The Growing Edge
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 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. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”
“Hear then the parable of the sower. 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. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 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. 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. 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.”
I have mixed feelings about this parable of the sower. In some ways it feels anticlimactic for me, because Jesus just comes right out & interprets the parable in a specific way. In other words, there is not much left to discern or discover. It is unique, because usually we do not hear Jesus explain. Usually the hearer is left to dive deeper and wrestle with God in her heart.
But I find several observations interesting.
Though I could tell this parable in my sleep,…
Though my brain starts to check out when I hear these familiar words,…
Life’s experiences have made this story more interested because I can think back on people in my life who have lived lives, as different as the soils in this story.
For Jesus interprets the soil as each of us: our lives and our habits, our ways and our values, our focus and our priorities. And I have met folks who have been the path, the rocky soil, the thorny ground, and the good soil. I’ve met folks who are an easy mark, like the path where the birds come and quickly snatch up the seed before it takes root. Jesus says these folks do not understand the Word of God. Perhaps they are quickly deceived by shallow and reductive thinking. Perhaps they favor certainty over mystery, the illusion of control over surrender. Perhaps they think in black and white, perhaps they never do the work of self-reflection and improvement.
I have met folks who are like the soil around the rocks and boulders. When they hear the Word of God, they receive it with joy, but they have not done the work. They have not wrestled with the text. They have not faced their own demons, questions, and doubts. Perhaps they have fallen for the trending lie that life with God is one of bliss and abundance. Perhaps they’ve come to believe that bad things do not happen to good people… But whatever it is, when the sun beats down and the wind doesn’t blow and rains don’t come, they wither up and die. Their faith – quick to spring up is also quick to wilt, swift to fade.
And then there are those whose lives mirror the soil of thorny ground. The Word of God planted in their hearts must compete with all sorts of temptations. Perhaps it is wealth, or the desire for it. Perhaps it is power, or the desire for it. Perhaps their lives are being consumed by the insignificant. Perhaps they are distracted beyond recognition, and never water the soil of their lives and hearts. Many simply go and go and go and go…never stopping, never resting, never listening, and definitely not following.
Finally there is the good soil – those who hear the Word of God. The Word takes root in their hearts and lives. It grows in depth and breadth. And as it matures, it begins to produce fruit.
I have been nurturing my very own, first vegetable garden. And for the first month, it felt like the growth was minuscule. I wondered why friends on facebook were already showing pictures of large leaves and vines. I wondered what was wrong with my patch. But then, when I wasn’t looking it seemed, suddenly there were leaves and there were vines. They filled the patch, and they began to overtake it, moving outward and into the yard.
But still there was no fruit. I checked under vine and leaf, day after day, but I couldn’t find any. Again I was watching friends post pictures of squash and zucchini, peppers and cucumbers. So was I missing it? Was it hiding? Would it bear anything more than leaves?
And then, again, when I wasn’t looking, the fruit began to grow. Before I knew it, I discovered a small cucumber and then a small squash. And now, just a week or two later, we’ve eaten one of the largest squashes I’ve ever seen – grown from our yard!
And in such ways, the Word of God grows in our hearts, minds, and lives. With nurture and intention, we watch the vines grow, and when we aren’t even looking, something clicks. A conversation, a connection, an opportunity, a choice – we suddenly notice we’re not the same anymore. We realize that the very thing that used to snow us under didn’t even ruffle our feathers this time. In the familiar territory of anxiety and fear, we remember God’s Word and place our trust in the Lord. We discover a peace, before the storm has even passed. In a conversation, we hear ourselves treating another with compassion and respect, and suddenly it occurs to us that we ought to also treat ourselves with that same compassion, that same respect. We finally set down our yearnings for control and see what God will do with our surrender, what serendipity may surprise us, what provision will come where they was nothing before…
Or perhaps we let go of our striving toward perfection. Perhaps we set down our expectations. Perhaps we surrender our fears and anxieties, and we take one step back, to observe them, to look upon ourselves with the compassion in which God has looked upon us – as we are made of dust!
Perhaps we let the Word unsettle us. Instead of shoving down our questions and doubts, maybe we give them voice. Maybe we dig a little deeper. Maybe we open ourselves in vulnerability to someone else and find that together we are made stronger.
Our roots have begun to grow.
In seasons of drought, we have dug deeper.
our yield, our fruit, our harvest begins.
And THIS is God’s purpose for us. To BE BLESSED and to BE A BLESSING. We ourselves are to be food for the hungry, shade for the weary, nector for the thirsty. Following the lead of Christ, who gave himself that we might live, we too answer God’s call to live for God and not ourselves alone. We answer God’s call to join in something bigger and broader, fresher yet more ancient, than our life alone.
And we cannot make this happen. We cannot will it to happen.
It is GOD who plants the seed. God is the Sower. God is the actor.
WE have received.
WE have received.
We have all been blessed.
OUR CALLING is to receive.
We are always responding to God.
We are making choices that determine the state of our lives, the state of our soul, the state of our soil.
what kind of soil are you? What is your temptation?
is your growing edge?
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE (Book of Common Worship, adapted & expanded)
O God, you are our life and breath, our light and fire our teacher and healer. We praise you for your handiwork of shaping creation. We commit ourselves to serve you for the sake of the Gospel. We devote ourselves to prayer with and for your people. We offer ourselves with vulnerability and look to you alone for strength. Be our rest. Be our rock. Be our Lord.
God of compassion, keep vigil with us these days. We grieve for the dead and pray for the afflicted. We watch and wait with those who writhe in love and helplessness, as they cannot hold the hand of the one they love or say their goodbyes. We remember those who serve others – rescue workers and police officers, nurses and physicians, civic and community leaders, and volunteers of every kind. Fill them with your breath of life as they bind up the brokenhearted, heal bodies, and bury the dead. Flow through them in the power of your Spirit, as they make snap decisions, as they enter charged situations, as they pray and work toward a more just and equitable world. Enfold us all in your tender care. We lay ourselves at your feet.
You give us prophets, holy God, to cry out for justice and mercy. Open our ears to hear them, and to follow the truth they speak, lest we support injustice and seek to secure our own well-being at the expense of our brothers and sisters. Give prophets the fire of your Word, but give them love as well. Sow in us the awareness that there is far more that unites us than separates us. Remind us all of our ever-present need for your steadfast love and mercy. We all stand bare before you.