Pentecost 6 – Proper 10 – July 16, 2017
Psalm 65:((1-8), 9-14
Seeds of Plenty
A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA.
Summer is the season in which the alchemy of good earth… kissed by sunshine and quenched with waters from heaven… bring forth green crops, fruited vines, fields of lavender and oceans of grain. This is a season when God’s work of transformation is visible in the world around us if we but pay attention to the complex yet elemental processes of fruition that are happening all around us… the ongoing work of creation of which we are a part… God’s work that is visible to anyone who pays attention… visible to anyone who look’s up and out… casting one’s gaze upon on the vast canvass of generative abundance that continues to unfold season after season, generation after generation.
Our Psalm (65:1-14) speaks of the magnificence and abundance of this summer season:
You crown the year with your goodness and your paths overflow with plenty.
May the fields of the wilderness be rich for grazing, and the hills clothed with joy.
May the meadows cover themselves with flocks, and the valleys cloak themselves with grain; let them shout and sing.
Today’s lessons speak to us of God’s hand at work in the natural world of which we are so very intricately connected. This is imagery that our ancestors would have understood very well. It is imagery that Jesus used in his teaching as he stepped into a boat and sat down to begin telling stories… stories in the form of parables… speaking to the curious crowd that had gathered on the beach to hear from Jesus the teacher This is a moment in Jesus’ ministry in which his reputation has grown and his teaching is now being recognized beyond his close knit circle of disciples. It is also a time when tensions are rising as “the powers that be” have taken notice… and their opposition to this itinerant teacher is growing. In the previous chapter (12), Jesus provoked the ire of religious authorities as he violated religious law by plucking grain and performed healings on the Sabbath. At this moment in Matthew’s telling of the gospel story, Jesus has just ignored his mother and his brothers who had come to speak with him… announcing that his family is now inclusive of yet beyond that of his family of origin. Jesus’ place in the gospel story is shifting. Now, here, in this 13th chapter…of the 28 chapters that comprise Matthew’s gospel… here Jesus teaches a growing audience in a string of parables beginning with the Parable of the Sower. Jesus is offering teaching that is meant to stir listeners’ minds into thinking differently and to touch and to spark hearts into perceiving the world anew… inviting listeners into new relationships with creation and with one another. In his book Transforming Bible Study, the biblical scholar Walter Wink describes parables like this:
Parables are tiny bits of coal squeezed into diamonds, condensed metaphors that catch the ray of something ultimate and glint it at our lives. Parables are not illustrations; they do not support, elaborate, or simplify a more basic idea. [They are not ideas at all, nor can they ever be reduced to theological statements] They are the jeweled portals of another world; [we cannot see through them like windows, but lights are refracted through their surfaces that would otherwise blind us – or pass unseen.]
Parables are more than they seem on the surface. Parables invite us to engage and wrestle with the story. They tease our senses and invite us to go more deeply to encounter eternal truths that defy being contained and neatly packaged. When we truly engage with parables we are asked to participate in the story. We are invited to work and to wrestle with the parable’s multiple layers of meaning.
The parable we are offered today is one of the best known of Jesus’ teachings. The Parable of the Sower appears in all three of the synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke. It also appears in the Gospel of Thomas which was not included in the final authorized canon, or collection, collection of books of that we know today as the Bible… the canon that was not finalized by the church until the fourth century.
I don’t know about you but my first tendency, when encountering this well-known Parable of the Sower, is to head right over to be in the group of folks who consider themselves “good soil.” I want to be amongst the faithful who hear the Word, understand it, live it, and bear good fruits of the love of God working in me… and to do so many times over. And it is sorely tempting to categorize others who we decide aren’t in this “good soil” category… It is far too easy to apply names and faces to those we deem hardened, shallow, or thick with weeds. The good news is that we do not need to concern ourselves with any kind of sorting of others. Such judgements are not ours to make. The engagement with this parable is ours… it about Christ working in us and bearing fruits towards the building up of God’s Reign on earth. Whether the category fits for us, or not, the challenge is for us not to plunk ourselves comfortably in the “good soil” category and to stay there without considering how God’s life is seeking to take ever deeper root in us. Just as soil is tilled and turned and worked to prepare for seed sowing, so are we to participate in the process of having the inner corners of our being refreshed and renewed and prepared again for God’s life to take root in us… and it is for us to assent and welcome Christ who seeks to embrace the whole of us no matter the category in which we find ourselves, no matter our mistakes, no matter our sin, no matter our short comings. There is no end to the generosity of the sower… nor is there a shortage of seed to be cast into the far flung corners of our hurting world. God’s dream is for us and for God’s beloved creation to thrive… as does a lush garden in the warmth of summer. Until Eden returns in its fullness, until heaven and earth become one, the work of cultivating hearts and minds will continue as we are invited to participate in ever more abundant life… and as we are ever more empowered to grow in relationship with one another and with creation… as roots of faith spread and deepen, and as our hearts are drawn to gaze heavenward welcoming the “Son’s light” to shine on us and in us that we may bear fruits of caring and compassion wherever we find ourselves.
The seeds of the Gospel are seeds of transformation for the sake of abundant life. Though we face many challenges in caring for the earth, and of being makers of abiding peace, and of caring for one another, especially the stranger and the least among us… even now God’s life is making itself known to us in the literal ripening of fruit, and in hearts stirred to action revealed in acts of caring small and large, and in God’s tenacious desire that trust and hope take root giving strength and opening doors of hospitality and welcome for God’s dream that is urgently seeking to be realized here on earth.
I would like to close with and an untitled poem by the artist Judy Chicago that speaks of God’s lush and abundant dream:
Untitled Poem by the artist Judy Chicago
And then all that has divided us will merge
And then compassion will be wedded to power
And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind
And then both men and women will be gentle
And then both women and men will be strong
And then no person will be subject to another’s will
And then all will be rich and free and varied
And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many
And then all will share equally in the Earth’s abundance
And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old
And then all will nourish the young
And then all will cherish life’s creatures
And then all will live in harmony with each other and the Earth
And then everywhere will be called Eden once again.
All this in Christ’s holy and life-giving name…
 Walter Wink, “Transforming Bible Study” pg. 159)