Transcribed from the audio.
Please pray with me.
From the poet Ann Weems:
Give us courage, O God,
to hear your Word
and to read our living into it.
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Growing up in south Texas, I am no stranger to the agrarian themes that you just heard in our gospel lesson. Known popularly as the Parable of the Sower, we hear the story of the sower extravagantly and generously scattering seed—which we can understand as the Good News—falling on a variety of soil that produces predictably different yields. My father was the manager of the grain elevator in the little town where I was raised and some of my earliest memories are riding around with my father in the truck and looking at the grain fields as harvest time was approaching and wondering why one field looked really kind of trashy, to tell you the truth. There were a lot of weeds and trash in that field. Another field: the grain was up but it looked a little anemic. And then I’d see another field right next to it that looked really robust and seemed destined to produce a bumper crop. When I asked my father what the difference was, not surprisingly it was how each farmer had prepared the soil to receive the seed.
Like most of us in life, there are times when we take shortcuts and such was the case of this grain. Perhaps the farmer had not really fertilized and added nutrients to the soil or perhaps the farmer had not invested in good seed: got cheap seed and got a cheap result. Isn’t that so much like our lives in terms of how we prepare for the good things in life and how that impacts the yield? This became up close and personal for me, when at age 16, I had my first summer job—starting to save money for college.
I went to work at the grain elevator and before you cry nepotism and think I got some cushy office job in the C Suite, my exalted job was a grain sampler, which meant that I pulled on my boots and would step into an empty bed of grain that had been harvested in the field and brought to the elevator. And my job was to sample it with the long metal probe that you would push down deep and turn and the grain would come in and then it would be measured for humidity and its quality, etc. Now let me just say that I wore boots for a good reason. You would sink into the grain a little bit and there was always a danger of snakes and I’m really not very big on snakes. It was dirty; it was dusty; but I could see, up close and personal, good grain, trashy grain, anemic grain. So goes our parable today.
Jesus often used examples that were part of everyday life. In this 13th chapter of Matthew—this is the first of seven parables, so settle in. The next two Sundays have parables as well. As Frederick Buechner has characterized it, he says that “a parable is a small story with a large point.” I believe that, but I think there’s more there as well.
Jewish New Testament scholar Amy-Jill Levine in her book Short Stories by Jesus delves more deeply into the parables and their meaning. She makes the important point that there’s a surplus meaning in parables, much like poetry, and that the gospel writers intended them as open narratives, to invite each listener in more deeply to the story and what its implications were for each person. And they would differ depending on where anyone of us are in time, in space, in context. Furthermore, she made the point that we probably would be better served spending less time on what they mean and focusing more on what they can do: to remind us, to provoke us, to confront us, to disturb us. And so the parables do do that.
She goes on to say that Jesus often taught in parables because it was his way of using a key to unlock some of the mysteries of life, how to lead the hearer, including you and me, to ask the right questions. How do we live in community? What ultimately has meaning and how are we to live the life that God intends for each one of us? The parables are rich with meaning and they deserve more than a cursory look. So over the course of the next few weeks listen deeply to those.
We are at midpoint in the summer. We’re at mid-July and I know that as such, that is a time when many of us dial back the busyness knob at least a couple of notches and take the time for refreshment, renewal, re-dedication. So I invite you to consider what feeds you? What renews you? What refreshes you to rededicate you to the purposes to which God has created you and into which God calls you? Some of my colleagues have already been on vacation and they’re the ones who are smiling and look rested among us. Some of us are eagerly awaiting our vacation. But there are some common themes aren’t there?
We normally look for opportunities to renew ourselves in a variety of ways. If you’re like me, you’re making a list of books that you’ve been meaning to read and hope to carve out time to read during your vacation. For others it may be spending time on relationships: families and friends. For others it may be about going to a special place: the water, the mountains, the beach, the woods—those places where you get more deeply connected. It may be a time when you’re going to get more rest, rededicate yourself to healthy eating, although I know there are some who look to vacations as a time to indulge more deeply into eating things that probably aren’t as good for you and that’s okay.
But stay with me. Those are all things about renewing ourselves in mind and body. What about your spirit? What about carving out more time to intentionally go more deeply with God? Summer’s a good time for that, too. That as we think about refreshment and renewal and rest, that it is also a time for re-dedication. We have many visitors with us today and you’ve chosen to spend your time reconnecting with God and kudos to you.
For those of you who’ve not yet gone or still have time this summer, I invite you to consider when you’re packing your bag, that in addition to the books, in addition to the bathing suit, in addition to the biking shoes and hiking shoes, think about tucking in a Bible, or prayers or meditations that are meaningful to you to remind you that the deepest source of life and renewal is God. That’s part of what summer is about, as well. So take this time to rest and relax, renew and, drawing from Ann Weems again:
[Now’s] a time to take time to let the power
of our faith story take hold of us,
a time to let the events get up
and walk around in us,
a time to intensify our living unto Christ.
Excerpts taken from Lenten Poem by Ann Weems.