6th Sunday after Pentecost – Vicar Bartelt
6th Sunday after Pentecost
12 July 2020
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.
“That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And a whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables.” When I first began reading our Gospel text for this Sunday I laughed and realized my sermons will never be as good as Jesus’ sermons if only for the fact that when Jesus preaches the congregation gets to sit on the beach, tanning, with an umbrella cocktail as they listen to him preach. I mean how great would that be? I figure since it’s my last Sunday any bad ideas I can put in your head before I leave, now’s my chance. But as I keep reading this section of Matthew, this chapter which kicks off a major chunk of Jesus’ teaching in parables, I also come to realize how many bad ideas theologically people get from the parables and this one in particular.
In fact, if I didn’t know any better and I just listened to people talk about the parable of the sower, I would assume that the “parable of the sower” is a misnomer. That the editors of the bible got it wrong when they were writing in the titles of the bible stories. I mean there’s a lot of talk about the dirt, the kinds of dirt, the struggles of life as dirt, the work of dirt. This parable is just so dirty. It’s a dirt parable, not a sower parable. And you hear this in the kinds of questions that people ask about this dirty parable. Most common I hear is “What kind of dirt am I?” or if the person if feeling like the wrong kind of dirt, “How do I become less rocky dirt and more good dirt on the spectrum of dirtness?” or maybe “You know I have a weed problem, is there some good programs or habits I can work with against these and make myself better?” There’s a lot of life application that people try to reap from this parable, but I think this life application is really where people end up muddying the clear words of God.
A profitable first question to ask in lieu of all these while we sip our umbrella cocktails would be, “Since Jesus is preaching, what text is he preaching on?” The answer is Isaiah 55:10-11. Which just so happens to be part of our OT reading for today. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out of my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but shall accomplish my heart’s desire.” This short section of Scripture I think they nailed the title, “The Compassion of the Lord.” This in fact is one of two headings that Luther uses to describe what the whole of Scriptures is about. In his lectures on Psalm 51 he says that the entire bible can be summed up by “The sinning man, and the Justifying God.” The God who has compassion.
That into a world riddled with thorns and thistles, by serpents and devils, because of the Fall of man, into this mess of a situation God does not abandon his good earth or the ones that he formed from the earth, from the dirt. Instead, he looks in compassion and sends his word like summer showers, to cool the earth, renew it, and give life all below. That by the power of the word of God which comes forth “from his mouth”, the curse of the old creation is actually undone and there is nothing that can prevent God from having compassion. The old trappings of this creation like sin and death, like “thorns” and “briers”, come to an end and in their place righteousness and life, cypress and myrtle.
A second question that might help rescue us from dubious interpretations and questions would be, “What does Jesus himself say this sermon, this parable, is about?” And he actually gives a pretty straightforward answer: “Hear then the parable of the sower… the word of the kingdom” His sermon is not about how you as dirt can improve your dirtness. He’s not preaching a dirt self-help program, a seven habits of successful dirt persons. He is preaching the work of the sower not the work of the soil. That in spite of the farmer’s almanac and all guides on how to sow seeds, Jesus takes a different route. He throws out the old rule book on farming and decides to do something completely new and completely reckless. Sow seed everywhere, cast the word far and wide. Sow it in places where it has absolutely no hope of growing or producing. Spend it all even though only a few will produce good fruit.
And this sower and this seed, this word of God, is none other than Jesus himself, the word of God incarnate. That God so loved the world that he gave, he sowed, his only Son so that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. This is the delight of God’s heart, his will, and his purpose that will be accomplished according to Isaiah. God’s delight is not that the wicked perish but that he turn from his ways and live. God’s heart is set on the salvation of all and he will not let anything, the devil and all his minions, the brokenness of the world, or our stony hearts stop him.
And in fact he has set up places in this broken world where this word of God is sown again and again, where Christ is revealed and recklessly given for the forgiveness of all your sins. This place we call the church. Here, in the church, rests the holy waters of baptism which claimed you to be Christ’s own. Here in the church rings out the most holy word of absolution which ever keeps you near the font. And here in the church is distributed the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. It has been my absolute pleasure to serve you here. May this place ever be the one place in the world where the word of God’s forgiveness is recklessly sown and that you have the peace of God which surpasses all understanding which will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.