Fast, easy, guaranteed.
That’s the work worth doing.
I laughed at myself a bit, because at the time I was procrastinating –
checking my email again to put off the work of writing a sermon.
I was reminded that there is a reason preparing to preach is not fast, easy, or guaranteed.
And it is work worth doing.
I was also reminded of the lesson for today.
This morning’s gospel lesson is a parable – the first in a series of parables in the 13th chapter of Matthew, which we will read in the coming weeks.
Parables also are not fast, easy, or guaranteed.
We would like them to be simple illustrations,
to clarify what Jesus wants us to know about the kingdom of God.
We would like Jesus to tell a parable, and have the disciples – and us! –
say, “Oh, I see now!”
Instead, parables most often receive the opposite reaction – then and now.
What does that mean?
And why do you keep telling these crazy stories, Jesus?
C. H. Dodd has suggested that the purpose of a parable is to tease the mind into active thought.
Fr. Robert Capon suggests that in using parables, Jesus was trying to obfuscate –
to shake up what his listeners thought they knew about God,
to challenge their assumptions about religion
and to help them see that God’s kingdom is a mystery.
Parables are not fast, easy, or guaranteed.
But they are all the more interesting because of it,
and very much worth the time it takes to explore, examine,
and tease out understanding of what Jesus is saying about God and the world.
Listen! A sower went out to sow . . .
Jesus tells a story of a farmer who takes his seed and scatters it on the ground,
indiscriminately, with no prior preparation.
The seed meets with various fates – eaten by birds, choked by rocks and thorns,
or growing to produce a miraculous harvest.
The disciples ask Jesus – what does it mean?
And so he explains his story.
Jesus doesn’t say who the sower is.
What he does say is that the seed is the Word.
Not words – like words on a page – but Logos, the Word.
Logos is an idea, a message expressed.
It is an utterance of God.
It is also Jesus himself, the Word made flesh.
The prophet Isaiah has said about God’s Word,
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.
This is the Word of God which the sower sows,
which falls, like rain, on all types of soil.
In his explanation of the parable, Jesus describes the different types of soil the word encounters.
He describes the ways the seed does not take hold,
or takes hold but then is smothered or neglected.
Finally, he turns to the good soil – perhaps the disciples themselves -
those who receive the word, and understand, and bear fruit.
This is an important thing for Jesus to address at this time in his ministry.
He has been engaged in ministry among the people for some time,
teaching, healing, casting out demons,
and instead of great success, he is meeting great resistance.
Chapter 12 of Matthew’s gospel is full of stories of the increasing animosity the religious leaders feel toward Jesus.
It is the first time they contemplate violence against him.
So this parable, and its explanation, offer an explanation of what is happening.
It is not that his ministry is wrong.
It is not the Word that is ineffective.
But some soils – some people – are not able to receive it.
At this point, many sermons and lessons on the parable of the sower turn to us with the exhortation to “be good soil.”
Clear our hearts and minds and prepare a place for the word to take root.
And that is not a bad message.
But what if Jesus’s explanation is more descriptive than prescriptive.
Simply pointing out that people’s expectations or preconceived notions about God and the kingdom can prevent them from hearing.
What might that look like for us, today?
David Lose points out that “life is busy and complex and most of us come to Sunday a little bit ragged at the edges.”
The demands of work, parenting, caring for aging parents, supporting good causes and just keeping up with the ever-increasing demands of life –
all good things, worth doing! –
may make us feel like soil choked with weeds or cluttered with rocks.
Yet God sows
The Logos – the eternal, creative word of God –
still offers new life.
The Logos – the Word of God incarnate in Jesus Christ –
still loves us and seeks us and invites us to follow.
We might pray, Lord, let my heart be good soil –
let me clear my mind of distractions for a little while so I may hear you –
let me make space to worship and read and study Scripture.
But we might also pray –
Thank you, God, for scattering your seed – your word – your grace and love –
with such abandon.
Thank you for tossing seed my way, even when I’m barely paying attention.
Thank you for blessing me, and seeking me, and loving me, no matter what.
The parable of the sower describes a God of abundance.
A God who never gives up, never stops scattering blessings and grace.
It invites us to trust in a God whose Word does not come back empty,
but offers transformation and new life in our rockiest places.
And perhaps this story invites us also to be sowers.
To be extravagant in the ways we share God’s grace,
in words of love and acts of generosity.
It invites us to give witness to what we know of God and God’s abundance,
to share what we have experienced of God’s grace and blessing.
It invites us to scatter that blessing,
not carefully, in prepared soil, in places we can define and control,
but with abandon – trusting the seed – the Logos – to do its proper work.
Carolyn Metzler and I were discussing this parable, and she remembered a line from a poem by T. S. Eliot: take no thought of the harvest, but only of proper sowing.
I am going to end by sharing some excerpts from this amazing poem,
Choruses from the Rock.
I offer these not as clarifying illustrations, but as contemporary parable –
to make us think, and offer new perspectives on sowing.
All men are ready to invest their money
But most expect dividends
I say to you: Make perfect your will.
I say: take no thought of the harvest,
But only of proper sowing.
In the vacant places
We will build with new bricks
There are hands and machines
And clay for new brick
And lime for new mortar
Where bricks are fallen
We will build with new stone
Where the beams are rotten
We will build with new timbers
Where the word is unspoken
We will build with new speech
There is work together
A Church for all
And a job for each
Every man to his work.
Lord, shall we not bring these gifts to Your service?
Shall we not bring to Your service all our powers
For life, for dignity, grace and order,
And intellectual pleasures and senses?
The Lord who created must wish us to create
And employ our creation again in His service
Which is already his service in creating.
Listen! A sower went out to sow . . .
and invites us all to be sowers as well. Thanks be to God. Amen