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Soil, Seeds, and Stories: Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 16, 2023

Words are powerful things. They get inside us and change us. They combine together and create ideas, and those ideas can inspire us to great things, or to terrible things. Words sprout in our hearts and minds like seeds.

Words can also be used to tell stories, and who doesn’t love a good story? BUT—and there is always a but—sometimes people use words in strange and mysterious ways.

So I’m thinking about starting a new self-help group, and I was wondering if any of you all would like to join. Hello, my name is Leslie, and I live with a Dad-jokester. I live with a punning, groan-inducing person whose gift for banter and word-play when we were dating took a dark turn once we had little children, and who has no shame about using his dark gift. And it’s contagious—you live around a Dad Joker long enough, you start collecting Dad Jokes simply as a matter of self-defense, a kind of humor-based version of building up a nuclear arsenal: you never want to use it, but if you don’t have some on hand as a deterrent, you could be attacked at any time.

Anyone else had this experience? Is there anyone out there who can commiserate, and wants to join me in my new club?

The thing I have learned from living with this kind of a jokester is that there is NO topic about which a Dad Joke cannot be told. For instance:

A dad and his kids were walking through the woods, and the littlest kid picked up an acorn.

“Dad! What’s this?” the kid asked.

“A tree.” The Dad answered.

“Really?” the kid asked. And the Dad answered,

“In a nutshell, yes.”

A friend of mine has chickens, and suddenly they weren’t eating the fancy Purina Chicken Chow they had bought. It’s really weird, because I looked at the seed, and it looked flawless. It was, in fact, impeccable.

Last week, I had to drive to Nashville and back in one day because my car had trouble and had to be repaired over several days, and it was finished. On my way back, I was stuck in construction traffic in the middle of a bunch of newly plowed fields, and a plane came in flying low over a field and turned around and flew back overhead. At first I assumed it was dusting crops, but then it looked like the fields were barren, as the plane dropped the stuff it was carrying onto the field next to me, some of it blew back—and it was seed. Aha! I realized I was looking at a reseeding airline.

As we begin chapter 13 of Matthew’s gospel, let us all be grateful that Jesus’s stories were parables instead of puns. No. really. Let us bow our heads. (Mutters) Amen.

Now then let us think about how important stories are. Matthew’s gospel has five main blocks, called discourses. And all these discourses are meant to help Jesus’s listeners understand the point of Jesus’s life on Earth, which is nothing less than helping us find and grow a new community here on earth that lives according to the values of what Matthew calls “the Kingdom of Heaven.” So what is the kingdom of heaven, a phrase used particularly by the author of Matthew? The kingdom of heaven has to do with the reign of God, and in particular, with the transformation that we set out to work toward when we declare ourselves as members of what Presiding Bishop Michael Curry calls “the Jesus Movement.”

The kingdom of heaven grows when the Word of God is welcomed, received, nurtured in the hearts of people just like you and me who do the incredible thing of committing to make way for God to rule our lives. Talk about counter-cultural, especially in this day and age of self-help, even sometimes self-worship. At Chapter 13 of Matthew’s gospel, we are entering a new discourse, known as the Parabolic Discourse. In this third of five teaching blocks in the gospel, this chapter stands at the heart of Matthew’s message—and the chapter is filled with 7 parables of the kingdom.

It's funny—there’s one feature parables and puns share. Parables arrest the attention of their hearers due to their twists, their strangeness, their often-enigmatic quality, and sometimes their humor. Parables are stories that use symbols and images to make a point. So the character and the setting are often symbols.

The first parable in this discourse is this one- the Parable of the Sower. There’s even a pun embedded in the title. The definition of a parable is a comparison or extended metaphor, of course. BUT the etymology of the word “parable” comes from the Greek prefix “para”, which means alongside, and the Greek word root “bole” which means to throw or cast. So the first of the stories in the Parabolic Discourse is a “throwing alongside” of a story of someone throwing seed on all sides. I think that’s awesome, even as it might tread dangerously close to an especially nerdy form of Dad Joke-ism.

So let’s look at this parable: Who is the person sowing or scattering the seeds?

What does the seed stand for?

And there’s different kinds of soil, right?

Specifically, Jesus is talking about the response of the world to his teachings in these parables. Jesus is the original Sower in our first pass through this parable. The different soil stands for the different ways people respond to the teachings of Jesus, especially in Jesus’s lifetime, and in the time just after, in which Matthew’s community is living. And from this parable, we learn that being able to see the truth of a story depends on your setting, but it also depends upon your point-of-view.

Some people have hard hearts, like the dirt on a path packed down by trampling feet—maybe they’re angry or afraid of being disappointed. Maybe they’ve been hurt. They can’t hear the story until they let go of their fear or anger.

Some people get really enthusiastic for a new way of life at first, but when they realize how much work it is, or that some people will dislike them for their new beliefs, they give up and go back to their old story.

Some people like what they hear about what God can do for THEM, but they don’t want to change. They may not like Jesus’s call to love your neighbor as much as you love yourself when that neighbor ends up being someone completely different from them. So eventually they, too, dismiss the story of God.

But in some people, those who have the ability to have an open heart and open mind, those who are willing to believe that love can bring us through anything, even troubles or sadness, and is the greatest treasure of all—they’re willing to write a different kind of story with their lives.

It is only those who open their ears, and their hearts, to be receptive to the story revealed by Jesus who will bear good fruit, but they will bear it abundantly. Those of us who hear the story of God and see our own story within it now have the name for that love that maybe before we didn’t have a name for.

But here are some other implications from this parable. We are not only called to be the good soil, and receive the gospel, and let it drop right there. We are called to be disciples. That means that Jesus calls us to share in the sowing right alongside him. That’s what being members of the Body of Christ really means—not just being good soil for ourselves, but spreaders of the good news of God’s redemption in Jesus for others.

And that means not worrying too much about the way the ground looks in our sharing of the Good News. The Sower sows with abandon—he doesn’t check to see if the conditions are perfect, he just starts scattering seed hither and yon with the confidence that some of it will sprout and eventually bear good fruit. This situation alone is a welcome reminder to all of us to never allow “the perfect” to get in the way of the “good” when it comes to sharing the good news. As a billboard at St. Martin’s used to say about kindness, we should be throwing the good news around “like confetti.” Everywhere we go. Everything we do. We ARE Jesus’s face, heart, and seed-scattering hands in the world.

So yes, one lesson from this parable is to work on the soil in our own hearts, and to work on ourselves so that we are as receptive and fertile as we can possibly be. But the other lesson from this parable is that we ourselves are called to help spread the seed of Jesus’s message of God’s love, redemption and care for us as wide and as far as possible, with abandon. And we can do that as simply and as intentionally as the way we live our lives. As self-professed Christians or not, people know us by our words, by our attitude, by our actions. How we walk through the world is the greatest testament to who Jesus is in this time and in this place. God has given us the very best seed—the seed that promises to sprout and grow and nourish and sustain a billion hearts—if only the seed is scattered broadly enough.

This sharing of the good news is part of what we talked about last week—about “pulling for each other” as one of the most important witnesses we can make as Christians.

So as you go into this week, work the soil of your heart, so that you can fully receive the gospel and bear good fruit—absolutely, and especially before you we worry about the soil quality of others. But then go out into the world, flinging the good news around like confetti—embodying the good news, sharing the good news, so that it may produce abundantly, no matter what soil it first lands on.

The Rev. Leslie Barnes Scoopmire

Readings: Proper 10, Year A


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