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Waxing Lyrical (apologies. Ed!)
Rev Sue Lucas, Sunday, July 13th, 2014

I get my hair done on the South of the city – where we used to live before I was ordained – and, by the way, get the legs waxed and the toenails painted!  The little salon that I use is in the gym I used to belong to.  It’s run by a very able, slightly formidable lady who has built up a really good business, particularly as Liverpool has apparently become quite a venue for hen parties!  And it’s been a good business for the gym – the parties getting day membership while the beauty salon does the ‘pampering.’  But, the gym itself has been taken over by one of the 6 largest health care providers – and, yes I am naming and shaming.  The last time I went, the Salon wasn’t taking new appointments- because their landlord had given them 2 months’ notice to quit – they want the rooms to do occupational health assessments – which will bring in a great deal of money, for little effort.

Well, with the help of some gym members who are lawyers – the Salon’s formidable owner took them on – and has at least enforced the six months’ notice to which she is entitled, and will now be able to give her staff proper redundancy packages.

But it is interesting that the healthcare company – who must have known it was a try-on – did try it on, but had they not been challenged, would have got away with it with impunity.

It is one example of the assault on the commons – health, nature (in the shape of water and utilities),education and public services that we have seen over the last 30 years, and that has accelerated dramatically.  And it is iniquitous – it has increased the divide between the rich and the poor in this country, between the powerful and the power-less; once the commons are privatised, the interests of shareholders are put ahead of the common good. It is, in fact, a land grab – an annexing of what properly belongs to all people in common.

Our parable today seems familiar – all too familiar.  But it is too familiarly allegorised – and seen in purely spiritual terms.  Yet, to the Galilean peasants who heard it, it was all too literal – all too familiar in a very concrete way.   All the things in this parable – stony, difficult ground; scorching sun; birds and insects, were all too real to those trying to eke out a precarious living from the soil; and – what else?  Well, a land grab - the Romans –took their cut of the harvest in punitive taxes; and if the people could not pay, their land was annexed, and they were forced to work it for their overlords, effectively enslaving them; what was Joseph, Jesus earthly father, doing in Nazareth?  His family was, after all, from the South – from the family of David.  It is likely that he had become landless in the Roman occupation, and forced to seek work as a day labourer – a jobbing chippy if you like – in the Roman building projects in the North – like Caesarea Philippi.  And, of course, let’s not forget, the religious authorities, who all in some form colluded with Rome, got their share as well. 

No wonder there was sometimes a lot of year to be got through when the harvest was at the end.

So let’s not be too fast to allegorise – which, let’s not forget, in Greek means to ‘speak other’ – for Jesus’ peasant audience, this parable is a very literal rendering of the harsh reality of their life under Roman rule.

But  Jesus encourages the crowd to imagine a different reality – a reality in which the fruits of their labour really were for them – even a thirty fold harvest was exceptional – sixty fold or a hundred fold was almost unimaginable excess – it is enough to feed the children, keep a roof over everyone’s head, put a bit by for emergency, and still have a big party!

And, impossible though it seems, this is reality – because it is what is brought about by God’s faithful word, and God’s word cannot fail.  Like Isaiah before him, Jesus in our Gospel links together in one astonishing image two themes that run right through the Hebrew bible – the land, that is promised to God’s people, the Israelites, in the covenant – land not simply as territory, but as a symbol of people flourishing, living as fully as possible – and God’s word.  It is not a surprise they are linked – God after all speaks nature into being through his word – and the prophets, like Isaiah, continually speak God’s word to power – to those whose control of the land, of resources, of stuff, means that some have to struggle.

So those who are the stony ground recognise with joy the power of God in personal transformation – but it stops there – it never goes deep enough with them to challenge the stony structures of wealth and power that blight our world.  Those who are the weeds are so up to their necks in that wealth and power that the Word cannot get in – even edgeways!

It is the ordinary people – who know, in bones, that this is not how it is meant to be – and this knowing allows the word to begin its transforming work.

What about us, then?  We, as the church, are those who are called to know that God’s word is faithful and cannot fail; God will accomplish his purpose, slowly, silently like the seed in the soil.  We are called to live – not in the delusions of the present age, that the divide between those who have plenty and those who struggle is inevitable – but in the rhythms of God’s time, the slow outworking of God’s faithful promises.  We’re called to do so by speaking truth to power, when we must; and challenging the view that these divisions are natural and inevitable; by living differently, by living generously, not for ourselves alone, but in a way of being together that means our own good is not separable from the good of all our brothers and sisters, particularly the most vulnerable; and we’re called to do by just being ourselves – feeding faithfully on Christ in word and sacrament, and in our ordinary lives, being signs of the kingdom, of God’s generous love for all people, thirty, fifty and a hundredfold.

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