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July 13, 2014 - Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23

“I Killed a Cactus”

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-30

July 13, 2014

 

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!”… 18“Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When 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. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet 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. 22As 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. 23But 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.”

 

I am no farmer.  I know that it is a sign of personal integrity to grow your own vegetables and stuff, but I just admit it now – I can’t grow anything, even a good beard.  When we lived in Iowa, you had to have a garden.  It was just what you did out there with soil as black as chocolate cake.  My church folks in Iowa, who were mostly farmers, used to joke about our garden.  But it got to the point where it looked so bad that it wasn’t funny anymore to a serious gardener.  I mean I can’t grow anything.  In fact, I admit it…I once killed a cactus.

 

Though I learned a lot about farming from those people, I have never put it into practice – except when I read scripture.  I learned from those folks a wealth of education about the farming metaphors of the Bible.  They are all over the place.

 

Take our text this morning.  You might not notice anything strange about this text, unless you read it carefully and pay attention to what the farmer is doing.  Most of you know something about farming.  What is this farmer doing?  Spreading good seed everywhere?  You’re supposed to put good seed in good soil. Good farmers prepare the soil.  Good farmers put stinky stuff on their soil during the spring.  Good farmers get rid of the rocks and weeds and stuff. Seed is expensive! Ever see a farmer spreading good seed on his driveway?  No.  Obviously, the farmer doesn’t care where the seed goes, just as long as it is spread everywhere.

 

You might call this text, “The parable of the recklessly wasteful farmer!”

Look, I believe in efficiency. I am committed to doing the most work in the shortest amount of time. "Multi-tasking" is me all over. For instance, take this sermon. I composed these thoughts while I was cooking dinners, and driving my car down the interstate, listening to music, yelling at my kids, scrambling eggs and while playing games with teenagers. Can you tell?

Life is short. Why waste time?

My mother hated waste. Like lots of people of her generation who grew up during the Great Depression, she loved to recycle things, use things again and again. Why waste paper clips, rubber bands, newspaper? My mother never wasted anything.  There were shortages. Eat your peas. Clean your plate! My mother was ecologically green before the term was ever thought up.  Waste not, want not, and all that.

There are many ways that I am not naturally inclined to be a disciple of Jesus, many aspects of my personality make discipleship somewhat of a reach for me. And this parable of the sower depicts one of them. I am efficient. I don't like to waste anything.  I even use the old church bulletins in my printer.

But then there's Jesus. In today's scripture he tells the story about a man who went forth to sow. A farmer went forth to sow seed as farmers have done for centuries. But this farmer had to be one of the most inept farmers who has ever sown seed.

Jesus says, the farmer goes out to his field and . . . he carefully removes all of the rocks and weeds. He plows the soil into neat, straight furrows. And then he puts the seed in the furrows, carefully covering up the seed with about a quarter of an inch of soil, each seed about eight inches from every other seed.

No. Jesus says this farmer simply goes out and with no preparation or care and starts slinging seed.

Well, once the seed germinates, and it is time for harvest, the harvest is rather disappointing. Most of the seed has been wasted. Of course, you would expect this with this kind of farmer!

Some of the seed has been thrown onto the roadside. What on earth did the farmer expect by that? Much of the seed has been eaten by birds where it was not sufficiently covered by the soil. Other seed thrown into clumps of weeds has been choked out by the weeds.

The amazing thing is that Jesus says there was a miraculous harvest. About ten percent of the seed actually germinated. Jesus enthusiastically calls this an amazingly rich harvest that brought the farmer joy.

Don't you find it interesting that the sort of farming I would call a failure Jesus calls a success? He sure looks at things differently than the way I look at things.

Not long ago I heard a sermon that was allegedly based upon this Sunday's Gospel, the parable of the sower. The preacher said that our vocation, as Christians, is to sow the seed of the gospel. Then the preacher chastised us for not being able sowers of the gospel: for the seed to take root, we must do appropriate cultivation. We must patiently work the soil, root out the weeds, do our preparatory "homework" so that when the seed is cast, it has the best possible opportunity to germinate.

The preacher then noted that if you go to the garden store and buy a packet of seeds, those seeds will have an expiration date stamped upon them. "Are we sometimes guilty of sowing old seeds that have expired?" the preacher asked. Then the preacher castigated the listeners for our church's outmoded, old-fashioned ways of being the church.

A couple of observations:

I think that the parable, as found in Matthew 13, is a story about God, not about us. There may be human implications imbedded within the parable, but the story is first a story about God - who God is and what God does - before it is a story about us.

The "seed" is the Word of God, or the gospel, or something that derives from the reign of God. Does the preacher really want to say that the "seed" can become dated, expired, and irrelevant to our time and place?

The preacher's stress upon cultivating the soil, carefully preparing for the sowing is a good point, but unfortunately it is not at all the point of this story! In the story the sower is remarkable, not for his or her care in sowing the seed, in preparing the ground, but in the indiscriminate manner of the sowing!

In the name of efficiency and the greatest good for the greatest number, the modern world has stacked people on top of each other, piled human beings together, forced us into large groups - the herd. Jesus appears to point to another way in which, though a minority of the seed actually germinated and bore fruit, it is considered to be a wonderful, miraculous event.

Much of the great good that this God does is unseen by the world, unacknowledged, and unnoticed. Few of us will ever read the entire Bible, much less comprehend all of the Bible. God has just said too much to us, on too many different subjects, on too diverse occasions. So we hire preachers, to plow through the Bible, then reduce what we have read to four spiritual laws, or three basic principles, or six fundamentals. We human beings act as if it's our job to comprehend all of God, but in order to do that we have got to considerably reduce God, bring everything down to the lowest common denominator, something that you can put on a bumper sticker.

But then we are reminded that God is bigger than all of our reductions and generalizations. There is a great deal more to be said and thought.

Sometimes people emerge from church mumbling, "I didn't really get anything out of that service today."

Some preachers might take that as a criticism? Well, I don't. Perhaps the sermon was focused on people who are going through times of difficulty and trial. Maybe that person is experiencing smooth sailing right now, no problems. So naturally they "didn't get anything out of it." (Callback to last week) Well, it’s not about you.

The point is that church is not simply the efficient, individual and personal "what do I get out of it?" Maybe the point of church is more often, "what does my neighbor get out of it?" In church, a great deal is wasted. More is said than you really need to hear. Many times we sing a hymn that does nothing to uplift our heart. But maybe that hymn uplifts the heart of your neighbor. And Jesus has made your neighbor, and your neighbor's needs, your problem.

So maybe we should say that to be a good disciple you have got to have training in how to sit through a lot of church, a great many worship services, that are wasted.

Sometimes I feel that I am incredibly disorganized and that I don’t use time well, like I waste too much of it doing just one thing. The problem is though, I am working not just for my church, but also for Jesus. When I, or another pastor, “wastes” an entire afternoon with a troubled person this may not be the most efficient use of the pastor's talent, training, and time, but it just might be at the heart of the reign of God.

Will Willimon wrote about a graduate of John Hopkins University. From there, she went to Duke University where she earned a graduate degree in nursing. She did so well academically that the faculty asked her to stay on and be a professor of nursing.

Willimon did not meet her until she was in her 60s. By that time she had left the nursing faculty and she was working in an inner-city health center, a volunteer, for those who had AIDS. One afternoon, talking to a friend of hers, Willimon was telling her that he had so much respect for the work she was doing, for the way she was using her gifts.

Her friend said, "Do you? Frankly, I consider it a waste. When I think of all the good she could be doing and I consider the brilliant career that she simply tossed away, I consider her story to be sad, rather than inspiring."

What a waste? That he came to us reaching out to us in love. He told us the truth about ourselves and our world and the truth about God. And we responded by rejecting him, abandoning him, nailing him to a bloody cross, where his life's blood drained out of him. And even there, he kept reaching out to us, embracing us, forgiving us. And then when God raised him from the dead, he came back to us, back to the very people with whom he had failed so miserably. He came back to the very ones who betrayed him and promised them, "I will never leave you, no matter what."  What a waste.

You have the gospel, the seed.  Go out there and throw it everywhere.  Don’t look for good soil.  Don’t look for freshly prepared ground.  Don’t look for potting soil and well hydrated areas with the proper amount of sunlight.  Take that seed and throw it everywhere.  Just throw it everywhere.  Be the worst the farmer ever.