Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
Does a seed die when you plant it?
At least not biologically. Metaphorically, sure. It dies to its “seedness” and becomes something else. Biologically it transforms into what it was always meant to become…a plant…but not just any plant a specific kind of plant. Several verses beyond our reading today Jesus points this out, “Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush,” driving home the point that it is from the abundance of the treasures of our hearts that good or evil comes. “A good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil…” he says. Which puts us right back into that binary trap we found ourselves in last week, with good people producing good, and evil people producing evil…and which side are you on?
But I ended last week by insisting that if we are to have the mind of Christ, become living stones, be the body of Christ in the world, we have to move beyond—transcend—this binary view that is so easy for us to fall into. And seeds can be a helpful metaphor. At least Paul thinks so. So does Jesus.
Paul loves this image of a seed being planted, dying, and then rising again in a different form: “What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable…Sown in dishonor…raised in glory….Sown in weakness…raised in power…Sown a physical body…raised in a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15: 42-44), and “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies” (1 Cor. 15: 36). Jesus says something similar in John: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12: 24).
Seeds don’t really die when you plant them…they are inert…but they are full of potential. Which is true of all things: seeds and mature plants: as Japanese poet Ikkyu Sojun wrote, “If you break open the cherry tree, Where are the flowers? But in the spring time, see how they bloom!” The same is true of us. What depths, what graces do we contain…in potential? We are certainly not the same as we once were…Nor have reached the fullness of what we are to become…we await our own blooming…
Like seeds we have our protective shells. Life comes at us, and stuff happens and we build up our defensive shells. Our binary brains work because they protect us. We learn quickly that fire is always hot, and cars are always real. We construct a reality around us with our dualistic—either/or brains—a protective barrier that surrounds us and enables us to get through our days and our work. But at some point, those shells crack. As Richard Rohr points out, “The dualistic mind cannot process things like infinity, mystery, God, grace, suffering, sexuality, death, or love.” And so we stumble over those things. Or try to get rid of them…or ignore them and hope they go away.
The work of transcending our dualistic—binary—minds, means cracking open that shell…and gaining access to, and experiencing the soft, vulnerable, potential inside. Which is exactly where Jesus takes us today. He pelts us with all of these examples of the ways our hard outer shells are cracked open, and the potential…non-dual—both/and—responses that are possible.
All of the things he mentions in that first paragraph…I read those as aspirational goals…buds on the tree…things I might be able to do…eventually…Jesus is almost always pointing to the end of the path (it’s where he is…); but most of us are somewhere much further back…we’re seeds that have just fallen, or barley started to sprout…He’s a full grown plant…What he says today—that’s where the path leads…and if your seed falls on this path…the ground of love…the path of Christ…this is the kind of plant you can grow into…eventually.
Planted in the soil of love, and with God’s help you can grow into doing good to those who hate you; blessing those who curse you, praying for an abuser; lending; giving; doing good with no expectations…not judging…not condemning…forgiving…
That’s where it starts…that’s the first sprout that needs to take root. Forgiveness is the beginning of the path…Jesus likes the topsy-turvy (the low are lifted up, the mighty are brought low), you sometimes have to turn things around to see what he’s doing. Today he starts with the end of the path and ends with the beginning. Forgiveness is where it starts. Once our hard outer seed coating has been cracked open, and the possibility and necessity of forgiveness becomes all too real…then gradually, slowly you can begin to grow. And that can be painful…and can feel a little like dying. It is some of the hardest work we will ever do. Being broken open…and learning how to forgive…and be forgiven. Of all the words in our church lexicon, “forgive” (in all its forms) is maybe the most misunderstood.
One of the great, living saints of our church, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has done a lot of work on forgiveness. He knows first hand about how hard it can be having lived it in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa following the end of apartheid. He and his daughter co-authored a book on forgiveness, called: The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World, and in it they write:
“Some find forgiveness difficult because they believe forgiving means forgetting the pain they have suffered. I can say unequivocally that forgiving does not mean forgetting the harm. It does not mean denying the harm. It does not mean pretending the harm did not happen or the injury was not as bad as it really was. Quite the opposite is true. The cycle of forgiveness can be activated and completed only in absolute truth and honesty [that’s the ground of love]. Forgiving requires giving voice to the violations and naming the pains we have suffered. Forgiving does not require that we carry our suffering in silence or be martyrs on a cross of lies. Forgiveness does not mean that we pretend things are anything other than they are.”
When our protective shells are cracked open, the ground often feels hard, and unwelcome, and painful…There is always hurt…and pain…and shame…and sorrow…and grief…when we engage in the work of reconciliation. But if we allow our hearts to put roots out into the ground of love, we will grow. This is the work we are being invited into. This is the work God calls us to…This is the work we will have some wonderful opportunities to practice this Lent as we engage in the workshop Liberating Ourselves from Racism.
I urge you to keep in mind…that the ground we are on is love…and that Jesus today stands way at the end of the path…and many of us…(most of us) are still way back at the beginning. There’s a lot of protective seed coatings out there…a lot of cracks…a lot of damage…And we may not be ready for this path. So to help us all prepare: I offer this prayer to you. A prayer from Archbishop Tutu from the Book of Forgiving, that we can all pray before we begin the work of Lent.
“Prayer before the Prayer
I want to be willing to forgive
But I dare not ask for the will to forgive
In case you give it to me
And I am not yet ready
I am not yet ready for my heart to soften
I am not yet ready to be vulnerable again
Not yet ready to see that there is humanity in my tormentor’s eyes
Or that the one who hurt me may also have cried
I am not yet ready for the journey
I am not yet interested in the path
I am at the prayer before the prayer of forgiveness
Grant me the will to want to forgive
Grant it to me not yet but soon
Can I even form the words
Dare I even look?
Do I dare to see the hurt I have caused?
I can glimpse all the shattered pieces of that fragile thing
That soul trying to rise on the broken wings of hope
But only out of the corner of my eye
I am afraid to see
How can I not be afraid to say
Is there a place we can meet?
You and me
The place in the middle
the no man’s land
Where we straddle the lines
Where you are right
and I am right too
And both of us are wrong and wronged
Can we meet there?
And look for that place where the path begins?
The path that ends when we forgive.” [Book of Forgiving]