Sixth Sunday after Pentecost Proper 10 Yr A July 12 2020
Genesis 25:19-34, Psalm 119:105-112, Romans 8:1-11, Matthew 13:1-9,18-23
These are all really hard readings today. Each on it own deserves study and reflection and consideration. The Friday morning Bible study group is reading Brian McLaren’s book We make the road by walking. This week McLaren teaches us about the development of God’s relationship with God’s people in the Trinity. McLaren teaches us that our understanding of the trinity leads us beyond violent understandings of God. That violent understanding of God is evident in many Old Testament stories, and in pursuing more deeply todays Genesis story we see that as well. The idea of a violent God comes from ancient Greek and Roman tradition, and doesn’t really serve us well today. I’m not saying that none of the Old Testament serves us well, there are many Old Testament stories that show us exactly who we are. McLaren writes, “the many Greek and Roman gods of ancient tradition were, truth be told, a gang of overgrown adolescents who had more power than moral maturity. They were competitive and egotistical projections of human nature, glorious and gracious one minute, vindictive and cruel the next. But now, imagine the shift when we understand our source and destiny not as a rivalrous gang but as a loving, nonviolent community.”
What we have before us this morning are some hard readings, and as we ask the question about what the kingdom of God looks like, the question we ask specifically of parables as in Matthew, and a question we may ask of all of scripture, accompanied by the other important question, what is God calling us to, a pattern of relationship emerges, a pattern that reveals the possibility of loving, nonviolent community. And that, indeed, is what God calls us to be, a loving community. In which each of God’s beloveds is an active participant in the ongoing growth of the beloved community.
Matthew’s story is all about the dirt. Gardening metaphors tend to be out of my reach. I am not much of a gardener, so finding myself in K and W Greenery a few days ago caused me to feel inadequate about my gardening skills all over again. But I was there with a purpose. I’ve got rodents digging tunnels in my yard, and it was time to do something about it, or lose my yard. Willie was with me, and we ended up buying 80 lbs of mushroom compost to fill in the holes and tunnels the rodents have made. It had just rained, K and W keeps those bags outside their doors, so each 40 lb bag weighed quite a bit more than 40 lbs. We got those heavy bags home and used every pound of dirt to fill those holes. Well, this has just caused me to think some about dirt. Good dirt, the kind of dirt you can grow stuff in.
So back to the dirt in Matthew’s story. I’ve often said Jesus comes to us in the muck and the mess of life, and here you have it, it’s all about the dirt. The kingdom of heaven is all about the dirt. This parable in Matthew not only includes the good dirt, but some other sketchy dirt as well. Dirt that has been walked over, time and time again, throughout years, and has become packed down and hard enough to be like rock, even if you could dig so that you could plant seeds, they wouldn’t grow. And then there’s the rocky soil, soil filled with thorns and hiding places, no room for seeds to take hold and grow.
What does the kingdom of heaven look like? Matthew, different from Mark and Luke, uses these words, kingdom of heaven, Mark and Luke give us kingdom of God, not too much different. But what Matthew may be imagining is a reality that God has begun and sustains, and that is already present, and it is also still to come. We are summoned to respond to God’s activity in our lives, and God in our midst, Jesus, by lives of profound and active righteousness, conduct focused in acts of mercy and hospitality, by being the beloved community of God’s dream. When we do, we enter into the kingdom of heaven, as it is present now and as it takes shape in the future.
And yet, this kingdom of heaven as Matthew calls it, is not the kingdoms of the world. Those who belong to the kingdom of heaven are likely to find themselves in tension with the kingdoms of the world. While the reference to heaven clearly establishes this kingdom as the realm of God, it is described in the Gospel not so much as a place as a state of being expressed by loyalty to and trust in God, and in God’s child, Jesus, through whom the kingdom of heaven draws near.
So what does this kingdom of heaven, this beloved community look like? Matthew says it belongs to the poor in spirit and the persecuted, and it is governed by humility. And that brings us right back to the dirt. And I really have a lot more questions, so that you might work out some of the answers. What does it mean to be good dirt, prepared to receive the word of the kingdom? How do we assess what kind of shape our dirt is in? What do we need to do for the seed to be able to take root in our bodies and souls? How will we know if this is happening? And how might we nurture good dirt in those around us?
So what does my dirt and Matthew’s dirt have to do with being the beloved community, the kingdom of heaven? Well, everything. I think we are called to spread that good, fertile dirt all over the place, so that the seeds God sows can take root and flourish. We need to be the soil and spread the soil so that God’s beloved community can take hold and grow. We do live in the muck and the mess of this live, don’t we? It seems that in this time of adversity and challenge, rather than uniting toward a common goal of health, physical health, spiritual health, community health, we see division that may well lead us to dissolution, when what we need is transformation. I know that some of feel like we are dry and barren soil right now, just dirt, from which nothing can arise with new life.
We are not without hope. It is true that seeds landing on hard or rocky ground stand less of a chance of gaining root and thriving but it does, sometimes, happen. There are remarkable pictures of trees growing out of rocks and flowers that push up through the pavement. These tenacious plants offer signs that the word of the kingdom will continue to find a way to grow even on the days when we feel beaten down, or overcome by thorns, or at our rockiest.
But always remember, God is the sower, God sows good seed. Whether you are feeling like barren ground, rocky soil, or fertile dirt, God accomplishes the miracle that makes a lowly seed dropped into the dirt into a lovely new living thing. I can’t grow anything, but God can, and I have a lot of what some may call weeds in my former tomato patch, put I think they’re beautiful. We are the beloved community, and love wins.