Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 10 (15), Year A; 13 July 2008

14 July 2008

Do you have a problem with sin?  I do.  Sin is a constant in my life.  Along with all the good —love, family, friends, reading, writing— sin is always there.  I sin constantly.  Rarely do I enter a room where I do not sin before leaving it.  Sin does not consume me or define my life, but I fall short of the glory of God frequently.

Do you have a problem with hope?  I do.  I look around at the world, at our nation, at our city, at our neighborhood and think, “God help us, because we certainly can’t seem to help ourselves or each other.”  A mere ten days ago after the city-sponsored fireworks in Grant Park, four people were shot, one fatally.  As crowds left the celebrations, shots rang out at Dearborn and Van Buren, followed shortly by more gunfire a block away at Clark and Van Buren.  As people left the festivities, violence erupted.

I think of the foolish and wicked policies of our leaders and governments as well as our complicity in them by our actions or our silence.

I think of disasters, both natural and man-made: earthquakes, floods, typhoons, as well as th chaos that can reign afterwards.  I think of peak oil and a global system of consumption that seems frighteningly untenable and brinking on collapse.

Where is hope here?  Without hope, mired in sin, what can we do?

Well, when there is nothing left to do, when hope seems beyond hope, when I seem to do little other than make mistakes, fail, sin . . . well, then we garden.

It seems funny, and I guess it is, bu this is what the Gospel calls us to today.

The way out of sin is faith, hope, and love.  That is the core of the Gospel message.

Tonight, as we gather together, Paul calls us to holiness, Isaiah to hope and faith, and Christ in the parable gives us the formula for both.

We are called to garden.  Gardening is the fusion of the natural and artificial.  Gardening is where human will meets the intrinsically fecund and fruitful world and participates in it, making it more fruitful, more clearly ordered, than it otherwise might be.

Gardening does not take nature and makes it something different.  It takes nature and makes it something new, all while remaining natural.

“Though the body is dead because of sin,” Paul writes to the Romans and to us, “the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”  While the death that is distance from God may be real for us, the Spirit can still enliven the members.

In the early Church, and still today in the East, sin is seen as a sickness, the Church a hospital, and the vast array of Christian practices the medicines and therapies.  A sick person, while incapacitated, is not beyond hope.  Neither are we.
Too often, we think that God is as troubled or impeded by purity or the lack thereof as we are.  In some sense, this is what Saint Paul and others mean by the “curse of the Law.”  Humans can take a God-given means to holiness and make it a way to frustrate our connection with God instead of allowing it to be a means of holiness.

The Spirit lives in us despite our sin.  This is the hope Saint Paul supplies.  We are simultaneously saints and sinners, to use Martin Luther’s famous phrase.

Thomas Merton in Life and Holiness writes that is is more advisable to speak of holiness than perfection, precisely to avoid this stumbling block of hopelessness.

We are rough, patchy ground.  We are path, we are rocky, we are thorny, but we are good.  Despite the messes our lives can be much of the time, God can shower us with blessings, can make the seeds that find the good soil yield one hundredfold, sixtyfold, or thirtyfold.

We are called to garden.  God gives us the seeds, but we ultimately are the cultivators.  Our Jewish sisters and brothers believe that the study of Torah brings peace to the world, it orders and re-orders the broken world to the will of God.  It achieves tikkun olam —the fixing of the world— we so desperately need.

It is this kind of gardening, this kind of fixing, the Gospel calls us to tonight.

It is no coincidence that we are called to garden and that the Scriptures begin with the story of a somewhat ill-fated garden.

Gardening is hard.  Caretaking is hard.  One f the things that makes gardening such a challenge is that it takes patience, discipline, and honesty.

The garden cannot always be what we want it to be —this is Eve and Adam’s sin—, but we need to understand what the garden needs to be, what it should be, what the Will of God for it is.

The garden —like the Incarnation— is where it all comes together: human reason and the seeming chaos of nature, fertility that applies just as much to the fruit and flowers we want as to the weeds and thorns we don’t; the Will of God meets our will.  This powerful coming together can either be heavenly, or it can be pure hell.

Before I move on and suggest how to garden, I want to answer a question.  After all, I don’t want to leave you with any questions I can actually answer.  I want to leave you with the questions I can’t answer, the ones we might struggle with together.

The garden’s sower is God, the same Spirit Paul writes of, and God here seems somewhat careless.  The seed falls wherever it does, and it sprouts only in a few places.  In most places the seed—each the word of the kingdom— id lost; those places—those people— bear no fruit.  None at all.

I get the sense of a God here who is generous but careless: much seed is scattered but little is done to nurture it.  Some people are left barren, rocky, a waste.

But that’s where the hundredfold, sixtyfold, thirtyfold come in.  Where the seeds does take hold, plants propagate, they spread even onto rocky soil, even onto the path.
Last year, Beth, Henry, and I, transplanted two strawberry plants, and with very little effort, they grew into a strawberry patch that yielded dozens of fruit: truly thirtyfold.

As Isaiah prophecies, God’s “word goes out from [God’s] mouth,” and it “shall not return empty, but it shall accomplish that . . . purpose, and succeed in the thing for which God sent it.”

If the seed takes root in you, it cannot help but yield so much that those places where the seed did not thrive will thrive.

It is God’s fervent desire that all be saved.  I cannot know with certainty that this will happen, but this parable seems to indicate that the fruitfulness of those who hear the Word and understand it will somehow make up for the seed —not the ground— that was lost.

So how do we become fertile, good soil?  How do we garden as I suggest?  There are many ways.  Some are easier, and others harder.  We are often satisfied by doing.  By remaining busy, by virtuous, laudable activity, we can certainly discipline ourselves as individuals and communities to become fruitful for the Kingdom.

This is the Martha way, to refer to Lazarus’s sister.  Martha was the sister who was doing.  Up and about, she chose to be busy with service and provision.  A worthy vocation, but we are called to be neither Marthas nor Marys; we are called to be both.  Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, at the feet of the Word, and that is the kind of gardening I am suggesting.

Be with the Word each day.  This could be reading, this could be formal, fixed hour prayer, this could be simple, silent sitting.

I urge this because, in some sense, Christianity is not an “either/or”, but a “both/and.”  We can often get an overinflated sense of our own righteousness or efficaciousness if we do not try to balance ourselves out.  Whether we are Marys or a Marthas, we need to go toward the other end, to where we are not inclined to go, to follow Jesus.  Training ourselves, like plants in a garden, toward the Light.

Sit with the Word.  Let it take root in your good soil, that it might take root in the rocky parts, spread to the path, that you might be more fully consecrated, that you might bear fruit thirty- or sixty- or hundredfold.

Find a way.  Find a way that is right for you.  This is one of the great treasures of the Christian tradition: it is a great multitude of traditions about how to be with the Word and live as disciples.  The mission of this church is witness to that.

For me, the Daily Office and its lectionary allow me to nurture the seed.  I don’t always get to it, and sometime it is hard, but I try.

That kind of prayer and gardening might not be right for you, but I exhort you to find a fruitful way to nurture the seeds God sows in your heart.

A garden untended becomes unruly, unkempt, and not a garden at all.  Be with the Word each day, and Paul’s promise, Isaiah’s promise, God’s promise will be fulfilled in you.

Tonight’s Gospel reading is discontinuous; between the telling of the parable and its retelling and explanation, Jesus and his disciples talk about parables and interpretation.   Jesus tells them right at the end, “Blessed are you eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.”  The Word also speaks in the details of your busyness and your quiet silence.

Just as the Meal we are about to receive is real food, we are truly nourished by the Word.  Just as we must eat every day, we need to tend the seeds of the Garden God sows in us.  May the fount of every blessing, Jesus Christ, by the grace imparted by the Holy Communion we will soon share, nourish the seeds sown in our good soil.


One Response to “Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 10 (15), Year A; 13 July 2008”

  1. […] – bookmarked by 3 members originally found by arbdelicioususer on 2008-08-20 Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 10 (15), Year A; 13 July 2008 […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s