I stayed home from church today. I stayed to make soup with the Holy Spirit. Not
just any soup mind you, but my own Vegetable Soup. You know the kind, soup
filled with chopped fresh potatoes, celery, carrots, turnips, garlic and
shallot and fresh herbs. All of them carefully
chopped up into bit sized pieces.
There is something comforting about chopping vegetables, watching the pile grow. Each vegetable adding their own special color, fragrance, and appeal to the pile. Shallots and garlic add their pungent scents, while potatoes add earthiness and carrots and tomatoes add a bit of sweetness. I did notice that the carrot coins kept rolling around the counter as if they wanted to escape. Celery’s spiciness is always appealing to me. I love the color contrast between the red pepper and the parsley it always makes me smile and HS, that’s Holy Spirit for those of you not on speaking terms, said, “my favorite is the hot banana pepper you add in just the right amount to give a bit of heat to the soup. Please don’t tell Jesus that he thinks I’m weird.”
HS, and I discussed the value of each vegetable and whether
or not it was suitable for such a wonderful soup. We pared and peeled when
needed and over-all we decided I had picked good vegetables from the market. HS
also reminded me that I had some fresh tomatoes that would add a nice bit of
freshness. These were the last from my garden, so I offered a prayer and HS
blessed them. I mean you can’t have too many prayers or too many blessings, can
I then went out into my garden and HS and I picked rosemary,
sage and fennel. Thanking each one for their contribution to the soup. We only took a little of the thyme because it
needs to grow a bit more, it’s a bit over picked, and HS said the basil was
just too tired and needs to go live with her now.
HS asked if I had any frozen or canned vegetables available
and looking through the freezer, I found a packet of squash and peas adding
them to my growing pile of vegetables. In the pantry, I found corn, beans, and
garbanzo beans which when rinsed to remove excess salt (who wants that in their
soup) added them to the bowl.
After browning the shallot and garlic, adding chopped fresh turmeric
and a couple strands of saffron (yes. I use saffron) I dumped all of the chopped,
frozen, and canned veg’s into the pot along with vegetable broth, water, and
all of the chopped herbs. HS asked me “will
you be adding the secret ingredient” and I said “Shhh, If I tell it wouldn’t be
a secret.” HS blessed our efforts and
our soup is now simmering to wonderful goodness. We are currently considering baking a loaf of
I suppose you think I am weird, imagining I am cooking
alongside the Holy Spirit. Well one, I don’t care what you think, and two, how
do you know I wasn’t. You see I often
feel I am not alone, that someone walks beside me, or sits with me as I read. I
guess I could be insane, but I rather think that it doesn’t matter. I sit and meditate, I offer prayers, and they
must go somewhere don’t they. So why couldn’t the Holy Spirit come and spend
time with me as I cook?
I’m not one to run around and brag or tell people “Jesus
saves” (he doesn’t by the way, but I’ll save that thought for later). I rather
let what I do and say inform people. I will share this soup with others,
guests, (Luke hint, hint) and of course my husband will enjoy our efforts. I have been known to take soup to those who
need it because feeding others always brings a smile to their faces, and mine,
besides it is a mandate of the Holy Spirit.
To create something that will nourishes others is such a
wonderful feeling. To feel the vegetable
in your hand, pick it from the ground or vine gives me a connection with all
creation. I know where my food comes from, how it was grown I watched the sun shine
on the baby plants and the rain water it. I watched as the bees pollinated my
tomato blossoms and herb blossoms and we shook the dirt off of potatoes,
carrots, and onions, so yes, I know where my food comes from and who to thank.
I am grateful for the opportunity to spend time with the HS to offer my thanks
for food that feeds my body as her presence feeds my spirit. So, if I think the Holy Spirit is right there
with me in the kitchen it means I know who to thank for all I have
“Why not share your recipe and a prayer, now that you have
made everyone hungry?”
“What a wonderful idea.”
“Ok, here is my Basic Vegetable soup recipe for you to
change up and make your own.”
My prayer for you is:
Holy Spirit, we ask you to bless the ground that nourished our
vegetables, the sun that shone upon them, and the rain that watered them. Bless
the hands that harvested and carried them to us and bless the hands that
prepared them. May this soup bless our
bodies as you bless our souls. AMEN
Ruth’s Vegetable Soup (This recipe freezes well)
4 cups vegetable broth or 2 cups broth and 2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
Vegetables: (all vegetables are optional, add meat if you wish)
Carrots (diced), Peas, Corn either Fresh, frozen, or canned
½ of a small to medium shallot, diced
1-3 garlic cloves, minced,
1 15oz. Can diced tomatoes
1 or 2 medium fresh tomatoes, diced
½ to 1 red pepper, diced
Either 1-3 small hot banana Peppers, or 2 chipotle peppers, (+1 to 2 tsps.
adobe sauce), Diced
and Herbs: (change up the herbs to your taste)
1 teaspoon dry Turmeric or 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh
few threads of saffron
1 teaspoon dried thyme or 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
½ teaspoon Herbs de Provence
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary
2 fresh bay leaves
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Melt the oil and butter in a large soup pot, add the onions
and garlic. Add the turmeric and saffron, cook until the onions are soft and
golden. Add the celery and peppers to
the pot stir until covered in the turmeric liquid. Add the rest of the vegetables, broth (or
broth/water), herbs and spices. Simmer
for 1 to 2 hours until all vegetables are “al dente.” Serve hot with fresh bread. If you wish top
with sharp cheddar cheese and chives.
Note: This is an
easily modified recipe. You can add
squash, or other vegetables, or change herbs or spices (I use Turmeric because
of its anti-cancer properties). Fresh Parsley is lovely. You can add meat to this but I am a
vegetarian so that is problematic for me.
It has been some time since I’ve posted something on my blog and the time away has been interesting, restful, and thoughtful. Over the last several months I have practiced three spiritual practices, Meditation, walking prayer, and Lectio Divina that have fed my soul and reawakened my imagination and inspiration, and yes, a little rebellion. Lectio Divina has been most important in raising my awareness of myself and the world around me and I have had a growing desire to share what I hear, feel, and see in scripture meditation. I claim no special expertise or knowledge only heartfelt understanding from my perspective a pericope. I pray that if you meditate on the same scriptures you will find your own insights and open doors.
Isaiah 5:1-7 (NRSV)
1 Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.
2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.
3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?
5 And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
6 I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice, but saw bloodshed;
righteousness, but heard a cry!
Reading 1: beloved; judge; righteousness;
Reading 2: break down; devoured; justice; bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry;
This pericope is about God’s justice for Judah for failing to be a people who embrace mercy, justice, peace, and compassion. I sit here and somehow feel we are in the same place now as the people of Judah in 800 BCE. I wouldn’t be surprised if God does something to today’s vineyard, actually I would find God’s action a relief from the horrendous tension.
There are many levels of interpretation to this scripture but on one level we can see how God’s plea to Judah as a plea to us today. After all this country is slipping into a pattern not that different from Judah, or Israel. We have political leaders claiming a faith in God and Christ yet fail to do justice, protect the innocent, or welcome the stranger. These men, and they are mostly men but also women, claim the Bible sanctions their actions of separating children from their parents, cutting health care to the young and the elderly, making health care to expensive for even the average citizen to have, and raising taxes to a level that will keep the poor poorer, and the wealthy wealthier. None of that is sanctioned by God or Christ.
In this passage Isaiah tells the people of Judah God’s justice will result in their destruction. I know God will eventually offer forgiveness (I’ve read ahead) but here Judah doesn’t know that. All they hear, if they are listening, is their little kingdom is going to be destroyed and God tells them why. God expected justice but saw only bloodshed, righteousness but heard only cries of despair and pain and for failing to be the fruit of God’s vineyard they will face destruction and despair.
The parallel between Judah and the United States is too close. There is little justice coming out of Washington D.C., but there is a great deal of turning away from doing good and right. There is no justifiable actions coming from the White House or Congress, only unethical, and morally bankrupt rhetoric from people who enjoy causing pain and suffering on others.
This government likes to call on the scripture to justify their actions. They take a short phrase out of context and wave it around like a sword. The truth is that scripture condemns them as apostates. They embrace the exact opposite of the teachings of God and Jesus. By their own words they have renounced a faith in God in favor of a faith in only themselves. They are their own god!
I cannot call them Christian, or a follower of The God of Abraham, no, they have no faith recognized by those who believe God’s mandate of Justice, Mercy, Compassion and Peace. Isaiah warned Judah what would happen, they didn’t listen and I doubt todays version of Judah will listen either.
For the last three weeks I have been in constant pain due to a pinched nerve in my back. This fussy nerve has been bothering me for a long time but I refused to listen to it. So now it is fighting back to get the attention it thinks it deserves. I have never been in so much pain before. It hurts to lie down, stand up and sit and that my friends are pretty much every possible position there is. But, I am not asking for sympathy, prayers yes, sympathy no because I got myself here by not listening to my body.
It is always easier to give someone else advice than to take that advice ourselves about taking care of the temple God has graced us with. Whether we are doing our busy lives or praying we often forget the clay vessel we are embodied with to the detriment of our health and well being both spiritually and physically.
I understand the forgetting the body when we are making a living, I certainly forgot. After all we are only trying to make a living, feed our family, keep a shelter over our heads and clothes on our backs. We don’t feed the body with good food rather we go for the quick easy meal of junk food, which is high in fat, calories and low in what we need to be healthy. We don’t get enough sleep because a job needs to be done and “I, just don’t have the time to rest until it’s finished.” Stress takes its toll with worry about how we will survive if we lose our job, or add a new family member, or move to new community. We forget to take the time to talk to God, to listen to God, to offer prayers of gratitude and concern to the one, and only, who can relieve our pain and suffering.
The ironic thing is we remember our bodies when they break down, and we remember our spiritual life when we are running on empty to the next event in our lives. That is what has happened to me. I forgot to care for my body, I refused to listen and I am paying for it now. But more than that I forgot that caring for my body, caring for my spirit is a prayer practice.
It is important to care for what has been given us the best way we can. Even when we are given bodies that aren’t perfect, and whose is, we are called by God to care for this vessel as long as we are here enfleshed in this life. In order to care for this body given me I must repent and make changes to how I view my body. It isn’t an object to worship, but it is a house of prayer. Good food, exercise, rest and listening are my four healthy habits that will make my house stronger. My physical house and my spiritual house.
My prayer for all of you this week is take a moment out of your day to sit in silence and offer God your gratitude, take a brisk walk and feel the breath of God on your face, rest in God, letting the healing touch of the Holy Spirit renew your soul and eat with gusto food rich in love and low in Cholesterol.
Holy Spirit as I sit at this groaning table today, looking so much like a Rockwell painting, help me to remember those in this world who are grateful for a simple bowl of rice and a cup of water. I often forget how much I really have and fail to remember those who huddle beneath a simple roof and sleep on a dirt floor.
As I sit in the safety of my home help me to remember there are people who look upon the evening sun grateful just to have survived another day. Help me to be mindful of your great blessings and learn to give more than I receive, to not waste what has been give me, and to share with those who can not help themselves.
Oh Holy Spirit, We thank you, for the feast we spread before us
thank you for the ground it was cradled in,
thank you for the sun and rain that nurtured it
thank you for the farmers who carefully harvested it
thank you for the hands that lovingly prepared it.
May this food feed our bodies
as You feed our souls. Amen
3 A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Isaiah 40:3
The other Sunday I and a friend of mine were in charge of the coffee hour after worship. It was going to be a cold November day and I wanted to do something different and special for people I care about. Cherry and I talked it over and decided, since there was an Elders meeting after worship, a light meal of homemade soup, salad and bread would be a perfect offering. Cherry decided on making a chicken soup and bringing the rolls. I decided on a vegetarian split pea soup and also brought the salad.
I have read and heard the words of the prophet Isaiah all of my life and have loved many of the songs and chants written around this verse. But as I was preparing the soup for Sunday the words struck me a little deeper. The picture above is the ingredients for my soup. Simple wholesome ingredients; dried split peas, herbs, and garlic and onions, from my own garden, and fresh carrots and celery from the farmers market go into making this really simple soup. (Recipe Below) As I scrubbed the carrots and celery I thought about who would eat my soup and in the process of browning chopped onions and garlic in olive oil the act of making the soup became an act of prayer.
The people who would share in my offering were the people of my faith community and any visitors we might have. People I love and care about, but, more than that, it was an extended sharing from the communion table. The breaking of bread, the ladling of hot soup all became part of the feast Christ sets before us every Sunday.
As a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) we prepare and offer communion every Sunday. We carefully set out bread and cup and share it with each other and as I prepared this simple meal that would be served after worship we were continuing a 2000 year old tradition of breaking bread and pouring cup then going in to share a common meal. That is what the first followers of Jesus did. They shared more than just a piece of bread and thimble full of wine. They shared a whole meal together, rich or poor, aristocrat or tent maker, all ate from the same serving bowl.
I have helped prepare and serve hot meals for the homeless, and I routinely make up food bags to give to the homeless I see on the streets and while I may not sit down with each person I offer food too it is still communion. It is a sharing of food, and drink, and recognizing that what I give doesn’t come from me, but from God, Christ, and Holy Spirit. I am only the servant who is trying to fulfill Christ’s commandment; “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. (Matthew 25:35)
In the process of preparing to serve others I am preparing to serve Jesus, to follow, as faithfully as possible, the path Jesus leads me on. I know I will stumble, but Jesus will be there to pick me up; I will wander off the path, but the Holy Spirit will be there to lead me back; and I will grow weary, but God will be there to cradle me in her arms until I am rested.
The spiritual practice I am inviting you to share in this Advent season is to find the sacred in all that you are preparing for your own celebrations. In what ways are you preparing for the Lord in your everyday life? With whom will you celebrate the feast of God? As you await the birth of the Christ child let your preparations become an act of prayer, for those you love and those you may not know.
May the peace of Christ be with you, always
Ruth’s Pea Soup about 8 servings
1 lb. dry green or yellow peas
3 quarts of cold water (or 1 qt vegetable stock and 2 quarts cold water)
1 large carrot, sliced in to small pieces
1 small celery stick chopped
1/8 cup olive oil
1 small onion or 4 large green onions
4 large cloves of garlic, pressed or chopped fine
¼ teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon fresh mint
1 tablespoon fresh herbs (I like fresh rosemary, summer savory, and thyme)
¼ teaspoon sea salt
Pepper to taste
In the bottom of a large pot sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil until soft. Add the turmeric, stir then add the carrots and celery. Add the peas and cold water into a large saucepan; add the herbs and salt to the saucepan; add the pepper to taste. Cook over low to medium heat until the peas are very soft. Remove from the heat and run through a ricer or press through a colander to remove the hulls. Return the soup to the saucepan and heat to eating temperature. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt.
Notes: Use only 1 teaspoon of dried mint or herbs when substituting for fresh. I will use whatever fresh herbs I have on hand but I prefer 1 tablespoon each of fresh thyme and summer savory. If you want a more salty taste you can add a teaspoon of spike or one of the other herbal salt substitutes when cooking. I also like to sprinkle fresh chopped chives (either onion or garlic) over the sour cream or yogurt when serving.
Source: A Ruth Thompson original recipe that I first made sometime in early 1980’s.
What does it mean to eat locally grown foods? Well it doesn’t mean you eat only food grown in your area. Rather it means you understand the importance of food or, as my friend David Bell says (Eating Locally, Artistically, justbetweentheridges.wordpress.com), the sacredness of food. Eating food from a neighbor or a local farmer has less impact on the environment than food grown at great distance from us. There are few transportation costs, less gas and oil means a smaller carbon footprint. Most local farmers use fewer pesticides or none at all that leads to less contamination of the environment and fewer chemicals to which we are exposed. The food is fresher because we are buying directly from the farmer we they can pick the fruit and produce at its peak instead of early because they don’t have to transport it as far. That leads to better nutrition for us and our families. The relationships built with farmers means you know where your food comes from and how it is produced. Those are some of the benefits but what about the sacredness of food?
Well, food is sacred. It is a gift from the Holy Presence to feed our bodies and when we separate ourselves from where it originates we lose a connection with the Holy that is basic to life itself. Throughout scripture food plays an important role in the relationship with God, and with the people of the bible. In Genesis God provided food for Adam and Eve, when they were banned from the Garden God still provided for them. The Israelites are fed by God with food from heaven; Elijah is cared for by angels; and at the end of his 40 days of temptation, the angels provided for Jesus. Ultimately we celebrate the sacredness of food every Sunday when we bless bread and cup and offer the feast of Jesus at the communion table. Food is important not just to our physical well being but to our spiritual well being as well. The work a farmer does is not only necessary to our existence it is a holy occupation, a sacred act, a connection between God, earth and us.
This week spiritual practice is to offer thanks at each meal for the food you eat. Here is the table prayer I use, you may use it or one of your own:
Holy Giver of Life, I thank you for this food before me, thank you for the earth in which it was grown, thank you for sun and rain that nurtured, thank you for the farmer who harvested it, and thank for the hands that prepared it. May this food feed our bodies as you feed our souls. Amen.
May your week be filled with wonderful food and abundant grace.
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.
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?
Saturday, June 21st, was the summer solstice and I spent the day in a solstice retreat. It was a time of quiet meditation, laughter, the beginning of new relationships and the renewal of others. One of our discussions covered how all of us have a ‘longing’ for the companionship of others. I, like most people, was born into a family that served as my primary home of ‘be-longing’ for many years but now the events of normal life has separated me from most of my birth family. As a result I created my own ‘family’ through relationships with good friends, companion animals, and my husband and his family.
I had never thought of either a birth-family or a self created-family as a holy thing until I read a book by the late John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on our Yearning to Belong. In the very beginning of the book O’Donohue says “When you suppress your wild longing and opt for the predictable and safe forms of belonging, you sin against the rest of Nature that longs to live deeply through you” (pg 5). When we deny our need to belong in relationship with others we deny our true selves and we deny God’s gift of grace of the warm embrace of those who care for us. Yes being in relationship with any other being entails risk; the risk of loss and grief, and the risk of being betrayed. Yet while all of those risk may/do/will happen the benefit joy of knowing there is someone who understands you and is willing to be there for you totally outweighs any sorrow that may occur in the future.
Yes I have lost people I had been in relationship with for many years to death, relocation, and arguments. And losing a friend because of anger or betrayal is the hardest lost for it means a break in the sacred bond God had gifted us with. Today I am more aware of my relationships, looking for ways to nurture them instead of poisoning them. Belonging requires hard work, but like a garden the fruits of the harvest are bountiful and delightful.
Today I ask you to hold in prayer your relationships with your family, friends, companion animals, God and draw strength from knowing you are not alone even when the night is the darkest.