Sunday of Ordinary Time
55:10-11, Psalm 65, Romans 8:18-23; Matthew 13:1-23
“A parable,” says C. H. Dodd, “is a
metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by
its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about
its precise application to tease it into active thought.”
A parable leaves the mind in sufficient
doubt. It teases it into active thought.
Or the root meaning of the Greek word for
parable, paraballo: “to place one thing beside another.”
Did you see the article in the paper the
other day, about a new study, published in the journal Science? Researchers asked
college students and people from local churches and businesses to spend between
six to 15 minutes in a bare room without any books or smart phones or other
distractions and then to report on what the experience was like for them.
57.5 percent indicated it was difficult to
concentrate, 89 percent that their minds had wandered, and 49.3 per cent that
they didn’t enjoy the experience at all.
In one experiment, in fact, well over half
of the men chose to deliberately shock themselves with electricity rather than
simply sit there, alone with their thoughts.
I’m not sure exactly how this worked, but apparently 67 percent of the
men and 25 percent of the woman administered a mild jolt of electricity to themselves
at least once during their time in the empty room. They actually zapped themselves, out of
boredom, I guess, or nervousness. One
man shocked himself 190 times.
I don’t think the problem is that God
doesn’t exist. I think the problem is
that we usually don’t pay attention long enough to realize that he does.
I think that grace is always falling on us
like the rain and the snow that come down, in the words of Isaiah, that the
word of the Lord is always going forth, and that it comes back null and void
only because we’ve been too distracted to hear it.
I think the seeds of grace are everywhere
and all around us. The Lord is throwing
them out all the time, wildly and at random.
But our ground is too shallow or we have rocks in our heads or we choke
the seeds out with all our various thorns:
our anxieties, our nervousness, our fears.
Everything depends on those six to 15
minutes. Because that’s where we can
make contact with God. Everything
depends on us sitting in that empty room.
Recently I took a class sponsored by the
Corvallis Audubon Society called “Birding by Ear.” We studied bird songs and bird behavior and
took three field trips to listen and try to identify what we heard. On the field trips we started with a simple exercise: we simply stopped, closed our eyes, and
listened for two or three minutes, just two or three, making an inventory of
all the sounds we could hear. The hum
of the highway. The wind in the trees. Then a tanager chirping, then a Purple
Finch. A warbler of some kind. A trilling somewhere else. A run of notes in an ash tree. Suddenly the trees were full of sounds, and
the brush below the trees, and the sky, there were songs and calls and
rustlings everywhere, all around us.
That’s how the grace of God is.
Partly I mean that God is present in
nature, continually—in the “fields,” as the Psalm puts it today, in “the
valleys blanketed with grain.” “The
untilled meadows,” the Psalmist says, “overflow with it.”
But in our kitchens, too, and in our cars,
and in our offices, grace is as rich and subtle and varied as the bird
Though of course there are many moments of
desolation and emptiness in our lives, too, moments of bleakness, when the
birds don’t seem to be singing at all, and in a way these are even more
important. That’s why the participants
in the study shocked themselves, I think:
because when turn off our distractions and sit with our thoughts we come
face to face with our sadness, our weakness, our insignificance, and that
scares us and confuses us, and it should.
That’s revelatory, too. That’s
God speaking to us, too, in our own groaning, as St. Paul puts it, in our own
struggling, and unless we let ourselves experience that bleakness, unless we
acknowledge that emptiness, we can never really admit to our need for grace,
our need for God.
The emptiness is the first necessary step. It’s a kind of dying, and unless we die, we
Because the ground only looks lifeless and
bare. Underneath it, in the dark, the
seed is growing, and if we are patient, we will see new life emerge. The sadness will give way, if we can bear it
for a while. It will open up.
So let me ask you to set aside 6 to 15
minutes a few times this week. Perform
this experiment for yourself, and accept whatever comes. If it’s birdsong, wonderful. If it’s loneliness, that’s true and important,
too. All of it is grace and all of is
good and all of it is real. That’s the
goal of Christianity, that’s what Christ wants for us: to face reality. Because reality, as Anthony De Mello says, is
lovely. It’s absolutely lovely.
That’s what Christ wants, this master of
the parable: to tease us into thought.
And let me ask you, too, to join me in
praying for this same patience and openness and hope for us as a community of
faith, to join me in praying for the parish in this time of transition.
This is shifting focus a little, but a
good friend of mine heard this prayer in another parish, in Washington, another
parish waiting for a new pastor, and as soon as he showed to me I knew I should
include it somehow today.
a prayer that calls us all to help cultivate the seeds of grace. It’s a call to growth:
O faithful God, as your people we cherish our
memories and our history as a sacred gift.
We also ask you to guide us in our time of transition.
We need your wisdom that we might be
receptive to change, conversion, and growth.
We need your grace to redirect our hearts
that we may be willing to offer ourselves in joyful service.
Do not allow fear, ignorance or pride to
limit the work of your spirit, nor custom to prevent the creativity within us
form bearing fruit.
Open our hearts to the call of the Gospel. Give us courage and renewed hope that we may
meet the challenge of being the church of our time.