The Holy Gospel: Matthew 13:1-9,18-23
Sermon, Preached at Good Samaritan Episcopal Church
Sunday July 16, 2017
In 2013, I was a seminary intern at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Indianapolis. Not that it was that long ago, but looking back I see a much younger, quiet, somewhat intimidated and pretty skeptical version of myself. I’ll admit, I was pretty anxious about my calling to ordained ministry at this time in my life.
I wasn’t sure what the calling would mean for me, I had grown up in the church as a priest’s kid and I had a lot of ideas about what I didn’t want my career as a priest to look like, but little idea about what it could look like for me.
And while I was at Christ Church, I met a priest by the name of The Rev. Gray Lesesne. Gray and I didn’t really work together that much during my internship, but one day we got together for lunch in order to get to know each other better, and it remains one of the most memorable lunches of my life in ministry.
(I asked Gray this morning if he remembers this lunch and he said he didn’t… I’m going to jog his memory…)
Gray and I sat down (At Bluebeard in Fountain Square?), we ordered our food and immediately Gray started asking me questions rapid fire, like he does: “So, how much longer are you in seminary? When do you think you’ll be able to get ordained? What kind of ministry do you want to do? What kind of ministry do you feel called to?”
I’ll admit, Gray, these questions overwhelmed me. I didn’t have a quick answer for them, especially for those last two questions. I was just trying to come to terms with having a calling, I hadn’t yet thought about what it would look like once I was ordained.
So, my response to Gray was, “Well, I don’t know…. I guess I want to do what my community needs me to do. I don’t have a specific focus, other than serving my community.”
Gray was quiet for a minute, then he said: “You should be a church planter.”
This comment totally threw me off and, in all honesty, completely annoyed me. My mind was racing and I was immediately defensive: What?! Don’t tell me what to do. Who does this guy think he is telling me to do something so risky and unpredictable? He doesn’t know me.
Instead of saying all that out loud, I just said flatly, “No way.”
“Why not?” he asked surprised.
“Because church planting is for crazy people.” I said sarcastically.
“What do you mean?” He demanded.
“I mean, there’s no security, no certainty and I need to make money; I want to have kids.” I said defensively, then I went on, “I mean, what if I started something I couldn’t maintain? What if I had all this momentum but couldn’t keep it going? Where would I even begin? That’s so scary to me. I’m too much of a control freak, I couldn’t do it.”
Gray didn’t say anything, just sat there smiling and eating. So then I said, “Why don’t you be a church planter?”
“No.” He said, “I’m too old.”
I don’t remember the rest of our conversation after that. Only that one part of the conversation where Gray annoyed me by telling me I should be a church planter.
Flash forward about fours years later, however…. and here we are. At Good Samaritan, one of the few Episcopal Church Plants in the country.
My past self is looking at me now like I’ve gone and lost my mind. Gray, I’m not sure how you’re feeling. But here we are.
You see, Gray annoyed me at lunch that day because his comment “You should be a church planter,” was a total affront to my personal desire to have clarity and control.
I was thinking at the time, “God’s already asked me to follow this crazy calling and it scares me. Don’t you dare tell me to do something else crazy. Something even riskier than what I’m already doing, like be a church planter.”
I can’t help but think about this story when I hear our Gospel lesson this morning.
The Gospel lesson today is one of Jesus’ more straightforward parables. In this section of Matthew Jesus is responding to the criticism of his work and ministry. He’s trying to paint a picture for those who will listen and he uses the image of a farmer, sowing seeds.
Some of the seeds fall out of the farmer’s pocket accidentally and the birds come and snatch them up. Some of the seeds scatter among rocks and cannot grow deep roots. Some seeds fall among thorny plants and cannot thrive for being choked out by these aggressive plants. And some seeds fall into a rich and nutrient-filled soil; here they take root and flourish.
One of the reasons this parable is one of Jesus’ most straightforward is because he gives an explanation of the parable. Something we probably wish Jesus did more of. Jesus, in his explanation of the parable, compares the people, the listeners, us, to the soil or ground on which the seed has fallen.
Inside this metaphor Jesus is basically asking: “What kind of faith do you have? Is your faith fleeting? Does your faith have depth? Are you surrounded by life-giving circumstances for your faith to grow, or are you being choked out? Does your faith have the nutrients and sustenance it needs to make deep roots and grow into fruit bearing plants?”
Jesus is getting straightforward at this point in Matthew’s gospel because people aren’t getting it and Jesus is frustrated and a little grumpy.
“What will it take” Jesus wonders, “for these people to sow their faith, plant their faith, in something deeper than laws, rules and well-established structures? How can I show them that their faith is greater when planted among the Truths of God, sown in the nutrient-rich soil of Justice, Love and Mercy?”
The pharisees and elite of the time thought everything Jesus had to say was insane and that anyone who followed Jesus was crazy for doing so:
“He wants you to build your faith on God’s Justice, Love and Mercy?” They ask incredulously, “That means anyone could be loved. That means even the outsiders, the marginalized, those who don’t follow the rules, deserve justice and mercy. How can we have the structure, system and control we have when everyone is loved by God?”
We crave clarity as humans. We crave certainty, and having firm guidelines in this crazy life provides a kind of comfort and solace. Planting our faith in rules and building our faith on a well-established structure is appealing and provides the illusion of control and power.
Building our faith on the intangible concepts of God’s unconditional love? On God’s Justice, Love and Mercy? Well, that’s hard work isn’t it? Because there’s nothing firm to stand on, nothing solid to hold on to, no way of knowing exactly what to do in moments of crisis, difficult decision, and transition.
How can we build anything on something as soft as this? How will we know where we are going and what will happen next?
Putting our faith into the Word of God, into the Truths of Justice, Love and Mercy, rather than laws…well that means we have to let go of control and have faith in something bigger than ourselves, and that’s a scary thing.
And, here we all are at Good Samaritan Episcopal Church. If you don’t yet know it, we are members of a Christian community lovingly and appropriately referred to as a “Church Plant.” There aren’t many church plants, at least not many Episcopal ones. But we are one of a few in this country, who are walking this precarious farming venture faith walk with Jesus.
If you know anything about farming you know much depends on elements that are beyond your control. Farmers build their plant beds with their best soil, plant their seeds and wait for the weather to do its thing. But there’s no way of knowing how much or how little rain we will get, no way to know how much or how little sun will shine.
Church planting, like farming, is a scary, unpredictable, and precarious venture. Yet here we are. And how did we all get here?
Well, turns out the “too old” Rev. Gray Lesesne decided to plant a church. He decided to take a leap of faith, walk that crazy walk with Jesus, and sow some seeds out here in Brownsburg, Indiana. And the plants that came from this work quickly and surprisingly put down healthy roots in the soft soil of God’s love.
These plants that took root and grew are lavish, abundant and fruit-bearing. At first there were 30, then there were 60, then there were 80 now there’s somewhere around 120!
Yes, I’m talking about all of us here in this room. We are the seeds, sown and resting in the soil of God’s Justice, Love and Mercy at Good Samaritan. And we’re bearing fruit and multiplying. Yielding more fruit than we even know what to do with at times. (And it’s freaking Gray out).
Now, you can decide what kind of plant you are, a fruit tree, a tomato, a squash, a basil, for the sake of the metaphor. But what I want us to realize is that not only are we the plants that have taken root in this community that we call Good Samaritan, I want us to realize we are also now sowers.
The way plants self pollinate and throw their seed in a circle around themselves in order to propagate more plants, we are sowers, we are farmers. We, like Gray, are walking this crazy faith walk with Jesus.
And we are at a crucial time in our farming career. We are big enough to grow and keep growing. We have resources to give back to the community. We have the capacity to show and leave a lasting impact on this community with the Jesus we know and love and follow.
How do we continue to grow? Not necessarily in number, but in depth of faith, individually and as a community? How can we share the nourishment we have found in this place with others? How can we show and share with this community the harvest we have gathered from the soil of God’s unconditional love? And, importantly, how do we sustain this abundance we have… not just for today but for generations to come?
These are the questions we are going to begin asking of ourselves in the coming months. At our retreat next week we are going to assess who we are individually and as a community and we are also going to take a look at how we can continue to deepen our faith, our outreach and impact in this community as followers of Jesus. And we are going to bring that conversation back here and start working on these questions with each other as we enter the fall.
What an exciting season we are in!
And who knew we’d be in this place? Who knew that in just a year of following Jesus and sharing and showing God’s unconditional love we’d be where we are today? Who knew that if we let go of control and leaned on a faith that has its roots in God’s truth, we’d be where we are now?
I always thought church planting was for crazy people… but that’s because it scared me. It scared me to think of going out into a vast field to farm the land, sowing seeds, without knowing when the rains might come or when the sun would shine in order for the plants to grow. But guess what else is for crazy people? Following Jesus.
And what’s our motto at Good Samaritan: “We are followers of Jesus, with open minds and hearts to serve.” Which means, we are sowers for Jesus with Jesus, sowing the seeds of God’s love, with open arms and hearts. There’s nothing clear-cut or black and white about this faith walk we are on; and we are all the better for it.
We are practicing at Good Samaritan what Jesus is calling us to practice in this parable from today’s Gospel: to rely on God and God’s Justice, Love and Mercy alone. Not on ourselves, our own ideas, rules, structure; not on our own power, but on God.
We are being called to lean on God and to sow seeds in this community that yield the fruits of Justice, Love and Mercy. We are being called to share that fruit with others. We’ve taken the leap of faith with “Old-Man Gray” here and are leaning and relying on God, with great courage.
And now we enter a season for us to dig deeper in this place; to dig deeper into our faith and walk further with Jesus in this community.
Now is the time for us to grow a little bigger, spread our seeds a little farther and push our roots down deeper into the soil of God’s unconditional love, a faith that guides us and sustains us into the future.
May we always have ears to hear God’s word, even if it annoys us, even if it scares us. Because we are living proof, in this community, that if we can hear God’s word, follow the call and take that leap of faith, that God will always provide. And not simply, but lavishly and in ways that will always joyfully surprise us and fill us to the brim with an abundant harvest.