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Proper 10, Year A

Those of you who also read my sermons page may have noticed that, while I've preached in other congregations, I haven't preached in St. Martin's, the congregation where I work, since early April. When the rectors (senior pastors) left the parish on April 17, I was removed from the preaching and liturgical rotas to give the congregation to hear less familiar voices in the pulpit until the parish's interim rector arrived. That won't be happening until September, so it's clear that I won't be in St. Martin's pulpit again. St. Martin's has been so important to my developing my voice as a preacher, though, and I've so valued each chance to preach there as an opportunity with what's Good News for this particular community, that as a goodbye present, I wanted to offer one last sermon, though I won't be able to preach it outside of this corner of cyberspace. Since a cyberspace sermon doesn't make anyone's Sunday morning service longer, and since it's my last sermon for St. Martin's, I hope you'll indulge me in one that's longer than usual.

Thank you, St. Martin's, for letting me walk with you on this leg of your journey. I'll miss you!

– Dylan

God is a Foolish Farmer: A Farewell Sermon for St. Martin's

Isaiah 55:1-5, 10-13 - link to NRSV text
Romans 8:9-17 - link to NRSV text
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 - link to NRSV text

"Listen!" It's a word from this Sunday's gospel that stood out to me the moment I scanned the passage. It's a word meant to prick up your ears, a word meant to jolt us out of whatever else we're doing, whatever else we're thinking about or worrying about, and get us to pay attention.

Listen! In this parable, Jesus has a word for us today that feels particularly important, particularly urgent to get across. It's a word that's central to the gospel Jesus preached and lived out among us, and it's a word that I'm glad to leave as one last charge, one last encouragement, and one last blessing to you.

I'm glad that the text for this Sunday contains a parable, because Jesus' parables illustrate three things that I think are true about the Bible in general.

First, it's that the bible isn't always easy to interpret. Often, it's pretty hard. We're talking about texts written thousands of years ago by people who didn't speak our language and are from a completely different culture. Sometimes people say that Jesus' parables are simple truths put in simple language that anyone can easily understand, to which I say, have you read Jesus' parables lately, and closely? They say things like "therefore, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal tents" (Luke 16:9). I don't think that anyone's doing me a favor in telling me that this is easy to understand. If I believe them, when I come across something that I don't understand easily, I'm likely to feel like a particular dolt when it comes to the bible, and that's likely to make me want to avoid picking up the bible, like I want to avoid a gym when I feel like I'm the only person there who hasn't stepped right out of a fitness video.

So if you sometimes find the bible to interpret, take comfort: it IS hard to interpret sometimes. Often, actually.

Here’s a rule of thumb that I use for reading Jesus’ parables: if I interpret it in such a way that there is nothing surprising or even shocking about it, it’s time to go back and read it again. Jesus’ parables serve a purpose a little like that of a Zen koan – those ‘riddles’ like “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”

The point of a koan isn't that there's a correct answer that springs instantly into mind. A koan isn't supposed to inform you; it isn't supposed to give you information that will increase your feeling of mastery. If anything, it's the opposite of that. It pulls our minds in to confound them, and that kind of dislocation from our usual ways of thinking helps us to open up and let go of our usual ways of thinking. A koan doesn't inform; it transforms you as you wrestle with it.

Jesus’ parables work kind of like that; each one ends in a shocking reversal of his listeners’ expectations. With that reversal, the story pulls us out of entrenched patterns of relationship and ways of being in the world; it dislocates us from what’s comfortable to free us to establish new kinds of relationship, new ways of being. If the first thing I want you to remember about the bible is that it's often not easy to interpret, then the second thing I want you to take away about it is that the hard work of wrestling with scripture is more than worthwhile. It's not a product of our culture, so I find there's nothing like it to challenge our cultural assumptions about who God is, what God wants, and what things like love and success and freedom really are. Anne Lamott likes to say that if what you get out of the bible is that God hates all the same people you do, you're in trouble. I'd put it more positively, in saying this: God calls each and every one of us to conversion, to amendment of life so that our life looks more like the wholeness of the life God offers. If I come away from the bible feeling that the problem with the world is that there aren't enough people like me in it, this is a good cue to keep reading, and to keep asking how God is calling me to conversion. And no, saying that God wants me to stand up more loudly and firmly against everybody else's sin doesn't count.

I am NOT saying that the point of reading the bible is so that you can feel bad. If your previous exposure to the bible and to how people use the bible makes you think of it as a book that's boring at best and oppressive at worst, then believe me -- I know exactly what you mean. I've seen people try to use the bible as a weapon more times than I can count, as I think many of you can imagine. I hope that knowing that lends even more power to what I have to say when I say that the bible is Good News for God's people -- news of justice, peace, of true freedom and abundant, joyful life. When I say that each one of us is called to conversion, what I'm saying is Good News: there is room in your life and in my life for God to work more deeply. There is room in your heart and in mine for more compassion, more peace, more freedom than we'd thought. I get that Good News in large part from all of the time and energy I put into studying, praying with, and reflecting on scripture, and I hope that in the midst of all my flaws and flubs, some of that Good News has come across. The Good News we experience as we wrestle with scripture in community is well worth the hard work we put into it. That's the second thing I want you to take away from this sermon about the bible.

And if you'll indulge me, I want to say a little about why. Wrestling with scripture intently, prayerfully, and together regularly throughout our lives is worthwhile because, while scripture isn't the only medium through which we find the transformation to which God calls us, I will say that it's one of the most important. When I read scripture, and especially when I come to the bible again and again alongside other people who want to read it carefully and prayerfully, I find myself called to decision. God calls to each one of us, and each one of us makes a decision about whether to respond and how. The choice that Jesus prescribes for us, the choice that Jesus promises will bring true freedom, real love, real peace, lasting justice, is a decision to follow Jesus, to make Jesus' version of "family" -- God as our father, and the only one who gets that title, and God's children as our sisters and brothers -- the source of our identity and our only permanent loyalty. Some people call that choice being "born again," and I want to take the liberty in this last sermon for St. Martin's to go on record as saying I'm entirely in favor of it. You and I need to be born again -- not once, but for every time that someone tries to tell us with words or actions that we're not God's child, for every time that we're tempted to substitute our culture's vision of respectability for God's dream of the mighty being brought low and the lowly raised up, for every time we forget that God's blessings, love, and justice are for ALL of God's children.

In other words, we need to be born again, and again, and again. In my case, several times a day. Maybe you're quicker on the uptake than I am. But for as many years I've spent intently studying the scriptures, and for as many times as God has, in communities like this and in my travels around the world, given me a glimpse of God's kingdom, I find all of the time that the richness of God's dreams for the world and for each one of us in it is so great and so profound that every further glimpse of it takes my breath away as it takes me by surprise.

A case in point: this Sunday's parable of a farmer who goes out to sow seed. What's so surprising about that? Farmers sow seed all the time. And anyone who knows anything at all about what a plant needs to grow won’t be surprised to hear that seed cast in the middle of a road, or on the rocks, or among thorns doesn’t grow. But this parable contains not one, but two surprises to jolt us into openness to the work of God’s Spirit among us and in our world.

Listen!

It’s not at all surprising that most of the seed didn’t grow. What’s surprising is that the farmer chose to sow it there. This isn’t a rich man we’re talking about here: this is a poor farmer, a tenant farmer who can only eke out a living for himself and his family if he not only makes wise choices about where to sow, but also is blessed with good weather and a great deal of luck. Good seed is hard to come by; the wise farmer makes sure to entrust the precious grain he has to the best of soil. But this one tosses seed about while standing in the closest thing he can find to the parking lot at Wal-Mart, where the pigeons will eat it if thousands of feet and truck tires don’t grind it into the pavement first. In short, this farmer behaves as though that which were most precious was available in unlimited supply. What on earth is he thinking?

But here’s the real corker: God blesses a farmer like this beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Normally, the farmer who reaps a twofold harvest would be considered fortunate. A fivefold harvest would be a cause for celebration throughout the village, a bounty attributable only to God’s particular and rich blessing. But this foolish farmer who, in a world of scarcity, casts his seed on soil everyone knows is worthless is blessed by God in shocking abundance: a harvest of thirty, sixty, and a hundred times what he sowed.

There's been a lot of talk at St. Martin's about scarcity, about guarding closely what's precious because it seems to be rare. Money is tight; time is hard to spare. Even when we're looking at less tangible and measurable  qualities we value, like love and blessing, there's sometimes a sense that the good things God has for us are in such limited supply that the only kind of good and responsible stewardship is to guard it very carefully, give it only to those we're sure are worthy, protect it like the last egg of the rarest endangered bird. Predictions of peril and doom provoke a great deal of anxiety, and living on a knife edge like that not only causes constant unrest, but also tends to shut down the kind of creative and life-giving vision that energizes us to live more deeply into God's dreams for us as individuals, in community, and for the world. That's not the Good News God has for us:

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
-- Romans 8:15-17

Listen! What does this morning's gospel say to us, in a story that suggests that God is like a farmer who tosses seed into parking lots for the pigeons to eat, and in the surprising harvest that grows? It says that Isaiah's prophetic word is coming true:

Ho [in other words, Listen!], everyone who thirsts,
   come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
   come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
   without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
   and your labour for that which does not satisfy? ...
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.
For you shall go out in joy,
   and be led back in peace ...
and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial,
   for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
-- Isaiah 55:1-2, 10-13

The kingdom of God has come among us. God has blessed us richly, and God’s people have been entrusted with that which is most precious in the world. But ironically, these priceless commodities only gain value – the seed of God’s word only bears fruit – when God’s people scatter it absolutely heedless of who is worthy to receive it.

Listen! We are called to treat God’s love, God’s justice, and God’s blessing, precious as these are, as if they were absolutely limitless in supply for one simple reason:

They are. They really are. I believe that with all my heart, and I want to leave you with that as something to hold on to. Thank you for listening.

And thanks be to God!

July 6, 2005 in Inclusion, Isaiah, Matthew, Parables, Pastoral Concerns, Personal Notes, Romans, Scripture, Year A | Permalink

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» not a foolish farmer and the inevitable outcome of waste, but faith and the surprise of unimagineable abundance from clark smith
Here's something new. I'm posting my sermon for this Saturday/Sunday before it's finished. Huh. So read it, drop some feedback, and watch it grow. Read Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23. In preparation, I did my Greek-work with Bibleworks. I read an article [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 7, 2005 4:47:30 PM

» not a foolish farmer and the inevitable outcome of waste, but faith and the surprise of unimagineable abundance from clark smith
Here's something new. I'm posting my sermon for this Saturday/Sunday before it's finished. Huh. So read it, drop some feedback, and watch it grow. Read Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23. In preparation, I did my Greek-work with Bibleworks. I read an article [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 7, 2005 4:54:03 PM

» The Weekly Grind... Burning hte midnight oil from Southern Liberal Methodist
Wow. This week has thrown me for a loop. First it was shortened by the 4th of July Celebrations. Then we got the bad news about Tyler and his grandfather's accident. I look up, all of a sudden. It's Saturday [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 9, 2005 4:54:39 AM

» The Weekly Grind... Burning the midnight oil from Southern Liberal Methodist
Wow. This week has thrown me for a loop. First it was shortened by the 4th of July Celebrations. Then we got the bad news about Tyler and his grandfather's accident. I look up, all of a sudden. It's Saturday [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 9, 2005 4:55:18 AM

Comments

Sarah

Wow and Wow again! How you have inspired me and given me encourage. Your congregation has really lost a prophet and strong leader. You should write books. I serve in a small rural community and it is frustrating in many ways and can be quite discouraging. In your words I have found hope, reason and purpose. We never know the seed we scatter. I sure have a walmart parking lot here so now i see differently because i hear differently. thanks again. God bless you in your work.

sara

Posted by: sara hardaway | Jul 7, 2005 6:30:11 PM

Wow! Dylan, this is just amazing. I love when eloquent folks like you put into words truths that my heart knows. What a lovely use of scripture. What a beautiful, expanisve message.

Posted by: Marie | Jul 8, 2005 9:25:08 AM

Yes, oh Yes! I do so love the Gospel, especially when it is well preached -- but why is it that so many people do not want to hear about God's abundance?

Posted by: Holly | Jul 8, 2005 12:11:07 PM

Thank you Dylan. Your a good and needed instrument for God's Word speaking to our
times. My prayer for you is to be connected to the ministry and pulpit God is preparing for you.

Posted by: Steven Hagerman | Jul 9, 2005 10:10:33 AM

Dear Sarah
I am an Anglican priest in the Diocese of Cape Town, South Africa. I've just returned from a holiday with my family. Holidays tend to and must throw you from your comfortable perch, so that your are born anew into the call of ministry. So I reviewed sermon material and found your wonderful sermon. I promise I will not preach it as is. I'm writing to say thank you for allowing God the Holy Spirit to inspire this message in you, and through you I'm inspired. I will write my emphasis to you later. Thank you and God bless you, your family, parish and ministry.

Posted by: RODNEY WHITEMAN | Jul 9, 2005 5:12:41 PM

Awesome sermon. I pray and trust that your incredible preaching gift will be appreciated and recompensed in another parish very soon!

Posted by: LutheranChik | Jul 9, 2005 10:31:42 PM

Thanks for your site. I am a recent seminary grad waiting for that first call and providing pulpit supply nearly every week this summer. I loved your sermon for July 10th. Great work! God (oops, that was supposed to be "good", but somehow God works just as well if not better!) thoughts! Blessings to you.

Posted by: LeAnn | Jul 9, 2005 11:24:09 PM

Great work, as usual! You're welcome to come out to Shelton, WA. I'll put you on the schedule any time. St. David's will reap the benefits, that's for sure.

Posted by: Jeff Sells | Jul 10, 2005 6:34:22 AM

As always, I find your thoughts literally inspirational. I think that you could (as I have) remove "St. Martin's" from the paragraph about the talk of scarcity and put in "the church" because it seems that is all we ever hear. This is a message that my congregation, like all of us, needs to hear and will this morning!

Posted by: Tom Sramek, Jr. | Jul 10, 2005 12:18:48 PM

I am so glad that I read your post AFTER I went preached on these texts so that: 1)I wouldn't break the 8th commandment and 2) I wouldn't feel like an absolute loser in the pulpit. I was struggling with the text all week, and the Thursday's events only added to my confusion. Thank you for making it so much clearer than I did!

Posted by: Deacon Tim | Jul 12, 2005 3:26:04 PM

What a gorgeous post. Yes, wrestling with scripture opens up amazing opportunities for transformation. Thank you for that reminder.

Posted by: Rachel | Jul 12, 2005 4:46:13 PM

You should probably thank Barbara Brown Taylor for your use of the Zen "koan" and "one hand clapping" deal.

Posted by: JHash | Jul 7, 2008 11:57:31 AM

JHash,

Thanks for the comment! Actually, while I'm a bit embarrassed to admit it, I've never read any of Barbara Brown Taylor's books, though I hear her writing is wonderful. In which work does she draw the comparison? I'll have to look it up!

Posted by: Sarah Dylan Breuer | Jul 7, 2008 4:12:43 PM

Actually, that sentence reminded me of "Zen and the Bible" by Kakichi Kadowaki. It not only compares koans to parables in general but matches particular koans to Christian scripture, while comparing Zen training to the path of Christian discipleship. I don't mean to say that Zen and christianity are the same, but we can certainly learn from one another and refine our practices by leaning about others'.

Posted by: Sean | Jul 9, 2008 5:20:02 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
Dylan's lectionary blog: Proper 10, Year A

« Proper 9, Year A | Main | Proper 11, Year A »

Proper 10, Year A

Those of you who also read my sermons page may have noticed that, while I've preached in other congregations, I haven't preached in St. Martin's, the congregation where I work, since early April. When the rectors (senior pastors) left the parish on April 17, I was removed from the preaching and liturgical rotas to give the congregation to hear less familiar voices in the pulpit until the parish's interim rector arrived. That won't be happening until September, so it's clear that I won't be in St. Martin's pulpit again. St. Martin's has been so important to my developing my voice as a preacher, though, and I've so valued each chance to preach there as an opportunity with what's Good News for this particular community, that as a goodbye present, I wanted to offer one last sermon, though I won't be able to preach it outside of this corner of cyberspace. Since a cyberspace sermon doesn't make anyone's Sunday morning service longer, and since it's my last sermon for St. Martin's, I hope you'll indulge me in one that's longer than usual.

Thank you, St. Martin's, for letting me walk with you on this leg of your journey. I'll miss you!

– Dylan

God is a Foolish Farmer: A Farewell Sermon for St. Martin's

Isaiah 55:1-5, 10-13 - link to NRSV text
Romans 8:9-17 - link to NRSV text
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 - link to NRSV text

"Listen!" It's a word from this Sunday's gospel that stood out to me the moment I scanned the passage. It's a word meant to prick up your ears, a word meant to jolt us out of whatever else we're doing, whatever else we're thinking about or worrying about, and get us to pay attention.

Listen! In this parable, Jesus has a word for us today that feels particularly important, particularly urgent to get across. It's a word that's central to the gospel Jesus preached and lived out among us, and it's a word that I'm glad to leave as one last charge, one last encouragement, and one last blessing to you.

I'm glad that the text for this Sunday contains a parable, because Jesus' parables illustrate three things that I think are true about the Bible in general.

First, it's that the bible isn't always easy to interpret. Often, it's pretty hard. We're talking about texts written thousands of years ago by people who didn't speak our language and are from a completely different culture. Sometimes people say that Jesus' parables are simple truths put in simple language that anyone can easily understand, to which I say, have you read Jesus' parables lately, and closely? They say things like "therefore, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal tents" (Luke 16:9). I don't think that anyone's doing me a favor in telling me that this is easy to understand. If I believe them, when I come across something that I don't understand easily, I'm likely to feel like a particular dolt when it comes to the bible, and that's likely to make me want to avoid picking up the bible, like I want to avoid a gym when I feel like I'm the only person there who hasn't stepped right out of a fitness video.

So if you sometimes find the bible to interpret, take comfort: it IS hard to interpret sometimes. Often, actually.

Here’s a rule of thumb that I use for reading Jesus’ parables: if I interpret it in such a way that there is nothing surprising or even shocking about it, it’s time to go back and read it again. Jesus’ parables serve a purpose a little like that of a Zen koan – those ‘riddles’ like “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”

The point of a koan isn't that there's a correct answer that springs instantly into mind. A koan isn't supposed to inform you; it isn't supposed to give you information that will increase your feeling of mastery. If anything, it's the opposite of that. It pulls our minds in to confound them, and that kind of dislocation from our usual ways of thinking helps us to open up and let go of our usual ways of thinking. A koan doesn't inform; it transforms you as you wrestle with it.

Jesus’ parables work kind of like that; each one ends in a shocking reversal of his listeners’ expectations. With that reversal, the story pulls us out of entrenched patterns of relationship and ways of being in the world; it dislocates us from what’s comfortable to free us to establish new kinds of relationship, new ways of being. If the first thing I want you to remember about the bible is that it's often not easy to interpret, then the second thing I want you to take away about it is that the hard work of wrestling with scripture is more than worthwhile. It's not a product of our culture, so I find there's nothing like it to challenge our cultural assumptions about who God is, what God wants, and what things like love and success and freedom really are. Anne Lamott likes to say that if what you get out of the bible is that God hates all the same people you do, you're in trouble. I'd put it more positively, in saying this: God calls each and every one of us to conversion, to amendment of life so that our life looks more like the wholeness of the life God offers. If I come away from the bible feeling that the problem with the world is that there aren't enough people like me in it, this is a good cue to keep reading, and to keep asking how God is calling me to conversion. And no, saying that God wants me to stand up more loudly and firmly against everybody else's sin doesn't count.

I am NOT saying that the point of reading the bible is so that you can feel bad. If your previous exposure to the bible and to how people use the bible makes you think of it as a book that's boring at best and oppressive at worst, then believe me -- I know exactly what you mean. I've seen people try to use the bible as a weapon more times than I can count, as I think many of you can imagine. I hope that knowing that lends even more power to what I have to say when I say that the bible is Good News for God's people -- news of justice, peace, of true freedom and abundant, joyful life. When I say that each one of us is called to conversion, what I'm saying is Good News: there is room in your life and in my life for God to work more deeply. There is room in your heart and in mine for more compassion, more peace, more freedom than we'd thought. I get that Good News in large part from all of the time and energy I put into studying, praying with, and reflecting on scripture, and I hope that in the midst of all my flaws and flubs, some of that Good News has come across. The Good News we experience as we wrestle with scripture in community is well worth the hard work we put into it. That's the second thing I want you to take away from this sermon about the bible.

And if you'll indulge me, I want to say a little about why. Wrestling with scripture intently, prayerfully, and together regularly throughout our lives is worthwhile because, while scripture isn't the only medium through which we find the transformation to which God calls us, I will say that it's one of the most important. When I read scripture, and especially when I come to the bible again and again alongside other people who want to read it carefully and prayerfully, I find myself called to decision. God calls to each one of us, and each one of us makes a decision about whether to respond and how. The choice that Jesus prescribes for us, the choice that Jesus promises will bring true freedom, real love, real peace, lasting justice, is a decision to follow Jesus, to make Jesus' version of "family" -- God as our father, and the only one who gets that title, and God's children as our sisters and brothers -- the source of our identity and our only permanent loyalty. Some people call that choice being "born again," and I want to take the liberty in this last sermon for St. Martin's to go on record as saying I'm entirely in favor of it. You and I need to be born again -- not once, but for every time that someone tries to tell us with words or actions that we're not God's child, for every time that we're tempted to substitute our culture's vision of respectability for God's dream of the mighty being brought low and the lowly raised up, for every time we forget that God's blessings, love, and justice are for ALL of God's children.

In other words, we need to be born again, and again, and again. In my case, several times a day. Maybe you're quicker on the uptake than I am. But for as many years I've spent intently studying the scriptures, and for as many times as God has, in communities like this and in my travels around the world, given me a glimpse of God's kingdom, I find all of the time that the richness of God's dreams for the world and for each one of us in it is so great and so profound that every further glimpse of it takes my breath away as it takes me by surprise.

A case in point: this Sunday's parable of a farmer who goes out to sow seed. What's so surprising about that? Farmers sow seed all the time. And anyone who knows anything at all about what a plant needs to grow won’t be surprised to hear that seed cast in the middle of a road, or on the rocks, or among thorns doesn’t grow. But this parable contains not one, but two surprises to jolt us into openness to the work of God’s Spirit among us and in our world.

Listen!

It’s not at all surprising that most of the seed didn’t grow. What’s surprising is that the farmer chose to sow it there. This isn’t a rich man we’re talking about here: this is a poor farmer, a tenant farmer who can only eke out a living for himself and his family if he not only makes wise choices about where to sow, but also is blessed with good weather and a great deal of luck. Good seed is hard to come by; the wise farmer makes sure to entrust the precious grain he has to the best of soil. But this one tosses seed about while standing in the closest thing he can find to the parking lot at Wal-Mart, where the pigeons will eat it if thousands of feet and truck tires don’t grind it into the pavement first. In short, this farmer behaves as though that which were most precious was available in unlimited supply. What on earth is he thinking?

But here’s the real corker: God blesses a farmer like this beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Normally, the farmer who reaps a twofold harvest would be considered fortunate. A fivefold harvest would be a cause for celebration throughout the village, a bounty attributable only to God’s particular and rich blessing. But this foolish farmer who, in a world of scarcity, casts his seed on soil everyone knows is worthless is blessed by God in shocking abundance: a harvest of thirty, sixty, and a hundred times what he sowed.

There's been a lot of talk at St. Martin's about scarcity, about guarding closely what's precious because it seems to be rare. Money is tight; time is hard to spare. Even when we're looking at less tangible and measurable  qualities we value, like love and blessing, there's sometimes a sense that the good things God has for us are in such limited supply that the only kind of good and responsible stewardship is to guard it very carefully, give it only to those we're sure are worthy, protect it like the last egg of the rarest endangered bird. Predictions of peril and doom provoke a great deal of anxiety, and living on a knife edge like that not only causes constant unrest, but also tends to shut down the kind of creative and life-giving vision that energizes us to live more deeply into God's dreams for us as individuals, in community, and for the world. That's not the Good News God has for us:

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
-- Romans 8:15-17

Listen! What does this morning's gospel say to us, in a story that suggests that God is like a farmer who tosses seed into parking lots for the pigeons to eat, and in the surprising harvest that grows? It says that Isaiah's prophetic word is coming true:

Ho [in other words, Listen!], everyone who thirsts,
   come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
   come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
   without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
   and your labour for that which does not satisfy? ...
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.
For you shall go out in joy,
   and be led back in peace ...
and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial,
   for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
-- Isaiah 55:1-2, 10-13

The kingdom of God has come among us. God has blessed us richly, and God’s people have been entrusted with that which is most precious in the world. But ironically, these priceless commodities only gain value – the seed of God’s word only bears fruit – when God’s people scatter it absolutely heedless of who is worthy to receive it.

Listen! We are called to treat God’s love, God’s justice, and God’s blessing, precious as these are, as if they were absolutely limitless in supply for one simple reason:

They are. They really are. I believe that with all my heart, and I want to leave you with that as something to hold on to. Thank you for listening.

And thanks be to God!

July 6, 2005 in Inclusion, Isaiah, Matthew, Parables, Pastoral Concerns, Personal Notes, Romans, Scripture, Year A | Permalink

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» not a foolish farmer and the inevitable outcome of waste, but faith and the surprise of unimagineable abundance from clark smith
Here's something new. I'm posting my sermon for this Saturday/Sunday before it's finished. Huh. So read it, drop some feedback, and watch it grow. Read Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23. In preparation, I did my Greek-work with Bibleworks. I read an article [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 7, 2005 4:47:30 PM

» not a foolish farmer and the inevitable outcome of waste, but faith and the surprise of unimagineable abundance from clark smith
Here's something new. I'm posting my sermon for this Saturday/Sunday before it's finished. Huh. So read it, drop some feedback, and watch it grow. Read Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23. In preparation, I did my Greek-work with Bibleworks. I read an article [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 7, 2005 4:54:03 PM

» The Weekly Grind... Burning hte midnight oil from Southern Liberal Methodist
Wow. This week has thrown me for a loop. First it was shortened by the 4th of July Celebrations. Then we got the bad news about Tyler and his grandfather's accident. I look up, all of a sudden. It's Saturday [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 9, 2005 4:54:39 AM

» The Weekly Grind... Burning the midnight oil from Southern Liberal Methodist
Wow. This week has thrown me for a loop. First it was shortened by the 4th of July Celebrations. Then we got the bad news about Tyler and his grandfather's accident. I look up, all of a sudden. It's Saturday [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 9, 2005 4:55:18 AM

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