First Congregational Church
July 13, 2014
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
“God, the Crazy Farmer"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Why shouldn't you tell a secret on a farm? Because the potatoes have eyes and the corn has ears! Why did the scarecrow win the Nobel Prize? Because he was out standing in his field! Did you hear about the magic tractor? It turned into a field! What kind of things does a farmer talk about when he is milking cows? Udder nonsense!
There are some here this morning that don’t have a track record with me, so I’ll ask you to reserve judgment about the sermon title until the end. For those who have a track record with me, well, I guess I don’t have anything to offer you, except this.
When you sit in the middle of Upper Herring Lake, facing south, you get a most beautiful panorama. To the left is the low swampy area that holds one of my favorite pieces of property in Benzie County, where the creek comes into the lake. A little closer toward the center, there are a row of houses on the water that never seem to have too many people there at one time. To the right is another wetland area, but with higher vegetation, more along the lines of the places where I will be fishing in a 13 days, 19 hours, and some 30 odd minutes. A little closer to the middle, still on the right, are about three really long, wood docks that go way back to some homes, I suppose. But smack dab in front of you is a beautiful field with an orchard next to it. There is a rise to that field and orchard, seeming to come right up out of the lake.
If we knew that Jesus would be coming to town tomorrow, I’m guessing that not only would most of us, but most of Benzie County and the surrounding counties might do their best to be there to see him. Since none of the buildings around here would accommodate the crowd, if the planning were up to me, I’d suggest that he speak from a boat, on the water, to the crowd that would fan out over that field and orchard, right there in that natural amphitheater on Upper Herring.
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 The Message
1-3 At about that same time Jesus left the house and sat on the beach. In no time at all a crowd gathered along the shoreline, forcing him to get into a boat. Using the boat as a pulpit, he addressed his congregation, telling stories.
3-8 “What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.
9 “Are you listening to this? Really listening?” (At this point, the Gospel writer Matthew inserted an interrogation of Jesus by the apostles, about the point of parables. But for today, we’ll just skip right on to the rest of the lesson.)
18-19 “Study this story of the farmer planting seed. When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road.
20-21 “The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it.
22 “The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it.
23 “The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.”
Thank you, Carlisle, Peyton, Kyah and Reagan. Looking at the crowd before him, and looking off to the side, maybe catching sight of a farmer in the field, it makes sense that Jesus would come up with this parable.
Even back in Jesus’ day, farmers were careful with their crop planting. Any farmer worth their salt would teach the next generation how to stay away from the hard, compacted ground, the gravel and the weeds. If you think about it, there may have been more than a few folks there that day, wondering if Jesus had spent a little too much time in the woodshop, not knowing what real farming was all about. Maybe that’s why Jesus asked the crowd if they were listening - really listening.
Maybe we need to really listen, too, because maybe this parable isn’t about the soils, but about the farmer - The Farmer - God, the Crazy Farmer. Maybe the “seed” is the Good News of the Gospel, and how we care for our hearts - are the soils. The Good News would be seeds of love, and mercy and grace and joy and all the other seeds that contribute to the health and well - fare of this world. God has no limit to those seeds, so God sows them, willy-nilly, in the most unlikely of places, because even a dandelion can grow between asphalt and a building.
We could get all snobby about human soils, pointing out this group or that individual and how they refuse to open their hearts to God and God’s love. But when was the last time you took a good look at the soil of your heart - not for what every one else sees, but for our own good? Sometimes we don’t realize we’ve built hard-packed roads in our hearts, veritable highways that have gotten too packed down by the busyness and worries of life. Not only does God’s Good News bounce off our hearts when they get that hard, but so can the seeds of concern and compassion for people.
Sometimes, when we forget to pay attention to our hearts, they can become shallow. Our get-rich-quick, instant gratification culture is not the cause for shallowness. It is us, when we fail to take responsibility for who God calls us to be. It is we who are responsible to keep our hearts from becoming abrasive, gravely and sandy.
Even when we’ve paid attention to our hearts, sometimes we forget to do the thinning and cleaning out that is necessary for good growth, or they become too full. I think the tiger lilies in the front of the church need thinning, because there are merely a few blossoms with no promise of late bloomers. They need room to grow, like our hearts. Sometimes it’s not that our hearts get calloused or shallow, but that the best seed of God’s love and grace and joy gets crowded out by important matters like financial futures, community involvement, political involvement and/or our own families and health. We need to be concerned about those topics and more. But we have to remember to tend to our hearts, that we are growing what we know God would have us grow.
Good soil is broken soil. The good soil is soil that is tilled and turned, soil that has cracks and ridges where seeds can drop down and take root. And we are, each of us, in our own ways, broken soil - turned over and over in all kinds of ways throughout our everyday lives. And this brokenness, which we often so desperately try to hide, this brokenness that we think disqualifies us from God's love - this brokenness - is the very thing that allows the seed, the Good News, God's love to take root in us.
The other day I came across a little video called Drive-By Compliments. Some guy with a megaphone hopped in the passenger seat with a friend at the wheel, and went around giving people unsolicited compliments. He’s yell out, “You have beautiful hair.” “Sir, you are a very handsome man.” “You have a lovely dog.” “Love the shirt.” “Those pants work on you, sir. They look good.” “Lookin’ good in the suit, sir.” “You two are a cute couple.” “Have a good day, sir.” “I wish I could play sports, too.” “I like your glasses. They’re pretty cool.” “You guys deserve a balloon, you’re so cute. Red!” “Miss, you are very pretty.” “Red is your color. It looks good on you.” To a guy reading some papers on a wall, “You’re an excellent reader, sir.” “Looks like you’re havin’ a good day.” To a guy that many might have described as a little nerdy, “You’re very cool. Yeah, you. You rock.” “You are a lovely group of ladies.” “Keep up the good work.” “I like the mustache, sir. Looks good” “You remind me of a daffodil.” “You’re very pretty. Just to let you know.” “Thank you for being a bus driver.” Nearly all the comments got a double-take, at least half got a smile and some got a thumbs up and a thank you.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear. She who has ears to hear, let her hear. Maybe that’s why God, the Crazy Farmer keeps lobbing seeds at even the unlikeliest of targets. It’s not that the farmer doesn’t understand the long odds. It’s just that when you’re talking about planting and saving the world, it’s not finally about the odds but about the persistence of the Holy One who won’t stop. Ever.
What an unlikely idea, that we can become agents of God, the Crazy Farmer, scattering the Good News of grace, mercy, forgiveness, love and joy into the unlikeliest of places. Jesus spent most of his time with people and in places that would have been considered bad soil in his day. He consorted with despised tax collectors, the ritually unclean, the sick, Samaritans, women, and rough fishermen turned disciples. These were not the spiritual elite. They were not good soil by most any measure. But Jesus walked with them, taught, and healed them, without a megaphone. Jesus showered them with mercy and love, and they did indeed bear much fruit.
We are called to follow Jesus and his example of loving all kinds of people, all kinds of ground, trusting in the power of God's Word and Holy Spirit to transform even what appears to be barren or broken soil. It is a job that calls for prayer, so let’s get to it.
God, you Crazy Farmer, thank you for reaching out to us in ways that can seem absurd. Thank you for your endless love and grace and mercy and joy, that can grow to unimaginable magnitudes, if we are willing to remember that you bring life in the midst of brokenness, resurrection out of death, healing out of loneliness. Help us to tend the soil of our hearts, that we not become hard-hearted, shallow or weed-chocked. Remind us that we can water the hearts of others with even the simplest of gestures. For the goodness of your sowing, and the limitless stores of your Good News, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.