What you Sowin’?

Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23
13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as they 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[a] listen!”

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.’

Hello, friends! If you’re like me, your emotions are all over the place and things are weird. I think it’s healthy to say that and to admit that this season has been/is/and will be unparalleled. But as I said last week, it’s Kairos Time. It’s not an ordinary, binary, fixed time. So we have an opportunity here to make real change—both in our individual, daily lives, and collectively.

That being said, for an unfixed amount of time [see what I did there?] I’d like to journey with you though a new book by Valarie Kaur, entitled: See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love.

I could not think of a more timely publication than this one. I have heard Valarie speak in person and also via zoom. Her passion for justice and peacemaking is where I think we all need to be. For such a time as this one, let’s consider what it means to really move the needle. For we won’t work towards healing and community-building unless we address the great trauma in all of us, and in our world. Things like systemic racism, xenophobia, poverty, greed—they are unfortunately at large across the globe. Rather than ignore this or hide from it [good luck with that, by the way], I prefer to be part of actual change—change that is tangible, healing, and collective. I invite you to check out the book, read along with me, as you please.

So I’ll start with a quote from the book:

Maybe moving through the world, in your body, is enough to make you feel constriction in your chest. Maybe you’re holding someone close to you who is struggling and suffering. Maybe you are reeling from the latest mass shooting, or the refugee crisis on the border, or the looming threat of climate change, or the blistering pace of a global pandemic. Maybe, like me, you are breathless from all of the above. I thought my breathlessness was a sign of weakness, until a wise friend told me what I wish to tell you: Your breathlessness if a sign of your bravery. It means you are awake to what’s happening right now: the world is in transition.

“Love” is more than a feeling. Love is a form of sweet labor: fierce, bloody, imperfect, and life-giving—a choice we make over and over again. If love is sweet labor, love can be taught, modeled, and practiced. Revolutionary Love is the choice to enter into the wonder and labor for others, for our opponents, and for ourselves in order to transform the world around us.

Join me today as we explore how to be agents of Revolutionary Love.

Let’s look at a parable, a story with a point, the parable of the sower–found in all 3 synoptic Gospels [Mark, Luke, Matthew] and the Gospel of Thomas.

Friends, why are parables so hard to hear? Why did Jesus of Nazareth say that most would not understand the parables and that their meaning would be hidden from them? What’s so elusive about the parables?

Because they present an alternative paradigm. Parables flip the world as we know it upside-down. Parables remind us that the societies we live in are facades and often not reality. As Valarie Kaur states: a world in transition. Parables paint a picture that we think isn’t possible; parables invite us to not just imagine this alternative paradigm, but to create it.

This particular parable is called the parable of the sower. Why? Because it is all about the sower [in this case God]. Contrary to some common interpretations, this parable isn’t about us. This is not about whether or not you and I are “good” or “bad” soil. This is not about Jesus throwing his word at us to see where it sticks.

Remember, this isn’t even a parable about Jesus. It’s about the Creator, about Yahweh, and the natural world. This Sower extravagantly hurled, tossed, and scattered seed all over the world. So unlike some claim—that this seed is only in their church or denomination or country or religion—the seed is everywhere and the seed scattering has already happened. And this matters, because in Jesus’ time, many of those listening to this parable thought that only Israel was where Yahweh scattered seeds. They were the only ones chosen for this. I don’t say this in any way to downplay the spiritual significance for Jewish people of being Yahweh’s people and Yahweh being their God. What I mean to say is that this Divine Presence is for all, not just for some. And while we may all have our different ways of experiencing this divine presence, it is not limited to certain religions, places, or people. So to that point, while I identify as a progressive Christian, I equally celebrate and value the spiritual and faith expressions of my friends and colleagues who identify as Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Buddhist, Baha’i, Secular Humanist, and much more. See, the seed is everywhere. And all of us in our unique expressions of faith [and secular humanism] get to uniquely live out the growth of those seeds in our lives.

The real question isn’t: where are the seeds and who has the seeds planted in them?

The real question is: what are you sowing?

Are you sowing seeds of revolutionary love and justice and peace?

Or, are you sowing seeds of division, hate, and injustice?

Because we all go through the four soils of this parable. They are four life experiences.

  1. We lack understanding sometimes.
  2. Our whole lives are centered in the context of pain and trouble, i.e. trauma.
  3. We have to endure rocky, sharp places and we feel uprooted when we feel oppressed.
  4. We have to live around thorns which lure us into unhealthy and unsafe places with promises of eternity and wealth and power. And that can choke us.

In Matthew’s philosophy, “bearing fruit” means living out the reign of heaven.  This has nothing to do with religiosity, nothing to do with morality, nothing to do with worship or ritualistic activities.   

“Bearing fruit” instead means “following on the way” of Jesus of Nazareth. Some specifics include: acceptance and embracing of all gender expressions and identifications; open table community; non-heirarchical living; dignity of all living beings; standing up to oppression; standing up to any religious corruption.

So, to circle back to this idea of Revolutionary Love, if those seeds have already been scattered across the globe and are accessible to everyone, then how do you and I participate in the growth of these Revolutionary Love Seeds, bearing their fruit?

Simply put, step one is to accept that there is no one religion or philosophy that is superior to all others. There is no perfect government or society. There just isn’t. We need to first embrace the reality that we are all human beings on this planet, dealing with the same type of breathlessness and concern and trauma. We share this. And so we need to stop elevating our country or our religion over others. By doing this, we won’t see strangers all around us. We won’t see strangers. Because we are all breathless; we are all wanting something different than what we experience and see.

This, friends, is how we start to cultivate the seeds of Revolutionary Love. Honesty. Being self-aware enough and brave enough to say that we are breathless. This is waking up.

And Revolutionary Love Seeds aren’t mere sentiment. They are intrusive, fierce, combative, and seemingly small. May we choose Revolutionary Love as a sweet labor; may we model it for others; may we practice it. This is the fruit we must bear.

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Josh grew up in the Midwest before completing a B.A. in Theatre at Northwestern College [IA] and a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. An ordained minister in the United Church of Christ [UCC], Josh has lived and worked in the Midwest, East Coast, Hawai’i, and Mexico. He is the co-founder and Executive Director of The Welcome Project PA, host of the Bucks-Mont PRIDE Festival, and he is Pastor of Love In Action UCC, an open and affirming congregation featured in a Vox Media episode of Divided States of Women with Liz Plank and in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Josh has 20+ years of nonprofit experience, including leading workshops and training in corporate, medical, and academic settings, focused on diversity & inclusion, grant writing, fund raising, and program management. Josh is a fellow of Interfaith Philadelphia, and designs and coordinates HS and University student groups for interfaith immersion service-learning weeks. Josh also co-facilitates Ally trainings for LGBTQIA+ inclusion and interfaith cooperation. He is a founding member of The Society for Faith & Justice, and a Collaborator for Nurturing Justice, and a member of the Driving PA Forward team via New Sanctuary Movement. He also performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, and has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in religious and secular settings. Josh also enjoys running, singing, traveling, learning languages, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philly.

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