Proper 10 (15), Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
12 July 2020
I visited with friends last week, out on their patio and at a safe distance.
We talked about the kids, and politics, safe practises for our worship (he is doing medical research), plans for the future, and work. It is good to have friends. Friends give us hope because it means we are not alone.
And then they told me of a cousin who is in prison in the United States. From what I gathered, he had an unstable childhood, eventually ran away, ended up in another state, until one day he and his two friends got into an argument that turned physical, and one of them hit another one with a wrench causing death, and my friends’ cousin went to prison.
Since he was a long lost cousin, aside from being in prison in another country, it does not go without saying that one would have visited on family holidays, allowed him to hold one’s baby, begun writing e-mails, and claiming Canadian citizenship for him (since he has a Canadian mother).
Claiming citizenship took six years. The next question is whether he could be transferred here.
I am not sure what I would have done, if he were my cousin whom I had not seen in decades. Would I have sought contact, gone to visit, built a relationship? Because once you have a relationship with someone, you can’t extricate yourself easily and pretend you don’t know the person. And before you seek the relationship, you don’t really know whether it’s more trouble than it’s worth.
Along the way was that our friends witnessed about their faith, in a subtle and genuine way. They did so because it’s who they are, not to speak of God would have been dishonest. But their words only under-girded the friendship they had offered and the loyalty they had shown.
And somehow the Holy Spirit used their witness to draw this cousin closer to God, so much so that he is a new person. When he applied for early release (which he was not granted), he received a report of the progress he had made and he thought that the report on who he had become was almost better and more meaningful than being granted release.
He now lives in a “faith-pod” with other Christians within his prison.
In our Gospel reading Jesus tells a story about a sower. I know very little about farming (though I am able to identify the call of the rooster that lives close to the church). Jesus’ listeners were much more familiar with farming than I am. They lived in an agrarian society and farming was something everyone understood. But while seeding is essential, it is also risky. You must know soil and climate well enough to assess whether a plant is right for a place. And you cannot predict the weather, so even if soil and climate are right, the land may experience a drought, flooding, or pests in which case your yield will be diminished or not be there at all.
Farming always includes risk. Imagine you lose not only the harvest you had hoped for but also your substantial investment of seed.
And so you would be careful where and when to sow. Just like you would be careful with any other investment, including investing in people.
The sower in Jesus’ story is profligate, wasteful, and extravagant. Seeds fall not only on good soil, but also on the path, on rocky ground, and among weeds.
From a farming point of view it is foolish not to be more careful, not to restrict the seeds to the good soil, all else is wasteful.
But the farmer Jesus describes is an exceptional farmer because he does not discriminate. Wherever he goes, he sows seed because God loves all people and considers all people worth his effort.
In Romans Paul begins by stating that there is no condemnation for those who belong to Jesus. From there Paul moves on to speak about flesh and spirit. But here flesh does not describe the physical while spirit describes the spiritual. Rather ‘flesh’ describes the life we live when left to our own devices, while ‘spirit’ describes the life we live with God. Paul says that when we live in Christ we are changed people, people who may be as profligate as God, people willing to take risks with each other and with strangers, people who are no longer guided by their own desires but by the desires of God.
And what we notice in the story about our friends is that God not only changed the cousin, but that God also worked in them and changed them. That may be the part we often overlook in conversion stories, and yet it is so true and profound.
The miracle in the story I shared is perhaps not that the long lost cousin is now part of God’s kingdom but that our friends reached out to him. The miracle is not that God changes others but that God changes us.
In Romans Paul says that all people are in need of salvation through Jesus and what Jesus gives us is not only forgiveness of sins, or what Lutherans call justification, but newness of life.
And just as Paul’s words are encouraging and assuring that as God’s people and God’s beloved we are not under any kind of condemnation, so the reading about the sower is about the sower and not about the soil.
I love singing, “Lord, Let My Heart Be Good Soil,” as we will do shortly, but the parable is not to induce fear in us as to whether we are good soil. The parable speaks of the profligate grace of the sower, a grace that allows us to respond in kind, not living in fear, but living in confidence and hope, and therefore able to reach out beyond ourselves.
Our reading from Romans ends with this assurance, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”
That new life is not only the life of the resurrection, but also a life of holiness, though holiness not in the sense of compulsive and sinless perfection, but in extravagant love that builds up not only us but others too.
It is a love that is not hemmed in by the desire for safety but driven by the desire for reconciliation and communion with God and with each other.
May the Spirit dwell in us richly that we may dwell in love, so that we may not live to ourselves but reach out in love, taking risks with each other, because God has taken risks with us.