July 16, 2017
The Reverend Max Lynn, Pastor
Scripture Readings: Romans 8:12-25, Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23
In this parable of the sower one can’t help but question the method of the sower. It seems he is being wasteful, just chucking around seed all over the place. Seed is precious. It takes work to harvest it and separate it from the stalk. And then of course you are not selling the seed that you replant. And you have to protect it from the rodents and bugs and mold until the next planting time. It doesn’t seem right that the sower in this parable is just throwing it around everywhere.
But in this case the seed that is being sown is the Word, the Good News of Jesus. God is the sower and wants the Good News spread throughout the world, in the soil of each of our hearts, regardless of their condition. Sometimes farmers have limited choice in the soil they have available to them. When some of us went to Xicauic, the Quiche village in Guatemala where we helped build a health clinic, we noticed their soil was quite rocky. The previous location of the village was on better soil, the years previous they had been driven out by the military that then sold it to others. This would be a common story among poor peasants, who are often driven off more quality land in the valleys and forced to work less quality land on hillsides and dryer places. So slowly but surely, farmers work to clear their soil of rocks and weeds so over the years the land becomes easier to work and more productive.
We may not have chosen our childhood, our parents our country or neighborhood or certain things that happened to us along the way in our life. So we may have a few rocks, a few rough and hard spots in our soul, more than a few thorns in the soil of our soul that make it harder for the seed of God to sink deep or not get choked off. But God is not discriminating where She plants. We may be a bit hilly, rocky, have a few weeds, we may have a bit more work than other fields, but the seed of God is thrown upon us just the same. This means we may have some rocks and weeds to clear from our spiritual field. A farmer would say, that is life. Work and trust that God will provide.
In Jesus analogy he notes that the rocky soil is like those whose faith is not deep, so when trial and tribulation, when drought and wind confront us, the roots are not deep enough and the plants fail. And the thorns are the distractions and temptations of the world that we allow to grow along with the food producing seed.
No doubt today our biggest issue is the distractions of the world, for things move so fast we are constantly plugged in. It is probably the case for most of us that it is rare that we go more than ten minutes without being confronted by an advertisement. Today, each of us sees hundreds of advertisements each day. Someone is always trying to convince us that what they have to sell is what we need to have fun, be happy, popular, strong, sexy, beautiful, or satisfied. It is their job to make us feel unsatisfied. Another aspect of the modern world is the expectation of expertise. More information is thought to be a stand in for wisdom. We are in constant search for more information, or for experts with greater expertise. And expertise becomes more and more specialized. Getting deep into a subject of information doesn’t mean we have depth of soul. It may just mean that we are choking from information.
Rabbi Friedman in Generation to Generation notes this problem and uses the field of psychotherapy as just one example among thousands across our society. He says, “The world of psychotherapy has become specialized ad absurdum. It is possible today to become expert in thousands of emotional problems that range from: agoraphobia to xenophobia, living with preschoolers to living with aging parents, coping with single parenting to coping with stepchildren, personality disorder to schizophrenia, impotence to promiscuity, abuse of substance to child abuse, creativity to catatonia. And all of the aforementioned cross-referenced to “women’s issues.” Not only that, it is possible to specialize further by taking any one of many different approaches from Freud, Sullivan, et al.; family therapies; therapies of art, dance, and milieu; training in sensitivity; training by means of biofeedback and hypnosis; and the like.
“Nor does specialization end there. One can narrow his or her focus further by deciding to concentrate on any of the above problems with any of the above approaches from the particular point of view of any given member of the family and from any specific ethnic or socioeconomic group. Were it necessary for counselors to have all that information,” concludes Friedman, “no one could promote healing at all.” (Friedman. Generation to Generation. p. 4) It is possible that in our quest of information, even good information, we are choking growth in our soul. The desire and quest for more can be a modern extension of salvation by works. If we can just earn or achieve this one more thing, if we can just learn this one more thing, then we will have arrived and healed. But the Gospel tells us this is a never-ending treadmill. Our attempts to get more information, avoid hardship, and to be popular and financially successful are never enough. We are choked in the attempt. By the Grace of God in Christ, we can rest assured we need nothing more. We can let go of the tangles and thorns of the world that threaten to choke us.
While there may be work to do to prepare the soil, to clear rocks and weeds, one of the key ingredients in farming is patience and trust. In the letter of James the author speaks to people of privilege who are constantly in search for more and in so doing cheat the poor who tend their fields and choke off the potential richness of God’s Word waiting to grow within them. The seed is planted and then we have to let it grow. He says, “Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and the late rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
Paul notes in Romans that the life of the flesh, as he calls it, is primarily driven by fear – and we can assume the primary fear is death. Rather than being driven by the freedom of our own conscious, the first fruits of the Spirit growing in our hearts, we are driven in reactivity to fear that leads us to do all sorts of things that are neither necessary or good for us. But by the grace of God in Christ, we are set free from the flesh, from the fear of sin and death.
14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
We cannot achieve enough or know enough to earn salvation or peace. It is a gift from God. Christ is planted in our hearts and in patience we withstand the hardships, eliminate the weeds and thorns, and trust the seed is taking root and will produce fruit of the Spirit and abundant life.