This is the sermon the Rev. Karen Calafat preached at the diocesan worship service for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, July 12, 2020.
July 12, 2020
A mother read her little boy stories from the Bible every night at bedtime. As he got older, he began to recognize the stories, but rather than being tired of them, he said, “We have heard this one before. Let’s see what we can hear new in it this time.”
Today’s parable from the Gospel of Matthew is likely familiar, but let’s see what we might hear new in it for our current life situations.
First, the word “Parable” means to throw alongside; to place things beside each other; things that are not like each other. Parables are disruptive and maybe even disturbing. One theologian (CH Dodd) said parables are meant to “tease the mind into active thought.”
Parables are not problems to be immediately solved or figured out, but invitations to sit in the space of the parallels and listen deeply with the ears of the heart. Jesus refers to listening and hearing six times in today’s passage. Since the Bible is the Living Word of God, it is likely we hear different things. That is how God speaks to us. Perhaps you focused on the types of soil and went down the path of wondering what type of soil your life might be – rocky, thorny and overgrown, or good soil? Perhaps you focused on the sower and the abandon with which the seeds were sown. Maybe you thought about the yield that the crops brought forth, being drawn to the abundance of the harvest.
That is the beauty of parables. They speak in a variety of ways. This could be the Parable of the Soils or the Parable of the Sower or the Parable of the Miraculous Harvest.
I encourage you to explore what caught your ear in today’s parable as I call your attention to the theme of abundance and hope. The abundance of the harvest and the hope of the sower as he cast seeds far and wide, flinging them everywhere and anywhere. He didn’t have a John Deere perfectly calibrated to insert seeds with precision into strategically cultivated rows, but “flings seed everywhere, wastes it with holy abandon, … feeds the birds, whistles at the rocks, picks his way through the thorns, shouts hallelujah at the good soil and just keeps on sowing, confident that there is enough seed to go around, that there is plenty, and (has hope) that when the harvest comes at last it will fill every barn in the neighborhood to the rafters?” (Barbara Brown Taylor)
The sower walks along, reaching into his seed bag and casts handfuls of seeds at a time along whatever ground receives it. That is hope – hoping that enough seed would take root to grow and flourish and change the outcome of the crop.
That is how the sower works in our lives, too. The sower never gives up hope on us, even if our hearts have been too rocky and hard to receive the abundance of God’s grace and love, God keeps tossing it our way. Even if we have had a taste of God’s love for us that may have taken shallow root and withered too soon, God continues offering until our hearts and minds are able to receive. Thomas Merton says, ‘the sort of soil that we are — good or bad, rock-filled or thorn-infested — in each arising present moment effects how we receive the seeds of experience that are always being sown around us and within us.’
We are experiencing new things around us and within us as we live in a pandemic and in a resurgence of peaceful protests against racism. On Juneteenth, I had a brief conversation with three people who were dressed to the nines in preparation for celebrating the day commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. I offered a feeble apology for my own ignorance as a white person on matters of racism and vowed to continue learning. One of the women joyfully responded, “Honey, as long as you are breathing you can learn. That is where our hope is! As long as you are alive, you can learn and change!”
“That is where our hope is!” God never gives up on us. God continues tossing seeds our way and once we experience the abundance of God’s grace and love, we must share it, cast it about far and wide, fling it about with no limitations or judgment. As followers of The Sower, it is our call to follow the example of extravagant love and hope. It is not for us to discriminate or judge who is worthy — what soil is better, or more suitable or more deserving. No, as did The Sower, we are to be extravagant in sowing hope and love.
I’d like to close with a poem that speaks to hope in the midst of challenge.
The Gates of Hope—A Poem by Victoria Stafford
Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope—
Not the prudent gates of Optimism,
Which are somewhat narrower.
Not the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense;
Nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness,
Which creak on shrill and angry hinges
(People cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through)
Nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of “Everything is gonna’ be all right.”
But a different, sometimes lonely place,
The place of truth-telling,
About your own soul first of all and its condition.
The place of resistance and defiance,
The piece of ground from which you see the world
Both as it is and as it could be
As it will be;
The place from which you glimpse not only struggle,
But the joy of the struggle.
And we stand there, beckoning and calling,
Telling people what we are seeing
Asking people what they see.
And I add: ask … and then listen to their answer.
Hoping your mind has been ‘teased into active thought,’ how is God calling you in these recent days of pandemic and protest? What is God’s invitation to you from your own “piece of ground”?
What is ‘the truth about your soul and its condition’? How is the soil of your soul?….. your heart? ….. your mind?
Be still and listen. Hear the words of the Sower and hear the stories of your neighbors, especially the neighbors who don’t look like you.
May you be ‘planted at the Gates of Hope’ and ‘find joy in the struggle’ that is.