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Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, July 13, 2014

I am not a gardener myself, but I have heard often that zucchini plants are prodigious producers. So much so that people give their zucchini away to anyone who will take it. They go to all the neighbors and offer their extra crop. Some take it to make zucchini bread or use it in omelets or in other meals. But then there is more zucchini that threatens to take over the garden. People get their fill of zucchini. Then gardeners hide zucchini on other people’s front steps and run away. Zucchini, it seems, is everywhere in the summer, and it seems as though everyone who knows a gardener – and even some who don’t – gets a generous supply.

Generosity is what today’s sower is all about. This sower has an unlimited number of seeds that he sows everywhere. He sows regardless of what kind of ground the seed falls on. He tosses it extravagantly over the land that he wants to see produce good fruit because he wants everyone to have some. He does this time after time, season after season, year after year.

The sower is hopeful that the seed he tosses everywhere will grow and yield good fruit. He wants to collect the fruit and use it to feed everyone who is hungry. He is not just concerned about himself; he is also concerned about the hungry in the world. He is concerned that everyone have some seeds that will sprout and produce high yields.

The sower is loving. He accepts and loves all people and wants them to view him as the one who gives the treasure, the treasure that will never let anyone go hungry. He wants everyone to be filled with all they need to live a life of abundance.

The sower is taking a risk. He is sowing in a place where he knows some soil cannot produce. If he sows on pathways that have been packed down by people treading on them, then the seed will not even get into the soil and the birds will eat it. Or he could sow seeds on rocky ground and watch them sprout only to see them die when they are scorched by the sun. Or he could sow seeds in land that is full of weeds and thorns, which will choke the good plants out and he will get no yield there either.

But the farmer knows something about the seed he is sowing that no one else does. The normal yield for seed in Palestine was seven- to ten-fold, but his seeds are special because he has power that other farmers don’t have, and the abundant seed spread into the good soil produces 30 or 60 or 100 fold – a truly miraculous amount.

This story is the first in a series of parables Jesus tells about the kingdom of God. He is at a time in his ministry where the yield of disciples has been very small. He has been rejected often, and after this time of parable telling, he will be rejected by his own people at Nazareth. This parable does two things. It explains why the same message given to a group of people produces many different responses, from antagonism to apathy, from immediate joy that dissipates when troubles begin to full acceptance of the message. The parable also brings hope to the small band of disciples. Jesus does not end with the seed that falls on untilled ground. He ends with the miraculous yield of fruit – a message to the disciples that God’s word will ultimately win out with its yield. God’s word has a purpose – to feed the people – and God will keep spreading God’s seeds on the land until God accomplishes God’s mission of salvation for all. He ends the parable with a note of victory to come.

Jesus does not go on to explain the parable immediately. There is some text left out, in which the disciples, who are hearing the story for the first time and are as confused as anyone else, wonder why he speaks in parables. And it seems he does it because he doesn’t want people to understand, except for the disciples. Although he has told the people to listen both at the beginning and the end of the parable, it seems that though they see, they do not perceive; though they hear they do not understand. Remember last week, when faith was a gift to the innocent who were teachable and humble; this time understanding what Jesus is saying is a gift given only to certain people. It is a puzzle. Does God not want them to understand or are they not able to understand because of the way their hearts are focused. As Paul says, are they focused on the world and the forces in it that go against relying on God for understanding and believing, or are they focused on the Spirit and open to receiving the seed and producing good fruit? There is always a tension between what is God’s grace and what is individual response.

Can the soil change its condition on its own? Not if it is meant to be an exact parallel to the human heart. If the soil can’t change its condition on its own then what might change it? God spreads God’s words in hope and love, so there must be some way of changing the ground. Someone must be able to dig out the rocks, put Round-up on the thorns or loosen the earth that is packed down into the path. If God wants all to be saved then transformation must be possible.

But Jesus does not answer that question, as he so often does not. Instead, he explains the parable to the disciples. The Pharisees could be an example of the hard ground that doesn’t receive the seeds at all. Their minds are focused on a different path. The rich young ruler could be an example of someone who is choked by the cares of the world and the lure of wealth. Some early disciples could be an example of springing up quickly and then withering under persecution and trouble. But still the seeds that are sown in good soil are followers who will stick with Jesus through thick and thin, in spite of persecution and rejection. Jesus is urging the disciples to look at themselves and see what kind of soil they are. Right now they are hearers and understanders of the word because Jesus is explaining it to them, but what about their insistence on the military Davidic messiah – hard path; what about their desire to be the greatest – things of the world choking out the message; what about their desertion at Gethsemane – rocky soil at best. But remember Jesus puts the miraculous yields at the end of his story, and he trusts the disciples to carry on his mission even though they have made mistakes.

For those of us who are judgmental of ourselves, it is always so important to remember that Jesus thinks of us as good soil producing good fruit in abundance. He would not have told this parable if he did not think his disciples were producing good fruit and would produce more fruit. After the resurrection the disciples were transformed – their soil became even more fruitful and then they had the Holy Spirit to guide them, to assure that they would not only continue to be fruitful, but would become sowers themselves, casting the word of God on the land of all nations and seeing an abundant yield of grain.

Most of us know where our rocky soil, our thorny soil and our packed down soil are and we judge ourselves by it. But how many of us know where that good soil is, the soil that results in abundant production? How many of us can say what the good news of the Word of God in Jesus has helped us do to help people in need? How many of us can say how much our financial gifts have meant for anyone from a beggar on the streets to our church? How many of us know what lights we have been to our families, friends and others? Our good fruit is an important thing for us to know about, because it means we know God is winning in our lives. God is transforming us day by day, through the knowledge of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and through the good fruit we grow in our community. God continues to sow God’s seeds in our hearts to keep us focused on the life of the Spirit. We are blessed by the word, by the Eucharist and by our brothers and sisters in Christ as we encourage one another to yield good fruit.

The sower is overjoyed that we are producing an abundance of fruit. God continues to sow and reap abundantly, with hope and with love. And as the produce God has nurtured, we are invited to spread the word as well. Jesus entrusted the gospel to us. God transforms our soil every day to be more fruitful. Let us be generous in the casting of that seed because we never know to whom God will give the gifts of faith and understanding.

AMEN

     - Rev. Ann Barker