Sixth Weekend After Pentecost (A/RCL): “Broadcast News”
Isaiah 55:10-13; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
July 15-16, 2017
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
I’ve seen a lot of little flower girls precede the bride down the aisle, but one in particular stands out in my mind. She was part of one of the only backyard weddings I’ve ever performed. There was a white runner laid on the grass, and this precious 3 year old had a little basket of rose petals to spread like a carpet on the bride’s path. But instead of sprinkling them like we expected, or even dropping them in clumps like some nervous flower girls do, she planted each petal carefully on the runner. One by one. Bobbing up and down. Very slowly. To the point where her mother, on the sidelines, was stage whispering for her to pick up the pace. But this diminutive attendant, this serious sower of blossoms, would not be dissuaded. It’s a good thing the basket was small, or we’d still be there, watching her precisely place each petal on its perfect spot.
Not so with the sower of seed, the farmer, in Jesus’ story in today’s Gospel. We hear “broadcast” and we think TV or radio. But “broadcast” originally meant literally that: to cast seed broadly -- to strew it around freely, to spread it randomly. I remember watching my Dad fertilize our lawn with a spreader, a cart on wheels that spewed the fertilizer a couple feet in all directions. The fellow in today’s parable is broadcasting, spreading seed by hand, like the birdwoman feeding the pigeons in Mary Poppins. (The other option was for the farmer to put a bag of seed on the back of a donkey, tear or snip a hole in the bag, and let the seed sprinkle out as he led the donkey up and down the rows.)
Pretty scattershot, huh? Almost seems wasteful. Especially if there’s a breeze of any kind, a lot of the seed is going to fall where it’s not apt to do well: on the walking path beaten hard by the feet of passers-by, on patches of thin soil, laid on a shelf of rock, on ground that looks promising but is contaminated with the roots of pesky weeds that will grow quicker than the crop and strangle it.
Our lavish God is like that, though: broadcasting grace everywhere, to everyone, loving downright indiscriminately. Our generous God is not working out of a mentality of scarcity, saying, “I should deploy limited resources carefully, scoping out where I’ll get the best return on my investment.” Our bountiful God subscribes to a philosophy of abundance, sending forth endless blessings, scattering countless seeds, and promising, through the prophet Isaiah (chapter 55):
1For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
2so 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.
It’s a mystery, but God’s Word promises that the seed of God’s Word is going to germinate, sprout, grow, and bear fruit. God’s plan is going to succeed. God’s kingdom is going to come. As Luther says in his explanation to the Lord’s Prayer in The Small Catechism, our prayer is that it will come also to us – (and I’d add: through us). We don’t want to be “left behind” or left on the sidelines or left with the sad realization that the Lord would have used us but we were unwilling. In the language of the parable, we hope and pray that the yield of the seed sown in our lives will be a miraculous hundredfold, or sixty, or thirty. ( A tenfold return on seed was almost unheard of, and seven was more likely, so even those who bear thirtyfold are no slackers!)
Admit it! Our God is excessively generous! Just think of the outsized creation. The giraffe’s neck. The avocado’s pit. The # of seeds in one dandelion puff, no less in all the dandelions in all the world. We’re in no position to “match” God, but we are called to mirror our God. A philosophy of generosity should drive our ministry within and beyond this faith family. Here’s a small example. When we paid to publish our Fresh Winds insert in The Asbury Park Press during Holy Week, we reached 22,000 households. We can guess that many of those inserts were recycled without being read. BUT – our new friends Marilyn & Hank recently moved to Brick, saw our Fresh Winds ad for the University of Charleston Choir Concert, joined us for it, and now worship and study with us often.
Marilyn & Hank were certainly not unchurched. Nor were Pat & Chuck, Agnes & John, Felicia & Joan, and other church friends who were drawn to us through Fresh Winds. But there are others whom we will never meet, who have read it, heard Good News in it, and perhaps found faith fortified through it. At times we’ve debated: is it worth the expense? And we’ve always decided: yes. How else do we reach those who aren’t here yet, and those who will never choose to worship in a community, but to whom God calls? A lot of seed is ending up on the pavement instead of in the garden, but oh, what beautiful things grow from the seed that succeeds, by God’s grace!
Speaking of which: think of the delight we get from the flower that surprises us by growing out of the crack in the sidewalk: blue cornflower, pink-and-white bindweed, sunbright dandelion. Those misplaced, strategically placed blossoms remind us of God’s grace. Not every seed needs a welcoming field to sprout. Sometimes an ‘nth of soil and a sliver of sunlight is enough – just like the Canaanite woman knew that crumbs can be enough to nourish the soul and heal our hurts….
The Furniture Bank, Kitchen & Linen Brigades broadcast their beds, pots and pans, sheets and blankets, broadly. ‘Used to be Sandy survivors who benefited, and now the glad recipients include veterans, single moms, any family or individual down on his or her luck. The food pantry broadcasts its cereal, pasta and peanut butter, broadly. Qualifiers at the pantry don’t include the zipcode you live in, the country you were born in, the language you speak. Being hungry is enough. We baptize – broadly. You don’t have to be a Holy Trinity member to have your child (or yourself) baptized here. Because of that, we never see some families again. But does that matter? God sees them. They go forth in grace. The waters of baptism feed the seeds sown. A wise person has said:
“It is our task to sow the seed, and to leave the rest to God.”1
This is a parable of encouragement to all who wonder what their loving labors in the Vineyard really accomplish. It is a promise, as is the first lesson from Isaiah, that God has a plan and it is not lacking. But seeds germinate in silence and in darkness before they poke through the soil, and some seeds take a very long time to break through the ground. Let’s always remember, and remind each other:
“It is our task to sow the seed, and to leave the rest to God.”
We aren’t apt to be sowing seed in others’ fields if it’s not fruitful in our own lives and community. “Lord, may our hearts be good soil.” Amen
William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2 (Rev. Ed., Daily Study Bible Series, Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975), p. 63.
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham