Sunday, 13 July 2014

'Sowing the seeds of love': Sermon for Ordinary 15A

Isaiah 55:10-13
Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23

I’m convinced that gardening is an act of faith.
And, well, let’s be frank,
in my case, it’s the triumph of hope over experience.
So, it’s with a wee sense of irony, that I find 
that the readings for today both contain gardening metaphors:
‘A sower went out to sow...’ - the scattering of seeds, in our text from Matthew.
In our text from Isaiah, the earth being watered so that seeds might grow.
In both texts,
God, the gardener, the sower,
scattering his word-seeds extravagantly,
scattering the word everywhere.
Two readings.
Two different audiences: alike, yet unlike.
Two groups of people
born of the one nation:
God’s own people...
wondering if they’re forsaken
if God is still speaking.

Let’s unpack our readings a little.
The background to this particular extract from Isaiah
is a one of sadness and unmitigated sorrow:
the harps hang forlorn upon the trees
as the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates flow past.
At the river bank, the people gather - and sit.
The exiles.
The castaways.
The conquered ones.
...Weeping, they wonder:
how can we sing the Lord’s song
in a strange land?
Numb with grief,
they are the flotsam and jetsam
cast up on the shores of misfortune.
Despair takes hold.
God has stopped speaking.
There are no words. ...
...Or, so it seems.
They’re wrong.
In the midst of their Babylonian captivity,
the words of the prophet Isaiah, remind
the Jewish exiles that God is faithful,
that God has not finished with them yet,
that God’s word will    not    fail...
that God    is still speaking.

Turning to our text from Matthew:
It’s now several hundred years later.
And we find the people of God
living not in exile, but under occupation.
Once again, they are a conquered people.
They find that their homeland is ripe for the picking
and that the imperial Roman army do it ever so efficiently.
New laws, new taxes,
new punishments - crucifixion.
The ways of the Romans are not their ways.
They chafe under the yoke and mutter.
Surely God has forsaken them?
God has stopped speaking -
has nothing,
no word to give them...
Or, so it seems.
They’re wrong.
In the midst of the Roman occupation,
the words of a young rabbi scatter through the land
like seeds,
for those with ears to hear.
God is faithful,
God has not finished with them yet,
God’s word will not fail...
for here, in flesh, in blood, in bone
God’s word walks among them
is one of them
and God is most definitely still speaking.

What are the words being scattered?
What is being sown by God, the gardener
to the exiles,
to the conquered under occupation?
These seeds are words of the kingdom:
of God’s reign
of the good news.
These seeds are...
Words of comfort and reassurance: take heart, dear ones, I have not forgotten you.

These seeds are
Words of hope: look up, lift up your heads

They are Words of freedom and peace:  look up, for your liberation is at hand - rejoice.

They are Words of renewal:
I am the God who refreshes and restores -
like the snow, like the rain watering the land.

They are Words of life that nurture and nourish:
abundant life. 
and these are Words... that never fail - for God is faithful for all time.
Into the wasteland of exile and occupation
God the gardener sows the seeds of love:
God    is    still speaking.

And how are the words being scattered?
Without measure.
Heedless to the type of ground
the seed might fall upon,
God sows the seeds of love without prejudice or distinction,
not judging in advance who is worthy
or who is unworthy to receive them:
the seeds     are for all,
for the seeds are scattered in the abundance
of God’s generosity and grace.
They are scattered far and wide -
the word sent throughout the whole world:
scattered on the paths meant for peace,
but so often consumed by the hawks of war;
scattered in the rocky ground of social injustice
and deprivation that withers and destroys the soul;
scattered in the thorn bushes of addiction,
neglect, apathy; random violence;
...  ...scattered too, in soil that gives the optimum conditions for flourishing and growth...
In the dark places
the light places
and all the places in between,
God sows the seeds of love
for God is still speaking:
Speaking to the exiles,
speaking to those living under foreign occupation...
...speaking to us,     even now. ... ...

I often have this picture of Jesus in my mind’s-eye:
I see him walking about the dusty highways and byways
with his mates, his disciples,
just chatting with them -
telling them about the God’s Kingdom;
telling them about God’s love.
I can almost hear him saying:
‘you are loved,
you are precious in God’s sight,
rejoice and be glad,
and tell others the good news:
that they, too, are loved beyond measure.’

He’s sowing the seeds of love:
scattering words of hope, and life, and liberation...
and encouraging all who follow him
to go and do likewise -
to sow the seeds of love
in a sometimes very unloved and unlovely world;
a world that contains places
where people feel lost, forsaken, in despair,
and, if they did believe in a God,
would wonder why God has stopped speaking.
...Or, so it seems....  
In the midst of this world,
in the footsteps of the sower,
we, too are sowers -
loved and precious in God’s sight
and called to scatter the seeds,
the word of God,
wherever, and whenever we can;
to scatter the seeds of God’s word
mirroring the wideness of God’s mercy -
to show the good news
that the kingdom of heaven
is within us
while giving thanks for the fullness of the kingdom yet to come.

‘We are called to treat God’s love, God’s justice, and God’s blessing,
precious as these are, as if they were absolutely limitless in supply
for one simple reason:
they are.  They really are.’ [Sarah Dylan Brewer]

As we sow the seeds of God’s word,
so we proclaim to the world
that God is faithful
that God is not finished with any of us yet,
that God’s word will not fail
...that God, in love and grace,
is still speaking -
speaking words of love
that will burst forth into blossom,
...100 times over.  ...

Let’s pray:
God we give you thanks,
for forever sowing the seeds of life,
for giving us the Word of life that is Jesus,
for making us living seeds, tiny yet fruitful,
the scattering of your hand
beloved and precious in your sight.
Give us ears to hear,
to listen to your voice,
for in faith, we know
that you are still speaking.
[based on a prayer by Leith Fisher]

Saturday, 12 July 2014

lectionary leanings: 'Castaway God'

Have been pondering one of the readings for tomorrow:
Isaiah 55:10-13

The words from the Book of Isaiah are aimed at the Babylonian captives:
exiles, castaways... and in a lateral tangent I began to think of 'Desert Island Discs'
and wondered what if God were the 'castaway' interviewee...
What 8 pieces of music would God choose - the Psalms?
What book [apart from the Bible and Complete Works of Shakespeare]?
And what would be God's luxury item?
The interweaving conversation would be quite something.

I can almost hear Kirsty Young’s introduction:
*cue signature tune, fade...*

Our castaway this morning is someone who has been the subject of countless words:
writers through the centuries have praised and pondered him,
others have criticised and condemned him.
Turning to his own words:
He’s been in the word-smithing business since before Adam was a boy -
His own word brought creation into being,
His book has been in the all-time best-seller list
since before the printing press was invented;
he has only to speak, and the mountains bow down before him
and trees have been known to clap their hands in joy.
He’s been extravagantly scattering his word on pathways,
in rocky and thorny places,
and even on good soil for generation upon generation
And such is the power of his imagination
his Word became flesh and dwelt among us,
and we have seen his glory...

Hmmm, quite like the idea of 'castaway God'.  Perhaps something to explore at another point when I am not sermon-procrastinating!