6th Sunday after Pentecost; July 16, 2-17, Year A
Isaiah 55.10-13; Psalm 65. [1-8] 9-13; Romans 8.1-11; Matt. 13.1-9, 18-23
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from the One who creates, sustains, and gives life, God our Creator. Amen.
Yesterday I heard a story about an Iraqi Christian, named Amar, who is now living in Bismarck. Amar moved here in January with his wife and two children. They are refugees from Mosel, Iraq, fleeing the war and violence that has been going on there for years.
A refugee is someone who has been forced to leave their home, often times their family, and everything they have worked for their whole life. They move to a new place with a totally different culture and different language hoping for a better future.
A number of weeks ago, Iraqi Christians who are now living in Bismarck held a Sunday evening worship service at Trinity Lutheran Church in Bismarck. Amar was on the leadership team who was organizing the worship service. For you see, he was a Deacon back in Iraq, and part of the Syriac Orthodox Church. A Deacon is someone who is trained and feels called to lead worship and minister to people.
In his Christian tradition, robes are very important for Deacons to wear when leading worship. When he was speaking with Pastor Paul at Trinity Lutheran in preparation for the service he asked if the church might have any spare robes for leaders to wear. Paul said they might, but he knew they wouldn’t have any Amar’s size. Amar looked and him and said, “That is not a problem. I brought my own from Iraq.”
Now this might not seem like a big deal … until we know that Amar left Iraq with only one bag and may never return home again to retrieve any of his belongings. Often times refugees need to leave in a hurry and they cannot carry much with them. A robe is a large piece of clothing, probably taking up ¼ of his bag.
Amar’s faith meant so much to him that when he could barely grab anything at all to bring with him, he chose to bring his robe. Perhaps he chose it above family heirlooms or photos.
And so Amar wore his robe to help lead worship at Trinity Lutheran Church on June 4th. They flew in a priest from Organ to conduct the mass in their traditional language and liturgy.
Pastor Paul also told me that there was an Iraqi family who has lived here in Bismarck for the last 7 years. The mother of the family said to him, “This is the first time I have worshipped in my tradition in 10 years.”
These people carry the seed of faith that has been planted and has taken root in their hearts. They have endured great suffering and resettlement in a new and foreign place. Their faith lives in them, it goes with them, and no one can take it from them.
In our Gospel reading today Jesus uses a story to help us better understand what God is like, and how God works in our lives.
At first read, many would think that the sower is careless and a terrible farmer. Who would waste scattering seed on a path, or rocky ground, or among thorns? Wouldn’t you plant all your seeds in good soil? It seems wasteful.
Yet, what may be another prospective? Maybe the sower is extravagant and radical, abundantly scattering seed everywhere, giving every type of soil a chance to grow something good. Maybe the sower is thinking, “I want to see where life comes up.”
I prefer the second prospective myself. God the sower flings seeds far and wide, offering life everywhere, even when there seems to be little to no chance for it to take root and grow.
So what is the seed in the parable? Jesus tells us the seed is the Word of God. We can think of the Word of God in three ways: One is the written Word, the Bible. When we hear the Bible read out loud or read it ourselves, it is like seeds of faith are being planted in our hearts.
The second way to think of the Word of God is the proclaimed Word. When we go to worship on a Sunday morning and you hear that you are forgiven, when you hear the Words, “The body of Christ for you,” when you come up for communion, or if there is anything I say in a sermon that begins to create faith in you, seeds of faith are being planted in your heart.
The third and most important way to think of the Word of God is Jesus himself. Jesus is God’s Word made flesh. He comes to you through the Holy Spirit and makes a home in you. This is the Word rooted in you, giving you faith, helping you to trust in God.
So if the Word comes to us in many ways, God extravagantly throwing it all over the place seeing in whom faith may take root, then what’s this business about the different types of soil?
There is the soil of the path, packed down hard. Tough for a seed to have much of a chance in this kind of soil. This is like when our hearts are hard. Perhaps we’ve been hurt, or we are angry. Maybe we just give up real fast because we don’t understand who God is or what God is doing in the world. There is hardly a chance for any kind of seed to be planted in us with hardened hearts.
There is the rocky ground on which the seed falls. There may be a crevice in our hearts for a seed to fall and we get excited about what we are hearing and we want to change and we experience a bit of joy in the new life God gives … but then trouble comes, sobriety falls apart, or we feel God lets us down … then we fall away.
There is good soil, but lots of thorns. Let’s be honest, there are just times in life that we are stubborn. We aren’t willing and don’t want to hear any Word from God. We want to keep living our lives however we want to live them. This faith thing is alright as long as I don’t need to live any differently. I keep my money for myself, I think that homelessness is someone else’s problem, I know people are hungry in the world, but I don’t do anything about it. I yield nothing from the seeds that have been planted in me.
Then there is good soil. This is what we want ourselves to be. We hear God’s Word, we receive it, we think about it, we let it take root and grow in us producing faith. The growth that happens in us turns us outward to care for and love others. It produces patience and kindness in us. It gives us strength to overcome disappointments, trials, and loss. To be good soil is to let God dwell in you and work in and through you for the sake of the world God loves so much.
This parable leaves me with a question: How do we become good soil? If we are rocky ground, do we always stay that way? No, I don’t believe so.
Last summer my husband Jon tilled up our garden in our back yard. It was full of weeds from the summer before and the ground was so tough. He struggled and struggled to break it up so I could plant the seeds. He had to go over and over the dirt to make even a little progress.
I think God is that way. God works on our hearts, tilling with patience to get us ready to hear and receive the Word. In Isaiah 55, “God visits the earth and waters it abundantly, drenching the furrows, softening the earth, cloaking the valleys with grain (Sundays and Seasons, Kent Mueller, p. 206).”
God is active, not only scattering seeds all over the place, but also working on our hearts to make us good soil. We also work on ourselves. We go to worship, we read Scripture, we pray, we serve others. These things make us good soil.
Amar didn’t have to pack his robe, but he did. Living out his faith is important to him, being good soil is central to his life on this earth.
Before we read the Gospel we sang: “Lord, let my heart be good soil, open to the seed of your Word.” May this be our prayer this day and always.