“God Never Stops Sowing”
Psalm 119 & Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23 ~ Northwood UC ~ July 16, 2023
This morning’s Gospel lection offers a setting that we can immediately understand: gardening. At various points in life, we have our hand in the dirt: watering, weeding, and sowing. And in case it has been a little while since we may have spent time in the garden, we are thankful to Norm for sharing the Theme Conversation and sharing his experiences in the garden.
Many things have changed since the gardening that occurred in Jesus’ time. Modern farmers are scientifically trained; they have the capability to balance the PH levels of the soil; the capacity to insert the seeds in the areas best suited for growth; the ability to tear up thorns, rough ground, and shallow soil. The gardener today is careful, methodical, and patient in their work. The gardener in Jesus’ day however, as Pam read for us, is very different in their practice. They just spread the seeds! They broadcast the seed as widely and broadly as they can. They don’t prepare the soil first, they just spread the seed. They don’t consider which soil is more likely to produce growth, they just spread the seed. They don’t discriminate as to which soil is hardened, or which has thorns, or which is shallow, they just throw it. The seed is broadcast over the hardened soil; it is spread over the shallow soil; it is placed over the thorny; it is placed over the good soil. The seed is simply spread!
Now, as much as it was wonderful to host a conversation with Norm this morning, we know that this passage is about more than just about horticulture. This parable was among the many that Jesus told. And parables, we recall, are designed to heighten our awareness into what the Kin-dom of God is like. Jesus tells this parable to help us gain a deeper insight into the nature of the Kin-dom of God. And as we were blessed to hear Norm talk about gardening; as we were blessed to hear Jesus’ parable, we realize that gardening has much to teach us about life!
This parable has many names. Most commonly as: the parable of the seed and the sower. It is also called the parable of the miraculous yield. But for the purposes of our conversation this morning, I would like to explore it as the third name: the parable of the four soils. The farmer has four soils to work with: soil that is hardened, that is shallow, that is thorny, and that is good. Jesus proceeds to tell the plight of the seed being broadcast upon the four soils as it is planted in the various locations. Seeds landing on the rocky path don’t root and are snatched up by the birds and die; seeds landing on the shallow ground begin to sprout but have no roots and quickly perish; seeds landing amidst the thorns are quickly choked out and whither. Yet, the seeds falling into good nutrient-rich soil have the chance to lay good roots and they produce much grain.
I know that with this parable, we might be tempted to quickly jump ahead to the conclusion that this parable’s instruction is a call to be ‘good soil’. It is a call to prepare our lives to be good, rich soil that God’s Word might land. To live in a way that is receptive to the seeds God plants, and seek to be abundant in our living. And that is, indeed, a faithful way to live our lives. It is something to strive for. However, we quickly learn that this is NOT the overall intention of the parable. There is tremendous hope for all in this parable: the thorny, the shallow, the hardened…and the ‘good’. So, let us take apart the parable and find some observations and hope for living.
At the outset, the parable teaches that the sower does not prepare the ground before going about the work of sowing seed. We notice that the thorns are not cut away; we see that the shallow soil is not broken up; we observe that the hardened soil is not discriminated upon when the seed is sown. The sower broadcasts the seed widely, broadly and generously upon all soil! The seed is spread among the thorny, the shallow, the hardened, and the ‘good’. Our first observation is that the seed sower is indiscriminate with where it is sown. No judgement is made by the sower, she simply…sows! I think this observation is both instructional and hopeful for us all.
It wasn’t that long ago that only the ‘good soil’ was admitted to church. Only those who were good enough to afford their Sunday best would be welcome to come and receive the seed of God was planting into their life. We don’t do this anymore, per se, but do we still have some of this practice embedded in who we are. We must constantly be asking ourselves question like: Are we are church who practices a generous welcome? Who goes out of their way to welcome others? Or…do we make trivial welcomes and just acknowledge those we don’t know? These seemingly subtle differences make a big impact when people arrive unsure if they are welcome. I was speaking with a woman who attends church in another city, and how unwelcome she feels when it comes to the ‘passing of the peace’ time. She reports “everyone turns to their spouse or who they have come with or who they know…and I just sit there…alone.” We must ask ourselves: ‘an church be a radical reflection of what Jesus teaches? Can our gatherings, in worship – study – fellowship – outreach, be opportunities to live the truth in this parable? Is grace, welcome, joy and care spread broadly and widely upon all the soil types who come and make Northwood a church family each time we assemble?
The soil types in the parable are a powerful consideration of how we live. Spreading love and care into ‘good soil’ is the easiest thing to do, but we are challenged to also spread seeds of love and care upon the hardened, the shallow, the thorny as well! And as we heard in the passage, Jesus takes the second half of the passage to explain the life applications to the parable.
The hardened, rocky soil is explained. Hard soil is akin to that which immediately receives things with joy. Yet, because it has no root, the joy is briefly lasting and it doesn’t ‘stick’. When trouble comes, it has no depth and the person falls back into their old ways. This lifts up the importance of growing in depth and strength of faith. What are we doing to deepen our rocky soil and have a depth of faith? What spiritual practices nurture your soil in order for roots to be deep and strong and resilient. To a degree, we all have ‘rocky soil’ because we all like things on our terms, on our terms. We are doomed to fall back into our old ways if we stop growing. Rocky soil fails to embrace the ways of the other. When we learn about other cultures; about other people; about things different than our own, we provide an opportunity to grow. How are we nurturing the hardened, rocky soil of our lives?
Another form of soil described was shallow. The soil that is shallow was explained in the parable with the evil one snatching away what has been. Only the individual knows the lures and temptations we face each and every day. Temptations can arise from within and from the without. Temptations, for many, may present as powerful forces of addiction that one battles with. These temptations can snatch away the blessings of God’s love planted. These addictions are very deep rooted and strong and we need the persistent sowing of love and care never gives up on the addicted person. If you have supported (or been supported) through an addiction or through a mental health challenge, you will know all too well what I’m speaking about! On top of addictions from within, they also come from the outside. The world is designed to teach us that we are NOT enough on our own, that we do not HAVE enough on our own, that we will never BE ENOUGH without what they are peddling. To a degree, we all have ‘shallow soil’ that is at threat to the temptations that come from within and without. We are wise when we take a lesson from the generous sower who never gives up…sowing seed on those who are addicted; sowing seed on those who go astray to the ways of the world; sowing seed…forever sowing seed of love.
The soil that is thorny is described as being challenged with the cares of the world and the lure of wealth. The worldly challenges take over, choke the seek and it yields nothing. I suspect that we all have met some thorny, brash personalities. Perhaps we might be presenting this personality right now? Often times we discover that the meanest, toughest, thorniest personalities are very soft inside. Usually we find that they are hurting so much that they tend to reject others with this type of personality. We reject others with our thorny personality; we even reject God’s seeds of love and compassion. Like the other soils, Jesus tells the parable as a reminder to never give up on sowing: sow seeds of love into the thorns; sow seeds of love into the shallow; sow seeds of love into the rocks. And let God’s grace and compassion begin to slowly bloom.
I want to close this morning’s conversation with a glimpse of God’s mercy and compassion sowing seeds out in the world. My story goes back years ago to when I was a student minister, and our class was touring a prison. It was near the end of the day and we were concluding by visiting a juvenile court and detention center. Almost 30 years later and I can still recall how very sad it was. The landscape of the centre was marked by wire mesh gates and razor wire wrapped around electric fences. When the heavy steel doors clanged shut, I imagined how final things must seem to these terrified young people. As we were finishing off our tour, we were led down a bleak hallway to view some of the cells where the young offenders lived. Each cell had steel bars through which pairs of eyes would look out. I have this memory of making eye contact with of those pairs of eyes. I stopped, looked through the bars and whispered: “God loves you”. The eyes did not seem to register with my words. I wonder, as I think about it in light of today’s parable: did that news fall on the path that was rocky or thorny or shallow? At the end of the tour, there was a judge dressed in her robes who had likely been overseeing court. What still stands out for me to this day was…how she paused when she saw an inmate…how she put her arms around him with tears in her eyes and said: “I know…I understand”. I thought to myself if I am ever to be judged, I want a judge like that. And then it dawned on me…indeed I already do have a judge just like that.