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July 12, 2020 Matthew 13:1-9;18-23 On the Rocks

 Holy One, Beloved Christ, Spirit of Grace and Gentleness,
Plant your word in our hearts
Make us your garden, your vineyard, your field,
and bless us with your gifts of light and love.
Plant your word in us, and by your grace, make it grow.
Be in my words, may they be true and faithful to the gospel.
And may our understandings be a blessing to you. AMEN

hat kind of a farmer/gardener/sower scatters seeds everywhere and expects them to grow? Either he was very wasteful or very confident. We know from the story Jesus tells that the seeds did not all thrive. They each responded to their environment, and grew accordingly.

Some fell on the path, and the birds ate them.
Some fell on rocky ground, and they grew quickly, then withered.
Some fell among thorns and were choked.
Some fell in good soil and thrived.

Jesus is asking us to give some thought to our discipleship. What kind of soil are we?
 We can all point to examples of when we have been very excited about a project (like most of our New Year’s resolutions). Like the seed falling on the path, we start off well. After a week or two, we lose interest, and give up. Or a crisis happens and we are needed. Or like the seed in the weeds, our energy gets choked by other demands. We get busy.

It is pretty tempting to feel guilty and wonder: Are we good enough for the seed to flourish in us? Are we doing enough? Prayerful enough? Thankful enough? Generous enough? These are fair questions, for us as individuals, as a church and as a country. But I am not sure that this is what Jesus is asking us.

Parables are very playful riddle-like stories, and just when we think we have the answer, we get turned on our heads, and VOILA! we get a new view.

If Jesus is asking us what kind of disciples we are, why don’t we answer with another question (this is very good practice—very in line with Jesus’ Jewish roots)?
What kind of sower are you, Jesus? Why are you spreading seeds all over the place?
This hard-scrabble path, worn down from generations of being walked on, is not going to change. We are comfortable with our cultural norms and well-worn traditions.
You planted seeds in the rocky places, but you know when tribulation comes, the seed will wither. You know, Jesus, that trials will wear us down, and we will be tempted to give up.

Is that why you planted the seed there in the first place, Jesus, not because we are flourishing, but because you know when trials come, we might realize how much we need you?

The sower knows that in this place, where nothing happens according to plans or our own efforts, this place of disappointment or disaster, is where faith grows.

 This faith is not a system for problem-solving or strategic change. Faith is not a system of beliefs or doctrines, it is an awareness of a presence, of something or someone beyond our own ability or understanding. It is the willingness to trust in a relationship with the unknown.

 It is a trust that even at the worst of times, we are held in love. We are in what Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, [in his book Being Disciples, p. 25] calls “a dependable relationship...We can be held even when we don’t feel we can hold on.”

We are transformed by this relationship.
We don’t grow as planned. We grow in faith, that gives us a whole new way of being in the world. We are changed, and we see the world differently.

 Change happens at the speed of relationship, one relationship at a time.

 Sufiya Begum was a young mother of three, living with her family in a mud hut in in the village of Jobra, in Bangladesh in the 1970’s, not long after the terrible famine, when she met Mohammed Yunis. Yunis was an economics professor, studying the impact of the famine on poverty. 

At the start of everyday, Sufiya borrowed 22 cents from the village middleman, to buy enough bamboo to weave the seat of a wooden stool. At the end of the day, the middleman would buy the stool, giving her 2 cents profit

for her whole day’s work.

She worked all day weaving, but was never able to lift her family out of poverty. She relied on the loan to provide her with the cash she needed to buy the bamboo. One of the conditions of the middleman was that he would have exclusive right to buy all the finished wooden stools at the price he set.

 “Why don’t you ask the moneylender?” Yunus asked. His rates were too high. “Ask the bank?” No bank would lend to a woman, and what bank would lend 22 cents?

Yunus went though the village and met 42 other victims of this brutal system of lending. In total, the debts were the equivalent of 27 dollars.

“The poor taught me an entirely new economics,” Yunus remembers. “I learned about the problems they face from their own perspective.” Unlike the rich, who hold the world in the palm of their hands, the poor see the world “from a worm’s eye view.”

 From this perspective, Yunus developed a system of lending money to the very poor called “Grameen Bank”. He developed what he called “Solidarity lending”, also known as microcredit. The goal was to lift people out of poverty, to create sustainable prosperity, built on human trust.

This system of microfinance spread exponentially and has transformed millions of lives.

 One of the criteria for getting a loan includes working toward living in a good house. In 1984 Grameen applied to the Central Bank for money set up a housing loan program to help. borrowers build houses. He was turned down. The bank said that 125-dollar loan would not be enough to build suitable housing.

He applied again, proposing the idea of “shelter loans”. He was rejected again. The bank insisted that their borrowers could not afford loans that would not generate income.

He tried again, this time for help setting up loans to build factories. Ince people worked from their homes, he insisted they qualified as “factories.” Turned down again.

So he went directly to the governor of the Central Bank, its founder. “The poor cannot risk not paying their loans,” he explained. This is the only chance they have.” Grameen Bank was then allowed to add housing loans to their range of services. (story from WIKIPEDIA)

Since its foundation, Grameen Bank has expanded and become a multi-million-dollar system of microfinance, based on two principles: “An institution that would lend to those who had nothing.”

The Grameen Community Development Bank has over 20 thousand employees now. There are over 2,500 branches in more than 43 countries. This system of microfinance is controversial, and has experienced its own trials over the generation since Unus met Sufiya selling her bamboo stools.

There are as many stories as there are borrowers. When some of the borrowers became wealthy, did their joy wither? Did they get choked by the temptations of greed?

A sower went out to sow. On the path, on the rocky ground, in the thorns, in good soil.

He was not afraid of wasting seed. God knows where faith grows.

God never gives up on us. Today, in the hot sun and dry garden, in your cool house or in the shade of a big tree over your deck, listen, and be ready to grow, because God’s seed is already planted in you. And God never gives up.
You can depend on this, forever and always. AMEN

Prayers of the People:
Gracious and Loving God, Holy One, Creator and Sustainer,
You have invited us to be your disciples.
We are trying to be willing, hoping to be fertile, praying to be welcoming.
Forgive us when we are also reserved:
when we hold back our rights to say: We am not ready;
when we make choices that say: but that is not what we want;
when we say: but that is not what we meant.
Into the beauty of this summer day, bring our hearts to wonder,
open us to beauty and amaze us with your growing earth.
Turn us and move through us until we are transformed:
Give us ears to hear the cries of our brothers and sisters
who raise their voices in protest against systems that discriminate
against them because of their colour or race or origins.
Help us to join them with voices of understanding and love
and humility.
Give us eyes to see your life in each person, and to cherish them,
even our enemies, because we trust you will guide us
in the hard places, where we don’t know what to do or say.
Bless your church, may we be a place that supports healthy growth
and loving action.
May the seeds of our prayer be a rich offering to you,
and a blessing to your world, as we join our prayers...

Our Father...