Monday, July 11

Sermon- Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Proper 10A
Psalm 65
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

This morning's Gospel is a familiar one-- one of Jesus' parables. Jesus does a lot of storytelling this way, doesn't he? Parables about what the kingdom of God is like, or how God loves us, or how we are to treat one another... he does all sorts of teaching this way.

One thing that is unusual with this one, of course, is that an explanation goes with it. Unlike most parables, for which we are left to interpret and decipher the meaning, this one is clearly spelled out. The disciple is to be the good soil, taking in the word of God, and allowing it to bear fruit within us, to varying degrees.

Sometimes, I've heard those amounts-- the seeds which produce a hundredfold, or sixty, or thirty-- explained as being our responsibility. The argument is that a "good" Christian will bear more fruit. Like, if I pray more, or have a better relationship with God, that will show greater results.

Well... maybe. But then again, that might also seem to presumes that God's gifts are ours to control; and I don't think it works that way. I think it's more like...

Well, it kind of makes me think of a friend of mine. Todd was a classmate at seminary; he's originally from the pacific northwest, and now is the vicar of a couple of congregations in southwest Montana. He really, really loves it out there-- the town, the people, the work... and the mountains. "His" mountains, he'll say, as though he were personally responsible for their upkeep. That was one of the things he missed most, in his three years here in the midwest. Even when he came back to visit in June, he couldn't wait to get home, and away from all the "flat."

In a way, I can't really blame him. I've vacationed out west, and the scenery is indescribably beautiful. The grandeur of the peaks rising out of the land, and the awesome size of it all... it's no wonder to me at all that our ancestors moved to high places to worship.

On the other hand, if you look around where we live here, and all you see is "flat," then I'd suggest you look again.

Go on out to Indiana's National Lakeshore, only a few minutes from here; you can hike trails through the dunes, and see plants that don't grow anywhere else in the world. These are the conditions perfect for them, right here; they wouldn't survive in the mountains.

And the trees... sure, there are lots of trees in those mountains; but they're different. The sycamore, and the sweet gum, and the tulip poplar... those are native to this part of the world. I have a sweet gum tree just outside my front door; I love to go out and rub the leaves, and get the light scent they carry on my hands.

Or drive down the road in the spring and see the dogwood blooming wild, or the lacy pink of the redbud trees...

Oh, and there's a reason they call this region "the breadbasket to the world." Miles of level land means millions of acres of arable farmland, growing corn and wheat and beans, to feed billions of people. The fields have their own beauty, too, as you watch the sunlight play across the shades of green, and watch their growth over time.

No, we do not have the magnificence of the mountains towering above us, here; but there is beauty, nonetheless. It is more subtle, maybe, but surely no less a grand and vital part of God's creation.

People are kind of like that, too. Some seem to be incredibly gifted. The saints through the ages, who set amazing examples for us; or contemporary people like Mother Teresa, or Martin Luther King-- their faith, and their gifts seem to tower over the rest of us, as though they were specially favored by God.

But the person who works honestly and diligently at a job, year after year... or the parents who are raising children to know and love the Lord... or one who can be counted on for prayer, or encouragement, or quiet wisdom... the gifts and talents these people have are no less important, my brothers and sisters, even if they are less noticed, and more subtle. And I believe in the long run they are just as vital to the purposes of God, and the growth of the kingdom, as anything more impressive we hear about.

Yes, we look to the high places to see God; as the psalmist says, we "lift up our eyes to the hills." And that is a great and glorious thing, and as it should be. But at the same time, we also need to try to see God's glory where we are-- to use fully and not be ashamed of our seemingly simpler gifts. We can remember also that the prophet Isaiah notes, "Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And there the glory of the Lord will be revealed..."