Food for Thought-Have You Understood All This? Thoughts on Matthew 13:31-52

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Jesus asks the disciples in verse 51, “Have you understood all this?” We don’t get an indication of a pause, delay, or the looks on their faces. He’s just run through a litany of some of the most important parables he’ll ever tell and which explain some of the most central concepts related to the coming “kingdom of God”. Matthew only says they answer with a single word, an affirmative, “yes.”

That question scares me. If Jesus came to me today and asked, “Have you understood all of this?” could I honestly give him the “yes” answer? This is one of the most important questions Jesus asks his disciples. It is a question I believe we need to hear him asking to each one of us. We’ve had a great deal of material thrown our way. It’s a tremendous amount to digest intellectually and spiritually. To understand it on the first go around, on one hearing, would be nearly impossible. Jesus isn’t introducing hard concepts. He’s not asking us to do differential equations. This is stuff we should be able to grasp. It’s in the living that the problems occur. How do we make the hard choices and prioritize like the people in the parables?

I think Jesus understands this. I believe he realizes we too often jump in and give hasty answers to hard questions. That’s why verse 52 is so important. “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of God,” is how he begins. Trained is the operative word there. Training is a process, an ongoing, step by step series of learning events. Scribes were some of the most methodically trained religious leaders in the era of 2nd Temple Judaism. In some ways, their training never ended. They were always in the text, learning new things, memorizing, living and breathing the scrolls. Our understanding, Jesus is saying, is always evolving. We are always growing into our understanding of the kingdom of God. It’s something that never stops and like the scribes, we keep working on, with that level of intensity, each day.

Food for Thought-Redeeming Redemption

Sometimes, when I read Jacob’s story (especially a bit beyond this’s week’s assigned text) that the work of redemption begins during the course of this night in the desert.  Yes, God had made a special covenant with both Jacob’s grandfather and father.  Jacob was part of that same arrangement.  Then, like many of us, he tried to alter the terms of the arrangement.  But even that itself, was inherent in God’s original idea for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  On the night in question, Jacob has an experience unlike his father or grandfather’s.  Whereas their encounters with God are described in vague (yet important) terms, “God showed” or “God said”, God comes to Jacob (in a dream) and stands beside him.  God stands shoulder to shoulder with Jacob.  He goes on to explain “the plan”, a revised arrangement, amended and in much greater detail than anything Abraham ever received.  The specificity of the overall vision which God shares with Jacob is absolutely staggering.  Abraham was shown a universe full of stars.  By comparison, Jacob received a detailed PowerPoint presentation from the creator of said universe.    Whatever redemption God began with Abraham, he’s doing it again, and in a much more specific and larger way with Jacob.   He’s redeeming redemption.  This pattern, of redeeming redemption, occurs time and time again throughout Israel’s history; sometimes in large ways, sometimes in small ways.  As a Christian, I believe the ultimate redeeming of redemption was through the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth.   Through his life and witness, we learn what it means to be redeemed again and again everyday.  I believe this idea of ongoing redemption, of redeeming the seemingly un-redeemable (i.e. Jacob) began under the night time sky in place called Beth-El.  If the less than virtuous physical embodiment of Israel, a man named Jacob, can be re-redeemed by the direct intervention of God, can’t we all?  I believe this to be seminal for understanding redemption as an ongoing action in our lives.  Redemption can be redeemed.

Food for Thought-Learn to Defy Conventional Wisdom, Let Jesus Do His Job: A Sermon on Matthew 13:24-43

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I like this parable because it runs against the conventional wisdom. I’m not big into conventional wisdom in general. Do you know what I mean? Conventional wisdom leads to housing bubbles, millions of cars being recalled, and eventually innocent people asking, “What happened?” I like to apply that same level of cautious skepticism when looking at some of the tried and true parables. If we want to learn something new, we might be wise to look for a new way in. That may mean the back door or even crawling through a window.

I’m going to open up a window, so we can see that connection, where conventional wisdom relates to our world and then meets up with the picture Jesus paints in this parable. Here we’re told the enemy, the devil, has sewn evil weeds in the gardens of our lives. Being the good gardeners that we are, we want to get these weeds out, do we not? We want to prune and weed right away. We can’t allow any evil, potentially satanic weeds to remain in our front lawns or back gardens. What would the neighbors think? “Look at the preacher’s house; sure is a pretty front porch and I love that old Oak Tree, I just don’t know about all those demonic weeds.” Or it’s like having a bad hand at cards; you want to get rid of ones that will do you no good later in the game as quickly as possible.
Against our better judgment, common sense, spiritual inclinations, Jesus comes in and says, “wait!” Slow, down. You want to hold on to your bad weeds and your good grass. You never know when that 2 of diamonds might be as handy as the ace of hearts. Keep them all. I’ll sort them out in the end. He says “wait” and we say, “whaaat?” What Jesus? You want us to do what? Let me get this straight. These weeds, obviously now identified as evil, even by you, you want us to leave in place, because you say so. Shouldn’t we get them all up now? The people on the news say if we leave them in place we will be in mortal danger. They could grow and spread among us. Jesus says to us, “if you pull them up now, you will pull up the good and the bad, you will do more harm than good. You won’t be able to tell the good from the bad. The best thing to do is let me do the sorting. That’s my job.”

Again, we continue. “Lord, we heard it on the radio, we can’t leave these evil weeds in place, they must be removed now.” Jesus comes back one more time. “I’m telling you, you will hurt yourself and many innocent good pieces of grass. Let me, God, worry about it. This is my issue, not yours. I know your would like it to be yours but I can handle it.”

You see why I love this parable. It exemplifies beauty that is the sovereignty of God. It also shows how we try to undermine God’s sovereignty by our own misguided attempts to do God’s job for God. God can handle it. God sees the world (a world that includes us and the weeds in our lives) in ways that we will never understand. We can only glimpse our gardens at this moment in time. He’s telling us this parable for this reason. We only see last night and this morning. Our perspectives are severely limited. Then the media and the world around us reinforce these same ideas that history started yesterday. This is where Jesus steps. Jesus always takes the long view. He knows that can’t take the bad without also harming the good. This is important to Jesus and should also be important to us. Preserving life at all costs is important to Jesus. He will deal with the evil in his own way which is different from our way. Secondly, Jesus knows that there are both weeds and good grass inside all of us. Again, these are indistinguishable from one another. In order to destroy the evil within us, to use our own time tested human methods, we would destroy ourselves.

Once more, Jesus’s method comes to the fore. Leave it to him. We don’t want to self-destruct or ruin ourselves. The key is to let Jesus help us work through the things which need to be pruned or removed from our lives. We also need to let him protect us from ourselves, save us from throwing out the good from the bad. We’d throw our own babies out with our own bath water. Jesus is the one who will stop us and say, “you may need that later, don’t be so quick to make a hasty judgment.” It’s an old fashioned way to say it but we still need to, “turn it all over to Jesus.”
As I mentioned earlier, this is a parable about letting Jesus do his job. The fancier way to say that might be to say it’s a judgment parable. We like to make judgments. We shouldn’t. Jesus likes to reserve judgment for the right time and place.

How do you tell the Baptists from the Methodists in the liquor store? The Methodists will look you in the eye, wave, and say hello. The Baptists keep staring and the floor, push their carts on by, and ignore you.

Christians know a thing or two about judgment. Or at least we think we do. For some reason, we have got it in our heads that judgment is a central component of Christian faith. Maybe it’s from movies, it could be from selective reading of the Bible, hanging out with the wrong sort of people, or listening to bad preaching on the radio-you know the kind I’m talking about-

The kind with lots of breath and inhalation after each word-
And the Lord said unto the Israelites, I will smite the heathen Jebusites with a plague of lice infested beavers on the third full moon of Avatar, Amen…

You know what I’m talking about. For any number reasons, whether it’s how we grew up, how we were taught, what we’ve heard, or encountered, we come away thinking judgment and then acting upon that judgment (let’s call it condemnation) is central to our faith and belief system.

On top of this, we have picked a role in this judgment. Though we know in the back of our minds that God is the one who does the judging.

That is, if and when judging is going to go down, when it’s going to actually happen, it’s going to fall to the deity. It’s not in our job description. In the back of our minds we know this. We can even profess it if pushed.But in reality, it has never, ever sank in. We have always seen ourselves as part and parcel of the judgment process.

Even though, we are the ones who are subject to being judged (we don’t recognize this, in fact, we usually ignore it altogether). Humans, especially Christian humans have always seen themselves as the 5th men (or women) or God’s judgment basketball team.We’re always right there, on the bench, yelling out, “put me in coach, I’m ready to judge,” I saw somebody walking down the street who I know was a sinner, I can spot them a mile away.

It reminds of how my granddaddy told me about getting out of jury duty. Just tell the lawyers you can spot a guilty man a mile away just by looking at him.We know who’s guilty. We can just tell, can’t we? That’s what we do. We judge people. We know who needs to be condemned. We’ve taken the burden off an already overworked God, have we not? Aren’t we doing God a favor, by spotting the people coming out the liquor store, or noticing who is buying what medicines at the pharmacy? As someone once told me, I kid you not, how do we know who to pray for if we don’t “look at their lives”? That is, we can justify our judgment, presuppositions, and gossip under the guise of prayer concerns. Brothers and sisters, I think the Lord’s got that game pretty well figured out. The only people we’re fooling are ourselves.

Paul has the answer, as he often does. Right there, in the first verse of Romans 8. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. I know what you’re thinking. Everyone’s not in Christ Jesus are they. If they’ve not said the sinner’s prayer, done this, that or the other, then they’re not in, right? Aren’t they? Didn’t Jesus die for everyone’s sins? Jesus wasn’t like Santa Claus up there on the cross with a naughty and nice list, saying I’ll die for some and not others. He died for the salvation of the entire world. We’re all in Christ Jesus.  That’s fundamental.

Christ was condemned so we won’t have to be. The immediate questions of sin, judgment, pain, and immortality, Jesus answered once and for all with the events of Easter Sunday morning. What Paul does is raise is a much deeper question; will your mortal body be the end? Will physical death be all she wrote for us? Paul leaves the ultimate question of what happens in eternity unanswered because it is not our question to answer. As Jesus notes in today’s parable, that’s His call. But for you and me and Paul, everyone is offered the opportunity to enter into Jesus’ condemnation free do-over. That’s got everything to with Jesus and nothing to do with us. Just as being graceful, forgiving, and more empathetic have everything to do with how we live after we’ve been given our do-over. No one gave us the go ahead or permission to be judgmental jerks but Paul says you’ve been given the freedom to live free of condemnation, in your own life and how you treat others. You’ve got the green light to go forward and live life differently. This is not something you try. This isn’t an experiment. This is the first day of the rest of your life. Make that choice, seize that opportunity to let God be God in your life and the world around you, and your world will change forever.

Food for Thought-3 Ideas from Genesis 28:10-19

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  1. God can and does meet us in the most unexpected of ways.  God meets us at times and in ways we are initially unconscious and unaware of his presence.  Jacob’s story shows us how God is ready to meet us in the midst of our physical and spiritual darkness.  Where we think God isn’t, God is.  This, as scripture shows, is when we are often most receptive to God’s message and when God usually moves in our lives.
  2. God always has the home field advantage.  Even the lowliest piece of Palestinian desert, North Carolina swamp, or anything in between is sacred ground.   Where we are, there God is.  God is present and we are too busy, too consumed with our own lives to realize God is right in front of us.  The great Hasidic teacher, the Ba’al Shem Tov, taught that God is everywhere and if we’re not seeing him, most of us are just not looking properly.  Jacob wasn’t looking properly.  Are we?
  3. In the midst of pursuing reconciliation, rest is important. Jacob knew that clearing his mind was important before he met Esau.  He knew that something as simple as a good night’s sleep would hold in better stead before the morning’s big events.  It was this sound decision which laid the ground work for his encounter with God.  Preparation of body and mind, prayer-in one way or another, is key to doing the right thing.

Food for Thought-A Confession

I confess.  As much as I may complain about it, I enjoy doing my own bulletins.  You know why?  That’s the only way I know they’ll be right.  I thrive on margins.  Do you know what I mean?  That feeling of inner balance between both sides of the page, between left and right, top and bottom?  Forget templates, I like starting from scratch.  Giving me the blank canvas of a landscape sheet of 8.5 x 11 any day of the week.  Let me design my liturgical masterpiece, one font choice at a time.  Will it be Garamond 12?  Courier Bold?  Helsinki.   Yes, I’m in love with Helsinki.  Can one be in love with a font?  Oh and don’t get me started on that final, crisp fold.  What will it look like when it all lines up?  These aren’t just words on a page, this is a map, a map toward an experience with God, a map I helped draw, albeit with Microsoft Word and a few hundred font choices.  It needs to be right.  Does it not?  You can draw on it.  You can make notes all over the front and back.  You can even put announcements on the back cover.  This I do.  But that’s not what it’s about.  It’s a link in the sacred process of getting us from here to there.  Like that compass, GPS, car, or other pathfinding tool that gets you from point a to point b, the bulletin performs an important task.  It needs to be right and if done right, it can be a work of art.  This, I confess.

Food for Thought-Sermony Reflections on Genesis 28:10-19a

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If I were to be asked, what is this well known section of Genesis about; my answer always comes back to prayer. I’ve settled on that answer because of a consensus shared, over time, by many Rabbis. We can read lots of things into Jacob’s dream; it’s a Freudian’s fantasy. American’s especially enjoy the “ladder of success” metaphor. It seems to work well in a country where income inequality is the household word no one wants to pronounce. However, for me, I like to go to the experts. And in this case, the Hasidic Rabbis of the distant past offer valuable commentary and insight on this passage that is often lost on our 21st century minds. What do they say? Obviously, they start with prayer. Jacob is in prayer relationship with God. But unlike the way we think about prayer, where we “go” to “God” in prayer, that is how we initiate the prayer. That’s usually our model of prayer, right? Jacob doesn’t initiate the prayer-God does. Abraham, his ancestor went after God. It was a quest. The Hebrew describes Isaac’s conversations with God as exactly that, dialogue and conversations, started by Isaac. Not so with Jacob. Jacob’s not interested in talking with God. His mind is more interested in saving his skin. He’s worried about Esau. Is Laban ok where ever he is? Talking to God is not on his priority list. If Jacob is going to pray, it’s going to be at God’s instigation.

Have you ever unexpectedly run into someone you know? It could be someone you haven’t seen in quite a while or maybe a week or two. The point is, you weren’t expecting to see them. You saw them out of context from where you might normally run into them. All of a sudden, there you were with your friend, like it or not. It’s kind of like that with Jacob. He unexpectedly ran into God. God expected him that was the plan after all. “Oh, God, what are you doing here?” “I didn’t expect you in this place; I didn’t realize you shopped here.” That’s basically what Jacob says. He’s forced into prayer and dialogue with God by God. Do any of us really know when God is going to pop up in our lives?

Food for Thought-Your Own Personal Beth-El (Poetic Thoughts on Genesis 28:10-19 a)

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Your Own Personal Beth-El

When you come to your Beth-el,
For a night time place to dwell,
When the sun has just set,
Your soul aches with sweat,
No animals can be heard to creep,
As you lay your pretty little head down to sleep,
That’s when the ladder appears,
Before your eyes, crystal clear,
What rung are you on?
What direction have the angels gone?
Still they go up and down?
Does God’s voice boom all around?
Do you know, know it now?
The Lord is in your place,
Standing right before your face,
In this moment, where you are,
As you drive your late model car,
Or walk that precious dog,
Step from Jacob’s fog,
Do you know it?
Have you heard?
At the sack race,
The rat race,
The air force base,
Even when we think he’s been displaced,
The Lord is in this place!

–Richard Bryant

Food for Thought-My God is Undcoumented

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My God is Undocumented

My God is undocumented,
He arrived,
Illegally, unwanted, and unknown,
Across the border of heaven and Earth,
With no identification, family, or job,
A permanent refugee,
From a genocidal king,
Forever being sought,
By greedy statisticians in Rome,
Living hand to mouth,
Among the poorest of the poor,
With no fish, no one would eat,
With no money, no taxes got paid,
with no money, no prayers got said,
with no documents you were as good as dead,
My God is undocumented,
living on the margins,
of fishing villages,
and textile towns,
crossing over,
to the other side
of the big bad lake,
to the undocumented side,
He’s moving today,
From your Capernaum,
To today’s Decapolis,
And back again,
To meet the undocumented,
Unloved, chained-up, people,
On the other side,
People like us,
Our undocumented God,
Our God who arrived without papers,
Illegally, against Roman law,
And no family at all,
With dubious lineage,
And no photo id,
Who died on the cross,
For you and me,
My God is undocumented.

–Richard Bryant

Food for Thought-Sermon/Homily on Romans 8:1-11

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How do you tell the Baptists from the Methodists in the liquor store? The Methodists will look you in the eye, wave, and say hello. The Baptists keep staring and the floor, push their carts on by, and ignore you.

Christians know a thing or two about judgment. Or at least we think we do. For some reason, we have got it in our heads that judgment is a central component of Christian faith. Maybe it’s from movies, it could be from selective reading of the Bible, hanging out with the wrong sort of people, or listening bad preaching on the radio-you know the kind I’m talking about-

The kind with lots of breath and inhalation after each word-
And the Lord said unto the Israelites, I will smite the heathen Jebusites with a plague of lice infested beavers on the third full moon of Avatar, Amen…

You know what I’m talking about. For any number reasons, whether it’s how we grew up, how we were taught, what we’ve heard, or encountered, we come away thinking judgment and then acting upon that judgment (let’s call it condemnation) is central to our faith and belief system.

On top of this, we have picked a role in this judgment. Though we know in the back of our minds that God is the one who does the judging.

That is, if and when judging is going to go down, when it’s going to actually happen, it’s going to fall to the deity. It’s not in our job description. In the back of our minds we know this. We can even profess it if pushed.

But in reality, it has never, ever sank in. We have always seen ourselves as part and parcel of the judgment process.

Even though, we are the ones who are subject to being judged (we don’t recognize this, in fact, we usually ignore it altogether). Humans, especially Christian humans have always seen themselves as the 5th men (or women) or God’s judgment basketball team.We’re always right there, on the bench, yelling out, “put me in coach, I’m ready to judge,” I saw somebody walking down the street who I know was a sinner, I can spot them a mile away.

It reminds of how my granddaddy told me about getting out of jury duty. Just tell the lawyers you can spot a guilty man a mile away just by looking at him.

We know who’s guilty. We can just tell, can’t we? That’s what we do. We judge people. We know who needs to be condemned. We’ve taken the burden off an already overworked God, have we not? Aren’t we doing God a favor, by spotting the people coming out the liquor store, or noticing who is buying what medicines at the pharmacy? As someone once told me, I kid you not, how do we know who to pray for if we don’t “look at their lives”? That is, we can justify our judgment, presuppositions, and gossip under the guise of prayer concerns. Brothers and sisters, I think the Lord’s got that game pretty well figured out. The only people we’re fooling are ourselves.

Paul has the answer, as he often does. Right there, staring back at us in the first verse of Romans 8. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. I know what you’re thinking. Everyone’s not in Christ Jesus are they. If they’ve not said the sinner’s prayer, done this, that or the other, then they’re not in, right? Aren’t they? Didn’t he die for everyone’s sins? It wasn’t like Santa Claus up there on the cross with a naughty and nice list, saying I’ll die for some and not others. He died for the salvation of the entire world. We’re all in Christ Jesus.

Christ was condemned so we won’t have to be. The immediate questions of sin, judgment, pain, and immortality, Jesus answered once and for all with the events of Easter Sunday morning. What Paul does is raise is a much deeper question; will your mortal body be the end? Will physical death be all she wrote for us? Paul leaves the ultimate question of what happens in eternity unanswered because it is not our question to answer. But for you and me and Paul, everyone is offered entrance in Jesus’ condemnation free do-over. That’s got everything to with Jesus and nothing to do with us. Just as being graceful, forgiving, and more empathetic have everything to do with how we live after we’ve been given our do-over. No one gave us the go ahead or permission to be judgmental jerks but Paul says you’ve been given the freedom to live free of condemnation, in your own life and how you treat others. You’ve got the green light. Now go forward.

Richard Bryant

Food for Thought-David Allan Coe and Matthew 13, The Perfect Country and Western Parable

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Regardless of your particular taste in music, it is undeniable that country music has not just national but international appeal. It’s a unique form and style of music that transcends geography, class, and national boundaries. If there’s one thing people in Ireland enjoy, it is country music. I think there are as many country stations on the dial as there are here in rural Eastern North Carolina. Not only do they play they latest hits from Nashville, but there is a thriving Irish country music scene, with their own artists. Garth Brooks was scheduled to play five concerts in Dublin in just a few weeks time. This was cancelled only this week by city officials to a huge uproar by over 400,000 outraged fans. I could tune in the same songs in Moscow or Kinshasa. Why is that? It is because these songs speak to us as people. They speak to our lives, our stories, our experiences, what we know as common human experiences. People like to listen to songs about their lives which reflect their own experiences. They know about girls, beer, fishing, hunting, love, hunting, the flag, loving your family, and so on.  When someone else sings about them, you feel less alone and isolated. We may not know all of our neighbors, but we know we are like them, and share so much in common when we hear “our songs”.   My truck is like your truck.  My hat is like your hat.  My failed relationship is like yours.  Those basic themes resonate everywhere. They tell our story. In one way, to borrow the cliché, they are playing our songs.David+Allan+Coe+dactmrc1

It reminds me of the old outlaw country song by Steve Goodman which David Allan Coe made popular in the early 1980’s. It’s called, “You Never Even Called Me by My Name”. It’s the story of a failed relationship, as many country songs tend to be. The singer, in disgust at the failure, recognizes that as an artist, he’s seen his name in lights on many occasions. However, from this moment forward, he’s freeing his former life partner from calling him by any name at all, be it Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, or his own (David Allan Coe). In fact, he says, the only time he knows he’ll hear his own name is when Jesus calls it on judgment day. It’s quite a poignant number. At the end, Coe starts to speak about a dialogue with the writer, Goodman. Coe says that he told Goodman he had written the perfect country and western song. Goodman apparently wrote him back and said no, he hadn’t. He had neglected to write anything about mothers, trucks, prison, or getting drunk. With haste, Goodman penned a further verse to the song:

I was drunk, the day my mom got out of prison
I went to pick up her up in the rain,
But before I could get to the station in my pick up truck,
She got run over by a damn ol’ train…

With that verse, Steve Goodman had written the perfect country and western song. It spoke to every aspect of the human condition.

As such, Jesus has told the perfect country and western parable, speaking to every aspect of our lives and the condition of our souls. He’s covered the rocks, the thorns, the sand, the heat, every emotional, physical, and psychological aspect of our lives. He’s telling our story.

In Matthew 13, Jesus is telling our story. That is why these words resonate with us and that’s why we need to hear it played on our spiritual radios. It’s why it feels familiar at one level but distant at another. Jesus is doing what all good country or bluegrass music does; he is making the ordinary important. Literally, he’s taking ordinary dirt and rocks and making them matters of life and death.

So what is Jesus saying?

My sisters and brothers, he says, y’all better listen up. I’m about to lay some important spiritual learning upon you. Anytime Jesus says, “behold”, believe me, this is what he meant.

A farmer climbed up in his battered old F150 pickup truck for another day seed sowing under the hot Galilean sun. The bed of the truck was full of seeds-all the same size, shape, dimension! This farmer was going to diversify and plant as much as he could. He wanted the biggest yield possible. He wanted to grow real food; he wanted to feed people, his family, whomever he met. He was going to scatter this seed over every inch of ground between Nazareth, Capernaum, Ocracoke, Bethsaida, Buxton, and Tiberias.

He put on the radio, pushed the Biscuitville coffee cups into the floorboard, put a big ol’ bag of seed in the passenger seat of that truck cab, started that engine and headed down Galilee highway 12.

He drove down the road, looking at those electric poles, how some of were still leaning at some mighty funny angles, and as he did, he threw some seed out. That seed just landed out there on the edge of the road. No sooner than it had hit the ground, the seagulls came and ate every last one of them.

Little further down the road he came across a patch of rocky ground, this time he was distracted by some morning show on the radio, where if you call in, they’d give you the punch line for a dirty joke. HE was trying to dial the number, drive, and throw seeds at the same time. The farmer managed hit those rocks without much trouble and without thinking. Those seeds might grow but they would last more than a few weeks, if that.

He was almost back into town when he drove up on a thicket of trees. It was nasty bit of brush, full of thorns and mess. And wouldn’t you know it, while he was reaching for his coffee; he threw a whole handful of seeds into the tangled web of thorns and trees. Nothing was going to grow there. It was to thick, no light. Everything was going to get choked out.

Finally, he saw (without looking at the radio, phone, or his coffee) a decent patch of ground with what looked like livable topsoil. He stopped the truck and put out some seed all through this little patch. This place had potential. Something would grow here. He just knew it.

Now the disciples needed that explained to them. They wanted to know why he spoke in parables and what this particular parable meant. I think we understand it. As I said, it’s our story. But what does it mean? How is it our story?

Usually we read this story in terms of evangelism. We, the good, God-fearing church-folk, are the farmers out sowing seeds on the different kinds of soil of the world. We tell ourselves (often times to cheer ourselves up) that sometimes the Good News will fall in places where it will be well-received and places where it will not. I know this all too well. As a former full-time missionary in Russia and Ireland, I know all too well about planting seed after seed and seeing limited growth. We also see it in local churches here in the United States.

But what if we don’t read this in terms of evangelism this week, this morning, or ever? What if we’re not the good hearted farmer in the pick-up truck?  It’s so easy to sit in church and hear this story, to put ourselves in the place of that overworked farmer.  We work and we try.  Then we leave church and turn on the radio and thank God we’re not like the people in the songs who’ve lost girlfriends, wives, homes, cars, grapple with addiction, and so on.  We think we’ve got it all figured out.  I think we’ve got it totally backwards.  What if we are the song?  What if we’re the soil? That’s what I mean about this parable being our story. At times in our lives, we are pretty shallow people where nothing sinks in. In other moments, we’re kind of rocky. Maybe we are hardened by life’s circumstances, impervious to reason, with some cracks in our souls but still unsteady. Sometimes we’re tied up in thorns, so wrapped up in a thicket of emotional knots, and unable to move for the blood we keep drawing from the mental thorns that surround us. But luckily, there are moments when we get it right, when it all comes together and everything clicks, when the right seed takes hold and life flourishes within and the ground around us.

You see, this parable is our story. It is the story of our lives. We may, at times use it to talk about our lives working among others. But ultimately, it’s about us. At some points in our lives we will be all three, each one of these kinds of soil. We want it to average out, more of the last than any of the other three. I think Jesus is making us aware of dangers, challenges, and pitfalls. The seed, the Good News, has been offered equally (it’s the same seed) to all of us. The variable is us. We are the ones who are always changing. We are the ones who fluctuate. But we, with help from family, friends, church, and the Holy Spirit, have some control over our lives. Our stories don’t have to end with the alcoholic, tornado destroyed trailer, psychotic ex-wife fatalism of many country songs. There is a way out, a fourth option, the Good Soil, we can remove the thickets, rocks, and sand from our lives. How willing are you to start today?  Do you want to be on your on work team?