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This Sunday, we begin a new sermon series, Becoming. We are already in the month of October and soon 2021 will be over and we will move into 2022. As we reflect on the past, how can we live fully in the present as we prepare and follow God’s lead for the future? How and who are we becoming? Today, we will be looking more deeply into the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13. What can we learn from this parable about becoming and sowing for the future?
*Parables are not just stories for children, they are seriously for the adult thinker. They’re artful stories that twist and turn, and mess with our minds. Richard Rohr compares parables to Zen koans, which are stories or riddles that are meant to provoke us to unravel greater truths about the world and about ourselves. Jesus’ parables are meant to split apart our normal ways of thinking about things and help us see with different eyes and hear with different ears, so that we unravel deeper truths about the world and about ourselves.
Parables take us from our mundane world and the conventional ways we negotiate around this world, and confront us with a different picture of the world. *Jesus uses parables to challenge us with two questions: “Do you get it?” and “Will you live it?”
The parable of the sower is the first of a set of 7 parables in Matthew 13.
And because it’s parable number one, we can be sure that it’s important in the whole scheme of things. So what’s Jesus trying to tell us through this parable and how is it relevant for us today? Let’s first read the parable.
*Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 (NRSV)
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears[a] listen!”
18 “Now listen to the explanation of the parable about the farmer planting seeds: 19 The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts. 20 The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. 21 But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. 22 The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced. 23 The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”
*“A sower went out to sow.” (Matthew 13:3).
Question 1 (Word Cloud)
Who do you think the sower is?
Who is the sower? God? Yes. Jesus? Yes. Those are the usual answers and they are certainly not wrong. God is always sowing God’s life in ours and in the world.
Who else do you think Jesus is thinking of when he says, “A sower went out to sow”? Might you and I be sowers of seed? Could Jesus be thinking of the disciples and the crowds around him, as well as those who may hear this message many years down the line – people like you and me? Often when we hear this parable, the first thing we do is to judge ourselves or others as one of the four types of ground: the beaten path, the rocky ground, thorny terrain, or good soil. But have you ever thought of yourself as the sower in today’s parable?
Have you ever had someone say or do exactly what you needed at just the right time, and you know it wasn’t calculated nor was it to their benefit in any way? Perhaps they didn’t even know that’s what you needed at that time. They just felt like they needed to say or do it at that moment. They were sowing seeds. They were simply being themselves. They were sowers. In the same way, you’ve probably had the experience of someone saying to you, “Remember when you said or did…? How did you know? That was exactly what I needed at that time.” And you may not even remember exactly what happened. You didn’t plan or intend it. You were just sowing the seeds of your life. It’s not so much what you did or said but who you were. You were a sower to that person.
Question 2 (Open)
Remember a time when someone said or did something you really needed at that moment OR something you said or did that someone really needed and you only realized later on. How did you feel?
Recently, I was sharing my thoughts and feedback on one of my classmate’s reflection. For our Spiritual Formation class, we have to write weekly reflections based on our reading assignments and spiritual practices, and we’d post our reflections on the class forum. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote but a few days later, my classmate emailed me to say “Thank you for your thoughtful and heartfelt note. It really meant a lot to me!” When I first received her email, I tried to recall what exactly I said about her reflection. I’m thankful my words meant a lot to her and encouraged her. This incident reminded me that we are sowers – all of us. We may not realize the impact of our words or actions but we are given opportunities everyday to be a sower in someone’s life.
*Be a sower in someone’s life.
All our lives we are sowing seeds, and often we don’t even know it. We might be sowing seeds of encouragement or negativity, conflict or love. Whether we realize it or not, we are sowers in people’s life. So let’s strive to be good sowers of good things, and not bad sowers of unhelpful things.
*To be a good sower requires practice that shapes and forms who we are becoming.
The seeds we sow reflect what is going on within us, who we are, and who we are becoming. We can only sow seeds that were first sown and cultivated within us. Sowing is an interior practice before it is ever an external action.
Jesus sows in us “the kin-dom of God”. The kin-dom of God is represented by God’s love, peace, hope, joy, wisdom, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, beauty, presence, courage, gentleness, healing, reconciliation, authenticity, wholeness. And the list goes on. Those are the seeds Jesus sows within us, seeds that we are meant to cultivate and sow in our relationships and in the world. They are the kind of things that once we experience them, we cannot keep them to ourselves. They sprout and grow within us, and we then sow those seeds into the world.
Often when we hear this parable, we immediately start to wonder what soil are we, and what soil are others. And I like what Nadia Bolz-Weber says about this:
*“I think we naturally tend to read this parable NOT as the parable of the sower but as the parable of the judgment of the soil. To focus on the worthiness of the soil is to read the parable in judgment. When we approach this text or our lives with only the knowing and judging of good and evil, we miss out on the knowing of God.”
It doesn’t matter what the condition of the soil is. The sower sows with reckless and extravagant generosity. He does not seed only the good soil. She does not withhold seed from the thorny or rocky ground. Even the footpath that is walked upon is seeded. And by the world’s standards or by farming standards, that doesn’t make any sense. But the sower sows here, there and everywhere without regard to where the seed might land or the quality or type of ground on which it falls.
*The sower sows not because of who or what the ground is but because of who the sower is.
In what ways have we withheld seed because we deemed the ground unworthy? What would it take for us to be as generous as the sower in today’s gospel?
God’s Radical Generosity and Abundance
Barbra Brown Taylor says, “The focus is not on us and our shortfalls but on the generosity of our maker, the prolific sower who does not obsess about the condition of the fields, who is not stingy with the seed but who casts it everywhere, on good soil and bad, who is not cautious or judgmental or even very practical, but who seems willing to keep reaching into the seed bag for all eternity, covering the whole creation with the fertile seed of God’s truth.”
So this parable is challenging us to shift our view to the sower – to focus on God’s abundant love and refusal to give up on us. God is the relentless and lavish sower – seeds here, there and everywhere. This is radical generosity. And we are called to be the same kind of sower in this world – relentless, generous, lavish and refusing to give up on others. But this is counter cultural. This isn’t the way our culture works. We usually want a return on our investment. We want to make good use of our time and effort. We don’t want to waste our time or resources on a hopeless cause. We measure productivity and seek to maximize profits or returns. But that’s not how the sower in today’s parable is. The sower sows not based on an expected harvest but because of who the sower is. How would your life as a sower be different if you stopped judging the soil and keeping score? What would change if you trusted the seeding of this present moment more than being worried about the future yield?
*Question 3 (Open)
How would your life as a sower be different if you stopped judging the soil?
I think it takes wisdom and discernment to be a sower who is both generous as well as mindful of our own needs and boundaries. And we need to balance the needs of others and ourselves in a healthy way. In order to become a generous mindful sower, we need to look inside ourselves and cultivate the seed of the kin-dom that Jesus has first sown in us.
You see, the four types of ground described in this parable are descriptive of our lives and the lives of others. No one is just one kind of ground forever. All four are aspects of ourselves that we need to pay attention to. All four types of ground need attention and care, whether it be clearing the land, softening and plowing to new depth, weeding, watering or fertilizing. I don’t know what the soil of your life needs right now but I think you do.
*Question 4 (Word Cloud)
What does the soil of your life need right now?
Sometimes we feel like we’re just rushing around trying to complete all the tasks on our to-do list. There’s no room, time or energy for anything else. Nothing is growing or flowering. The seeds of opportunity are lost, unrecognized or snatched away. At other times, life can feel quite rocky. Fear, anger, envy, resentment causes our hearts to be hardened in the soil of our lives. New life cannot take root. We live at the surface and there’s no depth. Our land needs to be cleared. What rocks fill the soil of your life?
There are also times the thorns of guilt, shame, or regret choke out the possibilities of something new. Our lives are constricted and strangled by the past. What might we need to weed from the garden of our lives? And then there are times when our life is open, receptive, fertile, flourishing and fruitful. The seeds within us yield thirty, sixty, maybe a hundredfold.
*Richard Rohr likens the condition of the soil to our spiritual readiness:
The seed fell on different types of soil. Some just aren’t ready for the word. They’re not there yet. It’s not their fault. When the student is ready, the teacher will arrive. Normally we let God in, the way we let everything else in. We meet God at our present level of relational maturity: preoccupied, closed, stuck, or ready. Most spiritual work is readying the student. Both soil and soul have to be a bit unsettled and loosened up a bit. As long as we’re too comfortable, too opinionated, too sure we have the whole truth, we’re just rock and thorns. Anybody throwing us seed is just wasting time.
Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs
So if you are feeling a little unsettled, as if the soil of your life is being loosened up, it might not be a bad thing. This might be the beginnings of growth. *And growth was something that we talked about as a community in our previous series, Ecclesia: What It Means To Be Church. Your Menti responses were very valuable in giving me a glimpse as to what you may need. When I asked you what resonated with you about growth, many of you brought up “community” and “desire”. *And many of you said that you would like to be engaged in spiritual practices where you are together in community with others, as well as solitude with God.
So I have been reflecting on this and thinking about what spiritual practices we can engage together in community as we move towards the end of the year and into 2022.
As we know from his ministry, Jesus was a storyteller. He shared stories and parables as a way to invite his listeners- then and now- to see and dream the Kin-dom of God in our everyday life. A parable isn’t just an idea to think about, but something we participate in. Jesus was not just a storyteller; he was a storymaker. And we are called to do the same.
Many years ago, I read this poem and it continues to stay with me. Maybe you’re familiar with it too. It’s called The Gospel According to You.
*The Gospel According to You
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
Are read by more than a few,
But the one that is most read and commented on
Is the gospel according to you.
You are writing a gospel, a chapter each day
By the things that you do and the words that you say.
People read what you write, whether faithless or true,
Say, what do they think of the gospel according to you?
Do people read God’s love in your life,
Or has yours been too full of malice and strife?
Take care that the writing is true – it’s the only gospel some may read –
The gospel according to you.
So what is the gospel according to you? How does your life speak of God’s love?
*So I want to introduce to you “Let Your Life Speak: Our Advent Anthology”
As we move towards Advent and Christmas, I would like to invite you to engage in the spiritual practice of telling your story and listening to other’s stories in ways that are loving and life-giving. This entails being:
Share your stories of struggle & gratitude around the Advent themes of:
Then you are invited to express your story through writing and your art on a tile, and together we will add to and create a FCC Christmas version of our stained glass project. *You know all the tiles currently up there and your stories behind it are archived on our church website, and we hope this helps to speak of God’s hand at work in our lives, both individually and as a community. This is one way we can worship and witness as a faith community. Let our lives speak together of God’s love and shalom!
We’ll be sharing more information about this program in the coming week. In the meantime, you can start thinking about the stories you might like to share with your cell groups and the small groups we will create for those who don’t have a cell group at the moment.
*So what is the gospel according to you? Let your life speak.
We each have a story to share. A story to sow in this time and place.
We are not in control of the outcome or how people will receive it.
We are only called to do the sowing.
What has God sown in your life? Love, grace, forgiveness, compassion, wisdom, etc.? Jesus has sown the kin-dom of God in your life. Are you tending to the condition of your soil and cultivating new growth?
“Let anyone with ears listen,” Jesus says. What do you hear in all this?
*There is both promise and responsibility in this text. The promise of that extravagant, abundant, and radically generous love of God AND an invitation for us to be good sowers too! To offer hope in a world that sometimes feels hardened, rocky, or full of thorns. We are living in a remarkably challenging time in history. If ever there was a time to sow radical love with lavish generosity, it is now. It is our work to embody. To practice. To act. And to sow widely. A kin-dom love that is radically inclusive and justice-centered.
Let your life speak! Let those who have ears, listen!
“For as rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return until they have watered the earth, bringing forth life and giving growth” (Isaiah 55:10), so you will sow and make a difference.
May we be sowers – with our lives and with our words always. Amen.