“Off The Record” a sermon by Jonathan Booth July 12, 2020
“Off The Record” a sermon by Jonathan Booth
Good morning dear ones, for a couple of Sundays in July I am going to share the preaching load with your pastor and give him a hand in the hope that he and Margie can relax a little. I miss you folks and the characteristics that make you as congregations similar yet distinct. In my mind’s eye I can picture each congregation, so I hope you too can picture me in your sanctuaries sharing the word of God with you.
Today’s gospel reading must be one of the most well-known parables in history. Most of you will have heard a parable described as ‘an earthly story with a heavenly (or spiritual) meaning.’ Certainly, today’s story fits that simple definition and we have the opportunity of gaining something spiritual (or heavenly) from it. Will you join me on the journey?
The parable of the sower might be badly named, as it might be named the parable of the soil types. We will come to that soon. For now, we will look at how the story unfolds.
You and I were born about 2,000 years after Jesus walked on earth in the Holy Land. We are his disciples, his followers, his people. If we had been born 2,000 years ago, we might have been walking with him by the Sea of Galilee about 60 miles from Jerusalem. We would have been enthralled by all that we were learning and seeing.
Matthew is setting forth the words and deeds of Jesus. He lays out the words of the Messiah in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), he then lays out the deeds of the Messiah as Jesus performs miracle after miracle. (Matthew 8-9) If you and I were there at that time we would have witnessed the commission for ministry in Matthew chapter 10. In chapter 11 we would have seen Jesus demonstrate doing the very thing that he was asking the disciples to do – namely to go out and preach the Kingdom of God in the highways and byway towns. In chapter 12 we would have seen Jesus demonstrate how to handle conflict. Incidentally, a good framework for teaching is seen to be begun here. Tell me what to do, show me how to do it, let me do it and grow me by coaching me how to be better. Tell me, show me, let me and grow me.
Now we come to our text today to chapter 13 the chapter of parables. For the sake of time, I will not explain why and how parables were used because I want to focus on the first parable itself.
Here is the story: Jesus went out later in the day on the Sabbath. He was done with having to justify himself before the scribes and Pharisees and so he sat beside the sea. The text doesn’t tell us if he wanted to watch the water, lift his eyes to the hills, take a nap or whatever but I’m sure you can identify that feeling when you just want to get away from it all. Regardless of why he was sat there, great crowds gathered around him and so he got into a boat and moved a little way away and then told them parables. He is rejected in the synagogue, so he goes outside to preach the good news. He lifts his voice and says “Listen.” Do you sometimes hear God stop you in your tracks and say “Listen” … pay attention … listen up. He then goes on to tell what we have called the “Parable of the Sower” but as I said, this would be better described as the “Parable of the Soils.”
I’ll come back to the parable in a moment, but I want to tell you about my wildflower garden. At the end of Joel Street in NE McMinnville is a piece of waste land 50 x 50 feet just outside our home. It is waste because the sub-division road stopped at our house which is the last house in the street but didn’t go the extra 50 feet to the city limit line. It is 50 feet wide because that is the width of our road. So, there it was: a rough square piece of construction ground which was rapidly filling up with weeds. I called the City (as you do!) and I asked the City Works manager if I could have an “off the record” conversation. He said “yes” and I asked if this piece of waste land belonged to the city and he said “yes”.
I then asked what they would do with it and he said “Well IF you asked us, we would come out and spray it and weed whack it once a year.”
I said, “Ok. Well, off the record what if I cleared the weeds and planted wildflowers all over it? Would that be a good idea?”
He said, “Off the record, I think that would be a great idea”.
And so, we now have a 50 x 50 patch with tons of wildflowers that technically belong to the city and practically belong to no-one or to everyone. But let me tell you a little bit more about that process. You see, we needed to flatten some of the land and I cleared some of the weeds and then I sowed the seeds, thousands of them over that largely bare patch of land and some of the land was hard clay. To this day I can still see the seeds lying on the earth doing nothing. Some of the seed did grow, but only a very little and some of it didn’t make it because the weeds beat them to the process. But some of the seeds were cast on a part of the land where I had unloaded 3 yards of horse manure (and yes it did smell lovely!). On that part of the square the wildflowers took off and were abundant! (continued)
The parable of the sower is about the soil, not the sower or the seed. We are the soil and it is how God’s seed finds us that determines results. Sometimes we are just hard, like the path that the birds gobbled up the seed. Sometimes our hardness of heart won’t allow the word of God to penetrate at all and what seed is sown in the heart is snatched away by the evil one. It is useless.
Sometimes the seed falls on ground which is described as rocky with little soil, and in that case the shallow soil of sentimentality and the hard rocks of cynicism conspire together to prevent roots from reaching out. The brilliant sunlight of reality burns away my fantasies, for in me there is no depth, no place to grow. We are shallow and fickle.
Sometimes the seed falls among thorns and yes, the seed grows but so too do the thorns and they choke the life out of the young seed. Jesus explains privately to his disciples that this represents the word of God coming into our lives but our distractions and our love of money choke out the spiritual life of the good seed.
Lastly sometimes the seed falls on good soil and that seed bears fruit abundantly.
I planted a garden last year for the first time and, oh my, the lettuce is growing like crazy. I planted little seeds and now huge heads of lettuce have come from them. Dear ones, you know the expression, “We can have all four seasons in one day.” Well maybe you and I can have all 4 soil types in our lives all in one day, too. One thing I know though, is that this is a lifelong pursuit. You see, on this journey together we call faith, we constantly must work the soil for it to be productive.
Many years ago, for most of us, we were baptized. We entered into a full love relationship with God and heard the words “You are my beloved son/daughter” Over many years we have entered Sunday by Sunday, the first day of the week, into the resurrection life of the Christ who by the Holy Spirit dwells within us. Year by year, the soil of our hearts has been tilled, weeded, fertilized and planted. Our soil is worked on so that it might bear fruit, sometimes abundantly, and fulfil our baptismal calling to produce the fruits of the spirit reaching out to a needy world around us.
May God bless you. May God work in the soil of your lives and make you fruitful. Amen
~ Jonathan Booth 7/12/2020