Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
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 in the sowing, 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!
18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the dominion of heaven 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.”
Please pray with me this morning, church:
Comfort your people.
Shower us with your goodness and mercy
And let your Gospel take root in our lives.
Make us fragrant reminders of your love for the world.
I’ve told the story before about serving as a chaplain at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in downtown Chicago. About how I was assigned to the Medical ICU floor and how I was there to be with the sickest of the sick and their families during some of the worst times in their lives.
I’ve talked about praying with people who weren’t even particularly religious but praying together nonetheless because…hey, if there’s a chance that something could alleviate some of their suffering…they’ll try anything. I’ve talked about sitting with a man for 5 hours in the lobby of the hospital after he watched his wife of 47 years die on the stretcher in the ER…about how sometimes suffering looks like someone who’s just lost their beloved staring blankly at a cell phone, trying to remember who they were about to call, or even what they were going to say.
I’ve talked about, still to this day, the most honest prayer I’ve ever heard. About one family whose mother…the matriarch of the family…was dying and when the time came, the whole family crammed into her ICU room with machines and pumps whirring and hissing. And about holding their hands and praying with them and hearing them remember their mom…and then…for just a moment…the room was completely still. Everyone was holding their breath and the machines just fell silent…only for a moment…
And then…the loudest noise I’ve ever heard. Screams and cries of anguish and sorrow…ones that come up from the very depths of your guts, out of your soul.
Painfully honest lament. Tears and sobbing. Visceral and embodied.
Grief and pain that captures you and won’t let you walk away.
When was your last good cry, church?
Have you allowed yourself to grieve all this unraveling that’s happening?
Don’t push it aside or away. As someone whose habit is to bottle those things up, I can tell you from my own experiences, it’s not a good thing. Grief is something that already comes out sideways under normal circumstances, much more sideways when it’s been under pressure from being bottled up.
We have an aversion to pain and suffering. We don’t like it or how it makes us feel. But if pain and suffering are a given part of our lives, isn’t it much better to deal with them in healthy ways? That is to say, if we recognize that part of what it means to be human is that we experience grief and pain, if those things are a given part of our lives, it does us no good to try and avoid them.
Because we can’t avoid them. We won’t be able to escape them in our lives.
But we can learn how to hold them well.
We can learn how to manage them and deal with them in our own lives, while also learning how to help alleviate and tend to the grief and pain of others.
Because that’s part of what it means to be part of a community of faith…not just to rejoice with those who are rejoicing…but to weep with those who are weeping…to suffer with those who are suffering.
To bear one another’s burdens.
This is your call, people of God.
There’s a lot of unraveling happening in our first story this morning. Initially, King David had these 7 boys put to death to right a wrong in a relationship that had come unraveled with the Gibeonites. And not giving much thought to who these boys might be to those who loved them, David had them summarily executed and strung up on a mountain for all who passed by to see. Then Rizpah, mother to 2 of the boys, goes up the mountain in her sackcloth and sits vigil with her grief…this pain that has unraveled her whole life. And finally, after a while, King David’s own heart becomes unraveled and untangled and he returns bones to their graves in an attempt to atone for this other wrong.
But it wasn’t just that David had a change of heart, or even that God changed David’s heart, but something certainly did.
See, I don’t think David would have given those 7 boys a 2nd thought had it not been for Rizpah. But Rizpah went up on that mountain in her grief and kept vigil there. And you need to know that this wasn’t a short-lived thing.
2 Samuel notes that these boys were murdered in the first days of the barley harvest and that Rizpah went up on the mountain from then until the rains from heaven fell on the bodies. Barley is the first crop harvested in Palestine in the harvest season. And the beginning of the harvesting season in Palestine is in late March or early April. The rainy season doesn’t begin until September or October. So for those of you who are counting on your fingers, Rizpah kept vigil over these boys’ bodies…driving away birds and wild animals and sitting with her grief…for 6 months…
For 6 months…this woman bore witness to this injustice. For 6 months…she tended to these bodies.
There is no timeline for grief.
If you’ve ever lost someone close to you, you know this is true.
There’s no pre-determined point at which suddenly your sadness is over and you no longer feel any hurt. You learn to live with your grief, but that’s different than the grief going away.
What I’m saying is, we would never think of asking someone who’s grieving when they’ll be getting over their grief.
But how many people passed by Rizpah as she was grieving and keeping vigil over the bodies and keeping away the birds of the air and the wild animals? How many people tolerated her way of grieving at first, but as it went on and on and on, how many of those same people started saying things like, “Shouldn’t she be over it by now?” and “Why hasn’t she moved on?” and “I know she’s sad, but really…why do I have to keep hearing about it all the time?”
Who among you, church, has ever questioned someone for how their grief comes out…maybe not to their face, but privately…behind closed doors and in hushed voices?
Who among you has had those thoughts of “Shouldn’t they be over it by now?”
Who among you has said, “I know they’re sad…but why do I have to keep hearing about it…?”
And so when it comes to the pain and grief expressed by our siblings of African descent, and communities of color, and our LGBTQIA2+ siblings, and any other marginalized group…why all of a sudden do we ask those same questions? Why do you feel like we tire of hearing and bearing witness to their pain?
Perhaps by being reminded of their hurt and grief, we might be driven to actually do something about it…to repair relationships and begin the long and difficult work of repairing our communities.
From cultivating new friendships with congregations of color in our neighborhood…to finding new ways to support organizations in our community that are participating in this restoration…to asking how our campus can be used as a resource for our community……these are all excellent ideas that you have reached out to me with over the past month as we grapple with what we’re increasingly coming to understand are deeply systemic and structural discrepancies in our shared life together.
David’s heart became unraveled when he wrestled honestly with Rizpah’s grief. David was driven to act because of Rizpah and her persistence. Like the widow and the unjust judge in the gospel of Luke, persistence can wear down hearts that have been hardened.
But notice here, too, that it’s only when David rights this injustice that God breaks the famine. Consistently throughout the Scriptures, God is deeply concerned in the righting of injustice. God consistently shows up on the side of those who have been wronged.
Maybe by keeping these realities of injustice and inequality at the forefront of our hearts and minds, maybe we, too, will have our hearts worn down by persistence.
I’m usually not a fan when the gospel writers explain the parables they’ve recorded. It’s like explaining the joke after you just told it. Plus, I think it implies that some parables are meant to be understood a certain way, and I just don’t think that’s true. As I’ve said many times before, parables have many entrances and many exits and there are many different ways of understanding them.
But in this case, I think the writer of Matthew is pretty close. Except what if we ourselves are the path, the rocky ground, the thorns, and the good soil? What if we have the capacity for all those different conditions?
And what if Jesus is the gardener, extravagantly spreading innumerable seeds of Gospel good news over us, in hopes that just some of this good news will find a place to take root in our souls?
And here it is, beloved children…here’s the part I desperately want you to hear……it only takes one.
It only takes one, single, solitary seed…just one tiny mustard seed of Gospel…to transform your life.
You’ll have to help tend it and nurture it. You’ll have to help care for it.
But oh goodness, will it ever grow.
Because the good news of the love of God given to you through Jesus Christ is too wonderful to stay small. It will grow and it will grow exponentially and it will take over and transform your life and you will be so filled up that you can’t help but reach out and do what you can with what you have to help alleviate suffering for those who are in pain and grieving.
This is both the Gospel and the call that was placed on you in your baptism.
You are the embodiment of God’s love in the world.
You are the vessels through which God acts in our world to alleviate suffering.
You are the ones called to bear one another’s burdens.
Let this good news unravel your hearts.
Allow your hearts to be broken open that the seed of God’s extravagant love would be planted there and allowed to take root.
Let your life be good soil.
Let your feet and hands be the branches that carry you and reach out to embrace a hurting and grieving world.
And let your acts of love bear the sweet fragrance of beautiful flowers.
Unraveling is arduous and difficult work.
But the transformation is so beautiful.