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FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST June 17, 2018


There is an expression that goes, “a chip off of the old block.” It often is used to refer to a boy being just like his father in character and behavior. For good or ill, the behaviors that fathers have modeled for their children has rubbed off on their offspring and is carried on by their future generations. It is not unusual for the qualities that are “rubbed off” to intensify from generation to generation because they are passed on without reflection as the family norm. “That’s just who we are and what we do!”


Today we honor our fathers. And that's good. Garrison Keillor, on his "Writer’s Almanac" on National Public Radio said that Father's Day goes back "to a Sunday morning in May of 1909, when a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd was sitting in church in Spokane, Washington, listening to a Mother's Day sermon. She thought of her father who had raised her and her siblings after her mother died in childbirth, and she thought that fathers should get recognition, too. So she asked the minister of the church if he would deliver a sermon honoring fathers on her father's birthday, which was coming up in June, and the minister did. And the tradition of Father's Day caught on, though rather slowly. Mother's Day became an official holiday in 1914; Father's Day, not until 1972. Mother's Day is still the busiest day of the year for florists, restaurants and long distance phone companies. Father's Day is the day on which the most collect phone calls are made. 


In our lesson from Mark, Jesus is describing the kingdom of God: "This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how ." 
Jesus is not talking about fatherhood in this passage, but isn't this the very first area in which we participate in the coming of God's kingdom to earth? It is in the raising of our children. Raising good children is like scattering seed upon the ground. 


As author Ken Canfield notes, there are no guarantees in either raising kids or planting seed. A farmer can do all the right things and still lose a crop. So can parents. The farmer can till the ground at the right time, put in the right seed, and irrigate and fertilize according to the textbook. But that does not guarantee a crop.
Some have learned the hard way that there are no guarantees. But generally, if we have done the best we can in planting and nurturing the seed which is our children, God will reward us with children we can be proud of. 


Let's begin here on this Father's Day: Fathers are important.  It doesn't always work out, of course. And many young women today are doing a superb though difficult job of raising their young without a Dad, but, where possible, having Dad around can make a real difference. 


William Raspberry, a syndicated writer with the Washington Post, in a recent column made this analogy:  Some years ago, South Africa's game managers had to figure out what to do about the elephant herd at Kruger National Park. The herd was growing well beyond the ability of the park to sustain it. And so they decided to transport some of the herd to a nearby game park. 


A dozen years later, however, several of the young male elephants  (now teenagers) that had been transported to the game park began attacking the park ‘s herd of white rhinos, an endangered species. They used their trunks to throw sticks at the rhinos, chased them over long hours and great distances and stomped to death a tenth of the herd all for no discernible reason. 


Park managers decided they had no choice but to kill some of the worst juvenile offenders. They had killed five of them when someone came up with another bright idea. They brought in some of the mature male elephants still residing in the Kruger Park and hoped that the bigger, stronger males could bring the adolescents under control.  To the delight of the park officials, it worked. The big bulls quickly established the natural hierarchy and reduced the violent behavior of the younger bulls. 


"The new discipline, it turned out, was not just a matter of size intimidation," says Raspberry. "The young bulls actually started following the Big Daddies around, yielding to their authority and learning from them proper elephant conduct. The assaults on the white rhinos ended abruptly."  


Raspberry's point was that young males whether they are wild animals or human beings need Dads. Those of us who grew up in families in which Dad was a positive influence will quickly agree. It doesn't always work out like that, of course. There are some families in which Dad is absent, and it cannot be helped. There are other families in which Dads do more harm than good, but fortunately that's true in only a minority of families. Most Dads do the best they can. And we're proud to be able to honor them. Fathers are important. 


A great Dad can have that kind of influence. Many Moms are just as courageous. There are no guarantees, but when a conscientious man or woman plants a seed and takes the necessary steps to nurture that seed, miracles can occur. 
Whether it’s a seed or a sapling that is planted, Ezekiel’s message is all about the CIRCLE OF LIFE. One generation gives of itself to prepare the next generation to take its place. And if the process is done properly, the growth potential is enormous! What is the proper way to pass on growth, you may ask?


The psalmist and Jesus lay it out quite well. The first step is GRATITUDE. Be
glad for everything that God has given you. Let God and the people in your sphere of influence know how much you appreciate having them in your life. The psalmist says to do it day and night. In other words, look for opportunities to share gratitude. Sure, you can assume that people know you are thankful for what they mean to you, but say it with words and notes anyway.


He goes on to say we should aim at righteousness. This is not a “holier than thou” attitude. It means CHARACTER COUNTS. Character, like love and friendship, is one of those things that the more you use it, the more you have to give. The psalmist says, “The righteous flourish—they are planted in the house of the Lord—in old age, they still produce fruit—they are always green and full of sap!” This gives a whole new meaning to the term SAPPY! I can be sappy and proud of it!


But it’s not enough to be sappy, to be full of sap. That sap has to be passed on, to be planted in the next generation or there will be no more fruit, no more growth. Those seeds of thankfulness and character have to be planted in the people who will follow us. But, this can appear to be a daunting task. Are we supposed to play a key role in growing these MASSIVE REDWOODS?


Leave it to Jesus to bring this process DOWN TO EARTH. Jesus says that if we want INCREDIBLE GROWTH, stop looking up at REDWOODS and turn your attention to MIGHT MUSTARD SEED PLANTS. Sure, redwoods provide shade, but it is way up high, well beyond our ability to see. But the mustard bush is dense and also DOWN TO EARTH where the birds are able to use them right before our eyes, where we can truly appreciate what we have planted and cultivated. What are the DOWN TO EARTH applications for you and me and for our church?


Every one of us has talents and knowledge and experience that we can share with those who want to help us and our church grow into the future. We can use our experience and we can use our encouragement to help each other use both old and new ways to provide ministry opportunities for us and those who need to join us.


A good father or mother or friend or fellow parishioner has the opportunity to help those in their sphere of influence grow and come into their own. The potential for growth is enormous. In the last few weeks, I have seen 12 women at the weekly Bible Study. I have seen 9 different people helping to improve our facilities. I have seen our sewing rooms full of creative and industrious women. And for the first time in recent memory, we will have every council position filled with members eager to learn and challenge their jobs.


Today, we celebrate fathers as we did mothers, as all of us are called to follow the Thrivent motto to LIVE GENEROUSLY. That is why we are asking every one of you to commit yourself to live and share generously what God has blessed you with. When we all buy into that Godly way of thinking and living, we will all be a CHIP OFF OF THE OLD BLOCK, who is our Lord, and pass on Jesus’ ministry here at our FAITH COMMUNITY!


And all of God’s MENTORED and MENTORING children said…AMEN!

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