Sermon, 7/13/14, The Rev. Lori M. Lowe

Pentecost IV (Proper 10 A)                                                 St. Paul’s

July 13, 2014                                                                                McHenry

 May the word of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Let me start my reflection – and this is more a reflection today than a sermon – with a couple of points of clarification.  First, we use the term “gospel” to describe the four versions of the story of Jesus that are part of the canon of scripture – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, our reading this morning being from the Gospel of Matthew. But the basic meaning of “the gospel” is this: the good news of the love of God revealed in Jesus.  Or put more simply, the good news of God in Christ. 

The second point of clarification is about parables.  A parable – one of the main vehicles Jesus used in his teaching – is by definition a succinct story meant to be instructive.  One of the characteristics of a true parable is that it doesn’t necessarily have only one meaning.  When Jesus tells a parable, his listeners are left to ponder what the heck that meant!  And while it’s tempting to turn a parable into a fable or morality tale, or to turn it into an analogy, giving each element of the story a meaning, Jesus rarely if ever did that.  He seemed to have loved to let people go away scratching their heads.

Point in case: the Parable of the Sower.  Jesus told this concise little story about a farmer who spread his seeds randomly and, one might even say, extravagantly.  Some lived, some died, some thrived.  That’s it.  Just that.  He wrapped it up with, “Let anyone with ears listen!”

Then, according to faithful scholars, Matthew just couldn’t stand it – leaving it hanging like that.  So in his account of this story, he added his analogy, explaining what each element of the story represented.  It’s not a bad analogy, as analogies go. But his explanation cheats us of the opportunity to go away scratching our heads and pondering what Jesus might have meant; cheats us of having to work at opening our ears – our minds and hearts.

It’s a wonderful parable, don’t you think?  One that fits nicely into the images of sowing and reaping that we read in the Old and New Testaments.  Take for instance these examples:

Job 4:8  … those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.

Proverbs 22:8   Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity…

Galatians 6:7-8  You reap whatever you sow…

2 Corinthians 9:6  …whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.

Quite simply, what we sow is what we reap.

  • If we sow violence, we will reap violence.
  • If we sow anger, we will reap anger.
  • If we sow – that is, if we tolerate, allow, or participate in injustice, WE WILL REAP NOT ONLY INJUSTICE FOR OURSELVES,

BUT THE FRUITS OF INJUSTICE WILL BE HATRED, RESENTMENT, AND WAR.

On the other hand, what would be the fruits of our sowing if we sowed compassion, justice, forgiveness, and love?  Let me give you a minute to imagine that…   (Feel free to scratch your heads.)  Ponder now this quote from the Honorable John Lewis, a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement side-by-side with Dr. King, and now Congressional Representative from my home state of Georgia:

[paraphrased] “We may have come here on many different ships, but now we’re all in the same boat.”

He reminds us that, except for Native Americans, we are all immigrants.  That being said, we are one nation, “…we’re all in the same boat.” I find myself thinking about that a lot lately; the idea that we are all in the same boat.  About the idea that those few men and women who have gone into space all say the same thing – that there are no borders visible from space. It’s very theological, of course, as in the prayer of Jesus that we all are one even as he and God are one.  Not just Christians, we must understand, but all of us… all people, all creatures, all creation.

What I’m beating around the bush about is the issue of these thousands of children who have come like “huddled masses” to our shores; literally to our borders.  Some are so young that I cringe at the desperation of their parents, their mothers and fathers, who sent them off into the unknown. To my mind, this is not an immigration issue.  This is a human issue, a refugee issue.  And they are children.  Texas, Nevada, California, all along the Gulf coast, anywhere along our southern borders. One town held a protest rally, demanding that these intruders be turned back, deported immediately.  Others have found places in their communities to provide shelter, food, beds for the children at their door.

Each will reap what they have sown.

All this may seem far away from McHenry.  But it turns out that several hundred of these children are being sheltered in Chicago.  It also turns out that we have hungry children right here in McHenry; and that is a conversation we will have very soon.  But for now, I’m trying to imagine what would it take for me to give all the money I have, everything, to a stranger who promised to take my child to an unknown destination and leave him there?  Such a thing seems inconceivable to me in my comfortable, sheltered world.  On the receiving end, I’m trying to imagine how we are to respond to this tragedy through the lenses of the gospel, through the lenses of the love of God in Christ Jesus.

I’m trying to think of what we might sow and what we might reap:

  • What will we reap if we sow indignation and rejection?
  • What will we reap if we sow love and compassion?

(Head scratching may be appropriate.)

Hear then this parable:

There was a gardener who had many workers.  This gardener allowed each of the workers in this garden to plant, tend, and harvest in any way they liked. One of the workers was insecure and anxious, so he or she (it doesn’t matter which) put a fence around his portion of the garden, put out poison to keep away the critters who kept trying to take a tomato or two, and who worked hard to protect what was his. Another of the workers preferred to ignore the gardening with the result that nothing much grew, and what did grow wasn’t very productive.  Even the critters didn’t much bother with it.  Another worker partnered up with several others to share the work and the bounty.  Their garden flourished and provided more than enough for them, their less fruitful neighbors, and even the critters. 

Let those with ears to hear, listen.

Lori +