The Very Rev.Tom Callard – July 12, 2020
This gospel passage today, from Matthew, is one that has always intrigued me and I can just picture Jesus there at the edge of the sea with the crowd pressing in on him, and they are getting closer, reaching out to try and touch him. I picture them as if they are trying to feed on Jesus. They are like a group of starving animals, these people in the Gospel today. Or they are like a flock of pigeons who land on the sidewalk in a flurry of activity because someone has just thrown bread in front of a statue. And they get closer and push in until they force Jesus into the boat because he has no place else left to go.
Such great crowds are gathered around him. And everyone is there because they know that Jesus has something they need. They are hungry for Jesus and what he has. They are thirsty for God’s kingdom and Jesus’s vision of a just world which is good and fair. They want the goodness coming off of God. And they are starving for love. These people are starving. I think that’s what we see in the Gospel today. Probably similar to what we see in the world right now
I imagine there are people in the crowd that day surprised to find themselves there, because they don’t see themselves as hungry. They didn’t see themselves as people who need Jesus, who need to be fed, or who need anything. They imagine they don’t need God and they are self-sufficient, and maybe there are people there who don’t even consider themselves religious. Yet there they are, pressing on Jesus so much that he is pushed into the boat.
We had a parishioner at the church where I served in Los Angeles who had never been a Christian or even gone to any kind of church service before she came to worship with us. But one day she visited our church because she was writing a paper for a class in graduate school. And we were one of those churches like the Cathedral that was diverse congregation in the city, working to feed people, help people, work with youth. And she was researching how inner city congregations interacted with their neighborhoods.
So I met with this woman and we talked, she interviewed me, and she came to the service. And then she kept coming back, because she liked what she saw. And she began to get involved in the church, and she became a member. And something like six months later she said to me – “I’m so happy to be at this church. I didn’t even realize how much I needed this.” Like she was saying – I didn’t realize how hungry I was.
I wonder: do you realize on this day your hunger for God?, the profound need you and I have for what Jesus offers: love, and goodness and forgiveness and a moral vision which rises above the chaos of these times to show us right and wrong and how to live? Are you hungry for that? I think it’s okay for us to admit that we are nothing more than pigeons flocking around the Lord, with a hunger so great it stretches out to touch him until we drive him off she shore into the boat.
It’s a beautiful thing to see our need and admit our hunger. It’s the opposite of what we often see pictured as strength. But when I hear this story from the Gospel and when I take a moment and look at Jesus in the stained glass windows all around me, I see people, strong people, gathered around Jesus, kneeling before him, standing around him, pressing out their arms to touch him, proudly in need.
I’m sure that there among the crowd in the Gospel people have come who are in denial about their hunger for Jesus and their need. I’m sure there are people who tell themselves: I’m not hungry for God, I don’t need to rely on God. You know some people will always tell you when you ask them how they are, they will always say the same thing: I’m fine, I’m okay, nothing’s wrong. Because that’s what they tell themselves.
They say: I’m not the soil along the path where the seeds cannot land. That’s what we sometimes say about ourselves. I am not the soil along the rocky ground. I am not the soil with all the thorns where the seed get choked. We tell ourselves- I am the good soil which is rich and deep, where the seed will take root and find purchase and grow. And we walk around saying – Can’t you see that about me? Can’t you see I am the good soil. Look how I’m put together. Look how much I’ve got it together with my perfect life and the appearance of normalcy. And yet here I am, along with the other people in that crowd, pressing in on Jesus. And pushing him into the boat. Because in reality, I’m starving. Despite what people might tell you, they are starving.
I think the way this parable about the sower from our Gospel today has been taught is to say that you’re one of four types of people, that match these four types of soil. You could be the person like the path who is shallow and so Jesus will not take root in you. You could be the person like the rocky ground where you burn for a while with this zeal but it does not last because you’re not profound. You could be the person with the thorns where the cares of the world within you prevent you from receiving Jesus. Or you could be the good soil.
And perhaps the traditional Christian message about this passage has been received by people who have said to themselves: well of course I’m the good soil. I do this and I do that and just look at me you know I’m the good soil. But I wonder, aren’t we all still pressing up against Jesus, reaching out to him in need?
Because we’re not one type of soil or another. I don’t think Jesus means to say that you are a type of soil, good or bad. But I think he’s saying that there are these states we go through where we are sometimes shallow, and sometimes rocky, and sometimes beset with thorns. And sometimes we are really, ready to receive God.
I know when I look at my life and the desire I have had for at least forty years to touch Jesus and know him, I’ve seen times when I’ve been all of these types, when I’ve circled through being ready for God and being distracted by the world, and then being negative toward God, and then receiving Jesus. I think we all go through this cycle. It’s the dance we play with the seed and with the sower.
But you know, no matter where we are in the circle, the sower is still working. You know that sower keeps doing his job of sowing seed no matter what kind of soil we happen to be at the moment, today. The sower, who in the parable is God, keeps sowing and sowing and sowing, and the seed, who is Jesus, keeps trying and trying and trying to find space and purchase within us until we’re ready.
To me the parable of the sower is really a parable of patience. And it is not about having patience with the sower or with the seed because we know these things will keep happening. God the sower will keep loving us, and Jesus the seed will keep trying to find space within us. It’s not about them. The parable of the sower is about patience with the soil!
It is a parable about patience with us which says that today I may be the shallow ground or I may be rocky ground or I may be thorny ground, today I may reject the seed or be too busy to receive the seed or not even really trust the seed. But I know that at some point I will once again be the ground where Jesus can faithfully find home and take root. Where I will be without those things that choke God and distract me from God and carry me away from God. And I can turn vividly in the most profound way to God’s presence in my life.
God be patient with me until that day comes, until I am ready to be good soil. Jesus, have patience with us.
I think one of the great spiritual challenges we face now is the need for patience. Like you, I am impatient with how slowly it is taking for us to get back together at church. I am impatient with those who are not wearing masks or taking precautions to keep us safe. I am impatient with not knowing whether or not my child’s school will be open come September, or whether or not the restaurant where my son works will open so he can get his job back, and when everything else will be open. I am impatient with politicians. And impatient with the slow pace we are taking toward racial justice. I know Dr. King said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But I am impatient with how slowly it bends.
And I am impatient with people who do not do what I want. And I am mainly impatient with myself, with all the times I’m waiting to be the good soil. This time of Covid-19 has bred impatience. And I don’t think I am the only one who feels that way.
But the good news is that I can recognize from time to time that I’m not the one in charge. That we’re not the sowers, that we’re not the seed. Neither is our Bishop, or the Governor of Massachusetts, or the President of the United States. But the one in charge is God. Who is the sower, who is right now sowing the seed. And it’s good seed. And we are, within us, good soil. Not just some of the time, we are good soil all of the time.
Patience is about giving in and turning our will and our desire for control over to God. Patience is about keeping on. Let’s just keep on, knowing that this world is turning and that even now things are heading toward their conclusion, in God. And that we will, at some point, be here together. And that at some point this pandemic will end and things will get back to some kind of normalcy. And Patience is also about vision. Being faithfully patient means having a vision that there is something out there toward which we are heading that is worth waiting for.
God is right now planting seeds today that will grow into the future. And it is a future that will look different from what we have known. But it will still be the work of God. It will still be good and worthwhile. And it will be worth waiting for.
So for now, let’s rejoice on this day with gratitude for the good seed and for a loving sower, and for our own hunger, which lets us know we are alive. Let’s turn to Jesus on this day, however we find him in prayer, in study, in the world, and let’s feast on his love. Let’s direct others to God’s love. Let’s have patience with the world and with ourselves, for God is good. All the time