Change is Always Coming
Updated: Aug 6, 2020
This sermon was delivered on July 12, 2020 At Old First Reformed Church In Brooklyn, New York. Text: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
As we reflect on the parable of the sower today (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23), I invite you to a place of questions. First, where is God in the midst of change? And second, where are you in the midst of change? When I say you, I mean, you as an individual, you as a church or other institution, and you as any community to which you belong.
What does change feel like for you? Does it feel good? Does it feel painful? What kind of changes are welcome? What kind of changes do you outright reject?
Change has been part of my life from an early age. We were constantly moving and I’ll be honest–change was always hard for me and continues to be–even with all of my experience.
In fact, I’ll never forget having to move in the middle of third grade, because my stepdad received his military order that we were moving to Langley AFB in Virginia. It felt like you couldn’t pick a worse time for me. I had lived in Florida all 8 years of my life and I was terrified of what it would mean to move to a place where I had to ride a school bus and deal with the snow! As you can see, I survived, but something that I have learned (and keep learning) is that change is constant. It is our ever present reality. And yet, our own attitudes and beliefs about change impact how we experience change.
I love this quote from Octavia E. Butler’s novel Parable of the Sower. Let me set it up for you (I’m still in the beginning of the book, so don’t worry–there are no spoiler alerts!). The book was written in the 90s and it is a dystopian science fiction novel. It feels a bit too real…Lauren is a teenager and the main character living in dystopian California in 2025. In this quote, she is reflecting on the way that things just keep getting worse in her community, her nation, and the world. I’m sure many of us can join in Lauren’s sentiments. Here’s what she says to one of her close friends,
Our adults haven’t been wiped out by a plague so they’re still anchored in the past, waiting for the good old days to come back. But things have changed a lot, and they’ll change more. Things are always changing. This is just one of the big jumps instead of the little step-by-step changes that are easier to take. People have changed the climate of the world. Now they’re waiting for the old days to come back. from Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower
“Things have changed a lot, and they’ll change more…” I love how Lauren is so keenly aware of the changes that are still to occur and she’s reflecting on the ways that the adults around her are waiting for the past to return. They’re longing for the good old days to come back. It reminds me of a hymn sung with great gusto in my grandparents’ church, “Give me that ol’ time religion.”
Listen, nostalgia is a common human experience. I’m sure that most–if not all of us–can name something that we are missing. Something that we wish that we could have again. In a global pandemic where we are uncertain about what tomorrow will bring, many of us want to go back to the way that things were. In the midst of monuments being torn down and ongoing protests against police brutality occurring across America, I know that there are many who would say that this change is bad. There is resistance to a new and different world. There is resistance to change. And I have heard from many that God is not in the midst of the changes happening in our city, nation, and world today as if there is a way that we could push God out of our world.
But in the midst of all this change, I’d like to invite us and encourage us to wrestle with this parable of the sower, because I believe that at the heart of this parable is actually a divine invitation to change. An invitation to discern the work of God in the world that requires transformation. An invitation to see the ways that God is speaking in truth, compassion, and love today in our midst and respond by becoming participants in God’s sowing project.
So let’s dive into this parable. We meet a sower who is generously casting seed all around and we also meet four different types of ground.
The first ground we encounter is the ground that cannot receive the seed: it is the road that becomes the feeding ground for hungry birds. What thoughts come to your mind when you envision a road? Infrastructure? A well established path? The seed that is sown on the road is the only one (according to Matthew’s interpretation of parable) that does not understand the message. Could it be that we all sometimes become so accustomed to the roads that we travel that it is hard to imagine going down any other road? Could it be possible that as churches we become so accustomed to only one way of doing ministry that we miss the potential for the Sower’s seed to even pierce us? The question for us here is, “What parts of us are so well worn that we are shut off from hearing, seeing, and understanding a new and different way?”
Next, the parable leads us to the rocky ground. The rocky ground still allows the seed to be received. Matthew’s interpretation even names the way that joy accompanies the reception. The problem is that the rocky ground does not make space for roots to grow deep. Pressure comes and makes holding onto the invitation for change difficult. The question for us here is, “Where do we experience fear? Fear of what others will think if we embrace this change? What actual danger might come our way if we embrace this message of change?” The truth is that when we change, we will find a lot about what others think by how they react to our changes. The rejection of others because of our change can be incredibly painful and presents a real challenge for lasting change.
The third ground we encounter is the thorny ground. Seeds can get between the thorns and take root but the grain cannot coexist with the thorns for long. Change is often choked out when we realize the depth of commitment required for the change. Change often comes at a cost to us in some way–especially in the way that we benefit from the structures that give us financial safety and social power. The parable reminds us that God is not just interested in our individual transformation, but also the transformation of the social structures we all take part in. The question of the thorny ground is, “What costs feel too great for the transformation God is seeking to bring?”
This leads us to the final ground: the soil that is able to produce transformation. This soil is able to hear the message of God and understand the message. It is tempting to leave understanding at an intellectual place, but the parable invites us to notice the ways that the rocky ground and thorny ground also understood the message on some level. The understanding of the good soil takes root in the core of our being and reminds us of the truly good news: in spite of the external pressures and internal temptations that we all face when we consider God’s message, transformation IS truly possible. It won’t always look the same and we are not likely to experience it overnight, but the seed that takes root will produce fruit, some hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.
This divine transformation invites and requires our partnership with the Spirit of God, though. We are asked by the parable to journey with God’s message to the depths of our beings as we work to discern the ground of our inner lives and our communities.
When we go inside of ourselves, we can acknowledge and name the feelings and needs that drive our behavior. We can recognize the fear that squelches the seeds of change in our hearts. We can acknowledge the strategies we employ to meet our needs and notice how they go awry. We can take ownership of the ways that our strategies for meeting our needs may have consequences that do not align with our values.
We can meet these inconsistencies, fears, and feelings of shame with the abundant compassion of the Great Sower who does not give up on sowing seed in us.
So friends, I encourage you as you embark on this season of change in your community and in our nation, ask yourselves:
What is the Word that the Sower is sowing in your heart right now?
In your community right now?
In our nation right now?
What might be choking it out of you?
What fear or shame might be stealing this word away from you?
What discomfort might be keeping you from freedom?
And go a step further: What sacred world lies on the other side of change?
What kind of emancipation from fear, shame, and scarcity might you experience by receiving this word?
And who else might benefit when you receive this word from the Sower?
Friends, the Sower is here to sow seeds of transformation, freedom, hope, love, and justice.
Will you receive these seeds of change?
Unto the one that loved us,
And washed us from our sins in his own blood,
And has made us rulers and priests unto his God and father-mother,
Unto him be glory and dominion forever and ever, Amen.