Isaiah 55:10-11; Romans 8:18-23; Mt 13:1-23

Turning Over Stones

We have a great opportunity this week to encourage and challenge our congregations. The readings from Isaiah and from the Gospel of Matthew remind us that the Word of God demands attention and a reaction. The readings remind us that the Word of God is given to us for a purpose. These readings encourage us to take the Word of God personally. These readings challenge us to take the Word of God seriously. These readings challenge us to take the Word of God and put it into action.

Perhaps a good question to ask this weekend is this: Do I take the Word of God personally? In order to even consider this question one must first, in fact, enter into the practice of regularly reading or listening to the Word of God and perhaps this is the first challenge for the pastor of a community.

Is this happening? Above and beyond listening to the readings proclaimed each Sunday at Mass, are the faithful reading Sacred Scripture on their own? If the answer is NO, then why is this the case? The first, and perhaps most obvious reason for this is simply that a Bible does not exist in the household. If you want to turn some heads and make people listen up I suggest you announce the following this weekend (no matter the cost): If you do not have a bible in your home, tell me, call me, see me after Church and I will get you one within a couple days. Bold? Yes. Effective? Yes. Does it reinforce the seriousness about which you are preaching this weekend? Yes.

If a bible exists in the home, then why might it not be opened on a regular basis -- or ever? Perhaps an attempt was made to read scripture some time ago and a parishioner happened to open up to a page that was filled with dietary laws, or gory descriptions of warfare, or mystical revelations loaded with cosmic images. And so, the attempt to read and pray over Scripture was short lived. Perhaps a parishioner decided to methodically read the Bible cover to cover, from Genesis to Revelation, and couldnÕt even make it through the Pentateuch because he or she found it dry. We may do well to take a moment to offer some advice about these aforementioned pitfalls which keeps one from successfully reading Sacred Scripture on a regular basis.

In short, speak of lectio divina rather than bible study. Lectio Divina is listening to (not simply reading) GodÕs Word. GodÕs Word is listened to not for the purpose of information; but for transformation. This is not an intellectual or academic exercise. A word or phrase strikes us and we let it reverberate, open us, expand us, form us, shape us, carry us. We let the Word be present to us in a new way. A response is called forth from us. We are challenged or inspired in some way. We respond with a movement of love.

Lectio Divina within a friendship model may preach well. That is, Lectio Divina is simply letting our Divine Friend speak to us through His inspired and inspiring Word. We know that the maintenance of a good friendship requires quality time, frequent communication, and love.

Good friendships are filled with life, fluidity, spontaneity, excitement and love. So should our reading of Sacred Scripture. This is why reading the Bible from Cover to Cover or even a book of the Bible from start to finish does not make for good Lectio Divina. Rather, we should encourage the faithful to simply open to something that they find interesting by a quick skimming, and then to settle into a story, a page, or even a paragraph, and then watch for a phrase or for a word to jump out and cause the reader to ponder and to react.

Now, back to the question of: Do I take the Word of God personally? A personal relationship with the triune God is necessary for the Word of God to have a personal quality to it. We have to convince ourselves that God desires to be in a personal relationship with us because of His great love for us. Accordingly, God chooses to communicate to us through his Word (as well as through many other avenues). We have to convince ourselves that the Word of God is alive, timely, personal to each and every one of us. We have to convince ourselves that God, indeed, sends forth His Word from His mouth with the clear intention that it shall not return void until it has achieved the end for which He sent it.

In the Gospel parable God obviously is lavish with his seed (His Word). A frugal farmer would be very careful about where his seed is spread so as to maximize its growing potential. However, the image of the farmer called to mind in this parable is of an individual who seems to be joyfully casting seed about everywhere. The parable does not say that the seed fell on rocky ground, or on shallow ground, or in thorns by accident. It is simply stated that this is where the seed fell. This can preach in an encouraging way. We may feel at times that we are in these places of rocks, shallowness and thorns; however, the Word of God can still reach us.

Of course, ideally we would like to be in rich soil and producing a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold

Another preaching device this weekend may be to point out what publications are competing for our attention against the Word of God in Sacred Scripture. That is, upon what are we placing more emphasis and in what are we placing more trust than in the Word of God in Sacred Scripture? The Wall Street Journal? The Farmers Almanac? Our Horoscopes? Tabloids? Spy Novels? Our particular trade magazines? Self-help books? This may be a good weekend to help the faithful to compare the words from these sources against the Word of God and to reprioritize. This would certainly help us to take the Word of God more seriously. There is simply no other Word that exists in which we can put the same caliber of trust. \

Finally, how do we put the Word of God into action? What does it mean for us to produce fruit a hundred, or sixty, or thirtyfold? Certainly this kind of fruitfulness can be measured in an increase of faith or in an increase of hope. However, as the scripture says -- the Greatest of these is Love. Accordingly, perhaps the greatest measure of this fruitfulness is how the Word of God inspires and challenges one to love better, to love more generously, to love without prejudice, and to love as instruments of GodÕs mercy, compassion and goodness.

Again, perhaps a preaching focus this weeks is: Let us take the Word of God personally. Let us take the Word of God seriously, and Let us take the Word of God and through it find encouragement and inspiration to act.

There is simply nothing else like it on the planet.

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