful harvest to do when false wheat appears in his field?  Jesus suggests in our Gospel lesson for today that you do nothing.  By letting the weeds grow, you’ll reap a larger harvest.

Let the weeds grow.

After Jesus told the story, he left the crowds and went into the house.  In private, the disciples asked him to explain the story of the weeds.

37-39 So he explained. “The farmer who sows the pure seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the pure seeds are subjects of the kingdom, the [false wheat] are subjects of the Devil, and the enemy who sows them is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the age, the curtain of history. The harvest hands are angels.

40-43 “The picture of [false wheat] pulled up and burned is a scene from the final act. The Son of Man will send his angels, weed out the [false wheat] from his kingdom, pitch them in the trash, and be done with them. They are going to complain to high heaven, but nobody is going to listen. At the same time, ripe, holy lives will mature and adorn the kingdom of their Father.

“Are you listening to this? Really listening?[2]

When we read this story I think we need to be careful not to get pulled into a false dichotomy.  That is, when reading this parable, we can easily assume that Jesus is suggesting that people are either purely evil or purely good.  To read the parable this way oversimplifies a fact each of us knows all too well that while we all want to be like the wheat—plants that nutritiously gives itself to others—we can more often than not be more like the weeds—plants that greedily take for themselves.

We know all too well, that the words of the Apostle Paul are true.  He writes in Romans 7:21 (Common English Bible): “So I find that, as a rule, when I want to do what is good, evil is right there with me.”  We each have as much opportunity to do good as we do evil.

Using the images of our parable for today, we can be either weeds or wheat.  It depends on whether we use our gifts to serve ourselves (like the weed) or we use our gifts to serve others (like the wheat).  The weeds and the wheat look identical.  We won’t know the difference between them till they bear fruit.

We can be either weeds or wheat.  It depends on how we use our gifts (our time, talent, and resources).  Using our gifts to selfishly serve ourselves makes us more like weeds than wheat.  When we prioritize ourselves—taking for ourselves what was meant to be share with others—we’re more like weeds, false wheat, than real, true wheat.  Rather than helping others mature and grow in the love of God and neighbor we think only about ourselves and what we want.  And so the weeds indulge in the luxuries while the poor go without the necessities.  The weeds want to feed themselves while others starve physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  I’m sure we can all think of times when we, perhaps individually or corporately, have been more like the weeds than the wheat.  And in those times, we all thank God for the grace that allows the weeds to grow.

It is only by grace that the weeds are allowed to grow.  God provides an opportunity for the weed—the wonderful plant that is planted in the wrong place—to uproot and find its place in order that it might bear fruit in service to God and those around it.

When we use our gifts to serve others—when we sacrificially give of ourselves that others might be fed and nourished (physically, spiritually, and emotionally), then we, by the grace of God, become more like true wheat bearing fruit for God’s Kingdom.

Therefore hear these words of Jesus from John’s Gospel:

If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything.

“As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love…. 12 This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.[3]

Be the wheat, says Jesus.  Love others.  Give yourselves that others might come to know of God’s great love found in Jesus Christ.  Give of yourselves that others might be at peace with God and one another.  Give of yourselves in order that God’s Kingdom might come on earth as it is in heaven.  Be the wheat; and, when your life feels like it’s filled with weeds, lean on God’s grace.  Allow the love of God to uproot you.  Allow it to transform your life, planting you in a place where you can be productive—sharing and living the Good News of God’s love found in Jesus Christ—bearing fruit for the Kingdom of God.

Let’s pray:

Give us courage to let the weeds grow that your grace might uproot them and turn them into something good.  Help us to be patient, to allow your grace to work in our lives and in the lives of those around us.  Help us to love even the weeds that your grace might abound, that the harvest of the Kingdom might come in all its bounty.  It’s in Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

 

[1] “Are morning glories pretty plants? or invasive weeds?” GardensAlive.com <http://www.gardensalive.com/article.asp?ai=1131&gt; Accessed July 19, 2014.

[2] Matthew 13:37-42, The Message.

[3] John 15:5b-


Filed under: Sermons Tagged: Parable of the Weeds

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Jul 18 2014

Methodist in-Formation: A Story about the Kingdom: The Soil

Original post at http://jacobjuncker.wordpress.com/2014/07/18/a-story-about-the-kingdom-the-soil/


This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, July 13, 2014.

Reading: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Over the course of the next three weeks, we are going to be looking at a series of parables about God’s Kingdom.

Beginning in [Matthew] 13:3, the word “parable” occurs twelve times in the chapter. The word derives from a Greek word meaning “to throw alongside.” That is, basic to the parable genre is the notion of comparison; one entity is set alongside something else to be illuminated by the comparison. Thus “the empire of the heavens” [God’s Kingdom] is “thrown alongside” or compared to and illuminated by the situations that each parable depicts (13:24, 31, 33, 44-45, 47).[1]

This week, we’ll be looking at the Parable of the Soils, next week we’ll look at the Parable of the Weeds, and the next week we’ll be looking at the remaining parables that close out chapter 13 (mustard seed, treasure, merchant/pearl, net).  The parables will, I pray, teach us a bit about the Kingdom and how it might come on earth as it is in heaven.

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Let’s pray.

Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today.  It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray.  Amen.

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“What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.

“Are you listening to this? Really listening?”[2]

This story seems foreign to most of us familiar with modern farming techniques.  The 21st century farmer knows that each seed must be carefully placed in rows and given the proper nutrients to grow.  The notion that a farmer would simply go out into the field and throw seed everywhere seems ridiculous: wasteful in the extreme.  One must be careful where one places the seed.  The soil has to be just right or the plant will not grow properly: seed thrown on compacted soil is quickly eaten by birds; seed thrown on rocky soil will eventually burn up; and, seed sown among weeds will, most likely, be choked out.  Everyone, even Jesus, knows that if you want to reap a reasonable harvest, one must scatter seed where the land is arable: a place where the soil is loose and nutrient dense.

Everyone, including a poor peasant carpenter in 1st century Palestine (i.e. Jesus) and most especially farmers, knows that to reap a harvest one must tend to the soil.  Or, as it says in one of my “go-to” gardening books:

The role of garden steward is not difficult… One of its most important precepts is feed the soil, not the plants.[3]

Feed the soil, not the plants.

18-19 “Study this story of the farmer planting seed. When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road.

20-21 “The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it.

22 “The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it.

23 “The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.”[4]

“Everyone who has ears should pay attention” (Matthew 13:9, Common English Bible): feed the soil, don’t worry about the plants.

The Good News of God’s unending love has been revealed to the world in Jesus Christ!  Like the sower in the parable for today, God’s love is scattered liberally, everywhere (prevenient grace).  The Good News that “God is with us” (c.f. Matthew 1:23), the good news that God has come to reconcile us with himself and with one another that we might find hope joy, peace, and love in this world, a world that so often seems to be dark, broken and lonely, is being spread like seed everywhere that all might come to experience and know (justifying grace) the great love of God found in Jesus Christ.  The Good News of God’s never-failing love is being spread that all might grow in God’s love (sanctifying grace) till that’s all that there is.

So don’t worry so much about the plants—God’s got the right and perfect seeds all picked out.  Instead, tend to the soil so that the seeds of the Kingdom might find a good place to grow and take root.

Feed the soil.

Participate in what are commonly referred to as the “means of grace.”  John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, “taught that God’s grace was unearned,” like the sower who seems to carelessly throw the seed everywhere.  But, that doesn’t mean we should sit idly by.  We are to feed the soil.  We are to engage in the means of grace so that the seeds of God’s Kingdom might take root and grow.  The means of grace are meant to open us to God’s love, grace, and forgiveness “hastening, strengthening and confirming faith so that God’s grace pervades in and through [Christ’s] disciples.”[5]

The means of grace are both personal and communal and they can be broken into two broad categories, works of piety (devotion) and works of mercy (service).

Individual works of piety (devotion) include reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, praying, fasting, regular worship attendance, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others.  Communal works of piety (devotion) include participating in the sacraments (particularly, holy communion) as often as is possible, Bible Study, and accountability groups.[6]

Individual works of mercy (service) include doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others.  Communal acts of mercy (service) include seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination, and addressing the needs of the poor.[7]

By participating in these means of grace we tend the soil.  To be sure, we may find some of these practices to be more enjoyable than others.  Some will come naturally, others we’ll have to be intentional about doing.  But, if we want God’s Kingdom to truly come on earth as it is in heaven (see Matthew 6 and Luke 11), if we want the God’s Kingdom to take root in our lives and the world then we’re going to have to feed the soil.  If we truly want to live in a world that experiences (prevenient), knows (justifying), and grows (sanctifying) in God’s love, then we must make sure that we’re nourishing the soil so that the seeds of the Kingdom have a place not only grow but also thrive.  Feed the soil.

Let’s pray:

Gracious God,

We want so desperately for your Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.  Help us to tend to the soil that your Kingdom might take root in us and bear fruit in this world.  Thank you, O God, for the seeds of your ever-present love; and, thank you for the Sower, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Help us, O God, tend to the soil of our souls that we might be like the good soil that bears fruit up to a hundredfold for Christ’s sake.  It’s in his most holy name we pray.  Amen.

 

[1] “Commentary on Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23” by Warren Carter at WorkingPreacher.org <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2071> Accessed July 11, 2014.

[2] Matthew 13:3-9, The Message.

[3] The Gardener’s A-Z Guide to Growing Organic Food by Tanya L.K. Denckla (North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2003), pg3.

[4] Matthew 13:18-23, The Message.

[5] “The Wesleyan Means of Grace,” UMC.org <http://www.umc.org/how-we-serve/the-wesleyan-means-of-grace> Accessed July 12, 2014.

[6] Adapted from the list in “The Wesleyan Means of Grace.”

[7] Ibid.


Filed under: Sermons Tagged: Gospel of Matthew, means of grace, Parable of the Sower

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Jul 12 2014

Methodist in-Formation: Let’s Dance

Original post at http://jacobjuncker.wordpress.com/2014/07/12/lets-dance/


This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, July 6, 2014 (my first Sunday as their pastor).

Reading: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

It is great to finally be here!  Before I get started, I thought you might want to know a bit more about me and my family.  We’re coming, most recently, from a small town in North-Central Indiana that is roughly 35 miles south of South Bend (the home of Notre Dame University).  As of tomorrow, my wife, Chandra, and I will have been married for six years and one month.  We have a beautiful daughter, Stella, who just turned two.

I have had the privilege of serving under appointment in The United Methodist Church for the past 6.5 years; and, I firmly believe that God has called me—through Bishop Devadhar and Bishop Coyner, all the way from Indiana—to be your pastor.

I shared a little about myself in the Newsletter a few months back: I love to woodwork, cook, and garden.  It’s a little late to get a garden in this year, but we hope to have a large one next year.  I am a Trekkie.  I have seen every episode of every season of every spin-off of Star Trek except The Original Series (TOS) which I am currently working my way through.

We’re going to have more opportunities to get to know one another in a few weeks.  Starting next Sunday, there will be signups for us to meet in small groups so that I can learn more about you and Lee Church.  But, if there’s one thing you need to know about me for this morning, it’s that I’m not the greatest dancer.

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Let’s pray.

Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but live your Word in the world starting today.  It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray.  Amen.

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I can clearly remember the dread on my wedding day.  I was anxious, nervous.  There was really no question: Chandra is the one person I want to spend the rest of my life with.  I knew that then.  I know it now.  So my fear wasn’t driven by the commitment I was making.  It wasn’t fear about professing my love to Chandra in front of my friends and family.  It wasn’t the ceremony itself that scared me.  It was the reception.

Chandra’s and my first dance and the dance Chandra and I would end the reception with before we left for our honeymoon: they scared the ba-geezies out of me.  I’m a terrible dancer, just ask my wife.  My kind of dancing is the “Hokie Pokie” and the “Chicken Dance.”  I don’t even like the “Electric Slide” nor do I like the “Cha Cha Slide.”  I’m a terrible dancer.  And, if given the choice, I’d rather not dance especially in front of other people.

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In our Gospel Lesson for today, Jesus pines the fact that his generation—and, perhaps, ours—often wants things, especially faith, “my way.”  “To what will I compare this generation” (Matthew 11:16a, Common English Bible)? says Jesus.  They’re like spoiled little children, who refuse to dance or move regardless of the music that is played.  They refuse to dance to the rhythms of God’s grace thinking they know a better way to live and be.  And the unfortunate thing, in refusing to dance to the beat of God’s love, they—oh, let’s be honest…  We are wearing ourselves out by trying to “walk to the beat of our own drum” instead of listening for and following God’s lead.

Christ came in order that we might hear the beat of God’s heart and learn to dance to the rhythm of God’s unending love.  Christ invites us to join him in the dance.

If you’re a horrible dancer like me, the invitation is a bit scary.  But, listen carefully to what Jesus has to say:

“Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads” (Matthew 11:28a, Common English Bible).  Come to me all of you who can’t seem to keep up with the inconsistent and harsh rhythms of life.  Come to me all of you who are tripping over your own feet.  Come to me all of you who can’t find a reason to dance.  Give me all your fears and failures “and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28b, Common English Bible).

“Learn from me” (Matthew 11:29b, Common English Bible).  I will help you find the beat.  Watch my steps.  Follow my lead.  Don’t worry about stepping on my toes.  Don’t worry about falling.  Don’t worry about being akward.  I’m here to help you find the beat so that you might come to know it and move along with it.  “I’m gentle and humble.  And you will find rest for yourselves” (Matthew 11:29b, Common English Bible) just follow my lead.  And when you’re too ashamed to hear the beat, look to me, and I’ll keep you in step.

As you learn the rhythms of God’s grace, you’ll find that all of this dancing—which seems tiresome—will no longer be a burden.  It’s through this constant movement that you will find rest. By following my lead, you’ll experience a joy and peace that defies all understanding.  Follow my lead.  Lock step with me and you’ll find yourself “cutting up a rug” and enjoying life (real, abundant life) like you’ve never done before.

Christ’s invites us to join him in the dance.  It doesn’t matter if you’re an experienced dancer.  It doesn’t matter if you trip over your feet or step on your partner’s toes.  It doesn’t matter if you dance like Fred Astaire or jiggle like Jell-O. The invitation is the same for all whether you’ve got it figured out or not.  Jesus is inviting us—even terrible dancers like me—to dance in order that we might discover the beat of God’s heart and internalize the eternal rhythms of God’s love.

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As we begin our journey together, I hope you’ll recommit (or, perhaps, for the first time, commit) to the dance.  I hope you’ll reaffirm your commitment to learn from Christ that we might live lives full of grace so that a hurting world might come to know the heartbeat of God, the love of God, found in Jesus Christ.

As we begin the journey together, I pray you’ll join me as, together, we learn to dance to the rhythm of God’s grace.

Let’s pray:

Gracious God,

The rhythms of this life can be harsh and inconsistent.  The beat of our day-to-day lives can be tiresome.  Teach us to dance.  Help us to hear the beat of your heart.  Help us to know your unending love.  Help us to turn our burdens and our struggles over to Christ that we might be free to move to the rhythm of your grace.  Teach us to dance!  Lead us step by step.  We pray all this in the name of the one who never lost the beat, Jesus the Christ.  Amen.


Filed under: Sermons Tagged: dance, grace, Jesus, Jesus Christ, rhythm

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