Sunday, July 16, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Don’t bother plowing the field. Just throw the seeds anywhere. It seems a bit irresponsible doesn’t it? But that’s what we hear from Jesus in the parable of the sower. Anyone who knows anything about farming knows that you plow the field, you get the soil ready for planting, you wait for the right time and the right conditions, and then you plant the seeds. A lot of planning goes into the process of planting in order to maximize the yield. You can’t just throw them around haphazardly. It takes timing and precision and hard work.
But that’s not what the sower of seeds does in today’s parable. The sower throws the seeds and scatters them wherever they fall. The sower doesn’t consider how fertile the soil is prior to planting, and as a result some fall on hard soil, shallow soil, and thorny soil. Except for those whose seeds fall on good soil, the rest are snatched away by birds, scorched by the sun, are choked out by thorns, or die. If this sower of seeds was given a grade in farming they would get an F. How on earth is this any way to manage a crop and ensure a bountiful harvest? In fact, it seems more than irresponsible; it looks like poor stewardship. Seed isn’t cheap and throwing them around as if it doesn’t matter could cost a farmer a year’s wages. Planning is needed. The sower needs to be careful and plan out his or her strategy.
A well thought out plan or strategy is essential for any good business. If you want to be successful you have to have a plan. You have to lay out specific achievable goals in order to achieve the desired long-term outcome. And even though a church is not a business we often still operate out of this same model. If we want a church to grow we come up with specific strategies. We look at the demographics of a community. We target certain areas to see where a new church might best take root. We come up with communication plans, and evangelization plans. We look into buying high tech equipment to enhance our worship experience. We strategize because after all, you can’t just start a church – grow faith – on nothing….or can you? Can you just scatter the seeds anywhere? What if they don’t fall on good soil?
If a person wants to be successful at anything we are taught that he or she has to have a plan and has to come up with step by step strategies on how to achieve whatever it is he or she desires. Otherwise, we might hear “Don’t bother wasting your breath.” or “Your words are falling on deaf ears!” Have you heard those words before? Maybe they were said to you when dealing with a difficult person who wasn’t going to listen to your advice. You saw the possible dangers in their actions, but they weren’t going to listen to you. Perhaps you knew someone who just didn’t listen to anyone and got in trouble over and over again. Maybe you prayed for someone to have a relationship with God and yet they still haven’t come around year after year. (St. Augustine’s mother Monica prayed for him for almost 20 years before his conversion!) At some point, I’m sure you’ve heard those words uttered and they weren’t meant as a compliment. They were judgments against someone who was deemed unredeemable. They were words spoken about someone who was a lost cause. Words meant to save were falling on deaf ears.
It’s easy to write these kinds of people off. Just like it’s easy to pass judgment on the sower who scatters perfectly good seeds on any kind of soil. It makes me think of people like Albert Einstein who didn’t speak until he was four years old and didn’t read until he was age seven. He was eventually expelled from school and refused from the Zurich Polytechnic Institute. Einstein also went on to win the Nobel Prize and changed the course of modern physics. I think about Thomas Edison who for years was called “too stupid to learn anything” and fired from his first two jobs. He tried over 1000 times to invent the light bulb, but on a later attempt he succeeded and changed the course of modern electricity. Writer, Theodor Seuss Giesel, was rejected by over 27 different publishers before writing his first children’s book, and later became one of the most successful and best loved children’s writers known as Dr. Seuss. And I think of a young, awkward youth who tried to learn music, yet neglected to practice and his teachers felt he was utterly hopeless. Yet to thousands of us the musical genius, Ludwig von Beethoven was hardly hopeless!
The words, “don’t bother wasting your breath” have been spoken to these and countless other people who were deemed lost causes, yet someone believed in them. Someone kept nurturing them. Someone scattered words of encouragement in the hope that their words would germinate in good soil. The problem is, we don’t always know what the good soil looks like. We can’t always tell right away what is the good soil. And we don’t always know if the seed will sprout despite the best of soil. I’m sure we’ve all seen seeds sprout up out of cracks in the soil, between rocks, or in the most unusual places. It’s a gamble. And it’s a gamble that the sower in the parable today was willing to take. Jesus is the sower in today’s parable. Jesus sows the seeds of God’s grace, and doesn’t select only the finest soil in which to scatter that grace. Jesus didn’t come to save those who are good – for none of us are good. He came draw all people to Himself. We all yearn to become good soil, but how can we? Last week we heard St. Paul say in his letter to the Romans that we “do not do the things we want, but instead I do the very thing I hate.” The truth is, we can’t by our own efforts become good soil, but the good news is that through the saving grace of Jesus he makes us good soil.
Yet it would seem by all logic that Jesus sows God’s grace rather recklessly. Jesus didn’t plow the fields and then scatter the seeds of God’s salvation and grace only in good soil; he scattered God’s grace, love, and compassion among thieves, criminals, outcasts, the broken, diseased, and even betrayers. Jesus didn’t feel anyone – any soil – was a waste of time. Jesus didn’t feel any conversation spent with those on the margins of society was a waste of breath. Jesus didn’t feel any work toward proclaiming the kingdom of God was a waste of energy. Jesus didn’t feel any amount of pain, or suffering, or death was a waste of his life if it meant bringing us all back into a right relationship with God. Jesus’ last breath was not a waste of breath.
Jesus’ last breath was the beginning of eternal life. Through our baptism we have died to sin and now live in Christ. St. Paul says in Romans, “You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.” And since the Spirit of God dwells in us we, like Christ, are to be sowers of God’s word and God’s grace. We are to bring the gospel to all whom we encounter. We as the church do’t need to come up with new strategies and new gimmicks to grow the church. Yes, it is important to make plans, and reach out in mission, but it is not our mission, but God’s mission for the church that we must engage in. Jesus urges us to be generous, even seemingly reckless with kindness, compassion, mercy, and grace. Jesus asks us to scatter God’s grace, and love everywhere. It is not our job to decide who is worthy of receiving it. It’s not our job to decide who is good enough to join the body of Christ. God’s love and grace are meant for all people. It’s our job to welcome the stranger, and visit the sick and imprisoned, care for the poor and oppressed, forgive those who sin against us, and scatter God’s love everywhere.
Yes, we will meet opposition. Some will try and choke out the good news that is Jesus. Some will try and suppress it. But the world needs to experience Jesus.. Violence and hatred can only be squashed by the God’s word of love and grace and forgiveness. We must let God sow these seeds of healing through us, and not worry about where to plant them or how to make them grow. We are to scatter the seeds of the gospel, the seeds of faith with seemingly reckless and frivolous abandon because it’s not our job to make them grow, it’s God’s.
God germinates the seeds. God’s grace pours life into all things, as it does through the waters of baptism. And the waters of God’s grace continue to work in the least likely of places, and in the least likely of people like you and me. God sows the seeds of grace with frivolous and reckless abandon, and that is good news for all of us who may not always be good soil. But thanks be to God that through Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit they will sprout and grow and yield an abundant harvest. Amen.