Be a Ripe Tomato
A few Sundays ago – a parishioner suggested something to me. What if – they said – you included a title to your sermon in the bulletin? That would help put focus on the take-away – a nugget - sometimes there is so much in there.
This is a good suggestion – and I thought it was most interesting that it happened on the first Sunday where I had culled a line of scripture from our readings and put it on the front of the bulletin. Perhaps you’ve noticed that – perhaps not. But there is just “so much” packed into a worship service – 4 excerpts from the bible – prayers – the entirety of Jesus’ life remembered in the Eucharist – hymns at the 10am – and a sermon. I often think the whole enterprise would work better with less – quality over quantity – less scripture – less talking – more silence.
Anyway – my point in pulling out one verse is to put forward a “good news” anchor for the week – a spiritual touchstone – maybe even a morning or evening mantra – because theoretically – Sunday’s scripture is like a pair of glasses we see through – until next week.
If only I could come up with a catchy sermon title every week! One of my preaching
mentors said all sermons are supposed to have a title – even if the preacher doesn’t share it – because it ensures you stick to the point. Honestly – I can’t get it into the bulletin because that would require my having completed the sermon by Thursday – the day we print. For me – that’s impossible – so while its not in the bulletin – here is the title – the takeaway – for today: Be a ripe tomato.
Yesterday was like a taste of early summer wasn’t it? So glorious these breaks in the cold. All of you know how much better tomatoes are in the summer, yes? I don’t even buy tomatoes in the winter – fresh ones anyway. What’s the point – they taste – well, they have no taste. They’re bland – sometimes mealy – but mostly devoid of any flavor.
But in the summer – from the farmer’s market or the vegetable stand – when you’re getting them direct from a farm – and they are “real” – whole different story. They are juicy and flavorful – just need a little bit of salt on them – or maybe some olive oil with mozzeralla. So good.
So think of that perfect tomato – and if you don’t like tomatoes – think of the perfect apple – or pear – whatever fruit you like that you eat seasonally because that is when it has matured to its peak flavor. That is the essence of what Jesus says as he summarizes all of chapter 5 – the heart of Christ’s teachings in Matthew – with his takeaway – be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect. However, I’m not sure we hear it that way.
Perfectionists that many of us are – it’s been my experience we hear that phrase as one more impossible tasked heaped on this huge pile of rules – not just in the gospel today – but basically every reading we’ve heard this morning. Which one is the hardest for you – - Don’t lie - Don’t swear - Don’t show partiality - Don’t hold a grudge - Don’t seek vengeance - Go the extra mile – for someone else - Love your enemies
Which one – or which handful of these – has you thinking – that is sheer nonsense – and the reason why Jesus is Jesus – and I’m just me. Because being perfect in all of that – is impossible.
That critical voice - our supreme perfectionist is not the voice of God. That critical voice inside– you know, the one always berating us for not living up to whatever standards of perfection we have been trained in – because of who we are, where we were born, family, etc. Nor is the Lord that internal voice of critical judgment, the one that displaces our uncomfortable feelings of failure on others – i.e. blame. Perfection in the way we tend to think of it – is not what Jesus is referring to.
Our English needs our summer tomato. Jesus is calling us to be mature – ripe – believers. Faith-filled people who engage living with their whole-soul –whole-body – and a wholehearted commitment to God’s creation and to all the people in it.
Loving the people who are like us – the people we hold much in common with – the ones we tend to surround ourselves with – that is easy. God asks that we stretch - grow – reach for and develop – the holy within us – to see as God sees. This God who makes the rain to fall and the sun to shine on all the imperfect people. God the good gardener – doesn’t withhold – why do we?
Because these ways of God are really hard – loving enemies, forgiveness, compassion – not at all easy. But we too are connected to a vine and part of something larger. This gospel – and each passage – except our psalm – isn’t directed at you and me – its directed at us and we. Something I often share, particularly in bible study – is that when we read in scripture the English word “you” – we hear “me”. Instead what we need to default to is “y’all”. Jesus rarely directs a you to one particular person – it is – to the disciples – or the crowds – or as is the case this morning – both groups at once.
The same is true in the reading from Leviticus. Both Leviticus and the gospel are ways of living for a community of people – a people who believe God has liberated them – gifted them – loved them and forgiven them – a people who believe that the only way they can fulfill their end of the covenant is through community. A community that comes together aware – if not always individually believing – in their God-given holiness.
If loving your enemies – or something else on today’s list - sounds impossible to you – consider the community ministries of our church. Two weeks ago – Van Gardner who is the priest in charge at St. Luke’s in Baltimore put a post on his Facebook page about their afterschool program.
It was a picture of the kids from their youth center. This – according to Van – is the most important ministry of their church – sure Sundays are important – but kids having a safe place to do homework, hang out and eat dinner after school – is vital. Anyway, he wrote about how on that day – volunteers from the youth program had to escort the kids from school to St. Luke’s – because of drug dealers a block away from the church and the fact that there had been a shooting incident, streets were blocked off.
Van Gardner was commending the volunteers and also lamenting the fact that this is the daily reality for the children of his church. The daily reality of that community is very different than ours. There are no farmer markets in that neighborhood as far as a I know – like most of the city it would be classified as a a food desert – where fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to come by. In fact one of the surprises of our Christmas café and summer camp program at St. Luke’s from the parishioners who provided meals – was how the kids couldn’t get enough of the vegetables. Broccoli piled high on the plate.
Of course the children and people of St. Luke aren’t our enemies – but St. Luke’s is in what I think we could call – enemy territory. A place that is scary – I wouldn’t go there at night. I remarked to someone when we were leaving the Christmas Café in December – its like you’re in this place of warmth and community – and then you go through the gate of their parking lot – and its lock the doors.
The call of God through Christ – and through the prophet Moses is concerned with how the community of God’s people are in relationship with the communities around them – the ones gleaning from their fields – the ones in need of someone going the extra mile. The holiness of God is in the people – but is only made real, visible when it’s light shines forth. What good is the ripest most delicious fruit if no one ever eats it?
In the “me” scripture for today – the psalm – we hear something I think we can all relate to - a direct plea to God for understanding – for help in being good – for guidance and support. All of us need to pray those prayers individually. But perhaps this morning we can hear God answer that prayer through Jesus’ encouragement to look towards our own community – and the ways in which Jesus is inviting us into relationships that will help us grow in the practices that will bring us to our fullest human flourishing.
The Christian life – the spiritual life – is not about arriving – it is not about perfectionism – it’s about becoming. How are you becoming the person God created you to be? How are you adding to the foundation begun through Christ? In what ways do you hear Jesus challenging and calling you – and calling us to be a light on the hill - a holy community that loves our neighbors as we love ourselves? Amen.