Today we “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23). Today the familiarity, poetry, and beauty of the 23rd psalm have a different tone. The shadow is dark and the valley is long and deep. I will not mislead you by denying that reality or letting platitudes and sentimentalities echo off the valley’s walls. That doesn’t help anyone. The valley is real and the shadow is here. That does not mean, however, that you and I are without hope. Let me be clear about this. That does not mean we are without hope.
Are you familiar with songlines? Songlines are a part of the aboriginal life. The aborigines tell a creation story in which creation ancestors wandered the continent singing out the name of everything that crossed their path – birds, animals, plants, rocks, caves, desert brush, waterholes – thereby singing the world and all creation into existence. It’s akin to Adam naming the animals (Genesis 2:19-20). The paths their ancestors charted are called songlines.
In every life there is a songline waiting to be sung. We all have one. We may each sing in different keys and use verses particular to our lives but it is the same song. It is the primordial melody of God carrying God’s eternal Word for each of our lives.
The boat of our life is far from land right now. The night is dark, the waves are high, and the wind is strong. There is every reason to be afraid but I don’t want to live in fear and I don’t want you to either. I want us to see the light that shines in the darkness of this night, a light the darkness cannot overcome. I want us to hear the waves slapping against the bottom of Jesus’ feet as he walks toward us. I want us to feel the wind of change. I want us to make room in the boat for Jesus.
We all have an Esau. Individuals, communities, parishes, religious orders, nations, you, and me – we all have an Esau. I am not talking about a literal Esau but a symbolic and metaphorical Esau. That does not mean, however, that Esau is not real. He is absolutely real. Esau is the face of our past guilts and regrets. Esau is the temptation to believe that we are not enough and we need to be someone or something else. Esau is our fear of the future. Esau is the one with whom we wrestle in the depths of our soul to discover our true name and identity, and to find the blessing that is uniquely ours.
The problem is that life doesn’t always work that way. Nor is that, Jesus says, how the kingdom of heaven works. Sometimes real life, kingdom life, is like a net dragged through the sea. It pulls up both the good and the bad. Other times it is like a field that you see day after day. It’s always there. Not much changes. It’s just an ordinary field like any other field except that it is not. Deep within that ordinary dirt is unseen treasure waiting to be discovered.
So here’s what I am wondering. Might you and I be sowers of seed? When we hear or read this parable we are pretty quick to judge ourselves or others as one of the four types of ground: the beaten path, the rocky ground, thorny terrain, or good soil. But have you ever thought of yourself as the sower in today’s parable?
What do you think Sarah would have said if Abraham had told her his plans? Do you think she would have shared his certitude? Picture Abraham coming to Sarah and saying, “Let me tell you what God told me. Isaac and I are gong on a little trip. …” It’s not hard to imagine that she would have had a few things to say to Abraham. What would you have said to him? And why didn’t he tell Sarah his plans? Why didn’t he tell Isaac? Why didn’t he tell the two young men he took with him up the mountain? If Abraham was willing to question, and argue and negotiate with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah why would he not do so for his own son, his only son, whom he loves? What parent here today wouldn’t do that? What parent wouldn’t at least say, “Take me instead?”