McFarland

Sixth Sunday of Pentecost July 12, 2020

Readings

First Reading: Isaiah 55:10-13
Psalm 65: [1-8] 9-13
Second Reading: Romans 8:1-11
Gospel: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Prayer of the Day:

Almighty God, we thank you for planting in us the seed of your word. By your Holy Spirit help us to receive it with joy, live according to it, and grow in faith and hope and love, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Hymns of the Day

If you don’t have hymnals at home,
look up the hymns on YouTube or other websites.

Almighty God, Your Word is Cast  ELW #516

Lord Let My Heart Be Good Soil  ELW #512

Oh What Has Now Been Sown  ELW #550

Light Dawns on a Weary World  ELW #726

Reflection on Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

by Pastor Kelli Schmit

Mike and I started a garden in our backyard this year.  We started planning in February and a few months later we cut, dug up, and rolled away the sod – which was not as fun as it sounds.  We got a load of top soil dumped in our driveway and, with the unparalleled assistance and supervision of our three-year-old, we took it back one wheelbarrow load at a time – which was not as fun as it sounds.  We mapped out our garden on graph paper so the tall plants wouldn’t block the sun for the shorter plants, and the wild, gangly vines wouldn’t overtake other delicate plants.  We have a row of corn, and row of peas, ten bamboo poles for beans, bell pepper plants – correction, we have one bell pepper plant because Theo helped me weed a couple weeks ago, but anyway. 

I’m a planner and we were very intentional about which seeds we put where.  I didn’t want to waste anything because when the seed packet was empty, that was it.  That was my one shot.  So to think about someone tossing seeds about, all willy-nilly, not considering if the area has potential or not, for the plant to thrive, is beyond me.  That’s not how I would do it…but I’m not the sower.

Today we hear Jesus teach through storytelling, known as a parable.  It’s the first parable in a series that we will explore the next couple of weeks.  Yes, I know that our midweek devotions are on parables from Luke’s Gospel.  Had I known these stories from Matthew were coming I would have suggested this Gospel but, as always, I inadvertently created more work for myself.  Our first story we hear in Matthew’s Parable Discourse is about a sower who throws seed.  It lands on four different types of soil.  The seeds are not successful on the path, on the rocks, or among the thorns.

We learn later that the seeds are the words of the kingdom, and that God showers the word on pretty much everyone.  God tosses the seeds of God’s word on people, even those who I think are surrounded by evil, devious voices that will snatch the word away, or the people who I think don’t have the depth or the fortitude to stick with the radical nature of the Gospel, or the people who I think are too concerned with what the world values to let the word of God grow and thrive in them and produce good in the world.

But before we enjoy this judgmental assessment of humanity too much, a quick glance in the mirror and I see that I do not have the keenest or most discerning of ears.  I experience disheartened fatigue, too – like during a pandemic that seems to have no end.  I know the lure of keeping quiet and maintaining the status quo, especially when my humanity and dignity are not at risk.

I know that I am the soil – we are the soil – we are all the kinds of soil.  Our lives and hands are dirty.  We’re all made from the dust and dirt of the earth.  We are all four types of soil.  And the thing about soil is that it cannot change on its own.  It can’t wake up one day and say, “Know what, I’m going to scare off some birds and have fewer rocks and be free of weeds today.  That sounds good.”  Soil needs to be tended to by someone who cares.  It needs to be fed, protected, and nurtured.  If the soil seems to be bad and unhelpful and seemingly unredeemable, it needs more care, not less.  And what a beautiful model for how we could engage the world.

But even in the harshest of conditions, where it seems like there is no way a flower could push through the concrete, it does.  In the words of one author, those “tenacious plants offer signs that the word of the kin(g)dom will continue to find a way to grow”.[1]  Even when the plants shouldn’t survive, even when it seems like no life could spring forth, the word of God continues to grow.

The sower doesn’t take aim, tossing seed only on good soil, hedging their bets that this would get the best results, but on all soil.  The seeds land on fertile ground only a fourth of the time yet the sower doesn’t give up.  A 75% chance of failure seems pretty daunting and discouraging to me, but not for the sower.  They act like they will never run out of seeds.  The sower has an abundant – an endless source of seeds – of love, grace, compassion, hope, courage, resurrection, and determination, and the sower scatters it on all of us all of the time.  The seed packet never runs out.  The sower never stops scattering seed which is about as hopeful an act as I can think of.  The sower tosses the seeds everywhere, even where a sprout seems unlikely, but they believe that something good might still happen, so why not try?  The truth of this story is that some people will hear this message and respond, and some won’t.  Even so, the seeds continue to be scattered.

After Jesus tells the parable to the crowd, he explains it more fully to the disciples – his inner circle.  He talks about the seed and the different types of soil, but the thing he doesn’t explain is the fruit the plant bears.[2]  While I obviously appreciate a clear-cut answer and correlation, I love the mystery in the fruit being undefined.  It means that the fruit our plants bear can be as unique and different and diverse as we are.  What fruit might God be tending in you?

Is your fruit is going for a walk by yourself so you can recharge?  That way you can keep giving, because we’re all being stretched beyond our comfort zones right now.  Is your fruit listening to a friend, partner, or parent who is frustrated, sad, and fed up with the constant limitations, disappointments, and grief caused by distance, separation, unknowns, and isolation?

Is your fruit taking a deep breath when you child interrupts you for the thousandth time?  I’m unfamiliar with this example, but I’ve heard stories.  But the deep breath could give you the space you need so you can respond rather than react.  Is your fruit wearing a mask so those around you won’t get sick, or is it not yelling at someone who is not wearing a mask?  Yelling, either in person or on social media, seems an awful lot like birds coming to snatch the seed away.  Is your fruit taking your meds and taking care of yourself?  Because that can sometimes feel like a Herculean feat.

Is your fruit reading a book, authored by someone with a different life experience than yours, and letting the words of their story roll around in your mind, stir your heart, and influence your perspective about the world?  Is your fruit going to worship in your living room because – even though this is not at all how we want to worship right now – is your fruit showing up for others which helps you see and feel all who are showing up for you.

No fruit is the same.  It all depends on the seed that is growing in us.  The seeds – the word of God – the word of love, grace, compassion, hope, courage, resurrection, and determination that are growing in us.  A seed that will bring forth an incredible thirty, sixty, and a hundred-fold yield.

We will fall short, but don’t worry.  We will post a snarky comment, snap at a loved one when we’re stressed, choose not to call someone back right away, and ignore an opportunity to learn from someone else.  This will happen, maybe even 75% of the time.  It’s not great, obviously, but it’s okay.  Birds, rocks, and thorns will get in the way.  We will get in our own way.  But the sower will tend to and care for our poor soil, and the sower will keep tossing seeds, and our dirt-caked selves will get another chance to try again.

When Jesus tells this first parable, he is teaching to the crowd…but then he gives the explanation exclusively to the disciples.  We obviously put ourselves in the sandals of the disciples who heard this special teaching.  We are not part of the crowd, left on the beach, wandering home after we heard some cool story about seeds, and birds, and what not.  We are told what the seeds, the dirt, the birds, and the thorns are.  In the words of Matt Skinner, we are left wondering what the consequence is of our knowing?  How is this going to help the world?  Or is it not?[3]

We are being called, to respond to the promise, that we are showered with a bottomless packet of seeds – we are surrounded and carried by God’s word of love, grace, compassion, hope, courage, resurrection, and determination.  So now what?  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Holly Hearon, “Preach This Week, July 12, 2020, Gospel Reading, Commentary on Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23,” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4510 (accessed July 6, 2020).
[2] Matt Skinner from: Rolf Jacobson, Karoline Lewis, Joy J. Moore, and Matt Skinner, “Sermon Brainwave: #733 – Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Ordinary 15A),” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary, online podcast, https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=1281.
[3] Ibid.

Let Us Pray

God of life, you promise to scatter your love, grace, compassion, hope, courage, and determination around us, all day every day.  Tend to us when we are beaten down, nurture us when we are depleted, and stir us up when we are complacent.  Foster the seed of your word that is growing in us and help us to bear good fruit for your world.  Help us remember that your presence never leaves us, no matter what is happening in us or around us.  You are with us always, to the end of the age.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.