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I want to start off this morning talking a little about the joys and the challenges of parables, since our Gospel comes from Matthew Chapter 13 which contains many parables, including the one we have today, which is the parable of the sower. And it’s a form of speaking and teaching that Jesus uses frequently.

The word parable comes from the Greek prefix, para – meaning beside, and the word ballein which means to throw. So a parable is something that is thrown beside another thing in order to help explain what that thing is. For example, when Jesus wants to describe the Kingdom of God, he presents the parable of the mustard seed, which we will hear about in a couple of weeks. And he says that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, and this is why.

And you assume that the people hearing the parable know what a mustard seed is, because they have handled mustard seeds. And this comparison gives them a greater sense of what the Kingdom is like, because Jesus can’t come out and say directly what the Kingdom of God is like. Because the Kingdom of God is not like anything we know. And yet, the Kingdom of God is like all these things we know. Because it’s like a mustard seed. Or it’s like a pearl of great value. Or a fig tree – ways that Jesus has of describing something like the Kingdom of God which is otherwise difficult for us to picture.

A parable makes something relatable which is otherwise not relatable. And the modern example I think of all the time is the way that medical professionals use food to describe the size of a growth. For example, the doctor will say you have a pea sized tumor, or, heaven forbid, a grapefruit sized goiter, or an egg sized lump on the back of your leg, whatever it is. And I remember reading about this several years ago that the reason they do this is so people can visualize what the doctor is talking about, because nobody knows what 5 centimeters looks like. But everyone knows how big a pea is.

So in our Gospel today, we hear that Jesus tells the people many parables. But what we don’t hear is the downside of speaking in parables, or the challenge of parables, which is fact that not everybody gets them. Today Jesus tells the parable of the sower who goes out to spread seed on different types of soil:  the path, the rocky ground, the thorns, and the rich and fertile soil.

And then after the parable – we don’t see this part, it’s cut out of the Gospel today – but after the parable, the disciples come back to Jesus and tell him that they don’t really understand what he is saying. And this happens a few times in the various Gospels. They say – explain to us, Jesus, why you talk in parables. Explain to us what these parables mean.

So the second half of today’s passage is Jesus’s explanation of the parable – that this is what it means that the seeds have fallen on the path, or on the rocky ground, or on the thorny ground, or on the rich ground- this is what I’m trying to say. And so you see the downside of using parables is that people don’t always connect with the image, especially people who want to know specifically what the heck you are talking about.

But I think it has to be that way. I remember a conversation some years ago with a spiritual director where I was trying to put into words some thoughts I had about faith or about God or the soul or something like that. And I remember asking my spiritual director: why is it so hard to talk about these spiritual things? And I’ll never forget what he said: He said – it’s because they’re art. And I think that’s one of the best ways of understanding the parables and how to approach them, that they are like pieces of art in which Jesus has painted a picture of a truth, of something he wants to convey to us.

Of course if parables are art I would say they are an abstract art. They’re not the kind of art which tries to capture exactly what something looks like. If you go to the Kendrick room you will see portraits of bishops hanging on the walls. And you see that the newest portraits, like the one of Bishop Scruton, are photographs. But if you go back in time, the portraits of the earliest bishops are paintings. And they are paintings which attempted to do what we now do with photographs, which is to faithfully capture a person’s image. They look just like what these guys must have looked like 100 years ago.

But parables are not like that. You can’t capture the image of the Kingdom of God or know exactly what God looks like, or describe with any accuracy the soul, or the Holy Spirit, or heaven, or peace, or love. I mean how do you describe love without throwing something next to it like saying that love is like a thousand balloons, or like a perfect smile on a summer day, or love is like Oxygen, all of these things which get you into the language of poetry, which uses parables all the time.

You need this help if you want to explain these truths of the spirit.

Imagine Jesus today is talking to a group of farmers and people who fish, people who have never read a book or opened a website, who usually don’t spend their days thinking in terms of poetry or abstract concepts of God or the soul because they’re busy thinking of farming and fishing.

And today in the Gospel we see that Jesus stands there on a boat in the water talking to the people about these abstract concepts of God and the soul. And he is inviting them. Here he says, from his place above the water, come to my presence for in these waters you will find God.

And I think that’s why we come to church, to swim in these waters of God, which are deep and ancient and which go way down into our souls. And when we enter the realm of the spirit, when we enter the waters of God, we encounter profound truths about life, and are brought to a place where we touch that which connects us to all things. And there is no language there, except the language of amazing things which can barely be understood which sing to us about our souls. You go into that water and you are in it and you find these truths. And then you have to go back to the shore.

And of course back on the shore you wonder – how do you describe that? How do you explain and capture God and the soul. For we think we are way more evolved than those people from two thousand years ago in the Bible, but we generally still live with the language of fishers and farmers and focus on the concrete reality of this life. And only occasionally do we look up to ask: is there anything more?

And then hopefully when we do, we see Jesus there, inviting us into the water of the soul. And he stands there in the boat and says to us: here, let me tell you something true about yourself, and your purpose in a way that you can understand, using this parable about the sower. And so you can know that I am going to give you good seed, always.

And then he goes on to say this: and let me tell you something about you, that you are a work of art. That your life is a piece of art interwoven with the spirit of the divine. And I know that sometimes you are trampled down, Jesus says, like the dirt of the path, and that sometimes you are shallow and not profound like the dirt of the rocks, and that sometimes you are filled with distractions and temptations, like the dirt of the thorns.

And that all of that is fine. Because I also know that within each of you there is also this wonderful, and rich soil. And this is where you can know me, and were I can know you. So invite me in. And if you do, I will grow within you, sometimes thirtyfold, sometimes sixtyfold, and sometimes a hundredfold.

What does it mean to us to see our lives as works of art? Well occasionally it means we step back and marvel at the artist who made us, and appreciate the wonderful creations we are. My mom’s mother was an artist and mainly she painted abstract expressionist shapes. But occasionally she would also paint people. And her husband, my grandfather, was an Episcopal priest. And one of the stories my mom tells is that in staid and proper Westchester County, New York in the 1950’s where they lived, the church rectory was always filled with of lots of big paintings of nudes which my grandmother had paintednnnnnnn, which is how a rectory should be.

And what I remember about her is that her process of painting was to go up to a painting she was working on and just stand there for a moment and marvel at it, and look at it, and appreciate it. And then she would work on it.

She didn’t try and be perfect. Her lines were not always a hundred percent straight. Her hands didn’t always have great fingers. I guess fingers are really hard to paint. But she loved each of her works. They were her children. And most importantly they were always in process. It took a while to finish even one of those paintings and many of them were never finished. She would do some work on it  and cover it and it would sit there, and then after a while she would go back and marvel at it and then work on it some more.

And that’s us in the hands of God. Seeing our lives as art means knowing that we are still being worked on. We are not finished, and throughout our lives, our creator comes to us again and again and takes time to look at us and marvel at us and work on us some more. And just like my grandmother’s paintings, we are wonderfully imperfect. Just imagine, within us our creator has left all these temptations, all these distractions, all these sinful tendencies, and these rocks and thorns which often get in the way from us realizing God in our lives and seeing God in the lives of others.

But we are still in process. And still so beautiful. And I wonder if today we can hear Jesus’s invitation from the boat, from that place of the soul, from those deep waters where God swims in language that’s impossible to describe.

I wonder if we can just try and understand our lives less and try and appreciate them more, to stand back and say wow. We don’t need to know everything. We don’t need to analyze and figure out and categorize. We are invited, especially today, to just stand back and appreciate, and give thanks for the creation we are. And for the one who made us. We may not ever fully understand either our lives or the workings of God. But we thank God for both these things.