Broad Brook Congregational Church
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
July 13, 2014
Matthew 13: 1-9 & 18-23
Growing God’s Word
Parables are funny things, complicated, wonderful, multifaceted and frustrating things! For anyone that wants a simplistic explanation of a parable, they are not going to be satisfied. No wonder the poor disciples were constantly in a state of “What was that you just said?” in response to Jesus’ teaching with parables. Some authors of the Gospels, Matthew for instance, attempt to put explanatory words in Jesus’ mouth. Many scholars debate the issue that Jesus ever explained them. That is one of the beauties of the parables. Each new audience that hears a parable adds a new voice to the conversation. Yet some hearers fail to grasp the parable’s meaning and need a bridge of sorts to help them connect parable to meaning.
Such is the case for our lectionary reading from Matthew this morning. In the first nine verses we hear Jesus teaching about the first of three parables about seeds. In verses 18-23 it appears that Matthew is trying to explain the parable in such a way as to make it relevant for his early churchgoers who have experienced rejection and discord. How can they grow God’s word? The parable moves from focus on the Sower to focus on the soil.
We might ask the same question. How can we grow God’s word? As I was preparing the items we would need to plant our seeds, I began thinking about all that is involved in growing plants. Certainly soil is important, but what about other conditions? What if the soil is wonderful but this year there is a drought or a flood?
What if the sun scorches the earth or doesn’t shine enough because of unsettled weather? In such cases it doesn’t matter what kind of soil you have if other conditions are not conducive to growth.
What about the other side of the coin? Suppose all the conditions are perfect, soil is perfect, but there is something genetically wrong with the seed. No matter how tenderly it is cared for it will not grow.
Then there is the problem with other creatures in creation. What about the tender young plants that the deer and rabbits find delectable? The soil was terrific. The conditions supported good growth. The seed was healthy and sprouted up with a strong stem and abundant foliage. But God’s creatures are hungry and their habitats are decreasing. I don’t know if any of you are having a problem with Japanese beetles. Our yard and foliage are being decimated by literally thousands of these beetles. Between all God’s creatures dining on my plants many of my shrubs are looking rather pathetic and remind me more of seeds that fell on poor soil! Then there is one evergreen that apparently is not tasty and it has sprouted many new branches in all directions. It looks like it stuck one of its branches in an electric socket.
How, then, can we as contemporary readers of the parable of the Sower glean rich meaningful ways to be good sowers and growers of God’s word. We all have days and even weeks where our words fail to take root in hearers. There are times when, as hearers, we become distracted by the cares of the world or tempted by our culture to stray from our faith path temporarily or even permanently. The noise of the world shuts out the voice of God.
It seems to me, that things are not clear cut, black and white, as we try to farm God’s word. We may never know where our seeds will fall and grow. When we clean the dirt from our ears, we realize that we have heard God’s call. It is important to hear that the Sower in our parable is not defeated. Similarly, a farmer should not feel defeated by things he cannot control. She/he may have a bumper crop of squash but have lost all the lettuce due to severe storms. The Sower still experiences abundance. So do we. We help sow and water the seeds of God’s word, yet ultimately it is God’s abundant grace that makes it grow.
Our work as disciples does not comply with careful planning. Our parable focuses on disorder. Even the best farmer cannot control the world around her. The deer, rabbits, and Japanese beetles have their own agenda. The weather is fickle. Working effectively as disciples is like gardening and occurs somewhere between beautifully laid plans and things over which we have absolutely no control. However, we should not play it safe. We should not shy away from risk and failure for to do so leads to caution. In caution there is no room for growth.
While one or two seeds may have failed others may have taken root, bloomed, and bore delicious fruit. God’s grace is abundant. If God is the sower, as I believe, than we live in the hope that as long as we farm God’s word with abandonment then God’s abundant grace will make it grow and bear fruit.
We sow and water God’s word but God’s grace does the rest. In the greatest of hope sow and water with abandon.