Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
July 13, 2014
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Jesus said, “a sower went out to sow.” And as the sower sowed with wild, reckless abandon, some seed fell on the path, and the birds ate them up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where, without much soil, the seed sprang up quickly and died. Other seed fell among thorns and choked to death. But some seed fell on good soil and yielded much fruit.
Along with Susan Kennard, the rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Galveston, this past week I had the pleasure of scattering the seed of God’s love at a summer camp session for the Diocese of Texas at Camp Allen. Admittedly, I am exhausted after a week of working with seventy third and fourth graders, twenty counselors, and five college-aged staffers. Now, for those of you who have not been, Camp Allen is simply awesome. Kids go horseback riding and swimming. They go on high ropes courses and get to go fishing and boating. Camp Allen now has a giant water slide, called “The Chute,” that sends kids hurtling down into the lake, accompanied by squeals of laughter. And yes, there is plenty of time for prayer, worship, and religious story-telling. This year our theme was “Moses” and the kids in our camp learned about the burning bush, the Red Sea, and manna from heaven. Susan and I were sowing the seeds of God’s love.
Now, it’s not all fun and games. We dealt with the normal problems in the life of an eight year old. Lost toothbrushes, lost underwear, lost shoes; scraped knees, stomach aches, bug bites; little boys making bows and arrows and little girls wondering where babies come from. And if you get to know an eight year old well enough, you start getting a glimpse into their life. For instance, one little boy told me why he doesn’t go to church. In this precocious little voice, he says, “Look, I’m just way too busy on the weekends. Plus,” he said, “my mom says church is boring.” Hey kid, at least you’re honest.
Susan and I, along with the high schoolers and college students, try to create a caring, stable environment for a week. We repeatedly tell the kids that we love them, and that God loves them. We are sowing the seeds of God’s love. For many kids, they know that they are loved. They come from stable homes and vibrant churches and are brimming with excitement on Saturday morning when their parents pick them up.
And sadly, for some kids, fifty-one of their weeks in the year are without love. For fifty-one weeks of the year, they are not told that they are loved. They come from abusive homes, or fragile environments. Some kids face Saturday morning at Camp Allen with dread, because they don’t want to get picked up. Camp Allen is the only family they know, it’s the only love they receive all year
Two little boys knew this. They knew it all too well. Yesterday morning, when the van from their foster group home came to pick them up, they began to weep. And to cry. They did not want to leave, because they knew they were safe at Camp Allen. They knew what it meant to be loved. I won’t forget the image of these two little boys hanging on to the Camp Allen staffers for dear life, hugging them, and crying on their shoulders, because those were the only loving mothers and fathers they knew. Camp Allen was the one place in their entire, difficult lives where they were loved without reservation.
If you had looked for a dry eye at that campsite when those boys were loaded in the van and drove away, you would have failed. The adults, the college kids, the teenagers, and me – we were all weepy because we knew those boys were driving away from love. They were leaving their dose of heaven, and going back to the hell of their reality.
Jesus said, “a sower went out to sow.” When we think about this parable, we want to think about growing the church, but that’s not the point. See, we are not the sower. We are not the seed. We are the soil. The parable is about us, and Jesus is asking if we, his people, are thorns or rocks or the path or the good soil. This week, I have seen the good soil. I tell you, Camp Allen is that soil, where even those two little boys who are growing up in a hard, hard world know what love is.
And I tell you, the church is always being called to become the good soil. Because in this hard, hard world, the church is the one place where we can love without reservation. That is our only mission and purpose in this world. God has commissioned us to love our neighbor as ourselves – the rest is just details. And I should not have to recall to you what a hard, hard world this is. This is a world in which two young boys grow up in a way that would horrify us. This is a world in which families are murdered in their own living rooms. This is a world in which tens of thousands of children are fleeing horrendous levels of violence and murder, seeking our borders in a desperate hope for refuge. On the face of it, this is a world that does not know love.
Good people – we are being called by God to be the good soil. When our guests from the Interfaith Hospitality Network come to us tonight, we will love them with open arms and without reservation. We will be a church of good soil where anybody, anybody, looking for love and acceptance and inclusion can find a place. This will be a church of good soil, where we don’t get stuck on the politics of immigration policy, but open our hearts to lonely children in a world full of hatred. This will be a church of good soil where we allow God’s seed of love to grow in those who are mourning, those are recovering from addiction, and those whose lives are falling apart at the seams. Good people – God is calling us to be the good soil. Because when push comes to shove, the church is the one place in the world that will love, regardless of the consequence. And the consequences might be severe. Just ask Jesus, who loved so much that he ended up on a cross.
Being the good soil requires that we do the hard work of clearing the land. God is calling us to clear out the thorns of wealth and greed in our lives, and to be the good soil of generosity. God is calling us to move the stones in our lives, which are symbolic of our hard-heartedness and contentment with the suffering of others. God is calling us to be the good soil that yields love.
Because I don’t know about you, but I desperately want a place in my life in which I and my family can be loved and love others. I firmly believe that every single human being is desperately, desperately looking for a place in which they are told, week by week, day by day, that they are loved. Without condition. Without reservation. Without manipulation. And I believe that such a place exists, I believe there is such good soil in the world. I believe that the one true place to find love is here, in God’s Church.