PENTECOST 5, Proper 10, A
In a family of engineers, of clear-thinking, logical, organized, physics oriented pragmatists, I was, to put a kind note on things, an aberration. So much an aberration that for a time I actually considered a career as a lawyer. This odd choice (for my family) was engendered not so much by a love of the intricacies and vagaries of the law as a deep seated desire to argue. With everybody.
Supportive in spite of their misgivings, and perhaps eager to redirect my more confrontational characteristics in a positive direction, my parents offered me an age appropriate introduction to the law. You remember the old nursery rhyme – Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water…. In the Legal Guide to Mother Goose, the budding young barrister experiences the old favorite thus:
The party of the first part, hereinafter known as Jack, and the party of the second part hereinafter known as Jill.
Ascended or caused to be ascended an elevation of undetermined height and degree of slope, hereinafter referred to as “hill.”
Whose purpose it was to obtain, attain, procure, secure or otherwise gain acquisition to, by an and/or all means available to them a receptacle or container, hereinafter known as “pail,” suitable for the transport of a liquid whose chemical properties (sic) shall be limited to hydrogen and oxygen, the proportions of which shall not be less than or exceed two parts for the first mentioned element and one part for the latter. Such combination will hereinafter be called “water”. (The Legal Guide to Mother Goose, Translated by Don Sandburg)
You get the idea. Clearly, my aspirations to the bar were short-lived, and today I stand before you in quite a different role. There are any number of reasons that I didn’t continue in that direction. Among other things, I chafe against that compartmentalization; that minute defining that seems so often self fulfilling – a receptacle or container suitable for the transport of liquid, hereinafter known as “pail”. The party of the first part, hereinafter known as “Jack”. And once the container is “pail” or the party is “Jack” that is what they are – and there it is in black and white and that is the end of that – ipso facto.
The Parable of the Sower we just read, this famous, well-loved, oft quoted parable rubs me the same wrong way. The party of the first part, from whom the Word was snatched, wrested, seized or otherwise caused to be removed, hereinafter known as the “path soil” and the party of the second part, on whom the Word rested and briefly flourished but who did not maintain appropriate care, nourishment, sustenance and/or maintenance, hereinafter known as “rocky soil”, and so on.
And here we are, with these clear-cut, cleanly defined categories, wondering; wondering “Who am I?” “Which soil are we?” I can’t accept anymore, if ever I did, the self serving notion that we, the faithful, church going, creed quoting, hymn singing Christians can rest happily on our laurels, confident in our place as the party of the fourth part, hereinafter known as the good soil. I cannot. Because as Suzanne Guthrie says, “I embody the infertility, the leaving to chance, the impossibly stubborn thorns, the immutable rocks, the shallow soil, the unprotected ground, the carelessly trodden pathways wide open for winged robbers and burrowing thieves”. We all experience moments of dry, arid seeming faith, lose root in the face of oppression, feel the choke of daily cares and worries. Are we assigned to one sort of soil or another as our faith lives evolve? Or are we placed in a category according to the preponderance of our parts: soil consisting of not less than 2 and not more than 4 parts fertile soil, shall be considered fertile. Soil with at least one, but no less than 2 parts fertile soil, and further, containing more than 2 parts rocky soil shall under no circumstances be considered path soil… And suddenly we’re at pains to determine how the soil might change itself, or if the soil might change itself.
But Jesus was no lawyer, and this is not the parable of the 4 soils. This is the Parable of the Sower. Parables are simple in construction; rich and complex in meaning. What if we got the name right, but the message wrong? What if this parable does not focus on our flaws, or our category, or the other guys’ flaws or categories, but instead on the sower?
Jesus is no lawyer, and if this parable is any indication, He’s not much of a farmer either. What farmer throws expensive, precious seed thither and yon? Caught by the wind, plucked by the birds, snared in the crevices, the rocks, the weeds. No tilled land, no cultivation, no mulching. This is not good husbandry. But it is the nature of the God we follow.
Jesus isn’t teaching us about law or farming or economics or frugality. Jesus makes a comment on the nature of the world and its people – the different soils. But His lesson is about outrageous abundance, about holy abandon in the cultivation of the seeds of love, of justice, of grace. As the Rev. Dr. Delmer Chilton writes, “We are called to sow the seed of the kingdom, indiscriminately, wildly, prolifically, tossing out bouquets of God’s love to everyone around us.”
Three short months ago, Miss Emma Marie Mattsen came into the world, pink and beautiful, voicing her opinion of the transition between one world and the next. In a few moments she will be baptized, born formally into the family of God, the priesthood of believers. God offers us hope, joy and life abundant. We can emphasize for Emma and for all the world the rocks and the thorns and the limitations of this world. For surely they are inescapable. Or we can offer to her – and please God she can in turn offer to another and another – a view of the extravagance of the sower “who flings seed everywhere, wastes it with holy abandon, who feeds the birds, whistles at the rocks, picks his way through the thorns, shouts hallelujah at the good soil and just keeps on sowing… willing to keep reaching into his seed bag for all eternity, covering the whole creation with the fertile seed of his truth.”(Barbara Brown Taylor, The Seeds of Heaven)
“For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”
Praise be to God.
Amen and Amen.