Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 10, Year A , July 13, 2008

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Proper 10

Year A

July 13, 2008

Resurrection Lutheran Church

Genesis 25:19-34 Psalm 117:105-112

Romans 8:1-11 St. Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

A week or so ago I was giving grief to Pastor Ed for scheduling me for this Sunday. After I had agreed and started looking up the lessons, I discovered that they were not particularly to my liking. Now to be honest it is not the passage itself that gives me so much grief. If is rather the part of the passage we do not hear today, the verses immediately following in Matthew in which Jesus explains the meaning of this parable that cause me such discomfort.

My discomfort comes from what I was taught by my seminary professors. I was taught three primary things regarding New Testament parables. First and foremost was never, ever try and understand them as allegory. Second was that in the time of Jesus, the teacher never, ever explained the parable to the followers. It was their job to work out the possible understandings of the meanings. And finally, parables can give birth to many different insights and lessons for our lives.

And what we have in Matthew after this lesson is Jesus breaking the first two rules for dealing with parables. It is enough to make my head spin.

One striking thing about both this parable and the explanation that follows it is that it is repeated in all three of the Synoptic Gospels. So in spite of my desire to do away with this troublesome parable interpreted in an allegorical manner by Jesus, I cannot get off the hook so easily. If all three of the Synoptic Gospels recorded it, it must be important.

I am indebted to a series of books on the parables by Fr. Robert Farrar Capon for some of the ideas I will share about this parable. If you ever want to look at the parables of Jesus in a new light, I commend reading his short and very readable books.

Many people assume that the seed in this story is the Gospel, but today I will offer a slightly different view point. In the interpretation of this parable which follows, all three of the synoptic Gospels Jesus describes the seed as being the word. The Gospel According to Luke specifically records that Jesus calls the seed the word of God[1]. In our time and place the Word of God generally refers to the Holy Scriptures. But there is another possible understanding. The Gospel According to John told us that the Word become flesh and dwelt among us.[2] So I though, just perhaps Jesus is trying to tell us in this parable that we need to be sowing Him, Jesus, in our community and in the world around us.

One thing we learn in this parable is that the sower, and let us assume that the sower is us now, sows the seeds, might I say just a bit wildly with a seeming wild abandon. The seed is thrown all over the place. There is no apparent concern to save seed from being wasted on the paths, the rocky ground, or the weed patches. There is no concern about what the birds may do. Instead I see the sower just going around madly, throwing seed all over the place.

And I think that is exactly how we are called to share Jesus. We need to spread Jesus around all over the place. Not just in the places where we think the soil might be just perfect. We need to be brave, and trusting enough, to sow Jesus in places where, at least in our view, the soil seems manifestly unsuitable for the seed of Jesus.

The kingdom of God, the purpose of God, is at work everywhere in the world around us, even in those places where it seems least likely to us. Our job is to scatter Jesus all over the place just like the sower in this parable.

And finally, let me argue that Jesus is calling us to work in the parable of the sower. Now in a Lutheran church calling people to work might be seen as a dangerous thing. After all, Luther was a great believer and propounder of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, something I am definitely not trying to argue against, trust me.

In fact, Luther was so committed in his new found insight of justification only through faith, that he really wanted to throw the book of James out of the Bible. Why, because James seems to encourage works. James basically argued that our works demonstrate our faith. But for Luther, coming from a church which had elevated the idea of works as necessary to an extremely high level, it was all about faith. Of course if you know the history of Luther, you know he worked an awful lot for the kingdom of God as well.

But Luther’s touchstone was justification solely through faith, which I fervently agree with. And for Luther, any suggestion that works were necessary or required was just plain wrong.

I do not believe that James was arguing for a works-based faith. But James did believe that our faith is lived out in our works, something I also fervently agree with. James believed that the Christian faith was a faith demonstrated by what we did and not only by what we say. That is why James said: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”[3] James went so far as to say that faith without deeds was useless.[4] I suspect that is what troubled Luther the most.

But the Gospels and the life of Jesus is full of examples of Jesus call for us to live out our faith in our actions. The call that has also touched me the strongest is the one in Matthew 25 where Jesus calls us to feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty, to visit the sick and those in prison. You have but to look in our own community and in the world to see how the Christian community has failed so often in this call.

As I was thinking about the implications of this in the world today, I was struck by the tension I often see between those who would set up the idea of the “social gospel” against evangelism. In a sense they set up the same conflict between Luther and James.

But I believe the truth of sowing Jesus in the world is that we need both. We need Luther and James. We need the social gospel and evangelism. They go had in hand, even though, as Luther thought, they may seem contradictory.

But when I think about the Christian faith and all I don’t understand fully about it, there is nothing wrong with a little contradiction. This is especially true if it leads to sowing the seed of Jesus in the community and the world.

Jesus calls us to go out there and work for the spread of the Gospel in word and deed. Jesus calls each and every one of us to go out and wildly spread Him throughout all the world.

[1] Luke 8:11.

[2] John 1:14.

[3] James 1:22.

[4] James 2:14, 20.