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Got your lunch box?

Sermon Pentecost Proper 10 16 July 2023

Most of us moms like to pack a lunch or a snack for our kids when we know they’re going to be away from home for a while. Like when their class at school has an excursion—notice how the moms will organize to make sure there’s a cooler with drinks and chips and maybe sandwiches, because we KNOW our little munchkins are going to get hungry on that excursion. And if we don’t pack something nutritious, they’ll grab any old kind of junk food that’s handy.

So Jesus’ parables are like lunchboxes. He knew that after he was dead, and had risen from the grave and ascended, his disciples were going to get hungry. They were going to need nutrition, and he wasn’t going to be there.

In fact, that’s just what he tells us in the portion of Scripture that’s skipped in today’s lectionary. He tells us straight up that he talks in parables because he knows that we don’t need this message today, but rather down the road. When we’re building church. Not while we’re sitting right in front of him. But later, when he’s not around to guide us. He knows his listeners are not going to understand right now. But he’s saying, Here, take this, you’ll need it later.

SO today’s parable is about the sower who went out to sow. And some of the seed, which he tells us represents the Word of God, falls on the road, some falls on rocks, some falls on thorns, some actually ends up falling on good earth.

The implication is that each of us hears the word, but we respond to it differently, according to what kind of “soil” we are. And it also implies that somehow we could do something to be better able to receive the meaning. And as a young Christian decades ago, listening to this parable, I wanted desperately to know what it was that I could do to make sure I wasn’t the road or the rocks or the thorns.

I know that what farmers have to do before they plant is prepare the ground, by removing debris, rocks, old stubble. Then they have to mix in fertilizer or cow poop or whatever will enrich the ground with nutrients. Then they have to plow and open up the ground to rain and sun. And even after the crops are growing, they have to continually weed, fertilize, water… it’s a never-ending process of making sure that the crops have what they need to grow and yield their fruit.

It’s clear to me now that we do actually have several ways we can prepare the ground of our hearts to receive God’s word and to cultivate it. Just like corn growers, we have to prepare the ground, we have to plant, and we have to feed. More on that in a minute.

Because there’s something in this parable that I think might have caused a lot of confusion for the farmers of the first century listening to Jesus tell this story. Because it’s kind of confusing to modern farmers as well.

I heard an elderly farmer one time complain about this parable. “What kind of a NUT throws good seed on the road?” Another Christian in earshot said to him, “Well, the sower is God! So you’re calling God a NUT?”

And truly He is, if he’s throwing perfectly good seed on a road.

I can’t imagine that a farmer in the US Midwest or in Mexico’s Bajío, or even for that matter, the indigenous farmers of Chiapas would throw perfectly good seed onto ground knowing it would never sprout. No! I’ve watched farmers in Chiapas carefully walk, poking a hole in the ground and dropping in a grain of corn, a bean and a pumpkin seed, and gently covering it up. Nobody tosses seed willy-nilly on all kinds of terrain.

Except God.

God in his overflowing abundance of love, throws the seed of his word out there all over the place, never thinking about the cost, just wildly and abundantly scattering the seeds of his ever-living word, not caring where they land!

That’s the amazing, reckless, generous love of God, that he doesn’t just send his word out to the religious, to the pious, to the well-behaved. He sends it out to all of us. And as Isaiah’s prophecy tells us today, God’s word goes out abundantly but it never returns void. It never fails to yield its fruit. It’s never wasted on us.

Our worship service is divided into two parts—we even call it the Liturgy of the Word—then the Liturgy of the Table. In the Liturgy of the Word, we receive God’s word in the reading of the Scriptures, in our common prayers and if we’re all lucky, a little bit in the sermon. How we nourish that seed comes in the second part, the Liturgy of the Table, where God’s presence comes among us and he nourishes us and we nourish each other.

How we prepare the soil of our hearts, is not something I can tell you today. That’s something you have to figure out on your own. It’s like, your mom sends the lunchbox, but you have to unpack it yourself. You’re going to have to do the work yourself of unwrapping each item. Anything you don’t unpack, can’t nourish you.

But God trusts his own word. He’s packed it for you, for when you need it. Not today. When trials come, and the devil comes, and tries to take the seed away. You’ve got your lunchbox.

Let the good seed of God’s word fall upon your heart today. But then nourish it, as we say in our Baptismal Covenant, by continuing in the Christian fellowship, resisting evil and repent, proclaiming the gospel, serving Christ in all persons, and striving for justice and peace. (BCP 304-305).

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