Genesis 25:19-34, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Sermon 13 July 2014 St Anne’s Porirua
Rev Felicity O’Brien
The story of Jacob and Esau could be a story from today. There are two boys, one is beloved by one parent, the other one favours the other boy. Now, we who are parents know that it’s not a good idea to have favourites. Sometimes my kids accuse me of having a favourite – usually when I have had to tell off the other one. It’s not fair, they say. He’s your favourite. or She’s your favourite. You never tell him or her off!
So then I tell them that I don’t have a favourite, but I have a least favourite, glaring at them. And there are often several least favourites.
Many troubles in families arise when parents play favourites. Isaac loved his outdoorsy, hunter son Esau. There was something about their personalities that just clicked. I’m sure he loved Jacob as well, but we just get on better with some people than others. On the other hand Rebekah loved Jacob, the quieter boy, who loved to grow things and tend the field. Maybe she felt protective of him around his more vigorous, rambunctuous brother. I’ve often felt the need to protect my weaker child against the stronger too.
But why does it matter that one parent favoured Esau, and one Jacob? The parents had already sown a sense of entitlement and grievance into their children while they were young. The boys grew up defined by their parent’s favouritism. And it led to bad choices, and ultimately war. When the early verses of the reading talk about two nations striving in Rebekah’s womb, we can scroll forward in time, and see the domination of Edom by Israel in King David’s time.
That is why there is that line about the name Esau – saying that is why he was called Edom – edom sounds a lot like the Hebrew word for Red, and he liked red food.
We can look at our news and see by the continuing conflict that the nations they founded still cannot coexist.
The parable of the sower and the seed has something to say about the relationships in this Genesis family. Maybe the rocky ground could be a way of describing them. Loving your children unequally is certainly a way of making rocky ground in a family. And just as the seed sown in rocky ground cannot flourish, so Jacob and Esau could not work together and have each others’ backs.
There are many sorts of ground mentioned in the parable, which Jesus explains to his disciples. This story is so important for them to understand that he spells it out clearly, unlike many others, which he leaves it up to them to interpret.
The seed sown on rocky ground – that’s the middle sort of ground in the parable. Seed sown on a path is obviously not going to go anywhere. Imagine scattering grass seed on your patio, and expecting it to sprout! Actually, I spilt a whole bag of grass seed
on my patio few years ago, and before I could get it all swept up, some of the seeds started to put out a root when they felt the rain. But they didn’t have a chance without soil. So I cleaned up the patio, not thinking clearly, by sweeping up all the mess into the adjacent garden. I’m not sure where my gardening brain was that day, but the grass seeds suddenly found they were in good soil, and – you guessed it – started to sprout! Five years later I am still pulling grass plants out of that garden!
This parable of the sower and the seed is about spreading the word of the kingdom. It’s very clearly intended to tell us about the results of sowing in different situations.
If we tell people whose hearts are as hard as a sealed path about the kingdom of God, the words we tell them will be taken up by the birds, taken by the devil, or just ignored. Have you ever tried to share the story of God’s love with someone who is completely unresponsive? How about someone whose life is going along just fine, thank you very much, they are good people, look after their neighbours, pay their taxes – these people are very hard to convince of their need for a saviour.
It seems like a waste of time doesn’t it. Sometimes they will just ignore what we say, sometimes they will get grumpy, or argumentative, or downright hostile. When this happens we tend to get put off, tend to hesitate at the next opportunity. But we can’t always tell whether the place we sow our precious seed will be hard like a path, completely unresponsive. Is it up to us to judge?
The rocky ground is perhaps the most common situation for sowing our seed. The seed springs up gladly enough, but thorns choke it, and the root can find no depth of soil. The thorns are the cares of life – and that is certainly very common. People may hear about God’s love for them, but maybe they’re so busy just coping with the day-to-day struggle, that there’s just no emotional space to think about anything else. People are very busy, very preoccupied. That’s nothing new, it’s not just 21st century people who are overwhelmed by trying to survive.
Or maybe they do listen for a time, but there is no fertile soil, no support.
This can happen where there is no relationship with the person we are telling about the gospel. It’s not enough to say, ‘God loves you,’ and give them a copy of the bible. We need to be in a relationship with people, to show them that God loves them, by loving them ourselves. That can mean going the extra mile for them, being
there to talk to, no strings attached, – and this is important – being prepared to put ourselves out for them. Loving people is shown by what we do, not what we say.
It;’s easy to step away from responsibility for how the word is accepted, saying, it’s nothing to do with me what sort of ground there is.
But we can indeed cultivate the soil. We have a duty to sow the seed, not judging what sort of ground God may have prepared earlier, and, just as we wouldn’t sow a new lawn without making sure that the ground is free of weeds and rocks, has got enough fertiliser and water, and sun to grow, we can be the gardener to help those we share the gospel with. It’s not our problem whether the seed takes, whether the word takes root in someone’s heart. We don’t have to feel like failure if we can see no change in someone’s life. Maybe we are only one drop in a bucket, and another drop later one will make it overflow. But it is up to us to improve the soil, to love and care for all those we encounter.
As St Francis of Assisi said, share the Gospel, if necessary, use words.