Harrowing Of Hell
July 16, 2017

Message Received: Hearing God’s Call

Preacher: The Rev. Kate Wesch

In the name of God; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This has been one of my all-time favorite weeks at Epiphany and we’ve had a lot of great times together so that’s saying something. Vacation Bible Camp this year was absolutely amazing. 53 children gathered on these holy grounds, along with 16 youth leaders,
29 adults, and countless behind the scenes volunteers, to step outside of their daily lives and experience God’s love and radical acceptance as experienced in this community.
The energy and excitement were palpable as children sang and cheered in these pews, put on their bright green t-shirts, and greeted their group ready to begin. Each day, we were tasked with a Top Secret Mission discovered by a youth detective who found it contained in this envelope to the background music of …. (Joseph play…) (7:30 ….the Mission Impossible theme song played on the organ.)

The overall theme for the week was, “Message Received: Hearing God’s Call.” What the children learned is true for each of us as well. God is calling us to love each other, to help our neighbor, to strive for justice. And God calls to us in a myriad of ways – in creation, like the bunny we kept seeing in the Memorial Garden, or by means of grace and love and mercy, as experienced in relationship and in community, especially this past week.

God calls to us sometimes while we’re walking a labyrinth, or writing an icon, raising our voices in song, praying with our friends, or through Jesus and the stories of scripture.

This morning, I have a Top-Secret Mission for you and it comes to us in the form of today’s gospel. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to figure out what God is saying to you in this familiar parable: The Parable of the Sower. You have approximately 14 minutes to complete your mission. C.H. Dodd says the objective of a parable it to tease the mind into active thought, so let’s see what we can do.

There are no guarantees with a parable and you never know what you might find. You must be ready for a parable. Are you ready? And even when we are ready or think we are ready, sometimes the parable doesn’t speak to us and that’s okay. So, let’s take a deep breath and prepare ourselves. Clear your mind and open your heart.

Let me begin by retelling the story using the language of our Sunday School curriculum,
Godly Play, and some beautiful materials made this past week.

Look, this box is the color of gold. There may be a parable inside because parables are as valuable, or even more valuable, than gold. The box also looks like a present. Parables are presents. They were given to you before you were born. They are yours, even if you don’t know what they are. This box looks old, and parables are old. Maybe there really is one inside.

Do you see the lid? It is like a closed door. Sometimes parables seem closed to us, even if we are ready to enter them. You need to keep coming back for them, and one day they will open.

I know what to do. Let’s look inside and see if there is a parable there. I wonder what this could really be? It doesn’t look like much now. Hmmmm. It is certainly brown. It is all brown. Everywhere there is anything, there is brown.

Let’s see if there is anything else in the box that can help us get the parable ready. There are many things here to help us tell the parable, but nothing else to help us get ready. All we can do is begin.

There was once someone who did such amazing things and said such wonderful things that people followed him. As they followed him, they heard him speaking about a kingdom. The kingdom was not like the one they were in. It was not like one that anyone had ever visited. It was not like any kingdom anyone had even heard about. So they had to ask him, “What is the kingdom of heaven like?”

One day when they asked him that, he said, “the kingdom of heaven is like when a sower, someone who scatters seeds, goes out and scatters seeds along the path.” “As the sower sowed seeds along the path, the birds of the air came…” “…and ate the seeds.”

“The sower also sowed seeds among the stones.”

“When the seeds tried to put their little roots down among the stones they could not push their way into the ground.”

“When the sun came out it scorched the seeds and they died.”

“The sower also sowed seeds among the thorns.”

“When the seeds tried to push their little roots down among the thorns, they could push them part way in, but the thorns choked them, and they died.”

“The sower also sowed seeds in the good earth.”

“When the seeds pushed their little roots down into the good earth, they could go all the way in. They grew and grew.”

“When they were all grown up, they were ripe for the harvest. Then they were cut off and gathered up.”

“The harvest was thirty, sixty and one hundred bushels.”

Now, I wonder…I wonder what you heard in this story. When sharing this story with children, we always transition at the end to open-ended “wondering questions”
offering space for the children to engage with the story in a creative way. We’re not going to do that today as a group, and yet, I encourage you to wonder about scripture, wonder about parables, wonder about God in your life.

Jesus tells this parable not as a made-up fairy tale, but as an illustration of something he is living and experiencing in his daily life and to which he thinks the Galileans gathered on the beach can relate and I believe we can too.

But let’s start with Jesus. In the immediately preceding chapters, Jesus was met with misunderstanding and resistance to his teachings. And not long after this parable, Jesus is rejected from his hometown. It’s not hard to make the leap to this parable and draw parallels to Jesus’ own experiences.

Most often called the Parable of the Sower, but also the Parable of the Soils or the Seed,
this story would have resonated deeply with its original audience as well. Gathered there on the banks of the Sea of Galilee as Jesus preached from a fishing boat were common people from the local villages; fishermen and farmers. He was speaking their language. And this was crazy talk.

Throwing seed willy nilly into rocky or thorny ground was a fool’s errand when your children were malnourished and you never knew if there would be enough to eat, let alone enough to turn a profit. This itinerant preacher certainly caught their attention with his story of this HIGH RISK SOWER.

Let’s go there for a moment and wonder about the sower together. I wonder who the sower is for you. Is it God? Or Jesus? Maybe an evangelist, a preacher or teacher? The sower could be a bearer of the gospel, the good news, a world changer, a follower of Jesus. It could be you. The crazy thing is that this sower took big risks. Farmers don’t take risks.
They plan, prepare the soil, make calculations, and study the land. This sower threw seeds all over the place letting them land where they may and waiting to see what took root.

You might be sitting there thinking, how irresponsible! Or perhaps you’re thinking how wonderful. How wonderful that this sower threw caution to the wind and saw abundance instead of scarcity. The sower took a risk and saw all soil as worthy.

I wonder too…what is the seed? Is it the good news of God in Christ? Is it potential in each and every person? Is it a glimpse of God’s Kingdom? Is it the sense of peace captured in a moment when you see a child praying in the center of a labyrinth? Or is it God’s voice calling to us? I wonder.

This week at Vacation Bible Camp, the children rotated through the different activities in groups. Ann Lockhart and I offered a labyrinth station each day for the children. At the end of the first day, we sat in the chapel after they had all gone home, exhausted, reflecting on the personalities of the groups and the individual children – wondering in some cases if anything had gotten through to them. What was the point we wondered? Trying to calm a group of ten excited children into having a prayerful experience in a mere 20 minutes. Much like the parable, it felt as if we were casting seed willy nilly in lots of directions and wondering if any of it was landing.

The next day, I was helping a group at a table learn to draw labyrinths while Taize music played softly in the background. We could hear Kathea leading singing in the choir room below. Joseph was playing the organ in the church with another group. And I looked over to the labyrinth, spread out across the chapel floor, to see one of the wildest kids from the day prior, ever so slowly walking, walking the labyrinth with a building block balanced on his head, and a pinecone balanced in the palm of each hand. He spent the full 20 minutes just walking all the way in and all the way out, never saying a word. That seed had taken root.

Do you recall your mission? Your time is up and yet this mission is never over.
We will all continue discerning what God is saying to us whether it is in this parable,
or another piece of scripture, in the breaking of the bread, or in our movement in this world. God is always calling us. What is God saying to you?

Do you have a secret like Mary’s secret when the angel asked her to bear the Christ child?
A secret written upon your heart? That was a secret because it was unique. And God’s call to you is unique in this world.

I can’t tell you the answer: that’s your secret. That’s like explaining the punch line to a joke which usually ruins it That’s the same as overly explaining a parable. God’s calling is written upon your heart. That’s your unique secret. It might be to love, to help your neighbor, to strive for justice, or relationship, or community.

Know that you are important and you are loved. Listen to your heart.

The Parable of the Sower Godly Play story taken from The Complete Guide to Godly Play, by Jerome W. Berryman.

Sermon Questions taken from the Godly Play Lesson: Parable of the Sower

I wonder who the person could really be?
I wonder if the person was happy when the birds came and ate the seeds?
I wonder if the birds were happy when they saw the sower?
I wonder what the person was doing when the little seeds were growing in the good earth?
I wonder what the harvest could really be?

Your Top Secret Mission, if you choose to accept it, is to figure out what God is saying to you in this familiar parable. Pray, journal, or talk with someone about what that might be.