Seed and Ground

July 16, 2017

    Series: July 2017

    Category: Faith

    Passage: Matthew 13:1-18

    Speaker: Ted Scott

    Today we have two familiar stories, one about Jacob and Esau, the other Jesus’ parable of the Sower. Lets see what we can make of these.

    Normally a preacher takes responsibility for making meaning from a text. Why don't we share that responsibility today, with you consciously deciding what the messages are for you from these passages as I present different options. For instance, this parable could be about nothing more then it seems to be – a farmer with a bag of seeds goes out into a field and tosses handfuls out onto the earth. Some of those seeds fall on hard ground and get snatched by the birds. Some germinate, but are in shallow rocky soil and spring up and die; others get choked by weeds. A bunch of seeds land on good ground, germinate and yield a good to great harvest. That's it, a description of a natural process. Got it. Life is like that. We can go have coffee and speak of other things.
    You could also say to yourself, “it's a description of a natural process, but there’s more than meets the eye. The seed, the stones, the weeds, the different kinds of soil represent something, like what impairs or enhances growth and abundance Let me reflect on this, probe the meaning, maybe apply it to some thorny-rocky- shallow people we know, or even perhaps to ourselves if in the mood."

    I'm sure you know that a parable is a simple-sounding story that points to a deeper spiritual meaning or reality, an insight that radiates in multidimensional ways. What it reveals or veils depends on the listener. So we might look at this familiar parable in the same light.

    The background to this story is that Jesus has been doing miracles, attracting big crowds and teaching. With popularity comes controversy; he has begun to be questioned and challenged, asked by what authority he does these things. Skeptics judge and disapprove what he's doing and teaching. The previous chapter in Mathew mentions that some are plotting to destroy him, even accusing him of working for the Devil. In this context Jesus begins to teach in parables and this one is the first. So...seeds, hard ground, stony ground, weedy ground--and good receptive ground. Consider the hints.

    Let’s shift for a moment and talk about human beings here. Bible writers often have quite a candid view of our human condition. In the reading from Genesis, Jacob and Esau contend with each other even in utero, to their mother’s considerable discomfort. Jacob as a young man is presented as a cheat, bent on swindling his first-born brother out of his inheritance. Esau isn’t much better--he’d gladly give it up for a hot meal. If at that point divine seeds of insight and grace fell on either of them, they would fall on stony or thin soil, or be choked by weeds of powerful sibling rivalry.

    Being one of four kids I understand sibling rivalry of a milder sort. We all wanted to know which one of us our mother favored. When she refused to say, we made up stories as to who it might be: "You were the first," we could say to my older brother "therefore she likes you best." Or to another, "you came prematurely and she worried, so you must be especially dear," Or "you were the love child who came after dad got better from being ill with tuberculosis." Or "you’re the only girl, therefore it has to be you." Mom wouldn’t tell, but that didn’t stop us.

    To return to the parable of the Sower, Jesus is acutely aware of the various levels of receptivity or hostility in his audience. And so he teaches in a parable and says “you who have ears, hear.” As further evidence of caution, consider this: Jesus tells the parable to the crowd, but explains it only to his disciples and other followers--to those who believe in him and his message.  Belief opens doors to insights impossible otherwise. Jesus does this knowing that the disciples have their own issues, but they seek to know and learn as believers.

    How do you approach this parable? You can listen from a cognitive perspective, thinking, analyzing, sifting and discerning. You can also listen from your heart or gut: how does it sit and resonate with you? You can personalize, walking inside of the story. For instance, the parable of the sower consists of several elements: a sower who throws the seed, the different kinds of ground onto which the seed falls, and what happens after the seeds land. What is it like if you put yourself into the story? You are the seed, and experience yourself falling on hard ground and being pecked up by birds. You experience yourself landing on rocky ground, germinating but not being able to put down proper roots. You grow among thorns and feel their choking presence. You are falling on good ground and growing tall and lush. And you experience yourself as the various kinds of soil, from inhospitable to wonderfully receptive. As you plumb the story in any of these ways, remember who tells it, Jesus, who maintains a deep connection with the Spirit and wants followers to as well.

    At any moment we may be stony or prone to shallow enthusiasm or able to choke new potentiality or truly receptive. So we need to be aware of and cultivate our own ground. How do we do this? Let me ask you as the authority regarding yourself, wen are you receptive? What makes you that way? Is it when you surround yourself with nature, or a beautiful view, or listen to a moving passage of music, or when you are in the presence of a loved one, or when you read an inspirational thought, or are with an inspiring group of people, or when you quiet yourself and meditate or pray? What is it for you? For me, meditating or praying is essential. If I don’t do those things my ground is neither felt nor prepared; the seeds that fall in my life have a much better reception when I meditate regularly. Music too can center and inspire me. The world may not change when I do these things, but I change and become more relaxed, welcoming, able to receive, able to act from a centered and confirmed place rather than from reaction.

    We know that Jesus came from and taught abundance. This parable is about abundance, that any of us can have access to in the midst of our world as it is. The Sower showers seeds onto all types of soil. So it is with Spirit, who is constantly there for us, in the depths of our being, in others whom we encounter doing graceful things. This is the mysterious Kingdom Jesus points to. Where do we encounter it? I would say that the person who during illness receives get well cards or who wakes up after surgery and knows people are praying for him or her encounters it. The person tutoring a child expresses it, as does someone who acts in a caring way towards the creation around us. Or perhaps we together immersed in that mysterious thing called the Body of Christ during Communion. Or we encounter a sense of the Kingdom in some other way expressive of care and compassion, generosity and mercy--seeds that are growing and bearing fruit. If you don’t like the word kingdom, please substitute another that works better.

    In the midst of this, our world often convinces us that life is about scarcity, about getting and protecting what is yours. I believe we are often taken up with cares of the world, and absorption in wealth--getting and spending--in a context where many have less. I’ve had many conversations in recent months with friends who report being thrown off balance or feeling uprooted by events going on in our society. Shocks seem endemic, a near-daily hazard. In today’s environment we so need our sense of ground. Disequilibrium reminds us of the importance of grounding, and finding good ground.

    Through all this, the Sower is about abundance: more seeds, more packets of spiritual potential, more pregnant moments, than we know what to do with. In the midst of our own variedness--the aspects of us that are distracted, stony or thorny, un-centered, unreceptive--seed still falls. We are encouraged to let the receptive soil within us, the deep center, thrive and be abundant, focusing on what we are given rather than what we lack or what in us is shallower. We are encouraged to believe in and be part of the Kingdom. The same friends who discuss their distress about current events report progress in their attempts to refocus, recover balance, to be receptive of the good and flourish.

    We sometimes try on experiences together in this gathering, and let’s do so now. Let’s begin with the three deep breaths such as we take often at the start of worship…. Just being aware of yourself, sitting, in this space. Look around, notice the light, nature through the window…as for things that might be distracting, simply say hello and let them pass like clouds floating by…Take a couple more deep breaths and notice how invisible gravity lines draw you to the earth; also how you are supported as you sit. Each breath you inhale is like a bit of Presence and oxygenation, just for you. A lung sized bit of Spirit, of life, nourishing you whether you are aware or not. And right now you are aware of it. The Spirit and the Sower are one, and one with you, each moment.  Notice the effect of this simple awareness….

    Returning back to the Genesis story, Jacob continues to connive as he gets older. He’s never Mr. Perfect. But he also wrestles with the angel. In this encounter, seeds land, germinate and thrive. He grows, as does Esau. Two imperfect men evolve to be honored and remembered by many.

    Looking at Jacob and Esau, the story seems to be that it's not who you are at a given point in time, it's who you are over time and how you grow and change through time. Crucially, when you find that good ground in you that is receptive to Spirit, seeds flourish.

    Even though Jesus knows that some in his audience are hostile, he still teaches, shares his message with “those who have ears to hear.” What about us? When you and I experience good ground within us, seeds growing, glimpses of the Kingdom, don’t we have something to share? One of my longest friends is a proud atheist. He sees religion and spirituality as a crutch, I think he’s missing out. I still make an effort to share my beliefs and insights. He was out to visit recently; I invited him to the Friday Men’s Connection so he could maybe see that not all believers are crazy or stupid or limping. The guys were their usual stimulating selves that morning; he was impressed by the gathering and the people. If its good why not share it any way you can?

    The Spirit knows how varied we are--how easily distracted, lulled, misled, given to passing enthusiasms, prone to cynicism or skepticism. The story of the Sower reminds us that seeds continue to rain down. Opportunities for germination, insight and abundance continue to show up. Blessing is, as is possible abundance. A poem from Mary Oliver captures this:

    “If I envy anyone it must be
    my grandmother in a long ago
    green summer, who hurried
    between kitchen and orchard on small
    uneducated feet, and took easily
    all shining fruits into her eager hands. 
    That summer I hurried, too, wakened
    to books and circling philosophies. 
    I sat in the kitchen sorting through volumes of answers
    that could not solve the mystery of trees.  
    My grandmother stood among her kettles and ladles. 
    Smiling in faulty grammar,
    she praised my fortune and urged my lofty career.  
    So to please her I studied - but will remember always
    how she poured confusion out, how she cooled and labeled
    all the wild sauces of the brimming year.”

    We have only to notice, to tend our inner garden, to cultivate heart-ground, to know that we are part of this mysterious, brimming Kingdom. The message of the Kingdom will not be received by everyone. Even we will experience fallow times. But seeds continue to fall, including on the deep ground within us, asking only to grow. An affirmation: they do and will produce a harvest and bear fruit. So may it be.