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Friday, October 7, 2016

Seed and Ground

Today we read Luke 8:4-15. It is a parable about a sower tossing seed (in that way they did in the ancient Near East, just throwing it everywhere) and then explaining what happened to the seed as it fell in different places. The parable, a real life comparison, makes clear that much of the seed ends up in places where it can not thrive--a beaten path, shallow ground or among weeds--but some will land in good earth and grow, producing grain for future crops and meals.

I was struck by the gentle wording at the end. Luke is softer and kinder than Mark, and even Matthew. [Where Mark's Jesus says "you have no faith," Matthew's says "you have little faith" and Luke simply has Jesus ask, "where is your faith?" (e.g., Lk 8:25 and parallels)] So, Luke's editorial angle is enlightening here as well. The "good soil which produces" is offered as a metaphor of the productive disciple. All three Synoptic Gospels have this story. Mark 4:13-20 ends with Jesus saying "the ones who hear the word and receive/accept (paradechomai) it" while Matthew 13:18-23 shifts it to "the one who hears the word and understands it" (syniemi-literally to send together, i.e., to put it together). Matthew's focus on teaching and hearing the word makes sense of his emphasis on understanding. Luke, however, uses a more personal image.

Those [seeds] that were sown upon the good soil (kalos=beautiful, pleasing, good) are the one who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest (note, however, that the Greek word is again kalos) and good (agathos=good, upright, honorable) heart.

One tension in Christianity is the tendency to express grace by emphasizing sin so that the human being is described only as fallen, bad, evil, unworthy, etc. "There is nothing good in me and my sinful flesh." Of course, we all have sinned and we all have good reason not to rely on our own righteousness before God. Yet, within the constraints of our humanity, the Bible often speaks of good and righteous people. We are not perfect, but we can be decent people. This is a reminder that there is something good in me and about me, even in my sinful flesh. If we do not deserve God's grace and kindness, we can take joy that He finds something lovable and attractive about us. Not perfect! But desired by God none the less.

The language of the text is a reminder that our hearts are the "earth" (the Greek word ge --where we get our word geography --means, as in English, both the world and soil). To complain that others "treated me like dirt" is ironic and paradoxical. The Bible says we are formed of the earth ('adamas) and shall return to dirt. Jesus says, in parable, the Word of God, like seed, is sown throughout the 'earth/world' and each of us is the 'earth/soil' where it lands. Our "good/honest, good/beautiful" hearts are good soil and if we "stand up under" (persevere) clinging to the Word, we will produce great fruit. Great fruit is what happens when God's Word enters an open heart. Great fruit is what happens when a person refuses to quit (even if it gets bad) and stands firm in love and faith and continues to hold onto the Word.

You and me, we are dirt. We are soil. The Lord's Word has been planted in us. Let us pray and commit to be good dirt.

I write today because this morning we also prayed a canticle from Isaiah which is so beautiful and powerful that I just wished I could share it with a larger group. Perhaps God wanted me to post this? Note the Word/Seed image of Jesus' parable comes from the Jewish Bible (Canticle 10 in the Book of Common Prayer Morning Office is Isaiah 55: 6-11)

"...for as rain and snow fall from the heavens and return not again, but water the earth, bringing forth life and giving growth, seed for sowing and bread for eating, so is my Word which goes forth from my mouth; it will not return to me empty; but it will accomplish that which I have purposed , and prosper in that for which I sent it."

 There is great power and consolation in those two words, spoken with such firmness: It WILL... I have every reason to trust God. The Word is sent, the seed is dispersed. There are all number of reasons why inside the church there is not fruit. Satan snatches it away, shallow people unwilling to go deeper with the Lord, folks worried and concerned with daily life---yes, church people are often times no better, even worse, than some outside. But, there is also no doubt that there are good hearts and steadfast folks and God's Word is productive there. I pray you and I are such good soil. I pray this meditation on the Word will produce greater production. The Word will not return empty. It will accomplish what God intends. We just have to be open and steadfast.

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