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Pentecost 6 July 16 2017 - The Rev. Janet Campbell
PENTECOST 8  Proper 10 Year A
Isaiah 55:1-5, 10-13; Psalm 65:9-14; Romans 8:9-17; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, July 16, 2017
The Rev. Janet B. Campbell
It’s between innings
of a Mariners’ game,
and here again
is that commercial that really bugs me.
“How do you want to live?”
asks a smooth baritone voice.
On the screen,
we see, through the windshield of a car,
the road unrolling in front of us –
like life, I suppose.
“As a decent person?” the voice continues.
A man in a suit leaves his house,
closing the front door behind him.
“A good husband?”
Now the man is driving a car,
looking out his side window
as he casually turns a corner.
“Is that it? – Good?”
the voice asks in disbelief.
“Of course not!”
“King of the hill?” it asks . . . “Better . . .”
We see the man and a woman with drinks
on the terrace of what looks like a high-rise condo –
“Top of your game?”
The man stands at the window
of a high-up corner office,
surveying the city at his feet.
“Like a boss.”
The man driving a luxury truck.
“Like a pro!”
The truck roaring toward us along the road.
“GMC Sierra SLT models,”
the voice smugly concludes,
having arrived at an answer
          it can live with.
“How do you want to live?”
Thank you,
advertising department of General Motors
 “Life’s Little Instruction Book According to our Culture.”

Being a decent person,
a good spouse
just doesn’t cut it . . .
“Of course not!”
So get with it!
Go for
King of the Hill.
Top of your game.
Like a boss.
Like a pro.
Get a truck!
Privilege . . . position . . . power . . . possessions
Imagine the prophet Isaiah
sitting in front of his TV
when that ad comes on . . .
(okay, he didn’t have a TV,
but just pretend . . .)
Aflame with indignation,
he leaps to his feet,
rushes out into the streets
“Life’s Little Instruction Book
          according to God.”

“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
and you that have no money, come, buy and eat . . .
buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me,
          and eat what is good,
          and delight yourselves in rich food.”
Listen carefully . . . you who thirst for salvation!
Listen carefully . . . you who hunger for new life!
Why do you strive after
false comforts, false security, false pleasures?
“Incline your ear and listen . . .
“As the rain and the snow
          come down from heaven,
and do not return there
          until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
          giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
          and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

Listen, then,
drink in,
read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest
the rich food of
God’s life-giving word:
the bread and wine of
true consolation, true assurance, true joy.
“Listen, that you may truly live.”
“How do you want to live?”
The story of God
and God’s people
seems one long attempt by God
to get us to think deeply about that question –
that we might choose to live for
          the largeness of God’s desire and purpose
rather than the small desires and purposes
          we might imagine will feed us.
God spoke to us through
          the prophets,
but even they failed
          to hold our attention for long . . .

At last God spoke to us “by a Son,”
as the Letter to the Hebrews puts it,
Jesus, God’s Word incarnate.
God’s Word
living and active,
walking around in sandals
on the dusty roads
of the Galilee and Samaria,
          in the cobbled streets of Jerusalem . . .
healing and teaching,
showing and speaking
          God’s meaning . . .
speaking to us even now:
every time the Book of the Gospels is opened
          leaping from its pages
                   to stand among us.
Jesus says as we join the crowd
          flocking around him,
“the times are now being fulfilled,
God’s Word of a Kingdom
          of righteousness and peace
is right here among you.”
. . . right here among you.

“Listen . . .
a sower went out to sow . . .”
God the farmer
is even now planting the seed of the kingdom,
and Jesus, the Word of God,
is that seed.
God is not a cautious, frugal farmer,
sowing the crop
seed by seed . . .
The seed broad-cast by God flies everywhere:
falling on bare sun-baked ground
          where birds may steal it,
on rocky ledges
          where it can’t gain a root-hold,
in brambly thickets
          where it is strangled on germination,
and into good soil,
          where it flourishes.
God flings Jesus out
over the whole wide world,
the seed of God’s kingdom
of love and mercy,
          justice and peace.

Jesus falls
into the hearts of all humankind . . .
and despite all the world’s
          demands and distractions,
          troubles and temptations,    
in many hearts
           finds good soil.
But it does seem foolish and wasteful of God,
planting the kingdom
          so haphazardly . . .
when you’d think
that all it would take
          are a few strategic, omnipotent moves
                   to bring it to instant fulfillment.
And all the world’s sufferings
          would immediately be over,
all the world’s wounds healed.
But our thoughts are not God’s thoughts,
nor God’s ways our ways . . .                                                       [reversal of Isaiah 55.9]
Something there is
          inherent to God’s Kingdom 
that cannot be forced
          like a narcissus bulb in winter,
but must germinate secretly
          in the good soil of hospitable human hearts
sprout, grow to maturity, flower, flourish,
          until it bears fruit . . .

Who can understand
the mysterious workings of a God
whose Word seems a nearly inaudible whisper
          in the cacophony
                   of a world in chaos.
“Listen . . . a sower went out to sow.”
like the prophets and the psalmist
          before him,
saw in the mysterious processes of nature
signs that reveal
          the undaunted hopefulness,
                   quiet faithfulness,
                             stubborn persistence of God:
In sprouting seeds and ripening wheat,
the birds of the air
and the flowers of the field,
in streams and lakes
and straining nets full of fish,
Jesus saw signs
that proclaim
          the inexorable emergence of God’s kingdom.   

In the poem “God’s Grandeur”
the 19th century Jesuit priest and poet
          Gerard Manley Hopkins
imagines the glory of God
flaming out in the world
          “like shining from shook foil,”
despite the industrial revolution’s
          fouling of the earth.
“Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;” he laments,
“And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
and wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell; the soil
is bare now . . .”
(“Why,” God asks through the prophet Isaiah,
“do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”)
And yet, says Hopkins,
“. . . nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; . . .
. . . [M]orning at the brown brink eastward, springs –
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”
(And yet, says Isaiah,
to a people in exile,
“you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace;
the mountains and hills
shall burst into song,
and the trees of the fields shall clap their hands.”)

“But as for what was sown on good soil,”
says Jesus,
“this is the one who hears the word and understands it,
who indeed bears fruit and yields,
in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty,”
in other words,
an unimaginably bountiful harvest.
So I set the summertime burgeoning
          of the garden paradise
                   that surrounds us in the Pacific Northwest;
and I set the courage
          of those who stand over against
                   racism, sexism, and all the isms
                             that divide a people called to be one people,
          those who insist on health care for all,
                   and for equal opportunity in this land of opportunity;    
and I set the countless acts of goodness and decency
          that make up countless humble, ordinary lives . . .
I set these as signs of hope
over against
the hopelessness and cynicism
          endemic to our times.

And I set the adoption
          of a child,
the healing
          of a relationship,
the giving of a cup of water to someone who is thirsty,
          a loaf of bread to someone who is hungry,
                   shelter to someone who is homeless  . . .
I set these before us
as living signs
of God’s kingdom already emergent
in our midst.
The Word that goes out from God’s mouth,
will not return to God empty,
but will accomplish God’s purpose
and succeed in that for which God sent it.
The Holy Ghost broods over the hurting world
with warm breast and bright wings.
God has planted
a stubbornness of life deep down things,
in every living thing
the possibility of true flourishing . . .
How do you want to live?