Pentecost 6, Proper 10 July 16, 2017
Church of the Good Shepherd, Silver City, NM Rev. Paul Moore
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The Honduras Mission leaves this coming Tuesday. We will drive to El Paso, and fly to Houston. The next morning bright and early we will meet up with the rest of the team, 65 strong, and fly to Tegucigalpa. By the end of the day we will be at Monte Carmelo Convent and Retreat Center, settling in for the week. We will spend the next five days holding clinics in villages and towns around the area. We will attend to between 2,500 and 3,000 people. We will hear from scholarship recipients and we will review come of our Community Development projects, including the Tile Factory in Corral Quemado. I will have a special day I am really looking forward to. I did it a couple of years ago, and I’m going to do it again. We’re holding a Day of Theological Reflection for church leaders.
The Tile Factory has been long in coming. I had the privilege of meeting with prospective members of the cooperative 3 years ago. We spent a morning hammering out a Vision Statement, something that would be its guiding light. I was amazed at what emerged. The vision of what they want to do is to bring light into the world. They want this little factory to become a beacon of hope in the midst of their world. Oh, they don’t have any great pretensions to world fame, but they know that anything done for good brings good into the world. For them to bring hope into a hopeless world adds to the thousands of other places where good people are doing good things, bringing hope. They have a sense that their work is not just for Corral Quemado, or even the Municipality of Ojo de Agua or the Province of El Paraiso. It’s for the world.
They understood what the first lesson today speaks about. God promises that the divine word will not go out into the world in vain. Once spoken it will do what it is intended to do. The things that the prophet identifies as coming from that word are all good things for God’s people. In other words, God has spoken good words, and God’s word is God’s action.
I wonder if this passage wasn’t in the back of Jesus’ mind when he told the parable of the Sower in today’s Gospel lesson. In the second half of the Gospel lesson Matthew records what is probably an early Church interpretation of this parable. It takes the story as an allegory of the human response to God. The word is that good work that God does in the human heart. The sower, then, cooperates with God in disseminating the word that does not return to God void, nor is it spoken in vain. If so, then the seed sown on the path and on rocky and thorny soil is somehow not sown in vain.
The extravagance with which the sower sows, willy-nilly, casting seed everywhere has been taken as a token of divine generosity. God sends rain on the just and the unjust. God does not withhold the Word from those who do not respond. Mercy and grace are open to all. Yet we see some response as more abundant than others. It makes me think of the tile factory. The journey between vision and reality has been fraught with trials of every kind, and the trials have not stopped. The crop is not merely an easy result of good circumstances. We all struggle against those things that stand in our way. I wonder what it would have taken for the farmer to plow the path, to grub out the thorns and to haul away the rocks. I know what it has meant for the tile factory. It has meant facing the hardpan paths of government bureaucracy, the rocky road to construction and equipment acquisition, and the thorny issues of relationships with partnerships. Becoming good soil is hard work.
Consider, also, that the final result will be more than just the financial bottom line. There is only one other reference in the Bible to land yielding 100-fold. It is in Genesis 26:12
Isaac sows in the land if Canaan for the first time and reaps 100-fold. He goes on to become very rich to the point that the local Philistines want him to go away because he has become too powerful for them. It is a symbol of God’s abundant blessing, something only God can do.
Some commentaries think that this parable is intentionally naming a result that is more heavenly than earthly, hinting at that Great Day when all will be put right. At that time such a magnificent harvest wouldn’t be considered strange, though in our times it edges on the fantastical. But then again, how fantastical is it really? How big is our idea of what God’s word accomplishes? How wide is our view?
Back in about 2003 a group of us on the mission got together and brainstormed about what we could really do to help in a long-term sense our friends in Honduras. Our scholarship program was born from that evening’s discussion. We began with 10 students. Now we have about 150, with another 50 on the waiting list. Our graduation rate is 97% compared to 15% nationwide. In 14 years how many kids have we helped get through High School? They are coming back to us for help to go to College.
We know that these kids don’t jump on the backs of trains to get to the US to work. They don’t have to. They have hope in their own land. According to CNN Money, ICE spent an average of $10,854 on every undocumented person they deported. Our scholarship program is saving tax dollars in the US. Whoever would have thought of that? Add to that the financial and human cost of crossing Mexico on La Bestia, the trains, and 100-fold doesn’t seem so fantastical any more.
We have tracked the kinds of illnesses we treat from year to year. We no longer treat family after family with the same chronic conditions, parasites, respiratory ailments, and intestinal trouble. We see people with diabetes, cancer, hypertension and other diseases that surface as issues when the “easy” stuff is taken care of. Some people are just plain healthy—they just wanted an American doctor to tell them so! There has been a steady increase in general public health in these communities.
Think what COULD be the full result of the tile factory?
Yes, we’ve had to face the path and the rocks and the thorns. In faith we sow on all soils. God can take thorny, stony and hardpan soil and bring forth harvests of 100 fold. The allegorical interpretation given in Scripture calls the question of, “What kind of soil are you?” All of us have within us all of these soils. The challenge is to become good soil, and that often means facing the challenges of apathy, distraction and lack of discipline. In facing these challenges the word sown on these areas of our hearts is rendered back to God not in vain, for these challenges make us good soil, a place where the miraculous harvest of the Spirit can be made manifest.
Shortly I will be calling all of us going to Honduras to come forward. We will lay hands on one another and pray for God’s blessing and commissioning for this work. We will pray for strength to spread God’s good word in Honduras, and for safety in our journeys. We are also committing ourselves as a congregation to becoming good soil, of facing the challenges of ministry with humility, perseverance and faith, and of anticipation at the joy of the harvest.
God is capable of harvests of 100-fold. All God needs is sowers, people who by word and deed spread the good word of God.