Friday, July 17, 2020

JUSTICE: Being Good Soil for the Seeds

Systematic justice and injustice are like the root systems of plants, always growing and adding new branches below the surface to strengthen and nourish the growth and fruit of the whole. 
This is from the Disciples' New Literal New Testament, the last verse that Steve read, and it said, "The one having been sown the seed on the good soil, this person is the one hearing the word and understanding it, who indeed is bearing fruit and producing a hundred and another sixty and another thirty." These are the words of Jesus Christ.

Transcript of sermon Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on July 12, 2020 at Briensburg UMC

This parable of the sower is one that for me, as I was reflecting, I think that I have to be introspective with this, because everything that Jesus is teaching us in this parable, we kind of have to apply that personally to our own lives. It's not something that we can look at somebody else so much and do something with. As well, we can look in our own hearts and minds and make changes and do an evaluation of our own personal situation through this parable.
I've been preaching the lectionary readings through the lens of justice because that's one of the great themes of the scripture and of the prophets, and especially like we always remember Micah 6:8, where he said, "What does God expect of you except to love tenderly, act justly and walk humbly with your God."
So, taking that and looking at it and bringing the justice issues of the day and all of our positions, so we're taking in the charge, what we're trying to do, and bringing us to the scripture and then hear what God says to us about that.
One thing that is a great image that comes to my mind in this passage, and that is the root system of any plant. So when a seed is planted and it sprouts and then it begins to grow roots, it sinks down a taproot, and then other roots come out to the side and other groups come off of that. And pretty soon it's a whole system there that nobody really sees unless they dig down. But you always see what's up on the top, but that's all supported by what's down underneath. And that's the system that supports it of sometimes big pieces and sometimes little tiny pieces.
They're always growing, always finding something new to add, something new to do, something new to strengthen the plant and to draw nourishment, moisture and all from the soil. That's why the soil is so important to this parable, because the root is so important to the plant. When we think now of our situation now, where we are today as our country and in our church is that we have all these systems in place. Some of them are just systems and over the years and centuries and all, that things that have taken root are just and good and they have a strengthened righteousness for everybody. But then there are some systems that aren't so good, amen? There are some that are unjust. And that's what we're hearing a lot about on the news is the systematic injustices that become built in to communities and churches and processes and our relationships.
So those we're trying to dismantle, but not just to leave a void. Even the more important than dismantling those is building and strengthening the righteousness and the goodness and the justice. That's one of the things that we've been trying to do here at Briensburg. I think we have sunk a deep root into the love, and to be rooted and grounded in love, as the apostle wrote. And we have been adding little programs and systems and ways of doing things that strengthen that and connections with people and so forth that strengthen that through the various issues of inclusiveness, of inclusive of race and LGBTQ and gender and immigrants and all of these things that we want to strengthen and be just and do right by them and by the Lord to minister his love.
So we can just picture that whole root system continuing to grow, continuing to strengthen, continuing to nurture. I'd like to share this. It's from Ephesians, I've got it right here, chapter three. "For this cause I bow my knees unto the father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you according to the riches of his glory to be strengthened with might by his spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith. That ye being rooted and grounded in love may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God."

The Sower
So again, looking at ourselves and being introspective with this, we see ourselves as the sower in this parable. This is how The Message writes it. "And he spake many things unto them in parables saying, behold, a sower went forth to sow." And so Jesus spoke this parable and then to everybody, but everybody didn't really know what the riddle was in there. It was kind of a riddle to everybody. So a few events went by and we skipped those and we went to the explanation in the reading today that Jesus gave to his disciples and they have shared with us. I've fought these, what the riddle is in the parable of the sower. So one of them is the sower, the person that goes out and sows the seed. Paul said that, so some people sow and some water, but God gives the growth.
If we see ourselves as the sower in this, we can't really pick and choose where we're going to scatter the seed because we can't see other people's hearts and minds. So we sow the seed wherever we go, and somebody will come along and water it, we trust, and the Lord will give the growth. We don't know how or when that's all going to happen. We just know as the sower of seed in that role, that we just, like the one song says, sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness. We sow those seeds of kindness and mercy and love wherever we go, and we just see what happens, because we know that the Lord will take it from there.
I remember one time being in a revival and there it was a log church out in the country (probably I've shared this with other scriptures too because it comes up in my mind every once in a while). But this guy had a bad reputation for being kind of mean in the community all his life. But yet then you've got this revival. Right in the middle of the sermon, the door was opened and he came walking down the aisle. He got down on his knees at the altar and everybody was praying for him. Some other people joined him and were praying for him. It was somebody that the church had been praying for for years and years. And he got up and he turned around and he raised his hands out and extended them out like this, and he said, "I love everybody."
That was a moment of transformation in the community in addition to his own personal conversion in life. I mean, revival broke out in his own personal life and in the life of that church and community that night from seeds that had been planted and watered over the years in his life.
We never know. We never know what's going to happen when our role, if we see, or when we see ourselves as the sower in this parable, is just to scatter the seed. Seeds of love and kindness and mercy, seeds of the scripture, seeds of the love of Christ, seeds of faith. All of these different things that are part of our spiritual lives, to make them a part of the lives of the people around us and see what God does with it.

The Path
Then there are four kinds of soil that Jesus addresses and uses as examples in this passage. The first one here and in The Message is, he wrote, "When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn't take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so they evil one comes along and plucks it right out of that person's heart."
It made me think in my, of course, like I said, this is more, I guess this is kind of a confessional sermon when it's introspective, and you have to be looking at yourself. So I am, and then looking at myself through this, I thought about the ways that sometimes that I don't pay attention or I'm kind of shallow, or I don't really hear what somebody's saying. And sometimes there are things that I look back on that years ago, somebody said something and I ignored it. Somebody, some way that I didn't take something right and everything. I didn't take it seriously, and now it's a regret that I have, and there's nothing really to do about it except accept forgiveness and move on.
But that's that kind of a path that is where it just falls and it doesn't even take root before it's swept away by something. In this case, birds picking it up, but it could be anything. Anything that just sweeps the seed aside and that doesn't even have a chance to take root. I think for me, it speaks to my distractability or the shallow places in our hearts. So that's something for us to address, isn't it, in our lives? To try to make sure that we have less of that. Find those paths and identify them.

The Stony Places
Then the stony places. The seed cast in the gravel. I like that image there, and it's not just the big rocks, but the little gravel places, too, in The Message. There, I think about the hardness of my heart. And sometimes it's easy to kind of identify that in the big things, when something really bad happens on the news and you say, "Well how can they be so hardhearted and cruel?"
But we really can't do much about their hardheartedness and cruelty except to pray. But we can do something about our own, to make sure that we don't have that in our own lives. And to evaluate the way we think about things, the way we talk to people, the way we do things, the way we pray and all of our attitudes, that there are not stones that are preventing the seed from growing and that are blocking that growth and they're messing up the soil.
I think that of the great injustices that we're reminded of when we travel around, when we see the slave walls where the slaves, one of the injustices that was imposed on them was to force them to go and dig up the stones out of fields so that the fields would bear the fruit. And then they carried those stones over and built walls around them, the slave walls.
But the stones need to be taken out of the fields. How are we taking them out? We can take them out in ways that are just or unjust, but when we look in our lives, we need to remove that hardness of our heart. Identify our own places of stony places in our own hearts and minds where we're not open to the new ideas and the new callings that Christ gives us in his word and in our relationships, in our fellowship.

The Thorns
And the thorns, the weeds of life. Sometimes we might not get all the rocks out and we might have the ground all tilled up, but then if we let the weeds grow, then that still negatively affects the plants that are growing around it, doesn't it? They grow up with them and they choke them out. Choke out is what Christ is referring to. Choke out the word.
For me, this is some of those things like distractions or other things I get tied up in or get sidetracked, or the things that we're worried about and the cares of the world that we're not managing in such a way that keeps them under control. So then they take over and choke out the actual crop that we're wanting to grow in our life, which in the parable, and some people translate it as sweet and others as corn or something, but some agricultural. But in our own hearts and minds, it's the fruits of the spirit. It's the crops of the spirit of God. The fruits of love, the fruits of being a disciple of Jesus that get choked out and they take second place and they become, maybe until that the word of God doesn't have any effect in our lives because we crowd it out with everything else. So we have to watch out for that and find ways when we see those weeds start to grow up, to pull them, get them out of there.

The Good Soil
But then that brings us to the good soil, and that's what the whole point of the parable is, really. That we would prepare our hearts and minds to be good soil for the word of God and to get rid of the things that crowd out. Get rid of the hardness, get rid of the carelessness with the word, and let it take root and grow in our hearts and minds by faith and make us more than we are. To give us the joy of our salvation, to give us the fullness of our healing in Christ.
We can just think of a field out there that has been cleaned all out and the ground's broken up and it's been planted and it's been cultivated and it's got good irrigation and good nutrition and everything, and the crops are growing beautifully and a beautiful crop comes up. That's what we want for our own spirits, amen? We want that good crop. We want good soil so that the plants that we really want, the things we really want in life can take root and grow.
You never can tell. I like how like he put it in The Message. "Beyond your wildest dreams." Jesus put it 30, 60 or 100 fold. I mean, just as much as you can imagine of the results that come from this in our lives, beyond what we can ask or imagine, so it says.
So that is the parable that we have before us today to think about, and I'd like to end with this prayer by Charles Wesley. It's in our hymnals. This is the third verse of I Want a Principle Within. I don't know if I can sing it, but if I can't, I'll stop and read it.

Almighty God of truth and love,
to me thy power impart;
the mountain from my soul remove,
the hardness from my heart.
O may the least omission pain
my reawakened soul,
and drive me to that grace again,
which makes the wounded whole.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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