Sermon for Proper 10, Year A July 16, 2017

Isaiah 55:10-13                  Psalm 65: 9-14

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

Today’s gospel reading is among my favorite.  Jesus tells the parable we refer to simple as the Parable of the Sower, or the Sower of the Seeds Parable.  It may be one of the most widely know parables, because, I believe, virtually every child planted a seed in a Dixie cup in Sunday School or in Public Schools and watched as what they planted took root and sprouted.

My seed, whatever it was, didn’t last very long after it sprouted – not because of birds, or rocky soil, or weeds – but because of my neglect.  I’ve tried gardening in the past, but my gardens have all suffered from neglect, so I have learned to rely on others to produce the food I eat and to happily pay them for their initiative to tend to their crops.  Nonetheless, I remember planting seeds as a child and with my own children, then waiting, anticipating what was to happen next.  It is an amazing process, when we stop and think about it, watching a seed sprout and grow into a plant.  It reminds me that the one who created the earth is still at work in the world.

As Jesus points out, for us to reach our potential, the right conditions must exist.  Like all parables, this one addresses life only in part.  Certainly, there are people who defy the odds and accomplish great things despite the conditions in which they were raised.  But there many people do fall prey to predators, and many are never able to establish roots sufficient to weather the storms of life or survive the harsh heat of conflicts, or who find their ambitions choked  by all the obstacles they face.

The seeds that fall on good soil are the people raised in loving homes who are taught to give thanks for their gifts and to use them for good.  Of course, I know from my failed attempts to garden, that weeds can quickly take hold and seeds that fall on good soil and those planted can be choked out if the sower neglects his garden.

Again, parables only hint at what might happen.  So, the parable of the sower does not go into such details of all the potential downfalls that may arise for people born into good homes.  Every family has its struggles and even some children who are loved and brought up to love others, who seem to have everything going for them, may stray.  No family is immune from traumatic events, mental illness, alcoholism, and drug addiction.  The potential is always present and there is no such thing as a perfect family.

Our faith can be what helps us survive, and in today’s parable, part of what Jesus is teaching us has to do with our faith.  Where do we choose to sow our seeds?  Do we plant our seeds of faith where it has the potential of establishing deep roots, or do we plant our seeds on rocky soil?

Working in hospice for over twenty years and now serving as a priest, I have seen people lose their faith after a death and people whose faith is deepened after a loss.  Those who believe God rewards the faithful and punishes the sinners face a crisis of faith when they or someone they love is diagnosed with an incurable illness.  Their faith seems to be planted on rocky soil.  Those who believe that God is with us to help us through the struggles of this life tend to grow in faith.  Their faith appears to be planted in good soil which allows its roots to grow deeper in order to sustain them in their grief.

Now, I will admit that I, too, pray for what I want to happen.  But, I believe that whatever the outcome, God is with me – and this is what has helped me face challenges in my life.  God helps me in my grief.  Jesus may have gone to the tomb of Lazarus to raise him from the dead, but still he wept.  Jesus wept because he was not indifferent to the grief others were experiencing.  Jesus was with them and Jesus is with us as mourn the loss of so many of our members and members of our own families.

In Isaiah, the people of Israel are in exile and hearing the prophet speak of God’s promise of new life for their tribe.  He, too, uses the metaphor of new growth, “For as the rain and snow come down from heaven, and does not return there until they have watered 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 from my mouth.”

The Word of God brings life and transforms the people of Israel back into a nation faithful to God.  God’s word, “shall not return until it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”  If we, then, consider ourselves the sower of the seed, we understand that we have a purpose to fulfill – and we can only do it if we sow our seeds of faith where it can establish deep roots and grow.

From these seeds, the grain grows and is harvested and made into bread.  The bread we produce is not for us alone; it is to be shared with others.  Strengthened and nourished by our faith, we can accomplish what God asks of us.  In Isaiah, it says, “For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”  Not only can our faith bring joy into the world, it can also transform.  Isaiah continues, “Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come us the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

I may not be a good gardener, but I do know that when I allow God to work through me, seeds of joy and comfort can transform the hearts of others.  I’ve seen this happen over and over again, when people of faith open their hearts to do what God asks of them.  God’s love is the source of joy and comfort, not only for the those who sorrow, but for us as well.  When I share God’s love with others, I find I receive more in return.  Everyone I know of who has participated in a mission feels the same way.  When we give, we receive so much more in return.  I dare say that is one reason why those who help with the Community Meals continue to do so, and why the Men’s Group continues to support the backpack program.  Being able to give is a gift, and one more reason to give our thanks to the Lord our God.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for all that you have created and ask that you open our hearts that we might show forth your love to all are in need of comfort.  Accomplish in us what you intend that your word may not return empty and that we might sing your praises.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.