July 14, 2002
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
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Scripture Reading

Isaiah 55:10-13
10 For 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, 11 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. 12 For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off. (NRSV)

Matthew 13:1-23
1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: "Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen!"

10 Then the disciples came and asked him, "Why do you speak to them in parables?" 11 He answered, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 13 The reason I speak to them in parables is that 'seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.' 14 With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: 'You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. 15 For this people's heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn -- and I would heal them.' 16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.

18 "Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty." (NRSV)

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Sermon - The Sower, the Seeds, and the Soil

I love to garden, I like the sensation of sticking my hands in the dirt and putting in the seeds and I even like the waiting to see if the seeds will come up. Most of all, I like the harvest. Whether it is food or flowers, it never ceases to amaze me. What a wonderful world God has created. You can take a tiny seed that amounts to nothing and with the right conditions, it will grow and grow and grow and produce beyond our imagination. And then – it gets even better… if you are patient, you can harvest one more time, the seeds that send the cycle on it way again.

But really, this happens in nature all the time. Seeds mature, fall to the ground, germinate and grow large and strong. Then after their fruit is finished, new seeds grow in its place and fall to the ground and the life cycle continues.

This is an ordinary event. So is our gardening – it is

Ordinary. It happens all of the time – all over the world. from the grandmother who gardens with a spoon and a plastic pot, to the great wheat fields of the Midwest. From the tomato plant in a pot on a balcony in New York City to the rough handmade tools used in a small plot in Cameroon.

Jesus knew that it was a concept that we all understand. It happens every where – all of the time. And we witness it, and we participate in it. There is no mystery here.

Or is there.

This year, in a pot that I have had for years with a lemon grass root, that produces abundantly every summer, but dies back to nothing over the winter – there are 2 interlopers. Side by side… 2 plants that I have never been able to grow from seed. Right there beside the larger plant, flourishes an impatient, complete with a tiny bud, and even more of a surprise, a healthy, very healthy, basil plant.

I just keep watering them, praying that I won’t do anything to disturb their growth. Ordinary plants, but, they sure did surprise me.

Surprises were what Jesus was talking about when he used parables to explain about the Kingdom of God to his followers. Think of it, right after Jesus began his ministry crowds started following him throughout Galilee. Because Jesus would heal them and he would proclaim the good news - that the kingdom of heaven was in their midst. Imagine their surprise, - the people who were following Jesus were not the rich and powerful, but the ordinary people, the one who couldn’t quite manage on their own – they were the ones who were sick and needed care, they ewer the ones without enough food to eat, or a place to sleep. Imagine their surprise when they heard that the Kingdom of Heaven was all around them. They had been taught that heaven was far away – heaven was after death – heaven was God’s perfect place – how could the kingdom be right here – all around them? So, Jesus taught. He taught them how to behave and how to believe. He taught them how to pray and how to love. And still they said – what do you mean that the kingdom heaven is right here. And Jesus continued to heal and preach and the crowds continued to grow. And the people continued to say – “Jesus - how could the kingdom be right here? how can we be sure of who you are - give us a sign that you are the one is sent from God.”

And Jesus said “you have seen all that I have done – and that isn’t sign enough?” So then he began to teach in parables. Parables are ordinary and simple stories that make sense on many levels. And he said to them “you have been given the secrets. The kingdom of God is like this…”

Just like those followers, we are the hearers who want to understand – and Jesus tries to explain it all for us, the kingdom of God is like this: there is a sower, who throws out seed and depending on the soil, will get a good harvest or none at all. And in our mind, we want to say, Jesus is the sower, the word of God is the seed and our hearts are the soil. Because that would be easy, we would really be off the hook. The responsibility would fall on God.

But if there is one thing I know about God and about our faith – its never as simple as we might first imagine. It is rarely easy. And we are never off the hook.

Who is the sower? What is the seed, where is the soil?

Some days you and I become sowers of the seed. Other days, we are the seeds that have been sown. Still other times, we are the soil on which the seed falls.

When over 10 years ago, Kathy Taylor and Glynnis Gilbert and Joan Jones started baby Bundles, I doubt that they saw themselves as seed sowers. But today, this vibrant mission of our Church serves nearly 100 infants, and works in conjunction with the VNA, Social Services, and New Milford Hospital to provide for these infants needs. They were sowers, and the seed fell on fertile ground.

Years ago, some kids from this church Valerie Tutson and Betty Camp and Wendi Cook started a program called Sing Praise at silver lake - our denominations Summer Camp. In one week middle school kids, write and produce a Christian Musical. Tons of kids from this Church have gone to Sing Praise over the year and loved it. Sing Praise has even come to our Church to present their program. I went to Silver Lake on Friday night, to see their production… and what did I find there – seeds – Not only Valerie Tutson, Don and Nan Tutson’s daughter, but also, Gretchen Kamm and Caroline Nicholas as adult counselors. These are kids who grew up here, attended sing praise and now are apart of producing the harvest of the children who will grow into faith filled Christians. They have become Seeds!

I don’t think that any of the folks who work with our children, teaching Church school or advise the youth groups would see themselves as the soil in this story, but yet they are… they have heard the word of God and they are putting it into action. They are taking what they know about God and Jesus and their faith and using it as the foundation on which they direct the youth groups. Their compassion, and understanding and acceptance of our young people is what will lead our youth to return to Church as adults. They will be bringing their families back to Church – kids in tow, because they will remember the gift that they received as a child. They will be the ones who will be sitting in a meeting in 20 years, saying, When I was a kid in Sunday school or youth group...

We are – in our ordinary and every day lives, the sower, the seeds and the soil. We take our faith and bring the kingdom of God into view, right here and now. And the yield will be great; thirty fold, sixty fold, a hundred fold!

And - This is the key to the whole passage. In the USA today, with the benefit of science, fertilizer, machinery, chemicals, the harvest at best might be 30 fold. With great effort, we get the smallest harvest that Jesus expects in his kingdom. With our ordinary lives lived in faith, by watching out for other people, by spreading the word, by living the commandment to love others, by letting our faith be visible, we will bring about the kingdom of God. Our ordinary efforts will produce great fruit. Even a hundred fold.

We are the sowers, the seed and the soil…. And by God’s grace, we harvest new seeds, create fresh soil and commission sowers again and again. By our efforts and by God’s grace the cycle of faith goes on.

There are people who want to say we are in a “post Christian Era” – We don’t have to be… because we have all that we need to change that. We have been given by God the resources, the intelligence, the finances, the energy, the time, the love, the compassion, the gentleness, the understanding and God’s grace … we have all that we need.

So, lets get started…

Lets be sowers - we have 2 new babies here, baptized into the faith. Families that are here, ready to become soil, we can become the sowers of the faith…

Lets become the seeds – we have people in our community that need our help - lets reach out to change their lives.

Let us become the soil… there are people who are struggling and searching for faith – and we can invite them to come here, and to share our faith.

And then watch the harvest grow and watch God’s grace form the seeds of tomorrows harvest. 

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