Sermon for June 26, 2022
6/26/22 St. John’s
I wanted to plant a garden, and so a friend of mine loaned me a rotor tiller, and it was a big monster. He just dropped it off and I had to learn how to run it, and it was trial and error. The first thing I learned was that that thing would pull me behind it and I had to hold on tight or it would get away from me.
But then, the second thing I learned was that I couldn’t just hold on, I had to work with this thing, lean, nudge it, urged it to where we needed to go, especially when we got to the end of a row and we had to change direction. But at the same time, I couldn’t force it, it was too big for me to muscle. It was give and take. It was a cooperative effort. And together, me and that big plow, got it done and ended up with a nice big garden. And I thanked the rotor tiller for a lesson in life.
I think about that big tiller every time today’s gospel reading comes around and Jesus’ parable about the plow what the old bluegrass tune called the gospel plow. Jesus compares following him, entering the dominion of God with Christ, to plowing a field. No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Now sounds like kind of a hard saying this might have been a little bit clearer parable to the people of Jesus’ day than it is to us. This was an agrarian culture, they understood plowing, they understood planting, and growing, and birds and plants and goats and pigs and nature in general. So Jesus used nature and farming images a lot to speak to the people about the kingdom. In fact, I looked this up, and about a third of his parables are about nature and farming. He knew his audience. That they would get it.
When you plow you can’t be looking back to see what a nice job you’ve done so far, how nice and straight those rows are back there. Because there’s a big rock right there in front of you and the next thing you know your plow is broken and you’re done. Or at least there are bumps and stumps and roots and hard places ahead so you’d better pay attention to where you’re going. So just on a very basic level, they would get that. When you finished the row there will be plenty of time to admire your work.
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and knows of what he speaks. He is on his way to Jerusalem; he has set his face to go to there, in fact Luke tell us. He has grabbed on to that plow. He knows that this is going to be miserable, horrible. He is on his way there to die; to finish up the work he has started which is to confront the powers that be once and for all, the guardians of the temple cult and all the bad religion that’s been going around and he knows that it will lead to suffering and death for him. It’s the way of the cross. It’s the way God is calling him, the way the Spirit is leading him, pulling him. He can’t let go, he’s got to hold on. And can’t be letting fools like James and John distract him with their ideas about calling down fire from heaven on people. Uh-uh ain’t nobody got time for that.
Because he came, to empty himself and become a servant, even to giving his life for us Paul says.
And Jesus says to us, his followers, that’s what you have to do too. He invites his disciples or we could even say commands them to go with him to Jerusalem, metaphorically speaking, and the people with him literally, to take up their cross too. Whatever that means for us, individually but mostly together.
And someone says, “I’ll follow wherever you go.” Jesus says right, sure, I don’t even have a place to sleep, you sure you want to follow me? And someone says, let me go bury my father and I’ll catch up with you. And somebody says let me say goodbye to the folks back home. No one who puts a hand to the plow, who says they want to follow me, is not ready, nots fit for the dominion of God.
So that’s a hard saying, and for the church, the message might be, hey the call may be difficult, the mission you are being pulled into on may be difficult, the challenge is great, there is a big field to be plowed with lots of bumps and hard place but hang on, stick with me, stay focused.
This is just life as a child of God. So we know what that feels like. Times when we that God is calling us, the Holy Spirit or Jesus or however we say it is pulling us in some direction and we’ve gotta grab hold and hang on if we’re going to go along. Maybe there’s a decision right now that some of us have to make, something that might need a commitment from us, a call we think hear from God and maybe we need to grab on to that gospel plow. We set our face to it.
And we know some ground is going to be churned up and a lot of dust is going to be raised and we are praying that there are going to be some seeds that are going to be spread around and some of it is going to turn into a harvest. And maybe then we can look back and say, yeah that was a pretty straight row. This is just life together.
Times of transition, St. John’s right now, this is prime time to be open to where the Spirit is pulling you, deeper into God’s Dominion where Jesus is hanging out.
So on a little bit deeper level, not to push the plow metaphor into the ground ha ha Which is: we are definitely being pulled by that gospel plow – we don’t try to push the Spirit to where we want to go, yet we do have a part to play and part of it is the discernment and part of it is the work.
I met a guy this week who had had a liver transplant – long story but when his liver started to give out he learned that he had had hepatitis for decades. Now his liver has given out and he has 14 days to live, he’s up at Duke Medical Center. So he got his transplant. Anyway, I’ve had a stem cell transplant so we were comparing stories and I mentioned this plow parable and he said that’s it – we couldn’t make it happen, we couldn’t push the plow, heal ourselves of cancer or whatever; but also we couldn’t just be passive and say God will heal us we’ll just be pulled along. We had to go to the doctor – we had to show up. We had to be part of it. So that’s kind of what I mean about working together with the Spirit. It’s not works righteousness it’s just showing up.
In Mark’s gospel Jesus tells another one of those farm parables where he compares the kingdom of God to a farmer who plows the field, and he sows the seed. Does his part and then he goes to bed. He sleeps and he wakes up, and the sun rises and sets and the rain falls on the seed, and God does all the rest; the crop grows and the harvest was plentiful. The work together.
And then someday, I hope, that farmer went out and looked at that field and all those nice rows and said, “Very nice. Thank you God.”