Rocks, Thorns and Hungry Birds

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Meditation on Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

July 16, 2017

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

 

 

     13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.

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Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground,  where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”…

18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word,  that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

***

I was a journalist covering the election of a new synod bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) when I met Carol Hendrix. Slide29 Carol was elected on June 9, 2001 to the office of bishop of the Lower Susquehanna Synod of the largest group of Lutherans in North America. She was the first female bishop for a synod that was in the top 5 largest of the 65 ELCA synods; it covered nine PA counties, the cities of York, Harrisburg, and Lancaster and the borough of Gettysburg; 134,381 members attended 271 Lutheran congregations.

Though I was quite content being a journalist back then and not thinking about becoming a minister, her accomplishment and her gracious attitude toward me had an effect on me. She had done it–this 60-year-old who didn’t start seminary until after her two children graduated high school!  She was ordained in 1984, a year after she graduated from Gettysburg Seminary. She served 3 small churches–a dual parish in Heidlersburg, PA,  and Hampton, PA,  and St. John Lutheran Church in Fairfield, PA. She earned a master of sacred theology degree in 1991, and ministered as assistant to the bishop before being chosen from 113 nominees at the synod’s assembly at Gettysburg College.

She had broken the proverbial “stained glass ceiling”

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 that prevented most female clergy from being chosen to lead “tall steeple” congregations and surely not synods or entire denominations! Or at least, that was how it used to be.

What was amazing to me was that she had grown up in the Lutheran Church with no female role models in ordained ministry!

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Lutheran women were not permitted to be ministers in North America until the Lutheran Church in America ordained the Rev. Elizabeth Platz in 1970.

What I wanted to know was how did Carol get to this point–that she would become a bishop? What led her to decide to become a minister?

She had an answer.

She said it was going to Lutheran camp every summer when she was a child and teen. She got to see pastors in a different light. At camp, they wore shorts and T-shirts; played ball and Frisbee and other games; sang; laughed; made crafts; and ate camp food with the kids. She didn’t mention Bible lessons learned; they faded from memory long ago. But she recalled how they were real people.

Seeds were sown! Slide39

Oh, there were plenty of other seeds sown in Carol before she knew God was calling her to be a pastor. She grew up in a Christian household and attended church, Sunday school, and youth group. She had read her Bible and been taught to pray. Family and friends all helped to nourish her faith from childhood.

But that’s not what she talked about with me. It was what happened one week every summer– her camping experiences with other Christian children and adults, who might never know how they affected the course of Carol’s life.

I thought of Carol as I anxiously prepared for Vacation Bible School this week.

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It starts tomorrow! I am not ready, yet! I have worried about this for several busy weeks. But studying our gospel this week, I keep thinking of the opportunities for sowing seeds that we will have these next 5 days, when the kids will come expecting something really special –and the Spirit will meet us all here.

God will be faithful, whether we feel ready or not!

The boys and girls will get to see us in a different light; not in our Sunday best. They will meet us as we truly are– ordinary, imperfect people, trying to follow Christ with our lives. They will see us in T-shirts and shorts or jeans and probably sweating a lot! They will see their pastor, who cares about them so much and also happens to be a woman. Sharing Bible stories with Mary Lou and her puppet, Gertrude. Learning about Jesus the Messiah–how he lived and died and rose again so that all who would believe on him would live forever with him.

We’re gonna sow seeds of hope and faith. And ask the Sower for more hope and faith to fill our minds and hearts.

***

Receiving, understanding and embracing a faith that endures is what our lesson in Matthew is about. It is about how we respond–what we do with the faith that has been given to us by the Sower who lovingly gives to all, regardless of their response. What is our level of commitment to the Lord? Yes, this passage is about stewardship!

In this familiar, “Parable of the Sower,” it’s less about the Sower and more about where the seeds end up–the 4 types of ground. Slide43 Three of the conditions fail to result in a strong, enduring faith and fruitful life. The obstacles to following Christ are the rocks, thorns and hungry birds. The sower is probably using his hand to scatter wheat or barley, the two main crops of Palestine at the time. But the disciples struggle to understand the meaning of the parable, so Jesus explains to them privately, when they have left the crowd.

The seed that falls on the beaten path and is gobbled up by birds– this is anyone who “hears the word of the kingdom, but doesn’t understand it. The evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart.” What is sown on rocky ground is those who hear the word and receive it with joy, but it endures only for a little while, for their faith has no root. When trouble or persecution comes, the person falls away.

What is sown among thorns

is when “the cares of this world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.” What are the cares that threaten to choke the word in our lives today? So many things can be discouraging for us!

“The lure of wealth” is a sin we might not recognize in us, but it is a temptation for the rich and poor and in between. Worrying about money is so commonplace in our culture, whether we have a lot or a little! We never think we have enough and worry we might lose what we have. This is a powerful obstacle to discipleship.

What is left is the seed sown on good soil–vs. 23–Slide47 “the one who hears the word and understands it.” This is not merely an intellectual understanding! The seeds of faith are sown into our hearts, as he says in verse 19! But how can we know the seeds of faith have found good soil in us?

In verse 23, we read another condition for good soil–hearing the word, understanding it and bearing fruit that yields “a 100-fold, 60 and 30.” What is Jesus talking about?

Scholars don’t agree on what the numbers mean; 30 fold could mean 30 bushels harvested for every bushel sown. Some say this is a good crop but not a huge one; others argue that even a four or fivefold yield would be more usual in Roman Palestine. But 100 fold is much more than a farmer could hope for. In fact, when Isaac, in Genesis 26:12, reaps a 100-fold, it is because the Lord has blessed him.

Jesus is not promising material prosperity. BUT He is challenging us to believe in God’s abundance as we seek to be faithful to Christ’s call. We will bear fruit “a hundredfold” as we share God’s word with others, as we share seeds of hope and faith, though we might not see the fruit right away.

***

I can’t say that after meeting Bishop Hendrix that I decided, then and there, to become a pastor. It took a few more years–and a whole lot more seeds sown on me. But I think I will write her a letter of thanks and encouragement–scatter some seeds her way–tell her how she inspired me and helped me become who I am today!

This is my prayer for you–that you will keep your heart open to receive the seeds of hope and faith God has for you. They will come from your brothers and sisters in the faith. So keep on loving them. Scatter seeds of hope and faith on them, too. And don’t forget the children in Vacation Bible School!

     Since Carol’s election to synod bishop, a bigger story broke when Elizabeth Eaton was elected the first female presiding bishop of the 3.7 million-member ELCA in 2013.

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At an ELCA celebration of 45 years of ordaining women in 2015, Elizabeth said, “I give thanks for my sisters who were the first women pastors. I give thanks for all women in ministry.” The Rev. Jessica Crist, bishop of the ELCA Montana Synod, preached, “We are here today because somebody somewhere scattered a bunch of seeds. They didn’t all grow; they didn’t all survive, but some did. That’s why we are here. Look around. Look at some of the plants that have grown out of that random seed scattering. Look at these people. Look at the congregations they come from. Look at the ministries they represent. What a wild and wonderful community garden that has grown up from those scattered seeds.”

“We are called to be sowers… Scatterers of seeds…And we have the promise of the harvest to top all harvests. We may be out there seeing no hope of return. It doesn’t matter. We may get our hopes up again and again, only to be disappointed. It doesn’t matter….What matters is that we sow together.”

 

Let us pray. Thank you, God, for loving us so much that you you’re your son to live among us, minister to us, and show us the way back to you when we were lost in sin. Thank you for sowing the seeds of hope and faith into our hearts and for stirring us to want to hear your word and follow you! Thank you for the promise of abundant life through faith in Christ. Help us to keep on seeking you in these next five days to fill us with more hope and faith that we might share with the children and families of Vacation Bible School. Open the hearts of the children so that they might receive the seeds of hope and faith and cause them to grow to maturity so that someday, they may all be sowers, too. Bless the VBS volunteers with joy and energy, creativity and love as we all seek to be a blessing to others and to bear good fruit. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

 

 

 

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