A sermon by Rev. Martha “Missy” Shiverick
July 10, 2011
Fairmount Presbyterian Church
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
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We end the six week series on Earthkeeping with the lectionary text for the day that was heaven sent. The inspiration for these six weeks came from our earthkeeping task force co-led by Keith Mills and Elaine Price. Fairmount has been designated by our National Church’s Environmental Ministries as an Earth Care Congregation. To maintain our status, we must fulfill obligations and increase the stewardship of our environment not just as individuals but as a congregation too. Education is one component. The children this summer are enjoying a curriculum based on the theme of being a good sower of God’s earth. We also have grown this summer as earthkeepers through worship as our prayers, our songs, our statement of faith, and our sermons have all being environmental themed. This morning’s scripture passage happens to be the Parable of the Sower. It blends a message of agriculture with being receptive to God’s word and becoming a follower of God.

Listen for the fist half of today’s Gospel lesson from the Lectionary readings. Listen to God’s word as it is written in Matthew 13: 1-9.

That same day 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!”

Jesus was a master teacher! He knew that the concepts he was teaching these huge crowds of people were hard to grasp and were new ideas to his audience. He used parables as a way to take everyday concepts and apply them to his message and good news. In this parable he used elementary farming principals that anyone trying to grow a tomato plant or a flower would understand. We have gotten away being an agricultural society. I remember my mother telling me that when she taught Kindergarten she took her class on a trip to a farm. One little boy remarked as they picked fruit off an apple tree that they looked just like the apples that his mother bought him to eat at the store. To him apples were things wrapped in plastic in the produce section. We might quite a bit more removed from agriculture than the Hebrews, but even the most inexperienced gardener knows it takes good soil to make a good plant. Jesus drew his crowd in to his sermon by at first making it easy to hear. He told them what they already knew. I guess it is like how easy it is for us to read editorials in the paper that state our opinion and how hard it is to read those with which we disagree. So Jesus makes the case that all would agree on that it takes good soil to grow a healthy plant. We know this as well. We can go to the many farmers markets springing up all over Northeastern Ohio and buy local produce, often grown in organic farms but always grown with good soil, not like the industrial farming that brings about vegetables and fruits that don’t taste as good and are not as nutritious. We as Presbyterians are concerned with making sure the food we eat is healthy for us and we also promote agricultural practices which do not cause tremendous damage to the land. Our national church supports new and better US farm policies and has endorsed principals for a new and better farm policy which would promote more small and medium size family farms, promote bills that improve, expand, and adequately fund conservation opportunities for farmers, and make investments in spurring farmer’s markets and other direct farmer to consumer marketing innovations. So the first lesson we learn is that good soil produces good and healthy plants and this in itself is a good lesson to which we should reacquaint ourselves and work to maintain.

But of course this is a parable, so that is only the top layer of the meaning of the story. Jesus explains that he tells his stories so that he can teach deeper messages that the people could not otherwise understand.

Listen now to the second half of the Lectionary found in Matthew 13:18-23, where Jesus explains what he means by the parable of the sower. Jesus says, “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 is 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 the 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 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.”

Ahhhah! The meaning of the parable. Jesus is himself the sower! The seeds are his message. And with all messages, some are heard and some are not heard. Jesus explains that it has to do with what condition the hearer is in when he or she hears the good news. Some people are like the seeds that the birds just immediately eat up. Those seeds are sown on a path, not dirt, and have no chance of ever growing into a plant. For what ever reason some people are not in a position to hear God’s word. They are closed to it. Jesus describes this as being the devils doing, but I can think of numerous times in people’s lives when we are too overwhelmed with other worries, health issues, wealth issues, grief, or career issues to be able to contemplate their relationship with God. At that time it is our job to hold and be a Christian presence to the person who just needs to be loved.

Other times Jesus’ message is heard but the soil was not good so the plants grew up quickly and then could not take severe weather conditions and died. Jesus is of course talking about a person who receives the message of God’s love, and then becomes a strong advocate for the message of Christ without the depth that it needed to hear it in good times and in bad. In my first year class in seminary called Jesus, we studied the Gospels and stopped just short of the Easter Story. Our professor refused to teach it to first year seminary students. He said we needed to struggle with what the Good News was in Good Friday before we were able to preach on Easter. Our faith would not be strong unless out theology was developed as well. There is a reason for Sunday School classes for adults and children. We call them faith formation classes for a reason at Fairmount. This fall we will be starting up with a huge adult education program so that we all will nurture the deep faith that is needed to grow strong as Christians and to have a faith that will help us through all times in our lives.

Other seeds grow among the weeds and are eventually overcome by them. We who are parents of teenagers know about these plants and weeds. We work so hard to make sure our children are in crowds where there are no weeds. We don’t want them to hang with kids we feel are bad influences and worry for their safety and the choices they might make if the weeds become their friends. Perhaps that is why we work so hard on getting our kids involved in sports and other outside activities so that we have some control on what we fear. But we know we can not weed the garden our children live in once they are teenagers. That is one reason why being a member of the church youth group is important since it helps our youth learn to make good decisions and choices that are a part of their growing up.

But then there are the seeds that grow on fertile soil. They grow to be healthy plants and their yield is great. This is the ideal situation. And in well tended gardens this is what we reap. However, the reality of life is often we don’t all have perfect gardens and our homes and lives resemble the other growing conditions. It would be nice if we could create the utopia where everything condition is perfect, but lets get honest about our rocky soil and weeds! Brian Hiortdahl wrote in Christian Century magazine this month that we should listen to what Jesus did not say here. He said that Jesus is not concerned with the viability of the seeds. Beneath this parable is a bedrock assumption of abundance that we too rarely trust. There is an assumption that there is seed enough to loose, that God shares with the righteous and the unrighteous and just as the seed is scattered, God’s grace is flung and wasted everywhere.

This is a freeing thought for those of us who worry so much about making the right strategic choice, for working out the right business plan, and who only feel comfortable making a choice after viability studies and mission studies are completed. God sows the seeds everywhere. God doesn’t care if the birds eat some of the seeds as it feeds them or if some are choked by weeds and become fertilizer for next year’s garden. God sows seeds everywhere and some land on fertile soil and some do not. And we as we sow seeds should do the same. We should not be timid about waiting for just the right time to volunteer at church, we should not be worried that this is no the right time to begin new initiatives we feel God is calling us to do. There will always be rocks and weeds, but there will also always be the fertile soil as well. If we wait for just the right time to do things, we might never do them. If we wait until we are 100% sure of success, what are we saying about God’s ability to work through and sometimes in spite of us? If we don’t do something because we need to succeed, we will not be open to the Holy Spirit’s work within us. Just as Jesus told this parable to a group of people who he stated might not understand, our job is to sow the seeds, not wait until the conditions are just perfect for planting. We are the fertile soil. We are to practice our faith and live as Christians from a theology of abundance. Amen!