Lessons in Recklessness

Rev. Dr. Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd, Westworth United Church, July 13, 2o14

Genesis 25:19-34; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

I expect that many of you are working towards some goal in life. It may be to earn enough money to retire comfortably. It may be to retain your health so that you may live independently for as long as possible. It may be more education. It may be a promotion. It may be to help your children reach their goals.

Think about whatever goal you have. Now, what would you think if someone came along and said that they could show you a shortcut to that goal? I’d be a bit suspicious, but I’d be a bit curious, too. It does tend to take me a long time to get things done because I like to do things thoroughly, as best as possible. For this reason, I’m always willing to learn from other people’s time-saving methods. Shortcuts may save a lot of wasted energy for ourselves and for others impacted. There was a cartoon in the Observer where the parishioners came up to the preacher and said, “Although we’re thoroughly enjoying your 20-week sermon series on the Book of Exodus, we believe it’s time you found a shortcut to the promised land.”

Shortcuts are great—sometimes. But at other times, they may be recklessly short-sighted. They may defeat the very goal for which we strive.

A little girl watched a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. She saw it trying to break free and felt sorry for it. “It doesn’t have to struggle so.” She decided to help the butterfly. She broke the cocoon open and the beautiful butterfly emerged. But as she watched, she was horrified to see the butterfly attempt to fly, but slowly wilt down and eventually die. The butterfly needed to break itself free in order to strengthen its wings to fly. The shortcut out of the cocoon proved to be its death.

Jacob tried a shortcut to his goal of birthright in our story from Genesis. His shortcut was not only recklessly short-sighted, but was also of mal-intent. His name, Jacob, means “the one who takes by the heel.” It indicated how he was born. His twin brother, Esau, was born first and therefore inherited the birthright. Jacob was then born, grabbing the heel of his brother. The name Jacob, in Hebrew, has an additional meaning of supplanting someone else—of pulling someone else out of their place and taking it.

Sure enough, Jacob lived up to his name. When his brother Esau came home famished one day from hunting, Jacob, a fabulous cook, saw his opportunity. He offered Esau some of his delicious food in exchange for Esau’s birthright. Esau, thinking only in the moment, took the reckless shortcut to his stomach. And Jacob, thinking only of his own gain, took the unethical shortcut to his goal of inheritance. The result of these shortcuts was scarring that continued for generations between the Hebrews and the Arabs—the two nations fathered by Jacob and Esau.

But grace also enters into the picture, because these two great nations were both blessed by God. Even when we screw up and make bad choices—even when we have ill intentions, God forgives us and gives us another chance.

It’s like the sower and the seed. Sometimes we’re pretty rocky; sometimes we’re pretty dry; sometimes we haven’t taken care of our body—the seed bed. We make some pretty bad choices, take some pretty reckless shortcuts. We may create some long lasting scars, but, low and behold, we also see some green shoots appearing almost in spite of ourselves.

Even when the conditions are not ideal for seeds, they start sprouting in the most unlikely of places—deserts, rocky cliffs, and the ruins of human creation. Buildings meant to last forever crumble under the verdant greening power of small but mighty seeds.

There is a certain recklessness in this parable of the sower and the seed. Jesus notes what happens to the seed when it falls on poor soil, compared with the humungous yield of seed that falls in the perfect location. Farmers may have a pretty good idea of the perfect places for seeding, but natural conditions are beyond their control. They must sow in places which later become waterlogged, or weed-bound, or dried out. They must sow generously, in the hopes that the places where the seed is sown remains good soil. This means that there will always be a certain amount of seed sown in places that will yield nothing. But few farmers give up. They will continue, year after year, hoping that their soil will remain the perfect seed bed. Some would call this reckless hope. I call it a perfect example of God’s reckless grace.

It demonstrates the miracle of God’s forgiveness and grace in our lives. God continues to sow in our lives compassion and beauty, even when we don’t allow those seeds to sprout. God will still keep sowing recklessly, spreading seeds of love on good soil and poor soil alike, for one never knows when the soil will change and nurture those seeds.

Donna Eden writes about such a change in her father. She described him as an angry and judgemental man who was afraid to let others see his soft side. Then he had a series of heart attacks. Each time, he was pronounced dead but was then resuscitated. During his ninth heart attack he had a near-death experience. He saw a childhood friend who had died long ago. This friend greeted him warmly, saying that he could either come with him or go back. “Why would I want to go back?” asked Donna’s father. His friend replied, “Because you haven’t learned a darn thing, Cecil! You haven’t learned how to love.” At that moment, Donna’s father opened his eyes, looked around him at the resuscitation team and told each person that he loved them.  One doctor was quite uncomfortable and replied, “That won’t be necessary.” From that time on, Donna says that her father was transformed into a kind man who was able to see beauty and truth around him. He was changed from a bitter man to the happiest man Donna had ever known.

May we learn from these lessons in recklessness. Reckless short-sightedness that seeks to maximize personal gain may cause permanent scars both for ourselves and for others. But there is a type of recklessness that we are called to do. When we sow seeds of kindness and thoughtfulness, we should do so with reckless abandon, without worrying about whether or not others deserve our kindness. None of us are deserving, if we’re honest. But our world and even our own lives are living proof that seeds do grow even in the harshest of conditions. If we recklessly sow seeds of kindness to everyone around us—and especially those who we think don’t deserve it—we might be surprised at God’s verdant greening power growing in the most unlikely of places.