A memory walk.

I was talking to a group recently and mentioned setting a record in a high school golf tournament. As a sophomore, I earned a score of 100 on nine holes.

If you don’t play golf, you need to know that the lowest score wins. And that professional golfers routinely score between 65 and 70 for eighteen holes.

After the meeting, someone asked about it. I said I hit 25 strokes on the first hole alone. And then I described the beginning of the hole, and my first six strokes (into water from the tee twice). I also remember the next three, and the last four. The other twelve are lost at the moment.

And then I realized that I was remembering details from one game of golf in 1973. Forty-four years ago.

At the time no one shamed me. No one mocked me. They may have pitied me a bit. But I didn’t need their help. I’ve been laughing and cringing about it for decades.

I remember several other moments from my golfing life. Almost all of them are memories of mistakes, frustration, anger, and struggle. Almost none of them are about walking with my dad on a beautiful course in Grantsburg, Wisconsin.

DadAnd yet now, as I am writing this, I smell the course and hear the screendoor on the clubhouse. And the “good shot” from my dad. And the time quietly walking.

I think that God invites us out of remembering the frustration of our failures. Like when Jesus invites his disciples to rest in him. And when Paul invites us to forget what is behind.

And I think that God may invite us to stop and remember the moments that we were walking on the golf course or down the hospital corridor with him.

It’s easier, I admit, to remember the details of my horrible round. But at the moment, I think I want to spend time remembering the walking with.

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I’m working on a hospital journal idea.

The soil.

Now that we’ve thought about seed, Jesus says to understand the growth of belief or the absence of growth, pay attention to the soil.

Some people live with arms already crossed and ears covered. If they were face-to-face with Jesus, they would turn the other way. Sometimes, perhaps, they have good reason. Their capacity to hear has been trampled by life. Other times they just refuse to listen. Whatever the case, the words of another kingdom do not take root.

WheatOther people respond quickly. They hear that the kingdom of God is a happy place, and they are happy. But they missed the part where Jesus said that there would be persecution, that people who know God still get sick, still face death. When that happens, as it always will, they feel betrayed. They give up hope.

Other people respond and start growing. But they get distracted. Jesus talks about the worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth. Keeping up with other people’s expectations can take all of our energy and we don’t have time to converse with God. Wealth can tell us that the way to happiness is more wealth. And soon, we can’t even hear the good news of the kingdom that we don’t have to live to keep up.

But, Jesus talks about a fourth group of people, who hear the news and receive the news and respond to the news. They expect resistance because Jesus said it would happen. They know that it takes work and trust. They grow.

And then those people start to break up the soil. They offer people new chances to survive the challenges of life. They call people back from their distraction.

If you are a farmer, plant seed. All the time. Prepare the soil, whenever you can. And know that the harvest isn’t up to you.

Because it’s not our kingdom, it’s God’s.

Thinking about seeds.

Yesterday, we walked through the farming story that Jesus told. It’s a story that makes sense just as a story. But then Jesus starts to explain it.

The seed, Jesus says, is the news about the kingdom of God.

He talked about it all the time. He taught us to pray often that God’s kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

FieldAs Jesus talked and lived it, it is a place of community for the lonely, welcome for the rejected, healing for the sick, rest for the weary. Yet it’s not a place, as in a building. It’s not a mindset or an attitude. It’s wherever and whenever people orient their lives toward the king.

And a tiny understanding of that message is like a seed, that starts tiny and grows in our lives.

But nothing grows if you don’t plant seeds. The soils can’t respond if there is nothing to respond to.  And so the farmer spreads seed. Generously. Abundantly. Everywhere.

The farmer, who at that moment and in that story was Jesus, was tossing out words of the kingdom of God all the time. “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” That’s what he said. “Your sins are forgiven.” That’s what he said.

And then, what he did said even more. He talked to children. He talked to women. He talked to Samaritans. He touched people who were sick without flinching. He spent patient time with people who asked the same questions over and over. He lived and died and rose again.

He was planting seeds about the kingdom all the time with every word and every act. Which is the invitation and command to those who follow up. Plant seed, all the time. Speak of forgiveness, and then live it. Touch without flinching. Share without judging.

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Tomorrow, the soil.

Seeing isn’t always believing.

(This is a short series on the parable of the soils.)

I talk to lots of people who talk about Jesus.

They wonder where he is.

They wonder what he means by what he said. They say, “It’s hard to believe that he wants us to do this or that.” They say, “I’m not sure that he really meant what he said.” And then we say that if we saw him, if we heard him, we would believe him.

I understand that desire to look him in the face and talk with him.

But I’m not sure that we would necessarily believe him, just because we saw him.

Think about it for a moment. Jesus talked to lots of people. He talked in clear language and confusing, to religious and political leaders, to insiders and outcasts, to people almost exactly like us in our diversity.

Some of those people believed what he said and did it. Some of them started to and then walked away. Some of them killed him.

Different responses to Jesus aren’t based on seeing him face-to-face. The differences are in our hearts and minds.

FieldJesus told a story to explain these different responses. It was a farming story, familiar to anyone who has ever walked in a field or planted grass in a yard. It’s possible that as Jesus told this story, some people could see a farmer in a nearby field.

A farmer, Jesus says, went out to sow seeds. The farmer was broadcasting the seeds, taking a handful at a time and tossing them. The way my grandfather did when he planted hay. It doesn’t take any equipment. It’s generous with seed.

It’s generous with seed. But it’s inefficient. Seed goes everywhere.

Some of the seed, Jesus says, falls on the path that the neighbors had worn through the field as the shortest distance between one town and another. It doesn’t sink in. The birds have a field day.

Some seeds drop on rocky soil. Rocks are working their way to the surface. Or part of the field hasn’t been cleared of the stones. There is a thin layer of dirt, enough for the seed to germinate and one small blade to start. But not enough for roots to dig deep for water. And in the heat of the Mideast sun, the plants shrivel.

Some seeds drop in with the weed seeds, which grow faster. They spread out to the sun. They suck up the water. They are bullies. We have a garden we walk past where the weeds often overtake the tomatoes.

Some seed falls where the soil is friable and fertilized, where the farmers have worked for generations to break up the clumps and clear out the stones and pull out the weeds as soon as they start.

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Go read the story. I’ll have more tomorrow.

A prayer and a request.

Some days I’m pretty resilient at the hospital. I walk out tired but grateful.

Recently I had one of the “not” days. The day wasn’t excruciating by chaplain standards. A death, a new baby, a couple of visits with people chronically ill. Encouraging conversations in the midst of hard times. The opportunity to speak graciously in difficult moments. Offering help and practical next steps.

It was the kind of day that makes you say, “It’s challenging but rewarding.”

And then.

IMG_1138.JPGAnd then we got involved in a situation that is fundamentally sad.

That’s all I can say. No details, even disguised. But I walked away from the hospital at the end of the shift at a loss.

It is so easy to begin telling a story that comes into the ER based on patterns. And then to act based on the story. Until you suddenly stop and say, “What if we have it backward?”

What’s hard to own is being part of that first story, finding that the patterns point toward bad choices. Until we think it through.

You know what I mean. We all jump to reactions before we know the data. Or even when we know the data. But my prayer as I walked out that night was, “God. Help.”

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I’d love a little help from you, too. I’m teaching a course this fall about pastoral care and pastoral ministry. The students are working on masters degrees. Some are on staff at churches, some are not.

I want to build pictures of what pastoring can look like, in a good way. So what I’d love is stories from you about a moment when someone, working as a representative of Jesus, offered the kind of care that a shepherd offers a sheep.

I could explain more, I suppose. And I’m not interested in definitions from books or sermons. And I have lots of stories of exploiting sheep. I listen to them all the time, and offer apologies.

But I would like to have good specific stories.

Thank you.