July 19, 2020

Seed and Sower

Passage: Mark 4: 1-9

Synopsis: The exuberant sower who throws seed all over the place in Jesus’ parable of the sower
is more like nature than an actual gardener. We gardeners carefully portion out our seeds, plant
them in rows, and vigilantly protect them from any supposed pests. Considering this in a
spiritual sense, how do we loosen up and trust God’s bounty? How do we spread seed willy-nilly
with God’s extravagance, grace, and mercy? Our church motto of “Living Love, Growing Justice,
and Welcoming Everyone” is a good start.

Ruth and I have been busy sowing grass, planting trees and all kinds of perennials at our new home in Harrisonburg. We planted one pot of herbs by our back deck. Our only veggies are three rather scraggly, last-of-the-season tomato plants. We have about 40 perennials that we moved with us from Fairfax. I’ve been digging, planting, and watering each morning and evening for several days. They’ll always remind us of our rooted connections in Fairfax.

We had a landscaping company plant five trees and sow grass for a lawn. July is the most brutal month of the season to plant grass. I’ve had to drag hoses and sprinklers to continually water it. I wasn’t at all sure it would be successful but we needed to have the lawn seeded before we would be given an occupancy permit to move into our house. I’m now beginning to see the first green flush of our new lawn. Ah, a gardener’s hope for success!

I preached on the parable of the sower three years ago and have always been intrigued by this exuberant and erratic farmer, throwing seed all over the place. Some fell on the path where birds immediately gobbled it up, some fell on rocks where the seed sprang up but the tender plants had no soil and quickly withered and died. Some fell in patches of weeds and was chocked out in the scramble for nutrients and sunlight. Almost as if by happenstance, some fell in good soil and yielded an abundant crop.

That’s not how I garden. I first work up the soil and add nutrients. Then I carefully parcel out my seeds in beds and water carefully to provide enough but not too much moisture. Furthermore, I’m constantly on the look-out and guard my crop against predators such as harmful insects, rabbits, and deer.

Michael Pollen says that gardening is second nature because nature will quickly subsume and completely take over the patch of land we garden unless we’re vigilant. I know that for a fact. I’m constantly pulling up other the plants from other seeds, including the tall tulip popular trees on our church property and the maple trees across the road that love to root in our garden. If I stopped, it would quickly revert to a forest.

The sower in Jesus’ parable is more like nature than like a gardener. Think about it. Nature spreads seeds all over the place with hardly a thought to where they land. The wind blows seeds from trees and flowers. Birds eat fruits and then plant the seeds in their droppings after the fruit is digested. Squirrels absent mindedly hide acorns that then grow into oak trees.

There’s an underground sewer running across the back of our property in Harrisonburg. This 5 foot embankment is covered with thick plastic with rocks laid on top of it. One would think that nothing could grow there. I’m sure that was the intent. Yet somehow a mulberry tree and an elderberry bush are growing up through that plastic and that’s a puzzle.

I’m sure the seeds were dropped by birds. They’re known to eat mulberry and elderberry fruits and then spreading the seeds all over the place. The seeds almost certainly had to be there before the plastic was laid down otherwise they could not have touched good soil in order to root. Somehow, they were able to root and send sprouts up through a seam in that plastic.

Mother nature is an exuberant gardener or sower. Insects cross-pollinate and drop seeds as they move about; fruit and nuts fall from trees and then crack open to expose seeds that may or may not grow. The vast majority don’t have a chance but, because of their sheer abundance, it hardly matters.

God, the sower in Jesus’ parable, is much more like nature than like a farmer who plants in rows, pulls weeds, and sprays insecticide.  Pastor Joann Lee comments, “To me it seems wasteful, almost irresponsible, to just scatter seeds anywhere and everywhere. But to the God of abundance, to the God of grace and mercy and love, perhaps it’s exactly the right way to go about it.”[1]

This flies in the face of our ordinary assumptions about church and life in general. We, have the mentality of caring for our little plot of ground, marking our boundaries, and pulling up everything we consider to be a weed. It makes us judgmental and reluctant to tolerate differences. I don’t have to look far because I can see it in myself.

As a people of faith, how do we spread seed willy-nilly with God’s extravagance, grace, and mercy? Our church motto of “Living Love, Growing Justice, and Welcoming Everyone” is a good start. We need to recognize that we can’t do it by ourselves. We need God’s help and we will want to partner with other people who are actively working to spread the reign of God and the common good.

Let’s keep it simple. My tendency is to complicate things. We experiment, recognizing that many of our efforts probably won’t take off or have a big impact. Even so, we keep trying. One example has been making our basement lunch rooms available for the teachers at Daniels Run Elementary School to create a food pantry for needy students and their families. That’s spreading a few seeds with the hope that they will sprout, take root, and grow.

Let’s think of all the ways we throw seed around. I moved to Fairfax when I became our pastor so that I could make connections in the community—be like a bee or a bird visiting many different flowers, cross-pollinating them, and spreading the stuff of life all over the place.

Today, as I near my retirement, my heart becomes full as I think of how your lives have touched mine. Some of us were here to welcome and include me eight years ago. You were so determined to see our church flourish and you didn’t give up when things were tough. Most of us have joined our church during the past eight years while I have been our pastor. We have always been a diverse church but you added to our rich diversity. I really don’t want to say goodbye. I begin to choke up when I think of how our lives have touched each other. You have added so much to who I have become.

When Jesus explained the meaning of his parable, he shifted the focus to the kind of soil that the seeds fall into—our human hearts are that soil. If we don’t understand the ways of God, the forces of evil will quickly snatch away the seed. Jesus is referring to more than our intellectual awareness. This is heart stuff—involving our relationships and life commitments.

Pastor Joann Lee says, “If it were easy, we would have it all figured out already. It isn’t easy, but I wonder if it might be simple. Simple, that is, in the sense of straightforward and rather obvious. Perhaps good soil only requires three things: humility enough to hear, imagination and creativity enough to dream, and conviction enough to act.”[2]

Humility is necessary because our ability to hear and understand God’s message is often impeded by our own assumptions, cultural norms, and biases. “If we are to ‘walk humbly with God,’ we should be prepared to be startled by what we learn when we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s work. . .” She adds:

To be good soil, we must also have the imagination and creativity to dream, to be able to see beyond what is already happening toward what might be possible. This part is best done with other people.

The best ideas and possibilities often come when a diversity of voices and perspectives are present—especially if they involve dreams of systemic, cultural change in the world. Even if the changes we seek to make are strictly personal, however, having others walk with us in our journey of faith can help us affirm and change course as necessary.

And finally, to be good soil we must have the conviction to act. While the hearing and the dreaming may happen internally, this third piece is the outpouring of what God is doing within us for the world, our response to what we have learned and received. This may be the most important part of being good soil, but it is also oftentimes the hardest part.

Living what we believe, acting on our convictions, and persevering in the face of resistance are not for the faint-hearted. Nevertheless, this parable calls us to be good soil, to hear and then to respond. Luckily, one grain of sand never makes for good soil; we need a lot of dirt, all bound together. Together, we can bear fruit, nourishing one another as we faithfully follow God together.[3]


[1] Joanne Lee, “Living by the Word,” The Christian Century (June 21, 2017): 19.

[2] newsletter@christiancentury.org via mail139.atl221.rsgsv.net

[3] Ibid.

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