JuLY 12, 2020, Scripture Readings and Sermon
Rev. Mark Hatch
Isaiah 44:6-8Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel,
and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god.
Who is like me? Let them proclaim it,
let them declare and set it forth before me.
Who has announced from of old the things to come?
Let them tell us what is yet to be.
Do not fear, or be afraid;
have I not told you from of old and declared it?
You are my witnesses!
Is there any god besides me?
There is no other rock; I know not one.
Psalm 86:11-17Teach me your way, O Lord,
and I will walk in your truth; *
knit my heart to you that I may fear your Name.
I will thank you, O Lord my God, with all my heart, *
and glorify your Name for evermore.
For great is your love toward me; *
you have delivered me from the nethermost Pit.
The arrogant rise up against me, O God,
and a band of violent men seeks my life; *
they have not set you before their eyes.
But you, O Lord, are gracious and full of compassion, *
slow to anger, and full of kindness and truth.
Turn to me and have mercy upon me; *
give your strength to your servant;
and save the child of your handmaid.
Show me a sign of your favor,
so that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed; *
because you, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.
Matthew 13:24-30,36-43Jesus put before the crowd another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”
Sermon: Why get out of bed?
WHY GET OUT OF BED?
It will come as no surprise to anyone “sitting” in a virtual church or reading this sermon in an e-newsletter, that life doesn’t always work out the way you think it should. This is as true for the intimate and specific universe which we each personally inhabit, as well as for the larger society and wider world that swirls about us and of which we are each but a small, component part. In my own experience, it tends to be the personal which affects us most poignantly, the personal which precedes the public, and it is in that individual realm where we most often negotiate our own challenges and confusions, joys and sorrows, perplexities and profundities, exhaustions as well as epiphanies. The simple fact is that jobs, families, relationships, marriages, institutions to which we belong or activities to which we dedicate our time don’t always unfold or materialize or develop or reward us or work out in quite the way we might have once dreamed. The idealism of youth or the unvarnished confidence of a formal education or a length of smooth seasons and good years in a place or a parish - these often and eventually propel us into those more complicated realms, those very instances where we learn, we grow, are eventually chastened, and hopefully emerge a better human being. Though I have scant training in psychology or therapy, it does seem inherently true to me that reaching some kind of “acceptance” about the unpredictability and disappointments which life invariably has to offer is vital to our spirit and our growth. It is equally true, in my experience, that “acceptance” also opens the proverbial doorway, providing and offering the possibilities and hopes which always emerge out of just such experience. In its own, mysterious way “acceptance” is essentially a benchmark of maturity and of spiritual health.
Until I moved back to Western Massachusetts, a few parishes back, I had never worked on a farm and I have never had to earn my living off the land. Even now, I would hardly call myself such a person, since it is more a hobby than it will ever be a vocation. Way back, 30 years ago, when I first resided in rural North Carolina and was raising two young children, I did try my hand at organic gardening and quite liked it. For a city boy of the “processed food generation”, it was rather enlightening to finally learn, for the first time, that tomatoes didn’t always come in green plastic baskets wrapped in cellophane, and that broccoli could actually be sweet and tasty, especially if it were picked early on a summer morning in the cool, Appalachian stillness. In my earthly and horticultural challenges of those 4 years down South, I will tell you that I garnered an enduring and authentic respect for those who, in fact, were utterly dependant upon the land for their livelihood and for their survival. And I understood the basic but corrosive frustrations which so often arise, in the midst of very simple and seemingly pedestrian challenges, like providing food and water for hungry and clamoring mouths. Living off the land and relying on God in a new wilderness has always been a humbling thing, as Moses and his followers found out early and discovered often. Unlike the Israelites, if my North Carolina garden failed or fell short, I could always drive 12 miles to the local Piggly Wiggly to feed my kids!
In a different vein, at least metaphorically speaking, I have also tried my hand at plenty of enterprises that were involved in “raising things up”, whether that be children, or communities in poverty, or, for the last three decades, the “raising up” of the church into all it can be. In each time and at each place, whether forging ahead like Tigger or plodding along like Eeyore, I somehow persevered, in spite of our myriad efforts to confuse and confound the transforming power and the humbling abundance of the Holy Spirit itself. We are, after all, still human. In all of these enterprises, all in some way connected to something beyond our utter control, there was and is an element of faith, trust, serendipity, absurdity and miracle, without which we wouldn’t even get out of bed in the morning. So what happens when it doesn’t work out, when it seems to lead nowhere, when it goes awry, when we are spiritually hungry? What happens when we feel stranded, or blown off course, or stuck in irons with our sails flapping in futility? What happens when we find ourselves trekking through a hot, dry, barren desert with no apparent source to quench our thirst, no food to feed our stomachs? What happens when the roof leaks or the walls need paint or the denarii in the treasury grow thin? What happens when it appears (even if temporarily) that our labors are in vain or that our toils have been for naught, whether they be literal and ordinary or emotional and psychic? We have all known the taste of such acrid and dusty wanderings, of heartache and confusion. It is part of life, of being alive, of the journey toward God and the Kingdom. We have all known the thirst of spiritual longing and we have all known the pangs of spiritual emptiness. We have all lived with, and in, and through disappointment in our lives, in places both near and far. This too is a strange yet genuine gift of grace, even if it is hard to see or feel or understand. We have all known such challenges, large and small. So now what? Why do we even get out of bed?
Writing more than 60 years ago, in the aftermath of World War II, Thomas Merton reflected on our connection – or lack thereof – to those things around us: “If you want to have a spiritual life you must unify your life. A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man [or woman….] can serve two masters.” As another spiritual program often reminds us as well: “half measures availed us nothing.” And what, specifically, is the greatest risk of such a divided and convoluted loyalty? Conversely, what is the greatest hope and dream? Echoing the great reaffirmation in Matthew’s Gospel, as well as a passage we know even better, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. [Matt. 6:21], Merton went on to proclaim this: “Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.”  What we are therefore called to embrace is a non-anxious and ultimately transcendent hope, an abundant hope, which somehow inspires us to try again and anew, to rebuild and rethink and retackle and reimagine. A hope which assures us of the Big Picture even as we struggle, pretty consistently, with the little one. We are called, difficult as it may be, to engage a God of history largely beyond our full comprehension, but enough within our grasp to encourage and instill our belief. That is sometimes a tenuous balance, one which is easily made askew as the exigencies and demands of daily life unfold around us and loosen the soil from under our feet. To know and to accept and to believe that God is at work as much in storm and tempest, failed harvest and fallen relationship, crushing quarantine and spasming societies, is an extremely difficult learning yet one without which the faith journey cannot long continue. For as Israel discovered throughout its long history and wandering, and as the early Christians and disciples discovered throughout their bewilderment, loss, persecution and despair, it is only in a full, unconditional and irrational embrace of that God, that God of ‘something bigger than us’ and yet at work in the worst and most lost of us, that the story can yet and fully unfold. It is only amid that tension and paradox and disorientation that The Kingdom can ultimately be found and arrived at.
Does that make sense? Probably not, since such a prescription or assertion rarely makes sense to me. I can’t really prove it intellectually or from any scholarly viewpoint. But in my gut, and in my instincts, and every day that I walk and wonder, and every time I search and shake my head, I know this to be true in my own life. We do get out of bed, and we do put one foot before the other, and we do write that letter or make that phone call or say, “I’m sorry”. We do make amends and carry on, revealing not least by our actions and undertakings that we believe – somehow and in some way – that tomorrow matters, and that the future is still before us, and that something bigger than us is worth investing our hearts in.
Moses presses on, and Jesus presses on, and Paul presses on, and the Disciples press on, and so do we. We press on. Imperfect, unsure, often scared, at times emboldened, occasionally in tears, sometimes in laughter. But the alternative is resignation and despair, a spiritual death which cannot be countenanced, for such a path is away from God and devoid of the Spirit and removed from one another which, in a mystical way, are all one and the same thing.
Take a breath. Look around. Make peace with your past. Believe in your future. Know always that you are loved, especially in the midst of lean and failed harvest. Know that God shall guide you, even through thorns and briars, endless desert and dry lands. Know that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are always in the midst of such time, even if we wander dazed and confused, amid weeds and thickets, Zoom calls and endless “Phases”.
Isaiah, the great prophet of exile and return, put it clearly and he put it best:
“Do not fear, or be afraid;
have I not told you from of old and declared it?
You are my witnesses!
Is there any god besides me?
There is no other rock; I know not one.” [Isaiah 44:8]
And when all is said and done, that’s all we ever really need to know.
 Thomas Merton. Thoughts In Solitude. Farrar, Straus, Giroux. New York. c1956. p49.