The sermon for week July 10, 2011
BIRDS, ROCKS, SUN AND THORNS, Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23
I begin with the premise: there is always enough seed, the seed referred to in Jesus’ parable, read this morning. It is the seed of the Good News, the seed of the Gospel. It is the seed of God’s unconditional Love, the seed of full acceptance. It is the seed that makes us whole. It is whatever it takes to make us all that we are meant to be, created in the image of God.
It is not just a word, although it can be...some line from a sermon, a verse from the Bible, something said by a friend, some witness of a stranger. But God is not bound in anyway. God uses all creation as seed to grow the soul. So. it might be a sunrise, or a scene from a movie, or the gesture of a stranger, or the look in someone’s eyes, or a place, or a thing, but always God is working, scattering the seed, that we might know, as someone wrote, “God’s will is our well being.”
Yet, why are we not converted? Why don’t we believe? This is a question that has haunted me all my life and particularly as a pastor. What keeps us, and I include myself, from the full dimensional awareness of how deep and wide is the love of God for all of us and each of us?
Through the years the parable of the sower and the seed as told by Jesus has been a great help to me in understanding the at times my own reluctance of the heart and people's response to the Gospel, a gospel of life and peace and love as proclaimed and found in Jesus Christ.
Each person is a plot of land, soul dirt, if you will, remembering it was from the earth God created us, and how we receive the seed, how we respond to the Good News, that nothing in all creation can separate us from the Love of God, is determined by the kind of soil upon which the seed falls into our life.
First, says Jesus, “Some seed fell on the path and the birds came and ate them up.” The seed never took root. It never even penetrated the person’s life. It never registered that here was God reaching out to him or her. It is the soil of unbelief. I wonder how many times we missed hearing the Word of God because we just didn’t believe it could be true. The Good News of the Gospel just seemed too good to be true.
That someone loves me, how can that be? That the rainbow might be a sign of God’s fidelity, how can that be? That the person shaking my hand on Sunday morning might be because he or she is genuinely glad to see me, how can that be? We miss all the signs of the ways God’s Spirit is actually working in our lives to bring us wholeness because the soil of our soul is just too hardened to receive any evidence of Good News.
I will never forget visiting a woman in Columbia Station, Ohio where I pastored a small, rural church. The woman had attended our church before I became pastor and I found out in my visit that she had left our church and was looking for another. There was bitterness in her voice. The bitterness was toward the church I was pastoring. She said she had never heard the gospel preached in our church and the people had been unwelcoming.
I knew she was wrong.
I knew the former pastor had been at times overzealous with his evangelistic effort, which would have fit with her theology. I knew the people of the church. They were a good people, welcoming of all those who entered. The gospel had always been present but I suspect, so too, was her bitterness. She didn’t here the gospel because her heart wasn’t ready. She neither listened nor heard.
There are a lot of people like this woman. They are not ready. They are not ready for words of hope or healing or love. They are not ready to receive your friendship. They do not give back love, because they cannot receive love. They have even shut themselves off to the chirping bird, or the cleansing patter of raindrops against a window pain.
You are not going to reach them. Sometimes you have to let go. People make choices and sometimes that choice is not to receive in anyway the Good News that is offered them, even if it is something so simple as trying to communicate to them a certain level of care or friendship. When it comes to that point, however, remember God is still scattering the seed and maybe like the woman I visited she will hear the word some other place and when she does, if that seed takes root she will find the power someday to let go of all that bitterness.
“Other seeds fell on rocky ground. It did not have much soil, sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil, the sun rose, they were scorched, since they had no root, they withered sway.” Jesus said these are people who receive the Good News but then trouble or persecution comes and they fall away. These are people who live with the need for an emotional high to validate the authenticity of any spiritual experience. It is all or nothing. It always has to be the thunderous voice heard on the mountain top, ecstatic religious fervor, not as Jesus said in considering the lilies of the field, the raindrops of blessing, the small gestures of human kindness and friendship.
Some people come to faith too quickly. In their religious faith they join the church, in their personal life, you become their new best friend. For awhile they find fulfillment. The church they join is the best church in the world, or you are their new best friend. For while it works, but then something happens.
It might be that at church the luster wears off. People prove to be too human, a conflict arises in the board on which they serve, or they disagree with a decision made by the church. It is not at all as easy as they thought. In their personal life they find that you as their new best friend aren’t as sweet or readily available as they thought you were. Whatever the case, they quit. Suddenly, they are not there anymore.
Their lives are a series of highs and disappointments, and you and the church and God are just another in a series of those disappointments. God for them is not someone who sees them through disappointments or trouble, but God should be someone who never lets trouble or disappointment happen. They want God to be a Magician not a Savior.
But, let’s face it, we have done the same. None of us deal easily with trouble or disappointments, and in such times there often lurks the temptation to search elsewhere, thinking to ourselves, “I’ll show them. I don’t need this. I’ll just quit.” But the issue people is not the infamous, “they,” it is the condition of our soul. This is what Jesus is trying to teach us. The seed is plentiful, always, everywhere grace attends us, love surrounds us, but sometimes we have to stop looking back at the mountain top and look in front of us at that tiny little wildflower that burst from the soil and bloomed just so you could see it when you passed by. Sometimes the grace of God is waiting for you in the smile of the stranger but if you are thinking to yourself that the only thing that will satisfy your longing is a new best friend, you are going to miss the moment of grace God has placed for you.
Why is it so hard for us to believe, God loves us? Why don’t the seeds of grace take root? Jesus continues, “Other seeds fell among thorns. The thorns grew up and chocked them.” In verses 18-23 Jesus gives us the interpretation for each of the places upon which the seeds fell.
For this soil Jesus says, it is those who are swept away by the cares of the world and the allure of wealth. To me, these are two separate things, but perhaps in some way they go hand in hand.
The first that Jesus mentions is “the cares of the world.” It is our worrisome nature. Some of us are overtaken by our worries and so consuming do they become we can’t focus on anything else. They block out hope and the more we give into them the more we block out the very things God gives us to keep that hope alive, such as sitting in church or calling a friend.
The greatest impediment, however, to hearing and responding to the Gospel, all the light that shines from God and is revealed in Jesus Christ, is not our troubles, it is not our trails or our worries. It is what Jesus calls “the allure” of things. We are a secular culture. Our answers are in what we can buy, and here is the thing, it works for awhile. It diverts our attention from our loneliness or our sadness, but it never lasts because it offers a promise it cannot keep, and that is the promise of eternal happiness and well being. Wealth is a blessing until it becomes a god and it has become a god when we use our stuff to define our self worth, selling our birthright, as Esau sold his to Jacob, rather than receiving our worth from our birthright, created by God in God’s image.
This parable of Jesus is so interesting because even though Jesus gives all these reasons why perhaps the Good News is not heard and received (I mean, how simple can it be, God Loves you), never do you have the sense that Jesus is excusing or accusing us from not believing. Instead, I think Jesus is saying, “I know where you are coming from. I know it can be hard to be hopeful. I know trust isn’t easy. I know worries can consume you. I know the allure of things.
“But, I also know if you just spend a little time cultivating the soil in your own life, this is the reward that can be yours,” and Jesus said, “Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a 100 fold, some 60, some 30.”
Sometimes we are just ready for a bit of Good News. Sometimes our soul is open and receptive to receiving the Winds of God as they blow across our lives. It is the same for others. It is simply the right timing, a handshake is offered and a friendship develops, an invitation is extended and the person joins you for worship and finds here a community of faith to which to belong.
Other times, however, it is not so easy. Your soul just isn’t ready, and I don’f find Jesus condemning those not ready for the hope and the promises imbedded in the seeds scattered by the sower. But, what I do think this parable implies is a certain tending to our own soil. Because we are mistrusting doesn’t mean we should never work on issues of trust in our life. Because we find ourselves unable to receive love doesn’t mean it is all on other people to keep offering and offering the love that will never be acknowledged. We have a responsibility to see what weeds may be growing in our life and weed them from the soil, and what barriers have been created that keep out the sunlight and work to remove those barriers.
Now, maybe you will never express your faith the way I do, that is not the point. The point is that you have a life that is growing, that is expansive, and is increasing be it 100 fold or 60 fold or 30 fold, or simply day by day receiving the seeds of grace that enable you to be grateful and out of your own faith tradition, whatever that might be, say, “This is the day the Lord hast made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
I return to my original premise, there is always enough seed. God is generous. God is magnanimous. We are always prone to act as if there might not be enough love to go around, or enough grace, or forgiveness, but the reverse is always what is most true, there is more than enough to go around and still more, the sower never runs out of seed.
What conditions the growth of that seed is how we tend our own soil. Are we receptive? Do we remain open to new ideas and new people in our lives? What kinds of emotions rule our lives? How central is thanksgiving in our lives? Do we anticipate the moments of grace, the face of Christ in the stranger, the evidence not seen but present?
I have spoken of the seed from the sower, our fore bearers use to sing of the “showers of blessing, the shower of blessings we receive.” That is what we have, “seeds of grace,” “showers of blessing,” and in good soil, meaning your life, the increase can be phenomenal, so that what is seen in you is not simply that you are blessed, which you are, but in the seed that grows, your life becomes a blessing and people see in you a Christlikeness. Amen.
PUBLIC PRAYER, July 10, 2011, SUCC
For the gifts of summer which have been
and continue to be ours,
we thank You.
For trips to new or familiar places,
for campgrounds and cottages,
summer showers and lots of sunshine,
For all these things God,
we accept so freely and take as givens,
and so seldom recognize as Holy,
We thank You, God,
We thank You.
Forgive, God, our ingratitude,
When we live life as if it is not a gift
but a burden,
When we take what we have as our right,
and never acknowledge our thanks,
When we become so lost in our own needs
we fail to see how we are called
to fill others needs.
Forgive us, God
and help us receive and accept
Letting it be a part of us,
and making us whole once more,
Making for each of us,
Today’s day and every day
a new beginning.
Aware God of our own well being and fresh beginning,
we reach beyond ourselves,
and pray for the world.
Especially do we take unto ourselves
the concerns of the dispossessed and oppressed,
and we lift their concerns to you:
Desires for employment, relief from debt,
access to health care, freedom from oppression,
all things we seek for ourselves and often take for granted.
Thank you, God, for those who not only pray but act,
especially thanking you this morning
for the members of our mission group.
Beyond ourselves, we pray for the nations of the world, including our own,
that just and equitable solutions may be found,
to the crisis of deficits and debt,
And in every nation will be found visionary leaders,
endowed with an ache in the soul,
that seeks relief in prayers for wisdom.
We pray for one another,
those whose names we carry in our hearts,
and those mentioned this morning.
Lifting them into the encircling embrace of Your Love,
we name them now before you.
And at the last, God, we pray for ourselves,
that in this hour
and through these moments of worship,
Your grace will prevail,
Christ will be more real to us,
and we will leave as we began,
With words of thanksgiving ,
not only upon our lips,
but filling our hearts.
In the name of Christ we pray,
praying as He taught us,
“Our Father, Who are in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.