I love talking with my Dad about church. He’s a priest. I’m a priest. Both of us are very traditional in many ways; very untraditional in many ways. And the best part is that they don’t always match. I greatly appreciate the way we talk, argue, explore, wrestle with our mutual vocations.
Our talk last night was about the Revised Common Lectionary: how it jumps, how it breaks context, how it sometimes fails to assist the congregation in actually knowing our story. Perhaps, most strangely, encouraging us to not know our story.
This week, we skip ahead a chapter. We jump from Matthew 10 to 11, then 13. And the struggle I had with covering Matthew 10 is that we were already taking it out of its context, making it sound like a group of Jesus aphorisms, totally unconnected, then cutting the big finale in half. And yet the voice of chapter 10 was of building up the disciples, naming them apostles: with all of the gifts they need to take on the world.
In 11, Jesus moves on, seemingly alone, to visit John the Baptizer. We then get this teaching, which is totally about discipleship and relationship. John serves as a great metaphor for that relationship, that trust in the Spirit, in Jesus.
In chapter 12, we get more Jesus with disciples, beginning with the Sabbath. This is certainly one of my favorite teachings of Jesus: the breaking of Sabbath law to keep the Sabbath. Then the chapter moves into the crowds and Jesus and signs and the reader could be excused if she got lost in it . More seemingly unconnected and strangely opaque stories. Most clergy don’t want to have to wrestle through this material, anyway, so maybe the team that produced the RCL is onto something.
The chapter ends with a most provocative moment of Jesus hearing that His family is waiting to see Him and Jesus says
“Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”
Then saying these people here are my true family. An idea we’ve recently already explored.
So here we come to 13, this week’s gospel story. Most of us will start and end with what is read here. And yet I don’t know how we can approach this conversation about the seeds and the sower without talking about the vision laid out in chapter 10, without all that Jesus describes in 11, and without all that mixed up stuff in chapter 12. Because the vision of discipleship that this writer we call Matthew paints is not depicted by watching the disciples in action, but by watching Jesus in action.
We see Jesus to see the disciples.
Don’t be confused by Jesus’s central presence in the story. This looks like a life story of Jesus. And we often read it like a biography (or more strangely, an autobiography). But this is really about those disciples, raised up, named apostles, and taught how to do ministry.
Apostles that go and do while Jesus is visiting with John the Baptizer. Apostles that take Jesus’s teachings so seriously that they are willing to break Sabbath law, knowing the consequences. Apostles that were closer to Jesus than His own flesh and blood.
These are the seeds we’re talking about. The seeds that grow from good soil; soil cultivated by working and following their rabbi through inhospitable environments. This isn’t just some metaphor about our going out and finding good people or excusing whatever BS excuse we use for being Christian in name only, or in sincerely held belief only, but without commitment, action, or participation in a community of believers.
For this is the gospel we’re talking about this weekend. This is the metaphor, the parable, the teaching of Jesus: that it isn’t just about seeds or the soil or the sower. Our faith isn’t just about us or our church or even Jesus. It is about it all, all of it! Our work, our faith, our commitment to a path that sometimes sucks and sometimes brings such profound joy that our tears of pain are mixed with tears of happiness and thankfulness.
We celebrate Easter every single week, not because something happened 2,000 years ago, but because something is happening with us, through us, within us every moment we give ourselves as a sincere gift. Not one that brings us joy in giving, but is genuinely given without expectation, without any hope of response. A gift to GOD that doesn’t help us. It doesn’t sustain us. It doesn’t rescue us. It doesn’t make us feel happy or warm our hearts. A gift we give of devotion that comes without the least bit of ego, because that is where we find the gospel.
Sunday, you’ll hear a lot about seeds and sowing. Speculation about what Jesus really means with this metaphor. Who the seeds really are or what/who the soil must be. Making GOD the sower, or maybe its the disciples. I am certain this Sunday’s preaching will be full of people turning a metaphor into an allegory.
This time, this year, you won’t hear it from me. Of course, I’m not preaching this Sunday, but that isn’t why. Why is because this passage can’t survive on its own. And trying to make it so certainly leads to a simplistic Christianity if we simply cast the parts of this tiny piece of scripture as if it were a play.
What it is is our story. This is about us. Our discipleship. Our work. Our faith. It is about seeing past Jesus to His disciples. To see how Jesus empowers them, forms them, builds them up. And then unleashes them to build upon the very elements of a contagious faith.