Summary: July 1989: When we are prospering, we are tempted into the idolatry of me-ism and self-congratulation. This is an opportunity to do more for others and for the Kingdom, for God is the source of our bounty.

About a year ago, toward the end of July, I placed one of these up here on the pulpit as the visible sermon for the day. Remember? Do you recall what we called that Sunday? Right: we called it "catch-up Sunday" …catch-up Sunday … and the idea was that if we were behind in our giving, if we as a church had not measured up to what we had committed ourselves to do financially, then it was time to catch up.

And I said, in using one of these bottles, that my father used to shake the old stubborn ketchup bottle and recite a little piece of doggerel to describe what happens to you when you try to get the red stuff out. He would say, "Shake and shake the ketchup bottle; none’ll come and then a lot’ll.”

And my closing comment a year ago was that that’s what we were doing on our catch-up Sunday: shaking the old vessel known as Takoma Park Baptist Church in hopes that a lot’ll come forth.

Well, it did. Or rather you did. Or rather God did. On that Sunday in July last year we received a very substantial offering, and it seemed as though things began to pick up and to continue, and a year later, things are so different that the metaphor of the ketchup bottle is no longer appropriate. I am just going to put it away. No more ketchup.

Instead I have another visible sermon. And that is this bowl of blackberries. Plump, ripe, juicy, abundant blackberries. These blackberries came out of my backyard. They were grown on vines which were started in a small way by my wife just two or three years ago, and they didn’t produce much at first. It hardly seemed worth the effort.

But last summer, just about ketchup bottle time, we began to harvest a pretty good crop of blackberries. Not overwhelming, but not a bad year either.

But, folks, this summer has surpassed anything you can imagine. The vines put out shoots in every direction. I keep putting up more fencing and my wife keeps trying to train the vines where we want them to go, but they are thriving beyond our ability to contain them.

And more important, the berries. Just look at them. This is just one day’s harvest. There are so many that we have to harvest every day or we will be overwhelmed. There are so many that the backyard resembles the aviary at the zoo; the birds love these goodies. There are so many that we are eating them, cooking them, baking them, freezing them, giving them away, threatening to thrown them away. There are so many blackberries that it’s hard to keep up with them at all. In fact, next week, if the communion juice tastes a little different …

But the blackberries are my visible sermon this year, because they speak to me of the abundance of our God. They remind me how good our God has been to us. When He shook us last year, the results were spectacular. The berries are like our church, in that we have been blessed with what we need, and now we are going to move into a time in which we will have to think creatively about what to do with our resources. Like these blackberries, signs of God’s willingness to bless something that has been carefully and lovingly tended, our church faces a new era and new challenges, new struggles.

It’s a happy problem, but it is a problem, it is a struggle. And the prophet Hosea, who has spoken so wonderfully to us several times this summer, who has addressed the human struggle at several key points, has a word for us about this kind of struggle too.

For thirteen chapters the prophet Hosea has told the nation Israel about what is going to happen to them if they do not repent. He has forecast failure, he has declared doom, he has talked of terrible things. But now in the 14th chapter, as he comes to the end of his word, he speaks of God’s ultimate intention. He speaks of what it is that our God really wants to do for his people. And thus he speaks of healing and of flourishing. What God always wants to do for us is to heal us or our hurts and to give us abundance. Listen:

Hosea 14:4-8

Just listen to the images of abundance; just listen to the generosity of our God. Israel shall blossom as the lily … he shall strike root as the poplar … his shoots shall spread out … he shall be like a beautiful olive, he shall flourish as a garden ... what a glorious garden our God is planting. What a God who is always interested in making the desert blossom like a rose and who showers abundance on his children. What a God who can take scrawny little vines in a backyard in Silver Spring and produce all this.

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