top of page

6 Pentecost - Matthew 13:1-9. 18-23

My dear, wise friend, the Rev. Arnie Pierson, has worshiped with us from Chicago, and he has

shared some important feedback:

Good service Pastor! So appreciated seeing you!

Only wish for a little less Dodgers and a shout out for the Cubs!

Well, this week Jesus tells a parable about a sudden explosion of miraculous success that followed a litany of failures and disappointments, including choke jobs and withering after a fast start.

Cub fans, this one's for you.

[change into Cubs stole]

The kingdom of heaven is like Kyle Schwarber.

Last year, just like the sower in Jesus' story, Kyle Schwarber hit exactly .250, which means he got out three out of every four times he lumbered to the plate.

Arnie can tell you that he also misplayed roughly three out of every four fly balls hit his way.

Schwarber's failures varied, of course: sometimes he grounded out, sometimes he popped up, sometimes he swung and missed completely.

Some hopeful looking line drives and long fly balls died in opposing gloves; other at bats were clearly hopeless.

But now and then, once out of four times, a seed would land.

Sometimes these produced abundantly—he had 38 homeruns and 92 runs batted in.

For his quarter time success, Schwarber was rewarded this year with a 7 million dollar salary.

(If I could up my game to one good sermon out of every four, I would settle for that.)

Let anyone with ears listen.

Last Sunday, in our Revelation study, I heard a familiar melody line in the conversation.

I heard lament that we are not seeing a bigger harvest.

Where is the thirty, sixty, hundredfold growth of church membership?

That, of course, is how we have automatically, maybe uncritically come to measure the

value of ministry in default American terms of effectiveness, productivity, stats.

What did our efforts yield, and what was wasted, and how can we be more efficient – all

questions that are almost inevitable for us but which the sower does not seem to care about.

It doesn't help that many of us grew up in a golden age of church participation; our expectations were set at hundredfold by growing up in a time when it appeared that everyone went to church every week, reinforced by social pressure.

Here in Southern California, most of our ELCA congregations, including ours, were planted and quickly grew large in the twenty years after World War II as L.A. expanded and welcomed a huge influx of new residents from Lutheran-rich places like Chicago, where

winter is usually as cold and crushing as September at Wrigley.

Big churches and expanding harvests were the norm, except that post-war America was a minority blip in church history, a grand slam, a rare patch of unusually productive soil. And just as our area is far less field and much more path – fewer farms and more roads – so the soil conditions of society have drastically changed.

As one participant commented, now the f-word is far less scary or offensive than the name Jesus.

We the church have certainly done our part to drag his name through the mud with our

internal conflicts, judgmental moralism, fear, irrelevancy, greed, abuse, and plenty of other sins.

And hearts have hardened all around us; positions and politics have calcified, and it feels like the soil is harder and rockier now than in former times we think we remember.

Receptivity and vulnerability are considered weakness; the soil we idealize and celebrate is firm, tough, strong, resistant, fortified against intrusion and change; how can the word get in?

Whether it is the evil one or insatiable capitalist birds or rock hard ideologies just beneath the surface or the irresistible wiles of wealth or thorny entanglements that are necessary to

survive in the world or simply nine guys playing defense against one batter, there is

substantial resistance to the word.

A lot of it falls into failure.

But that's not the end of the story.

If the seed is the word, and the word is Jesus, then we should not be surprised that he fails.

The evil one snatches him up in the garden of Gethsemane.