God, Dirt and the Church

July 13, 2014 (Ordinary 15)

Isaiah 55:10-13

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

13: 1 “That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen!”

18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When 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. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet 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. 22 As 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 nothing. 23 But 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.” (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, NRSV)

Let us pray: Generous God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable unto you O’ Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

By this time in the summer, you should know if the seeds you planted back in the spring have produced.  Way back last spring when you put the little seeds into the wet, dark soil of the earth you did so with such hope.  Hope that those little tiny seeds might actually burst out of the ground and grow into something.  Some of those seeds looked like what they would produce once they matured, like the beans, while others look nothing like what they grow into like the heads of lettuce that come from the tiniest of seeds.  Planting a seed or growing a garden is such a profound gesture of hope.  When you put that seed into the ground it is a small step in the belief that it will follow the natural order of things and that it will grow into the plant, a flower, grass, or the fruit that it is supposed to be.  To be a gardener one must also be full of faith.  A gardener plants seeds in faith and hopes for all things to turn out good for those seeds to grow into plants that produce vegetables or trees that produce fruit or flowers that bloom is – well a small miracle.

We hear of such miraculous growth in this parable from Jesus. The familiar parable goes like this: A sower scatters seed everywhere. As a result some fall on the beaten path and birds eat them; some fall among the rocks, they sprang up quickly but soon they wither in the heat of the day; and some are choked out by thorns and weeds. And some of the seeds fall on good soil and produce at various rates.

We hear Jesus telling this parable and we think of the soil. We think of ourselves and which type of soil we are. There are four types of soil in this parable and each of us must be one type or another. You might even be concerned about what type of soil God thinks you are.

–        Are you hard ground with no chance for seeds to embed themselves and grow?

–        Or are you rocky soil with little nutrients to feed the seeds?

–        Or are you surrounded by thorns that choke you out?

–        Or are you one of the lucky ones, like good soil where seeds will flourish and grow?

So which is it?

What type of soil are you?

When we realize that we just maybe hard or rocky soil and wonder how we can change our soil type. How can we move from being rocky soil and become rich and fertile ground?   I have heard sermons on this text and may have even preached a few encouraging the congregation to become better soil.  You can become good, rich, nutrient filled soil that God can use if you just pray more, or read your bible more, or tithe.  While most of us naturally go in this direction when we hear this parable, wondering about ourselves, I am not convinced that this was what Jesus was pointing too.

As I have been living with is the parable and discussing it with others and after discussing it with my PRG on Wednesday morning I had a new thought.  Instead of thinking about the soil, how about we focus on the sower, the one who threw out those seeds.

Now, this is not your typical gardener.   No this parable is about a really, really, really bad gardener.  Just think about any gardener you know.  The first thing they do before they plant is they prepare the ground.  They till it, they weed it, and they plant the seeds with great care and purpose.  It is not the way our sower acts in Jesus’ parable.  Our sower just throws out handfuls of seeds without so much as a glance at the ground where they will land.  Just walking along indiscriminately throwing out the seeds. It is really a great image that Jesus is presenting. The sower, God, is joyfully tossing out handful after handful of seeds in each and every direction. Tossing them with seemingly reckless abandon not concerned with where they land and no worry of running out of them.  The sower is just extravagantly tossing the seeds here, seeds there, seeds going everywhere, assured that some of them will take root and thrive and produce. There is an extravagance in this parable that no gardener could ever imagine, but it is the extravagance of God.

The Episcopal priest and writer Barbara Brown Taylor says it this way:

“The focus is not on us and our shortfalls but on the generosity of the maker, the prolific sower who does not obsess about the condition of the fields, who is not stingy with the seed but who casts it everywhere, on good soil and bad, who is not cautious or judgmental or even practical, but who seems willing to keep reaching into the seed bag for all eternity, covering the whole creation with the fertile seed of God’s truth.” (Barbara Brown Taylor, The Seeds of Heaven, p. 26).

That is how God is. He tosses his word out over all people, happily broadcasting his seeds over and over and over again.

This parable is a great image for the church and for what is happening right now.  It is happening right here, right now with you and with me.  Each week in church we join Christians across the world as we gather for worship.  You come here with all kinds of things going on in your lives, good, bad and ugly.  Some of you are tired, like the rocky soil, because you couldn’t sleep, your mind racked with worry about the week ahead, the meetings, the appointments, the challenges, and the financial details.   Others of you come empty, like the hard soil, empty because of health issues, illness of a loved one, grief, and depression over a recent death of someone you loved.   Others of you come with the best of intentions, eager, willing and ready, only to have the thorns all around you choke your willingness out.   Some of you come, often with no rhyme or reason, with different emotions and different needs, and somehow, some way, God’s seeds of love take root and take hold in your life.   And some of you come fully expecting to hear God’s good news because you are like the good soil, rich and full of nutrients ready to receive God’s seeds of grace and mercy.

And I, because I am human, do the same. Some weeks I come excited to preach, eager to share the good news of the gospel and other weeks not so much. I am tired, a bit slow or concerned by the worries of life and still other weeks I offer a sermon that does not come easily and doesn’t connect with the congregation. But as this parable says, the work of the church, the preacher, the work of Anne and me is to stand up in the pulpit with fear and trepidation and with the help of the Holy Spirit and proclaim God’s Word.

And all the while with you coming to worship as you do and me coming to church like I do, we have this sower, right here with us, tossing out seeds on us all. As the words come out of my mouth, the sower tosses them out to you and out to me.  Sometimes they fall flat.   Sometimes they land on hard soil, other times they hit a rock and other times they are choked out by thorns and weeds.   And then there are the times that they take root, they grow, the flourish and they produce fruit beyond our wildest imagination.

This thing we do each week, this gathering together we call worship, the task God has called Anne and me to do each Sunday with you, preaching, is so much more than we can ever understand.  You see if it were just up to us then it would never be very fruitful and it would soon wither and die.  Because you are human beings and so am I and between us there is humanness, weakness, sinfulness and the stuff of our lives that constantly get in the way.  So, you see there is something much greater at work here right now. It is the work of the sower, patiently, joyfully, extravagantly throwing his word out to you and out to me.  So, this parable is a word of good news to the church that it is not just up to us and our hard work that there is a real miracle going on as God tosses out seeds.

Seeds here.

Seeds there.

Seeds everywhere.

So what do we do in response to this extravagant sower? We put ourselves in his field, we live, we trust, we hope.  All the while realizing that when we do find ourselves on good, nutrient rich soil it is not from our doing. It was God, it is God and it will be God who loves the world so much that he just keeps tossing out seeds.

Seeds here.

Seeds there.

Seeds everywhere.

Let us pray: O Great God, our teacher, give us ears to listen. In your patient and determined way, teach us about your radical generosity and the power of your word so that we might “bring forth grain” in the world you love so much. Teach us such generosity, that the fruits of our spirits and the works of our hands may be used for the building up of your kingdom. Amen

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