Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA, 13 July 2014, Proper 10
Year A RCL: Genesis 25:19-34; Psalm 119:105-112; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-2
Today's scriptures share several ideas that I express in haikus:
Twins struggle in womb – family discord resumes
We war with ourselves
Fleshy cares leave us
famished & so we forfeit
our blessings from God
When we scatter seeds, we leave many untended,
subjected to chance
Paul tells us in Romans that, although we are fleshy beings, we are spiritual beings. The Holy Spirit dwells in us & guides us away from sin & into grace1 – away from life's fleshy focus, into deeper spiritual relationship with God.
Flesh & spirit are realities that are more than the individual person, as one Bible commentary says. 2 It says: Flesh & spirit demand a “deliberate choice of values & human effort...(in our) relationship to God”: we are either defiant or cooperative.3
As God's beloved children, we know “...freedom in (Jesus) Christ is aimed at the reshaping of human life, both individually & corporately, according to the good that God wills for it,”4 as Paul says in Romans.
Our freedom in Jesus means we can be healthy, growing, productive seeds, nurtured in the good, nourishing soil of Jesus, who tells us today's parable: Healthy soil receives the seeds & feeds the seeds.
When we are planted in God-centered soil, the soil feeds us with Holy nurturing so that we produce an abundant harvest of God's love.
We are healthy & we nourish others because Jesus is our Lord, who has died so that our fleshy selves are renewed to be spiritually mature, centered in God's love.
What a contrast we see between our life centered in God's love & what we read in Genesis of the cares of this world. I wonder how different are the stories of human discord that we read in Genesis when we hear so much discord in our news.
Perhaps the differences in the cares of this world are in the customs of our day & those of the Middle Bronze Age (about 22 BC until the 15th or 14th century BC5) when these Genesis stories take place.
Details of life then, of customs such as the 1st son's selling his inheritance rights, are known from sources other than the Bible: archives in places on the Euphrates River, in Mesopotamia & the law code of Hammurabi from 1700 BC.6
So what may seem odd to us is a life-style in a particular time & place. The basic human disconnect between how people live & living in God's love is the same.
Genesis tells us that Esau & Jacob struggle in the womb. Their clash continues in their lifestyles: Esau is a hunter in the wild; Jacob is a stay-at-home farmer.7
Esau’s name is from a verb meaning “to stuff an animal with food,”8 (rather appropriate for what he asks his brother today). Esau’s other name, Edom, means red, like the red soil of the land that bears his name, like the red blood of animals this hunter kills, like his hot blood that cries out to his brother for help when he comes home from hunting & their clash takes a new twist.
Esau is starving & says: “Let me eat some of that red stuff…” The way he says this in The Jewish Study Bible sounds more urgent: “Give me some of that red stuff to gulp down…I am famished…”9
Esau is focused on the real human, fleshy need for food. Notice: Jacob is just as fleshy as he demands that Esau swear to give up his inheritance right in exchange for food Jacob has cooked.
Esau is so focused on the urgent cares of this world he agrees to this impulsive decision that changes the future.
God-centered timing, God-centered decisions demand a pause, demand the wisdom of knowing the difference between the urgent & the important, as author Stephen R. Covey discusses in First Things First (pp. 32-39).
Jesus teaches us this difference so that when we are sowers of the seed, we don’t scatter seed willy-nilly because that's easier, but intentionally so that we can carefully tend it. The Holy Spirit will guide us to learn & to adjust our lives so that we respond to God’s perspective of what’s urgent, what’s important, what’s fleshy, what’s of the Holy Spirit.
The important often has no urgency,
no deadline, so it’s easy to let slide the really important in life, in God’s work, while we handle the urgent.
There is usually something urgent
to distract us from God’s work.
Some things are important & urgent: being with friends in an emergency, handling the leak in the Parish Hall ceiling & consulting with experts about a new energy-saving air system that will be healthier for God’s creation & for our stewardship of Church finances.
Through the grace of the Holy Spirit, we can stay focused on God’s work when the cares of this world clamor urgently. The power of the Holy Spirit can assuage our hunger for that red stuff that we want to gulp down.
Prayer is central to our work as the
Body of Christ,
central to our discerning the urgent & the important.
Our worship complements our work,
whether our worship is together as we are now or
“together” as we read Morning Prayer,
Evening Prayer, any of the daily offices
wherever we are.
Wherever we do this, we join with each other, with angels & archangels & all the company of heaven to worship God. Doing so. we positively impact our lives & the lives of others.
This IS important work.
As you do this important work, consider the prayer For Social Justice (Book of Common Prayer p. 823):
Grant, O God, that your holy & life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart & especially the hearts of the people of this land, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, & hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice & peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.10
Barclay, William. The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. 2. Revised Ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. 1975.
Barclay, William. The Daily Study Bible: The Letter to Romans. Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press. 1971.
Boadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. New York: Paulist Press. 1984.
Book of Common Prayer. New York: The Church Hymnal Corp., and The Seabury Press. 1979.
Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Doubleday. 1997.
Dios Habla Hoy: La Biblia. New York: American Bible Society. 1983.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why It Matters. New York: Doubleday. 2003.
Lectionary Page. http://www.lectionarypage.net/. Accessed: 29 June 2014.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
1 Harper’s Bible Commentary. P. 1147.
2 Ibid. Harper's. P. 11151.
5 Boadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. P. 134.
7 Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. P. 53.
8 Ibid. Harper's. P. 101.
9 Ibid. Jewish Study Bible.
10 Book of Common Prayer. P. 823.