Fr. Paul's homily
Each Monday I spend my day off in southern Johnson County, just a mile north of the beginning of Brown County. It is on the divide between the flat farm land of central Indiana and the rolling hills of southern Indiana. Each Monday evening, when I am driving home on Nineveh Road, there is a point when I come over a rise and see the sudden expanse of farmland, spreading out for several miles before me. This time of year, the sight is beautiful and impressive with the corn standing a foot tall and the soybeans filling thousands of acres of rich farm land. I love seeing this.
We live in the midst of beautiful farm land which, right now, is bursting with life and the hope of an abundant harvest. Therefore, we should be able to appreciate our Gospel for it too speaks of planting, harvesting and fruit. Let’s talk about this.
Our Gospel begins with the a story of how the Kingdom of God is like a man who scatters the seed, and without him understanding how it happens, it sprouts and grows, offering its harvest. In Jesus’ day, people did not understand what exactly happened when a seed was put into the ground, although today we can explain it better. Yet, even with our knowledge, the amazing story of a simple seed that produces a large plant with fruit, is a minor miracle of life.
How often does it happen that we plant our seeds, but do not understand how they grow and when they will produce good fruit? I suspect all of us have wondered about this: we do good things, we say good things, we witness to good things, but we don’t see any result. It is so easy today to lose patience and to become discouraged, saying “What difference does it make? Is all this worth my effort? I go to church, but I don’t see my life getting any better? I try to be a good example to my children, but they do the exact opposite? Why keep trying?” Have you ever asked these questions?
Maybe this parable is for us then! From the moment of the burial of the seed into the ground, to the moment that the seed first sprouts, the farmer must walk with complete faith. For days, he sees nothing happen. He does not have any assurance that the seeds will grow, and in fact, sometimes they may not. Yet, he plants and waits with faith. This is exactly what St. Paul was talking about in our second reading today, when he says that “While we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not be sight.” We walk by faith and not by sight…isn’t this what we are called to do in life?
--As a priest, I visit the sick and anoint them, but do I know it will help? I walk by faith and not by sight.
--We try to be understanding to a fellow employee, but nothing seems to change...we walk by faith and not be sight.
--We teach a Sunday School class to 8th graders but they don’t seem to care…we walk by faith and not by sight.
--we continue to reach out the needs of the poor, but poverty continues on…we walk by faith and not be sight.
Sometimes, we don’t see the results, yet can we trust that the planting of the seed is worth it? Recently a pastor in a large and influential congregation was asked what had inspired him. "Oh, it was a Sunday school teacher!" he replied. "I don’t remember a thing he taught us, but I do remember how much he loved us. He is the reason I am in the ministry. Five other students from that class are also ministers."
That Sunday school teacher died a long time ago. There were only about fifty people present at the funeral; most of his friends preceded him in death, but he was a very special person to many people. I do not know if he had influenced so many to enter the ministry? But,what a Christian! He loved God and showed it by his love and by his integrity. No "great shakes" by the world’s standards, but he walked by faith, and not by sight.
If the seeds that we plant “count”, then we need to be sure that we plant good seeds. This is the question that confronts each of us: “What seeds am I planting?” Common sense tells us that if I want corn, I can’t plant squash; if I want green beans, I can’t plant watermelon. We have to make sure that what we are putting into the ground, matches what we want to see come out of the ground!
If we want our children to respect their parents and grandparents, then we have to show respect in how we treat others and speak about them. If I am always bashing my boss, saying negative things about other people; if I say angry things at my spouse in front of the children, then how am I to expect my children to suddenly be respectful toward me? Respect is “caught”, as with most virtues of life.
If I want my children to be honest and truthful, yet I talk about how I “got away” with something on my taxes or I lied to the police officer who pulled me over, then don’t be surprised if they simply follow our example. If we want good fruit to come forth, we must make sure we are putting good seeds into the ground.
The final parable in the Gospel today describes the Kingdom of God like a mustard seed, which when planted is a very small seed, but when it grows, it becomes a large bush where all the birds of the air find shelter to nest. Jesus’ use of the mustard seed as an example of the Kingdom of God is a surprise, for the mustard plant was actually a large bush that grew everywhere. It was not particularly beauty or majestic…certainly not like the stately cedar tree that is used in the first reading. Mustard bushes were more functional, able to provide shelter for the birds that needed to place to build their nest.
If this is the Kingdom of God, then we need to be forming a community of faith that invites people to “nest” in our midst. We need to be developing a community where people feel welcome and they belong. For example, when I see a face in church that I do not recognize, what is my first reaction? Am I concerned with whether they are going to sit in “MY” seat? Am I looking at them with judgmental eyes, questioning their dress or their behavior?
Or, might I react with open arms? I scoot over to provide space, rather than guarding my aisle location. Maybe, I ask their name and thank them for sitting next to me! Maybe I make them my prayer partner during Mass and often frequent prayers to God for this new person. Maybe I speak with them as I leave church, rather than congregating with my regular crowd.
I think we have a beautiful church here at Holy Spirit. But that is not what God is primarily concerned about. God wants us to have a beautiful community where people belong and are welcome. People point out to me at times how important the priest is for the spirit of a parish, but I want to let you know, that the power of a welcoming community is what a stranger experiences in the pew. And if that experience is not good, nothing the priest says will change this impression.
So, today we are asked to be farmers!
--Know that we plant without knowing what happens next and sometimes God calls us to live by faith and not by sight.
--Second, we have to make sure that what we put into the ground matches what we want to come out of the ground. If we want respect to come out, we must put respect in.
--And third, know that when the Kingdom of God grows, it provides shelter for all those who need a home. We must be this home!