Here's my sermon:
It’s been a difficult few weeks for us at House talking about this parable. We almost called this service: Good dirt bad dirt a liturgy based on a parable we don’t like. It just seems so…unfair. Like what about that part “when anyone hears the word of the Kingdom and doesn’t understand it, the evil one comes and snatches it away”. Which sounds like its somehow our fault for not understanding.
For those of us raised in super duper religious homes, the question of what kind of soil we are still looms in our spiritual imaginations…calling out for us to give the obvious Sunday School answer like Rod and Todd Flanders: “I’m good soil”. Even if we don’t understand what “I’m good soil” means or we think we know what it means and we suspect that we might be the rocky kind or at least prone to thorns, we answer “good soil…we’re definitely the good kind” all the while harboring the notion that God seems to judge our soil without having the decency to give us the ability to really decide what kind of soil we’re going to be . If soil is stuck with what it is: rocky, thorny, good, whatever -- then why can’t God’s word change it into what it should be? It’s like an unfunded spiritual mandate. Even if I start to think that maybe God’s word has born fruit in me I’m then being prideful and certainly God’s word can’t do a whole lot in prideful soil. So even if we are good soil we can’t say that or else by doing so we become the bad soil so when asked “what kind of soil are you?” I really just want to hide under the covers, or maybe convert to a religion a little less crazy, like branch davidianism. All that is to say, we decided that we don’t like this lousy parable of the soil.
Deitrich Bonhoeffer wrote once that original sin is choosing the knowledge of good and evil over the knowledge of God. What we want is what the disciples wanted – the knowledge of good and evil. We want to be judgers of soil for ourselves and others. Like in the passage that immediately follows this gospel text we want to be able to above all else know for sure what is weed and what is wheat rather than know that God is merciful and just, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. And because of this, we heard this reading today as the parable of the soil.
Until, that is, we realized that this isn’t actually the parable of the soil at all. It’s the parable of the Sower. Shockingly this parable isn’t about me after all. Here, instead of a standard by which we must judge our worthiness to receive God’s word we are offered a lush image of how God extravagantly, wastefully, wantonly sows the Word of the Kingdom. Isaiah reminds us that God’s Word does not return empty but fulfills its purpose. So maybe the fact that the evil one snatches the seed from those who don’t understand it is a good thing considering the role of birds in the whole process of reseeding. They might snatch up seed but only to replant it somewhere else now perfectly encapsulated in it’s own fertilizer.
Again and again in the midst of a thorny and rocky and good world, God sows the life-giving Word. All we do is show up. We hear the story again and again as it works in us, interprets us, and despite ourselves even bears fruit and yields a hundred fold not because we’ve managed to make ourselves good soil through piety and being really really good. No. That would be the parable of the soil. God’s Word lavishly scattered around us bears fruit because God’s ways are not our ways and God’s word does what it intends without even the slightest amount of soil management on our part because this is the parable of the Sower.
In my tradition, the Word – God’s Word - is first and foremost the Christ principle – the logos- God’s own self made flesh – Emmanual, God-with-us-and-for-us - The Word, as one of my favorite theologians says- is the God who would rather die than be in the sin accounting business anymore. This is the Word to whom the scriptures bear witness. The one who always comes to us again and again. This God who pursues you beyond time and beyond rock and beyond soil and angst and confusion and pride. This pursuing God, while we seek only knowledge of good soil and bad soil, in the cross this God proclaims, arms wide to the suffering of this beautiful creation, this is who I am. Making all things new. Making all things new. Extravagantly sowing Christ in with and under all things, even the things we least suspect: rock, thorn, weed – us, them, you, me, good, bad….God’s inverted first shall be last, last shall be first kingdom defies our attempts to domesticate the agency of God’s Word. This is the God spoken of in Isaiah. A God who establishes an inverted economy of free wine and milk. A God who is continually redeeming the world and even us. God’s word does not return empty, but comes to earth enfleshed in the Christ dies and returns, scattered and sown for the good of the world endlessly pursuing you even in the midst of all the forces that would defy it.
For the interactive piece, we had set the chairs in a semi circle around a green cloth on which sat an empty, very large bowl in the middle - surrounded on 4 sides by somewhat smaller bowls filled with -1. "soil" 2. "seed" 3. "thorn" and 4. "rock" Around the whole circle sat cushions. Following the sermon ambient techno played while people were encouraged to sit and feel each of these things in their hands and reflect on what they represent in their lives, after which they were to toss what was in their hands into the large bowl at the center. All of the soil, rock, thorn and seed then ended up together in the large center bowl. This then housed the candles for our the prayers of the people which followed.