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1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

 18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

 

Those of you who heard Pastor Gary’s sermons the last couple of weeks may get a strange feeling of déjà vu listening to this sermon.

Those of you who heard Pastor Gary’s Sermons the last couple of weeks may get a strange feeling of déjà vu listening to this sermon.

I’ll explain in a minute.

Ever since Vatican II and the World Council of Churches, on any given Sunday, every major Christian denomination uses the same Words of Scripture.  That means today, a Roman Catholic Church in France, a Coptic Church in Egypt, an Orthodox church in Russia, a monastery in the Philippines, Grace Lutheran Church in Teaneck, all are reading and reflecting on the same Gospel we just read.  That’s kind of cool, isn’t it?

So we’ve just heard the Gospel, and just as Pastor Gary pointed out with last week’s Matthew, there seems to be something missing in the middle.  Can you see? The Gospel goes straight from verse 9 to verse 18! 

As with last week, the omitted text is an angry aside by Jesus.   Throughout the 12th and 13th chapters of Matthew, Jesus is preaching and healing and performing miracles, and all the time meeting resistance and hatred and hostility. The Pharisees are plotting how to shut him up for good; they’ve accused him of working for Satan.  He will later be rejected by his hometown. He is even at odds with his own family.  In the omitted verses from last week, as Pastor Gary showed us, Jesus reproaches the Jewish towns, because they reject him and John the Baptist, as farther from God’s kingdom than the towns of Tyre and Sidon, towns of the Phoenicians and Canaanites. 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is speaking to simple folk, but at the same time he’s directing his words at the Pharisees, the religious establishment, who are listening from the fringes of the crowd.  He’s told the parable (and I think it’s great, because Jesus tells the Gospel, and then in verse 18, he does a Sermon on it.  Maybe that’s why Pastor Gary went down the shore; there was no work to do.)

So the disciples, who are also down the shore, said to him

“Why do you speak to them in parables?  And he answered them, To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.  For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.  This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.  Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

‘You will indeed hear but never understand,

and you will indeed see but never perceive.

For this people’s heart has grown dull,

and with their ears they can barely hear,

and their eyes they have closed,

lest they should see with their eyes

and hear with their ears

and understand with their heart

and turn, and I would heal them.’

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.  For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

 

Jesus’ frustration with his disciples, his impatience with the Pharisees, his anger at all those whose eyes are closed and ears are shut comes to the surface.  Then he goes and blesses them!

Jesus is extravagant with love, grace and forgiveness.  Last week he scolded the towns of Israel, and then offered them his yoke.  Here, he reproaches with words from the book of Isaiah; but he does not condemn.  He gives every one listening a way out, an opening, an escape.  “Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.”

 Note that Jesus doesn’t talk about bad seeds or good seeds.  The seeds are uniformly good.  These seeds are the Good News of the Gospel! It’s what WE do with the seeds.  Now we may say that the sower in the story was reckless, careless and thoughtless in scattering them the way he did.  Seed is expensive.  Wasn’t Jesus just as reckless in his choice of disciples?  Tax collectors, prostitutes, illiterates?   Spending his time with lepers and those possessed by demons; widows, children and the powerless.   Jesus is an extravagant sower of seeds.

 

If you look at this parable, one group of seeds blows away, one group of seeds burns up, one group of seeds is strangled, one group of seeds lives.  You might draw the conclusion that only 75% of us are going to wither away and die. If I was one of those Televangelists, I would ask each of you now, which one are YOU?

The truth about our lives is more complex.

In actuality, our lives match the first three scenarios many times in our lives, sometimes all three.  The first is somebody who hears the word of the kingdom and then does not understand it.   Jesus was pointing at all the religious establishment, who knew the scriptures backwards and forwards but didn’t know what it meant, or Jesus’ role in it.   Think of those today who take words of Scripture and twist them around to support bigotry, violence, hatred.  We can fall into this group if we read the Scripture and do not apply it to our own lives, and how we treat others.

The seed on rocky ground rejoices in the Word, but as soon as things get sticky, they burn off.  Now certainly he’s not speaking of the disciples.   The disciples would never do that.  But when life takes a bad turn for us, when we have a health scare, when we fall out with someone we love, when we lose our job, despair is always close at hand looking for an opportunity.  If we isolate ourselves in our trials and tribulations, we lose the opportunity of sharing it with the Father who loves us. 

The seed that was sown among thorns is those who hear the word, believe the word, but let the powers of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word.  This one is the biggie.  The thorns run this world, and they will do what they will to choke the Word of God.  The rich young man who was all willing to follow Jesus, but could not leave his worldly possessions behind is the perfect example.  Our world is a world of thorns.  Two thousand years ago, the Gospel of Christ was an enemy to the Roman Empire, and it was a threat to the Temple leaders.  They put a crown of thorns on Jesus’ head and crucified him.  In our own times, God’s word was an enemy of the Rule of Jim Crow and segregation. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church were an enemy to the Nazi Regime, God’s word was an enemy in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Bishop Tutu and the church were an enemy of Apartheid.  Today the church at its very best is still an enemy to a world built on greed, selfishness, military domination and empty comforts.  As long as we as a church hunger for justice on behalf of the poor, the defenseless and the immigrant, we will be good soil.

But it’s hard. In spite of all the miracles in our lives, we sometimes let the thorns sway us.  We think of our mission and then we start to think about money and property and fiscal things.  We can’t afford to keep our congregation going in this building, we don’t have success with outreach, we have to be careful, prudent, and just a little bit timid?  Why do we bother? Why would Jesus scatter such good seed in such a rocky, thorny, hardened terrain as 61 Church Street? We’re in better shape than the disciples to further Christ’s Mission. (We’re on facebook for starters.)  We have all the tools we need to make this garden grow.  Jesus asks us to be good soil.

 

It’s all about how we nurture this seed we’re given, how we add to God’s garden.  The seed is the Word of God, and the soil is us.  The fourth scenario, where the seed produces grain, some a hundredfold, is only through our faith.  Jesus has given us all we need to grow our Garden. 

Theologian Elisabeth Johnson from Luther Seminary puts it:

Jesus’ investment in his disciples shows that he simply will not give up on them, in spite of their many failings.  We trust that he will not give up on us either, but will keep working on whatever is hardened, rocky, or thorny within and among us.  We trust his promise to be with us to the end of the age.”

 

But Jesus entrusts us just as he entrusts the disciples to Make His Garden Grow.  Not to look inwardly as a congregation, to look back at a time that will never be again, not to adopt a defensive stance, maintain our tenuous but comfortable status quo, but to be recklessly full of grace, extravagant with our generosity, tireless in our Mission, fearless in our Stewardship.

In two weeks, Pastor Gary will lead us in Evening Worship and Bible Study based on “visioning.”  May we as a congregation use that time to envision bringing God a bountiful harvest from the seeds he has given us.  It’s up to us to be bold, creative and spirit-filled.  It’s up to us to be good soil, and we ask God to help us.

 

Let us leave with these words of comfort:

“Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.

For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

Let us see Christ’s miracle.

Let us hear Christ’s Gospel.

Let our hearts be good soil.

Let us make His garden grow.