SEEDS OF LIFE AND DEATH
REMEMBER when you were young, and your Mom sent you on an errand? What did she always say? Go straight there and come straight home again. Wasn't it easy to get sidetracked? Tommy's mother told him to get the shoes fixed. She put them in a bag and sent Tommy to the cobbler's shop. Tommy had every intention of going there, but there were side streets to cross and as he looked down one he saw the ice cream truck. That was one of his favorite things. He ran over to it and excitement began to take over. To get his money out he had to put the shoes down. The line was short, so Tommy soon had his treat which he ate with great thanksgiving. Then he went home, leaving the shoes in a bag on the curb. You don't have to be a child to get sidetracked. God has His own errand for every one of us. He wants us in His home for all eternity. That is the Pearl of Great Price for which we must be willing to give up everything else. He wants us to be single-minded in carrying it out. Every school, every family, every congregation has an errand from God to make certain that all the children and the adults belong to their heavenly Father.
You and I are not wandering strays. We are the sheep of Jesus Christ, the people of God. We know the voice of the Good shepherd. We call Him Lord. The staff that He holds up before us is the cross. He has washed us all in Holy Baptism, the washing of regeneration, and rescued us from the power of Satan. As you can imagine, that made Satan very angry, so he is now dedicated to luring us away from the Good Shepherd. Here in God's house we can see things clearly. That means we can see Satan for the ugly devil he is, but during the week, things look different and Satan comes by with his ice cream truck. We don't want to stray. We have every intention of going just a few steps down the side street, then coming right back, but we are flesh and blood. Those are pretty big dogs to walk on leashes. Give the flesh an inch and the next thing you know it' s twenty yards away. Let's examine the figure St. Paul uses here when he speaks of "sowing to the flesh." That is "sowing" with an "o." In St. Paul's figure there are two fields side by side. One is God's, the other belongs to our human nature. What we plant in that second field gets rotten rather quickly and makes us rotten when we eat it. What we plant in God's field gives a harvest of life and salvation. It's a man-sized job to keep sowing in God's field. There's always another ice cream truck calling us to a bit of self-indulgence, a bit of doubt, a bit of anxiety -- which Jesus in the Gospel lesson says makes us like grass in the field. We intend to come back, but before we know it we're deep in the devil's field, and are not really sure how to get out.
Jesus will not leave us there. He comes to get us armed with the cross, but that is a problem for the flesh. The way of the cross is humiliating. We must depend on Bleeding Charity. Humility is excellent soil for the seed of faith, but it has to comfort for the flesh. We have to forsake our treasured independence, and trust in the blood that Jesus shed for us. In today's collect we ask God that His "continual pity cleanse and defend His Church." It's not easy to ask for continual pity. It takes humility to say have pity on me, Jesus, but everything else is a dead end. Use your common sense. It's dumb to stay at a dead end and not move. You have to turn around. Even if you don't like that direction, you have to turn around. Now none of us meant to go to the dead end, but we followed some ice cream truck and that's where we landed. We didn't mean to turn away from God. We didn't mean to stray away from His supervision, but alas! No one can have it both ways, so for 114 years God has placed His Word right here, where we are sure to find it, and has invited us to hear and learn it. The Good Shepherd's voice has been sounding here, and the cleansing blood of Jesus has been our Fountain of Life.
Maybe we can make a deal, a compromise. Could we contract with God for part of our allegiance? That's why tithing is so popular. Instead of seeking first the kingdom of God, we serve Him with 10% and Mammon with 90%. We sow 10% in God's field then 90% to the flesh. My friends, did Jesus teach us to pray 10% of Thy will be done?
Do we think Jesus is harsh because He wants our complete allegiance? If we took a vote, I'm sure the majority would say that, but since Jesus makes the rules, what we think really doesn't matter. Listen to the apostle's warning: Do not be deceived; God will not be mocked. Jesus will return, and when He does He will impose His values on everyone. Of course you didn't set out to mock God, but we must be ever vigilant when it comes to Mammon. Jesus calls us to the cross. That will not make us popular. It will not make us rich. It will not give us thrills, but it will draw us to Jesus. We can't help looking down the side streets, but the cross is the ramp that gets us back on God's road.
Will that escape always be there? Here we come to an even worse anxiety. Look in the mirror and what do you see? Someone who isn't getting any younger. Even school children have anxiety about that. We have to admit that we have been trifling with God's grace and that we're going to be called to account for those millions of "just this onces." But then, God never tires of forgiving. Jesus will always by the Way, the Truth, and the Life. His death never ceases to be the sacrifice for our sins. His rising to life again shows us once more that we are saved, and Christ Church, standing here in the middle of the West Side, assures us that God's voice is still calling. We need to repent for it to do us any good. Beware the repentance that is incomplete, that plans another "just this once" for which it will repent again. If we want to tithe our allegiance, we will find only anxiety, but if we really want forgiveness, the empty tomb of Jesus can dispel all anxiety as the morning sun burns way the fog. He is our peace!
Are you irritated because you can't have it both ways? Stop and think about what "both ways" means. Would you like to have 10% heaven and 90% hell for all eternity? Even if heaven were the larger part, who wants any hell at all? No, we want it one way, and that way is with all of our sins at the cross of Jesus. At the end of that road are the open arms of a waiting Father. His continual pity never stops. The Holy Spirit pulls us straight. He urges us to keep away from the side streets. Focus on Jesus, on the cross to which you are called. If you fall off, that's the way back on. AMEN
Rev. Lloyd E. Gross