Sermon
November 20, 2005
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

Matthew 25:31-46

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 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 visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Philippians 1:1-11

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

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Sermon: A Harvest of Righteousness

A few years back a group of us were invited to New Haven after church to go out for Pizza. Now, New Haven is a bit of a drive for Pizza, but the organizer of this trip was Wayne Hackney, and Wayne was a thoroughly trustworthy guide in many matters including pumpkins, pizza, electronic repairs, and life itself lived with gusto and fearlessness. I don’t know if any other member of our congregation was ever featured in Yankee magazine, but Wayne was for his adventures in the world of giant pumpkins.



One year, as many here already know, Wayne was the first man in the history of western civilization, or dare I say in world history, to navigate a squash across a large body of water, our own Candlewood Lake. I don’t recall if this was before or after the trip to New Haven, but even without his voyage in the good ship Mighty Mabel, Wayne’s reputation as a man of adventure was secure and so we were willing to follow him to the Elm City to a place called Pepe’s Pizza, where the high heat of the coal fired ovens is reputed to make the best pie in Connecticut.



When we arrived at Pepe’s a few minutes before opening we were concerned because there was a long line out front, but Wayne took us through a side parking lot, past a dumpster, to a back door. We were greeted there by Gary Bimonte, the grandson of Frank Pepe and current co-owner and manager of the shop. We were taken in through the kitchen and given seats and menus before the front door was even opened. It felt like Ray Liotta going to the Copa in the movie Goodfellows.



As Gary came around to greet everyone, I saw Wayne take a small packet out of his pocket and slip it into Gary’s hand, which brought a large smile to his face – no it wasn’t cash, it was pumpkin seeds. Apparently, Gary was also in the chase to grow the Giant pumpkins and quality seeds from Wayne’s stock were more than enough incentive for the VIP treatment and some of the best pizza any of us had ever eaten.



If you want to grow a pumpkin, you’ve got to have pumpkin seeds. And if you want to grow a giant pumpkin, you find the biggest and best momma pumpkin you can find.



Imagine how hard it would be for the whole agricultural evolution of humankind if there was not a certain reliability to this basic reality – pumpkin seeds beget pumpkins. Imagine if you took tomato seeds and planted them in the ground and instead of tomatoes you got potatoes. You say tomato but I say potato – no it would be a sad and scary world we live in if that were so.



The writer of Genesis noted this reliable fact and attributed it to the creative genius of God: Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:11-12)



If you plant pumpkin seeds and get tomatoes or snow peas, then you would think that someone must have gotten the seeds mixed up in the processing of your packets. But if you saved and protected your best seed and it did not yield the expected plant, then you would think someone was fooling with your fields, sabotaging your hard work, and destroying your high hopes.



So Jesus says: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves 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?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 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 13:24-30



Of course, just having the right seed is no guarantee of a good harvest. The kind of soil where you plant the seed will also determine if your pumpkin is more suited for a single serving custard or a cruise across Candlewood Lake.



“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 listen!” Matthew 13:3-9



What kind of crop do you suppose God wanted to raise up when he planted the seed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into the soil of the human soul? Do you suppose God sent Christ into the world because people were not self-centered enough and God wanted to produce a harvest of selfishness?



Do you suppose God sent Christ into the world because people were not aggressive enough and God wanted to produce a harvest of war?



Do you suppose God sent Christ into the world because people were too prone to forgive and God wanted to produce a harvest of judgment?



Do you suppose God sent Christ into the world because people were not adequately divided against one another in their religious and ethnic groups and God wanted to produce a harvest of fear and isolation?



Do you suppose God sent Christ into the world because the nations were too focused on the needs of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the prisoner and God wanted to produce a harvest of concern about the healthy, the well-fed, and the well-connected?



“Do not be deceived;” says the letter to the Galatians, “God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.”



An old hymn puts it this way:

Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,
Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;
Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.



I’m no farmer – I’m not even quite sure what a sheave is – but I get the message. I understand that God sent Christ into the world to plant the seed of the Gospel in the human heart to produce a harvest of righteousness. And I believe the Gospel of Matthew when it describes that harvest the first lesson we read this morning: 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 visited me.’



Each of us leaves here today with a packet of precious seeds today – not seeds of some seaworthy giant Pumpkin, but seeds of a great Gospel – a message of forgiveness, peace, kindness and compassion. Where will we plant those seeds in the days ahead? How will we nurture their growth in the soil of our own souls, in our families, our places of work, our community, our nation, our world. What can we do to be useful, as Paul wrote, to produce a harvest of righteousness through Christ for the glory and praise of God?



“God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.”


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