Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 07/10/2011

Now hold it right there.  What if that’s all we had, that there was no explanation in subsequent verses?  Because you know, most likely Jesus didn’t provide an explanation or at least there are a lot of questions about it.  Parable tellers weren’t into explanation.  It’s more likely that Jesus told this parable and then kind of walked away to let his listeners think about it. 

Let’s assume for the moment then that that’s the case and try to pretend that you don’t know the explanation.  One of the questions one asks regarding parables is what is there that is surprising as that is thought to be a clue as to what the author is trying to get at.  For us one of the surprises is that the sower would throw seed around like this.  Why not find the good soil and focus your attention there?  That’s what any of us would do if we were planting a garden.  But I’m not sure that the audience in Jesus’ time would have been that surprised by this technique of “broadcasting” as it’s called.  From what I could find, at least among some it was an acceptable farming practice. 

From there, most of the parable would be common knowledge.  Birds would eat the seeds on the path.  Some things can grow in rocky soil but many would not survive, the heat of the sun would dry them out and they would wither.  The same kind of thing would happen to seed in the middle of thorns and brambles.  The seed might take root, but it wouldn’t thrive, it would be choked and stunted, and seed that landed on good soil would be productive, would bring forth a harvest.  There’s nothing surprising in any of that.  There’s nothing surprising until you get to the amount of the harvest, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

The consensus seems to be that while those don’t represent off the charts yields, they do represent very good, above average yields, the kind any farmer would be pleasantly surprised at.  So is that the point Jesus wants us to consider?  In his kingdom we want to be prepared for abundance, we want to be prepared to be surprised by God’s grace.  Note that the parable doesn’t ignore the reality of the world, the rocky, thorny, dry places.  But those places don’t define Jesus’ kingdom because it’s a kingdom of surprise and abundance, surprise and abundance that Jesus then leaves open ended.  He leaves it for his listeners to think about.

We don’t do well with open ended though.  We prefer answers and explanations.  I talk about this a fair amount, saying that you have to learn to live with the tension, to live with a degree of ambiguity because especially when it comes to God, we can’t expect to be able to figure it all out.  I say that, but I don’t do it very well.  I want answers and explanations too and I had a moment of self awareness concerning this last week. 

Seeing as how there is almost nothing worth watching on TV these days I though it would be good if I could find some decent movies to watch.  I found a website that had someone’s list of the best movies from 2000-2009.  So I looked through them and found three that I thought sounded like they were worth shot.  One was called Half Nelson which got rave reviews from all the critics.  I’d never heard of it, I don’t think it ever made it up here, but it’s about an inner city middle school teacher/coach, Mr. Dunn, who has a bit of a cocaine problem and one of his students, a thirteen year old girl who he takes an interest in.  Her older brother is in jail for dealing drugs so she’s kind of straddling two worlds just as Mr. Dunn is.  He’s trying to keep her on the straight and narrow while he himself is pretty messed up.   

I’m not going to get into it all other than to say it’s not your usual teacher movie.  I kept waiting for something to happen, some tragedy or near tragedy involving the girl that would bring Mr. Dunn to his senses so he’d be on the road to recovery.  It never happens though and then the movie just ends.  There’s no clear resolution of anything and I didn’t like that.  It’s like Jesus walking away after telling a parable saying, “Let anyone with ears listen.”

“But wait!” we say.  “Come back; tell us what it means.”  We don’t like the ambiguity and apparently the early church didn’t like it either, so we have this explanation.

It’s a really good explanation.  Maybe it’s from Jesus or maybe it’s based on things he said; whatever the case, it’s good and it’s hard to think about this parable apart from this explanation and it is an explanation that remains somewhat open ended as there are still a number of angles from which the explanation can be approached. 

The big question it raises for any of us is, “What kind of soil are we?” with the clear implication that we want to be good soil, soil that is receptive to God’s presence in our life, soil that is receptive to hearing God’s word and acting on it.  The truth of it is that we can probably all identify with all the different kinds of soil mentioned.  Sometimes we are good soil, but we can also be pretty rocky, thorny and dry. 

A question that follows then is can we make ourselves good soil?  Our Lutheran theology would tell us that it can’t be all about us.  There is a Spirit component to this and the Spirit blows where it will, we don’t control it.  The Spirit is in the business of surprising us in ways that we didn’t plan on.  Again, it gets back to the previous point that the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed is about surprising abundance. 

So we can’t make ourselves good soil, but in the explanation to the parable there is a definite emphasis on the word and experience tells us that there are things we can do to put ourselves in a position to hear God’s word, in a position to potentially be good soil.  It’s not a one size fits all thing but there are historic practices and spiritual disciplines that have been effectively used for a long time to help place one in a good position.  Just being here for worship is one of those practices.  You put yourself in a place to hear God’s word.  It’s not the only place that can happen, but it’s only in church that the word is the main activity. 

Then there’s the sacramental word.  We talk about the Lutheran church as a church of word and sacrament, with the sacraments being expressions of the visible word, the word made flesh.  So another thing you can do is to participate in the sacraments.  Part of that again is just being here in order to receive the bread and wine, the body and blood of Jesus in Holy Communion.  You can bring your children for Baptism and part of the baptismal vow is about things you can do for your children, for yourself bringing them to be among the faithful to hear the word and receive Holy Communion, teaching them the Lord’s prayer, the creed and the commandments, placing in their hands the scriptures.  Those are all things we can do and model that place us in position to be good soil. 

They don’t make us good soil however.  Even following the best spiritual practices, for all of us there are times when worship is just going through the motions or it’s just a social activity, times when communion doesn’t mean much, times when if we have a daily devotional practice that we just do it to get it done so we can check it off.  Despite our best efforts to put ourselves in places and positions to be good soil, the rocks and thorns are still there. 

At which point we give thanks for the sower.  The sower keeps throwing seeds on all the soil.  Commentators as early as John Chrysostom back in the 300’s pointed out the practical futility of this from a farming perspective.  You can throw all the seeds you want on a path and it’s still going to be a path.  You can throw seeds on rocks and they’re still going to be rocks, they’re not going to change.  From a practical standpoint it makes no sense

But from a spiritual perspective, because of the sower, it does make sense.  God’s word sown in us does change our rocky spiritual soil, it does change our thorny soil so that we become good soil.  The sower keeps throwing seed on all the soil.  There is comfort in that; there is comfort in this image of God that Jesus gives us, a God whose transformative seeds fall on us even when we’re not very good soil. 

The sower knows what kind of fruit we are capable of and the kingdom is fed and nourished by that fruit.  The sowing of the seed continues in all of us and the soil will yield a harvest, thirty or sixty or even a hundredfold.

Rev. Warren Geier

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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