My heart is...
Matthew 13: 1-9 & 18-23.
I am going to ask you a question that I really want you to think about...
How is your heart today?
Have you ever noticed that sometimes whet we think is important is not what we think is important.
I was in this very church last Sunday night with Iona my daughter.
We were having a ‘discussion’. Now ‘discussion’ is the McNeil word for blazing row.
And the huge row was over something really serious, something so important that it could destroy my relationship with my daughter.
And the topic...whether the bridesmaids should come in before the bride or after the bride.
My daughter, watching lots of American programmes, was saying that brides ALWAYS follow the bridesmaids.
All I can say is that if Americans can’t be trusted to pick a president of their own country, how can we trust them to get the order of the bride/bridesmaids correct?
And here is the real problem...how do we resolve the argument?
Who is right, who is wrong, because one is us has to win, one way was going to be done, the other isn’t...the truth is that one of us would win the argument, but both of us could loose the relationship.
The real solution was to ask ourselves, ‘What is the aim of our heart?’ and then to work round that.
Though I would like to point out, for the record, that my daughter is a dirty arguer. When I turned round and pointed out that the tradition of the church was to do it one way she said, ‘Are you telling me that the only reason that you are doing this is because we have always done it that way? The person who spends all his time working out how to change things is telling me that the best argument he has is ‘we have always done it that way.’’
Anyway, that got me thinking about this parable.
Because often I think we see this parable being about reaching out to others. That we will try to reach out to others but don't be surprised if it doesn’t work sometimes. Because some of the people we reach out to will have hearts of stone, others their lives will be too distracted, others that they aren't open enough...but some, some will listen and be fruitful.
And the more I thought about it the more I wondered if this was the only interpretation. You see Jesus wasn’t reaching out to new folk at this time.
Jesus wasn’t reaching out to gentiles or folk that didn’t know about God.
Jesus was talking to other Jews.
Which got me thinking.
What if the heart that Jesus is talking about here is not the heart of someone that doesn’t know about God?
What if the heart that Jesus is talking about here is our own heart?
Think about it.
A man goes out to a field to sow seed.
He doesn’t go out to his neighbour’s field; he doesn’t go out to a stranger’s field. He goes out to his own field.
And what is that field like.
Well some of that field is ready, and some of it isn't.
Isn’t he responsible for preparing his own field for the sowing?
So what if the moral of the parable is, if you are the owner of the field, how is your own heart today?
How have you prepared your heart for the message of God?
Because like a field, your own heart is always a world in progress.
Often our hearts can be places of paradox, the person we love the most is the person we hate the most. The person we lovingly care for is the person that we sometimes want to strangle in desperation.
Have you decided you know all you need to know, you have given all you are going to give, you’re sick and tired of people telling you what to do or think, you’re not going to listen anymore?
Is your heart a heart of stone that no seed of God could penetrate?
Have you decided that you don't have the time, that you have too many other things on just now, that you have too many responsibilities? That once you sort out everything else, then you can sort out the God stuff. Is your heart full of other weeds and plants growing that snuff out the word of God?
Have we allowed our hearts to be full of birds that snatch the seeds, filled our lives with other things and people that demand our attention first, and we don’t have the courage or will to stand up to them?
Or is our heart open to the seed, is our heart ready to hear what God wants to say to us today?
For I look at my literal garden and I see it is never static.
There is a patch at the side of my garden that was full of thorns and weeds and nettles.
And last summer we got round to completely clearing it up. And it looked fantastic. It was ready for something.
But we couldn't decide what that something was. So we left it.
And guess what, this year it is full of weeds and thorns and nettles.
I think our hearts are like my garden.
What I did yesterday can be irrelevant, what I do today matters more.
And our hearts are the same.
We need to look at my heart all the time, work on it all the time, to make sure that it is open to God’s word today.
If we don’t spend time resting, if we are working all the time for the church, but don't spend time seeing that God loves us for who we are and not what we do...then our hearts become hard as stone. We become all work and no compassion.
If our faith is an ‘edge of importance’ thing, something we just dabble in, like a heavenly insurance policy, then eventually it seems such a little thing that we wonder if it is worth any time at all...the other things in life swamp it out.
If we don’t actively use our faith, if we don't reach out to others with love in a consistent way, then we will still have that time in our life that we should be doing God stuff, and we don’t want it empty, so we fill our time with things that don’t matter. The weeds grow and we slowly we get disillusioned because there seems to be so much to do and we can’t see how we can get round to doing it in time.
We think our lives are meaningless because our lives have become meaningless because we have filled our lives with meaningless things.
But a good field, a field that has been prepared, that is nurtured and fed, and that has a crop growing so it has purpose and meaning, that is a wonderful thing to see.
And it is just about being open to God and what matters to God.
And that helps in simple things....
Things like, should the bride come before the bridesmaids or after the bridesmaids?
Well what we did was decide that the most important thing was our relationship, and that meant trying both ways, having a mini rehearsal where we could see how things worked, seeing what the consequences of who was standing where at the at the end. How you then get everyone where they needed to be in the easiest way. Where did we want everyone to end up, and then work backwards about the easiest way to get there.
And that also helps with really complex things....
Like last week I was listening to the debate the Church of England had on producing services for those who were transsexual. And the church got a lot of stick for that.
The truth is that gender has become a big issue in all the churches.
Once upon a time we pretended that there was two genders; Males and Females.
And in this pretend world we pretended that men only loved women and women only loved men.
Now things are a lot more complicated.
I was listening to this documentary about lesbian women who have fallen in love and married men and gay men who have fallen in love and married women.
Supposedly, within their own cultures, they even have names for people like that...’hasbiens’ and ‘yestergays’.
These are NOT people who have stopped being lesbians or stopped being gay. As one of them put it, ‘The heart does not decide who it falls in love with.’
I think the world sees that something like gender is a lot more fluid than it used to be.
And in this fluidity is transsexual. And in our world people who truly believe they were born with the wrong sexual organs can go through a process to get that corrected.
How should the church deal with people like that?
Well one lot would say that God made men and women. That’s it. God doesn’t make mistakes. So if God hasn't made a mistake then obviously the person is wrong and that's it. They need to sort themselves out.
Another lot would say that it doesn’t matter what we do as long as we don’t hurt anyone else. That God has made us all as we are. And if God has made us gay or lesbian or transsexual then that is the way God has made us and everyone should accept that.
Who is right, who is wrong?
Well I think, and it is just my opinion, that the world stopped being black and white the day God created humans.
What God really wants, is for us to have hearts that are like his, hearts that are open to the word of God and his message to us.
And I think of another parable.
The parable of the prodigal son, also called the parable of the waiting father.
Because if God is meant to be the waiting father, and God wants us to be like him, the way the father in the parable wants the elder son to be like him, then that has consequences.
What is important to the waiting father is not what the prodigal son has done.
The waiting father doesn’t know how the prodigal son has wasted the family inheritance, and he doesn’t seem to care.
The waiting father doesn’t know what is in the heart of the prodigal son, he doesn’t know if the prodigal son is truly repentant, truly sorry for what he has done, or if he is just desperate and looking for shelter in the storm. The prodigal son may feel he can use the father to get back on his feet again, and once he has his life sorted out again he can go off again having never learnt his lesson. The father doesn’t know that, and he doesn't seem to care.
The waiting father just cares for his son, because he loves the son. The waiting father loves the son with all his weaknesses and with all his flaws.
In the same way, the waiting father loves the elder son with all his weaknesses and all his flaws. That is why at the end of the parable the waiting father goes out to the eldest son...as he did to the prodigal son.
The truth is we don’t need to meet up with gay people, lesbian people, transsexual people, bi-sexual people, heterosexual people or intersexual people or any other type of person deciding whether they are right or wrong and defining our relationship on that basis.
We can meet up with all people as if they are the loved for and cared for child of God.
That God still waits for them, and us, in the same way.
Knowing that we are flaws, knowing that we have made mistakes, knowing that we are not perfect...but not caring, because what matters to Him is that we are deeply loved, and that we need to know that He is there for us, helping us face whatever we face in this life.
In the same way EVERY other person we meet God knows that they have flaws, knows that they have made mistakes, knows that they are not perfect...but doesn’t care, because what matters to Him is that they are deeply loved, and that they need to know that He is there for them, helping them face whatever they face in their life.
So where does that leave us?
It leaves us where we started off from.
The most important question of all.
Not what other people are doing...
But...how is YOUR heart today?