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Receptivity

sowerandseedMatthew 13: 1-9 and 18-23
Introduction to the reading
We continue with our sermon series on discipleship, Jesus’ instructions to the original twelve.  They are becoming apostles, charged with spreading the good news of the kingdom of heaven to anyone and everyone.  How will it go out there?  What will it be like?  Who will listen?  Who will really hear?  Who will come and follow?

Jesus often teaches through stories and parables and that’s what we’ll be hearing from now on in this series.  Today, the familiar parable of the sower and Jesus’ own explanation of it.

Meditation
From an article in the July 17 issue of Time magazine:

Perhaps the only thing we can agree on at this painfully divisive moment in our national history is that all this anger and derision in which we’re marinating isn’t healthy.  Not for us, not for our kids and certainly not for the country. …
We’re so primed to be mad about something every morning, it’s almost disappointing when there isn’t an infuriating tweet to share or a bit of our moral turf to defend waiting in our phones...

If we’re always ready for battle, any bit of breaking news can bolster the fear that things are out of control [even though our fears don’t match the actual risk]...

All the sharing and venting … has toxic side effects.  One of those effects is the increased acceptability of crude or violent insults.  They are now so commonplace that they fail to shock...

...big societal shifts, such as the legalization of same-sex marriage, and policy disagreements on issues like immigration, climate change, health care, [community policing, voting rights] can feel like existential threats to our very identity.  (Schrobsdorff 19, 20)  

Maybe this article is a little intense, yet these issues are real and touch everyone’s life; we can’t afford to be blasé about them.
We turn to the Scripture reading:  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 is sown on the path. … As for what is 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.

Our nation, and indeed the world, in this year of our Lord 2017, is a beaten down path and a mass of thorny overgrowth, unreceptive to Jesus’ word of the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of light and love. It is so difficult to hear the holy voice…

In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus talks about context and environment when he describes how the seed will grow, how the word will flourish – or not – depending upon the kind of soil on which it is strewn.  When people hear this old parable story, they wonder about what kind of soil they are -   hardpacked, rocky, thorny – in some way themselves unreceptive to the word of God and the call to be a disciple of Jesus.  Or maybe they worry about how they can change themselves to become good soil so that God’s word and Jesus’ call will flourish in their souls.  This is all well and good, but maybe not the whole message.

Fifteen years ago, sociologist Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. “Epidemics,” said Gladwell, “are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur.”  Human behavior can change radically when something in our context, or the way we perceive it, changes. (Gladwell 140)

To make his point, Gladwell used the example of the Broken Windows Theory, which was put forth by criminologists James Wilson and George Kelling.  
They argued that:

crime is the inevitable result of disorder.  If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge.  Soon, more windows will be broken, and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street on which it faces, sending a signal that anything goes.  In a city, relatively minor problems like graffiti, public disorder, and aggressive panhandling…are all the equivalent of broken windows, invitations to more serious crimes…  The impetus to engage in a certain kind of behavior is not coming from a certain kind of person but from a feature of the environment. (Gladwell 141)

Gladwell learned from the Broken Windows Theory.  He wrote:  “The convictions of your heart and the actual contents of your thoughts are less important in guiding your actions than the immediate context of your behavior.”  Perhaps it is not so much the soil you are but rather the soil you are in that makes a difference.

Given the way the world seems to be today – disordered, extremist, violent, crude, mean-spirited, selfish, unethical – how is it possible to find any good soil where the Word of God can be expected to flourish?

Well, first, we need to remember that God is the sower.  He throws the seed around with abandon, extravagantly, not mindful of risks.  It lands everywhere and there are some losses – to the birds, the scorching sun, the rocks, the thorns.  But this is the way God lavishes mercy, grace and love upon us.  This is the way God plants the seeds of justice, peace, forgiveness, reconciliation and salvation.  “Let anyone with ears listen!”  Jesus shouts.

So, when the Word of God is firmly rooted in your soul, in your personal soil – as I hope and pray that it is - how can you change the larger field that is the whole world in order to make the world more receptive?

Realistically, I’m not sure that you can.  But you can do God’s work wherever you are and so have your influence felt.  As the old saying goes, “bloom where you are planted”.  Soon there may be a whole garden, green and colorful and good, sustained by the One who created gardens in the first place.

Now to the One who by the Holy Spirit at work among us is able
to accomplish abundantly far more
than anything we can ask or even imagine,
to God be the glory now and forever.  Amen.

Gladwell, Malcolm. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.  New York: Little Brown, 2002.
Schrobsdorff, Susanna. “Viral anger spreads like a disease – and it’s making the country sick.”  Time, 17 July 2017: 19-21.

Rev. Kathryn Henry
Peapack Reformed Church
Gladstone, NJ
July 16, 2017

khenryRev. Kathryn Henry
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