Sunday's Sermon / July 16, 2017

Isaiah 55: 1-13
Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23

    There is no free lunch. Have you heard that phrase before? There is no free lunch. It means, more or less, that something might look like itís being offered for free Ė but there is always a catch. If someone calls your house offering you a free tropical vacation, there is probably a catch. If someone on Facebook says theyíre giving something away, you can bet they want something in return, even if itís just your e-mail address, so they can send you advertisements. There is no free lunch. The phrase comes from the time in American history when saloons would offer a free lunch to entice people into coming in. Once they were there, of course, theyíd stay and pay for drinks, or gamble, what have you. So the free lunch wasnít so free. Weíre so used to this idea, itís engrained in us. Once I was handing out free cups of water at a hot, summertime festival, with a church group, and people kept coming up to us with money in their hands. They were surprised that we didnít even have a donation bin or an e-mail sign-up sheet or anything. They would stop and just kind of blink for a few seconds while they tried to figure out what your angle was. Then they would shrug and say thanks and take the water. Thereís no free lunch, they were thinking. Thereís no free cup of water. Surely they must want something from me. Weíre wired to think that way.

    The fancy term for this is a quid pro quo. Itís Latin and it just means, this for that. Something for something. A quid pro quo is any kind of deal where you scratch my back and Iíll scratch yours. A senator, for example, might tell the committee who is writing up a new bill, sure Iíll vote for your bill, if you add some money in it for my home state to build roads. Thatís a quid pro quo, Iíll give you my vote, you give me my roads. This for that. We do this all the time in our everyday lives, too Ė hey Ė if you cook dinner, Iíll do the dishes. You watch the kids, Iíll mow the lawn. You pay for dinner this time and Iíll treat you next time.

    And if weíre honest, we are really comfortable in this quid-pro-quo territory. We like it here. It makes sense to us. If someone comes to your home or to the church, for example, in need Ė needing food or resources Ė you are probably more comfortable if they offer to do some housework or painting or something for you in return. Well, at least theyíre willing to work for it. At least they arenít just ripping us off, expecting help without anything in return. I know I feel that way a lot of times. Weíre comfortable with the quid pro quo. In our friendships, in our partnerships, in our lives, we expect when we do our share that others will do theirs.

    Unfortunately, God likes to come to our comfortable places and through scripture to shake us up Ė and thatís exactly what happens when we read Isaiah 55: ďHo, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.Ē Everyone who thirsts, come to the water. Not just those who have paid their water bills. Everyone. Everyone who is hungry, come buy and eat, buy what you need without money, and without any prices. Even if you donít have money, come and eat. Leave your wallet at home. Even if you canít afford to pay, come and enjoy food. Not just a small, this-is-what-you-deserve-for-not-having-money portion. Not just a crust of bread. But come and delight yourself in rich food. Wine and milk. Itís beautiful. But it goes against the quid pro quo. Sure, itís a beautiful scripture, we think. Beautiful but out of touch. This is the real world. In the real world, you need money to get food. You canít be fed the finest meal, without paying for it.

    One chef in Florida disagrees. Heís got a ministry, called the love-thy-neighbor ministry, where he cooks every week near one of the beaches where a lot of homeless folks gather. He doesnít just cook subsistence food either. Itís not thin soup and white bread. He cooks a full, gourmet meal. Heís a small, 90-year-old man, and he started the ministry in memory of his late wife, who he says was the best human being he has encountered in his whole life. So when he retired and his wife died, he started this ministry and has been doing it ever since. Itís completely free to eat, and lots of people come and eat together, even folks who arenít homeless, because the food is that good. And the chef doesnít mind. He cooks his best food, and feeds whoever shows up. The town has tried to stop him Ė they claim his ministry is a nuisance that attracts the wrong element to the beaches, where the tourists go. Theyíd rather the ministry moved to another church, off the beach. But this tiny little chef has just said, no, I want to feed people where they are, and if they want to arrest me, go ahead. So far, theyíve issued him at least three citations but he keeps doing the same thing, week after week, regardless. He prays before every meal.

    Some might say what heís doing is foolish, but it sounds to me like heís read Isaiah 55 and is taking it seriously, not just as some forecast for the future, but as something heís called to do right now. Even in his 90s. Offer people good food, rich food, without price. He said no to the quid pro quo. He couldíve charged something, even just a dollar. He couldíve moved to a less visible place. He didnít. And as hard as it might be to understand his motivation, what keeps a 90-year-old going after three citations, on some level we do understand. Because we know a God who said no to the quid-pro-quo.

    Scripture tells us that the wages of sin are death. What we deserve, in the cosmic quid-pro-quo, is death. Weíre all sinners, weíve all missed the mark, we are imperfect, and in need of grace. And if God handed us back what we have earned for our sin, we would get death. But instead, through Jesus, we are given, against all odds, against what we deserve, eternal life. Our God is not a God of the quid pro quo. God is a God of abundant love and mercy. God gives us so much more that we could ever earn or deserve. God busted up the quid-pro-quo 2,000 years ago. So on some level we understand what it is to be given a gift so great we could never pay it back. What God is asking us to do, in this scripture, is to think about the ways we can bring that same grace out of our hearts, and into the world. Make this vivid image of people coming to the water, coming to the table, a reality.

    Which is why I love pairing the two scriptures weíve read for today together. In the Gospel lesson, Jesus tells the parable of the sower. A sower goes out and sows seed. In some places, the seed doesnít do very well: places where the soil is rocky, places where there are weeds, or birds, the seed doesnít grow. But in good, fertile soil, it yields an abundant harvest. And Jesus explains what this means: we have to avoid the pitfalls and traps, the rocks and the weeds, and improve our soil so that we can hear the word and grow a great harvest of faithfulness. The problem with how we often read this parable, however, is we tend to read it, forgetting what we know about God, who does not believe in the quid pro quo. We tend to read it like, I have to prepare my soil, and if Iím just faithful enough, God will produce a rich harvest through me, unlike those other people over there who are clearly weeds, rocks, and birds. If I just do enough for my church, God will bless me. If I say my prayers every day, God will bless me. If I love my neighbor as myself, God will bless me. We fall right back into that quid pro quo, without even knowing it. Even worse, we judge people who donít meet our standards. We call them bad seed.

    Isaiah 55 is the perfect correction to this way of thinking about the harvest. Listen to the end of this lesson from Isaiah again: ďFor as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.Ē

    When we read the parable of the sower, we think, there will only be a harvest if I get my act together! If Iím good enough! If Iím ready! But Isaiah says, hush hush, honey-child. Thatís not the way it is. My word will not return to me empty. It will. not. Even if you donít praise me, the mountains will praise me. Even if you donít sing, the hills will sing. Even if you donít clap, the trees of the field will clap their hands, what do you mean they donít have hands, they will clap, because Iím God and I can do anything. Any. Thing. And where you see weeds and briers, I will turn those weeks and briers into myrtles and cypress, and they will be a memorial to me. In other words, God will make this thing happen, whether we are ready or not. Whether we are good enough, or not. Whether weíre feeling like good soil today or kind of thorny. Because letís face it, we all have good soil days and thorny days, right? But God can turn a thorn into a cypress, and God will do that for us, and will do that for us.

    This is good news. Because we donít have to read scripture like these and keep coming back to the quid pro quo. When we finally let it sink in that Godís word will not come back empty, that God will accomplish, that God has already defeated death, it frees us. It frees us because we donít feel like itís all up to us. Itís not all up to us to be righteous and faithful and to produce a full harvest. It was never all up to us. As one of my favorite prayers says, ďwe are ministers, not messiahs. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.Ē  Even more than that, it frees us from the quid pro quo. Not only can we do something, however imperfect, we can do it without expecting anything in return. We can give someone money, without grumbling over how they use it. We can feed folks without any expectation, other than that they will eat. We can serve, not expecting a reward or even a handshake. We can take that grace we know in our hearts, that gift without price weíve been given, and we can offer it to the world. And the harvest will be abundant. Not because weíre so good, but because God is so good.

    ďÖso shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.Ē
Thanks be to God. Amen.

Vacation Bible School / July 30 - Aug. 2, 2017

Dear friends,

Hi from Pastor Monica at Cedar Grove UMC! Just wanted to let you know about VBS this year:

Who: Any kids, ages 3 and up! Even older kids or youth are welcome to come as helpers.

What: Hero Central: Discover your strength in God! Fantastic super hero theme with puppet show, Bible stories, games, snacks, music, crafts and more! The last night will be a cookout with games and water balloons - families invited!

When: Sunday July 30 - Tuesday August 2nd, 6-8 PM

Where: Cedar Grove UMC. All the activities will be at church.

Why: So many reasons! We are getting this together quickly, since I just came and Karl didn't have time to plan much with his injury. BUT this superhero theme was too cool to pass up, and I really love VBS and spending time telling the stories of God to kids.

Here's what I'd love from you:

- If you have kids who want to come, shoot me an email back letting me know their names and ages. We will have full registration on site the first day.

- If you have friends who have kids who might enjoy it, pass this email along!

- If you, your teen, or a friend would like to help out, also let me know! Our intern, Portia, and I will be leading VBS but we need some more helpers! If you're interested in helping, let me know what areas you're interested in.

Thank you all so much - I'm so excited to meet some super kids and super heroes this month! If I haven't met you yet, I'm excited to meet you.





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