Before I post my sermon I have to mention that it was unlike anything I’ve ever done. I will confess that it felt amazing, right, golden. I was so worried about giving it I didn’t even think about people responding to it afterward! After it was over, so many people came up to me to say in their words “how much I liked it and how honest it was, vulnerable in all the right places”. One woman even came up to me and said her kids, notorious squirmers, “hung on every word.” I was about to die from embarrassed pleasure.Tonight one of her kids even came up to me to tell me she liked it. I’ve never had so much affirmation. My visiting family were so wonderful too. My mom recorded it on her cellphone and just looked smug and proud. Not smug in a bad way but more like…it was proof that this journey we are on is the right one. I kept finding myself blushing and feeling a little overwhelmed at the response. I was so anxious about giving it. I think I was using it as a litmus test, a referendum on whether I am doing the right thing. I feel pretty darn certain, but I still am a little disbelieving that I might actually get to do this for the rest of my life. It is the custom in the Episcopal church to say a short prayer before getting to the sermon and that will be included at the start of it. Considering how much I worried about it, it just seemed to flow right out when I needed it to. Thank God for that.
Come Holy Spirit and kindle in us, the fire of your love.
Take our minds and think through them,
Take our lips and speak through them,
Take our souls and set them on fire.
Like many Episcopalians, I have spent much of my life having the Bible read to me every Sunday. I used to think of reading it myself, but every time I cracked it open, the format, the language, even some of the content made it difficult for me to follow. So a few years ago I decided that I just had to do something about that. I went to a Christian bookstore to pick out a new Bible, and stumbled upon The Message. I don’t know how many of you have read it, but it is a paraphrase and not an actual translation and it can be comical in its choice of language in some parts. It made the Bible seem friendlier, more approachable somehow. For the first time I was able to read the Bible cover to cover.
There are lots of problems with the Message; the liberties taken with language can be surprising and shocking. Here’s an example: in the New International Version, Matthew verse 22 reads: All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s Message through his prophet. In the Message it says: This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term.
This had the effect of making me wonder what it said in the familiar King James Version or better yet, the original Greek. Soon I had amassed quite a collection of Bibles and my reading usually involved many of them.
Today’s Gospel reading recounts Jesus telling his disciples a story in the form of a Parable. The interesting and wonderful thing about parables is that you can read them over and over again and take something new away every time. In Reverend Thompson’s class on Parables he noted that the Sower is profligate in his spreading of the seed. That God is always spreading the word and His love, and that it falls on all kinds of soil: shallow, rocky, weedy… yet he is unstinting in his sowing. A peasant at the time wouldn’t waste seed like this. He’d carefully plant and husband it.
I thought about that and the idea of God raining his love down upon us always, generously, patiently waiting for a good harvest. That is comforting, exciting and also a little bit scary. Because it made me wonder, what kind of soil am I?
Honestly… I think I have been more than one.
For many years in my childhood and youth, the word of God was something that punctuated the moments in the service between hymns. I really loved singing as a child and that’s what I liked about church.
I would say the seed was a little wasted on me at that point. Fallen on the footpaths of my inattention.
As I grew older, while actually listening to sermons I would start to feel an inkling of God’s presence, and the reality of the good news. When I was in church this would fill me with energy, I would sign up for lots of things and then inevitably lose interest.
I was willing to do a little for God, but not much. Kind of like a friend you don’t see too often. You might give them a call or meet now and then, but you aren’t really committed to being a part of their daily life, or having them as part of yours. My soil was rocky and shallow.
In my early 30’s I really began to understand some of the messages that God has sent us. The truly revolutionary nature of Jesus’ call to follow Him… no doubt a natural consequence of actually reading the Bible.
I was becoming more committed in my relationship to God, but He was still a sidebar, an afterthought. After all, I was raising a daughter all by myself, excelling at a high powered career and trying to be a good citizen too. I had so many people and constituencies to please that I failed to please any of them. Bills, job stress, and the process of day to day life choked out my passion for God. My soil was littered with weeds.
But something stuck with me. In the back of my mind, whirring away, I continued to puzzle and piece together the meanings of what I was reading and hearing every Sunday. I didn’t really want to believe it. I mean what would happen if I had the kind of relationship with God that he was asking for?
I could only imagine.
Quit my job? Devote my life to charity? Make my whole life about Him? My heart lurched in fear. I looked around at the people I knew, and none of them seemed to be troubled by this element of the Bible.
I remember sitting in the National Cathedral one Sunday and thinking, if I could do this every day, worship and think about God I would be very content. Something I wasn’t used to feeling.
So I submitted, I gave in. I prayed that God would use my life as He willed. And something amazing happened. I went to my rector and talked to him, telling him all about my feelings. He encouraged me to listen to that small, still voice. He helped me understand that I was starting to feel what God can do when you invite him into your life wholeheartedly.
I left my career, went back to college and made God the center of my life. I started to get to say Yes a lot. Could I teach Sunday School? Yes! Could I serve at the altar? Yes! Could I give a sermon? Well, I can try!
I only worried about pleasing a constituency of one. Not me…God.
It’s too soon to tell whether I will be the good harvest!
But it really might not matter. Because the Good News is that there are always some favorable responses, some growth. It doesn’t matter how many, it will be enough. God provides the increase.
The story of the sower is not a scary message, it is an optimistic one. It says that God is calling us always into relationship, into PARTNERSHIP with Him. We can use our free will and choose to work with God to make the future better than the past.
God purposely limits Himself in order to create this partnership. To let us choose Him. Otherwise we would be automatons, going through the motions and blindly obeying in absolute certainty.
There is an old story that illustrates this: A minister and a parishioner were talking about her garden. The minister complimented her, saying “What a beautiful garden you and God have made.” Response? “You should have seen it when God was doing it alone.”
Jesus makes it clear in the story that God wants Him and all His followers to sow the seed. To work at growing. Even in a difficult and indifferent world. God will provide the soil, the sun and the rain to carry out His share of the partnership. That’s why he sows so generously.
Jesus understood the tension between self-centeredness and God-centeredness. After all, it took Him 40 days in the wilderness to put aside his desire for popularity and power. It might take us a little longer, but the seed will keep falling, and eventually our world will be transformed.