There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law--indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: "Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!"
"Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."
I cannot decide which text to preach on Sunday. This is the beginning of my very favorite chapter in the Bible, but.... this is also only my third sermon for these congregations. I don't know them well yet -- I don't know what they need to hear. And the sower parable - well, these are rural country folk who know much more about this than I. Actually, a lot of the people in my churches are professionals with either the Forestry Service or the Ag Sciences Department at UGA. Who am I to preach this parable to them? And yet, who is better prepared to understand this parable than farmers and researchers into Ag Science?
But there is this:
Things to think about:
- This parable carries with it a sucker punch. I can imagine the original listeners nodding their heads when Jesus talks about the hard soil along the path -- most of them would have lived in a little village and would have had to traverse a path of hard packed soil to get to their own little patch outside the village. They would have known about plants that wither and die because of being scorched by lack of water, shallow roots and the hot sun. They could imagine seed being gobbled up by hungry birds. They probably got drawn into the story as Jesus teaches so that they are ready to believe that good soil produces fruit -- but the amount! A good yield is ten fold -- here's the sucker punch -- but 30, 60 and 100 fold?? No way!
- What kind of person wouldn't carefully prepare the soil exactly right? What kind of person would throw valuable seed around like this?
- Why explain THIS parable?
- Why this parable at this time?
I think I will start with a story about how my Dad would prepare a patch of ground before he planted -- how he would break up the dirt with a roto-tiller, the get some of the bigger clumps with a spade and even use his hands. How he would enrich the soil with fertilizer, compost and lime, mixing it carefully and then raking it near smooth. How he would place the seed so that none went to waste. How different this is than the parable of the sower -- how foolish the sower seems!
I suppose we really can't tell whose heart is really ready for God's seed -- you really cannot look and tell that the soil of one's life is packed hard. This parable calls for a casting of the seed indiscriminately, blindly, never knowing where it will take root.
And seed will take root in unexpected places -- I'm thinking of the little Sweetgum trees that took root in my Father-in-law's gutters. He didn't clean them for a few years and the leaves and water made a perfect medium for little Sweetgum trees. And I think of the weeds (or what Chaos and Entropy call "wildflowers") that take root between the curb in front of the house and the asphalt. There were dandelions there last year that grew into big beautiful puffballs. Their seed scattered across the asphalt -- it that seed wasted? Are our words and actions wasted? Does God ever really waste anything? Do we have to see the end result or is it good enough to know that we have cast our seed and trust God?
Seeds come from the center of the fruit, for the most part. It's part of a cycle. There must have been fruit in the past for there to be seed NOW. And today's seed could possibly be fruit, given a good place to grow and time.
Things to think about.