Loopholes of hope

SERMON  

Sunday 12 July 2020 

St Andrew’s Parish of Indooroopilly 

Genesis 25.19-34 

Psalm 119.105-112 

Romans 8.1-11 

Matthew 13.1-9, 13.18-23 

 Loopholes of hope ©Suzanne Grimmett 

On his deathbed, or so the story goes, actor and comedian WC  Fields was seen to be reading the Bible. When a friend asked in  surprise what he was doing, he answered, “Looking for loopholes”.  

Jesus’ dependence on teaching with parables opens our  understanding I think to all kinds of loopholes. There is an  intentional ambiguity about all of these stories, and a freedom we  are given to not find God and God’s kingdom through rules and  laws written on stone tablets, but through a dynamic engagement  with the Spirit as we follow the way of Jesus. And in this, there are  loopholes everywhere. Loopholes to find God in earthly love and  beauty, loopholes that can allow us to sneak into God’s presence  whether we believe or not, loopholes that mean we land squarely in  the joyful mercy of God just when we have most messed things up.  

Jesus spoke in parables because, as St Paul knew so well, the law  with its requirement for nothing less than mundane submission will  ultimately kill us. For God in Jesus has done what the law could not do. In Christ, we have not simply words on a page, or nice  guidelines to live by, but the Spirit of life itself- offered up in love  and given back to us in all the many resurrections made possible  by the life of Jesus dwelling in us. 

But this kind of open invitation makes people uncomfortable. There  is a section of this Gospel text missed out by the lectionary today,  where the disciples demand to know why Jesus speaks in  parables. It is in the middle, between the parable of the sower and  the explanation of the parable. Jesus tells them, “The reason I  speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and  hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’” Parables defy  the neat explanations and pat answers of doctrine every time and  require dependence on the Spirit if we are to have “eyes to see and  ears to hear.” 

I once was in a church where a man stood up and said that he felt  the church was getting it wrong and he wanted to go back to  “Simply obeying the ten commandments and dressing properly in  collar and tie for a Sunday morning.” He was expressing a wish for  these to be clear rules about what you could and could not do and  adherence to outward appearances and standards. The problem is,  this idea, or any other outward show of conformity, is the opposite  of Jesus teaching about the kingdom of God. Jesus instead  employs metaphor and story to help us understand that the  kingdom is not about adhering to conventional morality or social  mores but is instead something we enter into. These parables are  an invitation to let go of our ideas about outward behaviours and  rules and instead take on the yoke of Jesus and learn his way.  

Two errors have been made in the past about understanding the  kingdom. The first is to equate the kingdom of God with heaven as something we get to when we die. This is most obviously not  what Jesus is saying as he keeps emphasising that the time is now, the kingdom of heaven has drawn near, or at other times he says,  “the kingdom of heaven is within/ amongst you.” The second  common definition is that the kingdom of God is about a personal  relationship with Jesus. Now while this is partly true, it ignores the  much bigger story going on here.

Brian McLaren sums up well what is going on when we allow the  comfort of our lifestyles and the focus on our own personal faith to  choke the growth of the kingdom; 

Sadly, in too many quarters we continue to reduce the  scope of the gospel to the individual soul and the nuclear  family, framing it in a comfortable, personalised format —  it’s all about personal devotions, personal holiness, and a  personal Saviour. This domesticated gospel will neither rock  any boats nor step out of them into stormy waters. We have  in many ways responded to the big global crises of our day  with an incredible, shrinking gospel. The world has said,  “No thanks.”1 

This parable of the sower, like other parables, has the power to  create an internal shift in us, inviting us to a bigger and braver  perspective. The dogma and pieties of religion have nothing to say  to the complex global issues facing us but Jesus’ words can draw  us into a different way of hearing and seeing and being. In the  fertile soil of open hearts grow lives committed to justice and  peace, forgiveness, healing and reconciliation. The kingdom of God  springs to life everywhere, bringing hope to what can seem a  hopeless world wherever there are those who follow Jesus’ way,  living his risen life.  

But if you are anything like me, the first thing you will be wondering  when you hear this parable, is how can you become the good soil  where the Word of God could take root and bear fruit for the  kingdom. This for me is closely followed by anxiety at all the times I  have not been good soil. Those times when the distractions of my  comfortable existence have been like the thorns that choke the  word and prevent my life from bearing good fruit, or about the  temptations in my life that are like birds carrying away the seeds or rocky personal problems that prevent the word taking root. The  issue with this kind of interpretation is that not only am I back to  looking for outward signs that I am measuring up, it also makes the  parable all about me and my personal successes and failures. And  as soon as we do that, we are back in a graceless universe with  absolutely no loopholes. But what if we have this all wrong, and the  parable is not about us, but about God?  

When we read the story this way, it becomes a story about a  ridiculously extravagant farmer who throws valuable seed  everywhere. Far from obsessing about the soil being neatly  ploughed and ready, this farmer throws the seed where no one  would ever expect it to grow, on good soil and bad. This sower  knows full well that it probably won’t take root, (who throws seed  on a path?) but casts it abundantly everywhere anyway. There  seems to be no lack, no scarcity to be concerned about. Where the  seed lands on good soil the sower rejoices at a harvest that is  ridiculous in its quantity, particularly for the farming methods of  Jesus’ day; thirty fold, sixty fold, a hundred fold. There is enough  and more to make up for that which did not germinate. Jesus  promises that there will be enough for us even when the smallness  of our hopes shrinks our bellies, our anxieties fly away with our  faith and our distracted busyness chokes out the peace of our  days. But nothing in God’s economy is ever wasted. In these  beautiful organic metaphors we can be reminded that even when  the birds come and gobble up the seed, we know they are only  flown away to be dropped somewhere else -with extra fertiliser.  God is endlessly patient and generous, and will keep wasting the  Word on us until our hearts are fertile enough to receive it. There  are loopholes everywhere. 

The kingdom therefore cannot be earned or achieved but can only  be received. 

We don’t become good soil by our own efforts but by the gracious  abundance of a God who insists on life and forgiveness. We know  the word is germinating in the good soil of our lives when we  experience the abundant life God desires for us; a life where joy  and peace flow and our relationships are characterised by loving  kindness. When this happens we become like the sower ourselves,  dropping love everywhere and releasing grace upon grace to set  others free. 

+Amen.

1 Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change, p 244

Leave a comment