Grow baby grow
These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
one shall be stronger than the other,
the elder shall serve the younger.”
When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. Afterwards his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.
Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.) Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law — indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. 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 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!
“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.”
A couple of years ago, Fiona decided she wanted to do a bit of gardening,
…so off we went to home depot bought some bricks and wood and basically, I built a raised four foot by eight foot garden. I put in it bags of nice soil and fertilizer and for the last couple of years Fiona has been planting some carrots and lettuce and zucchini and a few other things in her little garden.
And one day either Fiona or our daughter Ali found at a craft store or something a little hand painted sign on a stake with the words “Grow, baby grow” painted on it. It was pretty cute so it was staked into our little garden.
It is not the first time we have had a garden. The first church where I was the minister was in Armstrong, British Columbia. We moved there way back in 1983. And we ended up eventually in a house that had a garden.
And we tried gardening.
We bought seeds and potatoes and planted a garden. We didn’t harvest very much because the dog ran rampant through the garden many times and the dog dug up the garden and so the garden wasn’t much of a success.
When we moved to Arthur, Ontario in 1985, there was also a garden at the manse where we lived. We planted a garden there. And things were growing not to badly. Then we went on holidays for three weeks down to New Brunswick. When we got back we couldn’t find the vegetables for the weeds.
When we moved to Oshawa, Ontario, the back yard wasn’t big enough for a garden.
And when we moved to Yorkton Saskatchewan again we tried some gardening, but being in a big farming community, a lot of people would give us vegetables and things and I found that the time and money it took for planting and caring for a garden did not seem to worth it for what we got out of our garden, especially when so many people wanted to give us things out of their garden.
We stopped gardening. With both of us working it seemed more like work, when you can just go buy what you want at the store.
But as I said, Fiona started up again with a small garden, and she find some enjoyment in that.
Gardening does take work, discipline, commitment, and knowledge. There are moments of mistakes and failures, but also the gratitude of a harvest.
We ate salad the other night with lettuce from Fiona’s little garden and it is a good feeling to eat what you have had a hand in helping to grow.
There is a lot of work to successful garden.
You have to have good soil. It had to be broken up and stirred around so to speak so that air and water can move in the soil. You may want to put some peat moss or something like that in the soil because it helps retain water but also keeps the soil from compacting.
Soil has to have nutrients in it. Some people fertilize their soil. You can buy fertilizer, or, as we did in New Brunswick, get stinky animal waste. My grandparents often used sheep manure.
Then after you plant it one of the most important things to do is to keep the weeds away.
And the best way to do that is to be in the garden frequently and disturb the soil, with a hoe or a rake or something to try to keep the weeds from growing and forming in the first place.
And then you have to water. And just like Goldilocks sometime it can be too little and sometimes it can be too much and we want to get the water just right.
And sometimes it helps to thin the plants. If you have a whole bunch of carrots growing if you thin them then you end up with fewer but bigger carrots. Too many carrots will mean they are all competing for the same nutrients and you will have tiny carrots.
I am certainly no expert on gardening, and hopefully I haven’t said something which some expert gardener will take offense to, because I have led you astray or something, so my disclaimer is refer to a professional or an expert or a book or look it up online and don’t rely on Harry.
But if you think gardening takes work and discipline and there are mistakes and successes in growing vegetables, just think how much more difficult it is with growing people.
People grow. They grow physically, intellectually emotionally and spiritually…
…and today’s gospel points out some of the pitfalls of growing and maturing.
There is the path where the soil is compacted
There is the stony ground where there is a little soil.
And there is the thorny ground or weedy ground where the good plants have to compete with the seeds.
And there is the good ground.
And partly because of Jesus interpretation we often use this story to talk about different people and where there are in their spiritual condition.
Some are hard like the path and the seed of love and faith and spirituality doesn’t take root.
Some receive the good news of love and Christ but there is not much depth to their spirituality and not much commitment and they fall away quickly.
Some receive the good news of love and Christ but it is choked out by the weeds and thorns of materialism and self and the pursuit of happiness, and pleasure and whatever.
But I want to emphasize that in scripture as well as in fairy tales, stories and movies, the basic principle of interpretation is this.
You, yourself is the person that is being addressed and you are all the parts of the story.
So Harry has to look seriously at the places in his life where he is hard and doesn’t even listen to Jesus.
Harry has to look seriously at the places in his life where he is lacking depth and commitment.
Harry has to look seriously at the places in his life where he lets his appetites and desires and wants and his selfishness choke out love and service for others, and commitment to Christ and Christ’s way of life.
And sometimes you and I are good ground. Sometimes we do good things and give and love and serve and help and make a difference in people’s live.
That needs to be celebrated.
So, one of the lessons for today is this: Spiritual, emotional and maturational growth is not easy. One has to work on it.
You have to till the soil of the soul. You have to feed it, and water it and pull the weeds out. And you cannot neglect it or it will be overcome with sin or selfishness or the cares of the world, or making money, or anger, or self-pity, or destructive tendencies or withdrawal or something.
And all this is part of growing up.
Now, here is a truth that you can take to the bank.
You can only be young once but you can be immature forever.
Because our old testament story is part of a narrative that is a warning or a cautionary tale about those who don’t grow up, who don’t achieve a measure of maturity.
They are doomed to be quarreling siblings forever.
The story of Jacob and Esau is a long story in scripture starting from their birth as twins.
It is a story about diversity as well as sibling rivalry because the two boys are very different.
One was the stereotypical version of manliness who liked to hunt, was big and hairy and tough.
And the other like to stay with mom in the tents and pursue more domestic pursuits.
The story of Jacob and Esau in The King James’s Version has a line in the story which was parodied by a British Comedian Alan Bennet in a funny skit from the 1960’s where he pretends to be an Anglican Vicar and starts his sermon.
My brother is an Hairy Man, but I am a smooth man.
And we used to have fun with that line in seminary.
The story is also the story of two brothers who fight, but of parents who each favoured one son over another.
The story is a long story of cunning and guile and manipulation. Of one brother being duped and tricked out of his inheritance and then his blessing.
It is a story of that brother wanting kill his brother and the younger twin fleeing away, where he not only encounters more trickery, he is tricked himself into marrying the older presumably less attractive sister.
To put it bluntly it is a story of two brothers who might have grown physically but didn’t grow emotionally and spiritually and remained children most of their lives.
It is a sad and tragic story in many ways, and at times one wonders why it is so prominent in the scriptures. Neither brother is much to be envied.
It seems to be a story of seed being scattered on the soil of two brother’s soul’s but hitting har path and rocks and weeds, so much so that the brother’s couldn’t grow up.
So, it is a cautionary tale in some ways for us all to be more diligent in paying attention to our souls lest we all remain children or teenagers, constantly tormenting, squabbling with, manipulating and tricking each other out of stuff, taking what isn’t ours and demanding violence and vengeance.
But wait. Isn’t that that the way a lot of the world is today? Don’t we see a lot of adults who have not grown up? Even people in government acting like spoiled children being petty and squabbling?
Is Jacob and Esau the story that has played over and over again with Christians vs Jew, with Jews vs Arabs, with Protestants vs Catholic, with Serbs vs Croats… with Allies vs Nazis or the Japanese…
With Communists vs Republicans in Spain…
With Democrats Vs Republicans in the States..
Even in the church sibling squabbles between those who want contemporary services or traditional services…
Between those who have a liberal reading of scripture or a fundamentalist reading of scripture…
Between pro-lifers and pro-choicers…
Between those who cannot accept the full inclusion of gays and lesbians and those who are pushing for it…
You know there is a magazine called the Christian century which was first published in 1884 under s different name. In 1900 the name was changed because of the great optimism that the twentieth century was going to be the century in which Christ and Christianity were going to take over the world and that genuine Christian faith could live in harmony with science and technology, with communication and culture.
The twentieth century turned out to the bloodiest most violent human century ever.
And when the gates of Auschwitz and the other death camps were opened wide and the world learned the story of the horror of the holocaust… spearheaded by people in a so-called Christian country….
I think the world recognized there was something vastly wrong.
The problem was and is is that we always think it is the other. The other religion, the other guy, the other country, the other culture, the other ideology and that we are okay.
But the problem is bigger than one person, one group, one country, one culture, one religion.
The plain simple truth is that we humans have trouble growing up into adults and being mature.
And it is endemic. And it is even ingrained in our systems and institutions.
But the answer isn’t to do away with institutions or with the bad people with think are the problems.
The answer is to grow up.
But too often we remain Jacobs and Esaus squabbling, lying, manipulating, taking, tricking, vowing revenge against our human brothers and sisters we cannot get along with.
Robert Bly, poet, story-teller and author whose most notable work was a book about masculinity called “Iron John’ published in 1990, wrote another book called the Sibling Society in 1997.
There he decried that change in society where so many fathers have been absent from their children physically and emotionally, and that society is increasingly being formed by adults who have not grown up.
His solution is for us to look at the meanings in traditional myths and fairy tales as a way to enter our deeper selves and understand them…
And thus understanding ourselves better we start to grow up.
One fairy tale he used in his book “The Sibling Society” was the story of Jack and Beanstalk. In that story we learn that Jack is being raised by his mother without a father. And we learn later that it was a Giant that killed Jack’s father.
Jack gets a hold of some magic beans. The beanstalk grows and Jack climbs into the sky where he symbolically does battle with the giant, and takes the giant’s treasures.
One version of the story ends with the giant chasing Jack down the beanstalk, but jack gets there first and chops down the beanstalk and the giant dies.
Bly wonders, who or what is the Giant that has taken away the adults of our world and left us to act as a Sibling Society with adults who are children, who like Peter Pan never grow up.
He suggests that Giant could be our selfishness, it could be our desires, it could be that Freudian part of us, the Id that never wants to grow up and just wants to indulge itself.
Maybe we in the church could say that the Giant is sin and that we have all sinned and come short of living the way God wants us to live.
The answer to sin, however is not to be sinless. The answer to the Giant is not perfection. If we don’t want the Giant of selfishness, and indulgence and greed and violence and sin…
What we need to do is grow up.
For most of my life my father wasn’t around. I did not have a father to be a role model to help me navigate my teen years or many other things.
Many people did have fathers and had as many or sometimes even more problems than I.
I am not blaming my problems on my father, but just saying he wasn’t around to help me navigate through some of my problems.
One day though a wise counsellor said to me. “Harry, what you could do is father yourself. Imagine what your father would say to you during those difficult times and listen to yourself be your own father.”
What the counsellor was telling me in a roundabout way was that the best way to navigate life is to be an adult…. Mature, reasonable, thinking, patient and wise.
It is hard to grow. It is hard to grow up.
It is hard to let the good seed reach that fertile good ground in our minds and in our hearts and in our souls. But it is possible.
But there is another way to look at the parable of the sower. It is to not focus on the ground or the seed, but on the sower.
To think of Christ as the sower who constantly is sowing love, sowing, mercy, sowing compassion, sowing peace, sowing goodness, sowing kindness, sowing patience, sowing wisdom…
And Jesus spreads it liberally, generously on everything and on everyone.
That is what a real parent is like. A real parent is less interested in getting and having and owning, and possessing and in doing for one’s own self.
A real parent is not about indulging the self and having fun at the expense of others.
A real parent is not about inciting violence of vengeance or hate or prejudice.
A real parent is not about climbing the ladder and stepping on other people’s toes to get to the top, including sacrificing his or her own family.
A real parent is always about sowing, spreading, planting, helping and healing.
A real parent is about service, not control.
A real parent is less concerned about being loved and liked, that he or she is about loving and making every other person feel valued.
A real parent gathers up the memories of one’s life and culture and faith and turns them into a story of love and hope.
A real parent sows seeds in the hope that children and adults who act like children will eventually grow up into adults who will themselves in turn sow seeds of love and serve others.