Saturday, July 12, 2014

Proper 15, Year A

Let Anyone with Ears Listen!

Readings: Genesis 25:19-34; Psalm 119:105-112; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 16-23

When I was in my curacy I was given a simple but wonderful gift, a parishioner who gave me feedback on my sermons. This was not just a “nice sermon” kind of feedback; she had an uncanny ability to sum up the sermon in one sentence. That one sentence gave me insight into how my sermons were being heard. It was a good learning for a novice preacher. Sometimes I would say to myself, “She really got it!” Other times I would be puzzled by her interpretation of what I had said. In reflecting on the process I came to realize that the real message is not what is said, but what is heard.

I suspect that is why Jesus told parables such as the one in today’s Gospel. I also reasonably certain he did not intend his words to be interpreted on some grand scale. That is why I chose to read only the parable and not the explanation. Jesus’s story did not need anything more than the invitation that he issued “Let anyone with ears listen! Go off, think about the parable, let my words sink in, and then do something about it”, he is saying.

A large crowd has gathered to hear him speak. He gets into a boat and looks out the people. He sees many familiar faces amongst them. There are, of course, his disciples, his closest followers, the ones he has chosen. And there are others who stand out from the crowd. They are people who gather whenever he begins to speak. But there are many whom he has never noticed before. He recognizes the hunger and suffering that has brought them to this place. He sees the sense of hope in their eyes. "Let anyone with ears listen!" he says and they hear him. They know he is saying it to them.

He has much on his own mind – the difficulties in Nazareth, his hometown, people who think he is crazy, the constant harassment of the officials of the synagogue. All of these things he puts aside as he begins to speak. Knowing that even the disciples don't always understand he tells them a parable about a sower. He sees the farming people in the crowd relax. The picture he paints is familiar to them, part of their everyday life.

He talks of a sower sowing the seed. They can picture themselves walking through the unploughed field, scattering the good grain they have kept from the last harvest. There is lots of seed. They simply scatter it. They know some will land on the hardened soil that forms into paths through the fields. Some seed will get choked by the wild thorns that grow up again after the ploughing. There are stones just under the soil. You can never tell just where they are, out of sight until the field is ploughed. The seed that lands there will probably be wasted. But there is no way around it. Some seed even gets scattered to the very edge of the field. You cannot tell where the best places are to sow the seed. But there is plenty! You can afford to lose some. And some of it will produce even in the poorest soil.

How surprised they are to hear Jesus speak of the wonderful bounty of the harvest! Is it possible? Can you even imagine producing that kind of yield? Even when the harvest is small a farmer is able to put aside enough seed for the following year. What if the harvest was thirty times what was sown? A farmer could pay off debt, put in irrigation ditches and erect a new barn. With sixty times what was sown one would be the richest person in the area. And if it were ninety percent? Why with ninety percent a farmer would be able to export grain to other countries. He would own it all. What a dream! "Let anyone with ears listen!" They are all ears! Jesus is speaking to them.

For some time I had a little cottage up on Lake Simcoe. One day I watched my neighbour reseeding his lawn. He had a very small bag of seed that he was sprinkling here and there. This was not a well-manicured lawn that needed a little boost; there were more weeds than grass. I had read this week’s readings and was thinking in terms of the parable of the sower. I had to restrain myself from shouting out to him, “Get a huge bag of seed. Throw it everywhere on that lawn. Let anyone with ears listen!”

I feel like shouting out that same message this morning. Are we all ears? What is Jesus saying to us as individuals? Do we get it? Do we trust what we believe? I consider the rocks that I have encountered in my life, the roadblocks to being everything that God intends me to be. I think of the hard ground, the times when I wanted to shout at God “Are you even there?” I think of the weeds that I have allowed to grow up in my life, the failures and setbacks. And yet I know that despite all of those things God has been there for me, gracing my life, leading, guiding in ways that I was not even aware of until I looked back at where life had led. There were people who encouraged me in my life of faith. There were opportunities that opened up the way to do what God was calling me to do. There were ‘aha’ moments that allowed me glimpses of the glory of God so that I could hold on when life presented its twists and turns.

It is a message that I want to shout this morning. Are we all ears? What is Jesus saying to us? How do we, the Church – this church here in Oshawa, the churches in our Diocese, other denominations, churches throughout the world – hear what Jesus is saying? Do we get it or not? If we do get it why is the Church in such a state of decline? Do we sow enough seed? What kind of harvest do we expect?

What kind of harvest do you expect as a parish? This is a time of transition for you, a time of change. It is human nature not to embrace change, yet it can be a fruitful time in the life of a congregation. I see that in you. This is a congregation that knows how to look after one another, “the parish with a heart”. How do you turn that sense of belonging into something that extends into the community? How do you ensure that there are no poor in our parishes or neighbourhoods? How do you make it clear to all, both those in church and not, that something exciting is happening, growing and being produced? How do you become a committed community sharing the faith? What would happen if you managed all of that? People would be looking at you, saying, "Look at those Christians, how they love one another!"

What kind of harvest should we expect as the Christian Church in the world? How do we ensure that Christianity is a global force? How do we become a moral presence in all the countries of the world? How do we make our influence noticeable in politics, in education, in health care, and in economics? When we come together in solidarity we are able as a Church to do wonderful things. I have experienced it. A few years ago in an initiative largely undertaken by the World Council of Churches millions of people worldwide signed a document asking the G7 nations of the world to forgive debt. Six hundred thousand of them were Canadians, most of them from the Christian community. The most powerful nations in the world took note and listened. They were able, knowing that they had the backing of so many people in their own countries, to forgive enormous debts of the poorest nations of the world. But it was only a drop in the bucket. How much more we could accomplish! "Let anyone with ears listen!"

If we would believe the parable of the sower, although God does not seem to be at work in the world, although God does not seem to be in control, nevertheless, God's realm is coming. In its coming it will make up for all the failures and disappointments which have gone on before. We are assured of abundant success despite failure. We are privileged, graced by God, we Christians, to be bearers of God's truth in the world. We bear a message of great hope. "Let anyone with ears listen!"

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