A sermon for Proper 10, the 5th after Pentecost
Genesis 25:19-34, Psalm 119:105-112, Romans 8:1-11, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Every now and again you’ve got to wonder why God bothers; you might even wonder about divine choices. I mean look at Abraham: yes, he follows God’s call to leave Ur, then he and Sarah lie about their relationship out of fear; twice! Sarah guffaws when God promises them an heir, later Abraham agrees with Sarah to use a surrogate to produce an heir, it doesn’t seem as if God is any hurry and time is running out; then throws his oldest son and his mother out of his camp twice! is there a pattern here? When he and Sarah finally have a son he agrees to sacrifice him, and no I haven’t forgotten what I said a couple of week ago. We almost never hear of Abraham’s sons by Keturah, who he marries after Sarah dies and Isaac marries Rebekah. (Bible Hub) Last week we heard of Isaac’s marriage to Rebekah. Today we hear about Isaac and Rebekah efforts to continue to promise of the covenant.
She is also barren; Isaac prays for her, she conceives, and while God’s timing is better it is a difficult pregnancy. She is unsure of it, perhaps afraid of it – the mortality of pregnancy in ancient days is very high – but then God reveals to her she is carrying twins, both of whom will be fathers of great nations. She gives birth, to healthy and in no way identical twin boys. The very next story is of Esau selling his birth right to Jacob for a bowl of lentil soup! a bowl of soup! Is this any way to build up a people beyond counting? Why does God stick with a family of such miserable failures?
Centuries upon centuries later Jesus gives us a clue. I’ve told you before about the photograph of Happy, taken by a photographer tied to the front of the crop duster, the grizzled faced pilot, the swirls of whatever it is trailing behind, and the snap line straight rows of the orchard below. Imagine for a moment the orchard is one of the industrial complexes by the river and then downtown Blytheville, and then the Sports complex, and then the golf course, and finally a freshly plowed field. Imagine for a moment the swirling clouds are cotton seeds. You’d think the farmer has lost his ever lovin mind! We are use to geo-satellite positioned tractors using detailed digital maps with specific soil conditions planting seed at varying depth applying fertilizer spraying insecticides to assure maximum crop yield. This is the modern way of doing things; we use all the resources we have to produce the highest possible yield, or return on investment in the shortest possible time.
Note the title of this parable, it comes from Jesus’ first words a sower went out to sow. We’ve heard all sorts of analogies about soil. But soil cannot change what it is. (Pankey) We’ve heard how we are sowers and are to choose soil carefully. But I’m not sure that’s what Jesus is on about. My colleague Stave Pankey blogged this week:
… Parable of the Sower is about the prodigality of God. … God spreads his love with reckless abandon in hearts that are at once all four different types of soil. Nowhere is this more evident than in the lives of the disciples, who, as Elisabeth Johnson points out, Jesus invests in over and over and over again despite their hard hearts, stiff necks, and dim minds. He continues to work at them, helping them to understand just what God is up to. He scatters the seed of the Gospel with reckless abandon, and even when it is clear that they just don’t get it, when they turn him over to the authorities, abandon him in his hour of need, and deny even knowing him; he continues to pour out his love on them, inviting them to back into the fold after his resurrection.
God is downright foolish with his love for us, scattering seed indiscriminately and tending to soil that should have been abandoned long ago. … (Pankey)
Hold on to the ideal of God abundantly, wildly, widely sowing Grace for just a bit, and let’s revisit Esau, Jacob and the lentil stew.
Amy Willis writes
American Christians have been taught to correlate piety with traditional personal virtues like selflessness and guilelessness. Moreover, we tend to view our personal successes as rewards for our piety and virtues. (Willis)
She believes many bible stories challenge our world view of fairness, hard work, self-reliance and so on.
Willis also notes Esau is not starving to death, he does have a modern like preference for short term or immediate satisfaction. He is hungry ~ famished, that is all that matters. A birthright isn’t going to satisfy his hunger, lentil soup will. Willis continues with the observation that Jacob not only realizes the value of birthright, he is willing to look at the long term, and as we will see in the weeks to come, it will be many years, decades, before he brings to culmination the investment he made in this morning’s story. (Willis)
We do live in a culture with a very short vision, we always expect immediate results. We tend to read scripture through the same lens which may cause us to miss some of what scripture is trying to reveal. God doesn’t seem to have the same sense of timing. We know how that effects Abraham and Sarah’s decisions. We also know Abraham never sees the fullness of the covenant promise. Yes, he sees Isaac, but never the uncountable people, and never how they are a blessing to all the nations of the earth. Indeed that portion of the covenant may not have come to fruition yet.
And think about the New Testament promise of the future, Jesus returning in Glory. How long has it been? 2000 years; well almost. People of the Gospel era, expected Jesus’ immediate return. That’s why Paul did not favor marriage. And if you read his 7 letters in chronological order, (which are Paul’s and which are someone else’s is a subject for a Sunday school class) we see him realizing Jesus not returning when he thought, and struggle with the implications, and change his positions.
It has been nearly two thousand years. I don’t know about you but I’ve wondered when Jesus will return; I’ve wondered how Jesus will return, or is returning.
Today’s story of Jacob and Esau understood through the lens of the parable of the sower, helps us to refocus our vision scripture is not all about glory, it is, and from the beginning has been all about grace. Abundant grace wildly and widely sown in inconceivable distribution:
not to the 1%
or the 10%
or the 25%
or the 50%
or the 75%
grace is wildly sowed over everyone, everywhere. It’s sown over you, all of us.
So, can we see it and allow it to transform our lives? Can we share this most improbable story with others? those who are nothing like us? so as John says: They may come to believe …and through believing have life …