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Pentecost 6A Sermon
Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23
July
12, 2020

 

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Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

13That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!’
18 ‘Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When 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. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet 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. 22As 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. 23But 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.’

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

At a notorious comedy roast shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, Gilbert Godfried took the podium and started telling jokes about the horrific attacks that happened that day on US soil. A couple of jokes in he realized his mistake and changed course, telling a well-known, inside joke among comedians that should never be told or repeated inside a church or many other places. He saved himself from career suicide because he realized that it was too soon. “Too soon?” A joke-teller might ask this when all he or she receive are groans or gasps following a punchline.
When is the right time, then? Not just for telling jokes, but for engaging in conversation that can lift us up and bring us life even though we are in the midst of struggle, pain or grief. This morning we heard one of those parables with obvious allegorical connections between the characters of the story and people in our lives. The sower is God - or Jesus; the seed is the good news of God’s love for us, and the soil is us, people who receive or hear that good news. There is something about each of these characters that we need to lift up as we remember that with God, it is never “too soon” to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ.
First let’s consider the soil. Jesus describes a number of different versions of soil which are more or less receptive to receiving the seed. A path, pounded down by years of people and animals walking on it making it impossible for seeds to penetrate, so that they are susceptible to being plucked up by birds or other small creatures looking for a tasty treat. Rocky soil may allow for seeds to make their way into the ground, but the rocks there hinder them from truly taking root, thus they receive the sun’s rays and are scorched before they can come to fruit. There’s thorny soil where the seeds compete with the weeds for the nutrients that they need to grow and might get choked out. Finally, there is good soil – soil which has been tended and turned and is fertile so that the seed will grow to full maturity and produce its maximum potential, that is the primary target of the sower.

In a rare occurrence, Jesus actually explains this parable to his disciples. In the verses that are omitted to shorten the reading, Jesus’ disciples question him about always speaking in parables. The explanation that follows – either from Jesus or inserted as a little sermon by Matthew years later – tells of the things that challenge the growth of God’s word: the evil one, trouble and persecution, cares of the world and lure of wealth. If only all soil was fertile and received seeds like the good soil, think about how much it would produce in our world. If only everyone heard and understood the word, think of the difference it would make! And yet, I don’t think that each type of soil describes types of individuals. I think that each type of soil describes each one of us at different times in our lives. We are all shaped by our environment, and when we hear God’s word, the environment in which we find ourselves may determine how we hear and believe God’s word at that particular time. If you are a person who has been walked over and hardened by the way people have treated you, you may not be receptive to hearing God’s good news of love and grace, and opponents of that message could steal it away from you, convincing you that you are not worthy and never will be. We naturally build up hard exteriors to protect ourselves, but what if we are protecting ourselves from receiving the love of God as well?

If you are a person who lacks the staying power to deal with the rocky ground, maybe you tend to face tough times by retreating. Or if your life is overcrowded with responsibilities and commitments, hobbies and interests, or if you are too busy pursuing more and more accomplishments, you may be overplanted and there may not be room for any more seed to take root. If you are too confused by what you hear about social justice, the coronavirus, safe activities and you just want to be back with your friends, family and church family, you may not be receptive to God’s word.

If I look at these examples, I can see myself in each of them at certain times in my life, and I know that there have been times when I have not been receptive to the gift of God’s life-giving word which God wants me to hear. But there have been times when I take the opportunities to pray, to read and talk about scripture with my Christian brothers and sisters. When I have read books by respected theologians who have expressed a trust in God that I admire, who live a generous life ripe with the fruit that we are called to bear. It is during these times in my life that I receive the word, hear it, understand it, and it moves me to love my neighbor as Jesus calls me to. We are all soil … not just one soil, but different kinds at different times in our lives. That is why the nature of the one who sows the seed of the gospel is so important. That is why it is important that the sower in this parable acts like it is never “too soon” to spread that seed on any kind of ground.

The nature of the sower is unlike any farmer you will ever meet. In the economy of the world, someone would never throw those costly seeds in places where they have little to no chance of growing. To widely broadcast those seeds over everything - paths, rocky, weedy, and rich soil - is a foolhardy thing to do. It is wasteful, yet in God’s economy, it is abundance that only God can demonstrate.

One would wonder why God would be so careless with those costly seeds! How can God care so much for people who have hard exteriors, for whom the evil one seems so close, and those who have so much going in their lives that they don’t have time for God or the seed of God’s word? I don’t understand it! But evidently, we are all so precious in God’s sight that none of it seems a waste to God. To God, it is a wonderful and beautiful thing to keep coming to us, even in the most unlikely of times, with love and grace and another chance to find joy in God’s presence. The most important thing for this sower is not the resulting bounty of produce, but the relationship of seed and soil, even when that seed is choked out or doesn’t endure too long. Having received the seed of God’s word over and over means that sometime in the life of that soil, something will take root, and in that moment, God’s love is received, shared and multiplied.

Finally, there is the seed. If we read the passage from Isaiah 55, we hear again the promise that the seed – or God’s word – will not return to God without accomplishing that for which it was purposed. God likens this word to rain, which does not return to God without watering the earth and giving life to the ground, the vegetation, and to all who are around to enjoy it. That is the nature of rain, to bring things to life. That is also the nature of God’s word – to provide life eternal to all who receive it.
Tuesday evening, I was subbing in my brother’s golf league north of Columbus. Dark clouds and wind had followed us the first four holes until finally the alerts were sounded instructing us to return to the clubhouse as there was lightning on the course. We were almost halfway done with our round … certainly we needed the rain, but not now; not THEN! It was too soon! Couldn’t it wait and hour or so until we were done with our round? No, and just as that rain fell at the right time and provided a brief opportunity for water and life to meet this earth, so also God’s word always comes at the right times. We might not think we are ready, but God still speaks to us in scripture or in the events or voices of the people around us. We may not hear it as God’s word then, but when we are receptive, we will. No matter what state we are in to hear God’s word of love and grace, God continues to proclaim it to all of the world, knowing that there are times when it will take root, and it will bring life, joy, peace to us through our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.