Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Sunday, December 08, 2013
Mike Turgeon “Discipleship by the Sea: Listen” January 30, 2011
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!’ Mark 4:1-9
Today’s teaching by Jesus uses another embedded image from that time and culture--the rhythms and rituals of agriculture--how things grow, or don’t grow in the ground.
Let me say right off, I am currently, and have been for a long time, a casual gardner. I wasn’t always this way about the art of growing things. Used to be that I avidly pursued gardening when I was a single man. Back then, I would get home from work and spend hours tilling the soil and planting seeds and pulling weeds and watering and keeping a close eye on things. I did learn, intimately, the disappointment when seed falls on hard pan, on rock, and gets choked by weeds.
I became a less avid gardner when my wife, Chris, came along. She’d been much more committed to this art, so I became more casual about it. However, I do still like the dirt.
There is something about digging in the dirt that must satisfy the soul, I guess. And dirt represents possibility. My favorite part of the gardening cycle is always just after the dirt has been turned over and fluffed up, ready to accept seeds, or ready to push forth last year’s seeds still dormant in the soil. What comes up out of that dirt can be a suprise or a mystery, a disappointment or a delight.
Not unlike the Gospel lesson this morning. In this morning’s parable Jesus says his piece about the seeds the sower throws out there. A parable is kind of like an allegory--you’re talking about one thing but you mean something else. It’s an indirect way to teach hard lessons, kind of like the song says: “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.”
Jesus didn’t explain his parables, he just taught them. Except for this one; he explains it. Following our text, we hear in verse 14: The sower sows the word.”
This parable speaks of the ability of God’s word to find fertile ground in which to grow. It is a commentary on the complexity of faith, because God’s word does not always bloom where it lands, does it?
The Gospel of Mark is the first place we start to hear Jesus speak about the Kingdom of God on earth. His message was, you don’t have to die to start living in the kingdom. In fact, you have to be alive to do so. Because when we become good soil, then we reveal heaven on earth.
What people do with God’s word is, indeed, surprising and mysterious, delightful and disappointing, just like plants that volunteer out of the soil. Some hear God’s word and don’t understand; some are moving so fast, God’s word doesn’t have a chance to sink in; some blow off God’s word completely; and some let it change them. You see, just like freshly turned dirt, it’s possible for just about anything to grow within the human heart.
Dirt metaphors stick with me, perhaps too much. As I said, I like dirt. A few years ago, I decided to take a further step into the world of dirt by getting into vermiculture--the cultivation of worms for the purpose of making and improving soil.
Wikipedia says this about vermiculture: “A healthy vermi-composting system can turn kitchen waste into high quality soil. Red worms eat rotting vegetables and their castings (or worm poop) become a special kind of dirt called compost that can fertilize and also act as a growing medium for plants. A healthy vermi-compost system will host insects, mold and bacteria; but the lowly worm is the major catalyst for the composting process. Worm compost is very different from compost you make in a pile that uses bacteria and heat to break down food scraps. Worm compost has different nutrients. It improves the physical structure of the soil. Worm compost adds growth hormones such as auxins, gibberillic acid, enzymes, phosphates and cellulase.”
Now, maybe this is more information than you wanted or needed to know on a Sunday morning. In fact, I’m sure it is.
If Jesus says seed falling on good soil means hearing and understanding God’s word and if that yields abundant fruit, shouldn’t that be good enough?
Yeah, it should.
But let me offer a different parable, a worm-based one, if you will--taking what once was rotten, and changing it into something that supports life. The only thing I’ve found that takes life’s garbage and makes it useful for growth is...forgiveness.
Could it just be that, like compost worms, forgiveness, and the willingnes to forgive, is the catalyst that creates the conditions to make us good soil? Is anyone willing to go there with me?
It’s important to be clear about who to forgive and how to forgive. My sense is that we’ve allowed our forgiveness muscles to go flabby and weak. In each of our lives we have someone we must forgive if we wish to be fertile soil for God’s word.
If we all had a super power that let us look into each other’s lives for a day, I mean really get to the bottom of things, would we find a lot of forgiveness?
I believe the phrase I hear probably more than any other in the course of my work is this: “...”I feel so guilty when _______...” (fill in the blank)
When I listen more deeply, though, I don’t hear guilt. Guilt is a good thing. Guilt is like the hot stove burner of life. Guilt warns you to re-think your actions. If you are having an extra-marital affair, those conflicted feelings inside you are guilt, telling you to get honest with yourself and your spouse.
If you are engaged in domestic abuse, physical or emotional, guilt will try to stop you. If you are just not a pleasant person to be around, guilt is what sends you signals to grow up. What we do with guilt signals is another matter altogether, but guilt is a good thing.
No, what I hear underneath the phrase when people say “I feel so guilty” is “I feel so ashamed.” “I feel so worthless.” “I don’t deserve anything good in my life.” Or, “I deserve to have people dump on me.” Hello! Where’d we get those messages? Everywhere, right? The world has a great stake in making you feel ‘less than.’
And unfortunately, a lot of those messages came from the church, and they worked to keep you in line as little kids. On the one hand, we learn about Jesus as the great forgiver, yet we get bombarded with messages that we are beyond forgiveness. Doesn’t matter if a savior is there to rescue me, if I feel I am unforgivable, I will not reach out to receive salvation.
Put all the pretty words aside about being saved, because self-destruction and self-violence speak louder than any flowery words. Here’s the lesson of my parable. The worm of forgiveness will eat your garbage, but not if you won’t let go of it.
Part of the reason I rejected religion early in my life was that the church seemed to be making things worse for me, not better. The message I got was so top-heavy on shame and how corrupt I was that I never did hear the part about redemption. I just lived in fear.
Am I the only one this happened to? I didn’t think so.
Many churches and church people would still have you believe that you are a rotten piece of garbage. In fact, orthodox teaching on this matter goes all the way back to St. Augustine in the fourth century who presented us with Original Sin, which says that humanity is depraved and sinful by nature, and thus it needs salvation.
I don’t buy that. As a pastor who baptizes infants, I don’t look into the eyes of those precious beings and see depravity and sin, I see goodness and blessing.
St. Augustine spent the first 40 years of his life drinking and womanizing, then the next 35 years trying to make amends. He would have you believe that the sin of disobedience of Adam and Eve is passed on down the generations through the sexual act because the womb of woman was contaminated. I kid you not. Now, that is not only bad theology, it is faulty biology. But St. Augustine was the most powerful Bishop there was at the time, and so that is what got passed forward.
Well, I’m going with Jesus.
I’m going with the one who holds your hand until you can find the courage to forgive yourself. That is how Jesus saves. He waits until you’ve had enough of beating yourself up, and then he takes you in when you’re ready to let him lead your life.
I did venture back into church. I was invited by someone. Yes, it was a girl. It’s always about a girl. After many years of darkness, I found church people who were willing to hear my story. They listened to me rant and rave about how Jesus would have been pretty angry about things being perpetrated in his name.
They helped me read the Gospel stories through the eyes of prostitutes and tax-collectors, untouchables, foreigners and thieves, and the poverty stricken. They helped me understand just whose side Jesus was on.
I finally got back to Jesus. The Jesus who taught that good soil was fruitful. The Jesus who mucked around in the garbage of life, offering the worm of forgiveness.
So, what are you waiting for? Have you not done enough damage to your life, your relationships, by withholding forgiveness.
But remember, it’s not about you after all, not really. And if it is about you, then you’ve misread Jesus.
That fruit that Jesus talks about, the thirty, the sixty, the hundred-fold fruit, that fruit only multiplies according to your ability to forgive others. And if you don’t forgive yourself first, the forgiveness you extend to others won’t be life-supporting, won’t encourage growth.
Did you ever notice that in the entire Lord’s Prayer, “as we forgive those who trespass against us,” is the only place where we are asked to do something? Throughout that prayer, we are asking for stuff. We ask for this day, for our daily bread, forgiveness for ourselves, for protection, for deliverance?
It’s all rather self-centered except that one thing, that forgiving others thing.
Jesus came to show us 70 times 7 forgiveness, love your enemies forgiveness, forgive them for they know not what they do forgiveness, are you feeling that?
The life-changing worm of radical forgiveness says you don’t have to like your neighbor in order to love him. In fact, liking him may get in the way of forgiving him. It works the same on you, too. Even if you hate yourself, you can still forgive yourself.
Radical forgiveness is not a warm and fuzzy emotion, it is a supreme act of will. And when we finally learn it, then it can become an attitude, then maybe, just maybe, forgiveness may become a practice, and not just a one-time nicety.
How can we ever forgive a terrorist? Start by forgiving the one inside you, the one that is eating away at your life force. That is how you learn forgiveness, that is how you teach it.
Radical forgiveness, as a way of life, as a means of becoming fertile soil, is not about what is owed or what is due, it is about what is possible.