Ezekiel 17: 22-24; II Cor 5: 6-10; Mark 4: 26-34
Well, it’s good to know that after some 2000 years of history Saint Paul still manages to find his way into public debate as we heard this past week when it comes to families being separated at the border. He, probably more than anyone else in Scripture, is the most misinterpreted and abused writer in the Bible. His writings have a way of being weaponized in order to defend things that aren’t intended, all in the name of God.
Paul, though, writes much more from a mystical point of view following his conversion, which makes him so misunderstood. He, maybe only second to John, have the ability to do what many of the other writers cannot, that being able to stand in the tension. Paul understands the reality of his own day and the many struggles that are faced, injustices and abuses, but he always keeps an eye on the prize. He doesn’t see it as either or but rather sees both as long as we live on this earth and does everything try to stand in that place of tension because he understands the consequences when you don’t.
Here’s a guy, writing to Corinth today, who comes to a place where he understands the necessity of the law, body, ego, how every you want to describe it, but also love. Paul lived a life separated from love and made the law into his own god. It’s what made him so callous and just a ruthless leader, leading to the murder of early Christians and charging others with murdering them. He was ruthless because there was no heart. It’s not that Paul then miraculous abandons the law. Again, he understand the value and it’s necessity while here but it must be held in tension with the heart, with love, otherwise the leaders to become ruthless. In the end, he knows, that love wins out because that’s the prize he keeps his eye on and that all else will pass away. We are, for Paul, all citizens in exile seeking shelter, seeking a home. We, as a country, can learn something much deeper from Paul in the way we live our lives. We want to say we’re a country of laws, and it is necessary; but when it becomes a god in and of itself, we too become ruthless towards people. It’s part of our history and continues to be a part of our history to this day. There are tremendous implications when we separate from the heart, from love, from God. Paul stands in that tension and we must as well. The same is true without the law. We stand for nothing and have no principle. Paul reminds his community that both are necessary. He speaks to the elites of his own day and to ours. They tried to exclude the poor and those deemed less worthy or a threat to their way of life. We’re told so well today, walk by faith and not by sight.
It’s the underlying message of the gospel today as well as the farmer, in a nonsensical kind of way, tosses seeds everywhere, which to the naked eye seems wasteful. However, that’s not necessarily the point. The farmer knows better than anyone about what happens in places that cannot be seen with the eye. Now I’m not talking about the corporate farmers of our day. Rather, these guys knew the land better than anything. They kept their ear to the ground and learned to have utter trust and faith. Once the seeds fall into the darkened earth it’s beyond the control of the farmer. As a matter of fact, if the farmer tries to control it we know the result. There’s no produce in order for him and his family to live. He does to the earth that which Paul did to the people. We become even ruthless towards the earth, thinking it’s our and we can control it. Yet, deep down lies the heart of God, beating in the depths of the darkness making something happen that just can’t be seen. The farmer knows it takes trust, it takes a great deal of faith, and a great deal of patience when you walk through the darkness of the earth. Yet, it’s where God does God’s best work. To the eye it seems foolish what the farmer does. To the eye it seems as if we should be able to control this the way we want. To the eye we become disconnected from our heart and without the heart there is no love and certainly no God.
Paul probably consistently turns over in his grave. It’s not only politicians, but also religious leaders, who take things out of context, use scripture as a weapon, and allow politics to define faith and God rather than allowing just the opposite. That’s the brilliance of Paul. He doesn’t avoid the realities of his own time. He understands the injustices, the abuses, and everything else because that was his life! He knows it and lived it. Now, though, he stands in that tension of this life while waiting the unfolding of the kingdom, the tension of law and love, the tension of mind and heart because he knows the implications when not. Paul sees as God sees and helps to redefine what is in that context all while trusting what cannot be seen. For Paul, you have no other choice but to walk through the darkened earth and all that comes with it, the chaos, the fear, the anxiety, because it’s only in the unknown where the farmer learns to trust and to have faith, even the size of a mustard seed.
We pray not only for ourselves but for our country and world that like Paul, we reconnect with our heart, with love, with God, to soften where we have become callous and ruthless towards others while not losing what it is we believe and defines us. Like Paul, we need to learn to live in that place of tension and to trust and have patience that so many that have gone before us, God will see us through and new life will grow from the darkness and the cedar will once again bloom. The more we separate, exclude, fear, live in anxiety, and begin to believe that it’s about only what we see with our eyes, we literally lose sight of what is most important, what we cannot see and yet always at work deep within us for we are called, as Paul tells Corinth, to walk by faith and not by sight. We are called to trust what we cannot see and like the farmer, keep our hearts and ears close to the ground for when the Lord has spoken, so will the Lord do. We pray for the grace to walk by faith and not by sight, even if it means walking in the darkest of days.