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Joshua 4: 1-14; Mark 1: 9-14


We have returned from a pilgrimage with no substitute. No book, no film, and no photographs will adequately tell you about the land of Israel and Palestine that has been known as holy. But we will give you some eyewitness news about the land claimed by God long ago; the land Moses saw as he looked across the Jordan River from Mount Nebo. He would not make the journey, but Joshua did, taking the city of Jericho for God. That city is the oldest in the world, with archeological evidence of more than 23 civilizations that have lived there since 8,000 – 10,000 years before Christ!


Our journey did not make us cross the Jordan. Thirty religious pilgrims started our journey by boarding our bus company of choice called “A Touch of Class” in the back church parking lot on Tuesday morning, July 8th. Some knew each other well, while others were meeting for the first time. We traveled safely to the Orlando airport where, at the gate, we met three more of our travelers: a new associate travel counselor and her parents from our tour company, Educational Opportunities in Lakeland, Florida. We flew on US Airways to Philadelphia where we met our final four travelers. Then the thirty-six were together, and we boarded our next US Airways flight to Tel Aviv Israel. The flight was not full, perhaps due to the media coverage that made it seem unsafe to be traveling there. We flew for just over 11 hours, grateful for the extra seats beside us to stretch out and rest. Upon our arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, a man who would be our guide, our shepherd, and our friend greeted us. His name was Mike, one of EO’s top guides. We learned that he is a Palestinian Christian with a license to also travel in Israel, something not every Palestinian can receive. His warm smile, his humor, his great English (one of four languages he speaks), his theological insights and his archeological knowledge made him the perfect guide. In every city he knew someone, and he could meet a stranger and make him an instant friend. Mike was but one of the reasons that this was the best Holy Land trip out of 5 that I have taken. Another reason was the permission I received from EO to custom-make this trip in July over eight days instead of the usual seven. Another reason I loved the trip was how much daylight we had. And a final reason was that the crowds and busses were few! This was the low season in the Holy Land so we were able to see all the sites with little or no wait time, compared with our last trip when, for example, we had a two hour wait just at the place in Bethlehem where Jesus was born. This time the weather, though hot, was drier than Florida so all our group enjoyed perfectly dry days and clear skies. The weather forecast for rain: zero!


This time, the first time ever, our group stayed three nights in Bethlehem in a place called the Angel Hotel, a charming small lodge owned by a widow. She, her father in law, and her three grown children cleaned, cooked and staffed the desks. It was amazing! The food was fresh, plentiful, and colorful; the rooms were clean and comfortable; and we grew fond of our hosts. Each night we sat out on a beautiful moonlit veranda in Bethlehem, feeling no mosquitos, no heat, and hearing no threatening sounds. It was the most peaceful place (among many) that we found on our trip. But you wouldn’t know it from the stories often reported in the US. Mary and Joseph might have found no room at the inn, but we found room and to spare. And we grew so grateful to this family who worked hard and showed us hospitality that we left gifts for them when we departed. Each time we left Bethlehem to go to Jerusalem, and each time we returned, we had to go through a security checkpoint. High walls surround Bethlehem. But as usual with Educational Opportunities tours, the guards just waved our bus through the checkpoints. The founder of EO, the late Dr. Jim Ridgeway, was given a recognition by the Israeli and Palestinian governments as a peacemaker. EO is highly regarded, in part because they have a mixture of guides and drivers who are Jewish, Muslim, or Christian; and either Palestinian or Israeli. Wherever we went, our driver Hazim, or our guide Mike, knew someone and could speak that language.


Can you believe we got to see the place where Jesus was born? All faiths since the second century agree on that location. We saw the shepherd’s fields and imagined how frightened shepherds might have received such news of a Savior being born long ago! And we sang and read scripture everywhere. It is unforgettable to sing “Silent Night” in the stable where our Lord was born.

We stayed in a simple hotel in Bethlehem, a nice hotel on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and an elegant hotel in Jerusalem. In Joshua’s day, he claimed Jericho; none of us will forget that way some in our group gave the devotion there and then led us in singing “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho” right on the top of Tel Jericho! And off to one side were the Judean hills where Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. We traveled to Caesarea, a city standing to this day because of Herod and his Roman building expertise. Both Peter and Paul had significant events happen there. We visited the mountain palatial home of Herod: the Herodian, and his fortress known as Masada. We climbed Tel (which means man-made mountain) Megiddo, the traditional site of Armageddon and learned why people think the world could end there. We went to the top of Mount Carmel and saw the site where Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal. I was especially moved to sea a Carmelite Monastery on the top of the mountain, the group associated with St. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, two people I studied for my doctor’s degree. We ate in traditional Jewish Kibbutz camps, in dining rooms, or in simple lunchrooms, loving the fresh vegetables and enjoying falafels and shawarmas.


On the first morning in Galilee, in perfect weather, we sailed on the Sea of Galilee. One among us said it was the best Sunday morning of her entire life! And it was. We prayed, we sang, we heard a spiritual message, and then we stopped all motors and music and heard the waves gently lapping up on the sides of the boat. We were there; in the Bible story; imagining that we were among the Twelve. It was extraordinary. And this is what our guide Mike urged us to do and be: be Galilee, not the Dead Sea. What did he mean by that, not only for us, but also for you today? The Galilee receives and gives; it receives water from the Jordan River that is fed by springs and the melting snow on the top of Mount Hermon. The sea is fresh water so the region can receive drinking water from it. But it also produces an abundance of fish which we had the privilege of trying. The Galilee also produced disciples and a place of peace and recreation. The Galilee is living and alive. We were challenged to be alive, to share, and to receive. By contrast the water from the Galilee continues down the Jordan River and into the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea has no outlet. It is extraordinarily salty and can support no life in or around it. It takes, but does not give. One in our group actually swallowed some of the water while floating on the Dead Sea. She had to seek assistance from a lifeguard. There is no life in the Dead Sea. There is abundant life in the Galilee. “Be Galilee” we were commissioned. And I commission you with that today. It is the way of our Savior who taught others how to be fishers of men and women. There on the edge of the Galilee we were privileged to have member of our group lead devotions on the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, the Feeding of the Five Thousand, and at the place where our risen Lord saw his disciples again and undid Peter’s denial of him by asking him three times, “Peter, do you love me? If so, feed my sheep.” There is a sermon from Jesus in just those two sentences. Do you love me? If so, then feed my sheep.  We saw what could happen to a group that was fanatical and closed off to others. They were called the Essenes. And although from them we now have The Dead Sea Scrolls, they died out after one generation. They were not life like the Galilee. And on our way to the airport on the last day we toured the Jerusalem Holocaust Museum, being reminded of what misguided, twisted evil can do. We chose life instead.


There is plenty more to tell and some of our travelers will share their impressions in a moment. Every traveler who wished to do so offered a devotion of a prayer, a hymn, scripture, and reflections at some holy place. But for now I want to close by telling you about the Jordan River, the river described in both Scripture passages today. It’s not like the Mississippi or the Nile; it’s a river known as the boundary between one country and another; from one land to a holy land; or from an earthly life to a heavenly life as depicted in spiritual songs. For the first time in my five trips there, we went to the actual spot on the Jordan River where we believe John baptized Jesus! I donned a Baptismal gown and went into the Jordan River, and each of our travelers stepped into the edge of the Jordan and let me pour water on their head saying, “With this water, I re-affirm your baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” And two in our group chose a full immersion re-affirmation! That was so special too, saying the same words, but having their robed bodies go under the water and come back up. The day, and the event, was unforgettable. And to cap off our pilgrimage we had communion in a garden near a tomb next to a skull-like rock formation that could have been where our Lord was crucified, laid to rest, and from where he arose to eternal life!


So friends, as our guide and others told us several times a day, that is a Holy Land. Long before Jesus, God claimed that land to be holy. Yes it is true that there is passion and there are clashes. But you should know that as we traveled—as you heard threatening report after threatening report—we never felt unsafe. It was as if we traveled in the loving hands of God. We came to learn and to pray, to see holy sites and other cultures with wonder and respect. It has felt that same way every time I’ve gone. If you are physically able to go to this great land through our Tour Company, go with confidence regarding your safety. It is not all strife and bombs and blood. There are hospitable Christians, kind Muslims, and welcoming Jews. Please put that imprint over the images that bombard us on our news channels. That land is still filled with wonder, with history, and with holiness. Now thirty-six of us are ambassadors, not only of the Good News of Jesus Christ, but the eyewitness news of how gladly we were greeted and how much we experienced. Ask us about our pilgrimage! And, perhaps because of our words, or the reading of your Bibles, you will reaffirm your conviction to be a disciple of light and love.


Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                           July 20, 2014

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What kind of soil am I? That’s usually the first question that comes up after hearing this parable. I have heard many sermons preached on how to discover which soil are you or how to improve your soil.


I’m not going to preach that today. In fact, I’m going to make the claim that what kind of soil we are depends on the day, or even the hour in which we are in.


After all, we all have times when we are so frustrated, weary and burned out by the world that we shut down. That we respond to comments with nothing but cynical responses. That we just cannot hear or see the good that is going on around us because of all that is going on in our lives. We all have times when we are trampled hard roads.


And we all have days when we grow excited about a project or an idea or an activity at the church only to return home and see that we don’t have room in our calendars for it. Or that there is just too much else to do. Or we start a new spiritual practice with high hopes, but as time goes by find it harder and harder to fit into schedules. We lose enthusiasm and go looking for something else. Those are the times when our roots are far too shallow and the fruit of our work withers.


Then there are the times when we see someone in need of help, or we hear of a mission that could use our support, but we are saving for something in our own lives. Or we are heading off to something important and don’t have time to help, or share, or listen. The times when the weeds of the world choke out the message to us.


But on the flip side, everyone has days when they are good soil. Days when they are in the right frame of mind to hear the word and embrace it. Take it into their lives and change based on what they have heard. Everyone can have times when they hear the word and it makes them go out and do good. When the seed of God’s love inspires them go out and change the lives of others. We all have days when we are good and fruitful soil.


Too often we are quick to label ourselves as one type of soil, when really we have within us all of them. When we start labeling people as soil, it’s quick to dismiss someone as hard ground or full of weeds. And when that happens it’s easy to stop sowing seeds and miss the whole point of this passage. Because this parable isn’t just focused on the soil.


Instead, I think this passage is focused on the one who is sowing the seeds. After all, it’s known as the parable of the sower, not the parable of the soil. So I want to take a moment to look at this sower.


First of all, he’s not a very responsible farmer. Anyone who has ever grown anything will tell you that before you begin to plant, you carefully prepare your soil. You dig up weeds and remove rocks. You till the dirt until its nice and loose. I know. My dad loves to garden and there was many an afternoon I was appointed to help with the weeding, and mulching. And aerating the soil. Gardening is hard work even before you pick up the seeds.


Then comes the planting. Every seed carefully placed in the place that had been picked for it. Working in neat little rows, spacing them out until  everyone had a chance to grow.


I simply cannot imagine my dad going and scattering seeds to the winds in his garden, letting them grow where they fell. And he was just an enthusiastic ameture. Imagine how much more careful a farmer whose livelihood depended on the wellbeing of those seeds would be?


But here, in this parable, Jesus shows us a sower who throws his seeds to the wind, sending them to the good and bad soil alike. This is a sower abounding more in generosity than practical gardening sense.


Barbara Brown Taylor mentions this passage in one of her sermons, saying “We hear the story and think it is a story about us, but what if we are wrong? What if it is not about us at all but about the sower? What if it is not about our own successes and failures and birds and rocks and thorns but about the extravagance of a sower who does not seem to be fazed by such concerns, who flings seed everywhere, wastes it with holy abandon, who feeds the birds, whistles at the rocks, picks his way through the thorns, shouts hallelujah at the good soil and just keeps on sowing, confident that there is enough seed to go around, that there is plenty, and that when the harvest comes at last it will fill every barn in the neighborhood to the rafters?”


What if?


You see, this is the beginning of Jesus’ parables on what the Kingdom of God is really like. For Christ, the focus isn’t on us or what kind of soil we are on any given day, but instead the focus is on the amazing generosity of our God. The Kingdom of God is abounding in generosity to all, regardless of whether anyone deserves it, because we all have days when we don’t deserve it. Jesus sows the seeds to the winds, not because of us, but because of the enormousness of his grace. Our God is content to sow seeds on all of creation, over and over again until something sinks in.


And when it does sink it, what amazing things it does! The few seeds that fall upon the good soil? They yield crops of thirty, sixty and a hundredfold! That is unheard of in Jesus’ time. It’s barely heard of today when we have genetically superior crops, fertilization and irrigation techniques so advanced that some of them are run entirely by computers.


One corn seed yields a hundred stalks. Imagine that!


Such is the case with the Word of God. It is less likely to root in any given soil than not, but when it does the results are mind blowing. One seed of an idea can start a movement that changes lives. One momentary impulse of volunteering can make a permanent difference in a community.


When Hannah Taylor was five she saw a man eating out of a garbage can on a frozen winter day. For the next year, Taylor interrogated her mother with questions about homelessness, not understanding how there could possibly be people in the world with no homes.  One day, her mother challenged her to do something about it.  So Taylor organized a bake sale and clothing drive in her first grade classroom to raise money to help. She went to business owners all over the community and began asking them for money directly.  When she was eight, she formed a nonprofit called the Ladybug Foundation. She spoke out on the human side of homelessness to groups of all sizes. Since its beginning her group has raised over two million dollars to combat homelessness directly, and has formed another charity focusing on how to empower other children to make a difference in the world.


All because on one day, she saw someone suffering and the seed of compassion fell on good soil. She could have simply turned away. Or gotten interested for a few days before being distracted by a new game as most five year olds would. But she didn’t. And because she didn’t, the world changed for many people.


Now, most people wouldn’t look at a five year old girl and think of her as good soil. They might think she could grow up into good soil, but not that she could do much then. But her parents supported her efforts. They suggested her trying to change things. They sowed the seeds.


As followers and disciples of Christ, we are called to do as he did. To sow abundantly. Too often we stop to consider whether or not someone deserves something before we do it for them. We tally up the number of times we’ve been asked for a favor before we are willing to do another one. We consider ages, genders and limitations before we suggest trying something new.


But that’s not what Christ calls us to. We should sow God’s love abundantly regardless of where it might fall. We should share the fruits of compassion, kindness, hope and love with whoever may cross our pass.


And we should be giving thanks to our Creator who abounds with generosity for us. For the work of our Lord, who never stops sowing the seeds of his Word into our lives. For the Spirit who tends those seeds, waiting for them to take root.


Creator God, unceasingly at work in the field of humanity sowing the good seed and awaiting its yield, we thank you for your generosity in our lives.  We ask that you let your Spirit move in power over us to transform our hearts into the good soil you seek. Then may your word bear fruit a hundredfold in our deeds of justice and peace, making this world more like your kingdom, that we might rest together in your generous love. It is in your name we pray,



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Youth Mission Sunday

— our youth presented almost the entire service, including the sermons, sharing their insights gained during their week of mission service in Savannah, GA —

The sermon this week was given by 3 young ladies, Aubrey Osiborski, Stacy Neeka, and Casey Timbs.

Aubrey Osiborski

One of the sites we worked at this year was the Salvation Army. While we were there, we met a man named Anthony. Anthony was the head of a rehab program where men with drug addictions willingly came to live at the Salvation Army for 6 months, attended mandatory church services, worked in the Salvation Army warehouse for 8 hours a day, and got their lives back on track. We worked alongside these men during our time in Savannah. While we worked Anthony pointed out a large white wall along one side of the warehouse. I will never forget what was on the other side of that wall.

Hundreds of people: men, women, and children all in desperate need of food and shelter. These were people we never met, but Anthony said that just by doing what we were doing, we were changing their lives. During the rest of the week I kept thinking about what was on the
other side of the wall. Then I remembered this passage in the bible from the book of Mathew. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you welcomed me.” In the passage, Jesus states “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it for me.”

The people on the other side of the wall at the Salvation Army were the Least of These and are the reason why many of us serve. We went to Savannah to be servants to the Lord. We served him by making a difference to the people on the other side of the wall. Anthony, who was a graduate of the rehab program, truly has a servant heart. He is so passionate about what he does, and every day he makes a difference for those people. He lives at the Salvation Army, and he lives for them.

While we were in the warehouse, the daunting amount of donations we had to work with while in the heat was discouraging. It made us question if whether or not the small amount of work we actually managed to complete was really making any difference. Anthony told us that even though we were discouraged, to remember the other side of the wall. We couldn’t see the impact we were making, but God could. Because we were serving him. God works through people like Anthony. People with servant hearts who will work to make a difference in the lives of the least of these.

I will take Anthony’s advice as a servant to man and to God, as should all of you. Having
a servant heart doesn’t mean sitting back while letting other people or organizations take care of others. It means going out into the world and serving as if you were serving the Lord, with an earnest desire to help the least of these. Because organizations like Goodwill and Red Cross only exist because of people with servant hearts. The Salvation Army in Savannah only exists because of people like Anthony.

So if you ever decide not to donate that extra item or the change in your pocket,
remember the single mother who can’t find a job. If you ever decide that giving your time in the community won’t matter or that someone else will do it, remember the homeless father still trying to provide for his four children. And the next time you question if what God is calling you to do will really make a difference, remember the other side of the wall.

Stacy Neeka


So, I’ve been on all the mission trips since I was able to. Of course I thought it would be the same exact thing that we did in the past. Working in a thrift shop, eat, sleep, paint, devotions, worship and Cara talking to us about doing the service.

But since this is my last year, this one really hit hard.

The theme of the week was Demonstrations which I thought was an “oh. They are going to teach us thing we already know.” Well, it was a lot more than what I thought.

Monday we worked at the Boys and Girls Club. It caused a huge head ache. Literally. There was a bunch of screaming kids like kids usually do. But Tuesday, during Devotions, the theme of the day was “Step In” which helped us do that exact thing at the Boys and Girls Club. “Stepping In” means that we need to help in a specific situation that needs it. The kids had the time of their life while reading with Mrs. Denise, Aubrey, and Nikki. We left that day feeling better than we did the previous day.

We worked at an assisted living facility where we laughed at the simplest cards that the women were sorting through. One say “happy birthday” on the outside and “you’re old” on the inside. They thought it was so funny. That was a demonstration towards me, to laugh at the small things and to always smile.
We also worked at Salvation Army were sorted clothes and made a huge hill with those clothes. The clothes we sorted on the first day were being boxed up and sent to Haiti. We learned about the “Do it for the other side of the wall” also while we were at Salvation Army. The “Do it for the other side of the wall” is kind of a metaphor for “don’t do it for yourself but do it for a bigger purpose.”

We all do things out of our own free will and doing it because if we don’t, we will have a guilty conscious. But what I got out of this mission trip is that serving people is something you want to do. I love going on the mission trips because I feel like I helped out a community. But I also learned you need to be a demonstration of Jesus.

Casey Timbs


Recently our youth group participated in a foot washing. The leaders
got the group of kids in a small circle, as we got ready with warm rags to
dry their feet. While gently and slowly washing their feet, the leaders said
prayers for each child. The kids getting their feet washed were asked if
they had ever done it before] One girl raised her hand and said, “Only if I
stepped in something dirty.” It’s simple enough, if you step in something
dirty you wash it: off. But then I actually thought about it.

That sentence, “Only if I step in something dirty” is just like our life. It is
dirty everywhere we step and every day we get our feet dirty,but it’s up to
us whether we choose God to wash our feet at the end of the day. We
have to take the stepand let God clean away all our dirty sins and faults.
And in order to really do this, you must have complete faith.

During one of our evening clubs on Wednesday, the leaders asked the
groups, “If you could go back to Jesus’ time, what event would you have
wanted to witness?” I got to talk to Aubrey, and she said one of the things
she would’ve wanted to see, would be when Jesus walked on water (But
she said she wanted to see it through Peter’s eyes, because Peter got a
chance to trust Jesus, trust Jesus enough to walk on waterbut then lost
faith and fell. She told me, “If I was in Peter’s position would I have trusted
Jesus and gone all the way? Or would I have sunk?”

And that’s a big question. Because I’m sure everyone here can stand
up and say I believe in Jesus Christ. ,

But do you really, truly have faith? You have to fully, believe. In
whatever you believe, believe in it with all your heart …

With all your passion …

With all your soul.



Once you are there, you must show your faith. Without doing this,
your belief is merely

an illusion … in the water … where you’re sinking.

Looking back on the first lesson from the book of James, it says,l”lf a
brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to
thernl’Go in peace, keep warm and eat your fill’ and yet you do not
supply their bodily need, what is the good of that?” So what good is it
to shout out your faith, yet not stand and act out on it?

One of the youthworks leaders, Megan, told us about how she was
always the sweet church going Christian girl. She talked about how
she did everything on the checklist of being a Christian, going to
church, being baptized, and wearing a necklace with a cross. But it
wasn’t until she was older at a summer camp, where she actually
found her relationship with God that brought her to be so involved
with Christ. It wasn’t until then … that she found her own way … to
demonstrate her love and share her faith with people like us.

This week’s theme was Demo, or demonstration. Our youth
demonstrated our love for Jesus this week, and we shared our faith and
acted on our beliefs.

We opened ourselves to learn and understand more about what
exactly the faith we have is.

So I just have an idea, a proposition, for everyone here today, to create
your own mission. A mission to put your faith into action in your everyday
life …

not just on Sundays or after a week of church mission.

A mission that never ends, but instead keeps building on a tower of faith,

that doesn’t sink, but goes all the way.