Sermon on the Parable of the Sower

Given in response to Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23.

A sower went out to sow….and we’re speaking of course, with the help of another parable, about how we go about spreading the Word and where we might expect it to take hold.

But first, Let’s pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing unto you, O God. Show us how to sow indiscriminately, for the sake of your Kingdom.

Every now and again I’ll read a book, as some of you know, and one of the books I happened to read somewhat recently was Barbara Kingsolver’s novel _The Poisonwood Bible_. You might read it sometime, if you get the chance. It’s about the family of the Rev. Nathan Price, who’s a missionary in the Congo. Rev. Price is notable mostly for the fact that he’s an absolutely terrible missionary. Reason being that he has no desire to learn about or understand local customs, culture, language. He’s interested only in conversion. He wants to turn the Congolese people he lives with into white, southern American Baptist Christians. He’s especially interested that the village children be baptized, and so he’s always trying to arrange to hold a big service down by the river to baptize the kids. What he doesn’t know is that the Congolese word for baptize, if it’s pronounced in a slightly different way can mean “terrify.” Nor does he know that within recent memory a child was eaten by an alligator in that very river. So while the people in the village of wary of the river, and for good reason, Rev. Price is talking about holding a service by the river to terrify the children.

Rev. Price does learn a lesson at one point, though. He wants to plant and cultivate a garden, to grow some food for his famly and to show the people in the village how to grow food. So he flattens and tills and plants in neat rows. The next day he looks out onto the garden and finds that the housekeeper has rearranged the whole thing. She’s reshaped the garden into mounds, six elevated mounds. Rev. says, well it’s okay she thinks she’s helping, and then he flattens and tills and plants in neat rows. The rainy season arrives pretty soon after that and the whole garden is flooded, all the plants are drowned and the whole project is ruined. And wouldn’t you know, the very next day the Rev. Price is out there forming the garden into mounds, six elevated mounds, not that he would ever admit that it was someone else’s idea. But you see even the clueless and stubborn Rev. Price knew that there’s a certain way you plant seeds if you expect them to grow.

Well, a sower went out to sow…And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

It seems wasteful, doesn’t it? Why not just sow in the good soil? I certainly hope this wasn’t an ongoing thing, for the sower. Because whatever sower is in the habit of sowing to birds and thorns must be, well, maybe a little bit stupid. Certainly wasteful or naive, at the very least.

I’ve taken the liberty of composing a couple of modern parables of the sower. Here they are:

A student sat down to study, and although the students exam was in calculus the next day student said, perhaps I ought to study some history, and then some biology, and read a couple chapters of a novel, and then also study some calculus.

A venture capitalist went out to invest, and the venture capitalist said, “give some of my money to….whoever, whichever business wants money.” Her assistant says, “Don’t you want to see business plans, expense reports, profit projections…” No just throw some money around wherever.

We could think of others, too, but you get the idea.

How do you deal with people like this–the sower, the student, the investor? It almost feels as if they’ve done something wrong. As if by failing to follow the most efficient, well-tested, prudent path that they’ve actually done some sort of harm. Of course they’ve not done anything wrong, not strictly. It’s like the way people will muster up a sort of righteous indignation because people care about a good cause instead of the best cause. Do you ever run across that? “How can you care about saving the seals when there’s so much hunger and war?” Even one of my favorite preachers used to say something like, “The blood brother of apathy is a failure to give priority to what’s important.” Which might be true in a way but it’s also a way of saying that if you don’t follow the course of action I know to be best then you are actually doing harm.

A sower went out to sow….and since they never learned proper technique they sowed onto a path and to shallow soil and to thorns. The lesson really ought to be, in good American self-help fashion: “Do a better job sowing!”

To put it another way: Direct your efforts more efficiently; try not to waste time; don’t prioritize anyone who doesn’t prioritize you. Most importantly: brush off the haters. I hear this sort of thing very, very often. Avoid toxic people, ungrateful people, negative people. Find a way to keep them from hindering your progress. Do you know what Joyce Meyer started saying recently? “New level, new devil.” As if the point of life is self-advancement, to level-up by becoming more healthy, wealthy, and wise. “New level, new devil” I get that it rhymes so it’s sort of catchy but she’s saying that evil is whatever keeps you from accomplishing your goals, whatever those goals might be. This is what we’re hearing. Do a better job sowing. Be prudent. Guard yourself.

But of course this sower, the one who seems wasteful or naive or absentminded or what have you, the sower is a positive example. What Jesus means to say is, basically, spread the gospel everywhere, spread kindness and forgiveness and love for all, even enemies, everywhere, because you don’t know where the good soil is. You don’t know where the good news is going to take hold and grow. We’re talking after all about the same guy who told us to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute you, the one who told us forgive and forgive and forgive. How many times? Not 7 but seventy times 7. More times than anyone would think is reasonable or fair. All of which is difficult, very difficult.

And so, I’m afraid I probably don’t have much of a future as a self-help guru repeating that sort of advice. See, I love a turn of phrase as much as the next person but if you say something like “new level, new devil” I’m going to remind you that devil’s not an obstacle to your own success. that devil’s whatever it is that’s keeping you from loving an enemy, the devil’s whatever keeps you from praying for those who aim to hurt you, the devil’s whatever keeps you from showing grace to someone friendless and downright mean. Our devils keep us from loving other people, not from achieving more impressive goals. And if we’re going to speak of something called a level in spiritual development then let’s realize that a level is no small improvement of the self. No, each level is nothing less than a death and a resurrection. Not a better self but a whole new creation.

Just one more thing about sowing. I can all but guarantee that if you go about the business of spreading love the way the sower sows, I mean if you show love grace forgiveness to just any old person, if you love that way then people will hurt you. There are few things I know of more hurtful than handing over a token of your care for another only to find that they see it not as a something valuable but more so as a knicknack, something to bury in a junk drawer somewhere and forget about altogether. But this happens from time to time when you sow like God sows. It’ll happen to all of us even if we try to guard ourselves.

But here’s the good news. The more you try to love a person, the more you start to understand a person. Sometimes you might even understand that simple phrase the pastoral theologians try to teach; they say, “hurt people hurt people.” People hurt others because they’ve been hurt themselves. And that’s not to say that understanding others makes you invulnerable from hurt. No, you’ll still hurt, but you’ll also understand.
That’s how the love of God comes to us: first as an understanding that grants us peace and then soon, someday, as a peace that passes all understanding. May the peace of God rest on you as you go about sowing. Amen.

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