Matthew 13:31-33

31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with[b] three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

Matthew 13:44-52

Three Parables

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Treasures New and Old

51 “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

I love this morning’s parables from Matthew.  The mustard seed and the yeast in dough.  The Kingdom of God is being planted within us, it may be the smallest seeds, yet it grows into becoming a large tree, so much so that the birds rest in them.  We may be a smallish church, but we can be a seed planted in this community for much community goodness.  

Mustard seeds.

One of the commentaries that I read had a great line, this parable is like:  a “preacher preaching to a congregation of 25 people in a city of 2 million and eventually the entire city is converted…”  (I would use the phrase, a city is mutual converted together…with the church…and the pastor…). This is happening, even now.  Our story is being shared in and through the community beyond what we could imagine.  How?  By simply being good listeners and being open to God’s work in us and around us.  

God’s Spirit is moving in and through us like yeast in dough.  We’re being molded and moved around, it’s sometimes a bit awkward, but that yeast is working its way through the dough and Christ is rising up within us and around us. As I was pondering on this passage this week, I thought of folks who have planted small seeds into my life that have grown over the years.

Dr. Tony Campolo (top, left), EAPE Summer Staff 1989 (bottom, right).

One of those is a guy by the name of Dr. Tony Campolo.  I’ve shared with you before that when I was 16, in my church’s basement, we had a film series called “You Can Make A Difference”.  It was a series of sermons by Tony Campolo.  He talked about real things in the world and how the good news, the gospel of Jesus, the person of Jesus, interacted with those on the margins and calls us, as God’s disciples, to follow Jesus’ example.

Years later, the seed of those talks grew within me and led me to inner-city Philadelphia for a summer to work alongside a group of other young adults in building relationships with kids in a neighborhood of South Philly. It was through Tony Campolo’s non-profit, the “Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education”.  What a title! We simply called it EAPE.  

The seed also grew within me to do youth ministry with a non-profit after that experience, then to have a call to seminary, to the church, and into the ministry, and it keeps on growing within me.  A seed to seriously follow Jesus, to take to Jesus all of my doubts as well as my gifts, and let faith grow and form.

I was looking for something related to this church’s seeds and yeast this week and also came across an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer from 1994.  Rev. Craig McClellan, the founding pastor of the merger of churches that became Fleming Road UCC, and still greatly loved and revered in this congregation, talked about the essence of Fleming Road UCC.  

He mentions that our church came from a liberal UCC perspective that was inclusive, a church from it’s founding by German immigrants knew how to be open. Rev. McClellan has this great quote, which is so appropriate for the times that we live in now:  

“Our folk are very open to change.  We’re willing to explore new ways.  We respect tradition, but we are not frozen in tradition.  We’re open to creative experiences.”  Which is why the merger worked and has worked.

A seed was planted by the UCC, by our immigrant forebearers, and by our church’s founding of openness, inclusion, willingness to change and adapt, and to listen.  Which, that seed has grown and is enabling us to react to the times we live in…and to even cause more growth! 

Even in this season, the Kingdom of God is moving forward, expanding, and being planted within us!  

The parables in the second reading talk about pearls and treasure, comparing them to the Kingdom of God.

It’s an interesting reversal of values, a treasure hidden in a field, a plowman finds it, then hides treasure, sells all that he has, buys the field.  While a merchant finds one pearl and goes to great lengths to get it.  

And, yet, God honors both.

Then there’s the net, bringing in both good and bad fish.  Again, good deeds and bad deeds, and God works through them all to bring out the good.  

The new in this context, in these parables, of finding something, discovering something of God, or God’s Kingdom presence, is good, and also provides appropriation of the old.  All is used!  Parables can seem subversive, and they are always coming from the margins…because Jesus and his listeners and disciples, were not from the power structure of the day.  These subversive, marginal parables can be threatening to some, but to others, it can point towards the love of God and the covenant of God’s faithfulness to us.  

Friends, let’s remember the seed that God has planted in us, God’s very self, God’s Presence. It is growing, it is giving us ideas and new life, and it is moving us towards being the body of Christ to the world around us and to each other.

Weeds and Wheat

Matthew 13:24-30

The Parable of Weeds among the Wheat

24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the servants of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Matthew 13:36-43

Jesus Explains the Parable of the Weeds

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

You’ve heard me talk about our huge garden that we had growing up.  We shared it with my uncle and aunt that lived next door.  It was probably around 1/4 to 1/2 an acre.  We would always have tons of food, and would share it with folks in our community and in our churches (my aunt and uncle were Methodists, we were Baptists).  

I remember having several rows of corn.  Every season, we knew we’d have some good and bad corn, but, of course, we would not cut out the bad cobs or cut down the stalks that produced them, we would simply wait until we harvested the corn, and throw out the bad cobs.  

This morning’s passage about the wheat and weeds is a parable that has dome good things for us to hear.  

Parables are shared, again, as we’ve discussed before, to draw attention to something in an openly subversive manner.  

We are drawn into the story, something is planted inside of us, an idea, thought, or notion, and it grows within us.  Jesus is the master storyteller and gardener.  He is planting these things within us and cultivating them through God’s spirit to effect maturity and growth in us.

When this story was told, Jesus could have been drawing attention to the purity culture of the time.  Much like today’s purity culture, there was an attempt to make faith in God dualistic, black and white.  To take mystery out of it, and even relationship.  It was about separating folks from others in order to exert some sense of control.  

Jesus is reminding us with weeds and wheat, to not separate them while they are growing, and that it’s up to God to judge, not us.  And, God’s judgement is radically different than ours, and based on a deep, inclusive love.  

But, weeds are weeds, they can prevent us from seeing the good wheat.  In this passage, the weeds probably even looked like wheat.  Hard to tell the difference.

The weeds are planted in the night.  The phrase in this passage, “asleep”, could be characterized as spiritual sloth or laziness.  The farmers have let their guard down and allowed weeds to come in.  

I’d say it’s similar to where we are today as a culture.  As an American culture, we’ve let our guard down when it comes to this pandemic, and it has grown, like weeds, out of control.  

In a similar way, our culture has let the weeds of racism be planted in every institution that we can think of, not just the police, but schools, churches, businesses, government, all of it really.

We have let voices tell us with covid and racism that some lives simply don’t matter as much as others.  These voices have divided us and we now have the hard work of loving the people behind the voices, while listening to God’s voice that is planting good wheat amongst us.  

Friends, I do believe that we live in “apocolyptic times”.  Now, as we’ve said before, this does not mean the end of the world, but as the band REM would sing it may be the end of the world as we know it, or some parts of the world.  When scripture talks about apocalypse, such as in Revelations, it is referencing events that mostly happened already but simply trying to give meaning to them.  

Could God be trying to get our attention?  Could God be working in 2020 through Covid, BLM, and social unrest that the way we have been living needs a pause and that we have to think and act in a different way towards others, especially from those who have been considered “outsiders”?  We all have different thoughts and opinions, I’m sure, but, if we believe that God is everywhere, working in and through all things and people towards the common good eventually, then maybe we should be praying about this time, this season, and asking different questions, and listening.  

Our world is not going to end in our lifetimes or in children’s or grandchildren’s lifetimes, but what we leave for them, how we have sought to understand our times, how to deconstruct and give the tools and shared lessons to generations after us to build a better, more equitable and empathetic world, is our important task at hand.  

Jesus is not directing this parable to “outsiders”, to folks being drawn to him…he is directing it towards his disciples, those who have decided to follow him.  

When I was in Young Life, a few lifetimes ago it seems!  Ty Saltzgiver and Randy Eberhard were two people that had a huge impact on me. They invested into me and listened. Ty was a regional director at the time and had a big influence while I was going through Young Life training.  One of the things he told me was to embrace the good and the bad.  To understand the wrong in my life, I would need to embrace it as I embraced myself in order to better recognize who I am and who I want to be.

This passage is saying something similar to us.  We have to let the weeds and the wheat to grow until the harvest.  And, God is the harvester.

Now, remember my story of growing up around corn?  We didn’t cut down the stalks if they produced bad corn, because there was some good corn there as well.  We would use the bad corn to fertilize the ground or mash it up for feed for stock animals in my uncle’s case.  

When we read passages like this, as we’ve said before, the weeds are evil outcomes or actions.  They will be burned up, thrown in the furnace, and their ashes spreading in the wind.  But, they are still useful for fertilizer to give something else a chance to grow.  And, the good wheat is useful for nourishment and growth.  

God’s wisdom and love for us, allows mixing the good with the bad…look at our communities, our families, even our churches.  What we cannot do is judge, but we can embrace and cultivate, and when we notice the weeds, to not stress, work towards the good, and trust that those weeds will be made known and not given more oxygen, and will someday wither into the wind…whild the good will last forever.  Evil is temporary, only the good endures.

I believe that this passage is an invitation to the church to live into the best version of itself…to remember that the church is not the kingdom of God, but it is to give testimony and a foretaste of the Kingdom and of God’s presence…which, if we do that, then we can’t judge the tax collector, the prostitute, the protestor, the police officer, the liberal, the conservative, black culture, etc.  But, we can grow and learn together as a diverse, but one humanity working towards the common good as Kingdom people.  

We are one, we have weeds and wheat in us, let’s recognize that we all have work to do…and to seek God’s kingdom, presence in everyone.


Matthew 13:1-9

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

Matthew 13:18-23

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 is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on 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 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.[a]22 As 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. 23 But 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.”

It’s been said around here at Fleming Road UCC, and at other places where I’ve been in community and ministry, that I have a lot of ideas.  Some are even good!  It is true, I have lots of thoughts and ideas.  I also come up with lots of thoughts and ideas in conversations with folks.  

Many of those ideas that we come up with sometimes are good, sometimes not so good.  But, I believe that God’s Spirit acts within and outside of us, sparking us to have dreams and visions…to form processes for cultivating ideas even as we take some risks.  Ideas often start out small, need some time to grow and mature.  When the time is right, it’s good to plant those ideas and see what happens.  

That’s one of the reasons why I love the church.  We have processes and procedures, we have community, we have faith, we have all of the ingredients for imagination and to make things happen for the good of our communities.  

The church needs to be asking itself questions:   What are we passionate about, what makes us get up in the morning and face a day, what gives us hope?  I know I have a passion for running, I have a deeper passion for seeing community happen and for energy being driven from community for growth and change.

But, I also know that in order to run well, and in order to see community built, I need to listen and to see.  I also need to make sure that I am able to cultivate an understanding of myself, others, and God.  God is a mystery, so am I and so are you.  That’s what makes life interesting, we have mystery, we are curious, we ask questions, we lead and we follow, and we grow.  It’s not stagnant.  Growth happens or we die.

The parable of the sower has much to say to us.  Jesus spoke in parables oftentimes.  Parables are words for the audience that do not carry their meaning on the surface.  They are meant to be shared, chewed on, thought upon, and then their meaning grows within us.

This parable was spoken right after Jesus had been encouraging his disciples with their being a part of his family, a part of God’s kingdom.  As we’ve said before, Kingdom of God talk is about God’s Presence in our lives and in the world.  God’s working out God’s purposes in all things, and for good.  And, we know that God’s Kingdom is an alternative kingdom to the kingdoms of this world.  That our allegiance as Jesus followers, to the kingdom of God, supersedes any allegiances to any other kingdoms, systems, political beliefs, countries, nationalities, ideologies, etc.  

That’s especially important for us to remember as we live through this pandemic and look for ways to respond to systematic racism that has permeated our culture…and as we live in an election year.  

Jesus was also sharing that the Kingdom of God is participatory.  It’s not idly watching or consuming something.  So often, we in the church have followed along with the idea that we need to create programs or services that we can consume or others can.  That’s not the idea that was planted in the church by God.  We have created a consumer based church that may gives a brief respite from the craziness of life from time to time, and maybe that’s good for a season, but God wants to plant within us a vision for church that is life-giving, energizing, and involves us in relationship with each other and with the world around us…and with a God who is very much present with us.  

For example:  I like giving sermons, I like music…I like worship services.  There is a place for them, but if all we do is come and consume on Sunday morning, or produce a product, then we will all eventually come to a point of burn-out or hollowness.  We need something more, we need to be full participants in looking at ways that we can experience real life, eternal life…a life that has much more to with the quality of life that we live than the quantity.  We are so often enslaved to a system or a way of doing things in our culture, that we miss out on the freedom that God wants us to have and to share with others.   

So, we come to this beautiful passage in Matthew about the parable of the sower…it starts with an image of folks being on a beach, listening to Jesus.  I think they are also looking at the water, the waves, they’ve been encouraged by being with Jesus and now they are sitting, listening, but their minds and hearts are engaged and they are thinking…about life and about possibility.

Jesus uses the imagery of a farmer laying out seed.  Some seed is planted and eaten up immediately, some seed falls on the rocks where it grows quickly, but also dies quickly because of lack of soil, some falls among thorns and it’s choked out, but, other seed falls on good ground, it produces a crop that yields large results…100 fold, 60 fold, 30 fold.

I believe that Jesus is saying to his listeners, and to us now, that he wants us to grow into the people we were called to be, that we have been given opportunities to understand who we are and how we relate to one another.  Opportunities such as meeting together for worship, for forums like the ones we have with the 3:33 Forum and the New Parish Roundtable, conversations with authors, church retreats like what we had right before the pandemic, amazing and bonding chats with members via phone calls, zoom, and in other creative ways.  God has given us other opportunities during the pandemic as we’ve stated often, working Finneytown Schools and Tikkun Farm, and engagement with leaders of color like what our council president, Pat Young, did with going to Rev. Daniel Hughes’ church on Juneteenth and my shared work with gathering clergy together across the area during this time, and Tom Hathaway’s work with other UCC churches through SONKA and the conference, our church has truly been engaged with the community in beautiful ways.  

These opportunities help us to grow in many ways, but the real work is in between the events, in between seeds being planted and coming to bear fruit.  The work is in cultivating an understanding of the ideas, imagination, relationships, and new creation being formed and reformed within us and in the quality of our relationships with each other and with God. 

Seeds are being planted within us and all around us, seeds that will bear fruit towards seeing the Kingdom emerge within us, God’s Presence within us, and around us.  Some of those seeds are being consumed, aren’t being given enough water, don’t have deep roots, but some are falling on good soil.  Can we hear what Jesus is whispering in our ears?  Can we see what God intends to do?

Friends, I believe that God has given us good soil here at Fleming Road UCC.  I believe that this soil does require tending, plowing, and cultivating.  But, I think that the seeds God is planting will grow.

I’m also grateful for the conversations we’ve had this week around here and in the community that affirm that we have a lot of gardening to do, within us and in this church, but we are committed to seeing what God wants to grow through all of the many seasons that we will be walking and working together in.  


Matthew 11:16-19

16 “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,

1‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;

    we wailed, and you did not mourn.’

1For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19 the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

Matthew 11:25-30 

25 At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.[b] 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

In thinking about this passage, I had quite a few thoughts in mind.  

As I read about John the Baptist coming with a hard message and abstaining from all sorts of things, I thought of my growing up in a very conservative Southern Baptist Church.  Abstinence from anything remotely fun…there were so many things that we were encouraged to stay away from, that if we partook, our lives would be ruined or our eternal souls in jeopardy it seemed.  

Yet, there was also lots of good things.  That church had a great history, over 200 years of it.  It was a part of me, and still is.

When I was in high school and struggling with where to go, I met some wonderful folks in a Christian ministry that seemed to have fun with being Christians, maybe a bit too much fun at times.  I began to see that grace was a real thing and I knew that I simply was drawn into a more full way of life with them.  

Both of that church and this other ministry laid the foundation that led me into deeper places of being.  

I remember one incident in my Baptist church growing up.  Our church’s pastor’s wife wanted to procure a new flagpole.  Now, I have nothing against flagpoles or most flags for that matter.  But, I remembered thinking as a 17 year old that we already had enough flagpoles and why should we put one that tall in our front yard?  I had just come back from our church’s mission trip and had seen kids in a VBS that could probably use that money more than a taller flagpole.  And, besides, we were a church, and this church had told me my entire life that nothing in this world was more important than God and God’s love for all humanity, that our allegiance to God superseded our allegiance to anything or anyone else, and we had an obligation to take care of those on the margins…so in my mind, it was pretty straightforward, give the money to those who needed it more in some way and make due with the flagpole that we had.  

Well, being Baptist, we had monthly “business” meetings where every member had a voice and a vote.  Since I was a member, I stood up and voiced my opinion.  I was voted down, the pastor’s wife got her flagpole.  

And, I got something else, my pastor, her husband, licensed me to be a preacher in the Southern Baptist Church at age 17.

With the folks from the Christian ministry that I met in high school, I simply loved being around as they truly listened to me.  I was somewhat of an awkward kid, I had a great friends, some confidence, and generally a leader in my school.  But, I didn’t feel like folks really knew me and I did not know how to have deeper conversations.  These adults became friends and encouraged me have grace and to express myself.  

So much so that I started this ministry at my school my senior year.  It was called Campus Life, very similar to Young Life.  Nowadays, I don’t know if I’d mesh with some of their theological beliefs, but their practices of going where kids are, building friendships, and listening well, being immersed in a culture, rubbed off on me.  I saw so many of my friends come to our weekly club that would never go to a church.  It changed the direction of my life and led me towards being community minded, someone who values authentic relationships, hard and deep conversations, and wanting to make a difference.  It gave me a vision and a calling for going into ministry.

Both of these experiences growing up modeled different aspects of John’s call to me and Jesus’ call to me.  It took time, lots of time, and at times when I doubted that call into a deeper life.

God’s voice was calling out to me (and still is): when are you going to start living, really living, when are you going to follow me?  I’ve come dancing and drinking in Jesus, John’s come with a message of repentance, mourning and wailing, what’s it going to take?

Well, it took, and it’s still taking.

I’m still learning, especially from my son these days.  It’s interesting that this passage talks about wisdom coming from children or little ones.  Although my son is taller than me, his life continues to teach me.  Actually, in many ways, discipling me. He has great questions, doesn’t believe in labelling himself or others, calls me to stand by my convictions, and he does as well…right or wrong, he leads with purpose.

I share these stories because we are all in the same boat in this life towards discipleship, of being Jesus followers.  Listen well to the voice of God, but also realize that it takes time, patience, and grace to become all that God intends.

I know that we live in hard times, it’s hard for us to navigate Covid-19 as a country and and as culture, we aren’t doing so well, we know as we look at the numbers.  We also see the renewed call to repentance on systematic racism that is evident in every institution, including the church, and community, not just with the police…it’s all around us.  

We are being called, in this moment, to look to Jesus, to embrace the hardness of this moment, to mourn, to wail if we have to, but to also sing and dance because God is moving with us and calling us to love all of those, especially those on the margins or have been oppressed, who’s lives have not mattered as much as some.  

Verses 20-24 of this passage that is not in the lectionary talks about places where Jesus went, shared life, but folks didn’t listen.

Jesus goes on to say that his yoke is easy.  What does that mean?  It means that in Jesus’ time, taking the learnings from some rabbi’s, from the system that they lived in, could be enslaving, heavy, burdensome.  But, Jesus’s yoke is light, and will give us life.  

This passage about answering the call to discipleship, to growth, and to being the people that God intends us to be…may we live into this call, this moment, and trust that the journey may be long and hard, but so worth it!  

And, that we are called to be in communion with one another.  It’s good that we have this sacrament, may it be a testimony today to how we should always live our lives every day, welcoming folks, showing hospitality, listening, and coming together in union with one another.