To hear my heart beat
To listen to my soul
To feel the universe
Ruth Jewell, ©March 9, 2021
Image: Microsoft Stock Image
Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
To hear my heart beat
To listen to my soul
To feel the universe
Ruth Jewell, ©March 9, 2021
Image: Microsoft Stock Image
34 And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 35 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? 37 For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
This passage in Mark, is one of my favorites. I have mulled it over for many years, coming to different interpretations as I have grown in my ability to understand scripture and matured in my spiritual life. As a result, I have come to the belief it is an important passage because in it lies a key to understanding our veneration of the cross and what Jesus has called us to be.
I am a member of the Westar Institute, a group of theology scholars who study the scripture to find our theological history and discover the true words of Jesus, often called the Jesus Seminar. Not that I do any of that, but I do attend meetings and follow the findings of those who are much better scholars than I am. This past March I attended a lecture by Dr. Arthur J. Dewey at Westar’s Spring Meeting. Dr. Dewey’s lecture was on how the Death of Jesus was remembered. His studies of the crucifixion added a new piece to my understanding of the paradox of the cross. In fact, it changed the way I interpret Jesus’ death on the cross.
First, we must remember Jesus was Jewish, he was not Christian, he was not a Roman, and he wasn’t a gentile of any kind. What He was, was a good, a very good, practicing Jew. And, he knew the meaning of the cross. In the Roman world the cross was a tool of execution for those who defied Rome in some way. It was an instrument of humiliation, torture, and a means to wipe the condemned-out of memory, out of history. After all who would want to admit they knew or were related to someone who died on the cross.
Jesus knew all that, because wherever he went he would have seen the cross with its victims hanging from its arms, big billboards that said; ‘stay in line or this will happen to you.’ Jesus knew if he preached a radicle way of life, a life that would completely change how we live in the world, he would die on that cross. Oh yes, Jesus understood. The Gospel writers knew because they wrote their Gospels to give courage to those who risked their lives by following The Way.
Throughout our church history we have been taught Jesus’ death on the cross is our salvation. We are saved from sin if we believe Jesus died for us on the Roman cross. We are told if we bear our troubles with bravery, confess our sins, and accept that Jesus took those sins away by dying on the cross we will be saved from Hell and its horrors. It is in the power of the cross to save us. What if I told you that is most likely not what Jesus meant?
It is believed Mark was the first Gospel written and that Matthew and Luke copied Mark for their Gospels. What I first found interesting in each of the versions is that Jesus is telling the disciples and the crowd if they want to follow him they must take up a cross, embrace the cross. And, if they denied him and tried to save their lives, they would end up losing their life.
My first inkling that there is more to the scripture than we have normally understood was when I realized that in the synoptic Gospels Jesus doesn’t carry his cross to Golgotha, Simon of Cyrene is pressed into service the minute Jesus is escorted out of the Roman Garrison. In addition, there is a fifth Gospel not included in our cannon, which we have only fragments of, the Gospel of Peter. Fortunately, what did survive was the Passion of Jesus. Dewy and John Dominic Crossan both believe that the Gospel of Peter was written before Mark and represents the earliest beliefs of Jesus’ death and resurrection. They also believe Mark used the Gospel of Peter in writing his Gospel. As the Gospel of Peter tells it, when Jesus is led from the Garrison he is made to ‘run’ to the place of the cross and if he is running he could not have been carrying the heavy beam he was to be nailed to. Mark, and subsequently in Matthew and Luke, follow Peter by not having Jesus carry the cross. So, if in these 4 gospels Jesus doesn’t actually “take up” his own cross what are we supposed to do with the cross? What is the meaning Jesus is trying to make?
Jesus was a teaching a radicle way of life, one that had the power to transform peoples lives and the entire world, if only his disciples were brave enough to follow him. Charles Hambrick-Stowe says:” There is no great theological meaning in martyrdom for an ideal or in death that otherwise results from force, injustice, misunderstanding, or accident.” If the cross doesn’t mean, we will be saved because we carry our burdens like a cross or die because we believe it brings our salvation then it must mean something else.
Ched Myers, in Binding the Strong Man, a political reading of Mark’s story of Jesus, offers 3 meanings that have changed how I understand the cross.
1) “deny yourself;” This isn’t a call to spiritual reflection, this is a call to stand in court, accused of sedition, and not saving yourself from death. It is not denying Jesus, but our own self-denial, we willingly risk our own lives. And, to save our lives we must lose it in the name of Jesus and the Gospel.
This isn’t a self-emptying, this isn’t a spiritual awakening, it is taking up the “cross” and walking to yours and my crucifixion to right injustice. This is not a theological understanding, rather this is a radicle political stand where we put ourselves between the other and danger. It is being in a court of law and given the choice of saving your life or going to the gallows in the name of Jesus. Jesus puts this in economic terms. “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but loses his soul.” To renounce Jesus in or to try to redeem one’s life would be a “bad investment”; for even if it showed a ‘return’ of the whole world, it wouldn’t represent a profit; rather it would be a dead loss; double-jeopardy; fidelity to Jesus has no price.; Everyone has a ‘price,’ everyone that is except Jesus. Jesus revealed that his messiahship means political confrontation with, not rehabilitation of, the imperial state. Those who wish to follow Jesus will risk the test of loyalty under interrogation by state authorities. If self is denied, the cross will be taken up, a metaphor for capital punishment on grounds of insurgency.
2) “take up the cross;” “here Mark’s subversive narrative bursts into the open.” This is a political statement, there is only one purpose for the cross and that is public execution and the total humiliation of its victims. The way Mark writes this phrase is to invite the disciples and those who follow Jesus to share the consequences of the audacity of challenging Roman authority. The Cross symbolizes shame for the convicted and his family. It served the purpose of wiping out the person from memory. Mark’s readers would have understood the implication of Jesus’ words. They would have seen people on the cross, some, if not most, would have had family members or acquaintances crucified. The cross isn’t a representation of salvation, it is symbol of resistance.
3) “follow me;” To follow Jesus means a self-denial that puts our earth-bound lives at risk while saving our souls. This isn’t by being pious, rather it is by getting down and dirty in the trenches of Justice. When we take up a cross it only appears to be a defeat, a triumph of government and their supporters, but actually it is our vindication and their Judgment. We either stand with Jesus, deny ourselves and loose our lives for his sake and the gospel’s or we stand “ashamed” before Jesus and “the angels.” By resisting our fear of losing our lives and pursuing the kingdom of God even at the cost of death, we are contributing to the shattering of the powers’ who reign death over us.
The faith we profess is not a faith of inaction, Jesus told his disciples he didn’t come to bring peace he came to bring a sword. That sword is our bodies standing for the defenseless and speaking and writing for speechless.
These passages in Mark, Matthew, and Luke are not calls of salvation, they are calls to action. We are called to stand between the victims and victimizer. We are called to defend what is right and resist injustice, hate, and cruelty all in the name of Jesus. Jesus knew death on the cross was inevitable, but he did not deny his Father, he refused to back down when it came to overcoming injustice. That is what the call of the cross means. We hold the cross up as a symbol of fighting against injustice, stand for compassion, love, and mercy. The symbol of the cross in today’s world is not passé nor is standing between the voiceless and accuser. Today people are arrested for trying to protect immigrant children and their parents. They are defending women, immigrants, members of LBGTQ community and people of color who are under attack. People are lifting up their voices in a chorus demanding that our rights be preserved. You are those people, I know many of you have marched, spoken up, and cared, for the defenseless. We are a community that has heard the call and have responded, young or old we stand up to be counted.
Today, our world continues to be torn apart by those who would have us believe that the defenseless have no rights, we must continue to choose to take up our own crosses, in whatever way we are able to. We must be willing to defend the undefended, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, provide homes for the homeless, and welcome the strangers who come to us. To spread the word that injustice has no part in our world by writing, speaking, marching, and screaming if we must. We must act despite opposition by those who in denying Jesus and his call continue to harm the defenseless and the voiceless and dismember the freedoms we have gained over in 250 years.
Jesus did not teach us a faith of only contemplation, it is also a faith of rebellion. None of this is an easy choice to make, but choosing the radicle life Jesus lays out for us has never been easy, otherwise our world would be a very different place. In the last 2000 years only a few have had the courage to accept that challenge. All of them met death knowing they were faithful to Jesus’ teachings.
We too have challenges to accept and while we won’t me hung on a cross, and hopefully not face physical death, we could be destroyed financially or socially. The good news is every time someone accepts that challenge we get closer to be the community we were meant to be. Yes, contemplation is very important, without it we would be unable to hear God and Christ give us the strength to carry on. But contemplation without action is a withdrawal from the world, of saving only ourselves and a denial of the ministry given to us.
Ruth Jewell, ©August 8, 2018, To Take Up The Cross is adapted from a Sermon I preached at Queen Anne Christian Church, July 15, 2018
Dewey, Arthur J.; Inventing the Passion, how the death of Jesus was Remembered, Polebridge Press, Salem OR, 2017
Myers, Ched; Binding the Strong Man, a Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, 2008, 20th anniversary edition
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
By Robert Frost
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
You probably are thinking the heat has gotten to my brain, or maybe it’s the pain pills for my back pain. But, on one of the recent warm summer days I picked up a book of poetry and it opened up to one of my favorite poems by Robert Frost. So in all this heat we’ve been having here in the Northwest I thought this might make for a peaceful, cool meditation using either Lectio Divina with the poem or Visio Divina with the photograph, or do both.
Lectio Divina with Poetry, using poetry to hear God in the silence
Visio Divina with a Photograph
May the presence of the Holy Spirit blow through your heart cooling your spirit and giving you new strength.
Ruth Jewell, ©July 28, 2015
Numbers 23:9a for from the top of the mountains I see him, from the hills I behold him;
On this beautiful Tuesday I ask only that you take a moment of silence. Hold in your hearts, the pain, suffering and loss from the deaths in Charleston North Carolina, Chattanooga TN. To remember the loss of so many who have needlessly died from Sandy Hook, to Marysville. As we lift up our eyes to the mountains open our hearts to those who suffer; the victims, the families. Hold the perpetrators in your heart as well, pray that light will enter the dark well they live in and bring them out of the darkness of their own making. Amen
Ruth Jewell, ©July 21, 2015
Prepared for a Sermon at Queen Anne Christian Church, Seattle WA
January 18th, 2015
Scripture: Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
Have you ever had that feeling you are being watched and you turn around and around to see who is there? I have and I must admit it often feels creepy! Someone is watching me, why, who are they, what do they want, will they hurt me? Some might say these are the questions of a paranoid mind, but, given the status of our world today, not uncommon in these days of uncertainty, fear, and, let’s be honest, at least a little hate, ok a lot of hate.
So when I read the Psalm for this week I had to really think what it means to be “watched,” “known,” by God. This Psalm is telling me that I am being watched, by God no less. Is that a good thing or should I be afraid, really afraid. As I was contemplating these verses I remembered an incident out of my childhood. It was a memory of being known by God and knowing it was keeping me safe.
Nearly 62 years ago I was severely burnt and spent 6 months in hospital healing and having reconstructive surgery. In reality I am blessed to be here, because I should have died that summer, but didn’t. However, I did spend a great deal of time on a children’s ward of a Cleveland Hospital. There were number of other children there as well, just as injured and ill as me and one little boy and I became good friends. I do not remember his name; I do remember he was dying. He was a little older than I was but could not walk; I could get up and walk a little but couldn’t read as well as he could. I would get books and games to play with and he would read the harder books.
Children will often tell another child something important when they aren’t sure their parents would understand or listen. So one day he told me that he knew he didn’t have long to live and he wanted me to tell his parents he was ok with it. You see he had a guardian angel who stayed by his side and the angel had told him he would be going soon and no longer in pain, his parents would be sad for awhile but they would remember him forever.
One night I awoke to a great deal of crying and saw the mother holding the little boy. I remembered what he had asked me to do so I crawled out of my bed and tried to tell them that the boy was OK, and that he was with his angel now. However, before I got very far with that a nurse scooped me up and put me back in my bed saying something patronizing. I never really talked about that incident again; I understood what I had to say was pretty unimportant to adults and not worth listening to. It was the thought of the time that children didn’t understand death or God and it was, and is, a wrong thought.
Being known by God, being watched by God, children understand that, after all they are always being watched. By parents, teachers, friends, family members who want to keep them safe. So knowing God is watching them is no big deal, just one more person on the list to keep them safe. Besides isn’t there something comforting knowing you have a guardian angel nearby, how cool is that.
From the time they are formed in the dark, cavern of their mother’s womb they are cradled and whispered to by angels. By 18 weeks of pregnancy the embryo begins to hear his first sounds, Mom’s heart beat, the movement of her blood, and bowel sounds. He also hears His Mom’s and Dad’s voice, music, laughter, and tears. To him it’s, Angels voices coming from, everywhere. Children know they are being watched, searched out as they are being formed in the dark.
After birth we are still connected to those angels, only now they have blurry faces, but they can see the angels smile at them and hear their whispers and while breast feeding they still hear the comforting sound of Mom’s heartbeat.
It is a sad fact that as we grow we forget those connections to the mystery of our beginnings. We let other sounds carry us away from the angel’s voices, the whispers that we are beloved and we are watched over. We, who were made so carefully, struggle to be free of the binders, free of being hemmed in from behind and before. We, who in secret were made so wonderfully and woven of star dust and love, want to run free of the restrictions of God, angels, or anyone else.
Yet there is a part of us that yearns to be known. Oh we may fight it, rebel and run away because we want to “do it our way.” But really, at some level, isn’t it comforting to know just how beloved we are? The Psalmist said “My days are all inscribed in Your Ledger; Days not yet shaped—each one of them is counted.” Those counted days are from the moment we are conceived in flesh to the moment we let go of this body and return to God. Yes we still have days that God has counted that we know nothing about, yet. But God is still watching and still planning, or more likely, revising our life plan based on our latest actions.
You see I’ve never been a big proponent of predestination, were God has planned our lives out before we are born. No I am a firm believer in free will and our obligation to choose life over death. We, you and I, must choose to follow one path over another and depending on our choices our life is rewritten again and again. I know that because I have had my life rewritten all because I’ve made some rather dumb choices in my life. My guess is we all have, because we are human, we are embodied; we are separated from that light of God and God deliberately put us on our own resources for a purpose we do not know. (My first question for God when I return is “what were you thinking.”)
What the Psalmist tells us is even in our bad choices we are watched, cared for, beloved, held safe, and not alone. God keeps us in God’s thoughts; we are never far from the Divine mind. “How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.” “I am still with You,” God is with me. Matthew writes that Jesus’ last words to his disciples were, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” We have that promise. God has not left us alone, Jesus has not left us alone, the angels are still whispering, if, only we listen.
Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi translated verse 14 as follows, “I am overcome with thanks at Your awesome wonders, Your astonishing works, of which my soul is aware.” Our souls know what God does, what Jesus does, even when we are unconscious to those actions. Our souls know even when we reject God’s call that we are not alone. That we are watched over and having our lives rewritten again and again based on whether we chose life or death.
Those angel whispers, messages of comfort from the Holy, still hold for each and every one of us. That first sound we heard in our mothers’ wombs, the first whisper of life from the sacred, was a heartbeat. It still is the whisper of life for all of us. Without our hearts beating strong and level life will fade. But it is not just the heart of our flesh that we need. We also need the voice of the heart of our souls, our spirit, to truly live life as God intended. Remember Moses’ last words “choose life.” The messengers of God, the angels voices all whisper, “choose life.”
Ruth Jewell, ©January 17, 2015
 Schachter-Shalomi, Rabbi Zalman, Psalms in a translation for praying, Alliance for Jewish Renewal, Philadelphia, PA, 2014.
John 1:1-5 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
This is one of my favorite paintings of the birth of Jesus. There is just something about the expressions on Mary and Josephs faces as they look at the new small being in their life that draws me in. I once saw the original in the Boston Museum of Art and this tiny painting on black slate captivated me as no others have.
However, I must admit that despite loving this painting, I don’t see the nativity as an actual historical event. It has been a long time since I believed in the virgin birth. I am a scientist by training and I know that while ‘virgin’ births do happen in nature, it’s called parthenogenesis, they only occur in certain species of worms and small crustaceans called daphnids. So this event was a no go for me not long after my first serious biology class. But the importance of the birth story is not in history, it is in the symbolism of new life breaking into the world in the form of God within the person of Jesus of Nazareth. New life, not of a baby’s, rather a new life lived in a world where all achieve their God given potential. Living in the world as Jesus did, with limitless love and compassion, offering justice and mercy to those who are in need, and offering a peace that fills the soul. Well then again maybe it is like the birth of a baby, for we all experience new insights as new birth within us.
So why I may not believe Jesus was born in an actual stable I do believe he was been born in the stables, and dark corners of our minds, societies, and cultures. Jesus is the one who birthed new life in those dark recesses of our hearts and minds. Who lit up the alley ways where suffering, pain, and violence reside bringing the light of love to those who were the unlovable. In prayer and action we, you and I, continue to carry that light. We take it to prisons, hospitals, hospice rooms, to the homeless, to the hungry, to anyone in need of the light provided by “The Way.” At least we are supposed to.
Today I ask you to use the above painting for your Prayerful Tuesday Meditation using Visio Divina.
May you be blessed with the birthing of new life within you. Merry Christmas everyone.
Ruth Jewell, ©December 23, 2014
Matthew 18:21-22: 21 Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ 22Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
This week’s prayer practice comes from the lectionary readings. In Matthew, Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive someone and Jesus’ response is an astronomical number. So how many times should we forgive? An infinite number of times.
I have often wondered what brought up that topic for Peter. Did he have someone he needed to forgive, did one of the other disciples do something that irritated him, or might one of his family been causing him trouble? I know those are some of the reasons I often need to offer forgiveness and to receive forgiveness.
Hurting someone’s feelings is simply part of being human and living in relationships. We are not always pleasant to be around anymore than anyone else is and so unless we forgive each other of those hurt feelings we would be carrying a terrible burden that would eventually eat away at our souls.
Several years ago a man entered an Amish school house and killed all of the children before he shot himself. It would have been understandable for the families of those children to be angry and want revenge on the shooters family, but that is not what happened. Instead they surrounded the widow and her children in love and cared for her and her children in her grief the way they cared for their own grief. A spokesperson for the Amish community said the best way to remember the lives of the children lost was to offer forgiveness and compassion to the shooters wife and child and if the shooter had survived they would have told him they forgave him. I have known Amish families and I wasn’t surprised by their actions but still it must have been very hard to offer that kind of loving forgiveness. You see I have carried around some anger for a long time for something someone did to my mother and I need to let forgive the person. It is time to simply release that anger and offer my forgiveness. In his book Spiritual Gems of Islam Imam Jamal Rahman offers a meditation practice that guides us in releasing our anger and offering forgiveness even when the person is no longer with us by reaching out to the soul of the person to be forgiven. Briefly here are the steps to follow:
The above is a brief introduction to the prayer practice but it follows all of the steps. However, if you are interested in furthering your understanding of this beautiful Sufi meditation I strongly recommend reading Imam Rahman’s book.
Peace to you all, and May your heart open like a flower in forgiving love for the unlovable and the lovable alike.
Ruth Jewell, ©September 9, 2014
 Rahman, Imam Jamal, Spirituality of Islam, Skylight Paths Publishing, Woodstock, VT, 2013, pgs. 148-150.
In the last couple of weeks I have been reading a book by Jay Michaelson, Everything is God, The Radical Path of Nondual Judaism, 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
 Michaelson, Jay: Everything is God, The Radical Path of Nondual Judaism, Trumpeter, Boston MA, 2009
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
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