Many weeks ago we started making plans for this Harvest Sunday. We chose the hymns, we sent out word about a special offering of food for the hungry, and we talked about how to collect and present our offering in worship, how to make it a beautiful and joyful harvest for all ages. We looked at this day as a gate through which we would enter a season of thanksgiving. We made plans for a festive meal in our fellowship hall at the conclusion of a week of hosting Room in the Inn guests: to praise the Giver of all gifts and to celebrate your generous stewardship, the many and varied gifts that, day after day and night after night, made a safe place to rest for those who have nowhere to lay their head.
Then we had an election. I stayed up late on Tuesday, much later than I had anticipated. Like many of you, Nancy and I were watching the election results, and it was like watching another kind of harvest as they were bringing in the sheaves, state after state, and I wondered what seed had sprouted and grown in the land.
Neal Gabler wrote,
If there is a single sentence that characterizes the election, it is this: “He says the things I’m thinking.” That may be what is so terrifying. Who knew that so many tens of millions of white Americans were thinking unconscionable things about their fellow Americans? Who knew that tens of millions of white men felt so emasculated by women and challenged by minorities? Who knew that after years of seeming progress on race and gender, tens of millions of white Americans lived in seething resentment, waiting for a demagogue to arrive who would legitimize their worst selves and channel them into political power?
Who knew? The pollsters and pundits certainly didn’t. I don’t think that all who voted for the winning candidate in Tuesday’s election are abusing women in speech and deed and bragging about it; they may not even condone it, but that didn’t keep them from voting for him. I don’t think all of them subscribe to his racist and xenophobic comments, and not all applauded his unfiltered gut responses as “straight talk”, but it didn’t keep them from voting for him.
“I don’t fear [the president-elect] as much as I fear the monster he’s awakened,” said Aysha Choudhary, a Muslim American who works with the aid group Doctors Without Borders in New York City. “It feels like he’s normalized discrimination, and I’m afraid it’s open season.”
We need to listen to her and we need to stand with her. And we need to listen to the children who have come home from school crying this past week, because other kids in school have asked them if they have started packing yet since they would soon be deported. And we need to listen to the men and women whose restaurants, convenience markets, and shops have been vandalized by white supremacists. We need to hear them and stand with them. And we need to hear out the men and women who have been pushed to the margins and apparently could not make their voices heard until they cast their vote for this man.
I didn’t know all week what to say today, and I still don’t; the moment feels overwhelming and we have only begun to see and grasp what it might mean. I don’t know where to start, because this is not about me, but about the good news of God’s love for the world and all who live in it—but I find it difficult to keep my consternation and my fears out of what God and God’s church called me to proclaim. One thing I do know is that we need to get out of our respective echo chambers in what Neal Gabler calls “a media ecology in which nothing can be believed except what you already believe.” We must make space for each other, beyond the sameness we like to surround ourselves with for comfort; we must make space for each other, talk to each other, listen to each other, stand with each other.
Others have begun to talk about how we can come together as a nation, but I’m more concerned about how we can be the church now and not merely another reflection of a deeply divided people. I believe small things done faithfully will be crucial. This is Harvest Sunday, which reminds me of a story Jesus told:
A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. And he kept sowing. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. And he kept sowing. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. And he kept sowing. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.
Jesus has taught us to believe in small things that grow: Seeds of honesty and kindness. Seeds of compassion and solidarity. Seeds of generosity and forgiveness. As members of the body of Christ, we keep sowing. Sure, some of it is for the birds, some of it will wither, and some of it will be choked, but some of it will bear fruit a hundredfold. That’s plenty of bread and plenty of seed for another season.
The disciples asked Jesus what the parable meant, and of course it can mean many things, but he told them that one way to hear it was to think of the seed as the word of God. And in that unfolding of the story we are not the ones sowing the seed, but the ground on which the seed falls.
The ones on the path are those who have heard, but it’s like the good word went in one ear and out the other. The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away. As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.
Patient endurance is more than passive waiting; it’s a certain attentive perseverance that won’t let the word go in one ear and out the other, but allows it to take root, and doesn’t let it get choked by anxieties and despair. Jesus invites us to let him come alive in our hearts and our actions so we don’t just react helplessly to changing and frightening circumstances, but respond to them with faith and courage. We hold fast to the word and we keep sowing.
Some of you will recognize the wise words Reinhold Niebuhr wrote back in 1952:
Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.
In all this – sowing seeds, pondering with care the word of God, and taking the long view beyond now – in all this we trust in God’s boundless capacity to bring forth newness. There is nothing in all of creation that is beyond God’s reach or beyond God’s capacity to change. The prophet Isaiah, in the passage we heard this morning, invites us to lean into the broad space of hope opened by an extravagant promise: it heralds the overcoming of everything that has gone wrong in creation, touching every aspect and phase of life and remaking them whole. His prophecy addressed a moment of shattered hope: The remnant of Israel had returned from exile in Babylon to Jerusalem, full of expectation. They believed that the kingdom of David was to be restored, the Temple rebuilt, and God’s reign established once and for all on Mount Zion. But the high expectations were not fulfilled in the way they had hoped; they soon discovered that the rebuilding of Jerusalem was a costly task. And not only did the surrounding nations oppose them, even their own Jewish kin who had remained there during the exile were not at all enthusiastic about their arrival home. But the prophets were passionate about keeping the hope of Israel alive; they believed in the promises of God, and not because the circumstances showed such potential, but because God was faithful. The prophets leaned into the broad space of hope opened by God’s faithfulness and sang of what they saw:
The Lord creating Jerusalem as a joy and her people as a delight. A renewed creation with a city at its center, and in it, not palaces with glistening facades and golden gates, but men and women whose children don’t die as infants and whose parents live out a lifetime; families who build houses and get to live in them, who plant vineyards and get to enjoy their fruit; people in communion with their God.
This is what we do as God’s people in this time and place: We lean into the broad space opened by God’s promise and faithfulness, and we let ourselves be drawn into the future God is creating, where no one weeps or cries in distress or withdraws into silence. And so today, as part of our offering, we build something beautiful, a small part of the glorious city whose center is defined by the table of Christ. We make a thanksgiving offering with canned veggies, jars of peanut butter, tins of tuna, boxes of cornbread mix and all the wonderful things you have brought this morning. Come forward from wherever you are, come forward while we sing, let your feet practice our daily walk to the city of God, and add your gifts to its fullness and beauty.
 Neal Gabler; see note 1.
 Luke 8:4-8, 11-15
 Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History (1952)