Worship Service for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost

Hi everyone,

Welcome to worship for this 7th Sunday after Pentecost, landing on the 16th of July, 2023!

The bulletin for this service can be found here. In it, you will find the order of worship, the words of the liturgy with your responses in bold, the page and hymn numbers out of the ELW, and the full sermon manuscript. All the lyrics, readings, and responses will be on your screen as well, and the sermon is found on this page below the video.

For an enhanced online worship experience, you are invited to light a candle at the beginning of the service, and extinguish it near the end of the service after the sending hymn. You are also welcome to participate in communion by having something small to eat and drink nearby to consume at the appropriate time. Further instruction will be given during the service.

May God’s outlandish and steadfast and inclusive love be on all of you always!

God, your Word lands on various types of landscape, and it is seen and heard in surprising ways.  Soften our hearts to see and hear you this day, that we might see and hear you in all our days, in all people, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

I think It’s pretty safe to say that we’re all Lutherans here, right?  Or at least we’re Christians of some kind?  Or at very least, we’ve all darkened the doorway of a church at one point in our lives… like today.  Or at least logged into our website or YouTube channel for that matter.  The point is, we all have some kind of experience with this Christian faith.  We all have some sort of prior knowledge that we gained from various sources and times that changed us to the point that led us to be here today.  We are drawn to church, we are drawn to this community, we are drawn to some sort of gathering and meeting of people who might be looking for something, expecting something, and perhaps hoping for something.

And so let’s be honest, if this was your first time in a church, is this the face that you were expecting to be up here?  It’s ok, I get it.  I’m not your typical pastor.  I’m not your typical Lutheran.  I’m not even your typical Christian.  I get that a lot.  People are like “you???” when they hear that I’m a pastor.  I mean that’s pretty much the reaction I get from people visiting the church during the week, I get that from other pastors from pretty much any denomination that I haven’t met before, I get that from the cops pretty much whenever I get pulled over and I tell them in hopes that I’m let off with a warning.  Not that I condone that kind of activity.

So I get it.  You think pastor and you have a certain image in your head, an image that I don’t fit into.  Like, I’m too young, I’m too cool, I’m too good looking.  But I’m the exact right amount of humble though, so that’s good.  And as I’ve learned throughout seminary and various conventions and other wider church events, I’m not a typical Lutheran because I’m not connected to the church through my ancestors enough, I’m not steeped in the liturgy and traditions enough, but the biggest and saddest reason is that I’m just not European enough.  I’ve mentioned this a few times, but I’m the first and currently the only Canadian born Asian male clergy in the whole ELCIC.  So I understand how it’s a surprise when you first see me and learn what I do for a living.

But don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming anyone for this, it is just the unfortunate byproduct of our times, our context, and the way our church is with our history.  People are used to what they’re used to, and when something doesn’t fit into that, then it’s just kind of disorienting. 

But this kind of prejudice isn’t anything new.  In fact, I think it started since the beginning of time.  Since the creation of human beings, we have been sizing each other up, making assumptions based on appearance and background, and pretty much drawing lines in whatever sand that would even slightly suggest that a line can be drawn in it.

And through it all, it is always us, the line-drawers, that are on the “right” side of that line.  We are always on the “good” side of history.  We are always the ones that know better, can see better, and just in general are better.  We can’t help it, this mentality s ingrained in us, in our upbringing, in the very fibre of our society that makes us who we are.

For example, let’s take Jesus’ parable that we hear today.  A very familiar parable that has been talked about in bible studies and sermons over the ages.  But while Jesus in this passage does kind of explain what it means… we continue to hear the typical interpretations over and over, automatically cause us to relate to one of the two obvious characters in the story.

If you’re anything like me, upon first listen we’d probably think that we’re the good soil.  You know, the ones where the Word took hold, grew into this nice plant, and was fruitful in who we are as people of God.  I mean, why else are we here, right?  We heard the message, accepted it, and now we’re living it.  We’re good soil.  Of course we are.  At very worst we’d be one of the slightly harsher terrains but mostly good soil.  That is probably the most common and automatic interpretation.

But then there are others who would relate to the sower, the one who haphazardly throws those seeds everywhere almost with not a care in the world.  What we learn from the sower is that we are to just go and love everyone, regardless of how receptive they seem or don’t seem to be.  We go out, minister, share God’s love, and be generally good people because again, we’re the good guys in this story.  We have the message that needs to be told, and it’s up to the people, or the “ground”, to decide if they’ll listen to our good message or not.  That seems to make sense too, right?

I mean, there really are only those two-ish characters in the story that we could relate to, and they’re both pretty good.  Either we’re the ground or we’re the one tending to the ground.  If we’re the ground, we make sure that we’re the good ground that listens.  Check, we’ve done that.  If we’re the one tending to the ground then make sure we’re aware of how different types of ground react differently to the message that we’re sharing.  Check, we’ve done that too.

So we’re good then, right? We know all there is to know about this sowing game?

Well, I actually think there is a third character in this parable that we might not have realised from the start.  I think there is a third party that is present in this story that we might not have noticed because of our own “good guy” mentality.  I think there is a third personality in the parable that we could and perhaps should relate to most and learn from. 

And that third person is the observer.  The one watching and seeing what is going on.  Just the one outside of the story, hearing what is happening, and dealing with their own feelings about it.  Basically, it’s the one who is left thinking “what the heck is this crazy sower doing?”

I mean, it doesn’t make sense to waste seed on anything but the good soil.  It doesn’t make sense to haphazardly throw way good resources on ground that any experienced sower would know isn’t very receptive to those good resources.  It doesn’t make sense to not size up the ground and judge what is good soil and what isn’t.  Anyone could tell you that.

Because that’s exactly what we like to do, right?  We size people up all the time and decide for ourselves what their worth is.  We label people by their appearance, their political beliefs, and their religious affiliation.  We categorize people by their gender, their ethnicity, their ability or lack thereof to be more like us.  I mean, since we usually see ourselves as the protagonist, we’ll always have that power and privilege to make those distinctions.

But Jesus tells us through this parable that God sees it different.  In this story God is the sower.  The one that treats all types of ground the same, all worthy of hearing and accepting the message of grace and love.  The world is the ground of different types and terrains that hears and processes this message differently and in its own way.  And we are the ones watching this, seeing how God loves all, challenging our presumptions and paradigms, and called to stop the prejudice and hate towards those who we think aren’t worthy, aren’t open to hearing, aren’t like us.

Because in actual fact, all of us… ALL OF US… are sinners yearning for a Saviour.  All of us have fallen short and are in need of forgiveness.  All of us, each and every one of us, have a reason to be seen as anything but the protagonist of the story of life.  But at the same time, all of us… ALL OF US… are equally regarded and loved by a benevolent God.  All of us are invited and welcomed in God’s kingdom of acceptance and forgiveness.  All of us have been lifted up out of condemnation, given value and worth, and saved from our own guilt and shame.

See all of us can be seen as that rocky and unyielding terrain upon which the seed has been thrown.  All of us at some point could very easily have been regarded as not worth it or cost effective.  All of us throughout our lives could have been sized up by others who thought “You??? You are loved and cherished by God?”

And thanks be to God, we, all of us, totally are.  Amen.

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