Ezekiel 34:11-24 † Psalm 100 † Ephesians.1:15-23 † Matthew 25:31-46
It’s all hindsight. All of it. No one was doing what they were doing in the parable because they thought they were doing it “unto Christ.” They were just doing it. It was just what they did or didn’t do. Everyone was surprised, in other words. Everyone was surprised that this would be the thing that would set them apart—right from left, sheep from goats. When did we see you hungry or thirsty, or a stranger or naked, or in prison?
Which kind of begs the question. What were they expecting? Not so much for the goats. We know all-too-well the world in which people do “goaty” things, do for themselves, vote for their own interests, look out for number one, shove and claw and occupy and foul more space than they need to. This story is as old as the hills, or at least as old as Ezekiel who sounds like a modern-day prophet for climate change. “Is it not enough,” the prophet asks,
for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?[i]
There’s more than enough of that to go around. And, of course, we know that part in us. Because we all have a little sheep, a little goat—we all have contested space within us, a DMZ between Thanksgiving feeding at the REACH meal and that feeding-frenzy we call Black Friday.
But they were all surprised—sheep and goats together. No one was expecting this. It just kind of surfaced. So if it wasn’t about pleasing, about caring, about serving as a way to meet the holy, to do it “unto Christ,” what was the motivation? Why did they do it? What did it mean? What does it say?
Exodus 32:1-14 † Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 † Philippians 4:1-9 † Matthew 22:1-14
Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi social entrepreneur and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering work in microcredit got a message one day from the office of Franck Riboud. Riboud was the chairman and CEO of the Danone Group, a French food conglomerate whose American brand is most familiar to us, I suspect, for the yogurt in our grocery stores and refrigerators.
Riboud had heard of Yunus’ work in Bangladesh creating a banking system that made small loans available to people full of ideas, but too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans to fund them. It began in 1976 when Yunus lent $27 from his own pocket to 42 women in the Bangladeshi village of Jobra. By 2007, the Grameen or “village” Bank had issued over $6 billion to more than 7 million borrowers, with more than 94% of Grameen loans going to women.[i]
Grameen Bank put into action Yunus’ belief that, very small loans could make a disproportionate difference to a poor person. Contrary to the practices of our Western system which is built on the assumption that the more you have, the more you get, Yunus believed, that the poorest of the poor, given the chance, would not only take the opportunity to improve their lives and escape from poverty, but that they would be at least as reliable as other loan recipients in repaying their loans. And he was right. To date, less than 1% of Grameen loans have defaulted, and the system of microcredit has exploded across the globe, even extending to a number of branches in New York City.
It was October 2005 when Riboud reached out to Yunus who tells of the meeting and the handshake that led to the creation of one of the first social businesses. Unlike most of our businesses in the west, organized around the primary goal of making money for its investors, social businesses are created to meet a social goal; they are built around a mission. They pay no dividends. They sell products at prices that make the business self-sustaining. Owners get back their investment over time, but no profits, which instead stay in the business to finance expansion, create new products, and do more good. [ii]
Genesis 28:10-19a † Psalms 139:1-12, 23-24 † Romans 8:12-25 † Matthew 24-30, 36-43
It is important for us to remember who this Jacob was. First of all, he was a “heel-grabber”—a usurper, an ambitious, despicable, cheat. He exploits his brother’s hunger for his own gain. He defrauds his brother of his rightful inheritance, and deceives their father to seal the deal. If anyone is a weed, this is the guy.
And for the first time in the story about him, we find him alone. We shouldn’t be surprised. He’s now on the run from his twin Esau. He’s burned all of his bridges. And now, with nothing but a rock for a pillow, his hardness and his vulnerability are on full display, and, in the deathly silence under the vast stars of the sky, he is surely confronted with his own character.
But there’s more on display as well. There is this place. Six times, the place is mentioned—so often in this short story that it is awkward, or significant. Place, and with it, earth and land five times, and stone three times. And after his dream when the heavens open and the chasm between heaven and earth is closed, and God shows up with that promise once again, Jacob doesn’t miss the significance of what is hiding in plain sight.
Franklin and a team of researches visited the scorched slopes of Mount St. Helens after the volcano exploded with the force of multiple atomic bombs in 1980.
William Dietrich tells the now familiar story in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Final Forest.[i]
The blast laid trees over like a giant comb, burning off the needles and covering the mountainsides with logs like matted brown hair. Ash covered the duff of the forest floor. Humans and large animals caught in the blast were suffocated and roasted. But scientists were surprised at how many small creatures and plants survived the searing heat and began immediately to repair the ecological fabric. Fireweed poked through the ash. Ants scuttled across the gray powder. Gophers burrowed to the surface, beginning to mix the old soil with the new deposits. Insects and seed began to blow across the moonscape.
Readings for this Sunday:
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 | Psalm 20 | 2 Corinthians 5:6-17| Mark 4:26-34
The seed in Mark’s gospel is the word of God, the revelation, the action of God amongst us. Jesus gives us this definition in the parable that is told right before the one we read today. Today’s parables (or folklore was a description of parables that I heard this week: common tales, tales of the people that help us understand, bring down to earth, things mysterious and important). Well, today’s parables are part of a series that Jesus tells about seeds; seeds and the way they are sown and what they do and how they can help us understand a little more fully and a trust a little more deeply the nature of God’s word amongst us and within us.
So in the previous parable, the one right before those we read today the seed is sown and it is sown on all sorts of ground – fertile ground, hardened ground, weedy ground, rocky ground – and as we might imagine, or if you have gardened you will know - that under such a method only some will thrive. The seed needs the right conditions to grow. But the aspect of this tale that strikes me as especially important and that I think gives greater dimension to the parables we read today is that this seed, this word of God, is thrown everywhere. It’s not just here in this book – the use of that word takes us there, but the word or the action, the revelation, the presence of God is everywhere. The Sower of the seed, the one who plants the word of God—God’s own self - does not discriminate in terms of where God’s word will be planted. This word from God, it is planted everywhere – everywhere. All over the place. Everywhere. Absolutely no place is out of bounds.
And then there are today’s tales –
St. Andrew Sermons