Paul Olsen

on the way…not there yet

Jesus was such a failure.

Read the Gospels, if you don’t believe me;
he preaches and teaches and heals and astounds,
and people love him at first,
but the more they listen to him,
the more they realize
Jesus just isn’t what they expected.

And in the end, miracles not withstanding,
most of them seem to figure he’s not worth the cost.

In the Gospel of Matthew, nobody listens to him;
he can’t get anything through his disciples’ thick heads;
his preaching falls on deaf ears;
his miracles are fun for awhile,
but then nobody’s much impressed;
John the Baptist doesn’t even get it.

The most devout people find him sacrilegious
they call him names and dismiss him
as just another person crazy with demons.

His own mother and brothers
have a hard time getting through to him.

It ain’t working, it just ain’t working; it’s a ministry on the rocks.

Nothing’s going right:
Jesus has been rejected by the crowds; they are turning on him.
Somewhere out there someone is plotting how to get rid of him.

It’s life or death for him now; he’s a failure.

So what’s a Savior to do?

Seems like he just throws back his head and laughs;
he starts telling jokes, riddles, and parables.

He teases, he plays with us,
and makes incredible promises
about the generous faithfulness of God.

Of all the stories and sayings of Jesus,
this is the first one that Matthew calls a parable.

He’s probably thinking of the old Hebrew tradition of mashals.

A mashal was a sort of riddle or a story with a hidden meaning;
a story with a mystery to reveal,
but a story that hides it’s secret wisdom in some surprising way,
just begging you to dig deeper and discover it,
teasing you with a treasure worth hunting for.

Remember last week’s gospel story,
where Jesus turns away from the stubborn crowds, and says to God:

I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants…   (Matthew 11:25)

…to babies, to children—who always love stories;
children love stories,

especially ridiculous ones with talking animals
and things that could never happen
except in heaven or the wildest imagination;
who even love it when you tease them,
or at least, play with them.

It takes a child, or a childlike heart, to do that;
grownups are too anxious,
they worry about too many things,
they are too deadly serious and they never get the joke—
they miss so much.

Jesus is teasing you;
he’s a failure, and his life is on the line—and he plays with you.

He’s teasing your brain,
asking you to think in some strange, new, unimaginable,
heavenly way.

He’s like that, you know;
if Jesus speaks to you and it doesn’t leave you going, “Huh?”
or flat out knock your socks off,
you probably just didn’t hear him right.

Listen! Jesus says.

If the Bible puts you to sleep
and doesn’t leave you wanting to argue with it,
then you’re just hearing what you want to hear
and you’d best go clean your ears.

But if it catches your breath and still leaves you wanting more,
then you’re probably ready to come out and play with Jesus.

A sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up.  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.  But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.  Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.  Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.  Let anyone with ears listen!

It’s a story about a guy who’s a failure at farming; he’s just wasting seed!

He’s not even looking at what he’s doing.

He’s feeding the birds,
he’s sowing to the sun,
he might as well be farming in a parking lot.

Nobody farms like this—nobody but God.

God is a wild sower, indiscriminate in love, profligate in mercy.

What kind of soil do think you are?

It doesn’t matter one wit to God.

He will risk his most precious Word on you;
he’ll send his Son and let you treat him like a failure,
put him to death and crucify his love;
he will waste Jesus on you, lavish grace on you,
for the hope of some small harvest in your soul.

There is some good soil, of course,
where things sprout up like a perfect summer day.

But most of us can’t claim to be the richest soil—I certainly can’t.

Call me picked over, rocky and stubborn,
lacking depth, rootless and shiftless,
easily scorched, and too quickly scorching in return.

My faith so easily troubled,
so easily distracted by cares of the world
and wealth so alluring,
yielding nothing often as not.

Yet God sees fit to waste extravagant love on just these such,
in hopes, in hopes,
taking a chance on us, and in spite of it all,
reaping an unbelievable harvest.

Such a God!

So what about us?

We are more than just receptors for God’s word,
more than just soil and seedbeds—
we are sowers, too.

What about King of Glory Lutheran Church?

Should we claim to be successful, or a failure, like Jesus?

Should we claim to be good soil, or admit to being rocky soil?

Or maybe it doesn’t matter one wit to God.

Because, call us hard soil or good, this is where God is sowing his seed.

And not just on us, but through us,
making us into farmers with seed to share.

Sometimes it seems like we spend a lot more time
wildly throwing seed around here
than bringing in the sheaves with bushel baskets;
the Word of God, wasted on us.

But what about that Old Testament reading for today,
Isaiah claiming that God’s word is never wasted:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace…
   (Isaiah 55:10-12)

Some would say trying to follow Jesus isn’t worth the payoff;
living graciously is too costly,
forgiving others is too uncertain,
and often as not, it doesn’t work,
nobody notices, let alone appreciates the effort.

If you really give this Christian life a try,
if you actually work up the nerve
to share your faith with someone,
to love someone as Christ loves us,
to stand up for justice,
to reach out and try caring for a change—
well, it can be pretty much like trying to garden in a parking lot:
lots of sweat and toil and tears,
and what have you got to show for it?

A lot of love wasted, I suppose.

But then you’ve got Jesus saying,
you just never know,
and love is never wasted,
and grace is always child’s play,
and if you’ll just sow with careless abandon,
you’ll reap an unbelievable harvest:
some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

It’s that invitation of Jesus again:
Come with me, and I will teach you to live with the sower’s carefree abandon.

Come with me, and experience forgiveness—
the freedom to fail in some colossal way,
to make excellent mistakes for the love of God.

Just do something, even if it’s wrong:
You have the freedom of God’s forgiveness to play with.

God will forgive you quickly;
and even if it does take the rest of us a bit longer,
the truth is God will work that out eventually, too.

Because grace is always lavish if it is grace at all.

You can save seed if you don’t sow it,
but without that risk, unsown seed is worthless,
love held back is no love at all.

Grace only bears fruit when you scatter it wildly,
waste it without the slightest concern
for who is worthy or what good it will do.

Waste your love, give freely, lose yourself,
forgive madly, speak up for Jesus, risk it.

You might be wasting your time,
you might end up failing grandly—but it doesn’t matter;
you are called to sow and scatter the grace of God,
and trust the rest to Jesus.

That’s God’s gift to you—
the carefree abandon of your self,
the giving away of your self
in hope and confidence and trust in God.

The fact is, there’s a pretty good chance that
most of what you do in Jesus’ name
won’t amount to much of anything,
at least, not the way you or I might wish it.

But the promise is a harvest beyond imagining,
a life beyond measure.

And in Christ, nothing is wasted, everything is saved.

So there he is, Jesus that failure, out standing in his field.

There’s Jesus, out there sowing and laughing with abandon
and not worrying about the harvest,
whether it will amount to anything at all,
just doing the gracious will of God
and leaving the rest up to God.

There’s Jesus, out there sowing and laughing,
acting like there’s no limit to God’s love,
no limit to God’s mercy;
like forgiveness could heal anything,
like there’s more than enough grace for everybody;
like giving it away would only bring you more.

There’s Jesus, asking, won’t come out and play?


TIME AFTER PENTECOST A (Lect 15) – JULY 12, 2020 – MATTHEW 13:1-9, 18-23 – KING OF GLORY LC, BOISE, ID – © Paul R. Olsen

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