140th Church Anniversary
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The Twenty-Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
Scripture Reading: Matthew 13:1-9
The Parable of the Sower
13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred,sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
Sermon: “Bumper Crop”
What do these actors have in common: Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale, and Ben Affleck? That’s right—they all played Batman. For some people, though, there is only one Batman.
That, of course, was Adam West as Batman. Who was the villain who outwitted Batman and Robin? He was none other than the Riddler, played by Frank Gorshin.
Just as Adam West wasn’t the only Batman, so Frank Gorshin wasn’t the only Riddler. Jim Carrey played him in 1995’s Batman Forever. In today’s Scripture, Jesus does a surprisingly good turn as the Riddler himself.
Floating just offshore in a borrowed boat, Jesus talked to the crowd, Matthew tells us, using parables. Parables are riddles of a sort. Those hearing them must dig beneath the surface to understand what’s going on.
Speaking of riddles, see how you do with these.
✓ You carry it everywhere you go, and it doesn’t get heavy. What is it? (Your name.)
✓ What’s the difference between a student studying and a farmer watching his cattle? (One is stocking the mind, while the other is minding the stock.)
✓ A man rode out of town on Sunday. He spent the night at a hotel and rode back to town the next day, on Sunday. How is this possible? (He had a horse named Sunday!)
✓ What’s more useful when it’s broken? (An egg.)
Psychologists say that this riddle tells how likely you are to be a person of faith. “If a baseball and bat cost $1.10, and the bat costs $1.00 more than the ball, how much does the ball cost?”
If you said, “5 cents,” give yourself a pat on the back. Although $1.00 + $0.10 does equal $1.10, if you subtract ten cents from a dollar, you’re left with ninety cents. The riddle says that the bat costs $1 more than the ball. So, the ball must cost a nickel, and the bat must cost $1.05, since $1.05 + $0.05 = $1.10
Those who give the mathematically correct answer are of an analytical frame of mind. They look to what they see, understand, and analyze to understand the world around them. The leap of faith is a little longer for them than for others.
Those who quickly give the “wrong” answer are of an intuitive frame of mind. They’re okay saying that there are things we can’t understand and may never know. Their leap of faith comes a bit easier.
Usually, it’s not a matter of either/or. Both ways of thinking live side-by-side in us. We lean more heavily on one than the other, depending on the situation. Under the best of circumstances, though, the two streams meet, mingle, and join forces.
That’s called complementary thinking. Folks like this aren’t afraid to admit they
don’t have all the answers. That doesn’t stop them from thinking about those answers, anyway. That melding of intellect and intuition, of faith and reason, is what it takes to understand Jesus’ parables.
A lot of people aren’t willing to work that hard at their faith. So, like many in that long-ago crowd, they turn away, disappointed, at this strange teacher who speaks in puzzles and riddles like the one we heard today.
Farmers in first century Palestine scattered seed by hand. What makes the farmer in Jesus’ parable a bit unusual is his reckless generosity. Some seed lands on rocky ground; some even ends up as bird food. Thorns choke out still more. What’s left, though, yields a good crop—thirty, sixty, even 100 times more than what the farmer sowed.
This parable from Jesus is a not-so-subtle reminder that failure is a part of ministry. After all, only one out of four of the seeds bore fruit.
As it was for the farmer, the life of faith is about throwing out lots of seeds, trying different things, and seeing what happens. Why is it that so many of us find it so hard to risk making a mistake for the sake of the gospel?
Part of it has to do with our very humanness. We usually misjudge how likely it is something will go wrong. Then we come up with the most dire and dramatic worst-case scenarios for what will happen if it does. We also take too lightly how well we can handle stepping out in risk and faith.
We don’t trust ourselves or God’s presence with us enough take on the challenges ministry brings. Maybe worst of all, we don’t consider what it costs to do nothing.
In the business world, they call this active inertia, an organization’s tendency to keep on doing what they’ve always done, even as things around them change.
Stuck in ways of thinking and operating that worked in the past, companies in the grip of active inertia just keep doing what they’ve always done, except more so. Trying to dig themselves out of a hole, they end up digging the hole deeper instead.
The same thing happens in the church. Sometimes, rather than risking something new, we decide to play it safe, to avoid failure, and to stick with what worked in the past. Like the servant in another of Matthew’s parables, we bury our talent rather than investing it.
Jesus, on the other hand, calls us to recklessly scatter the seed of God’s word. Good discipleship, like good farming, is a mix of planning and panic, of doing what we can while realizing there will always be things out of our control.
Still, God makes the seeds we scatter grow in the most unlikely of ways. German gives way to English. Pipe organs and drum sets live side by side, as do new ways of preaching, teaching, and serving God in our community.
There’s no doubt discipleship can be a puzzling riddle, sometimes. More than that, though, it’s an adventure, an adventure inviting us to risk and dare and share God’s Word with a willingness to fail, as well as with hope, resilience, and a deep trust that, by God’s grace, at least some of the seeds we scatter will bear fruit.
Let those who have ears to hear, hear this.