Sunday, July 16, 2017

Pentecost 6A, 2017: Nothing is wasted

Preached as supply at St. John's, Charlotte - a truly wonderful faith community! I had so much fun there!

Lectionary:Isaiah 55:10-13; Psalm 65: (1-8), 9-14; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

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En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo y Espiritu Santo.Amen.

I love turkey vultures. That’s right… I said I love turkey vultures. Most people consider them ugly with that wrinkly red skin on their heads, and gross because they eat dead, rotting road kill.

It’s true, they aren’t beautiful like an eagle, or elegant like a hawk – until you see them in flight. The wingspan of this raptor is 5 ½ feet long with white-tipped, finger-like feathers that spread out and touch the wind. They rarely flap their powerful wings, choosing instead to ride the thermals and updrafts with effortless grace and wisdom.

The turkey vulture has one great weakness, though: it’s feet and talons are weak, so it can’t swoop down to grab and kill prey like hawks and owls do. That’s why it feeds on already dead animals, which seems like a disgusting way to have to go, and makes one wonder what eternal sin they are being punished for – (I don’t believe in that…) but in reality, turkey vultures serve an immensely important role in the big picture of creation.

They have powerful digestive juices that allow them to eat the dead animals without getting sick, thereby saving other animals from the spread of dangerous infections and harmful bacteria. Their featherless heads, while not classically beautiful, allow them to eat their food without picking up harmful bacteria or infection.

Sunlight also helps disinfect their heads and feathers, so in the mornings, turkey vultures gather in great numbers, raise their heads and lift their wings, and allow the sun to cleanse them of any remaining bacteria. It’s an amazingly beautiful sight – these magnificent birds doing their sun salutation.

The scientific name for turkey vulture is cathartes aura, which means ‘golden purifier.’ Isn’t that beautiful? Ancient Greeks considered them symbols of heaven and earth, spirit and matter, good and evil – all in one physical body.

I see them as the perfect illustration of St. Paul’s discussion in today’s portion of the letter to the Romans. Life and death, flesh and spirit – all transformed in us because of our relationship to Jesus, the Christ – or as St. Paul said it, “the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”

Righteousness. Right relationship.

Since, as Paul says, “the Spirit of God dwells in” us, we have life in our mortal bodies through that spirit. We are dead and alive – all in one physical body.

From the turkey vulture we also learn that what we might consider to be waste is actually a valuable part of God’s life-giving plan and evidence of the interconnectedness of all creation. We may judge road-kill as waste, but the turkey vulture sees it as dinner! And by being itself, and doing what God created it to do, the turkey vulture contributes
to the health and well-being of the earth and the creatures of God who live on it.

There is no such thing as waste in God’s economy.

As we heard in our reading from Isaiah, everything created of God has a divine purpose and will not return to God empty, but will accomplish that for which God has created it. Everything… everyone has a divine purpose, even those we might judge as worthless, or gross, or useless, or bad. That, I think, is the point of the Parable of the Sower.

There are many approaches to understanding this story. Some see the Sower as God, sowing seed extravagantly, freely, almost wastefully, in areas where God knows it can’t take root and grow. Others see us as the sowers, called to imitate God’s extravagance by sharing the Good News we know.

Still others see us as the seed which has been sown. Some of us grow shallow roots that fail to sustain us in times of trouble. Some of us are choked by the thorns of culture and die. Some of us grow in good soil and produce abundant fruit.

Then there are those who see us as the soil – footworn hardened paths that can’t receive a seed; or rocky ground too shallow to sustain life; or so crowded with thorns that anything that takes root is choked and dies; or land that is nourished, cared for, and ready to receive seed.

All of those interpretations are fine with me, but the one that compels me today is the one that focuses on the Sower who, if we hold the Sower to be God, wastes nothing.

Yet the parable seems to indicate otherwise. So how do we understand this?

If the Sower is God, then God scatters the seeds of life extravagantly, freely, on hard, rocky, thorny, and fertile ground alike. In God’s economy then, the plants that grow, no matter where they are planted, are valuable and part of the interconnectedness of all that is.

What if we suspend our typical judgments of those plants and open the eyes of our hearts to discern God’s purpose for them?

A young woman I know was born in rocky soil. Her parents were drug addicted and her family was the picture of dysfunction: abusive, uneducated, constantly in and out of jail. This young woman was subjected to abuses of every kind at home and left as a teenager hoping to find a better life. But she was unprepared – she’d never learned the basic things so many of us take for granted, like how to read, how to brush her teeth, even how to use a chest of drawers to store clothes. She also never learned or saw modeled how to earn money legally or how to be in a relationship that wasn’t abusive or exploitive.

But this young woman, as abrasive and repulsive in appearance and behavior as she was, is a child of God with a divine purpose. So is the homeless person begging at the street corner, or the addict panhandling on the sidewalks uptown, or the lapsed believer, or the person obsessed with money, power, and prestige.

They are all seeds sown by the Sower. How, then, does a follower of Christ respond?

Well for one thing, we don’t condemn. St. Paul writes that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” which to me, means everyone, since Jesus, as the second person of the Trinity, is the one “through whom all things are made.” Isn’t that what we say in our Creed?

Who then, can exist apart from him?

We all may be at different places in our understanding and awareness of this, but that is our truth. It isn’t about what we believe, but who we are – created and beloved of God.

We can also respond by setting our minds on the Spirit of God who dwells in us, and letting our weakness be the place God connects us one to another. This is the principal behind AA – alcoholics helping other alcoholics to find healing and wholeness.

This is also what connected me to the young woman I mentioned. I knew the abuse she lived because I had lived some of it too. This enabled us to connect in a real way and begin a journey of healing from which both of us benefitted.

When we connect with one another, weakness to weakness, the power of God’s healing love works powerfully through the faithful to transform death to life.


Perhaps we can respond by bringing our fertile soil, along with some water, and fertilizer to their plot and share from our riches. Or maybe we transplant them somewhere that has more fertile soil, provided they want that.

Not everyone is privileged to have been sown into fertile soil, but everyone is beloved of God and has a divine purpose. And the beauty of life in the Spirit of God is that everyone can be made whole, reconciled by the power of Jesus Christ
and his glorious resurrection from the dead.

That is the Spirit who dwells in us, therefore, we are the means by which God accomplishes this in the world today. It is our responsibility, therefore to know and own our weaknesses; to know and own our divine purpose… and that is why we gather together each Sunday: to worship God in community, to partake of holy food which transforms us bit by bit into holy people, and to discover how the unique gifts God has brought together in this community – St. John’s, Charlotte - are meant to be used to connect “out there” and bring God’s transforming love to all, but especially those beloved ones sown in hard, rocky, or thorny soil.

Let us pray.

God of love and creator of all, give us the grace and courage to go to those who were planted in hardened, rocky, or thorny soil, and share with them the truth of their value and belovedness. By your Spirit may we see beyond any ugliness, abrasiveness, or repulsiveness and recognize the goodness which you proclaimed is in all you create,
that we may be co-creators of life, right here, right now, by the power of your Holy Spirit which dwells in us, through Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen.

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