There’s Something Wrong with The Ground: Part I

A Bump in the Road

I’ve been consistently drawn to the passage I want to put before you today for a good portion of my life, and even more so of late, somehow trying to “get it in me” if you will. The synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke each give their spin on the story, and I’ve heard every analysis from preachers to business people, to self-help gurus, who each spin it in a variety of most interesting ways.  Some quite accurate, some, not so much.  Nonetheless, this has never stopped me from periodically coming back to it like a dog continually intrigued to run after the same bone tossed a thousand times, in order to glean from its hidden gold beneath that rather funky ground we often find ourselves in.  And because of that, somehow, I’ve always inferred that Jesus wants this ole dog to set up permanent camp here; put my Martha cap on; sit at the feet of the Master till the cows come home; or until pig’s fly, or, when something starts to actually grow for goodness sakes.  You get the picture.  So, I guess it’s my new address in between life’s hell and high water, even my permanent one.  Perhaps it should be yours too.

The backdrop here is familiar through the gospels.  Jesus is getting slammed with people wanting to touch the hem of his garment in light of their dire straits, get something from him, or perhaps crucify him; or maybe even betray him with a kiss.  But we won’t be picky here.  The names change, but the scenery and the mixture is pretty much the same.  And so Jesus is sitting in his fishing boat looking at the people hanging on the beach gazing back at him with bated breath, and he begins to speak in one of his favorite ways that continue to baffle us all; in parables.  Nonetheless, the passage goes like this:

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear (Mt. 13:1-9 ESV). 

 What you Talking About Willis?

Now interestingly, in between verses 9 and 18, Jesus gets the right question thrown to him by the disciples.  They simply ask what maybe you and I have asked, or are currently asking, “Why do you speak to them in parables”, or, “how about giving the dog a bone here”?  Makes sense. And of course here it is all too easy to skirt by this part and get to his explanation coming up about what the dang parable actually means.  But we want to get to the punchline, we just want to pass the gosh-darn test.  Cliff notes please!  And Jesus gets it.  So he responds basically saying that the understanding usually comes to already spiritual awakened people (not even the disciples yet apparently), and to those who are really seeking what the kingdom is about because they’ve run out of bargaining chips.  This of course is opposed to those who are not so much seeking the life he wants to give, but what they gain if they decided to do it; or perhaps more importantly, those whose hearts are already hardened by what’s wrong in their ground, and as a result wouldn’t see or hear even if Jesus slapped them upside their nappy heads with it! Evidently, it has a lot to do with a lifetime of shutting their eyes and ears to what’s already been said and done all around them, and as a result have missed the proverbial forest for the trees.  Somehow, I wonder if he’s talking to me!

But Jesus doesn’t leave them hanging, nor does he want to.  Because it is now that the kingdom is just beginning to be ushered in.  And so, he realizes that as the Holy Spirit inevitably comes just a stone’s throw down the road, more awakened people will start to get it, and if they do, he knows some kind of “living water” will then engulf them, and they’ll finally graduate from the class, or at least move on to a new class.  And as a result, they’ll get to write a book on 4 steps to Spiritual Gardening or something like that, because there will be fruit-flies everywhere for goodness sakes!  And it is here that you and I need to set up camp for the morning, noon and night.  So, the Master gets right to it.  He says:

Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”(Matthew 13:18-23 ESV)

And the plot thickens.

There’s a Thief Among Us

Jesus opines that the word, His word, actually comes to the lot of us, with often mixed results. No argument there. The first is the majority of us in the vast cosmos so it seems. And in this case Geraldine was partly right, the devil evidently did make them do it.  Jesus says that the evil one can and often does “snatch” away what was initially sown somewhat haphazardly along the path.  We could chalk it up as bad soil, or that it was kind of strewn about by happenstance and not purposefully. The sky is the limit.  There are probably no wrong answers here.  But what we do know, and the synoptics are in cahoots, is that the devil steals some stuff, a lot evidently.  In fact, Jesus reminded us that the evil one came to kill, steal and destroy, whereas Jesus came to give something along the lines of abundant life or something like that.  So we get it I think.  Evidently stealing is one of the extra special aspects of the Prince of Darkness’ MO. And it makes perfect sense does it not?

Is The Enemy We’ve Found in Lock-Step With Us?

For instance, we see people get little morsels of the word thrown on them in a multiplicity of ways, and all at once, they start to take it in.  However, in the blink of an eye it seems, the habitual lies and isms and survival of the fittest mantras that have been on autopilot most of their lives, rush in and talk them off the edge of their merely circumstantial naivete back to the safety of popular consensus and comfort zones.  And then “poof”, it’s as if nothing ever happened.  Business as usual.  Case closed.  The curtain is now pulled on what coulda, shoulda, woulda been.

But perhaps before we move too fast and put all the lost in this prayer list bucket, maybe the devil still steals from the enlightened of us too I suppose before we get a block down the road.  For the same family traditions, worldly indoctrinations and our own eternal struggle to somehow finally listen to this still small voice more readily while simultaneously seeking to pull our own bootstraps up somewhere I guess, causes us all to buckle, and shuck it off as working perhaps for some; but maybe, just maybe, it’s really not for the likes of us after all.  So we dodge the fish, and cut the bait instead; again and again, and again.

So yeah, the devil steals stuff like I said, well like Jesus said.  And it’s kind of sad don’t you think.  Perhaps we need an alarm or something, or a wall, or maybe there’s something in our ground I suppose.

Selah

Stay tuned for Part II

Vanity, It’s Definitely My Favorite Sin

The Devil’s Advocate

In 1997, I was quite captivated by a movie starring Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves entitled “The Devil’s Advocate”.  I was finishing my undergraduate degree in Pastoral Ministries and Bible, preparing for my entrance into a Master’s program, eagerly ready to embark on a call into “the ministry”.   The movie struck an analytical chord in me, first of all because Al Pacino is one of my favorite actors, but secondly, because the movie seemed to get the aspect of “demonology” visually depicted that was most accurate for a Hollywood movie, and painted a grim picture of just how far any one of us particular “Humpty Dumpty’s” can fall prey to his many times unsuspecting devices.

Ironically, the lead attorney who has never lost a case (Keanu Reeves) plays Kevin Lomax, and Al Pacino plays a character by the name of John Milton (ironically the name of the author of Paradise Lost), but who is none other than Mephistopheles himself.  In the introduction to the movie, we witness Kevin Lomax representing someone accused of child molestation, that as the case unfurls, he actually finds out is guilty as Hell.  Nonetheless, as he cross examines the prosecution, he finds more holes in their story than a high-powered lawyer has a right to, and as a result, the jury rests with a “not guilty” verdict.

Fast forward through the movie’s twists and turns, after Lomax now has a carrot of an even higher-profile job being dangled before him from John Milton, and a credulous ride on the dark side that he could have never imagined, the movie then concludes with Kevin realizing the error of his ways through his chaotic dance with the devil, and we then enter the same introductory scene.  Only this time, the now enlightened and virtuous Kevin now refuses to represent the guilty pedophile.  Our hearts soar as we see this spiritual epiphany of Kevin revealed to us, while the reporter Larry grabs Kevin and his wife (played by Charlize Theron), and essentially lets them know that Kevin is now the hero, and he wants to do a story that will be the ultimate “do-gooder” story sure to grant him a new kind of fame. As Reeves and Theron smile at each other with a sense of utter righteous nirvana, the scene then fades as Larry now turns into Al Pacino’s character (Satan) who then says with his shit-eating grin, “Vanity, It’s Definitely My Favorite Sin”.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3M68wcB6L0s

Vanity’s Slippery Slope

The thought occurred to me as I considered my own entrance into a “do-gooder” profession at the time, just how imperceptibly oftentimes Satan can take the good that we would do, and can “ipso-facto” turn it into a narcissistic plunge without us even recognizing it, until it’s web around us is fully grown and we’ve been consumed by it ever so completely.  It’s a very slippery slope that catches us incognito, and in its aftermath, it devastates not only our own lives, but also the star-gazed lives of those who falsely project their spiritual hopes and dreams upon us, looking to us for their proxy of Christ himself.  Of course, the apostle Paul hammered this age-old problem out for us quite clearly  in the book of I Corinthians, correcting their “celebrity preacher” propensity, when he reminds them that it is neither He, nor Apollos, nor Peter that is anything at all, but that it is only Christ that we all should follow.  He further reminds them in Chapter 13 quite shockingly, that we could even become so good in our own eyes, perhaps even giving our bodies to be burned alive for those who follow us, and yet; if we have not love (the true motive of righteous living), we are in his words…nothing.  Or perhaps a close second dilemma, is that of being nothing more than a sounding gong or a clanging symbol that everyone can hear, yet no one can seem to turn off as we genuflect at the sound of our own voice and virtuous tabloid.

When I was a rebel pastor, I was constantly confronted both with my own potential for good, and equally my ability to disappoint, continually humbled as I would step into the pulpit to even attempt to say “Thus Saith the Lord” to anyone.  As a result, I tended to preach on topics that I myself was working through in my own life, before I could even begin to hold out anything sacred and substantive for others to take a hold of and embrace for themselves.  I saw the potential for vanity in me, as I looked out Sunday after Sunday at vanity’s equivalent congregational reflection staring back at me; equally caught up in having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.  The kind of power quite frankly, that is only made perfect in the weakness we experience both from our arduous journey into our quest for righteousness as nothing more than sinners saved by grace, and from the malevolent force called “this fallen world” that is persistently antagonistic to such a paradoxical caveat of true winning.  Yet it is only here that Christ can form the crucible of love that has even the remote possibility of making us into someone who would even dare to say, “follow me, as I follow Christ”.

All is Vanity Saith The Preacher

I realize I have written about this in some form or fashion a lot lately.  I guess you could say it is my soul’s quiet preoccupation as I reflect on all the world’s fool’s gold that abounds, and in constant amazement that no matter how much I know it, it is still so easy to fall into its predatory grasp time and time again, as vanity indeed thrives everywhere in our culture today.  I see it in the eyes of “road rage” as I sneak out into an intersection with plenty of room to cross, as those I encounter speed up, almost as if to taunt me with the idea of smashing into my car because I dared to cross while they were on their way to God knows where. I see it in bowed up chests and laser like stares, as men and women walk confidently and defiantly with observable chips on their block, daring anyone to look at them in the incorrect way as they live out their daily survival of only the fittest.  I see it in the media outlets and political pundits who put forth their “two cents” on every matter under the sun, arrogantly claiming their lack of “deplorable” status, distancing themselves from the obvious “dregs of society” that suck up all the space that they occupy.  I see it also in Hollywood’s constant big-headed projection of itself as the standard of which we are all to aspire and work for.  And I now see it equally in the church, where ministers dangle very closely on the precipice of being far too caught up in their own reflection, while the casualties of their unsuspecting tutelage continue to wonder who will yet take up the basin and the towel, rather than succumb to a form of self-consecrated, white-washed simony that rivals the marketplace of which we are all apart.

I believe Tom Conlon tells us the truth of the matter in his song Ohio, where he writes these words that I have reflected upon a good bit lately.  He says, “Everyone wanna be famous, no one wanna be righteous”.  And, well, I suppose both he and the devil are both right after all, because vanity; well it really is our (my) favorite sin.

Selah

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=43&v=3775n_mb05A