Sunday, July 10, 2011

Pentecost 4-A

Preached @ St. Anne’s, Damascus, MD 7/10/11, Matt 13:1-9,18-23


he Christian-author April Oursier Armstrong wrote “Christ told his parables in terms of things that never change in the barest fundamentals of living. And we can claim them for our own if we will make the effort to pierce the years with a little study, to breathe the clean air of the countryside and lift our eyes to the stars….In a city park in London, in the sprawling mechanized farms of the American Middle West, in a backyard garden of a window box, there is still a seed and a sower.” Armstrong is saying that when we are gifted one of these parables of Jesus, that for many of us are familiar, we can and must make the effort to have them be new to us, fresh to us, so that we may react like those to whom Jesus first told them. For these parables are meant to be heard, listened to and then for us to react.

We are at the beginning of Chapter 13 in Matthew’s Gospel today. This chapter is a major turning point in Jesus’ ministry. He has moved from the synagogue to the sea shore, from the city to the countryside. This move signals that Jesus has accepted his rejection: the rejection of the leaders of the community to which he had been initially sent, and the rejection of his family. And today’s parable, and the many that follow in this chapter all help establish the parameters of how Jesus is defining his new family, how Jesus is describing what this Kingdom he is founding looks like.

Parables are Jesus taking abstract ideas, theological concepts and making them real, palpable, by his using things that were common and known to the people with whom he was speaking. They are a teaching tool to help facilitate discussion, and from that give and take, leading us to find truth, by making each and every one of us think. These teaching tools, these parables are meant to lead us in exploring God’s sovereignty over us in conjunction with the importance of our involvement, our responsibility in building this kingdom Jesus establishes. You see, the word parable comes from a Greek verb which means to set things side by side: for us to compare, side by side, God’s sovereignty and our responsibility.

The first parable in Chapter 13, the sower of the seed on different types of ground, has many different interpretations, even though we are given an interpretation within our Gospel passage. We, as individuals, will hear this parable in different ways, depending on where our minds and hearts are currently ensconced. For example, the path, the rocky ground, the thorns, the good soil can equate to closed minds, a refusal to think things through, multi-taskers who are unable to concentrate and complete one thing, and an open and receptive mind.

One of the early church theologians, Jerome commented on this parable and was interested to point out all of the triplets in its formation. We have the triplets of the bad ground, the good ground and the overall interpretation of the parable, with all these having triplets within them. The bad ground being: path, rocky ground and thorns. The good ground, is bearing fruit: 100 fold, 60 fold and 30 fold. And the overall interpretation of the parable is: to first listen, second understand, and third bear good fruit. (Jerome was a Trinity kind of guy)

Overall, one of the things this parable is about is evangelism. This parable is meant to provide hope and encouragement in times of stagnation and lack of responsiveness to our efforts to grow the church. This parable is meant to point out that temporary set backs, temporary pessimism is a natural part of our lives as Christians and that ultimately we will be successful….. Just not perhaps in the exact manner we have planned.

If we think about this, Jesus was rejected by his own people, and the crowds that surrounded him were fickle and ultimately turned on him, yet the creation of God’s Kingdom still won out and will continue to win out. This parable is significant for us because it shows the road to the Kingdom is absolutely guaranteed, but also shows that the road is not straight or without its bumps and difficulties along the way. The parable clearly shows that we have choices and emphasizes the importance of our hearing this parable anew, understanding it anew, thereby leading us to right action.

Theoretically, that is all just a great explanation of the meaning behind this Gospel. But how does this parable really apply to each one of us?...... What if those different landing places for that sown seed are representative of different times in our lives? All of us, at some point along the way, have, and continue to, rotate through the four different kinds of soil Jesus uses in this parable. We can be that path with the birds eating the seed sown, because we refuse, for whatever reason, to listen, to be open-minded. We can be that rocky ground, when we respond with initial joyfulness and then drop the ball we have willingly accepted without thought of the consequences. We can be that thorn-filled soil, where the seed has started to take root, but we allow other parts of our life to take precedence. And, at times, we can be that fertile soil that produces amazing results for the kingdom Jesus is describing.

That rotation through those different soils reflects our differing responses to the Gospel, and is part of our being human. We strive for the good soil, but we all know we do not always make it there. This parable can provide us with solace that Jesus knows us so well, that we are granted a lifetime of opportunities to be that good soil, producing those surprisingly abundant yields at different times…. Even more importantly, we must remember that seeds sown, germinate quietly and unseen, below the surface of the ground. Those seeds are within us. We get to determine which ground they germinate in, producing unimaginably fruitful yields…... Leading a life based in prayer, founded on faith, rooted in the agape love of those in our intentional community, we can till that soil that is ourselves, fertilizing it and allowing ourselves to become that good soil: breaking up the path, pulling up the rocks and casting them aside, cutting down the thorns, leaving only the good soil to reap vast bounty.

That good soil is the true us….. the truest image of God we can become and in whose image we all have been made……... This takes work. It is a good work to take up. Amen.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved

Photo: SW, DC Waterfront, 2008, jfd+

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