Sermon for 6th Sunday after Pentecost - July 16 2017

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
July 16, 2017
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Genesis 25:19=34; Psalm 119:105-112; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

We think the parable of the sower and the seed is about faith and the gospel.  And it is – but it’s also about everything we do and try to accomplish, whatever our calling is. 

If we’re a parent, and our kids don’t listen – or they do; if we’re a business manager and our customers go elsewhere – or stick with us; if we’re a preacher and the sermon doesn’t “resonate today” – or it does … the casting of seed in a wide field is really not unfamiliar to any of us, is it?[1]

What about the seed that Rebekah cast with her two sons?  One was her husband’s favorite, the other her special lamb. 

She didn’t just have two babies and walk off and leave them, of course; she raised them, looked after them, fed them, taught them, and watched them – just as a farmer does with her crops or the store manager his stock or the preacher her flock – and one chose Isaac, and the other chose her.

Now, Isaac seems very passive to me – he didn’t go to find his own wife in the first place, and by the end of his life he is blind and therefore, “Through clever manipulation, whereby Isaac is deceived, [Rebekah] achieves her purpose and controls the family destiny.”[2]

Last week, I said that Rebekah is a woman of no small power and influence – she was not only the one who decided to go with Abraham’s servant immediately, her story is also filled with action verbs – she took her water jar, she gave water to the servant, she drew water, and she filled the trough for the camels….  Today we learn that she received a word direct from God, explaining why her pregnancy was so difficult.  Rebekah is “the only matriarch to receive a direct message from God (although Abraham’s slave wife Hagar also receives an oracle)”[3]  (Hagar is not in the family line). 

Now Esau does not impress me very much either; he seems to be quite a dunderhead (is that a word?).  He is all too willing to go with his immediate gut reactions: he’s hungry, so he gives up his inheritance for a bowl of porridge, offered him by his younger brother, who was encouraged by Rebekah to bribe him.

Then Esau marries two Hittite women – not daughters of Abraham’s family, and contrary to the example that Abraham set and his father followed. 

And at the end of Isaac’s life, when he has become blind, Rachel drafts Jacob to steal his father’s blessing as well – killing two young goats and making a savory dish, dressing Jacob in his brother’s clothing, and covering his skin with the animal skins so that Isaac thinks he is Esau – and Isaac blesses him:

“May God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine.  Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.  Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you.”

Jacob stole the birthright; he stole the blessing – what sort of ground was he in our little parable?  It sounds to me as though his soil was infested with the weeds that spring up and choke out the good grain…  All because his mother loved him more than his brother.

… But let’s not forget Jacob was also a father of the people of Israel.  The seed of grace planted in Jacob through the inheritance of Abraham and the blessing of his father will bloom, despite the weeds.  So I guess that God can make good use even of poor soil, which should be a comfort to the rest of us…. 

In other words, if God’s seed of grace was planted in Jacob, we can probably be pretty sure that God’s seeds of grace are also planted in us, and if Jacob was the soil infested with weeds, then we, too, may be beset by weeds of our own – by trouble and struggle, prone to error, tempted to trickery, because that is how the world all too often is, outside of God’s heaven.

And being planted, we are called to self-examination, to ask ourselves what sort of seeds we have and what sort of soil we each are.

Do we, as the world so often does, choke out the seeds of grace sown within us? Or do we, come what may, do all we can to provide water and sunlight and fertilizer and pesticides to our soils, to foster the good seed and see it bloom and spread, yielding 7-fold, 30-fold, or even 100-fold?

It’s not easy, is it?  It’s my job, being your priest, and I love it, but I fail at it every day, in some way or other.  So I can’t wave a magic wand and cry "Santicficare!" and solve my issues that way – or yours, either.  Sorry, that’s just how it is.

We know how it works – Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me.”  We know where that leads, and where it led him.  We feel inadequate, frightened, weak – even resentful because “it’s too hard,” as if it were a problem in calculus we haven’t figured out yet.

And we think if only we were more faithful, less doubtful, less hurt, more confident, we could make a change, but we aren’t those things … so we try not to think about it, we distract ourselves, and we always seem to think we have to go it alone.

But here’s the thing – as baptized people in the Church of God, and in particular, you as lay people are “the front-line fighters of the Christian party.” You are “the ones getting out there, getting roughed up by a big, sinful, broken world.”  You’re “the ones improvising when there’s no playbook for what happens next.”  You’re “the ones actually putting the Christian life into practice in a world that is fundamentally incompatible with the way that Christ asked us to live.”[4]

And that is why you come here – you need this place, this time set apart. You need the companionship, the prayers, the forgiveness, the Word and the teaching. You need the real presence of Jesus Christ brought to you in the bread and wine, to refill you, recharge you, re-energize you, renew you, rebirth you, and refresh you, so you can go out that door and love as Christ loved, as God loves, everything and everyone in it – from the homeless person under the bridge, to the drug addict in the park, to the person who just took the parking spot you had your eye on, to the children running by, to the dog barking in the yard next door.

You need what you find here.

You are here, you come here, because you need what is offered and provided here, so that you can go out there and live your life as God intends – whole and holistically, healed and healing, loved and loving – for what you need here is what the world needs out there, and here is where you get it.

In those pews, at this altar, in this piece of break and in this sip of wine, in these prayers, in this Scripture, in the Word read and the word spoken and the word explained and the word heard and the word in your heart – you need this to survive and for the seed planted in you by God to grow and thrive and yield abundantly – 7 times, 30 times, 100 times – to feed the world with the love of God.

That’s why you are here.  It’s as simple and as deep as that.

 

[1] With thanks to Talitha J. Arnold (Feasting Year A, Vol 3, Kindle 8024.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Carol Meyers, “Rebekah: Bible,” Jewish Women’s Archive.  https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/rebekah-bible. Accessed July 12, 2017.

[4] Ware, Jordan Haymie, The Ultimate Quest: A Geek’s Guide to [the Episcopal] Church (New York: Church Publishing) © 2017.  Kindle Version location: 757-760.

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