Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Produced Fruit

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Tell the whole Israelite community: Present yourself before the LORD, for he has heard your grumbling.” Exodus 16:9

“But some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear." Matthew 13:8-9

Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.

If you think you are hearing or seeing double with today’s readings, then check back on the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Just ten days ago, we had nearly an identical passage in the Sunday Gospel.

Among the changes, today, we have another installment of the Exodus journey instead of the reading from Isaiah. We are with Moses and the Israelites as they cross the wilderness of Sin. Be careful, this is not a metaphorical use of the term Sin. Sin, for today, is a physical place that existed between Elim and Sinai.

Despite the blessing of freedom, the Hebrews continued on without enough food to eat. Many grumbled that they preferred to have plenty to eat but to live in physical captivity and slavery to Egypt rather than to experience freedom with hunger.

Such deprivation is hard to fathom. Our summer of 2017 is filled with fresh fruit stands and farmer’s markets. We get our tasty Georgia peaches and succulent corn on the cob from Homestead, Florida not to mention salads filled with those meaty Jersey tomatoes. It is hard to image crossing the barren desert let alone the planting season which happened months ago in order to yield such a harvest of plenty to us. Add to this the rains of the past few days, and we cannot imagine the pain of dying from thirst. The experience of wilderness is hard to imagine.

The seeds (for us) have all landed on rich soil and corporate farms that bring the produce produced from the farm to the warehouse, from the warehouse to the store, from the store to the table. 

Think about that famous disciple Andy Dufresne, from The Shawshank Redemption. Despite being in captivity for a crime he said he did not commit, Andy did not concern himself with his personal, selfish needs. He tried to make the community better for all.

Think about the scene when it was a hot summer day and a crew of prisoners was slathering boiling tar on the roof of the prison. Andy overheard one of the prison guards complaining about the tax bite that he would have to pay from a pending inheritance. Breaking the work ranks, he took some wild, undisciplined action. Andy went over to the guard and offered to set up a gift trust for the guard’s wife so he could keep everything. Andy offered himself and his talents to the community. The small fee he requested was three cold beers for each of his fellow prisoners.

Shawshank Redemption - Roof Scene
"I only ask three beers apiece for each of my co-workers. I think a man working outdoors feels more like a man if he can have a bottle of suds," Andy told him. By the second to last day, the men were drinking icy, cold, bohemian-style beer.

“…And that’s how it came to pass that the convict crew that tarred the plate factory roof in the spring of 1949 wound up sitting in a row at 10 o’clock in the morning drinking icy cold bohemia-style beer,” in the words of Red, his prison pal. "We were the lords of all creation. We sat and drank with the sun on our shoulders like free men."

The Shawshank Redemption - Roof Scene
Anyone who thinks the movie scene is about the cold beer should watch it over again. Andy’s selflessness contrasts with the selfishness of the grumbling in the desert. Rather than grumbling on the roof, Andy refused to give in and tried to make everyone feel normal – even if just for a few minutes.

Jesus is our modern-day beer truck delivery driver. He wants us to have our fill and our freedom. He doesn’t have a physical truck so the manna or the beer falls from the sky. The dinner quail land nearby.

Anyone who thinks the scene from Exodus is about the manna or quail should read it over again. That manna in the desert needed no normal corporate farmer. Our heavenly farmer threw seeds on our barren soil and it produced great fruit. Andy threw the seeds of his idea across the roof to see what would come of the idea.

Manna and sowing remind us of things other than famous movie scenes – things like the communion experience. We bring our sin-filled, barren selves to the altar and get our manna. The heavenly farmer shares all he has with us – from the cross to the communicant; from the seminary to the sanctuary; from the sanctuary to the streets. We walk away in an “altared” state. Grace-filled. Satisfied. Altered. Going in peace to serve the world three cold beers apiece.

We may not be asked to take the Good News to the roof of a prison work detail but we are asked nonetheless, to spread it like those inmates spread the hot tar.  

Nativity Parish (Burke, VA) Pastor Fr. Bob Celinski wrote in the church bulletin (ten days ago) that the sower in the parable that Jesus told was a wild, undisciplined farmer.

Instead of plowing the fertile ground and responsibly planting it like a normal farmer, he wanders down an unlikely path and throws seed everywhere in the most random way imaginable. Fistfuls of seed land on the path, and rocks, and thorns. Only by some chance does the seed end up in some rich soil that produces a yield. Surprisingly Jesus doesn't say "Don't be like this careless farmer.” Instead, Jesus compares himself to the sower! It is His will that the gospel be shared not just in Cathedrals but in prisons and rehab centers, in hospitals, the marketplace and in back alleys. What unlikely places have you taken this good news?

What is your manna and quail to share? Where are you sharing manna and quail? What unlikely places have you taken this good news? 

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