Sermon from Sunday
November 13, 2011
I love trash. Not just any trash – I have found joy in leftover food, apple cores, coffee grounds, onion skins, unfinished bottles of wine. Whatever it is, I love it because it goes straight into my compost pile. Every night I take that pile out to the compost, pour it in, and turn the whole mess with a rake. My mother would be so upset, because I enjoy playing with trash.
Now all of my work has a purpose. You see, I’ve begun to prepare my spring garden. I’ve laid the bed, I’ve put down some soil, and this compost that I have been caring for will nourish those future plants. And already I’ve planned out what vegetables to grow and where I will place them. I’ve read books and articles about when to sow the seeds and when to reap.
This is my first time to embark on such a project. Usually, when I want something to eat, I just go to HEB and then put it in my refrigerator. But now, with a garden, I’m learning just how much work and meticulous care goes into sowing seed, reaping, and gathering. You don’t grow food willy-nilly, you’re incredibly careful as to where everything goes. Every seed has a predetermined location, every watering takes place on a schedule, and preparation takes months. You are stingy with your seed, you are precise in your planting, you value every inch of soil.
A good farmer is precise.
And that is precisely why God is a terrible farmer.
Listen to what the master in the parable says: “You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?” This rhetorical question, tucked away nicely here near the end of Matthew’s gospel, contains the whole of the good news of Jesus Christ. God
reaps where God does not sow; God gathers where God does not scatter. Our Lord can find beautiful and delicious fruits growing in the most bug-infested, weed covered garden. In the same way, you don’t have to be born into the Church to love it. You don’t have to be baptized or confirmed as a child to be a Christian. You don’t have to have lived a perfect life to follow Jesus.
God reaps where God does not sow.
This is what troubles the third servant in our parable. This servant is not bitter because he received fewer talents, he’s not jealous of the other servants. The trouble with the third servant is that he’s too small-minded when he thinks of his master. He is simply afraid – afraid of the truth; the truth that the master gathers where he does not scatter.
We all know the third servant, and we must acknowledge that some of the third servant dwells in each of us. We are afraid – afraid that the world is changing, afraid that the church is changing – afraid that God is doing new things. We take the glorious promises that God has given to us, promises of healing and of new life, and bury them deep down inside. Because we’re afraid that if we show it off to anybody else we’ll lose it. But the tricky part about God’s promises is that we only remember them and enjoy them, when we share those same promises with others.
This is why the third servant enters into pain, where he weeps and gnashes his teeth. True pain, darkness and isolation, is when we convince ourselves that God is only as loving as we are; when we say to ourselves that God is formed in our image. This mentality is painful, it’s tragic. Because God is always and forever more loving than we can conceive. For God reaps where God does not sow.
This is what makes the other two servants so happy. They enter into the joy of their master. They are not small-minded, no, they think on a grand scale. They take what was given to them, and not fearing they might lose it, they share it, they invest it, and make a good profit. Yet this parable isn’t about venture capitalism – it’s about the Kingdom of Heaven.
God has given each one of us a measure of mercy, a promise that we will be healed of what ails us. But, this promise isn’t meant just for us. It’s meant for everybody. It’s to be shared. God’s love is too beautiful to keep to ourselves. All of us, as disciples of Jesus and as ambassadors of the Church, are empowered to give God’s promise to others. We are not allowed to share God’s mercy, we are supposed to share God’s mercy. We are supposed to say to others that God forgives them, that they are loved, that they will be healed of what ails them.
Just imagine with me for a moment, what a beautiful world that is. Imagine looking a recovering addict in the eye, a shell of a man whose life has been destroyed, and saying, “God forgives you.” Imagine saying “all will be well” to a woman dying of cancer. Imagine what it will be like when the people of St. Alban’s provide dinner for the hungry children of Wesley United Methodist Church on Friday evenings. Imagine what it will be like to share communion and resources and love with our companion church in southern Malawi. Imagine the blessings, imagine the joy of our master, imagine the promise of God’s better kingdom.
The world is changing. The Church is changing. But these things are only to be feared if we allow the third servant, the fearful one, to live inside of us. That path leads only to loneliness, isolation, and destruction. So rather than being afraid of the changes in our world, we can delight in the fact that God is doing new things. We can rejoice in the fact that the Kingdom of Heaven is much grander, much larger, much more loving that we can ever imagine. God reaps where God does not sow.
Now, there is a fence around my compost pile and garden. There has to be – varmints, mainly my dog, would destroy my crop. And again, God is a terrible farmer because God refuses to build fences. Jesus is unconcerned with any boundaries that we construct. The Lord has no regard for fences, or emotional barriers, or societal norms, or race, or orientation, or criminal record, or status. For all of those are conditions that we place on others so that we can make ourselves comfortable and say, “they don’t need the gospel.” But we’re wrong. Everybody needs God’s promise of healing and measures of grace just as desperately as we do.
Society might call these people on the outside trash; be wont to throw them away. But we see this as a great opportunity: our role as Christians is to take those people that society would throwaway, call them into the compost pile we call the Church, and then allow them to become the fertilizer for God’s bountiful garden. Even the stinkiest onion skin, even the puniest apple core, can become a saint of God.
God reaps where God does not sow. Our Lord Jesus tears down every fence he can find. That is precisely what makes God a terrible farmer, but it’s precisely what makes God the great lover. For only the great lover would ever imagine saying, “Well done good and trustworthy servant, enter into my joy.”