Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Year C 2 Epiphany WED 2019 Called to Faith

Year C, 2nd Epiphany WEDNESDAY, 23 January 2019 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 
“Called to Faith” 

Collect: Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen. 

Mark 4: 1-20 
Again he began to teach beside the lake. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the lake and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the lake on the land. He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.’ And he said, ‘Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’ When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that  “they may indeed look, but not perceive,  and may indeed listen, but not understand;  
so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.” ’ 
And he said to them, ‘Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.’ 

This parable used to make me feel guilty. I wanted my work to be of use; I wanted it to be important and to make an impact. I would hear this parable and cringe, because I used to think that I was responsible for what happened. 

We live in a world where we are held in account for what we do. Speed, you get pulled over. Ace a test, you get celebrated and maybe even rewarded. We live in a tit-for-tat world. And even in this parable, we judge the places where the seed is sown and and appreciate seeing when bad things happen to the bad soil. Justice, we think. We are told not to be hardened like the path. We are told not to be rocky ground. We are told not to be a thorny patch. We are told to be good soil, where we will bear much fruit. I used to worry a lot about being good soil. I used to think that by my being good, God would give me much fruit, much to show for my efforts. 
I was wrong. 

You see, the problem was I too often thought that I was the sower, and it was my responsibility to sow the seed and to make sure it was good soil where fruit would be manifest and manifold.  

Other times, I thought that was the good soil and that it was my responsibility to bear much fruit, and I would work hard at it.  

This whole approach and understanding worked well as long as it was working. And/or bearing fruit. This reading of this parable worked well, until I failed. I failed in mythic proportions. I failed so badly I was a cautionary tale. I was doing church planting, and the failure rate is high. They skim over that part in the training manuals. 

Now it was not for lack of effort that I failed. And it was not for lack of desire. It was not for lack of preparation. There were many reasons why I failed, but not a single one we could point a finger at and lay blame. We just failed, and the as the planter, the buck stopped with me. I failed. 
And that is when I learned a valuable lesson. God calls us to be faithful. Paul in Romans [4:3] (and Galatians [3:6], by the way) quotes Genesis [15:6] that, “Abraham was faithful and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”  Salvation comes from Grace through faith, not by anything we do or do not do. In our world, especially in this country where our mythos is that of a self-made person, we cling to the idea that we are to be successful. “If we are the good soil, then we are faithful, and we will automatically be successful and God will bring is thirty, sixty, a hundredfold.” Yeah us! 
But faith does not work that way. Life does not work that way. God does not work that way. I am soil. I should try to be open and respond to the best of my ability. That’s it. Birds are not my responsibility. Thorns are not my responsibility.  Rocks are not my responsibility. Being the best soil I can be is about all I can do. And even that is hard most days. I think our job is to do the best we can, and let God do what God does. And somewhere in there, something magic happens. Seeds grow. They bear fruit. And some don’t. 
In the economy of God, though, nothing is wasted. Somewhere, most likely in ways we will never see, even our failures are part of a divine ecology. What is crap to us can become fertilizer in the Kingdom of God. Our perspective is too narrow and short. 

This weekend, I bumped into one of the people I had met and worked with during my noble failure. Noble is my perspective. He had lost faith in the church, and even at one point told me because of what I had taught him he had lost his faith. No preacher ever felt guiltier than I did at that moment. But when I bumped into him on Saturday, he introduced me to his girlfriend. He had finished his Religious Studies major at VCU, and had just taken her around Israel showing her archeological sites, and how important they were. He asked if we could get coffee, and if his girlfriend could join us. He said to her, with me standing there, that I was really good at answering questions and helping explain things so they make sense. I thought back to the time I heard him say because of me he had lost his faith. Maybe some seeds take longer to sprout. Sometimes it takes us playing the long game, not writing anybody off including yourself, and being faithful even when it is dark and scary. We are called to be faithful, not successful. Grace, even when we get in the way, will find a way. Amen 

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Blessings, Rock