Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sermon July 13, 2014

Proper 9A (5th Sunday after Pentecost)
Isaiah 55:10-13; Psalm 65:1-13; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
St Stephen Lutheran Church
July 13, 2014

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

It’s the day of the big game.
You have the snack food and the beverages of choice.
The whole neighborhood is coming over to watch the game at your place.
Because you’ve got a brand-new 64” HD 1080p flatscreen TV
equipped with screen-in-screen and surround sound.

But just as the game is supposed to get under way,
disaster strikes!
Suddenly the picture becomes jumpy.
Then it freezes.
It becomes an indecipherable jumbled mass of pixels
and finally cuts out entirely.
And words appear on the screen
on your suddenly useless monster television set,
those four dreaded words:
‘Searching for satellite signal…’
And you are left with a bunch of friends
staring at you over the chips and dip.
Before it could even begin, the party is over.

What has happened?
There is nothing wrong with your big expensive TV.
The satellite that receives the digital signal from wherever the game is being played
and beams it to your waiting satellite dish
is still orbiting the earth just fine.
But it is a bad weather day;
the thunderstorms have rolled in,
and there’s no end in sight.
It’s playing havoc with the broadcast.
There is too much interference,
causing what in the old days we used to call ‘static.’

We know what happens when we are listening to the radio
and we drive through the Fort Pitt Tunnel
and the radio cuts out.
We don’t think, ‘Oh, I’ve got to get my car radio fixed,’
and we don’t think ‘Oh, there’s something wrong at the radio station,’
We think, ‘Once I get out of this tunnel,
everything will be okay.’

We know this stuff,
but whenever Christ’s message about the kingdom of God
doesn’t seem to be being heard,
we assume that people are either incapable of hearing,
or that God really isn’t speaking.
We don’t draw the obvious inference
that God’s message is being broadcast
and that we are capable of receiving,
but there is interference.
Something is in the way.

Just as an over-the-air radio or TV station
broadcasts a message so that anyone who has a receiver can pick it up,
just so a farmer in the days of Jesus
would ‘broadcast’ seeds in his field,
throwing them in the air and letting the wind catch them
and disperse them all over the field,
so that the earth might receive it,
and that the seed might sprout and grow and produce.
Jesus is the one sowing seed, the seed of the Kingdom of God, among people,
so that the kingdom may take root and grow and flourish in their lives
and in the life of the world.

But, just as we have learned with the parable of the satellite dish,
interference can happen, things can get in the way.
In the parable of the sower,
the seed doesn’t all bear fruit.
Some falls at the side of the hard dirt road where the birds can get at it,
other seed in shallow ground which is unsuitable for putting down deep roots;
other seed among weeds which compete for water and sunlight,
and none of these seeds fulfill the potential in them.
Jesus came preaching ‘The Kingdom of God is here!’
What keeps people from hearing the message?

Some hear the message but just don’t understand it.
But I think we need to be careful here.
There are plenty of extremely smart people
who just don’t ‘get’ Jesus.
But then there are some people that don’t have great smarts
that do ‘get’ him.
The misunderstanding is not an intellectual incapacity,
but a hardness of heart.
Maybe it is not outright rejection,
but it’s an attitude that is satisfied with a surface understanding, a surface faith.
This kind of understanding is not ‘true’ understanding.
I prefer to reverse the words which make up the compound word ‘understand,’
and say rather, There are those who hear but do not ‘stand under’ the Word.

Seed needs to go deep enough to grow.
A shallow faith does not stand up under troubles or persecution
which come about because of God’s Word.
We have heard much about persecution of Christians in the world today,
but I would suggest that there is a more subtle kind of persecution
that we must deal with in this country.
I was at the blood bank and picked up the Post-Gazette on Saturday
and read a cartoon that had to do with the Hobby Lobby case.
I’m not going to get into that,
but one phrase jumped out at me: ‘Invisible Sky God.’
The inference is that all people who believe in some invisible sky god must be fools.
I don’t want to be a fool.
And this kind of thing can either make me ashamed to be a Christian;
or make me scornful of and bitter toward Christians
who invite this sort of mockery by saying foolish things in public,
or make me angry at and judgmental toward people who mock me and my faith.
Persecution can take many forms,
and our loss of joy and faith and perseverance when persecution comes
is the main evil which comes from it.

There is then seed which falls among weeds.
Here Jesus says that the cares of the world and the lure of wealth
chokes the Word and it does not grow and mature.
In his commentary on the book of Matthew,
Stanley Hauerwas explicitly says that we in America
wonder why the Church is shrinking
and we don’t draw the obvious conclusion
that it is because we are too rich.
I think Hauerwas oversimplifies a wee bit,
but on the other hand,
I looked at a very interesting map a while back
which showed the practice of religion around the world.
The map was superimposed upon a satellite picture of the world at night.
In those places where there are lots of lighted up cities,
the practice of religion is low.
In the places where when there is still darkness at night,
and you can see the stars,
there the practice of religion is high.

Jesus tells this parable:
not so that we can understand
why some people come to faith and some don’t,
and so that we can judge those other people
who are hardhearted and waver under persecution
and who are too rich.
This is not about other people, it’s about us.
He tells this parable because it is IMPORTANT
that we don’t let ANYTHING interfere with receiving the message,
With his examples of unfruitful seed Jesus is saying
‘Don’t let this happen to you!’

‘Listen!’ Jesus says. Twice he says it.
‘Let the one with ears to hear LISTEN!’
Not just ‘hear this,’ but ‘take it to heart!’
‘Stand under’ this word!
Jesus is the message that God the Father wants us to receive,
the seed we are to welcome into us and allow to deeply take root in us.
In Jesus, the kingdom of God is present,
to take away sin,
to release from the fear of death,
and to set us on the way to loving God above all things
and our neighbor as ourselves.

Don’t let ANYTHING get in the way!
Not money or worry about money,
not fear of what other people will say,
not even your own inability to understand.
If you don’t understand, keep coming back
like those disciples did when they didn’t ‘get’ the parables.
According to the Gospel of Matthew,
the only reason we got the explanation of the parable of the sower
is that the disciples ASKED him, ‘Tell us what this means.’

So if you don’t understand what the message is,
And keep coming back to Him no matter if you don’t think you understand at all.
God is working in the deep cool places of our lives far from the light of day.
We pray, we study, we listen,
we share our insights and ask our questions,
so that the kingdom of God might take deep root in our lives,
and God himself might rule over our hearts and minds, our whole lives.
‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
on earth, in earth, this earth, in me,

as it is in heaven.