July 12. (Romans 8:1-11 and Matthew 13:1-9 & 18-23) I am by nature, a people pleaser. I sometimes don’t speak up when I know the other person might be upset by what I say. It is my tendency to hold myself back, to make a good impression, find favor, keep things smooth.
I know that this is not the true way of Jesus. I’m working on it.
I know too that some people think they need to interact with God in this way. Hold back parts of themselves they think God won’t like. Try to be a different person than what is authentic, try to hide away what might make God upset.
So if you find yourself in that crowd, hear this phrase from Romans: There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
No condemnation. No judging to be found lacking. No wish to punish.
No need to second guess yourself or hide yourself away. But by having Christ in you the Spirit gives you life- to you, just as you are.
I need to be reminded of that from time to time.
But for some Christians, they have a different sort of struggle with this passage- no condemnation for me, well of course- but obviously THAT person is doing it wrong.
However knowing there is no condemnation for me, should mean that I don’t engage in condemnation of others, either. The judgment we are freed from should free us from the need to judge how others are living out their faith.
And I think this parable from Matthew is making a similar point. But first a little context, in the chapters leading up to this passage, the Pharisees have been observing Jesus, as he heals, even on the Sabbath- against the rules! And Jesus and his disciples plucked and ate grain on the Sabbath- against the rules! And the Pharisees have called Jesus lord of the demons now a second time- and just before this, Jesus’ family was looking for him, tried to call him away from the teaching he was doing, and he looked at the ones who were listening to him, following him and said, here is my family.
Then we go to Jesus going to teach by a lake, realizing there are so many that he needs to go out and sit on a boat. Then he tells this parable-and unlike some more he will tell right after he doesn’t say this is what the kingdom of God is like, he just starts talking about a sower of seeds. When he explains it he will say the seed is the word of the kingdom – so it seems like he is speaking of himself as the sower.
Sometimes we hear this parable and we concentrate on the different kinds of landing spots for the seed- we reflect on what am I, a path, a rocky place, thorns or good soil. And that can be helpful sometimes if we can look at ourselves truthfully and repent of attitudes not aligned with God’s ways.
But, I have to say, that is not really the point of this parable. The point is the sower- the how sower just goes around throwing seed like he’ll never run out.
I am not good with plants. But I know from observing others and living in farming communities, that this sower doesn’t know anything about good farming technique. You need to carefully cultivate that soil, maybe fertilize, do some tilling to let some air in and put the topsoil down to the new fragile roots, then you add the seeds, and then you water and carefully tend those plants, pulling out weeds, keep bugs out, and so on.
The sower of the parable, however, just throws seeds around without looking where they are going to fall, even willingly feeding the birds. He is no farmer. He simply throws seed.
And when he explains the parable like I said jesus speaks of the message of the kingdom, as the seed.
So I wonder if even among those crowds listening to Jesus there were some who were wondering, why don’t his own mother and brothers come in to hear him? Why are the Pharisees, our trusted religious leaders, so against him? Some who wanted to accept and follow but couldn’t help looking at those who were not a part of Jesus’ movement or actively against him. They might have been a little bit of people pleasers like me.worrying about How to make everyone happy.
But Jesus knew that he couldn’t make everyone happy. Like I have said in some previous sermons, there was a side to choose, a team to be on, you can’t call evil good. And Jesus was there to reveal God, to tell people what God really thinks of things, and show God’s abundant love for all. He stuck to his mission, always showing love, but not trying to please everybody.
So that is why the seed is scattered with such abandon: the message of the kingdom that God is coming near, the love of God that can transform lives and heal and bless even in the most dire circumstances: that never runs out. So the sower can just toss that seed and let it land where it may, without trying to decide ahead of time, who is fertile soil and who is not. New life will grow somewhere. It has too with all that seed.
So if we follow the example of Jesus the sower, we Don’t need to worry so much about what the effect of our good words and good deeds will be- just do them. God can see who is what kind of soil, so we don’t need to try to judge that ahead of time- and sometimes the seed surprises you- real-life plants sometimes grow through the sidewalk or out of rocks. And in the gospel we see that there are surprises in who follows Jesus, yes some of those Pharisees, some of the Roman soliders among them, a Canaanite woman, even Matthew the tax collector for whom this gospel is named.
What if we just trusted that as far as God is concerned, there truly is no condemnation for us or for others: there is no need to judge who is worthy of showing love to or sharing the gospel with- as far as God is concerned, there isn’t a judgment hanging over your head that you’re not doing enough- there also isn’t a need to try to make everyone happy- but what if we could know God is supplying us with a never-ending supply of grace and love, and you were just free to spread the gospel message of love with abandon?
I did a thing this week, I went to a vigil for Vanessa Guillen in Hanford. I saw it advertised on facebook. They were clear it was going to be incorporating social distancing and people would be wearing masks, by the way. I emailed the organizer ahead of time and asked if they would like me to offer a pastoral presence, because they were going to be sharing stories similar to Vanessa, of sexual harassment and violence in the military. They said sure, and would I like to do an opening and closing prayer. So I did. This was not a church setting and I didn’t know a single person there, which for me causes a little anxiety. I offered myself to listen to and pray for anyone finding themselves overwhelmed listening to what were some truly awful accounts of things that have happened to members of our armed forces. No one took me up on that, which is fine. I am still not sure if what I prayed fits with what they were expecting. But it was a way to toss some love seed. To show up among people crying for justice and just state, I believe God hears our cries.
Yes I am a pastor, but I am not the only one called to imitate Jesus the sower. We can all toss seeds of love however is possible and safe for us right now yes- but take a second right now and consider- in the regular course of your life under a pandemic- what is one thing you could do this week- that may or may not make a difference, but is a way to speak or show the truth of God’s love to someone that you could do this week? Take a moment to jot down an idea.
The love of God never runs out, so we don’t have to worry about applying it only in certain, perfect conditions. we too can sow the message of love, with abandon, then let God do the rest. May it be so.