Sunday, December 07, 2014

Preparing for Something Good

A Sermon given to St. Timothy Lutheran Church
December 7, 2014, Second Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85; 2 Peter 3:8-14;  Mark 1:1-8

Something to Sing About
When I was young, my parents would often take us to a performance of the Messiah during Advent. The first recitative is based on Isaiah 40:1-3, “Comfort, Comfort, Ye My People”. Though it starts out calmly, the music soon becomes more dramatic as the tenor
sings:  "The voice of one crying in the wil-der-ness, Pre-pare ye the way of the Lo-rd. Make straight in the desert, a high-way. For our G-od! (And the orchestra goes: “Bum-Bum.”)

As Christians, we know that the 'one crying in the wilderness' was John the Baptist. John is not a real warm-fuzzy kind of guy.
 Although he did wear fuzzy animal pelts for clothing, his demeanor was not exactly meek and mild. It was more like:

"COME OUT HERE YOU MISERABLE SINNERS! CONFESS YOUR SINS! FLEE FROM THE WRATH TO COME! - RIGHT NOW!


And he wasn’t the kind of guy who was real good with church potlucks: …“Hey, John what did you bring?....

Eww…Locusts and honey?! EWWW!

But John was crying in the wilderness.   His was a ministry of calling people to repentance - of asking people to make their hearts straight before God.

And while it’s easy to imagine this rough character in rough clothing preaching a rough message – the amazing thing is that the people were going out to him in droves to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins.


Now just think with me a little about this story and about what is NOT said. Why in the world were the people going out to John in droves to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins?

Was it because John was personally attractive – he had good hair, a good preaching style and was doing amazing miracles of healing?  ….No…just the opposite.

Was it because John preached in an attractive building, that had attractive interior design, good seating and a killer audio-visual system? …No… He didn’t even have a building!

Was it because all the popular and successful people hung out with John and everybody wanted to be associated with the in crowd? …No, in fact it appears that those who went out to him were the poor, common folk…

What, then, was the appeal of John’s message?

Could it be that John hit a nerve with the people of his day? Could it be that there might have been a general awareness that things were bad, things were not as they should be, and that there had to be something better – that surely God wanted more for his people, and that surely it was high time that he spoke to his people?

Remember – there had been no prophetic word since Malachi – some 400 years previous – that’s like from when Pocahontas married John Rolfe in 1614 until now – And NO WORD from the Lord!   It must have been a desperate time!

Could there have been a general sense of longing and hope that God would eventually do something?

Could there have been a general despair that any current political or religious leader or movement could rescue the people out of their misery?

Was it not likely that the people had seen a long parade of charismatic and corrupt priests and politicians who used their offices and influence to enrich themselves, while further oppressing those they promised to help? – And that they knew in the depths of their being that there was no hope of deliverance in the world system they lived under?  

Finally,   could it have been that John actually was a Prophet of the Most High God, who was delivering a genuine message of hope and deliverance from that same God,  to a people in need, who knew they were needy and were just waiting for the right person with the right message to come along?…

Yes, all these things seem likely.

So when John appears preaching his prickly message of repentance in a prickly costume in a prickly place, it’s reasonable that the people go out to hear his message, and respond en masse by repenting and getting baptized for the forgiveness of their sins!

And there wasn’t even any mass media coverage to gin up interest in this movement! It was all totally organic – totally empowered by God’s Spirit and totally revolutionary to the world system of the day.

But let’s press into this a little more and examine a more detailed description of what the People of Israel may have been looking for:

In his book Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, Brant Pitre explains that although most of us think that the Jewish people of John’s day were waiting for a political deliverer, ‘… many of the Jews were waiting for much more than just a military Messiah. …many of them were waiting for the restoration of Israel in a new exodus.” (Pg. 23).

The Old Testament, says Pitre, foretold such an exodus and that this exodus …”can be summarized by four key events:  1)the  coming of a new Moses” 2) the making of a new covenant; 3) the building of a new Temple; and 4) the journey to a new promised land.” (Pg. 24). Let’s let that sink in just a moment (If you’ve seen the trailer for the new Exodus movie, you might be able to imagine what they were expecting!)

Regarding the first event,  we read in Deuteronomy 18:15-18 that Moses prophesied to the Israelites: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brethren …And the LORD said to me [Moses]… I will raise up for them a prophet like you [Moses] from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak all that I command Him.”

In other words, God promised through Moses that He would raise up another Moses to speak to God’s people.

“In later Jewish tradition”, says Pitre,  “these words were interpreted as a prophecy of the Messiah, the anointed one, who would be a new Moses. Like the [first]Moses before him,[ the second Moses,] the Messiah, would one day be sent to Israel, in a time of great need, in order to deliver them from Bondage.” Pitre pg. 27.

The new exodus would also lead God’s people into a time of a new experience of God, one that would recap the experience of the elders who went up with Moses to Mount Sinai and ‘ate and drank in the presence of God himself. “ Ex. 24.11). It would literally be Heaven on Earth!

If the repentance that John was calling for was to prepare the people for the coming of the New Moses, who would lead the people into a time when they would sit down with God himself and eat and drink…that would be something to repent about!   That would be worth putting up with a scruffy old prophet for!

Of course, on this side of the cross, we know that Jesus was – and is – the long awaited Messiah. 
  
We know that in Him, God made a new Covenant with his people. In Christ, God built a New Temple – Jesus is the Cornerstone of this temple not made with human hands – in which, we as the Body of Christ participate, as Peter says, ( I Peter 2:5) being built up as living stones, into the Temple of God, the Dwelling of the Holy Spirit to be a Holy Priesthood unto God. And finally, we know that the new land is ultimately the new heaven and the new earth mentioned in our reading today. It’s a re-created place where sin and death have been dealt with once for all, and where God dwells with his people and we feast with him face to face - the New Promised Land.  And we participate in this new Land now when we sit down to the table of the Lord at Communion, the Supper of the Lord, the Foretaste of the Feast to Come.


All this is bound up in the unformed longing of the people of Israel. And we get to experience the ‘Beginning’ of the gospel of Jesus Christ, just as Mark says, for although the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated and is here now, it’s only the foretaste of things to come. But because the foretaste is made of the same stuff as the full feast, we know in part what the full meal deal will be like – a time when all things come into harmony in and around Christ, the head and the Bridegroom of the Church, his Body on earth.

Well, this is a glorious Vision – one worth shouting about. But it’s also one that raises a question, one posed to us by Peter today. He tells us that judgment is coming… and in light of the coming judgment and dissolution of all things raises this question (slide)  …”what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God….? (2Pet. 3:11,12)

Fortunately, it’s not just a rhetorical question. Peter answers his own question: We are to be Patient People, (Patience Grow slide) who wait expectantly for the return of the Lord, people who apply themselves to God’s word – and don’t become too flustered by the hard things in Scripture – and People who …”grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2Pet. 3: 18).

To be patient means in part that we are patient with ourselves and each other. We should probably put up a marquee at the bottom of the hill: “St. Timothy Lutheran Church – Saints, Sinners and Hypocrites Welcome!”

Because you see, it’s just like Pastor Luther said, we are both saints and sinners at the same time. There isn’t any other choice, because the Kingdom of God is here, but it’s not fully here. What we shall be has not yet appeared – and so we know with certainty that Things Are Not As They Should Be!
Yes, we sin – unavoidably so. But yes, we should repent, and that Quickly, knowing that the end of all things is upon us.

What kind of people should we be?  People who tackle the ‘hard sayings’ of Scripture, such as: 

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:29-32. ESV

When the world looks at the Church, it should see a little bit of Heaven on earth. Is that what we’re showing the world? 
No, most assuredly not.

The Church, the Body of Christ is so un-unified it’s not even funny.
But while we descry our lack of unity and basic kindness to one another, we can also say that this is completely understandable because Nothing is as it should be.

And strangely, the recognition that Nothing is as it should be reflects an awareness of Heaven – the place where everything IS as it should be! While this doesn’t relieve us of culpability, it does, in an odd way, normalize the present failures of the church.

Winston Churchill’s famous comment about Americans can, with equal accuracy be applied to the Church: “You can always count on the Church to do the right thing – after it has tried everything else!”

And we do – we often choose the wrong thing before the right thing – it’s part of the human condition in this time between Christ’s first and second Advents.

Which of course brings us back to the relevance of John’s exhortation:

Make straight in the desert, a highway for our God! Return to the Lord! Repent of your sins and prepare the way for the King of the Kingdom of Heaven! That’s what this current season is all about – preparing for something ….GOOD.   

The Birth of Jesus into our world was indeed a good thing It’s the BEST thing that could ever happen – that God was in Christ reconciling us to Himself by becoming one of us and by taking upon himself our sin, atoning for it on the cross and then rising again with the promise of ultimate healing in his wings!

It’s Salvation – and Salvation is what God does best – redeeming bad situations.

And because this is so, I feel confident that we as a congregation can expect the same thing in the coming days and months. It seems somehow appropriate that we should find ourselves in the Season of preparation while we prepare to receive an interim pastor – and then at some future point, a permanent pastor.

Just as we expect the celebration of Christ’s birth to be a good thing, so too, I think we have every reasonable expectation that what God has for us up ahead will be Good. It will be in His plan for us. It will be Healing for us. And it will challenge us to grow into the next place God has for us as a congregation.

Brothers and Sisters, Lift up your heads! Prepare the Way. Your King draws near – but humble, lowly and loving, arriving incognito, and bringing Hope and Comfort to us and the Nations.


In the words of Julian of Norwich: “All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things shall be well!” AMEN.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Love and Respect

A Charge to the Couple, 
given to: 
 John Beckman and Lindsey Counts
at their Wedding on 8/2/2014

St. Timothy Lutheran Church
Charleston, WV 
Pastor Rafe Allison
and 
Rev. Andrew Counts
Officiating

John and Lindsey, as I put on this stole, I step out of my role as father of the bride and into my role as a father in the Church of God. The symbol embroidered on this stole is that of two gold rings intertwined around the cross – a mini- homily itself about the nature of Christian marriage – specifically that two individuals, male and female, are united by God in Jesus Christ to become one.

At the moment you are pronounced Man and Wife, you are no longer separate people pursuing your own destinies , but one unit, joined together metaphysically in Christ. Body, Soul and Spirit join to become one with each other and also one with Christ and His body, the Church. That’s why we’re here and that’s why I’m really pleased, as both types of father that you have asked to be married here in this church.

By coming here to this building and being married in a Christian worship service, you are saying that you desire to live your married life within the community of this church locally and within the universal church globally.

Those of us who are gathered to celebrate your joy are also members of this one great community and witnesses to your desire to live in and be supported by the community.  So this simple ceremony draws you out of your individual lives, singly pursued, into shared life with one another and with Christ and His body – and we couldn't be happier!

I assure you that countless prayers have been offered for you both by your biological families and your new church family. And on behalf of all of us gathered here to rejoice with you, I welcome you and pray for you every blessing in heaven and earth!

I also charge you with two great Missions – to Love one another, and to Respect one another. Although two become One mystically in Christ, it’s perfectly obvious that you are still two unique and complementary – and contradictory(!) human beings – and that many of your differences, 69% to be precise – will never be resolved!

That’s why you need Love and Respect. It’s not enough to be attracted to each other and to cherish attributes you admire. You also have to respect your differences and to accept that these differences make you who you are. In fact, you need these 'irresolvable' differences to help mold you into something more than you can be individually: the family we will now call John and Lindsey Beckman. And if God grants you children, the Beckmans with the little stick figures on the back of the SUV or mini-van of your choice.

John and Lindsey, Love one another! Be Kind to one another, tender-hearted and forgiving, even as God in Christ has forgiven you. Be quick to listen and slow to defend yourself, Quick to forgive and loathe to resent. Respect each other as Persons made in the Image of God, accurately matched and MISmatched for the task ahead of you – to live out your lives together as one in Christ and members of this gathered community – a community that pledges to you our support in this noble calling to be Husband and Wife.


Love one another and be assured of our love for you. Receive our blessing, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. AMEN! 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Humusology

A sermon delivered to St. Timothy Lutheran Church,
 Charleston WV
July 13, 2014
Based on Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

The Parable of the Sower
13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.” 

The Parable of the Sower Explained

18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (ESV)
The Gospel of the Lord!
Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

When I was completing my Master’s degree at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, I also worked at Trinity College across the road, on the Grounds Crew. Here’s a picture of me on my mobile office during the time.
 That’s my daughter Leah assisting me (She’s now 35 years old! Parents, they do grow up! )

In addition to mowing the grounds, part of my job was taking care of the plants and flowers around campus – mostly a pretty good job if you like gardening, but with one rather significant drawback – the native soil at the college looked like this:

Hard packed clay. Even the weeds had a hard time coming up in it! Needless to say, this was not the most ideal medium to plant flowers in. It’s like trying to get something to grow in the pot with no soil at all!


So, we had a challenge to get things to grow – and I think we succeeded rather nicely. Here’s a picture of a large bed of Verbena plants after we improved the soil. (That’s Leah again modeling for us.)


Looks beautiful and lush – a veritable carpet of color….What you don’t see is what we had to do to produce this kind of result: dig out all the clay soil with a backhoe/front end loader, install drain pipes and then create  a nice crumbly, well-drained soil with lots of nutrients for the flowers to feed on.


Once the flowers were planted, we added fertilizer and watered it regularly. And because we gave those plants every advantage to thrive –  they rewarded our efforts by growing into a beautiful display – a hundredfold return on our investment! 



Well, I think this was rather what Jesus had in mind in telling the parable of the soils. The soil is an overt metaphor of our heart condition. But as we start out, there is something of a paradox to note: Soil is supposed to represent our spiritual condition – and by implication, we are held responsible for the condition of our heart. But the last time I checked, soil doesn't actually do anything to itself to improve. 

When I walked the grounds of Trinity College I didn't see great swatches of ground undergoing self-improvement projects. There were no little shovels toiling away to aerate that impenetrable clay.  No, -  soil is basically passive. If it’s going to improve, something has to be done to it – either naturally over time, or ‘unnaturally’, by the aid of human beings. In other words, we have to do something to our hearts to improve their condition!

So what I’d like to propose is that we do a little study of soil and its improvement so that we can draw parallels with our spiritual lives and understand some things we can do to improve the soil of our hearts.

 And I’d like to propose that we call this study ‘Humusology” after the Latin word for ‘earth’ or soil – where we get our word for Humility – the essential condition for us to be ‘Hundredfold Souls’ – People who yield a hundredfold spiritually.

Recipe for Good Soil 

So, I understand that a recipe for good soil is basically an equal mix of three elements: Humus, Sand and Compost. The mix is important. Too much compost and the active decay of the organic material might burn your plants. Too much sand and all the water drains out quickly. Too much humus, and the plants won’t have enough nutrients to grow.

Let’s look at each element a little more closely:

Humus is basically the part of organic waste that has broken down as far as possible and has become very stable – but also rather sterile. It remains part of the soil for hundreds of years and can only be destroyed by an intense fire.

Sand is pretty self-explanatory. It’s what you get when rocks break down into smaller grains. 

And compost is what you get when organic stuff such as leaves and grass clippings break down. At Trinity College, we made compost in 9- foot wide bins, and turned it periodically with the backhoe/front end loader until it had broken down into a rich dark substance that looks and feels like coffee grounds. That’s the fast way.

You can also pile up your organic materials in a pile and let it sit there for a year or two and then sift it to get the same product. It’s great stuff and it makes every gardener   


happy, happy, happy.

Mother Nature makes soil, in a slow, but rather amazing process that can be seen in these pictures I took in my back yard.

Much of the soil in WV was built up like this:  Weather erodes and cracks the rock, creating bits of sand – into which plant seeds fall and begin to grow. The plants help to break down the rock and create organic waste as they grow and die.
Vines can trap the organic material and hold it, allowing it to mix with the bits of sand and eventually create a soil. In this picture we can see that soil has been held vertically against the rock face.

 Trees can then take root and further contribute to this process. 

Eventually you get a lush forest.

Now, of course, this is only the briefest scratch on the surface of soil science, but it’s good enough for our purpose – and that is to help us understand how to be Hundredfold Souls: those who are truly Humble – down to earth- and who produce an abundant harvest in God’s kingdom.

To be humble is a First Principle of the Spiritual Life. It’s not an option. Either you voluntarily get with the program, or it will be done to you, just like it says in Luke 14:11: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Humility starts with reckoning correctly about: Myself and God. [slide] Psalm 100 (v.3) puts it very eloquently: “Know that the LORD, he is God!  It is he who made us, and not we ourselves…”



The Humble person knows that, like soil, we did not make ourselves, but that we were made by Him, and that only in Him, do we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

The Humble person also knows that we live “In Conspectu Dei” –‘in the sight of God’ and that because of this, we have a healthy respect or ‘fear’ of God and his opinion of us and our actions. At the same time, living in the sight of God means living in the LOVE of God.

This Creator God LIKES us and wants us to succeed in becoming Hundredfold Soil people! He knows that we are essentially weak - that we can’t really do anything truly Good on our own, - and that we are stupid, like sheep.
 But we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture (Psalm 100:3).  He is our Shepherd (Ps. 23) and he will guide us even in the darkest of times.

So, with all that as background, I’d like to suggest that our three basic soil components can be matched with three basic spiritual practices to assist in our journey to Humility. 

Silence – links with Humus
Prayer – links with Sand
Holy Reading – links with Compost

Silence
Remember what we said about Humus? It is the organic part of the soil that is the stable because it has finished the decomposition process. Practicing Silence is like tapping into the ‘Ground of our Being – God Himself.” It is where we find the essence of our existence – the pure nakedness of being. It is in quiet listening that we confront our own inner noise, and connect with God face to face. But for that very reason, practicing Silence is scary, especially for those of us tied to our digital devices.

On July 3, just 10 days ago, Yahoo news reported on related studies done by the University of Virginia and Harvard University about how people respond to spending time alone (http://news.yahoo.com/time-alone-many-rather-hurt-themselves-185257727.html). Here’s the opening line of the article:

“Many people would rather inflict pain on themselves than spend 15 minutes in a room with nothing to do but think…” !!! 


 “Researchers asked [people] to sit alone in an unadorned room, with no mobile phone, reading or writing materials, and then report back on what it was like to entertain themselves with their thoughts for between six and 15 minutes. Turns out, more than 57 percent found it hard to concentrate and 89 percent said their minds wandered. About half found the experience was unpleasant. …

Then researchers wondered how far students would go to seek some stimulation while sitting alone with their thoughts… each subject went into a room for 15 minutes of thinking time alone. They were told [if the silence became too uncomfortable] they had the opportunity to shock themselves…


[Two-thirds of the male subjects …gave themselves between one and four shocks while they were alone.]


A quarter of the women … decided to shock themselves, each between one and nine times.


All of those who shocked themselves had previously said they would have paid to avoid it!”


Silence can be very uncomfortable! And those who have tried to practice it over the centuries are no stranger to this fact. Yet, at the same time, sitting in silence is where we hear from God, 
just as the Psalmist says,”For God alone my soul waits in silence; from Him comes my salvation.’(Psalm 62:1) Learning to be comfortable in silence is like tapping into the stable part of your internal soil, the place where you can rest and find renewal. It’s a vital practice for those who wish to become Hundredfold Soil people.

Prayer- the Grit of Daily Life

Moving on, let’s consider Prayer as Sand. Sand, as we all know, is gritty. In the wrong place – like your gas tank, sand can be very destructive. A Sand storm can do great harm.
Yet ‘sand-blasting’ can rescue a rusty old piece of metal and return it to service as a shiny, almost-new wrought-iron fence or car body.
It’s the abrasive quality of sand that we both fear and admire. And that’s why I’m likening Prayer to Sand. I call it the ‘grit of daily life’ because one of the best ways to pray is in a daily rhythm – day in day out, morning and evening, persevering through thick and thin, making a habit of seeking the Lord for His will and His strength in all things. Moreover, the Goal of Prayer is to KNOW God.


We've talked about Silence already, and it’s readily apparent that in Silence we spend time with God, we listen and we talk to him about our joys and concerns. But I’d also like to talk with you a little about the value of corporate prayer because as a culture, we've become so individually focused that we tend to discount the value of praying with others in a formal way.

Early in Church History, the Desert Fathers and mothers read these words in Psalm 119:164: “Seven times a day I praise you…” and they thought “It would probably be a good idea to actually do that!” Out of this conviction came the “Liturgy of the Hours”, a series of ‘offices’ or corporate prayer services, based on key hours of the day.
 Each one of these offices has a particular theme and particular Scripture verses, corresponding to the ‘need of the hour’ as it were: 

At 2 am, in the middle of the night, comes ‘Vigils’ with its theme of attentive and expectant “Keeping Watch” for the coming of the ‘dawn from on High”, Jesus Christ. 

At Daybreak, ‘Lauds’ (Latin:‘Praise’) is celebrated.  It’s a service of praising God as a new day dawns. 

At 6 am comes “Prime” – or the First Hour of the day as it was reckoned by the old Roman system. Its theme is Adoration and dedicating one’s day to God. 

 9 am signals Terce, the third hour, with its request for strength to meet the challenges of the day. 

12 noon is called Sext, the ‘sixth’ hour, when Jesus was nailed to the cross. It’s obvious theme is conflict and the apparent triumph of darkness over light. 


None, the ninth hour comes round at 3 pm our time. Its theme is Perseverance in the heat of the day, through the difficulties of the day. 

At 6 pm or thereabouts, Vespers celebrates the fulfillment of Christ’s finished work on the cross and returns thanks for that work.


Finally around 9 pm, Compline marks the completion of the day and re-dedication of oneself to the Lord as we submit to the mini-death of sleep. 

As the Liturgy of the Hours moves proceeds each day, a similar thematic pattern can be seen across the week, always beginning again with the Lord’s Day, and the celebration of the Resurrection, the central truth of our Faith. 

We in the Liturgical tradition are very familiar with the Seasons of the Church year as well, which traces Christ’s life and ministry through Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. 
These thematic patterns are similar to the gears of a fine hand-made watch, which interlock and reinforce each other as the tick along. 
While we don’t have any more time to explore this now, I encourage you to Google ‘Liturgy of the Hours’ for more about this ancient spiritual practice. 

Holy Reading: Composting the ‘Organic Material’ of Life 

Our last practice is Holy Reading (‘Lectio Divina’ in Latin).  . 
This is first and foremost understood as the daily reading of God’s Word. It’s a slow and deliberate process of reading a passage until something ‘stands out’ or speaks to me. Then, I slowly mediate on this like a cow chewing its cud, asking what I hear God saying to me about my own life and about God’s kingdom life. Praying, I respond, to what I have heard, hopefully saying ‘Yes’ to what God is doing in my life. In the process, I allow myself to be conformed into the Image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ (contemplation).
  
The necessary precondition for Holy Reading is the willingness to enter into my own discomfort – to look at the things that might be decaying in my life, and need to be infused with Christ’s life. I call this “Composting the Organic Material of Daily Life’ – and as the image implies, it may be an odiferous process.


As we noted previously, decaying organic matter becomes compost. This is living stuff which heats up as it dies and decays –and makes a stink while doing so. It’s a pretty good picture of the suffering and struggle of our lives. It’s smelly, messy business; painful to live through. We’d rather run away from it, but if we can submit to the process, the Lord uses it to create richness and depth in our souls.

It should be noted that to feel dry or arid during this composting process is normal and to be expected. Nothing spiritually valuable happens in our lives, but that it is hot, stinky and difficult.

Our constant comfort in the midst of this pain is that Jesus is with us always – even when we don’t feel his Presence.
 He told us he would ‘never leave us or forsake us’, that he would always be with us, even to the end of the age. (Deut. 31:6; Mt. 28:18-20) It’s this great Truth that we strive to hold on to as we share in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, and one that will ultimately reward us with the Knowledge of Him, and the power of his resurrection. (Phil. 3:10: “…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death”).

So there we have it, Humusology 101, the down and dirty guide to becoming Hundredfold Souls
– those who ‘hear the word and understand it, who bear fruit and yield thirty, sixty or even a hundredfold harvest of the ‘fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God “(Phil 1:11).

May God, who intends this great thing for us, also give us the power to fulfill it in the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN. 

As our prayer response to this message, let us stand and sing the hymn, “Simple Gifts’. 

1) Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right, 
  'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain'd, 
  To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight, 
  Till by turning, turning we come 'round right.


2) Tis the gift to be giving, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to give love as it ought to be,
And when we give ourselves in the place just right, 
  'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true humility is gain'd, 
  To serve one another we shan't be asham'd,
To serve, serve will be our delight, 
  Till by serving, serving we come 'round right.


3) Tis the gift of the Spirit, 'tis the gift given free
'Tis the gift to love God as he ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right, 
  'Twill be our Salvation, our love and delight.

When true felicity is gain'd, 
  To bless our Creator we shan't be asham'd,
To bless, bless will be our delight, 
  Till by blessing, blessing we come 'round righ
t.