July 12, 2020 Fifth Sunday after Pentecost.  Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23.

Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  Today starts a short sermon series looking at several of Jesus’ parables. Jesus loved to use short stories to illustrate deep spiritual truths.  He did this because stories are so much easier to remember than dusty and dull doctrines of faith.  Stories also lend themselves to being understood by differing ages at different levels. Stories also most importantly, Good Stories, meaningful stories lend themselves to be retold again and again.  And Jesus wanted us to share these stories of faith to encourage our faith in God to be shared and nurtured.

Now I want to say something about this parable of the sower and the seed. Too often the first thing we do is what our song writer for today has done.  “Lord let my heart be good soil”- is a good song with a great sentiment… “let the seeds of your love sprout and grow within me.”  But it can send us down the wrong road of self-absorption.  The parable becomes all about me- am I good soil?! The fact is we are good soil, AND we are the path AND the thorns.  We are all those soils rolled up into one.  Every farm has these soils!  Every life has these potential soils- thorns, shallowness, and thankfully a great harvest. The wonderful thing is that the sower is so generous with his seed!

Years ago, I read the story of an elderly man, named Thomas.  He had outlived all his friends and hardly anyone knew him.  When Thomas died, only one friend showed up at the funeral.  But when the friend proceeded to  the cemetery, at the gate there was a soldier waiting.  When the service was over, the soldier stepped forward and before the open grave, he swept his hand into a salute that might have been given to a president.

As Thomas’ friend walked away beside the soldier, the wind blew the soldier’s raincoat open to reveal the shoulder badges of a brigadier general.  The general said, “Perhaps you are wondering what I am doing here.  Years ago Thomas was my Sunday school teacher; I was a wild lad and a sore trial to him.  He never knew what he did for me, but I owe everything I am or will be to old Thomas, and today I came to salute him at the end.”

Now, Thomas did not know what he was doing as he lived out his faith.  He never knew the lives he touched and how he changed the world around him as he shared God’s word.  And, that is good news for all of us Thomas’s out there who have been called to share the love of God through our caring and compassionate words and actions.  

That’s the point of this story, God’s seeds of love are meant to be scattered with as much abandon as possible.  My wife and I for the 4th of July holiday decided to watch the PBS broadcast of the annual 4th of July celebration in Washington DC.  They did a ton of patriotic music and added an unusual selection for the unique situation our country is facing with the anxiety of COVID 19 and the unrest of Black Lives Matter.  It was a 60’s song… done by a beautiful black female vocalist backed up by a chorus made of a rainbow of races.  “What the world needs now is love sweet love.”

Much of what our country is struggling with is a lack of love, God’s love.  And you know what? God does not have a shortage of love!! That seed is always available through his son Jesus Christ.  But it seems we have a lack of sowers of God’s love!  Jesus story says that God wants his seed of love sown with abandon- not precision or pickiness… “oh you are shallow soil you don’t get any of God’s seeds of love”- that’s ridiculous!! What if God did that with you and I?  You know you are all those soils rolled up into one!  But somehow, somewhere, someone shared that seed with you and it produced a harvest. Now God asks you to share that seed, sow that seed and do so with abandon not precision or pickiness.

That’s how God does it and for those who have that mustard seed of faith in God’s love we have a bucketful of God’s seeds of love to sow.  But what if Satan carries off the seed?  What if worldly concerns choke it out? Don’t worry God has more buckets full of seeds of love to go out and sow more seeds. 

The signs we have “Humankind… Be Both” … interestingly enough are like that- I thought we were out, I thought nobody would want more…but I returned from vacation to find out we’ve been totally restocked.  There are more seeds of God love to sow folks. That’s the point of Jesus’ story of the Sower and the Seed…its not about the soils in us or out there amongst them. Its about the wonderful sower who has an endless supply of seeds of love.

We tenant farmers have been commissioned by Christ to scatter the good seed upon the ground – that is to share God’s love as Christ did.  We are not to be imposers or imposters, but compassionate, caring followers of Jesus who share the Gospel through our individual abilities, whether or not people hear it, appreciate it, and make it their own.  God gives us good seed.  God tends to the seed.  God makes the seed grow.  For the seed that we are to sow is the word and love of God – the good news about Jesus Christ and the gifts that God has given us through him.

We did not make this seed, buy this seed, or acquire it by our wealth or stealth. It was a free gift. This seed comes directly from God himself.  It is the word of life and a word of judgment which is to be spoken in truth and not to be watered down to make it more palatable to the masses who want a savior without a cross, discipleship without cost, forgiveness without repentance, and a grace that is cheap, rather than of inestimable value.

In reflecting on this well-known parable of the sower and our task of spreading the word, a story once told by Max Lucado came to mind.  His story begins with a mayor informing three men of a catastrophe.  “The rains have washed away the bridge,” the major says, “And during the night many cars drove over the edge and into the river.”  “What can we do?” asked one of the men.

“You must stand on the side of the road and warn drivers not to make the left turn.  Tell them to take the one-lane road that follows the side of the river.”  “But they drive so fast,” the man retorted, “How can we warn them?”  “By wearing these sandwich boards,” the mayor explained, producing three wooden double-signs, hinged together to hang from the shoulders.  “Stand at the crossroads so drivers can see these signs until I can get someone out there to fix the bridge.”

The men hurried out to the dangerous curve and put the signs over their shoulders.  “The drivers should see me first,” spoke one.  The others agreed.  His sign warned, “Bridge Out.”  He walked several hundred yards before the turn and took his post.

“Perhaps I should be second, so the drivers will slow down,” spoke the one whose sign declared, “Reduce Speed.”  “Good idea,” agreed the third, “and I’ll stand here at the curve so people will get off the wide road and onto the narrow.”  His sign read simple, “Right Road Only,” and had a finger pointing toward the safe route.

So, the three men stood with their three signs ready to warn the travelers of the danger.  As the cars approached, the first man would stand up straight so the drivers could read, “Bridge Out.”  Then the next would gesture to his sign, telling the drivers to “Reduce Speed.”  And as the motorists complied, they would then see the third sign, “Right Road Only.”  Though the road was narrow, the drivers complied and were safe.  

Hundreds of lives were saved that day by the three sign holders.  Because they did their job, many people were kept from peril.  But after the first day they grew lax in their task.  The first man got sleepy.  “I’ll sit where people can read my sign as I sleep,” he decided.  So, he took his sign off his shoulders and propped it up against a boulder.  He leaned against it and fell asleep.  As he slept he slid over the sign, blocking one of the two words.  So rather than warning drivers “Bridge Out,” his sign simply stated, “Bridge.”

The second man didn’t grow tired, but he did grow conceited.  The longer he stood warning the people the more important he felt.  A few drivers even pulled off the side of the road to thank him for the job well done.  “We might have died had you not told us to slow down,” they applauded.  “You’re so right,” he thought to himself.  “How many people would be lost if were it not for me?”  And he came to think that he was just as important as his sign.  So, he took it off, set it upon the ground, and stood beside it.  As he did, he was unaware that he, too, was blocking one word of this warning.  He was standing in front of the word, “Speed.”  All the drivers could read was the word, “Reduce.”  Most thought he was advertising a diet plan.

The third man was not tired like the first, nor self-consumed like the second, but he was concerned about the message of his sign, “Right Road Only.”  It troubled him that his message was so dogmatic.  “People should be given a choice in the matter.  Who am I to tell them which is the right road, and which is the wrong road?”  So, he decided to alter the wording of the sign.  He marked out the word, “Only,” and changed it to “Preferred.”  “Hmmm,” he thought, “that’s still too stringent.  One is best not to moralize.”  So, he marked out the word, “Preferred,” and wrote, “Suggested.”  

That still didn’t seem right…”Might offend people if they think I’m suggesting I know something they don’t.”  So, he thought and thought and finally marked through the word, “Suggested,” and replaced it with a more neutral phrase.  “Ah, just right,” he said to himself as he backed off and read the words:  “Right Road – One of Two Equally Valid Alternatives.”  And, so as the first man slept and the second stood and the third altered the message, one car after another plunged into the river.  (Adapted from Max Lucado, www.maxlucado.com)

My friends, may we not be so foolish when it comes to sharing God’s word.  May no one be lost because we have failed to take seriously the seeds and the task God has given to us.  If you have received the love of God in Christ Jesus then you have a plethora of seeds to sow. You and I have an urgent message to deliver to a people who have no idea of what lies ahead.  We have been called to spread the word that saves – to tell God’s story of love for us and for all people through Christ Jesus our Lord.  May we not grow lax in sowing this good seed, the Word of God, Word of Life.  For contrary to personal belief, faith is not a private matter.  It is something that must be shared by what we say and do each day.

So, spread the word.  Sow the seed.  And leave the rest to God.  And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.