July 16, 2023

7th Sunday after Pentecost







O Wisdom,
we strive to follow your word,
but often gather as unruly siblings,
with petty fights and concerns distracting us.
As you draw us together,
hold us in your Spirit of righteousness and unity,
so we might set our minds on you. Amen.





The very word of God is a light to our feet,

a lamp to our path.

We gather this day to hear the Word of God,

to offer prayers and sing songs of praise.

We gather this day,

to worship God!


*HYMN No. 360                    “Christ is Coming!”

1 Christ is coming! Let creation
from its groans and labor cease;
let the glorious proclamation
hope restore and faith increase:
Christ is coming! Christ is coming!
Come, O blessed Prince of peace.

2 Earth can now but tell the story
of your bitter cross and pain;
we shall yet behold your glory,
Lord, when you return to reign:
Christ is coming! Christ is coming!
Let each heart repeat the strain.

3 With that blessed hope before us,
flutes are tuned and harps are strung;
let the mighty advent chorus
onward roll from tongue to tongue:
Christ is coming! Christ is coming!
Let each heart repeat the song.

4 Long your exiles have been pining
for your promised rest and home,
but in heavenly glory shining,
soon the risen Christ shall come.
Christ is coming! Christ is coming!
Joyful, shout the victory psalm.



To know God is to know of God’s mercy, justice, and love. To know God is to also know ourselves, and we are a people who have not loved as much as we should, always showed mercy, or worked for justice. So let us offer our prayer of confession, knowing that out of God’s great mercy, we will be forgiven and made new.



Gracious and loving God, we are a people who are always concerned about ourselves. We worry about what is ours and are concerned with getting more. We have not been guided by your Spirit or the teachings of Christ. Forgive us, we pray, and gently guide us back to your way. Help us to think of others and sharing what we have with the world. Amen.





Hear the good news! There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! Know you are forgiven and be at peace.

Thanks be to God. Amen.


*RESPONSE No. 581             “Glory Be To The Father”

Glory be to the Father,
and to the Son,
and to the Holy Ghost;
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and ever shall be,
world without end.
Amen, amen.



Our peace comes from knowing how much God loves us in Jesus Christ. With God’s help, we try to love and forgive one another as Christ loves and forgives us.

“The peace of Christ be with you,”

“And also with you.”







In the reading of you Word, may we be given light to see. May your word rest in our hearts and minds and in so doing, transform us into your faithful people. Amen.


UNISON SCRIPTURE                       Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

13That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow.4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil.6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!” 


18“Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”


SERMON                   “Good Soil”

One of my childhood memories is the pastor’s garden when my father served in Franklin, West Virginia.  On the manse property was a small patch of ground for gardening.  I remember being 6 or 7, and the church coming to help my parents plant a vegetable garden with potatoes, tomatoes, corn, and squash I remember the community enjoying planting the vegetable garden and making a fellowship event out of the work. My recollection was that the church family went to great pains to prepare the ground before they sowed any seeds. They wanted to ensure that the seeds that were planted have the best possible chance of germinating, taking root, and growing. So, the local farmers came and cleared the patch of ground, making sure it is free of weeds and other vegetation. They turn over the earth with a small push plow. They broke up the large clods of dirt with a hoe. They removed rocks and stones. They raked the soil into planting beds for each different vegetable. Only then did they tear open a small package of seeds and carefully sow them, a few at a time, at the recommended depth and distance apart. The church members considered the seeds to be precious, and they don’t want to waste any of them.

By contrast, the Sower in Jesus’ story does nothing to prepare the ground. This Sower doesn’t do any digging or plowing. He doesn’t remove any rocks or do any weeding. He simply casts seed upon the ground indiscriminately and lets it fall where it may. Some seeds fall on the path, and the birds come and eat them up before they have a chance to germinate and take root. Other seeds fall on rocky ground, where they have a chance to sprout, but where the soil is so thin that the seedlings aren’t able to put down roots. When the sun shines on them, the seedlings wither away and die. Still other seeds fall among thorns. Presumably, they are able to sprout and take root among the thorns but are unable to compete with the already established plants and are eventually choked out. Fortunately, some seeds do fall on good soil. They sprout, take root, grow strong, and bring forth grain — yielding as much as a hundred times what was planted.

My first reaction to this story was to think that this Sower had no idea what he was doing. Look at all the seed that was wasted, because of the Sower’s carelessness. If he wasn’t going to prepare the ground at all, the least he could have done was to sow the seed only on the fertile ground. Why let seeds fall on the path, on rocky ground, and among thorns?

But then I remembered going on hikes through the woods as a Boy Scout. And I reflected some more on the passage with the image of hiking with my Scout Troop and remembered all the different sorts of grasses, flowers, trees and vines that I saw on trails. I realized then that I had hiked through God’s garden. I was surrounded by a great variety of plants, none of which had been planted by human beings. The seeds of all the plants around me had been sown by God, indiscriminately, with the help of wind and water, birds, and other animals. God had not had to till the ground first. And God had not had to worry about there being a scarcity of seed. God operates from abundance. There were plenty of seeds — literally millions of seeds — to go around. At that point, the parable became for me not a story of a wasteful Sower, but a story of a God of grace — a generous God who lavishly offers seed to all.

Of course, Jesus’ purpose in telling this parable is not to give us home gardening tips. We learn later, as he explains the parable to his disciples, that he is talking about the spreading of the gospel, the good news of the kingdom, and different people’s reactions to it. Some hear the word but do not understand it. Like the hard, sunbaked earth of the path, these people’s hearts are hardened. Their minds are closed. Others hear the word and receive it immediately with joy, but when trouble or persecution arise, they are not rooted deeply enough to endure it, and they consequently fall away. Still others hear the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke it off, and it yields nothing. Then there are those who hear the word, understand it, and live it out in their daily lives, bearing much fruit as a result.

God’s word, the message of the gospel, the good news of God’s coming reign of justice and peace, is precious seed, indeed. But God doesn’t sow it sparingly among only a select few. God lavishes it on everyone. God broadcasts it far and wide, offering it to the whole world. God’s message is radically inclusive. The question is how will we respond?


I suspect that we each know few here who would reject the gospel message out of hand. You probably wouldn’t find them here today. Unless, of course, they were dragged to church this morning by a well-meaning friend or relative. On the other hand, I imagine you know someone who welcomes the gospel message with joy, but don’t feel very rooted in the Christian tradition or in a church community. They might stay with it as long as it’s easy. But if and when being a Christian becomes more challenging and difficult for them, they may find it easier to fall away. I’m sure you know others who do feel rooted in the Christian tradition and in a church community, but so many other things in the world compete for their time and attention that their faith – their relationship with God — never becomes a top priority in their life. And I know that you have friends who hear and attend to God’s word, understand it, and live it out in their day to day lives. Living out their faith is their number one priority in life. It is who they are. It is at the core of their being. And nothing can shake it. They are the good soil — the fertile ground — which bears much fruit.  I am thankful that many of you are that good soil in this congregation.

I imagine that every congregation has in it people who are representative of these various types of soil. The role of the church, it seems to me, is to transform people into fertile soil. To help those with hardened hearts to loosen up their hard-packed surface and allow the seeds of the gospel to take root in their hearts. To help those who are rocky to remove the rocks and stones that impede the gospel from deepening its roots and really taking hold of their hearts. To help clear away the thorns that compete with the gospel bearing fruit in people’s lives. We have a responsibility to build up and enrich the soil so that it will be fertile ground in which the gospel may grow and thrive.


Next Sunday, congregations across our denomination will be celebrating the ministry of smaller membership churches. You might be surprised to learn that of the 10,000 congregations in the Presbyterian Church (USA), three quarters of them are smaller churches with less than 200 members. More than half have less than 100 members. Small churches are the lifeblood of our denomination. Their vitality is essential to the health of the larger church.

I have plenty of friends who will be celebrating smaller membership congregational ministry in their churches. Yes, we struggle as most churches do, but we are not considered a small congregation in the PCUSA. But, we like all churches (small or large) have limited human and financial resources with which to carry out the mission and ministry to which God has called us. Yet, we keep on keeping on. God has sustained this congregation for more than 300 years, and I believe God will see us through another 300 years. As the old African-American spiritual goes: “God didn’t bring me this far to leave me.” God didn’t bring us this far as a congregation to leave us now.

Sure, it’s easy to get discouraged. Many more people walk by this church than ever enter our doors. Some visit once or twice and say how much they like the congregation, but then never come back. Even our active church members are so busy that just getting to church once a month can feel like an accomplishment. Nevertheless, this church is fertile ground. There’s good soil here. And Jesus reminds us that when the seed God sows finds fertile soil, wondrous and miraculous things can happen. May we be open to the garden God is cultivating in our midst. And may it bear much fruit in the season ahead. Amen.


Commentary and Liturgy from the Book of Common Worship (PCUSA), Tara W. Bulger, Dale Alison, Jr, and Roger Scott Powers



from A Brief Statement of Faith

We trust in God, whom Jesus called Abba, Father.  In sovereign love God created the world good and makes everyone equally in God’s image, male and female, of every race and people, to live as one community. 


But we rebel against God; we hide from our Creator. Ignoring God’s commandments, we violate the image of God in others and ourselves, accept lies as truth, exploit neighbor and nature, and threaten death to the planet entrusted to our care. We deserve God’s condemnation.  Yet God acts with justice and mercy to redeem creation.


In everlasting love, the God of Abraham and Sarah chose a covenant people to bless all families of the earth.  Hearing their cry, God delivered the children of Israel from the house of bondage.


Loving us still, God makes us heirs with Christ of the covenant. Like a mother who will not forsake her nursing child, Like a father who runs to welcome the prodigal home, God is faithful still.


*HYMN No. 418                    “Softly and Tenderly

1 Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
calling for you and for me.
See, on the portals he’s waiting and watching,
watching for you and for me.

“Come home, come home!
You who are weary, come home.”
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
calling, “O sinner, come home!”

2 Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading,
pleading for you and for me?
Why should we linger and heed not his mercies,
mercies for you and for me? (Refrain)

3 O for the wonderful love he has promised,
promised for you and for me!
Though we have sinned, he has mercy and pardon,
pardon for you and for me. (Refrain)



Gracious God, your care and providence extend to all, and so we come this day with our prayers for the world and all humanity.


We pray for all nations and their leaders. In a world where people are so often formed by their own self-interest and sinfulness, we pray that your will would be done. Grant those who govern the knowledge that they are to serve for the greater good and to guide the world into a better place than it finds itself today.


Let us work for a world of equality and fairness. There is still so much difficulty and darkness in our world. May our church and our world work for a more just and equitable society.


We pray for our local communities. May the Spirit lead each community as it walks into an uncertain future. May we learn to place an emphasis on hospitality and welcome and may our cities and towns be beacons of tolerance and love.


During this busy summer, we pray that you would be with all those who travel. Grant mercy and safety to them as they travel near and far. Keep our children safe, we pray, in this summertime of sports and activities. Be with the elderly — may they find rest and renewal this season too. And for all who are sick and suffering — we ask for your healing and peace.


We pray for all churches — big churches and small churches, rural churches and urban churches, churches of every denomination and creed. Especially we pray for our Methodist brothers and sisters as they struggle with separation and dissension in their journey to become a more inclusive sign of your kingdom. We pray too for our Baptist brothers and sisters. May they recognize the gifts that so many have to offer and may you heal their divisions.


May all who call on the name of Jesus Christ flourish in the days ahead. We ask this all in the name of Jesus and offer together the prayer that he taught us saying, “Our Father….”


Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name.  Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.





As Christ has been generous with us, to the point of death on the cross, let us be generous too. Let us give a part of what we have to God’s work in the world. Let us give our offering.




*RESPONSE N0. 609                        “Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow”

Praise God, from whom all blessing flow, Praise God, all creatures here below.  Alleluia, Alleluia Praise God in Jesus fully known; Creator, Word, and Spirit one. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.



Gracious God, thank you for these gifts given this day and for the many gifts of our lives. May they be used ever and only to glorify you. Amen.


*HYMN No. 547                    “Go My Children, With My Blessing”

1 “Go, my children, with my blessing,
never alone.
Waking, sleeping, I am with you,
you are my own.
In my love’s baptismal river
I have made you mine forever.
Go, my children, with my blessing,
you are my own.”

2 “Go, my children, sins forgiven,
at peace and pure.
Here you learned how much I love you,
what I can cure.
Here you heard my dear Son’s story;
here you touched him, saw his glory.
Go, my children, sins forgiven,
at peace and pure.”

3 “Go, my children, fed and nourished,
closer to me.
Grow in love and love by serving,
joyful and free.
Here my Spirit’s power filled you;
here my tender comfort stilled you.
Go, my children, fed and nourished,
joyful and free.”



May we each go out to love and care, to find the Spirit’s leading and join in its work and to bless the world as we have been so richly blessed. In the name of our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, Amen.