Sunday, July 16, 2017: After Pentecost Sunday "Open, Prepared, Ready" Fr. Carey Stone

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Proper 10A’17

16 July 2017

Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

North Little Rock, Arkansas

The Rev. Carey Stone

 

O God, prepare the soil of my heart that it might be good soil, broken up, open, and ready to receive your life giving Word; and then enable me to share with others the rich harvest you have wrought. In the Name of Christ. Amen. 

 

Today I would like to invite us all into the gospel reading by seeing ourselves as a part of the large crowd that is gathered on the banks of the Sea of Galilee. You notice the water and the rabbi, Jesus in a small fishing boat just off the shore. This crowd is full of folks from all walks of life. There are wives and husbands, mothers and fathers, children and youth, farmers and merchants, tax assessors and collectors, priests and chief priests and everyone in between.

 

Now see yourself there wearing your tunic standing next to those in the crowd. Perhaps you have walked a great distance to get there or maybe just a few blocks but you sense that this rabbi that you have heard so much about has something so important that it could change your life forever so you plan to actively listen to whatever he has to say.   According to Matthew Jesus tells a special kind of story called a parable with the intention of telling the listener something about God and something about themselves.

 

According to Matthew, the parable of the sower was Jesus’ first parable. When we think of first things like first meetings, first job interviews, or first dates we recognize that they are particularly significant so this being Jesus’ first parable we can understand that it will present us with truths that are vital. It also presents a microcosm of what is to come with Jesus’ ministry.

 

Jesus’ first word was “listen,” “Listen a sower went out to sow…” Going back in to the story, as he says this you notice off to the right a sower in a field with a large sack of seed around their neck and grasping large handfuls of seed and scattering them liberally! This is one of the God characters in the parable.

 

The sower spreads seed indiscriminately all around to show us how God comes into the very midst of the people sowing seeds extravagantly, seemingly unconcerned about waste or conservation. And the seed, which represents the Word of the kingdom of God – the Good News are falling on every type of ground. It’s clear that God is for everyone; there is an abundance of seed - more than enough!

 

The next part of the parable describing the different types of soil is when we are given a strong dose of reality about ourselves. Many preachers have capitalized on this portion of the parable by using it as a generous source of motivation by humiliation. But rather than capitalize I would like to normalize these conditions of soil that I believe represent the human condition of our souls. As one scholar notes “we are like migrants who move from one field to the next.”[1]

 

At any given time the soil of our souls are in various stages of receptivity.  Perhaps we are in a season of life when the ground is hard and packed down like the ground the seeds fell upon and bounced off with the seeds finding no place to lodge. Don’t you sometimes feel that the seeds of the Good News bounce off of you? I sure do. Some seeds, the parable tells us fall on shallow soil where the seed does spring up and start to take root only to wither because the roots can only go so deep before being stopped by the rocks just below the first couple of inches. Have you ever heard a sermon, or read a book, or heard someone’s testimonial and you got all excited only to find your enthusiasm and motivation grinding to a halt? I sure have.

 

Other seeds fell among the soil all covered with thorns and the thorns were so plentiful and healthy that they choked the plant before it could thrive. Have you ever been at the place where you really wanted to grow in spirituality and in the practice of your faith only to find so many nouns, like people, places, and other things getting in your way? I know I have. When it comes to spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible study, meditation, and involvement with the community of faith we say,  “Oh I can do that later? I’ll get back in the habit after I get through these next several weeks,” and the weeks turn to months, and sometimes months turn into years.  I’m not shaming anyone but naming an experience that at one time or the other is common to many of us.

Finally, there is the good soil, which has been broken, open, tilled and ready to receive the Word. God the sower plants Jesus the living word and the Spirit brings the harvest and Matthew being a good tax collector couldn’t help but to try and quantify it by putting numbers to the harvest “some a hundred, some sixty, and some thirty fold.” The fruits that grow from this seed of the Word: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and self-control.

 

As we see ourselves standing on the banks listening to Jesus what condition do you think your soil is in? Are the seeds bouncing off because of the hardness of soul, are they springing up in shallow soil only to wither, are the thorns so thick that the seed doesn’t get much of a chance? Or are we in the place of open receptivity?  May we pray to be receptive soil and to cooperate with the Spirit by tilling the hard soil, removing the rocks from the rocky soil, and clearing some thorns so there will be room for the seed.

 

All these abundant fruits aren’t given just to make us feel good but so that we too can follow in Christ’s steps and become sowers of the Word.  There is a rhythm of grace that develops as we go through life receiving, sowing and reaping a harvest. So let us sow extravagantly, indiscriminately, and abundantly,

 

This is an inscription found on a tombstone at Shrewsbury, England that spurs us on as sowers:

 

“For our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake
do all the good you can
to all the people you can,
by all the means you can,
in all the places you can,
As long as ever you can.”

 

May it be so!

 



[1] The Rev. Patricia Matthews, Lectionary Discussion at St. Mark’s, Little Rock, 11 July 2017