Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
12 July 2020
Rev Kate McDonald, St Andrew’s Church Jerusalem and Tiberias
Genesis 25.19-34; Psalm 65; Romans 8.1-11; Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23
Almighty God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you. May we find peace in your service, and in the world to come, see you face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
My mom has always been a keen and talented gardener. She has transformed the yard of every house she and my dad have lived in, planting colourful flower beds in the front and building raised beds for herbs and vegetables in the back. At the first sign of spring, she’s outside, kneeling in the dirt, digging up weeds, turning the soil, making space for new growth. But even in winter she’s planning, preparing.
When I was back in the States in January, she showed me the washroom she’d converted to a plant nursery. Shelves of seed trays lined the wall. In each little cell were a couple of seeds, tucked carefully into soil she’s chosen and maintained for optimum growth. Special lights hung over each shelf, providing the right heat and light to encourage germination.
Once the threat of frost has passed, she moves the trays outside to a sheltered space where the young plants can acclimatise to the natural environment. And when they’re strong enough, she plants them in the flower beds and vegetable garden.
She’s been sending me pictures as the garden has developed into a riot of colour, and her tomato plants are now taller than she is. Baskets full of vegetables will provide them with nourishing meals well into the autumn. Neighbours stop by on their evening strolls to admire the flowers and ask for a tip or two for their own gardens.
So when I think of someone sowing seeds, I picture my mom, gently pressing each seed into the rich soil, caring for every plant.
But when Jesus tells his parable in today’s gospel from Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23, the sower he describes is … nothing like my mom. He is careless. With reckless abandon, he scatters seeds everywhere: on the path, on rocky ground, amongst thorns. It seems almost by chance that any seeds at all land on good soil.
Those listening to the parable must have thought this sower to be a pretty poor farmer indeed, wasting seed like that. And then what must the disciples have thought when Jesus explained the
meaning of the parable to them, telling them that the seeds represent the word of the kingdom of heaven, the ground on which they fall represents the hearts of those listening?
Surely the seeds of the kingdom are precious and should be sown with care, right? But here Jesus isn’t just telling them a parable, he’s embodying it.
Picture the scene: Jesus is there by the Sea of Galilee, surrounded by so many people that he has to get into a boat to make himself seen and heard by them all. He wants to tell them all about the kingdom of heaven, and that day chooses to do so by parables — ‘parable’ means ‘to throw alongside’. So from his boat, with the water lapping against the shore, what Jesus is doing is scattering fistfuls of seeds, throwing alongside the crowds story after story of the kingdom of heaven.
The kingdom of heaven is like someone who planted good seed in his field The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and planted.
The kingdom of heaven is like yeast, which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour. The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that somebody hid in a field.
The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls.
The kingdom of heaven is like a net that people threw into the lake and gathered all kinds of fish.
Jesus doesn’t seem to care where these parables fall. He keeps throwing them into the crowd, as he has done all the other seeds of the kingdom … … grace, love, compassion, forgiveness, friendship, truth, peace, healing, mercy … Jesus pours them in equal measure upon all kinds of soil. Throughout the gospel they fall on the hearts of prostitutes and pharisees, tax collectors and temple authorities, disciples and demoniacs.
Jesus knows the terrain of human hearts is varied and ever-changing because the circumstances of life are varied and ever-changing. Evil and distress and wrongdoings and financial concerns and daily worries are all real and present. The crowds knew that. The disciples knew that. We know that.
The word of God can’t just be given only to those who we think might receive it best. It’s for everyone. So Jesus sets the example, not just through the parables he tells, but through his life, his death, his resurrection. The seeds of the kingdom simply need to be sown, regardless of the ground on which they fall.
While this text does invite us to self-reflection, calling us to examine our own hearts, to test the soil on which the seeds of the kingdom may be falling, Jesus himself calls this parable the parable of the Sower, not the parable of the soils.
The focus is on the wild, extravagant sowing of the Sower who spreads fistfuls of seeds in unlikely hearts against the odds, that from the grace and compassion and forgiveness new growth might spring up even in inhospitable or depleted ground.
See, when I think of my mom’s garden, the seeds she has sown carefully in the good soil are indeed flourishing. But each year she is surprised by little mysteries which appear as well.
Sunflowers have towered over peonies after the wind has scattered seeds from the bird feeder hanging on the porch. Blackberry and raspberry bushes have appeared after birds with bellies full of forest fruits have flow overhead. Wee palmetto palm fans have peeked out amongst the gravel. And morning glories she never planted persistently push through even the densest of weeds.
Regardless of the soil and the struggles of our human hearts, this common, imperfect life becomes holy ground when God is present. And where God is, nothing is lost. God just keeps sowing, abundantly, extravagantly.
Let those with ears hear this word of hope. Let those with eyes see the kingdom growth, colourful and nourishing.
Thanks be to God.
God of love, we pray for your world, for all the many places where your word of peace seems to have fallen on the path of violence. God of love, we pray for those who suffer and are in any kind of need, where your word of hope and healing seems to have withered away. God of love, we pray for your church, where your word of unity is strangled by division and persecution. Sow your word in our hearts that our lives may bear the fruits of your compassion and grace as you call us to work for and witness to the flourishing of your kingdom. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May the love of the Lord Jesus draw us to himself;
May the power of the Lord Jesus strengthen us in his service; May the joy of the Lord Jesus fill our souls;
and may the blessing of God almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit
be upon you and remain with you always. Amen.