Sowing God’s Word
Based on Genesis 25:24-34, Romans 8:1-11, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Any informed account of 2020 will yield a conclusion of just how atypical it has been. Lockdowns, isolation and social distancing, schools and businesses closed, people washing their hands and wearing masks to avoid infecting themselves and others, random acts of kindness and community-building along with rage at social injustices, record numbers of folks unemployed, rampant anxiety, depression, fear and acting out at all levels of society. The oldest among us has never seen its’ like, and no matter how old the youngest among us become, we can hope that a year like this will never be repeated! An interesting behavior that has come about as a response to the challenges of this year are the acts of sewing (needle and thread) and sowing (planting gardens).
The creation of masks (sewing) and the re-creation of “Victory” gardens (sowing) have both yielded much fruit. Our own Lynn Young and her helpers created almost 350 masks that yielded more than $1000 for MESA to help our neighbors in need. Personal gardens, sown with care and tended with love, have begun to yield a bounty of veggies and this will continue throughout the growing season. Lucinda and I have joined in at the Parsonage by sowing flowers that have bloomed and graced our church altar and our home. We are currently awaiting the blooming of the sun flowers – the seeds of which Anne Marie Pfaff gifted us. From one seed does such bounty come – all by the design and grace of God.
Our scriptures today speak to us about fruitfulness through God that comes from sowing (planting) God’s word far and wide. No one but God knows what bounty will come from the planting activity – but God promises that when God’s good word lands on fertile soil it will return to the earth 30, 60 or 100-fold what was planted. It is incumbent upon us as disciples to spread God’s word as widely as ever we can and trust that God will make it fruitful. Let us go to God now in prayer for the courage and conviction to go out into the world and sow the Word…
Our reading from the Book of Genesis details the birth of twins to Rebekah and Isaac. The older brother, Esau, was born with red hair all over his body and became a person who loved the outdoors. His twin, Jacob, came into the world holding Esau’s heel and was a home-body. Isaac preferred Esau for his ability to hunt, and Rebekah was more fond of Jacob. The twins were a gift from God, given to Rebekah and Isaac following a time of infertility. Isaac had prayed to God that their union would be fruitful, and the prayer was fulfilled. However, Rebekah was told by God that the seeds sown in her womb would be of two divided nations with the elder serving the younger…and so it came to pass.
Our Epistle and Gospel readings are speaking of the things of God. The Apostle Paul is telling the believers in Rome that those who live according to the Spirit of God through Jesus the Christ have been set free from sin and death. Paul says it this way, “…For those who live according to the world [flesh] set their minds on things of the world [flesh], but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the world [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 world [flesh] is hostile to God…and those who are in the world [flesh] cannot please God….” Paul is echoing what Jesus is saying in the parable of the sower that the word which is sown among the thorns is that person who hears the word of God but allows the cares of the world and the “lure of wealth” choke God’s word until it yields nothing. Only that word of God which falls on “good soil” – that which is heard by those in the Spirit, is going to return to God and to all the world the yields of 30, 60 or 100 times what was planted.
The Church has tried to prepare her people as “good soil” so that they can understand the word as it is presented, so the “evil one” cannot come and take it away. The Church works hard to create community so that people can sink their roots in deep and survive the trouble and persecutions that come from being a disciple of the Christ. The Church is intentional in her approach to try and overcome the lure and distraction of worldly things which will continue to steal fruitful people away to their spiritual deaths – forever removed from bringing their God-given fruit to the Church and the world. This intentional preparation neglects one thing, however, the Church has often neglected to ensure that the seed being sown is truly God’s word and not some sinful human derivative.
You see, scripture, when taken seriously, is always and inescapably beyond our understanding and explanation, beyond our absolute interpretation and control. All of us who are called to preach and teach this nuanced tome resemble the blindfolded people grasping a portion of an elephant and trying their best to describe the whole. Biblical scholar and teacher Dr. Walter Brueggemann notes that, “…Because the Bible is ‘the live word of the living God,’ it will not compliantly submit to the accounts we prefer to give of it.” At its essence, a complete understanding of the Bible is just beyond our reach and when we try to grasp and cling too tightly to our preferred way of interpreting it, we tend to fall into idolatry. Yet different preachers, teachers and religious doctrines across time have done just that – idolizing pet scripture and turning them into scalpels to remove unwanted persons and their voices and views from biblical discussion and debate. These idolaters neglected the truth noted by Brueggemann, “…that the Bible is essentially an open, imaginative narrative of God’s staggering care for the world, a narrative that feeds and nurtures us into an obedience that builds community precisely through respect for the liberty of individual Christians.” Brueggemann has discovered God’s good seed.
It is important that we look closely at how Jesus chose to spread the word of God to the people of God. He chose to speak in parables, imaginative and memorable stories which captured the essence of biblical teaching about how to love and develop an ever more intimate relationship with God and with all of God’s creation. Jesus spoke primarily to those on the margins of His society, giving them hope, healing them and returning them to full status in the community. He also spoke to the religious leaders of His time, exposing their idolatry and misunderstandings – their love of rules more than people. Jesus was trying to get those leaders to repent and return to God so that they could sow God’s word and bear much fruit.
The Bible contains the living seed of God, which continues to reveal the character and will of God, giving us a vision of how to live an alternative life in the world. It speaks boldly about the God who created the world in love, redeems the world in suffering and will ultimately come again in glory to heal the world. Therefore, no person or group has final or inerrant understanding of God’s holy word, precisely because the God who creates, redeems and saves is always beyond us in holy mystery. Our reading, interpretation and exposition on God’s word, then, is only provisional – open to critique by all of God’s people. It is rightly done with the modesty of those who are always being surprised by a text that is constantly “strange and new” (Karl Barth). In order to be truly fruitful, therefore, God’s good word must be treated with humility and great care before being sown extravagantly.
My continued interaction with the Bible and weekly attempt at interpreting scripture into meaning for living in our world today has revealed how broad, deep, demanding and generous is this work of God; how utterly beyond me in its richness. The Psalmist puts it well in Psalm 119:105, saying that the scriptures are, “…a lamp to my feet and a light to my path….” A constantly maturing and clarifying illumination into the creative power of God in the every moment of my life – and of all our lives. At our best, in close relationship to the word of God, we become people who are empowered by the text to live lives of courage, suffering and sacrifice, people who continue to discover a source and energy for the fullness of a life lived unafraid. A source which enables and empowers us to be moved by the word to sew together disparate people into beautiful tapestry, and to sow the good seed of the gospel in a way that honors the creative love of God who gave it to us, so that we might give it away freely to all. Thanks be to God, amen!