Archive for July, 2020

Face to Face, An Attitude?

Posted: July 28, 2020 in Uncategorized

Genesis 32:22-31 

Face to Face, An Attitude?

As I searched for inspiration and topic for this week’s sermon, I began to focus on want people have been saying over the Covid-19 period of time in the life of this planet. On-line conference video meetings have sprung up and services have been put up on You tube and people have been gathering in this way to maintain continuity of community and ‘keep in touch’. One of the common comments is that people who are church attenders like the people contact and miss the face to face gathering. On-line just doesn’t seem to cut it completely. It seems that even the ability to see each other is not enough, we need the touchy-feely possibility even though just shaking hands is often felt to be a step too far by some, or is this just a culture thing? Are young people better able to make real connections on-line than the older generations? I wonder if it is an attitude thing? And by attitude, I mean ‘A position of the body indicating a particular mental state’. Maybe an online gathering of church goers is people gathering in an attitude of loss of physical presence of others and thus always going to feel the gathering to be short lived, temporary and not quite the real thing?

In approaching the texts for today I began to wonder if this thing about attitude might be worth thinking about. What if when reading a familiar text one needs to be aware of an attitude awareness because whenever we focus on an overly familiar passage from the Bible, it may be only natural to dread the feeling of boredom with “that same old story,” or of frustration at trying to say something new or different about it.

Our particular narrative from Genesis might also provoke confusion about what a passage filled with so much ambiguity really means, and perhaps even a measure of discomfort with the imagery of assault, physical or otherwise, employed by the author. And then there’s that problem of Jacob, the patriarch who hardly qualifies for sainthood, to put it mildly. One part of us may be repelled by the way he lies and cheats his way to success and wealth, but another part of us may feel strangely drawn toward him, and might even see something of ourselves in him.

The dramatic story of Jacob wrestling with a stranger—be it God or an angel, –on that riverbank long ago has been an irresistible subject for artists: painters (Rembrandt, Delacroix, Gauguin and Chagall, among others), sculptors, novelists, poets (like Rainier Maria Rilke), modern playwrights (like Tony Kushner, in “Angels in America”), and even musicians like the group U2, in their song, “Bullet in the Sky.”

Psychologists, both professional and amateur, love to “wrestle” with this text as well, or maybe put it to rest too quickly and too simply by saying that Jacob is struggling with the inner demons of a guilty conscience. One might suggest that this so-called “modern” approach, is inadequate for the text before us. But an important challenge for lectionary preachers is putting this text in the context of Jacob’s larger story, as well as Israel’s story, and our own, in order to do it justice, to bring it to life. Preaching and Bible study differ in some ways, but as ‘Progressive thinkers bible study is no longer an alternative to preaching both in sketching out that larger picture, and linking this story and its echoes to the stories before and after it. One has to study the text to ensure the attitude adjustment required to use the text in its fullest sense and avoid what is known as eisegesis, ‘the importation of ones own subjective interpretation’. An attitude adjustment is important here and spending time with the whole story Genesis 25:19-34, 26:34-33:20, and 35:1-15 of Jacob’s late-night struggle on the edge of returning home to the land he had been promised, and the future that he hoped still lay ahead:. can surprise us.

For example, in these passages we learn that this isn’t the only time Jacob has heard from God, or the first or only time he’s named a place, or, for that matter, the first time he’s been asked who he is. And even though we may ‘as we discovered last week’, think of him as cunning and sly, Jacob surprises us in the earlier part of this same chapter 32, when he first returns home and starts sweating about facing his brother’s understandable and long-standing wrath.

Here, almost home with the use of quite poignant words, he being so full of longing, offers a humble prayer, asking God to protect him, and admitting that he’s “not worthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant” (v. 10a).

It has been noted by some scholars that this prayer of Jacob’s is the longest prayer in Genesis. Maybe it’s a prayer born of fear, but it does endear Jacob to us a little bit, if we can get it out of our heads that he has sent the women and children and animals on ahead, where they may face Esau’s wrath first. Nice move for a chauvinist perhaps.

Earlier in the story we read another familiar excerpt from the passages, about the night Jacob was on the run from home and from Esau’s anger, when he had the sweet spiritual experience of dreaming about a ladder to heaven, and of hearing God’s voice making those promises of land and descendants and blessing, and most of all, of God’s presence and protection with him, always.

Frederick Buechner calls this “not the nightmare of the guilty but a dream that nearly brings tears to the eyes with its beauty.”  It was an “awesome” experience.

There, at the gate of heaven and the house of God (28:17), Jacob made some promises, too, to be faithful to God and to tithe all that he received, that is, if God would promise to keep him safe and give him food and clothing, and someday bring him home in peace. Sounds like an exchange value world there too doesn’t it. Or contract verses covenant world perhaps. Most of us, of course, have lists like this one, for God: we can almost hear the lists unspoken beneath our own prayer words at times.

Jacob also named the place of this “awesome” experience: Bethel, or House of God. Ancient stories often explained where and how places got their names, and this is one of several about Jacob naming a place out of his own experience.

In the first fifteen verses in chapter 35, we read of God sending Jacob to Bethel again, and we hear several reminders that this had been where Jacob encountered God while on the run from Esau, and where God answered him in his distress, and where God made promises to “keep” him and provide many descendants for him, and where God gave him a new name.

We also read once again that Jacob had sense enough to raise a pillar to mark the holy place, to give it a name, too. This act of naming or attitude to a place makes me think of what John D Caputo says about names and why they are important as event. His explanation of naming or at least my interpretation of what he says is that ‘Names’ contain events and give them a kind of temporary shelter by housing them within a relatively stable nominal unity. Events, on the other hand, are uncontainable, and they make names restless with promise and the future, with memory and the past, with the result that names contain what they cannot contain. Names belong to natural languages and are historically constituted or constructed, whereas events are a little unnatural, eerie, ghostly thing that haunt names and see to it that they never rest in peace. Names can accumulate historical power a worldly prestige and have very powerful institutions erected in or under their name, getting themselves carved in stone, whereas the voice of events is ever soft and low and is liable to be dismissed, distorted, or ignored. Although a name contains an event, an event cannot in principle be contained by a name, proper or common. In short, the name God contains the event we know as the sacred which is always dynamic and emerging and evolving or as Caputo might say, insisting rather than existing.

This I think can be applied to the naming of Bethel as the place of God. This week’s passage is between those two Bethel bookends in the story of Jacob: here, he is in-between but also on-the-edge, just on the outside, a bit like ‘Almost’. The drama of his flight from home is matched by the full happiness of his later establishment at Bethel, along with wives, “maids” and children, servants, flocks, and assorted possessions, and those promises, and the new name, as well.

Here, though, on this dark and scary night, in spite of the passage of many years, the accumulation of vast wealth, and the success of besting his clever and calculating uncle, Jacob is shaking in his proverbial boots. He is alone, in the deep of the night. He has sent ahead herds and herds of gifts to his brother, hoping to ease his way home by softening Esau up, but he doesn’t know that it will work. Now, here he is, on the bank of the river, all alone in the deep of the night.

Barbara Brown Taylor describes something of Jacob’s state of mind, as he anticipates Esau’s anger: “He had changed,” she writes, “but he could not imagine that Esau had” (“Striving with God” in Gospel Medicine). Perhaps Jacob has developed enough of a conscience to realize that his brother has every right to feel fresh anger at the return of the one who has stolen everything from him.

But then a disturbing encounter. Rather than a sweet dream, Jacob is visited by a stranger who wrestles with him all night long. We assume that stranger was God, or at least an angel of God, but there are ancient roots in this story of another kind of being. Ambiguity enters the scene.

Gene Tucker explains that the fact that Jacob’s “opponent fears the daylight and refuses to divulge his name, suggests a nocturnal demon,” and therefore it’s possible that “the narrator has taken over an ancient, pre-Yahwistic tradition…reinterpreted it as a confrontation between Israel’s God and her ancestor.” It could also be that of a non-event or a non-naming, a God caught between existing and not existing.

The significance of insisting on knowing the entity’s name is ancient as well, because even we know (and feel) that names have a kind of power, as does Caputo’s explanation, and in those days when words meant even more, Tucker says that knowing that demon’s (or deity’s) name “was to obtain a measure of control over it.” Something we do with the naming of ‘God’, we seek to control our God in the world of our thinking.

Frederick Buechner describes this more poetically in his sermon on this text: “The faith of Israel goes back some five thousand years to the time of Abraham, but there are elements in this story that were already old before Abraham was born, almost as old as humankind itself. It is an ancient, jagged-edged story, dangerous and crude as a stone knife. Maybe there is more terror in it or glory in it than edification” (“The Magnificent Defeat” in Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons).

“Already old before Abraham was born….” Just think of that: what strange beauty this story begins to have, after all. Jacob and his visitor wrestle all night long, almost till dawn, without a clear winner. The visitor resorts to crippling Jacob by striking his hip, and still Jacob will not let go.

Terence Fretheim sees a different meaning in “the man’s” insistence on leaving before the light of day, not because the daylight is a problem for him, but because of the awful risk to Jacob of seeing God face to face (Genesis, The New Interpreter’s Bible).

Seeing God, face to face is an event, or an awesome moment of extraordinary power. And yet that is what happens, if we are to believe Jacob: he names the place “Peniel” (“The face of God”) because, he says, “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved” (v. 30). At least he uses the passive voice, rather than saying that he himself succeeded in this remarkable thing. Ironically, while Jacob counts himself lucky or blessed just to have survived, his opponent declares him the winner, or at least the one who prevailed.

In either case, at least this was, as Hank J. Langknecht puts it, “finally a fair fight. No taking advantage of a hungry brother or a blind father or having to outsmart a wily father-in-law. Here it is Jacob wrestling to an honest draw” (New Proclamation Year A 2008).

Both Jacob and the place of this struggle are given new names, and Jacob’s is given as well to his descendants, who also will struggle with God. By the time these stories were fashioned into the narrative of God’s people, Gene Tucker writes, “The people of Israel, like their patronymic ancestor, had striven with powers both human and divine and, in the time of the monarchy, knew that they had prevailed and been blessed” (Preaching through the Christian Year A).

However, while Dennis Olson agrees that “Jacob’s limping becomes a metaphor or paradigm of Israel’s life with God,” he also reminds us that Esau represents Israel’s eastern neighbour, Edom, and that the two nations had a testy relationship after Edom helped Babylon conquer Judah (The Lectionary Commentary: The Old Testament and Acts).

We read and remember and paint pictures of short stories like today’s passage, but we rarely read Chapter 36 of Genesis, which might impress on us a greater sense of the importance of Esau and Edom, since it provides a long list of the sons of Esau and the clans and kings that descended from them.

Several themes unfold in this face-to-face encounter between Jacob and God. Commentators like Terence Fretheim emphasize the initiative and active engagement of God in our lives, even though that isn’t always a pleasant or comforting experience. The way this story is told, God is the one who gets things started, not with a dream or a vision but with an embodied struggle, Fretheim says, “more than a dark night of the soul.” Fretheim also suggests that this is one of the ways God seeks out “openings” in our lives, in order “to enhance the divine purpose” and to get us in shape, so to speak, for the challenges that lie ahead: “To go through it with God before we go through it with others provides resources of strength and blessing for whatever lies in the wings of life.”

Jacob responds well, Fretheim notes, and he receives a new name that recognizes “who he has been and presently is, not what he becomes in this moment,” that is, “Jacob’s strength and capacity for struggling well” (Genesis, The New Interpreter’s Bible).

Obviously, we too struggle with God, individually and communally. One thinks, for example, of  the terrible suffering of the slaves who were carried off, sold, and considered “property” by “good,” Bible-reading Christians; or those who have suffered at the hands of religious institutions that lose sight of the heart of God’s justice and compassion and focus instead on their own power and preservation.

We struggle in our own personal lives with illness and financial uncertainty, with personal disasters and broken relationships, and most of all, with the suffering of those we love. In times fraught with poisonous political divisions globally and a raging pandemic that is exacting an enormous physical and economic toll, we have our communal questions for God as well.

Indeed, we witness the suffering and deaths of people most vulnerable to the coronavirus, which disproportionately ravages communities of people of colour, the elderly, the poor. We watch, helpless ourselves (it seems), as those most vulnerable in our midst suffer needlessly. Observers note soberly, and perhaps ironically, that the powerful, wealthy countries are brought to its knees by this disease.

Of course, the “same old” problems persist as well: racism and hatred, violence and injustice, prejudice and the abuse of power, militaristic posturing and environmental destruction (some of these all swirled together in a toxic brew) churn through our shared lives and shape them in ways we deplore.

We hear, for example, of the distress of families torn apart by the deportation of a desperate parent who saw a country as their best hope for a decent life. We are dismayed by the way our political life has been torn apart, often splitting people into two opposing camps and increasing the numbers who have no voice, and making the solutions to our problems seem more far away than ever.

Each day the split grows ever wider and uglier, and we are perplexed by how we will ever address the challenges with which we must struggle, including the suffering of the earth itself and its creatures, at our mercy but receiving very little of it.

Beyond the suffering caused by human action, accident, and neglect, we are aware of the suffering of those whose lives are devastated by wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis and other natural disasters–and the compounding of that anguish by human indifference and inadequate response, with a loss of interest once the story fades from the headlines. Questions of blame and mismanagement of resources become prevalent and we have to ask; are we better now?

We are encouraged by our faith “to give voice to anguished questions about justice or war,” for “Christians are also free to strive with God” and we do so not with detached consideration but up close, face to face, with deep consternation. When we think about the call to preach, we are reminded that “It is the speaking of truth that allows suffering to be heard.” It is an authentic faith and not a fairytale that understands the pain of God’s children and that God’s creation will keep us awake at night, and struggling with God.

Richard Pervo asks “What kind of god will get into a nighttime brawl with a mortal and come out no better than even? From the perspective of spirituality, the answer is: the kind of God we need” A God that is not perfect, not complete, not super-naturalized but rather a God that lives our life.

Indeed, Jacob’s larger story, not just this week’s short excerpt from it, is persistently about blessing. In addition to the blessings God promises him, Jacob has already stolen one from his brother, and now demands yet another from this stranger, and gets it.

James Newsome suggests that, “even in the midst of our struggles with God and with self, the most enduring word is a word of God’s grace,” and he describes grace in the “ultimate irony” that “being confronted with the mirror that God held before beleaguered Jacob, a mirror that reflected a flawed and sinful Jacob, Jacob saw also Peniel, the face of God” (Texts for Preaching Year A).

And Dennis T. Olson brings all of this together beautifully in his commentary on the reconciliation between Jacob and Esau (33:4-11) that follows Jacob’s night of struggle with God, for Jacob’s gifts to Esau are described as a “blessing” or berakah, “the same word used for what Jacob originally stole from Esau.”

Jacob then sees the face of God, again, this time, in his brother, his former enemy, who accepts and forgives him: “Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept” (v. 4).

Jacob’s response, seeing in Esau “the face of God” (v. 10), shows just how far he has come: “As Jacob had seen the face of God in the struggle and reconciliation with the wrestler,” Olson writes, “so Jacob sees the face of God in the face of his reconciled enemy/brother who had sought to kill him. In both cases Jacob encounters the beloved enemy, one divine and one human, and emerges from the struggle with greater blessings and a more abundant life” (The Lectionary Commentary: The Old Testament and Acts).

Taylor helps us to see Jacob as more like us, presenting God with our “conditions for our belief in God,” and we “persist in telling God what it means to be with us–to keep us safe, to feed and clothe us, to preserve our lives in peace,” while the God of covenant provides a very different answer to that prayer, one that involves struggle, and questions that aren’t always answered, and yet always a blessing that promises God’s presence with us every step of the way. Here we have what I name ‘Almost’.

Taylor describes Jacob’s obsession with holding onto the visitor most beautifully when she writes “According to the Midrash,” the visitor “must go because he sings in the morning choir before God’s throne, but Jacob is unsympathetic. He has got hold of someone who smells of heaven, and he simply will not let him go” (“Striving with God” in Gospel Medicine). Awesome, indeed. Amen.

The Way, is not a set of beliefs nor an economic value.

“Wisdom is not just special knowledge about something. Wisdom is a way of being, a way of inhabiting the world. The beauty of wisdom is harmony, belonging and illumination of thought, action, heart and mind.” (John O’Donohue)

Jim Burklo talks about wisdom in his poem The Wise Man’s Confession. For me he personalises this way of being as a dynamic sort of engagement with reality. I think he just before the moment of awareness as he asks what is it that I see? What is this that is transforming me?

What wisdom I have

Awakens me to my blindness.

I cannot see light itself:

What I know of light

Is only an alluring shadow

Of what it is and does.

From billions of years away in space-time,

Through darkness intervening,

At its inconceivable speed

The light of an exploding star passes

Through the dark seas of my eyes,

Illuminating the dark curves of their retinas.

But I cannot see the glow of their cells:

I can only perceive the messages they send

To my brain, and from there to my soul.

Thus Hope passes,

Unseen and undetected,

Through this dark world.

What retina receives and translates it

Into Joy and Wonder?

An eye comes into the world:

A retina I cannot perceive

That will see for me,

Beyond my dark despair.

A star in the East!

This eye tells me

To follow it

All the way to the Source

Of the truer Wisdom

That is Love.

For me this way of being, this way of inhabiting the world, this beauty of wisdom that O’Donohue is talking about and Burklo is asking questions of is summed up in the poem I wrote about the moment of awareness. The poem speaks to the moment of belonging, the moment when one discovers wisdom as the moment when beauty, harmony and action become one and the Way.

O eternal moment of awareness

in you the whole creation

is one inter-woven garment,

sensuous, seamless, filled with peace and delight.

But beyond that moment life’s path skirts

between illusory dichotomies and visionless monotony,

between celebratory songs and liquid lamentations.

O God of orbiting imagination,

of atomic minuteness and universal immensity,

may the transitory moment become a way of life

until wonder’s pulsating womb

becomes my permanent abode.

In short, wisdom comes in one’s participation in that which we call life. That which we call the Way of being, or more correctly the Way of becoming. The Jesus Way as opposed to what one believes. Walking the Jesus Way is what life is all about. Nothing to do with believing a set of rules, facts or set of doctrinal creedal statements. Participating in life recognizing that literalism, and belief are not good bedfellows because they integrate and we miss so much. We get stuck in word analysis, measuring outcomes and we miss the poetics. We can however fall into the trap of using too many words because we are trying to paint word pictures rather than articulate statements. And the more words, the more hue there is. We are however attempting to escape the prison of belief without losing the place for ‘belief’ in daily living.

What is the problem that we struggle with? It is that we can see how we lock ourselves into a very cognitive belief system with clear boundaries of black and white and we know that this is a limited view while at the same time relish its simplicity, its logic and its ability to quell the fears we have about change and the unknown. We become rooted in creed and doctrine and statement. And that is very sad. We then become afraid when we see that belief is a present moment that it is fleeting and fragile. We struggle to see that that’s a positive thing.

Yehuda Amichai (1924–2000), Israel’s most celebrated poet, whose works have been translated into 40 languages, speaks to this prison of belief and its propensity for creedal and doctrinal prison making.

From the place where we are right

Flowers will never grow

In the spring.

The place where we are right

Is hard and trampled


Like a yard.

But doubts and loves

Dig up the world

Like a mole, a plow.

And a whisper will be heard in the place

Where the ruined

House once stood.

Our title suggests that there is an either or in relation to belief, economic value and the following argument is that it takes wisdom to discern this. That seeing the Way of Jesus as a way of being is about re-imagining the world and that the parables, in being about the Kingdom or the realm of wise living are not about believing a set of rules or about a culture based on economic values. They are an approach through wisdom about seeing the new realm or way of being that is possible when one walks the Yeshua Way.

Our tradition has it that James the Greater was chosen by Jesus to be one of the 12 apostles.
One of the inner circle of intimates, James is called The Greater to distinguish him from another younger (and shorter?) apostle, also named James. James the greater was one of the sons of Zebedee and Salome, brother of St John the Apostle, and together, James and John were known by the nickname: “sons of thunder”. Tradition says James was the first Apostle to be martyred, stabbed with a sword by King Herod Agrippa, in Jerusalem around the year 42-44 CE. His Memorial day, was the 25 July.

Legends have sprung up that James evangelised Spain. After his death his body was taken to Spain and buried at Compostela (a town the name of which is commonly thought to be derived from the word “apostle”). His supposed burial place there was a major site of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages. And today… as some of you have trekked that way. But many of these stories have little basis in historical fact and that includes many of the imaginative biblical stories as well.

James is the patron saint of: hat makers, rheumatoid sufferers, blacksmiths, labourers,
pharmacists, and pilgrims. He is represented by the colours blue and gold/yellow, and the symbols: a cockle shell, a pilgrim’s staff, or most fittingly, an elderly, bearded man, wearing a hat with a scallop shell…

Tradition also tells us he and others did not always appreciate what this itinerant sage Yeshua was on about with his invitation to re-imagine the world. And this is where this morning’s collection of mini parables come in. Where ‘James’ and ‘parable’ meet.

Matthew 13: 3 – 33, 44 – 48

And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!’

The Purpose of the Parables

Then the disciples came and asked him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ He answered, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.” With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: “You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.” But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.

The Parable of the Sower Explained

‘Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’

The Parable of Weeds among the Wheat

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’

The Parable of the Yeast

He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’

Three Parables

‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.

Matthew’s Jesus says the reign of God is… like a mustard seed, like leaven like finding treasure and hiding it in a field, like looking for fine pearls, like a dragnet cast into the sea. But we know by now, I hope, that these are a special type of story called ‘parable’. And parables as you will have heard on many occasions turn our assumptions and conclusions upside down They specialize in revealing the unexpected, offering hints only, subverting the normal and traditional, and casting out certainty to make room for hope. So how is our common sense or traditional assumptions turned up-side-down to invite the unexpected in this collection of mini parables as offered by Matthew’s Jesus? They require wisdom when approaching them and remember here what O’Donohue says about wisdom. “Wisdom is a way of being, a way of inhabiting the world. The beauty of wisdom is harmony, belonging and illumination of thought, action, heart and mind.” 

For James there was no indication that this was the day his life would change. The dawn for him was not the bright beginning of a new day, but the end of a long fruitless night of fishing. As he sat mending his nets in the boat with his brother John and his father Zebedee, was he shocked when he saw Simon and his brother Andrew walk away from their trade at a word from Jesus? As he watched Jesus walk toward him followed by Simon and Andrew, did he feel curiosity, fear, hope, envy? Yet when Jesus called James and his brother John to do just what Simon and Andrew had done, they too left behind their boat, their business and their family. Four Galilean fisherman, and an itinerant preacher with a re-imagined world.  For the time being it was enough (Adapted from Donald Burt & John Shea’s stories…).

But, what about economic value? How does that effect what is real and what is out way of being?

Well if one looks hard at many of the decisions being made today regardless of what industry or sector of the culture one can see a set of priorities and strategies that view the abused marginalized and poor as a threat to the financial wellbeing of the society or the institution. The removal of homeless from sheltered spaces around the city or church buildings is one example of this economic value imposition.

The disturbing consequence of this strategy is that leadership effectively accepts that human worth can be measured by economic price. They accept that the priority of society is to preserve and enhance its financial resources. What about human wellbeing? What about human flourishing?

James and his younger brother were nicknamed ‘Sons of Thunder’. Which probably meant they were a little headstrong, hot-tempered, and impulsive!  They were fisher-folk from the area around Capernaum, an unwalled town of twelve hundred people, with no sign of planning in the layout of streets, no gates, no defensive fortifications, and no channels for running water or sewage disposal. Not a sought-after spot, quips Dom Crossan, but a good place to get away from, with easy access across the Sea of Galilee to any side (Crossan 2001:81).

As a community it was struggling to survive in what we would call a ‘third world’ situation, but with considerable ingenuity in making the most of limited resources. It is also a sad reminder of what peasant life was like:

• where only about one in every hundred people could read and only about one in every thousand could write, and

• when Herod Antipas promoted his unjust imperial ‘ideological blueprint’ of romanisation by urbanisation for commercialisation.

Yeshua was a homeless, homeland Palestinian Jew, a native of the Galilee. Unfortunately for many traditional Christians, the Jewishness of Jesus lies on the remote margins of Christian imagination. As a result they are inclined to miss his ethnicity, his religion, his economic status, and his political situation (Jenks 2014:124).  Probably born during the final years of Herod the Great, he too lived under the broken bodies and crushed spirits of Roman Imperial rule. A wandering Cynic-like sage, teaching about the deception of wealth, the appeal to nature, and the extolling of simplicity, shows Jesus belonged more to the ‘wisdom’ than the ‘priestly’ stream of Judaism. He spent at least as much time figuring things out himself, seeking wisdom, as in communicating the understanding he came to. And according to him, the best place to be both wise and holy was right in the midst of ordinary life. Every now and again he’d join in with a comment, a phrase, a story. His listeners would laugh. Maybe scratch their heads. Or interrupt with a quip of their own.

“Rather than pointing to traditional texts”, suggests NT scholar Hal Taussig, “Jesus pointed to the birds of the air, the employment practices of farmers, the goings on in the marketplace, the work of women in the household, and the social life of the peasant, as the real sources of wisdom and authority” (Taussig 1999:15-16).

So, it is highly probable that Jesus did not walk about ancient Palestine thinking about himself as the incarnate Son of God or the second Person of the Trinity! (Jenks 2014b:49)

Generally speaking, the ‘historical’ human Jesus can be re-discovered in our time, through some of the most challenging critical work being done in New Testament scholarship today. Coupled with honesty about that knowledge from the pulpit.

As a result of some of that scholarship we now know there are at least two forms of ‘wisdom’ sayings that characterise the Jesus voiceprint:

  • aphorism (short sayings) and
  • parable (narratives whose endings poke).

This suggests then, that: parables and aphorisms are about ‘lifestyle’. They are about hearing and doing, rather than believing and venerating. And they are about the present.

They are fragments of this Jesus voiceprint that ask us to hear these particular fictional mini-parables as ‘red flags’ waving at us and saying to us; don’t expect God’s domain or the realm of God to be what you reckon or want it to be! If you really hear the voice of the historical Jesus,
the chances are you will not like him (Galston 2005:16).

Parables are very deceptive. They are about recasting the world according to a vision. The realm of God in the teachings of Jesus “was not an apocalyptic or heavenly projection of an otherworldly desire. It was driven by a desire to think that there must be a better way to live together than the present state of affairs” (Mack 1995:40).

The early followers of Jesus did not make claims about him because they sensed in him a difference essence, or saw a halo circling his head! They made claims about him because “they had heard him say and seen him do certain things. They experienced him acting in their lives. And what they experienced in the company of this person… moved them deeply” (Patterson 1998:53).

The 4th century Nicene Creed tells us what to believe about Jesus but says nothing about what Jesus taught. We confess, “…born of the Virgin Mary,” but we don’t say,“…taught us to love our enemies” (Galston 2012:112 Note 2).

His public years leave no mark on the creeds and confessions (Jenks 2014c). Creeds control God while putting Jesus to sleep by abstraction!  Whereas, stories about ‘lifestyle’ invite us to hear and re-imagine the present world differently, by considering the human condition of all, not just the condition of our own race, family, or nationality.

Jesus was an observer of people and of life. His life bore witness to the re-imagined world of the parables. He challenged and debunked convention. He poked and prodded. “He seemed to assume that if one called into question old habits and norms, something far more fresh and powerful could be unveiled” (Taussig 1999:19).

Now twenty centuries later, we are being poked and prodded. Not to be shaped by the silly question: ‘what would Jesus do?’ That’s to be preoccupied with triviality. Rather, by becoming who we are and doing what we do.

• Freed to go on the journey Jesus chartered, instead of worshipping the journey (Wink 2000:177).

• Freed to change the way we view ‘limits’. Especially so when a Congregation celebrates its 50th Anniversary, paying attention to the particular context of that Congregation.

So, after all the study and all the talk such study usually invokes, how might living in our contemporary situation be shaped by the human ‘historical’ Jesus? Canadian theologian, David Galston. In one of his comments he said our task is: “… to carry forward into the contemporary world the momentum of the Jesus movement: grasping the style of the teacher, capturing the spirit of his words, and living out the implications of these words in our own time with our own creativity” (Galston 2012:53).

Let us be wise. Amen.


Crossan, J. D. & J. L. Reed, Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts. NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.

Galston, D. Embracing the Human Jesus. A Wisdom Path for Contemporary Christianity. Salem: Polebridge Press, 2012.

————–, “Postmodernism, the Historical Jesus, and the Church” in The Fourth R 18, 5, September-October 2002, 11, 14-18.

Hamilton A. “Church Honours Market over Gospel in Abuse Cases” in Eureka Street eZine, Vol 24, No. 6. 2 April 2014.

Jenks, G. C. Jesus Then and Jesus Now. Looking for Jesus, Finding Ourselves. Preston: Mosaic Press, 2014.

————–. “Encountering God in Jesus of Nazareth” in N. Leaves (ed). Encountering God: Face to Face with the Divine. Melbourne: Morning Star Publishing, 2014b.

————–. “Jesus then and Jesus now. A sermon”. Preached at St Mary’s in Exile, Brisbane, 25 May 2014c.

Mack, B. L. Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth. NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995.

Patterson, S. J. The God of Jesus: The Historical Jesus and the Search for Meaning. Harrisburg: Trinity Press, 1998.

Peters, K. E. Spiritual Transformations. Science, Religion, and Human Becoming. MN: Minneapolis. Augsburg Fortress, 2008.

Taussig, H. Jesus Before God. Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 1999.

Vosper, G. With or Without God. Why the Way we Live is More Important than What we Believe. Canada: Toronto. HarperCollins, 2008.

Wink, W. ‘The Son of Man the Stone that Builders Rejected” in The Jesus Seminar. The Once and Future Jesus. Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 2000.

1. The discovery of a first century fishing boat in 1986, during a drought that lowered the water level, confirms this impression (JDCrossan).

Pentecost 7A, 2020

Gen 28: 10-19a Matthew 13:24-30

‘Don’t Weed! Make Space to Deal Inclusively’

When being asked explain why I liked to cause a stir or always look to find the alternative I used to respond by saying ‘Well I’m like a weed, because you can’t kill weeds they just keep coming up”. In the light of today’s texts, I wonder if the weeds suffer a bad name unfairly? Is Jacob like a weed that reveals things about the realm of God and maybe the weeds assist with the definition of the wheat?

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’

So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first.

The book of Genesis makes no attempt to conceal the fact that Jacob was, among other things, a crook. Twice he cheated his perhaps slow to understand brother, Esau, out of what was coming to him. At least once he took advantage of the blindness of his old father, Isaac, and played him for a sucker. He outdid his double-crossing father-in-law, Laban, by conning him out of most of his livestock and, later on, when Laban was looking the other way, by sneaking off with not only both the man’s daughters, but just about everything else that wasn’t nailed down including his household gods. Jacob was never satisfied. He wanted everything. But then one day he learned a marvelous lesson in a marvelous and unexpected way.

It happened just after he’d ripped Esau off for the second time and was making his getaway into the hill country to the north. When sunset came and nobody seemed to be after him, he decided that it was safe to camp out for the night and, having either left home in too much of a hurry to take his pillow with him, tucked a stone under his head and prepared to go to sleep. You might think that what happened next was that he lay there all night bug-eyed as a result of his guilty conscience or, if he did finally manage to drop off, that he was tormented by conscience-stricken dreams, but neither of these was the case. Instead, he dropped off like a baby in a cradle and dreamed the kind of dreams you would have thought were reserved for the high saints.

He dreamed that there was a ladder reaching up to heaven and that there were angels moving up and down it with golden sandals and rainbow-colored wings and that standing somewhere above it was God godself. And the words God spoke in the dream were not the chewing-out you might have expected, but something altogether different. God told Jacob that the land he was lying on was to belong to him and his descendants and that someday his descendants would become a great nation and a great blessing to all the other nations on earth. And as if that wasn’t enough, God then added a personal P.S. by saying, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.”

It wasn’t holy hell that God gave him, in other words, but holy heaven, not to mention the marvelous lesson thrown in for good measure. The lesson was, needless to say, that even for a dyed-in-the-wool, double-barreled con artist like Jacob there are a few things in this world you can’t get but can only be given, and one of these things is love in general, and another is the love of God in particular.

Jacob didn’t have to climb his ladder to get a hold of everything, even if that had been possible, because everything looked like peanuts compared to what God and the angels were using the ladder to hand down to him for free.

Another part of the lesson was that, God doesn’t just love people because of who they are, but rather because of who or what God is. “It’s on the house” is one way of saying it and “It’s by grace” is another, just as it was by grace that it was Jacob of all people who became not only the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, but the many-times great-grandfather of  Nations and peoples to come. Not a bad outcome for someone who doesn’t fit the norms. A weed among the wheat in the big picture is what holds all together.

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’

We have just heard two stories about what good and bad might contribute to. A story about the one who doesn’t follow the rules, who behaves in less acceptable ways and a story about- or parable – about wheat and weeds. The message seems to be that one needs to deal inclusively with these unacceptable alternatives, these cons and weeds.

There’s another story or a parallel story that goes something like this. Once upon a time there was a Warriors League Team that had inherited a tradition of losing almost all the games of a season. The other teams were supported by their communities with uniforms, coaching staff, special skills training. The guys from The Warriors didn’t have a coach or uniforms or very much fan support. They were talented, but untrained. Then one day a young man watched them stumble through practice. ‘Can I help?’ he asked them.
The team was ready to accept help from anyone.

‘You guys are the best,’ he said.  ‘There’s no reason you can’t win the premiership. But you have to practice, be confident in yourselves, and be good friends. ‘No more fighting among the team or with me if I’m going to be your unofficial coach’. No more competing with each other for the MIP (most improved player) or the POD (Player of the Day) The Guys agreed. The first thing the coach taught them was how be friends and play together with one another. Then he told them, training session after training session, how good they were. Finally he made them work, work, work, at fitness, and skills.

And guess what happened?  They went on from there undefeated and won the premiership. ‘He made us believe in ourselves’, the guys said. The next year the management hired a “real coach” and the team finished last on the ladder.

Is this a nice so-called spiritual story you can tell in church? Or is it a story which not only critiques and subverts the status quo, but re-imagines a world that could be? What is success, or failure? And how do both have value? What would that sort of world look like?

If we believe this football story, or this parable attributed to Jesus by Matthew, are to be ‘spiritualized’ – I think it is traditionally explained as “earthly stories with heavenly meanings” then we will more than likely opt for the ‘nice story’ tag. And we won’t be alone.  Much of the church treats parables this way. Simple stories with trite meanings. Often lifted out of their social and historical context and reshaped into theological or moralistic fables bereft of any political or economic edge or consequence.

Which is somewhat disappointing because that is not what parables are. B Brandon Scott, a founding member of the Jesus Seminar, and a student of the study of the parables, says: ‘The parables give us access to the way Jesus re-imagined the possibility of living, of being in the world. They are not just religious, not just about God, although they are that too… they are multifaceted re-imaginings of life, of the possibilities of life’ (Scott 2001:6).

So if we opt rather for the ‘critique’ and be intentionally skeptical about the common view or that acceptable norm as well as valuing the imagination and the ‘re-imagining’ of what’s possible then we will have grasped Matthew’s understanding of Jesus’ purpose: To get his hearers to see the world differently. To seek the alternative inclusive, dynamic interdependent realm. And that can be summed up in this phrase… That God’s reign is not an, other-worldly proposition. Most of us say that the world as we know it has changed since 11 September 2001. Since the Christchurch attack on mosques and the same is now being said as a result of Covid-19. And we are sure it is. Just one of those differences is the great polarity that now exists between Christian and Muslim, Jew and Muslim, Hindu and Muslim, African American and American, and skin colour differences. This is not to say they did not exist prior but rather that the polarity has been more openly displayed. The daily news of suspected terrorist attacks – the dissatisfaction with collective and community management due to Covid-19 has contributed to the unrest. The enemy which in these cases is difference, inequality and distinctiveness fueled by economic, social and political circumstances and- takes hope away and tries to convince us that human cleverness…  better spying on the enemy, more public exposure and having better and smarter weapons as well as living in constant suspicion of strangers, can save us. Jacob should be imprisoned, the Warriors coach should be registered as a therapist rather than a coach and weeds need to be exterminated.

None of this seems to be a good time for hope, for reason, for patience. To allow both ‘wheat’ (the good blokes) and ‘weed’ (the bad blokes) to grow together. One is seen as having worth. One is seen as being worthless.  In this context Bill Loader’s comment is, I feel, telling: ‘A sense that there is an enemy, marks many societies, religious and otherwise.  It is almost as though we need an enemy, an, other, against whom to define ourselves.  This need will sometimes sustain images of enemies, even create enemies for survival…  A mild paranoia keeps some people going and gives their lives meaning.  There’s ‘them’ and there’s ‘us’.  The simpler, the better.  This is the stuff of prejudice.  Religion is (often) exploited to hold the prejudices in place’ (W Loader/web site).

The Jesus of Matthew, in telling this parable, suggests another position. But with our tendency to domesticate parables we can give Matthew’s point and circumstance less attention than it deserves.

So, what is Matthew’s circumstance? Possibly the division in the Syrian synagogue between those Jews who seek to follow the ‘way’ of Jesus and those who don’t. And what is Matthew’s so-called ‘point’ of the story? Don’t weed!  Deal inclusively.

Why? Because it is in the midst of the mess of conflictive coexistence that we find the spiritual, the divine and the one we call God. Not in some hypothetical situation where ‘good seed’ or ‘good healthy congregations’ or so-called ‘real Christians’ – usually champions of right – grow in pure isolation, fighting the bad and offering walled sanctuaries to hide in. This does not suggest confrontation should be advocated. But it does mean that where there is confrontation: never cease to act graciously or to have compassion,
never write people off, never uproot people in your mind or attitude
by treating them as no longer of any worth.

And let’s not be fooled because in reality, acting alternatively can be somewhat difficult at times. Buddhist Dalai Lama when asked if he hated the Chinese, replied ‘no’.
‘He remarked that the Chinese were indeed dominant and that he had no possibility of overthrowing them by might.  Were he to hate them therefore no change would occur in the Chinese. But change would certainly occur within him.  His own heart would become more tense, bitter and rigid.  The only way forward then was to let go of the hateful feelings that might arise. In the space that ensued perhaps there was a greater possibility for peace’ (Ranson 2002:7).

So, parables are not earthly stories with heavenly meanings? They are more likely to be earthly stories with heavy meanings? That seems to be more in keeping with the spirit of Jesus does it not?

Scott, B. B. Re-imagine the World. An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2001

Frederick Buechner Centre  The Frederick Buechner Center <>

In a recent article in the 4th R the Westar magazine, Lloyd Geering wrote about the decline of God since the end of the Nineteenth century when Friedrich Nietzche discerned that “God is dead and we humans have killed him”. This is not to say that the idea of God was destined to suffer an instant death from then on but rather to herald the fact that the idea of God was and has been changing forever. Lloyd suggests that the thought-world that humans participate in is always fluid and moving. Some have been preserving they suppose something they call tradition, traditional values and things to maintain but others have been moving on from the very idea of God convinced that the concept of God has become obsolete and it is no longer convincing to speak of ‘the living God’.

While in our language today we often hear the words “Oh my God” and read the letters “OMG” the concept behind them has completely changed. This is as Lloyd suggests indicative of the fact that the “God” concept has been retired from daily speech. A brief journey the concept of God has been on might be ‘Wind or Breath” in a ‘Spiritual’ world where breath was evidence of the spiritual world that surrounded everything, thru the birth of gods, imagined to identify and explain natural phenomena, much the same as we use  electron, neutron and quark today.

The key difference is that the God concept moved to include the idea that the forces of nature attributed to those gods transcended human power and control thus introducing the idea that humans in order to survive needed to obey and respect these gods. Each tribe or ethnic group had their own names for these gods and what areas they looked after such as fertility, birth, death, war, peace, love and so on. This concept of God being adaptable stayed around for a long time and we still name our days of the week after them.

We remember here also that the ancients explained natural phenomena through the medium of stories about the gods which we now call myths or stories. The telling of stories was the way of expressing knowledge, much like we now call philosophy and science. At the core of these stories was the idea that one could talk about these gods by anthropomorphic means, in other words these gods were given human attributes and behaviour while being immortal, most of them in charge and to be feared. Humanity was at mercy of the unseen powers of most of the gods.

The other phenomena we should heed before entering our text today is the arrival of the idea of Monotheism. Between about 1000 and 400BCE Israel’s prophets urged their people to abandon all gods except Yahweh, very likely a storm god. Polytheism becomes henotheism (choosing one of many) then along comes the biblical prophets and this message becomes embedded in the Moses story and between 567 and 540 BCE monotheism is settled in. The Jews from exile in a polytheism world escape to a monotheism world (The Holy Land) in the Genesis story.

As Lloyd reminds us the first chapter of Genesis marks the crossing of a very significant threshold in the evolution of human culture. The assertion that at the beginning of time it was God who created everything introduced a powerful cultural invention that remained unquestioned until about 500BCE.

In regard to our text for today the above is a crucial background to the interpretation of what is being said and proposed by the text. In terms of the assumptions of God that lie beneath the text the understanding of those being spoken to and the message the text is conveying. Who or what is the God Jesus would be talking about? What is the message he wants to convey?

On this last question scholars suggest that one of the most important things Jesus wants to say is that there needs to be a change in the way we think about the kingdom or realm or social, political and economic environment that exists.

Our text for today is what is known as the parable of the sower and taking all of the above into account we see that the parable is about this creator God, creating the kingdom or realm:

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!’

A translation:  

On that day, Jesus went out of the house (and) was sitting alongside the sea, and great crowds were gathered together to him so that he entered into a ship to sit down and all the people stood upon the shore.  And he spoke much to them in parables, saying, “Behold!  The sowing one went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some indeed fell beside the way, and the birds came to eat them.  But others fell upon stony places where they were not having much soil, and immediately they sprung up because they did not have depth of soil.  But when the sun rose, they were scorched and, because they did not have a root, they were withered.  But others fell among the thorns, and the thorns climbed up and choked them.  But others fell upon the good earth, and they were giving fruit, some indeed a hundredfold, but some sixty, but some thirty.  The one having ears, let that one hear.”

It has been suggested that the parable of the sower is the touchstone of all the parables.  That it has primacy of place is in all three synoptics.  Even the gnostic Gospel of Thomas includes the parable of the sower. 

In Matthew, the parable of the sower is the first of a string of parables that follow one after another in chapter 13.  The parable of the sower sets the stage for all the parables that follow.

The lection begins with Jesus leaving the house.  He “goes out” to the sea just as the sower would soon “go out” to sow.  This would apparently be his own house, and the same one where he had just refused entrance to his own relatives (12: 46-48). 

At the sea, “great crowds” flock around Jesus.  The word is sunago, and means that the people “gathered together” around Jesus.  He is at the center of the people.  This is not surprising.  Jesus had significant support in the region of the Sea of Galilee.  The people loved Jesus and thrilled to his message.  He is presented as a “man of the people.” 

Then, he gets into a boat.  The stated reason is that Jesus needs a place to sit.  He needs to sit in order to assume the posture of a teacher.  This gives Jesus a bit of distance from the crowd which continues to stand on the beach.  Matthew has moved Jesus from being “man of the people” to being “authoritative teacher.” 

This is seen to be a deft piece of political theater.  Jesus is sitting in a fishing boat, which is, quite literally, on the sea.  In a sense, Jesus is speaking to and for all the people who try to make a living from the Sea of Galilee.  (It’s not for nothing that fishermen were some of Jesus’ first supporters.)  

Jesus may have had a home at Capernaum, perhaps the most important harbour city on the entire Sea of Galilee, which also made it an important communications center for the region.  He also traveled to many other towns and villages that lie on the sea, including Magdala, home of Mary Magdalene, his frequent companion.

In the intervening verses, 10-17, Jesus tells the disciples that they get to hear “the secrets of the kingdom of heaven,” but others do not.  Jesus says that he speaks in parables, but no one understands. 

This suggests that, far from being easy to understand, the parables are so contrarian that they are difficult to hear.  The reason Jesus so often encouraged people with ears to hear is because what he was saying was so counter-intuitive, so formed by an alternative paradigm, that people were having a hard time comprehending what he was saying.  

In verse 18, Jesus calls the story “the parable of the sower.”  Suggests that this is a parable about the God they hold dear, and about the kingdom they put their faith in.  It’s the parable of the sower, and it is a kingdom of complexity with not one but four kinds of soil.  It’s about the relationship between the sower and the soils, the God-human relationship, in other words the Kingdom, realm, interconnection, interdependence that needs reimagining. It is not about a powerful creator God in charge of evil, dominated, powerless people.

To conclude this exploration today we remember that it was not until a number of Christian theologians in the 1960s acknowledged the truth of Nietzsche’s announcement and declared that the concept of God had become so obsolete that it was no longer convincing to speak of ‘the living God’ as a being who created and ruled over the universe. As J Macquarrie reminded us in the 1980s, whatever life God had formerly enjoyed in the thought world of believers has been slowly ebbing away in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, The sower is no longer the God scattering seeds like a creator but rather we are the sowers and the kingdom, realm we are part of is diverse, complex and like the universe as we understand it today, a realm of unexpected serendipity. That is, until we come to accept that it is like avatar within multiple universes and unlimited dimensions. Or as I think Lloyd is suggesting, the doctrine of the incarnation takes on emerging concepts, that we will understand the parable for us today. And as Roy W Hoover says in the same magazine as Lloyd’s article – “A modern faith requires a modern conceptuality and language that can make clear to us in what respects our religious situation is discontinuous with our religious past”. Or as Gordon Kaufmann has said: “ Our inherited symbolism no longer fits the overall cast of life as it is lived, understood, and experienced in today’s world. So, it must change, and change in decisive ways, if it is not to die out.”. It has been my personal claim  that this is the challenge the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa faces if it wishes to remain alive. The issue the church needs to avoid is getting caught up in the battle between incremental and catastrophic because the change is already underway, the church’s task is to articulate the thought world it lives in. To listen for the God concept of today and to incarnate it through language and experience.  Amen.

The Fourth R Volume 33 Number 3 May-June 2020 ‘The Life of God from Conception to Death in the human Though-World. Westar Institute Farmington MN