February 28, 2016
In the first service, we read this parable from Luke’s Gospel. But at this service I wanted us to hear it from Matthew’s Gospel. The two readings are very similar. But in Matthew, it comes as part of a collection of parables most of which have to do with the Kingdom of God.
Over the years, some scholars have asked, “Did Jesus say all these parables at one time? Or is this indeed a “collection?” Is it a group of them that Matthew put into his Gospel in this place?” My question for that would be, “Does it matter?”
I actually had a lot more written about that, because it’s all fascinating to me! But what I want you to remember is that, no matter how these stories came down to us through the years, there is inspiration in them. That is, they were inspired in their writing – however that happened. But perhaps more importantly, they are inspired in the way
we read them! Whenever we read the scriptures, we ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Because without that guidance, we can make the scriptures say anything we want them to say! I hope you know that!
So there! That’s your “Biblical Studies lesson” for the day. I hope you enjoyed it. (There will be a quiz next class!) The scripture is inspired, no matter how it has come down to us.
So here we have a “collection” of Jesus’ parables. And as we look at them, we find that a number of them start out with a metaphor. “The kingdom of God is like…” (Actually that’s not a metaphor, it’s a simile. I just wanted to see how many of you would notice that!) These have been called the “Parables of the Kingdom.” If you remember, I started out Lent by saying how Jesus desperately tried to show the people the kingdom. He wanted them to see the spiritual realm. Here, was trying to do just that. And he was doing so using his most famous teaching method – his parables.
This one for today is the “Parable of the Sower.” And what I like about this one is that it is sort of a parable about the parables. In this story, Jesus is saying “Here are the different ways my words – my lessons about the Kingdom will be received.” He recognized that his talking about the “Spiritual realm” the “Things unseen,” was difficult for some people to accept. Some wanted nothing to do with that kind of talk. They were way too concerned with the here and now. They were looking for an earthly savior. We might say they were “so earthly minded, they were no heavenly good.” (And by the way, the opposite of that can happen! Some people are “so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good!” Did you ever hear that?)
Jesus is recognizing here that his teachings are not always easy to accept. And then, one of the other great things about this parable, besides the fact that it comes with it’s own explanation, (because even the disciples were a bit stumped here!) is what’s great about all the parables. People could identify with the various parts of the story. They could see themselves being like certain people Jesus was telling them about.
And so can we. Like those people, we can hear him talk about each of these places where the sower’s seed fell, and we can ask, “Is that me?” or “Was that me at some point in my life?” “Was I ever like the seed that fell on the path?” “Did I ever hear about the Kingdom – the spiritual realm – but before I could decide about it, the birds ate it, or it got swept away by the wind?” (That certainly would have been the case this week, wouldn’t it?)
Think about how that may have looked in your life. Did you ever hear the message about God, and too many “non-God” influences took it away? And what were those influences? For a while there were a lot of them. I know I’ve talked before about our being now in the “Post Modern Age.” That means that we are beyond what was thought of as the “Modern Age.” The Modern Age was the last part of the 20th century, when the human understanding of everything was paramount. In those days, science was king. If anything was outside of that, outside of human understanding or explanation, it didn’t exist – including God!
“Post-modernism” rejects that. “Post-modernism” says “No! There has to be more than just us.” “There has to be the ‘spiritual.’” “There has to be ‘things unseen!’” But before that, the skeptics ruled, and they were like the birds who stole the word of the kingdom before it could ever take root in us. Maybe you remember times in your own life when that was true. Maybe it still is.
How about the seed that fell on the rocky ground? Maybe there was a time when you were like that. You received the word with joy, but it had no root! It was really great for a while! But then it withered and died when hardship happened. Or worse, (or I should say “more likely!”) it went away when it became mundane and the excitement diminished! That happens with a lot of things in our lives, doesn’t it? We’re all excited about a new endeavor or a new interest, (Woo Hoo!) but then it diminishes. Someday I want to invest in fitness centers – after Christmas – for about a month! (Need I say more? You know what I mean!)
So, how does it come about that we “have no root?” No root happens when we fail to tend a plant. It happens when we fail to give a plant the proper soil. I get frustrated with plants sometimes. Really, I’m a terrible gardener! I’m bad because I think “Hey, they’re plants. They should grow!” But in the back of my mind, I know they need to be tended. I know they need to have their soil cultivated. And that takes time. And I know I don’t put time into it. So what should I expect?!
Well, it’s the same with our faith. It’s the same with our connection with “the Kingdom” – with the “things unseen.” We can’t just think, “Hey, it’s faith. It should grow!” but then put no time into it. We need to seek depth and understanding, just like a plant’s roots will seek depth. We get that when we come here. We get that when we’re together. But too often this is the only place! You’re heard some people say “I can be a Christian, or I can have faith in God, without going to Church.” Yes, but this is often the only place where together we receive nourishment and cultivation – or we might say, “support and encouragement.”
That question, “ Can’t I be a believer without going to Church?” has always had behind it the element of “the possibility.” The question is really asking, “Isn’t it theologically possible for me to be a Christian, without going to Church?” Of course it is! But, is it probable that you’ll have a faith that is cultivated, that grows, and that sustains you, without the fellowship of other believers? The fact is, too many people who ask that question because they don’t want to go to church, and then they stay away, and then they have no faith…
What then about the seed among the thorns? I think that’s a big one. The cares of the world, the things of the physical world – which, as I’ve been saying, inundate us every day – those things can be the thorns growing among us, can’t they! But what about those things we simply cannot understand – like the “suffering of the innocent,” or the injustice in the world, or “man’s inhumanity to man?” Could those “thorny issues,” be what keeps us from God’s kingdom – from “seeing the unseen?” Could they be what’s keeping us from accepting the love of God? In other words, do we live from the standpoint that our understanding is paramount, and if we can’t “understand” part of something, then we cannot “accept” any of it! There are those who think that way. “I don’t understand why God would ____ (fill in the blank), and so I won’t believe in him or follow him, at all.” Do you ever feel that way?
Are you any of those things? Or are you the good soil? As you ask yourself that question, remember what I sometimes neglect in gardening, and why I’m so bad at it. We have to make good soil. That doesn’t just “happen to happen!” (I love that expression!) It doesn’t just happen “automatically,” or “by default.” We often think it does, don’t we? – like me and plants. Or we think some people are just “good at it.” “That person is like the good soil, because that’s the kind of person they are!” But what’s more often true is, “that’s the kind of person they chose to be.”
And we can all do that! We can choose to be the good soil! We can seek to “cultivate” the soil so our faith will grow! We can seek to follow God, even when it doesn’t seem as exciting as it once was. We can seek to make it so again! We can “not neglect meeting together,” as Paul told the Hebrews. We can follow God, even when we don’t understand why he does what he does. And we can seek after the joy as we see our faith grow, knowing that, in this life we only “see in a mirror dimly.”
“A sower went forth to sow.” Where do you fit into that?
Eternal God, you love us, even though we don’t know why. Sometimes we don’t think that you should, and therefore we think you don’t. Help us to see beyond all of that. Help us to see your kingdom in our midst. Help us to choose to be the “good soil” so the seed of your kingdom can grow in us. Bless us, we ask, in Jesus’ name, Amen.