Sunday, July 20, 2014

Ordinary 16A -- July 20, 2014

Learning to Love The Weeds.  

Or At Least Learning to Live With Them.

We opened our time together with members of the congregation telling us the parables they saw around them over the past week.  We heard at least a half dozen stories that supported the notion that we are living in a "Parable Universe" and can see glimpses of the Kingdom of Heaven.

(Much of this sermon was improvised, but this is the basic outline). 

Matthew 13:24-30, 36 - 43

He 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.’”

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!

You know what a weed is, right?  A weed is a plant that you don’t like.  Because the "bad weed" crowds out the plants you do like.  So we have to admit right off the bat that weeds are not inherently bad, just bothersome. 

The biblical scholar Karoline Lewis has said that the parable of the wheat and the weeds is not told for the sake of action – to send us out to weedy fields and begin pulling at noxious plants for all we’re worth.  No, this parable is told by Jesus for the sake of honesty about the different kinds of plants that keep springing up in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Specifically, we are told by Jesus to leave the weeds alone because we might just hurt the wheat while we’re poking around.  Not because it’s a good thing to let the weeds grow.  But because we are human beings and honestly, we can’t tell the difference between what is a weed and what isn’t.  As in many things in life, what looks like evil and what looks like goodness seems to determined by where you’re standing and what kind of plants you’re trying to grow.  And the sower in this story doesn’t seem very much interested at all in a pure crop.  We have a sower who seems willing to risk a few big weeds for the sake of some big wheat.

We just can’t resist trying to be good servants so we have a hard time putting down our rotary tillers.  We love battling the weeds.   Christians have a long history of trying to figure out where the weeds are and what to do about them.  We poison our gatherings with finger-pointing at people we think do not measure up, despite Jesus’ warning in this parable that we risk losing lots of good wheat in the process.  Nobody expects the church to be a perfect weed-free field, but a lot of people avoid the church because they simply can’t stand the smell of Round Up.  The poisonous atmosphere sometimes generated by our weed-wacking ways is wilting the faith of too many people, especially young people who are just beginning to grow.  I suspect that is at least part of the reason the church is having a lot of trouble feeding itself.  We’ve become so focused on pulling out the weeds that we’re well on our way to killing the field altogether.

Can you tell who is a weed and who is wheat?  Is our calling as disciples to seek out and purge sin and evil? That doesn’t seem to be the point of the parable Jesus is telling us here.  If you think you know the difference between people worth saving and people who can never be redeemed, I think you’re on some very shaky ground with this parable.  And, frankly, I don’t want that job.  I don’t trust myself.   Because weeds and wheat look an awful lot a like, at least in the early stages of growth.  It’s only later on that you can tell something may have gone wrong and even then – you can’t pull the weeks without harming the wheat.  I don’t trust myself for a moment to be able to make that judgment. 

The possibility exists, my dear ones, that weed doesn’t just grow outside us.  The weed may indeed be inside us.  Growing right along side the wheat, in fact, completely intertwined so much so that cutting out the weed seems a completely impossible task.  How do you even begin?

So I’m not sure I trust you to figure out who or what is good and who or what is evil, and I sure do not I do trust myself to make that call.  But I do trust God.   And it could be this parable is telling us that our work in the world as Christians is not to figure out who is good and who is evil – or even wonder why God allows weeds at all -- but to spend all our energy in being the good in the world.  To live the Gospel. To be the light. To be the salt.  This should be good news. This parable calls us simply to be. To be the good in the world with the full awareness of that there is also evil inside us and all around us. To be light when darkness will surely try to snuff us out. To be salt when blandness is always the easier and safer path.

That is why this parable is such a gift to us.  It forces us to look at the weediness of our own souls.  And most of us have enough personal garden work to last us a lifetime.  So let me ask you this:

1.  What are the biggest weeds in you life?  What weeds threaten the good wheat you want to produce in your life’s field?  Stress?  Illness?  Money issues?  Fear?  Anger?  What chokes off the good that you want to be and do? (5 minutes)  

My big weed is impatience.  I have always fought the impulse to believe it’s just easier and quicker to do things myself than rely on someone else who will probably move less quickly than I want to move or not do something the way that I think it should be done.  I’m much better than I was 20 years ago, thanks to having children around.  By their very nature, children – especially small children – slow you down.  They change your plans and thrown you off course.  I have discovered that it’s not such a tragedy if a project takes longer than I think it should.  I have discovered that dawdling can be a useful thing if it builds a better relationship between me and other people. 

2.  What are the weeds in your life teaching you that you cannot learn any other way?  In other words, why do you think God is telling us not to pull the weeds, but to leave them there until harvest?   Can something good come from weeds? (Assignment for next week!)

The hardest part of this parable for me is that sower must wait, living with both the wheat and the weeds until the day of harvest when they may be separated in due time.   In the meantime, it is hard to know what is the right thing to do sometimes.  We face a multitude of other difficult choices:
 like between getting a job to support the family or staying at home to spend more time with the family;
or between supporting someone who consistently struggles at work and pulls the quality of your team down or firing that person;
or between choosing the best school you’ve been accepted to or one that is more affordable;
or between two different treatment options in responding to a grave illness;
or between giving into peer pressure because it just plain sucks to be left out or choosing to stick to your values and risk isolation.

Dear Lord, our lives are colored by ambiguity and we don’t always know the right or best thing to do. But we do know that your love is guiding us and that you have called us to live as your people in the world. When we face hard choices, give us eyes to see the best path forward and the courage to follow it. When we make mistakes, forgive us. When we are hurt by our choices, comfort us. When we hurt others, help us to reach out to them in love. And above and beyond all these decisions, remind us that you still love us and call us back to this place that we may be forgiven, renewed, called, and sent forth once more as your beloved children. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Midsummer Update -- What's Happening at Emsworth U.P.?

Flip Flop Summer is Underway!

Throughout July and August, our Sunday worship begins at 10 a.m. in the fellowship hall.  Each Sunday we will share the Lord's Supper, engage in conversation around the scripture texts, and discover new music and new ways to worship God in a casual, relaxed atmosphere.  Want to wear your flip flops and shorts?  Yes, let's!

Learning To Walk in the Dark -- a conversation with Barbara Brown Taylor's new book.

Pastor Susan continues to lead a summer book discussion around Barbara Brown Taylor’s New York Times bestseller, Learning to Walk in the Dark, on Wednesday evenings from  6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.  The book is available now for purchase from or your favorite local bookseller.

New Beginnings/Unglued Church House Meetings in August and September

The next step in discerning the future of Emsworth U.P. is a 6 week series of "house meetings" for members and friends of the congregation to review the assessment report from New Beginnings and begin imagining the future for our church.  

You may choose to attend a meeting after Sunday worship, or on Tuesday evening.  The material to be covered either day will be identical.  

Sunday meetings will be from 11:15 AM to 1:00 PM ... led by Donna, Bez, and Marti 
1. August 3 after worship
2. August 10 
3. August 17 
4. August 24 
5 September 7 
6. September 14 

Tuesday evening meetings will be from 6:30 to 8:15 PM ... led by Tom, Jean, and Jon. 
1. August 5 (at Jon and Bez Stellfox's home -- future locations TBD)
2. August 12 
3. August 19 
4. August 26 
5 September 9 
6. September 16 

Jennett Warne 95th Birthday Celebration

After worship on Sunday, July 27, we will celebrate Jennett Warne's 95th birthday with cake/punch in the fellowship hall.  Please join us as we honor Emsworth U.P's most senior member!

Mission Giving for 2nd Quarter

Pittsburgh Presbytery (undesignated mission) -- $200
Allegheny County Jail Ministry --  $250
Pittsburgh Presbytery New Church Development -- $250
Pittsburgh Presbytery Malawi Partnership -- $300

Pastor Susan's Vacation and Guest Preachers

Pastor Susan will be on vacation from August 4 to August 23.  She will return to the pulpit on August 24.  In case of emergency, please contact Clerk of Session, Jon Stellfox.  Pastor Donna of Community Presbyterian Church will also be available in case of a pastoral emergency.    

August 10:  Alan Olson
August 17:  Keith Mehelcic

Ordinary 15A -- July 14, 2014

"A Parable Universe"

"The Sower" Fr. Nunilon Bancaso

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: "Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.  Let anyone with ears listen!"

“Hear then the parable of the sower.  When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."

Listen!  The kingdom of heaven is like this -- a sower went out to sow.  

And thus we begin a series of parables from the Gospel of Matthew.  Over the next three weeks, we will be considering a series of parables in the 13th chapter of Matthew. They’ll be coming at us thick and fast, which is appropriate because that’s what parables tend to do.  In fact, the literal meaning of “parable” is something that is thrown along side.  Boom – parables drop in without warning.  So parables it is for us for a couple of weeks. 

Parables are tricky business, I think, despite the fact that many of us have heard most of these parables more than once.  That could be why they are tricky.  We know them too well.  And maybe many of you think you’ve got a handle on why Jesus spoke in this parabolic way and what Jesus meant, especially when he told stories like this about farming and planting and seeds.

I am not one of those people, I fear, although that hasn’t stopped me from loving the parable of the sower. The problem, at least for me, is that I am terrible at gardening.  Although I come from a long line of earnest farmers, and spent a lot of time as a kid pulling weeds and picking vegetables, I am known in my family as Susan, The Plant Killer. I have never had much success deliberately growing anything beyond a few pots of herbs.  Except for that one late summer day I scooped up a drooping Black Eyed Susan plant at 75% off from Home Depot, stuck it in the front yard, and have watched it blossom like crazy every July for the past 10 years. But the truth is, beyond that miraculous Black Eyed Susan, I have had little or nothing to do with their blooming.  Every time I’ve touched anything in my garden, it’s been a disaster. 

So it helps me to remember that Jesus was a city boy, not a farmer.  He grew up with a father who was carpenter, yet not one of Jesus’ parables begins with: “The kingdom of heaven is like a Black and Decker sander on an rough piece of wood…”  Jesus may not have been an experienced farmer, but Jesus moved around a lot in the gospels, and everywhere he went, he was always a deep and observant listener.  Jesus might not have been a farmer, or a fisherman, or a woman baking bread or a bridesmaid getting ready for a wedding.  But he listened to all kinds of people, and used their language so they could see the strange logic of the Kingdom of God – or, as it is referred to in Matthew, the Kingdom of Heaven.  And Jesus’ intention in telling these parables is always the same, I believe.  It’s to encourage those who have ears to hear to seek the kingdom of heaven in the every day world.  It is possible – in fact it’s our job – to look for the kingdom that is always breaking open among us.   And Jesus helps us to do that.  Parable, by parable. 

Anna Carter Florence, a homiletics professor at Columbia Theological Seminary has suggested that Christians live not in a parallel universe, but a “a parable universe.” Which is to say that parables that reveal the kingdom of heaven are not only in the Bible, but also everywhere, coming along side us like asteroids. Parables are everywhere, all the time if we have ears to hear and imaginations open to the possibilities.  

Here is part of a lecture Dr. Carter-Florence gave in May about how Jesus models a “parable universe” in the gospels.[1]

(Recording of Anna Carter Florence lecture: 26:41 – 33:15)

The kingdom of heaven is like this.  A sower went out to sow.  You don’t have to know much about farming to know that seed should be planted in good soil.  That’s apparent even to a plant killer like me.  But this isn’t a story about a prudent sower who keeps track of every seed.  In fact, this sower doesn’t seem worried about where the seeds are landing at all. This is a sower who sows everywhere.  On hard, dry ground.  On rocky soil.  Among thorns.  And on good soil.  Everywhere.   Everything about this sower seems ridiculous until you remember that this isn’t a story about horticulture or crop yields, but about the kingdom of heaven.  It’s about grace. 

The Kingdom of heaven is like seed that lands on dry ground and is almost immediately eaten by birds.  Is that really the end for the seed?  The seed is still the seed.  The Word is still the Word.  Its power is not any less because it’s been taken away by – the bird, the devil?  The seed will end up somewhere, courtesy of the bird’s digestive system.   Have you ever had the experience of a plant you had nothing to do with coming up in a place you never expected?   God’s purpose will be fulfilled even when the Word lands somewhere unexpected.

The kingdom of heaven is like this:  seeds fell on rocky ground, where they sprang up quickly. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.

The seed springs up, but the plant dies quickly.  Again, is this the end of the seed’s story?   But even in the plant’s death, new life happens.  The Word doesn’t depend on the length of the plant’s life in order to bear the fruit it needs to bear.  We like plants to last a long time.  We like our perennials to keep blooming year after year.  And sometimes they do.  But God’s purposes can be fulfilled in even the shortest season. 

And every once in a while the seed lands on good, fertile soil.  And something grows with deep roots and beautiful blossoms and a tremendous yield of fruit.  A bumper crop, more tomatoes than any of us could eat in a thousand summers.  Everyone can have some, even those with the hardest hearts.  It’s like the zucchini you drop at the neighbor’s front porch when you have run out of ways to cook it.

But you know what? Even that fruitful plant will come to the end of its life.  But like the seed that hit the ground, the seed choked by the thorns or the rocks – the Word of God does not end when the plant dies.  As it was in the beginning, it will be forever. 

This is not a story about what good soil we are.  It’s a story of what God is doing, every single day, in staggering numbers.  In the smallest seeds, hidden in the most unlikely places.  Good soil, bad soil, rocks and thorns and sand.  The Word does not fail. The worst we can do is get in its way on occasion.  But even then, all we do is delay the harvest.  Not prevent it.

So in the meantime, we pay attention.  We pay attention to this parable universe that Jesus is showing us.  Our job as disciples of Jesus is actually pretty simple, really.  To pay attention to where the seeds are falling.  To bear witness to the fruit that is flourishing.  To shout about the goodness we see.

I have to admit that I have fallen a bit in love with this idea that we live in a parable universe.  And I hate to break it to you.  Once you start really paying attention and begin looking for parables about the kingdom of heaven, you realize that they happen ALL THE TIME.  They are everywhere. 

Here’s one that happened to me just this week.

The kingdom of heaven is like this.  A awkward, shy 13 year old boy is invited to a birthday party.  For the first time in 4 years.  His mother tries to talk him out of going because she’s not sure she can take the pain of seeing her beloved boy get rejected…again…by the mean kids who will be there.  She worries about many things.  No, she is stressed out beyond belief by many things.  It’s a pool party – will he be dunked?  Will he be left out …again…forced to sit by the melting ice cream cake on the picnic table while all the other kids play Marco Polo?  She tries to talk her son out of going, even tries to bribe him with an alternative plan for the evening. 

How about a movie? 

No, thank you Mom. 

How about going out to dinner?
Mom, stop it. 

So he goes to the birthday party. 

Later, when the 13 year old comes home (with his dad because his mother is a big chicken) his mother is surprised.  No, she is astonished when the 13 year old happily bounces into the house.  There were only seven kids at the party.  All of them the class outcasts.  They bonded while playing Marco Polo in the pool.  They laughed over pizza and birthday cake.  There’s even a rumor afloat that the little girl who invited him to the party might have a teeny little crush on the 13 year old but he doesn’t want to talk about it, MOOOOOOOM. 

The kingdom of heaven is like this.  A little bit of kindness and heavenly hope dropping unexpectedly into the life of a 13 year old who has been waiting a long time to be invited to a party.  Now, can you tell me where the heck that seed come from? 

Next week, we’ll begin our sermon time with a space for you to testify where you’ve seen the kingdom of heaven break into your ordinary week.  We’ll share our parables beginning:
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like this.”

Let those who have ears, listen!  Thanks be to God.  Amen

[1] Anna Carter Florence, Festival of Homiletics, May 20, 2014.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Flip Flop Kick Off -- July 6, 2014

Flip Flop Summer Kickoff at 

Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon

For audio, click this link:

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

16 ‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, 17 “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.” 18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; 19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’

25 At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28 ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

Let us pray:  Merciful God, in this moment of stillness, wash us clean of our presumptions.  Receive us as your weary children.  Then by the power of your Spirit, bless us with a sweet word that revives us.  For we pray in the name of Jesus, your living Word.  Amen.

This morning’s scripture reading contains one of the most beloved passages from the Bible in these sweet, sweet words of Jesus:   “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  That is one of the verses that makes Jesus almost irresistible, don’t you think?  This is one of those verses that make  you just want to crawl up into Jesus’ lap and never leave. Really. If you were going to put up a big billboard in front of your church, this would be perfect line, right?  Come to our church, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens.  We will give you rest.   Rest.  Ahhhhhh.  Everybody’s got burdens.   And considering how many insomniacs I know, rest is one of those commodities in very short supply.  Probably more than a few of us could use some evangelism in the form of a nap.

This passage feels like a cool, tall drink of water on a hot summer day.  Like that first dive into the swimming pool on a 90 degree afternoon.  It’s like the last day of school when you’re sitting in an empty class room and you’re just staring at the clock as it ticks toward that final bell and summer vacation stretches before you like a vast wonderland of endless possibilities for adventure.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest?”  Take 2 minutes and turn to your neighbors and share – what weariness do you most want to release this day?  Where do you need rest in your life?


What did you hear from one another?

This passage means (reference what is heard) to us, but it probably meant something different when Jesus said it.   When we come to this text in Matthew, Jesus had just finished preaching in several cities in Galilee and he had not been well received.  In fact, Jesus had bombed.  Big time.  Jesus’ failure really didn’t have much to do with the quality of his preaching.  It’s just that the people to whom he had preached were so intelligent and so capable, they probably didn’t think they needed any help from Jesus.  The people who rejected Jesus had their lives together.  Their jobs were secure.  Their churches were running like clockwork.  They didn’t have any problems, or it they did, they weren’t going to admit it to a guys like Jesus who liked to go to parties, usually with the wrong kind of people. Whatever gift Jesus had to offer them, they declined. 

And facing all that rejection, Jesus.  Loses.  It.  He loses it, in the way human beings lose it when we are tired, when we feel rejected or criticized.  When it seems like we’ve been working so hard and have so little to show for it.  Jesus angrily compares the people who rejected to a bunch of babies who don’t know what they want, but they know they didn’t want the kind of faith that Jesus offered.  The same people who rejected Jesus had also rejected John the Baptist.  John was dismissed as a crazy crank, and Jesus was denounced as a party animal.   The people are not interested in any of the messengers God sends to them, because they had no interest in the new thing God was sending to them.  And Jesus gets angry, so angry that he tells then that they are doomed.  Headed straight to the hell they so richly deserve.

And then Jesus calms down.  He backs off and remembers that those people who rejected him are human beings.  The people who rejected him are human beings so caught up in being safe and being right and following all the rules, that they will not hear…in fact, they cannot hear God’s message of grace. 

Jesus prays and gives thanks God that there are other kinds of people, people who don’t think they have it all together.  People who don’t know anything except that they need the gift of Jesus offers.  The “infants,” Jesus calls them.   The ones who don’t know it all are the ones who receive Jesus. 

So it seems we won’t get to know the Son or the Father through our intelligence or knowledge or bible study or prayer or even by coming to church on a regular basis.  God is not impressed by our perfect attendance record in Sunday school or our service on committees, or the good deeds we do in Jesus’ name.  Not even by an M.Div. or a Ph.D. or any other letters after our names.  What we know and experience of God is pure gift to us.  Our prayer and study helps us recognize God’s movement in our lives.  But this text seems to suggest that our wisdom can just as easily cause us to miss out on what God is doing.  The minute I think I have God pinned down, I can count on God doing something quite different.  Has that happened to you, too?  God just totally surprising you?  It’s amazing.  It’s annoying sometimes.  It is grace.

God doesn’t come to us because of how much we know or what we do. God comes to us because that’s who God is.  And we see God most clearly in Jesus.  And it almost seems that the older and wiser we get, the harder it is for us to experience and hear and see what God is up to.

Later on in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus will complain about how the religious leaders placed heavy burdens on people.  In the very next episode of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus’ disciples are walking through a grain field on the Sabbath and pluck some grain to eat.  And you remember what happens, right? Jesus’ critics go nuts.  Jesus says God wants mercy, not sacrifice.  God wants an active, lively faith, not a religion of oughts and shoulds. 

Here is Jesus’ invitation again as it is interpreted by The Message: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Have you ever had a time in your life when religion or church felt more like a heavy burden than a gift?  Turn to your neighbor again and describe what that burden felt like for you?  Did you do anything about it?


 When I hear this invitation from Jesus, I think that sometimes we treat our life of faith like a new pair of shoes we insist upon buying even though they’re about one half size too small.  Have you ever done that?  You peruse the clearance rack at the shoe store and find this absolutely fabulous pair of shoes but they don’t have them in your size?   We force our size 9 foot into a size 8 1/2.   Sure the shoes don’t fit very well, but they were on sale and so beautiful. The shoes are so beautiful that we keep wearing them, thinking the shoes will eventually stretch out or we’ll learn to live with the pain.  Our feet are killing us but we just keep stumbling around in bargain basement shoes that just don’t fit.  Why do we cling to false identities that hurt?  Why are we so reluctant to accept the yoke that fits us?  The custom made yoke that God has so lovingly created for us?  

And the truth is my brothers and sisters, religion can very often become a burden to us, not a joy.  Religion can so easily be reduced to should and oughts and musts.  And here comes Jesus to offer a rescue to all of us wise and intelligent Presbyterians, offering us something we desperately need more than we care to admit.  Rest for our weary souls.  A release from shoes that don’t fit very well.  Instead, Jesus offers a yoke that is custom fitted, just for us.   A yoke isn’t linked to anxiety and stress, but to the love and peace and yes, work that Jesus has called us to do. 

Can you imagine what that might feel like?  I imagine it feels a lot like taking off the high heels that give me blisters, and putting on my 15 year old Timberland hiking boots that I still wear as often as I can in the wintertime.  They are so broken in that they feel like they were made just for me, just for my feet. 

I didn’t exactly mean to go off on this shoe metaphor, but today is the kick off for Flip Flop Sunday, right?   One of the reasons I was so excited when Donna suggested we try this summer experiment of “Flip Flop” worship is that it opens up a space for all of us to become a little less – what does Jesus say – a little less conventionally “wise and intelligent.”  It gives us space to enter into scripture and music and prayer, and participate fully instead of being spectators.  I might dare to suggest that some of what we can experience in Flip Flop worship can be fun, even playful in the best sense of the word. 

So this summer, we will create worship together in community.  We will improvise in our prayers and our liturgies.   We will listen to each other’s testimonies.  And most importantly, we will play together and seek to hear the call of a God who is always creating, always innovating, always seeking to yoke us together as brothers and sisters, and to Jesus who shows us the gentle, humble, playful way of life in His name.  Amen.

If you are reading this on a mobile device or via email, you may need to click on this link to view the video: