Saturday, July 19, 2014

Zucchini Love

A sower went out to sow...
Jesus is talking to a huge crowd of people.
There are so many people gathered around him on the beach,
that he gets into a boat and goes out onto the water.

I always thought this behavior was a little strange,
until I moved here to Burlington.

I used to think that Jesus was just not fond of crowds,
that he needed a little space.
That’s why he moved out onto the water.

But some of you who live on the Lake,
have shared with me,
that you can be on the shore and actually hear every word
that someone speaks when they are on a boat
out on the water.
Whether they intend it or not,
their voice comes through crystal clear.

So it makes sense
that Jesus would move out onto the water
so the crowds on shore could hear him better.

Jesus likes to teach
using parables.

Parables are peculiar stories.
They are not narratives
Parables do not take us logically from point A
to point B.

Parables are not fables.
Yes, they want to teach us something,
but parables are not simple stories
with a clear and focused moral point.

Parables call us to pay close attention.
Parables invite us to look for bizarre behavior
in what on the surface appears to be a simple story.

Parables are designed to catch our attention,
to cause us to furrow our brows
and make a strange sort of puzzled face,
and have one of those, “Well, that’s weird!” moments.

You’ve heard of “AHA!” moments?
Well, parables are sort of “HUH?” moments.
A story to hear and then to wonder about,
to ponder,
to roll over in your mind and in your heart,
to try to understand
what is Jesus trying to teach us.

One of the odd things about this gospel reading
is that we have the parable
and then we have an interpretation of the parable.

Having a specific interpretation of a parable is an oxymoron.
You can almost hear Jesus shouting,
“No! No! No! That’s not what I meant at all!”

Most scholars, and I agree with this,
believe that this very specific, allegorical explanation of the parable
probably did not originate with Jesus,
but with someone writing their understanding of this parable
for the early church.

That does not mean the interpretation is without merit,
but it is the parable itself that we are called to ponder.

A sower went out to sow....

Jesus knows his audience.
He knows they are people who understand farming,
and growing things.
These are not people that shop at Hannaford’s or Healthy Living.
These are people who grow their food
or barter fish or other skills for food.
These are people who know where their food comes from.

When Tom and I were first married
and living outside of Blacksburg, Virginia,
we decided to plant a garden.
We wanted to raise as much of our food as possible
We planted a huge garden!
Ridiculously huge.
Isn’t that what first time gardeners often do?

Now, I love zucchini!
So I wanted to be certain
we had plenty.

Now, being very novice gardeners,
we thought that for each seed we planted
we would get one zucchini.

So we planted rows and rows--
loooonnnnnnnggg rows--
of zucchini.

Needless to say, we could have fed all of southwestern Virginia
with our zucchini crop.
I think it was Garrison Keillor that warned people who were friends
with people who grew zucchini
to be sure to lock their car doors at night,
lest they find baskets of zucchini on their backseats in the morning.

I am not sure if it matters if the soil is rocky or scorched
or thorny or marvelous,
zucchini is a crop of magnificent abundance.

A sower went out to sow....
We don’t know what kind of seed this parable sower
is sowing.
Probably not zucchini.

But regardless of the crop,
this parable would have been quite puzzling
to those who were listening.
Why would anyone waste their seed
on ground that does not produce?

Seeds were precious.
Seeds meant food
and survival.

Yet this strange sower seems to randomly toss the seed
everywhere and anywhere.
As if there is plenty for everyone.

Belief in abundance is not the norm.
Not now and not two thousand years ago.
The world preaches scarcity.
Hold on to those seeds.
They’re all you’ve got.
Don’t waste them.
Don’t squander them.

Certainly there are resources we should carefully protect
but this is not where this parable is leading us.

The sower seems to be telling us
that God’s garden is different.

Just as the sower is extravagantly generous,
we too are called to be generous.

To be extravagantly generous with our love and compassion.
To sow it everywhere.
This parable shows a sower
who is generous even to the thorniest of recipients,

Mother Theresa is credited with writing,

People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. 
Love them anyway....
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. 
Do good anyway. 
Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. 
Be honest and transparent anyway. 
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. 
Build anyway. 
People who really want help may attack you if you help them. 
Help them anyway. 
Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt. 
Give the world your best anyway.

A sower went out to sow...
God lavishes mercy and grace and love
upon all of us.
God’s love
is as prolific and abundant
as zucchini.

Perhaps this parable is teaching us
that God is a very bad farmer
but a very good God.

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Sermon for Year A Proper 10
July 13, 2014
Cathedral Church of St. Paul
Burlington, Vermont
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan

A Cup of Cold Water

We have this absolutely horrifying story in Genesis.
Abraham is going to sacrifice, to kill,
his son Issac.

Because God asks him to do it.

Abraham loves God.
Abraham trusts God,
Abraham believes in God.

Remember, it was pure miracle
that Abraham and Sarah even had a son--
Sarah was no spring chicken when Issac was born.

I can only imagine how beloved this longed for
and prayed for and no doubt doted upon child
was to both mother and father.

And of course,
this is the point of the story.
The story--and I pray it is only a story--
is to teach us a bigger truth--
not a story that is based on fact (( hope)--
but a story to show us
that Abraham,
who trusts God so completely,
is willing to give up that which means more to him
than anything in the world.
His son.

Abraham believes that God is always working for good.
Even when it is impossible for us
to see how that good is being born into the world.

Abraham never gives up on God.

To me, and probably to many of you,
that sacrifice just seems too much.
Too big.
Too heartbreaking.

And yet we know the echo of this story will appear again.
Another father will give up a son to be sacrificed,
to be crucified.
That sacrifice will not be stopped in the nick of time
but once more
life that will overcome death,
goodness will overcome evil.

But the immensity of these two sacrifices
is not the whole of God’s story.

In today’s gospel we hear from Jesus
and he does not say
we must risk and sacrifice everything
to be faithful, to be followers--
but he does ask us to start somewhere.

He does ask that we take a step toward thinking a little less often
about our own needs and desires
and a little more often about the needs of others.

Jesus seems to understand that small things matter, too.
Small sacrifices can make a difference.
Taking the time to welcome someone.
Offering someone a cup of cold water
(Ponder this when you are asked to host coffee hour!)

It is not only the small things that we give,
but also the small things we receive.

We need to pay attention.
To always pay attention.
Whoever welcomes you...
whoever does even a small thing for you or for me,
we need to take the time to look,
to look and see the face of Christ
in simple acts of kindness.

This past Tuesday
I had the privilege--
and it was indeed a privilege--
of going to visit JUMP.

I had the privilege of spending the morning
with some of the outstanding volunteers
from this Cathedral and other churches
who volunteer  each week
at the JUMP drop-in emergency center,

just in case you don’t know,
 because I did not
when I first arrived in this city of prolific acronyms--
JUMP stands for Joint Urban Ministry Project.

It was founded almost 30 years ago
and is supported by 25 area religious congregations.
JUMP strives to assist people with their basic needs--
food, clothing, a tank of gas or a bus pass.

Basic needs.

There is another basic need we all share.
To be treated with respect, with kindness.
To be given a cup of cold water--
both literally and metaphorically.

Right now because of limited resources,
only 11 households can be served each day at JUMP.
Others are turned away.
Gently, but turned away none the less.

That doesn’t seem like many or much.

At one point of the morning,
I heard one of the volunteers say to a young mother,
as he described to  her what could be offered to her,
he said, “I’m sorry. I know it isn’t very much.
To which she softly replied,
 “But it is something. 

And it makes a difference.”

Whoever gives even a cup of cold water...

There is more than water offered. There is a table set with light refreshments,
little muffins, tea and coffee. Hospitality.

There is a cart with books--books for adults and books for children.
They are free for the taking.  Generosity.

As we go about our daily lives,
days which are abundant for most of us in so many ways,
we must not forget what we are called to do,
how we are called to give and to serve.
We may not be able to make a super-sized sacrifice
but we can start somewhere.

Don’t ever thiink these families who come to JUMP have it easy.
Ask yourself how well you would do on receiving a $ 40 food card
to last you and your family of four three months?

People of faith came together and created JUMP
and people of faith come together and show up and meet people
and welcome people
and try to offer what they can--
a bag of groceries, a dozen diapers, a voucher to put $ 10 of gas in your car--
a cup of cold water.
And an overflowing abundance of love.

My morning at JUMP was eye-opening.
In some ways it broke my heart.
But in other ways it filled my heart to overflowing.

Jesus knew what he was talking about.
A welcome.
A cup of cold water.
Whatever we can offer makes a difference.

One of my favorite children’s books
is HORTON HEARS A WHO by Dr. Seuss.
Horton is an elephant
and one day while splashing in a pool of water
he sees this little speck of dust floating through the air--
and then he hears that tiny speck of dust talking to him.
Horton realizes that there must be a very small person
living on that very small speck of dust.

Horton then discovers that the tiny speck of dust
is actually a small planet,
home to a community called Whoville.
It’s where the Whos live.
Horton is asked by their mayor to help protect the teeny tiny planet
and Horton says he will,
over and over repeating,
“ a person’s a person, no matter how small.”

Sometimes the world can overlook the people who seem small-
those who are poor or powerless,
those who are living on the far edges of our busy,
self-important lives.

Horton happily agrees to help,
and Horton does protect Whoville,
sometimes at great cost to himself.
(You’ll have to read the book
if you want to know the whole story).

But the reason that book came to mind
is what Horton kept saying over and over and over--
a person’s a person no matter how small.

I went to JUMP this week
and saw every person that came through the door joyfully welcomed,
treated with dignity and respect.
No one was judged unimportant or small.
There were a lot of Hortons reaching out to help the Whos.

Jesus tells us that each one of us matters.
Jesus calls each of us to do small acts of kindness and love,
especially to those the world seems to have forgotten,
especially for those who have almost given up,
on themselves.

In the Genesis story,
Abraham called that place of sacrifice,
“The LORD will provide.”

Many of us enjoy great abundance in our lives.
How we use and how we share that abundance
defines who we are, how we see God
and how we see others.

Helen Keller once said,

I am only one, but still I am one. 
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; 
and because I cannot do everything, 
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

It is often in the giving
that we receive the greatest gifts.
It is often when we offer a cup of cold water to others
that our own thirst is also quenched.

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Sermon for Year A Proper 8
June 29, 2014
Cathedral Church of St. Paul
Burlington, Vermont
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan