Weekly Seeds: The Word
Sunday, July 16, 2023
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost | Year A
Divine Gardener, make us good soil, tended, nurtured, and receptive to your word. Amen.
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen!”
18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
All readings for this Sunday:
Genesis 25:19-34 and Psalm 119:105-112 • Isaiah 55:10-13 and Psalm 65:(1-8), 9-13 • Romans 8:1-11 • Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
What is your experience with gardening?
How may soil be prepared, tended, and nurtured?
What are signs of neglected soil?
What is the source of thorns in a garden?
What and where are you planting seeds for new life and flourishing?
By Cheryl A. Lindsay
For nearly a year, I have been quite attentive to the mechanics of creating a garden in a box. The rather large box was the plenary hall where we would gather as the church for General Synod, and more specifically, I wanted to transform the platform where business and worship would take place into an evolving garden. We obtained plants already matured and in bloom, but at some point, they began their lives as seeds. Even if we do not possess the coveted green thumb, most of us have had some experience of placing seeds in soil, adding a little water, and then waiting in expectation for the shoots to emerge from that ground even if it’s contained in a pot.
Jesus uses the metaphor of sowing seeds to point to another act of nurture: spreading the good news. Jesus often taught using parables, and the parable of the sower is situated among many within this chapter alone.
Chapter 13 comprises seven parables as Jesus addresses alternatively disciples and crowds (Carter 2001, 280–300). Parables were a familiar form in the Hebrew Bible (2 Sam. 12:1–4: the ewe lamb; Ezek. 17:2–21), rabbinic literature, and collections such as Aesop’s fables. The word parable literally means to “throw something alongside,” indicating a comparison in which one thing—God’s empire—is compared to the situation of the subsequent, short narrative. The parables in chapter 13 interpret the division increasingly evident in responses to Jesus in chapters 11–12. While some people discern Jesus’ identity as the agent of God’s saving presence and empire, others—especially powerful leaders—do not. The parables explain why this division occurs. The lack of receptivity derives not from failure on God’s part but from human sinfulness and the devil’s activity. The parables also affirm the Gospel audience’s welcoming response and further illumine God’s empire.
Within this particular parable, the primary character is the sower with the seeds and soil comprising the primary elements. Each is important and in relation to one another. The sower is the driver of the action, which may seem extravagant, haphazard, or even careless. Why does the sower fling the seeds without any sense of discretion or discernment? Who, when choosing to plant seeds to grow, would not test the environment, calculate optimal conditions, and prepare the soil before scattering precious seeds? Is it that the seeds lack preciousness for the sower? Can the sower not evaluate the soil before littering it with seeds? Is sowing a compulsive or impulsive act over which the sower has no control?
The sower in this parable is sowing anywhere and everywhere, regardless of reception and regardless of risk. To the hearer of the parable this may seem extravagant, even wasteful. Allan Boesak suggests that the reader is immediately struck by the “reckless abandon, the unchecked generosity, the undisciplined abundance of this sower.”4 God’s initiating grace operates along these lines. The sower does not wait for “receptivity.”
Anna Case Winters
The sower sows because that is who they are and what they do. The parable is simple and expressed so we might glean from what is there rather than overly speculate over what is not. The sower is not identified as a gardener or farmer. They have one job, and they do it consistently and continually. It is not their role to determine where seed should be sown. Their job is to sow seed abundantly and generously.
I believe the concept of “cancel culture” has been overblown. Often, the term is employed defensively when one’s sense of entitlement to access or opposition to legitimate critique gets activated in response to attitude, speech, or behavior. Those instances may be more accurately be described as a consequence rather than an attack or cancellation. At the same time, the concept of grace may have become underutilized as a value and gift to be given. Most of us will readily receive grace for ourselves, but culturally, we may find it diminishing in value and aspiration.
Self-help experts insist that we should eliminate people from our lives who do add value, whatever that may subjectively be defined. Social media memes encourage us to let people go without a second chance or thought. Our political silos ensure that we do not have to debate or even listen to ideas countering our own. In a world in which we have access to more information, perspectives, and ideas than ever before, it has also been easier than ever to curate our relationships to weed out divergent thoughts, opinions, and experiences.
Is the sower reckless by sowing indiscriminately…or how we lost appreciation for the generosity of grace central to the gospel message? Jesus had conversations that must have surely been frustrating. He answered the incessant questions of the religious leaders of his time. Jesus kept company with the folkx that others had long given up as lost and unworthy of attention, favor, and grace. Jesus dropped seeds with abandon and care,
And if Jesus could do that, then who are we to cherry-pick where we spread our seeds? Effectiveness is not the same as fruitfulness. Efficiency is not a spiritual gift. In telling this parable, Jesus seems unconcerned that the sower may be wasting their time by sowing in improbable places.
The reality is that word/seed so graciously and generously scattered does not always fall on receptive ground. Even when it does there is always plenty to put the plant at risk. Those who first hear with enthusiasm but then fall away in the face of trouble and persecution are compared with seed that fell on rocky ground and did not really take root. Other seeds “fall among thorns” that choke the life from them as the “cares of the world” and the “lure of wealth” can do. In “good soil” the word is heard and understood and bears fruit. The final harvest is worth the sower’s extravagance. It exceeds all expectation with an increase of thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold (v. 23). The unchecked generosity of the sower is vindicated by the result.
Anna Case Winters
In this parable, the realm of God grows not by addition but by multiplication. The increase is exponential. That is, after all, the nature of dealing with seeds. Within a seed is all that is necessary for a plant to fully mature. In other words, the whole plant is contained within the seed. At the same time, the seed comes from the plant. A solitary seed will ultimately produce many more times itself in future seeds. Like Jesus entering into the world as the ultimate revelation (word) of God, the young shoot breaking through the soil indicates the newness of life. As Jesus matured in life, they emerged for public ministry, assembled a core group of disciples, and began to expand that number exponentially. Those seeds produced plants that produced seeds that continue that cycle through today. We are called to be seeds that spread the good news wherever and whenever we go, to tend our soil and our souls to welcome the word, and to be plants that produce more seeds for the kindom to come.
May our garden flourish. Welcome the word.
Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
Mitzi Smith’s Testimony about Testimony
Testifyin’ is a significant ritual in most Black church traditions. The Spirit of God moves and animates the individual to testify. Testifyin’, Geneva Smitherman, argues, is “a ritualized form of black communication in which the speaker gives verbal witness to the efficacy, truth, and power of some experience in which all blacks have shared. In the church, testifyin is engaged in on numerous symbolic occasions.” The normal time to tell and hear folks testifyin’ in most Black Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA) churches is during Wednesday night prayer meeting. We also testified before and after baptism and communion services, at a designated pre-dawn hour during Black regional camp meetings, or at an annual watch night service. At the Fourth District Annual Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), ministers were sometimes asked to recite a Bible verse as a form of testimony when we answered annual roll call. Some participants scrambled for and through Bibles to find a text; others arrived prepared with a text in mind; and still others could spontaneously conjure an appropriate verse or favorite Scripture. Because I grew up in a household that encouraged me and my siblings to memorize Scripture, I had a soul-encouraging storeroom of texts from which to choose, depending on what was happening in my life and/or in the world around me. In the SDA Church, we committed to memorizing a verse a week, so that on the thirteenth Sabbath of each quarter, students from each class (from kindergarten to senior citizens) were expected to recite all thirteen Scriptures. As a teenager and young adult, I seldom disappointed my Sabbath School teacher, my mother, or myself. So annual roll call in the AME Church was a cakewalk.
OIn the Black church Scriptures are often invoked in the testimonies of the saints and sometimes Scripture constitutes the testimony; no other words are necessary. Testifying or bearing witness is an illocutionary speech act (an act of speaking that in itself effects or creates the intended action). Sometimes the testimonies of Scripture or ancient human witnesses express the same hope, desperation, experiences, and challenges as modern readers. And often because we are taught to regard Scripture as the Word of God, as the sacred articulation of nothing new under the sun (Eccl 1:9b), we default to the human experiences, the language and testimonies in the biblical texts, even when our experiences and those in the Bible conflict. As a teenager, I remember hearing church folk testify by quoting the psalmist’s testimony at Ps 37:25 as representative of or the same as their own experience: “I have been young and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (NRSVue). Walter Brueggemann argues that the OT, including the Psalms, are testimony and countertestimony. The psalmist’s testimony troubled me, but, as a young person sheltered within the walls of my denomination, I did not give myself permission and lacked the critical interpretative tools to dissent. It was not a testimony I shared with the psalmist.
–From We Are All Witnesses Toward Disruptive and Creative Biblical Interpretation by Mitzi J. Smith and Michael Willett Newheart
For further reflection
“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Though you recite much scripture,
If you are unaware and do not act according
You are like a cowherd counting others’ cattle,
Not a sharer in the wanderer’s life.” ― Anonymous, The Dhammapada
“There’s a lovely Hasidic story of a rabbi who always told his people that if they studied the Torah, it would put Scripture on their hearts. One of them asked, “Why on our hearts, and not in them?” The rabbi answered, “Only God can put Scripture inside. But reading sacred text can put it on your heart, and then when your hearts break, the holy words will fall inside.” ― Anne Lamott
A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.
The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (firstname.lastname@example.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.
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