Extravagant mercy

File:Starlight sower (1) by artist HAI KNAFO 2011 inspired by Or Zaruaa.jpg

Once more from last Sunday

Matthew 13:1-9

8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty

From Sunday’s sermon

The punch line in the story is the incredible harvest. Though seeds fall on the path and are gobbled up by birds, and seeds fall on bad soil and gain no root, and seeds fall among thorns and never bear fruit – though all kinds of seeds are wasted and lost in the act of sowing, yet the seeds that find good soil erupt in overwhelming plenty. A normal harvest was about four-fold. A good harvest maybe five. But this harvest is 30, 60 and 100 fold!

This is as if a man goes to the casino with a bucketful of nickels, and some get spent on drinks, some are given as tips and, in his drunken state, coins fall to the floor and then, behold, the alarm bells go off and he wins a million dollars!

Why is this like the kingdom?

Do you feel the awkwardness? A little bit of outrage? This is not fair. He doesn’t deserve it. It makes you want to argue with the parable. “But, but, but…”

But there are no buts. The kingdom is like this. And before we start talking about the moral qualities of the various soils, we have to deal with the extravagance of the undeserved.

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Jesus is tossing out the gifts of God like clowns casting candy to children at a small town Fourth of July parade. They are not meted out one at a time to the deserving; they are tossed freely and recklessly to all. Abundant graces.

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The reign of God is extravagant mercy. It will be tossed out on Samaritans and Ethiopians and Gentiles. It will be tossed out upon Roman Centurions and Synagogue elders. It will be tossed out on friend and foe alike. It will be cast like a net into the sea that hauls up a boatload of fish. Jesus will feast at the home of tax-gatherers. He will touch lepers and feed five thousand from five small bits of bread. Women of questionable reputation will burst into the house to weep at his feet.

The reign of God is extravagant mercy. The men who worked only an hour will receive a full day’s wage like all the rest. The sons who shamed their father and betrayed their family will be welcomed home. The sins of the whole world will be lifted away – the deserving and the undeserving.

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Extravagant mercy. Reckless, wanton, unmerited mercy. Mercy scattered upon the deserving and undeserving that results in a world filled to overflowing with grace and kindness and justice and joy.

And what shall we do with such a kingdom?

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If you would like to read the whole sermon, it is posted here entitled: The extravagance of the undeserved. An audio version should show up here on the church website.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AStarlight_sower_(1)_by_artist_HAI_KNAFO_2011_inspired_by_Or_Zaruaa.jpg By Carmel avivi-green (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
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A wondrous harvest

File:PikiWiki Israel 38203 Swimming in Wheat Pool.jpg

Watching for the Morning of July 16, 2017

Year A

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 10 / Lectionary 15

An unstoppable harvest. An unstoppable word. A song of praise at God’s bounty. And the wondrous declaration that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Grace abounds this Sunday. It abounds every Sunday. From the opening words of the confession and absolution to the final words, “Go in peace,” grace abounds every Sunday. But the texts this week are rich beyond measure. “There is no condemnation,” writes Paul. Through the prophet, God declares: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven” without failing to work their work of giving life to the world, “so shall my word be.” Forgiveness will work its work. God “will abundantly pardon,” and you “shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace.” The psalmist sings of God’s bounty: “the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.” “Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs.”

And then we hear the words of Jesus promise an incomprehensible harvest. The reign of God will come. Though so much seed seems to be wasted – the birds, the weeds, the rocky soil – kindnesses abused, charities neglected, healings taken for granted – yet the harvest will be a hundredfold. Even the thinnest soil will yield many times what could ever be imagined. Grace is pouring out on the world in abundance.

We need to be reminded of this in those times when all we seem to see are the weeds of riches choking the world and evil snatching away the good. When the news seems perennially despairing, when violence and lies abound, when kindness and mercy seem scarce, when anxiety seeps in like unwanted moisture through the basement walls, making the air musty and damp, we need to be reminded that God’s word does not fail. God’s kingdom comes. Mercy abounds. And wherever it is sown, it will reap a wondrous harvest.

The Prayer for July 16, 2017

Gracious God,
you lavish your grace and life upon a world
where it is often trampled underfoot,
yet where your Word takes root the harvest overflows.
Let your Word take root in our lives
and bear fruit abundantly in love for you and our neighbor;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 16, 2017

First Reading: Isaiah 55:6-13
“You shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace.” – Like the rain that waters the earth to bring forth its bounty, God’s promise of forgiveness and return to the land shall not fail to achieve its purpose.

Psalmody: Psalm 65:5, 8-13
“You visit the earth and water it.” – A hymn of praise to God who provides abundantly for the world.

Second Reading: Romans 8:1-11
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
– God creates a faithful people not through the commands of the law, but through the working of his Spirit.

Gospel: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
“Listen! A sower went out to sow.” – Jesus provides a parable declaring that it is with the reign of God as it is with a harvest: though the seed grain is gobbled up by birds and strangled amidst weeds, the fruitful harvest comes. Only this harvest is wondrous beyond imagining!

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APikiWiki_Israel_38203_Swimming_in_Wheat_Pool.jpg Aran Yardeni Pikiwiki Israel [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Perfect mercy

File:Christussäule 8.jpg

Once more about last Sunday

Luke 7:11-17

13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.”

The account just before this episode about the widow of Nain was the Centurion who showed greater faith than all in Israel, for he recognized and trusted the authority of Jesus to dispense God’s healing with a simple command. This story, where Jesus raises the son of the widow, happens without any request on her part or any show of faith. It is pure gift. Unexpected. Unearned. Unimagined. If the Centurion shows perfect faith, this shows God’s perfect compassion.

The true nature of Christianity lies here at this junction of perfect mercy and perfect faith. Where we accent the importance of faith we diminish mercy. Where we exult in God’s complete compassion we lose discipleship. Faith does not merit mercy; it is produced by God’s mercy. But mercy produces fidelity. Like the flower from the seed, like the fruit from the flower, mercy produces fidelity. And where fidelity does not flower, something is seriously wrong. Birds, maybe. Or thorns. Or footpaths and trodden seed.

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Things happen that hinder perfect mercy from bearing the fruit of perfect faith. I think of a woman I knew who loved church, hungered for church, but could not escape the shadow of a pastor who, when she was a teen, crossed boundaries that should not have been crossed. The seed was trodden underfoot. I think of families I have known who were driven to bitterness by gossip and pettiness. The seed was choked by thorns. And I think of people who were different in some way, and the congregation did not welcome them. The seed was given no place to take root.

We usually think the message of the parable of the sower and the seed is that we should be good soil. Maybe it means we shouldn’t be birds and weeds and boots.

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The injunction in the parable of the sower and the seed is not that we should be good soil. Soil is what soil is. The promise of the parable is that a great harvest comes despite all adversity, despite the church’s failings, despite the world’s allures. Though seed is plucked and stomped and strangled, there will be a harvest a hundredfold. It is a parable of perfect mercy.

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And the joy of the parable is the sower’s extravagance; he casts the seed abundantly, recklessly, daringly, wildly, confidently.

Perfect mercy.

It was this reckless, abundant mercy that made whole the life of a widow who never asked, who couldn’t have imagined the possibility of such mercy.

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She was a widow with an only begotten son. There is a story yet to come in Luke’s Gospel about an only begotten son, and a place outside the city wall, and a widowed mother left childless. That, too, is a story of perfect mercy.

And perfect faithfulness.

 

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AChristuss%C3%A4ule_8.jpg By Bischöfliche Pressestelle Hildesheim (bph) ([1]) [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons

Unimagined

Wednesday

Matthew 13

File:Vincent Willem van Gogh 024.jpg

The Sower, Vincent van Gogh

3And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow.

Parables are like jokes; they consist of a story that carries the hearer along expected pathways, then takes a sudden and surprising turn. In a joke, that turn makes us laugh as we reframe what we have heard. So the parable tells a story, and in the ‘surprise’ we are forced to reconsider what we assumed at the beginning. It prods us to see God, ourselves and the world differently – if we have ears to hear; sometimes people don’t get the joke.

So what is the surprise in this familiar parable of the sower and the seed? (Just as familiarity can kill a joke, it can kill a parable.) A sower sowing is no surprise. Neither is the fact that when you sow there is an inevitable and unavoidable loss to birds and weeds and the path. The surprise in this parable of Jesus is the extravagance of the harvest. Instead of “you still get a modest return, enough to feed your family,” you get a harvest far beyond anything you could imagine. A 100, 60, even 30-fold harvest is nothing less than miraculous. Such a harvest is incomprehensible.

So Jesus is out here, healing a few who are sick and preaching to villages in the backwater of the world. And his word is mocked by some, ignored or corrupted by others, and hated by still others. From such meager sowing one might expect a few followers, but the fruit of this word is beyond all comprehension. The world is forever changed. We are forever changed.

We tend to hear a moral imperative in this story: be good soil. Don’t let the evil one snatch away the word from you. Don’t let it get choked by weeds. But the message is in the surprise: despite all the obstacles, the word that is sown will reap a harvest beyond all imagining. The parable is not about us; it is about the power of God’s message.

We lose faith in the power of grace sometimes. We lose faith in compassion, in forgiveness, in charity, in kindness. We lose faith in the gospel. Against the might of Rome, against the ‘hosts of wickedness in heavenly places’ (RSV), how can a message of love and forgiveness prevail?

“A hundredfold” says Jesus. “A hundredfold.”

Abundant mercy

Watching for the morning of July 13

Year A

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 10 / Lectionary 15

File:Brooklyn Museum - The Sower (Le semeur) - James Tissot - overall.jpg

James Tissot, The Sower

The texts this Sunday overflow with rich and abundant mercy. That a nation should so betray its heritage as to come to absolute ruin, its temple and palace and holy city reduced to rubble and plundered of all that was precious, its people scattered to the winds or carried off into exile – that such a nation could find mercy in the wilderness is beyond comprehension. But “my ways are not like your ways,” says the LORD – God forgives. Through the prophet, God proclaims that his word of grace is unstoppable: like rain bringing forth a harvest, it will achieve its purpose of bringing his people home.

The psalmist, too, speaks of water, of the rich abundance of water that God provides to an arid land, and the bounty of joy that flows from hills alive in fresh green. It is, in its own way, a resurrection.

The reading from Paul begins with that sweet line, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The grace of God has done what the law could not do, create a holy people, a people alive with God’s Holy Spirit.

And so we come to that fabulous parable of the sower scattering the seed freely and widely, recklessly, lavishly. Despite all that might fall among the birds and the weeds and the stony ground, there is an abundant harvest. God lavishes mercy on the world – and it comes back thirty, sixty and a hundredfold.

The Prayer for July 13, 2014

Gracious God,
you lavish your grace and life upon a world
where it is often trampled underfoot
yet, where your Word takes root, the harvest overflows.
Let your Word take root in our lives,
and bear fruit abundantly in love for you and our neighbor;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 13, 2014

First Reading: Isaiah 55:6-13
“You shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace.” – Like the rain that waters the earth to bring forth its bounty, God’s promise of forgiveness and return to the land shall not fail to achieve its purpose.

Psalmody: Psalm 65:5, 8-13
“You visit the earth and water it.” – A hymn of praise to God who provides abundantly for the world.

Second Reading: Romans 8:1-11
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
– God creates a faithful people not through the commands of the law, but through the working of his Spirit.

Gospel: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
“Listen! A sower went out to sow.” – Jesus provides a parable of the kingdom about a surprising harvest though the seed grain is gobbled up by birds and strangled amidst weeds.