Proper 10; Track 2 - Click here to see the texts for the day.
In fact, the weekend we drove up, I was afraid we wouldn’t be able to even get here because there had just been a huge storm.
So – in most places, we were lucky even to be able to get into the house because of all the snow.
This meant, of course, that we couldn’t actually see any of the property around the houses we were looking at.
It was all covered.
After the snow finally all melted – and we had moved into the house – we realized that the property had been neglected.
Probably for a few years at this point.
The gardens are ridiculous. Lyn is fond of saying that there are some weeds that have graduated now to being plants – because they’re so big and established.
The worst part is the front walkway – the grout between the brick was filled with moss – and those teeeeny tiny little weeds that reach wwaay down in the soil and make it hard to get them out.
That walkway, in particular, took hours and hours of hard – hot – back-hurting work to try and tame the weeds.
And try as we might – we still aren’t done.
We’re playing catch up with the weeds all over the property.
And its been a reminder for us that this planting – and growing – and tending business – is hard work.
Hot work. Back-breaking work if you have to do too much of it.
What has been a reminder for us – and maybe for anyone who gardens – would have been a reality – a constant truth for the folks both Isaiah and Jesus are talking to this morning.
Jesus and Isaiah are mostly talking to folks who farm – or know someone who does.
So they understand exactly what these processes look like – and feel like.
Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seeds would have drawn really stark images for the people listening.
And they would have gleaned some extra truth from some of these parables and metaphors that we often miss – because we live in a very different context, a very different world.
People who made their life this way would have thought carefully about the seed – because this seed cost money.
And it was how they would make their living – hoping that the seed would grow – and the harvest would be good.
They wouldn’t have thrown seed in most of these places.
They would have been careful to put the seed in good soil.
And then they would have tended it carefully – so first, this tells us something about God.
God sows the Word everywhere.
God sends Jesus everywhere – and to everyone.
For farmers – who would have been careful with their seed – wanting to get the most out of it – expecting it to grow and support their very lives – this would have been shocking to begin with.
That God wouldn’t sort of – just put the seed – in places where it was more likely to grow.
See in this God’s radical love.
God sends Jesus – sends love – sends the Word of God – to everyone – all the time – no matter what – whether they are likely to hear and be transformed or not.
These farmers might have thought this reckless. But it’s true.
But there’s something else that’s important about this story that doesn’t quite come out in the parable for us.
Even where the seed lands in good soil – there’s more to the story.
The seed just doesn’t fall to the earth and bear good fruit. Just like that.
The seed has to be watered. And cared for.
The weeds and birds have to be kept away from it.
Depending on what kind of crop it is, sometimes it needs to be pruned – or cut – or cared for in other ways.
All of this requires the attention and the care of the farmer.
But equally as important – the seed has to actually do the work.
It has to burst out – take root – and grow.
Reaching up toward the sun – it has to embrace its little seed mission in life – to bear good fruit.
To participate in the circle of life, so to speak.
And this means there’s a bit of a relationship between the farmer and the seed.
Each has to do its own part.
It’s not quite magic – and it doesn’t happen over night.
There are any number of ways the seed could spoil – or die – or simply not grow – even if it lands in good soil.
Getting to the point of bearing good fruit – that’s a process. A relationship.
So, too, for us.
The sure thing – for us – is that we have the best farmer.
One who is always present – always tending.
Trying to give us what we need.
Whether we take God up on that or not – well, that’s a different story.
But God is always there – always with us.
Always waiting to hold and comfort us – and to love and challenge us to grow – to burst out – to take root, to reach for the light.
It’s the other half where we find ourselves in control a bit more.
And that’s in how we respond.
Bursting out of the seed – is a bit like coming to the faith.
It’s a first step – that has the capacity to lead us to great new places.
It’s a step that not everyone takes – but one that changes everything if it happens to us in earnest.
It’s the beginning of the growth, too. The moment that we are suddenly able to grow – and to realize our potential.
It’s not always easy. Sometimes there’s a lot of earth for us to break through on our way to the sun.
Sometimes there are weeds that crop up around us and try to choke our faith.
God will tend to those.
But the pushing up toward the light – that’s our choice.
And we have the opportunity to make it each day – in the way that we act – and the way that we pray – and the way that we relate to God and to each other.
Faith isn’t something that just happens to us – it’s the lived experience of following Christ each day – through all the seasons of our life.
Knowing that sometimes the sun is nearer and warmer - and sometimes we find ourselves in the midst of winter – holding on as best we can, even feeling dormant – while we wait and hope for the next season of growth.
If you grew up going to Sunday School – you might be able to rattle off the “fruits of the Spirit” – anyone?
love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
These are the good fruits we are supposed to bear for the world.
So that the rest of the seeds in the world might suddenly burst forth into faith – taking that first step towards growth.
We aren’t the judges, by the way – of which soil is good, and which isn’t.
It’s our job to help God tend to the seed that has already been planted.
God, as we’ve said – plants the seed everywhere.
Regardless of what the soil looks like – because with God all things are possible – even tall trees on rocky cliffs – where there isn’t any room for a tree to take root.
Even palm trees in the desert – where there isn’t enough water to grow and live.
Even tiny green plants that crack up – and fight their way up – through the dark stone of islands made of lava.
Life is persistent because God is persistent.
Because with God – all things are possible –
Even life – out of death. Even resurrection.
Even forgiveness. Even the redemption and salvation of the whole world.
So – our job isn’t to judge the soil in which we find other seeds – to determine which people we’ll help or welcome – and which we won’t.
Instead – it’s our job to push up into the light ourselves – even as we try to help others do the same.
This parable makes it sound easy – but it’s not.
It’s hard work. And you have to want it.
Because this parable makes it really clear there’s an easy superficial way to follow Jesus – but in the end, it doesn’t work.
The only growth that is real – the only kind of fruit that lasts and is harvested – is that which comes from a total transformation.
From a giving over of our lives – and our wills – and our control – and everything that we call our own…because it was all – given of God in the first place.
It’s hard work.
And Jesus tells this parable this way because he knows its hard work – and he knows his audience will understand that through this story.
In our text from Isiah this morning – the people of Israel have been in exile for a long time.
Probably the folks that Isiah is talking to are the second generation of people who have been born in exile – who have never seen Jerusalem.
And when Isaiah talks about the people of Israel – he often compares them to a vineyard – that used to be beautiful and well maintained.
That used to produce good fruit – and fine wine.
But then – Israel stopped tending their vineyard.
They stopped prioritizing God. They stopped maintaining that relationship with care – and intention. And they allowed things of the world to take priority over God and their relationship with God.
And suddenly the rows of trees became a mess. They were choked by thorns.
And they stopped producing good fruit. Making it impossible for them to produce wine.
But now – God is preparing to send the people of Israel back to Jerusalem.
They don’t know it yet – but their exile is about to end – and this passage from Isaiah shows us that even though there was work for them to do – to continue righting those rows – to continue working toward the health of the whole vineyard-
Even though they have work to do -
God planted in them the seed of the Word – the seed of faith – knowing that it would accomplish that for which it was sent – for which he was sent.
Knowing that seeds like that are a bit mysterious – and they burst out and take root at all different times…for all kinds of different reasons…
But because of God’s word planted in them – and because it burst forth into their faithfulness – even in exile, we get this great homecoming story:
For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
In the end – this homecoming story belongs to all of us.
In the end – we are the good fruit – we are the harvest – who will go out in joy and be led back home in peace –
Because God sent Jesus Christ to redeem us – to collect us – to bring us who have wandered back into the vineyard.
Because this Word – this Love has been planted in all of us. We need only let it burst forth – and then reach for the light. Amen.