This service has been filmed during the period we are worshipping online only while our building undergoes repairs needed following storm damage. During this period and due to equipment limitations, we are unable to hold a complete worship service.


Seeds, Soil, & Pregnancy Tests

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer, and may you see fit to use me as a vessel from which you pour out your Divine Word.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

*This morning’s scriptures are Psalm 65:1-13, Romans 8:1-11, and Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 , and come from the New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition. Other scriptures may also be used and will be cited within the message.

The underlying theme of this season has been to keep the fires of Pentecost burning and to deep dive into what it takes … what we need to examine and learn and change in ourselves to become better disciples for Christ and for the Kingdom. Dr. Weber describes it this way:

Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer and invite God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, we are engaging in an act of imagination and visioning. Any time that we claim something of the prophetic vision or embrace a kingdom or kin-dom image of how we could be living in beloved community together, we are imagining a new reality.

This is a disciple’s task. We are called to see more than simply what is—not that disciples ignore the world as it is. We are not called to be “so heavenly minded that we are not earthly good”! No, we do live in the world that is. But we also hold out hope, a living, driving, motivating hope for what could be. For what is promised. We lean into the promises of God with joy and with confidence, even as we recognize how far we still must go to reach that mountaintop.

There is optimism to the disciple’s path, a destination always in mind and heart as we move through the world. These aren’t rose-colored glasses that make things look better than they are, but a certainty that the church is still a force for good in the world, that justice is still within reach as hearts and minds and behaviors are changed. And that there is a God who will bring the new reality into being in and through us and sometimes despite us. That means we work for the winning side. Just think, what could we accomplish if we were certain we wouldn’t fail? What invitations could we issue, what hope could we offer, what joy could we share if we could see the new reality God has in store for all of creation? It all begins with the ability to imagine a new reality.

The way the world is behaving right now, it hasn’t felt much like optimism is an option has it?

And yet … today’s passages tell us differently. The psalmist speaks of God’s creation and how God cares for it, providing all the elements needed for Creation to grow in vitality and abundance and how Creation responds … with grateful praise and … joy.

Paul speaks in the passage from Romans about the difference of living in the world and living in Christ … how the environment of the world is hostile and when we give in to it, when we live in the flesh as he writes, we become trapped in the flesh, how living in Christ is liberating and frees us to live in peace and … joy.

And then Jesus comes along in the passage from Matthew and the famous “Parable of the Sower” and tell us we are dirt. Or at least that’s how the author of this week’s Preaching Notes from Discipleship Ministries reads it.

“We’re talking about dirt. Maybe about insults involving dirt. OK, I guess they don’t have to be taken as insults, but they sure can feel like it sometimes. Dumber than dirt. Really? So, what are you going to do when Jesus calls us dirt?

There I said it. Deal with it. Jesus calls you dirt. Granted, he didn’t say you were as dumb as dirt. But there is no getting around the fact that Jesus, our Lord and our Savior, Lover of Children and searcher for little lost lambs, calls you dirt. What do you think about that? Huh? And he made fun of your ears! Or maybe it is your lack of ears. “Let anyone with ears, listen!”

Now if you only focused on the passage from Matthew, I can see how that author got there. Jesus is telling us we need to be like fertile soil. But two things: 1) I’m a gardener. Fertile soil is great, but soil can be amended and sometimes seeds have more persistence and perseverance than one might imagine, growing in conditions that seem otherwise impossible; and 2) combined with the other passages from today, I believe we are, indeed, soil … soil that starts out needing various, sometimes copious amounts of amending, but soil … and we are also seeds … seeds planted in the world that, if properly nourished, attended to, and nurtured, grow into disciples for the kingdom and the kin-dom, and that the fruit we bear is destined to be good fruit … fruit that will produce yet more seeds … fruit that will help feed the world metaphorically, spiritually, and even possibly literally.

I spent a portion of yesterday attending a conference called “Black Methodists Matter,” a meeting of black clergy and laity with the Bishop and members of her cabinet. It included reports from various groups, committees, and task forces here in Holston and its primary mission was on strengthening the Black Church within Holston and the UMC, a portion of our conference that has too often been overlooked and in which, those speaking on behalf of the Black Church took time to uplift and include other people of color within our conference and denomination, specifically Native Americans and Hispanic/Latinx congregations and members.

So what does that have to do with today’s passages? One has to look a bit at the history of the Black Church to understand. The Black Church rose up out of the oppression of slavery. You might think the condition of slavery would be less than fertile soil, but as Rev. Leah Burns, Holston’s new Multi-Cultural Ministries Director, reminded us, “God is not small! God can take something very small and do really big things with it!”

The world of the enslaved people seemed small, dismal, impossible to expand. The slave owners introduced Christianity to the slaves, often giving them redacted Bibles … redacted to remove any references to escaping the condition of slavery … and God took that opportunity and grew what is one of the most vibrant, passionate, compassionate faith communities in this nation and, increasingly, in the world … the Black Church.

In the 1700s when they weren’t allowed to kneel at the same rail as white Methodists, the Black Church picked itself up, transplanted itself into new soil called the AME – The African Methodist Episcopal Church – and flourished.

In the 1800s, the Methodist Church split over slavery, with some churches like Union Grove standing against slavery in the Methodist Episcopal Church and others forming a separate pro-slavery denomination called The Methodist Episcopal Church South.

That split was mended in the early 1900s, but rather than mend all divisions, the now “Methodist Episcopal Church” created what was called the Central Jurisdiction, relegating all Black Churches in the denomination to this new “Jurisdiction,” a move that maintained segregation.

The new jurisdiction was eventually eliminated, and we all became the “United Methodist Church” in the 60s. Through all that, the Black Church thrived despite the still not fertile soil.

Rev. Dr. Michael Bowie, keynote speaker at yesterday’s conference, reminded us why and these are highlights of his message …

Faith is 11:59:59.

The Black Church always invites everybody to the table.

We let ourselves get stuck on the left side of things … on traditions, on the way we’ve always done it … the Left side is where things are certain, common, comfortable. We have to be willing to take risks, allow God to do new things, and be uncomfortable in order to thrive and grow.

[Rev. Bowie referenced Mark 4 where Jesus says to his disciples “let us go across to the other side,” leaving the crowd behind.]

Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. [Remember that the passage from Mark 4 is the story of Jesus calming the storm? While you might think Jesus was admonishing the disciples … who were clearly crying about the dangers of the storm … when he rebuked the storm and then asked the disciples if they still had no faith … I think his attitude may have been more like a parent’s when a child … warned multiple times the stove was hot, touched it anyway and the parent, while comforting the now distraught child, chuckles softly and says, “see … I told you it was hot. Next time listen to me; pay attention.” Returning to Rev. Bowie’s revelations yesterday …]

Have we forgotten that the church still has power, or are we still stuck in the pain?

We each have power … power not to hurt people, but to lift people up. How we choose to use our power matters.

The words out of our mouths shape our reality.

When we ask ourselves the question, “Where do I/we go from here,” we make a choice … we choose to go back into the chaos or to create and go into community.

We each have to make conscious decisions to shift the pain to make ourselves better, not bitter. We all need God and the couch. If you don’t deal with your pain, your pain will deal with you. You can and should have God and a therapist.

You can’t change the system. You can change yourself, your own heart and, once your heart is changed, you can change another person’s heart. It’s when enough hearts are changed that the system is changed.

And the wisdom he shared that stuck out the most to me was this:

We need to be committed to stand in the gap for every -ism until every -ism becomes a wasm.

Rev. Bowie pointed out that “Everything we’ve gone through in the Holston Conference wasn’t to defeat us, wasn’t to deplete us, it was to complete us.”

Arriving home from that conference, I received a package that included a book I’d been waiting for. “A New Kind of Christianity” by Brian McLaren.  In the preface, McLaren writes, “In hot ramshackle urban slums of Latin America, in tree-shaded rural villages of Africa, in well-appointed conference centers, church basements, and coffee shops in Asia, Europe, and the Americas, I’ve had the opportunity to enter into conversation and friendship with an amazing array of Christian leaders from across the denominational spectrum: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, historic Protestant, Evangelical, and Pentecostal. They have convinced me of some bad news and some encouraging news. The bad news: the Christian faith in all its forms is in trouble. The good news: The Christian faith in all its forms is pregnant with new possibilities.

Some see the Christian faith as an old woman past her prime, closer to a nursing home than nursing new life. But I see it differently. I remember how Sarah and Elizabeth confounded the biological clock and gave birth when everyone thought it was too late. I believe that in every  new generation the Christian faith, like every faith, must in a sense be born again. That means the Christian faith has the possibility of being forever young. (Imagine strains of the Bob Dylan classic playing here.) So in the womb of the Christian faith in all its wild diversity, I see a new generation of Christian disciples being formed, coming alive and coming of age, disciples who hold amazing promise, even as they face huge challenges (not the least of which are misunderstanding and criticism from some of their elders). …

Even though I am no longer a local church pastor, I love church life. I love churches. I love singing good songs, praying rich prayers, sharing in the mystery of the Eucharist, and listening to sincere, passionate, and thoughtful sermons. (As a listener, I’ve noticed I lime them shorter than I did back when I was a preacher!) Of course, I’ve seen churches at close range for long enough that I’m not naïve about them, nor am I unaware of their serious problems and dysfunctions. But I believe in “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church,” as the old creed says, and in the holy faith with which that church is entrusted. And I believe that, as with Sarah and Elizabeth, just when you think the old girl is over the hill, she might take a pregnancy test and surprise us all.”

To bring this all back to the passages for today and my premise that we are both soil and seeds …

When God created us, God created both soil and seed … seeds pregnant with possibility to grow into the future disciples, peacemakers, and builders of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, and he created us as the soil in which the seeds we are can grow … not only individually, but as beloved community.

It is our attitude, our willingness to be uncomfortable, to accept the changes that allow us to break out of the hardshell of our seed-selves … to become the soul-selves that we were designed to be, and to be able to identify where the soil we are needs amending, needs to be tilled and supplemented with spiritual nutrients.

When Jesus speaks of the different types of soil the seeds fall into, he is speaking about the environment using actual environmental conditions as a metaphor for human conditions.

Rocky soil is hardened and may or may not contain cracks and crevices large enough to support the planted seed if amended to make that bit of soil more fertile.

In Jesus’ time, humanity didn’t necessarily understand things like environmental adaptation, erosion, and I think Jesus, although as God in the Flesh, would have known, tailored this parable to what those hearing it understood.

It’s 2023. Not only do we understand adaptation and erosion, the effects of heat and cold, water and wind, on enlarging those cracks, the existence of plants that have managed to take that tiny crevice of fertile soil and live in spite of it, we also know from The Way that he taught us that a great portion of the mission field is out there in the rocky soil, waiting for, hoping for, praying for someone to come along and amend the soil and bring the living water they need to flourish and grow. There are some out there in that part of the mission field that have adapted, creating in themselves the ability to store that living water for when it’s needed and they’re waiting for the connection to those who will come to amend the soil around them at which point, the water they hold will be shared with other seeds.

Now, granted, there are portions of the universal church that have decided Jesus’ message meant to stay away from the rocky soil. It’s hopeless, no good, no use, and not only should no time be wasted on it, but it is also condemnable … something to be rejected, ejected, and destroyed.

I would offer to you that doing so is not what Jesus did. In his time walking among us, Jesus went out into the rocky soil and the thorny, weedy, soil, and he offered amendments to the soil and living water, thereby creating the fertile soil in which the seeds flourished.

Jesus didn’t denounce the seeds that fell on those less than hospital grounds. He denounced the rocks within those grounds. He denounced the thorny weeds that were trying to dominate and control those grounds. He stood in the gap for the soil and the seed. He fed, he watered, and he nurtured the good soil and seed regardless of where he found it.

We were and are that soil and that seed and today, we must stand in the gap for the soil and seed in one another, denouncing the rocks that have hardened against us and the thorny weeds that try to choke and strangle us with their legalism and literalism.

Colossians 2:9-10 says, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority.” Do we really think he is not also the head of the rocky soil and the thorny weeds? Of course, he is, and he does not let even one of us go. Therefore, we cannot either. We need to practice what Bishop Wallace-Pagett suggests. We need to go as fast as we can as slow as we need for as long as it takes. Natural erosion and adaptation take time, but eventually the wind and water, heat and cold succeed in breaking down the hardest of rocks, and weeds can not only be removed and controlled, but can be tamed and their value be determined and put to work for the purpose of the kingdom of heaven. As the song goes, every rose has its thorns, and even thorny weeds may contain a rose.

The point is, by changing our own hearts, working to learn and become true disciples of Christ, we can change hearts around us, and by changing hearts around us, eventually we can change systems. We can build the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven heart by heart by heart.

Yes, brothers and sisters, we are both seed and soil. And, when we come together, we become an abundant garden of God’s own creation. A human garden of Eden.

So, let’s dig in. Let’s seek out the seeds that were caught in rocky soil, or that landed amongst the thorny weeds of legalism, of literalism, of hate, of exclusion, of all the isms … all those bits of seed and soil that have given up on the church, on God … and let’s turn the isms into wasms. Where the rocks and thorny weeds are doing their best to implement social and legal morals that protect them and their positions, let us implement the social and legal morals of Christ as he taught us in the Sermon on the Mount, throughout his ministry, and gave us in the two greatest commandments. Let us live in the New Covenant made through his sacrifice … through his suffering, his crucifixion, his death … and sealed by his resurrection.

Let us celebrate that we are both seed and soil, let us grow in Christ, and let us tap fully into the power we have to lift people up. Even … especially the people the rocks and thorny weeds, would try to crush.

Let us stop counting it all apprehension, anxiety, trauma … let us turn our bitter into better … and let us count it all joy.

And all God’s children said praise God and Amen!

Confession & Pardon:

We know for sure that we do not have to talk God into forgiving us. God knows our need before we ask and has demonstrated in Jesus a therapeutic love that can never be exhausted. In confession, we get honest and ask the Spirit God to come in and put things right. Let us pause now in silent confession…

(Silent prayer)

Let us pray.

Loving God, Sower and Reaper of love,

we admit to you that we are like stony fields,

capable of growing goodness and sharing it around,

but also we allow goodness to wither and weeds to flourish.

Your mercy has taken root in us, but we do not share enough of it with others,

your justice has grown on us, but we have inadequately implemented it,

your truth has showered on us, but we have let it run to waste,

your love has blossomed among us, but we have been slow to set fruit.

Most loving God, please open the furrows of our lives to receive again the seeds of your Gospel. Rain your mercy upon us, shine your warmth and light into every dark place, and bring forth in us not the harvest we deserve but the harvest that in your glorious love you have destined for us. Through Christ Jesus our Savior.


Assurance of Pardon

Brothers and Sisters, listen, to this Word:

“Where sin abounds, love much more abounds.”

Receive from such abundance and give thanks. You, my siblings, are among the richest people in the world. You have the wealth of Christ with you always, even to the end of time.

Thanks be to God. Amen.


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