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There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I’m not certain I’ve ever seen much like what our Gospel reading describes this morning. A crowd keeps Jesus busy at the place where He is staying. So Jesus heads down to the waterfront with the crowd following and pushing in close so that Jesus has His back to the water and is probably standing in the water. He gets in a boat, puts a bit offshore and then begins to tell stories. As Fr. Seth reminded us yesterday at Mother Jane Johnson’s ordination, some of the best stories are told at the water’s edge among fishermen.

Jesus tells them about a man who heads out to his field to plant a crop. Planting back then wasn’t the high-tech thing it is today. They didn’t sit in the cab of a John Deere tractor, with air-conditioning, computers and sensors measuring soil moisture and a GPS unit helping get the most rows into a field pulling a planter that precisely drills the seed to proper depth and orientation for growing. No, they planted using two feet, a bag of seed and a pair of hands to scatter the seed.

As Jesus tells it, this man scatters and sows the seed all over his field. Some of the seed falls on the path and the birds quickly find it and its gone. Some of the seed lands of rocky ground and can’t take root because the soil is too shallow. Other seed lands on good ground but the weeds choke it out so that it doesn’t get enough water and grow. And finally some seed falls on good ground where there are no weeds or rocks or birds and the seed takes root and bears a crop that is a hundred or sixty or thirty times greater than what was planted.

But then He says something else that I have a problem relating to: “Let anyone who has ears, Listen!” To which about half the time, I end up saying, “What?!” Then turn to Kris and ask what did I miss? If you’ve ever caught me without my hearing aids in, you would be amazed at the genius of modern hearing technology, that I had heard anything in the first place.

What would Jesus be saying to us that He needs to reinforce it with a comment that essentially says, “You’ve got ears! Listen to me!” I read that in my Bible and I want to know what’s behind it! As a matter of fact, when most of us read this passage, we might ask the same thing because we don’t farm like that anymore and most of us take care when we plant our gardens to get rid of the rocks and weeds.

Fortunately Jesus doesn’t leave us hanging in suspense. After telling other stories while standing on the boat, the crowds eventually start fading away and Jesus gets some time with His closest friends and explains the story to them.

The seed is the good news of the kingdom of God. It is the Gospel, the truth that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners and accomplished it by offering Himself as the perfect sacrifice, unblemished by sin. The One who did know sin at all, became sin for all of us who knew sin intimately, so that we might be set free from the Law of Sin and death. If there is one message through all of Scripture, it is that Christ paid the price for our sins that we could not pay ourselves.

Thus, Jesus is telling us that the man who goes out planting the seed is God Himself through Jesus Christ. The field is everyone of us here in St Anne’s, in DePere, in Wisconsin and across the whole world.

But what happens to the seed? Jesus says some of it hit the path and the birds got it. He tells His disciples, that dirt path is like people who hear God’s Word, don’t understand it and before it takes root, the evil one snatches it away. If we stop to think about it, that’s not so hard for us to understand because we’ve seen it in other contexts. How many of us had to be told more than once by our parents as we were growing up to clean our room and get the laundry downstairs?

Words, even important words, can bounce off those who don’t care or who don’t want to listen. Consider what a dirt path actually looks like and we might see the picture even clearer. We had a patch of ground in our house in northwest Iowa that could never grow anything because it was the entrance to the backyard from the sandbox on the side of the house. The ground was packed down, often cracked no matter how much rain we had, and as hard as rock most of the time. Every time I tried to get grass to grow there the seed either bounced off or got tracked to someplace else.

Jesus says the second seed that lands on rocky ground is like someone who hears the Gospel and gets excited about it. They respond and immediately make it their own. Everything is looking great for them, knowing that they have been forgiven and are set free by their faith in Jesus. But then hard times and difficult circumstances come around like they always do and their faith withers. Why? Because the Gospel really didn’t take root in their lives.

No doubt some of us have known many people like this. Some of them might be public figures, some not, some might even be our friends or family. But things are only skin deep. Sooner or later their faith gets tested and it can’t take the stress. Its back to whatever worked for them before hearing the Gospel. Shallow hearts don’t make good long-term relationships.

Jesus then says the third seed that grows but gets choked by the weeds and thistles is like someone hearing the Gospel but never fully responding as the cares of life crowd out the good news. He specifically takes aim at those whose goal in life is maintain the good life. He calls it “the cares of the world and the lure of wealth.” The Gospel is good, God is good, Jesus is ok, but don’t mess up my business plan or ask me to sacrifice anything to follow Him. Most unfortunately if we catch some preachers on TV, this seems to be their message.

And there the seed that hits good dirt. It takes root, grows and bears fruit. Not because it has to work at it, but because that is what it was created to do. The Good News of Jesus Christ isn’t about our having to work harder in the field we live in. It’s about God doing all the work and giving us all that we need through Jesus Christ to grow in grace and faith.

God’s plan for us isn’t that we would hear the Gospel and then lose it or lose hope in it. His plan for us is that we would be like the good ground, where the Gospel grows and bears fruit thirty, sixty or hundred times more. Good seed produces good fruit when it takes root in good ground. As we reflect on our readings this morning we need to consider:

Sometimes we can be like that path. God speaks to us through His word and its just more ink spilled on paper to us. It may be we have been trampled on, pounded down, run over and worn out. We can’t take anymore so we get up the defenses and refuse to let the seed of God’s Word take root in our hearts.

Sometimes we are like the rocky ground. We have enough faith to make it through the good times when it’s easy, but we are like grass growing in the crack of a rock. All it takes is a stick dragged along inside our little spot on the rock or a heavy storm and out we fall, pushed or washed out by our circumstances.

Maybe we are like the seed being choked by the cares of life and our desire to maintain appearances. We’re stuck trying to figure out who is really in charge of our lives, Jesus or my retirement plan and house payment. Worries that we might be riding a bubble catch up with us and overwhelm us every week.

Maybe things are going well and we often can actually see and experience God at work in our lives.

All of those things are why we need to hear the Gospel again and again. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. He has put to death the Law of sin and death. He has sent His Word and it does not fail to accomplish His purposes. He will keep planting and working the ground until a crop grows. The life that Jesus Christ lived, is ours through His death and resurrection. Just as He died for our sins, He rose for our righteousness, that we might live with Him for all eternity.

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ALMIGHTY and eternal God, who have given us, your servants, grace, by the confession of a true Faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity and in the power of the divine Majesty to worship the Unity; we humbly pray that you will keep us firm in the confession of this Faith and always defend us from all adversities; who live and reign, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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ALMIGHTY God, who as at this time taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit; grant that by the same Spirit we may judge everything rightly and always rejoice in His holy strengthening and protection; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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I would guess that everyone of us has stood at the airport waving good by to someone we love as they flew off to wherever they were going in this big world.  We could have waved to our parents, to our children, to other family members or even to friends

I would also guess that standing there waving good by wasn’t always the most pleasant of feelings.  We may have been smiling, but I’m guessing we may have also been crying a little inside.  Saying goodbye can be filled with sadness even when good things are happening.  Saying goodbye to a child heading off to school overseas is both exciting as we anticipate what will happen in their lives and sad as they no longer come home to tell us about their day every day.

Sometimes the sadness comes because we cannot anticipate the future.  We ask ourselves if we will ever see that person again in this life.  This question hits us harder as we grow older and our parents grow older.  We fly off wondering if we will see them again or we watch them fly off and wonder if they will ever come back.  If our parents are gone, often the question becomes about us.  Will we be around when our kids come back from school?

It’s a hard question to face wondering if this is going to be the last time we see someone we love.  It makes the trip to the airport hard because we know what’s coming.  The laughter and excitement that is touched with a bit of sadness makes us uneasy.  We can tell ourselves that God is in control, but that doesn’t always ease the pain of saying goodbye to someone we love.  We get attached to the people who are closest to us.

When those with whom we are closest leave, our hearts grow heavy even in good circumstances like when a child leaves for school or goes away to work in a different part of the world.  We know this from our own experiences, but imagine the rollercoaster of emotions in the hearts and minds of Jesus’ disciples on the day when Jesus ascended to heaven. (more…)

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ALMIGHTY Father and ever-living God, we truly believe that your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ has ascended into heaven; grant, we pray, that we may also in heart and mind ascend there, and continually dwell with him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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ALMIGHTY God, grant, we pray, that we who celebrate with reverence the Easter Festival, may be found worthy to attain to eternal joys; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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Some thoughts about Easter after a day to reflect on the message of Jesus’ resurrection in the gospels:

Matthew 28 is almost, but not quite the shortest chapter in the whole gospel of Matthew.  I realize that the chapter divisions were not part of the original writings of Matthew and were added over a thousand years later.  But to see it put so starkly with chapter divisions is amazing.

The reason I think it is stark is because we can look and see all the verses Matthew devotes to telling the story of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial, execution and burial.  75 verses of Matthew 26 and 66 verses of Matthew 27 detail all of those horrible events.  Yet only 15 verses tell the most amazing part of the story, Jesus’ resurrection.

Matthew’s account forces our minds to focus on the simplicity of the truth.  It’s the Joe Friday version of the Resurrection.  Just the facts, please.

And what a set of facts they are!  Just before dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary get up to “go look at the tomb.”  On their way an earthquake happens.  The ground shakes just as it did in the afternoon on Friday when Jesus died.  This earthquake signals the completely opposite story, Jesus is alive.

The earthquake is brought by an angel rolling the stone away from Jesus’ tomb and then casually sitting on it.  Yet there are guards posted around this tomb.  They are supposed to be keeping the tomb from being opened and Jesus body disappearing.  But they cannot prevent the tomb from being opened by the angel.

In fact when the angel appears the guards get frightened out of their wits and fall over as if they are dead men.  They faint completely away.  Nothing has prepared these battle-hardened and courageous soldiers for what they are seeing.  The scene Matthew paints is that they are at their posts with their weapons ready only passed out in fear.

The women come upon this scene, see the guards down and the tomb opened and no doubt think someone has attacked the guards, opened the tomb and stolen Jesus’ body.  Then they hear the good words of the angel telling them to not be afraid, He is risen just as He said he would rise.  Hurry, go tell His disciples of all this news.

And they run off.  But to make sure they have the story right because things could be kind of confusing, after all how can a dead man live, they run into Jesus who says Hello, Greetings.  They fall at His feet and worship Him.  They are convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is alive!  They have met the Risen Lord!

Now the guards get back into the picture.  They come to, get up and some of them head for the city to report everything that has happened.  They know the facts of what happened and they report them to the chief priests and rulers of the people.  Those leaders do not like this set of facts and invent a story to explain why Jesus’ body is no longer in the grave.

That story requires people to believe some incredible things happened.  First, that the guards fell asleep.  Any Roman soldier falling asleep on their post or failing to carry out their assignment would be punished by death.  No Roman soldier is going to willingly spread the story that he slept on duty unless he wanted to die.

Second, the guards didn’t just fall asleep but they slept so hard that the disciples could move a two-ton rock without waking them up.  The rock moves without any noise being made to disturb the guards’ sleep.  No noise from the disciples, no crunching of the ground and pebbles as the rock moves.  Right.

Third, the guards are supposed to have slept right through the earthquake.  Everyone in the city had to have known about it.  You can’t hide an earthquake that is strong enough to move a huge rock.  The ground is going to shake; people are going to wake up.  But yet these guards were so sound asleep they missed the earth shaking?

Fourth, into all of this sleeping by the guards, the disciples just got lucky.  They found everyone asleep, they moved the stone away without a bit of noise and they got Jesus’ dead weight out of the tomb without making any noise to wake up the guards.  At night, in the pitch darkness no less as the moon begins to set behind

Jerusalem.  What an amazing coincidence that the disciples just happened to be there at the right time to get Jesus’ body out of the grave.  How lucky can you get?Matthew is just giving us the facts.  Facts that show us the truth that Jesus is alive.  He was seen by the women running back into the city.  The guards saw the angel move the stone and open the tomb as casually as if he had been rearranging his living room furniture.  The story is made up by the rulers that has no grounding in reality but is incredibly hopeful in its deception.  If the small lie doesn’t work, go for the big one, right?

It is just the facts.  We can believe that Jesus rose from dead.  The facts are there from those who were present at the time to report the news.  Even those who didn’t like the news understood the story and needed to find a way to spin it to their liking and hopefully keep everyone on the same page.

Believe it!  He Is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!

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