planting-seed.jpg

Matthew 25:31-46 (MSG) 
31 "When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. 32 Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, 33 putting sheep to his right and goats to his left. 34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what's coming to you in this kingdom. It's been ready for you since the world's foundation. 35 And here's why: I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, 36 I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.' 37 "Then those 'sheep' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? 38 And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?' 39 40 Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me-you did it to me.' 41 "Then he will turn to the 'goats,' the ones on his left, and say, 'Get out, worthless goats! You're good for nothing but the fires of hell. 42 And why? Because- I was hungry and you gave me no meal, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was homeless and you gave me no bed, I was shivering and you gave me no clothes, Sick and in prison, and you never visited.' 44 "Then those 'goats' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn't help?' 45 "He will answer them, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me-you failed to do it to me.' 46 "Then those 'goats' will be herded to their eternal doom, but the 'sheep' to their eternal reward."

I do not know the origin of this story. I found it in one of my files with no reference. It speaks, I think, to the fact that we need to be careful what we plant in life. The things we say and do not only change other people's lives, they also change us from the inside out.

An emperor in the Far East was growing old and knew it was time to choose his successor.  Instead of choosing one of his assistants or his children, he decided to do something different. He called all the young people in the Kingdom together.  He said, "It is time for me to step down and choose the next emperor. I have decided to choose one of you."  The kids were shocked! But the emperor continued. "I am going to give each one of you a seed today--one very special seed. I want you to plant the seed, water it, and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from this one seed. I will then judge the plants that you bring. The one I choose will be the next emperor!" 

A boy named Pal was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly told his mother the story. She helped him get a pot and planting soil. He planted the seed and carefully watered it. Every day he watched to see if it had grown.  After few weeks, some of the other youths began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to poke through the soil. Pal kept checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. Three weeks, 4 weeks, 5 weeks went by. Still nothing. 

By now, others were talking about their plants but Pal didn't have a plant, and he felt like a failure. Six months went by and there was still nothing in Pal's pot. He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing.

Pal didn't say anything to his friends, however.  He just kept waiting for his seed to grow.  A year finally went by and all the youths of the kingdom brought their plants to the emperor for inspection. Pal told his mother that he wasn't going to take an empty pot. "Be honest about what happened," His mother told him. Pal felt sick to his stomach but he knew his mother was right.

So Pal took his empty pot to the palace. When he arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by the other youths. They were beautiful--all shapes and sizes.  Pal put his empty pot on the floor and many of the other kids laughed at him. A few felt sorry for him and just said, "Hey nice try." When the emperor arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted the young people. Pal tried to hide in the back. "My, what great plants, trees and flowers you have grown," said the emperor. "Today, one of you will be appointed the next emperor!"

All of a sudden, the emperor spotted Pal at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered his guards to bring him to the front. Pal was terrified. "The emperor knows I'm a failure!  Maybe he will have me killed!"  When Pal got to the front, the Emperor asked his name. "My name is Pal," he replied. All the kids were laughing and making fun of him. The emperor asked everyone to quiet down. He looked at Pal, and then announced to the crowd, "Behold your new emperor! His name is Pal!" 

Pal couldn't believe it. His seed produced nothing. How could he be the new emperor? Then the emperor said, "One year ago today, I gave everyone here a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds that would not grow.  All of you, except Pal, have brought me trees and plants and flowers.  When you found that the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Pal was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new emperor!"

  • If you plant honesty, you will reap trust.
  • If you plant goodness, you will reap friends.
  • If you plant humility, you will reap greatness.
  • If you plant perseverance, you will reap victory.
  • If you plant consideration, you will reap harmony.
  • If you plant hard work, you will reap success.
  • If you plant forgiveness, you will reap reconciliation.
  • If you plant openness, you will reap intimacy.
  • If you plant patience, you will reap improvements.
  • If you plant faith, you will reap miracles.

Will the seeds you scatter make life worse or better?  Be careful what you plant now, it will determine what you will reap tomorrow. Think About it.

Matthew

Mother Teresa.jpg

John 14:11-12 (NRSV) 
11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.

Sometimes when my father became frustrated with one of his children (there were 3 of us) he would exclaim, "You didn't come with instructions." I'm sure we can identify with my father's statement especially when we think of the number of unexpected circumstances and things that happen where we have no idea how to respond or what to do. Sometimes all we can do is muddle through.

Jesus said that we would do greater works than He did. Really? How are we supposed to do that? Mother Teresa once said,

I never look at the masses as my responsibility, I look at the individual. I can love only one person at a time. I can feed only one person at a time. So you begin with one. If I didn't pick up that one person, I wouldn't have picked up 42,000. My whole work is only a drop in the ocean. But if I didn't put the drop in, the ocean would be one drop less.

Individually, we are not going find a solution to the health care crisis in America. We can't feed the world, or stop all wars. We can do our small part. We can offer a prayer, a card, and a caring embrace for those who are facing a debilitating or terminal disease. We can bring food and support to the home. We can support the Clemmons Food Pantry (Started out of Clemmons UMC) that feeds over 700 households a month. We can be the person looking for the middle way between extremes and in doing so bring calm and peace where there is rancor and division.

We can't solve the drug problem that threatens our young people but we can support PAL (Parents of Addicted Loved Ones) a new support group at our church. You can pick up a homeless care kit in the narthex of the church and give it away the next time you see someone at a stop sign or stoplight intersection asking for help. There are so many opportunities to make a difference, one person at a time.

If you read the Gospels, you see that Jesus mirrored the "One drop in the ocean"approach. He changed the world one person at a time. Jesus said that we should think of each person we meet as Jesus. Our instructions are simple, be Jesus and treat others as if they were Jesus. You might have to muddle through but it will be ok. Think about it.

Matthew

From the Well - 11/2/2017

Dualism.jpg

1 Corinthians 12:4-7 (NRSV) 
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

My cousin and I used to argue about which car was the best-Ford or Chevrolet. We almost came to blows on several occasions. My cousin and I were too young to realize it but we using either/or, win/lose thinking or what Richard Rohr calls Dueling Dualisms.

Unfortunately, most people (children and adults) see things as either good or bad, right or wrong, black or white, liberal or conservative, successful or unsuccessful, attractive or unattractive, and on and on. Every day we consciously or unconsciously make judgments. This type of thinking is called dualistic thinking. Dualistic thinking too often leads to racial divide, argument, war, injustice, separation, and division among God's people.

Imagine a day where we would see life not as either/or but both/and. This type of thinking is called non-dualistic thinking. It is non-judgmental. I also like to think of it as the middle way. Aristotle called it the "Via Media" or the path between two extremes. When a person walks the middle path and ceases to judge everything as good or bad, you experience a oneness with all of life rather than a separation from different parts of it. Seeing things as either/or and never being willing to compromise gets us nothing but gridlock and standoffs, like my cousin and me arguing about Ford and Chevrolet. When everyone is holding ground, no one can move ahead.

Richard Rohr says this:

The lowest level of consciousness is entirely dualistic (win/lose)-me versus the world and basic survival. Many, I am afraid, never move beyond this. The higher levels of consciousness are more and more able to deal with contradictions, paradoxes, and all mystery (win/win). This is spiritual maturity. At the higher levels, we can teach things like compassion, mercy, forgiveness, selflessness, even love of enemies. And good contemplative practice quickly greases the wheels of the mind toward non-dual consciousness. This is exactly why saints can overlook offenses and love enemies![1]

Think about it. See you in worship this Sunday.

Matthew

From the Well - 10/26/2017

birds learning to fly.jpg

Acts 20:35 (The Message) 
35 In everything I've done, I have demonstrated to you how necessary it is to work on behalf of the weak and not exploit them. You'll not likely go wrong here if you keep remembering that our Master said, "You're far happier giving than getting."

Maybe you've heard the story of the one-dollar bill that met the twenty-dollar bill and said, "Hey, where've you been? I haven't seen you around here much."

The twenty answered, "I've been hanging out at the casinos, went on a cruise and did the rounds of the ship, back to the United States for a while, went to a couple of baseball games, to the mall, that kind of stuff. How about you?" The twenty dollar bill asked the dollar bill.

The one dollar bill answered, "You know, same old stuff . . . church, church, church."

As most of you are probably aware, it take more than a few one dollar bills to maintain and expand the ministry of the Body of Christ at Clemmons United Methodist. In fact it takes $93,423 (That's $1,111,068 for the 12 months of 2017). Everything we do at Clemmons United Methodist church is about people, their transformation, their growth as disciples, their healing, and their wholeness. We help people who are searching, lost, and hurting. We are not only involved with people's lives in the church and community but also with people around the world.

We cannot forget the impact we have and continue to make on people's lives. Imagine what would happen if Clemmons UMC suddenly ceased to exist. It would be devastating to thousands of lives! Your giving makes the mission and ministry of Clemmons UMC possible. Without it we have to make difficult decisions about what we will cut or what cannot happen. Your gifts make a difference.

In Eugene Peterson's book, Run with the Horses, he told how he saw a family of birds teaching their young to fly. Three young swallows were perched on a dead branch that stretched over a lake. The mother swallow got alongside the chicks and started shoving them out toward the end of the branch. The first one fell off. Somewhere between the branch and the water four feet below, its wings started working, and the fledgling was off on his own. Then the second one took off the same way.

But the third chick was not to be bullied. At the last possible moment his grip on the branch loosened just enough so that he swung downward, then tightened again, bulldog tenacious. Mama bird was merciless. She pecked at the desperately clinging talons until it was more painful for the poor chick to hang on than risk the insecurities of flying. He let go, and the inexperienced wings began pumping. Mother swallow knew what the chick did not-that it would fly-and there was no danger in making it do what it was perfectly designed to do.[1]

Peterson said, "Birds have feet and can walk. Birds have talons and can cling. But flying is their characteristic action, and not until they fly are they living at their best, gracefully, and beautifully."

For me, there are two points to Peterson's illustration. First, giving is what we do best. It is what we were designed to do. Some try desperately to hold on to themselves and what they have and are miserable in the process. We don't think we can live generously because we have never tried.

Secondly, there are people who are desperately hanging on to a troubled life. They can only let go if we are here as the Body of Christ to provide guidance and support through the love and fellowship of this community of faith. The two work together. There is our need to give and the desperate need of those in the world to know Christ. It's a match made in heaven and I know you want to be a part of it.

Matthew

From the Well - 10/19/2017

1000-Marbles.jpg

Matthew 28:10-16 (NRSV)

10 Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me." 11 While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 telling them, "You must say, 'His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.' 14 If this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble." 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day. 16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.

John 14:12 (NRSV)

12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.

Philippians 2:5-8 (NRSV)

5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death- even death on a cross.

This Sunday we will talk about God as participant. We too often think of God being "up there" or out of touch with our everyday lives. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a God who is actively involved in our lives. That involvement is often through the community of faith as we become conduits of God's love. Through us the triune God brings the majestic, the forgiving, and Spirit moving face of God to those around us. Leonard Sweet tells this story that illustrates my point. He writes:

From some source (the origins of which I've lost) comes a story from the waning years of the depression in a small southeastern Idaho community.

I used to stop by Mr. Millers roadside stand for farm-fresh produce as the season made it available. Food and money were still extremely scarce and bartering was used, extensively.

One particular day, Mr. Miller was bagging some early potatoes for me. I noticed a small boy, delicate of bone and feature, ragged but clean, hungrily apprising a basket of freshly picked green peas. I paid for my potatoes but was also drawn to the display of fresh green peas. I am a pushover for creamed peas and new potatoes. Pondering the peas, I couldn't help overhearing the conversation between Mr. Miller and the ragged boy next to me.

"Hello Barry, how are you today?"

"H'lo, Mr. Miller. Fine, Thank ya. Jus' admirin' them peas . . . sure look good."

"They are good, Barry. How's your Ma?"

"Fine, Gitten stronger alla' time."

"Good, Anything I can help you with?"

"No, Sir, Jus' admirin' them peas."

Would you like to take some home?"

"No, Sir. God nuthin' to pay for 'em with."

"Well, what have you to trade me for some of those peas?"

"All I got's my prize marble here."

"Is that right? Let me see it."

"Here 'tis. She's a dandy."

I can see that. Hmmmm, only thing is, this one is blue and I sort of go for red. Do you have a red one like this at home?"

"Not 'zackley . . . but, almost."

"Tell you what. Take this sack of peas home with you and next trip this way let me look at that red marble."

"Sure will. Thanks, Mr. Miller."

Mrs. Miller, who had been standing nearby, came over to help me. With a smile she said: "There are two other boys like him in our community, all three are in very poor circumstances. Jim just loves to bargain with them for peas, apples, tomatoes or whatever. When they come back with their red marbles, and they always do, he decides he doesn't like red after all and he sends them home with a bag of produce for a green marble or an orange one, perhaps."

I left the stand, smiling to myself, impressed with this man. A short time later I moved to Colorado, but I never forgot the story of this man, the boys and their bartering. Several years went by each more rapid than the previous one.

Just recently I had occasion to visit some old friends in that Idaho community, and while I was there learned that Mr. Miller had died. They were having his viewing that evening and knowing my friends wanted to go, I agreed to accompany them.

Upon our arrival at the mortuary, we fell into line to meet the relatives of the deceased and offer whatever words of comfort we could. Ahead of us in line were three young men. One was in an army uniform and the other two wore nice haircuts, dark suits and white shirts-very young professional looking. They approached Mrs. Miller, standing smiling and composed, by her husband's casket. Each of the young men hugged her, kissed her on the cheek, spoke briefly with her and moved on to the casket.

Her misty light blue eyes followed them as, one by one, each young man stopped briefly and placed his own warm hand over the cold pale hand in the casket. Each left the mortuary, awkwardly, wiping his eyes.

Our turn came to meet Mrs. Miller. I told her who I was and mentioned the story she had told me about the marbles. Eyes glistening she took my hand and led me to the casket.

"Those three young men who just left were the boys I told you about. They just told me how they appreciated the thing Jim "traded" them. Now, at last, when Jim couldn't change his mind about color or size, they came to pay their debt. "We've never had a great deal of wealth in this world," she confided, "but, right now, Jim would consider himself the richest man in Idaho."

With loving gentleness she lifted the lifeless fingers of her deceased husband. Resting underneath were three, magnificently shiny, red marbles.[1]

Life is not measured by the breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away. Breathe in and breathe out and know that you are making a difference in the lives of others as you share the love of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Think about it.

Matthew

[1]As told by Leonard Sweet, Source Unknown.