The Rev. Canon Timothy Watt+
Year A Proper 10
Preached 20200712
Genesis 25:19-34
Psalm 119:105-112
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts be
acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. AMEN
While I was in seminary, I was honored with the opportunity to go on a
student exchange in Oxford. The college where I was lodging was a bit
out of the way, in a small farming village called Cuddesdon. All around
the neo-gothic Victorian-era campus stretched field after verdant field
of winter wheat, barley, and peas. In the afternoon after classes, I
would set out on walks with my new friends along with Mabel, a very
affable sprocker spaniel, along the hedgerows and by-ways. It was a
verdant landscape of rolling hills and black loamy soil with a reasonably
long growing season for England.

But the good soil there was not simply an accident of nature. It yields
good crops through millennia of careful human cultivation. The truth of
this lays visible all around, if you know where to look. In ancient yew
trees standing sentry over foggy churchyards not unlike our own…
lonely survivors of once-expansive groves of the sacred trees in which
druids danced.
Not far off, stand the dwindled remains of Sherwood forest, which now
only lives in our imagination. The ghostly memories of Robin Hood,
Little John, and Friar Tuck stand exposed in open fields where timbers
were logged and stripped away to build the ships of a bygone empire.
Each tree removed gave a secondary benefit in opening land now
growing the food of a nation.

In another direction lay the fantastical Cotswolds with their fairy-tale,
hobbit-like, cottages. They are interspersed amidst fields rounded
about with stacked stone walls encompassing the fields now arable
because of the removal of those very stones that hem them in. Stony
ground was made good by generations of broken plowshares, backs,
and lives that forced them into growth and good yield through sheer
human will and with God’s gracious favor.

The midlands of England, like the stone-walled fields of Ireland, tell
their tales if you really look: these now fertile plains were once
unfarmable forests, groves and stony plains. In my brief outings so far
on Aquidneck island, the same hints of what has been cleared away
exist all around… most obviously in the open fields of Middletown and
Portsmouth… Land spotted with the scant remnants of forests that
were cleared away in the industry of colony and a new nation… Out
there Honyman worked his glebe and Berkeley cultivated Whitehall…
clearing land and farming it into harvest. Before that, any seed cast in
them would have been choked out, trodden under, or eaten by the
birds who nested in those long-gone trees. It was only through years
and centuries of effort that the fields of Oxfordshire, and of Little
Rhody, began to yield even seven or ten-fold harvests, a goodly amount
that still falls far short of the yields that Jesus promises us… harvests we
will enjoy only if we put the work into cultivating the soil that is
ourselves and one another.

The yields Jesus promises in today’s parable are enormous. In a great
year a Judean farmer would have a ten-fold yield. By way of
comparison, a thirty-fold yield would have fed not only a farmer’s
family but his entire village for over a year. A hundredfold? Well, a
hundredfold yield could have given a Galilean farmer the opportunity to
build a first-century Bellevue Manse on the Shore of the Sea of Galilee.
That’s the Return on Investment we’re talking about. And it is not
accidental. It is the work of years.

I am a big fan of St. Benedict of Nursia, whose feast day the Church
celebrated yesterday. His little Rule, written as a guide to running
monasteries, convents, and abbeys, persists as one of the great
spiritual works of western Christianity. Tanya and I read a portion of the
rule every day as a part of our personal Rules of Life. Thousands of
religious communities, Catholic and Anglican, have been founded upon
his rule… which is summed up in the words “Ora et Labora”: Prayer and

In the Rule, Benedict envisions the monastery as a sort of workshop in
which various tools are employed by the monks in order to cultivate
their true product: pure discipleship to Jesus Christ. And the main tool
is prayer. It is the Opus Dei. The work of God. Monks, and all Christians
are called to pray constantly. Prayer is our primary work.
Over and over Benedict stresses that this work must be done in
community… echoing Tertullian’s statement that one Christian alone is
no Christian. We Christians are defined by being in community with one
another… The Body of Christ on Earth, the Church. Benedict is adamant
in his distaste for those monks who wander from monastery to
monastery instead of getting on with the hard work of being in
community… remaining in relationship with people who may rub us the
wrong way… Benedict knew the truth… stability in relationship to one
another is the principle method through which we are cultivated to
yield results for God’s Kingdom. As iron sharpens iron so do we work
upon one another to improve our usefulness to God. On this point
Rowan Williams wrote:

“Stability is the condition for learning about the human, the
background against which we develop who we are as human agents.
Because at its basis lies the recognition that others won’t go away. A
great deal of our politics, our [church] life, often our personal life as
well, is dominated by the assumption that everything would be all right
if only some people would go away… but the point is that, for the writer
of the Rule of Benedict, other people are not going to go away; and
therefore the heart of spiritual challenge is how we live with the
otherness – honestly, constructively, hopefully and not blindly.”

Christian life overall, is a form of life that DEPENDS on the people who
have chosen it. And it is a lifestyle that exists not for its own sake, but
for those who stand outside it, inviting them in. To come into the
workshop and labor alongside us… we who labor upon ourselves for
one another’s sake… For the sake of all whom Jesus, the Word of God,
emptied himself to save. Inviting everyone into a kingdom where all are
loved, and zero-sum games are a shown to be a lie and everyone has
enough. That is cultivation!

Christianity makes an offer, a modest proposal, to our society. What
would the world be like if, JUST IF, this kind of life were possible after
all? What else, what growth, what yield, would be possible if stability
and loving honesty were the basis of human life together. That’s what
the Church, God’s great experiment intentional community is trying to
say to the world. And since the church doesn’t have its own voice, she
has to say it through us… the members of her body. In loving lives well lived… in good work conscientiously done.
I am as given to shortcuts as the next person… Our Old Testament
Lesson today haunts me. What birthrights have I given away over the
course of my life for a figurative bowl of lentil stew? What important
relationships did I cast away like Esau did his relationship with his father
as first-born? Make no mistake, Esau’s choice was gravely shameful…
essentially, he stated that the whole of his father’s estate, nothing less
than God’s promise to Abraham, was worth just a bowl of soup. It was
gravely offensive. How would you feel if your child cast away her
inheritance for a can of Campbell’s condensed soup? Yet we can do just

What gifts of God have we set aside, what providence have we
squandered, to satisfy a passing urge? It is a question with which each
of us must sit and make a true accounting. And… where we have
offended one another through rash and selfish decisions… let us seek

Let us listen along with those Christians in Rome whom Paul urges to
mindful in their cultivation: “For those who live according to the flesh
set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according
to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind
on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”
The Greek word for flesh here is not the human body, soma. It is sarx,
the fatefully broken state of fallen creation… To choose sarx is to
choose empire and a servitude to the uncaring. To choose spirit is to
choose God’s plan for the restoration of all good. To choose God’s

A kingdom of life and peace among one another, laboring alongside and
loving one another… That is our purpose as Christians. That is how we
cultivate the soil of our lives and our world in preparation for expansive
growth… cleared, fertile fields that are ready when God sows… In
community: humbly, honestly, lovingly.

Today you’ve returned to corporate worship with one another after a
long, fallow, season for this grand old building. And you’ve invited me
in… It’s a planting season. Prepare the fields of your heart and the fields
of this parish. Let us walk with Jesus, who even now is inviting us to
come with him into the fields and work for a plentiful harvest. We’ve
got this, Trinity. It is our time. Invite others to the cultivation. And
here’s to our new era! Let us cultivate for a hundred-fold yield.