The good news is that I am not going to talk very long this Sunday because we have two members of the congregation who are going to share messages with us as well…A little later during the service we are going to commission Holly who’s just completed a training to start a lay pastoral ministry and she will tell us a little a bit more about that. And during the announcements, Art will present and read Bishop Marian’s recent address to the congress.
So I don’t want to overwhelm you with too many words – a sense I had recently, doing worship on conference call and Zoom…It has worked as well as possible so far, but it is true that we are left with a lot of words when a service in person at church nourishes our soul and our senses in many different ways: with colors, images and gestures, the breaking of the bread, the anointing, the singing, the hugging, the blessing and of course a lot of standing up and sitting down because we are Episcopalians!
But for all of these reasons, I am also happy that today in our Gospel we have such a striking parable – not just words – but a powerful visual of this “sower who went out to sow”. Jesus liked images too, and we could just take time to picture in our minds this sower throwing generously his seeds in rocky and dark places, on a barren and dry land, on the path and at the crossroads, seeds lost in the cracks, trampled upon, stolen by the birds and suddenly landing in good, rich soil, taking deep roots and bringing forth grain “some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” – a fortune.
And so there is a lot that can be said about that but since I’ve said I’ll keep it short, this is the one thing that I would like to say about it:
We often think that Jesus talks about people in this parable, dividing the people between those who receive what Jesus had to say – the good soil – and those who don’t receive the word – the bad soil. The disciples on one side, the scribes and the pharisees on the other side. And maybe there is some truth in this understanding but to me, when Jesus speaks about different types of soils, I think he is not so much talking about different types of people, rather he is talking about different dispositions of the heart, the heart that is able to understand and the heart that cannot do it.
Jesus is talking about the disposition of our hearts, of all our hearts and you know in my experience there are is not really such a thing as people who have no heart at all and people who have a whole heart, and mostly there is no heart without wounds or sorrow, no heart that is not burdened or hiding somewhere, somehow. And if we all look at our own hearts, it can be everything really – some days it’s sad and barren, some days it’s thorny and defensive, some days it’s rocky and heavy, some days it’s rich, fertile, generous and open – and if you’re like me, it may also vary from one hour to the next!
And yet, yet the parable tells us today that it is in this heart that God plants the seed, it is in this heart that we have to receive the word of God and to understand it, and you know the word of God it’s not only about reading the Bible, although it can be involved in the process. Receiving the word of God is to receive something that brings us comfort in our pain and hope in the future, the strength to love and the desire to live, something that raises us from something bad to something better and make us willing to do something new – for us and for those around us.
Salvation will happen in our hearts or it won’t. As Paul explains in his Epistle to the Romans today, Salvation is in the Spirit, not in the flesh. It means that Salvation does not happen in our heads, or in our bodies, it’s not to be sought in the world outside, not to be seen with Jesus landing from a cloud. Salvation will happen deep inside of us or it won’t.
So today I would just like to remind us to do the tending because as heavy, broken, fearful, sad or bitter our hearts can be, this is the only place where we will ever get to receive God. So in the same way as we tend to the soil to bring life into the world, we need to tend to our hearts to bring divine life in us. Tend to your hearts. I have heard so many people telling me they worked on their garden during this quarantine, but what about the garden inside of us? What about the rock and thorns and dryness inside of us? And you know it’s not only about our sins, the “bad stuff” we have inside of us we need to remove: pride, blindness, selfishness…it’s also about our wounds that need to be healed, it’s about our defensiveness and our insecurities that prevent us from receiving the word of God, from being fully alive and from bringing love in this world and from receiving it. The sower sows generously, abundantly: God gives God’s love to the world, it’s only between us and our own heart that the problem is.
So how do we do that, how do we tend to our own heart and how do we make it a fertile ground?
Well, I wish I had a magic formula to give you and I don’t but I heard once that the best spiritual practice was to talk to our own heart. Talk to your heart. I am still trying to figure what it means but I can guess it’s about having a little bit of acceptance for ourselves, a little bit of attentiveness, a little bit of compassion, and even little bit of tenderness if it’s possible for who we truly are, knowing how deeply loved we have been in Jesus?
Paul reminds us today that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”, but do we truly believe that, and do we act as if? How would it be like for us to start living a life without condemning ourselves, and just begin to be open to receive the best God has to give us?