The Parable of the Sower
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”
~ Matthew 13:1-9 (NRSV)
I’m sure that many of you have heard the parable of the sower before. It’s a nice story of a farmer who goes out and plants seeds in his field. I like to imagine that the farmer is wearing some old “farmer jeans” and brown boots, and one of those big brimmed farmers’ hats because the sun is always shining so bright. In my mind, I hear him whistling along with the birds that sing in the trees as he tosses the seeds to the ground hoping for a good harvest.
But I sometimes wonder, does the farmer pray for the seeds as he tosses them to the ground? Does he hold them up to his mouth for a moment and whisper to them, “It’s all going to be okay,” before he tosses them into the dirt? He might, but the truth is, sometimes the farmer can’t be in control of everything that happens. Sometimes, some of the seeds that the farmer plants won’t grow. Sometimes there won’t be enough water because of drought, or there will be too much water because of flooding rain. Sometimes there will be too much sun and it’ll be too hot, or there will be a late frost and the plants will be killed. When you’re planting seeds there’s a lot to take into consideration isn’t there? You also need to have a lot of faith.
I know in my heart that the farmer has a lot of faith—faith in the seeds and in the soil, in the sunshine and even in the rain. Because as a farmer, you need to believe that once you bury that seed in the ground and give it a little water and some sunshine, that it’s going to grow. Now, you can”t make it grow. You can help it, and you can nurture it, but it has to grow on its own.
And that’s just like being a parent or a teacher or a part of our congregation. We’ve got young people who we welcome with open arms. We try our best to teach them and nurture them, to assure them that they are loved and to plant within them words of kindness and encouragement. But the truth is that they each grow in their own way and in their own time. Folks, I can guarantee you that the love and nurturing that our kids receive from being a part our congregation—experiencing worship and being invited to be a part of it—will always be a part of who they are. Because the more we plant seeds of encouragement and share words of love within our church family and out in the world, the more the good news has a chance to grow.
In today’s Parable of the Sower, many people are quick to think of themselves as the farmer. We think that because Jesus calls us to share the good news, we are the farmer who’s sowing the seeds, sharing the good news with the people we meet. Because we’ve all experienced times when we try to reach out to others with kindness and yet our good deeds are trampled on, like the seeds that fell on the worn path. And other times, we try to share the good news, but you know sometimes, the people we meet are like that rocky soil, and they just don’t understand. It’s not our fault; it’s just that they’re not listening, or maybe they’re just not ready to hear. And sometimes we try to reach out to others and they are like the weeds. You know, when you try to be nice and they are totally rude to you, or unappreciative of what you’re doing? But then there are other times, when people actually listen, and hear, and are thankful for the ways that you have helped them.
The truth is, that’s the way that many people here today’s story. We’re the good ones. We’re the ones that are trying to share the good news. We’re the ones that are following Gods call. We’re the ones who know how to do things. We’re the ones in charge. And we’re the ones that deserve the thanks. But if we were to read the scripture a little further, we would hear Jesus explain the story to the crows a little bit differently.
Because when Jesus explains the story, we’re not the farmer. We’re not even the seeds, but we’re the dirt. Can you imagine? We’re the dirt! But I guess if you think back to scripture, we’ve always known we are dust. At least in songs, when we hear that we are stardust, that sounds a little cooler, but it’s pretty humbling when of all the things of creation, were compared to dirt.
The Hebrew word for earth is “adama” and that is where the first human, Adam, got his name. In the book of Genesis, it says: “At the time, GOD made Earth and Heaven, before any grasses or shrubs had sprouted from the ground—GOD hadn’t yet sent rain on Earth, nor was there anyone around to work the ground (the whole Earth was watered by underground springs)—GOD formed Man out of dirt from the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life. The Man came alive—a living soul!”
Friends, sometimes when we hear the Parable of the sower, we forget that we’re not the farmer or the seeds, but that we are the soil. And when I say “we” are the soil, I mean all of us, as individuals and as the church. We are the living soil cultivated and tended by the hand of a loving gardener who knows that sometimes we are rocky and sometimes we’re worn. Sometimes we feel trampled on and even choked out. Sometimes we need a little extra tending or nurturing. But the good news, my friends, is that God never gives up on us. The Good Gardener keeps working the land and feeding the soil, so that it can be rich and fertile, receiving the seeds of the good news and allowing them to grow! Now, that doesn’t mean that an occasional rock or two don’t sneak in, or even a thorn or some kind of evasive weed. And it doesn’t mean that we won’t get worn paths and feel trampled on occasionally. And as we learned in household huddle this morning, soil can be really messy. Even when you try to carefully contain it, it tends to have a mind of its own and easily gets all over everything!
But if we continue to allow God in, to nurture us and to feed our souls, then the roots of the gospel will stretch out and form a foundation for the grace of God to live and grow in us. The important part for us to remember, my friends, is that we are here not to bring attention to ourselves and to our greatness but to share the good news of the gospel and to enable the seeds of faith to grow in us, showing forth their beauty so that others might see them and be drawn to God’s grace.
Each year on Ash Wednesday, we are reminded that we are dust and to dust, we shall return. We are reminded of our mortality, but also of the possibility that we hold within us. And friends, because we are rich soil, we can choose what we want to grow.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, what will you grow? Weeds and thorns, or beautiful flowers and vegetables to feed others? Will you be a place for God’s love and beauty and encouragement to thrive or a barren land of struggle and gossip and negativity? My friends, it’s May in New England. That means it’s planting season, so I hope you choose wisely!
May it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!