The kingdom of heaven is like….. by Pastor Noel

July 15, 16, 2017        Proper 10A          6th Pentecost

 

      The lectionary has left out the beginning of this chapter in Matthew. It starts, “That same day”. That same day as what? What else has happened on this day that Matthew continues with the reminder?

      That same day Jesus has, predictably, been faithfully spreading the kingdom of God.

      That same day the religious leaders have, predictably, been criticizing Jesus and saying that his power comes from Beelzubul, from evil.

      That same day the people have followed Jesus, crowded around him and called him “Son of David.”

      That same day Jesus has taught in the synagogue about “bearing fruit” and has been confronted by the leaders. He has healed a man with a crippled hand; healed a man who was deaf and mute and considered to have a demon.

      It was quite a day, that day, and it is not over yet. Even today there are still those who watch and don’t see, who hear but don’t understand.

      So Jesus tells them a parable. Parables are comparisons, they are always telling us, “The kingdom of God is like….” Parables are open to many interpretations, and Jesus tells them to shake us up, jolt us out of complacency, and lead us deeper into the kingdom of God.

      How we understand parables, how we hear them, can be explained by what we heard in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

      Paul contrasts flesh and Spirit. By flesh he means a way of life centered in the culture of the world, which may include our bodily desires, and also anger, greed, pride, violence … 

      By Spirit he means a way of life centered in God’s kingdom and influenced by Holy Spirit.

      If our understanding of life is influenced only by the culture of the world, parables will reinforce that in us, and we will be unable to recognize them as from God. 

      Like some of the folks who heard Jesus, we may think that parables are from Beelzebul.

      If our understanding of life is influenced by Holy Spirit, we will hear parables as messages of God’s kingdom, and they will move us to act in ways of the kingdom. 

      We will know that Jesus is both son of David and Son of God, and follow him.

      This parable is about a sower, a farmer planting seed for the harvest. I think he’s God.

      What do we learn about the sower? He is not careful about where the seed is thrown—he just tosses it everywhere, indiscriminately, abundantly.

      Is the seed the word? Is the seed salvation? Is the seed God’s love for us in creation? That’s for us to decide as our hearts are opened to the story.

       I would say yes, yes, yes and what else can we glean from this story?

      What else I get is that this is about stewardship.  It is about being as generous and gracious with the seeds of our kingdom lives as God is towards us.

      Jesus doesn’t say that the sower only threw a little seed on the rocky or thorny soil.  He doesn’t say that the sower held back from casting seed on the path where the birds would eat it.

      The sower throws the seed out everywhere.

      Jesus doesn’t criticize the soil that fails to grow a good yield. He doesn’t compare the types of soil or rank them good, better, best—he just tells the story and lets us work out the meaning.

      One meaning I get is that I am not one of the kinds of soil in the story—I am all of them! Sometimes my heart is rocky or thorny and God’s kingdom has a difficult time growing there. 

      Sometimes the kingdom can’t even get started because I am anxious or fearful, or distracted by the life of the world, and the seed flies away.

      There are times that I am greedy, and want to keep whatever I have for myself. It’s mine!

      But sometimes, and I know that this happens to you, too, sometimes, the soil of my heart is so rich that God’s kingdom just pours out of me.

      There are times when I am a good steward of the riches God has poured into my life. Times when I can be as generous towards others as God has been to me—and it feels right to let go and share.

      Notice that the sower does not change his sowing even though the types of soil change. He keeps on throwing seed –the word, salvation, love, whatever it means to each person who hears it.

      God does not hold back loving us when we are rocky or thorny or when we let the world get in the way of loving God and each other.

      God doesn’t give us a litmus test to see if we are ready to receive his gifts, he just keeps on giving so that, when our hearts are ready, we can receive.

      Matthew calls this the parable of the sower as he struggles to interpret Jesus’ words. Parables are not meant to be explained and simplified—they are meant to be puzzles for us to interpret for our own lives—over and over in different situations.

      Explanations narrow the point of the story, make it smaller and less Spirit filled. Matthew turns this into an allegory, where there is only one explanation. Jesus would not have done this.

      Parables are like poetry, images and words that one day can mean one thing for us, another day be showing us new ideas, new thoughts.

      So, I wonder how we can open up this story for our own lives so that we can put down strong roots in the good soil of God’s kingdom—and have that life in the Spirit that Paul wrote about.

      What does this story tell us about how we might act toward each other and toward those “out there” who haven’t even heard of the sower? What does this tell us about how to be the church of God’s kingdom?

      The seed in the story had no choice but to fall where it was thrown. Good soil or bad, that was it.

      We have a choice, we have many choices every day, to turn from the brambles and the rocky soil and put down our roots with God’s Spirit.

      May our lives be a parable, “The kingdom of heaven is like…our hearts turning toward life in the Spirit, just as plants turn toward the light.”

      May our hearts be rich soil, abundant in the Spirit, ready, willing and eager to grow in God’s word, God’s love and God’s kingdom.

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details