Service & Sermon

Sunday, July 12, 2020

This morning we will again be attempting to share our worship via facebook live at


The video will be uploaded here afterwards.    

When Jesus told the parable in our gospel reading about the sower and the different qualities of the soil that the seed would be sowed in, he was describing the variety of responses to the word he preached.  When his disciples continued his ministry, they needed to be prepared for the same type of varied responses and not become discouraged.  Farming was the major occupation in first century Israel, and it was crucial to their survival.  Good soil was necessary for good crops, which meant the difference between having enough to eat and starvation.  Where I live on the North Fork of Long Island we are surrounded by fields of crops, vineyards, orchards, and farm stands. The farmers utilize all sorts of methods to keep the soil fertile. They rotate crops to enrich the earth, they fertilize, they turn the soil over so deep roots can be established and they irrigate so nothing is parched for water. In this setting, along with the desire for locally sourced foods, Jesus’ parable seems very contemporary.  

Parallels for the soil to hearers of the word are easy to understand. First there are those who do not understand or accept the word that is taught or preached.  Then there are “cafeteria” Christians who choose to accept the positive elements of the message but reject those that seem to be too challenging.  Then there are those with good intentions who are distracted by worldly temptations.  And finally, there are those who hear, listen and live by the word, which results in a rich harvest of authentic witness to the good news.  Soil, like human beings, is shaped by its environment.

Sometimes it seems as though the gifts that God plants in us are distributed randomly.  Some are born gifted, people who seem to have a God-given talent which flourishes in them from a young age. Others are born with severe physical and/or mental limitations. Some people are born with all sorts of economic and social advantages; others are born into poverty and despair. Yet ultimately fruitfulness is not about being born a genius, or having immense wealth, or great power. God’s grace is offered freely to people in all circumstances. A good harvest depends on whether we are willing to hear, listen and respond to the message of God’s mercy, compassion, and justice. The question is, what kind of soil will we turn out to be?  Will we allow God’s grace to act as fertilizer so that the message of God flourishes within us and produces an abundant crop of mercy, compassion, and justice that we are willing and eager to share with the world?   

Our first reading from Isaiah was addressed to the Jewish people living in exile in Babylon in the 6th century BCE. The prophet offers a poetic vision of restoration from exile by declaring God’s power to transform the world. The people of Judea had been driven out from Jerusalem and forced to march into exile in the land of Babylon, leaving only a remnant behind. During the years they lived there they longed for the time when they would be able to return to their home.

In March, we were forced into a kind of exile, certainly not as devastating or complete as that of the Jewish people, but an abrupt change from our everyday lives. Except for front line workers, who faced their own challenges, most of us suddenly found ourselves “sheltering in place.” Children were shifted, with varying degrees of success, to online school. Teachers had to swiftly adjust to a new way of teaching, often while their own children were also home schooling. Parents had to try and manage their own work while overseeing their children. Older people and others who live alone, especially those without computer technology, were suddenly thrust into exile from all social interaction. So many of our usual structures and comforts of life were affected.

The Jewish exiles in Babylon were being persecuted by a nation that conquered their land. Exile during a pandemic is different. A virus cannot be personified, it is not a creature with a thought process that is determined to seek particular people out. A virus knows no boundaries, it attacks all people. It is a dangerous organism that arises in nature that we must study and learn to control, and if not eradicate at least minimize its power. The deadly pandemic called the Spanish flu infected at least one third of the world’s population at the time and at least 50 million people died from it.  That virus has now mutated into a much less dangerous form of the flu called H1N1. 

We have many advantages over those who were affected by that pandemic. We can keep in touch with people by advances in technology. We can even see those whom we are talking to using Facetime, Skype and Zoom. Although we cannot go to many stores, we can shop online. The biggest inconveniences were shortages of some items and delayed deliveries. The most devastating element was our exile from loved ones who were hospitalized or in other institutions and from those who died without the comforting presence of family members. Many medical workers who cared for those patients are now suffering from PTSD due to the overwhelming stress. 

Isaiah’s words help us to imagine what our return from exile will be like. It will be a gradual re-entering to work, businesses that we patronize, and our new form of worship. A continuing sorrow is that we cannot visit those confined in long term care facilities. How our children will return to school safely is still an unknown. It is both frightening and frustrating, but we cannot lose heart.

After long decades of disappointment, the exiles from Judea needed reassurance that God’s work in the world is effective. Surely after a period of only months we can put our trust in the power of God’s word. In some ways the landscape of our lives will change as we emerge from exile, just as Isaiah describes the new creation awaiting God’s people using metaphors from nature. Ironically, our environment has improved, and plants and wildlife have flourished thanks to the decrease in pollution during this time. The question is will we emerge from this time wiser, more willing to make changes that are good for the world, or will we return to business as usual. 

God’s world is so wonderfully diverse and yet sadly too often divided. We need courageous leaders who will encourage the global work to find a vaccine, if not a cure, to stop this pandemic. God’s word is calling us all to work together globally for those who are poor, hungry, sick, and marginalized, to protect our environment and to recover economically from this devastating pandemic. The world needs more people, no matter our social, racial, or religious background, in whom the seed of the Word of God has taken root and will produce an abundant harvest of mercy, compassion, and justice. God’s word is refreshing, abundant and life-giving. If we only put our trust in that, we can emerge from this exile into a stronger and better world. Amen.

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