Archive for July 2017

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 7/16/17 Epiphany, Norfolk

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23                                           7/16/17 Epiphany, Norfolk
A few of you may know what I’m talking about when I mention “Funeral Home Fans.” “Back in the Day”, before air conditioning, it was tradition in all churches that the local funeral homes provided cardboard hand held fans with kind of popsicle wood handles. They were in the pew book racks, or left in each seat for people to fan themselves in the heat of the summer. The back of the fan was always an advertisement for the funeral home that donated them. The front was always a romanticized picture of a Bible story, with sort of a Nordic depiction of Jesus with blond hair and blue eyes, or one of the popular Bible stories. For some reason, a picture of the sower spreading his seeds from sort of a flower sack slung over his shoulder was a popular funeral home fan picture. It always reminded me of Johnny Appleseed, but it was popular. I can remember studying that picture over and over as a kid – as the deadly sermon droned on and on in sweltering heat.
Since most churches had windows that only opened a few inches, they could get miserably hot in the summer. I can remember sticking to the varnish of pews, softened up by the heat. But church did go on, thanks to huge noisy electric fans in the back of the church, two of which we still have upstairs – and “Funeral Home Fans.” We somehow did it, and without a lot of fussing. And in that broiling heat, ladies still wore hats and gloves, and men wore coats and ties, although it was ok to take off the jacket, once we were in our pew. It was just how things were, and it was ok.
Our Gospel Reading for this morning is the “Parable of the Sower”, depicted on thousands and thousands of Funeral Home Fans. It’s a good parable because it has a lot of layers of meaning. I don’t care for some of Matthew’s interpretation of the parable. It’s very Jewish with “the evil one snatching away what is sown in the heart”, and all of that sort of imagery. But Matthew was written in Jerusalem for the Jews in Jerusalem, so it all makes sense. It doesn’t always fit our theology, but it is good Jewish theology, and it does give an explanation for why things sometimes go wrong, and how we handle problems.
That makes for a good parable. And we need to remember how hard it was to grow any kind of crop in the soil of the Holy Land. There were no “fields of golden grain.” Every seed that was planted was full of hope, and if it grew, it was a victory.
When I was doing a lot of interim work, going from parish to parish, I always looked forward to this passage because I could talk about “thorny parishes”, and “rocky parishes”, and “fertile parishes.” And I worked with them all. Epiphany probably got one of those sermons when I was the interim priest here back in the mid 80’s.
In digging through my sermon file last night, I did find one from 1993 that I preached here, talking about “thorny people”, and “rocky people”, and “fertile people”, and how to deal with each of them. Heaven only knows what was going on to prompt that. It was not a very nice sermon.
I’m really fortunate in that I’ve had an unusually long career, and I’ve worked with a huge number of congregations. And as I think about that, I’m very aware of some of my efforts falling on rocky ground, some amongst thistles, and some on good soil. I’ve had a lot of what I consider to be successes in my career. But I’ve also had a whole bunch of efforts that didn’t go so well. Sometimes opportunities were “plucked from me.” Sometimes they were just not well planned, or thoroughly thought through. But sometimes they really did work out.
I started young enough to have the energy and the vision to be a little creative. And I also had the tenacity to drive people crazy until something happened. While trying to get Tucker House built, I can remember a HUD supervisor saying, “You just won’t go away, will you.” “No”, I answered. “Not until I get what I need.” I got it. Of course, I’ve mellowed, I think. But I still push for what I think is important.
Well, I think life is just kind of like that. We see it in our relationships. We see it in our families, our jobs, our involvements and our faith. Everything doesn’t always work out well. And what a bore life would be if it did. We need challenges, even with our faith. If it comes too easily, we don’t appreciate it. We do best when we have to push a little, when we have to come back and try it again, and sometimes again. We seem to be built that way.
Every effort we make is like one of those seeds. It has the potential of getting plucked away, or not taking root, or being choked out, or flourishing. And sometimes it’s not under our control. We just have to do the best we can, and then see what happens. That seems to be one of the great mysteries of life. If we just knew what was going to work and what was not going to work, life would be a whole lot simpler. But it doesn’t work that way.
The sower sows, and the seed falls, and some of it makes it, and some of it doesn’t. We do the best we can and take our chances, and then put our energies into tending that which takes root and grows. That’s living a faithful life.
Last night at dinner with some folks, I asked Bob Everett what he wanted to hear in today’s homily. His response was, “I always enjoy the ‘Amen’ at the end.” So – for Bob, Amen.

Posted July 18, 2017 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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