Sunday, July 17, 2011

Episcopal Mission Closing: Read Again the Parables of the Sower, the Seeds, and the Yeast

This week we learned of the closing of St. Matthias Episcopal Church in Rock Hill, SC. St. Matthias has been a mission church for quite a few years now and never really seemed to grow despite being located in an area of rapid population growth. Here is a snapshot of their stats,

The rather precipitous fall in plate and pledge following 2003 and 2004 is something that has been noted in other churches and in part may be due to the effects of TEc's move in 2003 to make Gene Robinson a bishop despite the fact that he was previously divorced and openly living in a homosexual relationship.

But, other factors were at work in this mission's story, and those factors have to do with why churches are planted, where they are planted (St. Matthias was only 4.6 miles from Our Saviour), and why they grow.

Gone are the days when a centralized authority can look at a map and the demographics of an area and say, "Let's put one of our churches here."

Gone are the days when a Diocese can accept some donated property and decide that as long as the land is available, "Let's put one of our churches here."

Now is the time to look at new ways of bringing the Gospel to people (see "The End of Church Planting" over at Anglicans United). I still think that success might be assumed if the Gospel message you are sowing is the Gospel of Christ and not some "New Thang."

In a recent article at The Living Church Foundation by Russel J. Levenson Jr. we find,
"Let us confess what we have become: a deeply divided, distracted, dying church. There are clearly bright spots and some places where churches are growing magnificently, but that is the exception, not the rule. Let us quit making excuses. Yes, culture is against us, but no more than ancient Rome was against the early Christians. Yes, our members are dying, but we must be about the business of replacing them. We are too committed to gospels other than the one at the center of Christianity: a relationship with Jesus Christ, and making disciples in his name."

"To confess is to admit not only our faulty ways but also our need for restoration and new life. Some would argue that we should divide even more. This argument, again, comes from the extremes of the church. The far left, committed to revising and modernizing our ancient faith, is happy to see the far right leave (battling fervently for property and assets along the way). The far right, caught in the throes of impatient and uncharitable judgment, allows a root of bitterness to take hold, and departs in a dust storm of triumphant rebellion. Meanwhile, the broad middle waits for the next General Convention, the next leadership crisis and the next massive exodus."

"But if we are willing to admit the possibility that our trails forged since the mid-1970s are fraught with faulty assumptions about the nature of the gospel and its mission, we might also be able to consider reform and new birth."

(h/t Kendall Harmon at T19, and the SC Anglican Communion Network)

We have been reading Matthew's Gospel the past few Sunday's, and last week we read the parables of the sowers of the seeds. Knowing that most small congregations are made up of basically nice folks that you would find to be kind, generous, and friendly, I am beginning to think such the crop failures in TEc are not due to stoney ground, choking weeds, or birds stealing the seed, but rather due to the particular hybrid that is being planted. Like a farmer that is not paying a whole lot of attention, the TEc sower reorders the same hybrid seed that underproduced the previous season rather than going back to the proven non-hybridized version that fed his family for generations.

If there are any doubts as to what type of seed is being shipped, please read this post about the contents of the Episcopal church Publishing Company Catalog.
Let's pause and reflect on today's Gospel.

The Sunday lectionary readings from Matthew continue to be altered by removing certain passages for the third week in a row, and I still think we need to keep the full kernel in place to enjoy the fruits of the Gospel. This week we were presented with Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 which left out two parables. I have re-inserted them in the highlighted text below.
The Parable of Weeds among the Wheat
He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’

The Parable of the Yeast

He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’
Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. This was to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet:
‘I will open my mouth to speak in parables;
I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.’

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!
I suspect the omissions of the Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Parable of the Yeast were done to make the job of the preacher a little easier. It is a shame though to leave them out for they speak of the power of God's Word to grow and develop without the need for humankind's attempts at intervention. After all, doesn't it seem that when we try to shape God's kingdom to grow in
the way that we desire that we wind up with stunted plants and unrisen bread?

When considering TEc plants and why they may not grow, it is time for the sowers to look into their bag of seed and realize that this hybrized gospel created through Biblical revisionism is not what the sower of "good" seed was using. It is more like the yeast of the Pharisees in its end result.

It is sad to think in this way of a modern parable of good soil wasted by bad seed, but results are what they are.

I have faith that God will guide the good people of St. Matthias to a new church home.

"You tell me there's an angel in your tree
Did he say he'd come to call on me
For things are getting desperate in our home
Living in the parish of the restless folks I know

Everybody now bring your family down to the riverside
Look to the east to see where the fat stock hide
Behind four walls of stone the rich man sleeps
It's time we put the flame torch to their keep

Burn down the mission
If we're gonna stay alive
Watch the black smoke fly to heaven
See the red flame light the sky
Burn down the mission
Burn it down to stay alive
It's our only chance of living
Take all you need to live inside

Deep in the woods the squirrels are out today
My wife cried when they came to take me away
But what more could I do just to keep her warm
Than burn, burn, burn, burn down the mission walls

Now everybody now bring your family down to the riverside
Look to the east to see where the fat stock hide
Behind four walls of stone the rich man sleeps
It's time we put the flame torch to their keep"

From "Tumbleweed Connection"
Music: Elton John
Lyrics: Bernie Taupin

1 comment:

  1. I think you nailed it. It's not that people aren't hungry, but rather the powers that me insist on giving them food that doesn't fill.