Matthew 13:1-9 Good Soil
Rev. Sarah Vetter
July 12, 2020
We have now passed the 100-day mark in this “new normal”. My daughter Holly was just reminding me when the schools the first closed and they said it would be for two weeks. “Remember that?” she said. Here we are on day 113.
If we were all here together in-person like we used to be (pre-COVID) I would ask you to raise your hands and show: how many of you find yourselves feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by these circumstances -at least occasionally? I know for me, I find the mental energy it takes to think through everything we do in a new way – to figure out what’s safe, what’s possible, what’s according to guidelines -to be exhausting, not even to mention the constantly changing news, the uncertainty, the loss... I’m guessing if we were all here together, the sanctuary would be filled with hands raised in the air. It would be nice to be able to look around and see that we are not alone.
The separation, the social distance, the anxiety in the air we breathe, has a way of making us feel dried up, ungrounded, vulnerable. Those are the deeper feelings, the more surface ones might be irritable, frustrated, cranky, or perhaps apathetic, not caring about things anymore, just not having energy to give to them.
Into this exhaustion and overwhelm, Jesus says, “a sower went out to sow” and he tells a parable about seeds being thrown everywhere: on paths, on rocks, among thorns, and on good soil.
Of course the seeds don’t have a chance anywhere but in the good soil where they can take root and get nourishment. Everywhere else they are dried up, ungrounded, vulnerable. If they were people, they might be feeling cranky or irritable, or just not caring anymore. BUT, when the seeds land on good soil, miracles happen. They live. They grow deep roots that soak in minerals, and they become stalks and leaves that reach for the energy of the sun, they breathe in carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen, they bear fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. It’s a beautiful, miraculous thing that a seed in good soil becomes alive, and gives life. That’s where Jesus leaves the parable. He says, “Let anyone with ears listen!”
He was somewhat enigmatic.
But it’s clear where the movement in this parable goes: it moves toward the combination of seed and good soil, toward the hope and the promise and the miracle of life. To the right things coming together to make the miracle flourish.
This week I was part of a webinar led by John Philip Newell, who is an author and teacher of Christian spirituality – you may know him from his connection with Iona Abbey in Scotland and his writings on Celtic Spirituality. The talk he gave was entitled, “In Pandemic Time- How Shall We Live?”
He told a story from his childhood. His father worked in international disaster relief and he would be away from the family for long periods of time. When he was away, at night, he would get out a cassette recorder and record himself talking to his family, his wife and children. He would tell them about his day and who he met and what he did, and then send the tape home, so they could hear his voice. On one trip, his father was working outside of Cambodia in the wake of the killing fields. He was at a camp for refugees fleeing for their lives. His first day there he met children whose parents had been killed and parents whose children had been killed. At the end of the day, he was dropped at the room where he was staying and he walked inside, sat down with his cassette recorder to speak to his family. And then he wept. For a few minutes, he wept as it recorded him. And when his family received the tape, they heard him weeping.
Looking back at that, Newell said what was remarkable was that his father let the recording go. He could have easily hit pause, or erased it -gone back and recorded over it. But, he did not hide his tears or stuff them down or clean them up in any way. He wept. And he let the tears be. Newell said, he believes his father needed to weep in order to do the work that was his to do. He needed to cry to face another day.
There is an expression that comes to us from first century monastics: pray until the tears come. When tears flow something very deep within us stirs. Carl Jung said that when we cry, something in the sea of life’s origins is moving again. Our tears, if we let them, can connect us with those depths. They water the good soil of our selves, cultivate the ground within us.
In the 12th century there was a brilliant woman named Hildegard van Bingen. who, parenthetically, our dog Hildy is named after. Despite our aspirations, Hildy and Hildegard bear very little in common.
Hildegard van Bingen was an impressive person. She experienced visions of God in her very early childhood. By age 14 she had become a Benedictine nun and was later chosen to lead her monastery. In addition to running the monastery, she composed music, poems and liturgical plays, as well as theological texts, medical books and scientific essays. She founded two monasteries, and travelled extensively on numerous speaking tours. All of this in the highly patriarchal Middle Ages.
One of Hildegard’s teachings was that in order for our lives to take flight, for us to soar as God intended, we need to fly with two “wings of awareness”. The first awareness is of the pain and suffering in the world. The second is of the beauty and glory in the world. We must give our attention equally to both.
For us, nowadays, this would mean that if I spend an hour watching the news, listening to the death toll rise, hearing the cries of protesters, then I must also spend an hour doing something where I am wondering at the fathomless beauty of the world –taking a walk or sitting in prayer. Watching the light playing off the ocean, or a bumble bee move flower to flower, or marveling at a writer’s perfect turn of phrase. As John Philip Newell puts it in a prayer that invites a sense of awe, spend time “feeling the beat of the sacred within us, within one another, within the body of the earth.”
Author and teacher Barbara Holmes writes:
“Up above our heads, there are worlds unknown and a canopy of grace, light, air, and water that supports our survival. Without realizing it, we expend massive amounts of energy to block out the vastness of our universe. This is to be expected, for, in its totality, this information can be more than human systems can take. However, by riveting our attention on the mundane, we filter out the wonder that is available with each breath.” – Dr. Barbara Holmes
If I spend a half hour tending to the pain and suffering of the world, I must spend a half hour tending to the wonder available with each breath. We need both these wings of awareness to fly.
I think this is an important message for us to hear these days when we are so often overwhelmed and exhausted. We feel dried up, ungrounded, vulnerable –like those seeds on the rocks or among the thorns. We can be like the seeds without the soil. Or the soil without the seeds. Trying to fly with one wing. Longing for that combination that gives life: for the right elements to come together to let the miracle of life flourish in us.
In our message this morning, I hear the call to engage both the pain and suffering of this present time and the beauty and glory of life. To allow ourselves to weep, to feel, to grieve. And in equal measure to wonder, to worship, to praise. One without the other leads us nowhere but the combination brings the right elements together to allow life to flourish. Together they connect us with the depths of being, where the miracle of life germinates and grows, and eventually bears fruit and gives life to the world. May it be so for us and for our tired world.