Category: Sunday Morning Sermon
Speaker: Rev. Wes Smith
This may not seem like the cheeriest way to start a Sunday morning, but ask yourself - Are you scorched? Let me put it differently. Given everything going on in the world – do you feel simply exhausted, worn out, and burnt out on both ends?
There’s no doubt in my mind that many of us, for any number of reasons are exhausted – so when it comes time to proclaim the Good News on Sunday morning, that can prove challenging especially when we run into passages that ask something of us. Yet I am reminded that even in the midst of our exhaustion, and weariness, the Word of God comes to us as a soothing balm, and that what might seem laborious, is well worth our while.
It goes that a sower went out to sow, and as the sower sowed the seed it landed differently. Some seed landed on the pathway, others among the rocks, some amid the thorns, and still more on good fertile soil. Jesus then gives insight to the crowd. If you hear the Word of God and do not understand it, it is as if the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in the heart. The one who hears the Word, receives it with joy, but falters under trouble of persecution are like those seeds that fell on the rocky soil. They took root but did not have root enough to weather the storm. Then there are those seeds that fell among the thorns – these are those people who hear the Word of God but are easily distracted by the ways of the world – the Word is choked out of them and they yield nothing. Finally, the seed that lands on good soil are like those who hear the Word of God, understand it, and yield fruit in its name.
…Let anyone with ears listen.
At first, the Parable of the Sower may not seem to be calming – the Good News might seem vague. In fact, a legitimate gut reaction to this text is – “okay, on top of everything else, work, family, what have you…I need to yield fruit?” Whose got the time?
Full disclosure: there is no doubt that the Parable of the Sower requires something of its listeners, but in a time where we are stretched thin – we might be able to view this parable in a different light.
In my estimation, people have traditionally equated the seed with the individual, that is the sower tosses us and wherever we land – well, our fate is decided. Either we find good soil and bear fruit, we land among the thorns, or worse yet, we fall on the path helpless, left to wither in the heat.
And that is exactly how the disciples felt when Jesus spoke this parable. They felt scorched. In fact, Jesus told this parable, in a context of extreme disappointment – I think we know something of that, and while there may be different interpretations, the parable was meant to counter the disappointment. The disciples were discouraged because it seemed as if Jesus’ ministry wasn’t really amounting to anything. Everyone is down on Jesus, nothing is working, nothing is going right – they were ready to throw in the towel, seriously asking is it worth it? But then Jesus calms their nerves, basically saying – the seeds will fall where they may, and even if they don’t fall where you want them to God is still able to bring forth life. But I think we can take the parable even further.
On the one hand, this parable is very effective. Jesus is looking for a response, well – Matthew’s author’s interpretation of Jesus is looking for a response, and for good reason. The harvest is ripe, and the Good News is prepped and ready to be sown, but I wonder if in the urgency a larger point is missed.
You see, in some ways this parable is rather unsettling.
You can get the sense that you might get left out of the Kingdom of God, and we might be too quick to assume that we ourselves are in good soil.
This really got to me this week.
I kept thinking of Luther, trying to recount all his sin in order to be forgiven, and his realization that salvation was wholly reliant on God. For some reason, my heritage and this parable kept butting heads. I kept thinking, how is this parable life giving right now? I kept thinking, man¸ I bet many of my folks feel like they’re withering in the sun, waiting to be refreshed. And I also got somewhat caught up in Jesus’ explanation of the parable – scandalous I know.
I kept trying to imagine how this parable would land on the ears of those listening. Might people associate themselves with the good soil or the thorns? Maybe someone listening might feel choked by the world, wanting to be a bearer of the Word, but finding it difficult to do so. And as I played these scenarios out in my mind, I concluded that my life has never been just one of these seeds. There have been times where I have been in good soil, but there are other times where I get distracted by the world and the Word is choked from me, there are times where I spring up quickly and the rocks get the better of my effort. I took issue with the simplicity of the explanation. It put me in a box – rather it put me in a box that did not seem to offer much hope.
Here’s the thing – when Jesus introduces parables in Matthew, he generally starts of by saying “The Kingdom of God is like…” In Greek the sense of that sentence is to say – The Kingdom of God can be compared to but isn’t completely like what I am about to say. Jesus took the context of His time and spoke to the matter at hand, and in the 21st century, I suspect we might be given just a teensy amount of grace to interpret this parable for our own time, while still holding true to the Word.
And praise be to God, when I found myself at the peak of frustration, like the disciples simply ready to throw in the towel - I came across a widely life-giving explanation of the Jesus’ parable.
What if, instead of seeing ourselves as the individual seeds, we were to see ourselves as the land that is being sown upon. If we view the parable in this light it allows us to accept our current moment in time. IT allows us to acknowledge that God’s Word is a constant in our lives, but through one situation or another there are simply times where the noise of this world drowns out God’s call in our lives. Some of us may not want to hear that, but I think that is the hard truth – and the Gospel hope.
You see our lives are a rolling tapestry of hills and valleys. Some hills are scorched like the seed that fall on the path, and other patches are lush and overgrown with the Word of God – but we are never simply one thing or the other, the rolling hills of our lives are a testament to our humanity and to our God, the one who comes to us, and sows the Word in our lives, whether or we are able to hear, accept, or act upon it. And that’s grace folks.
Once I heard that interpretation the lightbulb went on. All at once the disappointment of the disciples, and my frustration melted away, not in the scorching heat, but in God’s warm glow. This gave me permission to acknowledge my past failings, and to more fully realize God’s grace in my life.
And just think – once you see this parable though this lens – you stop seeing people as either on the right path or not, you don’t see people who are lost or damned – you see the journey we all take, hills, valleys and all – it puts so much into perspective – but none more than God’s control and grace in our lives.
The Gospel hope is that we are both sowers and the ones being sowed. God’s Word is being planted in us – if you will – everyday by the Holy Spirit, and sometimes that growth causes us to speak up, and other times when the seed hits the scorched pathway of our souls, and we are less inclined. But where our human frailty would leave the Word to scorch in the heat, God comes into the picture and reminds us that while our human action is necessary, God’s Word does not rely solely on us. But praise be to God that we’re entrusted, us fallible humans – with the Word spoken over so many years and so many more to come.
So, if you find yourself scorched this Sunday – take relief in the knowledge that God meets you wherever you are, on whatever path, hill, or valley. And know, truly know that the Holy Spirit is present in your lives.
Let anyone with ears listen.