Pentecost VII – Proper 11 – July 23, 2017
A Bountiful Harvest
A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA.
I want to share three images that are a reminder, to me, of timeless moments of feeling connection and belonging, images that evoke a deep sense of joy. Moments that remind us that we are children, not of a strict punishing God, but of the God that Jesus knew when he referred to God as “Abba” which is akin the term “daddy,” …a more intimate form of addressing a parent. In treasured memories… there are reminders of the joy, the love and the sense of gleeful abandon that is far too easy to forget as we grow older.
One of my favorite memories of my son Cameron was of a Sunday morning in church when he was about two-years-old. I was serving as an associate priest in a large gothic style church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The little ones would be in the nursery during the first half of the service and would come to receive communion at the very end, after the rest of the congregation had received. On this one Sunday in summer, I was sad when it appeared as though the kids from the nursery would not make it in for communion. So I started clearing the altar table, and as I did, I happened to look up… and I saw, in the distance, in the doorway at the far end of the church… I saw the silhouette of small curly haired little boy. The little one began running up the long aisle towards the front… and as he ran, he yelled “Mama, Mama, Mama.” As he ran, the little red lights in the heel his shoes flashed with every step. The congregation was enraptured. My heart was melting. When the little guy made it to the chancel steps he fell down. The congregation gasped. But then he jumped up, ran the length of the choir stalls, still chanting “Mama, Mama, Mama.” When he made it to the brass altar rail and, in a flash, he ducked under it, and looked up to me with his hands cupped together like this, ready to receive his wafer/cookie… the special food that is shared on Sunday mornings. It was a moment of pure joy that I treasure to this day. It is an image, for me, of the abandon with which we, too, are called respond to the love of the one who is forever calling us to return and to be nourished in the timeless and eternal embrace of love.
Another image… a simple one. When we are in the car, my dog Bella loves nothing more than stick her head out of a partially open window as we drive down country roads. She loves to catch the wind in her face as scenery flies by and as her ears are lifted up and away from her face like horizontal flags on a gusty day. This speaks of a sheer abandonment to life in the moment. It speaks of pure and unfettered joy.
A third image… This past week a group of youth and adults explored our connection with creation and the feeding of mind and souls as we explored our interconnectedness with creation and with one another. We learned about flora and fauna. We learned about the life cycle of salmon. We heard various creation stories. We used tools of science in our exploration testing the pH of water, and looking at insects and organisms through magnifying glasses and microscopes. We also sought to expand our experience through the fine tuning our senses to see, touch, listen, and smell the world around us in ever-more subtle ways. One of my favorite moments of the week was on the first day. We had spent the morning examining the flora at HJ Carroll Park and were introduced to life in the waters of Chimacum Creek that will, in mid to late September, be a highway for salmon returning home to spawn. We examined insect life in the creek and measured water temperature in various areas, learning about the importance of vegetation growing along the creek to keep the water cool enough for the salmon. After lunch, on this beautiful summer day, we shifted gears as we sat together on grass to soak up sights, and sounds, and smells. Yes, we heard the rumbling sound of cars out on route 19 as well as the roar of an airplane as it flew above. We listened further… and heard various bird songs and a quiet symphony of leaves rustling in the breeze. My favorite moment came when the suggestion was made that we lay down for five minutes and soak in the experience. So we took a “mini Sabbath” there, together, on the grass. We knew a time of stillness. It was a time for communing with God, together. It was a time of return and rest.
Those are three images of letting go to God’s call simply “to be” and “to remember” to whom we belong, and our place is God’s grand creation: the image of a child running with abandon towards his mother; the image of a young dog as she savors a simple journey with her face to the wind; the image of a group of friends and explorers who share a time of Sabbath rest and renewal.
In the parable of the sower that we explored last week, we heard about the generous sower who casts seed, with abandon, on all types of soil… a hardened path on which the birds ate up the seed, rocky soil, in which the seed took only shallow root and withered away when the sun bore down, soil thick with thorns that choked the sprouted grain, and good soil which is the ideal medium for the production of a healthy crop of grain that yields abundantly.
This week we have another earthy parable about grain. This time Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like a sower who sows good seed… in what we assume to be good soil. Presumably, the outcome would be a healthy crop. But there is a twist. The “enemy” came and sowed weeds among the wheat. The Greek word used for the weeds suggests that the what was sown was darnel or cockle that are pernicious weeds, very common in Israel, weeds that closely resemble wheat… at first. It is only when the two plants mature that they can be told apart. When real wheat matures its heads become heavy with wheat berries and the ears will droop. The darnel or cockle will, however, remain standing straight up as they have born a lighter, bitter fruit. We learn that the wheat and the weeds are hard to differentiate until they mature. We also know that attempts to pull out the weeds might well cause harm to the wheat.
We wonder about “the enemy.” We may be tempted to jump to images of a red devil with his fork. “The enemy” could simply be categorized as evil and, of course, we are prone to want to get rid of the evil in our midst. The parable tells us that such purging is not our work to do. History has too many stories of human beings seeking to make judgements about who is good and who is bad, of sorting and profiling in order to rid the world of pernicious “problems.” Good people trying to do good have the potential to cause real damage, possibly more damage than bad people doing bad things. Think merely of inquisitions, crusades, or of internment camps and concentration camps. The parable tells us that the work of judgement and of culling or separating… is not ours to do. It is for us to grow and mature as we have been called to do. How that happens for others is God’s concern… and the God who loves and cherishes each and every one as a beloved child… is generous and patient. As one author put it, “God is a different kind of farmer. God is like a teacher who does not care so much about who cheats as he cares about who learns. She bides her time with a class full of smug stinkers just so one struggling underachiever can pass the test.”1
Parables are stories that tease our minds and challenge us to think differently. They invite our imaginations to get glimpses of heaven in fresh new ways. We don’t need to figure it all out. Paul, in his letter to the Roman writes about the “freedom of the glory of the children of God.” We are told that the whole creation is groaning in labor pains but that we are to bear the first fruits of the Spirit, even as we wait. For it is the gift of hope that saves us… hope that cannot be seen. …and it is in that very spirit that we are known as children of God and heirs of an eternal and abiding dream of wholeness.
We are all beloved children of God… called to grow and thrive even in the midst of the cares and concerns of the world that, at times, seem to distract and hound us. But then… there are those moments when we break free from the distractions and fears that are in our midst… rich moments when new friends explore the wonders around them and share moments of Sabbath… together… the witness of joyful exhilaration offered by puppy with face to the wind…and the determined abandon of a child who knows that love is beckoning him back… to the embrace of a parent’s love.
In the story “Winnie the Pooh” Piglet asks the Pooh, “How do you spell love?” to which Pooh answers: “You don’t spell it, you feel it.” …love that is felt deeply, nourishment that is calling forth life and growth and wholeness… life that is God’s love known to us in Christ, the one who forever, and always, welcomes us with open arms, bidding us to return with joyful abandon to experience the fullness LIFE and the peace of God that passes all understanding.
1 Author unknown.