Proper 10, 2017: Mad Farmer of the Cosmos

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Link to Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23, today’s text:

There are some problems with 1st century agrarian wisdom
as the core narrative of a 21st century urbanized info-culture.
But that is what we have so let’s make the best of it.

Jesus’ parable about God as a whacko,
impetuous farmer
is awesome and spot on.
God is not OCD –
there is nothing about God
that is obsessive-compulsive
because, as we see, life is scattered
throughout this tiny little planet of ours – and perhaps across the cosmos.

Life, and stupendous, marvelous,
spectacularly awesome miraculousness
is everywhere and willy-nilly.

Life, love, and abundance is scattered;
thrown to and fro,
not planted in neat little rows.

God, it turns out, farms
with a higher degree of randomness rather than order.
I find that simply awesome – and strange.

Think on it.

God is not even an Amish farmer
who we might expect to at least
carefully plant within the lines of Nature.
But unlike the Amish, who harvest a prodigious yield
with only the bare strength and ingenuity
of humans and domesticated animals,
God’s creation now brings forth the bloom of Life
from Petri dishes,
and abundance flows from synthetics drugs
and hybrid energy sources.
Up, and up, and up it comes
percolating from mechanical extensions
of the human mind,
and mathematical models
reaching far beyond our limited capacities.
I find it simply astounding – and disconcerting.

God is most definitely not a Monsanto farmer either,
as if scrupulously planting by cost-benefit ratio
and slavishly chasing the highest productivity
for the least investment of capital and labor.

We see this unorthodox God in Evolution,
itself a much more trial-and-error system –
if even a “system.”
Evolution leaves behind a wake of victims, wastefulness,
and failure.

In Evolution, we can see that God
is spectacularly wasteful,
spilling abundance even in the face of scarcity.
I think this is simply amazing – if not unbelievable.

If Jesus’ parable is apt,
then God is indeed a lousy farmer –
indiscriminately tossing seeds wherever they land.
And, in fact, we see evidence of this everywhere.

When hiking in higher elevations above the tree-line,
where it is often as barren as a moonscape
and even the most athletic human
finds him or herself huffing and puffing and sucking air,
it is not strange to stop suddenly,
arrested by astonishment
from a sight seemingly miraculous.

Perhaps you have seen it too.
I saw it again yesterday,
at Chimney Bluffs on Lake Ontario.
The wind,
or a bird,
will have deposited a seed.

No, not in fertile soil,
but on a lip of a rock,
a flat space no bigger than a child’s hand.

There on barren stone,
a spoonful of soil like a layer of crumbs
where a cake once sat,
blooms a tender, brilliant flower.

How could something so lovely,
so beautiful and seemingly fragile,
eek out life
from so very little?
And yet there it is.

But that is not all.
Those who trod the painfully bleak paths
of human extremes,
will witness the same thing.

Go, venture toward the ragged and harsh plains
where gather the lives of victims –
those crushed and scarred by violence or neglect.

A child once brutalized by abuse,
routine violence or extreme neglect –
even from someone who should have protected them –
and instead of barren scar tissue in that grown-up child,
there also blooms joy and hope
as sweet as any gentler life could issue.

How is it
that all sweetness and gentleness
is not snuffed out by indifference or cruelty?
Under pain and betrayal
that would crush many of us –
that does in fact, crush most of those in its wake,
still there can and does bloom love
and loving-kindness more powerful than suffering.

But we need not look only to
the magnificence of Nature
or in the intimacies in other people’s lives.

Even in our own lives,
yours and mine,
the cuts and scarring of deep grief, ordinary abandonment or neglect,
sorrow and wounding;
even in all of these
the mad farmer of the cosmos
has planted seeds.
They grow there, in the bleakness.

Even there, even in us,
we have witnessed the bloom of joy,
the blossoms of hope,
the tiger lilies of love,
without our own intention or effort tending them.
They just grow.

Lewis Thomas, the famous biologist
and one-time director of Sloan-Kettering Cancer
Institute urged,
that now and again we should direct our attention
away from the 20% of smokers who get lung cancer,
and be astounded and amazed by the 80% who do not.

Life and love and abundance
are remarkably resilient,
and we find example after example
of their relentless bloom
wherever we witness the debris of violence,
cruelty, neglect and abuse
on the landscape of human activity
or on the inscape of the human heart.

God seems utterly indifferent
to the borders we create for our neat little gardens.

We make,
and live our lives,
along well planned little rows.

We expect to harvest what we plant
and that it will grow where we planted it.
But often, very often,
that is not what happens.

We discover that what grows
is not what we planted
but something else.
And we encounter the fruits of our labor
in places we did not plant it.

Often when this happens, we reject it –
because we did not plant it
or because we did not plant it there.

We get angry and resentful
that it is not as we did it.

“It’s NOT how we planned it, God,
and by-god, we are not
going to harvest something we did not plant!”

And so we miss the awesome,
the miraculous,
the amazing and inspiring
that is growing all around us – and within us.

I want to end where I began:
to go back to that dilemma
of ancient agrarian wisdom
as the core spiritual narrative
for 21st century urbanized, commercialized,
and consumerized Christians.

We have made a mess of Jesus’ parables.
We have taken these little beauties
blooming among thorns and along the barren paths,
and tried to domesticate them.
But they are vibrantly wild products
of the mad farmer of the cosmos
that won’t be domesticated.

A parable
is a figure of speech
that bears one self-evident truth.

They are not secret rhymes or coded messages,
nor mystical puzzles with sublime punch lines.

They are blunt instruments
creating insight through blunt force trauma to the mind.
Jesus used parables to tell bald face truths
with no apology,
no need for spiritual guru’s
nor hired guns in priestly robes.

Over time Christianity,
like all religions,
learned the value of holding secret truths
and passing them out one at a time
to those who had demonstrated loyalty.

But Jesus told truths outright,
self-evident truths about God
and about life inside the human heart and mind.

For example,
the punch line for today’s parable
is the simple, homely little truth
that God is a lousy farmer.

God splashes holiness and love indiscriminately,
without concern for where it lands.
In contrast,
we parsimoniously, timidly, and fearfully
plant our love only where we believe it will grow
and bear fruit to our liking.

That is the parable.

We could get creative
and make up our own parables about the same thing:
God is like a whale blowing sea water like a geyser across the ocean.
We are like a squirrel hiding nuts for the winter.

God is like a sandstorm
burying everything in its path with generous abundance.
We are like a cautious whistle struggling to stay on tune.

God is like a flooding river
overwhelming its banks and changing the contours of the land forever.
We are like a church, offering communion and grace only to our members.

You see, there is no deep, dark, juicy secret here.
What we have is just a bald face truth.

We are being told
God is indiscriminant with the love that bears life,
so we should be little sloppier too.

That’s all.

It is not about being effective
it is about risking-taking with what matters.
It is not about being efficient
it is about radical hospitality.
It is not about cost-effectiveness
it is about reckless generosity.
It is not about conserving love
it is about scattering it.
It is not about getting it right
it is about practicing openness.
It is not about good order in all things,
it is about wild exuberance
in the midst of God’s amazing creation.

So…we are about to enjoy a lovely anthem;
a solo in which to pause and breathe in the moment.

I invite us to use it,
and allow the moment and
the mad farmer
to pry open our minds,
and shake loose our arms,
and limber up our fingers
and open wide our imaginations.
Where might you scatter your love?

On what little ledge might God have planted you –
someplace you may have had no idea about
until right now.

Where did you think there was not enough
nurture or abundance to grow or bloom?
Look again,
see if perhaps you’ve grown a little joy,
a sweet blossom of hope
you never imagined could have survived?

The mad farmer of the cosmos,
indiscriminant and radically generous
in astounding and stupefying ways,
makes our lives relentlessly open
to new scenarios
and new possibilities.
It’s crazy.

*Homage & thanks to Wendell Berry’s image of the Mad Farmer