Sermon Title – “Seeds” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden
Good morning! Some of you know that I am not an Indiana native — I hadn’t even heard the word “Hoosier” until I met Tim McFadden, and after more than 40 years, I’m still not sure what it means. Some basketball team without a mascot, I think. Be that as it may, I have lived around here for long enough to know the signs of late summer in Elkhart County: it is hot and humid and there are thunderstorms popping up — this nearly always happens during the week of the Elkhart County Fair. Vegetables are growing everywhere — people are trying to give away zucchini and cucumbers, and the corn is taller than my head. I’ve never paid much attention to soybeans, since I don’t eat them, but I am tracking peaches and cherries and other local fruit. Creekside’s trees are setting apples this year — we hope there are no big hailstorms on the horizon.
We measure our days and years with many different rhythms. If you are a teacher, the beginning of the school year is an important marker; if you are a CPA or tax preparer, April 15 is a significant deadline; sports have their own seasons and schedules; if you are a pastor, preparing for Sunday worship is something which has to happen almost every week. I mentioned last week that in the Christian year, summer is ordinary time — the time between Pentecost and Advent when we are invited to focus on God’s mission for the church. Ordinary time is also a season of agricultural time — even if you aren’t farming, the rhythm of plowing, planting, tending and reaping is all around us — just like the farm equipment out on the roads. This is the rhythm I want to talk about this morning as we consider a parable of Jesus from the gospel of Matthew.
This is the second Sunday in the sermon series, Like A Mustard Seed. We are considering how the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. Last week I talked about the short parable of the mustard seed, which comes from Matthew 13:31-32. Remember, a parable is a story which tells us something about the kingdom of God — or the kingdom of heaven. Matthew uses those terms interchangeably. That parable from last week about the tiny seed which grows into a great tree, emphasizes the importance of tiny, ordinary things, which, when tended with love and nourished with a commitment God’s will for the kingdom of heaven, can become the foundation and structure of our faith.
The parable for today is also from Matthew chapter 13 — half a chapter before the parable of the mustard seed. We don’t know what time of year it was when Jesus was teaching beside the sea, but think it’s safe to assume that most of the people in the great crowd he was speaking to would totally get the agricultural framework of this parable; they might even grasp nuances of the story that I, as someone who has not had to raise my own food — would miss. Nuances like no farmer with any sense throws seeds on rocky ground or into a patch of thorns. You can of course, dig out rocks, amend soil, and root out weeds. That’s hard work, and if you’re going to do it, you might want to consider putting in that effort before you start tossing seeds around.
This lack of farming sensibility may be part of the reason why in verse 10, the disciples come to Jesus and ask him, “Why do you teach them in parables?” or in other words, “why don’t you just come out and say what you mean? Wouldn’t that be simpler?” Characteristically, Jesus doesn’t give a direct answer to this. He talks about the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, and that to those who have much even more will be given, and to those who have nothing, even more will be taken away. What is that supposed to mean? Jesus says he speaks to them in parables is that seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand. So whatever else is going on, there seem to be some challenges with seeing, hearing, and understanding.
Here is what I believe is the root of the problem: the kingdom of heaven is not something we comprehend intellectually; it is something we experience by living it. This means that no matter how persuasive and beautifully constructed a sermon is — let’s be generous and give it an 8 out of 10 — if you hear it and don’t listen (la la la la la) or you don’t understand it (what is she on about?), it is not going to be helpful. If you came in here knowing nothing, you know even less when you leave. On the other hand, if you are someone who hears the word and understands it, it changes your life — you bring forth new things, news things grow within you, you share good things with others. Jesus shared that word with everyone — not only the people who he thought would listen and respond, but everyone. Having God’s Word grow in us may be what we believe, but it is much more than that — it becomes who we are, and it determines who we become.
And here’s why I think Jesus taught in parables, and why we’re still talking about them today: they are fairly short and use imagery which is relatable, and because of their simplicity they can have multiple levels of meaning: this is way better than an intricate theological treatise, or any sermon I could construct. The best I can do is try to point to what I believe Jesus was trying to convey. This is a story about a sower, someone who scatters seeds. Not a very discriminating sower, because those seeds are getting tossed out where they have little or no chance of growing. But that sower is Jesus Christ, and the seeds are the Word of God — well that makes a difference — I’d hope we’d all agree the Word is for everyone, including the shallow, the hard-hearted, the prickly. If Jesus isn’t rationing those seeds, it probably isn’t our work to do that either. In fact, this particular sower may have a limitless supply of seeds: it isn’t really stuff we’re talking about, it’s the good news of the kingdom of heaven.
But here is another possible level of this parable — and it can exist right alongside the one which I just proposed — the beauty of parables is that they can speak in different ways at the same time. I believe that we — those of us who have received the Word — are also the seeds. A seed is a little portion of promise and potential, and the mustard seed demonstrated that the size of the seed doesn’t necessarily dictate the size of the plant. We are the seeds which are being scattered in the world: seeds tucked away in seed packets are fine, but that’s not where seeds are supposed to stay. We’re created to be God’s Word in the world, so that when we grow and bear fruit — or grain or tomatoes or whatever our unique thing is — so that when we grow, other people will think Aha! That’s what the kingdom of heaven is like . . . and seeds which grow are where new seeds come from.
You have probably heard the saying “Bloom where you are planted,” and you might even remember that I have said in the past that if I could choose, what plant I would be, I would be zinnia in the Creekside garden along our driveway. Fortunately, people have a bit more control over where they are planted than flowers do, but there are still plenty of things which are beyond our control. We don’t pick our families, we don’t pick the gifts which God has given us, we don’t get to dictate what does or doesn’t happen to the people around us. We all have challenges in our lives, and there may be seasons when hunkering down in the dirt is about all we can manage. But for seeds to grow, they must give up being seeds and turn into plants. We must commit to trusting our lives to the sower, in faith that God’s love will nurture and cover us wherever we fall. Because new seeds don’t come from old seeds — new seeds come from plants. We are called to bring forth the kingdom of God by growing and changing and bearing fruit, not by clinging to who we have been.