Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sermon, Proper 10A, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Some seeds fell on the path, and the birds ate them up. Some seeds fell on the rocky ground where they had no depth and soon withered away. Some seeds fell amongst thorns, were they became choked. Some seeds fell on good soil, where they produced much grain.

We have heard this parable countless times over the course of our lives. We have heard it so often that we feel like we don't need to pay attention to it because the meaning is so clear. The seeds on the path are those people who hear but do not understand. The rocky ground seeds are those people who wither away from the church when things get tough. The seeds in the weeds are those who allow the cares of the world to choke the life from them. And the seed on the good soil are those people who understand the word, live into the gospel and produce much fruit.

If we take this parable to heart, and this interpretation, we can spend some time doing a self-reflection and wondering which seeds we are. Are we the ones who don't understand? Are we the ones who are only involved in church as long as it is a fun, happy place to be and free of conflict? Are we the ones who allow the gospel of Madison Avenue pull us away from the gospel of Christ? Or are we the ones in good soil and are producing much fruit for the kingdom of God?

And that can be a good thing. A little honest self-examination is good. Do we understand about the mission of the church and the kingdom of God? Do we look like Christians on the surface, but fall away when things get tough, or are satisfied with a shallow root system, refusing to go deeper? Are we more concerned with what our neighbors think than with what God thinks? Or are we good, strong Christians with a deep root system that produces much fruit for the kingdom of God?

So let's be truthful with ourselves. Take a moment and, truthfully, ponder this question: which seed are you? Think about those four scenarios and think about how you live your life and answer the question: which seed am I?

Now ask yourself this question: how is it that I am that seed? How did you come to be n the path, or in the rocky ground, or amongst wees, or in good soil?

The short answer to that, of course, is by the hand of the sower.

We have heard this parable countless times in our lives. Sometimes we hear it from the perspective of the seeds. Sometimes we hear it from the perspective of the sower (as in, it's our job to get out into the world and sow). And sometimes . . . sometimes we are able to hear a parable in a new way for the first time. Which, I am admitting to you today, is how I heard this parable - in a brand new way for the first time.

This has been a busy week for me. Coming back from a week at Camp Marshall, sorting through everything that piled up while I was away, revamping the ordo, meetings both expected and unexpected, and an out of town visitor. This was a good week for this reading to pop up because there's nothing better in a busy week than to have a gospel passage that is familiar, relatively easy to deal with, and one in which the sermon is practically written for you. The one thing I didn't count on, though, was that this sermon wrote itself.

At about 3 o'clock on Thursday, I becan writing; and it struck me that I was seeing this parable in a new light. The seeds, you, are scattered in various places because that's where the sower tossed you. Who is that sower?

Many people over the years could play that role, but right here, right now, I am the sower. I am spreading seeds for the kingdom of God. Which means that I am the one responsible for where you fall.

If I, as the sower, preach and teach in a way that is not understandable, you will be snatched away. If I preach and teach in a way that is shallow or meaningless or with an emphasis n something other than the gospel . . . well, you get the idea. It's my job to ensure that you fall on good soil.

But here's something else: you are not simply seeds that get tossed around. You are seeds in the respect that you are being planted in the hopes of flourishing, certanly; but you are also disciples who have some obligation to ensure that you are surrounded by fertile soil. The church, and this congregation in particular, can be an empty path, rocky or weed infested, or good soil. So how do you ensure that you are surrounded by fertile soil?

How about this: ask questions so you can better understand things; till the ground and remove the rocks by making this an open, inviting and welcoming place to be; care for it by removing the weeds, those distractions that choke the gospel out of us; care for this place both physically and spiritually so it becomes a fertile and productive place for growth.

We all have our part to play. If I care enough to aim for the good soil, and you care enough to keep the soil clear of rocks and weeds, then together we will thrive and produce much fruit for the kingdom of heaven. The analogy is that I am the sower and you are the seeds. The reality is that we all have a role in the health of this parish and that we all need to play around in the dirt in order for this parish to grow and thrive and produce.

I've said this before -- Christianity can get dirty. It's not a matter of what type of seed you thought you were, it's a matter now of whether or not you are willing to dig in the dirt and help this place become fertile soil. And it's a matter of letting the sower know when you are on a dry path of misunderstanding, or in rocky, shallow soil, or being choked down by the weeds. Because only by knowing that can I improve my aim. And by knowing that, we can all work together to make this place fertile.

I've said that I am the sower and you are the seeds. But you aren't in a passive role, simply waiting to be tossed around. Your role is just as important and active as mine, but we need each other. I believe this place has great potential, but we need to do some work to ensure that it becomes a fertile place to be. And for that to happen, we need to be willing to get out and dig in the dirt together.


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