7/16/2017 Sixth Sunday after Pentecost The text is Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Rain, rain, go away…come again some other day.” Over the last few weeks, I’m sure that there have been many people who were thinking of this childhood chant – especially those who rented oceanside or lakeside cottage. Unlike last year, this has been a rainy summer and it wasn’t a week to be at the beach. Yet, it was also a good weather week, for the rain is needed. It has enabled last year’s parched lawns to be lush and green again. The rain has refreshed the earth, much to the delight of backyard gardeners and farmers throughout the area who will tell you that rain as well as sunshine is essential for the sowing seed, the growing crops and the harvesting time to come.
Although farming has changed throughout the years, farming has always been dependent upon weather. The tractor, an invention of the 20th century, increased farmers’ productivity and enabled them to cultivate land that was so bad that it had to be idle or used for pasture. Before the tractor, fields were plowed and harrowed with horses and oxen. And before that, fields were prepared and sown by hand.
The tractor is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to changes in farming. The revolution of the tractor was followed by hybrid seeds, irrigation systems, fertilizers, computers and advanced agronomy. Farming just isn’t what it used to be years ago. And if we read today’s parable thinking about farming as we know it today, we can easily miss the message.
In order to appreciate the parable of the seed and the sower, we have to think in primitive terms. In our Lord’s time, most of the people were farmers and farming was basic to survival. People had lots of land not only to grow their own fruits and vegetables, but also to earn a living. We’re talking about an agricultural society, here, not an industrial one in which people traveled long distances to work in office buildings and factories.
Farming was a back breaking business back then. The nature of the soil, the climate, and other factors made farming a life of constant toil and hardship. As a large part of the land was desert and rock and could not be farmed, a typical farmer used every bit of usable land for growing crops. So that meant that farmers didn’t normally live on the farm, but in a nearby village or town, where he grew the vegetables and herbs consumed by the family.
If you can erase the images of American farmers and their farms from your mind, and can picture a hardworking farmer toiling in a small field with bare hands, you can begin to understand this parable. If you place this anxious farmer in the middle of a confined field surrounded by hard paths that separate his plot from those of his neighbors, and if you can see him marching over his stone-laden field trying to make rows with the seed he sows from his hand, then you can picture what Jesus is saying.
From the pulpit of a boat on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus preached to the rural congregation that had gathered on the beach. He told them that a farmer went out to sow his seed, but as he threw out the seed, some fell on those hardened paths, and the birds came and devoured them. Of course, there was nothing wrong with the seed. If it had fallen in soil where it could germinate and grow, it would have. But, it fell on the hard, cement-like path, and had no chance other than to become food for the birds of the air which with eagle-eyes, spotted the wayward seed. Some of the other seed that was tossed by the farmer fell among rock. Other seed found a home among thorns. And while the seed, in both cases, could germinate, it couldn’t do much else.
The farmers among the crowd understood exactly what Jesus was talking about as this had happened to them. But, they may have been confused when it came to the seed. So, Jesus went on to explain that the good seed he was talking about is the Word of God.
The Word of God that falls along the hard path hits deaf ears and is snatched up. It seems as though the devil works overtime to divert people from the word and to convince everyone that the word doesn’t have a chance. Even the people who fill the pews on a Sunday can become hard soil as they get concerned about the wrong things and forget about the nature of God’s grace and salvation. The fact that there are more church fights over what color to paint a wall and who is inadvertently left off a thank you list than there will ever be over questions of theology and faith is a testimony to the hard soil that is present within the very church of God.
There are those who expect that being part of a church means that everyone will meet their expectations of what a Christian should be and when people don’t meet their expectations, they grumble or leave and blame the church for failing. But the seed is good. The Word of God is powerful even if some who receive it have all the wrong expectations of what the word can and will do.
Then, there are some people who receive the word with great enthusiasm and are open to what the word can accomplish for them. Unfortunately, they are often like the seed that Jesus said fell on rocky soil. The ground looks good on the surface, but it isn’t deep. The seed quickly germinates, but withers away under the continuing heat of the sun. These are people who wilt under the pressure of peers who laugh and scorn at them for their love of God, for involvement in the church, for their living according to God’s word rather than world standards. The fear of not being fashionable, and the demands for conformity are all at work in our world, and while our lives may not be physically threatened by them, our spirit, our soul, our relationship with God are threatened.
As if this were not enough there are also built-in anxieties that distract people from the word, and the seeds of wisdom that Jesus sows are choked by the thorns of life. There will always be people who seek those things which they think will make them comfortable. There will always be people who blame God for bad things that happen in a broken world, rather than turning to God and his Word for hope and strength and courage.
And yet, not all seed falls in places where it cannot grow and reach its potential. Jesus said that the struggling farmer who throws out the good seed is not to give up in despair over the failure of some seed to take proper root. For other seed will fall on good soil and will bring forth more fruit than can possibly be imagined.
The fault is not with the sower who farms the only way he knows how to farm. The fault is not with the seed which is good and productive. The fault lies with the soil that fails to give any kind of yield. If the soil is not receptive, the seed will not produce.
Jesus did not tell this parable to people who thought of themselves as good or bad soil. He told this parable to a group of farmers, a group of people who were out there year after year, sowing seed, in touch with land in order to make a living. He told this parable to them and to us in order that we may not get discouraged by what we see.
You, my friends, are sowers of seed. You, my friends, are farmers who are not to worry about the soil. You are to scatter God’s life-giving, productive Word on whatever plot of ground you have to work with, and you are not to be discouraged by drought or flood, by heavy snows or worn paths. The seed is good and some seed, somewhere, will take root. You may never see it, but it doesn’t mean that it is not so.
So, sow the Word of God’s grace and salvation. Tell others of the wonderful things God has done and will do through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Know that he is with you in your words and actions of faith. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.