We all love a good story. And so many of the stories we read to our children or grandchildren when they were little were stories that often taught a lesson- like that story of the tortoise and the hare. You know the one where the tortoise and the hare challenge each other to a race and even though we know the rabbit much much faster than the tortoise in the end the tortoise wins. Why? Because he persevered. He kept his steady pace while the hare on the other hand, knowing his arrogance thought he had all the time in the world so he stopped and dallied, and did all sorts of things other than keep his mind on winning the race . Fairy tales and parables share a lot in common. They both try to teach something but Fables or Fairy Tales usually have animal characters that help to carry the story along. Jesus told parables as a way of teaching us about the kingdom of God, what it can mean for us, and how we ought to live in it.
Sometimes though unlike the Gospel where Jesus helps out with an explanation of why he told the stories, not all bible tales about people and their lives are clear as to why? Our first story is a good example. The birth of Esau and Jacob. The Old Testament is really good at just giving us the details and letting us draw our own conclusions. It don’t come with built in explanations. Much of Genesis is about God blessing and who God bestows that blessing upon. Adam and Eve are blessed in the Garden, Noah blessed with safety from the flood, Abraham blessed a covenant that he will be the father of nations and then with two sons. With Ishmael out of the picture the focus is on Issac, but Issac’s role is quite short. The story is really about these two brothers and principally, Jacob. Thus, with this reading we begin a series of Bible stories about Jacob. And we should know from the outset that Jacob is a very flawed character as we see here in the story. It’s all foreshadowing- the turmoil in the womb, the grabbing of the heel, and now his deceit and trickery by making his own brother give up his birthright for a bowl of soup is all foretelling the relationship that Jacob will have not just with his brother, but with his father, and eventually his own sons and daughter, and to a degree with God. Jacob is not his father, nor his grandfather. Still the seed of faith is planted in him and God grows it into Israel itself.
And it is to this agricultural series of parables that Jesus offers us in the coming weeks beginning with this parable of the sower. There are a number of ways we can begin to approach this parable: the soil, the Sower, the seeds. Some might come way from the this parable thinking it is about us being the soil, leaving us wondering if WE are the hardened path, or the rocky ground, the thorny patch or the fertile ground. Jesus is there sowing the seeds of God and here we are the ground upon which it lands.
The truth of our own experience is that we are all those types. At times we are openly receptive to God, at other times we make no room for the seed to germinate. There is just something in the human condition that will find a ay to screw up a good thing. That is our sinful nature. As Paul is so good at describing his own struggle between the life in the Spirit and death in sin, he is talking about the forces that animate us. And the force that animates you and me as followers of Jesus is NOT in the flesh, but in the Spirit- meaning then our life and our existence lies within the heart of God.
And so perhaps we can re-frame our place in this parable. The seed is indeed the kingdom of God. The seed is the good news of God’s dream. When it takes root it can grow and develop into something wonderful and beautiful.
And Yes, we might be the soil at times and at times I think we are all the types of soil being described. But I would like to suggest dear friends that we are the sower. We are the ones with a bag full of seeds of the kingdom throwing it out there flinging it at random not knowing or caring where they land.
For farmers this would not make any sense. Seeds are costly and valuable. Why would they sow anything in an area that they knew would have little chance of growing? Which brings me to my point about this parable not being only about the soil.
Imagine then that we are the sower. As Christians we have, as Paul says, the Spirit of Christ and carry with us all the seeds of the Spirit. The potential of all that God is and can be in this world. Wherever we are, through acts of service large and small, our job is to sow the seeds of God love into the world. We do not care where such seeds land for we do not cause the seeds to grow. We don’t know the hearts nor the soil that lies in others. It’s not up to us to decide who merits the seeds of the Spirit of God.
Seeds sown in the good soil of our hearts blossom into the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And it is these same fruits we know our desperate and broken world needs
and the very fruits we hope will grow in others.
If the seeds of God’s love flower into the fruits of the Spirit, then what do those new seeds look like? There is pollination, cross-pollination, and new growth all over the place! The cycle of sowing begins again. God’s abundant love sees to that. We go about our daily business, living in faithfulness in God’s abundance and being sowers among those we encounter. We don’t often get to see where the seeds fall, but the point is that we continue to sow. The Church’s mission and our mission is to spread the Good News to every end of the Earth. Archbishop William Temple said, “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” This still holds true for us today.
There are infinite ways for us to be the Church he describes: by giving a smile to someone who is feeling lonely, watching the kids so a couple can have some time to themselves, donating money to an organization that helps those who are marginalized, speaking up for a neighbor when you witness an injustice occurring, praying for those you dislike- even in how we care for one another during this time of COVID – the list can go on and on.
We are both the sowers and the soil. Without the one, the other would not make sense. When we go forth today, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit, may we sow abundantly, and may the seed that is sown in you bear the plentiful fruit of God’s love. Amen.
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
244 years ago we celebrated our Independence Day. Where our forebearers declared their freedom from the tyranny and oppression of the King George of England. Perhaps then the streak of national independence began and the newly formed United States of America was off on its own. In later times, as people began to expand across the nation, we would give this independent streak a name: The Pioneer Spirit.
Still, even now, we are a culture that praises independence. We celebrate the day when we got our drivers’ license- that moment when we were no longer tied down to our parents chauffeuring. People in certain parts seem to rebel at the idea of not being able to do what they want when they want or having to wear masks
Independence: whether it’s about the days of youth or a sense of self-reliance at any age it is certainly something that we as a society place high on our personal agendas.
Faith is no exception. Each of us has a relationship with God that is intimate and personal.
In some parts of the Christian tradition great value is placed on ones’ personal relationship with God. Faith becomes then a very independent and personal thing so personal in fact that one begins to question the need for belonging to a community of faith. Why not worship God on the golf-course, or at the beach, or – well, you can fill in the blank.
It's made even harder by our present time. Do we stay home or do we try to come to church? Understandably, some feel they are not ready to be out in public yet and that’s ok. They are able to join us online – still maintaining a connection to God and a community that loves and prays for them.
The apostle Paul in today’s epistle reading is arguably the most complex and difficult passage to read and hear in all of the Epistles. In it Paul says, it doesn’t matter if we know it’s the right thing to do, when it comes down to our actions it’s still struggle. And there are times that I fall short and do not as I say, but do as I shouldn’t do. How’s that for clarity?
I find this so refreshing about Paul. Often Paul comes across as judge and jury, praising the pious, and cursing the pompous. But here HE is, the Evangelist himself, the one who was struck blind by the very God he now worships is just like us – struggling to live out each and every day a faithful life. Thank God for grace, he basically says, for it is Christ who is there to rescue him from himself and the sin that lies with in us all.
From Jesus we hear what we call the comfortable words. In the Rite 1 liturgy, They come after the confession and absolution- “Come all ye that travail and are heavy laden and I will refresh you for my yoke is easy and my burden light.”
It’s really hard for most of us in our modern city based life. But for a large part of the developing world, yoking animals is still done. The joining together of at least two oxen or sometimes horses by a long wooden crosspiece allows the animals to work as a team sharing the load they pull whether it’s a plow or a wagon.
John the Baptist preached a confrontational message and modeled an ascetic lifestyle. He was accused of having a demon. Jesus’ lifestyle was a more joyful announcement of the coming of the kingdom. He ate and drank with all sorts of folks without reservation. He was accused of being a glutton and drunkard, a friend of sinners and tax collectors. Neither John nor Jesus could win, evidently.
What was wrong with these people? Couldn’t they see that Jesus and John were inviting them to return once again to a faithful living of their covenant, to a more “golden rule” living out of the law that says, “love as you would be loved,” to behave towards others as you would want them to behave towards you? Jesus even tells his listeners that if they would just come to him, he would give them rest. If they would take his yoke on themselves, they’d find his yoke easy and his burden light. How very obvious. How very simple. Or is it?
Of course it’s not- if our own experience of living out a life of faith is anything like Paul’s. How many of us have wanted to flip off the next crazy driver that cuts us off in traffic or have been tempted to do something else when the time came for us to make a moral decision. Do as I say, not as I do and yet we do it anyway don’t we?
But here is the amazing thing. Christ, our Lord. The one who calls us into service invites us to take up his yoke that our burdened may be lifted. It’s not that all of our problems or our struggle with sin will go away, its not that in turning to Christ this winter will end and the sin we struggle with in us immediately departs. Far from it. We still struggle. We still sin- personally and as a society. But what is different is that we have yoked ourselves to Christ. Jesus is along side us. We are not alone in our labor of life, in our struggle to live as Christ would have us.
As Christians, in our faith, we are yoked with Christ and as a Church we are yoked together as a community. Together, not alone, we seek to overcome sin and death that we might live. We aren’t being offered the chance to dump all our cares and work on Jesus when he talks about giving us rest. He’s offering us his yoke—the symbol of obedience to God—that we might labor together for the kingdom of God. When we accept that offer, we will be able to speak the Good News of God to others. And work together to tend to the needs of our church community, and break down the walls that divide God’s people. We indeed hold to the self evident truth that all men AND WOMEN are created equal regardless of their race, creed or color. Our lives will be bound and directed by the laws not of our own independent choosing, but of the laws of the kingdom of God, the laws of love.
The Rev. Daniel L. Leatherman is priest in charge of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church.