Of Seeds And Weeds

Pent4 / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran Church / 7-10-11

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
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.”

Children’s Time: Did you ever get a song stuck in your head and you couldn’t stop singing it? Take, for example this one. If I were to ask you, “Who lives in a pineapple at the bottom of the sea?” what would you say? Well, for those of you who watch cartoons: “Sponge Bob Squarepants!” right? This week, we have a lot of kids going to camp and they’ll be singing songs about faith and Jesus. Then later during our Vacation Bible School, we’ll be learning songs, too. I hope those are the ones that get stuck in your head so you just can’t stop singing them. (should we try one on the congregation? Let’s see if they can sing a verse of Amazing Grace – and NOT the first verse). How did they do? In today’s story, Jesus tells a parable about a farmer scattering seeds – and he throws them everywhere, hoping that somewhere they will take root and grow. It’s the same way with God’s Word. When we pray, read the Bible and sing – God’s Word can “get stuck in our head” and grow in new and powerful ways in us!

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

So, what songs get stuck in your head? I don’t know about you, but as I watch the news and read the headlines about government gridlock and closed state parks and people out of work, I keep thinking about a song I heard growing up:

“Gloom, despair and agony on me / deep, dark, depressive, excessive misery /
If it weren’t for bad luck… I’d have no luck at all!

Do you ever feel that way – like just giving up altogether? I know I do. But thank God, Jesus doesn’t give up on us!

Does Jesus say, “Heck with the rocky soil! Don’t bother with that thorny patch. Save the seed for that good soil over there.” Nope, that’s not how he operates. In the parable of the sower, there’s enough seed to scatter everywhere: on the rocky ground, over thorn bushes, and even the hard-packed walkway. What kind of fool wastes perfectly good seed by throwing it on the sidewalk?

We’d better pay attention – because this ought to be good news for us today – that Jesus doesn’t miss a spot! He doesn’t just throw the seed where he thinks it’s going to grow best (like scattering it where a lot of young families with children are… or where a lot of wealthy potential donors to the church may be). He scatters the seed everywhere! And that’s good news, because we never know what condition the soil of our hearts might be in. More often than not, that’s something beyond our control.

On any given day there can be a dozen distractions that sweep those seeds off the path before us. I may commit myself fully to a cause, only to become frustrated later that nothing’s happening. Some days it seems all we can do is pray to be good soil – open to the seed of God’s Word.

But that requires tilling and weeding – all that uncomfortable stuff that anyone who has done even a little yard work knows is not pleasant. The grapevine in my backyard produces delicious concords, but if I didn’t keep it in line with a weekly trimming it would grow out of control. And who hasn’t started pulling up a weed only to find that the root goes much deeper than you first thought? I especially hate those sticker bushes! You know, the thistle with its sharp pricklies on the end? Ugh! They’re ugly and serve no purpose whatsoever – except to sting your bare feet when you’re outside trying to enjoy the lawn.

Believe it or not, the thistle is the national emblem of Scotland. According to a legend, an invading Norse army was attempting to sneak up at night upon a Scottish army’s encampment. During this operation one barefoot Norseman had the misfortune to step upon a thistle, causing him to cry out in pain, thus alerting Scots to the presence of the Norse invaders. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thistle)

This week I went for a walk in Tablyn Park, just east of town on Stillwater Blvd. And you’ll never guess what I saw there: a whole patch of thistles, just bursting with pinkish-purple blossoms surrounded in a sea of yellow and white wildflowers.

My point is this: we often don’t see the whole picture of what God is up to. We’ve heard from others that the thistle is a pesky plant and we may have even stepped on one or two in our back yard – but until you see the glory of its blossom up close – you don’t know a thing about thistles.

As the people of God, we must not give up hope because of what we cannot see.

When Jesus told this parable, he was under hostile fire from the Pharisees. They were plotting to destroy him; they accused him of working for Satan; and at the end of this chapter, he’s at odds with his own family and is rejected even by his own hometown.

So, what does he do? He puts out in a boat (because the beach had become too crowded) and tells them a story: A sower went out to sow… and some seeds fell on the path where the birds snatched them up before they could ever take root. Others fell on the rocky ground, and while they took root quickly, because the soil was shallow, they withered in the sun. Other seeds fell among thorns which grew up an choked them. But some seed fell on good soil. And they grew to produce a harvest of 100 fold, some 60 and some 30.

So, what happened to all those people gathered on the shore? What kind of soil did they end up becoming? What kind of soil were his disciples, who deserted him in his hour of need?

I want to be good soil! And my tendency is to think that I am – and to point my finger at others who are not: the rocky ones, thorny folks, the shallow soil. “Nothing doing,” says Jesus. “There is seed enough for all.”

What appears to me to be a waste of seed, holds a harvest yet unseen. At any given time in our lives, we have been all four types of soil, at the mercy of a God who tills and trims and yes, continues to plant in us – for a harvest yet unseen.

When it feels as if your world is spinning out of control, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it – when it feels as if our elected leaders will never come to agreement on anything, while real people suffer from the shutdown – when it feels as if the job search is going nowhere – when it feels as if our differences as a church threaten our very unity as the Body of Christ… then we look to the future, with hope, as Isaiah did, who brought comfort to his people in what seemed an impossible situation.

10For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty

Isaiah saw what his people couldn’t: a time of rich fields, and bumper crop of harvest. A time when the rains would come and water the earth, so they could farm the fields. Here they were, prisoners in a foreign land, longing to go home (even though their homes had been destroyed by Babylonian warfare and their fields burned by scorched-earth tactics). They just wanted to go home.

It was Isaiah, who also said, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength…” They saw with the eyes of faith a future ripe with bounty and goodness. It is, as Juliana Claassens said, “If one cannot imagine it, one cannot live it.”

Will you live that dream, with me? Will we live it into reality? In the coming days, we will be hiring new staff, celebrating our 50th anniversary as a congregation, and dreaming together about the future God has in store for us.

As Isaiah said to his followers, I say to you: “You shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace.” Whatever state our soil may be in this day… know this: the sower continues to scatter God’s Word – all over the place – extravagantly, yes, even foolishly throwing seeds where they couldn’t possibly take root.

But then again, you just never know.

Amen.

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