First Presbyterian Church
27 N. Main Street, P.O. Box 568, Honeoye Falls, NY 14472
Order of Divine Worship
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost • Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sunday, July 23, 2017 – 9:30 a.m.

 

You are the light of the world. You are the body of Christ.

Gathering Music

Greeting: Assisting Elder: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.

Announcements Assisting Elder

Preparing for the Word

Musical Call to Worship

Call to Worship:
Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good.
God’s steadfast love endures forever.
Surely the Lord is in this place!
This is the house of God.

Time with Children

*Hymn 667 “When Morning Gilds the Skies”

Prayers of Confession (Mt 11:28-30)
Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Let us ask God to forgive us.

Almighty God, our Heavenly Parent, we have sinned against you and against one another, in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. In your mercy forgive what we have been, help us correct what we are, and direct what we shall be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Assurance of Grace
For God so loved the world that God gave the only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. People of God, hear the good news:
In the name of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. Thanks be to God.

*Response of Praise, No. 581
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, World without end, Amen, Amen!

Hearing the Word

Old Testament Readings: Genesis 28:10-19
10Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. 12And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13And the LORD stood beside him and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; 14and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. 15Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

16Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place— and I did not know it!” 17And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” 18So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first.

Epistle Reading: Romans 8:12-25
12So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ— if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. 18I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.

19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Gospel Reading: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
24He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

31He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

33He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

36Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

Sermon “Seeds of Faith, Faith of Seeds” Rev. David Ashby
Look at these little things! [show handful of seeds] Look at these seeds; here in my hand I hold hundreds of tiny seeds. Now, they may not actually be the microscopically small seeds of the Palestinian black mustard plant, but they are pretty small. Yet, all in all, they are pretty ordinary things. Seeds are invisibly familiar around here, as common as the next barn or backyard garden. But such are the origins of Jesus’ parables. He walked and worked among the farmers and farm families of Judea and Galilee, areas which would have supplied the farmers markets in Ceasarea or Jerusalem. Agricultural examples were right at hand for an itinerant preacher with a gift for illustrating uncommon ideas— like the kingdom of God— with very common things— like seeds and planting and harvesting, things like wheat and darnel, grain and mustard bushes.

These days, of course, you have processions of John Deere and International and Ford equipment trundling around the fields, plows and seed drills giving way to combines and balers and wagons in their time, all very mechanical and all very capital intensive. In ancient times, agriculture was labor intensive. Plows were laboriously dragged through soil even rockier than our glacial till by oxen, and seed was sown by the sweep of the farmer’s arm. When the grain ripened, reapers bent their way through the fields with iron hand sickles handful by handful, sheaf by sheaf. Farms were small and production modest, nothing like the extravagance of modern American agribusiness. In such circumstances, if some rival would sneak out in the middle of the night and hurl some foreign seed into the grain (for instance, darnel into the wheat), it would be a major disaster for the farmer. It would make a good parable, wouldn’t it?!

But the garden-variety seed has another property that makes it as good parable. Look at these little bitty things. It’s hard to imagine how they can become large plants. I remember childhood afternoons puzzling how God could pack an entire oak tree into an acorn. I’m still impressed! Many of Jesus’ listeners would have been just as impressed by how the tiny mustard seed could grow into a substantial bush, said by the Oxford Dictionary of the Bible “to reach the size of a horse and rider.” That would make a good parable, too, wouldn’t it?

But remember that Jesus is doing more than just using familiar, homey experiences as nifty illustrations. These are parables, ways of approaching the unapproachable mystery of God. Jesus is conveying a lesson about the kingdom of God to his listeners, and today’s parables illuminate two different aspects of God’s realm by using two aspects of seeds… which continue to speak to us.

OK, let’s say you have just finished planting your field of wheat, roll the tractor into the shed late at night, and stumble into bed. What you don’t hear is the sound of some rivals from (say) Victor so intent on cornering the market that they drive their pickup through your nice neat fields tossing around great big handfuls of ragweed, darnel, and quackgrass seeds. Later, when the seeds start sprouting, you discover all sorts of things that don’t belong there! Your hired hands come and ask whether they should start some heavy-duty weeding.

As Jesus makes clear in verse 37 and following, this is more than a matter of human meanness. He explains: “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age… Let anyone with ears hear!” It’s nice when the Bible interprets itself, and we have Jesus’ own identification of the players. But there is still more to ponder. For instance, most of us would go into the field and started to pluck up the weeds as they sprout, or, more likely these days, spray the field with a narrow-spectrum broad-leaf herbicide! (Well, except for the organic growers!!), but here the householder lets them all grow together and plans to sort them out at the harvest. That’s an interesting insight into God’s apparent willingness to tolerate badness in the world. The Lord of the Harvest seems perfectly willing to let evil flourish for the time being. This does, of course, make life tougher for the grain, sharing the sun and nutrients and water with the darnel and ragweed. But God lets it all grow together, preferring to accept greed, apathy, indifference, hatred, pride, selfishness, licentiousness, murder, envy, and strife for a while rather than to risk damage to the good plants by accident. God, says the parable, suffers evil for the sake of the good.

We who hope to be good seed may not find much satisfaction in that, but it explains a lot! For a while the fast-growing nuisance plants will seem to own the field, but, after a while, the good grain establishes itself and soon the good flourishes and crowds out the weeds. Besides, it’s easier to rip up the weeds when the wheat is full grown and ripe— the weeds stick out like a sore thumb, ugly and black among the beautiful golden. Evil has no place to hide when the day of harvest comes, and the nasty, cruel, hateful people will be revealed for who they really are. Their next stop is the trashpile where the angels will toss them with the old tires and cardboard boxes, the ripped-up stumps and broken lumber. They will be doused with the gasoline of judgment and burned with unquenchable fire. It would be wise for all of us to heed that warning and bear fruits befitting righteousness!

A second theme comes out in this first parable. Sometimes the kingdom of God seems thoroughly obscured and even overcome by darkness. Too often the ragweed seems to be winning. But we are still, as a world, early in the season. Like the wheat, the kingdom of God will become more and more evident and stronger and stronger until the kingdom of hell is itself totally obscured by the golden fruit of Christ’s people. We just have to wait and trust that the harvest will come, and that the once hidden kingdom will assert itself until God’s will is done. Hang in there, wheat!

Size is illustrated by the second parable. There is something remarkable and even a bit mysterious about seeds, how they can be so tiny yet produce such magnificent plants. A tiny beginning, a fraction of a millimeter long, can sprout into a fragile shoot, struggle to become a sapling, and finally stretch heavenward as a giant redwood. An incredibly tiny seed— one of the smallest in the Middle East— can, buried in the ground where no human eye can see its hidden beginnings, end up as a tough, gnarled mustard bush where birds roost. Amazing! Just think, the beginnings of the kingdom of God are quite modest, tiny even, yet they grow as surely as the mustard tree, as surely as grain, as surely as redwoods. I often need to remember that when I look around and wonder whether anything is happening. I have to be reminded that even a little idea (no bigger than a mustard seed) planted in the fertile soil of the human mind by a sermon, or a conversation, or a neighbor’s example, watered by the love of the church, cultivated by the Holy Spirit, can grow into faith towering like a redwood. I can’t see it, I can’t explain it, I can’t force the miracle, but I can be as confident as a farmer that the seeds will sprout. God takes care of that part.

It’s important for parents to believe in seeds, too. They are constantly sowing the seeds of their children, letting the tiny beginnings of love and trust in Jesus germinate in the fertile soil of the young heart, nurturing and tending the sprouts through Sunday School, fearing weeds and hoping that their examples are good seeds and not inadvertently bad. But all in all, we have to trust that those tiny, hidden seeds of faith, perhaps planted this year in church school, maybe during a Vacation Bible Camp, or at Camp Whitman, may grow and thrive and become a strong adult faith like that which sustains many of us in hospital rooms or waiting rooms, during calling hours at a funeral home, during the dark and lonely nights, during difficult decisions and trying times. The kingdom of God may be hidden in tiny seed of mustard… but wait… it’ll grow. You can be certain of that. God promises.

So… there you are, God’s wheat, sitting out there in the field of the world, the seeds of God’s kingdom, hidden in the soil, sprouting, pushing your head above ground as a witness to Christ’s gospel, growing straight and strong in faith, yielding in due time the ripe, golden fruit of peace and love. Of course, you have to put up with a certain amount of ragweed, the people who snap at you in the grocery store, who cut you off on the highway, who grumble about doing a day’s work, who try to grow at the expense of others by stealing nutrients and taking advantage of neighbors. The ragweed people will be with you always; you just have to put up with them as long as God puts up with them. And God is very patient! God gives the ragweed and the darnel all the time they need, the whole season, giving them every opportunity to repent. And, miraculously, some do become good and productive grain. If they do, they will be cause for great rejoicing in heaven; if they don’t change, they will simply be rooted up and destroyed by the reapers on the day of God’s judgment and wrath.

But let’s turn back to you. You must cultivate your faith. God planted within you that germ of life that can grow into a towering witness. You need sunlight, so stay out of the dark corners of conspiratorial back rooms, cheap bars, sleazy movie theaters, gambling houses, and dank corners where petty deeds are best done ins the gloom. You need water, so turn to the eternal spring, the Living Water, Jesus Christ the Lord. You need fertilizer. Of course, you could put your feelers into the manure of this age, but you would do better to sink your roots into the life-giving richness of the word of God and get your nutrients from the Word of God. You need to grow in proximity to other Christians, just as wheat grows in fields, dense with stalks; keep to the company of the faithful, and shun the weeds. You may need pruning and tending, so listen to the counsel of other believers and allow the elders and your friends to shape you the way a farmer picks suckers off or nips off a bud that will be harmful for the full grown plant. But above all, grow straight and keep your eye fixed on the kingdom above, and reach for heaven. Cultivate your gifts.

Look at these tiny seeds… look at these tiny seeds from which so much is expected. You are the tiny seeds of faith, the bits of heaven planted in the world, the seed of the kingdom of God. Much is expected of you. Go out… and be sown!

*Hymn 407 “Spirit Divine, Attend Our Prayers”

Responding to the Word

Prayers for Others and for Ourselves
O great creator, God who gives growth to everything from seeds to people to oak trees to universes: we are impressed! and delighted! and thankful! You have given us so much, speaking humanly; you have given us everything, speaking spiritually. We thank you for placing spirits within us which can know you and love you… and for adding your spirit to our spirits to testify to your grace and magnificence… and for adding your spirits to ours to guide our thoughts, our directions, our prayers. There are so many times when we want to pray, yet when the words or thoughts just don’t seem to come on our own; we are so grateful that you teach us to pray better and serve you better and to live better and to be better. We thank you, just as much, for sowing in us the seeds of your gospel, for watering them with all the moments and people who have nurtured us, for nourishing us through the church, the Bible, through prayer, through hymn, through all the mercies of the church. Thank you Holy Spirit, for dwelling with our spirits!

O Christ our savior, there are so many things we want to ask you to help us with, to save us from, to comfort us during, to help us cope, to give us patience during, to reassure us, to open our eyes, to strengthen us for, to encourage us, to help us handle. We pray for ourselves…. We pray for others, those we know, those we merely know of…………… we ask your healing presence to be with the ill and injured, those who minister to them; we pray for the grieving, whether coping with fresh sorrow or the dull ache of long-ago loss. We pray for people in places where nature and disaster have disrupted their lives, in place of drought, famine, flood, fire, earthquake, storm, and hurricane, tornado. We pray even more for those who are afflicted by trouble of human origin, those caught in war, injustice, oppression, poverty. Terror keeps exploding; war keeps billowing. We pray for the lonely and the down and out, and for those who are hard to love. On a more familiar note, we lift this nation and those who govern and our economy; we think of travellers and those going to new places, for those far from home on business, in the military, to college, to new opportunities or to uncertainty. Be with, O God, those who need you… in every way that they may need you.

O God who showed Jacob a vision of heaven and earth connected, we pray for a vision for ourselves of heaven and how we are connected to it here on earth. Show us, as this church and as a denomination the way you would have us go, the ministries you would have us undertake, the prayers we would raise, the kindness you would have us show, the works you would have us share, the paths you would have us tread. Be with us, our pastor search committee, our members and leaders, our children. Grant us what we need, not merely what we want or ask for. Should our prayers be wanting, teach us better prayers, teaching our spirits within us, adding grace in the name of Jesus, asking…

The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever. Amen.

*Hymn 263 “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name!”

*Charge and Benediction Philippians 4:8-9 (ed.)
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in Christ, do; and the God of peace will be with you.

The grace of our Savior Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

*Postlude