Preparing Through Parable: Let Them Grow Together

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24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
Matthew 12:24-30

 

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What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins “Inversnaid”

 

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There is despair in the wilderness of untamed hearts,
sown and growing weedy together with the good seed.
Such wildness lies just beneath the surface of good fertile soil;
ready to sprout,  nearly unnoticed and out of reach.

He came not to destroy this world’s wildness,
but to pull us away from it, gasping for breath,
liberated from the unforgiving clutches of weed roots.

As weeds survive well in the wilderness,
so we too must grow, flourish, and witness
to a wild world bereft.

O let us be left to be gathered.
Let us be left.

 

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

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Preparing Through Parable: The Divine Gardener

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“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture.Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”

When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
Luke 8:5-8

 

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25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean;
I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.

26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you;
I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. 

Ezekiel 36: 25-28

 

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And what kind of ground is my heart today for any seed that happens to land on me?

Am I hard hearted where the seed lies exposed and vulnerable?

Am I shallow hearted where there is no nurture for the seeds to thrive once sprouted?

Am I choke hearted where I allow weeds to take over and strangle out the seeds of value?

Or am I an open heart, a heart of flesh, a fertile ground, a place of warmth and nurture?

 

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

 

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Preparing Through Parable: Fertilize…

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Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”
Luke 13:6-9

 

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As a farmer, I spend over an hour a day cleaning my barn, and wheel heavy loads of organic material to a large pile in our barnyard which composts year round.  Piling up all that messy stuff that is no longer needed is crucial to the process: it heats up quickly to the point of steaming, and within months, it becomes rich fertilizer, ready to help the fields to grow grass, or the garden to produce vegetables, or the fragrant blooms in the flower beds.  It becomes something far greater and more productive than what it was to begin with, thanks to transformation of muck to fruit.

That’s largely what I do in clinic as well.

As clinicians, we help our patients “clean up” the parts of their lives they really don’t need, that they can’t manage any longer, that are causing problems with their health, their relationships and obligations.  There isn’t a soul walking this earth who doesn’t struggle in some way with things that take over our lives, whether it is school, work,  computer use, food, gambling, porn, you name it.  For the chemically dependent, it comes in the form of smoke, a powder, a bottle, a syringe or a pill.  There is nothing that has proven more effective than “piling up together” learning what it takes to walk the road to health and healing, “heating up”, so to speak, in an organic process of transformation that is, for lack of any better description, primarily a spiritual treatment process.  When a support group becomes a crucible for the “refiner’s fire”,  it does its best work melting people down to get rid of the impurities before they can be built back up again, stronger than ever.  They become compost, productive, ready to grow others.

This work with a spectrum of individuals of all races, backgrounds and creeds has transformed me.

As Jesus says in Matthew 25: 40–‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

It’s crucial to fertilize those who otherwise may be cut down.  Only then can they bear fruit.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

 

 

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Preparing Through Parable: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

 

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From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
Luke 12: 48

 

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This line, the final conclusion to the parable of the wise and faithful servant has become a modern mantra, thanks to Spiderman and others including President Obama and Bill and Melinda Gates.

Yet no one quotes the actual parable itself.

The story Jesus tells in Luke 12: 42-48 makes us wince, as it is meant to:

42 The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.45 But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.

47 “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. 

The same story as told in Matthew ends with being “cut into pieces” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Somehow that part is left out of Spiderman’s story and is a bit too close to home for those in power and those with immense wealth — just like Peter Parker, we know the reality fo just how fragile and weak we really are despite our perceived Spidey powers.

We are told we don’t have a choice in the matter if we want to live in Him:
we owe much when to us much is given … or else we perish.

 

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

 

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Preparing Through Parable: The Rain Came Down

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Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.
 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.
~Matthew 7: 24-27

 

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Our house is built on sandstone, on a rise on the farm.  It is strong and solid, warm and cozy.  We don’t worry about rising waters from the perpetual rains this time of year.

But the barns are built on lower ground where the waters come in torrents down the hill in fierce storms and fill the floors and cause chaos.  Add in the winter winds, and we worry about whether the structures and their inhabitants can survive another season.

The wise man who built the barns on solid rock knew there would be hard times on that low ground yet his buildings have remained standing for decades despite the storms and threats.  We too stay standing on the Word, even when tossed to and fro, though stuck in the mud and muck of life.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

 

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Preparing Through Parable: Bursting at the Seams

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…no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’
Luke 5:36-39

 

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Sometimes one good metaphor leads us to another good metaphor. That’s why parables are well remembered as we can link them to our personal experience, even across millenia.

Unfortunately there are no new or old, full or empty wineskins lying around on the farm to help this illustration — all the animal bladders here are in full use by warm and furry  critters.

However, on the farm I have found skins that burst when the new breaks through the old.  The old skin becomes so tight and inflexible that new vibrant life can no longer be held within.  It is left behind, a useless shell:  still interesting, worthy of study, but in no way alive like the new skin.

Lord, help me wriggle free of my old skin even when I want to cling to it and help me celebrate the new way you have reinvented me.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

 

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Preparing Through Parable: New Patch on an Old Tear

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He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old.
~Luke 5:36-37

 

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…awakening the mind’s attention to the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us; an inexhaustible treasure, but for which, in consequence of the film of familiarity and selfish solicitude, we have eyes, yet see not, ears that hear not, and hearts that neither feel nor understand…
~Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, Vol. II

 

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My life brims with holes and tears that I attempt to mend by slapping on bandaids that don’t stick to the sides of the wounds.  I try fixing what is gaping with iron-on patches, or darning until midnight, or whipping stitches through frayed cloth.

My efforts are futile. The edges cannot hold no matter how I try to bring them together myself.  I am dust, as is what I’m trying to repair.

Jesus tells me to quit trying to save the old – the dusty old laws, the old rituals, the old ways of doing things – and to embrace the brand new life that He offers, not use it as superglue to patch up the old life.

What I’m trying to hold on to ~ the comfortable, the familiar, the traditional ~ is no match with what is to come.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

 

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Preparing Through Parable: Getting the Message

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Every happening, great and small, 
is a parable whereby God speaks to us, 
and the art of life is to get the message.
…Listening to great music, or reading great literature,

an inner rhythm is detected and the heart rejoices,
and a light breaks which is none other than
God’s love shining through all of creation.
~Malcolm Muggeridge from his lecture “Christ and the Media”

 

For Lent this year, each day will be devoted to a story Jesus told –his parables–
to help each of us “get the message” in a way we might not otherwise.

Whether about a lost coin, a wandering sheep, a light hidden from view,
or a hypercritical older brother:  the parable told is about me and choices I make.

 

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Every day is filled with stories told
and I feel too rushed to listen,
to take time for transformation
by what I see or feel or hear,
no matter how seemingly
small and insignificant.

When I pause
for the parable,
it makes all the difference:

A steaming manure pile
becomes the crucible for my failings
transformed into something useful,
a fertilizer to be spread
to grow what it touches.

An iced-over water barrel
reflects distant clouds
above me as I peer inside,
its frozen blue eye focused
past my brokenness
to mirror a beauty
far beyond.

An old barn roof awaiting repair
has gaps torn of fierce winds,
allowing rain and snow
and invading vines inside
what once was safe and secure,
a sanctuary exposed to storms.

I am looking.
I am listening.
Getting the message.
Badly in need of repair.
To be changed, transformed,
and to become part
of the story being told.

 

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Between Midnight and Dawn: A Different Way

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 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
Luke 24 — The Road to Emmaus

 

 

A hidden path that starts at a dead end,
Old ways, renewed by walking with a friend,
And crossing places taken hand in hand,

The passages where nothing need be said,
With bruised and scented sweetness underfoot
And unexpected birdsong overhead,

The sleeping life beneath a dark-mouthed burrow,
The rooted secrets rustling in a hedgerow,
The land’s long memory in ridge and furrow,

A track once beaten and now overgrown
With complex textures, every kind of green,
Land- and cloud-scape melting into one,

The rich meandering of streams at play,
A setting out to find oneself astray,
And coming home at dusk a different way.

~Malcolm Guite “Prayer/Walk”

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Like so many, I tend to walk through life blinded to what is really important, essential and necessary.  I can be self-absorbed,  immersed in my own troubles and concerns, staring at my own feet as I walk each step, rather than looking at the road ahead, enjoying the journey.

Emmaus helps me remember how He feeds me from His word, so I hunger for even more, my heart burning within me.   Jesus makes plain how He Himself addresses my most basic needs:

He is the bread of life so I am fed.
He is the living water so I no longer thirst.
He is the light so I am never left in darkness.
He shares my yoke so my burden is easier.
He clothes me with righteousness so I am never naked.
He cleanses me when I am at my most soiled and repugnant.
He is the open door–always welcoming, with a room prepared for me.

When I encounter Him along the road of my life,  I need to be ready to take a different way than I originally planned: to listen, to invite Him in to stay, to share whatever I have with Him. When He breaks bread and hands me my piece, I want to accept it with open eyes of gratitude, knowing the gift He hands me is nothing less than Himself.

He is here, so close, so accessible, so much a part of humanity — as we walk, as we eat, as we drink, as we express gratitude — I feel His Spirit, recognizing He offered Himself as the sacrifice made on my behalf.

No other God would. No other God has. No other God is here, dwelling within us.

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During this Lenten season, I will be drawing inspiration from the new devotional collection edited by Sarah Arthur —Between Midnight and Dawn

In the Midst of Joy: Everything Sad Becomes Untrue

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Just after the climax of the trilogy The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee discovers that his friend Gandalf was not dead (as he thought) but alive.
He cries, “I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself! Is everything sad going to come untrue?”
The answer of Christianity to that question is – yes.

Everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost.

Embracing the Christian doctrines of the incarnation and Cross brings profound consolation in the face of suffering.
The doctrine of the resurrection can instill us with a powerful hope.
It promises that we will get the life we most longed for,
but it will be an infinitely more glorious world
than if there had never been the need for bravery, endurance, sacrifice, or salvation.
~Pastor Tim Keller in Reason for God

 

And so we awake, rush to tend the dead and find death emptied out.  He is standing, walking, eating, calling us by name.  What He came to us to accomplish is done: nothing is the same and everything is changed.  We need no longer hide in darkness, fear death,  dwell in loneliness,  starve and thirst, despair in impossible situations because only He can do the impossible.

Because everything sad has become untrue by His bravery, His endurance, His sacrifice for our salvation.

All is fresh and made new.
Christ, yes God become man, Christ is risen indeed!

 

Awake, thou wintry earth,
Fling off thy sadness;
Fair vernal flowers laugh forth
Your ancient gladness:Christ is risen.

Wave, woods, your blossoms all,
Grim Death is dead;
Ye weeping funeral trees,
Lift up your head.
Christ is risen.

Come, see, the graves are green;
It is light; let us go
Where our loved ones rest
In hope below.
Christ is risen.

All is fresh and new,
Full of spring and light;
Wintry heart, why wearest the hue
Of sleep and night?
Christ is risen.

Leave thy cares beneath,
Leave thy worldly love;
Begin the better life
With God above.
Christ is risen.
~Thomas Blackburne  An Easter Hymn