Isaiah 55:10-13; Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23
The Rev. Melanie McCarley
Once there was a woman (who was financially comfortable, if not well-off). Occasionally, not too often, mind-you, and always out of a sense of polite obligation, she would invite guests to her home to partake of dinner. Before serving the meal she would calculate to minute detail precisely how much each person should eat. Then, choosing from among the most thrifty of recipes she would commence to fixing dinner. Once the guests arrived and had been seated for their meal, there, on their plates they would encounter precisely measured amounts of food. There was only enough for each person, no more, and no less. Now, the meal wasn’t bad, mind you—but somehow neither was it truly filling. The guests, even the most friendly of guests, knew they had been invited as a means of being repaid for something they had done. And so, he flavor of the meal, you see, took upon itself the taste of a transaction, payment for something done on their part. Those, whom this woman considered fortunate enough to receive one of her invitations to dinner got just what she deemed her guests deserved—no more, and no less. Over time, this woman began to notice that she had fewer and fewer diners to seat at table in her home. People graciously declined for a host of reasons. In the end, stinginess (less of money, and more so of spirit) cost her much in terms of the friends she could have nurtured over the years. Think about it. If you had received one of her invitations—would you be looking forward to the evening?
In contrast, there is something wildly extravagant about grace. Listen again to the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price…Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen so that you may live.” God, it seems, is not interested in calculating serving size and cost. Instead, the Almighty throws open the doors to the banquet hall and unlocks the larder. Admittance to the feast is not based upon worthiness of the guests, but remarkably, simply upon thirst.
Isn’t this the most remarkable of invitations to receive? And how contrary it is to the way most of us have been conditioned to see our world—in terms of limited resources, who owes what and whose balance is larger at the end of the day.
Yet, Isaiah’s vision of God, and the God whom Jesus speaks of in today’s parable is decidedly different. Truly, what do you make of a farmer who casts a fistful of seed upon briars and rocks just as liberally as he sprinkles them upon fertile soil?
Think of it. If you were a farmer, would you truly give consideration to taking a handful of seeds and throwing them onto a patch of rocky ground? Or, for that matter, alongside a road? How do we feel about a God who plays fast and loose with precious natural resources such as seed? After all, most of us are thrifty Yankees, who take Benjamin Franklin’s words to heart: “Waste not, want not.” Really, what does God think he’s doing?
In the end, Isaiah’s prophecy and Jesus’ parable of the Sower tell us something important about the nature of God.
To begin with, think of those seeds as Grace. And imagine Grace much the same way you experience rain. When the heavens open up and rain falls from the sky, water doesn’t land solely upon the pond or the freshly turned earth of or garden. Rain, you see, is just as likely to fall on our family picnic as it is upon our thirsty tomato plants. Rain doesn’t discriminate—nor would we expect it to. It’s simply rain. We’d think it strange if it did anything else. Now, think on this: grace is like rain. God dispenses grace the way the clouds above our heads dispense water.
With extravagant abandon, God’s Grace falls where it will. In second century Palestine, farmers guarded their seed as one would a great treasure. Seed wasn’t simply thrown upon the ground, it was planted carefully in furrows. Those who listened to Jesus’ parable might have found themselves outraged at such a freewheeling approach to farming. Perhaps, for that matter, so do we. It seems to go against the grain of human nature to give with abandon those things that are valuable; particularly in a climate which is capricious, at best.
Yet the Bible tells us that this is precisely what God does. Grace, the abundance of hope and unmerited gift of God’s mercy is sprinkled liberally from on high. God doesn’t discriminate. The gift of grace falls just as evenly upon the parched and rocky ground as it does upon the carefully cultivated fertile soil. Grace is cast upon the briar patch and runs in rivulets through rocky soil. At its heart, such an approach is wildly extravagant—and, as such, it is wonderfully redolent of the true nature of God.
I wonder how many of us have grown up with the idea of a stingy God; someone rather like the woman with whom I began this morning’s sermon—a being who doles out precisely what we deserve (no more and no less). In the end, such an individual, while perhaps being fair, isn’t necessarily a person with whom we’d like to have a close and fulfilling relationship. After all, who really wants to be judged with such exactitude. People who treat their relationships with the same precision in which a bookkeeper balances a ledger are seldom perceived as warm and caring. And the reason for this is simple—such a view of personal relationships leaves little room for grace.
Grace, you see, defies stinginess—it’s antithetical to its nature. It’s not possible to give someone just a tiny taste of grace. If you’re going to receive grace, it’s going to be dumped on you in buckets. And that, my friends, is the nature of God.
Grace is unmerited mercy. When the whole world screams that you had your three chances at bat and have struck out—grace bends the rules and tells the pitcher to wind up and throw again. Grace looks at the ledgers of our lives and throws them out the window. But make no mistake, Grace isn’t cheap. To receive grace, you have to be willing to see yourself and your failings for precisely what they are. Which, if you think about it, is precisely why becoming good soil—as opposed to a rocky path or host to a patch of briars is so important to our spiritual lives and well being—but that is a sermon for another day.
Recall again the invitation of the prophet Isaiah: “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!” God isn’t asking that we be deserving. Heaven knows, the good Lord understands us better than that. All God asks is that you come to receive the gift that God intends for you. This morning is as good a time as any. Open your heart and mind to receive the grace and the abundant and overflowing Good News of our Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen.