The Gospel: Matthew 13:1-9,18-23
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.”
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation, and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: "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....."
It may feel this morning that I am starting way out in "left field" with the beginning of this message. But I am going to trust it will come together in the end.
There are some very interesting jobs or positions which exist in our world which didn't exist when Jesus walked around the area of Galilee.
One of them is a very specific specialist task that I am not even sure most of us have heard of. I learned about it when I was reading a movie review once. The reviewer talked about product placement and the role of the product placement specialist. Did you know that is an actual job, or a position, within the advertising industry?
In case you don't know what a product placement specialist is I will share with you a definition I came across this week: "Product placement is a form of advertising in which branded goods, locations or services are featured in an entertainment production that targets a large audience. Also known as “brand integration”, “branded entertainment“, “embedded marketing” or “embedded advertising,” product placements are typically found in movies, television shows, music videos, video games, influencer videos/posts, radio, and - less commonly - live performances. In exchange for product placement, companies may pay a production company or studio in cash, goods, or services. Product placement, also known as brand integration or product integration, is an entertainment marketing strategy in which brands are incorporated within films, television shows, music videos, or other entertainment content in order to reach consumers.
Isn't that amazing? There are people whose job it is to be sure that products are placed so that we will see them and want to buy them. Now there is a fascinating job!
As we begin to look at the scriptures appointed for today I have to say that I was struck by two things in the Gospel reading.
1. Jesus would have failed as a product placement specialist.
2. Jesus must have had a sense of humor.
Let me read the last section of the reading that I read earlier and see if you can see what I mean: "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....."
Jesus sits in a boat, and tells a crowd standing on a beach, about sowing seeds. To quote my friends from the Jewish Temple in Toledo: "Oy Vey! Jesus?" What are you thinking? Or is this some kind of joke?
I don't know about you but I feel like asking: Who uses the setting for a good illustration, about fishing and nets or the vagaries of the weather and their impacts on fishermen and their potential income, to talk to those people who gathered about sowing and soil variations? Advertising personnel across the country are throwing their hands in the air and wondering how Jesus ever hopes to get his message through to people.
Now it is interesting that in the lectionary reading chosen for today, we skip over a vital part of this reading. In verses 10 through 17, we hear the disciples come to Jesus and seek clarification and an explanation which is very helpful. Jesus takes the time to explain to the disciples what he meant by the parable of the sower. It is recorded and we get to hear it when it is read in church or when we study the scriptures for ourselves.
Now, if you have been attending church for some time you most probably have heard this story many, many times. There is no surprise element in this story for most of us anymore. We are familiar with and we hear it and in some ways let it roll right on past us.
There is also a powerful challenge right in the middle of the Matthew 10 to 17 text. It is in Matthew 13: 15, and I believe we all need to be aware of it.
"For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes, so that they might not look with their eyes, and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn- and I would heal them.’
I will speak for myself here and say that I need to remind myself, on a constant basis, that no matter how many times I think I have heard readings from Scripture that I need to seek to hear them "in a fresh way" with a willingness to hear something new and fresh.
Thank goodness for the disciples in this story because they ask the questions which lead to Jesus giving explanations that we have come to think are obvious and simple to understand.
When I was a newspaper reporter at one point in my life my editor drummed into us trainee reporters that the key to anyone getting the message we were seeking to convey to them was the triplicate presentation. Tell them, tell them again, and then tell them again.
The commentators I listened to this week reminded us preachers how often Jesus told the same story or a variation of the story. That he understood how his listeners needed to hear the message and then to hear it again and then to hear it again.
One of the commentators reminded us this week that it is easy in this story to get caught up in the number of failed seed situations. They encouraged us to think about the great crop that came from the good soil and how it outnumbered all the others where the seed was lost.
Often, I know that I focus on the challenges and on the difficulties which it seems I am facing. I need to remind myself that there are victories that are happening.
There are times when I need to look at scriptures like the passage from Romans this morning and remind myself that even Paul gets to the point of focusing on the positive.
In Romans 8:1-2 he says: "There is 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."
Jesus is clear in the parable of the sower that despite the challenges and difficulties that the sower faces there is a crop that comes and it is a bountiful crop with great rewards.
So, Jesus, in telling this parable and having the disciples ask the questions they do is encouraging us that we should move forward in our sowing of his word in the lives of those around us.
Yes, there will be difficulties and challenges, and we may be disappointed with the results initially. There may be people who don't hear, or people who don't hear immediately, we may struggle, ourselves, with hearing and understanding. All of that is part of the life we are engaged in living for Christ.
Aren't we glad for Psalm 119 this morning:
"Your word is a lantern to my feet
and a light upon my path.
I have sworn and am determined
to keep your righteous judgments.
I am deeply troubled;
preserve my life, O Lord, according to your word.
Accept, O Lord, the willing tribute of my lips,
and teach me your judgments.
My life is always in my hand,
yet I do not forget your law.
The wicked have set a trap for me,
but I have not strayed from your commandments.
Your decrees are my inheritance for ever;
truly, they are the joy of my heart.
I have applied my heart to fulfill your statutes
for ever and to the end."
Bishops & Father Mike