The Seed of God is in Us
The Third Sunday of Advent
December 16, 2012
The Reverend William Flanders, Adjunct Clergy
On Friday morning, as most, if not all, of us now know, a supposedly deranged young man, just out of his teens, shot and killed twenty very young school children, six adults, including teachers, and even, earlier at home, his mother. The killings took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School, just outside the. little community of Newtown, in Connecticut - the state in which I was born and spent the first third of my life.
As this tragedy took place Friday, I was finishing my sermon for today. It was built around an insight by Meister Eckhart, the medieval mystic theolgian who said: “The seed of God is in us, If you are intelligent and hardworking, it will thrive and grow up into God, whose seed it is.” I didn’t learn until late Friday afternoon about the shooting. Being able to place Newtown, where my parents had had a good friend, heightened the shock. And, of course, I couldn’t help but wonder what relevance, if any, my dear sermon had to this new situation of fear and grief and the feeling that “it was happening all over again”?
We heard the President on the evening news. We saw his tears, and his hesitation to say what might be done to help prevent such unthinkable occurences. They were our tears, and our hesitation, or maybe lack of resolve. Editorialists on Saturday morning called once again for some kind of gun control. Their words were heart-felt, if not convincing. Where, from the President on down, was the political will? Where even was the very political possibility, given this Supreme Court’s ruling on the second amendment?
And so here we sit or maybe huddle together, on the “Sunday after,” wondering what we can do more than shed tears and offer prayers, perhaps take up a collection. I am going to begin a new sermon by turning to today’s gospel reading - something I do not always feel bound to do. Listen to the well-known words of John the Baptist: “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful that I is coming...He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Whatever John, and Luke the gospel writer, meant by this, Jesus’ s manner of baptism came to have nothing to do with ceremony, and was in no way spooky or churchy. It was intensely intimate, a person to person exchange, a healing, an empowering. Moreover, Jesus kept telling his friends and followers: “You can do this, too! You can and will do even greater things!”
I think Jesus knew, he was convinced in his bones, that, as Eckhart would say some twelve hundred years later, the seed of God is in us. The fire of his intensely personal form of baptism was his ability to bring other people to believe this, and to act upon it.
But wait a minute... If the seed of God is in us, in each one of us, then that seed was also in Hitler, and Stalin, and Osama bin Laden, and in these very shooters at Columbine and Virginia Tech and now Newtown. So what’s the point? Why even say it?
Because not every seed grows to fruition. And that isn’t just left up to chance. “If you are intelligent and hard working,” it is asserted, the seed of God in you “will thrive and grow up into God, whose seed it is.” In what has become my own belief, God is as close to us as we are to ourselves. If we want, and allow ourselves, to bear God, our “farming,” and the fruits of our labor, become God’s love and presence to others and to the world. This is true of all people. Not just Jews and Christians.
Perhaps the real tragedy of the Newtown shootings is that so many children, so many of God’s seeds, will not have the chance to grow into mature fruition. The world, and we, are poorer because of this. It takes strong, concentrated effort to internalize this; to have their loss come to mean more to us than our well-intentioned tribute.
Here is where we are tested by a Spirit we call Holy. Here is where, so to speak, we - you and certainly I - are tested by fire. Can we, somehow, be farmers for these children and teachers? Can we, in our lives, bring seeds to fruition that may prevent other children and teachers and high school and college students and our own city neighbors from being slaughtered?
Like others here, I used to give annually to the Brady Campaign for Gun Control. But over the years that cause seemed to diminish under the relentless attack of the NRA, the National Rifle Association. At present it seems our country can’t even pass a ban on assault rifles. Nor can we seem to find a way to enforce an effective means of keeping guns out of the hands of mentally troubled individuals.
Nonetheless, there are persons calling again for a renewed effort in gun control. Our President said on last Friday that, “These neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children. And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this.” The President then tacked on the unfortunate phrase, “Regardless of the politics.” What he meant, I believe, is “in spite of our political differences.” But those differences are terribly real, and by themselves will surely stifle common action.
We’ve got to rise above politics in this matter, or let the seeds of God within us wither and die. This must become a religious concern. It is on religious grounds that we must find common cause - with whomever - throughout this country. Or we will not have a cause, and God’s potential within us will be forsaken once again.
We are gathered today to worship God. And I ask of us, What might it mean to worship a God above and beyond us, but also within us? Is there something we are doing, or not doing, that prevents worship from strengthening us, as it should?
We began today’s worship with a collect chosen because it is designated in the common lectionary as the collect for this particular Sunday. We read it together as: “Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us...”
The words and images date back over many years, and we are drawn, by their eloquence, into their logic. But what is their logic?
First, that God, who is powerful but needs to be stirred up from time to time, exists somehow, somewhere, outside and apart from us. If we appeal to God in the right way, though, God will come among us. However, because we are, as the collect says, “sorely hindered by our sins,” we can’t do much for ourselves, but need God’s “bountiful grace and mercy [to] speedily help and deliver us.” Deliver us from what? The collect doesn’t say, but, presumably, it’s our sins - which can mean almost anything.
Most of us remember a rather standard post-communion collect that we’ve often said at St. Mark’s. It contains the words: “And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.” Again, there is eloquence here, but we might question the logic. Is God to be a kind of spiritual director whose directions are, as God sends us on our way, that we become [somehow] faithful witnesses of Christ? Or might God be also within us, helping us grow into persons who, in our own way and through our own decisions, might come to reflect the love and social involvement and tenacity of Christ?
We may well need a re-thinking of the words we use in our worship. In not only the collects and prayers, but even the hymns. Do they help us gain insight and resolve and plain courage? Or do they imply that we are unable to help ourselves - say nothing about helping others? It’s one thing, for instance, to sing that great hymn Come Labor On - if we sing it having already resolved to undertake a common but challenging cause. But it can ring rather hollow if we sing it just to shore up our good intentions.
At the end of this service we will be urged to “gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us” Those children and teachers in Connecticut leave siblings and parents and children behind who, under a heavy burden, still travel the way with us. How, in any real, meaningful way, can we gladden their hearts? Amen