12 July 2020

Pentecost 6: Beyond your wildest dreams

…the one who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

What surprises you in this parable? Parables are meant to be surprising. In this parable what might be surprising to us is not what would have grabbled Jesus’ first hearers. Many people who hear this parable today think: why would a farmer scatter seed on rocks or on the path in the first place? Of course it won’t grow there! But that’s not the surprising part of this parable; that was the way they did things back then.

I’ll cut right to the chase: the point of the story, the part of the parable that makes it a parable, that turns an everyday universal experience, like farming, on its head, is the miraculous, extravagant yield: a hundredfold, sixty, or thirty.

There is a saying I heard a long time ago that bears remembering, especially in this time when I, for one, spend a lot of time wondering…well, wondering so many things about mission and purpose. The saying is this: “You can count how many seeds are in an apple, but you can’t know how many apples are in a seed.”

We are not the good soil or the bad soil or the thorny soil, we are the seeds, in which and through which God produces abundant fruit beyond our wildest dreams. My prayer for all of us is that we let go of our worry about whether we are good enough, and lean into God’s call to us with joyful anticipation. “What has she been smoking?” you might be wondering. “Doesn’t she know that there’s a pandemic and half of us are locked in our houses and the other half are overworked and we’re afraid and bored and tired and we don’t know what to do?”

I’d like to suggest that in this time—this time of trial, this time of very real suffering—that we are like seeds planted in the ground, with which God is doing and will do something marvelous.

Jesus’ teaching is about both being and taking into our hearts the word of the Kingdom. I think in this is an invitation to Kingdom practices, practices that characterize what Dr. Martin Luther King called “the beloved community.” For Dr. King, the beloved community was a realistic, achievable goal that could be attained by a critical mass of people committed to and trained in Kingdom practices. In the beloved community there is no room for racism, poverty, or war.

One such “kingdom practice” is the practice of radical hospitality. We know what that is, right? It’s in our mission statement. The time in which we live calls us to significantly expand what we mean by “radical” and what we mean by “hospitality.” Radical in the sense of that which is rooted. Hospitality in the sense of opening our hearts. There’s a lot I could say about that. Even better, consider some examples of radical hospitality in our midst, right now:

  • Several of you have told me stories about connecting, on-line, to people that you might otherwise never have connected with. That is a kind of hospitality of the heart. It is a way we make ourselves vulnerable to God working in us and through us.
  • While we are at home and physically disconnected from one another and from other communities that sustain us, we can write notes to people who don’t expect to hear from us. We can seek out the last, the least, and the lost, and connect with them, through a letter or a donation, in ways that make them feel held up in ways they wouldn’t, otherwise. We can include our enemies in our prayers. All of that is radical hospitality of the heart.
  • Fighting systemic racism is a kind of radical hospitality. Reaching out, either literally or in our hearts, to be in solidarity with people who are oppressed, who are hurting, to whom we don’t know what to say…that reaching out is a kind of radical hospitality. Our Wednesday afternoon “sidewalk solidarity” has been a powerful experience. Each week one or two neighbors has come to join us—they are able to come out with their protest signs because they know we are there. And the people of color who drive by, raise their fists, yell “thank you” through an open window…they feel seen and supported by our presence and our signs.
  • I know most of you have not been in our parish hall lately, but the amount of clothing, hygiene items, safety supplies, beverages and nonperishable snacks has been multiplying, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold. By some traditional parish standards, it’s awful that Brigid’s Hall is such a mess. I get that. And yet, when I see that holy mess I think: wow! Such abundance! Such crazy extravagance! This is what I love about God.
  • Last Sunday evening I joined volunteers from Rahab’s Sisters in bringing meals to go out to homeless camps in Montavilla, mostly along the 205 bike path. It was an amazing experience. The energy and enthusiasm of the volunteers was contagious, and it was so clear in bringing food out to them, walking among their tents calling “dinner!”, we were practicing radical hospitality.

For decades—and I mean decades—you all have served a weekly meal to hungry people, the meal currently known as Brigid’s-to-Go. Now we hand out fifty sack dinners every Tuesday. On Fridays, Rahab’s Sisters serves about three hundred meals. On Sundays, volunteers take one hundred and eighty meals out to camps. And who knows how many meals Crisis Kitchen serves all over the city. One hundredfold, sixty fold, thirty fold, and more, and more.

We are God’s seed, scattered everywhere. I don’t know if you saw the Van Gogh painting, “The Sower” that I posted in our Facebook group, but I love that particular version of the painting because it has a city in the background of the fields. That reminds me that the soil around us is rich and good soil precisely because we are surrounded by the poor. The soil around us is rich with opportunities to practice God’s hospitality with people on the edge.

What will God scatter in our hearts, and what fruit will we bear?