This the sermon the Rev. Canon Janet Waggoner preached on the Third Sunday after Pentecost, June 13, 2021.
Year B, Proper VI - Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 92:1-4,11-14; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10,14-17; Mark 4:26-34
I speak to you in the name of the Living God - holy Trinity, ever one. AMEN.
If I were to name the theme of today’s Gospel lesson, it would be
“God is in charge, and we are not.”
God means for that to be good news for us, words of comfort to us as God’s beloved children.
But some of us get all tangled up wondering, if God is in charge and we are not, what does that mean about the role each of us is supposed to play. I mean, we hear all the time that we’re the hands and feet of God in the world. And in the collect this morning, we prayed that God’s grace would allow us to “proclaim God’s truth with boldness” and “minister God’s justice with compassion.” How are we supposed to know what we’re supposed to do? How much giving and striving and working is enough?
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus gives us a glimpse of what it looks like for God to be God in our lives. Seeds are scattered on the ground and just left there. Meanwhile, the sower goes about his or her business, sleeping, rising, working, playing, doing whatever is next on the endless list of things that need to be done on a farm. The seed draws what it needs from the earth and then does what seeds do, it grows. When the sower next encounters the seed, it’s ready to be harvested as food for his family or seed to start next year’s crop.
I grew up on a farm. Chores started before dawn. When chores were done, my dad would often wash up, hop in the pick-up, and go to town to Ted’s Café to have coffee with the farmers gathered there. There were farmers there every single morning except Sundays. Mostly, they talked about the weather. The sun, the wind, the rain, how their crops did last season, how their crops might do this season. Then they would get back in their pick-up trucks and go home to work in the barn or in the fields or on whatever else needed building or fixing that day.
As a child, I was mystified by this practice of “having coffee.” First of all, it seemed like a waste of time - not to mention gas money - to drive to town to have a cup of coffee, especially when Dad just drove right back home, to have another cup of coffee with breakfast. Second of all, the weather was the weather. Talking about it didn’t change it, so why talk about it all the time?
Years later, I realized that daily coffee at Ted’s Café was the farmers’ way of coping with the fact that they poured their lives and their money and their blood and their sweat into the soil - and yet had absolutely no control over whether or not they would end up with any harvest at all. Rain, wind, heat, blight, bugs, hail, anything could happen - and often did. Daily coffee at Ted’s Café was the way these farmers practiced surrendering to whatever was to come and supported each other in the midst of it all.
Some people practice these same things in AA. Some wrestle through to them in Bible Studies. Some people hash through their struggles in counseling. Some take in the body and blood of Christ and find in it the strength they need to get through another day, another week.
God is in charge, and we are not.
So, if God is in charge, why bother to do anything? In today’s story from the Book of Ezekiel we hear God saying that God’s got this. When God wants a tree, God just plucks a sprig off of one tree and plants another, and it grows on its own, without any tending. Not only that, but if there’s leveling out or pruning or watering to be done, God can do it.
God doesn’t need us, but God wants us. The God-who-is-in-charge loves us and the rest of all creation. The God-who-is-in-charge longs to be with us - so much so that God sent Jesus so that we “might live no longer for ourselves.” And if we give ourselves over to God’s goodness, God’s love, God’s way, our lives are hidden in Christ who died and rose for us. And then, as the apostle Paul says, “there is a new creation” - meaning God’s love makes us new and then we get to work with God as God creates newness around us.
Sounds pretty good, eh? All that goodness, all those promises, all of that hope . . . But did you notice, all that still doesn’t answer the questions: How are we supposed to know what we’re supposed to do? How much giving and striving and working is enough?
Here’s a closing thought about that - from the farm and from the Gospel.
If you follow a farmer around all day, you’ll notice that the farmer isn’t doing a lot of running. Even though she has an infinitely long list of things that “might should get done,” she’s walking at a moderate pace, going from one project to another - “easing along,” as my father used to call it - so that at the end of the day, the farmer still has enough strength and energy to do the chores and then make supper.
In the parable of the seed, what does Jesus say the farmer is doing while the seed is growing? “Sleeping and rising.” Nothing heroic. Nothing out of the ordinary. Taking care of business and taking care of himself, so that when the grain is ripe, he’s ready to harvest it.
Our crazy Protestant work ethic might lead us to believe that every minute of our lives needs to be accounted for, every day has to be full. But the God-who-is-in-charge can manage things without us, while we are resting or reading or hanging out with friends or doing whatever refreshes us, so that when the God-who-is-in-charge calls, we are ready for God to create new things through us in our neighborhood or elsewhere in our world.
May it be so. AMEN.