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Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

“Thy kingdom come; thy will be done…”[1]  Have you ever given serious thought to this prayer that we pray each week?  It’s beautiful, isn’t it?  Communal.  Easy.  Familiar.  Those first two words are enough to hold us for a lifetime, aren’t they?  “Our Father.”  Your father and my father; our shared parent who loves, protects, heals, and welcomes each of us and all people everywhere.

Like so many things familiar, it is easy to take it for granted over time.  My guess is that more often than not, we read, say, and pray it almost by rote without giving any real attention to it at all.

 

The disciples said, “Jesus teach us how to pray…”[2]  Has anyone ever asked that prayer?  Teach me how to pray and what to pray for.  Give me words or presence or understanding; teach me how.  Jesus replied, “When you pray, do not heap up empty words like the Gentiles [non-believers] do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  But pray then in this way: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name.  Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…”[3]

 

What are we saying really?  What is the kingdom of God and what does it look like?  Has God’s kingdom come already in Jesus Christ and what is the work left for believers since then?  Who participates in it and what difference does it make?  And when/what/where/how is that kingdom to come in our lifetime?  In me and my church?  What does God’s kingdom look like in Park Avenue Church and how can we be sure?  In the wake of the United States of American – amid what we see and what we hear?  Does this represent our understanding of the reign of Christ?

This is an important prayer – probably more significant than any time in recent years:  Good Lord, may your kingdom come on the earth, in New York City, in my home, and workplace.  May your kingdom come in me as it is in heaven.

In our gospel lesson this morning Jesus tells a story about the kingdom of God and a sower who went out to sow.  As was often the case, Jesus used parables or metaphors that were relatable to people’s lives and circumstance.  When he talked to farmers, he talked about farm things – planting and sowing, reaping a harvest.  He talked about treasures hidden in a field and to fishermen, he talked about letting down their nets; going for the catch one more time.  He also spoke in ways that only those who had ears to hear could hear because we know that everybody doesn’t want to hear the truth…really good news…enlightenment.

Jesus talked about the kingdom of God in simple terms not grand theological discourses but in easy language that people could understand.  We often look for the grand and the extraordinary but Jesus seemed to be saying that there is something useful and significant that can happen even among the ordinary things that people encounter every day.  There was nothing simpler than sowing seeds when talking with farmers.

There was a farmer.  And he sowed.  No special skill was required.  He just started scattering seed indiscriminately and the seeds went everywhere.  Some fell on the well-traveled path and just laid there.  The birds came along and ate them because they were never really in the ground.  Other seed fell on rocky places where there was  little soil but not nearly enough.  They sprang up quickly but there was no depth and when the sun came up, they were burned and withered away.  Other seeds fell among thrones, and the thorns outgrew the seeds.  How many people know that thorns always seems to outgrow the good seeds?  And the thorns with all of their briars and prickly places grew and choked up the good seeds.  But there was another place where the seeds fell.  Another location where the seed found fertile soil and were able to take root and bring forth grain – some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.  Let anyone who has ears to ear, listen.

Now, it appears that any old experienced farmer would have known better than to have scattered seed this way, doesn’t it?  I’m a country girl at the end of the day.  I’ve never forgotten my roots and quite frankly the older I get the more appreciation I have for it.  But even an inexperienced city slicker would have known better than to just toss good seed on a well-worn path or among rocky places or thorns where there was no real hope of survival.

We are realists aren’t we?  We take calculated risk on things, people, and places that have more than a fair chance of success or at least survival.

The disciples were perplexed by this as well; they don’t quite understand the connection.  In the intervening verses between verse 9 and verse 18 they ask Jesus to further explain what he had been talking about.  Hear now the response, reading from The Message Bible:

“Study this story of the farmer planting seed. When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road.

The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it.

The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it.

The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.”[4]

When we first hear this story we are tempted to think that it’s all about the seeds and the ground upon which it lands.  There is a fair amount of truth to that, I suspect.  Let’s face it, if the seed is the Word of God; the good news of the gospel, then there are times when it seems like they never land in a good place.  We come and we go and the seeds of our faith never take root, not really.  The first time something comes along to distract, the good news we have heard is plucked right out of our heart.

At other times we may get excited for a moment or two.  There is no real change of character, we have just enough to get by until…  When the hype goes so does our faith.  I think that’s why some people can go from church to church; place to place looking for a thrill.  When the thrill is gone, the faith is gone.

Other times our faith is cast among the thorns and let’s face it, there are thorns among us.  Our old wounds, pain, and anger.  And sometimes angry, wounded people around us.  Thorns of worry and doubt.  Fear and anxiety, they prick us all the time.  They grow up and seem larger than our faith; they choke the very life out of us.  We have to do a lot of work to keep the good news deeply planted in the fertile ground of our heart, mind, and spirit until it flourishes.    It takes a great deal of effort, a lot of worship services, prayer, and reflection.

How about you, my friends?  Are the seeds of your faith firmly planted?  Are they growing and bearing fruit?  Are you drawing people to the love and power of God or turning them away?  Are they seeing Jesus in you?

On the front cover of our bulletin is this wonderful poem or prayer often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.  Research – and well – Google suggests that there is no real evidence that he was the author but nonetheless.  What is important is the meaning.  I think it’s a prayer worth praying and holding onto:

 Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope;

where there is sadness, joy; where there is darkness, light.[5]

Perhaps this parable is about the seed and the ground; you and me and what we do with our lives.  But perhaps there is at least one other point to be made here.  Perhaps the point is not only about the seed or the ground but also about the Sower.  Imagine that God is the Sower who sows indiscriminately – broad and wide.  Perhaps God is the Sower who continues to offer God’s self to all sorts of ground; all kinds of hearts; all kinds of spirits.  Perhaps God is the Sower who takes into account who we are at our core and is willing to take the risk that a productive harvest is still possible even among well-worn paths and stony places.  Maybe God is the Sower who takes the chance on us, the risk – that even among difficult soil, something is possible.

In the epistle, Paul says to the church in Rome:  “So now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.  God has done what was impossible…”[6]

It is God who has taken into account our weaknesses and vulnerabilities and did for us what we could not do for ourselves.  God sent God’s Son and for those who live in Christ, we have been set free by God’s spirit.  This Spirit that we have “in Christ” is able to do so much more than we are able to do.  On our own, we are not able to get it all done; but Paul says that we are not constrained by our limitations, and failings; we are not even condemned by our actions.  We are set free.  Free.

And this freedom is nearly unbelievable.  It is given to us to go beyond our limitations.  It is the freedom to be part of God’s movement with the world that transcends our locale and our lifetime.  This freedom does not transport us out of our bodies into a netherworld but frees us to live fully in this world – right here; right now, today, right where we are.

May we live with this great hope: the Sower continues to sow in us and in the world and we also must sow our own good seed of life and hope to those who need and desire to hear.    Thanks be to God.

[1] Matthew 6:10a

[2] Luke 11:1

[3] Matthew 6:7-10; Luke 11:2-4

[4] Matthew 13:18-23

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer_of_Saint_Francis

[6] Romans 8:1-3a