Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sermon of Sunday, July 13, 2014

Scripture:  Matthew 13:1-9
Sermon:  Poor Farmer

The poor farmer.  Whether it’s his own wastefulness in the way he insists on sowing seed so widely and universally or because he simply has such poor land to work with, three of the four places where he sows good seed – in fact, the first three of the four, are frustratingly unproductive.  
Seed is sown on a busy pathway where instead of really entering into the earth, it remains on the surface and becomes just so much more birdseed.  Seed falls into rocky ground, where some of it starts to grow and looks promising, but quickly dies out for lack of deep rootage.  Seed falls into thorn-infested places where new, good growth starts to happen but after a while doesn’t really stand a chance against old, deeply rooted growth and more nasty kinds of attachments.
Poor farmer.  Poor farm.  Poor seed.  Except, Jesus says, there is also good soil that seed falls into, and the yield then is not even just the usual 2 to 5 times what is sown, but a miraculous harvest of 30, 60 and 100 times what is sown.  And this, Jesus says, is what the kingdom of God is like. 
God is used to working with poor material – sowing good seed in poor and questionable land.  
Way back in the beginning do you remember the story of Abraham and Lot?  It’s in Genesis 13.  Abraham is on his journey of trust with God, following God’s leading to a new and promised land.  Journeying with him is his nephew, Lot, and as they approach the land that’s been promised to Abraham they realize they have to separate.  Their flocks and households are large enough that they each need their own place to be.  So they stand on a hill and look at the land ahead of them – to the east is the beautiful, well-watered Jordan valley; to the west, a land more barren, rocky and unproductive.
Abraham lets Lot choose, and Lot chooses the lush and fertile valley.  So Abraham goes off to what’s left, and when he gets there, God says, “Don’t worry.  I’ll still give you all I promised, still make of you a great people, still bless all the world through you.”
God is used to working with poor material – sowing good seed in poor and questionable land.  
I haven’t been there, but from what I read in books and see in pictures I understand the land of Israel – before today’s possibilities for irrigation and fertilization, was pretty barren and difficult to live on.  And the people of Israel as we read about them in the Hebrew Bible from the king on down to the ordinary people, were also pretty poor material – greedy, corrupt, committed to the gods of this world rather than to Yahweh, willing to turn a blind eye to injustice if it benefitted them, short-sighted and fearful – in a word, as bad as anyone else.
God is used to working with poor material, and it continues into the New Testament and the Christian church.  Just look at the disciples Jesus picks – unschooled labourers, a tax collector, hotheads and quarrelers, sinners and lepers, people who up denying and betraying him, who need constant education, correction and re-affirmation.  And is the Christian church over the centuries, are we here at Fifty, am I any different?  Any different from them, or from the rest of the world?
As I looked at this parable this week and how we try to come to terms with it, I noticed how much we try to rise above and move beyond what it says of the poverty of our lives, the rockiness of our living, the hardness of our hearts – how we try to understand and be in control of what the parable says, as though we can be above but not really in its message.
I saw graphs and charts like this …   
 …where people try to sketch out the details of the story, as though understanding each literal thing will help us rise above what it says. 
We make charts of different kinds of hearts we may have… though by knowing the names we can choose the kind of heart we want to -- or think we should have.

We make charts of different kinds of faith we might have ...

…as though in telling this parable Jesus is giving a seminar on right and wrong ways of relating to God, and if we learn all the different ways well enough we’ll be able to choose the right way and be able to pass the test at the end.    
We even draw up graphs and depth-and-growth-charts so we can plot where we are and where we should be going.
I wonder what Jesus would do if after speaking this parable some morning or afternoon, that evening he found his disciples huddled in a corner with papyrus and stylus sketching out all these diagrams, drawing up all these charts, trying to schematize what they had heard, and probably comparing where they all were on the different charts and graphs?

At this point in my life, the point for me in this parable is simply to recognize that all through my life, even now, and no doubt until the day I die, I am poor material for God’s seed  ...

 …– that at times my commitment to God is superficial and a matter of show; at times I make a good start on reforming my life and practice, but I don’t stay with it and it dies out; at times I find it hard to accept God’s love and share it easily with others because I’m trapped in guilt, regret and negative self-images; at times I really do want to live well and in the way God shows us, but other things choke it out – bad habits I don’t let go of, prejudices I don’t recognize or learn to challenge in myself, love of comfort and privilege that make me hold back from sacrifice and love of others … and that despite all this, God still sows good seed in my life day after day, still showers me with love, blessing, and instruction that at times bears miraculous fruit –  
... that grows up and grows well, far more and far better than I could ever expect of myself apart from the constant love of God.

And might this be the point:  that new life begins each day as we honestly – and I mean honestly, confess what poor material we are as God’s people, what a rocky, hardened, and thorn-infested ground we are for God’s word – me, our church, other people and our world -- and what a miraculous harvest is possible because of God’s unending abundant love of us and others – because of God’s unending and hope-filled insistence on sowing seeds of love, grace and blessing anywhere and everywhere?

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