Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Extavagant Sower: Sermon on Proper 10A

When I lived in Upstate NY, I used to just wait for the seed catalogs that would come in January or February. Grocery produce was fairly hard to come by during the winters there. Winter tomatoes in the stores were hard tasteless pinkish orange tennis balls. The green vegetables were generally Brussel sprouts and broccoli and that was about it. Seed catalogs with their pictures of lush heritage tomatoes and peppers gave one hope that summer would come again—something you weren’t too sure of when it was 22 below zero.

Here in TX I am finding that it isn’t seed catalogs that thrill me in the winter. It is the early spring: flowers in February and plants for sale at Lowes by mid March and patio tomatoes from your own garden by the end of May. And when I was accustomed to eating the best home-grown produce in July and August, I am finding that most plants are shriveled by the heat.

So I find in reading today’s Gospel a bit of restlessness. No matter how much ground preparation I can do, my tomatoes are still going to burn up by August. No matter how much soil preparation I do, or how much watering, the garden that I manufacture in my back yard is still subject to the climate.

But Jesus is not talking about gardens is he? He is talking about us—he is talking about God and he is talking about the Word of God. And like anyone who uses analogy as a literary device, Jesus is not talking about the climate, or the soil, or even the seeds. He is talking about the generosity of God.

The Sower in this story is God. It is God who spreads the seed. We don’t see people sowing seed this way anymore. We either see tractors in the fields with big spreaders on the back trundling over a plowed field. And even our own gardens we transplant our tomatoes or peppers as plants carefully grown in seed pots or green houses. We don’t see the sower who throws the seed across the plowed field with abandon. We don’t know today the extravagant generosity of the sower who spreads seeds into the unplowed or the unprepared soil. We have become such careful gardeners that each seed is precious and worthy of safe guarding. But Jesus tells us of an abandonment of caution by God as the Holy One spreads the seed of Divine love, of holy care, or sacred grace. God dribbles the seeds of love into areas where it cannot grow just to remind us that no matter where we are, how far we have fallen, no matter of the existential reality of our personal or corporate lives, God is present and ready to root God’s self in our lives. And while the seeds might not root the first time, the memory of their being sown sometimes is just the thing that allows the hearer of the Word to blossom at another time or place.

As you can tell, I love to preach. I love to share the stories of God with others because of the extravagant love that God has shown in my life. This does not mean that my life has been easy or I have avoided the same pains and problems, sins or stupidity that we all face. I don’t believe that it is doctrine, or sacraments, or beliefs that allow me to preach. It is the joy that I have known in Christ that makes it possible to stand up here and tell the stories of God, or Jesus, or the Spirit, or the patriarchs and matriarchs of our faith. It comes from having encountered the Holy in my life.

This week the Jehovah Witnesses came to my door. Usually I when they come, I thank them and turn them away. This week I invited them in. They had their tracts they wanted to share but it was not doctrine that I wanted to argue with them. I wanted them to share with me the love of God that they obviously knew. It was remarkable. Most of the things that they espouse I do not. But that didn’t matter. We were talking about where the seed of God had changed our lives.

All too often we become so anxious about how to express how God has graced us. Often we Episcopalians reach for a prayer book rather than to use our own words to describe our gratitude for the blessing God has sown in our lives. But it is something that we are all gifted with and even promised by the Sower who has planted love in us

In the alternative reading from Hebrew Scripture in Isaiah 55 we hear “ So as the rain and snow comes down from heaven watering the earth, so too my word goes out and does not return without accomplishing that for which I purposed it, says the Lord.” It is a good image to keep in mind—we do not have to worry about how to describe how God has worked in our lives. We just have to do it—be faithful to speak even when we are not sure of what will come out. Gratitude for all the goodness of God’s blessing, of God’s sowing should not be kept in. It isn’t somebody else’s job. It isn’t just for those of us who have funny pieces of plastic stuck on our shirts. Sowing God’s gospel is the job of every one of us because we have already experienced the growth of the seeds in our lives. From the time we first knew of God in our lives, we have been graced with the ability to share the stories.

One of the biggest impediments to the sowing of the Gospel is because we don’t think we are worthy or feelings of inadequacy. “Why would anyone want to hear how God has worked in my life?” we think. But that isn’t the issue. It isn’t your life that is important, but what GOD has done in it that says to others that God is there for them.

I had a preaching professor once tell me that I should not share my own story in my sermons. That’s hogwash! It is our stories that we can tell with the integrity o that carry the message of God to others. That is what is so extravagant about God: none of us are worthy to even mention what God has done in our lives, but it is Christ who makes us worthy—who cleans up our act and allows our lives to be transformed by his love that makes our stories carriers of the Divine message of love.

I remember my first sermon. It was in the chapel of my seminary. And that night after I preached it I was really upset and anxious. I called one of my professors who lived on campus and asked if I could speak with her. I finally confessed to her that even though my sermon went quite well and I felt good about what I said, it had finally dawned on me that I had to LIVE what I preached. My prof, one of the first women ordained in our church, smiled and said: “Yep, that is the problem with being a Christian. You have to walk it just as surely as you talk it.” It is always a struggle to walk one’s faith and humility comes upon us fairly quickly.

It is the words of Paul’s Letter to the Romans that give us hope: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” All too often we compare our lives to Christ and find ourselves wanting. But for those of us who are baptized into the life of Christ, we do not have to worry because there is no condemnation. We can step boldly knowing that we have been given all the words to claim God’s blessings, to step out in faith despite our own failings and we can share what God had done in us, in our families, in the world, in all Creation, simply because God has sown love so extravagantly. Perhaps we have struggled with knowing God’s love, but we have learned to love through the love of another. We can see the signs of the seeds in our lives. All we have to do is share them with others whether in the pulpit or at the water cooler, whether it is in church or at a ball game, whether it is on rocky ground or well-prepared soil. The seed of God’s love will take root. AMEN

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