Fall to Salvation

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

September 13, 2020

Genesis 2:4b-7, 15-17; 3:1-8

For the most part we are familiar with the creation stories and the original sin. But I want us to take a look at this text with a new lens. A lens, where we call ourselves servants as we follow Christ. Servants to the Gospel, which declares our salvation and the salvation of all. Servants as we look at our relationships with others. 

To be called a servant gives a very clear understanding of roles and the limitations of what one does. One cannot be a servant and also have complete free will to do what ever they want. They are constrained by what it means in that case to serve their master. In the case of the creation narrative out of the second chapter of Genesis, due to the various translations of this text we have lost the servant language that comes into play with verse 15. Jacqueline E. Lapsley writes in her commentary on this text, “Even though the human beings’s appearance precedes that of other non-human animals, this earth creature is not given ‘dominion’ as in Genesis 1, but is called to serve’ [‘abad] the ground (2:15). Translations have obscured this fundamental relationship between ‘adam and ‘adamah…The verb ‘abad loses its semantic resonance (the root is connected to worship) when thinned down to ‘till’, ‘work’, ‘farm’, or ‘cultivate.’ In this context, as a transitive verb, it means ‘to serve’ the Garden of Eden, to ‘work for’ it.” (http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4579)  

So much of land ownership through colonization has been built up around the language of tilling the land. Cultivating the land. Using the land to cause it to produce. Language that calls the owner to change the land for their own use. But the language of the first chapter of Genesis where we hear that human beings have dominion over the earth, connotes an understanding of responsibility for that which is under human kind’s watch. Here in the second chapter, that language is changed to that of servant. One who works for the land to care and tend to it. Providing us with the imagery of a grounds keeper, instead of one who has complete reign over the earth to do what ever they want. 

Add to that the rules regarding the Garden of Eden, “The Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’”

We now hear the limitations of human-beings in the garden. You can eat of all the plants, as you serve the land, but you shall not eat the fruit of this one tree. If we heard these limitations as one who has complete free reign over the garden, this single rule may seem a bit excessive and unfair, but if our perception changes to that of servant, we see it as simply a limitation of what we can do as we serve that which we are called, whether we understand the reasons or not. 

On the Working Preacher podcast for this text, one of the speakers briefly went into the complexities of the knowledge of good and evil. In knowing what is right or wrong does not mean that we will always do what is right. We simply have the knowledge of the options of what we can do. 

As I recognize the complexities of knowing good and evil within the context of serving the garden, one’s world view is much larger than simply serving the garden, but of all the things one can do instead. If all you knew was caring for the garden, and then all of a sudden you knew even more, what does that mean for your dedication to the garden? It probably means you are going to pursue other things and live much differently than that of a servant. 

If your whole world view was that of the Spokane, with no understanding of the world beyond the city limits and then all of a sudden you knew of the whole world, and how we are all connected. More than likely something about have you behave is going to change. 

As both Adam and Eve ate of the fruit, we find their status as caretakers of the garden completely change. Their immediate perceptions of one another change from simply being present, to all of a sudden their concern for modesty and feelings of guilt. Their experience of paradise has been shattered because they now know more, and thus act differently in all of their relationships. Causing fractures and sin to take hold.  

But as we remember the narrative of the fall of human kind into sin and brokenness we are also mindful of the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. We know that sin is not what binds us but our devotion to it. Sin is not what controls us, but rather it is our willingness to give in to those things which cause brokenness between ourselves and the divine. Between ourselves and others. Between ourselves, and what is good and right for us. 

However, there is a catch. If we are to follow Christ, we must be willing to become servants once more. If we are to follow in the path of salvation, then we have to be willing to give up those things that lead us astray and accept limits to what we can do, for the betterment of all. If we are to live lives that celebrate the ministry that Jesus began and has been passed down to us, then we have to become servants cleaning the feet of others. Recognizing that all of our actions have impacts that go far beyond our own bubbles, and for the betterment of all we have to be willing to accept some limitations on what we do in our lives. 

The Law is to Love

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church 

September 13, 2020

Romans 13:8-14

Growing up in the church, I was privy to all of the unwritten expectations that were heaped onto the shoulders of those who would attend the church. All these rules of how one would behave, what you would wear, what conversations were appropriate and what conversations were never had. But why did we hold onto and agree to these expectations? Especially when some of these expectations pertained to some people but not to others. And why do we continue to perpetuate some of these when they no longer have a place in our society?

As I start thinking about all these expectations that in many cases become the unwritten rules, I am mindful of the refrain that criticizes the church as hypocrites in their high towers, restricting who is in and who is not. And even in those moments when a church does not hold those expectations that are set forth as the stereotypes of the church, unless this change of expectation is discussed or openly talked about, in the back of many individuals minds it is still there. 

I want to hear from you about some of the expectations that come to mind when I talk about the unwritten rules of church life…For me the main ones that come to mind are:

No hats in church…unless you are a woman wearing a nice hat. 

Kids are wanted to be present in church…but they are to act like adults.

No food or beverages in the sanctuary. 

It is taboo to go barefoot in church, especially on the chancel…even though there is a strong biblical argument for taking off one’s shoes in sacred spaces.  

If you are attending worship you are to wear your Sunday best. 

You should not read books or watch movies with witchcraft, like “Harry Potter,” “The Golden Compass,” or the like.

It is not polite to talk about sex while in church, even in the context of marriage. 

Everyone is to remain silent during worship, except for those times when we sing, pray, or speak in unison. 

But of all the rules that we create and enforce, what do they have to do with Loving our Neighbor? That is how Paul sums up the commandments pertaining others. “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet.” All of these commands are designed to build up and care for one another rather that fill ourselves with selfish pursuits. 

As I think about the various expectations or unwritten rules that the “church” has put into place over the years, I tend to break them down into two groupings. 1) Trying to control the behavior and the actions of those who are in the congregation or a part of the community. These include things like, what kinds of books one should not read, what music one should not listen to, how often one attends church, and how one behaves in worship. What causes one is to champion and how people of faith should vote. 

The second category is that of separation. Those things that are in place to distinguish who is a part of the community and who are not. Is this person here for worship, or to ask for something. Usually these include whether or not someone washes up before coming in to the sanctuary on Sundays, what someone wears to church, etc. How to distinguish between building up relationships or quickly directing them towards the pastor. 

But there is inherently a problem with these types of rules and expectations. They fall short of building up the community and building relationships. Rules of behavior tend to restrict what someone can ask about, or seek growth because no explanation of the rule is provided. When people are told there is no talking during the service, especially the sermon, we prevent questions from being asked, during the one time that an answer may be the most meaningful. When we tell people how to believe or behave without reasonings, we create a shallow belief system, rather than working through all the difficult stuff that could lead to the same place.    

Rules of separation, causes us to forget that we are all coming to church for help with something. For some it is spiritual growth while for others there is a foundational layer of needs that needs to be addressed before the higher tier needs can even be considered. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs diagram, there are those things at the bottom that are the foundation for everything else. On that level you have those things that are required for survival and then right above that safety. If those things are not first taken care of then faith can’t even be expected to be a focus.

But even as we create these rules to set expectations, or to fast track those in need, we forget to love. We forget to be in relationship with all of our neighbors. We forget that by enforcing these expectations, we miss out on the opportunity for spiritual and relational growth.

As we continue to move forward, let us first and foremost expect our behavior to be based on love. Let all that we do, be in pursuit of loving one another and our neighbor as our self. Seeking to build up our relationships with one another, as we also create and build up relationships with those we haven’t even met yet. Being mindful that there are those stereotypes around churches and behavior. If we wish to counter those, we have to be willing to talk about them in love. 

What does the sign say?

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

August 30, 2020

Romans 12:9-21

A number of years ago I was the summer intern at a church in a small town. During that summer the church leadership had agreed to have a billboard placed along one of the roads leading into town inviting those who drove by to visit their congregation. But the thing about billboards is you only have a short amount of time to tell those traveling by, who you are and what you are about. For many of our interactions each day we only have a brief amount of time to tell others who we are. For each and every interaction we have with individuals in our community, is an opportunity for us to declare our faith. 

In the Bible that I most often have sitting on my desk, the title over today’s scripture selection is, “Marks of the True Christian.” A section of scripture of instruction of how the reader is to live their lives as faithful Christians. Those behaviors that the reader is to pursue, while also intentionally putting other behaviors aside. 

Now this text shows up in Paul’s letter to the Romans. A letter that could be characterized as Paul’s last hurrah, and his summation of the good news of Jesus Christ. But it is also not without context to the church in Rome that is dealing with its own conflict. One of which is the conflict between Jewish Christians, Gentile Christians, and non-believers. This conflict of who is first or better. This conflict of hierarchy, while also dealing with the larger struggles within the local community as expelled Israelites have begun returning to Rome, where there is now a predominantly gentile congregation of believers. There is now this struggle of us verses, them, and them, along with all of the memories of oppression and resentment.  

And so we have this section putting into clear language, not who is greater, but rather how believers are to live their lives. Starting with the first paragraph which reads, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. (Romans 12:9-13)” 

This whole section is about uplifting one another, and distancing that which is evil. Lifting up and encouraging one another, to the point that it is never ending. The second half of the 10th verse, calls us to outdo one another in showing honor. If we know anything about one-upping our neighbor knows that it is never ending. But here it is about showing honor. Highlighting those good relationships and connections with one another. Honor in the Biblical world relied heavily on building up good relationships with those in one’s community. And Paul argues that in showing honor to one another we should seek to outdo each other. 

But to what end are we to show honor and love? To what end are we to show hospitality to strangers in our community? To what end are we to love one another?  

That leads us to the second paragraph, where Paul dives a bit deeper. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone with evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Even when it goes against all of our instincts and desires, we are to let love guide us in all we do. Instead of pursuing our own interests in all things, we are to be mindful of and in relationship with the lowly. How much of our lives would be different if we were in constant relationship with the least of these? Instead of secluding ourselves into our own little bubbles, we intentionally were in conversation with the oppressed and hurting? Listening to their pain and struggles. Knowing that without those relationships we may too easily become blinded to our own privilege, that comes with a cost to the least of these. 

Even though this letter was written in the first-century, Paul is still speaking to us today. Instead of demonizing and seeking vengeance upon those who have or seem to have done us wrong, we are to pursue peace and harmony. That is hard work. That is difficult, especially in an election year. But especially in this time we are still called to love one another, even those whom we seriously disagree with and dislike. We are still called to live lives in pursuit of peace. 

And as I say those words, knowing of the conflict within our own nation. Knowing of the violence that has arisen out of cries for justice. I am hearing how Paul speaks to the Romans. It isn’t language to people who are the lowly or oppressed, it is to those with the means to do something about it. It is to those with power, and status. Those who have the ability to share what they have with the least of these. It is to those with the ability to move across divisions of economic class, and geography. Those who have the choice to listen and hear the cries of the oppressed. Those who have the choice to weep with those who are grieving. Those who have the choice to live in peace with all. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we have those choices, while some in our community and nation do not. 

It is what we do with these choices that show others who we are as people of faith. Just like what we decide to put on the church sign, our own mini billboard. We have choices of what our sign says, and at times we have to consider what message are we giving to those whom we have brief interactions with each day, to those that we spend hours with building up our relationships. Do we show love and honor in all of our interactions or do we tend to stumble when things get difficult? 

Withholding Crumbs

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

August 23, 2020

Matthew 15:21-28

This is one of those difficult passages in the Gospels that reminds us of the humanity of Jesus, and not the good kind of humanity. Humanity that creates walls, and barriers. Humanity that discriminates. But also humanity that can change. There is no morally good argument as to why Jesus initially ignored this woman, and then proceeded to call her a dog, before finally relenting. The only argument for this pattern that I have come across that makes any sense is, Matthew’s theme of bringing the good news first to the Jews, and then after the resurrection it is opened up to the Gentiles. Like I said, no morally good argument for this behavior. 

Yet this is the text that we have in front of us, and with those words sitting on the page in front of me, my mind travels back over the centuries to those arguments of the church, withholding mercy. Withholding power and leadership. Restricting who can freely have access, and those who must first transform themselves into the proper type of people. 

We have before us a Canaanite woman, who has a daughter at home who is possessed. She comes to Jesus shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David…” She is crying for mercy, and declaring with a loud voice who she knows and believes Jesus to be. She is declaring for all to hear who Jesus is, maybe louder than we may be comfortable doing ourselves. Crying for that connection that looks like mercy and compassion for her and her daughter. But because she is not Jewish, Jesus first ignores her, then as she persists, compares her to a dog. 

I am mindful that over the history of the church, there have been those crying out for mercy, and yet the church ignored them or denigrated them. There have been those who declared loudly who they knew the savior to be, and yet those who had the means ignored them, and continued to oppress them. 

In our own country’s recent history, I am mindful that the predominantly white churches did not come out in support of the Civil Rights movement, and we hear this critique in the “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” The opening line from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. names the arguments of the white clergy of the time calling the Civil Rights Movement’s actions in Birmingham “unwise and untimely.”  

You are going about this the wrong way. This is not the time to be doing this type of thing. These are arguments we continue to hear today with regard to protests against injustice in our world. And churches continue to use this language with those things that may cause a disruption in their normal activities. “That is the wrong way to go about your goal, but we don’t have any alternatives for you. Now is not the time, but we won’t tell you when it is a good time for us.”  

With a quick google search on the religious opposition to the Americans with Disabilities Act, I found two arguments from the perspective of churches. 1) Church’s were initially designated as public accommodations and thus would have to make the costly physical changes to their buildings to be in compliance. But the church leaders essentially argued that the financial burden would be too great. While at the same time other non-faith based organizations had to put in the work to make updates, that came with a high cost.

2) To require churches to implement non-discriminatory employment practices is an intrusion of the government on the religious institutions. This one makes a bit more sense but also tells those with disabilities that churches, if they choose can still discriminate against an employee with a disability. 

I hear these two arguments giving a free pass to ignore the cries for mercy by those with disabilities. Giving the churches the option to hear the cries and decide if now is a good time to make changes, but only if it fits into our own plans. We won’t be forced to invest in making our spaces more accessible to this community. 

We all know these are not the only communities our groups that the church has historically ignored, and denigrated because they were seen as other. The church continues to be criticized for its treatment of the LGBTQ community. The church is still called out for those behaviors and practices that ignore the needs of the larger community, while at the same time seem to be self serving and promote the facade of opulence. And for those churches that remain on the fence of making a statement one way or another, the argument I hear too often is, now is not the time. Can’t we get to that later.  

But what we forget about the Canaanite woman, and what I was reminded about by Mitzi J. Smith, in a commentary on this text is, “Three women in Jesus’ genealogy are Canaanite women: Rahab, Omar, and Ruth (Matthew 1:3-5). The anonymous woman’s foremothers are Jesus’ kinfolk.” (http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4542)

We forget that as this woman calls for mercy, she does so by invoking language of relation and connection. She invokes language that seeks to remind Jesus of their connection, and that even dogs are fed the crumbs from the table. 

In the actions of the church, we as the body of Christ, have historically forgotten that we are all connected. We claim in our hymns, prayers, and devotions that all humanity are children of God, and yet continue to create barriers, and ways to designate different groups as other. Even as they cry out for mercy, the church has found ways and arguments of why now is not a good time. 

Yet, as the Canaanite woman persisted, she created change within Jesus. She convinced him that, his arguments were lacking, and she did indeed deserve mercy. We see a change in Jesus, within the flow of this text. A change that is brought about by Jesus being confronted by his own acts of injustice, unintentional or not, and relents to provide mercy to this woman. 

As we hear this text, are we willing to hear the same message. Are we willing to hear the cries for mercy from our community members, and do something about it, or will we continue to support the old arguments of now is not the time or this is not the way to handle this? 

Walking on Faith

Rev. Chris Snow 

North Hill Christian Church

August 16, 2020

Matthew 14:22-33

When we talk about faith, it often takes place in the context of what we believe. Who we believe God to be, who we understand Jesus to be, what we believe about the holy spirit, and our role in relation to the divine. But as I have found myself meditating on this text, one aspect of faith that we tend to leave out is trust. In both my Websters dictionary, and Zondervan’s Bible dictionary, one of the constant themes in defining faith, is trust. 

When Peter declared that if Jesus commanded him to walk on water, he believed that would be so, but there was a hesitancy to trust in what he believed. Now we have a hard time connecting with this text as it sits in front of us. Many of us would have a hard time believing that anyone could actually walk on water. We have seen videos of magicians walking on water of a pool, or if you are a fan of Mythbusters, have seen the episode about running on water. One things we do with these real life examples is we are constantly trying to figure out how it was done. What tricks of lighting or camera angles are making it appear that they are doing this amazing thing. 

Even if we may have a hard time connecting to the act of walking on water, we can relate to acts of placing one’s trust in that which is out of our control. Letting go of control and trusting that God is watching over us and leading us in the right paths. 

For me, the closest example of trust that comes to mind as I read this text of Peter trying to walk on water, is my experience with leading and facilitating a high ropes course. If you have no experience with such things let me set the scene for you. Participants are sent up about 30 feet off the ground, onto platforms that are usually built onto trees, and your task is to maneuver through all the obstacles or elements to the end point. None of the obstacles are 100% rigid or firm. Instead they sway, they flex, they move with any movement that is put on them. Plus at all times you have the ability to look down and see just how far off the ground you are, with that voice in the back of your mind, that if you fell all the way down, it would hurt you greatly or possibly kill you. On top of all of this you are also completely exposed to the elements. If winds come through, you will feel the full force of them. If it rains you are going to get wet. If the trees start swaying, you will feel it. 

With that scene set, we can begin to get into the mindset of the disciples, who were seasoned fishermen, who were in a boat with waves crashing in on them. In my mind, I imagine that they are struggling to keep control of their boat and remain safe. Even through all of this as the disciples see Jesus walking on the water, Peter in his excitement wants to do it too. “That looks cool, and I believe if Jesus commands me to do so, I can do it too.” That is until the waves start to weaken his sense of trust in what he believes. 

Now of course with any High Ropes course there are safety features in place, but unless you know all the details of the equipment and its care there can still be this doubt in the back of your mind. For one, you have your harness. My personal harness looks and feels a bit light. The straps that will take my weight if needed are about the thickness of my thumb. Not very reassuring knowing that I am not a light person. Then you have the ropes or straps that keep you secure throughout the course. But with all of this you have to let go of your own control and trust. Trust those who are responsible for the care of the equipment. Trust in those who are keeping you secure while you ascend or descend from the course. And trust that the safety lines are well maintained. 

But even with this we have a hard time trusting. Even with all that we know about our equipment, we have a hard time fully trusting in it with our safety. Even with all that we know about the divine, we have a hard time letting go. We have a hard time giving up control and trusting that the holy has our best interests in mind as we are lead on this wondrous journey. Peter had a hard time, once things became unsteady, and let the waves overwhelm his trust in Jesus. 

Of all the people I have helped through the High Ropes course I was trained on, I could summarize them into three groups. 1) The timid, who are just starting to get their feet under them, but also aren’t so sure about this journey. They are constantly holding onto their safety line, not for balance but more so for assurance that there is still something there to catch them when they fall. We can compare this behavior to those who are starting to discover their faith. Starting to understand their relationship with the holy, but still struggling to fully trust in what is unseen. So they heavily rely upon those things and individuals who provide a constant reminder that they are not alone and there is indeed something tangible to reassure them as they face struggles. 

On my bookshelf I have this whole section of books that I have a hard time letting go of, even though I don’t read them any more. They are, books that helped my teen self navigate through my own struggles and times of doubting. Books that helped me to strengthen my faith, by providing those much needed reminders of God’s faithfulness. The assurance that God was always there, with absolute love. Those books that helped me to trust in God. 

2) The second group of individuals, are those who have some experience with the High Ropes Courses, so they know what they are doing. They know the equipment. They trust in it, but still want control over their experience. They want to make their own decisions about how they proceed through the journey. And so they don’t hold onto their safety line, but with great confidence make their way through the course. Choosing whether or not to make things more challenging or going with what they know. Making judgements of how to approach each obstacle. And also, often times encouraging those who are in front or behind them. Supporting others and sharing their experiences and suggestions. 

Now this sounds like a great way to approach our faith. Yet, we seek to maintain control. When Jesus asks, “Why did you doubt?” I can hear Peter wanting to say, “Well if these waves didn’t get in my way there wouldn’t have been an issue. Can we come back on a calm day? I will be good to go then. What about we walk around the boat, where I can just reach out and touch the boat if I feel unsure.”

How often do we do that, when we are asked to step out on faith, and fully trust in where God is leading us. How often are we presented with opportunities or obstacles, that we rely more on what is tangible and what we believe to know absolutely, instead of listening to the voice of God guiding and encouraging us in a new or different direction. Those times where we are presented by an opportunity and automatically assuming that won’t work, let’s instead go this way. Or when we have options and we automatically go to that which is familiar. 

3) Which leads us to the third group. Those who have progressed from the first two groups, into another way of doing a high ropes course; blindfolded, and having to listen to someone who have their feet flat on the ground giving instructions. This group has to let go of control and trust in those that are leading them through the course. Holding onto that trust, even when things don’t work out, or when we start getting bounced around by the wind or others on the course. Holding onto the trust, and be willing to go where we are led. 

Now, we would all like to be in this group, as it pertains to our faith. We have this desire to fully trust in God right out of the gate, but it takes time and work to build up that trust. We can read about God’s faithfulness, just like we can read about the specifications of the safety equipment, but until we have those experiences of God coming through, there may still be that doubt in the back of our minds. That same doubt that I had with my equipment until I tried it out, and it kept me safe. 

We have to make our way through times of choices and opportunities, where we need to be constantly aware of why we are making our decisions. Are we doing it because that is the easiest option or do we hear God calling us down that path? 

All along this journey, there is no doubt that we will get bounced around. We will stumble. We will try to take control. But as the journey progresses, we will also have those chances to build up our trust in God. Helping our faith in God match what we believe about the divine. 

Be Filled

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

August 2, 2020

Matthew 14:13-21

What a difference context makes to a story. When I think about the feeding of the multitude texts, I tend to imagine Jesus on a hillside preaching to this great crowd, who are sitting on this nice luscious grass, with the sunsetting behind him. This beautiful image, and yet for this instance of the feeding of the multitudes that image misses the point. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, this feeding narrative coincides, not with a period of teaching, but rather with the news that John the Baptist has been beheaded, and Jesus in hearing the news wants some time to himself. He goes off to a deserted place. Not a luscious green meadow, instead a place where he expects to be alone. 

In a few of the other tellings of this story, the disciples go with him, but here the disciples catch up to him, and as it is getting late, they reiterate that this is a deserted place, pointing to the lack of resources for the large crowd to be fed. 

But even as Jesus was seeking rest and renewal, he had compassion for those that had followed him to this desolate place. Curing their sick. Bringing wholeness where there was brokenness. But when the disciples pointed out the issue of the lack of food, he enlisted their help. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is the one to do everything, but here the disciples are instrumental in the distribution of the food, after Jesus blessed and broke the bread. 

In the midst of dealing with grief, and possibly exhaustion, Jesus, continues to show compassion for those in need, but also enlisting others in caring for the needs of the multitude. 

Now, I had not intentionally picked this text for the Sunday before I take some vacation for much needed rest and renewal. But the coincidence isn’t lost to me. Throughout the Gospels we hear time and time again of Jesus heading off by himself for prayer, and rest. These intentional acts that should also remind us of the need for us to care for ourselves and seek rest when we need it. One of those regular sayings that I hear or see within clergy groups around rest is something like, “One can’t fill another’s cup if your cup is already empty.” If we are to care for one another, and the least of these we must be willing to take care of ourselves. 

The other point that comes to me out of this text is need to enlist others to help with the ministry to which we are called. If we have the capacity to help we should do so, because one person cannot do everything on their own. Jesus enlisted the help of his disciples, to serve the multitudes, and to collect the leftovers. 

Last week, we installed the new and continuing officers who are serving in various leadership and servant roles for this congregation. That doesn’t mean that they are the ones to do everything. Rather they are helping to lead and guide us in their given areas of responsibility. When we installed these leaders, we were also called to recognize and remember our responsibility to support, and aid those tasked with leading us. The work of this congregation requires us all to lend a hand where our gifts and talents allow.

Finally, as we find the disciples collecting the leftovers, everyone had enough to eat. Everyone’s needs to be fed had been filled. Through the combined works of Jesus, and his disciples, everyone’s hunger had been satisfied with an abundance of leftovers. Something that would have been noticed as this crowd of 10-15,000 people, when you include the women and children, returned home. 

Imagine with me, as this large crowd returns home from a desolate place, not hungry but satified. A great crowd returning to their homes, talking about this experience they had just had, while at the same time everyone is on edge because of John the Baptists death. Yet in the midst of this chaos, caused by the death of a prophet, the people are talking about how people were cured, and everyone was miraculously fed. 

In the midst of a time of turmoil, there was still reason to hope. Even though a prophet who preached of the coming of the messiah, and declared a baptism of forgiveness, has been killed by the king, there is still good news being declared in the countryside. Even though the recent event struck a devastating blow to the people, they have still found good news because of Jesus Christ. 

As we hear the text of the feeding of the multitudes today, let us not forget that the context of this text does matter. The feeding narrative didn’t happen on a nice peaceful field on just any day. It took place as the people were grieving. It took place in a deserted place. And it happened as Jesus was seeking solitude but helped because of his compassion for the people. 

However we see ourselves in this text there is good news. If we are those in need of rest, there is the affirmation that we all deserve to take those moments to tend to our needs. If we are those who are able to help, we are called to lend a hand and support those who are already serving. And, if we are those in need of sustenance and healing, there is indeed good news, even in times of turmoil and chaos, that through the works of our savior we can find that which sustains us and makes us whole. 

“Priceless Treasure”

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church 

July 26, 2020

Matthew 13:44-46

We find ourselves at the end of a three week series on parables from the 13th chapter of Matthew. All of which are pointing to different natures of the Good news of the Kingdom of God. While also calling out the habits of bad actors. As we hear the parable of the sower, we found ourselves comparing ourselves to different types of soil. Onto all of which the sower scattered seed without care for where it fell. Asking if we are willing to be good soil. Then we compared ourselves to wheat and weeds that are planted in a field. Where we are reminded of our responsibility to nurture the word and let it flourish within us, without judging others that may be seen in that snapshot as weeds. But today, we hear the kingdom of heaven compared to that which satisfies our hunger and searching. That which causes us to give up everything that we have, so that in knowing and embracing the good news, that our yearning is satisfied. 

I can remember back to my youth, that sense of wanting to know my purpose in the world. Why was I here? I wanted to know what value my life had in the world. I wanted to know that I mattered. That is what I was searching for, until I discovered in my heart and mind the good news of the Kingdom of God. The truth that I find in knowing that my failures, my brokenness, my sins, my  limitations are not what define me. Because those things do not matter. Instead it is that I am truly loved and accepted as a child of God. The brokenness of my life doesn’t matter because that is washed away by our Lord and Savior who declared through his ministry, and death that we have found forgiveness in the good news. 

In knowing and accepting the good news in that moment, shame no longer defined what I knew myself to be. Instead it was replaced by love. The hunger that I had sought to be satisfied in fruitless ways, was suddenly satisfied. In doing so, everything was changed. Those things that I valued and used to ease my hunger, were easily given up so that I could fully embrace that which fills my cup to overflowing. My own disabilities no longer defined me, and no long limited what I thought I was capable of. 

Both of our parables for today have someone who has been searching for something, but in finding this treasure or pearl, it is so extravagant or special that they give up all other things in their lives just to have it. They go through absurd lengths to have this special thing, that it in turn changes their whole identity. 

But we might be missing something from Matthew’s telling of these parables. Both of these short parables show up also in the Gospel of Thomas but not in any of the other Gospels. Now the Gospel of Thomas is a collections of sayings attributed to Jesus and are believed to have been written between 70-100 c.e. but before the four Gospels that have in our Bible became the predominant medium of telling the good news of Jesus Christ. 

With this in mind let us hear another hearing of these parables but from a different voice. 

Thomas: 109

“Jesus said, “The Kingdom is like a man who had a [hidden] treasure in his field without knowing it. And [after] he dies, he left it to his son. The son did not know (about the treasure). He inherited the field and sold [it]. And the one who bought it went plowing and found the treasure. He began to lend money at interest to whomever he wished.” 

In this hearing of the parable, I don’t have the same ethical questions about how or why the man buys the land but instead questions about how they have been changed by the discovery of the treasure. In Thomas’s telling of the parable no one knows about the treasure until it is finally discovered. But instead of using the treasure for good, the man instead, goes against jewish tradition and law to lend money at interest. 

In both tellings of the parable, the man who ends up buying the land does so for the sole purpose of material gain. In Matthew, he goes out of his way to claim this treasure for himself, while at the same time cheating the landowner. In Thomas, the man uses the treasure, to become a pot of money from which he can grow his wealth. There is no indication in either tellings that anyone else benefits from this treasure that the man finds in a field. 

The second parable as told by Thomas reads much the same:

Thomas 76:1

Jesus said, “The kingdom of the Father is like a merchant who had a consignment of merchandise and who discovered a pearl. That merchant was shrewd. He sold the merchandise and bought the pearl alone for himself. You too, seek his unfailing and enduring treasure where no moth comes near to devour and no worm destroys.” 

The merchant whose whole identity was entirely wrapped up in selling of goods until he finds this pearl, at which point he give-up everything that he has. He can no longer be a merchant because he has sold everything, just to have this pearl. In doing so we hear that he does it for selfish reasons. To hold onto and to have. Something that will never decay or be broken down by moths or worms. 

And so I ask, as we have found the great treasure that is the good news of the Kingdom of God, what shall we do with it? As we hear these two parables from two different sources, are we encouraged to follow in their examples or to take a lesson from them? What good is a treasure, that declares good news to the least of these, if we use it for our own profit and gain? What good is that treasure that has satisfied our thirst for meaning in our lives, if we restrict it to those who have the means to afford it? In the same way, what good is the good news to the world if we become like Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings,” constantly polishing it and staring into it without any impact in the larger world? Hoarding it, for us to look at but no one else. Caring for it like a delicate artifact, when instead it is meant to be used.  

Living in the Weeds

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

July 19, 2020

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

One of the many reasons that I prefer to plant seeds for my gardens, first in their own pot is to give them a head start against the weeds that will inevitably grow in my garden. More often than not when I have directly planted seeds in my garden beds there comes that moment that plants start to grow and I can’t be entirely sure if everything is supposed to be there, and I have to leave it until it shows its true colors. So why don’t I just leave the plants in pots to do their own thing? Mainly because it requires more space and effort to simply prevent the hassle of weeds, while also having to find a way to protect them from Obi, our dog. 

The early church had to figure out their own way of living in the world, and this parable points to that early struggle. Do we fully separate ourselves and be constantly on watch for evil that may be growing like a weed, or do we live as best as we can and trust that the weeds will be separated out in the harvest? 

One argument that I have heard regarding allowing the weeds to grow, is that to pull the weeds a couple issues may arise. First, in pulling the weeds, the root systems of the wheat could easily be damaged. That which allows the plants to flourish might be harmed and lead to a diminished crop. The second is, accidentally pulling wheat along with the weeds. Un-intentionally destroying the very crop one is trying to grow. 

What would happen to our communities if we simply uprooted anyone who didn’t fit our expectations of what comes from the good news? If we went forth removing all those that could be considered weeds, what unintentional harm could we be doing to ourselves and to those whom we exclude.  

Each year, I end up with a crop of dandelions in my back yard, before any of my other plants begin to flourish. I could go out and remove them all, but I am also aware that those little flowers, attract the early bees that will help pollinate my plants later on. While they serve their purpose to aid in the health of my garden we still call them weeds. We call them weeds because many of us do not want them in our yards. They aren’t what we have planted, and thus are seen as unwanted. Yet if we look at how those little yellow flowers impact the ecosystem of our yards and gardens, we can recognize they become helpful to the harvest. 

I have also run into another argument, similar to last weeks regarding the absolute nature of wheat and weeds. It is widely accepted that wheat and weeds can’t change what they are. If I plant squash seeds, I can easily expect to have squash plants grow in that spot. I am not going to get a whole different plant from those seeds. But if we recognize that this parable is about more than simple plants, but rather how we are to live faithful lives, seeking to bring forth an abundant harvest from the seeds of the Good news that the Son of Man planted. 

In my early years, it was easy to think in absolutes. That if someone was bad, then they were always bad. If someone was good, they were always so. That was until I started to meet different individuals who have shared their stories of transformation. From how their paths have been changed because of the good news. Individuals who went from being in violent gangs to being asked to preach the good news. Individuals whose lives have taken giant turns, from being seen as weeds into being recognized as wheat. 

Even as we recognize the ability for individuals to change their chosen path, we also recognize that we can’t isolate ourselves either into islands of potted plants. To restrict the seeds to pots also limits the ability for the seed of the Good news to spread over the face of the earth. If our responsibility in the great commission is to go forth declaring the good news over all the earth, then we can’t relegate that seed to pots. They have to be sent out into the fields of the world. 

There are times that we like to see ourselves as the laborers of the field, asking about doing some preemptive weeding, while we are instead the results of the seeds that have been planted.We continue to struggle with the same questions that the early church struggled with. This parable points to one of those very questions, since it only appears in the Gospels of Matthew and Thomas. The church wanted to know how they were to live in the world where not everyone believed in the messiah. Where they were surrounded by other beliefs and practices. How do they live in the world? Do they seclude themselves away, or do they live fully in the world where there may be weeds amongst them?

Many of the parables that we find in the Gospels, remind us time and time again that the responsibility of judgement isn’t on our shoulders. It isn’t something for us to worry about, instead our responsibility is to allow the good news to grow and flourish within us. To take the metaphor of plants a step further, it is our responsibility to allow the seeds of the good news to flourish to a point that more seeds are planted. That in our flourishing  in the good news we can then spread it even more. We can spread it as thickly as the tree pollen that I have noticed laying the parking lot all week. 

So, as we continue to declare the good news that we have found in Jesus Christ, let us not be concerned with weeding the world, but rather spreading the seeds of the good news for all the world. Let us trust that as God has planted seeds within us, God continues to be planting seeds in our communities and throughout the world, even if we don’t recognize it. Even if it takes a while to flourish let us trust that as God continues to plant seeds throughout the fields, that God has a plan. 

Health of the Soil

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

July 12, 2020

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

As I approach the parable of the Sower, that we have before us today, it is easy to see it as making statements of absolutes. That if one is a path, they will always be so. That if one is rocky soil, they will always be so. If one is surrounded by weeds, that will always be the case. If they are good soil, they will always be so. But anyone who has done any sort of gardening or farming knows that there is the constant need to tend to the health of the soil. Removing the weeds, and turning the soil and loosening it so that the seeds that are planted may have the best chances to survive. 

Yet, while we know the work that goes into gardening, or growing crops, we look at one another and at times make absolute judgements. Most of the time we do this with whole groups of people that we have no connection with. Individuals that we can too easily see as other, because we have no direct connection to them. At the same time we make absolute value statements about those in our own circles. “Well, they are all good people.” Forgetting that it takes work to keep that soil fertile for planting and harvesting. 

Each year I find myself going through the same steps in caring for my garden and improving the landscaping around our house. This includes, removing all the weeds that have grown up over the winter and early spring. Clearing out all those things that are unhelpful for the area being prepared. Turning the soil and loosening it in preparation for new soil to be added, and taking steps to prevent weeds from growing up. But the work doesn’t stop with the preparations, but rather continues on past the planting and the harvest. 

Most of the time that I read this parable, I hear Jesus calling out those different groups being represented by the four different types of soil. The path is made up of those who refuse to listen to the good news of the Kingdom of God. The Rocky soil are those that receive the good news, but due to lack of depth they fall away. The soil filled with weeds are those that are surrounded by those things that choke out their faith and prevent them from flourishing. Finally those who find themselves as good soil, are able to flourish. But I also hear of the sower, who we can read as God who sends out the good news to all, without regard for where it lands. 

As I name each of the four types of soil I can’t help but know how much work goes into preparing the good soil to receive the seed. How much outside circumstances are imposed upon it so that it may bring forth a great harvest. What does that mean about how we look at the other types of soil?

I am very aware right now of the ability of individuals to change and grow as they are impacted my the circumstances of their lives. Right now we are witnessing clear examples of individuals and corporations waking up and paying attention to issues regarding racism, and injustices within our world. I am seeing reports of how casting for movies and television shows are moving towards better representation of the whole of humanity. There are changes happening throughout the world, that at the same time bring to my own mind where we have come from. A time where I could not imagine the world changing in this very way. 

Seeing in different forms of media, about how individuals perspectives have changed regarding the effects of racism in our world, and how there is indeed systemic racism within our culture and society. How after difficult conversations and eye opening experiences individuals saying, “I was wrong,” and wanting to move forward making a difference. Those places where individuals refused to hear a message that was meant to be good news to the oppressed, but because it didn’t make their lives easier or better, brushed it off. But as the conversations continued to grow, clear examples of racism and oppression are brought forth, individuals who were willing to ignore the voices crying out, had their ears opened and heard. 

But I am also aware of becoming too complacent in the good soil. Those places in which the roots of our faith are able to flourish and grow, but as we continue to hear the complexities of the good news, the soil around us becomes hardened because we don’t want to hear the difficult nature of the good news. We don’t want to hear those things that make us uncomfortable. 

Imagine how the soil has changed over the generations. The good news was originally declared within an oppressed community that found themselves dominated by an occupying force. A good news that declared God’s kingdom was supreme not the Roman Empire. That same good news became the state religion as Constantine adopted it and made it mainstream. As it became the norm the believers and followers of Christ, became a dominant military force through the crusades, and on through the colonizers, and the Doctrine of Discovery. But now as we look back on our history we can admit that the violence and oppression that was caused by nations claiming God was on their side, and the church blessed those actions, all of that fell short of declaring the good news, and at times ignored the fact that they were becoming the oppressors. 

The nature of the soil that we hear in the parable, could be best described as a snap shot of that moment, while we are called to live in a series of snapshots. Constantly evaluating if we still find ourselves in good soil, and recognizing how others may be working out of the path, the rocky places, or amongst the weeds, to soil that will allow what has been planted to flourish. As we find those within our world in different types of soil, we also have to ask, are we willing to be a part of that outside force to help till and care for the soil to allow for the seeds to take root?  

“Come and Rest”

Rev. Chris Snow

North HIll Christian Church

July 5, 2020

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

There are definitely times where I agree that ignorance is bliss. Those times where not knowing the details of something makes one’s live much easier. But in knowing, it adds responsibility, and the burden or acting on something that we know to be problematic. For me this includes knowing and learning more and more about copyright laws regarding to church music. At other times it is knowing what is possible with current technology and knowing just enough to get myself burdened down with the process of implementation. 

  I hear some of that same burden of knowledge present in the first half of today’s reading. Jesus compares the generation of those hearing him, to a bunch of kids in the marketplace grumbling and calling out that their flute playing and their wailing all went un-noticed. This moaning and groaning for attention, but the attention they did receive was rebuffed. John the Baptist came forth and they though that he was possessed. The Son of Man came forth but because he ate with tax collectors and sinners they called him a glutton and a drunkard. 

The generation that Jesus is speaking out against, knew in their hearts what they expected of the messiah. They had knowledge of what to expect. But because Jesus didn’t fit the mold created by their knowledge, they rebuffed him and didn’t find that sense of relief that we know through the salvation that Jesus brought forth and continues to bring into our lives. 

When you know the rules and think yourself to be an upstanding member of society that follows the rules, then you can’t help but try and correct everyone else. I have a hard time going to a pool without the instinct of crying out every time I see someone start to run on the pool deck, “No Running.” I know too many rules and regulations concerning pools for me to enjoy a public pool. The burden of knowing regulations can be too much. The burden of knowing what could go wrong is too much to be able to simply enjoy the moment.  

In the same way throughout the Gospels we hear the Pharisees complaining about Jesus’ own behavior regarding cleanliness rituals and working on the sabbath that they can’t help but say, “Wait a minute, you aren’t doing what is right. Wait a minute, you can’t do that.” While at the same time missing the whole nature of Jesus’ ministry. The burden of knowledge is too much. The burden of knowing all the rules, is too much to recognize a new path is being formed. The burden of the knowledge of how one is to “properly” live in relationship with the divine, blinds them to seeing other paths.  

Yet even as we consider ourselves upstanding members of society and righteous followers of Christ, there is this burden that we too often carry with us. This burden that becomes heavy and at times overwhelming. That burden of trying to correct everyone with loud voices, and much effort. That burden of being fully responsible for everyone else in our social circles to follow the upright and righteous path. That burden of being overly responsible. When instead we are to take the yoke of Christ upon us. 

As I hear that word today, yoke, I can’t help but think of it more as a mantle or signifier, rather than a heavy yoke that oxen would pull a load with. As I imagine the yoke named in this passage, it could very easily be represented in a stole or other garment, that represents a responsibility while also connecting us with the one who has called us to follow. A yoke that can symbolize the nature of Jesus in this text, when he says, “I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” 

What if we took those words to heart in our own practice of walking with others in our faith journey’s. As I think about all the different styles of evangelism, I can’t help but wonder how many people have come to know Christ through a sidewalk preacher yelling through a megaphone, verses those who come to believe, because someone gently walked along side of them and shared the good news of the Gospel in conversation. 

Or how about how much time we spend focusing on our own impact of sharing the gospel, and serving in mission, while ignoring that the ministires we are called to be a part of aren’t about us but instead are about going where God leads us. 

When I think about going to a pool, one of the things I do enjoy is teaching others how to swim, but those opportunities come only from someone asking me for help. Those times where I recognize that I have the opportunity to help another person that will impact them for much longer than I could ever realize, and it requires that I be gentle and humble. and not burdened down by all those things that I know regarding a pool. In those moments of teaching I can share my wisdom that is helpful in that time,. 

Some of the times that I come to this text, I simply hear the, “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” I often focus on those things that have been placed on our shoulders that weigh us down. But today, let us also be mindful of those things that we have put upon ourselves. Those things that, because we may know too much, or have made ourselves overly responsible, have become those heavy burdens because we make them so. 

As we seek to find rest, let us remember that as we seek to live righteous lives, serving the one who has redeemed us, we are tasked with being humble and gentle. Calling others along side us in our journeys where all are offered rest, even us.