Do you know what happens when you do a construction project? You get another project. We recently replaced our old shed of a garage for a new one, and in the process, our lawn was all dug up. Now this wasn’t too much of a loss, since it was primarily creeping charlie anyway, but it was a mess of mud.
We decided to sow some seed. If it was left to me, I probably would have done like the sower in today’s parable and just thrown it out there – and hoped that it would grow. Luckily, it wasn’t left to me.
Instead, we brought in black dirt, spread it out, raked it and then raked it again until all of the clods and clumps were out. Then came the seed planting and some peat to protect it. But we still weren’t done. Water. This job fell to me this past week – and that was risky because I rarely remember to water my house plants. But I set an alarm on my phone and diligently watered it twice a day. And guess what happened? It grew! Little tiny blades of grass started poking up. I took pictures. It was a little miracle of new life where there once was nothing but mud.
In Jesus’ parable, the sower doesn’t prepare the soil. Instead, the sower sows seed EVERYWHERE – without regard to where it may land. And so, perhaps not surprisingly, in some places it gets eaten – and in other places it grows for a time but doesn’t take hold and in other places, it doesn’t grow at all. But when the seed lands on good soil, the yield is amazing! A hundredfold, or even sixty or thirty is nothing short of miraculous.
When I was a kid growing up on a farm, I always wondered about this parable – and the seemingly wasteful way that the farmer sowed the seed. Seeds were expensive and it seemed like poor stewardship to just cast them about. But the disciples by now have caught on that when Jesus tells a story like this – it’s not really about increasing the yield in agriculture. And so they ask him to explain it to them.
And so Jesus starts teaching them. The seed that is sown is like the Word of God – and the sower scatters it everywhere. But the quality of the soil makes a difference in whether the seed will grow or not.
Before I say anything more about the soil, I want to step back for a moment and talk about how God’s word, the Bible, gets interpreted. Because this second part, Jesus’ teaching, is like a sermon. And so it is important to know the context - who Jesus is talking to and how the Word of God acts as both as Law and Gospel. As Law, the Word of God convicts us of the ways we fall short of being the people God made us to be and encouraging us to change.
Jesus’ teaching on the parable of the sower can be heard as “law” – convicting us that our lives aren’t always the best soil for the Word of God to live and grow in. And so, as “law” this teaching encourages us to tend the soil of our lives – through prayer, listening to the word of God and letting the Word sink deep into our hearts and lives.
But Jesus’ teaching on the parable can also be Gospel – good news – to his disciples – and us. The disciples have just come back after Jesus sent them out into countryside to be the sower, to share the Good News of Jesus, to scatter the Word of God like seed. And they probably went to places in which the message was well received – and at other places not… and everything in-between. If the disciples were like me, the times when message was not well received were the ones that bugged them.
This is not the first time in scripture that the Word of God is compared with a seed. In Isaiah, God says, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
God says, “my word shall not return to me empty, but will accomplish it’s purpose… it will succeed.” That’s a word of Good News, a word of hope. It’s not a wishful kind of hope, but a hope built on the assurance that the Word of God will not return empty.”
This is a word of hope for the disciples – and for us too. For like the disciples, we too have been commissioned by Christ to share the good news. And sometimes… we wonder or worry because churches aren’t full – not just here but across the country -- and why our children or grandchildren or family or neighbors aren’t in church. Sometimes we worry that we have failed.
But when you wonder and especially if you worry, be reminded of God’s promise: God’s Word will not return empty. Just as some of the little seeds that were planted in my backyard seemed dormant for a time, but then sprouted, the seeds of faith that you have sown will take root.
This doesn’t mean that we can stop “leave it up to God.” Like the disciples, our job is to
- tend our own soil, our own garden;
- keep sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with abandon… even in or especially in unusual places…