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The Rev. David Minnick
Sunday, 13 July 2014
Text: Matthew 13:1-9,18-23
Sermon 07-13-14 Matthew 13: 1-9; 18-23
The story is told of an artist, whose specialty was abstract works, who when asked to explain one of his pieces on display remarked, “If I tell you, that’s all you’ll ever see there.” (David Zersen)
Such is one of the challenges, one of the risks, every preacher takes with a sermon on any given Sunday. Scripture has the capacity to touch, inspire, challenge, confuse; and on any good Sunday, all of these are possible reactions within any church family
This risk of limiting Scripture’s potential is especially present when preaching on the parables of Jesus. Explain too much and one runs the risk of diminishing the power of these dynamic teaching stories, which continue to touch, inspire, challenge and confuse those who hear them 2000 years after they were first told.
I’ve only recently heard the phrase “ear worms,” a rather graphic and unpleasant image. Ear worms, in contemporary jargon, are those catchy songs, which once you’re heard them, stay with you. You might hear them early in the morning and find them running through your mind all day long. Although it’s a phrase that makes me flinch, in a way, parables, when told by Jesus and other spiritual teachers over the centuries, are intended to be “ear worms,” stories and riddles that stay with you all day and which you find yourself coming back to over and over again to understand as fully as possible.
A quick and easy explanation of the parable we’ve just heard, the parable of the sower, is that God is the sower, the Word Jesus proclaimed the seed, and we, in our many different places in life’s journey, are the soil.
A too thoroughly explained parable can be like a joke that has to be explained. It is much less effective when either needs to be spelled out. But at the risk of doing that, let me say a few words.
The parable of the sower has important lessons both to each one of us as seeker/believers as well as to us as the community of faith, a family of disciples. This parable relates to the many places we’ve all likely been on life’s journey.
First we hear of the seed that has fallen on the hard ground, which lay there unable to penetrate the crust of the soil and take root. One of the paradoxes of suffering/life’s struggle is that while they can make one’s outer shell hard and resistant to anything that seeks its way in, it is also struggle and suffering that eventually break through that shell. Once broken, the comforting, renewing, hope-filled word of God can enter and touch the now receptive heart.
Perhaps even more painful for those of us in the church are those times when the seeds fall on the ground, seems to take root, but then the roots go shallow and suffering seems to triumph as the budding faith seems to wither and fade away. We have all witnessed those eager new believers, who rush in eagerly, embracing the costs and joys of discipleship and grow sad when it all seems to be too much, too soon, and they burn out, resulting in the loss of both their enthusiasm and the rewards that the faithful life can bring.
Then there are those whose roots take hold, who plant themselves and begin to feel established, and who then struggle further. We who live in this “your lunch in two minutes of less or it’s free,” Extra strength Tylenol, providing fast relief for your headache, can easily grow discouraged, when our connection with God is not also immediate. Many want for God to be at their beck and call, 24/7, and of course, if in fact, God was to serve us like that, we would need to ask the question just who is the Holy One in this relationship. Faith is not an aspirin, or a form of fast food to fill our hungry stomach. It is a relationship that takes time to develop and effort to nurture, for roots to take hold and anchor us in place. And for some, that is unreasonable and discipleship becomes burdensome, losing out eventually to the many other interests competing for our time and attention, especially on a Sunday morning.
In life, faith does not grow easily. If it does, Jesus reminds us here, it may in fact be a weed that will fade under the crush of the noonday sun or have shallow roots.
And then there are those who become the living, breathing, viable soil; the land where seeds take hold, flourish and grow. I believe that anyone who has chooses to be here on a day like this can relate to this. Where faith is alive, a sense of God central in life; where the Spirit moves and guides us.
The challenge to us in these days is how to keep receptive soil alive. Certainly one way is by finding balance in life. Just like the good soil thrives with a mix of sunlight, water, being turned over and fed by the nutrients of life, so too do we thrive when we live our lives in balance. Keeping a sense of Sabbath (time apart) in our lives; carving out alone time, prayer time with God; feeding ourselves through Scripture and devotional reading; finding the blend with faith and work; mission outreach and personal nurturance.
Today, however this parable speaks also to us as the family of faith too. Take note that a sower is not the same as a farmer. Farmers nurtured seed, treating it as precious, getting it to sprout, then planting one small plant at a time, packing the soil carefully, one at a time in an organized row, free of weeds, rocks, etc. But this parable is about a sower. Tossing seed freely and abundantly.
The good news that Jesus is proclaiming here includes the news that God would be a poor, reckless and inefficient farmer, for God is a generous, even wasteful source of love, goodness and blessing.
And so God scatters love and blessings on those we might easily write off. God’s love goes to those whose hearts are too hard to touch “for now.” God’s grace touches the lives of those who respond quickly, perhaps too quickly, not getting grounded in life and faith.
God’s blessings drop among the thorns and weeds, sometimes succeeding in growing there, able to rise up through the thorns and weeds, reminding us that with God, there is always hope, but many times the seed struggles; not able to overcome so much of what the world offers as alternatives to faith.
One of the other qualities of sowing seeds is that sometimes seed lay dormant before they sprout and grow. I’m getting to that place in both my life and my experiences as a pastor that I frequently find myself looking back, sometimes with satisfaction and enthusiasm, other times with regrets and sadness at mistakes made, people I’ve hurt. But looking back also allows me to see those places where seeds were planted, by teachers, mentors, those I sought to serve; planted over the years and now eventually taking root and becoming a part of my life and faith.
Early in my years as a pastor, I was bold to be a prophetic preacher, but over time, I’ve learned you need to establish yourself as a competent pastor before you take on the role of being a prophetic preacher. Over the years, my priorities in seeking to live faithfully has shifted from focusing exclusively on “doing,” working non-stop, always looking for something else to “do” in the course of my day to focusing on “being” a disciple. Making prayer and reflective reading a priority along with serving others. Finding that balance between doing and being, and becoming increasingly aware that neglecting one of these will impact my efforts in living fully.
And perhaps most significantly, I’ve found making stewardship a priority in my life, doing, has nourished my spirituality, being. Learning to live with more discipline and a greater awareness to how I seek to responsibly use the abundant blessings God has entrusted me with, embracing the call to living with more sacrifice and a commitment to proportional giving, has been a seed that has greatly flourished in my life and faith.
This parable challenges us here at Spring Glen Church at this increasingly critical time in our church history—Do we believe that God is calling us to be, with the blessings entrusted to us, farmers or sowers; carefully nurturing and planting in an organized way or hearing the call to live more boldly, scattering grace and good news as far as our arms can toss? Do we believe in a God who, as this parable describes God, is a careless, reckless farmer, but who we also believe is also, a generous, wasteful giver of blessings and grace? Do we hold on/savor/protect what God has blessed us with, entrusted to our care? Or can we live boldly as those who believe in a God whose grace and love and blessings will have no end and eagerly share the blessings we know with others?
Can we live like those who have confidence that God, through us, will continue to scatter blessings, in the hopes that we will share them with others?
Are we doing our best to nurture within our congregation a spirit like that of the good soil, with a proper sense of balance and an openness to the guidance of the Holy Spirit?
We are blessed with one another and an abundance of resources as we seek together to find our individual and shared responses to these questions.
When Jesus first told this parable, in an agrarian culture, the symbolism and meaning of his words was easily and widely understood. Although it takes us a bit more time to understand this story and interpret it for ourselves, this is the time of the year in our land where our gardens are blooming and full, or ripe with possibility.
And the lessons we learn from our gardens may reinforce the wisdom of this ancient parable.
Let us remember that there is no growth without the rain and storms. Times of trial can many times be the places in our lives where we are finally vulnerable enough to let God in.
We cannot rush the harvest. The grace of God has its own timetable which is seldom anything close to ours. And if you’ve ever bit into premature fruit, you are apt to remember the bitterness of it.
There is value in continued pruning. Cutting off what is dead or that which distracts growth from continuing will lead to great rewards.
And soil is unpredictable. But we dare never be so bold as to assume that good seek will not grow where it is planted. God’s redeeming Word needs to be heard in places which may look to us to be hopeless.
Good parables do not have nice neat endings, clearly spelled out explanations for those who heard them. And neither should sermons about them.
We will make sense of this parable in the days ahead, both for ourselves and as a community.
Jesus concluded his parable with the words, “Let those with ears listen.” This was his way of saying, “in this story, there is something for everyone.” May that be so for us today. Amen.