PROPER #10…Series A
Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church (July 15&16-2017)
Text: Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23
Title: What’s In a Name???
There are 55 parables of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels (24 in the Gospel of Luke; 23 in the Gospel of Matthew and 8 in the Gospel of Mark-there are no parables in the 4th Gospel…the Gospel of John), and what is interesting is that none of these 55 parables had titles attached to them…did you know that? It’s true…and the titles which are usually associated with Jesus’ parables (the Good Shepherd or the Prodigal Son or the Seed Growing Secretly) were added by the church at a later date. And the unique problem with the parable which we just heard…the parable that is our Gospel reading for this 6th Sunday after the great feast of Pentecost is that there have been, in the more than 2000 year history of interpretation, not one but three titles attached to it…it has been called the Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Soils and it has been also called the Parable of the Seed.
The traditional title of the parable is the parable of the Sower. The parable of the Sower is a story about the Church’s essential mission…the urgently important mission (in this and every age) which is the distribution of the Seed of the Word of the Gospel of Grace in a tired/lost/hurting and broken world. The parable reminds us that the church, when it is at its best, is an agricultural organization, and we are all “Farmers of Faith” distributing the Word of the Gospel wherever we go. But the story is also a powerful reminder that the Word of God is NOT irresistible…that most of the seed which we distribute will be unproductive…it will not, in the end, bear fruit. The parable of the Sower is reality therapy for a discouraged and disheartened church, and it is a reminder that our role is to faithfully…even recklessly distribute the seed wherever we go, and that we should not be concerned about the results…that is God’s concern, not ours.
The second title of Jesus’ parable is the parable of the SOILS. The emphasis here is not on the ones who distribute the seed of the Word but on the ones who receive the Word. The parable of the Soils is all about hearing the Word, and there is one thing I need to say this morning about hearing the Word: there is a difference…a large and a significant difference between LISTENING to the Word and actually HEARING the Word. Listening is a passive activity, but hearing implies ACTION. It is possible to listen carefully…to really lean into what is being said, without actually ever hearing the Word. It is, however, not possible to hear without first listening. Hearing the Word begins with listening but it never ends there.
In order for the Word of the Gospel…the Word of Christ to be heard and not just listened to…in order for the Word to really penetrate the human heart and actually take root and grow there needs to be an openness…a receptivity…a hospitality toward the Word. And the problem is that, so often, we are, when it comes to the Word, like the unproductive soils mentioned in Jesus’ parable….too often we are distracted by the noise of popular culture that surrounds us…too often we are distracted by the cares and concerns of daily life. The parable of the Soils calls those who are listening to ask the penetrating question…when it comes to the Word, what kind of soil are you…what kind of soil are you willing to be?
But there is another title to Jesus’ parable…not the SOWER…not the SOILS…but the parable of the SEED. The emphasis in the parable of the SEED is not one the one who distributes or the ones who receive the Seed of the Word…the emphasis in the Parable of the SEED is the enormous/nuclear power of the SEED itself. The Parable of the SEED proclaims the surprising truth that the SEED of the Gospel of Grace contains within it fruit generating…fruit producing power! In Jesus’ day an average yield would be 7-8 fold (one seed yielding 7 or 8 plants)…an exceptional yield would be 10 fold, but Jesus said the seed of the Word of God is way beyond all human expectation or experience…30 fold…60 fold…even 100 fold.
My friends, the Good News that we celebrate today is that the Word of the Gospel embedded in this parable (the Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Soils and the Parable of the Seed) is no ordinary word. I know I have said this before, but I need to say it again, because it is vitally important: This Word of the Gospel of Grace is no ordinary Word…ordinary words describe/define reality but this is no ordinary word…this Word is so filled with the power/presence/purposes of God that it creates a new reality…the reality of the Kingdom of God. And, as the crusty OT prophet, Isaiah reminds us in our first reading: this Word…when it is released in the world…this Word never returns empty…this Word always…always (in spite of human resistance and indifference and opposition) accomplishes its sacred mission which is nothing less than the creation of the Kingdom of God’s justice, peace and love (in our lives and in our world)!.
My friends, I believe (with all my heart…with every fiber of my being) that this powerful/performative Word…this Word which is God’s gift to us this evening/morning…this Word of God (when it is really HEARD-not just listened to but heard and when it is believed and when it is lived) still, after all of these years, has enormous power…to transform our hearts/minds/lives…the power to produce an abundant harvest of goodness/righteousness/peace/joy and love in your life and in my life and in the life of this congregation…So:
Whoever has ears…LISTEN and HEAR!!