Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Daily Mass on the Parable of the Sower

My sermon on Mark 4.1-20, at the Grace Cathedral daily Eucharist on 30 Jan 2013.

Since college the parable of the sower has presented a challenge for me. Up until that point the point of the parable of the sower seemed so obvious based on how it had been preached to be: You need to be the good soil that receives the Word and bears fruit, thirty, sixty, or a hundred fold.

I grew up Southern Baptist, and in that tradition there is a strong emphasis on the role of the individual in salvation, so sermons on this focused on you. What do you do? How are you bearing fruit? How are you avoiding being rocky soil, not having root to endure? The emphasis was always on us individually and how we were being good Christians.

Then I got to college and the absurdity of this parable was pointed out to me. Even if you haven’t done much farming, some of the things in this story make sense: seeds can’t grow that well on 101 or in the middle of a desert. Seeds need life and a helpful habitat to grow in short, good soil.

But if you’ve tried to grow things you know that for the most part, seeds need a lot more than good soil actually, and that’s part of where this parable gets absurd — and loses its focus on how we ourselves are soil to fix on our own, what I grew up with: striving to be the good soil. If you’ve tried to grow things you also know that you probably wouldn’t throw seed on California Street or on the Great Steps. No, you’d throw it into soil where it would grow.

This is a shift in looking at this passage: rather than looking at what we’re doing ourselves, we’re looking at the sower who sows the word, God who shares Good News and sends Jesus to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. In Jesus God has come into the whole world, to the rocky soil, the trampled paths, the scorched earth, and the good soil to share the Good News, over and over again.

This text, while not an invitation to make ourselves better is an invitation to do things better. Rocky soil doesn’t just turn into good soil, and a trampled path won’t automatically be made into something on which seeds can grow. These plots don’t have to be stuck as they are, though. While this passage speaks to God’s generosity — which we experience in grace at the font and the table, in the prayers and the word — this text is also an invitation to us.

Rather than thinking about how we can fix ourselves, I think this text invites us to think about how we can get rid of the rocks in the soil, how to cultivate and form people so that they have a root and endure for longer than awhile. This text invites us to be community to those on a spiritual path and teach them about Jesus. The best way to do that is by loving them and loving those around us. More actively, though we can tell them our stories of Jesus’ change in our lives and invite them to share theirs.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Daily Mass Sermonette

Here's what I just preached at Grace Cathedral's daily mass. 1 John 4.7-12 and Mark 6.30-44 were the texts.

I had a professor in seminary who didn’t really do much preaching at daily masses. The deacon or assisting priest would read the gospel, and Fr. Koenig would stand behind the altar, say “Let us meditate on the words of scripture, which cannot be improved upon,” and then sit down for two to three minutes.

There are only a few passages of scripture that come to mind that I’d think about doing this: John 1, “In the beginning was the Word,” and so on; the real, short ending of Mark 16 — the resurrection where the women run away from the empty tomb scared out of their minds because they just encountered an angel. It stops right there. And then there’s this passage from 1 John. “Beloved let us love one another. Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”

I’m not much of a “plain reading” of scripture kind of guy. I grew up with that. I learned a lot in seminary about the Bible and how to read it and share it. But this passage from 1 John, “Beloved, let us love one another” is a time that I’m really, really, tempted to say, “What more is there to be said?”

But with passages like that, if I sit with them long enough — or not even too long, really — I ask myself, “So what?” Maybe they’re pretty or just make a lot of sense, but so what to living the Christian life? Beloved, love one another is pretty enough — and good, solid direction — but it’s easy to say that and let it not mean anything at all.

That’s where our gospel passage and our gathering today comes in to play. When the disciples wanted to send the following crowds away for food Jesus said, “you give them something to eat.” In this version of the story we don’t know where the loaves and fishes come from, but we know that someone gave what they had.

Whether the miracle of this story is a miraculous multiplication of five loaves and two fish to get twelve baskets of leftovers or that everyone together shared all that they had to make sure no one was hungry, this story tells us how to love one another by giving what we have and caring for those who don’t have.

The givers brought what they had, and there was enough for everyone to be fed. In this eucharist we bring our gifts of bread and wine and money and there’s enough for everyone to be fed. We’re not just the crowds following Jesus, hungry for his teaching and grace, though. We’re the disciples, too. When we want to send people away because they don’t have something or are different from us, Jesus, probably with some sass since this story is 2,000 years old, looks at us and says “You feed them.”

Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it, shared it, and there was more than enough. In a few minutes we’ll take bread, bless it, break it, share it, and there will be more than enough bread and grace — for us and for all the world.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Draw us in the Spirit's tether

This was the communion anthem at Colin's ordination. I liked it, especially the third verse. Text by Percy Dearmer.

Draw us in the Spirit’s tether;
For when humbly, in thy name,
Two or three are met together,
Thou art in the midst of them:
Alleluya! Alleluya! Touch we now thy garment’s hem.

As the faithful used to gather
In the name of Christ to sup,
Then with thanks to God the Father
Break the bread and bless the cup,
Alleluya! Alleluya! So knit thou our friendship up.

All our meals and all our living
Make as sacraments of thee,
That by caring, helping, giving,
We may true disciples be.
Alleluya! Alleluya! We will serve thee faithfully.