The Sunday Sermon: Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – August 4, 2019
Scripture: Matthew 13:1-9
Sowing the Seeds at Home
“My Lord, what a morning.” You know what I’m talking about. Our Annual picnic is being set up outside as I speak. Our table is already set up in this room. And a little more than an hour ago we began a book study, and more importantly a conversation, about who we are, where we are, who is with us within these walls, and who is among us beyond them. We’ll continue this conversation through the month ahead, and begin new ones that it generates in the months after that. The book is entitled Neighborhood Church and it begins with these words:
Incarnation, from the Latin incarnatio, means “the act of becoming flesh” (and) reflects the paradox that spirit and flesh can abide in the same place, that we are to embody the holy in our lives, and that the material world is precisely where we experience the divine. When (we as) Christians capitalize the word, Incarnation describes the central event of our faith: Jesus of Nazareth personifying God’s purposes during his brief life on the planet … (But) what Christians call Incarnation (capital “I”) is certainly not a single act. It is a life-giving metaphor, an invitation to follow for all who will listen. (Neighborhood Church, 1-2.)
We’re trying this month to listen more deeply. We’re trying to answer the question: “How can we as a community enflesh the values of love, grace, and justice – not just as a community, but in our community?”
The answer to this question, whenever and wherever it is asked, must always unfold in the place that you are, for us right here, right now, exactly where we have been planted. Every Sunday in countless congregations Christians gather to seek what is right under our noses: The Kingdom of God. Jesus’ entire ministry was a passionate attempt to illustrate this “reality”, the Kingdom of God on earth, the Kingdom of God among us, the Kingdom of God within us. In one teaching after another, he offered glimpses of this reality right here, right now. And he taught us what we would look like if, and when, we worked toward its fulfillment. We will look like …
A father who never stops waiting at the window for his wayward son …
A tiny mustard seed that blooms into a mighty, shade-giving tree
People who instinctively care for the naked, the hungry, the imprisoned, and the refugee …
A shepherd so mindful of one missing lamb that she goes on a search and rescue mission …
A sower who sows the seeds of love, grace, and justice, everywhere she goes …
Pray with me … And listen for the Word of God. Read Matthew 13:1-3a:
That same day … (keep that in mind, “That same day.” Something has happened already and later “that same day …”) … Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into the boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen!”
Let’s stop reading a moment. And before we consider how what follows speaks to us and our journey through this month, here’s some background on this first teaching of Jesus identified as “parable” in the gospel according to Matthew. So far, Matthew has written of the arrival of the kingdom of God into the world in the person of Jesus, the Christ. Jesus has been redefining the meaning of leadership and authority. Leadership is not found through “conquering strength” and authority is not found in “coercive religious rituals.” True leadership is found in suffering love and authority through sacrificial living. In teaching these things, Jesus is inflaming the opposition of the leaders of this world, the Governor’s and Emperor’s as well as the Scribes and Pharisees, who finally, of course, resolve to kill him.
In the previous chapter of Matthew’s writing, Jesus has been challenged over and over again by the leadership of “this generation,” this world, the earthly kingdoms. You remember the stories about the Scribes trying to trap Jesus with his own words, and the Pharisees trying to incite the people against him. Many of those narratives are in chapters eleven and twelve. As we begin chapter thirteen, continuing the story that Matthew has begun, we sense that Jesus has gotten away from his opponents, the scribes and Pharisees specifically, the brood of vipers that have been conspiring against him. He is resuming his teaching ministry, which he began in the Sermon on the Mount, but he’s taking a different tack. He goes “out of the house” and he sits beside the sea. That may sound comfortable to us. “How soothing … the sea!” But it creates concern for the first century reader and signals a shift.
Leaving the house is leaving the comfortable, the known, the familiar. And the sea signifies the unknown. The people of Israel were not sea people and they froze with anxiety when they had to deal with large bodies of water. A few of them might go fishing on the Sea of Galilee, some even earning a living from it, but even these few always kept a wary eye on the western-shore hilltops to see what might be blowing in. They commanded no power to control the sea. Only God held such power. This was a strange place to teach.
To heighten everyone’s anxiety, Jesus gets into a boat and pushes out a bit, into the water. And he reengages his teaching in a very different way. He begins teaching using a new “tool,” the parable. A parable is not a straight forward lesson, one in which the teacher tells the student, or disciple, exactly what they should know, or do, or believe. It’s not a “house” that you can be comfortable with, or in. A parable is intended to tease the student’s mind into insight rather than telling us what the answer is. A parable is like the sea, uncertain, uncontrolled, open ended.
Read Matthew 13:3-8
A parable is intended to tease our minds into insight rather than telling us what the answer is. We have come down off the Mount and the innocence of the straightforward meanings of the Beatitudes or the easily decoded metaphors of salt, light, and city. We are now sitting beside the sea with the crowds; the sea and all that it represents to the men and women of the first century: mystery, ambiguity, cold, and chaos. The parables of chapter thirteen articulate Jesus’ response to the rejection he has experienced from “this generation,” this “world,” and its leadership in the previous two chapters. It has become evident to Jesus that some, not just the royal and religious leaders, but perhaps many of the people, are not going to respond positively to him.
It’s kind of a sad moment, if you think about it; a sort of coming of age for Jesus. A “this is not going to be as easy as I thought,” kind of aha moment. That may offend some who want to believe that Jesus had all this figured out before he even began. But understanding the very real “ministry problematic” that even Jesus faced, that folks aren’t going to love everything you have to say, makes the message he was burdened with – the message we are charged with – all the more immediate and important: God’s love for the world, for us, is boundless and without requirement – full of Grace. Our love for creation and for one another must be open and without restriction – full of Justice.
Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea,” beside the unknown and the untamable sea, and he began to teach in a new way. He has realized on some profound level that while he may teach us about the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, those mysteries will only be revealed by God, Love itself, and only to those with ears to hear. His work was, and our work is, to plant the seeds. And so he begins with a parable about the “sower.”
Jesus shares this parable to strengthen his followers against the discouragement he has only just recognized and they … we … will most certainly experience in the face of unresponsiveness. We, too, will scatter the seed of our Good News, we will share the love of God we have in Christ whenever we “go out.” A good many of our seeds will never reach maturity. They will fall on well-worn paths and be stepped upon or eaten by the birds. They will fall on rocks and be burned by the sun. And they will fall among the thorns, sown among the trying situations in which people find themselves in this world, and which prevent them, prevent us, from becoming fruitful. All this and more will happen, but we must never, ever stop sowing. God’s purpose for us and for this world will not be thwarted, in spite of all the worn paths, rocks, and thorns we have littered our soil with.
God has sown in us the gifts we need to live the life to which we are called: A life of love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness and witness. And our parable has reminded us, again, that we must never give up in our own planting! Our life with God in Christ must be pursued enthusiastically in spite of what appears to be meager results. Our enthusiasm as members of the church, disciples of Christ, and children of God may not be diminished by the rocks and thorns of persecution like they were in the first century. But our commitment to the Way of God in Christ is no less threatened by this century’s nagging question: “You don’t really believe all that stuff do you?”
Yes! We do!
In and through each one of us, and in and through all of us as church community, God’s kingdom is invading the world, confronting the men and women of the world (including us!) with a decision: Can we see ourselves as partners in the ministry God is already performing around us right here? Are we willing and able to be in genuine relationship with our neighbors and to include their voices in the decisions of our church? Will we stand with our neighbors, wherever they are, and experience the life they are experiencing so that all of us, all of us, may come closer to the Kingdom?
It is time … again. Just moments from now, as we step out of this comfortable sanctuary, our “house,” comforted further by our communal meal, take the time to look around. Who would miss this building, that parking lot, the Family Life Center next door if it were to disappear tomorrow? Who, other than us, needs this church, this congregation, this community of faith in this place, right here, right now? And, if you haven’t already, decide to join us a bit early on the remaining Sunday morning’s of August as we engage these questions and as we leave the comforts of our sanctuary to walk beside the sea, the unknown, the mystery of the years ahead, and sow the seeds for what is coming into being. It is time … again.
Let anyone with ears listen! Matthew 13:9
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / August 4, 2019