Seeds of the Sower

Year A, Proper 10, July 16, 2017

I’m a pretty recent transplant to the Savannah area. I’ve only been here for twenty years. I moved here from New York City to teach at SCAD after working in the fast-paced film and television industry. I grew up in Mississippi and was happy to get back to my Southern roots after a decade of exploring other parts of the country. The first day that I’d unpacked my boxes in my new apartment downtown I turned on my little TV and the local news was on: “An Effingham county pastor was bit by a rattlesnake during a Sunday morning service yesterday.” And I started putting my things back into the boxes wondering what I’d done. I ain’t in New York City any more.

Local news story

To be honest I really love the Southern eccentricities of my culture heritage. I think one of my favorite local theological personalities was Michael Guido, A Seed from the Sower. He had these one-minute TV spots produced out in Metter at his studios at the Guido Evangelistic Association and Gardens. He’d sit on a bench amongst the beautiful gardens with his coffee mug and this HUGE smile on his face and his, uhm… keen fashion sense. Birds flew around him, butterflies; it looked like a live action Disney film.

This guy.

He’d deliver his sixty second devotional in this enthusiastic tone of a sportscaster. I have to be honest, half the time I had no idea what he was talking about but, man, he was fun to watch. Some of these devotionals were downright bizarre but sometimes one of them stuck with me. Like the parachutist with 800 jumps to his credit that went skydiving with his friends to video their adventure[1]. Although he was experienced he was so busy shooting the event for posterity that he’d forgotten to pack his own chute. He got great footage but it was the last thing he ever shot. The moral of the story? While feasting on our goodies have we’ve forgotten God? That was it. Now back to our regularly scheduled program. Sowing his seeds here and there with his one minute stories. I was usually left a little stunned, thinking about these little parables for some time afterwards.

Parables are wonderful stories that ask us to engage with the story and reflect. I’m often trying to relate parables to how I would create a film in today’s context — what kind of characters would I create? What context would I put this story in to create meaning for a contemporary audience? How do we relate to a story about sowing seeds?

The writer of Matthew’s Gospel paints a picture of a fascinating character. I imagine this Johnny Appleseed/Michael Guido hybrid wandering about with a sack of seeds and huge smile just throwing seeds around all over the place. Not really paying attention to where he’s scattering them. The seeds are finding a diversity of places to land, some fertile and some not. Some fall from the sack on the road to be devoured by birds. Some fall on the rocks and become scorched by the sun. Others land in the thicket and can’t take root. Yet some seed falls on fertile soil and yields fruit.

Imagine Jesus in a boat right off the shoreline. Telling this story to a huge group of people that had assembled on the shore. This story was perhaps the only entertainment of sorts these peasants had. One theory that Jesus often preached form a boat is that sound travels over water and is reflected back to the audience making a kind of natural amphitheater, making it easier for a large group to hear what Jesus was saying. So here are the crowds saying “Cool story. But, uhm…. what are you talking about?” So, Jesus clarifies for us. He’s talking about how we hear the word of the kingdom of heaven. And let me tell you something, my brothers and sisters, we still hear the word in so many different ways. When we hear God but don’t understand, he tells us it’s like the evil one has come and snatched away what is sown in the heart.

Consider the rocky ground. I really hope y’all go the revival at Honey Creek on September 17th Bishop Curry is preaching. I’ve heard the bishop preach and I gotta tell you, he’s on FIRE! Not only does he capture your undivided attention he’s also spot on in his observations. He always gives me a little something to think about afterward. I get a great emotional fix from a dynamic preacher, I do…. But then what happens? The word is delivered and sounds great and all but….. “yeah…but”. Sometimes it doesn’t stick for long. The word sounded great! This Way of following Christ that we’re called to sounds awesome… but. Yeah I believe this , but…. You mean I’m supposed to stick my neck out? I’m supposed to stand for the weak and afflicted in the community? I’m supposed to speak truth to power and fight for God’s justice in the world? But…. what if my friends find out about this?

What about the seed that falls amongst the thorns? Well, you know, I have a great church. I like to call myself a Christian. Not only is it the social thing to do I actually like this feel-good spiritual stuff too, but…I’m pretty comfortable with what’s happening in my life — don’t need to change anything- and I’m sure not gonna let this stuff stand in the way of my profit margin.[2]

And then there’s the seed that falls on good soil.

I’m not gonna lie, farming is hard work. Growing up in Mississippi I worked on a farm. This farm had all kinds of crops so I got a feel for a lot of things. Each had their own specific need: checking cotton for weevils (ugh..), rice needs a ton of water, peanuts get root rot and requires early detection to avoid ruining the entire crop, soybeans are easily choked out by weeds. But here’s the thing, the soil in the Mississippi delta is rich. It’s good soil. And the seed that is spread there is not wasted if cared for. It will bear much fruit.

And yes, we bear fruit too. This isn’t the fruit that we take to the farmer’s market and sell, this is the fruit we give away freely — the gift of God’s grace. And all of us have the potential for being fertile soil if we can only allow ourselves to be present to this grace that God gives abundantly and unearned. Let anyone with ears listen. The Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, Paul reminds us today, has set you free from the law of selfishness of the flesh that leads to death. We are not in the flesh; we are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in us. To set the mind on the Spirit is to set our hearts on life and peace.

One of the things I love about our Anglican tradition is the liturgical calendar with its “seasons”.

At this point in the calendar we are in “ordinary time” that time between the gift of God’s Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the time of the annunciation that leads us in to the arrival of the incarnation of God in a peasant child. Funny it should be called “ordinary” there’s nothing really “ordinary” about it. But I like that it’s a “season” just as this is the season for wonderful garden vegetables.

Yesterday, like almost all Saturdays, I walked through the Forsyth Farmers market to purchase my vegetables for the week. This season of summer brings so many wonderful delights, fresh tomatoes, okra, butter beans, fresh corn, did I mention okra? It’s amazing how taking a stroll through the Forsyth Farmers Market can provoke such gratitude for the abundance of God’s creation and the good work of human hands.

But here’s the thing…. it take’s both God’s gifts and our working with these gifts to produce good fruit. God provides, we must open our hearts and minds to what God has provided and use these gifts accordingly.

So. What kind of farmer will you be? How will you help sow the seeds that bring God’s kingdom into fruition? For it is a wonderful kingdom indeed!

Amen.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2n-C4kXKWXw

[2] Paul talks about this in his letter to the Romans 8:1–11: The Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.