July 16, 2017

6th Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Audio recording available by clicking on the microphone upper right. Today that preached sermon varies somewhat from the text on paper.

Karoline Lewis, a professor at Luther Seminary writes a letter to preachers every week.  She suggested that we all put down our bulletins down and really listen to the parable as if we’re hearing it for the first time.[1]  Let’s try it.  Put everything down.  Take a deep breath.  Close your eyes if you need to.
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.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!” 

Where are you in the story?  Are you the harvest, your life miraculously and surprisingly filled with grace and love, your blessing far exceeding anything you ever did to deserve such plentitude?  Or are you the rocky soil or the plant trying to grow among the thorns?  You heard the Word, got inspired, excited, even raised up from some kind of death, only to have life take back over, your challenges cheating you out of that enthusiasm.  Were you charged up on Sunday, but by the heat of a summer Monday afternoon wondering if all this gospel stuff really even matters anymore? Have you signed up to a part of the mission, only to decide at the last minute you’d rather stay home?

Where are you in the story?

So often, this story invites us to think about the kind of soil we are.  If you’re dirty, is it from playing in the soil of the church’s mission, or from playing in the grime of the world?  What kind of dirtball are you?

Maybe the crowd heard it that way, too.  And maybe that’s a good question. But when we finally get Jesus explanation, he’s talking to his disciples, who are about to be sent out as sowers. He’s not talking to the listeners.  He’s talking to the speakers.  They would be the ones, going out to tell the world the promises of God:  to announce the dawning of grace; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, to bring good news to the poor in spirit, to wipe away tears and open up locked doors.

What if the point isn’t to be the soil but to be the sower?  Their worry may not have been about whether they would be good soil, but whether spreading the good news would make any difference.  Were they ready?  Did they know the right words?  Did they know how to pray out loud in front of people?  Maybe they had even given it a try, and it didn’t seem to make one bit of difference? I suspect they were very away of the inability to do great things.

And Jesus says, “Don’t worry about the harvest.  I’ve got that part.  I’ve got the future of the world.  I’ve got the future of the church.  I have YOU. The word will take root in God’s own mysterious way.  It will bring a harvest.  It will produce, probably more than you expect.  You may see it, or you may not.  Leave that part up to God.”

You just sow.

Now, quite a few farmers have pointed out that Jesus is a really bad farmer. [2] Any farmer who knows what she’s doing, puts the good seed in the good soil You spread manure but you plant the seeds. You prepare the ground.  This sower in the parable just goes out and throws the seed everywhere, on any ground, wildly.

So maybe one point is this:  if the sower is really bad at this, we can be bad at it, too.  Being a bad sower isn’t a good reason not to go.

The followers of Jesus know that they’re actually a mixed bag of soil:  sometimes good, often rocky or impervious, quite aware that they need some amendments.  Yet they go out into their fields and let their own lives witness to the reign of God.  We love when it doesn’t make sense to love.  We forgive, even those who stand against us.  We speak of our neighbors, or even our political opponents, in the best and most charitable ways.  We tell people that God’s love is often surprisingly and mysteriously alive and growing.  We risk telling those stories to people who think that we might be religious freaks. We heal and tend, act with compassion and do the work of justice.  We sow the seeds, knowing that God will take whatever little thing we offer and use it for the sake of the larger harvest.

Maybe you saw the Star Tribune story this week about Shobi’s Table, the food truck ministry on the east side of St. Paul.  Pastor Margaret Kelly, with volunteers from the neighborhood and other Lutheran churches, make calzones, and then show up in their food truck on the east side of St. Paul, pass out food, and have communion.  She said at a meeting recently, “We’ve had a lot of first communions.”  They pass out food and words, bread and wine, blessing and prayer as if they were seeds.  Knowing Pastor Margaret, I know she’s not evaluating who is going to be the most deserving, or most able, or most appropriate.  She’s going to put bread in every hand that is outstretched.[3]

I’m not sure if brides toss the bouquet anymore.  I think the tradition is losing ground, but I admit I’m usually home getting ready for church the next morning, rather than staying until the wedding rituals begin.   But I remember one wedding where the bride turned her back on all the single women and heaved her bouquet into the air.  However, no one really thought to consider the impact of the ceiling fan on the ritual.

Boom!  The bouquet took a few dramatic turns on the fan, and then perfectly broke open, flowers raining down on the whole crowd, not just the single women pushed out onto the dance floor by their grandmothers, but on men standing at the edges and old married couples sitting at safe distance, on children way too young to participate, onto tables, into drinks. Flowers everywhere.

That’s the reign of God.  Boom!  The Word of God sown, the whole world broken open as a place where everyone gets a flower.  It doesn’t matter if you have the right vase, or know to dry it for posterity’s sake.  It doesn’t matter if you appreciate the color or the shape, or even understand the gift that you’ve received.  Everyone gets a flower.

Everyone gets a little seed, planted right at the center of your very being, right in your outstretched hand.  When God is the farmer, everyone is a field.  We’re just pitching out the seeds, and God’s promise is that there’s going to be a harvest:  tenfold, sixtyfold, one hundredfold.

Let everyone who has ears, hear that!

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3282

[2] I’ve read this interpretation of the parable for many years, but was reminded again of this point in a sermon by Pr. Delmer Chilton, a colleague in the Southeastern Synod, ELCA, https://lectionarylab.com/2011/06/27/year-a-the-fourth-sunday-after-pentecost-proper-10/.

[3] http://www.startribune.com/shobi-s-table-food-truck-church-serves-up-food-and-faith/434151193/