Monday, July 14, 2014

July 13, 2014 Cathedral Church of the Nativity

You are sitting on the dark rocky shoreline of the Galilee, some of you

standing in the edge of the water, not really watching the little children

playing in the water, but definitely watching the small, rocking, wooden

fishing boat, pulling the hair from your faces as the wind carries Jesus'

voice to you as he teaches about the kingdom of heaven. Interestingly, no

one asked Jesus what the kingdom of heaven is like. Jesus has a burning

desire to talk about it though, because talk about it he does. At length. The

kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are phrases used more than

ninety times in the New Testament. We have a number of parables which

talk about the kingdom of heaven, but we do not have record of anyone

asking the question. But because Jesus tells us without anyone having

asked, I assume its important. Why do we need to know about the kingdom

of heaven? It seems that God cares about us, and in doing so, wants to

share with us what home is really like. God seems to share with us the

vision here, so we know where we are looking for. We are looking for the

kingdom of heaven. So, what is the kingdom of heaven like?

I can be very metaphorically literal minded and parables are one place

where this can be problematic. If I were to read a poem about being a bee

and the bee did something un-bee-like, it would ruin the poem for me. The

metaphor does not work. Once in the metaphor, I feel bound by the

parameters of whatever I have been turned into. If I am a seed, I can only

do what a seed does. If the seed tries to send an email, I am out. Sorry,

perhaps seeds do have email accounts, but I don't know about that. If we

understand ourselves in this passage as the different types of soil as

Matthew would have us, then we cannot tend to ourselves. Without being

able to change, we have no freedom. If I am rocky soil and the seed falls on

me, then there is no way for me to grow good crop, there is no way for me to

produce well. We can learn much from this interpretation, but it is mostly

focused on judgment. Lets go a little bit farther, I think there is more to

this parable. I do not think the parable is just about the different soil types.

The soil is only one part of the parable. It is, after all, called the parable of

the Sower. I think there are two other parts of this parable that need to be

looked at to get a whole picture. The community and the Sower.

Gardening is always a communal activity, even when you are the only

person involved, there is still the sun, the rain, the birds, the bugs, and the

plant itself. Without all these community players, there will be no flowers,

no beans, no roots, no fruits, no garden. The birds eat the seeds on the path,

yes. However, then those seeds return from the bird to nourish the soil. The

energy and life of the seed isn't wasted, it is used differently. Jesus was

preaching in a culture where life was in community. We have different

kinds of communities now, different understandings about how we are

dependent on the people around us. But we still are in community, we still

are dependent, and we need to face that fact with grace and love. Without

the community's involvement we would not be able to grow. We each bring

different gifts to the ministry of the church, of our families, and of our work

places. We have people who want to throw sun and rain on ministries that

are growing, through their resources of money, time, and effort. There are

people who are gifted at weeding: seeing, calling, and pulling out the issues

so that the idea can grow. Bugs, worms, and birds lead to a dynamic

interplay that gives air to the roots of plants, nourishes the soil, and tends

to weeds. Even rocks add stability to the soil so it does not wash away. Are

you sunshine, rain, a rock, a bird, or a bug? Perhaps you are gifted at

weeding and tending. Community is an integral part of the kingdom of

heaven. We affirm this every week when we say the Nicene creed and say

that we believe in the communion of saints. The kingdom of heaven gathers

the whole community, both dead and alive.

Many sermons about this parable ask us what kind of ground we are, they

ask us what kind of preparation have we done for the seeds that God is

throwing at us. But the sower does not prepare the ground in this parable -

at least we do not hear or see of it. We assume that some preparation has

been done. But this sower seems to be wandering all over creation quite

literally, throwing seeds without care. What kind of sower does that? How

could this sower waste good seed throwing them where they land among

rocks or weeds? The sower displays an amazing amount of faith that some

of the seed will fall on good soil and will grow. I was in Israel in May, as

many of you know, in the Galilean area, and I think it would be really hard

to throw seeds into pure soil. There are a lot of rocks. It is a really, really,

really, rocky landscape. But the region is really fertile and so even the rocky

soil produces plants and trees. And the sower throws the seeds everywhere

anyway. There is an abundance here. The sower must have a great

abundance of seeds. If God is the sower, sowing the seeds of the kingdom of

Heaven, then it shows that the kingdom of God is abundantly given. There

is enough to be spread into even those areas where we do not expect it to

grow. The kingdom of heaven is more wildly abundant than we can ever

imagine, growing up in places where we might not expect it. We have been

given this abundance from God and we can be sowers of dignity, joy, and

love in the world, even in places where we do not expect it to grow. If the

plant grows up and then withers quickly, that leaves more soil layer in

which the next seed can try to grow. The kingdom of heaven is abundant.

We have been given of it so freely.

But this is not all that the kingdom of heaven is. This is just a slice, a bit of

the pie for us to learn and digest. There is no contrast to this story, so we do

not know what the kingdom is not like in this parable, but a parable is not

just a comparison. Parables are relationships. There is always something

new and something more to be learned and understood and digested. We

are in relationship with the Word. We are in relationship with God. We

know that God cares about us, our hopes, our dreams, our worries. God has

given us something to look for, to look forward to, to hope against hope,

clear eyed, so that when we catch a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven, we

know it.