Okay, I need a few volunteers. Take some seeds. Okay, now, would you please turn them into flowers? Go ahead, I’ll give you a minute or two…
Okay, who changed their seed to a flower? No? Why not? What do you need to make it grow? So once it grows and buds, could you pull apart the petals and make it bloom?
There are some things that we can’t do. We can't physically pull a flower from the seed. We can help, we can prepare the conditions, but ultimately no work can directly do what God does. Can you tell by looking at it what will grow from it? Probably not. Once in a while, we can see the potential, maybe we do recognize some seeds, and know it’s there, but not necessarily what exact form it will take. Height, color, etc.
In Isaiah, we hear that God is doing a new thing, making a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. God sees the potential and the exact form of the seeds that are there. God creates it and makes it grow. Our Psalmist echoes this sentiment by stating that God does the great things, and we simply rejoice.
We can tend the soil, prepare ourselves and get the right elements to feed the plant, but ultimately, we can’t make it grow. When we think we’re making it happen, we become like the people Paul warns us about—those justified by the law and by flesh. Paul tells us that we can’t live that way anymore, because justification with God for us, comes by grace through faith. We live not in pursuit of that truth, but in response to it, because Christ Jesus has made us his own.
These new things are God’s doing. We can only tend the soil, make preparations and offer these new things space to happen.
What does tending the soil look like? Well, to begin with, we have identified ourselves as part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Evangelical. To share the Good News. Believe it or not, this is a two-way street. We can’t just talk at people, telling others about our experiences with God…though that’s part of it. We also have to ask and listen to others about where God is seen. Where the Holy Spirit is at work in everyone’s life, not just ours.
When we do that, we truly share our experience of God, and maybe, just maybe, by asking others where they see God, we might invite those around us to begin thinking about where God is really at work in their life as well. In short, we offer a bigger picture and understanding to ourselves and those around us. We tend the soil and make an opportunity for the hidden seeds to grow.
If we get overly self-righteous, only think of ourselves, we miss what’s going on right in front of our nose. Just look at Judas in our gospel lesson. They are professing that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one, but until this reading, John doesn’t report that anyone has actually anointed him. Judas gets so worried about the extravagance of the perfume that he misses something hugely important. Mary has just anointed Jesus’ feet.
Stop the presses.
Jesus is the Messiah—the Anointed One—and the first person reported by John to actually anoint him is Lazarus’ sister Mary? A female? This second-class citizen? She is then lifted up as a model of discipleship—talk about something new going on.
Do we see it when it happens? If we take time to look at it, we might catch a glimpse of what’s going on. However, when we box ourselves into our own models and modes and ways we’ve always only ever known, we miss the new stuff. Paul got rattled out of that set pattern, Judas didn’t. There’s probably a reason these Scripture readings have been put together for today. There are common themes running through, complimenting and completing each other.
Another thing about soil, though is that it’s not thrown out entirely. We might add to it, water it, weed it out, but we can’t get rid of it. We have to strike a balance. The thing about soil is, it is old…literally as old as dirt. We care for tradition, but allow that tradition to speak in new ways, create new traditions, grow something beautiful.
God shows up in unexpected ways and places. In Isaiah, it’s in the wilderness, where the ostriches and jackals praise God, and a wandering people are the chosen ones of God. In our Psalm, God shows up with those who suffer and sow with tears. For Paul, God shows up through Christ, which throws everything that used to be important out the window. His Pharisaic status, his righteousness through the law, his persecution of the church in the name of that righteousness are overturned. In the gospel, God shows up through the extravagance of a second-class citizen, the woman Mary of Bethany, sister to Lazarus. The mere fact that she is defined by her male relative shows her status in society. Yet that is where God is.
Where is God today—for us? Are we watching for those new ways and places God is working, are we caring for the soil so something beautiful can grow? Or are we getting stuck in an old pattern—so stuck that we can’t see the new life and growth?
We care for the soil and watch for the life that springs from it, because the soil isn’t the end all be all in this metaphor. The soil isn’t the goal, the new life is. That new life is where God is creating, doing, and working.
We can tell others where we see God and ask where they do, too. We can find meaning for our current lives in ancient words like Scripture and Creed. We can follow Jesus’ teachings and listen to God’s commands. And we can look for the new things God is doing right now today. We can watch for the movement of the Holy Spirit in our world, our community, and our lives.
We have the chance to evangelize, or share God, to preserve tradition, and to live faithfully—to care for the soil. And we can rejoice when we see where the Holy Spirit is infusing and inspiring new life in our faith. Amen.