The Rev. Brad Sullivan
Lord of the Streets Episcopal Church
August 16, 2023
Proper 10, Year A
Psalm 65: (1-8), 9-14
Twelve years before being arrested for sitting in the whites only section of a bus, Rosa Parks was already working for civil rights. After she was arrested, it would then be another nine years before most racial segregation was made illegal with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Another year for the Voting Rights Act, and then three more years before the Fair Housing Act.
For 25 years and more, Rosa Parks was striving for civil rights, and it was over 20 years before she saw large-scale, national results. The same is true for countless civil rights leaders and workers who still continue on to this day. They were and have been committed to the cause, and they changed the world.
Imagine if Rosa parks had given up after 12 years, finally deciding, “To heck with it. Bus driver tells me to move, I’ll move.” The world would not have changed the way it did. She was committed to the cause, and despite setbacks and discouragement along the way, she stayed committed to the cause of civil rights. She didn’t get excited for a while and then quit. She didn’t get distracted or give in because it was difficult. She stayed and changed the world for the better.
That’s the kind of discipleship Jesus is talking about in the parable he told in our Gospel reading today.
Jesus’ parable was about a guy spreading seeds to get plants to grow, and he was just tossing the seed about, and when it landed on good soil, it grew and produced a huge harvest. Jesus said that the seed was the word. If we think of that as the Word of God, then the seed is Jesus. The seed of Jesus has been cast, and when it lands on good soil, it produces a huge harvest.
Now, I’ve often heard and thought of this parable as being about how each individual receives Jesus. If our hearts are in the right condition, meaning the soil is good, then we receive Jesus and we gain great faith in him.
I think there is truth in that understanding, and another understanding is that the growth of the seeds is about our discipleship. When our hearts are in a good place, when the soil is good, then we become committed in our discipleship, and from that discipleship, even more disciples are grown or raised up. As the group of committed disciples grows, then the ways of Jesus grow stronger in the world. As the group of committed disciples grows, the way of healing grows. The way of peace grows. As the group of committed disciples grows, the way of love and compassion grows.
Of course, as Jesus told the parable, a lot of the seed falls on poor soil, or is snatched away, or is choaked out by other things. Think about starting to grow as a disciple of Jesus, and the ways of Jesus start conflicting with ways of life we’re used to. Jesus said bless you enemies, and we’re often used to cursing our enemies and trying to get back at them. Think about when that conflict comes, and we just go with what we’re used to. We strike back at our enemies, and our discipleship of Jesus is diminished. Our commitment to Jesus’ ways starts to fade.
What about when we are following in Jesus’ ways, and things don’t get better all that quickly? Our lives haven’t changed dramatically for the better right away, and the world around us certainly hasn’t gotten miraculously better just because we’ve started following as a disciple of Jesus. Think about when things don’t get noticeably better fast enough, and so we quit. Nothing really changes, there is no great harvest, and even 20 years later, there is still no huge, societal change for the better. That’s like the seed that falls on the rocky path. We get excited about Jesus and the gospel, but that excitement doesn’t last long, and we’re quickly back to just how we were before.
That’s how things would have been for the Civil Rights Movement, if Rosa Parks and others had quit even several years into their work because they just weren’t seeing changes come fast enough. Remember, it was twenty years of work by Mrs. Parks before she saw change on a national scale.
Twenty years of staying the course with only modest gains to show for it. At the same time, those twenty years brought forth a huge harvest of other people who became fully committed to the cause of Civil Rights. If Mrs. Parks had been lukewarm in her commitment and work, the movement wouldn’t have grown. Others would not have joined. There would have been no great harvest.
When Jesus told his parable of the sower and the seeds, he was encouraging his disciples to stay committed to their discipleship, to stay committed to their faith, to stay committed to the ways and teachings of Jesus. He was telling his disciples that if they stayed committed to their discipleship, then they would help grow more disciples, and amazing, world-altering things would happen.
What are our hopes and dreams for our lives and for the world around us? How about less violence and theft? How about justice in economic practices so that people aren’t forced out of their housing, just so investors can make some easy money? How about people loving and caring for one another, more than just looking out for self-interest?
I’d say we’ve got a ways to go on those things, those kinds of changes for the better can happen. Our part is to stay committed to the ways of Jesus, to stay committed as his disciples. When we do that, God brings forth growth far more than we can imagine. As we stay fully committed disciples of Jesus, changing our lives to live as he taught, God brings forth growth of even more fully committed disciples, and the changes for the better start to happen.
Like with the Civil Rights Movement, it takes time, decades, even, and lukewarm discipleship or giving up when it is difficult or it isn’t going fast enough isn’t going to make and change or grow any fruit. Changing our lives to follow Jesus’ teachings and way, and then fully committing, with God’s help, God can bring forth God’s kingdom on earth. Fully committing as disciples of Jesus can produce world-altering fruit in our lives and in all of society around us. So, despite hardships, discouragement, temptations all around, we stay the course as Jesus’ disciples, and God brings forth an enormous harvest.