Isaiah 55:1013; Psalm 65 (18), 9-14; Matthew 13:19, 1823
In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit: The One God. Amen.
I know during the announcements that our Vicar, Steve Huber, is going to introduce the 103rd Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey and his wife, Lady Carey who are worshipping with us today before they fly home to England tonight. However, I asked Steve if I might say a couple of words about the Careys before I begin to preach and he gave me his permission to do so.
For eight of the ten years that I was Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, I had the unique privilege to work with and serve George Carey. Those eight years were magnificent as the Archbishop strived tirelessly for the mission and the unity of our global family, the Anglican Communion. The Archbishop’s commitment to interfaith work today is legendary as he works to bring our Abrahamic faiths together. At George’s side and working equally as hard for our global family is Eileen, a great and dedicated leader in her own right.
We are blessed by your presence today, and we give thanks for your ministry and love.
* * *
I am getting older. I know that. And it is perhaps because of old age that I am thinking a great deal about the sower in today’s Gospel and how we personally know God. When I was younger, I do not think that I thought as much about the nature of God and the seeds we sow, but today that is not the case.
But, maybe instead of old age, it is because of the interfaith work with the Abrahamic family that I am engaged in here at the National Cathedral and globally that I am thinking more about the seeds we sow. In those Abrahamic family discussions one comes to appreciate the diversity of belief that makes us unique, but also, all that brings us together. One also becomes aware of what we as individuals sow, and also what nations sow in the name of God, and how that impacts the world. Each of us in the Abrahamic family, be we Jewish, Muslim or Christian, all come from our spiritual father Abraham. We all believe in one God, be God’s name Yahweh (whose name is too sacred for a Jew to even pronounce) or Allah, the name by which God is known to the Muslim. Certainly for the Jew or Muslim as well as for the Christian, the name of God and how God reveals God’s nature is central to all three of these great religious traditions.
Today’s Gospel is a window for us, as Christians, into our understanding of God’s nature. And Jesus opens up this understanding when he tells parables. I would like to suggest that Jesus’ telling of parables gives us a glimpse into the very nature of God as God is revealed to us in Jesus.
This last week my wife, Kirsten, and I enjoyed a wonderful National Geographic Expedition in the wilderness of the Inside Passage of Alaska. We signed up for that particular expedition because we knew that part of Alaska is absolutely beautiful and because both of us like to explore glaciers. We certainly saw lots of glaciers, forests, birds, whales, seals, and bears, but I also learned something I never knew before: that the Inside Passage was formed from a glacier that receded only some 200 years ago. I was surprised to learn that the Inside Passage, that magnificently beautiful area in Alaska, was still being formed when in 1776 our country’s Declaration of Independence was being signed.
While we were in Glacier Bay National Park we took a walk for a couple of hours on a nature trail. During that walk the one thing that surprised me the most were the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of fallen trees. Trees that had not been cut down, but trees that had been blown down by the wind. I came to find out, the glacier that receded only 200 years ago, left no top soil and hence the beautiful forests growing today in the Inside Passage are basically growing out of the moss; out of the crevices where some dirt has landed, and literally out of the fallen trees. Other than the sheer beauty of the Passage, my lasting memory of Glacier Bay National Park is going to be the fallen trees because the trees have no top soil to hold their root systems firmly implanted in the soil.
Let’s put today’s Gospel in geographical perspective. I suspect one of the most frequent questions I am asked on any pilgrimage to the Holy Land is how did Jesus speak to 4,000–5,000 people at one time? After all, Jesus did not have a microphone on a bus so he could address 50 people, much less 5,000!
Along the coast of the Sea of Galilee there are several inlets or bays that provide the same acoustics as did an ancient Roman amphitheatre. The Gospel for today starts out with Jesus sitting on the shore of the Galilee, near his home (most likely Capernaum). Soon such a large crowd had gathered around Jesus that it would have been impossible for his voice to be heard by the group of people who had come.
So Jesus used the natural amphitheatre that the Sea of Galilee provided. All Jesus would have had to do was to have gotten in a boat—or waded—into the middle of the inlet and turned towards the shore and started to speak in a natural voice—he would not have had to shout. Everyone could have heard Jesus tell his parable. Today, people on pilgrimages can hear Holy Land tourist guides read the same parables from the same inlets and the voice travels as clearly today as it did some 2000 years ago.
From the middle of the inlet, Jesus told this story. “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had not root, they withered away.”
As one hears these words today, one can easily think that the sower in Jesus’ parable is giving us a lesson in basic agriculture in a land where a farmer scatters his seeds before plowing his field. What farmer would ever waste two thirds of the seed like that? Of course no farmer is going to be so foolish as to sow seed on a path or on rocky ground because that would be wasting one’s seeds. That is pretty basic agriculture particularly in the rugged hill country of ancient Palestine. But the story here is to help explain the unexplainable: it helps us to have a better understanding of how we are called upon to plant our seeds.
At the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethesame in Jerusalem there are several old olive trees. None of the olive trees in that garden are 2000 years old, as some guides would like to tell you; but they are old and some botanists will date the trees between 1500–1600 years old. But the botanist will also tell you that each one of those trees were grafted onto older roots, roots of trees that have stood there long before Jesus prayed in that garden. As we pray in that Garden, I like to reflect on what it means to be grafted today on to those ancient roots, into the Body of Christ? Are our roots deep enough to survive the winds in Glacier Bay National Park, or are we going to be one of the hundreds of trees that will fall?
I believe that is the challenge that Jesus is putting before us today. The deeper our roots are in Jesus, the better chance we have to withstand the winds. And the issue really comes down to the seeds that we sow and where we plant our seeds. The seeds that Jesus gives us today to plant are the seeds to respond to the needs and challenges of the world in which we live.
The challenge Jesus gives to us today is not the political platform of the Republican or Democratic Party. The challenges are gospel issues, might I be so bold as to say, the challenges are God’s issues, of poverty, gender and sexual equality, war and peace, love of neighbor, care of the elderly, health care. God’s issue is that every single person is truly created in the image of God and each person should be given the opportunity to live in dignity. When a person reflects God’s image, the seeds are indeed being planted in a soil where the seeds will flourish and grow.
At the outset of this sermon, I put the sower in the context of interfaith relations. I would like to end this sermon by giving an example of what can happen if seeds are planted and are nurtured with self respect and love.
One of our partners and good friends in the Cathedral’s interfaith work is Imam Ahmed Bahraini, the Shi’ia leader of the Islamic Mosque and Education Center in Potomac. This last April I attended the opening of the Ibn Sina Clinic at the Islamic Educational Center. That clinic has been established to serve the needs of the people in the Washington, D.C. community who have no health insurance or who have difficulty obtaining health care due to language or cultural barriers. At Ibn Sina local doctors donate their time, on a rotating basis, to care predominately for indigent patients who would otherwise be left completely out of the healthcare system. There is no question in my mind that Jesus is smiling on this mosque as the clinic serves Jews, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Hindus. The Ibn Sina Clinic is a perfect example of the sower sowing seeds on fertile ground so the seeds will take root and grow. This Iranian Imam had a vision of what God was calling him to do to reach out to all of God’s people. In the opening ceremony of the Clinic, all present—Muslims, Jews and Christians— bore witness to the command that all three Abrahamic faiths are called upon to care for the needs of the orphan and the widow.
The Gospel for today is indeed a window into an understanding of God’s nature and what God expects from us. Listen to the story of the sower. Jesus does not give us the answer, instead Jesus challenges us with these words, “Let anyone with ears, listen.” Today, in this 2008 world, what are we sowing? Are we living in God’s perfect image? What are we as Christians doing as a member of the Abrahamic faith community to break down barriers of hatred and misunderstandings? Are the seeds that we are planting “good seeds” or as Matthew calls them, “weeds”?
“Let anyone with ears, listen!”
In the Name of God. Amen.