Proper 10, Year A
July 16, 2023
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Some folks like a preacher to have a good amount of poetry in his or her sermon. They think poetically, and thus want the preacher to make them think and consider what is being said. Other folks are the opposite. They ask for something different out of sermons – cut the crap and tell me what to do. In today’s parable, we get both. We get the poetic and allegoric language in the first part, and then for once, Jesus actually explains what the parable means in the second part.
First, let’s take a look at the figure of the sower. In this parable, the sower isn’t identified except that he or she is the one who spreads the good news. Some believe that Jesus intended for us to see the sower as him. Others believe that the sower represents a missionary, you know, like the kind of missionary that earns their living spreading the good news overseas. Others believe that the sower represents the priesthood. In any case, the sower is one who spreads the good news. It could be Jesus, it could be me or newly ordained Fr. David, it could be you. Note that the sower doesn’t know in advance what is beneath the soil’s surface – where the ground is hard, where the soil is shallow, or where the weeds are already growing. The sower doesn’t know the quality of the soil before throwing out the seed. In fact, the sower would miss the point entirely if he or she were to waste time trying to figure out what is beneath the soil’s surface, or the quality of the soil itself. The point is that the sower is to sow. If the sower is doing his or her job, then the seed is scattered all over the place. And simply by sowing, it is certain that some of the seeds will result in grain. This is good news for you and for me! It isn’t up to us to figure out the scientific qualities of the soil, or become experts in the process of proper germination. It’s not up to us to know the conditions of other people’s hearts. It’s our job to throw out the seed and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ in both word and deed.
But this parable isn’t just about the sower. It’s also about the soil. In looking at the four types of soil Jesus describes, we continue in the journey of discipleship we talked about last week. Remember – being a disciple is about being one who learns from Jesus how to live by listening intently and responding. By relying on the nourishment and refreshment we receive from Jesus at the altar rail week after week. In looking at the four types of soil, we learn from Jesus what the necessary conditions are for fruitful discipleship.
First, the hardened soil on the path. In this case, the seed is thrown on the hardened soil on the path and is snatched up right away by the birds. This is because the person who hears the word doesn’t understand it. Without understanding, the word finds no place to implant, and the Evil One who is always close by snatches away the potential of faith. In order to understand, one must desire to understand. If you hear the Word and have no desire to understand what it means in your own life, it will be snatched up by the birds right away. But if you’re attitude is attentive, and you earnestly desire to understand the Word of God in your own life, the birds might just stay away. I’ve gone through phases in my life when I was super-attentive to the voice of God, and other times when I was distracted and closed off. And usually, when I was closed off, I wasn’t consciously aware of it. Looking back, the key to being attentive to understand God’s Word is quietness and silence. Some monks and nuns make it a point to spend an entire hour or more per day in complete silence and contemplation. You and I would rarely be able to make that happen, but we can spend intentional moments of our lives in silence, listening to the voice of God, seeking to understand what He may be trying to say to us. We can and should take a few minutes each day. If you’re a morning person like me, it might be while you’re drinking your second cup of coffee. It might be at your lunch break at work, or just before bed. The important thing to remember is that these intentional moments of silence provide the space needed to begin understanding what the Word of God means in your life.
The desire to understand isn’t enough in and of itself. The one who is super excited at what they hear is like the seed that falls on rocky ground. Such a person only endures for a brief moment, but when trouble comes, he or she immediately falls away. This trouble can come in the form of opposition of some kind, whether it be opposition to God’s Word in your life or in a broader context. Say you feel that you hear God speaking to you in some way or another, and ultimately become very excited about joining a ministry here at St. Mary’s. But as you begin to go down the road of joining forces with others to do this new work, you see quickly that there is a personality conflict with one of the other team members. Instead of working through it, you quickly decide that it’s not worth the trouble. Maybe the seed fell on rocky ground. You were so excited to serve God in this way, but then encountered opposition and allowed your enthusiasm to fade. Jesus is telling us here is that we need to take that initial joy and enthusiasm we feel when we hear God’s Word in our lives, and see it through despite any opposition.
The third type of soil contains thorns. The seed that falls among the thorns doesn’t grow because the thorns choke the grain quickly before it has a chance to grow. Jesus explains that this represents those who fall to temptation, and you don’t need me to explain temptation and what it feels like to fall to it. As followers of Jesus, we are called to resist temptation, and when we fail to resist and instead fall into sin, we are called to receive God’s forgiveness, turn away from the sin, and by the grace of God resist the temptation the next time it comes around.
As disciples of Jesus, we are called to listen intently to God’s voice, wherever it may be found, and to respond. We do so by listening to God’s voice in silence and contemplation. We do our best, by God’s help, to persist in the face of opposition and allow our initial joy to be seen through to completion. And when we fail to persist, and fail to resist temptation, we receive God’s forgiveness and resist the temptation by the grace of God the next time it comes around.
And throughout it all, like the sower, we spread the good news, liberally and without regard for the quality of soil where the seed is being thrown. Some will be receptive to the message we are called to speak, and some will not. Some will respond with great joy and enthusiasm, but will not persist in faithful practice and will eventually fall away. Yet we are reassured today that if we persevere, by God’s help, even against the odds, what we do matters. What we say and how we embody the gospel of Jesus Christ in practice will in fact usher in God’s kingdom here on earth. Regardless of the obvious fruit or lack thereof, we are assured that at least some of the seed will fall on good soil, and those who hear and understand will indeed bear much fruit with a bountiful harvest. Amen.
 Much of this sermon comes from David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 236-240.
 Ibid 238.
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