Proper 10A – Trinity Cathedral. I sometimes think we have too much Scripture read on Sunday mornings! That may seem like a strange thing for a pastor to say but, when you are confronted, week after week, with so much rich material from the Bible, and you hope to come up with a sermon which does justice to all of that (without preaching for 45 minutes or more!), it is a real challenge!
I could use a whole sermon, or even a sermon series, exploring the Genesis story of the twin brothers, Jacob and Esau, this morning. Besides being a great story of “sibling rivalry” it’s a fascinating example of ancient literature trying to understand the eternal struggle between the Jews (as descendants of Jacob) and the Arabs (descendants of Esau), the ramifications of which still continue today in the Middle East. Jews and Arabs still cannot figure out how to share the ancient land of Palestine. And the accounts of greed and deception on both sides described in today’s First Lesson continue up until today and are as fresh as tomorrow’s headlines.
But then, I really ought to spend some time dealing with the 8th chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans which we had as our Second Reading today. At the very least, it needs to be said that, when Paul talks abut the conflict between the “flesh” and “the spirit,” he is not talking about some kind of split between our bodies and our minds – as though the body was evil and the mind, or spirit, good. The Greek word we translate for the “body” is “soma” (from which we get our word “psychosomatic.”)
But the Greek word Paul uses here for “sinful flesh” is the word “sarx.” And sarx refers to our broken, flawed, and fallen human nature. When we sin, it is not just our bodies which sin. We sin with our minds, with our hearts, and spirits – all of us! So, it’s not a question of our bodies being evil and our spirits being good (no matter how it may sound when you first read this part of Romans). The war is not between our bodies and our minds or spirits. The war is between our entire, fallen human nature (what WE want to do so many times) and God’s yearning for us (what God’s HOLY SPIRIT wants us to do).
That’s why Paul can finally say, “…you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit…” Certainly we are still in our bodies! But they are bodies now inhabited by God’s Holy Spirit – which is why Paul can say, “To set the mind on the flesh (on our old, self-centered nature) is death…but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” So many things to preach about…so little time!
I guess about the only consolation a preacher has can be found, as might be expected, in the Gospel today. The parable of the sower. It’s pretty clear that Jesus is not an agent of the extension service today, teaching farmers how to plant their seeds! “Broadcasting” seed is not a very productive method of farming – especially in the sandy, rocky soil of the Middle East. Lots of seed is wasted when you throw it around, not much caring where it falls.
But if, as Matthew suggests, the seed represents “the word of the kingdom,” then things begin to make a little more sense. And the description of the process is one that is borne out in every preacher’s experience! Sunday by Sunday we try to “break open the Word of God” for you as we stand in this pulpit. We don’t do it perfectly, but we try to reach every corner of this Cathedral church with at least a little of that life-giving seed.
Some of you will greet us at the door with “Wonderful sermon…I really needed that.” But then we may not see you again for two or three weeks… and whatever insight you may have gleaned from that particular sermon is just a faint glimmer by that time.
And then there are those of you who believe that one hour on Sunday morning is about all you need for your Christian formation. No daily prayer discipline, no Bible study, no participation in whatever adult education offerings we may be able to provide here. “No root”…is the way Jesus describes it. No rooted-ness, no deep grounding in the Faith. Just a nodding acquaintance with it for an hour or two on Sunday mornings.
And what about what Jesus calls “the cares of the world and the lure of wealth” as obstacles to really hearing and receiving God’s Word? All of us have cares in the world…and all of us expend a good portion of our energy earning the money we need to live and take care of our families. But if those ‘cares’ and those ‘monetary pursuits’ consume all our time and energy and keep us from spending time consciously seeking God and God’s will for our lives, then – no matter how effectively the Word is proclaimed – it will be choked…and “it will yield nothing.”
So, what the preacher has to rely on – when all is said and done – is that at least some of that seed, each week, does fall on good soil. Some of you make an effort to be here every week…you say your prayers…and maybe even take a look at the Lessons which will be preached on the next Sunday and which we list in our Announcement bulletins. You come with open hearts and open minds and don’t let yourselves get distracted by all that competes for your time and energy – family issues, over-committed schedules, worry about finances and security, whatever personal sins and shortcomings you may be struggling with.
No, you show up…like good soil…ready to receive and take in whatever poor morsel of seed we may be able to “broadcast” from this pulpit and this lectern. The “Word of the Kingdom,” Matthew calls it.
And, thank God: that is enough. Because you are the ones who hear the word, and understand it…you are the ones who indeed bear fruit and yield, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty. Fruit of the Spirit seen in your time, your talent, and your treasure – offered in God’s service.
You are the ones who sustain the ministry of this Cathedral parish.
You are the ones who help us, in some small way, cooperate with God in building the Kingdom.
You are the ones who make it worth it – Sunday by Sunday – to “broadcast the Word.”