Sowing the seed – everywhere
Lectionary blog for July 13, 2014
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Texts: Isaiah 55:10-13; Psalm 65:1-14;
Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23
By Delmer Chilton
It was my Daddy, who first pointed out to me that Jesus wasn’t much of a farmer. Daddy, on the other hand, was a good farmer, so I found myself compelled to listen to his reasons for this semi-blasphemy. He based his opinion on this parable of the sower. Daddy quite reasonably pointed out that while Jesus appeared to understand good farming, he apparently didn’t practice it. No good farmer would throw his seed around, hither and yon, wildly and indiscriminately, the way the sower in Jesus’ parable did. Jesus’ explanation of the parable shows that he understood it was a bad idea to sow seed on the path or in the rocks or in the briars; so why did he say that the sower did that? I pointed out to Daddy that Jesus wasn’t teaching agriculture in this story; he was preaching the gospel, but Daddy would not be persuaded.
That conversation got me to thinking and opened up to me a whole new way of looking at this story. For many years I had focused on the easy, three-point sermon or Bible study about why people fall away from the faith. You know, some people are just too involved in the world to pay attention to spiritual things; they hear the word, but not really. These are the path.
Other people get all excited about the gospel for a while, but then their excitement dies down because they don’t grow in their faith; these are the rocky ground.
Then there are the ones who lose their faith when trouble comes, when sickness and persecution and trial attack their lives. These are the ones in the thorns.
Then this classic three-point sermon ends with an admonition to not be bad soil, not to be hard of heart, or too busy with the world or let the normal difficulties of life kill your faith. And the remedy for being bad soil is to be good soil, which usually ends up sounding like, “Be good little Christians and listen to the pastor and come to church a lot and be on a committee and your faith will grow.” Which is all very nice, but really isn’t what Jesus is talking about in this text.
The more I looked at it the more I realized that Daddy was right; Jesus may have been a lousy farmer, but he was a great preacher and storyteller. Jesus’ point in this story was not to fuss at those who fail to receive the gospel, or those whose faith begins to fade, or those who abandon the faith in the face of trouble. His point here is to encourage those who go out to sow the seed of the kingdom of God.
When I was in college, I worked on a tobacco farm in eastern North Carolina. We were having trouble with a harvester – it was dropping more leaves than it was gathering. There was a precocious 6-year-old boy who was watching us work. He observed our troubles for a while and then walked up to the farmer and said, “Well, you can’t elevate ’em all, can you Mr. Virgil?” “You can’t elevate ’em all” is the first part of Jesus’ message in the parable of the sower.
Here’s point two. You can’t elevate ’em all, but you should try. Remember I said Jesus was a bad farmer but a good preacher? Here’s why. A good farmer prepares the soil, and then carefully avoids the path and the rocks and the briars. A good farmer doesn’t waste his seed and his efforts on spreading seed where it is unlikely to grow.
But we’re not farmers, we’re preachers. Not just me, all of us. We are each and every one of us called upon to spread the good news that God loved the world so much that Christ came down from heaven to live among us and died to save us from our sins. And that God loved the Christ so much that God raised him from the dead, and God loves each one of us so much that God will raise us from the dead. That’s good news. And it’s our job to tell everybody. And, all too often, we don’t. We try to decide the right people to tell it to. We try to decide who will fit in with us at our church. We try to figure out who we want to be a part of our church, and that’s just wrong.
In this parable Jesus shows us that to be a good sower of gospel seed, a good preacher of the kingdom, a good spreader of God’s love and mercy, we have to spread it to everybody, whether they deserve it or not, whether they are likely to receive it or not, whether we like them or not. Doesn’t matter if they are paths, rocks or briars; it’s our job to throw the gospel at them.
Friends of mine have four grown children. The youngest is a boy we’ll call Ted. When Ted was about 6 or 7, Dad came downstairs to breakfast early one morning and found him at the kitchen table eating cereal. This was not unusual; Ted was always an early riser. Dad noticed that Ted’s shoes were wet with dew.
“Where you been, Ted?” he asked. “Inviting people to my baseball game,” Ted replied. He had gotten up around 6 a.m. and walked up and down their street in a small southern town and knocked on doors and rang bells and invited everyone on his street to see him play baseball. And you know what? A lot of them came!
Ted didn’t calculate whom he should or shouldn’t ask, who was or was not likely to come. He just asked them to come, to his game, today. And they came. We are called to sow the seed of the kingdom indiscriminately, wildly, prolifically, tossing out bouquets of God’s love to everyone around us. Who knows, they might need it, and they might come.
Amen and amen.
Delmer Chilton is originally from North Carolina and received his education at the University of North Carolina, Duke Divinity School and the Graduate Theological Foundation. He received his Lutheran training at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C. Ordained in 1977, Delmer has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.