All of Jesus’ parable to some extent are elaborations of the parable of the sower, at least his Kingdom parables. But I feel that is even more the case with the Gospel according to Mark. The Sower and the Soils is Jesus’ picture of the Kingdom in this world. The parables that are part of the text today are refinements or close ups of parts of that parable that answer some natural questions. The early part of this sermon sets that connection because the lectionary jumps right back into the gospel skipping the larger narrative parable.
The questions natural questions that might come up immediately are: 1) to what extent are we responsible for the growth of the seeds? and 2) when the seeds do grow what does it look like? This sermon looks at both those questions through the parables.
The text is from Jesus prayer on Thursday of Holy Week in John. It is picked because this past Thursday was ascension day, the day 40 days after Easter when Christians mark Jesus’ return to the Father. 10 Days later, next Sunday, is Pentecost when the Spirit is poured out. This is promised is Jesus’ prayer. What this sermon does is first reflect on the foundation for the prayer. Jesus prefaces his petitions with some statements. 1) The World and the those he is praying for are at odds, 2) those he is praying for have been chosen by the Father (election) and 3) It is through the disciples he is praying for that he receives glory. Such is the foundation and purpose of the Christian life. In order to live it, because Jesus is leaving this world, he asks his Father to grant his disciples certain things. All these things Jesus considers that while he was in the World He gave them, and he knows that we need them. So he asks the Father.
I have heard many preachers talk about these things, in particular the first one, as stuff the church should be working on. But that would turn them into laws, not graces. Jesus is asking his father for grace for his people. Grace to be one in the name. Which is true not the least in our baptisms. Grace to be kept from the Evil One. Which is true in that the Satan has been bound and has no way to destroy the church in this world. And Grace to consecrated in truth. Which is granted in the abiding word. Jesus’ prayer has been answered.
This is the call of 2nd Isaiah – a much better call than the first one. It is completely absorbed into the New Testament story in John the Baptist, but treating it as good news in its own right brings out a different emphasis. That is what this sermon does. Instead of a people already experiencing the inbreaking of the Kingdom, in its own context it is addressed to those who might rightly be despairing. The LORD has always claimed two things: 1) His love for his people is steadfast and 2) He is the only God of all the nations. Sitting in exile, neither of those seem right. But God tells his prophet to “Cry”. And the message is Good News.
It might be pride, it might just be the poorness of my file in general, but after delivering this one, it immediately feels like one for the portfolio.
Parables are strange little things. Everyone loves a good parable. If there is a part of the bible that remains common knowledge it is probably some of the parables, like the Sower and the Soils. But what makes them strange is that while the crowds might remember them, they don’t really hear them. If you are hearing the parables alone, it is because your ears aren’t working. The understanding, the explanation, only comes by faith. And that understanding is often at great odds with the surface friendliness.
In the case of the Sower and the soils, them point is not really to identify soils which is what we so often do. The point is to recognize the overwhelming grace of the sower. And to understand that you are good soil. You who have heard and accepted the Word, you are good soil and will be made fruitful. Because the Word of God does what it intends.
The essence of the text is a list, a list of names. Sermonic suicide, right?
I think the list, when you add the stuff around it is more meaningful than that. And it goes right at our problems with evangelism. We grumble, we come up with all kinds of excuses why we can’t, why things are going good. We look at this text and say, “if you gave me those powers.” But that is simply a surface reading. Give is a good read. List out what the tools for the work of mission actually are. And then ask yourselves, are you willing to pick up these tools? That is what the sermon does.
What is the power of the resurrection? That is the question I was asking myself. And there are a bunch of answers, but this text gives us two clear ones. The peace of God which Jesus comes and brings to every disciple. And the power of the Word to bring joy to hearts. The world gives peace as cessation of conflict. The world thinks of joy as happiness or earthly delight. These are temporal things easily lost. But the resurrection brings eternal peace. And eternal peace wells up in joy. The power of the resurrection brings eternal things in the midst of temporal strife.
What is the virginity of Mary all about anyway? That is what this sermon is about. Matthew tells you, but he tells you by pointing you at the Israel’s story, in this case at Ahaz and Isaiah. I’ll cut this short, it is about hope. It is about how God conceives hope, when all our natural hopes are gone. But this sermon takes a longer look at that. And why the Virgin Birth should conceive hope in all hearts.
What do me mean when we talk about last things? There of course is the very literal, but
other than 10,000 mile stuff, Jesus really doesn’t answer that. Because that is not what we are talking
about. What we are talking about is
impermanence and our anxiety caused by that impermanence. And that is was Jesus goes after. Even these “noble stones” of the temple will
come down. This thing that centers our
identity will fail. All earthly props
will give way. And Jesus goes on to name
them. And then he gives us a
promise. “Not a single hair of your head
You have both the knowledge and the promise. The knowledge that yes, the world is
impermanent. Don’t place your faith in
it, in any part of it. The promise that
there is a permanent thing, and that you are already a part of it. The Kingdom of God is coming with power and
great glory. So straighten up an raise
your heads. Because this is your redemption. This is your hour.
The text is Mary and Martha which has had an outsized influence on Christian history. It is not stretching it to think that the interpretation of this passage shaped Christianity from the 200’s to the Reformation. What I’m speaking of is the separation of the Christian Life into the Active and the Contemplative. But that division, isn’t really fair either to the historical reality or to the larger reality presented in all of Luke 10.
What this sermon attempts to do is understand Mary and Martha in the full context of Luke 10. It ponders how and why Mary represents the one thing needful, while at the same time giving Martha her place as one addressed doubly “Martha, Martha” by the LORD. (Ponder for a second the full list of those addressed this way. It is like finding yourself on a list with Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Barry Bonds.) And then it answers how we move from an anxious and troubled place, to the place of holding the one thing needful.