July 13, 2014

5th Week after Pentecost Proper 10

Robert Capon, an Episcopal priest and theologian, gives us a helpful perspective on this parable: the sower is God the Father, and the seed sown is the Word of God, Jesus himself. This parable of Jesus tells us that God is at work sewing God’s seed in all places, even those that may not be what we might call appropriate soil. The task of discipleship is to find the Word that God is already sewing in all those places, like an unending treasure hunt. And to recognize that everyone has within them each of the soils Jesus describes.
Capon proposes that the parables of Jesus, and this one in particular, insist upon four important aspects of God’s kingdom. He calls these characteristics catholicity, mystery, actuality, and last but not least, hostility and response. These characteristics are what make the parable of the sower a challenge to the first disciples and to us. 
Catholicity refers to what is universal. When Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God, he proclaims its catholicity: that it is at work everywhere, always, and for everybody, rather than simply in some places, at some times, and for some people. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the story of the sower. A sower goes out to sow, and he tosses the seed in every direction so that it lands in every possible place.
The landing places represent every kind of person, every sort of human situation. There’s no way for any of us to opt out of this story. This story is about everybody. It suggests that everybody has at least a chance at the kingdom. This catholicity, this universality, sounds great until we see that seed can land in the places we consider beyond the boundaries. We can feel sideswiped by the outrageous hospitality of God.
The second characteristic of the kingdom is mystery. So often we expect God to come to us with Fourth of July fireworks. We want God to be obvious, unmistakable, punishing bad people and rewarding or at least rescuing good people (ourselves included). We want God to behave like any comic book superhero. But the way of God’s working which Jesus points out is different from that.
The sower sows the seed. And that seed disappears. It literally goes underground where nobody can see it. To all appearances dead and buried, it sprouts, and becomes what its original size and shape would never suggest.
How strange! We want the kingdom to come in a way that’s noisy and noticeable, and what do we get? Jesus talks to us about seed. Then he becomes one. Into the earth he disappears. He’s dead and buried. Then he comes to life unexpectedly as the bumper crop’s first installment.
The third characteristic is especially troublesome, actuality. The sower doesn’t just think about sowing the seed, or imagine it, or worry about it, or anything else. He sows the seed! Through the wide world the sower goes, casting seed every which way. Whatever happens to a particular seed, it is still good seed. Its operative power remains unimpaired, like those seeds that sprout after spending thousands of years inside an Egyptian tomb. If there’s a problem, it’s not with the seed. The power of life is present there all along.
Jesus remains Jesus through his passion, death, and resurrection. The seed never becomes less than itself. The word is not unspoken. Our salvation is something actual.
The last characteristic is hostility and response. The point here is that hostility is real: the seed-eating birds, the oppressive sun, the choking thorns are not fantasies. That Jesus dies on the cross is a real death. But all this is turned away from its hostile intention to serve the purpose of God. We call the day of his demise Good Friday.
It is the Living Word and not the resistance to it that finally matters. The harvest is sure to happen. Our spot may be barren, but there's a wheat field on the way. The only question is, will we obstruct our own growth or will we stop blocking our life, and let the harvest happen to us? We do ourselves a favor by letting the harvest happen. It is the kingdom of God. It is not something we do, yet it grows in the soil we are.
There then are the characteristics of God’s kingdom.
The kingdom is hidden, yet everywhere.
It is not a possibility, but a reality.
It is not something we earn, but something we welcome.
We can keep our eyes on the bare spots in our lives and other people’s. We can fixate on disaster and sorrow. We can focus only on the infuriating birds who eat up seed, or the dead, withered plants, or the ones choked by thorns and weeds.
Or we can open our eyes to the harvest. Not just a little local harvest, but a universal one.
The wondrous growth--thirty, sixty, even a hundred times the return on investment. It happens here and there, in countless places through the wide world which God loves. It happens wherever anyone acts from a sense of mercy, justice, compassion, love. This wondrous growth happens whenever relationships are mended, wounds healed, hope restored. For the seed is scattered every which way the one we know as Jesus seeks everyone born into this world.
Our task is not to grit our teeth, hunch our shoulders, and go out to do good deeds. Rather we are to gaze with wonder upon everything God is doing in the world through all manner of people. We are to give thanks for these abundant miracles, the harvest born from scattered seed. We are to live out our gratitude by using the gifts God has given us and proclaim by word and deed the wonderful works of God.
This is our task as children of the kingdom. May we recognize it as a yoke easy to bear and a burden that is light.