A Sower Went Out to Sow
Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23
Belmont UMC—July 13, 2014
Ken Edwards, preaching
I watched my Dad load the seeder filled w/ bags of seed. As a boy my job was to sit beside him on the tractor and watch the machinery being pulled by tractor. If it clogged, jammed, I was to tell him to stop.
I asked lots of questions: “Why so many seeds?”
Dad answered, “It takes a lot of seeds for a big field, and some won’t come up.
“Why won’t they come up?”
Dad answered again, “Some are bad, some are old and won’t sprout, some will fall on soil that won’t grow anything, some will get eaten by birds, weeds will choke out some, and so we overplant to get a good yield. Why do you ask so many questions?”
Two weeks later we would revisit the field and Dad would scratch in the dirt to look for signs of germination, of sprouting corn. He would take off his cap and rub his head and try to offer a verdict on the year’s crops.
I’ve watched him replant small patches of fields with an old canvas hand seeder strapped onto his chest. He’d turn a grinder—he always looked like one of those organ grinders you see on the streets in old movies.
Seeds intrigue me. I’ve been around the planting of crops all my life. Even now, with flower beds filled with perennials and annuals from the youth flower sale, I have to sow some seeds to enjoy the process.
Seeds come in all shapes and sizes. Some are long and narrow, some are miniscule, and some are round flat seeds. But all seeds are dry and lifeless. No one would give them much of a chance on first glance. Seeds need warm, moist, dark earth to germinate. I’ve planted old seeds that I found in the cupboard and they surprise me with new flowers in the garden.
Sowing seeds can be fascinating and delightful or frustrating and disappointing. Some farmers on television were complaining of too much water and of seeds rotting in the earth. Some were complaining of drought and of seedlings that had dried up and died.
Jesus said that a farmer went out to scatter seeds—full of anticipation—he’d done it many times. The farmer broadcast seeds all over the place, because he knew that some seeds won’t make it.
It seems wasteful to me--all those seeds that won’t produce anything but compost or bird food. I don’t like to waste things. I pick up paper clips off the floor, and I save rubber bands until they dry rot in my desk. I pick up pennies along the road when I’m running and walking. I find lots of interesting things on the road—things that have fallen off of trucks. I once found a huge ball of twine and I picked it up and ran home with it. The most unusual thing I ever picked up was an axe. I ran home carrying an axe, not calculating how strange that might look to passersby.
John Wesley discouraged us from wasting time and to use it wisely—I carry a book and note cards with me everywhere I go. I find a way to write a letter or read a chapter. I don’t like to waste seeds. I place them in the garden with great care.
A farmer went out to sow and some seeds fell on the path. I pictured a cow path when I read this. Cows like to walk over the same place repeatedly and they create cow paths in the field--paths of dirt that are packed and hard from the abuse and weight of cows. My folks used to refer to stubborn people as cow paths. You can’t plant seeds on a cow path. Jesus said some people are like that—you can throw seeds at them all year long, but nothing will grow.
I don’t like to waste seeds on cow path people. They are not bad people, just resistant. They can sit in church on Sunday morning, tears welling in the eyes of people all around them because of the wonderful choir anthem or because taking the bread and cup of the Eucharist means so much to them, and there they are, the cow path people, thinking about the pot roast in the oven or planning on shooting bottle rockets in the back yard. You can offer the seeds of God’s word and nothing grows--no love or justice, no hope of transformation, no compassion, and no desire to reach out to anyone.
Some of the farmer’s seeds fell on rocky ground. Why do we have to spread seeds on rocky soil? I planted some flower seeds on the rocky side of my house one year and they sprang up and looked promising for a week or so and then started to fade.
Those rocky soil people get so excited for awhile, joining the church, volunteering for everything that comes up. There they are every time the church is open. They will say, “Pastor, we love it here, nothing could be better.” Six months later they are sleeping in on Sunday mornings or eating brunch at the newest restaurant in town but can’t find the energy for church. And we wonder why we wasted so much time on those folks.
And then there are those thorns—outside forces (hopefully not inside forces) that choke and kill the spirit of people who would otherwise be disciples for Jesus Christ. There are thorns like tragedies, being excluded, injustices, weird and harmful theology, depression, life-defeating experiences, and poverty. The list is long. A lot of us carry the wounds caused by life thorns. On July 27 our worship will be a Service of Healing and Wholeness and we’ll have time to pray for our woundedness.
A famer went out to sow, knowing full well the risk of sowing. It takes a lot of patience—you can wait a lifetime to see some seeds sprout and some you will never live to see.
A young woman came up to me at Annual Conference a few years ago and introduced herself to me. I knew her name but did not recognize her. She had been a teenager in a church I had served years ago. She proceeded to tell me how my presence in her life had helped her. She quoted some things I had said in sermons and told me that I had made a huge difference in her life. I had no memory of saying or doing any of those things.
Her words reminded me that the sower must be faithful—in bad years and in good years—she still heads to the field to sow those seeds.
Remember we are called to be faithful not successful—we are the sowers of the seed of God’s word. We go out to sow the seeds of grace, justice, and forgiveness--faithfully going out to do what God has called us to do.
So what are the lessons from this parable?
We do not get to be selective--sowing one seed here and one over there. We are called to share the seeds of God’s word everywhere, never knowing where they will fall or how they will be received or what will happen.
Don’t give up on anyone. I used to be a cow path! You could throw seeds at me all day long and nothing would grow. I could not hear the gospel. Maybe some of you were like that—or you were shallow, rocky ground and had a false start of faith. Or the thorns of life choked out the possibility of a life with God. Somehow the seeds finally took hold and sprang into life. Don’t give up. Someone kept sowing the seeds of grace in our lives and here we are today because of their persistence.
Fortunately, soil can be amended, gardening term. I have an earth machine from public works that is making good compost. We not only sow seeds, but we amend the soil with things like forgiveness and grace and prayer. Our job as a community of faith is to create an environment that is rich enough for something transformative to happen in people’s lives.
The Parable is not all bad news—this amended soil brought forth grain—some a hundred fold—some sixty—some thirty (depending on who was counting—the pastor or the ushers).
Every now and then we hear of someone we never dreamed would change, turning their life around. Stony hearts have been transformed. Cold hearts that now serve the poor or get fired up on issues of justice. Cow paths turned into fruitful fields. Thorn-choked lives finding hope and joy in God. Because the sowers went out to sow and did not get discouraged and give up!
The first gift my wife ever gave me was a plaque “Your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” It’s from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. She was a student and did not have a lot of money and the gift meant so much to me. I hear that phrase in my mind a lot.
And the farmer goes out to scatter seeds, and God has promised a harvest--a gracious, abundant, and surprising harvest.
Pastoral prayer by Gwen Purushotham:
You scatter your Word like seeds--
intentionally and recklessly,
it lands on all kinds of soil--
On paths where it has no chance to grow;
On rocky ground where it cannot take root;
Among thorns where it is short-lived;
And sometimes, only sometimes . . .
On good soil where
your Word of love and truth, the Kingdom
takes hold and produces
We confess that this challenges our notions of success and failure.
We prayer for persons everywhere who are foolish and wise enough to . . .
Scatter seeds of Love in the most desperate of places and under the most impossible conditions . . .
Among Israeli and Palestinian communities
In the Ukraine and Russia
In a planet faced with the crisis of climate change
In a world where loneliness, poverty, hatred, and the fear of death threaten
to undo us.
O God, in these times
when the measurements for the health and vitality of the church
are based on productivity and consumerism,
transform us into reckless, risk-taking sowers of your Word,
and make us signs of your presence in the world you so love.
In the name of Jesus, the Christ, who taught his disciples to pray . . .