Matthew 13: 17
June 13, 2014
Peg Papsch

When Elizabeth first sent out this summer's preaching schedule during her absence, I went straight to the lectionary to see the suggested texts for with dismay I saw this parable and I didn't want to preach on something so simple and easy to understand.  I looked at alternative texts, prayed, and continued to fight with myself until I joined others from Peace Church at Montreat.  I signed up for an art workshop led by an old friend I hadn't seen in several years.  As I walked into her classroom, I noticed this stole hanging on a bulletin board along with several others.  Brenda, who also made several of the other stoles Elizabeth wears, had made it to address the theme, "Food for the world." I knew that this was the text God wanted me to study and share with you.

Let's pray,   Prepare our hearts, Oh Lord, to hear you Word.  Silence in us any voice but your own, so the hearing we may understand, and understanding, may be led to serve.   Amen

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake.Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” 10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” 11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.  14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.” 15 For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.  Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’[a]16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

It was the last week of summer camp at Kirkwood, Philadelphia Presbytery’s version of Cedarkirk, located in the heart of the Penna. Pocono Mountains – a green and wonderfully wild wilderness some 120 miles north of the teeming city of Philadelphia.  The college aged counselors were tired after 11 weeks of chasing down hundreds of active children some of them had already returned to school, and the rest were distracted with their upcoming plans.   So, this week was dubbed MAD Camp – music, Art, and drama, and an experienced team of us had been recruited to come and lead the group of 5th through 8th graders in various art experiences which had been added to the regular schedule of outdoor adventures.  That would give the counselors some down time each day  About 100 kids had come with musical instruments, cameras, notebooks full of poems and stories, liturgical dance or step team routines, and a variety of other talents and abilities.  That year, however, the schedule coincided with the end of the day camp program at Chester East Side Ministries, our Presbytery’s inner City mission in Chester City – regularly ranked as 1st, 2nd, or 3rd poorest city in the U.S. So, add to the mix another 2 dozen youngsters with little or no art experience or interests, and lacking in social skills.

I was Pastor in residence that week charged with planning daily worship services using as many of the children as wanted to be involved each day. On Wed. morning the volunteers and I were meeting in the outdoor chapel in the woods, on a hill that overlooked the main camp area.  All was going well, until I realized that everyone’s attention had shifted away from planning, and toward the field below.  Turning to look down the hill I saw one counselor walking and talking with a small, obviously reluctant youngster.  “Oh, no,” gasped one sweet youngster, “Is that PJ?”  peeped up another.  I knew about PJ.  He was notorious for misbehavior in the dining hall.  As they grew closer, we could begin to hear their ongoing argument. “Don’t wanna be in no worship service!”   “Sure you do, it’ll be fun. “Din’t sign up for this. I wanna play soccer. “  “No, see you signed up, there’s your name.”  “No, I din’”  They arrived at the clearing, and Tim, the counselor quickly disappeared, leaving me with an angry, defiant little 10 year old.  Ain’t gonna be in no worship service” he declared loudly.  “ell, ok, you don’t have to, but you do have to stay here until we finish.”   I counted on the truth that I had heard that inner city kids were afraid  of the wilderness.  “You know it’s too dangerous to walk around out here by yourself.”    It worked, he took a seat off to one side, still grumbling under his breath.

The service was planned around Jesus’ two passages where he says, first “I am the light of the world.”  And then, later,   “You are the light of the world.”  Busily passing parts to the eager youngsters, I almost missed the soft voice coming from the side.  “’ll do the Scripture” said PJ.  It was a challenge more than an offer., but I ignored the eager waving hands, and trying to sound encouraging,  I asked, “Which one do you want to do?”

“Don’t want to do neither of them.  I’ll do the 27th Psalm.”  I will remember that day for the rest of my life, although, for the life of me I couldn’t thin of a single word from that Psalm.  Calling on the old teacher’s trick, I asked “Say some of it for me.”    This scrawny little, angry faced, hunch shouldered child was transformed.   Standing erect, his head held  high, he announced loudly and definitively “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear.”  The Lord is the stronghold of of my life, of whom shall I be afraid? ”  and he continued flawlessly through all 14 verses of the 27th Psalm, which concludes  “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord. Be strong and let your heart take courage.  Wait for the Lord.” It seemed as if even the birds and crickets kept silent.  It took some time for all of us to compose ourselves.

Children in Chester face many challenges, poverty, gangs, drugs abuse, you name it/ As the planning time ended, I asked PJ to stay behind.  "Tell me, did your father teach you that?"  The small resistant, scowling child was back.  "Don't have no father."  How about your mom?"  "She in jail.  My Gran taught me."  "Oh, that's great, will she be here on Saturday for the closing?"  "She dead."  It was barely a whisper  So, how did this Word of God sprout in this example of hard between down, rocky, thorn infested life?     "I be in a foster home."  he ventured.  "How is that?"     PJ shrugged, "Ok, he be tough but they nice enough and I have my own bed." With that we had come to the main campgrounds and he scampered away to play soccer.  I watched him the rest of the week, but our eyes never met again, and on Saturday he was gone.

I wondered about him from time to time, and checked each time I heard or saw in the news about another youth killing in Chester  I had learned that his name was Walter, PJ had been given him at camp because he wouldn't eat any of the healthy food we served,  just peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  I never found him in the news, thank God.   Fast forward six years.  The Presbytery youth council was planning a spring retreat at the Atlantic coast.  As staff support, I was checking in the councilmembers. Into the room strode a tallish, well- groomed, self-assured  African American teen with a broad smile.  After greeting all his friends, his gaze fell on me.  His grin was even more broad as he came toward me. "Remember me?"  I gasped, PJ!  Now I was not a hugger at that point in my life, and anyway, old, grey-haired white women didn't go around hugging African American teen aged boys, but I hugged him that afternoon.  He had, once again been transformed.  The foster parents with whom he had been placed were a couple from the only Presbyterian Church in Chester. Charlie Warren was clerk of Session, and his wife was volunteer secretary two days a week.  When PJ's mother had signed over her parental rights, they had adopted him right away, and brought him up to know and love God The parable of the sower took on flesh and blood.  The sermon could probably end right here, you all get the point.

Gardening in Jesus' day was a far cry from agriculture today.  The gardener in fact did scatter seed indiscriminately across the land, and then rake it around to cover it with soil. How wasteful  But, you know, God is just like that - no tidy, straight rows in carefully prepared beds for God.  The gardener God just  tosses the Word, His love, around everywhere, for anyone at all to grow up there - open hearts, closed heart, enriched hearts, grief stricken hearts, oppressed hearts and oppressing hearts struggling poverty stricken hearts, even middle class and wealthy hearts.  God isn't partial, God wants to bless everyone  It certainly isn't the way of our culture today.  Where did this idea of caring for every living being come from?  Well, it got its roots  in the early history of the Hebrew people, and by extension into Jesus' time all the way into our thoughts today.  In the midst of Leviticus - the Law Book of the Hebrews.  Right in the middle of the Torah the Sacred text comes the Holiness Code - the moral imperative of the people God identified as a holy people .came this imperative.  Do not harvest your crops to the ends of your field.  Do not pick up produce that falls to the ground; leave it for the poor,  It also made it's way into the story of Ruth, and also into 21st century Peace Church, where I understand you have participated in gathering the gleanings from gardens to give to the Manatee Food Cupboard.

Jesus' disciples asked why he talked in parables.  He told them, "To you has been given to understand the secret of the Kingdom of God. The parables as parables are simply to show how God's extravagant love is poured out  Those of us who have received that love are called upon to do the rest - cultivate, harvest and share Even as we have worked here at Peace Church to beautiful the wonderful garden of Peace, pulling weeds, cutting down invasive plants and trees, emending soil, clearing rocks, so we have also  welcomed strangers  into the midst,  shared the faith with others, helped the needy, making our lives and this community witnesses of what God can do.  With just a day's notice, a week or two ago, a group of folks from Peace gathered at Beth-El, and in a few hour had filled about 200 bags of groceries for farmworker - those folks who harvest the fresh foods we eat, and a paid meager wages.  200 families had meals for a week because Peace shared God's love in a tangible way. That is the secret we know and live here whether it is packing food, giving of our means, beautifying this place so that it becomes more and more appealing to others who need to receive a measure of God's love to be added to their lives; however we continue this age old faith driven , plowing, sowing, cultivating, harvesting and sharing, we keep this parable alive and growing.  It can be a word of encouragement to someone in the office where we work, a hand across the shoulder of a sorrowing acquaintance, even a quick prayer uttered on behalf of another just as we are falling asleep, we are building up the Kingdom of God this Sunday.