Rise

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

(adapted from The Message)

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.

“Are you listening to this? Really listening?”

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 kingdom news, 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.”

Rise

Confession time:  I have never read this parable of the sower correctly. 

I’ve always read it as a call to action – that as people of faith we are to be generous and almost wasteful with our love.  I’ve used it as comfort to those worried about their children who at one point attended Sunday school, and no longer darken the door of the church.  It’s comforting to hear that sometimes those seeds take awhile to take root.  I’ve used the text as a way to justify baptism for those who call up ‘wanting to get the baby done’ because in that act of welcome and love – a seed is planted. I’ve even backed it up with that beautiful quote (that was loved by Mother Theresa) we can’t all do great things – instead we are called to do small things with great love.

Lovely or not, that’s not what the text is about.  It’s about God. 
(But we’ll come back to that.)

Even the disciples and the early church fell into the same trap that I did.  They wanted Jesus’ teaching to be an “instruction manual” on how to get through life.  We can sympathize with needing life simplified: ‘just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it’ in a way that takes away our responsibility but also our chance of messing up.  If someone would just tell me how to open our churches right now and not get everyone sick, you can darn well believe I’ll do it to the letter.  But even following each and every rule, there’s still so much risk.[1] 

So the disciples put an explanation of the text into Jesus’ mouth.  While the first half of the text from verses 1-9 are likely authentically Jesus – because the same words are found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and even the Gospel of Thomas of all places!  Even the Gospel of John echoes the text, putting it in the context of Jesus’ death, saying that if a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies…it produces many seeds. 

The second half of the text, verses 18-23, are a post-Easter addition, as the disciples explain what Jesus meant by his parable of the sower.

The words-in-the-mouth-of-Jesus talk primarily about the soil, as we hear the interpretation of the disciples (here using The Message that we might hear the words anew):

When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface…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 kingdom news, 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 their wildest dreams.”

We look down our noses on all those roads, and gravel, and weedy gardens or look at those bbaaaaaddd seeds[2] as if they’re to blame, as the rest of us turn to numerous self-help books that aid us in becoming the good earth – the soil that produces results.  There’s so much judgment in those words that really weren’t there in Jesus’ original story.  In Jesus’ story there was acceptance for person, for their reality. 

But with the disciples telling the story, they’d tell you that you need to work the earth, turn over the soil, or even provide a different mix of the three different types of earth:  clay, silt, sand.  Combining all three yields the best results (for the majority of plants), and you could easily attach spiritual practices to these types of soil[3]:

Clay is the smallest of the particles – yet it is strong and foundational yet malleable.          It holds everything together, and because of that, clay would represent the prayer of the faithful:  invisible but essential.

Silt is the next largest – it represents the worship life of the person of faith – silt flows on rivers or air, and moves with the Spirit as does worship.  Learn to move with unseen forces.

Sand is the final particle – and it represents the service to the world.  As numerous as the grains of sand upon the shore are to be our visible signs of love shared with others. 

To have “good earth” then is a mixture of all three.  Combining prayer, worship, and service the life of the faithful person brings new life to the earth.  And that would be a lovely sermon if Jesus was preaching an instruction manual to life.  But he’s not.  Instead, Jesus teaches about God.  Let’s hear how he tells the story (with some minor changes):

3-8 As God scattered love (upon our world), some of it fell on the road, and it was easily consumed. Some fell in the gravel; it grew for a time but it wasn’t supported. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was overpowered and forgotten. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond God’s wildest dreams.

As every parable contains a little bit of humour, we can see how this description of God as the sower seems incredibly wasteful.  No sower worth their seeds scatters willy-nilly.  No gardener hoping for a good crop walks out into a field and taking a handful of seeds, closes their eyes as they launch the seeds all different directions. 

Yet God is different.  God is relentless and reckless with love – God sends as many signs of love as there are created beings upon the earth.  God gives every soil the same chance – there is no bad seed and no bad soil in the hands of the Creator.  God doesn’t favour the good earth, that soil prepared by prayer and worship and service.  And while “good” seems to indicate the other soils are “bad” – it doesn’t stop God from scattering the seeds of love upon the earth. 

It rains upon the just and the unjust (Matthew 5), seeds are scattered with reckless abandon because there is hope that each and every seed might bear fruit.  It is God’s nature to love with that same reckless abandon.  God cannot help it.  God showers love because of who God is, not because of what we’ve done to merit it.  In the proof-I-graduated-from-seminary language this is called prevenient grace[4]God loves before we do something to earn that love.  Like a parent at the birth of their child, God’s eyes sparkle at the very sight of us.  Like the sower planting seeds, loves grows in the mere act of planting.  Like an artist moved by one’s first brushstroke, God sees art within creation. 

Like a developer looking at St. Mark’s Lutheran church and sees not the death of a building, but instead the new life as it will become a 40 unit affordable housing project. [5]   Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies; there has to be receptive soil to bring about new life, and sometimes it’s there, and sometimes not.  We think of the profound effort that Trinity put into bringing about that same new life.  And their effort might not have preserved Trinity’s building, but it was not in vain, as others have learned from it.   

As God scattered love (upon our world), some of it was easily consumed, some grew for a time but it wasn’t supported.  Some was overpowered and forgotten. And some still produced a harvest beyond God’s wildest dreams.

Thank God for love, for even God cannot dream of what we can do with it when it takes root.


[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/08/us/coronavirus-churches-outbreaks.html

[2] https://youtu.be/VhRbnmI2UAQ

[3] https://theconstructor.org/building/soil-types-sand-silt-clay-loam/25208/

[4] https://www.seedbed.com/a-primer-on-prevenient-grace/

[5] https://kitchener.ctvnews.ca/king-street-church-to-maintain-its-look-during-transformation-into-affordable-housing-1.5018363

2 Comments

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published.