The Sixth Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 10
O God, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
May I speak in the name of the One who said, “Let anyone with ears listen”. Amen
What did you just hear in the Parable of the Sower?
If you’re like me you may have heard a form of judgment about various types of people, a four part classification model – maybe like a spiritual Myers-Briggs.
So you have those who just don’t get it; those who get the concept and loose it in the details; those who get it but lack the commitment or attention-span to sustain a response; and finally those who really get it and dedicate themselves to growing the spiritual seeds thrown their way.
Now, thinking of the seed sown on the path, which Jesus describes as one who hears the word of the Kingdom and does not understand and the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart, I was following a conversation on Facebook recently in which a young woman, her profile indicates a southern Evangelical, said “Jesus calls us to feed the hungry but that doesn’t mean I have to care about starving people!”
So obviously, her “practical understanding” of Love Thy Neighbor is pretty much restricted to family, friends, and those physical neighbors, co-workers and members of the community who share the same values, live by the same rules, and – dare I say it – share the same fears and prejudices.
This is in stark contrast to a wildly inclusive understanding of what Jesus meant by The Kingdom as articulated by Presiding Bishop Curry and Pope Francis.
An example of rocky soil where the roots of compassion may not run deep and are easily scorched by the sun of adversity, I heard what appeared to be a liberal San Franciscan interviewed on the Evening News say that if the federal government cuts our funds, we may not be able to afford to be as compassionate as we have been in the past. That remark has, gratefully, sparked much conversation in the religious community about how the City Budget is in fact a Moral Document and therefore the Faith Community really needs to be a part of the budget process. St. James recently held a community forum with City officials.
And about those seeds that fell among thorns and were choked, I think of those people who are struggling to reconcile the needs of the poor and the sick with the realities of a healthcare system that is about making money, or trying to find a balance between a concern for our environment and what many are saying is needed to create jobs. Thorny issues.
And finally in terms of seed falling on good soil, my first instinctive reaction was “I’m the Good Soil, of course”. We’re ALL the Good Soil. We’re here in church – right? The Divine Seed has fallen on us and taken root. We got the Message!
The only thing left to be drawn from this very familiar Parable is to calculate what our yield has been. Or is that it?
Actually, Jesus’ parables were meant to be heard over and over. Seeds of the Kingdom are being sown continuously, and we may be in different places at each sowing. We may be different soil at each hearing. There is not ONE interpretation or message. With each Listening, a different seed may be planted. We may be a different type of soil at that moment.
So, this parable is meant to be a filter or a lens to view our spiritual health, our level of clarity about what is the Kingdom and a way to evaluate our personal response and as a church what is our corporate “yield” in helping to grow the Kingdom.
What did you hear? Where were you in this parable - today?
Where is God speaking to you in your daily life? How is the Holy Spirit calling you to receive a seed and to nurture it and to sprout into action?
For me, discerning the call of the Holy Spirit has been a real challenge since the election. There are so many issues from the environment and climate change to women’s rights, to healthcare, immigration etc that have touched me deeply and aroused my desire to respond. I sensed that the seeds thrown at me were being choked by the overwhelmingness of all that is being thrown at us.
But I received some really good advice early on. A friend said; “Look there are folks who are passionately committed to fighting climate change – they are All IN and will remain so. There are others who are passionate about Planned Parenthood - let them cover that issue. The same for national parks and school lunch programs and meals on wheels and the National Endowment, and so many more of the really important issues crying for attention.
Just try to find that one issue that is close to home, where there is a great need, and commit yourself to that. This was really helpful, and I chose Immigration and Sanctuary.
But even after making the choice, I was trying to decide between legislative action, seeking funding for legal services, or direct action in support of undocumented people. I signed up for the Rapid Response Program where volunteers get a text when there is a potential ICE raid (Immigration & Customs Enforcement). The task is to rush to the location, verify that it is in fact a raid, and then just be a witness, helping to make sure that the ICE officers follow the law – that they have a warrant and only take into custody the person on that warrant. BUT we had moved from the Mission where much of this action is taking place to a loft downtown, and my social schedule was so full I was never free when a text came in.
I had responded to the seed the Spirit sowed, but the roots of my commitment were shallow and my good intentions withered.
Have you ever had that experience?
So, again, this parable is not intended to be a static mechanism to sort the sheep from the goats, but rather a barometer of how we are doing spiritually in responding to the seeds of the kingdom that are being thrown our way. And this barometer is not just for our personal reflection, but equally relevant to the evaluation of our work together in community.
For example, I am aware of parishes struggling to stay afloat. Most of their resources - time, talent and treasure- are focused on keeping the building functioning and meeting payroll. So, when an issue touches their hearts through an event or a personal story or a powerful sermon and there is enthusiasm to respond as a community, the weight of these other concerns may make their soil rocky and not of sufficient depth to sustain a committed response.
Perhaps seeds has been scattered on individuals in a community but the subject is seen as too controversial and the desire for equanimity overpowers the call to engagement. The seeds from the Holy Spirit coming to this community are being choked by these thorny practical concerns.
And, as I suggested, the outcome for individuals and communities will probably be different at different times.
So where are you as a community in this Parable? Where have you been? Where do you see yourselves in the future?
I’ll give another personal example. Recently I’ve been able to get myself into deeper, less rocky soil with fewer thorns. I worked with Sarah Lawton, who many of you know, on a resolution for Diocesan Convention to follow in the footsteps of the Diocese of Los Angeles and declare ourselves a Sanctuary Diocese. I’ve also joined Faith in Action’s Accompaniment program to go with families to deportation hearings or just to check-ins while their application for a Green Card or renewed DACA status or for asylum is being considered. This idea of Accompaniment is really taking root in many parishes around the Diocese.
We get to BE the caring presence of Christ for people under great pressure who are often in deep distress, and to hear their stories and then to see them more clearly as our neighbor and more particularly as uniquely beloved children of a wildly inclusive God.
I’ve also been working with a several parishes and deaneries in discussions of what it might mean to be a Sanctuary Parish.
Some of them have imagined that because of the political positions of some of their congregants, even a discussion of immigration not to mention Sanctuary would be too controversial and divisive. But we have been able to find common ground – even with those who support what the current Administration is doing in general.
The question has been raised – “Well if it is illegal for them to be here, isn’t advocating sanctuary actually condoning breaking the law? - On its face this seems like a valid question. But when we look at the Constitution and the provisions of the 4th and 15th Amendments which guarantee all people the Right to Due Process, we have found some common ground. As early as the 1880s the Supreme Court held that any person in this country, regardless of how they got here, is entitled to Due Process before being kicked out. We have found that we can all agree, that it is both patriotic and Christian to be involved in seeing that people have a fair hearing and some access to counsel or other advice before being deported UNLESS they have already HAD their due process by being convicted of a felony or violent offense.
The Obama Administration instituted what is called Expedited Deportation for those convicted of a felony or violent crime - the prosecution having already provided them with Due Process. But the current Administration is summarily deporting anyone who cannot provide documentation, without a warrant as required by law. They are depriving them of a constitutional right grated even to non-citizens, in addition to tearing families apart who have lived here for decades and paying taxes, and whose children are often citizens. Veterans having served in Afghanistan and Iraq are also being deported.
We can agree that the biblical mandate to welcome the stranger in both the Old Testament and the words of Jesus himself, require us to at least insist that all undocumented persons be given Due Process before being deported.
By agreeing on this point we have moved from rocky and thorny soil to soil in which we can have an attentive, compassionate, faith-rooted conversation about Who is our neighbor and what is the Spirit calling us to do to help create the Kingdom of God in the here and now.
Learning how to have a respectful, loving conversation with each other also prepares us to do the work of this Episcopal Church - which is to be Reconcilers in our society and in the world. That’s true evangelism – not convincing people to come into our church to worship God as we understand Her through a liturgy that we feel is most up-lifting, but to BE Jesus’ in the world and do His continuing work of feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned and welcoming the stranger.
As we have often been reminded, Christianity as we practice it is not a spectator sport. It’s not just about what happens at the altar. We as the continuing body of Christ are Co-Creators with the Father and the Son of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. The Holy Spirit, as the Sower, is continually casting seeds our way to cultivate, and this parable is a means of gauging our response.
May we have ears to hear. Amen