You can join this week’s worship service by visiting: https://youtu.be/g5ZkTySCKa8
Below, you’ll find Andy’s reflection and prayers for this week.
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: Mark 4: 3-9
Music: Take, O Take Me As I Am; Three Things I Promise
The inventor of the Dyson Cyclone vacuum cleaner, James Dyson, apparently went through 5,126 prototypes before alighting on the one we know now. He says that each failure helped him learn something crucial to the overall design. His mother might have said that each failure kept him living in the basement rent-free for another day, but she still loved him.
A great batting average in baseball is that a hitter will get on base three times out of every ten appearances at the plate. That means that a great hitter, getting paid millions of dollars, fails seven out of ten times. We fail more often than we succeed; failure is an integral part of learning and discovery. And yet, we are incredibly uncomfortable talking about it.
In the parable of the Sower and the Soils, seed is cast onto different soils – fruitful, rocky, thorny, and dry – and it’s clear that not every attempt to grow something has an equal chance of working. Mark immediately cashes out the metaphor and that each unyielding soil is like a kind of half-baked faith. Some seem destined to fail, others are non-committal, others still are distracted by worldly things.
From experience, I know it’s a helpful parable for ministry: not every church program takes off, not every sermon lands; not every strategic plan takes hold; not every aspect of a congregational vision comes to pass. But the source of courage I find in this otherwise matter-of-fact tale about failure, is that the Sower keeps on sowing. Soil, rock, thorn; the Sower keeps on sowing.
There’s something very strange about this abundance – it doesn’t make sense. And because Mark moves so swiftly from metaphor to interpretation, we can be forgiven for skipping right over what I think is the first and most obvious question: why would anyone, least of an experienced Sower, throw seed on rocky ground in the first place? If it likely won’t take root, why waste good seed on thorny brush?
As people of faith, we know that our church has rich soil that has given life to many people and to God’s mission of peace with justice. And yet, this past few weeks, we have also been reminded of our abject failure – as a church, and as a nation – with the discovery of mass graves at the sites of former residential schools in Kamloops and in Cowessess. This is more than the thorny soil of history, or the rocky soil of regret; this soil has hidden the bones of children; it is our Gologtha and, sadly, it will not be the last.
At times like this, it can be hard to know how to respond. Some Indigenous leaders have asked us simply not to respond immediately, to calm the ego part of us that wants to fix and solve, and instead to understand that the overwhelming grief over these children is not about us: this is a time for us to listen. It reminds me of what a friend once said to me that, after 500 years of settlers telling Indigenous people who and what they are, it was time for us to listen for the next 500 years to what our Indigenous neighbours have to say.
I also remember from my years singing in the Chapel at King’s College in Halifax that, each week, we would pray together, “we have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.” It’s a confession; more specifically, it’s what’s called a General Confession, because it’s said by the minister and all of the people.
They say that confession is good for the soul, but no one says that it’s easy. It didn’t feel good to name the brokenness in my life. But without honesty, how was I ever going to grow and heal? Eventually, though, I began to see and hear God’s love for me even in my imperfection and failures, even in the soils of which I was not proud. In Jesus, God made sure that I wasn’t alone in those places. In fact, God was searching for me, waiting for me, even there; even in the rocky, thorny and parched places of my life.
In my years as the chair of what was called the Aboriginal Working Group of the Maritime Conference, I had the good fortune to learn from teaching elders more about residential schools and their legacy. I learned more about settler Canada’s reluctance to live into the Peace and Friendship treaties signed by our ancestors with the sovereign Indigenous nations of this land. But I also learned a lot more about grace. Not once, during my time with this group, did a single elder direct anger at me, shame me or my church, or make me answer for all of settler Canada.
Quite the opposite, in fact: I was invited into a relationship of trust. That took time. At times I was hesitant, other times I made mistakes. Yet, over and over, I was invited into the circle. I was invited to share responsibility for what we do now, together; for the work of listening and honouring the stories and experiences, of our neighbours; for the work of addressing systemic racism in our churches and nation; for the work of healing through deepening relationship with all creation. I was invited not into a passive guilt, but into an active honesty.
Episcopal deacon and author Tricia Gates Brown puts it well, “Obviously, our moral missteps do hurt people, and our collective sins lead to institutional oppressions… This can’t be taken lightly or brushed off. Instead we must stay awake to what they can teach us. Often, it is failure that wakes us up, helps us to confront the loneliness we feel in our self-imposed exile from God and others, and makes us long for home. Failure is key to growth in the spiritual life, because it is the only thing strong enough to break the illusions of the ego.”
Jesus shows us the kind of love God has for us. The Sower keeps on sowing, in the rocky and ripened soil alike, in the promising and the parched. God lavishes upon all people and all creation the self-giving love that roots all healing and redemption. As Brown concludes, “If we actually encounter who we are by falling into divine mercy and embrace, then we can stop trying so hard to be right and pure. When we fail and fall, it is not the end, it is the beginning.” Amen.
Creator, Great Spirit, whose compassion has been known in our lives more times than we can count, we open our hearts and souls to you, to the needs of your people and the whole of creation.
In prayer today, we remember the children of Kamloops and of Cowessess. We remember their families and communities. We remember their fear, their pain, and their death. And we pray… We pray for ears to hear their stories. We pray for eyes to see the legacy of residential schools. We pray for hearts open to receive our neighbours as they are, even when it makes us uncomfortable. We pray for strength enough for the years of healing we desire will come. Gracious God, hear our prayer.
We acknowledge the great injustices perpetrated against those who lived on and cared for this land long before our ancestors arrived. We pray that with compassion and humility we will continue to make ourselves aware of the impact of systemic racism, injustice and inequality for many of our brothers and sisters. Strengthen us to listen deeply, and to become allies in the cause of peace.
We pray too for all who are ill, in body and in spirit; for those who are isolated and feeling alone; for those in care and for all who are facing major changes; we pray for wisdom, courage, insight and hope. For those working to keep us safe while placing themselves at risk, we pray for their safety. For those working from home and for those who face this time alone, we pray that they may feel your presence.
Holy One, these are trying times. We are beginning a time of reunion after such long periods apart. There are still many who cannot see their loved ones, and for them, we pray for patience and strength. Help us to reach out to one another in the ways we can; help us to be resilient and to hold on to the hope you promise.
God of Love, we pray for all our friends and family, our church family and the broader community. Gather us in heart and mind, uphold us in our faith, and send us into the world, by your Spirit, to share your Word of Love. We pray in the name of Jesus, who became the Christ, Our Father… Amen.