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Pentecost 6A Sermon
Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23,
Isaiah 55: 10-13
July 16, 2017

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

Chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel marks the beginning of Jesus’ teaching ministry, highlighted by his extensive usage of parables. In this one chapter, Jesus tells the parables of the sower and the seeds, which I shared with you already this morning, the wheat and the weeds, the mustard seed, the yeast, the treasure hidden in the field, the pearl of great value, and the drag net. Interspersed are explanations to two of the parables – including the sower – and some explanation about what parables are and why Jesus uses them.

My guess is that most of you have read enough of your Bibles or been in church enough times to know what a parable is. Jesus used a lot of them in his teaching ministry. And many of them are well-known literary pieces in the secular world too – the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son especially.
The word, “Parable” is made up of a Greek root word, “bole” which means, “to throw,” combined with the prefix, “para” which means, “alongside.” I think it is pretty neat to see the relationships between word origins – we call the Holy Spirit the Paraclete because it is the one called to stand alongside us. And when we speak in hyperbole, we throw things out there that are hyper, or beyond what they are intended. A parable is a fictional story that Jesus throws out there, meant to sit alongside our real-life stories to inform us about God’s power and presence. They often remind us of how little control we have over our lives … of how little we really understand things if we were to really contemplate them. As a matter of fact, in many seminary classes I remember the phrase, “Parables turn our world upside-down” being thrown around. So, we might think of these as little bombs that Jesus throws alongside our lives to totally disrupt things in our lives.

Ironically, the first parable is about someone throwing things … seeds! “Listen! A sower went out to sow …” You know the story … this primitive farmer with no knowledge of modern agricultural methods goes out with a bag of seeds and throws them wherever he can. Evidently seeds were not overly expensive then, and the best way to ensure that at least some of them took root and grew was to scatter them everywhere! There are different kinds of soil into which the seeds fall, and each is described alongside the lifestyle of the people who are likened to them: the path where birds eat up the seed are those who hear God’s word and the evil one snatches it away from them; the rocky soil is the one who hears the word with joy at first, but cannot endure; thorny soil once again are those who hear and believe, but it is choked by the cares of the world and the lure of wealth. Finally, 25% of the seeds take root in Good Soil, and the produce makes it well worth it!

Parables in general – and this parable especially – requires some deep hearing, deep listening. A person cannot just simply listen to this story and think it is about farming, seeds and soil. It is a story that sits alongside our life stories, that challenges us as we hear it to think about ourselves in various parts of it at different times in our lives. If we were ever to see ourselves strictly as the “good guy” in Jesus’ parables – even if that means as the good soil – then we are missing the point. Deep listening means we consider how Jesus convicts us with these stories as sinners and saints at the same time.
Parables are not like jokes. When jokes have to be explained, they lose their effectiveness – their “laugh value.” But the more work that the listener has to put into understanding the parable, the more effective it will be. That is why Jesus takes time to explain it. He obviously sees that his audience thinks it is just a story about a farmer at first. But he wants them to see themselves in it – that he has thrown it out there alongside of their own real lives; and that is the only hope we have for it to have real meaning for our lives as well.

So what do you think? Are you the kind of soil that is deep and perfectly fertilized to receive God’s word and believe it? I know I am not! The truth of the matter is, the evil one is always at work to snatch it away like those birds who want to snatch up the tasty seeds thrown onto the path! We are here every single Sunday morning to hear God’s word. No matter what you think of my sermons, you know that in the Lutheran liturgy, prayers and songs, you will hear the word. Whenever any of us is not here, the evil one snatches the seed away from us before it can ever take root.

When you are here, have you ever heard something that you immediately identified with – something I said or read or that someone sang – which was inspirational or just meant something new and special to you? You promise that everything is going to be different in your life … until you leave and get in your car and encounter those who challenge that word of love and grace!

Or maybe you have heard about God’s love to you and it challenged you to be more grateful, generous and loving toward those around you … but in a week or so you get worried about things and you start to remember what you have to do … and you start to worry if you have enough to do it with … and you start to think about yourself instead of being generous toward others … and you end up being the same person you have been for a long time. The blessing of the parable is in the fact that the sower keeps on spreading that seed, no matter what the soil of our hearts are at any particular moment. God, the sower, just keeps on foolishly broadcasting his word of love and grace so that we will always have the opportunity to hear and receive it.

This story sits alongside my own life in a very real and vivid way – I can picture myself in every one of these situations in every stage of my life. This story requires some deep hearing. In our first lesson, Isaiah likens God’s word to rain, which will not fall upon the earth and return to heaven before it accomplishes that which it purposes. If you remember the rains that fell this last Monday and Thursday, you know that the fast and furious speed at which the rains fell probably didn’t do us any favors. Much of it ran off – or tried to run off – ponding or flash flooding instead of simply helping our seeds grow into the plants that we want. We battled leaks in the church building here, and if you saw footage of what High street looked like on Ohio State’s Campus with Jacob’s Porch just one block away, they were literally bailing out their basement area. Likening God’s word to those types of torrential rains just doesn’t seem helpful. We wonder how those rains with accomplish that which God purposes them.
My wife reminded me this week that many times, in order for a potted plant to get the water that it needs, instead of opening up a hose full blast onto it, you might need to put a few ice cubes on top of the soil. The ice melts slowly and the water that results drips slowly into the soil to benefit the seeds or the plant that is rooted there. I guess this is the deep listening that I am talking about with the parables. Maybe this little advice is a parable in and of itself – the parable of the melting ice cubes on the soil. Thrown alongside of our life stories, it makes sense that deeply listening to God’s word, discussing it with fellow Christians, and prayerfully letting it sink in, is the way that the seeds of God’s word sprout, grow and produce the love of Jesus in our lives. May it be so, in the name of Christ our Lord; Amen.