Summer’s End—Prayerful Tuesday

Harvest Time

Harvest Time

 

The month of August is one of my favorite times of the year a time of reflection and gratitude.  This has always been a slow time of year for me. A time to sit on the porch with a cold glass of iced tea and just sit, letting the warm air surround me, and the end of summer sounds lull me into a lazy half-sleep. There are fresh vegetables from the garden, or farmers market, that make even the simplest meals a feast.  Ice cream tastes better with ripe fat blackberries, or sweet peaches on top.  The trees are making a tired sound as the August breezes blow through leaves that are drying out and getting ready to turn into autumns crowning glory of red and gold.

In May there is excitement, joyousness and expectations in the air, but in August the air begins to get sleepy, tired and a little sad.  In just a few short weeks our children will be back in school, the air will turn cold and instead of juicy watermelon on the back porch it will be hot chocolate with cookies at the kitchen table.

As you can see, for me, August is a time of reflection and remembrance but it is also a time to take stock and explore what I am grateful for.  And, today gratitude fills my thoughts.  I am grateful for the warm sun and gentle rains that have fed my vegetable garden this year.  I have feasted on fresh lettuce, green beans, garlic, onions, tomatoes and cucumbers.  I have been able to put some in our freezer to pull out and remember the warm summer sun in the darkness of winter.  I am grateful for the time spent lying in the shade and letting our dogs use me as a chew toy.  Together John and I have watched the sun set over the Olympic Mountains, turning the gold and purple and the waters of Puget Sound into silver.  I am grateful for walks in Yost Park and along the Edmonds beach, watching children play in forest and sand.  I am grateful for the feeling of life that thrums through me when I watch the sunrise over the trees of Yost Park, turning the sky from dark to bright and the Olympic Mountains pink with the first rays of light. I am grateful for the silence of the morning as I sit and meditate on our deck before sunrise. And, I am grateful for the opportunity to write in my blog, to have the time to read or simply sit and just be.

Gratitude is what warms my heart and gratitude is the spiritual practice I am asking you to join me in this week. You have read some of what I am grateful for now it is your turn.  As this summer winds down what are you grateful for?  Has something, no matter how small, given you pleasure or challenged you this summer? Have you done something that warms your heart and causes’ it to “swell with thanksgiving?” Did you travel, or read a book, or did you just stop and let the summer wash over you?  All of these, and more, are reasons to be grateful.

May G-d bless these your last days of summer with juicy berries and sweet peaches, gentle breezes and warm sunshine.  And, may you heart swell with gratitude for the gifts G-d graces you with.

Ruth Jewell, ©August 26, 2014

A Woodland Path, Visio Divina

Luke 6:12 During that time, Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night long.

Deception Pass, August 15, 2014

Deception Pass, August 15, 2014

 

God speaks to us in many ways–through relationships, our experiences, sacred texts such as the Bible and many more. Today I am asking you to “read” a photograph using the practice of Visio Divina, Latin for divine seeing, which is praying with images to listen to God’s words. Todays focus of our pray is a picture of a woodland path.  Using the following four steps explore the images and emotions that the picture brings up for you.  Let the God speak to you through those images and remembered experiences.

  1. Slowly gaze at the picture, taking a first glance noting the colors, places and things.  Remain with the image for one to two minutes.If you would like, jot down a few words about the image.
  2. Take a second, deeper, look. Where is there movement? What relationships do you see? Engage your imagination.Where are you in the in the picture? What do you see from that perspective? What do you think lies around the corner? Do you want to continue on the path? Would you walk this path alone or would you rather have a friend along? Why? What deeper meaning emerges?
  3.  Respond to the image with prayer. Did the image remind you of an experience, person or issue for which you’d like to offer thanksgiving or intercession? Offer that prayer to God.
  4. Find your quiet center. Breathe deeply. Relax your shoulders, arms and legs. Rest in this quiet. Let God pray in you. God prays beyond words.

Divine Mother surround us in the love of your embrace
Divine Father guide us through the trials of  life
Divine Brother walk with us in light and shadow
Divine Sister Spirit breathe your strength into our hearts
In the midst of the Divine Grace we spend our days

Ruth Jewell, ©August 20, 2014

Visio Divina, Fishing – Prayerful Tuesday

Matthew 13:47  “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind.”

 

Fishing

Fishing

 

Today I offer you a moment of reflection using Visio Divina. The photograph is of a young boy fishing on a pier with a cat beside him.  What insights might you find as you slowly gaze into its depths.

  1. As you gaze at the above picture what feelings does it bring up for you?
  2. What elements are you drawn to and why?
  3. What relationships do you see?
  4. Engage your imagination and where would you place yourself in the picture.
  5. Does the image remind you of an experience you’ve had, a person you know or remember, or an issue that is close to your heart?
  6. Find your quiet Center. Breathe deeply. Relax your shoulders, arms and legs.  Rest in the quiet the scene evokes.  Let God pray in you.  Let your prayer to God be beyond words.

the sun and the sea bless you
the air and the earth bless you
the love of the Holy Spirit surround you
the grace of God be upon you, and
the love of Christ surround you
today and every day.

Ruth Jewell, ©August 19, 2014

 

Walk in the Presence — Prayerful Tuesday

DSCF0434

Ah summer, filled with hot days and warm nights, homemade popsicles and fresh fruit.  On hot days I love to amble over to Yost Park and walk under the tall trees in the cool shade.  I don’t want to exert myself too much; I might after all get too warm.  Therefore today as our spiritual practice for the week I offer a verse from the Psalms.  I present you with the Psalmists simple practice of walking with G-d.

Psalm 116:9 I shall walk before the Lord in the lands of the living. – The Jewish Study Bible, Tanakh Translation May your warm summer days be filled with a gentle walk with the Lord.

Ruth Jewell, ©August 12, 2014

Sweet Pea and the Narrow Path

DSCF0427 a

Matthew 14:25-33 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Nearly 40 years ago I went on a camping trip that included riding a horse 20 miles every day.  The horse I rode was a rather smallish black mare with a lot of quarter horse in background.  She was gentle and quiet and when I learned she didn’t have a name I named her Sweet Pea.

One day we came to place where the trail all but disappeared and developed a tilt of maybe 30 to 40° as it extended across the lip of canyon.  The distance to the bottom of canyon was maybe 100 to 150 ft deep.  I needed to trust that my horse would safely carry me across the steep incline without falling to the bottom of the canyon.  I took a deep breath and started across and promptly halted Sweet Pea and froze about ¼ of the way on the path.  We were in very precarious position, on steep incline and just inches from the edge of the canyon wall and a drop to the bottom which most likely would have killed both of us.  I held Sweet Pea in place until she pulled the reins loose in my hand, turned her head as if to say trust me we can do this and she walked the rest of the way across.  As I look back over the years I learned this moment with Sweet Pea was the turning point for me. I now realize that it was here on a narrow trail in Mexico that I turned onto the path leading to this place in my life. For that first step to happen I had to let go of my fear and anxiety and trust someone else to take control of my life, it just happened to be that a small black horse was the one I put my trust in.

Peter too takes a step of trust when he steps out of the boat and starts to walk toward Jesus but something happened to him and he started to sink.  Yes Jesus saved him and before they get into the boat tells him he needs faith.  Ah, but what is faith and how does Peter or us get more of it? I can’t answer the “how” question because for each of us the way to faith will be different.  But I can explore with you what it means to have faith.

The modern definition of faith is not the definition that was understood in the days of Jesus and Peter.  Today we equate faith with religious belief; if you believe in specific religious doctrines you are said to have faith in it.  But, Marcus Borg in Speaking Christian, says in the 1st century faith was expressed by the Latin words fidelitas, faithfulness, and fiducia, trust.

To have faithfulness meant you were committed to, loyal to, held allegiance to, and were attentive to a relationship, Such as our relationship with God.  Faith as faithfulness does not just mean you are not going to follow other gods, but that you are committed and loyal to your relationship with God, and God known as Jesus, and that you attend to that relationship to keep it strong and healthy.

Faith as trust is more than a commitment; it is also a deep trust in God and Jesus.  That trust is so deep that you are willing to get out of your nice safe boat and walk on water, or, ride your horse across a dangerous trail.  The opposite of faith is not infidelity, but “mistrust”—that is anxiety, and that is what happened to Peter.  One moment Peter was striding above the waves, just as Jesus was, and then his fears build into anxiety and he began to mistrust Jesus, so he started sinking.  Jesus is not telling Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”  No, what Jesus was really saying was “Peter, why didn’t you trust me to keep you on the surface of the water, why did you mistrust me?”

Isn’t that what we all do? Don’t we all mistrust God and Jesus to fulfill our needs?  And, don’t our plans all too often sink, just as Peter did?  I know it is true for me.  My first steps out of the safety of my boat into the abyss of trust were with Sweet Pea and I froze.  I wasn’t sure I could trust her to carry me across that narrow path to safety.  But something in her eyes told me all would be well and you know what, 40 years later I’m still here.  Since that horseback camping trip in Mexico I have had many moments when I let my mistrust of Jesus keep me from achieving goals I know I could have achieved if I had had faith, if I had trusted, in the one leading me and I know that there will be more of them in my future.

You see I am human and to mistrust God is part of a being human because I have a strong sense of my own independence which wants to rule the day.  And having independence isn’t bad, nor is saying “No” to God and Jesus.  The choice of following or not following must always be mine.  It is when my independent voice says “Yes” that my trust in God and Jesus is the strongest and deepest for then I know with certainty that I am not alone.  I know then that nothing will shake by commitment to, my faithfulness in, the One All Surrounding Presence.

Have any of you ever read John Ortberg’s book If You Want To Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get out of the Boat?  Well Ortberg is right, you do have to step out of the boat, or onto the narrow path, and trust that everything will be all right.  I often wonder if we, if I, can sustain my trust in God long enough to get out of the boat on that raging sea called life and walk across the water?  More often than not we will set ourselves up for failure by allowing our hearts to mistrust Jesus’ promise that He “is with us always.”

Life can be hard task master and the main reason we don’t succeed is often how we see failure and loss of trust.  Losing our trust, our faith does not have to shape who we, you and me, are; it is the way we respond to that loss that shapes us.  Jesus wasn’t ridiculing Peter when he asked why he failed. Rather he was asking a question of Peter, ‘why did you lose your trust.’  Peter may not have understood the question at the time but following the resurrection he did and he stepped out of his nice safe boat big time.  For Peter, learning to walk on water and be rescued by Jesus was his turning point, his moment that began his trip to his own cross.

We too don’t understand the questions Jesus asks us and I am no different.  Right now I am struggling with so many questions that I don’t know which ones I’m asking and which ones God is asking.  All I know is answers are not forthcoming.

One of the first lessons in trust happens to be learning to wait on God to guide us in the right direction.  We have to wait for the power to be given to us to walk on water.  We have to wait for Jesus to calm the seas for us.  Only then will we make it across that treacherous path or across the water’s surface.  The problem is all of us are impatient; we want results now, not tomorrow, but yesterday.  We want to move forward in our lives and we don’t care how we do it.  One of my favorite phrases is “Give me patience Lord, but hurry” and for many years that fit me to a “T.”  Slowing down and opening my heart and mind, trusting that Jesus will come is extremely hard.  It is putting myself, in utter vulnerability, into Jesus’ hands. It is letting go of what I want and trusting and having faith that Jesus will bring me what I need.

The idea that any of us are self made individuals is a myth.  We all need others in order to survive and thrive in our world.  We have always needed the other, not just in today’s world where we are globally connected, but in all of time we have been in need of the other in our lives.  That other might be our brothers and sisters, it might be the food we hunt or grow but what and who ever it is we cannot survive alone. We have always needed to choose who to trust, who we would have faith in and be faithful to.  We look for what will guide us in ways that will allow us to flourish and let our children flourish. We look to pass on our understanding of the world in a way that teaches our children to trust in something other than themselves or those who only think like them.  We look to trust someone who will honor our independent yes as much as our independent no.  We want to have faith in someone who will show us how to walk on water and skip across dangerous paths.

Peter lost his trust and began to sink but Jesus was there to lift him up and into the safety of the boat.  I lost my trust for a moment but the Holy Spirit said trust in the guide I have given you and together Sweet Pea and I made it safely across.  It has always amazed me as to the number of different ways the Holy Spirit makes herself known to me.  Sometimes I simply have to go with the flow of energy and trust that what will be is what is supposed to happen. It is all about trust. That is what faith is all about.

Ruth Jewell, ©August 10, 2014
Sermon given at Queen Anne Christian Church
Seattle, WA

Church Camp, 2014 – Prayerful Tuesday

CYF, Chi Rho Camp Pic, 2014

Mark 10:13-16

13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

I spent last week at Gwinwood Christian Retreat Center, [(Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)] as one of the Chi Rho (Jr. High) counselors.  The whole week was a wonderful experience and not just for the kids.  Spending time with children and young people is a prayerful time.  In the voices and faces of the young G-d is evident in all that they do, even the mischief.  Jesus loved children and young people, he tells his disciples they are important to the breaking out of Kingdom of God; time spent with young people is time spent with G-d.

When you are with kids’ prayer comes in many shapes and sizes, in still and playful moments, in laughter and in tears, and in soccer and in worship.  The joy of seeing a young person open their eyes to a new experience of G-d, in priceless.  Hearing their voices around the campfire singing “Peace Like a River” will make you’re your heart swell.

Being a Camp Counselor is an experience you should not miss and if you are offered that opportunity please consider the prayer that is our Young People.

Ruth Jewell, ©August 5, 2014

Non-Meditation – Prayerful Tuesday

Sunset 08.22.2013

In the last couple of weeks I have been reading a book by Jay Michaelson, Everything is God, The Radical Path of Nondual Judaism[1], who described a prayer practice I have been using for many years but didn’t know it was a prayer practice, Non-Distracted, Non-Meditation.  This prayer practice, as Michaelson describes it, has no focus, no sense of meditation, where you simply become very aware that you are aware.  This is not exactly mindfulness rather this is simply opening up and letting the world around impact your senses in sound, sight, smell, taste and touch.  It is becoming aware of who you are.  Sounds a bit contradictory doesn’t it?

I have been practicing this manner of prayer for many years not knowing I was opening up to the Divine and letting Her in to the deep places of my heart.  Sometimes I am just plain clueless about what I am really doing and who I am!  I am by nature an introvert, a strong introvert, who is often very unwilling to let anyone into my space and awareness. This practice, however, opens doors, well maybe a window, where I become aware of the beauty of what surrounds me.  The beauty of my grandchildren playing, my husband fussing in the other room, the softness of Suzies fur or the way sunlight plays on the water in Puget Sound.  Most times I push those things away but when I sit and relax and open up for just a moment I am amazed by how they sweep over me in gentle waves.  I am astounded by what I discover that I have been hiding from my own awareness.  It has allowed me to rest in this place and simply be.  It is being aware that I am part of the universe, becoming aware that my DNA sings the same song the stars do.  It is awakening all of my senses to what G-d has created and knowing I belong here, in this place.

So how does the practice work?  Well Michaelson says it best, “ … sit with eyes open, just relax into awareness, with nothing to do and nowhere to go … just, for a moment drop what is in your mind and become aware of awareness itself; inhabiting it, and [letting it] speak”  It’s like sitting in your backyard  with nice cold drink in your hand, not thinking, nowhere to go, nothing to do, just being.

You can practice this at anytime, anywhere, whenever you want, just stop, take a deep breath, and for a moment become aware of your surroundings, relaxing your body and refreshing your mind. You might say it’s a 5 minute vacation for heart, mind and soul.

May you find peace where ever you are, may the Holy Spirit sit with you as you both enjoy the view.

Ruth Jewell, ©July 29, 2014

 

[1] Michaelson, Jay: Everything is God, The Radical Path of Nondual Judaism, Trumpeter, Boston MA, 2009

 

A Candle in the Dark – Prayerful Tuesday

It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness

It is better to light one candle
than curse the darkness

 

The news stories of the last few weeks have broken my heart.  Seeing the pictures of wild fires, immigrant children, Palestine, Iraq, and the Ukraine simply overwhelms me with sadness and despair. I think how can one human being do these things to another human being, especially children. I keep asking myself when will this come to an end?  I know it seems as if prayer doesn’t  makes a difference and so it feels like a waste of time to offer your prayers.  But heartfelt prayer often leads us into action and that is prayer indeed.

You see when many people offer prayers they, we,  form a community of prayer and as a community we can do much.  We can write letters, become involved in interfaith and cross cultural groups standing with those who are victims, or we can help with support first responders of a disaster, or help provide long term assistance in the recovery phase of a disaster.  Each action becomes an act prayer offered by each individual and the community they belong to.

Today I am asking you to light a candle and hold the wounded, the lost, the victims, the perpetrators, all who are involved in some way with the violence of this world and the wildfires claiming so many homes.  Hold them in your heart and lift them up to GOD.  As responses to your prayers become involved in ways that will help promote peace, and well being. Choose the level of involvement that you are most comfortable with, the choice is yours.

Ruth Jewell, ©July 22, 2014

Un-Birthday Surprises – Prayerful Tuesday

Sunset 14.6.20 a

 

“I have come to believe that God, Truth, Beauty, Love—all those concepts I associate with the Divine—are not things that are “found” at the end of the path, like the post of gold at the end of the rainbow, but rather are what I experience on the journey as I travel through life—or perhaps, more explicitly, they are the journey itself.”   Jan Phillips, No Ordinary Time[1]

 

The above quote by Jan Phillips states beautifully one of the revelations of my own life.  Searching and hoping to ‘find’ love and truth is an exercise in futility.  Beauty, truth, love, and G-d come to me in those moments when I least expect them to arrive on my doorstep.  They often ‘find’ me when I am in the darkest and most terrifying moments of my life and they pull me from the depths back into the light. Or they show up unexpectedly, like a un-birthday present, while I am in the midst of something totally unrelated.

In your time of prayer this week reflect on when and where the Divine has surprised you with love, a new truth, and beauty.  Give thanks for those moments of joy and vow to be more open to the un‑birthday moments in your life.

Namaste

Ruth Jewell, ©July 15, 2014

 

[1] Phillips, Jan, No Ordinary Time, Copyright ©2011 Jan Phillips, Published by Livingkindness Foundation, San Diego, CA

Good Soil, Bad Soil

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Romans 8:9a

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit,
since the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Romans 8:9a

 

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

1That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.9Let anyone with ears – listen!’

18 ‘Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’

The word of the Lord

Please join me in prayer:

Source of Life may all that offer this today be acceptable in your sight, Amen.

———

Today’s scripture is a popular one among biblical storytellers and so all of us have heard this many times in many ways.  We have heard many interpretations as well, so many in fact that in all likelihood we all think “Oh I know that one, it’s an old one and I like what it says.”  I thought the same thing, at first, but then I began to look more closely at what was being said and what I thought I heard and what I was actually hearing.  I was surprised to realize, I hadn’t heard it all.

Parables are multi-layered, like a Russian doll, you think there is only one doll until you start opening it up and discover many little dolls hiding within. Parables are like that, layers wrapped in layers.  I didn’t read the middle portion of this scripture where Jesus tells his disciples one very important lesson, and that is those who want knowledge will open his parables up to discover the many layers, messages, hidden within, and those who don’t will simply hear a story about a really bad farmer.  So I am going to try and open this story up bit, and, maybe we will find a layer within we didn’t expect.

Because this is such a familiar story to all of us I am going to try something a little different this morning and hope that we all see this story in a new light.  Because this is such a visual story I am going to lead you in a guided meditation.  I am going to read only verses 1-17; so get comfortable, with both feet on the floor.

Now close your eyes and take a deep slow breath, let it out slowly, … take another deep slow breath, … let it out slowly.

You are one of the disciples of the teacher Jesus and after spending the night in the home of a friend Jesus goes out early in the morning to the shore of the Sea of Galilee. … Many people come to see and listen to this teacher of yours and to hear what he has to say, … so many in fact that there is no room for Jesus … to sit or stand on the beach.  …  Jesus asks one of your fellow disciples to get a boat and pull it up on the shore.  … He gets in and asks everyone to sit.   …  You and the other disciples sit in the sand forming a half circle around the boat and the crowd finds their places behind you.   …   As you sit and wait for the crowd to become silent you are aware of your surroundings,  …  of the sound of the water lapping gently on the shore, shore birds calling, … a gentle breeze blows across the water, …  and there is the pleasant smell of fresh fish coming from the boat.  …  The sun hasn’t yet climbed far into the sky but it is warm on your back and the sand is still comfortably cool.

Jesus begins to speak.

“‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. … 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path,  …  and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, … where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But  …  when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, … they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. …   8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, … some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. …  9Let anyone with ears – listen!’”

You and your fellow disciples are confused by the story … it seems simple yet you know there has to be more to it … or Jesus wouldn’t have told it. …  So one of the disciples ask a question; … “Teacher, … ‘Why do you speak in parables? …  We are confused but we know there is more to this than a simple story’”

Jesus smiles at you and says:

‘To you it has been given to know the secretsof the kingdom of heaven, …  but to crowds … it has not been given. … 12For to those who have, will be given more, … and they will have an abundance;  … but from those who have nothing,  …  even what they have will be taken away. … 13The reason I speak to them in parables is that … “seeing they do not perceive, … and hearing they do not listen, … nor do they understand.” … 14With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:
“You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
15 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.”
16But blessed are your eyes, … for they see, … and your ears, …  for they hear. … 17Truly I tell you, … many prophets and righteous people … longed to see what you see, but did not see it, … and to hear what you hear, … but did not hear it.

[Pause for moment and then ring the chime]

Well did you hear a new message in the story?  Did you hear the story open up in a new way and did you find a new layer that you hadn’t seen or heard before? I cannot speak for you I can only speak of my own heart. I can only speak of what I have heard.  And, I would like to offer my budding new understanding of this parable, a new layer for me.  Your new layer maybe different from mine and that’s ok, we learn from each other and my layer of this story may or may not resonate with yours but it might be a layer you hadn’t seen before and cause you to think.  I hope you will tell me yours sometime so that you will cause me think.

So here is the new layer I discovered as I listened to Jesus.  I didn’t feel like a disciple in the story, rather I felt like one of the crowd who was thinking about following Jesus. When I heard the story I thought Jesus was comparing me to the seed being sown and I wasn’t sure I liked what I heard. I was close enough to hear the question of the disciples and Jesus answer and my first thought is “How rude of Jesus not to make the message plain to all of us.”  Then I thought again, “OK, if there is a hidden message, what is it? And, how do I tease it out?”

As you can see this internal conversation has caused me to almost miss the rest of the Jesus’ answer so I listen again and hear.

18 ‘Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’”

Ah … the story isn’t about being a careful farmer and planting the seed in good, rich and well watered soil after all. Rather it’s about who will have the staying power to follow Jesus and spread more seeds.  OK, I get.  But I still have questions.  You see I do some farming, and yes my harvest is best when the seed is grown in the right place, but like all good farmers I’ve learned that seed that falls in difficult soil has its good qualities as well, it is often more hardy and will survive when no other seed would.  What would it look like if considered for a moment the seed in this story and thought about how what the seed does and how that helps the sower?  If I am going to be a seed for the Kingdom don’t I need to be strong?

Don’t I really need to work hard and build up my strength because this won’t be an easy task?  So maybe falling on dry hard ground where I have to quickly dig deep into soil, taking up as much water as I can and learn to make efficient use of nutrients when they are available in order to grow. Wouldn’t that be a good thing? I know seeds that do that and they do well in dry places.

Or, what about the seed that falls on thorny ground and to prevent being overrun by thorns adapts and develops protection that would keep the thorns from killing me.  I’ve seen plants do that as well so I know it works and such plants thrive.  Or, consider the seed that falls on rocky ground.  Here I have to learn to extend my roots around obstacles, breaking down some of the rocks into new soil.  With deep, strong roots, I will do quite well, I know that because I’ve seen plants that do. So while I’ve not landed in an ideal place, I learned to survive and I may have produced only 10% compared to the 30 or 60% of the seeds planted in good soil.  But that’s still something and there will be seeds for the sower to spread around in the next year. And if there is a draught, or someone seeds the farmers field with weeds, or he has to sow his seed in a rocky field I know that the seed that has had to struggle will do very well and produce a crop, which could mean the difference for the farmer between eating and starving.

How do I compare that scenario to Jesus answer?  Well being a seed on the dry, hard ground of kingdom means I have to work hard at understanding. Not giving up but keep digging for the treasure found within me and those around me even when it seems hopelessly dry.  When, I land in an area where the temptations of the world try to tear me away from my path to follow Jesus, I have to work harder to keep the message of the kingdom in front of me while I work within the world.  And, when I hear the kingdoms message and find it sweet like honey but the world lays obstacles in my path I have to remember to let my roots grow with study and contemplation in order to break down the rocks in my path so that I am able to spread my seed-children, the good news of the Kingdom, in new soil.

Why wouldn’t I want to be planted in nice rich soil, with plenty of nutrients, in other words, why would I not like the task of spreading the word of the kingdom to be easy?  Well, from a farmer’s perspective, seed that is always grown in nice rich soil does produce a lot of seed; however, a lot of that seed will not have the ability to fight off disease, or draught.  That means if there is any kind of environmental stress your crop will most likely fail.  However, if you harvest seed from plants that have had to withstand stress the resulting plants will be strong and healthy even under stressful conditions and the farmer has a crop to sell and eat.

It’s the same with the seed of the kingdom.  If receiving the word is easy and you don’t have to work for it then when something challenges you, you and your community will struggle and maybe not survive.  It has been my experience that working hard for anything means I value it more and I learn to distinguish what is false and what is true because I need to do it to live into the message Jesus taught me.

Jesus told this story because he knew what his disciples, and anyone else who followed him, would need strength in order to stand against the world’s trials, temptations, and obstacles as they spread the word of the kingdom of God. He knew they were going to be tested with many trials and how they responded to those trials would test their resolve and determine whether or not the Good News was spread.  So his disciples were going to have to dig deep into inner territory, sending down strong roots into their soul to anchor their faith and learn to protect themselves from thorny individuals by loving instead of hating them. So you see it wasn’t the easy road and productive communities that defined the movement called THE WAY, it was those who experienced suffering, struggle, trials, doubts, who loved their enemies despite persecution that defined the followers of Jesus.

That definition of struggle and hardship is what defines us today, or should be anyway. Maybe in years past some of us have had it so easy to be “Christian” that we have forgotten what it means to be a follower of THE WAY.  Those who cannot bring themselves to dig deep within, to doubt, question and be willing to live into mystery and paradox may fall by the way side.  But some will strike out into the wilderness and learn how to thrive and how to spread the Good News despite draught, thorns or obstacles.

So my question to each of you is what do you identify with in this parable? Mine was the seed on less than ideal ground.  Are you the seed on good soil, but when disaster strikes you are unable to go on? Or, are you the seed that lands in dry, thorny, rocky land, are you the seed that fights and struggles bringing into fruition the best fruit you can? We all have choices; I’ve chosen what I will do.  How do you choose?

Ruth Jewell, ©Sermon, Queen Anne Christian Church, July 13, 2014