The Sunday Sermon: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 18, 2019
Scripture: Matthew 13:18-23
Nice Place We Have Here
Pray with me …
Jesus has left the comforts of home, come “out of the house,” and gone to sit by the mysterious se. He’s called us to follow, and he has begun to teach us once again about the Kingdom of God except this time through the parable, a method of teaching intended to tease our minds into insight rather than give us the answers. Understanding this Kingdom is not like filling a bucket with facts. It is like igniting a fire with new found wisdom – for those with ears to hear.
So, we listened, again, to Jesus as he told us how a sower went out to sow. And with our ears, we understood that we are the sowers. And, ours is not to reason why, or “where,” as this story goes. Just … sow the seeds of the Kingdom of God everywhere we go – peace, mercy, grace, compassion, joy, life, love. But why not just tell us this? Why the story? Why the parable?
So we listened, again, to Jesus’ response: The secrets of the Kingdom are not given to everyone to be known. Some listen but can’t, or won’t, understand. Some look but never perceive. Some hearts are too hardened already, some ears are hard of hearing, and some eyes are shut. But to us, to those with ears to hear and eyes to see, we have been given to know. Know what?
Let’s finish our exploration of Jesus’ first parable beside the sea. Read Matthew 13:18-23. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
So, what do we have here? Hard soil, rocky ground, thorny paths, good soil?
Tell you what, we’ll get back to that question. Let me share first share something some of us experienced earlier this morning. As we gathered earlier for the class that has been meeting and the conversation that has been happening this month before worship, we “went out.” Not far, but we stepped outside to look around our campus.
I remember last month as we discussed the possibility of our August Sunday morning conversation and Ashia was expressing her desire to lead it, the Mission Team pre-ordered and we “pre-read” the book, Neighborhood Church. I was beginning to plan a sermon series, of sorts, that lifted up each week’s class conversation in this worship hour in one way or another, an attempt to bring even more into the conversation, those unable to be with us in the hour before this one. Also, an attempt to ground what were doing and saying even more deeply in the sacred part of our lives together. I remember mentioning to Ashia that it would be interesting to make “getting up and going out” part of the sermon during the worship time on the Sunday we read this chapter, chapter four, in class – to leave the sanctuary during worship even if we did it earlier. I’m kind of wishing I had planned that still, but … we won’t. For several reasons, no field trip during this time.
However, join us in our journey of an hour ago in your mind, even if you were a part of the earlier hour, do it again. We gathered in the Parish House as we’ve been doing all month before worship, but this morning, Ashia asked us to get up and walk outside. We crossed the parking lot and turned around to look at this place we call our church home. In reading our book, you see, we’re joining a larger conversation that has congregations around the country taking a closer look at where they are – their “neighborhood,” at how they perceive themselves in this place, and how others – neighbors – might see them, see us. We’re not making any “to-do” lists and we’re not talking about what we “ought to be doing,” or what’s wrong, or how we can change, grow, or do anything different. We’re not focused on “scarcity,” what’s not here, but setting our sights on “abundance,” what is here, including us. It’s really been wonderful time together that may, or may not, lead to something more. Knowing the Spirit as we do, my bet is on “something more” happening, but it’s been enough so far to just get together and talk. So, anyway …
We went outside, crossed the parking lot and turned around to look at this place we call our church home, the whole campus. Picture that now in your mind’s eye: We’re on the other side of the lot, close to Central Avenue, the open field behind us, the sanctuary in front of you with the Family Life Center just beyond it; pavement further down to your right that wraps around the back of the gym; hopefully many of you can see the green spaces back there, too – trees, shrubs, the grassy spot over our lateral lines (!). Picture all that … and in your mind’s eye, now, go inside the buildings – this sanctuary, the Parish House, the Family Life Center, all floors. See it as best you can.
Now, I hope, I trust, that in spite of the maintenance and upkeep you may have pictured, things required on all physical properties everywhere, I hope you have a sense of calm and peace and promise through all you’ve “seen”. You should, this is your home, our home. But that’s exactly what Ashia, guided by our reading, engaged in us earlier. We see, and we ought to see, this place through the “lens of familiarity.” And that lens can be a form of blindness. Go back now, in your mind’s eye, to all that is around us and take off those “rose colored” lenses, put them in your pocket and imagine you’re seeing everything as a visitor for the first time. Easier for some than others here to do, perhaps depending on how long you’ve been here, but try it. Take off the lens of familiarity as best you can and look around again. What do you see now? The same things, or something different?
Is any signage outside fresh and readable, or does it show evidence of deferred maintenance? Does it clearly show times for classes and worship? If there’s a message, does it appeal to anyone driving by or only to Christians? Moving inside, are their clear signs telling the locations of classrooms, bathrooms, and childcare? Do our buildings – this sanctuary, the Parish House, and the Family Life Center – communicate a sense of “airiness, light, and hospitality, or do they seem like a dark or grungy throwback to past decades? Do our spaces get used? By whom? And, who else in this community needs to find a place here? (Neighborhood Church, 79).
It was a beautiful and challenging exercise earlier, and I hope now (mental as it was). It was the first time some of us had seen our church, if only a bit, through the eyes of visitors from the community. So, what do we have here?
Well, the signage outside is readable and informative and needs some TLC. The buildings are inviting and hospitable, and a bit timeworn. Our Family Life Center gets used pretty thoroughly and almost exclusively by only one other group – the Child Development Center. In other words, we have good soil here … and hard soil, rocky ground, and thorny paths. So, if we’re honest, our answer must be … “Yes.” We have it all – hard, rocky, thorny, and good. And no matter what type of soil we have here, we should be sowing our seeds everywhere.
This is what we here in Jesus first parable in the Gospel of Matthew. The seeds of the teachings of the Kingdom of God on earth will always fall on barren, rock-laden, and thorn strewn ground, even as we seek to make it all “good soil.” For Jesus, first century Palestine was a hard time and place to be a prophet and a reformer. For Matthew and his community, first century Palestine was a hard time and place to be a Christian. For us, the world of the twenty-first century is a tough time and place, as well. Including, Sunday morning in a sanctuary. Maybe it’s not as difficult a place to be a Christian as, say, Tuesday morning in the office, Thursday afternoon in the carpool line, or Saturday evening at dinner with friends, but this time and place, seemingly so perfect, contains all kinds of soil, too.
We gather week after week in this room to sing, pray, speak, listen, affirm, and offer our lives to Kingdom Way of Jesus. Christians all around the world gather every week to cast the gospel as the sower in the parable does, with no guarantee and no real understanding if or where it will land and grow. Every Sunday people gather for all kind of reasons. Sanctuaries fill with visitors who are “church shopping” or “trying out” Christianity, or a particular denomination, or just a specific congregation.
We have folks come who are in crisis, but who will just as easily vanish when things get better again, or when prayers aren’t answered in satisfactory ways. Sanctuaries on Sunday morning include families who come “for the kids” but slip away once the kids move on. And standing in front of all of these people at some point in the time together is usually a preacher, who pours heart and soul into a sermon of some sort, in the hope that something he says is worthy and will take root, but who also knows that the odds of this are no better than the sower’s odds in our parable. Hard, rocky, thorny, and good. And that’s just for those who show up!
Outside of this place and this time, we are parents whose words of guidance and compassion may just as easily fall on our teenager’s deaf ears as their open ones: hard ground. We are businesspeople who try to produce quality products and pay employees a living wage only to find people going where things are cheaper: shallow roots. And so much more. The parable of our last three weeks reminds us all that we are not alone in such times even as it reminded the first crowd who heard it.
Ultimately, though, with all due respect to anyone who tries to interpret this parable, it is not so much about soil – good or bad, This lesson is about the sower. A good sower is a high-risk sower, one who is relentless in indiscriminately throwing the seed – love, joy, hope, compassion, promise, and life itself – on all soil, be it barren, hard, or seemingly, or good, rich, and full of promise. We are the sowers. Our lives and the lives of all we can reach in and through this place are the soil.
The parable’s ending is its greatest challenge. Jesus himself goes way beyond simply encouraging us to “keep on keeping on” in the face of possible, probable, rejection. Instead, through this parable, through teasing our minds into understanding, he challenges us to believe not just in God’s presence, but in God’s abundance. Is there any place or circumstance where Love and Hope cannot sprout and take root?
It’s a nice place we have here, full of all kinds of soil. May Love and Hope continue to bear fruit thirty, sixty, and even one hundred fold. We are the sowers.
May it be so. Amen.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / August 18, 2019