Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 10)

Text: Matthew 13:1-9
Jesus said, "Once there was a man who went out to sow grain. As he scattered the seed in the field, some of it fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some of it fell on rocky ground, where there was little soil. The seeds soon sprouted, because the soil wasn't deep. But when the sun came up, it burned the young plants; and because the roots had not grown deep enough, the plants soon dried up. Some of the seed fell among thorn bushes, which grew up and choked the plants. But some seeds fell in good soil, and the plants bore grain: some had one hundred grains, others sixty, and others thirty." And Jesus concluded, "Listen, then, if you have ears!"

What a Waste!

These days we are very waste conscious. We have recycling bins where we can place our old magazines and newspapers. We are encouraged to recycle our tins, bottles, and plastic containers. We have water restrictions to conserve this precious commodity. We are a society that has become extremely conscious about conserving and recycling as much as we can. For those with children parents seem to be always turning off lights to conserve energy and keep down the power bill.

When you look at the Bible you find that there is quite a bit of waste. At the beginning of Matthewís gospel the birth of Jesus is recorded. We read how cruel King Herod massacred hundreds of innocent Jewish baby boys. What a waste of human life! Could this waste have been prevented maybe if less had been made of Jesus as the new born king and consequently King Herod would not have felt so threatened?

Or what about the woman who poured a jar of very expensive perfume on Jesusí head? The disciples who saw this became angry and asked, "Why all this waste? This perfume could have been sold for a large amount and the money given to the poor" (Matt 26:8,9).
What about Jesusí story about the woman who wasted so much time as she searched high and low for just a couple of coins or the one about the father who wasted money, clothes and an extravagant party on a rebellious son who had wasted all his money and came home a smelly beggar.
There is the story about the Samaritan who wasted time and money on a Jew lying in a ditch on the side of the road - someone he didnít even know let alone someone he knew didnít like him.

I wonder how many people actually saw and heard Jesus preaching and teaching and yet how many people believed in him and followed him. You might say that a lot of Jesusí words and efforts were "wasted". Much of what he said fell on deaf ears. Many of his miracles were greeted with unbelieving hearts. And in spite of all of his love, his words, and his deeds the vast majority called for his death, "crucify him, crucify him" they called. And what could be more "wasteful" than the death of a kind, caring, loving and, above all, innocent young man like Jesus. He gave up his life for the sake of his enemies! What a waste!

And then we come to this parable of Jesus today. A lot is made of the fact that there was a lot of waste -
some seed fell on the path where birds came a picked it up,
some fell on rocky ground where it grew but because of the shallow roots of the new plants, they soon withered and dried up in the heat of the sun,
some fell among weeds and thornbushes where the young plants were choked.
What a waste of good seed!

Jesus took his story right out of the everyday world of the farmer in Palestine two thousand years ago. That there was a harvest at all is a miracle considering that a large proportion of the seed the farmer sowed went to waste.  But in spite of the farmers wastefulness some of the seed fell on the good soil, and wonder of wonders, took root, grew, and produced a harvest 30, 60, 100 times over.

What if the farmer decided not to sow his seed because he knew that much of his seed would go to waste?
What if the farmer decided not to plant because he guessed that there might be a hailstorm that year, or a drought, or severe frost?
The farmer is a risk-taker. Every time he puts seed in the ground he is taking a gamble. (I saw a bumper sticker that read, "Legalise gambling - why should farmers have all the fun.") But the farmer has reasonable expectations that nature is on his side. The sower works according to his hope for a harvest.
He doesnít make the crops grow.
He isnít responsible for photosynthesis.
He doesnít cause the heads of grain to form on each plant.
But he sows with the expectation that there will be a harvest Ė in fact, he sows with the hope that there will be a bumper harvest this year.  He knows that no sowing means no harvest and so no food for his family.

The parable ends in joy, a celebration of a great harvest. There is waste, yes, there is wasted effort, wasted seed, and disappointment. The sowing has not been efficient but the story ends with astounding success and a remarkable harvest.

Jesus was very realistic. He knew that there would be a lot of waste when it comes to the gospel and the life of the Christian. Of thousands of words that are read and spoken in a church service how many are heard, taken in and applied to our relationship with Christ and our life in the church. We are distracted; our minds are cluttered with many concerns and cares. God speaks, we donít hear what he says. What a waste!

Often waste gives us an excuse not to do anything.
Why put a lot of effort into writing a sermon when only a small proportion of it will actually be heard and taken to heart?
Why help those who come to the church looking for food and money Ė it all seems such a waste?
Why keep on trying to tell family members and friends about the love of Jesus Ė when it all seems such a waste of time and effort? The failure to bring results can give us a very good reason not to do anything.

It really would be quite depressing for a farmer to realise that so much of his hard work will come to nothing.
Some seed grows but withers and dies because it canít sink roots down into the hard ground.
Some seed is eaten by birds, some choked by thorns and weeds. Jesus explains that some people hear God's Word but their lives are filled with so much trouble, worry, anxiety over money, jobs, possessions and family that what God has to say to them is soon overwhelmed by all of this. If we read the parable up to this point and no further we could quite rightly that say that this is just too wasteful.

But Jesus doesnít leave us at that point. In spite of the waste, he promises a harvest. Our work, his Word, the churchís witness are not in vain. There is waste, there is defeat, but there is also the promise of a great harvest.

All God asks of us is that we continue to speak God's Word at the time and the place where it can take root in the hearts and lives of people. Following Christ, and sowing the seed of his Word, is like planting a garden. We place the seeds in the ground with the conviction that there is a power for growth within them that we ourselves can in no way provide. We may plant them too deep or not deep enough. Lack of rain may cause the ground to grow hard, rocks may prevent some seeds from taking root, weeds may choke others out, but one day a tiny green sprout pushes up through the dark earth, and our heart jumps for joy!

Christ calls each of us as his disciples to simply sow the seed, and to do it out of love and gladness for the grace we have received. He calls us as his disciples to speak the Word that tells of God's love, to serve our neighbour in need, to labour with patience, to do our best to help those in need, to do whatever we can with the abilities we have been given. And when we have done our part, he promises that our labour will never be in vain. There will be results! Some seed will fall into good soil and produce fruit. We don't have to worry about the size of the harvest, or how long it will take to grow, or even if we live to see it. We can leave the results to God.

A group of people worked hard to convince their congregation to begin a school as a witness to the community and to share the love of Christ in the every day happenings of a school. There was constant resistance from the members and when the matter was finally put to the vote, the proposed project was soundly defeated. After the meeting one person was heard to say with some bitterness, "Itís a waste of time trying to get this congregation to do anything, to get moving and take some risks." She left the congregation for another church.

Three years later at a workshop for school committees much to her surprise she met a group of people from her former congregation. When she inquired why they were at this workshop they replied, "Our congregation has just decided to go ahead with the school project. We are members of the Establishment Committee.

There seemed to be so much wasted time, energy and enthusiasm when this project was first proposed. Sometimes it takes a while for seed to germinate and as we wait itís not hard to become frustrated and despondent. We need to realise that we donít have any control over precisely when the seed will grow.

We know of missionaries who worked hard sowing the seed of God's Word and for a long time there wasn't any harvest.  It took many years before they could see some results.

There is a great deal of waste, frustration and defeat in the Kingdom of God.
We become discouraged because we don't see the results of God's Word at work immediately in the lives of people.
We admit that there are times when God's Word could have been a powerful influence in a person's life but we failed to recognise what that Word could do, and so failed to act.
We admit we have focused on what we have to do get God's Word to grow in the lives of others and not relied more on God and his love and left the results to God.
We, here at St Paulís, are in the business of sowing seed. We sow a lot of seed through our congregation, our school and aged care village and also further afield in far away places. We throw out a lot of seed speaking God's Word of love and care to one and all. We might easily say we are wasting a lot of seed; wasting a lot of time and money and seeing only a small return.

Itís easy to forget that by the persistent grace of God there is a harvest. We may not see it right now, but at some time down the track with further watering and care, there will be a harvest. We remind ourselves that there is no limit to the God's commitment to us and the work his Spirit does in growing and nurturing our faith. We thank God that his Word declares to us the joyous news of forgiveness in Jesus Christ for our failure to be extravagant sowers of God's Word, and for the multitude of excuses we come up with for not fulfilling our calling as disciples.

May the Holy Spirit make us more concerned about being faithful sowers, sharing God's Word of love and forgiveness and being caring cultivators nurturing those who are still growing in their faith, always praying that both we and they may be there when the harvest is gathered in.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
13th July 2008
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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