Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC, 16 July 2017, Proper 10
Year A RCL: Genesis 25:19-34; Psalm 119:105-112; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Jesus says, seeds & good soil yield positive results.
Think about positive results we see planting seeds in good soil & tending both plants & soil: Seeds grow, bear fruit & feed a hungry world. This is important & takes time.
Often hunger is literal. Notice Esau's urgent plea in our 1st lesson. What he says sounds more urgent in The Jewish Study Bible:
“Give me some of that red stuff to gulp down…”1
Often hunger is figurative, an inner yearning to assuage an emptiness, something that needs our gifts – your special ability.
What emptiness & longing lingered in hearts of baseball's Chicago Cubs & their fans after the Cubs won the World Series in 1907 & 1908? They struggled, starved & persevered more than 100 years & feasted after winning the 2016 series.2
What struggle, yearning & family discord
we see in our 1st lesson!
Esau & his twin, Jacob, are so different in how they live. How do we war within ourselves? What “fleshy” cares leave us so famished we forfeit our blessings from God?
Paul tells us in Romans, although we are fleshy, we are also spiritual beings. The Holy Spirit dwells in us & guides us away from sin & into grace3 – away from fleshy focus into deeper spiritual relationship with God.
Flesh & spirit are realities & more than the individual.4
Flesh & spirit demand a “deliberate choice of values & human effort...[in our] relationship to God”: We're either defiant or cooperative.5
As God's beloved children, we know “...freedom in [Jesus]... is aimed at...reshaping...human life,...individually & corporately, according to the good...God wills for it,”6 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. When we are planted in God-centered soil, the soil feeds us with holy nurturing & we produce an abundant harvest of God's love.
We are healthy & nourish others because Jesus is our Lord, who has died so 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.
How different are the stories of human discord in Genesis & in our news?
Perhaps the differences are in the customs of our day & those of the Middle Bronze Age [about 22 BC until the 15th or 14th century BC7] when our Genesis stories take place.
Details of life & customs then, such as a 1st son selling his inheritance rights, are known from sources in addition to the Bible: archives in places on the Euphrates River, in Mesopotamia & the law code of Hammurabi from 1700 BC.8
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. Notice the family dynamics we also see in 21st century families: Esau is his dad's favorite son & Jacob his mom's favorite.
Jacob, whose name means “supplanter”9, will repeat this dynamic with his favorite son, Joseph, who receives a fancy coat10 from his dad.
Esau’s name comes from a verb meaning “to stuff an animal with food,”11 [appropriate for what he asks his brother today]. Esau focuses on the real human, fleshy need for food.
Notice how “fleshy” Jacob sounds when he demands Esau swear to give up his inheritance right in exchange for the food Jacob cooked. Esau focuses on the urgent cares of this world & agrees to this impulsive decision which 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 First12.
Jesus teaches us this difference so when we are sowers of the seed, we won’t scatter seed willy-nilly because it's easier, but intentionally so we can carefully tend the seeds. The Holy Spirit will guide us to learn & to adjust our lives so 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.
Think of Peter walking on the water to Jesus.13 Focused on the important resource, Jesus, he walks. Suddenly distracted by the urgent-sounding storm, Peter starts sinking.
We do face times when things are important & urgent: being with friends in an emergency, handling a leak flooding your kitchen which keeps you from a parish gathering.
Through the grace of the Holy Spirit, we can stay focused on God’s work when cares of this world clamor urgently. 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 this we positively impact our lives & 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], which we will read in unison. Let us pray:
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.
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.
Bastain, Jordan. Carrie Muskat.“Cubs are heavy wait champions!” MLB.com. 3 Nov. 2016. http://m.mlb.com/news/article/207938228/chicago-cubs-win-2016-world-series/ Accessed: 14 July 2017.
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.
Chicago Cubs World Series Wins. https://www.google.com/search Accessed: 14 July 2017.
Covey, Stephen R. First Things First. New York: Simon & Schuster. 1994.
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.
Jacobs, A.J. The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. New York: Simon & Schuster. 2007.
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.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
Ortberg, John. If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2001.
Sidebotham,Jay. The Old Testament from A-Z: A Spirited Romp through the Hebrew Scripture. Harrisburg: Morehouse. 2005.
1 Jewish Study Bible. P. 53.
2 Cubs reference inspired by Ortberg, John. If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat. P. 23. Data: https://www.google.com/search & Bastain, Jordan. Carrie Muskat.“Cubs are heavy wait champions!” http://m.mlb.com/news/article/207938228/chicago-cubs-win-2016-world-series/ Accessed: 14 July 2017.
3 Harper’s Bible Commentary. P. 1147.
4 Ibid. P. 1151.
7 Boadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. P. 134.
8 Ibid. Boadt. P. 134.
9 Sidebotham,Jay. The Old Testament from A-Z. P. 40.
10 Note: Analogy & reference from Jacobs, A.J. The Year of Living Biblically. P.144.
11 Ibid. Harper's. P. 101.
12 Covey, Stephen R. First Things First. Pp. 32-39.