A Holy Smack Down Rev. Dr. Durell Watkins July 31, 2011 The Gospel reading: Of course some will believe the story is fictional, perhaps to suggest that God’s provision can take place when one doesn’t understand how it might, and/or that such provision is especially likely to be experienced or noticed when people are gathered [...]
A Holy Smack Down
Rev. Dr. Durell Watkins
July 31, 2011
The Gospel reading:
Of course some will believe the story is fictional, perhaps to suggest that God’s provision can take place when one doesn’t understand how it might, and/or that such provision is especially likely to be experienced or noticed when people are gathered in community for the purpose of worship or learning (as in the story).
Others will claim to believe the story can be understood literally as something that may have happened in actual history. The point of such an understanding might be that there are spiritual laws or principles (so called “higher” laws) that can be accessed to accomplish incredible things.
The traditional “liberal” interpretation is that as Jesus and his disciples shared what they had, even though it appeared to be much too little for such a large crowd, others may have been inspired to share what they had, and as each contributed what he or she could, then collectively there was enough to provide for everyone. Whether the story is factual or fictional, in either case the point would be that our sharing what we can really does make a difference in people’s lives.
The Gospel reading continued:
What is noticeable about the story, regardless of how the multiplication is understood, is that it begins with Jesus healing people, and the story ends with a possible healing reference as well.
The 12 disciples collect 12 baskets of broken pieces. The disciples had originally wanted to send the hungry people away. But as Jesus challenged them to be more generous than they thought they could be, they witnessed the provision miracle and then collected broken pieces…perhaps the brokenness of their own consciousness was healed/made whole as they learned that sharing accomplishes more than the one who shares might at first imagine possible.
Generosity requires trust (“faith”) which is why it is a spiritual discipline. Such practice can help us pick up the broken pieces of our lives and reintegrate them into a sense of wholeness.
The story, then, illustrates a sense of struggle in our own lives.
We struggle with our sacred texts. We must wrestle with the text to decide for ourselves if we believe it is fictional and yet still true in its moral guidance, or if it is literal and therefore offers us a glimpse into higher laws that we can literally use for our betterment, or if it is an allegory challenging us to move beyond our fear of scarcity so that we can participate in the circulation of divine supply that will bless us and others. We struggle with the text to get the most out of it, and as we bring our honest questions to the text, the text leads us to a sense of hope and empowerment.
Genesis Story: Jacob’s Wrestling Match
This reading is an obvious story about struggling.
This story is the inspiration for the title of my book: Wrestling With God Without Getting Pinned: Old Stories, New Thoughts, & Progressive Spirituality and is discussed in the book.
Some brief points upon which to reflect:
1. Jacob has two wives and two women servants with whom he has sexual relationships. We don’t have to condemn or condone his choices, but it is important to notice that the values and mores of Jacob’s culture differ greatly from our own. Perhaps it is inappropriate to use scripture to justify sexual prejudice when on its own terms, the bible often seems fairly permissive about sexual relationships. People who use the bible to condemn same-gender love or any expression of mutual, adult affection read much more into the scriptures than from them. The bible, on its own terms, is not as prudish as we have been led to believe.
2. Jacob’s spiritual wrestling is on-going…he will not give up until he receives his blessing.
He had stolen Esau’s blessing; but that doesn’t satisfy. He needs his own and now knows he deserves and can have his own. His blessing is to learn who he really is (“Israel”). To learn one’s own truth may be the richest blessing of all. Struggling with our texts, with our traditions, with our preconceived notions, with our prejudices, with our fears…such honest and courageous struggling leads to self-realization, self-awareness, self-actualization, the blessing of knowing oneself as part of God.
3. The story ends with the “sun” (symbolizing light/enlightenment) rising above him. If we’ll dare to struggle with our spirituality, if we’ll risk growing, changing, evolving, the sun of enlightenment will rise above, illuminating our lives, warming our hearts, and guiding us in the ways of fulfillment.
What are you struggling with today?
Have you been reluctant to seek medical treatment rather than trusting that through such treatment there could be healing or insight or comfort or relief?
Have you been reluctant to let yourself love or be loved because the familiarity of loneliness seems less frightening than risking rejection or loss?
Have you been reluctant to learn new things because new insights or new discoveries would almost certainly destroy the comfortable myth of certainty you have been hiding behind?
Have you been reluctant to trust God with your finances, your relationships, your happiness, your health, or any other area of your life? Do we sometimes hide behind tradition rather than saying, “God is omnipresent and within God there is all Good, therefore, nothing good is ever really beyond my reach.” Do we dare pray, “Dear God, I’m willing to give up my anxiety, my prejudice, my privilege, my grievance, my habit…I’m willing to lay down whatever has hindered me from growing spiritually and experiencing more joy in my life. I’m willing for you to heal my fears now and to help me move past whatever has been keeping my blessings from me. I’m willing to receive a miracle, knowing that miracles mean change.”
Whether we are struggling with old religious ideas, old fears, old prejudices, old problems, old hatreds, or new disappointments, new challenges, or new opportunities, the struggle can lead to a breakthrough.
If we will struggle with our fear of lack or scarcity until we hear the voice of Christ say, “give. Share. Feed them,” we might just find that trusting God with what we have to help something beyond ourselves actually heals us and helps us integrate the fragmented parts of our lives into a joyous whole.
If we will struggle with whatever is preventing us from living a Self-realized and God-realized life, then eventually the sun of enlightenment is bound to rise above us and shine rays of hope and healing into our lives. Are you ready for healing? For self-discovery? For a miracle? If you really are ready, then your time of struggle may be coming to an end, and the blessing you’ve longed for may just be at hand. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2011
I’m ready for a miracle.
I’m ready for healing.
I’m ready for self-discovery.
I’m ready to let God bless me abundantly.
Dear God, I’m ready.
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (July 24, 2011)
I remember the chorus to a great old camp meeting song:
Oh I believe in miracles, I’ve seen a soul set free/What joy to see one learn to live, in grace abundantly I’ve seen the lily push its way up through the stubborn sod/Oh I believe in miracles for I believe in God.
My grandmother was the world’s best horticulturist. Her family ran a successful farm that suffered much less than many did during the Great Depression.
My grandmother became a teacher, but she always remembered fondly her childhood growing up on a farm and her great joy in life was to make things grow. In her hands common dirt was an invitation to bring forth life, and she did it better than anyone I’ve ever known.
Rose bushes, persimmon trees, grapes, cotton, peanuts, tomatoes, beans, purple hull peas, onions, strawberries, squash, okra, cantaloupes, watermelon, collard greens…if she liked it, she believed she could grow it. And she was right.
She knew that a tiny seed contained great potential. In fact, in a tiny seed there seemed to be almost infinite reserves of life just waiting, longing to come out.
Gardening was a lifestyle for her, a daily practice…it was part of her consciousness; and she was always planting seeds, nurturing her plants, watering them, weeding them, pruning the rose bushes and so on. She was lovingly diligent year after year, and her efforts produced an abundance of fruit, vegetables, and flowers. Life just flourished in her garden.
What makes for good horticulture also makes for good spirituality. If we think spirituality is just coming to church on Sundays, then when we get here, we’ll start looking for how church didn’t fill the void of our lives; rather than receiving the tools we can use throughout the week, we’ll just complain how this one hour didn’t magically make all our problems and unhappiness disappear. Church is an important part of our practice, but if our spiritual practice isn’t a daily event, a lifestyle, a matter of consciousness, then it will not really ever satisfy.
Our words, habitual thoughts, and our choices are the seeds we plant. And as we give of ourselves, like my grandmother gave so much of her time, energy, love and money…strangely, manure ain’t cheap…as we give more and more to the spiritual life, then we find that we reap the benefits of those daily disciplines.
One of the most amazing systematic theologians of the 20th century, Paul Tillich, called God the Ground of Being. He didn’t talk about God existing, but rather of God as existence. God wasn’t a being for Tillich, but was Pure Being, the Source of All Being, the Ground of Being.
Isn’t that a powerful thought? We grow out of divine ground. Our being is part of the Being we call God. We participate in that divine life when we sow good seeds into that holy Ground.
Ralph Waldo Emerson in one his famous essays wrote, “currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part and parcel of God…” Not unlike Mercer University Chancellor and Baptist theologian R. Kirby Godsey who tells us “we have always been and always will be part of God’s presence.”
St. Paul so trusted the accessibility and goodness of the divine Presence that he wrote to the congregation in Rome that the spirit, the presence, the power, the energy that God is, the spirit is present even in our weakness, even when we are overwhelmed by fear or uncertainty and we don’t even know what we want or need, we can barely do more than groan, even still the spirit is with us seeking to express through and as us, always reaching for the best. The spirit is the life that is trying to burst out of the seeds we plant, and that life is always reaching toward what is highest and best.
Sometimes we think we don’t have any spiritual seed to plant. Wrong! We are made in the image and likeness of God, filled with the spirit of God; when we show up a band of angels shows up with us! Our presence matters. We can show up.
The wisdom of 12 Step Meetings tells us, “Keep coming back…it works if you work it!” If all we can do is show up, then for God’s sake let’s do at least that much. Plant that one seed and give it a chance to have its divine life unleashed into manifestation.
Some people won’t let study be part of their spirituality. They think learning is boring, or they think they have nothing else to learn. Let me tell you how you know you have more to learn; because you’re alive. If you’re still living, there’s more for you to learn. Read Spirit & Truth. Take a Samaritan Institute class. Listen carefully to the sermons. Read the educational articles in the Sun Burst. Watch Sharing the Light on our You Tube channel. Learn something new, try on a new idea, dare to embrace a New Thought…you’ll be planting a seed and that seed will eventually bring a great gift back to you.
I remember Anne Atwell’s first religious education class she took with me years ago. She learned some things that she hadn’t planned on learning. But she planted a seed, and today she is a seminarian and a deacon and a future pastor in our denomination. Plant a seed and let it grow! It might just change your life.
At the end of his life, Jesus mused, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how I often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” In his patriarchal culture, where women were considered secondary to men, how amazing that Jesus compares himself to a mother hen, describes his love for his people as a maternal love.
Can we learn something new? Can we dare to think in new ways? Can we be as courageous as Jesus in expressing the unconditional and all-inclusive love of God in radically new ways? That kind of liberating learning is a seed that will transform our lives, and when we are transformed, we can help transform the world.
Yesterday, there were people here early, and there were still people here late. People gathered at an obscene time in the morning to prepare for a yard sale. Why would people get up at 5 AM to work outside on their day off selling second hand stuff to passersby? Because they love their church, and they have discovered that faithfulness brings great spiritual rewards.
While the yard sale team was engaged in its ministry, others were busy as well. You may notice today that the grass, the hedges, the trees, the plants…the lawn is beautifully manicured, all by volunteers! Why would people spend so much time in the hot sun on their day off to make this place beautiful? Because service is a spiritual discipline and the love they give as service returns to them as joy.
Like the majority of you, I believe in the ministry of this church. I believe we can be a powerful force for justice and healing and change in the world. I believe there are lives that have been touched by the power of hope because we are here today. That’s something to which I can gladly commit.
I pledged 10% of my base salary to this church this year. I was thrilled yesterday when I was looking at my giving record to realize that before July is over, I have fulfilled that pledge already! I give some to other organizations too, but my primary commitment is to my spiritual home. I’m amazed at how good consistent, percentage giving makes me feel. In fact, just because I’ve reached my pledge goal early doesn’t mean I’ll stop giving. I now want to double what I’ve done so far. Why not? It gives me great joy! We took a pay cut this summer but I didn’t stop my giving and my quality of life hasn’t suffered one bit. I’m not complaining, I’m testifying! I’m celebrating! Because I have come to trust that my divine Source is unlimited; if one channel becomes temporarily blocked, that doesn’t diminish the Source, and the Source that provided for me up to now didn’t dry up! So I continue my spiritual practice of tithing to affirm my trust and my gratitude. Giving is an essential part of my worship. If you’re not there yet, don’t despair. I grew into it; you will too. Just keep planting your seed.
I also know that people have lost jobs, homes, insurance…for some people, the gas it takes to get here is almost a sacrifice. We honor your commitment and trust that as you give your best, whatever it is, you will feel good about participating in this amazing ministry. And when your situation improves, you’ll give more which will make it possible for others having a difficult time to benefit from our ministry.
Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” My heart is here, with you, and my time and my intellect and my love and my money will continue to pour into this great ministry because you are worth it and our world needs what we stand for and what we are trying to do in the name of God and for the cause of Christ. I’ll keep planting those seeds and I hope you will too.
We’ve looked at the seeds of worship, of learning, of service, and of generosity which are all important elements in a spiritual life. But there are other seeds to plant as well. What do you need in your life? Hope? Wisdom? Peace? Comfort? Joy? Plant the seed. Even if it seems little, plant it and let the miracle of growth take place. Express hope, right now. Plant that seed. Express gratitude, right now. Express compassion, right now. Affirm possibilities, right now. Plant those seeds, release the power that has been lying dormant within them, and expect that an abundant harvest of blessings is on the way. With words, thoughts, actions, choices, and feelings, we are planting seeds and the seeds will produce abundantly.
The Realm of Heaven is like a mustard seed which is tiny but has within it a big life just waiting to come out once it is planted. A little seed – plant the seed you have…the affirmation, the word of hope, the expression of gratitude, the gift of your presence, or your service…no matter how small it may seem plant the seed you have and trust that God can be expressed through your act of faith. Plant a seed, and know that you are calling for the miracle working power of God. This is the good news! Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2011
In the Ground of Being, I am sowing seeds of hope.
I am sowing seeds of gratitude.
I am sowing seeds joy.
And I expect a miracle harvest.
“The greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our disposition, and not our circumstances. We carry the seeds of the one or the other about with us in our minds wherever we go.” Martha Washington
What Good is a Weed? Sunshine Cathedral Metropolitan Community Church Rev. Dr. Robert Griffin ~ Sunday, July 17, 2011 One of my early childhood memories of my mom was she and I walking through the garden. Our garden was about the size of this room with some of everything that you can imagine planted. Corn, [...]
What Good is a Weed?
Sunshine Cathedral Metropolitan Community Church
Rev. Dr. Robert Griffin ~ Sunday, July 17, 2011
One of my early childhood memories of my mom was she and I walking through the garden. Our garden was about the size of this room with some of everything that you can imagine planted. Corn, butterbeans, black-eyed peas, yellow squash, collard greens, mustard greens, turnips greens, tomatoes, okra, and well you get the picture; you name it, we planted it, we grew it, we harvested it and we ate it. After all, raising 14 kids was not easy, but my mom and dad made it seem that way.
Now these walks through our garden were always interesting, because my mother and I would walk each very long row, looking at what was growing; making sure that the produce wasn’t being eaten by bugs or other creatures that would find their way into our patch. And as we walked the garden, if my mother spotted a weed she would make me reach down, because I was closer to the ground, and pull it out of the ground.
One day I surprised my mother by telling her that I had already walked the garden and pulled the weeds; to her shock I had pulled up a whole row of spinach. She asked why I had done that and I said, well they looked like weeds to me. In truth I hated spinach and it was my way of making sure we would not be eating spinach for awhile. My mother knew that I hated spinach so each week when it came time for my $1.25 for good behavior, she made me go to the store and buy a canned of spinach and I now prefer fresh spinach over canned spinach.
As I was reading over the passage for this Sunday my reflection drifted to just about every field or garden imaginable. I thought about English gardens, our own Cathedral Prayer Garden, so wonderful maintained by our volunteers, cotton fields, tobacco fields, back yard gardens, and the tomato planter that grows upside down. As I drove around town this week I paid particular attention to various homes or office buildings with beautiful gardens or landscapes. I also noticed places that were so overgrown that I couldn’t see what was under all the growth.
There were gardens that were striking because I imagined them to fit the design of their creator and all the parts fit together as a perfect picture. Various gardens were noticeable because there were no weeds to detract from the flowers or suck out their life. Seeing all of these beautiful gardens also reminded me that the world in which we live is not always so pretty; weeds are everywhere.
One scholar posed the question. “What makes one plant a weed and another a useful plant?” We know that weeds are wild. Like kudzi vine, weeds can grow and grow and just take everything over if left alone. You don’t have to plant a weed or cultivate a weed. Weeds are prolific. That alone however, does not give us enough evidence to say a plant is a weed. What makes a weed a weed is that, they just take up space! They produce no fruit to eat, no notable flower to speak of. They monopolize space that could be better occupied by a more useful plant. Sometimes, in nature you will find weeds growing when nothing else can grow.
For the sake of this parable today, I want to invite each of you to put on your work clothes with me and let’s go farming! The field that we are going to farm is right here this morning. Now let’s follow the parable this morning. The passage says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a [farmer] who sowed good seed in a field.” Positive, progressive, and practical seeds have been sown right here in our field, the field of Sunshine Cathedral MCC. We have people who have worked long and hard and have planted a field full of good seeds; good seed planting has been taking place for 39 years. But on this day, we’ve come in from a long day of farming, the sun beating down us, we’ve done hard work. So we eat and go to bed knowing that it has to start all over again tomorrow, working in the field. But that’s OK, because its work that we love and the harvest make its all worthwhile.
Next the parable says, “while we were sleeping our enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.” An enemy came and sowed weeds, life killing, beauty choking weeds that only take up space and try to prevent health and beauty from flourishing. What a cowardly act, under the cover of darkness to try to sabotage good work, to sow weeds among the good seeds that were planted so faithfully and with such devotion and hard work.
Sometimes those weeds are sown with anonymous hate-mail or with such exaggerated statements as, “everybody says” or “everybody feels” or “nobody likes”. Sowing discord and discontent, gossip and hatred, misinformation, threats, or insults…the weeds are sown to stifle the growth that the hard and faithful workers are trying to produce.
Some farmers sow seeds of hope and goodwill and unconditional generosity year after year. Some have been sowing seeds of hope and healing for decades, like Bob Horton, one of the longest members of Sunshine Cathedral –organized in the living room of his home. Thank God for people like Bob and others around him who remained faithful so that what they dreamed of and hoped for, a place where God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgenderd, straight, young and old, multi-cultural, rainbow, queer family, could come to find an opportunity to grow, to practice spiritual discipline, to offer support and be uplifted and challenged and taught and empowered.
Farmer Bob and those like him planted the seeds of Sunshine Cathedral MCC. And I believe that we are the dream that Bob dreamed so long ago and I want to say to Bob and those who started out with him, that those who are now on watch will not let you and others down as we continue to move Sunshine Cathedral MCC boldly into the future. Our senior pastor in partnership with our Cathedral Board of Director has offered us an bold vision and we will stay the course with integrity, respect and due diligence under the grace of God so that this dream will never die! New people, new kinds of people, new programs, new ministries, new ways of Sharing the light with the world…that’s what we are committed to and nothing will prevent us from living the dream that God has given us.
There will also be those who want to throw some weeds in the field, but Jesus shows us how to deal with that so that the wheat continues to thrive. We will honor the dream by remaining positive and joyous and committed and far seeing and far reaching; the weeds will never permanently harm this fertile field of possibilities. The seeds of ministry and spiritual growth and devotion and diversity and justice have been sown, and we will not let anything keep those divine seeds from taking root and bearing fruit!
In all churches, in all families, in all communities, the wheat and weeds grow together. Some plant seeds of love and joy and hope and devotion to God and neighbor, seeds of justice and peace; and others throw in seeds of discontent, hatred, back biting, and jealousy. And sometimes, the weeds may get our attention more than the healthy plants and we may be tempted to ask, as in the parable, “Didn’t you sow good seeds in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?”
It’s just like saying if you had done things the way I told you, this would not have happened. If you had catered to my whims and demands instead of standing on principle and integrity that weed planter might not have tried to mess up your field. But weeds happen; they will always be with us. The trick is not let them overtake the garden, not let them choke the life out of the dream of growth, inclusion, expansion, demonstration, liberation, and healing.
Now what I love about this parable is that those who have worked in the field with the farmer asked, ‘do you want us to go and pull up the weeds. “‘No,’ [the farmer] answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
So what is about this weed in the parable that is so bad? The weed first all is allegorical. For me, the weed represents the injustice in the world. It is symbolic of all the things that hold us back from obtaining our full potential. It stands in the way. For me, weeds are nothing more than joy suckers. They will attempt to suck all joy right out of you. Weeds symbolize the haters, the blamers, the accusers, the attackers…those who try to deny justice to our community from the outside, and those who engage in destructive horizontal violence from the inside. Those who don’t respect women, who aren’t willing to examine and address oppression, who are more concerned about their privilege than for justice for all, who work to keep LBGT people marginalized and in the closet. And weeds are those who want to reduce spirituality to a private club instead of allowing it be an expansive movement that transforms society by transforming individuals. Anyone who resists transformation, who tries to sabotage transformation, who violently tries to keep others stuck in the past rather than allowing them to grow into a glorious future, those are weeds of the world and they are joy suckers not joy givers.
In the book of Proverbs, chapter 6, we read that there are a few things that God finds particularly detestable, including: a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush to evil and people who stir up conflict in a spiritual community. Those are some of the weeds in the divine garden that brings sadness to the heart of God.
So why don’t we do to the weeds what they have tried to do to our field? Our field of justice, or democracy, or spiritual growth, or right relationship, or generosity, or healing. Why not seek to destroy the weeds that tried to destroy the field? Why don’t we just go after them with Ortho or Weed Be Bone and try to destroy them?
One, it isn’t worth the trouble. Two, the Ortho might damage some of the good seeds. So we let it all grow together, and when we sort out who has done what and why, who has contributed joy and hope and healing and who has contributed bitterness, anxiety, and heartache, then we all see the good fruit and the bitter weeds. As scripture tells us, those who sow to the wind will reap the whirlwind. We are not punished for our sins, but we are punished by our sins. If we sow good seed, we reap a good harvest. If we sow weeds, weeds are likely to take over our hearts and our experience of life.
We don’t have act like weeds to overcome weeds; we just have to keep focused on the good seeds, the good plants, the good works, the good intentions, the good desires, the good energy, and at harvest time, the weeds will be separated out without doing too much damage to the overall crop.
The field work that I am calling each of us to today is in the field of Sunshine Cathedral because we’ve got work to do, we’ve got Positive, Progressive and Practical work to do in the field of Sunshine Cathedral. That work includes speaking well of our church, praying for our church, supporting our church with time, talent and treasure, inviting new people to our church, making new people feel welcome when they arrive, and refusing to listen to anything negative that would threaten to keep us from reaching out with the light of the gospel. Let’s get to work because we have a field to plant with good seeds that will never be overcome by weeds, and this the Good News!
Today I will begin planting new seeds in my life.
Today I will focus on what brings me joy.
Today I will focus on what brings me hope.
Today I will focus on what gives me life.
And so it is.
“Do not be afraid then. Trust in what you believe. Life can not invent a problem that you and God will not solve.” Bishop Steven Charleston
“Planting Gospel Seeds” by Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins July 10, 2011 Sunshine Cathedral I grew up in an agrarian community, so I tend to perk up when scripture uses horticultural imagery. Our sacred texts are full of stories of vineyards and fields and harvest festivals and first fruits and barns of grain and sowing and [...]
“Planting Gospel Seeds”
by Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
July 10, 2011 Sunshine Cathedral
I grew up in an agrarian community, so I tend to perk up when scripture uses horticultural imagery. Our sacred texts are full of stories of vineyards and fields and harvest festivals and first fruits and barns of grain and sowing and reaping. Those stories come from rural people who had an intimate relationship with the land.
Before we get to the farming imagery of the gospel, we see Isaiah speaking of our words which become seeds that we plant in consciousness, and those seeds tend produce after their kind.
In the Isaiah pericope we see that words aren’t empty, but can be very powerful and should be used intentionally to achieve hope, healing, empowerment, and joy.
People who are in the habit of complaining, also find something to complain about.
People who are in the habit of gossiping, always find someone to gossip about.
People who expect the worst, are often not disappointed.
Our words and actions and thoughts and attitudes are seeds that we plant, and we water and nurture those seeds with constant repetition and we tend to reap what we sow.
But we can also use our speech to express hope, gratitude, goodwill, and appreciation. And those are also seeds that we nurture with repetition; and those more positive seeds also produce after their kind. Those who are consistently generous, fair, grateful, and optimistic also reap what they sow. The word does not return to us empty.
South African Hebrew Bible Scholar Juliana Claassens says of the Isaiah reading,
“The job description of the prophet [includes]…the ability to speak a life-giving word of hope when all the events seem to point to the contrary.”
We can easily enough see how “a word well spoken is like apples of gold on beds of silver” (Proverbs 25.11)
Are we the ones to sow appreciation, goodwill, optimism? Or are we the ones always trying to sow discord, trouble, discontent, and chaos? What sort of person do we want to be? Scripture would encourage us to plant fields of positive thought, speech, and action…and if we plant it, at least in some measure we are bound to get it back.
Now, in the Matthew passage, seeds are being sown too. The seeds in Matthew are good seeds…they are the seeds of Good News. But how well those seeds flourish depends on what kind of soil they fall on.
The farmer throws seeds on four different kinds of soil, but they can only flourish in the deep, healthy soil. On the footpath, birds eat the seed. On rocky soil, the roots aren’t nourished. In the thorns, the seeds are choked to death. But in the fertile soil, the seeds do well and yield an abundant harvest. The four different soils are really four different attitudes.
In the Matthew reading, the passage includes its own interpretation.
Matthew has Jesus explain the parable to us:
v. 19 – God’s Realm, or “kin-dom” is talked about and some people hear the message but they don’t understand it.
v. 20, 21 – Some hear about the divine kin-dom and love the idea of it but are not yet mature enough in their spiritual development to really “get” it and so they become overwhelmed when troubles come.
v. 22 – Some hear about the kin-dom but are too attached to privilege, pleasure, to habits, or even to conflict and drama to be really be part of the kin-dom.
v. 23 – There are those who hear the kin-dom message and they practice it, grow from it, and remain faithful to its vision. They reap spiritual benefits in abundance.
Other points to consider from the Gospel reading:
1. The word basileia is often translated as “kingdom” but is probably better translated as Rule or Realm. It is used to place God’s rule over against Caesar’s rule. God’s Realm is an anti-empire/a counter-empire. It is a blessed community, an egalitarian society, a “kin-dom.” Such a justice seeking kin-dom is what some have trouble hearing about or fully committing to.
2. The message is delivered in parable form. Parables (like myths) are fictional stories meant to convey spiritual truths. The parable/new creative tale shows the need for new ways of expressing the message so more people can really hear it.
3. Seedtime and harvest is an agrarian image that is frequently used in scripture. Sowing and reaping is never a one time event. EVERY YEAR, the farmer plants again, and reaps again. It is an on-going process. So is kin-dom teaching. As we read in Isaiah, we must continue to send the word of hope, trusting it will accomplish something good.
4. We may not all be able at the same time to make the most of the kin-dom message, and yet it is available to us whenever we are able to embrace it. We at times may be hard headed, hard hearted, or otherwise “thorny” but the seed of hope is constantly spread. If we didn’t “get it” this time, planting season will come around again and our soil/soul may then be more receptive. Grace is never exhausted. God, the ground of being [Tillich], would never/could never stop offering all of us all that It has and all that It is.
And this is the Good News. Amen.
I am sowing seeds of hope today.
I am sowing seeds of joy today.
I am sowing seeds of goodwill today.
I am sowing seeds of abundance today.
May our good seed fall on fertile soil.
And may we receive a 100 fold return.
“With every deed you are sowing a seed, though the harvest you may not see.” Ella
Being the Church Today “In every community, there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal. In every heart, there is the power to do it.” Marianne Williamson The Christian Church has too often been reduced to an institution, a political system where class and privilege are perpetuated rather than [...]
Being the Church Today
“In every community, there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal. In every heart, there is the power to do it.” Marianne Williamson
The Christian Church has too often been reduced to an institution, a political system where class and privilege are perpetuated rather than challenged. But at its heart and from its beginning, the Church is a movement. The Church of Jesus Christ is meant to be the on-going ministry of Jesus, that is, the Church is meant to offer hope, healing, empowerment, and encouragement. The Church is meant to feed the hungry (those who long for physical and spiritual nourishment). The Church is meant to confront injustice. The Church is meant to include more kinds of people and it is meant to call people to be their best. As followers of Jesus, we have work to do. Our faithful prayers, our positive speech, our good attitudes, our volunteer efforts, our generosity, and our belief in the sacred value of all people will all combine to help us be Christ in the world…and THAT is what it means to be “Church.”
Rev. Durrell Watkins, M.A., M.Div., D.Min.
A Sweet Dream Durrell Watkins, M.A., M.Div., D.Min. July 3, 2011 (Sunshine Cathedral) Song of Songs 2.8-13; Matthew 11.28-30 Tomorrow the United States will celebrate and commemorate the declaration of independence that 13 North American colonies made in the 18th century. That declaration officially severed the colonies’ relationship with the British Empire. That bold and [...]
A Sweet Dream
Durrell Watkins, M.A., M.Div., D.Min.
July 3, 2011 (Sunshine Cathedral)
Song of Songs 2.8-13; Matthew 11.28-30
Tomorrow the United States will celebrate and commemorate the declaration of independence that 13 North American colonies made in the 18th century. That declaration officially severed the colonies’ relationship with the British Empire. That bold and courageous declaration that was defended with human lives continues to symbolize the spirit of liberty that has ever since been valued by this nation.
Still, total freedom is an ideal toward which we continue to evolve, not something we have yet achieved. Many in our nation have confused bigotry for nature, nationalism for patriotism, religious tyranny for religious freedom, and capitalism for democracy.
And while we cherish the notion of freedom, our proud history is tainted with reprehensible treatment of Native Americans, and intolerance toward immigrants (though many of us are only 3 or 4 generations removed from new comers to this country ourselves). Our history is also marred by the shame and the evils of slavery and segregation. The U.S. that my grandmother was born into did not allow women to vote, and there are fierce movements afoot even today to enshrine anti-gay prejudice into state and national constitutions.
But even while we have not always lived up to the dream, we have somehow not ever completely relinquished the dream either.
The sacred dream of freedom and justice was forever canonized in 1963 in our nation’s capital city when the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all people are created equal.’”
Even when we have not been faithful to the dream, the dream has somehow never died.
Some of the inequities I mentioned a moment ago have been corrected, others are being addressed, and the dream of liberty and justice for ALL is what keeps us from being satisfied with anything less. As long as we fall short of the dream, we have work to do. The dream is holy, it is a divine vision, and we honor it by admitting when we have not live up to or into that dream, and when we recommit to living with our lives the rhetoric we have inherited, that we are:…ONE nation…indivisible, with liberty and justice for ALL.
That dream is rooted in our sacred scripture. The prophet Joel imagined God saying, “I will pour out my spirit on ALL people…men and women will be prophets, young and old will be visionary, and people of every class and social status will be empowered by spirit.” The vision of equality, empowerment, and egalitarianism is the divine wish for all people.
And though we still have work to do to make the dream a reality, there are times when the dream is made manifest, showing us that it is possible and that we can do it and that we must never give up on it. Sports, entertainment, politics, business, art, spirituality…time again the dream takes shape as if to say, “See, it happens now and again, so let’s keep working until the dream is the on-going shared reality.”
Jean Harlow lived only 26 years. For a third of her life women were denied the right to vote in this country. And yet, in a male controlled industry in a male controlled nation, a woman who never lived to see her 30th birthday was hailed by the American Film Institute as one of the greatest film actors of all time. Sometimes the spirit has her way.
If Jean Harlow shows the spirit at work in youth, others have demonstrated the spirit of empowerment in the lives of more mature individuals.
After struggling for almost two decades as an actor, Fran Drescher became a major television star at the age of 36. And for more than a decade and a half since, she has proven herself time and again as an actor, writer, producer, and activist.
Phyllis Diller studied to be a concert pianist, married a man with a mental illness, raised a family, and then at age 35 began a new career as a comedic performer, but it would be another three years before she would become a woman in a class by herself as a famous comedienne.
Mae West performed her whole life starting as a child, and even the successes she had were often marred by detractors who thought her material was sometimes inappropriate or even obscene. Various Catholic organizations particularly took aim at her. Yet, she championed women’s empowerment and gay rights, long before there was a strong gay rights movement, and she was almost 40 when she finally broke into films. Her film career lasted less than a decade but made a huge impact in those brief years, and after it was over, she found success in her 50s as a night club performer.
Ray Kroc gave birth to the McDonald’s empire when he was 50, and Harland Sanders finally found success with his Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise at the age of 65. Grandma Moses lived 101 years, but didn’t start painting until she was 70, and she received several honors thereafter. Sometimes, the spirit shows itself to be inexhaustible. And with the spirit we can know that it’s never too late to heal from the past and to be more than we’ve been so far.
The spirit of abundant life could not be limited to expressing through youth or maturity, but also shows that as strong as human prejudice seems to be, the spirit that God pours out on all people is stronger still. And so Thurgood Marshall became the first African American on the US Supreme Court in 1967, and Gen. Colin Powell became the first African American Secretary of State in 2001. And in 2008 Barack Obama made history by becoming the first person of color to be elected President of the United States.
In 1981 Sandra Day O’Conner became the first woman Supreme Court justice. And in 1988 a 58 year old Episcopal priest, Barbara Clementine Harris, was approved as the first woman bishop in the worldwide Anglican Communion, and in so-called retirement now in her early 80s, she continues to minister to the Church today. In fact, she has preached in this pulpit and will again.
And while we see xenophobia raising its ugly head against those who would immigrate to our country in search of a better life, there are those who have successfully become part of our nation and succeed in it. In fact, we can see three such people on one television program… Canadian Sandra Oh, former UK citizen Kevin McKidd, and Mexican immigrant Sara Ramirez all perform medical miracles for us week after week on Grey’s Anatomy!
And in spite of some of the most unenlightened, hateful, and ugly expressions of homophobia and heterosexism, we now have marriage equality in 6 states and the District of Columbia. 20 years ago I would have thought that the stuff of the most bizarre fiction. But dreamers worked to make the dream come true. A dreamer who is also a worker can perform miracles.
I mentioned the prophet Joel earlier, but he wasn’t unique in dreaming of a day when all of God’s people would be allowed to embrace and express God’s best in their lives. We see the dream of joy and equality being celebrated in the Song of Songs, where lovers claim their power to love, to relish in the physical expression of their love, and to affirm out loud and in very graphic ways that their sexuality is worth embracing, expressing, and celebrating. There are passages in the Song of Songs that if I read them aloud right now I would get complaints for going too far, and yet, those very explicit and beautiful passages are part of our sacred canon, hallelujah! Sexuality isn’t a source of shame, nor is it a reason to privilege some and marginalize others; sexuality is a gift from God and we can all celebrate this gift with unfettered joy and gratitude. That’s empowering for all people…gay, straight, and other.
And we see the same spirit of empowerment in the life of Jesus who shared table fellowship with all kinds of people. He associated with Samaritans, women, children, slaves, Romans, lepers, prostitutes…no one was without dignity or sacred value to Jesus, and no one was left out of God’s favor in Jesus’ theology. And so we see him saying today, “Come to me ALL…and I will give you rest.”
He also says his yoke is easy and his burden is light, but we shouldn’t mistake the message. The yoke is still a yoke; the burden is still a burden. There is work to do. But when we do it for a noble cause, for a higher calling…when it isn’t for our glory or our aggrandizement, when it isn’t for our privilege or our praise, when what we do we do to make our world better, to include more people, uplift more people, to encourage more people, to heal more people, to reach out to touch and include people we’ve never reached before…then what we give gives us joy, and what we do makes us happy, and what we accomplish together makes us proud to be part of a divine plan. In this way, we are refreshed, we are renewed, and our burdens are more bearable, sometimes they even feel light. That’s the blessing of building up the kin-dom of God, of working for justice for all, and of celebrating the sacred value of all God’s creation.
The dream of liberty and justice for ALL…it’s a sweet dream, it’s a divine dream, and it is the dream we have been called to dream into reality. As we dare to become this kind of dreamer, we will find we have a lot of work to do, and but the work will bring us together and it will bring us a sense of purpose and joy. In this way the yoke is easy and the burden is light; and this is the Good News. Amen. © Durrell Watkins 2011
I accept God’s best for my life.
I share my best in God’s name.
And my world is better because of me.
And so it is!
“You can protect your liberties in this world only by protecting the other person’s freedom. You can be free only if I am free.” Clarence Darrow