God’s grace, peace and mercy be with you. … My focus is Romans 8:15, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship,” and Matthew 13:3, “Then Jesus told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed.”
Let us pray. Heavenly Father, the psalmist wrote, “I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” Now that our feet are within your gates, we rejoice to hear your Word. As we listen, may your Spirit enlighten our minds and move our hearts to love deeply as Jesus loved. This we pray to you, Most Holy Trinity. Amen.
“I to I” stood for “Incarceration to Independence.” “I to I” was a program I started in 2004 for young mothers incarcerated at the Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh. The goal of “I to I” was to offer a seamless transition from a woman’s incarceration into society where as an independent woman, she could resume her duties of motherhood.
In the year that I initiated and oversaw “I to I,” more than 50 women sought assistance. Our most successful client was Eva. In fact, Eva was our only successful client. Despite all I did for my clients – counseling, suitable clothing for court, personal transportation to their parole officer, to Bethlehem Haven or POWER (organizations that work with homeless women), and connecting them to a myriad of social services, my ministry was a failure. Of 50 women, one succeeded.
I failed because I was working with incarcerated women, including those with babies, who were addicted to some drug that stemmed from abuse or neglect as children. They were arrested for crimes related to their addiction – possession, theft, solicitation or some other non-violent crime.
In 1970, there were 5,600 women incarcerated in all US prisons. By 2001, there were 160,000 incarcerated women. Presently, the prison population has over 2 million women. Is there a need for programs such as “I to I” today? Definitely. Will such programs produce successful women such as Eva? Undoubtedly. Will the majority of incarcerated women transition to independence? No. Then, why support such programs? In a word, grace.
I relate my experience of “I to I” to Romans and Matthew for two reasons. First, our understanding of addiction helps us grasp Paul’s theology of sin and grace, or fear and sonship. Second, failure offers us understanding of the Sower and the Seed, and the parable offers us hope.
First, Paul’s theology of sin and grace. Paul used “slave” in Romans to teach Christians how sin, the flesh or the ways of the world enslaved us. He also used the word to describe our relationship with God. As heirs of God and co-heirs of Christ, we are slaves of righteousness.
We do not have a personal experience of being slaves, and few of us have ever met a slave, although there are more than 15,000 slaves trafficked in our nation annually. So, when Paul writes of slaves of sin or fear and slaves of righteousness, we do not grasp the meaning.
A slave has a master. Society teaches me that I do not have a master. I am master of my own destiny. No one tells me how to live, how to think, how to behave. I am my own man. That makes it difficult to grasp the meaning of Paul’s theology of sin.
We might understand Paul better if we consider ourselves not as slaves but as addicts. Our experience of addiction is real. We know addicts. Whether our experience of an addict is an incarcerated mother, someone in our school or in our family, or even personal, we know addicts.
Today, we know addicts as people dependent on drugs or alcohol to cope with life, but in the Roman Empire, addicts were bankrupt people given as slaves to their creditors. Addict comes from the Latin addictus, meaning, “a debtor awarded as a slave to his creditor.” In the 1600s, it meant giving yourself to someone or some practice. By the 1900s, addict became associated with dependency on drugs.
So, when Paul says we are slaves of fear or slaves to sin, he means that we are addicted to sin. This addiction to sin extends beyond acts of murder, theft, adultery or gossip, and goes to the heart of sin – idolatry. … The heart of sin is not having God rule my life. I am addicted to thinking that I control my destiny. God is not my master. I have no master. I am my own master.
From his encounter with the Risen Christ, Paul knew better. As sinners whose debt was paid through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, we, the baptized, should live as addicts of the Holy Trinity. We are addicted to God. As a drug controls the life of an addict, the Trinity controls the life of a Christian. Addiction to God leads me to my next point, failure.
Failure offers us understanding of the Sower and the Seed, and it offers us hope. … To develop this point, we examine the parable in its fuller context. Matthew opens the chapter with the words, “on that day.” What happened on that day? Before the parable, that is, in chapter 12, we read that the Pharisees claimed the source of Jesus’ power was Beelzebul; teachers of the law demanded a sign; and his family did not grasp his identity.
At the end of chapter 13, His scandalized homefolk questioned the source of Jesus’ wisdom and power. The closing verse reads, “He did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.”
Reading the wider passage helps us understand why Jesus spoke these parables. Despite his teaching and his healing, despite opening people’s minds and hearts, so many failed to respond in faith and discipleship.
True, Satan, sin and the world devoured His message as birds feed on seed so that before Jesus proclaimed the reign of God His hearers never had a chance to understand or believe it. Some new believers and followers of Jesus, like seed on rocky ground, who did not put down deep roots, experienced personal difficulties or opposition because of their belief, and turned away. Others, like seed among thorns, were seduced by wealth or let worry asphyxiate the Good News of God’s power. In short, most seed produced no fruit.
Most seed produced no fruit because God came in mysteriously lowly, weak and resistible ways. … God comes in mysteriously lowly, weak and resistible ways, but those who have ears hear Him. During Jesus’ life, some heard the Good News of how God the King was coming to reclaim creation and forgive His people. They heard and understood, and in their understanding, they were fruitful for God. Peter and Paul, Martha and Mary, tax collectors Matthew and Zaccheus, fishermen James and John, and others heard and understood Jesus.
What did they hear and understand? … Scrape away the top layer of our text to examine the Sower’s methods, and notice that He, God, throws His seed on the path where birds eat it, on rocky soil where roots wither, among thorns and on good soil. In other words, God sows seed everywhere. God does not restrict His seed, His message, to a particular plot of land or a specific group of people. God’s indiscriminate broadcast of seed or grace is not efficient and goes against the human tendency to conserve one’s resources and efforts. God’s method is not efficient or productive, but in the Reign of God, grace trumps efficiency. God’s message, God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, God’s love is for all people.
Now, compare the fruit that fell on good soil to the seed that produced none. Ask yourself how that seed produced faith that has lasted for 2,000 years and blossomed in every nation and culture. This occurred not by reason or sheer human willpower. As Martin Luther’s Small Catechism explained the Third Article of the Apostle’s Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.”
The Holy Spirit called me by the Gospel. We believe in the Holy Spirit because by our own reason or strength we cannot believe in Jesus Christ our Lord. Those who heard and understood Jesus allowed the Holy Spirit to enter their hearts.
The Holy Spirit also empowered Jesus, when faced with failure, not to abandon His Father’s will. Even though the Pharisees, His family and friends thought He was possessed or crazy, Jesus did not abandon His mission. He continued to spread His Good News. He continued to spread His Gospel like a farmer sowing seed. Jesus sowed seeds of faith, hope and love. Among the hopeless, Jesus sowed seeds of hope. Among the unloved, Jesus sowed seeds of love. Among those struggling with faith, Jesus prayed that the Holy Spirit enlighten their minds and move their hearts.
So, how does the parable offer us hope today?
I should have given up on Eva. I worked with 50 women, and 49 failed. However, by grace, Eva succeeded. I spent countless hours on the phone and in person counseling Eva. I visited her in jail. When released, I got her into Bethlehem Haven, an organization that assists homeless women in recovery. I listened to her complaints and disappointments. I met her children. I secured furniture for her first apartment. And then, I moved to California.
Two years later, my former boss, Liguori Rossner, told me that Eva greeted her as her host at a local restaurant. Eva was thrilled to see Liguori and expressed joyful gratitude for all that I did for her. People may say that “I to I” failed, but Eva did not.
Our work with her – all for the glory of God – produced more fruit than imaginable. Honestly, I thought the birds of prey would snatch away the Good News or the worries of life would choke her, but the Spirit worked in her and I am grateful to God for that.
God may not be calling you to minister to incarcerated women, but God is calling you to demonstrate the fruits of His seed, His grace and love. God calls you to show how His loving-kindness has changed your life. He calls you to read, study and pray His Word. He calls you to receive His grace poured into your heart through the Sacraments of Baptism and Communion. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Father and Son call you to demonstrate His presence in your life.
If God called you to parent, raise your children as baptized Christians. If God called you to marriage, love your spouse as Christ loves His spouse, the Church. If God called you to teach, inspire students. If God called you to the military or public service, serve under the banner of Christ. If God called you to business or industry, do business with Christian ethics.
Fear not those who steal the Gospel like birds of prey. Let not the world or its worries stifle God’s Spirit in you. In Paul’s words, “You who have received the Spirit of sonship will never again be a slave to fear.”
Offer hope to the hopeless, love the unloved, evangelize without words. Offer this world’s Eva’s another chance.
Be not a Christian comfortable living the ways of the world, the ways of flesh. If you melded your faith into the world’s ways ... If you are satisfied with your relationship with God … If you are living a “respectable” Christian life, consider these words of the recently passed Chuck Noll, the only NFL coach to win four Super Bowls. Asked at his first news conference if his goal was to make the Steelers respectable, Noll said, “Respectability? Who wants to be respectable? That's spoken like a true loser.”
Be a champion for Christ. Witness for Christ, and not Satan, sin and self. … Witness for Christ like an addict, like an heir of the Kingdom. Spread seeds of faith, hope and love everywhere and without discrimination. And when you do, the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
 Psalm 122
Christian values - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_values
Abortion and life - http://www.wiscnews.com/lifestyles/faith-and-values/article_31b18dea-805d-5436-9008-1bab22907fa2.html
American Heritage Girls - http://interact.stltoday.com/pr/non-profits/PR051614090617106
 Inside and Out: Women, Prison, and Therapy edited by Elaine J. Leeder. Taylor and Francis, 2007.
 Matthew 13:58
 Jeffrey A. Gibbs, Matthew 11:2-20:34. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2010, p. 681.
 Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation, p. 15.
 Paraphrasing Romans 8:15