Toorak Uniting Church

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Awareness of the Ground of our Being

Luke 8: 4 – 10
Rev. Dr Christopher Page
Pentecost 25
10 November 2013

 The Sower by Vincent Van Gogh
The Sower by Vincent Van Gogh

"Earth's crammed with heaven... But only he who sees, takes off his shoes."
~Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Let me begin with a bit of philosophical theology; perhaps the most profound theological statement of the last century, and yet something that I think we can all grasp because we live in the 21st century, was written in 1951, one year before I was born (I’m not sure that is particularly relevant); it was written by the German/American theologian Paul Tillich in his attempt to describe God in a way that had not been voiced before and yet it had a ring of truth and even helped us make sense of how the Bible wrestled with an understanding of the God of the universe.

"God does not exist. He is being-itself beyond essence and existence. Therefore, to argue that God exists is to deny him….And this: "It is as atheistic to affirm the existence of God as it is to deny it. God is being-itself, not a being."

After one gets over the shock of a Christian theologian saying "God does not exist," one can begin to understand what a significant impact the final words in his statement can have; God is being-itself, not a being. A being has an existence but what we have named God transcends the existence of a being and is being, itself. God is as Tillich will say later, the Ground of our Being. Not only is God the very nature of being itself, we are grounded in that being and that being is life.

There is enough in the Biblical story to confirm this. When Moses is confronted by God and asks "What name shall I call you?" The answer comes to him, "I am who I am, I will be who I will be!" And in the New Testament book of the Acts of the Apostles, we read the words "For in him we live and move and have our being". And the great theologian St Augustine of Hippo said, "When you find God you haven’t." It is only the God who is beyond God that we truly seek. The only proof of the existence of God is your being, your life and that you are a part of the great chain of being, the vitality and vibrancy of life itself.

The Ground of Being:
Ok, so that is enough heady theology for a while. What I also want to say today is this: one of the most important truths of life is that we must be grounded in the very being of life itself. It is hard to bypass the gardening metaphor when we are talking about being grounded. I have been pleased that the concept of the earth and groundedness has remerged in our understanding of faith. If you want to be spiritually grounded, then dig a garden.

Lately I have noticed that I can monitor my own spiritual state by the time I spend in the garden. There is something about the earth and the need to dig and grow that is inextricably tied to the life of the Spirit. And it only needs to be a flower pot to ground us in the being of life.

The Sower and the Seed:
I don’t think that Jesus used parables of the earth just because he lived in an agrarian society. He used them because it grounded people in everyday life. Our means of agriculture may be more sophisticated today, but the method of putting the seed in the ground and watching and waiting for it to grow remain the same. But remember this is a parable. It is using the stuff of the earth to ground you in the world of the spirit or better to say, to 'depth' our being.

This parable is about you and me:

A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up.

Over the years of my life there have been many wise things that have been said to me. But they never took root. I was too immature; too lazy; too preoccupied or even too arrogant to take them in. There is a saying, "When the student is ready, the teacher will come." The seeds of wisdom fell on the path between the furrows and the birds got the best of the pickings. They were not grounded and did not find their way into the depths of my being.

Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture.

How many things have started with a good idea, but just withered on the vine because of a lack of nurture and nourishment. Again, it is the seed of wisdom, truth, knowledge and understanding, but other things seemed more important at the time and I neglect that which would give me life in all its fullness.

Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants.

There are many things in life that will keep the truth of living from depthing itself in our being. Let’s start with the positive things. It can be our work, our families, our friends, our goals and ambitions. All good things in themselves, but they can morph into excuses and reasons why the true meaning of living cannot be embraced. And of course there are those negative thorns and vines that can choke us. Addictions, consumerism, fear of failure and I suspect the list can go on. Something that stops the seed from finding its place in the ground of our being.

Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.

Ah! but then there was the seed that fell on the soil that was ready and prepared for it. And perhaps that’s the "secret" to this parable. Yes, the seed will fall where it will, but there is an onus on the soil to be prepared. There is a story from the Buddhist tradition that goes something like this. A young novice asks his master, "Why must we practise meditation every morning when we are told that enlightenment is a gift and does not come through our own endeavour?" The master sits for some time and then answers, "So that you will know that it is enlightenment when it comes."

So can I conclude with a few suggestions of how we might prepare the ground of our being to be responsive to the seed of life when it comes:

  1. Make sure you are looking in the right place. It is sad to say, but probably more true in our culture and more true than in any time before us that we seek the meaning of living in the wrong place…. I am careful how I say this, but money and wealth won’t do it.

  2. Rest, reflection and slowness are all aspects of the tending of the field of the Spirit.

  3. Bill Cosby said, "I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone." There is a delicate balance between care for others and care for oneself.

  4. Your body is as important as your soul and the Spirit. There is no dichotomy between the body and the soul, we are one and need to live as such.

  5. Failure can be as productive as success and it can lead you into unexpected places. Sorry, but your mother was wrong; you can’t be anything you want to be!!

  6. And finally the garden of your life is tilled with love, enriched through suffering, fertilized by failure and watered by hope.

This is the ground of being that God, who is being itself, can nourish and nurture. When our lives are open, then we can experience the growth the sower speaks about.

"Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant and he said to them, 'The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to others I speak in parables, so that, even though they think they are seeing, they don’t see; and even though they think they are hearing, they don’t understand.’"

© Rev. Dr Christopher Page, 2013

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