Sermon: God Will Provide July 13, 2014
St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: Matthew 13:1-23 (MSG) (17)
13 1-3 At about that same time Jesus left the house and sat on the beach. In no time at all a crowd gathered along the shoreline, forcing him to get into a boat. Using the boat as a pulpit, he addressed his congregation, telling stories.
3-8 “What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.
9 “Are you listening to this? Really listening?”
10 The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?”
11-15 Jesus replied, “You’ve been given insight into the realm of God. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. I don’t want Isaiah’s forecast repeated all over again:
Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing.
Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing.
The people are blockheads!
They stick their fingers in their ears
so they won’t have to listen;
They screw their eyes shut
so they won’t have to look,
so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face
and let me heal them.
16-17 “But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear! A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance. (18)
18-19 “Study this story of the farmer planting seed. When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road.
20-21 “The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it.
22 “The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the news of sovereignty, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it.
23 “The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.” (19)
We have listened to the words of the street corner and the marketplace. And we have heard the words of our friends and neighbors. These words have often left us confused. They have not pointed the way to a clear and compelling goal. So we come to you, O God, in search of the Word that will give direction and meaning to our lives. Amen.
Growing up in Idaho, our small community was surrounded by farms. I often visited in the home of my aunt and uncle. My uncle spent most of the day working his family farm in order to produce a successful harvest. There were wheat fields, plenty of summer corn and apple orchards. My brothers and I often sat at the table and shared their bounty. Not only were my brothers and I able to enjoy the fruits of these fields but thousands of people we did not know were able to eat as a result of my uncle’s efforts. (19) Jesus used a parable to introduce his hearers to the realm of God. A farmer planted seed in hopes of producing a good crop. Unfortunately not all the seed planted resulted in a harvest. Some seed fell on rocky soil or into thorns. Only the seed planted in the good soil resulted in a harvest. (20) And so it is. Our ministry of telling others about the household of God will not always produce good results. Some will misunderstand the story completely; others will have nothing more than a temporary religious experience. But some will get it and they will follow the teachings of Jesus. An important point in this story is that we are relieved of the responsibility of deciding who does and who does not get into the commonwealth of God. (21) Our focus is on sharing the message of the Church: that Christ died and brought us new life. That is the gospel. We are recipients of the grace of God and when we do our part in the fields of ministry others we may not know personally will also benefit from the message of Jesus’ love. (22) The ministry of sowing is not a task for those who are easily discouraged. Results may not be evident for many years or even in our lifetime. We sew seeds in faith that a harvest will eventually be reaped even if not in our lifetime. The reward is in doing the work that Christ calls us to. (23) (Adapted from: Thad H. Carter: http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/1342/sermon-starter-the-harvest)
Our Experience Expanded
Now, for those of us with the spiritual gift of delayed gratification that is indeed good news, but for those of us who like the good feeling of knowing NOW that our efforts have paid off, it may be more difficult. Let’s dig a little deeper into this story. The Sower seems to understand what needs to be done. The Sower understands that by sowing the seed into a field – any old field – change will take place. The seeds will eventually be transformed into fruit and flowers and vegetables. The Sower knows that God gives the power for seed to change. God provides! (24) I believe that the Sower is looking deep into the heart of the soil where the seeds are being planted. The tossing of seed by the Sower may seem careless, even reckless, but is it? (25) I think the Sower is looking at us (the soil) and asking: are we spiritual beings having a human experience or are we human beings having spiritual experiences? And why does that make a difference? (26) Rocky soil? Rich soil? Draught affected soil? Properly irrigated soil? Well fertilized soil? Soil that is depleted of all minerals? (27) Have you ever met someone who was spiritually depressed? That would be rocky, arid soil. (28) These are the folks who struggled with hope and faith – they are just not sure it will ever get better. Spiritual Depression, I learned recently, comes in cycles: (1) It starts with a disappointment, an unmet expectation. (2) This inevitably leads to major discontentment. They just can’t accept what has happened. (3) So despair sets in and they see no way out. (4) And before we know it, they become destructive, the alcohol abuse sets in, or the binge eating takes over or the cutting starts or the shopping or spending gets totally out of control. Sometimes I see the church engaged in this cycle. I hasten to remind those folks that we are an Easter people – we choose life, even if sometimes the church doesn’t have the appearance that it is thriving. But then what do I know, silly me, I am one of those people who can hardly wait to get to church on Sunday morning! I felt that way this morning as I thought about meeting in the Fellowship Hall around tables with a PowerPoint order of worship and the prospect of our Town Hall meeting and beginning our visioning, our dreaming and yes, even some planning for St. Paul’s future. St. Paul’s is a church in search of understanding. (29) We are an anxious church. We are compassionate and caring people. We need a bit of practice with the being prophetic part of our faith journey, but for the most part we practice discipleship. Did you know that 69% of Presbyterian congregations have fewer than 100 folks in worship on Sunday morning? Someone I once sat next to on a very tumultuous flight to Chicago reminded me that a little bit of turbulence is not fatal. (30) Sometimes upheaval can even be a good thing. When Dayja was getting ready to leave Alpine Academy in Utah and return home to Santa Monica we met together with her therapist and she reminded us both that transitions can be productive times and that with open and honest communication, regular intentional family time together, overall consistency, not taking any shortcuts and remembering that trust issues go both ways we would be OK. (31) The Sower takes the seed to places, to soil, it could never imagine. God doesn’t give a hoot what we do; God cares about why we do it. And if we don’t understand why we do what we do then how will others believe what we believe? 250,000 people showed up to hear Dr. MLK give a speech. Do you think they showed up for themselves? Or did they have other reasons? 25% of the audience was white. They all came to hear him talk about a dream he had, not a plan he hoped to formulate. (32)
As Jesus told the parable, a farmer put a heavy seed bag on his shoulder and went out to his field to sow seed. In those days, farmers broadcast seed across a fallow field before plowing. (33) That’s right; seed was first sown, and then gently plowed into the ground. You might find it interesting that this methodology is being reclaimed today by farmers wanting to better care for God’s earth. (34) “No-till” corn is quite the rage in parts of the Midwest. Using refined technology, a farmer can sow and cultivate a corn crop without deep-plowing the field. “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Imagine that! This would have been unheard of back on my uncle’s farm in Idaho 50 years ago. (35) According to Jesus as this farmer broadcast his precious seed some fell on a well-worn path cut by foot traffic through the fallow field. When fields lay fallow, foot travelers would cut walking paths through the fields, taking the shortest distance between two points. Fencing was rarely if ever used in the first century. So some seed landed on the path. And when it did, the birds quickly enjoyed lunch. Other seeds, said Jesus, fell on rocky ground. Because there was little soil there, the seedlings sprang up quickly and then withered under the scorching sun.(36) Thorns choked off other seeds, denying them the light of day and the promise of their bounty. Finally, some seed fell on good ground and brought forth a bumper crop yielding thirty, sixty, even a (37)hundredfold. Jesus ended the story admonishing all to listen; listen carefully, deeply, and thoughtfully. Listen! (38) Now, what if this parable could be applied with equal power to every individual life, to everyone who listens? If that is so, all of our lives have (39) worn, rocky, thorny, and yes, good soil in which seed can germinate and grow. What if this parable is about you and me? If so, what is God saying to us? (40) If your life is like mine, you know how daily living creates well-worn paths. We call them ruts. (41) We drive to and from work using the same route day after day. We shop at the same grocery store, fill our tanks at the same Costco every week, thankfully attend the same church, and, more times than not, feed our families predictable menus of foods we know they will eat and enjoy. (42) Routines are often required, but sometimes in our relationship with God, routines can become ruts. We can attend church week after week, hear the scriptures read (like this familiar parable), follow the same order of worship, sing familiar hymns, go through the church routine, and in so doing, give the good seed God sows us to the birds of indifference. Trust me. It happens and may be happening even now.
Re-mything our Traditions
Truth be told, God’s seed also falls on the rocky places of our lives. (43) Life, by definition, can leave us cold, sharp, soilless, and rough. Pain, the cruelty of insensitive friends, and the crude comments of strangers can leave us lifeless and unmoved, rocks void of God’s bounty. Thorns pop up in our life’s ground as well. None of us intend to succumb to the cutting brutality of thorns, but there they are, choking out God’s blessings, robbing us of God’s promise. (44) But thanks be to God, some seed falls on good ground. When it does, the miracle of germination, cultivation, nourishment, sunshine, rain, and care yield a generous harvest no one thought was possible. It happens in all our lives in ways that leave us speechless. (45) Here is the needed twist in this old, old story. Yes, there will always be people who are worn out, rocky, wasted, and yes, good, too. Actually, the gospel reminds us there is far more good in all of us in which God’s grace can take root than any of us imagine. All manner of ground exists in the fields that are our lives. (46) Why don’t we clear out the rocks, cut down the thorns, change up the routines, and give God even more opportunities to grow from our lives the generous, bountiful, giving people God in Christ made us to be? I dare you to believe it today and to discover it as we do the amazing work of God that lies ahead for us. Adapted from: http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/5127/a-generous-harvest
You move into our lives, Spirit of life, quietly taking those fears which trip us up, gently watering the seeds planted in our inept souls until they become bushels of grace. Keep us mindful of the amazing things you do in our lives. Amen.