Sermon Archives

Sunday, July 12, 2020
Proper 10 (Year A)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
Changing the Heart of the Community

Oh, God, because without you, we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Now I’m not much of a movie quote kind of guy, never have been. Sure, I remember a few. “Stay on target,” comes to mind for those Star Wars fans out there, or this classic exchange between Colonel Jessup and Lieutenant Kaffee from A Few Good Men. “You want answers? I want the truth. You can’t handle the truth.” But that’s about as far as it goes, thankfully, probably for you. But you can imagine my surprise then when another quote came ringing into mind the other day. “We’ve got serious problems and we need serious people.” Perhaps you remember that one? Probably not though. It’s taken from the heart of a speech by President Andrew Shepherd from The American President.

So enough movie trivia, that’s all I’ve got there at least. But that quote did come to mind in the midst of this most unusual of years, because we too have serious problems as a nation. COVID-19 cases continue to rise at an alarming rate. And yet they may be the least of our American worries. During the spread of the viral pandemic, another American epidemic has revealed itself again. At times, we may get complacent thinking the work has been done perhaps a bit like the measles outbreaks of recent years. But then a crack opens in the comfort of our society and the uncomfortable truth we have been hiding or ignoring or quietly hoping had disappeared when we closed our eyes, emerges again, demanding our attention. Attention, no doubt we are reluctant to give, but that is where we are.

As COVID-19 spread across the United States, it laid bare social injustices and problems that have long plagued our society. Injustices that are rooted, not simply in current economic inequality, but in generations of colonial philosophy and theology based on a perverted understanding of one’s self and one’s neighbor. Namely that we are not created equal. That some, the wealthy, the well-educated, the physically strong or historically, racially white inherently are more valuable, more worthy than others. It is this fundamental perversion of one’s self image and the image of one’s neighbor that leads to the evils of American racism and genocide. Evils whose long trail of destruction and inequality continue to plague American society still today.

These are serious times that we live in and we need serious answers. And I am convinced, I am convinced that the most serious of problems lies not within American policing policies, but the everyday heart of American citizens. That is the problem lies not out there in some governmental morass, but in here in you and in me and in every part of America. The problem lives within us and everyday decisions we make, the social policies we promote and the political leaders we elect. There is a problem in American society. It is with we, the people of American society. There is a serious problem in the American heart.

Now you might be wondering how does all of this relate to the gospel today, that old parable of the sower we know so well or more pointedly, how does that old parable we know oh so well relate to the serious issues of our hearts and our society today? I suggest everything. Left in its comfortable corner of nostalgic faith, the parable may offer us little more than a reminder to be good soil and so that we bear an abundance of fruit. And if that’s all we ask of it, then it’s not up to the challenge. But seldom is nostalgic faith up to the challenges of real world living.

On the contrary, this parable is a much more than a personal reminder or rejoinder to be good soil, though I pray, at least, we strive for that. Rather when we sit with it for just a bit longer and a bit more critically and honestly, I might add, we see that this parable is about challenging our often all too simplistic worldview. And even more, our all too comfortable self-view. You see the world is much easier, of course, when it consists of only good and bad components, good soil here, bad soil there. And the nostalgic view of this text does just that. Either we are the good soil or we are not. We are a good soil or we are rocky soil. Weed covered, thorn infested pitch, or a hard path. All of that of course is bad. And yet that is far too simplistic, but it is that simplistic understanding, not only of this text, but our world and ourselves in fact, that leads to something as great as a sin of racism. White skin is good. Black skin is bad. White skin is human. Black skin is subhuman.

It is as simple as that or so we have wanted to believe. But life is not so simple or so easily defined. And neither is this story. Take but a moment to think of your life, my life, anyone’s life for that matter.

And we quickly realize, of course, that we are not simply good soil or bad soil. We simply are soil. We are rocky and thorn infested at times, and rich, loamy earth and hard path all at once. That hardness I see in you, dwells in me. That unsightly patch of weeds that you see in me, it exists in you as well. Hopefully better contained mind you, but still there, just waiting to take over again. Oh, and that rockiness that we see in those people, those Republicans or those Democrats, or those elites, or those protesters or MAGAs or socialists. All of that rockiness and hardness that we see in them, it exists in us, exists in me, and it exists in you. Because we are, because I am complex, imperfect, human soil.

And until I recognize that that is me and dare I say, until you recognize that that is you. That I am hard path and rocky and weed covered and thorn infested and not just a little to your, a lot, but overrun and barren, I will never be able to relate faithfully to you or to any of my neighbors because the lie I will go on telling myself is that I am not as bad as you. And the inverse of which is even more destructive. So I’ll keep going on and telling the lie that I am better than you. Or you may go on telling the lie that you are better than them.

It seems to be a very human, natural human tendency to divide ourselves into good and bad groups. But that is not God’s way. We mustn’t fall into that trap. It is the trap of this passage. It’s the nostalgic view that simply says, I’m good soil, or I’m going to be good soil that fails to realize that we are the complexity of it all. But let’s look at it some more. Someone insightful may have picked up, in fact, on the fact that this story we’ve just been talking about, the story we’ve just heard is traditionally called, even in the text, it is called The Parable of the Sower. Not The Parable of the Soil. And so we ought to take a good look at the central figure of the story, the sower about whom this story is told.

Now, if it was you certainly, if it was me, all that good soil, that is to say, I am, no doubt, no different. All that good seed looking at the world as we humans so naturally do. We’d be careful, really careful. Wouldn’t we? To make sure that that good seed only fell on the good soil because nothing good can come from that other stuff. It would be a waste, but that’s not what the sower does. It seems not to be the way the sower even sees the soil, the sower, just so spreading the seed, good seed, here and there, to the left and to the right, to the left and to the right, hopefully confident, hopeful, confident even that where it lands, something good will come. Not perfectly of course. Some will be lost. Some will dry up, but some will mature and take good root and flourish.

If we want to take on the evils that have plagued American society, one might say, if we want to take on the evils that have plagued human society for generations, we will need to take on the real failings that infect our view, our hearts and our view of one another and pervert our views of ourselves. We must be willing to see in ourselves and in our neighbor, the full complexity of human goodness and brokenness in order that we may come to see that we are not only truly equal, but even more fundamentally one. One household, one family in God. Friends, these are serious times and we must take a serious look at ourselves if we are to change the heart of our community, our society, or our nation. I pray we are up to the task to be honest and hopeful and confident in who we are and who our neighbor is. Amen.