Sunday, July 10, 2011

4th Sunday after Pentecost - July 10, 2011

You may have noticed that I only read the first part of the gospel lesson.  I wanted you to hear the parable first, before hearing Jesus’ explanation of it.  And I want us to be thinking in terms of Law and Gospel: how is the scripture functioning?  Is it asking something of us or condemning us like the law?  Is it promising something to us like the gospel?  What is the scripture doing to us?

This parable tells us about a farmer, a sower of seeds; this farmer is the main character, the only character, in the parable.  As such, we would expect the point of the parable to be about him.  He goes out into his field or his garden plot and he starts tossing seed around.  He tosses the seed indiscriminately it seems: on the pathway and rocky soil, on thorn infested soil and good soil.  He tosses it everywhere.  The parable tells us that that his yield will be good from those seeds tossed on the good soil, but from the rest of his field?  The soil that’s obstructed by the pathway and the thorns and the rocks won’t produce much of anything.  No matter.  He tosses the seed there anyway. 

Let’s put ourselves in the place of Jesus’ disciples.  What is the meaning of the parable? 
  • Well, it might mean that God is not stingy.  He gives to everyone! 
  • The parable could mean that God doesn’t particularly care.  He just tosses out the seed and says, “Whatever.”
  • The parable might be an encouragement to preachers, “Don’t try to figure out if someone is good soil or not; that is not for you to know.  Just sow the seed and trust God to bring forth the harvest.”
  • The parable might be a warning to guard against those who are out to do harm: birds, thorns and rocks!

When it comes right down to it, the parable is pretty hard to understand all by itself.  We could come up with lots of different explanations.  But what does it really mean?  At this point, let’s stop and take stock.  What is the scripture doing to us?  Is it giving us a promise?  No, it’s not doing that.  Is it demanding something from us?  Sure it is.  It’s demanding that we try to figure out the parable.  It’s not just us that have trouble figuring this out.  The disciples and the people in the crowd certainly had to try to figure it out too.  And it’s confusing and uncertain.

Our gospel lesson continues at verse 18.  [read vs 18-23]

Here we have our explanation.  It turns out that the parable isn’t really about the farmer.  It’s really about the different kind of soil.  And people are different kinds of soil.  So, depending upon what kind you are, you can either receive the word of God and have it produce fruit in you or not. 
  • First, there is the pathway: this kind of person hears the word, but doesn’t understand it, so the word is snatched from them by the Evil One.  Are you this kind of person? 
  • Second, there is the rocky soil: this kind of person hears the word, but has no roots, no perseverance.  He hears the word with joy, but it dies as soon as trouble comes.  Are you this kind of person?
  • Third, there is the thorn infested soil: this kind of person receives the word, but is so concerned about practical matters and money that the word gets choked and yields nothing.  Are you this kind of person?
  • Last, there is the good soil: this kind of person receives the word and understands it.  This kind of person produces an abundant harvest.  Are you this kind of person?
 At this point, let’s stop and take stock again.  What is the scripture doing to us?  Is it giving us a promise?  No.  Is it demanding something from us?  Yes.  I would suggest to you, that the scripture as I have given it to you is demanding that you look inward, to examine yourself.  Do you have what it takes?  Are you the good soil?  What if you’re not very good soil?  Can you improve yourself somehow?  No, you can’t. 

So, the question I have for you is this: so far, what is the scripture doing to you?  Is this the Law at work or the Gospel?  This is the Law.  The parable is showing us clearly that we must be good soil.  But we have no way of accomplishing this.  Soil can’t do anything.  It can’t choose what it is.  It can’t choose what it receives.  Soil is absolutely powerless to control what kind of yield it produces.  There is no promise here.  No good news at all.

Now the interesting part is this.  For some reason, the people who make the lectionary have decided to skip over some verses in the middle.  Do you ever wonder why they do this?  It always makes me very curious.  What is in the verses 10-17 that they don’t want me to know?

As it happens, and I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry, the gospel is in the part that they cut out.  The good news is in the part that ended up on the cutting room floor.  But there is also something else in there that doesn’t make for comfortable reading and I assume that that is the reason it’s been cut out.  Listen for yourselves.

[read vs 10-17]

Can you see why people aren’t necessarily too keen on reading that?  Jesus says as bluntly as can be that he speaks in parables so that some people won’t understand!  He speaks in parables to HIDE the meaning.  Now I assure you that this part is Law all the way.  This is just plain bad news that people don’t want to hear!  And I assume that’s why they cut this part out, so that we won’t hear it.  I don’t know that I like that strategy too much, though, because then we miss out on the truth. 

And we also miss out on the word that he gives straight to the disciples.  This is what he tells those disciples, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.”  So here is Jesus revealing himself to his disciples, giving the disciples a promise.  He is saying, “You are chosen.”  And for the disciples, this is great news.  For them, this is pure gospel. 

But what about for us?  We’ve just heard terrible news, “God hides himself” and we’ve heard great news, “You disciples have been chosen to understand.”  Where do we fit in?  Another way to put this is, “So are we good soil like the disciples or are we rocky and thorn infested like those other folks?”  How do we go about getting chosen?  How do we get on the right team?

The most natural thing in the world is to try to play some part in our own salvation, to try to do something to make ourselves good soil.  Whether that means living good, clean lives (I don’t smoke or chew or spend time with those who do) or loving others like Jesus told us to or just trying to take faith seriously.  It’s the most natural thing in the world to connect our behavior with our salvation.  At the very least, we’ll say, “You’ve got to at least cooperate with God.”    We desperately want to do something, to be a part of salvation, but it all amounts to the same damnable thing.  We try to be the good soil.

It doesn’t work that way.  As a matter of fact, we’re rocky soil and we’re thorn-infested soil and God says, “No more.  I pronounce you good soil.  Here is my Word.  Here is my promise to you.  I choose you.  That’s what Jesus told his disciples.  It’s not because they understood the parable any better than anyone else.  He just pronounced them good soil, just like that.  And that’s what he told you in baptism and that what he tells you today.

At this point, let’s stop and take stock again.  What is the scripture doing to us now?  Is it demanding something from us?  No, it is demanding nothing at all.  It is giving you a promise, pure and simple.  It is the gospel with no strings attached.

Now you might say to yourself, “But I still feel a little thorny.”  .......  Do you know what the word Satan means?  The word Satan means, “Accuser.”  He is the one who will get out the Book of the Law and point his finger at you and accuse you.  This is what he says, “Sure, God promises that you are the good soil, but have you seen yourself?  Good Lord, you’ve got thorns coming out of your ears.  You can’t possibly be good soil.  And where’s that abundant harvest?  Hah!  You must have misunderstood; God wasn’t really talking to you.”

Do you see how this works?  God gives a promise to you.  And then Satan comes along and says, “God’s a liar.  You can’t believe the promise; it’s too good to be true.  Maybe if we worked a little harder, though.  Maybe if you tried to cooperate with him?  Maybe if you take your Christianity seriously enough....  Maybe then that promise will be for you.”

Well what a load of rot!  The Father of Lies, Satan, is trying to tell you that God is a liar?  Don’t believe it.  This is what God says to you, “You are the good soil.  That is my decision.  I have chosen you, my baptized.  And that’s just the way it’s going to be.  Amen.

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