Sermon for July 12, 2020

Mother Susan’s Sermon 7 12 20

We got the following from Jim Wynkoop, who I think got it from his wife Maureen. The following is a  Readers’ Digest version of today’s gospel

“Someone threw some seeds on the ground. Some grew, the others didn’t. I wonder why?”

Thank goodness Carl didn’t read us that version of the gospel!  If we ever had any doubts, this gospel shows us how brilliantly Jesus could work a crowd. First, he knew the value of silence. He quietly stepped outside the house he was staying in and sat by the shore of the Sea of Galilee — apparently in silence – a center of silence in a crowd.  Then he stepped into a boat and sat there while the crowd assembled on the shore.  Jesus just sat there and looked at them and they looked at him. That’s how I envision the scene.  Hmmmmmmmm…?

Then he started telling them stories. Jesus’ parables were deceptively simple – sometimes just a few sentences long. They were what a writing instructor might call “elegant.” Just the story – no more – no less – let ‘em use their imaginations.  Storytelling is the oldest method of communication – and still the most effective.

People of all ages love stories. And Jesus’ parables are especially wonderful. What does he mean? What does he want us to learn? Does the story have more than one meaning? Are there layers of meaning? Even the simplest story can be multi-layered.

So Jesus began this parable with, “Listen!” That probably got their attention. Then he went on, “A sower went out to sow.” His listeners were everyday people, from the lower and middle classes. They all knew what sowers did. A sower walked along through a field, with a bag of seeds hanging from his or her waist, and reached into the bag and cast the seeds on the ground as they walked along. But this particular sower apparently walked through a variety of terrains and didn’t seem to care where he sowed his seeds.

Seeds that fell on his path were within easy access for birds. They were gobbled up.  Seeds that fell on rocky ground couldn’t sink into much soil and grow roots. They might grow quickly, but with no depth of soil, the sun scorched them and they withered away. Some seeds fell among thorny plants that choked them as they grew. But some of the seeds fell on good soil and they grew and brought forth grain. Then Jesus said, “Let anyone with ears listen!”

And Jesus explained what he was talking about. If someone hears God’s word but doesn’t understand it, the devil, the powers of darkness, will come and scatter it elsewhere. It hadn’t taken root. The listener didn’t understand it so it didn’t mean anything to the listener. If the word was sown on rocky ground, perhaps the listener received it joyfully, but they didn’t bother to think much about it so they weren’t able to nurture a root for the word.  So the word couldn’t endure and the listener fell away. The word that falls among thorns has fallen among those who pay more attention to worldly cares and the lure of wealth. The word is choked by these distractions and it can’t grow. But if the seed of the word falls on good soil, those who hear the word and work to understand it, then it grows, and it can bear good fruit.

Then Jesus looked out at his listeners on the shore. And he knew. He knew he didn’t need to ask THE QUESTION. They had gotten into the story and saw themselves as part of the story. They asked themselves THE QUESTION. I’ll bet you could have heard a fly fart. WHAT KIND OF SOIL AM I?

“Let anyone with ears to hear – Listen!”

Am I ignorant? Am I rocky ground? Am I thorny?

Am I empty soil? Or am I fertile ground, ready to receive? Am I willing to make the effort to understand the word?

And Jesus spoke of the rewards of understanding. He spoke of the joy of bearing fruit. It’s worth the work.

Maybe we can ask ourselves the same question. What sort of soil are we? Jesus’ words fall on us. What sort of soil are we? What can we grow?

This teaching moment next to the Sea of Galilee follows the Epistle in our readings. But I think it’s helpful to discuss the Epistle after the Gospel today. There is implied criticism for those who do not produce “fruit” in our gospel – for those who don’t do the work. But there is reassurance in our Epistle.

This is one of Paul’s more confusing writings. And I admit he has quite a few of them. You have to pick it apart. Paul reassures us that the law of the Spirit, of life in Christ, sets us free from any condemnation according to the earthly laws of sin and death, meaning the laws of the world. But once we belong to Christ, we belong to the world of the Spirit. Setting our minds on the Spirit means that the Spirit of Christ lives in us.

This may seem to be nothing more than a confusing reading to us, carrying on about Spirit and flesh and the difference between spirit and flesh, but it was crucially meaningful for the First Century Christian.

The First Century Christian lived in desperate fear, often in hiding. Everything in their world seemed to conspire against them, driving them underground. All they had to look forward to was persecution and horrible death.  And yet they hung in there! Paul promised them freedom in Christ. That’s what they looked forward to. He promised them peace and joy if they accepted the presence of the Spirit of Christ. This was how they persisted. Somehow, they could see beyond the pain of persecution. Somehow, they could know the life, peace and joy of the Spirit. It’s hard for us to imagine this as real, but to those who endured the real physical pain of every day as a First Century Christian,  this promise meant something. The presence of the Spirit meant something. It was a real and powerful part of their everyday lives!

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells  in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” That promise was real. That promise is real. I hope and pray that none of us ever needs to know the reality of that promise as if we were First Century Christians in the midst of persecution, but know this – the promise is real, as real as the quiet man who sat in a boat offshore, telling quiet stories to everyday people about everyday life that drew them into knowing and believing in life in the Spirit.

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