Isaiah 55:10-13 Psalm 65:9-13 Romans 8:1-11 Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.
Last week I spoke about literal translations of the Bible and how they can get people of my calling to twist themselves into knots, when there is a contradiction. There is a seeming contradiction between the words of Isaiah and the words of Jesus in Matthew, yet as I am not of the fundamentalist school, I can see what is going on in plain and simple language and I will be able to sleep tonight. Jesus is speaking a parable, a story based on life experience.
In Matthew, Jesus relates the Parable of the Sower. Remember it is a parable not a strict portrayal of life. Seed falls on the path, the birds eat it in short order. Seed falls on rocky ground, it flourishes but fades quickly. Seed falls among thorns, and the new plants get choked by the stronger wilder natural vegetation (the thorns, the weeds) around them. Seed falls on fertile ground, and yields a bumper crop. That of course is very much how plant cultivation goes and I am sure we have all seen that in our own gardens, and some in your own fields. Jesus uses this story for a brilliant teaching moment, a parable, and He is an expert at it.
We had our lawn seeded, weeded and feeded lately. A new guy came and seeded everywhere including our deck and patio. The seed that fell on ‘rocky ground’ flourished better than that in the lawn ! And how many times have we seen weeds and grass grow in every nook and cranny of a sidewalk or driveway ? Of course sidewalks and driveways had not been invented in Jesus’ time so we can’t criticise the content of the parable. Nor is it a contradiction of what we read in Isaiah, what God gives is never wasted.
Isaiah speaking for God says “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”. Although the parable supposes that much is lost, in Isaiah we read that that is not so, nothing is lost. There are trees on the Niagara Escarpment that grow out of the bare rock, one is about eight hundred years old and not wasted by any means. God’s word (the seed) is never wasted. In the parable we can easily imagine that the seed which springs up on rocky ground dies, but when it decomposes it provides nourishment for the next seed that falls, and so on and so on, that’s what happens in sidewalks, driveways and patios too – God’s Word is never wasted. You can drop God’s Word freely all over the show and sooner or later it will bear fruit.
God’s Word was spread easily in ancient times because people believed that life as it was then was not much of a deal, and they hoped for better. The message of Salvation fell easily on their ears, like the seed on the good soil. People had come to accept the authority of the Church and the State, the Divine Right of Kings, to rule the subjugated masses. It continued in such a way for centuries because life didn’t start to get much better until the twentieth century. The First World War was probably the watershed of the people realising their own worth (after all the slaughter of the War) and they were not willing to be held in fealty any longer. They looked around for new leaders and found Socialism, which made their lives better by gaining them equality with the governing powers. Gradually unions, social welfare and democracy started to be the safety net that people sought, other than God. The Second World War tested the people again. Millions more lost their lives because of misguided leaders, pretending that they were benefiting the common person but in fact entrapping them in the horrors of war again. When it was over people again felt liberation and were grateful. There had been hardly a person under fire, or in a bomb shelter, or listening for an enemy submarine, or in a prisoner of war camp (on both sides) who did not pray to God to be saved. They knew they weren’t grateful to their leaders for salvation so they focused their thanks on God.
As the troops returned home and started families, they were driven to provide a better world for their children, and the best place for that was in Church were the God Who saved them could be found. The children got the better world and they took it for granted. After decades along came the microchip. All of a sudden there was a whole different world. One where we don’t have to rely on God, because there is an ‘app’ for Him, this is both the path and the thorns, those who believed a little of what mum and dad told them about God, forgot it, because they went along with others who were so entangled with the new things of life, the screen in its many forms, sports and leisure, that they neither needed nor could they see God.
But all of this is missing something about human nature and it is about to be corrected. Human nature has three elements: physical bodies: intellect, our minds that is: our inner being, us, commonly thought of as our spirit. It is the motivator to action, good and evil, or to do nothing, and everything in between.
Our new scientific world is taking care of our bodies (want a new knee ? Soon you will be able to grow one, no need for a painful operation). Even further ahead Artificial Intelligence will enable us to dispense with bodies. Our new scientific world is taking care of our minds there is nothing that cannot be found or explored on the Internet or other media. Our new scientific world is making customised spiritual exercises for us. We can get all the religion we want by tuning in or downloading what appeals. But our new scientific world cannot really take care of our spiritual needs. Talking to Siri is not quite the same as talking with God. If we make science and technology our God we are only speaking to the Middle Man. Science, technology, everything visible and invisible came from God, and soon this inward looking generation will demand better answers to life’s mysteries than Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins can offer. So pray to the God we have, and the God they need that although they are stuck in the weeds God will clear those things away, this generation is today’s fertile ground and nothing from God is ever wasted or lost. Amen.