“If it bears fruit”
What limited knowledge I have about the farm which I call my home and my pottery studio is that the soil is good soil. I have chickens and the hay from their stalls is fed directly into the vegetable gardens all year round. The bees which have hives on the Blackwater bluff swing round to tend to the flowers on my land as well as the fruit trees, vegetable garden flowers and the blossoms of the apple trees. I also have a truck load of manure spread in April so that the soil can be overturned and incorporate the rotting death and decay of old life which has been eaten to nourish local cows a few farms over.
It is all about the soil. And today’s gospel is all about the soil. In true Lenten form, we are being chided to address our sins, to be mindful of them not as shame but as healthy guilt; and to make changes to our lives which improve the soil from which our human lives grow. We know from scripture and history that the ancient warriors would salt land when they over-ran a defeated army so that the people would not be able to grow food and would be sure to starve if they had yet to be slaughtered. I lived in Haiti for a year or so in the 80’s and I saw up close what it is like to die of starvation. This hair of the kids in my class went red and soon they got very tired and died. It is slow and it hurts.
“If it bears fruit “
The questions raised by this gospel include “What bears fruit in your lives and my life and what is draining our soil of its nutrients? Where in our lives is the over stimulation, over caffeination, over scheduling and over-owning of possessions draining the soil of our lives of the richness of nutrients? Where is our unwillingness to let things die and rot so that the manure of them can feed new life? Where is the salt of our greed, our manipulation, our wastefulness – where is that carelessness and lack of mindfulness salting our soil?”
I remember a summer’s day in which I was taking a friend on a tour of my farm. She ooed and ahhhed over a summer squash (which was fabulous!) and though my impulse was to reach down and pick it for her to take home, something inside me sputtered, crackled, chilled, hissssssed and withdrew. “I had had a poor crop” a voice in my head said. That squash was the only one I could see. So I smiled, rather too sweetly, and we moved on. She got not my last squash. It was mine..myyyyy ….prrecciousssss…. My inner Smeagol was taking over my gentler Gollum. The next day, I was playing with my dog Kai and his ball went into the garden. In searching for it among the squash plants, I lifted leaves and found six, huge squash. More than I could possibly eat. I had never grown squash so I had no idea they might be UNDER the low canopy of leaves.
This reading is calling us to a new way of living. And though I do a lot of work I our diocese around stewardship and fundraising and published a book on the subject last week (which has had astounding sales even before it hit the shelves on Friday) I am not going to spend valuable Lenten time haranguing you about stewardship even though you have fallen into a rather frightening deficit. I am not here to chide you and furthermore scolding never works well in the raising of money or the formation around stewardship and gratitude. I can do nothing for those who choose to tip God rather than carve off a massive chunk of their blessings as a thanksgiving offering to the Giver of all good things through the ministry of the church. Some of you are giving the Widow’s mite – the very best gift you can give – nearly everything. Others are to frozen by the fears of not having enough or the greed of wanting more that it is spiritually too smoky and constipated to release a death-grip on money.
And besides, I do not believe stewardship and giving are logistical issues. I believe they are spiritual issues with logistical implications and support.
We are not greedy people, we are scared people and our greed is just our version of a scream.
No, giving will not be helped by posters or pledge cards, by slogans or pot lucks, by brochures or thermometers with red markers. Giving comes from a soil which has lot of death and decay in it feeding roots of spiritual life. The best and most generous pledgers are not the ones who understand how to give. The best and most generous pledgers are people who understand that God is God and that they are not God – that all we have comes from God and not from our employers or our banks or our savings.
This church is internationally known for having birthed a saint (Jonathan Daniels) who gave his life away because he understood God and he understood being made in God’s image as creator, self-offerer and lover. To the extent that we too live into our image is the extent to which we live rather than simply exist – the extent to which our soil is rich and sweet rather than dry and salty.
The way to be a great giver – a great self-offerer of your life and your love and your money and your time is not to work at being a donor but to work at being a Christian. It is your prayer life which will loosen you up – sweeten your soil. It is your spiritual practice every day at home and at work; your prayers, your times of stillness with God, your mindfulness about how you are living your life – it is that which will balance your soul and this church’s budget.
Lent is a great time to ask not “How much more should I be pledging?” but rather “How is my life oriented?” “What is my spiritual practice?” “Does my life reflect my being the kind of Christian Jonathan Daniels was?”
“Am I Christian or do I just go to church?”
The movement Jesus started and the movement Martin Luther King started and for which Jonathan Daniels made the martyr’s sacrifice are always in danger of morphing from a movement back to an institution. What is your spiritual practice? What is adding richness to your soil?
They say that when Martin Luther King had his rallies, people would drive and take busses and walk from great distances to show up and work for the cause. But Martin Luther King would stand at the door to those meetings and greet each new arrival in their sweat and dust from their journey. He asked one question of them after a warm and loving greeting: “What is your spiritual practice back at home?” Some would say ‘I pray daily.” Some would say “I meditate.” Some would say I study scripture and pray over passages which encourage me.” Some would say I meet regularly with a small group to pray and read and discuss life as a Christian in a hard world.”
Each one would be welcomed inside for the rally.
But sometimes a visitor would have nothing to say. They would say they work hard for justice or they give lots of money but have no regular spiritual practice which feeds them God. Those people Martin Luther King would turn away at the door – yes, even the rich ones. They would have to make the long trek home not even being welcome into the meeting. They would object reminding him of their fervor for their cause. Righteous indignation can be so invigorating!
When asked later why he did this seemingly unkind thing – why he sent these people home at the door – this act which reduced the ranks and coffers of his rallies he said “ If you do not have a spiritual practice then you will not have the voice you need to speak against injustice and you will not be able to remain still when the police set the dogs on you.”
Your spiritual practice will till the soil, moisten the soil and fertilize the soil. Your giving will emerge not from knowing you are doing the right thing. Your giving will emerge from knowing that you are desperately loved by God; and more than loved, that you are even liked by God. That you were made good and that your life is for letting that goodness sprout, grow and flourish like the palm tree in the hot sun of the love of a God who is absolutely crazy about us. So find or keep your spiritual practice and you will change this church and the world, one person at a time.
Lent 3 – “Love’s Manure”
Third Sunday in Lent
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Sermon preached by
The Rev. Canon Charles LaFond
for the Eucharist of Lent III,
March 3, 2013
St. James Episcopal Church, Keene, NH
On the occasion of a meeting with the vestry about stewardship, mission and a budget deficit