July 16, The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, Proper 10

The Rev. Andrew Suitter

Texts: Isaiah 55:10-13; Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23

Good morning, everyone!  I first wanted to say thank you for calling me!  I have been looking very forward to being here, and getting to know all of you.  I have to say that from the first conversations with Kristin, and then Joy and Gray, and now so many others, your welcome has been a gift to me, and the transition a good one.  Thank you and thanks be to God!

Now, before I get too far, I wanted to share some things I learned during seminary about new priests and pastors who are set to preach on their first Sunday in their new church.  It is a bit anecdotal, but when one is in this situation, the temptations ring true, and so, one must be careful not to fall into them!  

The first trap a new minister can fall into on their first Sunday at the pulpit, is to talk only about themselves and what led them to this place.  You know, where they are from, their family, their education, and spiritual autobiography, and more.  All seems to be going fine until people begin looking at their watches and lo and behold—no scripture has yet been talked about and its been 15 minutes! The second trap is to ignore altogether that one is new, and to touch only on the scripture lessons at hand.  New priests or pastors can often fall into this trap because honestly, who really wants to fall into the first trap?! And the third trap is to prepare one’s absolute best sermon, pulling out all the stops.  Memorable stories, meaningful interpretations, pulpit jokes, or fancy Greek and Hebrew passages translated into English—ending up with a sermon so long, and so full of data that once it has been preached, one is faced with two problems: First, who will ever come back?  And, second, since I’ve shared everything I have—what about next week?!

So—in an effort to be faithful to you, to share about myself, and to get into the preaching, I’ll say this about myself for now: I grew up in the state of Maine.  I lived with my mother and father, and have one older brother who only since adulthood, has become one of my best friends.  Grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins were a big part of my upbringing.  I ask your forgiveness now as I am not a cradle Episcopalian. I grew up in the Free Methodist and Nazarene Church traditions. In college, I studied Religion, Philosophy and Sociology, and for years I worked in social services or non-profit agencies.  I came into the Episcopal Church at a time when I needed it, and found the grace I was searching for and needed in my life—and not to mention I fell in love with liturgy. I spent six phenomenal years serving a community in Nashville, TN also called St. Augustine’s, which is where I began discerning my own call for holy orders.  I began my MDiv at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville in 2012, and was ordained in the diocese of MO this past June. 

My hope is that through our time together, you will allow me the grace to serve as one of your pastors and get to know you.  It is inevitable that more of my life will come though in the sermons I preach, too.  One of the things Seminary teaches us is to look for God in the hindsight of our stories, and to preach that. I hope we can do some of that together!  It truly is an honor to be called here to join in St. Augustine’s story of loving and healing the world, and of growing as disciples of our Lord.  I look forward to getting to know you, having coffee with you, and learning how best I can serve you as pastor. 

Now, the lectionary has a way with lessons, and the Holy Spirit has a way with timing, because this week’s lessons offer some wisdom to me anyway, as I transition into the vibrant life of St. Augustine’s.  And so to start this portion of the sermon, I offer these words of poet Wendell Berry from his book, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture.

The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all.  It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life.  Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.[1]

In Matthew’s gospel today, we have the first of seven parables to come in the weeks ahead.  Parables are short stories that share a point or teach a bigger lesson. In this parable, Jesus goes out into the lake and sits in a boat to speak to the masses who have gathered on the shore.  And from the boat, he tells a story about a farmer, a sower, and what happens to the seeds he plants.  We know some will be eaten by the birds, we know some will fall into soil too shallow for healthy roots to grow, and we know some will fall and take root so perfectly that a harvest is sure to come.  

Many interpret this parable to be about the nature of our relationship with God—where if our soil is not good, then when God tries to work through us, God cannot. I think there is deeper meaning here because such an interpretation as it is, seems to take away the idea that God extends to us grace after grace, and turns God into something we have some capital on—that with some checklist—we maintain a healthy life with God. 

On the contrary, what might be at the center of this passage, is the idea that no soil by itself is always plentiful, fruitful, and healthy—and that together only will our soils, our gardens, produce a rich soil.[2] Beloveds, each of us, at varying times, embody these soil types.[3] It doesn’t mean that because our soil is shallow, that we are—it could just be that we are in a season of change, and working through the pains which hold us down. There comes a time even for beautiful, dark and rich soil to be turned over, to lay fallow, because it too needs a break.[4]

It is in communities like this where seeds become dreams, dreams become action that nurture the community and the world.  When we co-mingle our own soil, in whatever state it is, with one another, we grow in grace for ourselves and others, and we live deeper into the call that is to love one another.

I want to join the soil that is St. Augustine’s because this community grows amazing seeds. I want to co-mingle my soil with the soil that is St. Augustine’s because they are a community discerning where it is God is leading them.  I want to dig up rocks, and till where we are called, together, because our communal life matters. 

Isaiah, prophet to the world over, preaches a similar message—eerily applicable this week with all the rain our area has had.  He says, “Surely as rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater…so shall it be my word that goes out from my mouth…for you shall go out in joy and be led back in peace…as a sign that shall not be cut off.”[5]

A seed once cast into a church community I was part of, was the vision of Magdalene and Thistle Farms. Thistle Farms is a social enterprise that employs women survivors of trafficking, abuse and addiction to make holistic bath and body products.  Magdalene is the program house the women share where they practice their recovery and the process it is to piece back together their lives in a safe environment.

Being part of that community in Nashville for many years, I’ve heard the question asked: Why the Thistle? It is prickly, difficult to handle, and a weed.  What I learned from being part of this community, is that the thistle is one of the few flowers that will grow up through concrete sidewalks, under bridges, as well as on beautiful hillsides. What I learned is that thistles were often the only flower that graced the streets the women walked upon, the bridges they slept under, and the hallows where they were abused. For them, the Thistle became a symbol of grace—it became a symbol of God’s presence even in turmoil—and called for them to come home even when it felt like they had no leg to stand on, no soil to regrow their life. To use Isaiah’s language, the thistle reminded them God was not cut off to them, ever.

Beloveds, we serve a loving God, a beautiful sower, whose invitation to create with us, never ends. We are called to live this life together with God, as we sow and reap, laugh and cry, and care for one another. I could not be happier than I am to be here with all of you, as we seek to serve God, and become practitioners of Grace.  I ask that as we journey together in this season, you’ll let me become one of your pastors.  I ask that you pray for me, as I have been and will continue to pray for you, and that together, we see what God is up to in our lives and growing in the soil of this beautiful community. 


[1] Berry, Wendell. The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1977.

[2] Letters from the Farm: A Simple Path for a Deeper Spiritual Life, The Rev. Becca Stevens, Morehouse Publishing, 2015, Kindle Ed.  

[3] Commentary on Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, E. Johnson, www.working preacher.org, July 10, 2011.

[4] Letters from the Farm, Stevens, 2015.

[5] Portions of Isaiah 55:10-13, NRSV.