Episcopal Youth Event Opening, Sown in the Heart of Christ

July 8, 2008

Have you ever planted a garden or done some farming? Do you remember a Sunday school project where you planted some seeds in a Dixie cup? Did all of the little plants come up looking identical?

The seeds we plant don’t always come up the way we expect. Sometimes the batch of flowers that come from a bunch of seeds are different colors, or there’s one white one while all the rest are red. Even genetically cloned seeds have some variation, and a lot depends on the rain and the soil and the sunshine.

How are you coming up? What are your flowers looking like? What about the fruit or seed you’re going to produce? How’s the world going to be different because you’ve been here?

It’s not just the DNA your parents gave you, or the environment you’re growing up in – like where you live or the kind of parents you have or how tough a school you go to. You have something vital (life-giving) to offer the seed planted in you.

When you were baptized Jesus planted in you the promise that you are loved beyond knowing. That word, promise, means literally “a sending forth.” It’s a hope – and more than a hope – like God’s word, it intends to do what it promises – that what is given you will bear fruit.

When you were baptized, God said the same thing to you that he said to Jesus at his baptism, “you are my beloved, and in you I am well pleased.” That’s a promise that God will keep on loving you even if you turn out to be a red flower instead of a white one. God will keep on loving you even if you spend a lot of time looking pretty wilted. God will keep on loving you even if you don’t produce any fruit. God hopes for fruit, but God’s love doesn’t depend on it. God’s love is something like the sunshine that lets the plant grow. We don’t see the sun all the time, but the plant is getting ready to grow even when it’s dark – like when it’s a seed that hasn’t emerged from the soil, and like the hours of night when the sunflower turns its face to catch the first rays of a rising sun.

You’ve been sown in the heart of Christ, planted in abiding love – that promised and promising love means you are loved beyond imagining. God intends the best for you, even when what you experience around you falls short of that promise.

Your job is to live into that promise, remember that you were planted with hope, and let that promise issue forth, be sent out, to bless everyone and everything around you. More life is possible, abundant life is meant for us all, and you have a part to play.

You have something to do with the place the seed has landed. Will you be a rocky path, dry and shallow dirt, or fertile soil? Are you going to cultivate good soil, and produce 30 or 60 or 100 times as much as that seed of promise?

Part of my work takes me all over the Church. I get to wander around the Church, see the seeds growing, and the harvest being gathered. I get to observe, and encourage (like talking to the plants), but I don’t do the harvesting. The harvest isn’t finished until the end of time. God’s abiding love keeps hoping for more.

What kinds of fruitfulness do I see?

Episcopal Community Services in San Diego, a ministry that offers transition housing for the homeless mentally ill. Another of their ministries offers after school tutoring for Sudanese and Burmese immigrant children and young people. I got to meet bright and disciplined young people who are eager to give back the love that’s been showered on them, even though they can tell you horror stories about life and human cruelty.

St. Patrick’s in Geumgan, South Korea runs a day center for “abandoned” mentally disabled kids and adults. They do it in one small room in an office building. They serve 20 of the mentally disabled in their town, but there are another 90 people in town not being served. They’re trying to raise money for a bigger building so they can serve more people, and serve more effectively.

Sometimes the fruitfulness is literally about gardens – community gardens in Dallas, Texas and Eagle Butte, South Dakota that are planted and tended to feed the hungry. In Dallas it’s about feeding homeless people and folks trying to get by on inadequate income. On the Sioux reservation in South Dakota, it’s about grinding poverty and the total unavailability of decent food within dozens of miles. There are no grocery stores, and you know what gas costs right now. People have to decide if they’re going to feed their children what’s available at the convenience store, or drive to town. Hardly a question when you’re going to spend all your money on gas just to go one way. Every community in this Church is being affected by rising food prices and the cost of fuel to deliver it, whether it’s to your family, the local food bank, or Meals on Wheels for seniors who can’t leave home.

Bear abundant fruit, Jesus says.

For decades, we thought that the green revolution was going to help us feed the world. Episcopal Relief and Development and others are teaching better farming methods, and sharing seed that’s better suited to different climates, and it is making a difference. But in order to be a bountiful harvest, to feed the world, we also need to work for change.

Dom Helder Camara is famous for saying, “when I give food to the poor they call me a saint; when I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”

Helder Camara, was the Roman Catholic archbishop in northeastern Brazil from 1964-1985. He died in 1999 at the age of 90. Many people called him “a mystic in love with the poor.” He was the first to talk about the spiral of violence, a phrase you will hear frequently these days.

He pointed out that most violence is the result of really awful poverty and responses to that poverty. It has three elements, and starts with the injustice that keeps so many poor and on the outside of society: like the supposedly banned caste system in India, that still says only certain kinds of people do the really dirty work; like the racism here that still suggests that some are less worthy than others. You have heard some say, “we don’t need ‘those people.’” Well, Jesus is one of those people, and that is a great part of what it means for God to walk among us in human flesh. The injustice of that kind of wretched poverty often comes with the assumption that this is “just the way things are” and you will hear people quote Jesus saying, “the poor you will always have with you.”

That’s not what he meant. He did mean that as long as we live in hopelessness, we will never figure out how to change that poverty.

The second part of violence is the violent response by people who endure that poverty year after year and generation after generation – like the violence in Gaza, or the riots in China after the big earthquake, or race riots here in the United States, or the food riots in Haiti.

And the third aspect is what happens in response to those violent outbursts. Governments and those “in charge” come along and put down those riots – violence is repressed with violence. You can see it happening in Israel’s response to the violence being exported from Gaza in the form of rockets. You can see it in Myanmar, where the generals are putting down demonstrations, you can see it here when the TSA and ICE put most of their energy into punishing the weakest, rather than those who hire them.

Helder Camara’s response, like Jesus’, is to say that the only moral response to all these kinds of violence is the use of love – non-violence – in seeking justice. It has to begin at the first level – by acting in ways to end injustice. And Camara insists that it is those who feel injustice routinely – and the young – are the ones who have the energy to motivate change.

He was writing at the time of Viet Nam. You have grown up through the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, you know something of the beginnings of work toward justice in the MDGs. This is your vocation, this is what love in action looks like – putting an end to structural violence and “disposable people.” There are no disposable people, only God’s beloveds. You know that, because that promise has been planted in you. Spreading and sharing that sense of being beloved is an essential part of bearing abundant fruit, 30 fold, 60 fold, and 100 fold.

What is your harvest going to look like?