A sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 10
July 16, 2023
The Rev. Mark Nabors, Vicar
Readings: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
“Listen! A sower went out to sow.” Of all of Jesus’s parables, this may have the most memorable start. We know what comes next–the sower throws seed indiscriminately on all kinds of ground. Sometimes the seed sprouts; sometimes it doesn’t. When it does sprout, sometimes it thrives; sometimes it doesn’t.
Over these last years, I’ve learned a lot from you all. I’ve learned what being a priest is all about. I’ve learned your stories, your joys and pains, your dreams and fears. I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned more about the love of Jesus, more about the grace and goodness of God. You all are good teachers. I am certainly thankful for that.
I’ve also learned how ridiculous some of this parable is. You see, I’ve learned that seed is expensive. Many of you pay premiums for good seed, and I doubt you take Jesus’s cue here and scatter wherever, willy-nilly, without a thought for whether the soil is good or not. The sower in Jesus’s parable doesn’t seem to care where the seed ends up. He must have got it pretty cheap.
My bet is that all of those farmers listening to Jesus had the same thought. It was expensive being a farmer back then, just as it is now. It was hard work back then, just as it is now. And it was far less productive back then. I bet some of those farmers were thinking, why doesn’t the sower just sow the seed on the good soil and forget the rest? Or maybe work the rest to get it to be good soil?
I think there are two things going on: First, Jesus is telling us something about God’s nature, and in turn, how we should strive to be. The word of God is the seed, full of promise and life and hope and love. And the sower, God, scatters it abroad. No matter the soil quality, God is going to send grace and love and goodness. God will wait and see what happens, even if it’s pretty obvious what’s going to happen. God doesn’t care–God’s love and grace are given out freely and generously.
What if we were like that with the grace and love we gave to others? After all, God has given to us so abundantly. We can afford to give to others abundantly, too. We can afford to dole out grace, even to the unmerciful. We can afford to dole out forgiveness, even to the unrepentant. We can afford to dole out love, even to the unlovely. For we, all of us, have been unmerciful, unrepentant, and unlovely at times.
You all do this so well. I’ve seen it, time and again. Out and about, within these four walls, at community events, at the food bank, with Christmas families–you are reflections of the grace and goodness and love of God. By your lives, you show what God is like. Keep that good work going, for that’s the work God is calling us to.
Second, Jesus wants us to think about soil, specifically the soil of our souls. Some commentators have gone so far as to call this the parable of the soils instead of the parable of the sower. How is the soil of our souls? The truth is, we have all those different soil types within us at the same time.
Sometimes we have bad soil: seed is sown on the path and eaten up by the evil one; or rocky soil that withers without root; or thorny ground that is choked by the cares of life. The sower scatters seeds of faith, but we give into fear. The sower scatters seeds of hope, but we give into despair. The sower scatters seeds of love, but we give into pride. And sometimes, we even become raiders on others’ ground, snatching up the good news of God like those birds on the path and leaving behind nothing but barrenness.
That is just as true for me as it is for you. So on this last Sunday, let me say this: If I have hurt you, please forgive me. If I have said a careless word, please forgive me. If I have forgotten you or someone dear to you, please forgive me. If I have stood in the way as the sower sowed the good seed–like those thorns or rocks in the ground or even as a bird on the path–please forgive me. I have tried to love, and I do love all of you. But, like you, I am a sinner, and I fall short. I leave things undone and unsaid and unhealed. And while I have, to the best of my mortal ability, been faithful to my vows and your trust, I know I have done so imperfectly.
But sometimes–sometimes–God’s word of faith, hope, and love is sown upon the good soil of our hearts. It takes root. It grows. It flowers. It matures. It flourishes. And those parts of us become like trees of righteousness, showing who God is in a broken world that needs the good news of God now more than ever.
I have seen that happening in so many of your lives. Of course it was happening long before I got here, and it will continue to happen after I leave. My sincere prayer is that God has used me, in some small part, to help good things grow in your soul, and to help amend those places in your spiritual life that needed to be converted into good soil. That has certainly happened in my life, too. You all have helped the sower scatter those seeds of goodness in my life. And you have helped the sower amend those rocky and thorny places in my soul, making me more and more into the good soil that God wills all of us to be. So let me say, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. Just as St. Paul once wrote to the Philippians, so I will say to you: I thank my God for every remembrance of you, always in every one of my prayers for all of you.
I don’t know what tomorrow holds. But this I do know: the sower holds tomorrow. And that sower, who has been at work from the start, will continue to work on all of us until he comes again. By his grace, I pray he finds in us an orchard with good soil, overflowing with trees of righteousness, with fruit of faith, hope, and the love of God.
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