Text: Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23
We are shifting our focus to Jesus’ teaching moments. He seemed to enjoy teaching in parables. As I pondered on the gospel this week, I realized that I have never preached on a parable. Also, I am always learning new things about myself, for example I am not a fan of preaching on the parables.
Let me clarify. It is not the parable, but the parable is ALWAYS paired with an explanation. This explanation can, and often does, feel restrictive for the potential messages to be preached. As a preacher, I have been called to interpret the texts, to breath new life into them, and to share that with all of you. These parable interpretations, however, seem to offer the end product of that process on a silver platter. So, I must tackle the challenge and offer new life into our text. Although I do not make promises, I will try to do just that.
This morning we have the “Parable of the Sower”. This farmer, or sower, is foolishly throwing the seed without caution to where they may fall. Some of these seeds fall in good, prepared soil. Some seeds fall upon a path where the birds eat them. Some seeds fall on rocky ground and was unable to root, so unfavorable weather killed them. Some seeds fall among other plants, which choke them.
I am a farmer’s daughter, although due to unfortunate circumstances my parents lost the farm before I was born. I was, however, raised with the mind-set and agricultural appreciation of a “farmer’s daughter”. I must confess though, I am glad that the family focused more on hogs than corn. My mother and I have black thumbs. My sister, who has degrees in Agribusiness, says if it doesn’t make noise she forgets to water (or feed) it.
But, even I know that a seed requires good soil, good weather, and water to grow. You don’t throw the seed out onto unprepared ground and expect it to grow, right?
We often focus our attention on the soil. This focus on the soil is restrictive. It is not only restrictive, but also self-centered and sinful. Yes, sinful. Martin Luther defined sin as being curved in on the self, or self-centeredness. We have made this parable become about us and our readiness or preparation to receive the seed of God’s word, which is grace. It also becomes about the readiness of others to receive the seed of God’s word (grace).
This focus on our “readiness” also spits in the face of our Lutheran theology and Reformation battle-cry of “justification by grace alone”. We are not worthy of God’s grace. We are not even able to be “ready” or “prepared” to receive it.
Yet, if we are able to free ourselves from this confiding focus on the soil, we are able to shift the focus to the farmer. Perhaps, it is because I am a farmer’s daughter but I believe this is the true teaching moment of the parable. Who is the farmer? Christ (as the incarnation of the Triune God). And Christ is where our focus should always be.
Christ, as the farmer, is “foolishly” throwing the seeds of God’s word, the gospel truth, and grace EVERYWHERE. He is not concerned with the quality, or “readiness”, of the soil. He is simply throwing the seeds out there for all and “letting go” of the result.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Lutheran Study Bible posed the question, what if this parable shaped our evangelism?
When I say “evangelism”, I am returning to its root of “sharing the good news” of God’s grace. This does not necessarily require knocking on doors and asking the question “have you heard of Jesus Christ”? Let’s be honest, Lutheran are known for being uncomfortable with such evangelism. It also doesn’t require you to actively “convert” another person. In fact, you could evangelize through embodying the gospel through discipleship and a faithful life lived in service to others (such a life may lead to those conversations about faith).
Unfortunately, we often do evangelism focused on the quality of the soil that may or may not be prepared to “fruitfully” receive the seed of God’s word. We often reserve our evangelism for those who either share a similar faith to us or who we think may be “ready” to hear about God’s grace.
This notion was mentioned in an article that a fellow classmate shared. The article is entitled, “Why Follow Luther Past 2017?: A Contemporary Lutheran Approach to Inter-Religious Relations” wrote by the ELCA Consultative Panel on Lutheran-Jewish Relationships.
You might be wondering why 2017 because it is currently 2014. The year 2017 marks the 500 year anniversary of Martin Luther nailing the infamous 95 Thesis on the church door and launching the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.
If you are aware of Luther’s writing, you are most likely aware of his later writings that were not friendly towards the Jewish community. The ELCA has been active in restoring relationships with the Jewish community, acknowledging those later writings and how they contradict his earlier writings, as well as the foundation of his theology.
This article read “the calling of a Christian is to share the good news of God’s grace, not to decide who needs it and who doesn’t.” It is not our calling to determine the quality of the soil, but if we are to truly follow Christ we must be willing to “foolishly” throw out the seeds of God’s word, love, and grace. Then, let go of the result and see what blossoms.
This article also highlighted a benefit of such evangelism. You may or may not know, but my undergraduate degree is in Comparative Religion. I have a passion for Religious Studies, Inter-Religious dialogue, and Ecumenical Relationships. I have been asked multiple times about the effect that these studies (and passions) have had on my own faith. The assumption has been that it would lead me to change my religious affiliation or abandon religion in general. I have always responded that this study only strengthened my faith. Here is how the article summarized that concern:
“The common experience of individuals who have engaged in inter-religious dialogue is that their understanding and appreciation of their own tradition is enhanced in the process… Dialogue invites everyone to go deeper”.
May we all be empowered to “foolishly” spread the good news through dialogue everywhere with everyone and be drawn into those conversations where deeper understanding and appreciation can blossom. Amen.