by Ann Fontaine
Reflections on this week’s readings and thinking towards a sermon: early in the week I read the lessons and begin to ponder what I might say, where they fit together or challenge each other. I hope by Sunday morning some focus will emerge and the Good News I will give for a “take away” or question to chew on during or support for the week ahead.
My homiletics professor was Peter Gomes. He taught us to do our research and exegesis, to be in touch with the lives of the people of the congregation where one serves, listen to the world around, decide on what one point we plan to make, then get up and preach 10 minutes without notes. When we would do sermons for him and our class – we gave him a slip of paper with our main point. Much of our grade depended on whether or not we were able to make it. He discouraged us from quoting others or reading a story. His belief was that we must speak convincingly with our own voices. When I went to the reservation as an interim priest – I was still relying on a text (though I had not been taught that way) – they asked me how I thought they could remember what I was telling them if I could not remember! What are your techniques for delivery? Or what do you notice in your preacher?
Following are my first thoughts, sort of a random collection of ideas – not necessarily all will develop into a sermon or maybe none!
Rebekah will have twins. Isaac loves Esau. Rebekah loves Jacob. They wrestle in the womb – setting the stage for a long conflict between the siblings. Jacob seems to be a tricky person from the beginning. How often do oppressed people admire a trickster – one who can get what he wants regardless of the system. Written in a time when people were remembering their formation stories – the Hebrew people were in exile, conquered by the Babylonians. The culture of the day was that the oldest always inherits but the Bible is full of stories of the youngest sons ending up in first place. One wonders if there is a subversion of the patriarchal system at work?
Your word is a lantern to my feet *
and a light upon my path.
This is a classic statement of the love of Torah, the law. It is a gift, a grace and a blessing to have the law. Torah is not a burden (as we saw last week in Jesus – it is easy and light). Children thrive when boundaries are clear and they feel secure in the rules. But humans can take any gift and turn it into a bad thing. Rules can become brutal and restricting instead of supportive and freeing. The Law can protect and clarify our paths. Without it we stumble and fall. It makes a safe community for all when the law is lived. When it is used to wield power over others for one’s own benefit or for one’s little group – it becomes a curse.
When I was a camp director I had a few set rules (like no jumping off the high rocks in to the swimming hole, stay in sight of the cabins if you are by yourself – we were in the wilderness – 45 minute drive to town and very iffy communications – no cell phones). But most of the rules I left to the group to write. We talked about what makes for a good experience at camp. They came up with their own set of rules for the week and were much stricter than what I would probably offer. Each night we would gather and talk about how it was going- did the rules need adjusting? How were they working out in daily life? Were they too difficult? What would make them better? Then we would recommit to keeping our rules.
Many areas of our lived go better with structure and guidelines. What sort of baseball would be played if everyone made up their own games as they went along?
Communities, such as the Benedictines, have a rule of life that balances work, prayer and rest.
At various points in our lives we need external rules to help keep us on track – other times our internal sense of balance is enough.
Paul writes the on the same topic as the psalmist: the law as God intends it (he calls this spirit) and the law as humans have used it and often warped it (the flesh in his terms). Christ sets us free to follow God’s law of right relationship and steadfast love for each other and the creation.
The Gospel reveals the nature of God, flinging seeds at everything expecting abundant return. Stones, briars, good soil – all get seeds. The return suggested in the Gospel is impossible but still expected.
The “evil one” according to Richard Swanson:
When Jesus explains and expands the story he told, he tells his hearers that it is the “evil one” who comes along and snatches away the seed that was sown. This is a workable (and common) translation of πονηρὸς, but the word implies not so much malice as pointlessness. I translate it (usually) as “the worthless one.” I like that translation here. The one described as πονηρὸς is snatching up the seed before it has any chance to grow. Every group of which I have ever been a part has had at least one person like this. They know ahead of time that nothing will work. They snatch up hope before it has a chance to ripen. They prevent (if they can) any action at all, thus guaranteeing that NOTHING AT ALL will happen, good or bad. I call that sort of activity worthless. The parable appears to agree.
Regardless of where we are in our lives—stone hearted or in a thorny patch or open to receive – does not matter to the sower. Everyone gets showered with abundance. No more assessing or judgment of whether we are worthy or not – God continues to have hope that we will grow into our fullness of our humanity and make this a place that God intends.
I think about a friend who recently died. She was at least 20 years younger than I but so full of life that she shared with all who met her. In terms of the sower – what sort of ground was she or what ground did she grow from or was she the sower. Perhaps the latter – flinging her life energy freely and without fear and continuing to give life to the world even though she is no longer here with us in the same way.
What are your thoughts today? What did you hear?