5 Pentecost—Proper 10-A
July 13, 2014
Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23
Jesus is talking to a crowd at the beach.
He says, “Listen…a sower goes out to sow.”
And what do we hear? From our perspective the sower is throwing the seed mindlessly.
How careless to throw seed on the path where any fool can see nothing will grow.
How wasteful to throw seed onto the rocks where there’s not enough soil.
How foolish to throw seed into the weeds were it will have no chance at all.
How foolish of the sower—but also how perfect a description of the self-giving of Jesus who is both the sower and the seed. He was thrown himself onto the path, the rocks, and the weeds of human experience.
And this is no mistake—this is where Jesus wishes to go because all those places are loved by God.
+The places of our ignorance and evil, the shallow and the rootless–
+The places run by the world with its craving for more.
This is where Jesus goes to lose himself to bring the harvest of New Life.
In other words he comes to us—for who among us isn’t sometimes hard as rock and dense as weeds and overwhelmed by worry and the desire for just a little bit more?
The parable doesn’t just describe different types of soil but the terrain of every heart.
There is none among us who is not all these things—yet to us the Word of God comes.
We live, as Paul says, according to the flesh: that is, according to the desires placed in us by the world, by the social other, that determines who we are and who we want to be.
We imagine that we shape ourselves, that we are masters of our own fate, but just imagine who we would be if, say, we’d been raised from birth in a refugee camp in the Middle East. We would have been formed by a different language, culture, and worldview. We’d be educated not in heated schools but by suffering and hopelessness. We’d be different people because the human being is formed by the social other with which she lives. The social other tells us what to desire and thus shapes heart and mind.
Paul says we are all run by the world even if that is the affluent, North American, New England world of the 21st century. We look, talk, and act the way we do not because we decided we wanted to but because we were raised by others to do so.
When Paul says we live according to the flesh he isn’t just talking about our drive for sex and more stuff. He means everything that runs us here and now which is to say, we are run by death and the fear of death.
We were born in the prison of the desires of the world.
Our parents and grandparents were also born there. We don’t know any better because this is all we know.
So we decorate our cells with stuff and screens that light up to give us the illusion that we run ourselves.
How could we possibly know anything different?
Only one way—
Only if we are visited by One who comes from beyond the gates of the prison. Visited by One who is not run by the desires of the world but by the life and peace of God who knows not death.
Only this outsider who becomes an insider can show us there is another way to live, another way to imagine the world, a world in which forgiveness and truth-telling, replace revenge and pretense.
I so wanted to be such an insider when I was driving on I-95 two days ago. 50 yards in front of me comes a mother duck leading her four ducklings in single file across the interstate. I hit my horn but it wasn’t in a language they could understand. I wanted to save them but there was nothing I could do—I couldn’t become a duck. I managed to miss them but I couldn’t stop the traffic behind me.
The sower has come to create a healing community where everyone lives in God and for the neighbor.
A place, Paul says, that is run by the Spirit.
Listen. The sower goes out to sow himself….
We don’t deserve this visitation, yet God comes.
And this coming looks like total failure.
God fails, God is rejected, God dies.
The world took this beautiful Christmas present and threw it unwrapped into the dumpster along with the other rotting meat and vegetables.
That’ll teach God who’s in charge!
As long as we can maintain our illusions of control and success we’ll kill anybody–even God.
How dare you call where I live a prison. It’s a gated community! Only the best people live in my neighborhood.
Yes, “crucify him, crucify him!”
We’re perfectly content being run by the world, because that’s all we’ve ever known.
Jesus Christ comes among us sowing our imaginations with another way to be and to live.
We watch him heal and transform those very people we’ve given up on.
The woman who cuts my hair told me Thursday she’s been sober 22 months and finally gave her testimony at the Monday night AA meeting.
I said, “Are you anyone’s sponsor? “
“Oh no, I’ve got to finish working all the steps and be able to live the truth before I could do that.”
She is learning to be run by the Spirit. One day at a time…
Listen. A sower went out to sow.
We watch him live as if death were not, as if life isn’t a competition, as if he is free of rivalry and fear, because he comes from beyond the prison.
This is shattering when we see him dying in the exactly the same way he lives—in forgiveness and healing—and rising from the dead to continue this work.
A sower went out to sow and is still sowing.
There is great power in the seed.
Power to plow a path, haul rocks, hack weeds….
Power to create good soil even in our dark hearts!
If we hear this parable as an account of how we churchgoers are the good soil and everyone else the bad soil we make the parable about how special we are compared to others—and that proves we are still caught in judging our neighbor.
No, this parable is not about us but about a sower who goes out to sow….
We become a place of divine intervention and possibility each time we surrender to the seed.
We are like Lazarus in the tomb. Did you ever wonder how it is that dead Lazarus can hear Jesus call him out of the tomb?
He can’t hear—but the Word can even make the dead hear.
By the way, this Sower has been sowing all morning: sowing prayer and song, sowing Genesis, Psalms, Romans, and Matthew….soon to be sowing bread and wine.
Here’s the thing: the Sower means to break into our prison, not to take us out into some place in the sky, but to turn the prison into a half-way house, where we can be inducted into a way of living without rivalry and violence, where we can learn how to be run by the Spirit and practice the habits of forgiveness and truth-telling.
And then the half-way house becomes an Embassy of the Kingdom of God, so we can go with the sower into other prisons with good news. So writes James Alison about the Church in his wonderful course for adults, The Forgiving Victim. which I highly recommend if you are interested in seeing the life of faith from a Christ-centered perspective that is thought provoking and transformative.
Jesus ends the parable with the same call with which he begins it: “Let anyone, he says,