Rooted in God
Based on Romans 8:1-11 and Mt 13: 1-9, 18-23
My heart is gladdened to be in this sacred space today. Truly the opening words of Psalm 122 reflect this feeling saying, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!” (NRSV) I hope that this feeling is shared by you – and if not yet, I hope that by the end of the service today, you will feel blessed and rejuvenated. We have heard four seemingly disparate biblical narratives today, from Jacob and Esau’s sibling rivalry; to a song asking for God’s guidance and deliverance; to a letter from the Apostle Paul to the Roman churches speaking about being Holy Spirit filled; and finally Jesus, in the Gospel according to Matthew, speaking about us being sowers of seed. What in the world are we to make of such seemingly disconnected stories? Let’s spend a moment in prayer, and then we will explore that question together.
In my discernment and prayer over these scriptures this week, an organizing theme emerged, “Rooted in God”. You see, each of our narratives today shows us a glimpse of what it means to be rooted in God. In Genesis, the scripture text right before our text for this morning, told that Isaac prayed to God so that Rebekah could conceive. His faith in God resulted in not one, but two sons – Esau and Jacob. You will remember that Isaac’s faith in God was severely tested when he allowed his father Abraham to almost sacrifice him – his faith that day rewarded him with his life and his sons many decades later.
The Psalmist also writes verses that are a prayer for God to guide and to teach…to forgive sins and transgressions. The writer knows that God remembers God’s grace and love (see verses 6 and 7) – and that God has been consistent “…from of old….” Thus, when we hear from scriptures that are the better part of 3000 years old, that God remembers God’s promises and hears the prayers that are directed to God, we can begin to trust that the very same God we pray to will be willing and able to hear, teach and guide us.
That is why the Apostle Paul (a student of Hebrew scripture), writing to the Roman churches in about 60 C.E., can exhort them to “…walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit….” (verse 4 excerpt) Therefore, a Christian life of discipleship is one that is spent with a mind and heart set on things of the Spirit. This focus on the Spirit – being indwelled by the Holy Spirit – comes from a life of prayer and service to the things of God. The Holy Spirit is the counselor, advocate, Paraclete of God who leads us to healing and wholeness (i.e., sanctification) into the image of Christ Jesus – the author and perfector of our faith.
With all that as a foundation then, we come to the parable of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. Now, I suspect that those of you who are interested in growing things and sowing seeds efficiently have some problems with the way this planter went about the job of sowing. As we hear the story from Jesus, this person’s sole job is to sow seeds. He took his bag of seeds and started throwing them everywhere…on paths, on rocks, in the weeds, and he finally got some in good soil. Seems pretty wasteful doesn’t it? What person in their right mind would go around showering seeds willy-nilly with no thought to where they might end up or how they would grow?
This is why Jesus told the Disciples (verses 14 and 15) that the parables were used because the people were like those in Isaiah’s time: “…You will indeed listen but never understand, and you will indeed look but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn [repent] – and I would heal them….” (NRSV)
Jesus then goes on to explain to the Disciples what was meant by the parable. We see again that Jesus is not intending this story to be interpreted literally, rather it is a metaphor (as is most of the Bible) for how it is they (and we) are to spread the word of God – the Good News of God – as far and wide as we can. Because, none of us knows where that word is going to fall. It may be that we speak the word of the kingdom of God and the person or people that hear it cannot understand it – it gets plucked away before it can grow. Thus, it is incumbent on all of us to do what we can to not just spread the word about Jesus, but to perform the follow-up education so that those that hear can begin to understand. It is why I am such a zealot for Christian education at all ages, and why I had meetings this week and next to discuss Sunday School and other educational endeavors.
The second place that our word might fall is to that person whose heart is ready to hear the word and who immediately knows the truth of it. Yet they are not part of a community of believers and when life troubles come, they have no support to help them find out where God is and what the meaning of it all might be. Because they are isolated, they leave the Church and possibly never come back. It is for this reason that we need to keep reaching out to those who have once been with us but are now not coming to church – not sharing in fellowship or Holy Communion. We need to go back and re-sow the word and help that word take up a deeper and more sustaining root.
Then there are those, many in our day and age, who have heard the word and try to believe it, but Madison Avenue marketing and the seductions of fame, wealth, power and overall busyness/distractedness leave no room for the word to grow and so it never yields what it should. If you don’t feed and water and tend the plants, then they will not thrive. People are running around all over this world looking for meaning and purpose and instead of elevating God’s word to the top of the to-do list, they are keeping it in a spot in the daily grind where it seldom gets the time it needs to grow. This is why we need to create a counter-cultural space that allows for people to come and relax into God’s peace and stillness, to leave the cares of the world behind and spend some quality time with God and God’s word. They also need to spend time with those who are also struggling to balance life demands with time with God. Time spent here is potentially very fruitful as Jesus notes what happens when the word falls into well prepared soil. There it returns between 30 and 100 times what was sown.
Each of us has within us the good soil of God. We are made in God’s image and gifted to do what God needs us to do to create God’s kingdom here on earth. When we care for that sacred ground and do all we can to help others with theirs, then we find that blessed community and sense of purpose and meaning that God created just for us. That begs the question…how are we called and gifted to together go out and sow widely and wildly the message of the good news of God in Jesus Christ to those who need to hear and understand it? How are we going to together work on our own rootedness in God so that we can avoid these traps and the weeds that seek to choke our own fruitfulness? It is never enough to come to worship for an hour each week and consider ourselves good until Sunday rolls around again. As any good planter knows, preparation of the seed bed is of primary importance to obtain the optimum yield of a given crop. The same is true of our spiritual life both as individuals, as a faith community, and as a yoked charge in The United Methodist Church. How can we once again connect ourselves so completely in God that our response to the proclamation of Isaiah about the Israelites, will have us looking with our eyes, listening with our ears and understanding with our hearts, so that we might repent of our sinful ways and turn fully to God to be healed, made whole…saved? God knows that we have a world in need of disciples who can bring into it the spiritual fruits to combat all of the brokenness and despair that evil and sin constantly create. It is a daunting task, but it is one that God has prepared us for, so that we might yield 30, 60 or 100 times what God has put into us. God began this work through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Relatives of yours planted this church in this place to continue this work. Now God waits for us in our time to become sowers of the word. What are we waiting for?