“Sitting on the Beach”

Ps. 119:1-2 (MSG), Matthew 13:1-13, 16-17 (MSG)
South Presbyterian Church’s Fellowship of Faith – July 16, 2017
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift

 

Matthew 13:1-13, 16-17 (MSG)

At about that same time Jesus left the house and sat on the beach. In no time at all a crowd gathered along the shoreline, forcing him to get into a boat. Using the boat as a pulpit, he addressed his congregation, telling stories.

“What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams. “Are you listening to this? Really listening?”

The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?”

He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. …
 “But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear! A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance.

 = = = = = = =

There’s a lot for us in our little reading today, not the LEAST of which is the very first sentence: At about that same time Jesus left the house and sat on the beach.

I never thought about him sitting on the beach before, did you?

But really … he must have at different times.

That’s why I used one of my pictures from last year’s conference in Florida for the bulletin cover. This will be the last year that the conference is at the Trade Winds resort … next year we’re in Lake Tahoe, I think, so you’ll be seeing mountain pictures. 😊

Anyway. I remember last year because the day before I flew to the conference, my family and I went up to Fair Haven Beach on Lake Ontario over by Oswego and I have beach pictures from both places taken within 24 hours of each other.

And they’re both beautiful.

Fresh water and salt water … both beautiful beaches.

And Jesus went to sit on one of those beaches because he wanted a little alone time – just like we ALL do in order to recharge our batteries and remind ourselves of what’s important.

The problem for him was the SECOND sentence: In no time at all a crowd gathered along the shoreline, forcing him to get into a boat. The people FOUND him and there were so MANY that they crowded him right off the beach and into a BOAT.

So he gets in the boat – probably wondering on some level, “What do I have to DO to get some ALONE time around here???” – and then he figures … “well … everybody’s here. I might as well talk with them.”

It just reminds me so much of PARENTS who are weary sometimes but then their kids – sometimes with their friends in tow – show up and invade your alone time and you’re really happy to see them and be WITH them, but … well … most of us have been there. We know exactly what it feels like.

So he starts telling this story – a parable – about seeds falling on different kinds of soil. And we know that we all want to be the seeds that fall on the GOOD earth. Right? We ALL want to bear the kind of fruit with our lives that he’s talking about.

But the Disciples – who may very well have heard this story a MILLION times before … I figure Jesus is like MOST of us … he had his favorite go-to stories and examples that he returned to every so often – anyway … they say to him, “Why do you tell stories?”

Kinda like, “Uncle JOE … why do you always tell these STORIES?”

Well … what we know NOW is that most learning happens when there’s a story attached to it. And Jesus says, “I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight.”

Jesus wants to create readiness within us – to nudge us toward a place where we can be receptive to his teachings. Right?

But we can’t all get up and just go and sit on the beach.

So we have to figure out how to do that today … and I think that for some of us, the beach is a great metaphor for making time to get away from what we normally do. Carve out some time that’s just for God … just for us to be WITH God.

One of my friends used to say that having children and going on vacations are two things that … if you try to wait until everything is perfect … you’ll never do.

Most of us CAN’T just get up and go away whenever we want to … it might be too expensive … it might be too much trouble … we might not want to really leave where we are because we’re so comfortable. But we can create a place … a special chair in our home … a corner of a room … something that lets us know that when we’re THERE, we are outside of our normal everyday life.

And when we’re there, we can use that as our “beach” where we will meet Jesus or talk with God … or where we will listen for the still, small voice. Maybe it’s a specially designated place where we will read the Bible.

It doesn’t have to be a LONG period of time. In fact … I suggest that you start out with 5 or 10 minutes a day. But do it EVERY day. And within a couple of weeks you will find yourself so looking FORWARD to being there, and so REFRESHED after you’ve been there, that you’ll want to go back for more and more.

Just like vacation …

But without the expense and without having to pack up anything to go.

 

Sometimes the world will invade even that space – like the people who found Jesus and interrupted his time on the beach.

But more and more, as we get anchored in this practice, we will find ourselves able to focus on the MESSAGE and the TEACHING that comes to us every day.

 

Now … we started our time together this morning with the two verses from Psalm 119 that we used in our Call to Worship.

I’m going to read the first 8 verses of that Psalm now and I’d like you to close your eyes …

Picture yourself on a beach somewhere … or if you’re a mountain person, picture yourself in a cabin or by a river … wherever you’d like to be if you could get there easily and be comfortable … maybe it’s just a corner of your home in a comfortable chair.

Close your eyes while I read these verses to you from Psalm 119 and Listen for the Word of God to you …

119 1-8 You’re blessed when you stay on course,
walking steadily on the road revealed by God.
You’re blessed when you follow God’s directions,
doing your best to find God everywhere.
That’s right—you don’t go off on your own;
you walk straight along the road he set.
You, God, prescribed the right way to live;
now you expect us to live it.
Oh, that my steps might be steady,
keeping to the course you set;
Then I’d never have any regrets in comparing my life with your counsel.
I thank you for speaking straight from your heart;
I learn the pattern of your righteous ways.
I’m going to do what you tell me to do …
All right.

Now I’m going to read this again, and I want you to notice what words or phrases speak to you when you hear it. Ready?

119 1-8 You’re blessed when you stay on course,
walking steadily on the road revealed by God.
You’re blessed when you follow God’s directions,
doing your best to find God everywhere.
That’s right—you don’t go off on your own;
you walk straight along the road he set.
You, God, prescribed the right way to live;
now you expect us to live it.
Oh, that my steps might be steady,
keeping to the course you set;
Then I’d never have any regrets in comparing my life with your counsel.
I thank you for speaking straight from your heart;
I learn the pattern of your righteous ways.
I’m going to do what you tell me to do …

 

What words or phrases seemed to stand out to you?

 

 

This is exactly what you can do on your own every day.

Find a quiet place.

Read just a few verses from scripture – you can take the bulletin with you from Sunday and reread what we read together today – and then close your eyes … picture yourself on the beach – or in your special place – and just notice what seemed to stand OUT to you from the reading.

5-10 minutes. Every day.

And if you fall asleep, you fall asleep. No big deal. You’ll be sleeping in the arms of God … resting in the Holy Word. How comforting is THAT?

In fact, one of the people that I read in my meditations talks about “leaning into the winds of birth” as we let ourselves take IN the stories that Jesus tells. We are being REBORN by these spiritual promptings and nudges that he gives us. We need to lean INTO them and not back AWAY from them.

We need to fall TRUSTINGLY into his outstretched arms, and, as the Psalmist says, we do our best to find God everywhere and to keep to the road placed before us.

We need to be writing Jesus and his teachings into the narratives of our lives so that our stories of being with HIM become the central stories that WE tell over and over again to ourselves and to others.

That’s what it is to be the disciples that we are called to be.

We are loved beyond our WILDEST dreams … and every day we are invited to go and sit on the beach with Jesus.

Amen.

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2 thoughts on ““Sitting on the Beach”

  1. My dear sister in Christ THANK YOU for the gift of your phrasing “If you fall a sleep so what. You’ll be sleeping in the arms of God, resting in the Holy Word.” I’ll treasure this always. I am far away but you are as close as my ❤️ Martha M 🌈

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