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July 12, 2020 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Jul 12, 2020 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

July 12, 2020

With many of you coming here weeding and working the garden beds these past few weeks, repeatedly filling six large compost yard totes, we are well primed for Jesus’ gardening parable today—and, thank you! The difference is transformative and those occasional face-to-face moments with each other have been rejuvenating, even though it is hot, sweaty and dirty work. (Notice Jesus doesn’t concern himself with actual weeding?) Yet his teaching here is invitingly visual and indicative of one with a love and reverence for God’s creation. In addition to the seeds and sower, there are birds, soil, rocks and paths, scorching sun, choking thorns, withering roots – and abundant grain brought forth in good soil to give us bread. Jesus holds up both the cost and the yield, saying how exponentially greater the latter is for those who receive Gods Word.

We heard from Isaiah, authored some 600 years before Jesus’ parable-teaching, also rich in imagery; “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be…” In the Northwest, we know all about God watering the earth! Isaiah also paints with words; mountains and hills, ‘clapping trees’, thorns giving way to cypress, myrtle instead of briars. I know several of you sketch or paint during the readings and sermon now, and I can hardly wait to see what today brings forth! Isaiah gives a poetic perspective of hope to Judean exiles, drawn from knowledge that it is in God’s power to transform any situation.

Today we can readily relate to that idea of ‘exile,’ as well as a parable of sowing and growing. It’s as if these readings are speaking to each other, and we get to listen in. We hear them in our own time, and notably different from where we were three years ago when this pair of scriptures last appeared for us. Back then we were striving to raise donation pledges to expand and pave the parking lot and add a rain garden. We had not yet hit our goal or broken ground. We were bumping through our gravel lot, alternately stirring dust or splashing through recurring potholes of serious depth, and we had lost our overflow parking next door. So we focused on how God might be at work in our community. That day in the sermon I said, “We glimpse God’s vision for St. Michael’s through the signs around us.” I wonder, could any of us have imagined that we’d soon long for the simplicity of such a singular problem with an actual answer?!

You all know we are wrestling these days, this time from multiple directions; For one thing, we are not able to gather in this to worship in person together. We are all in some level of ‘exile’ because of covid-19, and in varying levels of difficulty, depression, fear, anxiety, or financial and job stress. We are all working to understand, to act with compassion and open minds as racial inequity comes ever-increasingly to light amid rising reactivity. People of color and many immigrants express the experience of ‘exile’ they live with, and the teaching/learning curve is steep. Political extremes exert constant tension in our country, leaving us shocked and deeply saddened. We have not one concern but a multiplicity of them, and three of the four I named are quite literally life and death situations. Our well-being is impacted by longer than usual periods of elevated cortisol; usually energizing us to survive when under stress, but if there is no where to put it to work, no relief valve, we hit real fatigue. Further, we are missing those feel-good things like hugs, socializing, laughing and singing next to each other – things which feed our souls. A scientist would say we are lacking that dopamine boost, which also normally helps us be more alert and focused. Where do we find hope when the things we rely on to navigate our world fail us? Isaiah’s poetic words and Jesus’ gardening parable help us if we let them.

Here’s the full line from Isaiah: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it [emphasis added].” Our senses engage in the soothing thoughts of lush trees, we imagine smelling the bread, feeling soft rains, watching life-giving growth and yielding refreshment, abundant blessing. We hear the conviction that God’s Word fulfills it’s purpose. This is what Isaiah says we have in God’s word, and “an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” Then Jesus’ parable gives us all the ways those sown seeds can go wrong! Be it on the path, rocky ground or among thorns – three-fourths of the seed does not bear, only the one quarter remaining does, having fallen into good soil. Three-fourths of the ‘seeds’ are not in the outcome God seems to intend, through no fault of their own I’d add. We live in this sort of world, where inequities and tensions between choices make us struggle to see that good soil and find our way to it, hoping God will send those rains to help us, hoping that God’s reign will come about in this troublesome time. There is much going on that feels far from the beautiful hope of Isaiah, and we grieve over how much we see which surely must also grieve God, be in opposition to God’s hope for us. Pairing these readings need not set one against the other, God speaks to us through them — today we hear it in them together. God’s Word works in ways we can overlook or we get too wrapped up in one tree to see the forest. God’s abundance in blessing us with life-giving waters (images of baptism rise up here) is about renewing and sustaining us so we can notice where the divine is glimpsed even amid the problems and pain.

Can we learn from seeing the evil one snatch away “what is sown in the heart”?  Be forewarned ourselves, or welcome others to try again? Can we engage with the one who hear and joyfully if briefly receive the Word, and then reach out when they are scattered by troubles or persecution? Can our lives show a greater joy in Christ than the lure of worldliness or choking materialism? Even if these are not able to be carried out, or if Jesus is telling us to leave ‘the fixing’ to God, we can yet be nourished by the Word, and stand in awe of the lavish unexpected abundance of God’s bounty, even when we’re troubled. Abundant water is more inspirational for people living in dry desert places. That is us right now.

Perhaps in these times we are neither sower nor seed, perhaps we can be the rain helping to refresh and grow the goodness of God wherever it is sown. Half way through our reading from Isaiah he switches from talking about the rain and snow sent for God’s purpose, to verses which come from God’s mouth; “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” He then changes direction one more time, moving to God’s placing it with the faithful; “For you shall go out in joy and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you [emphases added] shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” Cypress and myrtle will grow instead of thorns and briers, “and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

If we recast, re-envisage our current crises as areas in which God might renew the face of creation, can we also be renewed by God to seek, grow, and nurture what is good in this creation? What are the spiritual weeds we encounter, the bare paths which won’t yield anything? So much grows to nourish and refresh us, even as we keep staring at the rocks on which God’s love keeps withering. We tend to want to wait it out, but that’s folly. While these problems will not last forever, new ones will take their place in time, and amidst them too there will be both challenges and opportunities to grow Gods kingdom. It is our work to see, to call out, to be part of how Christ’s  “everlasting sign that shall not be cut off” transforms what is so broken.  In this “you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace.”

Amen.

© 2020 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.


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