June 29, 2014
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Fourth of July Weekend
Growing Good Corn
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
For those who have been away for a while, and just in case no one else has really noticed, the morning messages have not started with humor lately. So - what’s red, white, blue, and green? A patriotic turtle! What did one flag say to the other flag? Nothing. It just waved! Why did Paul Revere ride his horse from Boston to Lexington? Because the horse was too heavy to carry!
Despite the general feeling of patriotism, I wonder if part of our “nostalgia” of the 4th of July has to do with memories of when we were kids. I will admit to a bit of envy when I see kids with sparklers on the 4th, because they were not something that was part of my growing up days. But there were fireworks over Lake Ripley - near Lake Wobegone, and even though my sister and I were dog tired, I still remember getting into the green and white 57 Chevy, sitting in the back seat, leaning over the front seat, in jammies, watching the aerial flowers blossom.
Because I grew up in the farm belt of Minnesota, one of the early bits of information I learned is that corn should be “knee-high” by the 4th of July. So when I came across an illustration with the title “Growing Good Corn,” I immediately stole it - title and story, mostly because they lead so naturally into the scripture passage for this morning.
Seems there was this guy named James Bender who wrote a book in 1994 that told the tale about a farmer that grew award-winning corn. Each year he entered his best corn in the regional fair where it won a blue ribbon.
One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him to learn how he grew blue-ribbon corn year after year. The reporter discovered that the farmer actually shared his best seed corn with his neighbors. “How can you afford to share your best seeds with your neighbors when they are entering corn in competition against yours each year?” the reporter asked.
“Why sir,” said the farmer, “didn’t you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn.”
So Jesus was giving instructions to the disciples he was sending out, about how they were to “minister” with nothing but the clothes on their back….
Matthew 10:40-42 The Message
40-42 “We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger. Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.”
Thank you, Ryan. One of the first things that popped out of that passage was “Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help.” I wish that more people could hear those words - from Jesus’ lips - because there is still a strong thread in our society that we have to “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.” While it is true that we all need to do what we need to do, we forget that sometimes we don’t really need to do what we think we need to do.
One of the pages I really like on Facebook is called “Humans of New York.” Whoever does it, walks up to people, takes a picture and asks them a question. One of those on Friday was of a gentleman that looked older than myself, who had this answer. "Toward the end, my father let me fill out his patient history forms at the hospital. It was the first time and last time he ever let me help him.” I was struck by the sadness in the man’s response. We forget that even when we can do something “ourselves,” we can sometimes do something greater by allowing someone to help us.
When I was little, probably 6 or 7, my dad drove a semi-truck back and forth from Minneapolis to Winnepeg, Canada most every week. The town we lived in was 75 miles west of the Twin Cities, so part of the “ritual” was to take the truck in, drop it off at the warehouse to get loaded with fruits and vegetables, go home, go back a day or so later for the truck, and then dad either went on his way from there or went home for one more night in his own bed.
The warehouse was in a pretty tough part of town, and I can clearly remember the smells of the boxes of fruit in the cool warehouse, the beautiful smell of diesel, and the dismalness of the area. There was one day in particular that I remember a man asking dad for some money for coffee, and dad said, “I’ll go with you and buy you the coffee for you, but I won’t give you the money.” I don’t remember what happened after that, but I remember the words. He would help the man, but not with the potential of buying things that “weren’t good” for him. Dad was clearly offering the cup of cool water, which he did quite often in those days and probably still doea, and was teaching me a lesson at the same time. Since then, I’ve learned that life is more complicated than buying a cup of coffee.
I think there are basically two schools of somewhat opposite thought, when it comes to helping others, especially when it comes to giving money. Suppose you are approached by a homeless person. You can’t be sure they’re homeless, but by their appearance and maybe even their smell, you put two and two together. Now this person asks if you could spare a dollar - or in the old days, money for a cup of coffee.
Maybe the person asks if you could spare a dollar for the bus, or to buy a hamburger, or he or she just needs one more dollar to get a bed in a shelter (who knows if shelters charge money?), or maybe there is no explanation at all. The question is simple. Do you give him or her a dollar - if you have it?
The first school of thought says no, because the person may use that money to buy things that could be harmful to themselves or others. And yes, there are professional beggars in this world. Whatever reason they give in asking for the money doesn’t really matter, because they will use it in whatever way they want anyway. Even if the money is used for a right purpose doesn’t mean that any other money they might have wouldn’t then be freed up for less noble purposes.
The second school of thought says that while we may be right about our suspicions, so what? If we were in that person’s position, an extravagance once-in-awhile may seem reasonable. But what the asker does with our “gift,” is not our business. He or she is a grown person, we are not their parent, social worker or minister and they will need to live with their own conscience. We and they are simply people who encounter each other for a moment in time. I’m not trying to say one school of thought is more “right” than the other. It’s a conundrum.
I’m in this situation a lot, and indirectly, you and all we represent; people asking for help with rent or food or gas. I can strongly suspect what the money will do for the individual. And in his instructions to the disciples, just a few verses before those that Ryan read, Jesus tells the disciples - and us - “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard;”
Rev. Dr. Dan De Leon of College Station, TX once heard a story about a young parish priest visiting with an older priest. (These sorts of illustrations are always helpful, but the older one always seems to have great wisdom.) The young priest mentions the vagrants who come by his church seeking help. He says to his elder, "I know we're supposed to help the poor, but these people are asking for help with a bus ticket or a utility bill or gas money or food. Is that really their story? The last thing they're likely to spend that money on is the bus ticket or the utility bill or the gas tank or food. They'll probably spend it on something the Church doesn't support, something that I certainly don't support." Finally, the young priest says, "It gets exhausting justifying who I'm going to help and why."
The older priest sits back and lets the young priest's words loom in the air like a confession waiting for assurance. Then the older priest says, "What business is it of yours determining who gets help and who doesn't? Why exhaust yourself with that burden? You are a follower of Jesus Christ. Your task, therefore, is simply to share out of the wealth of God's abundance. Your requirement is simply to love others as God loves you. Your job is simply to give.”
One of our “requirements” is to love others as God loves us. Interesting thing about corn - the kernels are tight-packed together, sort of like us. If we want to grow to all that God has seen us to be, then we enter into that conundrum work to which Christ has called us, blessed with the freedom to determine what we do with the gifts God has bestowed on us. So we’d best be to prayin’.
God of abundant hospitality, Jesus tells us that in your house there are many mansions, a place for all of your children. So may our lives become a spacious sanctuary where all who enter it would find peace, rest, and adventure, and be blessed by your love for having been welcomed there. As we have been the recipients of your living water in Christ to the point of our cup overflowing, move us to greater and prudent hospitality so that we would have all we need to carry out Jesus' instructions of offering a cold cup of water to any of your children. Create us to be even better givers and receivers. Raise us up to be wise in the freedoms with which you showered on us. Help us be more like Jesus, we pray. Amen.