A Sermon for 16 July 2017
A reading from the gospel of Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23. Listen for God’s word to us.
“That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!” . . . “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
Though the parable of Jesus focuses on soil; instead, I’ve been thinking this week about hearts. Our hearts. . . . What an amazing organ right there in our chests! Some of us are incredibly heart conscious. Perhaps our doctor told us it was time to be so. Maybe we’ve a history of heart problems in our family and want to be extra careful. Or maybe our bodies took care of the message directly that scary day we felt the clenching pains in our chest and couldn’t get to the emergency room fast enough. . . . How attuned are you to your own heart? When’s the last time, maybe lying in bed before drifting off to sleep or before dashing up to start your day. Have you ever just stopped long enough. Putting your hands on the center of your chest to tune in deeply to the rhythms of your own heart? Feel free to do so during this sermon if you’ve never tried it. Just place your hands over your chest. Breathe in deeply. And notice what you feel below the palms of your hands, your ribs, your lungs, and all the way into your heart. . . .
Over the years, it’s been a great joy to watch various people. To see how they live because of what’s happening in their hearts. . . . I could tell stories of so many friends and family members – I bet you could too. Like, have you ever known a person who approaches life so rationally, with their head, that they have no idea what’s taking place in their heart? It’s the classic story of the Bookworm who knows so much information from the stacks she’s devoured, but can’t make eye contact with another human being the minute her nose is forced from a book. Or the resolved moneymaker who has no room inside for emotions because they just get in the way of the bottom line. It’s why Charles Dickens’ Scrooge is such an iconic figure. Described thus: “the cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, made his eyes red, his thin lips blue, as he spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice, bah humbug” (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebenezer_Scrooge). . . . Perhaps you’ve encountered the person so battered from life that their heart is razor sharp. Certainly, we’ve met this one, though often we go running from their jagged edges before we have a chance to come to understand just what has made them so. It’s the bitter old neighbor who won’t even open his door to the sweet Girl Scouts in their cute uniforms who just are trying to sell their Thin Mints. It’s too much to bear the sorrow of his tragedies. Anger sprouts instead. Underneath all the lashing out, great pain festers. . . . I’m fortunate not to have been around too many worriers when I was young. You know if you’re one. Worriers’ hearts are full with so many different concerns that they just spin like whirling tops. All the good gets choked out. . . . There are the folks with calloused hearts that melt instantly as soon as a baby enters the room, or a puppy’s brought in, or any number of irresistible furry friends pop up. The other night during our Pathway to Renewal discussion, we brought up a Pet Social – an event a local church is hosting – perhaps because pets make it a little bit easier for strangers to feel welcome. Like it’s safer to engage another human being with our faithful four-legged friend at our side. We know today that those imprisoned for horrible crimes against humanity can be given a cute, cuddly puppy to train as a way to reach past the scars left in them from violent childhoods that hardened them into violent offenders. . . . Yes. What’s happening in our hearts deeply impacts how we live our lives.
It’s not exactly the way Jesus put it. After all, he was using a metaphor his listeners knew about in order to reach their insides. In order to impact what was going on in their hearts. . . . “Let anyone with ears listen,” he says. Because he wants disciples who hear the message of God’s love and have wide open hearts. He wants us to have space within to let grace move us. To have hearts able to soak in such goodness that we turn about to live lives overflowing with abundant fruit.
Recently I read about observations of a generation of children from an economically depressed region in Eastern Europe (The Biology of Belief, Bruce H. Lipton, pp. 192-3). The culture encourages families to keep having babies – even if they end up with more children than they can feed. Sooner or later families realize they can’t possibly sustain life for them all; so, in droves, unwanted children are abandoned at orphanages. There they are raised with all the food they need, beds in which to sleep, and shelter from the harsh conditions of being born into economically stretched families. The dynamic has set up interesting conditions for researchers to do some comparisons. Will children given all the basic needs for physical life grow up to be better off than the children that remain with their parents? What they have found is shocking. Across the board, the children who remained with their parents – even if they didn’t get as much food and physical shelter as the children left at the orphanage. The children that grew up in their parents’ care had vital statistics that were 30% better than the children abandoned to orphanages. Despite any lack the children with their parents might have experienced, they were healthier because the one thing the orphanage did not provide was love. . . . Love. The gift that pumps freely in open, receptive hearts.
Perhaps it’s why, no matter the condition of our hearts, the sower keeps scattering the seed. Did you notice that in Jesus’ parable? The sower throws seed in every direction! . . . Jesus could have told a story about a sower who sought out the proper soil. He could have painted the picture of the sower who kept the seed in his pouch as he passed over soil pressed down into the path, and soil overtaken with jagged rocks, and soil already infested with the weeds of the world. Most of us would plant that way. We’d find the best soil for our seeds. Or we’d make it better soil first before expending the effort to plant. . . . My how our ways are not like Jesus’ generous sower. The sower described by Jesus flings seed every which way until at last it gets into the place in which it can sprout and grow and flourish into abundance. . . . Which for us all is really good news. Because if we take the time to attune to the condition of our own hearts, likely we will find that they change day to day, mood to mood, or maybe even moment after moment. No matter. The Sower showers us with the seeds of love hoping this will be the day it takes root to grow into lives overflowing in grace. . . . Let anyone with ears listen. Whatever the condition of the soil of our hearts, we give great thanks for the abundant grace of the most Generous Sower!
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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