Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 55:10-13
Psalm 65:[1-8] 9-13
Romans 8:12-17
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

For as the rain comes down and the snow from the sky, and doesnít return there, but waters the earth, and makes it grow and bud, and gives seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so is my word that goes out of my mouth: it will not return to me void, but it will accomplish that which I please, and it will prosper in the thing I sent it to do.

I purposely live in a place where it rarely snows. I donít like snow. I would rather deal with heat in the summer than cold in the winter. There are several reasons why I have this opinion; I have decided that a horrid winter of constant snow in Washington State and a childhood of winter weather chest issues means I have enjoyed my share of the snow and I have left it for others. Of course, the warm, dry weather of Texas has its own problems, but Iím happy to leave the snow to the northerners.

I always said Iíd be ok with snow if only it would fall on certain places. I love the beauty of the fresh snowfall on the winter branches of the trees. I like the snow that gathers on the lawns when it is crisp and white. I enjoy seeing snowmen standing guard in front of houses. I hate having to shovel snow from sidewalks and seeing the dirty slush on the sides of the roads. I donít like the dangerous roads that are slippery from ice. I could happily live in a place where the snow avoids the places we walk and drive.

That place doesnít exist. The snow falls where it will fall, so does the rain. Those of us dealing once again with an impending drought wish the rain would fall on us. A friend posted a picture yesterday of the wet from a passing shower that suddenly popped up. She lives just a few miles from me, but we didnít see any rain at all. The weatherman suggested that those who had a shower should go buy lottery tickets because they were the winners of the day. The rest of us wished we were so lucky. Perhaps today will be our day.

Unfortunately, these passing showers wonít do much to help with the impending drought, but we rejoice anyway knowing that every drop helps. Even if it doesnít do much for our lawns today, those drops are part of the cycle which will eventually lead to the rainfall that will make a difference. Relief might not come for weeks or months, but that drop will do what God has sent it to do today.

The text from Isaiah is familiar to us. The chapter begins with the call for those who are thirsty to seek God: what He has He offers freely and abundantly. In todayís passage, we are reminded that everything that comes from God is fruitful. It is productive. God is actively involved in His creation, and He is faithful to His promises. His will shall be done, and He will make certain it is. Isaiah tells us in this passage of promise that instead of thorns, the earth will bear cypress and instead of briers the earth will bear myrtles. In other words, instead of plants that are useless and damaging, God will make the world productive and useful again.

I sure wish that our discourse were more productive, but these days we find ourselves in debates that go nowhere. How many times have you read the comments on an article online only to discover that some of the commentators have not even read the article? They respond with a quick answer to what they assume the headline means and often miss the entire point. Iíve seen conversations on televisions, particularly on the reality type shows, where people are ready with an answer to every comment. Chefs have an excuse for their failings, litigants interrupt the judge to justify their point of view on the matter, politicians jump to answers before even hearing the questions.

People spend more time thinking about how to respond than listening to what others have to say. We do a lot of talking and very little listening these days because we assume we know what they believe. We have to learn to listen to one another because maybe we will discover we have more in common than we ever thought possible.

It is probably just my imagination, but it seems even worse today than ever. Sometimes it seems like people are more like children with a booboo than thinking adults. Any parent knows the frustration of dealing with a child who has hurt themselves. They react with intense emotions when they are hurt, and it is impossible to understand what is wrong. This is true of physical problems as well as emotional hurts. Iíve had to deal with children hysterical about something, thinking surely they must be hurt but unable to find anything wrong on their body. They scream so loud and so long that they canít say anything and they canít even hear. It does not help when the caregiver becomes impatient with the child, angrily insisting the child stop the tears and talk so that he or she can know what is wrong. The more we insist a child talk, the more agitated they become.

In todayís passage, Jesus said, ďHe who has ears to hear, let him hear.Ē A hurt child has ears, but they donít have ears that hear. The words we are saying to help them settle so we can understand the problem reach their ears, but they donít really hear. They only know that they are hurt and nothing we say will make them feel better.

The people to whom Jesus was speaking may not have been screaming, but they were often as deaf as a hurting child. Jesusí words reached their ears, but they did not really hear what He was saying. Jesus was sometimes very obvious in the message He was trying to share, giving the people very pointed and blunt information about His mission and ministry in the world. They heard those words from their own understanding and experience. When Jesus talked of the Kingdom of God, they thought He was talking about the restoration of a Jewish independence, but He was talking about a different kind of Kingdom.

Thatís why Jesus used so many parables to teach the people about how to live as the people of God. Parables help us listen more deeply. We have to look at the story from a different perspective. We might know and understand the earth-bound concepts of the story, like in this one about planting seed, but we have to think more deeply about what it means in our daily lives. What is the seed? What is growing? What are the path, the rocks and the thorns? Certainly Jesus was not giving the people farming advice. He wasnít a farmer and most of His listeners werenít farmers. He was giving them a parable to help them see Godís Kingdom in terms that they would understand. But to understand, they really had to listen to what He was saying, not just the words He said.

It amazes me to think of all the people who heard Him speak, who saw Him face to face and looked into His eyes, and yet never believed. How would we do if we were met with the Lord in flesh and heard Him speak? Would we understand? Would we respond to His grace? A few did, many did not. Would our ears hear His word? Sometimes Jesus talked in parables, and His words were difficult for many to understand, even the disciples wondered why He would do this.

Communication is so important and yet is often the most difficult part of any relationship. Too often there are things that block the message from getting through. Jesus did not speak in parables to purposely cause them not to understand. Instead, it was the hardness of heart and unwillingness that made it difficult for them to hear. They werenít looking toward God with hearts and minds open to His word. Rather, their own biases, pressures and traditions blocked their hearing. Even today, we spend too much time making excuses or thinking of a response rather than listening to what God has to say.

Matthew lets us in on the secret. After speaking the parable to the crowds, the disciples asked Jesus why He taught in that method. The disciples did not understand; why not teach clearly so that everyone would understand? Jesus knew that there are always those who refuse to pay attention. They are the ones who feel that they are righteous on their own account; they donít think they need mercy and grace and live in haughty pride. For these people, the parables are nothing but nonsense because they have no faith. Godís Word speaks for itself, but many who heard Jesus speak did not understand how it applied to their lives in Godís Kingdom.

The disciples were given a spiritual understanding of Godís message because they had faith and were willing to listen. Those who did not understand had hardened their hearts against God and could not see or hear His Word. God uses very human, natural examples to help His children understand what the Holy Spirit is teaching them. He uses His creation to explain that which should be obvious. Everything we know about God comes from God Himself. At times, He gives us that understanding through very real, earthbound stories so that we will hear and see with our ears and eyes as well as our spirit. There will always be those who reject because they have not been willing to listen, but Godís Word is always productive.

God sends His rain to the earth to water the earth. It might seem, especially to those living in a drought, that God has forgotten us. But it will rain. At times I wonder if there isnít a drought of another kind: a drought of Godís Word. But I know He will send His Word into the world and that those who have listening ears will hear. His Word will produce fruit much greater than the seed planted, bringing life to many.

Jesus tells us in the parable that there are some paths to deal with, some stones to move and some thorns to eliminate, but God will make it happen. His Word is productive and it accomplishes exactly what He means it to do. He is, in every way, worthy of praise. And He is generous.

Unfortunately, we are very careful with our witness. We are too afraid that we might insult or offend someone. We are too afraid that weíll be rejected. We are too afraid that the people will not receive the words we say or that we arenít the right people to give it to them. We are imperfect, so we wonder how God could possibly use us to share His Word with the world. We donít think we have enough knowledge of the Bible or of the message. We are afraid to waste a good word because we think it might fall on the path, the rocks or in the thorns to be devoured, whither or choked. We are too shy to scatter the seed, so we keep it to ourselves. We try planting one seed at a time, carefully placing the Good News only in the Ďheartsí of those we know will take it.

We hear todayís Gospel passage and think that we should be more careful about spreading the seed. We think we can guess where the seeds we scatter will grow, and we choose not to scatter seeds that we think will be rejected or that will be gobbled up, withered under the heat of the sun or chocked by the cares of the world. We donít know. We never know what God has planned. Godís Word does not return to Him void, and so He invites us to share it with excessive generosity. We arenít limited the way a farmer is limited. We donít have to worry about whether our seeds will produce enough crops. We only have to scatter the seed and let God make it grow.

The psalmist reminds us that God created all things. His hand still moves the waters of the rivers and brings life to the fields. He saves us from ourselves, forgives our sins and shows us the ways of righteousness and truth. How can we go through any day, looking at the amazing things that God has done and not praise Him for His mercy and grace? Iíve seen some incredible things in my life, but God has His hand in it all. He is there in the times of war and the times of peace. He is visible in the beauty and in the pain. God deserves our thanks and praise for all He has done. Let us rejoice and sing today.

And since He is such a great and awesome God, the real question we should be asking is why we arenít bolder with our witness in the world. Paul reminds us, ďFor you didnít receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, ĎAbba! Father!íĒ We are not alone in this world. God has given us His Spirit. We need not be afraid. We will be rejected; of this we can be sure. Jesus warned us that it would happen. There are those who will not have ears to hear. But that is no reason to stop speaking His Word into the world. We might speak to a thousand people and never see a single spark of faith. Thatís ok, because Godís word doesnít come back to Him void. Seeds will be planted. He will send the sun and the rain; He will send someone to tend the heart and others to bring in the harvest. It is never up to us to decide who should hear the Good News because God can and will make it accomplish exactly what He sent it to do.

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