Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Sower Keeps Sowing

'Wheat Field behind St. Paul Hospital with Reaper' - Vincent Van Gogh

“The Sower Keeps Sowing” 
Matthew 13:1-9,18-23
IV Pentecost – July 10, 2011 
St. George’s Chapel, Harbeson, DE
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton

The task of the preacher is to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ, but before I get to the gospel, I first need to put the parable Jesus tells of ‘The Seeds and The Sower’ into the context of the story of Jacob and Esau.

If you’ve been following along these past few Sundays, we’ve heard the story of their grandparents, Abraham and Sarah, so we might not be surprised by the fertility problems of their son Isaac and his wife Rebekah.

Indeed, Sarah was having such infertility issues that she gave her slave Hagar to her husband Abraham so that they would have a child (and you thought surrogate pregnancy was a modern idea). Which they did. They had a son named Ishmael. 

HOWEVER, Sarah finally got pregnant in her old age – somewhere around eighty years old, were told – which is probably the genesis of the Jewish phrase, “Oye veh!” (or at least a good enough reason to say the words, no matter your ethnic background).

Actually, when Sarah heard the news that she was going to conceive, she laughed. So, we’re not surprised to learn that she named her son “Isaac”. I’m told by my Rabbinical friends that the name Isaac is, in and of itself, a little inside joke because it sounds like chortled laughter: “Izick, Izick, Izick.” 

I think that’s a “Rabbi joke”, but isn’t that cool? I’m betting you just can’t wait to share that tidbit of information with your friends while you are attending smart summer cocktail parties.

I’m sorry. I digress. I just get so excited to tell you the story of our ancient relatives and how that fits in with the gospel that I sometimes get caught up in these little bits of bible trivia. Where was I? Oh, yes, SooOOoo . . . 

Sarah gave birth to Isaac and thought the only way to make certain that he – Isaac and not Ishmael – was seen as the rightful heir of Abraham was to banish Hagar and Ishmael, which she directed her husband, Abraham to do. Post haste. Which he did.  Foolish man.

The next thing we know, Abraham is having a meltdown and takes his son Isaac up to a mountain because he hears God calling him to sacrifice his firstborn son. Thankfully, before he actually slaughters the child, he hears the voice of God telling him not to do it. WHEW!

However, no one escapes without a scar. Scripture leaves us to assume that Isaac and Abraham never spoke again after that incident. Sarah dies shortly thereafter – I suspect, of a broken heart. Isaac did not come home for his mother’s funeral. 

One can only imagine the trauma brought upon Isaac as well as the whole family by this moment of madness. It is one of the most poignant moments in scripture to read that, when Abraham died, Isaac and Ishmael returned to bury their father (Genesis 25:9)

Before his death, however, Abraham tries to atone for this atrocity by finding a wife for Isaac. Enter Rebekah, an independent young woman from his own kinfolk in Haran. Scripture tells us that Isaac loved Rebekah. 

Nowhere else in the whole of Scripture is that said of any other couple. Isaac loved Rebekah. (This is where you all say, “Aww!) 

Indeed, as far as we know, Isaac did not take another wife other than Rebekah, which was highly unusual in that day and time when men had hundreds of wives and children.

Even so, Rebekah also finds herself with fertility issues (probably Isaac inherited this problem from his father) but Isaac prayed for his wife and lo and behold, Rebekah did conceive. Twins (another Oy Vey moment. Be very careful what you pray for.) They were two boys whom she named Esau and Jacob.

We are told that Isaac loved Esau but Rebekah loved Jacob – and so the seeds of discontent and deceit, which Isaac knew from childhood, were sown from their birth. Just like the half-brothers, Isaac and Ishmael, these two boys represented “two nations…. divided… one shall be stronger than the other and the elder (Esau) shall serve the younger (Jacob)”.

And, it was so.

Esau, a skilled hunter, sold his birthright to his younger brother, Jacob, a quiet man, we are told, who lived in tents. We read in this morning’s lesson that Jacob tricked his brother, who was famished nigh unto death, out of his birthright with a pot of lentil stew and some bread. Later, as his father lay dying, Jacob conspired – this time with his mother – to trick his older brother out of his father’s blessing and inheritance.

Ah, the seeds of deception and deceit are buried deep in this family tree! But, before I go on to connect the Gospel with this story, one more fun scriptural fact with which to dazzle your friends. 

Shortly after Esau and Jacob were born, there was a famine in the land and the family moved to Gerar where Isaac was blessed by God and grew many crops.

He also dug a well that had been closed up by the Philistines and there was much water. But the herders of Gerar quarreled with the herders of Isaac over who owned the well. So, Isaac dug another well. Again, quarreling ensued so that Isaac dug a third well and they did not quarrel over it, so Isaac named the well . . . anybody know? Anybody?

Isaac named the well Rehoboth, saying, “Now, the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.”   

So, now you know why Rehoboth is so named – room for us all. (I’ve always wanted to include that little tidbit in a sermon. I'm so delighted to finally have had the chance!)

And, you thought you were coming to church today and might catch a nap during the sermon! See how much fun we’re having? Okay, again, I digress. Back to the Gospel. But first, a quick trip over to Rome to hear what St. Paul wrote to the ancient church there.

Here’s the thing: We were made of the dust, but the miracle of our lives is that we were born to shine in the Light that is Jesus. St. Paul tells the ancient church in Rome, “But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.” And, if God dwells in you, you are not defined by your genetic code or which branch you occupy on your family tree.

Now, listen closely to what St. Paul is saying: You are defined by the word of God that dwells within you – not your genetic code or family tree.

The Word of God, says Jesus, is like seeds scattered by the sower. Some of it falls on ears that are as deaf as rocks or prickly as thorns. But the one who hears the word of God and understands it has ears that are “good soil” that will bear much fruit. 

Here’s the thing: Whether good soil or bad soil, the Sower keeps on sowing.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes, I go through periods of real spiritual drought. My soul feels as hot and dry as the desert sand. Other times, all is well with the world and I feel at peace. In those times, I can truly sing 'it is well with my soul'. Other times, my soul is so choked by the weeds of the world – the wars, the debit ceiling, unemployment, the murder of innocent children – that I can barely swing my feet off the side of the bed and get up to face a new day.

Even so, the Sower keeps sewing seeds. 

Sometimes, they land on good soil. Other times, not so much. That doesn’t stop God from trying to get something to grow in my soul.  

 It has ever been thus. It was so with Abraham when he tried to repent for his actions by trying to find a wife for his son Isaac. It was so with Isaac when he returned with Ishmael to honor his father in death. God kept trying with Jacob when he eventually reconciled with Esau. 

And, God keeps trying with you and with me. 

The Sower keeps sewing seeds.

There is a long recorded history which is evidence that The Sower keeps trying to plant Gospel seeds of the Good News of Jesus Christ in our souls.

Which is precisely why I wanted to tell you about the story of Abraham and Sarah and Hagar, Isaac and Ishmael and Rebekah and Esau and Jacob. They are part of our Godly lineage, our ancient relatives in Christ.

They are ordinary, broken people – just like you and me. Scoundrels and liars and thieves, some of them, skilled in the art of deception and deceit. But, the word of God still found its way into their lives. There was hope for them and there is hope for you and me. There was plenteous redemption for them as there is plenteous redemption for you and me. 

It all has to do with the seeds we sow in our lives, and how closely we listen to the Word of God, made flesh in Christ Jesus.   

Biology is not destiny. 

We may be ‘of dust and to dust we shall return’ but the miracle of our baptism is that we were born again to shine in the Light of Jesus.

Our redemption – our hope – comes from allowing the Word of God to find its way to us – not just into our ears, but way down deep into our souls, so that we may bear much fruit and yield, as Jesus says, “in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty”. 

It begins by putting the stories of scripture into context so that you can put the story of your life in context with the story of God’s unbounded and unconditional love for absolutely everyone. Which is why it is so important to know the whole story of God’s abundant love for us – a love that is beyond our wildest imagination.

And, you know, even in the heat of the summer sun, and in the midst of all the unhappiness in the world, the Good News just doesn’t get much better than that.



Jeffri Harre said...

I ended up focusing my whole sermon on Esau, Jacob, and their parents. Not easy to spend a week immersed in that story as an elder son!

There were several reasons for staying away from the Gospel reading, but one of the major ones *for me* this week was that I couldn't get away from two images: the spendthrift sower (no sower/farmer in his right mind plants seeds where they have no chance of thriving) and Jesus as a rotten storyteller (if you have to explain the story...). Given our parish at the moment, neither of those headed in a good direction for a Sunday sermon.

Thanks for sharing yours. I always enjoy them.

Anonymous said...

I loved your sermon/homily. In particular I liked the jewish story telling and explanation. Thank you.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Jeffri - Is your sermon posted anywhere? I'd love to read it. Thanks for your kind words.

Jeffri Harre said...

Elizabeth, it's on my blog

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Maria - I was blessed to have been in a study group with some Rabbis in Manhattan several years ago. I continue to be blessed by what I learned.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Jeffri. Can't wait to read it.

DeanB said...

I had to google map Harbeson to understand the significance of Rehoboth -- and why you have wanted to get it into a sermon.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

DeanB - Sorry. I thought EVERYONE knew about Rehoboth and that I live on Rehoboth Bay. Me and my little world.

walter said...

Oye veh, Elizabeth, I found something from chapter 3 – In the Son of Smile - of my manuscript Imago Dei relevant in reflecting on initiation to spiritual life - Initiation to spiritual life, may consider a progression of the walk following a methodology developed from ancient spirituality. We call the first depth of this itinerary didascalia. It is about the wholeness of the notions that are comprehended in school or also when simply the world is observed, the history or the human experience. The second depth is called manudactio, and refers to Dr Paul’ question ‘Whose holding your hand’, that is the accompanying which characterizes the relationship which is experienced with friends, companions, disciples, partners. The third depth, called affirmative mysticism, is reached when the so called initiation to the mystery or to the silence happens. May we find ways to support those who speak truth to power regardless of political party or ethnicity. Love always finds a way to bring us together. May love find us and strengthen us and keep us grounded. Love, genuine Love is conceived absolutely by the Mind of God. Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by the teaching of Jesus and the apostles and the prophets, that we may be made so a holy temple acceptable to God; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns in unity with God and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever.

Walter Vitale