We are all Homo Sapiens sapiens but we will never be Human Beings until we stop just surviving and begin to live in harmony with each other and all creation.
I have been trying to comprehend the shootings in South Carolina at the First Emanuel AME Church. Just as the acts in other mass shootings I simply can’t get my mind around a hatred that produces such evil. I have listened to the prayers for comfort and supplication. I have listened, unwillingly, to the NRA and other public speakers who blame the church pastor and members, or minimize the acts of the shooter. I can’t, or won’t, believe that 9 innocent people were the cause nor can I believe the shooter acted without encouragement.
You see, I believe we, you and I, are to blame for what happened in South Carolina. You and I, and everyone else regardless of skin color, privilege, ethnicity, or any other cultural classification are equally responsible for pulling the trigger and this is why I believe this.
We refuse to stand against acts of injustice, violence, discrimination, or the use of degrading speech. We listen politely and shake our heads and tell ourselves that offering a prayer that people will change is enough. We are afraid of what others might say about us if we stop someone in mid speech and tell them NO, I will not listen to this. We look the other way when someone abuses another. We tolerate public servants who degrade people of color, are poor, elderly, or have a religion they don’t follow. We have tolerated public servants who have spoken as if they are the only ones who matter, who have verbally abused our President and anyone else they disagree with or disagree with them.
We have created this atmosphere of hate and violence found in country today. Yes, I admit I am right there along with the rest of us. Have I stood up and defended someone being abused, sometimes yes but not always. I do it when it is convenient for me and that is not what we are called to do. We, you and I, are called by the Divine to be better than that.
This week I am recommending a spiritual practice of standing up and defending the voiceless. I am asking each of you to speak up when you hear someone abusing or degrading someone else. I am pleading with each of you to stand and be counted when you see injustice happening. As you go through this week remember this:
“8But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously— take God seriously.” Micah 6:8 The Message (MSG)
Matthew 13:2b-9“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!”
Every interpreter I have ever read tells us this scripture is about the ground. It’s about us being good or bad ground for the word of God. So what if, just what if, we have it upside down. I’m not saying we do, this is a “what if,” looking at the parable from the other side, from the Sower’s perspective.
Barbara Brown Taylor in her book The Seeds of Heaven, Sermons on the Gospel of Matthew (2004) asks what if this parable isn’t about us, not about our failures or success’. But rather about an extravagant sower who flings his seeds everywhere and “wastes it with holy abandon?” If this isn’t about us as ground for the word of God then this parable has a completely new meaning. Taylor says what if “the focus is not on us and our shortfalls but on the generosity of our maker, the prolific sower, who does not obsess about the conditions of fields, who is not stingy . . . but casts his seed everywhere, on good soil and bad.” What if God, the prolific Sower, says I have a lot of seed and some will take hold right away, but who knows maybe, just maybe, some sown in not the best of places may still feed a soul. Suppose Jesus was saying we are to sow God’s word everywhere, don’t expect a harvest, or at least a big one, just speak the word, live the word, be the word, and see what happens.
So this week I challenge you to go and live the life of a prolific sower. Imitate the Great Sower, and be one of those who has ears and hears.
In the last weeks God’s creation has seemed anything but good. Terrorist attacks, ambushing of police, and police shootings of unarmed young men continue to rent the very fabric of our society. Yet God did not create an evil world, in fact God proclaims this world a good world where everyone, and I mean everyone, has what they need to live and be the person they are meant to be. It is our choice’s, not God’s, that have created a world that is unsafe.
Spending time in silent contemplation with a focus on what we could have been, and still could be, seemed the only way for me to center myself and see the world as good. So today I offer as our prayer of the week another Visio Divina using the above painting of the Garden of Eden by Jan Brueghel.
1. Study the picture slowly, taking a first glance noting the colors, the placement of the plants, animals and, people. Remain with the image for one to two minutes. If you would like, jot down a few words about the image.
Take a second, deeper, look. Where is there movement? What relationships do you see? Engage your imagination. Where are you in the artwork? What do you see from that perspective? What deeper meaning emerges? What feelings about the world rise in you? Are there any images that you are particularly drawn too?
Respond to the image with prayer for the world. 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.
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.
Please do not let your belief, or non-belief, in the Garden of Eden and the subsequent fall from grace prevent you from seeing the good things in creation. Our world is in need of prayer right now. All of our people, all of creation is crying and in pain. Let your prayers go out into the world and let them lead you to be the person God has always wanted you to be.
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?
I watched a PBS program the other night about Shakespeare’s Macbeth and one insight of the host made me sit up and take notice. The play of Macbeth, as Shakespeare tells it, is about the ego. You see Macbeth let his own and his wife’s ego control his life and I resonate with that. As of late I am wrestling with my own ego issues. Now I doubt I am going to go and kill anyone to get ahead, although metaphorically speaking I may have done that already, but right now I am trying to separate my desires from the desires of God. To be honest I don’t think I’m doing a very good job. The question I ask myself (ok questions) ‘is what I want what God wants for me and from me,’ or ‘am I telling God what I want and just assuming that it is what God wants to do.’
You see telling the difference between those two things is really very difficult. God doesn’t speak in direct ways. Rather, God speaks through the voices of those I love, the actions of others, or my own emotional response to things, but God never makes a telephone call, writes an e-mail, or even makes a Facebook® post, as much as I would appreciate that. Sitting in silence and letting go of my expectations is wonderful but how long do I sit before I begin to wonder if anyone listening?
So how do proceed? Well for me it is learning (and re-learning over and over again) patience and letting go of the necessity to be anything other than who I am. That doesn’t mean I have no ambition it just means that I begin by changing how I view the world around me. Is the world here for my benefit or am I here for the worlds? If I am here to benefit the world than what I do should provide those around me with the love, compassion, kindness, justice and peace that God calls me to offer without expecting a reward or recognition. For me, as I’m sure everyone else, that is hard to do, we are, after all, ‘required’ to list our skills and what we have done with those skills whenever we apply for job or even volunteer. I’m not sure putting down my skill as “walking with God” (Micah 6:8) is enough for most people. So that is my dilemma, how do tell the difference between “walking with God” and a desire for getting ahead in this world.
Life is rarely simple and well defined and looking for answers by sitting and listening for a ‘word’ from God is not an easy thing to do. Currently, I am in one of the proverbial ‘dry places’ in my prayer and spiritual life that happens to all of us. I am questioning whether God is even listening to me, or even if there is a God. Such questions and doubts are difficult to face and are frightening to think I may have wasted my life in pursuit of God. All I can do is continue to sit in silence and wait; to practice praying the scriptures and pray for an insight; and to pray the call of blind Bartimaeus “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” (Mark 10:42). Instead of worrying about not ‘hearing’ from God I ‘should’ understand this is a time for me to rest and let silence enfold me and let the silence create its own richness and prayers that I cannot speak. And maybe I have to remember that I do not have to pursue God. God actually sits near by waiting for me to surrender my ego and open the eyes of my heart to that Divine presence. It is remembering prayer isn’t about receiving answers it is about sitting with God, creating space for God to move in my life in ways my ego will never understand.