Saturday, July 12, 2014

Vincent van Gogh and David Mallet Meet in The Gospel...

Proper 10 – Romans 8:1-11/Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Timothy's School for Girls

“…You are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.”
                                                                                    - Romans 8: 9

We don’t often think of it, but of all the New Testament literature, Saint Paul’s letters are the oldest sources we have about Jesus – pre-dating the Gospels by a couple of decades. And Paul writes that for those who are “in Christ,” and “Christ is in them,” “the Spirit of God dwells in you.” This ought to strike us as an astonishing assertion. Not something we should take for granted. And we might ask, just how does this “Spirit of God, this Christ, come to dwell in us?

And “us” is the operant word here, since Saint Paul writes in the plural (something the English translation cannot indicate) – Paul rarely speaks of an individual’s relationship to Christ. He speaks almost exclusively of the individual in the context of the faith community – the community of Christ’s Body, the priesthood of all believers. How does Christ and the Spirit of God come to “dwell in us?”

Along comes the Parable of the Sower rich with varied depths of meanings to help us to see just what things, as our collect for the day urges, we “ought to do,” and just how we might find ourselves equipped with the “grace and power to accomplish them,” which things very well may prepare ourselves as a community to receive Christ and the Spirit of God into our midst – so that God’s spirit might “dwell” among us, a technical word in the Greek for pitching a tent, setting up shop, move into our neighborhood.

And the first thing we might notice is the repetition, “A sower went out to sow, and as he sowed…” That is, this is no random person scattering seed hoping gravity and good luck will take care of the rest. This sower is sowing, which points to a practiced skill. This seed goes where it is supposed to go. No soil is left bare. No soil is overplanted. Yet, even with such a sower, some seed lands on the road, or on stones, or among thorns.

Vincent Van Gogh, the 19th Century Dutch artist understood this. He understood that the seeds were God’s Word of the Kingdom – and Gogh knew as we all know that Christ is God’s Word of the Kingdom. Christ, the Word of God’s Kingdom, came to proclaim a message: I will set you free, I won’t let you be anything but holy, good and free.

Now what most people do not know is that the young Gogh set off to follow in his Protestant Pastor father’s footsteps – and spent some years evangelizing, bring this good news of God’s Word, to the poor, beginning with mine workers in Borinage. During this time he was able to identify with the miners, their families, and their lifestyles. His religious beliefs made him want to alleviate spiritual and physical suffering.

Only later did he turn to painting as another way to express his desire to bring people closer to God, closer to each other and closer to themselves. In 1888 he painted The Sower, a pivotal work in the history of art, and surely a scene related to our story here in Matthew. One sees the sower, practiced in the art of sowing, deliberately planting the seed in the soil. For Gogh the color yellow symbolized faith, triumph and love. The color blue represented the Divine – and so he combines these colors so they seem to move together showing the relationship of all living things. And there is something holy, good and free in the figure of The Sower – who in the parable of course is God in Christ planting the Good News of God’s kingdom in the soil of our hearts.

And the very thought that this seed, the Word of God, could yield a hundredfold would be heard by the farmers and fishermen Jesus addresses as simply fantastic! No seed known yields such bounty! Maybe ten, twenty or even thirty fold, but sixty or one hundred is unprecedented, unknown, simply unimaginable! We are meant to respond with awe that God’s Word possesses such grace and power – we are meant to want this Word planted in the soil of our own hearts, where we can tend to it, hear it, and be transformed a hundred fold ourselves. What a truly awesome gift from an awesome God.

Of course, the dangers of not tending to it are outlined. It is a parable of self-analysis: Are we fertile, well tilled, deeply mulched soil? Or, are we rocky ground? Do we welcome and make opportunities to tend to God’s word every day? Or, do we spend more time tending to the thorns of wealth and the cares of the world, such that the Word yields nothing?

Many who first heard Jesus tell this story figured out its meaning: we are the soil, the seed of God’s Word comes to rest in us, and for those who till and water and mulch and care for God’s word, we become sowers of the Word ourselves – like the young Vincent Van Gogh, like Saint Paul, like the fishermen, tenant farmers, soldiers and others who first heard this story.

In Maine lives a truly wonderful singer/songwriter by the name of David Mallet who wrote Garden Song, a song that speaks to what Jesus is calling us to do and be, and at the same time addresses the ecological crisis we face on the Earth, this fragile, island home of ours. As one sings it, or listens to it, perhaps it will move us to become more disciplined disciples of Christ – like the skilled Sower may we become more practiced in letting the Word take root in our lives so we might begin to feel and to know that what Saint Paul says is true: we are in the Spirit, God’s Spirit dwells in us. God’s son Jesus desires to pitch his tent and plant his Word in our hearts and minds and souls so that we might truly become holy, good and free!

Garden Song
by David Mallett
Inch by inch, row by row
Gonna make this garden grow
Gonna mulch it deep and low
Gonna make it fertile ground
Inch by inch, row by row
Please bless these seeds I sow
Please keep them safe below
'Till the rain comes tumbling down
Pullin' weeds and pickin' stones
We are made of dreams and bones
Need a place to call my own
'Cause the time is close at hand
Grain for grain, sun and rain
Find my way in nature's chain
Till my body and my brain
Tell the music of the land
Plant your rows straight and long
Season with a prayer and song
Mother Earth will make you strong
If you give her loving care
An old crow watching hungrily
From his perch in yonder tree,
In my garden I'm as free
As that feathered thief up there.
©Cherry Lane Music Co (ASCAP)

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