Sermon for July 10, 2011 on Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, 15th Ordinary, Fourth after Pentecost A

Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23

Caring Enough not to Care

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Jesus told a parable: “A sower went out to sow” – what are you picturing?

Picture this: not a flat field, but a hilly place.  The dirt is not rich, black, midwestern soil, but brown and thin, barely covering the bedrock which juts out in many places.  It’s hot, it’s sunny, it’s the middle east.

Here comes the man with the bag of seed slung over his shoulder.  He follows the path to the middle of this field, lowers his hand into the bag, feels the grains there waiting to be scooped up.  He grabs an overflowing hand-full,  pulls it out of the bag, and with an expert, practiced, skillful sweeping motion, sends the seeds flying in all directions.

Sowing as wasting

Everybody knows what’s going to happen: with any luck, some of it will actually land in a good place where it can germinate and produce a crop.  But a lot of it will have been wasted.

He doesn’t care.  The seeds that land on the hard-beaten path have no chance; they are bird-food.  The seeds that hit the thin-soil areas cannot root; they wither and die.  Some of the seeds that start to grow are choked out by competitive weeds.

If you are going to farm, in first century Palestine, you have to scatter seeds.  You cannot care about the low chances of success.  If you spent much time worrying about the seeds on the path and the shallow soil or the ones that get choked off before harvest, you wouldn’t get anything done.  If you want a harvest, you simply have to scatter seeds.

Metaphors Matter: explaining the parable

“Explain the parable” the disciples ask, so Jesus tells them:

18“Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path.

It turns out that understanding the Kingdom makes a huge difference.  I think today Jesus might say, it’s crucial to “get it.”  There were lots of folks in Jesus’ day who didn’t get it at all.  Many mistook the kingdom of God for the kingdom of David.  It was about “us and them,” good guys and bad guys, God on our side, for our kind.

How did Jesus choose to correct the vision of the kingdom for people who didn’t get it?  Of all the stories he could have told, stories about kings or armies in action, heroism, or victories, he chose to tell a story about seeds, scattered in a difficult, challenging field.

To understand the kingdom is to think about things growing – seeds in the earth.  To think about the kingdom is to imagine, not a triumphant army, but rather, a harvest – a bountiful abundant harvest.  To think about the kingdom with understanding, to “get it” is to think about fruitfulness.

Creation and New Creation: echoes of abundance

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The kingdom of God, it turns out, is very much like the original Creation; there are echoes of that story in this parable.  Think about the two stories:  in the beginning, like a sower walking out onto an empty field scattering seed, the breath/wind/Spirit of God moved out over empty waters of chaos, and started making order, separating light from darkness, waters from land, making spaces in which life could emerge.

Then, just as the crop which the sower sows will one day fill the empty field, the Spirit of God filled the spaces with life – the waters with fish, the air with birds, the land with creatures of all kinds, and at last, with men and women, made in the image of God.  And God blessed his entire creation: “be fruitful” God said.  Creation was all about fruitfulness and abundance; blessing.

The sower walks out into an empty field with seed.  His plan is for fruitfulness and abundance, for a harvest of 30, 60, or 100 fold – a harvest of plenty; plenty enough for everyone, plenty enough to share.  The kingdom of God is about God’s new creation already happening, already bearing fruit, even in the midst of the old creation.

Waste happens

Evil is still at work, the birds will go for every grain they can.  Evil wants to keep people from understanding the kingdom.  Some people have already made up their minds about what they want and how to get it.  They are as impenetrable and hard-headed as a solid foot-path.  They prefer the narrative of violent conquest over the narrative of fruitfulness and blessing.

Jesus names that perspective the work of the seed-snatching evil one.  Evil convinces people to believe the lie that ends justify means.  Where evil has won the argument, there is no harvest coming, only another  barren field of blood.  The seed that fell on the path was wasted seed.

Other seeds will be wasted on soil that cannot support life.  Jesus explained:

20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.

Rocky ground is shallow.  Shallowness is another way of not “getting it.”  Shallowness is all about what is happening on the surface.  Shallowness is all about asking “Who is blessing me?” instead of asking a question that comes from deeper roots like, “Who is hurting, and needs me to be a blessing?”  and “How can I be a blessing?”

The kingdom of God is about new Creation blessings flowing out of people who have “gotten it” that God loves the world he has made, even in its present condition.  The Kingdom is about sowing.  Getting it means “getting” that it won’t be easy; there will be obstacles and set-backs.  That’s okay; the coming harvest will make it worth all the trouble.  Some won’t wait for it – this parable of fruitful abundance, as it is turning out, has tragic elements in it as well.

Growing and choking

The chances for a successful harvest continue to be threatened as the parable continues.  The new creation of the kingdom is planted while the old creation is still alive, and making trouble.  Jesus continues:

 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields

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nothing.

Here is the problem; there will be a banquet table, after the harvest is in, but it will not be a private table.  The “cares of the world and the lure of wealth” without fail, end up producing people who need protective barriers to keep it all safe.  They want to dine in polite company with people who know which hand should hold the fork.

There will be no table set, no meal in the room they imagine.  The banquet will be in the hall of the commoners.  They are welcome, but will they come?  It is sadly possible to choke on expensive food.  The very signs of success that we feel so proud of can become the thorns that choke the life out of the plant.

“Getting it” means losing it 

Finally, after all this bad news, the parable turns around.  When a person “gets it” then the abundant harvest of the new creation can start blessing people now, even as the old creation lingers.

23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

What is it that the good soil people understand?  We are not here for ourselves.  We have been blessed to have tasted the goodness of the New Creation.  We have been blessed with abundance. We are the ones with the seeds of the kingdom.  Our mandate is to scatter them; to fling them as far and as widely as we are able.  Our mission is to grow a harvest of plenty that will bless Gulf Shores, and Baldwin County, and beyond.

For us, mission is at the heart of who we are and why we exist.  Mission cannot be something we do after everything else is done, what we fund after other needs are met, what we do in our spare time.  Rather, mission is why we are standing out there in the field with the bag of seeds.  We are here, on this earth, to be sowers!

To understand the kingdom is to know that no harvest comes from hoarded seed.  Seed preserved in the bag blesses no one.  The kingdom is about caring enough about producing a harvest that it scatters and scatters, not caring about wasted effort.  There is enough – and when it is sown, there will be even more.

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From Harvest to Table

What is the conclusion of this parable?  The abundant harvest of grain is where the story ends, but that’s not where it stops for the sower.  Nobody makes a meal of grain.  Rather, the grain is ground into meal, kneaded into dough, and baked into bread.  It ends up on a table with people gathered around for supper.

We will set out to fling the seed as far and as widely as we can, not caring what kind of place it lands.  And we will go back home to prepare a table with bread enough for everyone, without caring what kind of people show up hungry.  We will not care if everyone around us has bought into the shallow, rootless ideology of scarcity.  We will be sowers.  We will not be choked off by the worries of the world, by obsessing about wealth, and security.

We will be sowers of the Kingdom. Sowers of hope.  Sowers of love.  Sowers of reckless acceptance.  Sowers of God’s abundant grace that we, who have broken bread at table with Jesus, know is so satisfying.

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