Monday, July 14, 2008

Sermon for Year A Proper 10

The Beloved Incompetent Farmer

Our gospel reading has two parts.
The first part has Jesus sitting on a beach.
which is teeming with crowds of people.
I imagine the crowds keep pushing in closer and closer to him
until he is almost pushed into the sea,
so finally Jesus just gets in a boat, sails a little off the shore,
and speaks to the crowds of people from there.

Jesus tells a story, a parable.
This is actually the first parable we find written down in the gospels.
The cool thing about a parable,
and certainly Jesus knows this,
is that there is not just one way to hear it or interpret it.
A parable is
mystery and meaning
wrapped into one intriguing package.
A parable is a story that makes you ask,
“What does that mean?”

You have to really listen,
really think,
to hear and think
with both your head and your heart..
calls Jesus.

And Jesus tells the story of a farmer—
who in all honesty
doesn't sound very competent--
a farmer who rather indiscriminately scatters his seed
all over the place.
Some of the seeds are quickly gobbled up by the birds.
Some seed just die in the heat of the sun,
Some seed just sit there because the ground is rocky and hard.
And yes, there are a few seed that take root,
and grow and thrive and flourish

How much those seeds produce seems as
random as the sowing of the seeds…
One hundred fold, sixty fold, thirty fold.
Pick a number.

You almost feel that the gospel might as well read:
Listen! A sower went out to sow
and did a rather terrible job with the sowing,
but there was still a harvest.

Then comes an explanation of the parable.
Most scholars don’t believe Jesus wrote or spoke that explanation--
because the whole point of a parable is to have the listeners
interpret the meaning of the parable.
It would be like putting the answer
to the NY Times Crossword puzzle
side by side with the puzzle itself.

What scholars believe is that someone came along later
and wrote this explanation--
the way they personally heard the parable.
It’s not that it’s a wrong interpretation,
It’s just that it’s only ONE interpretation.

But Jesus calls us to LISTEN.
We will each hear something different in this parable.

Perhaps the most important part of the entire parable is that first word--
complete with exclamation mark—

Few of us ever really do that well or often enough.
Jesus is trying to get everyone’s attention.
This is important he’s saying.

This parable is the story about a semi-incompetent farmer
going out and rather wildly and indiscriminately scattering seed
and still…
Things grow.
Plants produce.
The garden grows in spite of the sower.

So what is Jesus saying here?
Really, that’s for each of us to decide.

Am I the sower?
Or is God the sower?

Is my life one particular type of soil—
Or is my life all those places seeds fell?

Maybe Jesus is telling us that God does not expect perfection..

We don’t have to set up the perfect garden, neat little rows all marked out,
Or have the perfect church
or live the perfect life.

Maybe we don’t need that kind of perfection
in order for God to use us,
to grow the Church
or to grow our own spiritual lives.

God is used to rocky soil, to thorns, to a total mess.
God has had a lot of experience with total mess.
God never looks for perfection.
God just puts a hoe in our hand
and says how about you start doing a little work.
Give it a try.

God does expect that.
A sower went out to sow.
The sower didn’t frame his seed packets
and line them all up on the mantle to admire
or archive them in a scrapbook.
The sower went out.

When I was in Wales recently,
I heard a sermon preached at St. David’s Cathedral.
The priest was not an exceptional preacher—
not a perfect sower—
but some of his words have really stayed with me.

The preacher that evening was retiring.
This sermon was probably the last he would preach at the Cathedral.
So in many ways it was his final hurrah to proclaim the gospel.

Here’s what he said:
Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel.
And how might we do that?
Not by judging others, he said,
not by trying to convince others to believe as we believe,
but simply by telling our own faith story,
sharing what we believe
and our struggles to live into those beliefs.

We are called to proclaim the gospel.
How do we do that?
Simply tell others—start with your own family and friends—
most especially your children and your grandchildren
and your godchildren--
tell them why you are a Christian.
Do not waste your time or anyone else’s,
telling them why THEY
should be a Christian.

Just tell your story.

We need to name and claim our own soil.
Rocky, thorny, dirty or hydroponic—
What has made our own faith strong?
What gives us life?
What gives us hope?
What are the things that have opened our own eyes and hearts
to the holy, to the sacred?

I have been so blessed this week by Jane Blodgett’s family.
When someone we love dies,
The stories of their lives come back on us like waves.
Not tidal waves, but like a day when the waves just touch us gently.
We remember.
Re-member. That word means we put the pieces together. We see the whole.
Stories are powerful.
That’s why the Bible is full of them.
Tell your story.
Think about what you believe and how you try to live those beliefs.

Tom and I have one of those small dry erase boards
on the refrigerator in our house.
One morning as I drank my coffee,
I stood up and wrote on the board 5 things that I felt I truly believed--
for sure and for certain and without a doubt
in my heart and in my soul.
I wanted to write those beliefs without any fancy theological words,
and free of any religious clich├ęs.

I did not think reciting the Nicene Creed to my three grandchildren
would help them understand why I am a Christian.

I asked myself,
what do I want my grandchildren to know about what I believe?

I want them to know this:

(1) I want them to know that I believe that God is real—and absolutely beyond anything I can imagine.

(2) I want them to know that yes, for me it is Jesus who rocks my world-- and I am grateful for that—every day. I myself could not ask for a better teacher or for anyone who could challenge me more than Jesus.

(3) I want them to know that what we do, how we treat people, matters a whole lot more than what we say,
even what we say we believe.

(4) I want them to know that I believe there is always hope. Always,
Without exception.

(5) And finatlly, I want them to know that I believe that love overcomes everything, absolutely everything,
and nothing will ever separate us from the love of God.

What will you write on your dry erase board?
What are the seeds that you are willing to step out and scatter everywhere and anywhere?
What is your story?

Listen! A sower went out to sow….

The sower did not hide his seeds.
The sower did not try to pretend
he knew everything about gardening.
The sower didn’t criticize the way anyone else was planting.
The sower just went out and scattered the seeds,
proclaimed the gospel here there and everywhere,
and trusted God would do the rest.

Let anyone with ears listen!

+ + +

Matthew 13:1-9,18-23
Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: "Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!"
"Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."

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