Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Parable of the Sower

St. Paul's Church in Bergen
July 10, 2005

Year A: 8 Pentecost
Isaiah 55:1-5;10-13
Psalm 65: 9-14
Romans 8: 9-17
Matthew 13: 1-9; 18-23

You know I really love living in the city, but sometimes being a city person causes some big challenges when it comes to reading the Bible. After all, the Bible is a document written a couple of thousand years ago by people in the Middle East who were mostly farmers and shepherds. I mean, what do we living in Jersey City in 2005 know about sheep and shepherds? We are pretty cut off from nature here. When was the last time you even saw sheep in Jersey City? Or even in Bayonne? And yet, this agricultural imagery pops up over and over again in the Bible, and today’s readings give us some great examples.

In Isaiah we have mountains and hills bursting into song. Hmm, OK, singing mountains. The Psalmist declares, “May the fields of the wilderness be rich for grazing and the hills be clothed with joy.” Right – hills clothed with joy. And, in today’s Gospel we have the famous parable of the sower. Lots of agricultural imagery for us city slickers – people pretty cut off from nature in this paved over place- to deal with.

Just like it’s easy for us to feel cut off from nature, it’s also easy for us to be unaware of God’s presence in our lives; easy for us to be unaware of God’s presence in the world. Especially in times like this when we turn on our TVs in the morning and once again see the slaughter and suffering of innocent people as they make their way to work – trying to get by in the world. It’s very easy for us to lose our sense of God, our sense of the holy, our sense of God’s abundant love, in a world such as this.

How frustrating this must be for God! Especially frustrating for God when we hear the way God is described in this morning’s readings. Here is God as a God of abundance and extravagance. A God whose Spirit is present in the beautiful world around us. A God whose Spirit is present inside our own beautiful hearts. A God who overflows with love.

I don’t know where I heard this, but there is an ancient idea that says that, in a way, God could not help but create the universe. That God was so full of love, it couldn’t be contained. God’s love and creative power overflowed and resulted in the world, the universe. And if we really take the time to pay attention to the world, to nature, we can see God’s presence all around us – even right here in Jersey City.

For the past few weeks most days I’ve been walking from home to Christ Hospital. I’ve tried to take different routes to see as much as I can and to avoid boredom. One thing I have noticed is how many people, on these grimy blocks and gritty streets, have taken the time to plant and tend beautiful flowers. In the midst of cars, trucks and buses belching exhaust – here are marigolds, roses and hydrangea. These flowers don’t really serve any practical purpose, except to make the world more beautiful. It’s kind of crazy and seemingly wasteful, but also moving and a powerful sign of hope and life.

And doesn’t God work the same way? God did not have to make the planet beautiful. God did not have to give us the ability to appreciate beauty. Yet, there it is. And, sure enough, the closer and deeper we look at things, the more beautiful they turn out to be. Have you ever seen the elegance of DNA – the actual building blocks of life? Many people who doubt God’s existence have second thoughts when they see the complexity and beauty of DNA. Or how about some of the images from the deepest parts of the universe – distant galaxies, and immense clouds generating billions of stars? Incredibly awesome and beautiful. There really is an extravagance, an overflowing abundance, in God’s loving, creative power. God really is the farmer that Jesus describes sowing his seeds – on the path, on rocky ground, among thorns, and yes, on good soil. Now even this city boy knows that you should try to get as much seed as you can on good soil – you should try to be very careful. But that’s not how God does it. God’s out in the middle of the Boulevard throwing seeds left and right! God is abundant, God is seemingly wasteful, God is overflowing.

And since, as St. Paul reminds us today, the Spirit of God dwells in us, isn’t it true that at our best we are abundant, seemingly wasteful and overflowing – just like God? Don’t we, at our best, deep in our hearts, have a huge reserve of love? But, what do we do? We ration the love – we try to conserve it. It’s like we say, “I’m sorry, I can’t love you too much because I might use up all my love!” It’s even hard for many of us to say the words – as if, somehow, we have a limited supply of even just the word “love.” Unfortunately, lots of times, we only open our hearts and allow the love to pour out when we are in life and death situations. And, then, sure enough, in those extreme moments, we find that we have more than enough love to go around. We become like the farmer, we become like God, tossing love on the asphalt and the concrete.

The terrible attacks in London a few days ago brought back lots of 9/11 memories. Remember when we heard the heartbreaking messages left by victims on answering machines and voice mail? What did these people say over and over? “I love you. I love you so much. Tell the kids I love them. I love you so much.” In the middle of so much pain and suffering – in the worst soil I can imagine – an overflow of love.

Isn’t this the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus describes in today’s Gospel? Isn’t this God planting seeds here, there and everywhere? Isn’t this what Paul describes as the “Spirit of God” dwelling in us? Isn’t this the love and joy described by Isaiah – love and joy so powerful that it causes nature itself to burst into praise?

This summer at Christ Hospital I’ve had a fair share of extreme moments. One patient has haunted me. She was in the hospital for about three weeks, and after a short while it became clear that she was dying. I had the privilege of spending a lot of time with her and her family during those last days. One time when we were alone, she looked at me intently, grabbed my hand and said, “I never thought I could love my children so much.” “I never thought I could love my children so much.”

And sure enough, as each of her children and her grandchildren sat by her bedside, she held their hand and said over and over in her slurred and hoarse voice, “I love you.” “I love you.” “I love you so much.” And through tears and smiles they told this dying woman how much they loved her. An abundant, overflowing love.

Isn’t this what Jesus is telling us today about God? Jesus tells us that God is overflowing with love – pouring love out even in the harshest, rockiest, least promising places. Tossing seeds here, there, and everywhere. An abundant, seemingly wasteful, overflowing love.

And today we are challenged to be both the good sower and the good soil. All we need to do is open our hearts – by loving and by being loved. To love extravagantly and abundantly just like God - who creates the galaxies and the marigolds.

Today let us pray that we will open our hearts to love, so that the mountains and hills shall burst into song, and the trees of the field shall clap their hands.