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Mark 4: 26-34                  Planting Seeds                       April 24, 2016

26 [Jesus] said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

 

From small seeds big and often good things can grow.

I was reading an article in which a teacher shared something which happened to her years ago. She was a middle school teacher. She told the story of one of the boys in her class who seemed exceptionally bright. She could just tell by talking to him that he had insight, he was an “old soul,” as they say. But, the problem was his grades didn’t reflect it. He often got failed on tests and hovered just above 70% on his exams. He usually seemed distracted and often didn’t turn in his assignments. More than once she said, she took him to the side and fussed at him for not putting in enough effort. But, no matter what she said, his grades were still poor. He passed her class, but just barely, eeking out a 70%. She just chalked it up to another case of a bright young student with lost potential.

Fast forward to about 19 years later and something happened. She was walking down the street when this sharp dressed young man stopped her and said her name. He said, “Do you remember me, by chance?” She said, “Yes, I remember you very well. You were one of my brightest students, but I was so disappointed because you never seemed to give me your best efforts. I recall giving you a 70% on your final grade while all along thinking you were one student who could have had 100 if you had only tried.

He said, “I always appreciated the fact that you believed in me and kept after me. In fact, I want to thank you. I am now one of the editors for TIME magazine. I owe part of that to you.” The teacher said she was surprised to say the least. She asked him, “Why didn’t you work harder in class?”

“Well,” he said, “there were things going on in my life that you never knew. My father had left us the year before. My mother became addicted to drugs and was sometimes not home for days. I had to take care of my younger brother and sister. I had to get them up in the morning, help them with their homework and be there when they got home from school. That was a bad year for me. I know it seemed like I didn’t care or I wasn’t trying, but I want you to know that although I only got a 70% I gave 100% of my effort. It was just that my 70% was 100% of all I had. I am so glad I could see you and thank you for pushing me. It made a difference.”

 

In Jesus’ parable, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a seed, maybe even a very small seed, so small you can’t imagine it amounting to much, but this seed takes root and grows into something so full of life and abundance that even birds can make a home in its branches.

Sometimes that is exactly how the Kingdom of God works. It isn’t always the greatest act, but a small thing that can make a great difference. I think of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, a very small woman, 4’10” tall and all the great things she accomplished in her life. But, she wouldn’t see it that way, of course.  Mother Teresa once said, “We can do no great things, but we can do small things with great love.”

Maybe we think we need to do great things to make a difference, but, the truth is, we often don’t know even know what IS a great thing. Sometimes it is in the smallest act of kindness or the passing gesture of generosity that the grace of God makes its way into the world. These can alter the path of person’s life more than we may ever know.

I know when I was in high school I had started my senior year with absolutely no idea what I was going to do when I graduated. Back in Indiana I spent most summers bailing hay and building hog barns. I hadn’t taken any college preparatory classes because we didn’t have any money and my I was ranked 33rd out of class of 72 seniors. Nothing stellar there. I thought I might just be building hog barns the rest of my life. But, I had a teacher who told me I should go to college. I told him my mom’s job at Kmart didn’t make it affordable and I simply didn’t feel smart enough. But he kept after me. He told me there would be a way.

I took his word for it and went to college, but I know the only reason I went to college was because he believed in me. No one in my family had ever even been to college. I didn’t believe in myself, but he did, and it made all the difference.

I believe the Kingdom of God can be just like that. From one seed of encouragement a whole life can change. That happened to me and it has happened more than once when something small blest me in large ways. And, I suspect the other person didn’t think what they did was a big deal, but it was a big deal.

 

For most of us, we think about the significant things we can do, which is fine. It is good to have big dreams and it is good to pursue large ambitions, but I truly believe God works first and God works best in the small things. God is all about small acts of kindness and imperceptible movements of mercy. If we want to find God in our lives, look in small places. Don’t look for the storms or sunshine, look for the mist. Don’t stumble over bold words, but squint your eyes and look for the fine lines.

What’s more, realize just how much God wants to put you to work. We are agents of Christ and stewards of the mysterious of God.

 

Think about the famous prayer of St. Francis. Listen to what he says. It is not about doing great things, but about planting seeds and believing God will do the rest. Listen to what he says:

 

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

 

Notice the word, “sow.” “Where there is hatred let me sow love; Where there is injury, let me sow pardon.” Francis is not telling us that we have to manifest love in full flower, only that we sow a seed of love or plant grain of pardon. Jesus says the faith we need, need only be the size of a mustard seed.

When Jesus tells us to be salt of the earth, I think that is part of his message. Salt is used to flavor food and it also has uses for healing. But, this is only true if we use it sparingly. Too much salt will ruin the taste of food and instead of healing us, too much salt will actually make us sick. We don't need to think about how we are going to change the whole world, even our whole family, but what small thing can we do to make a difference.

 

On this Earth Care Sunday, it is a good time to think about the small things we can do to love the world God gave us. We cannot individually stop the melting the polar ice cap and we can’t replant the tropical forests by ourselves, but there are dozens of small things we can do to show our love for God’s world.

When Professor Stan Kollar from Harford Community College spoke to us last year, he told us about a ten mile island of floating plastic bags in the Pacific ocean. They fall off barges and have formed this dangerous dump. It threatens human life as well as sea life. One small way to reduce that island and steer us away from forming a new one is to use our own bags when we go to the grocery store. Put a couple cloth bags in your car and the next time you go grocery shopping, don’t take the store’s plastic bags, use your own. That is just one small way to make a difference. In just one year, if everyone in our congregation used their own cloth bags it would save about a ton of plastic bags from possibly ending up in the ocean and that is no small thing.

 

There was once an old Jewish man. All he ever seemed to do in his spare time was go to the edge of town and plant fig trees. Folks realized that the trees wouldn't bear fruit for years, long after his death. Finally, one of them got up the nerve to ask him, "Why are you planting fig trees? You are going to die before you can eat any of the fruit they will produce." But, he said, "I have spent so many happy hours sitting under the fig trees and enjoying their fruit. Those trees were planted by others. Why shouldn't I make sure that others will know the enjoyment I have had?" -

We are in the seed planting business. We don’t always get to do the harvesting. We don’t see the good we do come to fruition.

 

    TO GOD BE THE GLORY. FOREVER AND EVER. AMEN.

 

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“A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH”

The Presbyterian Church was an unexpected offspring of a religious movement called “The Reformation.”  Two of the leading Reformers of the time, Martin Luther (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564), had no intention of forming a new church, at least not initially.  Their desire was to reform the present day Catholic Church, to purge the Church of corruptions and set it more in line with the traditions and theology of Scripture and of the early church.  The Reformers became known as “Protestants” because their requests for change sounded more and more like protests.

The Presbyterian Church is one of several churches that can trace their origins to the Reformation.  Presbyterians get their name from the Greek word “presbuteros” which means “elder.”  The term refers to the system, in apostolic times, of choosing leaders from among the wisest members of the church.  A prominent doctrine of the Reformation was “the priesthood of all believers.”  Reformed churches designed themselves in ways that gave more power to the congregation.  The Presbyterians established a representative system where elders, presbyters and commissioners were elected.

The French organized the first congregation in 1555 and the French Huguenots were one of the first Presbyterians to reach America, followed closely by the English, Dutch, German, Irish and Scottish.  In 1706 the first American presbytery was formed in Philadelphia and soon after the Synod of Philadelphia in 1716.  1789 marked the First General Assembly in Philadelphia.

The Church grew and diversified as it headed westward.  By 1800 there were 20,000 members.  In another thirty-seven years, there were 220,000.  With the growth in numbers came an increase of conflict, separation and sometimes reunion.  “Old School” and “New School” divisions plagued Presbyterians for years.  The most infamous of issues was slavery.  The Civil War severely divided the Church.

The next 120 years saw movements toward reunification.  In 1958 the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) and the United Presbyterian Church of North America merged to form the Presbyterian Church in the United States of American (UPCUSA).  In 1983 the two largest Presbyterian Churches united at the Atlanta General Assembly (G.A.): the southern-based Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) and the northern-based (UPCUSA).  In 1985 the G.A. approved a seal for the new Church. There are some powerful images in the symbol which reveal what is important to us as Presbyterians. Today there are about 2,000,000 members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), the largest of the mainline Presbyterian denominations.

“Unexpected” may seem like a good way to describe the beginnings of the Presbyterian Church.  But for Presbyterians it has always been the “providence of God.”

Together in Christ,

Stephen

 
 
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April Happenings :

Family Movie Night

Veggie Tales: Veggies in Space: A Lesson in the Power of Sharing

Friday, April 8th, 6:30 p.m.,  Fellowship Hall

Pizza and Popcorn

Bring your blanket and a friend and get ready for a fun time!

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Save the Date! Vacation Bible School -                     July 11 - July 15, 2016 (Monday through Friday) 5:30 pm to 8 pm. Registration information will be coming soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

            

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