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Sermon for proper 6 Year C Evening Prayer Parable of the Sower

April 30, 2016

sower epHow many sermons have I heard on the Parable of the Sower? I’ve heard headmasters talk in assemblies about teaching. Many pupils are like stony ground. They don’t take anything in. But the teacher’s work isn’t wasted. Many pupils will flourish as a result of his teaching. Well, I hope so.

For the average churchgoer, the parable is about mission: the seed is the gospel, the farmer is the missionary, the different types of soil represent the different individual responses. Mark has Jesus explain the parable like this but most scholars reckon that bit was added later and isn’t part of the original parable.

So what did Jesus have in mind? Prominence is given to the triple loss, caused by birds, rocky ground and thorns. This mirrors the triple gain: thirtyfold, sixtyfold and a hundredfold. A dramatic crescendo, an almost defiant announcement of the coming harvest despite the loss.

The disciples were Jewish. This parable resonates with apocalyptic teaching. The second book of Esdras has: ‘ how vast a harvest there will be when good seeds beyond number have been sown!’ 2 Esd. 4.32 The Resurrection – Narrative and Belief – J. McDonald (SCPC 1999) p. 55 BUT it is about judgement.

Judgement. Later, after our second lesson stopped, Mark 4:29 quotes Joel 3:13: “Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.”  Which was about the “day of the Lord” Jl 3:14 Judgement

Judgement on whom? Did Jesus mean the parable to be taken (almost) literally? Galilee was the breadbasket for Tyre. The forces that destroy the seed in the parable—the birds, the sun, and the thorns—are portrayed in violent terms: swoop, scorch, choke. Who swoops down on the seed sown by the peasant villagers and devours their work? Whose scorched-earth economic policy burns up the crops year after year? Who aggressively chokes the growth of the peasants’ seed so that it yields a subsistence crop and nothing more? When the harvest is gathered in, the representatives of the Herodian aris­tocrats who exploit the villages and the servants of Antipas himself actu­ally appear on the threshing floor to claim their tribute, rents, and taxes. Year after year they devour and choke the peasants’ harvest, leaving barely enough for subsistence and survival, driving the peasants into increasingly degrading forms of dependency.

But “other seed fell onto the good land. ‘land ‘ The land is still God’s “good” gift, and it remains fruitful, abundantly fruitful; the land is still “a land flowing with milk and honey” Ex. 3:8, 17 still the Promised Land Ex. 6:8 It produces more than the peasants need to survive. The problem is not with the production of the land but with the distribution of what is produced. Jesus, Justice and the Reign of God – W. Herzog (John Knox Press 2000) p.194

What about us, the church? We tend to think our job is to attract people to our message. Yet Ignatius of Antioch said, “The greatness of Christianity lies in its being hated by the Domination System (kosmos), not in its being convincing to it.” If the domination system for Jesus was Rome, for us it is global capitalism. Many Christians limit their efforts to perfunctory prayers for the general betterment of humanity. A recent study of mainline denominations in the United States reveals that 78 percent of adult church members never spend any time promoting social justice. All our letter writing, petitioning, political and community organizing, demonstrating, civil disobedience, prayers and fasting move to this end: to recall the Powers that be to the humanizing purposes of God revealed in Jesus.

We are not commissioned to create a new society; indeed, we are scarcely competent to do so. What the church can do best, though it does so all too seldom, is to create a spiritual counter-culture. We may lack the wisdom to determine how homelessness can be solved; and our attempts as churches to feed, clothe, and house the homeless may only obscure the true causes of homelessness and fill us with false righteousness. But what we can do is create an insistent demand that homelessness be eradicated.

The world still produces enough food for everyone but vested interests block fair distribution. We can support Christian Aid and the IF campaign this weekend ahead of the G8 Summit.

We are not “building the Kingdom,” as an earlier generation liked to put it. We simply lack the power to force the Powers that be to change. Maybe the church should be like a bulldog that sinks its teeth into an elephant’s leg. It cannot bring the elephant down, but it can so distract the elephant’s attention that it fails to notice the elephant trap and plunges in. Every unjust regime regularly digs an elephant trap for itself. We faithfully do what we can with no illusions about our prospects for direct impact. We merely prepare the ground and sow; the seed grows of itself, night and day, until the harvest Mark 4:26-29 And God will bring the harvest. Engaging the Powers – W. Wink (Fortress 1992) p.165

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