Sermons

pastorEric aug2014Sermon for 6th Pentecost

Enough Good Soil
By The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer -
 

Do you remember the story of Johnny Appleseed, the legendary frontiersman who walked across Ohio and other states planting fruit trees wherever he traveled?  There is even a children’s song about Johnny, often used at our preschool for their prayer before lunch –
 
O, the Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord for giving me the things I need, the sun and the rain and the apple seed, the Lord is good to me.
 
 

I thought of Johnny Appleseed when I read today’s Gospel lesson from St. Matthew, Jesus’ well-known parable of “The Sower and the Seeds.”  Its theme is well stated in the title of the hymn we will sing as our Hymn of the Day today, “Lord, let my heart be good soil.”  Let our hearts hear your word, O God, and then “bear fruit,” as the text tells us, in actions of love for one another.  And that is a wonderful theme for us.
 
 

Scholars have debated this text for many years.  Their issue is that the first part of this lesson, verses 1 – 9, is very different in tone and context from the second part of this lesson, verses 18 – 23. 
 
 

The parable itself, verses 1 – 9, describes a sower who is ridiculously generous with the amount of seed he scatters, throwing it not only on the good soil but on soil that even non-farmers like most of us can recognize weren’t good bets: thorny soil, dry soil, and even a beaten path. I mean, what are the chances the seed is going to take root in that? Which makes this sower not simply generous but wasteful. Seed was not cheap in the ancient world, and everyone who listened to Jesus’ parable would have recognized the sheer wastefulness, recklessness, even stupidity, of such an approach to farming.
 
 

And then, when we get to Matthew’s report of Jesus’ interpretation of the parable in verses 18 - 23, the generosity and wastefulness of the sower and the amazing abundance of seed isn’t even mentioned. Instead, the focus has shifted entirely to the soil, drawing an analogy between the different qualities of soil and different kinds of believers. The implication seems relatively clear: we should pray and strive to let our hearts be good soil as the hymn suggests.
 
 

Because of this, many scholars believe the parable itself was probably original to Jesus, emphasizing the amazing and abundant grace and love of God as characteristic of the Kingdom of God, but that the later interpretation, written in a very different form from the parable, may have been a creation of Matthew to apply this parable to his own situation where believers were struggling to hang on to their faith. These scholars believe that the parable is a proclamation of unending grace and the interpretation an encouragement to persevere in faith. This has caused many preachers to preach on one part of this text or the other but not both.
 
 

But, with scholar David Lose, I wonder if there is a more logical connection to these two narratives, the parable and its interpretation:  we all need the encouragement “let our hearts be good soil” – I need it every day - and if God the sower did not sow generously, abundantly, even wastefully it really would not matter what kind of soil our hearts are!
 
 

We live in a time and place where we often feel like there is just never enough: not enough money, or clean water, or fresh air, or fuel, or security, or happiness, or prestige or… well, you name it. Sometimes this feeling comes from the ads we watch (or are subjected to) via television, radio, and the internet, ads that strive to create in us a sense of lack and inadequacy that the particular product being advertised can fill. And sometimes this feeling comes from politicians who, whether hailing from the left, right, or middle, follow a similar strategy by naming what is wrong, what is lacking, what we should fear, and then offering themselves as the solution to our problems. While this strategy is effective for both advertisers and politicians, it has the effect of creating in us a profound sense of scarcity and inadequacy, eventually making us believe not only that we do not have enough but ultimately are not good enough.
 
 

Which is why this story of a sower – and by extension God – a sower who scatters seed on all kinds of soil is so important for you and me. God does not hold back. God is not worried about whether there will be enough seed or grace or love. God may want our hearts to be good soil but nevertheless hurls a ridiculous amount of seed even on dry, thorny, or beaten soil, dry, thorny or beaten soil like you and I feel at times.
 
 

JohnnyAppleseedI mentioned Johnny Appleseed as I began.  Preaching on this text, my dear friend the Rev. Dr. H. George Anderson, former Presiding Bishop of our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Dr. Anderson points out that Johnny Appleseed’s passion for planting fruit trees benefited generations that came after him.  Appleseed was not worried about the results of his planting.  He trusted enough in God to believe that the seeds would grow without his help.  Think of it, if Johnny Appleseed had hung around to be certain that each of his seeds grew into a tree how many fewer trees would he have planted in his lifetime!  Johnny Appleseed believed what he could do in planting was enough and generations across several states have benefited from that belief.
 
 

And I get the feeling that God would even scatter seed, that is love, mercy and grace, that God scatters seed like that, too.  I even believe that God would scatter seed on a parking lot!  And why would God do that?  Because God believes there IS enough. 
 
 

Because God believes we are good enough. Enough to save ourselves? No. Good enough to deserve love, dignity and respect? Absolutely.
God loves us just as we are and so regards us as worthy of being showered with God’s grace, God’s love.
 
 

Now, loving us as we are is not, of course, the same as being content with where we are.
 
 

In fact, precisely because God loves us God wants us to discover the abundant life of trust in God and love of and service to our neighbor.
 
 

Precisely because God loves us, God wants us to stand against the fear and scarcity that drive prejudice, racism, greed, and violence.
 
 

Precisely because God loves us, God wants to strive for the equality and dignity of all people.
 
 

Precisely because God loves us, God wants us to share what we have generously so all will have enough food and shelter.
 
 

Precisely because God loves us, God wants us to grow into the people God knows we can be.
 
 

But the fundamental and unifying element in all of God’s hopes for us is that they all spring from God’s unconditional, even reckless, love for and acceptance of us right here, right now, just as we are.
 
 

There is enough. You are good enough. God will never give up on us, you and me.  God’s love is unending. Period.
Or, maybe better: You are good enough. God will never give up on us. God’s love is unending.
 
 

Precisely because God loves us!
 
 

O, the Lord is good to us and so we thank the Lord, for giving us the things we need, the sun and the rain and the apple seed, the Lord is good to us.
 

Amen.
 

(With thanks to scholars H. George Anderson and David Lose).
 
 

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
July 15-16, 2017


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