Text: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Date: Pentecost IX (Proper 10A) + 07/13/08
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI
I guess I’m just “too literal” for my own good. Have you noticed what (it seems to me) is no more than a “knee-jerk” greeting these days? Instead of saying, “Hello,” “Good morning (or afternoon or evening),” or “Greetings,” or “Good day,” it seems most people say something to the effect of “How you doin’?” Now that sounds to me like a question. And I assume a person asking a question does so with some interest in an answer. Of course, most people don’t really think that a person, especially a stranger, is really interested in an evaluation of the degree of your satisfaction with your health or well being at the moment and so most of us, if we answer the question at all, just slough it off with an equally disingenuous, “Fine.” Should you actually begin to answer the question with some evaluation of your physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, vocational or psychological condition, most supposed questioners would probably look at you as if you were crazy. That most people don’t expect an answer is betrayed by the fact that, usually immediately after they ask that question, they just keep talking. So I guess when someone greets you with the question, “How are you doing?” probably the best thing is just to smile and nod your head and say nothing, which will not strike the person greeting you as at all strange, and then any real conversation can commence.
With the text today of the Parable of the Sower, the seed and the soil, before us I’m here to ask you, in all seriousness, that question, “How are you doing?” For it seems this parable was spoken at a moment when there was some question as to the progress or effectiveness of Jesus’ preaching and teaching. As we have seen there was doubt and even resistance to Jesus’ ministry among people in general beginning to grow in chapter 11. Then, of course, St. Matthew reports in chapter 12 that there was the increasing antagonism of the Pharisees and the scribes heating up to the level even of accusing Jesus to be in league with the devil. Finally, even His mother and his brothers (few of whom if any at the time believed in Him) seemed to be questioning where things were going with all the increasing controversy over Him. Was Jesus really following the best path, employing the most efficient means, choosing His words carefully enough, communicating effectively with his audience? Was he unnecessarily offending or turning people off to His message? Maybe He needed to take a break, cool His jets, reevaluate His methods and His message. It was in this context that Jesus spoke the Parable of the Sower or of the seed and the soil.
And how about you? How are things going? And how about your congregation and your church body? The details of our lives unfold sometimes wonderfully according to plan and at other times, maybe most of the time, in surprising ways, not always pleasant or satisfying ways. Oh, sure there are the occasional happy surprises. Some call us “lucky” but we prefer to call ourselves fortunate. But most of the time we take notice of the negative things happening that are beyond our control and we call it fate. What, after all, is within our ultimate control? We can fend off illness, disease or accident to a certain extent by choosing healthy life styles or careful practices. But there is always a limit. That limit, ultimately, is sin and death.
Churches and church bodies for some time now have been growing increasingly anxious as attendance and membership has been dwindling over the past years. Because we think we’re in control in the first place the first question asked is, “What are we doing wrong?” as if we find the answer to that question we can turn things around, do things right, and people will respond accordingly. There’s a billboard on highway 23 that I’ve seen a couple times last week on my return from the U of M hospital that says, “God is not boring. Church doesn’t have to be either.” The obvious message is, “come to our church, we promise not to be boring, we will entertain you.” The Parable of the Sower in its context seems to say that questions of marketing techniques are nothing new, and it is told with the intent of saying that, even and especially when things seem to be out of our control, God has not lost control and knows precisely what He’s doing. He has not forgotten or abandoned you. You can trust Him—even all evidence to the contrary!
Now actually the way Jesus tells this parable would strike any first century Palestinian farmer as silly, for it was not normal to just go out flinging seeds haphazardly everywhere and anywhere all over the place but rather to sow them carefully where they had the greatest likelihood of taking root and growing. As a picture of the Kingdom of God, however, at least this detail says that God’s salvation and rule of grace is intended liberally for everyone and not just those who are ready for it. “God so loved the world,” He desires all to come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved.
But so it is that, even for God’s rule, at least in this fallen world, things don’t seem to go well or according to plan all the time. The difference, of course, is not to be found in the effectiveness of the seed which Jesus says is “the word of the kingdom,” but in the various sorts and conditions of soil upon which the seed falls. It is, therefore, one appropriate question to ask yourself, as a result of hearing this parable, “what sort of soil am I?” Am I the hard path that won’t even bother to hear God’s Word? Or have I had only a passing relationship with God’s Word where it really hasn’t taken root? Or are the “cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches” choking the word in me? Or is the new life of Christ growing in me and producing fruit? And when you discover that you are, at times, all of these sorts and conditions, you need to know that, unlike the parable, the seed of the Word of God has the power also to change you into the good, receptive soil by repentance of your sin and faith in Jesus Christ.
Especially when things do not seem to be going well, when it seems God has lost interest in our problems or predicament, we should remember that God’s ways are, quite often, not our ways, but that only His ways have the power to bring His grace, mercy and blessings to bear. When it came to taking away the sin of the world and saving the world from death and hell, we would have preferred or recommended a different way, something more impressive with seemingly greater power than the weak, bloody suffering and death of God’s Son on the cross. Yet the power to take away the sin of the world and to destroy death was not in the cruelty of the crucifixion but in the Person of the Crucified—the Son of God who has life in Himself, who, though He died yet He lives and grants life abundant to all who receive Him, who believe on His name.
So how are you doing? In Christ regardless of the current circumstances we can always say,
What God ordains is always good:
His will is just and holy.
As He directs my life for me,
I follow meek and lowly. My God indeed In ev’ry need
Knows well how He will shield me;
To Him, then, I will yield me. [LSB 760]