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Pentecost 4 Proper 10 July 10, 2011

Genesis  25: 19-34
Psalm 119: 105-112
Romans 8: 1-11
Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23

Our first lesson this morning is a part of the story of Jacob and Esau. From the beginning, these twins struggle with each other. In this part of the story, Jacob manages to cheat Esau out of his birthright. Esau is famished and he sells his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup. And even the Book of Genesis has family dynamics we can recognize. Isaac loves Esau and Rebekah favors Jacob, so we have a complicated situation here. By the end of today’s reading, Jacob has supplanted Esau. By purchasing the birthright at a bargain price, he now has the privileged place of an elder son. Not a very admirable or brotherly action on Jacob’s part, and, as we know, this is not the end of his scheming.

Paul is talking about the way in which our Lord Jesus has set us free from sin and welcomed us into a new kind of life. When Paul talks about life in the Spirit and life in the flesh,  scholars tell us that he is not talking so much about our individual inner struggles as he is talking about the fact that there are two ways of living. Life in the Spirit is a life centered in God’s will and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Life in the flesh is life centered in our own will. Jesus has already told us that the Spirit dwells within us. Now we are free to live in a whole new way on a whole new level that we would not have dreamed possible.

Our gospel for today is the familiar Parable of the Sower. Scholars tell us that the actual parable is the story Jesus tells..  A sower goes out to sow. Some of the seeds fall on the path and the birds come and eat them. Some fall on rocky ground and they spring up quickly, but there is not enough good soil to root them, so when the sun comes up, they are scorched and they wither away. Some fall among the thorns and the thorns grow up and choke them. Others fall on good soil and they bear grain, some thirty, some sixty, and some a hundredfold. The point is that there is a huge harvest.

The interpretation of the story comes later. Scholars tell us that Matthew’s community at a point in its history around 70 A. D. had lost some members. It was not easy to be a follower of Christ. People had left the community because of various challenges. Some may not have understood the new faith deeply enough and may have fallen away.  Some may have joined the community with great enthusiasm, but living a Christ-life in the middle of a  hostile culture was just too much, and they fell away. Some may have heard the word but the cares of the world and the powerful call of the world’s values of money, power, and prestige are too much, and they fall away. We should keep in mind that there was actual persecution happening in those times.

We know that Jesus just taught that wonderful and powerful message. No matter what poor soil the seeds hit, the total result is a huge harvest. No matter what challenges a community may face, no matter what challenges we as individuals may have to endure, the harvest is going to be abundant.  

Matthew’s community was living in a time of persecution. We are fortunate and blessed because we do not live in a nation where Christians are actually killed because of their faith. Some of our brothers and sisters do live in such places. Persecution is still going on. This is a very real thing. In El Salvador, shots were fired at Bishop Barahona and his driver as they went about their pastoral work.  Our Bishop in Harare, Zimbabwe is not allowed to enter the church building. We think he is still allowed to go into his own home, but we are not sure. Communications are not good.

Here in the United States, as Bishop Tom said, we probably won’t be killed because of our faith, but we may be seen as irrelevant. We need to be aware of that, but we also are called not to allow that to make us lose heart. Jesus says in this gospel, “Listen! A sower went out to sow.” In another place, he says, “Let anyone with ears listen!”

The important thing is that God is sowing God’s kingdom. Are we listening for God’s message? Are we letting God’s love go deeply into our hearts? Are we opening the arms of our hearts and minds and letting God come into our lives, not just superficially, but to the core of our being? Are we letting the seed of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus said is within us, bear fruit, and give us the gifts for ministry which we need? Are we taking God seriously in a joyful kind of way? Are we really listening?

Back in those days, they used to broadcast the seed, throw it all over the place and then plow. We pick out the best soil we can find, and prepare it in the best way we know how, and then plant that seed and nurture it and fertilize it and water it and pray for just the right amount of sun and rain. In other words, we try to up the odds for a good harvest. But God, at least God in the first century, generously throws the seeds of God’s shalom all over the place, and still there is a harvest that sets a new record.

One scholar says that maybe at one time in our life we may be the path; the seeds fall and the birds eat them. Some times we may be the rocky ground, all full of enthusiasm and then it just gets too hard to follow Jesus and we fall away. At another time we may be in that thorny situation and we may decide to put worldly values in the place of God. There is much truth in that. Still, the harvest is huge.Just for the record, I think that every one here is God’s wonderful dark loamy soil—the best!

I tend to return to that wonderful analogy which is used in a meditation book called Twenty-four Hours a Day. The author talks about being part of the stream of goodness in the world.  That is how the writer describes what we call the kingdom or the shalom of God.  The stream of goodness in the world. The meditation for July 8 ends with this prayer: “I pray that I may try to make God’s will my will. I pray that I may keep in the stream of goodness in the world.”

I think that is what Paul was taking about. That is what Isaac eventually did, but he traveled over quite a few different kinds of soil before he finally got the ears to hear. And I think it’s a good metaphor for what Jesus is saying today.

May we prepare the good soil of our spirits for a bountiful harvest. May we send our spiritual roots deep so that we can bear much fruit. May we be in the stream of goodness of the universe and may we bring forth a hundredfold for our Lord Jesus.

Amen

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