Lectionary blog for July 16
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 55:10-13; Psalm 65:9-13;
Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
My Aunt Mildred was a farmer. She lived her whole life on a farm. Her father, her brother and her husband were all farmers. She knew farmers and farming. It was she who first pointed out to me that Jesus wasn’t much of a farmer. She based her opinion on this parable of the sower, quite reasonably pointing out that while Jesus, perhaps, understood good farming, he didn’t practice it.
No good farmer would throw his seed around, hither and yon, wildly and indiscriminately, the way the sower in Jesus’ parable did. Indeed, Jesus’ explanation of the parable shows that he understood it was a bad idea to sow seed on the path or in the rocks or in the briars so, Aunt Mildred asked, why did Jesus say that the sower did that?
When I pointed out to her that Jesus wasn’t teaching agriculture in this story, he was preaching the gospel, she snorted and said, “A person shouldn’t say things he knows ain’t true, even if he is the Son of God and all.”
Recalling that conversation got me to thinking and opened up to me a whole new way of looking at this story. For many years I had focused on the easy, three-point sermon or Bible study about why people fall away from the faith. You know—some people are just too involved in the world to pay attention to spiritual things; they hear the word, but not really. These are the path.
Other people get all excited about the gospel for a while, but then their excitement dies down because they don’t grow in their faith. They are the rocky ground.
Then there are the ones who lose their faith when trouble comes, when sickness and persecution and trial attack their lives. These are the ones in the thorns.
This classic three-point sermon ends with an admonition not to be bad soil, not to be hard of heart, or not to be too busy with the world or let the normal difficulties of life kill your faith.
And the remedy for being bad soil is to be good soil; which usually ends up sounding like, “Be good little Christians and listen to the pastor and come to church a lot and be on a committee and your faith will grow.” Which is all very nice but really isn’t what Jesus is talking about in this text.
The more I looked at it the more I realized that Aunt Mildred was right. Jesus was a lousy farmer, but he was a great preacher and storyteller. Jesus’ point in this story was not those who fail to receive the gospel or those whose faith begins to fade or those who abandon the faith in the face of trouble. His point here is to encourage those of us who go out to sow the seed of the kingdom of God.
When I was in college, I worked on a tobacco farm in eastern North Carolina. It was in the early days of mechanized tobacco harvesting, and we worked on a contraption pulled by a tractor through the field. Four people sat on low seats a few inches from the ground. We “picked” the leaves off the plants and put them in a conveyer belt system that carried them to a platform about 10 feet in the air where the “stringers” tied the leaves onto the tobacco sticks to be hung in the barn for curing. One day, the harvester was malfunctioning. The conveyer system wasn’t working properly and leaves were dropping out behind us. We kept stopping and starting while trying to fix the machine. There was a precocious 6-year-old boy watching us work. He observed our troubles for a while and then walked up to the farmer and said, “Well, you can’t elevate’em all, can you Mr. Virgil.”
“You can’t elevate’em all” is at least a part of Jesus’ message in the parable of the sower. Even Jesus could not always “elevate’em all.” Over in the last chapter of Matthew is one of my favorite lines in the Bible. Matthew 28:16-17— “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”
“But some doubted!” What do you have to do to convince some people? The 11 on the mountain with him had been with Jesus from the first. They heard him preach, they saw his miracles and healings, were there when he was crucified, knew where he was buried, saw him in his resurrected state and yet, and yet, some doubted? “You can’t elevate’em all, can you Mr. Virgil?”
“But some doubted!” What do you have to do to convince some people?
That’s point one of this parable. Here’s point two. “You can’t elevate’em all, but you must try.”
Remember I said Jesus was a bad farmer but a good preacher. A good farmer prepares the soil and then carefully avoids the path and the rocks and the briars. A good farmer doesn’t waste his seed and his efforts on spreading seed where it is unlikely to grow. But we’re not farmers; we’re preachers. Not just me, all of us. We are, every one of us, called upon to spread the good news, the gospel truth that God loved the world so much that Christ came down from heaven to live among us and died to save us from our sins. That God loved the Christ so much that God raised him from the dead, and God loves each one of us so much that God will raise us from the dead. That’s the good news of Jesus Christ. As the church, it’s our job to tell everybody. And, all too often, we don’t. We try to decide who the right people to tell are.
In this parable Jesus shows us that to be a good sower of gospel seed, a good preacher of the kingdom, a good spreader of God’s love and mercy, we must share it with everyone. It does not matter if they are paths, rocks or briars; it is our job to throw the gospel at them. We are called to sow the seed of the kingdom, indiscriminately, wildly, prolifically, tossing out bouquets of God’s love to everyone around us. Who knows; they might need it, and they might grow.
Amen and amen.