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!” Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” Jesus answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the realm of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it. “Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the realm of God and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
Will you pray with me? God of storms and sunshine, of rain and breeze, of sea and mountain; God of the stony path and the rich soil of farmland; make our hearts open furrows for you to plant in; give us courage to sow the news of your love freely and widely, without fear for where it may land. In your own mighty name, amen.
This is one of the most popular of Jesus’ parables, I think. You all remember what a parable is, right? A parable is a story in which the different elements correspond to elements in the real world, with the result of making a point about the real world. It’s like an allegory, but shorter and usually only tries to make one point, instead of many. They are a favourite teaching method of rabbis, both ancient and modern—and Jesus was no exception. He knew that sometimes a story makes a point more powerfully than a lecture, and leaves a lot more open to people’s own interpretation—it allows them to make all kinds of connections.
This parable is one of those, for obvious reasons—it’s easy to understand the parallels, and we all identify with the different kinds of soil at different times in our lives! I could actually preach three sermons on this one parable—well, many more than that, but there are three in particular that I’m thinking of. I could talk about us being the soil, or us being the seed—as Jesus does—or I could focus on us being the sower, the one who spreads the seeds—and that’s what I want to do today.
When a gardener or farmer plants seeds, they don’t generally put in one seed at a time, carefully spaced apart, patting each one down into the soil carefully… No, they pour them in by the handful—or the seederful, for the farmer—knowing that some will sprout and some will not; that some will sprout but not last; that some will grow but produce no fruit; that some will fall prey to bugs or birds or deer or other critters; that there may be too much rain, or not enough; and that, at the last, some will grow full and strong and produce flowers and fruit. There is no careful calculation of the bare minimum seed to plant, because we cannot know what will come—floods, drought, sun, wind, crows—and so we plant enough for all possibilities.
When we talk about God, about the church, about this church, are we abundant enough? Or are we careful, hoping that one or two seeds planted will grow and flourish if we tend them closely enough, hovering over them anxiously? Or do we simply tell everyone, show everyone we meet or talk to or hear about the good news, or at the very least that we love our church, that we love God and what God has done for us?
The more seed we scatter, my sisters and brothers, the greater our harvest.
I am not saying you need to stand on a street corner with a sign around your neck, haranguing everyone passing by—or even just talking to them. Nor are you required to introduce yourself, “Hi, I’m Martha Daniels, and I go to MCC Windsor.” You don’t have to wear your MCC Windsor name tag every day, or MCC Windsor t-shirt, should you be lucky enough to own one—I am, and it’s red! Nor does it mean you can never go to a bar, or have a drink, or watch a sexy movie, or admire a good-looking person walking by. It’s not about following someone else’s rules for life—“A Christian shouldn’t do that,” or “You’ll give us a bad name if you’re seen wearing that or doing this.”
It’s more about our attitude, the way we carry ourselves in the world. If other people can see that we are happy, that we support each other in difficult times, as many of you have lifted and carried me recently—then they will understand what we are about.
What I am saying is that simply living, showing that you know how to care for others and for yourself, is a way to sow those seeds of God’s love. Rather than focussing on one or two people—“Oh, I know they need to know about the church,” spread it far and wide. You never know who will see you caring for other people and take heart from it, and perhaps even decide the church is a place they want to be. Living a life of love and caring touches more people than focussed concentration on one or two individuals.
Be prodigal, wasteful, generous in your spreading of love and care. Even when you are pretty sure that most of the people you’re talking to won’t listen or won’t care, sow those seeds.
I was told once by a seminary professor of preaching that it was rare that someone would come up right after worship, and say, “Pastor, you’ve changed my life.” In fact, if someone did say that, it was pretty certain that it hadn’t changed their life! Because that is just too soon for that sort of pronouncement. Rather, it’s more likely that someone will come to me weeks or even months—once, even a couple years—after a sermon or service, and say, “Remember when you preached about such-and-such? You made me think—you made me mad—you made me cry; and I started doing such and such—I stopped doing something—I’m going to start doing this—I would like to do another thing, if you will help me find the way.” My professor said that all we could do was plant seeds. Plant seeds. Some would grow, some wouldn’t. Some would sprout right up and then die away; others would sprout and grow strong and tall but never bear any fruit. And some would grow up strong and fruitful—but we would never know about it. All we can do is plant those seeds and trust God that they are where they need to be.
We can plant seeds wherever we are—at work, at the bar, at home with family, hanging out at the park, shopping—wherever we are. Maybe it’s by showing that a person can be Christian and LGBT, or LGBT-supportive. Maybe it’s as simple as holding a door for someone, or as complex as offering a presentation on same-sex relationships and Christianity. It might be sitting with a friend through endless cups of coffee as they mourn the end of a relationship. Maybe it’s by selling tickets to a church fundraiser—people will know you go to church then!—or by bringing someone you care about to church with you. Perhaps it’s just mowing your neighbour’s lawn for them, or helping them carry in their groceries. Even if you thinking you are helping only one person, there will be others who will see what you do and recognize it—and you will have planted another seed. There are a thousand and one ways we can show other people we care.
Don’t do something in hopes that it will “make” the person come to church; or that it make the church look good. Plant those seeds because it is what you feel called to do; spread that joiy and hope and seeds widely. Some of them will grow and flourish, and bear much fruit.
In all God’s names, amen.