Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23
Just inside the southern stretch of the East Campus wall at Duke University there is a lonely statue in what very well may be one of the least visited lawns of that beautiful campus. By least visited I of course mean there is no sorority house or bathroom within 400 yards. The statue is that of a sower gone out to sow. The bronze is marvelous, a timeless depiction of that most ancient human ritual. I cannot, therefore, for the life of me imagine why the powers that be decided to place that statue in such a remote place. The only conclusion I can make from this is that somewhere along the way a real-live farmer must have been involved, because as any farmer will tell you, unpredictability is the only thing that can be predicted. Someone on that landscape committee had the presence of mind to know that a seed will take root where it will - sometimes even in the most unlikely of places.
Jesus must have had something like this in mind when he told the crowd gathered around him the parable of the sower. Through his bold teachings and rumored miracle working, has amassed a sizeable group of people around him. Some are followers, some are simply spectators. Like any church, some have come to hear good old fashioned preaching, some have come to find healing and some, without naming any names, have come to find something to get mad about. Jesus is of course willing to oblige all of these in some way.
Jesus throws the kernel right at the crowd, “Here is the seed of the kingdom of God, scattered and sown among you; now what kind of soil are you made of?”
II. Do you remember when the seed of the kingdom was first cast upon you? I’ll bet you were ecstatic. [If you are Pentecostal then I know you were ecstatic, or else it didn’t count]. Some of you were right here in this very sanctuary when the seed of the kingdom was cast upon you. The Spirit moved you to repent of your sins and model your life after Jesus. Somehow you unglued yourself from the pew and unlocked your knees and kinda’ queasily you waddled down this aisle and stood green before this cloud of witnesses. You waited expectantly for Joe Lowe to make a motion that you be received and with one accord all the voices in this community of faith affirmed your decision. WHEW!!! A sigh of relief you hoped no one else could hear. And then Forest Gale extended to you the right arm of fellowship. And all you wanted to do was follow Christ. Even unto the cross. The kingdom was born…
I too remember when the good news of the kingdom was first cast upon me. I was 16 and at summer camp and that preacher was making the most audacious claims about Jesus Christ. He said he ate with prostitutes and tax collectors. He said he cared about the sinners as much as the saved. He said it wasn’t the healthy who needed a doctor but the sick, and well my my mother owned a beer store and my dad dipped snuff and sometimes I did too and so you know…
Do you remember that time in your life? When the seed took root in the most unlikely of places and in the most unlikely of people? When the seed of the kingdom of God took root in you?
What happened to that seed? What happened to that marvelous idea that the kingdom of God had drawn near? Somewhere along the way reality probably set in. The birds flew by. Nothing really seemed to change. The sun came up. It got a little hot in the kitchen and you melted. The thorns grew up and sucked the very life out of that little seed. And no matter how sincere we thought we were, we realize that no amount of irrigation or fertilizer or luck can cure bad dirt. [Of course, I know I’m preaching to the choir here].
III. You would think it would have taken my grandfather less than thirty some-odd years to figure out that he was on bad dirt. After all it was West Texas, near New Mexico, after the Dust Bowl and the town he grew up outside was named “Brownfield”! He finally moved off the farm in the 1950s and ended up in that thriving metropolis of Lubbock. After he moved to town and opened up a retail store catering to farmers and ranchers needs. Gloves, hats boots…you know the store. Funny thing about running a farm supply store…you never really get too far off the farm. No matter that he no longer farmed himself, he was still dependent upon the yield of that soil. When the cotton was high, so was he. When the cotton was low, he was, well, busted.
In our highly individualized society we have somehow come to think that faith is merely a private matter. Make no mistake faith is a private matter. But newsflash: faith is not merely a private matter. If we paused for a moment we can think of others in our world who need desperately for our seeds to be born and to grow and to flourish and to help theirs grow too. This is why we need to move beyond the idea that you don’t need the church to know God. That may be true. But someone else might need you in order to know God. Someone else, perhaps it is your daughter or your son or your neighbor, or perhaps even your enemy, needs you to be here bearing fruit for the Lord that a harvest might take place in them.
This was the great story of Eric Liddell in the movie “Chariots of Fire” which many of us watched earlier this week as a part of our faith and film series. Eric, an Olympic athlete and Scottish national hero, who refused to have his seed choked out by the thorns. Swift afoot, he was also a man of God. When pressured by the Prince of Wales to represent his country and run on the Sabbath, a day Eric believed was to be dedicated to the Lord alone, Eric refused to run the Olympic 100 yard dash. Eric stood by his conviction, telling his sovereign that he indeed loved his country, but he loved his God more. And for that he is today remembered not only for being a heroic runner, but also for being a hero of faith.
IV. This world needs our faith right now. On the heels of such tragic events in London this week; the world needs us to our flowers to bloom. It needs us to be heroes of faith.
Our hearts break at the tragic loss of life. I sat with my wife on the bed Thursday as she wept for England and the loss of its sons and daughters. Some of you cried wept also. Some of you felt the fear and the anger that I felt as I listened to the radio. What are we to do with this sadness, this fear and this anger?
Like Eric Liddell we will seek to be true to our mission as Christians. We will cling to our promise in Christ and we will bear witness to the coming of the final age. We will seek to conform our lives to the prayer of Saint Francis who petitioned his God,
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
For the sake of this world we will see that this seed is not only sown, but that it is given birth. And that it grows strong.
V. I have yet to perform a baptism. Forest and I have done quite a lot of talking about baptism and he informs me that 100% of all those he has dunked have come back up. No fatalities whatsoever. Imagine that.
The point is simple. You did not stay buried beneath the waters of your baptism. Nor was your faith meant to stay buried beneath the burdens and concerns of this world. Nor even its tragedies. The kingdom was cast upon you and was meant to grow tall and strong. We were meant to bear fruit. For as the Apostle Paul tells us, creation its very self, is in the throes of childbirth, struggling and yearning for the children of God to be made known. The world is longing for our seed to bear fruit and for the kingdom of God to be born among us.
VI. Listen. A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed some seeds fell along the path and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell along the rocky ground where they did not have much soil, and sprang up quickly because there was no depth of soil. But when the sun rose they were scorched, and because they had no root, they withered. Other seeds fell among the thorns. And as the thorns grew up they choked the seeds. Still other seeds fell in good soil and they brought forth grain, some one hundredfold, some sixty and some thirty.
Now what kind of soil are you made of?
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.