July 12, 2020 / 6th Sunday after Pentecost / Richard Holmer
1st Reading Isaiah 55:10-13/ 2nd Reading Romans 8:1-11 / Gospel Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
The Good Farmer
Even though he never actually tended sheep – as far as we know – we readily identify Jesus as a shepherd: he’s our Good Shepherd. There are many churches that bear the name “Good Shepherd”. Our son and his family belong to Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Madison. However, I have to say I have never heard of a church named “Good Farmer”. It’s hard to imagine a Good Farmer Lutheran Church. This is interesting because Jesus told many more stories and parables using agricultural images than he did parables involving sheep. Time and again Jesus points his listeners to things growing all around them:
The fields are ripe for harvest
A good tree can’t bear bad fruit
Consider the lilies of the field
Faith the size of a mustard seed
Stories about vineyards, vine growers, vines and branches
Wheat and weeds in the same field
A rich man and his bountiful harvest
And today’s parable of the sower
How does it actually all work? How does it happen that from one little acorn, buried and forgotten by a squirrel, comes a mighty, towering oak tree that can live for over a hundred years? How does one seed turn into a watermelon, while another one becomes a jalapeño pepper? How do the roots know to go down and the leaves to go up? How does a plant manage to turn sunlight into food? It is a mystery! We see it, yet we can’t really explain it. Last month I planted some cucumber plants that came in a little pot I could hold in one hand. Now those plants have grown exponentially, expanding from one day to the next. It’s a wonder to behold. Jesus speaks of this mystery in one of his parables in Mark’s gospel:
“The Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.” (Mark 4:26-27)
It’s a mystery!
Now a botanist or an agronomist can explain the science of plant growth – describe how it happens – but really can’t tell us why it happens as it does. Chlorophyll somehow transforms light from the sun into food: what a wonderful mystery
+ + + +
God’s grace is like that – both familiar to us and also mysterious. We can confidently affirm that we are saved by grace – yet we can’t say how.
Faith is our connection to God and to God’s grace. Yet faith is not our personal achievement. Faith happens to us, happens in us. Faith is itself a gift of grace. We can’t take any more credit for having faith than we can for seeing something that’s right before our eyes.
Salvation is not something you and I do – it’s what Jesus does, what Jesus has already done. We must avoid making faith into another good work, a project we accomplish. Somehow we always are looking to take credit! There is no quid pro quo with faith. Faith does not earn us a reward. Faith simply recognizes what is already there. Faith is opening your eyes to see what’s real. Faith is having ears that hear what is good and true. Faith is trusting the grace of Christ that is already present in this world – and in you.
+ + + +
The mystery of how a small seed grows into a fruitful plant is akin to the mystery of Christ in our lives. The Sower sows the seeds. The seeds are the Word of God, the good news of the Kingdom of God. Jesus is himself the Living Word of God, the Word made flesh. So Jesus is both the Sower and the Seed – Jesus sows himself: a super spreader of grace. When we take God’s word to heart, when we take Jesus to heart – the seed of grace is planted in us, and it begins to grow. This is precisely what St. Paul is talking about when he speaks of having the Spirit of Christ in you – which Paul describes as a glorious mystery (Colossians 1:27).
Anyone who has ever grown a garden will tell you what a marvelous mystery it is. Seeds are buried, and God gives the growth, we know not how. So it is with a life lived in and by grace. The seed is planted in our hearts and what springs up are the fruits of the Spirit: Love, Patience, Faithfulness, Joy, Kindness, Gentleness, Peace, Generosity, Self-Control. What a bumper crop of gracious blessings! This is the holy mystery of Christ in you and in me. If Christ can be in the bread of Holy Communion, Christ can surely be in us as well. And I assure you, HE IS!
You and I can do nothing to earn or deserve our redemption, our salvation, our gracious acceptance into God’s Kingdom. We simply need to gratefully accept our acceptance – to recognize the greatness of God’s love for each of us. When this happens the seed begins to take root in our lives and sprout.
+ + + +
Of course, being human, we pause to ask: Why is what works so naturally and wonderfully for the lilies of the field and the cucumbers in my garden – often so awkward and halting and challenging for you and for me?? Today Jesus tells us why. The seed of God’s Word is spread anywhere and everywhere – spread generously and prodigiously. However, some do not understand the word or realize that it is meant for them. They do not take it to heart. This is like the seed that lands on a hard-packed path.
Some hear the Word and respond immediately with joy and enthusiasm. But their initial infatuation fades when there is trouble or difficulty – and what sprouted up quickly wilts. This is like the seed that landed on thin, rocky soil.
Some hear the Word, but the cares of the world and the distractions of wealth and success strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it. This is the seed that fell among the thorns.