This coming Tuesday I will once again visit the Renton Farmers Market. Since early June it’s been fun to buy strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and cherries; these are some of my favorites but you can find all kinds of fresh produce to grace your table!
What a great time of year to hear the parable of the sower! Planting, growing, harvest—it’s all here!
One of the problems with this story for people who have heard it countless times is that we think we know what it means and it’s hard to hear anything new. Another problem with this story is the same problem we face nearly every week, and that is: We tend to make it all about us.
Don’t we?? “A sower went out to sow.” The story is not so much about the seed, not so much about the soil–it’s about the sower! Maybe that’s why before the story Jesus says, “Listen!” Pay attention! Don’t get distracted. This story is not about you. It’s about…the sower!
The parable of the sower is about the sower. Now, I don’t know about you, but my attention doesn’t go to the sower; it goes straight to the soil! Thorny, rocky, hard pan—and good soil. “Which kind of soil am I?” Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do with this story? And hopefully, we all find that we’re the good soil!
But folks, that’s not the real world, is it? Who among us is purely one kind of soil? To be human means that each of us has each kind of soil. Yes, the field of my life has thorny soil, rocky soil, hardpan…and good soil. So do you! Figuring out what that looks like in each of our lives takes some work. Where in my life is there lack of understanding of what God is trying to say to us? Where in my life do I have excitement and enthusiasm for truth and miracles and hope but later lose interest or become discouraged? Where in my life do the “cares of the world and the lure of wealth” choke out the deep, live-giving truth of God’s Word? And friends, in a world that daily tries to convince us that wealth is the path to peace and joy it may well be that the thorny soil of our hearts may be the biggest problem and the biggest danger.
It is useless to deny that each of these soils is part of who we are. The good news is that there is in each of us good soil, too, where we are able and willing to lay hold of the gospel promise of love, hope, peace, faith, and joy!
And yet, even these things can be a distraction. Because…a sower went out to sow. This story is called the parable of the sower. It’s not as much about the seed or the soil.
Well, then, what can we say about the sower? Brainstorm words that describe the sower. Here’s one I came up with: Reckless. This is not modern American agriculture, where expensive machines carefully place a seed in just the right spot at just the right depth. No, what Jesus describes is the ancient, traditional practice of just throwing seed everywhere. Granted, there is a rhythm. There is a method. But there’s not much control. A lot of seed ends up eaten by birds or in places it doesn’t have much chance of flourishing!
If this story is about the sower, and if the sower is in some sense reckless, and if we are disciples of the sower, what might recklessness have to do with us? Where in your life are you maybe just a little too cautious, a little too careful, a little too much in control, a little too…afraid? We value thrift and responsibility and those aren’t bad things but these qualities don’t make us unique. Anyone can be thrifty or responsible without being a disciple of Jesus. Where in our lives are thrift and responsibility just an excuse to keep control of our lives and to shut the sower out?
But the sower is…reckless. If you don’t like the word reckless, how about this one: extravagantly generous. “A sower went out to sow.” It wasn’t a seed here, a seed there. He wasn’t cheap or frugal. He was willing to risk. Some might call the sower wasteful! The sower was extravagantly generous with the seed he planted.
I was at my last Synod Council meeting yesterday, and our bishop once again urged us NW Washington Lutherans to take risks. Sure, sometimes you will fail, he said. But failure is a great way to learn. And, sometimes you will succeed, he said. But being cautious and fearful, sticking to what is safe and familiar, he said, is a guaranteed way to fail in the long run. If the path we as a church choose to follow into the future is safe, we will not find much sympathy from this new bishop. This is a man who embraces the spirit of one whom some might call reckless! A sower went out to sow.
For the sower, sowing is not a hobby. It’s not a sideline. It’s what sowers do, right? That’s their mission in life—to sow seed! What some might call “reckless” others might call “extravagantly generous. Yes, a sower went out to sow!
But this story is not over. Notice what happens. When the seed lands on good soil, is the seed itself cheap, frugal, cautious? No, it, too, is reckless! It produces, Jesus says, in some cases 30-fold, in other cases 60-fold, and in still other cases 100-fold. The seed follows the example of the sower. It, too, is reckless. It, too, is extravagantly generous!
This story is not about us. It’s about the sower. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a role to play—we do! We are not the sower and we are not the seed, but we are the soil. This is where we come in. This is where we help decide the quality of the soil, and therefore the abundance of the harvest. This is where we decide how we will live our lives: cautious, fearful, safe, cheap, or—extravagantly generous. How—or whether—we till the soil of our lives says a lot about how God’s extravagant generosity will be expressed through our lives.
But make no mistake. If we don’t prepare the soil of our lives through worship and prayer and service and risk, the extravagant generosity of the sower will nevertheless find some place to grow. The sower broadcasts seed everywhere, not just in neat rows like we would have it. Sometimes that seed flourishes in unlikely places, maybe even outside the sower’s field. But what matters is whether that seed imitates the extravagant generosity of the one who gave it a chance to grow.
Our task as disciples of Jesus Christ—in our hearts and in our church—is to boldly name the different types of soil where we find it. Where do we lack understanding of God’s work in our neighborhoods and communities and where do we lack the will to care? Where do we start out with energy and enthusiasm for doing the work of Christ, but soon lose interest or enthusiasm? And where do we allow concerns about money and wealth to strangle the mission of the church to the world. And, where do we see and celebrate the good soil where we find it? Where do we find examples of extravagant generosity, of risk, of throwing caution to the wind for the sake of Christ and the healing of the world? Where do we see miraculous abundance—30, 60, 100-fold!—which is the only proof that the sower’s seed has found good soil?