Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only Start Doing

Pentecost 4 – Year A

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

In the name of the triune God  who creates, redeems, and sanctifies
and who sows divine knowledge in our hearts. Amen.

Two summers ago, back in Connecticut,
some of the young adults in my parish
decided to get involved in the community garden
that was directly behind our church building.
My friend Laura spearheaded this parish project
and convinced me to tend one of the garden plots with her
even though both of us grew up in cities
and knew next to nothing about growing anything.
She convinced me that it would be fun.
We’d get to enjoy the fruits of our labor
And we’d learn a thing or two along the way.
It was a great summer.
We had a blast.
We spent lots of time outdoors, got lots of exercise.
We had garden workdays where everyone with a plot gathered
and together we repaired the raised beds that had warped and cracked during the winter.
and we cleared away all the dead autumn leaves that the city had neglected to remove.
We met so many new people—
neighbors who lived in the fancy new condos across from the church
were gardening right alongside
the residents of the public housing building behind the church.
We got involved with the New Haven Land Trust
and went to their gardening workshops.
We planted collards, cucumbers, tomatoes, dill, cilantro, and basil seeds and seedlings.
And we dreamed of harvesting their bounty at summer’s end.
We had big plans:
to sell the produce in the local farmer’s market to raise money for our church,
or to share the veggies with the residents of the public housing unit.
or maybe to use the produce
to create some healthy snacks for the church coffee hour
instead of the usual donuts and cookies.
BUT
about halfway through the summer, we noticed
that our collards looked like beautiful green…lace.
They had all these little holes in the leaves,
like an insect or a bird or bunny rabbit had munched right through them.
Our tomatoes always seemed to simply disappear before we could pick them.
We never figured out
whether it was the neighborhood squirrels
or the neighborhood humans
who helped themselves to the goods.
Our cilantro just never sprouted,
Our dill was dried out,
And our basil was brown.
So we started to get kind of discouraged.

But then
we noticed that our little cucumbers
were actually growing.
And out of nowhere….
radishes.
Radishes were growing right in our garden,
even though neither of us had planted them!
So we watered them regularly
and cleared away any weeds that threatened their turf.
We even prayed over them.
We went to the local Hispanic grocery store
where they sold candles dedicated to every saint you could think of.
We picked out two candles and buried them in our garden:
Saint Fiacre, patron saint of gardens and gardeners,
And Saint Jude, patron saint of lost causes and hopeless situations.
(NOT Saint Francis, who we figured would be only too delighted
to share our veggies with the birds and squirrels!)
Sure enough,
at summer’s end we harvested our cucumbers and our surprise radishes.
We enjoyed them,
but we never figured out why they flourished
while nothing else we planted survived
and I often wonder why.
Why did some of the seeds flourish
while others withered away
or failed to even take root?
It’s a mystery.
All we could do was pray
and trust that there would be some sort of harvest…
even if it looked nothing like
what we had planned or imagined.

***

Today’s gospel lesson
is the first time in the book of Matthew
that Jesus uses the word ‘parable.’
When the crowds get big,
Matthew has this habit of depicting Jesus
as set apart from those to whom he teaches and preaches.
Back in Chapter 4 a large crowd had gathered,
and so Matthew describes Jesus climbing up on a hill
so that he could be seen and heard as he addressed the masses.
And thus we get the Sermon on the Mount.
Well, now there’s another big group gathered to hear Jesus,
so Matthew again describes Jesus as set apart from the crowd.
This time we’ve got ourselves not a sermon on the mount
But rather a Brainteaser on the Boat.
Or more accurately,
A Comparison
or Proverb
or Allegory
or Illustration
or Metaphor
or Riddle
or Brainteaser on the Boat.

You see, we modern readers of the Bible
can’t be totally sure what Jesus meant
when he used the word ‘parable.’
All we know is that the parables of Jesus
are wonderfully mysterious puzzles,
with lots of different possibilities for interpretation.
They use ordinary, everyday images
to offer some insight into the extra-ordinary existence of God in our lives.
They tease our brains into contemplating the kind of sacred truth
that cannot be
explained,
and can only be
described.

It’s very tempting
to read this parable and worry—
worry about what kind of soil we are—
whether we truly understand God’s Word and cause it to flourish,
or whether we might be
too rocky,
too thorny,
or too hardened to yield anything at all.
Or worse, it’s tempting to read this parable
and assume we know what kind of soil other people are.

You see, even the 25% of the seeds that fell on the good soil
had varying degrees of success.
If your seed yields 30 times more grain than you started with,
you’re probably feeling pretty satisfied.
That is until you look over and see the seed next to you
who somehow managed to yield twice as much as you did.
That neighbor seed probably feels pretty good, maybe even a little smug.
That is, until they notice the overachieving seed over there
who has yielded a hundred times more grain!

And so we fret.
Are we good soil?
If so, how good are we? Tier 1? Tier 3?
Or are we rocky soil?
Or thorny soil?
It’s all very stressful, isn’t it?

But if you’ve ever been to church during Holy Week,
you know the deal.
You know
like I know
that we are all fertile soil
AND
we are all rocky, thorny soil.
We can be praising God
and shouting Hosannas at the top of our lungs one minute
and then turn around
and use those same lungs to shout ‘Crucify Him’.

God made us,
and so we are all good soil.
And yet, we are not God
so we are all rocky, thorny soil too.

Rather than fretting about whether we are fertile soil or not,
perhaps our focus should be not on the soil
but on the Sower,
who sprinkles those seeds
on just about every imaginable type of soil there is.

The Sower is not concerned with where those seeds land.
The Sower knows that,
despite the hungry birds
and the rocky rocks
and the thorny thorns
and other such difficulties,
the harvest will yield many blessings.

Jesus tells this parable as a response
to being rejected by the people who don’t get him.
Not everyone who hears Jesus teach and preach
is signing up for the mission.
And Jesus is saying, well, sometimes that’s how it is.
Not everyone who hears the gospel will always understand it.
There will be growth and good soil
AND rejection and rocky soil along the way.

The disciples wondered why some of the seeds of their mission were flourishing
While others withered away or failed to even take root?
It was a mystery.
All they could do was pray
And trust that there would be some sort of harvest…
Even if it looked nothing like
what they had planned or imagined.

This is not a parable about how to be the best soil you can be.
This is not a prescription for how to be good followers of Jesus.
This is a description of the kingdom.
This parable describes how
sometimes we hear God’s word and don’t understand it.
And sometimes we hear God’s word and misunderstand it.
And sometimes we don’t hear God’s word because we forget to listen for it.
But sometimes,
sometimes we hear God’s word
and we do understand it.
And when we do, we must respond.
Now I’m going to make a leap
to another text that is NOT in today’s lectionary.
But I’m pretty sure y’all are familiar with it.
The book of James tells us that, in addition to hearing God’s word
We are to do God’s word.
That is our faithful response to hearing God’s word—to then be doers of that word.
And to trust in God’s plentiful harvest.

***
I want to end this morning
by saying how incredibly delighted I am
to be here with you.
You have already shown me such a gracious welcome
and I thank you for that.
This past spring,
I spent a great deal of time and energy
searching for the right place
to begin my ordained ministry.
I cast a lot of seeds out there.
I was searching for a
lively,
warm,
active,
urban parish
with a passion for responding to God’s call
through missions,
outreach,
and prayer.
I was also searching for a church with a strong rector
who would be a true mentor and friend
and for a faithful and fun group of staff colleagues.
After I read the job description for the assistant rector position at St. James’s,
I was definitely intrigued.
After my very first telephone conversation with Randy Hollerith,
I had a strong sense that I just might have found the place.
After conversations with my friend and former classmate Whitney
about her amazing experience serving here,
I was encouraged.
After visiting Richmond and meeting Ann and Angie and Carrie with an I.E. and Cary with a Y and Eddie and Mary and Mason and Scott and Steve
(and anyone else on the search committee I may have inadvertently left off),
I was even more convinced that St. James’s and I would be a good fit.
After I got the call from Randy offering me the job
and two days later watched as my friend and classmate Alex
also accepted a job at St. James’s,
I was thrilled and excited.
And after just 2 weeks serving here,
well, I’m pretty much in love with you.

It will take me a while
to learn all your names and faces
and to figure out which kids go with which parents,
but please know
that I want to know each of you.
I look forward to knowing you.
I look forward to hearing about your dreams and passions and worries.
I look forward to praying with you,
studying scripture with you,
traveling to Haiti with you,
and serving meals for CARITAS guests with you.
I look forward to rejoicing with you when you rejoice
and weeping with you when you grieve.
I look forward to celebrating the Feast of St. James, and All Saints Day, and Christmas, and Mardi Gras, and Easter and Pentecost with you.
I look forward to maybe even someday baptizing you, or your son, or your granddaughter.
And if God wills that I be ordained to the priesthood later this year,
I look forward to standing behind that altar as Celebrant at the Eucharist
And holding up the bread and wine
As we all hold up our prayers,
together consecrating the elements as the body and blood of our Lord,
sharing together God’s holy and mysterious meal.
Most of all,
I look forward to encountering the Incarnate Christ in each of you
and knowing him more deeply
through knowing you. Amen.