I preached this sermon at St. Lydia's the week of February 17: the week the verdict was delivered in the Michael Dunn trial. The text is Mark 4:1-9, the Parable of the Sower.
This week I was in San Francisco at a fellowship program,
and one of the women who’s a fellow with me
told a story about her daughter, who’s a little over two years old.
I don’t really remember the story she was telling --
it was something funny her daughter did or said.
What I remember is how engaged she was when she was telling the story.
Her eyes were all lit up, and she was smiling,
and it was as if her daughter was right there in front of her as she told the story.
She was a woman very clearly in love with her child.
After the story, she paused and touched her belly
(she’s pregnant with a second child)
“You know, it’s so funny --
I know that I’m going to love this baby as much as my first one,
but I can’t really imagine how that’s possible
because it feels like I love her so much,
it’s not possible to love another thing that much."
It’s easy to imagine that love is finite.
Sort of like a bucket full of water.
If you pour it out, you’ll have less.
It seems possible to only have so much.
I feel that way
particularly at times in my life
when I’ve been hurt or my heart has been wounded,
and I feel that I need to protect my love.
I need to hold my love close in
and be careful about how I share it.
I feel I can’t risk my love.
So, the Parable of the Sower.
This is a really crazy way to farm.
It doesn’t make any sense,
and everyone listening to Jesus’ story would have known it.
Jesus was speaking to a bunch of farmers
and people who knew farmers,
and they knew that when you plant seed
you don’t just scatter it around all over the place.
You till the soil and prepare it.
This way of planting Jesus is describing
doesn’t make any sense.
It’s not economical.
So what is Jesus telling us here about the kingdom of heaven?
About the realm of God?
There’s something insane about the world he’s suggesting here.
He’s not saying, “Be careful.”
He’s saying, “Everything you have: scatter it to the wind.”
“God’s realm is a realm
in which letting go of everything you have
will bring back just what you expected: nothing.
But also, more than you ever could have expected.
Yielding thirty and sixth and one hundred fold.”
It’s a reckless way to plant.
A reckless way to live.
It’s a way of living that implies that there is nothing to lose.
That we can let go of everything
and something abundant would be returned to us.
That’s what God’s realm -- God’s kingdom
I see that realm here at these tables.
Is this not reckless love?
To imagine that we can invite anyone to dinner?
Sit down next to anyone.
It’s a reckless idea, even dangerous.
And here we’re learning to live out God’s reckless dream
in this realm.
In this place.
It makes sense that we sometimes feel we need to protect our hearts.
That we can’t scatter our love recklessly.
But God is always reminding us
that the arithmetic of this world doesn’t add up in God’s world.
My friend couldn’t imagine that her heart could be filled with any more love.
But I guarantee you,
when she sees her newborn’s face for the first time,
her heart will somehow be able to contain a yield of love of thirty, sixty, one hundred fold.
This is abundance that defies logic.
It’s getting to spring again,
and that means that it’s time for St. Lydia’s
to re-engage with the Season of Listening.
The Season of Listening is something we did at St. Lydia’s last year.
A whole bunch of congregants were trained in how to do a one-on-one,
which is simply a way of having a conversation with someone
to learn a little bit about their life.
And our congregants had one-on-ones with all sorts of people around the city.
Folks listened to crossing guards they ran into,
and the person who works the counter at their bodegas.
Folks listened to the supers in their buildings
and the woman who runs the local Soup Kitchen.
We listened to a lot of different people.
And here's one thing we heard back from one person:
“We live on top of each other in this city,
but we don’t know each other.”
Everybody’s in their own little world.
This year, I think,
is the perfect time for St. Lydia’s to engage the neighborhood
directly around around new storefront on Bond Street.
We have a whole bunch of new neighbors
and the opportunity to get to know them.
Zach, our Sunday night intern,
is going to help organize us for this year’s Season of Listening,
and he has a lot of wonderful ideas about how to do this work.
I have this vision.
And it may be a crazy vision,
but still, I have this vision
of knocking on every single door in our neighborhood.
Not in a creepy Christian way because we’re trying to get people to go to our church,
but knocking on doors
just to listen.
To introduce ourselves, to say we’re new to the neighborhood,
and not ask for a thing.
That is a reckless love:
to make contact with a neighbor in New York City.
That’s something this city has a reputation for not doing.
I guarantee it will be just like this parable.
There will be rocky soil
and shallow soil
and thorny soil.
There will be uncertainty and nervousness
and people who are annoyed and don’t want to talk.
But there will also be good soil.
There will be abundance that we could never anticipate.
And it will yield thirty, sixty, one hundred fold.
This is a country
where the state of Florida is trying to convince us
that there’s nothing really wrong
with gunning down a 17 year old child because he is black.
We cannot afford to stay in our own little boxes.
We need reckless love:
love that sends us across the street and next door
to learn about our neighbors --
our literal neighbors whom we have never met --
whose lives may be very different from our own.
Because when we do not know our neighbor,
when we are allowed to think that they are some “other,”
that is when we give ourselves permission to shoot our neighbor at a gas station.
We can’t be careful with our love.
We need to scatter it around this city
as if we have nothing to lose.
God calls us to share it in a way that doesn’t add up.
That assumes we have plenty, more than enough to spare.
Because perfect love
casts out fear.
casts out guns.
Our world is a mess.
I think of Jordan Davis
and his family who mourns him.
And I think of Trayvon Martin
and his family who mourns him.
And I think of the fact that this is not 1904 or 1954.
This is 2014,
and these are still the stories we are forced to to tell.
And I get angry
and when I get overwhelmed I feel paralyzed.
Maybe you feel that way too sometimes.
I feel like there’s nothing you can do.
But there’s this thing in the parable
that I always come back to:
that it’s us who scatters the seed,
but it’s God who makes it grow.
We’re not going to dismantle racism
all by ourselves.
but God will.
In and through us,
in ways that are so crazy they don’t make sense.
God is catching the good seed we’re throwing
and yielding thirty, sixty, one hundred fold.
It is my belief that justice begins
in relationship with the other.
And so slowly, intentionally,
we are building capacity in this community
to reach out across whatever divides us:
class, race, economics, culture, education,
“Hello. We are both humans.
I want to learn about some piece of your story.
I want to learn about your experience,
living in this neighborhood.
I want to listen to you.”
Sharing stories and listening.
These are two things that we practice every week at St. Lydia’s.
And there’s a reason.
In a country where some are kept powerless
so that others can hold power,
where some are kept poor
so that others can hoard wealth,
it’s reckless to build a relationship with the other.
You might even say dangerous.
It’s dangerous to begin to rub out those lines that keep us all in separate categories.
All in separate boxes that keep some people in control.
Those relationships are the heart of a revolution.
One that God is in the mist of unfolding right now.
This is a God
who brings down the powerful from their thrones
and lifts up the lowly,
who fills the hungry with good things
and sends the rich away empty.
This is a God
who whispers in our ear
that we can live another way.
That we can scatter all that we have to the wind
and have lost nothing.
That love is not finite but infinite.
And and that love is the seed of a revolution
that will usurp the powerful from their thrones.
Let anyone who has ears