St. Matthew 13.1-9,18-23
The sower and the seed, One and The Same: God, skipping along, a bag of seed at the side. God reaching into a bag of seeds, profligately, promiscuously flinging seeds everywhere, anywhere. And the seed – the Word – not a book but God’s very own self, Jesus the Christ. The Word – God’s love letter to the world, flung into the world, the whole world, to be sown everywhere – and into some of the least likely of places, and the last place in tilled and manicured, “properly” prepared fields.
The Word falls first upon the hardened places. And there the birds, stand-ins in this parable for that which is evil, the birds devour the seed, evil swallows the seed. Alas it seems the seed, the Word is defeated by evil. But the Sower of Seed is indeed having the last laugh. Evil in the guise of birds is not about to get the last word. While the seed looks good to the birds, the seeds will not be well-stomached by these winged furies – and these exceptional seeds are expelled from them – if you get my drift – expelled far from where the seeds were first sown. Expelled that they may one day fall upon a better place and grow – and with some fertilizer to boot.
And some of the seed falls on rocky ground. Things look promising at first. The seed, the Word, is received by those who hear – received with joy and much enthusiasm. The hearers of the rocky ground right away get involved in the congregation of their dreams. They have found the perfect place for themselves! But soon, so soon, they discover the church is no paradise, the pastor has feet of clay, and church people can make as much trouble as any flock of devouring birds. And so, disenchanted, the hearers of the rocky ground fall away.
And some of the Word falls upon thorny ground. Again the Word takes root in the hearers of the thorny ground. But in thorny ground there is little to no trust is God’s Way – little trust in the way of Jesus-the-crucified-one. Who wants a god who turns the other cheek and forgives those who deny him, those who torture him, those who sentence him to death, those who put him to death? Better to take things into our own hands – do things according to the realities of this world – of human flesh, of human power. Strife is inevitable – so learn who the enemy will be – and use the telephone, use the internet, use gossip, whatever’s at hand to squash those who oppose. And desire for riches chokes the hearers of the thorny ground. “I’ll keep the first and the best for myself. I need the up-to-date home, kitchen, car, boat, camper, second home, electronic gadgets, overseas trips – hey, I’m doing it for the kids. I’m afraid if we don’t have these things the kids will be disadvantaged, fall behind, become part of the great and growing underclass. More than anything, I’m afraid they might not love me without all the stuff – all the other kids have it, why can’t we?”
And then there’s the seed that falls upon good soil. The seed takes root, and flourishes and at long last we have hearers who bear fruit – not the fruit of this world’s ways, but the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience in suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, humility, temperance. Not the amassing of self-justifying deeds, but simple, unimpeded trust in Christ Jesus’ way, trust that God is loving and good and shall have the last word, the Word, God’s mercy, love, peace – unimpeded. And we, of course are the hearers of the good soil.
…these commandments and their meanings act like a mirror, showing us that we in fact are not hearers of the good soil who consistently produce the fruits of the Spirit.
Not so fast. There’s a mirror handy – call it the Law in its second, or theological, use – call it self-knowledge – call it whatever you please – but that mirror will not lie. Many of us learned the Ten Commandments and their meanings as presented in Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. We learned these as a list of things we were to do and/or not to do but not much more. The first function or use of the Law is its civil, secular use; it is to keep us in line. The Law here exists to protect the neighbor from us. In its second use or function, these commandments and their meanings act like a mirror, showing us that we in fact are not hearers of the good soil who consistently produce the fruits of the Spirit. Let’s take the Fifth Commandment, “You are not to kill. What is this? Answer: We are to hold God in such awe and love, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs.” Anybody here drive over the speed limit, glance away from the road at the mobile phone, eat while driving? I do, and we’re all endangering the neighbor with those behaviors. Anyone here help and support the neighbor in ALL of life’s needs. ALL? Oh yes, we support our troops. Why then do former members of the Armed Services comprise 60% of the homeless. What are we doing about that?? Or take the Seventh Commandment: “You are not to steal. What is this? Answer: We are to hold God in such awe and love, so that we neither take our neighbors’ money or property nor acquire them using shoddy merchandise or crooked deals, but instead help them to improve and protect their property and income.” But don’t we by shopping at H & M or Walmart or a whole host of other places – do we not enable the sale of shoddy goods, goods made in sweatshops overseas or south of the border, sweatshops arising from hands-full of crooked deals? Or, ack to the Fifth Commandment for a second: Do we really care about the safety of those who work in sweatshops? But back to the Seventh Commandment: Do we help and support those who work in sweatshops in all of their life’s needs? Do we look out for their incomes or here in this country, the incomes of those working for $10.00 an hour or less – poverty wages to be sure? Do we do all that we can to make sure the minimum wage is a living wage, at least $15.00 per hour? And then of course there’s that pesky eighth commandment: “You are not to bear false witness against your neighbor. What is this? Answer: We are to hold God in such awe and love that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputation. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.” If we think ourselves perfectly in compliance with this one, let alone any of just these three commandments we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. We are not the hearers of the good soil producing the fruits of the Spirit. We are as often as not hears of the rocky soil, hearers of the thorny soil. Which means it’s toast-time for us. At least if God is going to be fair about it all.
But as you’ve heard before from this pulpit, the God who is most fully revealed in Christ Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, God from God, true God from true God is anything and everything BUT fair. But, as concerns ground that is inhospitable to the Word, hear once again the prophet Isaiah speaking words of comfort to us all this day: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout . . . so shall my Word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it . . . For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hand. Instead of the thorns shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle . . . “
My dear, dear people, don’t you see? God IS at work in YOU – making your rough places plain, making your hardened ground, your rocky soil, your thorny soil – making it all into good soil – watering and fertilizing – Word and Sacrament the means. And just how do I know this? I keep on hearing something in the breeze – the mountains and hills bursting into song, the trees of the field clapping their hands – because they know that you are becoming good soil, that you are indeed beginning to bear good fruit: love, joy, peace, patience in suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. Already now, but not yet as you shall be! And when this world’s evils choke out that good fruit today – have no fear. Tomorrow you shall be born again – a little bit dirtier than today – dirtier with good dirt.
And please do listen for the mountains, hills, and trees singing and clapping – they sing for the neighbor as well as for thee.