Sermons on YouTube…
I’m not sure if my soul is just thirsting for joy, or the earth is just so parched that any little drop of hope sizzles like rain on a hot sidewalk, or because the psalmist’s words of overflowing pastures and years crowned with bounty reminded me of the sweet smell of Avon honeysuckle perfume…
But, reading this week’s texts, I felt as if a sweet balm was being caressed across my heart. Every word seemed to hold the same thought: Lavish, delightful, unbounded joy.
And then – in the exact same moment – I thought: there’s NOTHING lavish or delightful right now. I quickly dismissed the daring delight found in the gospel as absurd and ridiculous. I downright pushed it away. But, the thought kept lingering, percolating in my mind.
Maybe I should back up a bit.
Often I’ve heard the gospel text (and preached it) as a commentary on what type of “environment” my heart is and how my heart might be aerated and fertilized, so that I might be more the person God desires me to be. You know, examining the times my heart is rocky making me cold and callous, the times it’s overgrown with thorns and no one can get close to me, or the times when my heart is rich, good soil (which seems too infrequent). And then I design self-improvement projects to fix what is wrong with me – more prayer, less social media; more family time, less snark; more sleep, less wine. Anything that will fix my messed up heart.
I’m pretty sure that my perfectionistic tendencies color this interpretation.
Because in the Gospel reading, it says nothing about making the soil (or my heart, for that matter) into a more hospitable environment. There is no judgement, no pointing out inadequacies. It’s just about the sower and his wasteful, generous, unselfish, openhandedness scattering seed.
Surprise, surprise – it’s about God and not me.
God goes out and as God sows, the seeds fall everywhere.
Imagine it — a sower blissfully skipping across the fields and meadows, the back alleys and sidewalks, the playgrounds and parking lots of this world with fistfuls of seed. There is no way to contain that much seed. No way to sort or save it. Of course it will spill over. Of course it will fall through his fingers and cover the ground. Of course it will scatter in every direction. How can it not?
This picture of SO MUICH goodness was painted in my mind as the readings for this week layered upon each other. Overflowing pastures, rivers full of water, God’s free gift of salvation, fistfuls of seed. Jesus is all out living, all out giving. So refreshing; bursting with aliveness.
And, as I mentioned earlier, as soon as I had that image, I dismissed it. In our current inhospitable environment, it seems preposterous. An impossible reality.
But maybe that’s part of it.
Maybe, impossible realities – needful extravagance – are the point.
As many of you know, I’ve been taking classes towards my Master’s in Public Administration. I’m almost done – praise be to God. Right now, I’m taking a class on Marketing and Communication. Which – you know – seems to have nothing to do with the Gospel reading or Jesus, which just goes to show I can turn just about anything into a sermon. But – one of the tenants of good marketing – of reaching people and getting them to care about your product or service – is the willingness to waste time and energy on the creative process. Mostly because tending to the process and imagining possibilities focuses one in on what matters, on how your story and their story connect.
So, why does this matter? Because I think that Jesus is painting (or marketing) a new reality – one that seems impossible, one that is extravagant, but one that is his new reality. The kingdom of God.
The whole crux of the story is God is tending to what God loves: The entirety of the earth and ALL that lies therein. He seems completely unconcerned about where the seed falls. He has this confident realism paired with his daring delight and he just keeps flinging.
And so, if this is true – what is my resistance to it? I mean – why resist such bounty, such beauty, such sweet grace? Maybe, it’s because we’ve forgotten what it’s like to imagine, to dream, to skip with bliss? Or maybe we’re afraid it’s just not possible.
That’s my other marketing class take away that relates to Jesus and the Gospel. This whole creative thought thing is hard – but it is only through tapping into what could be that we can change what is.
We’re so good at fighting and hunkering down, but imagining what is wonderful and to be adored and tended and exalted is so very hard for us. I mean, it is so hard for me to conceptualize myself delighting in anything that is happening today. What is there to delight in?
But, then this picture of Jesus skipping through the world pops back into my mind. I mean, it’s clear from the scripture that Jesus is traversing everywhere – no place is off limits, no matter the terrain.
He’s indiscriminately scattering grace on Trump rallies and Black Lives Matter protests; he’s lavishing love upon the prisoner and queer and the everyday person who flies under the radar; he’s pouring out forgiveness on the murderous and wrongdoers; he’s granting solace to the broken and desperate. Everywhere he goes he scatters pixie-dust.
It’s so, so Tinkerbell-ish.
I mean – not the whole submissive, blond, white damsel in distress piece.
But, in the whole familiar plot structure giving me enough to lean on, but also ballsy enough to help me step into an otherworldly reality.
Jesus’ story about the sower is this kind of story. He paints a seemingly impossible reality: one that is just beyond my reach, one that I long to step into, and I’m just about there…
I just get in my own way.
I’m not kidding – I think Jesus was working on mis MPA in his free time, because it’s like Jesus read my textbook on marketing. One of the other things it teaches people to do when trying to get their points across is to invite them into a compelling story. For your story to become their dream.
The exact words were: “When we experience a captivating story, we emerge from it changed and often remember the events and experiences in the story as if they were our own. People want stories that operate just at the edge of expectation. Great stories leave space for the audience to put the pieces together for themselves. To figure things out.” Jesus does just this.
Ok.. I feel a little like I’m all over the map – too much joy and glitter will do that to you – let me pull some of these pieces together more concisely (also a marketing strategy that Jesus does better with his SHORT little story about a sower, than I do with my 1300 word sermon).
Jesus tells us this gorgeous, ridiculous, lavish story that makes us dream, “What if?” What if we did love generously, what if we did release some of the control we hold over ourselves and others, what if we did delight in something every day?
Can’t you just about see it? Just about feel it? Can’t you just about imagine yourself tossing those seeds? This is where Jesus leaves us- right at the edge – with just enough joy and hope for it to no longer feel impossible.
And in this time of sickness, scarcity, anxiety, suffering, and loss… what does the world need more than a Savior that errs on the side of wastefulness?
I can’t think of anything the world needs more.