Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, July 16, 2023

YEAR A 2023 pentecost 7

Pentecost 7, 2023
Genesis 25:19-34
Psalm 119:105-112
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, every three years, we get a string of parables from Jesus over the summer.  And this is one of those years, where the parables are stacked up, Sunday after Sunday.  And as I often remind you, we need to be sure that we approach parables the right way.

Main Rule #1: the parables are not about you and me.  The parables of Jesus are always about Jesus and the kingdom of God.  They are not handy morality lessons from Poor Richard’s Almanac about how to live your life.  If you go looking to the parables for ethical guidelines, you are going to be disappointed . . . and you are also going to end up with some seriously whacked out theology.

This is especially true in a reading like the one we just heard.  In today’s Gospel, we heard Jesus telling—and then explaining—the Parable of the Sower.  Although we want to think of this as Parable of the Soils, that is a mistake, for a lot of reasons.  The emphasis here is on the Sower and the seed, not on the soil.  Which leads us to ask, “Okay, who is the Sower, and what is the seed?”

Well, Jesus helpfully tells us:  The seed is the Word of the kingdom of God.  The Word of God is not the Bible.  The Word of God is Jesus.  As John says, in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The Bible contains the Word of God, or describes the Word of God, or points to the Word of God, but the Bible is not the Word of God; Jesus is.

On to the parable.  When you and I think of farming, we usually think of digging trenches or holes in the ground, and then carefully planting the seeds and covering them back up.  But what Jesus is describing in this parable is what is called “broadcasting,” from which we get the word, “broadcasting.”  The idea of this kind of planting, or sowing, is that you just scatter the seeds all over the place, and you hope that some of them take root.  It’s terribly inefficient and wasteful, unless you’ve got an endless supply of seeds.  In broadcasting, you scatter the seeds with reckless abandon, trusting that some of them will turn into the plants you’re hoping to see grow.  Not careful; not stingy; but rather, generous, and everywhere.

The seed sown by the Sower is generous and everywhere.  But the sticky problem still remains: What about the soil?  Even though Jesus himself calls it the Parable of the Sower, our natural reaction is to concentrate on the soil.  Well, let’s go ahead and look at the soil.  Let’s see what happens when we think of ourselves as the soil, and then try to be good soil.

It’s tempting to make it about the soils.  It’s especially tempting for those who feel that evangelism is all about saving souls from hell—or, in this case, I guess saving soils from hell.  But the soil just sits there, passively.  It is not transported to some heavenly kingdom because it was suitable earth for the seed.  It doesn’t decide to accept the seeds as its personal plant and seedling.  The seeds . . . just fall on the soil . . . All.  The.  Soil. 

Plus, the good soil does nothing to make itself suitable, does it?  Just as the other soils do nothing to make themselves unsuitable.  And I’ve never seen the dirt in our garden reach up and take seeds back from the birds.  The soil does nothing.  And the Word of God falls on the soil, whether it is ready for it or not.  And the Word of God falls on all the soil.  It is present everywhere, all the time.  We can’t bring it to people, we can only announce its presence.  “Look!  Seeds!”

Though we might not want to admit it, when we send out missionaries, we are not bringing Jesus to people; Jesus is already there.  Jesus has always already been there.  What we do is point to Jesus, and tell them he’s there:  "Look!  Seeds!”  Which is what preaching the gospel really is: Announcing the good news of God in Christ.

Soil is always passive.  It receives the seed from the Sower like rain from the sky, whether it wants to or not, and whether the seed takes root or not.  The soil does nothing to prepare itself, other than be soil.  And to keep going with the metaphor—as my wife can tell you—the circumstances of a soil’s life are what make it ready or not to receive seeds.  Soil that is mistreated, or poisoned, or pressed down, or abused . . . well of course it can’t receive the seeds!

But the most insidious thing about focusing on the soil (and assuming ourselves to be good soil), is that it impacts how we treat our neighbors.  And what I mean by that is, if we think of ourselves as the good soil, where God’s Word is growing and taking root, we don’t want to be associating with the bad soil over there, the soil with all the weeds and the birds and the foot traffic.  We need to protect these precious little seedlings that are growing up among us.  We must be careful and stingy, lest the Word of God whither away in us.  As though there’s not enough Jesus to go around.  

But the Word of God is not precious and delicate; the Word of God is powerful and overwhelming.  How do I know?  Well, for one thing, as Jesus says, the seeds that fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.  Now I’m no farmer, but as best I can find, with modern techniques and machinery, a good yield these days is about 20 grains per stalk.  In Jesus’ time, a good yield would be about 3 grains per stalk.  Which means, a yield of 30, 60, or 100 is absurd!  That is just plain crazy talk.  And that is how we know that the Word of God is not precious and delicate; the Word of God is powerful and overwhelming!

And here’s why that is so important to the soil:  Because it doesn’t matter that 3/4 of the seed does not grow into plants.  It doesn’t matter that some seed lands on hard soil, or that some seed gets choked out by weeds, or that some seed gets eaten by birds.  It does not matter that some seed doesn’t succeed, because the seed that does take root produces an absurd and overwhelming abundance of grain.  God does not need Monsanto to carefully engineer a genetic powerhouse of insect-resistant mutations.  God only needs a tiny patch of dirt which receives the Word of God, these seeds that are sown everywhere with wild abandon.  

A little patch of dirt like St. Timothy’s Church in Massillon Ohio.  The Word of God is sown everywhere.  It doesn’t thrive everywhere, but it thrives where it is needed.  The Word of God lives in the community around us, and we can see it in so many little things, every day.  When Jesus is present, you can’t miss him, with these absurd levels of abundance, flowing out into the world.

And you and I together, we get to spend our days pointing to God’s abundance and saying, “Look!  Seeds!”  Because we know that Jesus has been here with us all along, no matter what kind of soil we are at any given point.  And together we continue to point to Jesus in our Worship, our Hospitality, and our Outreach.  We are just pointing to Jesus.  No matter what mistakes we might make, no matter how many times we might get things wrong, no matter what our life experiences may have done to us, we just keep saying, “Look!  Seeds!”  Because the sower just keeps sowing, and sowing, and sowing, forever and forever.


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