Monday, July 17, 2017

Sermon: Soul of Soil

A Sermon preached in Christ Church, Grosse Pointe, Michigan
by The Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
(RCL Proper 10, Year A)
16 July 2017

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Listen here

The book, The Soul of Soil, used to teach Organic Farming, opens with this quote by Helen Keller[1] :

What a joy it is
To feel the soft, spring earth | under my feet once more
To follow grassy roads | that lead to ferry brooks
While I can bathe my fingers
in a cataract of rippling notes,
Or to clamber over a stone wall
 into green fields that
Tumble and roll and climb | in riotous gladness!

I say, “Let Anyone with Ears Listen!”

My partner is an Organic Farmer. When we first moved here in 2015, Leah’s first “nesting” activity was to get the garden going.  She pulled out the weeds that had grown waste-high double-dug the earth below, laid down cardboard, covered it in 5 cubic yards of compost and covered all that with leaves. Then winter happened.  We waited.  The soil rested.

As the soil rested, it became nutrient rich, consisting of living, dying, decaying and dead things that make up organic matter.  And that is the work of an organic famer: to tend the soil.  See, I have learned from her that soil is the heart of sustainable farming – not just the seeds, nor the watering schedule, nor the sun.  It’s all soil management.  This experience of living with an organic urban garden opened my eyes to the gospel text in a new way.  What captivated my imagination today is how Jesus teaches his disciples about soil management.  “You gotta have good soil,” you can almost hear him say.

In the parable of the sower, any farmer listening would have been cringing at the wastefulness of this way of farming. 
But parables are dangerous things. They make us think we know how it ends, but then it has a twist.  And in this parable, with Jesus teaching from a boat with the farmers lined up on the seashore, they hear him tell the story….

He gets their attention – he is talking about their livelihood. He’s talking about planting. A farmer goes out to sow and tosses seed everywhere. The farmers think: yes, I know about that. (See, Palestinian farmers sowed before they plowed. The field wasn’t prepared; it was just sown and then plowed and fertilized. Over the winter, paths got packed down, fields tossed up rocks, vines and thorns took over.)Jesus mentions these things. “Yes, I know,” they mumble.  I know all about planting and getting nothing; I know about the year we didn’t even get enough crop to make back the seed, I know about the year the sun scorched and there was no rain.

And we are thinking: yes, I know too about all those places in life that are just like that: hard places, rocky places, places where everything I give gets taken away, places where I felt like I was being choked. I know, I know.Do you know this experience? You start out fine; you sow your seed.You make plans, you start a business, you get married, everything looks bright. But things happen.

Maybe someone gets sick; maybe it turns out the person you put your faith in lets you down, hard. Maybe you start your business with a great plan but the economy falls apart. It’s rocky.There’s no credit, no help, and no money coming in. Maybe something thorn comes into you and your whole life is oriented around some substance, alcohol or another drug. All these are weeds; all these are
shallow ground, rocks, seed being eaten up.

When these things happen, we often ask why; what we can ask is, “What now?”

Jesus isn’t answering why; but he does have an answer for “what now”. His answer is to keep faith. Tend the soil.

“But some seed falls on good ground,” he says. And then, then he goes on to say what can hardly be believed: yields of thirty, sixty, a hundred fold. The farmers are mumbling now, they know that a good yield is five or six times what you plant, ten if you get lucky. Thirty fold? Sixty fold? A hundred? What kind of farming is this? But some of the farmers are thinking too, yes, sometimes you do get it just right, sometimes it seems everything falls into place, and a quiet little miracle happens.

And what are you thinking? Are you thinking about those miracles? Are you thinking about the time a child came to you and climbed in your lap and apropos of nothing at all said, “Mom, I love you” or the time you fell in love or the time a stranger drove by your community garden and said I believe in your work and offers to mow the field around the garden, for free, for the rest of the summer

See, where there are rocks, then there are miracles, where there are things that eat up what you plant, then there are harvests you never expected, where there are thorns, then there are also the bright blooms that surprise and delight.

And, although these days the world seems to be constantly spreading the hard, rocky and thorny news that there is not enough… and although news and politics seems to have created in our hearts and minds a profound sense of scarcity and inadequacy… and although we are tempted to believe not only do we not have enough,but in the end we are not enough,

well actually, today’s good news is that God the sower scatters seeds of grace and love all about.  God does not hold back!  God is not worried if there will be enough seed or grace or love.  Sure, we need to tend the soil of our hearts and do spiritual practices like waiting in the winter while the living, dying, decaying and dead aspects of our inner lives create rich soil. 

And then God, that reckless farmer, continues to let the seeds of love fall where they may – on paths, on rocks, on thorns, on the finely prepared soil of our soul. God doesn’t care about wasting love because there is enough and at the end of the day. God believes in humanity – that we ARE enough. We are enough to deserve love, dignity and respect.  We are enough.  I don’t know about you, but I need to keep hearing that!

Because we are enough, we do know “what now,” because God loves us more that we can ask or imagine and keeps showering seeds of grace. Because God loves us, God calls us to stand up to fear and scarcity that fuels prejudice, racism, homophobia, greed and violence. Because God loves us,
God invites us to live into our baptism covenant to strive for justice and peace. 

As we continue to tend the organic soil of our heart with spiritual practices and tenderness, may we, today, know the unconditional, even reckless, love of God.  Right here, right now – just as we are.

There is enough. You are enough.  God’s love is enough.
Let anyone with ears, listen!

[1] Joe Smillie and Grace Gershuny, The Soul of Soil, (White River Junction (VT), Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 1999)

Sermon: Even A Cup of Cold Water

A Sermon preached in Christ Church, Grosse Pointe, Michigan
by The Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate
The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost | (RCL Proper 8, Year A)
2 July 2017

Listen Here

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen

The other day I heard a story about five people who were blind and went to “see” an elephant.[1] “What is this?” asked the first one, who had run head-first into its side. “It’s an elephant,” said the elephant’s keeper, who was sitting on a stool, cleaning the elephant’s harness. “Wow, I’ve always wondered what Elephants are like,” as they ran their hands up and down the elephant’s side. “Why, it’s just like a wall… a large, warm wall!”

“What do you mean, a wall?” said the second person, wrapping their arms around the elephant’s leg. “This is nothing like a wall. You can’t reach around a wall! This is more like a pillar. Yeah, that’s it, an elephant is exactly like a pillar!”

“A pillar? Strange kind of pillar!” said the third one, stroking the elephant’s trunk.  “It’s too thin, for one thing, and it’s too flexible for another. This is more like a snake.  See, it’s wrapping around my arm.  An elephant is just like a snake!”

“Snakes don’t have hair!” said the fourth person, pulling the elephant’s tail. “I’m surprised that you missed the hair. This isn’t a snake, it’s a rope.  Elephants are exactly like ropes.”

“I don’t know what y’all are thinking!” the fifth one cried, waving the elephant’s ear back and forth. “It’s as large as a wall, all right, but thin as a leaf, and no more flexible than any piece of cloth this size should be. I don’t know about all of you – who could mistake an elephant for anything except a sail!”

And as the elephant moved on, they found the truth, that an elephant is, well, an elephant.

Perspective, right?  Today’s short gospel text begs for such an introduction that invites perspective and context. The whole of Chapter 10 of Matthew’s gospel is about discipleship – that’s the perspective.  A few weeks ago we heard how Jesus calls and commissions the disciples.

Then Jesus gives disciples authority over unclean spirits and power to heal and minister to those who are sick. He sends them out to proclaim good news and to bring about the Kingdom of God.  He also gives them warnings of coming persecutions and trials, telling disciples whom to fear and whom to ignore.  You may recall last week’s sermon by Fr. Drew, explaining that living into the gospel message might spark division sometimes, even while Jesus seeks peace and unity.  And, here at the end of the chapter, Jesus’ promises rewards for faithfulness.

There, in the last line, comes the clincher: whoever gives “even” a cup of cold water to one of these little ones… none of these will lose their reward.  Even a cup of cold water.  In the Greek, this little word monon means only, or alone.  So: only a cup of water.  With this tiny word, Jesus emphasizes something as small as a cup of water for the Christ is of cosmic importance.

Taken in perspective, this cup of water symbolizes gospel – it’s not only what it takes to be a disciple but rather what it means to be a disciple.[2]
·         It means empowerment and struggle.
·         It means welcome and rejection.
·         It means division, persecution and the call to faithfulness.

Perspective – having it and keeping it. This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus – both then and now.  The rewards?  It is not about how one earns the reward but how one recognizes the reward. Here, Jesus is not talking about the actions the disciples are supposed to do.  Jesus talks about those who welcome them, the ordinary little ones that Jesus has commissioned.  The ones who welcome those disciples – even just giving them a cup of cold water – those who welcome with a small gesture are now welcomed into the mission of the disciples and of Jesus. 

That means
·         just smiling at and really seeing strangers instead of ignoring them.
·         Even offering to sit with someone and to listen to their story of heart ache.
·         Even offering your own story of heartache, being mutually vulnerable, and inviting someone to listen to you.
·         Even helping with summer starters on Sunday.
·         Even pulling weeds at Buckets of Rain on a Thursday.
·         Even volunteering for one morning during Vacation Bible School.
·         Even bringing extra supplies for your kid’s teachers at the beginning of the school year.
·         Even speaking up for someone who is being bullied.

These are small gestures, yes, and in the Kingdom of God, there is no small gesture when it is done in faith.  Each act of loving kindness has a cosmic impact, affecting our hearts, those of others, and the ones who welcome them.

And even as we celebrate our nation’s Independence this week, today’s readings remind us that we live interdependently. Our gospel of grace has at its core a mutuality: with each other, with the whole of creation and with God.  This is a fundamental truth about ourselves, that we can hear “even” in this small text – in our welcome, when we receive one another, God receives us – that God upon whom we are dependent.

On the 4th of July, while we celebrate, we can remember that Jesus calls usnot to a way of independent self-sufficiency. Jesus calls us to a welcoming way of discipleship that is interdependent: for God, for our neighbors, for our enemies, for ourselves.

And that is today’s promise – we have the opportunity to be Jesus’ disciple and make a difference in the world. Every. Single. Day. And God receives us. Every. Single. Day.

Today’s good news is that we are called not to heroic discipleship, but genuine, authentic, faithful, consistent, daily discipleship.  Just, even, only discipleship. This will make a difference beyond what we see – and that is God’s perspective. 

Through Christ, *even* this will reverberate out and be used by God for the dream of God’s kingdom come.