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Rev. Brenda Egolf Fox, Pastor

 Point Pleasant Community Baptist Church

35 River Road, Point Pleasant, PA 18947  * 215-297-5047 *



Say Yes to the Invitations

                 Many years ago a woman sent money for her sister Greta to immigrate to the United States. Greta was thrilled at the prospect of seeing her sister again after 25 years. She booked passage on the first steamer leaving Rotterdam. Her relatives had sent her money to travel in grand style. But Greta chose fourth class rather than wait another six months for first class accommodations. A thoughtful crew member told Greta to enjoy the hospitality of the upper decks of the ship during the day. But Greta declined this privilege and remained sequestered in her dark, rancid, noisy quarters for the fourteen long days of her journey.

 Greta called this “minding one’s place.”  She never presumed that there was anything more to sailing across the menacing Atlantic Ocean than enduring volcanic tosses from her mildewed perch until reaching land safely on the other side.

 Only on disembarking did Greta behold what she had been missing. On those upper decks were tapestries, chandeliers, silver, buffets loaded with exotic and plentiful food. And there were many people just like Greta who were from fourth-class accommodations, who had accepted the invitation of the crew members and had come up to enjoy these treasures daily.

 “Imagine,” Greta said, “All this could have been mine too, had I only said yes to the invitation.”

 We receive many invitations to go higher, to grow in our faith. How do we receive them?

 Jesus taught in parables because he understood the different levels of hearing. The parable about the sower sowing seeds is about the different ways that we hear, and the ways we are not able to hear.

 The parable starts with the seeds that hit the hardened pathways. Scholars tell us that there were little narrow strips of path that were the sidewalks between the fields in Palestine. This ground had been trampled as hard as stone by the feet of those who walked the paths. This ground was so hard that the seeds that fell were snatched away by the birds before the ground even knew what was hitting it.

 We are hardened by past experiences. Haven’t you felt trampled down at times, walked over, and that your joy or peace had been snatched away, beaten down by some unwanted experience? I know a man whose father died when he was very young. He has become so hardened, so trampled down, so controlled by his anger that he can’t or won’t hear God’s reaching out to him.

                         Tragedies, disappointments, broken relationships, years of estrangement, rejection…these happen over a lifetime. And we can stay hardened, or we can pray to be softened, to let God heal those hardened places.

 Years ago, when my sisters both married Catholics, the hard thing for both families was accepting the other expression of faith. I was the peace maker who went between the two families and helped soften the hardness so that both families could enjoy their children.

 Do you remember when the hardened places made it more difficult to accept divorce as an option, or to see integration as a good thing, or whether to accept AIDS victims?

 Until a girlfriend of mine was raped, I had a hard time believing that abortion was sometimes a possible choice.

 Until my Mother’s choir director in her Southern Baptist Church was fired because he was found to be gay, my parents were very hardened on this subject. But my Mom loved this guy, and she stood up to the church council and fought hard for him….I’m told by my brother that she also fought hard for me, a woman clergy person. These past few months the nation has watched as Bruce Jenner and his family struggle with his sexual identity. How hard this is, for everyone. We can debate his decision for a long time, and probably will.

 Perhaps the hardened place is a prejudice against anyone that looks Arabic. Until we treat each person as a child of God, as a fellow human with strengths and weaknesses, and not as some lumped together object we fear, we will continue to have hard places in our hearts, places where we have been hurt, and places where we reject others.

 In Palestine, there was also the rocky ground. These are the places that have shallow ground soil and limestone beneath. Sort of like my yard! When the soil is shallow, it will hold little nourishment and moisture, and the heat of the sun soon withers the plants. Perhaps this is when we have good intentions but just can’t follow through. You know. When you’ve had some great experience and you’ve committed yourself to daily prayer and bible study, or to go out and fix your community. But real life gets in the way with the daily demands of work and of relationships, and the stress keep those roots unable to go very deep. And those yearly resolutions just don’t last.

 Then there are the seeds among thorns. There are definitely some thorny parts to life. I guess there were some Palestinian farmers who were lazy, and they just cut the tops of the weeds so that their fields looked clean, but below the surface the roots were still there, and in due time the weeds returned and choked the life out of the seeds.

 I experience a lot of people choking out there.

 We are taught that we can do everything: have careers, be successful, have well rounded children, healthy families, have time for our churches and to be leaders in our communities, time to have good relationships with friends, our extended families, to be good neighbors, care for everyone around us, and also get our own health and needs met.

 I feel like choking just saying that list.

 I don’t know about you, but I have never in my life found the time and energy to be doing all of those things well. And I have felt like I’m choking and gasping for breath, when I expected to be able to do all those things constantly.

 My life has been more like a balancing act. Doing things for my own spiritual growth, my career, my outside interests and physical fitness for a while until I feel unbalanced… so I decide to spend more energy on my relationships with family, get involved in some projects helping my neighbors, and then, feeling drained and deciding to add a few things that feed me again.

 It is a constant balancing act, trying to do all those things.

 I remember when my children were born, having such a hard time leaving behind some of the activities I loved, like singing and travelling with choirs. I found other ways to sing, and reminded myself that I could join a choir again sometime, that it didn’t have to be forever.

 But there are other ways I see people choking. The couple who need to work three jobs to have more and more money to buy more and more stuff. Money, power, and success continue to be chokers around which our faith strains to grow.

 What is choking your faith? Where have you settled for a fourth class faith?

 The people who are the good soil accept the seeds, say yes to the invitations, the nourishment, the moisture…they soften the hard places, don’t feed the weeds or get stopped by the rocks.

 John Woolman, an American Quaker, was instrumental in the final abolition of slavery in our country. John Woolman had accepted slavery until the day that his employer asked him to make out a bill of sale for a little girl…That was his moment of hearing.

 Beyers Naude, was one of the most trusted white men in the Black community of South Africa. He was rising through the ranks of the white South African brotherhood. And, like his father, many said he would one day be prime minister. Yet in his years of travelling around South Africa doing youth work for his church, he was exposed to the reality of apartheid. Finally, finding no biblical justification of apartheid, and after a massacre of blacks, he simply could no longer stay hardened. And he grew into a faith full of integrity and working for peace. He had said yes to the invitation to grow, to change.

 The hard places need to be softened up so that the roots have somewhere to take hold.

 The parable of the Sower of Seeds is the story of all the different choices we can make to respond to God’s invitations. How deeply are we willing to hear God’s invitations to the good soil? Where are you choking and letting false values crowd out your faith?

 As the church council and search committee study, pray, discuss, and wait to hear God’s direction for us as a church, they will struggle with the hardened places. They will look at the shallow places that need nourishment. They will run into the places where the church is choking. And they will work together to say Yes to the invitations from God. God is always sending us invitations to grow. God is always doing new things.

 May we be the good soil, open to the new seeds where God is inviting us to grow.



 Psalm 19:14
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.