By Rev. Dr. Rodney Kennedy
“The kingdom of God is like” farmer sowing seed in ditches, creeks, dirt roads, rock piles, and down the center stripe of I-74 between Peoria and Bloomington. This is crazy. Is the farmer drunk? Has he lost all best farming practices?
Well, the story is about God and God is a generous God sowing the gospel seed here, there, and everywhere. We could use a picture of a generous God in a world of preachers that can only play one tune: a judging, cruel, vindictive God. So this one is for your spiritual and mental health: God is generous.
The parable is doing good theology because the subject of the Bible and thus of theology is God. WHAT IS GOD LIKE? God is like a farmer planting seed and throwing them wildly everywhere. What is God like? God is generous beyond our measuring. God has created a generous universe filled with goodness. A good God created a good universe and endowed it with abundance. I like the way Howard van Till describes the universe: “The creation was gifted from the outset with functional integrity ” a wholeness of being that eliminated the need for gap-bridging interventions to compensate for formational capabilities that the Creator may have initially withheld from it” so it is “accurately described by the Robust Formational Economy Principle ”an affirmation that the creation was fully equipped by God with all of the resources, potentialities, and formational capabilities that would be needed for the creaturely system to actualize every type of physical structure and every form of living organism that has appeared in the course of time.” Rowan Williams says, “We exist because of an utterly unconditional generosity. The love God shows in making the world, like the love he shows towards the world once it is created, has no shadow or shred of self-directed purpose in it; it is entirely given for our sake.”
God is so generous, so giving, that we are overwhelmed by “God’s inexhaustible creation, limitless grace, relentless mercy, enduring purpose, fathomless love” (Sam Wells). As a people formed by the fear of there not being enough that such a generous God scares us as “too much to contemplate, assimilate, understand.” Maybe we are afraid of our generous God because if we actually embraced all this generosity we would have to change our lives of entitlement, desert, and worth into lives of humility and gratitude. Then we would know that all we have we have through sharing.
An episode of my favorite sit com, The Big Bang explores this idea when Penny tells Sheldon that she has gotten him a Christmas present. Unable to decide on the appropriate gift because he doesn’t know the value of Penny’s gift to him, he buys an array of gift baskets and hides them in his room. Well, Penny gives Sheldon a napkin signed by Leonard Nimoy. Sheldon loves Spock and he is so overwhelmed by the generosity, the grandness of the gift that he rushes to his room and brings out all the gift baskets and showers them on Penny. With gift baskets falling all over the floor, Sheldon cries, I know, I know, it’s not enough is it?” God is not like Sheldon. God disseminates gifts in embarrassing abundance.
God has given us everything we need. Look at God throwing that seed up into the air to everyone. There is no end to God’s gifts. It is this generous God that must shape our economic relations with one another. It is this generous God that must make of us a second-mile people, a forgiving 70 X 7 people, a looking for the one lost sheep people, a welcoming home the prodigal son with a blow out the doors party – a feast of feasts.
WHAT IS GOD LIKE? God is promiscuous with the good news. God celebrates waste and extravagance in grace and mercy. And the most wasteful act of all is the son of God dying for every living creature, most of whom will not accept, appreciate, or even know of the gift.
This celebration of waste disrupts reality for go-by-the-book people. The nose-out-of-joint, pursed-lipped little Puritan that lives deep in all our hearts would have expelled this farmer from the community faster than they drove Roger Williams into the bitter winter. In this cold world created by Christians, it is all tit for tat, an eye for an eye. Keep the books and go by the book.
Business math was never Jesus’ best subject. In fact, Jesus Math is rather strange. There is no expectation of results, but there is a promise of results. Other parables use the same math and it is not base 10 math. A woman has 10 coins and loses 1. What cost-benefit analysis would predict that someone would take greater joy in one coin than in nine? A manager hires workers and at the end of the day, one-hour workers get the same pay as all-day workers, Jesus is rich but for our sake becomes poor. How embarrassing but it’s the gospel. WHAT IS GOD LIKE? God is like that woman, that businessman, that Son. God is generous!
Like the farmer throwing seeds everywhere, churches need to imitate God’s generosity. As in Adam, all humans die, so in Jesus all persons live. But we resist because we are not ready to be that generous. Churches should change their names. Instead of denominational names adorning church signs, they should self-identify: The First Church of Anti-Gay, Anti-Abortion, Anti-Immigration, The Holy Angel Church of Republicans, The Church of Elderly White People, The All Right Baptist Church, The Special People of God Church, The Repent or Go To Hell Church, The We Are Mad and We Are Not Going to Take It Any More Church, The I’m Just Waiting for the Rapture Church, The Church of the Angry God, The Church of God Hates Muslims, The Church of God and Guns, The Church of God Is Going to Get You for That, The Church of the Democratic Savior, and The Church of America. Some folks may discover that their moral high ground is sinking sand.
God, having created the universe, has no agenda for the destruction of creation. God is generous beyond our imagining. Once we grasp God’s generous nature, we are able to read the Bible with gentler hearts. For the life of me I can’t figure out why Christians are so obsessed with the alleged acts of violence perpetuated by God in the Old Testament. They can’t stop talking about God’s righteous judgment. Even if the awful things said about God were true, and they are not, it is particularly galling that so many Christians seem to get such smug satisfaction out of reading that God destroyed Sodom. Maybe it was a fire. Cities have burned to the ground before. Maybe it was an earthquake or a volcano. Maybe this story is meant as a drama of hospitality. After all, Sodom was not destroyed for homosexuality but for failure to show hospitality to the poor. I’m sure you already knew that. The point of the Sodom story in Genesis 19 is failure to provide hospitality to God’s representatives. Ellen Davis says that holiness means providing hospitality so that God would feel at home in our midst. Sodom, by refusing hospitality to God’s messengers, refused hospitality to God. A later interpreter of the events at Sodom was Ezekiel. Here’s his conclusion: “This was the guilt of Sodom: she had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” Somehow we have to find a way to talk out loud about God that doesn’t leave God with blood on his hands looking like a pagan God who is short-tempered, malicious, violent, and dangerous. Look, there’s more to go on than the stories you have read in the Bible. God has reconciled the universe through Jesus. Let that be our mantra. It is the good news. We are reconciled. That, my brothers and sisters, is the meaning of generosity. “Though he was rich, for our sake, he became poor.” When I am 100 years old and mumbling in my rocking chair at the nursing home, I hope I am repeating over and over, “God has reconciled the world in Jesus!”
Now do we get it? The Good News is that the kingdom of God has come in the person and message of Jesus, and reconciled the world. The Good News is not that we need to get saved; the Good News is that salvation has come in Jesus! The Good News is that God is generous beyond our imagining. God is generous!