Tag Archives: parable

The Kingdom Growing Like A Weed

Today’s sermon is a guest sermon from Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker, who you can find on twitter @ReedmanParker:

GOSPEL: Mark 4:26-34

  …3[Jesus] also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

 

Parables. Those ever elusive illustrations that Jesus used throughout his ministry to teach people about God and God’s kingdom. These simple stories often begin in the same way: “The kingdom of God is like…” and use a variety of literary devices to get the point across including charm, humour and exaggeration. Jesus liked parables – a lot! There are 40 parables recorded in the bible. Which means there were probably more that were never recorded in the big book of our faith. Jesus’ stories from every day life made what he was saying accessible to his audience. At the same times, parables are also a little like riddles, it takes some time to figure them out!

Today we encounter not one, but two parables about the growing, sprouting, spreading of the Kingdom of God. Living in an agrarian and agricultural culture, it makes sense that Jesus would use illustrations and imagery that would be familiar to his audience: the sower and the seed make sense.

But I’m not convinced that these parables are as accessible as they once were. And it’s possible, if Jesus were here with us, he might not talk about scattering or sowing seeds.

If Jesus were here with us, he might say that the kingdom of God is like a video that goes viral…  

We are all familiar with youtube, and what it means for something to go viral, right?

Whether it is a clip from a famous movie, to a stunt that a group of kids are performing in the back yard, or a recipe video. 

Going viral is when a video that is posted on the internet is widely shared, or spread through internet sites such as youtube, social media like twitter and facebook or over email. 

I’m not talking about malicious viruses that invade our computers or videos that are posted on the internet in order to harm or defame others… What I am talking about is how technology has transformed the ways in which we communicate with one another and how we are able to spread and share information all over the world with the click of a button – actually, we don’t even use buttons anymore now that we have touch screens…

Which brings me back to that little mustard seed… not so unlike that unsuspecting video that makes it way onto youtube and before you know it, it’s being featured on the nightly news, or your inbox is filled with video clips of the awe inspiring and the humorous moments of life.

For Jesus to compare the kingdom of God to a mustard seed seems a little strange, who’s ever heard of anyone wanting a mustard tree? – PAUSE – after some research on the topic, it turns out, not too many people.  In the ancient near east very few people would go out of their way to plant mustard because it is very hard to control. You know the saying, it grows like a weed? That sums up mustard. Once it gets into the ground, its spreads and takes over entire plots of land. Jesus’ comparison would be akin to saying the kingdom of God is like a dandelion. Not too many people like dandelions precisely because they are incredibly difficult to control. We try to contain them… get rid of them… but they keep coming back: growing and spreading and showing up in the most unexpected and unwanted of places. Who wants that?

As it turns out, God does. 

The message and meaning of the parable is this: There is an incredible growth of God’s reign in the world. We can talk about the incredible growth of God’s reign in a person’s life, in our own lives. The focus of the parable is growth, explosive growth, enormous growth. Each parable has a unique contribution to make to our understanding of the reign of God, and this parable focuses on the incredible growth that is part of the reign of God. *

God’s love… God’s reign in the world is growing like a weed. 

God wants our lives and our faith to grow and spread in much the same way: uncontrolled, unruly and unaffected by any limits or controls we might be tempted to place on it. – And we do get tempted! We don’t like weeds. For starters, they are not very pretty. Not to mention, they are impossible to tame and grow when and where we want!

In the church, we tend to confuse God’s kingdom with the church, which can quickly become our kingdom. And we tend to see growth only from a numeric point of view. How much, how many, how often? 

That’s NOT what Jesus is talking about. In this parable, Jesus is pointing out that the way God’s kingdom… God’s Word… God’s will grows in our hearts and souls and minds… in our whole beings. 

Jesus is describing that the way God’s kingdom will grow, will not be in the ways we expect. In fact, it will be in the most unexpected and even undesired ways that the seed is planted, grows and spreads to far reaches that on our own we never could have imagined. 

Most of the time, when something is posted, the person who has posted it has no idea whether or not it will get 5 hits – you know, from your parents and grandparents and your best friend – or 5 million hits. But what you do know, is that it is scattered out there in the world, waiting to sprout and grow in ways we do not yet know.

And the key to growth? Scattering seed with wild abandon. The key to growth is a willingness to risk failure. That’s right, in order to risk growth of any kind, we must first be willing to fail. 

One thing we know from the scriptures about the Kingdom of God, is that it is not dependant on our getting it right – or even getting it at all – even the 12 disciples get extra help when they don’t understand.

In God’s kingdom seeds are sown… faith grows out of those seeds… those small, seemingly insignificant seeds that are scattered in the richest soil and within the rockiest and seemingly inhospitable ground and left to grow. Somehow, those seeds, our faith, sprouts, grows –  not because of anything we do, but through what God in Jesus is doing through us.


http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_b_seed_growing_automatically_GA.htm Accessed June 16, 2012. 

 

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A Divided House Broken and Shed for the World

Mark 3:20-35

” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. (Read the whole passage)

 

It is only the second week into this long season of green, and Mark is giving us some unusual stuff. We don’t often remind each other of that story from the gospel when Jesus’ family thought he was nuts and tried to drag him away.

Now, of course, last week we heard the story of Jesus’ healing a mean with a withered hand on the sabbath. An action which enraged the pharisees so much that they began plotting to destroy him. 

And so as we explore this next interaction between Jesus and the people around him, it is probably helpful to remember that Mark might be intending us to see the extreme behaviour or reactions… the Pharisees who plot to destroy Jesus followed by family who think Jesus is crazy. 

Mark invites us to reconsider again and again just what Jesus is up to in the world, and who Jesus is, often by acknowledging our own extreme responses to God’s call to follow. 

Mark uses the structure of the story to make a point. We begin and end with the crowds. The unwashed, poor, unclean and desperate crowds are pushing in on Jesus and his disciples. They are looking for something, someone to give them good news.  And by the end, Jesus names those same crowds as his brothers, sisters and mothers. 

Inside of the bookends of the crowds, Jesus’ family comes to take him away because he is out of his mind. And just before the last mention of the crowds, we are reminded that Jesus family is desperate to get him away, to end their shame and embarrassment at what Jesus is doing. 

And finally the scribes sit in the inner sections of the story. They claim that Jesus has a demon. And Jesus rebukes the scribes for trying to control the actions of the spirit. 

So the order of the story goes: Crowds>family> scribes. Scribes<family<crowds. And right in the middle, Jesus gives us this strange image of Satan’s house. A house divided cannot stand. Satan’s house divided cannot stand. Satan’s house is not divided. Satan’s house, the strongman’s house, IS the undivided house.

A house divided cannot stand.

As Jesus’ family attempts to restrain him and as the scribes declare that Jesus is acting with a possessed spirit, Jesus speaks about the human search for normalcy and conformity. Conformity is often touted as unity, and yet when we consider what it often takes to achieve a unified community with no outward divisions, it is not a healthy community. Unity often required totalitarian leadership, speaking with one mind and voice requires that most people bend and twist themselves into the vision and view of another.  It is the house of the strong man that cannot stand if divided, therefore the strong man’s standing house is not divided. 

Yet, Jesus is here to tie up the strong man and plunder his house.

Jesus speaks to the crowds, his family and the scribes who all believe that they have the world figured out and that they have God figured out. 

The crowds know that they are on the outside of God’s love, unclean and inadmissible to the temple. Unable to make sacrifice in order to received God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Jesus’ family knows that family unity is essential to the Hebrew faith. They know that Jesus’ actions will not only reflect badly on him, but will bring shame to the whole family. They will lose standing in the community. 

The scribes know they are part of the religious authority. They know that because they have kept the law that they are permitted to make judgements about who is clean and unclean, who us righteous and who is unrighteous.

Jesus speaks to these groups who believe they have it all figured out and turns their whole world, their whole understanding of God on its head. 

Jesus tells all of them that they are wrong. 

Like the crowds, Jesus’ family and scribes, we so often think we have things figured out.  Whether we think like the scribes, that we can determine where God begins and ends and make judgements about who is outside of God, or like Jesus’ family that we need to keep from being shamed and embarrassed or like the crowds that we are too sinful for God to possibly love us. 

Jesus hears all of that and turns it on his it head. Jesus challenges our assumptions, challenges our claim to be the arbitrators of God’s love and declares a completely different reality. 

“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”

Whatever we think we have figured out, whatever understanding of God’s activity in the world we claim to have Jesus tells the crowds, tells his family, tells the scribes and tells us that it is opposite of what we think. God is usually doing things very differently than we imagine. 

A house divided cannot stand. 

Yet God’s house, divided for 2000 years, continues to stand. 

It has stood despite our inability to agree. It has stood because the Church has been full of people who thought differently. 

God’s house stands divided because it is able to hold within it the differences that we bear as the Body of Christ. God’s house stands because even when we cannot hold our differences between us, God can. 

God’s house stands because it stands on Christ. 

Satan’s house is the undivided house. 

But Christ, who ties up the strong man and plunders Satan’s house, is our foundation. 

God’s house stands divided between the many members of the body, the many members who serve and live in different ways, the many members whose different gifts are used in different ways, the many members who are each chosen and loved by God. 

God’s house stands divided, as the Body of Christ broken and given for the world, as the Blood of christ shed and poured out for a world in need of forgiveness. 

Just as we are all guilty of same eternal sin, of the same original sin, of wanting to be God in God’s place, of standing in judgement of others. Just as we are guilty, like the crowds, family and scribes of standing in Judgement of Christ. Jesus is declaring a new reality. 

A reality where people will be forgiven for their sins. 

The Body of Christ, the House of God, stands broken and divided in the world. And today, Jesus reminds us, that it is not by agreeing or finding unity that we stand. In fact, Jesus reminds us that it is Satan’s house that stands undivided.  

Rather, Jesus declares today that God’s house divided and broken house stands only by God’s forgiveness. God’s house stands only by God’s stubborn insistence that we are all brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ. God’s house stands only by the turning of our world upside down.

A house divided cannot stand. 

Yet, God’s house, broken and divided stands here. 

God’s church stands because of the many members gathered together in the waters of Baptism, waters that erode and split away our unity with sin and death. 

God’s people stand because of the the Gospel Word proclaimed in our midst that divides us from all the things that we cling to that are not of God. 

God’s Body gathered in Christ kneels together in order to be broken and shed for the world, so that grace and mercy can be seen and known by a divided and scattered world. 

God’s house is the divided and broken house, the house with cracks and rifts because of the light and mercy of God bursting out in as a sign of God’s promise of new life given for us. 

Waiting (for the Bridegroom) ain’t easy…

Today’s sermon is a guest post by Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker. You can find her on Twitter @ReedmanParker *

Matthew 25:1-13

1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. (Read the whole passage)

Waiting is not easy.

We know this. And yet, every time, we are caught by surprise by how difficult waiting can be.

In today’s parable we encounter 10 bridesmaids, 5 who are wise for bringing extra oil for their lamps, and 5 who are foolish because they do not. And, wouldn’t you know it, but there is a delay waiting for the bridegroom to arrive. Maybe half of them knew the bridegroom well enough to know he would be running behind, we don’t know.  But they wait, and they wait, and they wait. They wait for long enough that they fall asleep – all of them, the foolish and the wise.

What are the things that we wait for? That we LONG for?

Maybe it’s a better relationship with your kids or your spouse. Maybe it’s a new or better job. Or being free from pain or illness, addiction or abuse, violence or oppression.

Whatever it is, we know what it is to long for something. We know what means to wait. Really wait.

It’s exhausting.

I don’t think it’s any mistake on the part of the lectionary committee, the group that determines the readings we hear week after week in worship, that this particular parable comes just 2 weeks before Advent – the season of longing, waiting, anticipation for God with us.

Or that Matthew, the gospel writer, tells this particular parable to a community that is waiting for Jesus’ return – his imminent return. His hearers are an anxious group. The early Christian community, as we are reminded of in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, did not anticipate that Jesus’ Second Coming would take so long – they didn’t expect him to be delayed, and were becoming drowsy waiting for him. Jesus’ parable of the 10 bridesmaids is told to remind the early Christian community to keep faith that Jesus is coming.

This parable, however, does not leave one with a very confident sense of hope in Jesus’ return. Once the bridesmaids are divided into two groups – the wise and the foolish – the wise get into the banquet while the foolish, having not brought enough oil to keep their lamps burning brightly are locked out while they go to get more – we take it upon ourselves to judge who’s “in” and who’s “out”. In this way the parable becomes more about waiting in fear of Jesus’ return rather than in hopeful anticipation of it.

It would be easy to interpret the parable of the 10 bridesmaids based on the wise and the foolish; to say that those who don’t have enough oil aren’t getting into the eternal banquet. It would be easy to say that we all better get ready and start making a list of what we all need to do to get in. But if there’s anything I’ve learned from Jesus’ teachings – especially in the parables – it’s that the answer is never as easy or as obvious as it seems. God is so much more subtle than we anticipate.

Besides, looking at the parable this way doesn’t accurately represent the God we profess as Lord and Saviour – you know, the one through whom we have been saved by grace through faith, but a God who tests and judges, who condones the idea that to earn favour we must “do” something, and that if we don’t we will be left behind. This is not a God whose return we hopefully anticipate, but one we fear.

It is this kind of thinking that tells us that  bringing guns into churches and schools will keep us safe from potential harm, or victims of abuse that if they had just worn different clothes, less make-up, or had said more – or less – that the abuse wouldn’t have occurred. When we know this simply isn’t true. It is a false logic based in fear and in our own abilities to save ourselves.

Also, the bridegroom does not say “keep your lamps lit and full of oil” but “keep awake” – and if we look at the text we see that ALL of the bridesmaids fall asleep waiting for their delayed bridegroom to arrive. Maybe the bridesmaids have a lot more in common with one another than in opposition: they all hold the same position in the bridal party, they all have lamps and they all fall asleep –  I don’t know enough about ancient wedding practices, but in my mind they are probably all wearing the same thing.

It strikes me that we are not that unlike the bridesmaids or the early Christian community. Two-thousand  years on, we’ve been waiting a long time. Some of us wonder if the bridegroom is EVER coming. The banquet hall is empty, we packed up the banquet hall some time ago. We are anxious. We are tired. No, we are exhausted… All this waiting, and for what?

But when we make this parable about the banquet – about who gets in, and who gets left out – we miss what is actually going on. Because this parable isn’t about the banquet, but it is about waiting and hope.

Hope that transforms us as nothing else can. Hope, which births in us something new, something beyond what we could dream or imagine on our own. And hope of new life must come before new life itself can occur.

We don’t know why the delays occur. But we live in faith that God is with us in the midst of our waiting. God’s promise of new life, of forgiveness of sins, resurrection from the dead aren’t just for some of us but for all of us. God’s promise that we are known by God – that we were created in God’s image, knit in our mother’s womb, and are marked with sign of the cross in baptism to mark God’s promise that we are God’s children. God knows us more intimately than anyone else in this entire world, even ourselves.  More than that, we trust as people of faith that God is already changing and transforming us even while we are waiting for the bridegroom to arrive. This is what Paul is talking about in his letter to the Thessalonians, “encourage one another “. Encourage one another to hope in what God is doing in and through us here and now, even as we wait for the bridegroom to arrive.

Setting aside our mustard seed dreams for a mustard bush Kingdom

Matthew 13:31-33,44-52
Jesus put before the crowds another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (read the whole passage)

To consider the immensity God’s kingdom usually defies our imaginations. For those sorts of people who ponder the mysteries of life, thinking about the Kingdom of God, about heaven, is as attractive as it is frustrating. There are so many possibilities, yet few particulars. Dreaming big comes pretty easy for most of us. We are taught to dream about the future at an early age. “What do you want to be when you grow up? A Hockey Player, an astronaut, a rock star, prime minister or maybe all of the above! But the motivation to dream big doesn’t end in childhood, but rather it is ramped up and stakes are higher as we grow older. Imagine life with that new car, with that new house, with no debt, with a wealthy retirement, with that new and better paying job.

We like our big stuff in this part of the world. And to dream big about the Kingdom of God, about Heaven is fair game. To imagine a lavish wedding banquet, or a cloudy paradise where friends and family greet you, or perhaps dozens of golf courses all empty and waiting to be played on nice sunny days.

There is no shame in dreaming big, and yet there is the inevitable downer of not having these dreams realized, of our hopes and dreams always and only being only hopes and dreams. All too often, our expectation, our anticipation is of something big and exciting happening in our lives. We spend a lot of time waiting for the next mountaintop experience by simply glossing over the rest. Weekdays are for getting us to weekends, school is for getting us jobs, jobs are for making money to spend on weekends and to save for retirement… retirement is about waiting to die? I hope not.

Jesus presents us with a scandal today, but we may have glossed it over waiting to get to the good part. For Jesus, the Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, like a treasure small enough to bury in a field, like pearl only worth a lowly merchants wages, like a net that catches fish. For Jesus, the Kingdom of heaven seems to be nothing like we have imagined it. The Kingdom of heaven is more like these mundane and trivial objects, than the great golf course we imagined. We almost should ask, “What are you talking about Jesus?”

But Jesus is the one who has asked us first, “What are you talking about?” Jesus sees through our dreaming, and addresses us at our deepest insecurities, at our fears. Our fears that are hidden by our dreaming. Our fears about what we are capable or incapable of accomplishing in life, our fears about our futures, our fears about death. The Kingdom God is stripped from our dreaming and replaced with something that we don’t like, something that we want to avoid. Jesus names and points to the Kingdom of God, right here in the mundane boringness of everyday life.

Jesus’ examples of the Kingdom of God challenge everything we have been taught. It challenges each incidence where we were asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” “What school do you want to go to?” “Where do you want to retire to?” Jesus’ proposal about the Kingdom is not the way we are supposed to imagine things, it challenges our constant future orientation, our glossing over of the present, our displeasure with reality. For to imagine a Kingdom of God in the future is to deny that this world has much meaning and importance, this unsatisfying existence is not what our selfishness nature desires. And for Jesus to see the Kingdom of God in small, inconsequential things is to go against our desire for always something bigger and better.

And yet, when Jesus names the Kingdom right here and right now in the world, it changes and transforms this reality that we are constantly wanting more from. The world becomes something that we do not expect, something that we have never anticipated or dreamed of. It becomes God working among us.

To see this small thing, this small mustard seed is to see the Kingdom of God at work. What Jesus is getting at today, indeed, initially challenges our dreams of bigger and better. But once we those dreams are set aside, we see that what Jesus is describing is a dream much bigger than we can imagine. It is to see God’s Kingdom right here among us, right here among in the unsatisfying and undesirable conditions of life. Right here among us turning the tiny and trivial into life changing and life altering experiences.

God’s Kingdom comes to us in the present, it comes to us where we are. And it comes in forms that we do not expect, in ways that we cannot imagine. It comes to us in the flesh of Christ, in God as a lowly human being. It comes to us in small seeds, hidden treasures, and fishing nets. God’s promise of love and grace for us small and insignificant sinners will be made known the Baptism that we will see this morning. In the Holy Bath that we all share, in simple water that changes who we are and that makes us members of the Body of Christ, of God’s Kingdom.

Jesus says today, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds bringing about the fullness of God.

The parable of the sower – The soil is not the point

Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “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 no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. (Read the whole passage)

This is one of my favourite readings. For my installation service in my second call, I chose this parable as the gospel lesson. I just love the idea of a sower or farmer planting seed with wild abandon, willing to imagine and see if seeds will grow – even in the unexpected places. The excitement of potential, the willingness to see possibilities seems so hopeful.

And yet, anyone who knows anything about modern farming, knows that this kind of hap hazard seeding is not how things are done. These days GPS plows make for the maximum use of soil, air seeders measure density and plant at the optimum places. Good soil maximized for productivity, seed isn’t wasted and poor soil avoided.

But ancient farming, while a little more low tech, wouldn’t have been much different. In fact, isn’t that the point Jesus is making. A good sower knows where to seed and where to avoid just wasting valuable seeds on soil that won’t produce.

Yet this parable that Jesus tells, describes a sower who is not so efficient and careful with his seeds and soil and planting techniques. This farming style seems crazy to us and to the crowds listening in Jesus time. This haphazard sower who scatters seed anywhere, draws our attention to the different kinds of soil. To the hard packed soil of the paths, not unlike gravel roads or waking paths. We hear about rocky soil with no depth to it. Soil that is in amongst the thorns and thistles. But perhaps the most interesting soil of them all is the soil that gives 30 or 60 or 100 fold return. These kind of returns from good soil are almost unimaginable. In fact, anything that gives even a 30% return is almost unheard of in life. Anyone with a savings account knows that a 30% interest rate is crazy.

And so as soon as we hear Jesus talking about these incredible returns, we want to jump right to part where we figure out how to be good soil. We want to separate those who are bad, hard, inhospitable soils from those who are good soil. We want to see ourselves as the good soil, we like the ability to categorize and label, to judge and condemn. This lens of productivity is one we know well. It is one that all 3 gospel writers, Matthew, Mark and Luke, give with their telling of this story. If we want to be productive, we need to be good soil. If we want to be righteous, we need to be good and faithful.

Yet, we know that this kind of productivity just isn’t realistic, we know that this really isn’t the way the world is. And if we are honest with ourselves, we know that life is full of unpredictable, unexplainable, and unknowable outcomes. We know that sometimes the people with strongest faith, those who are gentle and kind, those who are most vulnerable sometimes receive the hardest lot in life. We know that suffering and sin doesn’t really seem to follow a pattern but rather happens to us at random. We know that there are those out there who seem to have an easy and blessed time with life, who get all the legs up without really trying or even when they don’t seem to deserve it.

And when it comes to hearing the word as Jesus says, we know that much of the time we are much more like the hard, or rocky or thorny soil than the good soil. We we all wish we could pray more and pray better. We all wish that we gave more to the church, more time and money. We all wish we could share our faith more easily, that we could tell our friends and neighbours just why this place means so much to us, that is when we ourselves find the time to come.

But we don’t feel like good soil… we can see and feel in ourselves what we know to be failure. We can see and feel the rocks, the thorns and the hardness within us.

In the parable, we get caught up in the business of the seeds and the soil. We like to imagine the details of where we fit. And we are struck by the reality of what it means to be soil, good or otherwise.

But the parable isn’t about seeds or soil. Jesus gives us the clue right at the beginning.

Jesus says, “Hear then the parable of the sower”. This parable is not about soil, it is about the sower.

Not about us.

But about God.

About this sowing God who seems radical, haphazard, and all over the place. God whose seeds end up everywhere.

When Jesus explains this parable, he never encourages or exhorts anyone to be good soil or good seed. He says that the parable is about the sower. It is about the one who owns and works the fields, the one who owns and plants the seeds. This parable is about a God who is willing to see that there is possibility even in the rocky, hard, shallow and thorny soil. Even knowing that the seeds may not grow in poor conditions, God scatters and plants anyways.

This parable is about God who declares that the hard packed soil, the rocky soil, the thorny soil and that dark, nutrient soil… God declares that all these soils are acceptable. All these soils are good enough to sow. Good enough for the Word to be scattered on.

The sower seems to be scattering seed, knowing that it probably will not grow, but seeing the possibility that it might. So are we the soil or the seeds in this parable? That part isn’t clear. And maybe it doesn’t matter if we know where we fit exactly. What this parable does show is a God who has decided to scatter grace, mercy and love in all directions. This parable shows a God who has decided to scatter on the rocky, the shallow, the thorny soil and the good soil. It is a God who is wants the Word of the Kingdom to be heard everywhere and anywhere. It shows a God who is determined to let this creation, these seeds and this soil, to let us know, that we are cherished and loved, imperfections and all.

This sowing God is showing us that the lenses of good and bad soil that we see the world through are not how the sower sees. The productivity of the soil does not determine the whether the sower sows. Whether we are good and holy, whether we are hard, rocky or thorny… these things do not determine whether God loves.

The sower sows because the sower has decided to scatter the seed. God gives God’s word of grace to us because God has decided that we are God’s beloved. And there is no amount of fruit that we can bear or fail to bear, no good works that we can do to earn or sins that we separate us from God’s love and mercy.

“Listen!” Jesus says, “a sower went to sow…” and with those first few words gives us the good news. The good news that God has decided to love us, no matter whether we feel good enough or not. Because God’s love is given because God has declared it is given – for us.

The parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector – It’s a Trap

Luke 18:9-14

The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

“God, I thank you that I am not like other people: proud, haughty, self-righteous, or even like that on-fire-for-Jesus Christian. I bow my head when I pray silently, and I cover the amount on my envelope with my thumb when I slip it into the offering plate”.

Have you ever prayed that prayer? Or had those thoughts?

“God, how could you love someone like me. I am not like those other people who have it all together, who give more than I do, who volunteer more than I do, who are better people than I am. Have mercy on me, because that’s all I have”

What about this prayer and these thoughts?

It is easy to hear this parable and think that it is a lesson about the value of humility. There is the Pharisee, incorrectly dividing the world into categories. Thankfully we are not like him. And there is the tax collector. He knows what this is about, he is a good Lutheran. All sin. The only hope he has is for God’s mercy.

To modern listeners, the details of this parable go by so quickly. We don’t know what it was like to stand in the temple of Jerusalem. The term Pharisee is derogatory today. It can seem easy to identify the villain here because we have not heard the standard prayers of the Hebrew faith.

But understanding the context, as always, is very important. The temple of Jerusalem would have been grand sight to behold. It was big and it had rules. The people believed that it was where God lived – in the inner sanctum, the holy of holies. The temple was the place where you had to earn every inch of God’s favour. Whether you were a Pharisee or tax collector, you knew where you stood in the eyes of God when you were inside the temple.

The Pharisee knows that he is righteous. He prays a Benediction that every Jewish man was to pray each day. Thank you God that I am not a Gentile, a sinner, or a woman. The Pharisee modifies the prayer, but the point is still the same. He is genuinely thankful for who he is. The pharisees see those around him and looks down on them.

The tax collector, on the other hand, knows that he cannot expect anything from God. His job requires him to break the rules of Judaism. To charge interest, to handle money with graven images on it, even to steal or assault. He is not righteous and his only hope is God’s mercy. The tax collector is so wrapped up in himself, that he doesn’t see the world around him.

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector are both quick to divide people into categories and be judge on God’s behalf. The Pharisees judges himself righteous, the tax collector judges himself unrighteous. And we are often guilty of the same.

Whether we are thanking God for not being thieves, rogues, adulterers or tax collectors, or whether we are thanking God because we are not arrogant, self-righteous, or prideful, the issue is the same. We divide humanity into categories, justified or unjustified, saved or unsaved, loved or unloved.

Human beings are constantly looking for the ways that we can identify who is in and who is out. We might not be standing on the street corner, boldly thanking God in prayer for our certain salvation. But have we looked down on others, the homeless, those in financial trouble, those who struggle with addiction, those who come from broken families, even those who are sick, and we thank God that we are not them. “Therefore by the grace of God, go I”. Or how often have we been the ones thinking that we are worthless compared to those around us. That we unworthy, while everyone else seems so perfect. Whether we are intentional about it, or whether we do not know that we are doing it, we too place ourselves in the same categories that the Pharisees and the Tax Collector do.

Now, here is the thing about that kind of thinking. It is a trap.

And so it the parable today.

The parable that Jesus tells today is a trap that makes us identify ourselves with either the Pharisee or the tax collector. But this parable is not about pride or humility, and it is just as much not about pharisees or tax collectors.

The parable is about the storyteller.

The parable is about Jesus.

While we are busy trying to make things about us, God is reminding us that it is God alone who justifies. God alone decides who is good enough for the Kingdom.

According to the law, the Pharisee came into the temple righteous, and left the temple righteous. But Jesus says something about the tax collector that should grab our attention,

“I… tell… you,  this man went down to his home justified”.

There is nothing that the tax collector did, rather it is Jesus who says that the man is justified. It is Jesus who decides.

In the world of the Jerusalem temple, there were those were in and those were out. But everything changes with Jesus.

Through birth, life, death and resurrection, Jesus comes to tear down the categories we try to build. Whenever we try to make categories, God will stand on the other side, because God wants all to be included, all to receive grace, all to be loved. God has only one category for all of us. We belong to God and God alone.

Now, to the confirmands who shared their faith statements. If there was one thing I hope you take away from the past two years, it this. That we are not good enough to save ourselves, and nor are we too bad to be loved by God. God is the one who decides who is in and who is out, and God says, you are in.

The parable that Jesus tells is not a parable on how to act, or who to be like or how to pray. This is a parable about God. A parable that shows us God’s motives and shows us the way that God chooses to act in the world. That shows us that God wants to be with and care for the least, the lost, the sinners and the alone. God wants to care for us… because  we are the least, the lost, the sinners and the alone.

Neither the Pharisee, nor the tax collector, nor us, want to see or admit, that being justified, that being saved is something that God does for us. Yet, that is what is told to us today.  The trap is laid that we try to divide humanity into saved and not saved. And it is God who alone who knows the way out. Through love and mercy God chooses humanity. God who chooses those who truly cannot be righteous on our own, God comes to us as Christ who lives and dies, with us, with imperfect and flawed human beings, God sends us the Holy Spirit to bring us into the resurrection and into new life.

Perhaps our prayer today should be:

“God, we thank you that we ARE like other people: Pharisees and tax collectors, sinners and saints.  We are justified by your righteousness; we are saved by your love.”

Amen. 

The Dishonest Manager and the Wasteful God

Luke 16:1-13

Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property….And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly;… (Read the whole passage)

As we continue down this rabbit hole of Jesus’ teaching and ministry, we have heard with Jesus doing odd things, dealing with odd people, and telling odd parables. Jesus healed the salve of a conquering centurion earlier this summer, Jesus gave a very Donald Trump-esque speech about a month go about divided family and neighbours against each other, and few weeks ago, was giving dinner party advice. But today, he talks about something that rubs against our North American sense of pragmatism. Wastefulness.

The manger in today’s parable is a squanderer. To squander is to waste. Wastefulness for us is a sin. In our 21st century society we worry very much about wasting anything. Wasting time, money, the environment, and resources. If there is anything we can imagine wasting, we worry about wasting it. To squander is to misuse, to mismanage, to fritter away. But even more so in our go-getter society, it is considered squandering when we fail to seize any opportunity set before us, when we fail to be in control. We worry about all of this. What if we don’t collect what we are owed? What if what we put our time and energy towards something that isn’t full value in return? We worry so much that it bothers us when wastefulness and squandering isn’t punished.

And that’s the trouble of Jesus’ parable today. A lot of the time, it’s hard to make sense of what exactly Jesus is saying, but today he has said something that is just plain crazy.

Jesus’ story starts out a little rocky. It is about a rich man whose property manager is accused of squandering. And of course the manager gets fired. While there is no evidence given of the squandering, the dishonest manager does not dispute the charges. Instead he concocts a scheme to protect himself for when he is tossed out onto the street. He reduces the debt of some of his clients in the hopes they will return the favour of mercy for when he is in need very shortly. And manager gambles on a clever idea because he has nothing to lose. He cannot lose more than his job and he has no other prospects that seem appealing.

Yet when the manager is brought before his master, the Master commends the dishonest manager for his shrewd actions of forgiving the debts. He restores and entrusts the scheming servant once again. The dishonest man is forgiven, all because he acts shrewdly, according to the Master.

This is where everything falls apart for us. This is where we cannot figure out what this parable means. Luke tries his hand at offering an explanation. Try #1, maybe we need to be more like the children of the world, sly and clever. Try #2, maybe this is about making friends at any cost, even dishonest ones. Try #3, this is about trust and servitude. We must be trustworthy to enter the kingdom of God, we must serve only one master. Luke seems just as confused as we are. Be clever, but trustworthy. Be dishonest, but honest.

The confusion is not only Luke’s. The manager himself seems to have no idea that his Master will respond the way he does. This parable defies our notions of right and wrong to the core. Why would the Master commend the selfish and dishonest manager?

The setting of this parable beings to provide a clue. Land was owned by families and clans. Communities relied on each other, by doing business with each other. If one family had to sell their land, a cousin was obligated to buy it. If one family couldn’t make ends meet, relatives were expected to help out. Maintaining relationships with neighbours and friends was not just polite, it was a necessity of life.

Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Like any small town or rural community or even church community around here.

Things haven’t changed much in two thousand years. Still today, family and land often go hand in hand. Small towns and rural communities have long memories, you can be the new person for decades. The importance of knowing your neighbours goes without saying. You might buy groceries from your next-door neighbour, have a relative as your nurse, vote for your best friend for town council. Everyone is interconnected.

The only way to keep from wasting or squandering your resources is to work together and to help each other out.

And that is the real problem of the parable. Our confusion is about the Master’s response to commend a dishonest manager. To commend selfishness and to restore a squanderer to his job.

We assume that the manager is wasting his Master’s property, that he isn’t putting it to its full potential. Let’s put it this way, the manager is not a friendly corner store owner who lets his customers pay what they can. Instead, he is a squeeze-blood-from-a-stone kind of guy. If you owe 100 barrels, you are going to pay 100. The idea of reducing debt doesn’t come until after the selfish servant is fired from his job.

According to our definition of squandering, by generously forgiving debts and not collecting full value, the manager doesn’t actually waste his master’s property until after he is fired. 

Now, let us step back for a moment. This parable comes along in the Gospel of Luke, right after the parables of the Lost Coin, the Lost Sheep, and the Prodigal Son. It comes right after three parables where God squanders his time, attention and care for the sake of the lost.

God turns the idea of squandering on its head. To God, land, resources and money are squandered when they are hoarded. Holding onto to what you own, collecting full value at any cost… now that is wastefulness to God.

The master doesn’t fire the manager for not producing enough, but for holding on too tight. How opposite of the way we think.

When we first heard this parable today, there was an easily missed cue at the beginning. The first words that are spoken are “There was a rich man”. WE often think that this parable is about the dishonest manager, but it is truly about the generous and self-giving rich man. The rich man who lavishly gives away his time and resources, and his forgiveness.

And the rich man does not commend shrewdness. We are so stuck thinking about what this parable means for us, and what it tells us what we must do and how we must act, that we cannot really see what is happening so simply — forgiveness. We cannot see who it is about — God. God does not praise the servant’s dishonest and shrewd motives but the action of forgiveness. God praises the manager for wise action. God is the rich and forgiving master.

And because God chooses grace and mercy above all, forgiveness abounds. For the servant, the debtors, for us. God squanderingly gives forgiveness away for free.

It is hardwired in our brains, in our bodies, in our very beings that we should take what we can get, that we should make sure we receive 100% value. In our world, a debt of 100 jugs of olive oil would not be reduced to 50, rather we would make sure that when the debt is finally paid it would be 150 in return. A debt of 100 containers of wheat would not be reduced to 80, rather 120 would be paid in return. We are so quick to assume that selfish motivations are being commended, that we cannot see that the rich man praises the shrewd actions of forgiveness, grace and mercy.

This parable, like the ones before about the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Lost Son, is really about a radical, backwards, upside down God who believes in rejoicing with the found and who believes in the bad business practice of giving away God’s most precious resources for free, of giving away forgiveness, grace and mercy.

While we are busy getting 100% value, God is spending lavishly to save us when all seems lost. And this is the radical business practice of God. God who calls hoarding squandering. God who gathers us all in, by giving God-self away. God who is about forgiveness existing in the world no matter the reason.

And we thought this parable was about waste, but instead it is about the upside economy of the Kingdom of God.

Amen