AT ST. ANDREW PARISH CHURCH
SUNDAY, JULY 13, 2014
Text: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
As many of you know by now, Mary and I will be retiring and relocating to Massachusetts in a few days. We have made our home here for 23 years, a home with various parts—the land and people of Jamaica, the United Theological College, St. Andrew Parish Church, and St. Thomas Mission.
We are not finding it easy to leave our home and friends. But we look forward to three things: a chance to be closer to our children and grandchildren; the opportunity in retirement to change pace and refocus our energy; and the anticipation of drawing deeply on our experience here—reflection on what we have learned and how we have grown; keeping in touch in a variety of ways; and visits back and forth.
There is a temptation for me this morning to try to sum it all up and tell you the meaning of our life and ministries here. I don’t think I’m up to that, which is probably a very good thing. So, let us do what we always should do when we gather for worship, listen to the Word of God. It may just be that we will find in today’s readings a message to fit this farewell sermon.
In the Gospel reading we have before us one of the most familiar parables of Jesus, the Parable of the Sower. But the sower is only one character in the parable. There is also the seed, and the various kinds of ground. The usual way to interpret this parable is by focusing on the various kinds of ground. The hard path, where the seed can’t grow at all. The rocky ground, where the roots are shallow and the plants soon wither away. The ground with so many weeds that the young plants are smothered. And finally the good ground, where the seeds grow and mature and produce bountifully. The moral of the story, in this view, is that we must open our hearts deeply to God’s Word, not let the cares of life choke out our faith, and be the good soil that produces fruit for God.
But this is usually called the parable of the sower, so what if we focus more attention on the sower and the seed? Then this parable begins to look a little different.
For one thing, this farmer is crazy. Would farmers usually spread their precious seed on a hard path, or rocky soil, or places where only weeds grow? That would be wasteful and foolish. Like business owners trying to sell products they know no one will buy. This, I think, leads to one point Jesus is making here. Spreading the Word of God is not like normal farming or business. God’s Word is spread everywhere. Everyone needs a chance to hear. There is no soil analysis and selective sowing. There is no market survey so you can make only what you know you can sell.
The second point is the flip side of the first. Yes, when the seed is sown so liberally, much will not grow. But some will. And it will grow in astounding abundance.
When we look at the parable this way we see that Jesus is really talking about his own ministry. He did not go only to the best people; he went to all sorts and conditions, the tax collectors and the notorious sinners. And many rejected his message. Some called him a mad man, some said he worked by satanic power, his own home town people said, who does he think he is? He’s nothing more than one of us. But Jesus didn’t let this rejection stop him; for he was confident that some would grow. This crazy generosity in spreading the Word to everyone led to Jesus making the ultimate generous act, giving his life on the cross. But so, also, here God was at work to bring abundant growth out of this rejection, by raising him from the grave and so giving new life to the world.
When all is said and done, the real force behind this parable is never mentioned. That is God. God is the creator, and God’s Word is for everyone; God is generous, raining on the just and the unjust, showing mercy even to the ungrateful.
And God’s Word is effective. Isaiah 55: So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty; but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
So it is these two points that I would leave with you at St. Andrew Parish Church. First, never forget that God works on a different principle than a careful farmer or astute businessman. God’s Word, God’s mercy, God’s care is generous, foolishly generous. This church, with its missions and projects, has a wide outreach and tremendous resources in its people and connections. This is not grounds for boasting or complacency. Rather, it is a challenge to even more generosity—for God cares for everyone, and God, through us, spreads the seed of his love and his Word to all.
Our work, therefore, is to have the same quality of lavish, even foolish, generosity. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 9: The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. . . . And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. . . He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us.
The second point from this parable is this: Just as most of the seed did not grow well, just as Jesus himself experienced much disappointment and rejection, so also we can expect the same in our work. Not every programme will work well. Sometimes, long-standing projects or groups will fade away and die. Attendance will, sometimes, disappoint us. People will leave. There will be change, there will be death.
But do not be discouraged, because this is God’s work, not ours. God’s Word will not be without its effect. Time and time again we will experience the miracle of people who are baptized and confirmed and take on an active role. Time and time again we will see our young people, in spite of all the pressures against it, thrive in the faith. Time and time again, as we gather to worship, God’s Spirit will move in us and create something fresh and lively. Time and time again the nourishing power of Christ’s body and blood will revive us when we thought that we should give ourselves over to despair.
A sower went out to sow. . . . 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. This is God’s doing. And because it is God’s doing, we will be outrageously generous; because it is God’s doing, it will produce many people who live by God’s righteousness. Because it is God’s doing, we will not be deterred by disappointments or failures. This is God’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
About The Rev. Dr. David Kuck
The Rev. Dr. David Kuck is a minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the USA, and he served as Lutheran Warden and Lecturer in New Testament and Homelitics at the United Theological College of the West Indies (UTCWI) from 1991 until his retirement in 2014. While in Jamaica, he served as a member of the clergy staff, in an honorary capacity, at the St. Andrew Parish Church. He is the author of the book Preaching in the Caribbean: Building Up a People for Mission, published in 2007; and his articles and studies have appeared in a number of journals.