15th Sunday Ord Time, 7-16-17 Isaiah 55: 10-11, Ps 65, 10-14, Romans8:18-23, Matt13: 1-23
I first read today’s scriptures sitting at my desk, which overlooks a beautiful green open space, with trees and wild flowers, and chirping birds. It felt like heaven was close by.
Our 1st reading is from the 55th chapter of Isaiah. I find these readings to have much more meaning if I read the whole chapter. You might label this chapter “an invitation to grace”. God starts by offering water to the thirsty. Then God offers food to the hungry, those with no money to buy food, those facing starvation. Plentiful, rich food is offered, food which satisfies. Next God says, “Come to me, that you may have life.” The symbolism has faded away and we have arrived at the heart of the message. Come to God for the food of mercy, for God is always ready to forgive. Isaiah says, “Like the heavens are far above the earth, so are God’s ways above our ways.”
We understand about rain freely coming down from the sky to water the earth; mercy rains on us in the same way. Anyone who has seen a drought understands the life-giving impact of rain, changing dried clumps of earth into a growing field and producing the crops that give food. In the creation story, God’s Word was the source of earth and sky and sea. Now God’s Word comes to us, comes to us like rain and gives us life. God’s wisdom grows in our hearts.
Our Psalm is a very similar message; it begins with praise and thanksgiving for God’s mercy. We are overcome by our human failures; it is God who pardons them. It is God who set the mountains in place. God sends the rain, makes the crops grow; God fills the meadows with flowers. We can do none of those things.
Many of us now are so removed from agriculture and food production that we can easily forget about all this. In our Gospel, Jesus taught people who lived fully at the mercy of the rain and the fields and the flocks. But like us, somehow they managed to hear but not listen and look but not see. They too refused to change, to listen to God’s Word, or to be healed with God’s wisdom.
Jesus described some people as the dry, hard packed dirt of a busy road, where the seed of God’s Word fell. The seed could not break thru to put down roots and grow, and the birds came and ate the seeds.
Other people were described as thin soil on rocky ground, where the seed sprouted but had too little nourishment to flourish. Such people have nothing to ground their lives; they pay any attention only to the crisis of the day. Still other people are described as thorny ground; they are worried about things they cannot control, and put all their efforts into gaining wealth and power, crowding out the seeds of virtue and wisdom. But those who treasure God’s Word, they are like good soil, will grow a large crop of blessings and have a full harvest of eternal life. It’s a beautiful parable of possibility and choice.
St. Paul takes a different approach to the images of creation. His goal is to instill hope in us. He acknowledges that suffering is part of this life. He speaks to those who are disheartened and discouraged. He tells us that the worst suffering is a small price to pay for the glory of eternal life. He understands failure, and shares our frustration with our inability to be the strong and faithful people we want to be.
Creation was put under human control by God, and therefore it fell from glory along with Adam & Eve when evil entered the world. Paul uses expressions like “subjected to futility, and “slavery to decay” to describe creation now. But the entire creation, Paul wrote, has been groaning as if in the labor pains of “childbirth”. We have the Holy Spirit as a “down payment” on our redemption, so we, along with creation, also groan as we wait for our final adoption as children of God. The Spirit, too, Paul adds two verses later, “intercedes (for us) with inexpressible groanings.” Paul makes our universe sound like a giant Labor & Delivery Unit! Suffering, he says, is not a threat to our salvation, but a sign that “birth” is close at hand. Our second birth, our “delivery” as believers comes in the form of resurrection.
This is a reminder that we live in a time of “already”, since Christ has already come. At the same time, we live in the time of “not yet” as we still await the return of Christ. In 2nd Peter, we find this: “With the Lord 1 day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like 1 day. The Lord does not delay, but he is patient, not wishing that any should perish.”
So we found four lessons in creation; what do we do with them?
1. God rains down mercy and grace on us all. With these two gifts, God will create new and eternal lives for us. Since mercy is forgiveness, we must make amends then move on. Grace is generosity and love for all, creating new paths after failure. We accept grace and mercy; we offer grace and mercy to each other.
- God created a beautiful and fruitful world for us. God does what we can’t, and we should praise God for his goodness and the abundance he gives us. So, let’s take time to marvel in God’s power and the mysteries of nature. Take time to be thankful.
- We can be blind and deaf to God’s goodness. We must choose if we will receive that abundant goodness. The Word of God has immeasurable power in our lives, transforming power, available to all who nurture that Word which God sows freely. Bible study (reading God’s word), prayer (talking with God) and meditation (listening to God) change us.
- Hope and comfort is found in all that God created. Suffering and a sense of futility will pass. The Spirit is with us, and we will soon enough know the glorious freedom of being children of God. So, focus on what is right and good. Spend your time on things that are positive, generous and loving. Seek out God.
It occurred to me that if each day, we took time to focus on these 4 lessons, our lives would become more righteous. That isn’t just something that Saints do, but something that we all can do. It simply means that we develop a right and good relationship with God. We become more closely aligned with God and our lives look and feel like we reflect God’s ways. Let me challenge you with this: try for the next week to take a few moments at the beginning and end of each day to review these 4 lessons, and really act them out. See what happens.