Thursday, July 17, 2014

Farming 1.0


It's been a long time since I have posted anything. I've been traveling. First for vacation, my husband, Ray, and I went to Rhode Island. It was my joy to participate in a classmate's installation service as pastor of St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Woonsocket, RI. We were in RI about a week and a half and connected with many friends. Our pace was more leisurely than previous visits.

Then I was home for one week followed by a week of continuing education at my alma mater in Gettysburg. Class time and conversations were stimulating. The fellowship with old friends and new was amazing. I am finally home for a bit.

Below is the sermon I shared with the congregations of Bethel Lutheran Church in Portville, NY and Bethany Lutheran Church in Olean, NY. The scripture text is Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23.



          From our conversations together, I know a number of you have farming or at least gardening experience. The parable of the sower likely raises different questions for you than it does for those like me, who have no knowledge about what it takes to make things grow. I do have some observations however.

          I noticed a couple of things about the sower. Doesn’t it seem like this man was careless? He threw seed everywhere he went. In Jesus’ day, they did not use fancy seed spreaders like those that we have today. Instead, they took a handful and threw it as they walked along. That is fine, but the sower did not pay much attention to where he threw it. The seed landed on all kinds of ground whether or not it was any good. He had the results to prove the differences.

The sower did not hold back any of the seed, but generously threw it.

After telling the story, Jesus ends this parable with this appeal, “let anyone with ears, listen (13:9). This kind of listening involves more than literal hearing. It is about discerning and discovering the importance of Jesus’ words. One word is repeated numerous times throughout this passage—“hear.” How well the seed grew depended upon the quality of hearing of the recipients of the word. 

Jesus describes four kinds of soil representing four different responses to God’s Word. The path represents those who hear the Word and don’t understand it, so the evil one takes it away. Their response is “I don’t get it and I don’t want to spend the time and energy to try to get it." They gave up when they didn’t understand.

          The rocky ground is those who hear, get all excited, yet do not let the Word go deep into their hearts, so they fall away. Their response is, “Wow. This is amazing. I never felt like this before.” Then after a few weeks or months, their response changes to “You mean I have to do this every day? I have to go to church during the summer?”

          Those who are thorny ground hear the word, but let day-to-day worries and wealth distract them. This prevents them from bearing fruit. Their response is, “I really wish I could be at church on Sunday, but I’m going to a football game. Or I’d really like to help out with the food pantry, but it interferes with my bowling league. Or I really wish I could give to the building fund, but I just bought a new Jaguar convertible. 

          The good soil is people who not only hear, but also understand God’s word and take the time to learn the disciplines and practices of the Christian life. In this way, their lives individually and corporately yield a bumper crop. 

  Everyone heard, but not everyone discerned the importance of Jesus’ words.

          Where did you find yourself in Jesus’ parable?

          By talking about the seed as the Word, Jesus already identified himself as the sower. However, it is not uniquely Jesus’ position. We too may sow the Word. Sometimes we are the seed. And we are always some kind of ground or a combination of various kinds.

One of the things I appreciate most about being a Lutheran is that we acknowledge as a church that things are not always so black and white. Even when we love the Lord with all our hearts and endeavor to please him with our actions, we stumble and fall. That is because although we are saints because of what Jesus has done for us, we are also sinners who mess up and let things get in the way of our relationship with the Lord. Martin Luther called this being simultaneously saints and sinners. In other words, we are all a mixed bag who are in a process of learning and growing.

What is God saying to us individually and as a congregation through today’s gospel? Are we listening and understanding?

          Let’s face it, we don’t always understand God’s written or spoken word. Do we give up then or do we spend time with the Lord in prayer until we understand? It takes perseverance.

          More often however, I think as a small congregation we need to take care that God’s Word is not choked out by our anxieties about the concerns of daily life, especially when it comes to family or church finances. If we allow these or other things to get in the way, we will dry up and die without bearing fruit.

          Jesus words to us here are so radical. "Jesus takes our hand, opens it up, and as he does so, we notice his hands are not only callused and bruised; they’re also pierced, with seeds in the holes left by the nails. Then he pours some of that precious seed from his pierced palms into ours, and we send seeds everywhere that cost God everything. Amen."

(Jason Byassee: Scattering seeds, http://m.faithandleadership.com/sermons/jason-byassee-scattering-seeds?page=full)

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