March Madness basketball is cancelled, but it is playing out all around us. Store shelves are empty of hand sanitizer and toilet paper. The President just declared a national emergency. It really is a difficult and scary time. And it is all changing so quickly. As your pastor, I am stumbling through these days. Just a moment ago I was using command stripes to install new hand sanitizers. Only to realize I put the connector on upside down. Which is a picture of how I feel right now — wondering who will be at church? Wondering if anyone should be here?
Let me urge, if you are a vintage member of Chandler (vintage is a term from Jan Mayfield), please stay home. Check us out on Facebook Live or take up your Bible and join our voices praying to God from home.
If you are a less than vintage member, like me, consider who may need more help in the days ahead. The church is collecting food (easy to eat, like cereal and granola bars) to help families. Especially those with children who normally receive food from their school. We also want to help our vintage members get needed supplies. Groceries and medicine. Please check on our church family! And pray.
But you may also be wondering where is God in these moments? He is among us. The passage for this Sunday was chosen before we knew the chaos of this week. It grew up out of our trip to Haiti (this Sunday is our Haiti recap, including a great story about sowing seed in Haiti).
Sower Scattering Seed: Matthew 13:1-23
The parable is in all three synoptic gospels and serves as a crucial revelation of Jesus’ ministry. But it also includes the enigmatic quote from Isaiah to explain why Jesus uses parables: “You will be ever hearing but never understanding.” 1
It is hard for us to comprehend that Jesus spoke through parables to hide the true meaning. Why? Because the message of Jesus was dangerous. He was proclaiming that his own life and pronouncement was, as NT Wright put it, “the moment towards which all Israel’s history has been leading.” Wright continues, “If we fail to see how profoundly subversive, how almost suicidally dangerous, such a claim was, it is perhaps because we have forgotten that there was another would-be king of the Jews, Herod Antipas, not too far away. People who attempted to set themselves up against that family tended to come to a bad end” (Jesus and the Victory of God, 235).
And what was this message that God would risk everything to proclaim? The seed is scattered indiscriminately. Over every place. To everyone. Far from crushing the enemies of Israel, God was coming to sacrifice and plant new life… even in our enemies!
But what does this have to say in the midst of COVID19? Simply that God cares. He could have remained in heaven, but instead risked everything to expand Love to the ends of the earth. Even going so far as to walk among us. This God, our God, still walks among us. Extending Love and Grace.
I can not explain why God does not heal this moment. I believe He can. But I also know, if God fixed everything, that would take away our free choice. We could no longer choose Him or against Him – creating destruction. Without choice we could no longer love Him (or even know what is Love). Still, I know He is present. Extending love. So I will pray that He heals this moment. Asking that God brings even more than physical healing. That our divides will heal as we find compassion for so many in need. That new life may grow everywhere – even in the most unlikely places.
1 Note: The Isaiah passage becomes more informative with the full passage. Beyond Jesus’s quote, 6:9-10, it continues to describe the holy land chopped down (under Roman rule?), then in verse 13, “so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.” The Israelites assumed this seed would grow up to punish, but the message of Jesus was of grace growing…