Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Genesis 25:19-34 AND Psalm 119:105-112, Isaiah 55:10-13 AND Psalm 65:1-13, Romans 8:1-11, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Occasionally I write a blog without a single focus theme, sort of a potpourri of thoughts and questions. I did it a couple of weeks ago. This week I don’t know if it’s an absence of a theme in the lectionary texts or just a bit of laziness.

I might add that some of the thoughts may seem a bit naïve, saccharin, or simplistic this week. It may be a bit more of that laziness, or it may be an effect of a wonderful visit, ending yesterday, from our two youngest grandchildren (ages 6 months and 3 years) and their parents. Maybe my mind got tired along with the rest of my body, or, equally or more likely, they generated within me a euphoric optimism.

If I were to choose a theme, it would probably center around seed, growth, and the action of God’s word in our lives and the world.

One of the readings is from Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible. Every verse includes at least one reference to God’s “word,” often using synonyms. In the Hebrew poetic structure of the Psalm, the reference may appear twice. The Psalm begins with the familiar statement of faith (and life experience), “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105) Our potpourri this week invites us to consider how our experience of God and scripture provide guidance in our lives, not necessarily in a rigid, literalistic, way, but in the way they touch and move our heart. One of the verses says, “they are the joy of my heart.” (vs. 111)

The Gospel lesson features a sower who goes out to scatter seed. (Matthew 13:3) When Jesus offers an interpretation, it is clear that the seed being sown is “the word of the kingdom.” (vs. 19)

We are told about the different kinds of places where the seed fell, so that much of it didn’t grow very well, if at all. We could spend time comparing planting practices then and now. On today’s industrial farms, such inefficiency would not be tolerated, but my guess is that sowing seed intended to touch the human heart is not an entirely efficient process. I’m all for knowing something about the sciences of communication and persuasion and social relationship, etc., but heartfelt relationships and behavior still contain a lot of mystery. Go for an extended analysis, if you wish, of the various difficult places in which the seed landed.

I was taught that usually a parable has one primary point. Perhaps here it helps to notice the parables which follow this one, all seeming to be about growth. The parable of the weeds among the wheat, in which there is still wheat gathered into the barn. (Matthew 23:24-30) The parable of the mustard seed---“ it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (vss. 31-32) The parable of the yeast which causes the whole loaf to rise. (vs. 33) What Jesus is telling the disciples is, “Keep on sowing; some will grow.” In the parable of the sower “some fell on good soil and brought forth grain,” and then the amazing addition, “some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (vs. 8) The interpretation says, “But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields.” (vs. 23---Note that shortly before this parable, in Matthew 22:33-37, Jesus has been talking to them about trees bearing fruit.)

A couple of potpourri question might then be, “Where have we seen or experienced growth?”  "Where and how are we bearing fruit?"

Overall, the tone is one of optimism and hopefulness. Things can look pretty bleak if we follow the daily headlines. The reading from Isaiah, also using the image of the sower and seed, says, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)

If the word being sown can be thought of as “Good News,” then we have reason to anticipate that, over the long haul, the good intended by a God of Love will be accomplished. Hope against hope, even abundance will occur. Someone at our weekly breakfast noted that Psalm 65 also offers images of abundant growth. “You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water, you provide people with grain, for so you have prepared it. You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth.” (Psalm 65:9-10)

The lectionary includes another intriguing and complex story from Genesis, full of dysfunctional family dynamics. Sibling rivalry is there again, as is parental favoritism. We’ve moved on a generation from Abraham and Sarah and Hager, with the birth of Isaac and Ishmael, to the birth of twin sons to Isaac and Rebekah. (Genesis 25:19-21) Again, they (Jacob and Esau, as different as two brothers can be) are the fathers of two nations. (vs. 23) The story focusses our attention on Esau selling his birthright to his brother, Jacob. Jacob is a good cook and Esau is starving to death. Jacob demands Esau’s birthright in exchange for a bowl of stew. “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” says Esau. (vss. 29-34)

One’s birthright is the special position, inheritance, and privilege one has among the offspring. The passage suggests to me another question in our potpourri. What is the birthright that we most value, that we are called upon to protect? Psalm 119 declares, “Your decrees are my heritage forever.” (Psalm 119:111) Where do we see trade-offs being made? Where do we compromise our values in response to the needs of the moment? Or, do we need to let Esau off the hook a little? Do we sometime let pride in position and privilege control our lives? Do we even let them destroy our spirit? Lots to think about---and that’s without getting into the ethics of Jacob’s behavior and the mystery of the place of such characters in the family tree of our faith.

Finally, there’s Romans. No time for Paul’s complex theology. Just remember that grace and love are at the center of his understanding and experience of God. The first verse of the eighth chapter, then, can be seen as a signature verse: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We can find plenty of images of a vengeful and angry God, but I believe the overall view of our heritage, our birthright if you wish to think of it that way, is one in which there is no room for judgmentalism. In the end, it’s all love. That may be a bit more of that optimism, but I refuse to give it up. “ . . . those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit . . . to set the mind of the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:5-6) May it be so in our experience and in our living.

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