Posted on Jul 16, 2017 by Pastor Dave Whetter
As our story begins today, Jesus is sitting on the shore of the Sea of Galilee just outside of the town of Capernaum and large crowds are gathering to listen to him. In fact, the crowd got so large that Jesus had to get in a boat to speak while the crowd filled the shore. Jesus was trying to explain about the kingdom of heaven, a complex notion, and so like any good teacher he began using different types of metaphors to explain the kingdom. We call these “metaphors” parables and this parable we read today, the Parable of the Sower, is the first of seven parables he will offer to help them understand. But, as he finishes this first parable, he says something very important. “Let anyone with ears listen!” (Matthew 13:9)
So often, when we are learning something new, we work very hard at trying to make sure we get the literal meaning. But, most of the time, even when we have the literal meaning we fail to understand its real meaning for our lives. In this case, when Jesus offers the explanation of the parable, he begins by telling us that a sower went out to “sow seeds” and he threw them all over onto many different kinds of ground. Now, I am no farmer, but it seems that if you were going to plant seeds, you would first want to know you had good soil. I know every year before we plant our garden, Jill and I make sure the soil is ready so the seeds will grow. But here, Jesus says the sower just throws seeds everywhere. Although that might seem like a waste, Jesus points out that in most cases the seeds either offer food as they are or they actually begin to grow, although even if they begin to grow, they don’t necessarily last. In the case of the seed that fell on the path, the birds ate it before it could grow. So, if we take this simple meaning then this would indicate to me that we should just avoid sowing seeds on the paths, or in places where there is no apparent soil, right? Why waste the seed?
But the point here for us is that as we go out to sow, we don’t always know where those paths are, or where that rocky soil is. When Jill and I first started gardening at the house we live in now, I couldn’t figure out why plants in one area of the garden kept dying. It wasn’t until I dug deeper that I discovered a huge boulder several inches below the surface and discovered the reason nothing would grow there. As we go out to sow God’s word in the real world, we discover that it is a world in which terrorists kill and maim people. It’s a world in which the rich often exploit the poor, and in which some have more than enough while others go hungry. In the real world, some people are discriminated against because of their race or religion or sexual orientation or where they’re from. God’s word ought to be sown everywhere, but how it is received and cared for once it is sown will determine how it takes root. So, lesson number one from this story is our call, as disciples, is to try and get that seed, God’s word, in as many places as possible.
But how do we do this? Well, that is where that command of “Let anyone with ears listen!” comes in to play. How can we sow the word of God in a world where most will reject it? Well, first and foremost, Jesus says you need to listen to God’s word. It would be so easy to begin making lists of the great actions that we could do. But Jesus tells us to start with something more basic. He says, listen! Listen to God’s creative and inspiring Word that can change and renew lives, especially our own lives. The challenge is to let God’s word, or seed, fill our lives first. We need to work on our own lives, making sure our own soil is good, so that we might be able to do the hard work set before us. Yes, I did say we need to make sure our own soil is good. So often I think that because we call ourselves Christian and we come to church, we assume we got it, our soil is well-tended. But if truth be told, we often let our own soil go bad. There are times we need nutrients added and water of our own so we might use God’s word to create a bountiful harvest in us. It’s like in my garden this year. I noticed a couple of weeks ago that one of our tomato plants was growing huge and had many blooms, but as the tomatoes grew they had a problem. Most of the tomatoes were turning black on the bottom. As it turns out, they call this bloom rot, and after talking with the gal up at our nursery in town, I added some nutrients around the plant and that plant is now producing beautiful tomatoes. The soil had started out great, but had lost important nutrients
While our task is to begin passively by listening to God’s word, once we have tended to our own soil, we are also to be those who put God’s word into action. We are to be those that bring forth an abundant harvest, or as one scholar writes, “We are to be creators” with God’s word.
As we listen to the Word, we are to listen with a purpose. We are to listen to help us understand, and we are to listen to God’s word with intention, specifically the intention to act. It’s like that teacher who says listen closely because the material can be on the test; Jesus ends the parable by telling the crowd to listen not only to understand, but also to act on the teaching, to obey, and in this particular case, to participate in the creating of God’s kingdom on the earth.
God’s kingdom is not separate from this world. It exists now in a broken world, and as followers of this loving, grace-filled God, we are called help the Kingdom grow. We are to be those sowers, or gardeners, that help create a bountiful garden.
As I have come to truly understand from gardening, along with good seed and good soil, the work of the gardener is critical when it comes to the garden bearing fruit. The gardener has to know how to nurture the soil, when to water, and when to trim and prune. With proper care, a good gardener can even get things to grow and bear fruit where they couldn’t before. So, equally as important as that is you and me.
With this said, there is one more thing that this parable points out. Unlike I do in my garden where I plant seeds in specific places, Jesus says when it comes to the world of God, spread that seed everywhere. If the seed falls on a path, let the birds eat it. Yes, the evil one might take it; evil exists in this world, but God’s word will overcome. If it falls on rocky soil and takes root, the roots won’t be able to grow deep, but what if we took the time to help remove those rocks and allowed those to grow deep. As for that seed that falls among the thorns, what if we could help prune that spot and those people could see that the ways of greed and power didn’t work in God’s kingdom. And, of course, for that seed that falls on fertile soil, imagine the harvest when we tend that good soil.
Brothers and sisters, God’s word can bloom and grow in the most unexpected of places. Our call as the church is to be that sower that spreads God’s word everywhere, and then seeks to be that gardener that tends to the garden. Imagine the harvest that could be produced if each of us as individuals and as a faith community truly tended to the gardens God has set before us. Amen.