Preached at Trinity Episcopal in Greeley, CO on July 16, 2017.
Proper 10, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
When I looked up the gospel appointed for this week and was filled with, to quote from Romans, “sighs too deep for words.”
I confess, this is probably one of my least favorite parables in the whole darn book. It just seems so obvious. I remember learning this parable in Sunday School when I was a kid. It was one of the only stories we talked about — our Sunday school classes were Creation, Noah, Christmas, and the Parable of the Sower on repeat ad nauseum. I was bored by it even as a third grader. (We didn’t even ever talk about Easter because it was considered too gruesome for children). “Be the good soil! Make yourself the good soil!” Right, ok, I’ve got it. I’m trying, all the time.
I have heard so many teachings and sermons on this passage. I’ve been a Christian for 26 years — I know many of you have been at this much longer — so I suspect you’ve heard all of the same sermons on this that I have.
Maybe you’ve heard it said like this: good soil contains a lot of stuff besides just “dirt.” It contains humus, the fibrous decaying material of old roots and plants that encourages good nutrients, good drainage and good aeration. So maybe if we’re to be good soil, to cultivate good hearts, we have to let things go and die away in us so life can be resurrected from it.
And soil isn’t just some inert substance, it contains so much life too! Crawling worms and bugs and bacteria that help make the humus, carrying away the dead material that can’t be used, carrying some of it deeper, and making holes so that the water and nutrients can run deep through. So too do we have “more life” in us as we cultivate our faith and become closer followers of Christ.
And I think every good farmer knows too that the best source of nitrogen, an extremely necessary chemical for plants, is good ol’ fashioned poop. I’ll let you make of that metaphor what you will.
Or maybe you’ve heard it said that we are the sowers, and wherever we travel we should carelessly spread the seed of God’s Word. It’s not our job to fuss about where the planting gets done, it’s our job to spread the Word, the seeds. God waters and gives the growth.
But here is my problem — you see, there are so many places on this green earth where life grows when it’s not supposed to, in all the wrong kinds of soil.
Dandelions grow out of the cracks of concrete, and God saw them and called them Good.
Scraggly pinions grow out of the sides of giant rock cliffs and little birds and mice make nests in them, and God saw them and called them Good.
In Death Valley, where even human life has trouble surviving, there’s a Super Bloom of beautiful, stunning multi-colored wildflowers blooming in the dry arid packed sand, in complete defiance of their surroundings. And God sees that too and calls it Good.
In our Gospel story today, the people were crowding around Jesus and asking him, “Lord! Listen, we’ve been proclaiming your name and your kingdom like you said for us to do but some people just won’t listen! They don’t get it! Some people say they understand and then turn around and shake hands with some Roman! Lord! What are we doing wrong! It just doesn’t seem to be working! Our church is not growing the way we thought it would.” And so he tells them about the compacted path, the rocky ground, the thorns, and the good soil.
And it seems straight-forward. But if actions speak louder than words, then Jesus goes and complicates things.
We might expect Jesus to hang out only with the good folks, for the Word to take hold in well-cultivated places. Then Jesus goes and hangs out with drunks, hardened by life’s travails. Jesus eats with all the wrong people. Jesus cures the sick children of the Enemy of the State, the Roman soldiers who stomp the believers down like a well worn path. He goes to to the land of the Gentiles and wanders around scattering his Word in thorny places where there is no way it can or should grow.
If only Jesus would stay put where we want him. But the problem is, like his Father before him, he shows up in wild places.
Most ancient religions assign their gods to specific places — bodies of water or trees or what have you. What is strange about the Bible is that it time and again locates God in the wild, on the margins, in the places God shouldn’t be. God is found out in the wilderness, on frightening mountains, away from the cities.
Remember Jacob? Who slept next to a wild stream all alone under the stars, and late at night wrestled with God’s messenger?
Remember Moses? Moses hikes up the wilderness of a mountain and there he finds God, burning like a wild fire. And how Moses leads God’s people through the wilderness for 40 years so that they could come to find God.
Remember David? God calls up David from the wilderness where he is herding sheep (which by the way, was not a glamorous or respected job. The best parallel we have today is if God called a child migrant worker out of a field to be the President). Likewise, God calls this dirty sunburned shepherd kid to be his ultimate servant for his people.
In the words of one of the greatest theologians to have ever been, Mr. Beaver from the Chronicles of Narnia, “He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.” So we are not children of a tame God.
And then Jesus comes along. God’s only begotten Son, his Beloved, God’s-self made manifest in fragile achy flesh. And just like his Father before him, Jesus shows up in the wild and marginal places.
Jesus goes and meets tax collectors, those nasty traitors who rob the faithful blind, and tells them “Follow me.” Jesus goes to dirty salty sunburned fishermen and tells them, “Follow me.” And they do, and they bloom as they travel with him, just like dandelions stubbornly growing out of cracks in the concrete.
And then Jesus goes into Samaria, where all of the bad folks are, far far away from the temple, the temple where God is supposed to dwell. To the place where all those Samaritans are, those really awful no good terrible nasty people that we’re supposed to hate. And not only that but Jesus shows up at the town well at the wrong time of day. He shows up when its hottest, when the sun is highest, when even the grass is shrinking away and withering in the heat. AND NOT ONLY THAT he talks to a woman…by himself. And not only that but this woman sleeps around! Everyone hates her! Don’t associate with the sinner because she’ll try to sleep with you too! She’s wicked! She’s wild! She can’t be tamed by our society! And Jesus shows up and speaks life into her, he waters those seeds with the Everlasting Water that quenches the deepest thirst. And there she grows, like a scraggly lone tree out the side of a rock cliff. The wrong kind of person in the wrong kind of place declaring the Goodness of the Kingdom of God.
And much later on Paul shows up. Now if you remember, Paul was jailing, torturing, and killing Christians. Paul is the one responsible for making Stephen the first Christian martyr. Paul is the last person that should be able to hear the Word of Christ. If there was ever a thornier person, it was Paul. And gosh darn it, Jesus showed up to him anyway. And not only does Paul become a Christian, but he becomes a prolific church planter. And not only that, but like his Savior before him, Paul shows up in the wrong place, in the land of the Gentiles, in all the Roman empire cities, and preaches the Gospel of Christ Crucified. The other apostles hate it, but he does it anyway, and the church grows. The church grows fast and out of nowhere, and the Romans panic and in many places try to kill the Christians. But there they grow anyway, like wild flowers defiantly blooming in the hottest driest desert.
And what about us?
We are baptized into the the cross of Christ, we are watered, fed and sustained by the Holy Spirit ever flowing through us like the crisp waters of our baptism. And we come here to the altar, week in and week out, chasing the sunrise, and receive in our hands and mouths and bellies Jesus’ full being, his flesh and blood. The particles of that Eucharist permeate through our every cell — there is no hair on our head that is not in Christ Jesus. We have Jesus in our bellies, our souls are grafted to him.
And if Jesus is inside of each of us, if our every breath bears witness to his Kingdom, if our words our HIS Words, then what? If we bear the Gospel of Christ Crucified, then where are the wild places that we are to follow him? Where are the wild places to spread the seeds of the Kingdom?
I suspect if we set out to do our planting in the wilderness places, out there we’ll probably find God. Because after all, our God is not tame, He’s wild.