6 Pentecost—10-A, July 16, 2017
Isaiah 55:10-13, Psalm 65: (1-8), 9-14, Romans 8:1-11, Matthew 13:1-9,18-23
Imagine your favorite beach….Matthew says Jesus is sitting on the beach at the Sea of Galilee. It’s an arresting image: Jesus, doing the thing we like to do, sitting in front of a body of water and just staring off into the distance. As we’ve all experienced, this opens up the soul and calms the spirit. Neuroscience has found that staring off into empty space like this, puts the mind into alpha waves which produces that calm, peaceful sensation we all crave and need after a day of living in a mind worn out by the beta waves produced by a busy, stressful life. In other words, Jesus is centering himself in the presence of the Father after a long week of teaching, healing, and confrontation. Jesus needs a day at the beach as much as we do!
But he doesn’t get a day, but only an hour, before the crowd shows up and it’s time once again to proclaim the arrival of God’s saving, transforming presence to the people. So he climbs into a boat, which pulls out from shore, so he can sit in the bow and teach the people lined up on the beach.
Jesus has only one message, really: God, whom he calls Abba, is with us in love and power, and contrary to what you’ve heard, this is profoundly good news that you do not want to miss. Today, he crafts that message into a story we know as the Parable of the Sower.
“A sower went out to sow.”
We notice, first of all, also contrary to what we’ve been told, Jesus is not a religious figure who’s interested in starting a new religion, or filling up a synagogue or a cathedral. Jesus is a human being who’s interested in leading people to share in his New Life that is in love with self, neighbor, and God. Therefore, Jesus tells stories about ordinary life: stories about sowing seed, raising a vineyard, working with sheep, or about men and women doing ordinary things like walking down a road filled with robbers, raising two very different sons, or being a bridesmaid.
These are not stories about people in church doing religious things, but they are stories about ordinary first century life.
Ordinary stories about real life, but with a twist added, like a lemon added to a glass of water. And that twist is the presence of the Divine.
So today’s story is about a sower who goes out to sow. And the twist is this sower appears to be extremely careless, throwing valuable seed in places where it can do no good. If we were in charge we’d sit the fellow down and tell him to tighten up or look for other work!
I mean he’s throwing seed on the footpath, among the rocks, and into the thorn bushes. No farmer would do such a thing unless he is drunk or wants to lose his farm.
But of course this farmer is sowing the Word of Life and God means that Word to go to everybody, no matter what their condition or ability to receive it is at any particular moment. Everyone gets the Word of Life thrown into their life—not once in a life or once a season, or only in church, but at every moment the Word of Life is falling into the middle of their lives.
Jesus is doing the same thing as he teaches the people on the beach without any regard to their police record, immigration status, preexisting conditions, or moral failings. Jesus sends the Word to one and all because it is the Father’s will that all people come to Life.
As Jesus says in John 10:10: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” It’s why Saint Irenaeus in the third century didn’t say the glory of God is a person who is member of a church, but that the glory of God is a human being fully alive. Too many churches aim way too low and therefore live way beneath their call and privilege.
Jesus lets the Word of Abundant Life fall all over that beach without regard to who deserves it or who doesn’t. Jesus is a lousy farmer but a great God.
If you’re here today and feeling as if you can’t escape the “story of you” that says you are a worthless excuse of a human being—maybe because you’re too old or too trapped by past behavior or not smart enough or good talented enough—you need to know that Jesus doesn’t agree with your self-assessment and Jesus is not going to avoid you like you think everybody else seems to do. Jesus is going to throw his Word into your heart whether you like it or not or think you deserve it or not. Jesus’ love is tougher than the story of you that you think is the truth. (See Steven Chandler’s The Story of You. You can get the audio-book at the Chelmsford Library).
And further, watch out, watch out because there is power in the Word he preaches, just as there is power in the seed—the power to save a life and to transform a life, even yours, and even mine. There is power in the Word of Christ and it’s now showing in the theater of the heart.
So in every story Jesus tells we need to first of all focus on the power and love of God being described. For example, the power of God’s love in the shepherd who leaves the 99 to seek the one that is lost, in the widow who sweeps her house to find the lost coin, in the father who embraces both sons, in the Virgins who keep their lamps lit all night, in the farmer who throws his seed everywhere.
But it is also true that as the Word of Life comes to us as we stand on the beach that Word causes a profound crisis.
And the crisis is this: As we are being showered by the Word of New Life, we must decide where we want to be standing on our inner landscape: do we wish to keep standing on the hard ground of the well-worn path where the masses go with the flow of the cultural Zeitgeist, living in the default setting of those who believe they have no need for God?
Do we want to be standing on the ground where we live in the shallow end, so that at the slightest problem or doubt we can escape the pool?
Do we wish to stand on the ground where our tender shoot of faith is overwhelmed by the project to buy, have, and be more?
Or, finally, do we want to be standing at the foot of the cross where the ground is level and open to receiving the Word that brings forth a life full of love, service, and peace? A life in which we become sowers of the Word.
The Word creates this crisis and if we let it the Word will plow us true, as the poet says. Paul Ramsey
So to help us in this crisis Paul instructs his hearers today to quit thinking about the illusions of a life lived without God. He says, “For those who live according to the flesh, that is on the soil that refuses to open to the Word, and instead to set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, he says, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”
So I hope we all have some time this summer on the beach, or in the mountains, or at the kitchen window, where we can stare into the distance and feel our minds slipping out of gear, so we can open to the Word of Life that intends to produce the true story of you living for others, whose author is Christ.