This week’w sermon for July 16, 2017 (my birthday!) is on the Parable of the Sower (or possibly the Parable of the Soil?) in Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 as well as Isaiah 55:10-13. We just finished VBS at St. Peter, so it’s been a full week! Check out the pictures on Facebook here and here.
I have to start by telling you something a few of you already know. I am not a good gardener. I appreciate flowers, and fresh vegetables, and well-kept lawns, but weeding or planting just sounds like extra work. For the first four years we were married, my wife Christin and I lived in an apartment building, so planting a garden wasn’t even an option.
Living in the parsonage across the street this year, we planted a few flowers, by which I mean we showed up at the garden club sale at the library and stood there until a few wonderful ladies from church took pity on us and help us pick out flowers to plant. In my mind, we cheated a little by starting with partially-grown plants rather than seeds. I’m good with that.
My point is, in this parable from Matthew, Jesus is talking about sowing seeds, and I really know only two things about sowing.
First, I know when Jesus says “a sower went out to sow,” he’s talking about planting seeds, not a needle and thread. That’s a different kind of sewing, another topic I know nothing about.
Second, I know plants grow better in good soil than they do in gravel, or on the parking lot. When we put our plants in, I knew enough to get some good, rich potting soil for them. I didn’t just toss them onto the sidewalk. Jesus is talking about grabbing handfuls of seed and scattering it, flinging it around, rather than using modern tools like a tractor and planter, but even by those standards, the sower in this story is just not very good at his job.
The crowd listening to Jesus knew seed was expensive, not something to waste. And yet, this sower tosses it around wherever. What happens isn’t surprising. Some of it lands on rocky ground where it can’t take root. Some of it lands where the birds will eat it. Some of it falls in the hedge around the field, outside the growing area, and gets choked out by the thorns. What a waste! If the sower here represents God, then God isn’t very good at planting.
Unless, maybe, one of the points Jesus is making is the generosity of the sower. Parables are stories Jesus uses to teach about God and God’s kingdom, so perhaps Jesus is trying to teach us about a God who indiscriminately sows seeds, regardless of the type of soil.
Now, this parable is an allegory, and unlike many of Jesus’ parables, he actually gives an explanation to the disciples. The seed is the good news of the kingdom of God, and the soil is the people who hear the word. He even gives examples of what the different types of soil represent, and it has to do with how open people like us are to hearing God’s good news.
So what kind of soil are we? Are we shallow people, who hear the good news God’s kingdom is coming, get excited about it, then move on and live our lives as if nothing’s changed, who forget about our excitement as soon as life throws something tough at us? Do we expect every day to be as exciting as Vacation Bible School, or are we willing to believe God is at work for good all the time?
Or are we people who hear the word and don’t pay attention, don’t make any effort to learn what it means, who think faith and church are for others but not for us? Do we just think of the church as this nice thing that others will take care of, or are we personally willing to live as part of the Body of Christ?
Or are we the soil with the thorns, overwhelmed by the cares of this world? Are we drowning in the busy-ness and struggles of our day to day lives and simply don’t have time for God?
Of course, at different times, we’re all of these different types of soil. I don’t believe there are people who are always a rocky path, or anyone who’s always a thorn bush. I know there are days when I feel like freshly watered soil open to whatever God wants to do in my life, and then there are days when I just feel dried out, days when I need God’s help just to get out of bed. I suspect that’s true for you too.
Handt Hanson has a wonderful hymn about this passage. It’s really a prayer. Listen to these words: “Lord, let my heart be good soil, open to the seed of your Word. Lord, let my heart be good soil, where love can grow and peace is understood. When my heart is hard, break the stone away. When my heart is cold, warm it with the day. When my heart is lost, lead me on your way. Lord, let my heart be good soil.”
There are things we can do to form our hearts into better soil, like reading God’s word in the Bible, praying, making time for worship, like you’ve done today. Even just taking time to look and notice God in the world. These are good, and there’s always more we can do to grow in faith.
But ultimately, it all comes back to what God’s doing, to who God is. We can and should work to make our hearts good soil, but it doesn’t do any good unless the sower sows generously, even indiscriminately.
We desire to be good soil, but on those days and in those seasons of life when we’re not, we can take comfort that the sower sows even on the rocky soil. The sower doesn’t give up on us when our lives get full of rocks, or when there’s too much rain in our lives, or when we feel dry.
And of course, it’s ultimately the sower who tends the soil, who breaks up the clumps, pulls out the weeds, and spreads the fertilizer. It’s the sower who makes the soil good. It’s the Holy Spirit that softens our hearts and inspires faith. There’s a wonderful passage in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 where Paul writes that he planted, and his companion Apollos watered, but it was God who gave the growth. God’s the one doing the work here.
By our standards, God in this story might not be a very good farmer, but God is abundantly generous. Our VBS theme all week has been (kids, say it!) God is good all the time. God is good even when life is bad. God is good even when life is sad. God is good when life is good—and sometimes it’s when life is good that it’s actually harder to remember God’s goodness!
God’s goodness and God’s generosity does not depend on us. God is good even when we’re not. God sows whether we are ready to receive or not.
It might seem like that would waste a lot of seed, but God’s word isn’t limited like that. In today’s reading from Isaiah, it says the word of the Lord accomplishes what it sets out to do. God’s word never comes back empty. God’s faithfulness and goodness is as regular as the rain and snow coming down from heaven. The plant doesn’t get to decide if it will rain or not, it simply receives the rain as it comes and then grows.
Dr. David Lose puts it better than I can: “God loves us just as we are and so regards us as worthy of being showered with grace. Loving us as we are is not, of course, the same as being content with where we are. In fact, precisely because God loves us, God wants us to discover the abundant life of trust in God and love of and service to our neighbor….Precisely because God loves us, God wants us to grow into the people God knows we can be.”
This week, may you recognize the amazing, generous, abundant love of God, who plants in you the seed of God’s word. May you be good soil for God’s word to take root in your life. And may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, today and always. Amen.