God’s Word will do what God purposes, always. That’s our ground for living and hope for healing of ourselves and the world.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 15, year A
Texts: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23; Isaiah 55:10-13
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
For today, let’s set aside the interpretation we just heard.
We understand why the Evangelists included it. The early believers struggled with why sometimes their work bore good fruit, people joined Christ’s way, and sometimes no matter how faithfully they shared the Good News, it wasn’t received or rooted. Jesus’ interpretation helps face that frustration.
But Jesus didn’t tell parables that had only one interpretation. When he needed to speak that clearly, he did. “Love one another as I have loved you” is direct speech needing little explanation.
But some truths about God and the world aren’t easily packaged in a simple teaching. So Jesus also told parables. Stories, pictures revealing a deep wisdom about God’s reign. Every parable Jesus told is a jewel that, if held to the light and turned, or held in a different light, reveals further facets of God’s truth and wisdom. This interpretation here is only one facet.
Today we heard this parable alongside God’s word to the prophet Isaiah. In that light, when we turn it carefully, a whole new grace in these words is revealed to us.
God declares a promise to Isaiah that transforms our faith.
God says: you see the rain and snow fall, water the earth, and help life grow and sprout? That’s like my Word that I speak into the world. Like rain and snow, it will always bear fruit. “My Word that goes out from my mouth shall not return to me empty,” says the Lord, “but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
How have we forgotten this? This gives hope to all our attempts to be obedient and faithful, confidence to our footsteps and our voices, encouragement to our hearts. God’s Word will accomplish what God wants, always.
Now, what does this tell us about Jesus’ parable?
Suddenly what we thought was certain about this story isn’t.
In Isaiah’s light, God’s Word is the rain and snow, not the seed. So if God’s Word always nurtures the fruit God needs, can we hear this parable as not about the visible harvests at all?
Isaiah’s light focuses us on the Sower, not the harvests. Jesus describes a Sower who walks over the ground, throwing seed everywhere and anywhere. This looks careless, but that’s how seed was then sown. Today, agriculture has eliminated the obvious problems of this Sower. Farmers long have removed the rocks, killed the weeds, prepared the ground. And none of them, for centuries, has run their planter over the road.
But what if the Sower isn’t careless at all? What if the Sower knows birds will eat the seeds on the path, and the sun will wilt the plants in rocky ground, and weeds will challenge the new growth in places, and still plants seeds there?
If God’s Word always bears the fruit God wants, always accomplishes what God wills, we know two things about the path, the rocks, and the weeds. We know we can’t see how planting seeds there is helpful or good. But we also know God sees something important in that planting, and that at some point God’s rain and snow will produce what God needs there.
This has profound implications for our lives in the world and our own journeys of faith.
We struggle with the crises of our world, and our involvement in them, but we might have forgotten Isaiah’s word.
Systemic racism, the devastation of climate change and the injustice and oppression it causes, the wicked systems that create rich and poor and deepen those realities almost without conscious thought or effort, the evil distribution of resources that forces millions to die of hunger every year, all these cause us great anxiety and stress. We struggle to know how to begin to turn these into paths of healing.
But God says, “My Word will accomplish what I purpose, and succeed in that for which I sent it.” Do we not believe this? Hasn’t God promised over and over to draw all races and nations together? Hasn’t God not only called us to do justice and care for the poor but also said “I myself will care for the poor and needy, and feed the hungry”? We can’t read God’s Scriptures without seeing God’s promise to personally bring justice and peace.
Of course we still follow our own call to serve. But now we do it with the confidence that God’s promise is to heal all things. God’s seed will bear fruit, the rain of God’s Word will see it happen.
We struggle with being Christ in our own lives, but again may have forgotten God’s promise.
The more we listen to Christ the more we realize the challenges of Christ’s path. We realize our own implicit, unthinking racism, our embeddedness in a capitalist culture that benefits us while harming others, our sinful thoughts and words and actions even to those we love. We long to be Christ, to love as Christ, to witness to Christ’s love. But we stumble in our Christly, self-giving love, and sometimes despair at that.
Have we forgotten God’s promise? “My Word will accomplish what I purpose, and succeed in that for which I sent it.” Isn’t the Bible full of promises of God to change us, make us holy? Aren’t we joined to Christ’s vine, with the Spirit’s fruits borne in us? Hasn’t God promised through Paul that we are new children of God, a new creation? We can’t read God’s Scriptures without hearing God’s promise to make us new, to make us Christ’s love in the world.
Of course we still heed our call to walk Christ’s path. But now we walk with God’s hope and courage, knowing we will become what we are meant to be. God promised. And God’s promises always, always bear the fruit God needs.
Seen in the light of Isaiah, this jewel Jesus gives us reminds us that we can’t always believe what we see.
We look at a dead Son of God hanging on a cross, and can’t see how God’s love can heal the world. But Christ is risen, and love defeats death, and Isaiah was right. God’s Word will always do what God intends.
So what we think we see isn’t always truth. The birds eat seed, rocks push plants into the sun, weeds choke. The world rolls on, systems take deeper root, our efforts to be Christ fail.
But if God’s Word always succeeds, we don’t know what we’re really seeing. In the devastation of any of the world’s problems, in the grief and frustration we find in our failure to be Christ, we see only one piece of God’s strategy. Just because we can’t see how God will make life out of death, hope out of despair, joy out of sorrow, doesn’t mean God won’t. The cross taught us that. Justice will prevail, healing will happen in our hearts and in the world, those who are poor will be restored, those who are hungry will be fed, and God’s reign of peace will heal this universe. God has promised it.
The Sower knows what the Sower is doing, and we shouldn’t be distracted when we don’t think we see results. God’s Word will always do what God needs it to do.
This transforms everything.
Even our understanding of God’s grace. Grace isn’t just needed when we fail. It’s our beginning. The Great Sower begins with grace, our lives are born in God’s grace. God’s grace is the source, the font of life, the rain and snow that water the earth. All is born in God’s grace, and that changes everything. All we fear, all we struggle against, all we have to do as Christ, all that work is born from the womb of God’s eternal grace and love.
If we begin Christ’s path supported by God’s grace, how can we fail? If we follow our call to heal this world supported by God’s promise, how can we fail?
“My Word will accomplish what I purpose, and succeed in that for which I sent it.” That’s where we always begin. And end.
So, let’s get to work.
In the name of Jesus. Amen