Broadcast News

7/14/96
Pent. 7
Matt.13:1-9, l8-23

Three years ago, when I preached on today’s passage from the Gospel of Matthew, I talked about Bea, a woman who had been receptive to and upon whom the word of God had fallen. The Gospel was planted in her life and flourished. She was an exemplary woman of genuine and vigorous Christian piety. We need to note persons when they do well and allow ourselves to be inspired by them.

Today, however, I want to talk about grass seed, broadcast sowers and drop spreaders. During the early forties in Illinois, if you wanted to have a lawn, you went out and broadcast the seed. You grabbed a handful and cast it out over the ground. The grass would grow. Not all of it would take, but most of it. Some would fall on hard ground and some among weeds, but generally you got results. Our neighbor, like someone out of a Flemish painting, would stride up and down his plot broadcasting seed. My father just tossed seed on the bare spots.

When we moved to Kansas City in l950, Dad bought a drop spreader. This meant that the grass seed and fertilizers would fall on the ground from the bottom of the spreader in an even and geometric pattern. It was possible to be more organized and systematic than before in spreading the seed. Dad’s spreader was utilitarian with steel wheels. Sometimes, the holes would corrode, the screw would get clogged, the calibrations be a little off, or the adjustments slip. It was kind of a midwestern Methodist spreader. It worked, did the job, and no frills.

In the late l950’s Dad moved to Greenwich and brought his spreader and grass seeds with him. (If nothing else, Methodists believed in “waste not, want not.”) Dad lined all of his grass seeds in neatly labeled Mason jars on a shelf at the end of the garage. There were red fescue, tall fescue, annual rye, perennial rye, and the top of the line: Kentucky blue grass. For my father the Kingdom of God was a thick rich turf of Kentucky blue grass. Along side the grass seeds were various fertilizers and lime. Dad spent endless hours preparing the soil and putting down fertilizers. Inevitably, he would tire himself out and the yard would have to wait until the next year to get really on schedule and in good shape.

One of the first things I did when I came back to Connecticut was to buy a Scotts’ drop spreader. This was the Episcopalian model. It was classic with a good finish, slightly better made and with an extra flair here and there. I bought a mixture of blue grass and fescue, dumped it in the spreader and walked around the yard. Once or twice a year I would also take a bucket of seed and broadcast it by hand. Dad lamented the fact that I had a better lawn than his. One Saturday, over ice tea, I told him the facts of life. I said, “Dad, you have a wonderful garage full of fertilizers and grass seeds. The problem is you don’t put them on the ground. You plan and prepare and schedule, but you have got to go out and throw the seed on the ground. The stuff is doing you no good in the garage. If you have to, just go out and broadcast the seed.” My father did not take kindly to my bluntness. He raked the lawn, turned over some of the ground, and shortly thereafter had a heart attack and died. He was a good man. I felt bad that I made him feel bad.

By the time I moved to Darien, my Scotts’ spreader had gotten old and rusty, a little bent and shaky. I threw it out and bought a new age model with a plastic chassie. Somehow the zest has gone out of taking care of the lawn. Often I have to remind myself to get the seed out of the garage and put it on the ground. The best way to do this sometimes seems to be to just grab a handful and broadcast it. Most of the time, most of the grass grows.

Now you and I both know that I am not really talking about grass seed and spreaders. I’m talking about the Gospel and our lives as part of the Church.

So how do you proclaim the Gospel? How do you tell people the “good news” that God in the past and now in the present is making Himself known through the proclamation of His word and activity? How do you broadcast the message and intention of God? Jesus did this by getting into a boat and by using His story telling skill and rich metaphorical language to create a parable. A sower went out to sow, and he broadcast seed on good soil, poor, thicketed and pathways. Some of the seeds took root, but didn’t last. Others were choked or scorched out. Some of the seed yielded abundantly. Surely this has been the history of Israel. The word and intention of God has been shown (or sown) since creation. Sometimes there has been a great response. Some times there has been enthusiasm but no deeply held conviction.

Sometimes other issues have come cropping, and sometimes there is a super abundant outcome. Matthew tells us that Jesus explains this parable by spelling things out in an allegorical fashion. Vivid metaphors invite allegory, but allegory tends to impoverish the metaphors.

I think Jesus told this parable in order to encourage people. He reminds them first of all, that the sower went out to sow. Seed is broadcast. Secondly, there can be, and is, an abundant yield. Even though some of the seed doesn’t take, enough of it does to make it worth while for the sower to sow now and even again.

What this means for you and me is that the showing forth of God in His deeds and word is intentional, purposeful, and fruitful. In the incarnation in Jesus Christ we have the perfect revelation of the word of God. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the continuation of God’s word and activity. Always the Gospel is to be proclaimed, and, don’t worry, although there are bad spots and tough spots, the Gospel is abundantly fruitful.

That abundance has certainly been true in my life. I have found forgiveness, reconciliation, motivation, joy and love. Haven’t you found the same? Have there not, on the one hand, been times in your life when the good news of God’s presence and redemptive love has just fallen splat on barren spots? There have in mine. Have there not been times when you have been so tangled up in the intricacies of your self-absorption or so mesmerized by your emotions that you haven’t listened to God or let Jesus walk with you? But on the other hand, haven’t you also felt the steadying hand of Christ on your shoulder, tasted His blood, eaten His flesh and known that God is here, right now in spirit sustaining, renewing and empowering you? As Jesus pointed out, the word of God, the Gospel of God, is vital.

Because it is alive and vital, it has to be shared. It needs to be broadcast. You and I come to church to worship and to hear the word. That is well and good. But sometimes I think one of the problems with main stream churches is that the Gospel is kept like grass seed in cans in the garage. The Methodists’ brand is red fescue, the Baptists’ perennial rye, the charismatics Adventists’ is annual rye, and the Episcopalians’ is Kentucky blue grass. In the last forty years there have been all sorts of drop spreaders developed in the various denominations to systematically disseminate the Gospel. Right now we have in the Episcopal Church the “Decade of Evangelism,” which is a top of the line Scott’s spreader with bells and whistles. For some reason, when parishes gather either in the deanery or elsewhere there is a reluctance to be evangelical. We try to think of ways to get people to come to church, when perhaps we should be trying to think of ways to go out of church and broadcast the gospel. Like grass, the Kingdom of God doesn’t grow bottled up in anticipation.

Be creative. Take time this summer to find a way to share the Gospel. Have your friends over for a cook out along with some parishioners. Send a copy of Forward Movement to a relative or neighbor. Call the office and sign up to pick up persons who need a ride to church. Plan to participate in the Fall in telephoning St. John’s members and alumni to tell them that God loves them and that they are still with us on our hearts. Distribute literature for our Fall weekend with John Polkinghorn, and later for the Christmas show. Participate in outreach activities and be active at St. Luke’s Community Services. Wear an Episcopal Church button, or a St. John’s T-shirt. Give a Bible to your son or daughter, mother or father, friend or neighbor. Write a letter to your spouse, parent, child or friend and tell them why you believe in God and Jesus Christ.

Broadcast the Gospel. You don’t have to get lost in brands of seed or behind your drop spreader. Today and tomorrow, you can share the good news. Or as the old Methodist hymn that my father used to sing says, “Publish glad tidings: tidings of peace, tidings of Jesus, redemption and release.” (1) Amen.

1. Hymn 539, The Hymnal l982, The Church Hymnal Corporation, NYC, Words: Mary Ann Thomson, music: James Walsh.