7/13/2014 sermon: “A parable of hearts”

Location: Episcopal Church of the Resurrection
Text: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
5Pentecost, Proper 10, year A

A parable of hearts

If you know Jo Belser at all, you will know that I have appropriated today’s gospel lesson as a paradigm of parish ministry. In my paradigm, in my world view, as your pastor I go around the field that is Church of the Resurrection casting seeds in every direction. The seeds that I cast are my ideas about how we can work, my idea of what I envision YOU doing that will build community right here in our parish and in our world.

So in Jo Belser’s hijacking of this parable of the sower and the seeds, I view my role as a seed-caster—I throw lots and lots of seeds, and in all directions. What will come of these seeds are up to you, and up to God. When the right seeds find the right “soil,” find the proper host, then those seeds will grow into hands-on ministry. From my perspective, results are not up to me. Rather, results are up to God. And up to you.

Lots can go wrongs, of course. Not all MY seeds are equally good ideas. Then, too, we can get so distracted by focusing on the attributes of the seed thrower that we forget that we are ALL farmers in God’s Kingdom. We also can disguise our desire to not take action by arguing about which seeds to water, so that none get watered. And then, we can will our garden of Resurrection to failure by our neglect, fueled perhaps by our existential despair, by the seeming futility of our lives. None of these things that can go wrong are Gospel; none are what should be, but things CAN go wrong.

From my vantage point, all the things that can go wrong have to do with our receptiveness to the seeds. There are receptive hearts, and there are willing-but-less-than-receptive hearts, and there are willing-but-less-able hearts, and there also are totally shut-off hearts.

Well, that is the parable of the seeds per the Gospel according to Jo Belser. Any resemblance to the actual Jesus-given parable of the sower and the seeds is entirely superficial. In today’s gospel lesson, the REAL sower of seeds is Christ Jesus himself. Jesus-the-Christ came among us and showed us the way to God. And the seeds that Jesus sows? They aren’t ideas about what we should be doing. The REAL seeds are the Truth of the existence of God, the Truth of the Word of God, and the very Truth of our lives. So God’s seeds are all one thing: Truth, scattered everywhere in all of creation. Nature itself proclaims God’s Truth; the order of nature, the beauty of nature, and the inner workings of nature all scream the Truth of God our Creator. Yes, the seeds are the Truth of God, scattered everywhere, the Truth that God created us and that God loves us, and that God wants us to help make our broken world into God’s world, where Truth and love prevail.

The only similarity, really, to my paradigm of the seeds and Jesus’ actual parable is that hearts are hearts:

  • Some hearts, Jesus says, are fertile hearts, where God’s truth can grow and flourish. I must say, there are a LOT of fertile hearts here at Resurrection. Our hearts may be old, but they are fertile! Do you feel the pure energy, the Spirit, of fertile hearts here today?
  • Some hearts are somewhat fertile, but the seed of God’s truth can’t grow well there due to worry, or fear. Curiously enough, the opposite is also true: comfort and wealth, and the distractions that THEY provide, all can choke off seed growth, too.
  • Jesus calls some hearts shallow, because the seeds of Truth grow fine until confronted by tough times. Then doubt and worry and anger creep in, and without deep roots, acceptance of Truth withers.
  • Some hearts are downright hard. Hard hearts are often the result of the heart having been stomped on. We erect barriers around our hearts so that we won’t be hurt again. But these barriers eventually hurt us more than help us, because they keep God’s Truth out. We also, of course, can get so wrapped up in our own understanding of “how things should be,” how we order our world to make sense and control our existence, that we can shut out Truth in that way. In either case, hardness of heart is a serious spiritual disease, one (I’m happy to say) that is not so prevalent at Resurrection.

There are two more things that I want to observe about Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seeds (really, Jesus’ parable about our hearts). The first is that, more often than not, we each don’t have just one kind of heart. In each of us there are some of all four kinds of hearts. Maybe on one issue I am hard-hearted. In our day, this “one issue” is likely to be a political worldview, and our hearts are hard toward those who hold an opposing view. Maybe in another area I have a shallow heart. Maybe I’m willing to do God’s work in the world unless or until someone gets offended. Then I decide I will never speak God’s name in public again. Of maybe I just don’t have the energy to get involved, so I have a choked heart and I stand idly by while injustice prevails. But maybe, just maybe, I see a way that I can help be the hands of the Lord in our community and in our world, and I let my fertile heart move my other body parts to do God’s work in the world. One person, four hearts.

Which brings me to my last point. Jesus promised fertile hearts great dividends. We are not farmers, unlike Jesus’ original audience. So we don’t realize that the yields that he promised are extravagant beyond belief.

So today’s gospel invites us to make a heart-check. What kind of heart do you have? Or, more accurately, what portion of your heart is fertile, willing to work to help grow God’s Truth in our world?

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