July 16, 2023, 7th Sunday After Pentecost. Sermon preached by Rev. Katie Holicky

7/16/23 Matthew 13:1-9,18-23     Rev. Katie Holicky, Assistant Rector

It was impossible for me to read this passage from Matthew and not go right out to my garden, also known as “the farm” in our house, crouch down and examine the soil where my now rather large vegetables and herbs are bursting forth. Learning how to grow food and grow food well is a huge passion of mine. It feels like a life skill that I should have. Knowing how to grow food means many things. It means we lessen our chances of going hungry, and that we are also more closely connected to the divine creation our food is part of. Each year as we creep out of the clutch of frigid February and into March, I begin to make the farm plans. I sketch up different ways to set up the space with our various raised beds and containers. I think about what types of food I know how to grow that we will grow again (tomatoes, peppers, herbs, lettuce), and what types of food I have yet to try but really want to get familiar with (this year it’s, sunflowers to harvest the seeds, pumpkins, winter squash, and potatoes). 

Each year as I sit down and dream about what I will grow I eventually come to the moment where I have to think really clearly and do some research on how to grow it. Every couple of years I reinvest in some really good soil, which my Grandma would say comes from the garden center whereas dirt comes from outside, and this year I did a lot of research about what type of plant food I needed for the various things in our garden. I spent many weeks in April and May cleaning up our growing space and prepping the containers. Many trips to Skillins to get a good container mix of soil and many conversations with Skillins staff over plant food options. I find that the time I spend getting the dirt ready is probably some of the most sacred. It is not just the aching back that stands out to me. It is the act of crouching down, thinking about what this particular container needs to meet with success, and mixing the soil, sand, compost, and plant food in at the proper amounts. It is this time where I have to slow down and trust that building out this good foundation is just as important, if not more so, as putting the seedlings in the ground and tending to them over the season. My biggest lesson in all of my years of growing food has been that good soil, the right space, and taking my time moving through the process is what fosters the most growth and fruit. 

Today, Jesus tells us the same thing is true for our faith and the work we do for and with God. Here in Matthew Jesus has begun speaking in parables as he faces growing public opposition (TBC, 302). One writer in the commentaries notes, “…even as the parables are instruments and expressions of judgment, they also are meant to disturb the everyday rationality of their audience and lead those who will listen to a place where they may discern what God is doing. Jesus’ parable thus hides the reign of God from those who see but reject it, even as they reveal to those who listen ‘what has been hidden since the foundation of the world’” (TBC, 302). Jewish scholars examine this text and suggest that here we can see that the “sower” refers to Jesus and that “sowing” is related to doing the work of God (JANT, 25). Jesus is finding creative ways to teach people about the reign of God when it is becoming unsafe for him to blatantly speak out against the empire and status quo of the religious leaders who serve the empire and not the people of God. 

But what does this parable mean for us, for those of us called to do the work of God, the sowing, in the context of today? And so I wonder, perhaps part of the lesson today is to know when to do that work and to tend to the places where the reign of God can truly grow. To not spend our efforts in vain but to truly understand where, when, and how to sow the reign of God. To find that good soil. This point is really driven home for me when I examine what happened to the seeds sown in various places; “The story of the sower contracts the failure of much seed- snatched by the evil one, scorched by distress, or choked by the world- with astonishing production of seed that falls on good soil” (TBC, 302). 

Now, unlike my weeks of preparing our containers and soil, the ground in the parable is not plowed, which for the ancients in this part of the world would not have been uncommon (TTONL, 102). Though, still we see God’s generosity come forth with that rich bounty (TTONL, 102). Friends, here is why I can stand before you and smile so wildly at what could be a puzzling parable. It is because of that rich bounty, because of the immeasurable abundance of our God that I smile. I smile because we are both good soil and good sowers aren’t we?! Sometimes we find ourselves in that stage of thinking about what we need to be able to bear rich and vibrant fruit. Not unlike my mixing soil with various materials to make a good growing medium. Sometimes we are in the midst of sowing seeds and seeing seeds we have sown spring forth in the earth that we are. The work and evidence of good sowers sowing in good soil is right here. It is in each of us and it is in the collective we are as this body of Christ. 

We ARE a people who know how to bring about the reign of God. It is this trust in our ability to co-create with God that I bring as we find ourselves looking towards our community shifting and transitioning. You see, this parable, while about the good soil and the sower who has the wisdom to sow in the right place, is also about discernment. The discernment to know when, where, and how to sow. The discernment to know when to tend to the soil and when to tend to the sowing. The discernment that helps us to know what of God’s work we are called to and when… and that truly in the word’s of Julian of Norwich “all shall be well, in all manner of things, all shall be well”. 

While the amount of rain we have gotten has been hard on my little farm like everyone else’s, I have to say I am still amazed at the impact that good soil, the right space, and taking my time moving through the process is what fosters the most growth and fruit. I am never NOT amazed at the power of discernment, good care, and trusting that when we do God’s work in the containers God calls us to, we bear more fruit than we can ever imagine. May this continue to be so. May it be so for us in ways we have yet to imagine. May discern well as we nurture this soil, sow the right seeds, and trust that we too will reap the harvest of the sowing of God’s reign. May it all be so! 

Resources: Jewish Annotated New Testament, Theological Bible Commentary, True to Our Native Land, Women’s Bible Commentary