Grounded

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

People have very different reactions when they confront the claims of Christianity. Not everyone who enters the doors of a church has the same experience.

Some of these reactions to Christian faith are portrayed in today’s Second Lesson. In this text, Jesus tells a story about a farmer who plants seeds.

Some seeds fall on the path alongside the field; these seeds aren’t really planted and so they are eaten up by birds. Other seeds fall on rocky ground; while they manage to sprout up quickly, they later wither in the sun because their roots aren’t deep enough to give them water from the soil.

Other seeds fall in a thorny area of the field. These seeds have access to water and could prosper — but their growth is stymied by the thorns that happen to surround them.

Finally, some seeds drop on good soil that is free from thorns. From these seeds, an excellent harvest springs up. Indeed, in the story, the growth of these seeds is fantastic: the farmer receives a hundred times the amount of grain he started with!

Now usually when Jesus told parables, he didn’t try to explain them. His listeners would have to figure out the meaning of the stories by themselves.

In this case, though, the Gospel writer, St. Matthew, records an interpretation of the parable that Jesus offered. When we hear this interpretation, we might think of various people we know and their failed attempts to find faith.

According to Matthew, the seeds that were sown on the path represented people who hear “the word of the kingdom” and fail to understand it.

Seeds “sown on rocky ground” were like people who hear “the word and immediately receive it with joy.” Unfortunately, these people have no spiritual roots, so “when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word,” when their faith costs them something, these people immediately fall away from the Christian community. Their religious progress is short-lived.

As for the seeds “sown among thorns,” Jesus says that they represent folks “who hear the word” of God that has been preached to them but then are distracted by non-religious concerns. The cares of the world and the lure of wealth overshadow the ethical demands of the Gospel, and so the original message of God is forgotten, and the people go on to live as though they had never been touched by God’s spirit.

Finally, the seeds sown on good soil represent the people who hear the word of God and understand it. They live the Gospel. The Spirit grows within them, and their lives bear fruit.

Now the wisdom of this parable can (sometimes) be seen in real life. Since Church means different things to different folks, there are Christians who try to go to church every Sunday. A different religious custom is followed by a man whom I spoke with last Christmas.

As he was going out the door after the midnight mass, I recognized him from previous Christmases. I greeted him by saying “welcome back!” The man shook my hand warmly and said, “See you next year!”

Another pattern of church practice that we sometimes see at Incarnation is represented by the woman who moves to New York for her first big job after college. She’ll work here for a few years and then she will advance in her career and she’ll find a better position in another city. Or she will marry and have children, and her family will move to a house with a yard in the suburbs.

For people like these, our parish serves as a kind of way-station. Such folks are somewhat active in our congregation for a time; only later in their lives will they settle into a church for the long term.

Faith journeys like these reveal an important truth about the mission of our congregation. We need to provide fertile territory for transient New Yorkers who want a temporary spiritual home.

They may be too busy to come to church every Sunday; they may not have much time or money to contribute to our ministry. Whatever they have to give, we should be ready to provide an atmosphere in which their faith is nourished.

The parable also speaks to each of us as individuals. After all, we too need to grow spiritually. Our faith needs to be “grounded” in a place where other people can help us to understand what God is calling us to do. And we need to be with fellow Christians who challenge us to reach out beyond our comfort zones.

Here’s an example from my own experience. Last year, when we first found out the magnitude of the restoration required on our church tower, I was really upset.

I had already been through two capital campaigns here over the years, and I had been through numerous construction projects and I had endured all the bids and contracts and permissions and delays and over-runs those projects demanded. I wasn’t optimistic about fixing the Spire.

But Vestry members kept pushing; they showed commendable energy and enthusiasm. They wanted to do all of the necessary work at once if that were possible, and they were willing to go out and raise the money to pay for it.

And today, though neither the work nor the fundraising is complete, the Vestry’s faith seems justified. My expectations have already been surpassed. We are on track to do everything we need to do on the tower, and the first pledges and gifts have been remarkably generous. I was right, then, to be guided by the confidence of fellow Christians. I was right to let my faith be grounded in my community of faith.

Of course, the word, “grounded” has several meanings. A child grounded by his parents won’t be allowed to go out and enjoy social occasions with his friends. The kid who is grounded feels out of it—missing the fun that everyone else is having.

By contrast, a person whose faith is grounded in the way that Jesus described will find that she is not “out of it.” On the contrary, she is nourished by her spiritual surroundings.

The person whose faith is grounded is inspired by fellow Christians. She always has new goals to strive for. Along with her fellow Christians, her life always has meaning and purpose. And she is never alone.

All the more reason for us—even those of us here at Incarnation for only a short time—all the more reason for us to follow that old bit of spiritual advice: “Bloom where you’re planted!”

Amen.


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