Year A — The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10)

Commentary for July 10, 2011

Click here for today’s texts

Genesis 25:19-34
As mentioned in last week’s commentary, there is not much press given to Isaac’s role as a patriarch of Israel. He always gets “stuck in the middle” between Abraham and Jacob, as if fathering a child was his greatest contribution. Certainly, he gets credit for that; he actually becomes the father of two strong twin boys whose lifelong struggles illustrate ours very plainly.

However, notice that, first, Isaac was a man of prayer. His faith in God is pretty quiet compared to the other dramatic stories that surround his, but when faced with the major obstacle of a childless wife, he does not plan and scheme as did his own father (see Genesis 16 for “The Hagar Affair.”) Instead, v. 21 tells us “Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife….”

Good example for us, eh? How often do we manage to make prayer our FIRST resort, rather than our last?

Psalm 119:105-112
How valuable is the word of God? The gospel lesson for today will be built around the image of “sowing the word” — it is precious seed, indeed. Psalm 119 gives us a couple of illustrations of just how helpful and important the word of God is to us.

“A lamp unto my feet” is about lighting the way in the midst of darkness. Have you ever tried to find something in the middle of the night, without turning the overhead light on? Ever had to traverse a trail outdoors after dark, especially on a moonless night? A “flashlight” ( our equivalent of the ancient torch or lamp) sure comes in handy, doesn’t it? You don’t have to illuminate the entire area…you just need a focused beam to show you the next step. 

There are “many dangers, toils and snares” that await us in life. The word allows us to avoid an awful lot of the latter, according to the psalmist. 

Isaiah 55:10-13
Another real-world image for the importance of the word of God. It is like the rain and/or snow that fall; they serve to water the earth, making ripe the conditions for the wheat (and other crops) to grow. When the wheat is harvested, ground into flour, then baked into bread — we can eat! The rain didn’t directly produce the bread, but it sure played a vital part in the process.

So with the word of God; it enriches our lives and produces the spiritual food that we need. 

Psalm 65:(1-8), 9-13
God is praised for many reasons in this psalm text, not the least of which is that God answers prayer!

God also forgives our iniquity, which threatens to overwhelm us (sin is a heavy burden, you know.) God waters the earth, provides the people with grain, makes the meadows full of grass, which makes a rich haven for the flocks and their shepherds. These are strikingly mundane details, on the one hand; on the other, do we take time often enough to thank God for such everyday –and sometimes, miraculous — provisions?

Romans 8:1-11
Paul’s anguish, carried over from Romans 7, continues somewhat in Romans 8. However, the struggle of the flesh vs. the spirit is set in the context of the ultimate victory of Christ. (See 7:25 and 8:1.)

We tread carefully along a dualistic path when we preach here; implying that Jesus’ followers are no longer creatures of the flesh is less than realistic. Surrendering futilely to the difficulty involved in living as “spiritual” creations is not a proper option, either. 

Perhaps it is a postmodern reading (though I expect Luther would beg to differ,) but what a grand text for understanding the “both/and” nature of discipleship, as opposed to the “either/or” argument offered by gnostic heresy and spiritual elitists. 

We are both sinner and saint; we are flesh infused with spirit. We live with feet firmly planted in two worlds, at least while this one lasts. Which nature “wins” in the struggle of our daily lives? Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? Which leader do we choose to follow?

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
I like Dr. Chilton’s exegesis, which underlies his sermon effort for this week. The point of Jesus’ parable is not so much about our technique for “sowing the word” as it is about our constancy –without regard to success or cost — in doing so. 

Arguments are often made about the certitude of our demographic targeting, the success of planting churches in growing neighborhoods, and the conservation of scarce resources in underwriting the church’s “mission.” 

Is there room for the kind of action that Jesus seems to affirm, which Dr. Chilton describes when he writes,  We are called to sow the seed of the kingdom, indiscriminately, wildly, prolifically, tossing out bouquets of God’s love to everyone around us?”

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

It was my Daddy who first pointed out to me that Jesus wasn’t much of a farmer. Daddy, on the other hand, was a good farmer, so I found myself compelled to listen to his reasons for this semi-blasphemy.

He based his opinion on this parable of the sower. Daddy quite reasonably pointed out that Jesus understood good farming, he just didn’t practice it.

No good farmer would throw his seed around, hither and yon, wildly and indiscriminately, the way the sower in Jesus’ parable did.

Jesus’ explanation of the parable shows that he understood it was a bad idea to sow seed on the path or in the rocks or in the briars; so why did he say that the sower did that?

I pointed out to Daddy that Jesus wasn’t teaching agriculture in this story; he was preaching the gospel; but Daddy would not be persuaded.

(Though Daddy said the Gospel was more important to him than farming, I’m not really sure that was true.)

Be that as it may, that conversation got me to thinking and opened up to me a whole new way of looking at this story.

For many years I had focused on the easy, three-point sermon or Bible study about why people fall away from the faith.

You know; some people are just too involved in the world to pay attention to spiritual things; they hear the word, but not really, these are the path.

Other people get all excited about the Gospel for a while, but then their excitement dies down because they don’t grow in their faith; they are the rocky ground.

Then there are the ones who lose their faith when trouble comes, when sickness and persecution and trial attack their lives. These are the ones in the thorns.

Then this classic three-point sermon ends with an admonition not to be bad soil, not to be hard of heart, or not to be too busy with the world or let the normal difficulties of life kill your faith.

And the remedy for being bad soil is to be good soil; which usually ends up sounding like, “Be good little Christians and listen to the pastor and come to church a lot and be on a committee and your faith will grow.”

Which is all very nice; but really isn’t what Jesus is talking about in this text.

The more I looked at it the more I realized that Daddy was right; Jesus was a lousy farmer; but he was a great preacher and storyteller.

Jesus’ point in this story was NOT to fuss at those who fail to receive the Gospel, or those whose faith begins to fade or those who abandon the faith in the face of trouble. His point here is to encourage those who go out to sow the seed of the Kingdom of God.

When I was in college, I worked on a tobacco farm in Eastern North Carolina. It was in the early days of mechanized tobacco harvesting and we worked on a contraption pulled by a tractor through the field.

The harvesters, “the croppers” we were called, sat on low seats a few inches from the ground. We “picked” the leaves of the plants and put them in a conveyer belt system that carried them to a platform about 10 feet in the air where the “stringers” tied the leaves onto the tobacco sticks to be hung in the barn for curing.

Our harvester was malfunctioning. The conveyer system wasn’t working properly and leaves were dropping out behind us. We kept stopping and starting while trying to fix the machine.

There was a precocious 6-year-old boy who was a friend of the family and was watching us work. He observed our troubles for a while and then walked up to the Farmer and said, “Well, You can’t elevate’em all, can you Mr. Virgil.”

“You can’t elevate’em all” is at least a part of Jesus’ message in the parable of the sower. Even Jesus could not always “Elevate’em all.” Over in the last chapter of Matthew is one of my favorite lines in the Bible.

Matthew 28:16-17 – “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him they worshiped him; BUT SOME DOUBTED.”

But some doubted! What do you have to do to convince some people? Jesus got himself killed and then God brought him back from the dead and these eleven, who had been with him from the first, saw him in his resurrected state and yet, some doubted!

You can’t elevate’em all, can you Mr. Virgil?

That’s point one of this parable. Here’s point two.

You can’t elevate’em all, but you should try.

Remember I said Jesus was a bad farmer but a good preacher? Here’s why.

A good farmer prepares the soil, and then carefully avoids the path and the rocks and the briars. A good farmer doesn’t waste his seed and his efforts on spreading seed where it is unlikely to grow.

But we’re not farmers, we’re preachers. Not just me, all of us.

We are each and every one of us called upon to spread the good news that God loved the world so much that Christ came down from heaven to live among us and died to save us from our sins. 
And that God loved the Christ so much that God raised him from the dead, and God loves each one of us so much that God will raise us from the dead.

That’s Good News. And it’s our job to tell everybody. And, all too often, we don’t. We try to decide who the right people to tell it to are. We try to decide who will fit in with us at our church. We try to figure out who we want to be a part of our church, and that’s just wrong.

In this parable Jesus shows us that to be a good sower of Gospel seed,

a good preacher of the Kingdom, a good spreader of God’s love and mercy we have to spread it to everybody; whether they deserve it or not; whether they are likely to receive it or not; whether we like them or not. 
Doesn’t matter if they are Paths, Rocks or Briars; it’s our job to throw the Gospel at them.

We are called to sow the seed of the kingdom, indiscriminately, wildly, prolifically, tossing out bouquets of God’s love to everyone around us.

Who knows; they might need it and they might grow.

Amen and amen.

3 thoughts on “Year A — The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10)

  1. Pingback: Year A: The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (July 13, 2014) | The Lectionary Lab

  2. Pingback: SERMON: SOIL 101 – The Edge

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