Sermon preached on Sunday, July 16, 2017 by Charleen Crean — parish deacon at All Saints Church in Pasadena and Archdeacon for the Diocese of Los Angeles.
Let us pray. God of all that is sown in the soil of our hearts, open our eyes to see you in each other. Amen
Barbara Brown Taylor is one of my favorite authors. She has a different version of today’s Gospel. She writes…
Once upon a time a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came along and devoured them. So he put his seed pouch down and spent the next hour or so stringing aluminum foil all around his field. He put up a fake owl he ordered from a garden catalog and, as an afterthought, he hung a couple of traps for the Japanese beetles.
Then he returned to his sowing, but he noticed some of the seeds were falling on rocky ground, so he put his seed pouch down again and went to fetch his wheelbarrow and shovel. A couple of hours later he had dug up the rocks and was trying to think of something useful he could do with them when he remembered his sowing and got back to it, but as soon as he did he ran right into a briar patch that was sure to strangle his little seedlings. So he put his pouch down again and looked everywhere for the weed poison but finally decided just to pull the thorns up by hand, which meant he had to go back inside and look everywhere for his gloves.
Now by the time he had the briars cleared it was getting dark, so the sower picked up his pouch and his tools and decided to call it a day. That night he fell asleep in his chair reading a seed catalog, and when he woke the next morning he walked out into this field and found a big crow sitting on his fake owl. He found rocks he had not found the day before and he found new little leaves on the roots of the briars that had broken off in his hands. The sower considered all this, pushing his cap back on his head, and then he did a strange thing: He began to laugh, just a chuckle at first and then a full-fledged guffaw that turned into a wheeze at the end when his wind ran out.
Still laughing and wheezing he went after his seed pouch and began flinging seeds everywhere: into the roots of trees, onto the roof of his house, across all his fences and into his neighbors’ fields. He shook seeds at his cows and offered a handful to the dog; he even tossed a fistful into the creek, thinking they might take root downstream somewhere. The more he sowed, the more he seemed to have. None of it made any sense to him, but for once that did not seem to matter, and he had to admit that he had never been happier in all his life.
For those who don’t know me, I am a southern woman. That means every Spring, we plant tomatoes and other things. It is just what we do, what we have always done, don’t ask me why. Fortunately, I do love to garden and feel a tug to get my hands in the soil every spring .
And for anyone who knows me even briefly (minutes really), you become aware that I have two tiny granddaughters. Stories with them are best shared while in their pajamas holding their favorite blankets while begging for “just one more story” before bed. For them, all stories must begin those magical words “Once upon a time.” In speaking those words, fairy dust and magic are sprinkled over us all and my grownup mind is pulled away from the latest injustices of the day. For a few moments; I can suspend my cynicism and suspicion and take hold of the magic of possibility and dreams.
The thought of looking deeply into these scriptures held that same sort of pull and tug that comes with spring and new tomato plants. In digging in, I began wondering what’s up with all the dirt and seed stories?! Think about all of them! Starting in Genesis, God is making humans from the dust (dirt) of the earth or humus (thus we are called humans). There is also Jesus placing spit filled dirt on the eyes of a blind man, seeds falling on all kinds of dirt, Jesus drawing in the dirt, telling people to shake the dirt off your feet, stories of mustard seeds, picking grain on the Sabbath, wheat and weeds being planted. There are vineyard stories and stories of digging in the dirt for a pearl of great price. There is a lot of focus on the dirt. It is a known fact that the dirt found on our planet contains fragments of stars. It is true. The dirt of our planet is what remains after the scorching and burning moments of creation. We physically contain all that happened in the sparking of life in this universe. We all carry the mystery of the divine in our bones. Dirt is where it all begins.
I heard this story once of a scientist who tells God , “Lord, we don’t need you anymore. Science has finally figured out a way to create life out of nothing. In other words, we can now do what you did in the beginning.”
God replies, “Oh is that so? Tell me!”
“Well”, says the scientist, “we can take dirt and form it into the likeness of you and breath life into it, creating humans.”
“Well, that’s interesting. Show me.”
So the scientist bends down to earth and starts to mold the soil. “Oh no, no no,” God interrupts. “Get your own dirt.”
There is mystery and magic living in the dirt. So you see it makes sense that Jesus tells stories about dirt.
In hearing Jesus explanation to his disciples, it is easy for me to feel the anxiety of being identified as poor soil. Jesus explains it is God himself who is the sower of the seeds. The seed, he explains, is His Word. I thought of the beginning words of the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the word was God.” God is planting Her own life bearing essence into the soil.
My husband and I have been fortunate enough to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land twice in the past three years. In walking that landscape, this parable came to mind as I looked at the hard, worn, centuries old footpaths. The land is rocky and some days the temperature is well over 100 degrees. We saw cactus everywhere marking dividing lines of property. There were plenty of places for things to fall among thorns. Why would God be so careless and extravagant in sowing this good seed by the handfuls into places that had no apparent hope of growth?
Jesus tells the disciples that we are the soil, the very dirt in which he is planting the seed. My entire life, I have thought that I was the one responsible for being that good soil and remaining in good planting condition. Today as I think about the whole “being good soil” thing, I wonder how we can be that good soil consistently given the topography of our lives and our souls on any given day. On some days, I have “ears to hear” better than I do on others. We have all been the rocky, thorny, dry, compressed dessert. It would seem reasonable that circumstances could determine the condition of our soil, right? After all, being trampled down, or filled with rocks or even being well tilled soil are not always matters of our own making. Never the less God persists and the sower goes out to sow.
This past May, I attended a conference at Thistle Farms whose ministry is for women survivors of human trafficking. The survivors’ told of their struggle to grasp the hands of love and change and possibility that were offered. For those being held and trafficked, freedom to leave harsh circumstances is not a choice they have. Their lives and often, the lives of their children are held hostage by those who use them for profit. Did you know 88% of people trafficked in our country are own American born citizens? This is only one example among so many wrongs.
We learn through endless newscasts about the harsh soil in which our immigrant brothers and sisters are now finding themselves. What about our LGBTQ community who were finally free to stretch their roots of relationship in an open fertile accepting soil only to have that soil changed to rock and thorns?
I wonder when our daughters and granddaughters will finally be valued to their fullest with opportunity and freedom of choice and their health decisions unregulated. When will our sons and grandsons of color no longer be targeted for public abuse, incarceration and violence?
I wonder when our children will no longer feel safer sleeping on city streets than home in their own beds. Our anger can be overwhelming. Never the less, we know God persists and even now the sower goes out to sow.
We are living proof of what God can do with dirt. We have the magic of star dust shimmering in our very essence. This, my friends, is where we witness the determination of God casting seeds containing the very essence of God herself. God has sown the seeds of radical love, justice, truth and blessing in our hearts.
CS Lewis said “It is when we notice the dirt, God is most present to us:” He continues on saying in fact “it is the very sign of His presence.” A loving community is where the mystery and miracle of the dirt is best seen. Yes, there will be digging, there will be removal of rocks and boulders, we will irrigate until we think we can’t, and yes, we will spread a whole lot of manure. We can do this. We are the body of Christ.
We are the soil from which love and justice grow. Isaiah says “For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the sower and bread for food, so will my word be that goes forth from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will carry out my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”
Yes this world is rocky, thorny, down trodden, but never the less God persists and continues to extravagantly sow. AMEN