Sermon: The Reckless Sower
July 23rd, 2017 Rev. Betsy Perkins
First Baptist Church, Delavan WI
Scripture passages: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
The story Jesus tells in our reading this morning, is the first of a series of 7 parables in Matthew chapter 13 that Jesus tells to a crowd people along the shore of a lake. The setting made for a perfect classroom. Those who have visited that area describe a series of rocky inlets along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, with steep sides that create a natural amphitheater. Jesus sat on a boat out on the water in the center of the inlet so his voice carried clearly to all sides.
Jesus used stories to teach that day; stories called parables. The word parable means to “place alongside”. These are stories that are placed alongside our normal experiences and expectations to reveal truths through what appears unexpected and surprising in the story. Parable stories are intended to make us listen deeply to discover something surprising about God, about God’s way of ruling and acting, about God’s kingdom and God’s community. Jesus’ parables used images and events that would have been very familiar to those who stood on the lake shore that day. Some of the images are still familiar to us today, too, though some, not as much.
This story of the Sower, the farmer, out planting the seed, connects to everyday life for some of you here this morning. Others of us, myself included, have never farmed a day in our lives. For me, planting seeds has never involved more than taking 5 or 6 seeds out of an envelope and pushing them one by one into the planting soil that I’ve dumped into a pot that is going to sit outside my front door. So I called up my farmer-consultant, Fritz, and picked his brains a bit and listened to how his experiences fit in with this story that Jesus told.
As I listened and mulled his words over afterwards, I reimagined Jesus’ parable for today something like this (note that any errors are mine, not Fritz’s!): A farmer filled up his broadcaster with sacks of seeds, hooked it up to his tractor, and drove off to plant them. He started off down the highway first, on his way to the field, his broadcaster spinning away throwing seed every which way. Cars and trucks drove over that seed, crushing it and later crows dipped down to grab up seed from the pavement and ate them up. The farmer drove his tractor and broadcaster off the highway and onto the shoulder and the weedy drainage ditch along the road, still merrily throwing out seed and whistling a tune as he went. This seed later grew, but it was crowded by the weeds, it withered and never did produce anything. Next the farmer headed out into his field. He drove over every inch of it, even the rock piles and the dry spots, the hard ground, the low and soggy spots. The farmer smiled and sang to himself as he went. These seeds came up, but some got scorched on the hot, summer days and others rotted out on the rainy, flooded days – they just didn’t take good root. Some of the seed actually managed to make it onto the good, rich, tilled southern-Wisconsin dirt. That seed put down root, and at the Fall harvest it produced 20 or 60 or even 200 bushels per acre. The farmer next door just watched his neighbor’s wild planting style, shaking his head over the waste and stupidity. Disgusted by what he saw, he muttered to himself, “What a reckless sower!”
As Jesus tells his parable of the Sower, the biggest surprise, the unexpected feature of the story seems to be the farmer’s wastefulness. Seed in the ancient times was preciously saved and secured. It was hand spread which meant you could put it right where you wanted it, right where it would give the most return to feed and support a family that lived hand-to-mouth off the land. Seed today is expense and precious, too.
The sense of limited seed, limited resources that have to be sowed, or spent, wisely and judiciously is something we can all relate to. The worries of how to make income cover expenses, to budget and make a paycheck or social security check last each day till the next arrives. If that’s not a reality in your personal life, than we certainly all experience it in the life of our nation with the debates and wrangling over allocation of state and federal funds. There is a pervasive sense of the limited health care dollars, of limited clean water or usable land, limited jobs, limited happiness, limited power. If we spend more over here, there is less to spend over there. Politicians from left, right and center use facts and spin to heighten our sense of lack. They fuel the fear of not having enough in order to offer their own particular perspective on the right solution and to gain power and influence through gaining votes. Every vote gained is one less for the opponent, increasingly seen as the enemy.
Advertising experts have helped create and cultivate this feeling of lack in order to sell their products. They design ads to make you feel like you need their product, that you are lacking without it, so you’ll buy what they have to sell. The effect of producing this sense of scarcity and inadequacy, eventually makes us believe that not only do we not have enough, but ultimately that we are not enough.
So what is Jesus is trying to teach us? What is the TRUTH about God and about his ways that Jesus wants us to hear?
Jesus himself calls this story the Parable of the Sower, so let’s focus on that sower, on that farmer. The man seems to have no worries about running out of seed. Instead, he is wastefully generous with the seed, spreading it over every surface of the land. His supply of seed is unlimited! It is seed from the very source of all seed, so that the sower has no concern about running out or any reason to leave even a tiny bit of ground uncovered.
Which points us to the Truth about the seed of God’s word. God is the unending source of words that give life and give love and give hope, words of compassion and care, words of Good News. We have the words available to us in the written Word of scripture. We have the words available to us in the whispers of the Spirit. We have the words available to us through prayer and praise. They flow from worship and from being in community with brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus is the Word-seed, who experienced life on this earth and overcame the pain and struggles, the limitations and the lack, in order to be able to offer life that has no limits and love that knows no end.
Have you ever felt like you needed to compete with your siblings to get a fair share of your parents love? Or that you needed to meter out love to your children or your friends so that there is enough to go around? God is not worried about whether there will be enough seed or enough grace or enough love. There is enough for every person, every day, in every land and every nation. There is no shortage, for the Truth about our God is that God is love.
Another attitude of the sower that strikes me is that despite knowing the nature of the various soils and what will happen to seed on each kind of ground, he spends no time calculating the cost/benefit ratios and speculating on the best potential for greatest profit. He shows no intention of playing it safe, but rather is willing to take a risk on every bit of ground with a reckless extravagance. One of my favorite Bible bloggers wrote this week, “Goodness, but you get the feeling this God would probably scatter seed-love-mercy-grace on a parking lot!” (David Lose, In The Meantime)
Our God sees no limits to hope that His seed might take root. Our God sees unlimited potential in every soil, every heart. God’s seed, God’s word is full of power and potential and hope that we just cannot see. It bears no resentment against the soil that does not receive it; the farmer just throws out more.
And then the farmer receives with joy the harvest that comes back. The crop produced by the seed in good soil in Jesus’ story is apparently right in line with crop yields today, though I learned that yields are significantly higher with modern farming and seed than was likely in Jesus’ day. To gather one-hundred times the grain that was sown as seed would have been close to miraculous for a farmer who listened to this story being told for the first time. That is yet another surprising element of the story that reveals the amazing potential of some soil; potential that clearly goes beyond the ability of the soil itself, and once again speaks Truth about the power of the seed and the attention of the sower.
In the second part of our reading this morning, Jesus is meeting later with just his disciples and gives his interpretation, gives the meaning of the parable story. The focus of the actual story is more on the sower, while the interpretation changes the focus a bit to the nature of the various soils as they illustrate the nature of human hearts in receiving God’s word. Jesus seems to want to help his disciples understand and accept what will happen as a result of his teaching, as well as the result of the disciples’ future teaching and preaching about Jesus. Not all will hear the Truth; not all will respond. Matthew records Jesus’ words so that disciples of all times and places might understand and not get discouraged.
Perhaps Matthew also hopes that believers at his time and throughout time would ponder these Truths and give consideration to the soil of their hearts. A prayer for God to make our hearts good soil is a prayer that I believe makes God’s heart glad and a prayer that the Holy Spirit delights to make happen. Yet Jesus never says in this story, “Be good soil.” Or, “Fix your hearts.” There is no hint of judgment, just encouragement, love and hope.
If we are honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that our hearts contain different kinds of soil in different seasons of our lives, maybe even varying soils moment to moment on any given day. Sometimes more receptive. Sometimes resistant and hard. Sometimes crowded and distracted. Sometimes shallow and superficial.
So here’s another question: can soil change itself? My farming expert tells me that it take a long time for soil to fix itself, and that it is really the responsibility of the farmer to tend the soil. The farmer spreads fertilizer, the farmer rotates crops, the farmer pays attention to drainage patterns and removes rocks, the farmer plans for periods of rest for the soil. Really, any hope for the soil comes from the sower. The hope for our hearts, comes from the tender loving care of a God who knows everything about us and about our hearts. God made us, and if we allow Him, He will provide just what we need, just when we need it.
So if fixing the soil of our hearts, isn’t the point of Jesus’ illustration, what was the point? Do you remember a couple weeks ago in the scripture readings, a couple chapters ago in Matthew, Jesus sent his disciples out to preach the Good News, to heal the sick and raise the dead and welcome those who were left out? I believe the bottom line about this Parable of the Sower is a call and commission to be sowers like the sower of this parable.
What kind of a sower of God’s word are we? Do we play it safe? Do we hoard the seed as if it might run out and only scatter it where we calculate there is good ground? Do we strain not to waste the seed of kindness and compassion on those who might not appreciate it or are unlikely to change their ways? Do we fear scattering seed to those who might even outright reject it and throw the seed back in our faces? Do we give attention to the soil of one another’s hearts, and how we can till and tend it?
This morning I say to you, be Sowers in the image of Jesus! Spread the Word widely; spread it extravagantly, courageously, and generously. Spread it recklessly! As our friend Fritz advised me, “Work with what you have and it’ll provide and respond.”
Trust the Soil, Trust the Seed, and most of all, Trust the Sower – Trust God.
Closing Song: “Thy Word”